This is a little something I’ve fooled around with, off and on, for a number of years… Just a little project to keep my muse engaged with the active, battlefield mentality I often need to write suspense.
I’ve always had a love for Greek mythology, for vastly personal reasons. I will note that this isn’t a researched novel. References are ones gleaned from decades of pure fascination and study of Greek mythology and history. If I ever decide to turn this into a novel, I’ll be doing lots of research… for now, it just remains a little exercise for my muse, that I thought I’d share a bit of, with you. Enjoy!
They were sent from the gates, into the gaping maw of the desert cavern, but neither man went willingly. No man who knew the tales, or believed in Hades’ wide dominion, would have been willing. Aectetis blessed himself repeatedly and murmured prayers to Athene, while Taracles muttered curses against the darkness hovering around them.
“This is madness,” Taracles muttered as he thrust his torch savagely into the inky passageway, his sword clenched in one hard fist, his dark eyes steely. “I tell you, Aectetis; Sikander’s run mad.”
Aectetis swallowed hard, but offered no answer. He couldn’t have spoken, at the moment, had his life depended on it. His scalp itched with sweat, beneath the cockle-crested helm, and his leather armor might as well have been Prometheus’ stone, about his neck. It suffocated him. Why was he here? He had neither Taracles’ Spartan toughness, nor the great Aristotle’s Athenian scepticism. He was provincial, a farmer’s son, with little understanding of either war or philosophy. He believed in the power of the Gods, and mere mortals ought not to trifle with such things.
“I heard from the Emperor’s man that Sikander’s gripped with fevers that roll his eyes up in his head; that he hears voices. Voices!” Taracles scoffed openly, his voice edged with dark humor. “Can you believe that? The Furies come to claim his fool head, and yet none dares question his whims!”
A skittering in the darkness brought Aectetis’ gaze quickly around, and he battled down a rising wave of pure panic.
“Do you suppose it’s true? What they say of this place?” Aectetis dared not breathe more than that, lest he anger the spirits here.
“That it leads straight to Tartarus; that the voices of the damned echo here?” Taracles shrugged nonchalantly.
“No. That there’s a demon down here. A demon unlike any other,” Aectetis whispered, clutching his heavy bronze shield closer.
Taracles laughed harshly. “Demons? Aectetis, you’re too old for such children’s tales!”
“But what if it’s true?” Aectetis insisted, unable the still the growing panic in his chest. He swore he could hear the monster breathing – Aechidna’s own foul spawn. “General Ptolomy says the Emperor’s had terrible visions, in his sleep; that he dreams of a demon come to suck the very breath from his lungs. Do you suppose –?”
Taracles’ scowl effectively cowed Aectetis. “Now, you listen to me, Aectetis, and listen well. Sikander’s a raving madman, and any fool with eyes can see it. I can tell you exactly what we’ll find in these caverns. Nothing. There are no demons here, or anywhere else, for that matter.”
“But the locals believe—“
“Ignorant peasants!” Taracles spat disgustedly, as if he’d tasted something foul. “Their superstitions should not sway an Emperor, or a general, from conquest.”
The comment, spoken as only an aristocrat would dare, stung. Aectetis forced the anger away, aware that it was a small enough matter, at the moment. Survival was a more pressing concern than pride.
Silence hovered around them, and Aectetis’ heart beat in dread. This wasn’t right. There should be sounds – the echo if their sandaled feet on the cavern floor, the drip of underground water, the shift of rocks, even the sound of their breathing – yet no sound penetrated the oppressive stillness. The closer they moved toward the wide cavern at the tunnel’s end, the heavier the silence grew, until Aectetis feared he’d gone deaf.
Moving cautiously, they entered the subterranean hall, and abruptly stopped. No wind stirred here, no sound murmured in the stillness. It was, Aectetis decided with a shiver of dread, a tomb. The eeriness of it all crawled along his spine.
A form moved in the darkness of the torch’s jumping shadow. Aectetis turned his head to better see, just as his torch sputtered and blew out. A moment later, Taracles’ died as well, plunging the cavern into utter darkness.
“What was that?” Aectetis’ horrified whisper finally pierced the hovering silence. “Taracles?”
“It was probably a draught from the tunnel.” Taracles sounded annoyed. “Let me find my flint.”
A moment later, a soft glow sparked in the darkness, and Aectetis’ muscles slowly relaxed. “Thank you, Taracles. I –“
“Quiet, fool!” Taracles hissed, brandishing his blade. “That light isn’t mine. There’s someone else down here!”
Aectetis’ voice died on a terrified gasp, his heart pounding harshly in his ears as he flattened himself against the wall behind him. More than ever, he wanted to flee this place. But Taracles would see that as cowardice, and as long as Taracles remained, Aectetis could do no less. He would not dishonor his family, or his people.