The Cycle of Honor and Hatred
Why did the ‘Self-Talk Epidemic’ happen? What was its cause? Its purpose? That was one of the lesser known mysteries of the age, one that bothered Vasil more than anything else. But there was one thing that he knew for certain: demigods had nothing to do with it.
Practicality possessed by pagan gods at birth, they didn’t even get the chance to do any wrong before receiving punishment. And yet they were the ones who saw were forced to carry the burden. Pariahs as children. Forced to hide their identity as adults. They couldn’t live like everyone else and that fact weighed heavily. Heavily enough to create Luna, who’d kill hundreds of innocents with a tidal wave just to create her own haven. She’d probably had it worse than Vasil did—he wasn’t talkative, so most people didn’t get to know him well enough to realize that he was different, ironically.
But that was all the more reason for him to know. Since he was a kid, he’d always been confused. They were gods, right? Why would they choose to bind themselves to humans? That ruined both of their lives in a way that made it difficult to believe they did it for fun. And the worse part was, most demigods were okay with it. They felt that they were born to do what they do. That they were chosen. So many of them had real, personal reasons for reviving the god who possessed them, and Vasil could only boil it down to one thing; the power the gods gave them compensated for something. But why were there exceptations? Did the gods choose who they possessed? Could they just choose any human they like, or was there a criteria? Were demigods still truly human?
The more Vasil thought about it, the more Vasil agreed with the Twelve Apostles. Demigods threatened the status quo. Modern society was not fit for demigods. They clashed like oil and water. And that brought about turbulence, and lots of it. The Church’s goal was simple: kill the troublemakers before they killed everyone else. A true, pagan god being revived alone in the world would basically make that god ruler over all. It was only natural for them to stop it. In that sense, an existence like Alicia Mirasaki was to be commended—a demigod who fought to protect humanity from others like herself. Was she in the right? Was she without prejudice or bias?
No. How could one say she, or anyone else, was right? She didn’t know why the gods decided to possess humans. It might have been a valid reason. Or it could have been an invalid and stupid reason.
That brought Vasil to his second conclusion.
It didn’t matter.
“The most widely accepted theory among us is that demigods are people who were reconstructed by the gods right after conception in order to house them, turned into divine vessels to carry their power and will. They changed us into what we are for whatever purpose they have in mind.”
“Are you going to rebel against the gods then? Using the power one of them gave you?”
Vasil shook his head as he side-stepped the stream of water that shot toward him with an incredible amount of pressure, enough to strip skin off bone. Several thick tubes of water hung in the air, curving like airborne snakes. Luna stood at the center of them, fishing pole in hand and biting so hard that she was drawing blood from her lips. She swing her fishing pole wildly to catch the sea water around her and swing it at Vasil, who calmly evaded them and spoke in an even voice.
“The gods are much like humans. When they do something, they have a reason. Sometimes it’s a good reason. Usually, it’s a stupidly selfish reason. And we’re demigods, a modern day cross between man and god. The reason we are indistinguishable from humans, aside from our desire to revive our gods, is probably thanks to the fact that the two were never so different to begin with.”
“Not different? Humans are self-centered meat bags who only think of how to protect themselves, even at the expense of others!”
“I could use the same sentence to describe someone else I know.”
“They mocked me! Scorned me! They literally threw sticks and stones and me and bullied me like they do in 19th century school parodies! And now we’re evil! Evil! Have you ever even met an Apostle? They don’t treat you like a person! They look at you like you’re a bug crawling through the mud while they figure out the best way to stomp the life out of you! And I’m sure that if the public were enlightened about this war going on in their own backyard, they’d cheer on those murderers! Humans are evil! They are they mistakes!”
“Your mother and father, the ones who gave birth to you and raised you, are human.”
That made Luna faltered. Seeing his chance, Vasil charged forward, swinging one hand out and slamming it into the pillar of water that narrowly missed him. It hardened on contact, allowing him to push it away to make way for himself to get closer to Luna. She recovered in time to try to attack him again, but once he was at a good enough range, he’d already one.
With a snap of his fingers, all the pillars of water exploded and showered silently on them like a sprinkler. Vasil capitalized on Luna’s shock to step in even closer and grab her head tightly in his hands, forcing her to look at him.
“Your parents, their siblings, their friends, their parents…all of them are human. My sister is human, too. As well as the people in the city over there. The city I live in. You don’t have to be human. Nor do I. But we have to live with them. And you might be surprised. There are actually some pretty decent people out there.”
Luna’s shocked expression didn’t make it easy to tell whether his words sunk in or not. She was looking in his direction, but not really seeing him. Her lips trembled as she took sharp breathes and her eyes finally regained focus when she fell to her knees, blood slowly drooling from her ears.
“The people…they hate me.”
“They hate each other, too.”
“They hate you. There’s no way you had an easy or good life. How can you even pretend to be so positive?”
“I’m not positive. It’s just that things happen to be as good as they are bad. A realist who doesn’t admit that there’s a good side to things is really just a pessimist in denial.”
“I can’t deal with those people. They don’t understand me.”
“They don’t need to. You don’t need them to. Just tolerate them and find one person. Surprisingly, just having one person who accepts who you are is enough. It’s all we really need. And you don’t need to kill anybody to find that utopia.”
Luna was apparently speechless. She wasn’t held down entirely by her own state of mind, though. The blow Vasil had dealt when he clapped her around the ears had disoriented her, making even standing difficult. But he still hoped to get through to her.
To make his point, Vasil knelt down and hugged her.
“Give up on following your instincts. The god possessing you may want you to do one thing, but just being a contrarian won’t work. We’re built to work for them. Passive aggression works better.”
“No…No, no.” Luna sniveled as tears formed on her eyelashes. “This isn’t fair. I wanted a utopia. A place where we could all be free from ourselves.”
“We all want one. But if you don’t make it the right way, it’s the same as failing.”
Luna didn’t have a response for that. She stayed silent for minutes and Vasil just waited. He didn’t know how long it would take, but fate decided that Luna only had those minutes. Before long, the entire structure of the fake Atlantis began to tremble.
“I-I’m not doing that.” Luna drew away from Vasil and stared at him with wide eyes. “What’s going on?”
“Your magic is fading.” Vasil muttered aloud, looking up toward the sky. “…But why?”
Uzumel protected himself from the dark particles that flew from Ten’s staff by erecting a shield made of rocks fused together, creating an orb around him, resembling a large boulder. Ten clicked his tongue, willing the black particles to feel their way into any cracks, only to find none.
“Using the plagues on me right away, Ten? You’ve become less conservative since I last met you. Showing off your cards from the get go is dangerous.”
“You already know what magic I possess, whereas I already know that getting through your life-based magic with my death-based magic requires less subterfuge and more harassment on my end.”
Ten slashed his staff through the air and the dark particles dissipated like vapor in the air. Uzumel touched his hand to the rock in front of him and they shot forward like bullets, aiming straight for Ten and giving him the ability to see in front of him. Ten slammed the butt of his staff into the ground below him and two storms rose up at once—a miniature storm cloud filled with lightning and hail, and a buzzing storm of locust that moved under its cover. The storm cloud moved to surround Ten, protecting him from the rocks that would have battered his body and the locust converged on Uzumel at the same time. Uzumel motioned with his hand and the remaining rocks of his orb-shaped shield began moving, forming several small, but thick plates in the air. They immediately began to move, circling around him like the old school depiction of subatomic particles around a nucleus. The locust were staved off by just this—any that got close were smashed. Meanwhile, the rocks around Ten began to move into pair, circling around each other faster and faster, almost like Baoding balls. This let them maintain their velocity and remain a danger to Ten, forcing the Apostle to keep his storm surrounding him.
Uzumel could see what Ten was doing. The locust, frankly, were harmless to people. Granted, with access to the ten plagues of Egypt, it was possible for Ten to make the locust carry diseases, but Uzumel had a purifying enchantment on the rocks around him, preventing such tricks from reaching him. Ten knew that, of course, but took this course of action anyways.
He was trying to even the playing field. There was no guarantee which of their magic would come out on top—they were never meant to come head to head to begin with—but there was no way to win if one was unfocused. And Ten was definitely unfocused. He’d summoned a massive serpent using Aaron’s rod, which was tossing the seas not too far away, fighting a massive golem and trying to reach the fake Atlantis that had appeared. Controlling that and using Moses’ staff at the same time required expert concentration, which put Ten at a disadvantage.
Uzumel wasn’t facing the same problem. He’d created many golems throughout his lifetime, crafting them by hand and giving them a variety of functions dependent on their purpose and use. Each was a creation, a piece of art he poured his soul into. However, the vast majority of the useful ones were still in Europe, acting as statues or blending into the cityscape, waiting to be called on to defend the cities. Only a few were in America, and of them, the one he had out at sea was among his most useful. He’d spent weeks ‘programming’ it for autonomous function, to the point that it resembled a mindless creature from myth, rather than a tool under his control. Activating it and leaving it running practically had no negative influence on his mind, unlike Ten’s serpent.
That was where the locust came in. They were harmless, but humans all had a trained reflex toward anything that crawled or buzzed, especially insects and anything similar. The locust distracted Uzumel, drew a part of his attention, and made him cringe. They would slowly, but surely, wear away at his mind until he made a mistake Ten could exploit.
“I take back what I said.” For the first time since Uzumel had arrived in Florida, his polite smile melted away. “You’re more serious that I thought.”
“Heathens receive no quarter.”
“You’re really going to take this fight seriously? If you just wait to see if that boy fails, I’d be more than happy help you—”
“Modesty doesn’t look good on you, traitor.”
That made things difficult. Uzumel had been hoping to just stall long enough for Vasil to either succeed or fail, but if he had to seriously fend of Ten’s attacks, neither of them would escape without permanent injuries. Was it worth it? Or should he retreat now, in favor of a future where both of them could walk away to do their duty, but half-heartedly abandon Vasil in the process?
The practical or the moral decision. It was just like nine months ago, all over again.
But luckily, he didn’t have to make that decision again.
A single object shot quickly in between them and stopped in midair, spinning wildly. It glowed bright, as if reflecting the sunlight above, and a white hot beam gouged a shallow scar in the sand between the two Apostles. It was an obvious warning, but one with an obvious intent. Uzumel and Ten both reacted at once: Uzumel merged the plates of rock in front of him to shield his entire body, but the beams of light that shot toward him hit the locust instead, eradicating them all through disintegration. Similarly, Ten defended himself without a second to spare, but the real target was the rocks around him, which were only half melted as they fell to the ground.
“The city is in danger and you guys are busy attacking each other instead?” The culprit was the Asian who ran toward them from several dozen meters away, a Japanese shinai in hand, shouting at the top of her lungs. “What happened to priorities?”
“Not her again…” Ten muttered under his breath. Uzumel looked back and forth between the two, eyebrow raised.
“Again? You’ve met Alicia Mirasaki before? And you let her live?”
“Not by choice.”
Alicia skidded to a halt beside Uzumel, standing at what should have been an uncomfortably close distance. She must have decided that Uzumel wasn’t the hostile one.
“You.” She pointed at his face and he recoiled slightly in surprise. “You said something about a boy. Does that mean someone is doing something about that thing out there in the water?”
“Do you think he’ll succeed?”
“I’m betting on it. If he doesn’t, however, I plan to take care of it myself.”
Alicia narrowed her eyes slightly, looking out toward the water to watch the two beasts fighting for a moment before nodding her head for no apparent reason.
“Right. Both of you withdraw those titans.”
“I’ll take no orders from a heathen.” Ten growled. Alicia turned her glare on him.
“If you insist on being stubborn, I’ll take the priest’s side and fight you along with him. Do you think there’s anything to gain from taking us both on at the same time?”
Ten was silent at that. Uzumel resisted the urge to grin, as well as the urge to tell Alicia that both men were priests. Somehow, she’d managed to say the right thing to the right person. Ten was stubborn and righteous, but his pride was balanced out by his practicality. He’d compromise if it was just for a short time.
Ten raised his free hand and pointed it outward toward the sea. The serpent uncoiled itself from around the golem’s body and dove into the ocean. Moments later it shot out like a torpedo and shot straight for Ten, shrinking rapidly until it took the form of a staff that landed accurately into his hand.
“Let this moment sink in, Twelve.” Ten whispered aloud as Uzumel silently signaled for his golem to sink back into the sea. “You, an apostle of the Almighty King, choose to side against him. You work with a monstrosity that threatens to destroy this world. No amount of false denial will change that.”
“Duly noted.” Uzumel let the grin spread on his face this time. “And thank you, Ms. Mirasaki. You’re doing me an incredible favor.”
“Don’t thank me.” Alicia’s tone faltered for a brief moment, but picked up again when she continued. “No demigod who selfishly threatens to sink hundreds of people beneath the sea deserves to revive their god. If this ‘boy’ doesn’t make it in time, I’ll join you in killing the idiot causing this chaos.”
They didn’t exchange any words after that. The three stared out toward the sea, waiting. The water levels slowly raised with every minute, each tide coming closer and closer to their feet. By the time anything significant happened, it had already been ten minutes of drawn silence. And what they saw drew gasps from all three of them.
Atlantis began to fall apart. Which meant that the power of the demigod who’d summoned it was failing. But this wouldn’t happen if they had simply been knocked unconscious and if they had chosen to cancel the ceremony that had summoned it to begin with, the lost continent would simply sink.
“…Could he have…”
“No.” Ten’s response was clear but distracted. He must have been answering on auto-pilot or even talking to himself, completely taken by the seen before them. “No…I can still feel it. There are two living people over there. Neither of them are dead.”
“Then what’s going on? How did that boy do this? Did he find a way to counteract her spell?”
Ten looked toward Uzumel pointedly for an answer so Alicia did the same. Uzumel breathed slowly through his parted lips, which were lifted in a small half smile.
“I don’t know what sort of spell she used, though I’m sure it must have been heavily customized to fit her needs. Demigods are rule breakers like that. The odds of Vasil being able to use a spell to stop it are slim.”
“Then what does this mean, Twelve?”
“It means,” Uzumel took another deep breath. “My theory was right. Either the current pulled Atlantis too far from America’s borders or the fact that Atlantis is technically its own ‘continent’ and a foreign nation was enough.”
Alicia looked at Uzumel in confusion and Ten shifted uncomfortably.
“What? What does that mean? Why would that cause the spell to unravel itself?”
“Demigods can’t use their powers beyond America’s borders. They weren’t just coincidentally born here. They can only exist here. They’re just normal people anywhere else.”
Ten was silent at that. Alicia looked as if she’d decided that she’d ponder the meaning later and just shrugged it off.
“So basically, he succeeded. The demigod was stopped and no one has to kill anyone.”
Uzumel nodded toward Ten, who snorted in derision.
“Kill the pagan who did this.”
“I’ll make sure that she doesn’t endanger any lives ever again. You have my word.”
Ten turned his back to Uzumel and Alicia with a swish of his cloak, both of his staffs disappearing in the folds. As he strode off back toward the city, he called over his shoulder without turning his head.
“I will hold you to your word and submit this once. But know that it is by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
“Not by works, so that no one can boast.” Uzumel chuckled humorlessly before murmuring under his breath. “Has your opinion of me really dropped that drastically, Pixis?”