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As is the usual, Callisto, Xena and any others mentioned from the TV series of Xena and Hercules are the property of Universal, Renaissance and whoever else owns the property. All other characters are mine but anyone is welcome to use them. If you do wish to use them then I would like to here your ideas for stories. As with all my stories this will contain a little violence so if you are sensitive to this type of thing you may not want to read this. If none of this bothers you and you've read some earlier stories then read on and enjoy.
Authors note: This story will answer some of the questions posed in Mortius but not all of them (There has to be a little bit of mystery).
|Redemption||Mortius||The Shadow Riders||Soul, Strength And Faith||The Shadow Riders|
The Legacies of Callisto: Soul, Strength And Faith
By Michael Stacey
My name is Callisto. In days still to come I slaughtered many men, women and children. Xena, the warrior princess, ended this life. Now, hurled into the past by Zeus, the father of the Gods, I start my life again. I have one last chance to save my soul, one last chance at redemption. And so, my legacies begin.
Mortius stood among the huge black columns that stretched up into the darkness, facing the stone obelisk and waited for his master to make his presence felt. Slowly the massive chamber began to shake. Dust that had lingered for centuries fell from the pillars like dry rain and the surface of the silver pool rippled as each of the flickering torches was extinguished one by one. The tremors grew in intensity throwing ornate candelabra to the floor tiles with a resounding crash of metal against marble. Mortius stood perfectly still, unfazed by the sheer ferocity of the tremors that would have unbalanced a normal man and thrown him to the ground. But Mortius was not an ordinary man. He had felt the touch of death but before his soul had become trapped in Tartarus his master had snared it from Hades' grasp and given him life again. Not just mortal life, but immortal life. Now, barely anything could kill him and he had skills far greater than any he had possessed during life. Suddenly the twisted obelisk burst in two and a pulsating beam of pure blackness shot forth into the air. Mortius did not bow or kneel or scrape. Not in front of the others who would be arriving here soon. It would diminish his standing as the most powerful of the Triad and that was something he could not afford. The soft but far from gentle voice of his master echoed around the chamber with the sound of a snakes hiss.
"Have the Strength and Faith awakened?"
"They have my master." Said Mortius from inside his heavy hood. "And they come to see you now." The beam brightened in that familiar way Mortius was used to seeing when delivering good news. His master was in a better mood now. Behind him the shadows rippled as if they were water and a pebble had been dropped into them. Two figures emerged. One was tall, almost as tall as Mortius and had a powerful build. He wore pitch-black armour with vicious spikes lining its shoulder pads and bracers. Two sword hilts jutted up from behind his shoulders. The second man was small and wizened wearing the tattered robes of a priest with a thick black beard that hung down to his waist. He leaned on a large ornate sceptre and wheezed with every step he took. Both walked straight past Mortius and knelt slightly in front and to either side of him, their heads slumped and rested on their chests. The beam pulsed as it spoke.
"The triad have awakened. My Soul, my Strength and my Faith walk again. The time has come for you to release me from this prison so that I may regain my rightful place atop Mount Olympus and that the other Gods shall kneel before me." The old man's head rose to look into the beam.
"What do you wish of us, my master." He said humbly.
"You of all people should know that Pelion." The voice was almost mocking "I need mortal followers who will carry the word of my return to the farthest reaches of Greece and into the lands beyond. Mortius barely listened as his master outlined his plans to the others. Instead he stared into the silver pool. Shining on its surface was the image a young blonde warrior woman asleep in a village inn somewhere. His master considered her to be a possible asset to his plans. Mortius saw her only as a threat and soon he would make sure that that was how his master saw her as well.
Zeus stood near the entrance to the village inn with the early morning sun beating down on him. If his guess was right, and they nearly always were, Callisto should be walking out of that door right about now. The door to the inn swung open and out stepped a young woman with long blonde hair that hung down past her shoulders with deep brown eyes set into a thin face. She wore a black leather battle dress and had a fine sword strapped across her back. If she had been paying more attention she might have recognised him, but Zeus prided himself on his disguises. No one would look for the king of the Gods dressed as a simple beggar which was how he was dressed now. He chuckled to himself as Callisto strode right by him and off toward the weekly market. This new life of hers was going well so far and it was all thanks to him. But no matter how pleased Zeus felt at seeing the simple change in Callisto's personality from one of a murderous psychopath to a more gentle temperament he had to remember he had brought her here for a reason. In this time there had been no heroes for the people to turn to. No Xena or Hercules. In her own time Callisto's skill with a sword had been regarded as being second only to Xena. Some had even thought of them as equals. But Callisto had wasted her life on a blood soaked path of vengeance. In her own time Callisto had been feared and had lived alone, isolated from others by her hatred for Xena. So she had died alone. No one in that time would miss her and no one in this time would know her. The perfect place for her to start afresh. This time had needed a hero and Callisto had been the perfect choice. Now the forces he had brought her here to fight were stirring. Ancient enemies Zeus had feared for centuries were about to break free. He just hoped that his faith in Callisto wasn't misplaced.
Chapter One: On The Road
"The map." Said Callisto pointing a long finger at the piece of parchment. "How much is it?" The shifty stall owner looked at her from between slitted eyelids and scratched at his balding head.
"Six Dinars." He said flatly. Callisto whistled in disbelief.
"Six Dinars for that worm eaten piece of parchment. I bet the quill used to write it is worth more than that thing." The stall owner's eyes widened in mock offence
"This map is one of the finest money can buy. Sent to me directly from Athens just a week ago and drawn up by one of the countries leading Cartographers. Believe me young woman, you will not find a more up to date map within a hundred miles of here."
"I'll give you two Dinars for it, tops." Said Callisto.
"Five." Said the man. "And I can't go any lower."
"Four." The man said. Callisto turned to go and listened with a satisfied smirk as the man yelled out to her desperately,
"All right, all right. Three Dinars." She turned back to him and tossed the stall owner the payment before picking up the map and wandering off into the crowd.
The trees swallowed the sounds of the village as Callisto rode on down the trail. The rhythmic clip clop of Lazarus' hooves had an almost hypnotic affect on her and several times she had to shake her head to keep from nodding off. In an attempt to occupy herself with something she pulled the map she had bought from the saddle bags and unrolled it. The map was certainly worth more than she had bought it for. This bartering was quite a technique; she would have to make use of it more often. These trees would soon give way to a series of farms and meadows that surrounded a nearby city. About time she reached a city. Three months she had been back on earth and so far the only places she had come across were numerous villages and the odd town. It would be good to stop somewhere where she would be able to get some new equipment made to decent standard and be able to rest for a while without feeling too out of place. In villages wandering warriors were a rare occurrence and although they were welcomed like any other traveller there was always the feeling that they didn't belong there at all and it made Callisto feel uncomfortable. In a city people were far more used to seeing warriors passing through and she wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb quite so much. Suddenly her ears pricked up. The sound of a fight. Quickly she dug her heels into Lazarus' sides and drove him forward through the woods. Slowly the trees around her gave way to reveal a small clearing. In its centre three black armoured men were engaged in a pitched sword battle with another man who fought them alone. Callisto was expressly forbidden to fight except in defence of herself or another and as she didn't know the circumstances of the fight she was tempted to just ride on by and leave the man to his fate. That was before she noticed the three men's swords. Scratched into the blade of each viciously curved sabre was a symbol she had seen once before. It was a symbol she connected with brutal murder and a hooded man who terrified her. It was a crescent moon. Whoever these three were they served Mortius meaning the man fighting them would be an enemy of the hooded immortal. Any enemy of Mortius was a friend to her. Without another seconds thought she launched herself from Lazarus' saddle into the fray. The first of the three went down without any effort as she planted her boots into his back. Spinning round she caught the second with a sharp backhand that sent him sprawling unconscious in the dusty ground before she swiped the final mans legs from under him and brought her sword up against his throat. The man they had been attacking stared on in stunned amazement at the attractive warrior who had come to his rescue.
"Who are you?" she growled at the man who lay on his back, panting heavily. He sneered up at her insolently. Even with a sword to his throat the man had no sense.
"We are members of King Diaphus' royal guard." Callisto jerked her head at the man she had just saved,
"And him?" she asked plainly. The mans eyes flicked to him and back to her again.
"An enemy of our king. We were ordered to kill him he escaped our territory." Callisto lifted the tip of the sword and glared at the man as he rubbed at his throat. A tiny pin prick of blood oozed from where the sword had pierced his skin.
"Take a message to this King Diaphus, anyone who consorts with Mortius is my enemy, and so any of his enemies are my friends." The man looked confused but nodded and clambered to his feet. He took one last glance at his quarry before dashing off into the forest. Callisto sheathed her sword and turned to the man she had saved who was still staring at her like a slack jawed fish.
"Maybe you can tell me what all that was about." She said as she walked back to where Lazarus stood and began to saddle up. The man did a double take when he realised Callisto was talking to him.
"Oh, er sure, I'll tell you what I can but I'd rather not talk out here. Those goons will be back soon with more men and I can't risk being caught." Callisto smiled and held out a hand to him.
"In that case maybe you could do with a ride." She said. The man smiled gratefully and took the proffered hand, heaving himself up into the saddle behind her.
"Thanks for the help. By the way, my name's Athelis." Callisto twisted in her saddle.
"Callisto." She said. Athelis patted her on the shoulder.
"Pleased to meet you Callisto, now if you don't mind could we get going. I really don't want to be here when those guys come back."
Chapter Two: A Decision Made
Callisto sat cross-legged on the edge of the firelight and poked at the rabbit carcass that was slowly baking over the flames. Slowly she lifted her eyes and looked at her companion. If it wasn't for the long scar that ran from the edge of his left eye down to his chin, Athelis could have been considered quite handsome. His thick black hair was tied back in a ponytail that hung down his back to his waist and a white headband that was tied across his forehead kept his hair from drooping in front of his eyes. Like Callisto he had brown eyes that glittered in the fire light like pools of darkness. Lying on the ground next to him was his sword. It was a vicious looking weapon and was longer than any blade Callisto had ever seen. Along one side ran a serrated edge and from the shine given off by the other, she could tell the blade was incredibly sharp.
"So are you going to tell me what those guys wanted you for?" she asked not letting her eyes leave him. Athelis looked up from the bits of stone he had been throwing into the fire, each one sending up a shower of sparks.
"Why do you want to know?" he said cautiously
"Because I just beat up a kings royal guard. Its not every day I make an enemy of a king." Athelis let out derogatory snort.
"Those men weren't King Diaphus' royal guard. They're just a front to stop travellers entering the city of Modeia"
"What!" said Callisto. This conversation was meant to give her answers but instead it was just posing more questions.
"If you really want to know it all started about two weeks ago." Said Athelis. He picked up another stone and threw it into the flames. "King Diaphus retired to his bedchambers with some unknown disease. His newly appointed advisor took charge of matters and one of his first orders was to remodel the castles temple to Artemus. Slowly the orders continued to become more and more outlandish. The royal guard underwent heavy restructuring. I should know, I was part of it before all this started." He stopped throwing the stones and began to poke at the flames absently with a piece of wood. "The new members were recruited from god knows where. Each one more of a cut throat than the last. Anyone who asked too many questions was immediately booted out and replaced."
"Let me guess." Said Callisto "You asked too many questions." Athelis shook his head
"I didn't question any of it. Or at least not at first. When it was announced that Diaphus had died in his sleep then everyone started to become suspicious. You see Diaphus had no heir which meant his entire kingdom, small though it is had no legitimate ruler. Then the cult appeared. They were using the temple of Artemus to worship some heathen God. Every night the royal guard would arrest someone new on some trumped up charge and a few days later they'd come marching out of the temple as a member of the cult. A few of the old members of the royal guard, me included decided to set up some form of resistance to them but it didn't work. We were driven out of the city and into the hills and woods. When those guys found me I was just snooping around the city limits to see what I could see." He leaned forward and the firelight cast flickering shadows across his face. "Well, I've answered your questions, why don't you answer mine?" Callisto tensed. She found it hard to trust most people and she certainly didn't like to tell people things she considered to be her privacy when she had only known them an hour or so.
"What do you want to know?" she said cautiously.
"Who you are and who is Mortius?" Callisto let out a long breath. He had heard her mention Mortius during the fight. She'd been hoping he hadn't heard "As I said before, my name's Callisto and I'm just a traveller passing through. As for who Mortius is I'm not really sure myself. I don't know who he is, how old he is or even where he comes from, but I do know what he does."
"And that is?" said Athelis, poking the conversation further.
"He kills people, and he uses the crescent moon symbol to mark the victims. I always thought it was some kind of calling card." Athelis shook his head.
"The crescent moon is a symbol of the cult. It flies on their banners above the temple, it's engraved into their statues, embroidered on their robes, even branded into their foreheads." Callisto's mind was whirling. If the cult used the same symbol, Mortius must be linked to it some how. Her nostrils twitched at the scent of burning rabbit flesh but she didn't care, a plan was forming in her mind
"Can you get me into the city?" she asked
Chapter Three: A Place Of Cruelty
Ithius worked the forms of his two swords in an intricate dance as he dodged and bounced around the practice room. Three of the best swords men the cult had to offer moved in the rough shape of a horseshoe trying to surround him. His eyes darted along the line taking in each ones position and stance. The one on the far right took a sudden intake of breath. He was bracing himself to attack. Ithius beat him to it. His double swords clashed against his opponent's steel and with a slight flick of his wrists the blade of his opponent was sent skittering across the floor tiles. The cult member stepped backward out of the fight leaving Ithius to face the other two. His sword swipe that had disarmed one opponent came swooping round until the flat of his blade slapped hard against flesh and sent another of the attackers sprawling on his hands and knees. He walked past kicking the mans sword from his hands. This left one on one. This time his opponent moved first, his long legs making short work of the distance between himself and Ithius. Ithius ducked the sword swipe and stuck his leg out, slicing the mans legs from beneath him. He tumbled onto his back while his sword clattered to the ground mere feet away from him. Ithius was about to turn away from the fight when he saw the man reach for his sword. Without even a seconds hesitation he had whirled on one heel and brought his double blades round in a neat scissor motion that severed his opponents head from his shoulders. The sound of clapping drifted across the courtyard to him as he strode over the cobbles to the fountain at the far end of the practice yard. He cupped his hands beneath the foul stone head of a gorgon that spewed water into the basin and gulped at it thirstily. Even an immortal worked up a sweat trying to exercise in this heat. The sound of clapping grew nearer. He gulped down another handful of ice cool water and turned to face his audience. A single man hobbled across the courtyard to him, his black tattered priest's robes barely stirring as he moved. The ornate sceptre he clutched tightly banged loudly on the cobbles as he walked nearer
"Bravo," the old priest rasped as he walked closer, "Bravo."
"Why are you here?" Ithius demanded harshly.
"You wished to see me." The old priest said
"That was three hours ago."
"Initiates can be troublesome. What did you wish to see me for?" The shadows by one of the pillars that surrounded the sun drenched courtyard rippled and suddenly a man in a flowing black cloak and hood was stood near the two of them.
"He wished to see you Pelion, to inform you that Callisto is near." Ithius began buckling on his black spiked armour and watched in amusement as Pelion rounded on the cloaked figure of Mortius. The two of them disliked Mortius even more than they disliked one another. He had served the master at least two hundred years before either of them and held more favour with him too.
"In the future Mortius," Pelion hissed, "you will announce yourself before deciding to just appear." If Ithius hadn't known any better he would have sworn Mortius was grinning beneath that hood. He did know better though. In terms of emotions Mortius was a glacier. Ice cold.
"I want to know what we intend to do about the warrior woman." He said. Mortius sneered at that comment. He had been opposed to the plan from the start.
"We do as the master instructed. Allow her to enter the city unhindered. Once inside she will not leave." Ithius nodded. What the master intended to do with the woman when they had her was anyone's guess.
The entrance to the tunnel the resistance had dug in order to escape the city was covered by thick sheets of moss and long strands of ivy that had intertwined themselves around the rocky archway. Callisto watched as Athelis drew his sword and began to hack at the vegetation that covered the entrance. After several minutes she drew her own and set about slicing the vines and moss apart. Beyond the vines lay the mouth of the tunnel. It was dark and dank. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of sewage from the city and followed Athelis inside.
"How about a little light?" she said and began fumbling with her belt for the flint box she always kept there since a little incident concerning becoming and immortal and ending up being trapped in a labyrinth with no one but a few rats for company. Suddenly a hand fell on her wrist.
"Don't." said Athelis. "The tunnel is flooded with a gas that catches fire. We have to go in darkness." The tunnel was long but at least the men who had dug it had made some effort to keep it straight. However navigating the rocks and numerous other obstacles that were strewn across the floor was far from easy. Many times Callisto would trip and stumble, occasionally falling face down into a pool of stagnant water. She was glad when the first signs of light began to shine in the distance. As they moved closer the light grew bigger and before long the two of them emerged out into a long alley way that stretched back between two buildings. At the mouth of the alley people were streaming back and forth, each one hurrying on with their every day business. Athelis sneered at them distastefully.
"Look at them!" he spat "They just carry on as if everything's normal." Callisto looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He was positively burning with rage.
"We should get going, people may get suspicious of two people stood in an alley way just staring at everyone." Athelis didn't say a word, he just stalked off into the streets with Callisto following close behind. The city was crowded, more crowded than any city Callisto had ever visited before. On every side of her people elbowed one another and jostled those who walked in the opposite direction. Occasionally the crowds would part as a person wearing a black cloak with a white crescent moon embroidered on its back strode past. Each one she saw Callisto winced. They all had the same symbol branded on their forehead. Without realising she rubbed her own head, imagining the pain of the burning metal being pressed against her flesh.
"Let me guess." She said to Athelis, "Members of the cult."
"Uh-Huh" grunted Athelis never taking his eyes from the cloaked people. Distrust shone in them every time a cultist walked past. After a time the crowds slackened a little as the street they were walking down opened out into a massive square. Directly before them a huge flight of stairs lead up to a massive pair of double doors that were set into thick stone walls.
"That was the palace," said Athelis. "Now they call it the Temple of the Dead God."
"Who?" said Callisto, her eyes never left the walls as she studied them carefully. There must have been some way to get inside.
"Its who they worship, they call him the Dead God." Suddenly the huge double doors burst open and the sound of a gong being struck reverberated around the square. It was like the entire square had been turned to stone. Everyone stopped moving and a dreadful silence fell across them. Callisto watched, fascinated as the two columns of cultists appeared in the doorway. Each column was five strong and every single member clutched the familiar swords with the crescent moon etched into them. At the head of one column strode a tall man in black spiked armour and with two sword hilts jutting up over either shoulder. His icy blue eyes surveyed the square like a general surveying a battlefield. At the head of the second column shuffled an older man in tattered black robes. His wizened hands clutched a large sceptre he used to support himself as he hobbled forward. This one watched the streets and their crowded inhabitants with a discerning eye as if he was picking choice cattle to be served up at a banquet. Behind the columns a man wearing only a torn and ragged pair of trousers was being dragged along. His wrists were bound tightly behind his back and his chest was covered in throbbing red welts where a whip had lashed at him as well as burns from and plain gashes made by a knife. If Callisto hadn't seen worse in her time as a warlord she would have winced.
"You see those two?" whispered Athelis, "They're in charge of the cult, calling themselves the Strength and Faith of the Triad. The big guy with biceps that make Ares look under endowed, he's Ithius and calls himself the Strength of the Triad. His wrinkly old friend goes by the name of Pelion and calls himself the Faith of the Triad" Callisto looked at the two men from between slitted eyes
"Can't they count?" Athelis' reply sounded confused
"They call themselves the triad, but that means three. There are only two of them." "There's meant to be a third but no one has ever seen him."
"Or her." Grinned Callisto. As the two columns reached the edge of the flight of stairs the bound man was shoved to the front where he stood, breathing heavily. The armoured man and his robed opposite walked to stand at either side of the man.
"My children," Pelion began "We come to a city in turmoil following the death of its ruler and bring order to the chaos that had consumed you and how do you repay us?" He thrust a bony old finger to point at the prisoner. "This man is a known resistor and was recently confined due to the filthy slander he speaks against us. He broke free two days ago but was soon found. It is not the escape that worries us." He sounded sad. "We come here to help and you repay us by sheltering a known criminal. The penalty for this man is execution but as is customary he is aloud some last words so that he may repent for what he has done and seek grace in the eyes of our master, the Dead God." The man who called himself Ithius moved closer to the prisoner and began to speak.
"Kneel and beg forgiveness worm." He said from between gritted teeth. The prisoner did not move. Ithius delivered a savage kick to the back of the mans knees and he slammed heavily to the ground.
"I said kneel!" Ithius roared. "Now beg for forgiveness." The man looked up at Ithius and spat in his face. Ithius' face boiled with fury but he did nothing other than wipe the saliva from his cheek. Pelion dropped to one knee with obvious strain on his old bones and whispered into the prisoner's ear. It was supposed to be quiet but Callisto could tell that it was really intended for all to hear.
"If you beg for forgiveness the Soul of the Dead God will not punish you too severely. The man turned to face the assembled crowd and began to speak.
"Do not listen to them." He yelled with all his strength. "They enslave you, they are absolute evil and to them you are nothing more than food for their God. You must stand and fight if you ever hope to win back your lives." As he spoke Callisto thought she could see movement up on the ramparts of the palace. She glanced up and nearly drew her sword then and there. For a split second the unmistakable figure of Mortius had been stood there watching the crowd from beneath his dark hood. Suddenly the shadows that the palace cast began to move. They rippled and undulated almost as if they were alive. Within seconds of first moving they had rushed in and seized the prisoner by the arms and legs. The crowd watched dumbstruck as the prisoner was lifted screaming into the air as the living shadows pulled and clawed at him. Slowly they enveloped him and his thrashing and screaming faded away into nothing. Then suddenly all was normal again. The shadows had returned to their original positions but of the prisoner there was no sign. Pelion turned to the crowd and began to speak once more.
"His crime was the worst and so he suffered the worst punishment. However the today's justice has still not been served. As punishment for keeping a known felon from justice we shall execute ten of you. Think of this as standard punishment should any citizen be caught harbouring criminals in the future." The ten cultists began to move down into the crowd. Each one would grab someone then drag the poor soul back to the top of the stairs. Callisto felt Athelis tense next to her.
"We can't let them do this!" he growled. Callisto nodded
"I agree." And with that she walked over to the nearest cultist who was dragging a young man away from his tearful companion. She reached over and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Excuse me." She said and as he turned to face her she punched him squarely across the jaw. Callisto was taken aback as the entire square erupted into chaos. The ten cultists disappeared under a wave of bodies as people threw themselves at them in an attempt to escape the square before they were chosen to be executed. Callisto found herself being dragged along in among the throng of people as she was buffeted back and forth.
Ithius watched the riot from the flight of stairs with interest. Mortals were so easy to frighten that sometimes he almost felt sorry for them. The executions had worked a charm though. Now his eyes were fixed upon the blonde haired warrior who was busy trying to stay afoot in the seething mass of bodies. He turned to a squad of the royal guard who stood nearby.
"Bring me that woman." He said.
Callisto watched in horror as a group of men in armour and clutching swords a good twenty strong began to trot down the stairs toward the riot. She had to get out of here, being arrested was not number one on her list of things to do. Suddenly a hawk nosed man emerged from the fleeing crowd clutching a robe and hood. Without a word he swept it around her shoulders and pulled the hood over her head.
"Keep quiet and come with me." He hissed as he grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her off through the crowd. Callisto was tempted to fight back. God knew where she was being taken and she had no intention of walking blindly into a trap. At the same time she had very little choice as to what else to do. She didn't think she would ever get used to trusting people.
Chapter Four: Fighting Back
Callisto felt her head reel in the darkness of the blind fold from yet another blow. A tooth had been loosened in the last hit and she could test blood oozing from a gash in her lip where she had bitten into it due to an unexpected backhand. She desperately wanted to soothe the bruise she could feel developing over her right cheek but a flex of her wrists revealed the same as before and the last twenty or so attempts. She was securely fastened to the chair by thick, scratchy rope that bit savagely into her wrists. The man's breath stank of ale and bad meat as he began to rasp close to her face.
"Tell me again who you are and what you thought you were doing in that square?" Callisto had to strain to hear his voice that barely ever rose above a whisper.
"I've told you a thousand times already," she exaggerated, "my name is Callisto and I was just lending a hand to people who I thought didn't deserve to die."
"And for the thousandth time I do not believe you now," Callisto felt his breathing stop and tensed herself for the next blow. He always seemed to pause before striking her. "Tell me the truth and this will stop."
"I've told you the truth." She said and spat the bitter fresh blood from her mouth onto the floor.
"And I've told you I don't believe you." The next blow struck her soundly across the left cheek and her head slumped against her chest. It took too much effort to keep it raised any longer. Suddenly a door slammed open and Callisto raised her head again to better listen to what was going on. Heavy footsteps crossed the room and voices spoke hurriedly.
"Davor, untie her. We do not think she is a threat after all."
"But commander I..." Davor was cut off mid sentence.
"Do it!" Callisto could here him grumbling as he sulked round behind her and freed her hands. Rubbing her wrists gently she brought them up and pulled the blind fold that covered her eyes down so that it hung around her neck. Davor was a tall balding man with a long scar that ran the width of his throat and his left eye was clouded with the milky white of a natural cataract. The scar went some way to explaining the rasping voice he possessed. The other man was very different. Slightly shorter than Davor his lower jaw bristled with a spiky goatee beard and a thick mop of brown greying brown hair hung down on either side of his glistening grey eyes. The shorter man moved over and knelt in front of her to free her ankles, which were also bound to the chair. As he worked he spoke in a voice that sounded tired and one step away from cracking.
"I feel I must apologise for this treatment. Please forgive Davor, Callisto. He was acting under my orders." The moment her legs were free Callisto shot to her feet and immediately wished she hadn't as the room span like a merry go round before her eyes. Struggling to remain upright and appear like she was having no trouble doing so she rounded on the grey eyed man.
"If you are in charge here then I hope this apology is sincere. I don't appreciate putting my life on the line to save innocent people and then having my head rhythmically beaten as a reward." Davor almost died of embarrassment right then and there.
"You must understand Callisto that we had no way of knowing if you were an agent of the cult or not. You do not bear the mark of those damned ones but we have encountered people willing to sell us out for only a few Dinars. We had to make sure we could trust you before allowing you any freedom." Callisto planted her hands on her hips and tried to look angry. It wasn't easy. She could understand their reasoning. Indeed in their place she probably wouldn't have even bothered to take time to trust a possible spy. She would've just killed them and had done with it.
"So what changed your opinion of me?" she said, in some ways all of this was a little confusing. The grey eyed man pulled a roll of parchment out from where it had been tucked in his belt.
"This is a record of births in the city for the past thirty years. You are not on the list." Callisto frowned.
"And that proves that I'm not a spy! How?" The grey eyed man tossed the parchment to Davor and turned back to face her.
"Since they gained control of the city, the cult have not allowed anyone in or out. As you have no birth record and none of our agents had seen you since this morning then it is safe to assume you arrived recently. This means the cult doesn't know you're here otherwise they would have killed you for breaking in and so you can't be working for them. Clear?"
"Crystal." Said Callisto. The grey eyed man nodded in acknowledgement.
"Good. Now let me tell you more about this place. My name is Tegasur and I lead this rather motley bunch in our efforts to hamper the cult in whatever way we can. Luckily the cult do not know of us. If they did then we would have been dead along time ago." Callisto nodded as he spoke.
"Yeah, yeah." She said interrupting his little description. "Maybe you could tell me what happened to Athelis. You brought me here, you must have brought him as well." Tegasur opened the door to the chamber and the two of them strode out into the corridor. He stopped by a large wooden chest and produced a key that had been tucked into the top of one of his boots. In one smooth flowing motion he had unlocked the chest and its lid was opened revealing a collection of glittering weapons. Everything from sword breakers to a fantastic jewelled quarter staff. He stooped low and brought out a sword, its blade tucked in the crook of his arm and hilt held toward her.
"Your sword." He said with a grin. Callisto took the weapon pushed into the sheath that was strapped to her back.
"Thanks. Now are you going to tell me about Athelis or not." The grin on Tegasur's face disappeared as he turned and walked away. He didn't say a word.
"Well, is he here or not." He stopped still, his back to her.
"I wouldn't trust Athelis if I was you." Callisto frowned
"Why not? From what I've seen he's done more to stop the cult on his own than your entire group." Tegasur still didn't look at her.
"I won't say anything more, but have you ever wondered why he wears that headband?" Callisto walked over and planted herself in front of him.
"Why he wears the headband is his business. I just want to know where he is." Tegasur looked down at her and spoke as if he was talking to a child.
"We never brought him here. He untrustworthy and of no use to us." His eyes travelled up and down her body. "You on the other hand may be able to serve a very important purpose." Callisto planted her hands on her hips again and cocked her head slightly.
"I'm no tool Tegasur. Don't think I'll happily kill myself for your cause because I won't. I need a good reason to help." Tegasur smiled.
"I think that can be arranged, come with me."
Ithius sat in his carved ebony throne that was perched atop a raised dais in the grandest hall of the palace. All around him columns carved with ancient symbols that spoke of great power glowed dully, the dais itself was a centre piece to the massive display. He watched the latest additions to the cult scream as a red-hot brand seared the mark of the crescent moon into the bare flesh of their foreheads. At times the screams actually made him shiver. He rubbed at his own brand that was now little more than a pale scar and wondered if it had hurt him. It had been so long that he couldn't remember ever having it done. Come to think of it he couldn't remember anything before he had joined the cult, but he did know that at some point he had joined. He had not been born into it the same way Mortius had been.
"Take them to the chamber of new arrivals." He gestured to several guards. The men bowed low and walked over to the to the group who lay on the floor, still kicking and screaming. Suddenly in the shadows to the left of him Pelion materialised and began to walk over to him.
"Any luck?" he said. Pelion flopped miserably down into his own throne that was positioned alongside his.
"None. She's just vanished."
"You did not look hard enough." Both Ithius and Pelion were on their feet in a second, spinning to face the voice. Behind their own thrones a third had appeared. It was carved from blackened human bone; every skull that decorated it caught in a silent scream of agony. Sat nonchalantly in the monstrous thing, one of his legs hanging over the left arm of the throne, was Mortius. His flowing black cloak as always hid his features in shadow.
"I see you are admiring my throne." He said, his voice was low and sounded faintly amused. "I made it from my victims. It's beautiful, don't you think." Ithius was beginning to become angry. Mortius always loved to taunt them like this and the game was becoming tiresome
"Enough Mortius. If you think you can do a better job then you find her." He said, his own voice writhing with irritation.
"I already have." Came the smug self-satisfied tone. "I knew where she was going the moment she left the courtyard." The two of them both stared at him aghast. While Pelion spluttered in disbelief next to him, Ithius gathered his jaw from the floor and tried his best to hide the surprise he felt. Mortius always managed to pull something like this. The worst part was that he had a tendency to do it when you least expected it.
"Then where is she?" he demanded.
"With that rebellious faction that have troubled you for so long, and yes I do know there whereabouts."
"Mortius," Pelion began threateningly, "you are one of the ruling Triad. We work as one. You do not withhold information from us!" the sentence ended in a hiss. Mortius simply watched them impassively. Ithius had faced down crazed centaurs, battled some of the worlds most fearsome and dangerous warlords and monsters, but Mortius' gaze steady gaze that never shifted in focus or intensity always made him feel uneasy and recently he had found himself becoming increasingly edgy around the cloaked killer who is master favoured above all others.
"Our master entrusted the control of this city to the two of you. My interests lie elsewhere." Said Mortius as if that was all he needed to account for his withholding information.
"Enough of this, take us to them and you can go back to what interests you so much." Snarled Ithius.
"As you wish." Said Mortius. Rising from the throne he turned and began to walk toward the shadows. As the tall, hooded figure vanished, Ithius felt Pelion's hand on his spiked shoulder pads.
"He left his throne." He said, nodding nervously in the direction of the bone carved monstrosity.
"Let's hope he doesn't decide to take up permanent residence." Said Ithius with a shiver.
Chapter Five: Hope And Loss
Callisto strolled down the corridor of the building feeling extremely depressed. The dull grey stone walls that dripped with slime oozing through from the neighbouring sewage tunnels and the foul stench that emanated from the inn outhouses situated above the rebel tunnels did little to help her mood. Neither did Tegasur's description of the situation in the city above them. Apparently Athelis had spoken the truth of just about everything. Ithius and Pelion called did call themselves the Strength and Faith of the Triad. The mysterious third member had never been seen and many within the resistance group did not believe the so called Soul of the Triad actually insisted and that the "shadow" executions that the supposed Soul performed were little more than fancy parlour tricks designed to keep the general public in line. Callisto did not agree with them. Worse still she had a terrible feeling that she knew who the Soul was and that she would have to face him again soon. It was also a commonly known fact that at least one of the Triad was an immortal. Ithius had successfully been shot with arrows, stabbed through the heart and poisoned on a grand total of six occasions. The fact that he bothered to get up in the mornings for fear of having yet another poison tipped dagger thrust into his back was testimony to the human spirit. Unfortunately Pelion was a little more concerned with his own safety than Ithius and as a result all assassination attempts against the Faith of the Triad had failed miserably.
Luckily there was something Tegasur had told her about which Athelis had not been all that forth coming. It concerned the nature of the crescent moon symbol. Callisto had believed it to be a simple test of the cultists loyalty designed to show the unshakeable belief in the master of the Triad known only as the Dead God. According to the resistance groups agents the symbol was actually a method of controlling the cultists. Rather than a more traditional enchantment that just suppressed the will of the person or forced control upon them, the symbol bent their will instead. It twisted and warped the recipients sense of reality until it became impossible to reason with the person as their original persona was distorted beyond measure. There was apparently only one way to save those caught by the symbol and that way was she was on her way to find out.
The conference chamber where the leaders of various groups of the resistance met once a month was a serenely quiet place. A large oak table surrounded by at least twelve chairs sat at the room's centre. At the far end of the chamber a huge a fountain had been erected from which bubbling fresh spring water gurgled forth into the solid stone basin surrounding it. Other than these few features the room was plain and unadorned. Callisto placed a hand to her mouth and yawned. It had been over a day now since she had got any decent sleep. Tiredly she pulled back one of the oak chairs and slumped into it, resting her slime coated boots on the table.
"I wonder when lunch is?" she muttered absently to herself as her stomach let out a growl that could have scared a bear away. The solid wooden door she had entered the room through creaked open and she span in the chair to see Tegasur stood in the doorway.
"It's about time." She said. Tegasur said nothing. He simply walked around to the other end of the table and sat down.
"Callisto, I have asked you here because I have a proposition for you."
"Which is?" she said
"How would you like to destroy the Triad." Callisto sat up and paid attention at that.
"How?" Tegasur waved his arm toward the fountain that gurgled quietly at the other end of the room.
"We believe that is the reason they took control of this city. The water from that fountain has successfully freed members of the cult from their bond. It heals the brand you see." He turned to look back at her to see how she was taking all of this. Callisto was enthralled. A weapon that could stop the Triad would be very valuable. "As both Ithius and Pelion have the brand we assume this water will heal it and free them from their entrapment." Callisto turned to face Tegasur again.
"And you want me to use it on them. What do I do? Walk up to them and say, "Hi, could you please drink this." I don't think they'd fall for it." Tegasur was shaking his head.
"They don't need to drink it. You simply need to get a small amount onto the brand, a drop will do. The water will do the rest." Callisto looked back toward the fountain and sighed.
"Okay, I'll do it." Tegasur clapped his hands together in a pleased manner.
"Great, now you'd best get rea..." his voice trailed off as the sound of a bell being rang echoed through the underground tunnels. Tegasur was on his feet in an instant, a sword appearing in his hand that Callisto had never seen before.
"What's going on!" she yelled as the bell ringing was suddenly cut short "and what's all the ringing about." Tegasur never took his eyes off the door that lead into the chamber.
"It's an alarm." He growled, "We're under attack!" as he spoke he was fumbling with the back of his belt.
"Catch." He said and tossed the small cylindrical object toward her. Callisto reached up and snatched it out of the air. Opening her palm to see what it was she found herself more than a little surprised.
"What the hell is this for?" she said and held the small glass vial she had been thrown between thumb and forefinger.
"It's the only thing I've got with me that can hold water and unless you've got orifices I don't know about then you sure as hell aren't carrying anything larger in that outfit." Callisto looked down at her battle dress and shrugged.
"I was never very shy." She said grinning.
"This is hardly the time or the place for jokes Callisto. Now get moving, we don't have much time." Callisto nodded and darted across the room to the fountain pulling the small rubber bung from the vial as she went. The moment she was within reach she plunged the tiny vial into the pool of water that collected around the base of the fountain. It seemed to take an eternity for the small thing to fill up. When it had filled she pulled it free and shoved the small bung back into the opening. Straightening she looked around the room for some means of escape.
"Errr, Tegasur. I don't want to sound pessimistic here but the only way out is the door those guys are going to come storming in through. Tegasur backed slowly over to a wall and began fumbling at the masonry with his free hand.
"Where is it?" he muttered to himself. There was a loud click. "Ah hah." He said. The brickwork in one section of the wall slid open to reveal a dark slimy passageway.
"Great," Callisto groaned "another dark tunnel that stinks of rat droppings. It must be some unwritten law, for repentance Callisto must crawl through some of the most disgusting places on the face of the Earth." Suddenly there was a thud as an attacker threw himself against the heavy oak door on the other side of the room.
"Just get out of here!" yelled Tegasur.
"What about the tunnel?"
"I'll close it behind you." The door shuddered again "Now go, you're out of time." Callisto dashed past and disappeared into the tunnel.
"Good luck." She said as the secret door began to slide shut.
"To all of us." She heard Tegasur say as the last trace of light from the chamber was cut off. Callisto stood in the dark for several moments as she forced the vial into the top of one of her boots. It lacked the originality of Xena's breast dagger but would have to do. With a final glance at the solid wall that had moments before been a doorway she turned and stumbled off down the dark tunnel. As she ran a loud crash sounded in the room beyond the door and she listened sadly to the sounds of Tegasur fighting with every last bit of energy he had. Suddenly there was a scream of agony and then utter silence.
"May the Gods have mercy on your soul Tegasur." She said.
Chapter Six: Illusions
Ithius paced back and forth in front of the thrones. He'd been doing so for half an hour and the events of recent days still didn't look any better in his mind. He glanced up at where Mortius lounged in his huge black throne and felt his stomach heave as he looked at it. The cloaked warrior hadn't moved since Ithius had begun his pacing.
"Do you have to stare at me like that?" he demanded. He had been on edge ever since the raid on the underground tunnels and the steady gaze that Mortius held on him made him feel no better.
"I enjoy watching stress in others," Mortius said amusedly "It makes me feel all the more calm." It was at times like this Ithius wished Pelion was here with him and not off seeing to the latest batch of initiates leaving him alone with the creepy hooded killer. He stopped pacing and let out a sigh.
"Well if you're not going to leave then you can do something useful." Mortius leaned forward in his seat, suddenly menacing.
"Do not forget your standing Ithius. Among the chosen you are the least important to the masters plans. I am not here for you to give orders to." Ithius tried his best not to look intimidated by the hooded maniac sat in front of him. It wasn't easy.
"All I want to know," he growled, "is where she is. You knew before and I think you know now." Mortius was suddenly relaxed again and leaning back in his throne. A pale finger appeared from the folds of his cloak and stroked the top of a skull that was positioned on the arm of the monstrous thing. He looked like he was in deep thought.
"I have no idea where she is now. Only that she is loose in the city." Ithius sighed with relief.
"If she is in the city we can still catch her before she escapes. I can have guards posted at every possible way in and out by nightfall" Mortius laughed. It was a cruel mocking laugh that Ithius had heard all too often.
"Escape is not her plan, it never was. Do you think she would willingly walk into this den of depravity only to walk straight back out again." He laughed a second time. "If you do then you are an even greater fool than I imagined." Ithius clenched his fists. He didn't like being insulted by this heap of centaur dung.
"Then what do you think we should do about all this?" he said. It would be good to see what Mortius came up with. The answer was not at all what he had expected.
The rain poured out of the sky in drenching sheets wetting Athelis' hair so that it slicked flat over his scalp. He cursed for the fourth time that evening and had to push his long fringe out of his eyes again. The fringe was the least of his physical discomfort. His ponytail was now so water logged that it felt like he was trying to carry half a tone of swords on his back. Following the riot in the City Square he had ended up being chased half way across the city by the warrior members of the cult. He had lost them only to spend three hours wandering the streets in search of the warrior woman who called herself Callisto. She had been trustworthy in his eyes. That plan had met with limited success. It had been while watching the cult escort a new batch of initiates inside the palace that he had hit upon the possibility she had been caught. So now he was crouched in an alleyway neighbouring the palace waiting for a cult procession to go past. Sneaking in as one of their own members was the ideal method of getting inside. Suddenly his drenched white headband fell over his eyes. Panicking he reached up and pushed it back onto his forehead. An involuntary shiver passed through him as his fingers brushed the scar that still marked him.
Callisto flicked wet strands of hair out from her eyes with a flick of her head and began searching for another handhold. The moss-covered walls of the palace would have been treacherous to climb even when they were dry and now they were wet it made the whole situation even worse. Beneath her the sound of armoured men squelching through the mud on patrol forced her to freeze. The last thing she wanted was to have to fend off arrows being launched at her while she clung to this death trap. After a few minutes of silence she assumed they'd moved on and began her ascent once more. After another ten minutes of slipping and sliding around on the palace wall she finally reached the ramparts only to find another guard stood right where she needed to climb over.
"Damn!" she muttered under her breath. This next part wasn't going be easy. Releasing the grip she had on the wall with one hand and both feet, she let out a low whistle. The guard leaned over the edge to find out what was making the noise and found himself being yanked off the rampart to plummet toward the ground. As he fell Callisto wrapped her legs around his throat and gripped the wall tightly as the sickening tug of the guards neck snapping threatened to pull her off the wall altogether. With a sigh of relief she let the dead body fall to the ground with a soft thud as it hit the wet mud. Silently she pulled herself up onto the ramparts. Below her the palace courtyard was crawling with cultists who flocked back and forth in the pouring rain going about with the various jobs assigned to them. Suddenly she froze. In among with the other cultists a familiar face watched the others go about their duties with the same impassive stare all members of the cult seemed to have. It was Athelis. Tegasur had been right about him, she should never have trusted him. She would deal with him later. Right now she had to get inside the palace and find the Triad. If she could free their minds this whole business might just end here. Without a sound she slipped inside one of the palace towers through a large wooden door.
Callisto couldn't remember ever having been in a palace before, which might explain why she was wandering round the place in a state of dumbfounded amazement. Everywhere she looked she saw ancient tapestries, beautiful ornaments decorated in a variety of gold and silver patterns, candelabras that must have been worth small fortunes and wave upon wave of shimmering satins and silks that hung from the walls in the form of drapes. A room full of this stuff could have financed her army for at least a year and very room, corridor and hall in the palace was decorated like this. Callisto couldn't help but wonder where the vast sums of Dinars came from to pay for all these things. Slowly she crept up the latest of many intersections between numerous corridors and flattened herself against the wall as a group of cultists shuffled past, their heads hanging as if in prayer. As the last cultist went by she slipped around the corner and hurried off down the corridor.
"Not much further now." She muttered to herself then realised how absurd she was being. She didn't even know where she was going let alone how far it was. Another intersection was coming up. Once again she flattened herself against the wall and gingerly poked her head around the corner to see if anyone was coming. Immediately she ducked back in again as the two men she recognised as Pelion and Ithius walked right on by her. Not wanting to lose them Callisto slipped out into the corridor and began to tail them through palace. They were talking about the raid on the underground tunnels. Eventually they came to a room that was lavishly decorated with hundreds of lit candelabra that flickered in the dimming light from outside. At the centre of the room was a display the likes of which Callisto had never seen. Built much like a fountain instead of spraying water into the air it threw out oil instead. As this left the tubes the oil came into contact with a small naked flame positioned at the entrance to each tube. The oil would immediately ignite and become a jet of flame that flew high into the air and curved down into the basin that was filled with water where it would slowly hiss and die away. A thin layer of condensation hung over the entire room from the steam that was being thrown out. Callisto had to stifle a gasp at what she saw next. Kneeling at the far end of the room bound with his hands behind his back was Tegasur. His torso was covered in thick red welts from where he had beaten and a deep sword wound that had been badly tended to gaped in his side. Callisto watched as Ithius walked purposefully around the oil fountain and kneeled in front of the grey eyed man.
"Are you ready to tell us where she is now?" he hissed menacingly "Or do the shadows need to do there work once more?" As if in reply the shadows on the far side of the room flickered forward then drew back like a horse whose reigns had just been tightened.
"Come closer and I'll tell you." He said in a voice hoarse from screaming. Ithius obliged and leaned closer.
"Closer." He said. Ithius leaned closer still.
"Good," said Tegasur. "Now I'll tell you where she is." There was a loud crack as he head butted Ithius. The powerful warrior cried out in surprise and anger. In an instant he had drawn one of his two swords and ran it threw Tegasur's chest. Tegasur gasped in what sounded like surprise and fell back to the floor.
"Tegasur!" Callisto yelled, then suddenly realised what she had done. Both the Strength and Faith whirled around to stare at her. Pelion threw his head back and laughed deliriously.
"It worked." He rasped, clutching onto his sceptre for dear life as his shoulders shook with fresh fits of laughter.
"So gullible." Said Ithius and smiled cruelly. "Guards, bring her here." Callisto whirled around to run and found herself facing at least a dozen sword points, each one pointed at her throat. She turned and felt someone prod her in the back to get her moving.
"Would you watch where you're sticking that thing!" she said trying to hide the panic that was rising inside her. The last thing she wanted them to know was that she was actually frightened by what was going on. As she walked across the room to face the two men she tried hard not to look at the body of Tegasur. People always seemed to die around her. First Lazarus, then Sathius and now Tegasur. Maybe she ought to have a health warning tattooed across her forehead.
"It is good to finally meet you Callisto, our master has told us much about you." Enthused Pelion
"The feeling is most certainly not mutual." She shot back. At first Pelion looked hurt, certainly a surprise to Callisto, then he grinned devilishly and began to shuffle over to her. Slowly he looked her up and down. After a few minutes of being stared at by Pelion, who Callisto assumed was little more than a dirty old man given a great deal of power, the wizened little creep began to mutter to himself in a harsh sounding language that had never been intended for any sane human to speak. Callisto shivered at some of the words. Even though she didn't recognise them they sounded terrible and every new sentence made her skin crawl.
"You must excuse him." Said Ithius glancing at his companion. "His mind is not everything it should be these days."
"I don't see why I should." Ithius was not impressed by her remarks.
"You know something."
"What!" she spat angrily. Ithius leaned so close to her face that they were almost touching
"In person you certainly are a lot more irritating." Callisto felt her face rising in a sneer.
"I have every right considering the fact you just killed my friend!" she yelled the last words with unrestrained fury. Suddenly off to her right Pelion snapped his bony old fingers together. Callisto was surprised the bone dry digits didn't break clean off.
"I knew I was forgetting something." He turned to look at Tegasur's body. "It's over Mortius, you can get up now." The sight of Tegasur standing back up was simply too much for Callisto's already severed nerves. With a surprised groan her eyes rolled back into her sockets and she fell backwards into a pit of darkness.
Chapter Seven: Shattering the Slave
Callisto was uncomfortable. That was the only word she could put to it. She was actually a lot more than uncomfortable but from her semi unconscious state it was the only word she could think of. The bruises from her interrogation in the underground tunnels were beginning to surface and throbbed mercilessly. The hundreds of small cuts and bruises she had given herself climbing the palace walls and stumbling through dark tunnels stung like a thousand bee stings and her muscles seemed to shout out complaints when she even tried to make the slightest movement to relieve pain in other parts of her body. Worst of all she needed to pee. Slowly she opened one eye and saw darkness. In complete panic she opened the other only to see more darkness. Desperately she tried to bring her hands round in front of her but found herself unable to. Her wrists were tied behind her back with strong knots that she doubted anyone would have an easy time undoing even if they were in front of them and they could see. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and preyed to Zeus that she wasn't blind. Opening her eyes again she took a look around and was relieved to discover she was only in an exceptionally dark room. Her right arm was pressed against the cold cobble floor tiles so hard she couldn't feel it any more and a cold draft was blowing up her leather skirt from somewhere. She shivered and heaved herself into a sitting position. Slowly her mind retraced the last things it remembered as she tried to piece together how she had ended up in this incredibly dark dungeon. The last thing she could remember was seeing Tegasur standing back up again and hearing some mention of Mortius. She could feel a headache coming on.
"How do I get myself into these situations," she muttered angrily. "I woke up yesterday morning, thought I'd have a quiet days riding and groom Lazarus. It's now god knows what time of day and I'm locked away in some dungeon with the sudden urge to relieve myself and to top it all off I've got a migraine coming on." She sighed "yet another perfect day in the life of Callisto."
"You talk too much Callisto," said a familiar voice that emanated from the shadows. "It is probably one of your greatest weaknesses."
"Funny," she said knowing precisely to whom she was talking. "I wasn't aware I had any." The voice seemed to come from everywhere at once
"Everyone has weaknesses Callisto. Finding them is simply a matter of time."
"Then it shouldn't be long before I find yours." She said. There was a soft chuckle.
"Well done Callisto. If I didn't know any better I'd think you weren't afraid." Callisto decided to change tack.
"Were you always Tegasur?" she asked. The straight answer she received took her by surprise.
"No. Tegasur was very real." He paused, "Until I ran my halberd through his chest. Unfortunately at that time we didn't know you had already fled and the importance of Tegasur. So I was forced to impersonate him in an effort to draw you out." Callisto couldn't stand trying to work out where he was any longer.
"You may as well come out Mortius, I know where you are." She lied. She wanted to talk face to face the hooded killer and this seemed to be the only option she had left.
"As you wish, oh apple of my masters eye." The darkness of the chamber seemed to part for the man in long flowing robes and hood as he stepped forward. The vicious halberd he used as a weapon seemed to glow in the darkness around them. Slowly he approached and kneeled in front of her. A long pale finger appeared from the folds of his robe and he began to slowly trace a symbol on her forehead. Callisto could feel that it was the crescent moon shape so common to the cult.
"I can almost see now why my master wants you. You wear the symbol magnificently." Callisto gritted her teeth. For some reason she couldn't stand to be touched by those long pale fingers. They made her feel queasy. She felt the wound Mortius had given her at their last encounter make her arm begin to twitch and hoped he hadn't noticed.
"I'd rather die than have that thing branded into my skull." She growled. Mortius straightened and walked around behind her. The cold tip of one his halberd blades prodded her gently in the back between her shoulders.
"That was always my plan." He hissed evilly. Callisto closed her eyes.
"Just get it over with." She said from between clenched teeth. She listened to the sound of his dry robes rustling as he drew back to deliver the killing blow. Suddenly her hands jolted free of their bonds and there was a loud clang behind her. Slowly she opened her eyes and turned around. Mortius was gone and the rope used to bind her hung in two severed pieces from either wrist. The clang had been her sword falling to the ground. Hurriedly she snatched the weapon from the floor and clambered to her feet. With the sword clutched firmly between both hands she turned on the spot several times waiting for her eyes to become accustomed to the dark that surrounded her. After several minutes she still couldn't see anything so, sheathing her sword, she moved to the edge of the room and began to feel along the rough stone walls. Eventually she felt wood beneath her fingertips and cursed loudly when she got a splinter. To her dismay the door was locked and she simply could not find any way that she might be able to get out. It looked like she had hit a brick wall so to speak. Miserably she leaned against the wall next to the door and slid into a sitting position. Suddenly outside the door she heard the sound of a bolt sliding back and a loud creak as the door opened. Light streamed into the room silhouetting the figure in the doorway. She couldn't tell who it was, only that he wore the robes of a cultist. Quickly she stood up again and pressed herself against the wall. As the figure stepped inside she ran behind him, grabbing his arm and twisting it up behind him the two of them fell to the ground in a heap. It came as a shock when the cultist spoke her name.
"Callisto, It's me Athelis, I've come to save you."
"Oh yeah!" growled Callisto and twisted his arm harder. He gritted his teeth and grunted with the pain. "That's why you have the mark and wear the robes huh?"
"If you'd just let me explain..." Callisto interrupted
"You've got three minutes. If I don't like the explanation I'll break your arms and legs." She let him go and stood up stepping back in case the man she had thought was friend pulled a dagger out and tried to stab her. Athelis rolled over and clambered to his feet.
"I was a member of the cult. But the resistance movement in the city caught me one day and used me to test the water on. It freed me from my bonds to the cult but because my scar didn't completely heal like the others they used the water on they never did fully trust me again. I took to wearing the headband so that others wouldn't be frightened by me and I would be able to move freely among ordinary people." He paused, "Satisfied." Callisto nodded reluctantly.
"I suppose, but you're not out of the doghouse yet with me." She turned to leave. "Are you coming or do you want me to lock you in here?" Athelis was following her before she'd even finished speaking.
Ithius leaned back in his throne with a satisfied smirk that slowly spread across his chiselled features. Beside him Pelion was busy preaching to the amassed cultists who had been gathered here in the main hall. As usual Mortius was keeping himself hidden. As a matter of fact Ithius couldn't remember seeing him since they had captured Callisto. It wasn't that unusual. Mortius often disappeared for days, weeks and sometimes months at a time. He plucked idly at a loose thread on a drape that hung just behind his throne and listened to Pelion's speech. The ageing Faith of the Triad was certainly a good public speaker.
"Children of the Dead God," he was saying "We have gathered you here today in readiness for a time of great glory. Soon we will make our existence known to the rest of Greece. We shall ride forth from the gates of this city and sweep before us all opposition. Even the mighty Athenian army will fall before us. Our master has foretold this. He has foretold how we will prevail and how he will once again sit at the head of the Olympian Gods." Ithius suddenly noticed two cultists who were pushing their way toward the base of the dais. "And the first sign of this foretelling is the arrival of an omen. A warrior who will lead our armies with skill and strength, a warrior who is the embodiment of both light and dark. Her name is...." Suddenly all hell broke loose.
The corridors of the palace were surprisingly quiet compared to the last time Callisto had been wandering them. Only a few of the patrols she had encountered so regularly last time were on the move.
"Where is everyone?" she hissed to Athelis who was sliding along the wall of the corridor just behind her.
"Ithius and Pelion were holding some kind of meeting to with most of the cult to celebrate the beginning of their conquest." Callisto grinned. This was the perfect opportunity.
"I think we ought to gatecrash their little party." She turned to look at him. "Don't you?"
"How?" Callisto looked back down the corridor. She could hear footsteps. It was a patrol, just what she needed.
"Simple. We wait for this patrol to come waltzing by, knock one of them out, dress me in his uniform and et voila! One cute blonde cultist." Athelis was shaking his head.
"But you don't have the mark, they'd spot you coming a mile off." Callisto improvised,
"The robes have hoods, I'll just act humble and hang my head. Problem solved."
"I suppose." Said Athelis.
"Shhh, they're coming." The two guards would have walked right on past the two of them if Callisto hadn't stepped out at the last minute.
"Hi!" she said cheerfully and began to walk toward them. "I heard there was a party here and me, well, I've always been a bit of a party animal. The music, the dancing the laughter." She clapped her hands together and began to rub them, "So which of you two lovely gentlemen is going to show me the way then?" the two guards were reaching for their swords just as Athelis stepped out behind them and smacked their heads together. The two men crumpled to the floor unconscious.
"How was that?" he asked. Callisto didn't say anything. She just pointed at something over his shoulder. Athelis whirled round to see a third guard with a dagger raised above his head. In one smooth motion his vicious serrated blade had sliced the man open. Clutching at his chest the cultist dropped his dagger and staggered backward away from them for a few moments before dropping to the floor with a surprised expression on his face.
"Damn!" Callisto said as she looked at the dead guard. "Couldn't you have just knocked him unconscious like you did those other two?"
"Why?" said Athelis wiping his sword clean on a wall hanging and making his way over to where Callisto stood.
"This guy was about my size." She said pointing at the torn blood soaked uniform. A few minutes later Callisto was dressed and ready, her hood pulled up and obscuring her face from prying eyes.
"Shall we get a move on?" she said. It didn't take long to find the main hall. As Callisto entered she had to stifle a gasp. Huge marble columns stretched from the ornately tiled floor beneath her feet to the huge glass domed roof that sat above them allowing sunlight to stream into the chamber. The light fell upon a raised central dais upon which two thrones were positioned. Two looked to be exceptionally valuable made from solid gold and encrusted with hundreds of gems, the seats covered by soft velvet cushions with gold trim. In these two thrones sat Ithius and Pelion. Ithius appeared to have difficulty squeezing his bulky frame into the smaller confines of the throne while Pelion's seemed to dwarf him as he addressed the crowd. Positioned slightly behind and between them on a raised pedestal was a third throne. It looked like it was made of hundreds of scorched black bones that had been welded together under immense heat. It lacked any form of adornment such as gems or soft cushions but despite this it still managed to look far more impressive than the other two. It was vacant and Callisto had assumed it must belong to Mortius who himself was nowhere to be seen. Surrounding the dais were hundreds of cultists crowded together and jostling one another for a better view of what was going on.
"C'mon," she hissed to Athelis "We need to get closer." Hanging her head so as not to be recognised and so that no one would see that she didn't bear the symbol Callisto began to elbow her way forward through the crowd. By the time she got near enough to hear anything Pelion was saying he sounded like he was almost finished
"...And the first sign of this foretelling is the arrival of an omen. A warrior who will lead our armies with skill and strength, a warrior who is the embodiment of both light and dark. Her name is...." Now was the time. With a tremendous yell she cast off the robe of the cultist she had been wearing and somersaulted over the few remaining cultists straight onto the dais.
"Callisto!" Pelion said stunned by her unexpected appearance. "How did you..."
"Friends in high places." She grinned. "So who's first for the chop." Behind her the cultists simply stared in amazement at the events unfolding before them. Athelis clambered onto the dais with a grunt and glared around. Slowly his eyes came to rest on Ithius.
"You!" he growled his voice a rising tied of fury.
"Ah, the prodigal son returns. It's about time."
"Prodigal son?" said Callisto giving Athelis a questioning look.
"Oh yes Callisto, Athelis has been working for us all along, in fact it was him who tipped us off as to your where abouts." Ithius grinned.
"Callisto, don't listen to him. He's lying." Callisto was growing more confused with each passing second.
"Did you really think he could break the power of the symbol so easily?" Ithius was laughing now. "You grow more gullible at every encounter.
"Shut up!" roared Athelis. In a flash he had drawn his sword and was sprinting straight at Ithius in a blind rage. The Strength of the Triad didn't even blink. He calmly side stepped Athelis' rage fuelled attack and grabbed him by the throat hoisting bodily into the air. His knuckles turned white as he began to squeeze.
"Now we have your friend Callisto." Pelion said and his smile reminded Callisto of a shark. "Throw down your weapon and no more harm shall come to him." Callisto sighed miserably. She had pulled this trick several times before. It wasn't nice to be on the receiving end for a change and at last she understood why they always seemed to fall for it. Reluctantly she tossed her weapon to the ground with a loud clang. Immediately five cultists had surrounded her with their swords drawn and were beginning to escort her away. She was just about to step down from the dais when Ithius gave Athelis' throat one last squeeze and dropped the now unconscious body to the floor.
"Wait!" he barked. The cultists stopped and Callisto turned to face him.
"Take up your sword Callisto." Pelion was immediately at Ithius' side. His wizened hand placed upon the Strengths broad shoulder.
"Ithius no, not now." The tall warrior shrugged off the hand and took a step closer to Callisto.
"I have not had a good challenge in over a century Pelion. She may be the best yet." He turned his gaze back to her. "Take up your sword." He said. Callisto folded her arms. Non compliance was the last trick she had. Ithius' face never changed.
"Take up your sword or Athelis will die." Callisto sighed and stepped over to the weapon sweeping it up from the floor without pausing.
"Good, now we shall see if my masters interest in you is justified." With that Ithius drew his double swords and twirled them in his hands. For a few minutes the two circled one another then suddenly without warning Ithius moved in and struck a quick blow with his left sword. Callisto parried and pushed away. A few more seconds of waiting and Ithius went for another blow to the left. Callisto parried the blow as easily as the first. The third blow came to the right and Callisto easily parried.
"Very good." Said congratulated Ithius.
"It's insulting that you think such a simple trick would work on me." Callisto said raising her eyebrows as she did so.
"Watch and learn Callisto, I have many more tricks." And suddenly he was launching himself at her in a full on attack. Callisto was taken aback by his sudden ferocity and backed away defending as best she could while blow after blow hammered down on her sword. Suddenly there was an opening and without hesitation Callisto thrust forward with her own blade. The weapon was blocked and pushed savagely away by one of his two swords. Callisto span with the force of the deflection so as not to be caught off balance and brought her sword backward over her head to stop a thrust toward her back. Two more blows followed aimed at either side of her and both were parried just as easily. Not wanting to fight with her back to him any longer Callisto span on one heel swinging her sword out in a wide arc as she turned. Ithius jumped back and suddenly found himself on the defensive as Callisto forced him back over the dais. Eventually she went for a blow to the head. At the last minute the Strength blocked the blow and held his sword steady as Callisto pushed as hard as she could to break through his block. After several seconds Ithius aimed a kick at her midriff forcing her back off him and launched himself back onto the offensive. All the time Pelion watched the display with a grim fascination. Callisto was growing desperate trying every manoeuvre and stance she knew. The swordplay was beautiful as she flowed smoothly from one form to the next blocking blows and countering with her own offensives. None of it was enough. Ithius knew every move she made and even more besides. He truly was better with the sword than she. As the sweat that trickled from her brow began to sting her eyes Callisto aimed a final desperate swing at her opponent's neck. Once again there was the familiar sound of metal striking metal and this time Ithius punched. His knuckles were still wrapped around the sword hilt he clutched in that hand giving the punch extra strength. With a grunt of pain Callisto slammed into the floor and rolled over to find herself face to face with the tip of one of his sword blades that hovered mere millimetres from her chest. Never shifting his gaze from her he leaned over and kicked her sword away from her. Slowly he reached up with his free arm and wiped the single bead of sweat that clung to his skin away.
"Well done Callisto. You took longer to defeat than I imagined."
"How did you know every one of my moves?" she asked. She had to stall for time if she was going to pull this off
"Very simple really. As you did with Xena, I have studied you till I know you better than you know yourself."
"Who found all the information? I don't even come from this time." Ithius chuckled. He never noticed her hand slowly creeping toward the top of her boot.
"My master has extensive knowledge. I learned everything from him."
"Oh really." She snagged the vial with the tip of her fingers and clenched it in her hand so that he couldn't see it. "Well there's one thing he didn't teach you."
"And that is?" he said smugly. Callisto smiled innocently as she popped the bung out of the top of the vial.
"I'm full of surprises." She said and hurled the water into his face. Ithius threw his hands up to his face and howled in agony as steam poured from where the water sizzled on the symbol of the crescent moon which glowed a cruel red. He dropped to his hands and knees still shouting out in pain. At the same time over half the cultists in the room began to scream as their symbols began to glow as well. The cultists that didn't drop screaming stared around at their comrades in confusion. Several drew their curved sabres and threw themselves at Callisto. She rolled and snatched her own weapon from the floor. Compared to Ithius these guys were easy and in seconds they lay dead or so badly wounded they could no longer fight. As the last of her attackers fell to the floor Callisto turned and to face Pelion.
"You have no more of that water Callisto. You can't harm me."
"Maybe not as easily." Callisto said as she hoisted one of the sabres from the floor and threw it straight at his head. It never made it. The blade stopped millimetres from the old mans head and hovered for several seconds before turning and racing straight back at her. By instinct Callisto slapped her hands on both sides of the blade and tried her best to hold it there. Her arms still ached from the fight with Ithius and she could tell she wouldn't be able to hold it long. The nerve injury in her right arm began to twitch.
"Not now!" she grunted. Suddenly the blade went limp in her hands. With a groan of relief she let it fall to the floor and looked to see what had stopped it. Pelion stood with a surprised expression on his face as he stared at the two sword blades sticking through his chest. Behind him stood Ithius. The Strength twisted the swords and pulled them free. Pelion fell to his hands and knees while the rapid immortal healing began. Ithius ran over to Callisto.
"We have to get out of here," he said hurriedly. "It won't take long for that to heal." Callisto stared at him, a look of disbelief spreading across her face.
"It's alright, I'm on your side see." He stroked his forehead. The brand was now just a faint white outline rather than the deep scar of just moments before.
"Ithius!" screamed Pelion. "You traitor!" the former Strength of the Triad glanced back over his shoulder to see Pelion already beginning to rise, the wounds in his chest now little more than pinpricks. He grabbed Callisto's arm and began to tug her away.
"C'mon, we've got to go now otherwise everything you did will be for nothing." Callisto refused to move.
"What about Athelis?"
"We've got to leave him, he can't be trusted."
"And you can!" said Callisto. For a few moments Ithius was the personification of indecisiveness then with a sigh and a shake of his head he turned and ran back toward the dais. He returned with a still unconscious Athelis hanging over his shoulder.
"Now let's go!" he yelled. This time Callisto didn't argue. Around them the members of the cult who had fallen in pain with Ithius had taken up their swords and were battling with those who remained loyal. Outside was the same and here the free cultists had been joined by the citizens of the city who fought for their own freedom. The battle was so hectic no one noticed the two figure slipping through the streets with the unconscious body of a third draped over the larger figures shoulders.
Epilogue: Fresh Hope
Callisto sat by the crackling light of the fire nursing the many bruises and cuts she had received in this latest escapade. Across from her Ithius was sat cross-legged upon the dirt sharpening one his swords. Nearby Athelis lay on Callisto's bedroll, his hands at his sides and headband once again hiding the scar that marked him. Callisto rolled up the remaining bandage roll and tucked it into her saddlebags before turning to watch Ithius. At first he wasn't aware she was staring at her. After several minutes he looked up. The firelight cast shadows across his chiselled features that made it appear even more angular. It was time for some answers.
"What by Hades happened back there?" she asked. Ithius looked over her shoulder back toward the city. The celebrations had been underway for most of the night.
"Roughly half the cultists in the city were bonded to me and as a result I could influence their thoughts and feelings. When my bond to the Dead God was shattered so was their bond to me. They regained control of themselves and realised what was going on. That's why they fought."
"And the others were still bonded to Pelion, right?" Ithius nodded.
"Yes, and they will be now until the day they die."
"Why," said Callisto. "I can just go back and get more of that water and we can free him as well. Then that leaves just Mortius and his master. We can deal with Mortius in the same way and that leaves his master alone and with no followers." Ithius shook his head.
"There is no more water Callisto."
"What!" Ithius looked ashamed.
"When we stormed the underground tunnels Mortius polluted the spring. No more of that water will heal the mark and even if it did we wouldn't be able to free Mortius."
"Why not?" Callisto was beginning to feel like she should never have bothered getting out of bed in the mornings.
"Because he gave himself over to the Dead God willingly. He has no mark and so has nothing to heal." Athelis began to groan.
"Great, so now what do we do?"
"I've still got a lot of knowledge about the cult tucked away in here." Ithius tapped his head. "I might not have my powers and immortality any more but I do still have my skills. I can teach you and together the two of us can stop Mortius and his master." Callisto smiled.
"You forgot Athelis."
"Oh alright," said Ithius reluctantly. "The three of us." Callisto lay down to try and get some sleep. The events of the past few days had taken their toll on her and she had had very little sleep. Just before the bliss of sleep took her one last thought hung in her mind. Maybe there was still hope after all.
Mortius stood with his arms folded in the dark temple of his master and watched as Pelion delivered his account of what happened to the shattered obelisk from which the black beam emanated, including the part about how Callisto had been freed by an unknown party. His master outwardly took the news calmly, but Mortius could tell from the way the beam darkened that he was less than pleased with the performance of Pelion. Beneath his hood Mortius allowed himself a quick satisfied smile. Everything had gone according to plan. Better in fact. He had never imagined that Callisto would free Ithius. This disaster would have to prove to his master that the warrior woman was a threat to his plans and that she had to be eliminated.
"So," the disembodied voice dripped like fresh honey but still managed to contain the menace of a lion's roar. "The Strength is gone. Only the Faith and Soul remain. I am deeply displeased with your performance Pelion. Go now and reflect upon your failure." Pelion stood with obvious effort and leaned on his sceptre.
"Yes my master." He rasped and turned to leave. After he had vanished the voice spoke again.
"Mortius. Come closer." Mortius obliged and strode closer to the black beam. "
"Kneel Mortius." He was taken aback.
"But master I..."
"Kneel!" the voice was no longer one of whispering menace but one of pure fury that shook the very foundations of the chamber. Even Mortius found it difficult to keep his balance as huge quakes shook the room to the edge of collapse. He kneeled as best he could under the circumstances and the shaking subsided. The voice was seething barely controlling its rage. For the first time in centuries Mortius could feel fear rising inside him.
"You disobeyed me Mortius. You freed Callisto from the dungeon and allowed Ithius to be released from his bond." Impossible, how could his master know that. Mortius kicked himself for his stupidity. The Dead God had eyes and ears everywhere. In some of his temples and fortresses even the walls could not be trusted Failure is acceptable but treachery, especially from one of your standing is not." The tone changed as his master began to outline his punishment.
"From the beginning you have been the most trusted of my followers and as such the most powerful. Your recent endeavours have proved you untrustworthy."
"But master, I was acting only with your interests at heart when I..." his master continued as if he had never spoken.
"As punishment one has been chosen to replace Ithius as a member of the Triad and this one will out rank even you. Leave my sight Mortius and do not return until I order you to." With that a blinding flash emanated from the silver pool and when his vision cleared the obelisk was whole once more. He kneeled for several minutes before the obelisk. His mind roared furiously at his punishment. Callisto was to blame. She still threatened his master's plan and now she had got him demoted as well. It was time to take matters into his own hands. With that last thought he turned and let the shadows swallow him.
The Legacies Will Continue In Out Of Time
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