Chapter 24

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"Givin up on'em, aren't ya?" 

Dawn dropped. Tao was the only one among all of them that couldn't see in the dark. He raised up the amulet that had a glowing stone inside. Their guide was looking back at him, grinning at him with a sly smile.

Tao answered, "nonsense, I thought the meeting went well."

"Hohoho," she threw her head back as she laughed. It was peculiarly strange, giving her over expressive body a contrast to her miniature frame. She was much smaller than Ezra and Shida, and he suspected she was on the cusp of adulthood. Her leafy tailored cloak emphasized her frame. The hoody covered her eyes with a lustrous shadow, forcing them to focus on her overzealous smile. "What makes you think that, my tiny eyed friend?"

Tao's eyes rolled. He answered, "I never wanted to make Corinth take up arms against Athens, I just wanted them to not take arms against Persia."

"Kinda defeats the purpose of an emissary doesn't it? You're supposed to be finding allies for Persia, not telling people to sit on their hands when war comes."

"Quite the contrary. As a Persian emissary, it's my duty to do whatever I can to make conquest happen more easily. I knew I couldn't make Corinth join Persia, so I decided to settle on convincing them to stay neutral."

"Still," the guide snickered, "looks to me like you're half assing your job."

The situation was much more nuanced than that. Sparta, much like Persia, was maintaining its own empire within the Peloponnese island through forced alliances and unfair treaties. Similar to how city-states submitted to Darius, Polis' in Peloponnese lived in perpetual fear of Spartan onslaught. So rather than try and get the island's Polis' to betray Sparta, Tao made secret deals with them. 'Simply don't fight, and you'll be freed once the Persians wipe out Sparta.'

Tao shrugged, "when you can't align everyone, you only align the ones that matter. Sparta will still fall, and when it does, the other Polis' will fall in line like a rerouted river."

The guide stared back at Tao for a long moment. She looked at him like an alien. As a person would to an unusual creature they were studying. But she also carried an allure to her stride. Swaying forward with a hint of excitement as though her task was as much a mystery as it was an adventure to her.

She whispered. "Cutting out the heart, so that the body can whither?"

Tao raised an eyebrow at her, "excuse me?"

"Never mind. And here I thought Orientals were just savage animals. Glad to be proven wrong." Tao frowned at her. With a smile, she turned forward and finished trudging along the path. "Here we are."

A stone shrine was set at the middle of the crossroads. The dirt trail was formed by traveling merchants, creating the fastest trail from city to city. The tomb itself was small, done so to symbolize the humility of kings at the time. Square shaped, there were several offerings of meat and herbs dropped off by travelers before them.

The guide lowered some collected flowers onto the shrine. They were Ash flowers, flurry and white meant to symbolize the nymph which nurtured Zeus. She whispered silently while the others watched.

The guide stood up shortly thereafter, "this is as far as I can take you. The tomb of Caria marks the crossroads between Corinth and Megera. Head that way, and you'll reach the next port."

Tao reached into his satchel. He raised up a wrapped crystal for her. "Thank you for everything, we couldn't have escaped Sparta if you weren't there to lead us."

The guide took the gift, "nonsense. You've two deviants behind your back, I'm sure you would've escaped easily."

"Yeah," Shida crossed her arms, "but without you, we'd have left a trail of bodies behind."

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