Cythera Chronicles: This is (not) the End

  • *Note: This is an attempt to write something more serious than I usually do for chrons, so it might be somewhat darker than my usual writing.

    I wanted to set this story during the reign of the First Tyrant, but the hintbook indicates mages only appeared during the reign of the Second Tyrant. Thus, I have stretched the timeline somewhat and set the story (at least its first occurrence) during the early years of the Second Tyrant, before his tyrannical nature was so well-known. The current iteration of this story takes place some time after.*

    _The last thing she saw was the sword descending…
    She awoke with a panic, tried to breathe and choked on the dirt surrounding her. Desperately, she clawed at the earth, trying to dig her way free.

    _Horrified, she watched as Sisyphus slumped to the ground, his head twisted at an impossible angle...
    The soil was loose, and she was not buried very deeply. Frantically, she felt one of her hands break the surface. Redoubling her efforts, she freed her other hand. Still gagging on the dirt, she grasped at the ground and began to pull herself out of her grave.

    _Somewhere, she heard Tantalus roar in fury and charge. There was a clang of steel…
    Clawing her way free, she scraped the dirt from her face and opened her eyes. Dimly, she could see someone bending over her. Slowly, her vision adjusted and she could see his face.

    Falling back, she tried to scream but choked on the dust in her throat.

    _Prometheus's body tumbled to the floor next to her, and his vacant eyes stared at her, accusingly...
    A grinning face of horror greeted her. The man--if he could be called such--who kneeled facing her had half of his head smashed in. The corpse-grey flesh on the rest of his features had rotted, giving him a permanent grin. His eyes were dull and reddened. His bloodstained clothing was ragged and torn.

    "That's no way to greet old friends, Persephone," he rasped in a hoarse voice, looking somewhat bemused. Suddenly, a dim memory came to her, and she knew him.

    "Sisyphus?" she tried to ask but only managed a coughing moan, which he somehow understood.

    "I would say it's good to see you again, Persephone, but…"

    Persephone…that was her name.

    Yes, she remembered that she was Persephone…and that she was dead.

    She stood on the edge of the clearing that she had awoken in and looked down on the lights of Cademia below. The city was larger than she had last seen it, although she couldn't say how long ago that had been. She wondered if her son still lived--still wondered what had become of his mother.

    Persephone hoped not--hoped that he had forgotten her and had never learned of her curse

    In an effort to distract herself, she turned and glanced at the other undead figures standing around the clearing. There were four of them including herself. Once they had been among the most effective mercenaries Cythera could offer. Now, they were simply a forlorn group of monsters, condemned never to rest.

    There's still a chance, she thought to herself as she looked at the others. _Still a way we can finally die…
    None of the others responded to her scrutiny.

    Sisyphus continued to clean the two daggers that he habitually carried. They were still covered in grime from his long stay in the ground, although she noted that he had already cleaned his sword. The rogue still carried a bemused air about him…as though even death was some sort of joke to him.

    Next to him, the giant Tantalus stood silent, taciturn as always. A gruesome wound snaked around his neck, making the manner of his death all too clear. He had already cleaned the giant axe he carried and waited now…waited for them to try once again to defeat their curse.

    The archer Prometheus sat on the ground, leaning against a tree. His cause of death was not immediately obvious. He hadn't even bothered to clean or care for his weapons. Their curse had long ago turned the once cheerful, easy-going man into an apathetic shell of his former self. It had taken his wife and children from him…

    Clutching her old, molding staff, she turned away from them. Persephone thought of the sword wounds on her chest and shuddered. The magess wondered how many times she had died since they were first cursed…

    _In many ways, it was her husband's fault. Jason had joined the True Theran Society as a boy and had maintained his loyalty over the years. He had been considered one of its more zealous members.

    She had cared little about the group herself, thinking it an amusing oddity. It had been decades since their ancestors had fled Thera, yet the Society still existed, as determined ever to find a way to return to Thera. They had resolutely opposed the First Tyrant and remained hostile to his successor. Occasionally, they had even resorted to violence, but it had been years since anything like that occurred.

    The Society was considered to be more a club now than anything else--a relic destined to slowly die off.

    Persephone, to humor her husband, had attended some of the meetings herself and met some of his associates there. She had never expected to see them again.

    Then had come the assassination of one of the Tyrant's chief advisors.

    The True Theran Society brazenly claimed responsibility, expecting mass uprising in their favor.

    Instead, there had come a harsh crackdown, and a purge of the Society's membership.

    After her husband's disappearance, she had been left unemployed and starving. On the brink of despair, she had met Sisyphus and learned that there was a market for her unique magical abilities. She had always considered her powers a curse, something unwanted…now they offered her and her son their only chance at survival.

    Out of desperation, she resorted to mercenary.

    Persephone became quite skilled and quite well-known in her new trade. She assembled a small four person team and participated in a variety of different missions over the years. Still, she always hoped that one day she would be able to leave this profession.

    Then, she was contacted by some of Jason's old friends, who had survived the purge by going underground. They had had an offer that she and her associates had not been able to refuse. An extremely risky endeavor…but one with a very high price tag.

    The Society had offered them enough to retire on if they could steal the Seal of Thera.

    The Seal was a strange crystal of unknown origin. Once, it had been handed down among the Theran priests as a sacred artifact. After Thera's destruction, it had come into the possession of the First Tyrant and had become a symbol of his right to rule. Now, the Society wished to steal it from his successor in an attempt to prove their own legitimacy.

    Privately, she had thought them as insane and deluded as ever, but a job was a job…

    Persephone shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts.

    Everything after accepting the mission was a murky haze. She remembered vaguely that they had made it the Seal's chamber. The security had been nothing exceptional, and they had been provided with a fair idea of what to expect.

    Then, the only thing she remembered clearly was a voice, but she could not recall who had spoken.

    _"Foolish children. Attempting to steal this crystal carries a curse. You will know no rest until you succeed in obtaining it. Unfortunately for you, I cannot allow you to do that."
    Then, everything became a blur…

    _The last thing she saw was the sword descending…

    Horrified, she watched as Sisyphus slumped to the ground, his head twisted at an impossible angle...

    Somewhere, she heard Tantalus roar in fury and charge. There was a clang of steel…

    Prometheus's body tumbled to the floor next to her, and his vacant eyes stared at her, accusingly..._

    She clasped her staff tightly in her cold, rotting hands, as she recalled the last thing she knew for certain.

    They had died.

    And not once.

    _The last thing she saw was the sword descending…

    Horrified, she watched as Sisyphus slumped to the ground, his head twisted at an impossible angle...

    Somewhere, she heard Tantalus roar in fury and charge. There was a clang of steel…

    Prometheus's body tumbled to the floor next to her, and his vacant eyes stared at her, accusingly...
    No, they had died multiple times, and every time they rose once more to finish their quest…

    How many times had they repeated this cycle? How many times had they risen from their graves to attempt their hopeless task. Persephone didn't know.

    What other choice do we have? she thought dimly.

    The sound of raised, hoarse voices shook her out of her reverie.

    "So you just want to give up?" Sisyphus was saying to Prometheus.

    "Give up? That would imply we had any hope in the first place," the archer replied, not even bothering to look at the other monstrosity.

    "What? You don't feel like you have anything to live for?" Sisyphus asked dryly, almost succeeding in maintaining his air of carefree levity.

    Tantalus remained silent as always, waiting for her signal. She decided there was something comforting in that.

    At least, some things never changed.

    Prometheus opened his mouth, but she cut him off.

    "Enough, both of you," she rasped painfully, her vocal cords still protesting at any usage. "Are you forgetting? We don't have a choice. The crystal will compel us to come for it again and again…no matter what we want."

    "And whatever happened to us last time will happen again," the archer replied despondently. "Every year we rise, every year we die." He shook his head. "Why bother?"

    Losing her temper, Persephone stalked over to him.

    "I lost my family too," she hissed. "And I don't want to spend eternity separated from them, existing as this--this thing! We will try until we succeed!"

    Prometheus sighed but rose unsteadily to his feet, his stiff joints groaning and popping as he did so. Sisyphus nodded and rose as well.

    "Let's get going," she said, turning back toward the city. "We have a job to do."

    The streets were empty, and the city silent as the four stealthily made their way through Cademia. Only a few lights burned--mocking her with a reminder of a normal life--and only a few guards made their rounds, all of which they easily avoided.

    Persephone reflected that she had once loved this time of day. The peace and solitude it offered, the comforting breeze blowing off the river…now, these things offered no comfort. The quiet only served to remind her of what she had become, the breeze that she could no longer feel to remind her what she had lost…

    Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she clutched at the tattered robe that had once marked her symbol as magess.

    Focus, focus on the mission, she told herself.

    The Seal was hidden in a vault below the Tyrant's Castle. It was not particularly well-guarded. The Second Tyrant had never really regarded it as particularly important and had always been too arrogant to worry about any attempt to steal it.

    They had reached the vault before--several times, she recalled; however, she just could not remember what happened afterward. None of them could, really. They had clearly been attacked, but by whom? Could their attacker be waiting for them again?

    She considered that. Prometheus believed that they were forced to repeat this cycle every year. She herself couldn't remember but she saw no reason to doubt him. That would mean that something was waiting for them…every year? For how many years?

    Again, she shook her head.

    What choice did they have?

    At last, they reached the wall of the Castle. She glanced at Sisyphus. Without a word, the rogue agilely climbed the wall with as much skill as if he had when he still lived. Silently, he descended to scout their objective.

    Persephone leaned against the wall while they waited. She wondered if it was cold. Bitterly, she reflected that she could no longer tell.

    After a few minutes, a rope dangled down the wall next to her.

    Grasping it, she slowly began to climb. Prometheus followed her. Tantalus, being heaviest, would be last. For a moment, she wondered why that was really necessary. After all, it wasn't as if the rope breaking and dropping them would do them any serious injury.

    She reached the top of the wall and quietly descended the nearby staircase. She glanced around. The Castle was larger, more complete than she recalled it being…how many years ago? There was no obvious signs of guards, and she frowned.

    Sisyphus was standing next to her.

    "No sign of guards," he whispered.

    This was too easy…

    Tantalus stepped up next to her, indicating it was time to proceed.

    The Seal had once been stored in a small chamber adjacent to the Castle. It might since have been moved to the Treasury Room, assuming that was still where it had been when the Castle was being constructed.

    Pondering her options, Persephone turned toward one of the Castle's side gates and said, "We'll try the Treasury Room first."

    The entrance was guarded, of course. Two large men stood in standard formation, swords drawn. She lifted her staff. Moments later, both guards slumped to the ground, sound asleep. Quickly, Sisyphus moved past them and began to work on the lock. Once he opened the door, he slipped inside. The others followed him.

    There seemed to be no one awake, and, again, she felt uneasy.

    Was something waiting for them? Had her decision to check the Treasury Room first been a mistake?

    They proceeded down empty hallways. Finally, they reached the doors to the Tyrant's Treasury Room, and Sisyphus once again went to work.

    She settled back to wait. These locks were complicated, and breaking them could take some time.

    There was a faint click, and the doors opened. Sisyphus eagerly slipped inside, followed by Tantalus. Surprised, the magess jerked back to alert. That was too easy. Something was definitely wrong. She had to call the others back.

    Hurriedly, she entered the room and stopped.

    The Seal sat on a pedestal in the middle of the room. Its serene blue glow lit the room brightly. Some part of her noted that the Tyrant attached more importance to it now than he had or he just liked to brag about it.

    It's here…it's really here, she thought eagerly. We can finally rest…

    Sisyphus evidently felt the same way for he closed on the crystal rapidly. Tantalus followed him more cautiously.

    Recalling herself, Persephone opened her mouth…

    Too late.

    The air next to the pedestal suddenly began to waver wildly, like some sort of bizarre mirage. The rogue stopped, startled, and reached for his sword. The solidifying mass blurred, grabbed him, and then smashed his head against the pedestal, causing the crystal to shudder slightly.

    The whole process took at most five seconds.

    Horrified, she watched as Sisyphus slumped to the ground, his head twisted at an impossible angle.

    Above him, something that looked like a man now stood. Thin almost to the point of gauntness, the creature was over six feet tall, cloaked entirely in black except for its face. Only the lower part of his features--unnaturally pale--was visible, the rest being mostly shadowed by his hood.

    To his credit, Prometheus did not even pause and let the loose the arrow he had held at readiness, somehow missing Tantalus and aiming directly at the man's forehead. The shadow shot upward toward the high ceiling, easily dodging the projectile. Then, it careened down toward her.

    Raising her staff, Persephone flung a fireball at it. Again, it dodged. The fireball impacted the ceiling but did no apparent damage. Distantly, she realized the Tyrant must have used magic to reinforce the walls…how ironic.

    She might have missed, but she had upset the thing's course. Instead of continuing to come at her, it dodged another arrow and then smashed into Prometheus, knocking the bowman off his feet and grinding him into the floor with a bonecrunching sound. Rallying, she sent a bolt of lightning at it.

    The creature grabbed Prometheus and threw him at her so fast that she barely had time to register the movement. The lightning struck the archer just as he collided with her, sending a backlash of energy through her. The archer's body slumped atop her. Clearly, he was dead...again.

    Somewhere, she heard Tantalus roar in fury and charge. There was a clang of steel…

    Desperately, she threw the archer off of her and struggled to her feet. Prometheus's body tumbled to the floor next to her, and his vacant eyes stared at her, accusingly.

    There was a sudden cry, and she looked up in time to see Tantalus fall to his knees, as the creature withdrew a blade from his neck. The giant toppled to the floor.

    The creature turned toward her and leapt across the room...

    She raised her staff, trying a sleep spell.

    Either she was too slow or the creature's mind was too strong. It smashed into her and slammed her against the floor. Ripping the staff from her hands, it threw the wooden prop across the room and raised its sword.

    Despairingly, Persephone looked up at it.

    "How many times?" she screamed. "How many times?!"

    The shadow did not answer.

    The last thing she saw was the sword descending…

    *Note: Well, there's my entry for the chron challenge.

    I hope 453 (and Avatara) are satisfied.

    As to why the Castle was seemingly unguarded and the noise of the fight brought no response, I would suggest that Selax had Wizard's help in setting things up.*

  • Something tells me we haven't seen the last of Phosphorus and Sissypants... :ninja:

  • Very disturbing and mysterious! I want to know more about the seal & the curse & the True Theran society... & most of all, what series are you continuing? o_O This chronicle reminds me of a lot of short stories I've read - I get into the characters and the world and the plot, and then it ends! Are you going to write more?

  • I would say you have two choices:
    1. Pretend it's prologue for Downfall
    2. Blame Avatara for not reminding me of the challenge requirements (or you could blame me for not re-reading them)

    As for continuing, the characters may or may not reappear at some point in the near or distant future :p .

    The Seal and the True Theran Society are both based an idea for another chron series I had concerning the Fall of Thera, but I doubt I'll get around to writing that one.

  • I'm not complaining that it's not part of another series, but I am complaining that I want more of it : __D Are you afraid of commitment or something? "may or may not reappear at some point in the near or distant future" sheesh. Just write more! ^ ___^

  • I'll consider writing more when you consider joining a TS :) .

    On an unrelated note, I think this chron might be my longest post.

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