Watching the indoctrination ceremony put Valkir’s teeth against each other. The ancient Warking custom was nothing but a barbaric tradition in a tired religion built upon old superstitions. The only thing that separated them from the Hood of Truth, in Valkir’s eyes, was his loyalty. The faiths of the Hood and the Warkings were the same as all other parasitic creeds that latched onto people and spread their diseased ideals through the populous until their sickly veins were wrapped around politicians. Valkir had lived long enough to see the land of Darkwelth’s soul sold to both churches and was intent on taking it back.
Anthrok approached Valkir and smiled, offering him a handful of pulpy flesh. Valkir tried not to look at the butchered animal split open on the stone table before him or the gore dripping through the old man’s fingers as he reached out to accept. The meat was soft, almost gelatinous. Valkir closed his eyes and left his body for a moment to recompose himself. It prevented him from vomiting.
“For strength,” he heard Anthrok mutter.
He opened his eyes and forced the flesh into his mouth. It had surprisingly little taste, but its slimy texture made him want to gag. He tried to swallow it whole, but his throat rejected it. His eyes shut as he began to chew, but he forced them open when he remembered it was an insult to the Warkings. The first bite released a soupy fluid that was painfully bitter, and he realized he was eating a vital organ. His throat tried to clench shut again, but Valkir kept his lips sealed. The gooey material in his mouth sloshed around on his tongue once more before he forced it down his throat, fighting the muscles in his face that wanted to grimace. Finished, he sucked fresh air in through his nostrils and looked Anthrok in the eye. The old man smiled with all of his teeth.
“Welcome to the Warking clan.”
Valkir tried to look enthusiastic about his conversion and to hide his disgust. He reminded himself as he reflected Anthrok’s smile that he would not remain a Warking once the Hood of Truth was dethroned. He looked forward to the day when he would wear the crown and declare war on all religions in Darkwelth. Once they were eliminated, he would have complete rule over Darkwelth’s citizens. He would be their god.
The church’s front doors swung open and slammed against the walls, turning Valkir’s and Anthrok’s heads. Grull stood in the threshold, covered in mud. He stood there for a moment longer before entering the church. As he got closer, Valkir noticed steam coming from Grull’s mouth and nostrils as he exhaled.
“Where is it?” Anthrok inquired, his smile gone.
“Not where you said it would be!” Grull answered resentfully. “I dug three holes, each ten feet deep, and found nothing!”
Valkir’s head filled with thoughts. Grull was a dedicated disciple of Mortare and his teachings, and most likely looked as hard as he could for the body. If he said it wasn’t in the forest, then it wasn’t in the forest. Anthrok was a superstitious old fool, but he needed Valkir and Grull to overthrow the Hood as much as they needed him. He gained nothing by hiding the body’s true location if he knew it.
“Three holes?! Did you cover them back up?”
“What does it matter?”
“It doesn’t,” Valkir stated, trying to slow his thoughts down to a translatable speed. “Mortare’s body wasn’t there because the Hood already knows we’re looking for it.”
“How could they know that?” Anthrok queried skeptically. “They don’t even know we exist.”
“I don’t know,” Valkir answered, “but we’ve underestimated them. Let’s be careful not to do it again.”