Chapter 34

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Imani raised her thumb to her chin, "three hundred Spartan soldiers and one deviant, verses three hundred Argive soldiers and one deviant. Winner takes the city?"

Cleomenes' presence demanded respect. Coming from a long line of aristocratic politicians, the Spartan king spoke strongly with a veteran like presence. "Argos rarely ever aligned itself with Spartan interests. With Corinth now losing its oligarchy, we need a stronger king in Argos who will aid us in our war against Persia."

Mimoza asked, "do you plan on invading Corinth next?"

Isagoras was his second in command. Despite not being older, the junior officer followed Cleomenes like a puppy slave, doing his best to serve his Spartan counterpart. "We're liberating Corinth." He said in a rashed tone. "They aren't going to become stronger with democracy. It'll cause infighting, and make them vulnerable to Persian spies and traitors. Once we install a just Spartan tyrant, one who isn't vulnerable to corruption, Corinth will prosper, and become a vital ally in our defense against Persia."

Cleomenes lowered a finger towards the map, pressing against the painted paper laid between them. "Corinth is a doorway to Peloponnese. If it isn't secured, then the entire region is vulnerable. We may even be forced to conquer Megara. Their ports are much needed to repel Persian ships."

Mimoza shook her head, "first Argos, then Corinth, then Megara? That's not a line of defense, that's a campaign for conquest."

"Call it what you want," Cleomenes said unyielding, "these are necessary actions to have a fighting chance against Persia."

Imani asked, "question, would you invade Athens if it meant having another city between you and Persia?"

"Yes," Cleomenes said without hesitation. "For the state's security, we do what we must."

Imani nodded her head. She raised a finger to her lip, "then, isn't it in your best interest, to let Athens fall to Persia, and then reconquer it as liberators so that you may legitimately rule it?"

Mimoza's eyes widened. The suggestion was cynical, but also justifiable if it were done in the name of conquest. The older Spartan warriors, surprised by Imani's insight, stared methodically at her. Isagoras asked, "is that a question, or a suggestion?"

"Neither," Imani answered with a plain voice, "its an observation. I'm going to be honest, I care nothing about Greek politics. If you're just using Persians as an excuse to conquer Greece, that's fine by me. I have no qualms about it. All I care about is reaching Olympus and finding a deviant I need for my tribe."

The men glanced around each other. They almost acted like brothers the way they silently communicated with each other. Isagoras nodded, "clever girl. Knows not to keep her nose in the ground." He looked over to Mimoza, "but what about you?"

Mimoza stared down at the ground in morbid silence. The presence of these men suddenly disgusted her. She'd fought for Greek independence and freedom for nearly a decade, and now she couldn't be sure if she hated Spartans more than Persians. Imani answered for her, "what she does doesn't matter. You only need my aether weapons for the challenge? Fine. Mimoza is my body guard and nothing more. Bring me all the gold in your camp, and I'll furnace crystal weapons so that Thale can succede in this challenge. In the course of seven days, your deviant will be capable of bringing down armies single handedly."

The Spartan men were surprised by her words. Her dedication was straightforward, and the promise was more than what they expected. Coming from an Egyptian, a race of people famous for their artistry in aether manipulation, none of them doubted her words.

"Very well," Cleomenes said, "if you aid us with this, we will gladly help you reach Olympus."

Isagoras added, "if Thale wins. Afterall, what does aid matter, if this doesn't accomplish the mission."

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