The River Between Heaven and Hell (Part One)

styx

From the 2012 film “Wrath of the Titans”

The Seventeenth Story in the Adventures of the Ambrosial Dragon: A Children’s Fantasy Series

“My name is Yao Jin and I need to speak to your grandson. It is an urgent manner.”

The Chinese woman at the door spoke English formally, like someone who had learned it from a textbook, but her tone, facial expression, and body language told Grandpa she was terrified and desperate. On top of all that, she was dressed in a simple but full length cloak, which was odd clothing for a warm summer afternoon.

“Well of course you can come in, but why do you need to speak to my grandson?”

It was summer vacation and school had been out for several weeks. Landon’s and Dani’s Dad David was at work, leaving Grandpa and Buddy the Ambrosial Dragon to watch after the kids. It was after one in the afternoon and Dani was down for her nap. Grandpa was telling stories to Landon and Buddy when the doorbell rang.

Buddy and Landon quickly retreated to the boy’s bedroom while Grandpa answered the door. The older man wondered if this was some sort of trick and if this young woman was more than she appeared.

Yao Jin entered and Grandpa closed the door behind her. He guided her to a chair in the living room. “Is there anything I can get you?”

“A glass of water would be fine, Sir.”

“Of course. I’ll get it right away.” Grandpa was hoping Buddy was monitoring this scene using some form of magic. He didn’t trust the person or the situation.

Grandpa returned to the living room with the glass of water. Yao Jin received it with thanks and took a tiny sip, then set it on the end table. Grandpa sat on the sofa next to her chair and listened.

“I’m in desperate and immediate need of help, Sir. My grandfather and his master have been murdered by an evil sorcerer, and now demons have captured their souls to receive from them secrets that will let the evil one rule the world.”

Yao Jin’s young face, she couldn’t have been older than twenty, wore a look of determination, but her tears spoke of her grief. Grandpa had many reservations about her fantastic tale, but he was starting to trust that she believed she was telling the truth.

“I’m sorry to hear all that, but what’s my grandson got to do with it?”

“Not just Landon, but his companion, the dragon. Only they can save my Grandfather and his master and keep their souls out of Hell.”

“Hey Gramps.”

Grandpa instantly recognized the voice behind him as Buddy’s. He turned to see the dragon and his Grandson standing at the doorway of the living room.

Buddy bounded into the room and stood next to where Yao Jin sat. “At your service. At your service. Grandfather the famous wizard Xun Qin?”

“Yes. He saw your entrance into our world last year and kept a watch over you against the day we might need your help.”

“We?” Grandpa interjected.

“My Grandfather was part of a society of sorcerers who secretly guard the planet against supernatural threats. While magic isn’t as common here as in some of the other worlds, its presence is much greater than is typically believed.”

“Xun Qin dead. Buddy sad. Strange I no sense it because I sensed him. Good man. Great man. Helped many. Good soul.”

“He allowed you to be aware of him so you’d have a motivation to help us in time of need. That time is now.”

While Yao Jin and Buddy were talking, Landon quietly walked into the room and sat beside Grandpa.

“Buddy go into Underworld, find the souls of Xun Qin and nameless master. Rescue. Destroy demons. Return good souls to Heaven side of Styx.”

“I will go with you, Buddy.”

“Too dangerous, Yao Jin. Go alone.”

“You’re going to go without me too?” Landon was surprised and a little outraged, especially after all the adventures he and the dragon had shared.

“Buddy going close to death. Great risk. Might not come back. Even Buddy not stronger than death.” Then the dragon turned back to the young Chinese girl. “You no go, either.”

Arden Cho

Actress Arden Cho from the TV series Teen Wolf

She stood and removed the cloak she was wearing to reveal an intricate outfit laced with gold, silver, and jewels. “I am no powerless woman or fledgling magician, dragon. I learned the mystic arts at the feet of my Grandfather from when I was but two years of age. I have power that might rival even your own, but I cannot embark on this journey without help. As you said, dragon, death is a powerful adversary.”

Buddy cocked his head first to one side and then the other as if assessing Yao Jin’s statement. “Hmmmm. I see. Very good. You hide magic well. I sense it now in you.”

“Then you’ll accompany me?”

“Excuse me, but where are you both supposed to be going?” Grandpa wasn’t able to follow all of the conversation, but then, his knowledge of the subject was limited.

Yao Jin opened her mouth as if to reply, but Buddy beat her to it.

“Go to where souls go when die. Heaven and Hell on two sides of same river, the River Styx. All souls arrive in middle on island. Ferries take souls to Heaven or Hell until Final Judgment.”

“The ferry carrying my Grandfather and his master was attacked by seven demons and their souls were, as you say, spirited away. They reside on some other island in the river, though I’m not sure where. The demons are torturing them, and should my Grandfather and his master reveal their secrets, they will have earned the journey to Hell. We must rescue them before that happens.”

She looked down to face Buddy. “Are you ready?”

“Buddy ready, but wait one.”

The dragon walked over to Landon and climbed up on the sofa. Then the boy and the dragon hugged. “Big risk, Landon. I might not come back. Love you, love, love, love.”

The child realized just how serious and dangerous this mission was and how this might the last time he’d see Buddy.

“Just come back to me, Buddy. I don’t want to lose you.” Landon could feel hot tears streaming down his cheek at the thought of Buddy dying.

“Just a minute, Buddy. If this is so dangerous, why do it at all?” Grandpa asked. “I mean, what do these people mean to you?”

Grandpa believed in doing good and helping others, but he still thought that somehow this could still be a trick.

“No, Gramps. I see Xun Qin’s soul. I see soul of the Master with Secret Name. They good. No deserve Hell. If they not rescued, will give magic secrets to Hell that let evil magicians take over world. Buddy try to save world before. Buddy has to again.”

“Then be safe my friend.” Grandpa leaned over and hugged the dragon. Landon hadn’t let go of him yet and he still felt afraid for his best friend.

Finally, the man and boy let go and stood up. Grandpa felt sorry for Yao Jin. She was about to take the same risk as Buddy, but there was no one in the room who loved her and would hug her, too.

“We’ve just met Yao Jin, but I wish you a safe return as well. Good luck rescuing your Grandfather and his master.”

“Thank you, sir. Should the Good One be with us, we will succeed.”

The woman put her cloak back on. “We must leave now.”

Buddy hopped off of the sofa and stood next to Yao Jin. “Ready. Let’s go.”

They walked toward the front door and Grandpa held it open for them. Buddy looked back again. “Love you Gramps. Love you Landon. Be back. Buddy be back.” Then he turned and followed Yao Jin outside. Grandpa and Landon blinked and suddenly the woman and the dragon were gone.

******

The River Styx does not exist on Earth and yet it exists for everyone. The water is black, if it is even water. Legends say that any soul entering the river is instantly lost forever, unrecoverable by Angels or Demons. The only way across is by ferry.

With a shriek, Buddy and Yao Jin materialized a thousand feet above the River of the Dead, and as the woman was starting to fall, she saw something far different from Buddy begin to fly.

Yes, it was a dragon, but he was astonishingly beautiful…and huge. Longer than the height of eight men with a wingspan half again as long. He was covered with large, gold scales. His eyes were sapphire blue, and his cry would frighten the Lord of Hell himself. He somewhat resembled the legendary Lingzhi, the Ten Thousand Years dragon, though typically Chinese dragons of myth did not have wings.

Effortlessly, Buddy maneuvered beneath the Asian magician, and with exquisite timing, he caused her to land on his back between his wings and his head as a feather might land upon the Earth.

“What the he…” She stopped herself from finishing the sentence, knowing in this place, that word might really summon Hell. “I didn’t think this would happen. How…?”

New ideas and memories flooded Buddy’s brain. It was as if he suddenly had access to the life he would live years in the future, the thoughts, dreams, even the body he would someday have. Above the River of the Dead, the rules governing time and space were different from anywhere else in the multiverse, if rules applied at all, so here he was in his perfected form.

Conversely, although Yao Jin’s cloak had vanished, she was still dressed in the same ceremonial costume she had worn at Grandpa’s house, and perhaps being twenty years old and near the height of her powers was her perfected form.

charon

Charon on the River Styx

Far below, they could see the island, the one the souls arrived at. A multitude of souls were escorted to their appointed ferries, some sailing for Heaven, and others to Hell. But that’s not where they’d find Xun Qin or the Nameless Master.

Buddy banked left and gained altitude. The air was hot and stank of sulphur. The sky was as black as the river and no stars shone, yet somehow there was light by which to see.

“This way, Yao Jin. I can smell them.” Buddy was speaking now in flawless Mandarin Chinese. If she closed her eyes and listened to him talk, it could be the voice of her Father. She hung onto the dragon as he picked up speed, struggling to not let the force of his rapidly beating wings dislodge her grip.

Far off in the distance to her left, she could just barely see the fires and smoke rising from the Hell side of the river. But off to the right, even the faintest vision of Heaven was denied her.

Then the dragon started his descent. “Down there just ahead, Yao Jin. It’s the island we seek. I can smell the stink of the seven demons and the odor of fear rising from your Grandfather and his master.”

Yao Jin grimly recalled that though Xun Qin was her ancestor, he wasn’t literally her Grandfather, since he was five-hundred years old. He was her instructor and her master and after her family was murdered, he took her in as his own and raised her.

As for the Nameless Master, no one knew just how old he was, perhaps as old as five thousand years. They had both been betrayed and murdered just days ago. When this matter was settled, should she survive it, her next mission was to chase down the killer and bring him to justice.

******

David would be home in about and hour, so Grandpa checked the stew simmering in the crock pot. It smelled delicious. Then he heard Dani in the other room talking and yelling to be let out of her crib.

“I’ll be back in a second. Sounds like your sister just woke up.”

“Aw, Grandpa.”

Landon was upset that he couldn’t go with Buddy and Yao Jin. He thought he knew enough magic to help out. Grandpa tried to distract the boy with more stories and games, so the eight-year-old was doubly frustrated when his sister woke up. Now he’d have to share Grandpa with her until Dad got home.

As Grandpa lifted Dani out of her crib, the house abruptly shook and for an instant, it was as if they’d all gone blind. It was pitch black everywhere, hot and humid, and it smelled like rotten eggs.

Then everyone could see again, and Landon was grabbed from behind by what looked like a shadow and what felt like cold, dead flesh.

“Come with me, boy,” a sinister voice hissed.

Grandpa, holding Dani, turned the corner of the kitchen just in time to see Landon and the Demon vanish in sulphuric smoke.

“Oh no! Landon!”

Grandpa’s soul was in despair because Landon had again been kidnapped and Buddy wasn’t anywhere in our world to help him.

Grandpa whispered a prayer, “Please watch after him. Please bring him home safe.”

Little Dani, barely two years old, sensed something terrible had happened and started to cry.

******

A terrified Landon was aware of being thrown into a dark cave and hearing the demon cry out, “I’ve got him. Now just let them try something.”

A few yards above the island, Buddy spread his wings to slow down enough for Yao Jin jump to the ground, and then he gained the skies again. A sword and scabbard shimmered and materialized on her belt and she drew her blade as the first demon attacked.

To Be Continued.

This is the seventeenth story I’ve written for my grandson since last August, a tale of a boy and his dragon, but this one’s a bit different.

One of the things my grandson and I like to do together is have “adventures”. We each create characters and a situation and then we talk our way through what happens, sort of like a role playing game, except there is no board or dice, just our imaginations.

One game we play is about two magicians who solve magic induced crimes. We’re sort of like bounty hunters working for a Council of Magicians who give us our assignments. My grandson plays one of the bounty hunters and I the other. His character recently came into possession of a dragon, who often joins us.

We really did play a game about how we were chasing a magician bent on world conquest, pursuing him all over the world. We found him in rural China where he had just murdered a Chinese magician and his ancient master, and then stolen certain secrets from them.

Later in the adventure, I had demons kidnap their souls, just as in this story, and torture them for their secrets. In the game I play with my grandson, it was up to the two of us, along with the dragon and the Chinese magician’s granddaughter, a powerful mage in her own right, to rescue their souls and return the demons to hell.

It’s been a few weeks and I’m not sure I remember all the details of the rescue, but I’m sure I can think something up.

Since this story went past 2100 words, I thought it best to split it in two. I know that’ll disappoint my grandson when I read it to him, but he’ll be okay.

The most recent story before this one is called The Tiny Boy and His Dragon published about a month ago.

To read this series from the beginning, go to The Day a Dragon Came to Live with Us. At the bottom of the story, there’s a link to the next one. Keep reading and clicking through the stories and eventually, you’ll get back here.

Here’s the link to Part Two of this story.

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10 thoughts on “The River Between Heaven and Hell (Part One)

  1. I dunno, Q, magical swords are common fare in magical stories. Whoever suggested that they were made of ordinary metals like steel? And who can say what effect magic may have on the interstitial crystalline structure of even an ordinary metal?

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  2. Know how to hook a reader! I enjoy sci fi fantasy too!
    I’m going to have to go to that first link and copy it so I can read it all when I get back from my travels.
    I’m not sure my grandson is ready for some of these concepts of heaven and hell. I’m leaving those areas to his folks.
    I’ll be there for other things. Like always having books to read or give. And encouraging his other interests.
    If you are interested in the Janice vs Richard series there is a page for that series at my fiction site. It has links.
    Most of them, in that series are 99 word segments. Some have wordle lists or other prompts.
    Thanks again for stopping by and introducing me to this series. Continued success with it to both you and your grandson.

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    • Thanks. Glad you found the hook. Keep in mind that I write these stories with my grandson’s ideas and imagination in mind, so they’re highly idiosyncratic. He’s the one who brought up Heaven, Hell, and demons, and I introduced the River Styx. The themes of the other stories aren’t so “religious” and are based on a hodge podge of what he’s seen on TV and in films.

      I’ll have to take a look at your Janice vs. Richard stories when I get the bandwidth. Thanks for the suggestion.

      Liked by 1 person

      • No rush…When you get to that link page… number one is at the bottom. I find it easier to add the newest additions to the top. There is also a link on every post to the page.

        Children are definitely too smart these days. We like to tease that they are smart where they sit 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi James, thank you for pointing me to this story, via a comment at Friday Fictioneers. I don’t normally read anything involving magic or fantasy (I sometimes think my imagination is stunted by being too tied to the everyday world), but I enjoyed this and am keen to see what happens next.
    Funnily enough, my grandson and I started writing a comic book-style story together a while back, but I’m sorry to say it’s ground to a halt. That’s partly down to the warmer weather pushing both of us towards more outdoorsy pursuits, but reading your blog has made me realise I need to pull my finger out and get the project off the ground again.
    Thank you for the nudge.

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    • At one point, my grandson wanted to write a series of stories of his own. In part one, he dictated and I typed, though I had to do extensive editing. In part two, he described the plot and I provided the actual wording. There were going to be more additions, but the attention span of an eight year old only goes so far.

      If you’re interested, here’s Part One and Part Two.

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      • Thank you James. I’ll look.
        Another coincidence – my grandson is also 8. I know what you mean about attention span, but I another impediment to progress is that his moments of enthusiasm don’t always match my capacity to focus on writing (and vice versa).
        When we do manage to be in harmony it’s fun and rewarding (but then you already know that).

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