The Coming of Charon

haron strode out of the gloom of the Dark Times when Athens was still new. The Lady of Fate welcomed him and wove for him a boat made of reeds. He took to poling this reed-boat down the River of Death, exploring it. Charon, who would one day be Stygia’s Great Emperor, explored the marshy backwaters of the river. Eventually he came to the place where it ran into the great Sunless Sea, a cavernous place where the Sea of Souls ebbed and flowed. There, at the delta where the river entered that starless void of water, Charon discovered the Isle of Sorrows, a particularly hilly and rocky island just offshore.

The Lady of Fate appeared to Charon and said, “Behold! After you come the masses of the dead, who will walk the Shadowlands with neither guidance nor light if you do not aid them. And among them you will find the Restless; they, like you, are still fettered to life. Learn the power of life, that you may use it even in death. You may take your tithe from the dead as they offer it, to brighten your existence in this gray world. Above all, help others to find the true light within, so that they may pass from this place and cross the Sunless Sea to the Far Shores, where they may find their rest.”

Charon, taking this to heart, presented himself to the mass of souls who still wandered the Shadowlands, and they acknowledged him as leader. He led them toward the great Sunless Sea, where he instructed the souls how to make their own reed boats from the reeds growing among the great swamps of the river delta. During those days, the Sunless Sea was placid and calm, and the souls made their way across its waters without incident.

Other Restless who came to Charon were taught to pole the depths of the river, and how to navigate the river’s twists and turns. A few refused the duty of carrying the dead to their final resting place, instead departing to brood in forgotten places. Some decided to watch over the living, becoming guardians for specif9c families or people. During this time, it is said many souls took flight across the Sunless Sea, being so light that they could soar across the waters; others found their own way to the Far Shores.

Charon bore a special love for those who helped him bear the dead on their reed boats. These he named his Ferrymen, and the Ferrymen began meeting at the Isle of Sorrows to discuss their work and lend each other aid. They performed minor jobs for one another in exchange for relics and light that they gleaned from the recently dead. The Ferrymen, realizing that the Restless could wreak much evil in the world they had left, swore to protect the living from the dead.

The Ferrymen were soon forced to uphold their vow. From the depths of the vast Labyrinth bored by the Malfeans periodically erupted a variety of bizarre beings. These beings, collectively named “Spectres,” displayed a venomous hatred fro living and wraith alike. Spectre eruptions, while not nearly so numerous as in later days, were a constant threat.

Eventually, several Ferrymen decided to embark across the Sunless Sea on a voyage of discovery to find the Far Shores, where so many had already traveled. Each of these wraiths, collectively called Shining Ones because they lit the way for others, sought his own Far Shore.

Shortly after the Shining Ones’ departure, the Lady of Fate visited Charon. Soon thereafter, he descended into the Labyrinth by way of the Venous Stair, a marble opening to that foul place. He carried with him only his scythe and a single lantern, and went alone into the darkness. We do not know how he fared in the darkness, but he was gone for many years. Even during this time the Ferrymen continued their sojourns up and down the River.

When Charon emerged from the Labyrinth, he brought with him an ancient smith-wraith named Nhudri. Nhudri was well versed in smithing, and used for his material the stuff of Souls.

Then Charon sounded the great horn at the Isle of Sorrows and summoned the Ferrymen to him. He told them that while in the Labyrinth, he had confronted the Utter Darkness, the deepest Shadow. He had seen Oblivion itself, and it was growing. Charon chided his Ferrymen that he had seen wayward souls, souls who had not been collected by a guide, falling into the pit. Each soul fed that foul blackness, as rot feeds a fungus. There was genuine concern among the Ferrymen, many of who set off to the four directions looking for aid against the growing threat.

As if in answer to Charon’s revelation, the Shining Ones returned shortly thereafter, reporting that they had feasted in the Halls of the Dead and that the Far Shores were real places. Following charts that they had made, Charon set off on his boat across the Sunless Sea.

When the Roman Republic was finally established in the living world, Charon returned from the Far Shores with seven signs that he had gleaned from the Shining Ones who had become custodians of those places. These signs gifted Charon with the authority to judge the disposition of souls. He placed the signs into a great iron tablet and made this the cornerstone of a new city.

Using stones garnered from the fallen temples of Greece and Israel, from the lost city of Atlantis and from the destroyed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Charon built his city in the fashion of Athens and the new Rome: beautiful structures symmetrically arranged on the hills of the Isle of Sorrows, with cleared roads, an aqueduct, and monuments to fallen and lost Ferrymen. Charon donated the lantern that he had used in the Labyrinth to serve as the city light, and it shone from the tallest monument. In the manner of the Roman Republic (which Charon studied for several years), he instituted the grand Republic of Stygia, with the city of Stygia as its capital.

The Stygian Senate consisted of seven senators, each given charge over different parts of the world’s Restless. These senators were seven of Charon’s most trusted lieutenants. Charon set himself up as Consul of the Senate. The senate’s first act was to grant the Shining Ones land near the docs to build their temples, which would serve as clearing houses for the dead.

The senate received emissaries from the Dark Kingdoms of Ivory and Jade, places much like Stygia that handled the dead of Africa and the Far East. At the time Stygia was at peace with them, though this was not to last. The senate likewise sent Stygian emissaries to the Dark Kingdoms.

Charon began to tax the dead for the good of all the dead, requiring two coins for passage down the River of Death. Those who could not pay were asked to give up their eyes or hands. That story soon spread, and few in those days died without the death-price of two coins being pressed into their eyes.

Charon began to use the metal gleaned via his corpse-tax to forge the first Stygian weapons and armor. He authorized Nhudri, the Grand High Artificer of Stygia, to design and build Kyklops, the first forge in Stygia. The first three things forged of Stygian steel were Siklos, Charon’s blade; Lumen, Charon’s lantern; and the Masks of the senators. Finally, after taking a piece from all the Senators’ Masks, he created Charon’s Mask.

Charon ordained the wearing of masks because, in that time, no one could predict how long a wraith would survive against the growing forces of Oblivion. Charon wanted to be able to maintain the Republic of the Dead apart from the personalities of his senators, and the Masks of the Senators were a way to associate the office not with the wraith, but with the duties of the office.

Now, in those days the Tempest was nothing but a great Darkness that surrounded all. This Darkness was inky black, solid, devoid of light, but turgid, not the roiling chaos that is now. With Nhudri’s help, Charon set about building a great system of roads through the Darkness, roads that did not depend upon the vagaries of the River od Death. Charon was determined to save all of creation from the power of Oblivion, which had begun to manifest itself. Spectres and beast ever crawled out of the deep places to torment the unwary and attack the unready. Charon’s road would provide his Ferrymen ready and easy access to the Sunless Sea through a straight line, not a crooked river choked with Spectres.