105. Horror And Shame

What we found when at last we met the Okasti host were ten thousand warriors stumbling about as children.

Many had cast down their shields and weapons. Some were sitting in the brute glare of the merciless sun, smiling, or staring vacantly into the sky. Others wandered about muttering to themselves. I heard wailing, too, and saw men on their knees, weeping like babes. And I saw those who prayed, though I know not to whom, or to what.

They seemed oblivious to our approach. As we neared them, some saw and watched us, but all eyes that were upon us were empty, devoid of understanding.

None of them fought. Yet all of them died that day.

As the command was given to charge, I turned to the Parson that rode with my contingent.

What happened to these men? I asked.

They have seen the glory of Her Holiness’s ardor and devotion, he said, and given themselves over to their doom. They took up arms against the Faith, and as with all such who do so, their souls must be freed of their sinful flesh, that we may gather them into the fold. Go now, and remember that there is no death, neither to be dealt by you nor suffered.

Of the slaughter that followed, I will say only little.

I know we did the Shaper’s will that day, for the Guardian herself had blessed the battlefield that now drank the blood of our enemies. And yet in my memory of that day I relive not the glory of victory, but horror and shame. I have maimed, wounded, and killed many in my years as a soldier of Hestia. But each time I did so, I faced a warrior wielding death-bringing weapons who was as keen on ending my life as I was on ending his. What we did that day was no different from butchering an army of small children who did not even know what was happening to them. The bitterness of the memory is alleviated only by my knowledge that their souls are now within the Faith, for in this as in all my battles, within our host rode another host, of Parsons with their sacred Shards, who gave the last rites to all that fell around them.

I saw King Arghan cut down near me that day, his gaze not aflame with the burning hatred I was used to seeing in the eyes of our foes, but filled only with a great bewilderment. I myself had the doubtful honor of plunging my spear into the chest of his son, Prince Bakogan. I say doubtful, for although in him I slew a great enemy of the Faith, my attack met no resistance. As I charged him, he looked at me without understanding, muttering words in his tongue that I did not understand. Never will I forget the baffled look on the Prince’s face as he sank to the blood-drenched earth before me, pierced by my weapon, nor the words he repeated even with his dying breath.

Hudonnar… taqla, hudonnar.

For long years, I had learned to dismiss the language of Okast, to despise it as a barbaric tongue unworthy of inquiry by civilized men. Yet somehow the Prince’s ebbing voice had opened my ears to the foreign speech, and now I heard the one word again and again from the Okasti that fell and died around me: hudonnar… hudonnar.

When at last corpses were made of all the ten thousand that had marched against us, and vast pillars of black smoke rose toward the evening sky from the pyres lit for the disposal of their remains, and I had washed myself clean of the stains of our butchery, I found an old Parson whom I knew to have some knowledge of the Okasti tongue, and asked what the words meant that I had heard from the lips of the doomed Prince and so many others.

Though I learned their translation from him, he was unable to explain to me their significance, nor have I discovered it since. The Parson surmised that what I heard was part of some heathen prayer uttered in the face of death. What thought or sentiment those words were in truth meant to express perished with those that spoke them on the battlefield that day. All I can do is set them down here as I was told they would be rendered in our speech:

The stars… everywhere, the stars.

NEXT: Heresy


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