User:Arrow Quivershaft/Enter the Underworld

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3P story universe

Enter the Underworld

Author: Arrow Quivershaft

I turned and looked around. As my eyes adjusted, it became obvious we were on a large stone platform. There was nothing on it, except the mirror, held up by two statues. There was a sky above us, but it was night...or would’ve been. There was a full moon above us, despite it being a few days from such in the real world. The terrain...well. It was completely nonsensical and screwed up. Like Dr. Suess had met MC Escher and they made landscape paintings.

I dug into my pack, pulling out two rods I’d picked up from a magic item vendor. Each had a wrist strap for the wielder, and a cap on the top. I’d been told they glowed constantly, and now it was time to find out. I popped the cap off of the two of them and was rewarded with a bright glow, like a torch, but not as harsh. I slipped one around my left wrist and pocketed the caps, and offered the other rod over to Timmy. He took it and slipped it over his own wrist.

I glanced to Dawn as Alex eyed the terrain.

"And here we go." Dawn said. "Anyone waiting for the sun to come up, don't hold your breath. This shit makes even less sense than the stuff on the surface." Well, there went that hope of mine. "And I know we're on the surface, it's just a surface that's... I dunno, /behind/ everything rather than below it." Dawn continued.

Alex nodded at that and chuckled slightly.

"Well dunno 'bout you but lets make haste and get the kid." Timmy said, taking a step forward.

"Please, Tim, slow down.” I said. “We want to bring everyone back, and being hasty is a way to not do that."

Timmy shrugged at me, but nodded. He stopped.

"Operational plan for dealing with monsters?... Let the men handle it." Dawn said. That was fair. We both had the weapons, and neither Dawn or Blossom was terribly intimidating. Alex nodded a bit apprehensively at that.

"Yay I get to poke stuffs..." Timmy said with mock enthusiasm.

"Thanks." I said dryly. I changed the subject. “Well, Dawn, you're the guide..."

Dawn nodded, looking around. "Now... Maps are entirely useless here, since shit shifts around without warning, but luckily, the place we want to go is at the bottom. We travel downhill, follow the rivers, we get there."

"Ok. Again, everyone, remember. No eating any native food without mine or Dawn's permission, and silence is not a yes." I reminded, mainly to Blossom and Alex. Timmy didn’t need the reminder.

Alex unfolded a wing slightly, like he was raising his hand. "Um, how do we get out?"

"Mirror, don't break it or we gotta eternity of bad luck." Timmy joked.

"Can't break it. These things are /made/ to be invincible." Dawn clarified to Alex. "You do the same here as you did in the temple there. Stare at your reflection for a few minutes, and /will/ yourself across. On this side, you don't need a priest to kick it off.

Alex nodded. "Okay, I understand." I was glad to get this knowledge as well, myself.

I started off the platform with a step. "Timmy, in front with me, please." Timmy nodded and fell into line. “Blossom, you stay behind us, but keep your eyes peeled.”

"Alex, you're with me." Dawn said. She hunched over, spread her wings, and took off. Alex followed suit a few moments later.

Timmy and I started walking, but we barely made it 30 feet before there was a loud shriek. A bat, twice Dawn’s size, dropped off a twisted spire nearby and started to chase her. Dammit! They hadn’t even been in the air for 30 seconds! I got a good look at the thing as it zipped past. Glowing eyes, huge glistening fangs. I had no idea what we’d done to piss it off, but I stowed my lightstick and started to get my crossbow out, starting to prime it to fire. Timmy didn’t have a ranged weapon, so he drew his sword and shoved Blossom behind him, keeping an eye for anything groundbound. Blossom yelped, but stayed behind him for now.

"Daaawn!" Alex shouted.

Dawn banked hard. "Oh fuck you!" She called out, with an undertone of “Already?!” in her voice.

My crossbow clicked a bolt into place as I cranked the bolt the third time. I lined up a shot and fired at the bat. Unfortunately, Dawn was too far away for me to get a solid bead on the target by now, and so the bolt went astray. I started to prime the thing to fire again, watching. Had I just gotten Dawn killed?

Dawn dropped altitude, and power-flapped towards Alex, seeming to mean to fly as fast as possible straight under him. Alex bore down on them, and as Dawn passed him, extended his talons. The bat flew right into them, getting raked as it passed, but it kept flying. A glancing blow. I trained my crossbow on the bat, but it was still out of range.

Dawn wheeled around, the bat RIGHT on her tail. “Alex!!! Batter’s up!” she yelled. Alex shouted a curse and wheeled around as well, setting an interception course for the bat. Dawn zipped past, and Alex tried to bring both his wings down on it.

The bat decided it was having none of that, and tried to use its superior mass against Alex to body-slam him out of the way and keep going. That must’ve been the plan, at least. But Alex was a stormwing, and there’s no such thing as a glancing blow when stormwings are involved. Alex spun around at the hit, almost losing his balance in flight. The bat, meanwhile, had blood SPRAY out of it from all the new lacerations it had just gotten. The three of us on the ground got a bit of wind-blown spatter distributed down to us as the bat plummeted to the ground.

"Ugh..." I said, wiping some flecks of blood off my face as I lowered my crossbow. Dawn was safe, I could relax.

Alex tumbled a bit, but righted himself. He headed over towards us, seeming slightly dazed but otherwise alright. Both him and Dawn landed nearby.

Dawn was breathing hard. "Holy shit... Alex, Alex. You alright, buddy?"

Alex landed hard and staggered, falling flat on his face. He lied there for a moment. And then the sound of speech came. “Cool!” He picked himself up, and looked at us. He was grinning the most I’d seen since the forcemark.

"Okay... Maybe I'll stick to the ground..." Dawn said, tentatively.

I nodded to her. "Probably a better idea."

We started walking, passing the bat-creature. It wasn’t moving and its torso looked like it’d had an argument with a cutlery drawer. Based on the mess, it had already bled out. Tim stabbed it once for good measure, but barely even got any blood, confirming my initial suspicion.

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Some time later, we were taking a break from the hike. I was looking around, keeping a good eye out for any further danger. It was pretty dark. The moon was hovering directly overhead, which at least gave us SOME light. The terrain was rough, but nothing impassable. At least for now. But nothing was moving near us, which was a good sign.

The fliers and Blossom were between me and Timmy, and we had the lights off for the moment. Blossom was cleaning the blood off of Alex with some water and a cloth. After she finished, she took some fresh cloth and wrapped it around her fingers where she’d gotten herself cut on his feathers.

"Okay... Take two... I'm going to take Alex tophat again, alright?” Dawn said tentatively. “God willing, we won't have anything else waiting for us."

I looked over and nodded. "Be careful, Dawn. I want everyone coming home."

"Hey... It's me." Dawn flashed me a grin, and then she took off with Alex.

We sat there for a few more moments, and suddenly Tim spoke. “Water.” I looked at him oddly; he had his own I heard it too. There was water flowing, somewhere nearby. "What I mean is we're supposed to follow it, right?" he added to the statement.

I nodded and stood up. “That's true." Blossom stood as well.

"It's dark as shit up here!" Dawn yelled down.

"Then come down, if you can't see." I called back to her, looking up.

"I can navigate, but I'm not going to be much help spotting anything." Dawn said.

I nodded and took out my lightstick. "Understood. Stay safe."

"Navigation seems like the most helpful thing." Tim noted as we started out.

Dawn swooped down to a lower orbit. "Small river ahead. Should be a tributary to one of the five big ones we're after!" She started flapping again, heading higher up again.

"Gotcha. Headed that way now." I called, and then started forward with Timmy and Blossom.

Things were...almost normal for the moment. I could hear bugs and crickets nearby, and the sound of the water. It was quiet. An insect the size of a chipmunk scurried in front of me. I winced a bit, but it left us alone. My eyes darted around at movement, but we didn’t encounter anything as we went forwards.

"Do we have enough supplies for the time we are here?" Blossom asked nervously.

I looked back to her and nodded. "Between us we’ve got about a week and a half of food. We'll need to purify water, but aside from that, we'll be fine.”

Blossom nodded to that and fell silent, just fidgeting with her hands for now.

About 10 minutes later, we reached the riverbank. There was an obvious shelf where the water level had been higher in the past. But there was a partially worn path there, so the water couldn’t have been up that high for at least a few months.

"Is the water safe to drink?" Blossom asked me, looking at the river.

"Only when filtered." I replied.

"Filtered..." she nodded to me.

We started down the path, heading along downriver. Despite Dawn’s concern, her and Alex both managed to spot a fair number of hazards. Some minor monsters crashing around, a few giant pit traps with teeth that looked sorta like that monster from Star Wars, and what looked like an enormous Venus Fly Trap with long thorny tentacles nearby. It cost us some time, but with two eyes in the sky we were able to make good time, even when avoiding such dangers. Nothing really seemed interested in hunting us down, long as we could avoid a fight, we’d be ok. The less fights I had with this group, the better, so I was happy about that.

We passed a few villages on better areas of the riverbank. People will set up anywhere they can, I guess. We gave them a wide berth, but no one inside seemed to pay us any mind. Live and let live, I guess the term is. As long as nothing bothered us, I was ok with this for the time being.

A while after that, we had to backtrack significantly on a bit of washed out path, to get up on a cliff and follow that. A few of the critters on the cliff rather vigorously defended their territory, but nothing attacked us. Five to one isn’t good odds.

After a few more hours, Blossom spoke as we approached another village. “Should we maybe ask someone down here? They might know shorter routes?"

I glanced to Blossom. It wasn’t actually a horrible idea. I waved up, trying to flag down Dawn with a pre-arranged signal. She dipped her wings in response and dropped down, landing nearby after a minute.

I looked at Dawn as she landed and caught her breath, then spoke. "Blossom suggested asking the locals if there were any shorter routes. I'm unsure; ideas?"

Dawn shook her head. "Not much point. All we need to do is keep moving downhill. The rivers are the best way to know we're doing that."

"Where are we going anyway, is there like a soul...gathering spot?" Alex asked.

"Maybe they can give a quicker route?" Blossom suggested. "Perhaps maybe even get us to Hades faster?"

Dawn shook her head at Blossom. "And before you ask, no there are no major roads. No, there are no monster-free zones... And... Yeah, we're headed to the collective bottom of the toilet.” She nodded to Alex.

"How do we find one soul in a big ol mess of em?" Timmy asked. Legit question.

“I have an idea where he is,” Blossom said.

"I have no idea." Dawn admitted. “I think that comes down to negotiation.”

"What do you mean?" Blossom asked.

"With Hades?" Timmy guessed.

Dawn nodded to Timmy. "Yes."

"They might still be deciding his fate." Blossom said. Hadn’t we discussed that already? "If it was that important then I am sure he will be with Hades."

"How long it take to decide something like that?" Timmy asked.

"I heard it takes quite some time." Alex said.

"I as well." I agreed.

"So, perhaps the locals may know where Hades is right now." Blossom said hopefully.

"Cool...let’s just get there an' out before we either wait, our turn, or his fate is decided." Timmy said, adding. "If I were a local I wouldn't wanna know where Hades is."

"The Hades we're concerned about is the place that the Styx flows to." Dawn said, ending the conversation...or at least that topic.

"On a side note, I'd also want to know is if we're going to meet Nick or Nkosi." Alex asked.

"No idea, Alex." I said.

"What's a soul look like anyway?" Timmy asked. Fair question.

"It is see through, and wispy." Blossom nodded.

"Oh...well we gonna get movin' or just chat here?" Timmy asked.

"I would suggest we move quickly." Blossom said naively.

"They're actually physical here." Dawn said, answering Timmy’s earlier question.

"Really?" Timmy asked. "How's that' what'll it look like if this dude was split up?"

"I thought you said you'd been down here before..." Dawn said, pointedly.

"Place is creepy as shit, bein' down here doesn't mean down here long." he responded. Great.

"Anyway, the virtue of us people of higher intelligence is that we can walk and talk at the same time." Alex said, trying to get us moving again.

"Ouch. Score one for Lex." Dawn said.

I winced at that too. "Then let's go." I started moving and the rest fell in behind. Dawn and Alex stayed down with us for the moment.

"So anyway how 'bout my questions." Timmy said, looking at Dawn.

"I don't know." she responded, hopping forward.

"So we'll find out, yay." Timmy said dryly.

"This is just one big adventure." Alex said, with a snicker.

I mentally facepalmed, but kept going. We needed to keep going, I just needed to whip them into shape more.

"Going tophat." Dawn’s announcement shook me out of my thoughts. She took off. Alex followed her.

A few hours later, we were all slowing down. The full moon was still there, and it was still night but it felt like it was getting later in the ‘day’. I started looking for a secluded area for us to make camp. It took us awhile... about an hour, to find a suitable location near a rock outcropping. Alex and Dawn did one more sweep and came back. Dawn told me we were pretty close to one of the five main rivers, but admitted she didn’t know which one.

We got the camp set up. No tents...Dawn had told me they were just a liability down here so all we had were bedrolls and sleeping bags. Once I got that done, I subdivided tasks a bit. I got enough kindling together to start a fire, using Alex’s lighter. I started cooking the food while I got Timmy to take water from the river that I purified with iodine tablets. Dawn helped where she could, but this was definitely one of the less fun aspects of realmwalking, at least for me.

After a while, dinner was ready and I distributed portions. They weren’t excessively generous yet, but there was more than enough food to keep everyone going. Everyone ate, mostly in silence. Dawn ate without her chopsticks...Alex apparently hadn’t learned to use them yet, so she was trying not to irritate his self-consciousness about that fact.

After that, we got ourselves situated for sleeping. Shifts, locations, everything. Blossom was already dozing on a flat rock she’d eaten on, but that was ok...she’d need the sleep and I didn’t quite trust her with watch shifts anyways. Alex and Timmy dozed off as I took the first shift, using the time to clean the plates and such and generate lots of fresh water for tomorrow, filling all the canteens.

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Dawn woke me up the next ‘morning’, towards the end of her watch. She’d had the last one. Wasn’t the best sleep I’d ever had. Some minor nightmares. That said, I was still alive. After I was awake and had some food cooking, Dawn went to wake the rest of them up.

During breakfast, I took some glances around the group. Timmy was already wide awake and keeping his eyes out. He was a solid choice. Alex was grumping off to the side a bit. Blossom looked grim...she clearly didn’t like this place much. She also hadn’t slept well, based on her appearance.

After we’d all gotten the dishes cleaned and slaked our thirst, we headed out again. My pack was lighter than it was yesterday by a bit, which I was silently thankful for. We got down to the river and started following it downstream again. The terrain was less difficult here, smoothing out. It was all downhill too, which was nice. That said, we made about the same pace, since Dawn and Alex were spotting nasties to avoid more frequently. After a while, I dug the hauberk out of my pack and slipped it on, since it seemed increasingly likely we’d end up in a fight with SOMETHING. Alex seemed to be spotting nasties much easier than I would’ve expected. I guess stormwings have good night-vision. Not that they like to fly in the dark sans thermals, from what I understand.

About halfway through the day, we came to a very, very large crater-like bowl. The river flowed down into it, heading towards what looked like a squat and sinister-looking castle in the center of the bowl. The river simply flowed in there through a massive opening. Alex swooped in and landed near us on the edge of the crater.

"...well shit...what's that?" Timmy said as we saw it.

"Our destination." I responded.

"Smartass, I mean what's in there." he shot back.

"Our destination." Alex repeated. Dawn did one final loop and then came down to land with the rest of us.

Blossom shivered a bit. “Nick...” she whispered. She seemed least comfortable of all of us, down here.

"That too.” I glanced to Dawn. “Hades castle, I presume.”

She shook her head. "No."

Alex looked to Dawn. "Hmm?” His mouth echoed my thoughts.

"This is just the front door. The rivers travel /down/ and merge somewhere... Or they're supposed to." Dawn explained.

"Oh fun." Alex said, humorlessly.

"If we had a boat this would be much easier." Blossom offered as an idea we couldn’t use.

"So where do souls gather, or will we ask Hades nicely to fetch 'im for us?" Timmy asked.

Blossom shrugged at the question, but noted, "I do not think we will be so lucky." Kid was growing up a bit. Alex chuckled a bit at that.

"Damn...please an' thank you is supposed to work." Timmy said sarcastically.

"Anyways... Up until now we were able to largely avoid the shit of this place... That changes when we start into that fort." Dawn said ominously.

"Constant attacks?" I asked. “Among other things?”

Dawn shook her head. "Not that bad, but no ways around, nothing. We deal with what comes at us, one way or another."

I nodded to that. "Understood."

"Ah... Okay." Alex said.

"Cool." Timmy said. Ugh, being cocky again.

Alex shot Timmy a look. "Not cool." Timmy shut his mouth without saying anything.

"What would happen if Hades knew we were here?" Blossom asked of Dawn.

"My guess? Nothing." Dawn said.

Alex nodded. "He's got bigger things to worry about?"

I looked to Dawn with masked uncertainty.

"Is there anyway to contact him once we are inside? Perhaps he might give an audience with us about Nick?" Blossom asked.

"Do we have to?" Alex said.

Dawn wingshrugged at Blossom and Alex. She took a breath and said, "Shall we folks?"

"We're not getting any younger." I agreed.

"Lets get this over with." Alex nodded.

Blossom nodded as well."Yes, it is what we came to do."

Dawn nodded, then looked to the stormwing in our group. "Alex, you and me are flying the supplies down. It's going to be a rough way down for everyone."

"Okay, how do we do that?" Alex asked.

"I'll fly the packs down one at a time. You fly escort for me, alright?" Dawn said.

Alex nodded. “Ok.”

The three of us all took off our packs and left them there as we started down the cliff. The upper walls of the bowl were scree slopes. Not the worst terrain I’d ever handled, but by no means pleasant. I was glad my boots supported my ankles well as we went down. It took a lot of teamwork, but we managed to make it down with effort.

Preceded by:
Gathering the Team
Three Pantheons Succeeded by: