Liathny wandered along the bank of the river Styx, her sword trailing in the dirt behind her. She could see Charon’s black gondola in the distance, its lantern lighting up the gloom. Cerberus’ three heads were all focused across to the underworld, his serpent tail curled around his motionless body. Liathny shrugged her lyre back into her shoulder, its reassuring weight reminding her of the threat. While Charon may be mildly friendly with her, the last time she had met with Cerberus he had left a long scar down her side. The lyre had been used once before to send the three headed dog to sleep, so Liathny had decided to take one with her, just in case.
Charon held out a hand for his payment and Liathny deposited a few coins into his bony palm before climbing aboard. Charon began paddling across to the underworld, his thin body completely shrouded in his black cloak, his face hidden in the cowl.
“So, how’s work been recently?” Liathny asked.
Charon was silent.
“That’s good,” she continued. “Glad you’ve been busy. I’m sure it can get boring otherwise,” she said, pulling a book and pencil from her pocket. “Here’s a book of Sudoku for when you have some free time.”
Charon didn’t reply as she sat the present on the floor beside him. The gondola bumped against the far shore and Liathny jumped out.
“Thanks for the ride,” she said. “Have fun with the Sudoku!”
Charon gave her a nod as she walked off, waving her sword to a catchy tune.
The land of the dead, or the underworld was not as bleak and desolate as it sounded. From the other side it appeared to be veiled in mist, but now she was there Liathny could see the luscious green grass and rolling hills, ghostly spirits lounging in the pale light that radiated from no visible source. She followed the pebbled path through the hills, never once stepping from it. There could be untold dangers stepping from the path, and Liathny didn’t want to try her luck.
She reached the top of the hill where she had agreed to meet, pushing open the orchard gate and stepping inside. The apple trees were in bloom, their flowers gorgeous pink and white. She walked among the trees, the wind gently ruffling the leaves, until she came to a white bench seat where a young girl sat.
The girl’s chestnut hair curled down her back, her deep, lusciously brown eyes on the twirling flower in her hand. Her outline shimmered in the way that all ghosts do, adding to the beauty of her flowing white dress. She looked up as Liathny approached.
“Sister,” the girl said quietly. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“Orara,” Liathny replied, slipping onto the seat beside her. “How’s death been treating you?”
“At least I’m not getting any older,” she sighed. “I do miss the real world though. I’m the youngest spirit here, as no one has given anyone a proper ceremony in hundreds of years at least!”
“They can’t be all bad,” Liathny said, jiggling her sword up and down. “I mean, there must be millions of people. At least one of them must be nice.”
“I haven’t met that one yet,” Orara replied dryly. “They’re all so boring, talking about what is was like when they were alive. Half the time I can’t even understand what they’re saying.”
“At least you had a good life,” Liathny said. “Not everyone does.”
“Being run over by a cart is not having a good life,” she snorted. “At least you’re still alive sis.”
Liathny grinned at her.
“I won’t be if Cerberus gets me again,” she said, undoing her jacket and lifting up her shirt to show off her scar. “Look what he did last time!”
Orara was wide eyed.
“What happened?” she asked.
“He mistook me for a soul trying to escape,” Liathny said, shrugging. She tapped her lyre. “At least I’ve got something to protect myself with now.”
Orara looked at her, disappointed.
“You better get going,” she said. “You can’t stay here much longer or you won’t be able to leave.”
Liathny stood and took her sister’s hand.
“See you later,” she said, giving her a wink. “Have fun.”
With that she sashayed off out of the orchard. Orara watched her leave, a smile on her delicate face.
“I wish you well sister,” she whispered.
Liathny leapt aboard the black gondola, the little craft bobbing as she did so.
“Have you tried the Sudoku yet?” she asked, eyeing the almost blunt pencil.
Charon said nothing, but even under his cloak she could tell he was embarrassed.
“Can I see how you went?”
Again there was no reply as Charon began to paddle, so Liathny took that as a yes and picked up the puzzle book. She flicked through it eagerly.
“Wow, you’re good at these Charon!” she exclaimed. “You’ve got five right and I’ve barely been gone half an hour!”
Cerberus took one pair of eyes from the land of the dead to stare at their little craft, his eyes as black as night. Liathny eyed him nervously and slowly took her harp down from her shoulder.
“If you even sneeze I’m going to unleash this upon you dog,” she warned. “So you better watch it.”
The gondola bumped gently against the far back and Liathny climbed out, her eyes on Cerberus all the while. She nodded to Charon in thanks and crept silently past the three headed monster, one head following her every move. A twig snapped and she whirled around to see a man stalking up behind her.
He was not a bad looking man, but his clothes and hair soaked as if he had just stepped out of the river and his fine facial features were distorted by a grimace. Liathny, casting a glance up and down, noticed that the trouser hem around one ankle was completely dry.
“Who are you?” Liathny demanded, her eyes steely in annoyance.
“I am Achilles,” the man replied, holding out a hand.
She refused to take it and waved her sword under his chin.
“What are you doing here?”
“Whoa!” Achilles exclaimed, his hands up in defence. “I was only going for a swim!”
“In that?” Liathny asked. “The Styx river is not just for paddling in.”
He rolled his eyes.
“You think I don’t know that?” he replied. “I’m a warrior. I come here to make my skin impenetrable.”
“Are you going to let me go on my way then?” she asked.
Achilles shook his head, his hazel eyes sad.
“I can’t,” he sighed. “You returned from the land of the dead. You have to go back.”
“I went to visit my sister,” Liathny replied.
“The underworld is not like a hospital,” Achilles said, exasperated. “You can’t just go visiting people for the fun of it. Imagine if everyone did that. How would we keep track of who was allowed to leave and who wasn’t. It’d be chaos!”
“Well if you’re not going to let me go, I suppose I’ll have to fight my way out of here.”
Achilles wrapped her in a determined bear hug as soon as she swung her first sword stoke, grabbing the blade as if it was blunt and pulling her in to his arms. Liathny squirmed out of his grasp and ducked low, aiming for his ankle. The man was fast, blocking her with a knee before grabbing her short hair in his hands.
“No fair,” Liathny panted, trying to ignore the pain.
Achilles, his conscious getting the better of him, let go. That was a mistake. Liathny lashed out and managed to cut deep into his ankle, leaving him staggering before her collapsed on the ground, crying out in agony. She turned to leave.
“Don’t go,” Achilles begged. “I’ll bleed to death if someone doesn’t help me.”
Liathny rolled her eyes, walked back over to him and grabbed the back of his shirt before dragging him down towards the river.
“Go put it in your precious river,” she said. “That’ll save you.”
With that she stalked off, leaving him alone. Achilles stared after as he let the sacred water lap against his ankle.
“Women,” he sighed. “What would we do with out them?”
As he turned back to the river her heard Liathny’s laughter behind him and knew she’d over heard. He shook his head.
“And she never even told me her name.”