The Mad God's Muse (The Eye of the Lion Saga Book 2)

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The Mad God’s
Muse

Book Two of the Eye of
the Lion Saga

By Matt Gilbert

Comments? Complaints? Just wondering if I have anything else you
might enjoy?
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Text Copyright 2016 Matt
Gilbert

All Rights Reserved

Acknowledgments

Many helped along the
way. As before, some, I have forgotten, and for that I apologize.
Some have forgotten me, and for most of those, I make no apology.

  • My wife, Jessica, for listening,
    suggesting, correcting, musing, and sharing the dream with me.

  • Max Johnson for his work on the
    cover.

  • Betsy Goolsby for her last minute
    proofreading.

  • Everyone who helped go over this
    until their eyes bled, or listened to me talk way too much about how
    cool it was and chose to continue our relationship despite knowing
    the risks.

  • Paul Hetzer, whose timely
    encouragement made all the difference.

Ilaweh teaches patience through
frustration.

Prologue: One Millennium Past

Am I a god?

It
was a strange question to ask one's self, and yet it was not the
first time Alexander had done so. Each time he took the Eye in hand
and crossed from the mundane world to the green, ethereal realm
within, the questions came.
Is this the true world? Have I lived
my life in some sort of shadow up to now?

That
was one way to see it. The same people inhabited both realms. The
terrain was unchanged. It was so very like his own world in shape
and composition, and yet as different as a living, breathing man was
from a skeleton. The world inside the Eye held so much
more
.

Or
perhaps it is simply me that is different. I can
see
so much
more.
That felt closer to the truth. To take up the Eye, to walk
through the green, swirling mists, was to slip into the mind of an
immense being, one completely unbound by earthly chains of gravity
or the frailty of flesh. Gone were the limitations of space and
time. He could go anywhere, even into the heads of others, with a
simple thought. He could hear everyone in the world speak, see them,
even speak with them. Like his vision, his mind expanded as well. It
was nothing to converse with hundreds as if each were his sole
focus.

I have put on a god's cloak,
and now I have his vision and his burdens.

For
the moment, he had chosen a position miles above the ground,
overlooking the many battles being fought at his direction. There
had been no travel time, no journey. He had simply willed it, and
arrived. Where his own eyes would have failed him at such distance,
the Eye's vision was flawless: the simple desire to focus on a
location showed him the most minute of details, even things he could
only guess at as a mortal man.

He
could see
intent
, both in men and beasts, colored auras he
had come to understand as a code: red was an enemy, green signified
allies, pink announced wounded, and black was for the dead. There
were so many more, some colors Alexander could not even perceive in
his own body, and each had their subtle meanings, but his goal was
simple: everything should be green.
That is my imperative.

Satisfied
with his understanding of the overall war, he began to issue orders,
calling out through the ether to the hundreds receiving his
instructions.
Supplies will be needed here. Reinforcements are
required on these fronts. Wounded need evacuation.
Men
everywhere needed to hear his voice to shore up their resolve. He
could not lie to them, nor they him when he spoke through the Eye.

And now I live as they do. I
share their pain. It is the least I can do.

He
flitted from body to body, seeing the battle from each pair of eyes
in turn. When his men triumphed, he felt their joy. When they fell,
he lived their pain. How many blades had been shoved through his
guts this day, how many bones had shattered? How many cries of agony
and fear had coursed through his mind?

How many times have I died?

It
was becoming more and more difficult to know where he himself ended,
and his men began. Within the embrace of the Eye, it felt more as if
he, his soldiers, even his enemies were no more distinct than drops
of water in the sea.
We all spring from the same well. Our
individuality is illusion, just like distance.

Still,
each had different tasks. Some missions were more important than
others. Alexander strained to isolate the one voice.
There.


Forgive
me, Alexander,”
it cried.
“I have failed you.”

Alexander
was with him in an instant, blood jetting from their neck in a
crimson stream. “
Take heart. We are not finished yet.”
Pink, fading to black. He fell, and that part of his vision went
dark.


Who will stand for
him?”
Alexander cried out
through the twisting nether.
“Our need is great! He
must
not fall!”

More
voices called back,
“I will.”

Alexander
felt the sickness in his gut as strongly as he had just felt the
javelin in his throat.
Choose one to die.
Such decisions were
for gods, not men.
I have my duty, too. I will not shirk it.

One
pair of eyes closed. Another reopened. Alexander hauled the javelin
from his neck, then withdrew. This one would complete his task on
his own.

From
the dim, tiny perspective of his own eyes, he saw his Imperator,
Xanthius, enter the command tent, crested helmet tucked under his
arm. The old soldier's gray eyebrows arched downward toward his
square, chiseled jaw in disapproval.
He does not understand.

Xanthius
looked on his Emperor with a despair he tried desperately not to
show, but it was a pointless endeavor. Alexander knew everything.
That was the horror of it all.

Half
boy, half man, Alexander sat atop a cot, haggard and slumped against
the tent's central pole, his face lit by an eerie, green glow
Xanthius knew all too well. Alexander's long, brown hair hung partly
over his face, unkempt and lifeless. His skin was pale and sickly,
though at least it bore no sores.
Yet. They will come, though, if
he continues to neglect proper hygiene.

Alexander
stirred slightly as he realized he was no longer alone. His gaze
shifted slowly toward Xanthius, unfocused and distant, as if he were
drugged and unaware, though Xanthius understood enough now to know
that was illusion. The boy clutched at the Eye of the Lion with
near-skeletal hands, the skin covering them thin as parchment. The
bright metal of the small lion's head glowed a soft green,
reflecting the light from its normally amber eyes. He gazed into the
distance, his own eyes glowing the same soft green as the accursed
thing he held.
Can you not see it is killing you, child?

Xanthius
had watched this slow death, this degeneration of Alexander's body
and soul for months. When they had begun this venture, the Emperor
had been healthy and whole, trained well by Ilawehan fighting men.
His goal had been noble: avenge his father, retake the crown, and
drive the Meite rebels and their wretched 'free men' from the halls
of power.

Freedom. A mad illusion. I
have my master, as do all men. Even Alexander, it is plain to see.

Alexander
turned toward Xanthius, and the glow faded both from his eyes and
the lion's, but dark clouds hung behind his vision, still. “We
are at war. Sacrifices must be made.” He offered a thin smile.
“You, too, looked better when we set out.”

Xanthius
felt the sudden urge to abandon a lifetime of doing his duty, to
simply leap forward and seize the poisonous thing from Alexander's
hands. The boy was far too weak to resist.

“Would
you take it for yourself?” Alexander mused.

“Damn
you! Can I have no thought to myself these days?”

Alexander
shook his head, his face drawn and weary. “Nor I. I am not
thin because of any poison. I feel their hunger. Our men, their men.
If I am sick, it is at the thought of eating when they cannot. I
take only what I must, what I need to continue our mission.”

He's deflecting me. If he
knows my thoughts, he's chosen not to answer the most important
question.
Xanthius set his jaw
and stood erect, hands clasped behind his back. “Since you
speak of it, Emperor, what
is
that mission? What
are
our victory parameters?”

If
Alexander noted the use of his title over his own name, he gave no
sign. Instead, he took up the Eye once again and turned away. “I
see further, now,” he sighed.

Decorum
be damned. I can endure no more of this.
“What will
satisfy you, Alexander?” Xanthius shouted. “Must every
man in the
world
bend a knee or die?”

Alexander
was silent, gazing into the distance for so long that Xanthius
turned to leave. “That will not be enough,” Alexander
called in a voice not his own, but that of an unearthly choir,
beautiful and chilling like an approaching blizzard.

Xanthius
spun in surprise to see that Alexander had risen and stood facing
him again, arms raised high and wide as if to encircle the world,
the Eye dangling from a chain gripped in his frail hand. The Lion
seemed to wink and leer at Xanthius in the eldrich glow.

Alexander's
eyes blazed with green fire, and his face shone with emotion
Xanthius could not recognize, though he could see it was indeed
powerful.

The
choir spoke again, setting Xanthius's teeth on edge. “They
must join us.”

We were conquerors here.

Tasinal
knew he should be more focused on the conversation between Amrath
and Noril. A strategic discussion ought to have the nominal leader
of the Meite order actually participating, but in truth he
understood little about complex details of large scale battle.
Personal combat he knew well enough, but that was not the topic at
hand. Besides, it wasn't as if he would actually make the decisions
on the matter. Amrath would do that, as he had always done.
I am
a figurehead, a face to present to the public, nothing more. I'll
fight when he tells me to.
If
that call ever comes.

Which
was, of course, the central problem: Amrath, as yet, had not chosen
to fight at all since the initial uprising, preferring to leave the
actual war to the newly liberated populace. It was not a popular
decision, neither with the weaker folk who resented the lack of aid,
nor with the Meites themselves, who, now that they had had a taste
of blood, found they liked it well enough.

Ah,
that first taste had been sweet, indeed. He contemplated the
offensively opulent structure that housed them with a sneer.
The
Great Hall of Aristodemos and his pack of jackals, lawyers and
whores. But I repeat myself.
A mighty edifice indeed, brick and
stone and marble; high, strong walls to hide behind and count the
treasure one extracted from the people and not have to hear them
wail under the load. It had done just fine against the oppressed and
the weak.

The
Council of Twelve had walked through those walls as if they were
paper, and left a trail of blood and retribution the likes of which
Laurea had never seen.
Sic semper tyrannis
.

Few
had escaped their wrath, and that went for the furniture and
building as well. Talus, the artist of the Twelve, had demanded they
leave the scene as it was, declaring that the destruction itself was
a monument to what had occurred here. “Let it serve as a
reminder to the next would-be tyrant.” He had wanted them to
leave the corpses as well, but Amrath had drawn the line at that,
Mei be thanked. The reek it would have sent up in high summer would
have been enough to test the will even of Meites.

With
a shudder at the thought, Tasinal returned to the present. Amrath,
weary and haggard, sat in the ruins of Aristodemos's throne, his
normally animated face creased with worry, his green eyes dull and
lifeless as Noril continued his stoic report of their growing
losses. His blonde hair hung partially over his eyes, unkempt and
listless like its owner. Tasinal struggled not to turn his eyes to
the stained and cracked marble floor.
It is too painful a sight,
to see him defeated like this.

Defeated he was, though, and
Noril was flagging as well. Noril's clean-shaven jaw bulged, and his
short-cropped, graying hair bristled.
He looks quite like
Xanthius. I wonder if they are related somewhere along the lines?
“How many more lives will we sacrifice in a lost cause?”
Noril demanded. “It is time for us to take to the field
ourselves.”

Amrath heaved a deep sigh, part
frustration, part despair. “If the people do not win their own
victory, what have we bought them?” He swept a hand about him
indicating the ruined halls of power they had made their
headquarters. “Did we begin this rebellion to be their
masters, or to help them throw the yoke from their own shoulders?”

“We did not plan to
contend with
gods
, Amrath!”

“No,”
Amrath said, casting Tasinal a pointed look. “We did not.”

Tasinal
could feel his cheeks burning, but said nothing.
I think I'll
just shut up and let them do this. No need to make a target of
myself, after all.

Noril
offered him a wry smile, then a genuine chuckle. “I would have
kept the weapon, too, Tasinal.”

Amrath
shrugged, as if words were not needed, then seemed to decide
otherwise. “We all would have. But he made the decision, so he
feels the pain. It's a burden of leadership.”

I said I was going to shut
up, but apparently that will not be possible at this time.
“You
argued to
go to Torium! And
you
named me leader. No one is confused about who really runs things!”

Amrath
raised an eyebrow in appreciation and allowed a slight smile at such
insolence, his face brightening a shade or two at this. “Are
you my puppet?”

Bastard!
But
it was a fair point. “Nay. You speak truth. The decision was
mine.”

“Then
own it.”

“I
do
own it! How was I to know he would give it to our enemies
if we chose not to let him take it away? I may have to accept the
consequences, but I'll accept no blame from anyone for it, not even
you
!”

Amrath
raised an eyebrow in appreciation. “Well said. You see? It's
as I told you, you've made a fine leader.”

Noril
folded his arms over his chest and stood straight, as if issuing a
command from on high. “We need to act, Amrath.”

Amrath
pursed his lips and nodded gravely. “If we cannot win, we must
submit.”

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