Pale Horse Riders: Chapter 3
Pale Horse Riders: Chapter 3
The impact hit them like a ton of bricks, and the brothers found themselves rolling off the back of the pale stallion and onto somewhat solid ground, exhausted. Slowly, they straightened and looked around at the place where the pale horse had brought them.
It was nearly completely dark; the only illumination came from a ghostly phosphorescence emanating from the ground itself; by what means the brothers could only guess. Scrubby trees dotted the landscape, the air was stagnant and cold, and the only noise that reached their ears was a lonely sound of lapping water from the oily black river a short distance away. Mist rose in ghostly clouds all around them, and the sky above was completely devoid of stars or moons.
As the three of them stood, surrounded by the phantasmal mist, there was no question in their minds where they were. They knew the inky river they saw wending its way into the haze was the River Styx, and that they had reached the domain of Death.
They were in the Underworld.
The pale stallion pranced around them uneasily. Having brought them hither, it suddenly seemed to know they did not belong. Its ears lay flat back on its skull, and it bared its teeth, emitting a high pitched squeal of challenge.
“Begone, Necros,” a soft, but clear feminine voice penetrated the gloom. “Return to your master, who waits in the mortal realm.” It was a voice the pale horse was obviously accustomed to obeying, for it immediately shook its head, whickered, and trotted away, majestically rearing before it vaulted from sight.
The three brothers were standing in a close knot, backs together, their eyes searching the gloom for whoever had spoken, but they could see no one.
“Who’s there?” Vidcund called. “Show yourself!”
The image of a beautiful woman with flowing black hair came into view...walking, or was it drifting? ...on the hazy surface of the ground.
She held up one delicate hand in a staying motion, gazing at them with silver eyes the color of mist. “You must turn back,” she told them. “Only souls may enter here.”
Vidcund stepped forward. “I am coming to meet with Death,” he said clearly. “I have business to discuss, and I will not go until I have done so.”
The woman frowned, considered, “No one has ever before come to do business with Death,” she remarked. “Yet you still may not pass. Only the dead may traverse beyond the River Styx. All others will be sucked below its depths, and exist forevermore in a state of being neither alive nor deceased, but eternally drowning.”
“We must speak with Death!” Vidcund persisted. There was no way he was going to turn back now, after coming this far! “There has to be a way. Isn’t there supposed to be a boatman? Maybe we could… ”
“Charon is not to be trifled with,” the spirit-woman interrupted. “Who do you think is responsible for those who cross the river?” She moved away from them dismissively.
“Wait!” Lazlo called, and she turned back, her night-black hair flowing in an ethereal wind that the brothers could not feel. She was indeed beautiful, and, unbidden, Lazlo felt his heart skip a beat. “Wait...” he repeated. “You said only souls may enter. What if one of us...?”
He didn’t get to finish. “You would wish to die to conduct this business you have with Death?” the dark-haired woman was incredulous. “...for that is the only way you may cross. That is the only way you would be a soul, is if your mortal body were no longer living. You must leave it behind on the banks of the Styx.” She paused and stood quietly, waiting.
The three brothers held a hurried conference.
"Well, get to it." Vidcund said. “One of you just...oh, I don’t know...strangle me or something, and then I’ll be able to cross the river and meet with Death....”
“Vidcund, you don’t realize what you are saying!” Pascal interrupted him harshly. “What if it doesn’t work? Then we’ll have lost Charity and you. You can’t do that to your children! Think about how that would feel to them, to lose both their mother and their father!”
“I agree, Vid,” Lazlo said gravely. “You can’t do this.”
“We can’t give up!” Vidcund cried. “I have to do what I have to do,” He began to walk toward the nebulous woman, but Lazlo pulled him forcefully back.
“No, Vid. Not you.”
“What do you mean, Lazlo? We have to do everything we can to try and get Charity back!”
“Yes, I agree,” Lazlo said with an uncharacteristic quietness. “We do... but not you. Pascal is right. You have children that need you, and in case this doesn’t work, they’ll need you more than ever....” He sighed and looked at each of his brothers sadly. “You both have kids. Yes, Pas... your son is grown, but you still have Sophie, and she needs you just as much as Gavin and Grace need Vid.”
“Lazlo, what are you saying?” Pascal asked.
“I’m saying that if anyone should do this, it needs to be me.” Lazlo said quietly. “Listen, I care about Charity as much as anyone. Just because we were never romantic with each other doesn’t mean I don’t still love her! She’s like a sister to me, and one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I want her back, too. I miss her.” His eyes clouded with tears. Hastily, he took off his glasses and scrubbed them with the heel of his hand.
“Lazlo...” Vidcund began, but could think of no argument. Lazlo was absolutely right. Out of the three of them, he was, indeed, the most suited for such a dangerous undertaking. Pascal and Vidcund could not bring themselves to knowingly orphan their children; perhaps forever.
With unspoken agreement, Vidcund and Pascal each hugged their brother fiercely.
Lazlo turned toward the dark-haired woman, who was still waiting quietly for them to make a decision. “I’ll go,” he said in a strong voice that masked his trepidation.
The woman smiled. “Then take my hand, if you would. I will draw out your soul.”
“You can do that?” Lazlo gasped, surprised. “I thought only Death...”
“Death collects the souls of the mortal world, yes,” the woman agreed. “...but all who reside in this realm such as I have the power to separate the flesh from the spirit.” She held out her slender white hand to Lazlo and waited.
Lazlo looked back at his brothers and took a deep breath, then he reached out for the dark-haired woman’s hand.
To Be Continued...