Introducing the crass hero Zeno and his unwilling relationship with a Narcissistic Goddess
“Zeno…” Styx called out to her ‘husband’
Styx’ pompous tone always grated on Zeno’s nerves, causing him to wince inwardly.
He responded with gruff annoyance.
“Must you continue being curt, after all this time, and everything we have been through, child?”
“I’m not a fucking child, woman…ask your damn question.”
“You do not order me around, ‘child’. I am your goddess.”
“Oh, Jesus Christ…WHAT DO YOU WANT!?”
“It has been weeks since you have returned, and you have barely spoken to me…It is time to break your silence. Tell me your story, child…”
“What? Why? You were there, too. Hell, it wasn’t even that long ago…”
“Because we have nothing else to do…and I was not there for it all.”
There was nothing around but dirt, death and decay. Zeno hated admitting when Styx was right. These particular ‘joys of marriage’ caused him to shudder. He exhaled his frustration.
“You were there for enough.” he muttered.“Do not back talk me, child.” She urged “Besides, you are so animated when you tell your stories. I have missed it.”
“I order you to--”
“Fine, if it’ll shut you up.”
Styx snuggled against him as he sat up against the bedchamber wall. The marble was frigid; Zeno hadn’t noticed how chilly the temperature in the room was either until he felt her warmth against him.
“Thank you…” Styx remarked with an impish smile “my love.”
“I must have been there for two or three days, trying to figure out what the hell to do. I don’t remember much of what I did during that time, as I was delirious from dehydration and starvation, but I remember staring up at that cross. I just knelt there, in the hot ass sun for hours. It burned, but I didn’t care. It was the last time I would feel pain anyways. Or so I thought.
‘So what do I do now?’ I asked god.
I was pissed.
The wind picked up; yanking on my afro, throwing dust and dead leaves in my face like an infant playing with its food. I didn’t care though, I just sat there in nihilistic despair. Nothing mattered anymore.
‘I’ve been here for days waiting for an answer, and nothing! I thought we had a ‘personal relationship’ with our lord and savior. We were supposed to love and worship you…Why?! For what? All I’ve seen, all I’ve ever experienced on this damned earth is suffering, pain, evil. Man is made in your image, huh? Is your image corrupted with dishonesty and hatred? If you’re all loving, why do we suffer? I ain’t that smart…but that feels wrong. Your ‘word’ feels wrong,’ I continued.
Then she showed up, but I didn’t hear her footsteps through the howling wind. She would have scared the shit out of me too, but I was too tired and weak from hunger. I didn’t have the energy to react.”
A crisis of faith?’ she asked.
Her voice was high pitched, but…soft, very feminine. She sounded cute enough, but I wasn’t in the mood to deal with anyone. I didn’t respond. “
With a disapproving “Hmph…” Styx interrupted Zeno’s tale
“Fuck…what Styx?!” I asked.
“I do not care about your bloody physical attraction to her.”
“The hell, woman?! You asked me to tell my story! You want the details or not?!”
“Whatever…I know she is not as beautiful as I. Continue, child.”
“Oh my…Ugh, anyways…”
Frustrated, Zeno continued his tale.
“She approached and knelt beside me with clasped hands. Staring up at the cross she recounted her own sorrows to me.
‘I sympathize…’ she said. ‘I often come here myself, to make sense of the atrocities I’ve witnessed…’
She paused, and for a long time. I didn’t bother looking, but I could tell from her silence she had done some disreputable shit.
‘…That I’ve committed…in his name. I won’t pretend to know what’s going on in your life but…’ she continued.
‘Then don’t…’ I said, turning to face her.
She was a female knight from the church of Catolica, a dame I think they called them. She stood up, spreading her wings like some kind of majestic bird. She wore light armor over her red robes, and it was so shiny, even at twilight it almost blinded me. The setting sun hung behind her head, almost like it was her halo. She was a beautiful thing too, short, dark brown hair…and fit. I would’ve tried to get a piece of that if I wasn’t in such a shitty mood.”
“By Zeus child…” Styx complained “You and your stirring loins…I suppose I should be used to your womanizing by now.”
“You knew what you were getting into when you married me, woman,” Zeno countered. “Moving on.”
“‘You here to ‘enforce his will’? Come to drag me back into slavery? Or kill me?’ I asked.
Her attention shifted to my left arm. It got chopped off by the constables about a week back, my old crew had went and got themselves killed, so I had fallen in with a new band of thieves. They were a bunch of rookies though and got themselves caught and me along with them. We all got our hands chopped off as punishment, in addition to being thrown in jail. Funny thing is, being prison is what ‘saved’ me from certain doom. The rubble that collapsed during the catastrophe shielded me from the city’s destruction.
‘A thief!’ she exclaimed in a hushed voice. ‘Forgive me brother, I shouldn’t judge. I mean you no harm. I assume you came here to seek solitude, forgiveness and peace of mind. I simply came to pray for the lost souls of baptista. Will you join me?’
She folded her winds as she approached with an outstretched hand.
‘Pray with me…’ she requested again with a smile ‘and perhaps we will find the absolution we seek.’
Disgusted, I turned away from her and casually brushed her hand out of my face. I had been ‘praying’, if you could call it that, for days now.
‘No’ I told her ‘I’m done praying, I’m done asking…I’m done kissing his ass.’
She didn’t like that. It figures, those Catolicans were stuck up anyways. They never did take to kindly to blasphemy. I fully expected her to kill me, in fact I was hoping for it. She grabbed for her sword, and started to draw it, then stopped.
‘Hold your tongue blasphemer!’ she barked
‘Or what? You’ll kill me? Or he will? Not like I have shit anyways, you want to take my life? I didn’t ask for it. You’ll just be doing me a fucking favor. Go ahead, draw your damn sword…’
She wasn’t a complete asshole though, she regained her composure rather quickly and sheathed her blade. Surprised me too, I was fully expecting her to kill me.
‘Our god…he loves us. He loves you.’ She continued with her bullshit
My throat was parched, I swear it was caked with desert sand; but that didn’t stop me from laughing my fucking ass off. Her brow wrinkled and she frowned even harder.
Despite the humor, I was seething. ‘Love? I believe in that shit even less than I believe in him…cause if it exists in this world.’
‘But ‘he’ loves you, he is omnibenevolent. He is love…’ she countered with conviction
‘If he is so damned benevolent, then why does he allow evil to exist?! Why was I enslaved?!’ I yelled vehemently
I foamed at the mouth with what little spit I had left, flecks of caked dirt escaped with the rest. A coughing fit overtook me, making sure my rant didn’t last long. I fell forward, barely managing to catch myself as I continued heaving
‘Why…did I have…ugh…to suffer?’
‘You’ve escaped your bonds? I have no choice but to return you.’ She said.
She began to drew her sword but stopped mid-way and re-sheathed the blade.
‘But I am not without compassion, and I realize you are in pain. I offer you respite before we return.’
I could have given a fuck less what she had to say, but that voice... I could have used some of her ‘respite’, but that’s not what her puritanical ass was offering.”
“By Zeus child! Is that all you ever think about?” Styx admonished
With a deadpan expression, as was usual when he responded to questions from Styx he thought absurd, Zeno responded with an uninspired “…yes…”
“My word…you are utterly hopeless.”
“I ‘love’ you too Styx…”he mumbled satirically
“So I challenged her ‘And if I refuse? Ha! Not like he’s gonna do anything. He didn’t lift a finger to save Baptista from the Rot. But then again, I guess that’s why he sent your ass, to do his dirty work.’
‘Baptista? I did not realize that was your home, I thought all were dead. I...Im sorry. Everyone thought it destroyed after we witnessed the archangels lay waste to the city. But...no, he did not send me, I am here of my own accord.’ She explained
‘Guess he isn’t all seeing or all-knowing either. Or he just doesn’t care, but I figured that out already.’
I turned my back on her and started heading out towards the desert.
‘Lord knows how many days I spent here, all I wanted was an answer. My food is gone, my home is gone, my ‘family’ is gone.’
Not that I gave a shit about them anyways, I hadn’t seen them since they sold me as a child.
‘I got jack shit, story of my life. I’m done with this city. I’m done with him, with living, and with you.’
‘So you’ll just wander the desert alone? Once you pass the crucifix you will break his covenant, and he will not be able to protect you.
Return with me, the knights have room enough in there slave quarters.’
I was a little stunned; she was practically begging me by that point. I didn’t know why she cared so much, or why she was so compassionate. That was out of character for those pompous Catolicans. Still, I almost lost my shit when she mentioned the slave quarters.
‘Maryam, my name is Maryam.’ She said
‘I’m not too keen on returning to slavery, and that’s if you highfalutin Catolican bastards don’t do me in first anyways. If I’m going to hell, I’ll find my own way, I don’t need fuckin directions.’
Maryam just stood there; eyes wide like a lost puppy, guess she couldn’t believe I would rather take my chances in the badlands than go back.
‘Wait!’ Maryam shouted.
She took a dagger from her belt; it glowed faintly with white light. It thudded on the ground just behind my feet as she tossed it to me. Even though I was hell bent on meeting my end, a small part of me was actually hoping the thudding I heard was canteen of water.
‘I may not be able to convince you to return, but I can’t in good conscience let you wander unarmed. It has a small blessing and will be good for a few uses; hopefully it will last till you find safety.’
I was curious, I had only ever heard of God’s blessings, but never actually saw one. I took the dagger. I looked back at her and our gazes locked.
‘Thank you’ I said.
‘Will you tell me your name?’ She asked
‘I will pray for your safe journey brother.’
I instantly regretted telling her my name after that.
I walked for hours with no idea where the hell I was going. I just picked a direction and kept on. The darker it got, the more the wind picked up. It screamed in my ear and blasted my naked torso with sand so hard it felt like it was taking my skin with it. I knew the further away from Baptista I got, the lower my odds of survival. I didn’t care though; I went out there to die. There was nothing left for me back there.
I stumbled upon a ‘forest’, or at least what used to be one. The few trees left standing were long dead and petrified. The soil there hadn’t been fertile for what looked like centuries. There were strange outcroppings dotting the desolate landscape, rusted metal frames of some kind, with four wheels. Most were almost completely buried by the sand, all were badly rusted. Small buildings from the old world were everywhere, and almost completely eroded.
‘I have no idea where I’m going, what am I going to do? I can’t go back, but aint shit out here...’ I pondered out loud
I was hungry, tired, and weak, the sun had long set, and it was freezing. I decided to call it a night and sat up against a concrete slab jutting out from the ground. Didn’t do shit against the cold, but at the very least I was able to block the wind with it. I couldn’t stop shivering, but it didn’t stop me from releasing my emotions. I had no hope no future, I had no future. I broke down. and for the first time since I was a child, I cried myself to sleep.
I woke up to the feeling of something crawling across my stomach, took my eyes a while to focus well enough to see what the hell it was. It was a two tailed scorpion; I swatted it of in a panic and scurried away from the damn thing.
‘The fuck?!’ I yelled
I hate bugs.
The desert was taking its toll on me, my skin was dry and cracked, my throat parched. My entire body was caked with the desert sand. No sense in complaining though, I was on a mission, to die. I couldn’t bring myself to do it though, so I continued on. I figured I would let the desert, or one of the beasts of the badlands do it for me. Bastards wouldn’t take me without a fight though.
By noon, the heat was oppressive, but I was too dehydrated to even sweat. I could have sworn I heard thunder rumbling, but I just chalked it up to hallucinations and delirium. It wasn’t. I had made my way to the edge of what I realized was an island, in the sky.
‘Well don’t that just beat all?!’ I exclaimed ‘Whatever, it doesn’t matter now. Seems as good a place to die as any.’
I looked down over the edge; it was nothing but black ominous clouds, like I was looking into the depths of hell itself. Red lightning arced across the sky infrequently, when it did, thunder boomed with an intensity that shook me too my bones. An updraft surprised me, knocking me back on my ass. I struggled back to my feet, only to fall again, still dizzy from dehydration and starvation. I crawled to the edge, my belly drug against the ground like some kind of snake, and attempted to stand once more.
‘This is it.’ I said, resigning myself to my fate.”