The sun had not yet risen, though the structure glowed blue in the pre-dawn light. Gottschalk stirred at the change and woke, dreams of his former life vanishing from the unpleasantness of his current situation.
Ever since the invasion of his homeland, he had felt his world become more mad, like some sort of bizarre dimension. He would awake each day, only to be cast out from yet another land by yet more cultists who claimed ‘Tolerance’ as their reason for banishing him yet again.
He wished he could remain asleep.
Back before Dinglesfuhr fell, he used to have a wife and family. He used to have friends and gainful employ as a salt mine captain. He used to... but now those things were gone: all thanks to cults. Some would claim that he hadn’t enjoyed them enough in the past- that he was being punished now for lacking appreciation for them at the time. Some even went so far as to suggest he had made some kind of false, errant thought and somehow violated Attraction’s Law.
But such were the excuses of liars, the misled, and the cruel, blaming misfortune upon others as a way to drop whatever responsibility they might themselves have. Such were the ways of cults.
They would first come with words of ‘Equality’. Slowly in the beginning, but methodically, they would then grow in strength: perverting, corrupting the youth of the very people that had graciously allowed them in. If any of their bizarre ideas would cause a stir, they would simply whine that they had been dispossessed and should instead be able to say and do what they wished in the ‘Name of Free Expression’.
Ultimately though, when their strength was great enough, the cult would seize power, censoring all opposition, doing the very same that they themselves had denounced only a decade or two before- despite the obvious hypocrisy. Finally, they would execute those who would not bow to their new Enlightened Equalitarian rule.
All in the name of Acceptance.
Gottschalk shifted again, his aging body stiff from sleep on the barren floor. His eyes went to Laurissa lying across from him. The young woman was still at rest, though she had to remain on one side because of her injured arm- another casualty of cultist ‘Equality’. He had thought to move closer to her during the night simply to keep warm, but decided against it. No point in scarring the woman further.
Gorm had no such compunction though and kept nudging closer to Ramzeus. Despite his great size, the large man’s intentions remained innocent, but few could blame Ramzeus for wanting to avoid such a sleep companion. It generally wasn’t a good idea to be smothered as a barbarian’s cuddle toy.
Gottschalk’s eyes moved then to take in the rest of the structure. A rectangular house a few dozen feet across, it looked to have once been a home and in the Ancient style, though it was hard to tell who had lived here since. Like all in Monjaksen, such places could be haunted by both those who had perished before Lights Out and those who had perished after. Any living residents were often few and far between.
Suddenly, he heard something: a sound almost imperceptible, a creaking at one of the windows. How such Ancient glass still stood intact after four centuries, here on the surface world for that matter, he could not say, though he guessed either spirits repaired any breakage or at least, scared away any who would.
Gottschalk scanned the room again and all the others were still asleep, though Ramzeus kept migrating away from Gorm’s attempts to snuggle. He cursed himself silently for not taking better precautions, for not better securing the place against intruders. But then again, when it came to spirits, what good could any mundane measures do?
Strangely though, he soon realized that this ‘spirit’ at the window had a hand and seemed to whisper too, sounding an awful lot like a human. Gottschalk rolled over as quietly as he could, only to see silhouettes outside! He was no cleric, but doubted that spirits looked the same as a group of cultists ready to raid one’s home at night.
He quickly reached out with his booted foot to touch Gorm on the face, but soon had to kick the deep-sleeping barbarian to wake him.
“Huh? What you want, Gott-chalk?”
Gottschalk said nothing, but only pointed at the window. Gorm sprang into action, grabbing his trusty great axe and cleaving the first cultist in two before he even had the chance to make it fully inside.
If the gurgling scream of the intruder wasn’t enough, Gottschalk’s shaking got Laurissa and Ramzeus on their feet, their own half-remembered dreams vanishing in the wake of the intrusion.
“Hey look, Gott-chalk! He find equal-it-tee too! Me chop him right in half! HA HA HA!”
The barbarian’s crude levity was short lived though, as five more cultists came through the windows and kicked in the door.
They remained silent and were masked. Unlike the ones who had attacked and nearly put him and his companions to death publically in Caelum Mount, these came as assassins: they had no qualms about killing those who disagreed with them outright. The weapons and large shields they carried, complete with the words ‘No Hate! Support Equality!’ written in glitter, dispelled any doubt.
Despite what the painful verses of the Never Stray from the Cult Path minstrels might suggest, it took more for cultists to come to such a point, to move beyond simply beating unbelievers in public within the Safe Areas they dominate and under the protection of their patrons. But now they were emboldened by the lack of any authority curtailing their excesses. It was a predictable progression from enthusiastic street harassment and beatings to expand into attempts at cold-blooded murder.
Gottschalk had little time to ruminate further though: one had swung at Ramzeus with a sickle and another at Laurissa with a club. A third came at him with the obligatory blackjack soaked with micturant. The remaining two went for Gorm.
Ramzeus and Laurissa dodged out of the way, though Gottschalk took the blackjack right across the face, nearly knocking him out in a putrid haze. Gorm responded by cracking his two assailants’ heads together though. It was doubtful that their masks did much good for them now.
Seeing that the initial assault was beginning to falter, the remaining would-be assassins fell back to their typical cultist ways and raised their shields: “Amaranthine scum- GET OFF OUR STREETS!”
“We not on street?!” Gorm couldn’t understand their stupidity.
The cultists looked around, confused for a moment before continuing. “Amaranthinists- GO HOME!”
At that, Gottschalk finally cracked. They knew full well that he was already at home, or at least, at a home that they had FORCED him into after driving him out of his LAST TWO.
In truth, they only wanted him to have NO HOME, to die in the name of Tolerance, and to make sure of it, they had come here to murder him and his friends in their sleep. He pulled out his miner’s pick, an insane look forming upon his still urine-covered, bruised face.
Even Gorm went pale at the result.
Next week: The Hacks of Gorm, Part XXVII!