I notice a slight change in the ship’s course, followed by the low groaning of whatever material makes up the ship, so I move further away from the other souls which stand around silently, as if in a trance of some sort. Upon reaching the edge of the pitch-black deck, I place a “hand” on a railing with golden symbols carved along its length, and look out into the Void once more.
What could only be described as a giant — nay, a Titan lay in the “waves” of the ever-reaching darkness. It is slightly submerged, but its front was still floating upon the never-ending tides. What must only be the tip of one of its toes is large enough to easily dwarf the size of this ship in comparison. This was no doubt the cause of the ship’s slight turn.
“I wouldn’t recommend staring for too long. There’s a superstition that gazing at the corpses of fallen Gods will lead to a similar fate for the observer.” [???]
A low, booming voice seems to erupt from behind me as I ponder the origins of the individual stranded in the Void, but I am not startled by it. I’ve already passed on willingly despite the possibility that I would disappear from existence entirely, so regardless of the superstition that the voice spoke of, or the origin of the voice itself, it makes no difference to me. I am not afraid.
Still, an individual who doesn’t stand around in a trance would be just as interesting as the “fallen God” before me. Thinking such, I turn towards the voice’s source to find an ominous figure standing only an arm’s length away.
If the height of my Soul is the same as my body was, then this man would have had to be at least four and a half meters tall. He wears a dark cloak, simple in design, as if the darkness that this boat sails through wrapped itself around his body, leaving not a single mark of stitching nor detail throughout itself. The first word that comes to mind is “The Reaper”. His muscles are still quite defined despite being entirely hidden by the cloak, revealing a figure that isn’t muscular to the point of being obscene, but is still formidable nonetheless.
A hood is draped over the man’s head, with its ends seeming faded and worn; at the same time, however, it doesn’t seem filthy… Simply well-used. His hands are also covered, although only one hand is clearly defined. The other looks as if it was made out of grey light, similar to my current color, yet a great deal more vibrant.
Through the Hood on both sides of the man’s head are what are likely Horns… But they don’t appear to be the horns of any animal I am familiar with. The closest comparison would be as though someone took a Ring Frisbee, cut out a spacing for the Man’s head, and put the remaining “partial O” onto his head’s sides. The width of the horns, judging from what I can see by tilting my “head” slightly to the side, are likely no more than 2cm. From the front, the horns are ~30cm in width.
Truly like an oversized Ring Frisbee.
The “horns” themselves are pitch black, and are crudely broken on the top-left of the “circle”, possibly from an impact or battle of some sort. The diameter the horns would have made without the break and the man’s head would likely be ~1.5m — the horns are quite large, in other words. The horns are tilted slightly towards his back.
Under the hood mentioned previously are completely white eyes, glowing through the darkness which masks the rest of the man’s face. If I wasn’t seeing them close up, I might have thought they were white flames burning away within the man’s eye-sockets.
The man crosses his arms as he waits for me to finish appraising him. I can’t clearly guess his emotions with his face hidden, but based off of feeling alone, I assume he doesn’t mind. And so I won’t bother apologising.
“Hoho. Most would consider it proper manners to apologise for eyeing someone else so closely, nameless one. Still, it doesn’t seem as though it’s arrogance which stops you from apologising… How curious.” [???]
“Well, I’m not ‘most’.” — is what I would have usually replied with, but there’s apparently no need. I don’t need to speak for the one in front of me to hear, it seems. But what is this about “nameless”? I have a proper name. It’s…
“You’ve realised, then? That you cannot remember your name? Anything else missing?” [???]
I appreciate the hint pointing towards my previously unknown memory-lapse. My name, along with many other things have seemingly been lost. My Mother’s name, most of the faces of my “friends”, most history lessons from when I was in school… Not that I really needed to remember such things now that I’m dead, of course. In other words, only unimportant things have been lost. Not knowing my Mother’s name is the most regrettable, but I don’t expect to meet her any time soon.
“Quite composed, aren’t you?” [???]
I’ve been told that that’s a strong point of mine. Although that “me” and the “me” now aren’t the same anymore. With the memories I still have intact, I can still be composed. Or so I’d like to think.
“Hm. You should consider yourself fortunate to retain any memories at all. You are what would be known as a “Strong Soul”: A Soul whose Ego is powerful enough to persist even after death. The memories you have lost were those that you had little attachment to… As well as your name, which you would lose regardless of how important it was to you.” [???]
I would guess that the reason is something along the lines of “names hold power”… But honestly, it doesn’t matter much, considering I’ve passed on, my name means nothing. Still, it’s quite ironic that I retained my sense of self despite embracing possible-purgatory at my time of death.
“Quite. Ah, but where are my manners? Unlike you, I have a name to give. I am Charon: Greater God of Souls, and Boatman of The Line of Hades.” [Charon]
Bowing only his head, “Charon” remains standing as he was: imposing with his arms, thick as most women’s waists crossed across his robed chest. His eyes burned like hollow furnaces… “Charon”. That is a name from Greek Mythology; one belonging to a boatman who guides the spirits of the dead across the rivers Styx and Acheron to the underworld.
“I am aware of the similarities. I was given my name from the one who governed Earth’s Realm and planted the seeds of that religion, after all.” [Charon]
“No questions, nameless one? Surely you’re not content with just hearing of my position.” [Charon]
I would be curious, usually, but there’s really no reason to ask considering I’m dead. Hearing your life’s story simply doesn’t matter if I’m being boated off to the Underworld.
“Ahh. But I wouldn’t be so quick to judge your destination.” [Charon]
Charon silently moves towards the staircase with practised ease, ignoring the shifting of the boat as the pitch-black waves tumble against the sides of the similarly-black ship, and ascends to the Helm only to turn and beckon me to follow once reaching the final steps.
Well… Whatever he plans on showing me is will curb boredom during the voyage, at least, so I follow after the so-called “Greater God”.
Once I arrive at the base of the staircase, I take one last glimpse at the spectacle of the submerged “God”; surprisingly, the body is has almost been passed despite its unimaginable size. What speed would this boat need to be going at to move at such a pace…? This boat is quite mysterious indeed.
Thinking so, I ascend the black steps with golden rims.
When I reach the top, I find Charon standing upon one part of an intricate formation of circles and glyphs in front of the wheel of the ship. His circle is located directly in front of the wheel — the “helmsman’s position”. I simply walk next to the center of the formation.
After a moment of silence, a dotted line appears slightly ahead of Charon. The most fitting description would be “a holo-map that looks like a constellation”. Each dot along the line has a different color, and the entire area in front of the wheel is littered in an increasing number of lights as Charon seemingly “zooms out”. Looking to the side of what I assume to be some form of cosmic “map”, I can see that it’s actually a 360° panoramic with the center of the runic formations on the ground as the middle-point.
Once the “map” has stopped zooming out, there are enough lights to make one believe they were looking at a full starry sky.
“This is a map of The Line of Hades.” [Charon]
Opening his arms wide in a grand gesture, Charon’s voice booms out before me with a hint of pride as the lights flicker, seemingly reacting to his words and increasing in vibrancy.
More than a Starry Sky, perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it an endless wall of lights forming a pillar at this point. A pillar in which Charon and I are in the middle of.
I’d also like to point out that despite being called a “Line”, this is definitely nothing of the sort… But as if ignoring that thought, Charon continues.
“Each light is a “Realm”, which is an area controlled by a duo of Greater Gods consisting of many Worlds — those from Earth would know each Realm as a “universe”. The two Greater Gods of each realm consist of one Greater God of Creation, and one Greater God of Destruction.” [Charon]
Holding two fingers up, as if reciting a math question to a child, Charon pauses a moment before he continues.
“These Greater Gods work to establish balance in their realms by opposing one another. They create Lesser Gods alongside them to assist them in their work.” [Charon]
Yet another idea also present on Earth, I see? Creation and Destruction balancing one another. Yin and Yang, is it?
“The ideas are close, yes. But Greater Gods aren’t so simple.” [Charon]
Turning away from me, Charon extends one of his hands towards the center of the formation without a sound. The map reacts to his action, and begins to shift. Soon, many lights which hadn’t been shown before come to light, all of which have the same color: Dark Grey.
“These Realms are ones without life. Greater Gods live by harnessing the faith of mortals within their Realms. If all the mortals perish, so too do the Gods… And with them, the Realms.” [Charon]
Looking at the number of supposed “Perished Realms”, I can’t help but wonder how the Greater Gods would let such things happen. I look towards Charon for an explanation, and Charon returns the look without missing a beat.
“Despite being made to keep balance, the Greater Gods are not always equal in strength. If a Greater God of Creation is too strong, too many Souls would be forged, and the mortals would become too numerous. They would strip their worlds bare and destroy themselves. If the Greater God of Destruction is too strong, then they live up fully to their names, and natural disasters would run rampant and snuff out all life without a care.” [Charon]
Turning to me with an odd mixture of contempt, slight disappointment, and a hint of sadness in his flame-like eyes Charon pauses — to collect his thoughts, or for dramatic effect I’m not sure.
I simply shrug towards his dramatic explanation. These Realms fell because their Greater Gods were being too zealous in their work. So much for the balance aspect of Yin and Yang. If one side can overpower the other, then achieving balance would be extremely difficult, after all.
“Indeed. But Realms perishing due to a difference in power is now a rarity, thanks to The Line of Hades.” [Charon]
Once again with a hint of pride in his deep, guttural voice, Charon stands straight and crosses his arms once more before continuing.
“You see, The Line of Hades is simply used to describe the pathway which connects Realms to one another; originally it was a “line” of sorts, but now that a mind-boggling amount of time has gone by since its creation, it is more like a Tree with no definite trunk, simply endless branches. The Line allows my Boatmen and I to ferry Souls from one Realm to another. In this way, we can move Souls from Realms in which they are in abundance and would overpopulate themselves with no intervention, and place them in less populated ones. We can also give Souls “shifts” on more… Dangerous Realms, so as to keep the Souls from being overworked due to reincarnating too frequently.” [Charon]
So this boat does, in the end, ferry the Souls of the deceased. Just not to the Underworld.
“That is correct. In fact we Boatmen ferry Souls all acro–” [Charon]
Interrupting the Greater God, I simply hold my “arm” up to stop him from his lengthy explanations.
The reason? I’ve already heard enough. As much as I would love to hear about Boatmen, how Realms are connected, the politics of Gods, or whatever else this informative being was going to teach me, I’ve never been one to waste time with information that I won’t likely need. Even if it’s “the truth of the afterlife”, it doesn’t matter if I can’t do anything with the knowledge.
Who would I share this information with? The other Souls that are standing around idle, not even swaying with the subtle movements of the ship? Doubtful.
I’ve received enough information to figure out how the system works, any more information is unnecessary.
To put it metaphorically, each Realm is like a container filled with Saltwater. Inside each container are multiple Fish — Worlds — and only Saltwater can sustain them.
Sometimes, too much water is poured into a container, but not enough Salt. The deficiency of salt and overabundance of water weakens the fish instead of giving them room to live, and in the end it eventually kills them. These are Realms where the Greater God of Creation is too strong, with “Water” being “Mortals”.
There are also containers with far too much Salt, to the point where it’s doubtful the container holds anything other than a solid block. How could fish live in such conditions? These are Realms where the Greater God of Destruction is too strong, with “Salt” being “Death”.
But why not connect both of those containers, and make use of the materials?
If my understanding is correct, doing so is the purpose of The Line of Hades. Connect the Realms to transport Souls where they are needed, and to take them away when they are not. Its purpose is simply to achieve Equilibrium between the “Water” and the “Salt”.
In that case, I’m going to a different Realm than the one housing Earth to change the concentration gradient. Perhaps because we had finally reached overpopulation, or perhaps because it’s simply to stop earthlings from “overworking” our Souls, like Charon had said.
If I had to guess between the two, I would think that the latter is the most likely cause.
With that figured out, I don’t really need to know how Souls make their way across. I don’t need to know who came up with it, or even what circumstances led to its initial creation — I don’t need to know what’s happened since, and I don’t need to know what will likely happen in the future.
And so, instead of listening to some long-winded explanation of such things, I would much rather receive information on the world I’ll be going to next. If not, then I would honestly much rather keeping the other Souls company, silent as they are.
“… Kuhu… Kuhaha…” [Charon]
Placing one hand on his stomach, Charon’s eyes seem to burst with light as he begins laughing at my thoughts.
“Kuhahahaha!! To think you would be like this! Kuhahaha! True, true! It would be more worthwhile to one such as you, a Soul who does not retain its name but its Ego instead, to hear about your next life rather than the affairs of the Gods! Kuhu! Ha… Mh! So be it!” [Charon]
Regaining his composure, Charon lifts his hand cloaked in light, and places it on my “forehead”, which is to say the lit area of my incorporeal form my forehead would be in if I wasn’t just a humanoid light.
With a sound similar to water being instantly evaporated and a light surpassing all of the map’s Realms combined, my body (or more accurately my Soul) felt as though it had been set ablaze.
Incomprehensible pain; such a feeling was registered, yet not reacted to. I didn’t even flinch.
I have no doubt that if I was still alive, this pain would be more than enough to kill me simply by mental trauma… But as a Soul, the feeling was… Odd. It felt akin to pain in a “dream”. A simple “simulation of pain by the mind — but with no real repercussions to speak of”. It “hurt”, but it didn’t really “hurt”.
But I could still feel the pain, even if it didn’t register as it would on Earth. If the pain had stopped, I most likely could have remained standing… But the pain persisted. How unfortunate.
These were the thoughts I had as I watched Charon turn back towards the wheel, my vision slowly dropping as my lower half gave out, and my vision neared the floor of the helm.
The endless ocean of the Void. Its waves were the last thing I heard from that voyage.
Analyzing Soul data... Analysis complete. Bestowing “Blessings”... Bestowal completed. Searching for a compatible Capsule... A Capsule has been successfully identified. Implementing Soul... Implementation successful. Analyzing possessions... Item Found. > Immortal object integrated into the WiS; data enclosed. Item granted. Welcome to the World of Ariot, [Unnamed].
A machine-like message appeared before my eyes alongside the monotonous tone of the System. These were the first things I experienced in my new life.
※ ※ ※
Note: With this, the Prologue is finished. Next Chapter: The MC is no longer a Soul. Look forward to it.