I got carried away! Mentally following Miss A.’s pattern from chapter 7, I wrapped this chapter 8 of the Beginnings collaborative project at 3103 words.
Firstly I want to thank Mark Gardner for starting this fun, adventurous and kick-ass cool project and for allowing it to go ballistic in any way possible. Secondly I want to praise all the writers who have since chapter one contributed to the project – your chapters helped me a great deal and they were every bit entertaining to read.
I’ll be sure to upload a handwritten version, because I don’t own a typewriter. So, finger magic and a pencil!
Previous chapters of the project go as this:
The sea air still filling my lungs burst out in one heavy exhale; I needed to breathe again and release myself from Jezebel’s gaze, those two black marbles melting my skull, and I guess me melting her the same way too, because she stumbled backwards and growled at me. I yelped from the surges of pain circulating back and forth between us and breathed back in, needing new air, but instead of the moldy stale scent of the yacht I replenished my body with sulfur and fire. It hurt, clogging my throat and liquidizing itself inside my chest till thickened. I coughed violently and let hot tears burn down my cheeks, but I couldn’t let go, couldn’t look away from her.
But then I did, just a fragment of a flinch and the world spun and pain ravaged through my entire body. It reminded me of floating, of being underneath, blind and drunk, tossed by untamable currents that closed above and wouldn’t let you out. I felt myself collapsing, gasping, feeling the nasty burn of salty dust stinging my bruised fingertips.
The red ground shook and I knew we were not at the same place as we had been in just then, just before now; the goons, James, the entire realm was replaced by a world on fire. I got up to my feet released magically from my prisoner constraints, legs shaking, head spinning and stumbled in my misdirection.
“What’s happening?” I couldn’t understand where we were, how we were. “This is insane”, I thought scanning the surrounding land. It was unfamiliar and ruined, very old, I knew that. The sky was an enclosing dome of black and crimson and it smoldered, everywhere.
“Jezebel. What. Is. Happening?” I shouted over the wailings and the crumbling rocks. It felt as the world, not only this place here was collapsing apart.
“But…how?” It was all she said, a whisper I caught like a siren’s timid tricky voice, luring. Her breath was taken away from her the same way it had been from me. I looked up at her and saw clearly what she’d been hiding and what made James not look her in the eye. Her face bore a burn so extensive her entire left side was covered with red blotches, glistening pinkish and vulnerable. Her beautiful dark eye was misty white, a clouded orb that lay in the path of a nasty scar from eyebrow to jawbone.
“Seven hells…,” I muttered.
Jezebel looked straight at me then with her gory face and I felt sorry for blaming the trickery she used on me.
Her embarrassment from my discovery of her imperfection fell flat in the instant and she took a sudden step towards me.
“Did you do this, Skipper?”
I bit my lip. I felt lower than the ground, lower than being called meek or cretin. Only my captain could name me by duty, not some scavenger princess.
“This is old Siddim, Skipper. The day the Battle ended.”
“How are we here now? Did you do this?”
She shook her head, her hand caressing the scars and parched skin like she was remembering them.
“We’re not really here you silly boy. It’s a memory. Mine. Theirs. Now yours too I suppose.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The Battle of Siddim was eons ago. The kings fought and one hero made a plea. This is a physical memory, a link.”
She stared at me for the longest time.
“A link between me and you perhaps.”
“But I wasn’t there.” I tried not giving the wrong or stupid answers, but she just turned to stare into the distance, quiet, listening to what I disturbed heard too – screams and battle shouts dying weaker, dispersing through the air till they were just hints of spoken pain reverberating in our ears.
“No,” Jezebel finally said and her voice was gruff unlike the singsong one she used before. “But Abraham was there, and now you are him.” She looked at me, studying me truly for the first time since we met. “I was wrong about you. You are special. What you see is through the eyes of Abraham, a shared memory streaming from a pipe in reality that burst when you died and was born back again, raised to be a sacrificial lamb, just like he was. When we met it connected, filling the missing pieces. The Realm of Cealusia is a very dark place. It is haunted by the souls of those who dared reach the Gate of Gods without their purpose made clear. No wonder we ended up here.”
She pointed a long and thin finger. “You are full of regrets and doubts, aren’t you? Afraid to disappoint Zedekiah, afraid to disappoint yourself. “
“I am not.” I stammered.
“Yes you are. Those who doubted the relevance of the gate died before they could even set sail for it. You are a cretin. Why would you embark on a quest of such importance if you think this all to be John Long’s tall tales?”
“I know the stakes.”
“Do you? You and Abraham share a burden, a life beyond this. His decisions and his task are…your legacy; want it or not. This is yours to witness too. Do you see?” She opened her hand to the land before us, showing me.
I understood what she meant, though I was confused and truthfully frightened. My careless, adventurous days as a first mate were just that, and they were over. I had forgotten, all these six years of serving the sea and James, what I did when I chose to keep the coin and go on with the old man captured by the glimmer in his lively eyes. I was now dragged into something bigger which I faced the wrong way; I thought it to be a mad quest, an impossibility that would be proven just that; over time I even believed that lie I told myself.
The day I caught James’s coin in my palm was the day that started it all, and I relived now the surge of power and purpose coming from it. The coin still in my pocket burned intensely through the linen fabric. I took it out and held it in my palm staring at my own bust, a face that resembled mine, but held such determination I’ve never known to possess. The golden piece burned a ring, an imprint in the flesh there. The hot air and the fire burning the ground was sucked into it, turning the gold surface to a blazing red one, and I wanted to drop it, but Jezebel grabbed my wrist and elbow and squeezed tightly. My gaze was transfixed by the illuminating coin and I concentrated my thoughts on Jezebel’s touch on my hand, real and somehow comforting. It was over quickly. The coin slipped from my numb palm and I looked at my image branded on me – it was reverse, impossibly so, looking right instead of left like it was originally on the face of the coin. I picked it back from the dust and slipped it in my pocket, to keep as a token. It made me feel safe.
“You’ve been officially blessed, Abraham.”
Jezebel bowed her head in my direction. I rolled the name “Abraham” on my tongue and it didn’t seem mine. Maybe not yet.
“Is this what’s going to happen again, if I don’t succeed at the Gates of Gods?” I threw my head towards the unfolding chaos. Thousands, legions and horseman and aircrafts crashed over charcoal cities.
It was a different sea forming even below my feet that I saw; lava slowly crawled towards us, harmless to me and her, but the people, shadows of a past life, mine or not, ran in true fright, a thousand ghosts chased by a universal wrath. They failed to outrun faith and fell into tar pits and screamed as their foul mouths were filled with black goo and as sulfur waves ate through their skin and bones and they crumbled, white stone statues blown to ash by the fearsome winds which spread the fire throughout the plains
“Not, nothing like this. It’ll be even worse. But such is the game, and such are the gods. Such is he, the Master.”
“If I don’t play my role…”
“The world will die another horrible death. Frankly I don’t think it will be able to pull itself together after this one.”
Her words were enough. I opened my mouth to ask why Abraham didn’t succeed, but then I gave a different question.
“Jezebel, what happened to your face? You were here weren’t you?”
My eyes kept to the distance, layering this world of destruction over the one I knew. It became hard to focus on the demolished cities in the distance, my vision becoming hazy. I reached out my hand for Jezebel feeling nausea hit me like on the first days of my work on the Zebedee. The moment out fingers touched the brightest blast made us partial. In an instant I was looking back at the wall of Jezebel’s chambers, my head lolling, heart pounding.
“Steve, lad, are you alright?”
“Aye,” I nodded stilling my want to vomit from the sudden return. I could still smell the sulfur.
“You’re as white as a sheet, lad! You goon, there, bring him some water! Quickly you block of useless muscles!” James then turned to Jezebel, who was helped up from the ground by another of her Kiton suited men.
“What did you do to him you oar?”
I looked at James and the man looked older than the sea itself then. His eyes were wide and scared and I thought I’d never seen him like this. His face was drained, yellow and parched and his whispy hair an even bigger mess.
“I saw The Battle of Siddim. I saw what happened. “
“By the seven seas…how would that be possible?”
Jezebel sat herself down on her golden chair and spread her curly hair to fall down her wrong side. She made words with one of her servants and he disappeared behind another golden door, touching yet again the key against it. Then she spoke to James.
“Abrahams’ legacy is his, Zedekiah. Would you lie to him you didn’t know this vision might happen. Crossing these waters, my waters? Having him meet me?”
James turned to me again.” I swear I knew none of those magic tricks of hers. I wouldn’t think she’d be here still! I was hoping she’d be gone.”
“Weren’t no magic trick,” I whispered. I showed James my palm. “It happened there. The fire there heated it and it burned itself on me. But it’s the wrong way.”
“Spare him your fatherly compassion, Zedekiah! You hid from me how advanced he was.”
“I suspected only.”
“Jibe! All this is lies. After all this time you dare swim my waters and now lie to my face. I should kill you.” Jezebel jumped from her throne and threw her fury at James. Her hair swept away and the marks and the blind eye glimmered under the low light of the cabin.
“Ha! Blimey, I’d be damned. What a miracle to live to the day Baal’s princess lost her glamour and showed her true self!” James chuckled and pulled on his chains. He looked like he wanted to clap. I saw the beautiful woman arrogantly standing before us with her goons, now standing like the oldest sea dog after a wet day. We were all miserable.
“Why not tell Steve how you got them?”
Jezebel respected her silence, so James told the story and he told it like a sailor did.
“Once Abraham was given the task to plea before the Master, Jezebel turned to envy. The Battle of Sidim was a great one and many of us fought to win. We thought we were the winners. Us kings stood quiet and fended off whatever needed be fought, and bet our futures on Abraham, whilst Jezebel planned her triumph. In her fury and blindness she set fire to Abrahams’ house and told whispers of corruption to his men. Then she rode to meet the Master pretending to be the one chosen. But when the Master found out her plan he punished her like this, to be forever branded by the holy scar. Then he destroyed the nations, the land. Because one people to another was wrongful and jealous. And he believed that to be the ultimate nature for all. Our legions, puff, vanished within seconds.”
“How did she survive if everything was lost? How did you?” I followed from James to her to see reactions.
“Tell him then.”
Jezebel kept looking at James, but her answer was for me.
“Zedekiah saved me.”
“That’s the story there, Steve. The Gate of Gods were never opened for Abraham and he died with his plea unsaid.”
“What will it be today, Jezebel?”
The head goon returned with a small flask of celestial fix and offered it to Jezebel. She took it eagerly and drank the whole substance in large gulps, thirstily till the last droplet danced on the tip of her tongue. Then she looked back at us and her face was flawless. This time my head didn’t spin, nor throb. When she was finally ready she called to her men.
“Unchain these fools and bring us a bottle.”
Soon all three of us sat together at a table like the previous abduction and hijacking of our Zebedee hadn’t happened.
“What’s this then, princess? Are we making peace or are we having our last drink before you slip our throats?”
“You said the people are ready,” Jezebel addressed James disregarding his sarcasm and I cocked an eyebrow at him.
“Yes. There has been word and hope is at our advantage.” He looked at me.
“There’s something else. Bad news on the horizon, Zedekiah. Your people are not ready. And he, although showing some promising sparkle, is not ready as well.”
“What do you mean?”
Jezebel filled three cups with wine and passed two to me and James. I sipped from mine and licked my lips. It was the best wine I had ever tasted. It was surely better than the odd drink James had given me. I sat listening to the two of them mapping out, planning, talking and more than ever I felt like a sacrificial lamb and nothing else. I was a tool, and they were the masters behind it, navigating me how and when to strike. Could I do it? Make word with the god of all?
“There’s been word, lately that someone has gone rogue. One of the old kings. He’s been planting bad seed among people, spreading rumors of a new reign after the Master cleanses the world of all the worthless beings, promising immortality through to the next life to all who pledge to serve.”
“You can’t be serious. I’ve been sailing day and night to each harbor on this world map and not once have I heard of such a thing. I’ve spoken to the other kings, they say nay of this nonsense you give me now. Neither have I seen wrongful faces. Josiah would have said something too when last I saw him. He’d been telling me of prophets making progress.”
“It’s not plain as day as you would have it old man. His actions are hidden, quiet. But informers of mine from beyond the realm have talked back with me and they say the good prophets are being turned to necromantic acolytes, chanting of a new reign and one king. He seeks to eliminate the Master. The sea is turning, Zedekiah, the weather too calm. It’s darker out there. We remain few.”
“Is that why you’ve stayed here, in the passage? Keeping an eye out?”
“So where is this rogue one?”
If Steve’s role is revealed then..”
Jezebel shrugged her shoulders. She opened an old torn up map showing the Realm and the lands hidden inside it. She drew an invisible line from where we were to a place marked with an X
“Some say he’s been ruling his minions from this realm here, somewhere near the Nahr al-Urdun river. Zedekiah, if all that is true…Steve’s reveal will be a catastrophe.”
“I know,” James nodded. “We can’t bloody let Steve go along with this.”
“Why not?” I asked, hearing my voice loud and clear.
“You’ll die lad before you even get to the Gates. I foresaw danger, but nothing extreme like this and trust me even your Invincibility wouldn’t last if there’s an inner war going about. If this rogue king hears about you, assuming he hasn’t, he’ll come first for you.”
“Because of my plea.” I understood the danger.
“He’ll eliminate you before you have a chance to save the world and keep the Master at bay for another millennium.”
“This is a bad time for this game to unfold,’ Jezebel said.
I thought about their conversation. If I could wield the Ultimate Invincibility properly I could, perhaps…
“Perhaps the Master has no faith no more. Maybe I can’t stop him, just yet, but I will try. I trust you, cap, like a friend, like a father. Even if you use me as your last hope I am prepared to do what it takes.”
“Let me finish,” I said raising my hand. I pushed away the cup of wine.
“We will continue the quest, just as planned. Fight whoever and whatever comes our way. From what I understood I need to be at the Gates in time, otherwise I jeopardize everything.”
“There’s one more thing. If the Master sees the righteous kings have a rat in their midst he might act on his desire sooner, wipe the world out sooner. We need to be ready for this colossal one. It will hit hard.”
“Aye,” I said too.
“Will you come with us, Jezebel?”
“I can only support you as far as the bridge. If anyone knows anything more it’ll be the ones who take the imposition there.”
“Deadrise is upon us,” James murmured staring out the little window of the cabin. If I didn’t know him better I could say he was worried for the world, but I did and I knew he was worried for me.
Jezebel walked to a drawer and retrieved a large wooden box. She placed it in the middle of the table and fumbled to release a small key from a thin chain around her neck.
“We need a plan. This might help get some ideas.”
to be continued by the next destiny writer!