The Land Without Footprints: Shadows Amongst Shadows (A Fantasy Novel Preview)

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Book description: The Land Without Footprints: Shadows Amongst Shadows is set in the Modern Middle Ages, the age after the ages of Earth, when humans inhabit a planet where, unbeknownst to them, the moons control every action. What remains of the Earth is confined to books. In fact, many have decided to live by the rules of those books once called fiction. But no fiction or reality rules over the Mystic. He rules by only two laws: obey his desires and obey your desires. His desires are twofold: virgins and immortality. However, the desires of his subjects are as wicked as ever known. But the Dagens, a family rooted in the old ways of society, cannot give into their desires. They cannot kill just to kill, hate just to hate, destroy just to destroy. Yet if society is to become what it once was, the Dagens must destroy freedom and place chains around those who no longer wish to be chained.

1 – Jordan

Don’t believe in yourself.

Don’t believe in yourself.

Don’t believe in yourself.

The chant wafted in through the open window. So many times Jordan had heard the song that he barely noticed its presence. Nightly, the Cult of Jesus repeated their mantra in hopes of enticing new believers to their dying cause: ruin the world and force Jesus to return. If people would not join by words and logic, then the cult hoped they would join by song and fear. Still Christian numbers dwindled; suicide attempts to prematurely reach heaven only added to its diminishment.

Jordan slashed a stroke across a canvas with a charcoal pencil. If he weren’t the son of a lord, perhaps he would turn his eyes toward art. Damyn, his bastard brother, suppressed a laugh. Truly, he lived up to his halfness. Of late he’d taken to wearing an undone tie. Perhaps one of such common birth couldn’t possess normal qualities.

Across the room, amongst the plush pillows, a redheaded woman shifted, her apple-shaped breasts heaving. Because red hair neared extinction, she was only the first real redhead Jordan had ever seen. If it weren’t for pictures, nobody would even suspect a human could own hair of such a color. Many dyed their hair red, though, or wore red wigs; even the poor used brewed teas and berries to maintain the popular trend.

“How is my likeness, m’lords?” the woman asked, unaware that only he, and not the bastard, was a lord.

“I’ve never seen a true artist draw in such a fashion,” Damyn said, pairing his words with a grin. He flicked his bastardly golden-flecked hair out of his face, the only sign of his otherness. Truly, his eyes were as blue as any other Dagen. “My brother has given you the desired likeness of all stylish women.”

“Truly. The popularity and intrigue of your nature will replace that of the Mona Lisa.” Jordan placed lumps about the chest area, exaggerated the nipples.

Don’t believe in yourself.

Put your faith in someone else.

“Can I see myself?” The woman came off the bed, but Jordan bid her to remain still, wondered if he should attempt to draw surroundings: the moonlit skylights, the ornate chandelier, the canopied bed.

“One cannot fully see themselves until the end.” Jordan penciled a shaggy mane around the woman’s alternate self. “Truly they cannot,”—he would’ve called her by her name if he knew it—“my lady.”

 

Don’t believe in yourself.

Put your faith in someone else.

Death will grant us all release.

“Perhaps you should remove your skirts and whatever is underneath,” Jordan said.

“My skirts?” the woman repeated.

Jordan swallowed. “No nude can be considered a nude if the portrait is half-nude.”

The woman with a name but without a name stood, removed her skirts and undergarments, and then resituated herself atop the pillows without any further complaints. Truly, nudity caused a person to dissolve in such a way that only their private parts remained, Jordan reflected. And yet he was in no rush to have the rest of the woman reappear. No, his loins certainly didn’t want that either.

Damyn grinned, tapped him on the shoulder. Jordan figured it a cue to continue on with his work in which he had no ability to finish. Surely the bastard wasn’t indicating a shared erection.

“It is a crying shame that God didn’t bless us all with extraordinary talents,” Jordan said as the main door to the room opened. “Sometimes I feel sorry for my bastard brother or even my dear sister who has just entered here for not being so blessed.”

Cassandra left the door open and crossed the room as if she had a purpose besides walking. She had the blue, blue eyes and black, black hair that only a Dagen could. In pattern with the new-wave fashion, half her hair was braided while the opposite side hung loose and curled. And her one-shouldered dress was no dress at all, but rather pink-and-black paint used in such a way to resemble true clothing. The engagement ring on her finger wasn’t real either, just a statement to others that she could be theirs forever.

Marriage wasn’t the end of searching for a mating partner, but rather the beginning. Wives could have six rings on their fingers within a month of matrimony. In fact, six was about the norm. The saying went: A spouse to one is a spouse for all. Supposedly, a long time ago things had been different. But who could trust history?

Damyn shifted his gaze from the unclothed woman to his half-sister, folded his arms about his chest, and closed his mouth. When bearing one’s teeth did not expose happiness, it exposed hostility. Teeth always exposed intent. Even idiots knew that. Truly, Damyn was an idiot of body but not of mind.

Cassandra’s eyes went from the woman to the canvas to the woman and back again to the canvas. “Father wishes a word with you, Brother.”

Jordan knew he was the brother she meant. Nobody but a fool used wishes on a bastard. “Father should be more mindful of how he uses his wishes, Sister. All the stories show that one has a tendency to run out of magic if overused.”

Cassandra twirled her hair around her finger, looked off into the distance like the future lay nude before her eyes. “Should I tell Father that you’re busy drawing sticks?”

“Women are not sticks,” Jordan informed her.

“And yet sticks are what you draw when you look at a woman.” Cassandra started back from where she’d come. “You are not the first to be seduced by charm,” she told the woman with a name but without a name, “but hopefully you are the last.”

Absent of a farewell or closing the door, his sister left. And once she left, the woman with a name but without a name rematerialized to Jordan, no longer just suspended sexual organs. Once again she had a complete form and voice.

“In a world with laws you’d be condemned as a villain,” the woman screamed while she jumped back into her stockings and skirts and blouse and shoes.

Jordan mentally agreed because laws had always been the easiest way to decipher between villains and heroes: in a society that placed chains on every living being, his actions very well might have been deemed immoral. But what was good and bad to a free society?

“Even in this world I’ll call what you are,” the woman added, when she fixed her outfit the way she liked, breathed out some forceful breaths of hate, turned her face ugly with annoyance, and made her way closer to the door, “a villain that not even a hero would like to call his enemy. It’s disgusting how you misuse your freedom.”

Unsure of her parting words, Jordan crossed out the stick-figured portrait of the woman with a name but without a name. How could one misuse freedom? Wasn’t freedom the right to act in whatever way one liked?

“At least she had the decency to close the door upon her exit,” Damyn said, freeing his teeth once more for his overused grin. The bastard clapped him on the shoulder and hurried out, leaving the door ajar in his haste.

“At least,” Jordan agreed to himself, or perhaps to the words that, too, occupied the room.

Don’t believe in yourself.

Put your faith in someone else.

Death will grant us all release.

Place your head at our feet.

2 – Jordan

“Do you not listen to the commands of your father?” Bann Dagen asked from seated behind his long desk, letter opener in hand. “Or have you rearranged time according to your own rules?”

“Father is a very old-fashioned word,” Jordan said, and it was true. Father no longer meant authority; sons were no longer like fathers. Parents were more like friends than parents.  “I listen to myself, Bann. Isn’t that the point of being free?”

Bann stamped the yin-yang symbol of House Dagen at the bottom of one letter, then another. Afterward, he folded each piece of paper into a separate envelope and set them aside at the corner of the desk.

Out of his chair he came—bell-bottomed pants clouded his feet—walked around to meet Jordan face to face. “You have a keen sense of the benefits of freedom, my son. However, you still are unaware of the dangers.”

With brevity Bann rested the paper knife under Jordan’s chin. The attack came so quick that Jordan hadn’t even thought to protect himself. Only instinct had kept steel from severing throat. Truly his arms had moved without him telling them to.

Jordan felt like David arm wrestling Goliath as compared to his father. How much more did he need to grow in order to become a man? He saw himself in his father’s pupils, shrunken and halved. The reflection looked terrified, inflexibly aware of the situation. If Bann wanted him dead he would be dead: if his father wanted him dead he would be dead.

Jordan wanted to surrender but he couldn’t speak in the midst of the struggle. Every muscle was focused on saving his life. Cold touched what was left of Adam in him, threatened to slice up the apple in his throat, to cut, to cut, to cut….

Bann let up, pulled back from filicide, homicide, murder, dropped the letter opener as if it weren’t a weapon but a wilting flower. “Now do you see the danger in freedom?”

Jordan wrapped both hands around his throat, went to one knee. “Why did you scare me?”

“To show you that my freedom is not your freedom,” his father said writerly. “You are my semen. And I own my semen. Therefore, you own nothing of yourself until I am dead. I am your father, your creator, not your equal.”

Jordan rose, eyed the letter opener that almost killed him, continued rubbing at his neck. “I understand, Father.”

Did he think a son had never murdered his father? Patricide existed for a reason. Hate could lessen the burden of murder. Resentment helped as well.

Bann shuffled his charcoal-tinged hair. Though he was aging, his eyes were such a fierce blue that not even a bastard could ruin his line. Damyn had been proof of that. “You have much boy to shed before you can become a man.”

“As a man has much animal to shed before he becomes human.” Again Jordan shifted his focus to the floored letter opener.

Bann looked to where Jordan was looking, said: “The Mystic wants his newborn children taken care of. They’re twins.”

Jordan nodded. It would be the first time he worked for the Mystic under actual commands. “I’ll dispose of them discretely.”

The Mystic hated twins. The Bible of the Sun prophesied his death as coming about by them. Even those unable to read knew of the prophecy’s existence.

By the arm, Bann pulled his son close to him. “Has the good part of your brain evaporated? You would kill babies without hesitation?”

“Should I hesitate, Father?”

“No, not this time.” Bann released his son’s arm.  “Hesitation has killed many. Twins are taboo. They are unnaturally unnatural.”

3 – Jordan

“You interrupted everything.” Cassandra crumpled the paper resting between herself and Damyn. Cross-legged the two of them sat atop her bed, an arm’s length apart. “We were playing a very adult game not intended for our immature minds.”

Jordan knew the game well. Sex stripped of love, his father had called it. It was a pastime that had recently developed in the country of Masago, involving no action just words, copulation for the mind. Another example of how intercourse had turned into a sport such as fishing or mushroom hunting. Fellatio contests on every street corner, masturbation competitions every Sunday, children playing Simon Sex.

And yet the room smelled not of fornication but of vanilla.

Jordan crossed his arms at his chest, thought of how he’d nearly been raped by a pack of women after leaving his father. If it weren’t safe to walk the castle halls alone, how dangerous was it to walk the streets? “Perhaps you two should finish this game in the shadows. Incest wasn’t always allowed on Earth.”

Damyn grinned. “And where is Earth located now?”

On the pages of books, Jordan thought. Earth lived in history, truly. The planet had disappeared hundreds of years ago. Only in words did it now remain.

Cassandra came from the bed, crossed the room to an open window, and discarded her crumblings below. Despite the age of a girl, she possessed the figure and confidence of a woman. Still at fifteen, she had more growth within. Who knew how much more child she had left to shuck?

“A society that suppresses love doesn’t have a future,” Cassandra said, as she eyed her reflection in the closest mirror. She picked up a paintbrush from the mirror’s table and swirled pinkness around her navel, touching up her painted on garments.

Damyn stood, smoothed out his clothes, entered the conversation: “It once was illegal to believe in yourself, and to think and be happy, you know? This is the age of freedom, though. One step out of God’s hands we’ve walked.”

Jordan turned his eyes from his sister’s desirability, looked at the floor. Once it had been illegal to be ugly, as well. “And what age comes next?”

Cassandra placed the paintbrush back into its container. “There is no going forward after nothing. Freedom doesn’t like to wear chains.”

Jordan cracked his fingers, then pointed to Damyn, remembered why he’d come here in the first place: “Father wants us to abort the Mystic’s children.”

“How can you abort them?” Horror distorted Cassandra’s voice. “I thought they’ve already been born?”

“It’s never too late to terminate a thing,” Jordan said, slamming the door as he left. Quickly quick he let himself back in. “Remind yourself that the Mystic owns your virginity, Cass.”

All women owed their virginity to the Mystic. Without virgins it was known the Mystic wouldn’t survive. Nobody knew exactly why he wouldn’t survive, but they just knew he wouldn’t.

Cassandra twirled her hair around her finger, said nothing. Instead she stared ahead like she expected a stare to do physical harm. “Father birthed those same words yesterday.”

4 – Bann

“I don’t want a legacy.” On a throne carved from human bones, the Mystic perched stroking his long white beard. Cosmetics about his eyes enhanced the terror of his hazel glare.  Almost he appeared more hawk than man. “Legacies are for dead people.”

A sea of priests mumbled amongst one another. Each had their head shaved bald, their eyebrows dyed absurd colors, and wore yellow cassocks. Besides height and weight, they all looked alike.

Father Panis, the eldest priest, stepped to the front of the crowd. His cassock was white-and-yellow. Short and pudgy described him best. Blue eyebrows made him look a clown.

“Arkin, you cannot be the Mystic forever,” the priest said beside a low chuckle. “Eventually your children must follow.”

Arkin hammered his hand against the arm of the throne. “My grandmother lived until she was two years more than one hundred and twenty. I am only half that age, priest, but I will outlive it.”

Bann lifted the cradled babies off the kaleidoscopic-checkered floor, climbed the stairs to the Mystic. “You cannot murder your children for eternity, Arkin.”

Arkin put his face in front of one of the babies, and it began to cry. “Why can’t I? Will they not die every time they swallow steel?”

The baby cried louder, woke its sister, and they cried together.

“Yes, they will die every time,” Bann said over the noise. “But part of yourself will die as well.”

Arkin eyed Bann as if he’d just discovered the stars. “What part of me will die from destroying these abominations?”

“The part it took to create them,” Bann said.

Slowly slow, the Mystic outstretched his hands, allowed each of the babies to play with his fingers. Then the Mystic sang in a key, it seemed, he’d only just created:

  Hush little baby, don’t you cry

  Daddy’s gonna teach you a lullaby

  And if that song don’t make you quit

 Daddy’s gonna beat you with a stick.

The babies cried louder.

Arkin pulled away his hands, cleaned them with his own spit. “Remove the life from the both of them.”

“But they are your heirs, Your Grace.” Father Tillicum squeezed the sides of his cassock. “Your wife grows weaker than the sun’s light at night. If she dies we’ll not be able to convince the people of another pregnancy. Many questioned this pregnancy because of your wife’s age. Ninety year olds do not regularly reproduce.”

“I want not to speak,” Father Logrip said, pink eyebrows nearly kissing each other, “but Father Tillicum’s words open my mouth. The people will reject a birth from the grave. They barely believed in this pregnancy. If it weren’t for the story of Sarah in the Old Testament they would’ve stormed the palace and treated us like food.”

“You need a new spouse,” Father Panis said. “It is time your mother becomes your mother once again and not your wife.”

“This room is filled with truth,” Bann said, although he wished not to admit it. He distrusted the agenda of anyone who claimed to speak for God. “These are your daughters, Arkin. You should not murder them”—he needed a reason why—“until you at least mount them.”

Arkin covered his ears. “I’ll never fuck a thing that wants me dead. Remove these twins before I remove all of your mounting equipment.”

All the priests laughed. They weren’t afraid of castration since they’d already castrated themselves in order to serve their God. Although some married and adopted heirs, none of them created children of their own.

“Why are you laughing, you nitwits?” Surely he knew why. Arkin stood up tall, giraffed his neck. “Do you enjoy death?”

“No, Mystic,” they all said in unison, saluting with their middle fingers.

“Forgive our joy,” Father Ferret said, covering his rabbit teeth with a hand. “We laugh not at your stupidity but at our own inferior conditions.”

Bann put down the babies, walked back down the stairs. “Remind yourselves of who you laugh at before you laugh.” He unsheathed his sword. “I challenge you to achieve your emotional erections without your heads.”

In one swing he killed Father Ferret. With a second swing he parted the dead body of its head. Blood squirted here and there without a determined destination.

“Enough, you idiots.” Down the stairs, the Mystic ran. He circled around the mess, kicked the corpse, let out a wildly wild laugh. “I tire of this repetition. Both babies will die. I will make a new daughter as I made these nonhumans, and this child will become my new wife. Now one of you dolts bring thirty virgins to my bed chambers and make sure none of them are decaying this time.”

Bann wiped red out of his eyes. “Follow the instructions of your Eternal King.”

Father Slocum cleared his throat. And with a handkerchief Father Income wiped his brow.

Father Panis stepped to the front of the crowd again. “We cannot follow these directions.”

Bann raised his sword. “And why can’t you, priest?”

Louder, the babies cried.

“There are no more virgins in the harem,” Father Panis said. “For months now we’ve been recycling them.”

Bann directed his sword toward the elder priest. “The Mystic’s harem must be filled with 1,500 virgins at all times.”

“It is impossible,” Father Income said. “One cannot pull a yes from a no.”

“A man is not supposed to deflower thirty virgins a night,” Father Logrip said. “Only Hercules even attempted such a feat from what we’ve garnered from recorded history. In Hinduism gods could embrace for years at a time, yet even this was usually with just one other. Perhaps Jesus Christ might’ve had such capabilities if he was indeed who he said he was, but we are unsure of his sexual preferences.”

Arkin clutched his stomach. “I am no mortal, you nitwits. I am God with a human face. I will always have my wants. Always.”

Priests cheetahed out of the throne room to find virgins. One could pull a yes from a no, it seemed.

5 – Cassandra

“I can smell your virginity,” the Mystic’s wife said. She had been the Mystic before Arkin, so nobody could doubt her abilities.

Cassandra patted the old woman’s head with a damp rag. “I’ve broken the hymen of my mind, my lady.” Rumor said she was no longer queen.

“But the one between your thighs is much different,” the woman said, reaching out. Her fingers looked like they’d started to decay. Brown spots covered her hands and arms. “An old woman cannot hurt you as much as a man.”

“But you can still do harm.” Quickly quick, Cassandra moved to the other side of the bed.

Coughs crept from the woman’s mouth. Green mucus too. She didn’t have the strength to bring her hand up to her face.

“I’ve bedded more women than Don Juan,” the sick woman said, as Cassandra cleaned her mouth.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know the reference, my lady.”

The old woman’s voice turned raspy: “He was a fuck-artist, girl. Twenty thousand women he went inside of. Twenty thousand. I’ve quadrupled that number and I won’t find half the praise when I’m dead.”

“You’ll never die, my lady.” Cassandra returned to the other side of the bed, dipped the rag into a bucket of water. “You’ll live as long as you choose.”

“You believe that shit, girl?”

“I believe in my belief.”

The woman raised her arm and then it fell. “I’ll be inside the bellies of ants and flies by the end of the year. Your belief won’t change that. A thousand virgins couldn’t give me back my strength. Death will be the last thing to fuck me.”

“Do you want me to rub your feet, my lady?”

“Why would you rub feet that can’t feel, girl?” Cassandra didn’t answer. “If you want to help me then find a weapon and shove it into my womb. I’d rather death fuck me fast instead of drawing it out into a slow, long, exhausting process. I grew tired of slow fucks over sixty years ago.”

Cassandra couldn’t imagine what the Mystic’s wife had looked like sixty years ago. Already the woman smelled like she was dead. Her breath had the scent of waste and rot. But maybe once she’d had flower-fragranced hair and a face so smooth and delicate that powders wished to rest on it, and a body in the shape of a woman and not that of a pile of sticks. Cassandra couldn’t picture it though. No, she could only think of the images disjointed, connected to nobody in particular.

“Do you hear me, girl? Find something sharp to shove up my sagging vagina.”

“I can’t, my lady.”

“You say can’t in front of your queen?”

“Rumor says you are no longer queen, my lady.”

“And when has rumor and truth ever shared a pillow?”

Cassandra swallowed the lump in her throat, answered: “Never, my lady.”

“Never,” the woman repeated, then coughed and coughed and coughed. “You’ll suck on my sagging teats if I tell you to, girl. Now suck.”

“Yes, my lady.” Cassandra put the rag in the bucket, then pulled back the old woman’s bedcovers.

“Don’t revert to your babyhood,” a voice said from the door. The long white beard told Cassandra it was the Mystic. “You should only follow your own choices,” he added, once he came up beside her at the side of the bed. For one so old, his posture was young, erect.

“The girl’s a whore,” the old woman said. “She knows nothing but pleasure.”

The Mystic stared his wife in the eyes, said: “You’re tired, Wife. You’re very tired.”

“I am tired,” his wife said, lids fluttering. Soon she fell into a slumber.

What trick the Mystic used to put her to sleep, Cassandra didn’t know. Many talked about magic, but who actually knew how to control it?

“You should only follow your own choices,” the Mystic repeated. He didn’t sound like a man afraid of anything, especially not babies.

“I would do whatever my God asks, my king,” Cassandra said, covering the snoring woman.

“You’re a very fluent liar,” the Mystic said, and he snorted, too. “How old are you?”

“Fifteen, my king.” Cassandra strengthened her posture.

“You’re too young to be a fluent liar,” the Mystic said, stroking her cheek. The rumors were true: he smelled of blood and virginity. His hand went from her cheek to her lips to her neck. “Do you enjoy unnecessary contact?”

“I like it very much, my king,” Cassandra said, voice and body atremble. She no longer liked her decision to wear a ring. Perhaps it did attract sexual attention. Once she returned to her rooms, she’d take it off.

“Only those I hate are forced to call me king,” the Mystic said, tracing her bare shoulder with his finger. “Call me Arkin,”

She forced a smile. “Yes, Arkin.”

“No is a much prettier sounding word,” the Mystic said, stroking his beard with his free hand. “Would you tell your father if I spread your legs and stripped you of your virtue?”

“No, Arkin.” She wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t. “I’ve never valued virginity as a virtue.”

“The House of Dagen has served the House of Jormungand well for many years.” He stopped investigating her body. “Your father runs this house as if it is his own. And currently your brothers are doing me a favor. You have tended to my wife well.”

“Thank you, Arkin.”

After a tug of his beard, he said: “Leave me before I go against my promise to your father and rape you.”

Cassandra curtsied, left, the ring already off her finger.

6 – Jordan

In portal cradles, the bastard carried one baby and Jordan carried the other. Neither twin seemed aware of its upcoming demise. At the moment, both were sleeping.

The inside of a bellybutton described the scent of the air most accurately. Truly it smelled like everyone in the city had decided to die at the same time. The forest couldn’t even block out the stench.

“This must’ve been what the Earth reeked of in its final hours,” Damyn said, weaving between trees.

Jordan opened his mouth, closed it. He had no idea if that were true. Who knew the odor of a nuclear holocaust?

Jordan stopped, listened. “The river is close.”

“Shouldn’t we feel bad about killing a few helpless babies?” Damyn trailed behind as only a bastard could. None of his clothes matched the predetermined characteristics of a killer: a suit of deep blue alongside of that untied tie.

“Does the water feel bad for drowning a person?”

“If water has feelings,” Damyn said, walking slower, “I’m sure it would feel bad.”

“Let the water worry about that moral dilemma,” Jordan said. “We’re not killing the babies. The river is.”

“But how did they end up in the river?”

“Can you shut up?” Jordan quickened his footsteps. “You’re the most moral bastard ever.”

Birds flew out of trees, landed on new branches. Squirrels could be heard scurrying above. If something bigger were making those noises they’d all die tonight.

“God is the most moral bastard ever,” Damyn said, once he caught up. Even the darkness couldn’t hide his grin.

Jordan grinned, too, stared up at the two red moons ruling the sky. “God is one moral bastard, but let us hope he likes our behavior.”

Ahead Damyn and Jordan walked, past trees and trees and trees, and plants and plants and plants neither of them could name. A rabbit hurried into a bush at the sound of their footsteps, and some deer pranced away from the stream once he noticed their presence.

Jordan knelt, ran his hand through the water. “It’s warm,” he said, as if that somehow made their act better. He’d never killed anyone before. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel about it.

Damyn crouched. “Should we name them before we send them on their way? Heaven doesn’t seem like a good place to be anonymous.”

“No,” Jordan said,  “but hell is a good place to be anonymous. And that’s where they’re going. All twins go to hell.”

Bushes rustled behind them. Ten men wearing all orange emerged from the shadows. The moonlight made their watches shine.

“Oh my little brothers,” the tallest man said (and he seemed the leader), “it looks like a perfect night for a random act of violence.”

A shorter man, with at least ten watches on each arm, knocked his hands together. “What’s it going to be then, eh?”

The leader snapped his fingers. “Give them the old merry, merry, ho, ho, ho, my little brothers.”

Absent of one punch or kick, the group of men stole the babies and held Damyn and Jordan still.

“Oh my little brothers, what do we have here?” the leader asked, before he spit on each baby in turn.

The twins awoke, whined and cried. In unison, the violent men all laughed. “Do you know who we are?” one of them asked.

“Only Bog knows,” Damyn said, referencing the God that the hooligans prayed too.

“That’s right lad,” the leader said, stomping his foot on the ground until all of his friends joined in. “Stupidity makes you feel real monkey, that does?”

“Yeah, it makes me feel really orange.” Damyn took a punch in the mouth for attempting to squirm free of his captors.

Jordan stayed still. He knew how this might end if they didn’t. The Cult of A Clockwork Orange patterned its life by the rules of Anthony Burgess’ novel of the same name. They lived only to beat, rape, and kill others. Besides destruction they had no other hobbies. Truly “ultra-violence” was their one aim.

“What’s it going to be then, eh?”

“The good old upstream-downstream,” the cult chanted. And clapping they repeated: “The good old upstream-downstream. The good old upstream-downstream.”

7 – Jordan

Red moons floated by the opening in the throne room. A pool of collected rainwater lay beneath. The Mystic circled the edge of the entrenchment, cape hanging over his shoulders. Cautiously cautious, eyes followed his movements.

“We risked our lives to retrieve the twins.” Jordan ran his tongue across his teeth. He was surprised he still had them all. “We took every punch and kick like they were gifts.”

“I think we might’ve won, too, if I weren’t half a person,” Damyn said. Pregnant was a good word to describe his bottom lip. Perhaps even his whole face. The look of it proved he’d taken more of the beating.

From a golden goblet, the Mystic drank. Blood poured down his chin and beard. Jordan had drunk wine since he was little, but he’d yet to taste blood. Most Nahimanaians drank animal blood. The Mystic only drank the blood of humans.

Bann cracked his knuckles. “Ten against one and a half are not fair odds, Arkin. My sons did good to survive.”

“Your sons made a mistake in returning after failure.” The Mystic tugged on his beard, swallowed more blood. “Where are those babies now?”

“They could be anywhere but alive,” Jordan said, shifting to his other knee.

The Mystic smiled, slowly slow licked color off his teeth. They’d been filed in such a way to remind one of a vampire. And all the red made his appearance more ghastly. His skin looked as if it had never touched the sun.

“If it weren’t for the babies we would not be here,” Damyn said. “The cult was so infatuated by their lack of protection that they eventually forgot about us.”

The Mystic crossed the room, lifted Jordan up, and hugged him tightly tight. Soon he did the same to Damyn.

“The Cult of A Clockwork Orange has never left a person alone until they reached the afterlife,” the Mystic said. “It is a miracle that the two of you still have mouths to speak—minds to remember your story.”

“Nothing will make us forget this night,” Jordan said.

Damyn nodded in agreement. “Nothing.”

“Many pleasures have been forged to help mortals forget their worries,” the Mystic said. He extended his goblet toward Jordan.

“It tastes like metal,” Jordan said, after he’d accepted the offering.

“Metal has made many men strong,” Bann said from the side.

The Mystic cackled, grabbed his goblet back, finished off its contents, and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “I desire to reward you each with a gift for your supreme service. Both of you shall have one wish granted of your choosing. And I shall be your genie so don’t think small.”

Damyn raised his hand, said: “Mystic, I already know my wish.”

After the Mystic jerked his beard and rubbed his nose, he looked askance at the bastard. “Speak.”

8 – Jordan

“And what did you ask for?” Cassandra leaned across the bamboo-and- ivory table. Her voice could barely be heard over the noise of the party.

Horns, guitars, and violins echoed throughout the great hall. But even conversation overpowered music.

“I wished to be free of wishes,” Damyn said. He sipped wine until he had none left. Then poured another glass.

Cassandra rumpled her face, retreated back. “Why did you do that?” “Because I’m careful.” Damyn grinned.

“Because you’re stupid,” Cassandra said.

“How about it?” Bem fingered the scar down his face. Jordan didn’t know where the scar had come from, even though he was Bem’s best friend. “What would you have wished for, Cassandra?”

“Something better than nothing,” she said, smoothing out her black- and-white dress. Today she’d chosen to wear actual clothing rather than paint. And she had removed that ring from her finger. Yet still, she kept to the trend of braiding only one side of her hair.

A man clothed in nothing but a sock around his private parts jumped atop the table and ran the length of it. Behind him, kicking plates and glasses, chased a woman missing the top half of her outfit. Her breasts frogged up and down as she made her way across the table.

Cassandra twirled her untied hair around her finger. “What will you do with your wish, Brother?” she asked, and left before he gave an answer. Perhaps she’d spent too much time around Damyn.

“I haven’t thought about it yet.” Jordan took a coin out of his pocket, flicked it up into the air, caught it, and then flicked it up again. “I’ve never had a wish before.”

In midair Damyn snatched the coin and put it in his own pocket. “Make sure you wish for something that doesn’t exist,” he advised, and then excused himself from the table as well.

Bem rubbed at his scar as if he thought it would fade. His dark hair would turn silver first. “Cassandra looked pretty tonight, didn’t she?”

“Cassandra looked like Cassandra,” Jordan said. “How about it?”

9 – Cassandra

Barefoot, Cassandra walked toward the pond, if one could still call it that. The Mystic had replaced the water with wine. At least he had in all of his courtyards.

“What did you really wish for?” Cassandra figured she’d ask again in case he’d lied. Not even a bastard could be stupid enough to wish for nothing.

Damyn combed his hand through his golden-flecked hair. All the bruises on his face made him less handsome. “I’ll tell you again,” he said. “But first, why don’t we go back to my room and admire your waterfall?” He smiled just with his eyes. It made her want to kiss him—maybe more. She  wondered if her father would discourage a marriage to a half-person.

Cassandra plopped down on the grass, swirled her foot into the pond of  wine. Where the shade of the trees didn’t fall, sunlight made many things sparkle. “You’re not as charming as you think.”

“Yeah, but you know, I haven’t yet told you that you’re the best mixture of egg and sperm that I’ve ever seen. I really can’t believe you were once anything other than what you are now.”

Cassandra bit her thumb. “Was that supposed to make me swoon?” Damyn dropped down next to her. “If you are, in fact, swooning then it was meant to make you swoon. But if you’re not turned on then it was merely an intentional bad joke.”

A lock of hair fell in front of her eye. “It sounds like you’ve left me to answer my own question.”

“Yeah, I’ve recently decided I only like answering a question with another question.” He grabbed her foot and put her toes in his mouth, sucked the liquid off them.

A tingling sensation came over her and she shivered. Slowly slow, she pulled her foot back. Who knew a foot could provide so much pleasure. Certainly she’d never thought to masturbate her toes at night.

Damyn grinned. “What are you thinking about?”

“Thoughts are personal.” Cassandra stood, and he pulled her back down.

Clothes rained on their heads, a bra and underwear. In the tree above a  man and woman were humping one other. Together, Damyn and Cassandra laughed.

10 – Bann

The great hall was as quiet as it’d been since the party began. The masturbation music had stopped every mouth from opening, every eye from blinking. Even though disgusted, Bann had trouble turning away. He’d never seen a woman use her vagina as an instrument.

In and in and in the musician’s fingers went so that they appeared to never go out. She hummed a melody, too, alongside of her sloshing. Near the end of the performance she banged a tambourine against her hip until she orgasmed to a deafening screech.

“Excellent,” the Mystic yelled, applauding. “She never once reverted to moaning to cage our attention.”

For the sake of politeness Bann clapped, too. Though he wished to never experience another similar performance. Music wasn’t music anymore. Sex was no longer sex. Love now was imaginary.

Arkin elbowed him, winked. “Only God knows how to make a woman cum so violently, eh?”

Bann nodded, forced a smile. He wondered what music would sound like in the next decade. Perhaps some sort of censorship needed to be placed upon the masses before limits no longer existed.

The so-called musician bowed to the applause. Once the adulation settled the crowd went back to drinking, gambling, and humping. There wasn’t a single location to rest one’s gaze if they desired to view goodness. Obscenity was on every hand and tongue.

Bann leaned his mouth close to Arkin’s ear. “Your Grace, I fear Masago is becoming an ocean of amorality.” He’d worry about cleaning up his own country after he’d cleaned up all others.

Arkin slapped his stomach. “Nonsense. A lack of morals is expected from a free society. No person enjoys good acts.”

A woman who wore many necklaces and a long skirt came close. The used condoms that accessorized her belt marked her as one of the Dancers of  Paradise. They were a group of women who, through a variety of methods, entertained the nobility. It was said that they were natives of the Garden of Eden, but nobody truly believed that. Bann hoped nobody believed, anyway.

The dancer held out a tray of human arms. “Some food, my king.” Arkin took an arm, bit into it. “That’s all,” he told the woman, while the juice ran into his beard. She scurried off.  “Bann, how can you worry when you’re free?”

Suddenly sudden, food no longer looked appetizing. “Sometimes the side effects of a thing are more dangerous than the thing itself.”

Arkin continued chewing. “What is this thing you speak of?”

“I’ve heard much news through whispers, Arkin. The holes in my ears feel wider than they ever have before. This entire city reeks of mutiny.”

“Stop listening, Bann. A god cannot turn into a human. Nothing will drag me from my throne.”

“But—”

“Nothing, Bann. Now come join your king in an orgy.”

11 – Bann

Rain descended through the roof’s opening. Once again the throne room was occupied by a plethora of priests.

“I am God with a human face,” Arkin said, as he pounded his fist against the throne. “Not a human with the face of God.” He let the distinction settle. “This body will not age. And it will not die.”

“You cannot live past your life,” Father Panis said, waving the notion aside. “Bodies are left out of heaven for a reason.”

Arkin pointed toward the sea of yellow cassocks. “How many of you question my immortality?”

Of the twenty priests that were present not a single one raised their hand. But their faces said a different thing, a subtler thing. Perhaps Father Ferret’s death still held down their tongues.

Father Nocum shifted the yarmulke on his head. No dye hanged to either of his eyebrows. He had the appearance of a snake if ever a snake looked human. “Mystic, we have no doubts about your immortality. None of us have ever questioned your existence in that respect.”

Father Logrip seconded the opinion: “Immortality is not as fantastic an attribute as it seems. Many immortals have shared the same fate of us mortals. In fact, one scholar once wrote that more gods had fallen from the skies than men had been born from the womb. Many smart minds agree  that  immortality  can  only  be  achieved  through  writing.  We remember Shakespeare easier than we remember the Twelve Olympian gods of the ancient Greek world.”

“Father Logrip is a master of history,” Father Tillicum said. His missing eyebrows distracted Bann, made it harder to focus on words. “A man is not wise unless he knows the past as well as the future.”

Bann noticed the fervor in the priest’s voice, how he talked as if he were a prophet. Was that an erection under his cassock? Impossible. One couldn’t achieve sexual excitement through faith alone. No testicles, no arousal.

“And what do you know of the future, Tillicum?” Intrigue soaked the Mystic’s tone.

“I know a thing will always be surpassed by another thing,” Father Tillicum said, tightening his cassock.

“And I am told that a wise man has extra holes in his brain. Let us see if that is, in fact, true, priest.” Arkin cackled like a man who’d just drunk hysterics.

Two men came from the shadows of the columns and forced Father Tillicum to his knees. In less time than it took to step, a sword was drawn.

Finally, Father Panis threw up his hands, raised his voice: “You cannot kill my priests because you dislike the answers they give.”

“But I can, you nitwit.” Down the marble stairs Arkin ran, and when he reached the bottom he ran back up, pulled a sword from behind his throne of bones, and went back down to the unevenly-colored checkered floor.

While he caught his breath, he leaned on his sword as if not to fall over. “I can, you nitwit. Open up Father Tillicum’s head so we can examine his mind.”

One guard raised his sword, swung down. Missed. The fool must’ve never been trained to be accurate, only to swing.

“A mind is immaterial,” Bann shouted, pushing past the crowd of cassocks. “We can examine that better if the priest is alive.”

“I can promise you immortality,” Father Tillicum said, staring up at the ceiling. He rose to his knees. “I can promise you the next step beyond immortality.”

“The next step?” Arkin repeated.

“This is nonsense,” Father Panis said. “One step has to be the last step.” Father Tillicum stood up, knocked aside the guards who attempted to seize him. “In Father Panis’ world the last step has been taken,” the priest agreed, brushing his cassock of dirt. “This world, however, is based on chaos and irrationality. And how can a world lacking reason be forced into a box beside logic and order. It cannot. It cannot.”

“This is nonsense.” Father Panis waved a clenched fist.

Arkin thrust his sword skyward. “I am told that a wise man has extra holes in his brain. Let us see if that is, in fact, true, Father Panis.”

12 – Bann

“I shouldn’t listen to this silliness,” Father Tillicum said, tightening his white-and-yellow cassock. “I am now the head priest. God and the Mystic alone will judge me.”

“You owe me your life,” Bann said. Father Panis lay dead in a pool of blood and tears because of what Bann had done.

“I owe you no such thing.” Father Tillicum puckered his lips. “Your words did not save me.”

Two teenage boys passed them in the hall. Each adolescent held a spear with a baby skewered on it. One of Arkin’s favorite games that had now become a favorite to all. The Mystic had invented it himself during the last minor war. Throwing children into the air and attempting to land them on weapons.  Whatever pleasure could be obtained by killing the helpless, Bann couldn’t understand. He’d been against it always.

“We misremember the past,” Bann finally said, now chest to chest with the priest. It wouldn’t be so hard to carve red eyebrows back onto the man’s face.

Overhead, a circular paper lantern blew out.

“Threats are taken very serious by God,” Father Tillicum said, and he looked to the dead lantern. “You would be smart to have God on your side.”

“What are your plans?”

“I have no plans.” Father Tillicum created distance, licked his lips. “Plans are for amateurs. Actions are for serious men. Now goodbye, sir.” Once the man turned to go, Bann grabbed his arm. “You don’t understand my intentions.”

The priest clenched his teeth. “I stand under all understanding. Now goodbye, sir.”

13 – Cassandra

Cassandra slathered semen butter on the cornbread. She wasn’t sure how a person could eat donkey semen, though. She doubted a man’s even tasted good. But she’d heard of women chugging mugs of semen for fun.

Some said semen would replace wine, but she doubted it. Nothing replaced wine. Just like nothing had ever replaced sex … or words.

By the time she’d prepared breakfast, the Mystic’s wife was already asleep. Death really was coming for her. Nobody slept anymore. Fifteen- minute naps were all anybody risked if they wanted to stay alive. A mother could rape her daughter just as fast as a stranger. In truth, nobody could trust anyone. They couldn’t even just pretend.

Cassandra dipped her finger in semen, smelled it. She wondered—a noise frightened her and she dropped everything on the floor.

A priest unwrapped himself from the curtains, pulled them closed. The room grew dark as first light.

“She’s very sick, my child”—he crouched down to clean the mess—“but you’ve taken very good care of her.”

Cassandra threw the bread and glass back into the basket. The urine wouldn’t leave a visible stain but the smell might take time to fade. “How long were you watching me?”

“I wasn’t watching,” the man said, and Cassandra noticed he had no eyebrows. “I was admiring.”

“Admiring can still be very creepy,” she said, setting the basket on the bedside table.

“I was praying,” the priest said then. But who prayed inside of a curtain? “A church can be anywhere. It’s one of our new doctrines.”

“People shouldn’t change doctrines. Doctrines should change people.” “Your father sent me here to check on your virginity.” He sucked his

finger wet. “He’s been concerned by many unsavory rumors.”

At first Cassandra stopped his insertion, but then he forced his finger deep inside anyway. It didn’t feel as good as when she’d done it to herself. When  the  priest  finished  his  probe,  he  pulled  his  hand  out  from underneath her skirt. Menstruation dripped off his hand. He sucked his finger again, cleanly clean.

“You’re definitely still a virgin,” he said, flicking his tongue. “I’ll make sure to inform your father of the unexpected news. Or you can tell him yourself.”

14  – Cassandra

She’d cried enough tears for a thousand eyes. It was as if the emotions were stuck on her pupils. A hand could wipe away tears easy enough but not emotions.

“I don’t want you leaving this room until you turn back into a human.” Her father sounded concerned, but not concerned about her well-being. “When the clock strikes twelve o’clock you’ll turn back into my daughter, understand?”

Cassandra sniffled, nodded, eyed the clock. It had four hands rather than two: the gold hands counted hours of day, the silver hands counted hours of night. But how could one confine sadness to time? Feelings were feelings because they were uncontrollable.

“Life doesn’t enjoy being wept upon,” Bann said. Something other than sympathy revised his tone.

The more he talked, the more she realized he wasn’t much of a father. Or not what a father used to be anyway. Sometimes stories had evil fathers. But in the end the evil ones always died.

“This is a land of tears,” he said, and he shook her, “but your tears are pointless.”

More sadness volcanoed from her eyes. It was hard to stand. She felt like her bones had been removed, like she was a hundred percent water.

Bann shook her again. “When we constructed this world….” His voice lowered through grief. “When we constructed this world we never forecasted the consequences of total freedom. We never could’ve guessed that freedom was just as dangerously dangerous as oppression, that freedom was cloaked chaos. And now I fear this world has become the land without footprints.”

He held her tight so she couldn’t turn away.

“Anyone can do anything and no punishment is guaranteed.” To prove his point he punched her mouth, held her up so she didn’t fall. Once that might’ve been called child abuse. Now it was just a punch, just an action, face hitting hand, nothing else. “If you want to survive in this world you’ll have to put cobwebs over your heart.”

Three times, the clock struck twelve.

“The future is the past,” he said. “And we will deny neither what is gone or what is to come.”

Cassandra hadn’t a clue of what he meant.

“Don’t powder the bruises off your face, understand?” Cassandra nodded, touched her face. “Draw on more if you can. We’ll use them for my revenge. I’ll show Father Tillicum that plans aren’t just for amateurs.” The  clock went silent.   Her tears ceased, but she still wasn’t his daughter.  Why would she respect him as a daughter if he didn’t protect her like a father?

15 – Jordan

“The fattest are always starving.” Bann closed the windows, one after another. “The richest are always the poor.”

Jordan furrowed his brows. “I don’t understand, Father. If you’re not speaking in riddles then I know not what a riddle is.”

“Intelligence is no riddle.” He shut the last window, cheetahed to the door and opened it. Then shut it again. “A person can only remain at the feet of another for so long. At some point they tire of looking up. Any strong person enjoys looking down, after all. Though moral men view everything at eye-level.”

“And are we not men of morals?” Jordan wiped his mouth of lipstick. This conversation had pulled him away from a sexual encounter with a beautiful woman. At least he hoped she were a woman. They hadn’t gone far enough to find out each other’s real gender.

“All normal men have bad morals when enslaved and even worse morals when in control. Good morals only exist between these two extremes. Currently we are between.”

Jordan buttoned up his shirt. “Then between is good and so are we.”

“Sometimes you think the thoughts of an idiot. Would you like to be between a man and another man?”

“No, but I could not deny myself the pleasure of two women.” Bann raised a hand as if to strike. Jordan flinched.

“Even a woman can have a penis,” his father reminded.

Sometimes it was nearly impossible to decipher a person’s sex. Androgyny had become a trend of its own. Everybody wanted to choose his or her own gender. Apparently the one they’d been given upon birth wasn’t good enough.

Bann opened the door again, closed it. “‘Nothing is as it seems’ has never been truer. Truth has become a taboo.”

“What are all these strange words?” Jordan couldn’t believe he’d left the embrace of a woman for babble. Hard talk didn’t compare to a hard penis.

Against the doorknob, Bann forced a chair. “At the moment humans rule over heaven. But soon God will return to the throne. We weren’t meant to rise past knowledge. I fear our next fall will be our last. Nothing progresses forever.”

Jordan wished he had a knife to plunge into this man. Truly this wasn’t his father. Perhaps it hadn’t been his father for a long time. Could the man be senile?

“This naked era is over, my son. The majority wishes to be clothed again. No matter how much a man claims he wants to be undressed, he always longs to put his clothes back on. A man cannot be an animal or he is no man.”

“Have you become a prophet or heretic?”

“Synonyms for the same meaning.” Bann cheetahed across the room, curtained the windows. “One must learn to separate wisdom from revelation. The end of freedom is near. Society will resurrect itself.”

Jordan raised an eyebrow, cleared his throat. “What have you been reading?” For once he felt the questioning father.

Bann came toward him, squeezed Jordan’s arms together. “Rebellion is a tree that grows everywhere, in any climate, under any sun, spontaneously.”

“Do you have a plot to assassinate the Mystic?” Jordan asked, surprise hanging on every word.

Bann shook his head, swallowed. “There are things that should never be said but only thought.”

“What are you telling me, Father?”

“Killing a king, a religion, a culture, can always be dangerously dangerous. But there is assimilation. People are tired of wings. They hold out their hands for chains. They clamor for the protection of laws.”

“Do we murder the Mystic?”

“No. We put the future on its knees before us.”

16 – Bann

“What is this silliness?” Father Tillicum tightened the yellow sash around his cassock, took the empty seat next to the Mystic. “Would God even know why I’d ever attack a little girl?”

With a finger Arkin picked at his teeth. “Then this discussion is over. The priest has never even come in contact with your daughter.”

A smile touched the corner of the priest’s mouth. “Lying is not one of God’s favorite crimes.”

Bann pushed his cup of urine aside. He no longer had a desire to eat or drink. “And what are His favorite ones.”

“The ones that He allows.” Father Tillicum laughed until Arkin joined in.

Presently, the room felt smaller. It was as if the conversation had some hand in shrinking it. The whole of Bann’s mind contained dark thoughts.

From the furthest door two boyish servants entered carrying the main course. On the table they set the roasted corpse. It had been a pregnant woman. Now just a Nahimanaian delicacy.

Of late cannibalism had become big business. Only recently the Mystic had created a human breeding farm to meet the demand. Rampant rumors of men impregnating their wives just so they could eat them circulated amongst the poor. Bann doubted any of the stories were untrue. After all, he’d eaten his own pregnant wife when the Mystic had cooked her.

“Nine months,” the younger of the servants informed them all before he left.

Like a butcher, Father Tillicum carved the belly and baby. “I hate to speak of serious matters in the presence of such a delicacy,” he said, plating the food, “but it is my duty to speak regardless of the situation.”

Politely polite, Bann refused. He’d eat himself before he ever ate another person again. In truth, he had never enjoyed the taste of human beings.

The priest spooned out extra juice from the broken womb. “Perhaps we should say a prayer before we eat.”

Back onto his plate, Arkin spit his food. “Make it quick, priest. I’m hungry.”

They all turned westward to the setting sun. Father Tillicum prayed for the rise of another and eternal health and, also, gave thanks to the hands that prepared the meal. Once he was done the Mystic demanded seconds even though he’d yet to finish what was on his plate. The priest hurried to serve more.

“We will have your true immortality by the end of the year,” Father Tillicum said as he sat back down.

“Six months,” Arkin corrected, before sucking at his fingers.

“Yes, six months.” The priest no longer sounded proud of himself. Bann pulled his eyes away from the dead, said: “Where will this true immortality come from?”

First, Father Tillicum chewed. “There is a plant that grows only in the desert. It is a sacred plant, a godly plant. Any disease can be cured by it, even mortality.”

“And how do you propose to find it in the desert?”

“We’ll travel. Thousands will die in the search but it will be worth it. Arkin has already given the command. As we speak, the desert grows closer.”

“And what if the cure can’t be found?”

“We will find it,” Father Tillicum said. “God puts the best cures in the worst places. Obviously Adam and Eve were ignorant of this fact because they plucked death from a stupid tree. They became like gods. Arkin will become God.”

Arkin banged the table. “I’m God already, you nitwit.”

“Yes, Mystic. Forgive my language.” Quickly quick, the priest stood, lifted his cassock and refilled his goblet with his own urine.

Bann thought he noticed a pair of testicles between the priest’s legs but he might’ve been looking for excuses to end the man’s life.

“Would anybody else care for a glass?” Father Tillicum said before he re-sat. “I always leave a little extra in my bladder just in case.”

Bann changed the subject: “How will you deal with the virgin crisis?” He reached across the table and pulled meat off the thigh. It was too early to look suspicious.

“Father Tillicum had the sense to take from Masago until our supplies replenish.”

Bann chewed, said: “Masago is a large country. But they’ve never truly done what we’ve told them to do. Right now a child queen rallies a group of rebels in the southwest quarters, it is said. How will you quiet her?”

“Death quiets everything,” Father Tillicum said. “If the bitch refuses to  hand  her  virginity  over  to  the  Mystic  alive  then  he’ll  take  her maidenhead when she’s dead.”

Arkin slurped juice off his plate. “Necrophilia has arisen in Masago. They developed something called farewell intercourse.” Bann didn’t want to know what that was. “I’ll fuck a dead woman just as soon as a live one.” Father Tillicum reached his hand back into the belly, came out with a little  foot, gnawed on it. “Does anyone even know the name of this so-called queen?”

“She’s  named  herself  the  Queen  of  Macawi,”  Bann  said.  “She denounces time and religion. She only enlists girls. Maims boys so that they cannot fight. It seems even women tire of passing from one man to the next like words exchanged from mouth to ears.”

Father Tillicum laughed. “Macawi? Where is that? How can she be a queen of a make-believe country?”

“How could the Pope excommunicate his own God?” Bann asked.

“In a false religion anything is allowed,” Father Tillicum answered. “Earth was not a place for true faith.”

Bann wondered how true the man was to his own faith. Sooner or later he hoped to find out.

Father Tillicum clasped his hands together. “Our prayers will be able to destroy this false state.”

“Immaterial things are hardest to destroy,” Bann said.

A full smile expanded on the priest’s face. “Then we’ll have to destroy the material that creates it. I’ve already enlisted your sons to command the army that will bring the Mystic’s harem back to full strength.”

“My sons?”

“Yes, they seem young enough to travel far distances and fight wild she-beasts. Though they’ll need your help for the knowledge they lack. Your daughter will stay here, of course. I’ve already planned a council on the subject tonight. The priesthood will decide if your daughter is worthy to bear the Mystic’s heir.”

“But there is a long-standing promise between Arkin and myself. You cannot have my daughter.”

Father Tillicum untied his sash, tightened it again. “Promises are easy to break since they lack material, no?”

The Mystic said nothing, kept eating.

17  – Jordan

“And  what  can  we  do  about  any  of  this?  We’re  only  children.” Cassandra touched the bruise on her face. If Jordan knew by whom she received it, he would’ve already killed the person.

“You’re children in body but not in mind,” Bann said, back against the door. Paranoia dressed him more than clothes. In just a few days he’d developed a fear of ears. “You have more knowledge today than most adults have on their deathbeds.”

Damyn tied his tie. “I’ll be the handsomest commander in all of history.” He’d be the stupidest commander in all of history too, Jordan knew.

“What do you know about commanding an army, bastard?”

“I know people will have to do terrible things because of the power of my words.”

Slowly slow, Jordan shook his head. “Your words are no more powerful than anyone else’s.”

“This isn’t the time to bicker amongst ourselves.” Bann opened the door, closed it after he thought it safe. “We are more than brother and daughter and father. We are a family.”

They all looked at their father as if he were a ghost. Family truly was an archaic word. It had been removed from the dictionary thousands of years ago. Only intellectuals even knew what the word meant. Besides laws and twins, it was the one other taboo. Together they formed a trinity of taboo. Nobody talked about such things out in the open.

“We are a family,” Bann said again. “That means we don’t fight each other. And we don’t fuck each other.”

Jordan threw both his hands skyward. “I haven’t fucked anyone in this room.”

“Do you want me to change that, Brother?” Cassandra put her hands on her hips. Truly, they were hips he wouldn’t mind resting between.

Jordan pointed at her, said: “Fuck you.”

She smiled, fluttered a laugh. “That is the offer.”

Again, Bann checked the hall. “Shut up—all of you. We are with the

Mystic but soon we will be without him, understand?”

“Yeah.” Damyn raised his hand. “What if I still adore the Mystic?” Bann crossed the room, grabbed his half-son by the collar. “Then you are a bastard. And bastards don’t have a high place in society. They never have and never will.”

“Yeah.” Damyn grinned. “Perhaps I’ll join your little gang then.” Bann let the bastard go. “We need to create an act of separation from the Mystic. An offense of familial proportions that allows for us to do nothing but side with ourselves. Cassandra will be our pawn, our mock pawn, anyway. ”

“She doesn’t look much like a chess piece.” Damyn grinned. He was the only one that did.

Jordan crossed his arms. “How will she be a mock pawn?”

“By helping break a long-standing promise,” Bann said, cracking his fingers.

“What promise?” Damyn combed a hand through his hair.

Together, their father clapped his hands. “We’ll do everything the Mystic expects us to. It is always best to be the villain that not even the hero would like to defeat,” Bann added, and he went out the door before explaining further.

18  – Bann

Bann relaxed against a hallway column, as a few Dancers of Paradise walked past him carrying snakes. Somebody was about to be entertained. “What do you need in order to persuade the council to vote in favor of upholding my daughter’s virginity?” Bann asked softly soft.

Father Income slipped from the other side of the column. Both his eyebrows were dyed green. His eyes were green, too. “A name can say everything, can’t it?”

“I thought it would’ve been harder to negotiate with a man without testicles,” Bann said.

“I love the feeling of watching things fall apart,” the priest said. “Besides, I never was an intimate of Father Tillicum. The man has a vice for every finger.”

Bann pulled his cloak over his head. “So you’ll help me in exchange for money?”

“You’ve misread my name, sir.”

Bann lost control of his eyebrows. They went up on their own accord. Still the price had to be paid.

19 – Father Tillicum

On the left and right, sixteen priests sat in comfy chairs. Eight fools to the left. Eight fools to the right. Seated at the center of them all was, for once, Father Tillicum tightening his cassock. It was nice to look out from the head of the council rather than to be staring at it. The enclosure now seemed twice the size it had been when Father Panis led.

“A group of anthropologists discovered one of the spaceships from Earth.” Father Welcome shifted the spectacles on his face, rolled up the parchment of human skin.

“And what did they find inside?” Father Tillicum did his best to shift his testicles without notice.

Sometimes he imagined what it would’ve been like not to have them. And then he tried to forget the thought all together. Castration would make his life safer but it would also make him impotent. Besides, he wasn’t sure if he could survive without boys. That release of hardness was his greatest thrill. Of course he enjoyed the good it did the youth as well. Of course.

There was no better sexual union than between a man and a boy. The Greeks, especially Aristophanes and Socrates, understood the importance of such relationships; they’d both gone as far as granting the highest value to male-male copulation. And who argued against Greek knowledge? After all, they were founders of philosophy.

Father Welcome passed the parchment along to Father Nocum and Father Nocum to Father Willkomm. Each priest read and passed with no more than a mumble of “Oh”.

“What did they find inside?” Father Tillicum asked again, and he pounded the arm of his chair to emphasize how he expected an answer.

“A warehouse of pornography,” Father Welcome said, tucking his other set of eyes into his pocket. “Mostly filled with visual books and movies. But what are movies to us now? We haven’t the means to watch them. Obviously the books are the only artifacts of any value.”

“More books,” some long-nosed priest said. “Is that all that is left of our ancestral home?”

“Art is all that history leaves.” Father Logrip crossed his legs. “Perhaps we should give more money to artists so we aren’t lost in time. People will always need books.”

“Keep the artists starving,” Father Income said. “No good work has come from a well-fed writer or musician. Hunger keeps them hungry.”

“Enough of this small talk,” Father Tillicum said when finally the parchment reached his hands.

“No talk is small,” Father Income said.

Everyone should’ve taken note of his tone. But which priests actually did?

Quickly quick, Father Tillicum read. “Over 500 years of Playboy.” Now Father Tillicum was intrigued. “Do we have any actual physical material or just words?”

Father Welcome clapped his hands, and as soon as he did, a handful of handsome altar boys entered by the main doors. “I’ve done my duty and looked over the findings.” Of course he had. Father Tillicum wondered what the man had already kept for himself. “I don’t know why they call it Playboy,” he added, as a slender boy placed a copy of the visual book in Father Tillicum’s hands. “I’ve yet to find a single boy on any of the pages.”

Father  Tillicum  flipped  through  the  pages.  The  book  contained nothing but nude Earth women that looked so unflawed that it was hard to tell if they were, in fact, women at all. He’d seen enough female breasts to recognize the difference between a creation of technology and of God. How could one achieve arousal by staring at inorganic material?

“A man attracted to females couldn’t even appreciate this.” So he didn’t vomit, he clenched his jaw. “Take it away.” He handed the book back to the boy. “Did these anthropologists send anything worth our time?”

Another altar boy handed him an instrument shaped like a phallus. All the priests released their laughter. Not a single one remained quiet.

“Does it come with instructions?” one priest asked. Since he held no power his name was unnecessary.

“What does one do with this?” Father Tillicum shook the foreign object. “It is called a dildo,” Father Welcome said.

“I’ve read about these strange toys before,” Father Logrip said. “Shakespeare wrote of them in his famous play A Winter’s Tale. They have been around since the dawn of recorded history. They’ve helped many women control their urges.”

Father Tillicum was appalled. A toy such as this could rid Masago of virgins. Where would he find virgins for the Mystic then—across the sea? “I want all of these toys brought here. Kill everyone that knows of their existence.”

“The history of the dildo cannot be questioned,” Father Welcome said, coming out of his seat, “but the people of Masago have already developed many other uses for it.” He snatched the toy from Father Tillicum’s hand. “Allow me to demonstrate.”

Slowly slow, the priest inserted the fake penis deep into his mouth. When he put it in as far as possible, he quickly quick removed it alongside of his meals. Vomit covered floors. Many noses were pinched in horror.

Father Welcome wiped his mouth. “The dildo can be used to incite regurgitation,” he said. “A magnificent remedy it is in case of a poisoning.” Father  Tillicum  snatched  the  dildo  back.  “I’ll  keep  this  in  my trustworthy   hands.   We   don’t   want   just   anybody   surviving an assassination.”

*  *  *

“Then it is decided. In our church, relationships between a man and a boy will be held in the highest of value amongst sexual unions since they promote, as the Greeks say, leadership and virtue. The union between a man and woman will be second for its inclination toward procreation. And unions between women and women will be, well, they will be for pleasure. Such a vile word for us men of God.”

All the priests chuckled, some snorted.

“Most vile,” someone said quietly quiet, but not quiet enough as to not be heard.

With a hand Father Tillicum silenced the crowd. “Now, for the next order of business, as we always say. We’ll vote on the possibility of using Cassandra Dagen’s womb to create the Mystic’s new heir and wife. Please, by a show of hands?”

Eight hands went up and eight stayed down. Perhaps this was where Father Panis and Ferret could’ve been used to break the tie. Such a shame they had died, Father Tillicum thought.

He tightened his cassock. “Father Income, explain what you want.”

“I already have what I want,” Father Income said, and he smiled. Not one bit did Father Tillicum like the answer or the smile. No, that smile looked like it would last forever. “In the breeding process, a Dagen will always overtake a Jormungand. A Dagen’s hair is too dark; their eyes are too blue.”

“This is truly true,” a silly priest said. Unbeknownst to him, he’d be dead tomorrow for agreeing. Father Tillicum would make sure of it. “We have to think of odds. If the child doesn’t look like a Jormungand we’re all ruined.”

Yes, Father Tillicum would kill that silly priest twice. “Then what is the vote now?”

It was unanimous. Not a single hand rose in his favor.

20 – Father Tillicum

Arkin threw him to the floor, looked down at him as if he were a spider and not a priest. “I need a reason not to remove that fucking dress from your body and roast you for my dinner.”

Father Tillicum stayed down. He’d never seen the Mystic so furious. “This anger can’t be good for your health,” he said. “High blood pressure can weaken a person’s ability to stimulate.”

Arkin flipped a table. Papers floated where they wanted to until they landed on the floor. A candle-lamp was the next object of destruction.

Father Tillicum shielded his mind with his hands. “I cannot control the whims of an entire priesthood, Mystic. They wanted what we wanted and then they wanted something else. I underestimated the deterrent of fear.”

From  a  distance,  Bann  watched,  smiled.  He  wished  to  see  this outcome. His joy confirmed everything.

“It is not too late to salvage this disappointment,” Father Tillicum said, closing his eyes. He’d rather not see himself die. “From the locals I can find a vessel. I swear.”

“You swore you’d already have the vessel, you nitwit.”

“A second oath is more a true oath.” Father Tillicum opened his eyes, took his hands off his head. “We’ll have a vessel by the end of the sun.”

“I’m not sure if you should listen to his lies, Arkin.” Bann walked out of the shadows.  “Promises are easy to break since they lack material, no?”

“Bind my promise by my life,” the priest said. “Chain me to your wrist until the sun falls out of the sky. I’ll not run from my word.”

The Mystic lifted Father Tillicum to his feet. “By the end of sun?” he asked, breath smelling of urine.

If God had not granted Father Tillicum a strong bladder, he would’ve soaked himself by now. “The Dagen children can search,” he said. “They look like seekers if ever I could describe one. By this time tomorrow you’ll have your seed growing in some servile bitch.”

“My children cannot do this thing,” Bann said, and he had no reason why.

Arkin snarled, let go. “Bann, make sure your children follow through. Or yesterday will have been your last tomorrow.”

Inwardly, Father Tillicum smiled. Perhaps the Dagens could be of use. He’d retract the order to send them to hell.

21 – Jordan

“Won’t we go to hell for this?” Damyn asked, unbuttoning the top of his shirt.

With a hand, Jordan shielded his eyes of sunlight. “Truly, we will go to hell for this, if there is a hell, bastard. Though the stench of this city makes me wonder if we’re not already there.”

Empty were the streets. Truly they were always empty on MILF’s Day. Everyone stayed inside fucking their mothers, and if not theirs, then somebody else’s. Jordan wondered what it would’ve been like to suck the nipple of his mother while grown, pushed the thought from his mind in shame. Family doesn’t fuck each other, his father had said.

If not for the Cult of Sigmund Freud, MILF’s Day wouldn’t even exist. That cult wanted a ban on all sexual acts outside of the family. Truly, they believed that sex should be confined to close relatives where all sexual acts could be deemed safe. So far, not everybody else had agreed. However, the Mystic was a great promoter of incest.

But with no living daughters the Mystic had to go outside of his nuclear relationships to mate. Though why Father Tillicum had picked Jordan to find a womb he’d never understand. And why the head priest had picked a bastard to help with the search, he truly would never understand.

Damyn put his ear to a door. “Why don’t they have this same holiday for fathers?”

Jordan looked through a window and saw nothing but darkness. Curtains made sure nobody could peek in.

“It’s common knowledge that fathers fuck their children whenever they want,” he said. “Besides, fathers are the least important parent.”

“Yeah,” Damyn agreed. Then he kicked on the door. It didn’t burst open like it did in stories.

Jordan pushed the bastard aside, kicked. The door still didn’t budge. “We must be too young,” the bastard said. “Maybe if we curse at the door it will fall.”

Again Jordan kicked. Still nothing. “Knock this door down,” he commanded of the soldiers behind them.

Short battering rams in hand, two soldiers beat on the door until the hinges loosened. The soldiers barged into the tiny room. Soon after Damyn and Jordan followed.

An old lady was riding a boy who looked too young to have reached puberty. “Why ain’t you knock?” the woman asked, untangling herself from her son. She had hair on her armpits and vagina.

“Why aren’t you at the church observing the holiday?” one of the soldiers asked.

Only today the church had issued a new doctrine. Those who weren’t mothers were allowed to remain in their houses, but anyone who’d given birth had to convene at their local church for a giant incestuous orgy. The priesthood wanted to make sure that everybody was being holy on a holy day.

“Why ain’t you knock?” the woman asked again.

This time a sword thrust answered her. After a groan she died. The murderer removed the weapon from the carcass, wiped the blood on the soiled bed sheets.

“Hey, that lady was gonna pay me for fucking her,” the boy screamed, punching the soldier who killed her. So he wasn’t her son, just a street-kid that had run out of food.

“Was she?” the fatter of the two soldiers said, and he took the boy by the neck as well. “How much did the old lady give you?”

“That between me and her.” The boy patted his stomach.

It had become so dangerous to carry money in the city that most people swallowed their coins until they thought themselves safe of thieves.

The skinny soldier, the one who’d killed the woman, patted the boy on his head. “Well, you won’t need money where you’re going, boy. Do you know the punishment of recreational fucking on MILF’s Day?”

Damyn whistled. “Let’s go, you two. There is nothing left here.”

The soldier slid his sword into the ear of the boy until it came out the other side. “Let’s go,” he agreed beside a laugh. “There’s nothing left here.”

22 – Jordan

“Why’d you let them kill that child back there?” Damyn asked, as they climbed the stairs of the largest brothel in the city. Today, it was the quietest brothel in the world.

“They killed a child?” Jordan only remembered the death of the woman. It was harder to watch a murder than to read about it. First his stomach had felt sick, but now the sickness in his stomach felt ill. His head didn’t feel right either.

“Yeah.” Damyn tapped him on the chest. “They killed that boy.” “At least it wasn’t a girl,” Jordan said.

His father had always told him it was worse to kill a girl. Boys deserved to die in war; men expected to. Girls and women were only expected to pray and get raped. Those were the war laws, when war laws existed. These days everyone expected a knife to the throat. Nobody liked anybody. They didn’t even just pretend.

Quicker, Damyn climbed the stairs. Jordan lagged behind, wondered what it would feel like to kill a person, not just watch a person die. Worse, his stomach told him. Much worse.

“We’re looking for a girl.” Damyn’s voice came from above, echoed off the walls. “She doesn’t need to have a pretty face or a fit body. She just needs to look a certain way.”

At the top of the stairwell a door was open. Jordan walked through it. The bastard was spanking the Madam’s ass.

“Do you want another girl or me?” the woman asked.

Jordan stopped any further spanking. “We need a specific woman,” he said. “Dark hair on the lighter side. Eyes the color of grass or leaves or emeralds.”

The Madam straightened off the table. She had the face out of a nightmare, pale and wide-eyed. And none of her teeth had a tooth beside it. “I have one slut like that,” she said, licking her lips. “But you’ll have to spank it out of me.”

Damyn grinned. Jordan moved aside.

*  *  *

“I don’t really know what her name is today,” the Madam said, once they entered the stables. “Whatever it is, I’m sure it was something different yesterday.”

Horse and manure became the air.

The woman rubbed her backside. Perhaps Damyn had spanked her too hard. “My best worker,” she said, as a horse neighed. “You wouldn’t believe how many women come in here wanting a real stallion inside of them.”

Jordan could believe that, actually. As many people were married to animals as they were to humans in the city. Last year, marriages between humans and animals outnumbered those between human beings. Many came to the brothels for their first encounter with another species. These animals were well trained for sexual encounters with humans, if such a training were possible.

Bestiality had become so widespread that husbands slaughtered dogs for just looking at their wives. Supposedly, the Dancers of Paradise could somehow copulate with their pet snakes. And rich lords and ladies paid good money to see such sights, Jordan knew. These days, everyone bored so easily that they needed something new to stay entertained. Intercourse between humans and animals was that new entertainment.

Once they walked past more horses and dogs and goats, Jordan started to wonder if the slut were, in fact, a slut and not an animal. Relief entered him  as soon as he saw a woman, even though she did have a face reminiscent of a wild mammal.

Bann – 23

Bann kissed each of his sons on the cheek. “My sons are magicians without magic. You owe them a thousand wishes for this. Twice, they have saved your life.”

“Nobody saves my life.” Arkin frogged off the throne. “I have the power to save myself and the knowledge to never need to. I am God with a human face.”

Bann touched his sword handle. He’d kill the Mystic and his priest now. But then what would come of his children? “I’m sorry, Arkin. I’ve overstepped myself.”

“No, you’ve stepped over us.” Father Tillicum tightened his cassock, shifted the yarmulke on his head. “Your words will not always be forgiven. God doesn’t always have to forgive.”

What would happen in the future, though, Bann hoped God would forgive.

The priest circled them, stared at the woman that had been brought from the brothels. Lipstick sat around her eyes. “What is your name, woman?”

The harlot held out her hand. “Coin.”

Father Tillicum fished into his pocket, placed a gold coin in the woman’s palm. “What is your name?”

An ugly smile bloomed on the harlot’s face. She closed her hand around the money. “You can pick my name,” she said.

The Mystic tugged on his beard, then came down the steps to smell the nameless woman. “She is no virgin,” he said, as if he could tell that by just a sniff. “And she is repulsive. I’d more readily fuck a cow.”

“Ugliness produces beauty just as often as beauty does,” Bann said, and he took his hand from the hilt of his sword, tucked them under his armpits. “And a cow cannot reproduce human offspring.”

The people to the south had only recently found that out. Last week a few wives had slaughtered and burned fifty cows because they thought the animals were stealing their husbands’ semen. Bestiality had become much more accepted in recent years. It was good that animals hadn’t yet evolved to bear human children.

Again Arkin sniffed the woman. “How many times will I have to fuck this disgusting creature for her to grow?”

The sun waned in the sky. Bann wondered how much more time his daughter needed to complete her task. Time didn’t enjoy being slowed by the hands of men. Only in men’s minds did time change tempo.

“If you keep turning back the hands of a clock,” Damyn said, “it’ll be like you only swam inside of her once.”

Hard, Bann hit his son over the head. The bastard had spoken out of turn.

Nevertheless, the Mystic cackled. “Your son has his testicles in his throat, Bann. I love men who make thoughts move.”

Then Bann hoped the Mystic would love the next move.

24 – Cassandra

Cassandra poured the rest of the blood down the sick woman’s throat. She spit most of it back up like a baby.

“I don’t need the blood, girl.” Violently violent, the woman coughed. “Drag me to the church before the sun goes down.”

“You’re too weak to leave your bed.” Cassandra never wanted to get that old, hoped she’d die before she aged so long.

The woman lifted her head as to stand up, but she didn’t go anywhere. “I’m a mother, girl. I’m a mother. My son is shit. He’s shitty shit. He should be here fucking his mother until I’m fucked.”

“You’re not a mother anymore,” Cassandra said. It was the tenth time she’d told the woman in the last hour. “When you married your son he became your husband. You no longer have any children. You’re not a mother.”

“My son is shit, girl. He’s shitty shit.” The woman coughed. Green goo popped out of her mouth. Cassandra did her best to clean it up.

“You’re not a mother anymore,” Cassandra said again.

“A mother deserves to be fucked, girl. For what I pushed out, my son should push in. On MILF’s Day every mother should be fucking until they’re fucked.”

Cassandra pulled the sheets up to the woman’s chin. “You’re not a mother.”

“I know it’s MILF’s Day, girl. I created the day. I should know it. I can smell it.” She sniffed. “I smell fucking. My son is shit. He’s shitty shit. Never be a mother, girl.”

Cassandra crossed the room, closed the curtains, remembered when that priest had unraveled himself from them and molested her. Somehow she still felt his finger between her legs now. She could feel the tears dressing her eyes. She blinked them away as she walked back toward the sickbed.

“Is the sun going down, girl?”

Forcing a smile, Cassandra said, “The sun has gone down for today. But it’ll rise tomorrow.”

“Oh, my son is shit. He’s shitty shit. Never be a mother, girl. I hope you’re never a mother.”

From behind the sick woman’s head, Cassandra pulled a pillow. “Never be a mother,” the woman continued. “I hope you’re never a mother. I hope you’re never a mother, girl.”

“I’m not a girl.” Quickly quick, Cassandra placed the pillow over the woman’s face. Slowly slow, the woman died.

25 – Cassandra

Front-handed and backhanded Father Tillicum struck her face. “What did you do to her?” A third time he used his hand. “What did you do to her?”

“Death closed her eyes.” Her lie sounded like truth. Another blow would only strengthen her resolve. Tears wouldn’t fall. “I am not death.” Father Tillicum pushed her down. “She must’ve done something to her, Mystic. This situation has the smell of deception.” He threw the covers aside of the dead woman. “Death is not this quiet of an assassin.”

With the help of a table Cassandra restored her stance, curtsied. “I weep for your loss, Arkin.” She acted the part, placed sadness in her voice. “I wish your mother had died some other way. During sleep nobody has a chance to even fight.”

Arkin acknowledged her condolences in a nod. Though his eyes held more anger than grief. Clenched was his jaw. Fisted were his hands, knuckles whiter than his uncolored skin.

“Witchcraft,” Father Tillicum said, rechecking the extinct pulse. “Poison. A poisoning, of course.”

The priest reached into his deep pocket, withdrew some sort of augmented phallus. It had the look of a penis but it certainly wasn’t a penis. Never before had she seen anything similar. Certainly God hadn’t attached them to men. Damyn’s didn’t look so big, so unrealistic.

“Stand back, Mystic. This tool causes uncontrollable regurgitation.” The priest forced the item inside the deceased, plunged.

As frightened as she was, the Mystic appeared doubly frightened. One would’ve thought he’d taken a blade to his lifeline if they could only see his face and nothing else.

“She’ll come back to life in a flurry of retching, Your Grace.” The plunging continued. “I’ve witnessed the brilliance of this tool firsthand.” When sweat soaked the priest’s brow, he discontinued his thrusting.

Still the woman was dead.

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