I

It was cold in Hades. It was cold, and crowded, and full of people, yet lifeless. In the most literal way. The trees were forever dead. The light was forever gone, the lord of the underworld preventing Apollo or Helios from sharing any light with the souls down in the underworld. But it was most likely Apollo and Helios wouldn't care for any of the humans down in the underworld. The only person who'd ever cared for the humans was their creator, Prometheus, who had been severely punished for it.

Oh well. It wasn't so bad down where Tobias was. It was cold. Just slightly cold. And it seemed like you felt forever tired. Forever sad. Forever destined to simply walk around the world of the dead, neither in Elysium, nor Tartarus. But for Tobias, he couldn't stand it. He knew he'd have to escape, somehow, some way. There were tales of mortal heroes who had escaped the underworld. Then again, most of them had just been visiting. But no, Tobias was checked in to the Land of Hades for a permanent stay. Would Lord Hades send someone after him if he escaped? He doubted it. He doubted Hades would send anybody after just one little soul. Tobias was just another person in the Land of Hades who had died by the hands of a gladiator.

It had been a beautiful day in the Arena. The sky was blue, the seas were calm, the sun was bright, yet it wasn't too hot. It was as if Poseidon, Zeus, and Helios had gathered together just to watch the fight. People filled the seats, ready to watch two men fight, and sweat, and bleed, until one of the two men was dead. Tobias wore golden armor. He'd been a gladiator for a while then. He stood in the darkness, looking up at the gate, the light shining through it. He could see the sand, and see the people in their seats. Above the brick that surrounded Tobias, a floor or so up, was the Emperor. He'd come to watch the fight personally. He, depending on the audiences actions, would decide, if one opponent was pinned down to the ground, finished, and the other opponent had his sword at his throat, whether or not the finished opponent was to be spared or killed. Tobias would not have such a chance.

Tobias sighed as the gate raised, dust rising up with it. He walked up the small hill and out onto the arena. The audience cheered as the other gladiator entered at the same time. Tobias repeated the showy process of walking to the center of the arena, the other gladiator doing the same. The Arena was massive.

The Emperor began his long speech. Tobias stared at the eyes of the other gladiator. The two fighters said nothing. There wasn't much formality between gladiators. There was no need to become friends with your opponent, or to begin to like him, the only reason the opponent was there was to either put an end to your misery or to be killed. The civilians of Rome seemed to love watching the two men kill each other. Rome itself loved destruction. Tobias, himself, still referred to the gods with their Greek names, being a Greek himself. He was taken as a slave when the Romans attacked Athens, and put to the work of being a gladiator. He was gathering up money from the battles to be able to free himself. He supposed the other gladiator was probably just hoping to gather up money to free himself, too. He was probably also a Greek.

Stop it, Tobias told himself. If he started to feel sorry for the sap across from him he wouldn't be able to kill him.

The Emperor ended his long speech and finally said, "Let the fights begin!"

And Tobias didn't feel like remembering the rest. He didn't feel like remembering any of his mortal life. But now that Tobias was dead he surely couldn't be held as a slave, could he? Maybe he'd try to get revenge on the Emperor, maybe he'd just try to live a normal life as an undead man walking the Earth. There had to be some way to escape the Underworld. The stories must be true. The Underworld was just a place, and there was a way to escape any place. Even if the place was ruled by the gods.

Tobias stared across the river. It was the one exit. It was not a long, wide ocean that would take years to swim across, it was simply a normal-sized river, one that would be easy to swim across. If it wasn't completely and totally deadly. Even to the dead. There was no way you could pass the river without Charon, the ferryman, and he was across the river, at the other end. Tobias stared sadly at the river, and at the ferry on the other end.

"Charon, ferryman of the underworld! Come and free me, and I shall find a way to free you from your position in the land of death!" Tobias shouted across the river. The grim ferryman did not reply. Tobias sighed. It was hopeless. The River Styx was deadly, yet could give a wonderful blessing. Indestructibility. If you were not engulfed completely by the River Styx, you could be granted armored skin. But the part of you that was not covered by the waters of the River Styx was your one vulnerable spot. Such was the story of Achilles.

Achilles.

A man had survived the River Styx, and been granted the river's blessing, too. The dead were not granted any blessing from the River Styx, as they were already dead and indestructibility would not do them any good in the underworld anyway, all the dead being completely stripped of any weapons. Even the tree limbs that had fallen upon the ground would crumble if used in any form of combat.

The tree limbs.

Tobias turned around and looked at one of the many patches of forest spread throughout the Underworld. He looked back down at the ground. The ground was always soft in the Underworld, yet there was a solid, un-breakable level of some form of steel a few feet underneath the surface, to prevent any souls from trying to dig their way out, which would simply land them in Tartarus. Tartarus was the worst spot in the Underworld, where those who had truly disgraced the gods in some way went to be tortured for oblivion. But where Tobias was was a place of melancholy, of pure and simple melancholy.

Tobias picked up a thicker piece of wood off of the ground, then walked back to the edge of the river. He knew what he was about to do was a stupid idea, but it was worth a try. After all, what happened to souls who died in the Underworld? If anything, Tobias could at least just say he was curious. Tobias drove the thicker limb as deep into the ground as he could. He turned his back to the River Styx and stood on its very edge, and pulled the stick towards him. It didn't break. He pulled harder. It still didn't break. It was a good, sturdy branch. Tobias turned back around and looked over at the ferryboat. He could see Charon from where he was standing through a window in the ferry. He waited till Charon looked away, then grabbed hold of the limb, and stepped in the River Styx.

Charon stood glumly in the ferry, looking out at the River Styx. Yet another sad day in the Underworld. He was destined to forever drive the ferry on the Styx.

"Here's another one for you, ferryman," he heard Hermes say. Charon turned towards the voice. The god of messengers and thieves strutted proudly across the dead grass of the underworld. He strutted alongside a depressed looking man. The soul, who had been looking down at the ground beneath the ground, now turned his eyes upon Charon.

"Where is he to be taken, Hermes?" Charon asked.

"Just the regular old Underworld," Hermes said.

Charon set his own sad eyes upon those of the deceased soul that stood by the god of messengers and thieves.

"Would you like me to take you to the River Lethe?" the ferryman asked.

The soul shook his head.

"Are you sure? You'll still be in the Underworld, but at least you will no longer have to suffer from the memories of your family," Charon said.

The soul shook his head again. Charon nodded back solemnly.

"Any payment?" Charon asked Hermes.

"Right here, ferryman," Hermes said, pulling out a drachma and handing it to Charon. The soul stepped on the boat, staring down at its wooden bottom. Charon begin to sadly paddle across to the land of the dead. The ferryman and the soul both stood in silence for a moment. The soul looked again at the face of the ferryman. It was bruised and beaten and battered.

"Tell me, O ferryman of the dead, was Hercules real?" the soul asked.

Charon nodded.

"Achilles?" the soul asked.

Charon nodded again. The soul was silent then. When they reached the other end of the Styx, the soul stood up, having been sitting down, and stepped off of the boat.

Tobias looked up through the murky waters at the boat as the soul stepped off the boat and into the land of the dead. Then he quietly raised one hand out of the water and placed it on the side of the boat, then the other, and pulled himself up. The ferryman had his back turned. Tobias suddenly hesitated. He hadn't really remembered exactly how big the ferryman was, after all, it had been decades probably since Tobias had last seen him. The ferryman was big, covered in fat. The last time Tobias had seen him he had thought of him as kind, but at the moment the demon that transported the dead across the River Styx certainly did not look kind, and as he turned around to face Tobias, he certainly did not look kind from in front either. The thick staff he held and the fact that he was a demon of some sort, despite the fact that he had once been kind to Tobias, certainly did not help reassure Tobias that he could face him. The demon's eyes bulged out of his head as he suddenly swung his staff at Tobias. Thanks to Tobias having lived as a gladiator when he was still alive, Tobias had sharp reactions, which paid off as Tobias ducked from instinct. He rose as the staff passed him, and tightly grabbed it.

"Transport me across the River Styx, demon!" Tobias shouted. The ferryman ripped the staff out of Tobias's hands and took another swing at him. Tobias ducked once again. He quickly rose, however, and kicked the fat demon straight in the ribs, the action being followed by a right hook to the face, an uppercut, another right hook, a left hook, three jabs, placing his hands on the ferryman's shoulders, pulling him closer, and kneeing him in the stomach as a final move. Charon collapsed to the bottom of the boat in defeat. Tobias knew he wasn't unconscious, but at least now he'd listen to him.

"I said bring me across the Styx," Tobias said. The demon groaned as he pushed himself off of the floor of the boat and started it in motion.

As the boat reached the other end of the river, Tobias stepped off and turned around. "I thank you for granting me safe passage across the Styx twice, and I thank you for kindly doing it so the first time. I'll leave you alive, even if I wish I could end your misery, but souls need to be transported across the Styx," he said, and turned around. The last bit now was to simply walk out. Tobias hadn't escaped death, but he had escaped its lands.