I had always assumed that Cerberus hadn’t survived, we hadn’t exactly made him with the intention of a long life but we also hadn’t really considered it either. I thought about him for a brief period of time, a thousand years or so. I had nothing but time back then.
I think that Cronus and I share a lot of the blame on his creation. There was a little help from Coeus and some pilfered powers from Iapetus. Coeus had taken a scientific interest, wondering if such a beast was even possible, but Cronus and I had come up with the idea on one particular night after a great deal of wine. We had a few of those nights but this one sticks out in my mind.
A three-headed beast to guard the treasures of the Titans.
The problem with the plan was that we didn’t have treasures, other than our weapons there were no baubles or trinkets of the Titans. Those were mortal trappings not godly ones.
That hadn’t stopped us at the time. Coeus had the knowledge and Cronus had lifted a life orb that Iapetus had been working on. He massaged muddy earth into the shape of a dog and then I had drunkenly suggested it be given three heads.
He did. \
Then we shoved the life orb inside and it was done. We had made life without consulting the master of life himself. It had been fine at first, Cerberus was nothing more than a playful puppy that followed me around. The problem was how quickly he grew, he started out just barely at my knee and by the time Iapetus found out his heads were as tall as my chest. Luckily, he stopped growing around then and Iapetus sort of just let us keep him.
He was a loyal hound until everything changed and we wound up in our prison.
This one is on me.
“When he comes out, let me deal with this, alright? If it goes sideways, step in but otherwise leave him to me,” I say it to the others and I get approval in return. I think Themis thinks it’s the right thing to do and the others don’t really want to get into a fight with Cerberus. I can’t really blame them, I don’t either.
He’s the creation of the two most powerful elemental gods.
He can kill a Titan. He can kill me.
And if I’m honest with myself I’m not entirely sure I can kill him. For many reasons.
I don’t have to wait long before I find out what my friend has become, before the plate has fully opened two massive paws with nails as long as my hand grip on the tiled floor and the muscles and sinews of powerful limbs appear as he heaves himself up. His torso has more scars than I remember in the thick black fur but I do remember those bright red eyes. It’s like looking at two smoldering embers embedded in a block shaped head. Six, since there’s a pair for each head. He stretches himself out to his full length, at least three times as long as any man is tall. He’s clearly stiff from his own cell but I remember those powerful leg muscles leaping dangerously far.
Cerberus is the beast of Titans but I doubt he remembers me. It’s been too long.
He has been in prison perhaps as long as I have.
“I feel you pup,” I whisper, gripping one end of my chain tighter to give myself some small comfort.
He whips his heads around and locks all three pairs of eyes on me and each head snarls, lips curling back over rows of dangerous teeth and spittle dripping to the floor. He takes a few paces towards me, clearly having selected his target.
“Don’t you remember me?” I say to him, trying to present less of a threat.
He tilts his heads and the snarling stops. Maybe he does?
He launches off those back legs and hurtles through the air at me, clawed front paws held out and the snarling face has returned. I throw myself to the side but one of his claws tears through the meat of my upper arm and all the way up to my shoulder. It spins me to the floor like a rag doll, blood pouring from the claw wound. He continues through the leap and tumbles across the smooth floor, before he regains his footing and surveys the damage he’s done.
He does not remember me. I was wrong.
I struggle to my feet and look at the torn flesh and the pumping blood, it’s not good. I think I can see bone but I don’t have time for that.
He growls and sniffs the air, tongues flicking out to taste the blood on it.
“Come on, don’t you remember me?” I yell it. He leaps again, this time I bring up the chain and slide underneath him. It wraps around his neck and tosses him over my head and onto his back with a trio of pained yelps.
He is quickly back up on those paws and looking at me angrily, growling low in his throat and eyeing the chain warily. He doesn’t remember me, he won’t remember me like this. I hear the music from the next room and I swear I can hear Dionysus cheering and shouting above all that distant thumping noise.
He’s run away like a scared little rabbit.
I drop the chain and it coils onto itself on the floor. Cerberus watches carefully, fearing a trap. He was always too smart for his own good. Full of energy too.
We had a difficult time finding a way to burn that energy.
I kneel and ignore the shouts of the others, holding up a hand to stop them from intervening. I can see Artemis with an arrow drawn, waiting to release. She’s fast but Cerberus is faster. Maybe it’s the blood loss but this will work, it has to work. Cerberus deserves a second life. If we are released from our prison he should be too.
“Sit,” I shout as firmly as I can manage, and even that is shaky. Those damn claws did a number on me. Things are getting hazy. He tilts his heads again and continues coming forward, slowly plodding on those paws. His lips curl back slowly and he readies to snap those three jaws on my body.
So, I do the thing.
I concentrate all the power I have left into my hands and form the fire into a shape. It’s got four legs and it nervously flits its head from side to side, long ears pressed back along it’s body.
We used to play a game.
He stops moving towards me. Watching the fire merge and move through the shape of the animal. His favourite animal to chase through the forests, or it had been. It had been our game.
“Cerberus…sit!” I stand and shout it, this time it’s loud and firm. His eyes bore into mine and those teeth are bared, that spit is dripping to the floor and his haunches are tense to pounce on me.
But slowly, very slowly, his back end drops to the floor. He hovers over the floor just the tiniest bit and I raise my eyebrows at him.
He watches me.
I watch him.
Then it hits with a thump. In his eyes I can see the confusion and I take the silence from my comrades to be their own surprise, but I don’t have the nerve to look over, if I break eye contact it might all end. He might be confused but he knows he wants the rabbit.
I hold the rabbit and urge the fire to struggle, to try to escape from my grip though it cannot possibly do so. Three pairs of eyes watch it carefully with anticipation. That’s when I see it. All the heads snap up and look at me. One by one they soften slightly and then their mouths drop open and tongues loll out. He makes a strange noise in his chest and shuffles on those massive paws. He eyes the rabbit and then me and I think, maybe even pray, that there’s a flicker of recognition in those eyes.
“Come here,” I say, hoping I’m not wrong. He charges forward. Mouths open, teeth flashing, I wince and wait for the tearing of flesh again.
The centre of the three heads hits me in the chest and I go down. I embrace death as he…he licks me sloppily. A warm tongue slobbers over my face and he nuzzles me, whining and excitedly trying to force a nose between my hands to free the rabbit.
“Good boy,” I say, closing my eyes and letting out an enormous breath of relief and open my hands. He chases the rabbit of fire and catches it easily, shaking it in one set of powerful jaws before all three clamp jaws around it and the shape explodes in a cascade of sparks into the air. He bounces and snaps at the floating fire just like I remember.
Blood drips to the floor in a veritable river of life force. Artemis is first to my side; the others close behind. She touches it and I pull back, glaring at her.
“Ow. That’s a very open wound, thank you.”
She mocks me and pinches the tear shut, not gently. I grunt and whimper as a thick head pushes itself under my hand and Cerberus likes at the blood gently. Almost apologetically.
“I know boy, I know,” I say, patting him, “wrap the chain around it.”
Themis and Artemis do as I ask, not kindly, and I force a stream of power through the links around my arm. It hurts and I scream as the fire courses through my torn flesh and stops the blood flowing from my body. When it’s done I slump, feeling almost completely drained of power. I’m not meant to be underground, I need sunlight.
“Can you go on and handle this? I won’t be much use.” I ask of them and they seem to agree, that they should be enough to handle whatever is through that door. At least I hope so.
“How do we get through that?”
Hermes doesn’t think big, obviously, or he’d have the answer to his own question.
“Like this.” I say.
I form another rabbit out of what little fire is left to me and Cerberus perks up, all three heads watching carefully at our old game. He sits, feet tapping in front of him in barely contained excitement.
“Are you ready?” I ask them, holding the rabbit tight between my hands as it tries to run.
So I let it run and Cerberus takes off after it. He’s big and powerful, his muscles straining as he follows the rabbits and quickly gets up to speed. When the rabbit squirms and slips under the door that held us back Cerberus hits that door at his full speed, ducking his block shaped heads and throwing all his weight into the door.. He was never one to hold back during the game, once knocking over a few trees in a forest when we had played many, many years ago.
Cerberus hit the door with a power just shy of a Giant, the whole wall shook and I swear I thought he would take the whole damn thing down. I saw the door give just a little and that was before Cerberus started pawing and digging at the bottom of the door, forcing it further and further in.
He wanted that rabbit and he was going to get it. So were we.
Then the door gave way.
We were in.
Dionysus had made a name for himself in the Russian underground, both as a notorious party animal and as a phenomenal money launderer. He owned dozens of clubs all over the world but he always came back to the place where he felt safest. Or had felt safest.
If things didn’t work out now he’d be done, for good.
“I always knew they would come back,” he slurred, wrapping an arm around his current best friend and protégé, “I knew it. You can’t keep power like that locked up, not for long. We got ten thousand years, that’s a good run. Right?”
His friend and club manager shrugged, he assumed Dionysus was just drunk rambling again, as was his way.
So he just shook his head and went to get a few bottles of water, before the drinking had taken over Dionysus had been going on about people coming to kill him. Not an unusual claim in their line of work. The club was packed with people and thugs armed to the teeth on catwalks overhead and at all the doors. With someone like Dionysus it was only a matter of time before someone would want to kill him.
The DJ pumped up the crowd with a beat, the whole underground shaking with their feet stomping in unison, jumping up and down like fools. At least the drunk idiots paid well, he thought, looking back to Dionysus who was now busy telling his story to a man who didn’t speak English but politely nodded along.
The outer edge of the dance floor sported massive iron bowls that currently weren’t in use. The manager furrowed his brow and waved a hand to one of the bartenders until he got the other man’s attention. He jabbed a finger at the bowls. The bartender held up his arms to say ‘I dunno’ so he jabbed his fingers again and made his best ‘fix it’ face.
He made it two more steps before there was a noise that drowned out the music for a moment and the club shook more violently than the jumping had ever done.
There was a brief spat of gunfire from the entrance and Dionysus stood from his VIP booth, shakily. Though he looked sober now.
He looked to his protégé, slumped back down and drained his glass of wine.