“I wonder if you’ve ever heard of Lake Natron?” Abra suddenly talked about something seemingly unrelated.
That’s somewhat familiar… Qin Ye raised a brow quizzically, but promptly invited Abra to continue speaking.
“River Styx… Travelers around the world refer to Lake Natron as Tanzania’s River Styx. On this red lake, you’ll see carcasses of birds drifting about. However, these are unlike any others which you might have seen before. Most would appear in as good a condition as when they were alive. Heck, some even appear to be preening themselves. But the one thing that is certain is that these corpses are no more than decaying empty shells of what they used to contain. There are countless photographs of such otherworldly sights and sounds at Lake Natron on the internet. You can take a look for yourself.”
Qin Ye nodded slightly. Having lived for so long, he would’ve heard a thing or two about such uncommon occurrences. Even though the name Lake Natron didn’t quite ring a bell, he had most certainly heard about the phenomenon spoken of.
The crimson waters of the lake were covered with drifting birds. Upon closer inspection, one would be able to tell that these were all corpses!
The flesh within would already be rotting and decomposing, and some were even no more than empty shells devoid of flesh. But the feathers on the body would still remain intact, save that they would lose their lustre because of the death of the body. Then, just like undead canoes, these birds would drift about endlessly on the lake.
“Does that have something to do with this place?”
“A little.” Abra took a deep breath, “Everyday at 5.00 a.m, these corpses wrapped in cowhide would be set free onto the streams of the Sanctuary of Ancestral Spirits. Legend has it that these corpses would then become like those birds of Lake Natron, decaying rapidly until they become completely mummified, before finally drifting into the underworld!”
He turned back to the mountain peaks ahead. It was obviously still daytime, and yet he felt an inexplicable chill run down his back, “Nobody has been able to locate where these bodies have drifted off to. Historically, only a total of three bodies have ever been found. But, do you know something?”
He shuddered, “These bodies… were all found to have been seamed up completely!”
“To be more precise, it’s the cowhide wrapping the corpses that had been completely seamed up! It’s almost as though it was sealing a mummified corpse into the belly of the cow. But… nobody would have seamed up the cowhide to begin with! This is an act of disrespect to our ancestors! It's a ubiquitous practice to simply wrap them up in the hide and place them in the stream!”
“Can you believe it? This means that as the corpses are flowing down the streams, somewhere along the way, something unknown must have seamed up all of these cowhides!”
He was practically screaming at the top of his voice at this point. The taxi driver glanced back in astonishment, and it was only then that Abra finally caught himself and cooled off slightly, “Ever since then, there have been rumours spreading about saying that every stream on this mountain flows straight into River Styx, and eventually right into the gates of the underworld, where they are sewn together by the seamers and seamstresses sent by our Mythic Spirit so that the dead can remain presentable.”
“Therefore…” He breathed heavily, “There is only one way into the Malagasy Underworld.”
Qin Ye rubbed his chin thoughtfully, “Wrap yourself in cowhide and head downstream?”
Isn’t that being a little too unkind to an international tourist of the land?
Is this the downside of entering these lands without a proper entry permit?
“That’s right…” Abra nodded heavily, “The exact directions given by my ancestors are to enter the Sanctuary, wrap yourself with corpse’s clothes, enter the lake island of the undead, and say his name. There are no further instructions.”
After a few moments of silence, Qin Ye pulled out a 100 RMB note, “Go get me a cowhide.”
Sorry, I’ve got no small change. This is just how wealthy I am!
It was night. The winds around the mountainous regions were bitterly cold.
Qin Ye and Abra had managed to enter the Sanctuary of Ancestral Spirits with no obstruction.
Qin Ye looked up at the moon in the sky. Indeed, the moon was full, and tonight was by no means supposed to be a full moon. The dim moonlight was pale and eerie, and it cast an otherworldly silvery sheen across the trees, mountains, streams and rock formations in the Sanctuary.
It was beautiful, and yet so beautiful that it seemed completely unreal.
Yet more peculiar was the fact that he couldn’t hear a single other sound around these parts!
There were no sounds of bird chirping, no howl of the beasts, and even no chirrup of the insects!
He felt no different from a lonely ghost wandering the graveyard at night. And for some strange reason, he couldn’t help but feel as though something hidden in the shadows were watching him intently at all times.
Qin Ye glanced at his phone. It was 4.50 a.m.
There was a stream located right in front of him. Over the last few hours, they’d already walked past several families who were preparing to release the corpses of their family members further upstream.
To be more precise, it was larger than just a stream, and it would be more accurate to call it a small river.
Furthermore, the riverbanks were somewhat oddly shaped. They were located approximately 3 meters below ground level, and the two riverbanks were approximately 50 meters apart. That said, the small river that flowed through the center was only 3 meters wide. The peculiar shape of the riverbanks suggested that the river was one that often burst its bank and washed out the surrounding parts of the river. However, this was a stream flowing down from a mountain, and it wasn’t likely to be subject to flooding like that. Unfortunately, the mud on both sides of the riverbanks suggested otherwise - that the “stream” should have been tens of meters wide.
Qin Ye squatted down and gently pinched up some dirt from the ground and put it close to his nose for a gentle whiff.
In fact, it smells almost as though the rivers had just flooded the banks just last night. And… it carries a strong stench of corpse odour.
A ferryman’s river? Is this the stench of River Styx itself?
“I’ve got to say that the netherworld is far more exciting than I’d thought…” He clapped the dirt off his hand as he exclaimed, “Each of the major underworlds of the netherworld have their own set of means… How interesting… How truly interesting…”
Abra held two sets of cowhides and followed closely behind Qin Ye. His face appeared paler than ever, and he glanced around nervously. His thoughts were clearly all over the place.
This is the underworld… The mythical kingdom of the god of death. The residence of the Mythic Spirit of Malagasy. And now… am I actually about to embark on this journey myself?
He couldn’t help but feel as though life had taken a turn for the worse after meeting up with the Emissary of Hell.
Thud… Just then, lost in his own thoughts, he accidentally walked right into Qin Ye’s back. He shuddered violently, and then nearly fell to the ground. It was only after a few seconds that he trembled and asked, “M-my Lord?”
Qin Ye didn’t respond immediately. Instead, he simply continued to stare ahead of him.
Right there, there was a pile of human skulls and bones.
It appeared hazy. The moonlight was bright and lustrous, and yet he couldn’t really see anything beyond the pile of bones, almost as though it were a line demarcating the end of the mortal realm and the beginning of the underworld.
That said, he could vaguely make out another landmark full of rolling waves just hundreds of meters beyond the hazy shadows.
“A waterfall.” Qin Ye nodded affirmatively.
It was a silent waterfall.
Everything was shrouded in silence here, and not even the waterfall in the distance generated the slightest bit of sound. The air was filled with an austere sense of ritual, almost as though a massive hand were gripping tightly the hearts of all mortal men.
The Mythic Spirit allowed none to violate the sanctity of these lands.
“My Lord…” Even a mere mortal like Abra could sense that death was looming right around the corner. His breaths grew ragged, and he couldn’t help but grab the hem of Qin Ye’s suit.
“That’s the end of the River Styx. We’re as far downstream as it gets. Let’s get ready.”
He didn’t continue to follow the river downstream. After all, he knew that these rituals were a system that had been put in place to act like a passport of sorts. That said, the key to entry lay not in the place of entry, but the compliance with the process set in place.
“My Lord… D-do you really intend to head in?” Abra shuddered violently as he asked.
“You can choose not to go too.” Qin Ye smiled faintly, “Or perhaps… head in through a different means.”
Abra clammed up at once.
Ting-a-ling… Ting-a-ling… Just then, Qin Ye’s alarm suddenly rang.
It was 5.00 a.m.
The witching hour.
Just then, there was suddenly a low rumble from the mountaintop, almost as though torrent and burst its dykes and erupted from the mountains!
It’s begun… This is the start of the entry procedure of the Malagasy Underworld… Qin Ye watched intently. He didn’t want to miss this moment of excitement one bit.
Rumble… The sounds grew louder and louder, burgeoning until it sounded like the roar of the tide, sloshing about in every direction as the waves lapped at the shores.
Closer, and closer; faster, and faster! After approximately three seconds, Qin Ye turned his gaze upstream, and Abra did likewise.
Everything was cast in a soft silvery-white sheen under the soft glow of the moonlight. It was still located quite far away from them, but the forcefulness of the sound made it patently clear what it was. Abra’s jaws dropped, and his legs gave way, “How… how is this possible?”
It was a wave.
The three-meter wide stream had suddenly transformed into a river that was tens of meters wide, and it was rushing straight through the mountains like a tsunami and towards the location of the waterfall!
Boom!!! Just like the stampede of ten thousand horses, it didn’t take more than five minutes before the tidal wave swept through the riverbanks, transforming an otherwise three meters wide stream into a river tens of meters wide. Qin Ye immediately understood how the mud by the riverbanks came to be.
However, that wasn’t the most shocking. The most astonishing part about this entire process was how the river was actually… covered with corpses!
They appeared inordinately neat and tidy, with their hands on their chests, while the cowhide beneath their body spread out like lotus leaves holding up lotus flowers. The surface of the river was densely packed, as though carrying the dead all the way down the entire river!
Furthermore, every single corpse in the waters had their eyes wide open.
It was almost as though they were taking a final look at the mortal realm before finally passing into the netherworld.
Thud… Abra collapsed to the ground. His legs were soft as jelly. He desperately sought to clamber up to his feet, but strength seemed to elude him.
“How is this possible…?”
“Where did all of this water come from? No! And these corpses! What the hell is going on with these corpses?!”
“How can there be so many corpses drifting about? And these are all people who have just passed on! How are the dead floating on the waters? Shouldn’t they be sinking to the depths of the river? That’s not possible! This is unreal!”
Qin Ye stared at the massive river. The corpses looked numerous, but the truth of the matter was that there were only a few hundred of them. That said, the force of the river was so great that he could already see the tail end of the surge in the tide.
He took a deep breath, “Get ready.”
Abra scrambled to open up the two cowhides, but Qin Ye knew that he couldn’t dally any longer. Thus, just as the last row of corpses rushed past, Qin Ye picked up the two cowhides and flung them onto the river, before soon tossing Abra onto one, and jumping onto another without hesitation.
Whoosh… Just as he landed on the cowhide, he discovered to his great surprise that everything became silent once more. Even the rushing waters around him couldn’t be heard in the slightest.
It was almost as though he was suddenly on a quiet lake, gently paddling a canoe as he drifted endlessly along towards the horizon. In fact, he couldn’t even feel the movements of the cowhide!
“Has the door to the underworld been opened?” Qin Ye shut his eyes placidly and indulged himself in this final journey of the living dead.Previous Chapter Next Chapter