The God Decrees By Mark E. Cooper
Copyright©2000 by Mark E. Cooper
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Julia arose at sunrise to check on the progress of her carpenter. She shouldn’t call him that, she remembered. He was master woodcrafter Deneen. Although Keverin refused to let her have some steel wire, he did let her borrow Deneen’s services. She didn’t feel guilty about pressuring Keverin, not after his crack about playing.
Anyway, he owes me.
Making her way toward her hall, Julia reviewed what she needed. A wooden joist planed to the correct size and covered with saddle leather was going to be her new balance beam. Although suede was the correct covering, she thought the leather would provide a decent amount of grip. The floor of the hall was smooth enough for the floor exercise, and she could pace out and mark the perimeter with rope. The vault was also easy. What were going to cause problems though, were the asymmetric bars. Usually, they were made of wood, with steel wire supports attached to the floor to keep everything rigid. She had no idea whether ropes would work. The last thing she needed was a bar shifting while she performed a giant or catcheff.
She walked out of the corridor into the west entrance hall, and looked around. Master Deneen wasn’t waiting for her. Perhaps he was already working in the gym.
The noise was the loudest thing ever heard in Athione. All through the citadel, people were startled awake. Those already up jumped spilling their drinks, and gaped at companions over the breakfast tables as they tried to stop plates and bowls falling from their places.
Julia lost her footing as the fortress jumped and shook around her. Sprawling to the floor, she could hear screams and crashing sounds outside. Dust was pattering down around her, and she could hear thuds and groans as things fell somewhere. The whole fortress was groaning as if in pain.
Looking up at the ceiling and hoping it was going to stay put, Julia scrambled to her feet. The huge chandeliers were swinging on their chains but they didn’t appear in danger of falling. Without thinking, she ran outside and gaped at what she saw.
The west gate was gone-simply gone. Where it had stood, the truncated remains of the gate towers leaned drunkenly away from each other, as if a giant had walked through a space too small for him.
Dust was still rising on the breeze, and stones continued to fall from what remained of the walls and towers. She held her breath as the gate towers swayed, but they settled into their new positions and didn’t fall. Across the courtyard, she could see motionless forms-people obviously dead. Worse were the shrieks of the wounded.
Julia looked down, and realised what she thought had been a piece of the gate, was actually the broken remains of a person. Her world narrowed, and she viewed the scene through a misty tunnel.
I can’t pass out, I can’t pass out...
She viewed her own actions as if watching someone else. Bending down, she turned over the-man. With relief that quickly turned to guilt, she realised she didn’t know him. He had been a young guardsman she thought, no older than she was. Would someone mourn for him, a sweetheart perhaps?
Looking away and across the debris filled courtyard, she saw a green robed form lying face down next to one in yellow.
Oh no, please... This is not happening!
She ran to her friend and knelt by his side. She hesitated to touch him, but she had to know. She grabbed a fistful of his robe and struggled to turn him over.
“AEiii!” Mathius screamed as he flopped onto his back.
A piece of wood was sticking out of his side just above the waist, and Julia had knocked against it as she turned him. Her gorge rose, and she spewed over the rubble behind her.
Guardsmen began boiling out of the citadel, and a few shouted orders started them checking for wounded.
“How-how is Hal?” Mathius croaked trying to see.
Coughing and trying to hold down the rest of her breakfast, Julia checked, but Haliden was staring into the next world-dead. She shook her head trying to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. Mathius closed his eyes in grief she thought, but no, he had fallen unconscious.
Captain Marcus ran toward her, and seeing Mathius injured, he quickly found help to carry him.
Julia stood bewildered in the midst of total disaster. Wherever she looked, bodies, and pieces of bodies lay, like dolls strewn across a room by an unruly child. Guardsmen were picking up people and carrying them inside; sometimes they would start to move one, then drop the body to help someone who still needed them. She stared in shock and did not know where to turn. She didn’t know what she was looking for until she found him.
Running to his side, she saw he still lived. He was sitting propped against what was left of the stable wall in a pool of blood. His right leg was bleeding badly where a piece of the gate had gashed his thigh close to the groin. She knew some first aid, but didn’t know anything about real medicine.
Was there an artery there? She didn’t know the answer, but bleeding like this was serious. Pressing both hands against the wound to stifle the rhythmically spurting blood, she looked around desperately for help.
“Leave me,” Keverin mumbled, “The Hasians... coming.”
Oh God please help me now!
“You’ll be all right Kev. I’ll get help,” she panted in panic.
“No! Listen... me... no time, coming.” Keverin said and slipped into unconsciousness.
Snatching his dagger from its sheath, she quickly cut loose his sash. Pulling it free, she tied it tightly around his leg above the wound, and then twisted using the dagger sheath until the bleeding slowed to a trickle. Looking around again, she spotted a man near the remains of the gate. She called to him, and he ran toward her, but unaccountably he drew his sword.
Time slowed as the man charged, he was in different armour than her people. Without knowing what she could do, she centred, grounded, and threw something at him.
Craaaack! Lightning flew from Julia’s outstretched hand, and struck the man full in the chest.
The Hasian was hurled away, with a hole burnt through him where his heart should be. She saw the man’s grimace of pain as he was blasted back. He seemed to fall forever.
Time returned to normal-the man stopped rolling.
God forgive me!
“Rally! Rally to the gate!” Marcus cried, into the stunned silence.
Hasian soldiers had made their way inside during the confusion. Pandemonium erupted as the Devan guardsmen quickly rallied to Marcus who led them in a counter-attack. Battle cries and screams of the dying mixed into a roar, as the Devan’s desperately tried to force the enemy back out of the shattered gate.
Julia looked from Keverin to the battle and back. Then scrambling to her feet, she ran.
Climbing over the shattered stones of the gate tower, she found the door to the left-hand one. Stones had fallen and blocked it. They were too heavy for her to move. Picking up a broken timber, she tried to use it as a lever. The blocks started moving, but the wood snapped and she fell back barking her shins painfully against sharp stone.
Grasping her magic, Julia fumbled, trying to move enough stone so she might open the door. Nothing, not even an inch. She tried again.
They did a little, she was sure.
Concentrating as hard as she could, she made a pushing gesture at the same time as she visualised the stones getting out of her way. Suddenly the resistance vanished, and the stones shot away from the door ploughing through the enemy. Bodies were hurled in all directions. She tried to shut out the screams, but Father Preston’s voice was louder still.
Thou shalt not kill!
Crying, she scrambled over the last obstruction, and then putting her shoulder to the door, she heaved. It opened with a groan. Half falling, half running, she entered the tower.
Sunlight speared the tower through great cracks in the walls giving her enough light to see. A guardsman lay groaning pinned under the debris that must have rained down on him. Stones and timber lay everywhere.
“Help... help... help...” the man said weakly.
She tried to move the stones, but her magic failed her. Gritting her teeth she tried to lift a beam that lay crushing his leg but she wasn’t strong enough.
“...help... hel...” the man gasped and died staring up at the sky.
“I’m so sorry.” She whispered with tears trickling over her cheeks. She dashed the tears away and looked for a way up.
The tower was broken, the top half utterly smashed. The roof was missing and the walls ended in jagged saw like teeth. The balcony was hanging precariously from its brackets, half of which no longer had a wall to bolt onto.
Julia bit her lip and began climbing. The stairs lurched downward and she screamed in fright hugging the stones as if her life depended on it-it did. More timbers and stones fell, but the stairs did not fall altogether and after a moment, she continued upward. She stopped when she ran out of stairs. A wide section had fallen and now lay smashed to splinters down below. All that remained was the right hand joist still faithfully connecting her stairs to the next balcony.
She edged onto the beam, but stepped back to kick off her shoes. She took a steadying breath and stepped onto the beam. She tried to pretend this was just another performance, but the sight of the dead guardsman staring at her made it impossible.
The halfway point came and went. The wood was split and rough, she fought her reluctance to put her feet down every step of the way. The souls of her feet were tough, but still she left red footprints caused by splinters. Finally, Julia stepped onto the balcony and breathed easier. Looking up through the ragged remains of circular walls, she could see the sky was much closer now. Climbing as quickly as she could she emerged into the light.
Standing on the broken steps and looking over the edge, she watched Marcus holding the enemy, but he hadn’t succeeded in pushing them out. He would soon have to retreat as a second group of soldiers was coming up the road. She needed to block the hole in the wall somehow. Mathius had taught her the theory behind wards, but he admitted his were weak. When she tried, she hadn’t been able to produce one at all. Now she needed one desperately.
She calmed herself as best she could, and built the matrix as Mathius had tried to show her, but it felt wrong. She knew immediately that the ward would fail. It did. A blue light appeared like a curtain across the gap, but it quickly faded.
A second group of soldiers joined the battle. Marcus was badly outnumbered now, but if he allowed his men to step back the Hasians would push more men into the space.
Julia cursed and raged at her inability to help. She could see yet more soldiers on the road, a continuous stream of them. There must have been a thousand inside the courtyard now, and four times that many on the road.
“Oh please, what should I do? Someone help me.” She said to the sky. Shutting out the voice of her conscience, she threw lightning down into the packed mass of soldiers.
The smell of ozone was strong on the breeze, as people and chunks of stone flew through the air. Opening her eyes, she looked down and lost the rest of her breakfast over the side. She must have killed hundreds.
I’m not just a killer... I’m a mass murderer!
Marcus took advantage of the blast, and pushed the Hasians back, but not quite out of the courtyard. Praying for forgiveness she knew she would never receive, she killed again.
Sobbing, she rained lightning down on the poor men. She saw some of them trying to run. They couldn’t escape her. She killed, and killed again. Hearing a noise behind her, she spun to hurl another bolt, but stopped herself barely in time; it was Brian leading some others with bows. They quickly arranged themselves behind broken pieces of stone, and methodically began to shoot people.
She needed to stop any more Hasian soldiers reaching the breached defences. Quickly she centred and grounded, then clenching her fists together; she threw them outward.
Streaks of lightning arced across the early morning sky and slammed repeatedly into the road in front of the advancing men. A crater three yards across was blasted into it, but the road was still passable.
This time she concentrated on hitting the road closer to the slope. With luck, she might cause a landslide, to bury the road and slow the enemy.
Julia looked over her work. A massive crater had erased the old one extending across the road and up the cliff as well. The Hasians bunched up as they slowed to cross the obstruction, but they were still crossing.
She had failed.
The rock must be too strong to break away easily. She could hit it again, but didn’t think it would be any different the third time. Looking down, she saw Marcus and his men succeed in holding the courtyard for now, but he was still being pressed by perhaps fifteen hundred men.
I can’t, not again. Please don’t make me!
Concentrating on her ward, Julia tried to force it to work right. At first, it seemed she had done it, but as soon as she released the magic, it winked out.
Arrows cascaded onto the tower. Julia ducked behind the wall, and a man shielded her with his armoured body.
“Arghhh!” The guardsmen slumped falling back down the stairs and out of sight. She didn’t even know his name, but he had died to protect her.
None of the arrows hit her or Brian, but another of her guardsmen was hit in the arm. He scooted down the steps out of the fight. Brian tried to reply with his bow, but more arrows cascaded down.
“Stay down you fool, they have us pinned!” She hissed. It was her fear talking.
Brian ducked down then snarled a reply. “I can be seeing that you... my lady. They be up to something. If they be keeping our heads down, I can’t be stopping ‘em.”
Julia shut her eyes and covered her ears, to stop the screams. Without looking, she sent lightning down in front of the gate.
“AEiii!” Screamed the dying Hasians as some were burnt and others crushed by flying stone.
Peeking over the top of the tower through a curtain of tears, Julia tried to see, but had to duck back as arrows flew. Shaking her head in disbelief, she turned to ask Brian if he had any ideas.
“Oh! Oh, dear...” She looked down at the arrowhead protruding from her chest.
Numbness spread down her right arm, as she half sat, half fell behind the broken wall for protection.
Brian stared at the arrow in horror. He quickly crossed the distance between them and Julia watched with detachment as he cut away her beautiful dress to expose the arrow. It must have hit her in the back and pushed right through. The head was clearly visible standing out of her, just below the point where her right breast and shoulder joined. Strangely, and to her relief, it didn’t seem to hurt at all.
Brian bit his lip in concern. “I be sorry lady, but if I be removing this it will bleed something awful. I think it be best if I be leaving it for the mages-or any way, until later.”
Julia nodded weakly. Most of the mages were dead. She saw someone carrying an unconscious Renard into the fortress and Mathius was badly hurt.
Later... later would be better.
The pain was starting to catch up with her shocked brain now. Her nerves started jangling in alarm, as if saying, “Hello, what’s that doing in there?”
If she were lucky, she would pass out and not feel the sword that killed her. “Brian, I think... think I’m going to pass out.”
“No you don’t! Keep talking to me,” her worried friend said desperately.
“What about?” She said fuzzily.
Julia’s world dimmed. She slipped sideways and shrieked! The arrow had grated on the stones of the wall, but Brian quickly supported her until she could sit up better. Oh Christ, it hurt, she thought panting in time with the throbbing agony. At least it had woken her up a bit.
“Brian help me up, I need to see the road again.” She gasped.
“But... All right,” Brian said reluctantly, but he helped her to stand.
Brian held her so her eyes were just above the edge, and she scanned the road for any weaknesses. At first, she despaired, but then she realised her error.
You stupid, stupid...
She had attacked the road twice in the same spot, achieving nothing, but closer to the fortress the road ran over a shelf of rock, below which she could see the burnt remains of a town. Quickly she hit that section with everything she had.
Craaaack! Craaaack! Craaaack! Craaaack!
As she slumped into Brian’s arms, the screams rose around her, pummelling her. She would never stop hearing them. Darkness closed in, but at the last she felt the tower shaking and falling, or was it her?
She was falling, falling forever-
* * *