And so it goes, so ends the tale of Quentin Coldwater.
In the blinding light of a kind of godforsaken glitter, it was over. Tearful goodbyes and mementos burned, then that was it. Quentin Coldwater accepted his fate, gave an old friend (friend might be a stretch) one last hug, took his MetroCard, and moved on just like everyone does eventually.
He walked through the archway and everything was dark, and for a moment that made sense to Quentin. When he thought about the end, he hadn’t ever imagined anything beyond life. At time, he even hoped for a quiet expanse of nothingness, no thought, no problems, no nothing. It made sense to him and he hoped for it in his darkest moments. Even after Brakebills and despite having been to and seeing the Underworld firsthand, that didn’t really change, even if everyone passed through there before they found where they were meant to be.
He always felt that there was no place for him in life, so why would there be in death.
He floated, stagnant or an amount of time unquantifiable to him in the darkness. That changed when he finally felt something. Quentin felt the motions of his body walking, although he had no conscious thought of making his body do so, his feet coming into contact with something beneath him he could not see and therefore could not confidently call a floor or ground. Then suddenly, his hand came into contact with what felt like a doorknob.
“Penny said this would all make sense, so I guess here we go,” he thought to himself, turning the knob, and when the door opened, he found himself roaming onto the banks of a gentle river. The water was a deep gray color and there was a persistent longing in the air. A cloaked figure stood on the dock awaiting Quentin's arrival on a dock.
A loud bark echoed in the cavern and chains loudly rustled, “Quiet, Cerberus! He’s a friend,” the cloak figure said, and the dog that Quentin could finally see as the cavern lit up with gentle fire light settled back down to sleep, and he could have sworn it had three heads.
“Ah, Mr. Coldwater, it’s nice to finally meet you,” the man turned around, removing his hood, “I am Hades.”
Quentin’s brow turned up in confusion, “Hades? Like the God of the Underworld?”
“Yes, I believe that is pretty self-explanatory by the name, the dog, the river, you get the picture. Anyway, I’m sorry to have kept you waiting for so long, it was necessary.”
“Uh huh…” Quentin trailed off wondering if his afterlife was just going to be one hallucination after the next, like that spell Julia and Marina had put him under. That spell induced coma was his own personal version of hell and he would be unsurprised if that was where he found himself if there was an afterlife. “Well, if you don’t mind me asking, what the fuck do you mean? I literally just left Penny a minute ago.”
“Time is a fickle thing and moves through the Abyss at will.”
Still maintaining his overactive sense of confusion, “The Abyss? Like in Fillory?”
“The Abyss exists in all worlds, but yes, that is one such area is slips through to the corporeal realm. Most who travel through it find themselves stuck here without a coin to get them back, so imagine my surprise when your friend, Ms. Cline, made it out intact without a magical vessel to protect her.”
“Right, you read my book, then?” Quentin inferred, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment, “I imagine it was not a very interesting read for you.”
Hades laughed, “Perhaps not, but it was longer than most mortal books and there were a few surprising moments in there. Still, much to the disdain of beings stronger and older than I, I have a proposition for you. The Old Gods wanted to usher you into the great beyond as fast as possible. You have caused them more trouble than mortal usually manage to in their short lifetimes, but you are a special case. They want you gone, and as demonstrated by your over-eager friend back there, they will do almost anything to achieve that. Don’t be upset with Penny, he was acting as a sort of puppet to meet their ends, as it were. The only way I could stall your crossing over was to hide you in the Abyss.”
“But why?” Quentin asked, “I did what needed to be done and I died doing it. Isn’t that supposed to be the end of my story?”
“Normally, yes. However, I owe you a personal debt to you and that matters to me more than old alliances. You dispatched the abomination that murdered my wife, so for that, I extend the favor of staying off your journey to the great beyond, and returning you the mortal coil, if that is what you wish.”
In that moment, all Quentin could think of was all the things he didn't get to do, or at least things he had done in previous timelines, but wanted to do them again in a world with all of the people he cared about. There were so many things he didn't get to say, things that mattered to him more than anything, that spoke the truth of who he was. He would give just about anything to have a second chance, "You mean, like, I could go home?” Quentin asked in disbelief
“If that is what you wish, then that is what I offer.” Hades gestured warmly, and then stood firm, “Listen carefully, Mr Coldwater. I read your book and I want to make it very clear to you that I can and will only offer you this second chance but once, and it is not an exchange that will treat you kindly if it is taken advantage of. So, I don’t want to see you again until your mortal life is truly over and done, in its time, alright?” Hades stated plainly.
Quentin nodded, “I understand. For so long, I thought this was what I wanted...but...I don't. Not yet. So, if you are offering this to me, then there is someone I should be getting back to.”
Hades smiled, “In that case, I should warn you that about 300 years did pass while you floated entranced in the Abyss.”
“So, what you’re saying is that everyone that matters to me is dead?” Quentin choked back an overwhelming sadness at the possibility.
Hades was taken aback and then chuckled deeply, “No, dear boy, what would be the point of returning you to a world where no one knows to miss you? No, but the fact of the matter is that there is a world you bound your soul to in an act of exponential magic. The time you spent in the Abyss passed there as well and it will be different when you return.”
“Fillory? From the Drowned Garden?”
“Indeed. The magic in Fillory has a certain, let’s say, unpredictable whimsy to it, designed that way by Ember and Umber, mostly for trickery and entertainment I assume," Hades rolled his eyes, almost like you would to a distant relative who consistently would get too drunk and dance on tables at family reunions. He turned back to Quentin and continued, "When the flower bloomed for you, you bound your soul to the land and the magic flowing through Fillory, an unforeseen consequence and a connection not even broken by your death, which is not something I have ever seen before. So, while it only seemed but mere moments for you, as your connection to earth is still strong, time passed differently in the world bound to your soul. It will be different when you go back there, and those differences may be shocking,” Hades paused while Quentin contemplated, “but ease your worries, Mr. Waugh still lives.”
Quentin initially beamed in absolute relief and then blushed, “how much of my book did you read?”
Hades let out a bellowing laugh, “All of it, my boy. Don’t feel embarrassed. For it being a dull mortal story on the surface, you certainly have lived a life. And contrary to popular belief, I am a romantic at heart. Though my love story has ended, I want the man who avenged my wife to have the same chance that we did. For all the flaws of your kind, you lot do embrace love wholeheartedly when you commit. I have seen the love of your mortal life time match a love grown over millennia and I don’t believe that story is over.”
“But he told me-”
Hades put up a finger to stop Quentin’s ramblings, “You cannot still believe that man’s obviously contrived story about not loving you in this life. He broke through possession of a godforsaken Monster, something I don’t think I could even do, to talk to you, to let you know he still lives, and you don’t think that means something? Yes, he lied to protect you from his faults. He lied to protect himself from ruining what the two of you have and because he never thought you would choose him if you had options. Please save your doubt for something that deserves it, and questioning that man's love for you isn't it. Learn a thing or two from me, don’t accept his defenses in space of his love because fear is ruling the two of you. You both have grown beyond that now. And if you don't believe me, look," Hades waved his hand in front of Quentin, a white mist appearing and in it he saw Julia and Eliot in the Brakebills Library, scouring the shelves for answers. "Just know that even now, even in your death, he searches for you.”
Quentin teared up, “But he knows there is no coming back from the dead so why would he be looking for me?”
“In your absence, he has shown a great devotion to you. Even though you are not there to witness it, I hope you can have faith in that devotion," Hades said, waving his hand again when Quentin put his hand up to touch the illusions of both Julia and Eliot. The cloud disappeared, and Quentin visibly hunched over in sadness, "Your death has been harrowing for Mr. Waugh and your friend, Ms. Wicker. They both search for you. And it is my pleasure to return you to them. Charon?” Hades called out across the water, and a boat rose up out of the river and another cloaked man rose with it, carrying a staff and a lantern. Hades stretched out his hand to Quentin and handed him a coin, “He doesn’t do free rides, not even as a favor to me. So here, take this,” and dropped the coin into Quentin’s hand, then placed his own callused hand on Q’s shoulder, “he will float you down the River Styx to the banks of the river Acheron but after that, it is up to you to find your way back home. It will not be easy, and there will be many temptations along the way, those designed to keep you here. Do not stray from your path, Mr. Coldwater. Should you veer of course, I cannot rescue you. This is your journey, and your journey alone. Your greatest desire to live will be what lights your way. It may not be easy to find, but once you have found it, you’ll know. Once you've found it, do not let it disappear from your sight”
Quentin nodded and heeded the Old God's warning, “I really don’t know how to thank you.”
Hades laughed and shook his head, “Just go live your life, my boy. Live it with the love that your soul desires most.”
“I will,” Q nodded again, with a new found determination to go home and right some wrongs. He stepped off the dock and into the boat.
“Coin, sir?” Charon asked, with a voice Quentin would have thought was made from gravel. He gestured for payment and Quentin handed over the coin. When he turned back Hades was gone. The dog still slept soundly on the banks of the river as Charon untied his boat and pushed off the shore with his staff.
The boat rocked and rocked across the water, until they floated out of the cavern to see a river so wide, it resembled the open ocean. Transparent figures in the water floated, looking lost and confused. Quentin felt terribly for them, and also questioned why his life mattered more than the people lost in these waters. Just as he started doubting his journey ahead, Quentin saw a beckon of soft yellow light on the horizon.
“Charon, where does that lead?” Quentin asked but the ferryman stayed silent.
From his palace windows, Hades saw the boat leaving the harbor under his castle and out into open water across the vast river. The castle had returned to the monochromatic tones of his solitude, all traces of a soft feminine presence disappeared when her life force, the way it had been when they built a home together, had disappeared. He had been using his powers to maintain the parts of their home that mattered the most to her, the garden and keeping the shades safe, but he'd be lying if he said it wasn't tiring work.
The God sighed and sat in a chair by the windows, keeping a watchful eye of Charon and Quentin and keeping the lost souls in the water at bay. A soft breeze blew in through the windows. a breeze like a memory and a subtle scent of cherry blossoms blooming in late spring, "I know, my love. He is on his way home."