TBOTSG-Chapter 7

June 30, 2024

I could feel everything pulsing around me, starting from the tips of my fingers that were now touching the pendant I had created from my very essence in a time now immemorial. My temples were burning, and I couldn’t feel M at all, even though I knew he was standing right in front of me. For a second, I thought I was being pulled back into my world by an unseen force, but then I realised that what was happening was the resonance of our thoughts: mine, M’s, and Fiiuea’s.

I heard Filip as if in a dream, and I extended my hand to him, which he took with slight hesitation at first, but then with determination. In a completely bizarre way, it gave me a sense of safety, of grounding, which then let me allow myself to fly towards a stone-like cloud that seemed to envelop the sky. Fiiuea was looking at it with a heavy heart, as if it foretold something bad. One of her servants had slipped in unnoticed earlier, and now he waited quietly. When she finally turned her eyes to him, he delivered the news she had anticipated. The bath was ready.

The immense basin was filled to the brim with boiling water. Lazy swirls of red steam rose, filling the vast room with a fine mist. Among them, on the water’s surface, floated petals of silver apple blossoms. The silver shone even brighter on the water reddened by purifying salts, piercing the vapor with the fine sound of wind chimes, giving the ritual a magical dimension. Of course, Fiiuea knew it wasn’t magical at all. She knew it was based on complex chemistry and a lot of meditation. Probably only 5 or 6 people in the whole world could have created this bath. Three of them were here.

She signalled the servants to leave, then took off her almost transparent robe and jumped into the water with her hands first. A freedom that would have scandalised the old priestesses and that would have probably guaranteed her a generous punishment, if not even exclusion from the order. This, however, was her own ritual since she had started practicing purifying baths again. For a while, she had been a drifter, without a place of her own. Besides she hated everything related to her old life, yet she knew it was useful to her. She had established the weekly purifying bath right from the first month when the gods had disappeared. Remembering those times, she touched the pendant and realised she was now feeling stronger.

‘No, it’s not because of the bath. I feel Reeza. It won’t be long now.’

Fiiuea swam a little in the scarlet water from which bubbles rose: it was still boiling. She closed her eyes and turned to swim a bit more. She felt restless. Her mind kept drifting from time to time to an old alchemist who had just come from afar for an audience. It was something normal, and Fiiuea was convinced that her success laid in the fact that she was always there for her people’s problems, no matter how insignificant they might seem. ‘The old alchemist… yes, he seems like a harbinger of war.’ News that the climate situation was worsening came from everywhere, not just from her kingdom. It was rumoured that most neighbouring countries already had plans for underground relocation. Entire cities were being built at dizzying speeds, hoping to survive when the first wave of meteors hit. Instead, the alchemist had come to seek political asylum. Her instinct told her that something more complex was at play.

‘Trust…’ she said aloud, then swam some more.

She went to the edge of the basin where a glass and a small bell were placed on a hammered metal tray. After taking a sip of the energising drink, she rang the bell shortly, realising as she did so that she had made a decision. She smiled because she knew that now she could relax, occasionally sipping from the glass, waiting quietly for the servant to enter.

Everything dissolved into a dense mist, and when Fiiuea rematerialised, she was seated on her neo-ancient throne, made partly of stone carved in an the old style and polymorphic material designed to look like freshly molten metal. She liked the throne, I felt that clearly. It reminded her of how I made her feel and how I looked. She felt stronger when she emulated me. She touched the pendant and whispered my name: Reeza.

When the large doors opened, completely without noise, her heart skipped a beat. What she was about to do was not her style, but it was necessary.

Once all the guards had entered and taken their positions in the shadows of the walls, the prime minister on the seat to her right, and the old man kneeling in the middle of the vast room, it was time to learn what needed to be learned.

‘Tell me, old man, why do you think you deserve asylum?’

The old man did not respond immediately, perhaps waiting for her to tell him directly how his defiance would be punished. The silence gradually convinced him that the empress was indeed waiting for an answer.

‘Forgive me, blessed empress. I am a wretched being who has lived underground for thirty years serving the deity.’

Fiiuea knew that the weight of silence was the best remedy for the old man’s restraint, so she made no gesture but did not take her eyes off him either, waiting tensely for him to continue.

‘I am a wretched being who no longer has much to offer…’ he finally said, without conviction.

A wretched being does not come for an audience with the empress,’ the prime minister responded in a bored but firm tone. ‘A wretched being does not need the protection of the empire. A wretched being would have already found their place. Say what you have to say.’

The old man bowed to acknowledge. But he did not continue immediately.

‘I come from the former State of Reeza, from the New Sellez Democracy. I worked for thirty years in the underground bunker where Reeza was held prisoner, and the last thing I did was help her escape.’

Fiiuea struggled to suppress her emotions and the impulse to stand up. She tucked one foot under her and rested her head on her fingertips, inviting the old man to continue.

‘I see the pendant of Reeza around your neck, you must have felt its power growing. It grows because the goddess is no longer imprisoned.’

‘Where is she if she escaped?’ the prime minister asked, knowing that this was what Fiiuea wanted to know.

‘No one knows. I was there when she made a jump to another dimension. She was weak then. Very weak. She suffered from the same weakness that killed the others.’

‘What?’ The prime minister clearly showed his surprise. No one knew what had happened to the gods, but death was not an option anyone had seriously considered. The gods were world architects, not ordinary mortals to be born and to die.

‘This is what happened when the Revolution came… A handful of people, among whom I am ashamed to say I was, discovered a way to isolate the gods’ power. And when the revolution came, that’s what we did. We put them all in containment capsules, powered by atomic energy, in bunkers whose locations only we knew. When this happened, some of us were also isolated underground so that the information would not escape. Years passed, and out of the 53 people who served in Reeza’s bunker, our numbers dwindled until only 7 remained. We appealed for more people to be sent, otherwise, the whole operation would have been in danger. Our pleas were not heeded until the systems began to fail, and the gods started to die. When I fled, six had already died.’

‘Six?’ Fiiuea said, standing up.

Six? I shuddered too, not knowing what to do with this information. It seemed I couldn’t even have a reaction.

Not only was Fiiuea shaken by the gravity of what was heard. Everyone present had turned pale and was trying to discern if the old man was lying.

‘That’s about when Reeza escaped,’ the old man continued after a few seconds. ‘I don’t know exactly what happened to her, or how her rescuers knew about the bunker’s existence. All I know is that she looked at us and, without a word, made a tear in space-time and passed through it with her last strength.’

‘What happened to the other seven gods?’ Fiiuea asked, coming down beside the old man and sitting on the steps in front of the throne.

‘I don’t know. But I suspect they are still in the atomic capsules, in the increasingly poorly maintained bunkers.’

‘Blessed Reeza! How could so many years pass without us knowing what happened? If we had only suspected…’

For the first time in decades, Fiiuea felt a sense of panic.

‘Do you have proof to support what you say, old man? You do realise that this information can only lead to a world war… we must be sure!’

‘I wouldn’t have bothered to travel so far if I didn’t.’

From somewhere behind his left ear, just above a tattoo with the republic’s insignia, a hand with three raised fingers, he took out an old-type chip and showed it to Fiiuea.

‘The Book of the Second Gods,’ he said as one of the servants took it immediately and left with two guards through one of the side doors.

‘What does it contain?’

‘All the information about the location of the bunkers, their plans, how they work, how to maintain the atomic systems, how they tune with the gods themselves…’

‘So all the information we need to find them and save them. At first light, we convene the war council.’

I felt myself falling for a second, but M caught me.

‘I’m sorry for your siblings,’ Filip said, and for a moment I didn’t realise what he meant.

‘I have to go back.’

‘How do you think you can do that? It’s clear that the pendant or the connection with Fiiuea is not enough.’

‘I have to break this seal,’ I said looking at my hands, looking at the wretched form made of flesh and bone that contained my power. ‘And then, after the seal is broken, we need energy. Lots of it. And then I’ll take care of everything…’