Ditching school was a capital crime, not that that stopped anyone. Besides, they were too busy dealing with bomb threats and trying to prevent a civil war for anyone to pay attention to what this group of four students were actually doing during 4th period.
He’d first found this room about three months ago. It was supposed to be a fire escape, but no-one used the theatre anymore so it just stayed there, unopened and gathering dust.
The only reason they hadn’t knocked the whole place down yet was because it looked nice. Whenever some big-wig from the over-world decided to pay a visit to the slums from the kindness of their heart, they liked to get everyone dolled up and have them walk around the art complex. As if down here people gave a damn about “artistic expression.”
Following the terrorist attack on the Copper family’s annual ball, a chance for the rich and famous to get together and look down on the poor and unremarkable, the City Watch had taken to randomly searching “suspicious” persons. And with their shaggy, home cut hair, hand me down clothes and stone hard features, they most definitely qualified as suspicious.
After Kyle saw his sword, the only gift he had ever received, snap over the armored knee of one of the guards, they had all taken to hiding their valuables here. Three swords, two wristbows and one hundred shills worth of stolen inkbottles. Who would have guessed what you could find under creaky floorboards, in a dusty theatre, in this diseased city under a broken earth?
Ryat whipped away the simple, brown carpet and slipped his fingers between the planks to pry open the stash.
“So, I was thinking...” he began. He took a few second to make sure everything was in place, that nothing was missing. He pulled the small glass pot out of his pocket, and swirled it around in his hand, watching the liquid splash around the edges and hit the bottom of the lid. Red. That would fetch a fair price.
“I was thinking, once we sell enough,” he pushed two other jars apart and placed the new ink between them.
“We should get Kyle a new sword.”
There were quick glances between the group, followed by a chorus of nods.
“Guys, you really don’t have to.” Kyle trailed off.
“Don’t worry about it,” Ryat smiled up at him, “you’ve more than earned it.”
“It’s settled them,” Adara said, “we hit the square tomorrow. My dad knows a guy; he could get as a really good deal on some good swords. Folded steel, serrated, the whole nine yards.”
“Sounds like a plan. “Aurum said, and glanced at his watch. “Headcount is in fifteen minutes. I suggest we get back.”
“Ok. How much do you need this week?” Ryat asked. There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment, as the group silently decided who should speak first.
“Well...” Kyle rubbed the back of his neck, “I haven’t really had a chance to work much over time. My mom’s still sick so I’ve been busy with her. I probably need around 30.”
“I’m pretty fine right now, ten should cover it.” Aurum said.
“Same here,” Adara opened her hand and took the three bottles from Ryat’s extended hand.
“There you go.” Ryat grabbed a bottle for himself, closed the trap door and put the rug back in place. “You guys won’t have any trouble finding a fence, will you?”
“We’re good.” They said.
“Ok then. Same time tomorrow, outside the square?”
So they shut the door, and left their life under those creaky floorboards.
“Ryat! Hey! Welcome home!”
He wasn’t three seconds through the door when the ambush happened. She was yelling and laughing and tugging at his clothes.
“What did you do today Ryat? How was school? Did you have fun? Did you see Adara? Did you tell her I said hi?\"
“Hey monkey.” He lifter her up in his arms and kissed her forehead. “My day was fine. What did you do?”
“I drew you a picture.” She wriggled out of his grasp and onto the floor. Her bare feet slapped against cold tiles as she ran to the room they shared.
Ryat glanced into his father’s room. He wasn’t home.
“Here it is, Ryat.” Rebeka handed him a sheet of paper. “It’s you and me and daddy at work.”
The drawing was light grey lines against white paper that had been rubbed clear over and over.
Ryat and his sister were holding hands on one side, while there father stood alone, away from them, wearing the same white lab coat he came home in each day. Well, the white lab coat he came home in on the days he did actually come home.
“It’s great, Beka.” He handed it back to her.
“No,” she said. “It’s for you. Keep it.”
“Thank you.” He folded the paper up and put it in his pocket.
Rebeka yawned, stretching her pale arms above her head and back around to her sides.
“Are you tired, monkey?” he asked.
“No. I don’t wanna sleep until daddy gets back.”
“I think daddy’s coming home late, Beka. You need to sleep. He’ll be here when you wake up.”
He hated lying to her.
“Ok, can you tell me a story?”
She grabbed his calloused hand with her soft ones and led him around the corner to their room.
He lifted her onto her bed and smiled as she ducked under the scratchy wool covers.
“What kind of story do you wanna hear?”
He pulled up a chair and sat at her bedside.
He heard creaking and saw liberated dusk fall from the ceiling. He saw the cracked plaster on the walls. Somewhere down the street, he heard a heated argument with some choice words. He felt the coal dust on his body and the scratches on his hands.
Rebeka didn’t belong here.
She was beautiful, pure, young and hopeful. She liked to keep her nails clean. She spent her days drawing bad pictures of good people; Knights in shining armor, benevolent kings and monsters with hearts of gold. She trusted everyone by default until they did something to lose it. She was soft and kind and good willed and this place would eat her alive.
“I want there to be princesses. And an evil dragon. No wait, the dragon has to be good. Yes, and the dragon loves the princess but she’s scared of him and keeps on running away. The whole village hates him, but they just don’t understand.”
“Ok. A nice dragon, a confused village and a beautiful princess. Anything else?”
“Yes. A happy ending.”
“I think that goes without saying.” He said, and wished it was always true.
For all practical purposes, they were gods. And they made damn sure everyone knew it.
The ‘demigods’, biotics so advanced they could tear someone apart from the inside without lifting a single finger.
When they spoke, even the wealthiest aristocrats and most cunning businessmen , people who could have anyone in the under-earth deemed guilty by association and beheaded while their tea was still hot, stilled their restless hands and silenced their lying tongues for fear either could be removed.
Rohal,Talok, Mither and Sylen. The four most powerful beings in existence.
They were powerful not only by means of their physical brutality, but powerful in the way of any great emperors; they were powerful through the people they controlled.
The four had so many followers; their words were more like law than prophecy.
It’s funny to think that eight years ago, they were just stories. Tall tales of what unreliable witnesses, alcoholics and abusers, ‘hand to god’ saw. Children running away from crime scenes, stalking the halls of hospitals alone.
It started slowly. Miraculous recoveries from deadly diseases, and strange deaths to those that had it coming. Subtle things that were unusual, but could still be logically explained.
Three months later, the idea of logical explanation was blown to hell when an eight year old got caught in the cross fire between two rival gangs, and won.
They asked about his family, the other recent incidents, if he knew anything about his powers.
He said he didn’t remember, that he just woke up on a rooftop and could suddenly stop a bullet midair.
He said he could only remember his name, and the names of his two brothers and his sister.
He was Rohal. Though technically they were all equally powerful, it became immediately obvious that he was in charge. In any press conference or interview he was at the front, and the other three would look at him before speaking, silently asking for permission.
A simple blood test revealed they had no relation to each other, though it revealed some anomalies in their DNA. Nothing drastic. Subtle things that were unusual, but could still be somewhat logically explained.
Subtly went the same way as logical explanation when, on the eve of the day they had insisted was their tenth birthday, they declared themselves gods.
It didn’t come as much of a surprise.
The rich would go bankrupt trying to earn their favor, giving until they hadn’t a penny to their name.
A few times a year they would visit the under earth. When they did, people would camp out for weeks just to try and get a glimpse at one of their idols.
It was impossible to escape them. You couldn’t spend a day without seeing their statues, crossing a bridge or walking past building named after them.
They were loved, they were feared, and they were worshipped.
For all practical purposes, they were gods.
Richard Myles was an innocent man.
He had a wife, two kids, a factory job and a feeling that he was destined for something greater. Ofcourse, he was wrong. Richard was destined to live a mundane life, working a mundane job, for a mundane man.
He never did stray from his destiny. He never tried. He considered dabbling in art or business, but never did anything about it. He lived an ordinary life. He had earned an ordinary death.
This is where he strayed from his chosen path.
Richard Myles became a heretic, and as the four had made painfully clear, heretics must burn.
It started with an aristocrat.
One night, Richard was working late. His son had always been obsessed with airships. Though he’d never actually seen one, they only exist in the over world after all, he had read every book and seen every painting involving the magnificent machines he dreamt of each night.
It would be his birthday in a week. Richard had seen a model airship on the way home from work the day before. Right then, he had decided that he would beg, borrow or steal as much as he needed to get that model for his son. Unfortunately, he chose to earn the money honestly.
So here he was, sweeping the factory’s seemingly endless corridors. He moved past door after door, thinking of how he’d have to do this for the next three nights to buy the model, when he heard something. Something not meant for his ears.
Someone was talking to his manager. It was about some sort of scandal. A body, an affair, embezzlement, something in that vein. It doesn’t really matter what it was. He found a secret that would be best kept hidden.
Then he dropped the broom.
Their heads shot to the open door.
“Richard!” his employer called. How often had he complained about his employer not caring about him? How often had he said that the old coot probably didn’t even know his name? How he wished he had been right.
He ran out of the corridor, through the factory doors, into his small ramshackle house in the slums nearby.
Richard wasn’t naïve. He knew what happened to loose ends, and he had just become one. No matter how far he ran, he wouldn’t be safe. They had his name. They would have his head.
Inside the factory, a plan was being made.
“He’s not worth a hitman.” The aristocrat said. “He’s one of yours, you deal with him.”
“One problem,” the manger replied,” I don’t think he’ll be turning up to work for a while.”
“Don’t you know where he lives?”
“Idiot.” The aristocrat spat. “Fine. I’ll deal with it.”
“What will you do?” The manager asked.
There was a long pause. A tension set in. The manager fiddled with the buttons on his vest and cleared his throat.
“You want to find a witch? Start a witch hunt.” He turned and walked out, leaving the manager alone in his office.
In the early hours of the next morning, a deal was being made.
Richard Myles was an innocent man, so getting the authorities to intervene would be tricky. The man on the other side of the handshake, however, was part of a group that didn’t care much for evidence or legalities.
The majority of the four’s followers had called them extremists. They disowned their actions and branded them as no better than terrorists. They considered themselves purists.
“Richard Myles is a heretic.” The aristocrat spoke,” I understand you have a way of dealing with this sort of thing?”
“We’ll take care of it, don’t you worry.”
Word spread quickly.The witch-hunt had begun.
There was a price on his head, 5000 shills. Enough to change someone .Enough for his closest friends and neighbors to drug him and deliver his incapacitated body to the feet of the priest who had ordered his capture.
He was lifted up and tied to a stake.
And Richard Myles burned, because all heretics must burn.
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