“Sir. The third is in position. The second ready to reinforce, though the nons show no sign of resistance, so I don’t think it will be necessary.” The messenger is a squat fellow that looks more machine than human in his metal armor.
Across the field he’d chosen for the battle, the sun is peeking over a hill, casting a long shadow and making any details impossible to make out.
Captain Alnia lowers his spyglass and frowns over the field. “No resistance?”
“They don’t even have any weapons. They – well – Never mind.”
“It’s nothing, sir.”
“They were… singing, sir.”
“Yes. It must be some relic of their foolish religion.”
“Just so.” Alnia frowns. “And no weapons?”
“What was the song?”
“It was in their own tongue.”
“Do you think we are doing the right thing?” Alnia asks.
“This war. Back home, it seemed so obvious. When the imperator tasked me with the campaign, I was honored, excited. Glory and all that. But this battle – those people. Out here, I wonder if they really are our enemy. I wonder why it is we fight, after all. Do we not have enough?”
“They are soulless, sir.” The messenger shrugs. “It is our holy duty to purge this world of their taint.”
“Just so.” Alnia nods. “Signal the third.”
The messenger lifts a flag into the air, and far below the ground starts to rumble with a thousand horses charging into the sunrise.
It takes but a minute for them to cross the empty ground—a minute filled with doubt, with quiet questions itching under his helmet.
“There is no god but Rin. And I am her servant.” Alnia says quietly. “There is no god but Rin. There is no god but Rin. But Rin. Rin. Rin.”
But his words are drowned out by a sound he hadn’t heard until it was too lout to hear anything else.
“What is that?” Alnia yells, but no one can hear him. He can’t even hear himself.
It is a bizarre twisting of music, dissonant, discord, disorder. It assaults him from every direction. He falls from his horse and draws his sword, a ceremonial bit of metal but sharp enough. He spins around to find an enemy—a source of the sound.
But the world is inverted. The battlefield is gone; there is just light and sound and spinning and falling and flailing.
“THERE IS NO GOD BUT RIN!” Alnia screams, but it doesn’t even scratch the soundscape.
The music closes on him, pulling at his skin, clawing at his certainty and his scepter of office. Alnia tries to cover his ears, to remain certain, to decry this music for its incorrect intervals and its unpleasant harmonies.
And then it is over.
Alnia looks around. He is back on his horse. The sun is poking over the hill, casting long shadows over an empty field.
“What happened?” He chokes on the words.
He knows what happened. That song – that music – it still echoes – but there is no god but Rin, and he will not hear otherwise.
“Sir, the third – they – they’re gone.”
But it’s true. He knows without needing to look. There is no sign of horse or human below.
But the soulless remain. They remain.
And then the song reaches his ears. Quiet but unmistakable, like smoke carried on the wind. It is a melody of sorrow and fury. The words are foreign, but their meaning is clear anyway.
“Fall back.” Alnia whispers.
“There is another god.”
© 2021, Aaron Zimmerman. All rights reserved.