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Home > God Rising: Battle of Atela

41 City of Vipers

 Four weeks ladened with grief had passed by. The weather got better, the town's sorrow eroded, Rowan served his punishments, and Artemis was prepared for the next step of her journey.

*

Rowan looked at the snowman he made with Bertha. They called it Reb, placed a hat over its head and Hi-fived each other before running around like squirrels.

They were proud of the snowman standing in the fields. But now it's smaller and practically dead, just like his Bertha.

Reb enjoyed the last of the sunshine that was killing it. One twig-arm reached upward, and the other pointed towards the ground. Its hat had tumbled off, and its carrot nose was no more.

Eventually the snowman would melt away with the remaining layers of crisp white patches, and a new season would take over.

In the interim, Artemis was getting ready to leave. She viewed Rowan as earth's Plan B in case she fails. She made Ma Lari guarantee her that Rowan would succeed her if she doesn't come back alive.

That decision was left for Anna to make, and the possibility of her approving such was small.

A normal mother in her right senses wouldn't send her child on a suicide mission to a deadly arena. If she said no, then no. Thus, humanity would have to wait until someone else defeats the beastmen.

Artemis packed up some clothes in her pouch and other items that might be of use. She recounted her money, and she had enough to bribe the portal gatekeepers.

She took in a deep breath before she headed out of the cottage she shared with Anna and Rowan. She stopped in her tracks the moment she spotted familiar faces waiting for her.

Tears formed at her ducts as her lips quivered before forming a smile. She read the large writing on the banner they held.

Good luck Demigod Artemis!!!

Tears rolled down her cheeks, and she quickly covered her face with her hands. Crying in front of them was just like standing there naked. There wasn't much difference to her and in both cases, she'd want to run away from the exposure.

"People care for me..." their support flooded her mind with an unexplainable measure of bliss, and it spread to every inch of her body. There was no way she'd let them down. Her hands balled into a fist and she flashed a confident grin.

Rowan tugged Artemis's hand, then he looked away and whispered, "I'll miss you" He was hiding his tears. Another person he cared about was leaving soon. Like his life couldn't get any worse.

Artemis bent down and ruffled his shock of white hair, teasing his sensitive spots, "I'll be back for you okay. So take care of yourself and your mother. Make her happy and don't be stubborn. Promise me that"

He wrapped his arms around her, "I promise."

***

"Are you insane, boy?" The gatekeepers looked at her like she was a mad person.

"And you're also carrying a sword?"

"Good grief!"

They were three, and they all had something to say. While they were nagging, she had her eyes on the gate that was inactive. She was so close, yet so far at the same time.

"And you brought sixty gold to bribe us. Do we look like kids?" Despite their impoliteness and rebuke, the man in the middle was the quickest to slip the cash into his pocket.

She'd successfully bought her access, but it wouldn't be easy to have just one of them help her transport to the other side.

The gatekeeper that secretly accepted her money dragged her by her collar, "Look kid, go away. Far from here or else you'll give the Beastmen the wrong idea, and they'll think you want to be a slave" Once he was deep into the woods, and far from his colleagues he let her go.

"Why do you want to go to Sol? It's not a good place."

She wasn't going to explain herself because it wasn't part of his business "there's something I need to get."

"With a blade?" He folded his arms, lifting a brow "If they see you carrying a weapon, you're good as dead the moment you step on their soil."

The warnings his advice contained were worthless to her. Nothing at that point would make her turn tail, and from her face that stayed passive, he could tell there was no convincing her to change her mind.

At least he'd get to keep the money with an easy mind because he tried his best to talk her out of her suicide mission.

He had a point, but the importance of the sword corresponded with that of her life. There was no way she'd put her sword after working hard and saving up for five years.

"Come back here once the sunsets. It takes ten to twenty minutes before the next gate watchers start their work." Artemis nodded, then sat on the ground. There was no point in going back to the village when she could just while away time throwing rocks at trees and counting the weeds buried in the melting snow. Or do something else for entertainment.

The man shrugged before turning to leave, but he halted when his ears sensed her strident voice. "Don't you think of running away without helping me. Any false move and I'll kill you. Is that understood?"

He bridled at her tone, pivoted to yell, but the intimidating look on her face curbed his temper, and he hissed as he walked away.

Artemis meant it. She praised herself for her new ability to intimidate people notwithstanding age or any other attributes.

The moment the sun kindled the grey clouds with oranges and red, she got up and cautiously moved to a spot she could survey the situation of the gatekeepers.

The one that was supposed to help her stayed back while his friends waved as they left. He pretended as if he was walking towards another direction, but he turned back once they were gone.

It was strange for him to not follow his friends, but the chances that he'd accepted Artemis's money didn't cross their minds because of the deathly risk of activating the portal without authoritative consent.

Artemis walked up to him, waiting for the next instruction. "Look, I don't know what you're thinking and why you want to go to Sol, but I'll just give you a little heads-up. You will die."

He wasn't sure if the next watchers at Sol had already started their work, but it wasn't his cup of tea. If Artemis gets away from the Portal area, then good for her. She'd still die anyway.

He activated the gate by turning the crystal lever and the familiar swirl of a mixture of purple, blue and white came into view.

"Good luck. You need it" He watched Artemis leap into the gate and he closed it afterwards. He could hear the crisp sounds of boots from a distance and grabbed his things before scurrying away. The blame of Artemis using the gate would go to the next gatekeepers. He was glad they came at an unfavourable time. He headed home in the crisp clear night with extra money he could use to buy his wife's medication for her fatal sickness.

The following day, he headed back to his work site, but he stopped halfway when he saw his companions on the ground with their hands behind their back.

He took cover behind a tree and peeped. His face was drained of all its colours, and his body trembled as the small hairs on his skin stood erect. He was frozen in his spot as he watched the Beastmen from the other side beat up his teammates.

"We're not the ones!!!" Their cry for help brought tears to the corner of his eyes. He couldn't move, he wanted to, but he also didn't want to die.

"Runaway Marcus! Run away Marcus!! Run away!!!"

He didn't know how he was caught, and why the other watch team wasn't blamed, but no one would answer those questions, not his friends, and never the secretive beastmen.

He wondered if the 'boy' had already died. How else would they have known someone used the portal if that person wasn't caught in the act? He prayed for the acceptance of his friend's soul and the speedy recovery of the trauma their families would face.

He couldn't bring himself to watch the death of his friends when he was the one at fault. The guilt was too heavy for his shoulders to handle. He had to go home to his wife and daughter. Maybe wash his sorrows away with beer, and have sex with one of his friend's wife to console them.

He turned to leave, but noticed too late that he'd been cornered by two huge beastmen with a malicious grin on their faces.