November 2009 Archives

Reunited...

Chapter Three

By Douglas E. Gogerty

King Jonathan was called the "Cattle King" by the neighboring kingdoms. His lands were very dry, but they were highly suited to raising livestock. He had vast herds of bison grazing his lands. Deer, moose, and wild cow also thrived there. Much of the wild game on his lands was hunted for sport in his kingdom. He got his power and influence from the wealth he obtained in the meat trade.

After the water wars of Calmondak's southern neighbors, King Jonathan's father expanded the kingdom farther south. This land was also arid, but it too was suitable to livestock grazing. The people working these lands fit right in to how their neighbors to the north ran things.

However, there was a large desert in the southwestern portion of these southern kingdoms. With the irrigation practices of the former kingdoms -- and before -- the Great Monoran Desert had grown substantially. The aquifer had nearly vanished allowing the desert to expand.

This desert was a dangerous and foreboding place where numerous explorers had never returned. It was hot and dry. Very little could survive there. After an exploratory party entered the desert and did not return, King Jonathan forbade anyone from entering. It was labeled the "Forbidden Zone."

When King Jonathan was a fairly young man, he wed Princess Marcellina. With the marriage and its arrangements, the Calmondak kingdom gained some timberland and some orchards in the northwest. There were also some fine vineyards that complemented the ones in Calmondak. Thus, King Jonathan could slightly diversify where his wealth was being generated.

Other than from the vines and from fruit trees, very little food could be grown in Calmondak without irrigation. It was this aridness that resulted in the water wars of these southern kingdoms. The lack of water had caused destruction of the previous civilization living on the land as well. It was simply not something with which King Jonathan wanted to get involved. Thus, he would continue to import most of his required grains from Lakeland.

The acquisition of the treaty land would not change this. However, it would extend Calmondak's border to the Misery River to the west. This would be more preferable to the current border with the Lakeland Kingdom. This border was determined more arbitrarily when one of the southern kingdom negotiated for it. With the river as the border, it would prevent any disputes over land rights. In this way, friendly trade would continue between the neighbors.

Furthermore, the land of this treaty was mostly similar to the much of the southern lands that were already part of Calmondak. There was a small mountain range and some swamps, but a majority of the land was similar. Most of it could be used as grazing lands. The big difference was that it also gave Calmondak access to an oceanic gulf which could also open up trade with more eastern kingdoms.

Nonetheless, all of this was for not with Princess Angelina's disappearance. A new treaty was discussed giving Prince William and Princess Angelina control over the land should they marry. However, it would likely revert to Lakeland should anything happen to the pair. Further, there was the prophecy proclaimed by King Thorbjorn.

While King Jonathan was completely willing to allow Prince William to search for his daughter, the marriage of the pair would be considered at another time. The benefits of this union would be far less than the previous arrangement. Further, he did not particularly believe in prophecies, so anyone looking for his daughter would be welcome.

Princess Angelina was not an only child. She had an older brother, Prince James. He was the heir to the Calmondak throne. He was a tall statuesque young man. He was also quite striking in appearance. However, like Princess Angelina, he took after his mother more than his father. Thus, many thought him a bit effeminate. Of this, Princess Angelina took much offense.

There was talk in some circles that Princess Angelina was the much stronger of the pair. She was much more suited to be heir to the throne than the -- in their opinion -- much weaker prince. While the princess would agree that she was stronger, again she took offense to the sentiment.

The two children were educated along side each other. While there was a few years difference in their ages, Angelina did act much more mature for her age. Further, she had a voracious appetite for learning. She just did not seem to be able to get enough.

Perhaps this was the big difference between the two. Prince James accepted his role in the scheme of things, but Princess Angelina felt that there was always something that could be done. She was not afraid to take action. She was not afraid to step outside her role as princess and see the world differently. This made her appear strong and made James appear weak.

The two siblings were quite close due to their situation. In fact, they had spent many hours discussing the upcoming wedding. However, Prince James did not know what the princess could or would do about stopping the upcoming nuptials.

She had asked Prince James about driving the suncars. He gave her a few pointers and lessons, but he did not think she would be able to drive away by herself. He felt that she would need assistance. Thus, he was under the impression that she had been abducted.

He had been questioned thoroughly. It was apparent that despite his confession of teacher her the rudiments of the sun car, he did not know where she was. In fact, because they were very close, if she had run away, she may have wanted him to not know where she was going. Thus, he was in the dark about the events of the day of her disappearance.

Prince William of Lakeland asked Prince James some questions about the Forbidden Zone and if she knew anything about it. Prince James told him what he told everyone.

"It is the most dangerous place in Calmondak, and no one would go there on purpose. Certainly my sister knows that! If she ran away, she certainly would not head there!"

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The God Wars

Chapter Twenty-eight:

Observations

By Dwayne MacInnes

Ares was on the march again. This time he had a more formidable army. Hades in his chariot drawn by two jet-black horses joined the god of war. His Necro-lords were at the head of a long line of undead warriors. There was Charon the boatman holding the leash belonging to the three-headed dog Cerebus whose jaws snapped and drooled in anticipation of the coming fight. There also was Thanatos, or as many referred to him as Death. The skeletal Necro-lord rode an emaciated black horse and carried a scythe ready for his grim reaping.

The large army also contained Hephaestus' ten-foot tall bronze warriors the Talos. As their legs moved, their metal joints groaned and creaked. The god of the anvil did not march south with the army for he was intent on extracting more information from the abducted scientist.

Ares scanned the skies near the Dragonspine Mountains. He was still waiting for Hermes and his Draco-lords to join the army. The long serpentine dragons and their riders would join Ares as they neared the Skalandos River. The wild and terrible griffins would also be available. No one else could control the part eagle and part lion monstrosity except Hermes. He could speak to the untamed animals and more importantly, they would listen.

* * * * *

From the seclusion of a wooded hillside, Hunter Running-Deer observed the latest army marching south towards the Skalandos River. They were near the headwaters and many fords across the wild river were available for the huge army to cross.

Hunter was a Cherokee Indian who grew up on a reservation in Oklahoma. His family raised him to learn their traditional ways such as hunting and tracking. Naturally, he also was versed in their native language and other customs. Hunter learned English when he went to school and joined the military like many of his tribal brothers when the war broke out.

Right now, his skills, like those of the other few dozen American Indian soldiers, were in high demand. His commanding officers sent him ahead of Ares' latest army in order to observe the huge army without them noticing him

Even though there were small hamlets and villages around the area, Hunter‘s instructions were to bypass them. He would need to scout out the land without even friendly citizens knowing of his existence just in case Ares decided to interrogate a local. He could live off the land and move quickly and quietly with his horse that the Atlantean army issued him.

Hunter put the field glasses to his eyes again. He was careful not to let the sunlight reflect off the lenses. Even if Ares and his army did not know someone was observing them, a flash of light could still tell them that there was something or someone out there they may want to investigate.

When Hunter first started watching the army, he was shocked at its makeup. The giant metal statues moving across the land was one thing, and the shambling dead warriors were another. However, something about the Necro-lords really made shivers run up Hunter's spine.

Hunter had faithfully followed and observed the army for days. He made one report with his field radio each day. Even a tenderfoot back at the Alamo could tell that Ares latest army contained thousands and thousands of troops. However, what Ares' game was no one knew and that was where Hunter came in.

Hunter found it strange how it took the transportation to a strange world for people to treat him and the other minorities like equals. The Atlanteans did not seem to find that skin color mattered to one's status, as the white man did on earth. Even the Negro troops the Atlanteans regarded as equals despite the lingering racism still found amongst some of the Americans.

Hunter watched the army cross the river and was about to pack up and make his daily report when he saw a speck in the sky above the jagged tops of the Dragonspine Mountains grow into a large swarm as it neared Ares' army. Hunter took in a deep breath when he trained his glasses upon the flying horde.

Black scaled dragons with men in black armor flew towards the army. A strange half eagle/half lion beast flew alongside. Hunter remembered them from a textbook in one of his childhood schools as griffins. By the way the beast flew circles around the army below Hunter realized that Ares just added a new element to his forces.

* * * * *

Colonel Farnsworth at the Alamo listened as his scout reported in. On another world in another time, Colonel Farnsworth would have had the man brought up on report for drinking. However, nothing surprised the colonel anymore. Therefore, when Hunter reported in about the addition of dragons and griffins to Ares' forces Farnsworth merely wrote it down and passed it on back to headquarters back in Zakrostas.

According to General Crist, another army was currently attacking Fort Knopso and a heavy rainstorm was keeping Crist from sending reinforcements. The latter, Farnsworth had figured out himself. The dark thunderclouds to the west were visible even to those at the Alamo. The ground would instantly turn to a mire of mud and anyone or anything moving through it would become stuck.

The worst thing was that the heavy rains also kept the Hercules fighters grounded. Even though the USS Kiska with its compliment of aircraft headed for the open sea, the aircraft onboard still would not be able to penetrate the storm.

Therefore, Hunter was the best hope Farnsworth and Crist had of learning what Ares intended to do with his force.

* * * * *

Hunter rode his horse hard, it was night and the large silver half-moon provided the only light the Indian needed to navigate the landscape. He was surprised that Ares had turned his army southwest after crossing the Skalandos River. Hunter figured either that Ares was going to try to circle around and hit Zakrostas from the south in a surprise move, or that he may have another target in mind.

From the local map given him, Hunter knew that the only other object worth Ares' time and effort was the city of Atlantis. The god of war was already in the Kingdom of Atlantis so attacking the weaker and more primitive city would be a hard object to resist.

The only way Hunter could determine Ares' next move was for him to again race ahead of the army and try to ascertain what Ares had in mind. It was a decision that Hunter would have to make shortly so that General Crist could make the correct decision as to where to send the army. However, if Hunter guessed wrong the army would be in the wrong place and it would mean the destruction of both the Republic and Kingdom of Atlantis.

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Reunited...

Chapter Four

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William had spoken to most of King Jonathan's staff. They were fairly evenly split on whether Princess Angelina ran away or whether she was abducted. However, they were almost unanimous on their belief that no one would go purposely into the Forbidden Zone.

Nonetheless, Prince William would follow the trail where it led. Thus, if it went into this foreboding area, he would need to be prepared for it. Therefore, he put several water containers into his suncar as he set off following Princess Angelina's trail.

The ancient roadway was quite a bit west of the castle complex. It was once a busy north/south road for travelers; however, now it was just an little used trail. Prince William double checked the track he was following. Both he and King Jonathan's trackers concluded that the suncar headed south. He checked the trail and was certain that is the direction to go.

This ancient road south led to the ruins of a city. It was once a major metropolitan area, but it was now little more than rubble. The many conflicts hit this mountain city hard. What made it an excellent place for a city also made it a place where people fought. This was the way of many of the old cities.

Because of its location, there were several roads which the ancients had constructed that led into and out of this major metropolitan area. These roads went off in all directions. Anyone going this direction would be difficult to track. Once again, it was an excellent choice to hide the destination of any traveling vehicle.

While this ancient city was about an hour from King Jonathan's residential complex by suncar, it was going to take Prince William a while to determine the exact path. Prince William's suncar had little difficulty traveling over the ancient roads. That is, until it got nearer to the ruined city. The battles had taken their toll on these roads.

Nonetheless, it made it somewhat easier to track. There were places where there was debris in the roads where tire tracks could be seen. There were broken plants. There were many clues to follow. However, it was a time consuming task for Prince William. There could be other vehicles traveling along this route.

As he suspected, the trail led to the west. This did not mean that they were headed directly into the Forbidden Zone. The ancient road headed to the west through the mountains and towards the Monoran desert. However, the ancient road had a split where a suncar could head north, continue west, or even loop back. It was clear to Prince William that the route chosen was very good one for concealing the final destination.

However, now that Prince William knew that the trail headed west, it would be easier to track. With the mountainous terrain, there were few options until the next split. Thus, once he left the ruined city, he could make pretty good time.

The tracking took its toll on Prince William, and he camped at one of the few intersections in the mountains for the night. He felt he was making good time, and hoped to reach the next major intersection of the ancient roadway by midday. Nevertheless, it was still going to take him a while to catch up with Princess Angelina at this rate. Although, it would take even longer if he missed her trail. Thus, he was being very methodical.

In any event, if King Jonathan's trackers were to be believed, they would have the Princess back before he reached the next split in the road. It would be at this point when Prince William would know for certain if the suncar went into the forbidden area. If it did, then the Princess could be in great distress.

With first light, Prince William was back on the trail. He could tell he was getting closer to the desert as it was becoming increasingly dry. He did cross a minor trickle of a river, and he wondered if there were more like it.

The sun was hot and high in the sky when he reached the crossroads. A blockade had been constructed to prevent southward travel. However, it had been removed. Thus, it was clear to Prince William that the Princess was in the Forbidden Zone.

He double and triple checked the trail, but it was unmistakable. The suncar clearly entered the forbidden area. Thus, the prince had no choice but to follow the track. He turned his suncar south and headed into the hot desert.

The road was rough. Sections of the road had seen great battles. Some of the ancient attack vehicles still sat there slowly being covered in sand. They were once great metal beasts, but now just hunks of scrap. Sand slowly wearing them smooth in places and rough in others.

The track he was following was clear in the sand. He could easily follow it as it led into the desert. So few had come this way, that the track looked fresh even though it could have been days or even weeks old. He thought he would catch up to the Princess in no time.

Suddenly, a huge cloud of sand blew across his path. The sand storm blocked out the sun, and his suncar lost power. The sand blasted against the side of his car. He could almost feel the sand tearing the solar panels off the car. His car sat there motionless as the sand ripped across his path. The roar of the sand and wind was almost deafening.

Just as suddenly as it started, it stopped. The roar ceased and all was silent again. The sun returned. Prince William let out a huge sigh. He took a small drink of water from his stores and stepped out of his car.

Some of the panels were damaged, but he quickly repaired them. His car had survived with little damage. Then he realized it. The trail he was following was gone. The wind had erased the easy trail that had led him to this spot. What was he going to do next? The Forbidden Zone was beginning to live up to its name.

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The God Wars

Chapter Twenty-nine:

March of the Dead

By Dwayne MacInnes

The residents of Kalos fled the town as the army of Ares approached. The refugees either turned north towards Zakrostas or south towards the city of Atlantis. The terrified populace burdened with carts and/or animals carrying their meager possessions moved as quickly as they could. Children cried and women screamed in terror, grim faced men tried their best to keep their families together as they continued their flight from danger.

Just outside the western outskirts of town, Ares halted his army. The endless columns of undead and bronze giants began to form up into an arc running roughly northwest to southeast. Ares supervised the arrangement of his troops riding his black chariot down the line. The army formed a half-circle that was miles long. The Necro-lords anchored both ends with Hades in the center.

Above in the sky circling menacing was the second arm consisting of Hermes and the Draco-lords and the wild griffins. When Ares pulled up next to Hades' black chariot, Hermes, with his ability to fly, soared down and landed lightly on his feet by the god of war's chariot. The two vehicles were similar in color and design. Even the animals pulling the chariots resembled each other. The only difference was that Ares' animals snorted fire.

"Is everything to your liking?" Hermes asked the god of war.

Ares smiled and raised his knife-hand into the air. The serrated blade reflected the sunlight as Ares studied his new appendage. "Yes," Ares responded never taking his eyes off the blade.

"That is good," Hades added. "My dead are ready to fight."

The half-rotted bodies of the decaying warriors from previous battles stretched across the horizon behind the gods. The stench was unbearable and flies buzzed constantly around the decaying soldiers.

Ares reached inside of his chariot and produced a long bull's horn. The black and white horn was five-feet long and had long leather strap that attached to each end. On the tip, a silver mouthpiece had been skillfully prepared which Ares now put to his lips.

As the god of war began to blow his deafening command, he swung it right to left so that all could hear. The call issuing from the instrument consisted of such a low bass that it shook the earth as it rent the air.

Animals hiding in the nearby hills and woods flew as fast as their feet could carry them in utter fear. Birds took to the air and beat wings away from the blast from the horn and any humans still around needed no further reason to take to their heels and run for their life.

* * * * *

In a copse on a hill outside of Kalos, Hunter observed the ordering of the army. He was thankful the wind did not blow the undead warriors' scent his way. The few times it did in the past it took everything for the Cherokee not to vomit and pass-out. The stench was so overpowering that animals fled long before the dead were within sight.

The scout noticed that Ares was positioning his army in such a way as to drive everything before to the southwest. This would put the city of Atlantis in the undead army's path. This was the key information that Hunter needed.

The Indian headed towards his horse on the far side of the hill when the unholy horn's call blasted through the air. The trees shook and the ground quaked. Hunter could even feel the horn's blast reverberate through his chest. Fear instantly welled-up in his soul and his first instinct was to flee.

However, military training took over and Hunter pushed the fear aside. He needed to get in touch with headquarters and tell them his discovery. Unfortunately, his horse did not have the ability to ignore its fear. The beast bolted like every other animal and fled in wild-eye terror as fast it could.

Hunter cursed. The horse carried the radio he needed to contact HQ. It also carried his carbine rifle still strapped beside the saddle. Now, the soldier abandoned just outside the arms of Ares forces did not even have a weapon save only his hunting knife to protect him.

Hunter realizing his situation was not good also started to run northward. He needed to get the message back to the army as soon as possible before Ares crushed the Kingdom of Atlantis.

High in the sky a single eagle-eyed griffin spotted the lone man running from the wooded hill. It gave cry before diving towards its prey. Hunter looked over his shoulder to see the half-eagle half-lion beast driving down towards him with its front talons extended in anticipation of rending his flesh.

* * * * *

The gods below paid the actions of the lone griffin little attention. They focused entirely on getting the army moving. In one motion, the entire semi-circle started to march. From the air, the black-scaled dragons swooped down upon the deserted town and spat fire upon the wooden structures. The griffins also circled in the air looking for prey on which to dive on.

The thundering advance of the undead army flushed all living life forms in front of it. The semi-circle nature of the formation corralled all the fleeing humans and animals funneling them. The ravenous griffins occasionally would dive upon a frightened animal or human, tearing the poor victim apart with its sharp beak and talons.

The Draco-lords introduced all fields and buildings to fiery breath of their mounts. As the army marched on into the night, the flames of the numerous abandoned farms and villages lighted the path of where the army had recently passed.

Ares did not have to worry about scorched earth policies working against him this time. He did not need to forage for his troops. The dragons and griffins could fly off in any direction for many miles and hunt for their prey and return within minutes. The gods did not need to concern themselves with mortal foods nor did their unnatural mounts. The automotive statues Hephaestus constructed did not subsist on food nor did the reanimated warriors.

In fact, if the fleeing humans torched their property in the face of the approaching army they only saved Ares from having his troops do it. From every angle that Ares studied the problem it was win for him. The god of war smiled, the pain of his latest defeat had passed. All Ares could feel was the anticipation of combat and the slaughter on the battleground as the gods annihilated the humans in their realm.

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Reunited...

Chapter Five

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Prince William stood there looking at the foreboding road ahead. The trail he was following was gone. He hoped he could pick it up again, but it did not appear too likely. The fierce sandstorm, while it did not last long, had wide-ranging effects. There was no for him to know where the princess was without being able to follow her trail.

The prince decided to follow the ancient road slowly. If there were signs, he did not wish to miss them. Whoever was driving the princess's suncar could have left the old road at any time, but the road was all the prince had. Thus, he pushed on.

With the slow going, Prince William could see how someone could get lost out here. The sand storm he had just experienced was small, he could imagine them being much larger and burying a suncar in sand. Further, there was the heat and the dryness. The thought of it made him thirsty, so he stopped and drank from his water reserves.

He took a moment to look closely for signs, but there were none. However, he did notice something odd. He got out to investigate. Out of a sand dune, there was a large flat reflecting panel. He looked around and he saw dozens. Looking some more there were hundreds. They were semi-concealed in the dunes.

The wind picked up a little bit and he rushed back to his suncar. He took another drink, and continued forward on the ancient road. The sand raced across his car, but he managed to keep going. There was not the same amount of sand in this round. However, if there was a track to follow here, it would have been enough to erase it.

The temperature outside the suncar was soaring. Prince William fiddled with the interior cooling system. The power demand of the suncar was at its maximum. This would limit his speed, but more importantly, another sand storm could stop him. The Forbidden Zone was becoming clear to him. It was clearly a very dangerous place. Any number of things could mean life and death. He was grateful he brought water, but began wondering if it were enough.

Slowly, he continued following the ancient road. It was a desolate area, yet strangely beautiful. There were colorful mesas in the distance. However, he had gone most of the day without seeing anything move. It was as if the land were a void of life. He thought that perhaps that changed at night out of the heat of the day.

The mesas soon gave way to flat desert. He passed the ruins of some small towns that once existed in the desert -- victims of the water wars. He noticed bridges over now dry river beds. Water once flowed in the stretch of desert. The prince wondered how long ago the water flowed.

He continued driving looking for the trail. He did not see any trace of the suncar's tracks. It could have come this way, but it might not have. Slowly he went, and it was getting late in the day. It was clear that he would have to spend the night in the desert. Thus, he began looking for a place to stop. Once the sun went down, his suncar would stop. Hence, he looked for a place protected from the wind.

There was an intersecting road where it appeared to be a spot where some people had lived long ago. He pulled onto a frontage road and drove a short distance. There was an ancient concrete building still standing there. He parked close to it to protect his car from the wind and sand. It looked like an long deserted saloon.

Prince William got out of his car and looked around. A short distance away, there was a small trickle of a very muddy river. It appeared that it would dry up at the peak of the dry season. In fact, there was a wash that would flow into this small river during storms. Nonetheless, there was enough water around to support a few scraggly trees. The rest of the terrain was scrub brush and tumbleweeds.

It was closing in on dusk, and it was still hot. The prince had a decision to make. He had gone quite a distance with no sign of the Princess's trail. Should he continue following the ancient road? Should he give up? How well his night went was going to determine his course of action. If he feared for his life, he would turn back. However, if the night passed with little incident, he decided he would follow the road further.

The prince gathered some brush to build a fire. The material he gathered was so dry he thought it might catch fire in his hands. He dug a small pit in the sand and placed some of the material into it. He gathered enough material to have the fire go all night because he did not want to wander off in the dark to obtain more.

While gather the material for the fire, Prince William noticed more of the reflecting panels. He thought there must be thousands of them scattered throughout the desert. He wondered who had put them there. Did they belong to the ancients? Were they remnants of a once great society? Did they survive the water wars? What did they do?

These fleeting thoughts went through his head, but his thoughts turned to food and survival. He thought the fire would keep away any dangerous night visitors. He thought he might hunt for some food, but he then thought better of it. He had enough provisions to last a few days. There was no need to take any risks at this point in his journey.

Just as the last bit of sun sank below the horizon, he lit his fire. He was amazed at the number of stars he could see. It was a dark clear night. He was sure his fire could be visible for miles, and he heard some howling animals in the distance. At night, the desert did come alive.

He settled down and got some sleep. It was not a restful sleep as he wanted to keep the fire alight. He was about to put some more fuel on the fire, but he marveled at the sky and the darkness. It is then that he saw the lights in the distance. Something was going on in the Forbidden Zone. Was there a city off in the distance? The area was supposed to be dead. What were the source of those lights? He would investigate when the sun came up.

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The God Wars

Chapter Thirty:

Hopes and Frustrations

By Dwayne MacInnes

Zeus studied the terrain below him as he sat astride Pegasus his winged steed. The white horse born from the gorgon's decapitated body tirelessly beat its wings to hold the king of the gods aloft high above the earth. Zeus in his wrath unleashed a storm of the likes he had never released before. For days on end, the skies from Fort Knopso to the Skalandos River about a thousand miles south, Zeus darkened with heavy clouds. Rain poured to the ground in torrents swelling rivers and flooding fields.

Occasionally Zeus would try to strike down a building either in Zakrostas or in Fort Knopso with a lightning bolt. However, the electrical charges always changed course and would expel themselves on the metal rods attached to the rooftops of the largest buildings. The god had to satisfy himself with the odd farmhouse or animal running through the wet fields.

Zeus also had hopes of the rivers overflowing their banks and washing away the human dwellings. Again, the mortals who had already built up levees and were now reinforcing them with sandbags foiled his plans. Zeus's anger grew and as result, the fury of the storm grew. Tall trees that had withstood centuries of wind and rain were up heaved and tossed into the air.

Zeus

The army of beasts and mercenaries assaulted the thick concrete walls of Fort Knopso. The defenders easily repelled attack after attack; the forces of Ares could not force a breach and suffered heavy losses. The thick mud and lakes of rainwater also hindered the attack. Many a man and beast died drowning in the ubiquitous mud.

Theena watched the assaults. She was secure inside the concrete walls. She marveled at the wonder of the lightning rods the Otherworlders had constructed around the fort. The steel rods attracted the great blasts of static electricity and then dispersed the energy harmlessly to the ground.

Inside the fortification of Fort Knopso long tunnels ran from room to room so that the defenders could move about without exposing themselves to the enemy. There were pillboxes housing teams of machine gunners; as well as large rooms, where the artillery could open up on the exposed attackers. Many of the walls housed embrasures allowing the infantry to fire their rifles into the assaulting army below.

Fort Knopso had plenty of food, water, ammunition, and even fuel for the generators. Fortunately, the telegraph line to Zakrostas was still intact. General Crist would sometimes send off a message asking if the fort was still withstanding the assault. He alerted Theena that because of the storm, he would not be able to send reinforcements and that she had to hold the fort at all costs.

Theena reassured the general that everything was going well. It was just a diversionary force and that he should keep and eye on Ares' main army marching southward. This is exactly what General Crist was doing.

The Entire Map

General Crist did not like what was going on. The remnant forces from Ares first two armies tied down the troops inside Fort Knopso. Even if the assaulting forces did not attack, the weather prevented Theena from sending any troops southward to help garrison Zakrostas.

The Alamo also alerted Crist that they had lost contact with their scout outside of Kalos in the Kingdom of Atlantis. The scout's last message warned that the army was massing outside the town and preparing to march. However, no one knew if Ares was aiming the attack at the city of Atlantis or Zakrostas itself.

Nonetheless, Crist ordered ten tanks onto the LST, all his forces save the garrison of Zakrostas into the RMS Olympus, and all ships to sea. They only awaited orders to steam south or to return to port and begin offloading again.

* * * * *

Hunter staggered along the dirt road. His shirt was torn and deep bloody gashes covered his torso underneath filthy bandages. The Indian had successfully killed the griffin with his hunting knife. A few of the terrible beast's claws and feathers Hunter had stuffed in his pockets as trophies.

Hunter had to resist the urge to scratch his wounds. He knew that gangrene very well could be setting in. He was lucky to find an old rotted log. The Indian used his native skills to break apart the fibrous remains of a long dead tree and extract some maggots. These he put on his wounds, they could keep him from dying so that he could communicate to headquarters about the direction of Ares' assault.

The scout had also hoped that he would have been able to catch up to his horse. However, the beast was either long gone or eaten for he could not locate it. The only things that Hunter did come across were the broken remnants of personal belongings that the fleeing refugees tossed aside along the road.

He passed a few broken and abandoned wagons and carts. There were more than a few dead bodies of horses, cattle, sheep, and humans littering the sides of the dirt road. The latter Hunter tried to burn from his memory. He could not take the time to give them the proper funeral rites. There was a more important task at hand.

The scout moved from the thick black columns of smoke rising into the heavens in the south marking the presence and success of Ares' march, towards the thick black columns of rain pouring down in the north noting Zeus's success with tying down the army in Zakrostas. Hunter was tired and he was hungry, he was in pain and ran a fever. However, he never gave up the effort to continue his march.

The Indian was not surprised that he did not see a single living human on his journey north. Sheer fear had propelled the refugees northward and they would clog and prevent anyone from moving south.

Hunter placed one footsore boot in front of the other. Hunter kept telling himself that he had to keep moving or he would die. He used the pain to his advantage, using it to focus his mind on his task. He hobbled along the debris-strewn road using a broken broom handle as a staff to steady him.

The sunlight was starting to fade as the Cherokee proceeded northward. His reserves of strength were nearly exhausted. But, he could not risk stopping even to rest for fear that he would not be able to regain his momentum. Hunter kept pressing on, gasping for breath, and dying of thirst. He had emptied his canteen long ago. However, he reasoned that if he could reach the Skalandos River he would have plenty to drink.

Hunter looked up the road ahead of him. The sunlight was rapidly fading and the progress northward would become even more daunting. A small shack sat on one side of the road, great piles of long squared wood sat stacked next to it. The Indian only gave it a cursory glance. He had passed many a farm structure on his way north.

Suddenly, Hunter stopped. There next to the shack stood a tall pole. A pole that had lines connecting it to the shack. This was no farm building; this was the outpost for surveying out the new railroad line. The pile of wood was railroad ties and the line from the pole meant that the shack contained a telegraph.

Hunter's heart leaped in his chest. New hope grew as he realized that with luck, the telegraph line could still be intact and he would be able to reach Zakrostas.

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Reunited...

Chapter Six

By Douglas E. Gogerty

Once Prince William saw the lights shining in the night, he lost the ability to sleep. His curiosity kept him awake. His mind would not let it go. He just sat and wondered. It was odd to see evidence of life in a so-called lifeless zone. The possibilities raced in his mind. He just could not figure it out.

As the dawn broke, the distant lights faded. It was only in the darkness that the illumination was visible that far off. Furthermore, Prince William's curiosity overrode his quest. After all, it appeared that the ancient road led directly towards the lights. Further, he did not have a trail to follow the Princess. Thus, he was going to investigate where the lights originated.

He put out his fire and gathered his things. He got in his suncar and headed off on the old road. He no longer worried about the trail; he just went as fast as his car could go. Although it was the cool part of the day, it was still hot. Nonetheless, he turned off the car's cooling system to increase his speed.

As he sped along, he saw some barricades along the side of the road. It appeared that there were still roadblocks along this road. However, they were moved to the side. Thus, he raced on past. Someone else had come this way. Perhaps, he thought, it was the Princess and her suncar.

The heat began putting its mirages upon the surface of the road he was traveling. After a short distance, there were still no signs of a city up ahead. It was a flat and desolate road. The Prince began to wonder if what he had seen during the night was a mirage. Did he dream it? Was he following shadows? Was it just his mind playing tricks upon him?

The doubts crept into his mind, but he kept going. He had no leads to the Princess, so this gave him a task to complete. He had a purpose. On the other hand, it could be leading him away from his quarry. However, his curiosity had to be satisfied. He could make it back to his camp, and only lose the time he wasted on this particular adventure.

As fast as the suncar could go, Prince William drove along the road to the southwest. There were more warnings moved away from the road. Someone had definitely come this way recently and moved the roadblocks. The signs read Danger and Keep Out, but onward the Prince drove. After all, these signs no longer blocked the road. Thus, perhaps they no longer applied.

After about an hour and a half of driving, a few rather tall buildings appeared in front of him. These were surprisingly in good shape for an ancient city. Most of the ancient cities in the area did not survive intact during the water wars. Also, most of the tall buildings were destroyed in the fighting. From this distance, this city appeared to have escaped from the much of the destruction.

Prince William thought that perhaps the once great city was abandoned, but it still had access to power. Thus, it would illuminate because no one shut off the electricity to the buildings. With it being in the forbidden zone, no one had rectified the situation. It would also explain the reflecting panels in the desert. They could power such a city.

In his car, the Prince was getting quite warm. Thus, he slowed his car down and enabled the interior cooling system. After a brief drive, he pulled over to get a good drink from his water reserves. He could see the city clearly from his vantage point. It was an ancient metropolitan area in the midst of a very foreboding desert.

The old city had many opulent buildings. There were several high-rise buildings. Each uniquely and elaborately constructed. These structures showed amazing architecture. It was different than most of the ancient cities that Prince William had encountered. This was clearly a town of wealth.

As he got closer, he could see that the city was likely the source of the lights. Many of the buildings were still lit in the height of the morning. At the height of this city's life, this city was likely resplendent in the night. It could have been a city of lights.

Just off the ancient road, there were more and more opulent buildings. However, there were no exits. All of the ancient intersections were blocked. Prince William was funneled into the depths of the ancient city. There was no way off the ancient road except the way he had come, or some place deeper in the city. He drove on.

As he got deeper into the city, he began seeing evidence of activity. He would see things move out of the corner of his eyes. He was not sure if they were people or vehicles or something else. Nevertheless, the farther he got into the city the more he observed such movements.

Eventually, he was forced to stop. The way forward was completely blocked. When he came to a complete stop, a gate closed behind him. He was trapped. Some people in masks and black jumpsuits jump out and surround his car.

With their weapons drawn, they told the prince to get out of his car.

"I am Prince William Thorbjornson of Lakeland," the Prince explained as he exited his car with his hands in the air.

"What part of Forbidden Zone did you not understand?" asked one of the armed individuals.

"I demand to be taken to see the ambassador," Prince William stated firmly.

"You are not even heir to the throne," laughed the black clan man. "The king might not even pay to get you back."

"The ambassador..."

"Forbidden Zone..."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"As far as anyone is concerned, the moment you entered this restricted area, you died. Thus, your claims of royalty and honor and privilege mean absolutely nothing here."

"But..."

"Come with me and keep quiet," demanded the man as he brandished his weapon.

The Prince complied.

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The God Wars

Chapter Thirty-One:

Decisions

By Dwayne MacInnes

Hephaestus

Hephaestus never ceased tormenting the scientist shackled in his lair. For over a month, the god of the anvil tortured Reno day and night with hardly a break. Hephaestus always made sure that Apollo was nearby to heal the mortal in case the torture went too far.

Apollo had long sickened of Hephaestus' disgusting game. The poor man was no longer coherent. Even though Apollo could heal the poor wretch's body, he could not do anything for his mind. Reno succumbed to madness weeks before, and yet, Hephaestus continued his cruel game.

That was not all. Apollo could not regenerate limbs and organs so now Reno had only one eye that looked around the room unfocused. All of his fingers were gone as were his toes and one entire foot. Hephaestus always made sure that Reno's tongue remained intact. He relished the hellish screams that issued from the victims throat.

The incoherent ramblings also brought the god of the anvil great mirth. Hephaestus laughed whenever he could issue a particularly loud and anguished screech from Reno. The god of the anvil was becoming extremely good at rubbing salt, vinegar, and alcohol in open wounds. Or, just laying bare a nerve so that he could poke and prod it with one the of delicate instruments laid out next to the knives on the anvil near Reno.

"I think I could do this forever!" laughed Hephaestus. "I sure hope Ares spares some humans for me to toy with. It will easily make up for him sleeping with my whore of a wife."

Apollo turned his head away one more time as Hephaestus exposed Reno's ribs on his right side. The resulting scream echoed again through the huge dark cavern in which the god of the anvil worked. After screaming Reno again fainted and his breathing started to slow.

"You better fix him up again," Hephaestus ordered.

"Don't you think you have done enough?"

"NO!" roared Hephaestus. The god picked up a huge hammer threateningly staring at Apollo.

Apollo walked toward the shackled mortal and laid his hands on Reno's side. The skin started to recover the open wound and heal. The residual pain still flashed across Reno's face. Apollo fought back the tears again. He really wanted out of this. He really wanted to end the suffering.

Reno's breathing began to stabilize again. The comatose scientist returned to consciousness. His one good eye flickered open and focused on Apollo. The god of healing could see a glimpse of sanity behind the tormented orb.

"Please," was all that Reno whispered in a pleading tone. The look that the mortal gave the god held no blame -- just a simple request.

"Ha!" boomed Hephaestus' voice from behind Apollo. "It looks like I get to play with you some more."

Something inside Apollo snapped. Without further thought, Apollo grabbed the nearest knife from the anvil next to Reno. The god spun and thrust the long blade deep into Hephaestus' chest until it protruded out the back of the god.

Hephaestus' eyes looked at Apollo in surprise and disbelief. The god of the anvil coughed up foamy blood before his weak legs crumpled under his weight. Holding his chest with one hand, he held out the other towards Apollo.

"What? Why?" was all the stricken god could utter before he collapsed onto the ground dead.

Apollo turned back towards Reno. However, the scientist had also expired. But, the look of peace and pleasure on Reno's face told the god that at least the scientist got to witness the demise of his torturer.

"Forgive me," Apollo whispered to the dead mortal as he unshackled Reno's digitless hands. The god then dumped his body into one of the great pits of fire. The great inferno instantly consumed the body.

Apollo exited Hephaestus' lair with the blood of the dead god still splashed upon his blue tunic. Aphrodite watched the god silently and grim-faced storm out of the lair and across the hall. She knew something was not right.

Aphrodite ran down the long stone steps to the lair. She rarely visited it, but she felt compelled to now. There on the basalt floor with the hellish lights of the burning pits flickering around him, the body of Hephaestus lay with his dead eyes staring at the rough ceiling.

The goddess of love experienced a feeling she never had before, the sense of loss and shame. Aphrodite dropped to her knees next to her dead husband and let her grief completely consumer her.

Apollo

Zeus was near the end of his stamina. Even a god had limits and he had spent the last reserves of his strength on conjuring great winds and rain. His lightning bolts, once a thing feared, were impotent against the metal rods protruding from the tops of the buildings in Zakrostas and at Fort Knopso.

The king of the gods had to content himself with the toppled structures and flooded fields. The great mass of mud would hinder the movement over the roads so that much of his mission he accomplished. Zeus lightly kicked Pegasus' side and headed south towards Ares' army. He hoped to be of some help against the more primitive Kingdom of Atlantis.

The rage and fury of the army around Fort Knopso also dissipated. The combined army of man and beast was now a remnant of what it was before. They had fruitlessly assaulted the concrete walls suffering great losses while never inflicting a single casualty.

Defeated, exhausted and demoralized the various beasts and men separated and returned to their caves and camps near the base of Mount Olympus. It would take a number of generations for their numbers to replenish what they had lost over the year.

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For your Black Friday viewing: A classic video of a classic song by a classic group!

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Reunited...

Chapter Seven

By Douglas E. Gogerty

The individuals in the black jumpsuits escorted Prince William across an abandoned stretch of road that ran parallel to the ancient highway. After crossing the frontage road, the group led the prince into one of the nearby buildings. It looked like an ancient hotel of some sort. It had a brick and stone facade. It was in surprisingly good shape for a building of the ancients.

There were similar buildings nearby, and they all looked in usable shape. It looked like this particular area was untouched by the conflicts that destroyed much of the ancient world. The luxury was more evident to the Prince as he entered the lobby of the structure. The opulence of the ancient structure was still intact. It could still be used as a luxury hotel.

The team quickly escorted the Prince into a secure room just off the main lobby. They put him in the room, closed and locked the door, and left him alone. It was a relatively small room with a table and four chairs in the center. Along one wall, there was a mirror. There were cameras in the corners pointed in various directions. It did not appear that there were any section of the room not covered by the cameras. The Prince wondered if they still functioned. He walked around and took a closer look at them.

When he was finished exploring the room, he sat in one of the chairs and waited. He waited. He waited some more. He got up and took a few more laps around the room. He sat again and waited. He had been there for quite a long time and no one had been to see him. He was wondering if they had forgotten him. He checked the door again, and it was still locked. The only thing he could do was wait, and that is what he was doing.

The Prince sat in one of the chairs and put his feet on the table. He closed his eyes and began to drift off. The door suddenly opened, and he nearly fell back. In walked a stunning young woman. She was dressed all in white. Prince William just stared with his mouth agape.

"What brings you to the Forbidden Zone," a sultry voice asked.

"Uuuuummmmm," replied the Prince.

"Do I have to ask a second time?" the voice asked more instantly.

"I am on a mission," replied the Prince suppressing a squeak in his voice. "I came looking for Princess Angelina of Calmondak."

"Trying to rescue a damsel in distress?" the young woman asked with a chuckle.

"Uh," the Prince said turning slightly red. "Something like that."

"How gallant!"

"A prophecy states that if I return her to her family, I will be richly rewarded."

"That sounds like something King Thorbjorn would cook up."

"What?"

"What better way to motivate some lesser member of his court to take on a very dangerous mission than promise them great riches. It seems pretty transparent to me."

"Lesser? I am Prince William Thorbjornson of Lakeland!"

"Billy?" asked the stunning young woman. "It has been a long time."

"What?" asked the stunned Prince. "Who are you?"

"I am your quarry."

"What?"

"I am Angelina. It has not been that many years."

"It is just..." stumbled the Prince. "You look beyond your years."

"What does that mean?" asked the Princess.

"Um -- er," stuttered the Prince. "I know of no fourteen year old as stunning as you."

"Your flattery will not gain you favor with me."

"Huh? I apologize. I meant, it is just that I did not expect you."

"Why is that?"

"Your father made it out that you had been kidnapped."

"My father is often far less than truthful."

"Do you mean to tell me he knows you are here?"

"Certainly not! I came here of my own accord."

"Then what?"

"The Forbidden Zone is not as was described."

"Much of it is desolate."

"With this sparkling jewel in its midst," finished the Princess spanning her arms wide. "The concept of the Forbidden Zone was designed to keep people out that he did not wish to see this place. However, his reasons for keeping people out were different than the ones he stated."

"It is not a place of death?"

"Oh! it certainly is to the uninvited. The desert is a very dangerous place."

"The uninvited?"

"Those that are invited here do not find it so dangerous. In fact, they enjoy the luxuries this ancient city offers."

"I am confused. Why would anyone invite others into some forbidden zone?"

"To these special invited guests, it is not the Forbidden Zone but more of an oasis -- a getaway -- a special place away from it all."

"Who are these special guests?"

"Mostly rich outlanders with whom my father wishes to do business."

"Outlanders?"

"Your father has neglected your education greatly. Outlanders are people who do not live in Morica. They live across the sea."

"Why would your father wish to do business with them?"

"They have more to offer than the Kingdom's of Morica -- that is why."

"Such as?"

"Now you are just playing the fool. It is good that you are dead."

"What? Dead? Wait..."

"You have entered the Forbidden Zone. You are dead. You shall not return home to tell of the things you have learned. You are now far too dangerous."

"But -- I am a Prince..."

"You know of our oasis, our foreign investments, and our new found power base. You know too much."

"That is it? I am simply cast off? So what is to become of me? Are you really going to kill me?"

"I do not see any reason to kill you, but you cannot leave this city. What happens here -- stays here."

"I am a prisoner then."

"That is essentially true. One of the advantages of this place is that you need certain technologies to get -- well -- anywhere."

"You are saying that without my suncar, I would die in the desert."

"Or similar device. At the very least, you would need lots of water."

"And a head start."

"A rather sizeable head start if we decided to go after you. The guards could easily catch up to you if we wished them to."

"So, I am dead to the world, but a prisoner here."

"You have the essence of your situation down pretty well."

"Is there anything that can change that?"

"A shift in the Morica power structure may be of a benefit to you."

"A shift? How do you mean?"

"You could be a valuable -- bargaining chip -- to a few parties."

"I take back what I said."

"What is that?"

"You are not beyond your years in looks -- you are beyond your years in everything."

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