34. Built Upon the Bones of Thousands

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"What is this?!" An angry bellow raged through the Council headquarters of Troit, startling just about everyone within earshot. "Who would even dare?!"

One of the Elders, a large, intimidating man who was past his prime, curled his fingers around a piece of paper. It crumpled beneath his grip while his entire frame shook with barely contained rage. He glared at the soldier who currently stood before him.

"Where did you get this?" he snarled, face flushed and lips pulled back into a rare show of ferocity.

The poor soldier had gone white as a sheet, practically quaking in his boots. "K-Kratos, sir," he meekly stammered. "I- I'm sorry, I -"

"Speak, soldier!"

"Sir!" The soldier snapped to attention, gaze fixing on some point at the far wall. Although he managed to hold his place before the terrifying Elder, it wasn't hard to notice his nervous tension. Swallowing once, the soldier managed to speak in a steady voice. "A flyer gave it to me and asked me to pass it on to you."

"A flyer?" Kratos stilled, fixing all his attention on the soldier. He paused, seeming to compose himself, erasing all signs of his previous anger from his expression. When he spoke next, his tone was calm, even. "Who?"

The soldier's eyes widened, his breath coming out in a shaky exhale. The change in Kratos manner only served to terrify him further. "He wore his helmet, sir. I – I couldn't see his face. But – but," Sensing imminent danger, the soldier was quick to add, "He was a River flyer, sir!"

A long, heavy moment passed, during which Kratos stared at the soldier before him. The poor soldier couldn't keep from squirming, as if fire ants were crawling up his legs. Finally, Kratos narrowed his eyes ever so slightly.

"What did the flyer tell you, soldier? Word for word."

The soldier closed his eyes briefly, visibly pulling himself together. "He said, 'A message for Kratos. Go now.' That's all, sir."

"I see," Kratos' jaw tightened. "Do you know what it said?"

"No sir," the soldier jerked his head up, clearly startled by the question. "It was sealed! I didn't – I wouldn't –"

"Never mind," the Elder interrupted. He gave a wave of his hand. "Go."

The soldier wasted no time in fleeing the tent. Once he was gone, Kratos opened his fist and stared at the crumpled paper within. There only had been a few lines written in neatly printed block letters, but it was more than enough to serve its purpose.

"What is it?" A large man ambled out of the adjoining room. Even though he had a massive white beard, his barrel chest and wide shoulders lent him an intimidating presence. He fixed steely gray eyes upon Kratos, observing for a moment before his bushy white brows knit together. "You look ... upset, Kratos."

"Zelus," Kratos said, teeth all but grinding together. "They have taken her."

"Who?" Zelus touched his beard, stroking it in an almost thoughtful manner.

Wordlessly, Kratos held out the crumpled paper. His fellow Elder took it, smoothed it as best as he could, and read the blocky handwriting.

Hello Kratos,

Or should I say, Erik Wilhas? No matter. That isn't important. What is, however, is that your granddaughter has been liberated from the miserable cage in which you have placed her. I have given dear Ava a new home, a proper haven in which she is safe and quite out of your reach.

I am certain you will require assurance of this message's validity, so I welcome you to visit the Inn. Ava's father will have much to tell you, I am sure.

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