Mortal Judgement: Episode 7
by Ian Taylor
Neferu scowled. A display of powerless defiance that Malissus had seen all too often. The God of Death stood before Neferu and Takhat, hidden from the rest of the Anubian camp inside a vast tent normally reserved for the Pharaoh.
“My last champion had no ambition at all,” said Malissus, in a tone of seduction and fury. Dark energy swirled around her like a plague of locusts. “Now I have one with too much. You have no idea how inconvenient your actions have been, or what it means for balance.”
“I care nothing for the games of the gods,” said Neferu.
“My concerns are your concerns,” countered Malissus. “I did not choose you so you could advance your own agenda. I have reasons beyond the comprehension of a mortal.”
“Our army has retaken the cities of the coast,” said Takhat. “We did this in your name for the people of Anubia.”
“My first instinct was to remand you both to the Blessed Rest while I fix the imbalance you worked so hard to create,” Malissus sighed. “But you have caught the attention of several hundred Pharaohs who seem to be caught up in the ‘glory of Anubia’ mindset that has poisoned you both. Keeping them happy makes things easier for me, and for that reason alone I will allow you to finish the game.”
Neferu smiled. “We intend to march on T’artess soon, then we will return to take Parthon. Will Auros or Thaeriel interfere?”
Malissus smirked. “Auros has never stopped a war since I have known him. Thaeriel, on the other hand, has been quite unpredictable lately.
“Do we have your blessing?” asked Takhat.
“No. You have my acquiescence,” replied Malissus with just a hint of venom as the dark energy began to churn around her with greater vigor, obscuring more of her form. “Consider yourselves fortunate for that. Death is death; an end is an end. Denying the undeniable for too long will have its consequences.”
Before Neferu could respond to her parting shot, the God of Death dissipated into nothingness.
There was a moment of silence between Neferu and Takhat. They had both expected the unchaining of the gods to be the end of their plans. Now, victory was actually within their grasp.
“We need to march,” said Takhat. “Are you up to it?”
Neferu nodded. She had been raising the dead to add to her army’s numbers wherever they went, but found the undertaking to be physically draining. The constant headaches and nausea were a warning to rest before leading the attack on Parthon. This gave her and Takhat the opportunity to rethink their tactics and march on T’artess first.
If Neferu was being honest with herself, she was not ready. However, arrogance and stubbornness were excellent motivators.
Selena noted how peaceful the small grove was, but the waterfall was wrong. It was angry, and it didn’t sit well with her.
She had stayed at the Academy with Pallas the previous night, but the Champion of Magic had yet to wake up. A student named Demetrios also stayed in the room. Upon seeing Selena’s obvious unease at being surrounded by this level of civilization, he suggested she might find some comfort in the grove the students had built a short distance from the Academy grounds.
It wasn’t the forest, but it was better than the skyward tubes of stone that blocked the breeze but collected the smells. How could people live like that and still call it living?
“Not perfect by any stretch,” boomed a voice behind her.. Selena had not noticed the approach, which was unusual for someone with her Amazonian reflexes and awareness. But as she whirled around, something told Selena that she was not in danger and need not draw her weapons.
“Elyrian,” said Selena. She recognized his face from the trials, but today the God of Magic looked a little different. He had assumed his most relaxed aspect; that of a mentor. Gentle but firm.
“I come here sometimes,” Elyrian explained. “As does Aeona. I enjoy our talks, when she is in a talking mood.”
“How is Pallas?” asked Selena. “Will they recover?”
“Overwhelmed,” said Elyrian. “Their mind is still connected to Kurcos, the Astral Realm. I understand that Pallas was trying to protect Eucos from you?”
“I will not be lectured about my actions, sir.” Selena’s tone lacked both respect and disrespect. “The gods left us with no warning about what would happen, and no clue as to how we should fix it. I did what I thought was right.”
“Flawlessly logical,” said Elyrian. “I offer no blame, but know that Pallas did indeed save Eucos. Severing the Tree of Worlds would have caused the destruction of all that we know. If you have doubts, you can ask Aeona herself.”
Selena watched as Elyrian walked back down the gentle slope towards the Academy. He faded from her view and she turned her attention to the trees in the grove. The wind began to coil around her, like a playful serpent. Dead leaves were swept up into pleasing patterns. Selena closed her eyes.
“I’m here,” she said. “I can hear you.”
“I know,” came the response. Selena could hear the unique sound each leaf on every tree made as the wind fluttered through it. She could detect a pattern. A voice.
“Aeona,” said Selena. “Are you alright?”
“I am resting,” The God of Nature replied. “There is much to be done, but I am not whole.”
“What can I do?”
“Extend the branch,” Aeona said. “The Rotted One is free from the Tree of Worlds. When Neferu learns of this, she will come for her.”
“Who is the Rotted One?” asked Selena. “I have heard the legends before, but that’s all.”
“Her name is Callaryn,” said Aeona. “The Demigod of Death. A disciple of Malissus.”
“We were told the demigods all died,” said Selena. “You told me Antemion was dead, but he calls to me.”
“Yes,” said Aeona. “We lied about that.”
“We wanted to conceal the truth,” said Aeona.
Selena sighed. As frustrating as this answer was, it wasn’t unusual for Aeona. The God of Nature possessed the wisdom of eons, but sometimes had the reasoning of a small child.
“When will things go back to normal?” asked Selena.
“I am working on that,” said Aeona. “You must stop Neferu from gaining more power. Extend the branch.”
The wind stopped circulating through the grove. The dead leaves floated to the ground. The trees stopped rustling. Aeona was gone.
“Ornetta,” Selena whispered into the stillness. “I need you.”
The wind caught the words, and took them where they needed to go. Agrodor. To a young Leydian captain with lightly-tanned skin and mismatched boots.
“Selena. I’m here,” said Ornetta. There was joy in her voice. “What do you need?”
Lysander walked down the stone steps with the efficiency of a soldier. He scanned the nearby barracks with the urgency of a soldier with something to report. He found what he was looking for when he correctly guessed General Althea would be inspecting the stables.
“Althea.” Lysander’s voice carried in the crisp, damp air. “I need to speak with you.”
Althea sighed and waited for Lysander to approach. The past three days had been a stressful maelstrom of boredom and awaiting an attack that was surely to come. No matter what the Champion of Light wanted with her, the commander of the Golden Garrison was probably not going to be in the mood for it.
“We need to move out,” said Lysander. “The Anubians appear to be gone. I no longer feel Neferu’s presence, and their camp is dark.”
“Then why move out?”
“I believe they are moving on Tartessos,” said Lysander. “We need to help them.”
“The very same Tartessos that refused to help us?”
Lysander raised an eyebrow. “We need not repeat their mistakes,” he said. “Let me lead the garrison to Tartessos. Neferu cannot win a battle on two fronts.”
Althea tried to quickly determine the best way to say no. One that would have an appropriate level of rudeness. But there was an earnest purity from Lysander. His idealism was often annoying and usually inconvenient, and yet…
“I will not leave the city undefended,” Althea heard herself say. “Take half, leave half.”
“I will need all the horses,” said Lysander.
“Bring them back, or I will carve the cost to replace them out of your own golden hide.”
Kadmos stood near the edge of the crowd of soldiers. He didn’t fancy being deep in their midst, instead preferring the company of the giant minotaur he had somehow befriended.
It felt like a cold morning. Despite the fires dotted around the encampment, despite the fact that they were all in full armor, Kadmos could not shake the deep chill that was often the precursor to an unproductive day. Neferu’s army was marching on the White Mountain and would be here soon. There was no inspirational speech, no patriotic stirrings, nothing to indicate this was anything other than a normal day in Tartessos.
The soldiers chatted among themselves, boasting about what they would do to Auros when they met him. Kadmos felt even more disconnected from these Tartessians than usual.
Emerging from his unassuming hut, Grand General Proteus strode silently towards the throng. He seemed to zero in on Kadmos, and smirked.
“Fight ye with us, oh Kadmos of the Golden Garrison?” Proteus mocked, his deep voice punctuating the chatter of the crowd. “Do y’need help to figure out which end of the sword to hold?”
Kadmos waited for the chuckles around him to die down. “Do you remember what a sword looks like, General?”
Silence. No laughter at all. Then a trickle. Soon waves of hushed snickering became gales of uproarious laughter. Not so much at the line, but the audacity.
Kadmos glanced at Proteus to see how the general was taking the ribbing. The old man had drawn a giant sword and pointed to the hilt with his other hand as he held it up. The reaction generated more laughter, but that soon died down when Proteus held his sword even higher.
The mob that had only just been howling with mirth was now silent as a prayer. Every soldier had either bowed their heads or closed their eyes. Some did both. Kadmos looked out over the crowd at Argrim, but the minotaur’s head was also bowed.
Kadmos closed his eyes. He asked Thaeriel to watch over the Tartessians. He asked Thaeriel to help him bring them to the Light. He asked Thaeriel to look after his father.
Suddenly the silence was broken by Proteus. “ARTESS!” he yelled. The White Mountain seemed to yell it back. The soldiers also yelled. They might have been saying ‘Artess’ but Kadmos couldn’t make out any individual words from the unruly bunch. This was apparently their signal to move out. Kadmos waited for Argrim to shoulder through the crowd. They walked side-by-side as friends, wordlessly, towards battle and hopefully victory.
Valka threw aside the bone she had been idly chewing on and stared into the middle distance. A moment later, Orfeo melted into her view, startling her out of her thoughts.
“Neferu is marching,” he said. He was fidgeting with the broken end of Ludia’s chain that was somehow still attached to him. He found it oddly comforting.
Valka’s brow furrowed. “Haven’t I told you not to pop up in my field of vision?”
“No,” said Orfeo. “The opposite in fact. You asked that I stop appearing behind you.”
“Well I hate both equally,” Valka grumbled. “Announce yourself next time.” She paused as her mind finally processed what Orfeo had said on his arrival. “Marching? Where?”
“To T’artess,” said Orfeo. “Right down the Path of Swords.”
“Did you see how many?”
Orfeo thought for a moment. “Judging by the torches, about a thousand living soldiers. Probably twice as many of the weird creatures the Anubians like to become after they die. I saw at least one sphinx flying overhead.”
“What of the dead?” asked Valka as she finished strapping on her battle gear.
“I saw skeletons, but I couldn’t tell how many. At least another couple of thousand.”
Valka nodded and turned to the rest of the camp. “VALKNIR!” she yelled. A mighty roar went up from her people. This was the moment they had patiently waited for. The camp became a flurry of activity as mugs of ale clattered to the ground and a good number of fierce Valknir warriors willed themselves sober enough to find their gear.
Valka looked back at Orfeo. “Ride with us?”
Orfeo shook his head. “My skills are here. Yours are there.”
It was the answer she expected but she still hated to hear it. Valka strode over to where Oddi slept, delivering a wakeful kick that was slightly harder than they had previously agreed upon.
“Do you threaten your betters?” growled Tethin.
“Not the word I would use to describe you, Tethin,” replied Ornetta.
General Orythia stepped between them with the practiced ease of a commander who was not unaccustomed to breaking up fights. The Council of Besellan often had heated discussions that devolved into the trading of insults, but threats of violence were rare and heated discussions, and even trade insults, but threats of violence were rare and would solve nothing.
“You,” said Orythia, pointing at Ornetta. “Stop telling Tethin you’re going to break his nose.”
“Hah,” Tethin said triumphantly.
Orythia wheeled on him. “And you do not have the right or duty to talk down to everyone who says something you don’t like. Truth be told, I’ve thought about breaking your nose on more than one occasion, but I would never act on such an impulse. I’m far too nice.”
“But we cannot leave the city undefended,” Tethin huffed.
“Defeating the Anubians is defending the city,” replied Ornetta. “Aeona told Selena that they will come for us next.”
“Ah yes,” sneered Tethin. “Because Selena somehow released ‘The Rotted One’ from the Tree of Worlds. Of course, we only have your word for that.”
“I speak for Selena,” Ornetta insisted.
“Are you bonded with Selena?” Hali asked quietly.
“I… don’t know,” said Ornetta, feeling that familiar heat creep up her neck again. “Does it matter either way?”
Everyone looked at Orythia. The decision to mobilize was ultimately hers.
“I believe her when she says she speaks for Selena. And we know Selena speaks for Aeona.” The general turned to Ornetta. “I leave them under your command, until Selena joins up with us. Ythia, Rethia, and Leydia. I will keep the Arkmon Homeguard. The rest ride with you.”
Ornetta beamed. She turned her back to the Council and whispered into the wind: “We are coming.”
“I’m glad,” came the reply that caressed Ornetta’s ears. “Tell me where to meet you.”
Lysander held up a hand to halt the soldiers behind him. They were nearing the Anubian camp, and he now realized that the darkness before them was a thick dark fog that swirled like a muddy pool.
He dismounted and walked towards the line in the sand that marked the edge of the holy ground. This could be a trap. There may be a full attack force hidden here, and if so, he wanted to be the only one in immediate danger.
Lysander took his spear and drove it into the ground. White energy pulsed from it, pushing the fog aside. There was no army. Only Neferu, a gloating smile on her face. Lysander jumped up and took a defensive stance, but the image of Neferu faded, along with the dark fog.
He had been right. The Anubian army was marching towards Tartessos.
Lysander remounted his horse and led his soldiers into the land of the enemy.
Kadmos had pushed his way near the front of the mass of Tartessian soldiers. They gathered just past the weathered buildings clustered around the path leading into the White Mountain. Here they would make their stand.
Through the darkness, Kadmos could see the pinpricks of light from the torches of the living Anubians.
From Kadmos’ right side, Argrim took a large rock and hurled it towards the Anubian forces. They lost sight of it quickly, but heard the impact and subsequent shouting that indicated that it had done some damage.
The Tartessians roared, and charged into destiny.
According to Orfeo’s information, the bulk of Neferu’s undead were clustered on the right flank. Valka led the charge herself. It could not have been timed better. Just when the forces of T’artess met the enemy head-on, three thousand Valknir warriors began to cut through the mass of walking dead that outnumbered them three to one.
Neferu spat. “Valka.”
Takhat and Neferu watched the battle from a raised platform that served as a command post, one especially well-suited to those who could control the dead.
The sounds from the right flank were loud and clear. The sounds of fighting, and the horns of the Valknir told a simple story. Neferu could feel each of her newly-risen children as they fell to the Valknir attack.
“We did not anticipate her,” said Takhat. “But we have the numbers to win a battle on two fronts.”
“Three fronts,” said Neferu. “Lysander has broken my veil. He will attack soon.”
“And run into your elite rearguard,” said Takhat. “You have played this well. Are we concerned about the Valknir?”
“I do not like inconveniences,” said Neferu. “If the Valknir wish to fall, that is their business. They crave war. I will give them death. But first we cut the head off the snake.”
An undead soldier plunged its sword into Valka’s mount, and her heart skipped a beat as the horse let out a dying shriek. This wasn’t the first time she had a horse die under her in battle. She leapt as it started to pitch towards the ground, and rolled shoulder-to-shoulder so that the momentum would have her back on her feet in an instant. A quick glance around told Valka that the Valknir she had been riding with were no longer there. Either cut down, or diverted somewhere else, it mattered not. She was alone. And surrounded by the undead.
Valka smiled. This was perfect.
A chill ran through Orfeo. He watched Valka from the shadows, marveling at the whirlwind of death she had become. Orfeo had already lost count of the number of walking corpses that Valka had returned to the Void. He was not worried for his friend. This was entertainment.
But now… his self-preservation instincts were starting to take over. Something was coming. He crouched behind a stack of bodies. He was already invisible, but it couldn’t hurt.
Valka yelled in frustration. The dead had stopped attacking. She taunted them, but they did nothing. Then suddenly, they parted to let Neferu through.
The Champion of Death versus the Champion of War. Normally Orfeo would put it all on Valka. It was the safe bet. But Neferu was not stupid. She wouldn’t approach Valka on the battlefield unless victory was assured.
Orfeo was only vaguely aware of their conversation. Neferu spoke in low tones. Valka countered with threats and taunts. However, Orfeo’s attention was taken by a misty figure. It walked slowly, passing close to Valka, who didn’t seem to notice.
Whoever this figure might be, they were clearly in shadow, just as Orfeo was.
As the figure got closer, Orfeo got a better look. A woman, dressed like a Pharaoh. This must be Takhat. He knew of her, but had never actually been in her presence. Her body looked corporeal, but that might have been a trick of the shadows. He watched as she took a curved weapon from her belt and raised it to strike Valka in the back of the head.
With a flash of blue, Orfeo flung the broken end of his ethereal chain towards the weapon. The chain wrapped around the sword, and with a swift tug he managed to yank it from Takhat’s grasp. Takhat was caught unawares enough for the gambit to be effective. She turned and saw the Ronellan youth with the glowing chain.
“You must be Orfeo,” she said. Another weapon from her belt, a mace, was soon in her hand and she jumped towards him, moving with the frenzied speed of a crocodile. Orfeo lashed out again but Takhat jumped out of the way and the chain swung through the empty air.
Orfeo could see Neferu and Valka in his peripheral vision. Some kind of black smoke emanated from Neferu’s hands and wrapped around Valka’s body. Valka’s face was stricken with terror as she struggled against the swirling, constricting haze.
Orfeo wanted to help, but Takhat commanded all of his attention. The Forgotten Pharaoh swung at Orfeo’s head, but he was able to duck and snatch a dagger from her belt. He quickly slashed at her bare leg but the knife clattered to the ground when it struck her. Evidently Takhat was invulnerable in this state.
Orfeo once again leapt to the side as Takhat’s mace came crashing down with enough force to embed itself into the ground. Orfeo flipped up to his feet and threw a handful of sand into her face. He was pleasantly surprised when Takhat cursed and staggered back, wiping at her eyes in an attempt to clean them. Orfeo’s chain whipped out and entwined around the mace.
He had intended to throw the mace far away, but he caught another glimpse of Valka straining against the smoke, so instead he whipped the crushing weapon towards Neferu. Takhat reached out to grab the mace but was only able to deflect it and sent it crashing into Neferu’s shoulder. It looked to Orfeo like a glancing blow but it stopped whatever spell Neferu was using to procure the black smoke.
Now free, Valka lunged forward to strike Neferu, but Takhat was ready. The Pharaoh tackled Valka to the ground. The Champion of War didn’t seem to understand what had just happened, but she definitely felt invisible arms around her torso as she lay in the dirt. Valka’s eyes flashed red and she flexed every muscle in her body, enough to break Takhat’s hold. Orfeo wrapped his chain around Takhat’s ankle and dragged her back.
Neferu lunged forward with khopesh in hand, but Valka’s axe blocked its downward swing. Valka kicked at Neferu to get some distance between them, but Neferu twisted to the side and slashed at Valka’s exposed calf. Valka may have been a warrior of the highest caliber, but she lacked Neferu’s speed and agility. Valka could land the occasional punch or kick, but her axe was too unwieldy for this fight.
Orfeo, in the meantime, was somehow able to keep the weaponless Takhat at length by using the chain to trip her whenever she tried to get up. But after the fourth or fifth time he did this, Takhat grabbed the chain and twisted her body to pull Orfeo off-balance. The two collided, and Takhat was able to get her arm wrapped around Orfeo’s neck, elbow under his chin. He struggled, but she was far stronger. He scratched at her arm, but it was futile. A knife hadn’t been able to penetrate her skin. What hope did he have with fingernails?
Valka had been wounded at least three times, so she decided to change tactics. On Neferu’s next swing, Valka caught the blade and deflected it with her outstretched palm. The blade sliced into it but Valka ignored the pain. She then let go of the axe and used her free hand to deliver an uppercut to Neferu’s jaw. The kind of punch that Oddi would no doubt write a song about.
Neferu’s head snapped back and she fell to the ground. Valka went to retrieve her axe, but as she grasped the handle and lifted it up, Neferu began chanting. Valka staggered around as a black oily substance started leaking from her eyes and mouth.
Orfeo’s vision started to blur as Takhat’s choke hold continued doing its job. He saw a bright light. Death, perhaps?
The sun was back!
The battlefield was suddenly bathed in light as Takhat gasped. Orfeo grabbed the last dagger from Takhat’s belt and jammed it in her arm, in the hope that her invulnerability was linked to the darkness. He was never so glad in all his life to be correct, and smiled grimly as the Pharaoh yelped in pain.
With her vision still obscured, Valka relied on instinct. She took a throwing axe from her belt and flung it at the last place she’d seen Neferu. The axe embedded itself into the ground barely a finger’s width from Neferu’s exposed hip. Startled, the Champion of Death stopped the chant, and Valka’s vision quickly returned.
Valka yelled and ran at Neferu, but Takhat got there first. The Forgotten Pharaoh entered Neferu’s body and immediately wove a dark mist around them both.
Valka threw caution to the wind and hurled herself into the obscuring fog, intending to grab whatever she could, and break whatever bones it might have. But she would be denied further battle. The mist dissipated almost immediately. Both Neferu and Takhat were nowhere to be found.
“They’re gone,” said Orfeo. “I think they’re retreating.”
Valka turned to look at him, her brows furrowed. “Where did…” she started before remembering this was Orfeo. Just appearing out of nowhere was something he did. Instead she asked a different question. “Why retreat? They were winning.”
“Look at the undead!” Orfeo exclaimed.
All around them, the living corpses had begun to rot and dissolve in the sunlight. Three quarters of the Anubian forces, eliminated, just like that. Valka scanned the vast battlefield but the result seemed to be the same everywhere. Neferu’s undead army was gone, and so was Neferu.
Valka sighed and picked up her axe. “While I look for my people, you’re going to tell me everything that just happened, because I have questions.”
Orfeo nodded, and wove her a tale of heroism and wonder that had the virtue of being mostly true.
Ornetta could barely keep up with Selena as they rode. Ornetta had led a thousand Amazons to Kantar Valley to meet up with the Champion of Nature, and they rode together at the head of the Amazon Army.
It wasn’t long before they passed by the Ruins of Sisos and found the path the Golden Garrison took. Selena slowed as they came upon the bodies. Golden armor was strewn all around, some with bodies inside. Parthon had suffered heavy losses.
Up ahead, they could see Lysander locked in battle, the golden Champion holding his own against a dozen Anubian soldiers. Ornetta couldn’t see any other Olympians, and wondered if he might be the only one left.
Selena let loose a familiar battle cry that echoed down the column, and her army swarmed past Lysander to ride down the remainder of his opponents. Ornetta could swear she heard Lysander yelling something indecipherable in a furious tone, but when she looked back he was no longer there.
The handful of Anubians that formed the rearguard were quickly dispatched, and the Amazons continued on to T’artess, refusing to break stride even when the sun returned. As daylight blazed the sky, Selena let out a joyful shout that seemed to infect every warrior, and Ornetta saw there were tears in her eyes.
The sun seemed to be dissolving the undead warriors, but the Tartessians had their hands full with the reincarnated Anubian monsters, and their defensive line was starting to break.
Kadmos watched as Nunden faltered, going out as only he could: with at least five arrows in his chest and side, his armor nowhere to be found. He held his axe aloft and waved it at the Anubians. Nunden taunted them gleefully: “Is that the best you can do?” “Try sending in a real army!” “I think it’s past your bedtime!” and so on. It took four more arrows to bring him down for good. Kadmos gazed at the old farmer, his body lying still in the dirt. A good comrade to the end.
“Watch out!” yelled Argrim. Kadmos turned as a giant bore down on him. Faithbreakers were giant Nethershades that resembled humans. They seemed to grow more powerful as people died, and this one looked to be twice the normal size. Kadmos was barely able to get his shield up when a giant boot knocked him spinning to the ground.
There was a rushing sound in his ears, overwhelming his senses. Kadmos could hear Argrim yell his name and felt the jarring steps as the Faithbreaker approached again. He instinctively rolled onto his back and was met with the same boot on his chest, crushing him. Kadmos struggled but he was stuck, his sword well out of reach. The Faithbreaker bellowed in triumph and raised one of its two maces to finish him off, when a golden spear erupted from its chest.
The Anubian gurgled and fell forward, dead before it hit the ground. Kadmos looked for his rescuer but saw nobody. He glanced at the body of the Faithbreaker but the spear had vanished.
“What was that?” asked Argrim, extending a hand to Kadmos and lifting him up from the ground.
“My father’s spear,” said Kadmos, brushing dirt from his armor. “Did you see him?”
“Aye that were Lysander’s spear,” said a Tartessian soldier behind him. Kadmos turned around, and recognized the man’s face from the area but did not know his name.
“Father still fighting your battles, boy?” asked a second soldier.
“He’s not here,” said Kadmos.
“Usin’ his magic to save yer life,” sneered the first Tartessian.
“Wouldn’t you,” said Argrim. It wasn’t really a question.
Kadmos looked over the battlefield. The Anubians had pulled back significantly, probably when the Faithbreaker went down.
No. They were in full-on retreat. Perhaps because of the sun. Amazon warriors appeared, seemingly from nowhere, and rode down the stragglers, but the Anubians were already withdrawing.
“I…think we won,” said Kadmos.
“How?” Argrim grunted. “I don’t like this.”
“A victory is a victory,” countered Kadmos. “What don’t you like?”
Argrim snorted. “Something happened to make the sun come out. And Lysander’s spear thrusting through that giant, only to fade away moments later? It all seems suspicious.” Argrim looked down at Kadmos. “I’m old enough to have questions, Kadmos of Parthon. You should have them too.”
Kadmos didn’t know what to say to this. However, as the excitement of battle faded, the pain of his shattered arm finally registered, demanding his attention. Kadmos gingerly unstrapped his shield, letting it clatter to the rocky ground, as he began to search for anything he could use as a splint.
“You fought well, boy!” said Argrim loudly, clapping a hand on the side of Kadmos’ body that wasn’t broken. “A warrior like your father. Even if you look like a farmer now.”
The two Tartessians snickered. Kadmos picked up a stout piece of wood and turned to Argrim. “How appropriate. You fight like a cow.”
Argrim snorted once and slowly shook his head. “Second blood to the boy,” he muttered.
Demetrios ran up the stone steps leading to the school infirmary, clearing three at a time with no sign of slowing down. He had stepped away to fetch something to eat, leaving Pallas’s side for the briefest of moments. Naturally, this was the moment Pallas had chosen to finally awaken.
The energetic playwright burst into the room and very nearly collided with one of the two medical students who had gathered in the doorway to observe. Cedra, the Academy physician, had been waving a candle in front of Pallas’ eyes, but Demetrios had made such an entrance that the Champion of Magic couldn’t help but shift all of their focus to their dear friend instead. The medical examination was over. Cedra made a vague promise to return at a quieter time, took her students, and left.
“Are you ok?” asked Demetrios. “What happened?”
“I’m fine,” said Pallas. “Nothing appears to be wrong. No permanent damage.” Their eyes gleamed. “Did you really confront Valka?”
Demetrios’ eyebrows twitched for a moment before he responded. “Wait. How could you know that?”
“I… saw everything,” said Pallas. “Everybody I interacted with that day, and everyone they interacted with. I lived their lives like I was watching a play. I suppose it was a lot to process.”
“You’ve been unconscious for days,” said Demetrios. “Do you know about Neferu’s defeat?”
Pallas smiled. “No, tell me all about it.”
A big grin broke across Demetrios’ face. He stood, took a drink of water, and launched into a tale of heroism and wonder. He spoke of the Valknir’s charge and of Valka besting Neferu in combat. Of the Tartessian army holding the line despite heavy losses, and the tragedy of the Parthon garrison’s sound defeat. The charge of the Amazons, led by Selena, and the unchaining of the gods rounded out the tale.
Pallas listened to the whole story with rapt attention. The story was good, and it filled in a lot of gaps. But some names weren’t mentioned. Names that danced through Pallas’ mind. Important names. Antemion. Callaryn. Jovannen.
This would require research.
“Is the library cleaned up yet?” asked Pallas.
Amenenheb could not get used to the daylight. After days and days of complete darkness, the sun had returned with sudden fury. For hours, it seemed to be making up for lost time, and the old soldier was not dealing with the punishing glare all that well.
In the Pharaoh’s absence, he was technically in charge of the city. Amenenheb held the military rank of Commander, but nobody called him that. He was also technically the Vizier, but nobody ever called him Vizier either. Just the name “Amenenheb” was enough for most. He was respected enough to have bodyguards, but he rarely needed them.
His wanderings took him to the docks and to a specific hut off to the side, built with no steps or ramp to the front door. It was a little more spacious than most of the huts that were situated on the docks, but every bit as crude. Amenenheb told his bodyguards to remain back, walked up the very familiar path, knocked, and entered.
Kambatet, Portmaster of Hierakon, waved Amenenheb, Vizier of Hierakon, towards the empty chair next to her. He dutifully shuffled over and plonked himself down in a way he would never do in public.
“It’s the knees,” he said in place of a greeting. “A week of damp cold. They have yet to recover.”
“Same here,” Kambatet commiserated. “If I drop something, I have to get Aut to pick it up for me. He’s well-trained by now.” Kambatet sighed the way she did when she was about to change the subject. “Why are you here, Amenenheb? You never visit unless you want something.”
“Advice, as always,” Amenenheb replied. “I am told that Neferu returns from the battle in what we once considered to be a day or two. Her army was vanquished. She failed to take either T’artess or Parthon. How should Hierakon receive her?”
“Oh that’s easy,” said Kambatet, waving a dismissive hand. “A hero’s welcome. The port cities have been taken back. Our border is restored. And don’t forget it took all the combined armies of Eucos to match Anubia on the battlefield.”
“Hmm,” mused Amenenheb. “And in the eyes of the people?”
“They love her. In the eyes of the people, Neferu is our new Pharaoh.” Kambatet turned her iron gaze on Amenenheb. “Make that happen, would you? We need another.”
Amenenheb smiled. In his youth, he had taken orders from many. That number had dwindled down to one. “May I stay for a moment? The knees, you see.”
Kambatet rolled her eyes. “Fine, but the minute you start to snore, I’ll have Aut come in here and empty the water jug over your head.”
Kambatet sat back and gave her old friend a short smile. They had survived war. Now they just had to survive peace.
And thus, the stories of Mortal Judgement come to an end. Thanks for reading, mortals!
Season 1 will conclude with Light’s Verdict.