༺ The History of Tantalus ༻
After silencing me, the Earth Sage posed a question to the others.
“Do you know how Tantalus came to be?”
Realizing this was a past test question, I jumped to respond.
“Just what we revised earlier! Tyr, tell us!”
“Naturally. Was it not because of the Overlord’s massacre? There are several theories regarding its origins, but the primary cause should be attributed to Mother Earth’s fury.”
Tyr looked at me, seemingly expecting praise for her answer. However, the Earth Sage shook her head, postponing any compliments.
“No! I am referring to Tantalus, not the abyss.”
“Tantalus? Are you perhaps speaking of this building we are standing in?”
“…That I do not know. The State’s soldiers mentioned taking me somewhere, so I let them, and this is where I woke up.”
Of course, no one knew. Tantalus might have been constructed within the abyss, but its history wasn’t that long. Moreover, not even a liar could claim that this bunch possessed a wealth of common sense.
The Earth Sage, the only one with an answer, proceeded to elaborate,
“After the land was devastated by the abyss, the people began fearing Mother Earth, realizing that she too was a formidable deity capable of wrath. And with so many impersonators of gravemen roaming about, the public gradually distanced themselves from the Gaian Order.
“To restore the faith, it was imperative to appease Mother Earth’s anger and reverse the abyss. Hence, I negotiated with the Military State.”
Following the State’s successful coup, they planned large-scale civil works to penalize criminals while stabilizing public sentiment.
However, the Military State didn’t possess the know-how to undertake such a massive construction project. It was evident that if things continued in that direction, the outcome would be nothing more than a live burial under the pretext of “construction”.
No matter the circumstances, they couldn’t afford to kill that many lives. There was the precedent of the Overlord, for one, and the loss itself would mean a significant loss of human resources.
The Military State, who prized efficiency over loyalty, made a decision that was both the simplest and most challenging—they gathered the Gaian disciples who had scattered, unable to find a central point.
“The agreement was that if we aided the Military State’s construction, in return, they would create a ‘lid’ to cover the abyss.”
In an era where the majority of the population believed in the Sky God and the saintesses, colluding with the Gaian Order was an act of antagonism toward both the public and foreign nations.
Of course, the Military State wasn’t the kind of country that bothered about such trivialities. But it was still impossible for the persecuted Gaian disciples to simply side with them right away. Not without a compelling lure, at least.
“Eliminating the abyss is our shared aspiration. To bury the deeds of the gravemen, disciples from all over the world gathered. They followed my lead in trust.”
And now, the truth behind what the Military State used to bait the Gaian disciples was about to be revealed.
“So you’re saying, Tantalus was supposed to cover the abyss like a lid?”
“Indeed. Tantalus was originally designed to cover the abyss, acting as a lid over Mother Earth’s fury, much like covering a boiling pot to contain its heat… Ridiculously, I believed her rage would subside in the same manner.”
To be fair, the first instinct when faced with a challenging hole to fill was to cover it. It was a common thought anyone might have.
It was simply that the hole in question was so enormous that people couldn’t dare to think of attempting it. Feasibility changed with scale. The abyss was too vast and deep, which was why no one ever considered sealing it off. There wasn’t the manpower or technology to create a lid of that magnitude.
…No one, that is, except for the Earth Sage standing before me.
The Earth Sage continued explaining in a plain tone.
“During the 5 years of the Military State’s grand construction, all of us worked out bones to dust, and many of our brothers and sisters collapsed from exhaustion. Nevertheless, we combined our strengths for our long-standing dream. Brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters, all united in our tireless labor. And once we fulfilled our part of the promise, we made our demands to the State, and they honored their commitment.”
Thus, they produced a structure made of blessed concrete, larger in diameter than the abyss itself.
Despite being the very person who had accomplished such a monumental feat, the Earth Sage described it as blandly as if she were reading from a book.
“After completing the lid, one of the six generals, the Arcane Commander, personally transported it to cover the abyss and the terrifying, unfathomable void within. Once it was hidden and out of sight, we believed our lifelong ambition was realized and shed tears of joy. It felt as if we had finally corrected the mistakes of the distant past and returned everything to its rightful place…”
But there, her voice choked off, leaving the sentence hanging.
I knew what happened next. I had read it off the mind of a certain Resistance technician.
“The ground must’ve sunk into the abyss the moment you stepped on it. Because the curse of the abyss isn’t something that can be concealed by a mere lid.”
“…It seems you have heard about it from someone. I suppose it was not even a secret at the time.”
The Earth Sage weakly acknowledged it, recalling one of her few miserable failures in life.
“…That is accurate. The moment I took the first step, it gave way beneath me. Alas, the despairing sensation of the ground crumbling beneath my foot…”
Once I helped her past the difficult part, words flowed easily from Earth Sage’s lips.
“How great must their disappointment and despair have been? I felt such regret and guilt that their 5 years of toil went without a single reward. I had nothing to say to the companions who followed my humble self…”
The leader of the oppressed felt profound responsibility for that failure. Her emotions sank, and her voice became withered, sounding deep and dark like settled dust.
“My companions scattered across the world in their dismay, and I was left alone to dwell on my horrible failure. However, adversity is the mother of wisdom. My prolonged gaze into the abyss brought me a realization. What we used as a cover was not a lid, but land. And that land was the key to reaching the root of the abyss.”
Originally, the concrete structure should have dropped beneath the abyss, endlessly plummeting into the void. Yet curiously, it didn’t sink unless someone stepped on it. It didn’t fall like other ordinary objects.
However, land that couldn’t be stepped on was meaningless, so no one considered this fact significant—no one except the Earth Sage, who was fixated on her failure.
“To reach the bottom of the abyss, humans had to set foot and live on this piece of earth.”
The space within the abyss was infinite and thus meaningless. For it to hold significance, humans had to set foot upon it and build history. The birth of life, nurturing, and death. The more life was lived on that land, the more Tantalus would approach the origin of the abyss.
Thus, the Earth Sage needed people to live in Tantalus.
“To reach the roots of the abyss, I intended to take responsibility for the failure and to live alone in the abyss. Until this land reached the furthest depths, or this flesh of mine fell into slumber to be buried.”
“But isn’t that too uncertain?”
I gradually posed my questions, eliciting the Earth Sage’s responses.
“The Military State said the same, that it was too uncertain. Instead of wasting my precious abilities, they proposed turning this place into a prison. They claimed there were many criminals deserving of death, so they would create a hell to imprison them, since that way, their lives would also serve a purpose.”
“Ah, so that’s why the State kept driving people in here.”
The Earth Sage gave a bitter nod.
“Putting the Military State’s prisoners in the hell of Mother Earth? In a way, it is truly a… blasphemous act. Yet I accepted their proposal. Purely out of my own greed, I pushed those prisoners into the prison of Mother Earth instead of a prison for humans…”
The abyss was created by Mother Earth. It became a literal hell of punishment for the irreverent.
Therefore, people simply regarded Tantalus as a prison. Hell and prison. The two were even similar in concept, weren’t they?
Yet here was the surprising fact. Tantalus, created by humans, wasn’t actually a prison. It was a structure built to pass off as land in order to reach the root of the abyss.
It was mankind’s deception toward a goddess.
“So, that means you’re the one who created Tantalus?”
“To be precise, the Military State designed it to use this land. I merely proposed the idea.”
“That’s news to me. I thought the State built a prison here because it’s an insane country.”
No wonder the tech tree was strange; it turns out it was a payment for a promise. Then again, I suppose no one would build a prison in a hole no matter how bored they are.
“That information was confidential, so it is not unreasonable to be mistaken.”
The Earth Sage took a moment then, sighing as she gulped down a glass of water in thirst.
“The Military State pulled up this land and built a prison, and I devoted myself to them to pay the price. For over a decade, I alone took part in construction works, big and small. After that, I wandered the world, searching for a way to restore the abyss to its original state.”
Her voice grew more animated, her face brightening as the story slowly approached the present. I could sense anticipation in her. Hope for a better present and future than the past.
“Then one day, I caught wind of a jailbreak, and thus I returned to inspect Tantalus again. And I became certain.”
Standing before the realization of her long-cherished wish, the Earth Sage radiated volcanic passion despite her thin frame.
“It was close enough to the source. It had become possible to get rid of the abyss.”
There was power in a story filled with emotion. No one dared to doubt the Earth Sage’s words anymore. Everyone understood she possessed the strength to make it happen. She had put in the effort and found the way.
It was now a foregone conclusion that the abyss would be eliminated.
“Hold on now! If you remove the abyss, what will happen to us? Will we not disappear along with it?”
At the undying’s question, the Earth Sage responded with a firm statement.
“No, only the abyss will disappear. Therefore, this land will return to its original state—that is, to the great pit the Overlord had tried to bury 300,000 in before the abyss was formed.”
“Hm! If that is the case! I see no harm!”
While the undying gave a big nod in satisfaction, Callis asked a hasty question.
“How did the Military State react to your visit, Brigadier General?”
“Their reaction? With all humility, I do not know. I simply notified them before entering.”
Surprisingly, Callis was relieved by the Earth Sage’s uncertainty. If the latter had entered without any prior notice, they would at least have some time before the State could respond. The more impulsive the Earth Sage’s actions were, the higher the likelihood of Callis’ successful escape.
I asked a question next.
“So when will you get rid of the abyss?”
“Given my energy constraints, and the need to inspect the land a little more, I plan to proceed the day after tomorrow.”
We could finally escape this sickening place in two days. I felt a surge of joy despite myself.
I’d never once thought fondly of this blasted world, but the idea of going up to see the light of day suddenly made me desperately yearn for the surface. I missed the cool breeze brushing past my ears, the sunshine scolding my lazy body, and even the distant landscapes.
I never saw myself as the type to enjoy scenery, but perhaps I actually craved all these things I’d been with my entire life.
“Wooo! We’re escaping!”
I didn’t hide my excitement.
“Since we’re going out anyway! Everything here is meaningless now! My dear Earth Sage! Please eat all we have here!”
The Earth Sage politely declined.
“With all due respect, I am a small person. Even if you offer all that, there is a limit to my capacity. Since I am full, perhaps you can eat the rest at your leisure.”
“Come now! We’re escaping this place in two days, so we can’t be eating leftovers during that short while! We’ll make fresh food for tomorrow! Today’s leftovers will be disposed of in the Tantalus official trash can!”
｢He would throw away the fruits of the earth in front of a disciple of Mother Earth…? Does he not realize the rudeness of this?｣
As the Earth Sage slightly frowned, I summoned the Tantalus official trash can.
Leftovers were always for dogs to eat since the old days, and that’s why dogs of the elite were so well-groomed.
Azzy padded over with a tilted head.
I placed a plate full of meat in an empty spot on the table, then, like a gambler going all-in, I heroically tossed my head back and cried out to her.
“Yeah! Eat all of this today!”
“Woof! How weird!”
Azzy immediately took a seat and dipped her head down to begin munching away. Tasting the clean flavor of freshly cooked meat, she burst with joy.
“Tomorrow! Woof! The sun will rise from the west!”
“I don’t know where you learned that phrase, but this food isn’t from the sun; it’s a gift from this lady here! Be grateful!”
“…Please indulge, O Dog King.”
The Earth Sage returned a nod, unable to bring herself to scold a dog.
You can rate this series here.
Advаnceԁ chаpterѕ аvailable on gеnеsistlѕ.соm
Illustrations on our discоrd – discоrd.gg/gеnеsistls