Fungal Halo

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Small Minded

They say there are powers—unfathomable and unnamed—buried deep within the earth. Boons and banes and spirits and seductions call to the ambitious, but I’ve never known of someone actually finding one until now.

What does one say to a dark sorceress on the cusp of her victory?

My knight, so loyal and brave, wheezes and gasps for breath within his broken armor. Our roguish friend, normally so quick witted and talkative, lies silent and unmoving in a pool of blood. I don’t have the strength left to heal either of them.

“Let it sink in, Princess. I’ve won.”

She has. I bow my head in defeat.

“The Godsblood is mine.”

It hovers within her reach, an unshaped carmine gem formed of the crystallized blood of whatever forgotten god was buried here. The sickly sweet scent of its power, like rotting fruit, fills the air.

“With it, I shall wield ultimate power.”

Yes, the power to remake the world according to her whim, to raise mountains from the sea or to sink cities into the abyss at her pleasure, perhaps even to rewrite the laws of space and time if she desires.

“At last, I will depose your father and rule all of Rutennia in his place!”

I jerk my head upright and stare at her in disbelief. “What?

The sorceress Velle grins like an idiot. “You heard me, Princess. Your whole kingdom will be mine.”

My face must betray my feelings, judging by the way her confidence falters at my reaction. “You’ve claimed a power like this, and all you can think to do with it is take over this kingdom?”

“Your father—”

“Yes. I know.” I wave off her explanation, disinterested. “He didn’t see your worth, you wanted to show us all, I get it, but if all you wanted to do was rule Rutennia, you could have just courted me and then poisoned my father!” I scrub at my face in frustration and suppress a scream. “What small-minded ambitions!”

That throws her off balance. “Small minded? I won! I’m getting everything I want!”

“And what you want,” I retort, “is a single grain of sand on a beach.” I ball my hands into fists and stalk toward her, outraged that my friends died for so little. “You are a cat who stole a siege engine to catch the mouse that once eluded you. You wouldn’t even know what to do with the kingdom once you had it.”

Velle barks an indignant laugh. “As if the king does!” She casts a hand toward me, magically halting my approach. “No, he has others handle all the administrative duties so he can simply bask in the worship of his subjects!”

“And when the people don’t worship you?” I ask through gritted teeth, “because trade with Melland and Istow has completely halted without their kings’ cousin sitting our throne?”

“I’LL MAKE THEM!” She makes a tugging motion in the air, yanking me forward to shout the words in my face. “With the Godsblood I can make my subjects dance like puppets at my command! They will all kneel before my throne.”

This close to the gem, the scent fills my senses. It leaves me feeling lightheaded, giddy, almost delirious, even. It draws an inappropriate giggle out of me before I can retort. “Build a doll out of cloth and sticks. Make it kneel. Put worshipful words in its mouth. It will mean just as much. Personally, I got tired of playing with dolls at age eight.”

Her face reddens. “You think you can trick me into giving up my goals? You think you can convince me this power is worthless?”

“Worthless?” I cackle. “The power of a dead god, worthless? No, only the things you imagine doing with it are worthless. You want to know what you should do with all that power? I’ll tell you.”

She leans forward, obviously curious.

“Istow’s ports give it mastery of the sea and trade we need,” I explain, as if to a child, “but we don’t need them if we bring the sea to us. Flood their plains, drown their whole nation if you’d like, but take that bargaining chip away.”

Some dim, distant part of me says I shouldn’t give her ideas, but every inhale of the intoxicating aroma of Godsblood fills my mind with visions of what that power can do. Why can’t she see it as clearly as I do?

“Melland,” I continue, “is weak but well defended by the terrain. Pull the mountains down onto their capital, swallow their impregnable fortress in a new chasm, and their resources become ours.”

Velle’s eyes light up with understanding. “Yes, yes, you’re right!”

No, no, no, even I’m still thinking too small. Like a petty warlord with a mere weapon. But this is no weapon, it’s the power of a god. I take a deep breath and focus. I need to be thinking like a god.

“No, why set our sights on conquering our neighbors,” I muse aloud, “when there’s a whole world out there to reshape? We don’t need what they have. It’s not a zero sum game anymore.”

Judging by her face, I’ve lost Velle again, but I don’t care. My thoughts race. With every breath I take, my vision crystallizes.

She doesn’t need to understand. I don’t speak for her to hear; I speak because I must. “A perfect world, answering only to me. Every river, every pebble, the mountains and the seas, the very stars in the sky, all mine…”

“No.” The sorceress shakes her head and tightens her grip on the magical restraints holding me in place. “The Godsblood is mine. I found it. I got here first. You lost.”

She sounds so petulant, so small. Velle doesn’t understand power, not really. She’s merely a spurned court magician who deluded herself into thinking she was more, not someone with the will to rule.

And this is no inert stone. The heart’s blood of a god demands to be wielded. It demands the will to wield it.

It was mine the moment I decided it was mine.

Without transition, the stone is already in my hand. A twitch of a thought tears Velle’s restraints to pieces like a cobweb caught on a boot.

She’s screaming, shouting something, flinging spells my way, but my attention falls instead upon the crumpled figures of my dear companions.

With a thought, I am no longer next to her. I stand beside my knight, seeing him inside and out. His body is a trifle to mend, and like wiping dust from a windowsill, I smooth away the injuries. With little effort, I scan the thoughts within his mind, and… oh, what useful secrets lurking within! Many ways to control this one if he chooses to resist me.

My thief is dead. I refuse to abide that for the only one I recall who could consistently make me laugh, and a god deserves a jester even more than a king, right? All it takes is a touch to reignite the spark of life and bid the soul return to its body; funny, I always imagined resurrection to be a more difficult process.

Last of all, my sorceress. I don’t need to read her thoughts to recognize her profound denial of the reality of this situation. She flings chaotic bolts of fire and lightning and ice at me, howling threats and curses that mean very little.

If I want her as my high priestess, I should impress her more.

We stand in the middle of a great empty ribcage, and yes, I think a god-bone crown would suit me. Brittle ribs bend like supple grasses, shrink and weave themselves into an ornate crown to rest on my head. I crush the Godsblood gem in my fist and direct the shards to implant themselves in pleasing patterns within the bone.

Velle ceases her assault. I watch her delusions melt away upon witnessing me destroy the gem. The light of understanding dawns within her mind that my power is entirely mine, never to be stolen. A god-bone collar snakes around her neck as gently as a princess’s gloved hand, and I can taste her complete surrender.

The whole world also aches for my touch, but it will have to wait just a little longer for my design to perfect it. There are many more boons and banes buried within this graveyard world, and I’ll need every last one if I wish to extend my reach beyond even the stars.

And my first three worshippers still need training.