* * *
I feel my stomach lurch and my head ache as my body lands on something. Licking my lips, I spit the acidic, parched dust from them. Rusty dirt, dry and cracked like its never seen water, broke my fall. I crawl to my feet against a backdrop of red and black clouds mixed with bands of purple, swirling and roiling, producing jagged red lightning flashes every few seconds. Amongst the clouds, I think I see the ghostly silhouette of a mountainous peak.
My landing place is a tiny island floating in this swirling clouded morass. To my left, a narrow stone bridge with torches in metal baskets lining the edges disappears into the fog. A red flash followed by a spine tingling boom causes me to jump and turn. Nothing, not even a mark in the desolate soil. I turn back to the bridge and receive another fright. I stumble backward and trip over my feet into the rust dust.
“Jezebel!” I snarl upward from the dirt.
She looks down at me and laughs mischievously. After having her fun, she offers me a hand.
“Hello, Abraham. I’m sure you thought you were rid of me.”
“Where are we?” I demand with all the authority I can muster.
She laughs as her dark eyes penetrate me. I get an uneasy feeling that I’m not going to like her answer.
Her voice becomes softer and fearful, like nothing I’ve ever heard from the pirate. “Home,” she whispers.
“Home? Your home?”
She shrugs. “Come, Abraham. Unless you wish to be stuck on this island raft forever.” She steps onto the bridge and starts to cross.
With a tired and frustrated sigh, I hurry after her. This is not the destination for the red door. This place is unlike any I’ve ever heard of or seen. I stop to look down over the stone railing. Only the clouds are visible, slowly obscuring the legs of the stone arches holding the bridge in the air. A cloud builds in front of me, forming a ghastly skeletal apparition. The clouds angrily boil and flow off it as it silently screams at me. I yank my head back behind the protection of the stone rail, clutching at my heart.
Jezebel’s mocking look says it all.
“Tell me what’s going on, Jezebel. If that’s who and what you really are.”
She cocks her head and smiles. “I am who you have met. I need a host if I’m to survive beyond these clouds for long. You have taken that from me. So, I must return.”
“And you brought me with you?”
Jezebel laughs. “Do you think I’d drag you behind me like a broken anchor? Unlike Luna, I have standards.”
Her insult stings like freezing salt spray. Not just for me, but for Luna. “Why then?”
“You’ll have to ask.”
“Ask who?” Could she not answer a simple question? Why is everything a game and a riddle to her?
She points ahead of us to a giant cathedral with towering flying buttresses just visible through the clouds. “The owner of this realm.”
“There are more of you?” I reply, detest escaping on ever word.
“There are none like me,” she replies, dismissively.
I watch the cathedral as it draws near. Red, like the dirt and clouds and rising high above the floating island, it takes up all but the narrowest of spaces around the edges. Three circular glass windows adorn the front, each showing a scene of destruction. Giant stone doors sit atop a wide staircase that rise from the end of the bridge.
As I reach the top of the stairs, two floating suits of black plate armour greet us. It’s not until I look closer that I realize a cloud swirls inside the metal skin. I look under the helmet and a skeletal face appears, much like I’d seen earlier from the bridge.
The metal arms of the guards reach out and pull the giant doors open without a sound. Without waiting for an invitation, Jezebel strides inside like she’s this cathedral’s mistress. I follow, much more cautiously. I have seen and done many a strange thing, but none filled me with the sense of dread and foreboding as this place.
The heels of Jezebel’s boots echo off the red marble floor and reverberate through the empty chamber. Even though there is no sun here, light shines through the circular windows onto the floor. Not for a long moment do I realize the image on the floor is changing, displaying each scene through time. Hundreds of slit windows in the walls let in more of the phantom light.
The inside is completely barren of furniture or décor, except for five large terraced chain chandeliers holding a thousand candles each. I see no doors or portals; the building is nothing but a shell.
Jezebel stops in the center, where the two short arms of the cathedral cross the main room. Joining her, I look around for a clue of what is to happen.
“What is this place?” I demand.
“We all need a home.”
“A home for who?”
“Why don’t you ask her?”
Jezebel points over my shoulder to the side alcove behind me. I spin on my heel and feel my breath snatched from my lungs. There’s no doubt Jezebel is a beautiful creature, though her darkness pales to Luna’s light. But the woman before me has a regal beauty I never knew existed. My gaze lingers in her blue eyes before following her long blonde hair down the curves of her body hidden in a black and red silk gown to where her feet and hair meet at the floor.
“King Abraham, what a wonderful surprise. I was hoping you’d come seek my council. My dear Jezebel has done well finding you.”
Her voice is like honey mixed with the gentle coo of a mourning dove. Having her stop speaking is like a punishment. One I would endure again just to hear her speak one more syllable.
“Hello,” is all I can stammer out. I pray it is enough to make her speak again.
“You and I have much to talk about, Abraham. Time is short.”
“Who…Who are you?” I gulp. Does such a beautiful creature have a name?
Her laughter is like the flutter of butterfly wings and her smile as dazzling as all the stars in the sky. Oh Luna, forgive me for I am weak.
“I go by many names,” she replies with a twinkle in her eye. “I thought it was obvious.” She glances at Jezebel; her normally vibrant face is a mask of boredom.
Obvious? How is it obvious? Jezebel said this was home. Could she be…?
“Baal! You’re Baal,” I exclaim and then my face falls when I see her face contort in disgust. The fact that she is evil incarnate is lost in her beauty.
“That is a name given to me by a people who do not understand me and time has long forgotten them. Call me Sarin and welcome to my home. Jezebel has good things to say about you.”
I look at Jezebel, straining to find something good to say about the pirate. “Even if she was with us to help us, I still would have cast her out.”
Sarin’s cackle of laughter rings so sharp I thought it might split the stone of the building. “Jezebel wasn’t sent to help you. She had a mission of her own and when that failed she was to bring you before me.”
I planted my feet firm, even as my heart races. What could this devil want with me? “Well, I’m here. Speak.” I speak with far more confidence than I feel.
She seems to sense my weakness. Her smile reminds me of a shark before it eats a fish.
“What do you know of the Gigians?”
I’ve sailed the seas for four years and met a number of people and heard of many more, but I’ve never heard of such a people.
“Nothing,” I admit.
The cloud from outside began to fill the empty cathedral, rising to the rafters until it is impossible to see the chandeliers. Sarin waves her hand, the movement of the clouds begins to become orderly and a picture appears.
“You should. You’re married to one,” replies Sarin. “In the beginning there was the Prime and the Void. The Prime directed the Void’s form.”
A man and a woman appear on a starscape made from the clouds.
“Together they created a series of universes, tending each from birth to death. They did this for countless cycles. As time passed, the Prime fell in love with the Void and together they gave birth to seven children, five girls and two boys, the Gigians. Together, guided by their parents, the seven Gigians learned to tend to the universes.”
The clouds slowly change into stars and planets, galaxies and nebulae, telling the story as she speaks. I stand transfixed, unable to look away.
“After many, many cycles one of the Gigian known as Masterious began to grow jealous of his father’s power and wanted it for his own. He struck down the Prime and tried to seize the Void as his own. The Void, heartbroken over the loss of the Prime, froze in place, keeping the rest of us from tending to her. Enraged at the Void, Masterious burned his father’s body and created the Earth from his ashes. The Void, horrified, gave the remaining Gigians tiny sections of her to tend.”
Sarin leads us into the empty alter area across from the main entrance to the cathedral. I watch the first time the Earth was created. The plants and creatures looked different. “So, Masterious is the Master and he is a Gigian?” I ask.
Sarin gives me a wry smile. “Very good, Abraham. So is your precious Luna. She and her Fae work with him to govern the Earth.”
“But, she gave me the Ultimate Invincibility. She can’t be siding with him.”
Sarin gives a slight tut-tut sound. “Luna is a wily one; she’ll play all sides and has no allegiance to anyone.”
I gulp. My lovely Luna wouldn’t betray me, would she?
“So, you are a Gigian?” I ask, feeling my throat in my feet.
Sarin nods. “I am the Prime’s youngest. Unlike some of my siblings, I have never forgiven Masterious for killing our father or for breaking our mother’s heart. I have tried once already to destroy Masterious by having Jezebel take your place, but he saw through our ruse and with your help he defeated her. I played my hand and now he’s trying to punish me for it.”
I watch as the images of the clouds began to drift apart. Soon, nothing remains but shapeless masses moving across the ceiling.
“So, why am I here, if you failed?” I ask.
Sarin crosses her arms and looks at Jezebel. “I told you he wasn’t the brightest,” Jezebel hisses.
“You are the key, Abraham. With my help you can destroy the Master and avenge my father and mother,” Sarin replies, a fire burning in her eyes.
“I have the Ultimate Invincibility, what more do I need?”
Sarin’s laughter echoes through the building, mocking me. It cuts like a rusty dagger, making me want to run and hide.
“Is letting the Master beat you until he gets bored your plan to defeat him, little king?” she demands with a belittling smile.
“I’m to get him to give me the power to destroy him by proving I am worthy of it.”
Both Jezebel and Sarin roar in laughter.
“And what master scheme do you have to trick a god into giving you the power to destroy it?” Sarin asks with a twisted, sarcastic grin, reminding me of a cat playing with a mouse.
I feel the ground under us lurch and slowly descend.
“Where are we going?” I demand.
“To get you the power you need to destroy a god, Abraham,” replies Jezebel with a flip of her long hair.
“I don’t need anything you can offer. Anything that comes from Baal is evil and not to be trusted.”
Sarin laughs. “Why is my power to be trusted any less than Luna’s, Deafonous’, or the Master’s? I am only evil because I oversee everything that is south on your moral compass. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it is any less potent or reliable. It is all the more so, because it is carnal and pure.”
“I’ll defeat the Master without you,” I reply firmly, trying to stand my ground and not shake.
“You trust Luna’s goodness?” asks Jezebel.
“What has she done to me for me not to trust her?”
“She is working with the Master. You don’t think she won’t tell him what is coming?”
“Why would she betray me?”
“Self preservation,” said Sarin simply. “She and her Fae want to live.”
“How can I trust you?” I counter.
“Have I betrayed you?” said Sarin.
“It’s only a matter of time. How do I know that as soon as the Master is destroyed, you won’t take over?”
Sarin chuckles. “You don’t, but could I be any worse a ruler than the Master? I wish to unite my siblings and wake our mother so that once again we can tend to the universe. I care little for the Earth; it can be humanity’s to rule.”
The platform stops moving. The medium size room is bare, and Sarin strides out into the middle. Jezebel shoves me forward after her. I try to stand firm, but her strength was impossibly great. She guides me to the middle of the room and steps aside.
“Abraham,” said Sarin, “what I offer is yours to keep, use it or not. You may think it foul now, but I assure you it is as much a part of being human as the good in you. You’ll just have to learn to control it.”
“There’s got to be another way,” I defend harshly.
“There is no other way,” Sarin snarls.
In my pocket, I can feel the coin begin to heat up. I fish it out and hold it up, seeing my bust upon it.
“What I offer is already a part of you,” said Sarin. “If you don’t believe me, turn the coin over.”
Turn the coin over? I’ve turned the coin over a thousand times, or so I thought. I hold the coin between my thumb and finger and turn it around with my other hand. My bust is there, but a large X has been carved into the metal. I look at it, then at Sarin, then back at it. The X begins to bleed. Drops of blood fall off the coin and sizzle when they hit the floor.
“Evil is in everyone, King Abraham, even you,” Sarin said with a wicked smile.
I try to drop the coin, but it floats in midair. Square pillars start to extend from the floor and ceiling, and smash the coin between them. The pillars begin to glow as I back away.
Impish laugher fills the room. At first I think it’s Sarin and Jezebel, but they’re on the opposite side of the room watching. I follow the source to the ground at my feet. A half dozen three feet tall creatures, round and green with stick-thin limbs, big feet, claw-like fingers, and banana-like noses grab at me. They scrabble all over me, forcing me forward, pulling my unmarked hand forward. I struggle and resist as they pull and push. They yank my arm straight and hold it out next to the glowing pillar with the coin.
“Dead king lives again,” one of the imps giggles in my ear.
“Only fools’ return,” giggles another.
“King of fools then,” laughs a third.
A second pillar extends from the ceiling and the floor, smashing my hand between the two pieces. I scream out in pain as the pillar begins to glow. The smell of burning flesh fills my nostrils as I struggle to pull my hand free.
The pillars finally retract. I and the coin both fall to the floor. I clutch my smashed hand, swearing every colorful sailing word I know. The coin hits the floor and rolls over and hits my knee. It lands X side up and looks likes it’s been burnt by fire. My palm aches. I turn my hand over and pull back my fingers. A reverse bust is burnt into my skin just like my other hand, but this one has an X over it.
I am rocked by pain shooting through my head, followed by thousands of racing thoughts telling me to kill, steal, and destroy. The evil thoughts take over my mind. My mind fills with lust for Sarin and Jezebel, then a murderous rage for both. I want their power and I feel there isn’t anything I won’t do to get it.
Out of the corner of my mind an old voice cuts through the cacophony. “Easy, lad. Don’t fight them. You can’t fight this current. You must float on top where the good is.”
Ezekiel! Where did he come from? I try to do as he instructs. I swim for the surface. I kick with all my might, ignoring the thoughts around me. I feel like I’ve been kicking for days when I breach the surface. The calmness after such turbulence is unnerving. Like a drifter at sea for days, I collapse on an island of pleasant thoughts of Luna.
Next: Chapter 12, part two, “Sarin”