He had made good time during the night, reaching the cavern of Hades before dawn, reminding Ambrogio that Selene would be waiting for him while he walked into Hades.
He kept moving though, even at dawn, he could feel the burn beginning, the pain of it increasing by the moment. He began his descent by walking into the cavern.
As he entered the darkness engulfed him, there were fires on the walls, not torches, holes were flames exited from, providing warmth when cool should reign. Sometimes a flame flared up, given breath from the wind coming from below. It then occurred to Ambrogio that the wind was from below was also warm. His fear was increasing with each step, so he deliberately slowed his breathing, consciously reminded himself to remain calm, yet every step down into the cavern the fear increased.
Each step down was taken, regardless of his personal internal terrorizing, each step took him closer to a trade with Hades.
He turned a corner to be greeted to a world where light was in all places but none. It was as if it was night with a full moon, but no moon. And before him the River Styx meandered by. Ambrogio was at once in awe and in fear of the change of landscape, foreign to him in all ways. He noticed Charon, the ferryman, standing on a short pier, waiting.
Charon was tall, lean, inwardly powerful. His face was old, a nose that was bent out of shape, a frown across his forehead with a face framed by a white beard. He held the ferry stick in his right hand. He just stood there, unmoving, as Ambrogio approached to within several steps when Charon lifted his arm and told him to stop.
“Only the dead can board.”
“I know, I do not want to board, I want to speak with Hades”
Charon stood there, saying nothing, looking into Ambrogio. “I would like to speak with Hades, I want a trade, Apollo has done a disservice to me”
Charon stood still. Ambrogio stepped forward, and without so much as a slight shift in stance by Charon, stopped the approach in its tracks.
“I want to talk to Hades”
He felt the change from behind. A presence made itself known to him that felt like a spider crawling slowly up his spine. Unsure of what to do, and knowing he really had no real option but to turn, Ambrogio slowly turned to face a man. He saw before him a man withered in looks, black curly hair to his shoulders, a beard to match and wearing a tunic wrapped over one shoulder.
He didn’t need to ask who he was, Ambrogio knew, and without introduction he explained his love to Hades. Ensuring he described his love of Selene, how Apollo snatched her away and cursed him into darkness for challenging his ruling.
Hades stood there listening, intently absorbing the tale, and when it was over, he looked at Ambrogio, thinking, pondering, deciding what to do with the situation.
Hades spoke, his voice was softer than expected, almost kind.
“Apollo is my nephew, son of Zeus, Ruler of the Sun. I have no say over him. My domain is the Underworld, where all the dead come. Some go to comfortable places, others not so comfortable. I decide who goes where and for how long. But I have no say elsewhere.”
Ambrogio was not liking how this was going. He felt his heart sink, deadening within his chest.
Hades looked at Ambrogio closely, took a step forward and placed his hand on his shoulder.
Hades said “You want a trade. What you want is not what I can deliver, but I can offer an alternative. Maybe not exactly what you desire, but it is better than nothing. Apollo has a twin sister, Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt and Moon. I have long desired to possess her silver bow. I cannot get it, maybe you can. On your own, it would not be possible, but I will provide you with a magical wooden bow and eleven arrows to hunt with. Go forth and find favor with Artemis using your hunting prowess, provide her with trophies, gain her favor then steal her bow for me.”
Hades then explained “In exchange, I will offer you and Selene residence in Hades, in Elysium, the paradise reserved for heroes. Fail and I will place you in Tartarus, the region assigned for those who are enemies of the gods and keep you and Selene separated for eternity. But to make the exchange, I need collateral, you will need to leave your soul with me until you return with the Silver Bow of Artemis.”
Ambrogio was mortified.
An exchange that, if he fails, would result in never seeing Selene again. He paced, his heart sank, until he realized that not seeing Selene again was not acceptable. That not seeing her was his current situation. How could he possibly lose more, how could the situation become worse?
With this idea in his mind, he turned to Hades and agreed. Within moments his soul was removed, a chilling appeared throughout his body, his skin became ice, yet his body lived. He stayed within his body, but part of him was gone, evaporated into the Underworld with Hades.
….. to stay one chapter ahead of Royal Road.