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719 BCE / XXXIV Ann. Ab Urbe Condita


When the Sword of Damocles falls, it does so with vengeance.

For years, Derheim had flirted with ruin. Its mischief and trickery had run afoul of human and god alike, and the Asterians — slighted more than any — knew its retribution would come one day. Still, without fail, the plucky forest enclave had staved off ruin in the face of a tumult of threats.

Until, that is, Derheim invited Strife to the equation. Its mischievous leader Paige, seeking naught but chaos, rashly invoked the name of Eris. The goddess rose from the realm of Hades, eager to sew a new thread into her web of disarray. Without a word, she handed the mortal girl a relic: the golden Apple of Discord. Eris knew, of course, that the last hero to be handed such a fruit was doomed to see his city in flames. Paige was unfazed. For days, the cold war between Derheim and Asteria bubbled; no swords crossed, but the Machiavellian plotting went on unabated.

Pledging support for its beleaguered people, the Roman legion set its camp on a hill at Derheim’s border; for miles around, the sound of steel on whetstone split the quiet air. At last, the final straw: cloaked in a spell of invisibility, the priestess of Derheim snuck behind enemy lines. Though she failed to assassinate the Asterian Son of Ares, the die was cast. War, henceforth, unfolded. Led by the Asterian Cohort, and fueled by the blessing of Dionysus, the might of Rome poured into Derheim. Paige’s meager force could not hold as her front crumbled, and her enemy advanced unfettered. The mighty Son of Ares and his ally, Eryx, Son of Venus, were too powerful. She had time for but one final, desperate plea.

Paige thus called on Hecate. Stirred from rest in her sacred grove, the wily goddess of magic answered the call with fury. To Roman ears, it seemed the sky had fallen silent — until the unmistakable hum of magic and certain death poured from the earth. Hecate descended upon the plain of battle, her frenzied incantations forcing back the attackers while she pestered them under veils of shadow.

While Derheim was under the protection of the goddess, the Romans could take no further ground. Divine providence is fickle, though. Spotting a newcomer to the fray — an ally of Derheim with whom Hecate had once clashed — the goddess’ ire faded. As quickly as she had come, she withdrew. Freed from the invisible menace, the Romans redoubled their efforts. Alone once more, Paige could hold them no longer — though she made her enemy fight for every inch of territory, the weary Romans could not be stopped.

So it was that Derheim, at last, met its fate.

EPILOGUE

In the aftermath of battle, Hades arrived at Asteria to take stock of new souls for processing. Going through the motions, he almost didn’t notice it — until, at last, he glanced at the great Arena. Finding his royal box demolished and his blessing thus shunned, Hades trembled with ire. Rearing his bloodless head, he let loose a mighty, ear-splitting shriek.

”WHO DARED REBUFF THE LORD OF THE DEAD?”

With a terrible bellow, Hades announced to the people that he had cursed his once-favoured town, damning it to a full decade under his thumb. Darkness fell thick on Asteria. Fog drifted upward through soil, as though from the Underworld itself. Foul creatures poured out of the ground, rampaging in the city. Hell itself had enveloped the town.

The cruel hand of Fate had come already for Derheim, but retribution plays no favourites.

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