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OF GODS AND MEN
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?”

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