Rising before the dawn, I gathered my provisions and set off for Poseidon's home. As I arrived, both Poseidon and Mercuré were already waiting outside. We greeted one another and then set off for our destination.

The three of us rose from the mountain city into the brisk morning air. We headed westward, racing ahead of the coming dawn behind us, effectively slightly extending the period of early morning twilight with expanding distance.

For our destination, Poseidon had chosen a small island off the western coast of the mainland, just to the north of the Ionian islands. The journey was less than two hundred and fifty kilometres. Even at a fairly leisurely pace, travelling at higher altitude, the flight took us far less than a period.

Alighting upon the stony beach, we set our packs down. As had become a ritual of sorts, we immediately set about the business of some early morning fishing. Although the tide was less than favourable, after about a period and a half, we had already caught enough fish to satisfy our immediate wants.

There was some convenient driftwood to be found just above the beach. After cleaning the fish, we started a small fire to roast some of our catch, before settling down for a belated breakfast.

As we sat, our conversations began rather lightly. I did not mention much of my own activities at first. I expected that they were already familiar with the general aspects. Other more specific details would emerge as the conversation become heavier. Mercuré had spoken a little more of his recent activities. Also keeping it quite light.

Poseidon also spoke of rather mundane matters. He had mentioned a few of his visits to various lands. He had recently travelled to some of the Helladic cities. He had also visited the small Kingdom of Macedonia located in the northern highlands, and some of the coastal towns of Thracia.

Following on from that, Poseidon made brief mention of Etruria and a number of the island communities both east and west of our homeland. He had also noted that he had observed just a few Nereus that still lived in the waters of the nearby seas. He lamented that there were few of their kind that still followed that way of life. Most had abandoned life in the seas and melted into the populace of their land-dwelling cousins.

In more detail, he spoke of a visit to the continents across the ocean to the west. About four years earlier, he had spent several moons travelling throughout a few of the regions of both the northern and southern continents now known as the Americas.

Many of the civilisations of the northern continent that he had visited were seemingly no more developed than some of the tribal villages of western Europe. Some were more nomadic, such as most of Aryan tribes had been until recently.

Though still somewhat primitive, he did note that most of those tribes of the 'North-American' continent that he'd encountered were possessed of detailed cultures and somewhat related spiritual beliefs. He mentioned that he had observed that some of their spiritual leaders practiced rituals that they claimed allowed them to converse with their ancestors.

Poseidon found that rather interesting, since they were largely descended from mixed Terini stock that had travelled from the far eastern continent at some time in the distant past, and typically possessed of negligible Thelemistic potential.

He spoke further of some of the specific variations of the many different tribes spread throughout that region. Although it seemed that they had originally come from the same stock, over time as they had settled in different parts of the continent, many tribes had developed notably differing cultural adaptations.

Part of that was due to the markedly different types of land that specific tribal groups had come to inhabit. Those that lived in the cooler north had become somewhat different from those that inhabited the warmer climes further south. Those that lived in the more heavily wooded regions lived differently from those that roamed the open grassland plains. Accordingly, the tribes that had settled in the south-eastern wetlands lived quite different lives from those in the more arid west.

In step with the cultural divergence that had emerged, a great number of remarkably divergent languages had developed. Although neighbouring tribes could communicate well enough, tribes from much further away had little hope of understanding the tongue of some of their more distant cousins.

My mind wandered a little as I considered Poseidon's words. I found it rather fascinating how such a broad cultural variation could arise from a more or less single stream of immigration into a new land. Of course, all of that had occurred long ago and subsequent developments taking place over many thousands of years. Nevertheless, I found it interesting enough.

I also considered just how much of such a broad variation of cultures would become subsumed when they eventually come together to form one or more larger-sized civilisations.

My focus returned as Poseidon spoke of a group of related tribes of the south-western part of the northern continent, which had recently developed a number of smaller communities across a broad section of a semi-arid region. Those tribes had developed a rudimentary, but stable agriculture and methods for irrigation.

Some of them had started built their urban areas into the faces of volcanic-rock cliffs and the like. Others had just started building some of their townships from mud brick. Though some comparisons could be drawn, it was nothing quite like the more recent city-building civilisations nearer to our home. It seemed possible that those groups might develop further over the course of time, but remained yet to be seen.

Further south, Poseidon had visited some more developed societies. The most established cities at that time were located in the eastern part of what would later become known as Mexico. There were a group of cities of a loosely bound society, later referred to as Olmec by others occupying the same general region.

At that time, they represented the oldest and most developed culture of that region. The first of their settlements had been established more than a thousand years earlier. The urban structures were perhaps more reminiscent of some of the cities of our own region. They were skilled in the various trades of the like of our nearby regions. They had their own system of counting and measurements, along with a written language. They had also developed a notable level of understanding from astronomical observation and had utilised that knowledge to construct a relatively accurate calendar.

Although still in a state of ongoing change, the culture had become well established in the region. They had also developed a relatively complex system of government to manage their society.

Poseidon had told us that he had an accidental encounter with a local when he first began to observe one of their cities from a nearby hillside. He was not at all disguised at that time, and the local had seen him as he truly was. The local man had apparently fixated upon Poseidon's bearded appearance and thought him to be one of their gods. Typically, the men of that region had little or no facial hair.

Poseidon later learned that those people believed in a god figure with the appearance of a taller man with a full beard. He had seen the stylised statues and figurines of that deity in their cities. Their culture had associated that god with either the planet Jupiter or Saturn. They believed that god to be part of a myth that spoke of the creation of the world and the birth of mankind upon it. He noted that the sculpted figures could easily have represented Zeus. He speculated that their ancestors might have seen him during far earlier times and then woven that into their myths.

Considering the relative proximity of that civilisation to the former location of the Atalanis island, he also speculated how that civilisation might have contributed to their culture. It was also interesting to note that those people had constructed pyramid shaped structures in their cities, as had the Atalanis.

Although it was not immediately evident from the look of the people, Poseidon had wondered whether some of the Atalanis had folded themselves into the local populace before the departure of the city, and subsequent destruction of the island; or possibly even some time afterward.

There was another civilisation located not so very far from that one. It would later become known as the Maya. It was somewhat similar to that neighbouring culture, and likely emergent from similar stock, although perhaps still a little less developed at that time.

It was evident that the other society had some influence upon the Maya. It was possible that the Maya were an offshoot of some kind. There were a number of commonalities between the two. There were also a number of great differences. Poseidon considered that though they might have come from common origins, they had largely developed independently during recent times, having participated in only some reduced level of informal contact of late.

He believed that both of those civilisations would be likely to become the source of a greater cultural development in that region in times to come.

Poseidon had also visited another culture in the north-western region of the southern continent. There was one city located about thirty-five kilometres from the western coast that had previously been the centre of civilisation in that region. However, that civilisation had fallen low after a series of severe droughts. It seemed the result of progressive population density rising too far above sustainability in the face of seasonal climate change.

Many of the lesser centres that had previously held allegiance to that city had become subsequently dispersed. During much earlier times, that culture had traded with those to the north. However, all of that had fallen by the wayside after the near collapse of their civilisation.

That culture had yet to return to anything of its former level of development. By then, it had mostly become a group of more widely dispersed agrarian communities in place of what had come before. However, Poseidon believed that the relative isolation of that region would serve to allow that culture to again rise and become far more developed in due course.

The people of that area also believed in many gods and spirits, most of which reflected the creatures of the wild that existed in that land. He noted that some of the people of that region also had myths of a bearded god of creation as well as giant winged creatures that resembled shapeshifted Gielaan.

Poseidon also made mention of a visit to some of the Gielaan of that region. Although they were far more welcoming than they might have been during earlier times, he found it only mildly interesting. For the most part, his visit comprised of merely the trading of stories for hospitality. Poseidon had said that he might have liked to have attended the official annual gathering of the Gielaan in that region. However, even an outsider of his standing would be unlikely to be permitted to attend.

Since he had not yet spoken of it, I asked Poseidon of the new city in the north, from where he had just returned. I was quite curious of exactly what had become of the northern Titannians.

Poseidon said that the city had been effectively completed and most of the northern Titannians had relocated from their old lands. Almost every Titannian from the northern tribes had embraced the new homeland. Only a few had resisted the call to leave their homelands.

The people of all the major tribes, the Aesir, Jotnir, Vanir, Satnir, Hemnir, along with those of the lesser tribes, had come together to form their new society in Aesgard.

Although they had all joined together to become part of that new order, many still clung to some of the traditions of their individual tribal heritage. Many still preferred to identify themselves as Aesir or Jotnir. They had yet to come to consider themselves as Aesgard.

The city itself was located high in the chilly mountain ranges across the sea north of their old homelands. In the present day, that region encompasses the western ranges of Norway, near the border of Sweden.

In many ways, the city of Aesgard resembled Olympus. The city was suitably inaccessible to the few communities of short-lived people that inhabited the region. Really, most of those small settlements were coastal fishing villages or the like. So in any event, there was little likelihood of them venturing into the more inhospitable highlands.

In terms of function, the general layout of Aesgard was constructed along the same general lines as Olympus. The city had been built into the cleft of a narrow valley. That gorge had been dammed to create a reservoir for the city and most of the utilities had been secreted beneath the exposed levels. The commercial sectors and public residences were set above the reservoir upon either side of the rocky valley. Like Olympus, Aesgard had smaller sized meeting hall for the governing council of the city.

However, despite those functional similarities, the aesthetics of the city were rather different and it was a much smaller municipality. Where the population of Olympus had come to exceed forty thousand at most times, Aesgard was home to just over nine thousand.

Poseidon had found the northern city comfortable enough. He had commented that it reminded him a little of the earliest day of Olympus, just after it was first constructed. Even though some of the various tribal factions had yet to fully embrace the recent merging of their communities into a single entity, he thought that there was an atmosphere of refreshing hopefulness to Aesgard.

Poseidon recommended that we should visit the city for ourselves to take our full measure of the place. Mercuré and I both expressed our interest. Also, since Thorr had come to spend so much of his time there, I expected that I would probably need to travel to Aesgard if I hoped to meet with him in the near future.

As the morning wore on, our discussions slowly turned to more weighty issues. We considered the state of affairs of the emerging cultural powers of the local regions. Although my knowledge of the recent developments of the past decade remained somewhat sparse, I knew enough to contribute to the discussion.

We each agreed that the most prominent civilisations of the near west were easily Etruria and Carthage. Thus far, those two cultures had remained fairly friendly. That circumstance had been largely sustained by mutual trade interests. Given that both civilisations were also actively engaged in the expansion of their territories, we also agreed that the stability of that relationship might come under some strain before long.

Both Poseidon and Mercuré provided me with me some fresh details. Mercuré spoke of a brief visit throughout some of the Carthaginian lands about five years earlier. He had mentioned that, aside from its own colonies, Carthage had achieved effective control over most of the other related colonies of the immediate region.

It was about ten years earlier that Carthage had gained a firm foothold upon the Iberian peninsular. The small colonial outpost of Gades, established long ago by other Phoenician travellers, had come under threat from Iberian natives. Carthage had been called upon for assistance, but instead captured the city for themselves.

With their many island colonies throughout the Mediterranean Sea, the Carthaginian civilisation had effectively become the dominant force of sea-going trade.

Poseidon had added that the large island immediately south of the Latium peninsular could easily become the focus of future conflict. The western part of the island had been colonised by Carthaginian interests and the eastern part by Helladic emigrants. Thus far, those two groups had tolerated the presence of one another. The distance between their settlements had remained great enough to serve as a buffer.

However, he also raised the issue of Etruscan ambitions. Etruria had been steadily expanding its control over the rest of the peninsular across the channel to the north. Roma and most of the other cities and townships of the Latium region had effectively become part of Etruscan territories. Once the entire peninsular was firmly established, the next logical progression would be that island to the south.

With that comment, Poseidon shifted the focus toward the Etruscan civilisation. Although he had recently visited that land only briefly, he had managed to take good measure of the current affairs of the region. He had mentioned meeting with Heraklés during his visit. Heraklés had passed a great deal of time among the Etruscans and their vassal states, and was able to offer a great level of insight.

Poseidon spoke of the seemingly firm stability of the Etruscan alliance. After some earlier squabbles, the league of twelve provinces had continued to maintain the cooperative spirit that bound the fabric of their civilisation. Although each of those provinces maintained their relative independence, they continued to operate as a governing collective. Especially in dealings with outside powers, such as the Carthaginians. Agreements with Carthage served to maintain that atmosphere of ongoing stability.

In some respects, the Etruscan civilisation somewhat reflected the nature of the Mycenaean civilisation during earlier times. Although it seemed that the provinces of Etruria represented a somewhat more cooperative model. The unity of Etruria had developed during times of relative peace.

According to Heraklés' observations, the shadow of instability seemed to lurk within the regions of expansion. Those lands that had been forced to accept Etruscan rule over the previous state of affairs.

Although it had been a relatively slow expansion, it seemed that the Etruscans meant to progressively acquire the whole of the peninsular. Part of the agreement with the Carthaginians inferred that Etruria would not oppose the presence of settlements upon the surrounding islands, and that Carthage would not settle upon the mainland. However, there were already a number of established communities that fell outside of the claims of both Etruria and Carthage.

Upon the southern-most part of the peninsular, there were a number of colonies that had been previously established by Ionians and people from other Helladic states. The old township of Latini had been supplanted by such people some time ago. The newcomers had come to call that city by another name, and many of the original inhabitants had either fled or been absorbed into the new order.

I recalled that the ruling clan of old Latini had relocated to the city of Albalonga, by the lake just south-east of Roma. After a brief struggle, the displaced populace managed to establish themselves in that place. I also recalled, that after a time, disunity had emerged between the rulers of that city, and the many other cities and townships of that northern Latium region. Eventually, Albalonga was sacked and the city abandoned. The remaining centres of the broader Latium region had come to form a loosely bound alliance after that time. Each of them maintaining their own independence in that new order.

However, the close proximity to the Etruscan provinces would serve to make that independence rather short-lived. One by one, each of the townships and cities of the Latium region came under Etruscan control.

Although Roma certainly fell within that geographical region, the people of that city had never really considered themselves as part of the earlier Latium league. Even though the first incarnation of Roma had been founded by Ionian settlers after the Trojan War, realistically, many of the inhabitants of the city had descended from other peoples of the northern Latium region, as well as those from the Sabine tribes, long since absorbed into the Etruscan provinces. Still, those early Romans had proudly held themselves apart from the nearby centres of the region.

Nevertheless, the Etruscans were intent upon absorbing those nearby regions into their own civilisation. Around a hundred years earlier, Etruria had moved forces to take control of Roma. After a struggle, Roma was compelled to accept Etruscan dominance.

The Roman King, Ancus Marcius, was left in place, but largely functioned as a puppet of the Etruscan league. A rising Etruscan patrician, Tarquinius Priscus, insinuated himself into the royal family, and later assumed the throne upon the King's death. Though no longer at all independent, under the rule of that Etruscan King, Roma continued to thrive and grow.

In much the same fashion, another Etruscan by the name of Servius Tullius married into the royal family of Roma. Around forty years earlier, after the death of Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullius became the second Etruscan King of Roma. Roma continued to thrive under that new ruler.

Recalling something else that Heraklés had mentioned, Poseidon shifted the tone just slightly. Heraklés had told him of how Roman historical claims had recently shifted further toward legend than previously accepted record. Claims of Roma having been founded by Aeneas of Pylos had been replaced with mention of Aeneas of Dardania. An ally of Troy during the earlier wars and a cousin of Priam of Troy. Added to that, those claims had become far more coloured by other mythologised legend. For whatever reason, mention of origins arising from the region of the western Mycenaean alliance had been down-played in favour of founders from the eastern regions. Heraklés had thought it some measure of propaganda arising from Etruscan influence, yet seemingly well received by most Romans.

Returning to the previous flow, Poseidon noted that over the past forty years, Roma had been progressively transformed into a prosperous centre that very much reflected those of Etruria. Public works had made Roma into a modern and well-structured city. Servius Tullius had taken a full census of the city, and utilised that information to streamline the planning and ongoing function of their society.

That census had placed the population of able-bodied men in Roma at eighty-three thousand. However, Poseidon had noted how that figure likely included a huge number of Etruscans posted to Roma. It also included inhabitants of the surrounding land that might not be so rightly included. He estimated the native Roman population, including women and children, at well over one hundred thousand, but hesitated to place a firm figure upon it.

Still, Roma had become the fastest growing city of the Etruscan territories. Perhaps rivalling the centres of the twelve provinces. In fact, many Romans had considered that their land should become the thirteenth province of Etruria. However, despite what the Romans might have believed, the rest of Etruria still considered Roma as no more than part of their vassal estates.

Heraklés had told Poseidon that the Etruscans would likely need to rethink that attitude before long. He was familiar with the people of the streets of Roma, and he believed that if Etruria did not chose to treat the Romans as equals, they might soon choose to reassert their former spirit of independence.

Poseidon had added that he had noted that the other nearby centres of the Latium region were less than satisfied with Etruscan occupation. He posed that if the Etruscans did not elect to placate the aspirations of the Romans, and if Roma were to join with a few of the other localities of the Latium region, quite a struggle could emerge.

Mercuré and I both agreed. It would not be the first time that we had witnessed such a thing. When the Hyksos had invaded the Nile Valley, the new methods of warfare that they had used to defeat the Geb, were in turn later utilised to drive them from that land. The Etruscans had greatly enriched the development of the Roman city. If they did not embrace that rising centre appropriately, it seemed they might well find themselves fighting it.

Mercuré raised the issue of the other former Mycenaean or Helladic colonies that had been established in that region. He mentioned that most of them were coastal ports that openly traded with both the Etruscans and the Carthaginians. He wondered aloud what those people thought about the state of local affairs.

Poseidon said that Heraklés had also visited a number of those colonies. He had said that although it was not much of a secret that the Etruscans held a desire to eventually lay claim to that entire region, the people of those colonies did not seem to believe that such a thing would come to pass. Even those colonies upon the large island to the south, that was also home to colonies of Carthage, seemed unerringly confident and optimistic.

Mercuré mentioned that such optimism was becoming evident throughout some of the Helladic lands. Of course, such sentiments varied from place to place.

Perhaps, the settlements upon the nearby Ionian islands had become something of an exception. Although the descendants of the old Ionians still lived there, those lands had never returned to the former glory of the times when Odysseus ruled Ithaki. Many Ionians had fled the islands during the earlier times of plague. Many had migrated to the rural areas of the nearby mainland. Many had fled further east when those foreign northerners came to found the new Sparta. Some had settled upon the eastern coast in the port cities and other centres such as Athens and the like.

Of course, a number of Ionians had crossed the sea to the Latium peninsular and had founded new settlements in that region. Some of the Etruscans and Romans were of part Ionian descent. A number of the independent port cities along the eastern coast could claim Ionian heritage.

Along with others from the old Mycenaean civilisation, some Ionians had sailed eastward to the lands south of where Troy once stood. There, they had founded a new land that they called Ionia. It became a confederacy of twelve independent cities, which included Miletus, Ephesus and others. Those lands had been a somewhat continuous extension of the old Mycenaean culture when the homelands had fallen into a dark age.

Up until very recently, that eastern Ionia had remained an independent outpost of the old civilisation, steadfastly confident in its perpetuity. However over the past few decades, the nearby Kingdom of Lydia had progressively taken possession of each of the centres of the confederacy. Albeit briefly, the eastern land of Ionia had become part of Lydia.

Only five years earlier, that circumstance had shifted again as the rising Achaemenid Empire pressed into Lydia, eventually making claim to both those lands.

Although the Ionians had spawned many settlements much further afield, those that had remained upon their islands enjoyed a rather more subdued existence.

The northern city of Iolkos in the Thessaly region was another place that had failed to regain the spirit of earlier glory. Iolkos was remembered well in legend from tales of much earlier periods. It was the home of Iason and the legendary Argonauts. It was said to be the birthplace of Achilles, one of the later mythologised heroic figures of the war upon Troy.

However, Iolkos had never fully recovered from the effects of the plagues that brought down the old Mycenaean civilisation. The city had a much smaller population than some of those to the south. It had also become somewhat detached from the politics of those other centres. Its importance diminished in the new order that had emerged.

Still, the people of Iolkos seemed generally optimistic for their future. Their land seemed far enough away from the periodic troubles that occurred during scuffles between other lands of the region, that they enjoyed a relative peace. Even though Iolkos had not returned to the heights of the earlier era, it seemed relatively stable and moderately prosperous for its much reduced size.

Poseidon spoke further of the highlands to the north of that region, the land of the Makedones. The people of Macedonia were not completely unrelated to the Helladic states of the south. During earlier times, a number of southerners had fled to that region and settled there among communities already established. That was evident in the culture that had developed over past years. Although much of the region was very rural, some of the small cities of Macedonia were remarkably similar to some of the Helladic centres.

Although that was evident in the ruling city of Aigaes, it was not the most vibrant or most populated of the centres of Macedonia. It was located in the lower highlands just north of Mount Olympus. Aigaes was really just the formal name for the ruling palace and its surrounds. The urban township adjacent to the palace was still known as Vergina by its inhabitants.

A far more active city was located further north. It was known as Pella. That place was situated by a lake upon a river. Small vessels were able to sail up the river to that point, providing for a serviceable port for the city. Although it was not the ruling city, it was much closer to the greater populace of Macedonia. Accordingly, Pella seemed the focus of the greatest measure of activity and trade in that land.

The Macedonians spoke a dialect of the Helladic language. Although it was a little difficult to understand at first listen, it was a recognisable derivation of the same tongue.

They also held to the same beliefs and worshipped the same gods bearing variations of some of the names of ourselves and our peers. That particular aspect of their culture had recently gained momentum as it had in the south. Carried to further celebrated proportion by the glorification of the myths and legends that had survived the earlier dark age.

Poseidon had observed that the Macedonian people possessed a deep held respect and fascination for the time of the old Mycenaeans that had effectively culminated in the legendary war upon Troy. However, despite that reverence for the old order, they held some measure of contempt for the southerners of the current period.

At least in part, that had stemmed from the way that they were perceived by their southern cousins. To the people of the south, the Macedonians were still seen as little more than a collection of rural sheep herding tribes with aspirations far above their station.

Poseidon believed that Pella stood out as an urban centre equal to many others that had arisen from the era following the fall of the Mycenaean civilisation. Mercuré voiced his accord with that opinion. Although almost twenty years had passed since he had previous visited Pella, he believed that the city would likely rise to become an important centre of the region.

Although I had yet to visit that particular land, I expressed my interest in doing so. In fact, I felt a little remiss over having completely overlooked the region. Especially since it was so close to home.

Poseidon also mentioned having visited a few other centres located just east of there during that journey. Two locations of note were Stagira and Amphipolis. Both were outposts of the broader Helladic civilisation. Although of little political importance to those of the south, each of those smaller cities were prosperous enough in their own right.

Poseidon said that he planned to visit many of the island outposts throughout the eastern part of the sea. Many of those settlements were rather small and relatively unimportant in the full scheme of things. Still, some of them presented as more influential centres of the post-Mycenaean civilisation spread throughout that region.

Distracted by a pair of noisy gulls screeching loudly, Poseidon cleared his throat, then reached into his pack, withdrawing some wine bottles. Though I didn't favour wine, I accepted the drink in the spirit it was offered. We paused a moment before continuing.