This Broken Eternity
Prologue: Asylum Exclusion Trial
"So in other words, she's guilty."
The words echoed against the small room. Trin knew it was small because, even though she had been blindfolded and bound before entering, the way the speaker's voice echoed was a good enough indicator. She also knew who the speaker was, but that was a lot easier. When she had been Created, high recognition for individuals had been prioritized. It was just a part of who she was, and she couldn't turn it off.
That, and there was only person in the room who had a voice like that: boyish, without a care for the world, as if saying that Trin was guilty was the same as discussing what he was having for lunch.
Like a fact of life.
"Honorary High Denizen Daniel," a stern voice reprimanded, "do not speak out of turn."
Trin knew who that was, too. And by hearing both of them speak, she knew where everyone else in the room was. The Council's ranking system was silly, but it did have its uses at times. The woman who had just spoken was the "High Denizen" Anna, the second in command of Asylum. She was a steadfast upkeep of the Codes, and she easily outranked Daniel, who was the probationary number seven, the lowest seat in the Council.
"Sorry, sorry," Daniel said, sounding every bit like the dismissive teenager whose form he took. Trin could easily imagine him waving Anna off. Her face would be priceless, and for a moment, Trin regretted not being able to see. Still, body language awareness had been a part of her Creation, too, so it was easy to imagine. "I just think it's weird that we've been talking about what to do with her and she hasn't said a thing. We're not humans—the right to remain silent isn't part of what we do. Neither is innocent until proven guilty."
Trin would have rolled her eyes if it had any effect. As it was, the smaller conversations held by the other Council members came to a close, the whispers cutting off. Daniel's made a surprisingly astute point for once, Trin mused. Let's see how they take it.
There was silence for a few minutes, pure and nearly ringing. It was broken by a scraping of the chair, and Trin could tell who was going to speak based on the position. If she had freedom of mobility, Trin would had clenched her fists. Instead, she had to settle for grinding her teeth.
You stupid, stupid boy.
"I believe that Denizen Sosa is engaging in the trial method of voluntary silence," Cinier announced. Calling him a boy was unfair, since his form was that of a young man, and his voice reflected a tenor that could easily lull Trin into thinking things were okay, that they were safe. There was another moment of silence, but this one added an awkward taste to the air, coating Trin's tongue like off-brand water. "Since this is my first time sitting in on a Council meeting, I did some research beforehand. If the defendant wishes to, they are free to remain silent as long as they answer any questions directed towards them."
"Oh, so we can go ahead and ask her whatever then," Daniel remarked, sounding interested for the first time in the trial. It was a pale imitation of what could have been charming, and Trin had to bite down on her tongue to avoid speaking. "So, Probationary Denizen, what's your c—"
"Honorary High Denizen Daniel!" Anna chided, this time a tint of mortification coming into her otherwise dull tone. Daniel had to be grinning—after all, to work up the normally calm second-in-command was a feat after all. Daniel fell silent, and based on how the echoes of her voice changed, Anna had turned to Cinier. "Honorary High Denizen Cinier, do you believe this is what Probationary Denizen Trin is doing?"
That was a loaded question. Trin knew it better than anyone—understanding people's intentions, that had been part of the Creation, too. Trin had been built to observe, understand, and take advantage of others. Maybe that was why everyone was suspicious that she wasn't trying to defend herself. Even against Asylum's finest, Trin should have been able to talk her way out of anything.
And none of them will even consider that I'm perfectly fine with being declared guilty. They're going to gang up on Cinier because he knows me best.
Because the Honorary High Denizen, currently occupying the rank four position on the council in lieu of his own Creator, was Trin's best friend.
"Why don't we just ask Trin herself?" the voice from the very center of the room spoke up. "In fact, let's stop treating this like an interrogation and act like civilized Denizens, here. On top of that, take the blindfold off the poor girl. This is ridiculous."
Again, a stunned silence. Trin vaguely wondered what it said about the leaders of Asylum if they were shocked so easily. No wonder the place was gone to shit. It was better to just accept her punishment and not deal with it anymore. And, finally, what seemed like an eternity, the stern but shocked voice of Anna:
"But Grand Deity Ezekiel—!"
"No buts!" Ezekiel retorted. If Daniel's casual was one thing, the Grand Deity put it to shame. As the highest ranking man in Asylum, he hated absolutely every formality that went with the trial. "I'm tired of acting like the Stone Age, you know? Even humans don't do this stuff anymore. So someone take the blindfold off, you got me? No, you stay put Daniel."
Usually, it was the lowest ranking member's duty to handle tasks outside of the regular course of the meeting. In this case, that meant Daniel, who was the lowest of the seven. There were probably some gestures that Trin could think of at least thirteen different possibilities for, and then Lydia, rank six, stood up from their chair, and was probably floating based on the silence that followed.
Gentle hands tugged at the back of Trin's blindfold, and soon it was gone, giving her a look at the Council room for the first time.
It was pure white, though the lighting was dim enough to make the walls and floor seem blue. It was dreadfully boring, but Trin only had herself to blame for that. The Council sat at elevated seats, a tiered desk rising in accordance with rank. Ezekiel sat at the highest position, bandages draped over his left eye, arms, and wings, the same as always. Anna was to his right, only at a slightly lower level. At his left, lower than Anna still, was an empty seat, the fabled empty third position in the council. The tiers alternated sides and heights—Cinier at rank four, the empty seat of rank five left by Master Jeremiah with no proxy to take his place, the empty sixth chair of Lydia, who remained behind Trin, and Daniel in the seventh and lowest seat.
"So what do you think about our ugly mugs, Trin?" Ezekiel asked, actually grinning despite the circumstances. Anna remained seated, but her lips pursed together in a retort. "If what Cin here says is true, you've gotta answer our questions, right? Or were you not aware that the method of trial he suggested was an option?"
"Of course I was aware," Trin supplied, mainly because she had to. If she didn't answer, it would nullify the whole thing, and she didn't want to testify. She just had to do this as quickly as possible, and then it would be done for, no extra drama needed. "I was the one that taught Cin about the Codes after all."
Okay, maybe she'd stir up a little bit of drama. But what was the point in seeing if you didn't enjoy the expressions that were made because of your words?
Anna's face twisted—not a lot, just a bit. It seemed a lot was getting under her skin lately; poor thing must have been rather stressed. Ezekiel didn't give Anna an easy time, and Daniel only made things worse. Oh, and Trin wasn't planning on helping, either. The woman went to say something, but Daniel made it first.
"So you're conspiring with a member of the Council," he said. No one looked shocked at that, though most eyes in the room went to Cinier. He looked awkward, scratching at the back of his neck through his white-turned-blue hair, only looking at Trin and no one else. She smiled.
You deserve this for talking out of turn, she wanted to say.
The look that Cinier gave back only conveyed one thing: I was just trying to help.
And that's the problem, Trin thought, reverting her expression to neutral. You're always trying to help, Cin. Just let me go.
"Conspiring's a pretty strong word," Trin declared, making sure to focus on Daniel. There was suddenly a tension as her own voice echoed throughout the room, light and airy. "That would imply that I actually was trying to use Cin to claim myself innocent, which I'm not, by the way."
Daniel wasn't one to take things lying down, and Trin knew it. While he didn't rise to try and gain more ground over her, his teeth bared for a second, twisting up his boyish face. It only lasted for a second, and he was back to normal soon after, but it was still sloppy. Trin restrained her smirk. "Then you want to be declared guilty," Daniel concluded, and Trin happily nodded. There were more mutters across the room, some from Lydia behind her, but Trin didn't focus on any of it. "So what's your plan then? Get declared guilty, then what? You have to have a plan. After all, you're just like—"
"Daniel," Ezekiel said, a harsh tone in his voice. Everyone had expected Anna to make the objection, given her preference for the Codes, but it seemed the Grand Deity was doing his job for once. "Just shut up, will you? There are things you're not allowed to talk about, and you know it."
Daniel scoffed but fell silent.
Ezekiel stood next, his bandaged wings stretching out. It was a common rumor in Asylum that he had the wings of the devil and was ashamed to show them off, but Trin knew that had to be bullcrap. After all, Denizens could freely change their form, and whatever Ezekiel was hiding, it wouldn't be based on something as mundane as appearances.
"Trin," the Grand Deity said, and this time, all sense of authority in his voice was gone. He sounded worried, but Trin could never tell if Ezekiel had favored her out of proper friendship or because he was ridiculously chivalrous. "Are you really pleading guilty to this? You know what will happen if you do, right?"
"I am and I do," Trin answered, half in accordance with the trial guidelines, half to drive the point home. This had gone on long enough—maybe Cinier had had a point in speaking up when he did. No one wanted to be here for hours on end, especially not Trin. "I'm guilty, Zeke, no point in denying it. And if you would all just get on with it and break my Holy Identifier, that would be great, kay?"
Since Trin's default form was what humans referred to as angels—she loved the irony too much to change it—her Holy Identifier was a small, silver halo. It added a glow to the room, but just hardly. When it was broken, she would no longer be able to reside in Asylum. She would be stripped of her powers and banished to the Earth.
Surprising everyone, even Trin, the next person to speak was Lydia. "Don't be foolish," she said, speaking low enough for only Trin to hear. "If you lose your Holy Identifier, then you'll be weak. You might not even survive the fall to Earth."
Lucifer did it, didn't he? Trin thought. Then she allowed herself to laugh. It was a human myth, but it was fitting. The only difference was that Trin would have the chance to come back.
"Declare the sentence," she said, raising her voice above all others. It was an authoritative tone, and the rest of the Council definitely took notice. Ezekiel stared at her, a hard look in his eyes; not disapproving, just reluctant. Trin maintained eye contact and didn't let him break it. "Do it, Ezekiel. I'm tired of looking at all of you."
Ezekiel sighed, his heavy breath making even Trin feel winded. Still, he closed his visible eye for a moment, and when he opened it, his expression was set, jawline hard. "Denizen Trin," he said, voice echoing even louder than hers had, mainly as an extension of his magic. "For the crimes you have tried for today, you have been determined to be guilty. As punishment, you will face exile from Asylum and will have to go through a trial to reclaim your Holy Identifier. In your form, that means if you halo successfully reforms, then you will be able to return. However, if your wings turn black…" Ezekiel's expression wavered for a moment.
"I'll be a Fallen Denizen!" Trin happily declared. Ezekiel wasn't happy with the proclamation, but Cinier's expression was worse. Daniel was the only one who looked pleased by the idea, his smile for once a reflection of childlike innocence. The rest of the Council was presumably neutral, but given that Lydia was still at Trin's back, there was no way to tell. "So, shall we get started? The execution of punishment is the Fourth's duty, right?"
She could read Cinier's thoughts without even looking at him, but his tense shoulders said it all. It was a refusal, an I won't do it! Trin had seen this coming the instant she had been cornered by the ADF, and she had tried to get him over it, but to no avail. He was just too honest sometimes, and when it came to someone like her, that would only get him in trouble.
"It is the Fourth's duty," Anna said when Ezekiel didn't. "Honorary High Denizen Cinier, if you please."
Cinier didn't move. Out of the corner of her eyes, Trin saw Daniel's expression fall into a slight frown, more of a pout than anything else. "Don't think you can fool us with your reluctant act," he said, not bothering to hide his irritation. "I don't buy for a moment that this is some damn coincidence. We all know you're here conspiring with her, so just get on with it. You'll have plenty of witnesses to your plan, and we'll tear you down from there."
Anna's eyes flashed for a moment, and even the still Lydia's clothes made a small swish of movement, one that Trin could only hear because of her proximity. The Denizen didn't let either of them have their say.
"You overestimate Cin," she said, and for a moment, a flash of hurt crossed her friend's face. This is what you get, she thought, but didn't say. There was no sense in causing a scene whenever Daniel was already trying to do it. "If I were planning something, I certainly wouldn't include him. He'd screw it all up. And besides, I wouldn't need a pawn like him to pull the wool over you batch of suckers' eyes."
They were on the verge of an outrage, but Trin's voice carried throughout the room, even without magic. She wished she could stand up for dramatic effect, but her bonds didn't allow for that, not even with the fragile attempts at loosening Lydia was trying to perform. Trin hadn't asked for that help, nor did she want it.
"So get down here and do it. Make a big show of it. I don't care what you do. But my halo needs to be broken, so you do it. Do you understand me, Cinier?"
Cinier responded to his name so immediately it wouldn't be surprising if Trin was his Creator. But she wasn't, and all she was accomplishing was pushing his buttons. It was enough, though, because Cinier spread his wings, the same if not a little wider than Trin's, and floated down from his seat. He landed in front of Trin, and Lydia silently moved away. For the first time, Trin caught a look at her face—blue eyes all the deeper for the lighting filled with a sort of hope that this would be it, the moment where Trin would make her escape.
They're all so damn naïve.
Trin couldn't stand to meet him, but she could tilt her head back to look at Cinier, and she felt all the smaller for it. He had always been tall, a verifiable giant by human standards, but to the Denizens, he could easily be outclassed. Still, Trin wasn't exactly a tall woman, and her position just made it worse.
But that didn't mean she didn't have the upper hand. Cinier's expression was twisted in guilt, although Trin didn't want that. Part of her wished she was free, that they were floating around in the clouds outside of Asylum's central City, and she could tell him it would be alright.
The instinct was squashed as soon as she had it, and she took the necessary steps to harden her expression.
"Don't apologize," she snapped as he tried to open his mouth. "You're doing your job. If you can't handle that much just because I'm supposed to be your friend, then Eve needs to be questioning which one of her Creations she sends to do her dirty work."
"Supposed to be?" Cinier questioned, and Trin almost flinched. She had misspoken. Her Creator would be disappointed.
"You are my friend," Trin said. She wanted to lower her voice, but if it seemed like they were having a private conversation, Cinier would get his fair share of trouble once she was gone. Daniel probably already had twenty different (if not poorly constructed) ways to manipulate the situation. No need to make it easier for him. "And since you're my friend, you already understand that this is my decision. So do me a favor and break it already!"
She expected Cinier to hesitate—that was why she had raised her voice. But before she had finished speaking, Cinier's hand had flashed out, and his expression, framed in silver dust, was angry, though not angry at her, angry at himself.
Trin didn't even have a moment to feel sorry for him before she passed out.
Hello, folks. To start off the new year, I'm trying a little something new. Here, we have the opening sequence of This Broken Eternity, which is the second novel in the Days of the City series. If that sounds intimidating, no worries, there's no need to have read Twelve Zero Zero, as each DOTC book is standalone. TBE is the project I spent the last few months of 2017 on, and I have somehow managed to finish out a draft. Traditionally, those drafts would only be available on my Patreon (PlotBunnyProductions), but I thought I'd do something special and post the first few sequences for public reading as well.
TBE and DOTC in general are part of my experiment on different takes on supernatural stories with a light novel vibe. 1200 focused on ghosts and Chrono Specters, and this time we'll be expanding our reach a bit into the Denizens, an amalgamation of angel and not-so angel things. More to come as we go along.
This story will update every week on Saturday for the first few sequences, which will give us a few months of free access preview material. Patrons can read the updates the Wednesdays beforehand, though, and they'll also get access to the rest of the story as well. Hopefully what we'll see until then will be enjoyable enough to whet your whistle.
Until then, though, the prologue has closed. I'll see you again next week for the start of chapter one!