Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geistrekranken—men and women whose delusions manifest. Sustained by their own belief—and the beliefs of those around them—they can manipulate their surroundings. For the High Priest Konig, that means creating order out of the chaos in his city-state, leading his believers to focus on one thing: helping a young man, Morgen, ascend to become a god. A god they can control.
Trouble is, there are many who would see a god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own doppelgangers, a Slaver no one can resist, and three slaves led by possibly the only sane man left.
As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. Because as the delusions become more powerful, the also become harder to control. The fate of the Geistrekranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath. The question, then, is: Who will rule there?
Tor.com is pleased to reveal the cover for Michael R. Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption, a gritty mind-bending fantasy forthcoming from HarperVoyager in June 2015! Check out the full cover image and an excerpt below.
Those whom you slay will be as your servants in the Afterdeath. Die with your boots on, and keep a few coins stashed in those boots. Die with a weapon in hand and two more in easy reach. For when you pass from this world, you’ll be glad of the things you take with you.
The Warrior’s Credo
Konig Furimmer, Theocrat of the Geborene Damonen, stood in his personal chambers, his back to the room, staring out over the city of Selbsthass. The streets ran straight and perfect, the north/south streets named, the east/west numbered. An ordered city, a sane city.
No reason sanity can’t come from delusion, Konig thought.
This city, the laws binding it together, the geography defining it, the people populating it…all a manifestation of his delusion.
Well, maybe not all of it. The people, he supposed were real enough on their own. But when he’d first come here almost two decades ago, a lowly acolyte with a dream, the Geborene had been a small splinter sect of religious fanatics with a seemingly crazy idea and no way of making it real.
He’d made it real.
Back then, Selbsthass had been little more than another decaying city-state with the bad luck of being located on rocky soil unfit for growing much more than malnourished goats and tufts of hardy grass. He remembered starving people coming to worship at the run-down ruins of this ancient church. He could only guess what gods this church had been originally built for. Certainly not humans: no two doorways were the same shape, no two halls the same width. Passages grew and narrowed seemingly at random. In some areas the scale beggared imagination, where in others priests had to turn sideways to pass each other. Twisted minds dreamt this construction. The Geborene took it for their own, but before that it had lain empty and haunted for generations.
Konig had changed everything. All of it.
One truism lay underneath every choice and word: Change what people think and you change the world.
He changed the religion, chased the ghosts from this ancient temple. He gave the people hope and they learned to believe in themselves. More importantly they believed in him. Selbsthass grew into a wealthy city-state. His priests were relentless, spreading the word through all Selbsthass. The more people who believed something, the truer it became.
His plans had almost reached fruition. The Geborene would have their new god and Konig would be its maker and master.
“Perception,” he said, “is reality.”
To a Gefahrgeist, this truth was everything.
Those standing at his back remained quiet. They knew him all too well. He heard them shuffling about, impatient to be allowed to speak.
Konig stood, feet together, left hand cupping his narrow chin in thought, right hand gripping his left elbow. His personal chambers grew increasingly crowded, a matter of some concern. He glanced over his shoulder at the three other men in the room. No, not men. Doppels. An important distinction.
Each Doppel stood in exactly the same pose, dressed in identical florid crimson robes, staring at him with varying degrees of attention. Three sets of identical grey eyes. Three identically bald heads. Though obviously copies of Konig, they each displayed minor flaws.
No, again he corrected himself. Flaw seemed too strong a word. Quirk might be more accurate.
The closest flashed a hungry feral grin, a glint of white teeth. Another’s gaze darted about as if he expected a sudden attack from the shadows. The last looked as if he might fall to his knees and beg forgiveness for some unknown sin, face desperate for praise, yet knowing he was undeserving.
Snivelling weakling. Konig hated the last one the most. Knowing the Doppels displayed aspects of his own character made it no easier to accept.
Konig took comfort knowing no one liked everything about themselves—most weren’t confronted with physical manifestations of their own defects.
“Be gone,” he commanded. “I have no need of your craven council.”
The Doppel glanced around the room as if taking in the dark oak and luxurious finishes one last time before briefly meeting Konig’s steady gaze with an apologetic shrug. “Apparently you don’t believe that.” The Doppel ducked its head subserviently and stared at the floor. It was all an act. “Sorry.”
“Silence, Acceptance. Stand in the corner. Say nothing.”
The Doppel nodded meekly but Konig caught the faintest hint of a knowing smirk as it moped towards the corner. At least it still obeyed, even if he couldn’t banish it. Still, his inability to force the Doppels’ disappearance was not heartening. His delusions grew in strength, gaining control of their own existence.
In a floor-to-ceiling brass rimmed mirror filling most of one wall, several of his Reflections gathered, as if at a window, to watch. Long gaunt faces and bald heads. Their mouths moved but no sound could be heard. A recent development, he’d only begun experiencing Mirrorist tendencies in the last few days. It was only a matter of time before he heard their voices. They might briefly offer valuable advice or show him flashes of the future or distant places, but they would someday climb from their mirror world. When this eventuality came to be they would either kill or replace him.He wasn’t sure which he feared more.
If my other delusions don’t get me first.
It didn’t matter. He’d have his god and gods change everything.
One of the other Doppels—Abandonment, Konig named this one—leaned forward to whisper conspiratorially in his ear, “Acceptance plots against you.”
Konig pushed the Doppel back. “And you don’t?” He laughed, a humourless bark.
Trepidation and Abandonment both backed away from Konig’s angry glower, bowing their heads. Only Acceptance remained unfazed, facing the corner.
“You can’t trust him,” whispered Abandonment. “Acceptance seeks to replace you.”
“And you I can trust?”
Abandonment kept his face lowered, but Konig saw the tight smile. “Of course not. Everyone abandons us in the end. Just like our parents.”
“My parents,” snapped Konig. “You are delusion.”
“Your parents,” corrected Abandonment smoothly. “If Mother can abandon you, who can’t? It’s why I exist. I may be delusion, but I am your reality.”
A fourth Doppel faded into existence, a much younger Konig. The tear stained face showed all the loss of an abandoned child who has suddenly realized not a single soul in all the world cares for him beyond how he may be used. Konig focused on the present and drove the Doppel away. This was no time to dwell on old wounds, fester as they might.
“Your pet scientist is coming,” Abandonment spat with vehement disgust.
“He is my friend.”
“We don’t have friends,” said Abandonment. “Not really.”
The Doppel was right, but still Konig’s jaw tightened, his teeth grinding in anger. They had been friends, back before he’d decided to make a god. “He is useful,” Konig said.
“He hates us,” warned Abandonment. “You can’t trust him. He is sane.”
“The day you council trust I shall truly know I am in trouble.”
“In this I must agree with Abandonment,” piped in Acceptance before tucking his head back into the corner when Konig fired a warning look in his direction. “I don’t think he likes us,” whispered the Doppel. “I don’t think he likes you either,” he added, glancing back at Konig. “He thinks you stole his idea.”
“I don’t care if he likes me. He need merely be useful.”
Acceptance smirked as if he knew this for a lie.
Aufschlag Hoher, Chief Scientist of the Geborene Damonen, entered Konig’s chambers, bowed low, and did his best to ignore the High Priest’s Doppels. They, in turn, did their best to glare daggers of hatred and contempt in his direction. On good days he wondered what this meant for Konig’s opinion of his Chief Scientist. On bad days he contemplated killing the deranged Theocrat.
So, what is today going to be?
Konig however was a Gefahrgeist of unquestionable power. Aufschlag couldn’t spend more than a few minutes in the High Priest’s presence before the man’s stunning genius, vision, and depth of understanding overcame him. The sheer scale of the man’s plans inspired awe. Konig Furimmer was not a man who thought small. Konig thought in terms of forever.
Doubt only set in afterwards. Aufschlag lay awake nights wondering what Konig really was: genius or deluded mad man. It was so damned hard to be sure.
Perception was reality; something Geisteskranken understood all too well. It was their source of power, what made them special and set them apart from the masses of the common man. But Aufschlag understood. His experiments taught him the truth:
They were all just crazy.
And that’s what Konig was: crazy. What kind of horrific childhood does it take to create someone like Konig? Interesting question. Perhaps he would experiment with that later.
Aufschlag watched the man who had once been his closest friend. They’d met as Geborene acolytes. Though both joined the almost unheard of religion for different reasons, their fates became entwined. Had they first really become friends on the day Aufschlag had brought his idea to Konig? It was my idea, wasn’t it?
Aufschlag bowed again as Konig finally deigned to glance in his direction. Only then did he notice the hem of his own pale blue robes stained dark with blood. He straightened, briefly meeting Konig’s grey eyes. At least he was fairly sure it was Konig and not one of his Doppels. The eyes, so grey as to look like the very colour had been leached from them, bore into him. He felt layers of his personality peeled away for scrutiny. Konig held his gaze and would not release him. Aufschlag couldn’t move. Pinned.
It’s one of those days. All doubt washed away like blood draining from a torn femoral artery. Konig was a man to follow, a man who saw the gods for what they were. Those eyes saw the future.
Aufschlag staggered when Konig finally glanced away. He took a moment to allow his pounding heart to slow. The glare of the Doppels felt like poisonous spiders crawling across his skin.
One of the Doppels—Aufschlag was unable to keep track of which was which—leaned forward and whispered, “I know what you’re thinking’, you snaggle-toothed, greasy pig-sticker.”
“Abandonment,” commanded Konig, “leave him be. Aufschlag my old friend, you have something to report, I assume?”
Aufschlag stammered, suddenly self-conscious of his crooked teeth and the greasy tufts of hair sprouting from around his ears. “Y-yes. Another of the young gods committed suicide, High Priest.” He broke into a sweat. His left hand hovered between covering his crooked teeth from view and darting up to smooth his hair into place.
Konig turned to stare at the Doppel standing with his face pressed into the room’s corner. “Ausfall?”
Aufschlag blinked uncertainly at Konig’s back. What emotion is he hiding from me? “Yes.”
“She was too damned smart anyway, always asking questions. She wouldn’t simply accept what I told her. Distrustful little girl.” Konig turned and glanced at Aufschlag, an eyebrow lifted slightly. “I wonder where she learned that?”
“The same people who have access to Ausfall have access to Morgen,” Aufschlag said defensively. “And he shows none of those traits. Most likely it was her personality.”
“Morgen is perfect,” said Konig.
“He’s innocent and trusting in the extreme,” pointed out Aufschlag.
“That’s what I said. And I want him to stay that way. Only you and I—plus his bodyguards—are allowed in his presence from this point on. I don’t want him infected by doubt.”
Gods forbid the boy learn to think for himself. “Of course,” said Aufschlag. How had his plans come to this? As a scientist he battled ignorance on every front, and yet here he was, shielding Morgen from uncomfortable truths. He might not be lying to the boy, but he was definitely keeping things from him he needed to know. I should tell Morgen everything, let him make up his own mind.
But Morgen’s mind had been made up for him. Like all the other would-be-gods the Geborene sought to create, his entire life he’d been taught he’d someday Ascend to become the god of the Geborene and serve the people of Selbsthass. Slavery sold as a virtue.
They’d started with ten children and over the last decade, one by one, they’d succumb. Rampant delusion, fed by the Geborene and the faith of Selbsthass, had broken them. Some burned, some rotted away to nothing. Each reached their tottering pinnacle of power and toppled as the weight of their delusions dragged them down, drown them in dementia. Not one had Ascended. Ausfall was just the latest. And now Morgen, the purest, most innocent spirit Aufschlag had ever known, was all that remained.
Had he known his plan would end in the tragic deaths of nine children, would he still have brought it to Konig?
Gods forgive me, but I think so.
“How did Ausfall die?” Konig asked, snapping Aufschlag from his thoughts.
“She chewed through her wrists. Bled out. Managed to write a fair amount on the walls before she lost consciousness.”
“In her own blood, I assume?”
“Anything of consequence?”
“I did see one phrase repeated over and over. ’We make poor gods.’ I’m not sure what she meant. Perhaps that the Geborene are making inferior gods, or that she would be a poor god should she Ascend. I have Sister Wegwerfen looking into it.”
“Wegwerfen can’t be trusted,” said Abandonment. “She might spread word of Ausfall’s death.”
“We can’t have that now, can we.” Konig pinioned Aufschlag with flat grey eyes. “Kill Wegwerfen when she is finished. Report her findings.”
“Of course.” Face carefully blank.
But Konig saw through his Chief Scientist’s façade. “I know this is difficult.” He placed his hands on Aufschlag’s slim shoulders, forcing eye contact. “This failure could spread seeds of doubt we can’t afford.” His long fingers dug into the soft tissue. “Doubt is failure.”
Aufschlag’s will crumpled beneath the gaze of his High Priest. He saw nothing but colourless grey eyes. The fingers felt like carrion worms working their way deep into his flesh. “But—” Sweat poured freely down his face. “Haven’t we already failed? There is only one god left!”
“Of course not. Did you think I sought to create many gods? No.” He spoke with such conviction Aufschlag’s doubts disappeared in the blazing heat of revelation. Konig smiled warmly at his Chief Scientist. “This is a happy day. A glorious day. We now know which of our experiments will Ascend.” He removed his hands from Aufschlag’s shoulders and the Scientist was more than a little surprised to see they were free of blood.
“I apologize for my moment of weakness, High Priest.” Aufschlag’s heart filled with strengthened faith. “It’s so obvious. Of course there could only be one god. Too close to the experiment, I suppose. I became blinded.”
“Not to worry, my friend.” Konig patted Aufschlag on the back as if they were the closest of comrades, which once, long ago, they had been. “Your task has always been the details. It falls to me to see the bigger picture, but we’d be lost without you. You are the heart of this project.” Konig turned to stare at his gathered Doppels. “I am nothing without my friends. So alone. You are with me, right? Aufschlag? I can’t do this without you.”
Aufschlag bowed low. Konig would never be alone as long as Aufschlag drew breath. He’d give everything in the service of this great man. Everything.
“I will never abandon you,” Aufschlag swore with utter sincerity.
The moment the heavy oak door closed behind Aufschlag, Abandonment chuckled. “He’ll abandon you. They’ll all abandon you.”
Konig smiled sadly at his Doppel. “Yes. But not yet. Notice how he didn’t use the word trust? The day he tells me I can trust him is the day he dies.”
Trepidation coughed nervously. “But you always tell people they can trust you.”
Abandonment gestured at the closed door. “You told him the plan was for only one to Ascend.”
“But we wanted—”
“—you wanted as many to Ascend as possible. With only one child left our…your plans are in grave danger. Should something happen to the child…” Abandonment left the thought unfinished.
“You lied to him,” accused Acceptance, no longer facing the corner. “I thought he was our friend.”
“All communication is manipulation,” said Konig. “All interaction, social or otherwise, is a means of getting what you want. It’s the basis of society.” He paced the room, the hem of his crimson robes caressing the richly carpeted floor. “I need Aufschlag and he needs me. Underlying all friendship is a level of mutual dependence. Need, and need fulfilled. Without me Aufschlag would be nothing, a small man with small dreams. Without Aufschlag I would be hard pressed to create my god. We need each other. We use each other.” Konig grinned at Acceptance. This would bother the Doppel. “When he betrays me—and there can be no doubt he will—I will kill him.” Konig gave his Doppels a hooded look. “You can trust me on that.”
Acceptance laughed, a quiet chuckle. “And here I thought I was not only the embodiment of your need for acceptance, but also the sole manifestation of your sense of humour.”
“I wasn’t joking,” said Konig.
Acceptance, looking disappointed, glanced to the floor. “Oh.”
Konig sent the three Doppels to another room to give himself space to think. They crowded his thoughts with their demands for attention and constant in-fighting and bickering. For a brief moment he thought they wouldn’t leave, until Acceptance bowed his head and left with the others following in his footsteps. Not long ago he could cause them to fade out and vanish with a little directed will. Now he had trouble ordering them to another room. Some day he would not be able to banish them at all. They were his curse and a sure sign of his immense power. Unfortunately, as his power grew so too did the strength of his Doppels. There would come a day when they no longer obeyed him. They would hound his every moment, muttering to him as he tried to sleep. His thoughts would be infested.
And then they would bring him down. His delusions would overthrow him, topple him from the throne of his mind, devour his intellect. There was no way to know how it would happen. Perhaps he would be dragged into a mirror and forever imprisoned. He might lose his grasp of self and be unable to differentiate between he and his Doppels. The strongest would step forward and take control. Konig would then become a whimpering Doppel of the new Konig.
There were so many ways for a Geisteskranken to go. He’d heard of the Somatoparaphrenic, their limbs rebelling and claiming control over the mind. The fate of the Cotardist frightened him the most. The thought of his flesh putrefying, his internal organs rotting or fading away was a nightmare.
Konig sat at his desk, a massive and ornate oaken monstrosity. He’d found it hidden in one of the church’s deepest basements and claimed it for his own. It was, he believed, some kind of cherry wood, the red so dark as to approach black. Chaotic scatterings of paper littered the desk’s surface. All the business of the Geborene came through him. He was the centre of everything. Selbsthass wouldn’t be what it was without his constant attention.
Gods it’s quiet in here. The Doppels’ bickering was distracting, but they were also useful. Though in talking to them he did little more than talk to himself, there was something about thinking out-loud that worked for him. They might be little more than aspects of his personality, but they were focused aspects, condensed fragments of his psyche. Each Doppel offered something different, and though they sought to overthrow him, they needed him as much as he needed them. Need bound them together.
Some day they will need me less than I need them. The needs of others were the fulcrum upon which his Gefahrgeist powers tilted the world. Need is weakness.
The room’s silence bore down upon him like a weight on his shoulders. He missed the voices of others. Spending too much time alone left him feeling drained and weak. Doubt would set in. Soon he would venture from his office, surround himself with his priests and bask in their attention.
He picked up a random piece of paper and glanced at it; reports from the Geborene church in Gottlos, a filthy runt of a city-state to the south of Selbsthass. King Dieb Schmutzig, a Gefahrgeist of minimal power, demanded the foreign church pay exorbitant taxes. Annoying, but hardly important. Gottlos would be Konig’s soon enough. For now he’d pay the self-important little prick.
Konig snarled and slammed the top of the desk, anger flashing through him like a storm raging out of nowhere. He crushed the report in a shaking fist.
“Schmutzig is less than nothing,” growled Konig, struggling to focus on the work he must do. “Safe only because he isn’t worth crushing.”
“Safe because you have bigger problems to deal with,” whispered Trepidation from behind.
Konig’s shoulders fell. “I told you to leave.”
“I can handle this.”
“There is only one god left. If he fails, it’s too late to start again. Your delusions grow in strength. Time is running out.”
“Aufschlag will not fail me,” said Konig.
Abandonment, standing next to his fellow Doppel, leaned forward. “Everyone abandons you. The scientist will fail.”
“No,” said Konig forcefully. “This child is the one.”
Trepidation laughed. “Who are you trying to convince?”
Sister Wegwerfen stood before Aufschlag Hoher, who sat at his immaculate desk. Though the Geborene Chief Scientist certainly cut no imposing figure, fat and round, with his bad teeth and greasy fringe of hair, the young priestess knew better.
Science, she had learned, was a terrifying and bloody pursuit. She’d assisted in enough of Aufschlag’s experiments to have developed more than a little respect for the man’s tenacious drive to learn, although Aufschlag’s willingness to go to any length to find answers bordered on mad. She had watched him torture entire families just to see if he could make Geisteskranken, or to determine if delusion was something people were born with. She would have sworn Aufschlag was Geisteskranken except not once had he manifested a single delusion or shown sign of being anything less than coldly, dangerously sane.
No, sane wasn’t correct. He might not be delusional, but he wasn’t necessarily fully human, either.
He stared at her with beady eyes, his forehead glistening. His fingers drummed nervously on the desk, a staccato without rhythm. He glanced away, grimaced, and returned his attention to her. What did he have to be nervous about? His agitation worried her. Have I done something wrong?
“Report,” he said.
“I have examined Ausfall’s room,” she said.
“Blood is not the best medium for leaving legible messages.” Aufschlag’s look said in no uncertain terms he was not in the mood for humour. “Sorry.”
He waved it away. “Summarize.”
“Right.” Wegwerfen thought about the insane ramblings she’d spent hours trying to decipher and the ragged mess of the young girl’s wrists where she’d chewed them open. “Ausfall wrote, ’We make poor gods’ many times. I believe she was saying Ascended humans made a poor substitute for real gods.”
“Our god will be real.”
“Of course. I only meant that—”
Wegwerfen bit her lower lip, collecting her thoughts. “Ausfall also wrote of the incredible pressure of knowing she would Ascend to godhood. She said the expectations of an entire people were a weight on her soul. She said she feared death and…” Wegwerfen hesitated.
“And?” asked Aufschlag.
“She wrote of coercion and control and how she couldn’t be a true god of the people unless she Ascended at her own hand. She wrote of puppets and the Afterdeath.”
The Chief Scientist’s eyes bore into Wegwerfen. “Where did such ideas come from?”
“Ausfall was a clever girl, much smarter than the others. She could have figured this out on her own.”
“And yet even though she took her own life, she didn’t Ascend,” Aufschlag said sadly, shaking his head in disappointment.
“But don’t the people believe she’ll be their god?”
“No. The people believe we will make their god. They know nothing of the individuals. She will not be that god—Konig will ensure that.”
“There is only one left.”
“Yes. Morgen. He will be our god. As Konig planned all along. The others, merely experiments. Morgen is the culmination. We will spread the word, the people must know his name. Their belief will guarantee his Ascension.”
“Is that what I am to do next?” Wegwerfen asked.
The Chief Scientist swallowed uncomfortably, looking ill. His gaze darted about the room and his fingers drummed nervously.
He’s trying to make up his mind, she realized. About what? Had she done something to upset him?
Aufschlag finally made eye contact. “Yes, but not here. I must send you away to…” He licked his lips. “…to Gottlos. There is a small church there. Tell Bishop Kurzschluss Gegangen I sent you. You are to help spread the word of Morgen’s coming Ascension.”
Gottlos? That wretched stinking little cesspit to the south? Wegwerfen kept her face blank. “Of course, as you command. I shall begin packing imm—”
“No! You can’t pack. Fetch a horse and leave now. Tell no one you are leaving.”
“Before I change my mind.”
What the hells is going on? Change his mind about what? Backing away she dipped a quick bow. She stopped at the door, one hand resting against the thick wood. “Will I be allowed to return?” she asked hesitantly.
Aufschlag stared at his desk. “Maybe. Go. Now.”
Wegwerfen fled the Chief Scientist’s office.
Excerpted from Beyond Redemption © Michael R. Fletcher, 2015