God conqueror, p.2

God Conqueror, page 2

 part  #1 of  God Conqueror Series

 

God Conqueror
 



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  A helmed head crested the wall, but I slashed the throat attached to the head with my dagger and sent the body and the ladder that had supported it tumbling. Then other warriors leapt over onto the battlements farther down from me, and I turned to face them.

  By now, the north wall had also been breached, and our Thorvinian attackers were already pouring into the complex. I dashed down the stairs to join them.

  I needed to reach the high priest before they did.

  Chapter Two

  My other self had barely made it into the barracks and started screaming at the other novices that we were under attack when the first of the invaders broke in after me to prove the truth of my words.

  He had a swirling cloak, and he produced a curved scimitar from beneath it with a flash. I dodged, got a fistful of his cloak, and yanked him onto my dagger. It was a pathetically stubby dagger, the only kind our temple trusted novices with, but that was long enough to puncture his heart. I gave it a twist for good measure, then left it between his ribs and grabbed his scimitar instead to use against the horde of invaders that followed behind him.

  Meanwhile there was complete chaos behind me. Most of my fellow novices were scrambling to arm themselves and running my way to help defend the entrance. Many of them simultaneously sent selves to hide under their beds or try to climb out of windows.

  Simon and I crossed blades with each other through the midsection of a muscular red-skinned Thorvinian that got between us, and it churned the Thorvinian’s organs around pretty badly and cost us precious seconds struggling to disengage our blades.

  “Hey, fucking get your own, would ya?” I muttered, and Simon grinned before the fray swept us apart again.

  There were twenty of us in that sleeping bay, including the ones who ran or hid entirely instead of fighting at all, and including the ones that never had time to get out of bed before they took spears in the belly or hammers to the skull. I did not manage to count how many invaders I killed myself and I never had the chance to witness how many total entered the room that night. A spear burst through my chest. I fell to my knees and then to all fours and hacked up viscous blood.

  As I struggled in the corner to pull the spear out of my chest, the invaders poured down the aisle to hunt down any survivors methodically. Some novices fought back in vain, with both selves, but it hardly even delayed their savage murderers. Some screamed and sobbed for their lives, swearing that they would pledge themselves to Thorvinius if they were spared. The only difference it made is that they died apostate traitors. But the very last sound that I ever heard came from a novice at the far end of the aisle who clearly did not give one single fuck about the doom that had descended upon the entire order: a long, loud snore.

  Then, even though my organs had not failed yet, I was suddenly simply no longer there.

  I was back in my other body, out in the courtyard heading back from the battlements. And now I had no other set of eyes or ears anywhere in the temple. I did not understand what had happened. Had I somehow accidentally recalled my other self from the barracks and abandoned my friends? That had never happened to me before.

  I tried to summon another self to replace the lost one, but somehow for the first time in my life I could not. It was like trying to make a fist and finding that the necessary muscles simply would not contract as if the brain signal was not reaching them. Now I was even more bewildered. Had that spear through the gut damaged something vital in me that affected my doubling ability, something that no other physical wound had ever been able to touch? Or was I incapacitated by shock? By grief? I did not think that was it either. In fact, my mind felt sharper and clearer than ever, and my body was raring for action.

  There was no time to worry about my missing self or feel any grief at what was happening to the only friends I had ever known. I needed to act and do what I could to protect those who still lived, so I ran across the courtyard toward the high priest’s hovel. There were still some invaders in the courtyard who had not yet dispersed through the buildings, but I would deal with them later. I sprinted past most of them and cut down all the ones that stepped into my path. They barely slowed me down except that sometimes my dagger got wedged in a tight spot, and I had to pause to brace the body with my foot while I yanked it back out.

  When I reached the hovel where the high priest of our order kept his quarters alone, I kicked the door open and threw myself to the side of the opening, dagger up. No one emerged, so I walked in.

  It was a very plain room. High priests of other temples as prosperous as ours usually lived in luxury, with many attendants, but whenever he was pressed to accept any, Father Ludo always said that his back was not rickety enough to need one yet, or that he still had enough teeth left to chew his own food. The room contained only a fireplace, a stool, and a cot, with Qaar’endoth’s symbol hung above it: a quatrefoil that contained a circle from which four arrows extended in each direction, bisecting the leaves of the quatrefoil.

  Father Ludo lay on the cot, staring up at the symbol that had presided over most of his seventy years of life just as if he had never laid eyes on it before. The torso of his frail white-robed frame was soaked in blood, and I looked just closely enough to see whether there might be a chance.

  There wasn’t.

  The wounds seemed to be in the shape of an inverted triangle, with two prongs like horns extending from its upper corners.

  Thorvinius’ symbol.

  “Father?” I whispered as I knelt beside his cot. “I--I will fetch water.”

  “I am not thirsty, my son,” he replied without looking at me.

  “…I will fetch your vestments. Your staff.”

  “Am I to perform rites?” He inquired. Still, he did not turn to face me. His vision, I knew, was failing. And the temple housed scores of novices. Perhaps he did not recognize me or would not recall me, anyway. Perhaps it did not matter. Perhaps I was no one more particular to him than a living, breathing body and a voice. The last voice on earth that also prayed to Qaar’endoth that had also sung hymns of praise to Qaar’endoth that could also recite the doctrines of Qaar’endoth. “Now?”

  “I…do not know. I don’t know, Father. Help me. Please.” Tears streaked down my face. “What caused this? What was the reason?”

  “It was inevitable, my son,” he said very calmly. He gasped as a spasm wracked him.

  “You mean because the slaves of Thorvinius are evil and destroy everything in their path?”

  “No. I mean because of Aurelana’s prophecy.”

  “Aurelana?” She was the temple oracle. Revered above all of its other inhabitants, even the high priest himself. “Is she dead too? She never saw this coming. She never warned us.”

  “An oracle does not see all, she sees only what her god wills her to see, and Qaar’endoth willed Aurelana to know this.” Father Ludo’s speech was interrupted by a coughing fit that I thought would expel his lungs from his throat or burst his lacerated stomach open. I clutched his bony hand, shut my eyes, and prayed as hard as I could that he would be welcomed into the Fairlands. The flowery parts of the Fairlands with bountiful harvests and gentle folk, that is, not the parts where warriors continued wreaking havoc and overindulging in merriment for all eternity.

  Just when I thought he had gone there, he spoke once again. It was in his own voice, but with a certain grave cadence that marked the words as someone else’s.

  “The faithful will perish, save for the strongest of them all, and that one will be the vessel of Qaar’endoth. And the vessel shall be multiplied with each proof of fealty. And from the alliance of the faithless shall come the age of Qaar’endoth.”

  “What does that mean?” I asked.

  “It means that Qaar’endoth is reborn on earth in you, Vander,” he answered. Finally, his blue eyes met mine for the first time throughout the conversation.

  “I’m not--” I began to argue, but then I stopped myself. Perhaps I was the strongest. Of the novices, certainly. But of the priests? I di
d not know. And regardless, excelling among humans was a far cry from being a literal god. “I’m not Qaar’endoth. That cannot be what Aurelana meant. If I were Qaar’endoth, I could have stopped this. I would have. None of my people would have died.”

  “It was not your fate to stop it,” he whispered. It had clearly become a great struggle for him to speak any more. “It is your fate…to ensure that it never happens again.”

  “Father Ludo,” I said desperately. His eyes were still open, and I thought that he still seemed to breathe, but he made no reply. “How do I do that?”

  “Follow the prophecy,” he rasped, unhelpfully. Then he said, much more helpfully, “And you will need a sword.” Then he reverted to being absurdly unhelpful by concluding, “You must take the Sword of Saint Polliver from the sanctum.”

  “The Sword of Saint Polliver?” I sputtered. This was the most famous of the temple’s relics, for a very compelling reason.

  Any mortal who touched the weapon died. Instantly. Writhingly. Such was the curse cast by Saint Polliver upon his enemies as they martyred him by flaying him to death. When they afterward took his skin and made leather of it to bind a hilt and sew a belt and scabbard for a sword, anyone who attempted to wield the sword became a very vivid demonstration of the efficacy of the curse. Eventually the enemies of Qaar’endoth discarded the sword, and it fell back into the keeping of the temple that Polliver had served in life.

  I was about to remind Father Ludo of this minor hagiographical detail that he seemed to have forgotten, but I realized that it was too late. He had expired.

  I stood up. “Fuck it,” I said aloud.

  I closed the high priest’s eyes, covered him with his bedsheet, and left the hovel. Then I walked across the now eerily deserted courtyard to the sanctum where all the temple’s most precious relics were kept. On the way there I saw the bodies of Father Adalbert and a few other priests and vestals sprawled in various corners, usually near doors. Some had probably been trying to seek shelter or rescue others, some to flee buildings that were under attack. It seemed like the attack had been a swift one, and that the invaders had not tarried once they slew everyone they found.

  The sanctum was carved of blue marble. Its floor was of red tile. Its walls and domed ceiling were frescoed with scenes of Qaar’endoth in his various incarnations battling other gods, administering justice, siring gods and demigods, performing impossible feats, and protecting the innocent, all before breakfast.

  But when I stepped inside this time, everything was ravaged. Someone had taken a sledgehammer to the tiles. Some rubies and other gems that had been embedded therein were simply scattered across the floor, so it was an act of sheer vandalism, without even the motivation of theft. The images of Qaar’endoth had been slashed with blades, splashed with blood, graffitied obscenely. And the relics arranged in the alcoves had been smashed, shattered, scattered in every direction. There did not seem to have been any members of the temple present for the destruction, for there was only one corpse that I could see in the entire sanctum, and it belonged to a Thorvinian barbarian.

  I could not tell what he had looked like because his body was reduced to something that vaguely resembled a mummy. It was charred black and skeletal, contorted in agony, with subcutaneous fat oozing through the layers of seared tissue. The exposed teeth grinned long at me.

  These remains were crumpled over the plinth of the pedestal in the very center of the sanctum. A deep indigo velvet cloth was draped over the pedestal. Upon the cloth was a sword which was usually aligned perfectly parallel to its scabbard and neatly folded belt, but at the moment I saw that the hilt was hanging precariously off the edge of the pedestal, and the cloth was rumpled, as well as singed at the edge.

  Without any especial eagerness, I approached the pedestal and gingerly stepped around the burned corpse. Then I eyed the sword that had never been wielded since the day it was forged over a century ago. It was a nice-looking sword. Longsword, cruciform hilt, double-edged. You really couldn’t tell, just by looking, that the leather came from anything other than a high-quality cow.

  “Saint Polliver,” I said, “if you’re watching all this, now might be a good time to lift that curse.”

  I eyed the corpse which was still faintly smoking, and reached out hesitantly toward the sword.

  “Saint Polliver,” I continued as my hand hovered over the grip, “you got one, and you got him good. That’s really great. But I bet all his buddies ran away as soon as they saw what happened to him, didn’t they? Well, I can run too. I can run really fast. And if I had an awesome sword like this one to carry with me, I could chase down the enemies of our order and make them pay for what they did here today.”

  I withdrew my hand and knelt before the pedestal, bowing my head. “Saint Polliver, grant me your sword. Do this, and I vow that I will avenge the temple of Qaar’endoth. I will not rest until the enemies of Qaar’endoth and all who choose to devour the innocent have been destroyed. If I should break this oath, then may I burn.”

  Behind me, I heard the door of the sanctum crash open.

  “There he is, my lord, right there, he just went up in a big blaze--” someone was exclaiming, but that person stopped as the newcomers must have caught sight of me.

  I leapt to my feet and whirled around. Four men stood there. One of them was the half-bull commander. He was massive, probably eight feet tall and four hundred pounds of solid muscle.

  “We will wrap it in the cloth and take it with us, without grasping the hilt,” he boomed. “But first, you seem to have left one alive. That would draw the wrath of Thorvinius. Appease your god.”

  I assessed their weaponry. Two swords, one hammer, one flanged mace, plus horns that could gore me and two friends stacked together in a sandwich before they ran out of length. My dagger would simply not suffice.

  The three subordinates charged me, one straight on, the other two coming around to flank me.

  I seized the hilt of Saint Polliver’s sword. A tingle ran through my flesh, and then… nothing.

  I kicked the crisped corpse aside and hissed, “Must suck to be a mortal.”

  With that, my attackers were on me. The first one to reach me already looked petrified by the mere fact that I had shown myself able to wield the sword. His shock caused him to lower his guard slightly. That gave me a good chance to slice his head off. The movement was not as smooth as I might have preferred. A century of disuse seemed to have dulled the sword’s edge a bit. Nonetheless, off the head did roll.

  I slammed my body into the sword pedestal as hard as I could, and it toppled into the attacker on the right, who stumbled back and fell on his ass. He was the one with the hammer. Then I jumped up onto the horizontally fallen pedestal, used it as a platform, and ran back at the one to the left with the other sword. I dueled him from above. He was very strong, but not as fast as I was, so I chopped off his sword hand after he over extended himself with a thrust, and then I ducked just in time to avoid getting my brains dashed out by a hammer swing.

  I swung back at the hammer-wielding warrior, but he knocked my blade aside with the haft of his weapon. Then he brought his massive hammer down with all his might toward my shoulder. I jumped aside, and his hammer smashed into the marble pedestal in exactly the spot where I had been standing. The pedestal cracked asunder with the force of the blow, and I grabbed a fist-sized block of marble from the rubble as he backed up for another swing.

  Then I hurled the hunk of marble as hard as I could. My aim was true, and the stone dented his forehead and fell at his feet with a dull clunk. He wavered for a split second and then crashed down dead.

  The now-one-handed swordsman was coming at me again from the left, his sword transferred to his intact hand, but he was not ambidextrous enough to make it all that difficult for me, though. His first swing was slow and aimed at my hip. I flicked my arm to the side, smacked his blade away with my sword, and then shuffled forward to run him through. After he fell, I kicked my boot under his weapon, fl
ipped it up into that hand that wasn’t holding Saint Polliver’s sword, and turned to stare down their commander.

  “Qaar’endoth is not prey for the likes of you.” I scraped the tips of both swords across the tiles as I walked toward him. “Today, you have made yourself the prey of Qaar’endoth.”

  “Qaar’endoth is vanquished. Only you remain, and as strong a warrior as you may be, you cannot defeat my army alone. And the army that you saw here today is but a fraction of the host within the walls of Thorvinius’ temple.”

  “Good,” I said. “This blade is parched. It has not drunk in one hundred years. The gods have not walked for one hundred years. But now one does.”

  I whirled around him with both swords flashing as he lashed out with his mace. Our weapons connected with a screech of lightning, and then I danced back when he shoulder checked me.

  My swords spun forward again, but he parried one aside with his mace and then knocked the other wide with the thick armor on his forearm. Then it was his turn to attack, and I ducked below a wild mace swing that destroyed half of a marble column.

  I swung both my blades at his torso, but each time I got within his guard, the armor that plated his massive chest protected him. I could not reach his neck, because any time I aimed high, he would lower his head to point his horns at me, and I had to draw back or be skewered. Then his mace almost smashed into my shoulder. I twisted aside, but one of the spikes cut me and blood dripped down my arm.

  “You are not a god,” he roared. “You bleed like a mortal.”

  Abandoning all restraint, he lowered his head and charged like a bull. I sidestepped, dropped the Thorvinian sword, used that free hand to grab one of his horns to swing myself up onto his back, and then slashed his throat open with the Sword of Saint Polliver.

  He sank to the ground with a bellow.

 
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