The gods fell from the sky where they had once strode. The amethyst light no longer shone across the horizon. The sky was now bathed in gold.
The northern heretics had come to tear down the gods and install their own as supreme above all. They came in screaming hordes, garbed in a new iron that the servants of the Tower had struggled to pierce.
The northerners marched over plains that once farmed crops in abundance. Now the fields lay empty of slaves, and the crops had gone unharvested where they weren’t scorched from the earth.
Atop the Tower, Calladach watched the gods drop from the invisible paths in the sky that had belonged to the divine. They had struggled against the turning tides of heresy for a decade, and the gods had finally gasped their last breath. Calladach’s faith was finally shaken witnessing the vengeance of the heretics.
He and his brothers in arms were chosen to defend the body of the Archmancer, lord of the gods if he was ever to be sealed off from the Beyond. They were the Last Warriors, Rathi Dagon. All thirteen of the warriors were armed with spears, the blades of which were forged in the Beyond.
Calladach tried to ignore his brothers’ guttural cries of grief. Gods were still being struck with gold light and falling to the earth. They landed amidst the heretics. His prayers seemed doomed to go unanswered. How could the gods answer his prayers if they themselves were slain like mortal born men?
“We must go to our Lord. We cannot wait any longer,” Calladach said.
The others, whipcord lean from years of training, grunted in agreement. None spoke. They had no tongues.
Only Calladach was left with his. The chief of the Rathi was permitted to speak to the Archmancer. It was his sacred right, elevating him as first amongst slaves.
The Tower of White pierced the sky as a glowing beacon across the plains. The Rathi, Calladach and his mute brethren, had stood staring over the crenellations. The Tower was some fifty feet in diameter, and at its centre was a gaping ten-foot hole down into the Tower. Next to the darkness was a slave chained with metal from the Beyond, collaring her like a dog. She was emaciated and sickly, her hair was bleached from the sun, and her skin was covered in sores and cuts, either from abuse or self-harm, Calladach could not say. Her tongue was missing, like his brethren. Her iris was unnaturally sized, there were no whites in her eyes. Brown iris stretched under her lids.
Calladach knew this one’s name, she was Iyanna, a Voker. Instead of mastering the Beyond she was subjugated by its inhabitants.
“Down,” he said.
Her eyes rolled back and her shadow grew distorted. The shadow was like a spreading stain. It rotated around her feet as if the sun had moved overhead. The shadow spread across the Tower. It was large and hunched, with sprouting wings. With a shudder it stepped away from the woman, leaving her shadowless in the midday sun. The dark hole changed, Calladach could no longer see down into the depths of the Tower. Instead, the shadow coalesced in the hole.
The chief and his Rathi stepped onto the solidified shadow. Once his feet touched the shadow, he began to hear the whispers from Beyond. He and his fellow warriors took one another’s hands and hummed. The whispering grew less persistent but still lingered in the back of his mind.
“They cannot touch the souls of the Rathi Dagon, chosen of the god-king, lord of earth and fire, skies and seas, Master of the Mancers, Archmancer of the Tower,” Calladach said with religious fervour. His faith may be shaken in the lesser gods, but the power of the Archmancer held the Beyond at bay. This he had witnessed.
The disk of shadow descended past the many levels of the Tower. The screams of the heretics deadened as they passed through the aperture. Going down, the majority of all the levels were as wide as the top of the tower, but the floors nearest the ground widened significantly beyond that of the floors above.
Eventually, they reached the ground floor, into the throne room itself. It was a great circular chamber. There was the throne on one side, and two giant doors on the other side of the room. The room was otherwise empty.
As soon as they began descending into the hall, the Rathi dropped their eyes. As Calladach stepped off the shadowy disk the whispering that had infected his mind ceased. He felt, rather than heard, the whisking of the shadow back to the top of the tower to its host.
They slowly walked toward the throne, hunched over, in a perpetual half-bow.
Enshrined atop his throne, sat the Archmancer in a chair of obsidian, marble, gold, and Caldyron, the metal of the Beyond. It loomed atop a pedestal of unhewn marble. Calladach prostrated himself before the Archmancer, and the Rathi joined him. His eyes didn’t move from the floor.
He didn’t speak. The circumstances demanded action, but impatience was unwise before the god-king. There wasn’t a single chief of the Rathi who kept their tongue, or their lives if they forgot their place even for the smallest of moments. So his eyes on the floor, Calladach waited.
Eventually, the decrepit voice of the Archmancer whispered sickeningly from atop the God Throne.
“Who comes before the god and king of all that the eye may ever know?”
Calladach waited for an appropriate time dictated by his station to reply, though his body ached for action.
“O King of Gods and Men, Lord of the earth and fire, sky and seas, Master of Mancers, Archmancer of the Tower, your lowly slave, Chief of the Rathi Dagon prostrates itself before the sacred throne of thee.”
The voice of a dying man crept down, making Calladach’s skin crawl, “Rath Bala, go forth into to courtyard of the Tower of White, be the Last Warriors of the Body of God, and defeat the heretic.”
Calladach fought the urge to rage against his master.
There is only the will of the god-king, the Archmancer is the path, he reminded himself.
“Why do you hesitate?” the Archmancer asked. Without giving time to reply, the air grew putrid, the smell of decay filled Calladach’s nose. The floor turned violet in the light of the Archmancer. A thud followed.
One of his brethren lay dead, Calladach knew.
“Go forth, Rathi Dagon, give your lives for your god.”
Calladach backed away keeping low until he and his fellows were out of the room. He had had to step over the body of his dead brother, Edahn. The doors were swinging shut and Calladach risked a look at the Archmancer.
The sorcery he worked upon the world had warped the Archmancer into a mockery of the human form. His head was deformed. A tumour-like growth wrapped around his forehead to his left ear, almost doubling the size of his head. The skin was stretched to tearing, exposing the wet muscle underneath. The shape of his skull was visible underneath the tight skin and his nose was all but gone, showing a gaping hole in his face. The god-king wore a constant grin. He no longer had lips and his skin was pulled tight, exposing his teeth perpetually. His crooked body was hidden under voluminous robes.
Calladach turned away abruptly, not wanting to risk office against his lord. He heard the doors shut behind him.
He sacrifices for his slaves, he reminded himself, terror and awe gripping him in equal measure. The Sacrifice was the eventual decaying of the physical body of the gods.
The other warriors were looking at him expectantly. There was a fierce sadness in their eyes, yet no anger. How could they fault the divinity of a god’s will enacted? This was a divine mandate from the master of gods. They must act.
“We go forth, my brothers. Blood of the blade, blood for the Lord of earth and fire, skies and seas,” Calladach chanted.
He and his brothers formed a circle. They wrapped arms around each other’s shoulders.
“Death goes forth, death comes forth. Death given, death taken. Go forth, go forth, unto death,” he said.
The Rathi emerged into the afternoon sun. The courtyard of the Tower was filled with slave warriors, most were armed with bows, though there were many spearmen too. Calladach gestured to his Rathi Dagon to gather up into their own troupes. Calladach was chief of the Rathi Dagon, who in turn were chiefs of their own bands of warriors. They began communicating with the hand language the Rathi had developed over the centuries of being mutes.
Within the walls of the Tower’s courtyard, over a thousand Rathi had assembled. The gods were gone forth, with their own slave warriors. Now it was for the Archmancer’s own, the Rathi Dagon, bodyguards of the god-king. While Calladach waited for his brethren to gather their own, he ran to the walls, taking two steps at a time up to the top.
The scream of the horde had grown louder since they descended through the Tower. The walls that encircled the Tower were like the Tower itself, ensorceled with sorcery to dampen sound, but when one mounted the ramparts proper, the roar was laid bare in all its glory. Thousands of slaves were clashing with the heretic horde, and the golden lights that had lit the sky, now burned throughout the loyal slaves of the god-king.
“Gods above,” he whispered.
Except for the gods above were no longer there. The paths they had walked amidst the sky were empty and devoid of the purple light of their powers. Now only the golden hue of the heretics’ sorcery lingered over the clashing warriors.
The gods are dead … Tharic weeps, he thought.
Calladach stared over the battleground paralysed until he felt a gentle shake.
One of his brothers looked at him with concern. He signed to him with the hand talk of the Rathi Dagon.
Are we ready, leader? signed the warrior.
“Yes, soon, brother,” Calladach said. He mentally shook himself. “Go to your troupe. We set out for battle.”
His brother went back to his warriors, quickly descending from the wall. Calladach surveyed the arrayed slaves. All of the Rathi were garbed in iron mail and cured leather. They were truly a formidable breed. He had a thousand swarthy men to hold back the tide of pale barbarians with their false gods.
“Brothers, we now stand on the precipice of fate. This is the turning point of damnation, and we must be the one to break the tide as it crashes. We are Rathi Dagon, greatest of mortal men, first amongst slaves, champions of the Archmancer.”
“We must cut this disease out of our land. We must protect this sacred bastion of the gods. We will give our lives without hesitation. We will die to the last if it means the lord of the earth and fire, skies and seas may live to gather our souls in the Beyond.”
The Rathi did not cheer. They stared at him with blind determination, and he, in turn, felt more resolved to his duty. His brothers kept him strong, even if his faith had wavered. He could not abandon his fellows now. He lifted his spear high and gave out a great war cry, piercing the quiet courtyard. It was no match for the dying screams to his back.
Calladach went down the steps into the courtyard and the battle sounds fell to a hush.
“Troupes, to your places!”
They split efficiently, for this was a practised routine. Eight troupes went to the walls, with archers aligned behind the shoulders of spearmen, the bulk of the archers remained in the courtyard and knocked their arrows aiming skyward. They would kill in volleys.
They waited, the time crawling by until Calladach felt near mad with the dread. When he thought he couldn’t take it any longer, he didn’t have to. Arrows were nocked. Calladach knew the slaves had been broken and they were being routed as he waited. He couldn’t risk joining the fray though many strategists of old commended a man to chase a chaser and take their rear while they were moving. The sorcery of the heretics was a new threat to the Rathi. They had never faced this sort of magic. It was not of the Beyond, and that frightened Calladach more than the screaming hordes. How might he join the spirits of his kin on the god-kings Amaranthine Fields, if the heretics had the power to seal off the Beyond? If they could seal off gods from their corporeal emancipation, Calladach dreaded to think of the fates of their lowly slaves.
Calladach wasn’t permitted much time to ponder his eternity. The muted sound of the horde was no longer quiet. The wall was bathed in gold light, and some of the spearmen on the front line were set alight by fire.
This can’t be. Only the gods command fire.
But his eyes could not lie. He could see it happen before him. Slaves of the Archmancer were being burnt with golden fire. Screaming, they ran into comrades, stumbled about until they collapsed, and fell back into the courtyard, or fell off the wall into the hordes heretics.
The great gates of the courtyard were being pounded with a siege weapon. From the sound that Calladach could now clearly hear, it appeared they had a battering ram and were using it effectively. The wood was beginning to splinter.
Calladach gripped his spear tighter, his breath coming faster. He couldn’t calm his mind. His attempts to pray faltered each time, thinking of the dead gods that must now litter the surrounding plains.
“To the gates! To the gates,” he cried, rushing through the shifting warriors, who appeared to be as unsettled as Calladach felt, if not more. Terror had settled over the Rathi Dagon, to the last man. Never had they struggled against a foe such as these.
Men began to follow him to the gates. He pressed himself against the gates. He tried in vain to brace the wood. Rathi joined him, a crowd of warriors pushing back against the gate, trying to hold back the pounding ram. Calladach felt it was futile. Where once he was unshakeable, now he was beyond shook. Before, he could stand at the fore of charging hordes and throw them back without thought, but now he wavered.
He was terrified by the deafening boom of the ram. The gate was splintering around him. Shards of woods flew past him.
There was nothing more to be done, and to his right, Calladach watched as the ram smashed through the gate and shattered another warriors skull. He couldn’t scream for want of breath. The ram withdrew. With one last heave, the gate cracked, and one of the wooden doors fell off its hinges in ruins.
“Fall back,” he screamed. Pushing his way through men, who were confused. He passed men with shards of wood cutting into their skin, some having lost eyes, others with splinters as long as his forearm protruding from their throats.
Rathi grouped up from habit more than bravery, with their spears held forward. They had trained for this, they could defeat these barbarians. Through the archway, over bodies and wood came the screaming horde. They fired arrows before they charged the square of spearmen. Calladach howled as men died on his left and right, arrows piercing through their iron rings effortlessly.
The Northmen finally slammed into the spearmen, their weapons cutting through iron mail far more easily than slave weapons ever had. Only the Caldyron spears stemmed the tide. Calladach launched forward, jabbing his spear through mail, through leather, and through flesh, as if it were one and the same. Nothing resisted the spear. Men died where his blade point struck.
More Caldyron bearers joined the press at the gates, stemming the tide. Arrows were raining down from the parapets above, cutting into the heretics. The spearmen on the walls were holding the besiegers off from mounting their defensives totally.
Calladach was cut numerous times, bleeding freely from uncountable wounds. Nothing had harmed him enough that his lighting quick spear thrusts stopped or stemmed. He was at last where he belonged; he was fighting without thought with his brothers. But they were falling around him in the dozens and others joined where they fell. The Rathi Dagon began to push the heretics back, and hope surged through the defenders.
Calladach began to tire and allowed another spearman to replace him in the press. He forced his way to back, gasping for air. He leaned forward, near to vomiting. His arms were slick with gore, and his mail felt heavy. He leaned on his spear, his body pushed to its limit.
A change occurred in the heretics. The lines of men seemed to dissolve, as golden light lit the gateway. The heretics fell back, and the slave warriors tried. The golden fire scoured the warriors in the mail, cooking them quickly. The Rathi Dagon broke and tried to flee as the slaves had in the fields, but there was nowhere to go inside the courtyard. Calladach fell to his knees as men stampeded past him trying to escape the Northmen’s sorcery. He tried to get a glimpse of those who could wield should power, but as he weaved his head to gain a better view, something hit him, hard, and everything went black.
The pain came sharply at first, then it began to throb behind his eyes and at the back of his head. His body ached in a way he couldn’t remember. Everything was stiff. He tried to roll over but found something stopped him. There was a weight on his back. Then he noticed he couldn’t see anything.
Panic set in and he tried to twist around again, trying to gain his feet, but the weight on his back pushed against him, curbing any attempts to move. He realised then that there was something on his head, by the texture against his cheek it was a linen bag, the sort that was used to carry goods back from a market.
Then the sounds began to make sense to him. There were harsh, sharp sounds of the northern tongue. It sounded like something was caught in their throat and they were trying to cough it up, or that they were hawking up spit.
Barbaric tongue, Calladach thought to himself. He wondered why he was alive, and dreaded to learn the fate of his brethren. If he was taken prisoner, he had to wonder what for. Did they take as many alive as they could? Or did they grab him due to his importance?
All these questions flitted through his head, but no answers came. His fear gripped him too tightly to allow for any thought beyond questioning and fear.
There was an exchange, closer to him now, and the tone seemed to shift. The weight came off his back, and he was hoisted to his knees.
The bag was removed from Calladach’s head, and he winced away, shutting his eyes away from the glaring light.
With his chin tucked against his chest, and his eyes tightly closed, he felt a hand tugging his chin up. He resisted, but the strength of the hand was implacable. His head tilted back, and he feared his throat would be slit. It wouldn’t be the first time the Rathi Dagon died in such a way. He had seen other slave warriors butchered, to be examples of their misled faith. Twisted heathens and heretics left the bodies on estates for slaves to find. It only served to inspire fear in the slaves of the gods.
“Open your eyes,” a calming voice commanded, and Calladach opened his eyes without a second thought. He was dazzled by what he saw.
Before him was a Northman, with nearly white hair, such was the lightness of his blondes locks. His hair was oiled back along the sides and a top-knot pulled his hair back from his face. His beard was oiled, reaching his chest.
It was his eyes that captured Calladach’s attention. They were beautiful. They were brightly glowing, gold in such a way that nothing was visible, only the light. It was like staring into a fire without being made blind. It was like the sun had been cleaved in twain and placed in the face of this man.
Calladach stammered and blinked, trying to say something but he couldn’t.
“I am the Prophet of the true gods. I am commanded by those most high, to heal this sick world. I am Ust, prophet of the god above,” he said to Calladach, glowing eyes giving no emotion away, though his voice and expression indicated a sort of stern kindness.
Calladach’s throat tightened. The eerie eyes were a stark contrast to the face full of human expression. Something not of this world looked through this man’s eyes.
“Your face betrays your fear, though you need fear neither knife or lash. Your yoke is thrown off and you stand free,” said the northern prophet. The men who had held him let go and Calladach was left on his knees. He did not try to stand. His body was worn to exhaustion. He was shamed by his defeat.
“You speak our tongue, Northman?” he asked.
“I speak the word of the men of the plains, as I speak the word of god. All manner of words are revealed to the prophet,” Ust replied, though a smile spread across his face. “In truth, I was a slave to your blasphemous sorcerers, as you once were.”
The prophet pulled back the sleeves of his brighter-than-iron mail shirt, and the scars of manacles were plain to see on his wrist.
“We do not carry the weight of those who poison this world any longer.”
Calladach looked from the golden-eyed prophet to his own scarred wrists, from his childhood in chains. Slavery to the gods was slavery to no mortal man.
Ust looked at him with a patient expression. Calladach still wondered why he yet lived. He broke away from the mesmerising eyes of the prophet and found that he was in the throne room of the Tower, and the Godthrone sat empty.
The god-king must have finally burned away the remnants of his mortal shell, and Calladach felt a mixture of horror and relief. He was either consigned to damnation for doubting his master, or his spirit would be ushered Beyond, to the Amaranthine Fields.
The Prophet placed a pale hand on Calladach’s mail covered shoulder, and Calladach looked at the Northman. The prophet was frowning. Calladach’s fear grew. He might have loosened if he wasn’t paralysed by fear.
“Your tyrant master was sealed from the Beyond, as is right and holy. To reach into the Beyond, one reaches into Chaos and comports with daemons. Your eyes see the twisted monster your evil rulers become. You see their bodies forget the human form.”
Calladach wanted to deny this, but there was no actual lie in the man’s words. Another slave might argue, but Calladach had nothing more. If the god-king was sealed from the Beyond, then both his body and spirit were dead. The gods were dead.
Were they truly gods? He wondered, surprising himself.
“Let go of the chains you wrap around yourself. They lie in a dead man’s hand,” said the prophet. He reached out a hand, and it began to glow.
Calladach scrambled back, but his legs gave out and he collapsed onto his back. He whimpered as the prophet moved to stand over him.
“I offer you your health once more if you wish. Though it will be at the price of days of your life, Last Warrior,” the hand of the prophet was ablaze in golden fire, hovering inches from his face.
Calladach panicked, his words caught in his throat. The prophet’s hand did not move closer, instead, he remained perfectly still. He was waiting for Calladach to act, but moments passed by.
Calladach had nothing more, and his body was unfit to protest any longer.
“I accept,” he said, his voice raw with grief.
The hand touched his forehead and his body exploded with euphoria, he thrashed uncontrollably until he blacked out again.
“You must choose your future, and the future of those in this ungodly tower,” said the Prophet.
Calladach had spent days abed and awoke completely healed. He bore no wounds, though his scars were pink, they seemed older than a few days. He could not explain such things, for no mancer could work such wonders on another’s body.
He lay in a bed that was not his own. He was certainly still within the Tower, and most likely on one of the first floors of the Tower, judging by the size of the room. No such dormitories existed on the upper floors where the Rathi Dagon were housed.
“I cannot decide upon the fate of those who are equal to me. We are all slaves before the gods,” Calladach said.
“And yet you were first among equals, were you not? The god-king set you above your fellows. There is a natural order to man, an order we follow without thinking. In the East, the yoke of the mancer has been thrown off for some years. Where there were once slaves, there are kings and counts, rulers of lands they were once chained to.”
“You cannot say you are no better than another man, because your men died for you as much as they died for the tyrants. Do not forget that.”
Calladach remained quiet. He was lost in thought for some time. He didn’t realise the prophet had left. Calladach had perhaps passed into sleep soon after.
The fate of the Tower was in his hands.
The days passed in a blur, as Calladach regained his strength. When he finally had the strength to walk unaided, he returned to the throne room. There was a number of people facing the Godthrone. They were loosely arrayed around a man sitting on a backless chair. It was a simple wooden stool, and on it was the prophet, still wearing his new iron chain, and in his hand was Calladach’s spear. The prophet’s back was to him as he approached. Calladach noticed there was a woman in their midst, armed and armoured as the men were. He froze in shock.
She looked at him brazenly, and her hand tightened on the pommel of her sword. He blinked repeatedly.
Another warrior, a huge bear of a man, loomed over Calladach. The man offered his arm, and Calladach took it.
“The prophet gathers his strength. He is in communion with the gods. We must wait, but I felt I should offer you some advice because I know he has given you the weight of this land to bear,” said the giant. He was styled like the prophet, though his hair was a shade of blonde darker. It was knotted atop his head and oiled back over his ears. His beard was plaited, unlike the prophets.
“Who are you?” Calladach asked.
“I am Sersan, body guard of the prophet. I am like you, the last possible line of defence for the body of the one we hold divine, though your faith is false,” said the warrior. He challenged Calladach’s whole reality in a passing comment that Calladach’s mind went blank, trying to process his circumstance.
“That’s my shield maiden, my daughter,” Sersan said, nodding to the woman who occasionally looked at Calladach with open aggression. Calladach just nodded, for such things were abhorrent to the gods.
“Do not challenge the structure of this land so quickly, Sersan. It took time to turn you from Tharic. A decade, if I recall. Let the warrior of the plains be,” spoke the Prophet, turning at last. Calladach noticed Ust’s eyes were faded. They were no longer slivers of the sun, instead, they were a mist layered over the eye. He could see the natural eye of the Prophet now. It was a dark colour, but beyond that, he could not say.
“You have much to consider, but first, bear witness to this.” He pushed off his stool, and Sersan followed him, the two stood before the Godthrone. The shieldmaiden took the spear from the Prophet and set it against the throne. There were twelve other spears, all tipped with Caldyron.
Ust and Sersan raised their hands, and the golden fire erupted from their hands. The fire bathed the throne and the spears in golden flames.
Calladach was aghast, and he rushed to stop them. The shieldmaiden stopped him and pushed him back. She barked something in her native language. Calladach was horrified by the destruction of such revered and ancient artefacts.
“Stop them! The metal! The metal is from Beyond!”
“We know,” said the Prophet, not looking back.
The shieldmaiden looked toward the prophet’s back, then back at Calladach. She smiled thinly and pushed him backwards. He didn’t resist.
The Godthrone slowly began to turn white-hot. The throne began to lose its shape, the spires of gold and Caldyron wilted and began to melt. The marble and obsidian seemed to change their form, becoming rough-hewn, and jagged. The seamless, smooth stone became course, and the obsidian began to drop off in thin slabs. The throne was no longer a single piece, the parts that made it was coming undone.
They’re unmaking the sorcery. The realisation hit him hard. His mind reeled at the idea that they could do such things.
He stared around the throne room, looking at the white walls and ceiling of the Tower. They can unmake the Tower itself, he thought. His mouth was agape, and suddenly the mail he had been in for days weighed him down.
Their power appeared to be undoing the sorcerous bindings between stone and metal. They could cut a god off from the Beyond, they could undo wards as they had done to the walls and the gates of the Tower, and worst of all, Calladach thought, they could unmake. Their power was unfathomable.
He was drawn back to the sorcery being worked on the throne. Chunks of Caldyron surrounded the throne. The marble was a large chunk at the top of the steps, and the obsidian lay in slabs around the throne. The gold was littered in between the obsidian and Caldyron. The flames did not linger when the Prophet and Sersan halted casting forth the flame.
The assembled followers fell to their knees, but they did not prostrate themselves as a slave might. Sersan did not join them. He stood at the Prophet’s right as he approached Calladach.
“You see now the falsehood of your gods, Calladach. You bear witness to the power of the true god,” he said. The Prophet extended a hand to Calladach, his golden eyes had faded even more. There was barely a haze of gold over his eyes. Clearly, he was greatly diminished by his work.
Perhaps they do not have the power to tear down the Tower, he thought.
Calladach looked at the Prophet expectantly, wondering why his hand was extended. Sersan watched carefully, looming over the Prophet.
“This hand is protection. It is open to you now, for you to take,” said the Prophet. “If you take my hand now, then you accept the gods as they are, ethereal and eternal. You will say the Amaranthine Fields, and your gods are false. Blasphemy will no longer be tolerated in this land. The Arcane has tainted the earth, and we must heal it. We need all the people of this land to help heal the world. You are looked to by the people in this place.”
The Prophet waited as the silence stretched by, and Calladach considered.
If he didn’t accept the Prophet’s offer, then he was certain he would be executed. If he accepted, then he would be truly abandoning the gods he had served his whole life. He knew their power to be real, how could he deny the gods who had sheltered him for so long. He had witnessed the gods carve rivers in the earth, and raise crops in days.
The throne room felt colder than it ever had. If he accepted, then he would be damned. Except he had witnessed the power of this Prophet. He had thrown down the gods and had cut off a god-king from the Beyond. Such things ought to be impossible if the gods he had served were truly divine.
“If you doubt now, then nothing can save you or your people. You have watched me break the ungodly ties of your tyrant’s throne. I have healed your body, and you have watched as gods were struck down from the sky, in their aspirations to usurp the true god. Your Archmancer’s lies dead at my hand,” the Prophet said. His eyes through the light haze were sad, though his expression was stoney.
Calladach knelt before the Prophet as the other followers had. He was condemned regardless of what he chose.
“What do you require of me, Prophet?” Calladach asked.
“Your people need a leader again, and I would name you lord of this Tower, but that is not to be the case. I need your prowess. You must take up the spear once more, and we travel into the northern valleys.”
“It was revealed to me that I must go to the furthermost point north in this valley. So that is where we go. The last of the Mancers have fled there. It is our sacred burden to destroy them,” the Prophet said.
“I cannot march against the gods- I mean-“
“Do not berate yourself, you cannot alter all you know in such a short time. You have been introduced to a new world.”
Calladach bowed his head. “Why are you telling me this? I am an enemy. I am a servant of the Archmancer, protector of his person.”
“This world needs better men as its custodians, and I believe you are capable of it. I can see into your soul, Calladach. I can see the bruise of your soul and its sins. You are capable of being saved if you dedicate your purpose to god. The god must be appeased, for we have spent too long in the shadow of willful ignorance.”
Calladach could feel the moment coming, the moment he would have to choose.
“The strength of the faithful is growing, but the Gift that I possess can be shared, as I have done with Sersan, and it is a rare spirit who can bear this burden. You have served your false gods unto their death, and yours if I had not healed you, your body would have given up had I not healed you. Will you accept the burden that we carry, so that the load we share may lighten?”
“I will,” Calladach said.
“I will not pass the Gift yet. First, you must prove faithful.”
“So be it.”
The Prophet knelt with him. Sersan came up behind him and handed the Prophet two clay pots. The Prophet gouged out a paste from one of the jars. He rubbed the paste into his hand and began pushing it through Calladach hair. The Prophet pasted back Calladach’s hair behind his ear and pushed the hair on his head back over his skull. From the other jar, he withdrew a seven knotted string and bound his hair into a tail from his crown.
The Prophet handed the pots back to Sersan and turned back to the still kneeling Calladach.
“Do you accept that those who wield the Arcane from the Beyond are false gods?”
“Do you accept that the god is not of this world, and is supreme to any who are born of a mortal woman?”
“Do you accept that the Arcane is abhorrent and anathema to a holy soul?”
Calladach hesitated, but answered nonetheless, “Yes.”
“Remove your mail, bare your chest, so you might bear the mark of the gods.”
Calladach pulled off his mail shirt and tunic, exposing his sallow skin to the cool air. His back was slick with sweat. The Prophet edged closer to him, his hand beginning the glow with golden fire. Calladach braced himself for the inevitable, he tensed and screwed his eyes shut, leaning backwards, avoiding his choice.
He felt the fiery hand slap against his chest, as the other hand wrap around the back of his neck, holding him in place. The pain was excruciating. He screamed and writhed in agony.
The hand was taken away and Calladach slid sideways colliding with the cold marble floor. The fire had had no warmth to it, though it burned flesh regardless. The pain subsided quickly, and the wound was scar already. His brain struggled to grapple with what had happened to his body. His flesh was burned and then healed to a scar in the same few moments.
Such feats are surely holy. They have to come from a source greater than the Mancers.
“It is time, Calladach. You are anointed, and now we must go forth and call the faithful to arms once more, you will gather your Warriors and set out ahead of us. You have weeks of travel ahead of you. What Warriors are left alive have witnessed the divine retribution of the gods against the sinful Arcanists. They have seen the fall of their false idols.”
“I will find what Warriors live, and march north into the valleys.”