Authors: Joshua Ingle
Book Five of the Thorn Saga
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
A God to Fear
Copyright © 2016 Joshua Ingle
Edited by David Gatewood.
Cover art by Clarissa Yeo.
Cover photography by Reid Nicewonder.
Cover modeling by Fedor Steer.
Formatting by Polgarus Studio.
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for reasonable quotations for the purpose of reviews, without the author’s written permission.
Othundro gazed out upon the dead Earth.
Thick clouds hung low over the desert, choking out the light from the red-orange sky above. What little light did slip through fell into the huge billows of dust that the never-ending windstorm blasted up from the dunes. The drab clouds contorted as wind whipped at them as well, but Othundro only caught a glimpse of the sky beyond every few moments. He remembered when that sky had been a hideous bright blue.
The sand and wind buffeted what had once been skyscrapers, but were now hulking testaments to a long-dead civilization. “Earthscrapers” might have been a more apt term, as sand drifts crawled up their sides with the slow persistence of fungi intent on devouring overlarge prey. The buildings would have collapsed years ago if not for the sand propping them up.
A shimmering haze of heat rippled upward off the sand, distorting Othundro’s view of the city he’d destroyed.
No. Of the
Othundro glanced down at Cigel’s body, hovering in spiritual space. The dunes had already covered it up to the bottom of its wings. How much time had passed since Othundro had snapped Cigel’s neck? A moment? A day? Othundro was too intoxicated by his glorious victory to know. The sky, the sand, the lifeless city… It was all too beautiful.
He’d worked centuries for this. The first step had been to split humanity into groups—any group would do. Religion, race, nationality, social class, and more. Othundro and his followers had lied to them all. “You alone know the truth,” Othundro had said to each group, to each individual human. “You alone are moral, and thus you alone are worthy of prosperity. All who do not think like you are fools. They are evil, and they must be subdued. Stamp them out.”
Some humans had risen up against Othundro’s lies. Beleaguered leaders blathering about peace and equality. But to anyone who listened to the hellions, Othundro had whispered, “Thinking about such things is too much trouble. Why question that you may be wrong when you already know that you are right? Olive branches are dull affairs. There’s no need to worry about them. So watch TV. Grow your business. Grow your family. And teach your children about how very, very
you are. If they listen to you, if they don’t question you, they can be just as certain of their rightness, too.”
The population had grown, and resources dwindled. Everyone wanted to live like royalty. Everyone deserved it at the expense of everyone else—or so Othundro had told them. They ate all the fish in all the seas. They cut down most of the world’s trees. They polluted their air until it barely qualified as air anymore.
And the wars… oh, the marvelous wars. On continent after continent, the young had been sent off to die so that the old could prove how
they were. How they, by divine decree, deserved to consume the few resources Earth had left to offer. Mass graves pockmarked Earth’s terrain. Literal mountains of bodies had been burned, for no time had been left to bury the dead before the next battle, then the next, then the next. Bloodshed on a planetary scale had overwhelmed even Othundro’s hardened heart. He’d wept at the beauty of the carnage.
Across the globe, “us” beat their chests, and “them” perished so that the strong could remain in power. Minorities were slaughtered by the millions. No one had good reasons for any of the fighting—they only knew the reasons that Othundro had given them. They only knew that they needed to
Powerful men had hunkered down in their mansions with their collections of fine wines and pricey cars as the atmosphere decayed outside. The rich hired small armies of doctors and security guards to protect their islands of pleasure while the rest of humanity died of starvation and plague. But soon the slaves died off, and then even the wealthy had to face the desolation. Before long, humanity’s most powerful had found themselves suddenly unable to breathe the scorching air outside.
Othundro liked to think the air had grown too thick with spilt blood.
The last humans died certain that they were so much more
than everyone else. “But being right is no consolation when it leads to your death,” Othundro whispered to them, tormenting them during their final days with reminders of all their dire mistakes. Othundro savored every dying tear as the humans, too late, recognized the lies he’d told them.
The Enemies had been helpless as They watched demonkind kill Their beloved humans. Othundro and other demons had pushed Them back to Their doorstep, behind which They cowered as devils around the globe reveled in their ultimate victory.
Yet it was not
victory. Not while
still lived. So Othundro, a cunning mastermind even among the most elite demon lords, snuck into Their realm, stole Their power, and then sent Them to Their graves along with the humans. He’d found humans up there in Heaven too—dead ones he’d already killed on Earth. So he killed them again.
The successful storming of Heaven had left Othundro as the leader of all demonkind. His newfound power and knowledge demanded respect from all. He could enter the physical world at will, could fell a skyscraper with a breath, or end a life with a mere snap of his fingers. The demon world worshipped him for it. And he did a better job of ruling with such power than the Enemies ever had.
But as the last of Earth’s ecosystems collapsed and the last plants ceased their photosynthesis, demons began to disagree with each other on how their society should be run. Some openly rebelled. Othundro could have quelled dissent in an instant, but he enjoyed the infighting, so he let the conflict spread.
With all the Enemies gone, the demons created new enemies out of each other. Every minor disagreement broke yet another new sect away from the prevailing views. And each sect knew that it alone was
Thus Othundro came to realize what petty fools his underlings were; they were behaving just like deceived humans!
How can I claim to be a superior leader when I rule over such common scum?
So he pitted the demons against each other, just as he’d done with the humans, so that only the strongest would rise to the top and survive. The ensuing civil war was dazzling, the death far-reaching, the triumph euphoric. During the chaos of battle, Othundro even heard a report that his old rival Uthifel had perished on the other side of the globe. What a pity that Othundro hadn’t been present to deliver the killing blow himself.
When the demon population withered to little more than Othundro’s inner circle, he began to see resentment in their eyes. He wondered when one or more of them might try to usurp his power just as he’d usurped the Enemies’. So as a precaution, Othundro butchered them all. Some tried to flee, of course, but he eventually tracked them all down. His murderous spree culminated in the killing of his right hand, Cigel, here today, beneath the crumbling towers of humanity.
Cigel was the last one. Now Othundro was truly alone amid the sand and the wind and the giant relics of ages gone by.
Who could have imagined that the simple act of spreading untruth could accomplish so much?
He’d killed the Enemies. He’d killed their precious humans. And he’d killed the frivolous demons who’d tarnished his initial victory. He’d won. He’d won
. The Earth was his, and his alone.
Othundro had become the greatest demon of all time.
Days passed. Othundro drifted over fields of dirt, through acidic storms, and underneath boiling oceans, marveling at the ruin he’d wrought. He thrashed his wings and ascended into space, then viewed his dead world from orbit in all its magnificence. He passed the wrecked gate of gold, and roamed among the ruins of Heaven.
What would the Enemies say if They knew that one of Their most vile creations would massacre his Creators, then outlive Them by an eternity?
They’d been so obsessed with controlling demonkind, demanding obedience or bloodshed, dictating every minuscule action that demons were or were not allowed to do, as if such tyranny would tame the demons. As if the demons would even listen to the distant autocrats. The devils all knew the Enemies to be detached, arrogant fools. They hadn’t even bothered to strip the demons of their wings during the initial rebellion. If They had, They might have had a chance at winning the war.
Othundro ran a hand over the hilt of the sword at his side—a sword that had once known this Heavenly prison as home. Free of blemishes and razor-sharp, the blade had been crafted by the Enemies as a means of travel; its strange magic allowed its wielder to carve passageways linking distant parts of creation. Naturally, Othundro had used the weapon to slay the society that had made it. He’d crafted a score of transit doors and led demonkind through them into the final battle in Heaven.
And now, with no victims left for the blade’s sleek metal, it served as a cherished trophy. Othundro unsheathed it and raised it high. Sunlight gleamed off its length and seemed even brighter when Othundro bellowed with all his might to the farthest corners of Heaven and Earth.
A victory cry.
Years passed. Othundro had journeyed to all the lands of the Earth to see the destruction he’d wrought in all its forms. He’d expected to feel jubilance upon witnessing each dead human city for the first time, but his excitement had faded with time. He’d grown restless. He’d eradicated all living things from this world, but it wasn’t enough. All Othundro wanted was to conquer more, yet nothing was left to conquer. He craved an enemy with whom to compete, yet none had survived his purge.
He found himself brooding over his former enemies, both those from Heaven and those from Earth.
What would they do if they found themselves in my solitary position?
He couldn’t imagine. He’d never been able to understand their narrow-minded motives and weaknesses.
Still, would they feel as lonely as me, if they were stranded in this desolate world?
He’d never before considered that all those spirits and people he destroyed might have had inner lives comparable to his own. But now he contemplated: did they have goals and dreams and fears, just like him? He’d bested them all, so surely they couldn’t have thought as deeply as him. Could they have?
No. They were his enemies. Their minds had been no greater than the minds of animals when compared to Othundro’s superior intellect. He knew more about this wretched world than any of them. They were foolish, weak.
But he couldn’t help but notice one of his own intellectual shortcomings. He’d always been a master schemer, exerting his vast mental faculties to think further ahead than his competitors; but in the end, he hadn’t thought far enough ahead. His plans had succeeded brilliantly…
but now what?
Now he had no plans, nothing to fight for or against. He was alone and purposeless on a dead world of his own making.
And he couldn’t quite recall why he’d been in such a rush to defeat his opponents. He’d lied to them, used dogma to control them, played them like pawns on a game board.
But what was the point of any of it?
Othundro’s enemies died knowing that they were right, but Othundro was left
knowing that he was right. And somehow, living was more painful. Living gave him the time to consider that maybe—just maybe—he might have been wrong.
Othundro longed for a change of scenery, so he flew up to the North Pole, where he hoped to find some remnant of the former Earth. But when he arrived, he saw only the same barren rocks that covered the rest of the planet. The oceans here must have finished their long process of evaporating.