I hope you've enjoyed these small side journeys. I've had a lot of fun writing them.
-The below story takes place concurrent with Part1 of The Last Coven
|Can You Guess Which Color is my Stink Eye?|
"But, brother Alexander, this is a matter of grave..."
"Not now, Yehoshua," I said, waving him off. "Trust me, none are more aware of the gravity of the situation than I."
He appeared to consider arguing the point further, but then – after a measured, no doubt purposeful, beat – he nodded and left me alone in my chambers.
As I often did, I allowed myself a moment of consideration toward my brother. Only a few scant centuries younger than I, others might have considered him a threat. Indeed, his was often the most vocal opposition toward my ambitions for our race. With Theodora by his side, her fire added to his stoic logic, they had managed to form a vexing check to my plans for far longer than I would have preferred.
The warrior and the diplomat, together a formidable force
But now Theodora was no more, a victim of her own rash anger. Still mourning her death, much of the fight had since gone out of Yehoshua's arguments. Even in my proposed response to the recent report from the Boston Prefecture, his opposition had been greatly minimized compared to what I would have anticipated only a few months prior.
All according to my plan, of course.
Yet, despite this, I couldn't help but feel a familiar stab of jealousy and regret. Though their eventual disposal was inevitable, I was still forced to admit to being envious of their relationship. In each other, they had found something. Though their ways differed greatly, they could relate by their shared history, being among the few of our kind remaining from those ancient days.
In truth, I understood Yehoshua's pain.
Once, very long ago, I had envisioned a similar cadre around myself – I and my childhood friends turned generals, together as we ruled this world for all of eternity. What a glorious fate that would have made.
I turned in my seat and looked up at the painting that hung above me, letting my thoughts fly to the distant past as I marveled at the gleaning black coat of the stallion who raced across the painted landscape.
Ah, to feel Bucephalus beneath me once more as I road into battle. A finer steed has never tread upon this Earth since. Over two-thousand years and I have not met his equal.
Remembering him brought with it thoughts of the others and I allowed myself the momentary luxury of getting lost in memories of the past.
We had been so close to complete victory, only to be denied by the impossible itself.
* * *
If one were to believe contemporary historians, one might think it was Coenus who convinced me to turn back as we stood on the shores of the Hyphasis – the furthest reaches of my vast empire. Hah, as if he, silver-tongued as he was, could have swayed my mind once it was set to action.
I glanced back toward my desk for a moment, my eyes straying to the locked drawer on the bottom right. Within it lay the last surviving copy of Ptolemy's history, the rest having been destroyed long ago. A regrettable, but necessary loss.
Ptolemy was a good friend, a fine general, and by all accounts a successful king in his own right. However, his account of our days together was far too honest to have survived the test of time. Though it would have, in all likelihood, been dismissed as little more than legend or metaphor, it was best removed from the consideration of those who might take such information and dig deeper than was best for them.
I considered what he wrote, having memorized the words. Though there was little need for me to do so, having experienced them firsthand, reading our adventures as he wrote them allowed me to once more hear his voice in my head.
I thought him merely to be protecting some treasure that lay hidden. Though I respected him for his deeds in battle, enough so to spare both his life and title, that did not mean I trusted him.
But then we saw it for ourselves. A small force, laughably few in number, met us at the Nanda border at dusk. We thought them brave, if somewhat suicidal, so I dispatched a small contingent to offer them the option of surrender.
My men never stood a chance. They were torn asunder as if they were scraps of meat thrown to wild dogs.
Annoyed that my gesture had been so rudely rebuffed, I ordered my infantry to dispatch these animals in the guise of men, to put each and every last one of them to the sword. It was then that I and my generals witnessed the impossible.
The enemy, though small in number, each seemed to possess the strength of ten men. We watched aghast as again and again they were struck down with fatal blows, only to arise anew as if they hadn't been touched.
I was not so easily routed, though, and I forced my men onward despite the unease I felt, knowing that my station demanded no less of me. Outnumbered ten to one and with no strategy other than murder on their side, our foes continued to fight us throughout the night.
It was only come the morning, when the sun shone down upon us, that the true horror of what we had witnessed began to sink in. No bodies, save the dead of my own army, could be seen, despite the blood on the battlefield being almost ankle deep.
Never before had I seen such a thing, never dreamt it was possible. It was as if the gods themselves had sent divine warriors to slow our advance.
I ordered our dead to be burned and summoned Poros, demanding to know more.
Though he was hesitant at first, his tongue eventually loosened. He told me tales of creatures of the night, man-devils who feasted on the blood of the living, and a curse of eternal life. One would have thought he was telling stories meant to frighten children. Considering what we had witnessed, though, even I was forced to admit his account could not be easily dismissed.
It was loyal Hephaestion who, later in my tent, first put breath to the opportunity that lay before us. If we could capture one of these man-devils, perhaps we could wrest its secrets, secrets that we could then utilize ourselves. It was a tempting proposition – to live forever with my friends by my side. As mere mortals we were nigh unstoppable, but here was a chance to become gods amongst men. There would be nothing that could stand in our way.
Sadly, my troops were too frightened to continue, shaken as they had never before been. Word had spread among them. Tired from our endless campaigns and terrified by something new and previously unknown, they threatened to revolt.
So it was that I ordered us to turn west. My plan was to regroup, send for fresh soldiers, and study whatever legends I could find about these creatures. Then I would return. These man-beasts were simply another foe to be conquered, nothing more. Once defeated, their secrets would be mine to do with as I saw fit.
Little did I realize both how wrong and how right I was.
Unbeknownst to me, the creatures who served the Nanda followed us in our retreat. Their king, Dhana Nanda, surmised that I would return in force. I have little doubt he realized that he had the means at his disposal to not only avoid the fate of all who'd stood against me, but to bring about the downfall of the greatest conqueror the world had ever known. I was a prize too tempting to ignore.
For all the hatred I have felt for him in the years since, I cannot deny he was a man of ambition.
Poor Hephaestion was the first to fall. They came for him at night, easily slipping through our defenses. That first morning, I thought him merely ill. But each day he grew paler and weaker than the morning prior until finally he awoke no more. His servants found him drained, a mere husk.
In my grief over his loss, I did not consider what this meant.
His death haunted me for months, stalling my grandiose plans. It was only in my wine cup that I found true solace. Finally, when I was at my lowest, they came for me ... each night taking more as I slept in a drunken stupor, until at last I lay at death's door.
Unlike my friend, however, I was not allowed to die.
No. A much crueler fate was chosen for me.
My body stolen, I was compelled to be a mere slave upon my awakening. For months, my new masters laughed as they brought me word of my crumbling legacy: Perdiccas's cruelty, Cassander's betrayal, the death of my mother, my wives, and the son I never knew.
All of it done to humiliate me, make me realize how truly helpless and alone I was – to make me aware of how far I had fallen.
For decades I was nothing to them but a former king reduced to being little better than a dog.
* * *
I took a moment to consider the years since, then smiled as I turned and viewed the opulence around me.
Despite everything, all that they did to me, I survived where my so-called masters did not.
They'd underestimated the will of Alexander. They thought time would make me humble, force me to accept my lot, cause me to forget my destiny.
They were wrong.
My time in the shadows taught me patience. I gathered my strength, laid my tormentors low one at a time, and began to slowly claw my way back to my rightful place.
And now, finally, I am on the brink of recapturing not only that which was once mine, but so much more.
I considered my conversation with Yehoshua. There are those who will look at what I am about to do as a sign of weakness, that I am once again putting myself in a position to be struck down from the height of my rule. But they will learn how wrong they are.
I am Alexander. History speaks of me as a great leader, a conqueror. However, I have also learned from that history and this time I shall not repeat my mistakes.
I have no one left to mourn. No tragedy to distract me. Any weakness others perceive is but an illusion. This time there shall be no retreat. Not now, or ever again.
The Road To Armageddon:
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