“I didn’t even get to use the blade,” Raimand said weakly. “Hardly seems fair . . .”
Sataurnos looked up at the voice, his eyes searching the room. Raimand lay toward the center, his body pinned beneath the beam.
“Stay still!” Sataurnos shouted, rushing to Raimand’s side. “We can move this beam. Don’t make things worse fidgeting. Demas . . .”
Demas lowered his axe to the floor and moved to take hold of the beam. “He helped me with the soldiers here, and then stayed to fight Commander Dolaren. He told me to go help you.”
Elowea crouched next to Sataurnos, and together the three managed to shift the beam—but not enough to free Raimand. Setting it down as gently as they could, each let out a loud sigh. As they prepared to try again, one of the bodies in the room rose slowly to its feet.
“I have never seen a more amazing swordsman,” Raldt said as he made his way toward the group with slow, uneasy steps. His eye patch had been lost in the chaos, revealing only a hollow socket of skin where his eye had been.
Demas lifted his axe, holding it high in the air.
“You won’t be claiming this kill, Dolaren.”
Raldt shook his head wearily. “I have no intention of doing so. My men lay dead around me, but the responsibility for that act lies in the room above, not with you. I have been displeased with Vaelas for some time, but I serve the Church.”
He glanced upward. “I assume that I need take no further orders from Vaelas?”
Sataurnos nodded, his hands finding their grip on the beam once again. “A new Patron Father will have to be chosen. Yes.”
Raldt moved forward and found his own grip on the beam. With the sudden exertion, a spreading patch of crimson began to stain the armor over his stomach.
“That wound is serious Dolaren,” Sataurnos said, eying Raldt’s armor. “You’d better look to yourself or you’ll be dead in a moment.”
Raldt merely winced slightly as he tensed his muscles. “Then the sooner you gentlemen disappear the better, wouldn’t you say?”
Demas and Elowea added their strength once more. This time they managed to lift the beam enough for Elowea to snake a hand in and slide Raimand clear of the debris. As his body moved away, a large patch of missing flesh from his stomach served as evidence of where a jagged piece of wood had embedded itself within him.
“Gods . . .” Sataurnos whispered, staring at the wound.
Raimand smiled faintly. “You boys will never survive without me, you know.”
“Bull,” Sataurnos replied, his eyes betraying his worry. “You’re going to live to save our asses many more times.”
Raimand’s smile faded as he looked to Sataurnos. “Stand me up,” he said simply. “Let me face it on my feet.”
Sataurnos hesitated, and then nodded. Demas and Sataurnos lifted the man slowly, his body hanging between them. With a shared glance the two men moved Raimand toward the wall, helping him to stand against one of the wooden supports set in the stone.
“You’re sure about this?” Sataurnos asked.
“Unless your priestess friend can grant me a blessing,” Raimand replied.
All eyes turned to Elowea, who looked toward the floor sadly, shaking her head.
“I was never trained in the granting of blessings. I don’t even know how I did what I did upstairs. I’m so sorry . . .”
“It’s all right, girl,” Raimand said. “I just didn’t want our friend here to feel like he could’ve done more.”
Looking into Sataurnos’s eyes, he nodded. “Do it.”
Sataurnos stood ready to argue as he held Raimand’s gaze for a long moment, and then motioned to Raldt, bringing the commander forward to grasp Raimand’s arm. As Demas held the other, the two men supported Raimand to keep him on his feet.
Taking Raimand’s sword in his hand, Sataurnos stared hard at his friend.
“Elowea,” he said firmly, “look away.”
The priestess watched in confusion for a moment, and then quickly turned to fix her eyes on the far wall. Sataurnos raised the tip of the sword to press lightly against Raimand’s tunic. Raimand swallowed heavily and nodded once. Sataurnos drew the sword back and then thrust forward with all of his strength, driving the blade until the hilt was pressed against Raimand’s chest. Raimand managed to withstand the pain, allowing only an occasional grunt to acknowledge the burning agony. The sword had lodged itself into the wooden support behind him. Demas and Raldt waited until the life was gone from Raimand’s eyes before letting go of his arms.
Raimand hung limply from his blade. Sataurnos closed his eyes tightly and took a step backward before turning away.
“Elowea,” he said quietly. “I want you to do me a favor.”
“Of course,” Elowea answered.
“Is any of Vaelas’s power still in this thing?”
The priestess looked uncertain for a moment, until her eyes widened in sudden realization. “Yes. Yes, I can feel it. It took a lot of power to control this golem, and much of it seems to remain in some residual form.”
Sataurnos turned to face the young woman. “Good. Come with me.”
Taking Elowea by the arm, Sataurnos led her down the stairs. With a last look at Raimand’s body, Demas and Raldt followed, the Church commander leaning heavily on the large mercenary.
Once outside, it was clear that the nearby soldiers had fled when the golem began to fall apart. Sataurnos led the group to a safe distance, and then turned and pointed to the large stone figure.
“Destroy it,” he said simply.
Elowea’s eyes widened, and she shook her head. “I don’t know how! What happened before wasn’t by my choice.”
“But it was you who did it,” Sataurnos countered. “So we know you can do it. And now you need to do it. That thing’s caused enough trouble. From what Mayran said, Vaelas was able to draw power through you. So maybe you can reflect his power at the golem?”
“But I can’t remember how I did it!”
“Then remember the pain you felt when you woke up,” Sataurnos continued, cutting off Elowea’s protest before the words were out of her mouth. “Remember the pain, and direct it at the golem.”
Elowea looked uncertain, but closed her eyes in concentration. Demas watched in quiet wonder as a blue glow surrounded her and began to intensify. The young priestess opened her eyes and focused on the golem. The decaying stone figure stood with uncertain balance as blue light began to consume it as well. As the light surrounding the golem grew, however, the light around Elowea began to fade.
“I . . . I can’t,” she said. “I don’t know how.”
“Focus,” Sataurnos said, stepping forward. As Elowea steeled herself, Sataurnos struck her wounded arm with a sharp slap of his hand. “Remember!”
Sudden pain shot through the young priestess. It reflected off of the memory of her previous surge of power and exploded outward. Her left hand struck Sataurnos square in the chest, driving him backward several feet to the ground. As the air exploded from his lungs, the land beneath him coughed up a violent shudder, accompanied by a dozen claps of thunder. By the time Sataurnos had recovered, the golem was nowhere to be found. Only falling chunks of stone remained.
As small pieces of the golem rained down around him, Sataurnos raised himself enough to look over at where Demas and Raldt stood staring at the debris in wonder.
“Tell me, Dolaren,” he said. “Has there ever been a female Hand of the Gods?”
“No . . .” the commander answered, his eyes fixed on the rubble in the distance. “But I’ve seen stranger things.”
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