He walked as only a god was capable. Arrogant. Decided steps. Unstumbling even though the alley way was pitch dark and rubbish and filth covered the cobbles. His gate was calm and assured, as one who has been walking not just a life time, but eons. He painted a strange picture as he strode through the graffitied walls and refuse smeared pathways. Dressed and bedecked befitting a Greek hoplite from his sandal strapped feet to his green plumed battle helm, Gaius proudly strode through the alley like something out of a Greek myth. His walk screamed of power, a god with nothing to fear. No mortal weapon could stand against him, no sickness could latch its fingers to him, no poison could infect his lungs. Hence he walked, fearless, dominating, and absolute.
The men and women who slumped in the alleys and dirt probably figured him to be a figment of the chemicals in their systems. A nightmare born of their fevered drug dreams. A hallucination sent to torment their minds for the crimes they had committed against their own flesh. Whatever they saw and how they justified it mattered nothing to Gaius. He understood that his attire spoke of a time long passed but he clung to that time and to the fashions of it. Even if the scum of the street didn’t understand that the armor marked him as commander, supreme, chief, foremost of all the hosts, they understood his air. They understood it as if it were written in letters on his very skin. “Come near me and face your own mortality.”
Although Ancient Greece was no more, its beauty wiped from the planet, its gardens withered and statues beaten to dust, although the men who had stood with him, fought with him, died with him were long but memories of dust, he still visited the fountain. Here in the center of the city, here where they had stood and died together, here where their clash was the loudest and costliest….here where he had ascended. Ages ago, lifetimes ago, eons ago. He knew what he would see even as he rounded the last corner. A courtyard in ruins, overgrown shrubs and reaching vines. Where once the great Palace stood… Nothing. Just more cobbled stone courtyard. Where once the gardens had flourished..nothing. Only overgrown weeds. Where his brothers laid and stood and fought and bled and died…nothing. Nothing at all.
All that remained was the fountain. Here. Where he ascended. Where he had forcibly snapped his mortal coil and joined the number of immortals whose days are without end. He had paid for his immortality in blood: that most costly of currencies. Blood. His. His men’s. And a god’s.
Although mortal man could not fashion a sword to pierce his armor, he felt the dead hands of his brothers clutch at his breastplate. Even though man in all his wisdom could not give him pause with a thousand soliloquies, the dying shouts of his soldiers echoed on in his mind. Although there was no shield or wall that could halt his onslaught, the sight of the fountain stopped him dead in his tracks.
But only briefly.
He pushed aside the fingers, silenced the shouts and screams, and strode into the circular courtyard. It was easier this time. Even easier than last time.
As he came to the wall of the circular fountain, he found his usual spot and sat down on the built in bench that circumferenced the the fountain.
In centuries past, he could come here for silence, but now in recent decades, machines roared on the roads only blocks away. While then the night air was still, now occasional gun shots cracked the stillness. Feral bands of dogs roamed the streets and the night was filled with their incessant barking and baying for blood.
The god glanced around the courtyard remembering in sharp detail the ancient buildings and their furnishings. The glory of Ancient Greece this city had once been, but now… Well, if anything was testimony to man’s ability to defile, molest, and destroy, this place was. This once jewel, now a despotic, abandoned corner of a ill reputed neighborhood.
It didn’t anger him nor did it surprise him. Perhaps a few eons ago it may have, but not now. Not after all these ages watching man. Indeed nothing surprised him anymore; he had seen mankind rip itself apart in the name of gods, love, hate, and wealth… He had witnessed the atrocities that mankind could inflict on itself…and had even played his part in the afflicting of thousands. But that was long before, when he still believed that his actions mattered, when he still believed that anything mattered.
The barking of dogs brought him back to the present. He looked up to see a small dark shape trip on a pile of trash and scrape to a rolling halt at another entrance to the courtyard. The shape stumbled to her feet and, in the light of a nearby streetlamp, manifested into a little girl of seven. She scanned the courtyard frantically, eyes searching for anyone, anything to give her a shred of hope. Her eyes finally fell on the tall figure seated on the fountain’s bench. Those eyes filled with a brief moment of confusion at his clothing, but the confusion vanished almost instantly as she accepted him as her only hope. The dogs bayed again, louder and only moments behind her. Her expression filled with terror once more as she staggered forward on weary, scraped and bleeding legs. She closed the few yards between them with the last of her strength.
Gaius watched her clumsy approach, his face devoid of emotion. She collapsed at his feet sobbing and crying. Gaius looked down as her eyes rose to meet his. Streaks of dirt ran from her eyes to her chin where the dust she had kicked up mixed with the tracks of her tears. Big brown eyes full of pain. Pleading. Begging. Imploring.
Her cracked lips parted as she whispered one word. When her voice came out it was sore and hoarse.
A prayer. A fervent prayer to a god she needed. He had heard it countless times through the ages…
Most men prayed it. They begged to hold on to whatever miserable excuse for a life they had. They bargained, cheated, lied, fought, and strived to prevent their final day. Anything to forestall that ultimate end. For all men feared death more than anything else.
He started into those eyes for a long moment. Then lifted his gaze to the alley she had come through moments before. The dogs were close now and he could sense them. He could feel their rage and their overpowering desire to feed. Their need for sustenance. He had witnessed in times past just what feral dogs were capable of. He’d seen packs of dogs gnawing at horse bones, having brought the animal down to a screaming terrifying demise. And they would do the same to this little dirt stained street urchin.
And he would do nothing to stop them.
She must have sensed his answer for she stood up, the tears returning with renewed vigor. She was barely as tall as his knees when she rose. She began to tug at the lacing of his knee high sandals, sobbing, crying, pleading even as the hunting howls grew louder behind her. She screamed at him. And Gaius did what the gods do best… He ignored her.
He watched the gap between the buildings, emotionless and unflinching. The baying reached a crescendo, blocking out all noise in the night, then, suddenly, silenced. In the following silence, five or six shapes as black as midnight loped from the alley. The tugging at his sandals finally abated and the screaming subside as the little girl slumped to her knees, done. Her energy spent, the last of it having been used up in one last fruitless attempt to save herself, throwing her life into the hands of a god. She had rolled the dice of her life and had come up short. She knew now that she would die. She sniffed quietly, resigned to her fate. Accepting. Terrified, but still.
The shapes converged on her from behind. Snarling and gnashing their teeth. The girl whimpered one last time then clenched her eyes shut and gritted her teeth, bracing herself for the pain.
A sharp whistle pierced the night. The dogs froze. They stared about in confusion, unable to find the source. They searched the sky and some turned around to glance down the alley way they had materialized from.
A second whistle came, this time louder and more painful than the last and the dogs in one accord began to whimper as their overly sensitive ears rang. It pierced their senses. Stabbing their ears like knife thrusts. They bolted back in the direction they had come, driven by a different need. Gaius felt their anger and frustration at being denied a meal, but they knew they could not stay here and risk losing their hearing. They fled leaving Gaius and the child alone once more.
Another shape moved in the darkness of the open alley way. The tall figure stepped lithely from the shadows into the light of the streetlamp.
Gaius grunted his disapproval at the new comer, as he recognized the figure. The fellow god dipped his head in an nod that both acknowledged the fellow god’s disapproval and seem to say that he didn’t care in the slightest what Gaius thought of him.
If the public had been shocked by Gaius’s apparel, they would have balked and laugh at the newcomer’s. A John Bull top hat, cavalier vest, a brocaded tail coat with velvet trim, pantaloons, and walking cane in one hand, the specter might just as well have stepped out of Jane Austen novel instead of an obscured alley way. Gaius snorted in derision at the costume. A god parading around in such attire like a pampered, witless fool.
The tall figure sauntered rather than strode closer to the fountain. The little girl didn’t notice him till his boots clicked against an upturned cobblestone. She jumped slightly and turned at the sound, surprised at the new comer’s proximity to her.
He knelt on the dirty ground, careless that the filth might stain the knees of his expensive pantaloons. He dropped his cane to the earth with a soft click and stared into the girls eyes for a long moment, then suddenly jerked a bouquet of flowers from his right sleeve. The girl flinched in surprise, but calmed herself when she realized that he was offering them to her. A broad smile creased his face as the girl’s lips cracked into a small grin. Hey made quite a comical picture. A nobleman of the great Victorian era and a street urchin of the twenty-first century. Gaius rolled his eyes and sighed aloud again.
The new god ignored him and casually reached behind the girls ear to produce a coin. The girl giggled in delight and gratefully accepted the coin. After a few moments of smiling like a fool, the man leaned in close and whispered quietly in the little girls ear. The exchange lasted a few moments, then the little girl nodded vigorously. The man leaned back, the smile still gracing his features, and helped her to her feet. She wiped the tears and mud from her face with the back of an arm. Her legs seemed stronger and the life inside her was rekindled. She put on a determined face and started to walk away. The man stood, retrieving his cane from the cobbles as he watched her go. She turned and waved, and in response, he bowed. It was an elegant gesture, the type of bow that is expected of nobility before their sovereign. A duke before a queen. Still he gave it to her, this lowly street urchin.
“You’re a fool, Fritzwallace.” His heavy gruff voice cracked the air, shattering the respectful silence.
The elegant god’s shoulders slumped and he let out the breath he was holding.
“Gaius,” Fritzwallace, sighed. It was a sigh that seemed to say, “must we do this again?”
“I would have thought,” Gaius continued, “that you would have learned by now. Why is it that it takes the newer gods so much longer than it took the elders? Are your brains slowed by the passing of time? As the earth waxes does reasoning so, too, grow old and slow?”
“Reason is a gift that, it seems, fewer and fewer are given.” Fritzwallace snapped and turned to face the old immortal. “It appears to me that when this precious present was being bequeathed, you were intentionally skipped.”
Gaius cringed at the young god’s words and the appalling lack of bite or even effort behind his insult.
“What a pitiful excuse for an insult. You typically have more sting in your words, yet today I find you weak and limp. I guess your mind must really be waining if this is the best verbal attack I can expect from you.”
Fritzwallace turned again in the direction the girl had walked. “Perhaps you’re right, Gaius, perhaps I’m simply…distracted.”
Gaius barked a laugh, “You MUST be, to allow me to insult you so without retort. I remember not so long ago that you would foolishly banter word duels with anyone who would stand in your company. And now are you so low that you cannot even exchange worthy insults with an old man?”
The silent god did not respond. He simply stared after the child, hands resting on his walking cane.
The mirth left Gaius and his insulting smile creased into a sneer as he repeated himself.
“You’re a fool.”
“I said ‘You’re a fool!’ Your efforts are in vain.” Gaius began striding towards the younger deity, intensity growing with each stride. “She will be dead tomorrow. It is the nature of man. Alive one day, dead the next. Their acts, wisdom, lives forgotten. Pointless, vain repetitions that continually follow the same pattern. Even at your age, I learned this. Their lives count for nothing, they have no strength or vitality left in them. You witnessed the little mortal here at my feet just now surrender to death even before the dogs began to feed. They have lost their fight. They have lost their drive…they have lost their purpose.”
Fritzwallace’s posture deflated slightly again, but he did not turn to face the accusatory elder deity behind him.
Gaius threw up his arms in angry surrender and strode back to his bench, sighing as he seated himself once more.
“Mankind is weak…” He continued from his bench, “And no longer worthy of the gods’ attention…let alone intervention. You help the girl survive a dog attack today only to see her dead of starvation in an abandoned building the tomorrow or hit by a car on the street a week from now. There’s no point, boy, it makes no difference. There was a time long ago when the gods were an active part of the lives of men. When we ruled them, went to war with them, reasoned with them, taught them…loved them.” Gaius paused as his demons returned to haunt him. He held their memories in his arms for a few brief seconds, then cast them back to the darkness of forgetfulness.
“But no more.” He continued, “Man is the embodiment of futility. A generation of wise men followed by centuries of fools. Fickle, mindless, pointless fools. Like swine wallowing in mud, men revel in their own futility.”
Gaius silenced, his tirade at an end. His mind closed to the voices that were tormenting him. He left them, his mind once again calming and emptying itself of his cares and worries. Better to not feel than to remember pain.
He realized with great dissatisfaction that his visit here had been counter productive this trip. He came here to forget, and now this insolent youth was forcing him to remember. He inwardly cursed the boy and rose to his feet to leave. He glanced over his shoulder once, noting that the figure still stood there, unmoved. Gaius hated him. Arrogant, pompous, whimsical youth. He wished some of his brethren would ban together to end this boy’s immortality. It’s a dangerous business to try to kill a fellow immortal. And if any one deity tried to kill another, the ensuing conflict might last decades or, in some extreme cases, a century. But Gaius and his brothers had learned that if they worked together against a common foe, they could end an immortal’s reign in a single conflict. They had done it before, and they most certainly could do it again.
Perhaps he should have words with them. It would take some convincing. Seeing as the boy had committed no wrong against them… But if he put his ancient mind to it, he could manipulate them and the youth into becoming enraged at eachother, and THEN…they would come to HIM for help in destroying the pup.
His thoughts raced through his mind as he welcomed this distraction from his failed venture this evening. He was so caught up in his scheming that he nearly missed the whisper from behind him.
Gaius paused and turned.
Fritzwallace was facing him now. There was a determination in his eyes. He was refusing to accept the facts, doggedly clinging to his false belief regardless of reason. Fine, Gaius had convinced zealots before. He had swayed monks from their vows and priests from their laws. He had debated in the great amphitheaters of Greece with the ancient scholars and philosophers. In fact, the cowardly option of choosing to believe something despite knowing that it is errant is easier to break than the clinging to a belief that cannot be proven to be right or wrong.
Gaius knew that Fritzwallace was merely in denial. So he would free him from this delusion and once he had broken him, killing him would be so much easier.
“Apologies,” Gaius cooed, “I didn’t quite hear that.”
“You’re wrong.” The reply came again.
“Am I?” Gaius raised an eyebrow. “Please, enlighten me.”
Fritzwallace stepped forward, fire in his eyes and determination on his face as he began to speak.
“You say that there is no point in caring anymore, you say that mankind is not worthy of our attention or intervention, but I say you are wrong, sir. You were chosen, just as I was chosen, to become more than human for a single purpose. We were granted immortality for the completion of our destiny. You claim I’m too young to see reason but I say you are too old to remember. You have forgotten the evil you have committed in the name of balance. Even as your evil waged wars, Florence’s good saved lives. As Artureign fought for good so Malikine spread his disease. We were chosen to balance mankind. To keep evil strong and good equal. So that the world would never fall to either. Balance is our purpose and destiny.
We all played our parts for evil and for good. Serving darkness and light, sometimes even within the same century. And now, you old one, you have stop serving your purpose. You scheme and plot, you sit on your fountain and reminisce of times gone by. But you have ceased to do what you were immortalized to do. When you slew that god here all those eons ago you took on his responsibility. A responsibility you owe the Balance.”
Gaius strode forward. “You imply that I have shirked my duty.” He could feel his face getting hot.
“Imply?,” the young god guffawed, “I blatantly shove your failure to duty in your face.”
Losing his temper, Gaius reached for his blade in its sheath by his side.
“Shall I shove something in YOUR face, boy?!” Gaius threatened.
Fritzwallace chuckled under his breath. “Come, old man, you who have lived eons longer than a me. Surely an immortal of your prowess can outmatch a boy with your own wit rather than with your sword. Are you afraid of the challenge my boyish wit offers your centuries of wisdom?”
Gaius unhitched his belt and let his sword fall to the cobbles. He angrily strode to the impertinent youth, fire filling his veins.
“Boyish wit?! Child, I was born among the great scholars of Greece. Aristotle and Plato were my morning breakfast, and you dare contest me with your quips and whims.” He strode ever closer to the youth. “You, boy have quite underestimated your opponent.”
Fritzwallace strode towards the raging immortal, betraying no feeling as he asked his question. “So tell me, Gaius, in the philosophy of The Balance to such we are both servant and slave, what happens when the light overpowers the darkness?”
Gaius’ face was close enough to Fritzwallace’s that his spit flecked the young immortal’s face. “The Balance will right itself by an overpowering force of dark to balance the scales once again.”
Fritzwallace laughed, “Yes! Precisely! And is neglect and apathy a force of light or dark?”
Gaius pause only a second before replying. “Dark…certainly dark.”
There was a moment of silence. Gaius’s mind raced, trying to find what Fritzwallace was getting at. What was his game? Why ask these questions?
“And finally,” the young god’s voice broke the pregnant silence, “if apathy and neglect are forces of evil, and you yourself have professed to be in neglect of man for centuries…how long do you figure until Balance sends an overwhelming force…to bring back the Harmony between good and evil here?”
It suddenly clicked and he understood. He, Gaius, had been in neglect of mankind for centuries… He had, with his neglect, let mankind slip from balance, to great evil. With his apathy, he was responsible for this overwhelming evil around him. He glanced around. His weapon was several feet from him. And finally He realized what was going on. Fritzwallace was The Balance’s solution for his own failures.
His eyes turned back to Fritzwallace who had, in the fraction of a moment that Gaius had been distracted, drawn from his walking cane a dueling sword. The blade in Fritzwallace’s hand was long and thin, but deadly and lethal.
The young immortal whispered to him, his voice soft as a gentle breeze.
“You come here every ten years to the day that you ascended. Alone and full of pride. You walk the streets fearlessly because you know that no man can hurt you and no god would dare challenge you. Balance has sent me to end your apathy. You were given a job, and if you will not complete it, another will.”
And in that moment, Gaius knew… His immortality was at an end. He knew he could not reach his weapon in time. He knew that Fritzwallace had planned for every eventuality. He knew that here he would draw his last immortal breath. And he was surprised to find that he didn’t care.
He lifted his arms, outstretched, to the side and stuck his chest out.
“Do your worst.” He challenged.
He had been defeated. He, a god, a seemingly invincible deity, a paragon of warriors, would be killed. Here on the very ground where he, a mortal, stood and slew a god eons ago. Here on the same cobbles on the same day thousands of years ago, he would die.
This youth…this boy… had done what no other immortal could. Fritzwallace had joined a game that had been progressing for eons, and would, while still a child, grow to defeat one of the most dangerous players in the game.
Gaius had made a fatal error. He had allowed his pride in his intellect to disarm him, he had let his anger lower his guard, and he had let his arrogance seal his doom with no escape route possible.
Gaius resigned himself to his fate.
The light of the street lamp danced for a fraction of a second on the dueling blade as it whipped through the night. The flash of light was blinding as it shimmered on the mirror like steel of the blade. Then it was gone.
He felt his collar bones grow wet and sticky as his neck dripped his immortal blood down his chest.
The god fell to his knees.
Here the blood of two immortals would frame the cobbles. One an ancient god and the other the hero who had slain him… Who had become him.
Gaius choked a laugh through the blood filling his mouth. Humorous how balance works and how gods die the same as men. Immortality is strangely short.