01. Judgement Day

Act I. Dark Ascension

EREBUS

373 B.F.Z. (Before the Fall of Zodiac)

I stared out into the void, sifting through the list of recently dead individuals Hades made me memorize before the day began. The number of murderers and psychopaths doubled with each passing day, along with my impatience.

“Isn’t God the one that decides who goes to heaven or hell? Who are you supposed to be? The ghost of Christmas past?” the human man asked, his nose scrunching up, as he stepped under the single bright light in front of me.

His raven hair was a mess, with various strands sticking up all over the place, slicked with sweat. A nauseating metallic odor radiated from his exposed flesh, but it was the unremorseful, entitled glare in his gaze that stood out amongst all of his other features.

Letting out a deep sigh, I knew that today wouldn’t be any different from yesterday, nor would it be for tomorrow. I pressed my nose with my thumb and forefinger in irritation as I explained, “Hades has no time for your petty whining. He has other matters to attend to. Your fate will be decided by me. You can choose to accept that or you can remain here with me.”

“Where is here exactly?”

“We are between the world of the living and the world of the dead. In this place, you are nothing. Time is nonexistent, never moving forward or back. It is simply frozen.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Do not be so quick to disregard the In-Between, mortal. I have been here long before you were born. You will appreciate the solitude for a short while, but then you will find yourself questioning how much time has passed. I imagine it will take a toll on your body, making your mind work against you.”

His eyes widened in surprise as he mumbled something about me being a spoilsport. Any sensible person would realize that they didn’t belong here. The only difference was that I wasn’t permitted to have such thoughts.

Being the primordial deity of darkness and guardian of the In-Between, or purgatory as the mortals called it, I was not shown the same courtesy as the other gods. I wasn’t allowed to ascend to the mortal world and to the humans that traversed this plane; I appeared as nothing more than an enigmatic cloud of smoke. Zeus thought this would be fair to me and the mortals, because temptation often followed the manifestation of human flesh.

I bit the inside of my mouth, trying not to scoff at the thought of the adulterous and lecherous Zeus teaching me a lesson of morality. The King of the Gods was not one to lecture me, but he reigned above all the Olympians for a reason, and for that, I had to obey him even if I didn’t agree with anything he said or did.

“State your name, age, and cause of death. And do not lie. It will not benefit you. He will know,” I ordered. It was part of our custom to request the dead to introduce themselves. It was a way to get to know the individual before they were led to the last phase of their life, but it was also a test to see if they were willing to put self interests aside and be truthful one last time.

“Christopher Jones, thirty-four years old. Cause of death was hemorrhaging because of a gunshot wound,” the mortal replied. His answer didn’t come off as a surprise to me. His aura exuded malicious intent, and his predatory demeanor would have intimidated any regular mortal. He had every negative trait possible that would get him shot. “It was all a fluke, really. Bastard thought I was stealing his wife’s fucking jewelry.”

“Well?”

“What good are a couple of fucking stones going to do me? You get some money and then it’s gone like that,” he replied with a crisp snap of his fingers. He lowered his voice and added, “What I really wanted was that hot wife of his. You don’t see too many whores like that. You should have seen the rack on this one!”
He gestured the shape of the woman’s body in the space in front of him, stressing on her bountiful bust. He cackled loudly and heartily, which resulted in a thorough session of hacking.

“Do you regret your decisions?”

“The only thing I regret is not getting to the bitch sooner. I’ve been staking out their house for weeks. And it all went to hell the moment her husband came home early from some fancy ass business trip.” He spat on the ground, which I presumed to be his way of displaying his dominance.

“Charon?” I called, knowing the ferryman would wait on the other side of the black door behind me.

The door creaked loudly as it opened slowly to reveal an elderly man tightly wrapped in a dark cloak, presumably to conceal his frail, malnourished body. His white eyes stared into an unforeseeable abyss and his gray beard hung low in front of his body, occasionally swaying from the sporadic breeze. His ghastly pallor was such a startling contrast to the bulging indigo veins lingering just below the top layer of his skin. If nobody knew of him, they’d be quick to label him a dead man walking.

Behind him was a single wooden boat, looking rickety, gently bobbing up and down in the River of Styx. Today, Styx was glowing a bright blue, as the spirits were especially rowdy and in dire need of another soul to satiate their spiritual hunger. However, they would not be dining today.

“Paradóste ton ston Tartoúro (Take him to Tartarus),” I instructed in a firm voice. The demons of Tartarus would make sure he received the punishment he deserved.

“Charon will take you to where you need to go,” I added, refusing to spare another glance in the pathetic mortal’s direction.

“Hey, Casper, where am I going?” he asked, somehow mustering up the courage to speak to me so disrespectfully. At this moment, there was nothing more that I wanted to do than to drag the man to Tartarus myself. Perhaps that would teach him to keep his mouth shut.

I ignored his question and already turned to the person next in line for judgment.

“Hey! Where the fuck are you sending me? I have a right to know!” he hollered in my face. The smell of soured vomit and alcohol invaded my senses.

“And the people, whose lives you attempted to uproot, deserve justice,” I replied.

When I was met with silence, I assumed the petulant imp accepted his fate. My eyes were already bored into the eyes of a terrified middle-aged woman who was unsure of where she was and who she was in the company of.

“Lord Erebus,” Charon called to me.

I fought the urge to let out a snarl. The ferryman knew I disliked being called that. What was I the lord of exactly? This domain was hardly a kingdom. There were no trees, no animals, and the company was far from amicable. It was a jester’s job.

“Re gamóto (Damn it), Charon. How many times do I have to tell you to chain the mortals up before you take them away?” I asked, immediately taking notice of a very gullible Christopher attempting to take off in Charon’s boat. He must have walked past Charon. I was a fool for thinking the feeble old man could control a sacrilegious spirit on his own. “Did he even pay the fee for passage?”

Charon nodded, and to my surprise, he didn’t comment on my vulgar language. He always boasted about how I had to be presentable and elegant for our guests. But how the hell was a cloud of smoke supposed to look elegant?

We watched Christopher fumble with the oars as he tried to escape to Gaia knows where. The fool didn’t realize that Charon himself could only control the boat. And without him, there would be no one to fend off the spirits that would appear soon to take him.

“I give him one minute before the spirits appear,” Charon casually wagered. The coins danced around in his bony hand until he revealed his ten drachmas.

“One minute? That’s awfully generous of you. Have you been spending time with Dionysus again?”

Out of all the Olympians, Dionysus was my least favorite. He was too rowdy and impulsive. All he cared about was making sure he got the first, last, and others in-between cups of alcohol. The man was an unpleasant drunkard, and it was beyond me why he was one of the Thirteen Deities of Mount Olympus.

“Lord Dionysus visits from time to time. He insists there are no worse party guests than the dead.”

“Gaia, help us all. You know Hades can’t stand to be near him and his raucous behavior. I hope you didn’t escort him to the Elysian Fields. I trust you remember what happened with the lampades.”

I had been trying so hard to bury the memories of a scantily clad Dionysus prancing about the meadows with the nymphs of the Underworld. In just a few short minutes of arriving, he had turned the Elysian Fields into a party that even Caligula would be ashamed of missing.

There were bits of the God of Wine’s body that I wanted to leave to imagination or, better yet, completely out of my mind. A shiver ran down my spine at the thought of that day’s horrid events. Never again.

“Of course not.” I let out a sigh of relief and he calmly added, “I took him to Lord Hades’ castle.”

I choked on air and a small coughing fit wracked my body before replying, “That’s a horrible joke, Charon.”

“One must find something to do while they’re stuck in the Underworld.” The corners of his lips turned up in a playful smile. Despite being centuries old, he could joke around like a pubescent Hermes, yet another deity I disliked, but could tolerate more than Dionysus.

The sound of desperate screams cut our conversation short for mercy. Astral projections of humans that hadn’t paid payment or attempted the same thing as Christopher, rose out of the water, like a glowing ball of white light.

“I am not going to explain it to Hades this time,” I stated firmly, knowing what was going to happen next.
“Very well. What’s one soul to the ten thousand that will try to go away with my boat next?”

Letting out a groan, I knew he was right. The long forming line of humans would be stuck in this space until I returned, but that meant little time to myself and much needed peace and quiet.

“I’ll do whatever you want, don’t let them take me!” Christopher screamed.

Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t. The spirits latched onto him tightly and wouldn’t be letting go until they assimilated him. Seconds turned into minutes as the moans of the spirits drowned out his cries, and they sucked his own soul into Styx with no hope of resurfacing.