EDIT: ACK! I realized that by not posting the whole story, I haven't really explained certain plot points to fill in the criteria of the prompt for the contest! I feel a bit embarrassed about so many parts of this story. I hope you all don't mind but I'll probably be revising my first post a bit. I'll bump when it's done. ;__;
EDIT2: Still very incomplete and scenes are all over the place. Please hope you don't mind the very cliff-hanger ending for now. : (
I'm not a professional writer in the slightest nor do I have any formal training. But I hope that you enjoy reading this small snippet of a story I wrote. It's a bit of a monolith of text to read. But if you have the time to get through it all, I'm hoping for some tips and critique. What did you like and what did you not like? What worked for you and what didn't? It's not much in content, but I'll be updating this again till the story is finished.
I wasn't sure if a hulking wall of text would dissuade people from reading it through. I'll be posting the rest of the story a bit later, so sorry for the fragmented nature of my story telling. >_< Feedback is always welcomed. (Since I know the flow is a bit all over the place.)
Since I stink at writing people running around through a complex cavern system, imagine the parts of = o = *** = o = as the two main characters running around and exploring. ; )
Between Love and Hate
The sound of dripping water and shifting shadows awakened her. Slowly opening her eyes, she looks up to see a cloaked stranger over her; his eyes closed and an instrument in his hands. She did not stir in shock, nor did she yell in fright.
"Am I dead?" The young girl asked with innocent curiosity as she looked up at the stranger. Her voice rang like a silver bell, echoing against the cave walls.
The cloaked young man simply shook his head. The loose bandages covering his arms and head swayed slightly from the movement. "The living do not belong here. You do not belong here."
He reached out a hand to the girl, helping her up from the floor. She was a delicate thing, dainty like a doll. Though her white summer dress had drawn the dust and dirt from the ground, her fair skin seemed to glow in the dim lights of the cave. She nervously took in her surroundings. It was then that she noticed that the shadows that played against the walls of the cave were not their own. They shifted with known sentience, slithering from the walls to the ground.
"Your presence here agitates Them." The young man said. He pulled the girl closer to him, hiding her under his cloak. "Child, if you wish to leave here, stay close behind me and do not look."
The young girl nodded before hiding her face underneath the brown rags draped over her. The shadows drew closer to the young man until they stopped just at his feet.
The walls and floors grew eyes and mouths. Looking at the young man in recognition, they let out a terribly raucous howl as they screamed his name.
"ORPHEUS! WHY HAVE WE BEEN FORGOTTEN?"
"THEY TRULY HAVE FORSAKEN US, ORPHEUS!"
"ORPHEUS! AFTER ALL WE HAVE DONE…! AFTER ALL THAT WE'VE SACRIFICED!"
"ARE WE NO LONGER NEEDED? ORPHEUS?"
The voices echoed against the cave walls. They were screams of yearning, screams of sorrow, screams of hate, and screams of pain. The young man could feel the girl behind him grip his cloak in fright. However, he remained vigilant in his stance.
"There is no need to shout. There is no need to suffer." The man's voice was gentle, his expression calm. He reached from under his cloak and procured his silver lyre. Its surface glowed like a moon in the darkness as he set it in the crutch of his left arm. With his right, he began to play. "I will put you at ease. Sleep now."
The screams and yells began to subside as a beautiful melody began to play. It was a lullaby. The shadows stopped their shifting to listen. The man named Orpheus continued to play to the audience of shadows, as one by one the eyes began to narrow.
As the screams had halted, the young girl peeked curiously out from the cloak to see what had happened. She looked to see as the many eyes on the walls and floor began to close as the melody soothed their anguish.
But this was a mistake. One of the narrowing eyes had met her own.
With that sudden realization of the young girl's presence, the many eyes flew open once more. They cared naught anymore for the soothing melody the man played. All eyes were now glued to her.
"WHO IS THIS CHILD, ORPHEUS?"
"A HUMAN? IS IT A HUMAN?"
"WHO IS THAT?"
"ORPHEUS, WHO ARE YOU HIDING?"
"WHY ARE YOU HIDING?"
Yells and screams drowned out the man's song. The shadows began to shift once more. However, they were more violent, more unruly, as they drew closer to the pair. Figures began to crawl out of the shadows, their hands reaching towards her.
The young girl shrieked in fright as the shadowy fingers reached out to touch her. They clawed at the rims of her dress. However, before they could so much as scratch her, the young girl felt herself being jerked away. Her small hand was gripped tightly by the young man, as he pulled her swiftly to the cavern exit. The shadows followed close behind.
The two continued to run down the cavern path. To the left and to the right, it did not matter so long as they could escape the eyes. It was hard to tell whether they were proceeding upwards or downwards, or whether they were going deeper into the cave or closer to the exit. Though it seemed like forever, the two eventually evaded their pursuers.
The young girl breathed a sigh of relief. She looked up once more at the man named Orpheus.
"Your presence here agitates Them. Did I not tell you to not look?" Orpheus sternly scolded the child for her brash behavior. The young girl looked down at her feet as she whispered an apology.
"I'm sorry…" She sounded on the brink of tears.
Orpheus sighed. It was not his intent to make the young girl feel guilty for her actions. He stroked the girl's hair to comfort her. "Tell me child, what is your name? From where have you come from?"
The girl shook her head. "I don't know."
"Do you not have parents?" he questioned.
The girl shook her head once more.
Orpheus paused. He pondered to himself on their next course of action. The cave seemed to shudder and quake. Dirt and debris fell around them. "This does not bode well. I can no longer calm Them with my song."
"Where is this? And who are They?" She asked.
Orpheus regarded silently on how to answer her question. He knelt down to look at the girl at her eye level. "This is the resting place of the dead."
"So They were all once human?"
Orpheus shook his head. "Though I say it is the land of the dead, it is not a place for human souls. This is where Gods reside; forgotten Gods that have lost the faith of man."
"Forgotten gods?" The young girl repeated. "To be forgotten, is it worse then being hated?"
Orpheus nodded slightly as he continued to explain. "They had once held great power over the land above, but pay them no heed. It is time that they had rest."
Orpheus finally stood. He once more outstretched a hand towards the young girl, motioning for them to continue. "Whether you fear Them, love Them, or abhor Them, it serves nothing but to fuel Their desire for your belief. This is why you must leave here."
"Are you a 'Forgotten God' as well, Orpheus?" the young girl asked as she placed her hand in his once more.
"No. I am…" The man looked briefly stunned at being called by name from the little girl. It had been a long time since he'd heard his name being called by such a gentle voice. "I am similar to you. I'm simply someone who has lost his way. But I have found my purpose here, allowing the Forgotten Ones to rest peacefully."
Though the man said this, he did not look happy to have found this "purpose".
"Are you happy like that? Don't you get lonely?" the young girl asked.
"I had grown used to loneliness a long time ago, child." he said sadly, pulling her along to the deep unknown that lied beyond. "Now then. Let us go."
= o =
= o =
With her hand in his, they made their way down the path. Unable to see the setting or the rising of the sun, it became difficult to judge how much time had passed. The cavern ways offered little lighting, save for the luminescent moss and fungi that clung to the walls.
"It's been a long time since I've traveled upwards towards the surface." Orpheus began to say as he mused over the thought. "I wonder how the upper world is like since I've last seen it."
"Is there anyone else down here with you, Orpheus?" she innocently asked, looking over at the silver lyre in his hands. "And you're a musician, right? It's such a shame, I think more people would like to here your music!"
The young man chuckled at the complement. "I'm sorry to say, but there isn't an audience down here quite as appreciative as yourself."
She smiled happily up at him, glad to have cheered up the normally solemn man.
"Why are you down here, Orpheus?" she asked. "Why do you stay to comfort these Forgotten Ones?
"Child, let me tell you a story." Orpheus began to describe a tale in a way to answer her question. "There was once a musician, heralded as the greatest in his art at his time. It did not matter for whom he played, whether they were peasants or kings, animals or gods, rocks or trees. He played happy melodies, cheerful song to alleviate the spirit and forget life's pain and hardships. And he too knew happiness through spreading joy to others."
"Like magic?" She asked wide eyed.
"Hmm… magic? Well I guess it is something like that."
"Wait… So, why are you down here?" the child prodded once more. "Is there more to the story?"
Orpheus smiled as he said mysteriously, "To be continued~..."
"Th-That's not fair!" The young girl pouted. Her cheeks red as she puffed them up in childish frustration. "How mean, just beginning and not finishing your story!"
They had at this time exited the narrow tunneling of the caverns to be greeted by a flat clearing in the cave and the rushing of a waterfall that pooled into a small underground lake. The sight quickly made her forget the previous frustration she felt. Lights played and danced on the floor as large crystals jutting out of the cave walls reflected the soft glow of the waters. At the center of the lake stood a large ebony tree with branches twisting towards the ceiling cave, and leaves that gave off an ethereal glow.
"It's beautiful! What is this place?" The young girl squealed in delight at the beautiful scenery. Questions poured out of her as she examined every bit of her surroundings. "What are these crystals here? Why is the water glowing like this? How did this strange tree grow down here?"
Orpheus watched as the young girl marveled at the sights. "This is a holy ground, we should remain safe here for the time being."
"A holy ground?" She looked back at the cloaked man as he sat down on one of the large rocks by the lake bed.
"It is a place of natural peace and equilibrium. Something the Forgotten Ones avoid."
"But why would they avoid a place like this?" the young girl asked.
"Hum… Who knows? Maybe they don't want peace to begin with." He looked down at the lake's surface to see his reflection missing. The loose bandages over his arms dipped slightly into the waters, making ripples distort the surface image. He didn't want to be reminded. "So absorbed with their own history of divine might, they'd rather stubbornly revel in their suffering, then to lose their pride and accept that they have fallen."
The underworld seemed to quake at intervals as moans and whines could be heard faintly in the darkness behind them from the entrance they had come from. Frightened, the young girl hurried over to Orpheus's side and clung to his arm.
"Pay them no heed, child." He stroked her hair to calm her. "Do not be afraid. I will play you a song."
The musician took out his silver lyre, and began to play. It was a warm and soothing melody; a nostalgic song that sent shivers up her spine. Like magic, the rocks and falling leaves seem to come alive and dance to his tune. Ripples formed on the surface of the lake as he plucked those silver strings.
The yells and screams of the Forgotten Ones now seemed far away as her heart filled with delight. With her troubles forgotten, she couldn't help but spring to her feet and dance to the lovely tune. Her voice like a silver bell sang.
It was a song of prayer; a song of praise to the peace of mind found. The two hymns intertwined. It was like a festival with the lights, the leaves, the rocks, and the waves dancing along with her.
The quakes of the earth and the screams of the Forgotten Ones ceased as if to listen more carefully to the festivities.
However, all good things must come to an end. As the girl grew tired, she rested besides the sitting musician. Leaning against his back, she fell quietly asleep to the sound of his silver lyre. He could hear her softly breathing as she slumbered.
Orpheus put his cloak over the sleeping girl. "I know not where you come from nor who you are…" He trailed off in thought as he brushed her hair to the side. "Yet… from the moment I saw you… something told me that you're…"
The earth began to quake once more, and the wailing continued. He ceased his pondering to look towards the lurking shadow. Their beady eyes watched from the corners of the room. Yet they did not dare approach any closer into the holy ground.
He stared straight into that dark abyss of shadows, and it affected him none that the abyss stared back.
= o =
= o =
It was hard to say for how long they slept next to the lake side. Orpheus was the first to wake up. His eyes slowly opened, but he was immediately shocked fully awake to find that the shadows of the Forgotten Ones no longer stayed at the edges of the holy ground's entrance. They had already encroached close enough to have surrounded the lake bed where they slept. Their eyes glued to the pair and their toothy mouths smiled at them.
They were clearly trapped. Yet the shadows didn't howl or scream at them. It was like they were waiting to see when the young girl would wake up. That, or something was holding them back.
"Orpheus, Orpheus, Orpheus! It has been so long--No, it has been too long! How have you been doing? Have you been doing your job lately?" A new voice, filled with excitement, reverberated into the hollow cave. It was difficult to tell where its owner was, until the sound of footsteps directed his attention. The young girl stirred slightly as she too began to wake up from her slumber upon hearing the booming of another's voice. He could hear the footsteps draw closer, yet they saw no person to which the voice or steps belonged. "The Gods are restless. Why do you not play your lyre like usual to sooth their anguish?"
It was then that Orpheus turned towards the ceiling. A man in a black suit was standing upside down as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The strange man smiled, casually waving a hand in greeting before hopping down to the cave floor right side up in front of them. A small eye was stomped on by the heel of his shoe as he made his landing, producing a scream of pain from one of the many mouths.
"They have already tasted the fear of this child." Orpheus replied with an even tone. He was all too familiar with the strange man who appeared from the darkness. "I can no longer sooth them with my melodies."
"You're the best musician in the under--No. You're the best musician in both the upper and the under world." The man was melodramatic as he threw up his arms. He disappeared in a puff of black smoke, but his voice could still be heard. "Are you saying that not even YOU can quell their sorrow? Oh, what a sad day it is~! Or would it be night? Oh who knows~ Who knows~?"
"Who is that?" The young girl had peeked slightly to see where the strange man had gone. "Was that a Forgotten God too?"
Orpheus shook his head. "He is a god but…"
"I am not forgotten!" the voice whispered over their shoulders, finishing Orpheus's sentence. As suddenly as he had disappeared, the strange man had reappeared behind them. The girl let out a small gasp as she felt a cold hand touch her shoulder. "Because I have one faithful follower, you see, little one. One who hates me with all his heart. Abhors me. Curses me."
"Hades…" Orpheus muttered the name of the God under his breath as he pushed the child closer to his side.
"I'm talking about you, Or-Phe-Us. It's thanks to you that I'm not just a shadow like all the others." The old God of the Underworld annunciated every syllable of the musician's name with a sickeningly mocking voice. His voice seemed to drawl on every words as he slithered now closer to Orpheus's side. Snake like arms reached around and rested on Orpheus's shoulders. He seemed almost doting on the young man. "Now only you would say my name so lovingly~! Though this is nothing compared to what I was at my peak, I can't complain for being fortunate to have such a devout like you in this day and age."
"You're awfully talkative today, Hades." Orpheus glared, keeping his words short and to the point. "What do you want?"
"Oh, Orpheus. You've learned to just jump straight to the chase now, haven't you? What happened to the lyrical muse? The genius song writer? The romanticist?" Hades wore a dramatically sorrowful mask as he pretended to shed tears over the disappearance of Orpheus's sympathies. His performance however was met only with silence. Breathing an exasperated sigh, the strange god continued. "My dear Orpheus, I'm simply here to give you a warning, and a gift.
You've felt the quakes here in the Underworld of the Gods, have you not? Oh, but these are not the quakes from the upper world! These are the tremors of the Gods themselves! They're trembling in excitement, in anger, in frustration! Can't you hear their screams?
Isn't it ironic? Humans can live fine without a god's power. Yet gods cannot live without the weak, intangible, mutable human belief. You may be unaware of this Orpheus, but the Upper World is in a peculiar state. It is godless now. 'We' are now no longer needed. The thing known as 'faith' has left the Upper World."
"Perhaps mankind have finally found their Utopia on earth?" Orpheus responded almost jokingly as he humored the trickster. "There is no more suffering. There is no more need to pray for happiness or salvation."
"Orpheus, Orpheus, Orpheus. You know as well as I do that such a thing is an impossibility. Because so long as there is love, there will always be suffering. Can one truly say they know happiness without first knowing the pain of sorrow?" Hades continued to speak in his drawling voice as he remarked poetically his philosophy of human emotion. He spoke to him as if teaching a lesson to a child. "That is why I'm here, Orpheus. Your love for me has brought me here. Because essentially, to hate is equivalent to love. You must truly care to not only love, but also to hate."
"But… we are free to love." The young girl with the voice like a silver bell spoke. As she rubbed her eyes, it seemed almost as if she were simply talking in her sleep. "Even if we were to be rejected or even if we were hurt in the process… we are still free to choose to love…"
The child's sudden answer stunned both the musician and the god briefly as their eyes turned to her.
"How romantic! What a clever girl you are! A good answer!" Hades applauded as he sang words of praise to the child. He motioned to ruffle her hair, but was swatted away by Orpheus's hand. "You should take some tips from this child, Orpheus! Even you used to be such a romanticist! It is no wonder that the miserable heap of gods here are going crazy. They'll absolutely tear this adorable little thing apart~!"
The young girl shirked back behind Orpheus in fright just picturing such an image. The god's antics and words were increasingly frustrating, wearing Orpheus's patience thin.
"I can't stop their rampage with my music anymore. Which is why…" He looked to the small girl who hid behind him, holding her hand in his. He began to pull her up. "I will be returning her to the surface now."
"Which brings me to why I'm here!" Hades appeared in a puff of black smoke in front of them again, blocking their way. The trickster was being insistent. "I wanted to give you a gift Orpheus. It's a gift to my most devoted fan. Aren't you tired of running from those miserable pieces of trash? Here. I will give you the power you need."
Hades abruptly reached into Orpheus's cloak, grabbing the wrist that held the silver lyre. From under his touch, the silvery metallic surface changed as a shadow overlaid it. It no longer gleamed in the luminescent lights. Orpheus stared wide eyed at his once familiar instrument. It was now black like death, and cold to the touch. "What the hell did you do?"
"Hell?" Hades said incredulously as he turned on his heel, spinning not once but twice before throwing his arms up once more. His other foot landed on yet another one of the shadow's eyes when he stopped his spin, producing another scream of pain. "That's a place for human souls, Orpheus. This is the Underworld of Gods we're talking about! You should know better then that."
"Answer me, Hades." Orpheus demanded as he turned towards the smiling god. "You know what this lyre is. Tell me what you did."
"I've given you the gift to make your wishes come true." Hades hid his slimy smile. "'Power.' Isn't that what you've always wanted? The power to put those miserable things at peace?"
Before Orpheus could reply, the former god of the Underworld had already disappeared once more in a puff of black smoke. This time he did not reappear, yet the trickster's voice still lingered.
"You better hurry, Orpheus. They are growing restless." The bodiless voice of Hades echoed. "Not even the border between the Upper and the Under will be able to contain Them. Whether they carry faith or not, mankind will not be able to escape the wrath of the things they created themselves."
And at that, there was only the two of them alone once more; alone with the twisting shadows that had encroached on their heels now. The wretched things stared with wide rounded eyes at the two of them.
"THE CHILD! GIVE IT TO US!"
"GIVE US THE CHILD!"
Their yells came once more. Their wills, their fury, was like a torrent that threatened to sweep the two of them away. It threatened to tear the two of them limb from limb. Hades was right. The two of them had already grown tired of running, and the fury of the fallen gods was now too powerful to dissuade them from entering any holy grounds much longer. The young girl held onto Orpheus tightly.
"Don't run. Use it." Hades's voice seemed to whisper in his ears. "You will understand once you do."
Left with little choice, Orpheus readied the black lyre in the crutch of his left arm. It felt strange, like a lump had grown in his chest as he began to play. The sharpness of the strings surprised him. With the sound that sprang forth from his fingertips, a harsh melody came to mind. He was filled with a strange feeling as a dirge for the fallen gods came to mind. Even he was not sure of this feeling that welled up inside him, but he couldn't hold back a sort of cruel smile that crept on his face.
"Please… Rest eternally." He whispered as a cord was struck.
The shadows shrieked, quivering upon hearing the haunting tune. They felt their bodies shake. Something black and sharp, formed of the man's malevolence, began to appear in the air. The young girl looked up at the blades in horror. They were sinister and wicked, like the blades of the gallows.
"I DO NOT WANT TO DIE."
"PLEASE. AFTER ALL I'VE DONE FOR YOU HUMANS!"
"NO! FORGIVE ME!"
"DON'T LET ME DIE!"
They wailed and cried, but it all fell on deaf ears as the musician continued to play. With a dark voice, he simply muttered a simple command to them. "Just… disappear."
And the blades came down upon their necks. The last shrieks died, and the song came to an end.
It was the girl's cries that woke Orpheus from his trance. It took him some time before he could register exactly what he had done. "Child… why… are you crying?"
He was overcome with sudden fatigue, as if something had sucked all of his energy. A violent cough had overtook him as he choked out something warm and red. A metallic taste was left in his mouth. Looking down he could see the splatters of his own blood on the cave floor.
He tried to focus on the crying form of the girl before him, but his mind simply couldn't concentrate. Unable to support himself anymore, he collapsed. The black lyre clattering to the floor besides him.
He no longer could hear the girl's sobs anymore as he fell once more into a deep sleep.
= o =
= o =
"That black lyre…" The young girl said with worry. He had been silently lost in thought ever since he had woken up. "It smell of death."
Orpheus looked at the lyre, the tool he used to take a god's life. Never in his life did he carry a weapon that inflicted death until now. He neither denied nor confirmed the young girl's statement as he reached out to grab hold of it. The metal was still cool to the touch.
"Why did you kill them, Orpheus?" She began to demand an explanation. "You seemed so kind, you played such a sweet melody. But now you--"
"What use is it?" Orpheus finally answered with bitterness in his words. "What use does playing a song that does little but ease one's heart? The human heart gobbles up such feelings, it will never be satisfied even if I were to play till the end of time!"
He turned towards the young girl, tightening his grip on the child's hands so she could not shirk away. She couldn't pull away with his vice like grip. As she looked up at him, she noticed how his usual calm expressed had changed. His eyes were empty like the dead.
"But now… Now I can finally give true and eternal peace to the heart. They are no longer suffering." He turned his gaze to the black lyre once more. "This is the ideal expression of 'love' and 'devotion' that I have been searching for."
"O-Orpheus… you're hurting me." Tears began to trickle down the girl's cheeks. "You're scaring me…"
Upon realizing what he was doing, he let go. The girl fell to the floor, sobbing once more.
"I'm… sorry, child." The man looked at his hand. It was red from gripping the child's hand so hard.
"I don't like that melody. I don't like it one bit." She choked words between sobs, hiding her face in her hands. "You became so scary after… after…"
Gripping his head, he felt that something did change in him ever since his recent encounter with Hades. Something dark had grown in him. But he wasn't sure what to do with his mixed feelings. Kneeling down next to the crying girl, he pleaded softly. "I'm sorry. Please forgive me, child."
"So… You won't play that terrible song again?" She peeked up at him.
Orpheus shook his head. "I want to keep you safe. I need it to protect you. We can't keep running forever."
"Are there more of the 'Forgotten Ones'?" she asked, wiping away her tears.
"Yes. They are numerous. What we had encountered was just a small sample of mankind's beliefs. There are as many Gods here as there are beliefs held by man."
"Then, no! I won't forgive you until you promise to me!" The young girl turned away now in a cute childish pout. Now that the man had calmed down, she was more relaxed. "I don't want you to kill anymore! I don't like you when you're scary!"
Orpheus finally conceded. "You have my word. I will not kill."
She turned back to look at him, a bright smile now on her face. "Okay! I forgive you then."
Her smile immediately warmed his heart. Her innocence had prevented a deeper descent into the dark pit that was forming in his heart.
"I can feel it. That lyre translates one's feelings, one's beliefs, into a weapon. At the whim of its user, it can be used to protect, or to be used to kill. Remember the ones that died." The young girl said sternly as if scolding the older man. "What you did to them wasn't right, but the least you can do is remember them."
"You are kind to them, child." Orpheus patted the girl's head. "I will do that. I will remember them."
Her expression was beaming like the rays of the sun now that she knew his promise, "And I will remember them with you too! So that they can be at least alive in our memory."
With a nod, they continued. Though higher and higher they climbed, they could feel the quakes worsen and the screams louden. The gods did not cease clamoring at the heels of the two of them as they raced to the top. Time was growing shorter.
= o =
= o =
"Orpheus?" she prodded. "Are you okay?"
He was weary after their many encounters. It was mentally draining using the power of the black lyre. He let out a deep breath that he had subconsciously been holding before speaking.
"Let me continue the story. If you remember it, I will be fine." Orpheus said. Breaking the long silence that hung between them since they had passed their last encounter with the Forgotten Gods. He paused slightly, hesitating to continue. But with those curious eyes looking up at him, he could no longer take back his words. "That musician went on many of adventures, helping heroes of old. To simply compose seemed to fulfill his purpose in the world. But nothing fulfilled him more--nothing brought more happiness--then the love of his life. However, it was after their union as husband and wife that tragedy struck."
"What happened?" The young girl asked, waiting for him to continue his story.
"The musician's wife passed away the day that they were married."
"How sad." She looked down at the floor. "But, he couldn't remain sad forever, right?"
Orpheus nodded. "Yes, he took a long journey. As he could find nothing to fill the emptiness left by her death, he journeyed to the Underworld itself to retrieve her."
"Even the Gods of his time took pity on him, moved by the sorrowful feelings expressed in his song. They allowed him to bring his love back to the realm of the living. They promised to revive her so long as he did not turn back until reaching there."
The two of them stopped next to a stone statue of a woman. It was weathered terribly, chipped and cracked from age. She looked sad, her stone expression frozen forever with a look of disappointment as it stared blankly into space.
"But the man lost faith." Orpheus continued. "He could not hear her footsteps, nor hear her voice behind him. What proof was there that the fickle gods were not fooling him? And at the last moment, he finally turned to see his beloved. He broke his end of the bargain, and before his eyes, she turned to stone where she stood. She was forever trapped in that wretched place."
Orpheus closed his eyes. "His tale was finished. The story was over. And so he remained there, agonizing over his mistake."
"Does the musician still love her, even now?" The young girl asked.
"Who knows? Maybe deep down he hated her." His voice was solemn as he frowned. "Maybe he hated her for leaving him. Hated the gods for the cruel fate given to him. But most of all, he hated himself. There was no one to blame but himself, because it was he who lacked faith to begin with. And it was him alone who failed her."
"Well said, well said! Oh, but that isn't the whoooole story now, was it?" A familiar voice from behind the statue of the woman abruptly entered the conversation shared by the two. The pasty face of the trickster peeked its head to the side, staring straight at the musician. "It isn't nice to lie, Orpheus. Especially to such a cute little girl like her."
"Hades… why are you here?" Orpheus glared straight back at the trickster, his voice a low growl.
The trickster however ignored his question as he caressed the statue lovingly. "Tell me Orpheus, did you really love her? Did she ever really love you? Was it really love at first sight?"
Orpheus didn't answer. Though, it was more like he couldn't answer. A lump seemed to have grown his throat. Something twisted inside him as he heard Hades's words. He felt something tug at his cloak.
"You shouldn't." The young girl at his side now glared back at the former God of the Underworld. "Don't listen to his words. He's only--"
The strange man abruptly burst out laughing as he received the child's stare. He arched his back dramatically, holding his face in his hand. "Little one, you've changed since I've last saw you. Now that you've come so close to the top, you know who you really are." He peaked at her threw the slits of his bony fingers. "But I know your true form now. You had me going there for a bit. I had thought you were just a little spirit that had lost its way. But you're moooore then just that. Isn't that right, little one?"
Orpheus looked at the little girl. Had something changed about her that he didn't realize? She seemed older. Not in age, but in maturity.
"So close to reaching the top, Orpheus. But your journey back to the Upper World must end here. You've served your purpose.
Your story is over, Orpheus."