The Giver Gods
Book One: The Gift of Destruction
Chapter 1: Aarei
Fable stared up at the ceiling fan with a bored expression. His chair was standing on its back two legs while he balanced his own on the table in front of him. He put a cigarette in his mouth and casually lit it before shifting his gaze to me.
The white pallidity of his skin brought out the otherwise discreet luminosity of his red irises. His crimson hair was in short layers on the back of his head, but was significantly longer near his face. He had too many piercings in his eyebrows and black polish coating his nails. His dark pants were tucked into his combat boots that came up just below his knees. At his hips were two sheaths holding swords that were both just recently used. He's purposefully neglected to give me his true age even though we've known each other for eight long years. His immortal body ceased to show any features past the age of 30, so whatever time period he's truly from will remain a mystery unless he finally feels like sharing his past with me.
Fable was the badass I had yet to be. Though we looked and acted nothing alike, people who knew us would frequently refer to him as my doppelgänger or twin because we never separated too far apart from each other. We also shared an abnormal bond that often made me wonder if maybe we were the same person in a certain sense. The average person had a hard time seeing him, but he was still there causing havoc nonetheless.
"You need to stop your smoking habit," I told him from the uncomfortable couch I had taken claim to. I disliked his drug use because I could feel the effects in my own body as well. Though we regularly took two forms, whatever he did to his physical self happened to mine, and vise versa. So if his aim were lung cancer, then I would have to face the cancer along with him. Regardless of the calming nicotine, it still wasn't appealing to me. It still baffles me as to why he does it.
He simpered, not taking me seriously. Silence came between us until he eventually struck up a conversation to end the void. "You alright? You've been pretty quiet," he asked as I reloaded my gun. "Is it this job in particular that you didn't like, or is it work in general?"
"I'm fine. Work is fine," I answered almost apathetically, putting little thought into it as I put my weapon away.
"You know I'm okay with it if you just want to leave the killing part to me, Aarei." He pulled out his cellphone when it vibrated in his back pocket. He flipped it open to answer.
"Is it done?" the caller questioned.
"Yep. Wanna picture? I got your buddies under my feet right now." He referred to the dead bodies lying on the floor.
"No, I trust you. The money has been transferred into your account."
"Pleasure doing business with ya, sir." He closed his phone and returned it to his pocket, giving me a wide smile. "These thugs are becoming comfortable with us. We're like family to them now." He took his feet off the table and let his chair fall on all fours.
I slid off the couch and avoided stepping in any patches of blood absorbed by the carpet as I headed for the exit. He opened the door for me to let me leave first. I sighed and put my hands into the pockets of my jacket, walking with my head down. He shut the door with his foot before striding to my side with an aura of confidence and pride.
When we egressed from building, we were back into the slums of the uncaring ghettos. The streets were a tad grim in this part of town. The same understatement could be said about any region in the country of Prodigia, but I'm worried that that's just my perception. It often seemed like something sinister lurked around every corner these days, waiting for the right moment to strike. The air smelled like death, and I'm not referring to the people Fable and I just slaughtered. I wouldn't call it an epidemic of constant murder, but it's certainly a plague that's spreading faster than anyone has a chance to cure it.
The blood on my hands wasn't considered an unforgivable stain in the world I lived in. This conveniently went in my favor because I was covered in it. Not necessary physically, but historically.
"You'll be turning 20 tomorrow. What do you want to do to celebrate?" Fable asked.
"What do you want to do?" I was monotone and he was full of life. I don't know where he found the energy to express his sentences sometimes.
"It'll be the day when you go from a boy to a man. It's a milestone. We should do something special."
"You said that last year and the year before."
"Don't you get excited for anything? I'm trying to lighten the mood." He flicked his shortened cigarette to the side.
"We can do whatever makes you happy."
We walked up a few steps to the open public park. The benches were worn and the center fountain stopped working years ago. It was vacant aside from a pigeon or two. The autumn season left the trees naked of leaves, giving the location an even greater appearance of depression.
Fable flipped a quarter while balancing across the fountain ledge. He caught it and tossed it into the scummy water. "Make a wish on this instead of a birthday candle then."
I walked around him. "Grossest wishing well I've ever seen."
He stepped down with a cocky grin, mocking my pessimism. "What now?" He was back at my side. "Back home to your mother? Eralla will be happy to see you if she's sober."
"She's never sober."
"Pass." The woman is more sane and pleasant with the alcohol than without. An intervention wouldn't help anyone.
Fable managed to kick a waddling pigeon and it flew away with fewer feathers than before. He picked up a small pebble and chucked it at another bird, hitting it in the head.
I prevented him from targeting another one. "Stop being so violent."
He dropped it. "It's my violence that earns your paycheck."
"Could you live without killing?"
"If I wanted to leave this place, would you come with me?"
He chuckled as if the subject was something petty. "Of course. Lead the way and I'll pave the roads for you."
"What would you do?"
"Join the mafia or something."
"Indeed I am. If this isn't the life you want, I'll choose a different one too. I don't see any other legal options though, as we've discussed a million times before. I also don't see how moving out would solve any of our problems in the near future. What are you considering? Do you want to get a normal job?"
"I think my apathy would be a turn off to anyone hiring," I considered realistically. Normal jobs wouldn't pay the kind of bills and debt I have either.
"To be honest, I think this is your element. This is something we can both do together."
"How does none of this bother you?" I asked the question in almost a whisper. It wasn't a harsh murmur, but just confused astonishment. In all our years, none of this has ever troubled him. I'm always in fear that his lack of scruple will drag me down to the same level one day.
He observed me. "Whatever you do, I'll back you up 100 percent."
He was my guide, my source of information, and my conviction, but the end decision was always mine. There were only a few things he did where he acted before asking me first. Those few things irked me and he was well aware of it, but it couldn't be helped in most cases. It was for my own safety.
We approached the front door of our home. Bars were placed over the windows and the drapes were closed. The door was triple locked for the security of my mother. I didn't care about the items inside, but I can't have people robbing the place and finding my drunken mom on the couch. The house was paid off though it was worth nothing if we wanted to sell it. It was in shit condition when we got it, but even more so now with mother's habits of spontaneously wrecking the place for no reason. She also wasn't the cleanest of people on a normal day. I once asked her if she knew what a trashcan was, and her response was "Is that French for something?"
Our neighbors were seedy and I'm sure one has even sold drugs to my mother on multiple occasions, but besides that, they've never bothered us. By that, I mean they never call the cops when they see Fable or myself walk up with weapons and blood on us.
I unlocked everything and went inside. There she was, just where I left her earlier, half naked and drunk on the couch with an empty bottle in her hand. Her long inky hair spilled over the arm of the chair with strands covering her pastel face. She was petite in size regarding both her weight and height. She was 37 years old, but she looked to be reaching her 50's.
"Who's your friend?" she asked me in slurs. It was actually rare that she could see Fable at all in her state. When she was high or drunk, he was good as invisible to her.
There were a few rules to Fable (rules that I'm still trying to figure out) regarding who could see him or not. One thing for sure was if someone was a threat to either of us, they could see him clear as day. If they could see him, he was tangible to them too. Intoxication of higher amounts would either aid people to see him, or hinder them. Besides that, it honestly just seemed to be random as to who could view him as a normal person and not just some undetectable ghost to phase through.
"I knew you had friends," she said as if she had been trying to prove it for quite some time. "Your father would be proud. Where is he?" My mother was famous in the household for hallucinating, so it's very possible that she was seeing someone completely different than Fable.
"How are you today?" I asked quietly while locking the door behind me.
"I saw a bird today." She raised her arm as if to let a bird perch on her finger. "It sang a song to me. It sounded lovely. Look, here it is again. Tweet. Tweet, tweet." Her voice was soft and lost. "I think it's lost. I should find it a home." She spoke to the nonexistent bird. There was no point in bringing that to her attention. There was also no point in conversation. She stopped talking with me after the bird topic.
I headed into the bathroom in the hallway to the right of the living area. She never noticed how much blood I'd drag in when I'd come home. She never asked where I had been or what I had been doing. She never asked how I had been making all the money that she somehow managed to make disappear in a day's span.
While I got undressed to get into the shower, Fable grabbed materials to clean his swords. I turned the water on and stepped into the tub. I looked down at the drain and watched as the diluted blood fell away. I was a mess. Not physically. I was in great shape physically, but mentally, I couldn't be well. I've been repeatedly told that I was in need of a therapist, or a priest, depending on who was ranting to me.
I stared at the scars cutting across my wrists and arms that were there to remind me of my past. They weren't self-inflicted despite what a lot of people think. They were received prior to Fable's intrusion into my life. They were large and noticeable to anyone who's seen my arms uncovered. Even when the weather is hot, I always wore a coat to hide them. I hate seeing them.
"Don't have a panic attack in there," he said after a minute of not hearing me. He stole my old clothes and replaced them with new ones.
I don't know what I would do without him. He was my motivator and savior. In the last four years, he's gotten us a job I dislike, but it has me living and paying off the debt my family inherited.
My cell rang and Fable took it out of my jacket pocket. He answered it while putting it on speakerphone, "Hello, Nadlyan."
"Fable, I'm in trouble," a woman whispered on the other end. "You're the only people I know I can depend on. You've gotta help me."
"What's in it for us?"
"Come on, you owe me."
"Hah, no. You owe me," he quickly corrected her and I reached my arm out of the shower to take the phone from him.
"Nadlyan, what kind of trouble are you in and how can we help?"
"Such a push over," Fable muttered as she explained her situation.
"I'm in the old clock tower warehouse. The Streamers have the place surrounded. I can't get out."
The Streamers were a nasty gang that got their ranks by hanging up body parts for public display. I'm talking real limbs and organs on clotheslines.
Nadlyan was an old partner of mine that I went on a few missions with. She specialized in thieving. Fable saved her life a few times because of her careless mistakes, which involved stealing from the wrong people. She should have known better than to get on their bad side.
"We're not touching that one. Tell her she's on her own," Fable told me strictly.
"We can't just leave her there. You know what they'll do if they find her."
"It's a big can of worms that bite back when you open it, Aarei."
I stepped out of the shower while quickly wrapping a towel around my waist. "We'll be there in 20 minutes, Nadlyan."
"Thank you. Hurry."
From one job to the next. Can't say I liked working overtime, but I try to outweigh my sins with good deeds whenever I'm given the chance. If that involves me risking my life for someone I barely know, then so be it.
Fable gave me a slightly vexed expression before leaving me so that I could get dressed. Once I was done, I met him in my room where he was checking how much ammunition I had in my gun. I didn't use normal bullets. I used thick fast-acting poisonous needles. I could fit a lot more into my gun and carry ammunition easier that way. It was one of the advancements in weaponry over the last few centuries.
Fable's weapon of choice was a katana. He wielded two at all times when leaving the house. They were the swords of a samurai warrior, but when he pulled them out, they were the blades of an elegant monster.
He tossed me the gun once he was satisfied. I caught it and put it in a holster concealed under my jacket.
I said a quick goodbye to my mother on our way out, making sure to leave the door fully locked behind me. I was the first to take off running with Fable following. We didn't own any vehicles. It wasn't just due to the fact that they were expensive and had a high risk of being broken into, but they weren't completely necessary. We were pretty close to a lot of key spots. If what we wanted wasn't in town, then it was likely in the city where having a car just wasn't practical when you can use the subway stations.
The warehouse was only a mile or so away, conveniently enough. A good way to describe the region Fable and I resided in is ghost town. It had its people, and not all of them were bad or crooked, but they didn't come out much. The person in charge of giving our lovely town a name chose to call it Atrophy of all things. It was an accurate description, but still a little too blunt in my opinion. A large portion of it was abandoned by the working community, but it wasn't always lacking decent civilization. It was once lively and friendly from what I hear. People say that one day something happened within the government of which led to a very sudden stop in their support in certain areas. Atrophy was on of those certain areas, needless to say. The right changes weren't made to lighten the dejection or increasing crime, so as a result, it's been the mafia and high-numbered gangs that have taken the lead. They took charge of businesses and streets, stalking alleys and finding new ways to control the people. The common people either played by their rules and paid their fees, or they'd find themselves facing a lethal debt collector.
Fable and I were some of those collectors. People with the right names and enough money hired us to do their dirty work. That involved plenty of things, but it mainly consisted of putting a bullet in someone's head in order to prove our client's dominance and authority. I don't agree with the lifestyle, but this was what I was given. Our work was well known by a good amount of powerful people mainly because of all the connections Fable established. He knew which jobs to take, which to leave alone, and what kind of people to involve ourselves with.
I normally listened to Fable. He was not a fortuneteller, but he had one hell of an intuition. He could read and decipher anyone's aura far better than I could, and his situational awareness was outstanding. He could sense danger or hostility miles away. I didn't like that I was falling away from his better judgment, but I considered Nadlyan to be a friend of mine. I don't have many, if any aside from Fable. She wasn't close and we don't talk much, but I can't be picky.
The scenery on the way to the warehouse could be fairly described as dismal. This was partly due to taking a ton of back alleyways of a memorized landscape. Bags of opened and rummaged trash made moats around the perimeters of most buildings. Rusted and burst pipes weren't uncommon, and broken gutters were frequently in the way. The attendance of litter, grease, and grime goes without saying. The pavement was uneven and hadn't been under construction in ages. The wide-open cracks would likely never see the day of being filled or fixed. Not in my lifetime anyway.
I knew Nadlyan's exact location. It was once a massive clock tower that was torn down and made into a warehouse rented out to a shoe factory. After several months, said shoe factory had also been shut down for reasons I haven't bothered to read about, so the warehouse was likely vacant. Apparently it was once a famous monument, built the day World War III ended to remind us all how far we came to survive the disasters of nature and man. How far we came indeed.
Fable and I scoped the area half a block away for any traps or threats before I stopped at the front entrance. I kept my back to the wall and my hand ready to get my gun. I checked my parameters for any pedestrians or members of the gang. We were in the clear so far, but it was strange that no one was out at the front. Didn't she say that they had the place surrounded?
Fable was less careful as he began scaling the wall the instant he was arm's length from it. Parkour came easier to him than me. "I know where we can get in without being seen." With less agility, I attempted the climb. He got to another ledge the next story up and offered his hand to me. I took it and he lifted me to his level.
We quietly made our way across the narrow ledge until we came across a small window barely big enough to fit a person through. He used the heel of his foot to push the glass in and slide inside. Strangely unlocked. I was right behind him and stepped onto the unstable metal platform that hung above the main floor of the warehouse.
Members of the gang were below us guarding any doors or obvious places someone could use to get in or out. Clearly they didn't consider the roof. There was no ladder to get up to where we were, so thankfully no one was up here waiting for our grand arrival. The gang members were big and brutish. Fable was strong, but these guys had much more mass on them than he did.
There were seven in sight, but there were likely more. No sign of Nadlyan.
Fable was scanning the area carefully. He would tell me what to do next once he was satisfied.
I watched for his signal. He was keeping one hand over the handle of his sword, expecting a fight. Something didn't seem right. Not just because it was too easy to get inside, but the atmosphere felt eerie. Though faint, I could hear inaudible chanting coming from another room deeper into the building.
"Hear that?" he whispered to me and I nodded. After a few more seconds of him digesting our situation, he looked at me. We could read each other's auras. We didn't have to discuss the plan, we just knew. His aura told me we were going to kill these people. I didn't know how he came to that conclusion, but I was going to follow his instincts this time.
Auras were something that only very few people could see. Usually only those involved with the supernatural could sense or see them. They were like faint mists of color floating around a person's head like a halo or nimbus. Different colors indicated their present emotions or intentions. It was mostly up to interpretation as to what color meant what.
A large percentage of the world's population wasn't aware that people with powers existed. I haven't met anyone aside from Fable and my father's colleagues who understood fully what all is out there regarding the real Gods and those who possessed paranormal abilities that slapped the laws of science in the face.
I grabbed my gun and jumped over the railing. He did the same while taking out both swords. I landed like a feline as he plunged blades into one of the members while using the corpse as a landing pad.
Dust flew up from the dramatic motions as the Streamers took little time to react and come at us from all sides. It felt like something I'd seen done a hundred times in movies and cartoons, clouds of smoke billowing out from under the protagonist as enemies circle around them.
Fable slashed his katanas around as if he was doing a dance, adjusting his footing perfectly for each kill. Murder was art for him. No one painted the floors red quite like he could. A lot of his moves were unnecessary, actions done just for the hell of it to make combat more fun for himself.
A switchblade was pulled on me and I did a fast duck before aiming my gun and pulling twice. You can't go wrong shooting both the head and chest. My weapon was silent, but I could feel it whenever I took my finger back on the trigger . That slight jolt of the poisonous needle taking its leave from my barrel and piercing deep into anything in its narrow path. My kills and my wounds didn't spray pulsing blood in all directions like Fable's. I didn't want it to. I didn't want to see a glimpse of attraction in my actions to end a person's life. I wanted it to make me sick, like it always did.
Isn't there a saying about not bringing a knife to a gunfight? I witnessed people using guns on Fable, but not me. Odd.
He already had five men down while more were rushing in from the far end of the room. I did him a favor by taking out all the ones in his blind spot while he picked a spot to temporality hide.
"Aarei!" I heard my named called. I sensed a new presence. One of significance. My concentration was suddenly broken from the irritating sound of my name. My head jerked forward with my own blood falling to the cement. My vision blurred and dizziness overwhelmed my other senses, but I was still conscious. Then came the pain in the back of my head.
I was hit again in the back by the same blunt object that felt like a wooden bat. The damage put me on my knees and before I knew it, I was on the floor. I heard Fable swearing up a storm, likely from the pain that transferred over to him as well.
"Get your shit together!" he yelled at me.
I felt a cold chain wrapped around my neck and pulled tight, my gun falling away from me. I grabbed the wrists of the person trying to drag me and brought one leg up to kick him. Chokeholds like these annoy me, especially when the guy doing the choking is almost twice my size. When you can't breathe, there is very little time to do anything to get out of the predicament. You can only make about two or three bold moves until you're about out of air completely and you've got nothing left to do but pass out.
It felt like I got him in the head pretty hard. Next step was feeling for the eyes on his face instead of trying to manually loosen the chains. If I can gouge them out, the chains will loosen themselves automatically if he's at all interested in keeping his eyesight. They key is to show no mercy and not to panic. I have a backup plan if that doesn't work.
He hollered and had no choice but to let me go. He caught my one wrist when I made the movements to flee out of his reach. I wasn't in a position to steal my gun off the floor, so I flipped open a switchblade of my own. Six stabs to the gut will take anyone down just as easily as a bullet or needle. You just need to be quick about it.
I ducked again and the guy with the bat accidentally nailed his gang member in the face instead of me. Stabbing him half a dozen times was easy too. I shoved him down while claiming his weapon and putting my knife away.
I turned when I heard a chainsaw starting up. Where the hell were they getting these tools anyway? The guy purposefully kicked my gun out of range as he made his way over. He seemed a bit more serious about taking my life when he attempted to separate my torso from my legs.
I threw the bat at him so that he'd use his weapon to knock it out of the way. Once he had the chainsaw upright and no longer pointed at me, I lunged forward and grabbed his hands to turn the blade against him. Seconds prior to me overpowering him and cutting into his jugular, he was extremely surprised by my strength and ability to overcome his. I looked like a little weak kid to a lot of these people.
I removed the saw from him and turned it off so that I could set it down and replace it with my gun a few feet away. I was going to finish the rest of my opponents off, but Fable had already beaten me to it. It was quiet now. The ominous atmosphere that I sensed a couple minutes ago was gone.
"Wow, a chainsaw?" Fable remarked with a simper. "Go big or go home, man."
My head was seriously starting the hurt now. I wanted to check if I was bleeding bad, but I wouldn't be able to tell now since I was already coated with someone else's blood. If I didn't heal faster than the average human, I'd be overwhelmingly concerned about brain damage and all the diseases I'd attain from getting another person's blood in my wounds.
"You guys did fantastic, as usual." Nadlyan came out of her hiding spot in the far corner with a smug grin. She was a thin woman with bronzed skin that I suspect was spray tanned due to the unattractive orange hue staining her epidermis. She had lengthy messy brunette hair and bright brown eyes. She wore a skirt over a pair of shorts, a loose top that left inches of her midriff exposed, and tennis shoes. I don't know her real age because I've never asked. Apparently it's rude to ask a woman her age, but I assume she was in her later 20's.
Fable did a single swipe in the air with his swords to get the excess blood off before sheathing them. I think he was bathed in enough to where Nadlyan wouldn't be able to notice that his blood was a completely different color than a normal human's.
"Thanks for coming on such short notice. You made it faster than I thought. You really saved my ass," she said and he only glared at her while walking farther into the warehouse.
We both followed him into the next room where we found some mangled corpses inside of a round sigil made of white paint. It might have been a pentagram, but the dead bodies covered too much of the symbol for me to properly identify anything. Telling from the knife gashes and serious lack of color in their skin, these bodies were definitely here before either of us arrived. There were lit candles and bowls of either ash or sand. I couldn't tell unless I wanted to get closer, but I didn't. My anxiety always goes up when I see stuff like this.
"What the hell?" Nadlyan asked the question that was on all our minds. "Didn't know the Streamers were into this kind of thing."
"Such a fucking liar," Fable muttered softly while taking out a cigarette and lighting it once he put it in his mouth.
"Excuse me?" She surprisingly heard him and rightfully took offense to his comment.
"Did you at least get what you came here for?" He didn't repeat himself.
She advanced farther into the room and stepped over a few slain bodies to retrieve a pocket watch from the center of the mound. "Sure did. Look." She tossed it to me and I caught it. "24-karat gold."
It was too lightweight to be 24-karat gold, but whatever. I'll let her find that out on her own. It had a sigil on the case that was similar to what I could see on the floor. I believe it was the symbol of Lesifuges. From what I can remember, it signified riches and something about shortening lives.
"I hear that it's one of a kind and isn't just valued for the purity of its plated ore," she continued to explain its worth. "It has these engravings in it that a lot of people are wanting to get their hands on."
Intriguing. I clicked it open and saw what she was referring to. It was a skeleton watch, the mechanics of the insides unhidden by the face. Small runic writings were on the hands and all three exposed wheels. It looked all too familiar. It was a language I saw over eight years ago before Fable came into my life.
I closed it and handed it back to her once she made her way over to me. "I wouldn't hold onto it for too long. Sell it when you get the chance."
"In that case, I'll keep it."
"You don't know what that is, do you?"
"No. Do you?"
I didn't want to tell her that people get real crazy real fast when they discover the origins of artifacts like these. It would only make her more curious. Then she'd wonder why I have knowledge of it and then she'd likely try to involve me in whatever methods she tries to use on her way to greater discovery. Yeah, fuck that. I've put in my time with that bullshit.
"Just sell it before you attract more Streamers," I told her.
"I'll take my chances."
"Don't be stupid, Nadlyan," I said harshly. "I'm not going to be here to rescue you every time you put yourself into a bad situation. Soon I'll be getting a call from someone wanting that watch in their possession and a bullet in yours."
"You wouldn't kill me, would you?"
I could have slapped her. She was missing the point.
"Just sell the damn thing," Fable spoke in my place. "I'll kill you myself if we get that call and you still have it."
"Just turn the call away. You don't have to take on every job."
"Are you kidding me? I'll be waiting and praying for that call." He wasn't joking.
"I'll sell it if you tell me what's so special about it. I think you know more than you're letting on."
"It's not really that important. Some people believe that Gods exist in our realm and that there are artifacts left behind with encrypted clues that could lead to finding them."
"Like the Giver Gods?" she guessed.
"Yeah, I guess. They're just one of various rumors. But it's a myth, so the watch is useless in all aspects aside from telling time."
"There are four Givers, right?" She wasn't dropping the subject. "What were they again?"
"Time, life, blessing, and death," Fable answered. He knew the story pretty well because, once upon a time, I found one of the four Givers.
"Which Giver do you think the watch leads to?" she queried, already assuming that the watch was a direct link to the hidden Gods. The watch was for the Time Giver obviously. All the signs were there even if she couldn't read the text.
"Who gives a shit?" Fable didn't appease her curiosity.
"I do. It helps when I have a detailed backstory. If it's genuine, then the fact that it's made of gold means nothing in comparison and I can make millions. Can you read it?"
"No. Fable and I did our part. You're safe. We're going home."
"Okay, thanks again." She gave me an unexpected hug that I ended quickly by pushing her away a moment later. It wasn't out of disgust for her. I just dislike the gesture. She didn't take offense and just laughed. "Oh, right, you're a no touchy person. Sorry. Take care, you two." She left before we did.
Fable's glare never escaped his expression as he watched her leave.