For the newcomrs who never saw this, .
April 22, 3493
Priest Initiate Stanley Sutter stood rigidly listening to the riot with half of his attention, the other half focused on controlling Dwarf 86952 and Giant 54663. They glared their hatred of him while Sergeant Achley locked their chains around trees.
A woman ran by, silent except for her desperate panting. Four foot soldiers ran past them in pursuit, and Dwarf Two jerked and cursed, wanting to go with them. By her garb, the woman was one of Head Priest Menke's slaves. She'd be severely punished for allowing herself to be raped.
The two little gods secured, Stanley circled, feeling mentally for any others of the minor gods, and hoping like hell that the Senior Priest had kept control of the God of Death. Or for that matter, that the other two head priests had kept their major gods under control as well.
He nearly tripped over Twin 9781, who was busy fucking a woman he'd somehow caught. He grabbed the chain and had it around a tree, and the Sergeant closing the massive lock before the twin realized what had happened. He leaped up and charged, but Stanley reached out mentally and sapped him, brought him down.
The sergeant produced another chain and a pair of locks and the unconscious woman was chained as well. Whatever her providence, she was church property until she was either found to be not pregnant or gave birth.
Denny called out from the camp and Stanley yelled back that they had three.
"That's all then." Denny approached cautiously, relaxing when he saw the twin sprawled limply on the ground. "At least that's all of ours. Head Menke says to watch and wait until the camp has quieted down before returning with them."
Stanley nodded, not relaxing, because there were too many human noises in the woods and the glow in the sky seemed to indicate that at least part of the camp was burning.
He prowled back to Dwarf Two and Giant Three. They were hunkered sullenly down, doing nothing. Good. Back to Twin One, where Denny was laughing at Twin One who had recovered enough to return to the woman. She regained consciousness suddenly and started screaming in a breathless smothered and rhythm driven fashion.
In the brightening dawn Stanley got a better look at her. "That's going to be a problem. Twin One! Hey! That's General Menchuro's wife you're screwing."
Denny laughed again. "Well it doesn't matter, does it? She belongs to the church for the next nine months."
The twins both yelled as they came, and the woman sobbed and fought for breath as the gods' body and a half collapsed on her.
A squealing, fighting bunch of horses crashed through the trees and brush, and Stanley ran back to check on the dwarf and giant. They were curled up asleep, or pretending, beside their respective trees. The sun finally rose enough to get some actual sunlight down through the trees and Stanley wondered if it would be safe to move the gods back into camp.
He paced back to the twin and found him humping again.
"Where'd Denny go?" He asked the Sergeant.
"A woman went running by and he followed her." The Sergeant shook his head. "What the hell happened? One minute everything is fine, then Head Priest Menke's personal bodyguard grabs his wife and rapes her right there, in front of everyone."
"I think it started outside, it was getting a bit noisy. I went out to see what was going on. By the time I got back there was blood everywhere and Menke was boy raping an initiate, Hagood was doing one of the slaves, and then the common soldiers charged right in and started raping women."
"I tried ordering them around, and it was like they couldn't even hear me." The Sergeant spat and pointed at the twin. "Brainless as that one, no matter how many heads he's got."
The twin collapsed again, grinning in satisfaction.
"Let's move him over with the others. As crazy as everyone is, I want them all where I can keep my eye on them."
The Sergeant agreed and quickly locked a chain around the other neck before the god recovered, leaping to his feet and snarling at them.
Between the two of them they were able to manhandle him to within sight of the other two, and chain him to a tree.
The Sergeant stood watch while Stanley went back for the woman. She was furious and scared, and he ignored her threats.
"Walk or I'll chain you within reach of the god."
"You pig. My husband will geld you for this."
"Why do you think your husband would want you back?" Stanley looked at her in disgust. "You're old, he'll have a newer and younger wife before the church returns you to him."
"My husband loves me."
With all his eggs under the Sergeant's watchful eye, Stanley walked back to the camp. The officers' pavilion and the general's tent had all burned, the perimeter fence was down in dozens of places, and there were almost more dead bodies than live ones in sight. He edged carefully over toward Head Priest Menke's campsite. There was a jump in the number of bodies; he could see the hundred foot limit of the God of Death's lethal radius. But there were other people walking about, and he recognized a bunch of the escorting troops. He squared his shoulders and walked in.
Head Priest Menke was sitting and eating. The stiff skeletal form of the god sat a few yards away, angry, burning eyes fixed on the Head Priest.
"Sir?" Stanley went to one knee briefly in the usual greeting. "I have three of the minor gods chained to trees in the woods. Shall I start bringing them in?"
"No. We may need to abandon this site quickly, and the fewer gods we have to manhandle out of sight, the better." He growled a bit under his breath. "About half the troops have gone off to Tarrington. If whatever evil spell was put upon them doesn't wear off before they reach it, they may well sack the town. So stay hidden in the woods." He waved at several piles. "Find provisions and take them with you."
Stanley rolled up bread, cheese and salami in blankets and toted it back to his captives. What the hell had happened to cause this disaster? When the Archbishop heard . . . Stanley shuddered. There was no way this army could be put back into order, to be ready to attack. A single disastrous night had pretty well postponed the takeover of Arrival for a year, if not longer.
He supposed it all depended on how many generals the Emperor, acting on the Archbishop's order, had executed.
He leaned back and contemplated the possibility of a turnover in the priesthood. He was too junior for any blame to accrue to. Was Head Priest Menke high enough to dodge? Stanley reluctantly decided they probably wouldn't take the major god away from him. They'd discipline him with some long, boring, dirty job. Or possibly some dangerous duty.
He remembered the rumors about the message from the Army units to the west. The God of War and his Priest both killed? Fogarth was newly raised, and only recently assigned to the God of War. It was surprising that he'd bonded the God strongly enough to drag him down into death with him. Or maybe someone had killed the god. Hard to believe either way. No doubt the Archbishop would have that matter thoroughly investigated.
Stanley almost wished he could investigate, but he knew he was much more likely to be heading back to Paree. One more witness to this debacle. Pity.
May 12, 3494
It didn't actually matter which god was brought along on this scouting mission. For all the Pomp and pretense given them, the minor gods were, after all, just mobile power accumulators. And the major gods were under the control of their Priest. But Stanley still wished the Conclave hadn't chosen to send the God of Death.
Head Priest Andrew Menke didn't like it either. He'd raved about how he was too important to be sent off like this, shutting up only when the Supreme Head had suggested that he stay home and send a Senior Priest with the God. Heh. Even an Initiate knew a Head Priest wasn't going to risk his position by letting a Senior hook to his God.
So here they were. One Priest with his God on a Psychic leash. Two senior Priests, four Priests, eight Initiates, twelve little gods and a hundred soldiers from the First Imperial Company. All staring at a glowing white circle perched on a hillside.
They'd been searching for over a month, based mainly on tall tales overheard in the nearest town.
Senior Priest Craig Hagood walked around with the hat held high. Stanley reached in and grabbed a stone. Denny and Keith and the other five selected, and then the eight Initiates held out their hands and opened them. White and black stones.
Stanley's was black.
"Sutter, go jump through that . . . thing. If at all possible, come back."
Stanley gulped and shakily turned, walked up the hill. What was that thing? It didn't matter. It couldn't possibly kill him more painfully than being fed to the God for disobedience. One of the little gods snickered as he walked by, one of the small ones, his eyes mocking. The dwarf licked his lips hungrily. Oh yes, the little gods enjoyed seeing Priests die.
Baron Roger, the Arrivalian Traitor, was grinning. No doubt he'd love seeing anyone die. Stanley rather wondered if the senior priests weren't leaning too hard on the Baron's mind. He was getting unsettlingly unbalanced. If he were any more magic, we could turn him into a God. As it is, he'll make a good puppet, and breeding material.
The dwarf snickered again. "Coward . . ." Less than a whisper, barely a breath.
Stanley stiffened his shoulders and strode forward and jumped. Tripped and sprawled on the ground. He picked himself up hastily, braced for the laughter from the little gods . . . He glanced back, startled at the silence, and there was the glowing circle.
He swung around and surveyed the area. Rolling grassy hills, a wide road running straight and level through them. Across the road a deep brush-choked gully jagged around, but in general ran parallel to the road. A thin forest covered the hills on the far side, with higher hills rising behind, dark with a thicker forest. To his right, perhaps half a mile away, a building with a steep roof like they built in the far south, to shed snow. Nothing else, and no people in sight. He strode back to the glowing circle and stepped through.
May 18, 3494
That evening, the entire scouting team moved through the Gate, and concealed themselves in the forest across the road. From the far side of the gully they watched the sparse traffic, then crossed back and scouted the area.
The building was a common tavern, the 'Fire Mountain Inn' according to the sign. There was another road that joined this one just past the Inn. It was much lower quality, potholed gravel and mud.