Novels (Free Reading)

The Land Without Footprints: Shadows Amongst Shadows

1 – Jordan

Don’t believe in yourself.

Don’t believe in yourself.

Don’t believe in yourself.


The chant wafted in through the open window. So many times Jordan had heard the song that he barely noticed its presence. Nightly, the Cult of Jesus repeated their mantra in hopes of enticing new believers to their dying cause: ruin the world and force Jesus to return. If people would not join by words and logic, then the cult hoped they would join by song and fear. Still Christian numbers dwindled; suicide attempts to prematurely reach heaven only added to its diminishment.

Jordan slashed a stroke across a canvas with a charcoal pencil. If he weren’t the son of a lord, perhaps he would turn his eyes toward art. Damyn, his bastard brother, suppressed a laugh. Truly, he lived up to his halfness. Of late he’d taken to wearing an undone tie. Perhaps one of such common birth couldn’t possess normal qualities.

Across the room, amongst the plush pillows, a redheaded woman shifted, her apple-shaped breasts heaving. Because red hair neared extinction, she was only the first real redhead Jordan had ever seen. If it weren’t for pictures, nobody would even suspect a human could own hair of such a color. Many dyed their hair red, though, or wore red wigs; even the poor used brewed teas and berries to maintain the popular trend.

“How is my likeness, m’lords?” the woman asked, unaware that only he, and not the bastard, was a lord.

“I’ve never seen a true artist draw in such a fashion,” Damyn said, pairing his words with a grin. He flicked his bastardly golden-flecked hair out of his face, the only sign of his otherness. Truly, his eyes were as blue as any other Dagen. “My brother has given you the desired likeness of all stylish women.”

“Truly. The popularity and intrigue of your nature will replace that of the Mona Lisa.” Jordan placed lumps about the chest area, exaggerated the nipples.


Don’t believe in yourself.

Put your faith in someone else.


“Can I see myself?” The woman came off the bed, but Jordan bid her to remain still, wondered if he should attempt to draw surroundings: the moonlit skylights, the ornate chandelier, the canopied bed.

“One cannot fully see themselves until the end.” Jordan penciled a shaggy mane around the woman’s alternate self. “Truly they cannot,”—he would’ve called her by her name if he knew it—“my lady.”


Don’t believe in yourself.

Put your faith in someone else.

Death will grant us all release.

“Perhaps you should remove your skirts and whatever is underneath,” Jordan said.

“My skirts?” the woman repeated.

Jordan swallowed. “No nude can be considered a nude if the portrait is half-nude.”

The woman with a name but without a name stood, removed her skirts and undergarments, and then resituated herself atop the pillows without any further complaints. Truly, nudity caused a person to dissolve in such a way that only their private parts remained, Jordan reflected. And yet he was in no rush to have the rest of the woman reappear. No, his loins certainly didn’t want that either.

Damyn grinned, tapped him on the shoulder. Jordan figured it a cue to continue on with his work in which he had no ability to finish. Surely the bastard wasn’t indicating a shared erection.

“It is a crying shame that God didn’t bless us all with extraordinary talents,” Jordan said as the main door to the room opened. “Sometimes I feel sorry for my bastard brother or even my dear sister who has just entered here for not being so blessed.”

Cassandra left the door open and crossed the room as if she had a purpose besides walking. She had the blue, blue eyes and black, black hair that only a Dagen could. In pattern with the new-wave fashion, half her hair was braided while the opposite side hung loose and curled. And her one-shouldered dress was no dress at all, but rather pink-and-black paint used in such a way to resemble true clothing. The engagement ring on her finger wasn’t real either, just a statement to others that she could be theirs forever.

Marriage wasn’t the end of searching for a mating partner, but rather the beginning. Wives could have six rings on their fingers within a month of matrimony. In fact, six was about the norm. The saying went: A spouse to one is a spouse for all. Supposedly, a long time ago things had been different. But who could trust history?

Damyn shifted his gaze from the unclothed woman to his half-sister, folded his arms about his chest, and closed his mouth. When bearing one’s teeth did not expose happiness, it exposed hostility. Teeth always exposed intent. Even idiots knew that. Truly, Damyn was an idiot of body but not of mind.

Cassandra’s eyes went from the woman to the canvas to the woman and back again to the canvas. “Father wishes a word with you, Brother.”

Jordan knew he was the brother she meant. Nobody but a fool used wishes on a bastard. “Father should be more mindful of how he uses his wishes, Sister. All the stories show that one has a tendency to run out of magic if overused.”

Cassandra twirled her hair around her finger, looked off into the distance like the future lay nude before her eyes. “Should I tell Father that you’re busy drawing sticks?”

“Women are not sticks,” Jordan informed her.

“And yet sticks are what you draw when you look at a woman.” Cassandra started back from where she’d come. “You are not the first to be seduced by charm,” she told the woman with a name but without a name, “but hopefully you are the last.”

Absent of a farewell or closing the door, his sister left. And once she left, the woman with a name but without a name rematerialized to Jordan, no longer just suspended sexual organs. Once again she had a complete form and voice.

“In a world with laws you’d be condemned as a villain,” the woman screamed while she jumped back into her stockings and skirts and blouse and shoes.

Jordan mentally agreed because laws had always been the easiest way to decipher between villains and heroes: in a society that placed chains on every living being, his actions very well might have been deemed immoral. But what was good and bad to a free society?

“Even in this world I’ll call what you are,” the woman added, when she fixed her outfit the way she liked, breathed out some forceful breaths of hate, turned her face ugly with annoyance, and made her way closer to the door, “a villain that not even a hero would like to call his enemy. It’s disgusting how you misuse your freedom.”

Unsure of her parting words, Jordan crossed out the stick-figured portrait of the woman with a name but without a name. How could one misuse freedom? Wasn’t freedom the right to act in whatever way one liked?

“At least she had the decency to close the door upon her exit,” Damyn said, freeing his teeth once more for his overused grin. The bastard clapped him on the shoulder and hurried out, leaving the door ajar in his haste.

“At least,” Jordan agreed to himself, or perhaps to the words that, too, occupied the room.

Don’t believe in yourself.

Put your faith in someone else.

Death will grant us all release.

Place your head at our feet.

2 – Jordan

“Do you not listen to the commands of your father?” Bann Dagen asked from seated behind his long desk, letter opener in hand. “Or have you rearranged time according to your own rules?”

“Father is a very old-fashioned word,” Jordan said, and it was true. Father no longer meant authority; sons were no longer like fathers. Parents were more like friends than parents.  “I listen to myself, Bann. Isn’t that the point of being free?”

Bann stamped the yin-yang symbol of House Dagen at the bottom of one letter, then another. Afterward, he folded each piece of paper into a separate envelope and set them aside at the corner of the desk.

Out of his chair he came—bell-bottomed pants clouded his feet—walked around to meet Jordan face to face. “You have a keen sense of the benefits of freedom, my son. However, you still are unaware of the dangers.”

With brevity Bann rested the paper knife under Jordan’s chin. The attack came so quick that Jordan hadn’t even thought to protect himself. Only instinct had kept steel from severing throat. Truly his arms had moved without him telling them to.

Jordan felt like David arm wrestling Goliath as compared to his father. How much more did he need to grow in order to become a man? He saw himself in his father’s pupils, shrunken and halved. The reflection looked terrified, inflexibly aware of the situation. If Bann wanted him dead he would be dead: if his father wanted him dead he would be dead.

Jordan wanted to surrender but he couldn’t speak in the midst of the struggle. Every muscle was focused on saving his life. Cold touched what was left of Adam in him, threatened to slice up the apple in his throat, to cut, to cut, to cut….

Bann let up, pulled back from filicide, homicide, murder, dropped the letter opener as if it weren’t a weapon but a wilting flower. “Now do you see the danger in freedom?”

Jordan wrapped both hands around his throat, went to one knee. “Why did you scare me?”

“To show you that my freedom is not your freedom,” his father said writerly. “You are my semen. And I own my semen. Therefore, you own nothing of yourself until I am dead. I am your father, your creator, not your equal.”

Jordan rose, eyed the letter opener that almost killed him, continued rubbing at his neck. “I understand, Father.”

Did he think a son had never murdered his father? Patricide existed for a reason. Hate could lessen the burden of murder. Resentment helped as well.

Bann shuffled his charcoal-tinged hair. Though he was aging, his eyes were such a fierce blue that not even a bastard could ruin his line. Damyn had been proof of that. “You have much boy to shed before you can become a man.”

“As a man has much animal to shed before he becomes human.” Again Jordan shifted his focus to the floored letter opener.

Bann looked to where Jordan was looking, said: “The Mystic wants his newborn children taken care of. They’re twins.”

Jordan nodded. It would be the first time he worked for the Mystic under actual commands. “I’ll dispose of them discretely.”

The Mystic hated twins. The Bible of the Sun prophesied his death as coming about by them. Even those unable to read knew of the prophecy’s existence.

By the arm, Bann pulled his son close to him. “Has the good part of your brain evaporated? You would kill babies without hesitation?”

“Should I hesitate, Father?”

“No, not this time.” Bann released his son’s arm.  “Hesitation has killed many. Twins are taboo. They are unnaturally unnatural.”

3 – Jordan

“You interrupted everything.” Cassandra crumpled the paper resting between herself and Damyn. Cross-legged the two of them sat atop her bed, an arm’s length apart. “We were playing a very adult game not intended for our immature minds.”

Jordan knew the game well. Sex stripped of love, his father had called it. It was a pastime that had recently developed in the country of Masago, involving no action just words, copulation for the mind. Another example of how intercourse had turned into a sport such as fishing or mushroom hunting. Fellatio contests on every street corner, masturbation competitions every Sunday, children playing Simon Sex.

And yet the room smelled not of fornication but of vanilla.

Jordan crossed his arms at his chest, thought of how he’d nearly been raped by a pack of women after leaving his father. If it weren’t safe to walk the castle halls alone, how dangerous was it to walk the streets? “Perhaps you two should finish this game in the shadows. Incest wasn’t always allowed on Earth.”

Damyn grinned. “And where is Earth located now?”

On the pages of books, Jordan thought. Earth lived in history, truly. The planet had disappeared hundreds of years ago. Only in words did it now remain.

Cassandra came from the bed, crossed the room to an open window, and discarded her crumblings below. Despite the age of a girl, she possessed the figure and confidence of a woman. Still at fifteen, she had more growth within. Who knew how much more child she had left to shuck?

“A society that suppresses love doesn’t have a future,” Cassandra said, as she eyed her reflection in the closest mirror. She picked up a paintbrush from the mirror’s table and swirled pinkness around her navel, touching up her painted on garments.

Damyn stood, smoothed out his clothes, entered the conversation: “It once was illegal to believe in yourself, and to think and be happy, you know? This is the age of freedom, though. One step out of God’s hands we’ve walked.”

Jordan turned his eyes from his sister’s desirability, looked at the floor. Once it had been illegal to be ugly, as well. “And what age comes next?”

Cassandra placed the paintbrush back into its container. “There is no going forward after nothing. Freedom doesn’t like to wear chains.”

Jordan cracked his fingers, then pointed to Damyn, remembered why he’d come here in the first place: “Father wants us to abort the Mystic’s children.”

“How can you abort them?” Horror distorted Cassandra’s voice. “I thought they’ve already been born?”

“It’s never too late to terminate a thing,” Jordan said, slamming the door as he left. Quickly he let himself back in. “Remind yourself that the Mystic owns your virginity, Cass.”

All women owed their virginity to the Mystic. Without virgins it was known the Mystic wouldn’t survive. Nobody knew exactly why he wouldn’t survive, but they just knew he wouldn’t.

Cassandra twirled her hair around her finger, said nothing. Instead she stared ahead like she expected a stare to do physical harm. “Father birthed those same words yesterday.”

4 – Bann

“I don’t want a legacy.” On a throne carved from human bones, the Mystic perched stroking his long white beard. Cosmetics about his eyes enhanced the terror of his hazel glare.  Almost he appeared more hawk than man. “Legacies are for dead people.”

A sea of priests mumbled amongst one another. Each had their head shaved bald, their eyebrows dyed absurd colors, and wore yellow cassocks. Besides height and weight, they all looked alike.

Father Panis, the eldest priest, stepped to the front of the crowd. His cassock was white-and-yellow. Short and pudgy described him best. Blue eyebrows made him look a clown.

“Arkin, you cannot be the Mystic forever,” the priest said beside a low chuckle. “Eventually your children must follow.”

Arkin hammered his hand against the arm of the throne. “My grandmother lived until she was two years more than one hundred and twenty. I am only half that age, priest, but I will outlive it.”

Bann lifted the cradled babies off the kaleidoscopic-checkered floor, climbed the stairs to the Mystic. “You cannot murder your children for eternity, Arkin.”

Arkin put his face in front of one of the babies, and it began to cry. “Why can’t I? Will they not die every time they swallow steel?”

The baby cried louder, woke its sister, and they cried together.

“Yes, they will die every time,” Bann said over the noise. “But part of yourself will die as well.”

Arkin eyed Bann as if he’d just discovered the stars. “What part of me will die from destroying these abominations?”

“The part it took to create them,” Bann said.

Slowly slow, the Mystic outstretched his hands, allowed each of the babies to play with his fingers. Then the Mystic sang in a key, it seemed, he’d only just created:

  Hush little baby, don’t you cry

  Daddy’s gonna teach you a lullaby

  And if that song don’t make you quit

 Daddy’s gonna beat you with a stick.

The babies cried louder.

Arkin pulled away his hands, cleaned them with his own spit. “Remove the life from the both of them.”

“But they are your heirs, Your Grace.” Father Tillicum squeezed the sides of his cassock. “Your wife grows weaker than the sun’s light at night. If she dies we’ll not be able to convince the people of another pregnancy. Many questioned this pregnancy because of your wife’s age. Ninety year olds do not regularly reproduce.”

“I want not to speak,” Father Logrip said, pink eyebrows nearly kissing each other, “but Father Tillicum’s words open my mouth. The people will reject a birth from the grave. They barely believed in this pregnancy. If it weren’t for the story of Sarah in the Old Testament they would’ve stormed the palace and treated us like food.”

“You need a new spouse,” Father Panis said. “It is time your mother becomes your mother once again and not your wife.”

“This room is filled with truth,” Bann said, although he wished not to admit it. He distrusted the agenda of anyone who claimed to speak for God. “These are your daughters, Arkin. You should not murder them”—he needed a reason why—“until you at least mount them.”

Arkin covered his ears. “I’ll never fuck a thing that wants me dead. Remove these twins before I remove all of your mounting equipment.”

All the priests laughed. They weren’t afraid of castration since they’d already castrated themselves in order to serve their God. Although some married and adopted heirs, none of them created children of their own.

“Why are you laughing, you nitwits?” Surely he knew why. Arkin stood up tall, giraffed his neck. “Do you enjoy death?”

“No, Mystic,” they all said in unison, saluting with their middle fingers.

“Forgive our joy,” Father Ferret said, covering his rabbit teeth with a hand. “We laugh not at your stupidity but at our own inferior conditions.”

Bann put down the babies, walked back down the stairs. “Remind yourselves of who you laugh at before you laugh.” He unsheathed his sword. “I challenge you to achieve your emotional erections without your heads.”

In one swing he killed Father Ferret. With a second swing he parted the dead body of its head. Blood squirted here and there without a determined destination.

“Enough, you idiots.” Down the stairs, the Mystic ran. He circled around the mess, kicked the corpse, let out a wildly wild laugh. “I tire of this repetition. Both babies will die. I will make a new daughter as I made these nonhumans, and this child will become my new wife. Now one of you dolts bring thirty virgins to my bed chambers and make sure none of them are decaying this time.”

Bann wiped red out of his eyes. “Follow the instructions of your Eternal King.”

Father Slocum cleared his throat. And with a handkerchief Father Income wiped his brow.

Father Panis stepped to the front of the crowd again. “We cannot follow these directions.”

Bann raised his sword. “And why can’t you, priest?”

Louder, the babies cried.

“There are no more virgins in the harem,” Father Panis said. “For months now we’ve been recycling them.”

Bann directed his sword toward the elder priest. “The Mystic’s harem must be filled with 1,500 virgins at all times.”

“It is impossible,” Father Income said. “One cannot pull a yes from a no.”

“A man is not supposed to deflower thirty virgins a night,” Father Logrip said. “Only Hercules even attempted such a feat from what we’ve garnered from recorded history. In Hinduism gods could embrace for years at a time, yet even this was usually with just one other. Perhaps Jesus Christ might’ve had such capabilities if he was indeed who he said he was, but we are unsure of his sexual preferences.”

Arkin clutched his stomach. “I am no mortal, you nitwits. I am God with a human face. I will always have my wants. Always.”

Priests cheetahed out of the throne room to find virgins. One could pull a yes from a no, it seemed.

5 – Cassandra

“I can smell your virginity,” the Mystic’s wife said. She had been the Mystic before Arkin, so nobody could doubt her abilities.

Cassandra patted the old woman’s head with a damp rag. “I’ve broken the hymen of my mind, my lady.” Rumors said she was no longer queen.

“But the one between your thighs is much different,” the woman said, reaching out. Her fingers looked like they’d started to decay. Brown spots covered her hands and arms. “An old woman cannot hurt you as much as a man.”

“But you can still do harm.” Quickly quick, Cassandra moved to the other side of the bed.

Coughs crept from the woman’s mouth. Green mucus too. She didn’t have the strength to bring her hand up to her face.

“I’ve bedded more women than Don Juan,” the sick woman said, as Cassandra cleaned her mouth.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know the reference, my lady.”

The old woman’s voice turned raspy: “He was a fuck-artist, girl. Twenty thousand women he went inside of. Twenty thousand. I’ve quadrupled that number and I won’t find half the praise when I’m dead.”

“You’ll never die, my lady.” Cassandra returned to the other side of the bed, dipped the rag into a bucket of water. “You’ll live as long as you choose.”

“You believe that shit, girl?”

“I believe in my belief.”

The woman raised her arm and then it fell. “I’ll be inside the bellies of ants and flies by the end of the year. Your belief won’t change that. A thousand virgins couldn’t give me back my strength. Death will be the last thing to fuck me.”

“Do you want me to rub your feet, my lady?”

“Why would you rub feet that can’t feel, girl?” Cassandra didn’t answer. “If you want to help me then find a weapon and shove it into my womb. I’d rather death fuck me fast instead of drawing it out into a slow, long, exhausting process. I grew tired of slow fucks over sixty years ago.”

Cassandra couldn’t imagine what the Mystic’s wife had looked like sixty years ago. Already the woman smelled like she was dead. Her breath had the scent of waste and rot. But maybe once she’d had flower-fragranced hair and a face so smooth and delicate that powders wished to rest on it, and a body in the shape of a woman and not that of a pile of sticks. Cassandra couldn’t picture it though. No, she could only think of the images disjointed, connected to nobody in particular.

“Do you hear me, girl? Find something sharp to shove up my sagging vagina.”

“I can’t, my lady.”

“You say can’t in front of your queen?”

“Rumor says you are no longer queen, my lady.”

“And when has rumor and truth ever shared a pillow?”

Cassandra swallowed the lump in her throat, answered: “Never, my lady.”

“Never,” the woman repeated, then coughed and coughed and coughed. “You’ll suck on my sagging teats if I tell you to, girl. Now suck.”

“Yes, my lady.” Cassandra put the rag in the bucket, then pulled back the old woman’s bedcovers.

“Don’t revert to your babyhood,” a voice said from the door. The long white beard told Cassandra it was the Mystic. “You should only follow your own choices,” he added, once he came up beside her at the side of the bed. For one so old, his posture was young, erect.

“The girl’s a whore,” the old woman said. “She knows nothing but pleasure.”

The Mystic stared his wife in the eyes, said: “You’re tired, wife. You’re very tired.”

“I am tired,” his wife said, lids fluttering. Soon she fell into a slumber.

What trick the Mystic used to put her to sleep, Cassandra didn’t know. Many talked about magic, but who actually knew how to control it?

“You should only follow your own choices,” the Mystic repeated. He didn’t sound like a man afraid of anything, especially not babies.

“I would do whatever my God asks, my king,” Cassandra said, covering the snoring woman.

“You’re a very fluent liar,” the Mystic said, and he snorted, too. “How old are you?”

“Fifteen, my king.” Cassandra strengthened her posture.

“You’re too young to be a fluent liar,” the Mystic said, stroking her cheek. The rumors were true: he smelled of blood and virginity. His hand went from her cheek to her lips to her neck. “Do you enjoy unnecessary contact?”

“I like it very much, my king,” Cassandra said, voice and body atremble. She no longer liked her decision to wear a ring. Perhaps it did attract sexual attention. Once she returned to her rooms, she’d take it off.

“Only those I hate are forced to call me king,” the Mystic said, tracing her bare shoulder with his finger. “Call me Arkin,”

She forced a smile. “Yes, Arkin.”

“No is a much prettier sounding word,” the Mystic said, stroking his beard with his free hand. “Would you tell your father if I spread your legs and stripped you of your virtue?”

“No, Arkin.” She wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t. “I’ve never valued virginity as a virtue.”

“The House of Dagen has served the House of Jormungand well for many years.” He stopped investigating her body. “Your father runs this house as if it is his own. And currently your brothers are doing me a favor. You have tended to my wife well.”

“Thank you, Arkin.”

After a tug of his beard, he said: “Leave me before I go against my promise to your father and rape you.”

Cassandra curtsied, left, the ring already off her finger.

6 – Jordan

In portal cradles, the bastard carried one baby and Jordan carried the other. Neither twin seemed aware of its upcoming demise. At the moment, both were sleeping.

The inside of a bellybutton described the scent of the air most accurately. Truly it smelled like everyone in the city had decided to die at the same time. The forest couldn’t even block out the stench.

“This must’ve been what the Earth reeked of in its final hours,” Damyn said, weaving between trees.

Jordan opened his mouth, closed it. He had no idea if that were true. Who knew the odor of a nuclear holocaust?

Jordan stopped, listened. “The river is close.”

“Shouldn’t we feel bad about killing a few helpless babies?” Damyn trailed behind as only a bastard could. None of his clothes matched the predetermined characteristics of a killer: a suit of deep blue alongside of that untied tie.

“Does the water feel bad for drowning a person?”

“If water has feelings,” Damyn said, walking slower, “I’m sure it would feel bad.”

“Let the water worry about that moral dilemma,” Jordan said. “We’re not killing the babies. The river is.”

“But how did they end up in the river?”

“Can you shut up?” Jordan quickened his footsteps. “You’re the most moral bastard ever.”

Birds flew out of trees, landed on new branches. Squirrels could be heard scurrying above. If something bigger were making those noises they’d all die tonight.

“God is the most moral bastard ever,” Damyn said, once he caught up. Even the darkness couldn’t hide his grin.

Jordan grinned, too, stared up at the two red moons ruling the sky. “God is one moral bastard, but let us hope he likes our behavior.”

Ahead Damyn and Jordan walked, past trees and trees and trees, and plants and plants and plants neither of them could name. A rabbit hurried into a bush at the sound of their footsteps, and some deer pranced away from the stream once he noticed their presence.

Jordan knelt, ran his hand through the water. “It’s warm,” he said, as if that somehow made their act better. He’d never killed anyone before. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel about it.

Damyn crouched. “Should we name them before we send them on their way? Heaven doesn’t seem like a good place to be anonymous.”

“No,” Jordan said,  “but hell is a good place to be anonymous. And that’s where they’re going. All twins go to hell.”

Bushes rustled behind them. Ten men wearing all orange emerged from the shadows. The moonlight made their watches shine.

“Oh my little brothers,” the tallest man said (and he seemed the leader), “it looks like a perfect night for a random act of violence.”

A shorter man, with at least ten watches on each arm, knocked his hands together. “What’s it going to be then, eh?”

The leader snapped his fingers. “Give them the old merry, merry, ho, ho, ho, my little brothers.”

Absent of one punch or kick, the group of men stole the babies and held Damyn and Jordan still.

“Oh my little brothers, what do we have here?” the leader asked, before he spit on each baby in turn.

The twins awoke, whined and cried. In unison, the violent men all laughed. “Do you know who we are?” one of them asked.

“Only Bog knows,” Damyn said, referencing the God that the hooligans prayed too.

“That’s right lad,” the leader said, stomping his foot on the ground until all of his friends joined in. “Stupidity makes you feel real monkey, that does?”

“Yeah, it makes me feel really orange.” Damyn took a punch in the mouth for attempting to squirm free of his captors.

Jordan stayed still. He knew how this might end if they didn’t. The Cult of A Clockwork Orange patterned its life by the rules of Anthony Burgess’ novel of the same name. They lived only to beat, rape, and kill others. Besides destruction they had no other hobbies. Truly “ultra-violence” was their one aim.

“What’s it going to be then, eh?”

“The good old upstream-downstream,” the cult chanted. And clapping they repeated: “The good old upstream-downstream. The good old upstream-downstream.”

7 – Jordan

Red moons floated by the opening in the throne room. A pool of collected rainwater lay beneath. The Mystic circled the edge of the entrenchment, cape hanging over his shoulders. Cautiously cautious, eyes followed his movements.

“We risked our lives to retrieve the twins.” Jordan ran his tongue across his teeth. He was surprised he still had them all. “We took every punch and kick like they were gifts.”

“I think we might’ve won, too, if I weren’t half a person,” Damyn said. Pregnant was a good word to describe his bottom lip. Perhaps even his whole face. The look of it proved he’d taken more of the beating.

From a golden goblet, the Mystic drank. Blood poured down his chin and beard. Jordan had drunk wine since he was little, but he’d yet to taste blood. Most Nahimanaians drank animal blood. The Mystic only drank the blood of humans.

Bann cracked his knuckles. “Ten against one and a half are not fair odds, Arkin. My sons did good to survive.”

“Your sons made a mistake in returning after failure.” The Mystic tugged on his beard, swallowed more blood. “Where are those babies now?”

“They could be anywhere but alive,” Jordan said, shifting to his other knee.

The Mystic smiled, slowly slow licked color off his teeth. They’d been filed in such a way to remind one of a vampire. And all the red made his appearance more ghastly. His skin looked as if it had never touched the sun.

“If it weren’t for the babies we would not be here,” Damyn said. “The cult was so infatuated by their lack of protection that they eventually forgot about us.”

The Mystic crossed the room, lifted Jordan up, and hugged him tightly tight. Soon he did the same to Damyn.

“The Cult of A Clockwork Orange has never left a person alone until they reached the afterlife,” the Mystic said. “It is a miracle that the two of you still have mouths to speak—minds to remember your story.”

“Nothing will make us forget this night,” Jordan said.

Damyn nodded in agreement. “Nothing.”

“Many pleasures have been forged to help mortals forget their worries,” the Mystic said. He extended his goblet toward Jordan.

“It tastes like metal,” Jordan said, after he’d accepted the offering.

“Metal has made many men strong,” Bann said from the side.

The Mystic cackled, grabbed his goblet back, finished off its contents, and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “I desire to reward you each with a gift for your supreme service. Both of you shall have one wish granted of your choosing. And I shall be your genie so don’t think small.”

Damyn raised his hand, said: “Mystic, I already know my wish.”

After the Mystic jerked his beard and rubbed his nose, he looked askance at the bastard. “Speak.”

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