It was time to tell a story.
“Tell us a story, Thanatos.”
I poked at the fire absently with a stick. I poked it once, twice, three times and then tossed the stick in the flames. The color of the fire brought back a memory about Sisyphus, King of Corinth, and two months in a dark box. I took a deep breath and began my tale.
It was dusk as I reached the dying King Sisyphus’ grand palace. The skylight was a blaze of orange with purples and pinks. My hood was up and I was invisible to the mortal’s eyes. The guards made their patrols along the wall perimeter of the palace. I passed by unseen, just a cold wind that caused them to shudder.
In the courtyard, peacocks ran, chasing peahens. Statues to the gods of the Pantheon stood, but none for me, which is common. Most mortals do not wish to acknowledge the fact they will meet me in the end. My attention, my focus, was a light in the bedroom where the old king lay dying. I passed by the attendants, servants, and Queen as another cold breeze and ill-fated premonition, making my way to the upstairs bedroom. The King sat at a table, a barely-picked-over meal before him. He was sullen and sallow looking; haggard, his glory days long behind him. He stiffened and inhaled sharply as he sensed me.
“Who goes there?” His voice was aged, whispery and weak.
“It is I, good King of Corinth, Sisyphus. I have come for you this night,” I told him.
I pulled down my hood revealing myself before him. His sunken eyes widened as he beheld me in my fullness. His trembling hand covered his mouth in an attempt to stifle the gasp that had already escaped. I chuckled as he lowered his hands and stared at me in awe.
“Forgive me, Lord. I did not erect a statue in your honor,” Sisyphus said, looking downward.
“Nothing to forgive. I am used to it,” I assured him.
“Must we depart soon?” he asked.
“Soon, my King, soon,” I told him.
“Would you sit with me, God of Death, and let me indulge in one last drink?” he asked.
“That would be fine,” I said.
He smiled and it actually made him look better. He gestured to me to take the seat next to him and I, not wanting to offend, obliged him. That was my mistake, for the moment I sat down I heard a metallic clicking noise. A trap I sprung upon myself! Chains sprung out from the slots in the floor and wrapped themselves around me, locking into place. The old King laughed hard and merrily even as he choked on his own phlegm.
How dare he!
My mind raged as I struggled against the chains, but they would not budge. They would not bend or break under my strength; they only grew tighter.
How could this be?
“Release me at once! How dare you do this to me!? Me, a God!?” I yelled at him.
“Oh, I think not, my young-looking god. Do you know Daedalus? Quite the craftsman,” he said.
My heart sunk as the King’s sly smile told me everything I needed to know. I was trapped and at the mercy of this mortal.
“Guards!” the King called out in a shrill, commanding voice.
Four guardsmen entered the room, followed by an attendant. The guardsmen seized me, lifting me from the chair, while the attendant assisted the King out of his. We exited the room and started down a long hallway.
“The gods will find me,” I assured him.
“Oh, oh, oh my dear God, don’t underestimate Daedalus and his craftiness. He was very intrigued by the idea of capturing a God…especially you. It took him some time. He had to go seek Atlas’ daughters. They hate you and the other Gods. They gave him the material those chains are made of, the wood for the box, and the runes upon the box,” the King told me as we marched down the hall.
“Box?” I asked.
“You will see. I will be glorified as the mortal who stopped death,” he said, smiling as he broke into another coughing fit.
We entered a room at the end of the hall. It was empty except for a large black wooden box in the center. It was inlaid with golden runes that glowed with a pulsing light. The door of the box was opened wide as they marched me to it. The King wore a victorious sneer as he pushed me in. Hooks descended from inside the box attaching to the chains. They pulled me up and back until I hung, suspended in the box. I began to fight and struggle again.
“Farewell, my lord.” The King’s voice was full of mockery.
He slammed the door shut and I was cast into darkness. I hung there struggling, screaming myself hoarse, praying one of the gods hear me. Praying that this was not the cycle of my existence. The problem of not reaping a soul once the thread has been cut is that the soul begins to rot in the body and that rot starts to become external. I grew weak and disoriented in the long darkness. Finally, one day, a blinding light came crashing in.
It hurt my eyes, but I had no real voice to scream. It came out as a hoarse gasp. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw Ares. He stood before me in full battle armor, covered in blood. The guards behind him lay dead in pools of blood. There was a rage burning in the God of War’s eyes.
“Thanatos! What have they done to you?” he said.
“Weak, so weak,” I whispered.
He nodded, raised his sword, and cut through the chains and hooks that held me. I fell to the floor of the box with a hard thump. Strong hands lifted me up to be supported on his shoulder. The light! It burned to be in it again. As we began to leave the box room, I passed over the dead guards. I called their souls to me and pulled them in to strengthen me.
“King. King,” I whispered as we left the room.
Ares nodded and we headed to the throne room. Still supporting me, Ares fended off and killed the guards along the way. I called their souls. I grew stronger with each one I took, but not strong enough. The God of War burned with battle rage and was an unstoppable force. He kicked down the doors of the throne room. The room was full of the king’s guardsmen, all ready to die and defend a man who was rotting.
Ares rested me against a column as I tried to catch my breath. I could smell the rot of the soul, and see that the King looked more decrepit. Ares patted my chest.
“Stay put, I got this part,” he said, smirking.
He spun the blade of his sword in his hand and rushed at the foolish mortals about to fight a God. Ares let loose a war cry as he cut them down one by one. His sword blade and the white marble floor were covered in crimson. The blood dripped off the blade as he pointed to the King on his throne. The attendants fled, and the Queen was frozen to her chair in fear. I called the dead souls to me and it was enough to restore my strength.
Another round of guardsmen entered the room, weapons at the ready. Ares raised his sword and again let the war cry out, but I stepped before him, opened my wings and aura to their full potency, and let loose with my own war cry. The guardsmen dropped their weapons and fled the room like the attendants. It also ended up putting out any fires in my presence. Ares lowered his sword. He looked upset as he rolled his eyes at me, letting out a small, disapproving sigh. I offered a shrug and moved in for the King.
“Sisyphus! King of Corinth! I come for your soul!” I growled.
The King rose from his throne as I reached him, his hands up in a warding-off gesture. I pulled the King’s soul out screaming and forced it onto its knees before me. I looked to the Queen and she looked long into my eyes, petrifying her. Her hair and eyes turned white. I turned my attention to the squirming soul in my hand.
“You would have died in your sleep,” I growled.
Ares stood next to me, scowling down at the soul of the King as I opened my wings and allowed them to close around us. We transported to the shores of Lake Aveinos, and I collapsed.
The rest of my memories are flashes. Charon, Ares, Sisyphus and I on the ferry. Hades’ palace. The king on his knees trembling before Hades. My mother at his side full of rage, pointing at the trembling soul. My siblings Hypnos and Nemesis holding me up, and the palace full of all my brothers and sisters. The house on Tartarus where I recovered. Sentences to push a boulder up a hill for eternity.
“Ok, so I rambled enough. Whose turn is it now?”
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- Thanatos and the Aftermath: The Girl in the Yellow Sweater, Part I - May 18, 2020