Fallen Sunset Part Eleven

"We're wasting our time. These people are all going to die."

Evan looks at Kari, shocked. "Why do you say that?"

"One, they're fucking idiots. Look at this place."

Evan has to admit she has a point, looking around. Scattered, disorganized tents of black fabric litter the sandy hills, not quite a hundred separate little clusters painting a wide, visible target across a useless landscape. Seraphs are fluttering about, talking quietly, or prostrating themselves before hastily constructed altars and praying.

"They aren't strategists, I'll give you that."

"And two," Kari continues, heated, "They're out of touch with reality. They can fly, they're all in good shape and there's no reason to stay here, they could easily go to Azuria or New Enwai. But they stay here, getting killed every night, because this is their 'place'".

Evan looks around at the blasted, glittering dirt. A few days ago, this place had been green. Well, greenish blue. Evan still isn't used to the plants on Fallen, which come in various shades of every color. Photosynthesis under a white sun is much less specific, it seems. "Not much to stay for. No homes, no more crops, water's basically acid. These machine things have ruined this place."

"Exactly my point. They'll just starve here. But they insist they can't leave!"

"Let me guess," Evan mutters, frustrated.

"Yup. The Gods. You wouldn't believe how complex and rigid their belief system is. The women literally ask permission to talk! Nobody acts that way!"

Evan thinks of certain groups of people who'd been causing trouble when he'd been on Earth and shrugs. "Seems to me that strict religion catches on in every society. It's all just variations on the same thing."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, think about the basic behaviors that go into maintaining a large group of people. You have to keep order, there can't be fighting or theft or greed. So the leaders just write down what ought to be obvious and claim a 'god' demands it. Now, some people won't hesitate to steal or kill, normally… but you tell them they'll burn in some kind of horrific supernatural torment for doing it, they just might refrain."

"I see what you mean," Kari laughs. "There's things I probably wouldn't have done if I thought anybody was watching."

Evan laughs. "I was gonna say you have no idea, but we both got here the same way, huh? We screwed up."

"You screwed up. All I did was wear a Naruto jacket. So what about all the crazy rules, like how they can't eat certain meats and women can't be in charge?"

"That's actually pretty simple, you just have to trace it back to reason, again. For instance, you know how Jewish people aren't supposed to eat pigs? Well, back in the days of Moses, it was nearly impossible to slaughter a pig in a way that would make the meat completely safe and hygenic. People would eat it and die. But pig is delicious, of course, so people would continue to roll the dice – until god said pig was bad, and then they put it down. So originally, the rule was put in place to protect people."

"But pork is perfectly safe. See, that's the crazy thing about these people, they know their rules are outdated, archaic, and useless, but they hold to them anyway. Why?"

"Because 'god' said to do something, and what he says goes. Forever. Despite any logical gap. Like I said, it isn't so crazy when you look at it objectively. It's just sort of sad."

Kari opens her mouth to make a comment, but an interruption arrives in the form of Aelia, wearing a depressingly baggy black dress, with long, robelike sleeves. "Hey guys. I've been talking to some people around here and it's getting sort of creepy. I figured I'd spend some time with the heathens, for a change."

Evan laughs. "What's with the dress?"

"They gave it to me as a gift, said I looked cold. Also, a couple of the younger boys were staring at my stomach."

"That's rude."

"Not my scars, actually." She chuckles. "I don't think they've ever seen so much of a female before. So I did the diplomatic thing and covered up."

Kari snorts. "You don't have to listen to their stupid religious rules. These people are crazy."

"Maybe, but they're also happy. And these people, unlike the Priesthood, aren't hurting anyone by being crazy. They see modesty as self-respect, rather than shame. They seem to be loving, pleasant people, so there's no reason not to respect them when we're with them."

Something strange tickles the back of Evan's mind, but he can't figure out what it is. "Seems fair enough. But you can't fight like that, and sunset's in a few hours. Those things will be back, I'm sure of it."

"My armor covers me up just fine. They just didn't like the concept of short pants."

"Yeah, well," Kari mutters, "We came all this way and risked our lives to help these maniacs. The least they can do is let us dress the way we want."

She stoically yanks on her belt, revealing a little more of her skinny hips, and stalks away, examining the horizon and pretending not to notice the stares.

"Can I talk to you about something?"

Sebastean looks up from his worktable to see Valentine standing in the doorway. The light hurts his eyes, so he waves her in and waits for her to shut the door. "Of course. What's up?"

"I've been thinking about how Oden died."

Sebastean sits up straighter, gently placing his project down on the table. "Have you, now. What about it?"

"It just seems strange. He was killed with that Seraphic scout knife,"

"I was there. I saw." Sebastean interrupts, affecting great sadness. Like he'd prefer not to remember.

Valentine continues, gently. "I know, I'm sorry. But here's the thing. Soldiers don't carry those knives. They're survival knives, not for fighting. Only the long-range scouts have them. And they don't travel in groups."

"Perhaps the scout led the soldiers to our hangar."

"No, because I've studied the way the Seraph military works. The scout would have returned to his base and reported, and then fully outfitted soldiers would have been sent. Scouts never enter combat without a spear, they see it as sacrelige, for some reason."

"Interesting."

"And those knives were laying around all over the place, though there were only a couple spears. And only two of those Seraphs had armor on, that I saw. Almost like they were all scouts."

Sebastean stands up, turning away. He could probably lie convincingly to her face, but his has started to crack with stress. Black light seeps from the widening gaps below his eyes. "What are you getting at?"

Valentine sounds nervous. "I don't really know… but something's not right. I think we need to really consider what happened at the hangar. I think there might be a traitor among us."

"Any idea who?"

"Not yet. But I feel like I'm getting close."

Sebeastean forces himself to relax, feels the black cracks fill in. He turns to Valentine with a normal, beautiful face. A face that inspires fear and love at the same time. "Valentine, what is your Manifestation? I don't remember seeing you channel before, although I know you can."

"Dispersion. My body can shift back and forth between solid and plasma states. I don't like to do it often, it feels creepy."

"Sounds useful." So she'll have to live. Sebastean circles his desk, eyes slowly darkening.

"I suppose. So what do you think? Have we got someone on this rig we ought to be worried about?"

Sebastean seizes the lean girl by her shoulders, eyes ablaze with black light, face cracking and peeling away from the twin voids. His teeth seem a little sharper than usual, and his voice echoes off nothing when he speaks directly into her mind-

"There's nothing to worry about at all."

Valentine's mouth falls open, entire body slackening as Sebastean's shadow magic courses over her brain. She never remembers the sickening sight of his ruined face, or the ice-cold feeling of his hands on her skin.

"Let me tell you what happened in that hangar. Let me tell you what you saw."

A few minutes later, his work done, Sebastean drops the limp young woman to the floor. That particular effort always tires him out for a moment, and he has a hard time forcing his skin to repair itself. His eyes flicker and flash, tiny arcs of blackness leaping around his vision for several minutes.

Kneeling to examine the sleeping Valentine, he frowns and starts plucking hairs from her head. He wishes he could stop this from happening every time; several of them have turned white.

Evan sits in a rare patch of blueish grass, some kind of farming implement in his hands, eyes aglow with blue-white light, frowning. Need. I need a sword. I need a weapon. I need to defend myelf.

As a few Seraphs look on, curiously, he tenses his grip and a pulse of bright light erupts from his hands, bathing the long piece of metal in a blinding glow… and when it fades, Evan groans in frustration at the same tool, slightly warped, cooling in his hands.

"What are you doing?" A young Seraph boy asks, kneeling in the glittering sand to watch.

"Trying to make a sword. I lost mine in the crash, and those things will be here tonight, so I need to be ready to fight."

"You're very brave."

"Honestly? I'm pretty terrified. But I know from experience that I can kill them, and I have my friends with me. So everything will be okay." Evan is surprised to hear himself say it, possibly for the first time in his life.

"Do you think the gods will protect you from the monsters?"

"Um…" Evan falters. "I don't really believe in any gods. But I know Aelia and Kari will protect me, and I'll protect them."

A woman chimes in, speaking from her husband's side. "What can you possibly hope to accomplish without the gods? It's by their blessing that you even have those abilities, and you reject them?"

This is too much for Evan. "How do your gods feel about suicide?"

"It's a sin. A mortal sin," one of the men says, as though explaining up from down. "From which there can be no redemption. As bad as murder."

"Well, that's how I got these powers. I slashed my wrists and bled out because of how miserable and unloved I was. And the next thing I know, I wake up here. Something tells me that a god who frowned on that behavior wouldn't reward me."

The small crowd stares for a minute, as Evan forces another wave of energy through the suffering shovel. At least this time it gets a little more shiny. A few meters away, talking to a group of women, Aelia looks over at him and grins. He rolls his eyes, before realizing they are glowing at he probably just looks like he's staring.

The boy pipes up again. "Is your sword black? With a leather handle?"

"Indeed it is," Evan responds, surprised. "Have you seen it?"

"Sure, it fell out of the sky, the same night you did. Almost skewered my cousin Delial. My uncle tossed it away, in the sand. A few miles that way," the boy explains, and points. "We can fly there… you can't fly, can you?"

"Don't think so. But I really appreciate your telling me." Evan stands, dropping the demolished shovel. It bends when it hits the ground.

He strides over to where Aelia is showing the young women how to braid their hair, with little success. While their hair is the same color as hers, a pure, snowy white, it seems that Seraph hair has more in common with feathers than fur. It's fairly inflexible, making the act of braiding nearly impossible and certainly not worth the effort. As a result, several of the girls are stroking Aelia's human hair and making jealous comments.

Evan sits on a rock and laughs. "Isn't envy a sin?"

And immediately regrets it when the assortment of black eyes widen in shame, and most of the girls mutter apologies and leave.

Aelia chuckles at Evan's look of surprise. "That wasn't nice."

"I did it for the gods. So hey, turns out my sword survived the fall. Want to come get it with me?"

"I don't know, an unescorted male and female wandering into the fields alone? We'd be the object of gossip for sure."

"Like I care. Come on, I want some company. And these people are getting on my nerves."

"Yeah, Kari already bounced out of here. Said she was scouting. I think she took a book," Aelia laughs. "Okay, I'll come. Let me grab something intelligent to wear."

Evan nods, looking around. Several large basins of fresh water stand around the camp, apparently Aelia's work. The pure, distilled water she conjures isn't the most pleasant tasting, but it's better than sand. He smiles. She has such a giving nature.

It's been way too long since they'd had a chance to talk, seriously anyway. It figures. He'd finally made an advance, a genuine step in creating something with her, and what happened? A series of catastrophes. Typical.

"Okay, let's go!"

Evan looks up and Aelia is still in her shapeless black dress, clutching a backpack. "I thought you were changing."

"I will. Lots of people in the tent."

Evan's stomach jumps at the implication, but he tries not to show it. "Let's roll," he suggests, and together they leave the Seraph camp, looking for a sword in the endless wasted plains.