The Gathering

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Chapter 9

Early the next morning, Decimus and Amyntas spent a few hours gathering as many supplies as possible. While the spartan hunted for fish in the pond, the Roman went into the forest to find some plants. After acquiring enough supplies, they packed everything and tied it to Decimus’ horse. With everything in order, the two soldiers slipped into their armor and prepared to leave the forest.

As they walked through the forest, the passed waterfalls and rushing rivers, all while admiring the beautiful scenery. Amyntas noticed that Decimus kept looking over his shoulder even so often as if looking for something.

“What’s got you so riled up this morning ?”

“A few days ago, I saw...a creature watching me. It just stared at me across the river when I first arrived. When I gazed into its eyes, I felt cold, like all the feelings had been drained from my body. Since then, I have been cautious about these woods, wondering what else dwells here?”

The mere thought of the creature made him shudder as they both continued their journey through the woods. By midday, they managed to get to the forest edge where they now found themselves somewhere new: the Outlands. This was a region where life struggled to survive. It was a lush extension of the woods, full of prosperity, but now it is a vast prairie full of tall dead grass and tiny trees. The soil is harsh and unsuitable for planting. It seemed impossible for life to live here.

“Well, this is a dramatic shift,” exclaims Amyntas. “Where do we go now?” Scanning the surroundings, Decimus picks up a smell. It was familiar but meant many different things. It had a faint order, yet he recognized that smell anywhere.

Fire.

܀

“We keep heading north.” The Spartan was puzzled. “Why north. You found something?” The Roman points straight ahead. Several yards away was black smoke. It looks to be a half a day’s journey from where they were.

“Either it’s a brush fire or something else; either way, we better investigate it.” The duo then made the walk toward the black smoke.

As they drew closer to the smoke, they began to smell the stench of burnt flesh. Perhaps it was a campfire, they thought. Nearing a slight hill, Decimus dismounts from his horse, and the two make their way over. However, as they climbed up a mountain to get a better look, they were horrified at what they saw. It wasn’t a campfire. Nor a settlement.

Before them was a massive pyre, surrounded by soldiers resembling greeks. Atop it were the bodies of men, women, and children, all chard and burned. The Spartan covered his mouth in shock. He had never seen such brutality before. Decimus was also taken and covered his nose to the imposing stench. Below them, they could hear the faint discussions coming from the soldiers.

“What kind of monster would do this?” said Amyntas.

“Let’s go find out.” Decimus cautiously descends the hill, with Amyntas following behind. Making it down the mountain, they hide behind the pyre. Amyntas sticks his head out to see how many. He counted two dozen men. Amyntas motions Decimus to stay behind. As the Spartan slowly unsheathes his sword, he pokes his head around again.

Next to the pile of bodies were soldiers wearing armor similar to his, yet they did not look or sound Greek. Whoever they are, these men were rummaging through the belongings of the people they had just murdered. They snickered and laughed as they tore through people’s belongings. Amyntas’ blood was boiling, yet as he was about to attack, Decimus pulled him back at the last second.

“What are you doing,” Amyntas whispered harshly. Decimus motions his hand to listen. They both peek their heads out, and they soon see the arrival of a black horseman. It was Ares. Decimus eyes widen at the sight of this being.

“Did you find the stone yet,” Ares gets off his horse and walks towards one of the soldiers.

“Not yet, sir, we scoured the forests for three days and nothing. We then went to the village and rounded up their elders. They did not say a word. So we took some people to the fields, and here is the aftermath.”

Ares looks at the burning pile. “Lord Kairos grows impatient. The mage has not said a word since his capture. Not to mention, we haven’t seen any champions of the earth yet.”

“Don’t be too sure, Ares.” Looking up, the war sees Zeus again, accompanied by his wing guards, the Valkyries. “My spies have discovered the location of the other earthlings, two of them are not too far from here.” Zeus throws Ares a map of another location. Looking at the map, a wicked smile creeps up his face.

“Excellent, I’ll deal with them shortly.”

“Not yet you won’t,” Ares glances upwards at the thunder god. Irritation growing in his eyes.

“Excuse me, why not?”

“Lord Kairos requests your presence immediately. Send your men to find them.”

“What of the stone?”

“That is your failure, not mine.” As Zeus flies away, the war god grabs a nearby soldier by the neck.

“Find them. Tear up the whole damn valley if you must. Leave none alive. If you don’t, you’ll end up in the next pile of bodies. Am I understood?”

The soldier gulps and nods quickly. Ares drops the soldier and mounts his horse. Before leaving, he gives one last order to the soldier.

“Once you have completed your task, return to the village and kill them. We do not need another revolt from the populace.” The soldier’s salute and Ares and his men ride back to Castle Olympus. Once he leaves, the soldier takes the map and reiterates the order to his men.

“Alright, men, you heard lord Ares. We are going hunting. Half of us will find the humans, while the others will report back to the village and await further orders.”

The soldiers yell in excitement and get their belongings. They then get into two groups. One group would return to the woods to find the humans, whereas the other would march back to the village.

Still, behind the pyre, the two soldiers looked at each other in bewilderment.

“A Stone? Lord Kairos? What is that supposed to mean?” Decimus lowered his hands to his side.

“I’m not sure, but we need that map. We need to find the others before they do,” said the Spartan.

Slowing emerging from their cover, they waited until both groups were separated. Climbing back up the hill, Amyntas and Decimus crouch over the unsuspecting soldiers. Unsheathing their swords, they darted down the slope and lunged at the enemy. The clash was quick and sudden.

Ares men did not have time to react as they were cut down by humans. Removing his sword from the gut of one soldier, Decimus searches over the body to find the map. It was not on him.

“Amyntas, see if any of the others have a map of them.” Sheathing his sword, the young spartan quickly searched the other bodies. After a few minutes, he manages to find it. It was stained with blood, but still readable.

“Decimus, I found it,” said the Spartan. “Help me figure out where we are on this thing.” As the duo began to look over the map, they were unaware that they were being watched. Over in the distance, two cloaked figures observed the humans.

“We have to warn the village, Richard. The stone will be found soon.” Though usually cooled tempered, he was worried. His partner Richard clips a note onto a falcon’s leg and lets it loose in the sky. He watches it fly away before replying.

“We have time, Mori, and they won’t do anything unless otherwise. For now, we’ll follow them from the forest. Hopefully, Sparrow found one of them.”

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