51 An Army Gets Eaten Pt.1
Leilatha was being carried in a makeshift litter heading south when she felt the change in her storm and looked up at the clouds. Rain still pelted them, but it started letting up.
One of her female attendants noticed her watching the clouds and anxiously asked, "My Lady, what is it?"
"Someone or something has just cast a spell of some kind trying to break my storm with brute force." Leilatha smiled as she continued to observe the clouds.
"Is the storm going to stop?" The attendant didn't know if this was something to smile at.
Leilatha heard the note of worry in her attendant's voice and made eye contact with her, "They used an incredible amount of power, but they are obviously less proficient in the nuances of such spells than I am." Leilatha renewed her smile and looked back at the clouds, "It may slow my storm for a little, but in the end, all they did was add more power."
Upon hearing this, the attendant and a number of the other escorts looked up at the clouds as well. "Is that a good thing? My Lady."
"It means that my storm has something to eat and will last longer." Leilatha's face stiffened as she finished her sentence. "The storm might get stronger soon." She glanced at those around her, "We should move a little faster."
Viram noticed how the elves had routed as he was casting his spell. This was exactly what he wanted at that moment. Now that their will to fight had been broken, his forces would be able to start rounding them up. He surveyed the battlefield in triumph, taking a moment to enjoy the titillating mix of fury and domination that coursed through his body.
It took only a moment longer before he grew tired of the dumbfounded looks his subordinates were giving him. "What are you waiting for? Go get them." He said, slashing his hand horizontally in front of his chest. His voice boomed across the square, naturally impelled by his large stature.
He watched as his healthy subordinates started gathering into different groups and pursued the fleeing elves in different directions. The moving bodies left behind a grisly scene. The ground was covered with burned corpses and butchered fiends.
Viram grimaced as he surveyed the carnage. It would be nearly impossible to replace the forces he'd lost. He realized he'd have to show some weakness to those still loitering around. With bitterness coating his tongue, he ordered, "Eight and Ninth Flames, Start some fires and gather our wounded into them so they can recover."
It would be far easier to keep a good fire going now that he'd dealt with the rain. Even now he could feel his power rampaging through the core of the storm, disrupting its foundation. The clouds were shades of a deep violet bruise and infected blood. Viram smiled as he watched shafts of dancing virga.
He had used up a lot of power to break the storm and his stomach began to issue orders of its own. He salivated as the sent of charred flesh wafted to his nose.
Alex continued his training until early evening. He wasn't allowed to keep the power given to him inside the training space but Lucius took him aside and inspected Zeus's amulet to make sure it could still protect him.
"You made excellent progress today. You'll be ready to begin combat training in no time." Lucius said.
After Alex was cleaned and in his normal clothes again, Lucius patted him on the back and led him to Persephone. She was relaxing on an ancient styled Greek couch, that was very similar to a chaise lounge, reading a manuscript, snacking on grapes and fresh apple slices.
Angel immediately noticed the manuscript and excitement colored her voice as she spoke to Alex, ["There might be a library in this town! Ask her where it is. We have to go as soon as possible Alex!"]
Alex was bleary-eyed and mentally exhausted, [Why are you so excited?]
The training had pushed him harder mentally than he'd ever been pushed before. Not even the time he tried to finish a multiple choice geography test that he'd arrived late for in middle school was as mentally taxing as today's training was.
["They're not just books! There's knowledge in those pages Alex! Knowledge about this world!"] Angel could sense Alex's apathy toward cracking open a book to study but continued anyway, ["There could be battle techniques or other cool stuff written in them. Or there could be comic books and other fun stuff. You should get Persephone to take you tomorrow before you train more."]
Alex was starting to get a headache, [Fine, I'll ask her about it on the way home.]
Angel let out a cute ["Yahoo! Thanks!"] in his head and quieted down to reward him. The book Persephone was busy reading was a new volume of a popular adventure romance. Its pages were full of men with thick chests and other salacious content geared toward women.
Persephone glanced up at Alex as he approached before she quickly went back to finishing the paragraph she was on. Sitting up she carefully placed a living lavender bookmark in its pages, closed the book and held it in her lap.
"How was it?" She asked with a blush tinging her cheeks.
Alex gave her a deadpan look as he recalled what he went through. Persephone waited until it was obvious that he was just staring off into space before she got up and took him by the arm. "Don't worry, maybe you can take a day off tomorrow." She said and looked back at Lucius.
Lucius quickly hid his smile, "It would be better if he didn't take a break." He rubbed the edge of his jaw as he continued, "He can take the morning off, but I'll be expecting him in the afternoon."
Persephone looked back at Alex and gently shook him, "There, you see? Now we have the whole morning to do something fun tomorrow."
She smiled to lift his spirits, but Alex only stared at where the floor met the wall ahead of him and made a soft, uncommitted "Ah, yeah." in response as his eyes darted about not focusing on anything.
His mind was full of what he'd just learned. He felt the sword cutting through his flesh again from the first time it took off his arm. Then he felt the various slashes up to the one that stood out last. He started rubbing his stomach with the arm Persephone was holding. A muscle in his stomach twitched as he felt the sword stop in his gut. He recalled the feeling of his power resisting Lucius's. He focused on that feeling with pinpoint concentration. He replayed it again and again, oblivious to the outside world.
Concern was etched all over Persephone's face as she watched Alex. She was still loosely holding his arm in hers. Lucius cleared his throat, "Don't worry, he'll be fine. He just has a lot to finish absorbing from today. Make sure he gets plenty of rest tonight."
Persephone was reluctant to look away from Alex and only turned her head slightly to answer, "He's staying with Zeus. I have no control over how well he sleeps there, but I'll let him know."
Persephone guided Alex out of the building. She nearly forgot her umbrella but her clothes got a little damp and reminded her to retrieve it. Alex didn't show overt signs of life until they were nearly all the way home. They had just passed the market when the smell of roast meat caught Alex's attention, bringing him back to reality.
Persephone heard his stomach rumble and laughed a little to cover her own stomach's empathizing response. "Let's stop for something to eat."
She took him to a stall similar to the one from the morning. This one was serving roast goat and was largely responsible for the tantalizing aroma that drew them in. The sun was just beginning to set when they finished their food. Alex was still zoning out as he watched a group of kids running and playing around, using sticks to guide rolling loops of wood, as they raced each other.
As his stomach went to work, he spent time vaguely thinking about the meaning to life. He went through hell just a bit ago and now he was sitting in the middle of a drowsy market as if none of it had happened. He didn't understand why he felt so strange.
["Sometimes, when a soldier that's been on the front for a long time, finally heads into town on leave, they find it difficult to accept what they see. To them, a scene of normal everyday life can seem alien and wrong. As if the people shouldn't be so happy. That they should be worried and scared and not going about their lives as if nothing was going on."] Angel paused to let Alex's sluggish mind catch all her words.
He sat there blinking as he thought about it. [Are you saying I'm going through something similar?]
["You haven't been in a state of constant vigilance for months at a time, but you have been going through traumatic experiences lately. Especially today. Before, you would die and get a short break. Today you were slashed open repeatedly without much rest. What your mind is going through is a natural part of adapting to stress. Think of it as growing thicker skin."]
Alex looked down at his hands. He opened and closed them a few times. [How long will this last?]
["Until you get used to it. Or not. Everybody is different."] She sensed his sudden unease, ["Relax, I'm sure you'll get used to all this soon. You'll be fine, just like I promised."]
Alex focused on the flapping merchant's pennant above the stall, [Lucius said the same thing.] Memories of being flayed alive by Lucius paraded across his memories.
["You *will* be fine. Going through this is also part of your training. Look at it this way, you're becoming a real man, just like you've always wanted to be."]
["Remember holding the scoop as you stood behind the counter staring at the mint chip and wondering if you were grown up yet? If you were a real man because you had a job and moved out?"]
Alex gave a hesitant drawn-out "[Yeah.]" in response.
["You don't have to worry about being a kid anymore, because what you're going through is making you grow up for real. You'll learn what it is to be a real man sooner or later. I know you will. Now cheer up. Persephone has been reading her book, waiting for you for about ten minutes now."]
Alex looked over and registered in his mind the image of her across the small table hunched over reading the book. His eyes traced the profile of her face from the curls of her blond hair in an elegant braid, down her youthful forehead and cute nose. He stopped at the sight of her slightly smiling perky lips. Her blue eyes were focused on the pages and her cheeks were rosy from their content.
Alex felt a pang journey back and forth from his stomach to his despondent heart as he took in her natural beauty. She was so full of life and vigor, like a guiding fire welcoming his weary heart home. If he wasn't careful, he'd fall in love with her.
Persephone felt him staring at her and glanced at him. "Are you ready to g-, Why are you crying!?" She closed the book, placing it on the table and fished for a handkerchief from her pocket.
Alex lurched back, almost falling from the chair but regained his balance by grabbing the table. He felt his wet face with his free hand as Persephone offered him her handkerchief.