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Authors: David Constantine

Tags: #Fantasy, #Alternative History, #Historical, #Fiction

The Pillars of Hercules

BOOK: The Pillars of Hercules
6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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David Constantine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Shade Books

San Francisco

The Pillars of Hercules
© 2012 by David Constantine

This edition of
The Pillars of Hercules

© 2012 by Night Shade Books

 

Cover Illustration by Daren Bader

Cover design by Claudia Noble

Map illustration by Claudia Carlson

Author photo by Brian De Groodt

Interior layout and design by Amy Popovich

 

Edited by Ross E. Lockhart

 

All rights reserved

 

 

First Edition

 

ISBN: 978-1-59780-397-7

E-ISBN: 978-1-59780-410-3

 

 

 

 

Night Shade Books

http://www.nightshadebooks.com

 

For my parents

Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian Empire took a mere five years, after which he turned West again. Athens, which had expected to enjoy her vast Mediterranean possessions while Alexander became embroiled in endless Eastern wars, was suddenly faced with a battle-tested Macedonian army. For even as Alexander declined to become mired in a perpetual campaign in Afghanistan, his sorcerer-spies were unearthing ancient magicks from beyond the Hindu Kush… magicks with which he intended to crush the Athenian Empire and rule the known world. It was to be the ultimate conflict, and it began when Alexander unleashed his full might on Athens’ most vulnerable province: Egypt.
—Hieronymous of Cardia,
The War of Athens and Macedonia

 

Nine thousand was the sum of the years which had elapsed since the war which was said to have taken place between those who dwelt outside the Pillars of Hercules… commanded by the lords of Atlantis, an island greater in extent than Libya and Asia… and afterwards sunk by an earthquake the likes of which had never been seen…
—Plato,
The Dialogue of Critias

 

Above all else, it was the uncovering of the secrets of the elder races that forever changed the destiny of the younger ones.
—Aristotle,
On Machinery and Magicks

 

Chapter One

T
he bar he was in had a name, but Lugorix was too drunk to remember it. And right now he was intent on getting even drunker.

So far his plan was working.

Everything had gone blurry a while back. The other mercenaries, the assorted whores, the drinks being passed around like they were going out of style—all of it was starting to swirl around his head. And the bedlam taking place outside the bar had long since subsided as the party inside got ever louder.

Which didn’t mean that news wasn’t still reaching those within.

“He’s across the Nile,” said Matthias suddenly.

Lugorix turned blearily toward the smaller man who sat across the table from him. His best comrade in all the world, but right now he was just a fuzzy haze. Lugorix tried to focus on that grinning face, but found himself distracted instead by the patterns on the cloak that Matthias wore over his archer’s armor. Lugorix wondered how he had never noticed that the cloth was made up of no less than three different shades of grey. He was starting to think there was actually a fourth when…

“Did you hear what I just said?”

“Heard you,” replied Lugorix. Greek wasn’t his strong point. “Didn’t realize you needed a response.”

“There
is
no response,” said Matthias, his grin widening still further. “We’re all fucked. So drink up.”

“That’s what I’ve been doing, friend.”

The Dryad’s Tits.
That was the name of the bar. It wasn’t one of the classier ones. The smell of sweat and puke mingled with the aroma of a particularly rancid roast mutton that only became remotely edible when one had downed several drinks. Lugorix and Matthias had been in the place for more than an hour, though it seemed like much longer than that. Various lowlifes—even on home-ground a scout had to have his contacts!—kept bringing Matthias news. But all the reports trended in the same direction. All orders had ceased. The city’s commanders had fled, and the defenses of the Nile delta had collapsed. It was every man for himself now.

Problem was, there was nowhere to go.

“You say he’s crossed the Nile?” asked the bartender.

“In several locations,” replied Matthias. “Sliced the spine of Egypt, is what I’m hearing. Elephants and cavalry and Zeus only knows how much infantry—”

“Never mind all that,” said the bartender. “What about
him?”

And for a moment, the conversation immediately around Matthias faltered. Nothing too overt—just ears perking up here and there, keying on his response. Even through the haze of booze, Lugorix was feeling the same way too.

But Matthias only shook his head.

“No idea,” he muttered. “But it can’t be long now.”

“He didn’t spare any mercs in Asia,” said someone. “No reason he should spare us now.”

“So what the hell went
wrong,
” said the bartender.

“Magick,” said Lugorix suddenly.

“And gold,” said Matthias. “Way too much of it. The whole Persian treasury’s his to dispose of, right? Reckon everybody above the rank of captain got bought off. And the generals got top billing. They’ll be living in villas on the Tigris for the rest of their lives.”

“At least they sold out for a good price,” said someone.

“Speaking of,” said the bartender, “you guys owe me half a drachma for that latest round.”

Matthias reached down beside the daggers along his belt, opened up a pouch—tossed coins onto the bar. “Better spend that quickly,” he said.

“Not like I’m the one who’s forfeit,” said the bartender. Lugorix started laughing. The bartender glanced at him.

“What the hell’s your problem, Gaul?”

“Not just
my
problem,” said Lugorix. “Yours too. The Macks will burn this whole city to the ground. Same way they burnt the fleet.”

“No,” interjected Matthias. “Not the same way at all. Sacking this city is just going to be business as usual. The fleet, now that was the—”

“Magick,” said the bartender.

Another quick pause in the conversation. Matthias glanced around at some of the watching faces.

“So what?” he asked. “You all know he’s gained access to whole new types of sorcery. What’s going on outside is proof of that.”

“Can’t fight magick,” said the bartender.

“Sure you can,” said Matthias. He started re-stringing his bow. “You just need sorcerers to do it. And all the ones we had to hold the Delta are either bribed or dead by now.”

“Your arrows won’t help you anymore,” said Lugorix—a tad vindictively, but he was tired of Matthias acting like he knew it all. Especially when they were all waiting to sell their lives in one final stand. Which would probably occur on the roof of the bar, perhaps within the hour, and certainly before morning.

“Neither will your axe,” replied Matthias evenly.

“Don’t be so sure,” said Lugorix, patting the axe, which he’d christened Skullseeker for reasons that were obvious enough to those who’d had the misfortune to face it. It was intended for two hands, though he was strong enough to wield it with one if he had to. The weapon was primitive but effective—its double-headed blade made entirely of stone, except for the bronze that lined its razor-sharp edge. He had a sword as well, but generally preferred the axe.

“Bartender,” said Matthais, “another round here.”

“Man’s final hours shouldn’t just be about alcohol,” Lugorix said.

“What else would you have them be about?” said Matthias.

“Women.”

Matthias laughed. “Well, that’s why we came to this bar. Couldn’t help but notice you’ve been sucked off at least five times in the last hour.”

Six, actually…but Lugorix wasn’t going to quibble. This bar was easy pickings to begin with, and his long blond hair, fulsome beard and yard-wide chest made it even easier. That, and his trousers—something that no self-respecting Greek would wear, thereby making Lugorix the proud owner of a truly exotic fashion. No doubt about it, Greek women had a thing for barbarians. But as usual Matthias had misunderstood him—

“Not talking about my dick,” said Lugorix. “Talking about yours.”

“What about it? You so plastered you want a piece?”

“I’m saying you should
get
a piece. So far you’ve had nothing.”

“Ah. That’s because I’m saving myself.”

“For what?”

“The right girl.”

“Riiiight—” Lugorix turned as the door of the bar opened.

It was a woman, alright.

The oldest he’d ever seen.

She looked like she was native Egyptian, too—dark wizened skin and white hair that must have once been as black as her eyes. Now she scanned the room with those eyes, and all who regarded her looked away. It was as though with the crone’s arrival, an apparition had stepped into the bar—a physical harbinger of the fate that awaited them all before the night was through. The only ones who weren’t intimidated were far too drunk for common sense.

“That’s
your girl,” said Lugorix, nudging Matthias.

“Shut up,” hissed Matthias. But the woman’s eyes had already turned in his direction—and gone wide with recognition.

“She’s coming this way,” whispered Lugorix.

“I can see that, idiot.”

“You know her?”

“Not that I know of,” said Matthias.

“Looks like she knows you.”

“Will you
shut the fuck up?”

The crone reached them. Lugorix realized she was wearing a headband of some kind—almost like a tiara, though bereft of jewels. She was toothless, too, and he was tempted to make some joke about how that might aid her in whatever she might do to Matthias. But then she looked directly at him, and all his alcohol-fueled levity vanished. Her eyes up close were the realest thing he’d seen all night—the realest thing he’d seen in years, the realest thing since that night in the Pyrenees on the eve of his banishment, when the shaman of the thunder-god Taranis had bid him look within the fire and behold his fate and in those fires he saw his future: the flames of burning Egypt, though it was only now that he remembered them. The woman reached out, stroked his beard. Chills shot up and down his spine, and he seemed to look down into abyss.

“Old mother,” he said, “enough. Mercy. I beg you.”

She stopped. Reached out to Matthias, ran a hand through the ringlets of his black hair. The gesture was almost playful, but the expression on her face was anything but.

“You’re the ones,” she said in accented Greek.

Matthias and Lugorix looked at one another.

“I’m sorry?” said Matthias.

“You heard me,” she said. “My mistress needs you to come with me.” The words echoed through Lugorix’s skull in a way that made him realize that he and Matthias were the only ones who could hear this witch—for such was what Lugorix was now assuming this woman was. No one else was even paying attention anymore. The party had resumed around them. He felt his legs start to move of their own volition—felt himself get up. But Matthias seemed to be putting up more resistance.

BOOK: The Pillars of Hercules
6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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