Chapter One: Death Calls
The Battle of Plataea, Greece- 479 BC
After a humiliating defeat at the battle of Salamis, Xerxes, king of the Persian Empire entrusted his general Mardonius to eradicate the remains of the Greek army. Arrogant and confident, Mardonius welcomed any challenges to come his way. Although depleted in numbers, the Persians fortified themselves in a new camp. Turning their weakness into an advantage, they waited for the inevitable to come. Day turned to night and the nights soon faded into the past. Waiting among their posts, they began to wonder if their enemy would ever come. Greeks, resilient and proud to the end, showed up one day among the outskirts of their perimeter, ready to stand their ground against the monsters who tried invading their homeland.
A jaded stalemate lasted eleven days between both forces. Neither drew the first sword nor advanced. The Greeks nor Persians were willing to lose this fight that could change the tide of the war. They both patiently strategized among their men while waiting at the ready to see who would falter first.
Thelonious, one of the commanders of the Greek infantry army, rounded the other superiors in plans of progression. He knew their supplies were diminishing by the day, and with the fragmentation of his men soon to follow, Thelonious knew the only option to utilize was retreat. Reluctant as they were, they all concluded it was the best course of action. With the commanders calling off the attack and having their men fall back, Mardonius saw this as an opportunity.
Mistaking their receding as weakness, he commanded his armies to pursue the cowards and slaughter all within the area. Mardonious’s men followed his orders and carried out his will. Leaving the comfort of their fortress, they raced out in a tumultuous roar. The commanders of the Greek armies heard the commotion and saw their enemies rushing them into combat. Seeing no other choice, every soldier readied their spears and shields. With courage by their side, they turned back, charging the Persian army with no preparation or proper formation. Only pure and utter instinct fueled their hearts.
The grueling battle lasted several hours. Soldiers from both nations were screaming in furious animosity and determination. Both slashed and cut their way through one another. Blood rained in the air and stained the soil below. Limbs were gashed and severed, as bodies quickly dropped to the ground like bricks. The corpses of fallen soldiers were so mangled and stacked upon one another, you could not tell them from friend or foe. These men knew that if survival was in their favor, then the scenes of this war would mark a dark and pivotal moment in history that future generations would tell upon their kin.
Advancing inward, the Greeks saw their hope of tomorrow when the Persians began to dwindle in number. They noticed their advantage, but regardless of the circumstances, the Persians showed no signs of surrender nor defeat. Mardonius was at the helm of the attack holding the line among his fellow brethren. He held his own with every enemy that came his way. No one could stop the general from accomplishing his mission. He was hellbound and willing to sacrifice everything for the king’s cause. No soldier dare stood a chance against him until one made his presence known.
Slicing a Persian soldier across the chest in front of Mardonius, Thelonious raised his spear at the ready. The general smiled at the commander, raising his double-edged sword in defense. Adrenaline coursed through both their veins. Each waited patiently to see which would make the first strike.
Thelonious was the first to advance. Jumping over a body and into the air, he jabbed his spear toward the general. Countering with his sword, Thelonious landed back on his feet and quickly turned, facing him. Swinging his spear around in a spectacular fashion, he tried aiming for his legs. He hoped it would catch the general off his feet to where he could then land the final blow. Avoiding the Greek's fancy movements he caught the spear in midair. Holding tightly to it, Thelonious tried to yank it away from him. Smiling, Mardonius let go of the spear, causing Thelonious to fall to the ground. Pushing himself up, he readied himself yet again.
The prideful general smirked at the commander and lowered his weapon as a taunt to his skill. Insulting and enraging Thelonious, he thrust his spear several times at the cocky Persian. Mardonius countered every blow with his blade. For the general, the Greek’s movement is sloppy and lacked precision. He could see his attacks before they strike, and he knew it would only be a matter of time before the soldier tired himself.
On the last attempt, Mardonius grabbed the spear again and swung his sword full force at the commander. The weapon clashed against Thelonious’s Bronze shield. The vibrations were intense. Thelonious could feel it shivering up his arm. The sheer strength of the general’s attack worried him.
Prying the spear out of Thelonious’s hands, Mardonius tossed it to the ground and decided to go on the offensive. Like a tornado, the Persian started swinging wildly at him. Not even the gods could domesticate his ferocity. Conviction and rage captured Mardonius’s eyes and doubts of survival began to surface within the Greek himself. Feeling his arm grow weary, Thelonious had to use both hands just to keep his shield upright.
Knowing he had the upper hand, the Persian decided to end the fight once and for all. Sweeping his sword in an upward motion, he broke Thelonious’s defense. Lifting his leg, he kicked the commander squared in the chest, forcing him to fall onto the ground. Coughing violently, Thelonious tried raising his shield, but Mardonius effortlessly walked up to the soldier and pressed his foot down on his arm.
Raising his weapon at the enemy’s face, he began to commemorate the commander. “One has fought valiantly. You stand defeated by the hands of Mardonius, general of the great King Xerxes of Persia. Your death is his reward. Blessed be his name.” He then plunged his sword into Thelonious’s neck, piercing through his skin and puncturing his windpipe.
Blood squirted out of his mouth while gasping for air. Tears ran down Thelonious’s face as he could feel his heart pumping slower within each passing second. His vision became blurry, and his breathing became stale. He tried to cling for life as long as he could, but no man could survive the wound he endured. With his final moments on earth, he cursed his enemy before the light dimmed in his eyes.
Darkness quickly cast the soldier out from its clutches as he suddenly breathed in life again. Shocked, he popped his body up and saw Mardonius standing in front of him. Furious toward the man who tried killing him, he rushed to tackle the general. To his surprise, he phased through as if he were made of thin air. Landing back onto the ground, he turned around flabbergasted.
‘What in the gods?’ His mouth quickly silenced. He stood back up and stared in disbelief. The body of the commander laid beaten on the battlefield floor. How could he be in two places at once? He lifted his hands and could tell upon looking that he seemed more transparent.
“Has death fallen upon I?” he uttered.
“Commander!” A soldier yelled.
Thelonious turned around and knew the man calling his name. “Adonis? Please say the gods are not playing a cruel joke,” Thelonious asked, uncertain.
Adonis ran up and shook his arm. “My eyes do not deceive me. Do you know what this is? I tried capturing Eos and Oresus’ attention, but it was as if I was a mere spirit in their eyes.”
Thelonious swallowed his saliva, not knowing how to break the news to his fellow comrade. “What memories do you last recall, Adonis?”
He looked down and rummaged through his mind for what he last remembered. “I-I was in combat with an Archer. He shot an arrow toward my direction. I could have sworn it stuck me dead.”
Thelonious sighed in a saddened tone. “That is because it did strike you, dear friend.”
Adonis backed away from Thelonious. “How could such a thing happen as I stand here before you?”
“Stubborn among the scenes before you,” Thelonious blurted out. “Do you not read the scriptures?”
Adonis shrugged his shoulders and went on the defensive. “No such luxuries were given in my time of training and. Resting and reading words among cloth is but a waste of one’s time and purpose.”
Thelonious shook his head, dumbfounded by his comrade’s lack of knowledge. “Several passages described that of a mortal being. Of what happens to one’s soul when it leaves its body.”
“Aye?” Adonis pushed him to emphasize further, “what do these passages say of such things?”
Thelonious eyes began to water. The once courageous and robust commander showed fear. Adonis became nervous, seeing the tears stream down his superior’s face. Never since his time in the infantry did a commander show any sort of weakness. He did not know what has him startled, and he wasted no time in prying. “Commander … what do such passages transcribe?”
Before Thelonious could answer, Adonis, let out a loud grunt. Staring at the soldier, he saw a large foreign object piercing through his body. Yelling at the top of his lungs, Adonis evaporated into nothing. Speechless, he saw the figure that took him. Seven feet in height, it stood silently in front of Thelonious. Distinct features could not be seen as a black cloak obscured one’s face. Smoke consumed the rest of its body as if to mask the horror that lay underneath. Only its decayed leathered arms and scythe were visible to the naked eye. Wings ejected out of the figure and stretched upward. They were so long, it could block the sun and darken Thelonious’s immediate surroundings.
Shaking its wings, they slowly retracted and rested on the figure’s back. Thelonious shuffled away, knowing who this was, and it scared him beyond anything he has ever encountered. Shivering in fear, he respectfully acknowledged the god. “Thanatos,” he muttered nervously.
Thanatos raised his scythe and pointed at the frightened commander. “Judgment has come.”
Trying to stall the god, he decided to lead with a question. “Where shall my fate rest if I follow you to the underworld?”
Walking closer to the mortal, Thanatos answered. “Fate is not for I to decide. The path of where one lays is yet to be spoken.” Thanatos lifted his scythe in the air and gazed upon Thelonious. “My Strike will be swift. No pain shall come to you.” Slashing downward, Thelonious dodged the god’s attack.
He knew the stories of the underworld. He knew one day he would have to face the demons written in scripture, but not today. Despite his knowledge and beliefs, he was terrified for what was awaiting him, and no man, no matter the bravery, would choose to go willingly. So, Thelonious did the only thing a mortal being could do. He started running.
Drawing distance between him and fate, Thanatos remained still. The god did not try to stop Thelonious nor utter a single word. Instead, the god acted. Smacking the butt of the scythe against the ground, chants started carrying through the winds for all to hear. The earth quaked with tremendous force, and the sheer violence of its rumble was so intense, it was enough to bring Thelonious to his knees.
Holding himself still, he could see the soil starting to erode. A crack formed radically from beneath his feet, splitting the valley in two. Rolling to his right and shuffling backward, he watched as the gap grew in size. Hellfire and screams erupted from the cavernous abyss. Thelonious got back up on his feet and attempted to flee yet again. He had to be as far away from here as he possibly could.
A roar escaped from the depths as a ten-foot, three-headed dog sprang up to the surface. Its yellow eyes were piercing like medusas gaze, and its monstrous fangs were sharp like that of a lion’s. The mane of this beast was tough and rigid as that of snakes, and its poisonous serpent tail curled behind its back, ready to strike any enemy it encounters. Shaking its whole body, the dog ran up to Thanatos, awaiting command.
The god pointed toward Thelonious’s direction. “Cerberus, his judgment awaits.”
Understanding the god’s words, the hound turned around and sprinted toward the condemned soul. Barking profusely at Thelonious, Cerberus quickly gained ground. No man was a match for this hellish creature’s speed. Getting swept off his feet, Cerberus tossed him like a rag doll. Thelonious crashed violently onto the ground and tried crawling away, stubborn to accept his demise. The beast then stretched its tail and struck the commander in the back. For the living, the toxin would have been lethal. Its venom was specifically molded by the fires of Tartarus itself, but for the dead? It merely paralyzed them.
Cerberus dug its teeth into the commander’s clothing and turned around, making its way back toward the capacious hole. Helplessly watching himself inch closer, all he could do was scream in terror as Cerberus jumped headfirst into the inferno. The ground quickly merged as one, and the remains of what once was did not exist. Sighing in exasperation, Thanatos dissipated into the earth, continuing to reap souls into the afterlife.