Hell and Styx #1 The Funeral

Welcome to the first adventure of Hell and Styx, my delightful underworld personifications. Over the course of this blog I will randomly post more stories with these characters. These stories will go out of order, written based on whatever I feel like writing that day (yay!). You can see them listed chronologically on their page (which can also be found in the top right corner of this blog).

Hell and Styx #1 The Funeral

Hell lingered at the back of the funeral, watching her counterpart, with his head bowed, pretend to pray.

After five minutes of inaction, Hell growled to herself and stalked over to the young man, standing at his shoulder. Styx didn’t move from his spot of supposed reverence.

Hell tapped him on the shoulder. “You know no one can see you.”

Styx dropped his hands and looked up at her, a cocky smile spreading across his face. “You can.”

“Which is my point. You aren’t going to convince me you’ve found religion.”

“Careful,” he teased. “You keep talking like that in here and you’ll go to hell.”

Hell snorted, looking around the church with disdain. “What were you really doing?”

Styx would not admit it. The truth that hovered between them was that their last hope for today was nothing but a fairytale—had been for years. “Waiting for you to arrive.” He stared up at her, still sitting, willing to at least give her the feeling that she had power over him for the moment. “What about you?”

“Paying my respects,” she said, tightlipped against his careless smiles.

“Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re implying,” Hell warned.

Styx smiled. Hell was getting pissed. Good. All his smiles couldn’t cover up the rage simmering in his gut for long.

“Shall we go pay our respects together?” Hell asked, offering her arm.

Styx took it without a word and they walked to the front of the church, invisible among the funeral attendees. A deep loneliness rustled through Hell, for the man who lay dead, who had once looked straight at her instead of through her.

She might not believe in the church, but she believed in faith.

The casket lay on a raised dais, surrounded by flowers, holy symbols, blessings. The man inside was dressed in the robes of a priest, age dragging the skin around his face into deep wrinkles, echoes of smiles past.

Hell dropped Styx’s arm to stand in front of the coffin. Her head drooped against her chest and a calm settled over her. Styx had watched it a thousand times, but still was awed by the transformation of her face without it’s hard lines and unforgiving stare.

She was always beautiful, but this was the only time he felt it.

After a moment of unconscious staring, Styx came back to himself and joined her in front of the casket. They were here for one this: this moment. Styx never did this as willingly as Hell did, but in the heady feeling of standing beside his counterpart, faith and death swirling around him, intoxicating him with their promise, he knew he couldn’t avoid it, now that he was here.

Styx centered himself, closing his eyes, feeling for the priest’s soul. Hell’s presence was a physical thing in this world, hot like fire, and dangerous, and when he brushed up against it he jerked his own presence away, the color red flitting through his mind. He’d never asked Hell what his presence felt like but he could guess. Cold. Apathy. Grey. She burned with emotion, he drifted. It was just the fact of who he was.

The priest’s soul was stronger than most, more solid. Tentatively touching it with his mind, a feeling of calm drifted through Styx. White followed. Styx knew this kind of soul. It was built of faith, unyielding even in death. Styx hovered near it, not taking, not yet, just letting the soul of the best man he had ever known touch his one last time. It was as close to honoring the dead as he could get.

Next to him, the calm of the priest’s soul battled with the fire of Hell’s aura. She hated this part, this invasion of purity, of silence that drowned out all the agony she was built of. It stripped her of her identity, the rage and burning that made her herself.

But it was an escape as well. A glorious, addictive escape. Faith was the only thing that could quiet the shrieks that broke out of Hell’s gates, that slipped into her mind if she wasn’t careful to keep them out. It was the only thing that could numb the burning. It was wonderful.

Hell would never admit to Styx how many of these funerals she attended, just for a few moments of freedom.

They were a strange pair, Hell and Styx. Hell with red hair and a sharply tailored pant suit—neither of which could disguise her youth; she was eighteen but older from having seen to much, but younger too, from barely ever living. Styx with the suit he wore with confidence and the hair perfectly styled into professionalism, all lies of course, but put on for appearance’s sake. Both of them only partially here, part of another world, both touched by the same flaring purity.

And then the priest’s soul disappeared. A gust of wind rushed through the church into the empty expanse where the soul had been, disturbing churchgoers’ hairdos and skirts.

Hell and Styx jerked, as if waking up. Then they spun on each other, all evidence of a holy calm gone.

“How dare you—” Styx began.

“You’re turning this on me?” Hell gasped.

Styx barely heard her words. The rage that had been with him for the entire service—which had been aimed at the universe that gave and took and made Styx watch, sometimes help—focused on Hell, the sun’s ambiguous rays pinpointed by a magnifying glass. “Are you so hungry for souls that you can’t keep your filthy hands off anyone? Is the fact that he died grounds for punishment?”

But if Styx was just now approaching a burning rage, he severely underestimated Hell, who spent every day as a bonfire. His words were nothing but sounds, shouted to a drowning person underwater, garbled into obscurity by the storm of anger that lived inside Hell’s head.

“You think he didn’t do anything with his life? You think you can take his soul? You think he deserves what you give them—an eternity of nothing. Wandering. You think he deserves that? You think you deserve his soul?”

They both froze, the words the other shouted finally worming their way into their consciousnesses.

“You don’t have his soul?” Hell asked Styx, the underworld.

“Of course not. He doesn’t deserve me.” Styx stared. “You didn’t take him?”

Hell had no misgivings about her purpose in the universe. She was a punishment, but the man before her required no punishing. “Why the hell would I take him?”

Styx almost laughed at her choice of words. Her eyes met his, a pained hope burning where rage was supposed to hold court, and he decided against smiling.

“Do you think—” Styx shied away from voicing his hopes.

“He hasn’t been around for years. Why now?” Hell said bitterly.

“If he were to take anyone—”

“He’d take him,” Hell agreed.

Both of them stilled, then turned. At the other end of the church, one of the double doors dragged open, a tall figure slipping out of the funeral. No one else reacted.

But Hell and Styx stood in awe as Heaven left the room.

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