The young man took a small recorder from his pocket and placed it on the table before him. The device was so small it could easily have passed for a beetle. He set it beside a tall, full bottle of pink wine and hit the small red button on the side. A slight click ensued, and a barely audible hum filled the empty air. He then pulled out a thin, transparent piece of plastic, a stylus attached to the side. He hit a holographic button in the center of the pad, a bluish light illuminating his dimly lit face as he did. He waited a moment for the pad to load before pulling the stylus away and held it in his fingers, poised above the transparent, glowing surface. The young man then looked across the small room at the man before him.
The pair sat in the dark, a few candles, and now the soft glow of the pad in the young man's hands, acting as their only light. It seemed rather depressing to the younger man, but the older would have it no other way. He sighed, waiting for the older man to say something. He could only make out dark, eerily glowing skin and a platinum blond braid rolling down and over the man's shoulder. He was long, thin, looking skeletal and sickly in the poor light. The only words he had thus far uttered were those he had upon accepting the interview. Why, the younger man still did not understand. His terms had been that no one, especially a full camera crew, be around other than himself and the interviewer, that it be dimly lit in a modest-sized room, and he be able to drink his wine and smoke his cigs in peace. It had been the interview of a lifetime, and had taken some arguing and convincing of his editor, but now it was his, and here he was.
"What's your name?" the older man asked. The younger was still caught off guard by that voice. This man was supposed to be the oldest living man in existence, and yet he sounded no older than himself. His voice was deep, rough, yet soft and all around commanding. One could not help but obey.
"Cailen. Cailen Ryker. What's yours?" he asked, his own voice a bit too eager, he thought. The man ignored the question all together.
"How long have you been alive now, Cailen?" Ryker smiled, looking around at the room, unsure of how to answer.
"Um, I am two-hundred-five years old; still rather young to the eaoranians." He took a bite of air, looked down at his pad and the nearly illegible scribbles there in his own sloppy hand. Writing everything he heard was second nature to him now. "I'm not sure if you've ever had an interview, Mister," Ryker began in a whisper, leaning forward, "but generally, the interviewer asks the questions, not the interviewee."
A small fire flared up, touched to the end of a cig, and Ryker saw a set of thin, Cupid's bow lips curled up into a soft smile. The fire was extinguished and the cig was put between the man's lips. He inhaled deeply; Ryker heard it. After a moment, he released the smoke on a long puff of air. The white smoke from the cig curled seductively up into the air before vanishing completely.
"Why did you wish to interview me, Mister Ryker?" the older man asked after a moment. "Surely there are more interesting people out there who deserve more attention than myself." Ryker sighed, growing frustrated that his interview was already going so badly. If he had known this man would be this difficult…
"A feeling in the pit of my stomach told me I would not regret it."
"Are you beginning to?"
Ryker growled deep in his throat. He looked at the glowing pad in his lap, scrolled up and down the page that contained only his interviewee asking him questions. "If you would rather not continue with the interview, please let me know so that I might not waste any more time." The man leaned forward and Ryker found himself staring into a set of icy, endless blue eyes fringed in long, thick, black lashes. He saw the years this man had lived hidden deep in his eyes with only a quick glance.
"One more question." The man whispered it, and it was not a question, not a request. Ryker sighed, nodded once, and the man leaned back into his chair. "Have you ever looked Death right in his eyes, felt his hands brushing your skin, felt his arms wrap around you and lift your life from your body? Have you ever felt the kiss of Death himself?" Ryker's attention was suddenly caught. He shook his head once. It was all he was capable of. The man took another drag from his cig, held it in his lungs for a moment, and exhaled. "Life is never quite the same once you walk hand in hand with Death and return to the world of the living."
"How…how did you die?" Ryker asked after a moment of stunned silence. The older man looked down, something reminiscent of a deeply pained expression crossing his face. Due to the dim light, however, Ryker could not be certain that was what he truly saw. He sighed a long, deep sigh, took another drag from the cig. Ryker looked down at the glowing pad, the stylus poised in his hand, unmoving.
"It is a sad fact of life, Mister Ryker, and perhaps you've already learned this, that it is not those you bring willingly into your life, but the ones to whom you hold a blood bond, the ones you call family, that will undoubtedly hurt you the most throughout your lifetime."
"Someone in your family, then?" Ryker asked, a lump forming in his throat. If he had not seen the pain on this man's face, he could hear it now in his voice.
"Perhaps if I were to begin at the beginning, it might make more sense." The man took a deep breath. He seemed to be steadying himself. "My name is Tabeto. In Elvanish, it means 'dark one'. In my youth, my father would call me Tye, but I no longer allow anyone to refer to me by that name. Aside from my Elvanish name, however, I was born with another. My mother knows me as Tabinthentalio, and I was born the half-mortal bastard child into the Miradian pantheon of gods four trillion years ago."
I was immediately aware of how cold I suddenly was, and of a high pitched screaming filling my head. My entire body shook and I could see nothing. Something touched me, a warm spot on the back of my head, and then another cradling my bottom. I felt the world whoosh around me, even though I could not see, and then something warm and soft enveloped me. Still, I heard the screaming in my ears, hurting them beyond compare even as I heard someone else's voice screaming orders.
I was suddenly held close to a large, warm thing, heard a soft, rhythmic thumping nearby but far away at the same time, and the screaming slowly dissipated until only a small whimper remained. Even that vanished after a time. Before I knew it, the darkness that surrounded me passed away and I slipped almost seamlessly into sleep.
My mother, although the idea had been of her own creation, was still ashamed that I looked so very mortal. My skin was dark, a chocolate color, just as hers, and the grayed lavender fuzz atop my head was also of her, but my eyes were far sharper than her own, my mouth different, and, of course, the ears of my Elvanish bloodline. Her biggest mistake, however, was not in creating me and simply tossing me aside like a bit of trash in a heap, but of her choice in father. That, however, comes much, much later.
Within the first year of my life I grew like any normal child. Fiena, the woman who became my surrogate mother of sorts, carted me around with her wherever she went, when she was not on call in the palace above. What she did while she was there I never knew, but she always seemed overly sore and exhausted when she came back to me every evening. She would smile tiredly down at me, pull me into her arms and hold me so gently. I would just lay my head against her shoulder and let her hold me. I don't know how I knew, but I simply knew that she just needed a warm, comforting body for just a moment.
Sometimes when we lay in our little hut, the name for the stone cell in which we slept, I heard her cry at night. Many nights I thought it was because of me. As a child, I could not possibly know it had nothing to do with me.
Fiena did not treat me much as one of her own, but, for all points and purposes, I was her own. She kissed my cheeks and cleaned the cuts and scrapes, washed my hair, taught me to properly hold a fork and spoon and knife and cup, taught me to dress and to read and write, even though she, herself, was not very good at either. Fiena was proud of me, and toted me about as if she were, even if no one else in that place was. She was all the family I had.
The day I turned one year old, I began seeing the world around me differently, probably more so than I should have at that age. I began noticing as I walked alongside Fiena through the dimly lit halls and corridors of the slave housing that the other slaves looked at me differently. Many of them looked at me with fear, and hate. I simply grasped Fiena's hand tighter and walked faster, frightened by those looks they gave. I'm not sure why, but the world around me was changing. Later I would discover that it was not the world changing, but myself. At a tender one year old I was already grasping the concept of the world within the tunnels and corridors in which I was raised.
The tunnels that the slaves called home were damp, cold and lit just so with torches for one to see by. The torches, themselves, were crumbling, moldy things that often came to pieces on the floors before they could burn out. More often than not, it took days for one to be replaced. Our stone cell, or hut, as we called them, was just that, a ten by ten cell with one door, a warped piece of wood with a metal handle that could sear the flesh from the cold if grasped too long, and no windows.
Two communal bathing rooms, one for the women and another for the men, were where we bathed each night, and a mess hall where we ate. Our beds had been passed down from the guards up above, and were nothing more than thin, feather stuffed mattresses on rickety wooden frames. I hated the bed on which we slept, but said nothing to Fiena.
One night as we sat in the dim, flailing light of a single candle in our one-bed hut, Fiena was behind me on the bed, combing out my already thick, feathery, lavender hair damp from our evening bath. The points of my ears tickled as her fingers brushed over them. The comb she used was an old, wooden one missing teeth, some of them chipped and broken, like the mouth of an old man. She brushed gently, so it didn't hurt as much as it should have.
I looked forward into the room, my eyes piercing the darkness right to the cracks forming in the stone of the walls. Fiena could not see as well as I could in the dark, so I often fetched things for her. The scarce books she had managed to steal away from those up above were all hidden beneath the single rickety desk in the room, and I often read them to Fiena as we lay going to sleep. Every word I stumbled across she would help me with, and so my reading skills had quickly surpassed many of those I lived with. I looked at their hiding place now, a small stone box disguised to look like the wall. It was so thin and small that it lay on the floor in front of the wall in the shadows of the desk and had never been found.
"Why am I different?" I asked. Fiena suddenly stopped in mid-brush. I could feel her gaze piercing the back of my head. At only a year old I should not have been able to tell something about me was different, but I did. I have no doubt it startled her.
"Whoever told you that you are different?" Fiena asked after another moment of silence. Her voice was strained. I could tell.
"No one told me," I said, my voice little more than a whisper. I felt bad because she sounded so sad. Her arms suddenly enclosed me from behind, pulling me to her chest and she just cradled me. I laid my head against her arm, feeling how she gently rocked me back and forth.
"If no one told you, then wh-?"
"They look at me different," I said softly, looking down at the scratchy blankets beneath us. She took a breath to inquire further, but I didn't let her. "Their eyes are mean when the look at me." Fiena went still behind me. "What did I do? Did I do something bad?" Fiena kissed my cheek, and when she did I could smell the tears forming in her eyes. She shook her head, kissed my cheek again.
"You did nothing wrong, Tabinthentalio."
"Then why do they look mean at me?" She hugged me tighter, like she would never let me go, took a deep, shaking breath.
"One day you'll understand, but not now. Not yet. Don't worry about how they look at you. You did nothing wrong. I promise."
Ryker sat in his chair on the very front, the pad left forgotten in his lap. His chin was resting on his knuckles as he stared at the older man, entranced by his words. Tabeto took a long drag from his cig, blew the smoke out and watched it dance and spiral up, dissipating as it went. A half full glass of wine rested on the arm of his chair, held upright and in place by two fingers delicately holding the stem.
The barely audible hum of the recorder still sang, making Ryker remember the plastic pad, which glared up at him with its soft blue light. It was certainly a good thing he had the recorder, as well, he thought.
"How long were you with her, with Fiena?" Ryker asked, fiddling with the pad on his lap, but doing little else with the thing. Tabeto downed the remainder of his glass in a single drink and softly placed the empty glass on the table beside the wine. It was several moments before he answered. He simply sat, listening to the young man before him breathing, the hum of the recorder between them.
"The remainder of my time with her was simply me trying to figure out why all those around me hated me. They adored her, but ignored me whenever I was with her. It was the only time they could ever disrespect a god and not be reprimanded for it. Of course, I was far too young to understand why it is they hated the gods so much. I had never even seen one then. I was with her another year, until my second birthday. It was the first time I met a god that my birth mother, the woman who had been all but absent thus far, decided I was worth her time. It also started our relationship, set the ground for it, and, frankly, my relationship with an unaging slave woman was better than the one with the woman who birthed me. I hated her from the moment I saw her, and she me."
As the months passed by, I grew in intellect that matched the much older children in the tunnels. My vocabulary far exceeded what had been expected of me, and I could hold a full conversation with Fiena now. I was mere months away from my second birthday, and still oblivious to the life I would soon lead, the life I did not want.
One afternoon that Fiena had been called away from me again, I wandered by myself through the dark, damp tunnels I called home, avoiding as many people as I could. I knew they all hated me, and without Fiena there to protect me, I had no way of knowing what they would do to me had they seen me by myself. It might have been best to stay in the hut Fiena and I shared, but many of my days were spent there alone, and I no longer wished to be confined to a scratchy bed and dilapidated desk. The books Fiena kept I had read over and over until I could recite them word for word, and did often.
As my eyes were far better than those who shared the tunnels with me, I ventured into the darkest parts beneath the palace, where there were no rotting torches lining the walls. I walked on steady feet, constantly and subconsciously scratching at the itchy clothing I wore. It seemed funny to me, but the farther through the darkened tunnels I walked, the stones that made up the walls looked less cracked and worn. I stared curiously at them as I went, running my small hands over the strangely warm stone.
Once I had heard that always taking left turns when walking through a maze would eventually lead to the exit, and so I took every left turn I found, the fear of dying from starvation or dehydration absent from my child's mind and so I went further still. There was no point in going back now. It seemed hours flew by as I walked the tunnels in the dark, my bare feet damp and cold from the floor.
The final left turn I took led me into a hall with a brightly lit square at the far end. I felt my eyes immediately adjust the closer to the light I walked. The light surrounded a door; I could make out the hinges poking through as shadows. For a long moment I simply stood there, looking up at the doorknob that seemed hundreds of feet above my reach. It didn't seem fair, that I had come so far only to be stuck being too short.
I looked exasperatedly at the door latch as it loomed above me, feeling anger and frustration boiling in my small chest. As a child I was frustrated that I was too small to even grasp a door latch; it felt like it was laughing in my face, purposely out of reach. As a god, though I did not yet know it, I was angered at wanting something I could not have.
After another moment of uselessly staring at the stupid thing, I reached up one tiny hand, stood on the very tips of my toes, and my fingertips just barely grazed the warm metal. It had not even occurred to me then that I was freezing, and yet the metal of the door latch was warm. Such is the mind of a two year old.
Standing on the tips of my toes, reaching my stubby little arm as far as it possibly could go, and my fingers just a little further, I uttered a cry of joy when I was able, finally, to hook my fingers round the thin little bar of the latch and pull down, only to feel disappointment when it would come down no further. It was locked.
Tears of frustration began forming in my eyes as I plopped down on my butt on the cold stone ground. I stared angrily up at the dimly glistening latch, my face scrunching up in my anger. The longer I stared up at the door latch, the more intense my gaze became, and my anger and frustration with it. Balls of tears ran down my dirty cheeks, leaving streaks behind, which became smears when I wiped the tears away. Several moments passed by before I finally accepted defeat, got up onto my feet. Sighing, I decided to try the door once more even though I knew the result would be no different than the first time.
I reached up, straining and reaching as far as I could, and still farther, until my torso hurt and felt like it would tear apart. My fingertips grazed the warm metal, and I let out a growl as I gave a little jump. My fingers took hold of the long latch, pulling as I fell back down, and I released a surprised yelp as my feet crumbled from beneath me. I heard a sharp pop as I came down, the latch gave way in my hand, and I fell onto my back, eyes wide in shock and fright as I saw what remained of the locked latch dangling from my hand. The door swung inward, tapped against my bare feet and bounced back into the stone frame. My chest heaved from exertion and surprise, my eyes still wide after several moments of simply staring at the latch swinging freely in my hand.
All of a sudden I sat up, the metal latch clanking against the stone floor as I did. The door swung open again, hitting my feet again, bounced there a couple times, and came to rest against the dirt-covered skin that was the bottom of my feet. The other half of the latch lay on the other side of the door, in lush, green grass. I saw the sunlight glinting off the silver of it through the slit in the door.
I looked around, feeling a sheepish look creep into my face. I knew I was going to get in trouble for breaking the door, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how I had done it! It baffled me just as much as the fact that the whole time the grass had just been on the other side of the stone wall that was my home. I slid my feet beneath me, sitting up in time to watch the door fall open further, squeaking as it went. The sound was so loud I was sure someone would hear it and come running to investigate. No one did, or at least that I immediately noticed.
After another moment, I crawled on my hands and knees to the edge of the stone, where bits and clumps of dirt fell over onto the solid floor, and poked my head out a bit, looking in either direction. Blinding sunlight streamed down over me, and its reflection bounced off the glistening metal of the door latch up into my eyes. I was almost afraid to touch the grass, thinking someone might choose then to find me and snatch me up by my arms, drag me kicking and screaming to wherever it was they took Fiena and the others, wherever it was they hated going so much. Still, no one came.
Slowly, gingerly, I got up to my feet, my chest steadily falling back to normal. I reached out one foot, placed it in the grass, and flinched back, but nothing happened. After waiting a moment, I moved the other one into the grass, and still no punishment came. Smiling nervously, I took another step, and another and yet another, walking into the middle of a brightly lit courtyard. A grove of trees was right in the middle, the emerald leaves bathed in the rich sunlight that made them shimmer and sparkle like real gems. I had never before seen a tree, only even sparsely seen grass. The world in which I had spent my life thus far had been so small and sheltered that the world outside those stone walls was foreign, but not frightening. It only frightened me what would happen should someone find out.
"Hey!" a voice suddenly called. I whipped about, staring up into a pale blue eyed, white skinned man with wild blue hair and a deep voice. "How did you get out of there?!" he called at me. I took no moment of pause before running top speed back to the door, dove into the darkness of the catacombs within, and slammed the door behind me. From there I ran down the halls, back into the tunnels in which I had been raised, hoping to quickly forget my adventure beyond my perceived world. I could never know, however, that the world beyond my own would soon find me.
Weeks passed as I began to forget my small adventure. For the first few days I had been frightened to the point of sleeplessness that the wild-haired, blue eyed man I had seen would come and find me and that would be the end, but I did not see him again. I wasn't sure what to think of it, but again, I was not entirely two years old yet.
Shortly before my birthday I found my way back to the door, just to see if it was still hanging open and bare to the outside world. It wasn't. A new latch had been fastened to the door and a bolt placed in, as well. I certainly wouldn't be able to open it now. The bolt alone was much higher than the door latch, itself, and that had been moved up. I stared at it in curiosity for a moment. There was no hole in the door where the last latch had been, but it was higher up than it had been before. It escaped my mind that they simply could have replaced the whole door. Further, more unreal methods, were so far from my naïve child's mind that I won't waste time explaining what I could not know. So it was with a whole world of bafflement, and a smidge of disappointment, that I wound my way back through the darkened, dampened tunnels into the lit, slightly warmer ones, and my first great adventure slipped silently from my mind.
Fiena would never know of my great adventure; I thought I might get in trouble if I told her. Not that it would have done much good the other way if I had. Still, from that day alone events were set into motion that could not be undone, and I would soon feel the repercussions of them.
It started the morning of my second birthday. I was sound asleep, dreaming I was walking down a long, black hall with a door at the other end. White light surrounded the door, and my hand was outstretched as I walked closer. All of a sudden, I felt myself be shaken awake, and I stared up into Fiena's smiling face.
"Happy birthday," she whispered. I sat up, staring at her with sleepy eyes when she held up a cupcake, a single candle burning dimly on top. A smile stretched across my face. "Blow out the candle and make a wish." For a long moment I thought hard, scrunching up my face and looking every which way as I thought about it. Finally, my smile returned, I closed my eyes and blew out the candle. When I opened my eyes again, Fiena was staring at me with such a smile I would never forget it.
"What did you wish for?" she asked. I opened my mouth to tell her, but a rapping on the thin wooden door stopped me short. Fiena shoved the cupcake in my hands. "Eat it, quickly." Without wasting another moment, even while I wondered why she suddenly sounded so worried, I pulled the candle out and tossed it aside and shoved the cupcake in my mouth all at once. Crumbles of it fell all over the bed and the scratchy sheets, and I shook them off as best I could. Fiena went to the door even as another, more impatient, rapping came. She opened it, and I saw it when her face dropped.
"It's time," a deep voice came. Fiena looked toward me before looking back at whoever was at the door. In that split second glance I had seen the tears glistening in her eyes. I crawled closer to the edge of the bed, but one of her hands flew up, stopping me where I was. She began frantically shaking her head, grasped the door in her bony hands.
"No. She can't have him. He's mine. She hasn't even wanted him this far." With that, she began closing the door, but a large, gloved hand stopped it, thrust it back open and Fiena was flung against the wall with it.
"He's a child," she said, tears cracking her voice. "What could she possibly want with a child? He…he's a reader, he's smart, he's not a fighter. He cannot fight her wars!" Confusion filled my head as I looked from her to the large man that suddenly filled the doorway, the largest man I had ever seen, at that moment. He was covered from head to toe in gleaming golden armor, a long black pony tail hanging from the back of his head. His eyes were shallow and cold, his face just the same. Another man followed him shortly after, dressed in the same golden armor. This one placed a splayed out hand across Fiena's chest, holding her where she was against the wall. She looked toward the doorway at another man, whose shadow was stretched across the floor. I couldn't see him. The large man with the black pony tail approached me, but I crawled to the far side of the bed and dropped down to the floor before he could reach me. I heard his armor clanking as he moved to follow me, but I threw aside the blankets and crawled beneath the bed, curling up against the wall as far as I was able.
"You can't take him, not yet," I heard Fiena cry. "Please, Pheibos. I beg you." I heard the tears in her voice, heard her becoming more urgent as she spoke.
"We will, and you can do nothing," came another deep voice. The blankets on the bed suddenly lifted and a large, black-gloved hand reached under the bed for me. Thinking of nothing else to do, I reared my head and brought my jaws down on his palm. I suddenly started when I felt two of my teeth grow, sinking in the glove covering the man's hand and deeper still until I felt flesh give way and a trickle of blood flowed into my open mouth. Something stirred in my belly then, something dark and foreign, but familiar at the same time. It was something I had never felt before. The man tried jerking his hand back, screaming and cursing as he did, my grip on his hand was stuck, though, and I refused to let go. Something about what I was doing felt right. He hit his head on the frame of the bed as he tried pulling away, but the only thing he accomplished was to pull me from beneath the bed with him.
I felt my small back slam against the wall, heard a deep, animalistic growl rupture from my own throat. He grasped the top of my head, the hair there, and pulled as hard as he could on his hand. Growling again, I bit deeper, harder, until he was screaming with pain.
"Don't hurt him!" I heard Fiena cry out. I looked up into the man's eyes, saw fear resting there, but couldn't imagine why. From the corner of my eyes, I saw her rear up her knee and thrust it up in between the man's legs. The moment he crumbled to the floor she bolted across the small room toward me but a large, tanned fist came out of nowhere and struck her across the face. She fell back to the floor, the breath from her lungs audibly pushed out. I suddenly released the hand of the man who had me, hissed at the man who then entered the room.
He was now the largest man I had seen. He towered over her, stood several inches over the man who held me. His hair was wild, a dark shade of purple and cropped close to his scalp. His eyes were also purple, solid purple, no whites or pupil like Fiena's eyes, or the eyes of the armored men. His body was massive, solid with corded muscle that stretched against the clothes he wore.
"Little demon bastard bit me," the man who held me grumbled, holding his hand close to him. I looked briefly at him before looking back toward Fiena. The large man bent down, grabbed her by her throat and hauled her to her feet.
"Please don't take him, Pheibos, I'll do anything you want, but please don't take him," Fiena cried. Her voice was strained as he held her by her neck. Tears streamed like rivers down her cheeks, her mouth trembling as she begged him. She then reached up trembling hands and touched his chest, stroked the solid muscle beneath his shirt. All of a sudden he threw her against the wall. His back was facing me so I couldn't see him, but the look on Fiena's face was pure fear.
"You'll do as I say either way. He is ordered to come back," he growled. "You, slave, have no say in the matter." Thick tears rolled down her cheeks.
"You won't take him from me," she murmured, her breath wheezing. Just as before, she brought up her knee, jamming it into his stomach. He doubled over and Fiena fell to the floor with a thud. Before she could get any farther away, though, Pheibos reached up and grabbed the back of her head by a handful of hair, pulling her back down. He then got to his feet, Fiena squirming and crying in his grasp. His purple eyes flicked my way. I'm not sure how I knew, seeing there was no pupil, but I felt it. He then threw Fiena across the room, making her smack her face into the frame of the bed. When she fell to the floor her nose and mouth were covered in blood.
"Oh, what a mistake, slave," he growled, walking toward her. I heard myself growl, felt myself thrashing against the man who held me. I saw the dark room through a red film then, leaving bloodied claw marks on the man's hands, shredding his gloves to leather strips. Pheibos looked up at me then, his face curled up into a malicious smile. Fiena was gasping for air through the blood covering her face. Pheibos grabbed the hair atop her head, pulled her up and thrust her against the wall next to where I was held.
"Get that bastard out of here, away from her," he growled. The guard nodded before tucking me underneath an arm. He walked from the room and the other man followed, limping as he went. I growled and kicked and slammed my fists into his thigh as he carried me, hissing and growling, barely noticing the tears rolling like rivers down my cheeks. I heard my heart pounding in my chest, felt it in my ears. The red film remained over my vision. All of a sudden he plucked me from beneath his arm and slammed me to the wall.
"Keep it up!" he screamed at me. "I'll tell him to kill her!" I stared at him, still tasted his blood on my tongue. It was drying to my chin now, making my chin and neck feel sticky and warm. Slowly the red film vanished, along with the alien familiarity in my stomach. My heart stopped pounding and I felt my teeth shrink back into my gums. When Fiena screamed, though, her voice echoing down the hall, filled it like a living thing, a new onslaught of tears stung my eyes. I felt the alien niggling at my stomach again, but it did not come up this time. I blinked the tears away as he tucked me back under his arm and resumed walking down the hall. Her screams pierced my ears long after we turned from the hall into another.
For a long time the burly armored man carried me like a sack of potatoes. My legs dangled below me, and I just let them. It had done me no good thus far to squirm and kick and scream, so I figured it would be useless to continue. Much of the time I stared at the floor as it passed beneath me, watching the different stones and the cracks forming in them. In some of them it looked like there were faces, people, and things, and for a moment I thought they were people trapped.
Soon, though, the stone floor passed away and a long flight of stairs stretched out and above us. I looked up them, but could see nothing. Torches lined the walls, filling the staircase with heat. There were far more torches here than where I had been raised. I almost couldn't breathe because of the extreme heat, or what felt extreme rather than what I was used to.
Finally, the staircase gave way to a flat, long corridor, lined with more torches. The stones looked almost gold in their light. This corridor lasted not nearly so long as the staircase, however, before we came to a square door, a latch on it much like the one I had accidentally broken.
Two more men in golden armor stood on either side of the door. One of them opened the door for us and closed it when we went passed. I barely had time to register this new room before we walked through yet another door and into a long, brightly lit corridor. The walls of this one were lined with columns, nothing more. Thick, emerald green grass stretched out on either side. The floor beneath me was white with strange silver and gold lines strewn all over. There seemed to be no pattern to it. The columns and ceiling were of the same strange coloring.
At the end of the open corridor was an open doorway that led into a brightly lit room, the wall on my right lined spaciously with columns. Golden light from the sun filtered through, changing the strangely-colored floor into what looked like ice. Rich, green plants hung from the ceiling, crawled across the floor in the corners, sprung from pots and grew from small dirt squares right in the floor. This room was the largest so far, the next was even bigger.
The ceiling extended up a hundred feet and was made entirely of glass. Crystal clear blue sky stretched out for as far as the eye could see, not a cloud in sight. Like the last room, the entire right wall was made up of sparsely spaced columns that allowed in the brilliant light of day. More plants, more than the last room, filled every corner and hung from the ceiling. Some crawled out from the very walls and hung to the floor.
The man who carried me took a sudden left, and I saw before us a set of very large double doors. More men in golden armor stood outside them, and opened them as we approached. The room beyond the door was much smaller than the one we had come from. The ceiling was made of glass, the walls covered in rich, brightly colored fabrics. People walked about the room dressed in thin, golden clothes that hung off their bodies in a fragile sort of way. Catching glimpses of their faces, I saw that I knew them. They were some of those who had looked so cruelly at me. They did not even raise their eyes to me now.
In the middle of the room was a cluster of purple pillows splayed out on the floor, each pillow as long as a man was tall, and just as wide. Lying in the center of the pillows was a woman in a form-fitting white gown. She had dark skin, like mine, and long, feathery lavender hair that fell loose down her back. She was eating off a plate filled with strange, round purple things when the man walked in with me under his arm. She looked up at me, and I thought she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. Her eyes were a soft blue, the entire eye, with no white in them at all. A smile stretched across her pointed mouth when she saw me, and she sat up. I forgot then about the blood that smeared my mouth, and the blood caked on my hands and neck.
The man suddenly dropped me to the floor at her feet and stepped back. I crawled up into a sitting position, not sure what to think of where I found myself. I dare not move, afraid of everything that did, and so instead I sat there on the floor, staring up at the woman as she stared down at me.
"It is nice to finally meet you, Tabinthentalio," she said softly in a voice that sounded like it must have come from an angel. Still angry over my having being so violently pulled from Fiena, I sniffled, wiped my nose with the back of my hand and retorted with the only thing I could think of.
"It's not nice to meet you," I barked. The woman chuckled, looked up at the man standing behind me. I didn't take my eyes off her. I didn't trust her.
"It would seem the temper is a family trait," she said. I heard the man chuckle. "You don't know who I am, do you?" she asked, looking back at me. I just shrugged. "I, Tabinthentalio, am the woman who gave you life. I am your mother." She leaned closer to me, smiling, and then all of a sudden, pulled away. She held up a hand, and in it appeared a long, shiny piece of metal. My heart skipped a beat. It was the door latch I broke. "You did this, didn't you?" she asked, holding it out for me to see. Vigorously, I shook my head. Her smile only widened. She nodded once. "You're not in trouble, Tabinthentalio."
"I'm not?" I whispered. She shook her head once.
"No. I just want to know how a child as small as you broke this lock in half without any skills, strength, or tools?" Again, I shrugged. Smiling, her eyes met those of the man behind me again before coming to rest back on me. "I think I know." She held the latch out, looked at it, at the broken mechanism hanging from the rest of it. "You are not what you think you are, Tabinthentalio." She looked back at me. "You are not an immortal slave child, or an ordinary mortal child. You, my son, are a god."
Maybe she expected it to mean something to me, but I merely looked down at my dirty feet on the pristine floor, looked about at the people bustling through the room, up at the ceiling and the blinding light coming through the glass.
"What's that?" I finally asked, looking back up at her. Her smile twitched at the corners of her mouth.
"What's that?" she repeated, sitting back in her pillows. She looked up at the man behind me yet again. "What did they teach him down there? How to scrub floors?" The man chuckled again. "What is a god?" She sighed, sat forward again, and looked into my eyes. Her skin was the same as mine, and her hair was the same as mine. "I am a goddess, you are my child, which makes you a god. The man behind you, turn around," I did and saw the same man who carried me in, "the man behind you is an immortal; beings less than gods, but more than mortals. They have no powers like we do, but their lives can go on for as long as ours. As long as eternity, if we permit it."
"I don't have powers," I whispered under my breath. I briefly thought of the alien animal that had burst from my stomach in the room I had shared with Fiena, how it saw through red and liked the taste of blood. The woman before me did not strain to hear me, but rather smiled at my words. She held up the latch again so that it hung in the air between us. Her hand fell away, but it stayed where it was. I was immediately transfixed.
"A boy not yet two years old snapped a lock that most grown men wouldn't be able to if they used all their strength. And it was an accident." She sat back again and the latch clattered to the floor. I looked down at it right in front of my feet, almost afraid to touch it. It dawned on me then that that stupid latch was the reason for all this. I was angry at it, angry at me. If I hadn't messed with that stupid door latch I'd still be with Fiena.
"Tabinthentalio, you must realize that this was inevitable. I would have come for you eventually." I looked up at her, eyes wide. I wasn't sure what startled me most, the fact that I still would have been taken from Fiena, or the fact that she knew what I was thinking, and I hadn't said a word. After a moment, I bent down, picked up the latch and threw it across the room. It hit a tray filled with glasses and the metal tray crashed to the floor, along with glass and red wine. The glass shattered on impact, spilling the wine in all directions. The slaves on that wall jumped aside, startled. The woman before me looked at the fallen tray and slowly shifted her eyes back to me.
"I want Fiena back!" I screamed. The kindness melted from her face, and she lay back in the pillows. Her face was no longer angelic, but cold and unfeeling. I heard a new pair of boots across the floor, turned and saw the purple haired man walk in. He glared down at me, the smallest of smirks playing at the corners of his mouth. I returned his glare with the same intensity. My chest began heaving, tears pooling in my eyes. I suddenly lunged at him, but fell back to the floor with a thud, feeling the hand grasping the back of my tunic. The man laughed as he circled around to stand behind the woman and her pillows.
"That is no longer your world, Tabinthentalio. You belong here. Do NOT return to the tunnels unless you wish to be punished severely." My shoulders heaved with each exaggerated breath I took, the tears quickly drying up. "Take him to his room. Lock the door."
The man picked me up again, heaved me over his shoulder and carried me from the room. I merely glared at the woman and the man standing behind her. She returned my glare. He merely smiled.
Ryker took a breath, wiped the moisture from his eyes and sat back in his chair. Tabeto was leaning slightly forward, holding a match to a fresh cig. He drew in a deep breath, caught the flame from the match and snuffed it out between two fingers as he blew the smoke into the air.
"Did you ever see her again? Fiena?" Ryker asked, choking on a breath. Tabeto nodded and held up one finger.
"Once, years later. She barely recognized me. I had already grown and become almost what I am. I was able to see her for only a moment before she was forced to leave." He took a drink from his full glass of wine, took another, and placed the glass gingerly back on the table. "To this day, I…I'm not sure if she's still alive." Ryker was certain he now saw tears glistening in the older man's eyes.
"They kept her from you, didn't they?" he asked. Tabeto nodded before taking another puff from the cig. "So, what happened next?" the younger man asked. Tabeto sat back, let the cig dangle from his long fingers. He took a deep breath, looked up at the darkened ceiling. Ryker had all but forgotten about the glowing pad in his lap, or the humming recorder on the table.
"Exactly what my mother ordered." He took another breath before continuing. "I was carried to what would become my room, far from the entrance of the tunnels, and locked inside. I was kept there for the first week or so, locked inside my room. Food was brought to me three times a day. Water for a bath was drawn morning and night. Those were the only times I saw other beings. I was kept isolated the remainder of the time."
"Because," Tabeto said, breathing deeply, "it was part of the process of breaking me down. Raise me with a loving, caring mother and then rip that life away. Isolate me from all for a time, and then begin the next step."
"How could they be that cruel to a child?" Ryker asked, anger seeping into his voice, though he wasn't aware of it.
"Easily enough," was Tabeto's only reply.
I wasn't sure how much time had passed since I had been locked in this room, but it had been enough time to explore every inch of it. The room itself was so much bigger than the room I had shared with Fiena that I wasn't entirely sure what to do with all the space. The sole closet was larger than Fiena's room. The bed, which sat right in the middle of the room and sunk down into the floor, was so large that I couldn't possibly take up even one corner at a time. The pillows were big enough to smother me if I rolled one on top of me, and the sheets were smooth and cool to the touch.
Despite the niceties of the bed, however, I had yet to sleep in it. Instead, I opted to sleep on a small cot I had made by tearing the top sheet and pillow off the bed and curled them up in a far corner of the closet. It was dark and about the right size, even if it was lonely. It was at least a small reminder of the life I had been stolen from. I barely ate anything that was brought to me, but the woman who claimed to be my mother seemed not to care. I hadn't seen her, not once, since our first meeting.
A large balcony took up the entire left wall, but it, too, was locked. I could only pull aside the heavy drapes and look out at a blue sky above and a field of emerald green grass that seemed to go on forever. Only here and there was the landscape dotted by trees.
A few sparse pieces of furniture decorated the room, chairs and chaises and dressing drawers, a large chest big enough for me to sleep in, and things of that nature. I had looked in every single one of them; every single one empty. The closet held a few pieces of clothes made of fabric that felt much like the sheets on the bed. They looked like the clothes the slaves had been wearing, only not so plain. I didn't wear them. I instead stayed in the itchy, dirty tunic and trousers I had come in. My hair was thick with dirt and oil, needing to be washed, my skin just the same. I had only ventured into the bathroom long enough to see that it was twice as big as my closet, and left again. Dirty, grimy footprints on the strange, pristine floor attested to my having been there, nothing more. The floor of the bedroom was laid thick with a strange, fuzzy thing from wall to wall. It was soft and cushy, and my dirty feet rubbed on it, as well. It didn't take long before dirty, black footprints had been tracked from one end to the other.
I often sat in front of the balcony, looking up at the always clear sky. Never before had I seen so much of it for so long. One of these days I heard a key in the door as the lock turned. I merely glanced at the door before going back to watching the skies. The door opened, and I sat waiting for it to close again, but it didn't. I looked over my shoulder and in the doorway stood a man in golden armor. He stood by the door, looking off at something I couldn't see. A moment passed and the woman who looked like me walked in.
She looked about the room, her face pulled into an expression of disgust. When she looked at me, her expression did not lessen. She walked in, lifting the skirts of her dress so as to not get it dirty. She walked directly to me, stopped, and crossed her arms before her chest, staring down at me. I merely stared back up at her, making it known I was not pleased to see her.
"You have not bathed in almost two weeks. You've barely eaten, and you have not even changed your clothes." She sighed, allowed her arms to fall to her sides. "What did that slave teach you?" She reached down, took my arm and pulled me up. "Go, bathe, now. Then dress in the clothes I put in the closet for you. Give those clothes to a slave so that they can be properly disposed of. I will come fetch you in half an hour." With that, she turned and left again. The armored man closed the door and left behind her.
Moments after she had left, the door opened again and a slave entered. He walked into the bathroom, drew a bath and left again. I walked cautiously into the bathroom and to the tub, looked into the steaming, bubbly water. I thought for a moment about doing what I usually did, and simply refused to bathe, but she would return soon, and most likely be angry that I had not. Thinking of nothing else I could do, I pulled off the dirty, stiff clothing I wore and climbed into the water.
A shiver rushed down my spine as the hot water met my cold skin. I looked at the different colored bottles lined on a shelf next to the tub, figuring they were for cleaning myself. I dunked into the water, scrubbed as much of the dirt from my skin and hair as I could, and then came up. Already the water was turning brown.
By the time I climbed out of the water, my skin was fresh and clean and a gleaming color of chocolate I had never seen before. I suppose I had never been this clean. My hair felt soft to the touch, like the sheets on the bed, and my skin just the same. I wrapped a towel around myself, shivering in the plush cloth, and walked to the steamed mirror. Slowly the steam faded away, leaving me with my first image of myself.
The mirror touched down to the floor, or I might not have been able to see myself. My skin did seem to glow after my bath, and my hair, as well. It was the same exact shade of grayed lavender as the woman's, my mother. I opened my mouth and saw little points of fangs. I thought about them, and they grew, startling me. I then looked at my eyes. No wonder everyone in the tunnels had not liked me at first sight. They had known I was different before I did. My eyes were almond-shaped and large, and gold from corner to corner. There was not a speck of white in them. I had never known, but I had never been able to see them, either. Fiena didn't have eyes like that. Her eyes were brown with white surrounding the color. Mine were clearly not.
Shaking with the realization of what I was, knowing it was true now, I walked from the bathroom and found that the white floor was no longer dirty. The bed was made with fresh sheets and clothes had been lain out for me. All in the short time I had been taking my bath. I dropped the towel to the floor, dressed and then hopped up on the bed to sit and wait. Mere moments passed before the door again opened and my mother, I had finally admitted it to myself, walked in. She was dressed in a flowing white gown that sparkled and glittered with her hair up in curls. She held out her hand to me and I jumped down from the bed, walked to her side, but did not take the offered hand.
From my room we walked through halls and corridors that looked much like the first ones I had seen upon entering this place. We walked down another outside corridor, and I saw the golden light of dusk kissing the grass, the trees, the strange, swirling floor on which we walked.
"Tonight I take you to dine with me and the other gods. It is the first time you will meet all of them at once, so be on your best behavior. They do not take kindly to rudeness in their presence," she instructed as we walked. I said nothing in response.
The dining hall was a large corridor surrounded by columns. Only a sliver of a wall existed, and that was the one which held the door that led to and from the room. A towering ceiling hung above us and exotic, flowering plants served as low walls surrounding the floor. A long, polished table sat low to the floor in the center of the room, large pillows surrounding it. People, tall, strange colored people, filled the room. Some of them sat at the table, while others lingered about the room speaking to others. Some of them had white hair, some blue, some pink, some purple. Some of them had yellow hair, and many of them had eyes that matched their hair. Their skin ranged from pure white to dark as mine, and everything in between. They were all tall and beautiful and thin. The men had short-cropped hair while the women had long, flowing hair.
Looking about, however, I saw a few men with long hair. One of them looked much like me, but his eyes were blue, like my mother's. He must have been my mother's brother. The other I saw had white hair, not so long as the other man's, but it was thick and full and wavy. His skin was pure white, as were his eyes. He seemed strange to me, especially when he looked at me, met my eyes. He did not smile, but turned slowly away and sipped on a glass of wine. He wasn't speaking to any of the others.
All of a sudden I spotted the man with the wild blue hair, the same one who had seen me at the door I had broken. I suddenly darted behind my mother's skirts, afraid he would be mad at me, or that he would laugh at me like the purple-haired man had. I didn't want to be laughed at again.
The others looked at me as my mother sat down at the head of the table, the opposite end as the man who looked like her. They looked me over much like the slaves had in the tunnels. So, I had gone from one set of unfriendly looks to another, and not even Fiena there to protect me. Somehow I doubted the woman who claimed to be my mother would protect me like Fiena had.
"Orakinthalia, is that the half-blood bastard you bore?" a particularly tall, pink-haired woman asked, her face split by a smile. My mother, Orakinthalia, smiled at the woman, bowed her head once, and turned to talk to the black-haired man on her left. I looked up at the pink-haired woman, cowering below her glare. Another woman sat beside me then. She had long, blood red hair and eyes and pale skin. She wore a tight-fitting gown, pushing her bosom up to the point of nearly bursting out. She smiled at me and then turned her attention to my mother.
"Orakinthalia, your father would have a word with you," she said. My mother turned her attention away from the man she spoke with and looked at the red haired woman. Seeming very unsettled, she rose to her feet and walked down the table to the man who looked like her. My grandfather. Even from down the table I could make out what was said.
"Why is he here?" the man asked, glancing at me for a moment before turning his blue eyes to my mother.
"He is able to break a locked door latch th-"
"I don't care. He is a half-mortal bastard child and I do not want him at my table. Not in my house. Take him back to the slaves." For a moment I thought I might get to see Fiena again, but then it dawned on me that he was my blood, and not even he wanted anything to do with me.
"Father, he is a piece in what I have planned, and he is ready to begin his training. I will not take him back." She stared him straight in the eyes as his equal. A piece of me suddenly respected her. "Besides, he is your grandchild. You'll get used to him." With that, she got up and walked back down the table to take her spot opposite him. I looked up at her as she resumed her conversation with the man opposite me, and thought that perhaps she would protect me like Fiena had. She was, after all, my mother.