The decay of society has put one teen in a battle for the soul of everyone.
“...This leaves us with a cruel and joyous fate. What is this fate, you ask? Volition. No longer will sovereignty dictate the outcome of our existence. Free from the chains of this most unyielding taskmaster, today, we must take responsibility for our own lives, and our own destinies. You are now bestowed the power that obligation robbed from you. From this day forward, formed by the trials of choice, our souls will overcome, and be their own Way. With God’s wrath never serving justice and evil being allowed to prevail under the guise of forgiveness, we are left with this one singular reality, God is dead.”
- The Grand Decree
“Some things must die, for others to grow.” Nero murmured to himself.
The old library was deep within the gray chasm, taking him several hours to descend it’s stone staircase. Old books were covered in dust, littered across the floor and stacked haphazardly on wooden shelves. The smell of musty paper and rotting wood filled his nostrils with every breath.
It had been too long since any scribe had studied The Burials. The idea that large evil beasts were buried in caverness tombs, all across the Galaxy, was a bit much for any reasonable person to believe.
A small oil lamp is all the pale man had to light the dark room. It provided him just enough light for him place the books one by one under it’s glow, allowing him to discern any legible titles. The small sensitive light would flicker with the slightest of breezes. He had to be careful with his movements, too fast and he would blow the flame right out. Nero didn’t want to light a stick around so much dry paper. The results would greatly hinder the task at hand.
The books were made of old parchment and leather. Age had been too hard on the old records. With a gentle grip, the old man would pick up each book and then slowly and carefully place it under the lamp. He dared not damage such significant writings. Tearing a book could mean days of transcription and interpretation in order to piece together the fragile paper.
All these books had been written by the first Scribes during the first Prophetic Reign. The names of the scribes were never told to the masses, out of fear that someone might try bribe them, in hopes of changing the public’s view of history. A whole family's legacy could be transformed overnight creating immense wealth or deep poverty, all with a couple strokes of their pens. And these old books contained some the powerful and darkest family histories ever written.
Nero paused under the lamp’s glow. After a few hours of rifling through the old dusty pages he may have found what he was looking for. He opened the book and began reading through some selected pages.Old star maps, some cryptic language, and then, there it was, a burial list.
The book’s list contained family surnames, lineages, and religious beliefs, but not what he was looking for. The man’s aged fingers closed the book and gently placed it on to the small circular table. There were so many books and scrolls it would take him days to find what he was looking for. But if the Lord had told him to search until he found it, then that is what he would do.
Where could the list be?
Interruptions had always frustrated him, but the visions were worse than that, they were torment. First they were dreams, small dreams, but now they were pushing their way into his everyday life. In the beginning, a slight smell or glance of a room is all they were, but now they were growing into whole conversations, with names and locations. Shadows would dart past the corner of his eye, leaving giggles and perfume to disrupt his thoughts. At times he would get so lost in the vision, that he could swear he was the young boy himself.
So this is how it works.
“Sir.” the guard said snapping to attention, “the Insurgency has struck again. The Consilium is requesting your presence.”
Amator remained silent, staring at his reflection in the glass window. His white robe hung loose on his body, covering his feet and lightly touched the ground. For countless centuries the Prophets had graced this same outfit. Made of the finest ovis wool and crafted to his exact measurements, it was something to admire.
Through his image and twelve stories down, the citizens could be seen living out their short pointless existence, unaware that their future was about be decided by five people who couldn’t care less whether they lived or died.
“Sir.” the guard repeated, “The Consilium…”
The guard nodded in acknowledgement and marched back to his post. The Imperium was full of half-wits, but useful half-wits.
“...and he will purify you with fire.” Amator whispered under his breath.
Summer break was coming soon, creating jitters in all the bored students. Every year they would have a small party to celebrate the accomplishments of the graduating students. Then, a few weeks later, school would let out, releasing hundreds of kids to run down old dirt roads, aggravate neighbors, mess with livestock and test their physical boundaries.
The bright sun hung high above planet Sola, warming Joel’s face. He had always loved summer. The trees tossing around in the wind, the birds singing their choruses of joy, and all of this while the grass tickled the bottom of his feet. But, hopefully this summer would be very different.
All night, he had been tossed and turned on his bed, by his restless mind. Trying to fasten words to his tongue had proved to be useless. Nothing seemed to give justice to his feelings. No sentence, noun, or verb could properly describe his newly blossomed emotions.
Her friendship was important to him, but was it more? His heart longed for it to be more. Images of the sun sparkling off her emerald green eyes danced through his thoughts. The subtle curves of her body fed his hormones. One more sleep, is what he kept reminding himself. One more night. But now sleep was over, and day had risen, bringing with it nervous tension. He would have to brave several hours of class lectures, a messy lunchroom, a painful gym class and then finally home room, before his talk.
The hallway was a mass of bustling students clamoring for books and pens. The usual smells of student cologne, mixed with body odor and chem lab wafted through the air. The clustered hallway never really bothered him, he had always to spent so much time inside his head, that he would to lose track of his surroundings. Every so often Joel bumped into another student, forcing half-hearted apologies and courteous nods. This was routine for the blonde teen; bump, apologise, and nod, very simple. Even though the occasional stop-and-nod slowed him down, it didn’t stop him, plus, every morning he passed by Ashley’s locker, which meant a brief smile and a gentle touch on the arm. All he ever really needed.
Bodies shuffled around the slender boy as he approached Ashley’s locker. Red auburn hair tousled in the air as she continued a conversation with some other student. He knew what he wanted to talk about, just not exactly how to say it. Though, his imagination was strong, it was reality that tended to evade him.
Every possible outcome raced through his vivid mind. One, Ashley yells at him and gags loudly. Two, Ashley screams with joy and then they get married. Three, Ashley says no and kisses the nearest boy. Joel’s attempts at preparing for all of the options was proving useless. He would just have to do it and see what happened.
“Hey! Joel.” Ashley chimed, greeting him with a smile. “Horis and I were just talking about you.
Option three... Joel thought to himself.
“Really?” Joel sheepishly adjusted his pack preparing for the hurt.
“He asked if you could help with his reading class.” Ashley continued, “Everyone is shocked how much you can remember after just one reading. I heard the teachers have been talking about you, too.”
“Oh,” he sighed in relief, “Sure, I’ll see what I can do. But to be honest, I’m not even sure how I do it. It just kind of comes naturally.”
Ashley giggled the perfect laugh, or at least Joel thought it was.
“Seriously? I know how you do it. It’s that brain of yours, you never turn it off.” Ashley chuckled again.
She complimented me! Joel’s mind leaped inside his head. He thanked her calmly, trying not to show his excitement. Maybe she’ll say, yes?
“Don’t you need to go to your locker?” Ashley asked her lingering friend.
“Yeah, I guess.” Joel moaned, “Hey, can we talk about something during home room?”
“No,” Ashley teased, “Of course we can. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Ha, yeah I guess so.” a flustered Joel answered. “I have to go. I’ll see you at home room. Ok?”
“Go.” Ashley laughed again, shoving him into the stream of hurried students.
Joel slid into his first class with just enough time to get his cubix out and plug it into its receiver. The blue memory cube projected an eye level hologram above his desk. It immediately glowed the same translucent blue as the cubix, signally his desk and cubix had synced properly. His finger poked through the image, as he selected the previous night’s homework. Files rolled across the holographic image, as it searched for relevant files, then it stopped, blinked and finished.
Religious Studies wasn’t his best subject, but who cared, he wasn’t even sure if a God existed. He had put very little effort into last night’s homework, muddying it with vague references to God and The Way. Belief in something as foolish as God, frustrated the teen. Every week his mom and dad drug him to the Gathering, forcing him to endure horrible catechisms and liturgy, as the words drummed upon his forehead.
“Good morning students!” Mr. Donovan shouted as he entered the classroom. He was definitely a morning person, much to the disapproval the tired teens. “If you would, please send me last night’s homework and we’ll get started.”
Fingers began poking through holograms as the students flicked their wrists, sending everyone’s school work to Mr. Donovan’s cubix. Others moaned as they closed out of games, and finished conversations. Others woke from their short naps, hoping school was a just a dream and they were actually still at home in bed. A few short seconds in and a list of student names started organizing above the teachers desk, putting them in alphabetical order.
Joel saw his last name followed by his first, scroll across the screen with the others. He wondered what Ashley was doing. Images of her sitting upright in her chair, punctual as usual, with her homework done, and pen ready. Her smile was imprinted on his mind, causing him to drift off for a moment.
“Ok, lets pray.” Mr. Donovan announced to his class.
More moans of disgust echoed off the students as they bowed their heads.
“God, we thank you for your faithfulness and goodness.” Mr. Donovan started in to his opening prayer.
Joel knew the prayer was going to take awhile, so he just let his mind continue wandering around the room a moment longer. The small classroom held twenty students, from two separate grades. Opened windows creaked with the gentle breeze, calming those who listened. The warm sun crept in through the glass pane, lighting the far side of the class and putting the other side under a shadow. A flat cubix display stretched the length of the room, covering the front wall behind Mr. Donovan.
Restless teens messed with their desk and pencils, while waiting for Mr. Donovan to end his prayer. Their minds were much like Joel’s, wondering about summer, relationships, and reckless nights.
Since they weren’t allowed to wear anything displaying wealth or status, each kid wore basic clothing and colors, but still trying to appear affluent. Boys wore their dark blue pants and white shirts. They had discovered that the tighter the shirt, the more the young girls would stare at them, so some of them had taken to ordering the smallest size they could find and buttoned it close to their bodies. Girls wore light or dark blue skirts, with white blouses. Some of them pulled their skirts up too high tucking the top of their skirts under their blouses, while showing too much else where. Every so often teachers would take notice and yell at a couple of students here and there, but most of the smarter ones got away with their clothes, so long as they behaved.
“...as we follow you. God’s truth to our ears.” Mr. Donovan finished snapping Joel’s mind back into reality.
Mr. Donovan was a genuinely nice teacher who always tried to help the students when they needed it. He had several degrees, two of them being in Religious Studies and Species Social Development. Watching young minds grapple with God, belief and their own development, appealed to his observing mind. At some point, each student would have to come to a conclusion on what they actually believed about life and their place in it, but for now he felt as if he was their only real map. Pushing each one to think and then rethink their stance in those areas was fun for him and today would be no different.
“Today we are going to start our discussion on Faith and its role in our lives.” Mr. Donovan stated quickly, trying to jump immediately into the day’s topic. “What is faith?”
Several ideas were tossed out as the teacher asked random students from the class. Some said belief, while others said things like ignorance and uneducated. Mr. Donovan thanked each one politely after every response, respecting each student’s answer.
“For today’s talk I want you to think of faith in terms of ‘Trust’” Mr. Donovan explained touching the large cubix wall behind him. The word -TRUST- appeared in large black letters in contrast to the light blue board. It had filled the board making it visible to the students to take notes.
Pens began scribbling the word down on their desktops, creating notes on their flat table. Every stroke was being recorded by their cubix to be stored for future reference. Their desks had a hard plastic cover that linked to their cubes and was responsible for the blue hologram that had been floating in front of their eyes. The small cube was annoying at times, but it contained all of their important details, including Citadel information. If one of them was to go missing they could be tracked, or if they got into trouble, all family information could be pulled to help the Imperium in their arrest. But for now the little blue cube was a harmless storage device, saving everything.
“All of us trust something or someone.” Mr. Donovan continued. “Some of you trust your parents. Some of you trust your teachers. All of us trust that when we touch a light sensor the lights will come on, but if the lights don’t come on, we get angry. Why? Because our trust has been broken and we have temporarily lost faith in the sensor’s abilities to brighten a room”
“In Religious Studies I want you to treat faith in God the same as trust in God. We trust God for everything in our lives. Of course we don’t just sit around waiting for God to do something. We are responsible for our actions, but even our actions are informed by our trust - or faith in God. School. Family. Relationships. Everyone within religious circles comes to trust in God for all areas of their lives, even the painful ones.”
Evening had rested upon the Mendacium, sending workers home to their tired families. Lights flickered off all across the capital, creating small white dots that covered the city’s towers. The sky was crystal clear as usual, allowing citizens to see the glowing stars shining brightly against the darkness of space.
Cars darted past the Mendacium, as the Imperium’s police force hovered above. The Imperium’s Wraiths were just as black as space and could only been seen as they steadily crept past lit windows, blackening out their view from the street below. Even the most reluctant of citizens of could feel their dreadful presence emanating from the around them. They sickened the air and choked out any desire to rebel. Curfew would be in place soon, locking down the city to anyone who didn’t have an evening pass. Those caught without one would be quickly removed from the streets and held till the family could pay the fine. Police brutality was common and the fines were unpayable. Needless to say, it was best to stay inside.
Seconds silently ticked away as Amator made his deliberately slow approach towards the Consilium chambers. Thoughts of the evening’s events forced him so deep into his own thoughts, that he could barely hear his own feet thudding along the long narrow hall. His mind was racing well ahead of his body, attempting to prepare for what could be a very hostile meeting. Never one to rush, patience had become his greatest strength.
Time meant nothing to Amator, nor did the Consilium’s feelings. They tended to make sloppy decisions when they were angry, and his tardiness should be just the thing to send them over the edge. For several months now he had been showing up later and later testing their nerves. Sometimes he wouldn’t show up at all, forcing them to reconvene at a different time. Moulding minds had become easy for the seasoned Prophet. But, over time he had found it much easier to control them by stirring up their emotions. All they needed was a slight push in the right direction and their impulsive minds would drive them there on their own. All they needed now, was the push.
Amator paused in the dimly lit hallway outside the chamber doors and rubbed his soft palms against its massive doors. Hung on hand beaten steel hinges and held together with metal bands, the large wooden doors stood guard over the Consilium chambers. Amator had always enjoyed their light tan color and coarse feel. It reminded him of his first days at the High Temple, full of excitement and young ambitions. Everytime he passed through them it was a reminder of where he had come from and how far he still had to go. The smell of its shaved wood soothed his mind, putting him at ease. Made of Draconian trees and measuring in at ten feet tall and almost two feet thick, they towered over everyone and anything that stood next to them. Though heavy, they had been hung and balanced to such perfection that one person could easily shove them open.
Amator leaned his thin muscular body into the doors and shoved hard against them. The doors flailed open, colliding against the walls with a thunderous slam, startling the Consilium members from their silent brooding. They had been left waiting for over an hour for their advisor to arrive. Even though everyone had agreed that he had to be there, no one was quite sure why.
Amator could feel the tension fill the room, sending anger climbing up the walls. Several of them bounced their legs, trying desperately not to scream at their rude advisor. A few others refused to even look at the man, as he made his way across the room.
“Finally. We can get started.” Baselius griped.
Track Day had been hard on the thin unathletic teen. Today had been their quarterly exam and all the running and squats had taken its toll on his body. Joel sat patiently in his chair rubbing his palms against the top part of his legs. The message was enough to keep the throbbing pain in check and it also served as way to keep his nervous tension in check.
Joel paused for a brief second to knock some dust from off the top of his pants. The brown grime made him feel like he was dragging his hands along rough wood.
The sudden outburst caused Joel to jerk slightly in his seat.
“Guess what happened today?” Ashley asked through her beaming smile while approaching him from the door. “Horis asked me out!”
Ashley Immediately dove into the story without any hesitation. She told Joel about how they were in math and how Horis had been talking to one of her friends and that led to his big question. She talked about how cute he is and his muscles. She lamented his personal behavior, but stated that is was ok, because he tried to be nice to her.
With each word came knife wounds to Joel’s heart. He sat there stunned and reeling from every verbal blow. His eyes stung from the tears that were pushing their way out, but he wouldn’t relent, not in front of Ashley.
Joel couldn’t keep a handle on his emotions any more and politely asked Ashley to excuse him. He erupted from his seat, surged out into the hall and bolted towards the washroom. Never had he experienced such pain. Joel wished that he’d cut off his arm than feel this way. His blurry eyes was making it hard for him to see. His slender arms would would wipe away his tears, but each swipe a was pointless attempt to wipe away the pain.
The Consilium sat quietly while their advisor wept bitterly into his hands. Snot poured down his face as he wiped away his tears. They weren’t sure what was said to cause such an outburst of deep sobbing, but they would have to wait until Amator gathered himself.