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The Characters of Callisto, Xena and any others mentioned from the television series are the property of Universal and Renaissance. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this story. All the others (with the exception of the Gods) come from my own twisted imagination but other people are welcome to use them.
This story contains some violent scenes so if you don't like violence (although I can't see you liking a show like XWP if you don't, it comes with the territory) then don't read this, it's as simple as that. It also contains some emotional distress in the scenes between Sathius and Callisto. If you don't mind this type of thing then welcome to my world.
|Redemption||Mortius||The Shadow Riders||Soul, Strength And Faith||Out of TIme|
The Legacies of Callisto: The Shadow Riders
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.
Prologue: In The Night
Sathius crept slowly through the dark forest. Above him large drops of water fell to the ground from the leafy canopy as the rain continued to fall.
"Go out and scout the area." Was what Hanun had told him to do. Easier said than done in this weather, rainfall and night may help the scouts remain undetected but it
hardly worked wonders for their visibility. He glanced over at his companions. To his right, tall noble Taramon with his haughty gaze and sharp chin squinted in the darkness and kept his sword at the ready in case anything unexpected should happen. To his left Dorrow, a weasel of a man with disgusting teeth and breath that could have been used to poison the village rats, scratched tiredly at his unshaven cheeks.
Until three weeks ago these woods had been the safest, and indeed only, route to travel between the twin villages of Tain and Maran. Now a bunch of brigands were wandering the roads and no one, merchant or traveller could get through. At least that was what the village guards were telling everyone. The truth Sathius had only recently learned. In fact had he been given the whole story earlier he would never have volunteered for the task in hand. Something was creeping about out here and it was something that scared the Centaur dung out of Hanun. If it could scare that stone outhouse of a man then Sathius didn't want to know anything about it. On one occasion the son of a local merchant who had attempted to travel to Tain had come stumbling into the village shouting about how his father had been murdered by four dark horsemen. Following the incident the brigands had become known as the Shadow Riders as each was described as riding a huge dark stallion that seemed almost unnatural in their size and strength. For a few days nothing had happened on the road and the people of Maran had thought that maybe the brigands had moved on to pastures new. Then they had seen the smoke. It had started late one evening. As the orange ball of the sun began to sink below the horizon, a billowing cloud of smoke had been seen rising up into the air directly above the village of Tain. Many people believed that it was only one of the buildings catching fire and that there was nothing seriously wrong. The village guard remained hopeful but Hanun, ever the pessimist had decided to send a scout party to find out what had happened. So here he was slinking through the trees in the middle of the night looking for the Gods knew what. He sighed wearily, an action that drew a slap round the head from Taramon.
"How many times do I have to tell you to keep quiet?" He whispered exasperatedly. Taramon considered himself to be above most of the villagers in Maran and often tried to create the pretence of being a military man. The truth was that he had never served one day in any army in his entire life.
"The amount of times it takes you to stop hitting me every time I make a sound." Sathius glared at him. Taramon was about to say something when a wave from Dorrow silenced them both.
"Shut up and look!" he hissed pointing a trembling finger at the shadowy figures that were sat on horseback just beyond the trees. Each of the four men sat completely motionless, not even their huge steeds moved. Taramon shifted his sword grip uneasily and clenched his jaw tight.
"Lets get closer." He whispered. Dorrow nodded and the two of them began to creep into the trees to get a better look at the strangers. Sathius was too afraid to move. He watched in stunned silence as Taramon and Dorrow crept nearer, his eyes flicking from them and back to the trees where the horsemen sat. As his glance travelled back to the horsemen once more he did a double take. They had disappeared. He stood up and began to glance all around him, his eyes desperately searching the leafy foliage for any sign of the strangers. There was none. He began to run forward to try and reach the creeping figures and warn them of the danger. As he ran his foot snagged on the root of a tree that sent him tumbling head over heels. He landed face down in the soaked earth and cursed loudly. Quickly he heaved himself back to his feet. The horsemen stood together, their backs to him and facing Dorrow and Taramon. They didn't move a muscle but suddenly the forest was filled with screams of agony as his companions cried out in pain to him.
"Run Sathius!" shouted Taramon. "Warn Hanun!" the order degenerated into another scream of pain as unseen forces tore into him. Sathius stood, frozen by the mortifying display that was taking place in front of him. Then one of the horsemen turned to look at him. The figure was gaunt and haggard, skin hanging from a ragged and ancient looking body that was barely hidden beneath a tattered, mud brown robe that the rain did not touch. Wisps of thinning white hair hung from a scalp stretched tight over the mans skull while blood red orbs glared malevolently out of the wasting mans eye sockets. The glare of those eyes seemed to drill down into his chest and in seconds the icy grip that had clutched at his heart and frozen him to the spot had thawed and he was free to move. He needed no urging. Turning on his heel Sathius ran as fast as his legs would carry him from those four men. He stumbled through the forest, blindly tripping and falling as he ran splashing through puddles and shallow streams in his haste to escape the terrifying gaze of the haggard horsemen, and all along the screams of his companions rung in his ears like the wailing of banshees.
Chapter One: Around The Campfire
The camp fire lit up the clearing in the dark forest with an eerie flickering light that cast long dancing shadows around the blonde haired warrior woman as the sound of stone scraping on metal echoed softly between the trees. Callisto gripped her sword tightly and dragged the stone along its sharp edges trying to sharpen its blunted edges. She paused as she yawned and stretched feeling the bones in the back of her neck crack satisfyingly then went back to sharpening the sword. It had been a good day. She'd spent the morning hunting deer on the outskirts of the forest and landed herself a particularly large and well-nourished faun. The creature would keep her eating for a good week or so although Callisto doubted she would keep the meat that long. She had never been able to eat the same thing for more than a couple of days before becoming bored of it and abandoned the meat she carried. The creatures smooth fur coat was also a good prize. The next village she came to she would have to go to the nearest seamstress and get herself some blankets made of the smooth fur hide. Sighing happily, from the meal earlier, she placed the sword and grindstone on the damp floor and leaned back against a large rock near the fire with a contended belch. She scrubbed the back of her hand across her mouth and closed her eyes from the drowsiness that she felt, allowing her mind to wander. How her life had changed recently. Little more than a month ago she had never thought it possible to feel so at peace with herself, so utterly comfortable with her surroundings and as hard as it was to admit she had to thank Xena for it. If it hadn't been for the Hinds Blood dagger she had taken in the belly Callisto would have gone on living in abject misery for the rest of her days, and the fact that she had been a God made the rest of her days a considerable amount of time. It had been Zeus who had brought her back from the dead using a trick only he knew and given her a second chance so she supposed she would have to thank him too. And here she was, sitting in a clearing and happier than she had ever been in her former life. Or at least for most of the time. Her sleep was far from contented. Even now the fire in Cirra still haunted her dreams which was possibly the weirdest part of all. Cirra hadn't happened yet. Zeus had dumped her two hundred years in the past so that she would never be able to interfere with people like Xena or Hercules again. The snap of a twig immediately brought her out of her little daydream. Her foot lashed out and caught the slinking figure in the chin knocking him flying across the clearing. As the young man rolled over Callisto snatched her sword from the floor and sat firmly on the young mans chest legs astride his arms and pinning him to the floor while she brought her sword up to his neck. She wouldn't kill him of course. She couldn't. Zeus had expressly forbade killing unless it was in defence of herself or another. If she broke that rule her new found life would be over quicker than it took a lightning bolt to travel from the heavens to the earth. Callisto examined the boy intently. He was a good six or seven years younger than she with a mop of brown hair and an innocent face but behind his darting blue eyes was a look of intense fear.
"Who are you?" she demanded pressing the sword blade harder to the boys throat. "Tell me or I'll see if a second smile improves your looks." She mimed slitting his throat with her free hand. The boys eyes stopped darting about maniacally and focused on her for the first time.
"Sathius." He said in a voice that was bearly audible. "My name's Sathius."
"And what are you doing by my fire." She continued. Two simple words.
"Running away." Callisto's eyes narrowed and scanned the area of the forest where she assumed he'd come from for any sign of pursuers. She stood up but did not sheath her sword.
"From who?" she asked suspiciously.
"More like what. Who are you any way?" The boy asked as he scrambled to his feet and brushed himself down.
"My name's Callisto and answer my question, what were you running away from?" said Callisto. She was going to get a proper answer out of this petrified pubescent if it took her all night.
"It's a long story." He murmured. Callisto settled herself back against the rock she had rested by before and motioned him to sit with her sword.
"I'm not going anywhere." She said giving him the look she had learned to use during interrogations of prisoners that were two numerous to count. The look that seemed to say,
"Spill your guts and I won't have to spill them for you." Sathius took one look at her before letting out a miserable sigh and sitting down on the other side of the fire from her.
"Well it all started three weeks ago…" and so he began his story.
Chapter Two: An Unexpected Visitor
"So that's what happened." Said Sathius, wearily. Callisto didn't believe much of the story. In her days as a God and as an enemy of Xena she had seen many strange and outlandish things but this story of four horsemen who had most likely killed Sathius' companions without even moving from where they stood seemed a bit far-fetched. The chances of it being a God were virtually non-existent. The Gods would never bother to go to such effort just to kill two mere mortals who posed absolutely no threat to them whatsoever. Even if a God had been involved the deaths of Taramon and Dorrow would not have been so simple. The Gods liked to make an exhibition out of those they chose to kill. It made a better warning that way. The more likely possibility was that four brigands had murdered the two men and Sathius had created these monstrous creatures to justify his running without any attempt to help his friends. Still Callisto decided not to completely ignore Sathius' account as a lie. In the past she had been caught out by Xena simply because she had been too impatient to consider all the possibilities and courses of action that could be taken. She wasn't going to make that mistake again. She clambered to her feet and began to gather up her gear.
"What're you doing?" Sathius asked. Callisto didn't look up from her work.
"The sun will be up in an hour or so and I figure if I push hard enough I may be able to make it to Tain by nightfall." She slung her saddlebags and bedroll over the back of Lazarus before turning to look at him.
"You coming?" she asked simply. Sathius stared at her with a horrified expression passing over his young face.
"Are you crazy? With those things out and about in the forest I'm heading straight home where it's safe." He said and turned to go before adding
"You'd be wise to do the same." With that he was gone, slinking back into the trees that surrounded the clearing. Callisto watched him go before turning back to her horse. The black stallion stood patiently with its back to the trees.
"C'mon boy." She said patting him gently on the nose and pulling at his rains. "Let's go."
Callisto hadn't had any idea of what to expect when she reached Tain but this certainly wasn't it. The entire village was little more than a smouldering ruin. The wooden stockade that surrounded the village had been completely flattened and what was left of the buildings was barely worth mentioning. Most of them were just hollow burned out shells and of some there was nothing left save a still warm heap of debris. The entire scene brought back memories to Callisto. Unpleasant memories. Cirra had looked just like this after Xena had come. The same burned walls and shattered houses, but Xena had left some trace of life. Something that would one day come back and haunt her in the shape of Callisto. Here there was nothing but total devastation and every living thing, from the people who lived here right down to the grass they had walked on had been destroyed. Who could have done this? Sathius had called them the Shadow Riders. Callisto felt anger building up inside her. Not at the Shadow Riders but at what had happened in Cirra. She shook her head and tried to clear her thoughts. She had to remember that Cirra hadn't happened yet and that this was not the same place. She breathed deeply in an attempt to calm herself down and moved slowly between the houses. Occasionally she would stop and enter one to explore the wreckage only to emerge several minutes later with an ashen expression on her face. This was a dead place and nothing she could do would help here. She had to get to Maran and warn them of the fate that Tain had suffered and that may still be forced to endure. Quickly she turned on her heel and began to jog back through the village to where she had left Lazarus. Suddenly a deep voice spoke from behind her.
"Impressive handiwork, wouldn't you say Callisto." She whirled around to face the unknown speaker, sword in hand. The man who stood before her was tall and broad of both shoulder and chest. He had curling black hair that grew down to his shoulders and a well-trimmed beard with a handsome face.
"Hello Ares." She said with a sneer. It looked like no matter where she went the God of War would never be far behind, but he looked different to what she remembered. His brow was furrowed with deep lines of worry and his eyes had a nervous glint. His entire body seemed to be on edge, ready to jump into action at the slightest sign of trouble although, knowing Ares jumping into action probably meant throwing someone else into the way of that trouble.
"How did you know I was here?" she asked, "I thought Zeus was trying to keep the whole time travel thing secret." The handsome God laughed
"Trying being the operative word. My father never could keep anything from me for long." He walked around the back of her eyeing her appreciatively. "Still the same old Callisto." He smirked "I see being dead hasn't made you any less attractive." Callisto turned to look him in the eye, sheathing her sword and putting her hands on her hips as she did so.
"Not quite the same old Callisto." She said through a forced smile.
"Oh yes." He continued to circle her. "You've gone and done a Xena, embarking on another one of those little quests for redemption you mortals always seem to find so appealing." Ares didn't even try to hide the contempt in his voice. "I suppose it was inevitable really. You were so obsessed with her that it was only a matter of time before you started imitating her as well. Next thing you know you'll have got yourself an irritating sidekick and be riding around righting wrongs and being a general do gooder." Callisto's mind flashed back to the last time she had seen Xena, Gabrielle and Ares.
"How is the good Xena? So much has happened and I just haven't had time to write. Is she still operating on the policy of I scratch her back she sticks a knife in mine?" she said, her voice tinged with mischief, she loved to tease Ares. He shrugged
"Xena's fine now that she has Gabrielle back." Callisto's eyes widened at that news. Gabrielle survived! "I was hoping that the loss of Gabrielle would drive her back to the old ways." Ares continued "But it seems that things just haven't been going my way recently. First the death of Strife, by your hand." He pointed at her. Callisto pointed at her chest with an innocent expression on her face
"Me!" she said in a childish voice, the corners of her mouth edging up in a smirk. Ares ignored her and continued to speak.
"Then Xena killing my son." Callisto laughed outright this time.
"So, even after all your careful planning Xena still managed to throw a Chakram in the works." she shook her head. "You've got to admit it Ares, she's good." Ares turned his back on her and surveyed the remains of the village.
"And now this." He groaned and rubbed his temples as if he had a headache. Callisto suddenly caught on,
"This isn't just one of your warlords is it? It can't be. Not if it's got you so worried." Ares looked back over his broad shoulders at her and smiled weakly.
"You catch on quick." He said before returning his steady gaze back to the ruins of the village. Callisto walked over to him as he continued to speak.
"What did this frightens the Gods. Even I'll admit that." Callisto looked at him as if she was addressing a village idiot rather than the God of war.
"But you could level a village without even breaking a sweat, so why are you worried." Ares glanced down at her
"Because what did this will eventually grow to become more powerful than all the Gods combined."
"You're joking right?" she said. Ares sighed forlornly
"I wish I was. These things could destroy the Olympian Pantheon of Gods in a heartbeat and annihilate Dahak with little more effort." Callisto rubbed her nose feeling more than a little confused
"So why are you stood here talking to me about them? Shouldn't you and the other Gods be out there trying to get rid of these things before they grow powerful enough to do what you just said!" she spoke very matter of factly. Ares turned and laid his hands on her shoulder pads.
"This isn't easy for me to ask Callisto, but…" he paused. "I need your help." Callisto laughed in his face.
Chapter Three: Unusual Aid
"I'm serious!" said Ares. He sounded hurt. Callisto was clutching onto the remains of a village hut so that she didn't fall over, laughing hysterically and holding an arm across her bare stomach as if her sides were going to split. Ares folded his arms and tapped his foot in an exasperated manner. He looked like an impatient child. When Callisto had calmed down a little he unfolded his arms.
"Well?" he asked.
"Well what?" she sniggered.
"Are you going to help me." Callisto's laughter stopped.
"You really are serious!" she said from under dark slanted eyebrows. Ares rolled his eyes.
"Of course!" He said.
"Why should I help you?" she asked, knowing full well that Ares would already have some sort of answer poised on the tip of his snake like tongue.
"Because they are as much a threat to you as they are to me." That answer was surprisingly blunt for such a manipulative person as Ares. Callisto folded her arms and leaned back against the wooden wall of the hut. She was amazed it had survived the fire.
"If I agree to this little alliance of yours, how do I know you'll keep your side of the bargain. When Hope was trying to bring Dahak into our world you were the only God I knew of who switched sides." Ares folded his arms again and spoke like he was addressing a child.
"Hope needed an ally other than you because, let's face it, you weren't exactly the picture of stability." He turned and stared out into the forest that surrounded the village as if he could sense something unusual out there. He looked back to her and continued speaking "These things don't want or need an ally. That leaves me having to look for help elsewhere." Callisto sighed reluctantly.
"Alright." She said as if a horse was pulling out her teeth. "I'll help you." The tension in Ares decreased visibly as his shoulders drooped slightly and his chest flattened a little as he blew out a long relieved breath of air from between pursed lips.
"Thank you Callisto." His voice did not carry its usual condescending tone. If Callisto hadn't known any better she would have sworn he sounded almost sincere. She took a step nearer to him.
"I've agreed to help you Ares but I want to know what we're up against. Going into battle and not knowing your enemy is testimony to disaster." Ares looked at her seemingly surprised.
"I was just getting to that part." He said.
"Then who is doing this?" she asked. The corners of Ares mouth curved up in cruel grin.
"Ever heard of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." He said.
Callisto sat by a small campfire just outside the main gate of Tain, poking at the burning wood with a stick in a half-hearted attempt to stoke the fire. By the time Ares had finished telling her what she needed to know about these Four Horsemen night had been setting in and she had not felt like travelling through a place where four super powerful deities were wandering around in the dark, thank you very much. In fact she was beginning to have second thoughts about this entire business. From what Ares had told her she found it hard to believe that such powerful beings could exist with the sole purpose to destroy. Even Dahak had had motives for his conquest but to just annihilate everything and anything did not seem right even to Callisto's still slightly warped sense of right and wrong. She prodded the fire again. She just hoped Sathius had got back to Maran and that his story had received a better reception there than it had with Callisto.
"The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." She muttered to herself. The very notion seemed preposterous to her at first. Four beings of immense power, each a personification of certain forms of misery and death people had to deal with. Famine, a personification of hunger and from Ares description the member of the four riders that had looked at Sathius. Pestilence was the rider she least looked forward to meeting being a personification of disease and decay, not exactly the most pleasant things a body could portray. Callisto should know, she'd spent a bit of time with Hercules as a walking corpse and the thought of the smell alone made her want to vomit. War sounded similar to Ares in terms of character but lacked the war God's yellow streak, which Callisto had observed on more than one occasion. Also the rider had no delusions of uniting the world under one powerful warlord, he simply wished to crush it through war instead. And last but not least there was Death, the most powerful of the four and apparently the closest thing they had to a leader. The problem was that he was also the one of the four about which the least was known which made judgements of his personality very difficult. The power of the four was not to be underestimated as Ares had repeated to her many times. At full strength even the weakest of them, Pestilence was more than a match for all the Olympian Gods at once. Callisto did not even want to think about what the four of them could do at full power and joined together. Unfortunately getting them to fight separately was apparently extremely difficult as they barely ever fought far from one another's side, so it looked like tackling all at once or non at all. Callisto had wondered what chance a mortal was to stand at all against four such creatures, they could squash her without even thinking about it. This was where Ares plan came into the equation. The creatures were newly arrived in this world and as a result did not have even a tenth of their full strength. At present a single God could just about handle them but it wouldn't stay that way for long. Ares wanted Callisto to provide a distraction to the Horsemen while he proceeded with his side of the bargain. Not an ideal situation as if Ares decided to back out then she would find herself at the mercy of these riders. She heard a rustling of leaves in the bushes that surrounded the fire
"Whoever you are, you may as well come out. I've been able to hear you skulking about back there for the last quarter of an hour." She lied. She may have only just become aware of the sneaking figure but if whoever it was thought she'd known about him for longer then they might think twice about trying to sneak up on her again. She looked back over her shoulder at the bushes.
"Are you coming out or not?" she asked. Sathius came trudging reluctantly out from the bushes, his face was tear stained and his eyes held a look of desolation. Callisto arched her eyebrows.
"What're you doing here?" she asked, "I thought you were going to warn your village about the Shadow Riders." Fresh tears welled up in his eyes and he collapsed onto his knees weeping sorrowfully. Callisto was immediately at his side, her arms wrapping around his shoulders, cradling the weeping boy. She was really getting the hang of this being comforting business.
"What happened?" she asked trying her best to sound sympathetic, something that still needed a little practice.
"I… I got back to Maran early in the morning." He stammered, "but no one believed me. Then just after noon they were there. Four of them sat on huge horses, and around them people were dropping dead. One threw lightning while another rode back and forth cutting people down with a huge flaming sword." He paused as if it was difficult to carry on, "My mo… mother turned to dust before my very eyes." His voice began to become angry, hatred boiling up inside himself. "And I ran." He spat as he turned his face to look at her. Callisto couldn't think of anything to say. The boy had run! Suddenly Sathius thrust his hand into the flames of the campfire.
"Hey!" shouted Callisto as she grabbed his wrist and dragged it out of the flames. "What in the name of Zeus do you think you're doing?" she said angrily. Sathius' answer chilled Callisto's blood
"Punishing myself." He said barely holding back the fury, which was directed, partially at himself and partially at Callisto for interfering.
"Why?" Sathius fought his way free of her grasp and stormed off to the other side of the camp fire.
"Because I ran." he yelled furiously "She was my own mother and I didn't even try to help her." Callisto stood up and walked over to where he stood. She grabbed him by the shoulders and looked into his eyes. She recognised the look of hatred there.
"You couldn't have done anything to save her. The Shadow Riders are too powerful." Sathius batted her arms away angrily.
"You didn't even believe me when I told you about the Shadow Riders." Callisto looked at her feet in embarrassment.
"Well I do now." She said and pointed in the direction of Tain
"Tain was completely levelled by just the four of them. I've found out something about them and believe me, running was the best thing you could've done." Sathius stared at her, dumbstruck by what she was saying.
"You don't understand do you?" he said furiously. Suddenly he launched himself at her and the two of them hit the ground in a shower of dirt. Callisto could feel Sathius' surprisingly strong hands around her throat as he banged her head rhythmically against the ground, speaking one word for every time her head hit home, his strength fuelled by hatred
"She was my mother, my mother" He repeated maniacally, "and I didn't help her. It doesn't matter whether I would have been able to do anything or not. I shouldn't have just left her to die." Callisto's head throbbed with pain from the repeated beating, she'd had enough of this. Her knee came up sharply into Sathius' back sending him flying over her head to land sprawled in the dirt. He tried to roll over to find Callisto's knee dug into the small of his back. He flailed his arms and legs about wildly in a futile attempt to get her off him.
"Let me up you bitch!" he yelled furiously and squirmed even harder as he felt Callisto grab his arms and tie them with a torn strip of leather from one of her bags.
"Not until you calm down." She said as she moved down and began to tie his legs in a similar manner before flipping him over and propping upright against a large rock at the edge of the firelight.
As time went by and the first rays of dawn began to creep over the horizon, Callisto clambered to her feet and walked over to where Sathius remained bound. He had stopped struggling and the tears of sorrow were beginning to reappear in his eyes.
"Feeling a little more controlled now?" she asked. He nodded and raised his eyes to meet hers.
"I'm sorry about earlier." He said meekly, "It's just that I…"
"Don't worry about it." Callisto interrupted. "I've had worse done to me." She paused. "A lot worse." Slowly she undid the strips of leather that bound his hands and feet before leaning over and gingerly taking his wrist in her hand.
"Let's take a look at that burn." She said. It was a nasty injury and shouldn't really have been left unattended the length of time it had. It would probably leave scars now. There was little more she could do than bandage it and hope the wounds hadn't already become infected. As she wrapped it slowly so as not to hurt Sathius too much she spoke.
"Listen Sathius. I'm heading to Maran today and I think it would be better if you got out of here. This forest isn't safe for someone like you."
"A coward you mean." He said bitterly
"Don't ever think that Sathius." She said comfortingly "You're not a coward. To be perfectly honest this place isn't exactly safe for me either but then I never was that smart." Sathius obviously decided to change the subject
"Why do you want to go to Maran, I told you it was destroyed by the Shadow Riders." Callisto looked up from bandaging his hand.
"I want to find the Shadow Riders and it's the best place to start."
"But you said they were dangerous." Callisto grinned
"Like I said, I never was that smart." She ripped the bandage from its roll and tied it off
"There." She said "All done." Sathius stood up.
"Does that mean I'm fit enough to come with you?" Callisto groaned and rubbed the palm of her hand over her eyes.
"Sathius, I don't think that's such a good…."
"Callisto, they killed my family, my friends and they destroyed my home. The worst thing is that I didn't try to stop them because I was too afraid. If I don't face them at least once in my life, then I'll never be able to face myself. Please let me come with you." Callisto nodded reluctantly
"Okay Sathius." She said, "You can come." For the first time since she'd met him two nights before, Sathius looked happy. Callisto couldn't see why.
Chapter Four: Facing The Shadow
Callisto didn't like the sound around Maran. The village itself was still a good mile or so away but already things were starting to become unusual. The sounds of the world weren't what were bothering her though. It took her a bit of time to realise what was. It was the complete absence of sound of any kind save the crunch of Lazarus' hooves on the dirt track. She felt her sword arm spasm slightly and cursed that night in the town hall where she had faced Mortius. A warrior with a disability was in more danger than one without any, no matter how small that disability was. She flexed her muscles to try and relax taught tendons and let out a sigh of releif when her arm stopped shaking. Sathius was walking slightly ahead clutching a large tree branch he had found that Callisto had stripped so that it would make a halfway decent fighting staff. Suddenly she could hear more hooves on the road. Quickly she reigned Lazarus to a stop and turned in her saddle to see the source of the noise. Ares stared back at her.
"A little jumpy this afternoon aren't we." He said, the familiar condescending tone had returned to his voice.
"What do you want?" she demanded. Callisto was in no mood for chit chat.
"Just thought I'd warn you that they're near by. You might want tread more carefully from now on." He glanced over to where Sathius was continuing up the track at a slow amble. "Who's the kid?" he asked.
"Just someone with a grudge." Said Callisto with a non committal shrug of her shoulders.
"Just don't let him get in the way." Hissed Ares before pulling the familiar vanishing act that most Gods enjoyed to show off with. Callisto watched him go.
"Gods," she muttered under her breath, "Useless bunch of goat herders." Sathius turned to look back down the path.
"C'mon Callisto." He said loud enough to be heard and loud enough to make Callisto nervous that anyone else might have as well. Slowly she led Lazarus over to the boy and leaned over to him. Without a word she grabbed his ear and twisted it viciously. The boy gritted his teeth and grunted when she didn't let go straight away.
"You wanted to come along," She whispered in his ear, "so keep your voice down other wise I'll personally hand you over to the Shadow Riders." It was an empty threat but Sathius seemed to take her seriously and scuttled off in front keeping himself to himself from then on.
What had been done in Maran was even worse than Tain. The entire village had been completely flattened with only the outer walls left standing. The huts and buildings were little more than piles of ash and soot. To have raised the village this efficiently, the Four Horsemen must have increased in strength since their attack on Tain. Another difference between here and Tain was the fact that bodies had been left here. Each one was in an advanced state of decay and if Callisto looked hard enough she was sure she could see the skin of the bodies wrinkling and pulling taught over the bones in the baking midday sun.
"By the Gods!" Sathius breathed before the smell of a hundred decaying bodies overcame him and he leaned over to retch in the dust. Callisto jumped down from the back of Lazarus and walked over to the boy patting him on the back.
"You don't have to stay if you don't want to." She said softly. Sathius shook his head violently.
"I want to." He said, "I've got to face them." Callisto looked around what was left of the village her eyes narrowing as she scanned the entire scene. There was virtually no where any one could hide but with such powerful creatures it didn't mean that there was no one here.
"It doesn't look like they're here." She said as she walked back over to Lazarus and began to fasten on her sword. She whirled round at the distant sound of horse's hooves.
"Did you hear that?" she asked
"Hear what?" replied Sathius. Suddenly Callisto's sword was in hand at the sound of a distant neigh.
"That." She hissed. There was a blinding flash of light and when Callisto's eyes recovered she saw Sathius stood beneath the hooves of a horse that reeled on its back legs, its rider held the rains confidently in one hand while in the other he clutched a massive broadsword. Along its edges flames rippled and ebbed. Quickly Callisto dived toward Sathius barrelling into him and sending the two of them rolling in the dust. The horse's mighty hooves slammed to the ground and for the first time Callisto gazed upon one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He rode a massive black war-horse that made her own stallion look like a shire pony. The massive beast had strong hindquarters, with battle armour that stretched from it shoulders to its tale. Something told Callisto this animal was of no natural stock. The rider was even more terrifying. He sat proud and upright in the saddle in the most fanciful armour Callisto had ever seen. Leather trousers ran down from under his shining steel breast plate and tucked into knee high black boots from which chain mail hung at the knee. His arms were bare save for a shining silver bracer at each wrist, and the huge rider made Ares look positively anorexic in comparison. In place of hair his head was alive with flames that flickered and burned but never consumed his scalp, while the blood red orbs that passed for his eyes glistened wetly in the sunlight.
"You always did like to make an entrance War." Came a low rasping voice from behind them. Sathius and Callisto clambered to their feet and turned to face the other two riders who had appeared behind them. One matched Sathius' description, being tall and gaunt with dry, haggard skin that hung from his ageing body beneath a tattered mud brown robe. Just like War he had large blood red eyes that glimmered in the sunlight. This must be Famine and next to the ragged stallion he rode sat Pestilence. He was the opposite of Famine in terms of physical appearance with thick skin that was stretched tight over his bloated body. Decorating his flesh beneath smelling and rotting bandages were pustules and boils that throbbed and pulsated with a sickly sheen. In places bleached yellow bone could be seen poking out from where gangrene had rotted his flesh away and his own blood red eyes sat behind narrow slits in a face reminiscent of a pigs.
"And you always talk too much Famine." Came Wars voice that sounded like a thunderclap as he brought his horse round the to meet Pestilence. With him rode a another of the horsemen who hadn't been with him before. This one rode a different horse to the others. Pure white rather than pitch black and easily a match in size for War's, its colour contrasted sharply with its ragged tipped and hooded cloak that was darker than night itself and drawn about the monstrously tall figure like an impenetrable wall. In a hand obscured by the robes long sleeves he clutched a great, long scythe that’s metal blade flashed brightly in the sunlight. As he turned to face her Callisto gasped at what she saw. The familiar blood red eyes stared at her from empty eye sockets like liquid pools nestling in a skeletal face that despite its toothy grin managed to look impassive and emotionless. Callisto turned to see how Sathius was handling this. He clutched his sword with a white-knuckle grip but the look on his face was not the one of fear she had expected to see there. It was one of unrestrained fury aimed at the four terrible creatures stood before them.
"You." He growled gutturally at Famine. For the first time since she had seen him Famines gaze seemed to drift from her over to the boy stood next to her.
"The child!" he said in a surprised manner. "It is rare that someone should survive against us twice and even more unusual that they should come back a third time." He leaned forward in his dusty saddle and smiled a toothless grin. "Did you like what I did to your mother child. I saw her scream in pain." He said tauntingly. " And you didn't help her." Sathius roared a howl of anger and hurled himself toward the skinny man.
"No!" yelled Callisto as she made a grab for Sathius' fluttering shirt. It was no good; the boy was too far out of reach. She watched in horror as Famines steed reared up on its hind legs as its rider produced a vicious looking spear and stuck it through the boy's chest. Sathius screamed as he was lifted into the air and hurled across the village to hit the burned stockade with a resounding thud. He slid to the ground and didn't move. Callisto backed away from the figures clutching her sword tightly, trying to keep all four in view at once. How had Ares convinced her to do this? Famine looked up from where Sathius lay and focused his attention on her once more.
"Do you wish to play as well child?" he asked in those familiar rasping tones. Pestilence laughed and something gurgled in his throat.
"It is so easy to inflame the emotions of these mortals." He said to himself, his voice drawled as if he had liquid in his mouth. From the look of his body he probably did. Callisto grimaced disgustedly.
"I say again child, do you wish to challenge me?" rasped famine. War butted in angrily
"If she is to challenge anyone Famine, it will be me." He turned his gaze to her. "She has the stance and eye of a warrior." He leaned closer to her "How many have you killed warrior? How many have you sent to me?" Callisto eyed him carefully
"I've killed many and wish I'd killed less." She said simply.
"A killer who does not like to kill." Hissed Famine
"Always interesting." Pestilence laughed.
"Enough!" the voice resounded deeply around the village and stopped the others where they stood. It took Callisto a while to work out who had spoken. She turned to face death.
"We will end this now." He said, his voice was deep and echoed even when it shouldn't but that wasn't the unnerving thing. The unnerving thing was that his skeletal mouth never moved once. Callisto dived aside as a bolt of energy slammed into the ground where she had been standing mere seconds earlier. She hit the ground with a roll and came to her feet running as hard and fast as she could. Skidding around she leapt onto the back of Lazarus and kicked him savagely in the ribs to get him moving. She felt an invisible stream of hot air flash by her head and she turned to see the tips of her hair that had been caught in the blast had turned grey with age. She turned to see famine grinning menacingly and clutching a pair of weighing scales. Death whirled his scythe in an intricate pattern and a second bolt of energy flew from its blade and slammed into the floor in front of Lazarus. The black stallion dug in with his front legs stopping just short of the blast but sent Callisto over his head to hit the floor with a thud. She rolled over onto her back expecting something terrible about to hit her and fry her to a crisp but things had changed. She clambered to her feet to see the leather clad God of war stood with his arms outstretched, palms facing the riders. From his palms streamed a blue beam of light that ended in a bubble holding the four creatures inside. Sweat beaded on his forehead with the effort of keeping the bubble held while the Four Horsemen through all their power into it. Callisto planted her hands on her hips and glared at him
"You took your time." She said
"Shut up and do what I told you to do." He spoke through clenched teeth. "Holding them isn't easy." Callisto nodded and span around slashing at the air with her sword. Its blade glowed as the power Ares had granted it tore a hole in the fabric of space. Beyond it nothing showed but pure blackness. Without another word Ares began to walk toward it, pushing the bubble before him as he went. With a final howl of effort he forced the Four Horsemen through it and sealed the tear before collapsing in an exhausted heap on the floor.
Epilogue: Its Never Over
Callisto watched the rhythmic rise and fall of Ares chest as he snored loudly. To say he was the God of War he wasn't exactly a sound sleeper. She looked at where her sword sat cooling on a rock and at the mound where Sathius body had been buried all though by now it would probably be little more than pile of dust judging by how fast it had rotted. She sighed sadly and returned to watching Ares snore. Callisto knew Gods didn't need to sleep but when you were as exhausted, as Ares had been it certainly helped. She had to admit a grudging respect for the arrogant figure that lay before whose face, even in sleep bore contemptuous sneer. It would have taken a great deal of effort for all the Gods to open a tear that size so for Ares acting on his own the strain must have been incredible. Her sword was a different matter. The power that had channelled it had almost melted the thing in her hands. She touched it gingerly and winced. The hilt still hadn't cooled enough to be held yet. Slowly the War God stirred. He opened his eyes and looked at her.
"Was I asleep?" he asked seemingly surprised that it had happened. Callisto grinned weakly
"You needed it." Ares yawned and stretched, his bones cracked loudly.
"Feeling better?" Callisto asked. Ares stifled another yawn with the back of his hand
"Yeah. Thanks for asking." He clambered to his feet and looked down at where she sat.
"Thanks for the help." He said then added grudgingly "I suppose I owe you." Callisto nodded.
"Damn straight." She grinned as Ares groaned and began to walk off before she stood.
"Hey!" she shouted. He turned and looked at her.
"What is it?" he said. Callisto looked back over her shoulder at the remains of Maran.
"Are they gone?" she said. Ares looked past her at the village and a look of dread passed across his face.
"If you mean for good, just think about it. When you were a God it didn't take you long to escape from the world between worlds did it." Callisto froze as she realised what he was saying.
"With there power imagine how long it will take them." He said and turned to leave. As he did so a ball of light appeared halfway down his spine and travelled upwards to disappear at the top of his head in a shower of sparks. As it did he vanished. Callisto gave one last look at the village and Sathius' grave before picking up her now cool sword and saddling Lazarus. All the time Ares' words echoed in her mind. She shivered.
The Legacies Will Continue In Soul, Strength And Faith
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