Hanno drew his sword.

  Liva crouched beside the dead bodies and kept her eyes on the terrain.

  “Stay low,” she warned. “They won’t bother us if we’re silent.”

  “Alarm!” Hanno shouted.

  He dashed into the field with his sword raised.

  A blur of grass and wind rushed past him, along with the bleat of a goat.

  “Men of Carthage, to your king!” Hanno commanded.

  A growl took shape in front of Hanno, and the crouched figure of a jackal met his eyes. The king braced for a lunging attack and swung his sword at its legs. But the moment the beast’s jaws missed Hanno’s throat, it landed behind him and its legs disappeared.

  In the blink of an eye, the beast became a bird and took to the sky.

  “Bostar!” Hanno shouted.

  He had half a moment to catch a spear thrust at his side, and the king blocked the blow with his sword. The speed of the exchange broke the spear in half, and Hanno followed the broken haft to the crouched man holding it.

  Hanno made a thrust, but the figure dashed away, emerging again to strike at Hanno’s legs.

  The king leapt to avoid the blow and managed a swinging cut against the attacker’s neck. The blow would have slit any other man’s throat, but the spearman moved so fast Hanno’s blade barely drew blood.

  More spear thrusts came, and Hanno found himself pressed against a whirlwind of wood and stone. The weapons were bestial in shape, crude but many in number, and coming so fast Hanno could only step back to keep his skin intact.

  The bird landed behind him, and Hanno saw it rise on two legs. The beast became a man, naked but for a leather cloak and grinning a set of too-white teeth.

  One of the spearmen struck Hanno in the arm, and the king cried out in pain, swinging futilely to keep the attackers back.

  A spear thrust meant for Hanno’s back grazed his side, and Hanno saw a short, dark man fall to his knees with an arrow protruding from his chest.

  “For Hanno!” Bostar shouted, and led a charge of javelin-hurling marines.

  They raced across the grass to form ranks in front of their king.

  Shapes of men sped through the darkness like bursts of wind, and Hanno caught sight of the bright-toothed man as he disappeared, a bird taking to the skies in his place.

  “Are you alright, Hanno?” Bostar asked.

  Hanno hid the blood on his tunic and nodded.

  “Cut the beasts down, men of Carthage!” Hanno shouted, and joined in the chase.

  They ran into the field, but almost as soon as the first volley had been thrown, they lost sight of the attackers. All they saw was parting grass. All they heard was the bleating of distant goats.

  Artemisia joined the marines, and shoved her way to Hanno.

  “Who in Hades was that?” she asked, and noticed Hanno’s bleeding side. “You’re hurt — medic!”

  “I’m fine. Where’s Liva?” Hanno asked.

  “Get yourself a bandage, Hanno.”

  The king stepped around Artemisia and said, “Form a sentry line. Nothing gets past.”

  He ran back to where he’d last seen Liva, and found her still huddled beside the dead sentry and shepherd.

  “They’re called Aethiopians,” Liva explained when Hanno stopped before her.

  “Are you hurt?” the king asked.

  “They attack us, steal our sheep and goats. But they usually don’t harm us. Not if we don’t fight back. He must have fought back.”

  Hanno could see she was uninjured. Only then did he cringe over the stinging cut in his arm.

  “How is it that men can become beasts?” Hanno asked.

  “We don’t know. But it is the way of things,” Liva said.

  “It is not the way of things for men to transform.”

  “Here it is.”

  “Is it common then?”

  Liva shook her head. “Only for the Aethiopians. They are unique among the stories I’ve been told. They come swift and silent, like a sudden storm, then disappear, as much a fact of nature as the wind.”

  Hanno scowled, and said, “Believe me, Liva, this is no work of nature.” He showed her the blood on his sword. “These Aethiopians bleed like men.”

  Liva grimaced.

  Hanno ignored her look of disgust, and turned to the northern horizon. “Our colonies are in danger if there are raiders,” he said.

  “Your colonies are in Africa. This is the way of things,” Liva said.

  “Carthage is in Africa as well. And I will not let the death of a Carthaginian go unmet.”

  Bostar ran to Hanno’s side.

  “This is Kurell, Bostar,” Hanno said, and ran back to the camp.

  Gana met him, spear in hand. The kings glared at each other, and passed without saying a word.

  They kept up the search for hours, but found no sign of the Aethiopians. The raiders had struck and withdrawn so quickly none had been spotted until they’d carried off a good portion of the flocks.

  The attackers had made no attempt to enter the ring of bonfires, and likely would have gone completely unnoticed had Kurell not gotten in their way.

  Once daylight arrived and their safety had been assured, Hanno oversaw a funeral for the fallen sentry. The Lixitae buried their dead shepherd as well, though they did it far from where Aba spoke over Kurell’s place of rest.

  After the services had been completed and the words had been said, Liva approached Hanno.

  “I suppose you’re leaving,” she said.

  “We’re not leaving,” Hanno replied.


  “Bostar and I will lead a company of marines. Artemisia has chosen her finest fighters, and we will punish these beasts.”

  Hanno accepted a javelin from Bostar, and marched out of the camp with his company of twelve marines behind him. Artemisia wore a sword at her side, but carried no javelin.

  Liva raced after Hanno and stepped in front of him.

  “Just go. We get raided by the Aethiopians without fail — you can’t do anything about it,” Liva insisted.

  “I will,” Hanno vowed. “And you will show me where they are.”

  “I’m not going with you,” Liva protested.

  “You will show me where they are.”

  “You want to know where they are? There!”

  Liva pointed to the mountains.

  “The Aethiopians live with beasts. We don’t bother them and they take our goats. That’s the way of things,” Liva explained.

  “It will not be the way of my colonies,” Hanno promised. “Bostar, make sure each marine has oil and food.”

  “Going after the Aethiopians is not just stupid it’s suicidal!”

  “Do you know me yet, Princess?”

  “Don’t call me that.”

  “Then what are you, daughter of the king? Are you the heir to a kingdom or one who abandons her people?”

  “I’m neither!”

  Hanno checked his sword. Bostar had sharpened it well.

  “You wanted stories, Liva, I’ll give you a story,” said the king. “It’s the story of Hanno cleansing this land of beasts. We killed a lion, let us destroy these raiders with the same precision. Come with us if you want to learn the tale, or stay here and tell the people that Hanno will make sure no man or beast threatens his rule.”

  Hanno marched off at the head of his marines.

  Gana watched him go. He stood between his people and Hanno, but when he caught sight of his daughter, he walked her direction.

  Liva spoke to her father, and Gana stopped.

  “Don’t follow the river!” Liva called out to Hanno, and raced to catch up.

  The marines paused.

  “There’s a more direct way to the mountains,” Liva said.

  “And you know this how?” Hanno asked.

  “It’s where we know not to bring our flocks.”

  Hanno nodded, and resumed walking. Liva followed.

  They stayed on the march two days. The occasional tuft of fur or wool marked their progress. A bright moon and the oil-fueled torches allowed them to continue with as little interruption as possible.

  Though the nights grew cool, Hanno warmed himself with the image of dead Kurell.

  On the second night, exhausted, Liva sat beside Hanno and the low fire.

  “There is a word for revenge in my tongue,” Liva said.

  “This is not revenge. This is control,” Hanno corrected.

  “You can’t kill them. This will not end well.”

  “My people have steel. My people have crops and ships and supplies. These Aethiopians do not know this.”

  “But they know Africa.”

  “So do I.”

  “Your Africa.”

  “All of Africa soon.”

  “Please, Hanno. My people have lived this way for many years. We don’t want outsiders changing our lands.”

  “Liva, I give you my utmost sincere pledge that if I could be anywhere else, I would be,” Hanno shared.

  “So some imperceptible force drives you?”

  “One of your people died too.”

  “Because your sentry fought back. Because you fought back. We live in the world. We do not command it.”

  “I am no passive member of this planet. Nor are my people.”

  “You cannot tell the world to turn.”

  “Show me the world’s ear, and I will speak those words. We shall see how the world replies.”

  Liva shook her head, and found a roll to rest upon.

  The next day, they reached the mountains.

  More tracks marked the path, and Liva pointed out a gash in the rising hills. A roar greeted their approach, though they had no way of knowing what sort of beast made the sound.

  Lacking the men for a proper phalanx, Hanno distributed the marines in a shallow line with he, Bostar, and Artemisia in the center and Liva close behind. Bostar noted the droppings of what appeared to be a large deer. In their initial pass into the trees at the foothills, a long-haired pig darted out from a bush and ran into the field, snorting its disgust.

  After half a day’s slow approach, weapons ready and sandaled feet stepping softly against the dry grass and leaves, they came upon a narrow valley.

  Sheer cliffs of dark stone enveloped the opening. They hadn’t climbed much higher than the mountains’ base, so the peaks loomed over them like unmoving Colossae. Dozens of caves pocked the stony walls, and the musty smell of flesh and blood halted the marines at the edge of the clearing.

  The sun had reached its zenith, and golden light pierced every opening, though it didn’t penetrate further than the frames of the many caverns. With such illumination, the marines spotted the few remaining goats tied up in the valley’s grassy center. Bones lay scattered before the caves, along with the occasional drying skin hanging from a boulder, revealing what had happened to the sheep.

  Hanno signaled for his forces to tighten their ranks.

  “Watch your sides. Maintain a two-row short phalanx. Second line only throw javelins as needed,” Hanno whispered.

  Artemisia handed Liva a javelin without asking if she wanted it. Liva took it, though she glanced a moment at the trees behind them.

  Hanno braced his javelin and kept his sword sheathed. He occupied the middle center, beside Bostar and behind Artemisia. The helmsman took the front rank, despite Hanno’s attempts to pull her into the middle, and marched with two marines on either side, the same at her back.

  Into the clearing they went, staying away from the center to avoid being surrounded. After several moments’ pause listening to the chirps of many unseen birds, Hanno signaled for them to enter the nearest cavern.

  Bostar kept watch on their rear, and the marines braced their spears. Two steps inside the cavern, the light ended, and Artemisia lit a torch with a bit of flint and steel.

  The torch revealed the low form of a sleeping man.

  The formation froze.

  Liva put a hand on Hanno’s shoulder. The king shook, and planted his feet for a group thrust.

  Hanno ducked out from Liva’s arm and took a step, the marines mimicking his movements.

  He stopped.

  Hanno raised a fist to hold the formation. The Aethiopian never stirred.

  The king took the spears from two marines in the front, and nodded for them to take hold of the man.

  After a silent one, two count, the marines grabbed the Aethiopian and lifted him with his arms braced behind his back. One held a hand over the awakened man’s mouth to silence his screams. He twisted and struggled, but his thin limbs couldn’t break the hold of the thick-armed Libyphoenicians.

  Liva put a hand to her heart and let out the breath she’d been holding.

  “You speak his tongue?” Hanno whispered.

  Liva nodded.

  “Command him not to scream, and ask where the beast-man with polished white teeth sleeps,” Hanno instructed.

  Liva spoke low to the Aethiopian. The language reminded Hanno of the words Liva spoke with her father, but came out sharper and quicker.

  The marines allowed the man to reply, and after he did, Liva said to Hanno, “The beast sleeps in the highest cave. He watches over them.”

  “The beast?” Hanno asked.

  “That’s the word he used.”

  “How do they transform? Is this the beast a man or a god?”

  Liva asked, and the man shook his head.

  “He says this beast is the beast. He doesn’t know how he became the master of beasts, but they follow him and he gifts them with beastly forms,” Liva translated.

  “Can he be killed?” Hanno asked.

  After Liva asked this, the man’s eyes widened, and he struggled to break free.

  “I’ll take that as a yes,” Artemisia noted. “Let’s cut his throat and put a javelin into this beast master. Hopefully they all sleep as heavily as him. We’ll wipe them out in an hour.”

  The Greek readied her sword, but Hanno stayed her hand.

  “What?” Artemisia asked.

  Before Hanno could speak, the Aethiopian twisted so sharply the marines lost their grip. He dashed out of the cave, screaming his head off.

  “Now you’ve done it,” Artemisia scolded. “Form up!”

  The marines resumed their phalanx, and Bostar nocked an arrow.

  “Quick-march to the entrance,” Hanno ordered.

  Hooting and screaming greeted them. The trees waved about like a storm had spawned in the heart of the valley, while flashes of wind from speeding Aethiopians offered no targets for Bostar’s bow.

  “What are they saying?” Hanno asked Liva.

  “They’re screaming Beast,” Liva translated.

  A roar came from the clearing.

A note from DavidDHammons

Thanks for reading! New chapters will be added MWF. Please rank and review. If you would like to support my writing, please consider donating through Royal Road or supporting me via Patreon. I also have books available on Amazon, author name David D. Hammons, if you would like to read more of my work.

About the author


Bio: I once snuck into a castle. It wasn’t a terribly good castle. In fact it was quite old and broken, but it had a shut door I wasn’t supposed to go through. Yet through it I went. I climbed an ancient wall I shouldn’t have climbed, wandered across borders without using the approved path, and was handed a silver trophy for a contest I wasn’t allowed to enter. From my time growing up in the Missouri Ozarks to my travels abroad, I couldn’t help going places and doing things I probably shouldn’t. Perhaps more of those doors needed 'Keep Out' signs, or if they did have signs they should have been locked, and if they had been locked they shouldn’t have hidden such amazing things that made going through them so worthwhile. I currently live in Springfield, Missouri, where I teach Marketing, study History, and, alongside my wonderful wife, make a valiant attempt at passing through the doorway of writing.

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