The Orthians disdained luxury, and their cities were no exceptions.
Boeotia was no beautiful jewel like Pergamon, but a utilitarian port through and through. The architectural style was minimalist, with narrow streets and brick houses surrounded by fortified walls. None of the buildings differed much from the others, and the whole place reeked of obsessive control.
Only the city’s palace stood out. While the harbor and the rest of the city were built on a gentle slope leading to the sea, the rulers’ home oversaw Boeotia from an enormous crimson rock. Perhaps it was what remained of a large cliff devoured by the sea. Part of the architecture reminded Kairos of the Moira’s temple in Lissala, though incorporated into a larger palace of pale red stone. Strong walls fielded by archers surrounded the building, and a pair of bronze gates served as the only entrance.
Did Orthia restrict access to Quest givers?
It made sense, in a twisted way. If slaves made up most of the population, then one of them might gain a [Legend] and lead a successful uprising like Travian the Liberator. These fools weakened their own population in an attempt to maintain their outdated, fragile social order.
Orthia reminded Kairos of a turtle. It had a thick hard shell, but could be flipped over with the right push.
Invisible in the dead of night, Kairos moved through the city’s streets unseen as panic seized its sleeping citizens. Bells echoed as guards frantically raised the alarm, far too late to save anyone. The captain could hear the defenders' screams, and the roars of Andromache as she smashed through fortified walls.
The [Invisibility] Skill worked like a charm. Combined with the noise-erasing [Sneak] Skill, it allowed the pirate captain to move completely unnoticed towards the palace. Rook made circles high up in the skies above his head; since he could still smell his partner on the ground, the griffin would continuously indicate Kairos’ location to the other pirates.
Unlike the villages they sacked beforehand, Boeotia was a major port with a garrison; but one surprisingly unprepared for a pirate raid. The city watch was spread all over the town instead of strategic points, and the merchant fleet at the docks had been left almost entirely undefended.
Clearly, the Orthians looked inward for threats. Their waters were peaceful, so they didn’t have to worry about monsters or invaders; instead, they feared their own population. Peace and paranoia had blinded them to the true danger.
Orthian warriors were renowned across the Thessalan League for their courage, but as Kairos avoided the path of a militia rushing to defend the harbor, he found their reputation undeserved. Hoplite freemen clad in bronze armor led poorly equipped slaves to their doom, the burning brands around the servants’ neck forcing them into compliance.
This was the treatment Kairos’ paternal ancestors had fought to escape.
The [Hero] knew his people would win; enemy spears bounced off Andromache’s skin, and veteran raiders would crush an unprepared garrison. But most enemies would be helot slaves callously thrown to the wolves by their masters. The Orthian freemen were too cowardly to fight their own battles.
If Kairos had known that before the raid, he would have formed a different plan; one that would have spared the helots and focused on their masters. But alas it was too late now. Though he would rather avoid senseless deaths, the captain prized his men’s survival over civilian casualties.
Kairos eventually reached the palace’s tall bronze gates, closed tight and protected by three hoplites. He also noticed two archers on the walls, with his [Observer] Skill indicating these people were [Common] Ranks capped at level 20. The best of the mediocre. The [Hero] could easily tear through their bronze shields, but that would raise the alarm.
Instead, Kairos decided to wait.
Thanks to its advantageous location, the palace oversaw the city of Boeotia and allowed the [Hero] to watch his troops at work from afar. He noticed a black-furred minotaur cutting a bloody path through hoplites and slaves alike. Agron, the most feared captain in the fleet, had taken the field.
Meanwhile, the invincible Andromache devoured half a dozen men each minute. Her tentacles caught humans and fed them to her hound-heads, while the witch’s human half unleashed fireballs left and right. The spectacle was terrifying, doubly so since the Scylla clearly delighted in the slaughter.
Cassandra commanded her own force, though she mostly followed Andromache's trail of devastation and slew the stragglers. At her command, soldiers equipped with the magical rods unleashed a volley of fireballs at Boeotia's palace. The projectiles hit the walls, incinerating archers and collapsing a sizable chunk of the eastern wall. An inferno spread inside the building, a hungry beast lusting for fuel.
Now, Kairos only had to wait until the rats left their hideout. He hoped the palace didn’t have a hidden escape route though, as he would have no means of tracking down the royal family.
But thankfully, the bronze gates soon opened.
Kairos stood aside, as the twenty men moved towards the harbor. While most were [Commons] capped at twenty, Kairos counted five [Elites] with higher levels in their midst. To her credit, the queen had sent part of her own retinue to defend the port, but it wouldn’t turn the tide around.
After them came the sound of hooves hitting the ground, and a magnificent steel chariot emerged from the palace. Two warhorses pulled it forward, at the whim of a fierce woman; a child holding on to her white garb.
Queen Timaea was strongly built, with a body type reminiscent of Cassandra’s; slender yet athletic. She was beautiful, with long black hair, amber eyes, and chiseled facial features. She dressed rather modestly for her rank, with golden earrings and a necklace of lion teeth as her only jewelry. Though the queen wore only a white garb, she also carried a shield and a long steel spear.
But Kairos focused more on the child with her, a little boy no older than six, with short black hair and his mother’s eyes. If not for the way he held onto Timaea, the raider might have mistaken him for a peasant’s child rather than a prince.
Legend: None (Elite)
Class: Fighter (Athlete, Charioteer)
Legend: None (Elite)
As Kairos thought, the prince was too young to have his Class assignment. Though the fact he was already a [Elite] Rank by virtue of his birth infuriated the raider; he had to kill a [Hero] to ascend from [Common] Rank, and this spoiled brat did so by virtue of his birth.
Kairos thought the queen would hole up in the palace or escape. Instead she intended to lead the charge herself, and even dared to bring her son with her on the frontline. Perhaps she had run out of slaves to throw to their doom, or Orthians’ reputation wasn’t entirely unwarranted.
In any case, as the queen’s chariot approached his current position, Kairos raised his spear. One blast would throw the vehicle off the road, and the royals would become easy picking. The hoplites and the archers wouldn’t have time to react.
However, Kairos hesitated.
If the raider aimed wrong, he might cause Prince Critias to break his neck on the ground. While he wouldn’t mind roughing up the mother, Kairos couldn’t bring himself to harm a child younger than his late sister.
In the end, as the chariot came within reach, Kairos chose to perform a riskier maneuver. Drawing on his reserves of strength, he ran forward and leapt through the air. He landed on the chariot and caused it to shake, though his [Sneak] Skill snuffed out all noise.
Though he was invisible, the queen sensed the intruder’s presence and turned around. Kairos grabbed her hair to restrain her, but she bashed him with her shield before he could. The blow hit the raider’s face, though he managed to barely hang on to the chariot.
The archers on the wall tried to shout a warning, but Rook dived down from the skies and pushed one of them off the walls by surprise. The hoplite vanguard turned around, but with the queen too busy fighting off Kairos to guide them, the warhorses trampled them in a mad dash. The chariot quickly outpaced the guards, racing through Boeotia’s streets without any control.
While Kairos managed to somewhat regain his footing, or rather as best as the chariot's narrow space could allow, the little prince hid behind his fierce mother.
“Back off, daemon!” Queen Timaea snarled, as she thrust her spear. While she couldn’t see Kairos, the two were in close enough proximity for her to guess his position.
Guided by his superior [Spear Fighting] Skill, Kairos swiftly deflected the attack with his own spear and disarmed the queen. She tried to raise her shield to bash him, but this time the raider expected it. Kairos managed to grab the queen’s hair again and forcefully pulled her backward. They fell from the chariot alongside the little prince.
The three rolled into the dirt like animals, as the warhorses pulled the vehicle away. When Kairos rose up, he realized the maddened mounts had dragged them into a street near the harbor. He could hear the sound of combat nearby, and Rook circled over them from above.
“Over here!” the griffin shouted, though few in the Travian fleet could understand him. “Kairos needs help!”
Timaea attempted to raise her shield, but Kairos swiftly kicked it out of her hand, before using his spear's shaft to hit her in the chest like a club. The blow sent her rolling towards a nearby house’s wall, her back hitting bricks.
“I thought Orthians didn’t teach their women to fight?” Kairos asked in Thessalan, somewhat impressed by her resilience.
“They don’t,” Timaea replied, grabbing dirt with one hand and throwing it at Kairos. A fool’s effort but—
The pirate felt a sharp pain in his left thigh and let out a cry of pain.
“Leave my mother alone!” Kairos looked down, as the furious prince Critias held the dagger embedded in his flesh. The child’s eyes burned with a mix of fear and fury. “Leave her alone!”
Although Kairos remained invisible, he appeared like a human-shaped hole in the dirt cloud. Wait, Timaea had thrown dust at the pirate to help her six-year old son attack him? And through sheer luck, he had managed to stab through a chink in the reaver’s armor!
Removing his dagger but still grabbing the invisible man with his other hand, the little prince tried to stab Kairos again. This time though, the pirate saw the blow coming and swiftly punched the child in the face. The Travian reaver felt sick once he heard the boy’s nose breaking, but it did knock the hellion out cold.
“I’m starting to understand why they say that among the Thessalans, only Orthian women give birth to men,” Kairos said with genuine respect, as he covered his wound with a hand. Blood flowed out of the wound, the [Invisibility] spell seemingly not applying to it. “Unbelievable.”
Kairos had committed the same mistake that cost Pelopidas his life. Thankfully, the tiny prince’s dagger didn’t look poisoned. Worse, the captain heard the clinks of the hoplites’ armor as they looked for their ruler, and Timaea tried to rise back to her feet.
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten you,” Kairos said as he grabbed her, putting one arm around her neck in a chokehold. When the hoplite guards reached the street, they found their queen held by an invisible man, and their little prince unconscious in the dirt.
“Queen Timaea!” Kairos shouted. “Tell your men to surrender, or you will die!”
Immediately afterward, he raised his spear and pressed it against her cheek, though without cutting her skin; since he had coated the spear with poison, it would have killed her. The hoplites had formed a wall of spears, but didn’t move an inch. Clearly, they waited for their queen’s judgment.
“I think you mistook me for someone who repeats himself,” Kairos declared while discreetly glancing at the harbor. His troops had set it on fire, and unaware of the situation, unleashed a second volley at the palace. “Say it, queen!”
“Soldiers,” Timaea opened her mouth. “Throw your javelins! He is right behind me!”
Kairos thought he had misheard for a second, and even her own men seemed confused. The pirate looked into the queen’s iron gaze, to see if it was a bluff.
She was entirely serious.
“Your child is in the line of fire, you arrogant cow!” Kairos snarled, well and truly infuriated. She would sacrifice her own son to kill an enemy? The outrage in the raider’s voice caused Timaea to blink, and even surprised some of her soldiers. They didn’t expect the kidnapper to be even more aghast than they were. Did these barbarians consider their children expendable?
And then, Timaea used a hand to rip off her white garb, exposing her breasts and stomach to the soldiers.
“I can make more!” she declared boldly, pointing at her belly. “Throw your javelins!”
And worst, she had infected her men with her insanity! The hoplites raised their spears, and prepared to throw them.
Kairos unleashed a blast of wind to deter them, the Orthian warriors raising a shield wall to protect themselves. Timaea attempted to exploit her distraction to bite his arm, though she only chewed leather. She even attempted to claw at the raider’s face with her bare hands.
Insane! The Orthians were insane!
As the hoplites raised their javelins, Kairos redirected the wind to the ground. The gust transformed into a dust storm, ruining the unit’s visibility, but one still threw his spear. The projectile barely missed Timaea and hit Kairos in the shoulder, causing the [Hero]’s grasp to waver. Timaea attempted to free herself, but the fed-up [Hero] backhanded her so hard she fell to the ground.
As the hoplites emerged from the dust cloud to slay Kairos, a house on their left collapsed under a colossal beast's weight.
“Here!” Rook said while perched on Andromache’s shoulder, having guided the Scylla to Kairos’ location. Her tentacles were drenched in blood as they crushed bricks and stones.
The hoplite unit formed a shieldwall, which turned out to be a deadly mistake. Andromache casually tossed a fireball at them with her staff, flames cooking the warriors inside their own armors. Their screams were so loud that Kairos worried he might lose his hearing.
Once her grisly work was done, Andromache grabbed Timaea with a tentacle and raised her above the ground. “Did this woman wound you, Kairos?” the Scylla asked, dangling the queen like a doll.
“The child did.” Andromache’s amused smile turned into a sneer of contempt at Kairos’ confession. “I got cocky. It won’t happen again.”
“I hope so,” she replied. “It would be humiliating to see the man I pledged my life to be brought low by a child.”
“Can I eat him?” Rook looked at the unconscious Prince Critias while wagging his tail. “He looks soft and tender!”
For the first time in his life, Kairos seriously considered feeding a human to his griffin.
With their leader and the prince captured, Boeotia’s resistance quickly collapsed. Within two hours, the Travian fleet had gained control of the city.
Thankfully, the palace’s guards weren’t half as mad as their queen. When Kairos’ men paraded the unconscious Critias before their gates, they surrendered rather than risk their prince’s demise. Flames had consumed part of the building, but thankfully not the main areas. Kairos established a temporary command center before the Moira’s temple, while his men looted the palace for anything valuable.
“A six-year old child…” Kairos muttered to himself, as Rhadamanthe finished applying healing spells to his wounds. Damn, that javelin had dug its way deep in his shoulder. He felt itchy even after his flesh recovered.
“Your one weakness, my captain,” Nessus joked as he and other officers tossed bags full of jewelry at Kairos’ feet. As it turned out, while Timaea didn’t wear her wealth in public, she had quite a lot of golden and silver bracelets stashed in her quarters.
“If they look sick, Orthian children are left to die,” Thales explained, as he weighed the gold and silver with a balance. “They are then forced to exercise as soon as they can walk, and trained to fight in units when they reach seven.”
“This is barbaric, not to mention foolish,” Kairos protested. It was already hard for someone to reach adulthood, without their parents ending their life before it even began. What kind of madness had seized these strange men? “They decrease their numbers and waste good manpower.”
Thales nodded in agreement. “I agree, sir, that physical strength should not be the only judge of one’s value. However, while I dislike it on principle, Orthian education does create the Thessalan League’s best warriors.”
Cassandra made a wise remark. “If the queen and son behaved like that, I dread to imagine what the father is like. We were lucky they didn’t expect an attack and only left a token force, but we shouldn’t stay long in the city. Once the news reaches Orthia, they will send troops.”
Kairos couldn’t agree more. Considering how Queen Timaea hadn’t hesitated to risk her son’s life, not to mention her own, the Travian captain worried that their hostages might even prove worthless. He hoped Lysander would be more mindful of his son’s life than his wife. They were savages, every last one of them.
Though he could only blame himself for his wound. Seeing hoplites send helot slaves to their death had made Kairos underestimate the Orthians, but it wouldn’t happen again. At least the captain received a few thousand experience points from the city’s capture, though not enough to gain a new level.
“You should have let me eat the little manling, Kairos,” Rook said, pouting while sitting on the [Hero]’s shoulder. “It would have cheered you up. Yes, it would have!”
“We will wait for him to fatten first,” Kairos replied, a human-shifted Andromache chuckling at his joke. The other crewmates, who didn’t understand the conversation, looked at their captain strangely.
“What about the female? Can I eat her?” the griffin asked with a hopeful face. In response, Kairos simply scratched his friend below his beak, the animal wagging his tail in pleasure.
“That’s quite the prize we have here,” Cass noted, as the pile of looted valuables grew ever bigger. Gold, silver, gemstones, tapestries, artwork… the palace’s bounty dwarfed even Pelopidas’ sizable cargo. “Too much for our own ships.”
Kairos considered the matter. “Mmm…”
“I have a suggestion, sir,” Thales said. “We could repurpose the fishing and trading vessels in the port. Since the Foresight no longer needs rowers, we can have our oarsmen oversee crews of helot slaves. This way we could carry the treasure, and our allies would ensure the new recruits do not flee with it.”
“That’s a wise suggestion,” Cass nodded, before turning to the witch among them. “How long does it take you to remove a slave brand?”
“A snap of my fingers,” Andromache replied with haughtiness. Most importantly though, Kairos noticed that she had answered in Travian, not Greek.
“Then we could offer our captives a choice,” Cass said while looking at Kairos. “Emancipation for anyone willing to row for us and join our colony.”
“Wouldn’t it be wise to free them after we land?” Thales asked, a little worried. “The brands do guarantee their docility.”
“It also forces them to obey any free Orthian’s orders,” Cass pointed out. “If one gets within shouting distance, we will have another militia to fight.”
Rhadamanthe nodded. “Slaves will never be tolerated on Travian soil. Our colony is no exception from this law.”
“The helots will be free,” Kairos agreed. “In fact, we are going to free them all. Whether they join us or not.”
While most frowned, Nessus smirked. The cunning archer had caught on. “Wise, my captain. Those who run will carry the tale to the other slaves. How a brave Travian pirate may free them if they welcome him by opening the gates at night when he raids their shores…”
Cass was less optimistic, but ultimately supported the idea. “This is a pipe dream, but it will force Orthia to waste forces to suppress such tales in the worst-case scenario. Alright, let’s do this.”
“After we are done, we will order the locals to evacuate, and then set the town on fire in Thessala’s name,” Kairos declared. Mithridates wanted Orthia terrorized, and this should send the message. “I’m sure Agron will happily oblige.”
“The fire will wait after we visit the temple first,” Andromache said, glancing at Kairos. “Unless you went back on your offer?”
“Of course not,” the [Hero] replied, glancing at the Moira’s temple. From up close, it was an exact replica of Lissala’s. Perhaps all of them shared the same architecture. “Shall we go?”
“I will pass,” Nessus replied with a shrug. “The hags and I don’t have a nice history.”
Thales too decided to remain behind, though unlike the archer he did explain why. “I shall keep counting our bounty. Besides, I already have a Quest.”
Kairos raised an eyebrow at these two, but didn’t press the issue.
The [Hero] and his griffin led the march inside the temple, followed by Andromache, Cass, and Rhadamanthe. Though Kairos had expected the building to look similar to Lissala’s, he was pleasantly surprised. Pillars of purple porphyry held an obsidian ceiling, with gemstones embedded there and there; it took a few seconds for the captain to realize the design mimicked the night sky and constellations. Most importantly, his [Magic Knack] Skill identified the gemstones as magical items empowering divinations.
“Shinies,” Rook said in awe of the gemstones, flying upward to observe them more closely.
“Don’t touch,” Kairos asked his partner, not to annoy the mistress of the place. Though she had looked eager a few seconds before, the captain also noticed the tension on Andromache’s face. “Are you anxious?”
“I have not set foot in this place in eons,” she replied, holding onto her magical staff like a crutch. “It hasn’t changed since.”
Cass immediately caught on. “Wait, this temple is older than the Anthropomachia?”
The wise voice belonged to the owner of the place, the Moira of Boeotia, who waited for the group near a crystal altar. She looked similar to her sister in Lissala, albeit with subtle differences. While a humanoid figure covered in gray robes and a cowl, she stood straight and towered over everyone present, even Rhadamanthe. Instead of darkness, a purple cloud shielded her face from prying eyes.
“You have come, mortals,” she said, as the group bowed before her, “as I have foreseen.”
“I am no mortal, oh great wise one,” Andromache replied with a frown. “I only wear the mask of one.”
“All living things die, Cursed One, though some take longer than others.”
“If you knew of our coming, why didn’t you warn the inhabitants?” Kairos asked.
“I take no side in mortal squabbles,” the ancient crone replied. “My role is to offer Quests, trials, and prophecies to those who ask. I serve only the will of Fate, not kings and queens.”
Well, it wasn’t unexpected, but it meant Lissala’s people would get no protection from their own Moira either. “I must warn you, wise one,” Cass said, “that we intend to set the city on fire after we are gone. The inferno may spread to your temple in spite of our best efforts.”
“This place survived the Anthropomachia, the Gigantomachia, and the Titanomachia. It will survive your wrathful embers. But thank you for the warning.” She then turned her hooded head to ‘face’ Kairos. “I see that you fulfilled the trial set for you by my sister, Blood of Lycaon.”
Kairos ignored Andromache’s snort at his back, as he answered, “I thank you for your guidance, wise one. However, I am not the one seeking counsel today.”
“I yearn for freedom, and advice.” Andromache made a formal bow before the [Demigoddess] of Destiny. “Do you know the escape clause to my curse?”
“There is none,” the hag replied with bluntness. “There never was. The goddess Circe bound the threads of your fate tight. Your bindings were never meant to be cut. An unending punishment.”
Andromache didn’t even seem surprised, just saddened, though Kairos boiled with fury. She was no different from the helots outside. “Can it be undone at all?” the pirate captain asked the Moira.
“The curse is bound to her myth,” the hag explained. “A destiny of slavery. I can offer this lost soul a Quest that will allow her to change her [Legend]. If she feels ready. Once I set the trial, there will be no turning back.”
Andromache squinted for an instant, but remained steadfast. “I accept your challenge.”
“Then I bestow upon you a Quest, Cursed One, and the path to your freedom. What an old goddess did, only a new god will undo. The scales shall be balanced.”
The Scylla received a notification, and instantly made an angry scowl at the Moira. “Is there no other way, oh great wise one?”
“I have spoken,” the hag replied. “Seize your future, or remain bound forever.”
“What is the task ahead?” Kairos asked, Andromache reluctantly sharing her notification with the people present. It drew gasps from almost everyone.
Quest Trial: Convince Orgonos to lift your curse
You were once trapped in an inescapable curse by Circe, daughter of Helios. What a witch goddess once did, only a sorcerer god can undo. The New God of Magic, the Cyclops Orgonos, studies arcane mysteries from his tower in Argos. Only he can break your chains.
Convince Orgonos, New God of Magic, to lift Circe’s curse.
Reward: 10 Skill Points, and your [Legend] will change.
Orgonos? No wonder Andromache didn’t look thrilled, he was one of the Anthropomachia’s winners. To beg a ‘usurper’ for help in undoing an old deity’s work spat on everything the Scylla believed in.
“Can we even approach him? I assume it should be easier than it sounds, considering the relatively low reward,” Cassandra said, earning a glare from Andromache. “I mean, look at the Skill Points. This is a quest for would-be [Heroes], not epic [Demigods].”
“Orgonos often entertains visitors seeking his wisdom, or magicians willing to contribute to his library,” Rhadamanthe explained. “Though he never grants a boon for free. I suggest we find a magical item worthy of his time, or we will find his door shut.”
“We only offer Quests that can be completed, although never easily,” the Moira declared.
“Why do you let the Orthians restrict access to this place then?” Kairos asked. “They literally built walls around it. Shouldn’t you ensure access to everyone, regardless of birth?”
“You see the world with your mortal eyes, Blood of Lycaon. The nation of Orthia and its prejudices may stand for a century, but I shall remain here a thousand years forth. My task will continue long after this kingdom’s laws have been long forgotten.” The Moira let out a sound that the pirate captain thought for a chuckle. “Those with the potential to ascend will find their way to me, do not worry.”
“Could I get a Quest too?” Rook asked, as he stopped gazing at the gemstones to land at Kairos’ side. “Could I grow bigger and stronger? Like the big fire bird?”
Wait, he understood the Moira? Come to think of it, Kairos heard her in Travian, while the people of Orthia spoke Thessalan. The ancient crone probably had a Skill allowing her to be understood by everyone.
“Your destiny is bound to your master, winged one,” the Moira answered Rook’s question. “As he grows in strength, so will you. If you both rise to the challenges ahead, you shall even become his mighty steed.”
“Mmm…” Rook sat on his ass and looked at his partner. “You need to eat more, Kairos! To become big and strong!”
“Certainly,” he answered with a smile before glancing at Andromache. The Scylla’s face twisted into a deep, dark scowl. “Will we set sail for Argos? We have more urgent matters to settle for now, but we can certainly plan a journey there in the near future.”
“I…” Even now that she had a way out, Andromache still wanted to refuse, to cling to her pride. But she had already committed to this plan, enough to reconsider. “I will consider it.”
“Do you have a new Quest for me as well?” Kairos asked the Moira. Perhaps he could already consider his ascension to [Demigod].
Much to his surprise, the answer was no. “Now is not the time, Blood of Lycaon. Your destiny is bound to your companions’. Their strength is your own, and their trials are your trials. Help them, and you will help yourself.”
Kairos looked at Andromache, and then at Cassandra. His first mate sighed. “I guess I will have to work on my own Quest too.”