༺ To the Depths of the Abyss ༻
Pain engulfed my body, as if every part of it had been beaten repeatedly. I winced as I tried to stand up.
It hurt everywhere. My limbs were bruised and sore, and I could feel the crunch of sand in my dry mouth. Rubbing my sore eyes, I looked around, but all I could see was darkness.
There was a faint light from afar, but it was nowhere close to illuminating the world.
Groaning and scratching my head, I realised something strange.
‘Weird. Who took off my straitjacket? I was definitely tied up when I was tossed in here…’
I was bound and unable to move a single finger, blindfolded, and gagged. Without any freedom of movement over my body, I was flung into the abyss.
Although I tried my best to escape even as I fell, the military’s bindings weren’t something somebody like me could break loose from.
I mean, it’d be weird if someone like me was able to destroy an invention designed by the very best scientists.
I gave up, exhausted from my attempts to move in the straitjacket.
‘Mother Earth should have ended me in a single blow. But I survived? Even though I fell for hours without anything to cushion my fall? No, before that… This is supposed to be the abyss, a place born from Mother Earth’s curse. It’s supposed to be a bottomless void, so how am I standing right now?’
A bottomless abyss and a floor. These two things were paradoxical. A place that had such contradictions shouldn’t exist, even just by envisioning those words together.
After pondering for a moment, I realized that there could only be one conclusion. There could be nothing else other than that.
“Ah, I died and arrived at hell.”
「No, this is not hell.」
The voice came from directly behind me. My legs gave out in surprise. Trying my best to control my fear, I shouted at whatever it was that stood before my eyes.
“Who is it?!”
Two round lights shone in the dark. A figure as faint as a ghost was staring at me.
It was undoubtedly inhuman. If it weren’t, I would’ve been able to read its mind. What could it be, then? A ghost? An animal? Or a hellspawn?
As I trembled and awaited a response, the pair of eyes approached me. My eyes had adjusted to the dark, and I began to discern a silhouette.
Recognizing what it was, I called out its name.
Not a ghost or beast. Hellspawn… maybe that wasn’t too far off.
The creature in front of me was a military-grade magic golem made by the hellish rulers of the State. It seemed to resemble a human, constructed with only cubes and cylinders. The golem stared at me with its marble eyes. A speaker in the golem’s mouth relayed a message that was being read aloud.
「This is Radioman Captain Avey speaking. As of today, you have been assigned to the Education Sector, and you must follow our tasks under our jurisdiction.」
A magic golem that could sync with its user, allowing it to be controlled from afar. It was a tool that the Military State often employed due to its ease of use and versatility. Looking at the golem, I let out a lament.
“Golems can come to hell too? Tsk, tsk… Just how many people did you kill? I guess you can only blame the fact that you were born in the Military State.”
「This is not hell. If you cannot believe me, I suggest you take another look around.」
I listened to the golem’s advice.
The floor was made of concrete, which was easily found in the Military State. Who the hell knows what was underneath, but the concrete layer was firmly keeping his current world afloat. Obviously, no vegetation could be seen. Colorless, artificial constructs took their place instead.
I looked up. Not even a single ray of light or patch of blue resembling the sky could be seen. It was only pure darkness—one that not even night could create. A light-devouring darkness, only forgeable by the absolute void that rested above.
Lowering my eyes again, a familiar structure greeted my eyes.
A searchlight waved back and forth, lighting up the dark. A beam of light scattered across the concrete ground. And the moment it grazed my foot, every single searchlight jerked to focus on me.
The artificial lights glared, as if they were trying to burn me alive. Trying to shield the light with my hands, I gazed upon a gigantic construct I didn’t notice earlier.
A cubic, five-story building designed with purely a purpose in mind. The concrete, reinforced by steel plates, had lights scattered across its walls to locate any escapees. A large light hung above, but it did nothing to replace the sun. I couldn’t see ten meters in front of me without the searchlights.
An island isolated from the earth.
The symbol of the Military State that I had only ever seen from afar was now to be my home.
Standing unflinchingly in the rays of light, the golem’s speaker buzzed once again.
「Do you understand your situation now?」
I slowly nodded.
It appeared that Tantalus was a place worthy of being notorious as the legend of the Military State.
“What a fucking country. They constructed a floor at the bottom of the abyss just to build a prison.”
It was to be expected of the Military State. No other place would do something as unhinged as building a prison from the bottom of the abyss.
The golem heard my muttering.
「You should watch what you say.」
“Watch it? You locked up someone innocent here. Do you expect me to salute and bow down?”
「We are running out of time, so I will brief you on your duties. I advise that you listen carefully. If you don’t wish to die, that is.」
The golem cut me off as I was about to continue my mockery.
When my mouth closed, the golem resumed talking.
「You are currently in the Security Level 5 Mental Education Facility, Tantalus.」
‘Mental Education Facility’ was the State’s other name for prisons. According to them, using words like ‘prisoners’ and ‘criminals’ was bad for society based on some studies. As such, they called prisons ‘Mental Education Facilities’, and its prisoners were called ‘trainees’.
It was a bad joke at best, and censorship of language at its worst.
Not that the State would ever admit to either.
「Tantalus is a facility meant for trainees of high danger rankings. Because of their dangerous abilities and violent nature, the trainees were supposed to be prepared for rehabilitation within the facility.」
「However, due to an unfortunate incident, a majority of trainees have escaped.」
‘Escape? They escaped the abyss?’
Leaving my rebellious behavior behind, I tried my best to concentrate on the golem’s words. I couldn’t read a golem’s mind, so I put all of my concentration into analyzing the Radioman’s speech and choice of words.
The fact that dangerous criminals had escaped Tantalus—probably to wreak havoc on society and its participants—was none of my concern.
Who gives a shit if this garbage country falls into chaos?
What was important was that a ‘jailbreak’ had occurred. That word implied that it was possible to escape from the bottom of the abyss.
“How’d they get out?”
The golem stared back before replying.
「That information is not accessible to you.」
‘I guess there’s no way a Radioman of the military would be loose-lipped.’
I wished dearly that I could read the golem’s mind. Unfortunately, I lacked the ability to read the electronic signals passing through the mic.
And so, it was time to do it the old-fashioned—and boring—way.
I signaled for the golem to keep speaking.
「A majority of the trainees caused a riot and slaughtered the containment unit. After taking over Tantalus by force, they escaped at once. The State is currently chasing after them and plans to recapture and punish them as soon as possible. However, three model trainees did not assist in the barbaric act and chose to stay in the facility.」
‘Model trainee’ was the State’s term for an exploitable fool. It meant that only cowards were left in this prison.
It was ironic that the most famous prison in the world had become the shelter of such cowards.
「But due to the riot, the facility had been severely damaged, and all of the management had been slaughtered. We would like to avoid leaving trainees unattended in our facilities. That is why you have been brought here.」
“Oh, I get it.”
‘Now I finally understand. Even if I was framed, there was no reason to put someone like me in Tantalus. I was wondering why the city was full of soldiers. What had just happened to me all makes sense now. So, in other words, they ran out of people and brought in tons of low-time criminals like me to use as workers?’
Using prisoners to take care of other prisoners seemed to be the State’s favorite thing. Nobody cared if criminals died, so they filled in gaping holes with people like me.
Anyways, the key thing I learned was that I might be trapped, but I was free in here. There was nobody present that would prevent me from doing something.
‘If there is no warden, and the only worker is me, what will they do to stop me from lazing around or building a bomb?’
“What if I don’t do my duties? Will you come down yourselves and beat me up?”
「That won’t happen. You’ll need to do your responsibilities if you want to survive.」
The golem looked back at the prison as it finished talking. Amidst a couple searchlights, a small silhouette flickered from the closed doors.
The golem muttered.
Ignoring me, the golem continued talking.
「The ones who stayed behind. We’re running out of time. I will now explain what you need to do. Please listen carefully…」
‘Carefully, my ass. It’s probably just doing the laundry or mopping the floor.’
I stretched my back and relaxed.
‘Three prisoners, was it? That’s doable. Maybe if some of them were real stupid, I’d be able to swindle them too. Even if they’re criminals locked up here, if they were scared enough to not break out, they must be really meek and passive. I may be a low-time criminal, but I spent days in the back alleys. Along with my mind-reading powers, not many people managed to have their way with me. Plus, I may not be strong, but I’m a smart guy. I’ll take over this place if I need to.’
As I was cheering myself up, the golem finished its sentence.