For the first time since they had chosen him as a child, he was thinking. Ever since he had been taken to the temple and given a tiny underground room and a copy of religious texts, his only thoughts had been of what they had told him. All he believed had been what they had taught him, what he had read by candlelight for hours every night. For many, many years, he and the others of his order had stayed in their abbey within the temple, studying and praying and honing their battle skills. And when their leader had come and said that their country was finally in need of them, to bring the word and slay the heretics of the neighboring, backwards country of Kazimer, they could hardly believe their ears. It had been a hundred years since the Wojciech had been called to fight. Most of the surrounding regions were nominally followers of the sacrificed prophet, he whom they did not name except to call him Prophet or Zhertvu, the sacrificed. Had some demon or some pagan religion overrun what progress had been made in the outer countries?
In his home country of Teodor, many of the state’s actions revolved around serving the sacrificed and undying prophet by taking his word to all corners of the earth. They were on the precipice of creating a mighty empire driven by their technical prowess and their religion. The smaller countries to the west had already pledged their devotion to the Prophet, and joined with Teodor. Now there was Kazimer to the east, Selig to the southeast, Borya to the west of the other coalition countries, and Anshel to the south, and the entire continent would be theirs.
So the elite force of Wojciech legionnaires had set out for Kazimer, filled with righteous fervor to help the poor miners and farmers, and drive out any other beliefs that might damage the souls of the Kazimeri.
But the reality when they had arrived in the country, which Teodor’s budding empire had been warring with for three years, was far different than they thought. To the more perceptive of them, they had become yet another weapon to force Kazimer into submission. But their entire lives, they had been taught to follow orders. Would their prophet allow them to be co-opted for something evil? Perhaps there was still evil for them to fight. But it was getting harder for them to see it. And yet, years and years of training and conditioning made it hard for them to rebel. Many of them blinded themselves to what was really happening, unable to deal with their deep faith and upbringing being manipulated in such a way. Others rationalized it, or some whose eyes were clear but lacked mental strength spent their evenings praying for forgiveness.
Now as he, Arkady Brendon, sat by himself in a Zhertvu temple in Kazimer, he was unsure about what he had been ordered to do.Continue reading