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01 Wild Wild Country 1
Niobe and Felix glided over the topmost foliage of the trees, chasing their game. They were riding their bridled pegasi, hunting a herd of white-boars. Niobe’s pegasus was a Double-striped black, while Felix’s was a Brown-white. Roughly twelve miles outside the Ascendancy walls, it was a bold venture into the outlands, even for game hunters.
‘Cura, take me!” Niobe screamed in joy over the deafening beating of wings.
‘Let us go hunting together in the evening- just the two of us,” she had suggested that morning. ‘It will be better than a party hunt with a prime watching over us at all times.” Hunting parties, traditionally, comprised eight princeps, two priors, and one prime.
As agreed in the morning, the couple had escaped on their pegasi for the outdoor amusement. It takes a half-hour to fly from the citadel on Mt. Radomir down to the postern Ascendancy walls surrounding Theikos. That evening, they had flown on for another half hour over the woods to the grassy woodland patch, where the white-boars thrived. The creature’s meat, when cooked with veal stock and red wine, made a delectable feast.
At the least, Niobe wanted to hunt. A white-light orb raced ahead of them, lighting the terrain. The two hunters loosened arrows whenever a boar appeared through the foliage. However, Felix had agreed to accompany her on the wanton quest because he hoped they would finally have sex. The couple had been steady for some time now.
Meanwhile, they had followed all the rules of courtship. According to the appendices of the Bibliotheca, they could engage in consensual intercourse as long as it did not end with impregnation. His Providence, the God-King, Marcus Petromax, had prohibited child-bearing. Violators could have their divinity stripped.
The hunters had already brought down four boars (the most that two full-grown pegasi can carry). Still, Niobe wanted to press on until they slaughtered the entire herd.
‘Niobe, my love!” beseeched Felix. ‘I think we have braved far enough! We should turn back and claim our game! Our pegasi will tire and collapse if we do not let them rest!”
‘You are a divine being, Felix!” she answered. ‘Learn to act like one!” Then, and playfully, she let go of the harness from her pegasus. She whooped into the wilderness, spreading her arms wide. Felix looked at the goddess longingly under the starlight. She was a sight for sore eyes- cheerful and beautiful, her golden hair bouncing on the wind behind her. Her chiton tunic pressed against her body and rode up her radiant thighs.
‘I could keep watching her, and we could keep flying forever,’ Felix mused.
The Double-striped black hit a high protruding branch and veered dangerously to the right, crashing into Felix’s Brown-white. Both creatures nose-dived into the forest.
The accident made a racket- two flying beasts with wingspans over forty feet plummeting from the skies into the wild. Branches splintered, cracked, and snapped as they tumbled towards the ground. Finally, the drop ended, the forest parted, and the hunters found themselves tossed into a clearing, along with their pegasi.
Felix opened his eyes and, for the first time, observed how bright the stars were that night. The Sagittarius constellation embellished the southern sky- a centaur pulling a bow. In the Bibliotheca, the blessed philosopher Appolodorus rejected constellations as gods.
‘Seek not the vaunted verse of the cycle,’ he wrote, ‘but look within, and you shall find all of what you see is in the image of Aion and Sol.’
Felix had read the book from cover to cover while preparing to take part in the Labors. ‘What would the progenitor of the gods think of this misadventure?’ he wondered.
He saw Niobe lying flat on her back as well, unhurt. The fall was treacherous and would kill a mortal. However, they were a god and a goddess. Felix was a princep, the lowest in the hierarchy of divine beings living on Mt. Radomir. Niobe was a position higher- a prior. Regardless, they had divine protection granted by titans and were immune to injury. If you run a sharp blade against a princep’s arm, the blade would lose its edge. Only those weapons imbued with stronger divinity, or corruption, could remotely scratch a divine being. Therefore, even after suffering a deathly drop from the sky, the two were unscathed. Even their clothes seemed as good as new.

02 Wild Wild Country 2
The Double-striped black tried to get on its hooves; instead, the creature keeled over on the forelegs. The fall had shattered its ribs. The right wing was missing, separated during the fall. A fifteen-foot-long bough of a pine tree had fallen over its hind.
Niobe got to her feet and approached her pegasus. Effortlessly and one-handed, she lifted the heavy branch and hurled it into the distance. The creature neighed in mortal pain.
The pegasus is a majestic beast, a sable ride befitting the gods. However, there it was, suffering like any other inferior creature.
‘Mortals,’ Niobe thought, rolling her eyes.
‘Stiletto,” she chanted, and a dagger appeared in her hand. She pulled the creature’s head back and cut a fissure from end to end. Blood gushed out like a stream, forming a shallow pool on the grass.
It was better to put the beast out of its misery than leave it dying in the wild. Otherwise, there were vile entities in the dark who would feast on it while it was alive. A dead pegasus was not a palpable loss for them. There were plenty of pegasi on Mt. Radomir, both tamed and wild. The citadel stable alone had over two hundred of the creatures.
Felix’s ride, tangled in the branches, broke loose soon. It hobbled to the dead pegasus and prodded the body with its muzzle, hoping to revive it.
Somehow, the episode of slaughter made Felix bolder than he had ever been before.
‘Niobe of House Elektra, let me make love to you!” he demanded.
The goddess turned to look at him and then at the dagger, blood dripping onto her elbows. She threw the weapon into the air, making it vanish into thin air. She got down on all fours and approached him, giggling childishly.
The spectacle had triggered something in her as well.
‘Oh Felix,” she called out and mounted him. Her partner gave her thighs a reassuring squeeze. Niobe unfastened her belt and removed her tunic, exposing her body. A belly chain was the only accessory that remained on her skin.
Niobe was citadel-born, citadel-bred, and had pure divine blood within her. In his mortal life, Felix had worked as a peculiar for a patrician familia in Modo- the innermost city surrounding Mt. Radomir. The Labors, an annual tournament hosted by the Ascendancy, grants divinity to one or more citizens from the three crescent cities. It evaluates aspirants over their wisdom, their athletic prowess, their mastery over elementals, and their innate peculiar abilities. Felix was one of the four champions from the previous year. Inducted into House Anaximander, he had been granted divinity through consecration and given quarters and equal privileges in the citadel.
Niobe had never seen him as a peculiar. She had her eyes on him during the tournament. At its conclusion, when they elevated him as a god, she had proposed to him. Again, the overture was according to the laws of courtship.
The goddess was wild and adventurous, and yet warm and affectionate. She was everything that Felix had ever wanted.
He pulled her by the chin towards him, and they locked lips. They had kissed before, sometimes on the turrets and battlements of the citadel or in their private quarters. Once, they escaped to the plebe city of Pago and pleasured each other on a florist’s terrace.
‘But tonight is special,’ Felix told himself.
‘Why else do you think I invited you to come with me?” Niobe asked, kissing the nape of his neck. It was as if she had read his mind.
‘It is favorable time we took a step further, my adorable new god,” she whispered.
‘Viola,” Niobe said aloud.
Soft music started playing in their ears. Strings of the violin and peals of the lute mingled to build a sensual ambiance. The goddess started swaying to the music.
Felix took his time admiring her.
The starlight was strong enough to see the flush on her body.
The forest was humid, and a layer of moisture hung onto them.
Niobe’s skin glistened like honeydew; her lustrous golden hair had a life of its own. The goddess’ naked body was taut, like a metal figurine, but she moved like a young feline. Felix raised his hands and felt her breasts; he cupped and caressed them. They felt supple and warm, as if a fire burned in her bosom. Niobe shivered and giggled some more. Her left hand slipped under his tunic and rooted around. Finally, she found what she was looking for and stroked it slowly.
Felix closed his eyes and ran his hands down to her slender waist and ample buttocks. One of the perks of being divine was- the body never faltered.
Felix of House Anaximander and Niobe of House Elektra. Two divine beings set to begin their sexual congress with the spirited forest as a witness.
03 Nectar of the Gods 1
The two divine beings were locked in an amorous embrace, unclothed, female over male, goddess over god. Their lips overlapped, their tongues jousted. Niobe’s pelvis grinding over Felix found the mark, and the penetration happened abruptly.
Both gasped in unison into the darkness. Niobe was louder, unwinding years of chastity, bellowing into the wilderness. She was haphazard at first, but then slowed her bounds to a tempo.
The forest had come alive around them- insects chittering, sleeping birds awakening, and animals responding to their rhythm.
Niobe tilted her head back and rode Felix, who found a deeper inroad into her. Her pupils set aflame, and her skin gleamed like gold. The goddess’ moans echoed sonorously in the clearing and beyond.
The fruits born from the body are heightened for divine beings. The couple climbed together up to orgasm every second, but never really reached it. It was an extended journey of pleasure that felt more enduring than their immortal lives.
There was a rustle of leaves and breaking of twigs. Someone or something had breached the periphery of the clearing. The forest sounds died all of a sudden. The two love-makers, sensing danger, put on their clothes and rushed to their feet. Felix’s manhood tented shamefully from under his tunic. He resolved to mete out justice to the source of the rude interruption.
‘Lucerna!” Niobe uttered.
An orb of white appeared overhead, mildly lighting up the clearing. They spied an enormous, deformed figure coming out of the woods. Eyes as large as saucers, glowing crimson-red in the dark.
As immortal, indestructible gods, they had nothing to fear from a forest creature. Still, Felix reclaimed a familiar sentiment. He had lost it during his indulgent year at the citadel.
‘Gladio,” he announced. A gladius sword appeared in his grip. It had a blue hilt with lapis lazuli studded in the pommel, the mark of one belonging to House Anaximander.
‘You are in the presence of a god and goddess,” he warned the intruder. ‘Reveal yourself and pay your respects, or be smitten!”
The specter walked into the light. Over six and a half feet tall, it had a hulking, grotesque body. Seemingly, a pile of rocks and boulders conjoined made up its shape. From the crevices, a red haze emanated as if there were fiery magma within.
‘Fal-se go-ds mu-st die!” the monster announced in a mealy-mouthed voice. It headed towards them with an increased pace.
‘What creature is it? A golem?” Felix inquired.
‘Arcum!” Niobe spelled, and a recurve bow appeared in her grasp. ‘Let’s find out.”
As she pulled the bow’s string, a flaming arrow materialized at the nocking point; she released her pinch. The arrow hissed across the clearing towards its target. It hit the rocky monster with a twang and shattered into pieces.
‘Fal-se go-ds MU-ST die!” the fiend repeated, bridging the gap between them faster.
‘It is immune to the fire element,’ said Niobe, who had decades of battle experience. ‘Perhaps it is a lava golem. Try one of your icicle attacks.”
‘Nero Impexis!” Felix spelled, raising a hand like a claw. An array of tapering icicles appeared in mid-air. With a twitch of fingers, he shot them ahead to meet their racing adversary. The icicles, capable of riddling a tree trunk, collapsed into oodles of water as they entered the monster’s proximity. The heat emanating from the inferno within it was high enough to melt divined ice in an instant.
‘FAL-SE GO-DS MU-ST DIE!” it barfed.
The earth shook with every step the monster took. A collision with them was imminent.
The Bibliotheca mandated gods to face their challengers instead of dodging them.
‘Aegis,” the duo announced together. With a series of cling clangs, golden armor appeared on their bodies- helmets, breastplates, cingulum skirts, and greaves. No physical damage could penetrate adamantine armor; legend had it. Moreover, divine protection granted by titans ensured that even the most damaging attacks were reflected or nullified.
Their rocky adversary was fast for its girth as it rushed towards them. The red haze within it flickered ominously, casting a haunting aurora over the clearing.
Felix looked at Niobe uneasily. Her muscles were tense and her concentration steadfast. She had transformed from a carefree lover to a warrior-goddess. Her lover found her more attractive than ever.
Felix was a freshly ordained god and was only nineteen of age. He knew not much of the gods yet, and his divine powers were pubescent. The young god had spent most of his first year in the citadel on luxurious pursuits with his partner. Niobe looked about the same age, but she was ninety-two years old and had lived a long life already. Gods did not seem to age.
‘Do you love me, Felix?” she asked, turning towards him.
‘What? I do! Of course, I do!” he replied, startled by the catechism.
‘Then let me handle this. Get back!” the goddess commanded, and took a defensive stance.
Niobe’s demands of him had always been selfish. Things she wanted him to do for her. The unsanctioned hunting expedition they were on was one of them. Acquainted with Niobe having her way with him all the time, the request to let her take the lead perplexed him. However, he had no time to think. The monster was almost upon them.
Felix backpedaled several paces. ‘I’m not strong enough. If I act, I will get in her way,’ he concluded.
04 Nectar of the Gods 2
The golem dived forward with arms raised and brought them down together to clobber Niobe. The goddess raised her own to defend against the assault.
The collision’s shockwave boomed out like a cannon, flattening the grass and herbs of the meadow. It swept the dust off the ground, raining it back like a sandstorm. Flocks of birds scattered out of the area in alarm.
The percussion made Felix skid back on the ground, but he managed to stay on his feet. When visibility returned, he squinted to see the outcome of the clash.
Niobe was holding onto both arms of the monster with her bare hands. They were locked in a contest of raw strength. Her limbs were puny compared to the monster’s, and yet they kept him fixed in place. Such was the power of a goddess-prior.
She was not the least bit rattled by the onslaught or the hulk towering over her. The monster heaved and grunted, levering its weight.
Niobe’s thighs bulged, and the ground cracked beneath her feet. She pushed forward, her armor clinking, and her adversary’s body skidded back with every step. Shaking her arms free, she turned and landed a blow into its gut with an elbow. It threw the monster like a ball into the distance. The creature tumbled to a stop near the margin of the clearing.
Niobe turned towards Felix in a heroic flourish, eager to see the impressed look on his face. ‘I told you-” she teased. ‘-To let me handle this.” She blew him a kiss.
However, the look on Felix’s face was not one of fascination but of confusion and horror.
‘Niobe!” he cried out, pointing. ‘Your arms!”
The goddess raised her arms to examine them, and her heart froze. There was glowing red ooze on her upper arms, dripping down to the elbows.
Then suddenly, the pain came to her.
The miasma burned through Niobe’s skin and flesh and bones.
A scream escaped her- a low-pitched cry that Felix did not recognize. The sweet-talking, vivacious goddess was braying without grace.
Niobe had never felt pain like that before. She screamed her heart out, praying it would go away. It did not. Her hands and lower arms turned to cinders as the ooze spread to her upper arms. She sank to her knees, convulsing, debilitated by the agony. The smell of burning flesh filled the air.
Meanwhile, their assailant had gotten to its feet.
‘False Gods must die,” it declared, with a much clearer voice. ‘I serve the nectar of a true god,” it added ominously and shuffled up for another encounter.
The first thought that arrived in Felix’s mind was to turn and run away.
Escape. Survive. Get help.
There was no way he could handle a monster that Niobe had failed to subdue. She was a prior-goddess seasoned in battle while he was a green-eyed princep.
Felix shut his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he found himself standing in the way, shielding his lover.
‘What? How did I get here?’ he found himself wondering. ‘Did my body act by itself? Am I doing it for love?’
Felix had been a simple peculiar in the patrician city—one who was envious of the gods and aspired to walk among them. After entering the citadel, Niobe’s love had transformed him into a man he did not deserve to be. He had indeed been content with his life. The young god owed everything to her. He would do anything to protect her.
‘No! Felix! Run! “Niobe begged.
‘Nero Impexis Techos!” Felix grunted.
A wall of ice, a foot thick, erected itself in front of him. The frost shield was known to be formidable enough to stop a charging minotaur.
The monster raced towards them again, determined to finish what he started. Through the wall of ice, its red haze looked surreal, almost aesthetic. However, the spectacle did not last long.
The searing heat melted the ice as the fiend made its approach.
Felix took a high attack stance, imbuing his sword with elemental power. He swung down with all his might.
There was a loud clang as metal screeched against stone.
The next moment, Felix felt a grip around the waist. The monster had seized him and lifted his body in the air. It opened its mouth wide, revealing a glowing, bottomless crater.
‘Is it going to swallow me?’
Felix struggled in vain and watched helplessly as he was pulled closer. The monster’s insides were a fiery vortex. The red haze was blinding, but Felix could not take his eyes off. He could hear voices. Thousands of voices calling out, screaming in agony. The young god realized his destination then.
Behind him, Niobe let out a fresh scream.
The monster chomped Felix’s head off, gulped it down, and cast the rest of the body aside. There was no blood. The blistering miasma had cauterized his torso.
Niobe went mute, pincered by her emotions.
‘It is my fault that Felix is gone.’
‘I brought him here and yet could not protect him.’
‘And now I am going to die as well.’
What does a god faced with mortality do? Accept the end readily or resist till the last moment?
‘No! Felix gave up his life for me! I will survive!’
‘But how?’ Niobe looked at the stubs that had been her hands. She let out a cry of anguish and joined them as if praying.
Only a titan could rescue her then.
She screamed a prayer at the top of her voice.
Louder than ever.
O Queen amongst gods!
O Guardian of fire and lightning!
Anaktoria Ifianasa Elektra!
Heed my prayer!
Immune to her desperate invocation, the golem approached Niobe. Its mouth opened again, revealing the hellish vortex within.
05 Divine Intervention
Niobe’s cry for help radiated from her like a tidal wave, resounding throughout the forest and reaching ears faraway.
From the citadel on Mt. Radomir, a static pillar of light shot into the sky.
The amputee goddess, not having witnessed the spectacle, prepared to have her life taken. She raised her face to the executioner of her lover. Up close, she realized it was indeed a lava golem, but sentient enough to do another’s bidding.
A mindless creature animated with dark words.
It would be harmless if not for the miasma bubbling inside it.
‘What are you?” she demanded frantically. ‘Who is your master?”
The monster, with its trap opened wide, scooped out a fistful of the red ooze. It meant to blather its victim’s head with the bane.
‘I serve the nectar of a true god,” it explained fluently. ‘False god,” it added, pointing a rock finger at her, ‘Must die.”
Niobe had lost the will to resist. She was a false goddess indeed. That the gods were immortal had been proven a lie. She closed her eyes.
‘I am joining you on the other side soon, Felix,’ she thought bitterly.
The monster extended its arm for the deed, but stopped halfway. It looked up to the skies and then jumped back twenty paces.
Niobe opened her eyes, perplexed by her assailant’s behavior.
The sky rumbled tumultuously without clouds.
‘Oh,” she realized. ‘You are here, Your Providence.”
A thunder crack sounded, and a sheer bolt of lightning zig-zagged its way into the meadow. The ground rippled and cracked where it landed. Temperatures rose, and a halo flooded the area.
Goddess Elektra emerged from the rubble and flash. She stood to her full height, surveying the area.
About seven feet tall, she was one of the four titans reigning over Theikos.
Spiritually connected to members of her House, she had heard Niobe’s prayer for help and arrived in the crack of time.
The titan surveyed the clearing with riveting attention. Her eyes were vortices of ghastly light. Streaks of blue-white sparks crackled throughout her body. She donned an armor of platinum-gold. Her hair, white as day, almost stood on end, charged by the energy coursing through her body.
Elektra walked to Niobe and placed a hand over her head.
‘I am here, child,” she reassured her ward. “Your prayer was heard.”
Niobe started sobbing hysterically. ‘It killed Felix, Your Providence! It has this red miasma that took my hands!”
‘Justice will be served, my dear,” Elektra said with finality.
The titan faced the lava golem and raised a finger to the sky. There was a rumble without clouds again.
The golem began to speak, ‘False gods must-”
A bolt of lightning fell from the sky, shattering its body into a million pieces. The explosion scorched half of the clearing.
The miasma within it fell to the forest floor like a blob and escaped into the woods.
Within no time, several pegasi arrived, and the area was swarming with gods- princeps, priors, and a prime. A group of healer priors urgently attended to Niobe, shearing off the miasma-affected flesh and administering her restorative draughts.
Electra released the divine form, and her eyes turned green. The energy coursing through her dissipated, and the armor vanished with hollow cling-clangs. Her hair descended from its flight and wrapped into a braided bun by itself.
Elektra was a giant of a woman, muscle-bound and powerfully built. She towered over the rest of the gods, who looked like children in her presence.
The titan walked toward the pile of shattered rocks where the golem had been. She sniffed the air and waved a hand through nothing, as if feeling for an invisible entity.
God-prime Estevan approached Elektra. He was the prime of her House, her highest-ranking soldier.
‘Your Providence. Scouts have returned after a reconnaissance of the area. There are signs that someone was controlling the golem from a distance. We lost the culprit’s trail.”
He handed Elektra a vial sample of the miasma collected from Niobe.
‘This sludge seems to move by itself,” Estevan posed. ‘I have never seen such a thing before. If Your Providence may shed some light?”
‘It is corruption, Estevan,” Elektra explained. ‘Corruption that has come seeping from the underworld after a century.”
The titan was over three hundred and fifty years old and had seen most of history unfold through her eyes. She sighed, suddenly nostalgic from the flood of memories. However, resolve returned to her face soon.
‘Send an urgent message to our naval fleet in the Gulf of Stratos,” she ordered. ‘We need Marcus Petromax to return immediately.”
06 A Tryst with Destiny~ Tarsus
Tarsus was the lowest of the lowborn. He had a low-given name. Even the street peddlers of Pago would not name their children so. The slaves of the outer city, Fugi, had more honorable names.
The boy did not remember his parents. They had abandoned infant Tarsus when they had fled Pago during the floods of 221 ND. He was found on the steps of a temple of Aion. That was how Empousa had recounted his past.
Old man Empousa was a middleman trader in the southern suburra of Pago and had raised the boy as his own. His wife had died young, and he had never remarried. Instead, he had decided to foster over a dozen orphans in his villa.
It was late afternoon, but the air was breezy. Carrying a bison carcass on his right shoulder, Tarsus entered the ‘cuppa’ marketplace through the south gate. He was seventeen years old, with short, dense raven-black hair and a height of six feet and two inches. The boy’s build was not akin to someone who had just come of age. It was rather like that of a seasoned warrior. Women of his suburra would argue, perhaps with exaggeration, that Tarsus had turned out in the manner of a god. However, others would laugh at such a suggestion because the boy was the lowest of the low-born. Why else would he have such a low-given name?
To haul the burden presently on Tarsus’ shoulder would require the strength of three grown men. Nevertheless, the boy carried it effortlessly. He had had exceptional strength since he was a child. When Tarsus was five years old, he had pushed a bogged down barrel-cart from the mud to solid ground. Empousa had attributed it to strong bones.
‘Your parents were very hard-working folks,” he had explained. You have inherited their strong bones. Even so, don’t you go around flaunting your strength to every mother’s son! Furthermore, please stay away from the Magistrate’s office where they test for peculiars. The Patricians will bundle you off to Modo and make you do their bidding.”
Tarsus had thus developed the habit of suppressing his superhuman power. When carrying heavy loads, he would grunt and curse, as most men did.
Work hard, get married, make a dozen children- was Empousa’s motto.
When Tarsus turned seventeen the previous month, Empousa made a routine of introducing him to a new girl every week. After a day’s work, the boy would return home to find a poor colleen ready to serve him bread and drink. It was a test of her obedience as a potential wife.
‘An obedient wife makes a dutiful husband,” Empousa would say.
However, Tarsus took little interest in those antics.
Despondent over failure to get his ward married to a woman, Empousa brought a young man to meet him the previous week. The next day, Tarsus sat down with his old man and explained that he indeed liked women. However, he would like to choose a bride by himself and that too in due time.
Cuppa was the busiest marketplace in the south-suburra of Pago. The region being closest to Fugi had a rich supply of produce and merchandise. Merchant and craft guilds primarily ran Cuppa. The main path was at the least ten-man wide. Essential perishable items like grains, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and seeds were sold on the main path. At the same time, the inner alleys cooped up the spinners, smiths, tanners, butchers, and carvers. Near the north gate were the taverns and brothels. Towards the middle of the market, a few sophisticated establishments of the bankers and lenders stood out prominently, like thumbs.
Tarsus took a few turns from the main path and reached the butchers’ enclave. A varied spread of meat was laid out. Patrons gathered like bees around pork, beef, goat, wild boar, rabbit, geese, among other choices.
His acquaintance was a fifty-year-old skinner, Macellus. The latter hailed the boy on sight.
‘Ave, Tarsus! Come, lay it down here by the slaughterhouse!”
‘Ave, Macellus!” Tarsus greeted him back while doing the bidding. ‘This one came in fresh from the marshes of southwest outlands,” he added, referring to the bison.
‘He may have told you so. Empousa! I do not trust your master, Tarsus. He brings meat from the farms of Fugi and brands it as game from the outlands.”
Tarsus laughed and picked up one of the bison’s legs by the hoof. ‘You see, Macellus. There is dark-red soil deep inside the hooves. Fugi’s soil is pitch black.”
‘Fine, fine, you are too sharp for your age, boy,” Macellus grumbled, giving up the haggling. ‘Your word is enough for me. How about five pieces of silver?”
‘Done,” both said at the same time, shaking hands. Thus, the exchange was made.
‘It stumps me every time,” Macellus offered as Tarsus was about to leave. ‘You carry a bison all by yourself with no sign of exhaustion.”
‘Strong bones, Macellus,” Tarsus explained.
‘Why don’t you get yourself examined at the Magistrate’s office, eh, my boy? You have come of age. All that unnatural brawn! Perhaps you are a peculiar after all! You could appear in the Labors next year.”
Tarsus chuckled again and shook his head.
‘I will never leave Pago, old man. Besides, I have no wish to become a god. Farewell.”
The boy returned the way he came, to retake the main path.
He strolled on, taking in the offerings of cuppa- its vibrant colors, rackety noises, and strange smells. He felt content with himself. Tarsus vowed for the umpteenth time to never leave Pago.
‘What does Macellus know about the world, boxed in his slaughterhouse all day?’ he thought. ‘I will work every single day of my life like this, go back home, have a hearty meal, and sleep until dawn. One day, perhaps, I will find a wife and have a dozen children. That would pacify old man Empousa.’
The sun hung low on the horizon. ‘I can use a drink,’ Tarsus decided.
There was a tavern that he frequented near the north gate.
The signboard by the entrance always made him laugh. On the way, he ran into some familiar faces, and together they headed to the tavern.
07 A Tryst with Destiny~ Damon
Damon was a nobody. Damon could be anybody.
His talents lay in blending into populations and fulfilling clandestine tasks assigned to him. He could be a farm-boy today and an ordinary trader the next.
He could be a member of the Town Vigil, patrolling the streets one day, and be a petty thief on the other.
He could be a wealthy merchant this day and a beggar the following.
Damon was eighteen years old but could pass as a younger or older person with ease. Disguise and deception were his modus operandi. He had no elemental powers as such but was an undeclared peculiar of a high order.
Damon could manifest small, handy items out of thin air. The conjured item could be a weapon, a tool, a pouch of food, a few coins. As long as he could imagine the object, the boy could successfully produce it.
However, he had realized through terrible experiences that using the ability took a toll on him.
Once, during a drawn-out battle with a group of mercenaries, Damon had summoned twenty-one weapons within an hour. In the aftermath, he had lost vision in his right eye for an entire week!
During a whimsical experiment of his powers, he had tried to summon a horse cart. The attempt had failed, and Damon had blacked out, waking up half a day later. Thus, the boy had learned to rely on his street skills over time rather than on his conjuring ones.
Damon’s father, Dmitri, a drunkard, had been abusive to his mother, Nadja. The latter had run off with a traveling merchant, abandoning her family. Dmitri had sold off five-year-old Damon into slavery. Little Damon had suffered little, having discovered his powers at a young age. He had grown to secure his freedom and later establish himself as a sought-after mercenary. The prodigy had gained favor with Patricians and Magistrates alike. His father had been found, one day in the sewers, mysteriously dead.
At the moment, Damon was on an undertaking to find a runaway lad- the son of an eminent Patrician. They would pay him the kid’s weight in silver if the latter were returned to the father alive. However, a spoiled patrician child was unlikely to have survived the trip to Pago.
Dressed in a grey toga, which hid his thin frame effectively, Damon looked like a young traveling merchant. His hair was brown and short-cropped.
After asking around in a few shops, he deduced that the tavern- PIG AND WHISTLE, was where local sleuths gathered. These were lowly, dubious men who knew the area by the grass and could provide news of value for silver.
Damon headed towards the north gate.
The surrounding noise of the main path annoyed him- goats bleating, ironsmiths hammering away, horse-hooves clopping, customers bargaining, dogs barking, cartwheels rattling. At one point, he crossed a patrol of the Vigils- the town’s enforcers of the law. They were the magistrate’s men.
Vigils’ duties included apprehending thieves and robbers, capturing runaway slaves, guarding the baths at night, and stopping disturbances of the peace. They primarily dealt with petty crime and were pretty harmless to a seasoned mercenary like Damon.
The ones to be wary of were the Prefects, an elite unit, second only to the Magistrate and who carried the will of the Ascendancy. They comprised retired army veterans, rejects from the Labors, glorified peculiars. The unit had gifted individuals who dealt with the more severe crimes. They mingled among the commoners and came to the fore only according to the demands of the time. Damon had luckily never met a Prefect and did not plan to meet one.
Peddlers and hawkers huddled on either side, calling out to passersby.
‘Ruby tomatoes from Fugi!”
‘Pan free with two pots!”
‘Magical charms to woo your lady!”
‘Saffron! Fresh saffron from the outlands!”
‘Know your mortal fortune!”
Damon saw a lithe young man carrying a bison carcass on his shoulders.
‘Definitely a peculiar,’ he surmised.
The hulk took a right towards the butchers’ enclave. Damon watched the peculiar walk away for some time, then shook his head and continued on his path to the tavern. He had no interest in the secrets of others unless someone paid him for it.
On his way, Damon passed several brothels. Women of sundry ages stood by the gates of each, calling out seductively to men.
A hustler approached Damon and walked alongside him.
‘Ave, young man! How would you like to lie with an exotic peculiar? She gives off lightning sparks when you make love to her! It is like having the goddess Elektra in bed. Just one silver for an hour. What do you say?”
Damon disregarded the offer and walked on. The last thing he needed was a local whore remembering his face.
He reached the destination. A sign hung low at the entrance.
It had the caricature of a pig standing on its hind legs, blowing a whistle with its forelegs. A part of Damon felt like laughing out loud.
A walk-up bar faced both the street and the inner salon. It was an open tavern under a single roof with no walls. They served hot wine with honey or saltwater. Meat and flatbread were available too.
Damon slapped some bronze coins on the bar and entered the salon with wine and bread. He took a seat in a dark corner to survey the place before he started asking questions.
The tavern was a middling establishment that attracted a good crowd from the plebe class. If any peculiars visited, they kept their abilities secret. Of course, no patricians were present.
The plebes chattered away, some at the top of their voices, in different stages of intoxication. Some cliques also hummed songs. The loudest were the ones talking about politics.
‘Oh, down with Petromax,” growled one particular drunk, ‘I’d like Anaximander to be God-King! Hic! Petromax goes around on his voyages while the Magistrates and Patricians suck our blood dry!”
‘Keep it down, Pythus,” his drinking buddy warned. ‘The magistrate has spies everywhere. You will be arrested, tarred, and feathered!”
‘Then I would die a martyr!”
‘You would die a drunken fool.”
The duo laughed flagrantly and drank some more.
The tavern was also the ideal place to spread news, both true and false.
‘Did you hear about the attack in the outlands? They say a god was killed!”
‘Nonsense! Gods cannot be killed.”
Damon listened to the banter until he spotted someone his instinct told him was a sleuth. The sleuth realizing the attention from the stranger, came over and sat opposite him.
‘Young man, looking for something?” he asked in a slurred voice. Damon took a measure of the sleuth- a disheveled middle-aged man in a dirty tunic, nursing a mug of beer. Beer was the cheapest liquor there was.
‘A runaway patrician kid.” Damon slid a parchment towards him with a portrait of the boy.”
The sleuth glanced at the sketch and nodded.
‘How much?” he asked.
‘Depends on how close you can get me.”
‘I can find out where the boy is if you pay me two silver coins.”
Damon nodded. The sleuth left with a promise that he would be back with information within an hour.
‘You seem to have deep pockets, young man,” the sleuth advised before leaving. ‘Why don’t you go to the inner salon and wait? Pay a silver to get in. No cause to hang with the rowdy folk here.”
Damon took his drink and food and entered the inner sanctum, which was an underground cellar. The young mercenary took a seat at a table and looked around.
The crowd there was more distinguished—a few well-to-do traders, vigils, peons of the magistrate, and so on. The wine served seemed to be fancier as well.
A hooded figure sat in a corner, studying a parchment. Damon could tell from the silhouette that it was a young woman. His task was near completion. Perhaps he could share a bed with a lady that night? He approached the table with a slight flourish.
‘My dear lady-”
‘Please be seated, Damon,” the lady said from under the hood.
Damon, startled, took a seat opposite her.
‘How do you-”
‘We will have another guest if you do not mind.”
‘Of course-”
Just then, a burly young man walked into the inner salon, drinking from a large mug. He looked for a place to perch. Incidentally, all the seats were taken except the table where Damon and the mysterious lady were resting. The hulk walked over and asked politely if the place was vacant.
Damon recognized him as the peculiar carrying a bison carcass on the main path.
Small world!
‘Ave, Tarsus! Please join us.” the lady replied.
‘How do you know my name?” Tarsus enquired but took a stool nonetheless.
The young lady removed her cowl to reveal long golden hair and a countenance so beautiful that both men felt jostled back to sobriety. Pearly ice-blue eyes set close on the fairest face they had ever seen.
‘I am Felicity. And I have been waiting for you,” she said from honeyed, pillowy lips.
For a moment, both men forgot who they were.

‘Marry me!” Tarsus blurted out.

‘I love you!” Damon echoed.

08 A Tryst with Destiny~ Felicity
Felicity walked daintily between the two young men. In her dreams, they looked like boys, while they were mature for their ages in person. One of them, in a workman’s white tunic, was almost a foot taller than her. The other was about her height, in dark attire.
The sun had nearly set, painting the skies with a red haze. An idle breeze blew from the east.
Felicity’s hood was down, and her blonde hair danced around like streamers. It was a captivating sight to behold. Both men stole constant glances out of the corner of their eyes. However, Felicity did not feel uncomfortable. She had wanted this for a long time now- to be around the two men from her dreams. A needle-like smile rested on her lips.
The girl had a quirk for drawing the attention of men. It was not just her enchanting beauty that was alluring.
From the day she first bled, men had started noticing her increasingly. It was not the warm-hearted consideration that citizens of Fugi were known for. Men approached Felicity with venereal thoughts. They wanted to possess her. There was something eerie about it. The phenomenon had become staggering as time elapsed, with men confessing love to her on the streets.
Hence, Felicity had to wear a cowl at all times. At such a young age, she had a full bosom and comely hips that would draw the envy of the most celebrated women of Pago. Her foster mother, Sheila, suggested she was perhaps blessed by the titan Anaximander, the most alluring among the gods living on Mt. Radomir.
‘Men are beasts,” she would say. ‘They would like nothing other than depriving you of your innocence!”
A farm girl once shared with Felicity a folktale of the outlands. It was about the witch Hecate, who accepted a human sacrifice and, in exchange, bestowed the gift of being irresistible to men. It was more of a curse than a boon.
Regardless of whether she was gifted or cursed, Felicity had no way to know the cause of her predicament.
Her foster family had questions about her past. However, she had nothing to share because she had no memories.
Five years back, Felicity had woken up on a haystack in the middle of a farm in Fugi, with no memories. The peasant family to which the land belonged was astounded to find a naked little girl wandering their farm. They had taken her in, bathed, dressed, and fed her. Since the girl could not speak for months, they had assumed she was a mute refugee from the outlands—a barbarian. The peasant couple, being kind people, had let her live as one among their children.
Felicity had three sisters- Haiti, Twitch, and Mello. Their mother, Sheila, had not kept the refugee girl wanting for anything.
Felicity had grown up in the cradle of nature.
She would spend hours in the meadows and forests. Animals were her playmates. The trees bestowed on her grace and wisdom. The wind and rain sang songs for her amusement. Barely anyone noticed her. She lived in peace for several years.
Then, on the day Felicity bled, the world changed for her. The unwanted attention. From farm boys and men even thrice her age. The same day, the visions and nightmares began. The girl would drift off in the middle of the day and have a vivid dream, which would come true in the following days. It could be about the mares birthing foals or an infestation of locusts, or the arrival of rains. Felicity could see several weeks into the future.
Occasionally, she would have cryptic nightmares—terrible dreams of war and destruction. Countless lives lost. In the middle of all the carnage, she would see them. Tarsus and Damon- the two men flanking her from both sides right then. In her visions, she was intimately involved with them. However, they did not need to know that yet.
Felicity had told them several convenient lies. Rather, they were half-truths. To begin with, she had told them what she was.
‘Let me revisit your words,” Damon began. ‘You are a muse? A peculiar who can see the future? Furthermore, you foresaw in a vision that the three of us are meant to become gods and live on Mt. Radomir?”
‘Yes,” she replied solemnly.
Damon laughed out aloud.
‘And where are you from, MUSE?”
‘I lived on a farm in Fugi.”
‘A farm girl from Fugi suddenly turns up and tells me I am meant to be a god. Moreover, I have to give up my trade and accompany her on a journey. I am speechless!”
‘By the by,” Damon interrupted himself. ‘Apologies for what I said in the tavern. Something came over me-”
‘I understand. That is why I keep my face covered.” Felicity said.
‘This effect you have on men has something to do with you being a muse?”
‘What are your other abilities?”
‘I can bend the water element, and I have good fortune.”
‘Water element is useful. What is this good fortune you speak of? Are you good at gambling?”
‘You will find out in due time, Damon.”
09 Fortune Favors the Dead
Felicity was lucky. If she, as little as stumbled, there was someone or something to give her support. Something always broke her fall when she tumbled down while climbing trees. Her lost jewelry always found its way back to her. Of course, her good fortune went way beyond such trivial relief. Nevertheless, she had never dared to tempt fate.
Tarsus walked on silently. It seemed to Felicity that he was not one to talk much unless it was necessary. Unlike Damon, he had not raised a single question.
‘I am having trouble believing anything you say,” Damon asserted. ‘You are a beautiful damsel that I cannot deny. However, I will not spill any facts about my abilities.”
‘I know of them already.”
‘What?” Damon turned to Tarsus.” Yasou, beanstalk! Did you hear what she said? Do you trust this witch?”
‘I believe her, runt.”
‘This is so endearing,” Felicity chimed in, ‘The two of you have nicknames for each other already.”
‘Then go ahead and tell the girl your abilities,” Damon demanded of Tarsus, disregarding the lady’s cheek.
‘I think she knows already,” the hulk answered summarily.
‘Yes,” Felicity confirmed.
‘That is mighty,” Damon said in exasperation. ‘It seems I am the villain here for raising doubts on this charade.”
Felicity halted all of a sudden and stood to face Damon. She took his hand in both of hers.
‘You are not a villain in this life; I can assure you that,” she said, her blue eyes shimmering at him. ‘I know you have been alone for a long, long time. I am with you now.” A tear escaped her right eye and rolled down her cheek.
Damon tensed for a moment with her touch and her words. He peered into her eyes, searching for the slightest tinge of dishonesty or deceit, but found none. His anxiety dissolved, and a burden seemed to have lifted from his heart. He nodded earnestly.
The trio resumed walking in silence for some time.
‘So! What do we do next?” Damon posed.
‘We start our journey to Mt. Radomir.”
‘It is a long journey that will take a year at the least. Moreover, passing through Modo is close to impossible. The patricians are in charge of the qualifying tasks. And then there are the Labors. Have you really thought this adventure through, uh, Felicity?”
‘Well, fortune has favored me, and I have met my heroes. Everything seems to be falling into place.”
A light giggle escaped her. Her glee was so infectious that both Damon and Tarsus found themselves smiling with silly expressions.
Felicity was nostalgic. She felt she had known them all her life. Perhaps much longer than her life if her visions were to be interpreted in certain ways. However, it was necessary to keep certain details from them. Her elemental and muse abilities were more powerful than she had let on. Nevertheless, the men did not need to know.
If truth were to be said, she needed them in other ways.
Felicity was light as a feather and lacked the strength required to make an epic journey possible. She would often fall asleep during the day and would need someone she trusted to watch her. It was a miracle she had reached thus far.
The trio was walking abreast in a rhythm. They were no longer talking but exchanging terms with expressions. It was as if a family had been reunited.
After their chance-meet at the tavern, they had exited the cuppa marketplace from the north gate. Due north would have taken them to the hippodrome, where chariot races are held. Drunken citizens from the taverns flock there during the race days. The magistrate sponsored such events.
Due west would have taken them to the agora, where city folks gather to talk politics and listen to speeches in the evenings. Heralds make public announcements there. It also housed the temples of Aion and the seraphim.
To avoid crowds, they had taken a gravel path east. It is deserted at that time of the day and is a straight path to the private inn where Felicity had lodgings. They had crossed a public park and a row of houses on their way, drifting into a dilapidated part of the town.
Pago was not all colors and music. There were wards such as these where not a soul was visible.
Only a sliver of light remained in the evening sky. It was about to get dark.
Something hit Tarsus on the face and fell to the ground. He stopped, confused.
Felicity and Damon turned to see what was wrong.
The object was a ball of soil from the looks of it.
The smell of rotten eggs permeated the air.
Tarsus took a hand to his forehead and started reeling. Damon grabbed Felicity’s arm and pulled her away as the hulk fell like a log to the ground.
‘It is sloam!” Damon hollered. ‘Hold your breath, or it will knock you out for an hour. We are under attack!”
Sloam is made from the liver of a male crocotta, a scavenger beast that lives in the outlands. Mixed with sand and water, it becomes a powerful opiate and sedative. It gives off fumes that can put even a grown man to instant sleep for several hours. Damon knew of it because he had used the poison several times as an assassin.
The last glimmer of light escaped, and the blanket of night fell on the world.
Voices rose from the darkness.
Voices in the multitude. They sounded like groans and moans and snarls.
‘The undead. They are coming,” Felicity warned.
‘The undead?” Damon fired back. ‘Did you say the undead? What have I gotten myself into?”
Groaning, grumbling, snarling, the creatures creeped out from the ruins of houses, from the cracks in the streets, from the foliage of trees, and from pits in the ground.
They seemed to be men and women but twisted and deformed.
A sea of red, glowing eyes surrounded them. There was no escape.
10 Fortune Favors the Alive
‘Why is this happening to us? What did we do?” Damon grumbled.
‘There are some entities which are not very happy with our union,” Felicity explained.
‘What entities?”
‘Dark ones.”
‘Can I apologize to these dark entities and leave?”
‘It is too late.”
‘I can see that!” Damon snapped. ‘They do not appear open for negotiation. What do we do? Fight? First of all, it is too dark. Let me see what I can do about that.”
Damon wiggled his fingers, and two flaming torches appeared in his hands. He cast them in two directions to light up the surroundings. The creatures recoiled at the sudden radiance. Raspy growls and furious snarls followed.
‘Their numbers could be between a hundred and two hundred,’ Damon estimated.
They circled the torches, which were soon extinguished as the brutes punted soil on them. With darkness resumed, they formed a circle and closed in.
‘I did not expect them to be this clever and organized,” Damon complained, embarrassed by his failure. ‘How do we deal with the darkness? At this rate, they will overwhelm us in no time!”
‘Lucerna!” Felicity spelled. A blue orb of light manifested and rose to a height, piercing the darkness. The undead flinched and froze, shrinking under the dazzle.
‘You know charmspeak?” Damon sought. ‘Where did you learn the language?”
Charmspeak is the language that the gods and the mildly divine use to cast myriad spells. You need divine blood running through your veins for charmspeak to take physical shape. It also works if you are under the protection and tutelage of a god-titan who shares divinity with you. The language was taught extensively at the Citadel, and aspirants of the Labors were expected to be well-versed in it.
‘Books and practice,” the beauty explained.
‘Smoke and mirrors,” Damon mocked. ‘You, my lady, are keeping secrets. However, I shall berate you about it another time. If I get out of this nightmare alive.”
He squinted at the converging fiends, trying to understand their molds. They were shaped like humans, but in essence, were dead and decaying, their skins peeling off, their skulls and ribs showing, with barely any flesh on the bones.
Damon flexed his fingers, and a bunch of knives appeared in his hands. He hurled them at the looming eyes.
The volley hit some of the creatures in the front. They collapsed with the jolts but crawled back to their feet in no time, the knives still buried in them.
‘Knife wounds will not stop them,” Felicity professed. ‘The undead are corpses reanimated with dark magick. They neither feel pain nor have the will to survive. You must break them apart until the dark animation escapes.”
‘Well, I can hack through them and still defend myself,” Damon argued. ‘However, I am worried about you.”
Felicity raised an arm for another spell.
‘Nero Fluctus!”
A broad whip of water element sprung into her grasp. It was at least twenty feet long. The young muse slung it back and then lashed it forward, thrashing a band of the creatures head-on. Her weapon was surprisingly wieldy. The impact shattered the bodies into heaps of bones. Collapsed frames returned to dust as if they never existed.
‘I reckon there was no cause to be worried,” Damon observed in embarrassment.
Felicity’s lashes broke the fiendish circle and derailed the undead’s advance. However, it also made them more agitated. They started charging at the group.
Tarsus lay undefended on the ground, away from the fighting duo. One of the creatures came at him, heaving a large boulder on its shoulders. It meant to shatter the young man’s skull.
Damon was about to rush in to protect Tarsus when Felicity stopped him.
‘Leave him be.”
‘What? Why? He is unconscious. No matter how big he is, a boulder will kill him.”
‘Have faith, Damon,” Felicity offered, swinging her whip at their assailants in another direction.
The creature stood over Tarsus and dropped the boulder on his head. Damon gasped. In surprise.
The boulder shattered into pieces while Tarsus was unharmed.
The hulk rose abruptly and grabbed the creature.
Damon stared at the scene in bewilderment.
‘Tarsus needed the shock to wake him up,” Felicity explained.
The hulk rushed to his feet, holding onto his attacker. He plucked the body into the air and tugged on both sides with a savage cry, ripping it into halves. Then he went for another.
Tarsus tore into the undead, shattering them with bare-knuckle punches and elbows. The juggernaut went berserk in their midst, causing pandemonium.
‘Whoa, beanstalk!” Damon shouted. ‘Superhuman strength is your ability? You are immune to poisons as well?”
‘I do not know about that!” Tarsus hollered back groggily. ‘I have always been this way.”
‘You can go to sleep under a tree while I finish these off, runt,” he added.
Damon laughed sheepishly and readied himself to enter the hustle. ‘You can judge in the aftermath what this runt can do.”
The undead had gone into a fury- roaring, hissing, growling and grunting.
Damon summoned two saber swords. The weapons were his best friends when fighting multiple enemies.
He turned to look at Felicity with concern.
‘I will be fine. Go on,” the beauty said with assurance.
Damon let out a battle cry and dashed into the undead crowd. He swung and slashed and chopped with incredible agility. In dual-wielding, he could make twelve cuts in a second. The creatures were too slow to react to his onslaught.
Tarsus, on the other end, was striking the undead wildly, pulverizing them with his fists.
Jab! Clip! Cuff! Smash! Thump! Slam!
At one juncture, he faltered, and vitality left him momentarily. He stood unmoving, trying to get his bearings. The poison was still in his system.
In that instant, the undead besieged him, and half a dozen clung to his body like leeches.
Damon sprinted into the huddle, slicing at the bodies surrounding Tarsus. He thinned the crowd, running in a circle around him, giving the hulk time to recover.
‘Not bad, runt,” Tarsus acknowledged once he was back in action.
About sixty undead remained, but the trio had picked up a strategy and together demolished the enemy. Felicity’s water whip alone brought down a sizeable chunk of the undead army. In no time, they were looking at a few stray creatures.
Damon picked off the last one with a decapitating slash. ‘I had not fought like this in a while,” he said.
‘I had never fought in my life before,” Tarsus declared.
‘Well, it seems you can handle a small army by yourself.”
‘You are not so awful yourself, friend.”
‘You are both wonders,” Felicity rounded off cheerfully, releasing her elemental whip.
Both her heroes, spattered with dry blood and viscera, turned and looked at her. They were barely recognizable, not significantly different in pallor from the creatures they had slain.
‘Pluviam purgare,” Felicity chanted.
Tiny clouds appeared over their heads, and a sudden downpour of rain washed them off in a few seconds.
Damon almost gagged under the torrent.
‘Please warn me before you do something like that again!” he said, coughing.
Felicity giggled, eyeing the young men with affection.
‘So! What are these, uh, dark entities?” Damon asked, drying himself with a napkin that he conjured.
‘I have seen many dark creatures in my dreams,” Felicity narrated. ‘The undead are one of them. Some malevolent force is controlling them. A name always resounds in my dreams. HYPNOS.”
‘Hypnos? Who would name their child that?” Damon quipped and elbowed Tarsus, who did not find it funny. The latter asked whom the name belonged to.
‘I am afraid I have no further knowledge of him,” Felicity said. ‘More will be revealed to me as we progress on our journey. Nevertheless, I can say this with certainty- an encounter with Hypnos is imminent.”
‘Then we will be ready for him the next time,” Tarsus said, sheathing his sabers.
The young beauty beamed at him and came closer to the two.
‘What do we do next?” Damon posed, slightly uncomfortable.
‘You say goodbye to your lives as you know them.”
Both men were silent for some time, carrying the weight of the matter.
‘I will go and speak to Empousa, my old man,” Tarsus began. ‘He will not be pleased with my decision.”
‘I have to fulfill my last mission,” Damon declared.
‘Before you depart,” Felicity addressed the men. ‘I believe this is a good time to swear your loyalty to me.”
Tarsus and Damon exchanged glances and then turned back to the beauty.
‘How do we do it?” they asked together.
‘Let me show you how.”
Felicity put her hand in her camel-skin bag and collected a handful of something. She removed it and opened her fist.
A mound of shiny, sparkly powder sat on her palm. ‘This is eir dust. It keeps your promises safe with me.” She threw some at Tarsus and Damon.
‘Speak your name, and words that are true to your heart will appear before you. Once you chant them, they will bind you to me.”
The men nodded, and the hulk went first.
‘I, Tarsus, ward of Empousa, swear fealty and loyalty to Felicity to stand beside her during the utmost peril. Until my last breath.”
‘I, Damon, son of Dmitri, swear eternal allegiance, devotion, and piety to the muse, Felicity of Fugi.”
‘And thus your promises I keep. Forever and ever,” Felicity concluded with a chant and a snap of her fingers.
The shiny dust rose from their bodies, balled together, bending into a hoop of light, which grew large until it encircled them like a halo. It started rotating at a blinding speed and dissipated into dust again.
‘It is done.”
Felicity stood on her tiptoes and planted a kiss on Tarsus’ cheek and another on Damon’s cheek.
Their hearts were full, and their lives had truly begun that night.
11 Storm in a Goblet
The Apostolis rode the ocean like a gargantuan monster. It sailed twenty thousand stadia away from the Gulf of Stratos, a perilous stretch into the infinite. No other ship in Kinheim could boast of such a feat.
The waves rose precipitously, aiming to touch the sky, but the vessel plied over them with arrogance. It was a ship of stunning proportions- a length of one hundred ninety feet and a cargo room of over two thousand tons.
The vessel could house nine hundred passengers. It had assembly and dining halls below deck. There were twenty separate stalls for pegasi. It was a work of art, with statues, sculptures, a temple of Aion, along with a gymnasium to practice pankration. The granary had stocks for a year-worth of food, drink, and other rations. There were luxurious rooms with the best linen and leather that gold could afford.
Envisioned and built……

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