- February 12, 2023
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 39)
“No good can come from a god’s attention.”
Jack Starshield, 448 A.C.A.
It took a few weeks for S.S. Lappy to get back to the Icy Pearl Isles. Again, Malum complained about spotting his own men informing the others of their arrival. This time Andy was there to question if anyone else would see what he saw.
He didn’t dignify that with a response.
As they took sight of the port -one the Legion had expanded- they took sight of their friends as well, or so Quintus thought.
It’ll be nice having everyone back again, maybe for a little while this time. Who knows, if we’re lucky, they’ll come back with enough gold for almost a month.
Oh, what Quintus did not know.
As the ship slowly sailed into port, Quintus and Astrid were waving to Andy and Malum on the starboard bow. Andy waved back alone, as Malum stood as motionless beside her as Jack did beside Quintus.
As soon as the plank was laid down, Astrid and Quintus raced up. Andy was bemoaning the sight of dry land when Astrid picked her up by the waist.
“Well, someone’s happy to see me!” she thought, just as she saw Quintus coming to double up on the hug. “No, wait-!”
Quintus scooped up Astrid as she still held Andy, and lifted them both up above his head. “You cannot escape the bear hug!” he called.
As Astrid laughed at her expense, Andy threatened to slip out of her grasp and fall on her head. “Tell that to gravity!” the white-haired woman yelled out.
Quintus barely saved her from a head injury when he put them down, but as he did, he slowly came to notice the many barrels and sacks of clanking coins that the crew was beginning to offload.
“Andy, Malum, what is this?” Quintus whispered as he walked up to a barrel with its top open, revealing jars of spices.
Malum dipped a finger in to hold it to Quintus, but Quintus could smell it before the assassin’s finger even reached his nose.
The scent was a sharp strike up Quintus’s nostrils, and Quintus inhaled it with vigor. The sheer smell of the cinnamon made his mouth water.
“How,” Quintus said, and “how” he repeated.
He felt Andy wrap an arm around his waist as she held Astrid the same way on the other side. “My loves, we come bearing gifts of weapons, food, gold, and spices, thanks to yours truly!”
As Quintus and Astrid hugged Andy from both sides, Malum stared on with his arms crossed. He muttered under his breath, “I’m the one who won the tournament.
Quintus held half of Andy’s head in his hand as he kissed the top of it in thanks. He stopped only to shake her in glee, garnering a laugh from the medic. “This is fantastic!” he cheered. “I assume you succeeded in saving Malum’s charge as well?”
Andy shrugged as her lips twisted downward. “Eh… Malum killed him.”
“Oh okay,” Quintus said, not quite gathering what she said, drawing a side eye from everyone else. Then he stopped, stared dead ahead, then turned to her to yell, “What?!”
Andy walked away from him as his jaw started to drop farther and farther down his chin.
Astrid pointed at the horrified look on his face and said, “Now that reaction makes more sense.”
As Quintus was shaking his head, trying to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, Andy walked over to a dour ex-Stormguard as he stood next to Malum, the two having a contest in brooding.
“Oh is Prince Star still moping?” she mocked him.
“Fuck off, Andy,” he said without a second thought.
Andy twisted her head, her smirk not quite gone. “Oh, what stick crawled up your ass?”
“Andy!” Quintus was yelling her name, his giant footsteps shaking the ship. “What do you mean Malum killed his charge?!” He turned to Malum who was standing his arms still crossed. “What’s does she mean you killed your charge?!”
Malum shrugged. “He talked, so it wasn’t worth saving a traitor. Made it quick,” he cut across his neck with his finger, “a slice to the throat, then found time to help to elect a new Dynastan at least.”
“Oh yeah,” Andy added, “we’re not wanted in Susanna anymore because of that.”
“Really? Awesome!” Astrid shouted, just as the door to the captain’s quarters opened.
From the captain’s quarters walked out the captain, drenched in sweat, alcohol, and all manner of filith. Her hair clung to her face as makeup that should have long been removed left ghastly marks down her cheeks.
But that all did nothing to hide the way she scowled at them.
Quintus and Astrid couldn’t take their eyes off her, and even Jack who had begun to look at the gold, had caught sight of her.
What has the world done? Quintus thought.
Quintus started making his way towards her as Astrid leaned in towards Andy and Malum. “What’s wrong with Lucy?” she asked.
Jack leaned in too to hear as Andy whispered how, “The crew told us that some of her past indiscretions caught up to her, and tortured her. Her arm’s barely finished growing back.”
Quintus could barely get a word out before Lucy snapped at him, “Lucy-“
“Fuck off, I don’t want to be coddled. I’m taking a bath… I feel disgusting.”
She nearly shoved a crew member aside as she walked down the plank, her captain’s coat sitting on her shoulder, hiding how her arm looked. She peaked underneath the bandages, at the smooth black skin, and bit back the desire to hurl.
Astrid walked up to Quintus as he watched Lucy leave. His feet trembled, fighting back to urge to go after her when she so clearly wanted to be alone.
Astrid laid a hand on his arm as she looked up at him. “Come on, big guy, let’s give her some space. She’ll probably want a hug later.”
“Yeah,” was all he muttered in response.
Then they started to help the crew unload all that Andy and Malum had brought home. At the same time, the two detailed just how they came by so much gold.
The part where Andy and Malum kept forgetting to leave a thug conscious and meeting the city’s information broker had Astrid in stitches, but Quintus could barely smile.
I should have chased after her. What kind of friend leaves another friend to hurt alone?
“Ow,” Quintus said, after Andy thumped him on the head, knocking him out of his stupor.
“You’re not a bad friend, Quint,” she told him.
“What are you-”
“You’re not a bad friend.” She gently squeezed his arm as she gave him a sad smile, nodding him on.
He looked away, and let her lead him off the boat.
“Hmmhmm, just give her a moment, then she’ll want her friends. Don’t who they are, but she’ll want them.”
“Oh, by the gods…”
Quintus never finished groaning. His eyes were stopped by the sight of Jack untying a rowboat. He and Andy both turned to each other, as if the other would have an answer, and walked on towards Starshield.
Just as Jack was getting in and pulling up his cloak, Quintus grabbed the side with his hand. His grip stopped the boat from swaying back and forth, and Jack was already shaking his head at him before he spoke.
“Where are you going?” Quintus asked.
Jack stared at him, pausing long enough to make Quintus let the boat go.
“To Artis,” Jack said, looking the giant up and down with suspicion, “with our money I can put in an order for actual training swords and staffs. They should train with better equipment.”
Oh, it’s only equipment, Quintus believed, but still…
“Do you have to do that now?” Quintus asked. “It’s been who knows how long since we’ve all been together. Why can’t we all be together just for one dinner?”
Jack tilted his head and gave Quintus this condescending smile. Quintus couldn’t see, but he heard Andy’s tongue roll in her mouth, and he could picture the formation of her frown.
Does he really want to be off the isles that bad?
“Quintus, I think you’re gravely mistaken about the company you keep. All of us, we’re co-workers, not friends.” When Quintus nearly looked aghast, Jack gestured for him to calm down. “Okay, at best, most of us are friends with you, but most of us don’t know each other. Each of us was leading a different part of the Legion before it all went to shit. We’re not close, we’re not even…”
As Quintus’s eyes slowly but silently narrowed on him, Jack found himself at a loss for words. He was snapping his fingers as he tried to think of something to say as Malum and Astrid made their way to them.
Jack pointed to them and admitted, “I don’t even know Malum’s last name, or Astrid’s!”
“I don’t have one,” Astrid said without missing a beat, drawing confused glances from them all. “You all really should have saw that one coming.”
Malum reached up and rubbed his eyes under his mask. “Chum,” he mumbled through it all, “my last name is Chum, and… you have a point, Jack. At best we’re co-workers who work well enough together.”
Jack pointed both his hands at Malum, as if his point was made until Malum held up a finger.
“But… right now we’re all we have, Quintus isn’t wrong in thinking it might be good to spend time together.” His words had Andy staring at him from over her shoulder, unable to look anywhere else.
Who would have thought he’d agreed with me? Quintus thought as he stared at Malum in shock.
Jack’s mouth was open agape as well after the assassin finished. How was he supposed to respond to that? With the most useless response in his language.
“Well agree to disagree, maybe another time,” Jack said as he reached for the ore. It didn’t matter because Quintus’s hand gripped the boat again, and he did it without even looking Jack’s way.
He watched Malum instead as the assassin stalked his way to the edge of the dock, and told Jack in no uncertain terms, “Well I don’t care, I earned the money, it’s mine.”
Andy muttered, “Actually-”
Her words only made the assassin snap at her. “Did you fight a Jitari Blade? No? Then yeah, it’s mine, and I’m not giving it to the Legion until say…” he trailed off as he hopped in the rowboat and snatched the coin from Jack’s waist before the ex-Stormguard knew what was happening, “how about tomorrow, at noon, well after we’ve all had dinner and breakfast together?”
Quintus let go of the boat and offered Malum his hand back up onto the dock. As he pulled Malum up, he said, “I think that all sounds nice.”
Jack groaned and slapped his legs, then noticed how everyone still stared at him. “Yeah, sure, whatever,” words that made them all start walking without him. He watched from the boat, and without the money, he had no reason to leave. It all started to feel pointless after that.
“What a waste of time,” he muttered under his breath.
“You know,” Quintus said, between bites of his salted mermaid on a stick, “when I said we should eat together, I expected more talking.”
“What would you have us talk about?” Malum asked him, sitting and eating nothing, refusing to lift up his mask in any way.
Most of them turn to stare at Quintus as his mouth was still stuffed with food. He arched his brow as he looked back at all of them.
He shrugged at them as he gestured to their private fire. He even talked with his mouth full as he did so. “I don’t know, I thought maybe there was something someone had an interest in, you know, outside of murder, fighting, and weapons. Don’t you people have hobbies?”
“Name one hobby you have right now,” Jack said.
Quintus raised his finger but hesitated as he had to think. Just as they started raising their chins up at him, he whipped something up. “I’ve come to appreciate fishing.”
“Why?” Andy asked. “It’s the worst job on the Isles.”
“Maybe it’s the monkey brain in me, but chucking spears at monsters feels like something out of a book, you know what I mean?” he told her, pinching his fingers together like he was holding an imaginary paper. “Suddenly, I go from normal to hero as I slay this monster and save the fishermen!”
Quintus even struck a pose that garnered a friendly roll of the eyes from Andy and a cackle from Astrid, but nothing from Jack and Malum.
Quintus looked between the two men, deciding who to pick on first. I already know what Jack is going through, and tempting him to conversation isn’t going to do him any favors… but Malum?
“What, too serious to crack a laugh, maybe you need a drink,” Quintus said, reaching over and tapping Malum on the shoulder with his knuckles. The assassin glanced at his hand but remained uncouth. “Is something bothering you?”
“What would be bothering me?” Malum asked back.
“How about your dead subordinate?” Andy snapped but did so with this snide smile on her face. It appeared so real and yet, so fake all at the same time. “You’d think you’d be more broken up about him.”
“He was a traitor, so I killed him, I’d be broken up about the wasted time, but we were rewarded in other ways.”
Andy scoffed at the assassin’s response. “How diplomatic of you,” she said as she ate seeds.
“Surely there was a reason you killed him beyond that,” Quintus tried to say, garnering a side eye from everyone save for Astrid, who was focused on her food.
“What more reason do I need to kill a man than that he was a traitor?” Malum asked, leaning forward onto his hands to wait patiently for Quintus’s answer.
Oh, did he think this would be a hard question? Did he expect me to sound like some naive child?
Quintus’s smirk was barely hidden as he shoved the last bite of his meal into his mouth. He pressed the back of his hand to his mouth as everyone watched him swallow. It must seem like I’m buying time.
When Quintus finished, he looked at Malum with one eye. “It’s not about whether you need a reason to kill a man, but searching for reasons why you should let him live.” Malum tilted his head like a cat as Quintus spoke. “We’re mercenaries, you may think that I have forgotten this, but I have not, and will never. It’s kill or be killed more often than not, so we must search for reasons to spare life. It is a precious thing, how could it now be when we only live once?
“But you did not do that, not even for your own shadow? What could he have possibly done that he deserved such a fate? He must have been under torture, and under torture, who can truly hold out? I wouldn’t blame him at all, if it were me, would you have slit my throat?”
“Hmph,” Malum seemed to scoff at the idea, “I’m not sure that would work, even with my blade, but even still… I would not even say his life was that precious. How precious can life be when people pay other people to kill? We all make a living because of the accepted fact that life is not precious.”
“And who accepted that?” Quintus asked him before he could speak another sentence.
Malum stopped and stared at the man of Seca as if his stare was all the answer he should need. “Everything that happened to you in your youth, is because millions of people decided that life held so little value it could be bought and traded for goods.”
Quintus did not look away from the assassin, nor did he make a face of anger or rage. He only chewed on his tongue as if he were thinking about Malum’s words. “I think… I think you’re mixing up things, conflating things that overlap but aren’t the same.”
“Evil is evil, and there is a bit of it in all of us. There are a lot of people consumed by it, but that does not have any bearing on the value of life. If anything, it shows us our potential.”
“How is that?” Astrid asked, the surprising sound of her voice drawing people to her, only to be ignored as she stared at Quintus, waiting for an answer.
“To be or do good and evil is a choice. Someone chooses evil, someone chose to bind me in chains, someone chose to kidnap my people, and someone chooses to kill, rape, and pillage my birthplace. For there to be such great capacity for evil in men’s hearts, that must also mean the opposite is true, that there is great capacity for good too.
“Maybe your shadow betrayed us, Malum,” Quintus continued as he turned back toward the assassin, “maybe he was not brave or loyal, but maybe he could have been. For everything wrong that a man can do, he can also do equal good, so if you were not going to give him that chance, I should hope that however, he betrayed us was so vile that he did not deserve the chance to atone.”
Malum sat silently, as Jack, Andy, and Astrid kept fluttering between who to stare at.
Malum’s fingers slowly tangled themselves up and untangled them in silence for more than a few seconds. “And what if… he did not?”
Malum’s mask stared dead ahead, and it should have been impossible to tell where he was staring, but there are moments when you know you’re making eye contact with someone… even behind a mask.
“Then I supposed that is something you will have to live with.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s guilt-ridden,” Andy said as she found herself chuckling into her hand. “The man spares his opponent in a contest that will decide the fate of his home country, a man who wanted to disembowel him, but he cut his own soldier down like a dog.” Andy looked between her fingers at Malum as she mumbled, “He must have said something truly heinous.”
Malum tried to speak, but it came out as a harsh mutter. “He… he was… he was not so… tortured. No, no he was not…”
“Could you have broken him out?”
Malum turned his head to Astrid, not quite sure if it was her who asked. “What?”
She asked again, clear as day, “Could you have broken him out?”
“I…” Malum hesitated to answer, his hand hovering just before his face.
He didn’t even consider it… did he?
“He was… at the top of a very tall tower.”
Andy blew raspberries as she shook her head but actually agreed. “That’s an understatement. The Spire was taller than Castle Raydorn.”
That only got a reaction from Jack, but his stunned reaction drew Astrid and Quintus’s eyes. “You’re kidding, right?” Jack asked. “Raydorn touches the clouds.”
“I’m not kidding you, the Silver Spires -all three of them- are taller than Castle Raydorn,” Andy assured him.
“So it sounds like ole’ Mal was put in a hard spot,” Astrid said as she rested her hands behind her head. “How do you help someone escape a fall from the sky? And he was a traitor? I get it.”
“But Malum got down himself,” Andy pointed out.
From her place next to Quintus, Lucy mumbled, “Who cares,” into her knees, with her arms wrapped around them.
“Disappearing yourself can’t be as hard as making someone else disappear,” Astrid said, her shrug never resting. Malum watched her closely as she seemed to stick up for him, an occurrence that made her someone he couldn’t look away from. “I’m honestly not sure what he could have done, but I trust Malum to protect the Legion.”
Malum’s shoulders seemed to rest a bit at the sound of someone having his back, but then Astrid’s eyes opened, and the way they fell on him made his spine tighten. She spoke words of affirmation, but her words didn’t match her eyes.
“He took out one of his own once they betrayed us, even I’d struggle with that… but then again, none of my followers ever would, they’re trustworthy like that.”
The staredown that began to form between Malum and Astrid was not lost on Quintus. His eyes flickered between them, particularly between the serious as rhe stone expression on Astrid’s face, appearing as unmoving as the mask Malum wore over his.
Then Lucy laughed, but it certainly wasn’t with anyone.
She covered her mouth but they could still hear how she cackled.
Astrid’s glare turned her way, and in a way, Quintus’s way. The gods would not have believed it if they weren’t watching, but that small woman made the giant squirm with the look in her eyes, and he was only suffering by association.
Are we sure her ax can’t kill me?
When Lucy stopped laughing, she didn’t explain why she had started in the first place. She just smirked as if there was some big grand joke that only she could be in on.
Astrid cut the tension with a knife when she asked, “What’s so funny?”
Lucy looked up from the fire, and without missing a beat or sacrificing the smirk on her face, she told Astrid, “It’s not as if your cultists have a choice.”
“Lucy,” Quintus was quick to hush her, but Astrid held up her hand.
Lucy pursed her brow at Astrid’s hushing of Quintus. Astrid gestured to Lucy as she asked, “Care to elaborate?”
Lucy didn’t hesitate to do so. “We all know what religions do, they brainwash people with ideas that they serve some god or goddess as if some deity doesn’t have something better to do. They think they live for Lapis, but in reality, they live for you, serving your ego, rubbing your feet, and propagating what you believe.”
Quintus spoke up, “You know that’s not true, even if-”
But Astrid could speak for herself. “Don’t Quintus, Lucy is a pirate, she lives an aimless life, what would she know of a community, let alone a community based on faith.”
“I believe in Lapis, I live and die by the will of the waves,” Lucy said, “I just don’t believe in your claims to speak for him.
“And do you want to know why? Because gods, don’t speak to mortals,” words that etched themselves in the minds of everyone there, and they looked away as the words continued. “Gods have better things to do than to speak through you, including dead ones.”
Astrid was quiet, her lips curled as she mulled over Lucy’s words. She nodded and looked to the sky, rolling her tongue around her mouth as she did so too.
“You’re right,” Astrid said, which made everyone do a double take.
“You heard that, right?” Jack asked Andy while they both stared at Astrid.
“No, my ears must be wrong, I must have missed the sarcasm.”
Astrid assured her, “No sarcasm, the gods definitely have better things to do than talk to us, even me, especially me, but the gods don’t speak to me, at least not in a way that counts like a conversation.
“I get their guidance, I am pushed in a direction. I don’t believe the gods have hand selected me and the path I walk, they simply control the forces of nature and make their will known through them.
“Lapis is the wind, Thassa is the sea,” she said as she threw up her arms, and wiggled them like the wind or water, and suddenly everyone was trapped ub a familiar situation. “If those two carry my ship to shore, that’s where they want me to be. If the atmosphere and all of its elements make my mind see what it would normally not…”
Astrid pressed her fingers to her temple and rolled her eyes to the back of her head, before droning on, “… then they let me see the world through their scraps.”
As her eyes came back, they settled on Lucy, who appeared as nothing, if not bored.
“But I guess I can’t expect you to understand,” Astrid said, as she grew calm and mellow in tone, “what do you have for faith when you come from a country that has so much of it? I’m sure it was confusing growing up compared to me, who had the one and his parents. My ability to…” she mocked gripping something to emphasize her point, “… grasp the simplicity of the world, is why my followers elected me, you know, like a pirate captain. You do hold elections, right?”
Lucy and Astrid found themselves glaring at each other again, and Quintus’s large body squirmed being so close to just one of them.
“Haha,” he mocked a laugh, “I never expected to uh- have such an interesting discussion about a weather god. There’s so much more to it than I thought.”
“What do gods mean to you, Quintus?” Astrid asked, her eyes glancing his way, not sending any of her cruel intentions his way. “You talk of it the least of anyone. Andy has her alcohol-”
“I don’t know if that counts,” Andy said as she immediately started gulping mead.
“-Jack mumbles to Almulan in his sleep-”
“I don’t want to know how you know that.”
“-even Malum whispers to his war goddess for victory-”
“-and Lucy makes it clear she’s full of doubts… but you, Quint… I don’t know anything about what you believe in.”
“I… I…” Quintus stammered as eyes turned to him.
This is not how I expected dinner to go, I wanted games like truth or dare and drinking, maybe gambling, an adventure story or two, you know, fibs. Why do I feel like I’m on trial?
Quintus raised his hand to rub the back of his head, as the gods did not easily come to him. “I’m… I’m not sure, there’s a lot to choose from, but none that quite fit me.”
“You’re supposed to fit to the gods, they’re not supposed to fit to you,” Malum said, gesturing like a teacher as he interjected. “We ask the gods for patronage and if we are to ask for something, we must rise to meet the price.”
“If we were supposed to fit our god rather than find a god that fits us, why are there so many?” Astrid asked him.
“If you haven’t noticed, we tend to find ourselves born into a god, predestined, we cannot choose.”
“But if that’s the case, then we should just be praying to Gronin and Gronin alone since he is the god of the Earth.”
Malum hesitated to answer Astrid’s point. He nearly starts before stopping and rethinking it again. “Gronin is the god above gods, don’t we worship him naturally when we worship any other?”
To anyone else this may have sounded like a pretentious and rhetorical question, but things are rarely so rhetorical in this group.
“Yeah, no,” Jack grumbled, scratching the inside of his ear as he did so. He didn’t even look at them as he spoke. “I hardly think a god of everything cares when I say a few words to his sister. Since when do you feel praised when someone praises your sister? Your uncle? Your brother-in-law? Distant cousins? Are all the gods related anyway?”
At this point, I don’t even know what gods are the god of what?
“Most of them, I think,” Andy said with a shrug, now leaning over and resting her chin in her hands. “I honestly lost the plot of this conversation a while ago.”
“Do gods not interest you?” Quintus asked her.
“Why would they?” Andy asked back in a hushed mumble. “They don’t do anything for me, and I don’t do anything for them.” She makes an open hand gesture as she asks, “When was the last time anyone spoke to them? With proof I mean, like when was the last time we recorded talking to any of the deities at a temple or function or something? You’d think someone so important would talk to more people than just a few dicks in white hats.”
Andy noticed Malum facepalming across the fire from her and questioned, “What?”
“You, your logic, you’ve met people and don’t want to talk to most of them, why would a god?” he told her.
Half of them snort, even Andy, who shrugged and admitted, “That’s the best point anyone’s ever made to me.”
“You know,” Quintus muttered as he pressed his palm against his forehead and found himself lost in the fire. He talked slower as all this talk of gods and prayers allowed his eyes to wander to the fire.
Light came from the fire, a small fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what the sun produces, but it still creates something that the sun struggles to do.
A clear, discernable shadow.
“The gods of my mother and my mother’s mother, they sound just like the image you’ve painted, Andy, gods who speak to few, and as Malum said, don’t want to talk to anyone. They were many, too many to count as Astrid reasoned, but they also didn’t care which one someone was praying to or who was praying to what, like Jack mentioned.”
“Great, so everyone has something insightful to say but me,” Lucy half-joked, and said half-seriously.
“Exactly,” Astrid said without missing a beat, “you were saying, Quint, about your mother’s god?”
“‘Gods,’” he corrected, “there was never just one god, just as there’s never just one shadow. There’s always another with the same face and voice as the last. Each one a misshapen shadow, indiscernible even between themselves. The gods of my mother are not gods of individualism, where that is the foundation of each of yours.
“The ones my mother called, the Tani, believed in conformity, they believed in peace, and they believed in servitude.”
Under her breath, Lucy remarked, “There might be some history being written over the old stories. Or else, why would the worshippers of the Tani do anything but serve and obey?”
“I think that had to do with why I never connected with them before I was…” Quintus was going to say enslaved, but then he remembered there he was with several folk of pale skin and knew from first-hand experience how they didn’t like being reminded of that.
Who could handle being humbled and hated like that? So often? Poor them.
The Tani were never anything for me, they did not protect me, nor did they save me. Krone raised me, but their gods have never been anywhere in my life except when it wasn’t going my way.
My faith was ripped from me before I got the chance to learn anything about it, and now most of the temples of the Tani are nothing more than a monument to their domain.
“… working here,” he finished his thought to his long pause.
“I wouldn’t beat myself up about this if I were you, it’s not that big a deal.”
Quintus grimaced as he lost control of his thoughts and what he was going to say. If there was a game of bingo, Quintus would have lost despite having all the knowledge needed to play the game right.
“You guys see what you’re doing, right?” Jack said, with this obnoxious little crinkle in his eye. There was little wit behind what he said, but you would never know by the curves in his expression.
“No, please tell us, oh wise one,” Andy said, his tone drawing her away from her drink. She was already sweating, and her eyes hazy, but she managed to stare at him just fine. She always did.
Jack may have stared back at Andy as he spoke his first words, but he turned to the rest soon after. “You’re all trying to question, what you can see, what you can hear, but those are mortal things, mortal experiences,” he pointed to his head as he went through the senses, “but why would mortal organs allow us to see or hear the gods? To see the gods is a sign of foreboding, and to hear them is a sign of madness, that’s a universal belief, and why is that? Because gods should have better things to do than think of us.
“No good can come from a god’s attention.”
Malum immediately groaned. “I think I need a drink if I’m agreeing with Jack.”
“You make it sound like I’m supposed to be the dumbest one here,” Jack said, shaking his head in a perplexed manner until he noticed everyone staring at him. “Fuck you guys.”
“You are kind of the jock of the group,” Lucy told him.
Astrid flexed as she added, “You are basically the gym teacher.”
“And you’re what, religious studies?” Jack clapped back, but as he said it he heard it. “That actually…”
“Yeah,” several of them agreed in one way or another, except for Andy.
“You don’t think I’d be a good religious studies teacher?” Astrid said, grabbing what was going over her head and flinging it in the other direction. “I’d be fucking great, I’d indoctrinate all the kids into any cult, apparently I’m doing that now, didn’t you hear?” She turned and glared at Malum again, and everyone was beginning to catch on, save for Andy.
Andy raised a finger to Astrid’s lips to shush her so she could focus on what was on her mind. Focus could be difficult when you were always trading one fog for another. Andelyn made the choice to contend with the fog that couldn’t be convinced to go away, at least not with a lot of water.
“By no, I mean I disagree, with Jack that is.”
She raised her fingers to touch her temple, embarrassed by what she would say next. “I can’t believe I’m admitting this as someone who can’t piss when someone else is pissing next to me, but… I’ve always felt some kind of…” she waved her hand around as she tried to find the word, but she struggled to grasp the word as there was so little of it around her.
But of course, she would have to remember, as it was something that no person could escape.
“Light, I feel as if light is always trying to guide me down a path, and it’s never with malice.” She shrugged and also admitted, “It’s never right, but it’s like… nice to have something who tries, who helps people find their way, just through the presence. That’s what light is supposed to do, right?”
Andy looked and gestured to the group of them around the fire, but they all stared back at her. Despite all the thoughts running through their heads, and their many different relationships with faith, it was all feelings hard to put into words.
Do people don’t just luck into words that perfectly explain how they feel about their own faith, much less in a way that makes sense to others? Or do they work at it and put together the words over years?
It would seem impossible to then respond to someone else’s in seconds.
Though the difficulty in admitting you don’t understand can be easy for some people.
“I’m completely lost,” Lucy said with a sobering shaker of her head. She turned to Quintus and asked, “Was she being metaphorical or literal?”
“Yes,” Quintus said, his answer sounding like a question in itself, “no? I don’t know, it works either way.”
Andy rolled her eyes. “Fine, yeah, sure, yeah it does,” she waved them off as she started to think about the light. She stuttered mumbling and rambling on as the alcohol was degrading the filter she usually put over her mouth. “The light doesn’t even really get in my way now that I think about it, even when it’s wrong, it’s always people getting in my way.”
Jack rested his chin on his hand and asked her, “Are sure it’s not just you getting in your own way?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, as he glanced towards the bottle in her hand.
Andy raised it to her head, and looked through the glass, seeing warped images of the associates who sat around her. She let it fall out of her way and growled to herself. “I’m… a person, which… is- one of… people… so what I said still stands…”
She leaned over and rested her chin in both of her hands as she looked over at the sea of them and lingered for a moment on Quintus.
She looked away, as she drunkenly mumbled, making it difficult for any without eagle ears to understand her.
“Honestly, the only person who never stood in my way was Harry,” Quintus heard her, but when Astrid tried to ask her to repeat herself, Andy just shrugged her off.
Despite being surrounded by friends, Quintus thought to himself, she still thinks she’s alone.
“Everyone else…” Andy said, trying not to mumble, “I’ve been shoving aside, running from, or running towards, and nothing works, but there’s still just this… light.”
“You think Almulan is talking to you?” Jack snorted.
“Ignore him,” Astrid told her, “you can’t hide or run from what simply is, and the light is always there, even, sometimes, at night.”
Andy turned her eyes towards Astrid and the goofy smirk she had on her face. “You’re not technically wrong,” she admitted to the ax woman with a roll of her eyes.
“What’s the point of that little bit at the end?” Astrid asked, shrugging her shoulders towards Andy. “Why not just give me all the credit?”
“Oh, here we go,” Lucy groaned.
“Why say technically when it is what it is?” she said, shaking her shoulders in this little dance that made Andy and the others look away in embarrassment, save for Quintus.
He watched as Astrid danced with her shoulders and hummed some tune he didn’t recognize. It’s hard to turn away from such happiness, though maybe I am alone in that thought. I wish I had the energy and endurance to withstand judging eyes as well as she does. Or maybe she doesn’t even need the endurance, it just bounces off her.
Regardless, that is a weird shake she’s doing.
Quintus noticed first that Astrid stopped humming, the others taking their time to give her their attention again. If they had, someone might have warned Andy.
Astrid’s eye had begun to glow, and steam was coming from her skin like it did when she first told them they should come to the Icy Pearl Isles. It was the hallmark of one of her visions, and her last vision sent them on the path to survival.
Quintus in invisible faith, shushed the others around him as he pointed to Astrid in wait. This mistake would nearly cost them their sanity.
The others turned to see Astrid as she was, but Andy was too slow.
Astrid lifted her hand, and Malum was the first to try warning Andy to move. In the split second it happened, Quintus could only wonder what the assassin’s problem was. Astrid’s visions were never dangerous.
But, they had never been paired with the light that guided Andy’s way.
No amount of alcohol protected Andy as Astrid reached to grip her shoulder. Her mind was in a haze, but it was far from shielded, as they would all learn.
Only Malum seemed to be concerned as Astrid gripped Andy’s shoulder mid-vision until Andy’s whole upper body seized, and in an instant her eyes glowed a shining green.
Jack nearly jumped out of his skin as Lucy instinctively crawled away. Quintus was up on his feet without even thinking, while Malum was already on his way. They were too slow.
From Andy’s eyes, the Light expanded, and in a flash, they were consumed.
Each of the Legion’s leaders shared the same vision. Their minds were melded into one as they peered into the white void. The void itself crinkled, showing shadows in its mind-numbing bends.
As the white world crinkled from nothingness, shadows formed, and from shadows formed the world. It happened in instants.
First came fire, and the screech of wings.
Fire consumed the world and when it faded they were left upon a mountain peak that touched the sky. The heat around them threatened to char their skin, but there seemed to be nothing to char.
Only the feathers that came before the shadow.
The Unyielding Flame, God of Griffins, the mount of the All-mother flew across the sky leaving an ember trail. The trail ended at the mountain peak where the sky began to dissolve around its edges. The Unyielding Flame burned all and not even the blue sky could survive.
The mountain became covered in embers, and the embers melted it down to its very seams. It began to swoosh like water, and from the black sprung worth a new blue, revealing waters and a rock that pushed the embers back.
The embers flew away like a curtain, as the world ran up the rocks and the cliffside until it was running up steel and wood. There was no way to follow as the world seemed to fly by, but the world stopped as it gazed upon feathers.
Feathers flew by as the sounds of screeching griffins still filled the air. With the whip of one feather over eyes that didn’t know they could see, the vision changed.
First, came the green hill of aurora light.
Second, came the tower that touched the clouds.
Third, came a serpent parted the sky.
Fourth, came a turtle swimming over vibrant lights.
Fifth, came black fire and screeching giants.
Sixth, came lightning and the way it crackled around her fist.
Seventh, came the Knight, a tower behind him, and shining winds flowing from his Aurora Blade.
Eighth, came blackness to herald the night.
Ninth, came the Nothingness to no delight.
There was no tenth, there were just six people opening their eyes. Six people wake to a world they knew but could not recognize.
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