With the help of the Gods, will Alexina have enough in her to defeat the Emperor?
The battle raged. Swords smashed against one another, the sound of screams echoed in the square. The field was soaked in blood. The smell was vile. Rotting corpses flayed and lifeless lie staring as people moved around them. The lucky few died with their eyes shut, the others were cursed to watch the carnage in front of them. Woman and children were trampled as they desperately tried to make their way out of the city. Mothers wailed as they lost their babes amongst the fighting. The children cried out as boots came crashing down on their soft flesh. A storm loomed in the distance.
Alexina was within the battle herself, but she was not a helpless mother searching for a child, nor was she a defenseless girl trying to make her way out of the destruction. She was a warrior, and she had a mission. Her features were set with determination as she forged through the crowds. She cut down men as she went, never sparing more than a few moments on any opponent. Her destination was clear; she was to make it to the heart of the battle. He would be there, that's where he always stood. High and mighty, gazing over the city with prying eyes. He knew everything that happened here, it was his after all. She knew he would be nowhere else.
She grunted as she sliced through another soldier. Her sword was growing heavy but her determination was rising. She could feel the adrenaline coursing through her veins with every cut, with every swing. It was a feeling like no other. The muscles in her arms ached and her legs were fatigued; a few weeks ago she did not know she had the ability to even develop and utilize such muscles. She gritted her teeth and swung again. This challenger was much bigger than the ones who came before. He was taller, faster, more built. This was a good sign, it meant she was getting close to her target. He would be well guarded she was sure of it. Coward.
She heaved her weapon from her side and the duel commenced. It took longer than the rest, lasting over minutes instead of seconds. He was skilled, she would give him that. But she had been trained by the goddess of war. There was no man who would be a match for her. Or at least, this was not the man. He fell like all that had perished before, this time with a heavy thud.
Alex could see it now. The towering figure looming over the city, casting a dark cloud. She could remember the first time she had ever seen it. It looked so different now, twisted and ominous. It used to bring such light, now it was bleak and wrong. She didn't know if it was the storm clouds or a trick of the light, but it was not the same statue she remembered.
Alex had just turned twelve and she was starving. She had seen other kids go through this before. They would do a number of things to get food off the street. Try to beg for coin was one of the most common acts to actually see since it was the most noticeable. It's hard to miss a cute child standing in the road asking for food for their bellies; most shooed them away or flat out ignored them, but every now and then a kind woman would open her purse and feed one of the strays; but that was never very often. The next was conning someone. Getting them to talk, have a conversation as one of their friends takes the food right from their baskets and then leave with the unsuspecting victim none the wiser, that was, until they got home. The most common offense though, and the most dangerous, was stealing the food right off the cart. It seemed simple enough, just go over and take it. But a person had to be cunning, and tricky, and maybe a little creative.
She decided to stay back from the cart a few paces. She didn't want to look too suspicious before she could get close enough to take what she needed. As the crowd moved, she watched. She needed to learn the pattern of traffic, watch as it ebbed and flowed to and from her target. When it seemed to be its busiest, she decided to make her move.
Approaching the cart was difficult, she needed to stick close to someone who looked enough like a guardian so she wouldn't get caught. The rest was a piece of cake; stay near enough to them to not get caught and walk away when they leave, golden. Except Alex was twelve, and curiosity comes with the age. She noticed out of the corner of her eye a giant white figure standing in the middle of the Greek agora that had never been there before. In wonder she gazed at the statue of the perfect emperor. It was made from solid marble, steady and strong. It stood triumphant above the square, gazing upon the people with a watchful eye. She became lost in its beauty of the massive being.
"You, what are you doing down there?" the cart attended demanded. Alex looked around and noticed the woman she had been following was no longer in sight. She stared up at the man in fear, and then ran.
"Thief!" he shouted throughout the square and soldier's ears perked up. They chased her throughout the city, but she knew it better than them. Using this to her advantage, she escaped her pursuers by a narrow margin. Her stomach growled as she sat under a bridge and she groaned. It was back to the trash to find food.
"You," a voice called, "under the bridge, show yourself."
Paralyzed with fear, Alexina did not move, did not breath.
"Come on up here. I'm not going to hurt you."
She started to shake, scared that the soldiers had found her and were trying to trick her out of her hiding place.
With a loud huff a man, no a boy, dropped down in front of her, perfect and strong, with a hint of something dangerous in his eye.
"Didn't you know that it is against the law to disobey an order from your emperor?" He was handsome and wild. Dark curls sat gracefully on his forehead as he extended a hand to her, a sinful grin plastered on his face. "I'm Nikos, by the way. Now let's get some food in you, you looked starved."
Her stomach churned at the memory of him. His youthful face, so deceptive. How could she have believed that smirk belonged to a man of honor and bravery. He was the opposite of chivalry. She knew this now. Everything he did was a part of a scheme, a plot of his making. He did nothing better than tricking people; it had worked on her. She felt dirty, used by this man whom she admired for so long.
The thought of Nikos angered her more than anything else. He was the most disgusting being in existence to her, and she was going to rid the world of him. She swung her sword again and at the same time grabbed a dagger from her belt. She dodged and weaved her attackers blade and sunk her steel into his gut at her first chance. She twisted slightly when drawing out and kept moving, not willing to hear the man weep as he slowly bleed out.
More descended upon her. It was never ending, she wished to the gods that Athena could have fought with her. The goddess was very clear, however; this was a mortal fight, and one that must be fought and won by man. There was no way that she would interfere in these matters. She had already done enough by training Alex for this fight. Athena's father had strongly opposed her meddling in mortal affairs, or at least he had until he found out that the man wanted to destroy the religion that his existence was based on. Zeus was not happy about it, but he did allow for his daughter to help the humans in some way. Together they chose Alexina to be the champion of the world. And so fate was set, destiny written.
Alex could see him now. He fought just as well as she remembered, without mercy or care. She couldn't tell from this distance, but it seemed to her that he was laughing at the victims he cut down. A growl ripped from her throat and she fought harder, hit harder.
Their eyes met, and she knew now that he was smiling. His wicked grin grew as he stood up straight, putting a fist in the air to signal his men to stop. Both sides halted at the sign, panting and tired from the exertion of war. It was then that she knew for certain what she had known all along. He was aware of her destiny, and of his own.
She was sixteen and living like a queen. Servants waited on her hand and foot. She had not been hungry in years. Nikos had truly taken her in, protected her from the world that was so harsh and unforgiving. There was nothing he would not do for her, she knew this. He had given her anything and everything she wanted. He answered all questions and told no lies. He was perfect, and strong.
Alex ambled about the agora aimlessly. She liked the atmosphere here. The people were kind and honest. The only difference from the time she was here as a child and now was that the guards were protecting her this time instead of chasing.
A building on the square had recently been ransacked and was not open to the public anymore. She noticed the closed doors and the lack of worshipers around it. Alex had not had the chance to ask Nikos about it, and so she decided to inquire with a citizen as to what happened.
According to a kind man, people saw large men go into the building that night and take all the gold that the building held. The strange thing was, they believed the men looked like soldiers they knew. Alex was shocked by the news, of course soldiers wouldn't do this. They protected the city, they didn't destroy it.
She knew the building well, although she was never allowed to go in it. It was a temple dedicated to the gods. They were off limits to Alex by order of her emperor. She asked him why one day and he replied, "Because the gods are liars, Alex. They want us to do nothing but their bidding all the time, and they believe they own the world."
"Well they can't own the world, your majesty, you own it, don't you?" she would respond. He would smile at her and pat her head like a doting parent.
"Not yet my little dove, but soon."
As she thought on this conversation a something strange caught her eye. She could see it in the center of the square; a fracture running through the skull of the statue of her emperor. It was subtle, but there. A flaw in his perfect image.
Alex had been used. Nikos had never let her near a temple because if she had ever talked to a god, any god, she would have known that her fate and his had been set in stone since the beginning of time. She was destined to be his end, or him hers. This fight was written in the stars. Athena had told her so.
What she did not know at the time due to ignorance of anything that had to do with the gods, was that the temple was dedicated to Athena, the goddess of war. She eventually entered the building that day, after ditching slipping her guard detail, and learned the truth about her life and her destiny. She had not believed it at first, did not want to. Once she finally had it rapidly became very clear that her only goal in life now was to do this. She fought and trained for this day. The day she would put down the monster who stood before her.
"Alex, my little dove. Have you come home to me?" His voice was silky sweet and laden with venom. He was baiting her.
"You know why I have come." She strode towards him, the men surrounding them forming a circle around the two.
"Silly bird, don't you remember what I told you. They lie." He had his sword at his side but the grip he held did not escape her notice. To others, he was the picture of relaxation, but Alex could tell he was tense. Ready to strike with the slightest mistake.
"No, Nikos, you lie." She was surprised at how calm her voice sounded. She had been screaming during the battle but there was no waver in her tone.
"You dare address me like that?" he roared, "You insolent little girl. I did everything for you and this is how you repay me? Believing the lies of a less superior being than myself!"
He swung his sword then and she blocked it with one swift motion, knocking him backwards as thunder boomed.
"I would not say such things if I were you." She advanced on him slowly, methodically. They circled one another like cats, sizing up their prey, each step calculated and deliberate. Athena had trained her well though, she knew what she was doing. No one was going to stop her from finishing this.
"Oh, get up you big baby and put up your sword."
Alex huffed and pushed herself off the ground. She rubbed her backside as it became increasingly sore while the day progressed.
They had been training for weeks now, if that's what it's called. Athena drilled her with knowledge of sword play every day and dueled her every evening. She did not go easy either.
"Just, give me a minute okay," Alex put her hand up to stop the goddess's advance, "that's all I need."
"Is the fox going to give you a minute when you ask," she was always harsh, never referring to the emperor by his title, let alone by his name, "no he's not he's going to run you through."
"Okay, okay I get it." Alex blew out and sucked in a big breath of air before she started once more with the deity. Once more, she landed on her ass.
"Come on, you didn't even try that time."
"You're a real pain, you know that?" Alex brushed herself off in the dirt before standing again.
"Yes I have been told, according to my father I am also a 'massive headache,' whatever that means."
"I can't imagine why." Alex grumbled and held her sword out once more in front of her.
"Oh come on. I'm trying to help you and this is the thanks I get! You have to fight the most powerful mortal in the world in less than a month and you have never swung a sword before in your life. The least you could do is show a little gratitude." The goddess stood with her hands on her hips and cocked her head, not moving until she received her response.
Alex groaned once more and threw her hands up in defeat, "Fine, fine thank you."
"You're welcome." Athena assumed the position and gestured for Alex to do the same. "You know, if you can beat a god you can beat anyone."
"I can't beat a god." Alex deadpanned.
"True, but if you can get close, then you are better off than any other mortal I have ever met."
"Are you going to stand there like a coward or fight?" Alex was ready. She wanted to end this and end it fast. The storm was approaching rapidly and she knew she had little time.
"Where did you get this attitude from?" Nikos asked. He knew as well as she that this battle was imminent. His plan was to stall until the storm arrived. He wanted to use its power to his advantage.
"I have spent the last month with a goddess with a potty mouth." Alex continued to dance with him, waiting for the right moment.
"Those creatures are vile. I told you never to trust one, yet here we are. Look what they have made of you. You are nothing more than a disgusting wretch plaguing the earth. I should have killed you when I had the chance."
Alex was not fazed. She knew that he was just trying to hurt her. Make her lose focus so she would falter. She would not falter.
Standing in front of her former friend, no savior, she advanced. Her cloths sodden with blood and her sword drenched in the remains of her victims, she was the vision of destruction.
"Vile," she said through gritted teeth, "is a man who slaughters innocent women and children for their land and money. Vile is a man who seeks power over all else. Vile is the disgusting wretch who takes what does not belong to him, who lies and manipulates and slanders all who oppose him. The gods are not vile, I am not vile, you are vile."
She lifted her sword and with all her might the battle commenced. They both fought valiantly, trading blows like experts. She ducked and weaved, surprised at herself as she moved quicker than she thought herself capable. Athena was right, he was much slower than her. This was no cake walk, he was by far the strongest opponent she had faced. He would fall though, he would fall to her.
They grunted and slashed through the air at one another. All around them the battle raged once more. Men screaming as they fought for their leaders and their freedoms. No life was easily taken. The floor was soaked with blood. It was sticky and thick. Clouds opened up in the sky and rain poured down on them harder than it ever had.
Alex fought with all her might. She held nothing back. Everything that Athena had taught her was racing through her mind as she ducked, blocked, and hit. Nikos tried his hardest to keep her at bay, but she was too quick. He would move left and she would counter him. There fight resembled a dance; two experts evenly matched trading blow after blow as if they were perfectly choreographed. As he swung his sword she dodged it and struck his leg. With a yelp he sunk to the ground on his knees before her. She slashed his arm and he dropped the sword. Holding her blade to his throat, she gathered her breath, and said, "yield."
With no other option, the emperor bowed his head and obeyed.
Alexina examined the terrain. One by one as they saw the end of the battle men stopped fighting around her. Some dropped their swords and bowed before her, others simply stared on awe at the sight before them. She opened her mouth to speak, but someone in the crowd cried out before she had the chance.
The world stood frozen for a moment. Alex in but a second looked down to see Nikos grabbing a dagger from his boot and lunging at her from the ground. A scream ripped through his throat as he did so, startling Alex. Her eyes went wide, how could she have been so stupid, she didn't remember dropping her sword.
The storm grew with anger and might as thunder roared and a lightning strike crackled through the sky. It soared through the air and stuck the emperor down. All was silent. Alex fell back in shock as her former friend, former savior, lie before her, writhing in pain whilst clutching his arm. Another bolt of light fell upon the earth, this time colliding with the statue that still sat in the square where Alex had seen it for the first time all those years ago.
It fractured into a thousand pieces as it fell. Behind it stood Alex's comrades. Men who had fought against the tyranny of his rule. They looked to her for guidance- but she would make one thing clear to all of them. They were free at last.
Alex stood then. She brushed herself off and looked up to the sky, saying a small prayer of thanks to the gods who had helped her on this day. Picking up her sword, she beheld the troops before her. She threw her arm up in the sky and let out a cry and the men followed suit. They were victorious.
She left him there to lie in the blood-soaked rubble. She had ended him, ended his reign of terror; but she did not take his life. No, she was going to let him live on in misery as he watched the world thrive around him. His end was her beginning, and she was triumphant. He had nothing, was nothing, but a fragment of a fragile statue left behind in the dirt.