They set out in the morn, when the cold night sky warmed to a shade of amber gold. Near three thousand of them, led by Roth and Chitra, marched out and followed the river up stream.
The three thousand warriors consisted of older men in the JAW-60 tactical combat suits and some in their twenties similarly armored but carrying machetes instead of guns.
Cyril marched alongside the Chieftain and his wife Roth. Although he had the privilege to march into battle alongside the leaders of Tellim Keep, he made certain he did as told.
The only reason he hadn't been gutted and had his corpse paraded through the city was because of Roth. She convinced the Chieftain that because his shield and sword, The Gate of Eden and Tyrfing held magical powers, he was a worthy and crucial ally.
To halt the invading plague, they had three specialized units, numbering three thousand in all. They had a mortar unit, one unit for close combat, and the last unit set for heavy support. At the crest of his fifty-ninth winter, Cyril had seen his share of battles, and in his experience, he knew they were ill fit to engage the plague directly.
"Pardon me," Cyril said to the Chieftain. "You could assemble the most skilled warriors, but that means little if they're woefully outnumbered. You have only three thousand warriors against tens of thousands."
The Chieftain, Chitra Kumar, slowly looked at him. His hazel eyes were cold. They were eyes that rejected, eyes that hated. The same eyes Cyril saw for a lifetime.
"Take no offense," Cyril continued. "I am certain your warriors are highly trained, but even with your goddess, I can't help but wonder how such a paltry handful could stand against the plague's hordes."
Chitra smiled at Cyril, and spoke as though he was conversing with an invalid moron. "You speak like a man of logic and reason, and yet you carry magical weapons. In what is your faith? Magic or Science?"
Magic. Cyril balked at the word. There is and never was such a thing as magic—only the change of energy from one form to another, and in the process causing something great to happen.
The late Eurydice, with her ability to manipulate life to some extent, simply accelerated and altered natural growth. How she once caused this process was where the mystery lay.
Those who insisted on logic and reason sought the answer through the sciences. For those who sought for an easy solution, "magic" was the answer. Of course, Cyril did not share his sentiments on the matter.
Roth paced slightly ahead of them, with both arms crossed to her chest. She cast her husband a knowing, forbidding glance, but had the respect to not undermine him before his warriors.
For the remainder of that evening, Cyril elected silence and observed those around him as the outsider he was. He could not bring himself to understand how this woman, supposedly the most dangerous biological weapon ever conceived, would have crossed paths and hearts with this youthful man.
They marched for a fortnight. As the autumn equinox approached, the days grew longer and the sun shone brighter. Before long, Cyril found himself on open savannah beneath a harsh sun's glare, locked in the heat of battle.
The crystalline sword Tyrfing in hand, Cyril braced as the Cyclopes' broad forearm blurred toward his form. It came to a sudden collision in mid-flight and crashed against a solid body with an earsplitting crack.
The Gate of Eden floated between the Cyclopes' forearm and Cyril, interposed there by his thoughts alone. The impact set the alien weapon to a violent quake as it absorbed the kinetic energy.
The beast reared from the recoil, and Cyril saw his opening. He moved, swift and low, and appeared behind the Cyclopes. He brought Tyrfing in a cleaving slash at the left ankle's back.
The crystalline blade scored shallowly at the tendon, but by then the brute had already recovered, backhand swinging wide. The Gate of Eden absorbed the brunt of the impact, but the blow caught him nonetheless.
He was in ailing health, much of his strenght gone with age. He couldn't sever the Cyclopes' limb with all his strength, even with a blade that ate through metal and stone and steel as it did cloth.
The backhand set him skidding through red grass, plowed him through the charred remains of Acolytes and fallen warriors. When he shook himself free from the corpses, the beast was already upon him.
There, briefly, he saw the Cyclopes' lips move. In the impenetrable din of battle, he could not completely hear its rumbling voice. All he heard were the words "thief" and "judgment."
In a moment of panicked terror, Cyril could not hold his wits to summon the Gate of Eden. He coiled in his fear, arms over his head, and closed his eyes, but the killing blow never came. When he opened his eyes, he saw a terrific feathered spear fixed to the brute's skull.
He heard Chitra's voice: "On your feet! On your feet!"
Drawing upon the Gate of Eden's energy to heal himself, Cyril rose to battle. While Eurydice had taught him such advanced techniques, she expressed that the artifact's true potential was still a mystery even to her.
That day, the setting sun drowned at a red horizon. Hundreds of fallen warriors and Acolytes laid strewn across the battlefield, corpses forever intertwined.
Perhaps because the plague sought to attack while they were raw at dawn, no more Acolytes came for the night.
Cyril sat on a rocky outcropping by a wood fire and gazed at the night sky. The pale moonlight shone past the dull grey skies and set a bleak ambiance across the land. A gentle wind swept the savannah, carrying with it the bitter reek of decay.
His mind could not rest. He thought about the Cyclops and what it said. The known strains of the plague never spoke. All they did was kill. Something else declared a challenge to him through the Cyclops.
It was a hard-fought fortnight, and of the three thousand warriors, only nine hundred remained. Many lower ranking leaders fell in battle, and it was decided that Cyril would lead the first third, Chitra the second third, and Roth the final.
To remain briskly awake, they continued their journey well before the dawn. Three units, now numbering three hundred each, marched side by side. They advanced farther across the savannah.
Cyril had no illusion that because they made him one of the leaders that they trusted him. The gesture was purely out of necessity, and they did not share their plans with him. Like any man of sound mind, he approached those in charge and sought the reason he put his life on the line.
He paced up to Chitra and said, "Pardon my interruption, but where are we going? What is our goal?"
"Near the ruins of the west," Chitra said. "To find Roth her sword."
Cyril paused. "What do you mean?"
"In the beginning, a warrior was nothing without a sword and shield. As time went by, the sword became the gun and the shield battle armor. Roth is our best warrior, and she has the mightiest Sword and Shield."