“Caution be damned!”
Anything coming through that blasted portal couldn’t possibly be as dangerous as the prospect of the defensive perimeter of Tartarus falling. With a slight shudder, I quickly reminisced about all the wars the Olympians had waged in the effort to remove the threat of evil from the mortal world. I must get the Gem of Tartarus back to where it belongs—above all else, this is my first and primary duty, even if I must forfeit my immortal life to the cause.
Long ago, I foolishly thought my defenses were adequate. Great care was taken to implement a layered defense that only those authorized could navigate. This is, after all, why the funeral rituals are held. I did not create them to facilitate the mortals’ somber fear of the afterlife, nor did I create them as some sort of glorification of my everlasting sovereignty. It is much more mundane than all of that—the last rites simply give the recently deceased the knowledge they need to arrive at their forever home.
The entirety of the realm is obscured by the Great Mist. Only the dead or those with the divine spark are granted the ability to navigate through the dense fog. Anyone else would find themselves disoriented or stricken unconscious and returned to the mortal planes. Those who do penetrate to the other side are faced with the daunting task of crossing the great Oceanus.
The journey across this great water is so perilous that few would dare to attempt its crossing without good reason and adequate foreknowledge. Raging storms and violent winds churn the waves to enormous heights, threatening to destroy any vessel in its wake. The meandering weave and swirl of massive currents drive the waters around the entirety of existence, so only a skilled navigator could ever find their way to their destination.
Beneath the water’s surface, sea serpents, giant squid and other denizens of the deep hunt for tasty morsels to come their way. Some are willing to wait for the unlucky to come flittering down to them. Others are not so patient and don’t mind a little wooden fiber in their diet, their powerful tentacles and gaping maw more than adequate to shatter even the sturdiest of ship.
Anyone who reached the farthest shores of my realm would find a series of walls constructed of bronze, spanning from the core of the Earth to the farthest reaches above. Three walls in all spaced to ensure that not even the most powerful of divine explosions could penetrate them—at least without causing collateral damage to the would-be infiltrator. Between each layer, I ordered a series of further obstacles to delay my enemies my progress. Some of the other deities tease me that I placed these obstacles solely for my amusement. They aren’t entirely wrong; I am rather amused by the moat flooded by lava and populated with fire-resistant snarks and ooligators. If only Dr. Evil had been part of my early design team, I might have added freaking lasers beams on the heads of the snarks.
Only four gates allowed access to the regions beyond. To the south lies the Gate of Shades, the primary entrance for the dead to reach Propylaia. Those worthy of my attention proceed to Lake Aveinos, where Charon will ferry them to the Welcome Center to receive their afterlife placements. The remainder stay wandering the landscape restlessly under the supervision of Queen Hekate.
Those who enter the Gate of Dawn to the west find themselves in the “Land of the Blessed.” They are usually met by one of our many certified resort counselors, who acclimate these individuals to their new home of lush grasses, beautiful woods and abundant flowers. Many seek the pampering and comfort at the suites. Others wish to seclude themselves within the eternally abundant lands of Elysium.
Far to the north lies the Gate of Horn and Ivory, which opens into Oneiroi, the Land of Dreams. I seldom travel there, as I have little business to do with the Children of the Night or the Dream Brood. It’s not like I don’t like them. Please, don’t get me wrong, but they run their own business and I have my own to handle.
Much to my distress, my brother had demanded that the Gate of Dusk be built to the east, spilling out into the lands of Tartarus. I could have easily refused Ole Sparky’s impertinent request. However, I realized by allowing him to lease and manage the land for the Tartarus Correctional facility, I wouldn’t have to deal with the old family squabbles. This would provide me more time to dedicate to those who needed cared for in the afterlife and to build my financial empire. So, I enthusiastically signed the 9,999-year lease. Immediately after, I ordered the construction of Zeus’ express entrance to the prison. Cause, Olympus forbid his Royal Laziness had to walk one extra step than needed.
Further incursion required intruders to cross impassable, magical waters, and deal with my various guardians. For all intents and purposes, entrance into the Sulfur Springs Resort is not an easy one and requires significant knowledge beyond what many a living mortal can comprehend.
Nonetheless, Herakles and far too many others found their way into the resort for all manners of ridiculous and selfish reasons. Even my trusted Charon and Persephone betrayed me from time to time, allowing these men to sneak in or out of the Underworld. I had a sit down with my colleagues following this period of treachery. I would like to say we had a good chat about how their insistence to deviate from the rules and seek loopholes could be devastating to their safety and the security of everyone. The reality—it was more like a Wall of Thunder – I presented left even the stoic Charon trembling in his sandals.
After the meeting, I sought out the greatest scientists and engineers populating the Underworld. The defenses of the Underworld must be beefed up and they must be impenetrable. Not only for the protection of the residents, but to ensure the ever growing and ever more powerful prisoners of Tartarus could not escape. At first, my assembled team seemed reluctant to aid me in this endeavor. I’m sure many of them secretly harbored designs to escape their afterlife.
Luckily, I had just acquired the abandoned deed to the lands of Elysium. This is when I offered to finance the upgrades to my holdings. It was at this time the Sulfur Springs Resort and Spas first opened their doors. What really sealed the deal for their compliance was the construction of the Elysium Suites. In exchange for eternal paradise and all the gadgetry they needed to pursue their dreams for eternity, the promise to design and maintain the infrastructure for the most advanced security system ever was achieved.
I won’t go into the details of the system. Some of it I don’t fully understand myself, I am embarrassed to say, but any CEO worth his salt surrounds himself with the best minds, provides them the tools they ask for, and trusts them to deliver on their promises. What I can say without compromising too much is the Gem of Tartarus is a necessary component ensuring the integrity of the Tartarus barriers.
Without it in place, the Pits of Tartarus and even the Tartarus Correctional Facility housing the most vile and powerful creatures ever known are vulnerable to breaches. For a moment, I wondered if it was already too late. What did I see in the parking garage before heading off to deal with that bitch, Atë?
With a sudden sense of urgency, I emerged from my position behind the altar, Cautiously, I make my way to the center of the room where the gem sat encased in a gold and titanium meshed cage. I paused at a slight distance to study the elaborate work for fear that my rashness might destroy the gem entirely. The intricate weave proved to be an effective faraday cage—a construction that dampened its power—so that only a trickle of red shimmer indicated its true nature. Multiple braided wires ran down the pedestal holding the gem’s prison aloft. Presumably, the purpose of these wires was to shunt the energy not just to ground, but to the Earth’s molten iron core.
If I was not careful, I could end up initiating cataclysmic events that the deities all working in concert would be hard pressed to stop. While I puzzled over this precarious predicament, the portal on the far side of the room began to pulse brighter, so much that I had to shield my eyes with my forearm briefly. When my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw five mortals squirming in a disheveled mass of flailing arms and legs on the tiled floor.
Aileen’s eyes opened wide and shrieked uncharacteristically, “Are we dead? Did that Maserati hit us? Where did it go? Where are we?”
“Don’t hit me, but we still haven’t learned to stick that landing,” Belen said as a matter of fact.
“Can anyone see if we have a welcoming party? I can’t. I have fat dwarf ass in my face.”
“I swear, Darien, if that’s your hand, you better remove it right now before you lose it,” Galena said without a hint of amusement.
“Uhh sorry…I couldn’t see what I was grabbing. Dwarf ass, ya know?”
Alastair rolled to his side looking for a firm footing on the dirt strewn floor. Belen attempted to wiggle himself from beneath Aileen, but only managed to shoulder block the dwarf’s knee, who was sent off-balance on the pebble remnants of his digging. With a flurry of back peddling feet, he succumbed to the situation and fell backwards into the heap with a disgusted grunt.
The sheer surprise and amusement of the situation roused a feeling of mirth inside of me even during this peculiarly stressful time. Before I could succumb to a well-deserved and hearty belly laugh, my amusement was stifled in its tracks. Another portal began to form to my right threatening to add to this increasingly over-populated dungeon.
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