Camp Thárros: A New Beginning

13 year old Athena Williams believes she is an ordinary kid with nothing special about her or her life. But one day she finds a book on Greek mythology in her basement and discovers secrets about herself and her past that she never thought possible. She embarks upon a summer trip to Camp Thárros, only to find that these hidden secrets are not quite what they were cracked up to be and that a darker and more mysterious force is at work. She must complete a wuest along with her friends and encounter things far more ferocious and dangerous than any book could begin to describe.

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21. CHAPTER 21: JOURNEY TO THE UNDERWORLD

“Here’s the obols, pay Charon the ferryman with them, also these golden ones are your way out, keep them safe” Ericarni told them.

“How will they get us out?” Athena queried

“Think of the camp, think of everything about it. Then when the coin starts to vibrate, throw it at something solid and enter through the portal that appears. There’s a few, just in case”

“And we’ll all fit through one?”

“That was the general belief”

Athena nodded to ensure the others that she understood.

“Why such a quick escape?”

“So do you remember the plan?” Another unanswered question, she would have to start a list at the rate this was going.

“Follow the maps instructions to the entrance” Emma recited “once there, go through the cave, pay Charon, get him to ferry us across the Acheron River, then the Styx, to the gates of the underworld, get past Cerberus, bargain with Hades, talk with him, then get out of there before the hellhound or Hades stops us.”

“Exactly, you remember well Emma, so remember this: it may take a few days or even longer”

“It all sounds so simple” said Athena “but it’s definitely not going to be easy, is it?”

“No. Here, you’ll need this” Ericarni handed her the map “Remember, there could be a whole number of beasts on your way there, so be sure to consult the map at regular intervals. It will take you the shortest way, but to avoid danger you will need to make several diversions. Also assume this, if it seems quiet, and has been for a while, then you are almost certain to run into trouble, so be sure to consult the map then too.”

“Okay”

“You best get going... and good luck” Ericarni grinned

Psychí trotted forwards, nudging her arm with his gorgeous golden head, his eyes, his wonderful aurous eyes... looking alone and slightly vulnerable.

“I can’t take you with me Psychí” he rubbed his head against her again “you’ll slow us down and you can’t come into the underworld anyway.”

“Thee let’s go!” Tom called, Athena ran to join the other four, Psychí in her wake.

“Psychí no!” she yelled slightly “no” she repeated, a little more controlled, but this time he looked not only alone, but somewhat sad and deprived. Now she knew she shouldn’t have shouted, but at least Psychí had got the message, even if he had flown off in a sulk. As she watched him she realised she’d sooner be slowed down than lose what appeared to become a best friend.

“Hey” Robbie cooed “He’ll be alright” Athena knew that, but she wouldn’t be. What did Robbie know anyway? She thought, but as he gripped her arm and smiled, her heart jumped and Athena couldn’t help but smile back. Tom looked over and, glaring slightly, he muttered something to Liam. “Why’s he like that?” Athena knew he meant Tom.

“Honestly, I don’t know, they say he’s jealous, but I think he feels threatened by you.” She replied truthfully.

“Threatened? How am I threatening him?”

“Why do you care? I didn’t think you liked him either.

“Well of course I like him; he’s the one with the problem”

“I know”

“Besides, we’re in this together; I’m as much a part of it now as he is”

“And don’t you forget it”

“I won’t leave, I want to help you” he caught her eye and her heart did the weird skipping thing again. “If I wanted to leave, I would’ve left when I had the chance.”

“I know, and I want your help, even if you are extremely self-obsessed.” She laughed.

“If you’ve got it flaunt it” he mimicked, Athena shoved him and the re-joined the others.

They walked for hours across the seemingly familiar hilly landscape that wound unpredictably around cavern entrances, fast-flowing rivers, vast lakes, towering mountains and crevassed valleys. Craving excitement, Athena thought of all the adventure books she had read and how she had always wished to go on an adventure herself someday. However, now that she was on one, she realised that the reality of the reoccurring conversations and vexatious travelling was just boring. She knew why they always cut to the chase now. Her legs ached from no rest, and as that stressed her out Athena’s thoughts turned irrational. They turned from positive to pessimistic and even more so by each hour. She began wondering what would happen if they couldn’t find the entrance, or if Charon wouldn’t let them through, or if Cerberus’ attacks were fatal, or if Hades wouldn’t tell them anything at all and if the coins didn’t work. There were so many flaws and so little to solve them with.

 

Eventually, they came to a cliff edge that made a spectacle of a heart-warming view. The trees pillared a distant hill to the right, their festive green more vibrant than Athena’s rucksack.

“Wow” breathed Emma “this view is amazing”

Athena emerged from the back and climbed the highest of the jumble of rocks at the very edge to join Emma. She wasn’t kidding; the view was spectacular.

“Where do we go from here?” Liam asked, Athena pulled out the map.

“It says straight ahead” she responded

“But we can’t Emma stressed “we’re on a cliff

“Chárti̱s, how do we go forward?” The map glistened and a silver arrow pointing downwards shimmered, before fading again. “We climb down” she confirmed, making to go forward.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Emma stressed again.

“Chárti̱s, what dangers lay waiting?” The map shone to give the all clear “I guess that means we’re safe.” Tucking the map in her backpack, Athena clutched at Ericarni’s bow and arrows she had strung to her back, before lowering herself onto a ledge beneath the cliff edge.

“She’s out of her mind” Tom grinned, before following, only to then be joined by the others.

Once they reached the bottom Emma checked her watch

“Gosh it’s half seven and we’ve been travelling since ten”

“Maybe we should stop for the night” suggested Robbie

“But the underworld could be round the corner” Emma sighed

“Not according to the map” told Athena “and we need the rest”

“Oh I suppose... good luck this cave was on hand” she said gesturing to a cave fit for five people.

“Convenient” Tom smiled

“Actually there are caves all over the cliffs in the Mainland, whether they are old centaur hideouts, or just plain natural or even occupied spaces, even the creatures need a place to keep out of harm’s way” Emma explained “I wonder what lived here before”

“Who knows” Athena sighed “I’ll go get some wood for a fire”

“You can’t go by yourself, you might run into trouble” Emma pleaded.

“I’ll go with her” Robbie said cheerfully, before Tom could object, Emma spoke again.

“Okay, Tom and Liam can dig a fire pit, I’ll collect some water” and with that, Athena slung her bow and arrows over her back and wondered off into a small thicket of pine trees.

“I was really excited to leave the camp for this you know but it’s actually not what I expected, I’m way too curious to stick to instructions, way to curious for my own good.” Robbie stated

“I know what you mean” Athena sighed, picking up some logs.

“You do?” Robbie did the same

“Yeah, I thought adventures had more action too”

“At least I’m away from Kass and the other Pegasus girls though, I’d rather be here with you” Athena felt her cheeks turn warm and she knew they were glowing pink, Robbie appeared to be having the same problem “and the others of course” he quickly added, returning his normal colour.

“Yeah” Athena wasn’t so quick.

“Although, it does feel kinda lonely” Robbie sat on a tree stump.

“Why?” asked Athena, joining him.

“Well I just feel like no one really wants me here, you know? Like I’m not quite a part of it in the same way the others are”

“But you are because they might not need you, but I do”

He smiled at her, and for a small moment, Athena truly saw what Kass and the other girls see in him...but real. It felt like forever before either of them spoke again, just soaking up the moment, not knowing what was going to happen.

“Oh really”

“Yeah it’s true!”

“Okay, okay don’t take things so seriously silly”

“You sound like my dad, he used to say that” Athena wished she hadn’t said anything now...and ruined the moment.

“You really miss him, don’t you? You can’t move on, can you?”

For a solemn second, she thought about her response and what it should be.

“No I can’t, I try, but I loved him so much; he was everything to me. He was a dad and so much more. You can’t just move on from these things. I don’t get why he had to die.”

Robbie let a pained silence pass before he replied.

“Athena” he said her name with some kind of meaning “at some point you have to realise that he may not be able to stay in your life, but he’ll always be welcome in your heart.” Such kind words he spoke...why?

“Why are you so nice to me?”

“Because we’re friends, right? You already mean more to me than anyone else at the camp” the heat rose in her cheeks again “and the others” he added awkwardly “and we’re going to be a team for possible years, it’s natural to care”

“I feel the same” but she wasn’t quite sure if that was true yet. All in good time.

 

                                                                        ***

 

 

They were up early and walking by 8am the next day. Suddenly something Ericarni said found its way into her mind ‘If it seems quiet, and has been for a while, then you are almost certain to run into trouble.’ It echoed around her brain like an alarm. It was currently 3 in the afternoon and they hadn’t consulted the map in what felt like hours and they hadn’t met any beasts other than a few centaurs on their own quest.

Chárti̱s, where are we and what dangers lay waiting?” Athena breathed to the map. It shone pale silver and writing appeared ‘Stymphalia’ and carefully structured under that was the words ‘Stymphalian birds’. “Emma what are Stymphalian birds?” Athena called in panic

“In mythology they were man eating birds that had bronze beaks and metallic, not to mention sharp, feathers that they could shoot at their victims. They were the God of war Ares’ pets.” She explained “Why?” Athena pushed the map under her gaze; Emma’s ginger hair lightly touched the paper. “We need to go before they realise we’re here” A deathly robotic crackled caw sounded from somewhere overhead.

“Yeah it’s a shame about that mythology stuff isn’t it, and how it’s real!” Tom yelped, then a speck of metallic silver and bronze grew ever closer, and its direction changed, it was heading for them. How could they get away now? Ahead of them was a stretch of field, behind them: more grass, to the right stood a cliff and to the left a vast running river. It was as if they were sitting ducks in a bowl of desperation; they were free targets.

“What do we do?” yelled Robbie. There appeared to be three of the beasts, and they were rapidly approaching to where the five stood in forlorn shock.

“RUN” screamed Emma

“To where?” shrieked Tom. All of them, except Athena headed for the cliff, to find some form of weapon or shelter. But Athena stood panicked, not knowing what to do, and raised her bow and arrow to shoot at the birds, which were getting their feathery spikes ready to shoot back.

Firing a careful arrow in to ones side, Athena watched in horror as it collided with a spike and then instantly dropped off to the ground. Were these things impenetrable? She tried firing more and more arrows, but each and everyone fell straight to the ground. Realising it was useless, Athena charged in the direction the others had gone, but one of the vast birds blocked her path, and as she turned to run a different way, the other two birds encircled her. Looking into their beady, monstrous eyes she prepared, like with the manticore, for a pain that she prayed would never come. Just as one of them readied itself to aim, the other two went completely silent and fear struck their eyes.

Athena could now hear what they heard; it was a beautiful soft mellow caw that chirped in song fiercely. It sounded and echoed through the deserted grounds of Stymphalia. A golden speck grew closer, faster than anything Athena had ever seen, as two of the birds flew away in fright, the one with its back to the creature shot its feathers at her. But something pushed the bird off course in a whir of golden extravagance, and the spikes only just missed. It took a moment for her to work out what the hell was going on.

“Psychí!” she gasped, the griffin was screeching into the birds face. It managed to break free and fly scarcely away. Psychí hoarsely screeched once more before turning around to Athena. His sorry eyes met hers and her heart melted. Running to him, she grabbed his golden plumaged neck and positively squeezed him tight. Cooing, Psychí buried his head into her.

“Athena!” an out of breath voice called, as she turned around, four familiar figures were sprinting towards her. It appeared to be Emma that was calling. “We thought you were behind us and as soon as we realised you weren’t, we ran straight back.” She paused, glancing at Psychí and the fleeing birds and at Athena, she put two and two together “remarkable.”

Tom launched himself at Athena, huggin her.

“Sorry” he breathed

“How far to the underworld?” Liam questioned, Athena pulled out of the hug and consulted the map.

“On the other side of that cliff” she confirmed

“Let’s go”

Psychí followed them all the way to the mysterious cliff, silent, as if any noise he could’ve made to communicate failed him... As if his actions all spoke for themselves. Once on the top of the cliff they stared out at the view that awaited them. It was a limitless ocean, as dark and as deep as the depths of hell, or so it looked. The blue was as thick as a pulsating blood clot, yet surprisingly and unnervingly calm.

“Where now?” said Tom calmly

Chárti̱s” Athena beckoned “how do we get to the underworld entrance?” the map glinted in the afternoon sun, and the words ‘underwater cavern’ were spread. “It’s down there”

“In the sea?”

“Yes, by that cliff facing left, see? I don’t think it’s far down; it’s just round the corner, not far off where the water hits this cliff. We’re gonna have to jump.”

What?! We can’t it’s too far” Emma stressed

“There are no rocks” said Robbie “it looks clear, Athena is right”

“On the exterior! We have no idea what could be down there!”

“I’ll tell you then, hell, that’s what, but Em we’ll have to brave it, whose first?”

Everyone glanced around at their surroundings nervously, seemingly oblivious. She sighed.

“Psychí stay here, wait until we resurface, wait for a couple hours, and then go back to Ericarni” Psychí bowed his head “oh” she took the bow and arrows off of her back and held them briefly in her hands, before slinging them over Psychí. “And take these back to him, I have a feeling Charon won’t be too thrilled if we try and bring weapons through the gates of hell” she also dropped her bag at his feet, making sure that the portal coins were safely in her pocket, the others did the same.

Athena tottered to the edge and peered over. Now that she had a good hard look, it did seem an awfully long way down. ‘Be brave’ she thought, and with that she closed her eyes and jumped off the safe edge into the unknown.

 

With a splash she landed about a metre below the surface that seemed darker than it should, what with all the light on the outside. It seemed desolately deserted. She pushed herself above the waters skin and beckoned the others. One by one, they too carefully thrust themselves off the edge and resurfaced.

“Hold your breath guys” murmured Athena “and your nerve”

In synchronisation the five ducked underwater to find the unfathomable entrance.

Robbie pointed to some Greek writing on the cliff wall and Emma made a cutting motion on her hand. Athena understood. They had to leave a payment: blood.

Robbie went to cut his hand on a knife like rock, but Athena pushed his hand out the way and did it herself. It appeared deeper than she’d expected and it stung way more than she could have imagined. Delicately, she sprinkled it over the writing and the water around them misted a bloody crimson. The cave split open and crumbled, cautiously the five swam through. However, as they reached the other side, it was dry and the water was somehow separated from the rest. She guessed that it was because hell was full of fire not water, but then why have it under the sea?

“Everyone okay?” Emma asked

“Yeah” they chorused blandly, each one as sodden as the next.

The cave entrance built itself back together miraculously, and not one crumbled piece was left behind. The tunnel they were in was a rustic spritzed brown and went into, as far as Athena could see, oblivion: a wasted black eternity.

Brushing off some of the crushed dust, Athena cautiously made her way forward.

“Come on” she breathed. Soaking wet, the five crept into the unsuspecting darkness.

“Why no flame torches” quizzed a bemused Tom “hell’s full of fire”

“Because death is a shadowed dark path into the unknown, not a light-hearted adventure, well, not down here” Athena validly replied

After a few minutes of desperate gliding through the imperative hell, they were finally able to see a tiny light at the not-so-near-an-end tunnel.

It turned out that the light was coming from several ghostly candles, which appeared to be floating in mid-air, like the haunted spirits that roamed this doomed hell-hole. As they stepped out of the gloom, Athena heard a crunch as her foot stomped on what she prayed wasn’t a bone; it sure felt like one. Resisting the temptation to check, she felt a surge of disparagement, like every hope had been washed away by a structure-less fear. As she looked up, Athena realised why; standing before them was a grey cloaked figure, with a hood so large that it belittled the intimidating aura. Athena focused her vision on the mysterious figure and peering back at her was something awful: a dark, faceless, soulless non-entity of black hell-like despair. Staring in horror, she felt it glare back, it had no eyes but she knew as she watched that it was looking directly at her. For a sick moment she thought she’d turn to stone.

A deep croaking voice rumbled.

“The breathing are not consented to pass through here, cease to exist then return.” It turned away with a great powerful effort. Behind her the others were silent, deathly silent, as if they weren’t truly there at all.

“We need to see Hades” claimed Athena

“The breathing are not consented to pass through here, cease to exist then return.” Charon repeated in his hoarse, but no less overpowering, voice.

“I know, but it’s about Diávolos, we have to go”

“The breathing are not-”

“I know, I know, but we can pay”

Charon immediately stopped talking. Emma handed her the obols.

“There are five obols here, one for each of us, if you take us to Hades, then they’re yours.”

“I only row down the Acheron and the Styx.”

“That’s absolutely fine.” Athena tried to hide all sense of fear from her voice. The masked figure opened out a scabbing oozing crisp hand. It looked as though it had tried to bleed several times, but it was as if the crimson fluid had been trapped beneath the knitted surface of the bony dry flesh. Just like the vacuous pits of the incautious, devil-may-care hell-hole, and how its lifeless inhabitants were imprisoned here. Charon flexed his fingers and Athena deposited the obols into the bothersome black hand.

“Get in” he croaked, his voice was as ripped and as crisp as his hand, but as intimidating as his soul-proof exterior. The five of them cautiously clambered into the obliterative boat and as they did so, Athena wondered why she had a strong feeling of presentiment. Something foreboding: something bad. 

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