Book of Hades
Tartarus is the one place nobody wants to go. The pain and misery are beyond comprehension. I don’t want to go down there any more than anyone else, but sometimes it is necessary. Torture is an art form mostly used to punish but sometimes used to extract information. I learnt long ago that information is power, and let’s face it, power is my thing.
Once the Furies were secured, I had to find out exactly what had happened. I had a brief idea, but that was not good enough. I needed answers. My plan of setting up security cameras was not working out the way I had hoped. Well, not completely as I had hoped, anyway. I investigated more thoroughly than before, speaking to dozens of souls, but nobody knew anything. If any did, they never let on. I knew the route they took, as there was only one known way out of Tartarus. There were others, but they were beyond secretive. Not even I used them. They were well hidden. Plus, I had already seen scratches where their claws had gouged into the wall of the entrance. There was no doubt they had left from there. How did they do it, though?
They must have sneaked out of Tartarus when I sent the souls to collect the metal for the gates…nothing else made sense. I returned from my trip, and when I opened the entrance, they sneaked out. I was angry, but I did not blame the Furies for what they did. They were powerful, sentient beings with wings and were meant to roam free. Caged animals would do anything to get free. All I cared about was how they did it, how they got through the gates of Tartarus. I was not stupid enough to let souls open and close the gates alone without ensuring it was safe.
A hydra guarded the entry with fifty black, gaping jaws. Nothing should have been able to get past that monster, not even the Furies, not without help anyway. I spoke to the souls I had sent for the metal. They told me the hydra understood their errand and let them pass, but everything appeared normal. I had sent word ahead that they would be turning up and should be allowed to leave again. So how did they do it? Someone in Tartarus helped them. Someone who had been a resident for a long time and had knowledge that others would not be able to get or work out. A smart someone.
I reached Tartarus. The gates stood tall and black, wisps of fog bouncing and curling off the surface. The hydra moved aside as I walked towards the entrance with the Furies bound and shackled behind me. It was unnecessary, they could never escape me in my kingdom, but it made things easier all the same. I had tried to get them to tell me who had helped them, but I knew they would never talk. They were beasts who knew all about torture. It would have been a waste of time trying.
I opened the gates and walked in with my prisoners.
“Any more trouble from you three, and I will turn you to ash.” I patted my chest where I kept my Bident in my inside pocket. They nodded sheepishly, knowing I meant what I said. I moved on and left them behind me.
The darkness played tricks with your perceptions. Colours danced in your mind’s eye because the brain took over. Damp air filled your lungs, and your feet squelched and cracked on the sticky, crunchy surface. Shadows were the only visible things breaking through the blackness and dimming the dancing colours. The corners of your eyes would catch a quick glance of them. A whistling sound followed, as if their movement through the damp air was a musical note. Tartarus built up inside you. It started that way and intensified. The secrets of the depths were complicated and mysterious. Nobody fully understood it. What was certain was that the occupants lived in torment. The Furies helped with that. I believed everyone had a different experience, and their time there was personal. This was not always understood or even realized.
I moved through the black nothingness. I thought hard as I walked. There were a few long-term residents that might have some intelligence. King Tantalus was my first guess. He’d ended up in Tartarus after he cut up his son Pelops, boiled him, and served him as food when he was invited to dine with the gods. As you could imagine, that was a very bad idea. Tantalus’s punishment for his actions was to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low-hanging branches. Whenever he reached for the fruit, the limb raised his intended meal from his grasp. Whenever he bent down to get a drink, the water receded. An unusual punishment, but effective. He was a smart man, even if he did do something that stupid, and he would talk if I offered him a drink of water and a piece of fruit. Imagine that for all eternity, a never-ending hunger and thirst with both right in front of you. It must be maddening beyond comprehension.
King Tantalus was hunched over, his arms hanging low, and his head drooped. He suddenly snatched a hand up and narrowly missed a ripe, juicy, green apple as it was whipped out of his reach. A groan escaped from his bone-dry lips.
“Tantalus, my old friend,” I called out as I strode towards him like I was taking a stroll down the beach, “you must be thirsty. What has it been? Ten? Twenty trillion years? It must seem that long, eh?” I mocked him a little. After all, he deserved his punishment.
“What do you want?” His voice was little more than a whisper and was as cracked as his lips.
“What do you want, lord,” I said, leaning down and scooping up some water with both hands and slurping it. “Ah, refreshing.” I stood up straight and waited for him to speak.
“Lord,” he said lazily.
“Thank you,” I said nicely. “Now, the Furies escaped, and I want to know how.” My tone was one finality. I needed answers, and he would give them to me. My mood was dark after returning with the escapees. I wanted to get back up top and enjoy myself, maybe take a trip to my new business, Coffee Kingdom, to see how my partner was getting on with decorating. Hope she has my leather seats. My mind wandered.
“Not my business, lord.” He still didn’t look up. He was quite the sight. His beard almost reached the water below, and so did the hair on his head. But I had it burned off every century or so. That time was near once again. He wore nothing but a piece of fabric that covered his modesty. I need to get a blowtorch. Those things look perfect for this job.
“If you tell me what you know, I may be kind enough to give you a drink and that beautiful apple dangling next to your left ear. That does look juicy, I must say.” I smacked my lips together and saw his body shiver.
“Ixion,” he said with a whimper.
“Ixion?” I spoke loudly and in a menacing tone, “If you are lying to me…” I was angry and sceptical, but he shook his head before looking up at me. I knew he was telling the truth. He had nothing to do but listen to the surrounding whispers. Ixion was the king of the Lapiths, the most ancient tribe of Thessaly. Ixion grew to hate his father-in-law and ended up pushing him onto a bed of coal and wood, committing the first kin-related murder. He did not enter my thinking. I would never have guessed it was him. He was punished by being tied to a winged flaming wheel. It was always spinning, first in the sky and then in Tartarus. He committed many atrocities besides killing his father-in-law, but that was a long story.
I let out a ragged breath and leaned down to scoop up some water for him to drink. He was like a rabid dog. Not even Cerberus was that greedy. I plucked the apple and handed it to him. He ate it before I had even turned around to walk away, core and all.
“Thank you, lord,” I heard him say with relief as I left him.
Ixion of all people? It seemed unlikely to me, but Tantalus seemed convinced. If nothing else, he must have some information, I thought. The wheel was a sight to see. Ixion would do anything to get a moment’s peace from the flying, spinning, fiery torture device that spun him without end. We gods were nothing if not imaginative. The wheel resided in an open space. The flames ran around the rim and snapped at his flesh like a whip. It wasn’t enough to burn him to a crisp, but it did cause him never-ending torment and pain.
I neared the wheel and could hear nothing. Normally the cracking and a snapping from the fire followed by his whimpers filled the air, but all was silent. The wheel was raised, and I could not see Ixion from where I stood. It was not spinning, and the fire was gone. My Bident controlled this torture device. It was a powerful weapon and used for much more than extinguishing things. It was the equivalent of a crown, a symbol of my power and rule, and it answered only to me. I pulled my weapon out of my inside pocket and made it grow to its original size. I pointed it to the wheel and brought the spinning device to the ground.
“What the bloody Tartarus is going on?” I was confused. Ixion was curled up in a ball and sleeping. He even had a blanket and pillow. He was completely unconscious. Not surprising, really. He had been spinning and burning for literally thousands of years, enough to make anyone a bit sleepy. He never heard me speak. He was deaf to everything, enjoying his nice little nap. My anger rose as he started snoring. So this was your payment for letting those crazy Furies out, eh? A bloody rest from punishment!
“Wake up!” I shouted, making the Underworld shake with my fury. His eyes shot open, and fear filled his face. “You little cretin.” I grabbed him by his hair, the ends crispy from the fire, and pulled him to his feet. He was naked as the day he was born, his skin red and scarred.
“My lord, please,” he begged, his terror obvious. And he should be afraid. “They made me do it. They were going to torture me,” he babbled pathetically.
“Oh,” I said in fake realization, “you should have said, old chap. I didn’t realize. I wouldn’t want you to be tortured now, would I?” I smiled at him and let go of his hair.
“No, lord,” he agreed.
“You bloody moron,” I growled at him. “You have been getting tortured for thousands of years!” I grabbed him by his chin and forced him to look at me. I took my Bident and held it to his throat. His eyes went wide, and I could feel him physically shaking. He knew what would happen if I used it on him. I was surprised he was not eager for me to do it. Being blasted into nothingness would be much better than more of that spinning wheel.
“Forgive me, lord,” he gasped with a shaky voice.
“What did you tell them? How did they get out? And how did the wheel stop?” I shot questions at him and squeezed his chin slightly harder.
“Lord, please,” he continued to beg.
“Answer me!” Small pieces of adamantine fell around us as my voice smashed against the walls. I was so close to ending him, my anger was almost at its peak, and I was about to explode in a glorious and deadly rage.
“Sisyphus,” he squeaked as I began to squeeze even harder.
“What about Sisyphus?” My anger relaxed slightly as my brain switched over to confusion, and I eased my grip on his face.
“The Furies asked me how to get out of here, and I told them Sisyphus would know if it was possible.” I released him, and he backed away from me.
“You will be punished for this.” I pointed my Bident at the shackles that had previously tied him to the wheel. They wrapped around his wrists and ankles, pulling until he was spread-eagled flat. I jabbed the edge of the wheel, and flames shot around the rim. Ixion cried when they snapped at him, and I stabbed the wheel again, causing them to intensify. They lashed at his body twice as often as before. I returned the device to the open air, making it spin twice as fast as before. I left him crying out for mercy and went to see Sisyphus. I hated that guy. He was in Tartarus for his self-aggrandizing, craftiness, and deceitfulness. As punishment, he was forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity. I reached the hill, and the boulder sat at the top, but he was gone. The Furies must have helped with that, and he must have left with them and gone his own way. I had another escapee.
“Damn it!” I shouted.
Things were getting more complicated, and I hated it. The only plus was that he was not as crazy as the Furies and was unlikely to go around murdering people. He was crafty, and the chances of finding him were small, but I was confident I would find him. Eventually.