And in the great City There was a great fortress both underground and above And in that great fortress There was a tall tower A tower that will never fall Qul Tos, Qul Tos Our city of silver and gems Qul Tos, Qul Tos, City of the Labyrinth we defend
Third Stanza and Chorus of the Tosian Anthem
“Please don’t kill me yet... you must save his highness,” Melissa
begged at a near whisper, the cutting edge of the dagger scraping her
neck with each syllable.
“Take us to him,” the deep muffled voice of the armored Centurion demanded.
“I can show you, but I do not have the ability to take you all the way.”
“She is a traitor!” Rachel shouted, answering as if believing the Centurions would kill any traitor regardless of which side they were on.
“So I assume you are not.” The masked Centurion chuckled, his gray eyes darting over to Rachel. “Guess we do not need to keep you alive then.”
“No wait... we need her,” Melissa gasped, her breathing becoming shallow.
“What we need is to get you to a healer,” the Centurion insisted.
“No... What I need to do is guide you to the shaft. You can then force Rachel to order the elevator down.”
“Yes... it is the only way to the upper tunnel that leads to the top and the Labyrinth Tower.”
“I see... but that can wait... we need to see to your bleeding.”
“It is too late... I’ve lost too much blood. I am only hanging on by the hope that you can save his highness. Please, I need to do this.”
“I understand.” The Centurion nodded, removing the dagger from her neck. “Is there anything we can do for you?”
“Just save his highness and...”
Melissa looked deep into the Centurion’s gray eyes and found the kindness that not even all the years of adventure Eleanor had given her matched up to. “Kiss me...”
“May I ask why?” the man asked a sense of awkwardness in his voice.
“The last person I kissed was Eleanor. I do not want to die knowing it was her bitter lips that last touched mine.”
“But...” the Centurion protested.
“I don’t care if you’re a man... it does not matter anymore. Just
kiss me so we can be on our way!”
Nodding, the Centurion moved aside as one of his comrades replaced him in guarding Rachel. He then untied the leather strap holding the metal mask covering his mouth. On the other side Melissa saw a gentle smile, something she had not seen in years. The man took both of his large calloused hands and held her both sides of her face before he moved in for the kiss. It was both long and soft and for Melissa it was the first kiss given out of kindness that she had had in
many years. She would have been happy if that last kiss took away her
final breath but she knew she needed to live just a little bit longer.
“Thank you,” Melissa said as a tear fell from her face.
“It is I who should be thanking you. This war will finally end because of you,” the Centurion replied as he put his mask back in place.
“This war should never have started.” Melissa sighed as she was lifted up into the Centurion’s arms. Now able to see further down the tunnel she saw an endless line of men dressed in black and red armor, their weapons in hand.
As Melissa guided the Centurions through the Labyrinth, the Centurion who kissed her talked to her to make sure she maintained consciousness.
“I would like to apologize for that kiss... you are the first woman I have done that with.”
“A virgin Centurion,” Melissa weakly chuckled.
“I am no virgin.” The Centurion replied as if he had just been insulted. “I’ve not been one since I was seventeen.”
“So it’s true...”
“Yes,” the Centurion nodded. “Is what they say about the Regent true?”
“Yes... she finds the very sight of men to be abhorrent. As for me... you are the first man I have let kiss me since I left my husband to join Eleanor on her grand adventure.”
“Did you hate him so much?”
“No... to be honest I actually liked my husband even if I he could be boring at times. I was just never meant to be a wife. The Regent promised me an adventure and that is what she gave me.”
“And how was it?”
“The sex was different... you men always tend to be in a rush. I enjoyed it and have no regrets. It was liberating not having to depend on a man... and for a while it outweighed the Regent’s faults.”
“I guess she has many of them.” “Only two, but they will be her undoing.” “What are they?”
“First... she is very insecure. It became worse after she was made
Regent. Even being ruler of Qul Tos, she did not feel she had enough
power to be safe from her enemies.”
“What is the other?” the Centurion asked.
“She hates men... all men, including her son. Her hatred has such a hold over her that it has made her irrational.”
“Why hate men in the first place?”
“Her father raped her, King Daslan treated her like an ornament, Agamemnon used her to produce a child she never wanted, and his highness... well.”
“Each time her ladyship had sex with a man she felt as if she were being invaded, poisoned almost. The very idea that a male child grew inside her for nine months was too much for her emotionally; it twisted her to the point of insanity.” It pained Melissa to admit this last.
“Is his highness safe?” the Centurion asked concerned.
“With me no longer able to protect him... no.”
“You have been protecting him?”
“He is the only child I’ve ever raised even though I abandoned my own daughter to serve as the Regent’s bodyguard. I and my comrades were attempting to escape with him. Her ladyship found out and killed all my friends... all thanks to an old grudge,” Melissa said as she gave Rachel, now tied and gagged, a hard stare.
“I promise you will be remembered. I will see your name in the Legatio’s songs,” the Centurion swore.
“Then you will need to know my name.” Melissa chuckled.
“True.” The Centurion laughed.
“I am Melissa Arkridge, former captain of the Regent’s bodyguard.”
“Arkridge... that is indeed a famous name.”
“If you think you know who I once was let it fade from your mind,” Melissa pleaded. “I will not have my husband learn the cost of my decisions.”
“If that is what you wish,” the Centurion nodded.
“And what is your name, warrior?”
“I am C-5-7.”
“C-5-7.” Melissa laughed before going into a fit of coughing.” “I better stop talking or else you will never make it,” the
Centurion apologized. “No... I know I will not make it. Talking helps keep my mind on
the present. You need to turn left here.”
“Why do you keep saying that?” C-5-7 asked while he led his
men up the left tunnel.
“Because there is something you need from me to get the other guards to lower the elevator.”
“What is that?”
“My head... Rachel will need to prove she has it before they will send the platform down.”
The Centurion stopped walking and stared hard at Melissa. “There has to be another way.”
“There are other ways but they will take more time. I do not believe his highness has that time.”
“Please... I would not have revolted against the Regent if I were not willing to die for his highness. Do not make me live to find out you
were too late.” “As you wish,” the Centurion agreed as he continued walking.
The two remained silent the rest of the way until, finally, they arrived at the last turn before entering the elevator shaft. “Stop here,” Melissa commanded just as if she were still Captain of the Labyrinth Tower, even though she was now very weak.
“Are we close?”
“Yes. You should do it now,” Melissa said, not able to say the words.
“I understand.” C-5-7 nodded, lowering her down to the ground. As he unbuckled the giant double-bladed sword from his back, two other soldiers helped Melissa onto her knees.
Melissa looked up to see the large weapon in his hands. It was six feet in length, almost as tall as the 6’7” warrior. On both ends were double-edged blades joined together by an eighteen-inch bronze handle. It was clearly a versatile weapon, and could be used as a sword, staff, or short spear. While it was a formidable weapon, it was also extremely heavy, requiring great strength to weld. Only in a Centurion legion was the double-bladed sword ever commonly used.
“Are you sure?” C-5-7 asked, his sword gripped in both hands.
“Yes...” Melissa said, her head bowed.
As soon as her lips closed from saying that one word, C-5-7 let one blade of his sword fall down, severing her neck. Not having her wait for her death was the only gift he felt he could give her. Picking Melissa’s head with both hands as to not disturb her hair, C-5-7 brought it to the Centurion guarding Rachel.
He removed her gag before speaking. “If you want to live longer than your comrades you will have them lower the elevator for us.”
“What if I refuse?” Rachel snickered.
“You saw how Melissa died.”
“Yes, you killed her like a chicken.” Rachel laughed, sure in her own self-importance.
“If the elevator does not come down or you warn your friends I will see that you will die slowly, be it days, weeks or months. I will see you do not have a moment of peace until the tower falls.”
Rachel, her eyes now frozen on the blood dripping from
Melissa’s head, nodded in understanding. Satisfied with her response
the Centurion untied her and handed her the head of the former captain as well as a torch. Rachel was then allowed to walk the rest of the way, followed by a Centurion archer into the dark elevator chamber.
Waving the torch she had been given, Rachel shouted toward the high chamber ceiling. “Send the platform down!”
“You have the traitor’s head?” a voice shouted back.
“Yes!” Rachel called back, bringing the captain’s head closer to the torch.
“Good... what took you so long?”
Hearing the sound of a bowstring being pulled back, Rachel took a deep breath before replying. “It turned out she had a little fight left in her. Gave me a good chase!”
“Sounds like her... we all knew she would put up a struggle!”
“No fight left in her now.” Rachel laughed nervously. “Send the
A few seconds later Rachel heard the creaking sound of the platform slowly being lowered. At nearly the same time she felt a sharp pain in her back while the torch was taken out of her hands and extinguished.
“What happened?” the same guard’s voice came from above.
Feeling the point of a knife jab harder at her Rachel replie quickly. “Torch finally burned out!”
“Do you want us to send another?”
Feeling another poke Rachel replied quickly; “No, no reason to waste them!”
Now in total darkness, Rachel could still sense the movement of air as the chamber was filled by the enemy. However, when the platform touched the ground and she was guided by the knife to step on it, only the sound of her own feet were heard touching the wood boards.
Still she knew she was not alone on the platform as the knife to her back had followed her onto the platform. “Send it up!”
By this point Rachel’s heart was almost beating out of her chest. What would happen when the guards found out she was not alone? If the guards succeeded in pushing the Centurions back, Rachel was sure that the Regent would take her head just as she had demanded Melissa’s for her treachery. If the Centurions won, however, would they let her live and, if so, what would happen to her in the future?
Before she was able to dwell long on those thoughts, the platform came to a jerking halt. Now, all that was between the Centurions and the tunnel leading outside to the Labyrinth Tower was a thick black curtain that blocked out the torchlight on the other side. This time Rachel heard the sound of dozens of Centurions’ feet as they rushed past her, tearing down the curtain as they poured into the tunnel, surprising the guards beyond it. After the sound of fighting died down, Rachel felt herself pushed forward into the tunnel. In the light of the torches she could see that all the guards were dead, the Centurions examining the controls to the elevator. It did not take them long to find out how to lower and raise it. In less then an hour a thousand Centurions were crammed in the upper tunnel... numbers that Rachel knew the Regent’s bodyguards did not stand a chance against.
“You see it, don’t you?” C-5-7 whispered from behind.
“We will all die,” Rachel whimpered.
“Yes,” he replied just before jabbing a knife into her side and before leaving her to join in the fight. As she slid to the floor, watching the Centurions charge out of the tunnel, Rachel tried to figure out where she went wrong. She did not find the answer before death finally took her.