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Genesis

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The sky is never so inviting as when she is working – more accurately, when she has just finished working. It is something of a ritual for her roll onto her back and stare wide-eyed up at the great wide blue for so long that the world remains bright even when she scrunches her eyes tightly shut. She thinks sometimes that it might suck her up and away, never to be seen again.

Now, a bead of sweat trickles down her belly and starts a chain reaction of itches. Underneath her, the dust is uncomfortable to lie on, and it will be a pain to brush off before she makes it home. Washing after work always is. She can scrub and scrub until her flesh turns painful pink and she will still feel the dirt, the sweat, the hands of another roaming all over her.

Beside her, her momentary companion is sitting up, pulling fabric back through his legs and around his shoulders, wrapping himself back up in the skin of a man much more noble than his naked self. She remains completely still, ignoring the pile of her own clothes nearby. She is good at staying still. Her breasts are exposed to the sky and her arms are flung wide as though she welcomes the heavens to her. The sweat inches lower. It still tickles.

When the man is fully dressed, he makes to leave without paying her. She clears her throat so loudly it hurts and she can see from the corner of her eye that he freezes, an animal trapped by a sudden flood of lantern-light. He fumbles inside his clothes and throws three coins her way. They hit the ground – thud thump clink – somewhere near her head and then he is gone, gone, and she is staring at the sky and the peaks of the mountains and wondering what life is like elsewhere.

*

“I wish my hair was the colour of sunshine.”

Her hair is long and thick and black and tangles easily when she forgets to pin it up. It is honestly a nuisance: even a single escaped strand tickles infuriatingly, and she is usually careless when tying it back, which often leaves many strands free to infuriate her. When she is pretending not to be a whore she is too polite to untie and retie it where everyone can see.

“But it is so beautiful, sister! Everyone wishes they could have hair like yours.”

A slighter girl sits behind her, watching as she brushes the kinks free. More than once she has reached forward to comb her own fingers through it, tangling it up again so that she can watch the work endlessly. “I wish I did,” she adds as she messes it for the sixteenth time, and her older sister laughs.

“Have you heard about the kingdom-over-the-sea? The men and women there have hair like gold.”

She stands abruptly and turns so that the smaller girl has to snatch her hands back or be caught in the tangles. Her eyes look like they are burning. This is a look she wears often, and well: it is the look she wears when she talks about the sky or the mountains or places far from home. It suits her. It scares her sister. “The colour of gold, and eyes that are blue like the ocean or green like the grass. Wouldn't you love to be like that? A crown on your head no matter your birth, and jewels for eyes.”

She often speaks like this, passionate and ferocious enough that it would not be a surprise to wake up and discover her gone, off to live and rule in one of those foreign lands. That thought is enough to bring her sister to tears, but rarely does she protest.

“The women have breasts big as melons, and the men have thighs bigger and meatier than your waist. Just think of what they could do with their hips-!” and she grabs the younger girl, pulls her up by the arms, and laughs. It is a manic sound, one she does not make when their parents are home, but it suits her better than words do. Her sister giggles, breathless, because it is the only thing she is able to do. These men and women sound like monsters, but they have stolen her sister's heart, and she can do nothing to get it back. She lets herself be handled roughly, thrown about the room, and wonders when will she be gone for good?

*

The men try to kiss her, but she always turns her face. Their breath is sour, stale, disgusting. She wants no part of that. She is happy to sit atop them or lie beneath them and let them have their way with her, but she wants nothing of true intimacy. That is beneath her. She gives what she has for coin, but her feelings cannot be bought. No man would understand them, so they do not have a price.

Instead she listens to the air that comes screaming down from Mt. Hobbs, revels in the way it makes her break out in gooseflesh. It stings when she draws it into herself, but it smells sweeter than even Fabul's rarest flowers, and she delights in it. When it is at its fiercest, she imagines herself taking its place: cold, fast, furious, able to do and go as she pleases. It helps her forget the rest of the world.

*

The kingdom-over-the-sea has a name that she forgets too often, and an army that she hears of with increasing frequency. She is poor and dirty from her time rolling in the dirt with desperate men, and it takes her a while to shove her way through the crowd in town. There is news. A fleet of ships is coming, she hears. Men as tall as trees with monstrously pale skin and hair like straw are coming to torch their homes and rape their women. Sailors are being given swords in case they are boarded by foreign pirates, and the king is asking for men to swear oaths to him, to the land, to Leonheart's sword.

“We will smash the ships and their heads when they come ashore,” he proclaims, and there are cheers from all. The men around her do not see her, see only the promise of glory, of a chance to prove themselves. The women egg them on. She does not think it will be as easy a task as they think it is.

The market is crowded as she pushes her way out, and no one is paying attention to deft hands taking pouches hanging out of shirts. She stuffs the purses inside her own clothes, finds a bucket of water to clean herself with, and goes home to tell her parents.

*

The first ships are sighted, and Fabul hurls rocks and flame at them before they have a chance to reach the shore. She watches the whole thing play out from atop a crag three miles from her home, safe and secure in the mountain's bosom. Sails burn bright orange, wood splinters so loudly that she can hear the cracking from here, and the few that were not hit sail away. She goes home and fucks a man who pays her three times as well for their good fortune. She does not know that her parents are home, and they hear the noises. They throw her out, but not before they take her earnings. There is screaming, there is shouting, there are angry, sullen tears. She leaves.

*

Night falls. The ships return. The men are too drunk on joy and shochu to fight well, and the women are useless. It isn't long before the entire village is set to the torch. She watches from her crag, and shivers as the wind howls around her. She fancies it her second voice.

When the castle realises, it is too late for them. The torch in one of the towers is lit, burning its message of danger, intruders to the rest of the land, though it is likely too late. She wonders what is happening. The king might escape, or he might not, or the court wizard might sink a knife into his back and hide until the danger is passed for good. She thinks of this all night; the air is too cold to let her sleep. When day comes creeping over the horizon, she picks her way back down to what used to be her home. Half of it is collapsed, and there are no soldiers, familiar or otherwise. Only burnt bodies and broken homes remain.

She picks her way through the worst of it and makes her way to the castle.

*

More people survived than she thought possible, and they are all crowded into the King's hall like this place alone is impenetrable. All the faces are worn or terrified, and only one is familiar. She stands ten paces from her father and makes sure he is aware that she is not looking at him. He tries to call out to her, but the people clamour loud enough that she can pretend not to hear him. They are yelling for safety, for food, for healing. When the king finally makes his way to them, he pretends not to hear what they are asking for.

Other villages are suffering the same fate, he announces. More ships are coming, and the fleet that remains are out of reach of their catapults. He says, it will not be long before they have the strength to throw themselves at the castle. He says, if they take the castle then they might as well have the world. He says, will anyone step forward and fight for Fabul? They have one last chance that might push the sailors back and away for good, that it will mean binding a soul to their Crystal, that it will mean glory, honour, their name remembered for centuries.

The room is silent, and very still.

“I will do it,” says Barbariccia.

*

When she wakes, she is nothing like she was before. Her fingers are elegantly curved into talons, and her mouth is filled with fangs. She sees everything, hears everything, and at last she can throw herself into the skies like she's always dreamed of doing. The air is sharp and cold and one with her, propelling her about quicker than she's ever moved before. From so high, the castle seems little more than an insignificant speck. The mountains are more numerous than she could have ever imagined, the forests denser than they seemed on the ground, the ocean dark and almost alive. Her golden hair streams out behind her when she dives to investigate. Ships rest on the waves and stink different to the junks she is used to. She thinks it is the bodies on board, the ones that are built so differently from the men that she knows, but she is disappointed when she boards them. Not all of the men have yellow hair, most of them have big noses and small eyes, and none of them are as attractive as she thought they would be. She reaches for them, and feels their skin give under her new fingertips.

*

If it were up to her, she would not return to the castle at all, but there is magic thrumming under her skin that compels her to move. Fabul greets her and her gory crown with expressions of disgust and fear. She is a messy killer, and does not know whether she wants to learn to get better. Out of habit, she wipes her wrist across her mouth, and smears foreign blood over her cheeks and into the cracks of her lips. She lands, graceful, and does not miss the way the King bows to her. She likes that.

“We cannot thank you enough,” the King says, but she thinks quite the opposite. Already she misses the feeling of flight. Some official in grander clothes than she has ever worn before helps a scruffy man to the dais where she stands, and he gapes at her.

“My daughter...”

“I am not your daughter,” she cuts him off, sharp as biting gales. The man says nothing more, merely lowers his head. She puts him from mind. There is work to be done: the King asks her what she can do, whether she can see elsewhere without moving, whether she can do it now. She turns her eyes away and finds that she can see the whole wide world. Something inside her tightens, and it is the best thing she has ever felt.

*

Her exuberance turns quickly into a boredom that lasts for months. She turns men to stone on the king's orders, and gouges out the eyes of the ones that are left, and wishes for flight once more. Her summoner binds her to the ground so she cannot escape, but forgets to forbid her from slaughtering her people as they sleep. She leaves a castle full of dead men behind, and takes to the skies, free.

 


 

The deserts of Damcyan are much more than swathes of sand, far as the eye can see. Here there is an oasis large enough to support life; there there are patches of prickly plants stretching toward the sun. The wiseman ignores both and sets up his life at the base of rocks that jut up like they reach for the moon, almost always visible during the day. There is shade enough for him to keep from burning, water at the base of the rocks so long as he digs deep enough, and space between himself and the oasis people that they do not bother him the moment he wakes. It isn't long before news reaches Kaipo and the people talk of this new mystery. No one knows where he came from, and no one knows his name. No one asks questions. The wiseman sets up fabrics, pillows, everything he needs to live, and makes the rock his home. He grinds herbs and spices and sorts them into pouches and can tell one from another by smell alone.

*

To the people that speak of endless troubles, he gives rosin rose. When people approach looking ashamed and say in hushed tones that they cannot go, he grinds lion's tooth and tells them to stir it into water. Those with deep dark circles under their eyes are given heal-all. The oasis people knew of him before he started healing, but only now does word spread far and wide, and soon he is treating more people a day than he has fingers on his hands. He does not mind. Not once does he complain, even though he is often kept working even after the sun has sunk below the horizon.

*

“Please, wiseman. My wife is in pain. You must help her.”

There is no time for questions like how and why. He packs his things and follows the man away from his rock to town. The back of his neck is uncomfortably warm by the time they reach the house, but he does not ask for even a wet cloth to soothe the burn. Instead, he commands to be brought before the woman, and finds her to be dying. He kneels and clasps her hand.

“Is that the wiseman?”

“I am here,” he says, and the woman smiles through the pain. “I have brought incensier. It will help.”

It will do no such thing, but she does not know that. He takes the oil that has taken such a long time to prepare and rubs it into the woman's shoulders and neck. It smells good, and she smiles again when his work is done. He packs his stuff up once more and walks the long walk back to his rock, this time alone. She will be dead within the week.

*

Four days after he wasted his oil, he wakes to find wilting flowers at the entrance of his tent. They make a small bunch, but are carefully picked: elderflowers, for humility; periwinkles, for memory; xeranthemums, for eternity. He wonders why the people do not have the courage to use words to thank him for his work, and puts them aside to use as kindling.

*

The war comes to his attention when he is visited by a woman with lighter skin and wilder hair than he is used to seeing. She comes from the valley in the mountains to the south, and word has spread of his skills far enough that he first thinks he will be forced into serving all manner of men. Instead she praises his work, and asks him to move away with her. She says there are people to the south that need his help more than the oasis village does. She tells him of the men with swords and spears that want to demonstrate their growing power to the rest of the world, and when he does not respond, reminds him that every man that lives in the noble kingdom of Damcyan is indebted to the crown.

He is not from the desert, and neither is she. “You do not serve the king,” he states plainly. She has been touched by the Feymarch: it shows in her hair, in her eyes, in the way she has made the journey without a weapon. The King does not rule over the women who summon spirits.

“I do not, but that will not stop the southerners marching north and taking this land. Do you think you will escape them? They will take Kaipo, and they will take you unless you help their men.”

He does not say if he will help the King or not. When she tries to leave, he hands her a poultice of trillium. "For the insect bites," he says.

*

Mist seems as first like it is the perfect barrier against the army, but as the weeks pass the villagers bring him stories of the battles being fought and the wounds being won. The war is inching forward with every day, and soon Kaipo is involved. The men of the village leave to set up their own barriers in the desert, to fight battles that the callers have lost, and the wiseman leaves his rock to live amongst the people. He asks for nothing, is given nothing, makes his own place in the street. He sees the wounds for himself. Soldiers that make it back to the oasis are treated, though not all can be helped. One man has an arrow removed from his shoulder, and it will be months until he can move the arm without pain. The wiseman is lauded as a hero.

*

He cauterizes his first stump without feeling anything in particular. A man once told him that burning flesh stank and turned the stomach; he wasn't wrong, but where he had been expecting revulsion, there was nothing. His patient screams the whole time. He holds his nose and ties cotton around the stub of limb when everything is done. He makes mago tea to stop the screaming, and when he washes his hands he smiles. This is what he was born to do.

*

Mist stays standing because the callers let the army through. He does not blame them, but the rest of the kingdom does not see the situation from his perspective. Migrants from the valley, easy to spot with their fairer skin, stay indoors and silent. The village becomes emptier every day, though to the best of his knowledge there are over a hundred people living there.

He decides for the first time to take initiative. When the sky is dark and the air is cool, he goes to one new family. He is ushered in with whispers and furtive looks backwards, as though he is doing them a disservice, and he finds the family sickly with stress. Instead of pressing medicine on them, he asks for heir story. They do not give him one. They tell him instead how to make a beast, and plead with him to pass the method on to the king, and he says he will.

He packs his things, and sets off for the castle.

*

"Are you sure this will work, wiseman?"

“The callers do not lie. All they ask for is a willing participant.”

*

At first, he is not willing, but then the king and all the king's men ask, and he cannot refuse. He serves the people. He has always served the people, but he has never served a master before. A caller is summoned, and when she arrives she announces breathlessly that they could have taken less time were it not for the army's nearby encampment. They have been stealthy, and it was only the flapping of flags, white and yellow and bearing gryphons, that gave them away.

This caller is more familiar than the first that visited him. He already knows what is happening: his soul is to be sealed into the Crystal, untouchable unless the rock itself shatters, and he will be born anew, but she tells him again anyway. She takes his hands and stares into his eyes as she asks him what he would like to be remembered as until the end of days. Her eyes are made of fire.

He says, “Rubicante.”

*

When he is done, nothing remains of the gryphon-bearing men but ash. The king thanks him when he returns and bends his knee, now joyless. It occurs to him that he is now the opposite of all he has ever worked towards, and that he will never again work among plants and potions. He feels oddly bereft.

His callers are kind, and put him to rest for a while. When he next wakes, decades have passed, and the war is over. He is woken now to scan the skies for a beast like him. Time has passed, and the world has not changed. He does his duty.

*

The beast appears before him when the castle is asleep. Something in her manner stops him from calling for the guard, as duty calls for. She is like him. When she talks, he hears the wind.

“I could set you free,” she says. He does not respond. If she is worthy, she will know his silence does not mean dismissal. That is something the humans still do not know. “You are tired, but you do not rest. I watched them put you to sleep. I watched them wake you.”

Her very essence is restless. Her hair is a being of its own and her claws flex slowly, ready for anything. Her eyes are the only still thing about her. They hold his gaze, steady and unblinking.

“I could set you free.”

 


 

The world is made of men more honest than he is. He smokes, and when he does not smoke, he chews the tobacco that he picks from his own fields. Some days he strikes his wife, but never hard, and he always apologises when the sun is low in the sky. He does not think she forgives him, but she never says otherwise, and besides, she has nowhere else to go.

*

Every year brings another hardship. His woman grows ever more sullen. Their son dies. Their crops fail to yield enough to keep them well-stocked through the winter. His back becomes more and more crooked, until one day he realises he cannot stand up straight. When the nights are cold, his knees and hands twinge.

To his credit, he does not complain. He cannot change the flow of time, and there is nothing to gain from raging at his age. Others suffer too. His wife is going grey and has wrinkles around her eyes that did not exist ten years ago. She has suffered much more than he has and now exists as a dour old thing, ugly and unintelligent. He cannot remember the last time he bedded her, or the last time he wanted to bed her.

Some nights he does not sleep soundly. He listens to his wife's steady breaths, watches a spider spin its web by moonlight, and remembers the days when he could still stand tall. They were not better times. He was poorer, stupider, hungrier.

*

News travels slowly, but always reaches them eventually, and it is rarely good. His life is one entirely apart from the politics of other nations. Wars are won and lost and treaties made and broken time and time again, but here the sun remains warm, the rains stay regular, and the Crystal continues to bless them with fertile earth.

*

"Heard next year will be difficult."

He does not look up from his ale. He did not come to the tavern to be bothered, but being old only seems to attract unwanted attention. People beg him for stories that he does not want to give, and offer help that he does not need.

“From who?”

“Th'Epopts.”

He spits bright red, and not all of it is tobacco. He wonders how long he has until his teeth must go. Eight women that do not work the fields seem to think themselves experts on all sorts of matters, claiming their faith guides them. It's mostly wives and daughters that believe them.

“So long as the Crystal stands, we've nothing to fear.”

*

Whatever the Epopts subscribe to, it informs them correctly. They warn the peasants that the earth will move come early winter, and it shifts so violently that the earth itself splits. The sea fills in the gap soon enough, and the land gets just a little colder, but they learn to live with it. They say the new year will bring a change in the wind and the water, and when the time comes to plant again the farmers find the earth still frozen solid. It has never been like this before, and the farmers are all late in planting their crops. They think that in a week the land will be soft enough to plant, and they are wrong. They have never been wrong before.

*

Troia changes. Villages become towns become one big sprawling city with a palace at its centre, big enough for eight women to live in with room left over. One by one, the men begin to leave. There is good game to be found in the woods, better fortunes to be found across the sea. Smaller villages are founded nearby and population begins anew. Life goes on, a little harder every year. The city gets bigger, the people hungrier. His wife grows frail.

*

When famine hits, no one knows who to blame. Some point their fingers at the holy women, who simply accept the blame without owning up to anything or giving their people a solution. News reaches them in hushed tones of villages burnt to the ground, their peoples eaten. The city does not reach the point of slaughter, but he thinks he sees less familiar faces when he goes drinking. It does not make sense: the Crystal has always seen them healthy and hale, and its light is shining no less brightly now. People start pointing their fingers in every direction, desperate for a victim. The Epopts are blamed the loudest, but other voices mention the far-off wars, the callers, the very moon in the sky. He sups what beer he is allowed and spits red and thinks that the whole world ending is just his luck.

*

When his wife dies, he feels nothing. He expected guilt would take him over, thought he would drink himself even more senseless than usual knowing that he had ignored her for so long, that he had not loved her for longer. Anger would have been acceptable, too, a quiet rage that he was to spend the rest of his days without someone to care for him. He did not expect nothing. He does not ask for help, but men still come around to help wrap and bury her. He thanks and pays them for their troubles, and prepares himself for solitude. His neighbours think him grieving and leave him to his sorrow, and he thinks life would be better if that were true. A week passes, and he speaks to no one. The silence is a comfort. A month, and he overhears grumbling that he is too distant, too removed from the community. There is no call for him to change himself now, and he keeps drinking.

*

The Epopts say that there is a way to heal the land. The people hear that they can give their life for everyone else's, that they will never again know the joy of the earth underfoot or the sweet, fresh air, but it is worth it to keep their families safe and happy and full. No one believes this. The priestesses predicted their hunger, but it has been more than a year since the worst began and they are not to be trusted if they can see terrible things but do nothing to stop them. It takes a little time to put his things in order, but Scarmiglione rides a chocobo to the castle that has yet finished being built and offers himself up. No one will miss him, and he will come back greater than he left.

*

The Epopts lied. He is not surprised by this, but he is still angry - so angry that he tears off his cloak and sinks his rotting fists into the earth. The priestesses are more talented than they had ever let on: they shoot magic his way that burns bright white and burns, but he ignores his pain in favour of making the ground swallow them whole. When he is sure they will not return, he checks himself over. Where their magic touched, his skin has opened into ugly gaping wounds that stink. He does not mind the smell. He still cannot walk easily; his back is permanently bent now, his legs set awkwardly, and bits of him feel as though they might fall off at any point.

The ones who made him are dead, and their demands with them. He no longer cares for the health of the land. Troia's people can rot. There is a sea for him to cross, and a whole new world for him to discover.

 


 

By no means is he the last to know of the world's troubles, nor the first tempted to ignore them. Responsibility is a heavy burden, and as king he cannot pawn it off on another. There are rules that one must keep to if they are to be the best at what they do, and as far as he knows, he is the best king the world has ever known. His people fish and farm and keep themselves safe, but they do not live in isolation from the rest of the world. They hear the news, as does he. It scares them. It scares him.

*

The three beasts that ravage the world have no end to the amount of destruction they want to wreak, and he still does not know where they come from. It troubles him more than he cares to admit. If the reports are true then they crackle with magic, and that could mean any number of things. Perhaps there are mages elsewhere that they have allied with that grant them extra strength. Perhaps there are mages here that have dealt with them. Without knowledge, he has no power, and nothing to tell his people. They deserve the truth, but a different truth than the ones they already know.

*

"They are at Eblan now, your grace," a vizier tells him. "Our land is safe for now, but we cannot be sure our luck will hold.”

The world has dubbed them archfiends. They fight their way across the earth as though fighting is everything they've ever known. Whatever they actually are, whether they are creatures made by magic or some new breed of beast, they are terrible. They tear through the skies like loosed arrows, burning and rotting what things they stop to demolish in full. They are a danger, and more than one nation has been devastated by them. No matter whom they fight, they win. The greater nations have had their walls smashed and their people scattered, but they have survived. Smaller villages have simply disappeared. If they are at Eblan now then they have conquered the west, and there is no reason to doubt that their next target will be Mysidia.

"What do you propose?"

*

Eblan falls. The news arrives alongside assurances that they will be able to rebuild, given time, and that they remain the faithful allies of the coastal mages. Mysidia will take all the help it can get.

*

To everyone's surprise, the fiends stay well away from their coast. The king thinks he sees a glimmer of gold in the skies one day, streaking toward the great mountain to the east, but the fear is never given form. The people stay quiet, cowed into near-silence by the mere thought of the beasts, and the magics they use are used only when necessary by royal decree. The king is no Minh, able to shutter their world away with a word, but his word is law, and not one person complains when he wields it strictly. They are safe, but not forever. He must think of a plan.

*

Messages are sent to the rest of the world, to discover how the beasts came to be. Every day is fraught with worry until the answers return, and he is disgusted. Calling beasts from the underworld is one thing and constructing machines is another, but transforming the soul is unjust in every sense of the word. He thinks that Fabul and Damcyan and Troia deserve the fates they were given, and that Mist ought to be cursed for eternity for what they have set upon the world. He says so to his viziers, and they agree, and still he does not know what to do.

Sleepless night and restless days spur him to the only conclusion he thinks might work: becoming one of them. If he gives up his body and tears them apart, the world will be safe once more. It is not a task he could accomplish now: his spells are weak and his flesh is soft. The very idea sickens him, for he loves this world and his land and his people, but Mysidia must stay strong, and the beasts must go.

*

He leaves instructions behind. His estate is to be split between the two relatives that remain to him, and aid to be given to any who ask for it. The next king will be Graffiacane, the brother that always wished for his life, and as he passes on the crown he hopes he is not making a terrible choice. He kisses the forehead of Alichino, the niece that always asked to ride on his shoulders as a child, and goes to face his people. He is an honest man and tells them what is to happen, for there is no reason why they should be left in the dark. He asks them not to forget the man that stands before them now.

*

He is Cagnazzo, King Beneath the Waves. He is the Water Crystal, and it is him. The world has never been so clear before. He can smell salt and taste the brine of the sea, and he waddles like he was never made for land. He tells his court in guttural, rolling words that make him think of waves that the summoner is to be protected. If he falls, she will be the last hope of restraining the beasts. The caller reassures him that once the job is done, he will be put to rest.

"I feel them coming," he says, and knows they never approached before because he did not exist until now.

*

Lightning strikes the surface of his water and forces him to take form once more. Gas threatens to choke him as he draws breath to scream. His world is smoke and smog and a neat ring of heat around him that stops him from fleeing. What fresh air he can smell is acrid and burns his throat, and his ears ring from the harsh sound of a woman's shrieking laughter. They hold him there until he gives in, weak man that he is, and cries for mercy. He is made to watch as the cruellest ones destroy his town, but not his castle. They take him there once their work is done, parade him through rooms he once knew, and show him the cut throats of Graffiacane and Alichino.

“This is man's work,” the hideous one says, and he knows the words to be true. It is no effort to raise the sea and flood the land, but once the water recedes he is filled with shame. He is mocked for it, and the shame is replaced with anger once more. It is easier to hate than to be guilty.

 


 

They band together and roam the world, looking for a place to call their own. Day and night blend into a single continuity. They hunt, they kill, they doze. Sometimes they are come across by men, and the men are slain. They curse the world together and take comfort in the fact they are broken, but not alone. The callers that made them are long dead, and the art that made them is forgotten. In time, they are forgotten, hidden away with only themselves for company. The legend that they were peters out, and the world does not know the word archfiend for a long, long time.

*

Troia's famine passes. Mysidia rebuilds. Fabul vows to never again use magic. Damcyan makes peace with the southern kingdom. Baron covets the Crystals.

*

The moon is full and high in the sky when they are called again. This time there is no woman with wild hair commanding them, just a voice in their heads that whispers of greatness and a future that belongs to them.

"I will give the wind stronger breath," it says.

"I will make the seas deeper and darker," it says.

“I will let the fire teach the world to be brave," it says.

"I will raze the land and rid it of people," it says.

All they must do is look for a child.

*

The child stands as though deaf and dumb, and they are less than impressed. The world's future hangs on this tiny piece of meat, and though the voice in their heads is persuasive, it does not seem like he will be able to herald in a new day, let alone a new age. Barbariccia threatens to pull out the boy's eyes to see if he flinches, but a burning hand on her wrist stops her before she carries it out. The boy does not seem to hear her at all, and despite herself, she is impressed. Cagnazzo says they should turn him into a king, for it is the only power the world will recognise. Scarmiglione says that human powers are beneath them and that the only strength that matters is their responsibility to give. Rubicante says nothing. Zemus speaks loud and clear, and a single word chases all thoughts of doing what they want with the boy from their minds.

*

The boy grows. They name him Golbez. He learns to call from their clumsy tuition, and he keeps a dragon at his side as a constant companion. His shoulders get wider and his back gets taller. They think one day he might lay them to rest. They hope. They hope.