Laria’s hand was cool compared to the viscera that coated Stutgard’s face, his arms, his back. It was the gelid touch of the grave, but when he looked into her eyes, he saw life, and life abundant.

“My love?” She whispered, pulling at his head, trying to bring his lips to hers. But his neck was too stiff, it would not bend. “Oh my love, what is going on?”

Stutgard looked past his reborn wife, surveying levelly the carnage around the altar he had built. Built from the remains of his God.

“I have freed you, l…Laria.” For some reason he couldn’t bring himself to call her ‘love.’ The word felt wrong, clinging to his tongue with insectile pincers rather than bursting out as it once had. “I have freed you that we might be together again.” He said it with as much conviction as he possessed, which turned out to be very little. A sob burst from Laria behind him.

“Oh God, why do you torment me? What vision of horror is this? What wounds did I cause in life that you salt me so viciously!?”

“Ease yourself, wife. This is not a vision of doom.” He slunk over to the body of the solider that had wrenched his short sword from him during the final confrontation. The armored man was slumped against the ruins of a pillar, cradling the implement that had spilled his intestines over the stone floor. Stutgard kicked the man over to free his blade but…what was this? This was only a child, a small boy no older than Viktor, clad in a man’s armor. The helmet, so oversized on the adolescent skull, concealed the features of the boy’s face, but there was no doubt from the size of the body.

“Why do you speak lies when your very words reveal themselves as such? Who are you, vile demon, that you torment me with images of such death? The lives of so many, crushed at that hands of my peaceful husband? Is there nothing sacred to you?”

Stutgard turned back to the pure form of his wife, the women he had traveled hundreds of leagues, had slain thousands of men for. She was spotless, arrayed in white lilies that rebuked the crimson gore coating the floor, the walls, the ceiling. He cocked his head, as he always did when trying to grasp something he didn’t quite understand. Laria caught the gesture, and a horrid realization sent her crashing to the floor.

“No, Stutgard,” she moaned, bringing both hands up to her neck as if she was choking on this grim reality. “Tell me it isn’t you.”

Stutgard turned from her then, back towards the corpse of the boy, finding her a distraction from a problem that was troubling him deeply. He heard her crying, sobbing uncontrollably as if from a great distance. The sound beat against his ears, but those had become immune to such long ago.

Eventually, after Laria had spent her newly restored grief on the man she had once called her husband, she began to shuffle around the domed mausoleum, visiting each and every corpse. As she turned them over, her sorrow built and was released anew.

“Oh, priest Malakai,” she breathed, closing the bloodied eyes of the man who had shaped her faith since her infancy.

“Oh, sweet, sweet Hoyle,” she breathed, turning away from the shredded corpse of the town blacksmith.

“Mother!” she screamed, cradling the broken face of her wrinkled progenitor.

Around and around she went, madness growing heavy on her shoulders as she identified the remains of near half her village, splayed around the altar of her resurrection in some twisted picture of worship. Finally, she dragged herself to the altar itself, only to be greeted by the still smoking remains of her God, impaled with the broken shaft of his mythical spear. She caressed ever so gently his lifeless face, seeking the comfort he had so readily offered her when she first crossed into the underworld. How, but how had this happened?

“Ah,” Stutgard sighed. “Now I see.”

He reached down, deft fingers unclasping the helm from the corpse of the boy, and was met with face of his son, Viktor.

“Yes, that is what was bothering me,” he said, placing the helm on his own head. “This boy was wearing my armor.”

He took his time in removing the rest of the intricate metal casings, pieces that had been handed down to him from his father, to him from his father’s father, to him from his father’s father’s father. He had never worn the armor before himself, always feeling as if donning the suit was an act of the severest blasphemy. He had no such qualms now.

“Viktor!” Laria cried, as Stutgard approached the altar of the dead God, revealing to her the corpse of her only son. “Viktor!” She cried, right before the armor clad figure separated her head from her shoulders.

“Victor,” the newly birthed God said, tasting the word as he squatted upon the body of his predecessor. “Yes. My name is Victor.”


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