Written by Aaron McQueen
Illustrated by Jennifer Lange
Copyright July 17th, 2018
This story is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my most generous subscribers, whom I have listed below. Without their help, support, and contributions, this production would not be possible.
They’d called them heavens.
Lon stood on the roof of the hotel, observing the flying fortress overhead. It wasn’t the largest building he’d ever seen. Back in the old country humans and elves had constructed far larger, but in its time, thousands of years ago, it would have been an impressive construct indeed.
Or so he presumed.
Knowledge of the gods was a taboo. No one really knew why. Schools only taught that the gods were slain in a revolutionary conflict known as the Iiari that consumed the world for more than a century. History recorded almost nothing else. The story of the gods, their power, and their dominion had been all but expunged. Only a handful of scholars knew anything more.
Lon was not a scholar.
He took a long breath and went back inside. The dominaa was at her desk, poring over a stack of ledgers. It was a cosy office. The carpet was red. The walls were panelled with polished wood and lit with glass oil lamps. There was a fireplace in the corner that warmed the whole room. Nevertheless, she seemed troubled.
She looked up.
“Still staring at that thing?”
“Eventually we’ll have to figure out a way to get up there.”
“If we don’t starve to death first. Our new overlords are bleeding the hotel dry. Every day they come in, throwing their silver around like it’s worth something. At this rate, our supplies will be gone in two months. We’ll be rich, but we’ll never make it to the dawn.”
Lon came over to the desk and looked down at the books. He believed her. Working in the kitchen, he’d seen the supplies disappearing first hand.
“How bad is it?”
The dominaa leaned back in her chair. She wasn’t in her evening gown. The days’ business was over and the guests were asleep. She had on a warm, woollen set of black pyjamas. Strangely, Lon found her relaxed look more appealing than her formal wear.
“We’ve got about a month’s worth of alcohol left in the basement; cured meat for the same; grain, beans, root vegetables, and firewood for another month after that.”
“A month short.”
The dominaa massaged her scalp.
“Forty-five days. Even if we ration the guests will never make it that long. Some of these people gave everything they had to buy a place here. If we can’t hold up our end, they’ll turn on us and then finally each other.”
She shut the ledger.
“What a mess.”
There was a couch against the wall. Lon went to it and sat down. He lay back, exhausted. When he and his brothers came to the dominaa, she’d made it clear that they would have to work in exchange for her discretion. It was the guests’ job to relax. It was their job—along with the rest of the staff—to ensure their safety and comfort for the three months that the sun would fail to rise. The shifts were long, the work was hard, and more and more he was realizing that he was no longer a teenager. His joints felt like they were about to come apart.
The dominaa looked over.
“Well, rest up. Your next shift starts in eight hours.”
He tilted his head up.
She gave him a coy smile.
“If that’s what you’re into.”
Lon laughed. The dominaa came to sit beside him.
“Your brothers told me you met General Hightower.”
“He seems like a decent man.”
The dominaa huffed out a laugh.
“A decent man with an army at his back.”
Lon conceded the point.
“True, but if I can cultivate a relationship he might be a good source of information. He could be useful when the time comes.”
The dominaa sat back against the arm of the couch.
“And what time is that, exactly?”
Lon looked up.
“When we take them down, of course.”
The dominaa laughed.
“Take them down? What are you talking about?”
Lon sat up, surprised at her reaction.
“Well we can’t just let them—”
“What? Take over? Look around you. The streets are filled with undead soldiers. They’ve already taken over. Half the city burned to the ground in the battle. The citizens are all dead or scattered into hiding. You won’t even be able to raise an army, let alone stage a rebellion.”
Lon shook his head.
“I’m not so sure. Tormar suffered heavy losses during the fight.”
“And they’re replenishing them every day. The clerics are collecting bodies from all over the city, and there’s a reward for every one the people turn in.”
Lon nodded grimly. He’d heard the same: three days’ grain for every intact corpse.
“Still, it will still take weeks for them to replace their numbers, and the undead are useless without a will to command them. Maybe we can focus on the clerics. Mount some kind of…I don’t know, guerrilla campaign.”
The dominaa gave him a sceptical look.
“And the gods?”
Lon leaned back.
“I’m still working on that.”
The dominaa shot him a sceptical look and went to the side-board. She poured herself a glass of wine.
Lon understood why she wasn’t convinced. The blind-deaf ladies were a diplomatic organization. They survived by making friends, and there were some powerful friends kicking around these days.
He stood up.
“Word around the bar is that the gods are promising food and firewood to anyone who joins their cause.”
The dominaa kept a straight face.
“Are you planning to?”
She went back to her desk and opened up the ledger.
“I haven’t decided yet.”
Lon went to the door.
“Well, let me know when you do.”
He shut it behind him.
Morgan looked out over the stockyard. They’d taken over a livery adjacent to the square and converted it into an embalming studio. The clerics were working around the clock to rebuild the army, but progress was slow. They didn’t have access to the tools or the facilities they enjoyed back in Tormar. Preservatives were scarce, and because so many of the dead had perished in the battle and the fire, most of the bodies they recovered were too badly damaged to be mummified.
They were using the stockyard to sort and store the corpses. The actual embalming took place inside the shelter of the stables. His captain emerged and stood at attention.
Morgan turned and saluted.
The captain saluted back.
“Thirty-one, general. Another twenty will be ready by tomorrow.”
Morgan grumbled. Less than a third of the quota, and dropping by the day. The chancellery had ordered him to produce a hundred soldiers a day to build the “gods” new army. It was an ludicrous demand. They’d spent six months assembling the three thousand that made up the first army, and they’d lost more than half during the fighting. To rebuild it in only a few weeks was impossible.
He turned back to the yard.
“What’s the hold-up this time? Supplies? Salt? Resin?”
The captain stammered.
“No, sir. Madame Calandra insists that the bodies are the cause. The freezing does something to the corpses. When they thaw them out the flesh is uncooperative.”
“Uncooperative? How contrary can a dead man possibly be?”
The captain wavered.
“I don’t know, sir.”
Morgan frowned. Calandra was the deacon of the clerics. The chancellery had placed her in charge of all non-military operations. She was a younger woman, a sorcerer of great skill. She knew her craft. Six months earlier, she was the one who suggested the undead army to the chancellery in the first place. She was personable enough, but despite their productive rapport, he couldn’t shake the feeling that beneath her calm and professional exterior lurked the tangled tunnels of a deeply fractured mind.
He thumped the captain on the shoulder.
“Don’t worry, captain. Come with me. We’ll see if we can’t attend to the deacon’s needs.”
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