Call: What is the number of the gods?
Response: The gods are five in number. Four are friends to the world. One betrayed it.
Call: What is their nature?
Response: Poram rules the wild, the sea, the world in the raw. Sitha is the weaver, the Golden Lady, mistress of crafts and civilization. Tinival, their son, the Silver Wind, governs justice and wisdom. Letar is the Dark Lady, the Threadcutter, the patron of death and healing, love and vengeance.
Call: What is the nature of the fifth?
Response: Treachery. Subjugation. Greed. The dagger in the back, the poison in the cup, the fetters locked unjustly. All of these are Gizath’s domain.
—The Catechism of the Temple of Sitha, Part I
Know, Your Grace, that the downfall of the world as it was once known began in the shining city of Heliodar. There Lord Thyran, fancying himself betrayed by his common-born wife, came to see the world and all within it as corrupt. There, in the course of a single night of horror, he spilled the blood of his bride, her paramour, and his servants, a dedication to Gizath unlike any the Traitor God had ever known, and from there he fled into the north. His power summoned some of his minions from the places outside the world. Others swarmed to his banner. Many were changed. The lands of the south paid little heed until the day he and his armies came forth…
—From the Letters of Farathen, scribe to the young Duchess of Bethal
Blood soaked the stones of Klaishil.
Some—too much—was as red as Amris’s own. It didn’t quite blend with the darker, viscous ooze that spilled more in blobs than in rivulets and ate into whatever was beneath it. Both pooled around crumbled stones, abandoned possessions, and bodies of all sorts.
Those still moving, living and otherwise, fought above the corpses of their comrades without looking down. Amris knew his soldiers couldn’t chance the distraction. He suspected—or knew, in the cases of the undead and the beasts—that Thyran’s troops simply didn’t care.
Trapped with his back to the burnt shell of a house, he ducked a massive blow from a scaled fist. Jazmin, his last living lieutenant as far as Amris knew, seized the moment, sprang onto an abandoned cart, and fired a crossbow bolt into the single eye of the creature menacing him. Her aim was keen, despite days without rest: the monster grunted and fell backwards.
Amris followed it forward a few steps, spun, and cut through the dead arms reaching for Jazmin.
She smiled her thanks from a soot-smeared face and leapt down to his side.
“Have we any others?” he asked.
“Blaise, Vada, and the Pine are coming up from the southwest. Or were. Edan and ten of us are getting the last of the priests out of the temples. Nadusha and her squadron are dead. Building collapse.”
Amris made the sign of the Four Gods with his free hand, wearily, wishing them peace. Compared to the last few years, they’d have it anyhow. “Damos’s squadron? Lady Winthair?”
“I’ve seen nothing of them today.”
The previous sign of the Four would have to cover them too. Amris needed both hands on his sword and all his focus at the other end, for coming down the street was a squad of twistedmen: Thyran’s shock troops, redly and wetly skinless, with curving black talons on their huge hands and faces that were mostly sharp-toothed mouths.
Amris had killed a score or so of them since the sun rose, and it was near noon now, but there were always more.
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