Chapter One: Gods Above
Many years ago, Gods walked the earth.
History would not be able to recall the events of long ago; when the great God of Emvolo had walked the earth in the flesh.
He was not a kind-hearted God. Unlike his brethren in the skies. While they cherished their prophets, fed the lands with peace and tranquillity, Remiel had differed and chose to walk the path of wrath.
Remiel had many characteristics some might find charming. His charisma was flawless, his lies were fruitful. His visage was the deadliest veil any could bear to witness. With eyes made of coal; darker than a starless night, and his rage ever constant in the way his lips would turn down – forcing a grim line of disappointment. Alas, such rage and fury had not been a curse he was born with. Only one person – one demi-God – had made him this way.
Historians were careful when they wrote the text of old. They would have never whispered of Remiel’s spell of love. They would have never labelled him as a man who could be soft and hold his dearest in strong arms. Love stories never put fear in people’s hearts, after all. Yet he had loved; perhaps harder than all the Gods before him. Perhaps harder than all the Gods after him.
Sytry, the Prince of Moons. A traitor who earned his way to Godhood through deceit and blackmail; once an angel, cast down to Galaxis’ baron grounds with wings made of gold. Very few chose to call him a God when he had only won the title, others would choose demi-God, respectfully. No matter the title, he had caught Remiel’s eyes the moment he had been banished from the skies.
Remiel was infatuated with such a deadly creature. He would waste countless years watching Sytry from his perch in the heavens to the point he would forget to speak with his prophets. The voice of Remiel would grow distant to the point Emvolo turned cold; and its people turned even colder.
Taking it upon himself to rescue Sytry from the hands of mortals, Remiel did the unspeakable. With careful precision, he possessed a man whose heart had been so broken and lost at the hands of love. It was the perfect vessel for a God so lovestruck; yet he destroyed the mortal from the inside out. Slowly, but surely, he possessed the man until the limbs he had stolen were his own. From Emvolo, he had travelled Galaxis’ lands until he found Sytry.
Jealousy had consumed Remiel, for Sytry showed no signs of fear towards mortals. It seemed to be the other way around, entirely! All feared Sytry. All loved Sytry. But Sytry had loved no-one but himself. He would pour gold over his body, consume the most luxurious meals with the company of many lovers. He held himself as a great God, which he was in the eyes of those around him.
Remiel had loved Sytry. But Sytry had never loved anyone.
When the two finally met, it was the eve before Sytry’s departure from this life. Another secret historians would shield from the world. On his knees, Remiel had asked Sytry to return to the skies, to become his partner, his lover, his sword and shield. His everything. Only after they shared an evening full of lust and passion, Sytry did little to amuse the idea, saying; “how could I ever love a man, who does not love himself?”
Sytry had walked away. Remiel was left on his knees, an utter fool! It was then that rage consumed Emvolo’s great God. Only after he attended Sytry’s grand ceremony the next day, did Remiel earn the title ‘God of Wrath.’
Even as he raised a gun towards the Prince’s balcony, there might have been an ounce of that soft persona Remiel had never been known for. He made sure Sytry’s death was quick. There was no need to prologue such an ending. A clean shot through his right eye and Sytry was gone before he hit the floor.
Remiel would not last longer in the mortal world after Sytry’s departure. His vessel would eventually give way; beginning with kidney failure and ending with a heart attack. His entire body shut down, left in a ditch between Dike and Tipota. There was nothing noble or satisfying about a bloody body left to rot in a wasteland – and thus Remiel returned to the skies.
A simple ending to an unfinished story.
There was not a single soul within Galaxis who could not tell you where they were the day Remiel returned to Emvolo, two years ago.
Whispers and stories had spread, preaching the great God’s arrival throughout the lands, sentencing nonbelievers to their graves at an early date and casting others aside to hide in constant shadow. All feared him, as he sat tall upon his throne within Emvolo’s Capitol, seemingly quiet since he had destroyed Tentrail to nothing but rubble and ruin.
Laws changed within Emvolo. People changed. Whatever the Rebellion had once been was gone. The only simple reminder was the remains of their base, peeking out from the ocean’s surface on the coast of Capitol. Petty civilians had swum out there, collecting spoils and looting the place a few months after the fall. It seemed useless now. An empty husk. A corpse.
Erebus Dionysus reclaimed his titles, restoring his facilities and manufacturing new biological weapons to serve under Capitol. Prowlers seemed a thing of old. Now it was Moon-Graced creatures being filled with manipulation drugs, fuelling their neurological core and sending them out like the obedient creatures Erebus had aspired them to be. They tore their prey apart until there was nothing left to recognise; constantly on the search for Kane Ruskin and the remains of his Rebel crew.
While it seemed Remiel had other plans, Capitol was being run by Merine Trezla; the newly made Governor of the city. Remiel gave him armies, titles, lands. Anything he had requested. Some were surprised that a man such as Merine – the very person who went about slaughtering Emvolo’s origin species, Sylvannix – had gained such favours from Emvolo’s God. Rumours would spread, claiming Remiel to be a hypocritical type of ruler, which would be no different than the rulers of Emvolo before him.
Nonetheless, bounties and warrants were put out for Kane Ruskin’s arrest. All were told to bring the ex-captain to Capitol alive. He was to be put on display for all during the date of his long-awaited execution. Hung, in the centre of Capitol, by Merine’s hand. An irony most would overlook.
Alas, since the day of Remiel’s return, Kane and his Rebels had disappeared from the surface of Tentrail, along with Deimos and his bodyguards. All who stood in the square that day had vanished, as if they were never there to begin with. Many had searched the rubble to find clues or bodies. Nothing had been unearthed other than Skliros mutated corpse, Phobos’ head and Kane’s severed hand. Everything else was left to the imagination.
Erebus had taken it upon himself to grant his sister’s escape. She had never been transported to Diyu and had gone undercover after her arrest two years ago. With Erebus and Merine taking the spotlight, Leto’s appearance was of little inconvenience and she crossed Emvolo’s border without so much as a glance her way. She had collected many Faeman since her charges were dropped and opened a house of entertainment. Upon that day, Helios Artemis was collected first, and he now held the highest popularity all across Galaxis as the star of Emvolo.
He would dance, sing; often put on acts of comical relief to diffuse aggressive behaviour lurking in the audience of Capitol’s noblemen. He had played along in the first few months, telling himself he would be a free man soon enough once his fellow Rebels caught wind of his capture.
No such help came, and he was still dancing two years later; a dog on a leash. Leto had been expecting him to delve into her more famous houses; brothels and entertainments for nobles, but Helios had rejected the offer to the point he lashed out when a man twice his size had run his hand up Helios’ robe.
To pay for his acts, Leto had Helios’ legs amputated at both hips and replaced them with prosthetic substitutes with a twist. He could still dance and sing – though it had taken a great deal of time to recover and he felt like a baby trying to walk – but he could not step out of bounds.
Should he try to leave the theatre, his legs would cease to work. It was an upgrade from the shock collar he had been given, but Leto was insistent that he still wore it just as a reminder. He was a slave. A dancer for the enemy. But even after such tragedy, he vowed to never lay in anyone else’s bed but his own.
Leto found the remark amusing. She came to an agreement with him nonetheless. He would not use his body for mindless acts of lustful entertainment, but he would drive himself to the bone on stage, if she requested it. Helios had laughed, said something sarcastic, and was put on stage for a thirty-six-hour period in one session. He only had five hours to sleep before she put him back on again.
Every night he would lug himself to his room and curl into a ball, allowing his mind to wander. He would think of Riyo and constantly ask himself if they were okay. Were they safe? Had Capitol gotten to them? Would the evil Erebus reclaim them and put them to torture again? These questions would always plague his mind, making those precious five hours of sleep slip by in a moment as he battled his nightmares. He was sure he would have died on stage one evening, if it had not been for his fellow Faeman who danced beside him.
As an ex-Rebel, Helios was recognised on all fronts and had been quick to make close friends with the other slaves. They held great respect for him, even though he would insist he was nothing but an ordinary guy. He made them laugh and taught them how to dance. He even gave one of the girl’s relationship advice one night and earned himself a tight hug before she went to approach her crush. Somehow, in the darkness of his sins, he would find a light and be sure to keep it lit before Leto could pull the curtains over his eyes.
Finally, it happened. A hopeful glimmer in all the chaos. A specific member of the audience had asked to see Helios after the show. Reluctant as Helios was, he knew Leto had been watching from the balcony above the opera studio and could only pull his trademark smile to invite the individual to his room.
The stranger had discarded their cloak and bowed. “I have come on behalf of Prince Sytry.” He was shorter than Helios, chubbier and seemingly out of breath from the long winding staircase. When he looked back up, the blue of his eyes dulled into yellow. A Feral. “The Prince has a message for you, Helios Artemis.”
Helios grinned. He was close to hugging the young man but refrained himself by perching on the end of his bed. “Man, so… they’re okay? I mean, obviously, right? It’ll take more than a downfall of one kingdom to get Ri!” He laughed to cover up the pain. He had not said their name for… nearly two years? “What’s your name?”
“Hermes,” the Feral took another bow before presenting an envelope. “Prince Sytry speaks of you often. He’s been searching for a means to get in contact with you these last moons since the arrival to Minoas. You’re the only thing that keeps the Prince sane.”
Helios’ fingers twitched. “What do you mean by sane?”
“…the Prince is, as you know, Blessed with Sytry’s powers and soul. The person you knew, Riyo Midas, would lose their soul altogether if not for you. So long as you are in their thoughts, they have something to hold onto,” Hermes smiles. “Which is lucky, because I think the world would be doomed if Prince Sytry was on the rampage like Remiel!”
Helios wished he could have laughed, yet he could only see Elias. It had not been long before Remiel’s vessel was announced by Merine Trezla. It was broadcast throughout Capitol a month after everything went to hell. Not a week later, and Remiel had invited himself to watch one of Leto’s shows.
Helios could remember prancing out onto stage, ready to dance for the rows of snobby nobles, but had nearly collapsed upon finding Elias in the crowd. He looked thinner, paler. His eyes were black, and his head was encased with a shroud of darkness, elongating a pair of ram horns. He looked ready to tear the whole building down with a flick of his wrist; yet he had said nothing throughout the whole show and had left before Helios could register what was happening.
Elias was gone, but had he always intended to leave so soon? Helios could not help but wonder. First Psykhe, now Elias. It seemed everyone else had just faded into the background along the way. Knowing Riyo was alive gave him a reason to smile and he took the envelope from Hermes.
“Thank you for doing this. I know it’s not easy to get into Emvolo these days.” His calloused fingers ran over the edge of the envelope and he raised it to his nose, inhaling the scent. “…you’re super brave to go this far.”
Hermes smiled. “Only because people like you and Kane Ruskin showed us we could be brave, no matter who we are.” Readjusting his hood, the young man added, “I can give the Prince a letter in return. I can come back to Emvolo in a month’s time and keep you in touch from now on, if you wish.”
“That would be…” Helios sighed, sliding the envelope open, “…pretty damn neat. I mean, I wouldn’t want you getting into trouble-”
“Please,” Hermes raised his hands. “It’s no trouble! The Prince needs to know you’re safe. I fear Minoas may fall if he were to break apart. Please, allow me this much for my kingdom.”
Helios tried not to laugh. “Sure, sure. Lemme just write something for you to take back. I would hate to let Ri down after all these years!”
Departing from Emvolo was a quick task. Hermes had made his alias known as a noble from Minoas and presented a deceiving disguise with blue eyes and a simple outfit from Minoas’ finest fashion. With his abilities as a Feral, he could easily predict what anyone was suspecting when conversing with them and had managed to weasel his way in and out of any hotspot without making foes.
Thus, he was travelling between the borders of Emvolo and Minoas an hour after he left Capitol’s theatre. His rendezvous post had been located just outside of Theia’s ruins. He had heard stories of the village that had stood so proudly once, only to be gunned down by Rebel aircrafts. Animals lived there now, along with ghosts of days gone by.
Hermes did not need to wait before some crawled down the side of a tree. They hissed, catching Hermes attention, and another figure jumped out of a bush with a keen smile, hurriedly walking over to the Feral. She was taller than Hermes, a Faeman whose face had seen better days than the scars running across her cheeks.
“Did you deliver the letter? Did you meet Helios Artemis in person!” Grinning from ear to ear, she held Hermes’ hands and squeezed. “Is he everything the Prince said he is?!”
Hermes nodded. “Indeed, he is… so cool! I can’t believe he’s as good as the stories say he is. Even with the way he is now, he just won’t stop smiling.” A pause, and he loosened his grip. “Though, his thoughts are truly muddled. Remiel’s vessel was indeed the great Elias Kara, strategist and knives master of Helios’ main squad. He’s constantly plagued psychologically.”
“It’s what wars do to people.” The third member of the group jumped down from the tree and sighed. Long blonde hair streaked across their chest as they raised their arms, cupping the back of their head. An Allawo, tall and lean with crooked teeth and heavy makeup accompanying their hollow features. “Everyone’s gonna suffer, one way or another.”
“Still,” the Faeman tilted her head. “…they were so close to winning victory for the whole of Galaxis. To think such progress was taken away because two men stepped in. How shitty is that?”
“It’s the way of the world, Dite.” Hermes sighed. He turned to the Allawo, “did the Prince make contact while we’ve been away, Peitho?”
Peitho clicked their tongue. “Nothing. Guess we make our way back. You can tell us all about Artemis on the way.” They turned, limping against their twisted leg; an injury sustained long ago.
Dite forced her grin back to her face. “Come on, Hermes, what’s Helios look like? Is he tall and tanned? Were his eyes bigger than mine! I’m super excited!”
Hermes could only laugh as he began telling his companions about Theia’s greatest warrior, all the while withholding the burden of what Helios had truly become; a dog on a leash, a man with no freedom – his legs were gone, and he was trapped. With a shock collar adorning his thick neck and glitter spewed across his deeply tanned skin.
Truly, a great warrior should never have to fall so far. It was clear such a fall had not ended, lest the bright smile be wiped clean from such a handsome face for good.