Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
Her Weapons, Her Burdens
Submitted by Brendan Cleary (email)
“Did you see that?” Scrawls nudged Tratch, who almost fell off the shoulder of the ancient artificial they were perched upon. “Watch it!” Tratch said, nervous about her position. They were sitting on a giant sculpture for a god they didn’t bother remembering, the torso covered in the red sand that covers the plane of the world, stranded at the outskirts of their town. It was a precarious location, but a perfect place for privacy, if one desired it. Trying to get better footing the Ravnid scooted forward, and that’s when Tratch saw it.
Scrawls was staring at a new imitation moon. It must have appeared just minutes after they sat. It’s eyes were larger than most, with a wide smile showing all four rows of teeth. With the mad race the dead gods were in to outdo each other in terms of audacity and garishness, the number of teeth felt quite conservative. The common assumption was that they were meant as omens, to scare the subjects the gods has grown to despise, but Tratch couldn’t help but see warmth emanating from those carved in eyes.
“The dead gods move fast, don’t they?” Tratch said, making light conversation and light movements towards her companion. She had feelings for Scrawls, something she had hoped the Canid would have noticed by now, but she was as lovely as she was dense. “That looks like one made by Crane, which would be quite impressive considering that my AuntMother told me she made one less than 24 hours ago-”
“It blinked.” Scrawls said. Her eyes were set on the moon.
And with this Tratch stood straight up like a bolt. Fall be damned, love be damned! Something as preposterous as this was worth standing for. Everyone knew these moons of the gods couldn’t blink. After all, that’s why they were called imitation moons. She told Scrawls this, in terse language that let her knew this wasn’t something to argue.
Scrawls shook her head and held her ground. “I saw what I saw. It blinked. Maybe Crane and the other gods have cracked it. They’re making moons with minds now.”
“Obviously they must be taking their brains from the likes of you.” Tratch said with a scoff. And yet, she couldn’t help but follow Scrawls gaze to the moon above them. She didn’t expect to see the moon blink, she wasn’t watching for that. But there was something, some quality to it that made it hard for her to look away. The moon stared back at her with dull eyes the color of dead leaves and the size of a lake. She put a hand on Scrawls crooked shoulder. The Canid smiled in response, but didn’t take her eyes off it.
“I feel like naming it.” Tratch said suddenly. She didn’t know where this thought came from, or why she said it. “It’s new enough that no one else has had the chance, and I’ve never gotten to name an imitation moon before.”
Scrawls gave her a weird look. “It’s funny… I had the same thought.”
Tratch was smiling now, matching the moons grin. It was lifeless, hollow, but goodness was that smile infectious. “I’ll do you one better, I’ll bet we came up with the same name.”
“That’s impossible?” Scrawls said it like a question.
“I don't know but the god’s weather feels right for the impossible.” And those in love have a funny way of getting their thoughts jumbled up. An old saying she was too nervous to say, but she hoped it wasn’t needed. “We’ll say it on three. Ready?”
Scrawls shrugged in a way that was clearly a sign of agreement. “Alright then.
Tratch never made it to three. Something caught in her neck. Something that made its presence known with cuts that pierced her throat and sent shockwaves of pain through her body. Scrawls screamed seconds later. Not at the pain, that was Tratch’s pain and Tratch’s alone, as the Ravnid grew quite quiet and still. Scrawls was reacting to a nasty looking thing that had flown up from below and landed straight on Tratch’s thigh. It was small and slender, a blood red sliver that ended in a sharp point on one end, while smoothing out into a whitish stump on the other. Scrawls didn’t know what it was, or if it was even alive, but she let common sense drive her. She slapped the thing off, letting it fall to the ground below. Tratch didn’t react, she just sat there, staring at the moon. Her eyes were clouded with red in the strangest way.
“Sorry for touching you, I just had to get that off, it looked like a bug and-” Scrawls stopped talking as well. A pain suddenly struck her, straight in her stomach. It felt like she had just grown an extra organ, the worst thing she had ever felt, and she collapsed, becoming filled with bright pain that just got worse and worse. Tratch, meanwhile, continued to stare at the imitation moon, unable to do anything else.
Her vision grew blurred, becoming overtaken with the red. The imitation moon’s smile grew even wider, and Tratch saw quite clearly it winking at her before the red became all.
After the two had stopped moving, a third climbed up to the shoulder where their bodies now layed. Like Tratch, she was a Ravnid, and her beak seemed to burn bright red in the glow of the Single Sun. Wearing gloves that clung tightly to her narrow claws, she picked up the blood red sliver and placed it within a pack on one of her three vests. The Ravnid checked both for a pulse, but it wasn’t necessary. Their internal bleeding had become external. There was no life in their red eyes. She looked below, where her accomplice were waiting. She waved a wild hand at her and yelled with joy. She replied with hoots and laughter. The imitation moon above her was large and present. It’s grin was pointed directly at her. Naturally, she grinned back.
CHAPTER 1: THE BLACKSMITH
Two days later, The Blacksmith arrived.
She walked in a straight line. Never faltering, never turning. No one knew how long she had walked, but the first word came in two weeks before she would arrive. Newcomers and travellers told of the stranger they had passed on the road, telling stories in the town of a “Lagnid who moves only in a straight line.” Being on foot, most people who met her overtook her and left her in the dust. Where-ever she was going, she had no hurry. And according to the few unlucky ones who had tried to hassle her, she had nothing to fear. But without her form of travel she was still a spectacle due to immense size and the strange items she carried. An anvil in one hand, a hammer in the other. Her strangeness bred interest, and that interest bred the discovery of her single minded path.
The discovery came about when another traveler decided to ease her Mellgrove carriage and let it keep pace with the Lagnid. The Mellgroves were happy with this, it allowed them to catch their breath and recover under the heat of the Single Sun. The fellow traveler, meanwhile, used this opportunity to sketch an image of the Lagnid on her pilgrimage. She
was an artist by trade and this giant traveling alone, without the aid of any carriage or companion, was an anomaly too evocative to leave alone. So, giving her a wide berth so as not to invade this traveler privacy, the artist began to work.
While making preliminary sketches the Lagnid came to a giant boulder. Anyone would have simply move to the side and continues onward, but the Lagnid did no such thing. Instead, she hefted her hammer and started to chip away at the boulder in front of her. She worked fast, and within no time at all she had carved a tunnel through the rock. And then, as if this was completely natural, The Blacksmith walked through the passage she had created. In the course of the two days she spent sketching her the artist saw this happen three other times. When an obstacle blocked her path, no matter how small, instead of walking around it, she would use her hammer to destroy it. She was on one path and one path alone, and most by then had figured out that the town of NilesRoot was her destination. No one in the town proper paid much mind to this. Enjoyable rumours, nothing more. Something to entertain yourself with while waiting for your shift to end or for moon-meals to be served. Something to take your mind off of the news that your niece had been killed just like those two who had died just days before. You see, The Blacksmith was the least of the townsfolk worries. Their own were dying. No one knew how or why. That took precedence over any larger than life blacksmith that could have been spun up by travelers wanting to have a good story to impress the locals.
So when The Blacksmith finally arrived, no one was there to greet her, no one was ready to pick a fight. They had family to mourn.
INTERLUDE 1: A QUICK SIDEBAR
A quick sidebar on The Town Of NilesRoot. The town was sequestered in a circle around a large dry lake. This lake wasn’t always dry. Once it was the foundation that had built the town. Through an earthquake created by fate, a crack opened in the ground beneath the sand, revealing a large water filled fissure that had been hiding beneath No-Ones Land for who knows how long. It attracted Ravnids, Lagnids, and Canids alike! Everyone came for the same reasons, to share in the resources and prosperity that a large body of water can always guarantee. And for a while it did. But the lake, slowly, over centuries, dried up. When the gods appeared, fallen from the sky like someone dumping a bushel of meat fruit onto the ground, they set to work quickly, giving the populace no reason to doubt they were anything but gods. the gods divided the world into districts, each god having full control over one district that they would be physically present in. Weird, complicated bureaucracy only the gods could understand governed the rules, as inscrutable as the Imitation Moons. If asked now, summoned in quickly dying rituals or rites, the gods (or their proxies, it was never fully clear) would explain that there were no vendettas or personal grudges responsible for lighting in some districts and fires in others. They were using a completely logical system based on the first name of the oldest person in each district, or using a long standing prophecy to guide their decisions. The one explanation differed from god to god, but those nice enough to answer after the transcendence all had the same throughline. Any personal harm or damage suffered by these decisions was not intentional.
This was not solace to the town of NilesRoot when it became apparent that they were living in a district where rain was unheard of. They tried to stave off the inevitable as long as they could, buying large deliveries of water from other cities. But these deliveries took more time than it was worth for their neighbors, and their frequency slowed until they became more defensible sizes. Not large enough to refill the lake, but just enough that the citizens wouldn’t go thirsty. By the time The Blacksmith arrived, no one alive could remember a time when the large hole in the center was pure blue.
CHAPTER 2: HANDIWORK
The Blacksmith entered the only bar that was open, a small place with a scratched floor covered in bottles. She stepped inside and felt a piece of glass crush under her sturdy boots.
“The Earnest’s policy is as followed; for every floor bottle you break, you gotta buy one.” The bartender appeared from a backroom, scruffy and wearing clothes that fit vertically but not horizontally. “And from where I’m standing, looks like I got you for two drinks, at least.”
The Blacksmith didn’t apologize or try to explain herself, she simply walked up to the counter. She made no effort to avoid the bottles, and she left a trail of destruction in her wake.
“You’re not moving straight anymore” The bartender remarked, polishing a glass.
“I don’t need to, I’m within range. I can sense her more clearly, don’t have to worry about the pull breaking.” The blacksmith pulled up a seat and sat at the bar.
The bartender nodded, as if this made perfect sense. “So let's start paying your debt now, huh? What will it be?”
“Liot’s Brew please.”
The bartender nodded, it was on tap and easy to see. Popular with those who found sweetness didn’t do it for them in a brew. She took the glass, only partially polished, and let it fill up, handing it back to the blacksmith once the glass was full to the brim, foam cascading off the sides. The brew was colorless, and smelled as bad as a god’s corpses. And yet the Blacksmith, letting her weapons rest besides her, drank it back easy. One gulp, too! Once it was all down her hatch, she shook a bit, and let out a small sigh.
“You need another?”
“Not at the moment.” Her voice was barely a whisper, it had been since she had come in. The bartender had to lean in to make sure she wasn’t mishearing her. “What’s the name of this town?”
“NilesRoot! Population 305 and counting down and down! Whoever you’re looking for may already be dead, I’m sorry to say.”
“There’s a killer?”
The Bartender gave them a knowing smile. “The Killer! Who she is no one knows, but it can’t be denied that someone is picking us off one by one!”
The Blacksmith gripped the counter, making the wood splint. “How did they die?”
“Again, no one knows! And I’m not the one to know it! People find them the same way, eyes red and body bruised, but from the inside like! Some don’t even have any rubs or bumps, they look as fresh as the day they were born but they’re dead all the same. It’s wild, truly, the times we live in. Wild!” The Bartender stopped there and put her hands on her hips, perky and fulfilled. “Anything lighter, Larg?”
“How about a carton of Krait?”
The Bartender nodded. “Of course, of course, I think I have some of that in the back.” The Bartender quickly hopped from out of the Blacksmith’s view, while the Blacksmith looked at her empty drink. Her benefactor had a saying, “all you need is one cup, cause all you have is one thirst”. When she worked for her, her Benefactor allowed her anything she could drink, but only a single cup. She would take that cup and fill it again with some other drink once it’s been properly sipped. Filling it with something new was her way of cleaning it. It reached a point where it didn’t matter what she put in their, it all tasted the same. An amalgamation of fluid that hydrated her and not much else. But that’s all she needed, hydration. Her work was taxing, it was tiring. She didn’t need food, for the raw materials were sustenance enough, and they made her more able to make the wonders the Benefactor wanted. The Benefactor saw the beauty in the raw materials, which had been dormant for so long. All she needed were hands, rough coarse hands that wouldn’t mind getting rougher and coarser. How did the Benefactor knew she would be perfect for the role?
The Blacksmith gripped her left shoulder, and the thoughts dimmed. She found it was a good way to manage herself when her brain slipped into thinking of her Benefactor, who promised so much and delighted her so. She gave her the materials, so many materials, and the blacksmith made wonders from them. Wonders that were still wonders, despite the hands that have gripped them. And the Benefactor wanted more, always more. Always more. And she preached fire from the beginning but it was a cleansing fire that could-
The Blacksmith gripped her shoulder again. Stop it. Please.
Her Benefactor was not here, she would never be able to find her Benefactor. But she could find the wonders. She could destroy her handiwork.
The Bartender returned empty handed. “Sorry, Larg, but it looks like we’re out.”
“Out… of Krait?” The Blacksmith raised her eyes to meet the bartender. She had bright one with multiple pupils. Real shiny, like a dead god’s creation. “How can that be?”
The Bartender threw her hands up. “Can’t say, things have been quite busy the week before and we haven’t gotten anything new since sooooo-” The Blacksmith stopped her speech in its tracks with a single finger. She was pointing at the tap of Liot’s Brew. “Is that still working?”
The Bartender, not on the same page, eagerly filled a new glass up. “Yup! Looks like it.”
“Then you still have Krait.”
The Bartender’s smile fled. “I don't follow?” She was shaking suddenly.
“A carton of Krait is just another term for Liot’s Brew, any bartender knows that.” The BlackSmith raised herself to her full height. From here she could see the other side of the counter. There was a body there, a squat Lagnid with a shocked expression and no coverings.
The Imposter moved first, taking a knife out of a fold of her flesh and lunged. The Blacksmith took her massive arms and wrapped them around the Imposter’s throat, stopping the Canid knife inches from her neck. The Imposter wriggled around in The Blacksmith’s grasp, her feet dangling off of the floor. The Blacksmith easily bought her smaller body to a chair on the other side of the bar. She finally let her go, without the knife of course. Her weapons were still at the counter, she didn’t need them. “I can help you.” The imposter said as soon as she could. “You see, I get it, I know what you want, I’m not The Killer, I can bring you to her.”
“That easy to get you to talk?”
“What can I saw” The Imposter said, flashing a sharp toothed grin. “I’m practical, and I recognize when there’s someone tougher and scarier. And you’re way tougher and scarier than-”
“I don’t care about her, I want her weapon.”
The Imposters expression changed. She looked at the Blacksmith not as someone to be feared, but as someone she could relate to. “Yeah, yeah. I gotcha, you want it for yourself. Gee, it’s powerful. Really. You can do anything with it. Really! What are you gonna do with it?”
The Blacksmith forcefully took the Imposter by the hand and led her outside. She looked up into the Single Sun, it’s green rays streaking the landscape and giving everything a languid glow. “I’m going to return them.”
CHAPTER 3: PRACTICE
The one charitable thing the gods did when they transcended was leaving their corpses behind. They stood their for years, towering monuments of flesh that rotted before anyone could fully capitalize on their untouched visage. They were seen as bad omens, rumors spread of the curses that befell anyone who tried to scavenge their bodies. Rumors started by opportunistic scavengers who didn’t want to share.
By the time the first wave of scavengers had their fill, the corpses were left alone. Those who knew better stayed away, while those who knew worse had already been. The corpses were a resource that had lost its target market. And so the corpses stayed, getting bleached green by the sun and getting cracked by time. Soon they were parts of the landscape, dotting the world like the countless mountains and lakes surrounding them. In time, the people would even forget their significance to the gods, and think of them as nothing more than natural parts of their world. In time communities would even colonize the larger ones, using their broken bones as shelter. But that is not the story we are telling. That’s thousands of years away from our focus. The story we are telling is about the time when these corpses were almost forgotten, and how the Benefactor bought them back to prominence by desecrating them.
The Imposter bought the Blacksmith through tangles of houses and alleys. The town was clumped together, the citizen’s ancestors must have set up a contest to see who could build their house closest to the lake at the center, as all of the houses were as close to the edge as they could be. And it wasn’t that big of a pond to begin with. And yet, according to The Imposter, The Killer was among these pile of houses, playing in the streets. No one else was about. Those with dead loved ones were holding services inside, while those who were lucky to be left unscathed were staying inside to keep things that way. Each house was boarded up for maximum noticeability. They didn’t want anyone getting any idea that there house wasn’t impenetrable. “It’s kind of a waste, really.” The Imposter said as they passed a house with seven locks wrapped around its side. “We never planned to break in anywhere. There was no need. We just had to wait a bit outside and someone interesting would come along. We didn’t have grudges against any of them, they were just practice.”
“Practice for what?”
“Practice for being the toughest, scariest person around, of course” The Imposter said with a scoff. “I thought you’d understand.” The two rounded a corner, finding themselves in another cramped outdoor hallway. The Blacksmith was certain they had been there before. “Seeing as you’re already so tough and all.”
“Your friend didn’t need to kill those people to accomplish that.”
“Oh, but she did. She didn’t even have a name beforehand. No one thought to give her one. Not even me, her closest friend! But now she’s The Killer, and that practice has paid off ‘cause people are scared of her, now they think she’s tough. She got everything she wanted and she’s lucky she didn’t have to do anything worse.” The Imposter stopped dead and turned to stare The Blacksmith in her face. “What did you have to do to get so tough?”
The bodies. The flesh. The gods. The Benefactor. Her own practice.
The Blacksmith gripped her left shoulder tightly.
“Do not say another word until we find her.” The Blacksmith said tersely, and she pointed her hammer forward. The Imposter, for her part, silently nodded and picked up her pace.
CHAPTER 4: THE KILLER
They found The Killer at the edge of the dried out lake, dancing with her weapon on an artificial cliff made out of crusty wood and rotting metal.
“Here she is” The Imposter said, presenting her as if she was a prize. If the killer heard this, she did not react. She continued to glide her weapon around lazily, as if she was in a duet with it. Her weapon was a blood red sliver that ended on a point on one end, while smoothing out into a whitish stump on the other. The Blacksmith recognized it instantly. The Splinter Of Crane. Not the most dangerous of the weapons forged from the dead gods raw materials, but nowhere near harmless.
She took a step forward, and The Killer stopped dancing. The Ravnid raised the weapon defensively, her face still turned away. “Take another step and you’re dead.”
The Blacksmith took another step, she did not have to fear the weapon she held from this range. The Killer could only hurt her by throwing the weapon. If she did that, well, it would be a foolish move. The Blacksmith could dodge it, and then it was simply a matter of picking it up without having it touch the skin. Job well done. That’s that.
It wouldn’t be that easy.
The Blacksmith stared at The Killer, remembering her vaguely from the dispersal. One of the dozens of assorted nobodies eager to become somebodies. A weapon like that was made to change hands quickly, she was surprised she was still living. She held out a large gloved hand. “I have come for the weapon, not for you.”
“Then you’ve come for me!” The Killer turned rapidly and held the Splinter up to the pale green sky, making a pose that seemed practiced. “This weapon is me. I have spent my life looking for an identity and I have found it!”
“That weapon does not belong to you. It belongs to one person. Crane herself.”
The Killer scoffed. “Crane’s interest are purely in the world of the dead. Just like the other gods. If they had any sense, they would be honored people care about them enough to desecrate their bodies.”
The Blacksmith squinted at the Killer, her words were like a fractured version of the Benefactors own. They had different tones and angles, but they both served the same goal. To help assure the speaker that they were right, and what they were doing was not only just, but necessary.
The Blacksmith remembered a speech she gave to prospective weapon buyers. The words and syntax she used, and the similarities that were quite apparent.
She gripped her left shoulder so tight it could have bruised. “In that case, I must serve as Crane’s proxy.” She held her hammer to her side, and gripped her anvil close to her chest. “If you are an extension of your weapon, then you are just as dangerous.”
The Killer gestured to The Blacksmith with one long segmented finger. The finger was shaking. Her expression was straining to seem unconcerned.
“Who even are you? Some follower of the gods? One of those hooked by fate who doesn’t want to let go?”
The Blacksmith shook her head and closed her eyes. “I am the one who forged this weapon from the body of Crane, and I was there when you were given this weapon, not by fate, by chance.” She said this in a fair and even manner, like explaining the shape of the world to a newborn. “The Benefactor lived outside of fate, so did I, so did you, until this very moment.” She took another step forward and raised her hammer high above her.
On the other side of the lake, directly opposite them, a house that was carved into the cliff face creaked as a bird landed on it’s thatched roof. This would not be worth mentioning if the house wasn’t incredibly old and fragile, and the bird, as small as it was, was large enough to finally do what time had been building towards and send the entire house falling into the dried out lake. In any other place a good excuse to panic, but to the townsfolk it was quite expected. Hundreds of years ago when the pond was flourishing people had built their houses on the cliff, as close to the water as they could get. Those days had long past and the houses had been abandoned. With no one to keep up on upkeep, the houses were revealed as the terrible death traps they always were. The dried out pond was now home to a large layer of debris from previous collapses and falls. Hearing the sound of a 4 ton house sliding into destruction was normal for them, and it had been for years.
But this is all to explain that it wasn’t for The Blacksmith. She was not expecting to hear the sound of an entire house collapsing. So of course, she looked up. Just to make sure that wasn’t a prelude to more, or an accomplice of The Killer.
In that split second, The Killer struck The Blacksmith with a single prick from her weapon. That was all she needed.
The Blacksmith fell down. Mimicking the collapse of houses in miniature. The splinter of Crane her own bird. The Killer laughed and threw her head back. She gave herself a few moments to celebrate, and pretended she was fighting another opponent, slicing and dicing at the air while keeping up her laughter, high pitched and cruel. The Blacksmith curled up in a ball, making herself as small as possible.
The Imposter stood at the side. She didn’t know what her role was now. She wasn’t certain if she wanted one.
“I’m gonna go.” The Imposter said, “You don’t need me here.”
The Imposter took a step forward. The Killer stopped her mock battle and took two steps towards her. She stood parallel to the blacksmith, trying her best to deal with the pain of the shard now inside her. The Killer raised her splinter at the Imposter. A conductor of a new type of music. “What are you talking about? You can’t go, you’re a loose end.” The conductor raised her left leg for another step.
And it would never go back down.
The Blacksmith had her meaty hand on The Killer’s thimble thin leg. Using her grip as leverage, The Blacksmith got her massive body upright with care. The Killer frantically stabbed the Blacksmith with her weapon over and over again. Each stab created another replica of the weapon somewhere within her bulk. She was a bag of water balloons and needles. And yet, her expression masked this. She had enough splinters within her to kill anyone, but she did not falter, she did not struggle. She slapped the weapon out of The Killers hand, put her other hand on the corresponding leg, and carried her, upside down, to the cliff. There, as easy as someone tossing their garbage, she threw her off. No ceremony, no final words. Just like that the Killer who had frightened an entire town into submission was no more, and this fact wouldn’t be known until weeks alter. The hammer and anvil laid on the cliff’s edge, unused. Maybe it was adrenaline, maybe it was some miraculous resistance, it did not matter to The Imposter. The Blacksmith was as strong as she looked.
Here was the reason the Blacksmith did not want The Splinter Of Crane, the Imposter thought. She had no use for it. She had all the strength she needed.
The Blacksmith didn’t bother to watch The Killer’s body fall down into the waste. With one hand gripping her chest, she picked up both her hammer and anvil in the other. Her gloved hand, the size of an imitation moon as seen from the ground, did an impressive job keeping the anvil and hammer gripped, but it was not ideal.
The Imposter, left placidly on the ground from the show of strength, took the hammer from the bleeding Blacksmith to ease her struggle. Gripping it tight, the Canid had trouble keeping the hammer aloft even with all three of her hands.
“Aren’t you gonna finish her off?” The Imposter asked, keeping pace with the wounded Blacksmith.
“Surprising words from such a close friend.” The Blacksmith said with a strained cough.
“Oh, you’re mistaken. She’s not my friend. Hell, I never even learned her name!”
She side-eyed the Imposter, but allowed her to follow.
“Where are we going now?” The Imposter said.
“You’re staying with me I take it.”
“Well, of course.” The imposter declared, rubbing the hammer she carried as proof. “You’re the toughest person here by far! I’d be silly to run off on you.”
The Blacksmith shrugged. “So you wanna know where we’re going?” The blacksmith grimaced. The Crane replicas, still within her, one for every time The Killer pricked her, were acting up something fierce every time she talked. “We’re going to make amends.”
INTERLUDE 2: THE GODS AND HOW THEY LOST OUR FAVOR
In every district, there was a god. Pretty understandable, as the districts were defined by the gods. It wasn’t a coincidence each district had their own god. Initially, it seemed the smartest thing to always be close by the denizens of their chosen district. And so they set up highly visible areas where anyone could approach them for absolutely anything. These also served the secondary purpose of being a place for worship, or so the gods figured. They each created a large structure for themselves to reside in, manipulating the local flora and fauna into complex and fascinating structures large enough to house someone of their size. Each was equipped with a chamber where after or before their talk with their districts god, the visitors could spend a few minutes paying tribute. Candles lined the room all laced with the distinct scent of that particular god. Abstract stained glass windows depicted the gods as the holy symbols they aspired to be. This room was giant, usually taking up most if not all of the space in the structure. Surely, this would be the focal point for most who visited, and reason alone for people to make a pilgrimage.
The gods greatly miscalculated the popularity of the worship chamber. While people visited the gods homes quite regularly, it was always on business. Representatives for towns and cities looking for answers came first. They hoped to hear clear explanations and easy solutions. They had no need for the worship room once it became clear it offered neither. It was the gods they came for.
“Did you create us?” They would ask, their hands open and their faces excited.
“No, those were Gods, we’re gods.” The gods would respond.
“Did you cause our greatest successes, or mastermind our greatest failures?” They would ask.
“Neither. Our job is to facilitate the world. Before we came, there was nothing governing it. It was chaotic and fateless. We are not responsible for anything predating our arrival.”
“When will you help us?” People would ask.
“We are already helping you. Every time someone trips and bumps into their future lover, every time a cook accidentally poisons a meal and kills a king. That is our doing, that is fate. Forcing what should be to be. That simply did not exist before us!”
The people gladly accepted that the gods were gods. They had immense power and striking and confusing visages that completely fit the title. And yet, for the gods to be here, people expect more than just their appearance. They wanted miracles, and what the gods didn’t offer in that, they didn’t offer much in the way of anything else.
Most people could come up with situations where something like fate came into play before the gods appeared. And the cases of fate so obvious that it must have been the work of the gods were almost uniformly unfortunate or unneeded.
“When are you going to start doing something good for us for a change?” The people would ask, their fists now clenched, their faces no longer hopeful.
“But we already are! The delightful breeze you felt as you woke up? That was us. The time wasting task you got out of due to luck? That was us! All of those were pieces of good fortune our system said you were entitled to.” The gods would reply.
“But what about the happiness of our spouses? The growth of our community? The success of our projects? They are all suffering. Aren’t we entitled to those?”
“At the moment, no”
After that, the people avoided the gods, only going if they had to. Their homes being visited less and less once it became obvious there was nothing to gain from doing so. Through shared notes between districts and open discussion, each district learned that their experience of having a hands off god was quite the norm. Despite their boasts, the gods never appeared to facilitate fate. They did all of their nebulous deeds from within their houses. Never leaving them, not even when some districts would have celebrations in their honor. Any worshipping quickly stopped, any attempt to praise them ceased. Why waste energy if the gods would never acknowledge them. What use is having a god mere feet from your city if they will never show their face?
They wanted nothing more than to grease the gears of the machine of the world. Even the most optimistic soon had no choice but to admit that they would never uplift them or provide miracles. Really, it seemed as if they wanted as little to do with them as possible.
“So that is what you are?” They would come in, carrying torches, with rage in their eyes. “Glorified janitors? Nothing more?”
“Janitors that can kill you in an instant, and make a conscious decision to never do so.”
“You never do much of anything!” They would say in reply.
In retrospect, the god’s decision to transcend and leave their body behind, becoming “dead”, was not a sudden one. It was a decision based on years of behavior. A slow realization that by being present, they were doing more harm than good. And another, stronger realization that they did not care for those they were supposedly serving, and that maybe some distance would do them some good.
And so, on a day known only for it’s surprising humidity, the gods all moved into their respective worship chambers, and died. Their eyes closing, their limbs going limp. Most of their corpses were discovered days, and even weeks, later. There they stayed, for thousands of years, their bodies initially being ransacked before being left to rot. The gods continued their doings, helping steer fate by the system they adhered to, but they began doing more. In this astral realm they had migrated to, they began to have fun with their powers. Freed from caring about their subjects, they could finally let loose. The imitations moons began to dot the skies, their unending grins read by some as a threat and others as a joke. Strange occurrences transpired that could not simply be pinned on fate. The god’s, now so separate from their subjects, began to act in larger, more substantive ways. World shaking events and people with the power to destroy cities began appearing from left and right. Surely, this was the work of the gods. And yet, if asked, the gods would say that nothing had changed with their method. Fate was just getting a little wilder these days.
CHAPTER 5: CRANE
It was to one of these chambers that The Blacksmith lead The Imposter. It was close to the town. But due to The Blacksmith’s fading health, it took them almost an hour to get there.
The Crane’s chamber had large vestibules that were spread around the red room strange and erratically, like an infestation. Some were in little clusters, others were fat and solitary. In the largest one, a translucent rectangle that scraped the ceiling of the circular chamber, stood the corpse of Crane. Her multitude of arms had been stripped to reveal bones with too many joints. Only patches of her fur remained on cartilage that criss crossed and covered marrow. Her skeleton was multiple suits of pure white armor fused together by an artist who valued aesthetics over function. The corpse was leaning on the glass side of the vestibule. Certainly she had transcended with her body standing straight up, dignified, but over the years her empty shell had slumped over, looking less like a god and more like a gigantic drunk.
“I remember my AuntMothers telling me about this!” The Imposter said excitedly. “They had stories from their AuntMothers that they had heard from their AuntMothers! They said Crane would only talk to people from one of those.” She pointed to another smaller vestibule. On its side was a speaker, which while it did not connect to anything, corresponded to a larger black speaker in Crane’s vestibule. “Weird, right? Anyone could see her, and I don’t think these things are soundproof, but that’s the gods for you.”
The Blacksmith ignored this remark, and took off one of her gloves. The hand underneath was coarse and stained. She mimed putting the glove on to The Imposter, who dutily did so. With her other gloved hand, The Blacksmith placed the Splinter of Crane in her hand. Before The Imposter could assume, The Blacksmith pointed at the corpse of Crane, specifically at a mouth that was noticeably missing one large fang. Without making sure The Imposter would follow or understand her order, The Blacksmith hustled as fast as she could towards the smaller vestibule. Her body felt like it was slowly being drilled into from a thousand points.
The Imposter, proving herself surprisingly agile, made it to the corpse within minutes. She nimbly placed the splinter into its slot in her teeth just as The Blacksmith had sat down.
The black speaker crackled to life. “I see you’ve returned what you’ve stolen from me.” said a voice strong as a mountain and deep as a well.
The Blacksmith nodded. She was staring straight at the corpse, and what now was protected onto it. A very much alive Crane in all her glory, standing proudly in the space where her corpse once stood. A ghostly phantasm. The spirit of a Dead God.
The Crane apparition’s multitude of eyes widened. “I can sense my splinters within you. How are you still alive?”
The apparition, not bound to this world, moved out of the box her corpse was kept in. Her five rows of teeth floated close to The Blacksmith. Her army of eyes looked her up and down.
“I see you have come without your Benefactor. She’s still out there, emmassing an empire out of unrelated deaths. Entirely meaningless, entirely fateless, entirely what you all deserve. But you. You do not join her. Tired of playing god?
“I never was one and never tried to be. A tool of a god, maybe.”
“So why have you come here? Are you looking for redemption, my thanks? You think you deserve it? You think this one act can make up for once you’ve done?”
The Black Smith shook her head.
“It seemed like the right thing to do.” And with that, The Blacksmith’s vision grew heavy, as the pain somehow got worse, and she closed her eyes, expecting never to open them again.
She woke up to an absence of pain, The Imposter staring down at her, her snoot wrinkled in concern.
“Oh thank the dead gods, literally.” The Imposter helped The confused Blacksmith up. The only sun was high above them, and they were outside the Crane’s house. “That big weird eyed god promised you’d be okay, but you know those gods, can’t trust them as far as you can throw them.”
The Blacksmith touched her stomach. The pain was completely gone. “What happened?”
“You collapsed and then Crane just… moved her fingers a bit, and said you would be okay, then she waved her hand and we were here! It seemed to me that the big pile of bones wanted us to leave.”
“I can do that.” The Blacksmith said, allowing herself a soft smile. Picking up her anvil and hammer, she looked to the Single Sun, as if receiving a message directly from her. And then, without a word, she shifted her body by 30 degrees and began walking.
The Imposter followed the Blacksmith. Nothing but sand and dirt lead in that direction.
“Where are we headed?” She asked excitedly.
“There are more weapons to return, we’re going to the closest one.”
“Oh? And where is it?”
“Straight ahead, that’s all I know.”
“Well, how do you know?” The Imposter asked, genuinely curious.
The Blacksmith didn’t respond, she was already lost in her own thoughts. Even after her sudden resurrection, they were still as tenacious as ever, and with every step forward, she found herself falling deeper and deeper into a memory.
The memory was of her first encounter with The Benefactor. She had only just started her professional career as a blacksmith, and had yet to find steady work. She had heard there was a need for those who could shape steel in Trounce, and so she woke up early to catch a segmented carriage that would be passing her town of Surmount.
Alas, there had been a complication. On the carriage bound for Trounce, some foolish passenger had made the unwise decision to eat on board and had choked on her lunch, giving the conductor no choice but to delay their scheduled stops to give this passenger medical treatment.
Instead of waiting for another hour or so for the carriage to arrive. The Blacksmith decided to take a carriage to Chancelbee, a nearby town which would certainly have plenty of carriages bound for Trounce.
The Blacksmith took her seat in the second carriage, next to a smiling, fair faced Canid wearing an immaculate green and gold suit. The two of them hit it off instantly, and began going down the list of every topic or detail important to them. For every fact or thought one gave, the other responded with one that perfectly complimented it. Once their professions came up, the Canids eyes lit up like a child receiving a present.
“Why it just so happens.” The Benefactor said, “that I am looking for a blacksmith.”
Gripping her left shoulder, the Blacksmith knew, without a doubt, it was fate.