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Author's Notes: look at that! The update is on time. What strange, alternate universe have we stepped into folks? Anyway, this is the last "chapter" of the story. All we have next is an epilogue, and we're done. And I'm happy! And sad… It's just how these things go. Expect the epilogue up Friday night before I'm gone for a week. On a side note, how awesome does the new game look? Very awesome.
/Chapter Twenty-Two: The Long Road Home/
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night."
-"Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night", Dylan Thomas
"You do not have to come with me," Anthria told them as they moved through Sparta's abandoned streets. "I understand that you must get home."
"We've gone this far already, Anthria," Farah answered, sharing a look with the prince. "We want to see this through to the end."
"Very well," Anthria answered with a small shrug of her shoulders. "My farm is a three day walk from here."
No one questioned Anthria on her sudden urge to return to her home. Though it had been, until just a few moments ago, the last place Anthria might have ever ventured to, Farah and the Prince did not ask any explanation of her.
Mostly, they were worried. What would Anthria do now? Her debt had been repaid and Capetraion, the man she had lusted to kill for countless years, was dead. She was more of a ghost than she had ever been before, aimless, without a single purpose or reason to live.
But Anthria would live. And live. Until Hades willed it otherwise and since Hades knew Anthria's greatest wish now that Capetraion was dead was to finally rest Farah and the Prince knew that Anthria would live for a long time yet.
"Would you like to come to Persia?" the Prince asked suddenly, increasing his step to come stand beside the older woman. "My father will have a place for you, I'm sure."
"It is a kind offer," Anthria told him not unkindly but still shook her head. "But I cannot imagine living anywhere else save Greece. I shall remain here."
"So will you not go to India, either?" Farah asked as she joined them. When Anthria shook her head Farah frowned, asking, "But then, what will you do?"
"I will… live, I suppose." She glanced over at Farah and then the Prince. A self-mocking smile touched her lip. "If you're worried about my survival, spare yourself. After all, I have been gifted immortality by my lord Hades, haven't I?"
"And if I find myself in need of money, I can simply hire myself out as a mercenary," Anthria pointed out, cutting off Farah's protest. "I've survived many years, Farah. I suspect I shall survive many more."
She sounded so sad when she said it that Farah fell back to mourn for her in silence. The Prince moved to comfort her, but she merely shook her head, not wishing to draw Anthria's attention to the breaking of her heart.
They fell into a comfortable silence, Anthria leading the way. They passed empty farmlands and dry fields, never leaving a single dirt path. Anthria explained as dusk settled that the farmers had built the road to connect all their farms to the commerce of Sparta.
"My father helped them build this road," she told them and said no more.
When night feel, they made a meager camp. Anthria noticed an abandoned farm a mile from what had become their campsite and managed to scavenge meager blankets against the cold.
"There should be deer near here," Anthria told them as the Prince finished setting a campfire. "I'll hunt for dinner."
"Be careful," Farah said softly from her spot beside the fire, a blanket shielding her from the cold, wet earth she sat on.
Even though the warning was not necessary for Anthria she inclined her to Farah in a way of thanks before unsheathing a sword and disappearing into the darkened hills that surrounded them.
When she was gone, the Prince sat down beside her. Farah's eyes were furrowed in deep concentration, staring at the fire. He sighed and rested back on his palms, looking at the slender curve of Farah's neck.
"You're worried about her," he said at last when she seemed intent on staring at the fire. He gave her a half smile when she glanced over at him. "Anthria."
"Things would be so much easier if she would just come with us," Farah protested instantly, frowning, curling her knees under her chin.
"You know you can't make her do anything she doesn't want to do," he pointed out reasonably, smiling wildly at the thought. "Anthria wouldn't listen to her own gods if they truly desired her to do something she did not wish to do."
"You don't seem concerned for her at all," Farah retorted haughtily, whipping her neck around to glare at him.
"I am," the Prince answered, hunching his shoulders defensively. "But Anthria can take care of herself. She won't do anything stupid, you know."
"How can we possibly know that?" Farah asked, still glaring at him, her fingers tightening over her knees. "We cannot even begin to guess what Anthria must be thinking. Everything has been taken from her."
"What would you have me do?" the Prince wanted to know, suddenly sounding weary. "I honestly have no idea of my own."
"I don't know," Farah answered, frustrated. "I just wish there was something we could do for her. Anything."
"What? I—she's help us a lot, hasn't she? I don't want her… to have to be alone after all that's happened." Farah gnawed on her lip gently, looking away. "But I don't know what I should do. What I can do."
Wordlessly, the Prince leaned in. Farah blinked at him in surprise, but he quickly cupped her cheek, bringing her face closer to his. Farah gave a breathy sigh as their lips meet, her face lifting up gently to weave into his hair.
As gently as he could, the Prince urged Farah into his arms, wrapping his free hand around her waist. She tasted sweet, and she always had. And she didn't shyly hold herself back from kissing him either. Though the Prince knew she was a little inexperienced—being kept in her palace—she was more the eager to learn whatever he taught her.
She traced his lips with her tongue, giggling at the little rumble that answered in his chest. The Prince titled the angle of their kiss, biting softly down on the tender of her bottom lip, causing her to gasp a little and give him access to exactly what he wanted.
They ended up curled on the blanket, Farah gripping the cloth on his arm, the Prince running his fingers down her bare arms.
He broke away because he needed to breathe, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from hers. His thumb stroked her cheek, rubbing the delicate bones beneath the skin.
"You're trying to distract me," she accused and then broke out into another small giggle when she realized that he had done more than succeed.
It was such a pleasure to watch her smile like that. There hadn't been any occasion for it in Azad and the fact that it was a brand new experience was enough to make his heart burn with the knowledge.
Farah sighed his name, looking into his eyes, watching the emotions, not remembering them, but understanding them.
"I'm sorry," he apologized, recognizing that the heat that had been between them had been cooled by his reflection of the past. "I—"
Then Farah leaned up, capturing his bottom lip with her teeth. The Prince's fingers clenched into the blanket at her sides as Farah drew back and looked into his eyes, cupping his cheeks.
"It's ridiculous, I know," she told him softly, as if she was almost nervous to say it, which was completely out of character for Farah. "But I—well I—I do love you. And it's not that I think I know that—"
This time he cut her off, sealing their mouths together, pressing her firmly against his side. And then he stroked that loose strand of hair back, smiling down at her. And he told her what he should have when he had had the chance before.
"I don't care how long we've known each other, Farah," he told her, pressing his mouth lightly against hers before breaking away. "I love you."
They kissed against, a little more fiercely this time, driven on by the new spurt of emotion that swarmed them. But their hands grew tired, their bodies finally catching up with their mind.
The Prince cradled Farah's head against his shoulders as she closed her eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep. He was content to look at her for a few moments more, to simply lap up the very sight of her.
But his eyes grew heavy soon enough and he settled them both down on the blanket spread out beneath them, Farah gathered up in his arms. He rested his head against hers and allowed himself to drift off to sleep.
That was how Anthria found them, unconscious on a small blanket beside the fire. She carried her sword in one hand and her kill in the other.
She dumped the deer beside the fire, reaching down into the small rucksack she had put together in the abandoned farm and pulled at a sharpening knife. Looking back over at Farah, Anthria was actually pleased the young princess had fallen asleep since she doubted Farah would have enjoyed watching the cleaning of the carcass.
Anthria hadn't hunted the deer down and killed it because she was especially hungry. She wasn't and she knew that she wouldn't get hungry for a while yet. It was another odd side effect of her gift from Hades. On the rare occasion when she felt the need to fill her stomach, the smallest amount of berries would sustain her.
The last thing Anthria would need was the meat of a deer. But she understood that the Prince and Farah would need it. The adrenaline that still pumped their veins kept the hunger at bay, but she understood that when they awoke they would be starving.
Hunting had also allowed her time to herself. Anthria understood that Farah and the Prince were merely concerned for her and that they considered her a friend, but everything inside Anthria was so swirled up and distorted that she had needed those long moments in the darkness to herself.
True enough she no closer to peace than she had been, but the hunting exercise had allowed her to gain release to her pent-up emotions.
Settling down beside the fire with the deer, Anthria began to clean and cut the meat, cooking it as she went. She could almost feel the call of home in her ears, and she dreaded it almost as much as she yearned it.
Home… how long has it been since I returned home…?
Her fingers clenched angrily on her knife. She slowly forced them to loosen their grip and closed her eyes. There was nothing she could do, about anything. All she could do now was go home, answer it's call.
Even if she was to never know peace, she would at least see her home one last time.
As dawn broke across the sky Farah and the Prince finished up the deer meat Anthria had prepared for them, both of them noticing that Anthria took nothing of it and had not appeared to have eaten it earlier.
"I'm not hungry," Anthria supplied as she packed up their supplies, joined by Farah as she polished off the last of her meat.
Anthria was silent once they started walking again, deep in her own thoughts. She looked so perturbed by what went on in the inner working of her mind that neither Farah nor the Prince dared question her on them.
It fell into a rather easy pattern of walking. Without gods and wars egging them on everything seemed so much easier, for Farah and the Prince at least. Anthria seemed to get heavier with each step.
When night fell, they rested, but only until Anthria saw the break of dawn. She seemed unable to stop herself from continuing onward and Farah and the Prince were force to keep up.
Three days had been an accurate prediction of travel for them.
"What is it?" Farah asked as Anthria came to a sudden halt.
"This is…" Anthria shook her head and the wistful tone left her voice. She glanced over at them and pointed her head further up the dirt path they traveled. "I remember playing on this road as a child. It used to be full of merchants from Sparta and they would sometimes toss me treats."
"This is your home? Truly?" the Prince demanded, absurdly excited to see the area where Anthria had grown up.
The dirt path was surrounded by rolling hills on each side, healthy, full grass spurting softly from the ground. The sky was blue and clear above them and it seemed too tranquil and pleasant for a woman such as Anthria.
"Yes, there… is a village just up this road," Anthria told them and her shoulders stiffened. "My farm is just past that… do you mind if we… do not go through the village?"
Farah and the Prince exchanged looks.
"That's fine," the Prince said at length and Anthria nodded to them, quickly leading them off the path and into the rolling hills.
"So, this is your family farm?" Farah asked, trying to picture a young Anthria growing up with horses and livestock and having do chores. Picturing Anthria young was hard enough, but doing such trivial and ordinary things impossible.
"Well, no. This farmhouse is my husband's," Anthria answered. "Ours was just outside the village, his was farther away. But this became my home much easier than my parents' farmhouse did. My father and mother came to love it as well. When my father's legs failed him, my husband was kind enough to allow them to live with us."
"You loved them," the Prince said softly, not sure what else he could say. Everything about Anthria seemed so tragic even as it seemed so impossibly strong.
"Yes. So very much."
In silence they arrived at Anthria's homestead. And Farah saw why Anthria's mother and father come to love the farmhouse that had belonged to Anthria's husband.
It looked so peaceful, situated between the beautiful green hills. The home, a squat, open house, was fenced off by a short stone wall. In the distance loomed the silhouette of the barn and animal pens. A tiny garden grew in front of the house, the plants overgrown now and reaching far over the stone wall.
Anthria moved slowly, as if her legs had failed her. She came around the stone wall, looking over at the weeds that had uprooted the dirt path leading to the porch of her home.
"Did no one come to take care of the house?" Anthria demanded softly, mostly to herself. "But we and the village had been such friends, I thought they would…"
"Anthria—" the Prince began and Anthria shook her head softly.
"I'm alright," Anthria said suddenly, glancing over at them, her eyes still unreadable. "It was foolish of me not to realize that this place would be abandoned. The people would stay away because of what had happened here."
Before Farah or the Prince could say anything to her, Anthria moved past the stone fence. The front yard of her home was large and she had spent a number of hours during the day in it, planting her garden and hanging out her laundry, watching her son as he played war just outside the wall.
Carefully, she stepped into the overgrown weeds, kicking them away gently with her feet. A clothing line still hung in the garden, all but gone with age.
"I buried them here," Anthria said suddenly, pushing aside more weeds. "Beside what they brought home of my husband(1)."
The weeds parted to reveal the four graves, grass and roots entwining along them. They were just simple stones, adorned with no names, but Anthria knew each one by heart and knew which one carried the body of her husband and her son and her mother and her father.
She bent down on one knee and touched the gravestone that belonged to her son. Momma's home, she thought softly, nearly smiling at the cold stone. I'm sorry I stayed away for so long.
"I have not been home since I buried them," Anthria said softly, glancing over at the other gravestones that decorated the once charming garden.
"Anthria," Farah called, approaching her, a feeling of dread settling in her stomach. "Let's go. There's nothing here for you now. Come with us to Persia, or India. Please leave this behind."
"We would welcome you," the Prince pointed out, knowing exactly what Farah was feeling. There was something that lay in wait for them in this spot. "What can you gain by living in the past?"
"It's funny," Anthria went on as if she hadn't heard them. "This place was meant to remain the same for so long… yet it changes long before I do. I am the same. I will always be the same, while this place changes…"
"Anthria, please!" Farah cried and moved forward to grip her shoulder.
"I need to be here," was all Anthria said and stepped out of Farah's grip, moving toward what had once been her hearth and home.
Age had deteriorated much of its major walls. Cracks and dents lined the wood and stone that had been used to make it, yet Anthria could imagine so perfectly what it had once looked like. The smells and sounds and tastes of her former home.
Her legs took her home. She felt a dull buzzing in her ear, like something whispering there, whispering to her, but she ignored it and continued on. She could imagine her mother puttering around the kitchen, Anthria's son chasing her around, begging for a treat that her mother knew so well how to make.
I miss you all so much, she thought, allowing the grief of missing them to pour in her for the first time in so long.
She stepped into the open, dirt area just before the porch of her home, staring up at the slanted, slab roof, imaging watching her husband working to fix leaks and cracks in them during his last vacation home.
It was as if all strength left her. She felt the blood rushing to her feet, heard the roaring in her ears, but she was already so far gone that wasn't truly aware of it anymore. She was staring at her house, trapped in the past, seeing only the good, seeing what it had been before.
Suddenly, all Anthria could see was the happy. It was as if everything except those tender moments had been erased. Her soul sighed in ecstasy as her body shook with tiredness.
There was a swish of a chiton and Anthria blinked, looking down at the tiny, ghostly girl that walked out of her home. Her face was young and innocent and her chiton was as white as snow.
"Welcome, Anthria," the high priestess of Athena said, smiling as she held out her arms toward the woman. "I've been waiting for you."
"Hey!" the Prince shouted, racing toward Anthria with Farah at his side as Anthria's knees buckled and she all but collapsed into the little girl's arm.
"Stop! What are you doing to her!?" Farah demanded as she notched an arrow.
But suddenly they came to a crashing halt. An invisible barrier bared their path to Anthria. The Prince crashed his arm against, trying to break throw as Farah notched an arrow and let it fly.
"We can't get through!" the Prince hissed, rapping his arm against the shield, sweat rolling down the side of his face.
"Hey! Hey! Anthria!" Farah called.
Neither of the two people in the barrier paid them any mind. The young girl was stroking Anthria's hair as the older woman settled her head against her breast, all but collapsed into the dirt.
"Hades cannot touch this place," the girl said at last, her voice soft and soothing, as were her fingers through Anthria's hair. "That is why… here you will find peace. I will take you to them."
"For countless years," Anthria whispered weakly, closing her eyes against the weakness that swarmed her. "I sought my own death… only to find now that perhaps I had never really lived."
"You lived," the girl answered, lowering Anthria's weary head to the dirt. "But you forgot how to so long ago that it is as if you never had."
"Perhaps," she agreed.
"Rest well, Anthria."
And then she saw them, walking toward her. Not in body, no, but their spirits calling out to her, ready to take her home after they had been separated for so long. Anthria's face, nearly slack, smiled as she reached to them with her soul.
Her son… his hand caught in the strong grip of his father.
"I see…" Anthria murmured, her right hand twitching. "I see them…"
"Mama, I missed you," her little boy said, reaching out toward her with his free hand. "I've been so lonely without you."
"Welcome back, my love," her husband said, his handsome face curled into a smile. "You sure know how to keep a man waiting, don't you?"
"I missed you all, so much," Anthria murmured to them, closing her eyes, picturing them in front of her, their hands outreaching for her.
"I know, love, I know. Let's go home."
She took their hands, gripping them both with her soul. She felt the gentle tug of it and allowed herself too willingly to taken. She expelled one last breath, her entire body relaxing with the joy of feeling her husband again, of holding her baby.
There was another tug on her soul, stronger this time, and she moved with it, into their open arms after so long of being away from them.
And then Anthria of Sparta was no more.
Farah dropped to her knees, pressing a hand to mouth, tears rolling down her cheeks. The Prince gave a loud curse and pressed his fist against the shield once more.
"You cannot do this to her!" he hissed at the child, who finally took note of them and glanced at them over her shoulder.
"This is what she wanted," the girl pointed out.
"But you killed her!" Farah protested, jumping to her feet, her face wet and angry.
"She was dead long before this day," the girl pointed out reasonable. Her eyes drifted to something past them. "Isn't that right, my lord Hades?"
The Prince and Farah wheeled around quickly as the god of Death approached, a small smile on his face as his eyes never left the dead body of his former servant. In his hands he loosely held a bundle of flowers.
"I suppose I can admit that I could have collected her soul the day her family died," Hades said mostly to the girl. "It hardly matters now. But she used to be such a sweet girl, with such dreams."
"Why are you here?" the Prince snapped, leaping in front of Farah, sword drawn, as she notched an arrow and took aim.
"Peace, young prince," Hades said with a small laugh, holding a hand up in nonaggression. "I've been properly chastised." He held out the small bundle of flowers. "I came to pay my respects. My wife was rather fond of her and she's already annoyed with my little scheme as it is."
"Sheath your sword, he speaks the truth," the girl said gently, smiling once at the Prince before looking back at Hades. "I'm taking her soul to the Elysian Fields to be with her family. She has done what I asked of her."
"Athena isn't going to be pleased." Hades reclined on one hip and grinned. "Good."
"Prince, Princess," the girl said to Farah and the Prince. "You have done so much for Greece, so much for us all, that we will forever be in your debt. But now you must return home to where you belong."
"Indeed, you have a story do tell, do you not?" Hades asked with a smirk and waved his hand in the air. "Be on your way."
"She's dead, trust me I know," Hades cut in on the Prince's protest. "What more can you do for her? You put her on the right path—thank you very much, by the way—and you've given her soul the freedom to be with her family."
"We can't just leave her like this!" Farah shouted, her fingers clenching into angry fists as she fought off more tears.
"She left you," Hades pointed out.
"I will take care of her," the girl told them, her voice gentle and understanding. "Please, return home, to where you belong. You must live now, in the way that Anthria once dreamed of with her family."
"Go on. Greece is no place for happy princes and princesses," Hades answered. "I've no more aims for Anthria. She'll have her rest. This I promise."
"Farah…" the Prince said softly, looking toward the woman he loved. She turned quickly toward him, reaching out for his hand.
"Let's—let's go home," she said softly, a single tear running down her cheek. "An—Anthria needed to go home and now we need to go home, too."
"She's at peace, Farah," the Prince told her quietly, wiping away the tear that rolled down her cheek. "That's why she waned to come here. Because she knew she would find the peace she sought."
"I know. And that is why I can leave here and not look back," Farah answered. "Because I know that she is happy where she is. She is with those she loves best."
"Then come on."
The Prince tugged her hand and Farah allowed him to lead her away from the god and the spirit and the corpse. Farah didn't not look back as she said, but kept looking forward. And the Prince, for all the looking back he usually did, did not look back this time either.
"How touching," Hades drawled, watching them leave.
"You're jealous because you shall never know it," the girl pointed out with calm, soothing smile, stroking one hand down Anthria's hair.
"Hardly," Hades answered with a little less confidence than his voice normally did. He stepped past the barrier to dump his flowers at Anthria's feet. "And what goes on between myself and my wife is none your concern(2)."
"Your wife was fond of Anthria?"
"Oddly enough, she was."
A little hum worked its way up the girl's throat as she looked down at Anthria still, peaceful face. She smiled strangely at the older woman and touched her thumb to her forehead.
"I suppose she's earned it," Hades said, frowning.
Then, with a sweep of air, the god was gone as was the spirit, leaving only the body of Anthria of Sparta.
(1) as you problem know, burial was not a norm of Grecian society. The Greeks would burn the bodies of the dead on a pyre and later scatter their ashes into the air. It was an act of letting the souls go. The reason Anthria doesn't burn her family simply because she's weak. She won't allow herself to move on. The graves are there to remind her that she can't ever forgive and that she can't be happy ever again. It's just another flaw for Anthria.
(2) in case you didn't know, Hades's wife is Persephone, and the story goes that Hades saw her one day playing in her mother's (Demeter) garden and fell instantly in love with, so much so that he stole her away and tricked her into eating food in his land, which means that she has to remain in his realm. Zeus interceded and deemed that Persephone only had to remain in the Underworld for six months, and could spend the other six with her mother. The myths leave Persephone's feelings pretty vague, but it's believed it wasn't willing.
x-Tangled-Up-In-You-x: only the epilogue now! It's about as a joyful as it is sad, huh? It's been such a ride and I can't wait until the end comes out.
Black-Pheonix10: aw, thanks! And look, this chapter hardly took any time to come out! Wee!
anon: I'd have to agree with you, the entire series is so awesome! Nothing but respect for Ubisoft. They make some great games.
Littleminnie: I started playing the games late, too, so I understand completely. PoP didn't get the coverage it should have. And I love the Brits. XP It's just a silly thing that I do some times.
Angel Sorano: thank you! And enjoy the end!
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