Velar Maximus had served the Crown for more than ten years, yet he was still a young man. His youthful face though, had aged with scars and battle weariness. More in the last two years than of that of the first eight. Before, when men battled men, those were times of honor, valor, and true courage. Before the anger of the Gods...
The titans had been sent to punish man for his arrogance, or so the Priestesses said. To punish man for his sins both against the earth and against himself. So many wars, so much rebellion, man had angered his creators, or perhaps made them jealous of his ability to build, create, and also destroy. Velar had worshiped the Gods, but was not an overly religious man, he did not know the reasoning behind the coming of the titan demigods, nor did he care. His job, had always been to fight them, to destroy anything that threatened the crown, his Empress... Until now...
"Centurion Maximus..." His Legate saluted as he walked by, drawing his cloak as he made a turn down the long hallway. She had summoned him, his Empress. The two guardsmen to her chambers raised their spears and let him pass. Maximus nodded to each of them. Each man had twice the battle experience and possible twice the skill of him, and they would lay down their lives in a moment for the Empress. He respected that. they were men of an old era, men he could respect.
The Empress sat slouched in her throne. She was not her mother, she had not seen the world before the titans, before the Gods changed it. She had not lived in a world of success, triumph, and honor. She had inherited a world of total darkness. Her mother, the great Empress who had brought Trabian to its peak of power had taken the cowards way out, she had ended her life and with her life, the life of any memory of the times before the titans. Empress Luciana had come to power at the age of seventeen, and now, two years later, had seen things so horrendous even a seasoned soldier like Velar had been mortified at.
"Dearest friend and ally of my mother..." Her voice nearly trembled. Velar wondered if she was on some remedy offered by the medicine men. "Velar Maximus... famed hero of the Border Legion... it is with a heavy heart that I bring you here..."
The defeatism of Trabia had not come at once. Under the leadership of strong commanders, and the mother of Luciana, Trabia had fought the Titans, and had won many a battle, slaying the beasts from beyond earth, but the casualties, and the death toll of civilians and citizens alike was catastrophic. As more and more of the seasoned warriors fell, those who came to replace them only knew the new world... the new way... The moment the late Empress took her life, all that remained of will to battle had gone away.
A truce was signed, humanity surrendered itself to the beasts. Some were merciful to their new human slaves, some were happy to see the fighting end. Not the Titan that had acquired Trabia... the great Trabian Empire was now firmly under the foot of the Flame Golem Lord.
"Our Lord has called for a maiden..." The Empress had tears in her eyes as she spoke, her eyes somewhere distant. "I am so sorry... I know you lost your own wife to the golem, a year ago..."
"She was lost yes..." Anger, a feeling the younger generations did not know. "I will not forget it..."
"The great golem has struck a deal... a final sacrifice to leave us be... for a century..." The Empress was a beautiful young woman. Her long brown hair fell freely, Velar had never seen it so. It was always up in curls, or a fancy Trabian style. Today it fell loosely, to her curvaceous, yet slender hips.
"I would trust nothing the beast has said... he wears our maidens round his neck and makes them suffer!" Velar spat. "My wife... my Meridia... he did not kill her... she... she..." Velar fought back the tears. His wife hand dangled by her wrists around the beast's neck for days before losing the will to live and being cast aside for a more lively piece of jewelry. "I cannot see it again... you cannot ask me to return to him with another..."
Velar had been in Command twice of the monthly trek to the Golem Lord's lair to give the maiden offerings. He lost a part of his sanity each time a weeping maiden was left for the great beast, toyed with, and finally hung around his neck like jewelry until she finally lost the will to live and needed to be replaced by another unfortunate soul. If the maiden did not add up to the Golem's liking, he would kill the party who brought her and torture her immensely.
"My Empress... I beg of you you cannot send me again..." Velar said. The Empresses eyes streamed tears.
"I only request you... because I am the cargo..." The Empress said softly. "And I believe my mother... would have trusted e with none other than you Velar Maximus..." The words hit Velar like a war hammer. The Empress was offering herself to the monster as a sacrifice.
"Empress Luciana!" Velar protested suddenly clenching his fist. "This is madness!" The Empress stood with surprising strength considering the weight of the situation.
"Madness is seeing the beast destroy our way of life! I have made a bargain... to give back to the Trabian Empire some form of normalcy..."
"But his words are poison! He will hang you from his neck and force you to watch as more of our wives, sisters, and daughters are brought to him! You will watch from his neck as your "bargain" is broken! Our Empress... dying... in vain." Velar felt and heard his voice break. What had his Empire come to.
"If there is even the slightest chance... to end this... even if only for a while..." The Empress voice cracked too, but she stood firm.
"Madness!" Velar protested again. "I implore you... my Empress... I beg you..." Velar fell to a knee and lowered his head.
"It is not your decision to make, I need you in my final moments... before I ascend to the Gods." The Empress looked skyward. "I will bring my case to the Gods personally of the plight of mankind at the hands of these monsters..."
"I..." Velar Maximus clenched his fists. "I will serve my Empress to the last....
The procession to the sacrificial arches was slow and as saddening as the weather. The Sun God; Aurelius, known to be kind and loving towards humanity, had blotted out the shining sun leaving nothing but overcast and rain since the titans had come. Perhaps he now made a case to other Gods to free mankind, however, no amount of prayer in the temples seemed to bring out the sun, or bring an end to the titan control. They were all forsaken.
The Empress was led on a cart, she sat on a simple wooden seat, as ordered by the titan of all his maidens. They were to be brought to the lowest point before he could accept them. The Empress wore a two piece white simple long skirt and midriff bearing top. Her usual painted face and lovely fancy dresses were gone. She was still as beautiful as ever. She was obviously terrified. Behind the cart were her hand maidens, weeping for their sacrificial Empress.
She was only allowed a single guard and soldier, and that soldier was Velar Maximus. He wore his finest armor, and had his legion issued gladius at his side. His square shield hung at his side against his horse. All of these things would be useless against a titan. Velar stared ahead, he did not care, he would not allow the monster to simply take her away. Empress Luciana had warned him of any action taken against the beast could threaten the bargain, but he knew the beast would never keep its promises.
A light rain began to fall and within a few minutes all were soaked. The Empress sat up as regal as if she was on her throne. the young girl looked beautiful, Velar could not even imagine what went through her head. He looked to the clouds and much to his surprise a small patch of light appeared, shining down on the procession. The sun never fully came free, but the rain stopped, if only in a patch around the procession.
"Aurelius... hear my prayer and guide my blade... may I die with honor... loyal to the Trabian Empire... loyal to my Empress..." Velar raised a small sun pendant and kissed it and looked back. "We will reach the arches shortly my Empress..."
The arches were as damned and foreboding as ever. they made up the easternmost wall of a volcano, beyond the arches being the magma and lava in which the great Golem lived. Once a beautiful mountain with a temple to Aurelius on top, now a pit of lava that could burst forth and devour a town at the willing of its master the Golem Lord.
Velar dismounted and hurried over to help the Empress down from the cart. She was barefoot and her pampered feet were not used to the gravel and hot rocks beneath it. She winced and leaned heavily on him gripping his arm and whimpering slightly. He could not let her suffer... he would not allow it. He led her to the point between the arches that opened up and allowed the giant colossus of a creature reach his new additions and sacrifices.
The lava began to stir. A few whimpering cried could be heard and Velar looked into the distance to where the giant creature's necklace hung on a jutting out rock over the lava. Hanging from the necklace, chained to the main cord were half a dozen maidens in different degrees of suffering. Some slouched against their restrains, unconscious or dead, completely given up. Burned and stripped to near nakedness by their tattered clothing.
Others were much more full of life, his more recent additions. these maidens squirmed at their restraints, wailing and staring down in horror as the lava stirred, knowing their new master came to claim them yet again. As they wailed, screamed, and struggled. The monster arose.
Its head alone was as big as the palace gates. Each hand could grip half a dozen of the best legionaries and crush them without a thought. The body of the Golem was made of a mix of rock and lava, lines of red running between its rocky surface. Its head came up and it smiled at the sight of the very embodiment of the defeat of Trabia, slowly donning its necklace of suffering and dying maidens. The Empress herself, stripped to bare, awaiting her enslavement. Its voice boomed so loudly it sounded like an earthquake.
"I see the bargain has been honored..." The Golem said, causing a wind to blow from its voice alone. "Good... kneel... get on your knees human..." Empress Luciana slowly fell to her knees. Beginning to weep. It was too much. Velar let out a challenging shout and drew his gladius.
"Beast! By the power vested in me, I challenge you! You will NOT take another Trabian maiden, and you will lay no hand on our empress!" Velar Maximus shouted. The beast laughed.
"No!" Empress Luciana shouted. "Why?! He will..." The Golem poked the Empress with a finger driving her into the gravel and rock, pressing against her chest and stomach. She gasped and cried out.
"Let her alone!" Velar shouted and leaped up bringing the sword down on the rocky hand. He found a groove into a trace of lava and the sword sliced inward some. The Golem, much to his surprise, hissed in surprise and pulled away his hand. Empress Luciana was terrified, her eyes wild as she got to her feet and started running towards the Lava. she was so bewildered and frightened she had no control of herself. The Golem laughed and blew her with his breath causing her to fly back against a rock. With a scream she fell still in the rocks.
"You worthless coward! Feeding on the fear of these innocent maidens! Face me... warrior to warrior!" Velar Maximus shouted at the top of his lungs. the beast laughed.
"Warrior...?" It rumbled in a loud voice. "Slave... you are mere slave..." The Golem Lord lunged a massive hand at the soldier and Velar leaped out of the way just in time, sliding his sword across the giant's hand again. this time cutting chunks of rock free of the massive hand. Though encouraging he could do damage, it was so minimal the Golem barely flinched. Velar barely scrambled away from the beast as it struck again.
"Postpone the inevitable all you want human, your Empress will pay the price when I chain her from my neck like these other human scum!" The Golem laughed. Velar raised his sword and to his surprise the clouds began to break. The rain was gone and the clouds opened into a beautiful day. Velar raised his sword and a beam of sunlight lashed across it, the glare striking into the Golem's eyes.
"What is this madness!" the Golem shielded its eyes from the sudden blinding light. Velar leaped onto its hand and climbed up its forearm. "Fool! Away with you before I cast you to the lava!" The Golem shook its arm, but Velar held on. Seeing the Empress laying sprawled on her back, he knew he could not fail. The girl's hanging from his neck, the ones still able began to shout and scream encouragement to the soldier.
Velar slammed his sword through the Golem's chest and held on as the beast screamed in pain and anger shaking wildly. Slinging one of the maidens free of his necklace from his wild thrashing. She screamed as fell into the abyss of the lava. This encouraged Velar to pull the sword free, risking falling himself, only to drive it back into the hard rocky flesh of the beast. It roared again and managed to flick him, barely catching him with its finger.
Velar was lifted into the air and spun. He couldn't see anything but the spiraling world around him. Surely this was the end, he had fought, and he had fallen. He closed his eyes, but then heard the Empress scream.
"Don't give up! Destroy the beast! Send the monster back to the depths of hell!" She was bleeding through her skirt from some wound and her hair was wrecked from the rain and abuse from the Golem, but she had a hand raised and was shaking a fist. Seeing it made Velar realize he was no longer spinning and he himself got caught on the Golem's necklace. His leg was twisted awkwardly to the side and he hung upside down. His sword still buried in the Golem's chest.
Beside him one of the more lively maidens looked to the soldier. She was young and beautiful, as were most of the Golem's victims. Her blond hair was drenched in sweat from the Lava heat she was forced to endure 24/7. She smiled, eyes wide.
"Your dagger! Cut me free, I will aid thee!" She gasped. Velar grabbed his blade and sliced at her chains. they were frail from the heat and rust and finally shattered. He half expected the poor girl to slide down and fall but she gripped the necklace and began to work at his leg. the Golem was still clawing at its chest, its big fingers unable to grip the little sword stabbed into it. In his frustration and anger, he did not even notice the soldiers entrapment.
To Velar's other side a raven haired maiden called. She too was beautiful and looked so much like his late wife he nearly did a double take. She was too young to be his wife, and too alive.
"Me too! I shall help you!" the nearly naked raven haired girl wiggled and Velar struck her chains several times breaking her free. She was not ready and screamed as she slid, her sweating hands unable to grab the necklace. Velar caught her by the wrist and lurched. The Golem leaned forward over the rocky ground below, no longer leaving them dangling above the lava.
"I have you!" Velar shouted. "Drop down, and don't stop running!" Velar slowly let go and the raven haired girl collapsed the twenty feet down. She fell hard but staggered up and rushed to the Empress.
"And I have you!" the blonde girl exclaimed. Velar felt the necklace lose his leg and dragged the blonde as they both fell to the gravel screaming. Velar landed on his side and felt something give. He groaned as the blonde tried to get him on his feet. Velar found quickly his ankle was badly twisted but managed to drag himself out of the way just in time as the fist struck the earth sending the two maidens, the Empress, and Velar flying.
Velar rolled and got to a knee, dagger in hand. The beast was right on top of him.
"Fool! You dare to insult my power!?" The Golem shouted. The two maidens were dragging the Empress to safety and the maidens on the necklace screamed and begged Velar to fight on. The Golem grabbed one of the louder ones; a skinny red head and jerked her free of the chain. she screamed all the more and he threw her at Velar with a laugh. the poor girl hit the ground so hard Velar heard her bones shatter. She jerked and twitched, but went still. Only three maidens remained around the Golem's neck. All three hung limply and were either dead or close to it.
Velar raised his dagger and slung it with all his might. It struck the Golem in the left eye, an eye made entirely of flame and molten lava. The dagger stuck and the Golem screamed out in sheer pain and anger. It lurched back and another maiden broke free of the brittle chains that held her. Velar was in pain from his twisted ankle but lunged forward and caught her before she could strike the hard ground. She was breathing, but in ragged breaths. Obviously having not drank water in days. He held up her head and she opened her eyes.
"Hero..." She said and was still. Velar gently laid her down and watched another tumble from the necklace to the lava. One remained. Velar gasped in pain and got to his feet, barely. His whole right side ached from the fall and he was sure his collar bone or some bone in his arm was broken. He stood, facing the Golem, weaponless. It stared with its single eye, grabbed the last maiden and squished her in it's grip. Blood spurted from its fist and it gritted its stone teeth.
"Now you pay... a thousand deaths as you hang as the maidens did!" The Golem swore. "I will then destroy Trabia... one fool at a time!"
"Velar!" the empress came staggering towards him dragging a massive spear. where she had recovered it from he had no idea, but her blood stained skirt and the blood dripping from her trembling lips let him know she could no longer drag it. The blonde maiden appeared at her side and the hoisted it and tossed it to Velar.
"Fool! I dare you to throw it!" the Golem shouted. "I will swipe it from the sky!" As the Golem laughed a beam of light shined down from the clearing sky and struck the spear giving a glare and blinding the Golem. "Aurelius curse you!!!" the Golem shouted. Velar hoisted the spear and flung it with all his might. It struck the beast in its heart, or where its heart would be. The force behind it drove the spear through the rock, lava, and out the breast's back. The Golem roared out in anger and protest, but already the lava was cooling, its life force draining.
Velar went to a knee, getting off of his wounded leg and watched the massive beast collapse into its bed of lava, stones and pieces of the volcano falling down upon it as it let out its final screams. Finally the beast shuddered and was still. All the lava lines burned black and smoking. Velar turned to see the Empress laying in the arms of the tall blonde maiden. He rushed to her side.
A hand was pressed against her skirt where the blood was, it looked as if she was on her cycle but this was much ore blood than that. She looked up and touched Velar's face. She had tears in her eyes and the blonde maiden looked very concerned for her Empress.
"I didn't trust you..." Empress Luciana said softly. "I compromised... you would do no such thing... I think... I think the beast crushed me... I do not know why I was not stronger..." She gasped as Velar lifted her and hurried her back to his horse. The Raven haired maiden had revived the one Velar thought dead and the survivors piled into the wagon. Velar laid the Empress across the blonde maiden's lap.
"Do not let her fade... do not let er sleep..." Velar warned and mounted his horse and led the wagon, and freed maidens back towards the Trabian Capital. The Empress had paid the ultimate price. Seeing the blood, Velar was sure she would not live on the journey back, he had seen wounds in many a battle, and a small woman like the Empress did not have the constitution or strength to fight for her life. He rode on in the hopes the Empress could at least see her palace and Uncle one last time.
Velar Maximus knelt at the alter of Aurelius. His faith had been reconfirmed. Though the titans remained, they now feared the humans. when the great Golem Lord fell to a single soldier, the titans withdrew into their own worlds once again, only occasionally making an appearance, and at those moments meeting resistance and battle and defeat! The maidens rescued had been returned to their families and loved ones. Velar Maximus regretted being unable to save them all, but at least those lost no longer suffered and were safely resting in the arms of the Gods.
Velar said his prayer again thanking Aurelius, the Sun God for not abandoning him and even aiding him in his time of battle. As Velar Maximus stood to leave he was greeted by a familiar face. She smiled and embraced him. Against the odds, she had survived her crushing blow from the titan, proving that even its strength over the most fragile of maidens was not complete.
"My brave soldier..." Empress Luciana held him close and kissed his cheek. She was warm to the touch, almost feverishly warm. Her whole body burned with a warmth unlike any woman Velar had ever embraced. "What can Trabia do to thank you for the victory that saved humankind?" Velar knelt and bowed his head. He took the beautiful Empresses hand and kissed it gently.
"I only ask that we never again give up, we never again submit to our enemy," Velar looked up into the Empresses eyes. "And I ask that you do not ever endanger yourself again my Empress... losing you would be worse than losing my own soul..." The Empress blushed and motioned him to rise.
"An equal will never need to bow to me..." She whispered as she embraced him a second time. "An equal or my superior... you will always be both in my eyes... I am as much yours as you are mine..." She kissed him then, with the same warmth in which she had embraced him. Her lips hot with want and passion. He returned her kiss, thankful that she lived and loved.