It would have been easier to reach the Land of the Dead by dying.
She'd worn out six pairs of makeshift boots on the journey to Avernus, but the rocks in the crater had sharp edges that sliced through the leather, and her feet were bloody before she was halfway down. The fine dust clotted in the cuts, for which she was grateful; there weren't many other reasons to be grateful for the dust, which was slippery underfoot and combined with the sulphur in the air to make her choke. At several points she wondered whether it wouldn't just be simpler to lie down and roll
to Erebus, but of course that wasn't really an option in her condition.
Bad enough she was slipping as often as she was; she had to keep waving her arms around foolishly, trying to keep her balance, break her falls. The farther she descended, the longer she had to sit after each time she went down, wrapping her arms around her belly, trying to wipe her watering eyes clear, catching her breath before she lit her lamp again and continued. Her back ached, and not only from the fading bruises of the beating she'd been given by the goddess's handmaidens. And the goddess herself. A sort of an honor, she supposed, having your hair pulled personally by a fundamental force of nature.
There were things that made her want to laugh. There always are, at the worst times. Now and then the drugged honeycakes she was carrying for the dog would start to smell terribly appealing, and the child inside her would shift and kick and really, she didn't blame it.
"It's ridiculous," she said. Not aloud, for the first fit of coughing taught her better than that, but over and over to herself. Aeneas and the other heroes who had come this way had been half gods themselves. And they hadn't damn well had to do it pregnant
Her child's kicking was something of a comfort, though, proof that it still lived and so did she. A reason to keep walking, and a distraction from the other pain.
The dust wore away but the vapors increased as she went on, and finally the lamp went out. The flint wouldn't render a single spark, no matter how desperately she struck it, and finally she screamed into the darkness. And noticed, amid the choking fit resulting, that the sound of the echoes had changed.
It grew a little lighter at the edge of Erebus. It wasn't, needless to say, a very cheerful
kind of light, blue and flickering in a way that baffled her until she saw the river. And though she couldn't have done with out it, she did wonder whether it would have been better or worse not to be able to see the dead as she bumped shoulders with them in the mists.
There were so many
dead. It was staggering. And she didn't want to be there, every living part of her was shrieking with dread and the knowledge that this wasn't somewhere she was supposed to be. That this was not a sight to be seen with living eyes. Not that there had been a shortage of such sights for her recently, but this was...well, it wasn't pretty.
She had to bear it.
And if some of the faces she passed looked familiar, if the faint, glazed puzzlement in their eyes looked almost like recognition, she did not stop. And they did not call to ask her why she was still alive, wasn't she supposed to have died for them. She almost wanted to laugh again, hysterical with the horror of it when she came to the edge, where the river lapped at the shore. And then she heard her name.
Her sisters stood together, holding hands, and she wished passionately then for darkness. The shadows cast on their faces did little to obscure what she was seeing.
They looked at each other, that old trick of they had always had ofturning their heads at exactly the same time to roll their eyes at her nonsense or to think of a really convincing lie. And then they looked back at her. "We fell," said the elder.
"From the rock," said the younger.
"Both of us. Though we didn't see each other. "
"Her and then me. We jumped and the wind didn't catch us."
She stared at them till she could no longer bear to keep staring, and instead said, "But...why...?"
"We were trying to get to your palace, stupid."
"But...but you knew
"Psyche," said the elder, and there was desperation in her voice. "No one knew, no one came to bury us."
"I...I'm so sorry."
"Psyche," said the younger. "We can't cross."
She couldn't speak. She was the only mortal breathing in this place, and she couldn't breathe.
"The boatman won't take us without his fee."
He was there at the edge of the river, a dark figure in the light of the flames. The boat was smaller than she would have guessed.
She had two coins with her, one to go and one to come back. Two coins.
The child moved inside her.
They clung to her with their dead hands as she stepped in the boat, and the boatman did not help her. Her sisters had taught her to spin with those hands, touched her brow when she was sick, braided her hair and tugged on the braids. They could not follow her into the boat.
"I'll come back," she promised them. "I will, alone again if I have to. I'll find you."
She had not thought, before she was standing there at the prow, turning towards the plains coming into sight beyond the river, all sulphur-bright with the tall flowers of asphodel - she had not thought that there was so much of her heart left to break.((More info about Avernus than I ever dreamed of needing.))