Chapter 1 Paterniel
Year 370 since Upheaval, first month - Garn
Dull gray sky. It stretches endlessly, a sight ingrained into my eyes over many years. I wish for the day to stay like that, uneventful and bland but that sluggish thing would disagree. In the distance a mountain moves. How many of my creations will die today? The plain stretching before us is monotonous mirroring the sky, with patches of mostly violet and some black grass scattered through the largely level ground. We are gathered near a cluster of hills with siege engines on top dragged there with some difficulty by my beast-type crystalborn of both air and ground. Scholars of Vantium designed the now strategically placed siege engines—made out of painfully slow-to-carve stonewood. They are works of art and will throw cottage-sized boulders for hundreds of strides at the approaching big thing. In the end, I fear the result will be as if someone threw amaranth petals at me.
Some of my progeny wear the armor of alamarium, reflecting dim pewter light. It was always prized metal by humans for strength and durability. The experience of the wearer is revealed in scratches and slight dents although most of it is earned from friendly skirmishes during practice in the arena or one of many gymnasiums. Few had their armor annealed while battling far smaller beasts than the one approaching us today.
Most don’t bother with heavy armor valuing mobility instead and wearing leather vambraces and greaves embossed with triquetra or symbols venerating the goddess of war: crossed swords, axes, and shields.
Almost none wear perfect shiny armor and for some reason, I prefer it that way since it gives an army a certain rough appeal.
Their large rectangular shields are another matter. Contrasting the rest of their gear, shields are flawless, without any scratches, and polished containing fractions of symbols and parts of lines. Each has a pebble-sized blue crystal in its center.
The mindless thing is looming towards us from the west while we wait patiently. We are an army of tall, short, ground-bound, winged, and even some water-type kindred, all ready to die for one another and for the Five Cities.
I can see the beauty in my most fearsome-looking creations but I find none in the approaching abomination. It is vicious, as humans would say, ″malice-made flesh″ with limbs of long impossibly thick pillars that carry it forward, making the ground cry. Its disturbingly arm-like forelegs have three fingers, each thicker than a horse’s chest, that end in yellowish claws dirtied by mud and stone.
Waiting hits my creations the hardest, but patience is everything.
Grunts of it can be heard like the distant rumbling of thunder with each of its steps giving the ground a heartbeat. Soon, the sound is getting stronger making me feel like the soil could start to fracture.
Now! My thoughts race in a flurry of commands, all issued mentally. It begins with ballistae, trebuchets, and scorpions spewing large spears and boulders at the thing—some of which even manage to pierce its skin. Behemoth’s roar is an eternity of anger released in moments. As boulders scar the sky, tens of thousands are abandoning their hiding and three large divisions are formed.
The middle formation, which forms a rectangle shape, is made of those possessing minds of their own and are therefore not controlled by me directly. Most are bipedal and of roughly humanoid shape, their task is the hardest, to stand their ground and stop that thing from advancing any further.
Thousands of unsentients, mostly four or more-legged creations with horns, claws, feathers, mandibles, maws, and countless others become the extension of my hands as my will dominates them. I send those remaining two formations into a flanking maneuver, my eyes are focused on them as my thoughts race to give instinctive commands involving butchery. Ground-based ones flank and try to climb the beast, all the while biting, clawing, and tearing chunks of flesh that would mortally wound almost any animal. At the same time as I position the unfathomable legions of my Winged behind and above the large creature’s back—and away from giant spears and stones cutting the air—the thing suddenly rears up on its great hind legs and stomps the ground in a miniature earthquake making many of my swarming ground attackers break away and fall off from the behemoth’s skin. Its thunderclap is followed by a torrent of dirt and bits of black and purple grass.
Ogres, giants, beasts of air and land, many of them several times bigger than a human and still we are nothing but bugs when compared to the thing we face. The monster lifts its forward right limb and smashes it against shield formation. As the shields lock a combined image is revealed. They form a giant circle with Genesis symbols and patterns all speckled with glowing blue dots, which may seem as if scribbled from a mad scientist’s dream but there is power, there is purpose in them. Pale blue light flares and waves of energy ripple in circles above the heads and shields of my creations. The attack is blocked. As this was happening my Winged, many with riders on them, closed in. They swarm the behemoth, throwing spears, rocks, and shooting arrows. Some are even throwing themselves from their winged mounts while holding a spear, ramming it into the behemoth’s skin.
Winged kindred are led by Kali; unrivaled in strength she is currently leading the air forces and is the army’s general. While most of my time is taken by my research, hers is the mind for logistics and war. I focus my efforts on commanding my unsentients, they have minds similar to creatures of nature and require constant guidance in battle.
Kali circles in the air on her winged mount—an enormous dragonfly. Those that fantasize about having wings often think of birds but it is the dragonfly that is unsurpassed in grace and flight prowess. The only downside is the deafening sound of its four wings which intermingles with the shouting, roaring, and screeching of her kindred below. I broke countless small crystals and gave life to many insect types but this dragonfly simply never stopped growing. It is rare but sometimes insect crystalborn grow to outsize even me. She doesn’t really need the straps which are connected to the belt around her abdomen, pinning her to the custom-made saddle, and could stay mounted while the Winged does its beautifully erratic dance in the sky. But in doing so she might hurt it with her thighs.
Finally, she spots her opportunity and after removing her belt Kali throws herself from high above toward the behemoth’s head. While falling close to the creature’s neck she plunges her scythe and slides downwards, making a massive gash. There is an eruption of blood—a crimson waterfall. As she gracefully lands the enraged behemoth sees her, and it’s about to squash her like she were a much smaller version of her mount. It is strong as a mountain range but also moves as one. Kali moves to the side slamming her scythe into the creature’s finger and throws herself on its arm. She runs the arm dragging the scythe behind her, plowing through the things skin like some human villager would do to a field. Red rain falls over most of us as the colossal beast is screaming and thrashing with agony while ceaselessly being attacked on all sides.
Throwing myself off my winged mount I go for the beast’s right eye. In the manner of a rock, I descend with my greatsword Pentacore held tight, ready to swing. Its eye focuses on me and with surprising speed for such a large creature, the thing makes a sudden snapping movement. Fast as a spring I drop my weapon and thrust my hands up blocking the behemoth’s maws. It is crushing me between its tree stump teeth while using a haycart-sized tongue to push me around and fails. Standing I’m lodged between its teeth, a taut blue shape of straining muscle holding its mouth open when Kali enters.
I’m not in danger, not really, but she still followed me here and immediately upon arriving started slashing at the base of its teeth, tongue, and slashing everywhere creating a red swamp while somehow maintaining her balance. The scythe is her third hand, her movements are those of a virtuoso on their favorite instrument. Foolishly, for a blissful moment, I’m tempted to just forget our situation and watch her surprisingly elegant movements inside this sludge. Soon we are washed with the monster’s saliva and blood when suddenly the creature moves its head up to face the sky. It opens its mouth and we are swallowed.
I see nothing, can’t move, and there is only darkness. After unceremoniously rolling in a mush I finally find myself in a warm ocean of soft wet goo. My heart beats even faster than while I held that abomination’s maw and I call for her. After an eternity I feel her presence and see the soft shine of the blue crystal near the beard of her scythe.
″Are you hurt?″ she asks with genuine concern in her voice. Blue light washes over the side of her pale purple face leaving the rest in shadows.
″You know this thing can’t kill me, what were you thinking.″ With considerable effort, I keep my voice even.
″Forgive me, Maker.″ She is always formal. I would prefer my creations to call me by name but that doesn’t sound respectful enough to their minds.
Kali looks to the side and I think I saw something on her face in the dull crystal light. Her worry for me is completely irrational, she knows full well this beast has no chance of seriously hurting me whereas she is another matter.
We are in a cave made of sludge. The pale blue light of her crystal is easily swallowed by darkness making this place seem an endless void. Her pure white hair which usually shines like silk now has a red tint that seems black in the dim light.
″Can you cut through?″ I ask.
″I tried but it keeps reforming.″
Suddenly we are thrown to the side as the entire chamber of guts rolls to one side.
″It is dead,″ I say while covered in whatever this vile matter is.
″My kindred never fail.″
″Don’t be modest, that neck wound you gave it made it bleed out, we should have simply moved away and waited for the thing to die.″
Within a short span of time, its blood turns to glass and its interior solidifies. She cuts and punches through the now glass-like substance all the while insisting that she should do this tedious work. Shards of glass are randomly flying in all directions from her terror of punches and slashes. Were she born male in some now long-gone human empire I have no doubt she would reach the pinnacle, becoming emperor on the merit of her wits alone. This is why her irrational behavior in following me inside the beast’s mouth baffles the mind.
Humans always had a weakness for strength. Worshiping long-dead conquerors—butchers of their own kind—and easily led astray. Their end is well deserved.
Kali’s efforts finally bore fruit and light is pouring in through a small hole, fracturing and spilling all around us. Soon we are out in the beautifully fresh air and I grab her hand raising it towards the sky. Many of my creations, her kindred, are around us with sentient ones capable of speech screaming her name, while the rest roar and screech with approval.
I turn to her, placing my hand on her shoulder. ″Well done.″ She can barely hear me from the cacophony. Smile dances across my face. Kali seems imperceptibly uncomfortable. Her eyes—a vigorously purple expanse of all shades with a black zenith and no whites—seem troubled. My sentient creations can sometimes be a mystery even to me.
There will be time to mourn the fallen, time to collect the crystal dust, but at this moment I want everyone’s spirits raised. Five Cities are safe.
Seven-hundred-sixty-four. I can’t stop thinking about that number. That is how many are dust now, with a myriad more injured. Most had tags or engraved armor marking their names. I should be helping collect and sort the crystal dust. What is left of many will be lost to the wind and former chaos of battle. Some scholars are drawing the parts of the behemoth’s body and taking samples while scores of their kindred smash the corpse to harvest the large crystal inside.
Humans would laugh if they could see me right now. Sulking, brooding, being miserable over a few hundred dead familiars. While I was theirs thousands of my creations would perish in petty wars and I would feel nothing. My polluted mind saw it all through a fog as if I was having a lucid dream. They would simply command me to make more, always more.
Now, none are forced to follow me or to fight for me but regardless many do it instinctively and this makes me feel even more guilty for each of my crystalborn that perishes. Sentient ones have bigger freedom of choice but the beast-types would almost all innately die for me in a heartbeat. I could command them to leave, not to fight, but I need them. I can’t stop a behemoth alone—the Southern City still bears scars from the previous attack.
There is shouting and commotion outside. It negates the sounds coming from the crushing of the behemoth’s corpse. I get up from the table and leave the tent, with my brooding hopefully left behind.
A hulking and brutish creature is brought in chains in front of Kali. He dwarfs many of his kindred around him. Despite his being shackled, others are wary of his mere presence. She holds a ridiculously oversized ax in her right hand. The ogre kneels in front of her accepting his fate, knowing it would be pointless to try and attack her. If anyone else was his executioner the ogre would probably rage and fight until his dying breath. Even kneeling he is slightly taller than her.
Silence spreads as soon as Kali starts speaking. ″There can be only one punishment for cowardice.″ Hundreds of her kindred have gathered around her to witness the decapitation. Her cuirass is stained, almost fully covered with shiny dried behemoth’s blood, contrasting her flawlessly smooth face. Just like her kindred, she is blessed with long-lasting youth.
I do not wait for her to even raise the vicious-looking single-bladed ax, made precisely for quick executions, before stopping this. Considering her might and desire to give the blink-fast kiss of death, to do it quickly and painlessly, I have no time for hesitation.
″Enough has died today.″ The eyes of hundreds of my creations are on me and they make room as I approach the stage. The wooden stairs grunt, protesting my stride.
Menacing eyes, a small nose, and oversized bottom teeth; humankind would see him as a wild beast, a monster to be dispatched with no remorse. I see the beauty in all my creations—their life is my life. I look at the ogre and see a tiny part of myself.
Over centuries, to my boundless joy, my crystalborn have become too numerous to count, and even without my work, it would be impossible to know them all well, as much as I wish it so. Even though their numbers are vast—more than the population of a dozen large human cities combined—it is still only a fraction of the numbers mankind possessed before their fall.
″What is your name?″ I ask.
The ogre diverts his gaze. ″Brontes...Maker.″
″Brontes you are dismissed from the army and forbidden to rejoin for the next twenty springs.″ I look at the two guards near us. ″Remove his chains.″ To my often great annoyance, I’m seldom questioned and obeyed without pause, not unlike emperors of old. This is why their moments of hesitation are so unusual. After looking at Kali for a few breaths they unchain Brontes.
Kali’s jaw tightens. Her height is matching mine and yet her presence is that of the beast we’ve slew today. Her gaze never left my face. ″You will encourage future cowardice,″ she whispers and then drops the heavy ax, which clamorous across the boards sending rumbling pulses through my chest.
″It is easy to destroy hard---″
She abruptly decides to leave. Her face is replaced with slicked-back hair that ends at a level slightly above her hips. Kindred are making wide enough space for Brontes himself to walk through. Dabbler would foolishly see fear in those around her but it is reverence. More than a few bow their heads slightly as she walks by.
Suddenly I become slightly envious of that tyrannous power that the now centuries-dead emperors had.