Cletus, his partner Iolaus, and his caddy boy, Prince Hyas, rode a boat across the River of Nemea to hunt down the Nemean Lion for Eurystheus. Cletus valiantly led the way to fight with the monstrous creature from the front of the boat by taking a nap while Iolaus rowed toward the island at the center of the river.
“Heracles, how will you kill the Nemean Lion?” Hyas asked.
“Shut up,” Cletus said. “I am trying to sleep. Besides, I’m just gonna kill the damn thing. End of story.”
“But its skin cannot be penetrated.”
“I’ve killed immortal things before,” Cletus said to the boy. “I don’t plan to penetrate its skin. I’m going to take the magic club that’s hidden in my ear and hit it in the head until its brain bounces around in its skull so hard that it explodes.”
“Why would you even think of trying that?” Iolaus asked as he continued to row the boat with his strained arms.
“Have you ever killed something with a club? I mean just walked up and starting beating in some guy’s head with a huge stick? It feels good.”
“I just don’t understand how you will kill something that’s immortal,” Hyas said.
“Listen,” Cletus growled. He sat up and jabbed his finger in Hyas’s face. “If you don’t shut up and let me sleep, I’m gonna bend you over my knee and beat your as with my club.”
“But sir,” Hyas said.
The rest of the afternoon went poorly for the boy.
Cletus and Iolaus walked briskly toward the town nearest the riverbank. Hyas limped along a few feet behind. The townspeople eyed the group nervously. Cletus needed a good source of information. He scanned the town square. A naked, old man holding a metal bowl sat against the well in the center of the courtyard. Cletus decided that guy would be the best source of information in the town since old, crazy people always knew the best things to talk about.
“Hey, old geezer,” Cletus said. “How’s about you tell me what you know about the Nemean Lion.”
The old man looked up at Cletus with weary eyes. “Joshua,” the old man said, “is that you? I haven’t seen you since we was boys. We both worked for Irgus in Sparta.”
“My name’s Heracles, you old bastard. Now, what do you know about the Nemean Lion?”
“The Lion lives in a cave south of the city, due west from the city center,” the man said as he pointed north.
“What else can you tell us?” Iolaus asked.
“Why should I tell you anything? How about you fill my bowl with some coins or something?”
“How about I piss in your bowl?” Cletus asked. The man’s jaw dropped open, and he raised one eyebrow. “No,” Cletus said, “seriously, I piss gold.”
“Well, in that case. Let me tell you all about it. The Nemean Lion comes to the towns around his cave at night. He kidnaps young girls and takes them to the cave. The Lion uses the girls to lure in young, brave warriors that try to rescue the girls. The warriors enter the cave from one of the two ways in. When they see the girls lying there, injured from the horrible things the Lion did, the warriors rush to her side. The moment the young guy gets close enough, the woman transforms! She turns into the Lion and kills the lad, eats his innards, and gives his cleaned bones to Hades himself.”
Cletus brought his face right up against the old man’s and listened in amazement. “How’d you know the Lion’s a boy lion?” Cletus whispered in childish curiosity.
“Well, that’s easy. Nothing that beautiful and evil could possibly be a woman.”
“What a bunch of psychotic horse shit,” Cletus said. Cletus lifted his loincloth and unleashed a disgusting, amber fluid into the man’s bowl. “I told you my piss was golden.”
A small boy with dark, curly hair ran up to the caveman as Cletus and his two companions walked away from the old beggar.
“Ya know, kid,” Cletus said as he knelt down, “you could be my kid. Just look at that messy hair, those thick knuckles, the unusual amount of hair all over your body despite your young age. Who’s your mother?”
“I’m an orphan,” the boy responded. “The Lion killed my mother.”
“Bad things happen to bad people, kid.”
“Heracles, are you really going to kill the Lion?”
“Yeah, I am,” Cletus said. “And after I kill it, I’m going to rub that shit all up in Eurysthedick’s face.”
“I’ll make you a deal,” the boy said. “If the Lion is dead within thirty days, I will find and kill my own lion. I’ll sacrifice the lion to Zeus. If you cannot kill the beast, I’ll sacrifice myself instead.”
“So, if I fail, you’re going to kill yourself?” Cletus asked. “Not like I’d lose anything from it. Go for it, kid.”
Cletus stalked the massive, golden Lion for days. As he followed the Nemean Lion, Cletus constantly fired arrows that bounced off its impenetrable skin. One day, Cletus fired an arrow directly into the Lion’s eye. The creature screamed in agony and ran into its cave.
“So, eyes aren’t invincible,” Cletus said. “That’s good to know. Maybe all his insides are soft.”
Cletus’s eyes glowed a brilliant, electrical sapphire. The Eyes of Zeus revealed the two entrances to the Lion’s cave, marking the locations with pillars of blue light in Cletus’s vision.
“That dirty, old bastard from the town was right about there being two entrances,” Cletus said. “Iolaus, follow me. We’re gonna find a way to close off one opening.”
Cletus and Iolaus ran around the small, rocky hillside. Around the other side, they discovered a small tunnel leading down into the earth beneath the hill. After examining the hillside, Cletus pushed a large boulder over the opening to the tunnel.
“Time to go kill this cat,” Cletus said before running back around to the second entrance. “Hyas, give me a shield.” Cletus whipped his iron pole from his ear.
“Your grace,” Hyas said, “a shield will be useless. The claws of the Nemean Lion can cut through any armor.”
“Just shut up, and do what I said.”
Armed with his ancient club and a massive, round shield, Cletus ventured into the Lion’s den. Inside the pitch black cave, Cletus’s eyes glowed brightly with lightning to guide him. Deep within the cave, Cletus found the Lion trying to pull the arrow from its eye socket. With a powerful roar, Cletus charged the Lion.
The Lion unleashed a roar ten times more ferocious as it attacked Cletus. The Lion slashed at the caveman. Cletus defended himself with the shield, but the Lion’s claws simply cut away a chunk of the polished bronze.
“Well, that was useless,” Cletus said as he threw the shield at the Nemean Lion. “Should’ve listened to the boy.”
Cletus charged the Lion once more, violently swinging his club. The mystical iron of the weapon smashed into the Lion’s face to no avail. Finally, Cletus hammered his club into the Lion’s uninjured eye. The Lion reared back, roaring and flailing in pain. Cletus leaped into the air and forced his club deep into the Lion’s throat. The Lion choked and gagged on the club, attempting to claw at the iron pole. Cletus jumped into the air. He landed on the end of the club, bashing it through the roof of the creature’s mouth and into the Lion’s brain. Gore sprayed from the Lion’s ears and nose.
“I told Hyas I was going to make its brain explode,” Cletus said as he retrieved his club. “Now, I’ve just gotta find a way to skin this thing.”
The next day, Cletus strolled into Nemea wearing a golden cloak made from the pelt of the Nemean Lion. On his left hand he wore a glove fashioned with three of the Lion’s claws extending from his knuckles. Daggers made from claws hung from his belt.
“Where’s my little twin?” Cletus shouted as he reached the town square.
“You talking about me, Joshua?” the old man shouted as he ran toward Cletus.
Cletus kicked the old beggar in the face and shouted, “My name’s Heracles, you old bastard!”
The boy with the curly brown hair walked up to Cletus. “So, you killed the Lion within the time limit,” the boy said. “Now, I have to go kill my own lion.”
“You’re damn right you do,” Cletus said as he dropped to one knee. Cletus handed the boy one of the Lion claw daggers. “Use this when you go hunting for the lion. It can cut through pretty much anything.” Cletus dropped a bag down beside the boy. “Also, until you get your own lion, you can just burn this for your sacrifice. It’s all the bones and viscera from the Nemean Lion. I kept all the good meat, but I’m sure the gods will appreciate it.”
“Thank you, Heracles,” the boy said as he ran off with the dagger and the bag of innards.
Cletus and his companions returned to the court of King Eurystheus. Cletus walked in, flaunting the pelt of the Nemean Lion. “I finished it,” Cletus said to Eurystheus.
“Give me the Lion’s hide,” the king said.
“You can have it when you pry it from my dead fingers.”
Eurystheus snarled at Cletus. “Very well,” he said calmly. “Since you could not be bested by the Nemean Lion, I assure you that the next labor will be far more challenging for you.”
“You shall go to Lake Lerna where you will battle the demonic hydra that dwells in the nearby swamp,” Eurystheus said. “You will return its head to me as a gift and a token of gratitude for allowing you to live.”
“You do realize that I’ve got several thousand years worth of experience in fighting monsters, right? This isn’t really a challenge for me.”
Cletus and his crew travelled to Lake Lerna, and then to the nearby swamp the lake drained into. Cletus and Iolaus approached the Fountain of Amymone where the monster dwelled. The two wore strips of cloth over their faces to keep from breathing in the putrid, purple gas that seeped out of the swamp. Iolaus carried a dagger and a flaming torch. Cletus wore the Nemean cloak with a sword, bow and quiver slung to his back. As the two neared the cave, Iolaus said, “They hydra only comes out of its cave when it attacks nearby villages. We’ll have to go in there.”
Cletus looked into the deep, black cave. “I’ve had enough of going into monsters’ dens. We can draw it out.”
Cletus pulled the bow off his back. He drew several arrows, lit them ablaze with Iolaus’s torch, and fired the volley of flaming arrows into the cave. A few moments later, a massive, snake-like beast slithered out of the cave. It had two legs at the front of its body that it used to drag itself forward. The hydra’s watery, green skin hanged loosely from its body. Nine, thin necks sprouted from its thick trunk, each ending in a snake head the size of a small boulder.
Cletus snorted and shrugged. Grasping his sword, he said, “Eurystheus wants me to bring him the head of the Lernean Hydra. I’ll bring him one of them.”
Cletus rushed the monster. The hydra’s heads snapped at Cletus, but he quickly dodged the jaws. Cletus cut off one head. Blood splashed across his arm as he did, searing his flesh. Cletus picked up the head and jogged back toward Iolaus. “Watch out for the blood,” Cletus said as he handed the head to his partner. “It’s poisonous.”
“Heracles, I think you should take a look behind you,” Iolaus said, pointing his torch back in the direction of the hydra.
Where Cletus had cut the head off the hydra, the wounded stump glazed over with a thin layer of flesh. The stump pulsed and swelled. Two new heads burst from the stump. Cletus crinkled his nose. Cletus charged at the monster again. Cletus danced around, dodging strikes from the monster as he sliced off more heads. Within five minutes, hydra heads littered the ground around Cletus. The hydra’s number of heads had increased to at least three dozen.
“Heracles,” Iolaus called, “what if we burned the stumps?”
“You could burn the stumps as I cut the heads off,” Cletus said. “That way, we’d cauterize the wounds before the heads grow back. That’s a great plan, Iolaus. Watch out for the blood though.”
Cletus and Iolaus bolted at the hydra together. Cletus cut off heads while Iolaus fell in behind, burning the stumps before they grew back. The two made short work of the hydra. After cutting off the last head, Cletus put them all in a bag. He dipped his sword and arrows in the hydra’s blood, coating them with this poison. He even filled a waterskin with the caustic blood to use later.
Upon returning to Eurystheus, Cletus received a new task. Eurystheus burned with rage after Cletus had managed to escape death twice. Not only that, but killing the monster had only brought Cletus more glory. Grecians praised the name of Heracles in their daily lives as if Cletus sat upon Olympus with the gods. Eurystheus decided to take his time thinking of the next tasks. He wanted to humiliate Cletus rather than bring him fame. Cletus had to sleep in the dungeon for months while Eurystheus pondered what the third labor would be.
Finally, Eurystheus sent Cletus to capture the Ceryneian Hind, so fast that it could outrun arrows shot at it. Cletus began his journey. Once he found the hind, Cletus chased it on foot for a full year. Cletus hunted the hind all over the globe before he captured the hind while it slept.
As Cletus returned to Eurystheus with the hind, Artemis and Apollo approached him. Artemis held the Ceryneian Hind sacred. She threatened to curse Cletus for capturing the Hind, but Cletus explained his situation and begged for forgiveness. Artemis told Cletus to release the animal and that the labor would be considered completed. The Goddess of the Hunt went on to chastise Eurystheus herself.
The next several labors proved to be either nearly impossible or humiliating. Cletus slaughtered the Erymanthian Boar, reshaped a river to clean the Augean Stables, and shot down the man-eating, Stymphalian Birds. Cletus defeated the Cretan Bull, stole Diomedes’s insane horses, and wrestled with the queen of the Amazons to steal her magic belt. Cletus sailed across the world in the golden cup of Helios. He killed the demon Geryon and stole the demon’s cattle before herding the beasts all the way back to Eurystheus’s court.
Eurystheus grew angrier with each task Cletus fulfilled. Despite having completed ten trials as the Oracle instructed, Eurystheus forced Cletus to do more. Eurystheus claimed killing the hydra and cleaning the stables did not count as successful since Cletus had help. Since his immortality was on the line, Cletus didn’t argue much.
As his eleventh labor, Cletus travelled to the Garden of the Hesperides, Hera’s personal orchard far to the west. A single tree grew in the orchard that produced golden apples. Hera’s apples gave anyone who ate them immortality. Hera distrusted the beautiful nymphs tasked with tending to the orchard. To prevent the Hesperides from eating the apples, a hundred-headed dragon guarded the tree.
Cletus realized he’d never be able to sneak past the dragon. In the upper portion of the orchard stood a mountain. Atop the mountain, the Titan Atlas held up the heavens eternally. Atlas had fathered all the Hesperides. Only Atlas could safely pass the massive dragon in the orchard. Cletus approached Atlas while the Titan struggled between Earth and Sky. “How’s it going, big guy?” Cletus asked.
The bearded giant towered over Cletus. The Titan stood five times the size of the caveman. “How do you think it’s going, Old Man?” Atlas asked.
“I’ve actually come here to give you a hand. Well, I’ll help you as long as you agree to help me.”
“I’ll take the celestial sphere from you. While I’m holding them up, you go down there and pick a couple of those golden apples for me. You get a break. I get some apples. How about it?”
Atlas laughed, shaking the mountains around them. “Does little old Ladon frighten you, Old Man? Take the heavens, and I’ll retrieve your apples.”
Cletus stayed crushed between Earth and Sky for several hours. The experience reminded him of being trapped beneath Five Elements Mountain. Atlas returned with three of the golden apples.
“So, Old Man,” Atlas said. “I don’t think I want to go back under there. I’m just going to leave you there. Sorry about the mess.”
“If you’re going to force me to take on your burden, could you at least do me one more favor?”
“Could you hold onto the sky for a moment so that I can adjust my cloak? I need some padding on my shoulders if I’m going to be doing this forever.”
Atlas took the celestial sphere back from Cletus. The caveman grabbed the apples. “Sucker.”
“You tricked me!” Atlas shouted.
“LIke you weren’t trying to do the same thing to me. At least I’m not stupid enough to fall for something like that.”
“Have you no honor, Old Man?”
Cletus sighed. “I’ll make you a deal big guy. Someday, I’ll build something to hold these things up for you. I promise.”
“Thank you, Old Man. It means a lot to me.”
Cletus left Atlas and took the golden apples to Eurystheus. Along the way, he paused for a few weeks to reshape a small isthmus between Europe and Africa into two rocky pillars to hold up the sky for Atlas.
For his final labor, Cletus had to bring Eurystheus the three-headed dog that guarded the underworld.
“How in the name of hell am I supposed to make it to the land of the dead if I’m not dead?” Cletus asked his cronies.
“The Mysteries,” Hyas said. “If you learn all the Great Mysteries, you’ll learn the way to the underworld.”
Within a few days, the group arrived at Eleusis to take part in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Cletus sacrificed two piglets and bathed in the River Ilissos to purify his soul. Cletus swore to secrecy before being led into a cave by Eleusinian priests. There, he found a chest and a basket. From the chest, Cletus took a golden snake and a massive egg along with a gigantic, wooden phallus. Inside the basket, Cletus found countless seeds and an ear of corn.
Cletus ate a seed. He took the corn and touched it to his forehead before returning it to the basket. He ran his hand over the golden snake. Cletus took the egg and the wooden dildo. He walked to a small pool and waded into the water. Cletus sank to the bottom of the pool. He saw horrible, disgusting visions of pain and suffering. He experienced rape, starvation, and death. Then, he felt warmth, love, and a sense of understanding time far beyond what he could imagine. A voice came to him in the visions.
“You, a man, will be elevated above the human sphere of life,” the voice said to Cletus. “You will climb the tower and enter the divine sphere. Coming to this place to learn these things will assure your redemption. Your soul will be made that of a god, conferring to it immortality beyond even that which you hold.”
When the vision finished, Cletus felt changed. He understood the miseries of his soul while it remained trapped within his body, and Cletus knew the bliss of his soul both in life and after.
Cletus took the objects, carrying everything in the basket. He continued the ridiculous ritual with a ten-day walk while starving and only drinking a terrible fluid the priests provided. Cletus met with the Underworld’s Judges and heroes of old. The spirits conferred with Cletus the secrets of reaching the underworld while still living.
“I have to go alone,” Cletus told Iolaus and Hyas. “It’s something only I can do.”
Cletus travelled to Cape Tenaron, where he discovered the entrance to the lands of Hades. Cletus scowled and frowned fiercely to appear dead to convince Charon. Once Cletus made it into the main kingdom, he sought out Hades. Cletus stood in front of the lord of the dead. Cletus asked, “Lord Hades, would you give me permission to carry Cerberus to the surface?”
Hades scratched at his thick, black beard. He said, “If you can overcome my dog without using any weapons, you may take him.”
Cletus went to Cerberus, a three-headed dog larger than Cletus. Cletus easily wrestled with the beast and won, carrying it with him back to Eurystheus.
“Here you go, bastard,” Cletus said as he release Cerberus in the king’s court.
The dog stormed around happily, belching fire from its mouths as it yelped and jumped about.
“Get it out!” Eurystheus shouted. “If you take it back to Hades, I’ll release you from your bonds.”
Cletus, Iolaus, and Hyas joined the Argonauts on an adventure to find the golden fleece. Sadly, Cletus lost Hyas on that adventure when nymphs kidnapped the boy. Cletus fell in love with Princess Iole of Oechalia. King Eurytus of Oechalia promised his daughter to whoever could beat his sons in an archery contest. Cletus won, but Eurytus abandoned his promise. The king and his sons spurned Cletus’s advances on Iole, except for one; Iole’s brother Iphitus. Cletus killed the king and his sons, sparing Iphitus, and married Iole. Iphitus became Cletus’s best friend. However, once again, Hera drove Cletus mad. Cletus threw Iphitus over the city wall to his death.
Looking down from where he had killed yet another loved one, Cletus dropped to his knees and screamed with rage. Rain poured down around him, hiding his tears. Cletus said, “Damn you, Hera. Damn you, Zeus. Damn all the gods. I will find you, and I will kill you all.”