The Boy who would become a God
You are in a room that is not a room; the walls are the thick trunks of the trees whose great branches arc above your head to fill out the ceiling of leafy green. Sunlight filters down in patchy streams, destroying your ability to see into the shadows.
But you wouldn't be looking into the shadows even if you could; your attention is on the man in front of you. He is sitting in a chair on a dais, both of which are made from the twisted and knotted roots of the trees that sprout from the ground and coil around each other like petrified snakes. He is the strangest looking man you have ever seen. In this forest light his skin is dark like the bark of the trees, but where the splashes of sun lie you can see scales; they shine green in the light.
"Oh! I'm surprised." He says, sounding not the least bit so. There is something smooth and hissing in his voice, the sound of a fine metal chain being sifted through someone's fingers. "A stranger, not that often I meet strangers, I know nearly everyone you know. My name is Abbass or Abyss, or The Jester if you'd prefer. Who are you? What brings you here of all places?"
Though he seems friendly enough you are apprehensive, something about him just feels wrong. He is wearing motley, but he sits regally like a king. He is unsettling and comforting, a contrast of opposites, a strange dream and a horrifying nightmare. He smiles gently as though to comfort you and assure you of your safety, but deep inside your gut tells you not to trust those yellow reptilian eyes.
Seeming to know what you are thinking he laughs, flashing fangs. "You don't trust me?" he asks, "I don't blame you, you know." His tone is light and friendly. "I wasn't always like this," he pauses, considering. "I mean up here of course, on this throne. I've always looked like this, probably wouldn't be here if I didn't." He laughs again and waves his hand to indicate himself, "Let me tell you a story, where you see a God there was once a boy…
He scrabbled in the dirt with the other children, the rats, born of whores and beasts. Bipedal yet barely human, they were the dregs left when the privileged had drunk their fill of the city. No future to be had, their only purpose was to leave half-grown corpses as fertilizer from which to raise the children of higher classes; they did not mourn, they weren't yet old enough to despair for a life not lived.
There was no friendship in those streets, alliances for sure – no one wanted to be alone in the dark – but it hurt too much to keep caring when another small face disappeared from the ranks of the damned. So when the inevitable happened, when it was finally his turn to cease existence in their world he saw only slightly saddened faces watching. They would miss his agility, his speed, his quick fingers, but he could be replaced; they would not miss him.
Everyone went differently, some with illness, injury, or malnutrition. Others still weren't quite quick enough when thieving, caught and bound they left just as surely as their diseased brethren. Sometimes though, stranger things happened.
He was slinking low along the ground by the edge of the market; there was a group of the wealthy in their fine robes, with their fine guards, just to his left. They were attracting attention; they had much and were willing to spend. He could practically taste the money in their purses but wouldn't target them. No, he was small time. A rat couldn't take out a deer, better to leave that for the wolves.
A deer could create quite a distraction though, a large enough one that a rat could sneak in under the noses of larger predators and snatch up some crumbs. The boy pressed himself into the shadow between a fruit vender's stall and the brick of a building, keeping an eye on the shopkeeper from under the lip of the counter he darted his arm up to snatch a peach, again, then again.
He wouldn't normally have gone for three, would have stopped at two. The shopkeeper was distracted, talking to the rich man in his fancy coat, so he risked it. Normally he wasn't this foolish. He hadn't survived for seven years out there by being stupid, but the fruit was so ripe he could smell it and he was hungry.
Quite simply he was caught: the market guards seized him…"
Here he stops; a strange look on his face.
"I won't trouble you with that part, it's tedious and boring. Though I did almost lose my hand…" He grins as though this should be amusing and not really bring up the horrifying idea of needlessly amputating a child. You're not sure if this man merely has a morbid sense of humour or if he's using this to distract you from whatever he is leaving out. You're not sure if you want the answer to that.
He is speaking again. "Suffice it to say that the rich bastard had never seen a creature of my like before, he wanted to buy me and take me home like a rare prize. I was a convicted thief, a homeless one at that, so he paid them a price and before I knew it I was owned." He is pensive for a moment, considering that thought, then shakes his head, "but let's get back to the story…
The boy named Nothing was taken away from the streets, to a lavish house where he was clothed in silks and would never have to steal another meal. He no longer slept in the dirt or worried if he would freeze in the winter.
This new life was not without its sacrifices; the silks were edged with bells and he was made to dance and perform for his food. The lights were always bright and when guests came to call he was shown off like an exotic pet, which – he supposed – he was.
Initially, he hated it, missing the freedom of his old life, resenting his position as entertainment for the higher born, feeling he was nothing more than a glorified slave forced to shame himself for their amusement. He would get used to it. He began to revel in the attention, feel pride in his skills, his ability to be The Fool.
As time passed, he began to believe that that his mistakes had been fortuitous, he was thankful for that which fate had bestowed upon him. After all, he had been allowed to grow up when many of his contemporaries were left to starve in the streets, and what good was dignity to a dead man? For the first time in his life he began to look towards the future.
It was not to be. Six years after his "hiring" as the house fool his lord and master brought home a cape. It was brown and rather dull looking, the edges tattered from use, but his master wore it secured across his shoulders like it was the mantle of a king. When the guests would come to call he would show it off with as much enthusiasm as he did the young man, it was obviously some sort of odd rarity. Unlike him, it attracted rather a lot of unwelcome attention.
If you want to keep something valuable to yourself the last thing you should do is to brag about it. People talk, eventually that talk will find its way to the wrong ears, and sooner or later those wrong ears will find there way back to you. It took four and a half weeks, thirty two days, for his bragging to come back and bite the master in the ass.
Though he may have walked and spoke like royalty in reality the master was merely a man with a large amount of money to spend, as well as some good connections in the spice trade. Nothing that would save him from a person who was determined to get what they wanted and had the means to take it by force.
She first tried to bargain with him, they discussed business over dinner while the young man sat off to his master's left and listened. It was mostly civil but she did eventually get to the point: she wanted the cape.
The master said no.
She demanded the cape.
The master laughed at her.
The master threw her out.
She hollered curses at him, swearing and threatening in more languages than the young man had ever heard before. The master laughed again after she had gone and told the young man that he expected there would be more in the weeks and months to come. He said that she was the first but undoubtedly not the last.
He was wrong, she was the last. She made herself the last. Not two hours later she returned with a group of men and women. They burned the mansion, tearing through the halls and kicking doors from their frames, killing the servants when they found them. The young man hid himself in the pantry and waited for death to find him; he was not brave enough to risk trying to flee.
The master found him first, bleeding and leaning against the walls for support he stumbled blindly into the small room. He must have been looking for a place to hide because when he saw the young man he started and nearly screamed. Regaining his senses he shakily unfastened the cape from about his shoulders and thrust it into the young man's hands. He gasped at him to run and shoved him out the door, closing it behind him.
There had been a time when the young man would have refused the order, would have turned and cried to be let back into his false safety, but he had served his master for long enough that following orders was second nature. He tied the cape around his own shoulders and, ducking low beneath the smoke beginning to fill the room, ran.
He was terrified, so terrified he didn't notice when the cape changed into a cloak, a cloak with bells on it. The bells jingled as he dashed through the halls, though they were muffled by the sounds of fighting and flame. He burst through a servant's door into the kitchen garden followed by a sound better suited to merrymaking than fleeing for one's life.
He would have died there if not for the sound; the man guarding the door was momentarily too surprised to swing his sword. The young man was likewise shocked and stumbled sideways away from the threat. The larger man regained his composure and lunged forward. Barely beyond the reach of the blade the young man spun and took off down the garden path, but he didn't get far. The man caught him just before the small ornamental bridge. He grabbed a fistful of the young man's hair and yanked his head back, swiftly bringing the blade around and slitting his throat.
He did it again, as if for good measure, then tossing the dying man aside he turned and stalked back to his post to wait for any more survivors. The young man lay on his side in the grass beside the bridge, life quickly draining from his body. His eyes stared blankly at tree roots as he realized he would soon be dead. He didn't want to die, but there is hardly a way to save yourself when your head is nearly severed from your body.
The life fled from him, a young man wrapped in a magic cloak with bells on it, and he closed his eyes for the last time as a mortal. When he opened them again he was me."
You stare at the man in front of you, waiting for him to explain himself. That sure as hell didn't make any sense. He is grinning, quite plainly amused.
"I killed them all. Oh not right then, I was too busy dying then to worry much about revenge. But when I came back, when I had more power, I hunted every last one of them down. Strung them up on pikes, ripped out their entrails, left them to bake in deserts, sometimes I got rather creative. I made them pay; you don't cross me and get away with it. They killed them all you know, either with swords or by burning the place down around their ears." You look at him sceptically, not because you can't believe him, but because you don't want to. You don't want to imagine what this man has done to get where he is.
"What? Don't believe me? Have a look." He pulls the collar of his shirt – a shirt with bells on it – down, exposing two parallel scars across his neck. The pale pink color stands out sharply from his dark complexion. He rubs his fingers over them as if in pride, a sly smile quirking up the corners of his lips. The motion is vaguely sensual, probably designed to make you uncomfortable. You still don't trust this man and you're beginning to wonder if he even wants you to.
"See? I was telling the truth. I died and the magic brought me back." He sounds like he is mocking you now; you know it can't have been as simple as that. You want to ask him to explain how exactly, but he raises a finger to his lips and shushes you. "If you want to know more you'll have to come back, and you'll have to bring something to trade. I'm not just giving these stories away. But enough about me, why are you here?"
Now what was it you wanted? You came here for something after all; it couldn't have been just to hear that. You can't remember, frustrated you half turn away. He sees and smiles again, knowingly.
"Don't worry about it. Go home and think. I'm sure it will come back to you. When it does you can return and make your request, and perhaps I'll tell you another story." You turn and walk away, but can't help glancing back over your shoulder at him. The light is fading but you can still catch the motion when he raises his hand and waves you goodbye. You look away from him and quicken your pace; you want to get out of here as soon as possible.
You leave Abbass or Abyss - whatever his name is - behind; you don't want to think about him anymore. As you exit the room that is not a room everything slowly fades to white and you can't help feeling thoroughly dissatisfied.