Five people must face the trials brought about by who they are. They learn that even the gods can be nothing but pawns. Many mythologies feature in this story, including Greco-Roman, Egyptian, Celtic, Norse, and others.
“Come on, you whores! My grandmother was fiercer than you!” Spade spat at the Amazons. They attacked again, frenzied by his insults. He parried wildly, sending a vicious riposte after the last Amazon to attack him. She cried out in agony as the blade pierced her armor and smashed through her spine. Blood billowed from the wound as Spade pulled the sword from her back. Another Amazon rushed in, slicing upwards for his head. He leaned back, the blade missing by less than an inch. He lunged forward, his blade striking her shield as she hefted it into place. He dropped to the ground and rolled to his left, narrowly avoiding the halberd that one of the Amazons wielded. He rolled to his feet and jumped back as she swung it horizontally. She held it in front of her and charged forward, lancing it for his chest. He swayed to his left, his sword lancing between ribs and into her heart. She dropped her knees, sagging against the blade. The Amazon with the shield slashed her sword at him once again. He wrenched desperately at his sword, but it wouldn’t release its grip inside the body. He let go of the hilt and backed away, avoiding the slice. He pulled twin dirks from sheaths in his boots and parried another strike. He ducked down, sinking a dirk into the Amazon’s thigh. She screamed in pain, arching back, and didn’t stop until Spade’s second dirk slammed into and through her throat, cutting off the scream abruptly. With a gurgling sigh she fell to the ground and Spade pulled both dirks clear. A javelin glanced off his jerkin and sliced into his forearm before lodging in the ground before him. He spun around, both dirks ready, prepared to meet the new attacker. The Amazon stepped out, a short spear in one hand and a large round shield in the other. She screamed a battle cry and rushed for Spade. He fell to his knees, and then surged up, forward, and to the right, the spear grazing his jerkin, ripping the leather slightly. He rolled back to his knees, wheeling around to face the Amazon. She had already turned and charged towards Spade again. He threw himself to his left, hurling a dirk to the right. It slid into the gap in the Amazon’s armor, between the breastplate and her arm, sinking into the lung. She lurched forward, crying in pain, then fell to her knees. Spade came up behind her, lanced his other dirk through the skin, muscle, and bone of her throat, killing her instantly. He pulled both dirks clear, blood pooling now that the heart had stopped.
He glanced around the glade, looking for the Amazon with his sword in her. He walked forward, and pulled the blade from the corpse. He looked once more upon the scene, smiling to himself. Four Amazons against just him; he felt honored. There were very few indeed who made the Amazons think of sending more than just one or two. Spade felt appreciated to be amongst those few. He glanced at the shallow wound on his forearm. Of course, he would have liked not having anyone sent after him as well. He grabbed his pack and left the clearing, heading for Sparta.
He stopped at a stream and looked for a suitable camping spot. He found a large group of boulders that looked like they would do nicely. He set up camp within the cluster, building a fire out of dry wood to ensure a quick strong burn with little smoke. After he was sure his site was safe he headed for the stream. Once there he collected enough water to last the night and began to strip.
The jerkin he placed away from the doeskin trousers, the deep, dark blue silk shirt, and toughened leather boots. The jerkin was special. The leather was made from a grizzly’s skin and fur, and sandwiched in the middle were horizontal metal strips, making for a leather, metal, leather layered effect. It was capable of turning back most attacks. The tear would be costly to repair, and Spade wasn’t good enough at such things to attempt it himself; the jerkin was too special.
He stepped into the stream, allowing the cold water to course over his body. It felt wonderful after the battle. After the stream had cleared the wound on his forearm he grabbed a needle and some twine and began to sew the split skin back together. After his crude stitching he stepped out of the stream to allow the sun to dry him. This time of year it certainly wouldn’t take long. He lay back, thinking about the ambush.
He hadn’t been to the region before, and the forest had been so dense that he hadn’t known about the clearing until he stepped into it. Obviously the Amazons had known who they were ambushing, because the assault had been beautifully perfect. Only years of experience and training had saved him; his battle instincts warning him before he had been consciously aware of what was happening. A javelin had been hurled at him, narrowly missing because he had nearly tripped flat on his face. The others had come charging out of the surrounding area. He had forced them back once before insulting them. The ensuing rage had caused them to fight without thinking clearly, and that had been the only reason he had survived. He now knew looking back that the trip had been subconscious. He had known without knowing. It was a great gift that he had earned through numerous battles and extensive training; though he was loath to rely solely on it.
He dozed for an hour or so before coming about, realizing that the sun had indeed done its job. He dressed and walked back to the camp carrying the full water skin. He cooked himself a simple broth and settled in for the night, weapons within reach. When it came to this region, one had to be prepared at all times. Tomorrow he would reach the city of Sparta. He had always enjoyed the Historian’s company. Although, as of lately, the Historian had been rather ominous. Something big was apparently going to happen. Of course, the Historian was infuriatingly unclear as to what that danger might be. Oh, well. Perhaps this visit would allow Spade to wring it from the bastard. Spade chuckled at the idea of attempting to wring anything out of the Historian. The Historian was the only person Spade wasn’t sure he could actually defeat. Despite of being nothing more than a scholar, the man could probably challenge an army and come out unscathed. Of course, that was only if the rumors were true. Perhaps that was what Spade should have been focusing on, not some vague threat. With those thoughts running loose in his mind Spade fell into a light sleep.
He woke slowly, gradually gaining awareness. He stretched, glancing around the camp to make sure no one had happened upon him during the night. One could never be sure that something wouldn’t pop out at any time from the forest. Spade packed up his campsite and stepped back, making sure that he had left everything the way he had found it.
Satisfied that everything was in place, he set out for Sparta once more. He found a well traveled path and followed it. Spade traveled the path for a couple of miles before reaching the highway. From here he would reach Sparta by nightfall. He started walking, relishing the thought of a comfy bed at one of the inns within Sparta. The Dragon’s Perch was a favorite of mercenaries like himself. He had stayed there several times, enjoying the fine entertainment, food, drink, and women supplied there. After Spade’s last mission, he felt he deserved a decent night. Or perhaps a few decent nights. He would gather his earnings and head for the inn, grateful that yet another mission was accomplished.
Few people passed by as he neared Sparta. Immersed in his thoughts, he didn’t notice at first, but as the day wore on he became concerned. Had he misjudged his location? No. He was quite familiar with the land around him. He was very close to Sparta. Another hour or so and he would be able to see the city for himself. So where was everyone?
He continued at a quicker pace, worried by the possibilities. The plague could have started within the walls. Or there might have been a fire that got out of hand. Or perhaps one of the neighboring lords decided to lay siege. Or the Creatures might have banded together and stormed the city.
Or the earth could have swallowed it whole, he chided himself. More than likely it was simply a lull in the crowd. It had to happen; Spade had just never encountered it.
Spade rounded the final corner and looked down the final mile of straight road leading to Sparta. There was no smoke, and no siege equipment, or army, so Spade felt some relief. He was getting jumpy. Years of combat, shady dealings, and assassinations, both on his part and against him, had made him into one of the finest warriors the Human race could create. He had stood against nearly every Creature known, and a great deal of Humans, and had come out alive and well. Spade wasn’t happy with everything he had ever done, but he regretted little of his life.
As he neared the city, he thought about his last mission. A small village nearby had hired him to kill a Minotaur that had caused a great deal of damage, death, and stress to the village for several weeks. Spade charged a great deal for his work, to keep unwanted menial tasks from cropping up, but they had managed to scrap together enough to catch his interest. The Minotaur had proven to be of little challenge. It was an old bull that had probably been driven from its pack by a youngster looking for dominance in the herd. Spade had sent it to the Underworld with ease, cutting it to ribbons using his two dirks. Spade sighed; very little seemed to challenge him anymore. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Still, he was being paid well. That mattered. Everything else always fell into place.
Deep as he was in his musings, he was somewhat startled to find two older children rushing towards him. The boy seemed to be nearly a man, possibly of sixteen years of age or more. It was his face that gave away his age. It was still boyish, his curly, dark brown hair hanging nearly to his brown eyes. His body was that of a man, nearly as big as Spade himself. The girl seemed younger, though still at least of thirteen years. Her blonde hair was straight and long, hanging a little past her shoulders. She was slender, just starting to show signs of becoming a woman. Her deep blue eyes were filled with panic, while the boy’s seemed to show a fierce determination that belied his few years.
Clearly both were scared, though Spade couldn’t understand why. Nothing was following them. Everything seemed rather normal, save for these two children and the lack of travelers. Spade was sure something was wrong, for these children wouldn’t be scared for no reason whatsoever. He slowed to a halt, letting them come to him.
“What is the matter, young ones?” He asked.
“It’s our mother, sir. She’s… not well anymore. Our father told us to leave” the boy explained succinctly. This did nothing to ease Spade’s confusion, for a sick mother wasn’t something two children would run away in fear from. The two children seemed anxious to move on, yet Spade didn’t feel it was right to leave to defenseless children to scamper in the wild. Very dangerous creatures were out there.
“I wish to see your father. Take me to him” Spade ordered. The boy seemed uncertain, but decided to obey. He silently turned around and led Spade back toward the city, holding his sister close. The journey was short, for the family lived on the outskirts of the city. It was a small hovel, probably housing no more than a couple rooms and a main living area. Yet the children seemed mostly well-kept. Something about the situation riled Spade. Something was definitely wrong.
Sudden screaming could be heard from within the hovel. A man was thrown bodily through the door. From the girl’s screaming, Spade gathered that this man was the father the boy had spoken of. A woman walked outside from the hovel. Spade was sure this was the mother, and that the boy hadn’t explained the situation clearly. This woman was deranged, the look on her face that of a person brought the edge of sanity. She stared at the broken figure of the father lying on the ground, and then she slowly looked at Spade, seeing him for the first time. A snarl issued between her bared teeth as she charged Spade. He threw up an arm to block the savage attack; the blow felt like a club smashing into his arm. Whoever this woman was, she was powerful. She attacked again, thrashing wildly. Spade couldn’t hold her back much longer. His dirks seemed to materialize in his hands, and without thinking he began his own offensive. The woman was pushed back momentarily, the blades seeming to cause some hesitation. Then she was charging forward furiously once more. Spade blocked a vicious uppercut with his left arm while slamming his right dirk into her side, sliding it as deep as it would go. This seemed to only infuriate her more, as her right hook nearly lifted Spade off his feet. He backed away quickly, but she followed incessantly. Blood poured from her wound. Spade lifted his second dirk then flashed his arm down, hurling the blade into the woman’s chest, the blade sinking to the hilt. She stumbled, righted herself, and charged at Spade. He leapt at her, feet first, crashing into her, his feet striking the dirk, sinking it deeper while causing her to fall back. She dropped to her knees, her crazed look of unknowing rage still etched into her features. Slowly, as though she was fighting it, she fell forward, face down in the ground, the last breath struggling past her lips.
Spade gazed tiredly at the four bodies before him; one dead, one killed by him, and the two children gazing up at him, the girl’s face shining with tears, the boy’s an indiscernible mask. “What caused this?” Spade asked.
The boy said simply, “Our grandfather Heracles’ curse.”