Chapter 3

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Shida and Ezra always talked about the dreams they had. They would take a little time to try and interpret them, and then ask Tao for advice on it. They didn't know it, but Tao had nightmares of his own. Despite his nightmares being less vague than theirs, his dreams were just as sporadic, messy, and nightmarish as theirs were. And unlike the girls, he could always pinpoint the source of where they came from.

A distant village, fires falling towards the sky, and a final order of violence from a general gone mad. It was a memory. A memory that haunted him up till this day.

Tao woke up breathing heavy, knowing that he couldn't fall back asleep again. The night cool was around him, and a chill only kept him more awake. Despite having the assembly meeting tomorrow, Tao knew that he couldn't fall back to sleep again. Those dreams were why he often came off as eccentric. Changing moods at the drop of a coin. Shifting from exhausted to energetic at any given moment.

Tao opted to tire himself out by walking outside. He didn't bother waking up Shida and Ezra to let him know where he was going. They needed their rest far more than he did. He stepped out of bed with his woven sandals slipped on, and left the military barracks to take a stroll.

The city felt so small. Tao had seen nearly every city in the Asia minor. Even the Greek colonies outshined the Spartan city-state in terms of architecture. And yet, the other Greeks praised the Spartans like they were glorious. They admired Spartans more than they respected Persians, and in terms of city size, wealth, and scope, it seemed like a backward way of thinking in terms of in inherent values.

How could people with nearly no architectural wonders, become so admired by feats alone? That admiration and praise through humility, ran in counter to everything the Persian empire was meant to be.

Tao didn't understand it yet, but the Spartans gave the Greeks more than just an example of virtue. Sparta was the epitome. The epitome of warriorism and savagery which Tao himself hadn't yet experienced.

Regardless, Tao was vibrant in his goal to get the Spartans under his wing. Darius had personally asked him to make the greatest Greek city burn Athens to the ground, so that all of Greece would be his. The assembly tomorrow would provide him the opportunity he needed, to turn all of Greece against Athens.

Tao reached the endpoint of the town. He found an abandoned building that he could lean against, and proceed to relax as lowered his breathing. The moon was shining black, hiding within the darkness to signal for a new month. It made looking at the sky clearer, with stars emphasizing their flares around the round circle.

Calm, his breaths came out slow as his eyes relaxed. The chill air passed quietly across his skin while his shoulders lowered. A heartbeat's drumming sounded methodically in his chest, relaxing for the first time in days.

The grass nearby rustled. Tao didn't flinch. "If you come closer, you'll die." His voice didn't break. The tone was sooth and calming, like he was stating a simple fact than an actual threat.

Knowing that he'd picked the wrong target, the person in the tall grass backed away slowly, deciding not to pick a fight with the confident stranger. The grass rustled into silence, and Tao finally opened an eye.

Underneath the cover of darkness, Tao saw the figure crouching closer to a stranger not so far from himself. The boy was young, no older than sixteen, and he was sneaking behind another teenager that sat idly in front of a shrine.

The thief leaped at the bystander, and began strangling him to death. Tao sprinted into action. He slid through the grass and tackled the both of them into the ground. Tao pounced on the thief, and pummeled him off of the bystander and into the dirt ground.

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