Chapter 1: Vesta
Why are you alive?
Is the blood coursing through your veins?
Do you feel it?
The sin bleeding from your lips?
Why are you living?
I watched you die.
Vesta was annoyed, and it wasn't even time for Morning Prayer yet. His hand went to his lips as he took a drag of his cigarette while his golden eyes, hinted with specks of green, scanned the people around him. They looked happy-oblivious to the real happenings around them-and cheerful as another day set upon them. This city made his stomach churn. For being the capital of the Northern Continent, it lacked the city feel: it was orderly and crime free, the people's lives less hectic, more freewill. Vesta rolled his eyes at the absurd thought. That was only what they wanted you to see from the outside looking in. Reality wasn't so kind.
He took one more hit of his cigarette before putting it out on the bottom of his boot. It was about time he bought a new pair anyway. They were worn down to the sole and falling apart at the seams. The construction job he had was anything but gentle on his shoes or even his wardrobe. Not like he owned anything worth keeping anyway.
A bell rang in the distance and Vesta's orbs flicked up; the city became deadly quiet almost instantly-the quiescence unnerving to anyone who didn't come from Oratio originally. The people around him fell to their knees, almost in sync as they bowed their heads. Their hands, now free of any items, were clasped in front of them. A cold shiver shot down Vesta's spine, an eerie feeling creeping into his conscious. No matter how many times he saw it, the event always brought out feelings he couldn't quite describe, but isolation and dread were as close as he could get to putting them into words.
He snorted at his own thoughts. The city of Oratio was as messed up as the people in it.
"Fuckin' weirdos," he mumbled to himself as he stood. Vesta never participated in Morning Prayer. He found religion a ridiculous concept, only people too scared to face their fates had turned to religion as an out. He found it nothing short of disgusting-humans beings were worthless creatures that clung to higher powers to be saved, unable to fend for themselves. They were either controlled by the Angels or the Demons, which didn't leave much room for advancement. Humans were like a colony of ants.
Vesta got another cigarette from his pack and fumbled around in his jacket pocket for a lighter. The smoke danced as it climbed its way up into the atmosphere. Wishful thinking had him wanting to travel to the south where there was more freedom. Oratio was starting to suffocate him.
Not one person looked his way as he trekked along the city streets. Its residents were too afraid to disobey the Order. He couldn't blame them, disobedience meant either death or a lifetime contributing yourself for the common good, or better known as a slave of the Order. Neither option sounded very promising unless you were poor, and even then it was a fine line.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
Vesta cursed under his breath and turned around. One of the Order's looneys had caught him. He found it amusing that they could skip prayer and roam town looking for people who didn't. It kind of defeated the purpose.
"Smoking, sir," he said, unfazed. He held up his cigarette, eyes challenging. Ruffling their feathers had its own fun, and this city was truly lacking in that department. Or maybe he was just an asshole. He wasn't sure.
The man stepped closer and reached up to lower his hood. Long hair and angry black eyes greeted Vesta's own. He never understood why the people in the Order all had to have long, platinum colored hair. They stood out from the crowd, and maybe that was their purpose, although Vesta seriously had his doubts.
"Name and area of residence." His voice was cool and sharp, one that left no room for remark.
Vesta ignored him in favor of taking another drag of his cigarette.
"Name and area of residence. Now." Irritation was now evident.
"Vesta of the Middle District." He flicked his cigarette and watched the ashes swirl around in the light breeze.
The man wrinkled his nose in disgust. "What is a rat like you doing in the Inner City?" And the true colors came out.
"None of your business, whitey." The white robes the Order were forced to wear did nothing but hurt his eyes. The color white was supposed to show innocence, purity, goodness and-this last one made him laugh-virginity. What a bunch of bullshit. Unless you were part of the Order or the higher ups of Oratio, you were not allowed to garnish white clothes. Citizens were sent to a correctional facility if caught.
"Under Act 5 of the Angelus Law, I have the right to take you into custody for disobeying the Order and for not participating in the mandatory Morning Prayer session." He reached his hand out. The option was Vesta's, take it willingly or force was going to be used. "You are coming with me."
Vesta couldn't hold in the laugh that vibrated in his throat. This guy was an insufferable idiot. Then again, all of the Angel's subordinates were jokes.
"No thanks." Vesta walked past the man's outstretched hand and laid his own on the white haired man's shoulder. "See ya'." Before the Order's lackey had a chance to retaliate, Vesta dug his cigarette into his neck. His scream was lost as the bell rang throughout town ending the Morning Prayer.
Although his cigarette was wasted and he was conveniently out, a grin couldn't help but form on Vesta's lips. The townspeople began to get up and scurry about and they took over the town once again. Vesta dipped down into an alley and out of sight. He had no doubt the man from the Order was seething at that very moment as he stomped his way back to the Upper District. Likely he'd file a complaint and Vesta would have to make himself scarce for a couple weeks. A much needed vacation was on the horizon.
A trip to the flower shop was due. No doubt he'd have to woo his girlfriend into going along with him. She would be pissed.
A ways down the Inner City's stone streets he came upon a small, but elegant flower shop on the corner. With all the mistakes he had made over the years, he would be lying if he said he didn't frequent the place more than he had liked. A sign that read "Flower Shop" hung above the door in a cursive script. Wasn't that an ironic name?
He pushed open the door and almost turned back around when he was hit with the fragrance of flowers. Vesta couldn't help but wiggle his nose in agitation.
"Ahh, Vesta, long time no see."
Vesta looked over at the man who spoke to him. The owner. A smile graced the owner's lips and the skin around his eyes crinkled together the bigger it got. The guy was old and as Vesta told him time and time again, he wasn't getting any younger.
"Are you here for the usual?"
It was sad that he had "a usual". It wasn't hard for him to admit that he was a fuck up. He couldn't hold a relationship worth his life, and most of the time the women left him saying how "unfeeling" or "detached" he was. It was tempting to say it wasn't his fault, but all of the signs pointed at him. It was hard to give your all towards someone you could feel nothing more than companionship from. Love was not a skill he possessed, and over the years, he became more aware that he would always be alone.
"No." He left his reply short and scanned the array of flowers before him. None of the flowers caught his eye, the multitude of shapes, sizes, and colors did nothing but bore him. It was only when his eyes caught a pink bouquet with splashes of yellow in it did he become intrigued. The color was artificial. Flowers did grow, but since The Promise they all turned out white.
The owner must have followed his eyes, for he raised an eyebrow at his decision. "No blue today?"
Vesta grunted in response, but made no move to answer him. Blue was his girlfriend's favorite color, and it was also the color of her Zodiac Sign. The Order frowned upon Astrology, deeming it "stupid and unworthy for higher beings", but that didn't stop everyone from talking about it behind their backs. With nothing else to consume their time besides idle gossip, Zodiac Signs were popular among the young and the old.
"So, what did you do this time?" the owner inquired, and he began to gently wrap a see-through paper around the flowers as if he was holding something precious.
"It has nothing to do with her." He sighed as he replayed the day's earlier events in his head. "Those idiots in the Order-"
The owner narrowed his eyes. "What did you do this time? You know you can't go messing around with them."
And the father figure finally makes his appearance. "I refuse to pray to some God."
"No one is telling you to do that, but the least you can do is make it look like you are." The owner finished wrapping the flowers and handed them over to Vesta. "It's on the house."
"Thanks," he mumbled in reply. A pink bow was wrapped around the middle.
"I'll try and talk to them for you, but you need to lay low for a while."
"Thanks, Alden." The owner, Alden, was on the Council when he was younger, and because of that he had more pull when it came to the authorities. He had helped Vesta numerous times in getting out of tough situations ever since he was a little kid roaming the streets and causing trouble. Without Alden, he would probably be a slave to the Order and brainwashed to do their bidding. Just thinking about it pissed him off.
"Be careful out there." His tone held caring and compassion, something Vesta had lacked most of his life.
With the flowers in hand, Vesta made to leave, but stopped with his hand on the door.
"What do these flowers mean?" It was a stupid question, and he wasn't even sure why he asked.
Alden paused before answering. "They are called the Rhododendron. They mean caution and beware."
"Hmm." Vesta gave a quick wave and left.
Once outside, Vesta took a turn that would lead him to the border where the Inner City met the Middle City District. The taller, less spaced out buildings of the Inner City left one feeling confined and claustrophobic, but the closer one came to the other districts, the feeling eased up and the buildings began to space out. While the Inner and Upper cities had marble houses and stone walkways, the lower districts-Outer and than Border-consisted of wood buildings and dirt roads.
There were fewer lanterns to light the roads and eventually they tapered off. The now light-less alleyways contained the occasional drug dealer and drunks once day turned to night. I it only became worse the farther out you went. The two outer districts were known for theft, perpetual drug use and murder. Vesta lived in the middle of it all and tasted a little of both.
He turned down another street and then another, passing by what most called the red light district of the Inner City. It bordered the Middle District, so people of all kinds could be found for games and pleasure. Vesta tended to stay away from there, memories of being drugged all too vivid. The flashing lights faded away the farther he went.
The cement below his feet waned as he passed over the border, the only sign that he had done so being the torn and decaying sign that said Middle City District. Its letters were falling victim to atrophy and large amounts of dust.
Home: an empty four-letter word.
Vesta kept going until his apartment complex was in sight. A couple people hovered around the entrance, three of them altogether, two of them he could pick out as tenants on his floor.
"Yo, Vesta," one of them called out. The large beanie occupying the man's head was a dead giveaway that it was his neighbor, Cray. No one looked as cracked out as he did. It was rare for the man to not be on drugs and it showed on his deathly pale face.
Vesta nodded in response while he reached into his pocket for a cigarette before realizing he was out.
"Here." The guy next to Cray, who Vesta noticed was a man named Lenny who lived in the far end apartment, handed him a cigarette.
He lit it up and took a look at the third guy in the group. He was doped out on some drug and swayed back and forth while looking straight ahead. His pupils were all but nonexistent.
"Ignore him, he always looks like that," Cray said.
"Not a damn worry in the world." Lenny rolled his eyes.
The conversation stopped there and silence engulfed the group. Vesta shifted hands so that the flowers weren't inhaling the toxic fumes. He was halfway done when Lenny spoke up.
"I saw some guy enter your apartment earlier."
"A guy?" Vesta asked. He racked his brain as to who it could be, but came up blank. "Karen let him in?"
"I guess. He knocked a couple times first."
"He was dressed in a suit and everything," Cray added. "I didn't know Karen knew such a sophisticated-looking man."
That was what was bugging him. She didn't. Even though they had only been dating for a little over a year, Vesta had never seen her around other guys besides the ones on their floor. She was a loner like himself. It was why he was attracted to her in the first place.
"Do you think he can get us into one of the Inner City clubs? I heard the girls there are smokin' hot-"
"No." Vesta's reply was short and sharp. He turned to Lenny. "How long ago did you see him?"
"Not too long after you left." Lenny looked as if he was going to say something else, but whatever he wanted to say never left his lips. Lenny didn't say another word.
Vesta threw his cigarette on the ground and smashed it under his shoe with more effort than was needed. He was on edge and nervous. The meaning to the flowers in his hand passed through him for a split second before becoming lost in the turmoil of his conscious. He had to make sure everything was okay. With her, with them, with everything.
He walked past the three and into the apartment. Cray's voice echoed something, but the closing of the door had shut it out. The apartment had no elevator and he took the stairs. Vesta had to be thankful he was only on the second floor.
His mind whirled with ideas of who the man was, and he couldn't help but wonder if Karen had been cheating on him. He wasn't the best boyfriend, yet he couldn't picture what he could have done wrong either. His lack of emotions and feelings might have helped her along in her choice to cheat. If it was true.
The door was shut, and Vesta could hear the soft melody of a classical tape Karen had recently bought at the flea market. He tried the handle and felt a small wave of relief when he noticed it was locked. After searching for his key and coming up with nothing, he checked his back pocket and sighed in satisfaction. It was always in the last place he thought to look.
Then, the door opened with a familiar creak and Vesta stepped inside. He held his breath at the scene before him; it surpassed anything he thought up himself. It was far, far worse. Vesta could feel his mind going numb and his body along with it. He tried to move his hand forward, but even that was a challenge his constitution blatantly ignored. Vesta doubted a lot of things in his life, from his upbringing, to the Order, and even something as small as his worthless job, but at this moment, he did not doubt that what was in front of him was done out of pure hate.
The gold in his eyes had drowned out the specks of green as they often did when he was angry. The image in front of him would forever be engraved into his thoughts and his soul. This would be known as the turning point in his mundane, thoughtless existence. A battle was raging in his head, a battle to keep his sanity or to run in a mindless fever of hatred and bloodshed.
In the room before him, the only place he could call home, was covered in blood that splattered the walls and the carpet, dying the small room in ruby red. In the middle of the wreckage lay the one good thing that had come to him in all his years of pointless living, cold and dead; the body cut and mangled, it would be hard for anyone else to tell who it was.
The battle was leaning toward the latter, and would do nothing but spiral downward until he crashed.
The flowers fell out of his hands and to the floor below, making a soft noise as they crumpled to the ground. The dyed pink turned red upon impact with the floor as it slowly seeped into the remaining petals.