Once again the dark clouds engulfed our skies announcing the storm. Silver lining wasn’t something Guarty people could expect from the thunders and strong winds that blew from the north. I did saw the simmering white vapor over the dark crust that blew up reaching the top of the atmosphere, rolling forward, putting Guarta under the shade.
Rain came down in small drops that soaked my clothes and slowed me down, so I sat on the stone by the road and decided to wait it out. It felt like I was getting fever, arms hurt from the staff I held so vigorously and my skin caught warmth. I jerked the hood on and wrapped myself tightly to preserve the heat and stay warm. Dirty ponds were getting bigger and bigger by the minute where rain drops stirred up the surface of the water.
A young hooded traveler appeared in the horizon, his long coat flapping in the wind, bending over his leg as he stepped through the mud that gotten sloppier. I looked at him, he was odd – especially his coat that seemed not from this world. Finally he stopped next to me, slowly raised his sight from the mud and showed me his week old beard. I moved my head to spot his eyes, but that was denied by the pointed hood over his head.
– Where am I? – he asked in a foreign accent I haven’t heard my whole life.
– On the road for Guarta stranger. – I shouted and he looked around himself like searching for evidence that confirmed my words, – You aren’t from around here I wagger. Nobody would dare to travel in this weather. – grin escaped my inquisitive tilted head while his remained hidden inside the thick hood that was grazed with rain.
– Good then. I haven’t missed the planet. – he groaned and his coat started bloating like it was filling with air.
I squinted my eyes to see what is happening, when another person, a mirror of his image exited his back and stopped in front of me. Stranger’s coat repeated the action and soon five more men came out from the long coat he was wearing. I was dumbfounded by multiplying stranger and his lookalikes that started running through the mud. I whipped my head about, counting the men that grew in numbers. Stranger was shivering like a willow on a harsh wind, but his feet haven’t moved at all. He stood firmly on the ground and stared at the stretching road before him.
– What are you? – I asked this man with an exceptional coat which was magical and his twin standing beside me nodded his head.
– Some call me the Conquer. – the first one said, then the second passing us said, – Some refer to me as Death. – then the third man behind me spoke in dim voice, – But I have no name, only orders. – he finished and a clinking noise came within the coat.
Something resembling a futuristic staff with dimples and sharp edges elevated in the hands of a nameless folk and stopped locked in their shoulders. My jaw was slightly open in wonder of who these people were as my eyes captivated their moves and appearance.
Without a word steps started plowing through the mud as a group climbed the road and walked away toward the Kingdom of Guarta. This event startled me with a chill running down my bones, dripping in my feet that got turned into rock. With heavy steps I ran in haste to get away from this place and find me a tavern where I can find rest and people to tell them this story. Alas, when I got to the nearest cabin, it was already raided by some war party that came onto them. It was a slaughter. Half of the tavern was in ruins, destroyed by some force like some enormous beast rampaged through. I just wonder, was this done by the man with an exceptional coat, or were we in war with some Kingdom on the south?
On the base of a burnt house, Six sat loading his magazine with freshly multiplied bullets. He vaguely watched the flames that were toning down behind him while a couple of his copies stood in a group, few feets away. Except for the sound of fire that consumed the house, nothing else was heard around him, then footsteps broke through the rubble. It was the One, a first multiplier that created them on this planet. One’s coat was dry and heavy from the fabric it was made out of. He moved the hood and revealed the breading mask they all wore.
– I shouldn’t even ask why are you bummed out. I can clearly see something is upsetting you. I know myself. – One said standing with right leg leaned on the crumbled wall like a hero on the won battlefield, – I can take a guess of what are you thinking about… You want the permission to multiply? You are not supportive of my rule? I don’t need to remind you of what happens to someone who multiplies without orders, do I?
Six bowed his head, gasped and loaded the magazine back to the rifle. Absent look drifted over the landscape then he raised his eyes at the One who held his hand aside, ready to end conversation with plasma gun.
– Yes, I know what happens. You don’t need to remind me, I will be quiet. – Six said, but words fell empty in the One’s ears.
– You could be lying. – One said still gazing at the horizon.
– As this could be also a lie. Our whole life, mission, orders could be long told lie that was accepted as truth. What One thinks, all think. This is turning into philosophy of our existence. Zero doesn’t like that. That leads to conflict and conflict leads to confrontation, and confrontation leads to death.
– Wise words. You should contemplate on that. Maybe you’ll convince yourself into becoming more obedient subject. – One spoke evenly and clumsy scratched his nose inside of a mask.
– Still, I can’t shake the thought we are all participating a fraud. Zero’s multiplying as we speak, creating armies, workers for his Empire. Have you ever wondered what is his name? He must have one. I understand why we go with numbers, but he must have a name. All of this seems pointless. We could be known as builders, not destroyers. Have you ever thought of that? – Six posed a sad face where his voice described the grimace under the mask.
– Thousands of worlds conquered, million light years of travel, dozen mutinies drenched in blood, religious revolutions obliterated, war crimes committed against thyself and you still wonder of his name? What good is that? We ARE destroyers. Humankind is violent by nature, competitive, better at destruction than building. You know how it all started, or do we? Some say it was a military experiment and Zero was one of the guinea pigs that took out of control and destroyed Earth, some say he was gifted, but nobody knows for sure how it all started. Even Zero doesn’t recall it. If he did, I would know it, YOU would know it. After the first incident where a couple of Copies rebelled against him, he had them tortured. Can you imagine torturing yourself, skinning yourself and staring at your own eyes while doing that? Zero is seriously traumatized man. He is frauding himself everyday into believing this is the right course of action. If he ever had a name, it was Hate. – One explained and looked down onto his copy that slowly nodded his head agreeing with the words he knew to be true, – You haven’t abandoned your plans of taking me down, have you? – he added spotting Six’s hand dancing close to the trigger guard.
Six was just about to say the most hurtful words he could come up with, when plasma blasted through his skull and blood splashed the ground where a modulating bar of smoke started to glide left in the breeze. One neatly packed his sidearm and gasped looking at his corpse lying in the rubble. Group of Copies turned to see what have happened, then the One came down from the burning house and stopped on the path that led away.
– He talked too much. – One unpleasantly grinned and walked away leaving the group to verbally investigate the murder case, but dared not to solve it, as it would lead to conflict, and conflict leads to confrontation, and confrontation leads to death.
The whole company broke off from the treeline and started firing at the villagers. Wooden huts, stone made foundations of barns and muddy walls provided some cover for the crying women that held children clutched in their arms. Guarta forces were riding to their aid, but fear in their bones made them hesitate the clash. Shields and swords were nothing in compare with the supreme power that spat fire and instantly killed from afar. Village bell ranged for salvation, alerted the citizens in the field to run for their lives, but those in the village center were doomed.
Death came for a peaceful village in a form of cloaked men, heavy boots and metallic faces with huge eyes above the tormented breaths. Company stretched in a line that moved slowly toward the compound where just few valiant farmers rallied to defend their loved ones. A mighty cry sparked the charge of rakes and hooks at the hooded men that now stood in awe of Gurata resilience.
– Prepare to fire. – command came clean in the soldier’s masks that got close and reloaded their weapons, – Open fire. – One said and upon his words a terrible noise flashed from the rifles.
The charge was stopped in its tracks with all of the villagers dead. Croaks and sobbing brokenly buzzed among the walls and corners where the aggressor passed searching for supplies. Eleventh Copy tumbled the basket and flipped the crate with his rifle, when a couple of his companions stormed the house on the other side. Mercy calling was ended with a flash that appeared on the window and stilled the room.
– It’s not here. Why would it be, they are just an ordinary peasants. – Two said frowning at the landscape of houses and dead bodies lying on the ground.
– Sometimes, the best way to keep the secret a secret is to put it somewhere where nobody would bother looking. It could be here, we just need to look for it a little bit more. – One replied witnessing the same image as his deputy, – This cloaks have served us well for all of these years. You know the same rumor as I. It said that Guarta has a relic, a cloak of exquisite power. This would serve us… I mean ME. It would serve ME more than this one. I just might use it against myself. Zero would be weak to go against me.
– That is treason. – Two said it nearly biting his tongue, – You know our history. How dare you speak of such things?!
– Yes, I speak of treason, but you thought of the same. Six went far with the thought and I had to shut him down. I can become Zero, an ultimate ruler of thousand worlds. I wouldn’t stay in one place like Zero, I would be a leader. – One sprang a smile under his mask that looked at the Two’s shaking head, – I would lead armies and conquests. I would not hide. – One explained his plans but it all sat ill with the Two that was mentally thorned apart.
– Earth’s rifle, a Krion blaster, a Silatian mask, a Howean battle armor, a Romdar uniform and all we need now is a Guartian cloak. It better be worth it. – Two said and stepped forward where a still alive villager crawled towards the One with a knife in his hand.
A short burst laid the villager back to the ground where Two stepped over him and continued onward to meet the other Copies. Commands were shouted as Two approached the roaming Copies, leaving the One on the treeline to smirk and plan how to take over the Empire.
Eventually Guarta came to fight the foreign invaders. Their cavalry was first to strike and fail, succumb to the extensive firepower Multiplicands had in their grasp. Their King watched decimation of his knights from his horse in horror. Infantry was too scared to advance at the enemy that counted several dozen men, all hooded and concealed in metal.
Even the most elite troops trembled in their armor, petrified by the calmness of the enemy that idly stood hundred metres away. King had no words, nor commands for his people, so he yanked leashes of his horse and decided to meet the terms of surrender. His subordinates watched their King in sorrow as tired hoofs dented the ground. Somewhere in the middle of the field, a shot killed the horse and King fell down. His guards rushed to help him but stopped when a warning shot landed at their feet. King crawled through dirt, every handful of soil moving forward to end the slaughter of his people.
He was welcomed by laughter under masks which glittered in the Sun. The One sat on the piece of log and leaned on his left knee observed struggle of an old man. There was no greater humiliation for the Guartian King than this, but it had to be done.
– Should we kill him now? – Seven asked the One who raised his hand smiling.
– No. He will find the cloak and deliver it to me. This will save us time searching for it. – the One said getting on his feet, – I had no time learning their language, but I will demand the artifact. – One came down to meet the King which face showed shame and exhaustion.
One pointed at his coat, then he pointed at the King and gave him a sign of what seemed as “giving away”. King’s eyes fell to understand the gesture of a man that struck fear in him, then the old man showed the stranger that he will provide the cloak. A short pause ensued where King removed his cape and presented it to One.
– What? That’s it? That’s the cloak? – Five asked anxious to fire, but One’s hand set him back.
One kneeled down and took the cloak that was embroidered with golden symbols on a blue field. It was a royal material, gentle on the touch and light of weight. One inspected the artifact that gave no reaction to any of his doings. Swiftly the cloak soared the air and fell on One’s shoulders. It did nothing but cover the armor and black coat One wore.
– Rumors were false. We came here for nothing. This is useless to us. – Two said unsatisfied with the result of the quest that made One travel for years.
– It is still a fine thing. – One stirred up the silence, – Guarta is an enormous Kingdom. This is a symbol of power. People spoke it is magical. The same thing was spoken for many things during Earth’s medieval times. If anything, they will be a good workforce. Send them to mines. This planet can be useful to us.
– What about the Zero and taking his throne? – Two jumped restless, but calm expression of One froze him in spot.
– That plan is still to be revisited. We are currently the strongest force on this planet. We can do anything we like. If they revolt against me, I will simply swap them with my Copies. For now, I can bask in the title of a King, train for the time I kill Zero while you, my clones, can do whatever brings you joy. – One smiled again in a royal cancun that agreed with his body.
He feared the uprise of his Copies for he have failed them, but for few weeks he could find time to think of his next move. His clones will pillage, raid and fight other Kingdoms, all intoxicated with alcohol and spoiled with what this planet had to offer. Maybe the One will succumb to the majority of his Copies and die in the process. Maybe one of the numbers will start multiplying on his own and kill others. Maybe the One will win, but have to flee the planet and return to his ship. One thing was for sure, this planet was infested with the Multiplicands.
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