War Aeternus 4 Prologue

Book of Lee:

Even after his death, the first man’s lesson’s continued on. His bones decayed, and his flesh joined with the earth, but his teachings did not perish with him. They grew like seeds, being nourished by the fertile thoughts of the successive generations. Sprouting and growing alongside a burgeoning humanity, the teachings branched out and covered the first man’s descendants in a blessed shade, shielding them from the harsh light of the natural world. And though the shade was a comfort to his descendants, it hid the light of truth, and so they made their own sun, building fires out of lies to illuminate themselves with their own nature, substituting the absolute lessons of hunger and need with the aspirations of desire and greed. In this way, man’s wants became his needs, and as they were unique to him, they also became his identity. Society then progressed with men fighting over possession in absence of necessity, hunting the beasts that appeared in the shadows cast by lies instead of the real game that walked in the sun outside of the shade.

Book of Lee, Chapter 1 Vs. !?-??

 


“The boy can heal wounds as if they never existed . . .” Alexander’s voice trailed off as his eyes roamed over the strategy board in front of him. The chess set that typically occupied a prominent spot in his study had been replaced with a different game entirely, and this new board was covered with numerous intricately-carved and numbered wooden pieces whose purpose only Alexander seemed to understand.

Olga held herself at attention, her posture as stiff as a board as she answered. She knew how important it was to maintain a servile pose when delivering such an outlandish and important report, and she wouldn’t dare risk giving the impression that she was lying or challenging the older man in any way. “Yes, sir. I promise . . . I’m not exaggerating. It was a miracle . . . something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.”

Alexander had seen the evidence for himself, but hearing the details in the report was still shocking. Each new element that came to light, each new account of his powers, was a new reason for Alexander to be both shocked and excited.

“Sir . . .” Olga added hesitantly. “I apologize for speaking out of turn, but . . . I must request you don’t interfere with his life. Please. He is a kind and loving man who treats Masha well. I don’t think she’ll ever find a more protective, devoted or gentle partner.”

Alexander couldn’t help but chuckle wryly at her description, and he nodded knowingly to himself. “Protective? Yes, he’s probably that if nothing else. But do you really believe him to be devoted or gentle? A man like him?”

Olga’s brow creased in confusion, but her expression was thankfully lost on her intently focused employer. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand . . .”

Alexander smiled wanly as he picked up one of the strange tablets and moved it to another spot on the board, which he then turned around so that it was facing in the opposite direction. “Yes, I imagine you don’t. I also suppose that, if things had turned out differently, he would have been all three of those things.” Alexander picked up the glass of vodka sitting next to the board and then leaned back in his chair, finally breaking his intense concentration. “But, in his world, the gentle don’t last. For him to be so capable–for him to be alive at all–it means that any kindness or gentleness he might have possessed has been beaten out of him.”

“Sir, do you know what syndicate he worked for? What organization?” Olga unconsciously lifted her head for the first time since she began giving her report. “Perhaps I know someone or have a contact that–”

“I don’t need to know who he works for,” Alexander said, cutting her off before she could continue. He took a long sip from his vodka and then rested his head against the back of his chair, taking a deep breath and sighing heavily before continuing. “I know the world, and that’s all that matters. It is unlike any other, a cruel world that fills its survivors with an insatiable hunger, an appetite that can’t be filled, even when they step out of it . . . It’s a world where the man you described cannot exist.”

“I still–”

“You are dismissed,” Alexander said flatly, cutting her off a second time before taking another healthy sip of his drink. “Your report was thorough, and your services are appreciated.”

“Thank you, sir,” Olga responded. There was no point in continuing her conversation. She had already crossed a line and pushed the boundaries of her position by presuming to make a request of him. Any further, and she would put herself at risk. She hesitated for a moment longer, audibly gulping before turning on her heel, and leaving.

Alexander finished his glass of vodka and let his eyes close. It had been years, but he would never forget a single detail of that place. Even though it had been decades since the day he left, he could still remember it all like it was yesterday. The cacophony of metallic clangs, explosions, cries and shouts that sounded out in one continuous deafening vibration against his ears; the taste of iron and ash that assaulted his nose; and the feel of pain that ripped through him on that day as fear gripped his heart–he remembered the battlefield perfectly. Even in that state of nearly-perpetual abject terror, Alexander had felt alive. He had been addicted to the sense of purpose, the rush of adrenaline, the sense of unity and brotherhood that had held his heart steady through the fear before every charge. There was not a single detail that had faded from his thoughts even as he spent his days in peace, playing politics with children masquerading as adults.

Thinking back to all the conversations he had enjoyed with the young man on whom Olga had just reported, he couldn’t help but sigh. I wonder whose piece you are and what fortunate event has brought you back to this world, to my doorstep and to my daughter, he thought as he moved another piece and turned the board again. “Maybe . . .” he said, starting to think aloud. “Maybe I’ll be able to return home again after all.”

—–

Mary’s face was caught somewhere between a frown and a smile, giving her a surprised, quizzical look. “You’re back.”

Raising an eyebrow as he shifted back into his human form, Augustus responded, “You’re still here . . .”

“Well, your wine is stronger than any I’ve got, and the popcorn tastes sweeter when it isn’t mine,” the Goddess of Blood responded.

“We can both make food appear on a whim, so what type of excuse is that?” Augustus shook his head dismissively. “No, never mind. We don’t have time for this. Get some clothes on; we’re leaving.”
“What are you talking about?” Mary asked, her voice a mixture of confusion and curiosity with a dash of indignation. “I’m wearing clothes!” She stood up and gestured purposefully at the silky, body-hugging red dress she wore that extended an inch past her knees.
“We both know that that so-called dress is just your magic–which is fine–but if you’re going to make an outfit out of magic, make one that won’t vanish the moment you lose concentration.”

“Where are we going?” Mary asked suspiciously. She had spent a lot of time with Augustus lately, ever since finding out his secret, but he had never asked her to travel anywhere with him.

Augustus smiled knowingly, and his voice was slightly eager as he spoke. “We’re going to be late to the council meeting if we dally,” he said.

“I thought we were skipping those. Didn’t you point out that they were a waste of time? And that since they couldn’t do anything to us that there wasn’t a point in showing up?” Despite her protests, Augustus’s tone had already let her know that he was up to something. And that intrigued her. She casually waved her hand, and her beautiful red dress was instantly swapped for a less shiny-looking, less ethereal pair of butt-enhancing jeans and a purple-colored T-shirt that had the phrase ‘There are 32 kinds of people in the world, and one just put a hex on 2.’ A thin layer of makeup appeared on her face next, and in the span of mere seconds, she was ready. A long, body-length mirror appeared midair and hung suspended while she checked out her handiwork. It was perfect, of course, but she made a show of adjusting her hair slightly and preening anyway.

Augustus sighed heavily at the obvious show. The fact that this unquestionably near-perfect-looking woman still went through such silly rituals to humor a strand of vanity that thousands of years of both boredom and godhood had not managed to dampen at all was ridiculous.

“Can you cut me some slack at the meeting? Your teasing about us being in a relationship is gonna kill my chances of a social life after this game,” she groaned. “Everyone hates you so much, and half of the council is ignoring my messages already.”

Augustus couldn’t help but laugh. He liked watching her squirm at his verbal prodding, and aside from making Siegman blow up, toying with Mary was one of the few things he enjoyed during the hours that were required to sit and listen to this group of self-entitled deities jabber about trite, mundane, useless things like whether or not they should tolerate some random political group  or if they should prevent a meteor from destroying all life on a planet–or, in some cases, if they should kill a director before a fifth remake of an already-bland movie could be produced . “No, no, I can’t,” he chuckled.

“Ugh.” She waved her hand with a disgruntled sigh, and the mirror in front of her vanished. “Fine, then. Let’s get this over with. But you could at least tell me whom you met with and what type of news they had that warranted having to deal with such tedious meetings again.”

Augustus pretended to think about it for a moment. Telling her wouldn’t hurt anything, but he knew that he wasn’t going to anyway. She had been loyal so far, although it was likely out of fear, and her Herald had helped his immensely in the last fight. If it weren’t for Jade’s blood golem taking out half of Meadhbh’s army, events likely would have gone in an entirely different direction. But he preferred to keep things to himself. “Not going to.” Augustus shrugged and then morphed into a large parrot that flew up and perched on Mary’s shoulder.

She flinched as Augustus landed and glared at him out of the corner of her eye. “You better not make a mess on me,” she warned. “I don’t care who you are: I will rip your feathers out if you poop on me.”

“Cuuuh-caaaw.” Augustus dragged the syllables out before chuckling and flying off ahead of Mary.

“What the . . .?! Did you?!” Mary checked her shoulder in alarm, fearing that he actually had bird-bombed her. She then chased after the parrot. “Hey! Come back here!”

—–

 

The two were greeted by mostly-solemn faces as they entered the council chamber, although a few of the gathered gods projected vehement repulsion and disdain as if Mary and Augustus had committed the most heinous crime in existence and then spent all day bragging about it.

“Well, that’s a pleasant greeting you folks have prepared,” Augustus remarked glibly. He fluttered over to his normal chair and shifted into the shape of a gigantopithecus before pulling out a drink and setting it on the table.

“We might have prepared a welcome if we had known whether or not you two lovebirds would actually show up to the meeting,” Siegman responded, his voice dripping with more poison than any rogue’s dagger.

Ah, there it is! Proper contempt! Augustus quietly chuckled to himself, flashing his pearly-white ape teeth at the rest of the gods as Mary seated herself beside him. “I miss one meeting, and you act like I’m never going to attend another one,” Augustus replied, shrugging his broad, hairy shoulders. “It was a busy day in the game, and I came close to dying. I needed a mental health day, you know?”

“Yes . . . the game. THE REASON WE HAVE THESE MEETINGS IN THE FIRST PLACE! That game . . . THAT. GAME.” Siegman screamed every word, his voice fortified with rage, and flecks of saliva escaped with each vitriolic syllable, and then he turned slightly derisive as his anger simmered. “You know, the one where your two Heralds are now working side-by-side as if tradition and rules are nonexistent?! Is it not enough that your Herald has now somehow killed three other Heralds despite being in there for such a short period of time? Do you have such little respect for the very glue that holds the foundations of our society together that you not only encourage this behavior, but now also make light of your irresponsibilities?!”

“So, how ‘bout the rest of you folks? Having a nice day?” Augustus looked between Cadwe and Lenfers, making a point of purposefully ignoring Siegman.

“Days dripped by like coffee from the filter . . .” Cadwe shrugged listlessly, his eyes glued to Siegman, anticipating another outburst from the self-appointed leader.

The rest of the gods just looked over at Siegman, their eyes darting between him and Augustus as they likewise waited for the situation to escalate even further. The only one who wasn’t looking at Siegman was Sord, whose long, narrow fingers rhythmically rapped across the table while staring at Augustus with eyes shadowed by his tensed eyebrows.

“That’s good to hear; it’s wonderful actually. I’m telling you: It must be really nice being able to sit back, relax, and not worry about some child of yours getting you killed whenever he walks through the wrong door,” Augustus chuckled.

“Like skipped heartbeats, and shortened breaths, so few are those, expected deaths, that when it comes, before our eyes, it is still in fact, a fresh surprise,” Cadwe mumbled.

“Nice one,” Augustus commented without bothering to decipher whatever Cadwe was rambling about with those bad lines as he thought of a quick dirty joke. “But when writing a joke, you really shouldn’t mix–”

“Fine!” Siegman screeched. He defaulted to his most sententious, holier-than-thou tone as he rose from his chair, visibly trembling with outrage and indignation. “Augustus! If you’re going to act like this, then I’m going to lay down the law! I hereby restrict your Herald from leveling for a month! By the Creator, you will learn to fall in line!”

The rant would have continued unabated, but Augustus suddenly cut him off. The ape-shaped deity stood up and spoke so loudly that his own simian-throated bellowing dwarfed Siegman’s shout. “I motion we vote to replace the current head of these meetings!” he roared. It was the first time that he had ever spoken so purposefully in a meeting, and Mary jerked in her seat as if she were trying to stop herself from falling out of her chair.

“What!? How dare you?! On what grounds do you suggest such a ludicrous action?!” Siegman, even further incensed, shouted back, spittle shooting from between his rage-quivering lips.

“On the basis of a non-participating member of the game attempting to influence or interfere in the actions of a party’s Herald!” Augustus’ voice grew into a roar befitting a Tyrannosaurus Rex than the apelike guise he was currently wearing.

“How dare you! Forget one month! I WILL HAVE TO–”

“BE QUIET!” Augustus slammed the massive table in front of them, his magic and power instantly shattering the doomed bit of furniture into pieces so small an electromagnetic telescope would find it hard to see the result. Augustus had always calmly accepted being the butt of everyone’s jokes at the council meetings. He casually shrugged off insults and made light of accusations, and he even went so far as to occasionally play the role of a helpless wit so that no one would take him seriously. The power that had just atomized a large section of the massive table was so great it would forever shatter their set opinions of him as well.

You may think you’re gods, unrivaled in existence, but your arrogance comes from the fact you have forgotten the other powers. You have forgotten who I am, and you have forgotten the Clockmaker above us.

“Good. That’s right. Silence is all that I expect of you.” Augustus waved a hand and reformed the shattered table exactly as it had been before sitting back down and casually reclining back in his chair. “Now, I don’t think you want me to air your sin, do you?” Augustus asked, affixing Siegman with a level gaze. “I think you will step down on your own and nominate someone else besides your partner in crime, or I will kill you here.”

“That’s . . . You can’t kill anyone! You know the rules! You know the fact we can’t–”

“A deity cannot be harmed unless they interfere in the game. But you already know what happens to those who conspire against another god’s Herald, don’t you? Now, are you going to step down on your own, or do I need to report, in detail, what you did?” Augustus smiled. “Should I report how the man of ‘character,’ ‘tradition’ and ‘upstanding morals’ tried to play Clockmaker in our game?”

Siegman’s face reflected his emotions like a multi-colored strobe, his expressions bouncing between anger and dread without ever settling on a specific shade of red as he panicked, trying to figure out what to do.

“How about you, Sord? Should I tell–” Augustus began, but Sord folded before the thoughts could reach fruition.

“I think Siegman stepping down is only right. It makes sense that one who clearly shows bias against an active participant shouldn’t be in charge of deciding punishments for that participant. The suggestion of blocking leveling is unheard of: it has never been done before. Even if it is possible, the attempted penalty is clearly a violation of our station and place within the world.” Sord spoke with as much dignity and composure as he could likely muster, and when he was finished speaking, he differentially bowed his head.

“That’s right,” Augustus agreed. “That does sound about right. Now, who would like to take Siegman’s place?

“I haven’t resigned yet,” Siegman said, his voice barely more than a whimper.

Augustus snickered. He was enjoying Siegman’s meltdown much more than he thought he would. “Aren’t you going to?”

“I . . . ” Siegman trailed off without ever finishing the thought, his sentence hanging and silence filling in the room.

“I second the motion to have him step down,” Lenfers added. “I would also like to nominate myself for the position in his absence.”

This time, it was Augustus who was shocked. “What?” he said. “You want to–

“Is that a problem?” Lenfers, the God of Architecture, asked. “I see no one else stepping up to the plate.”

There were other gods–some that rarely even participated in the conversation at the table–but Lenfers was indeed the only one who was stepping up to fill the position.

“No, there is nothing wrong. It’s just . . . “ Augustus glanced over at Angelica, the Goddess of Regret and Lee’s grandmother. He had been hoping to nominate her, but she hadn’t said so much as a word. Augustus had always mocked people who hated politicians, saying that, for all of their complaints about how someone else did the job, they rarely wanted the responsibilities for themselves, but now he was in their shoes. He couldn’t volunteer because he was active in an ongoing game, and acting as chair would be considered a conflict of interest. Angelica technically could fill the role, even if Lee was her blood, since he wasn’t her Herald, but now the die was cast. There was no way for him to swing the table to his side after Lenfers had stepped up.

“I second that motion,” Erik, the God of Smells and Spices said. “I sure as heck don’t want to lead these boring meetings.”

“Lenfers seems fair enough,” Sord agreed.

“Well, if no one objects to removing Siegman from leading the meetings or having me be instated, then that should conclude that order of business. We should move on with the meeting,” Lenfers said, smiling in his chair as he twiddled his thumbs.

Augustus sighed. “I suppose it does settle things . . .”

“What just happened?” Mary whispered to Augustus. “What are you talking about? What did Sord and Siegman do?”

“Remember that friend I went to meet?” Augustus whispered back. “Well, she informed me that Siegman used his knowledge as a councilmember to spread information that never should have left his lips.”

Mary scooted in closer, and the two continued talking while the meeting went on in the background. “How did she know?”

“Because the bastard she told didn’t want to use it,” Augustus said. “Things almost turned out quite badly for my poor, little Herald as a result.  I hate the idea of someone messing with Lee.”

“Other than yourself?” Mary tilted her head. “I mean, you lie and mess with him all the time. It’s like your favorite hobby is to regularly torment the poor kid.”

“I do what needs to be done to help him achieve my goals,” Augustus said. “If anyone interferes . . .” Augustus didn’t finish the sentence, he just clenched his fist tightly.

Mary chuckled, grabbing onto his clenched ape fist and clinging onto his arm as she whispered back, “You mean that you love your poor son and don’t want anything bad to happen to him, right? You can lie to others, but you can’t lie to me.”

She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Lee is . . . Augustus just sighed. He had tried to distance himself from the kid when he was young so that Lee’s stand-in father could take his place after Augustus had been shooed off by Angelica, but he had still been there for much of the kid’s life. He hadn’t been able to stop himself from watching every major moment in Lee’s rather bland and normal existence on one of his monitors.

“Hey, cute couple, stop snuggling and pay attention. Lenfers is talking to you,” Erik called out, interrupting Augustus’s musing. “He wants to know if you two are ready to talk about the game.”

Augustus switched his attention back to the council, leaving Mary’s charge unchallenged. “Well, there isn’t much more to say other than the fact that our Heralds took out another Herald, that of the Goddess of Changing Fates.

“Did you see what he saw with the gift left behind?” Lenfers asked.

Meadhbh hadn’t truly been defeated so much as she had committed suicide-by-Lee in order to change the fate of existence. After Lee met Jade, and the two began working together, Meadhbh had singled out Lee and given her life to change his fate. The drastic move had been typical of that goddess, one who lived for the bigger picture, but her sacrifice still had been rather sad to watch. Meadnbh’s death had also taken a toll on Lee. Watching all of her people cut their own throats after their Herald died had been beyond what Lee could have expected from his encounter with the woman, and he had taken several days to process it as he leveled with Jade, trying to bridge the gap between himself and the other Heralds who had a two-month advantage over him in terms of skill and ability.

“I did see what he saw, and I know what made her do what she did,” Augustus answered. “I’m glad you asked . . . but, no, I’m not sharing it with you.” He sighed in an exaggerated manner and stood up, extending his fur-covered arm toward Mary. “I think I’d like to just go talk about it with my honey in our room instead. I hope you don’t mind, but after Siegman’s attempts at ruining my Herald, I feel I need a small break from this meeting.”

“I’m not your . . .” Mary cringed. “I mean, yes, dear, let’s go.”

“You two aren’t excused to leave,” Lenfers said, but Augustus just laughed back at him.

“If we’re not, then maybe I’ll just have to find out how deep Sord’s rabbit hole goes.” Augustus chortled to himself as he escorted Mary out of the room, and no one else objected to his departure.