Pallas sat in lotus on the cave floor and breathed the mountain air. Kheiron’s lair hadn’t changed. Animal furs draped the simple wooden furniture they had built, together. Tools hung on the wall. Candles filled the air with the scent of honey, covering the lingering smell of smoked meat. There was little else. Kheiron seemed to have few desires, for either things or companionship.
The dull sound of hooves clopping against the forest floor reminded Pallas to focus on his breathing and stop looking around. He tilted his head down and watched the candle set before him with half-closed eyes. His mind cleared of thoughts. Only the empty vessel of his consciousness existed, and it expanded forever.
A hard stomp of a hoof pulled Pallas back. He opened his eyes. Kheiron stood in the entry, arms folded, tail flicking.
“You still seem calm. I expected Oak’s care to make you lazy.”
Pallas shook his head. “No. If anything, I’m more focused. I need to do something. I can’t waste away in her grove, hiding from the gods forever.
Kheiron smiled. “I agree.”
“Hades has Oak’s shawl,” said Pallas.
“And that’s not all. He has a weapon—something I could use.”
Kheiron smacked his lips.
“So, what is it?” Pallas stood. Looked him in the eye.
Kheiron turned and stepped out of the cave. His tail swished feverishly. “You came for nothing. Go back to her grove, drink nectar, and make love with the nymphs and dryads. Even if Hades has her shawl, she is safe so long as she stays in her domain. There is no point in going any further.”
Pallas followed him out, careful not to step on one of the little frogs. “A girl came to me for help. I need something to give the gods reason to pause. What does Hades have?”
“Artemis’ favorite came to you?” He raised an eyebrow.
“She’s in trouble.”
“Let Artemis handle it.”
Pallas laughed, having said as much to Ada. “Since when do the gods handle anything?”
“How can someone master calm abiding and still be so angry?”
He turned back to face Kheiron. “Maybe I have things worth being angry over.”
“I am sorry, but I cannot help you. The last thing the world needs is another wrathful god.” Kheiron folded his arms.
A cool wind blew up the mountain, rustling the leaves. “I’m going anyway. I’ll tear the underworld apart until I find what I’m looking for. Help me or don’t.” Pallas turned and walked away.
“You will never find it. You will die before you do.”
Pallas threw his hands up and kept walking.
“Wait,” said Kheiron.
Pallas stopped and listened.
“It is a sword called, ‘Worldspade.’ The Titans used it in the first era to carve the rivers and oceans of the world. It can take any size, and it is always sharp. By Zeus’ law, no god may wield it, and it is far too heavy for any mortal.” He smiled. “I once saw Hephaestus weigh it against a chariot and a dozen horses, and it still tipped the scales. Poseidon loved it so, he fixed his most perfect sapphires to the sheath. You are mortal, so the law might allow you to pick it up if you’re strong enough.”
Pallas walked back and placed his hands on Kheiron’s shoulders. “I will make you proud.”
“Live a good life, and I will be.”
Pallas walked under the phoenix road toward hazy mountains that never grew closer. Still, the spirit world neared. With each passing mile, the sky whitened. The sun, frozen at noon, grew red as if setting. Golden grass and strange trees topped rolling hills. Eventually, the phoenix road’s shimmering purple trail sloped down from the sky and flowed along the ground. Water seeped from the earth, making the trail impossibly muddy. He trudged on through the weeds as the road became a stream, then a river.
The River Styx was said to grant immortality. Pallas knelt on the shore and dipped his hand in the cool water. Rubbed it between his fingers. Felt nothing. Whatever magic was in the river didn’t seem to affect him. He dipped his head and washed his face. Maybe it would provide some protection.
But he doubted it.
He rolled his neck and brushed his hair back, surprised to find he wasn’t alone. A man stood in the water. He had the eyes and the teeth of a bat and carried a war hammer. A filthy cloak hung off his shoulders. Spiderwebs matted his long black beard—Charon no doubt, ferryman of the underworld. Beside him, a raft carrying a pile of coins.
Pallas stood to greet him. “Take me to Hades.”
Charon stepped onto the raft and waited. Pallas followed. There was no hate in Charon’s eyes. Olympus had cursed him in in unimaginable ways, which was something they shared. He drove a long wooden pole into the mud, pushing them farther out. A swift current carried them downriver.
The tall grass drifted hypnotically by, until it gave way to dry, cracked earth. An endless expanse of windswept clay opened in either direction. Charon guided the boat to the far bank and pointed his crooked finger into the bleak emptiness.
“Hades!” Pallas’ voice hung hollow in the stillness. He stepped into the water and walked to shore. A freezing wind blew. He hadn’t felt the cold since he was a child.
His mother appeared before him. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes. She was a shadow of her former self—a translucent specter, naked and wounded. Blood ran from the holes where arrows had struck.
He reached out, but his hand passed through her. “Mother?” Frost clung to his fingers.
Others appeared. People he hadn’t seen since he was a child, but who he thought of every day. His father and brother, neighbors, and friends. All wounded. All suffering.
His mother hugged herself to ward off the eternal cold. A clay goblet appeared at her feet.
Pallas nodded feverishly, tears running down his face. It wasn’t enough that the gods had let them die. They were left to rot in the land of the dead, far from Elysian fields. He picked up the cup and turned back to Charon, having heard this story before. Pallas held out his open hand.
Charon drew his wicked knife and dragged it across Pallas’ palm. Pain shot up his arm. There was little, even in the possession of gods, that could break his skin. It had been a long time since he’d been cut. Pallas squeezed his fist and watched his blood flow freely into the goblet. Only when it was nearly full did the bleeding slow.
The ghost of his mother took the goblet and drank. The blood seeped into her body, making her skin pink, her body solid.
Spirits crowded around her as she became more real. They took the goblet and shared his blood between them.
He could still see through her, but her brown eyes came to life.
“It isn’t your time. It breaks my heart to see you here,” she said.
“What happened?” He took her frail hands in his.
“The gods turned their backs on us. Honor them and maybe you will avoid our fate.”
Her hands grew cold and slipped from his grasp. The color left her quickly. She turned and walked away.
“Don’t go, not yet.”
With each step, she became more ethereal until she vanished completely. The others followed her.
Pallas tore a strip from his cloak and tied it around his hand. His family should be in the Elysian fields. Did the gods hate him so much that even his family would be tormented? He slammed his fist into the river and cried out.
Charon tapped his foot and beckoned him to the raft.
Pallas took a deep breath, thankful Charon had shown him the truth. “Take me to Hades,”
Charon drove the boat ashore at the base of a mountain, stabbed the pole into the silt, and closed his eyes. With no sign of where to go, Pallas walked along the shore. A howling wind cut through the barren mountains, all smooth stone and earth, immune to time. Far from the raft, a temple had been carved into the side of a mountain. The ten-meter doorway was bare and open, flanked on either side by massive pillars. Inside, only darkness.
Pallas stopped at the archway. Perhaps Titans or Giants had made this place. He placed a hand on the wall to his right and followed the empty passageway.
His heart beat faster. Pallas didn’t know for sure if he would find Hades or his treasure, but a pair of torches burned deeper in the darkness. At least this cave held something to find.
The torches were strange. Blue and yellow flames flickered and rolled like oil on water. He walked slower. His quiet footfalls filled the silent hall.
A brighter flame appeared beneath the torches…no, not torches, but the eyes and mouth of Cerberus, the giant dog—and not as far away as he had thought. Snakes crawled through its wild hair and coiled in piles on its back. It stood eye to eye with him, watching, waiting. Its tail, a huge cobra, danced in the air.
Pallas clenched his fists. If this was Hades’ pet, he must be near. He would answer for what he had done. The dog stepped closer, showing its teeth, growling like rolling thunder.
This wasn’t the first monster Pallas had encountered. He twisted forward, bent his knees, and waited to strike.
Pallas snapped back and landed an uppercut under the dog’s neck, lifting it off its feet. His fist sunk deep into its throat—its windpipe rolled over his knuckles. Cerberus landed with a yelp and fled down the hallway into the darkness.
And the darkness swallowed them both.
The exit behind Pallas was a pinpoint of light in the distance. No sign of the dog, no turns, no door. He kept his hand on the wall and shuffled his feet, careful not to stumble into a pit or fall off a cliff.
His stomach clenched as he pictured his mother. The knuckles of his right hand threatened to break the skin. This wasn’t the time to give into anger. Hades wanted him emotional. Weak. Ready to die. He played long games. With a deep breath, Pallas focused on the darkness and tried to imagine his anger floating away like a dark cloud. There would be time for anger soon.
He was better than this. Stronger even. Breathe.
The floor lit with a purple light. How did he miss it before? Must have been too worked up. The whole temple was built on a phoenix road! He brought the Worldspade to mind and walked the path, hoping the road would take him there.
Finally, the hallway exited into a natural cavern. There were no shadows; the air itself glowed with a strange green light. Piles of coins stacked taller than a man surrounded a god’s ransom in precious stones, gold, and silver. Artifacts from all over the thousand worlds littered the floor: paintings, pottery, tools, musical instruments, and devices of indescribable complexity were strewn about a hundred stone pillars.
Pallas stalked through the cavern, careful not to disturb anything. Beyond the farthest pillar, the Worldspade sat sheathed in an ornate wooden scabbard with silver inlays and gleaming sapphires, unceremoniously dropped on a pile of treasure. He ran for the sword and knelt beside it.
A deep voice echoed behind him. “Laughable you would come for that.” Pallas turned. Hades stood in the archway with his hand on Cerberus’ head. Hades was taller than any man. Pale skin. Blue veins. He wore a dark himation, black against his pasty skin.
“Why did you abandon my family to the waste? They were good people. Why aren’t they in the Elysian fields?” Pallas’ rolled his shoulders. “Answer me.”
“We do as we please, and it pleases me to see them suffer. Who are you, mortal, to question the will of the gods?” said Hades. “Your hubris sickens me.”
“Proud? Yes,” said Pallas. “Mortal, not so much.” He stood with the Worldspade and drew it from the sheath. Green light shined off the silver blade. It pulled toward the ground and hummed in his bones. He tightened his grip on the weapon, surprised by the weight.
Hades took a step back.
Pallas let the rage consume him. He took the sword in both hands and swung for the nearest pillar. The blade came alive. It spilled out like a ribbon and smashed through three of them. Large chunks of stone fell to the floor, sending coins flying.
His laughter echoed through the room as the sword returned to its shorter length. Pallas jammed it into another pillar and brought it down, giving himself room. Liking opening wings for the first time—the Worldspade’s weight let him use the strength he always knew he had. The strength of gods.
“Stop!” said Hades. The Worldspade changed into an adder snake. Green and black diamond scales squeezed around yellow eyes. The snake’s mouth opened wide as it lunged for Pallas’ face.
An obvious and insulting spell.
Pallas closed his eyes and focused on his breath. Pushed the snake out of mind. If it were real, it would have bitten him already. He lifted it over his head and felt the snake change back into a sword. The blade stretched out as he laughed and brought it down on four more of the giant pillars, splintering them. The vibration hurt his hands—a sharp pain he’d never felt, and never realized how much he desired.
The chamber groaned. Hades showed his palms, pleadingly. “Wait! I can see you are not like other men. Let us make a deal.”
Pallas pointed the sword at Hades and smiled. “Your kind only understands one thing. Send my family to Elysium to live out their eternity in peace. Swear it by Zeus, or I’ll bring the ceiling down around us.”
Hades nodded. “Charon will see to it, I swear.” Both he and the dog vanished. Still, his voice remained. “Your day will come. Leave until I come find you.”
The gods hated deceit—his oath could be trusted, even if he was a coward. Pallas wished he could see his mother’s face as she walked into the sun. Be there with her when she took her first breath. He owed Charon a debt of gratitude he could never repay, a god who hated injustice more than any other.
Pallas walked through the treasure one more time. There was more cursed wealth here than in all the world, but he didn’t want any of it, save for one thing. In a pile of rubble, he found the silvery shawl, the vessel containing Oak’s soul.
His mother would enter Elysium. Oak would be whole again. Finally, he was free to help Ada, restore his honor, and win her heart.
Pallas smiled to himself. How quickly things had changed.
He draped the shawl over his shoulders and returned to Charon.
And if you missed anything, Wayfaring Princess starts here.
When I was a kid, one of my martial arts instructors got me interested in the Monkey King, and I’ve been a fan of Journey to the West forever. Pallas might have a few things in common with him 😉
See the artist here.