Chapter Two -- The Desert Crossing

As Jev and Bereshit, Warrior God and trusted disciple, appeared atop a dune lost deep in the Vinyasa Desert, Androgiin’s Eye crested over the horizon. The sands under their feet bleached white by years under its burning gaze. A wasteland, its features constantly reborn with the whims of the wind. Heat and a whistling silence bore down upon them. Bereshit squinted at his surroundings, momentarily dazed. Moments ago he had been head of the table at his eldest’s wedding, proud patriarch overseeing the binding of his child to another’s. He was contemplating a quiet future of grandchildren and the dotage of his wife, anticipating now that responsibility for leading his tribe into the warfare — a constant fixture of life on the Jevran steppes — had passed to another. Then, all of a sudden, Jev, God of the West and Patron of Combat entered the proceedings without warning, stealing him away through the Dreamscape with a gesture.  Now he was here lost in an arid simulacrum of death.

            They stood in silence a long while. Eventually, Bereshit could bear it no longer. “My Lord,” his tone was steady, but the sweat worrying his brow was not from the heat, “Why are we here?”

            Destruction’s Avatar regarded the wastes a few more moments, before turning to regard Bereshit, a man who had dedicated his life to Jev’s will and bloodthirst like none other before him. “Indeed,” He replied, in a voice quieter, higher than one might expect from a God, “Why indeed?”

            Bereshit didn’t respond, instead shrugging nervously.

            Jev continued. “I’ve asked myself that many times, over ‘Giin knows how many years. Why any of this?”

            “Isn’t it your brother, Angaama, who said ‘What can be, must be’?”

            At that Jev turned quickly, and his countenance was no longer contemplative, but violent. Not even the Gods can escape their name. “Do not presume to quote The Judge to me!” The God did not raise his voice, but Bereshit could feel the deep wells of anger rising within him. Could almost see the light drain from the landscape around him.

            He quickly took a deferential knee. “Forgive me Lord, I did not mean to offend.“

            The anger left Jev’s face as quickly as it rose. “No, no, I suppose you did not.”

            Again the silence, Bereshit could not say how much time past with him blinking at the wind and sand, Jev remaining unpeturbed by the heat and debris, until finally the God spoke again. This time he looked right at Bereshit, gazing boring in and through him. His eyes, blood red, seemed to expand in the old warrior’s vision until they encompassed all of the horizon. His voice began no higher than a whisper that Bereshit strained to here over the roaring wind and the shushing shift of dunes.

            “You’ve always been a faithful servant of mine Bereshit. Faithful, forthright and honest in your convictions. Ruthless in your service.”

            “Thank you, Lord.”

            Another pause. Bereshit could not ignore the clangor of his coming doom

            “I have watched a thousand generations of men rise and fall, countless dying with my name on their lips, or Wysheid’s, or Alur’s, or Eleazar’s, but mostly mine. I’ve watched thousands of battles, tens maybe hundreds of thousands, reveling in the chaos and violence. I’ve seen men drowning in blood, in gore, choked by their own sweat and hatred. I’ve watched millions of you die in the battlefield, millions more in bed. I’ve propped up Kings and toppled empires. I’ve granted the prayers of devils and ignored the pleas of angels, all to satisfy my capricious whims. I have been a steward, a guide, a father, a jailor, a general. Do you know what I’ve learned in all that time?”

            “No, my Lord.”

            “Your lives are violent and cruel, short in length and even less in importance. You are vain. You are driven by lust and by greed. You are deceitful, pernicious. I have seen rich men walked past the blind, the ill and homeless. I’ve seen the very same wealthy insist these downtrodden expend their lives to line their pockets, expand their lands and their power.”

            Bershit strove to tamp down his own anger, though he quailed under his God’s igneous gaze. “I must protest!”

            Jev spoke on like he’d been uninterrupted.  “I’ve also seen you love, and love deeply. Fight and die for those you care about, those too vulnerable to care for themselves. I’ve seen men and women pulled out from the depths of despair by children, made to smile by their husbands or wives. I’ve seen you hope, despite the filth that mires you. You are… wondrously complex creatures.”

            Jev turned back to regard the desert, speaking more loudly now to be heard over the high-pitched howl of the desert. “We Gods. We are powerful yes, and perhaps we are just and wise. Together we approach the omniscience of our Maker, but apart… apart we are immortal, but stagnant, standing alone on the ivory towers of our deification.

            We were not your creators, just your guides. You are a constant font of surprise for us. We must learn. We all must learn.”

            “Learn what, O Savage One?”

            “To be alone.”

            Bereshit waited a moment for the God of Death to elaborate. “I… I don’t understand.” Despite his growing trepidation, he knew the historic nature of this moment. Never had a God, any God, been so revealing of h

            “’Giin’s last words before its dissipation. Told us to ‘guide, learn and listen’. Giin called us stewards. I’ve wondered at what this meant for centuries now, and I think I finally know what ‘Giin wanted to us learn.”

            A gust of wind kicked up sand into Bereshit’s eyes, forcing him to close them at the irritation.

            “Life is a cycle of innocence, maturity and death. Each of us, man and God alike, must learn what it means to be abandoned.”

            The wind died down, the sand with it and Bereshit opened his eyes to discover he was alone in the desert with no idea where he was and no way to return home. The indifferent heat of Giin’s eye weighing down on him. The sand shifting dangerously beneath his feet. Jev’s last words echoed to him as if shouted from a great many miles away.

            “…each of us, man and God alike, must learn what it means to abandon…”

            And at that - armed with the knowledge that he was well and truly alone, that the God he and his people had worshipped and trusted for centuries had left him with naught but a creed of violence and a legacy of blood - Bereshit looked out at what he now feared would be his vast, sabulous tomb and, weeping, knew true despair.

 

 

Jacintha Rayeth crossed the Vinyasa desert with her head held high, life trailing behind her as she traveled the barren crucible. Her bearing that of a warrior on the path to conquest. Behind her, staggered in the high sands and shifting dunes, came an army built of hundreds of rugged men and women. Their ramshackle appearance and dirty faces belying the confidence of their gaze and sureness of step. They were on a mission, one passed to them from on high. One that their God, Jev—the Vicious, the Warrior—had emerged after centuries of silence to bestow. One that they dared not, that they could not fail.

Pausing briefly to look behind her, Rayeth’s heart swelled with pride at what she saw. Not one head was bowed under the heat of Giin’s Eye, despite what must have been pools of sweat swilling in their brown leather jerkins and dampening their cotton doublets. Every pair of eyes was faced forward, focused on their ever closer destination, though they could not yet see it over the rounded hilltops of the desert and the distant mountains that ringed it. Not one foot stumbled, despite the treacherous nature of the bluffs, the unsure depths of the sands. They crossed Vinyasa lightly, their feet caressing her surface like the gentle kisses of lovers. Despite the heat and the stinging, blinding sweat, Jacintha felt cool in her soul, assured in her knowledge that their every step was guided. Guided not only be her capable hands, hands that had wrung much blood from the dying, but also in the knowledge that their God was with them and their path blessed.

She looked beside her, and there matching her step for step as she always did, was Adina, her second in command, lifelong friend, confidante and closest companion. Noticing her gaze, Adina took her hand, smiling, and squeezed. Jacintha smiled back, but could not stop a shadow from cross her brow, nor ignore the despair that crowded around her heart, despair she had so desperately and so futilely tried to tamp down under a veil of fanaticism. Yes, she was on a glorious mission. Yes, she would bring her diasporic people victory and find them the home that had been denied them so lomg, but at what cost? It was a heavy price Jev demanded they pay, a price she had agreed to freely. A price she did perhaps not fully understand until just the night before.

 

Jacintha woke in the cool stillness of the desert, silence her only companion. Indeed, it was the absence of her consummate bedfellow that stirred her, that caused her to drape a robe the color of dark blood around her bare shoulders and exit her camp into the wilderness. There she saw Adina, in a similar state of half-dress, staring in the direction of their destination. The kingdom of Dauphin, though just a few short days away, was obscured by a range of mountains they would pass through on the morrow, and by the fog that plagued those lands around this time each year, a mark of the mourning of a false God.

“Ho Jace,” Adina greeted her without turning. Rayeth was not surprised Adina knew who approached, her sensitive ears and keen mind could discern between the footfalls of all that marched with them.

“Ho Addy,” Jacintha walked up the ridge on which Adina sat, before joining her, sitting in silence, waiting for her friend to reveal what troubled her. They had known each other far too long for Jacintha not to know when something was bothering Adina. And she had known her for far too long not to know that she could not draw it out of her, Adina would speak when she was ready.

Long minutes, maybe even hours, passed before Adina spoke. They sat together quietly, listening to the wind gently rush through the ridge, the low sound of a storm off in the distant mountains, the few animals who eked a meager living in the desert calling to each other, the lifelong dance of predator and prey. Their hands after a while found each other in the cooling sands, fingers interlocked as neither met the other’s eye. Jacintha tried to push back the dread that slowly crept into her, but try as she might, she couldn’t ignore the fear that clutched her. As much as she tried to deny the truth, she knew what words would leave her closest friend’s mouth before she spoke, only one thing could trouble her so.

“You know what I dreamt tonight?”

“Addy, I-”

“He came to me, Jace. Jev came to me.”

Jacintha’s breath caught in her chest and she dared not speak, knowing that she would not be able to stop the tears that would come if she did. Adina turned to her, her eyes ringed red and pregnant with tears.

“Jace, Jace… I’ve been chosen.”

 

And with that, her whole heart felt torn from her chest. For the first time, Jacintha realized that to gain what she desired most, she would have to lose that which she treasured above all else. Jev was just, yes, and great and had imbued her with the power to shape the world. But he was cruel too. Dangling all that she had dreamed right before her in one hand, as the other ripped all she loved from her grasp. Adina was going to die, and her hands, Jacintha’s callous hands stained by countless past sins, were the instrument of that death. Finally she understood the true meaning of Jev’s words from her dreams, dreams that first came to her as a little girl, the bastard daughter of a king who had as many bastards as he did scullery maids. At last she felt the weight of Jev’s prophecy as they stood together on a snowy windswept peak, as he showed her the lands that would become hers.

 

You will gain much, all that you ever asked for, a land of you own, a kingdom to last the centuries. Are you willing to do what is necessary?

“Yes! Yes... my lord.” She offered herself without thinking.

No boon comes without strings, child. To gain all your desire, your heart will be torn from you again and again. Again I ask, are you willing?

“Any price, I will pay it gladly,” She said, ambition once again blinding her to the true depths of the warning in her God’s words.

 

And so it was that Jacintha Rayeth crossed the Vinyasa desert, the setting sun at her back, her lover’s hands grasping hers all the tighter. The moment of reckoning grew closer with each step. As she crossed, the promise of a new life crossed with her, the specter of death looming all the while.