She stepped over a corpse, its face marred beyond human recognition. There was nothing left to collect on him. Or her. She wouldn’t know. Blood dripped down from her sword, adding droplets to the rivers and streams of crimson flowing down the hill. A burning pillar collapsed behind her, the house which it once supported now a heap of rubble and dust. Her emerald green eyes, the same as the companions around her and the enemies she killed, were dulled with exhaustion. Her crude, rusted iron helmet protected much of her ash-white hair, barely covering the shameful sign of her mixed heritage. Her thin legs, marked with many shallow cuts and caked with mud, shook a little with every step. Yet, like a machine, she carried on, not really knowing her destination, only that she needed to step forward and continue collecting until she had enough food to last for a day. Maybe two if she felt lucky.
Such was the destiny of ‘affordable’ mercenaries, cheap labour who marched forward until their last breath was drawn from the depths of their polluted lungs, still praying for the possibility of a good meal after each victory.
That was a voice. Right. A voice that called her name. She looked around. Her companions were far away, looting what little food and jewellery the poor corpses had on their bodies. No one moved their mouths, only silently picking up the remains of their enemies. Enemies that looked like them, that fought like them, that killed just like them. Enemies that, if not for the arbitrary assignments towards a specific ‘allegiance’, whatever it meant, would’ve been… them.
There it was again. That same voice, surrounding her in a booming whisper. She looked up. There was the sky, blue and sunny. Not a cloud in sight. No rain to disrupt their scavenging. The perfect weather after a tough-fought battle.
Four times. Right. She was a little irritated now. This was no time for trickery. If one of her companions had something important to say, there was no need to whisper in her ear as if this was some child trying to tell a secret.
‘Who is this?’ she muttered.
Do you love your life?
Love. What was this question? She didn’t know what it meant.
‘... Yes.’ It was always safe to answer ‘yes’ to every question. It was how she could take on more dangerous battles in the hopes of better meals, better pay.
Do you love your companions’ lives?
Do you wish that none of them would die?
‘Yes.’ This was finally something she comprehended. Death was a lot more tangible than love, much more meaningful. There was always an invisible punch to her stomach when she’d see a companion be pierced, their eyes widened to absorb the last light in their lives before they slipped away into eternal darkness. It was commonplace, yes. As common as food, even. But it was something she knew none of them liked. It’d hurt. After all, it meant there was one less person to fight, to get paid, to talk to, even if it came with the benefit of one less mouth to feed.
If there is a path where you can protect your companions from death, will you take that path?
She fell silent. It didn’t feel real. Death was a constant. If one survived today, they might not survive the next. Even if they survived the next, and the next, and the next, they would all eventually die, the only difference being the method. Every single day she would see another soul departing from this world, reminded time and time again of the eternal constant of death and the fleeting moments of life. She had protected many of her companions before with her magic, but those were merely delays to their inevitable ends.
Yet who wouldn’t want at least a sliver of hope in this chaotic mess of a world?
‘Yes,’ she finally answered. ‘If it is possible.’
It is possible, my dear child.
A humanoid, childlike figure of light appeared before her. Instinctively, she drew her sword, pointing it at the unknown figure. Her body reacted as if it was a threat, the adrenaline rushing to her veins. It seemed to pose no threat, but her senses were on full alert.
Unlike so many that had fallen to her blade before, it did not even flinch, its presence firm and stable. Instead, it was Elethien who was paralysed, her limbs frozen in place. Her muscles were all working fine, but she was bolted to the ground, a helpless statue in the face of this unknown being.
She was afraid.
It began to approach her. As it ran its ‘hands’ across her sword, the rust on the blade disintegrated into ash, the blood from her victims evaporating into the air. In mere moments, the sword was completely repaired and even seemingly refined, its blade looking sharper than before, its weight becoming more apparent to Elethien’s arm.
She was now facing it directly, the light blinding to her eyes. Despite the figure having no face, it was as if it was staring right into her soul, digging into the most sacred of her mental chambers. No… It was like it already knew every bit of her.
I can open that path for you.
It dove into her right eye, the light pouring into her soul, her core overflowing with energy.
‘AGHHHH!’ she screamed. It burned. Her body was being scorched from the inside, her nerves tortured to their limits. It was as if someone poured molten gold into her body, the light shining through her eyes, nose and mouth. Flames, flames all around, all inside her. From the depths of her brain to the veins just underneath her skin there were fiery waves of energy enveloping her, ravishing her young but worn-down body. Every breath was another sharp inhalation of fire, drowning her further in this internal sea of flames.
She fell onto her knees, clutching her head and pressing into her right eye in a barbaric effort to alleviate the pain inside her body. Blood trickled out from the organ and trailed down her face. Imaginary blades and needles pierced her spine, knocking her forward with every blow. As she began grasping, digging deeper into her already-ruined eye, the agony only increased, her skin becoming parched and stretched until cracks ran across her back like the ground in times of drought.
The skin bursted. Six white wings made of energy sprouted from her back, first like bony structures branching out into the sky before it gradually took shape, eventually becoming six massive apparatuses that covered part of the sky, casting a shadow across the landscape.
Such an intense release of magic would’ve quickly drained any Forester of their core, killing them instantly from within. Instead, Elethien felt lighter, invigorated by the sensation of freedom, of life. It was as if shackles were removed from her body, her soul emancipated from mortality itself.
‘What is that?’ Some Foresters were looking over in her direction, their exhaustion temporarily forgotten as they fixated their gazes towards this freakishly miraculous sight.
‘Who… are you?’ Elethien gasped. The bleeding from her eye had stopped, the organ rapidly repairing itself as she gradually regained her sight. Yet instead of the landscape of ruins, she saw a magnificent cloudless sky, stretching from the waters she was standing on to far beyond her reach. Before her was the figure of light again, yet this time far larger, enveloping her in its warm embrace.
Fate. The creator of gods. The God of all gods. The one, true almighty God.
She looked at her reflection from the waters. The blood had sunken into her skin like a tattoo, forming a long diamond shape with six wings sprouting at the sides. Her eye had completely healed at this point… but it had changed. The sclera and iris were completely black, and the pupil was crimson red in an octagram-like pattern. She could see properly, but gone now was one of her emerald eyes, replaced with an organ of black and red.
‘What have you done?’ she hoarsely whispered.
You are blessed, dear Elethien. You are chosen to create a kingdom, an empire for your companions, your people. You will protect them all as a god, as their god. No longer will you live and die aimlessly for other gods. You are to become your own god, the god of your people.
The scene had now changed to a palace of marble and granite, with lush greenery and many fountains decorating the gardens. She felt the weight of a crown on her head, in her hand a sceptre instead of her sword. Instead of her bloodstained clothing, she was wearing a long, loose gown made of fine silk. Below, green-eyed attendants and servants paced around, maintaining the palace’s splendour.
It was a magnificence one could only hear about in tales, a ray of grandeur in the grey bitterness of the battlefield.
‘Is this… my kingdom?’
Yes, and you are the king, the god. You determine the life and death of your people, whether to lead them to prosperity or to ruin. You will no longer be a slave to many masters, but a master to many servants. This is your path.
‘Will you be by my side?’
So long as your sword does not rust and your wings protect your people, I will be there. So long as you strive towards that path, forging a kingdom for you and your companions, I will carve out a way. So long as you acknowledge Fate as your God, I will answer your prayers. Always and forever.
Will you follow me, dear Elethien? Do you vow to take this path?
Tears streamed down her face. Here was the ultimate ruler of the world, promising her something she could only wish for deep in her heart. This was a proposal to her soul. For too long she and the Foresters had wandered and killed each other without a purpose. Finally, here was someone, something to give them a purpose. She felt liberated, her wings a sign of her newfound freedom. There was finally certainty in her life.
Her saviour had come.
‘Yes, I do.’
I will be with you.
‘Elethien, what is this?’ A Forester’s voice brought her back to reality. ‘You’re… crying.’
The greyness suddenly felt so much more disgusting in her eyes. This life she had been living, this fight for mere survival was useless to her now. She looked at the curious Foresters below, still not yet enlightened with the new path Fate had set for them. They seemed so small, so stupid in comparison to her. It wasn’t their fault. After all, such had been the norm for decades. They were all too used to being content with survival for another day.
Holding back her tears, feeling the blood and darkness evaporating from her eye as they turned to dust, she stood before all a hundred of them, her figure like a beacon in all this fog and darkness. Even for the ones who hadn’t yet noticed her wings, their eyes too focused on the bits of loot in front of them, she would enlighten them of their new destiny.
‘Everyone!’ she shouted. This tone of voice, this volume was rarely used after a battle. The strain on the lungs was akin to a war cry, a roar of strength and desperation before what could possibly be the last day in their lives.
But this was different. This was to proclaim the revelation she had received, the first cry that would mark the birth of a god.
The Foresters stared at this almost fanatical scream, their hands paused in their looting. They were mercenaries like her, brothers and sisters-in-arms who used to fight for some other king, some other god. And for the first time, they all stopped and looked at her.
‘I am done with fighting each other! We kill, slaughter, loot just for another day to live as slaves, dying for a king, a god we don’t know. This has been our lives for all we know, firing bits of our souls at each other until we die. This has always been the destiny of us Foresters, fighting and killing from the day we know how to. I hate this. I hate seeing my companions die. I hate seeing brothers and sisters kill each other just because they had to. I hate not being able to protect each other as one. I hate all of this!
‘But a voice called me. The voice of Fate, the God of gods. It has deemed I will become a king, a god, someone who can finally protect everyone as my people under the world of my kingdom. There will be no more fighting amongst ourselves, no more fighting for other gods. We will only fight for us! For the sake of our lives, our brothers and sisters, our future, I call you to follow me! As a god, I will protect all of my companions!’
Her wings wrapped around the entire group, embracing all of them like a mother to her children. Compared to the magic the Foresters were used to, this was something completely supernatural, an outpouring of one’s soul to display her overwhelming power.
‘Join me,’ she called. ‘Follow me, and we will build a new Kingdom of Foresters!’
She raised her sword to the sky, a toast to the God of gods who gave her a new life. The blade gleamed under the sunlight, the edges sharp as if it had never cut through a body, even if moments ago it was caked in blood and dulled to that like a club.
Their eyes flickered, their bodies trembled in excitement from her declaration. If this miracle wasn’t enough to convince them, nothing ever would. They’d languish in suffering for the remainder of their short lives, wasting an opportunity to turn everything around.
‘Raise your weapons!’ she cried out.
The choice was theirs.
For a moment, there was confusion. She looked upon her companions in anticipation, but no one seemed strong enough to even carry their weapons above their shoulders… Until a man lifted his spear high above his head, his arms quaking but maintaining that posture as well as he could in his state. Slowly, there was a second, a third, a fourth… until a collection of spears, staffs, swords, and even fists rose up high in pride, exhausting what little strength they still had in them. None of them spoke a word, but this was all she wanted.
Her first followers were here.
‘All hail the Kingdom of Foresters!’ she cried.
The brief moment of silence felt ethereal.
‘ALL HAIL THE KINGDOM OF FORESTERS!’ Thunder-like shouts shattered the stillness, their voices echoing throughout the empty battlefield. Among the smouldering ruins stood around a hundred Foresters, all pledging their lives to a promise of freedom, the promise of a new kingdom under their new god.
Elethien. A god was born.