Razor Mountain — Chapter 19.3

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

God-Speaker found that his eyes were welling up. The voices were right. They were always right. He hated them.

“Don’t walk this path,” God-Speaker said. “Give me some other choice.”

“Step aside,” Strong Shield said, even as God-Speaker side-stepped his spear-thrust.

God-Speaker’s hands were empty. There was nothing on the table except papers.

“You are no match for me,” Strong Shield said, the head of his spear bobbing and thrusting. He approached carefully, ready to strike, making it impossible for God-Speaker to do anything but move backward, away from the doors.

God-Speaker blinked and a tear ran down his face.

“I trusted you. You think you can lead these people? Nobody should follow someone who would betray his own brother.”

Strong Shield only lunged again.

God-Speaker knew these steps, these thrusts. The voices knew much about fighting, but little about human bodies. God-Speaker had synthesized their knowledge into something practical: a fighting style he developed himself. He had taught their first warriors, long before Strong Shiels. His techniques had been refined and passed down. Strong Shield was adept, but his skill had limits.

God-Speaker threw up his arm. When Strong Shield thrust again, he sidestepped and brought the arm down, capturing the shaft under his armpit. He wrapped his arm around it as Strong Shield tried to pull it back, the barb cutting into the flesh beneath his shoulder blade. Wincing, God-Speaker brought his other hand to bear, shoving the spear down. Strong Shield was caught off-balance, brought to one knee with the butt of the spear touching the stone floor.

God-Speaker brought the other end down to his right knee. His other knee fell on the middle of the shaft. It bent, then broke under his weight.

Strong Shield staggered, now holding only the broken butt of the spear and still off balance. God-Speaker held the sharp end under his arm, but he had been forced to throw his weight downward to snap it. Instead of fighting this momentum, he leaned into it, tucking his chin to his chest and rolling forward onto his left shoulder.

He somersaulted, intending to come up onto his feet. Before he could get all the way around, Strong Shield’s hand lashed out and grasped his arm at the elbow. Instead of trying to regain his footing, the man had lunged after him, turning the fight into a grappling match on the floor.

It had only been a few months since God-Speaker had taken on this new body. It was young and strong, but not as muscular as Strong Shield, and God-Speaker was still learning the feel of it. He felt just a little too slow, a little too weak. Strong Shield took hold of his wrists as they tumbled, both men fighting to come out on top.

Strong Shield feared the spear tip that God-Speaker had pried away from him. God-Speaker held it in his right hand. He let his left arm go limp while he struggled to press the right toward Strong Shield’s face.

Strong Shield’s face had shown fear for a moment. Now he smiled, confident in his control of the situation. He held God-Speaker’s right hand firmly, elbow locked as they rolled to a stop, the larger man on top.

“This is meant to be,” Strong Shield said, twisting God-Speaker’s wrist.

“I’m sorry,” God-Speaker said. “I should have seen this coming. I should have been able to stop it.”

Strong Shield cried out in wordless victory as the broken spear fell from God-Speaker’s twisted hand. He scrambled to grab the half-spear. God-Speaker twisted underneath him, but Strong Shield straddled him, grabbing God-Speaker’s right hand with his left.

His body half-turned, God-Speaker bent his left knee, bringing his foot up to his hip as Strong Shield raised the spear point for the killing blow.

God-Speaker’s free left hand slipped a thin flint blade from a hidden pocket on his boot. The blade came up at an angle across the man’s exposed abdomen, cutting a clean line through skin and muscle, only stopping when it struck the bottom of his sternum. The blade was as long as a finger, just enough to wedge under the ribs and press into the beating heart. God-Speaker felt the twist of his wrist, the snap of the razor-thin tip of the blade, buried in Strong Shield’s chest. Then he felt the wave of hot wetness as Strong Shield’s lifeblood poured over him. The head of the spear came down without any force. The arms were already limp. The black irises were dull and empty.

For a moment, God-Speaker could do nothing but sob silently. Then he shoved the body away. He was soaked in blood. The smell and the taste of it was overwhelming. For a moment, he thought he would vomit, but he suppressed it. He stood.

The blood drained off of him, onto the floor. There was a rhythm to it, dripping, like the beating of drums. His heart beat with it, a cold rage building. Underneath it all were the voices of the mountain.

God-Speaker let his breathing slow. His anger and sadness didn’t diminish, they only concentrated to a white-hot point in his chest. He walked to the closed doors, knowing that he left footprints in blood every step of the way.

He opened the doors, letting the cold autumn wind blow over him, and looked down the small flight of stone stairs. There was a wide, flat gathering space below, where his remaining war councilors waited and talked amongst themselves. They looked up at him in shock.

“What happened?” asked Aoyura.

“I was betrayed,” God-Speaker said. “Strong Shield believed that he could lead our people better than I. He thought he could kill me. He is dead by my hand.”

A few others who had been nearby began to gather, staring open-mouthed at God-Speaker’s blood-soaked body.

“I am Tutanarulax Qatqa. I am the one who speaks to the gods of the mountain. I am the one who does not die.”

The gathered people, the councilors, all of them averted their eyes and bowed their heads. Out of respect? Fear? In that moment, God-Speaker did not care.

“Come,” he said. “Bring water. We must cleanse this place of the blood of the traitor. Then I will tell you the future I see for our city in the mountain.”

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