“I will not retreat!” Ptah slammed his hands onto the wooden table so hard it cracked, his commanders startled by the outburst.
Ptah, King Ptolemy, was widely considered to be an unflappable leader. His sister, Cleopatra, had managed to undo that demeanor with a single civil war. When siblings turn on each other, there is bound to be an endless supply of rage. Rage that now exhausted Ptah. He had been betrayed by his own. Set and Osiris allowed this rampaging child to play at being a god.
He missed the days of the Titans, before their warring of course. They had an understanding that was like the Egyptians. They were gods among men and would live as such. The Titans hadn’t pretended to be anything other than gods. They had lived among the mortals as gods. Ptah respected that.
The Egyptian gods chose to live among mortals as Pharaohs and Kings, living lifetime after lifetime among their people.
Now Ptah had Zeus on his doorstep, masquerading as some mighty general. His sister, Isis, was fighting by their side. This Olympian bastard wanted everything for his own and the damnable Northmen weren’t coming to their aid. Now he had Ares breathing down his neck with an army of Greeks.
“Brother.” Sekhmet, known to their people as Arsinoe, pleaded with him. Ptah looked to his sister and shook his head.
“We cannot turn away now. We cannot allow this Olympian to take everything, he would have the world.”
“Brother, I would die with you now. If you choose it, we will do so. I would caution that we can fight tomorrow, should we run today. Raise a greater army to face them.”
“Leave us!” Ptah shouted the command and the tent emptied, leaving just Ptah and Sekhmet.
“There is no greater army, sister. This is what we have. If we turn back now we will have lost. Osiris and Set sent word, they will back the victor and only the victor. Thoth is in the city and commands no such loyalty of troops. Horus will follow his father. We have nothing, sister. Nothing but this moment.”
Sekhmet said nothing. They had lost and both gods knew it.
Ptah’s fight left him, shoulders sagging heavily with the weight of his final decision. Then he spoke.
“Take your troops away, overland. I will take the Nile. We retreat. Perhaps we will find allies. Perhaps we will have better luck elsewhere. Perhaps we will die here and now. Damn him, damn his arrogance! Damn Zeus.”
Ares, as Mithridates, had marched his men overland at a breakneck pace. They followed their god of war and his closest adviser. The men whispered rumors that the adviser was the true warrior, he led with an iron fist and a brilliant mind for battle. It had been at his urging that the army force marched the distance, hoping to catch the Egyptians deep in Alexandria. They would have to fight a battle on two sides in close quarters, where the Romans excelled. All while the Greeks would tear them apart with cavalry.
The adviser had been with Ares for centuries now. He was the key to the Olympian’s rise to power. He was a Titan and a traitor. Though his siblings did not know that. They would not begin to question their imprisonment for more years yet, they had not yet served the full term.
Iapetus led mortal men to war, through words and tactics. Iapetus rarely fought but Ares, Ares fought. Soldiers respected the violence that Ares brought to bear but they feared the mind of the man that guided him.
“Cavalry to the city limits, sweep through their lines. Infantry behind, push to the city. Pull the cavalry back as the infantry engage and have the cavalry sweep through the stragglers.”
Ares repeated the commands to his officers and men obeyed, racing off to their companies to command them to battle.
“Your idiot ‘brother’ is a fool.” Iapetus spoke, watching the troops move into their positions. “A useful fool, mostly. But a fool. We should kill him.”
Ares wasn’t bothered by the suggestion, there was no blood between him and Zeus. As long as there was treasure and gain to be had, Ares would remain in line.
“They’re retreating to ships on the Nile!” one of the cavalry commanders shouted, riding back to his general. “They’re leaving Alexandria and retreating to the river!”
“An easy victory then. Let’s chase them into the water and be done with this, there are more important battles to be had. Much more important. Zeus will have acquired the scrolls to guide us to the Vault by now.”
Atlas found himself following the surging charge of legionaries through the city. He hated that Zeus lead them, bellowing encouragement. Fleeing Egyptian troops escaped Alexandria’s walls and headed for the desert. Ships waited for them along the Nile river, the Romans knew that. If the Egyptians escaped they would return with more men, more gods, and more death.
Or they could end this.
Atlas had seen a brief glimpse of the general staff, Ptah calling his troops away from the battle in chaotic retreat. Greek cavalry slam into the infantry formations, withdraw and slam into the Egyptians again. It reeks of blood and death but Atlas joins the charge that sprints after their enemy. A soldier cannot help being caught in the thrill of the battle. He hurls a javelin into the packed masses, the long shaft piercing a thin shield and two men. A cheer rises from his men who see the throw and the charge surges ever forward.
Feet pound the earth as thousands of men push forward against each other. Zeus leading them, urging his men through their gasping breaths while weapons and armor threaten to become like anchors. It carries them to the river where Egyptians struggle through thigh and waist deep water to climb aboard ships.
It is in those waters that Ptah is struck by an unseen foe, the two men splashing into the churning water as one tangle of flailing limbs. Ptah breaks the surface first, coming up with a short sword in hand to face off against Julius Caesar. Zeus himself. The lead elements of the Roman legions wade into the water and turn it red with flowing blood, hacking with their short swords. Men die, trampled into the river to drown if they survive the thrust of a sword. Some men tumble into the surf and beat their foes with loose rocks, shields, or fists.
It is the chaos of battle.
In the midst of it is one pair of enemies that see nothing else, just each other.
“You reach too high!” Ptah roars at Zeus, coming forward with a series of overhand blows born of pure rage. Zeus blocks them, taking each blow well on his own sword. Until he catches his foot on the riverbed and falls back. If not for an unlucky legionary shoving his short sword into Ptah’s back, Zeus would have died.
Ptah turns to the poor lad slowly, eyes wide and flecks of foam dotting his lips. With a slash he cuts down the young soldier and jerks the mortal weapon from his back. It does nothing to slow him down. Zeus’s fist to his jaw does. Ptah takes a short leap backward as Zeus’s sword slashes the empty space, coming back with a thrust at Zeus’s throat.
They dance in the water, neither gaining much ground while mortals die in scores around them. For them. Arrows from the ships slip into the water, or the flesh of the unlucky. Atlas cuts down two soldiers to see the battle between two gods. His path was open.
Atlas drew the dagger from the sheath and stalked towards his prey.
Zeus and Ptah struggled with each other, swords locked in place while neither of them gain ground. Until Ptah’s eyes dart to look past Zeus and they widen slightly. Excitement.
Zeus brings his forehead snapping down on Ptah’s nose, shattering it into a bloody mess. He spins and catches Atlas’s hand high, tearing the dagger away and driving it deep into Ptah’s gut in one fluid motion. Ptah gasps a breath and tumbles into the water, where Zeus follows him with thick hands wrapped around Ptah’s throat. Golden blood flows into the water.
“Oh, Atlas, we could have ruled the world.” Zeus shouts above the rushing water and sounds of battle. Sounds that fade as their leader dies, unceremoniously. As troops flee with broken spirits, the river turning gold with blood.
For all his mass, his skill in battle, everything that he had learned of warfare, Atlas was afraid. He had lost his weapon and Menoetius was nowhere to be found. A thin hand grasped his arm, a beautiful woman covered in blood and carrying a sword. She pulled him away from the thrashing death of Ptah.
“Run!” She shouted, pulling Atlas along with her. “Run!”
Sekhmet and Atlas fled into the desert, away from the rise of a new pantheon.
Atlas wept as his legs pumped.
He had failed. Zeus lived and his power would only grow.