Chapter 2: The Enemy of Man

On the wall of Idle, a man stood proud. He looked out over the empty expanse of the desert with fierce eyes, though his face betrayed no emotion.

His name (or at least, what people called him) was Eon. He had many titles behind that name, although he cared little for formalities. As he presently looked, he had white hair and tan skin — he hated tan skin, but it was the only color available at the moment. His body could be described as muscular — that was good. It could be bigger, but the previous occupant had no way of knowing his tastes.

Beside him was a young woman — her name was Kelly. Of the two names she had been born with, Kelly was the only one she seemed to feel like keeping. Names were a trivial, often pointless thing, but they made interacting with others much easier. Eon would prefer every named thing had the same name, but organizing these creatures was nearly impossible — limiting them to one name per creature was an acceptable compromise.

This Kelly had the white skin that Eon wanted, along with white hair. He liked white. Everything should be white. However, Kelly was rather frail and on the slender side; Eon despised weak creatures. She was also a woman. Women reminded him of the snake. He hated the snake.

Still, she was useful. She did what he told her to, she took care of his body when he was not using it, and the words she spoke did not conflict with his own. It was rare to find a mortal as composed as her.

Eon was in a wistful mood, looking over that desert. He knew it would be the last thing he saw for a while, and he wanted to be sure he had plenty to think about as he waited for a new sight.

“Kelly,” he said.

“Yes, my lord?” Polite as always.

“Look at the land before us. I would hear your opinion of it.”

“My opinion?” Kelly seemed surprised; perhaps because he had never asked for it before.

“This world belongs to me; it is mine to shape as I desire. All art is to be appreciated, but it is the responsibility of the artist to ensure it has qualities to be admired.”

“Qualities to be admired… in this desert?” Kelly looked out over the sand, thinking. “When I first came here, I couldn’t think of any. It all looks the same — sand, sun, and bones. The occasional cactus is nice; the flowers they make are pretty.”

Eon did his best to remain expressionless, but on the inside, he was seething. Kelly’s criticism was the same as the snake’s. The snake had found the desert so unappealing, it created cacti just to give itself something else to look at.

“But now,” Kelly continued, “I think I see why you like it. This big, empty expanse has nothing here; everywhere else in the world is full of vibrant, complex life. I think you left this empty spot for us because you were curious what the world would do with it — what we would create here to fill in the empty spot. The idea of art making art of its own is brilliant. The concept alone is beautiful to think about.”

That was not Eon’s intention. He made the desert simple and unchanging because that was how he liked it. He made it hot and dry to keep the rest of the world away.

“Indeed,” he lied. Her idea was better than his, but all he needed to do was pretend he thought of it all along. Nobody had to know. “This is the last time I expect to see it empty. Your kind has spread across it like starving ants, and I haven’t the heart to drive them back again. I would be content to watch it all unfold in peace, but the rebellion of the Dragonheart will prevent me from doing so.”

“We could stay here and hide,” Kelly suggested. “There’s no need to go further north.”

“It is no longer possible to hide,” Eon said. “We are out of time, and only one of us will be descending from this wall.”

Kelly’s face went even whiter. She probably thought he meant to discard his current body and use hers instead. A valid concern, on any other day.

“You were there, were you not? You watched as the serpent received a Vessel of her own. That memory, as well as your involvement in my own Transference, haunts you to this day.”

“It was different,” Kelly explained nervously. “Diego – your Vessel – he volunteered. He became one willingly. That girl, Caitriona… they pinned her down and forced her to drink it…”

“Apart from my own, there are only two Vessels remaining — the serpent and the dove. The dove remains hidden among the dragons, while the serpent was set loose in the north. Find her, and tell her that I kept my promise.”

Kelly looked confused. “Find her? Why—” Her eyes widened as she noticed the assassin approaching them.

“This will be the first time I have ever placed my faith in a mortal,” Eon remarked as he pushed her off the wall.

Kelly slowly opened her eyes. She was still alive somehow, despite the fact that she had fallen at least a kilometer. As she sat up, she found herself atop a pile of cactus flowers.

Did he put them here because I said they were pretty? she wondered. Scholars had spent centuries trying to discern the motives and meanings of Eon’s actions, and even she had no idea why he did half the things he had. What she did know was that the Vessel of Eon was now dead, and the god was banished from the mortal plane until a replacement could be found.

Eon had given her an order before he was banished: find Caitriona Gall, the Vessel of Nyx, who was somewhere in the north. This task seemed impossible; she would have to cross the desert again and brave the Wilds just to reach the territory of Riel, where she was a wanted criminal due to her association with the Church.

She would succeed, of course. As the high priestess (being the only priest left had its perks), she refused to fail Eon. The route she took when fleeing Riel still existed, and the people who helped her were probably still there. With a bit of convincing, they would help her again.

“Absolutely not,” Alistair hissed, glaring at Kelly through a crack in his door.

Although Alistair Gall was barely more than a boy at 14, he was half-Wildling and was already capable of fending for himself. He lived with his half-sister Sorcha on the outskirts of the city, doing his best to keep to himself while also keeping his family safe.

Right on cue, Sorcha Gall came over to them. “Who is this?” she asked with a pleasant smile.

“That priest girl from a while back,” Alistair grumbled. “Hurry up and come inside before she sics her paladins on us.”

Sorcha was much older, at 20. Outwardly, she looked much more human than Alistair as well, with long black hair, pale skin, and icy blue eyes, but Kelly knew that she had wings hidden beneath her bulky cloak. Whoever Mr. Gall was, he had a very interesting love life.

“Wait one moment, I haven’t finished,” Kelly said.

Alistair opened the door the rest of the way. Kelly could see feline ears poking out of his black hair, as his blue eyes sized her up. “You want us to help you go north and kidnap a Vessel. I don’t care what else you have to say—”

“I’m not kidnapping her,” Kelly snapped. “She’s in danger, and I need to find her.”

“I didn’t know the Church cared much for their Vessels,” Sorcha remarked. “With Riel trying to defeat the gods, you must be desperate.”

“I am desperate,” Kelly admitted. “I’m the last living priest, and there’s only two Vessels left. The Church is all but destroyed.”

“And good riddance!” Alistair exclaimed. “You people made my sister illegal!”

Kelly sighed. “As with mages, seers, psions, and changelings, the Church recognized aasimar as a clear and present danger to humanity and ordered them exterminated. I’m now the high priestess and in a position to change that law, and nobody’s ever explained to me why aasimar are dangerous. If you help me, I’ll help you.”

Sorcha laughed. “You really are desperate. Why’d you seek us out instead of going to the paladins?”

“Three reasons. First, my target is the Vessel of Nyx and most paladins have taken oaths to oppose Nyx at all costs.”

“The Goddess of Chaos.” Alistair crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe. “The only possible thing I can think of more evil than the Church.”

“Second,” Kelly continued, “you are both psions. Finding someone I haven’t seen in eight years will be hard, but your abilities will make searching easier.”

“The answer is still—”

“Third, my target’s name is Caitriona Gall.”

Sorcha stared at her.

“Never heard the name,” Alistair snapped.

“My little sister,” Sorcha said. “Well, your older sister. We were told she was stillborn, but Father always had his suspicions. She’d be 16 now, I think.”

Kelly nodded. “She was taken the moment she was born, as the last descendant of Calum Gall; they didn’t know you existed, Sorcha. I won’t speak for those responsible as they were all banished from the Church for their actions, but they used your sister to resurrect Nyx. Eon says she’s still out there somewhere, and her authority would be second only to his own.”

Alistair frowned. “She isn’t lying, Sorcha. She actually believes what she’s saying.”

“It’s probably true,” Sorcha agreed. “Imagine that.”

“Family is family,” Alistair said. “You have my attention; get in here, priest.”

Sorcha sighed with relief as she shrugged off her cloak, exposing two large black, feathery wings. Kelly couldn’t help but notice how shapely the woman was — her backless shirt only added to the allure. Aasimar were known to be supernaturally beautiful, but Kelly never imagined that their looks alone would be enough to make her question her sexuality.

Sorcha must have caught her blushing. “Oh?” she asked, “do I have an admirer?”

“Succubus,” Alistair muttered under his breath.

“I’m not a demon!” Sorcha complained, pouting.

“Then quit trying to seduce the priest! Now, tell me everything you know about Vessels and our sister.”

“You don’t want to know about Vessels,” Kelly said. “Trust me on this. All you need to know is they all have red eyes, and many lose their memories after becoming one. As for Caitriona, she looked just like you; her eyes are probably red now, but everything else is the same. Considering how long the Transference took, she likely doesn’t even know her own name. She’ll be living under a pseudonym.”

Alistair nodded attentively. “16 year old female. Black hair, white skin, red eyes. Anything else?”

“Her mother was a human, so she’s full-blooded. Like the two of you, she’s also a psion. Mage too, from her mother I imagine.”

Alistair snapped his fingers. “Psion. If that’s the case, I can sense her. I can feel Sorcha from halfway across the desert. Do you have any idea where to start looking?”

“North. That’s all I know.”

Alistair nodded. “I’ll find her; you can go home now.”

“I’m coming with you—!”

“’Lis,” Sorcha said sternly. “You saw the assassins. It isn’t safe for her to go home, and she’s helping us.”

“Fine.” He sighed. “I guess she can sleep on the floor or something…”

Kelly was given a bed, rather than the floor. Sorcha had purchased two fine mattresses, but Alistair insisted on sleeping in a hammock instead, leaving one free as a guest bed. He bristled at the idea of Kelly sleeping in ‘his’ bed, but was unable to deny that he had never even touched it.

“This is a really nice place you have,” Kelly remarked. It was just a two-room hut, and very far from the city center, but Alistair and Sorcha had managed to save up and buy it on their own.

“It is,” Sorcha agreed. “Much better than the Wildlings’ hovels.”

“I preferred living in the trees,” Alistair grumbled.

“Then do so,” Sorcha said with a shrug. “I just like having a roof over my head so I don’t get wet when it rains.”

“I can’t let you stay here alone,” Alistair asserted. “They want you dead, just like Mother and Father. I don’t want to lose you too.”

Sorcha smiled sadly as she patted him on the head. “I know. I won’t be going anywhere; not with you here to protect me.” She looked up at Kelly. “By the way, thank you for telling us about our sister. It’s nice to know we have family out there, that it isn’t just the two of us. I know she’s a Vessel and you have business with her, but…”

“She was a sister to me as well,” Kelly said. “I can’t say she’ll be the same as I remember, but she was a kind soul.”