Aegeus, Bion, and the Sacred Flower PART 2

Submitted into Contest #96 in response to: Write about a character who has to rely on the hospitality of strangers.... view prompt

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Adventure Fantasy

“What’s your name, boy?”

“Bion, sir.”

“Well, Bion, I cannot allow you on this journey with me. You are far too young and this

expedition is far too dangerous.”

“But sir,” Bion protested. “It is our custom, do not force me to break tradition. There are

consequences for such actions.”

Aegeus thought about this. The boy was no older than 12, and his task was not at all child

friendly.

“Take hm with you.” Aegeus jumped. Apollo, in all his splendor, had just appeared behind Bion.

“No, they can’t see me, and no, you should not try to talk to me. These poor people would think you

mad and then you would lose your only chance at success in this quest.” Apollo sighed upon seeing

Aegeus’ confusion. “You remember what I said to you as you set off? ‘Alone a man suffers, together men

thrive.’ Do you wish to suffer?” Aegeus shook his head. “Then the boy comes along!” And with a whoosh

of wind and a note of lyre, he was gone.

“So?” Asked Bion. “What say you?”

*sigh* “Fine.”

STAGE THREE

“Why are you talking to a map?” The question surprised Aegeus. Except for simple directional

phrases, the two travelers had been almost silent for the past few days. Aegeus had been about ready to

explode from the lack of sound, and had decided to talk to Bakchos.

“I’m not talking to a map.” Replied the hero.

“Yes, you are. That’s a map, isn’t it?”

“Sort of,”

“And you not speaking to me, right?”

“Well,”

“So, you’re talking to a map.” Aegeus did not appreciate this young boy’s lip.

“It’s not just any map. Here, come look.” Bion peered over his shoulder to see what the fuss was

about, and stumbled back in shock when he saw Bakchos waving up to him.

“How,” He stammered. “How did you do that?”

“His name is Bakchos, and he’s a gift from Zeus.”

“You’ve met Zeus?” Bion’s eyes widened, making his already skinny face appear even thinner.

“And Apollo.” Aegeus gave the boy a sly smile, clearly enjoying his bewilderment.

“So, Aegeus,” Bion began, having recovered from his shock. “What is this quest for anyway?”

“I’m looking for a flower.”

“A flower?” Scoffed the boy. “I could’ve found you one of those!”

“It’s not just any flower.” Aegeus filled him in on the whole story.

“Woah dude. That’s messed up.” Bion scratched his head. “But, how do you know your wife will

die in child birth? I mean, she could be killed a lot of ways. Sickness, earthquake, eaten by a riddling

sphynx monster…”

“Can we not talk about all the ways my unprotected wife could perish please?” Aegeus

interrupted.

“I’m just saying,” protected the boy

“Well stop.”

“Fine.” And they lapsed back into silence.

The sky was beginning to dim, turning the wispy clouds pink and orange, as though dipped in

colored sugar.

“Let’s stop here for the night.” The pair had begun the trek in rolling hills and lush grass, but the

further they went, the lass bountiful the land became. For the past few hours they had been walking

though nothing but flat, barren landscape surrounded by craggy cliffs and dusty ground. Nestled in one

of these cliffs was a cave, relatively deep and out of sight. Perfect.

Aegeus got a fire started and the two sat facing each other, once again without words. Bion held

his arm close to his chest, as if it had been injured.

“What’s wrong with your arm?” Asked Aegeus, concerned.

“It’s nothing.” The boy didn’t meet his eyes.

“Let me see.” He scooted towards Bion, and when the boy didn’t protest, he gently pried the

arm away from his chest. A bloody gash, about 6 inches long, ran across his forearm. It looked painful,

though it was mostly scabbed over, but the youth hadn’t said a thing about the wound the entire time

they had been together.

“How long has this been here?” Asked Aegeus quietly.

“I got it the day you arrived in Cyanea. It’s a ritual for all the chosen to take.” The hero ripped

some hem from the bottom of his shirt and carefully cleaned and bandaged the cut.

“Oh, and by the way,” Said Bion. “I knew the answer to the question.” This shocked the hero.

“Wait, then why didn’t you…”

“Answer?” Bion interjected. “Well, I wasn’t actually chosen that day. My sister was.” he paused,

taking a deep breath. “She’s only seven, I think Alta knew that and that’s why she took her.” He looked

at Aegeus. “She wanted to weed out the weak ones, and Calliope’s lame, so.” He trailed off, his eyes

misting. “She has the most beautiful voice I’ve ever hear. Calliope, not Alta. When she sings, even the

birds stop to listen. The wind stills and the sky clears like magic. It’s why the sky is so blue in Cyanea.” He

sniffed. “I couldn’t let Alta take her.”

“So, you volunteered.” Aegeus’ respect for the boy had grown in those few minutes. Bion, only

12, had been prepared to give his life for his sister. “Thanks for telling me.” In those moments of

vulnerability, Aegeus had seen into Bion’s soul. His heart was good, even if he tried to cover it up

sometimes.

Thunder cracked outside and rain began to pour. A storm had snuck up on them.

“Try to get some sleep. I’ll keep watch.” Aegeus stoked the fire, and was surprised when Bion

leaned his head against his shoulder, snoring softly.

---

The rain continued to pour through the next day, and Aegeus took the chance to break more ice

between him and Bion. Turns out the boy was the eldest in his family, left handed, and wanted to

compete in the Olympics when he grew up.

“I think it would be such an honor to be the victor.” Gushed the boy.

“Even though there’s no reward for the title?” Challenged Aegeus.

“I think the accomplishment is reward enough.” The hero ruffled the Bion’s hair, a habit he

come to doing out of affection for the boy.

But as the days grew on, the storm got worse. Zeus seemed as though he was in anguish as

lightning ripped though the sky. Aegeus knew their deadline was looming, but he feared that if the

ventured out into the storm they might never return. Even Bakchos was looked anxious, pacing back and

fort on the map’s sodden surface. They were remarkably close to their destination, but this storm was

unexpected.

“I think we need to head out.” Said Bion on their sixth morning in the cave.

“I don’t think it’s safe,” Began Aegeus. He was standing by the cave entrance, surveying the

storm.

“We need to get the poppy,” Bion protested. “For Elene.” The hero looked down at Bakchos,

hoping the tentative cartoon would side with reason. But Bakchos looked ready to move, his arms and

legs swinging as if to say Hurry! Let’s get out of here before this place collapses on top of us!

“Fine. Lets…” But he was interrupted by a crack of lighting and a bang of an explosion.

Microseconds later, a blinding flash of white light filled his vision and he was thrown back into the gale.

His head connected with stone, and his mind went black.

---

He came to with a pack of dogs running through his head. The rain streaked down his face,

causing his vision to blur. He blinked a few times a wiped the water from his eyes. Bion! Where is Bion?

His mind screamed and his muscled groaned as he stood, forcing himself to search the smoking ruins for

the boy.

Not much time ad passed before Bion was spotted, well, half of Bion. When Aegeus found him,

the youth was trapped under a large boulder. His midsection had been completely severed, and the only

thing actually keeping him from literally falling apart was the rock pinning him to the ground. Aegeus fell

to his knees, lifting the boy’s head into his lap.

“Bion!” He screamed. “Bion, can you hear me? Bion!”

“Aegeus?” The boy’s voice was weak, and Aegeus had to strain to make out his next words. “He

said this would happen. He told me to *cough* give this to you.” Bion lifted a necklace Aegeus hadn’t

noticed before from around his neck and held it in the hero’s hand. “Get the flower. Save Elene. But,

*cough* on your way back home, *cough*make sure my sister’s okay.”

“I will Bion.” Aegeus promised. “I will.” His eyes misted as the life slowly began to drain from

Bion’s eyes. His face slackened and he hand went limp. Tears mixed with rain as they ran down his face,

and then he was gone.

Aegeus tried to move the boy’s body for a proper burial, but the boulder would not budge.

Eventually, he just piled stones and pebbles atop the body in a mound and creating a sort of marker for

the head, tying a strip of fabric torn from his shirt to a twig.

But, as much as he wanted to stay and mourn his lost companion, he knew his time was running

out, and he needed to move on. Most of his gear had been smashed in the collapse, but he found

Bakchos near where he had awoken, sheltered by a few falling stones. The little cartoon had takin a

liking to Bion, much like Aegeus, and silently demanded to see the grave before they set off.

Aegeus wasn’t sure if animations could cry, but Bakchos definitely wept upon seeing hurried

grave, little tics of ink flying from his hand covered face. Eventually, they both recovered and agreed

that it was time lo leave Bion behind.

The journey after that was short, and they arrived to the entrance of the Underworld before the

day had ended.

“How do we find the poppies once were inside?” Aegeus asked. Bakchos shrugged, as if to say

How should I know? Aegeus took a deep breath, mustering up the last drops of his resolve, and strode

into the cavern.

“I can do this. I am prepared for this. All I need is a flower for my wife and unborn child. Come

on Aegeus, you can do this!” He was trying to psyche himself up, but that last part sounded more like a

question than a war cry. He was scared, but, then again, who wouldn’t be afraid walking into Hell with

nothing but a semi communicable map and a few drachmas in his pocket?

STAGE FOUR

The tunnel was dark and dry, like the parched throat of a giant. A hot gust of sulfuric wind

swirled around Aegeus, making him almost drop Bakchos. A red glow seemed to emanate from the end

of the passage way, and Aegeus wasn’t eager to find its source.

After twists and turns, hills and dips, the snaking hallway opened up to an oval cavern with wide

walls and a high ceiling.

“I guess this is the end, WOAH!” Upon entering the room, Aegeus had almost walked right off

the edge of the tunnel. Plunk. A pebble pushed by Aegeus’s trip had fallen off the ledge and… Plunked?

“This must be water.” Gawked the hero. “Some sort of underground pool.” A small bell tinkled a

haunting tune, and, all of the sudden, a boat was there, sitting motionless before Aegeus.

“Pay a fee to pass.” Droned the ferryman. His voice was emotionless and flat, face and body

hidden by a dark cowl.

“A fee?” Asked Aegeus. “Will you take me to Thanatos’ garden?”

“Pay a fee to pass.”

Aegeus dug around in his pocket before producing a few gold drachmas, gifts that has magically

appeared in his pocket from Apollo. He held them out to the boatman, who accepted them and

motioned for the hero to climb aboard. But as the boat began to move, its path made its way straight for

the solid stone wall.

“Um, Sir? You’re going to crash.” Aegeus said, politely. But when the vessel did not turn, he

began to panic. “Sir? Turn the boat!” the speed was increasing, and the wall was looming. Aegeus

covered his head, preparing for impact, but just when he thought they would be smashed to

smithereens, the scenery changed. The sky was filled with smoke, black and thick. Dry, yellowed grass

cracked in the gale. Souls wandered aimlessly throughout the planes, silent as, well, silent as the grave.

“The Asphodel Meadows are for those who wasted their lives.” It was the first time the boatman

had spoken since accepting his fee. He motioned to the purposeless souls. Apparently, this trip came

with a guided tour. “They accomplished none, loved few, and left no mark, good or bad, when they

passed. This is how the majority of your race spend their eternity.”

Aegeus peered over the edge of the boat, searching for a small boy with golden hair and a thin

frame. The Bion hadn’t had much of a chance to make and impact, being only 12. Would the judges take

his young age into account? The boat turned and they passed a pleasant, clean looking village. Bright,

colorful houses dotted a cobbled road and lush, green grass. He saw Perseus, Theseus, and other great

heroes milling about, chatting happily.

“Elysium is the village of heroes. Those who did great things in their lives end up here.”

But the next place they passed was not so joyful. The ground was scorched black, and souls

were forced to do the worst things imaginable. Naked people swimming through lakes of thumb tacks,

never ending piles of dishes being handwashed in lukewarm water, and 80’s haircuts were just a few

terrors Aegeus’ witnessed. He could see Tantalus, always hungry, never eating. Or Sisyphus, made to

eternally struggle to push a gigantic boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down once he reached the

top.

“These are the fields of punishment, where the foolish, prideful, and despicable souls reside.”

“This tour is great,” Aegeus started. “But I’m in a massive hurry. Do you think we could speed

things up and arrive at Thanatos’s garden?” The mysterious man sighed, dipping his oar back in the river.

Then, in a rush of wind and a silent flash of light, they had arrived. The castle was morbidly

extravagant, made from dark obsidian inlayed with thigs of fascinating beauty. The expertly preserved

skeletons of many creatures passed, humans and monsters alike. Some dressed in roman attire, some

Greek, some Chinese, and some Aegeus didn’t even recognize.

“Thank you for,” Aegeus turned to thank the gondolier, but he had vanished. Okay… he thought

that’s a little creepy.

He crept around the side of the house, hoping to find a fence or something labeled: Thanatos’s

Poppies. KEEP OUT but, alas, he had no such luck. He circled the perimeter of the structure without as

much as a petal.

“Look up, you idiot! Look up!” Aegeus started at the sudden rebuke. Apollo had, once again,

appeared out of thin air to give the hero advice. “You don’t have time to mosey around like it’s a Sunday

afternoon! They’re coming back!”

“Wait, who’s coming back?” But the god had vanished. Look up… Aegeus tilted his head

skyward, where we spotted a balcony. “But how do I get up there… OUCH!” Something had bonked him

on the head. It was a pair of winged sandals. Aegeus read the label.

A gift from my pal Hermes. Just strap on and get a running start. -Apollo

Aegeus tugged on the fluttering shoes, and backed up a few paces. He began to jog steadily

toward the balcony, then leapt into the air. The shoes flapped and carried him higher and higher until he

dropped onto the ledge, tucking into a roll to absorb the impact.

“That was, exciting.” Aegeus gasped, dusting himself off. “Now for the poppy.” He surveyed the

garden. The god’s sacred flower was everywhere, in fact, the blossoms were so red, it looked as if blood

has been sprouted from the ground. Aegeus reached down, gently plucking two of the unbelievably red

flowers, and tucked them tenderly in his pocket, taking great care not to crush the petals. “And down

we go!”

Aegeus soared once more into the air, and landed just a tad more gracefully on the ground. But

just as he began to make his way out, a screech filled the air. He looked up, and almost yelped when he

saw the three figures flapping toward him. The furies. Three harpies with the faces of the most

horrendous woman imaginable, with leathery, bat like wings sprouting from their backs. Before he could

do anything, the they plucked him from the ground, talons digging into his shoulders, and carried him

toward Hades’ palace.

-

May 31, 2021 06:47

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