Athena walked in the black void. She didn't think she's gotten anywhere. Every step she took changed into a walk, turned into a sprint, and when she stopped she felt like she was still at the same spot as before. Time was hard to keep track of, but she was sure hours have passed. She was sure.
She had the Crown in her hands. Wherever she was, holding it gave her a strange calmness. She was alone in the black void, but holding the Crown made her feel safe, like she wasn't alone. Although, she could feel another presence in this darkness. She couldn't see it, but it was waiting for her.
Where am I? What is this place? Athena expected something different to happen. She expected to find the Queen's tomb, but it wasn't there. What kind of a place is this? Where were the obstacles Denise and Grim went through? Was this the place or was it something else? She stood still and waited.
Something happened. Athena squinted. Something, or someone, was coming. She could see their form coalesce. The visitor was tall, about seven feet. The figure was silhouetted. Once the figure was in view, Athena instantly recognized her.
The Queen of the Underworld was exactly like in the painting she saw: pale; half dead, half human face; the antlers extruded from her head, sharper than knives; her right eye glowed red, while her left socket had a red light glowing faintly. She was taller than Athena imagined. She saw the snakes slithering out of her torso, twisting around her skeletal arm. Endelva's dress looked like it had been fabricated from the night itself. Her enormous wings finally showed themselves, flared open like a curtain. Athena glanced down, she saw the demonic feet with those sharp talons. It was fascinating how she had talons on her ankles and a talon on the back of her foot. Did she battle many demons when she was alive?
Endelva walked up to Athena, the girl in turn watched. The Queen's black hair was long, it dragged behind her like a rug. The Queen stood before Athena. A chill ran up Athena's spine. This was exactly how she expected this meeting to go. But being speechless was half expected. She knew she would be taken aback by the Queen's ghastly appearance. Was it the antlers? The wings? The snakes slithering out of her body? Athena guessed it was all of it at once.
Endelva laid eyes on the Crown—her Crown. The Crown she made herself. The Crown she transferred her powers into. Athena looked at the Crown in her hands and offered it to her. The Queen looked at it for a moment before taking it. Athena watched her put on her Crown. Now she looked like herself. The Crown looked better on her than on Athena.
Athena wanted to speak, but her mouth didn't seem to work. She had the words, but nothing came out. It was probably because she was face to face with the Queen herself. The very origin of the Underworld and all its denizens. Maybe it was her true for that unnerved her.
"Uhhh..." Athena uttered, wringing her hands. "C-could you...not look like that?" She was so sure she messed up, maybe even offended her. But the queen looked at her with an apathetic look, and did as she asked. Tendrils of flesh covered the dead side of her face. An eye popped up in her left socket. Her skeletal arm formed white flesh; long, black fingernails tipping the ends, to look more menacing. The snakes coiled back inside her body. The antlers slithered into her head. Only the black bat wings stayed. Maybe to show that she was supernatural. Or perhaps because the wings don't bother Athena as much.
"What is this place?" Athena inquired.
"The beginning and end of everything." Endelva replied. Her voice was deep but still feminine.
Athena gathered that much. The darkness was one with the Queen and her form. This was where everything started. Where she first appeared and created the Underworld. And this is where she came back when she died. Athena had so many questions to ask her. Adrenaline pumping in her system, she was too excited to sit down and talk. There was so much going on in her that she couldn't even settle on one topic.
"I see you've inherited my Crown," Endelva said. Athena shrank back, as usual, slumping her shoulders. She did not think this plan through. Going through the Gate, yes, but actually talking to the Queen was something she failed to look into. She never thought she would actually talk to her, not even in her wildest imagination. Yet, here she was, wearing her Crown, talking to Athena, and Athena in turn couldn't believe she was here.
"Let's take a walk, shall we?" Endelva looked at Athena, waiting for an answer. Athena only nodded, which was more of an answer to the Queen.
The two walked, the sound of their footsteps echoing on the invisible ground. The darkness seemed to go on and on. With no end. Athena ventured she would be here a while, so she opted to get to know the Queen better.
"I've been waiting for you," said Endelva. "I've been expecting you."
"I've been having dreams," Athena ventured. "About the Gate."
"All messages from me." Endelva replied automatically. A chill ran up Athena's spine, her whole body trembled. So they were messages. Messages for what?
"I've been sending you those dreams to get you here." Endelva explained. Her wings fanned with every step she took. "You've inherited my Crown. Do you know why?"
"No." Athena answered without so much as a thought. She was finally going to get her answers, so she prepared to listen.
"Well," said Endelva, "it's time you know the truth."
Endelva stopped walking and so did Athena. Athena waited for whatever else to happen. She was sure the Queen would give her an answer.
"You see," Endelva began, "I was sought after by many suitors, but I always turned them down. I was the very lifeblood of this world and everybody revered me more than anyone.
"But there was one suitor who didn't take the rejection too well. He was a demon of low social hierarchy. He didn't have any wealth nor any dowry, but he had malicious intentions when he came to my palace. He arrived, courted me, but I was unamused. He promised me power. But I knew what he was after. He wanted me and him to take over the world above—your world—the living world." She paused to think.
"What did he look like?" Athena asked. She wanted to know what this suitor looked like, so she'd understand the situation better.
"He was a low class of demon." the Queen responded. "I still cannot believe he had the nerve to come into my palace. He was of tall stature, though shorter than me. He had black skin, red glowing eyes, cloven hooves, four horns on his head. He had a pair of spindly, stringy wings that were in poor condition. He couldn't fly, so why bother with him. I sent him on his way. But he did not take the news so well.
"Several days later, I was about to adjourn for the night, when I saw him charging into my palace. He was different than before. He was angrier than before. More bloodthirsty. He didn't look like before, he looked...monstrous. More monstrous than before. His wings...they weren't stringy like when I first saw him. They were muscular and well-groomed and strong. I summoned my scythe and transformed into my true form. We fought afterwards.
"The fight lasted for hours. I sadly underestimated this demon, he was so weak when he came to court me. The battled raged on. We were flying over my palace. He left me quite battered, but I was much stronger. I was surprised he could fly with his newly-muscled wings. My snakes bit what exposed skin he had. I slashed him with my scythe. Nothing worked. I ascended higher and he followed, I had to get to higher skies to slow him down. He wasn't going to give up. When I rejected him, he decided that if he couldn't have me, no one would. But I wasn't going to give him that benefit. I knew what I had to do.
"I had to kill him, but I was unfocused. It was the need to survive. I wasn't thinking clearly. I three my scythe, not to strike him. The scythe boomeranged and it sliced through him, but it also struck me. My scythe could kill anyone, even me. It's how I made it. He went falling for the River Styx...dead. I hurried flew back to the palace, bleeding and my energy waning. As I laid there on the stone-cold floor, I knew what I had to do. I took off my Crown and distilled my powers into it. I stored my powers to await an Heir. Then everything went dark."
Athena was speechless. The Queen and her rejected suitor ended up killing each other. But to her, it sounded like a suicide. At least, that's what it sounded like to her.
"I never meant for it to end this way." Endelva spoke. "I never intended to get killed killing that demon. I never intended any of this."
"Grim never told me how you died." Athena said. "Because your death was a mystery."
"Indeed he was right. They were all right." The Queen looked at Athena, like she was trying to find something hidden inside her. "And there is another mystery he never figured out, but I think I've stalled long enough."
Athena gazed at her with wide eyes.
"I spent eons in this bottomless darkness, waiting for my Heir." Endelva said. "Though I knew my powers went into my Crown, something...went missing."
Athena listened intently.
"After I died, a piece of my soul escaped somehow. That piece wandered through the universe for eons and eons, waiting for a new host to reside in. Deep down, I knew I needed to live again. And that piece...is you."
Dumbfounded. The floor beneath her seemed to sink. Athena suddenly got dizzy, it seemed hard for her to stand up. The Queen looked at Athena with a calmness she couldn't grasp.
"No..." Athena uttered. She was expecting for Endelva to say something that let her know she was jesting. Endelva stood, regal as ever. Athena could tell with her expression that she was not joking. "I'm...?"
"Yes." Endelva's voice drenched with seriousness. She was not kidding. This was real. This was the truth. The inconvenient truth.
"H-h-how...?" Athena was sure her voice was going to be cut out. She began hyperventilating. Her head spun. Her heart would've ripped out of her chest.
"Several years ago, I sensed something happen." Endelva said. "The piece of my soul went into you when you were born. In a way, you are me. It is why you inherited my Crown. Only someone with my soul could wield it. Your soul shares my soul and over time your soul and mine will fuse, become one and the same. This is the reality of this. This is THE TRUTH."
The truth. This was the truth. She was the Queen. It all made sense now. Why the Crown repaired itself the moment she touched it. It also explained why she had adapted so well to chthonic lands. Athena always wondered why she was this way. She knew it was because she was already like this, but the piece of the Queen's soul laid dormant inside her. She never thought this would ever happen. Being the reincarnation of a demon. She also remembered the winged skulls bombarding her. That's why they told her she looked like the Queen. She just thought they were only taunting her. Fear and adrenaline took over. Phosphenes clouded her vision.
Her whole life...she never knew who she was supposed to be or what to do. After her father died things got monumentally worse. Trying to understand who she was and figure out where she stood. Her inability to fit in just made it worse. Finding out a secret as shocking as this left you floored. You can't think straight or process the experience. Athena was like this. She couldn't get through this she might as well dissolve into nothingness.
Endelva continued looking at Athena. She could feel all of Athena's worries, her fears, her anxiety. She understood her feelings well, but at the same time felt disconnected from it. She wasn't after all, but Athena was. And soon, she will become something stronger and more powerful. This human child held a piece of her dark soul. Endelva could see a future with this girl, but she could also sense the dread. Athena's fear clouded her judgement, and that was from being given such shocking news. Over time she would learn to accept this and make them part of herself.
I am a human, but I'm also this...thing...this demon... This life...this human life I've had is the only real life I've ever known. If I was once her—the Queen...then...I should know what to do next, right? Or at least I think I know. What am I going to do when I begin to turn like her? She knew what to do all her life. I don't. And that just scares me more.
Athena looked up at the Queen. She's had several moments to process this and came to a somewhat acceptable solution. Even though she did not understand it thoroughly, she knew what she had to do.
Athena's eyes rested on the Crown of Achylis. The Queen caught her expression and removed it from her head.
"You know what you have to do," said Endelva, handing the Crown to her. Athena took it, but did not put it on her head. She wasn't ready for that. Instead, she looked past the Queen and walked. As she walked the environment began to chance.
The darkness trailed away. She saw what looked like an arched doorway. Athena glanced over her shoulder. The Queen was gone and the darkness with her. She did, however, see a stone bridge—that she crossed. Now all she had to do was do was continue on her way. She had the Crown and she had just met the Queen. Now to seek out her tomb.
Athena had made it through the obstacles like Grim and Denise did. It was just how Denise described. She hiked through a network of paths and trails to get to the Queen's tomb. She had gotten through the bridge over the lagoon, the floating stones, the path filled with stalactites and stalagmite. She was now crossing a bridges over a deep abyss. Athena had to avoid looking down, one stumble and she would drop the Crown. She was not going to lose it.
While on the whole trek to the tomb, Athena had some time to piece things together. Endelva told her that the piece of her soul went into her body. But how did that piece find her? It was no coincidence. It was not a random accident. The piece of the Queen's soul searched eons for a perfect host, but not just any host. It had to be someone connected to the Underworld. She thought back to her mother. She met Grim when was young, then their friendship backfired. The piece of the soul thought Artemis would make a good host until that day their friendship ended. And then Athena had a hard time doing the math, mainly because she didn't want to face it. The piece of Endelva's soul waited for Artemis to produce a child. That child was Athena.
This all has to be a coincidence. It had to be. There was no way it could be true. Or was this really all planned since the beginning of time? That piece of the Queen's soul found its Heir. She now knew why the Crown didn't choose someone else. Like Mandy or Denise. She couldn't imagine what would happen to both of them. And she couldn't imagine what would've been if the piece of her soul chose her mother instead. Fantods erupted in her system. Was this the Queen's plan all along. Athena had tried to deny it. But it was right there, plain as day. She would never be the same after this. She could never go back to the way things were. Even if she could go back in time it wouldn't make a difference. This would be her life now. A sudden case of hiraeth took over. Maybe after all this was over she could go on a solivagant.
She saw an arched doorway. It was tall, like Denise described. This must be it! Athena carefully stepped off of the bridge and waltzed inside. She remembered seeing this place when she found Grim and Denise several months back. She didn't notice the tomb before. It was just a quick peek then. The stalagmites jutted out of the cavern ceiling, water dripping from the tips. A set of stone stairs led to the tomb—the Queen's tomb. She just went through every obstacle to get here, she was not turning back. She walked up the stairs.
Everything Endelva told her was the truth. Everything about her, from her creation of the Underworld to her death. It all came together. Athena wondered. If she really did have this piece of the Queen's soul, then shouldn't she see some of her memories? What kinship did she have with the demonic woman? In every novel she always found something like this. Something like her. Someone who was a reincarnation of someone else. But this was beyond anyone's comprehension. Her comprehension.
Athena reached the top. She stood, holding the Crown of Achylis. The Queen's tomb laid in the center. She approached it. Behind the tomb, she saw a pillar with a red velvet cushion. Denise said she saw this—and then she spotted the golden plaque.
Here lies the tomb of Endelva Nyx Tenebra
Birther or Our Dark Land, Queen of Mare
Fair and Fierce Ruler, and Mighty Warrior
Her Crown forever waiting for a Rightful Heir.
Until now. Athena looked at the tomb. The carvings on the lid caught her eye. The top had a carving of a woman's face—the Queen, no doubt. And the rest had cruciform symbols and the like. A shiver ran up Athena's entire body. She could feel the magic radiating from the tomb. Now came the hard part. She placed the Crown on the velvet cushion and turned her attention to the tomb. She gripped the lid and lifted with what strength she could muster. Surprisingly she was actually prying the lid open. It all made sense sharing the Queen's soul. Feeling her arms ache, Athena pushed the lid aside, falling back with a booming thud. Peering inside, her eyes protruded in shock and fear. Her heart jolted.
Endelva's corpse. She saw a skeleton, surprising, the wings were still there, and her tree-like antlers remained intact. The Queen's teeth remained pointy and just as lethal. Her ink-black dress had gathered some dust; the red trimmings torn to ribbons. Athena counted the toes on her feet: with the extra toes, she had a total of eighteen toes. She strangely expected to see a well-preserved body. Athena went and grabbed the Crown again. Looking at Endelva's skeleton, she felt unexpectedly self-conscious. She was not ready to put this Crown on herself, so instead she was going to put it back on Endelva. She placed it carefully. And then it happened.
The moment it touched the Queen's head, a black tendril travelled up Athena's arms. The girl let out a shriek. The tendrils twisted all the way to her neck and finally reached her head. She saw everything through Endelva's eyes. She was hovering in darkness at one point. Then she saw all of the darkness forming into something of a land: mountains and a gray sky could be seen; monstrous creatures took form, born out of the dirt; a meandering river twisted in the distance—the River Styx. Time skipped and Athena saw a blood sea and a grove of trees by the shore. The blood apple trees. The image changed and she saw the palatial castle again. Endelva's home. She saw the gargoyles on the rooftops flap their wings. So they were sentient after all. And they had stopped moving when she died.
Time shifted and Athena saw the Endelva's murderer through her eyes. He was exactly how she imagined. Black skin, like the Queen said. The red eyes glowing with rage. The four horns adorning his head. His cloven hooves clad in iron. And his wings, stringy at first but now they were powerful and stronger than ever. Athena—through the Queen's eyes—saw the battle between him and Endelva. She, or rather Athena, sliced ribbons of flesh with her black claws. The demon retaliated and clawed her back. Athena looked down and saw some of her black blood trickle. And then she saw something unexpected. Abigor. The Queen's kirin. He swooped in, biting into the rejected suitor's neck and shoulder, drawing blood in torrents. He was helping her. The Queen's steed managed to help his master in her final moments. Athena sensed the next thing coming. The scythe—Endelva's scythe—killing the both of them. This all had to be a mistake, killing herself was all just an accident. But she saw it as wise.
Athena saw Abigor's red eyes boring into hers. The moments between them were preciously cherished. The black kirin trotted to the open doorway, wings flaring. She watched him take to the sky. Now Athena knew what happened. Abigor left after Endelva died. But where was he now?
Seconds passed. All the suns in the universe could have exploded out of Athena's chest.
All the darkness in the universe condensed into her, forming into something small enough to contain her delicate soul.
Athena looked around the catacomb. The Queen's corpses laid in the tomb. All her memories, all her secrets transferred to her. She now had all of Endelva's powers and she was whole again. She took the Crown from the Queen's head. What she'd just experience was unimaginable, and yet so surreal. She took a good look around the catacomb, to get it all in. The golden plaque, the pillar with the cushion, they would all stick with her. She looked at the Crown of Achylis. Her Crown. It has always been her Crown. And now here she was, facing the corpse from where she came from. She always wondered why those winged skulls said she looked like her.
The catacombs were making Athena feel claustrophobic. Now that that experience was over, Athena made her way towards thegothic archway. She was sure that dream would never come back to haunt her.