Pluto moved through the desert. He walked with no end in sight, bearing the shackles of his crime for having chained his sibling, Ceres, to the underworld for a lifetime. All he had been given was one grain of hope in the sands of eternal life that somewhere within this hell there was a possible escape – if he had the means of seeking it out.
Keeping hold of your sanity in the faceless, remote prison was an almost impossible task, though Pluto resisted every passing day through a ruthless and tenacious need to survive. He escaped into routine with the knowledge that Mars, the man responsible for his suffering, had given him the very password that would bring his freedom. Yet Pluto knew his mind well, and wasn’t keen to make a pact with the devil unless there was no other choice. He couldn’t give in to him so easily.
Time became irrelevant as he chipped away into the soulless ground, never truly knowing when his torture would end. Not all was against him in his quest for salvation, however, much to his relief. The cells in his body, immune to earthly pressures, weaved together and recovered at a faster pace than all other beings, as a result of his natural self-healing abilities.
From dusk till dawn he considered the desert with the watchful eyes of an old scholar. He sat with his legs crossed and observed the land as a spectator might, feeling oddly detached and separate to the world around him. Wild dust storms came without warning and shook the land with aggressive force, leaving sandy plumes that mushroomed into the sky and tainted the red earth with its ugliness. The extreme temperatures slowly began to wear away at Pluto’s patience and, as he studied the crisp crimson sky, it slowly dawned on him that Mars had not been as idle in his plan as first thought.
He stubbornly channelled his amazing strength into the manmade shovel. He worked harder and harder and tore relentlessly at the sand. He’d practically overturned the terrain around him and still the desert wouldn’t relent, never offering even the slightest glimpse of freedom. Eventually a black mood fell over him and lingered, stabbing away at his soul with onerous intensity.
Then, fearing that this hellish eternal would never end, Pluto moved into a sleeping position and hoped to escape into a dream for a few hours.
There was no telling how much time had passed when he awoke, though it was still night and freezing. He had quite possibly endured thousands. And while the desert never changed its face and the devilish idleness of the mind tore away at his energy – when the hand of death came knocking, it came loudly. Pluto rolled over onto his side and glimpsed the look of a scorpion’s tail. It was the first living creature other than himself he’d come across. For a fleeting moment he felt a sense of solidarity with it, until the warning sounds chimed noisily in his ears. He looked at the armoured skin of the scorpion and, trying not to make a sound, stealthily tightened his hands around his shovel.
Scorpions were the deadliest of all creatures. A single sting from their tail was enough to kill its prey. Far worse, however, was the irony that he had been the co-ruler of Scorpio alongside Mars. The scorpion before him was a symbol that Pluto’s rights had been violated. He was being dethroned and shamed in more ways than one.
There was no escaping the reality that dawned on him a moment later. Never taking his eyes off the scorpion, Pluto bent his knees and squatted, fighting back the urge to howl as his insides slowly swelled with unbearable heat. Somehow, beyond all understanding, somehow he was dying.
It was the poison, he knew that much. The malicious creature had attacked him during his sleep. Now it stared back at him with an almost mocking expression; its tail hanging lazily over its head. Pluto could hardly move while his body slipped into a state of shock, digesting all of the evil that pulsed through his being. Without a doubt the realisation came upon him that the scorpion was the most deadly and menacing of the Arachnidan tribe. At that moment he knew there was no way of survival.
Then stubbornness overtook him and he screamed to the heavens that he wouldn’t lie down only to die like a dog. He would do more. Plunging his shovel into the soft ground, Pluto raised himself up and cried out the password. He was clever enough to know that Mars had an ace up his sleeve somewhere and that there would be a catch in his escape clause. But by this point he knew he had no choice.
At first nothing happened. For a few moments Pluto felt his stomach tighten and wanted to heave. After playing his final card he was about to give up entirely when suddenly the ground shook, disturbing his balance. He looked around and saw holes of water emerging from the soft sand. Perhaps Mars had planned to drown him in the desert after all.
There was no stopping the floods that travelled full throttle and powerfully swept across the desert. Pluto was not a man known to beg, but as the poison ravaged through him and the icy water came to his knees he found himself praying to the gods for help.
Eventually the water settled. Pluto looked around with inquisitive eyes but couldn’t figure out Mars’s plan. Puzzled, he stumbled forwards before catching sight of a swamped figure submerged under water. Pluto moved towards the empty vessel and found a vacant woman lying on the ground. Her features were soft with the water having drained the entire colour from her face. Pluto couldn’t help but be moved that the sea had taken such a beautiful creature.
He knelt down and looked at the reticent stare of the girl with passing regret. He could have done with the company. Where had the water come from? He did not know. Nor, it seemed, would he ever find out. He didn’t know where she had come from, for that matter. Was this a message from the gods? Had Mars merely planned to mock him before he finally gave way to the poison?
He shuddered at the thought. No matter how often he turned the mystery over in his mind no answers came, leaving him with more questions instead. Eventually he decided to simply not think on it and amuse himself. The poison was working through his system and had temporarily numbed his senses, lessening the pain as a result. So, in an effort to keep his weary mind under control, he manhandled the girl and placed her limply on his lap. He stroked her wet hair almost lovingly and gazed into her lidless eyes. Then, without showing any hesitation, he clawed away at her clothes and tore them from her body with the hunger of a caged animal. Within moments she lay naked and helpless.
Even as the ruler of the underworld he had never raped a woman, especially one that was lifeless, but the certainty of death had rendered him feeling desperate. He would have his wicked way with her and show the gods he was not the ‘Dwarf’ they had assumed.
He pulled in to tear at her body when suddenly her eyes flew open. Pluto blinked disbelievingly as she came alive before yelling in agony – his very insides beginning to burn like a hot poker. He screamed, believing the sudden change to be the effects of the poison, before realising that it was the woman’s eyes burning into his. Her icy gaze pierced him and at that moment he regretted having ever dared to underestimate her. Even as his body started to deteriorate, however, Pluto couldn’t help but notice the gentleness in the woman’s face. She was the forgiving type, it seemed.
“What are you?!” Pluto cried. He tumbled onto his front and writhed along the ground in terrible pain.
“Neptune,” the woman said. “I am Neptune.” The second time she sounded almost surprised, as if she didn’t believe what she was saying. Pluto didn’t really care. He was only concerned with the fact that he felt as if he was imploding. And this time he knew it wasn’t just the poison. Something in the girl’s eyes had triggered his insides to turn.
“What have you done to me? Did Mars put you up to this?” It took all of his energy to mouth these final words but no answer came. He looked at the girl while she vacantly stared back at him, not knowing what else to do or say. She truly was a lost soul. Yet he would do anything to swap places for her as the swelling in his body ballooned into unimaginable pain. As the poison tore through his body and towards his heart, Pluto saw in his mind’s eye Mars looking back at him with malicious enjoyment. He had gotten the last laugh. He had won the game. But did he know anything about this Neptune, or the power that she held inside of her? That much was unlikely.
Pluto, the ‘immortal’ Dwarf of the solar system, could do nothing but feel his whole body become one with the sand. As his breathing slowed and his body jerked uncontrollably, Pluto knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was a sacrifice for her revival. She was not just a girl but a planetary force. Hidden away from the rest of the solar system, Neptune was by far the most dangerous. And he was merely a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter.
For Pluto there were no more thoughts. Darkness came. The last thing that seeped into his consciousness was a perpetual feeling of having been well and truly swindled.