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Zlata looked out from the church tower balcony at the gibbet-lined road. It would take some doing before the men and women of this corner of the world would know the One God and the mercy that he offered.

She turned back to the small crowd of villagers that had gathered below. Dirty faces looked up at her with the kind of expectation Zlata had often seen in schoolchildren. These were the people that the clerics had managed to call to the One God so far, coerced by promises of salvation, status in a new religious community, and the financial benefits that could come with that status.

It would have to do.

She spread her arms in a generous gesture. ‘New beginnings,’ she said, ‘are never easy. But we must remember that the essence of Damas is in us all. We need only to tap into that essence and no challenge shall be too great.’

Zlata gestured at the banner of the black dagger that had been raised on the church tower. ‘Behold the dagger,’ she said. ‘It has two faces--two edges, if you will. One of them brings ill--for the dagger was the instrument of our God’s death--and the other brings good: for with His dying breath, the One God has blessed us and in death became part of us all; He is the One in Many,’

The crowd below stirred: villagers mumbled words of agreement, urged on by the clerics that stood among them. Zlata found that men appreciated the notion of being divine, and she was not above using the vanity of men to gain followers.

‘As is the dagger, so we must be,’ she said. ‘We bring ill to the devils, to those who would cage children and gouge out their eyes, to those who falsely accuse and murder kinsman and neighbor. But we also bring good to those who listen and understand, to those who follow the true teachings of the One in Many. Blessed will they be, for we will unveil the divine within them, raise them up from the animals, and aid their ascension to becoming akin to God, Damas of the Dagger, the One in Many.’

‘All hail Zlata Nedina,’ one of the clerics cried. ‘Grand Celestine of the Order of the Sestry of Groffby.’

The villagers picked up the cry, urged on by the clerics; they pronounced nearly every syllable of her name incorrectly, but that didn’t matter. She knew that in time, the men and women of Groffby would learn her name by heart and would come to know her as well as they would come to know Damas... and they would fear her just as much.




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