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The wind billows the gossamer curtains that hang from the rafters so that they swirl around me, as if to enclose me in a sense of security. The play of the light and colors are beautiful, but I simply gaze forlornly at my folded hands as I sit on the edge of the platform, feeling myself detach slowly. In the sand nearby, Vijital and Retz are having a heated argument as Vijital heals Zhjiin’s stomach, but I pay no heed. My focus has shifted inward as I close myself off to the world in which I no longer feel place nor purpose.
“You look like you could use a drink,” Niesha says as she walks over and offers a small cup to me. “It will calm your nerves.”
I look at the cup suspiciously. “What is it?”
“It is based on a human liquor called ‘sahk-eh’, or rice wine. There is a rather tasty blend of honey and spices in this one.”
I study Niesha’s face to see if she has any mischievous intentions, but the offer seems genuine. “Thanks.” I take the cup, smell its contents, and take a hesitant sip.
The spike of chili hits me first but then is immediately soothed by the smoothness and sweetness of honey.
“Wow, that’s really good,” I admit halfheartedly and sip on the rest of the drink.
“Very,” Niesha replies, pleased with my enjoyment, and sits down beside me. “One of my favorites.”
“They will be alright,” Zhjiin tells me with a wince as his wound begins to close. Ul’tain had nearly torn Zhjiin’s stomach open, and the wound is taking longer than expected to heal. “If anyone is going to kill Kira’thaz, it’s those two.”
“...Will they win?” I ask as I inspect my empty cup.
Vijital doesn’t turn from her concentrated efforts as she says, “I don’t know. But no matter what happens, they are going to give him a run for his money.”
“Why hasn’t anyone else fought him?”
Retz fills his tankard with one of the kegs and says, “It’s complicated. The Luciferian government would be considered a miracle, save for the fact of its origin. As violent as demons are, and moreover most beings of the Lower Realms, under Lucifer’s leadership and vision, for a time there was relative peace. But Kira’thaz has manipulated that history and has shifted nearly all institutional and military power to himself. If we fought Kira’thaz in open revolution, resistance against him would be labelled as a danger to the kingdom as a whole.”
As hope for a spontaneous revolt dies within me, I feel my weariness double over. “But what’s the point? Why is Kira’thaz doing this?”
“I think he wishes to replace God in His absence,” Retz replies. “He certainly thinks himself supreme already.”
“Indeed,” Retz says. “Or at least, there was something transcendent that held the world together and gave it order. But it was displaced during the Rending, or rather we from it. Hence, Creation is crumbling apart, slowly but surely,” he finishes as he drains his drink in one pull.
I know the Rending has ravaged most of Earth, but I hadn’t understood that reality itself was slowly being destroyed. “The world is dying, and Kira’thaz can only think about himself,” I say with clenched fists.
Sighing with contentment from his drink, Retz replies, “He doesn’t care. He has total disregard for others and believes himself to be superior to all others. Hence, he is able to justify to himself his horrific and selfish acts. Kira’thaz has distorted what our society once believed in, that power can and should be used responsibly. We collectively trusted Lucifer, but we are becoming Kira’thaz’s slaves.”
“And he is doing so by pitting you against one another?”
Retz nods slowly. “Yes. Fragmenting a political body does make it easier to control. Why kill someone when you can make someone else want to do it? Such is Kira’thaz’s web.”
“So, how do we destroy it?”
Retz laughed heartily. “Boy, if you knew, you would be the king of Hæll.”
My fury deflates into exasperation and back into hopelessness as I gaze out into the illusionary sea surrounding the island. I have been feeling faint rumbles beneath my feet, and smoke is starting to rise from the distant volcano, an umbral column that obscures the sky and hazes the light of the sun into a deep red.
“There’s still beauty,” I marvel. “Even down here.”
“Yes,” Retz agrees somberly. “There is.”
“Zhjiin is healed enough to travel,” Vijital says as she walks away from Zhjiin, though not before smacking him upside the head, to which he growls expletives. She then begins picking up her own gear, a large satchel, heavy cloak, and a large, chained kunai.“I wish I could do more, but we should have left long ago.”
“Alright,” I say say as I pull my cowl and hood back up, and try to breathe through the tension building in my shoulders. “Let’s go.”
As Xanenax and Knel strode through the street toward Solis Umbra, the passersby who didn’t stop to stare in disbelief began running, though Xanenax could not guess where they were running to, as if there were somewhere safe from Kira’thaz’s grasp. Others retreated into their homes. A few who watched the duo pass regarded them with a plethora of emotions: hatred, admiration, disgust, anger, but all with different forms of respect, in recognition of their lethality if nothing else.