This is the final snippet.
GODSWAR 1 – The Mask of Ares – Chapter 21
He stood over the open grave with his fists clenched, such venom boiling in his veins that there were claws starting to cut their way into his palms. Gritting teeth that had gone pointed, he took hold of his anger and forced it, immaterial step by immaterial step, back into the cage he had forged over the millennia to hold it. There were times to let it free … but not now, not here, where his transformation into something inhuman would betray far too much.
The grave was empty.
Just seeing that, thinking that, again was enough to cause the incandescent rage to wrench against its confines, nearly break free. There should have been a corpse there, one moldering to bones by now, after two years and more.
With control that he thought his mother would be proud of, he raised an eyebrow and looked to Phobos. “There appears to be something missing.”
Phobos snarled, his rage uncontained, and kicked the memorial so hard that the enchanted stone chipped. “How? How? We were both there, we saw her corpse!”
A gesture quieted Phobos. He glanced over, saw the reborn Deimos staring with knitted brows at the empty hole. He has only very tattered memories of his prior incarnation; the damage done to him was extreme. We were fortunate to salvage any of it.
And fortunate was only the truth; having to create another “Deimos” from power, will, and word would have been a tremendous undertaking at this point, especially since as Aloysius-Ares he had to be visible frequently throughout every day. Even the tattered fragments of the prior Deimos had sufficed as a structure to be placed in another of the waiting bodies, a template that could be built upon once that body was properly converted.
“It matters not how,” he said finally, his voice fully controlled. “There are any number of ways. A subtle magical duplicate, a truly powerful illusion – since we were not watching for such deception – or perhaps some technological trick of the Camp-bels. We saw a body buried, we believed it was Berenike’s. It seems we were wrong.” Even the scent could be faked in more than one way. Since it was dead, there was no soul to be detected.
“Someone dug here before us,” Deimos said.
“Are you certain?”
“Yes.” The new Deimos’ voice still held a hint of an inhuman timbre, which was one reason he’d been kept out of the public eye thus far. “The layers of earth, the compaction, other factors I can smell and sense. The grave was opened at least once before, quite a long time ago.”
“Hm.” There was an obvious reason to un-bury a corpse – two of them, really. The first would be if it wasn’t a corpse, which certainly would make sense. It would have been difficult to hide signs of life in an apparently-dead body, especially from a soul-sense … but not impossible, given that he hadn’t suspected subterfuge, and therefore had not looked for it.
The other reason would be to have the body ready for a resurrection. Raiaga rather doubted that possibility; while it certainly happened on occasion, it was extremely rare, and most spirits that had gone on really did not want to return – nor did the powers that ruled the afterworlds generally like releasing their charges back to the world that had destroyed them. Though, admittedly, Berenike was certainly the sort of spirit that would choose to return, given the chance.
But as he had said, the details did not matter. What did matter was that this was as close to proof of the detestable girl’s survival as he was likely to get. Berenike was alive, and if he put any credence in Deimos’ words, she was the Spear of Athena already.
Damn the Cards anyway. They had given him just enough hints, but not quite enough knowledge to ensure that his actions had succeeded. Then again, the King had warned him that this was their way.
And they had been absolutely right on several points. Most telling right now was the threat that this single human girl posed to his entire plan. If she appeared in Aegis – if she declared herself the Spear before the citizens, and challenged Ares’ power – it would divert the entire course of the war. He hadn’t finished half the campaigns he had planned out, and all of them had to be finished before he could prepare to declare his final victory.
Berenike must be kept out of Aegeia. She must not be allowed to return, or if she was already here, she must be drawn out and, if not killed, at least somehow prevented from making her move here – and she would do so soon, of that he was sure, if he couldn’t stop her.
He turned away. “Fill it back in,” he said to the semi-human figures who waited respectfully a short distance away. “Make it so that none can tell it was ever opened.” He strode out of the graveyard, pulling a veil of deific power over himself and his two companions as they left.
Once they were well away and in a deserted side street of Aegis, he transported all three to the High Temple. Most powers could not teleport up the Aegeian Path – not far up it, anyway – but as he was Ares, he could do so easily.
Sure they were now safe from any possibility of observation, he looked at Phobos. “You had something else to report?”
“One request, and one thing to report, yes. You will not like it, Lord.”
“I have not liked a great deal of recent news. Consider me warned.”
“Your Coins have proven inadequate.”
He blinked in startlement. “How?”
The question resonated with puzzlement and shock, and honestly so. He had used the Cards to forge that enchantment. They had to work. Even the King would agree with that.
“They seemed to work at first,” Phobos said, glancing at a crystal that projected alien symbols into the air; Raiagamor had never bothered to learn to read his allies’ script, but he was starting to think he probably should. “But they have twice, now, shown a sudden shift of the target towards the west, in the direction of Elyvias. After the first such shift, which lasted approximately two weeks, the Coins abruptly turned back to the west and south. The next shift occurred within a day, and indicated, once more, that Eastwest was the direction of movement. This lasted more than two weeks, and has just recently ceased. The current indications from most parties are that the direction is to the south and east again.”
Raiagamor frowned, then snarled. “Someone was redirecting the spell.”
“It would seem the most likely possibility.”
“That would not be a trivial effort. Depending on how it was done, it might require more ingenuity … or more power. Perhaps even a touch of godspower, to be sure it worked.” He thought. Something causes a shift to the west; dropped for a short time, then re-established; lasted for two weeks, dropped…
Ahhhh. “I believe I see. Clever, indeed. A mage, almost certainly, one who used their personal power as a relay, to transmit the localization signal onward to one of the Coins as it moved; presumably some form of enchantment to make the selected Coin continue moving in the chosen direction.” He bared his teeth in an appreciative, but still furious, smile. “But that stretches their reserves, so they can only hold it a short while. A week, two weeks at the most.”
He paused. “How many of your search parties have failed to report in?”
“Four, sir. Do you wish to see where on the map?”
Four sparks of light appeared on a phantom map of the main continent. Raiagamor immediately leaned closer. One of the dots was an outlier, not far from Salandaras; they’d probably met some of the dull but formidable inhabitants and, well, that had been that.
But the other three…
Two sparks glowed close by Zarathanton, just to the south of the great city. The third, farther south, deep in the Forest Sea’s southernmost extension.
“These two first, yes? And then this one…” another thought struck him. “This one, in the Forest Sea; that’s Deimos’ group?”
“But he was originally following the river…” his finger traced the path from the river; yes, if he’d been moving due east, the distance would fit someone like Deimos and his forces moving for two weeks. “Interesting. Interesting.”
He decided to wait a few moments before deciding how to proceed. “You said you had a request?”
“Yes, sir. You recall that Deimos spoke of ‘a survivor?'”
“And indicated, to be blunt about it, that it was not precisely my business. Are you about to tell me he was wrong?”
“Not … precisely, My Lord. Although it does concern a project you were … involved in.”
He tilted his head, then realization struck him. “You mean a survivor of the Nests?”
“That is the only thing he could have meant. He spoke to me, not you. It is our people who are concerned with the Iriistiik; we are fully aware that you helped us for your own purposes.”
“True, true. But still … those annoying insects are inherently against the sort of country I’m going to create. And I did pledge to aid you in their extermination. So not only was Berenike there, but also there was at least one of them?” He looked back towards the map.
A slow, sinister smile began to grow on his face. He reached up, touched the first pair of dots, trailed his finger down, passing through the third, and continuing on. “Oh. Oh, yes. My friend Phobos, I believe I have a most enjoyable mission for you.”
Phobos’ eyes glittered, with a hint of inhuman light within those brown orbs. “Yes, My Lord?”
“I need to be assured that Berenike is not in the country. You need to find and destroy any survivors of the Iriistiik – and that interest lies with my own, as well. We have no need of a species that is led by such powerful beings as the Mothers.”
He pointed at the map. “To do what our adversary did, they needed two Coins. One to serve as the diversion, one to be the focus and … transmitter, one could say. Of course, once they dropped their concentration, the first Coin was far, far away.
“So how, then, could they have done that trick a first time, let alone a second?”
His fingernail – lengthened to a glittering claw – stabbed into the phantom map, where two sparks flickered. “Here is where they were. They were caught, but somehow defeated two parties of searchers – and gained two Coins. Then,” the finger moved south, “they traveled for two weeks, diverting the search parties in the wrong direction. But when they dropped it, or shortly thereafter, the searchers who had been west of them were now in their path: Deimos’ group.”
“Ah. It is clear, My Lord. By defeating Deimos’ group, they gained another Coin, and thus were able to repeat the trick.”
“Precisely.” A fanged grin. “And so if we assume they continue their movements, then after two more weeks in the Forest Sea, they will be … here.” The finger indicated a small blue dot, marking a suspected lake. “They are heading south. They intend to make their way into Aegeia by rounding the base of Wisdom’s Fortress.”
Phobos looked at him attentively.
“Send your people here,” he indicated the points south of the lake. “Here they will find your enemy, as well as mine, and if Berenike is not with them, she will be forced to come to their aid if you press them. She aided them once; I cannot doubt she will aid them again.”
“What makes you so sure?” Phobos asked, an inhuman timbre in his voice.
“She is the Spear of Athena,” Raiagamor answered, smiling a lethal smile. “She must know something about that group, if she is not with them – something vitally important. Otherwise why did she appear there, so far from Aegeia? Yes, she will come.”
“Do I lead them, then?”
“No. You will follow them, but do not expose yourself, as did Deimos. I want you to watch, and when Berenike appears,” he handed Phobos a small, red crystal, “you will break that crystal. That will tell me that Berenike is outside of Aegeia … and I will take care of the rest.”
Phobos nodded. “As you command. Should I bring our other ally?”
Raiagamor considered. That “other ally” was extremely powerful and dangerous … but also a secret weapon. And the point of this action was not really to kill Berenike – though it would be a fine, fine thing if that were to happen.
Best to save that resource for later, he decided. A secret weapon was best saved for moments when your opponents seemed unstoppable by your not-secret weapons.
“Not for this mission, no. Take as many of your people as you think will be needed.”
Phobos studied him, and then smiled – a smile which showed little trace of humanity. “I am the only one required to survive.”
“Exactly. I will not object to you having a complete victory over all your opponents, of course … but all I require is you to witness what is necessary and ensure I have word of it.”
With a bow, Phobos turned and swept from the room. Deimos blinked slowly, then followed after.
Not quite recovered to his role yet, Raiagamor mused. But soon.
He smiled again, a grin of blades and death. And soon, as well, will be the failure of Berenike!