The Seventeenth Chapter
I am the one with power. Why would I waste it struggling with my desires, when grasping them is far easier than stifling them? - Deicide
The Abyss had strung herself up like a hammock and Deicide rested in her folds swinging in the simulated breeze. High above was a beautiful canopy created by giant exotic trees; warm artificial light needled through gaps between the leaves, and spilled onto the enormous stone slab where his children were being lectured by Ichor, his Weaver Chief Commander. Everything known of the Weaver department was a mosaic of fabled misinformation and warped imaginings, the trim-bodied spies skulked around like ghostly felines. Their culture was very insular to keep their training secret, it was even rumored that those that failed any portion of the school were killed, lest the embittered washouts expose them. Ichor did nothing to confirm or deny the fanciful stories, as it kept out those who would certainly fail to meet Weaver standards.
Deicide watched as his old mentor explained to his children how the laws of the universe only applied to the common; he was sure that soon their nannies would be complaining to him that the children were never around when they called, even though the children would be within earshot. Most of them would abandon many of Ichor’s stealth teachings after they learned the basics, but with their superior strength they would have little use for clandestine activities themselves, but at least they would understand the tactics. All who descended from Deicide’s official bloodline would live as deities amongst the very best of society, necessary to maintain the grip on the throat of his empire which doubled in size each assessment cycle. Deicide rolled from the folds of the Abyss and landed on the stone slab below, as her mass followed him in a black cascade toward the ground. She crashed around him, sending an oily flood towards the children. Ichor stepped aside as the Abyss washed over the children’s feet.
Deicide laughed as he watched them wade in the shifting black lake before they found their way to their feet. All of them had been fitted with a row of umbilical plugs down their spines, it down-scaled the vestige enough to where it would not poison them, but they received a much greater percentage than the average eater for greater power. From the holes in the children’s spines a gray material emerged, the bastard vestiges of the Abyss.
Deicide spread his hands as the Abyss flared, a horde of yellow eyes emerged from her surface. His oldest children Silex and Caissa led the attack, their veins shown a dark grey against their beige skin; the vestige material had formed itself into grey replicas. Deicide backpedaled and dodged the bites and slashes, before running into Eldora, Asotus and their own gray Abyss clones. The rest of the children, barely out of their toddler years, huddled on the sidelines with Ichor while he growled words of encouragement.
The children were capable of slaughtering more than the dregs of the Deathless, but what looked like a savage battle to the civilians watching from the windows, was nothing more than a playful father wrestling with his children. Even as the gray drones rushed him with bladed attacks Deicide was in no danger, they may as well have tried stabbing him with sticks of butter. The drones’ limbs gave a wet smack as they hit his heavily muscled physique and none of his children could lay hands on him at all. Ichor shook his head as another blitz failed; none of them would be ready for a battle against Ecocide and her sisters, even the mighty Eldora who had already been touted as a prodigy of fighting.
As they dragged themselves back to Ichor, Deicide tried to console them, but they had inherited Nott’s perfectionism. He looked up and saw the eager face of an eater amongst his family.
“What’s up?” Deicide said; lifting the little gray skinned Amicus onto his shoulders.
“Message from the Nazareth, sir,” the eater said. Deicide nodded and handed off little Amicus, holding back tears in his great yellow eyes, so much like his mother’s. The tike seemed jealous of his older siblings, growing at an accelerated rate. However, even he could not understand how special he was. The only child of Nott and Deicide, he would inherit the seal, if Deicide should ever fall. Despite all of the princes and princesses which Deicide had sired, Amicus was next in line, a fact that few people ever allowed to slip from their minds.
Deicide made his way toward the war room; he was followed by his advisor Ichor, Silex and Caissa his two oldest children. Though Deicide could view the message anywhere, he knew a meeting would be necessary soon enough. He threw on a shirt as he walked into the war room milling with his Cabinet, many did not bother dressing in full uniform as it was during the time of daily exercise. He crossed the room on the military side of table, his children followed, but the rule did not apply to them yet. He dropped down in his chair as Caissa plopped next to him, while Silex hopped onto the armrest. The teens had been very involved in the machinations of the Aeolipile, political and all, but this was the first time they had accompanied their father in the war room. Before they would only be allowed to sit silently next to the speaker, unseen, unheard. Deicide whirled his finger in the air at the aid running the presentation, and he quickly ran his fingers across a holographic touch screen to begin the prerecorded message.
“Hey puppy!” Ecocide said. Deicide sneered as Ecocide’s smiling face filled the wall display, her beige face surrounded by dark curly hair. He could still remember the coldness of her eyes, constantly betraying her otherwise friendly smile. She was reclined in the Captain’s chair on the bridge, amidst bored looking officers and enlisted personnel on watch.
“I just wanted to tell ya’ we picked up your girl. Fucked up how you left her out there all by herself. You never were that good with the ladies. Maybe that’s why you stayed with that frown-faced witch. How is she by the way? Nah, I don’t really care. Anyway, Genocide says hi, give Shay a kiss for me!” Ecocide said before the message shut off.
“What the hell was that?” Someone said. Deicide turned back to the table slunk down in his seat, fuming. He watched under his narrowed eyelids as the usual comedians prepared to lighten the mood, and then as if through telepathy, they all held their tongues. Very few knew the exact relationship between Deicide and the genetic children of Bestat, one of his former mentors. As eaters they were known collectively as the Lionesses and their power was known to have been on par with Deicide’s before he had become an adult.
“Is it not obvious?” Deicide said. “Their goading us. Me.”
“What the hell do we care about one soldier?” someone said.
“Shit, was she a spy?” someone said; many began to murmur in agreement. Deicide threw his hands in the air at the incompetence that was spreading throughout the room.
“Why do I even pay you? You know she just wants to spin me up,” Deicide said. Caissa and Silex began to whisper to their father. “Address the cabinet like a big girl Caissa,” Deicide said.
“We believe it’s a ruse to find our true location,” Caissa said. The cabinet began to whisper.
“Dear girl they already know where we are from the message,” a general said.
“One would assume so, but all they can garner is where we might have been, from our gates. And that information fades within seconds of its departure. So all they have is a guess,” Silex said.
“There could have been thousands of those message beacons,” Hellmouth said.
“I would bet that they’re testing a device to pin point our location, perhaps even to predict it,” Caissa said, nodding to Silex, who nodded back. Deicide pursed his lips and nodded slowly, squeezing a laugh from the room.
“So what do we do about this?” Deicide said.
“I say we give them what they want,” a general said.
“What if they use Neg-Shells?” someone said.
“We can’t be afraid of those,” Deicide said. “And we shan’t need them.”
“They exist for a reason, sir,” someone said. Deicide shot from his seat and slammed his hands on the table.
“Never! Only a coward would use such a weapon! Why do we train these people to fight? Why is it we endorse such ruthless competition?” Deicide said.
“We have to look at possibilities,” Great White said.
“When you all find one worthy of my attention, I’ll review it,” Deicide said; then streaked from the room, the Abyss and his children followed.
Deicide returned to his office to fume, the usual line of people were waiting outside, but he ignored them all, instead Silex and Caissa tended to them. Deicide burst in to find the rest of his family engaged in self-study, reading information from holographic screens and discussing weapon prototypes developed by the Somnus Engineers. He collapsed into the chair behind his sleek desk as it emerged from the wall and ceiling.
“Hey Dad look at this prototype,” Capella said, sending a holographic image that rotated above the black surface embedded in his desk.
“Why the hell are they designing cars at a time like this?” Deicide said, dismissing it after a glance.
“You barely looked at it,” Capella said, approaching his desk. She peeked under the holographic displays and waved. Then she came around the desk and held up her tablet.
“I saw it. Why do you even care about cars? Every eater can outrun one,” Deicide said.
Capella clutched the pad to her chest. “But it looks so cool,” Capella said.
“I’ll be interested when they make something that can stop a Neg-Shell without draining the Abyss’ power,” Deicide said. Immediately his children and the queue all turned towards him.
“Something that isn’t my face,” Deicide said. He sat in his corner of the room, while the rest of his world went on without him. He watched members come and go, interacting with his young family. His children were liked by the crew, but he was afraid the soldiers still thought of them as mutants, which they were, as his oldest two would be fully grown in about a year, with the rest not far behind. It was only little Amicus who seemed to be getting left behind. He had grown just like the others and then just stopped, though Deicide thought it was just as well, none of them would be phase three for several hundred years, only then could they be called true adults. According to Nott’s standards Deicide had only reached adulthood when his body was revamped inside of that great tree his wife had taken refuge in. He brooded as he mentally thumbed through reports in his external mind, surprised when he came to a missing persons report from inside the Aeolipile. He wondered how anyone could go missing even if they wanted too; every Aeolipile citizen had a unique signature written into identification strips on their necks which could not be spoofed.
Deicide noticed that the woman missing was related to one of Asotus’ instructors. He thought about asking the boy if he had seen her, but had no patience for the boy’s apathetic sighs. In truth it was someone else’ duty to be on the hunt for her, it angered him that he had even bothered wasting time reading the message. He mentally contacted his Amanuensis Array and told them to hold his messages concerning trivial matters. The Aeolipile would be headed into war with a worthy opponent soon and he wanted to limit his distractions.
He sat up when he saw Hellmouth, White and Ichor making their way toward his office on the security camera, immediately the queue in front of his door fled from the scene, as some of them were skipping chain of command having Deicide, or more accurately, his children signing his name on legal documents. The door slid shut silently behind them, and then the children returned to their studies.
“Is this how it’s gonna be?” Hellmouth said, gold teeth bared. Deicide was unmoved, even the Abyss gave no reaction. Deicide looked to one of the nannies playing with Amicus on the other side of the room. The women charged with taking care of his children seemed to know his moods almost as well as the Amanuensis or the Abyss.
“C’mon kids,” she said, gathering them up, despite their protests. When they had gone Deicide stood and pulled his shirt over his head. The Abyss giggled and hung at the back of the room.
“We didn’t come here for that,” Ichor said.
“Bullshit,” Deicide said.
“Your paranoia is gonna eat you up, Ant,” Hellmouth said. Deicide clenched his fists and came from around the desk, his muscles tight, and jaws grinding his teeth.
Hellmouth waved her hands out in front of her. “I won’t fight you,” Hellmouth said.
“Then why are you here?” Deicide said.
“You’re exhibiting traits of someone with a mental illness,” Ichor said. “When you actually show up to meetings all you do is make nonsensical outbursts.”
“You have to start setting a better example,” Hellmouth said.
“I’m sick of being the better man, sick of being the one that has to do right. I’m the one with the power. Why should I make concessions?” Deicide said. The Abyss had increased her size quickly, nearly swallowing up a third of the room.
“Because you’re the Captain,” Hellmouth said.
“What the fuck happened to you in there?” Great White said. “Ever since you took that trip you’ve been acting like a punk. Not listening to shit, angry over nothing. What the fuck?” Great White said.
“We know you miss her, but this is inexcusable. It’s unbecoming of your rank,” Ichor said. Deicide lowered his head and shook it from side to side.
“What is it?” Hellmouth said.
“When I fell through, I wasn’t in the Fringes. You think I would be wandering around in the Fringes for months and not get out?” Deicide said.
“Of course we thought it was strange, but you were hurt. We didn’t want to assume anything,” Hellmouth said.
“I saw Nott,” Deicide said, his mentors, stunned into silence had to take their seats.
“How?” Hellmouth said. “She’s in the Machine though.”
“I know, but I didn’t get there through the door,” Deicide said.
“Are you fucking with us?” Great White said.
“Of course not. We’re about to go through some trying times,” Deicide said. “And we can’t allow the Nazareth to go unchecked any longer.”
“How can you know this? We haven’t had any Intel on them in years,” Ichor said.
“You think Ecocide’s not scheming? That’s all she was good for,” Deicide said. “You think she sends me love letters out of boredom?”
“I agree, but we have to be sensible,” Ichor said.
“He’s right, punching through the wall is still pretty far off, we don’t have to rush,” Hellmouth said.
“I know, but I’m not sure how much time we have left,” Deicide said.