A man awakens in the desert, he stares up at the blistering sun. He can do nothing but stare as he lacks the ability to close his eyes. Some would consider this torture, quickly losing their minds, but sanity was not a concept this man had considered in a very long time.
His senses are slowly returning, first sight and the conscious realisation that he is seeing. He looks around at the desert, it is streaked red, the recent battle quenching the sand in blood. A raven perches on a body next to him, it’s deep black eye watching warily as it goes about its meal.
Suddenly sound comes rushing in, what most would consider silence screams across his ears. No groans or wailing he remarks, putting him somewhere in between the looters and the proper scavengers. The raven continues to stare as it sips at something inside a rib cage, as if washing its meal down with wine.
Next comes smell and with it a bit of taste, the stench of rotting meat seems to swim within his skull, overwhelming all thoughts for a time. He tastes nothing but dry sand, the sensation runs all the way down the back of his throat, a powerful thirst pulls on his thoughts. He looks down at the bloody pool next to his face, stretching his tongue in a vain attempt to squash its incessant yearning, but the blood has dried quickly in the sun, it tastes like an egg long boiled it does nothing but mix with the sand that still fills his mouth. The raven caws in mockery as it continues to feast.
It takes some time but eventually the rest of his senses return, last but not least is the pain. The all encompassing signals to his brain that his body is broken, shattered. The feeling would overwhelm a lesser man but again, he dealt with losing his mind long ago, it was less exciting than he had hoped.
He sits up, despite the protestations and significant bleeding from his lower half, and takes note of his situation. No left arm, it sits still clutching his shield, both covered in a thin layer of the all pervasive sand. Some long cut adorns his chest, probably a deflecting blow once he lost his shield. Both would take a time to grow back, he coughs up a sigh, expelling the gel that’s formed from his returning saliva and the sandy cavern that is his mouth.
The raven notices his change in condition but does not flinch from his movements. The man takes note of his clothing, a uniform of red, he tries to remember his name. An? Ach? Antony? Antonidus? “Achilles” squawks the raven. Now the pain returns, the true pain. Memories of ages long past, loves long lost and battles that failed to bring the end he yearns for. The pain reignites the flame, his rage, the burning anger that has toppled empires and destroyed gods. He uses it to try and stand, stumbling up with only one arm, the flame quickly quenched by failure.
“Tsk tsk, always so hasty my friend.” A familiar voice and familiar form watch Achilles flail in the sand.
“rrrrrrrrggggghhh!” His tormentor brings back the flame as quickly as it was gone but his tongue does not co operate to convey his anger.
“Inside voices remember?” The words invade his mind. The invasion is met with a reply, a memory, of a woman he once raped simply because she resembled his tormentor. “Ah yes, her, how mature of you.”
“Unless condescension cures me of this curse leave me to my suffering your torturous fool! Achilles swings his remaining arm at the man now sitting across the body of the dead soldier next to him. Upon contact the man bursts into dust, reforming as the arm passes through.
“You can’t touch me and I can’t touch you, this is how it has been. This is how it will be. Remember?” The man stands from his perch, clad in all black he wears a sharp face with a black curly beard, he is taller than most men but is otherwise unremarkable. The raven perches on his shoulder, its gaze still fixated.
“I always remember. I remember my curse as much as I remember your promise. I used to believe the Gods were bound by their word but you have done nothing but taunt me with your failure.” Achilles spits in his direction, even that piercing through the smoky form of his condescending friend.
“It is not I who cursed you oh son of Peleus but my promise remains and I have been trying, while you wage your little vendettas across the planes of man.” The man in black makes a dismissive gesture to the scene around him. “The Fates have forbidden you from me, I have pleaded your case but they are not easily swayed. They are still wounded from when first your thread was frayed but failed to break.”
“A thousand years and yet you still deny you doomed me to this existence?” Achilles stands up again, this time succeeding as he is lectured, he doesn’t bother to brush off the sand.
“A thousand years and you still think I care to lie to you. You were fated to die, this much the Fates have told me. But you have missed your chance and I mine, so we must continue to explore alternate paths. Why do I find you here?” He looks around derisively at the bodies strewn in the sand. “Pfft, Romans.”
Achilles looks down at his tattered uniform in disgust. “They are arrogant and foolish but they fight with a passion that is yet to be sapped by the failings of their Gods. Perhaps it is purely tenacity that bars your entry to their lands, I do not know.” He makes a conscious effort to not betray his thoughts, glad that this early muddled state doesn’t allow him much access to fresher memories.
The man in black looks on the stumbling form with new disdain. “You still hide things from me? After all I have done, your petty anger is still what you cling to most. I bend the rules that govern even gods and you find me wanting? So be it Achilles, my word stands but do not think your next recovery so swift oh great Achaean.”
Achilles words return, he uses them as the only weapon available to him. “Your threats scar me not oh great Hades, King of the Underworld, fate of all men!” He spits each word, flailing the three good fingers on his good arm “Find me peace or find me not, I would prefer to suffer this existence without your toothless bite!”
Hades reels back, seemingly hurt, he shields his face with his robe in mockery. “Is this how it must be oh brave slayer of Hector? As you wish. Remember find me the door to Rome and I will find you a way through mine. Until then, do not call on me next you find yourself weeping for Patroclus or Alexander, their deeds will not out way your insolence.”
Failing a worthy reply Achilles draws his Gladius in anger, stabbing at the ghostly form that begins to drift back into the sand. He yells obscenities in all the languages he has learned, mostly as catharsis for his flowering pain.
Sextus continues to watch from the dune as a one armed man in the distance flails at a raven with his sword, the raven nimbly avoiding each blow with ease, curses echoing out across the dunes. He turns to his friend, nudging him on the shoulder, “Check out this bloke, lost his fucking mind.”