God Conqueror, page 1part #1 of God Conqueror Series
I crouched in the tree and watched the top of Peter’s tousled blond head as he stalked through the woods toward my position. He was after Simon, and both of us could see the edge of our friend’s sash trailing out the end of a hollow log thirty feet away. It had to be Simon because he was the only novice skinny enough to fit inside that log.
I considered sparing Peter and letting him take out Simon, but his hair was just glinting so brightly in the sunlight, and his gaze was focused so intently on the end of that log, that I could not resist. I leapt down onto his shoulders, possibly cracking his spine as we both slammed to the ground. He screamed so loudly that my position was already given away, so I let out a jubilant war whoop as I sliced his throat open. Blood gushed as I stepped off his crumpled corpse.
Up on the observation platform, the other Peter shoved me.
“You know I fucking hate the throat slashes,” he complained as he massaged his throat.
“How would you prefer to die next time?” I asked. “Last round I drowned you in the creek. You bitched about it. Last week Simon dropped a rock on your head. You bitched about it. Maybe you just aren’t a very good sport?”
I turned my attention to the other four novices on the platform. Two of them had already been accounted for in this round, and I already knew that Simon was in the log. But Hal wore a focused expression. So I guessed that he was still in the game.
In the forest, I headed towards the brown leather sash.
Up on the platform, I glanced over at the other Simon. His sharp little face, beneath a mop of curly dark hair, did not look anxious. In fact, he looked like he was trying not to smirk.
In the forest, I appraised all the trees in the vicinity of the log. Most of them did not have dense enough foliage to conceal a body, even a skinny body like Simon’s. A few that did lacked branches low enough to allow for climbing. He could not have brought his grappling hook since we were playing with restricted weapons that day and only had one dagger each.
There was, however, a large boulder right next to the log. A boulder positioned in such a way that, if someone were to bend down towards the entrance of the log, it would be quite feasible to leap out from behind that boulder and attack that person while he wasn’t looking.
Simon wasn’t as clever as he thought he was.
I whistled as I strolled straight up to the hollow end of the log with the sash sticking out. Before Simon could make his move, I bounded on top of the log and from there launched myself onto the boulder. Then I scrambled for a foothold, kicked to the top, dropped down from the other side, and landed smack on top of Simon. Before he could even unfold his limbs, I carved him straight down the spine. Blood sprayed across the side of the rock like a tossed bucket of red paint, and my friend’s body fell to the ground as its lips silently tried to form words.
The Simon on the platform with my other self collapsed on the floor, writhing. “Ow, you sick bastard! End it! That’s not even a killing blow!”
“Let’s see if this is,” I replied.
My other self reached into the gash, grasped Simon’s spine, yanked as hard as I could, and wrenched it halfway out of his back.
The Simon on the platform panted with relief. “Okay, I don’t want to hear another word out of you about a fucking throat slash, Peter.”
“Sorry,” I said. “It’s just, they told us to keep trying different ways, and, well, your spine is more accessible and more fragile than anyone else’s.”
Simon looked pissed off. “What gave away the log trick, anyway?”
At that I laughed. “It wasn’t you down there, it was you up here. You were practically salivating over your own cleverness.”
Down in the forest, I picked up Simon’s discarded sash and tugged it between my hands. “Your turn, Hal, stop procrastinating,” both of me yelled at the top of my lungs.
Neither of him responded.
On the platform, I asked, “Is it cheating if I use a garment as a strangulation device?”
“Yes,” three voices answered immediately.
“Well, I don’t know,” Simon said thoughtfully. “I mean, he didn’t bring an extra weapon with him. We’re all wearing them. And you can use any part of your body, which I think should include garments.”
“No acquiring or constructing weapons in the field either,” Peter reminded us.
“So my sash is fine, but not Simon’s,” I clarified. No one objected, so down in the forest, I tossed Simon’s sash aside and stripped mine from my waist.
“Come on, Hal, we’re all waiting, where are you?” I growled at him on the platform.
Down in the forest, he bellowed, “Here I am!” as he charged into sight, a dagger clutched in one of his fists as they pumped furiously at his sides.
He was ten feet away from me when he evaporated into thin air.
“Fuck, Hal, can’t you last more than five minutes?” I yelled.
“That was over twenty,” he protested on the platform.
The others chimed in unison, “It was almost twenty.”
“We can’t all keep a second body around for as long as we want to, Vander.”
They had all tried to explain to me many times what it felt like. I had heard that it was like holding your breath, and eventually, you either stopped of your own accord when it got uncomfortable or just passed out, but either way, your bodies forced you to re-assimilate, eventually. Others had said that it was like needing to piss, and you either relieved yourself at a time and place of your choosing, or your bladder chose for you when it was time to resume its baseline condition. Well, I needed to breathe and I needed to piss, but I never needed to re-assimilate my selves. I just always did it eventually when my additional presence started making people uncomfortable, or one of the priests ordered me to.
“All right, all right,” I sighed, poised to recall my other self. “Let’s go get dinner.”
“Wait,” Simon fixed me with a stare. “You still have your other self up? Totally intact?”
“Not a scratch,” I bragged. My other self examined Simon’s mangled corpse, wondering what exactly had been the decisive factor. Was it a specific nerve that I needed to sever? Had he simply hemorrhaged to death?
“In that case,” Simon said cheerfully, wrapping me in a hug. Peter clasped my right hand.
“What--” I felt Simon’s dagger plunge between my ribs.
“Oh c’mon guys, not again. We’re four miles out from the temple, I don’t wanna walk!” I yelped, but Peter sawed my hand off, anyway. The others converged.
“You better fucking save me a turkey leg, you little shits,” I screamed as my best friends methodically carved up my entire body. “A plump juicy one. As plump as your mother’s tits, Peter! As juicy as her--” They were already scampering off the platform when I lost consciousness.
These guys always pulled shit like this when I beat them, and I usually did beat them. So my remaining self stomped through the forest back towards the temple all by my lonesome. This was the cost of being the best, I supposed, and truth be told I didn’t mind having a little time to myself sometimes
Dinner was almost over by the time I got back. All the priests and vestals had dispersed from the great hall, and only a handful of novices remained. Simon and Peter, at least, were among them. I snuck up behind Simon and set my dagger to his throat. He nervously sent out another self to stand across the table from us and see who I was.
“Where’s my fucking turkey leg,” I hissed, and then we all started laughing.
Simon re-assimilated and pushed a full plate of food over to me. Then I sheathed my dagger and tore into it ravenously. Bread, lamb stew, chicken pie, potatoes doused in gravy, with a pear tart to finish. I had never calculated the exact quantities,
“Running around attached to a turkey in the coop outside,” he answered. “Not on the menu tonight. Can’t always get what we want, can we now? Not even you.”
“Not even me?” I repeated.
“The priests like you best. They try to hide it and be stern, but they do. Most of them, anyway, though I’ll admit there are a few that really do hate your guts. And the girl novices definitely like you best,” he said grumpily. “Hell, I bet there are even a few vestals--”
I laughed at that. “Careful, that’s blasphemy. Their charms are reserved for Qaar’endoth.”
“If you’re done stroking Vander’s ego,” Peter interrupted, “can we talk about the test tomorrow?”
“What about it?” Now it was Simon’s turn to be haughty. Out of all of us, he was the most academically gifted. It’s not that I was dumb, it’s just that there was just a very long list of ways I preferred to spend my time over studying textbooks.
“What do you think most of the questions will be on? Rites of worship, or rites of invocation?” Peter mumbled through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
“Rites of worship,” Simon answered matter-of-factly. “Most of the invocation stuff comes later. They don’t want to teach us anything that we might try to use prematurely that could get us into real trouble.”
“The invocation stuff is more interesting,” I countered. “I was reading a passage in class yesterday about how to wake dormant relics. I didn’t understand any of the technical details, but you know all those things they keep in the sanctum? Like Saint Calliope’s fingernail trimmings? Some of them can actually be weaponized if you know how.”
“Weaponizing Saint Calliope’s fingernails is not going to be on the fucking test, Vander,” Simon snapped. His annoyance caused several crumbs to spray from his mouth.
“Well, maybe if it were, I would study more,” I said.
“If you aren’t going to be helpful, just go to bed, Vander,” Peter groaned. “Simon, quiz me.”
I shrugged. My plate was empty by then anyway, so I grabbed the last remaining pear tart off Peter’s plate and ate it as I walked off to the novice barracks on the other side of the courtyard. Going to bed and getting some sleep was not a bad idea. Simon always scored highest on our tests, but I was usually close behind. My academic performance was not as important to me as beating the rest of my class in combat, but it was still a matter of pride to do decently.
Also, I had only half slept the night before because, well, the female novices had not taken vows of chastity yet, and although there was a curfew and our barracks were strictly segregated, it was easy enough for me to make a sanctioned trip to the outhouse, and then return to bed in one body to be properly accounted for, while the other went over to wait for Meryn to make her own sanctioned trip outdoors.
I’d known her since we were children, and for most of that time, her body had been about as twiggy as Simon’s. She had stood out only for her shrill voice and orange hair. But in the last year or so her voice had deepened into a seductive purr, and she had rapidly acquired the curves of the most popular class of barmaid, but it was a challenge to see them through the shapeless basic outfit all novices wore regardless of gender.
We really had used the novices’ outhouse, sort of. The back wall of it that couldn’t be seen from the windows of either barracks, or any other part of the temple complex. The ground was frosted over, so instead of lying down, she had braced her hands against the wall and let me thrust into her from behind.
So, when I woke this morning after having re-assimilated my sweaty and sated self into the peacefully snoring one, it felt like I had had half a night’s sleep, and this entire day had dragged a bit.
Tonight I would try to get more sleep, so I brushed my teeth, performed my nightly obeisances to Qaar’endoth and my nightly set of pushups, pullups, and sit-ups, changed from my novice’s uniform into a night robe, got into bed, pulled the blankets up to my chin, and immediately passed out.
Only two hours later I was shaken roughly awake by Hal, who looked a little red-nosed from his stint on the chilly battlements.
“Fuck,” I groaned. I had forgotten that I had second watch that night. It was a two-hour shift. That was a third of my designated night’s sleep. With that subtraction, I did not think my mind would be clear enough to focus for the test the next day.
“Hurry up and relieve Oliver, Elis is already at his post,” he hissed.
I dragged myself out of bed and fumbled to get my uniform back on. Tunic, breeches, surcoat, sash. Boots. Dagger. I made some calculations in my head. If I made another self to stand watch, and left one somewhere to sleep, I’d effectively only lose about one hour. Which seemed fair, and not like cheating, since my friends had cost me an hour earlier by killing me and forcing me to hike back to the temple alone while everyone else was already eating dinner. If I got caught by a priest or vestal? It was unlikely, but at the worst they would flog me, or assign me some unpleasant cleaning task. Or perhaps extra watch shifts.
I could not let Peter score higher than me on the test, not after I had scoffed at him for worrying about it.
On my way out of the barracks I passed Father Adalbert, who was strolling the aisle to ensure that all the novices were in bed as they should be, and made the sign of Qaar’endoth’s protection to him. He returned it, and I stepped into the night.
I made another form, and one of me found a quiet nook right by the barracks where I could only be seen if someone looked straight down from the window and curled up to try to nap as best as I could in the chill night air against the damp ground. The other proceeded to the outer wall of the complex and took the stairs up to the battlements to meet Oliver and Elis.
Oliver cast me a murderous look, spat, “Three minutes late,” and promptly left for the barracks. I hoped he wouldn’t notice my other self on his way back in. But he looked too tired and cranky to be likely to pay any attention to his surroundings.
“I’ll take the south wall, you take the north,” I said to Elis. Two novices was really not enough to maintain a proper watch over a complex of this size, but that did not matter. The nearest hostile temple was Thorvinius’, over two hundred miles away, and anyway, as the priests and vestals always reminded us, we were under the protection of Qaar’endoth.
Elis nodded and trotted off.
As I paced my section, I tried to recall trivia from the last few weeks of lessons about arcane rites that I would probably never use, but instead I kept remembering how round and firm Meryn’s bare ass had looked the night before, how I had been able to feel the goosebumps on her otherwise smooth flesh beneath my palms, how we had tried so hard not to make any cries that would carry but even just the wet sounds of my body smacking into hers had been deafening. I was getting aroused to the point of distraction, but I wanted to stay focused enough to do my duty well. Nothing would ever harm my temple, not while I was on watch.
So I tried to keep my mind on tactics instead. I considered what I would do, hypothetically, if someone did attack the temple of Qaar’endoth. From which direction would they come? There was a mountain range at our back so that was unlikely. Especially at this time of winter, the crossing alone would inflict significant losses. The north wall faced a sparse plain. From the top of the battlements, you could see anyone coming from miles away. The main gate of the temple was heavily fortified, with two guard towers. Not that there were any archers manning them since the temple had known only peace for several generations after it established dominance over the region and good relations with the laypeople. But an enemy would not necessarily be aware of that lapse unless he had been surveilling us for some time. So, the south section was probably the best bet. There was enough forest cover spreading out from the base of the mountain to get a sizeable force close without detection. Those were the woods where we novices, and the younger, stronger priests and v
How would I even scale the temple walls? They were about thirty feet tall. Ladders? A battering ram at the main gate? Dragons if I had them, of course, but no reasonable person in possession of dragons would be wasting his time attacking some rural temple belonging to an order that generally minded its own business, yet trained its novices as if it were preparing to take over the world. Especially when one considered that each member of our order could fight, quite literally, like two. Little evident reward, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
I leaned over the wall to peer down at the ground.
Glowing eyes met mine, and my heart dropped into my stomach.
There was a dark host of perhaps fifty or sixty warriors clustered around the base of our temple walls. A few carried torches that cast enough dim red light for me to see the glint of weaponry liberally adorning their hulking bodies. One, taller than the rest and with the hind legs and whorling horns of a massive bull, raised his spear.
“Spill to slake Thorvinius, spill for your god!” the half-bull commander bellowed, and the night erupted in war cries and grunts and howls.
“Elis!” I screamed as I looked for him. They were on my side, not his, so I hoped that he would have time to reach the alarm bell and rouse the temple.
I also screamed in my head for my other self to rouse myself from sleep. That self ran into the barracks to wake all the novices.
On the battlements, a grappling hook flung over the side of the wall just a few feet from me. I ran over, unhooked it, swung it around my head like a flail, and hurled it as hard as I could into a dense mass of the enemy. I had no time to tell whether I had even hit anything, since there were other hooks flying, ladders slamming into the wall.
Yelling, “Qaar’endoth give me strength! Qaar’endoth smite them through me!” I ran back and forth across my section flinging back ladders and looking back over my shoulder to see if anyone in the temple was stirring. Then I heard the bell ring and let out a breath of relief. Two clangs later, a flurry of arrows shot past me and the bell quieted.
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