Standing on the shoulders of Gods- Short Story Challenge 21/09/2018

 

STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GODS

 

 

 

The smoke drifted towards the night sky, and the unblinking eyes of a thousand unnamed gods watched from above, their lights shining in the indigo sheet ahead. The stone idol sat idle, a rough carving of the nameless god, who took the form of a great elephant. The idol was worn, beaten down by the weather of many centuries, but it still stood strong, the very figure of pride. It was as tall as a man, and it’s great bulk reached towards Elysium. Novak, the great bull himself, sat cross-legged in front of the idol. He was alone this night, dressed only in his wool cloak, which he shrugged off, allowing the god to see the whole of him, and there was much to see. Novak had never met a man bigger than he, he stood head and shoulders against all of the other soldiers in  his unit, and they followed him diligently. His arms were like ebony tree trunks, and his chest was wide as a man’s arm length. The fire below the idol danced and crackled, and the night was still. The field stretched on to the ends of the earth, and he breathed in the cool air. Within his cloak, he pulled out his knife, and began to chant the old words. In front of the fire, he reached for the three jars that stood ahead of him, and opened the lids of all. Inside each was a different power, and he took from each and through into the fire, the old words ringing louder, almost a song. He took the blade and pointed it towards the stars. He shouted to the sky, begging the gods attention, and brought the blade to his chest. Ivory, made from the biggest Bull on the plains that he had slain with his own hands, and sharpened to a point. He drew the blade over his chest, above his heart, but did not let the pain stop his speech, but the words slowed, quieter, as he drew his over hand over the blood, applying it generously to his fingers, before throwing it into the fire. A plume of smoke emerged, and Novak who hear the gods whisper. As he said the final words, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, allowing the smoke to enter his body. His throat and chest burned, but he did not stop until it was all consumed. He let the burning smoke enter him, and held it within his chest as long as he could, before exhaling. He did not cough and splutter this time, that was good.

Novak awoke the next morning, well rested and ready. His village was a hive of activity, everyone was bustling and ready to go. Men from his unit were barking orders, and others were saying goodbye. Novak had no family here, no more, so silently went to collect what he would need. He grabbed his spear, his dagger attached to his side, and went to grab his shield, a great black circle, with a golden elephant painted in the middle. Scuffed a little at the sides, but still his most prized possession. And there was his helmet. Novak found no need for armour, and often fought naked except his shield, but this helmet was an icon to his god. A great bronze monstrosity, shaped to an elephants head, it’s tusks and trunk were formidable, and Novak only wore it for it’s appearance. Every warrior in Carthage could recognise the Bronze Bull. He grinned at the prospect of wearing it again, and took the helm.

He threw his belongings into the wagon, and together his warriors marched towards Carthage, and the horns of war. The elder shad begun to assemble an army, larger than any before it, and Novak would lead his unit among 50,000 other infantry, and even elephants, he had heard. The Bronze Bull and his brigade were mercenaries, almost like the entirety of the other infantry, but he would always answer the call of Carthage. It was a long road tot he city, over fields ad dusty roads, but the city was as splendid as it ever was. A city of true beauty, he always thought. Here, he met with the rest of his contingent, his officers and the grunts, and together they paraded down the city, the bronze elephants shining on their shields. They chanted and beat their shields, and Novak let the city see his helm glisten in the midday light, and the people cheered. Novak’s reputation preceded him, and people fought in the crowds to get a good look at him, to see if the legends were true.

The men waited for weeks in the city, and they grew restless. They had been given lavish accommodation, enough wine to drown a village and women to occupy their time, but war was what they needed. Novak rejected the women and the wine, choosing to spend his nights under the night sky, carving a small idol to his god. He had managed to finish it while in the city, and prayed to it nightly. In the morning of the last day of their fourth week, a messenger brought them news that Agrigentum had fallen, and the Romans had taken Sicily. The men were in uproar, but Novak sat quietly, digesting the news. Soon, it will be our time to fight. Give me your gifts, Lord, and I will give you the souls of the non-believers.

Once more that night, he lit a fire. The idol was much smaller than the one in his village, but he hoped it would do. He prayed the words and offered his blood, breathing in the smoke. This time he did choke, but he still felt the power of his god surging within him. He had heard that the Romans were building a fleet, to counter Carthage’s prowess at sea. The thought made him uneasy-he had no love for the sea. He preferred to stand and fight on solid ground, like a charging elephant. They received orders a few days later, and they began to pack. They would be sent off to Sicily, to take it back from Roman hands.

The sea was rough, and Novak felt his stomach heave, but he could not allow the other warriors to see him like this. At night he tried to pray to his god, but the sea was too rocky, and he could not complete it. A greater sacrifice would be needed when they landed. On the fifth day, their ship had come under attack, flaming arrows roared from the sky, and peppered the ship. Novak had ordered the captain to get in close, but instead he fled. Three men were wounded, but they were soon in fighting shape again. After eight days, they landed in Sicily, and were greeted by the might of the Carthaginian forces. Novak once again donned his helm, and stood on the bow with his spear jutting towards his god in the sky, and bathed in the cheers of soldiers, old and new. The older vet’s laughed and clasped him on the back as he strode by, and the fresh-faced younger ones watched him in awe. He stepped out from the beach with his Bronze Bulls behind him, past the soldiers dragging their belongings from their own ships towards the camp. Novak told his officers to find somewhere to set their own camp, and went to find his leaders.

He found the large tent in the middle, and stepped through, his helmet almost touching the ceiling, and removed it. The generals were old and grizzle, adorned in beards and battlescars, and they looked at Novak in awe, but there was a younger one, eyes still focused on his maps. He noticed his advisers had stopped paying attention and brought his head up to look at them, before following their gaze to the mighty Bull at his entrance. He was a young man, not even thirty yet, but his eyes were tired and forehead lined, his dark curly hair fell into ringlets upon his shoulders, and his hazel eyes penetrated Novak’s mighty exterior.

“The Bronze Bulls have arrived. I am here to serve, for the glory of Carthage.” Novak let his mighty voice boom, a thunder in the day time. The younger man studied him, before turnign back to his maps, but his generals continued to gawp at him

“Welcome, I am Hamilcar. I will leading the counter-attack. You may return to your men, soldier.” He said, in a voice that was almost cold, and one by one the others began to return their attention to the maps. Novak stood awkwardly, not quite realising it was a dismissal. The legendary Bronze Bull had hoped to be part of the attack plan, but he saw now he was only a tool to be used.

The camp was alive at night, the soldiers drank and cheered, knowing that many may earn their ends by the morrow. Novak stalked the camp fires, but his thirst could not be sated by the endless flow of wine and camp followers. He wandered into the empty woods, and the songs and jokes dimmed, he was alone with the crickets and cicadas, and the fleet of stars above. He wandered until he found a clearing, and stood to stare at the moon, a glowing shard in the sky, and found he was not alone.

She had a slim build, her skin was ivory, and her long black hair danced to the tune of the wind. Her black robe fell to her ankles, and she turned to study Novak, and did not look surprised to see him.

“The Bronze Bull.” She said, her voice calm as the stillest lake. “My gods welcome you.” Novak did not reply, but stood, still as a stone idol. Once again, his reputation preceded him. The air seemed to freeze around him, and suddenly he was aware of the eyes of stranger gods staring down at him.

“Who are you?” His voice boomed. The woman said nothing. In her hands was a carving of a woman, a doll, wrapped in thread. He slowly stepped forward, and her eyes snapped to his. They were dark, abyssal, and Novak felt himself fall into them.

“I am like you, Novak. I am an emissary of the gods. My gods, and they welcome yours into the fold.” She too, stepped forward, her slender leg glinted as the moonlight reflected her pale skin. Novak felt something inside him tighten, and his head began to spin when she smiled. She stepped ever further, until she was close enough to embrace. Novak smelled the perfume on her, and felt his groin begin to harden, and suddenly he regretted not bedding one of the camp followers earlier. It had been too long since he had experienced the scent of a woman. She chuckled softly.

“Go. Pray to your god, Bull. There will be a great battle tomorrow, and only you and your god will stand a chance against the red tide.” She looked deep into his eyes, examining his very soul, before turning and walking into the pitch black woods, disappearing without a trace. Novak stood, his breath was hard and ragged. Who is this woman? He thought to himself, alone in the night.

The next morning, he awoke, his body felt strong and ready for war. He had prayed to his god, although with difficulty. The woman kept steeling into his thoughts, and he could not push out as much as he tried. When the smoke entered his lungs, he convulsed and spasmed, first with pain, and then ecstasy, and he was taken to the floor, shaken but relieved.

He marched into the tent of Hamilcar, requesting to know where the Bulls will be stationed in the upcoming battle, and they look perplexed.

“There will be no battle today. We’re moving our forces north to the mountains, there we will begin our counter-attack. Go ready your men, I will need you to guard the supply train.” He said with clear disdain. Novak wandered back towards his men, his head awash with thoughts. Had she deceived him?

The march to the mountains was arduous in the Sicilian heat. The supply train was slow, the Bulls were at the back of the line. The horses and donkeys walked ponderously, and many of the camp followers stayed by to talk and flirt with the bulls, which they did not mind so much. Novak did not speak to any of his officers. He headed the front of the convoy, his spear in hand, but his great helm in a wagon. He always had an eye open for the mysterious woman, but he did not see her again.

It was after noon, after the convoy had paused for food, when he heard it. A great rumble of thunder on a clear and sunny day. Soon the rocks began to shake as they waited by the road. The countryside was rocky but clear, tree’s were scattered about sparsely, and the sides of the hill they stood on were painted by shrubs. Objectively, they had a clear line of sight for miles around, yet still, something was coming. Novak strode to his officers and barked orders. His men dropped their food and reached for their weapons and armour, forming a crude perimeter around the wagons and livestock, as the civilians ran for shelter. Novak strode amongst the chaos, calm as an eye in a storm, and picked up his helmet. The battle had come.

The men lowered their shields and raised their spears, ready for an attack, and soon the red tide appeared, growing vaster and vaster with every passing second. Heavy Roman cavalry, almost a thousand of them. Over ten times the amount of men guarding the caravan, but the men stood their ground, for they were Bulls. Novak strode past the line, standing in front, and all eyes were drawn to him, not the horse-warriors. He stood with his spear reaching as high as he, like an ebony statue, his bronze helmet glistening in the oppressive sunlight. The roman horde drove towards them, only 100 feet away now. Novak tapped his spear on the ground, and then again, and again, and the soldiers behind him began to beat their own against their shields. They began to chant, Hoo, hoo,hoo, a mere whisper at first, but it grew and grew, until it eclipsed the thunderous sound of hooves on rock. Novak began to roar too, and the men behind him screamed and cheered, and when Novak raised his spear, their combined roar was absolute. Novak began to move forward.

The men knew the formation, stand back to guard the caravan, let the Bronze Bull take of things. Though the heavy cavalry were known for their armoured advance, the men were not worried. This had been the biggest force they had taken on their own, but they trusted Novak, and he trusted his god, for he was with him this day. He strode towards the upcoming wave, before breaking into a trot, then a jog, then a full on sprint, spear high in the air, and still he could hear his men’s cheers, and he felt renewed with a different kind of strength. The Roman force charged towards him, stoic and disciplined. He imagined they would be shocked, to see a lone man rush towards such a large unit, but they charged on him diligently, spears and swords ready to cut him down in front of his men.

Novak sprinted towards them, his massive body was heavy, but he still met them at speed, and with an inhuman roar, he swung his spear at the first on the line. The blade caught the Roman in the throat, lifting him off the horse and into the dirt, crimson flowed into the air, and the man’s horse screamed, but Novak only roared. He yanked the spear out of the dead man’s throat, and jabbed it into the next horse, causing it to rear and it’s rider to fall. He blocked a slice with his shield, and felt something bang off of his helmet, the momentum of their charge began to be their undoing, horses crashed into one another, and began to trip and fall, but hundreds began to pour past him, unfaltering in their charge against the supply line. Soon his vision was encompassed by only horse and man flesh, and he swung his spear again, opening another throat of a Roman on foot, blocking an overhead blow, and wresting his spear into the belly of a horsed man, causing him to fall. Men who had fallen began to rush him, two at a time, one jabbed a spear at his shield, the other looked for an opening with his sword. He swung overhead, but Novak spun and slashed at him, cutting at his arm, and the man shouted. The spearman lunged, but Novak grabbed it with his hand, and pushed his own into the man, lifting him into the air. The swordsman slashed again, breaking his trusty spear, and the dyign man fell. Around them the hurricane of horses moved still, another soldier slashed at him but missed, another spear, another slash, but he dodged them expertly, pulling out his trusty ivory knife and driving it into the unhorsed swordsman’s rib. He took the man’s gladius and began to swing at the towering horsemen, and fountains of blood began to rain upon him, although he was never sure of whose it was, or if it was man or horse’s.

He roared, the blade cutting through, and through the screams of dying men and whinny-ing horses, he heard the shouts of men and the clash of steel, and knew they had reached the convoy, but he could not worry now. Another unhorsed man rushed towards him, this one with the white-plumed helmet of a centurion, his face streaked with blood or dirt. He roared in the overcrowded stadium of death and swung his own gladius at Novak, but he was faster. Novak raised his sword to counter it, but too slow. The blade swung below, colliding with his chest, and it broke. Shattering into a hundred reflective pieces that dropped to the ground like metallic shooting stars. The centurion stared at his blade-less handle in disbelief, and under his helmet, Novak smiled, before bringing his blade down like bronze rain.

How long he stood in the swirling storm of death, he could not say. The ground was flooded with crimson droplets, and soon he had no choice but to stand on the bodies of the fallen, an unstable hill of carrion. His ebony mass was painted in red, and the tide began to shrink. Soon they heard the horns, and the tide began to turn back from whence it came. He looked back towards his battered and beaten convoy, and saw Numidian riders, his won brethren, their spears raised high and their war-songs reaching the ends of the battlefield, and he raised his own sword, suddenly feeling it’s weight. His breath began to exit in fits, but he was unhurt, not a single scratch on his body.

The Roman cavalry was forced to retreat, and many of his men had survived. He had lost many though, officers and warriors alike, and almost all of them were wounded, save he. The Numidian’s helped secure their area, and Novak himself helped patch the wounds of his comrades. He was helping to bandage one of his captain’s eyes, when Hamilcar himself rode up. He and his officers themselves looked battered, with a fresh bandage on his right arm, droplets of blood and dirt upon his face. He did not dismount, only looking at the amount of wounded men, and the field of the dead before him. Novak strolled towards him, still covered in the blood of his foes, and flies began to pester him mercilessly. From neck to foot, he was a red man, and Hamilcar looked at him in horror.

“By the gods, Novak! Are you wounded?” He sounded tired, almost as tired as Novak felt. He simply shook his head.

“No.” Hamilcar studied him and swallowed, looking at the captain he helped.

“Your men’s?” Novak raised his head and stared at him, as a serious a look as he had given, and kept the gaze, before finally;

“No.” Hamilcar turned his head back towards the field of death, and noted the strange piled up of horses in the centre.

“I see..” He turned towards his men and nodded, before dismounting, and cursing as his foot hit the ground. He walked past Novak, who followed, with a limp and a grunt with each step.

“They ambushed us, further up the road, about five miles north. They must have suspected a counter-attack..” He looked towards where the crimson tide had come from. “How did you know there would be an attack this day?” He asked with genuine curiosity. Novak looked at him deeply.

“The gods told me. Last night..” He saw no reason to include the woman, were she even real or some apparition in a dream. Hamilcar nodded cautiously, and pointed towards the horizon.

“My men tell me there lies Macella. Our intention was first to liberate Agrigentum from the safety of the mountains, but now I believe, that there is where we shall strike.” He scratched at his beard. “Report to my tent at dusk, Novak. I would hear your advice on the matter.” He placed a hand on his shoulder, and strode back to his horse, but the Bronze Bull stared out across the plains.

They found camp by the nearby river, and fortified the position as best they could. Though the repelled the army this day, they were left weakened. Hamilcar had his scouts study the city of Macella and look for weaknesses, and found that it had been fortified, and a siege would be imminent. Novak wandered the camp in a white robe as Hamilcar’s soldiers readied themselves for the upcoming siege, and his men tried to recuperate. Many had lost limbs or were unable to stand, and would need to be taken back to the coast, to be reunited with their families or die alone as cripples. He brought them water and told them he would pray for their spirits, when he spotted her, still as a tree in a storm. The woman smiled at him, and began to walk hastily away, drawing the hood on her black robes. Novak found new strength in his tired limbs, and stalked after her. She was quick as a rabbit, turning around corners of tents and disappearing, only to reappear further down the line. Novak tried his best to follow her,and she lead him up stones carved into the hillside. He traipsed after her, the chaos of the camp giving way to the endlessly quiet night.

She stood at the top of the hill, where the ruins of a shrine sat, it’s columns reaching to the moon. Her smile was wicked, and Novak struggled to catch his breath.

“Who..who are you? There was a battle as you foresaw, but how did..” He spluttered between breaths. Wordlessly, she stepped towards him, lowering her hood, and her dark eyes shone in the night. She placed a cold hand onto Novak’s beating chest, and his heart began to race. She giggled, enjoying his warmth.

“Not a scratch, even after such a battle. Your god loves you, Bull.” She leaned in, her smell once again intoxicating, and she whispered into his ear; “What is it you want the most, Novak?” His heart accelerated, and his mouth parted, but the word would not come out. You.

She drew herself away and stroked his head with her hand, and he was paralysed. Where once he had the urge to throw her to the floor with his mighty strength and take her there and then, he could not move, his eyes trained on her lips and the sounds they formed, his mouth still agape.

“You shall get what you want, Bronze Bull, but first you must appease the gods.” She cupped his mouth. “Your god has proven himself, but now so must you. Take Macella, tomorrow. Do this, and my gods will find you worthy.” With that, she made her exit once again, disappearing into the night. Novak tried to pray that night, but found himself distracted once more.

The siege of Macella was a bloody one. The remnants of the cavalry met them in open field, but the Numidian’s overwhelmed them, their light manoeuvring and arrows able to exploit their heavier enemies weaknesses. Novak lead the first wave over the walls. Most of his men were out of action, so he had been given a larger band of mercenaries, and they stared at him in awe as he climbed the ladder over the walls into the already burning city. He carved down the defenders, and roared when their swords and spears broke against his body. Allows clattered against his chest and fell harmlessly to the floor, and he roared as the gates broke, and the rest of Hamilcar’s forces poured in through the broken floodgate. The city was theirs within hours.

There was little time to rest, as they fortified the city, they heard word that the Romans were launched a counter-attack to take it back. Novak helped with the defences, but once more at night, he found her. The night was humid, the heat stuck to them like flies on the many corpses they had to remove. She stood once more in her robe, in a shrine, hurt and cut by the siege, but still standing. The floor was stained with blood, as men and women came here to pray for protection, only to have been cut down by the Carthaginian forces.

“I took the city as you requested, but I beg you..I do not know your name or your purpose..” He said, now with desperation. She smiled, innocently this time.

“You want me, Bronze Bull, that is clear to say. The gods will allow this, they have told me..” And once more the wicked smile returned. “But there is another task. Another task to prove your worth to them..although it will be the hardest hurdle yet..” She strode towards him and stroked his cheek, and this time, he listed a hand to hers. Once again, it was quite cold.

“If it is battle or war, I will overcome it.” He said, his voice was stone, and she smiled again, but this time she shook her head, and withdrew her hand.

“Battle and war are your life Novak, this is clear to me. The only thing else in this world you care about is your god, the giver of your strength.” She strode away from him, before turning back. “To prove yourself worthy to me, to my gods, you must give up one of these.” Her voice stabbed at him like an arrow, piercing his once un-pierceable hide. “But you are here in the theatre of war, for a reason, which means you have only one option.” Slowly she raised her hand outstretch, and pointed at him, at his heart. “Forgo your god, until Agrigentum is retaken, and I will deem you worthy.” She slowly lifted her hands to her robe, and opened it, revealing her slim, pale, naked body, and Novak felt that tightness again, and swallowed. She giggled, and covered herself up, and Novak felt his head return to it’s normal state, anger suddenly bubbling up.

“Why?” He roared so suddenly, even she seemed to be startled. ” I am devoted my life to my god, and in return he gives me gifts that most men could not imagine.” His voice was thunder. “Why would I abandon him for a harlot like you? I could find a hundred girls like you in an brothel, in any city. Why would I forgo what makes me strong.” She looked at him sadly, and walked towards him, placing her hand on his cheek again, but he did not hold hers.

“Because this is what our gods will, Novak. The gods brought us together, and now they must see if we are worthy to be together, as their favoured children.” She stared deeply into his eyes once more. “You go through your challenges…as I go through mine.” She lifted the sleeve of her robe, and revealed a wrist that was torn and scratched, evidently self-inflicted. Novak looked at her stunned, and she giggled once more.

“But I don’t even know your name, girl.” He whispered. Her warm smile returned, and she kissed him on his lips.

“I am Pyrrha.”

For the first time in as long as he could remember, he did not pray to his god. No fire was started, the totem and powders in his belongings sat idle, and sleep did not come easy. His dreams were of fire, of war, his men butchered and dying in the mud, as he stumbled through, the haunting screams filled the air, and they sky was a deep and unyielding red. He bled from a thousand wounds, arrows jutted out of his back, and Pyrrha stood in the centre, oblivious to the destruction around her, the stone doll in her hand. He stumbled towards her, his hand outstretched, but she swatted it away, and began to laugh. Her playful giggled devolved into a deep and booming roar that echoed for miles around, and she tore at her face, ripping it apart like a paper mask, revealing only the screeching skull beneath.

He awoke in a cold sweat to the horns of war, and men rushing about around him. He gathered his spear and shield, and donned his helm, standing on the battlements as the red army marched towards them. His men cheered and hollered, but Novak began to shake. Fear tunnelled it’s way through his veins like a parasite, and he felt rise up to his chest, but he would never let it show. He clamped his teeth, and chewed on his cheek, the pain and unmistakable taste of blood brought him back to Macella.

The red wave crashed upon the battlements, and Novak did all knew how to, using his spear to repel the soldiers. Blood rained upon him like an unholy torrent, and he roared, the adrenaline flushing out the fear. Blades crashed upon him once more, and still they broke, and he cut down the terrified soldiers as they tried to flee. The siege lasted a day and a night, before finally being repelled. Novak sat against the wall, exhausted, afraid. The urge to speak to his god and end this madness was overwhelming, but for some, possibly stupid, reason he did not. He only sat and waited for dawn.

When the sun broke, he lead the charge of infantry to the Roman lines, as the light cavalry rode to flank their camp. He roared, and the men behind him echoed, and they crashed into the auxiliary, beating past spears and shields, and carving their bloody path through the ranks. Novak swung wildly with his spear, opening throats and arteries, when another centurion spotted him and pointed at him with his gladius. He swung low, and Novak countered it, and they traded blows equally in their deadly waltz, but the officer was younger, faster, and bashed Novak’s mighty helm with his shield, knocking him off balance, and the blade came down onto his shoulders. Novak awaited the blow, as he always did, but the blade did not shatter. Instead he heard the sound of metal hitting meat, and the warm liquid began to drip down his chest. The centurion tried to pull back, but the blade was stuck, and his body began to shake with panic. Novak roared, and his spear entered the centurion’s chin and exited from the top of his helmet, covering the brilliant white plumes with taints of red.

The camp was broken and the counter-attack repelled, and his men yelled and looted, but Novak felt the sting, and dropped his spear. Pain. It had been a long time since he had felt such a sensation. In secret he solicited the help of a surgeon, and threatened the man into keeping his mouth shut, with his mighty bulk. The wound was not deep, but by all rights, it should have been. With such force it should cut through to the bone. The spell of the old god had begun to wear off, but it was not all gone. But soon it would be. It was still a long way to Agrigentum.

The path there was one paved in blood. Hamilcar’s army was so far undefeated, but their losses were huge. They had received reinforcements four days after leaving Macella, and elephants had been brought in. Mighty monsters which howled and screamed, striking fear into the trained and disciplined Roman soldiers. They smashed through their lines and let the Numidian’s sweep up the stragglers. As always, the Bronze Bull was the first to hit the enemy lines, but he began to gather more and more wounds, on his neck, his arms and chest, and secrecy was harder to maintain. The soldiers begin to whisper and doubt him behind his back, he had no doubt. The others had not fared better, most of the original Bronze Bulls were now dead or too infirm to fight. Even Hamilcar had lost an eye to a stray Roman arrow, but wore it as a badge of honour, that event heir fearless leader could be hurt and still stand.

After a fortnight of sporadic battles and unrelenting sun, Agrigentum was in sight. It stood proud, it’s crumbling stone walls crawled with soldiers. Novak took a deep breath. This was it. One final challenge before he could speak to his god again. Sometimes he thought he saw Pyrrha out of the corner of his eye, but this always seemed to be an illusion, a deep, unwavering want that provoked a hallucination.

The siege weapons crashed and boomed against the city, and Novak marched his forces under cover of shields, as bronze rain fell upon them. Men died beside him, left, right and in front of him. Fear grabbed him, but his eyes were locked on the city ahead. Hoo, hoo, hoo, he chanted. They made it to the walls, and still arrows fell upon them. To his right, soldiers screamed and ran frenetically after burning oil fell from the battlements above. His soldiers held their shields high, waiting for the ladders to reach them. He watched a team sprint past the arrows, but the men fell to the arrows one by one, and soon it lay in the dirt. His men screamed and died beside him, and he knew he had no choice. He roared and ran to it, arrows hissing past. Soon others saw what he was trying to do, and rushed to help him. Still chanting, together he and three others lifted the heavy ladder and hoisted it onto their shoulders, with one hand to hold the shield above them. The archers noticed and concentrated their fire on him, killing the man behind them, and he felt the weight increase, but still they moved. They were so close now. Novak continued to chant, and the men waiting at the wall cheered, when a sharp pain screech through his right leg and he fell to the ground. An arrow had pierced his thigh, and blood poured down his leg. He had never felt a pain that pierced him so thoroughly, and the ladder grew suddenly too heavy. The others tried to pick it up, but struggled, and were picked off by the archers. Novak roared, and dragged both it and himself, the arrows splattering the ground around him.

He had reached the bottom, and the men cheered, and lifted the heavy thing to the battlements. Novak pulled the arrow of his leg, and stifled his grunt of pain. A warrior went to climb his way up, but Novak grabbed the man with a heavy hand and pulled him off into the dust below. He was always the first up, and this wound would not stop that.

The wall was tall, and his leg slowed his process down considerably. Sweat pooled around his face in the heavy helm, and drops of blood fell from his wound onto the soldiers beneath him, but through sheer determination he pulled himself to the top, and with a warrior’s scream jumped into the fray, pulling the gladius from his side and swinging wildly once more. The archers tried to retreat, to make room for the infantry, but he would not let them, and carved them down in a waterfall of blood. He pushed forwards intimidating the soldiers into backing up, and he felt back in control, but soon his right leg buckled under his weight, and he fell forward, with an audible gasp, his great strength suddenly giving up.

The Romans saw this, and wasted no time. As Novak tried to lift his head, and then his shield, a spear came jutting forward, and buried itself in his stomach. He went to scream, but could not. Behind him, he could hear the roars of his soldiers who made the breach, and their yells of terror when they saw that Novak, the Bronze Bull had been wounded. Whether it was through pride, anger, or just a volumetric tonne of lust for Pyrrha, he roared and stood once more, burying his sword into the spear-wielders face. He tore it out of his stomach, and growled, stumbling towards the armoured Romans. He felt the shield slip off his hand, and each step sent a lightning bolt of pain through his entire body. He strode towards them, as if possessed, and he let out one final, eternal roar of triumph, before the spears and swords fell upon him.

He fell to the stone floor, a broken spear head buried in his chest, and half a dozen cuts, stabs and slashes, and the Bronze Bull lay there, staring up to where his god looked down on him from, but that was not his last thought. He could see arrows and projectiles soar through the air like birds of an elegant death, he could the sounds of metal clashing and of men dying around him, and stone turning to rubble, and the smell of death coiled around him like a vicious snake. Some of his men rushed towards their enemies, and he felt their boots trod upon his chest and limbs, but he felt no more pain. His body had become numb, and he ascended to the sky, he was floating, but his mind was back at the shrine, alone with Pyrrha, and with his last strength he lifted his fingers to stroke his own lips, tracing where she had kissed him. He would have given anything, even another death, to see her again before he went to meet his god, but he knew somewhere on the other-side, he would be waiting for her.

 

 

 

Prompts used: Elephants/invincible/desire

 

For more on the challenge, click here!

 

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