R In The Time Of Gods

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The air contained a tinge of flora and fresh fruit, dancing upon the late summer breeze as it chased falling leaves through the sky. The summer festivals had ended for that year, the collection and storing of the last of summer's bounty were being collected to be stored through the slowing cooling year. In the city of Abila, the celebration of Demeter had come to a final close the evening before, honoring the Goddess for the fruits of the Earth and the grains they reaped. It consisted of a great consumption of food with music and dancing filling the town center till Apollo took away the sun in the sky. It was a time of merriment and joy for the Greek city. 

It was on this final evening that Abila held it's annual Ceremony of Youth. All music stopped as the people gathered in front of a withering wooden podium, worn from years of use. The city leader cleared his throat and pierce the crowd with his eyes as he held a ceramic bowl beautifully crafted. Upon it were symbols and words of truth, future, and power. He spoke clear and strong of another year gone by, of pleasing the Gods, and how tradition must be followed. Before the festivities could fully be ended, the Choosing must occur. Excited and nervous murmurers echoed as everyone under the age of seventeen, unless they were wed or with child, would be placed in front of the crowd bunching together. After a prayer, the leader closed his eyes and thrust the bowl into the air towards the youths. Blessed feathers from doves that were raised and cared for just for the occasion flew into the air. The white tuffs floated down as a collective breath was held, five feathers of black danced among them falling on the heads and shoulders of those below. The youths had been chosen, the black feathers had settled on five still bodies. Cheers and stifled cries erupted in the crowd.
The sound of cheers still rang strong in Nyandre's ears as the wooden cart took her farther away from her home and security. Her hazel eyes were covered with a white cloth so that she could not see her destination. The pressure of her family's kisses and embraces felt far away now as the still warm summer wind blew her straw colored braid off her shoulder. She was one of the Chosen for this year, and it was still hard to believe. It was an honor, yet secretly in her soul she was horrified. What was to become of her? There has never been a record of anyone returning to either city (alive that is). Stories filled with meetings with beasts and Gods, and in the end generally death. How many were chosen in the neighboring city? These questions were unanswered as the old man driving the car stopped, helping her out gingerly. He led her forward her throat tight. The sound of hands slapping the ground and a prayer reached her ears before the old man spoke. "May the Gods bless you, as they will now bless the city for another year. Farewell child, and may Hades be gentle with your soul. Honor will be brought to your family for years to come now, go forward with no fear in your heart and love for your people." With that, he left her, the cart pulling away leaving her utterly alone. 
With shaky hands, she pulled away her blinder, eyes stinging in the sunlight. The woods of Ishla stood before her, silent and foreboding. With a tight chest, she could not bring herself to move forward yet. "I wonder when the others will arrive...they always bring them one at a time. Perhaps...I will not die too terrible a death."Trying to be brave, she took her first few steps into the woods into the unknown. The youths were given as a sacrifice to the God Hades so he may look favorably upon their city. Where most offer sheep, human sacrifice has been tradition in her city, and thus it continues for another year. Into the Woods of Ishla the children go into an unknown fate, the location of which few truly know, for it was forbidden to go near. "I am brave. I am Nyandre of Albia, and I...I am unafraid. I am one of the Chosen." The sixteen year old had not yet convinced herself however as the trees branches finally passed over her quivering form. 

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Quietly, someone was watching from the woods, wielding a handmade spear made of wood and examinating the situation from a prudent distance, hidden inside an innocent looking bush. The mysterious person watched all the process with interest; the priests, the ceremonial prays and how the girl arrived and was left on her luck... just like the others that last year.


"So, the time has come once again..." He thought as the familiar scene developed in front of his savage eyes.


Once the priests left and with his senses completely focused on the newcomer, he jumped up and with an unnatural stealth skill he climbed the tree that was conveniently close from his hiding place, leaving his spear behind and well covered just in case things went wrong. His plan was simple, he wanted to look at this year's candidates from up there, in order to have a better view and at the same time, hide his own presence more efficiently. So sitting in a branch, with his body concealed by the leaves and the fur he was wearing, Likaas waited for the rest of the children.


Memories of persecution, bloodshed and fear came back to his head, images blocked by the denial of something so horrid, so brutal and so painful, that not only made him shiver at it's only mention, but also forged the hunter he was nowadays. This time, he didn't plan to run though... he would slaughter the creature and avenge his friends, the Chosen from last year.

The kid's eyes glowed with determination, as his resolve overwhelmed his fear and the shivers instead of showing fear, showed his excitement to see that messenger of Hades once again.

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The woods were eerily silent, unlike the ones that were closer to home always filled with animal sounds. So far she had not ventured too greatly into the trees, her hands clasped to her chest meekly as her eyes kept glancing all around her. Where was she to go? Perhaps she should try and climb a tree to see the lay of the land, or a small cropping to hide in until she could figure something out. Biting back the tears, she sniffed quietly to herself wishing not for the first time in her life that she had been born a boy. If she had, her chances of survival would have increased, she would have learned how to fight more properly and been physically stronger as well. What little she did know of combat came from her playing with her two brothers until she was too old for such games. Once in a while they would let her in their games of mock fighting until their parents shamed them for such actions, after all it was not her place to learn those types of skills. Alas, her chances of living would not be based of her physical form or fighting skills, it would have to rely instead on her agility and wits. "At least I will be able to live a little while longer knowing what is safe to eat. These herbs and plants are the same as we have at home, so if I am injured or fall ill at least I can ease my own pain a little." It brought her small comfort, but any was gladly accepted. 


A sudden rustling in the bushes nearby made her start, her hands clasping over a gasp that threatened to escape. She had to be quiet, at least until she knew the other would be friendly and helpful. So far, she hadn't seen another Chosen but the day was still early. The bushes rustled for a moment longer growing louder, matching the pounding of her heart. Feeling fear she turned heel and ran blindly forward to escape the unknown, catching her breath finally at the base of a large tree. 'I know I'm supposed to be brave and accept this as my fate. I can't help but be frightened though....oh Demeter, please do not be ashamed of my feelings and lend me your motherly strength.'  Nyandre touched the Demeter pendant hidden beneath her clothes for a moment as she gazed at the unfamiliar surroundings. Near her feet a sturdy fallen stick was lying, broken from the tree she sat beneath. With a little confidence, she picked it up, the wood being only two feet long and three inches wide. It wouldn't kill anything, but maybe stun if needed.


Her eyes looked all around her as she cradled her weak weapon to her, back against the tree. 'I feel as if the whole woods are watching eyes that I can't see are there. Is it only my imagination?'  Trying to put on a brave face, she wiped away the forming tears and took a deep breath. "I will honor my family's name to at least stand up for myself. Even if it is to an end." Softly she began to hum a lullaby to herself, low enough that only someone within a handful of feet could hear her. The silence was just too much for her to bear at the moment with everything else, and the gentle song had a calming effect. If she was lucky, someone else from her city that she was friends with, or at least an acquaintance would be there as well. Then she wouldn't have to perish alone, and the company of another would greatly ease her anxiety. 

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The night was peaceful and the little village of Aurolus was quiet. Aurolus was a small settlement of farmers and labourers built not far from the city of Abila as a stopping station before travellers reached the large city. In normal times, as it was now, Aurolus went to sleep when the moon took residence in the sky; this was the same as it was tonight, with the exception of a solitary house built on the outskirts.


It was nothing spectacular, even for a farmer’s house. It was small and rounded and seemed to be built with three sections. While every other building in Aurolus slept, the flickering light of hearths and lanterns escaped from the cracks of the windows. As an owl hooted in the distance, one of the lights moved suddenly, bobbing gently from one window before stopping at another. It floated up, as if raised in a person’s hand, and then came to swinging stop gently. If a person had been pressed up against the window boards at this point, they would have heard the three gentle taps of knuckles on wood.


The knocks on the door were gentle, but Thadeus immediately awakened, his eyes opening as he took a sharp intake of breath in. As he did so, the flames in the fireplace and the two lit lanterns either side of the doorway flickered out; leaving trails of smoke to rise to the roof. As Thadeus turned at sat up in his bed, the thin layer of fabric covering him sliding to his waist, the door opened and a small women slipped into the room.


She was clearly old, but not ancient, and she had a shawl wrapped around her shoulders, held together at her chest with a wrinkled hand. She had light, sandy hair that she had pulled back into a tail at her back.


“Mother, why do you bother?†Thadeus asked, brushing his own dirty blonde hair out of his eyes.


It was a question that Thadeus asked every time he woke up, so his Mother did not need to ask about what he was referring to. She answered with the same thing she answered with every time he asked the question. “Because otherwise, you would never feel its warmth.†Her voice was firm and solid, a voice of command.


“What is it? Why have you woken me in the middle of the night?†Thadeus said, locking his eyes onto his mother’s.


“Your father spoke to me tonight; I thought it best to pass the message on as soon as possible.†She walked across the room and sat gently on the end of his bed.


Thadeus’ eyes flickered in anger before he gained control of himself. “He spoke…to you?†He said slowly. “Not to his son, who he has never spoken to; to you?â€


“You know it is not like that, Thadeus, you know…†His mother laid her hand on his leg, but Thadeus swung around to place his feet on the floor.


“So you tell me.†He said, interrupting his mother’s sentence. “What did he say to you?â€


“Abila finished its Ceremony of Youth this evening. Tomorrow their sacrifice to the gods will begin; the Chosen let loose into the forest to die.â€


“What does it matter to me, they do it every year.†Thadeus stood up, completely naked, and padded across the room to a pile of fabric that turned out to be a tunic that he slipped over his head, tying it at the waist with a length of cord.


“You father has asked that you interrupt the proceedings, stop the sacrifices that die in the name of Hades.†His mother spoke in hushed tones but Thadeus heard her words clearly.


“He was not bothered with this for all the other years, why so much this time? Why does he want me to do it? Can’t he interfere in his own way!?†It was a ferocious whisper. Thadeus knew his voice would carry to the other houses and he knew that they could not know about the conversation he was having with his mother.


“You know I do not have the answers for your questions. You know the gods work in ways we can’t imagine to comprehend, I just ask that you obey your father and honour him.†His mother stood up and pulled the shawl tighter around her shoulders.


“Honour him? Honour a god that doesn’t even whisper to his only son!?†Thadeus paused, his breathing heavy. “Fine, I will go and interfere with the Sacrifices. My father better be willing to stick his neck out when Hades decides to strike me down.†He walked across to the other side of the room where a set or armour was sat on a stool. “The great god of Death better appreciate this.â€


6 hours later…


The warm summer sun began to rise over the horizon, and Thadeus’ goal was finally drawing near. The Woods of Ishla stood before him with its infamous reputation; sacrificial grounds for Aliba’s youth to Hades. Thadeus was now wearing a leather Cuirass over his chest, moulded muscles at his abdomen with a pair of inverted torches emblazoned on the chest, with leather straps hanging to his knees over his white tunic. A pair of hard leather greaves covered sandal straps with the sandals themselves protecting the soles of his feet. A sword was strapped to his waist, hanging to his left thigh, while a large round shield was strapped to his back, and a long spear held in his hand. Thadeus had tied his dirty blonde hair into a ponytail on the back of his head.


He brought his horse to a canter before pulling it to a stop, the line of Ishla’s border invisible yet clear before him. He swung his leg clear of the horse and dropped to the ground. With a gentle smack on the rear, the horse started off back in the direction Thadeus had come; leaving the man himself stood alone. I do this to gain the attention of my father, not to follow his orders. He thought, gripping his spear tightly before beginning a slow jog forwards. There were no guards or watchers at the borders of Ishla, its reputation was enough to keep out any inquisitive minds, so Thadeus went unimpeded until the trees completely surrounded him.


He knew that the Sacrifices would be led to the edge of the woods not far from his current location. His plan was simple; let them edge into the woods, out of view from the outside, and then kill them in the name of his father. Let them be fuel for his power, rather than the god of the underworld’s. With that in mind, he found a tree and quickly pulled himself up into a cradle of branches. He would give it an hour before he started the hunt.

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Nyandre took a few practice swings with her measly weapon, feeling at least slightly more confident she may be able to hurt someone human who was around her own age. She couldn't know if the other Chosen could be trusted yet. It was strange to her as well that she had yet to see anyone from another city or fact she had yet to see an animal. Listening quietly, she realized the birds were even so high up that their song was but whispers on the wind. It sent a shiver down her spine, the hair on her head standing on end. "It is unnatural for a wood to be so silent. It is as if the presence of Death himself were about silencing all around me." Not wanting to stay in one place too long she held her stick close and walked forwards into the unknown, glad that at least there was still light streaming in through the tree tops to give some comfort. 


Humming so soft only she could hear, the young woman looked all around her with wide eyes. Being the daughter of a potter, she had some small privileges when growing up. Her clothes were not rags, food was always on the table, and there were some precious trinkets that belonged to her alone. One hand clasped the Demeter pendant for a moment. Being the only daughter, they had planned on marrying her to a wealthy family at the other end of the village. Although she didn't possess many great skills, she was a simple beauty as her mother told her. Not too beautiful to draw envy of other women around her, but pretty enough to stand out alone. This trait as well as her knowledge of herbs and song helped the matching which would benefit both families businesses. She wondered how this would change her family from now on, since the marriage obviously would not be upheld. 


Coming to a small stream, she realized how thirsty she had become from walking and fearing. Her throat begged for a drink, however, the stream was out from among the shelter of the trees. She would be exposed totally if she ventured out. A growl came from her stomach as well, when was the last time she ate? It must have been right before coming, though not much could she fit in her mouth for it was too dry. Near the water, some sweet tasting herbs were growing. They were often used by farmers or warriors to push away hunger for short times by chewing on them. Not too far away, another type of plant life grew similar in color but different in shape. If consumed, the person would get painful stomach cramps, dizziness, and nausea. It wouldn't do well to mix the two. Looking all around the young woman paused for sounds. Holding her little weapon to chest level she creeped out from the canopy towards the stream. With eyes wide and looking around, her picked handfuls of the safe herb stuffing them in her mouth. A handful went into a sewn in pocket in her dress on the right. With a second though, she picked a few of the ill fating herbs as well, they may come in handy with the wrong person who didn't know about plants. "I wonder if this is how wildlife feels when they venture out to drink. Always on the look for a hunter...I don't like it one bit."


Frowning, she tried to keep her gaze and wits about her as much as possible, taking small handfuls of clear cold water into her palm and drinking swiftly. 'Soon I'll be back under the canopy. Then...I should try to find something with height like a hill or cropping of rocks, to get a better look around. If I make it till dark...if I make it, I'll need shelter to sleep. I wonder if I even could sleep...'

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Likaas stalked the girl silently from the top of the trees covered by leaves and branches, lowering his breath and movement sounds to the minimum, like hunting a prey. The survivor from last year wanted to test two things, one was her natural skills, would she be able to survive or had any talent at all by herself? She didn't look strong, that he could tell, but strenght wasn't all they needed against what was coming.

He could tell she knew the basics of survival, that much, he felt a bit dissapointed though, since that was all this girl had in favor. The other factor he wanted to test was her detection skills. He could tell the girl did felt unsettled, so... might be a good thing? He wasn't sure if she was frightened by his presence or the situation, but either way, at least she seemed to have keen senses, as she took good precautions without leaving any stupid openning.


Judging that time was passing and yet no other people entered the forest, Likaas decided to make his appearance.




A voice soft as the wind made it's way to the ears of the girl. Likaas's presence was half concealed as he jumped down from the three he was watching the girl. He fell on her sight, not close enough to be attacked in case she panicked, also not hidden to appear more as a person like her than a menace, he did though might look just as an illusion at first.


"Are you a sacrifice?"


Likaas stared right into her eyes, if she lied he would notice. He waited for an answer, stying still, as the half concealed effect passed and he looked more and more like a normal person in front of her.

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Thadeus was woken by the sound of a branch snapping beneath someone’s foot. His eyes immediately snapped open but he forced himself not to move a muscle; the last thing he wanted was for whoever it was to see him moving. He closed his eyes again and strained his hearing to pick up whomever, or whatever, was moving along the ground. For a number of tentative seconds there was no further sound and just as Thadeus decided to move, he heard a whimper. Thadeus froze again and waited, hoping to pick up where the person was in reference to his current location. He got something better, the person starting talking; clearly muttering to themselves.


“It had to be me, didn’t it? That’s speaks about how much the gods love you, eh, Agapios? Be honoured you are a sacrifice for Hades, Agapios. Be honoured your life will allow Agita to continue, Agapios. Heh.†Using the muttering as a beacon, Thadeus put the person called Agapios about 10 feet to his right. With that information he opened his eyes and slowly rotated his head in that direction, keeping a keen eye out for anything that could be a person.


He located Agapios nearly immediately. The boy, because he looked about 12 years old, was leant against a tree, facing an angle that meant he wasn’t looking at Thadeus’ hiding place. Thadeus turned his body to get a better look at Agapios. He was wearing a brown tunic, nothing fancy, tied at the waist with a brown leather belt, the gold coloured buckle actually shining in the morning light. He had a pair of leather straps around his wrists and a slightly tattered pair of sandals covered his feet. His hair was short and haphazardly, as if he cut it himself, and his eyes were a sea of blue. The boy was also holding a tall, thick branch in his hand, clearly as some sort of walking staff.


“Right, no point hanging around Agapios, you’ve got no idea what might be lurking in the shadows.†Agapios muttered to himself before hauling himself off the tree trunk and starting a slow walk away from Thadeus’ tree.


Thadeus slowly rolled off his branch, using his wiry muscles to slow his descent slightly, and landed with a small crouch on the ground. Strangely, despite the pile of twigs and leaves beneath his feet, he managed to do it without a sound. Thadeus tightened his grip around his spear and set off after his prey. As when he had landed, every twig he snapped under foot, every pile of leaves he rustled happened without a sound. Even a thicker branch, about 3 inches in diameter, remained silent after breaking under his weight.


Death is silent. The only thing my father left me with; at least it turned out to be useful. Thadeus thought, stepping off the broken remains of the branch to continue after the muttering Agapios. He followed the boy for about ten minutes and just as he decided to move in for the kill, Agapios stopped at the edge of a small stream. Thadeus also came to a halt and stopped at the base of a tree, hiding himself behind a bush.


“Water!†Agapios exclaimed crouching down to submerge his hand. “Dirty, unhealthy water.†The boy stood up again and looked up along the river. “But if I follow the water, I’ll more than likely come across a pool and that’ll be much better to drink from.†With that said, the sacrifice stepped off heartily in pursuit of something to drink.


Thadeus narrowed his eyes and waited for a couple of seconds before following. Good, I’ll take the shot when he’s drinking. He’ll never even suspect a thing. He thought, his silent footsteps taking him closer and closer to his victim.

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A voice out of the shadows caused the water from her hands to spill back into their source. Instead, they grasped the wooden weapon with a determined firm grip as her young eyes searched the woods. A figure emerged from above, eerily quiet in their decent, looking straight at Nyandre. She wondered if he was some sort of shadow creature to move up on her as he did so quietly, though he looked human enough. Only time would tell, the woods were full of mysterious things. 


The question wasn't one she was expecting, and to her surprise she found it a little hard to respond. If she said yes, would that make her an instant target? If she said no, would they believe her? What if they were a sacrifice as well, it could be possible to join forces. All this thinking drew out into a lingering silence that was growing with each passing internal question. The young woman knew she would have to eventually respond. The stranger had such an intense gaze, it was as if he was trying to peer into her soul. It was quite disturbing and though Nyandre wanted to look away she could not in fear it would be a sign of weakness or being subservient. Blinking slowly she held his gaze, hoping there was at least some determined intensity in her own eyes. 


With a twitch of her head that she held high, she straightened her back while gripping the dense stick harder. "What does it matter to you if I am or not? I don't like answering questions to those who sneak around and surprise me." Internally she gave herself a pat on the back. It was an ambiguous answer, or so she hoped, putting this stranger on the spot instead of her. Hopefully they would relay their intentions she she would better know if they could be trusted or not. If it was her fate to die, she would at least like to try and survive as long as possible, and know who was separating her soul from her body.  

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