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Keys of Magic - Part 5

I spent the new couple of hours helping my knights organize the rest of my soldiers. I honestly didn’t do much compared to them. I generally had more luck understand money and economics then war. Still I had received classical noble training so I wasn’t completely useless.

When I finally returned to the takes I took shelter in my own tent and took a seat. I had slept during the journey here but that hadn’t seemed to rest me and I was still extremely exhausted. I laid my head down on the table and closed me eyes for a couple of moments. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my signet ring. I didn’t feel anything right then and I placed it on the table to look at. I gazed at it and tried to figure out how I felt and what I really wanted to do.

Then to my complete surprise I head somebody speak to me, “You are too soft willed. Once you have made a decision you just need to stick with it. You will never get anything in life you can’t make any decision.” I clattered to the floor sprawling looking around for the voice. It sounded like… no it couldn’t be.

But there was nobody there. I was the only one in the tent. I tried to calm myself, there had been too many frights recently. I will going to drive myself to death with terror if this kept up. I pulled myself to my feet and righted my chair. I reached out to my ring which was still siting on the table and picked it up.

“So excitable. You can’t keep you head on your shoulders. If you don’t calm down you will end up dead instead of killing Eyyo.”

I froze the ring still clutched in my hand. “That voice, you can’t be. That’s impossible.”

There was a moment of silence and the voice came again. “The impossible is just things that haven’t happened yet. They exist for us to break.” That voice was distinctive and rememberable even though I had only talked with its owner once before, recently.

“The Slayer. How? I spoke with you in my dream but how are you speaking to me now. You’re dead aren’t you.” I stumbled over my words trying to resist what was happening.

“Is it so hard to believe? The power of Zillk transend death. It lets me talk to you. Just like in the dream it is Zillk’s power that lets us communicate.”

I looked down at the ring in my hand. “Then this ring is letting me talk with you?”

“It is the power of Zillk not the ring. It is also your connection to that power that is letting you us it.”

“But the ring is necessary to use Zillk’s power. Without a golden conduit in the god’s symbol it is impossible to use the power of an Apostate.”

“That word. You are using it again. I already told you what I thought of that word. Do not make me repeat it.”

“Do you really expect me to believe what you are saying? That I can make the impossible possible just by trying? That I can kill the god Eyyo, that I would use the power of an Apostate without a golden focus? If that was possible then somebody would have done it in the hundred years since the gods died.”

“People told me that killing the gods was impossible too. If I believed them then I would have failed but instead I succeeded, I killed them even though it was believed to be impossible. When I starting you could say that my situation was even worse then yours. I was not a noble, I did not have soldiers or support. I was by myself from the very beginning to the very end.”

“You have advantages that I did not and you only have to slay one god. One could say that your task is far easier then mine was.”

“But you are the Slayer. The god’s powers had no effect on you, you were the most skilled swords-woman in the land and you were wielding a powerful magical sword. How could I even compare to that.”

“Is that what the stories tell of me? How time twists the past so that people believe what they want.”

“Are you saying those stories are not true?”

“Nothing is as grand as the stories say. I am not what the stories say of me, and my foes were not as grand as you thing they were.”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you imagine that the gods were like? They were each like kings, each with the force of an army in their own power. Yet they had made themselves too human or maybe made humans too much like them. They may have thought of themselves as invincible but they took forms of flesh and blood and those forms could die.

She paused, like she was thinking, Finally she continued, “Or maybe humans were too close to being divine. Just a couple of impossible steps away from being gods ourselves. Those who use a god’s powers do impossible things after all. Are they not like the gods themselves? And if a human would claim all of one of the god’s powers would they not themselves be a god? Think about it. Maybe that will help you decide what is impossible and what is not.”

Then she grew silent. I waited for her to continue but she didn’t. Finally I told the ring, “Gods are god, humans are human. Even if you were able to transcend the boundary between the two doesn’t mean that we all can.” Then I stuffed the ring in my pocket and climbed into the small portable bed that had been brought for me. I then tried to sleep and tried to not think about what it meant to be human and if it was possible for a human to slay a god.

The next day was filled with strategy meetings. The king’s general and the knights meet with the lords and ladies to discuss the situation. The orcs were coming out of the mountains in numbers even larger then were seen in my father’s time. They were also ambushing our troops and two lords were already missing and were presumed dead. Many more were attacked and their troops injured.

There were still enough troops to withstand the orc invasion but that was relying on our improved training and hopefully a strongly fortified position. Our army was positions on one side of the Demon Road, one of the mightiest rivers in the world. It was practically unpassable by a large army except at the ford that we now controlled. For the orcs to invade they would need to cross over the river and break through our lines.

Walls were build on this side of the ford, used since ancient times to protect the kingdom from the orcs and other monsters that dwelled within the mountains on the other side. The line had been broken but twice and both those times it had been recaptured and the kingdom had been protected. However both of those times had been when the gods had been on our side, and had still been alive.

The use of Apostates in armies was forbidden by the king and while the generals and the nobles pretended that they did not exist I could tell that they were here. We didn’t say anything, all the nobles knew that the assault would be rough and we would need all the help that we could get.

“Unless some of them are servants of Eyyo and are really here to betray you when the opportunity is right.” Came the voice of the Slayer. It seems that only I could hear her voice. She tended only to speak to me when I was alone but occasionally she made comments on the general’s plans as if she expected me to pass on her thoughts to the general. Sometimes I held my lips but sometimes I passed it on.

I had expected him, or may just hoped, that he would dismiss the suggestions but instead he usually took it in and considered it. Either accepting it or providing a good reason why it would be bad. The Slayer never countered his arguments like she just accepted his reasoning and moved on.

“The orcs have no gods right? Wouldn’t a god of humans want humans to be his subjects? I doubt orcs would ever listen to any god anyway.” I spoke quietly on reflex. I didn’t want anybody to realize I was taking. It would be bad enough it people thought I was talking to myself but if they discovered that I was talking to the ghost of the Slayer then it would be even worse.

“I don’t expect them to turn victory into defeat. If Eyyo’s servants work it will be to turn a dangerous battle into an incredibly costly one. The less soldiers that survive this attack the better for Eyyo. Without the soldiers it will be easier for his servants to take over noble’s lands.”

She made a good point. If one of Eyyo’s servants kept hidden as a friendly Apostate until the orcs attacked and then suddenly betrayed us we could lose hundreds of soldiers at once. A single section of wall overrun for a short period of time would prove incredibly costly.

“How would we be able to tell Eyyo’s Apostates from other Apostates. What is his symbol?” I asked. If I knew his symbol then I could identify those Apostates.

“What is to prevent his servants from being Apostates of different gods?” Said the Slayer in a way that made me feel stupid for not thinking of it. “Since he still controls his own power there is no reason for his servants to use it. He would rather have them make us of the powers of other gods. And what better way to hide your activities.”

I fumed at her. Despite her well thought out argument there is little we could do. If my counting and estimation of the Apostates were right we probably had at least a fifty of them on our side, not including me of course. It would be impossible to find which of them were working for Eyyo and to deal with them that it was easier to just worry about it when it happened.

Fifty Apostates working for the crown and various nobles. That scared me a little. There were a couple of known Apostates in my fiefdom but they generally kept themselves hidden and avoided making trouble. Maybe I should approach them. If I had them secretly aiding me that would help protect my lands and maybe give me and edge against some of the other nobles.

The Slayer responded. I had discovered that she could apparently hear my thoughts. “Finally a good idea. Any strength you can pull together is good. This assault will certainly weaken the entire kingdom. You will need every advantage you can get for when you finally have to deal with Eyyo. He certainly wouldn’t avoid recruiting Apostates to help him.”

The rest of the day was filled with preparations. My soldiers had been assigned to the right bank. While the main army had to hold the ford because that would be where the bulk of the orcs would be attacking. However the flanks needed to be protected in case small groups of orcs cross the river and attacked the main force from behind. It was not the most dangerous position but given the size of the orc horde they would likely be sending raiding troops across the river and my soldiers would certainly see some combat.

I however would be staying back to watch the battle and give orders if necessary. I would likely never be in danger, at least in normal situations. The Slayer had informed me to keep wary.