Ch. 3- The storm brews...
"Now that was awesome,; I mean, did you guys see what Gil-kun did back there?"
""Of course we did sis, we were there too, remember?"
"Yeah," Tiona drawled, "but did you see the way he fried those Hellhounds? It almost makes me wish that I could do magic!"
"Ha! Like an airheaded Amazon could ever learn something as focused as magic," Bete snorted, hands coming to rest behind his head.
"Oh yeah," the younger Hiryute sister hissed back, "well, we both know I don't need any special powers to kick your ass wolf-boy."
The werewolf's eyes narrowed, and his nostrils flared at the challenge, "Not even in your dreams, Amazon, last time I checked it was the Loki Familia that put the smack down on you and Wonder-twins over there."
"And last time I checked, Bete," Tione snorts through laughter, "it was the Captain who beat me, and Tiona got taken down by Ais; you were to busy licking your wounds."
"Ya know what, you two are really starting to piss me off; when we get back, you'd better be ready for a spar. I'll show you exactly who the top dog is around the Familia!"
Yet, before either of the twins could agree, Finn's voice cut in and curbed their rising agitation.
"Actually, you three, you're forgetting that Loki got a guild request last night; we're needed for an investigation. We only made that dungeon run to get you valis for supplies Tiona, there isn't much more time to waste."
The cute Amazon crossed her arms as she walked, and sniffed, "Well that's only because Mistress Loki wouldn't spot me this time; she knows I'm good for it, too!"
"Between your debt for that Urga, and the tab you ran up at Mamma Mia's, I don't think our Lady wants to risk you blowing more money sis," Tione deadpnned.
Tiona just looked to her older twin and gaped, "Not you too!? I thought we were supposed to have each other's backs through everything! Well, fine, if you wanna switch side on me then I'll just partner up with Gil-kun for this mission; you don't mind, do you, cutie?"
Red cheeks and a slightly strangled noise were the warrior's response, before he managed to compose himself and continue walking alongside the Loki Familia members. Ais had seen fit to stay behind and prepare for their upcoming outing, with Lefiya following her lead like a puppy, leaving him with only four of the Core as Riveria was currently purchasing her own set of potions s well.
However, before the Ares Familia member could put words together, something he didn't see caught Gil's honey-amber gaze.
"Ah, excuse me, but I was under the impression that the Ishtar Familia had nested here in Orario; yet I don't see their headquarters. Was my information outdated, or perhaps they left the city?"
"Why," Bete chuckled harshly, "Tiny Tits over there not enough of a woman for ya?"
"Simple curiosity, actually, "Gilgamesh rolled his eyes as Tiona squawked to the warrior's side, "a Familia with such a...reputation, doesn't just up and vanish without a word; the world is too small a place. The same applies to your own Familia, in case you didn't know."
Finn easily noticed how quickly Bete was getting riled up and, deciding a brawl in the middle of the street wouldn't be a good idea, cut in as the voice of diplomacy once more.
"About a month ago, the Ishtar Familia was found trying to start a civil war within the city, and so they were...disbanded, with their Goddess returned to heaven as punishment."
"I imagine your economy has taken a bit of a hit from the loss," Gil hummed as the Loki Familia's mansion came within sight, "My Lord has seen fit to have brothels built in Rakia, and the revenue brought in easily helps pave the way for grander constructs as well as supplies for his soldiers. For Orario to lose the most well-known supplier of physical pleasure known to this world outside of Aphrodite, I imagine your city has been searching for a way to make up the lack of cash flow?"
Everyone but Finn stared at the flame-haired adventurer as though he'd grown a second head, though Tion shook it off the fastest and giggled merrily as she clung to Gilgamesh like a teddy-bear, "So you're smart too; is there anything you can't do, cutie?"
"A-Ano, all of Lord Are's forces are well-versed in more than just combat; he prefers his soldiers to be well-rounded."
"Probably cause of all those ass-kicking's history says that Athena gave him, I'll bet," Bete barked as the group entered the Loki Familia grounds.
However, any levity that had been in the air died swiftly as Gil's aura sparked. A heavy blanket of raw power began to settle over the atmosphere, and Tiona quickly removed herself from his person as she felt a painful bolt of electricity popped along the young man's cloaked shoulder.
The werewolf simply grinned with excitement though, and shifted into a tight fighting stance, even as an unnatural wind began to whip Gil's dark locks into a frenzy "Oh yeah, what's the matter tough guy, got a problem with people knowing your God's a whiny pushover?"
"Bete," Finn's voice was like steel, "stand down."
"Not this time; that little punk got lucky last time. Now, I'm gonna mop the floor with his scrawny ass, he wants to pretend to be big and strong so I say let's see what he's really made of!"
"I've warned you," Gilgamesh's words came out in a hushed, cold whisper, "repeatedly, about what would happen if your filthy mouth spewed anymore blasphemy about Lord Ares in front of me. Since it seems you d not respond well to words, I will give you the death you seem so eager to embrace, and then we'll see how funny you think the God Of War is when he's using your pelt as a throw rug!"
As he spoke, vibrant currents of electrical power arced over Gilgamesh's left arm as black storm clouds began to creep their way across the once sunny sky. Thunder boomed like the drums of war and the ground beneath the warrior's feet began to cave under the weight of his power.
"Gil-kun, don't" Tiona tried to intervene, "if you kill him Mistress Loki will go crazy, and there's no telling what the Guild Master will do to you!"
"I'm sure my Lord will understand," was the response, "he understands better than most about protecting the reputations of those closest to you. Now enough talking! Bete Loga, you've lived your last day, may your soul perish in the deepest bowls of Tartarus for your disrespect!"
The pair moved so fast that Finn didn't even have the chance to get between them, though he pushed his body to the limit in order to try. Ears popping from the effort, the Loki Familia captain didn't even hear the Hiryute twins as they too made an attempt at stopping the death match before them. Yet even with every muscle in his body screaming as they were nearly torn apart, Finn feared the war to come as he watched Gilgamesh's arm get lost in a blaze of yellow lightning.
'Too late; I'm not gonna make it!'
There was an explosion, one that filled the surrounding front lawn with a mixed, dense cloud of smoke and dirt. Midst the shroud, Tiona waved her arms frantically in an effort to clear away the smog from her vision and find Gilgamesh, amber eyes squinting against the floating cloud for any sign of her crush. Just as the Amazon was about to call out though, the proverbial curtain began to lift, and what was revealed left she and the rest of the group in awe.
"What, in the hell, do you idiots think you're doing!?"
It was Loki.
Crimson hair had been freed from its pony-tail, and now swayed in the breeze, as the Goddess stood strong in-between Gil and Bete. Arms, slender and svelte, were on full display with the destruction of Loki's top, baring the deity's bra-clad torso to the world as her hands were used to halt both adventurer's in their tracks. With wine-red eyes hardened with fury, the Goddess of Mischief looked like anything but her title.
Faces could be seen, peering through curtains and peeking out from behind corners or cracked doors, from both within the mansion as well as along the city street. Fear and awe were the masks most prevalent to be found, with some citizens even trembling as they witnessed how dangerous a Goddess could be even without their divinity; there was hardly a scratch on Loki.
Bete saw the few razor-thin lines of red sliced across his patron's body, and his amber eyes nearly popped from their sockets as he tried to free his hand so as to bow for forgiveness...but the fist would not come.
Loki felt her 'child's' attempt at freedom, and her own fingers tightened that much harder around his knuckles. Forcing the werewolf to his knees, the Goddess sneered as she looked down her nose at the usually proud warrior.
"You know better than to instigate something so dangerous within the walls of Orario; or did you forget that I would be the one held responsible for whatever damage two caused.? If that's the case, then I think it's best that you don't go on this next assignment so that you'll have time to remember your place!"
Bete howled as he felt as if his hand might be crushed, and sweat began to bead against the werewolf's forehead as he tried to placate the furious deity.
"A-Ah! Okay, I'm sorry, L-Loki please-"
"I am your Goddess, pup, speak with more respect."
"M-My Lady, Mistress, y-you're hurting me. Please, i-it won't happen again, I-I'll behave just...j-just let me go, please!"
Those close enough could see how the pleading adventurer's fingers were beginning to turn a horrid purple color, yet they were too frightened to speak up as Loki's small display of might rooted them to their spots. All..but one.
"Mistress Loki, you'll destroy his hand if you don't let go. Yes, he is a brute and a fool, but Bete is a powerful asset and one of your chosen; a bit of mercy is allowed, don't you think?"
The hand was calm upon the deity's naked shoulder, and their skin soft like rose petals as tapered fingers settled over a tanned shoulder. Electric waves tingled Loki's bare skin at the contact as her heart soothed with the calm melody that tickled the red-head's ear.
She released the whimpering werewolf then, but turned to Gilgamesh next rather than return to the mansion. Loki's gaze was cool now, her face an unreadable mask as she stared down the Ares Familia member.
"You're starting to overstay your welcome; I suggest you find somewhere else to sleep tonight. In the morning, I don't even want to smell you in the city, go back to Ares and tell him that the Loki Familia is off limits to his bloodthirsty hands. If this monster truly exists, we'll face it, but we won't be made soldiers in his army. Now, get out."
Gilgamesh was left with nothing to do then, but watch from the closed front gates as the Goddess of Mischief returned to her home with the newcomer and those he'd gone into the dungeon with that morning. Tiona stood though, on the other side, fidgeting as she fought an inner battle between what she wanted to do, and what was expected of her.
"I-I'll try to talk to her Gil-kun. Mistress Loki is usually pretty cool but, well, you guys were about to do something pretty bad ya know?"
"It's alright, Miss Tiona, you're right that what I did wasn't wise; but surely you would do the same for your sister? I'm just sorry we didn't get to have our spar; hopefully we'll meet again though. I find you to be very...delightful, and it would be a shame to say goodbye so soon."
"Well," Tiona shrugged with a silly, yet slightly sad smile, "then don't. Let's just say, 'see ya later', a-and we can have our date then...okay?"
Gil was sure his cheeks were stained pink, but under the hopeful gaze of the pretty Amazon such a thing proved to be irrelevant. So it was, with butterflies in his stomach and a flutter in his heart, that the amber-eyed adventurer unfastened his cloak and passed it through the bars.
"To make sure we do meet again; it's made from the hide of a Nemean Lion. Much more protective than Salamander wool, though my Lord had it dyed per my request. May it keep you safe on your upcoming mission, and all those that stand between our next meeting, Miss Tiona."
Before she could rebuff the gift however, as a melodious female voice called from the front door of the mansion.
"Tiona, come, Mistress Loki allowed you to say your goodbyes, but I would not press her generosity any further; there's only so much I can do, you understand."
So it was, that the Amazon was left to watch the one boy to spark her warrior heart walk out of her life, with nothing but his cloak to remember him by. Turning, with tears pricked at the corner of her eyes, Tiona shuffled back towards the Familia home and brought Gil's gift up under her nose.
Breathing in the adventurer's scent of polish and burnt cedar, the Amazon felt a piece of her heart crack before whipping the cloak around, and fastening it around her shoulders as it flapped in the wind.
'Well, that didn't go as my Lord hoped,' Gilgamesh sighed as he moved through the crowds of Orario, his destination unsure at the moment. Thoughts swirled around inside the young adventurer's head as to what he would tell the God of War upon his return to the city of Rakia; how would he be able to explain his failure?
Antares' return was imminent, of that there was no doubt, and he had just pushed away one of the strongest Familia by losing his temper! Gilgamesh's brow knotted between his eyes as that same energy once again began to fuel his system; only this time, aimed at himself.
Such thoughts though were stonewalled when, as if like a gift from above, the most delicious scent of food found its way to Gil's nose.
Roast duck. The mouthwatering aroma of cooked fowl, tinted by the elegance of spices and mingled with those of honeyed ale drew the adventurer's full attention to a tavern off to his right; The Hostess of Fertility. Though nothing special on the outside, Gilgamesh could tell that such a place must be of fine quality if the smells of expensive seafood were any indication.
With his stomach quickly reminding him that he'd gone without lunch so far, the armor-clad warrior strode intently towards the double doors and happily pushed his way inside where good food and merriment seemed to be the name of the game.
Mid-day meant only retired adventurer and shop workers who'd taken a lunch break, but Gil found he didn't mind too much as the air seemed to be filled with laughter and stories. Everywhere he looked, amber eyes caught sight of another waitress cuter than the last, ranging from simple human women to a few cat-girls as well.
Behind the counter, a large woman with a stern yet lively facade oversaw all that went on, and he could even catch sight of the elf in the back washing dishes with another girl who had silver hair.
The tavern seemed like nothing out of the ordinary, but after he'd been seated and waited on his order, Gilgamesh was drawn to a pair of newcomers as a head of shockingly white hair walked in beside another set of crimson locks. Both sets were alarming, and Gil nearly chocked on the sip of water he'd taken as he recognized who'd just come in.
That shade of red was known to belong only to the Crozzo family, and his Lord had grudged against the blacksmith's little rabbit friend since the day Bell Cranel was born.
'But the Crozzo line was supposed to be extinct after helping Lord Ares in his attempt to annex the elves, their bloodline lost forever. And yet...'
He watched them sit, and the silver-haired girl from the back came scurrying out happily to take their order while her companion joined at a more sedated pace; though Gilgamesh could see there was a particular bounce in her step as well.
Sipping from the ale that had been brought to him, and thanking the laws for allowing an adventurer the right to drink as its fermented sweetness past his lips, Gil silently promised that he'd be having words with the Crozzo before leaving for Rakia.
'Perhaps, my Lord will be more understanding, if I return the power of magic swords to him.'
At the same time, back under the roof of Loki's mansion, the Goddess herself was seated on her bed purring like a kitten as practiced fingers massaged the tension from the red-head's shoulders. Thumbs pressed circles into the tops of the woman's shoulder-blades, and tapered digits rubbed meticulously over the major slopes, all while Loki's head rested against the shoulder of her masseuse.
"I know what they did was stupid, but using so much of your daily limit like that wasn't very smart; you know that, don't you?"
"They're both just lucky Zeus only gave us so much of our power to use in twenty-four hours, or else I would have really let wolf boy and that idiot's errand-boy have it. I mean seriously, what was he thinking, sending a kid with such a short fuse all the way to Orario by himself ? I'll tell you what; he wasn't thinking. Ares never does—oh!"
A single finger slithered down the full length of Loki's naked back, and she arched her small chest into the air as the air left her lungs in a breathy coo of delight before melting back into welcoming arms.
"None of that now; you're already tired. There's no need to get yourself worked up over an issue that's already over, Loki, now lay down and rest. Your children are leaving for their assignments soon, and that will give you plenty of time to get some sleep."
The red-head groaned playfully as she fought lightly against being placed in her lover's lap, "Mmm, but I don't wanna nap, I want us to spend time together; you're usually so busy. I can tell them you're staying, and send Roul instead; I'm the Goddess, I can do that, ya know?"
"You've used that card already this month, if I recall," the words were mingled with a sweet laugh, "besides, it wouldn't be right this time; the team needs me. There's no telling what they'll find over in Carthage. I'll be back as quickly as I can though; I promise."
Loki closed her eyes to hide the needy gleam she knew to be there, turning to bury her face into the stomach of the one who'd captured the deity's immortal heart. Breathing in her scent, feeling her presence, a wave of drowsiness washed over the red-head and she fought it to have more time with her other half.
"I guess, as long as you promise then, but...you have to do one more thing for me."
"Sing for me, please," Loki's cheeks stained red as she whispered her desires.
Yet, all that came was a gentle smile filled to the brim with love as the Goddess lover cooed, "Of course, my Little Trickster."
While Finn and his group were just leaving the city though miles away, astride a magnificent pair of horses, Daphne Laurous and Samira came out of the forests of the continent and within sight of Carthage; or at least, what was left of the city.
An up-and-coming power to the known world, both young women had expected to find themselves arriving in the middle of a fierce battle based on the whispers along the grapevine. But all that greeted the pair was a battered wall and torched homes. A wide ring of charred earth circled beyond Carthage's shattered defenses, and crows swarmed the area as flies created a cloud of black over the ransacked city.
"So Cassandra was right," Daphne sucked her teeth, "which means Lord Are's fears are true; it's the Society of Light."
"How can you be so sure; this could have been those bastards from over the mountain, those savages love their mindless destruction."
"Exactly," the rustic brunette countered, "mindless; this clearly has a design. The charred ring is layered with runes that keep all life from growing within its boundaries, while their ransacked homes symbolize the victims being 'cleansed' of their 'worldly desires'. You'll find that the peoples stuff was left behind, but destroyed."
Samira gaped at her Familia member as they moved their horses closer to the wrecked city, about to ask if their Lord's targets were crazy, when suddenly a horrid stench reached the Amazon's nose.
"Oh lord, what on earth is that smell!?"
"That," Daphne lamented, "is the final sign that Gilgamesh may be out of time to get stronger; look."
The dark-skinned beauty followed her comrade's finger, past all of the bird droppings and blood stains splattered all over like an abstract painting of terror, and nearly threw up at the morbid sculpture standing in the very center of Carthage for all to see.
Standing like a beacon of grotesque worship, forged from the very bodies of Carthaginian warriors, was a human tree. Mangled limbs and horrified faces made up its full, gnarled form and a number of crows rested over the 'limbs' picking apart the fleshy bark to the tune of tearing meat.
"W-What the hell..."
"The 'Tree of Life', a practice by the Society of Light meant to symbolize what will happen to all the 'impure' once Antares returns and reclaims the lower-world. Their blood bears the Fruit of Eternity, and nourishes those who follow the Father of Chaos."
"But," Samira choked, "what sort of person would be okay with something like this!? I-I see children in that thing!"
"Precisely why we need to hurry back and tell Lord Ares about what we've discovered, let's go-"
"W-Wait," this new voice startled the two women, but what they found only further turned their stomachs. A single child, covered in soot and stained by blood, crawled out from the shadows by way of dirty fingernails and looked up at the pair of adventurer's with crystal-blue eyes gleaming with tears.
"P-Please, don't leave me here, I-I'm so hungry and I-I don't know where to go."
Samira hauled herself from the back of her horse and rushed to the child's side as Daphne kept watch on their surroundings. The Amazon rolled the boy over, gagging a bit from how rank he smelled, yet pushing the nausea down so as to look over Carthage's lone survivor.
"Are you hurt anywhere, what happened here, how did you escape?"
The questions came in a single breath before Samira finally allowed herself to take another gulp of the acrid air, cradling the child as her amber eyes swept over his frail-looking bod for signs of injury beneath all of the filth and grime.
"T-They came in the night," his voice was raspy and dry, like sandpaper, "there were so many of them. M-My father, he t-tried to fight them off, but it was like...like t-they were immortal. Every time he'd knocked one down, no matter what he did to them, t-they just got right back up; even our Chief didn't stand a chance. B-Before they could kill him, m-my father hid me away in the outhouse; I-I watched then, as those monsters tore my village apart."
A coughing fit broke up the boy's recollection and Samira quickly pulled her waterskin from its place at her hip to give the child a drink. Yet as he finished, it was easy to see just how exhausted talking was making him, and it came as no surprise that the boy quickly began to lose consciousness.
"P-Please, I'm begging you, d-don't leave me here. I-I need...to avenge...m-my people; please."
Atop her horse, Daphne sighed as she watched the Amazon rise while keeping her new charge nestled close against the silver-haired adventurer's chest. "I don't know if that's such a good idea; there's no telling what our Lord will have to say about you bringing a stray home."
"Well, this child has information that Lord Ares could use to possibly catch up to the sick bastards responsible for this mess, so I'm sure he won't mind me bringing him back with us. Besides, surely you don't think I'm actually going to leave a child here to die alone; what if this had been Cassandra?"
"...Fine, but this is going to be your responsibility, I want no part of what happens when we return to Rakia; that girl's more than enough of a full-time commitment s it is."
"Maybe," the dark-skinned beauty smirked, "but you wouldn't give her up for the world, and you know it."
"Whatever, let's just hurry and get out of here, I'm starting to get sick from the stench and I've got a serious need for a bath now."
Nothing was said about the pink tint to Daphne's cheeks as the pair guided their horses away from Carthage's rotting corpse...just as neither of them noticed during their banter that a pair of hungry eyes had been watching them from the shadows.
'The first warning has been given; Antares will be reborn. And all who stand in our way will be made to see the light, or perish.'
A/N: For added feeling, try to find a female cover of One republic's 'All this time' during the singing scene, or even just the regular song like I was listening to as I wrote the scene.