Saturday, July 22, 2017

Chapter 39: Of God and Man

            Drake barely heard the words before he found himself charging.  He heard nothing from that moment on, and his eyes were fixed on their target.  He leapt into the air… 
            The former Malthus raised his blade quickly to block Drake’s oncoming attack.  The shock of the blow sent the god to one knee.  He brought his free hand up to the flat of his sword and pushed upward. 
            Drake tried to grasp the pommel of his own sword with his free hand, but closed a grip upon it too late.  The god’s push sent him tripping backward, and as he began to fall he saw the screaming sheen of steel as it made its way quickly, imminently, to his unarmored rib cage. 
            But Drake had been the greatest warrior the KingsGuard had ever seen, and his reflexes had not dimmed so much since he’d come back to Briarden.
            UPWARD THRUST
            Drake’s hilt caught the god’s blade as it flew up to intercept steel and bone.  The mortal warrior let go his weapon, and allowed himself to fall on his back.  He rolled out from under his divine opponent and quickly brought around his right leg.
            The god fell to his knees, which buckled at the backs of them being kicked inward.  He looked up, and miraculously, Drake stood before him with the tip of a sword in his face.  The god did not smile now.  Instead, he brought his sword round…
            The once and future GodKing batted Drake’s sword away, and quickly got to his feet, stepping back as he raised his own blade; buying himself some distance with which to see. 
The mortal was a few steps away, a readied blade in hand, and the intent to kill in his eyes. 
“This is what I wanted,” the divinity began, “a clean match.  Sword on sword.”
“You still plan to keep your power out of it?” Drake asked through a frayed calmness that could not wholly cover his anger.
“I do,” the god promised, “until a victor is decided.”
“Then you will die today!” Drake lunged at the god, bring his blade down: lighting the fuse.
            The god blocked the attack, but Drake brought round another.  Then another.  The divine one managed to parry and dodge, desperate to bring his sword around and launch his own offensive.
But the former captain of the KingsGuard was in rare form: angry, and at the very peak of his skill.  He did not hold back, charging the god with thrust after stab after slash.  It was all the GodKing could do to keep Drake’s righteous blade at bay, until…
Drake brought the flat of his blade down onto the crossguard of Malthir, then pulled his weapon back quickly.  The sound of flesh being sliced was unmistakable, and Drake saw that even a god’s blood was red. 
Thus there stood the new GodKing of Malthanon, with a gash across his hand, his sword on the ground, and the tip of Drake’s blade poised an inch away from his heart.
“You are better…,” the GodKing said, a slight sadness finding its way around the words, “…still.”
“I have always been better than you,” Drake confirmed, “Tarsus Cole.”
“Hm, so you did recognize me,” Tarsus said, sounding relieved.
“The power has changed your face and hair…but not your eyes,” Drake explained.  “Your smile is different as well, though I recognize it…and who it belongs to.”
“You can’t tell him about me,” Tarsus said serenely.
“I know,” Drake agreed.  “And you can’t remind him of who you are.  What one god does, another cannot undo.”
            The tip of Drake’s sword grazed the grey tunic that Tarsus wore, finding its resting place over the Sunsword’s heart.
            “Do you intend to kill me now?” Tarsus asked gently.
            “ I want to,” Drake admitted, his eyes focused on the tip of his own blade.  “I don’t know why I want to.  In the presence of the gods, even if I hate them their power makes me love them.  But with you…I feel murderous.  Uncontrollably so.”
            “It’s the power Drake,” Tarsus said, “it exerts its influence on mortals.  If a god wants to be loved, it makes them love.  If a god wants to be feared, it makes them afraid.”
            “What is it you want then, that brings this out in me?”
            “I want you to be honest,” Tarsus admitted.  “That’s all I’ve ever wanted from you.”
            “Very well,” Drake acquiesced, “I worshipped you, Malthus, and you alone as soon as I was old enough to know what a knight was.  That was my choice.  Then I joined your ranks.  I fought for you, bled for you…bound myself to you.  That was also my choice.  I pushed everything away to make as much room as I could for the GodKing.  Then you…” Drake raised his head to meet his GodKing’s eyes, “…you, Tarsus…you come to Malthanon with a woman who claimed to have been chosen by the GodKing himself.  Sent on an errand that was impossible.  And you came back…triumphant.  So then, I had to ask myself…if I didn’t need to do all I did in service, then what was it all for?”
            Tarsus put a glowing hand onto the shoulder of Drake Mathix.  The tip of the sword still rested on the GodKing’s beating heart.
            “My friend, I do not know,” Tarsus said, “but I will find out.  And I promise…when I do, if you’d still like to know, I shall tell you.”
            Drake’s eyes shook in his head as he looked hopefully at Tarsus.  “What shall I do until then?”
            Tarsus squeezed the hand on Drake’s shoulder.  “Stay here.  Rest.  And when you are ready, do what you have always loved to do…watch over this village, and protect its people.”
            “Like a militiaman?”
            “Like a knight.”
            The tip of the sword fell from Tarsus’s breast.  Something rose between the two men and Tarsus looked down to find Drake’s upturned hand waiting. 
            Tarsus pushed the knight’s hand away gently, and embraced his friend.  Drake, eventually, hugged back.
            The two broke apart, and Tarsus turned to go.  The blinding golden light surrounding them suddenly faded, and back into view came the remains of the forge.  Though, they were not remains.  The place had been remade, and Tarsus was walking to the closed door through which Drake had entered.
            The GodKing turned.
            “You are not Malthus,” the former knight of Malthus’s KingsGuard said.
            “I know that,” Tarsus replied with an air of Pell-ish sarcasm.
            “Then you should also know you’ll need a new name for yourself,” Drake explained.  “And for that sword.”
            Tarsus raised the divine blade in his hand, looking down at it through inquisitive eyes.  His smile grew wide, and he looked back up to Drake, with a pair of delighted, joyous eyes.  “I get to name a sword?”
            “And yourself,” Drake insisted in that older brother way of reminding a younger brother of his chores.  “After all, you are not the boy I grew up with, or the man who journeyed with Finnian Pell.  You are more than that now.  A man grown.  A great man.”
            “Thank you Drake,” Tarsus offered, at a loss for what else to say. 
            “Go.  Fight for us,” Drake commanded.  “And when it’s done, you come home.  We’ll be here…waiting.”
            Tarsus nodded.  In the pit of his stomach, he could feel the power bubbling inside him.  It wanted to act.  He wanted to act.  He had to go, before it overcame this man, his friend. 
            The GodKing closed his eyes and channeled the power to obey this new desire to leave.  And when he opened them again, he found himself standing atop the spire of the palace of the GodKing. 

            And there, the illumined phantoms of Cecily and Finnian were waiting for him.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Chapter 38: A Lighted Fuse

            As Drake stepped through the open door of the waiting forge, crossing over the threshold into the sea of golden light, he felt a familiar pull in the pit of his stomach.  There was no mistaking it now; he was in the presence of divinity.
            As he watched the real world of Briarden fall away, only to be replaced by this ethereal luminescence, a sudden fear grew in his mind.  As more of the heavenly light surrounded him, he imagined himself being burned by it: scorched by it.  His skin tingled in anticipation of the light’s attack, and in his mind’s eye, he saw the fluid in his body simmer and grow to boil.  He saw smoke escape his eyes, ears and mouth, as he felt the agony of his innards stew.
            He came back to himself in the present moment.  Briarden was gone, and he was entirely within the womb of the light.  Though his skin still tingled, there was no smoke or sensation of burning.  Instead, the golden illumination eventually presented a crouched figure.  Drake could not make it out entirely; the light shone too brightly for his eyes to take in much more than the shape of it; but it seemed to be huddled over something, searching it.  Another image suddenly popped into Drake’s mind; one of a gargoyle, hungrily examining its newly caught prey.
Drake took a few steps closer, moving past the blinding curtain.  He stopped when a deep blue cloak came into view, and he realized that the form he had given monstrous shape to in his mind was only a man who’s head was bent low. 
The strange man’s head rose, and he turned to the approached soldier.  He wore a simple grey tunic and grey breeches, but Drake took pause at the face that presented itself.  This stranger bore a youthful countenance of smooth, sun-touched skin, with intent azure eyes and a smirk bordering on arrogance.  It seemed all too familiar, and yet the mortal’s memory yielded no clear persons to which it could belong.
Drake then looked down, to what the strange man held in two upturned hands.  The knight took an audible breath at the most beautiful two-handed broad sword he had ever seen.  The blade gleamed as though it had been freshly oiled, and the steel shown with a clear sheen: not a scratch of use to be found.  Drake followed the bright blade up to the weapon’s hilt, where he saw a crossguard and grip bound in the green, black and brown leather favored by foresters who sought to hide in the plain sight of the wood.  Yet as his gaze fell on the pommel, his eyes went wide.  The symbol he found there was a familiar one; a ray of sunlight, only one that showed wide at the top and narrow at the bottom.  It was a rising ray of light instead of the falling one that he knew so well…the one that he wore on his uniform for years in his service to the GodKing.  It all suddenly made sense to him; the magnificence of this weapon, the brilliance of it, meant it could only be Malthir.
This strange man, though, did not resemble any of what Drake had heard the GodKing to look like.  But his stomach was on fire with a familiar sensation of divinity, and the gods had many gifts; shape shifting being a well known one. 
“Malthus,” Drake spat, assured in his assumption.
“No longer,” the young looking god answered.
“Your sword,” Drake said, pointing to the pommel.  “That ray of light is the symbol of the GodKing of Malthanon.”
“Not this symbol, surely,” the deity replied in mock offense.
“You’ve flipped it,” Drake said flatly.  “But that does not change what it is…what it means.”
“You’re wrong, Drake Mathix.  Former captain of Malthus’s KingsGuard,” the pompous divinity said through an easy smile.  “The meaning is entirely changed.  I am not Malthus.”
“Then who are you?” Drake demanded.
“You shall see…” the strange man sighed cryptically, “…in time.”
Drake’s skin felt afire - as though a thousand spears were pricking him from the inside.  He was restless to remove the smug expression from this impish god’s face.  He gave only a momentary thought to why he was so angry, for in truth, he did not know.  He felt the rage well from the pit of his stomach, where he normally felt only good will and obedience in the presence of the gods.  But standing before this pompous prig, such benevolence was nowhere to be found.  All Drake Mathix felt, in abundance, was the fury.
In his hand, the former knight suddenly felt a weight.  He looked down to find he was grasping the hilt of a sword.  As he examined it, he realized it was not just any sword…it was his sword; the hand-and-a-half bastard blade he wielded as the captain of Malthus’s KingsGuard.  But he had not brought that sword, or any weapon, with him from the Good Shepherd.  As far as he knew, this blade had been hidden away by Finnian Pell on Drake’s own request.  He had wished to let it lie somewhere.  As far as he was concerned, there was no more need for it.
“Fight me,” the voice of the deity echoed throughout this lighted realm.
Drake looked up to find the impish demeanor of the god replaced with one of enthusiastic intensity.  “Why?”
“Because you want to.”
“You could destroy me with a thought,” Drake heard himself say, even as he scrutinized the god-man before him for any sign of visible weakness.  The stranger was right, Drake wanted to fight.  He was a warrior, and the warrior’s instinct had reclaimed him.
“I won’t,” the god promised, a knowing smile returning to his face.  “I will fight you man to man.”
“You are not a man,” Drake accused.
The god’s smile widened.  “Not anymore.  But I was.”
“I knew you,” Drake admitted in frustration, “who were you?”
“The only way to learn…is to fight.”
Drake felt a fresh wave of fury rush from the pit of his stomach and spread all across his body.  The fuse had been lit, and he was about to explode.
“Shall we begin?”