SHIRANAI LAW: DEATH
It's been a rough first year of Shiranai Law. With the Imperial family dead, rumored to have been killed by the reigning Council of Six, the three major Societies of the world are left scrambling to maintain order. Adiran, a high ranking member of the Vemular Society, thinks he's witnessed the worst of it during his covert missions abroad. But he is in for a rude awakening when he uncovers the biggest stash of weapons he's ever seen, only to learn they're being aimed at the Societies, his included. Journeying across the western continent, Adiran is not only pushed to his limits to stop the underground weapons smuggling, but becomes a major player in an alliance that will shatter any pretenses of peace.
X Prologue X
Her daughter Kika had been in the gardens all day, and she knew her husband was currently on his way home from the fields. She wiped her hands on her apron and stepped out onto the raised, wooden porch. The sun was just beginning to set, but it looked ominous to her, more red than yellow. She wondered if she should go pray today. Not only to the stars above, to those beautiful symbols in the sky, but to the local gods, the ones who raised the crops and gave her children the capacity to feed the animals, the ones who gave her strength, and the ones who blessed the land and village. The sight of her husband approaching made her decide to wait, and to light a candle tonight instead. Perhaps a second one for her mother, bless her spirit, who had just passed away not a month ago...
Turning her attention from the sky to the stone pathway, she watched as her husband brushed a hand through his hair. His long, black hair was smooth and went down past his shoulders. His loose, white cotton shirt was slightly stained with sweat, and she noticed a patch in his green trousers she would have to fix for him. His skin was dark from working outside all day, and his almond-shaped eyes looked troubled. “You’re back early,” she called, waving a slight hand at him.
“I am,” he called back. “Go inside. Prepare a cup. We must talk.”
She blinked and frowned. Otoya, her husband, did not sound pleased. “Right away,” she muttered despite knowing he couldn’t hear her. Entering their home, she walked through the main foyer, changing from her shoes to her slippers quickly, before scurrying into the kitchen. A kettle of tea was already brewing, and she deftly took down two ceramic mugs. She then placed them on a clay tray and poured out the boiling peach tea. By the time she had prepared the tray with the tea and some fresh fruits, she could hear the front shutter door open and close.
“Is the child here?” he asked.
“No, she is out in the gardens.”
“Good. We must talk first, alone.”
Approaching the low, oak table, she set the tray down. She then kneeled down on her shins and waited patiently, setting her hands in her lap over her light pink skirt and white apron. She wished she had time to check a mirror, but her husband entered the small lounge they used as a dining space before she could get back to her feet.
Otoya stood before her. The smell of sweat came off him, combating with the smell of the peach tea. He smiled down at her before taking his seat across from her. She smiled back, though uneasily. He almost never smiled, except when he had to remind her that he loved her. He was not an emotional man, but she was not necessarily an emotional woman. Cold, they called her. Made of stone. It did not matter. Their comments meant nothing. It was Otoya's emotions she cared for, and she knew his smile meant one of two things. He either had wronged her... or had bad news to tell.
“How were the crops today?” she asked, hoping to start up any sort of conversation.
“Fine, fine.” He grunted as he moved to sit cross-legged on the small mat before picking up his tea, wrapping his strong, muscular fingers around the ceramic cup. Taking a sip, he smiled and nodded. “Even on a hot day, the taste of tea soothes me. And the stars know I need soothing...”
“Did something bad happen in the fields?”
“No, I simply heard some news. First, you should probably know... they finished laying down the tracks for the train that will run from here to Avela. The project is complete.”
She tensed in her seat as her lips pursed together in displeasure. “I thought we as a village fought against it,” she whispered harshly.
“So did I, and so did many of the other villagers. But the Council passed a decree, and we were forced to see that it was finished being built. We may be autonomous, but we must always heed the Council’s demands, even if we vehemently oppose their decisions as times. We have the train stopping in our village, and we must accept this.”
She gravely frowned. No wonder her poor Otoya was upset. “The train means more outsiders...” And more outsiders mean more trouble.
Nouka civilians did not trust outsiders, and she firmly agreed with her hometown’s distrust, what others called their ‘xenophobia.’ While the world outside was advancing in technology, she and the villagers chose the peaceful life of the farmlands. She wanted no part in the wealth and greed that such riches and advancements spawned, the hypocrisy of the planetariums, and the staining of men’s souls that seemed to occur without doubt in the cities beyond. No, she wanted to remain pure, and true, and faithful, and she wanted a family who did the same. A train made doing so that much more difficult. A train made access to their village that much easier to those who would corrupt her and her family.
“Councilor Rubi has released a statement, believing that the train will merely be used as a fueling station for those traveling from Avela to Zeno, and vice versa,” Otoya continued. “Whether I believe her or not... I do not know. But I am upset.”
“As am I, Otoya. As am I.”
“We will see what happens with this new train. In the meantime, we will continue what we do and are not required to pay tribute or be kind to fellow travelers. Hospitality is not expected from us.” He finished his tea and set it back down on the tray. “Though I suspect some of us will turn. Nomina has always had a fondness for the outsiders...”
“Nomina is not part of the village. She is a tavern wench and has been severed from us due to her insolence. The village leaders have already spoken concerning her. We have no need to worry.”
“All the same, it is people like her who will make outsiders think they are welcome to our village.”
She sighed heavily at the thought. Even within the village, peace was hard to maintain. There were always a few bad apples, a few who wanted the pleasures of the cities beyond, who wanted adventure and experience. Why couldn’t they be happy with the farms? she thought bitterly. Why do they ruin it for the rest of us, who merely want to live a peaceful life? Why can’t those people just go away to the cities and never return?
A sudden knocking on the shutter door roused the two. Otoya blinked in surprise. “Were you expecting guests?” he asked, eyeing her curiously.
“No,” she answered, her eyes widening as the knocking on the screen continued.
Otoya stood from his seat and swiftly walked into the foyer. From her position, she could see her husband approach the sliding door. He stood before it and called out, “Who has come?”
“Gebi,” a man replied, his voice somewhat high-pitched.
“Gebi?” she repeated. Gebi was a local of the village, not one to be out in the surrounding farmlands.
Otoya opened the sliding door. At the entrance stood a pale, lean boy, with dark almond eyes and a mat of blonde hair. His blue shirt and black trousers were much nicer than Otoya’s rags, but Otoya stood proud nevertheless. “Speak, boy,” Otoya demanded, for Gebi really was a boy, only ten years of age. “What news do you bring?”
“Word has reached the village!” Gebi exclaimed. “C-concerning the Council, a-and the—”
“Calm down, boy, and take a deep breath,” Otoya commanded. The boy did so. “Now, speak, and this time, do so quickly and clearly.”
She listened in horror, with the red sun beating down through a nearby window, as the boy exclaimed, “The Emperor and Empress are dead!”
X 1 X
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. The train will be arriving at Staturn City, West District Station, in approximately five minutes. Please make sure all...”
Adiran tuned out the rest of the automated message. Grabbing his black bag, he placed the strap around his shoulder and pushed himself off the brown, leather seat. Outside, the grasslands flew past, and the lights of the city could be seen glowing in the distance. The heavens above were full of stars, millions of them, all sparkling and twinkling in the dark blue sky. He checked his watch and read 23:47. Nearly midnight. He hoped the Boss was still awake so he could give his report. It would be difficult sleeping tonight with everything still floating around in his mind.
Smirking at the sight of the approaching city, he adjusted the red scarf around his neck to hide his mouth and pulled his black hood over his head, brushing a few long strands of brown hair out of his face as he did so. He then turned and pulled the glass door open, stepping out into the aisle and slamming the door shut behind him. In the compartment across from his, he could see a small family gathering their belongings. He glanced back into his compartment, making sure he didn’t forget anything, before rushing down the aisle. He knew he was supposed to remain in his seat, but he didn’t care. He was not getting stuck behind some large family or lovey-dovey couple, the two groups who always seemed to take their sweet time when getting off a train. He had somewhere to be. He was in no mood to be held up by some idiots.
Reaching the end of the cabin, he stood and leaned against the wall of the aisle, staring out the nearby window at the passing grasslands. The pudgy train attendant eyed him warily, and Adiran could see his lips move to tell him off, but a quick glance at the red scarf silenced the man. His eyes fell to the floor, and Adiran shot a glare at him before returning his attention outside. The train was beginning to slow down, and Adiran could now clearly see the rusty gate surrounding the city of Staturn. It stood several stories high in an attempt at being imposing, but even from his position, Adiran could see holes and entire sections rusted away. The gate, at this point, was probably doing more harm than good.
He glanced back down at his watch. 23:52. Another few minutes, and he would be off this cramped train and heading back to headquarters. Finally, he thought with a sigh, ignoring the sounds of the people rustling behind him as more and more passengers stepped out into the aisle. It had been a long journey, too long. He was ready to go back to his quarters, back to the warmth of his little room, even back to the obnoxious members of the organization. These past two weeks had been nothing but paranoia and ghost chases. The people of Nouka were difficult to deal with under ordinary circumstances, being distrustful of outsiders on principle, particularly against those belonging to the Societies. That had been before the chaos. Now that there was chaos, Adiran’s presence had only been tolerated because killing him would have created a scene. He was lucky to have made it back alive. The information he was sent to collect turned out to be much more tiring to obtain than first imagined, for it took three days longer than expected to get something beyond a shadow of a rumor, another two for actual proof. Fortunately for him, the Boss extended his contract, but it was still nice seeing the gates pass by outside, indicating their entrance into the city.
It was nice to be back home.
“Now arriving at Staturn City, West District Station,” the automated female voice stated loudly through the speakers. “Please grab all your belongings and kindly make your way to the nearest exit. The Illust Society hopes you have a safe and prosperous journey under the stars.”
The train came to a grinding halt, and Adiran could hear several suitcases fly forward at the harsh impact. Amateurs, he mentally scolded, feeling something land next to his foot. He kicked it back, ignoring the complaint thrown at him for damaging whatever was inside, and felt the wind hit him like a giant gust as the automatic door swung open. He was sure his scarf flew back and slapped the attendant square in the face, but even then the pudgy moron said nothing against him, no doubt too afraid to do so. His scarf protected him only so far in most places, but in Staturn, it was better than a stone wall; it made him impenetrable, untouchable. Stepping down onto the grated metal platform, Adiran crossed the dilapidated steel station and approached the ticket handler standing underneath the iron archway. The handler didn’t even look at him but simply stood aside to let him pass, before returning to his position between the two, thick iron poles, blocking the exit for the other passengers. Definitely good to be home, he thought to himself as he descended a few rotten, wooden stairs and landed on the dirt road. It was easy to forget how good he had it in this city. Scanning the busy street, he went to turn left when a sudden noise caught his attention, followed by the sound of the planetarium’s bells ringing in the distance. A rumbling of people echoed throughout the city, and the sounds of doors opening and closing vibrated off the steel walls of the houses.
It was midnight. Just another midnight. So why the extra noise...?
Hearing a screech, Adiran looked up in the direction of the sound. It was in the night sky. Fireworks of all shapes and sizes suddenly filled the starry landscape, bursting into a thousand different shades of red, blue, green, yellow, and every other color of the rainbow, serving to illuminate the town. Even from his position on the edge of the city, the blasts were enough to startle one awake. People behind him rushed out of the station to see what was going on, and the sound of “oohs” and “aahs” shortly followed. “What is it?” one person in the crowd asked.
“Why are they shooting off fireworks?” a child cried out.
“Is there something special going on tonight?”
“How did you all forget? It’s the night of the New Year!”
Adiran’s eyes widened in shock. The New Year... A wave of dread filled his very being, and before he could even think, his feet dashed to the left, heading north down the narrow dirt road and out of sight. Coming out onto a main street, he turned right, heading east towards the central square. Another wave of fireworks could be heard going off in the distance, and he visibly shuddered.
With all the trouble in Nouka, Adiran forgot to check his calendar. He should have known that was why the train was more packed than usual. How could he have forgotten it was the night of the New Year?! Of all the days he could have returned home, he returned the one night everyone was out partying. Even now, the cacophony of the crowds in the distance filled his ears. People began rushing past him, some in their pajamas, others dressed up in what could loosely be called their best attire, all of them shouting at one another to hurry along to see the fireworks. Children brushed past him, and one even tried to snag his bag from him, a rookie thief playing at fun. Adiran smacked the boy hard across the face, sending him flying to the dirt ground, and several other children jeered at his humiliation. With every step Adiran took, the sounds of the city got louder and louder. Lights were lit in the old shacks lining the broken, dirt streets, and as he turned yet another corner, another series of fireworks shot into the sky, their echoes piercing through the hum of human activity.
He realized he was heading in the direction of the central square and came to a sudden halt. The central square was where all the markets were set up; surely it would be the busiest section of town. He couldn’t handle that right now. He just wanted to get away from the noises and hustle and bustle of people. He wanted to go home. Glancing to his left, he saw a small alleyway and swiftly crossed over into another, smaller street. This one was full of shops, but nearly every door had a sign on it indicating the owners were out for the night. Everyone in this part of the city had already left to join in the festivities. A good sign. He continued going down one alleyway after another, avoiding the crowds wherever he could, ignoring the pleas of help from the homeless, and shoving more idiotic kids aside who attempted to grab his bag.
It wasn’t until he was standing in front of the planetarium that he finally stopped to get a better sense of his surroundings. Golden gates surrounded the massive, marble dome, and the cemetery surrounding the building stretched out to the northern edge of the city. He realized he had gone too far north for his tastes; he should have turned around at some point, heading south before turning back east. Yet the noises of the city were continually growing, as were the amount of fireworks being shot off in the sky, and Adiran had the sneaking suspicion he would have to brave the masses before getting home. He should have done it earlier, he reflected, before everyone had the chance to get dressed and head to the stores and bars for a night of fun. By now, the majority of people who were attending the night’s festivities were surely out. Sighing, he tightened his scarf around his face as a gust of the distant ocean breeze suddenly blew and chose the street he thought was best.
“Well, this is the last place I expected to see you!”
Adiran’s heart skipped a beat. Swiftly turning, he watched as a young man, no older than he, around twenty years of age, stepped through the gilded gates of the planetarium entrance and waved to him. His dark arms and face glistened with sweat, and he brushed a gloved hand over his buzzed, black hair. Adiran saw specks of dirt on his faded pants, and his boots were practically covered in it. The man pulled a tan jacket over his undershirt and walked up to him, smiling widely. “Happy New Year, Adiran.”
“Happy New Year, Moreba,” Adiran muttered, lowering his scarf somewhat so the man could understand his words.
Moreba laughed a deep, heartfelt laugh. “Never thought I would find you near a planetarium the night of the New Year. Things that bad in the Society?”
“I didn’t come here by choice,” Adiran argued.
“Then was it by fate?” Lightly punching Adiran’s arm, he chuckled once more and said, “You know I am only kidding, friend. But in all honesty, what brought you out this way? You haven’t forgotten the city, have you? You weren’t sent away for so long that you got lost, were you?”
“No, I haven’t forgotten the layout of the city.” He could never forget. He knew this city like the back of his hand. He had traveled all its alleyways, all its roofs, all its back roads, and all its main streets. He knew this place... knew it damn well.
“Then why come up this way? This is certainly a roundabout route if you’re planning to head back to the Society, which I would assume is your destination.”
“This route got me away from the crowds.”
“Ah, yes... the crowds.” Moreba shook his head. “Unfortunately, we have no such crowds here at the planetarium tonight. Only a few true believers are sitting in there now, listening to the Oracle make her predictions.”
“And why are you out here, then, if only the true believers are inside?” asked Adiran as he eyed his friend curiously.
“I was doing my job,” Moreba countered, glancing down at his dirty gloves as he did so. “A young woman died this morning. A suicide. Another one. I tell you, Adiran, things just seem to be getting worse and worse. There truly is no rest for the wicked here. I’ve put more suicides down in the last month than I have rapists, thieves, and alcoholics combined. This first year of Shiranai Law has left everyone in a state of confusion, and in their panic... well, I wish they would simply turn to the planetariums for advice rather than taking things into their own, miserable hands.”
Adiran slowly nodded in understanding. People were desperate, more desperate than they had ever been before, thanks to the political chaos taking place. And Staturn was a tough place to live in as it was. There were more criminals than decent folk, and the temptation to turn to degrading and abhorrent activities was just too much for some to bear. Moreba saw the worst side of it, though, for he had been working at the planetarium for years, serving as a mortician and grave digger. It was a terrible job with even worse pay; he saw how easily it could all end time and time again and barely made enough to make ends meet. Even for Adiran, it was depressing.
But according to Moreba, there were perks to the job, perks that supposedly made such a horrible job worth the daily reminder of death. Moreba had access to the libraries beneath the planetarium as well as to the scholars working day and night inside. For a measly fee for his services and barely enough food to feed himself, he had access to knowledge. And Adiran knew enough about Moreba to understand the fact that his friend, if nothing else, craved knowledge.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear things have been... busy,” Adiran muttered as he turned his back to Moreba. “But it was nice seeing you again. Now, I should be heading—”
“Hey, now, wait just a second.”
Don’t do it, Moreba...
“It’s the night of the New Year, and it has been, what, a few months since we last sat down and actually had a decent chat?” Feeling Moreba pat him on the back, Adiran glanced over to see his friend standing next to him. “Why don’t we go out and get something to eat? My treat. We can sit down like two friends and discuss the end of the world predictions over a glass of beer or wine, whichever you prefer.”
“I need to go back to headquarters,” Adiran replied a little too curtly. “Another time, Moreba.”
“There might not be another time, Adiran,” he retorted, and Adiran blinked in surprise at the sudden shift in tone. Frowning, Moreba nodded and sighed. “Actually, I thank the stars for your coming this way. I was afraid I wouldn’t get another chance to see you.”
“You going somewhere?”
“Yes... and very soon, perhaps.”
“You don’t sound very sure.”
“It depends, though I am surer than I am letting on. My little brother is supposed to get in contact with me soon. I will finalize my decision then.”
Adiran’s eyes widened. “You mean the one in Avela?”
“He is my only brother, the one in Avela,” Moreba joked. Yet his tone still held a somber note to it, and Adiran could see the sadness welling in his friend’s eyes. “Depending on what he writes to me, I may or may not be heading up to Avela soon.”
Adiran's eyes widened in shock. “Moreba, you can’t be serious!” he scolded, turning to face his friend directly.
“I am as serious as I could possibly be.” Smiling, he added, “So come, let’s go out to eat. One last time, just like two friends. We can talk more in detail about everything that’s going on, and maybe we can even get a better view of the fireworks. It’s hard to see them from here.”
Adiran frowned. He had to return to headquarters. The Boss was waiting for his report. Adiran himself knew he wouldn’t be able to rest until he had delivered the news. But if Moreba was truly going up to Avela... and with the news he heard during his journey concerning the state of affairs in that once grand city... He knew Moreba. It didn’t matter what his brother wrote. He would be heading up no matter what. Once Moreba decided on something, it took the will of the stars to change his mind, and Adiran had neither the time nor patience for that. Still, he was curious, but curious enough to go into the masses?
A thought suddenly struck him. “Don’t you live close by?”
Moreba blinked in surprise. Scanning their surroundings, he pointed east and said, “Yes, I live a few blocks that way.”
“Why don’t we go to your house and have a meal instead?” Adiran suggested. “I don't expect anything fancy, of course, but I would much rather avoid the crowds. The streets were becoming packed when I got off the train, and I can’t imagine how crowded the bars, hotels, and restaurants are now. We wouldn’t be able to hear ourselves think let alone have a private conversation.”
Moreba seemed to reflect for a good minute before nodding in agreement. “That actually is a better plan, my good friend. I can cook something decent for the two of us. We still won’t be able to see the fireworks, but if things are as crazy as people say they are in Avela, perhaps I will be seeing fireworks sooner than I think.” Adiran’s lips tightened at the joke. He had never been one to tell others what to do, but the idea of Moreba going north to Avela did little to ease his mind, which was already burdened with the news from Nouka. Watching as Moreba turned on his heels and began heading further east, Adiran followed behind, his scarf blowing in the ocean breeze. It was a windy night, windier than usual. He briefly wondered whether Moreba had a heavier jacket or just made do with what he had. It was hard to believe he was actually comfortable. Adiran was fortunate enough to be provided most of his equipment and clothing by the Society, but Moreba barely made enough to feed himself, let alone clothe himself for winter. His jacket didn’t look heavy at all.
“So... you said you just got off the train?” Moreba inquired as they crossed a street and pushed their way down a narrow alleyway.
“Can I ask where you came from?”
Moreba chuckled. “But you can’t answer.” He sighed. “It’s okay. I’m used to it, at this point. Though it surprises me you still keep your code of confidentiality. It seems every other organization out there has broken their vows and is just doing whatever the hell they want.”
“I swore an oath to the Society, and I don’t intend to break it anytime soon,” Adiran remarked.
“I understand. And I salute you for it. For what it’s worth, I’m glad you made it back safely. I have heard nothing good from the news concerning what’s going on out there in the world, and the Oracles’ predictions disturb me even more.”
“What are they predicting this time around?”
Moreba snorted. “Oh, only the end of the world, and then some. I have been a member of this planetarium for years, you know that, but I never heard such depressing news in my life. War, hunger, betrayal, it is all written up there in the stars, supposedly.”
“‘Supposedly’? And here I thought you were a believer.”
“I thought so too. But these are hard times. Sometimes a man’s faith can waver...”
Adiran slowly nodded in understanding. He had never been one of the faith, but he understood how drastic situations could change a person. And if Moreba was actually considering going to Avela, then the situation was a drastic one indeed.
“I still believe, though,” Moreba continued, his voice louder than before. “I still believe we all have a purpose and that the stars guide us. I just don’t know if the plan the stars have for us is as innocent as we were led to believe. Why this war? Why this destruction? Even the Oracles have few answers for us believers. 300 years of peace, gone in an instant. And why? For what purpose? I have read mixed reports from the scholars, and it shakes me, Adiran. Some claim that the stars are leading us towards some sort of damnation. Others believe this is a test for those of the faith to stand their ground in order to become the brightest stars in the sky. One scholar even went so far as to proclaim that all the stars will fall back to the planet in a shower of comets, cleansing our rock of us and starting the universe from scratch.”
“I highly doubt you have to worry about meteor showers,” Adiran retorted.
Moreba shrugged. “Yes, meteor showers are the least of my worries. But war is not. War is indeed upon us... isn’t it? Ah, here we are.”
Adiran frowned. They stood in front of a small, one-story home. He waited as Moreba pulled out his keycard and swiped it in front of the faulty mechanism. It took three swipes total for the machine to click and release the lock, and Moreba chuckled as he pulled the door open with all his might. “The door has been stuck for a while now, but I can’t afford to fix it,” he complained as he motioned Adiran inside his home. “One of these days, I fear I will be permanently locked out. Though there isn’t much inside for thieves, at least.”
No, there isn’t, Adiran noted as he stepped inside and loosened the scarf around his neck. The inside consisted of two rooms, one in the front and one in the back, separated by a plaster wall that was peeling in layers. It was pitch black inside save for a little light coming through one of the front windows. Adiran listened as Moreba stepped around the furniture and flicked a nearby switch. The glass orb set in the ceiling flickered on, threatening to give out but still fighting for dear life, and Moreba motioned to the cracked glass table in the middle of the room. “Feel free to take a seat,” he said as he walked over to a small freezer box set in the wall. Adiran did so, making sure to shift his weight properly in the rusty, iron chair so that it did not outright collapse underneath him. He then set his bag down on the ground next to him, making sure it was still firmly closed shut. Glancing back up, he watched as Moreba pulled out two slices of meat and some vegetables from the freezer box.
“Where did you get the money for that?” Adiran asked before he could contain himself. The food looked far too fresh to be typical Staturn goods.
“Can’t hide a damn thing from you, can I?” Moreba smirked at his friend as he pushed the button on the stove. Holding it in for several seconds, he waited until a small flame managed to start itself up. Adiran frowned and wondered how he would even cook the food, but to his surprise, Moreba leaned down and pulled the front cover off the stove. Inside, Adiran could see the old mechanical parts doing their best to run. Some of it looked rusty, some new. He carefully watched as Moreba managed to pull out a certain chunk, a big old box by the look of it, and pushed a button inside. A small screen flashed before him above the box, a touchscreen that flickered several times before establishing itself. Moreba typed a new line of numbers into a small keypad set within the box before pressing the button once more. The screen disappeared, Moreba returned the box to its proper place, and Adiran blinked in surprise as the flame grew three times its previous size.
“A little trick I picked up from my studies,” Moreba explained, glancing back and chuckling at Adiran’s shocked expression. “I haven’t been wasting all my time digging graves, after all. I actually just learned this technique a week ago. Maybe now I won’t have to eat cold meat ever again.”
“Figures you improve your stove now that you’re considering moving out.”
Moreba laughed. Taking a knife out, he began slicing the meat into thin strips. “Anything in particular you want to drink? I have some white wine if you’re feeling fancy. Otherwise I have the usual beer or, stars forbid, I can boil you a pot of water.”
“White wine? You have white wine, fresh vegetables, and two nice slabs of meat? Who did you kill to obtain that?”
“I don’t kill for my work, unlike some of us here,” Moreba countered, turning and winking at his friend. Adiran’s frown grew deep, however, and Moreba, sensing his anger, shrugged in response. “It was a going-away present from the planetarium. I informed the Priestess that I was preparing to go north to Avela, and the congregation came together to give me this little present as a token of appreciation for all the work I’ve done for them. I am going to miss them...”
“So what made you finally decide to head north?” Adiran inquired. He shifted slightly in his seat but stopped the second he heard the chair creak underneath him. “You sounded unsure outside that planetarium, but now you sound rather confident. Hell, you gave your boss a resignation letter. Why move now? I mean... Avela has been in a bad situation for most of the year, ever since the Emperor and Empress were murdered. Why not stay here and continue your studies?”
“As I said, the predictions from the Oracles, or what I have heard of them so far, have left me uneasy.” Moreba tossed the thin strips of meat into the pan set above the open flame, and a sizzling sound began to fill the room. He then moved on to the vegetables. “If war is going to truly begin, it will begin in Avela, headed no doubt by the Illust Society itself. My brother... he is still in Avela. I can’t imagine what he is going through right now... I just want to be there for him, Adiran. I feel I should be there. Just in case... just in case anything happens.”
“I’ll repeat myself. Avela has been a wreck for nearly a year. Ever since the chaos started, Avela has dealt with the brunt of the political damage, no thanks to Illust. Why go now?”
“Well... That is... the other reason I want to go up.” Moreba muttered, tossing a few vegetables onto the pan before mixing the meat with the greens. Adiran could smell the food from where he was sitting, and it made his mouth water. “I want to join Illust.”
Adiran was sincerely shocked by that. His hand fell to the table, and his eyes widened as he leaned in the direction of his friend. “What?! Are you absolutely out of your mind? Illust has in effect created this global disaster! Sure, we all know that the Councilors were the ones responsible for the deaths of the Emperor and Empress, but the Illust Society was the one to declare war by sending back Councilor Kiln’s head in a box! You really want to join an organization that is very well responsible for this crisis?! Particularly if the Oracles seem to be warning against such insanity, which is what you keep implying?”
Moreba slowly nodded. “Trust me, I did not come to this conclusion overnight. It has taken me months to determine if this is what I want. But it is. I have spent many, many years studying the technology necessary to pass the entrance exams. I am sure I will be paid a decent salary for my experiments. And I can be closer to my brother. These may be extremely dark times, but I feel I have nothing to lose.”
“Nothing except your life.”
Moreba turned his back to Adiran as he placed the rest of the greens in the pan. The sizzling noises became louder, and for a moment, neither one spoke. Adiran had no idea what to think. Avela was a war zone. The Illust Society had taken entire control of the city, losing all funding from the government and effectively becoming a city-state, the first in over 300 years. The Council was doing its best to address the matter, but every day the situation grew worse. Without an Emperor or Empress to take control, the Council was scattered, and the chaos merely grew rather than settled. And Adiran heard rumors concerning Avela on the train during his previous mission. Every night there seemed to be more deaths. Hunger was a problem. There were no jobs. The most beautiful capital in the world was being reduced to ashes, thanks to the Illust Society taking on much more than it could chew. Societies were not governing bodies; they were organizations that taught specific skills and worked towards an—usually—altruistic purpose underneath the Council. They were not entities that could run economies or make political decisions, and Illust was swiftly learning that, to the detriment of their capital. So then why go north? thought Adiran. Why not bring the brother south? Why not stay here and remain safe inside the planetarium? Why choose this path?
“Adiran...” It was hard to hear him over the sound of the meat cooking. “Do you... think there will be war?”
Adiran frowned and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The news he learned in Nouka flashed through his mind, as did the image in the newspapers of Councilor Kiln’s bloody, severed head all those months ago. He knew the Boss had his own thoughts concerning the recent events as well... But he could not tell Moreba that. “I think...” Adiran began, doing his best to choose his words carefully, “that if there is no war, there will be a period of immense chaos. More than what we have now. It will get a lot worse before it gets better.”
“Do you think we’ll return to the city-states of old? I mean, we have had, what, over 300 years of peace under the Council? Would we even know how to act like a city-state of old? Could we do it?”
“It’s hard to say what will happen. We could never be like the old city-states, as they were isolated, and we've developed far too much technology to go backwards now. But... it would not surprise me if we had some major changes, nonetheless, in the way things are run.”
Moreba sighed heavily. “All our technology and advancements... what the hell are they for if the people can’t live decently?”
“Ask the Council that. They dealt the first blow.”
“I know. They... they killed the Emperor and Empress. Everyone says it's just rumors, but then again, everyone knows it's true. Who else would have reason to kill them? Who else could pull it off? If anyone deserves to be killed, it is them. They’re causing this entire mess, walled up in that giant castle of theirs on that isolated island. They don’t see us suffering or struggling to get by. They don’t see the effects of their greed. For over 300 years, they were okay with their position. But they got greedy... and now look at what’s happened. All because they wanted more power...”
And suddenly, it clicked. Adiran couldn’t help but smirk at his friend. For all his religious piety... “You want to join Illust to get revenge on the Council? You want to join the war efforts?”
“If there is war,” Moreba corrected.
“You are hoping there is.”
“It would be the best situation to test my abilities,” Moreba stated, his voice rising considerably and sounding much more commanding. “And I feel the Council needs to pay for what they did. If it had not been for the Emperor and Empress’s liberal pockets, the Societies would be nowhere near where they are today, and you know it. I know you don’t like Illust, but you have to admit that their technology has helped the world. Everything from trains to that little box in my oven... it’s all thanks to Illust. And they would never have made such progress without the Emperor and Empress’s funding. On top of that, I know Staturn's planetarium personally received funds from the Empress’s former education programs. Now... now that’s all gone. The planetarium is losing money, and fast. The Priestess admitted she wouldn’t be able to keep me around for much longer, even if I stayed on and didn’t go north. What do you make of that? A planetarium that can't even afford a low-ranking grave digger? And the Councilors have the nerve to be vacationing in their castle? No... they deserve to pay.”
Adiran felt there was more to it than that but chose to remain silent. If he had to guess, Moreba himself was greedy for glory. He had always been a man of high dreams, especially in concerns to the Illust Society. Even all those years ago, when Adiran first stumbled into Staturn and met Moreba, the man had dreams of success amongst the ranks of the mathematicians and engineers. And what better way to gain glory than by joining the Society whose goal seemed to be creating the first liberated city in over three centuries?
The whole thing was foolish, but Adiran knew Moreba’s fault was that he was a foolish man. Biting his lower lip, he muttered, “Well, I wish you the best of luck...”
Moreba laughed at his friend’s remark. “You aren’t going to try and stop me like all the others?”
“It seems you have already made up your mind. You said earlier you were waiting for an email from your brother, but from the way you talk, it doesn’t matter what your brother says. You are prepared to leave Staturn anyways.”
“You aren’t going to try and fight to keep a friend around?”
“Why should I? With the way my work schedule is looking, I will be here in Staturn even less this year than last year, and that is saying something.” The idea caused a pang of pain to shoot through his skull. It was going to be a messy year. He could already tell. And that triggered the beginnings of a headache.
Moreba chuckled as he opened a nearby wooden cabinet. Pulling two glass plates out, he set them down and pressed the button on the stove, causing the flame to disappear. By now, the entire room was filled with the smell of cooked meat and vegetables, and Adiran watched with a smile as Moreba poured the food onto their plates.
“Do you think going to Avela is a good idea?” Moreba finally asked, setting the pan back down before pulling two glasses out.
“Why are you asking me these questions?”
“My friend, I just want to hear your personal opinion.”
“Then no. I don’t. I think it’s the dumbest idea I ever heard.”
Moreba chuckled. He grabbed a nearby bottle of wine, and Adiran recognized the Zeno Port label on it. The good stuff. “And yet you still don’t fight me?”
“I am not your Priestess. I don’t tell you how to live your life or what to do. All I ask is that you keep a steady head. Avela is no playground, and if there is war, you won’t find your glory by being reckless. Or at least it will be the wrong kind of glory.”
Moreba slowly nodded in understanding. He poured them each a glass and brought them to the table, next bringing the plates of food and some silverware. Sitting across from Adiran, he smiled and asked, “Does your Vemular Society have any plans concerning our local Councilor? I mean, Illust killed their Councilor. It seems a fair bet to believe the other Societies will soon move against the government.”
Adiran shook his head. “Hard to say, and I couldn’t give you that information anyways. You are about to join the Illust Society. Any information related to our activities is none of your business.”
“Well, who knows? Maybe one day we’ll be able to shake hands with each other. No one saw the murders of the Emperor and Empress coming; who is to say our Societies won’t join one day?”
“The stars, the history between the two Societies, and common sense,” Adiran argued. “Don’t be ridiculous. Illust hates us, and we can’t say we like them. We leave each other alone. And I would rather deal with one group at a time. The Council is causing enough of a mess, passing laws left and right that don’t mean a damn in their attempt at regaining power while playing with our organization like it’s a toy. Illust and their engineers are the last things I need in my life.”
Moreba slowly nodded. Sighing, he grabbed his glass of wine and raised it, smirking over at Adiran as he did so. “So... since this may be our final night together... cheers to... what, exactly?”
“How about cheers to this delicious meal and a quiet day tomorrow?”
Moreba laughed heartily, and even Adiran cracked a chuckle. “Simple and to the point. I like that. Alright then, cheers to this delicious meal... and a quiet day tomorrow.”
As their glasses clinked, Adiran thought he could hear a firework go off in the distance.
This title does not have Book Reviews.
Please check back for updates.
Company Information Order Options Booksellers Careers Charity Programs
Copyright © 2003 - 2016 Silver Leaf Books, LLC. All rights reserved.