༺ The Castle of the Depths, Tantalus ༻
Once I arrived at the 4th-floor education room with two trainees and one dog in tow, I immediately began my lecture.
“Now, quiet down, quiet down. Everyone be silent! I will begin today’s lesson.”
Azzy yawned reflexively as usual before going to the back of the room and lying down on her belly.
I got that she was a dog, but still, to think she didn’t understand or even show the will to learn. Notwithstanding the distinct difference in the wisdom and intellect contained in our languages, did the words of men truly sound to dogs as the barking of dogs to men?
But the wise are those who look for something to learn even within the impertinent. Just because a dog didn’t know manners didn’t mean a human could fall to the same level.
So I took on the most dignified tone I could.
“I’ve got an amazing story to tell today, so you all get ready to be impressed. And also get ready for a standing ovation too.”
“You’ll get a flying weapon instead if it’s nothing big. Go on.”
The Regressor’s response was scathing. She still seemed irked about being dragged here. It looked like I wouldn’t be able to even joke properly. Or even explain, for that matter. The girl was too scary.
Lamenting the abysmal decline of my educational authority, I began my explanation in front of the human and undead duo.
“To check your concentration levels, I will be changing today’s lesson to an interactive class. The abyss. Does anyone know the meaning of this word? Yes, Trainee Tyrkanzyaka?”
The vampire, lifting her parasol slightly, answered in a relaxed voice.
“Is it not used similarly to the word ‘hell’ by the Order of Gaia? To refer to a land that has lost Mother Earth’s blessing and instead received her curse.”
“Correct! I will give 10 points to Trainee Tyrkanzyaka! These points will later be reflected in my mental ranking, so gather them well!”
After writing off a worthless bill as a reward, I continued loudly.
“That’s right. The abyss is what many religions describe as hell, or more specifically, hell as viewed by the Order of Gaia. It is the foremost concept that those mama’s boys thought of when picturing the most terrible place to punish sinners. Just like mama’s boys think, they consider any place without their mother as hell. Gosh, how disgraceful.”
The believers of Mother Earth were afraid of their feet losing the ground, more than a purgatory of burning sulfur or a limbo of eternal suffering. They didn’t look far for fear. Falling, feeling the dizzying sensation of losing hold of the earth, and meeting a grisly, tragic demise. That was the Gaian definition of hell.
“But you see, the land which should only exist within Gaian teachings, the hell which was too simple to have an impact for something they took pains to imagine, appeared in reality due to a certain event. That land is none other than this place: Tantalus, the abyss.”
I tapped the floor with a foot, emphasizing that the entire ground we stood on was the abyss.
“Ever since the State established a plan to use the hell of a fairly major religion as a prison, Tantalus has been viewed as something of a penitentiary. Regardless, fundamentally speaking, that isn’t true. A land with nowhere to stand. Devoid of time and space, a bottomless chasm of never-ending descent where one can only die in solitude. That is the abyss.”
But here, they had to feel something strange. They had to realize and point out the discrepancy in my words: why are we able to stand on our feet despite being in the abyss?
Unilaterally passing on knowledge wasn’t real education. An educator’s duty was to help learners to think and reason for themselves. After setting the topic of discussion, I read the thoughts of the trainees.
｢Ohh, how interesting.｣
｢I know everything he said so far. When will he start talking about Tantalus’ structure?｣
I should stop expecting anything. These people utterly lacked the motivation to actively work out anything!
And the last one wasn’t even a thought! She’s really woofing!
“Everyone, aren’t you curious? How we’re able to stay standing in this abyss?”
“I am curious. Explain.”
They don’t give a rat’s ass about self-improvement! Are they baby birds crying in a nest or something? Do I have to spoon-feed them?
I grabbed a white chalk stick, then headed for the green chalkboard in the room, and drew two long vertical lines in the middle. It represented the abyss.
“Now, look. The abyss is basically a bottomless land, which makes it a deep pit that goes down forever. As such, if someone were to fall in here.”
I spun the chalk stick and inserted it between my fingers before drawing mana from my elbow to augment it. The end of the stick shone faintly with a melting glow of alchemic light, signifying the imbuing of mystic power. Then I used the enchanted chalk stick to draw a human figure between the vertical lines.
The figure spread its limbs, looked down, then back at the front before falling comically as characters did in dated cartoons.
“Since it’s impossible to hit the bottom, you’ll keep on falling and falling. You’ll have a rare experience where death comes before the collision.”
As if it really had entered the abyss, the human figure thrashed its limbs around as it fell to the bottom corner of the chalkboard… and disappeared under it.
I could manipulate anything I drew with the chalk stick through the simple enchantment I cast. It didn’t cost much mana, so even someone with a crummy mana capacity like me had no trouble using it.
The State’s chalkboard was double-sided. The human figure moved to the back of the board and climbed it from there. Before long, it reappeared at the top and began to repeat its fall from before.
So, how do you like my technique?
｢Moving pictures must be common these days. It is marvelous, but… seeing how no one is surprised, it must not be so amazing.｣
｢His fine control of mana isn’t bad. Hmph, I get it. So this much is basic to you, huh?｣
I had displayed the skill of a top-tier instructor, yet they responded with such a poor reaction.
I’m getting nothing for my efforts, aren’t I? Even the stock market, that king of fickleness, would be more honest than you lot. Tsk. I should do away with performing and just explain.
“But the abyss merely lacks a floor. It’s not without walls. There’s no foothold, but there is a surrounding precipice, yes? And if, somewhere on those walls, there is even a small raised spot, or if such a spot was made.”
I added a bumpy protrusion to one of the vertical lines on the chalkboard. The human figure that had been continuously falling coincidentally bounced on the bump. It flailed its arms, short compared to its head, and barely managed to gain a footing.
“Then, like so, you’d be able to stand on it for at least some time. Right? Even if this is the abyss, you wouldn’t fall anymore.”
Of course, the land lacked food and shelter. The human life required some space, after all.
But the vampire, who was a corpse and therefore only needed enough space for a coffin to lie in, was puzzled by the drawing.
“Mm? Is that not enough to live normally?”
I shook my head at her question.
“Mother Earth’s curse is nothing so forgiving. This is strictly expedient. Dirt you can stand on is also land, and in the abyss, such land is bound to eventually erode and disappear into the depths as well.”
At the end of my words, the bump I drew slowly trickled down as if melting, and the human figure standing on it jumped anxiously, sticking close to the wall. But there was no way around it. The abyss was a cursed land. The Mother of all human beings didn’t allow anyone to stand on their feet here.
Soon, there was no place to stand, and losing its tiny inch of sanctuary, the human figure resumed falling with no end in sight…
“Hence, this is why numerous adventurers threw themselves to find the legacies of the fallen that must be sleeping beneath the abyss. Though that only resulted in their remaining wealth joining said legacies. They hammered nails into the walls and tied themselves with ropes, but due to the surrounding earth sinking, they too became prey to the void. Thanks to the lives of those morons who had to taste poison to tell it apart from food, people finally gained the wisdom not to approach the abyss. But, our proud Military State decided to use this trait of this accursed hole as well.”
I drew a large plate over the abyss on the chalkboard, then above it, I added a great five-story building and high-rise lighting. Anyone, except idiots, would recognize the building at a glance.
The vampire let out a small exclamation.
“It is this place.”
“Yes. The State built an enormous structure. So enormous that it covers this abyss like a manhole.”
“I guess you don’t know, being someone from a thousand years ago. Just think of it as a good lid. Anyhow.”
I waved a finger as if it were a baton, and the chalk drawing of Tantalus slowly fell over the abyss, slow and heavy like a giant meteorite. I could almost hear it landing with a boom in my ears. A chalk drawing couldn’t possibly make sound, but the immersive heavy movement and flying chalk dust gave off that illusion.
Satisfied with my staging, I continued explaining.
“Concrete is a stone of omnipotence to the State’s Engineer Corps. With it, they laid the ground, raised pillars, and created a huge structure on top of the abyss, into which they herded prisoners. These prisoners who dared to set foot within the area of Mother Earth’s curse had to sink all the way down there.”
But while the earth could sink, concrete didn’t; it was a separate material, not an aggregation of dirt and sand.
“But this meticulously architectured concrete structure, created through digging up and processing ingredients which were then poured into steel frames… It may have been made from the products of the land, but it can never be part of the earth. Because it is strictly speaking a great building—in other words an object— ‘created’ by ‘humans’. An object should normally fall down the abyss, but being even wider than this chasm, both sides of the structure hung on the ends. As a result, Tantalus doesn’t fall. It merely sinks, like so.”
The walls of the abyss flowed down like sticky mud, and simultaneously, the enormous structure covering the abyss began to gradually sink.
But it didn’t fall. A manhole could be overturned, but it didn’t drop. Caught on either end of the walls, it slowly slid down, maintaining a dangerous balance.
“As you can see, we are living on a sinking land. Like a piece of bread caught in a person’s throat.”
I held a moment of gratitude for Gamma. I wouldn’t have discovered this truth if he hadn’t thought of going down so far through the control center basement. My knowledge grew thanks to him.
I’ll make good use of the last knowledge you left.
｢To think this land and everything else is artificial… I did think it was odd for a rock material, but what a surprise.｣
The vampire looked between the chalkboard and the floor with interest. She even went so far as to sit on the edge of her coffin and tap the floor with her feet.
Uh, could you feel inspired or something instead of simply being amazed?
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