Chapter 13 Collapse of the Cult
I awakened in Nerys and sat up with a start, for my head was in Daiva’s lap. She laughed richly, sloshing wine onto the sofa on which we sat. It seemed she had already had plenty of time to carouse.
“Well, look at you smiling like that, you naughty boy!” She leaned in closer. “Come now, tell your big sister how it went with Mary. Don’t be shy; give me all the details.”
I took the glass out of her hand. “I’m not your brother, Daiva. I think you’ve had too much to drink . . .”
I faltered when I noticed the bottle of wine on the table, for it was nearly full. What the glass held was all that had been poured. Daiva wasn’t drunk at all, but for some reason, she was trying to trick me into thinking so.
“I don’t understand, Daiva. Is something wrong?” I asked, setting the glass aside.
She suddenly embraced me and leaned her head on my shoulder.
“Please, just let me cherish this moment.” She said, her voice wet with tears.
She looked surprisingly pitiful for such a powerful being.
“Of course . . . sister.” I said, wiping away her tears.
She sighed. “I’m sorry, Conrad. I’ve been so selfish.”
“I don’t understand. You aren’t selfish at all, Daiva. You’ve done nothing but help me. You’re even risking your life to save the world.”
She shook her head. “Do you actually think I care about your world or saving your race?”
I was quite shocked to hear such a question. Perhaps Daiva wasn’t the most compassionate woman, but I thought that she at least cared for her brother.”
“What of your brother? Even if you hate the world . . .” I shuttered, remembering that heartless monster I had been. “E-even if you hate the world, isn’t he worth saving?”
“Of course he is!” She exclaimed. “Why do think I fought in the war? I wanted to sacrifice his soul to Nerys so that we could live here together forever, but”—she sobbed—“I could never bring myself to harm him. Though, when I met you and saw how much you cared about me, I decided that I would be content with your company. Now, I only want to help you, Conrad. That’s all that matters to me now. My brother doesn’t even know about this part of me.” She laughed amusedly and observed herself. “I wonder how he’d react to seeing me like this . . .”
“I’m sure you realize that it’s likely you’ll have to fight him tomorrow. Are you prepared to face him again now that humanity is taking its final breaths?”
Daiva stared at me, her eyes devoid of all emotion. She suddenly broke down right in front of me. I held her in my arms and she wept bitterly.
“No! Of course I’m not! No matter how callous this war makes us, the pain of having to kill your own brother, husband, or even your son never leaves you! It tears you apart, Conrad! I’ve seen it happen . . . I’m one of the lucky ones.”
I stared at her in wonder. I had never imagined she would become this distraught.
“It’s all right, Daiva. I understand completely. After all, I killed my sister.”
“No you don’t!” She grabbed me by my shoulders. “How could you ever understand how I feel? You and Edith had a relationship that I could never even dream of having with Saulius! You two were inseparable. If we can’t save her, at least you’ll have all of those fond memories to cherish. When my brother dies, I will have nothing! That’s why I’ve been so optimistic about this war ending. It just has to end, Conrad . . . If it doesn’t, I don’t know what I’ll do. I might destroy this world myself.”
I sighed and held her closer to me. She began to sob into my shoulder.
“Fond memories?” I shook my head. “There is only one memory from our past that I can recall as fond: The day I gave her that violin. We barely survived our childhood and I spent my years as an adolescent studying and working for my uncle. Even the few years we spent living together were dark and bitter. We sympathized with each other over our mutual hatred for God. That war was a blessing for both of us. Do you know how closely I was driven to madness when Edith took her own life? If it weren’t for you and Mary, I would have fallen back into that darkness.”
She wiped her eyes. “Really?”
“No doubt . . . I apologize. I do not mean to compete with you over who’s suffered worse.”
Daiva laughed. “There’s no need to apologize, Conrad. Thank you.” She gasped. “I nearly forgot that your sister is here. I can take you to her if you’d like.”
I responded with stunning speed, “No. I do intend to save Edith, but right now I think you need me.”
Daiva smiled brightly and embraced me. “Thank you, Conrad.”
I clasped my hands together. “All right, then. Is there anything in particular you’d like me to do?”
She paused and thought for a moment. “Just . . . be my brother for tonight, if you don’t mind.”
I nodded. “Simple enough.”
Her eyes widened with excitement. “All right then. What do you and Edith normally do together?”
I spoke too soon.
“Well, we have a rather unique relationship.”
She laughed amusedly. “You think I don’t know that? Let’s just do something fun, Conrad.”
It was not hard to think of something enjoyable that Daiva and I could do. I then remembered how much I had enjoyed our dance on that dreadful night when Gael harvested the Earth.
“How about a dance?” I asked, holding out my hand.
To my surprise, my idea did not seem to please her.
“Dancing is fun, but I’d do it with you anyway. I really want to do something I’d only do with my brother.”
I sighed. “I’d appreciate it if you’d cook something for me. Raw vegetables and cooling water from a reactor get rather bland when you have it for every meal of the day.”
Daiva jumped to her feet. “That’s perfect!” She exclaimed. “I’ll cook a nice meal for us to eat!”
She took my hand and dragged me into the kitchen. It was quite large for one person to use, but so was this entire mansion. It did not surprise me that she had become so lonely, living in such an empty place.
She then took me into the dining room and sat me down at a long, thin table.
“All right! Now, what would you like to have?” She asked, leaning over the table’s edge.
“Anything that doesn’t kill me will do,” I said.
She laughed mischievously and retired to the kitchen. I was quite apprehensive while waiting for her to return and the strange noises coming from the kitchen did little to ease my mind.
After what felt like hours, she entered the room bearing two plates of fillets of some unknown meat. Despite its strange appearance, it did have a very pleasing aroma. Still, I was loath to try it. She laid both of the plates in front of me and, to my surprise, ran all the way around the table and sat in the chair across from me. I must admit, it was quite amusing to watch. I waited for her to take one of the plates, but she simply stared at me.
“Go ahead and eat!” She said, placing the fork in my hand.
“Aren’t you going to eat anything?” I asked.
She blushed. “No, I made it all just for you.”
It was obvious that Daiva wasn’t very comfortable in such social settings. I wondered if she had ever been this close to anyone. After all, I was the only one who knew what she truly was.
“You do realize that that does little to help ease my apprehension, don’t you?” I asked, looking up from my plate.
She frowned. “At least try it, Conrad. I worked so hard preparing it.”
I expected her to threaten me or say that if she wanted to kill me she would have done so by now, but she said nothing of the sort. She genuinely wanted me to enjoy her work, not out of fear but because she had made it for me, in hope that it would bring a smile to my face.
I hesitantly took a bite of the fillet. I shuttered and dropped my fork.
“How is it?” She asked, clasping her hands together.
I stared at her in awe. “It’s . . . I can’t describe it. It’s amazing!”
It was a truly outstanding piece of meat, cooked and seasoned to perfection. Though, perhaps what was most enjoyable about the meal was that I could actually appreciate it. The engineer could have never done such a thing. Despite this, I was still curious as to its origin.
“Wonderful! Wait here and I’ll get you another fork.” She said as she rose from her chair.
I ignored her and shamefully began using my hands to finish the food. It was a strange sensation, but it seemed that this mysterious fillet tasted even more delectable with every bite. I managed to gain control of myself, for I feared that if I ate it all, I might attack Daiva if she did not bring me more.
I looked up at her before she could leave.
“This food has an addictive quality.” I said, crossing my arms.
She sighed. “I’m sorry, Conrad, but I wanted to make you something that even I couldn’t ruin.”
I stood up and reached across the table to take her hand.
“I am a changed man, Daiva.” I smiled. “I would appreciate anything you did for me.”
She gasped and withdrew her hand.
“Conrad, you don’t mean that . . . you remember everything?” She asked in disbelief.
I nodded. She jumped across the table and embraced me.
“How do you feel?” She asked, her eyes filled with anxiety. “I don’t know the details, but I do know that you and Edith were miserable growing up. Mary told me that much.”
I laughed slightly. “How do I feel, you ask? What an ironic question. Before last night, I would have said that I didn’t feel anything at all. Daiva, I’ve come alive. I now see the world as beautiful and full of life.” I frowned. “To tell the truth, I was quite offended when you said you didn’t care about the world. Maybe you can’t see it, but I do. Our world is full of love, even in these dark times. Mary showed me that. Because of her, I’ve let go of the hatred that seethed within my heart. Because of her, I can live again.”
Daiva stared at me in wonder as her eyes slowly swelled with tears.
“You’re right, Conrad. I was wrong to give up hope. Thank you.” She paused. “Why don’t you go see Edith? I’m sure she’d love to be reunited with her brother!”
I firmly shook my head. “That wretched man is dead—drowned in his own hatred. My sister will never see him again. I’ll make sure of it.”
“Oh . . . Well, I’m sure she’ll understand.” She released me and looked down at herself. “Now that you have your emotions back, I’d like to know: What do you think of me?”
“What do I . . . Well—” I faltered mostly because I was too embarrassed to tell her. “You’re like a mother to me, Daiva. I know it’s strange, but I never really had any parents. You’ve taught me a lot about myself and you helped me to move forward. I can’t thank you enough.”
She laughed. “Me, a mother? Now that’s something new! Though, I like to think of myself as your big sister.” She mused.
I smiled. “Yes, I could see that as well. I suppose that would be more realistic, since you’re only four years older than me.”
“That’s right, Conrad, and remember, I still am your sister for tonight.” She said and took my arm.
“Yes, of course. What would you like to do next?” I asked excitedly.
Her eyes lit up like stars. “I know! Let’s go up to my room and you can help me decide on what dress to wear!”
My excitement quickly faded. “You can’t be serious?”
“Oh come now, Conrad. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it once you see me in all of them.”
I crossed my arms and glared at her. “Have you forgotten that I am now a married man? I refuse.”
“I haven’t, Conrad. I promise I won’t do anything obscene. All I’m asking is that you help me decide on what to wear. I’m sure you’ve done that for Edith several times.”
I sighed. “Fine, I’ll do it. Though, I won’t wait for you to try on every dress. I’m sure that you have hundreds of them in this castle.”
“Oh, thank you! Let’s go.”
She took my hand and dragged me up to her room. I sat on the edge of the bed while she changed into dress after dress. She did not actually change in and out of each outfit, but they simply took form about her body when she willed it. Each dress was relatively the same—most being black, though a few were red. Eventually, I stopped her when she put on a very familiar dress.
“Wait!” I exclaimed. “That’s the one. Wear it, please.”
She looked down at the dress and cringed. “You like this one? But it’s so . . . old.”
I smiled and nodded. “Yes, I know. It reminds me of Edith’s dress she wore in her orchestra.”
“Really? Then I’d be happy to wear it for you, Conrad.” She sat down next to me. “I’ve always wanted to do that with my brother. Thank you . . .”
I frowned. “I forgot that you had very little time to spend with your brother. I suppose you were both merely children when the war began.”
She smiled, perhaps reminiscing of her childhood. “Yes, I was only eight when the revolution began. My brother, however, was sixteen. We hardly ever saw each other, even before the war. He spent all of his time training and studying tactics. He and Gael were very close during their youth. I’m sure that they were planning this war when they were yet boys. It’s sad to think that they gave up on this world when they were so young and full of potential.”
“And to think that every man bought into his lie . . .”
“Not every man,” she took my hand, “we still have you.”
I laughed. “Who knows? If I had faced the atrocities they were dealt under the Matriarchy, would I have been any different?”
Daiva shrugged. “Perhaps, but I don’t think so. You’d never leave your sister, and she would have just been born when the war began.”
I nodded. “Yes, you’re right. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Though, if you refused to join them, the Gaelturi would have executed you. That happened to a few of the men who valued family over fantasy”—she sighed—“like my father.”
I couldn’t believe what I had heard. It was not that Gael was willing to destroy anyone who did not follow him that shocked me, but that her father was willing to die rather than leave her. What an alien thought. My father would have never done such a thing for us.
“Can you guess who killed my father?” She asked.
She nodded. “I’m sure that you understand why I never doubted that he would kill me as well, a girl he barely knew.” She laughed. “He’s a heartless man—my brother—but I still love him.”
“I think he would change if he simply knew that.” I smiled. “That’s how Mary changed me.”
“You think so?” Daiva asked, grabbing my arm.
“Yes, I believe that Gael and his men are running away, not because of their mistreatment, but because they felt that no one loved them. Just think about it, Daiva. Your father stayed because he knew that he had your and your mother’s love. Your brother, however, knew nothing of the love you harbored for him and ran away.”
She thought for a moment and nodded. “Yes, you’re right. My mother did treat him very poorly, but I’m sure that if she could see him again, she would never let him go nor stop telling him of the depths of her love . . . I would do the same.”
I noticed that Daiva was beginning to cry. I stood up and took her hand.
“Dance with me.”
She stood up and placed her hands on my shoulders. Her tears faded as we began to dance and a smile, ever slowly, stretched across her tear-stained cheeks.
“Daiva, there’s something I must tell you.”
I felt her body grow tense. “What? What is it?”
“That night when we first danced, my eyes began to open to the world. You taught me how to feel joy and truly be happy. I cannot thank you enough.”
She laughed. “I was only holding you to your promise. There’s no need to thank me.”
I smiled and shook my head. “No, Daiva. What you did for me was truly remarkable. Thank you.”
“Well, I’m glad I was of use to you.”
“Of use to me? You saved me!”
Daiva smiled brightly. “Only because you saved me. Without you and your sister, I would have given up hope of ever being reunited with my brother. I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me, Conrad.” She sat down on the bed and yawned. “And I don’t think I’ll ever forget tonight either. Thank you for being my brother. I truly enjoyed it.”
“It was my pleasure . . . Daiva, when I return to the Reich, will I still be able to meet with you in Nerys every night?”
“Yes, you will. Nerys follows a completely separate timeline from our world.”
I smiled with relief. “Then if, God forbid, something happens to your brother, I’d be more than happy to do this again.”
She embraced me tightly. “Thank you, Conrad. I’d love that more than anything. Though, I’m sure you realize what a mess I’d be if he died . . . I might never recover.”
I held her closer to me. “That’s fine, Daiva. I’ll tend to your every need if I must. I was prepared to do that before, you know.”
She laughed richly. “Yes, of course! How could I forget? If I recall, you even bathed me, didn’t you?
I frowned and rolled my eyes. I was quite ashamed of that now that I knew the extent of Mary’s love.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up. Now, why don’t we go to bed? Tonight’s been wonderful, but I’m exhausted.” Daiva said as she fell back onto the bed.
“Yes, I agree.” I lay down next to her. “Good night, Daiva.”
“Wait! One more thing, Conrad. How should I tell my brother that I love him? I mean, what do you usually do to express your love to Edith?”
I thought for a moment and said, “If your brother still lives in that man, all it will take is for him to look into your eyes and see the vast extent of your love. Then, he will realize his folly.”
Daiva smiled. “Yes, you’re right. Thank you.”
I closed my eyes and felt her arms hug my neck.
“Conrad?” She breathed.
“Even if I am reunited with my brother, we can still do this, if you’d like. This is our own little world after all.”
I smiled. “Perhaps.”
She laughed and laid her head on my shoulder.
“Good night . . . brother.” She whispered.
I fell asleep, wishing, for the first time, that I would not have to leave that world. I knew that when I awakened, Gael would have returned to Haul and be preparing to conduct the ritual that would summon the Devourer. I did not wish to kill him, if only for Mary’s sake, but I would do whatever was necessary to stop him and end this war.
When I awoke on Haul, I was greeted by the pleasant sight of Mary, her eyes wide open, staring into my own.
“Good morning, dear. Did you sleep well?” She asked, tightening her embrace around me.
I found her ironic greeting quite amusing, for there would never be a morning on that planet of eternal darkness.
“Oh, yes. I slept very well.” I said, my mind already occupied by forming our plan of attack. I decided that is was necessary to tell Mary what this day would hold for us.
I sighed. “I will be honest with you, Mary. Today will be a dark day.”
“Are all of the days here not dark?”
I could not help but laugh at her cute ignorance.
“That is true, but today is especially dark, for there are men here who wish to destroy this world. We must stop them today, lest we all perish.”
“Really?” Mary looked down at herself in shame. “It’s about that monster I summoned, isn’t it?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. Though, it would have happened either way. You are not to blame.”
“Thank you, Conrad. I’ll do what I can to help you defeat them.” Mary said with surprising ferocity.
“I will ask nothing more from you”—I sat up—“Now, come. We must prepare ourselves.”
After we were both fully dressed I checked my revolver. Still, it contained only three rounds. It would obviously be my most potent weapon against Gael, for he would know nothing of its function. I made sure to conceal it within my coat.
Suddenly, the entire building began to shake violently. We ran outside to find Daiva, staring up at a massive fleet of Gaelturi ships flying through the sky.
“It’s Gael and he will soon land at his citadel. His men are already preparing for the ritual.” She turned to face us. “I know the way! Come! We haven’t a moment to spare!”
As we ran through the dark forests of Haul, I noticed that Daiva moved with much more difficulty than before. Her strength was certainly being drained from her. Despite this, we still traversed the planet with astounding speed and found ourselves at the outer wall of the Gaelturi capital within an hour. I was shocked to find that the wall appeared very similar to the leg Daiva had fashioned for me. Perhaps they used a similar compound to construct their defenses. It was a wise choice, for it was a sturdy alloy to say the least. Surprisingly enough, there were very few men on the wall and even fewer down below at the gate.
“Most of them have already withdrawn to the inner court. Gael will definitely take his time with the ceremony, so let’s be as discreet as possible. If we sound the alarm, he’s likely to perform the ritual immediately.” Daiva whispered shakily. It was obvious that she was quite anxious. I knew that she had to be thinking of her brother.
Fortunately, the Gaelturi had allowed the forest to grow very near to their walls. It seemed as though defending against a siege had rarely crossed their minds. Using the trees as cover, we were able to get up to the wall and enter it through its culvert. Daiva gripped the bars and carefully melted through them. Swiftly, we made our way into the city. Far above the inner wall and the tallest buildings in the city, the nerysite crystal could be seen reaching high into the clouds. It appeared to be a wicked monument straight from Pandemonium. The sight chilled my soul. As we made our way through the streets, we found the city to be completely deserted. At last, we stood before the inner wall. The gate to the city’s center was open and I could easily hear Gael from within. What a dark and powerful voice he had. If he had ordered his men to take their own lives, I’m sure that they would have obeyed without question.
“This is the day of our salvation!” There was a resounding roar of applause. By the sound of it, there had to be a million men or perhaps even more. “After today, you will no longer know pain or sorrow, for it was twenty years ago that my father spoke to me in a dream, telling me of a land of peace and serenity that he had discovered. He said to me, ‘Son, you have been called to a lofty realm. In this realm, you will be free from all your burdens and will never die. Come to the planet Haul if you have the will to leave the world and never look back.’ I obeyed my wise father and journeyed to this planet. I nearly perished, but my spirit was strong and I found the key to the door of that realm my father had discovered. It was the Nerysite, the Hell Stone!” There was another roar of applause. “And it is this day, my brothers, that we will use this key to open the door to a new world! I will lead you there where we will forsake the atrocities of the old world and step forward into a new future!”
The shouts that followed were deafening. Now was the time to act.
“Let’s go. I’ve heard enough.” I said as I took Mary’s hand.
Daiva nodded and we charged through the gateway. All around the inner court, men had gathered, filling the streets and standing on rooftops, doing whatever they could to witness humanity’s final moments. Gael stood on a raised dais in front of the crystal. There were two others standing with him as well as twenty or so guards behind him. One of the individuals at his side was Saulius, of course, but the other was the last person I expected to see standing with that vile man. It was Anwen, Mary’s sister.
Daiva gasped. “That traitor! I’ll kill her! Gael won’t even be able to recognize his precious sister when I’m through with her!”
Several men heard her and seized us immediately. We did not resist as we knew they would take us to Gael.
The man let out a wretched laugh from atop his dais. “Oh? It would appear we have some guests, my brothers.”
We were paraded down the street—mocked and laughed at from all sides. The men brought us up onto the dais where we stood before Gael. He wore a ceremonial cape as well as a helm of silver. He was indeed very proud of his victory. Anwen immediately ran to her sister and embraced her. I was surprised at how smoothly she ran as she was obviously suffering from Seren poisoning. Of course, Mary could not remember her sister and certainly had no memory of her brother.
“Mairwen, you’re safe!” She exclaimed. “I feared that you were dead. Not a moment went by that I wasn’t thinking about you, I promise!”
Mary made no indication of even hearing what she had said. She simply stared at her sister in bewilderment.
“Who are you?” She asked, barely audible.
“What?” Anwen backed away from her, tears welling in her eyes. “I’m your sister, Mairwen! You have to remember me!”
Mary took my arm. “Is she my sister, Conrad?”
I shook my head. “No. No, she’s naught but a traitor.”
Anwen’s entire body began to tremble. “Wait! Conrad, you don’t understand! Gael was all I had left. He asked me to accompany him into his new world. What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t refuse!” She fell to her knees. “He’s still my brother and I will love him no matter how evil he becomes! You have to understand! I never meant to hurt any of you, especially Mairwen!”
“That’s enough, Anwen!” Gael shouted and pulled her back. “Our sister is gone. Soon, Nerys will consume her and she will become a husk, mindlessly serving its master.”
“Are you mad?” She yelled, pulling herself away from him. “Of course she’s still our sister! We have to help her!”
“Be silent!” He rasped.
Saulius did not even regard Daiva. He was not at all taken aback to see his sister still alive. She stared at him intensely, but he showed no sign of remorse. Perhaps I was wrong. Maybe her brother had become blind to love just as I once was.
“I’m sure that you didn’t come here to join us, engineer.” He laughed. “Are you going to stop me on this glorious day of our salvation?”
I smiled curtly and nodded. “Yes, we are, and then we’re all going to work together to heal this broken world.”
The entire court erupted in laughter. Even Saulius displayed a subtle smirk.
Gael reeled his head back and laughed madly. “Are you a fool? There are three million men here and you expect to defeat us?”
Daiva stepped forward and spoke. “No, we do not wish to take anymore lives. This war has seen enough families ripped apart.”
Gael turned to her, a faint look of curiosity on his face.
She continued, “I know that you are all hurting and your hearts have been torn by this world, but you don’t have to run away. We Maidens desired to rebuild this world with you. All we wanted was for our families to be whole again. Don’t you understand that you have destroyed everyone who ever loved you? You may not have felt their love while you lived with them on Earth, but believe me, the day Gael stole those ships and you all left Earth was the day our lives were shattered to pieces! I saw more tears shed that day than any since this war began!” She looked over at her brother. “Many of them were my own. I promise that if you surrender now, none of you will suffer. Please, we only want you to come home.”
Gael frowned and clenched his fists. “We are going home. I can respect that you’d try to stop us, but to think that you would come here and demand our surrender? What a disgrace! Kill them!”
“No! Gael, you can’t!” Anwen yelled in protest.
He shoved her aside. “Men, you won’t need anyone to love you when you reach the Omega Point! All of the power in the universe will be yours! Kill them now!”
The men lurking in the shadows behind Gael stepped forward and drew their blades as one. A hundred men or more also jumped up onto the platform and drew their swords.
I gripped the hilt of my own but Daiva grabbed my hand.
“Look away.” She said calmly.
“Don’t look at me, please . . . Just protect Mary.”
I watched as her body took upon the form it bore in Nerys. Her hair and eyes became crimson and a suit of black armor materialized around her. I thought she had been terrifying in Nerys, but when we she took upon that dreaded raiment in the mortal world, she appeared no different from a being that had fallen from divinity.
“Demon!” Some of the men cried out as they ran away in fear.
Saulius unsheathed his katana with such speed that the blade merely flashed and it was in his hand, ready to strike.
He furrowed his brow. “Allow me, my lord. I can feel her power and it far exceeds your own. I will fight her while you perform the ritual.”
“No, Saulius, stand down.” He removed his helmet and smiled. “I’m excited to see what sort of spectacle she’ll put on for us.”
I ran over to Mary, but Anwen had already embraced her, hugging her sister’s face against her chest.
“I’ll protect her, Conrad. Keep us safe if anyone tries to attack us.” She ordered, her future Matriarch’s voice coming out of her.
I smiled. “You sound just like your mother. She would be proud.”
Anwen gave me a confused look. I expected as much, since she was unaware of the engineer’s death. I hoped desperately that she would live to see tomorrow, her sister’s final day.
I turned to face the men who were slowly advancing on us. I drew my sword and clasped the revolver in my other hand. I pulled the hammer back and held it, ready to fire. I intended to reserve each of its rounds for Gael.
There was a resounding explosion and the ground shook violently. I ducked for cover as the sky was suddenly torn asunder. Pale apparitions emerged from the rift and flew about the city. They were the souls of the Maidens who had been lost to the Devourer. The men cowered in fear of the faces that had haunted their dreams, faces of loved ones slain without thought or reason.
Another rift opened behind Daiva and a mass of tentacles issued forth. The monstrous appendages grasped the men who had now dropped their blades and were fleeing in horror. The men dangled in the air, writhing and screaming helplessly. They were torn apart and their silver blood rained down upon us. I could no longer bear to watch this atrocity.
Eventually, the screams ceased and I opened my eyes. Bodies lay mangled about the dais and all throughout the city men had either fainted or were cowering in fear. The only two who remained standing were Gael and Saulius, the latter bearing a look of disgust.
“Well, that was quite a show, Daiva! I’m surprised you never took advantage of this power before. You could have ended the war in an instant.”
What a sick man! He had just witnessed hundreds of his followers perish in such gruesome ways and felt no remorse or even anger at what she had done. In fact, he seemed quite pleased with the results.
Saulius stepped forward and unsheathed his katana.
“What did you do to my sister, you monster?” He yelled, his body trembling with rage.
Gael firmly grabbed him by the shoulder. “I told you to stand down.” He said. “Don’t you see? That monster is your sister.”
Saulius shoved him off and charged at Daiva. The repulsive tentacles descended upon him and in a flash he had felled them all. Now, only Daiva stood before him. She conjured a wicked ax and awaited his next move. Despite the horrors he had just witnessed, Saulius showed no fear and I knew exactly why: Daiva was still his sister and no matter what evil she committed, he would never see her as anything else, just as she felt towards him.
The first blow fell from Saulius’s hand. He struck her with such speed that it took several moments for me to realize that he had even attacked her. Daiva made no attempt to resist, for the blade harmlessly passed through her. Yes, I had taken note before that the nerysite weapons of the Gaelturi caused no physical harm to their victims, but merely harvested their souls for the Devourer. Obviously, Daiva was now immune to this. She spun around and struck him with the shaft of her ax. He fell onto his back and stared at her in awe.
“You fiend,” he yelled, rising to his feet. “Release my sister at once!”
Daiva smiled peacefully. “I am your sister! Please, we don’t have to fight, Saulius! I still love you.”
“Be silent!” He rasped in pain. “How dare you speak with her voice!”
Saulius charged at her again and she knocked him away. His hair had now fallen from its neatly kept ponytail.
“You can’t be . . .” He stammered. “My sister would never slaughter so many men. Let her go! Give her back to me!”
Their blades met and Daiva glared at him.
“How would you know your sister? You hardly ever took notice of her! The only sister you remember is a little girl, longing for her brother’s love! Of course you can’t comprehend what I’ve become!”
Saulius faltered and the head of Daiva’s ax grazed his side. He gasped and fell to his knees, supporting himself with one hand while pressing the other against his wound. She quickly kneeled down to help him.
“Leave me!” He held out his hand to stop her. “I will gladly accept death, for this world has taken my sister and I have nothing left but grief . . .”
Daiva laid her weapon down in front of him.
She sighed. “If that is what you believe, then kill me so we might at last be together, but if my wound does not take your life, you will only grieve even more.”
“You fool!” Saulius grabbed the shaft of her weapon. “My sister would rather die than be enslaved to you, demon!”
He swung the blade but suddenly stopped just before it bit into her side. He looked up to see Daiva, softly pressing her lips against his forehead. Slowly, he dropped the weapon, the loud crash resounding throughout the city.
“No, you can’t be her . . .” His eyes swelled with tears. “My sister never loved me . . .”
Daiva laughed and caressed his face. ”You’re the fool. She does love you and she always has.”
“Oh, Daiva!” He cried and embraced her.
She threw her arms around him and wept. I turned to Gael and he laughed.
“I warned you not to engage her, Saulius, my friend.” He said and displayed a faint smile.
Anwen ran over to us, dragging Mary behind her.
“Can’t you see, brother that this war has caused nothing but pain and misery? Are they not an example of what good we could bring out of it?” Anwen asked, holding out her hand. “Enough lives have been taken these past twenty years. Return the Maiden’s souls and let’s work together to heal this world.”
Gael laughed bitterly.
“One traitor will not stop us from reaching the Omega Point, and one more will make no difference if you, too, go against my will.” He clenched his fist. “I’ve come too far to back down now, sister.”
I stepped toward Gael and he smiled.
“And what do you want, engineer?” He asked.
“I want you to open your eyes and see the suffering of your own people!” I yelled. Can’t you see that your men need love? Do you not feel that emptiness in your own heart as well?”
He laughed pleasantly. “Well, I’m impressed! I suppose I can’t call you ‘engineer’ anymore. Why don’t you best me in battle, and then I’ll decide how I feel?”
I held out my sword. “If that’s what it takes.”
Gael unsheathed his massive broadsword and removed his cape. He eyed the revolver and I hastily concealed it within my coat.
“Come, Conrad.” Gael said, holding out his hand. “Let me see the wrath of the man who inspired me as a boy, the man who crushed a thousand foes during his own war and showed them no remorse.”
I swung my sword viciously and he parried it with ease.
“That’s it, Conrad!” He smiled. “I can see the hatred in your eyes, the hatred that would destroy this world, given the chance. Do not try to hide your past. Embrace it, for it has made you who you are.”
I could not deny him. He was right. I could feel the emotions driving my attacks. I now fought with hatred and cunning, not reason. My strikes fell one after another without any thought at all.
“I’ve read your journal. I know what you desire—to see this world in ruin and create your own for you and your sister to share. That is why you killed her, wasn’t it, so the two of you could live forever in Nerys? Ha! Soon, even that world of darkness will shine compared to the evil that seethes in your hearts!”
He parried another one of my relentless blows and kicked me in the stomach. I fell to the ground, gasping for breath. I began to believe him. After all the suffering I had known in this world, I just wanted it all to burn. I pictured it as a paradise—living in Nerys with Edith. Any world would be better than this.
I began to drift away when a voice broke through the darkness: “Pull yourself together, Conrad!”
It was Mary. She was calling out to me. I couldn’t leave this world. As long as her love remained, this world was beautiful and no amount of pain could change that.
“Do you yield?” Gael asked, sheathing his sword. “I grow weary of this.”
I struggled to rise to my feet and he smiled with satisfaction. I was beaten and he knew it.
“You are the one who has fallen into darkness, Gael.” My pain caused me to falter. “You and your men have betrayed yourselves.”
Gael furrowed his brow. “Excuse me? You think that we betrayed ourselves? The Maidens betrayed us! After the Great War, there were perhaps a million of us left, but instead of helping us, the Maidens took everything! In order to prevent another war, they put us under constant surveillance, just waiting for one of us to rise up and try to take a little power. They treated us like animals, waiting for the opportunity to destroy each other. Well, I united those beasts and now we’re going to transcend the pitiful ways of this world and enter a realm where politics do not even exist and squabbles for power are forgotten. Once we reach the Omega Point, all suffering will end and we will reign supreme over the entire universe!”
I laughed. “Even now, you lie. You’re just running away from a broken world. Do you think that you’re all alone? I suffered just as much, if not more than you. It’s true that I used to hate this world, but I learned to love it when I realized that I was loved as well.”
“My men and I have left our lives behind.” He frowned. “We no longer require love. Such feelings are meaningless when a world of eternal bliss awaits.”
“I know that isn’t true, Gael!”
His eyes flashed with anger.
“If love is meaningless to you, then why did you ask for your sister to accompany you? You’re scared of being alone after you leave this world. You want her by your side so that you will always know that someone loves you. Do you think that your men feel any differently? All they’ve ever wanted was to be loved! Is that not evident with Saulius?”
“Enough!” He barked. “My men are well aware of the world that awaits them and they know that no love can be found in this world. We will leave this world with rejoicing and never look back!”
“You still love your sister, Gael!” I crossed my arms. “And if you love her, then you must know that your men still love their families as well.”
Gael paused. For a moment, I thought that he was actually considering what I had said. Suddenly, he burst into laughter.
“You disappoint me, Conrad. I thought that you would sympathize with us and understand our plan, but it seems I was wrong. You insult me with this banter. I thought you would be a man who would fight for his life, not bargain for it. You’re a disgrace and now I shall relieve you of the pitiful life you’ve squandered in this world. Farewell, Conrad.”
Before I could react, Gael held out his hand and unleashed a blast of white light. The air began vibrating rapidly as the energy enclosed around me. I was forced to shut my eyes against the white-hot light. Surprisingly enough, it did not burn as I imagined. There was a scream followed by the loud crackling of several fires. I opened my eyes and gasped. Mary was standing in front of me and we were surrounded by a ring of white fire. I remained unharmed, but Mary . . . She might as well have already been dead. Anwen ran to us, ignoring the fires. That scream had belonged to her. Mary sighed and fell back into her sister’s arms.
“Oh, Mary!” She cried. “How could you throw your life away like this? Did you never realize how much you meant to us? Could you not see our love?”
I was shocked yet pleased to hear Anwen call her sister by her more intimate name. She now realized that Mary had only wanted to be close to her family. In fact, I was certain that she was enjoying her final moments.
I looked up at Gael. His entire body was shaking, so much so that I thought he might fall apart. Tears slowly began streaming down his face. It was a strange sight to behold. Previously, I had thought this man incapable of feeling any remorse.
“Mary!” He cried out as he ran to her.
I reached for my revolver but stopped abruptly. Gael was very vulnerable right now, but I could not bring myself to carry out the kill. What kind of man would I be to not allow him to stay by his sister’s side until the end?
He fell to his knees and grasped Mary’s hand. I could not see her face but I was sure that she was smiling. Saulius and Daiva also ran over to them. Daiva knelt down and caressed Anwen’s back while Saulius stood, his eyes filled with sorrow for his master and friend. I remained away from the scene, for I wished to take it all in and feel each of their emotions. I had never witnessed such pain. Gael struggled to even breathe amidst his wailing. I feared that he had lost his sanity. Anwen cradled her dear sister’s head and showered her in tears.
I suddenly remembered how Mary had said she loved her scar because it brought her closer to her sister. I was sure that Mary did not mind dying, now that it would reunite her family and perhaps the entire human race. It was then when I realized why Mary was so willing to endure the pain that she knew her future held. In the end, all of her pain and sadness would mean nothing, for her final act would be dying to save this world.
After a few minutes of lamenting, Daiva got up and walked over to me. At first, I thought that she would be angry with me for not joining them, but that wasn’t why she had approached me at all.
“Come with me.” She said. “We’re going to save her.”
Though I knew it unwise, my heart was suddenly filled with hope.
“I won’t ask any questions. Let’s go.” I said, trying to hide my anxiety.
She smiled. “Then you’ll have to calm down and go to sleep. We’re going to Nerys.” She paused. “We’re going to destroy the Devourer.”
I nodded and laid down, for there was nothing I had to say. Daiva also laid down next to me and embraced my neck.
“Thank you, Conrad.” She whispered. “Because of you, I was able to have a brother again. I never knew he loved me so much. You should have heard his dismal apologies. They were so heartbreaking. Sometimes sadness is a good thing, isn’t it? Without sadness how can there be joy? Without darkness how can there be light? It is the natural order of life, I suppose.”
“Yes, I think I understand.” I murmured.
She smiled and closed her eyes. I did the same and together, we entered into that dark world for the final time.