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Koren’s Edge Vision
This… this was not what Koren had expected to see. As she stared into the light, with Professor Dare’s words echoing into her ears, the girl had thought of the explanations she’d heard about this moment back when the Crossroads people had explained what would happen. They were supposed to see a vision of when a Stranger (capital S was important) had some interaction with one of their ancestors. She pictured (and braced herself for) images of vampires or werewolves or worse, stalking and terrifying someone who would look vaguely similar to her. Or like one of her parents.
But that… that was not what she saw. Not in the least.
Instead, when the vision started, Koren had found herself standing in the middle of a pitched battle inside some sort of old apartment building. The mailbox area was behind her, along with a laundry room to the right, a wide hall leading to more apartments straight ahead, and a stairwell leading up to a landing overlooking the courtyard, then more stairs to the second floor. The battle itself was chaos incarnate. There was screaming, crying, blood flying in every direction, and worse. The instant she found herself there, a dark-skinned man with long claws extending from his fingers was literally run through with a sword right beside her. His cry of pain as life escaped him made Koren hurl herself into a corner by the mailboxes, huddled down and staring with wide eyes.
They couldn’t hurt her. It was a vision. She wasn’t really here. All of that was what the girl told herself while she stared in shock, watching the carnage as the Heretics… three of them, it looked like, killed the Strangers.
Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Was one of her relatives a Heretic already? That made sense, right? Were they still alive? Koren intently studied the three of them as they fought, searching for some sort of family resemblance so she could try to find and talk to the person later.
Part of her wondered what these Heretics had interrupted. What had the Strangers been intending to do when they invaded this apartment building? The thought of how many people they could have killed or… or eaten made a shudder run through the girl. Thank God the Heretics had shown up first.
As that thought was running through her mind while she crouched in the corner of the mailbox area, Koren’s eyes fell on one Heretic in particular. He was standing with his foot on the back of a fallen monster, spear raised in one hand as he prepared to drive it down through the creature’s back, forever stopping it from hurting anyone else. Was that her ancestor? She hoped so. He looked heroic, like a true champion of–
A figure abruptly appeared beside the Heretic, just as the spear was descending. Before it could be driven through the monster’s back to end his threat forever, the new arrival caught it and ripped the weapon away from Koren’s maybe-ancestor. A blindingly quick motion sent him flying backward to crash into the wall. Only then did she get a good look at the figure who had stopped the Heretic from saving all of that monster’s future victims.
She was beautiful. That was Koren’s first thought. The woman who had appeared, who held the Heretic’s spear in one hand and a strange throwing ax thing in the other, was very pretty. She had short blonde hair and seemed…. the first thought that came to mind was like a valkyrie.
Wait, was she a valkyrie? Were those real things? Lots of mythical creatures were apparently real, so–
Her thoughts were stopped as the intruder moved once more, and all Koren could do was huddle there, staring as this strange woman utterly decimated the three Heretics who had been trying to save the people in this apartment building. Even the man she had decided was probably her ancestor couldn’t stand against her.
Was this the sort of threats they were going to face out there in the real world when they became actual Heretics? Was this… was this terrifying woman just one example of the danger that they could run into? As she watched the last of this… slaughter, Koren knew two things for certain. First, she really couldn’t judge a book by its cover. If a woman who looked like that could be so evil and such a threat, then anything could be.
And second, those were really cool-looking throwing axes…
To say that Edgar Panau was not expecting what he found as he entered his restaurant/club was an understatement. The six foot, seven inch tall, heavyset man with grayish-blue skin that was rough like an elephant stopped at the door, frowning at the sight of the closed sign. Why the hell would the restaurant be closed? This was one of their busiest nights. If one of those morons had managed to set the kitchen on fire again…
Already in a bad mood, the man unlocked the door and yanked it open, stomping inside while opening his mouth to bellow a demand about what was going on. Just as the sound started to escape his mouth, however, he stopped short and the words died in his throat. Jackie D, the man who should’ve been serving as the host and greeter, was slumped over on the nearby leather couch where guests were supposed to wait to be seated. He was breathing, but nothing Edgar did, not even slapping his face, would wake him up.
Okay, something was definitely wrong here. Even as that thought came to the man’s mind, he spotted Lily, one of his cutest little waitresses, lying across a table. Like Jackie D, she was in some sort of deep, impenetrable sleep. All around the room, more of his people were lying across tables and in booths. Beyond the restaurant area, he could see the back room where the craps and poker tables, as well as the slot machines were. It was the same story back there. Everyone who worked for him, who should have been earning his money, was asleep. What in the fuck was–
Then he heard it. Familiar, loud, upbeat music coming from somewhere else in the–the kitchen. It was coming from the kitchen. Eyes narrowing, Edgar reached into his jacket and produced a silver handle. A touch of a button ignited the blade of the luxensis (what humans called a laser sword, or lightsaber), even as he began to stalk that way. Whoever thought they could come in here and fuck with his business had another thing coming.
He reached the door leading into the kitchen and paused. On the small television in the corner, where he knew his cooks and their assistants liked to watch Spanish soap operas, an old cartoon had just reached the end of its opening theme song, before the colorful mutated turtle characters appeared on the screen, arguing about what to get on their pizza.
Other than that, however, the kitchen appeared to be empt–no, there were several fallen bodies spread through the room. Six more members of his staff, all of them lying in tangled piles of their own aprons and white clothes. Sweeping his gaze over the mess, he spotted a pot of pasta sauce that had already started to boil over and make a mess across the stove. With a curse, the man stepped that way, setting the luxensis down after turning it off, so he could flick the switch on the stove while quickly moving the pot away from the burner.
It was in that single moment that a thought crossed the man’s mind.
He had five kitchen employees, not six.
His hand moved to the weapon he had set on the counter, only to freeze as a knife was pressed close to his throat. One of the ‘unconscious’ figures in white had somehow silently materialized behind him. In the reflection of the nearby hanging metal pan, he caught a glimpse of a person in what looked like a white… ninja outfit, complete with face concealing mask. She stood behind him, arm stretched a couple feet longer than it should have been in order to allow the blade to reach his throat.
“You shouldn’t move,” her voice informed him. “I didn’t want to kill your employees, but I don’t have the same issues with killing you, Edgar.”
“You know my name,” he carefully noted. “Any chance I could know yours? I like to be aware of the people I’m going to ruin.”
She, in turn, giggled. Yes, giggled. It made his blood boil. Worse, she didn’t even address the threat. Instead, she replied, “The reason I came here is–wait hold on, this is my favorite part.”
With that, still holding the knife to his throat, the girl turned to look at the television. She watched the cartoon for a moment, seemingly enthralled. Yet when he inched his hand very slightly closer to his own nearby weapon, it abruptly went flying off onto the far side of the room. The girl made no comment on that, though the blade she was holding to him did press just tight enough to draw a thin line of blood as a warning.
Finally, as the scene in the cartoon changed, she turned her attention back to him. “What was I saying? Oh right, why I came. Your Uulahn Stone. I need it.”
“The fucking good luck charm?” Edgar demanded. He felt the weight of it then, inside his jacket pocket. “The fuck do you want that for, bitch?”
“Let’s just say it’s important,” came the simple reply. “I’d kill you for it, but there’s that whole thing about how it’ll disappear if it’s not handed over… willingly. But trust me, ‘willing’ has a pretty broad definition.”
Edgar snarled. “And what makes you think I won’t just let you kill me so you don’t get what you want?”
“Because you’re selfish,” she informed him with a bright, chipper tone. “You don’t wanna die, Edgar. Look at this business you’ve built. You want this whole situation, and me, to turn into a quick little memory. You’re not willing to die just to spite me. I do my homework, I talk to people, I know exactly what sort of person you are. You’ve got two choices. Either you reach in your pocket and you hand me the rock, then I disappear and you start waking up your employees so they can get back to work. Or you refuse, I kill you and then go figure out where the rock went. It’ll take me awhile, but I’ll find it again. And you… you’ll be dead.
“So which is it gonna be?”
Two minutes later, Casey Dunne was walking down the street, holding the special rock in one hand. She had ditched the white ninja outfit and stood several inches shorter than Edgar would have remembered her as.
It had taken her a long time and a lot of money (stolen from the Foxhunter), but she finally had the Uulahn Stone. It was a bright red, extremely polished and gleaming gem about the size of a ping pong ball. Holding it, she could feel the heat coming off the thing.
With this, she was finally ready. The stone was basically the last physical component in the spell she needed. A spell that would tell her how to find any Reaper she had previously been in contact with. After all this time, all these years… she was going to find Jones. She just needed one more thing. Or rather, one more person, to make the spell work.
She just hoped she could convince that Dakota girl to help.
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, she’s not an enemy.” As Stasia said those words, she was stepping into the hotel room where her two companions were waiting. The glow from the parking lot lights illuminated her from behind before she let the door shut, though not fast enough to stop a couple moths from flying in so they could flutter around the lamp on the nearby table. “At least not to us.”
Looking up from the desk where he had been writing in a notebook, Judas raised an eyebrow. “You’re sure about that?”
“Yeah,” she confirmed, “I’m sure. Unless one of us has been moonlighting as a real son of a bitch. I looked into this ‘Asenath.’ She’s a vampire. And by vampire, I mean her father is an Akharu and her mother’s his wife. Also a vampire. And before you say it, no, her father isn’t Rasputin. I thought so too, but he’s some guy named Tiras.”
Turning away from the television where they had been intently watching a true crime story, the silver-metal figure of Robin focused on her. Their eyes shifted from the amber-brown of the ‘Hood’ facet (who quite enjoyed seeing crime investigations), to the yellow of their ‘Sprite/Sprightly One’ facet. Their childlike, innocent self. “Hey, we know Tiras! We met him a long time ago. He was really nice.” They were going to add something else, but even they said that, their gaze blinked over to watch the moths bouncing off the lamp. Sprite was rather easily distracted.
After watching that briefly, their eyes shifted over to the light pink indicating that Quip/The Quipping One had taken over while Sprite was occupied. “Sure, nice, as long as you don’t get on his bad side. Those people didn’t tend to last long enough to find out what a bad idea that was.”
Stasia gave a slow nod. “Yeah, that’s kind of what I picked up too. Anyway, apparently he’s been missing for a long time, and she’s been trying to find him off and on. I mean, when I say he’s been gone, we’re talking a couple hundred years. Which I know isn’t a lot for you people, but still. The point is, I guess she found him pretty recently.”
“Wait, she found him? That’s a good thing, right? So what’s the deal?” Judas demanded while standing up from the desk. “Why exactly is she poking her nose into Inanna all of a sudden when she should be playing reunion with her long lost papa?”
“That’s where it gets complicated again,” Stasia replied casually. “Turns out he lost his memory or something. I don’t know, my contacts up in that little rebellion school couldn’t give me a lot of details. Something about him not remembering who she and her mother even are. So she’s trying to find out what happened to him.”
“Find out who erased his memory so they can be forced to undo it,” Robin, eyes shifting to the dark blue of the Security One/Sec put in. “Still doesn’t explain why she’s looking for our employer, unless she believes Inanna is responsible.”
The vampire woman’s head shook. “Not exactly. From what I understand, she believes that Rasputin was one of the last people her father was with before his memory was erased.”
Making a noise of understanding in his throat, Judas replied, “Right, so she thinks he can give her answers about what really happened.” Pausing briefly, he considered. “From where I’m standing, seems like that would put her on our side. That is, if you can hold off on your revenge long enough for three of us to get answers from him. Robin and I already needed to talk to the man about our own things. Don’t suppose it would hurt too much to let her get answers too?”
Stasia visibly grimaced before exhaling. “I’ve waited this long to give that creature what he deserves. If it means allowing a girl who has lost her father, in more than one way, to have him back, then…” She trailed off, clearly thinking of her own family before giving a short nod. “That is something I can live with.”
Eyes shifting to the red of the Brawling One/Brawl, Robin announced, “Don’t you worry. As soon as we make the guy say the words we want him to say, we’ll help you make him say the ones you want him to say. Words like ‘ow,’ ‘aaargh,’ and ‘oh god oh fuck what happened to my arm.’”
The comment made Stasia chuckle softly before she met their gaze. “Thank you, Brawl. And the rest of you. But right now, I think it’s obvious how we should deal with this.”
Judas nodded. “Inanna wants this girl to stop looking into her. So we find her and tell her we can help her find Rasputin so she can get the real answers she wants.” He paused before shaking his head. “Tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting it to be that simple.”
Eyes turning yellow once more, Sprite piped up, “Making new friends is fun! Especially when they’re the child of old friends.”
“Yes, well,” they added while their eyes shifted back to the amber-brown of Hood, “Let’s hope it works out that way.”
“Do we have any idea how to find her?” Judas asked, looking back toward Stasia. “I have a feeling the sooner we deal with this the better, when it comes to Inanna.”
Before either of the other two could respond, the two moths who had followed Stasia inside and had been bouncing off the lamp abruptly flew out to a corner of the room and transformed. The trio had just spun that way, putting themselves into reflexively defensive positions, as the intruders resolved into two humanoid, female figures.
“Shouldn’t be that hard to find her, should it, Twister?” one asked.
“Nope,” the other replied. “Shouldn’t be hard at all, Asenath.”
Being who and what they were, the twelve members of the so-called Calendar were well accustomed to staying together as much as possible. Walking in formation as a group as they stepped into the main cafeteria of the fusion school was very familiar to them. What was not familiar, however, was what came next. April, May, and December only realized that the three of them were walking by themselves after a couple seconds of it. The trio stopped, glanced at one another, then turned on their heels to see their nine companions standing in a corner of the room, out of the way.
December was over there in a blur of motion, rocketing to stop directly in front of the others. “What’reyouguysdoing?” she asked in a jumbled mess. “Aren’tyouhungry?” Her pure white, technically blind (though she could see their energy signatures and differentiate between such enough that it was hardly a disability as far as that went) eyes stared that way curiously.
That made the rest of them exchange looks before January spoke. “We are awaiting our turn, of course. There are others who want food.”
December blinked a couple times while staring up at the tall blonde woman before quickly shaking her head. “No, no, no! You don’t have to do that.”
Tember narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?” The tall, Latino-looking man in drab, heavily-patched clothes glanced toward the assortment of students heading for their tables and cheerfully eating. “Wait, I think I understand. That door there. Does it lead to our section?”
“If so, it’s not labeled very well,” Otto/October, wearing his standard white lab coat over a Hawaiian shirt, raised a hand to touch his glasses. “And, appears to lead to a janitor’s closet. Which technically does not prove the assumption incorrect.” He continued to study the room in the distance. “I see no real defensive measures allowing them to lock us in, unless they’re even more effective than I think at hiding those. Which… given we are dealing with Athena and Artemis… But in any case, we have all squeezed together into worse conditions, I must say.”
Feb, the black man who wore a pristine white suit and had long dark hair nodded quickly. “Sure, and it’s not like they’re used to all of us being here. It was just these three before. We can make it work. Like, we’ll just take turns and–”
“Take turns my arse,” June–or Drake as they were supposed to call him now, darkly put in. The pale man with short black hair and dark clothes under a white jacket was already casting a glare around the room as though searching for whoever’s idea it had been to put them in such a small closet. “If they don’t feel like giving us a room we can actually sit in, maybe we should do a little redecorating our–”
“Stop!” That was May, the Asian looking girl giving the nine of them a quick headshake. “That’s not what’s going on. Our table is right over there.” She raised her hand to point at a long table where several others were already seated.
December’s head bobbed rapidly. “Yeahseethey’re… savingourspotsstill!”
March, still towering over most other human-sized people despite attempting to slouch, gave a confused blink. The vividly green-haired man, who despised much in the way of direct attention, made a confused sound. Which, for him, was practically a full sentence.
“Yeah,” July/Julie put in. The black woman in a tan trench coat, black pants, and white shirt (like one of those Earth detectives she liked to read and watch stories about) gestured toward March. “What he said. How are we supposed to eat over there? There’s already people. And it’s in the middle of a big group of other tables. I don’t think they’re all going to move just for us to have space.”
The trio who had been living here for a while exchanged looks again before the red-haired April spoke up. Her voice was gentle, knowing exactly how they had felt not so long ago. “We don’t need space. We’re allowed to sit by them.”
“I’m sorry, what?” skinny, short, dirty-blond-haired November demanded. He looked as awkward and unsure of himself as ever when it came to being around a group of non-Mendacia, wearing a large flannel shirt that was tucked into a ratty old pair of jeans while seeming as though he wished he could disappear into them. “I could’ve sworn you just said we were supposed to go sit at a table with a bunch of other people. They’re not all… wait.”
“They’re not all SPS,” April confirmed. “And no, they don’t suffer from some other condition. This isn’t the ‘special’ lunch hour. Trust me, we checked.”
“SPS?” That was Otto, his attention shifting from studying everyone in the room to focus on her specifically. “Is that a slang term?”
May gave a short nod. “Sort of. It’s what they call us. And what we call ourselves. I mean, all of us. It stands for Sticky-Possession Syndrome. You know, sticky, like we can’t let go. Principal Fellows doesn’t like the word Mendacia, or Lie. She says we shouldn’t consider ourselves to be false, or broken, or… wrong.”
“And the last person who called us Lies had to scrub the restroom for the first, second, and third grade classes,” April added.
December’s head went up and down so fast those who didn’t know her well might’ve thought it was about to pop off. “Uhhuhuhhuhandtheycouldn’tusemagic! Theyhadtodoitallbyhand. ButIhelpedcuzitfeltright. TheythoughtIwasgonna… hurtthemor… somethingfirst. Butnowwe’resortafriends. Sorta.” Turning, she took just a moment to search the room until her special eyes managed to spot the specific energy patterns of the people in question. Immediately, she raised a hand to wave over at that table, calling out, “Hey, guys!”
At the table in question, two Seosten boys, several years older than her, hesitated before raising their own hands a little awkwardly and uncertainly. December, in turn, beamed. “Seegoodfriends.”
“It’s not perfect,” April acknowledged after giving a soft cough at the expression of confusion on the two Seosten boys’ faces. She turned back to the rest of the Calendar. “But it’s true that Principal Fellows won’t allow people to treat us differently.”
“Ahem,” May pointed out, “we can be treated differently. Anyone who needs special things can be treated different. There’s things we might need or have to do that others don’t. They can’t treat us like we’re something bad.”
“And… this Principal Fellows says that?” January uncertainly asked, clearly reeling a bit from everything. The beautiful blonde woman in her evening gown was taken aback by the whole situation, still trying to come to terms with what they were being told. “She’s the one who makes this distinction between being treated differently and being treated poorly?”
The other three nodded, April speaking first. “She says the difference is in where you end up, not just ‘being treated differently.’ If you end up worse than others because of how you’re treated, it’s a bad thing. But if the way you’re treated helps you end up in the same spot, it’s good.”
December giggled audibly. “Shesaidit’slike… ifyougivesomeonealadder… sotheycanseeover… afencenexttosomeone….who’salreadytallenoughtosee.”
“The way she put it,” May added, “was that giving everyone the same opportunity is like giving them what they need to see over the same fence, and treating them poorly is making them stand further away from the fence. Maybe they’re far enough back on a hill to see over it anyway, but they can’t see what’s on the other side as well as the others can.”
The words were enough to make the newly arrived members of the Calendar stare at the three of them as they absorbed all of that. It took a few seconds of silence before Tember found his voice. “Who is this woman, exactly? Are you sure she knows what we are?”
“She knows,” April confirmed. “She knows everything about us. Especially now that she has asked all those questions so she’d know what to expect for the adoption thing.”
“Adoption thing?” Julie echoed. “What adoption thing?”
December cheerfully announced, “She’sgonnaadoptTheia. Shewantedtoknowabout… whatsortofthingssheshouldsay….andnotsayaboutit.”
Even without everything else they had just heard, that by itself would have been enough to make the assembled group reel. It was Drake who found his voice first, tinted as it was by suspicion. “Who is this woman? What does she really get out of all this? She has no reason to adopt one of us, let alone one who comes with everything a daughter of Kushiel would.”
“She is Abigail Fellows,” May informed him, as though that answered the question. “She is the leader of this school. And she is a very special person.”
“Hm,” Drake sounded unconvinced. “We’ll see just how special she and this place are. Something tells me, when it comes down to it, I won’t be impressed.”
“I’m impressed.” The change in Drake’s tune came at the end of that first day, as the Calendar reassembled in the room they had been assigned. Or rather, in one of the rooms they had been assigned. For this visit, they had been given rooms in pairs. Two of them to each room, which, to be frank, was more space and privacy than most of them had ever experienced. They had no idea what to do with it, thus they had all gathered in the single room, and most would probably sleep there. Because it was what they were accustomed to.
“By what part specifically?” October asked while clearly mentally reeling himself. “Was it the part where they allowed all of us to split up and sit in on any class we wanted? Classes where other Seosten were attending. Or was it the part where everyone wanted to ask for our help in those classes?” As he said those words, the man was using his glasses to study the room around them. Even now, he was searching for traps and other security measures intended to lock them in if need be.
January cleared her throat, head shaking with a slightly dazed look. “I had people ask about my dress. They touched it. No, actually they asked my permission to touch it. They asked if it was okay to touch my dress and asked where I got it. They said it was pretty. Two of them were Seosten. Real–normal Seosten. They touched it–me. They asked if it was okay and then they touched me.” The last bit came as she slowly sank down onto a chair as though her legs couldn’t hold her any longer.
“Oh yeah?” Julie put in. “Well I got invited to something called a movie marathon. Which isn’t about running, apparently. They all sit down together in the same room to watch a bunch of movies. It’s a detective movie marathon. They heard me talk about Hercule Poirot and just… asked if I wanted to come. They listened to me and then talked to me.” Those incredibly simple words came out in a voice as stunned as though these people had invited her to join a combined Seosten-Fomorian peace council. Which itself might even have been less surprising.
March actually spoke up, albeit in his incredibly quiet voice. “They allowed me to sit with the children.” While the others of his group had gone to various adult or teen classes, March chose to visit with the preschool and kindergarten rooms. Not because he couldn’t keep up with the others, he was one of the most intelligent members of the Calendar. He had simply always enjoyed playing with and taking care of children. Previously, he’d only been able to do so with other so-called Lies, and had actually been one of the caretakers for the youngest of their kind. He was never allowed to be close to, let alone touch, ‘normal’ Seosten children. But here, now… “I played pirate with Savvy.” There was joy in his voice that none of them had heard before. “She sat on my shoulders.”
“No, none of that,” Drake insisted. “Well, all of it. I’m impressed because this… it’s either not fake, or they’re very good at playing the role.”
“You spied on people, didn’t you?” April put in. She and the other two were sitting slightly apart from the nine new arrivals, watching their reactions while thinking back to their own.
The man seemed to consider the question briefly before giving a short nod. “Yes,” he admitted flatly. “I took over a couple animals and spied on these people to see what they said when they thought we weren’t listening. From what I can tell, this isn’t an act.”
December quickly piped up. “It’snotanact. They’rereallynicehere. Andwedon’thaveto… killpeopleifwedon’twantto.”
Studying their companions’ faces, May carefully asked, “What do you guys think so far?”
That prompted an assortment of looks between the rest of the group, before Feb spoke for them. “We think… this is an interesting school.”
“Incredibly interesting indeed,” the eldest member of their group, the silvery-gray haired August, confirmed. He had been quiet through all of this, given how long he had been alive to see much worse ways their people were treated throughout the Seosten Empire. There was a pain to his voice that made all of them sober while turning their attention to him. “I believe… we should find out more about this place. We have seen some, but we need to look deeper.
“And determine whether it is truly everything it appears to be.”
Fossor’s Homeworld Before His Death
At one point, the world had been called something else. It had another name, another society, a whole other civilization. And yet, for thousands of years, none of that had mattered. Since the moment he took control of the world of his birth through genocide and horrific tortures, the man known as Fossor had endeavored to erase as much as he could of that old world. Entire libraries full of information were incinerated. The elderly who held on to old knowledge were the first to be sacrificed. Any hidden books or data discs holding information about the way things used to be were found and destroyed, their hoarders made an example of. It had taken quite some time and effort, but for a man as determined and powerful as he was, that meant little. Over the centuries, almost all knowledge of the way things used to be was erased.
The lesson was clear from the start. The old world was gone and all that mattered now was Fossor’s World. That was the only acceptable name, Fossor’s World. Using the other was forbidden for so long that it had essentially become forgotten.
The people of the world did their best to live within horrific conditions. For some time, it was considered normal to have people who would simply become horrifically injured, or even die, at any given point for no apparent reason. The people of Fossor’s World would be going about their lives as best as they could, and somewhere off on another world, the Necromancer would use his connection to them in order to pass off some injury or death, or simply to gather more power. They could die randomly at any given point and with absolutely no warning. There was no rhyme or reason to it. He simply grabbed any life at random across the entire world.
Needless to say, this was an impossibly hard reality. Knowing that everyone you loved, or even you yourself, could be killed or maimed for absolutely no reason at any given point was more than a little stressful.
Eventually, a compromise of sorts was found. Some people in the world managed to convince Fossor that his power would be even greater if he had specific buildings to draw from. They could use magic within those buildings to magnify his connection and ensure that he could easily connect to them in order to gain even more of a boost, or to even more easily pass his injuries off. If he only had to reach toward specific buildings rather than anywhere on the world, his connection could be artificially increased much more easily.
Of course, that meant that the buildings had to be kept stocked full of lives to sacrifice so he would never run out. This was done through a lottery system. Rules were established that only those of a certain age were eligible for the lottery, and anyone who wished to could volunteer to take their place. There were other rules as well, but when it came down to it, the entire point was that they sacrificed people to go live in the buildings where they would, at any point, be killed or traumatically injured. But doing that meant that others on the world could live slightly more normal lives.
Of course, that didn’t entirely stop the random sacrifices. In Fossor’s words, he didn’t want them to think they had gotten something over on him, and they still had to be punished now and then to ensure they didn’t forget their places. But, for the most part, they could go about their lives. After all, it wasn’t as though he visited all that often. He was, in essence, a godly being. A god who loathed his own people and ensured their suffering as much as he could.
The buildings themselves were referred to as temples, of course. They were created in every city of sufficient size, and were always the tallest, grandest building in the area. Their architects went to enormous lengths to ensure that Fossor would never be disappointed or angry if he saw his temples. They served as monuments to his ego, with mandatory meetings in the front courtyard of each building every day. For fifteen minutes in the evening, everyone in the city was forced to gather and essentially pray to him. These sessions could continue for hours to ensure that every person had their fifteen minutes within the courtyard, as there was only so much space.
Of course, their master never answered those prayers, but he did notice if they were not done properly. And he made certain his displeasure was known. No city had ever made the mistake of missing prayer more than once, no matter what else was happening.
Many might have considered it impossible to live anything even close to a normal life in such a situation. And yet, what choice did the people of this world have? They were forced to keep the monster satisfied, and give him their lives whenever he had the whim to take them. But they still had to live as best as they could.
So, society developed around him and the pain he inflicted. People did their best to ignore the temples aside from the forced prayer and the lottery. They mourned those sent into the temples, saying their goodbyes both then and on every subsequent visit, knowing that the people inside could and would be killed at any given moment. It was traumatic in so many ways, but at the very least, they were given the opportunity to say goodbye. Which was more than they’d had under the old system where any of them could be taken at random at any point.
Other than that, society went on. They developed a rather thriving live theater culture. Movies and computers and such were not allowed on the world. Fossor refused to allow them access to that level of technology. Thus, society remained relatively rooted in what would be considered the renaissance era of Earth. Much of their entertainment was derived from plays and operas. A large amount of which was forced to focus on what a forgiving, powerful, and benevolent god ruled over them. But the people managed to instill just enough sarcasm and hidden jokes within their performances to make their feelings known. Of course, anytime the god himself happened to visit, these jokes were removed without changing too much of the performance.
The plays were also often changed from city to city in various ways, both large and small. The start and general description of the play would remain the same, but each troupe gave their own spin on the various stories. This allowed one to watch a play in one city, and then go to another to see ostensibly the same one, but witness a completely new story.
And thus, their civilization had essentially remained stagnant this way for thousands of years. Not simply stagnant, they had actually moved backwards in some ways. How could it not, given the situation they had been in? Even without the lottery and temples, Fossor had made it clear he would not allow them to progress. Those with grand ambitions and ideas were taken, either to serve him or simply to be erased. He insisted that civilization remain frozen the way he wanted it. They knew of other worlds where things were better, of course. Information leaked through now and then from those who were used by him yet not immediately killed. And his own arrogance ensured that he had to brag about the things he was doing. When the people managed to, with some effort, sort through the lens of his ego, they could see a relatively decent picture of the rest of the universe. They knew there was technology they would never be allowed to have, medicine, entertainment, travel, and more that would forever be barred to them. Because Fossor decreed that it would be so, and made certain his will was carried out.
They knew that life throughout the universe was not all like it was here, that their so-called god did not rule over every living thing. Some held out hope that those others would see what had been done in this world, would understand what sort of monster Fossor really was, and would gather together to do something about it. They hoped that rescue would come. And yet, over the many centuries where nothing of the sort happened, that hope faded until it was almost nonexistent. Whatever else was happening in the wider universe, it was clear that they either couldn’t or wouldn’t step in. There was no one who could stop the monster.
Despite the tiniest flickering candle flame of hope, most became convinced that nothing could ever happen to change that.
Fossor’s Homeworld During His Death
“I don’t understand, what’s happening?!” Beilela, a young temple cleaner whose job it was to ensure every statue of Fossor at the front of the courtyard was polished to a perfect sheen, called out while running down the front hallway alongside Tuuenfa, one of the oldest living ‘priests,’ who made certain the prayers were carried out properly every day. They made an odd pairing, given she was a thin, waifish girl of what would be considered only fifteen years on Earth. He, on the other hand, had seen more than fifty years, and stood a solid two feet taller and over a hundred pounds heavier than the girl.
What was happening, in this case, was that the bells in the temple had begun to ring. All of them. When one rang, it meant the temple was running low on sacrifices and an emergency lottery was needed. But all of them?
“The temple is empty,” the older man called back while running ahead. “We have to draw more in, before he grows angry.”
“But why are all the bells ringing?” Beilela quickly asked, her face turning ashen at the thought that the temple was already empty. Just that day, the last count had been three thousand, five hundred, and twenty sacrifices ready. How could Fossor have gone through so many lives already? Especially when there were already so many other temples in cities across the world to draw from.
Pausing at a door, Tuuenfa looked at her seriously. “The other bells are connected to our sister cities. They warn us when their temples are getting low.”
Eyes widening, the girl stammered a horrified, “All of them? What’s he doing? What’s happening out there?”
“I do not know,” the man answered. “But he will prevail, as always, and if he finds that we have not performed our duties, we will be the ones he takes his anger out on. Now come, we must call a gathering and usher more into the temple before he reaches for us again and finds nothing there.”
Reaching out, Beilela caught his arm, his voice shaking. “What if he loses?”
It was blasphemy beyond imagining to even say such words, of course. If Fossor ever found out that she had spoken them, she would not simply be killed. She would be made an example. All those thoughts ran through Tuuenfa’s mind as he lashed out to slap the girl across the face. “Never say that. Never even think that. If he heard you–”
“But look at what’s happening,” the girl interrupted while holding a hand against her face. “Listen to the bells. He’s calling on all of them. He’s using all of them.”
“Yes,” came the snapped retort. “And he will sacrifice each and every one of us before he allows himself to lose. Before he dies, every single one of us will. So we must root for his success. There is no other way. There is no salvation coming and there never will be. We are his, and he will end all life on this planet before he allows himself to be defeated. If he falls, it will be over the ashes of every living being on our entire world.”
That said, the man strode out onto the ground entryway of the courtyard, where hundreds of people had already begun gathering. They knew what was coming. Even if they didn’t really understand the situation, they knew that a lottery was imminent, and that there was no other way. There had never been another way, not in any of their lifetimes. Many generations had passed like this, far more than could easily be counted. This was simply the way it had been, and always would be.
Rather than pay attention to the hurried introduction and mandatory words that came before every lottery, Beilela turned to look up at the enormous monolith of the temple behind them. It stretched hundreds of feet in the sky, a bright, practically glowing sapphire and emerald design that stood out against the far more mundane and ordinary homes surrounding it. Inside were more statues and paintings of Fossor. Every artist in the world of any skill, for thousands of years, had been forced to devote themselves to creating those things in order to fill these temples. That was simply the way things were.
But why? Why did it always have to be like this? Why did no one ever come to save them? The universe was full of people who were not under his rule. Why didn’t they do something?
Those thoughts ran through the young girl’s mind as she stared up at the perfect statue of the man who had spent so long forcing them to worship him as a God. Her hands clenched. Like everyone else on this world, she had lost people she knew and loved. Her older brother was taken by the lottery three years earlier, and only survived a single week before being sacrificed. Four of her older friends throughout her young life had also been killed that way. In another year, she would be considered old enough for the lottery. And from that point on, she would live the rest of her life knowing that she could be taken by random chance and put into the temple in order to serve as nothing more than fuel for him. She, and everyone else who would go through the temples, were logs on a fire. A fire that Fossor would continue to burn until the forest that was their entire civilization was barren. Tuuenfa was right, the monster would kill each and every one of them before he allowed himself to lose. And in the end, there was nothing they could do about it.
Without quite understanding what she was doing, the girl walked right past Tuuenfa while he was in the middle of his mandatory (though accelerated) opening. Her movements caught his attention, as well as that of everyone else who had gathered already. More were coming by the moment, all of them looking as she walked to where a half-finished painting, itself nearly twelve feet high and five feet wide, was mounted onto the nearby wall. The painting, when it was done, would depict Fossor slaying a giant monster. But she paid no attention to the image. Instead, she reached down to pick up a large bucket of red paint.
Before anyone could even fathom what she intended to do, Beilela turned and hurled the contents of the bucket upwards. The paint splashed against one of those perfect, gleaming metal statues of their master, entirely covering it in crimson. It looked like blood. Like the man himself was bleeding.
The shock was palpable. Every single person in the courtyard, thousands of them by that point, went completely silent. Not that it was actually quiet, of course, with the bells ringing constantly in the background. But there were no voices. Every person had entirely lost the ability to speak for those few long seconds. They stood in utterly stunned silence, bells making the situation clear for everyone. It was time for the lottery. Time to refill the temple. Their god demanded it, and he could not be denied.
Letting the paint bucket drop from her hand with a heavy clang, Beilela slowly turned away from the statue. The fifteen-year-old stood under the intense and shocked stares of thousands of her fellow people. Her mouth opened, but no words came until she managed to swallow the hard lump in her throat, which took a couple tries. She was shaking, terrified beyond all reason. But she still spoke, with some effort.
“No more.” Her voice was magnified by the effect that was intended to allow everyone to hear the words of the priests. Even now, when she spoke so softly, they could all hear her. “If he kills me… he kills me. But I won’t lift one more finger for him. Not while I live. If I’m going to die, I’ll do it standing, not kneeling.
“My name is Beilela Tren. And I choose to be free.”
As she finished saying those words, the girl closed her eyes. She expected to be struck down in an instant. Others had, over the centuries. She was under no delusions about her own importance or power. There were more, of much greater strength, who had made such statements and who had attempted to stand against Fossor. They always failed.
And yet, in the end, one thing would set her moment apart from all those others, and ensure that it would always be remembered. One thing, which she only realized after standing in silence for several long seconds.
It was silent.
The bells had stopped. Slowly, the girl opened her eyes and turned to look that way. Everyone else already was, thousands of eyes looking toward the silent towers for the bells that had been ringing so incessantly. Now, there was nothing.
“What does that mean?” Her voice was quiet, yet still magnified throughout the crowd for all to hear.
Another moment of silence passed before Tuuenfa replied, “I don’t know, child.
“I truly do not know.”
Fossor’s World After His Death
It was impossible. Simply whispering the idea to one another days earlier would have been considered such blasphemy that almost no one would have dared try. He had killed others before, after intentionally spying on them to hear what they said about him. He made examples of people who thought they could get away with talking about him as though he was anything less than immortal and omnipotent. Simply giving voice to the impossible thought would have been a death sentence.
And yet, impossible as it was, they all knew the truth by now. It started as a whisper, then quiet murmurs, leading all the way up to open discussion when no punishment arrived. They knew the truth. The bells were silenced. Those who had still been in the temple or were added to them afterward remained standing, still alive and well even a week after the last sacrifice.
Those who were charged with maintaining the spells that boosted his power within the temples were the first to say it aloud. His connection to them was gone. It had been stripped away in that moment where the bells fell silent. In that instant, his link to their world had been severed, leaving him cut off from them. That in itself would have been considered an impossibility. And yet, there was more. Far more.
Standing outside the temple, Beilela stared at it. The doors were all wide open, as people continued to stream in and out, carrying things. Boxes of supplies that had been used by the sacrifices to keep their lives as comfortable as possible came out, while full barrels went in.
“But… but what if he comes back?” a boy, two years younger than she was, tentatively asked. He stood a few feet behind her, alongside several others of roughly equal age.
People kept asking her questions like that. Not just children, but adults too. They talked to her as though she had real answers, as though her words mattered. They thought she had done something, like she had known something or contributed in some way to what happened. Because, in their minds, what other explanation was there for why the bells had stopped at the very moment that she declared, ‘no more?’
In truth, she was simply the most recent one of many to declare that they would not bow any longer, that they would stand and be killed rather than serve a monster for one more moment. She was not the most special, the smartest, or even the loudest about that. She had done nothing other than speak her mind and expect to be struck down for it. But they didn’t understand that. As far as they were concerned, she had said ‘no more,’ and now there was truly no more.
“You heard the priests,” she quietly replied without taking her gaze off the temple. “He’s gone. Not just cut off.” The words felt foreign and strange in her mouth. Even now, a week after the fact, when they were completely certain of this fact, it was almost impossible to say them out loud. It felt, even now, as though she would be struck down on the spot, her spirit torn from her body and forced to serve him for eternity.
And yet, the words came, and there was no bolt of lightning, no horrific pain. No punishment.
Saying it was still almost impossibly hard. The words came, but only with effort. She felt her hands clench almost painfully tight, expecting the sudden laugh as the monster revealed that he had tricked them, just for the hell of it, and showed that they would never truly be free of him.
But it didn’t happen. The laugh never came. His voice had been thoroughly silenced. No one on the world, as far as she knew, had any idea how, or why it had happened. But they were certain. It was over. After thousands of years and so many generations, after their entire civilization had been broken and forced to serve him for so long, it was finally done.
There had been no actual celebrations yet. Nothing open, anyway. No one really knew how to react. And they certainly had no idea how to truly celebrate. That had been lost along with so much of their old civilization throughout the dark millennia.
“He’s dead,” she repeated. Both because she needed to hear it, and so did they. “He’s dead, and his spirit was destroyed. He’s never coming back.” A tiny smile came. Strangely, it was the first real, genuine smile she’d allowed herself to have throughout the past week. Maybe because this was the first time she truly allowed herself to believe those words. Words that were so important, she said them again.
“He’s never coming back.”
The younger kids started to repeat those words, as did several older people who were standing further back. They needed to say them, almost as much as they needed to hear them. It would take quite some time before they felt truly real, before the words sank in properly. But for the moment, she didn’t mind saying it again. And again.
By that point, the line of people carrying barrels into the temple had finally stemmed. Several of the priests, including Tuuenfa, were standing together and talking nearby. Leaving the younger children to whisper amongst themselves, Beilela walked over to them, her voice tentative. “Is it time?” Not so long ago, she would never have interrupted the priests in a private discussion. Yet when one told a god you would never kneel before him again, and survived, what was interrupting a priest?
They looked back to her, Tuuenfa speaking up. “Almost. Make sure everyone is ready, would you? We will only be able to do this once, and no one should miss it.”
Turning, she looked not to the mostly empty courtyard, but to the nearby buildings. The roofs were completely covered in people. The crowds had come as close as they could, standing on balconies and sitting on the roofs of every building they could reach. The temple being as large as it was, for once, was a benefit. It meant you could sit anywhere in town and see part of it. Yet people didn’t want to see only part. They wanted to see as much as possible. For so many centuries, they had tried to avoid looking at the thing, walking by it with their gazes averted.
But now, in this moment, everyone wanted to see what came next.
Finally, the word went out. It was time. The crowds who were gathered on all the roofs went completely silent, as though Fossor himself had appeared. And yet, not like that at all. This was not a silence of terror. It was the silence of anticipation. They all watched, including Beilela herself, who had climbed up onto a balcony of the nearest house. It was full of people already sitting, so she stood on the edge, holding the railing with one hand and the side of the building with the other as she stared upward. Every gaze of every living person in the city was focused intently on the temple. Just as every gaze of every living person in every other city would be focused on their own temples. This had been intentionally timed, through communication magic, to happen simultaneously. If one city was going to do it, they all were. Every city on the planet was in sync, each of them waiting to do this together, united as one.
The flames started small, just at the base of the temple. But with the fuel that had been carried inside, it soon spread. Within a few short minutes, the entire enormous building was ablaze. It burned like a giant torch in the middle of the city, the fire visible from miles away. There were protections in place to ensure that no one would be hurt, and that the flames couldn’t spread to other buildings. So, everyone sat, staring as the temple burned. And with it, burned millennia of sacrifices, thousands of years and millions of deaths. They destroyed the temple, the paintings, the statues, they destroyed it all. Across the entire world, thousands of temples burned.
There was no laughter, no cheers, nothing like that. It was too fresh. They had lost too much, had surrendered everything they were for entire generations. It would take quite some time before anyone allowed themselves to truly believe it was over enough to cheer.
And yet… Beilela did allow herself one thing. As the temple burned, the flames destroying everything that Fossor had turned their city, their world, their civilization, into, she smiled. And she repeated the words she had said one week earlier, the words she had expected to be her last.
“My name is Beilela Tren. And I choose to be free.”
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