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  “Are my ears ringing or did something just speak through the horns?” Liva asked.

  “I think we’ve found our player,” Hanno said. “I’ll have your name, musician.”

  “I don’t play, I see. Call me Seer, and hear the echo of my sight,” boomed the voice in the black.

  Hanno looked to the others. Artemisia raised the torch high.

  With its light, Hanno led the way.

  They traveled through the dark trees, the shadows always close and pressing them into a tight column. After weaving their way through the black pillars, they came upon a clearing. The ground seemed a vacant patch of the night sky, but when Hanno stepped toward it the faintest ripple spread across its surface.

  “It’s a pool,” Hanno said.

  “A pool within an island within a lake within an island within the sea,” Liva marveled.

  “I see you wondering,” came a voice from the water. It rippled when it spoke, a deep voice without source bubbling beneath the black surface. “I see you wishing.”

  Hanno looked at the water, not trusting his ears.

  “Show yourself, Seer,” he ordered. “We mean you no harm. We wish to be allies, to trade songs and tales and what goods you might share.”

  The water rippled.

  Hanno looked at his reflection in the pool, and stepped back at the shimmering figure that replaced it. A golden crown rested atop curly black hair, with a beard that went down to a chest plate of hammered gold speckled with gemstones.

  Hanno drew his sword the same time as the figure. The blade was identical, bearing an identical chip in the hilt, save the hand that wielded it wore a massive ruby ring.

  “It’s you,” Liva realized.

  “It shows only Hanno,” Bostar noted, and pointed to the lack of other reflections.

  “I see your wish. I see what you will to become. I see the things necessary to make this occur,” the pool said.

  Ripples erased the gold-covered king and returned to the reflection of the moment, including the others around the pool.

  “What sort of magic is this, Seer?” Hanno asked.

  “Not magic. I see. I see and hear, not just your thoughts and your pasts but the outcomes of those desires. Will for it to be, and I will show it occurring,” said the pool.

  Liva’s image grew taller. Her hands filled with a red and green energy, and her eyes glowed.

  Both the reflection and the standing Liva put their hands over their mouth.

  “Yes, I see your desire,” Seer said.

  The black pool rippled away, replaced by billowing fields of wheat and bushes fat with berries. Liva walked amongst a bowing populace, where children shouted and waved. Wherever she stepped, green grass replaced the brown. Liva turned her hand and flowers bloomed. She opened her mouth and a group of riders in the distance threw down their weapons and raced to sit before her. All this happened while the glowing Liva smiled.

  “That’s impossible,” Liva marveled.

  The black of the pool spread like spilt ink, and a shadow rose from the darkened image. The party’s true reflections returned.

  “Your wishes are not always true to form,” Seer proclaimed. “Such as this one.”

  Bostar’s reflection became winged, and he flew in the company of a heavenly band of strong-armed archers. Tarsus and Barca’s reflections became soaked in wine, with women draped about them in a bacchanal to rival the most indulgent of Olympian feasts.

  For Artemisia, it showed her standing in a doorway, holding a child’s hand and with a man’s arm draped over her shoulder.

  The helmsman stepped into the pool and shadows rose through the ripples.

  “I don’t need to see something that will never happen,” she declared.

  “I see many things,” Seer replied. “Not just the impossible. You have been longing, all of you, for these things. But I see your tempered desires as well.”

  The pool rippled into the form of their trireme at sea.

  “Where shall the ship go?” Seer prompted. “Shall it continue south? Shall it stay here? Shall it go home? But where is home?”

  Hanno and Liva locked eyes a moment.

  “Ah… a new wish,” Seer said.

  The water rippled black then became a torrent of fire. Flames licked up the walls of a massive palace, causing all to step back from the phantom heat.

  “I see your desires, and what they will produce,” Seer laughed.

  A blood-soaked corpse lay on the palace steps, and when the pool’s image drew closer it revealed the dead man to be Bostar.

  “No!” the bowman and the king gasped.

  “You wish to bring this woman to your home. You wish to have her as your bride,” Seer continued.

  The image switched to the palace interior, where Hanno sheltered Liva from the burning ceiling. She held an infant wailing silent tears while the walls caved in on them.

  “Stop it!” Hanno shouted.

  The pool’s perspective rose until the whole city of Carthage lay below them, burning and crumbling while dark invaders swept through the streets, slaughtering all.

  “This is the future you will spawn if Hanno of Carthage unites with Liva of the Lixitae,” Seer predicted.

  A soft rumble of distant horns accompanied this proclamation.

  “You lie, Seer!” Hanno said.

  “And what if he stays?” Liva asked.

  The image blinked out, replaced by a burning trireme. Its mast became a torch while bloodied marines leapt into the churning sea. An image of a haggard Liva and Hanno clung to the charred rail before a wave capsized the ship and pulled it into the black water.

  “I see all this happening, the doom of your pairing,” the water said.

  The shadows danced against Artemisia’s torch while the horns grew in pitch, rising with the pool’s dark laughter.

  “You spread lies, foul water,” the king protested. “I am Hanno of Carthage and I—”

  “I know you, Hanno!” Seer roared. “I know your works and I know your future. You want to be king and rule your empire? Then wish for flames, for that is all you shall receive!”

  A great fire erupted from the water. The horns blared and Tarsus raced away in terror. He screamed and his head flew into the clearing while the shadows rippled against the black trees.

  “Stay where you are!” Artemisia ordered, keeping the shadows at bay with her torch.

  “I see your future, Hanno of Carthage, and it is nothing but fire. Abandon your kingdom and abandon your heart. Only then can you escape Hades,” Seer mocked.

  Darkness closed in on the clearing. The group clustered together, weapons raised to confront invisible threats.

  “You don’t show the truth,” Liva said. “You can’t!”

  “I can only show what you want! I can only show what will happen when you claim your greatest desires,” Seer replied.

  “I make no wish for these dark things. I wish for my people to thrive, to enrich my kingdom and…” Hanno paused as he looked at Liva. “And I wish for Liva!”

  “Such hopes!” Seer laughed. “You want hope, then you should have found my blind brother. Your wishes lead only to shadows.”

  The dark pressed them on all sides and became many shapes that moved on their own. They clattered against the trees like cymbal-footed demons, clanging and dancing ever closer.

  “Now, Hanno of Carthage,” said Seer. “Wish for your life.”

  The shadows lunged for the king. He grabbed the torch from Artemisia and waved it at them, chasing them away with a clang and thunder of the horns.

  “Run!” Hanno ordered.

  “Yes, Hanno, yes, choose the flames!” Seer laughed.

  They raced through the black trees waving the torch as they ran. Bostar pierced a pursuing shadow with an arrow, but the creature never wavered. Barca beat them back with his spear and Hanno struck one with his sword, but the shadows clawed at their feet and ripped the skin off their arms. All the while the cymbals clattered, the trees thundered like drums, and the pipes blared, the music deafening their screams.

  When they reached the raft, the entire island erupted in flames, sending the shadows racing across the lake.

  The rising smoke hid the moon, but with the torch to guide them, Hanno and his companions pushed the raft into the water.

  The king clenched his teeth against the pain from his many wounds, and Liva fought back tears while clutching her bleeding arm. They huddled around Hanno’s torch while Bostar and Artemisia paddled them to the outer ring.

  “Hail, marine!” Hanno shouted to their waiting crew. “Ready the trireme! Get away!”

  The shadows reached the outer island and came upon the line of marines in a black wave. The men screamed and fell back, raising shields and waving torches to fend off the unknown enemy.

  Several marines threw torches at the shadows, forcing them to retreat. The resulting fires spread and grew.

  But the marines held their line, shouting and cowering against their fellows to make way for the king. The second Hanno’s raft touched the shore, he led the withdrawal back to the trireme.

  A cacophony of horns and symbols chased them to the ship. Those marines at the front had already reached the trireme, and the rest soon climbed aboard. Some splashed into the sea, terror compelling them to brave the waters.

  “Push away!” Hanno ordered when he touched the deck.

  The oars thrust out and Jabnit played the readied note, its sound muffled against the island’s song.

  Hanno spotted Liva still on the sand and said, “Liva, here,” offering his hand for her to climb aboard.

  She paused, and glanced back at the burning island.

  “What about what we saw?” Liva asked.

  “You want to submit to the shadows?” Hanno replied.

  “No, I…”

  “Get on, now!”

  Liva swallowed, and stepped into Hanno’s reach. She clambered over the railing just as the initial thrust pushed the trireme to sea.

  The oarsmen rowed them further away from the horn-blaring island while the marines tossed ropes to pull the swimmers aboard.

  All the while shadows spread from the island’s middle, dancing and waving at the retreating intruders.

  The fire enveloped the island. Its orange glow lit the trireme’s path across the sea long enough the crew stayed at the oars and sail until gray dawn hid the distant bier from sight.

  “Don’t we have to make for the shore?” Liva asked after the sun fully rose.

  Fear drove the rowers onward, never tiring, never thinking of turning back.

  “We spent half the day on the island. Should be enough to dry out the hull,” Artemisia reasoned.

  “The crew has their strength, and we’ve had our rest,” Hanno agreed. “We press on.”

  “On to what?” Liva asked.

  “Onward. As we have been.”

  “What is it you saw, Hanno?” Aba asked.

  The king waved her off.

  “Such a beacon of the gods has to have spoken. Jabnit has been so stricken by the music she can hardly play the oar beat,” Aba pressed. “And Mapen swears he heard the song of Hades coming from the island.”

  Of the priestess’s children, only Fierel seemed unafraid, though the boy’s silence atop the mast could be labeled abnormal.

  “It was an island of shadow and fire. Call it a work of the gods if you must but it was evil,” Hanno concluded.

  “That’s right,” Bostar agreed.

  Artemisia kept her eyes on the bow horn and decidedly nothing else.

  “But the shadows… what do they want? What were they singing?” Aba asked. “Tanit, reveal the secrets of this dark land!”

  “What did it want?” Liva asked Hanno.

  “It lured us in to kill us. But Seer does not know Hanno of Carthage. We escaped,” Hanno said.

  Liva frowned. “It knew you though. It showed us Carthage. That was Carthage, wasn’t it?”

  “It may have known our city. But it knows not of our abilities.”

  “One of us died.”

  “Tarsus has been honored.”

  Mapen had delivered a eulogy in the night. They promised the fallen marine’s friends a more well-suited ceremony would be held once they made camp.

  “Why would the gods place a thing of such evil in this world?” Bostar wondered.

  “The works of the gods are not always for us to understand. We can only pray for such guidance, and hope it is seen in what they reveal,” Aba scolded.

  Liva nodded. She looked across the bow to where Artemisia stared. They saw a blot of smoke rising over the horizon, along with dark clouds that seemed frozen to the southern shore. Little wind filled their sails, but it propelled the trireme at a steady pace.

  “What would we have done if I’d become pregnant?” Liva wondered aloud.

  “The island did not show this,” Hanno replied.

  “It did, though. It showed us dying in Carthage. There was a child. What if I’d become pregnant, Hanno?”

  Hanno shrugged.

  “Were you aware I’d been taking silphium?” Liva asked.

  Hanno kept his eyes on the water.

  “Did you care?” Liva pressed.

  “I assumed we would cover that as it occurred,” Hanno admitted.

  “As it occurred? Would you have married me if I’d mothered your child?”

  Hanno frowned.

  “So you hadn’t considered it,” Liva concluded.

  “I had not considered it a possibility because I hadn’t considered anything beyond the success of this journey,” Hanno countered.

  “So nothing else matters?”

  “Yes.”

  “Not even me?”

  Hanno scowled.

  “This is not the place for such talk,” Hanno muttered, and walked to the bow.

  “Then where is?” Liva asked, and followed.

  “After we have concluded our journey.”

  “And then what? Would you have cast me off, pregnant and alone, after you’d found your gold?”

  “I would not have done that.”

  “Then what would you have done? Would you have taken me to Carthage to be your queen?”

  “I had… considered that.”

  “Had you? Had you looked into your heart or your head?”

  Liva stabbed the king with her finger against each of these. The king took the blows without flinching.

  Tears flooded down Liva’s face.

  “Because if you do choose that, apparently we’ll destroy your city,” Liva said.

  “That will not happen,” Hanno vowed.

  “Your best friend will die and your city will burn. That’s what Seer showed us.”

  “He showed us the result of our greatest desires.”

  “Am I not your desire?”

  Hanno took Liva by the shoulders. They locked eyes with each other and the same heady scent that had overwhelmed them before swam in their nostrils.

  The king’s eyes watered. His nose twitched.

  “Hanno!” Bostar shouted from the stern.

  Hanno blinked, and heard the crackle of flames.

  What had appeared as distant clouds became high walls of gray-black smoke. They cast a fragrant aroma into the air, though it had a charred stench far fouler than that of the stone-mouthed mountain.

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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

DavidDHammons

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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