The city was a ruin, what wasn’t buried in sand was scored and blistered by the hot and biting wind. Here, among old brick buildings, the skeletal steel of more recent constructions, and the shattered palisades of the fallen sanctuary, a single figure still walked among the dead.
Almost nothing remained of the seven hundred and fifty three citizens that had tried to find a new life in the city of Algiers, the last survivors of the old city from the Days of Revelations, now almost two years past. All that was left of them behind their fallen walls and defensive lines were skeletons too-soon bleached by the sun and picked clean by birds and other, more monstrous, scavengers.
The lone survivor of this massacre, the stranger walking among the seemingly endless streets of the dead, marched without hesitation or a glance behind as she made her way to the shifting sands that lay beyond the city. Apep’s power was still great in North Africa, even beyond his seat of power in Egypt, and with his influence came the hungry desert and the monsters it hid. Algiers had been safe, fighting for their lives for almost two years and finding a kind of peace in these chaotic times.
Until she had arrived.
The girl’s name was Gisela Silva, a foreigner in these lands and many others. They had welcomed her, fed her, listened to her words, and treated her as an honored guest rather than as the harbinger of their destruction. The monsters of the desert did not waste their food, and all that remained of the people were bleached white bones. She paused at one particular set of bones, thrown against a wall and scattered like so much tinder, still wrapped in crude armor. She half expected to still see a sword in its hand. Taking the briefest of detours from her march, Gisela reached down and took the empty white skull into her hands.
She marveled at the transience of it. Thirty-six hours before this had been a living, breathing, speaking person. No, more than a person, this had been a hero. They had fit every criteria of the archetype, it is why she had sought them out, and it was why the city had fallen. Gisela took another breath and casually dropped the skull to fall softly to the sandy ground. What they were was irrelevant, now they were bones. And they were dead because of her.
She had doomed every single one of these Algerian survivors merely by entering their city. There was no innocent ignorance, no lie to hide behind. She had killed every one of them, and they were not the first. Gisela had been walking for a very long time, and she had left a trail of dead heroes in her wake. There was nothing left to do here but begin travelling to the next one, to find another hero and, through her presence, destroy them.
That was, she thought coldly to herself, her duty as a champion.
A few hours of tired footsteps later and she was outside the city. Though likely still within what had been the city of Algiers in a different time, but with the outskirts buried in sand, it seemed like there was nothing around but endless dunes with no hope of oasis.
Cresting a dune, her boots kicking up sand as if wading through water, Gisela was greeted by the sight of endless sandy desert that had consumed the life and soil of the land like a ravenous beast, stopped only by the shining blue of the Mediterranean. She stopped for a moment, seeing her path laid out before her for miles and miles around. She did not know where her patron would be sending her just yet, but no doubt it would be beyond this lifeless waste. She would be sending her somewhere green and full of life, fresh and ready for consumption.
She carried no weapons, and on her back were only the meager supplies needed for her survival. Even then, she needed less than the average human to survive. A few drops of water, a bite of food, and an hour of sleep a day were enough to sustain her. It was one of her gifts, the power she received as champion. Her true weapon, however, was no sword or bow, but something altogether heavier.
Just as these thoughts passed through her mind, a shadow darkened the ground around her, blocking the harsh light of the sun at her back as it loomed over her. Gisela turned and faced the terrible visage of her patron.
It was human in only the vaguest sense, a cobbled mass of bony limbs and sinew held together by cloth, finery, and slithering serpents. The first thing that always struck her was the hideous skull-like face, filled past overflowing with sharpened needle-like teeth in her lipless maw. Her eye sockets held twin jewels that glimmered blue and green even in the darkness she cast around herself. Her head was framed with a mantle of feathers blacker than night, and it continued into a dress that clung to her skeletal visage, save for the areas of her chest and arms covered in armor of painted leather embossed with unearthly symbols. What dominated the view, however, were her wings.
Four enormous bat-like wings spread out from her back, each flapping independently to keep her massive form aloft. Chains and jewels across her body moved across her body independently, intertwining with the glistening scales of serpents with each mighty beat of her wings.
All told this creature, this monstrous god, was over ten meters tall as it approached her, filling her vision with the terrible movement of her undead form. When she spoke, it was with a whistling shriek like a howling wind past her ears. Gisela made no move, no cowering gesture. This monster didn’t scare her anymore.
“Well done, child” the creature said, and Gisela could not help but darken at the laughing sarcasm in her voice, a sound like grinding swords as it echoed past her teeth. “Another city gone to rot, you truly are a masterful hero killer.”
“Where am I going next?” Gisela did not like wasting words with this beast. The longer she could go without its tyranny and bloodlust, the better.
“Far from here. There is little left of civilization to be found in this desert. Apep the Serpent has seen to that.”
Gisela snorted derisively before repeating “Where am I going?”
“A little more respect would not go amiss, child. Though your stubborn callousness amuses me.”Again she laughed that terrible sword-rattling laugh.“As for your destination…well, it needs no real introduction. You, my child, are going to Rome.”
“Rome.” Gisela repeated, half in shock half in disbelief. “That’s a thousand miles away!”
“Quicker by boat.” The monstrous deity laughed again. Gisela did not do boats.
“Fine. Rome.” Said Gisela with resignation. “What will I find there?”
“Many survivors, quite well protected too, though my influence through my cult will soften them up a bit for you.” The demon goddess grinned. Gisela could feel bile rising in her throat. She hated dealing with this goddess enough on her own, let alone the twisted people her cults tended to attract. “And of course, another hero there to be groomed for the slaughter. Another sacrifice for the Dragon of the World Tree.”
Gisela had already begun walking again. She knew her destination now, there was no need to listen to the gloating of a monstrous goddess. Going east would be preferable, the route was almost entirely over land, but that would take her through the territories of Apep the Serpent (running dangerously close to his throne in Cairo beneath an eternal eclipse), and Tiamat the Unborn Sea. The quicker way would be westward towards the ocean then across the Strait of Gibraltar into Europe.
“Such disrespect” The shadow followed her across the ground, and she could feel her presence on her like insects crawling over her skin. “After all the gifts I give you.” Never did the mocking laugh leave the goddess’ voice, and Gisela forced herself to keep walking, grinding her teeth against the impotent rage growing in her chest.
“At least you are obedient, despite your impetuousness.” The goddess continued “And you bring so many sacrifices to me, truly a goddess could ask for little more. Now go forth and find me more, champion.”
Her voice grew fainter as Gisela passed out from under her shadow.
“Find me more heroes and send them to their graves.”