Never Fight a Land War in the Peloponnese
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8 August, 425 BCE

Temple of the Many Hands Society

Euboea shifted his grey woolen cloak as he sat at the head of the table. The bronze circlet atop his brow tilted as he sat forward; he adjusted it and brushed his long brown hair away from his face. Around the table sat the thirteen elders of the Many Hands Society, the wise cult of the Hecatoncheires. Their ages ranged from the young thirties to the most ancient at sixty-two years.

Despite his youthful appearance, his was the seat of leadership. As the son of Briareos, highest of the Many Handed, he who watches over humanity, it was his right.

The noise in the meeting room was incessant, the elders holding several simultaneous conversations, interrupted only by the servants pouring wine and serving olives and feta.

Euboea took a cup from a servant and received wine, bringing it to his lips. He drank slowly, letting his tongue savor the richness. But when his cup was drained, he turned it over on the rough table. Sunlight filtered through the slotted skylight, making the spilled droplets of wine shine.

The conversation had not been quelled by his presence. The words came at a clipped pace, overlapping one another, several of the elders gesturing in animated fashion.

“Enough.”

They did not hear him, still lost in their anxious mutterings.

“ENOUGH.”

The room grew silent, all eyes on him. He waved the servants away and waited for their absence to speak again.

“I have called this meeting to discuss our plans in the face of these momentous struggles between the great polis. We cannot be seen as taking sides in this mundane conflict. Our goals, our very principles, demand that we focus on the ordered progress of mankind. Progress that can only be sought through the light of my Father.”

“I have heard no mention of a plan!” The older man at the far end of the table slammed his cup to the wooden table. “We quibble, we debate. We sit in quiet contemplation for your father and his family’s wisdom to grace us. But we do not plan! The world is burning!”

“Calm yourself, Asklepion. There is no need for such rash words towards your master.”

The older man opened his mouth to respond, when a younger one held a hand and patted his arm.

“Asklepion only speaks of our shared anxiety, Euboea,” said Mattias. The younger man wiped wine from his short black beard. “Athens and Sparta’s peace has not lasted, and the Kings of Sparta command their hoplites forward again. How long before they burn the whole world in their pursuit of domination?”

“It is not our role to take part in warfare. We are to guide the Hellenes through our rituals. We are not here to fight their wars.” Euboea waited a moment for the man to continue, but when he did not, the Master spoke: “It is not solely Sparta that craves control over the Peloponnese. Athens too is bloodthirsty in its attempt to ‘defend’ against the Spartan aggression. They both pull the smaller polis into this conflagration.”

Asklepion spoke up as soon as Euboea had finished. “Sparta is the greater threat to our survival, scant ten miles to our south.”

Euboea took an olive from the platter and popped it into his mouth. He chewed the meat and spit out the pit on the ground. “Your focus on Sparta wouldn’t have anything to do with your many friends in the Athenian noble families, would it Asklepion?”

“My loyalty is to this temple!”

“I have no doubt that you will have ample opportunity to prove that, Elder.”

The old man sat very still at hearing his master’s words, but after a moment spoke again. “It is only the survival of the Temple that concerns me, Master. If we ally ourselves with Athe–”

“Enough! Cease your prattling! You have ever sought to tie our fates with the Delian League throughout the many years of this conflict. Despite my unwavering decree that we remain independent!” Euboea stood and paced at the far end of the table.

Jocasta spoke next: “If we can all stop posturing; would you tell us what you intend to do?”

Euboea took a breath and nodded at the Elder. “You’re right to chastise us, Jocasta. Too hot, our tempers of late. My apologies, Asklepion.”

“And mine, Master.”

Euboea sighed and bent to pour himself some wine. “I propose we call the missionaries back from Hellene society, and withdraw from political life entirely. At least until these aggressions have played themselves out.”

Several of the Elders took in sharp breaths.

“Euboea, you cannot be serious!” Mattias said. “Such an action would be in contravention of the scrolls. We are to minister to the peoples of Greece and guide them to their pinnacle, in the light of Briareos.”

“I’m well aware of what the scrolls say, Mattias. I wrote them.”

Euboea took his seat and sipped from his cup. He brushed some spilled wine on the table with the palm of his hand. “We cannot trust these bloodthirsty men with our wisdoms if they would use them to annihilate each other.”

The Elders were quiet at this, looking at one another. Euboea spoke again: “I will not force you to do this, I propose we vote on it. Due consideration was taken in this proposal. What say you, Elders?”

Jocasta raised her hand. “I support this. Let them kill each other and leave us well out of it.”

One by one, eight other Elders raised their hands and spoke in support. Euboea noticed neither Mattias nor Asklepion voiced favor for the proposal.

“So be it, the Elders have spoken. Issue the correspondence today. Bring our people home.”


That evening, after the messengers had been sent to each of the great cities, Euboea stood on the Temple’s roof. He looked out at the dark plains of this land in which he had spent the better part of a century in. Jocasta approached from the stairs and sat on the bench next to where he stood.

“Athens and Thebes will be displeased with this action, Euboea. But I am most worried about the weight of this day’s decision when thinking on the Spartan kings.”

“I know. Sparta has ever been keen on learning our secrets for their advantage. I remember when Leonidas convinced me to visit his palace and tried to ply me with wine and then threats. We almost came to blows…”

Jocasta rose and stood next to Euboea. “They will take this as an insult to their royal selves.”

“If they do, so be it. If needs must, I can do much damage to their vaulted palaces.”

Jocasta looked at Euboea, holding her gaze on his face. He did not return her look, instead looking to the southwest and Sparta.

“Why not use your Father’s boon if they come?” she asked.

“No, such a tactic is to be left to last resort. The consequences for the temple, and those within, would be permanent.”

“I have never seen war; I fear for what may happen.”

“If they come, the Spartans will know such bloodshed as they have never before. They have never fought such as me.”


ProjectHeca

12 February, 424 BCE

Temple of the Many Hands Society

Euboea clapped hands with the newest arrivals, two missionaries from Thebes.

“Has everyone arrived safely?” one man asked.

“For the most part, yes. The emissary to the Spartan kings never returned. I fear the worst of poor Clytemnestra. She may be doomed as her namesake, I cannot tell,” Euboea responded.

The man shook his head and shouldered his bag, heading into the temple. Exactly one hundred priests and priestesses of the Society were back under the Temple’s roof for the first time in a decade.

Euboea noted a plume of dust coming from the South and heard the frantic clip of a horse pushed to its limits. Soon a chariot carrying a woman in dark woolen robes like himself and a man in rough leather armor stopped mere feet from the foot of the Temple stairs.

Clytemnestra stepped down from the chariot and stumbled. Euboea sped to her aid and helped her up, embracing her before she could speak. Her breathing was ragged against his neck.

“Master, they are coming.”

“Who, Priestess?”

“The Spartans, they mobilize their troops, at least a thousand spears, headed this way… They said it was to counterattack the Delian league, but I fear they will come here.”

“What happened to you?” He looked at her bruised face and the way she stood, favoring her right leg.

“Brasidas killed the messenger when he came months ago, and they locked me in a cage.”

“Brasidas… that is not one of the two Kings.”

“Nay, he is a general but all of Sparta follows his word. He leads the contingent headed to the North.”

She shook as she gasped the next words: “But it was the kings who had me tortured for weeks. Left almost to starve and then beaten again and again. They wanted our secrets, our magics and rituals.”

“I should never have sent anyone to their court. Brutal apes.”

“I told them that I could not teach them our ways, that they would have to submit to your teachings the way we all do. But they did not believe me. This kind Helot took pity on me a week ago and freed me from my cage.”

Euboea looked at the disheveled man, his armor rough and his hair wild. “Thank you, stranger. I know this was a terrible risk.”

“Damn them all, they treat my people as cattle and encourage the young boys to torture and kill us for sport. I could not bear to see them treat a priestess in such a manner.”

“Come inside, both of you. Rest and drink. There will be time enough to tell me of the news.”


ProjectHeca

The next day.

Easily a thousand spears stood a hundred yards from the barrier and trenches they had built around the temple. Forming a wide circle, their shields held edge to edge, bronze spearpoints catching the early morning light.

Behind the line, Euboea could see a short stocky man in brilliant, bronze armor. His shield on his back, as he rode a horse from unit to unit.

So this is dread Brasidas. He does not look like much. But if half of what Clytemnestra has told me is true, he is a master strategist and spear fighter in his own right.

Euboea looked to the roof of the Temple, seeing five priests and priestesses holding their hands up and chanting. The arrows had been burning to ash as they arced towards his followers’ positions.

Let them come on foot, and face us as equals.

Suddenly, the Spartan shields were held high as they rushed towards the trench. At fifty yards, he raised his palms outwards and let arcs of flame fly toward the Spartan line. Two dozen fell screaming, then another. But the line kept advancing and suddenly they were at the trench.

He let the first Spartans climb in before he called, “Now, my children!”

Twenty or more of the priests and priestesses started chanting in the old tongue, and a wall of blue flame erupted from the trench. Two hundred Spartans fell in seconds, and Euboea thought: Let it be enough.

But Brasidas had other plans, he screamed to his men and wide wooden planks flew across the burning pit. In moments, hundreds of the bastards were climbing the barrier.

“Spears!” Euboea called to his children. Fifty men and women in rough bronze armor stepped to the barrier and began trying to hold back the tide.

Charred, the barrier served less protection than he had hoped, and several Spartans were chopping at the ties that bound the logs. Euboea picked up a spear and threw it with all his might, barely missing Brasidas and pinning two Spartans to the desert earth.

He picked up another spear and approached the barrier, running to the weak spot just as the bindings were splitting. Euboea kicked with all his might, sending ten men flying into the now-diminished flames of the trench.

But his kick was too strong, shattering the remaining barrier’s rough ties and sending nearly a third of the ramshackle structure to the earth. Hundreds of Spartans rushed into the gap, meeting his small group with spears raised. He plunged into the body of their force, striking with spear and sword as fast as he could manage. They fell in bloody heaps left and right, and yet very little difference was made.

He found himself surrounded, as the Spartan force flowed around him and reached his people’s feeble line, but before he could turn to their aid, a voice called out.

“Are you some manner of god? You strike down my men like kindling.”

Brasidas himself stood in front of Euboea, shield held high and spear pointed at his opponent’s heart.

“I am the son of a god, and you are meat.”

Brasidas rushed at Euboea, thrusting forward with his spear so fast that Euboea could not avoid it entirely. The bronze point slashed along his ribs as he moved to the side, burning pain clouding his vision for a moment. But then he raised his own spear, and thrust.

Brasidas’ shield shattered and was flung aside. The man drew his short sword and struck down at Euboea’s spear, splitting the shaft in two, leaving the son of Briareos with a short staff of wood in his hands.

His opponent grinned beneath his oily black beard and thrust his own spear at Euboea with one hand. Euboea caught the spear and wrenched it from the Spartan’s grasp. Brasidas paled as he come to terms with his opponent’s strength and gasped as Euboea lit the spear aflame with his will.

“You die today,” Euboea said. But then a horrible cry came from behind him and he glanced at his people, saw them overrun by the Spartan force. He turned back to Brasidas and saw the man was grinning fiercely again. Euboea bellowed, sending his will into his palms and around him. Dozens of Spartans flew from him and screamed as they crashed to the ground.

He ran to his people, burning his way through dozens of Spartan warriors, but found only an abattoir. Of the nearly one hundred faithful he’d had this morning, maybe a dozen still drew breath. All around him, the clash of bronze and leather sounded as the Spartans regained their footing.

He knelt on the sand, the blood pouring from his wound.

“Come then, demigod. Show me your magic now!” Brasidas called from behind Euboea.

His head sunk to his chest, and he wondered what it would be to die here, with his faithful. But then he looked down, and Jocasta, bloody from several wounds, reached up and grasped his thigh. He nodded to her and smiled.

Brasidas was calling something else behind him, but all he could think of was the bell atop the temple. He reached out his will and felt it there, and it began to ring. Every Spartan on the field froze in mid-step; if he had looked at them he would have seen their terror, but he no longer cared for his enemies.

He felt the ringing bell in his mind, and cast his will through it and into the surrounding area. A peal of thunder rang from that bell, and suddenly the horde was no longer on the field. Only his ruined faithful, and his few surviving followers.


ProjectHeca

Hours later.

He bound their wounds and laid them inside the temple to recuperate. Then, with bloody hands, he gathered the bodies of his fallen faithful and laid them to their eternal rest together in a cave behind the temple.

When he returned it was clear his people would not survive the night. He willed their wounds to close, but his rage was so hot, he could not focus on knitting their flesh together.

“I’ve failed you.”

“N-nonsense. You were our-,” Jocasta interrupted herself with a red-tinged coughing fit. He held her hand and held up a cup of water for her to sip when the coughing ceased. “You didn’t fail us, what more could you have done?”

“Moved us out of the path of the Spartans. Instead, I wanted an excuse to hurt the bastards.” He squeezed her hand. “Please forgive me.”

She started coughing again, gripping his hand tightly. “You… you’ll save us yet…”

He wiped blood from her lips, refilled her goblet of water and walked from the room.

He carried a goblet of wine outside and looked at the setting sun in the west. This was no longer Greece, but a sealed bubble separate from man’s world. The temple, and the plain upon which it sat, had been violently shifted from reality to this other place. He did not know what it would have looked like to dread Brasidas, but he wished he could have seen the Spartan’s confusion.

But his temple and his followers were destroyed, all his wisdom and power had not saved his people – it was his Father’s gift of the bell. A one-time spell of egress, to take his people out of harm’s way. He had fueled the working with his rage and ripped the plain from its place in the world. Now, the Temple would stand upon this phantom plain of a phantom Greece, never again to hold sway in the Hellene world.

He drank the wine in one long gulping motion. It tasted of ash and failure. He threw the goblet away from him onto the sand.

“FATHER!”

Wind rolled along the plain, the only sound in that place.

“FATHER! Please!”

The wind ceased. A stillness settled on the desert plain. But then, there was a voice above him.

I told you this experiment had run its course.

“Spare me your chastising. My children need me, and I cannot save them.”

They’re no more your children than you are mine.

“Semantics! I want them… need them to live.”

There was silence in the air above him. Euboea turned to the sky, and saw the large floating slug with six long human arms hovering in the air in a shimmering haze of thaumaturgy. One of the long arms reached towards the temple, energy following to the bottom floor where his surviving followers were laid upon mats.

“Well?”

I could ensure their survival, but it would unmake them as they are now.

“What do you mean?”

They will no longer be purely human.

“Do it.”

If I do this, you will cease this pursuit of faith and come with me into the east.

“To what end?”

I have built a tower in the mountains, hidden from the Daeva in that region. You’ll come with me and aid me in my work.

“Yes, father.”


The twelve surviving members of his faithful were flying in the night sky as his Father opened a Way to the Ural Mountains. Euboea gazed at their flowing wings and wondered which was Jocasta. He wondered if she were angry with him for his choices. His fists clenched and shook at his side as he watched them soar. What sort of life will this be? Mortal, or not?

But at least she was alive. At least they were all alive. They would be a legacy of sorts, to his founding of the Society and to his failure. Some semblance of his faithful would hold this place in their regard, after nearly a century of work.

He shook his head. So many lost.

His Father called to him and he followed through the Way, unsure of where his choices had led him.


ProjectHeca


14 April, 1992 CE

Temple of Many Hands Society

“Where have you taken us?” Cynthia asked.

“Well, this was somewhere I retreated to a long time ago,” Marquez said. “It's outside of baseline reality, a pocket dimension. We shouldn’t have to worry about the Foundation or US Federal Authorities here.”

He turned to the twenty-odd members of the Second Haptic Assembly who had followed him from Boston.

It’ll be different this time.


Hecatoncheires Cycle
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