The man in front of me feinted left, then slashed right with his sword. I expected such a move and blocked, then lunged inside his guard, thrusting the dagger in my off-hand into his abdomen. Our faces were only inches apart as I held it deep inside his guts.
“Where is the gem?” I hissed as I heard the sword slip from his hand and clatter to the ground. He didn’t answer, so I repeated the question louder.
“Where is the gem?”
Blood ran from his nose and mouth now, and when he coughed, it sprayed all over my face and my studded leather brigandine. The man slid from my grasp, still refusing to respond to the question I desperately needed answered.
He slipped off my blade and hit the soft, muddy clay with a dull thud as I collapsed to my knees next to him. “Tell me where it is,” I shouted as I shook him. He didn’t answer, but stared, unseeing, into the dusky evening sky. I seethed in anger as this last chance to find my uncle’s ruby, breathed his last in a noisy death grumble. In frustration, I beat my fists on his chest, over the loss of this lead. He remained as uncommunicative as before, however he startled me as I watched a misty shimmer of his former self leave his body and disperse.
“No! No, no, you don’t,” I said as I swung my arms through the haze. My hands passed through it with no apparent effect, yet I felt a peculiar twisting, mental and spiritual; not physical. It warped my senses for a moment, leaving me dizzy and light-headed. I lowered my forehead to the ground to avoid passing out. The hard gravel and rock pressed into my forehead, making that position uncomfortable very quickly.
Hard gravel? It was soft and muddy a moment ago…
I lifted my head up, a little too quickly, causing the world to spin again, then brushed away the pebbles stuck to my forehead. As I focused, the man in front of me jumped to his feet, staggered a few steps, then began running.
“Hey! Hey!” I yelled as I struggled to my feet as well. I took only a few steps before I stopped, my quarry momentarily forgotten as the vertigo returned. I sank back to one knee and it took several minutes before I stood. The dead man had long fled and disappeared, leaving me standing alone. Through the darkness, distant lights twinkled from what appeared to be a small shack or cottage of some sort. It seemed logical the man ran there, so I began walking.
I killed him. How did he jump up and run away? And where was I?
The questions would have to wait. I stood in front of the shack and for all appearances it looked to be a tavern or saloon, here in the middle of nowhere. The only thing more surprising than its location had to be the fact that it brimmed with patrons. I pushed the door open, and those closest eyed me warily as I slipped inside and weaved toward the bar. Once I reached it, the young woman serving drinks immediately locked onto me. Her eyes bored a hole through me as she finished her pour, then she hurried toward me.
“You look lost,” she asked, “what can I help you with?” I didn’t answer as she continued to study me as if I were a problem that needed solving. Then she spoke again, this time not so congenial.
“Who are you, Stranger? You shouldn’t be here, you aren’t like the rest of them.” She gestured to the rest of the people in the bar.
“They’re dead, aren’t they?” I replied.
“Yes, we all are. However, it appears you are not. I ask again, who are you and how did you get here?”
I glanced around the room. People mingled, but very few had drinks, or even coherent looks on their faces. They reminded me of the mortal souls that wandered in Propylaea while waiting for Charon to ferry them across the Styx into the Underworld proper. They were cardboard cutouts, two-dimensional fillers that took up space, but provided no interaction. The bartender was different; she knew what this place was, so I needed to talk to her.
“My name is Dinlas.”
“Well, Dinlas, I am Lillith. I run the place here. Would you like a drink? Today’s special is a Ringed Nebulon Crush. Splash of citrus, hint of nutmeg, and then eight hours unconscious wherever you fall.”
“Lillith, I need to know where I am.”
The bartender stood on her tiptoes and leaned across the bar until our faces were only inches apart. “And I need to know how you got here; armed to the teeth, covered in blood, and very much alive.”
“I am a god.”
Lillith rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t matter the time or the person, you men are all alike.”
“I’m serious. I am a god, a Greek god to be specific. I chased and killed a thief. When he died, we both ended up here somehow. He fled before I could follow and I lost his trail, so when I saw the lights here I came inside.”
Lillith pushed back, both hands on the bar-top and studied me. “You’re serious, you really think you are a god.”
“I am a god, but despite being thousands of years old, I have no knowledge of this place. Why are these dead here? Why aren’t they being escorted by Thanatos to the Underworld?”
“I don’t know who Thana is, and I have no knowledge of Thana’s toes.”
I sighed, exasperated. “Never mind. He is the God of Death in my culture, but apparently it doesn’t matter here.”
“So there is more than one of you? There are multiple gods?”
“Yes, but I am the only one here. Now I have told you my story. Will you please tell me where we are?” I could feel my irritation growing with her evasiveness.
“I think of my goddess everyday, the Great Goddess,” she replied to no question in particular.
“Your goddess has no name?”
“She does, but only the Inner Circle knew it. My training had not advanced far enough for me to learn it before a man attacked and killed me.”
I ignored the obvious questions surrounding her death and instead asked again, “And where are we now?”
“You are in the Multi-Verse.”
“That means nothing to me.”
Lillith furrowed her brow, then pulled a bar napkin off the stack and laid it in front of me. She fished a nub of a pencil from the pocket of her dirty apron, then drew a line down the middle. On one side, she wrote Living and on the other side she wrote Dead.
“Do you agree with this simplistic diagram, God Dinlas?”
“I do, but please just call me Dinlas.”
“Fair enough,” she replied with a chuckle. She then took the pencil and traced it back and forth along the separating line over and over. She looked up and added, “We are here. On the line. A place where the dead are alive and time has no meaning.”
I stared at the smudged line under her delicate fingers. I never heard of such a place. How could souls be here and be in the Underworld?
“Any idea of how to get out of here?”
Lillith shrugged. “I can check with X next time he comes around. No one ever asked me that before.”
My need to find the man I killed before arriving, dwarfed my curiosity about who or what X could be.
“Did you see a man come in here, just before I did? He would’ve been dressed the same as I am.”
“No, but I don’t watch the door always when it is this crowded. Still, I don’t think anyone else came in.”
“I have to find him. He stole something from my uncle’s temple and I have to retrieve it.”
Lillith’s eyes lit up. “Oooh, intrigue. What did he steal?”
“A ruby? Is it expensive?”
“Invaluable. It is the only one of its kind.”
“Does it do anything?”
I nodded, and could feel the grimace on my face as I replied. “Yeah, it’s the Eye of Charon.”
Wayne Davids is a fantasy, and serial fiction writer who has been published previously in an online magazine, an anthology, and a poetry book of his own available on Kindle, Poetry Doodles. The character Dinlas is his unique adaptation of a little known ancient Greek God. Dinlas can be found blogging at DinlasGodOfHateAndJealousy.com while Wayne is penning his next project at waynedavidsauthor.com. Find Wayne & Dinlas on Twitter, Facebook, & Instagram under @ReadWayneDavids & @DinlasGodofHate.
Thank you so much for reading, I truly hope you enjoyed it.