Thousands of years ago, humans worshiped the gods and, through the strength of their faith, imbued them with powers that placed them above mere mortals.
Thanatos, the god of death, was furious with one of his generals for failing to postpone his quota of death. This would have allowed him to overthrow Hades and become king of the Underworld, instead of remaining his lieutenant assigned to Tartarus, the antechamber of the damned.
The general was sentenced to live on Earth with his legion for a thousand years, collecting the souls of the dead without waiting for them to cross the River Styx. Thus, the Charons became Thanatos's emissaries, scouring the terrestrial world in search of the dying to gather their energy for their master. Their god, in his wrath, gave them human form, and it's only thanks to his power that the Charons survive to relentlessly perform their macabre duties. Because Thanatos needed them to be as efficient as possible, he endowed them with extraordinary abilities. In addition to having eternal youth from the age of twenty-four, the ability to communicate telepathically and read the minds of mortals—whose longevity they far surpassed—they were given superhuman strength and the ability to regenerate their wounds.
For centuries, the Charons worked for their master without complaint, waiting for their punishment to end so they could finally return to Tartarus.
But humans turned to a new faith, leaving the various pantheons of gods in shambles. The weakened gods fell into a sleep of oblivion, no longer keeping the portal to Earth open, leaving all their priests, servants, and emissaries to fend for themselves. Without the power of the gods they served, these human “go-betweens” fell into decline and disappeared altogether with the rise of the new religions. The Charons did not escape this fate and began to die like humans as their source of power wasted.
However, the energy of their deaths was absorbed by those still alive, prolonging their existence on Earth, since the portal to Thanatos was no longer active, and the world of the gods they had known no longer existed.
How can you live in harmony with your own kind when you're an emissary of death who gets sick from killing? The answer is that you can't. You're rejected by your own kind, for whom not killing is as much a heresy as it is for me to take the life of a normal, healthy being, not to mention the unfortunate side effects I suffer when I kill. In the eyes of my people, I'm a failure. According to the Thanatos Code, Charons must collect death energy or lose their own power and life. In other words, murder has naturally become our way of life over the years, because obviously the more violent the death, the more energy is absorbed.
This explains why I, sickened by the thought of taking a life before its time, have basically no power… I've been pretending to be human for two years now, ever since I was condemned by my own people on my sixteenth birthday; on that day, every Charon must fulfill their rite of passage by killing a designated mortal. I was unable to eliminate the Regent's chosen target and vomited on his desk in disgust when he handed me my victim's file!
In my case, I should have been executed after giving birth to a child for my transgression. Anyone who doesn't obey the Thanatos Code isn't allowed to live, except for the time it takes to fulfill her procreative duty if she's a woman. But I managed to escape when a fire in the barn mobilized all the Charons. Taking advantage of their distraction and the arrival of the fire department from the neighboring commune, which, of course, was immediately dismissed, I slipped unnoticed into their truck and left the property before anyone noticed I was gone. I then took a train to Paris, where I holed up in the dirtiest slums while I devised a survival plan.
Fortunately for me, being powerless in the human world doesn't mean being destitute, and I managed to find a place for myself. I finally settled next to the Hôtel Dieu, the city's historic hospital. Being so close, I can absorb its energy as the sick and wounded breathe their last. Given the regularity of these events, this gives me just enough energy to make use of my limited capacity.
If I concentrate hard enough, I can read human minds, which has helped me immerse myself in their society. I created an administrative cover via thugs identified by scanning their minds and also managed to get a job as a night cleaner at the morgue. Sitting next to the head of the department in a café, I read in his mind that he was desperate for an assistant. But since no one else wanted the job, he'd been carrying the workload alone for months. So, I took a chance and convinced him to hire me on a trial basis, which he hasn't regretted since.
Instead of being a merciless assassin, as our Thanatos Code demands, I've become an “angel of death,” as the humans say, accompanying those who cry out for deliverance in their hospital beds. It must be said, however, that the palliative department is nothing more or less than a place in disguise to die without decent care…
I've found a balance in helping these humans in their dying days, because I finally feel that I'm being useful and not a parasite sucking the life out of people. It's gratifying to have found a roundabout way to be in tune with my deep Charon nature and life-affirming personality. To the extent that it's human action that prolongs the time of death at all costs, I'm simply rebalancing the cycle of life that human science opposes. Sometimes, the pursuit of life resembles torture, not to mention their method for terminally ill patients. They just stop feeding them and they end up starving to death! I help them speed up the process so that they suffer less. And the big advantage is that it's the only act of death that doesn't make me sick.
In short, this system that allows me to survive is a pleasant discovery, my only consolation in my otherwise very lonely exile. I have a few friendly relationships with local shopkeepers, but over time my ability to read the minds of the people around me has developed considerably—to the point of becoming a handicap.
I need some peace and quiet after my night's work, so I don't go crazy. It turns out people are thinking all the time, and it’s exhausting to have so many people “in my head.” It's a constant effort not to become overwhelmed when I've absorbed energy, no matter how small. No doubt this is because in the beginning, I was so desperate to learn from them that my energy was focused on that point. It has become an automatic reflex that I can't control anymore.
My only company is Cutie, my little Bombay cat that I adopted without my family's knowledge when I was twelve. He's completely black and, according to human belief, evil. But like me, his nature, despite the stereotypes, is loving and empathetic.
Against all odds, we bound right away, because among the Charons, it's the dogs that have the edge. The fiercer they are, the better. In other words, a playful little kitten is more of a breakfast than a companion for the Charons' pets.
It's a relatively quiet night, as the morgue usually receives fewer bodies on Monday evenings. So, I'm quietly cleaning the various instruments from the night before —thanks, boss —the doors open suddenly with a bang.
“Good evening, Max,” the ambulance driver says. “A customer for you. He's 'fresh' from upstairs,” he adds mockingly, before quickly turning on his heels.
Upstairs is the emergency room, because the morgue is in the basement of the hospital. I sign the papers to receive the body and go to the computer to complete the file. Over time, Ralph, the director of the morgue, has taken me under his wing and delegated some of his work to me, unknown to the hospital administration. This allows him to enjoy his poker nights, while guaranteeing that I will be able to relax on those days, because Ralph is a real chatterbox.
Uh...death occurred fourteen minutes ago? Yet I don't feel any energy of death here, which is absolutely not normal…
Uncomfortably, I approach the stretcher to lift the sheet covering the corpse when it starts to move by itself!
By hell, they've made a mega mistake in the emergency department!
I hurriedly pull back the sheet and meet a stone-hard stare. The man's blue-green minnow eyes give him a look that's both terribly intense and disturbing.
But it's not his eyes that freeze me; it's his wound! A long gash runs from his left shoulder to his right hip, as if someone had tried to cut him in half. Only the wound is literally shrinking before my eyes, bit by bit, blowing away the few staples the paramedics must have put in before they gave up.
Panicking as I realize that he can only be a Charon to heal his wounds this way, I almost collapse to the ground as I hastily back away.
“I’ll…I’ll call a doctor,” I say, swallowing and playing the frightened human to perfection.
“That won't be necessary,” he replies in a dull voice. “I don’t need it.”
His hand grabs me with the speed of a cobra and holds me tightly, preventing me from escaping. Definitely a Charon, as if I had the slightest doubt!
But how did he end up in a human morgue? And the look on his face doesn't tell me anything either…
Determined to save myself, I concentrate on his thoughts, trying to get out of this nightmarish situation. It's much more difficult to read the mind of a Charon, not to mention that it requires much more energy, but I manage to pick up on his concern.
“I must warn the Regent. But in my condition, I won't get very far, and I won't be able to lose the Hydra's trackers! It’s too late, all is lost!”
I can hear his anger and frustration at not being able to save his brothers who are about to be captured by “the Hydra Operation.” Having done my best to fly under the radar, I was careful not to try to get any information on the Charons' activities. But given the situation as I understand it and the urgency I sense in this man, I can't help but think of my own family. Just because they rejected me doesn't mean I stopped loving them. Otherwise, I wouldn't suffer so much from missing them.
“Do you want me to call someone for you? To come and get you?” I say in a very faint voice, trying to keep up with my role as a traumatized human.
Culturally, Charons don't have the reflex to use human tools because they rely on their power to communicate telepathically and read each other's minds. What need is there for technology in this case? Besides, the Charons' ancient sense of superiority doesn't exactly encourage them to take an interest in human society…
But that's not my case at all—on the contrary! I'm fascinated by this “networked world,” and in the last two years I've even become a geekette, as these passionate profiles are called. Of course, it's easier to learn when you can read people's minds than to search for answers to questions you may not have asked yourself… And among the thugs who helped me create my fake identity, one in particular was tech-savvy. That is, when he wasn't stoned on the substances he regularly took. But I learned a lot from him and have continued to train on my own since then.
Although I have no intention of revealing myself, perhaps a phone call might be an acceptable compromise if the Regent needs to be warned? Although they rarely use it, and always reluctantly, as it's only to exchange with humans when necessary, the estate does have a telephone line…
He stars at me in bewilderment as the idea enters his head, casting himself for not having thought of it himself. Yes, the Charons are so steeped in their power that they don't really pay attention to the world they live in. It's true that they can normally communicate with each other across great distances, but like everything else, it requires energy, and given its condition…
“Give me your cell phone,” he orders urgently.
But then, he stars dumbly at the screen of my smartphone. Of course, this is another guy who's been working hard on his killing techniques and totally skipped the human immersion classes, pfff… Coming to his aid, I dial the number he dictates and hand him the phone I've “accidentally” put on speaker .
“The Hydra is coming your way right now,” he says to his caller as soon as he picks up the phone, without even giving him time to say anything. “You must be prepared, and above all, protect the children who are this enemy's ultimate target!”
“That's very thoughtful of you,” a honeyed, if distorted, voice replies, “but it's too late… I've already taken the castle, and since you must be the little incident reported by my agents, don't worry, we 'll take care of you very soon. I’m sure you can’t wait to get back to your family…and I love family reunions!”
The caller lets out a sinister laugh before hanging up. The dial tone is now the only audible sound in the heavy silence of the morgue, because we're in shock from this conversation. They've taken the castle! How is this possible? Who is this enemy that has declared war on the Charons? Why attack the children? So many questions swirl in my head, preventing me from concentrating on listening to the man who has grown pale in front of me.
“I need to recover,” he says, pulling himself together, “and you’re going to help me!”
I hurry back in a panic. He's going to kill me. To get his strength back, he needs death energy! My brain has finally rewired itself and made the connection: it's the Cerberus!
For each generation of Charons, an elite member is chosen to be the guardian of the community. Now I remember the one who was chosen six years ago: his hair was black as night … and his eyes were like minnows.