The foolishness of Her Highness is wiser than us.
The weakness of Her Majesty is stronger than us.
She is the reason for death.
The reason for our traumatic existence,
But still we bow in her honor.
No, Our Human Goddess.
-Celestial Testament 1:2
Immense, heavy, and cold.
These were the best words used to describe the rusty machinery that groaned with every movement. Their flaking exterior turned as humans, most insignificant in comparison to its god-like stature, forced large levers and cranks to fulfill their purpose. But what purpose could mere machinery, mere human life, have on something so magnificent?
Only the purpose to serve.
"Dammit!" a young man swore as he sucked lightly on his pinkie. His vibrant red hair fell over his face as he dealt with the minor pain. Yet again, he had cut himself while turning the large steel lever. A small droplet of blood slid its way down his tan flesh, stopping only at the crease of his bent finger.
"Hideo?!" a girl of partial Oriental descent that appeared to be around the same age sighed with exasperation behind him, "Not again…" With her light green eyes, she took a quick look around. Then she stopped turning her lever and ran over to him.
"Do you need a band-aid, Hideo?" She asked, her voice as warm as a mother's.
"I'm fine." Hideo responded stubbornly, as though she was the reason for his injury.
She ignored his childish behavior, "You should maybe at least put alcohol on it…"
"Nozomi, I'm fine." He looked his cut. The small ones always hurt the most.
Hideo angrily turned away from her and began continuing his work. Nozomi stood behind him. She wasn't really sure why she didn't move, but something in her wouldn't allow it.
"Get to work!" Hideo demanded, "These cranks don't turn themselves."
Nozomi slightly nodded and looked upwards. Her eyes rested on the enormous, golden astrolabe that stood in the middle of the 2 million acre factory. With each crank, the rings around it spun, generating a foreign power.
"If a Joushi sees you, you're in trouble." Hideo snapped her out of her dream-like gaze. She nodded once again and forced herself to her lever, her trance like a victim of hypnosis.
"Dammit all!" Not even two seconds later, Hideo cut his other finger. His heart began beating in rage as he watched the new wound form over the other one.
"That's IT!" He screamed, "I won't do this anymore!" His 4 other co-workers looked at him with a bored expression, yet not a single one stopped working. This wasn't the first time he refused to work.
"Am I the only one who thinks this is stupid?" Hideo questioned. A co-worker with skin that was the tone of the earth who Hideo knew as Lionel opened his mouth as though to say something, but then quickly closed it as a Joushi began to near them.
"Is there something wrong, 1436?" The Joushi's voice was emotionless as he called Hideo by his number. He was dressed in the normal dark armored suit that all Joushi's wore. He moved as softly as a feather for it made no sound as he neared the hazel-eyed nuisance.
"Yes, there is." Hideo said, "There's something wrong with this whole situation!"
From what could be seen within the helmet, the Joushi didn't change his stone-like expression, "This is what the goddess wants."
Hideo rolled his eyes, "Screw the Goddess!"
A long silence overcame the factory. In all 1,782 chambers, levers came to a halt.
A slow, heavy breathing was the only thing that could be heard. It was the Joushi. He was angry now, his eyes flaring inside his pale sockets, "Those who curse the name of Celeste are put to instant death." It seemed hard for him to speak through his rage, but finally he spat, " May hell have mercy on your soul! "
Hideo made no signs of fear as he watched the Joushi pull out his thorn-ridden whip. It was laced with bits of flesh and bone, stuck to every thorn by a dry, red adhesive, "I'd rather go to hell than to our 'benevolent' goddess." He made quotation marks as he said benevolent, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "She's the reason for these six years of suffering! Since when did life amount to the turning of a lever?!" He motioned towards the huge, rusty lever that held the color of rotted blood. The entire chamber was the very same depressing shade.
The Joushi began to open his mouth, but Hideo wouldn't let a word in, "Am I the only one who remembers when the sun used to signal day? Not like the artificial light that comes on in our cells! That's right, cells!" He looked directly at the Joushi as he said this, "Those places we live in now are hardly worth being called a home."
The sound of Hideo's feet tapping on the steel floor was all that could be heard as he walked away from the Joushi and lightly touched the lever, "I can remember…I can remember my blade…her name, Mugen no Omoi, for her memory in my mind is infinite. I can remember how many lives I saved and how many I had to take…" Everyone watched him stare at the lever. They knew he wasn't really seeing it, but beyond it. Beyond into the world he left behind. The one the Goddess destroyed.
Suddenly, the Joushi grabbed Hideo by his prisoner uniform's collar, nearly choking the rebellious teen. He threw him on the floor so that he stood on his knees, then slammed his heavy, metal boot on his back. Adding extra pressure to Hideo's spine, the Joushi lifted the red hair so that the prisoner looked directly at the lever.
"Do you see that?" The Joushi asked. Without waiting for a response, he continued, "Do you see the tattered black pants and the even more tattered white shirt that shields your mutilated flesh? This is your life now. This is who you are. This is all your worth." He lifted Hideo's head higher so that he could look straight down at him, "You are a Shuujin. A prisoner. To the goddess, you are nothing. To me, your superior, you are nothing. If at any time you forget your place in this magnificent world the godchild created, remember who you are: absolutely nothing." With that said, the Joushi dropped him and readied his whip.
Before Hideo could even take a breath, the thorns sunk deep into his skin. The co-workers watched in horror as the infuriated Joushi lashed at Hideo, his eyes glued on the marks he embedded within his victim. But even as the steel made contact with his flesh, Hideo didn't wince once. All he could feel as his skin was torn apart was anger. There was no pain, no sorrow, and certainly no remorse in his heart. Just pure anger.
"Today, you're lucky." The Joushi pulled the whip from the wounded back. The sound of Hideo's bones popping back into place was disgusting as the thorns pulled out lethargically, "If you go against the word of Her Highness again…you will be killed. I guarantee it."
Satisfied, the Joushi walked down the chambers. Like magic, the cranks began whirring again. Life was once again reduced to a simple turn.
"Hideo," Lionel began disapprovingly, "This happens every time. Just forget it. There's nothing we can do now."
Hideo looked up at him with wide, dumbfounded eyes, "You can't really believe that, can you?"
Lionel was silent.
"Can you?!" This time, the question was directed to the entire chamber. A timid, orange-haired girl in the far corner ignored the question and continued to turn her lever.
"Merri!" Hideo called. The girl didn't even respond to her name. Her blue eyes were focused on the lever in front of her.
"Stop that!" Hideo commanded.
Merri stopped…then started again, mechanically. She only knew how to turn...how to turn and breathe.
Hideo sighed heavily, "If not today, tomorrow, I'm leaving. I can't stay here any longer."
Now a dark, almost gray skinned male with frosty white hair and completely white eyes spoke up, "The last time you tried that, you were nearly killed by the Godchild."
Hideo rolled his eyes, "I'm always near death, Shadow. I don't even care anymore! Life is the worst thing that's happening to me, and it's the only thing I got!" He spat on the ground to emphasize his point, "Besides, it was the Godchild that put this stupid Goddess notion in everyone's head. If we didn't appease to him, this would have never happened!"
Once again, nobody spoke. Hideo took this as betrayal, "Fine! You guys stay if you want, but I'm not going to stick around!"
"You don't mean that."
Hideo turned to Nozomi. She looked at him with hurt eyes.
"You don't mean that…" she repeated, "You know you wouldn't leave your friends in danger…you're not that kind of person…"
Hideo became angry. She was right. She was always right.
"Different situations call for different personalities." He responded with seething words, "I'm going, and that's final."
Knowing how stubborn he could be, everyone turned back to their levers and began turning. Everyone except Hideo and Nozomi. He turned away from her and stared deeply into space. It was the only thing keeping him sane.
As he leaned against one of the levers, Nozomi swallowed hard, looking at the welts on his back. They criss-crossed each other in numerous patterns. It was difficult to tell when one started and one ended. The fresh, red ones did not make it any easier.
"Hideo." She asked quietly.
"Where would you go…if you leave?"
Silence. Besides the whirring of machines and the spinning of the Godchild's astrolabe, between the two was utter silence.
Finally Hideo spoke, "I don't know."
The light turned on over Lionel's bed. Morning time.
He sat up, his body slowly awaking as he stretched. After a few minutes of getting used to the light, Lionel instinctively got up, yawned and said, "Morning, Hideo."
There was no response.
Cautiously, he looked towards Hideo's bed, all the while thinking "Please don't be gone, PLEASE don't be gone!"
But the bed on the other side was empty. His roommate was indeed gone.
"Hideo…" he said with urgency in his voice, "You didn't…"
Now fully awake, Lionel got up and walked to the other bed. He lifted the sheets, overturned the pillow, he even bent over and looked underneath the mattress, but Hideo was nowhere to be seen.
"Dammit, Hideo!" Lionel swore. He ran his hand through his black hair nervously. "If a Joushi sees that he's missing, I'll be the one punished. Then Hideo will be tracked and killed on site!"
Lionel froze as a Joushi called his number from behind, a cold sweat forcing its way through the pores on his brown skin.
"1435, where is your roommate?" Lionel could feel the Joushi standing in the doorway. His very presence was suffocating.
Lionel shrugged, his back still turned to the Joushi.
"Really?" The Joushi said this with sarcasm, "Then can you tell me why his bed is empty? He surely is not in the mess hall."
Lionel felt his body begin to slightly shake. After swallowing the lump in his throat, he finally said, "He went to the bathroom."
The Joushi smirked, "Really? I'll go check. If I find out your lying, you will be meeting the Goddess soon...that is, if you've been good."
Lionel's heart thumped in rhythm with the Joushi's footsteps. This one was not as silent as the one from yesterday.
As soon as the door closed, Lionel quickly ran to the wall near his bed. "Knock once, pause, twice, pause, once." He whispered quickly as he knocked on the thin wall, the secret knock between Merri and Nozomi's room and theirs. Lionel's fears grew as the knock wasn't returned.
"Nozomi?!" He said frantically. He walked to his door and opened it. He stuck his head out slowly and looked to make sure no Joushis were around. Then he walked to the door next to him and knocked. Merri opened the door. She looked scared.
"Merri!" Lionel said happily, "Where's Nozomi?" His brown eyes scanned the room.
Merri shrugged, "I don't know. But the Joushi will be back soon. If he finds out I was lying…he'll…he'll…" Tears sprang in her eyes.
"We have to get out of here!" Lionel knew there was no other way.
"Where will we go?"
"I don't know!" That was the last thing spoken as Lionel grabbed her arm. He brought her back into the room, looking for anyway to escape. All that he could see in his frantic state was the window placed so conveniently in the gray wall. The window that was put there to test their bravery, for the consequences would be the cost of their life.
He opened the scratched up pane and helped Merri through. He then leapt out into the nearby forest, not even stopping to see if any Joushi's were present. Only fear was driving them now.
"Lionel's room is quiet…" Shadow spoke quietly to himself.
"What's that?" A man sat in the corner of the room. Despite the dress code of dark pants and tan shirts, he wore a short sleeve green shirt over white pants, his dyed, blonde hair covered by a white cap that read 'courage'.
"Lionel and Hideo's room is quiet." Shadow repeated.
The man stretched. "That boy is hard-headed. I mean Hideo, not Lionel. I didn't expect for Lionel to run."
Shadow turned to the man, "What makes you think they left?"
"It's either that or their dead."
"Akira!" Shadow said incredulously, "That's not funny."
"It wasn't meant to be." Akira stood up and yawned. "Sora, are you up?"
A little girl with long, black hair nodded. It went over the grey eyes that she and Akira shared.
She sat in the opposite corner of the room on a sleeping bag. Due to Akira's constant arguing, he was able to get Sora to share a room with Shadow and himself. Akira had impeccable persuasive skills.
"We should go, too." Akira concluded.
Shadow sighed, "We have no idea where to go."
Akira smiled, "Perfect."
Shadow watched as he casually opened the door and strolled down the hallway, not even caring if a Joushi happened to walk by. Sora stayed close behind him. She was practically attached. Shadow, knowing the consequences all too well, finally decided to follow them…no matter how blind they may be.
Following the path of another is ordinary.
You are not above the rest, yet you do not sink underneath.
You are a head on the same level shoulder as everyone else.
You are everybody else.
To create one's own path, you are extraordinary.
You are above the rest, and you never succumb to limits.
One day someone will follow you, and another after that.
And a new breed of 'everybody' will begin.
-Kuroi Testament Chapter Unknown