Chapter 2:

The forest got deeper and danker and darker, until there was only a dim green twilight cast through the leaves. A hiss sounded when she stepped on a soft spot in the brush. Aiden swiped her foot away and skipped ahead of Ryan, who snickered at her alarm. "This way." He said, waving her to follow him. They came to a part of the forest where fibers of grass and mud interlaced, and the ground grew soggier the further they walked.

"Who's there? Yeesh, all these fat idjits... " grumbled a voice. Aiden walked towards it, and caught a glimpse of something gliding behind the trees, like a ghost through a tea-stained shade.

"Do you think we should...?" Aiden asked Ryan. When in Hell, do as the demons do, Aiden thought.

"Yeah." Ryan stepped through the rustling bush, "Hello? Charon?" he asked.

"Aye. S'Charon. Ryachacht, is that you?" ventured the grumbling voice. A few rippling sounds accompanied his words as he paddled towards them.

"Yes, but call me Ryan." Ryan turned to Aiden and helped her through the foliage. "Aiden, Charon; Charon, Aiden." he introduced them with slick waves of his hands.

"How d'ye do?" Charon extended a hand to her, with fingers gnarled and brown like wind-whipped branches. His thinness startled Aiden, as she could almost see the sharp edges of bone under his baggy skin. Willing her nerves to stay calm, she grasped his hand and shook it. "What a porker your girlfriend is, Ryachacht!" Charon cackled, "I haven't seen anyone so thick around the middle since The Bovine Wonder came across the Styx in her meat freezer! Ahahaha!"

"Well, nice to meet you too. I think you need glasses, old man." Aiden scoffed, "All this time alone is making you cranky." She placed her hips on her waist and shivered, feeling a little more extra padding there than she remembered.

"Don't worry," Ryan said, "he does that to everybody."

"But I'm right. You've been packing it on, too, Ryanch Dressing. It'll kill you one day..." Charon's eyes rolled with joy at his "brilliant" insults.

"Well, fatties though we may be, we need to get across the Styx. What's your price?" Ryan asked.

"Something that young lady's got in her pockets. Something that would allow me to leave this boat as I please... hehehe..."

"The Hell Stone?"
"The Hell Stone. Gimme." he stuck his hand over the shore, and Aiden mentally braced herself to mask her aversion.

"Actually, we still need it... maybe we can come back and return it to you later?"

"Yea..." he slipped his hand in and out of her pocket, quick as a swallow. "That's not gonna work for me. You see, I want it, very very soon..." he clutched the stone to his chest, and held it there like it was his child, snickering greedily. Suddenly, his eyes burst wide and he let forth a scream of pain. He dropped the stone onto the shore, where the waves rinsed it and dimmed its red glow.

"!" he gurgled through the bloody liquid seeping out of his mouth. He spat the first of it onto the sand, and let the rest drip out the corners as he leaned off the boat.

"Uh... Charon?" Ryan asked, "I wonder if he's alright... Chaaaarrron... we need to get acroooossss..." Charon lay over the side like a corpse. Then miraculously he straightened up and squeezed the rest of the fluid from his jagged, snowy-colored beard.

"Bastard put a twisting spell on it." Charon gasped, his breaths still fettered by a half-full bronchial tube, "Would have turned me inside-out, if I weren't immortal. Sorry-- can't take that as payment." He coughed a reddish spray out towards the water. "Hugk-- find something else." He waved his hand for them to leave, and rowed away again when they stayed there, staring in shock.

"So... what else does Charon usually like? Maybe we could bring him some more victims to abuse?" Aiden suggested.

"Well, in ancient Grecian times, the dead used to pay their way across with coins. If we're lucky, somebody lost theirs in the woods, though I doubt they'd lose it for long." He paused in thought for a few moments before returning to the wood. Aiden followed him, carefully keeping him in the corner of her eye as she perused a heap of dead branches. "Okay-- I'm going North of Acheron. Just wait here and see if you find anything." Ryan said.

"Ryan-- where are you going?" Aiden asked, but he was already gone. Aiden parted a quartet of elephant leaves to find herself staring into the vacant eyes of a golden-hued snake. It flicked its tongue and slithered away noiselessly before Aiden could even take a clear mental picture. "Echh... yep, I'll just stay over here." Aiden said saw a clearing and stepped into it's faint light, watching like a hawk for anything else slithery or sinister that ventured out of the bushes.

Ryan stepped out from behind a tree, wheezing slightly from the humidity. He coughed and pushed his hair out of his face. "Hello?" he asked, peering through thick reeds into a quiet pond, "Alright, anybody here? Anyone who knows where to find coins?"

"Ooh, pick me." Satan's image appeared on the pond's mucky surface.

Ryan smiled and said, "Hey, what have you been up to, buddy? Anything I can do to help?"

"Oh, stop trying to suck up to me. You know you're the only candidate for the Devil's inheritance I've got so far." Satan sighed, and the murky waters waved sluggishly. "Since Lilith has gone to the blackness and I'm going myself, I haven't got time to look for anyone else…"

"Well, I'll try to be the best I can, anyway."

"Good boy. By the way, where's Aiden? Did I not tell you to watch over her?" Satan demanded.

"Oh, I left her back near the Styx… but she's fine. I promise." Ryan nodded sharply.

"Hm. She better be." Satan's glanced to his left in annoyance. He took a large bronze coin between his corn-husk-like fingernails"Well, here. Have Charon take her over the river, and don't let me catch you without her again!!!" he shrieked before splashing back into oblivion.