|Previously...Zen and Linis return, at last, to Etru, only to discover Caris Vay has installed himself as a god and they are captured. But during the ceremonial sacrifice, High Priest Sadur conjures a manifestation of the god, Mamax, which slays Vay...and then turns toward Linis and Zen...
chapter nine: lying sorcery
“Wait,” cried the girl, sudden insight coming upon her. “The thing’s an illusion – a projection created by the strange device upon Sadur’s head - it's science, not sorcery. Kill him and you’ll end this terror. Fail and he’ll be unstoppable.”
The man hesitated, gazed at the looming giant, frighteningly real, gathering its immeasurable strength for the final lunge.
“Don’t look at it,” urged Linis. “See through it, find the man who hides within the image. Ignore all else.”
Zen fought down his rising terror, squinted. Ah yes, there was a shadowy figure between the god’s legs – Sadur!
“Stay here,” he said sternly as he lowered Linis, and then ran towards the titan, manly resolve firming the grip upon his knife.
Suddenly, Mamax reared up, a towering manifestation of evil incarnate. Fireballs rained down from the deity, fell upon the puny man, drenching him in writhing flames. Zen felt their fearsome heat, frighteningly real. He staggered, then called upon all his inner will, denying the illusion.
“Trickery,” he cried. “You hear me, priest? I’m not deceived by your lying sorcery.”
The world exploded into searing conflagration. The flames leapt up, writhing into nightmarish shapes – demons of unspeakable hideousness. Zen ignored them, forged through the raging inferno of fiery phantasms.
Sadur’s shadowy form loomed before him. The illusions intensified, assaulting his senses with horrendous stimuli, weighing upon him like millstones. Again he staggered under the mental onslaught; fell to his knees, heard the High Priest’s sardonic laugh.
Rage filled Zen, surging in like a boiling tide. He lunged forward, slashing wildly, felt his blade strike flesh. A scream rang out, and the illusions began to disperse like windblown mist. He looked down, the madness slowly fading from his eyes. Sadur’s bloody corpse lay sprawled before him.
Turning, he gazed upon the crowd, still kneeling; wailing incoherently. Sadur was dead, but the priesthood had won. After experiencing such a terrifying spectacle, Zen knew his people, fearful of the god's wrath, would forever be slaves to the hierophants who proclaimed its will, unless …
Quickly, Zen removed the strange device from Sadur’s head and placed it upon his own. If this was science as Linis claimed, then any man could use it. He concentrated, willing the mechanism to project what he desired.
Mamax again appeared – the monstrous quintessence of malevolence, but this time Zen stood next to it, equal in size and strength. The god uttered a shriek of fear, turned to flee. Zen sprang upon the fiend, plunged his dagger into its back. Again and again he struck. Mamax howled, sunk to its knees, liquid flames gushing from its gaping wounds. It toppled, struck the earth, crumbled to ash that dissolved in smoking wisps before the frozen crowd, transfixed by the frightful scene.
“I, the rightful Lord of Etru, have returned,” cried Zen in a voice like peals of thunder. “I have slain Mamax with powers mightier than it’s own. No more shall my people be sacrificed to this dead god. My first decree is that all priests are to leave Etru by nightfall, never to return. If any are found within or without the city walls henceforth, they shall be slain without mercy. Members of the Council - to the palace and await my arrival, all others return to your homes and expect further announcements. Go!”
The crowd dispersed, many glancing with awe at the towering figure of their new Lord. Others, the priests and their lackeys, slunk away in tremulous haste, fearful cowering things that would not be missed.
Zen reduced the size of his appearance to normality. He breathed a sigh of relief, confidant his ruse had worked. Removing the device from his head, he gazed at it thoughtfully; realizing that with such power came the responsibility to use it wisely. Turning, he saw Linis kneeling beside Vay, and approached the girl.
“Is he dead?”
She nodded, a gesture he had come to recognize as assent. “Yes, Vay’s amour was impregnable to weapons, but couldn’t save him from his own fear – heart failure, that’s what killed him.”
Standing up, she continued: “You’ve achieved a spectacular victory.”
“I couldn’t have done it without your help. Indeed, I still need you.”
“As a source of information?”
“Much more than that,” he replied, caressing her face.
Linis embraced him eagerly.
This story is copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)