In this epic dark fantasy, where almost no one is what one seems, a group of elite warriors, the Emperor’s god hunters, fight not only barbarians, but also their own hearts; and are rewarded with a not so enviable immortality…
“Here they come, bloody mongrels,”, whispered Ohjun and grabbed his lance.
Saki did not answer. The rest of the platoon glimpsed behind at their Mute, but it just stood there, motionless. The men started shuffling their wet feet again – they had been marching under heavy rain for days and felt tired, but did not complain. They were Kanjeris, the Emperor’s elite god-hunters. They never complained.
“Think any of them will show up?” whispered Kivo.
Saki kept the new recruit close to him, a need he did not have with the other men, hardened veterans of countless campaigns.
“A god? No, not really. There were quite a few around, when we started this. But we thinned their numbers, so now we’re left only with the tribesmen. Mostly. Those damn fanatics refuse to forgo their faiths, so we must kill them all, too, praise the One Ruler.”
Kivo tried to ask the obvious question, but his captain stared him down. The youngster gave up and looked back at the mountain and the endless streams of foes whirling all over the crags. Closer and closer, shouting rhythmic chants, roaring. Saki gazed calmly behind him, over the light infantry rows, at the His-Sight sitting atop a huge armored mammoth.
Why was that one there? The officer sighed and lowered his eyes on the footmen standing in the center and flanks. Swordsmen, archers and spearmen brought over in huge sea-going sail ships or slim yonder-galleys, all the way from the heartland of the Empire. Lancers and slingers, locals from the subdued tribes. Some obedient from the very beginning, others only after their gods had been slain. It did not matter anymore. All alike seemed to tremble and shake, terrified by the horde encircling them. And all of them stared hopefully at their Mutes, trying to discern if the One had sent His army to its doom or would bestow on them one more day to live.
The Mutes, just like His-Sight, offered no clue, and the clash started just like everybody feared: unexpectedly. The Imperials stood in the middle of the pass, where they had been surprised by the tribesmen, in long rather than wide formations. Usually, their iron armors saved the day, but this time the highlanders finally had a chance to overwhelm the flanks by sheer numbers. And the army just could not maneuver away.
From both sides and the front, fur-covered warriors poured all over the place. On the left, those already visible were suddenly joined by a new flood of men, rushing from behind the cliffs. The Mutes finally reacted and started to wave their standards: The Emperor had not abandoned his troops after all, but led them from His palace beyond the ocean. The flank rows huddled together and formed a shield wall. The Mutes signaled and the archers fast released waves of heavy arrows. The bolts hit the swarm hard and killed many, but could not stop the tide. They were just too many.
The Kanjeris stood still. Four squares of twenty spearmen each; good men, trained for years and hardened in countless wars over three continents. Their role was not to fight human enemies, but to hunt their gods, so the platoon did not move to join the battle. They did flinch, though, when they heard the rumble and crash of the barbarians hitting the metal barrier. Some also blinked when a roar of pained howls, cracks of broken spears and bones, shouts of hatred or terror and clanks of fiercely clashing arms rose up, deafeningly. Some did not.
Saki laid his handon the recruit’s shoulder and Kivo burst out whizzing, realizing he had been holding his breath for too long. The others looked at him; the closer one, a short man called Gano, cackled and the veterans laughed. A group of swordsmen, their faces dark with fear, passed them in a hurry, rushing to strengthen the left flank before it collapsed. Suddenly, a shower of rocks fell all over the Kanjeris, launched from somewhere over the top of the pass by unseen slingers.
In a single move, the men raised the short round shields over their heads and waited. Their bodies were well protected: the other soldiers called them Ironskins because tiny plates covered the Kanjeris from head to toes, sewn into their skin. A lifetime of training made them hear exactly where the projectiles would fall, and their muscles moved the plates together in the target area.
A much nastier surprise rolled over the top of the mountainside: a column of barbarians riding large beasts, rushing downwards faster and faster, gathering momentum to crush the already shattered Imperial lines.
“What in His name are those?” exclaimed the recruit.
“Zuhas, pup.” said the giant Ohjun, his voice hoarse. “A hellish gift of this savage continent, something like a cross between a mountain leopard and a bear. You wouldn’t want to be down there right now, with our boys!”
“Or over here, actually, if they ride over the flank…” added Gano, grinning, and moved a little so as not to be hit by a spearmen line being rushed by their Mute straight into the clash.
These had been the last of the reserves, anyway, as all the rest were already fighting hard for their lives. Saki looked at the mammoth in the rear, but His-Sight was still motionless. He then watched the zuhas and realized the battle was lost. The footmen had lost all courage and fell back chaotically, breaking formation. Some kept fighting, some had already routed and were being chased down, ripped apart by the beasts or slashed by their riders.
All the Kanjeris shivered and the captain understood the foes had felt it was time for the final blow: bringing a god upon the Empire’s collapsing army. Their own Mute finally moved. He raised the green flag, slightly skewed to the left. The Ironskins saw they were meant to change formation quickly, but they had known it already. Under the plates they were completely covered with lines and symbols, and the tattoos had just started to shine on their left sides.
They all knew very well that when a deity dived into their world, reality rippled just as a swimmer jumps into a pond. The ordinary folks could neither sense, nor see those waves, but the Kanjeris could, and they just had. Highly trained, they could even feel the direction of the entity, and, counting the seconds between the ripples, guess how large and fast it was.
They deployed swiftly in the shape of a network composed from intertwined heptagons, and stuck their lances in the damp clay. Saki stood in the middle: he was their captain because of his intuitive talent in fast maneuvering the trap. Beside him stood Ohjun, for brute strength, and Gano, a specialist in moving the charge through the bronze lances.
A hostile god rushed against them, but that did not mean the rest of the battle had frozen still: the zuhas cavalry kept running and would soon be upon them. The Kanjeris had no choice, though. They had to maintain their position till death, or until a miracle occurred.
And a miracle did occur. The His-Sight finally raised his head and gestured, suddenly and abruptly, drawing a few symbols with his scepter. A massive slash opened in mid-air and two large yonder-galleys, heavily armored, sled into the mud, right in the way of the charge. Iron-clad Imperials rushed out in their hundreds, waving halberds and tall shields. The crack troops hit the riders hard and forced them down into the muck, cutting them to pieces. Three more ships materialized behind the barbarian cavalry, cutting their way back, and even more troopers poured out.
A void broke among the clouds, too. Two sky-fortresses flew out, hung under huge cubes filled with god-essence. They crossed the ridge to strike those hidden there and began hunting them down with lightnings and fire bombs.
Saki and his mates had no time to admire the bloody scene. The god was coming straight at them. It did not decelerate, as if it did not even intend to fight, but just to rush into the platoon, even though it must have already clearly seen them. Not only Kivo looked inquiringly at the captain, but others too. Experienced trappers they were, but had never seen anything like that.
Saki glanced over the shoulder at the other three officers, just as confused. And then, unseen, the god struck them head on. They all tensed up and forced their minds to keep hold of the net’s corners. The trap was hard-pressed, but held on. The captain turned it around, obliquely, and when his tattoos told him the being got entangled and lost control of its plunge, he pulled up his lance from the ground and released the prey.
Disoriented, it fell into the next square. The men there pushed the god into the third, finally slowed and weakened enough to be butchered. The Kanjeris in the third squad pulled their net, hard. The god shattered and its remains spilled all over the mountain. Those in the fourth square, the reserve one, shouted triumphantly. The men in those that had fought just fell down exhausted, panting.
The battle was drawing to an end, too. The landed men had crushed the barbarians and already the archers were leisurely hunting those trying to flee. From the army’s left flank and all the way to the center, the mountain pass was littered with corpses and screaming wounded, broken weapons and shattered shields. The Mutes waved their standards, bringing formations together. His-Sight had turned his mammoth around and was riding away. The Emperor was not watching them anymore, but had returned to his daily duties from beyond the seas.
All that was left was to clear the battlefield, hunt down the fugitives and await the arrival of the mages on their mammoths, to collect the god-essence in their trunks and take it to the gathering points. There it was to be bottled up in bronze cubes and shipped to the Empire, to fuel the sky-fortresses, yonder-galleys or tricks of wizards.
“Just like a brothel, right?” Gano quipped, smiling at Kivo. “After the shaky-shaky there comes the shivering and trembling. Also regrets…”
Everybody laughed. Saki leaned on his lance, poked inside the leather bag and brought out the green ribbons, tokens marking the capture of one more god. He started counting them, one for each man, but suddenly shook wildly and dropped them into the mud. Amazed, he stared around. All the Kanjeris, his and the other squares’, were also wide-eyed in surprise. Their tattoos shone bright, silvery fire snakes, and the lances vibrated into a low, unbearable growl.
What in The One’s name could it be? There never came two gods together and, never ever, in this campaign or any other, had they felt such a strong charge!
They all jumped up, bedazzling the rest of the Imperials, who saw and heard nothing out of the ordinary. The Kanjeris grabbed their weapons and desperately rushed to form heptagons. Saki and the other officers set them themselves, as the Mutes were still motionless. The connection to the Emperor was cut.
“So that’s why the first god behaved weirdly”, whispered Saki.
“What?” asked Kivo.
“It was running away. In fear.”
“Scared of something preying on him, too. This one coming right now”, added Gano.
Saki could say no more, because the being had already arrived. Like the previous god, it fell on them, but this time not in fear. In anger. This one had come with a purpose: to kill them all.
The men struggled to keep the nets as firm as they could. Sparks erupted from the lances of the furthest square, where the deity emerged. A loud crack boomed, and all the twenty men in that squad fell dead. The next team turned to deflect at least part of the strike, but the god suddenly vanished. After a few moments it reappeared straight above them and suddenly descended. The crushed Kanjeris howled and burst into flames, burning fiercely.
The next square fared a little better. Their captain, Nihag, was an experienced and talented veteran, so he met deceit with deceit: he let the net partly uncharged, apparently stronger on his right. The god slowed down and disappeared. The same moment, the officer shouted an order and the net turned, tighter to the left. Just where the being emerged. It got caught and rolled out of balance, losing control, but was still too large and powerful. The minds of Nihag’s hunters snapped too, and their dead bodies fell into the mud.
Confused and unbalanced, the god fell over Saki’s net and got caught inside. Disoriented, it rushed up in a panic. The minds of those on the sides broke off, killing the men, but the middle of the trawl held on and dragged away those trying to anchor it.
Saki coughed, drew a deep breath and opened up his eyes, amazed by the smell. Snow. He looked around. Indeed, he found himself in the middle of an endless blue snow plain. Impossible for the wet, torrid Eastern continent.
“It is not.”
Saki turned and stared at the Mute. The man sat calmly between Kivo the recruit and the massive Ohjun. The captain blinked, thought one of the two Kanjeris must have spoken, and asked:
“Dead,” answered the Mute. “So are all the others, except the four of us.”
“How the hell do you speak? You have no tongue! And where are we?”
“Which answer first? And are you not curious about what it is not? Come on, straighten up, you are an Imperial captain after all!”
Annoyed, Saki stood up and gave the Mute a black look.
“Better,” smiled the Mute, “now you look more officer-like. The answer to where we are being the same to what it is not. It is not Gova, the Eastern continent. And it is not snow. We are in the yonder-world, above the clouds.”
The captain said nothing. He felt his chest, arms and legs, but all seemed whole. Nothing broken. Worried, he felt his ponytail, the god-hunters’ most prized possession. Still intact, too, and so were all the ribbons. He rushed the Mute and opened his mouth. The man still had no tongue – cut clean, like all the standard-bearers that served as The Emperor’s relays in battle.
“All right now?” asked the Mute, unruffled.
“But how? And how did you get here? You were not even part of our net,” asked Saki, looking around for his lance.
“It’s over there,” said the Mute, pointing to the bronze spears behind the other two men. “How I got here? Easily. I needed not to be part of the net. Why? The same reason I can speak without a tongue. Because I am not your standard-bearer, but something much more. Tell me, captain, why do the all the Mutes get their tongues cut out?”
Puzzled, Saki looked at Kivo and Ohjun, but they said nothing. The Mute chuckled and answered himself:
“Because they can hear The Emperor’s voice and no man is allowed to retell what The One says. But there is an exception.”
Confused, the officer said nothing. The Mute grinned:
“The One Himself.”
“Blasphemy!” roared the captain and rushed to grab the lance. “You’re either a traitor, or a demon! Get him!”
Kivo and Ohjun hesitated. The Mute shrugged:
“So, which one is it? Traitor or demon?”
Angry, Saki stuck the point of the lance into the bag’s cloth, ripped two strips and bound the Mute’s hands behind his back. He then made a gag and stuck it into the prisoner’s mouth. He ordered Ohjun:
“Grab him! He’ll be judged when we reach the camp.”
“But what if…”
“Silence! Don’t you know the regulations? The punishment for blasphemy against the One and Only That Must Be Worshipped?”
The hulk sighed, said nothing more and grabbed the captive. Saki pointed to what he thought could be West and they set on, trampling the thick snow.
The men walked for hours, finding nothing. There was light and spring-like warmth, but no sun could be seen. There was no gusts of wind, no sounds of rivers, nothing at all except the hush-hush of their own feet.
After a while, they grew tired, hungry and thirsty. Kivo knelt and tasted the snow. Saki meant to chastise the recruit, but saw he was unharmed and gobbled some snow himself. It did quench the thirst, but tasted nothing like frozen water: it was sour and not cold at all, rather lukewarm.
Soon they felt exhausted and went to sleep, curled on the bare ground. No night fell upon them and they had no sun to calculate time, so they could not know for how long they had slept. An hour? A week? Anyway, it became obvious there were no villages, cities or fortresses to be reached. Worried they might run in circles, the officer shred tiny cloth pieces and left them behind. They never found those again, so they were not actually lost. There just was no place to get to. Nothing at all, just endless blue plains. Eventually, Saki gave up and removed the gag from the Mute.
“Wise choice. I do appreciate initiative on my men, but one must know when to give up.”
Saki stared angrily, but managed not to curse. He asked:
“Do you know where we are?”
“I’ve already told you. In the clouds.”
“No. We’d need sky-fortresses to reach the clouds. And I know from sky-sailors that the clouds are actually smoke-like. They cannot be walked.”
“True, indeed. About the clouds in your world, Saki. But this is the yonder-world, as your kind calls it. One of many yonder-worlds, I’d say.”
“The yonder-world? So that damn god did drag us over! The bitch! It could not kill us there, it brought us to its lair to finish us here.”
“Half true. It did drag you here, because it was in a hurry. But not from anger. Because of its fear. And this is not its home, either.”
“Fear? Come on, fear of what? We are the god-hunters and it crushed us!”
“Fear, indeed. Of me, my friend. The god sensed me entering the Mute and panicked.”
Saki looked at him in disbelief, but the Mute did not flinch. Ohjun and Kivo stared at their captain, silent. The officer eventually shrugged and called on the recruit:
The youngster did so in a hurry, keeping the distance.
“A token of goodwill, that. In advance,” said the captain. “Now tell me, whoever you are, how the hell do we get out of here?”
“That I will. But you must swear to do what I say, no questions asked. What needs explaining will be revealed in due time. And that time has not yet arrived.”
“Whatever. We are not philosophers here, to entertain ourselves with cunning riddles. We’re army men. Tell us what needs done and it gets done.”
“Ah, that’s easy. We must find the first passing. And for that we need a tiny, tiny offering. Are you willing to sacrifice?”
The two soldiers nodded, but Saki smiled nastily and laid his palm on the Mute’s shoulder:
“Sure. If you go first. You know, just to show us how.”
The Mute grimaced.
“I cannot. Yet, I will let you try. It’s a blood sacrifice. Each must give some. Not much.”
He stretched his arms towards the captain. Saki took the lance and used its thin edge on the man’s forearms. The blade did cut flesh, but nothing came out: there was no blood in the Mute’s veins. The three warriors looked at each other with dark gazes, then again at the prisoner. Kivo whispered a prayer, Ohjun grabbed the lance harder, Saki just turned the blade around and cut himself. He let the red stream flow for a few moments, then tied the wound and called on the others to do the ritual, too.
The dark puddle swirled and turned into a stream. It started getting away from them, endlessly stretching, way more than the blood they had offered. The Kanjeris quickly took their lances and rushed on its tail, fearing it might outrun them. They chased it for hours, ever more exhausted, till it stopped just as suddenly as it has started, and turned back into a round pool.
The Mute bowed ironically and jumped inside. He vanished. The three men stared at each other in disbelief, then Ohjun growled and jumped, too. Saki and Kivo followed him. As soon as they sank, the blood pond pushed them back up, but the surface was not the blue plain anymore. It was a sea. An endless honey sea. The ocean on which the yonder-galleys sail on their way from the yonder-port under the Imperial Palace catacombs and the places they needed to unload troops.
Scared they could not swim, the men struggled, but soon realized they could neither sink, nor drown. The sea not only had the color of honey, but also its consistence, so they would have to push hard to go under. It did not taste sweet, though. It was bitter.
“Over there!” yelled Kivo.
The others turned and saw on the horizon the shape of a ship. They started screaming and gesturing, but in vain. The yonder-galley kept on its way, till it could not be seen anymore.
Something could be seen, though, from the opposite direction. Some unclear shape, moving fast, straight at them. As it got closer, they realized it was not one shape, but many. A large group of creatures, looking like something imagined by a lunatic having a nightmare about mermaids. Their upper half was shaped human-like, with women’s breasts and tiny heads, ugly and wrinkled. The lower half was just a tangle of tentacles, and instead of arms held bat-like wings. Used not to fly, but to grab the ocean and crawl beneath it.
When the shoal got closer, the men could discern some more. The tiny heads were upside down. Instead of a mouth they had a long line of small, bulb-shaped eyes, and where the eyes should have been there were enormous muzzles, going around the back, filled with needle-like sharp teeth. They screeched and soon the Kanjeris understood why. On the other side of the honey surface, as if that was the up and theirs the down, floated upside-down a fast longboat, propelled by long rows of oars. On it stood fishermen, strange beings looking like a cross between lobsters and spiders and using their spear-like arms to hunt the mermaids.
“Quick, hold hands!” commanded the Mute.
The men did so in a hurry and the Mute mumbled something that did not sound human. Between them and the hunting party rose a whirl, sizzling angrily. Both the boat and the shoal avoided it and rushed away, over the horizon.
“What was that?” whimpered Kivo.
“If I told you, those words would mean nothing. Anyway, it’s the least scary thing these seas can reveal, believe me.”
“Let’s go on dry land, then!” reasoned Ohjun.
The Mute grinned.
“I have some bad news and some good news. Well, they get bad later on, too. What do you want first?”
No one answered. He kept on.
“The bad, then. There is no dry land in this world, just seas layered one on top of the other. Like a sea pie. A nasty sea pie.”
“So this is the end. We’ll drown,” said Saki.
“No. The good news is that there is, nearby, some kind of an island.”
“Let me guess. The problem is we don’t know where.”
“And it gets bad, too, because it requires some sacrifice?”
The Mute laughed heartily.
“I like you, captain, you’re smart. Yes, it does need a sacrifice. A small one for ordinary men, but harder for the proud Kanjeris. It gets much worse inland, but we’ll get to that.”
“Well, so smart that I begin to question whether you are neither traitor, nor demon, but simply a madman.”
The standard-bearer giggled.
“Why not what I claim to be? The Emperor?”
“No, madman sounds more likely. But let’s hear it. The offering, before some other sea monsters rise from beneath the waves.”
The Mute swam closer to Saki and grabbed his elegant ponytail, the proud symbol of the elite corps. He counted the ribbons and whistled:
“Well, well, you’ve seen quite a lot of fights. So many battles, so many campaigns, such a hero! Too bad it needs to be cut off.”
The captain’s face turned white, and so did Ohjun’s. Kivo’s tail was short and lacking any decorations, so he was not impressed, but the veterans abhorred becoming tailless nobodies. They looked at each other for quite a while, speechless. Eventually, they nodded and got closer. Each one took his lance and, in a short, simultaneous move, cut the other one’s tail and respectfully presented it. The officer then called the recruit and cut his, too.
“Impressive,” smiled the Mute. “A sacrifice of blood, easy. Pride, much harder, but done nonetheless. Give them to me, please.”
He blew on the tails and let them fall into the water. They wiggled and got into a line, trembling.
They started swimming alongside the hair line. Each time the men reached its forward point, the last tail rushed before the first one: a rope without an end. They floated for what felt like days, or weeks, protected against sea monsters by the Mute’s spells. Suddenly, an island showed up and the tails sank.
The island was not large, only about the size of a small village. It looked completely barren, just a rock with no plants or animals. In its center stood a lonely building: a simple stone gate.
“Is that the way home?” asked Kivo, hopeful.
“For some of us it is,” answered the Mute. “I can’t tell you which ones, even though I do know it already. Not all of us, anyway.”
“It does not matter,” interrupted the hulk. “It’s the same in any battle. We all start it, but not all reach the end alive. That never frightened the Kanjeris before. It won’t scare us now.”
“Right so, Ohjun, right so. If any of you has anything else to say, this would be a good time.”
“So because the final sacrifice is that already done by this body I wear. The island will never let you leave if you can tell the story.”
“But… but the yonder-galleys often cross these seas and their sailors don’t have to cut off their tongues.”
“True that. But they enter, cross and exit this world covered in god-essence, tricking it. We are not. And I meant the island, not the seas. It will not allow it. So… it must be done. Talk what you need to talk and do it. I’m waiting.”
He turned his back on them and started walking to the gate.
“Captain,” began the recruit. “I… I…”
“I know, Kivo. I do. You are a brave young man and I’m glad we’ll prevail or die together. Kanjeri!”
The youngster straightened and Saki patted him on the back. He then turned to face Ohjun. The big man said nothing, just nodded respectfully. They needed no words. The officer yelled at the Mute:
“All right, smart guy. My last words are a question. Two, actually. Are you really The One? The Emperor?”
“Yes, Saki. I am.”
“And… are you even human?”
The Mute laughed.
“You know that such doubt is blasphemy, right? Punishable by instant execution? But I pardon you.”
“No. I am not human.”
The captain asked no more. He took his lance, cut his tongue out with its blade and threw the bloodied piece in the sand. The other two did the same, the veteran without hesitation, the recruit shaking and whimpering. The Emperor took them up and pointed at the gate.
“Beyond that archway, the wounded god lies hidden. It is also the island itself, I told you there’s no actual land in this world. How it is both the outside and the inside, I cannot explain it plain enough for human minds. You’ll have to trust me on that.”
“And this is the moment of truth. I told you the good news will turn sour. Terrible, actually. You will never be able to cross that god-gate…”
The Kanjeris stared in amazement. Saki’s face turned red, and both he and Ohjun reached for their weapons.
“… because what you could see there would be too overwhelming for your mortal minds. But wait, captain, I do have a trick for that.”
They froze and looked at him. He went on.
“Not with your own eyes, you cannot pass. But with mine, you might.”
The captain spat a bloody drop, grabbed his lance and rushed the stone gate. Reaching it, he hesitated for a moment, but pushed on. He froze inside it, then screeched in terror, horribly. He ripped off his clothes and began scratching his skin with the blade, blooding it terribly, then rolled wildly on the ground. Eventually, the captain ripped his eyes out with his fingers and fell silent. After a while he managed to crawl back, sobbing.
Saki tried to feel the way with his hands, but stopped and raised his head, astonished.
“Told you!” said the Mute. “Yes, you do still see. Through my eyes, because I allow it. Get over here!”
Ohjun jumped up, roared his own challenge and ran at the gate. He did not try to go through the arch, but struck it hard, like a ram. It did not budge. The man collapsed, crying, then laid on his back and sobbed. He stood up, raised the lance and stuck its point into his eyes, one at a time.
Kivo took a long look at the strongman, then at the captain. He raised his spear and thrust it into his neck. Half decapitated, the youngster gurgled and fell. His corpse soon froze, motionless.
“Well, I told him we would not all escape,” whispered the Emperor and sat down.
For countless hours, he declaimed something. A spell perhaps, or maybe a saga from previous eras, until the two Kanjeris becalmed and came sit next to him, blooded and dark.
Eventually, they stood up and started walking, an Emperor dragging a dead body and His two most devoted heroes, bronze lances in their hands. The trio crossed the archway unopposed and found themselves inside an amphitheater with a tiny green stone glimmering in its center. The Mute pushed Kivo’s lance into the gravel and propped up the corpse against it. The other two god-hunters took positions, too, and formed a triangle, imagining a rudimentary god-trawl.
The Emperor circled around them and knelt three times. Each time, he slipped a tongue under the rubble and whispered a chant. When ready, he shouted:
“Time’s up! No place for you to run now!”
The emerald shivered and exploded, then turned into a green whirlwind, spinning fast. Suddenly, from it rushed out something like a monstrous deer, as big as a mountain, with a single horn. The being tried to fly away, but stumbled over the imaginary net and fell sideways. It began to struggle, but the trawl resisted, held fast by the veterans’ minds.
The Mute roared and fell. From its foaming mouth emerged a puff of black smoke that gradually shaped into a huge bull, as dark as a moonless night and with fve fiery red eyes. But only one horn, too. The beast jumped the deer and bellowed a command. The tongues under the rubble turned into tentacles and wrapped up around the Kanjeris.
The minds of both the living men and the dead Kivo rushed along the lines and coiled up over the struggling gods. The warriors fell dead and the ball imploded, crushing the monsters into a single tiny object.
A black, shining egg, that fell into the gravel and cracked. A red demon pierced the shell with both his horns, forced itself out and grabbed one of the lances. It drew a rune into the gravel with its point, stood over the symbol and yelled:
“Jo vedr’dregger kimra! San he’ galsadaru!”
The honey seas began to boil and the blue clouds started melting. The sky grew ever darker and suddenly filled with life. Massive flocks of winged black creatures, in huge numbers.
The demon gestured and all the corpses, Saki, Ohjun, Kivo and even the Mute, rose up. The dead grabbed their lances, opened up their large leathery wings, covered in tiny iron plates, and approached their master. The Emperor grinned and half-bowed for his honor guard, then flew up to greet his new armies.
The Ironskins followed, ever faithful.
Story first published in Romanian in 2016, under the title “Pieile de Fier”
Translated in English by the author