A glowing city

The Last Journey in the Underworld

This is the story of a being that has died and cast into the underworld. They are alone in the darkness with no memory of who they were. Find out what they will do to reach paradise and what chases them in the darkness of the underworld.

The Beginning

I woke up in the dark. For a moment I thought I was blind. Nothing but the cold, hard ground beneath me. It felt like grass and stone. That was good. At least I hadn’t been kidnapped and thrown in a basement. I looked up, expecting to see the moon above me. But there was nothing. Just empty blackness all around me. I could feel myself starting to panic. This place was unnatural. Where was I? I sat up, feeling around me for anything I could use. Something familiar. Anything. The soft grass beneath my hands yielded nothing. I crawled a little further, till my hand brushed against something light and thin. As I came in contact with it the world around me lit up. Dull luminescent light spread through the foliage and undergrowth. Lighting up the area around me.

I could see a vast, stone, cavernous roof over my head. It stretched overhead, bigger than any cave I had ever seen. The space seemed infinite. I did not know where I was and I had not heard of a place like this in my life. Was I dead? I couldn’t be. I tried to recall what I was doing before I woke up here. But my memory was a tattered fray. I could not remember anything from before. Not even my own name. Who was I? I felt myself tearing up, the overwhelming feeling of loneliness crushing me. Not even the comfort of having a name. 

“Was I Dead?”

An endless cave - artwork of a depiction of the underworld
Credit: Artist eWKn on Deviant Art

I heard the soft sound of a woman’s laughter behind me. I turned to see a figure shrouded in pale clothes floating towards me. She was ethereally beautiful. Her features delicate and her hair long flowing around her. 

She spoke to me, whispering eerily. “Peace, child. You have passed on.”

“I-I’m dead? The woman nodded, smiling as if she had done this many times before. 

“You have nothing to fear, child. For you are in the land of dead and there is no evil to harm you here.” She pointed behind her. “The city of the dead awaits you.”

My voice was shaky as I spoke. “But I am not ready to die. Can’t you send me back?”

The woman just shook her head, still smiling eerily. “Cross the river and follow the path. The city lies beyond.”

She turned and started walking away. I felt fear bubbling up inside of me. The last thing I wanted was to be alone in this strange place. 

“Wait! Please don’t leave, I don’t even know your name.” I walked towards her and reached out to grab her robes. 

The woman turns, her smiling face unchanging. “I have many names, Hecate, Hel, Hades, Morrighan, Yama and countless others, but you may know me best as Death.”

My heart dropped. This woman was death. The thing every being feared above all. I opened my mouth to speak to her again but she simply turned and disappeared. Her entire being evaporated into nothing. As if she was never there to begin with. I glanced all around me, expecting her to appear again. But I was alone. Breathing deeply I stood among the foliage, I wrapped my arms around myself. Not knowing what to do. 

“Cross the river and follow the path. The city lies beyond.”

The Ferryman on the river styx - The Underworld
Credit: Artist-Tamowicz on Deviant Art

I heard the rapid flow of water in the direction she pointed. Now knowing what else to do I walked off in the direction of the sound. Hoping to find this ‘City of the Dead’ she had mentioned. I did not have to walk far, the river was closer than I thought. When I saw it I was in awe, it was wider than any river I had ever seen and seemed to go on forever in either direction. In the distance I could see a shining city. Silver light radiated from it and I just knew that it was a place of goodness and that I needed to get there.

I had to to the city. But how was I to cross this river? I could swim but the current looked strong. I would be swept away. Glancing at the rushing, inky black water I knew I should not touch it. I cannot explain how I knew but it was an overwhelming feeling. That if I went in that water I would never get out. 

I heard a splash. Looking up I saw I shrouded figure stood on a large gondola. The bow curved up into the head of a great beast. A growing feeling of dread filled me as the figure came closer and closer. He beached the gondola and walked forward. The boat creaking and swaying as he moved. This creature was tall and thin, his face covered in a shroud and his robe flowed around him. It seemed alive, almost like mist. Upon closer inspection I saw faces, they floated around him, stitched together like a morbid tapestry. He reached out palm upturned, his fingers withered and thin and frail. 

“But How Was I to Cross This River?”

The River Styx in the underworld. Artwork
Credit: The Gods & Demons Wiki

“Pay the ferryman to get to the shining city.” His voice was raspy and strained as if he was a dried up husk. 

“Pay you?” I asked. The figure just nodded. I could hear his laboured breathing as he waited. 

“With what?” 

He took a deep breath, wheezing before he spoke. “Gold.”

I looked at him curiously. I had no gold that I could remember. Patting my pockets, checking if there was anything I could give to the wretched figure in front of me. There was nothing on me I could give him as payment. So I used my wits. I knew he would leave me here and I would never reach the city if I did not pay him. So I lied. 

“I have a gold coin. But how can I be sure you will get me across safely?” 

The figure curled his fingers and lowered his hand a little. I suppose no one had questioned him in this way before. I felt confident I could trick him into getting me across without paying. So I ran with it. 

“I don’t know you. So how can I trust your word? I will give you the coin once you have gotten me across safely.”

The figure wheezed, his dry, laboured breath catching in his throat. I was not sure he would take the bait. He stood still for the longest time. I was certain he was about to leave when he spoke again. 

“The Ferryman will accept this deal.” He gestured for me to get on the boat. 

“How Can I Trust Your Word?”

The Ferryman on the River Styx
Credit: DM7 Via Deviant Art

This ‘Ferryman’ as he called himself moved slowly. I swear every time he moved I could hear the creaking and cracking of flesh and bone. The river flowed fast, the black torrents colliding with the boat. Black foam splashed up onto the hull. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The Ferryman used a long pole to effortlessly push us across the river. I was not sure how he managed it. But then again nothing made much sense in this place. I realised that I did not know much about this place. Other than what the woman had told me. So I decided to ask this creature, he did not seem particularly chatty but he was more approachable than the woman that called herself ‘Death’. 

“I have never seen water this colour before. Where does it come from?” I asked. Hoping that this…creature would see fit to answer me. 

He took a deep breath, the sound raspy and dry. “The damned.” he pauses and wheezes again before continuing. “…Flow through the underworld.” He slowly points toward the river. 

I looked over the side, all I could see was the inky black water rushing past. 

“But all I see is water.”

The Ferryman shook his head. “Look again.” 

I looked over the side trying to understand. Looking closer I saw distorted faces in the dark water. Their features stretched and distorted as they flowed past us. I recoiled, sitting in the centre of the boat. A wheezing sound came from the creature. It sounded like he was trying to laugh but all that came out were ragged breaths. 

“The Damned Flow Through the Land of the Dead.”

Caves of the Underworld - Art Depiction
Credit: JoshEiten Via Deviantart

I refrained from asking any more questions. We had almost reached the shores and I was grateful for that. The Ferryman was poor company and honestly gave me the creeps. 

The boat scraped on the rocky beach once we reached the other side. I knew I did not have the coin he had asked for. Nor any gold to pay him with. What was I to do? Was it my fate to join those in the river’s black water? That was not a fate I was going to accept and so once the boat hit the ground I jumped out and ran. Leaving the Ferryman behind me. I was almost certain that he would not give chase and it was a risk I was willing to take.

The river disappeared behind me as I ran up the path. I decided it was safer to get off the main road and so I took a detour into the strange wilderness around me. I could still see the city in the distance although it was slower going. Suddenly I heard a blood curdling screech from behind me. The horrifying sound cut right through me and I just knew that something bad was coming. I picked up the pace. 

In the distance I heard an answering cry. Equally chilling and followed by the sound of howling beasts. The sound sent a chill down my spine and a cold sweat clung to my skin. I knew I was being hunted and something much worse than the Ferryman or Lady Death was now after me. 

“Was it my Fate to Join Those in the River’s Black Water?”

The vast Cavern of the Underworld
Credit: Artist Wes Wheeler Via Art Station

I had been walking for what felt like hours. I was doggedly determined to reach the city. My feet ached but I was not tiring. Perks of being dead I guessed. I could see the city in the distance. It glowed more radiantly as I got closer, the spiralling towers and bright lights luring me ever closer and like a moth to the flame I followed. 

The baying of hounds grew closer, I could not tell how many were on my tail. I heard the clatter of hooves on the stone path. I ducked down out of sight waiting for wherever was hunting me to pass. Still close to the cobbled path I could see the rider. His mount was tall and thin. From where I was I could see the rended flesh from the bone of the poor beast. Its black coat matted and covered in red paint. Great gaping wounds littered its body. 

But the beast was less frightening than its rider. Atop its back a tall regal rider sat. His black armour alive, and shifting around him. The faces of the damned wrapped around his body. But it was his face that made my blood run cold. His skin was deathly pale and his eyes cold and dead. There were lash wounds wrapped around his face. Cutting deep. Yet even though he appeared dead. Fresh blood oozed from the cuts. His pale dead eyes scanned his surroundings, searching for me. I held my breath. Frightened that I would be found by this undead thing. 

The hunter must not have seen me because he let out a shrill scream. He kicked his mount’s side and turned the great beast around. The thundering hoofbeats grew quieter as they got further away. I breathed a sigh of relief and moved forward again. Determined to make it through the underworld to the shining city.

“His Pale Eyes Scanned His Surroundings, Searching for Me.”

A Depiction of a Rider and an undead horse
Credit: Wallpaper Flare

I run for the city, trying to cover as much ground as possible. But the sharp rocks and underbrush made the going slow. I can hear the hunter and his beasts gaining on me. At this rate they will catch me and I did not want to find out what they would do to me once they did. I decided that I needed to get on the path. It would be faster and I might have more of a chance if I made more ground. I scrambled over the rocks and through the glowing plants. Looking left and right I deemed the coast clear. I hopped out onto the road and jogged. The city was getting closer now. I could see some of the houses and the portcullis in the distance.

I heard the huntsman behind me. The hooves of his mount thundering on the path. They were getting close. I turned my head to gauge how far they might be. But I was not prepared for the sight that greeted me. The Huntsman was a distance away but gaining fast. In front of him was a terrifying beast. Almost as large as the horse itself and three sets of sharp teeth snarling and snapping at me.  The three headed dog was gaining on me faster than the rider. 

I sprinted with all my might but it was not long before I felt the breath of the beasts down my neck. They roared ferociously and snapped at me. But I was just out of reach. Suddenly I felt a stinging pain on my leg and the ground rushed toward me. The beast clamped down around my calf. The other two bared their fangs at me growling as they awaited their master. 

“The Three Headed Dog Was Gaining on Me.”

Cerberus and his master - Guardian of the Underworld
Credit: Wallpaper Abyss

The rider drew closer, the great beast he rode walked. Their pace slow as they came over the rise. The hunter pulled on the reins as he came up beside me. Looking down at me with cold, dead eyes. My leg started to hurt, pain must stay with you even after you die I thought. But although my leg hurt there was no blood. The hound simply held my punctured leg in its maw as it awaited its Master’s order. 

The rider reached for his side, pulling a great weapon from the scabbard. He pointed it at me, his face grim under all the blood. 

“Take her to the river Styx.” His voice was sharp and he hissed the words. It made me think of a serpent. My fear grew as his words dawned on me. They meant to toss me in the river. I couldn’t explain it but I knew that this was bad. Somehow I knew that the river meant my end. 

“Please! No! Don’t throw me in the river! I don’t want to die!” I screamed and cried as the three headed beast dragged me toward the river. 

The horseman spoke again. “Those that are dead do not die again.” 

I cried and kicked as the hound dragged me further away from the city. Knowing that I would never enter its gates. Or learn of the bliss that it held.  I cried.

“Those That are Dead do Not Die Again.”

The Glowing City
Credit: Magazine Rederosity

The sound of the rushing river got louder. The beast carried me in its maw as the horseman rode alongside us. I had grown strangely calm as I neared the end of my life. Again. I knew that I would cease to be once they threw me in the river. The inky black water would swallow me up and I would no longer be myself. There was nothing I could do so I accepted my fate. 

The hound dropped me on the banks of the river and the rider dismounted. His armour clattering as he hit the ground. He strode over to me, tears forming in my eyes. He leaned down taking my hand and helped me up. 

“Do not fear your fate. You will be the very bones of this place.” He spoke quietly, the words coming out in a hiss. 

“But I don’t want to die. I don’t want to become nothing.” I cried. Tears rolling down my cheeks. 

“The lifeblood of this place is not nothing.” 

He gently pushed me toward the river’s edge. I turned back, taking in the expression on the huntsman’s bloody face. He smiled and nodded at me. Suddenly I got the feeling that this was not the end. Maybe I was wrong all along. The river may be the start of something new. So I walked forward. Wading into the black water. I felt my essence joining the river and this place. Becoming one with everything around me. 

I became something other than myself. Living on in the very essence of this place. The huntsman was right. I became one of the souls that kept this place alive. My energy running deep into the veins of this ancient place. 

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