Time passed and things effectively returned to normal. Alicia finished whatever work she’d come to Florida for and moved on like the nomad she was known to be. Luna was checked over thoroughly by Uzumel along with Vasil to make sure they were really okay before being permitted to go on her way. Judging by her attitude the entire time, Vasil felt it was okay to take her at her word when she said that she had really given up on her plan to forcibly create a utopia.
Chrome had left, too. There was no solid proof of that, but it had been way to quiet to even pretend that he was still around. He was like an annoying gnat: you’d feel it if he was nearby. Vasil was still worried about Ten coming back or sending one of his friends to the city, but he managed to placate himself with the reasoning that Chrome was the Apostle’s priority.
Sorcha was also fine. Vasil had texted her after the fiasco with Atlantis rising from the sea and she said she was just fine. Her father was alive, too, though the head injury he received was something to worry about. He was constantly dazed and a little out of it. Several times, Vasil considered having Uzumel look at the man, but that would mean revealing her identity as a demigod to an Apostle, even if it was one who would respect that Sorcha wanted to live a normal life.
Well, Vasil wasn’t going to worry about any of that today. Today, he’d gone out to visit someone he really should have visited a long time ago: his parents. The cemetery they were buried in was two towns away, but modern civilization was cramped and city limits were always vague and hard to even notice. It was to the point where towns and cities were just a thing for bureaucratic organization and held little practical purpose. It had barely taken Vasil ten or so minutes to get here by car, so even ‘two towns over’ was a term that meant nothing.
And yet, he hadn’t come earlier, even though the distance was nothing. He wondered why? Was he afraid of how he’d feel? Did he want to avert his eyes something? Did he want to avoid thinking about what that something was?
Vasil wasn’t the type to self-loathe. He was angry that he hadn’t been there to prevent their death, but he didn’t blame himself. They’d chosen to do what they did and the accident was an unforeseen circumstance beyond any of their power. It had been completely unrelated to him and he didn’t carry any of the blame for what happened. He wasn’t all powerful and he had no sway over their lives. He wasn’t a god.
That was probably it. He wasn’t a god. He knew that. They knew that, too. It was common sense for a demigod to hide their identity unless absolutely necessary. There was nothing to gain from revealing themselves to their family. The gods that possessed any individual demigod told them as much, and usually they listened. But Vasil hadn’t followed that protocol. His silent god didn’t object when he approached his own family and revealed himself to them. He still wondered why he did it; there were no circumstances that pushed him to. In fact, it was a complete whim that he acted on. And yet, he was glad he did it. He was glad that he told them while he had the chance, that he didn’t have to hide his identity from his own family. They didn’t start looking at him differently or treat him as anything but their son. They were the ones who advised him to not tell anyone else, even his grandparents. It was thanks to them that Vasil was able to relieve himself of a heavy burden.
Ah. So that was it. The burden. He carried one, as any demigod would in this era. But his burden wasn’t the same as Luna’s. He didn’t get his resolve from isolating himself from the people close to him. His parents dying didn’t bring him any relief as it would others like him. There was never a burden there to relieve.
His problems remained, even after they were gone. That was why he was happy. That was why he didn’t sympathize with the rest of his family as they sobbed and bawled during the funeral. His parents died and he didn’t rejoice or breathe a sigh of relief. He didn’t see it as an opportunity to relax a bit. He had loved his parents, like a normal human being would.
That realization was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Vasil buried his face in his hands and cried. Silent tears welled up at his eyes and streaked down his cheek. His soundproof body trembled with his nonexistent sobs and his smile reached his palms unconsciously. He barely registered the soft hands that touched his back before wrapping themselves around his body. He felt Vesna sit right beside him in front of their parents’ grave and embrace him. They stayed like that for a long time—maybe an hour?—before Vasil’s tears began to well up and he stopped trembling.
“I learned something new about my powers.”
Vesna’s voice was soft and muffled, spoken into his back. Vasil could still hear it clearly as it passed through his body and reached his eardrums and he patiently waited for her to continue.
“Either I can’t sense demigods who aren’t in the country or the fact that you don’t have your powers outside of the country means that what I sense isn’t in you anymore. Do you know what that means?”
“For entire minutes, I had no idea where you were. I didn’t know what it meant. I’ve known exactly where you were at any time since before I even knew what you were. I thought you were dead, that I lost you again…that my family…that I was the last one…”
Vesna fell silent again, keeping her face pressed to Vasil’s back. It was a few more minutes before she spoke again.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
“Don’t. Just…don’t. You didn’t do it on purpose. You didn’t even know. And don’t let this hold you back, either. You do you. You’re your own person and you have to do what you have to do. I just want to know that you’re around, okay? I know I made jokes about how siblings are your ‘closest strangers’, but you’re still close to me. I’m not ready for another death in the family. Not yet.”
“Vesna…if I were able to get rid of these powers, would you want me to?”
Vesna’s grip on Vasil’s body tightened briefly before relaxing again.
“I don’t know. You know why I don’t know. As long as you’re
still around, I could deal with either scenario. If you wanted to get rid of
them and could, I would support you all the way.”
“I don’t want that.”
“When I couldn’t use my powers, I panicked. At first, I was surprised. But then it sank in and I began to really get scared, even as I tried to push it off. It’s not that I’m dependent on them; I just need them. I didn’t realize just how hypocritical my feelings were until I actually became normal for just that short period of time. The thought just never occurred to me that I could become normal prematurely, just like that.”
Vesna slackened her grip on Vasil, moving her hands to his shoulder so she could sit back and look at his face. Vasil wiped his wet glasses on his shirt and replaced them on his face so he could look right back at Vesna.
“Is this about your promise to James?”
“It is. Luna made me remember. He wanted to build a utopia more than anyone else. He feared becoming like her the most.”
“His alternative isn’t much better.”
“Which is why I still need to be a demigod. I don’t want to scare you, but I need to make good on my promise.”
Vesna’s expression didn’t change as she let this sink in. She shut her eyes slowly and took a deep breath.
“I already told you; you do you.”
“I love you, Vesna.”
“I love you, too.”
Vesna pulled Vasil into another embrace and this time, Vasil reciprocated it. They stayed like this for just a few minutes this time before Vesna pulled away.
“If there’s nothing else you want to say, I think that friend of yours has been kept waiting long enough.”
Vesna pointed in the direction of all the tombstones gathered and Vasil noticed that they weren’t alone. Standing out of earshot was Uzumel, looking as if he were doing silent prayer for the dead. Obviously, his conveniently distant position to avoid eavesdropping was deliberate, like the polite gentleman he was. Vasil had only driven here with Vesna in the car, so how had he ended up here?
“I know that look.” Vesna smiled sourly. “Relax. He was here before us. I was talking with him when I left you alone with mom and dad. He was pleasantly surprised to see that you’d come.”
That, or Vesna had had something to do with this. Either possibility was viable. But if Vesna was covering for him, Vasil would have to find it in his heart to let it go.
Vesna waved enthusiastically to catch Uzumel’s peripheral, indicating that it was okay for him to come over.
“You know he’s an Apostle, right?” Vasil whispered. Vesna nodded.
“Yeah. He told me when I mentioned that I’m your sister.”
Uzumel smiled grimly at Vasil when he reached them.
“You’re looking well.”
“Thanks to you. You look like you have bad news.”
“I do.” Uzumel came out bluntly and his smile faded. “It’s more of a warning than anything, but I feel I should tell you anyways, so bear with me.”
Vasil took a deep breath and let it out through his nose.
“She can pinpoint the exact location of demigods no matter where they are, save for the exception of them being outside the country’s borders, right?”
“According to you.” Vesna added. “Though I agree. How did you even figure out what my power was?”
“Deductive reasoning. I overheard your brother on the phone asking you about where all the demigods in the vicinity were. Not enough on its own, but that was my biggest hint.”
Vesna shot Vasil a scathing look that he refused to acknowledge. It was definitely his own fault, but he didn’t want to think about it.
“Magic has been around for a long time—longer than Man itself, in a sense. But in the Common Era, there are very few people who still possess the ability to use it. Even fewer actually use the talent and even among those few, barely any know what they are doing. The Church has a habit of finding those people and helping them, giving them a way to channel that magic to help others. I’m an example of that; I’ve used my life-giving magic to help a lot of people. Honestly, we should be the only people who can use magic in modern time, which is why people have stopped believing in it. But—and I ask you to keep quiet about this—there are three exceptions to this rule. Only one of them is accepted by the Church.”
“And I’m guessing demigods are the second exception? And I’m the third?”
“Exactly. Both of your existences are very unnatural, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Demigods are one thing, but you, Vesna, are an anomoly. You don’t use regular magic, from what I can see. In fact, you can’t do anything aside see where any demigod is at any given time, can you?”
Vesna shook her head. Vasil sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. Uzumel continued.
“There was a time when your kind was hunted down as witches, as well. In a way, your kind was the first ‘witch’ of the Common Era. You shouldn’t even exist anymore.”
“Why? Will I get hunted down like Vasil and the other demigods?”
“No, no. That witch hunt is long since over. The problem was solved and it’s been proven that your type is not devil spawn. You are no threat to humanity. In fact, were you born in a world where demigods didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be anything but normal. The fact that you manifested such a specific power is actually the weirdest part.”
Uzumel smiled grimly.
“‘But’…you realize what your power is, right? The ability to map the location of any and every demigod in real time? Do you realize what could be done with that power? It would be a full on crusade. Two and Eight would run you down like cattle and slaughter you all. You’re all still scattered and hiding, so you wouldn’t even be able to put up a proper fight. Your cooperation could literally put an end to all of this overnight.”
Vesna’s eyes narrowed in disgust.
“I’d be responsible for the death of over a hundred people!”
“Vesna, until this exact moment, not a single demigod or Apostle even had a realistic approximation of how many demigods there are in the country. Hundreds? We might’ve expected thousands! We’ve all been moving blind without proof either way. That is just how much information you have to offer.”
Vesna’s eye twitched briefly and her face screwed up with concern and disgust. Finally, she threw her head back and moaned.
“I’ll be hunted down by both sides even if I’m not a threat.”
“Uzumel,” Vasil looked straight into the priest’s eyes, more serious than ever. “Do. They. Know?”
“That’s what I wanted to warn you about. For now, I can say ‘probably not’.”
“Do you want the long or the short version?”
“Enough that I can understand.”
“Well then, when I was healing your scratches and bruises, I noticed something strange. You’re covered in a foreign magic, one that isn’t your own. It’s the sort of thing that can only be noticed if one gets close to use internal magic, like healing, but my god are you covered in it. I checked Luna, too. She was a different case—barely any traces, I wouldn’t have found it if I didn’t already know what to look for. And yet, I didn’t find it on Alicia when I checked her on the pretense of looking for any curses left behind by Ten, which, mind you, was very possible.”
“You think Vesna leaves a trail.”
“It fades quickly, unless you’re around her all the time. And it requires some looking. I’m assuming that I only found it on Luna because Vesna was actually looking at the two of you when I was checking.”
“I was panicking, okay?”
“I’m not blaming you. You can’t even trace it back to you; it probably uses a powerful and complicated system. If I noticed it on some other demigod before meeting Vasil, I wouldn’t have understood it at all.”
“So the chances of the other Apostles noticing are slim?”
“If you’re lucky. There are two Apostles better with magic than I am and there is one other who has an ability that can comb a person with more detail and precision than I could ever dream of. She’s the one you have to worry about. I have no idea what she’ll learn if she happens to check the right demigod at the right time.”
“And demigods are too unique, so there’s not telling if there’s one out there who will notice or not.” Vasil combed his fingers through his bangs irritably. “Crap. This is actually bad. If any of them realize—”
“I’ll protect her.” Uzumel put a firm hand on Vasil’s shoulder. “I’m already assuming that they know. Protecting her is my priority.”
One of the Twelve Apostles, protecting his sister? Well, that was the best thing Vasil could possibly ask for, wasn’t it?
“Why should I trust you?”
“You shouldn’t. Why would you? But I’ll protect her regardless. My colleagues wouldn’t mistreat her, but they’ll try everything just short of that to convince her. The idea of a hundred or some demigods being wiped out in a heinous genocide just doesn’t sit right with me when an untold number could be good people who don’t deserve a premature death.”
Vasil decided to give the ‘letting the Apostle protect sister from other Apostles’ idea a chance. He’d gotten to known Uzumel well enough to at least figure that he was worth ‘giving a chance’, at the very least. In an act of good faith, he told Uzumel about Sorcha and her father. Vesna offered to give Uzumel a ride there, probably because she wanted to see the Irish redhead for herself, god knows why. Vasil opted to stay behind for a while longer and clear his head. After sending a text to Sorcha to warn her about the coming storm in the shape of his sister, he rested on his haunches and calmed his breathing.
For several minutes, that’s all he did. He stayed where he was and listened to his own methodical breathing reverberate through him.
When he opened his eyes, he was no longer in the cemetery. Instead, he was standing in a desert with the rising sun visible in the horizon, bathing the environment in a beautiful golden hue that sparkled like the sea, only brown instead of blue. He could see distant silhouettes of abandoned ancient infrastructure, as if an ancient civilization had once occupied the land.
The wind blew from the same direction the sun was rising in—east. It was as if Vasil had been dropped in a piece of realistic fantasy. But it was the opposite—this was all in his head. All of it. It was the one piece that didn’t belong to him, but to something else entirely. And that ‘something’ was visible in the distance, covered from head toe in a hood that hide its vague human-shaped outline. It floated in the air just above the silhouette of a distant pillar, broken and impaled into a sand dune. From Vasil’s angle, it almost looked as if it was standing on the pillar.
“Running away to think about your problems?”
A small whispered reached Vasil on the wind, but it didn’t come from the figure in the distance. A short hooded figure, no taller than a child, had appeared beside Vasil wearing a blue hood that enveloped its entire body as well, except this one had arms and legs. You couldn’t see inside its hood: only vibrant green eyes peered out of the darkness within. This one’s voice was so delicate yet so hoarse, it was impossible to tell its gender. It reminded Vasil of monk in a silent monastery, having refused to speak to the point that their voice was all but gone.
“Filius, should you really be talking now?”
“That’s not the name I asked you to use.”
Vasil clicked his tongue.
“You may both be the same god, but you manifest separately. It gets confusing when I refer to you both by the same name.”
“Is that also why you use the pronoun ‘she’ for me?”
“It’s the inconvenience of language.”
“I don’t understand.” Filius made this statement quietly while making it clear that she didn’t mind either way. “Lord Harpocrates will not be communicating with you today.”
“He never does. Never has, never will.”
“Perhaps.” Filius gave the most delicate laugh Vasil had ever heard, breaking the barrier of a ‘giggle’ and becoming something more precious. “But he has no disdain for you. It is simply who he is. If you have any concerns, I can take care of them for you.”
“No.” Vasil shook his head. Why did he even come here? “I’m fine. I was just wondering if he was fine after I lost my powers. Clearly, there’s no problem.”
“Is that ‘worry’? Surprise, surprise. You’ve never gone out of your way to ‘curry’ favor with him before.”
Filius stifled another already quiet laugh, so it was nearly silent. Vasil ignored it entirely.
“Next time, if anything happens, tell me. I don’t care if you want to be silent. You still need to communicate with me.”
“I’ll certainly keep that in mind. For now, go greet your visitor. It’s very rude to keep people waiting. Especially strangers.”
Vasil knew the little one had no intention of following through with that. But he didn’t care. His words were for the god in the distance: there was absolutely no sound aside from their voices, even in the wind. Vasil knew he could be heard, even at this distance.
In the next moment, Vasil found himself where he was before, in the cemetery in front of his parents’ grave. After taking a brief moment to collect himself, he turned to face the person he could practically feel standing behind him.
“Oh, sorry. Did I interrupt you?” The plain faced man in the tan suit held his hand out politely. “I would have waited. My name is Averis Nikolson. I’m a demigod. Would you, by any chance, be interesting in lending your fellows a hand?”
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