Part 1: Words of a God
Atateide—Capital of Atlantis
The 9th Year of the Reign of Her Immortal Majesty Empress Tatho
It was my moment of triumph. Freedom lay just around the corner.
My feet pounded the hard-packed earth as I bounded up the stairs. I paused in front of the large gate that barred my way. It was raised, and I strode into the light. My opponent was a small, dark-skinned man standing a few paces away.
His sword was drawn, a small buckler grasped his arm tightly. I gripped my axe tighter as I strode forward to meet him. The light of the sun blinded me for a moment, but I walked resolutely on.
The man facing me was a swarthy Ethiopian. His tawny skin glistened with sweat, and his face was flushed. His bald head reflected the dazzling sunlight, his alert eyes taking in my every move.
He would have speed on his side—brute force my ally.
I stood a head taller than he. I was a giant among even my own people; the Norse. I had yet to be beaten in a fight, either with fist, axe, or sword.
He waited for me to make the first move, and my axe sang through the air with enough force to knock him off his feet. He dodged the blow nimbly and leapt forward —sword aimed straight for my heart.
I expected this. I would have a bit of fun before killing him. My spinning slash was so fast he could barely duck and roll out of the way of my axe, unable to complete his attack.
The toe of my boot in his side pushed him backwards, and he grunted as I heard something crack. That ought to make things a bit easier.
The wound didn’t slow him, and swung a vicious cut at my head. My axe blade got in the way, and his sword clanged harmlessly away. He rubbed his wrist, and readied himself for his next attack.
The crowd around us cheered, but for whom I couldn’t tell. The crowd was fickle—the hero of one moment biting the dust the next.
I waited, savoring the anticipation and fear I sensed in him. He seemed unprepared for an opponent so much larger than he, and my attacks forced him further and further backwards.
I quickly swung at his chest, forcing him to leap back to avoid decapitation. I rained blows on him to keep him off-balance, preparing for what I knew would be my final stroke.
He jumped to avoid a low blow to his knees, and I followed with a stroke at his head. When he ducked beneath the blow, I twisted my wrists with the force of the blow—reversing the direction and sending it slicing across his chest.
Only his speed saved him, but a gaping wound opened on his chest as my blade sliced through skin and muscle.
He made his move as he saw the opening—leaping forward, sword extended. I grabbed his arm and twisted it with all my strength, trying desperately to force the blade away from my neck.
He was strong, damn strong. His arm barely moved, his sword wavering an inch from my throat. We remained locked in this position for a long minute, both of us straining to break the other.
He pushed with all his strength. The sword plunged into my neck.
The crowd in the stands booed, their voices ringing loud as they mocked Bannulfsson, King of Fighters, bleeding his last into the dust of the arena.
I marveled at the fickle nature of the crowd. Ban had been the favorite for nearly a year now—defeating every challenger that faced him on the sands. Now that he had been bested by the dusky-skinned Ethiopian, he would no doubt be forgotten as the new champion reigned in his place.
The bloodthirst of the crowd made me sick to my stomach. The nobles and lords of Atateide were no better than the unwashed masses filling the stands. They jeered, booed, and cried as loudly as the others, and they called for death and spectacle in voices that showed their true sanguinary nature. Savages to the core, these so-called civilized rulers of the known world.
I wished I could leave the stadium, wished desperately I could be anywhere else. Unfortunately, my place was by my empress' side, and the beautifully regal figure sitting by my side seemed to be enjoying the spectacle just as much as the crowd—though with a good deal more dignity.
Who am I, you ask?
My name is Deucalion, Imperial Historian, Commander of the Imperial Guard, and Chancellor to the Immortal Empress Tatho, Ruler of Atateide, the Lesser Eastern Isles, and the provinces of Atlantis. In the five years that I have served the Immortal Empress, I have seen the nation around me slip further and further into decay.
My disgust for the entire affair must have shown on my face, for the silky smooth voice of the empress interrupted my musings.
"A khadi for your thoughts, Historian."
"They are pitiful thoughts, indeed, Empress. Hardly worth the khadi."
"And yet, being your Empress, I command you to speak—on pain of death." A sly smile flashed across her face.
"I was musing on the fickleness of the crowd below. One moment, they cry for a man's blood; in the next, they celebrate him as the hero. Should they tire of the champion, they move on to the next—forgetting the one they revered but minutes before. Sanguinary and barbaric—human nature."
"You're not wrong, Historian. The crowd ever demands a greater spectacle, and the Imperial Games become more and more gruesome as the years pass." Her eyes filled with a disgust to mirror my own. "I must pretend to enjoy the spectacle to please the crowds, and yet it sickens me. Who knows to what depths we will soon stoop to? The Gods hide their faces to see how we have fallen in our thousand years of Empire."
"And yet, we have progressed in many ways, despite the barbarity of our human nature."
I attempted to draw her into a debate—one of my favorite pastimes. The Immortal Tatho had an opinion on every subject, and I loved to find the holes in her logic. Or, just arguing for the sake of being contrary.
"Progressed? If you read the works of Scholar Attrius, he theorizes that the world is ever-decaying."
Scholar Attrius—and all of his contemporary philosopers—were, in my opinion, rubbish on legs. They simply felt the need to express their views, but without logic to back up their claims. Excellent scientists they may be, but they were failures when it came to extemporizing on human nature.
"I must disagree, Immortal Empress. Our modern science has progressed beyond belief. The stars now consult our yearly calendar to determine what is the season, and we will soon have no need for the sun thanks to our ability to harness its power. The number of creations are doubling and tripling daily, and, while many of them are as useless as an inflatable pincushion, many of them are contributing to society positively."
I could see the smile on the empress' face as she warmed to the debate. She loved to prove me wrong—or simply order me good-naturedly to agree with the Immortal Empress' point of view.
"Technology has advanced in our times, to be sure. But what of human nature? It is said that human sacrifice is not only practiced by the savage Mexica, but whispers of it filtering into our very own culture have reached my ears. Our own religions practice the sacrifice of animals—wasteful, useless slaughter that could be avoided." Her arm gestured towards the arena below. "How is this not senseless slaughter? And yet, the High Priest Orgas insists that the gods demand it—demand proof that we still revere and honor them."
We move on to religion,
I thought, holding back my smile as she continued her train of reasoning.