“So as you can see, three times ‘x’, then times ‘y’ is in fact equal to three times the result of ‘x’ times ‘y’. This is known as the ‘Associative Property of Multiplication’.”
Samanta watched her captor scribble feverishly on a large, flat slate board using a piece of chalk, his other arm gesticulating wildly as he spoke. Every day, he’d usher her into a small room deep inside his fortress and proceed to talk at her about various subjects. The man’s words were often hard to understand, his ideas even more so, but she did her best to soak in everything he said, memorizing as much as she could and asking questions when she needed.
She’d been a massive fool before, always fighting with him, resisting him at every opportunity. That night, when he’d banished the darkness from the city, she’d finally realized that she’d been going about everything all wrong. All the mightiest people in Otharia had gone up against this man and died. She wouldn’t stand a chance against him anymore, so she’d decided to take a different tack.
This idiot wanted to share his every secret with her. He wanted to teach her how to stop him. How could she not listen? And so every day he would go on and on, and every day she would dutifully listen. One day she would know enough to save her country. Then he would pay for his crimes.
There was a subject, however, that was unlike the others. One that genuinely captured her interest in ways she’d never expected. Mathematics. Samanta had always been good with numbers, and she’d been very proud of that fact. Her parents would praise her, saying that she was better than even the children of the rich and powerful who got to go to the best schools. She didn’t know if that was actually true, but she’d always liked to believe that it was just because it made her feel a little special. But then Blake had opened her eyes and shown her just how little she really understood.
This “algebra” that he kept talking about made her head hurt. Exponents, and factorials, and variables, and all these weird curving “graph” things... it was almost too much for her young mind to handle. To think that once she’d proudly boasted of her division skills! Still, this new world of numbers and letters, despite its complexity, left her intrigued. There was just one tiny problem...
“Any questions so far?”
“How is any of this useful? It just seems like moving letters around.”
“It’s not about its direct use. It’s about how you see and understand the world.”
“So it’s useless.”
“Not at all! It can be used in many fields. Architecture, for example. I bet that whoever designed the Grand Cathedral used algebra all the time.”
“How could he?” she replied with a scowl. He talked about the Grand Cathedral like he wasn’t the person who’d destroyed it. “There’s no way he would know your Elseling secrets!”
Blake rubbed his forehead with his free hand. “Sam, I’ve been trying to explain this to you for weeks now. Knowledge isn’t some secret possession that only special people can have. Knowledge comes from understanding the world around you. Figuring out how it works. Its patterns. Anybody can do that if they put time and effort into it. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you grew up. I’d bet everything I had that whoever designed the Grand Cathedral, or the arena in Eflok for that matter, used the stuff I’m teaching you now and will teach you in the future.”
Samanta gave him a dubious look. How could shuffling numbers back and forth build a giant building? “Why would they need to? They could just grow the stone like they do now.”
“You still don’t believe me?” Blake sighed. “I wish I could just show... you...” His voice trailed off as his eyes took on a far away look and he started to smile. Samanta blanched. He’d just had an idea, and that was always a bother. “Let’s end this here for today and go get an early lunch. Come on.”
A helmet re-forming on his head, Blake stood up and opened the door. Always playing the obedient child, she followed along as they walked through the halls on their way towards the dining hall, the loud clanks of the man’s metal boots mixing with her softer footsteps and the light taps of Alpha’s four tiny metal legs as he chased after them.
After much consideration, she’d decided that Alpha was a ‘he’. It felt weird to think of the little skitter as an ‘it’, as an object, when he was basically her pet now. She wasn’t sure when it had happened, but at some point she’d stopped thinking of the miniature skitter as a hideous abomination and instead began to view him as some sort of strange metallic animal companion. He liked to run around and chase after things she would throw. He always seemed to know when she was sad, and would climb up onto her bed and snuggle up against her to try to make her feel better. He was just a walking piece of metal, but at least he was there for her when nobody else was.
“Lord Ferros, a moment of your time,” came a voice from a nearby room as they passed by.
“What’s up, Leo?”
“Simona was asking for you. Something about trade proposals.”
“Tell her I’ll deal with that tomorrow. Got plans today. Anything else?”
“Zigmars wants to discuss taxes with you some more, and Gunta says she has a preliminary version of that report on the prisons that you wanted. Other than that, don’t forget about the Council Meeting tomorrow morning.”
“Got it. We’re going on a trip for the rest of the day. See ya!”
People scattered to the winds as Blake steered the giant six-legged, open-topped skitter away from his fortress, a cadre of well-armed and deadly skitters forming up around the larger vehicle. Samanta would sometimes watch the market and other parts of the city from high up at the top of the fortress’s observation tower, caught between her desire to be somewhere else and the knowledge that she didn’t have anywhere to go. As she watched over the two seasons since his takeover, she’d noticed with dismay how the public was slowly coming to tolerate the presence of Blake’s four-legged monstrosities around the city. That wasn’t to say that they liked them, but they didn’t run away or look at them in constant fear like they first had. That was, at least, while they stood still, as they usually did.
“Where are we going?” Samanta asked.
"We're going to a place I should have returned to a long time ago, but was too scared to." Her eyebrows rose at his words, his tone telling her he was smirking behind his mask. "You'll see. Sit back and relax. It's going to take a few hours." Now out of the city, Blake steered them northeast and they began to speed through the nearby farmland.
Samanta tugged at the collar ringing her throat. The thick metal band bothered her to this day. Not physically, for the most part. She’d mostly gotten used to the device and rarely felt it when she was just going about her day; only when she tried to sleep did its physical presence bother her. No, what bothered her was its significance. It was proof that he had control. That he owned her. The thought filled her with hatred.
“Say, Sam,” he said after a little while as he sat in his seat, his armored body leaning lazily against the side, an arm propped up on the railing, “don’t you have some sort off superpower, like everybody else here?”
“What’s a superpower?”
“Like making rocks change shape or shooting icicles or being super strong or whatever. I saw Gunta make a flame out of thin air once. I thought everybody had something. Am I wrong?”
Samanta grumbled. “I’m not really good at it,” she admitted after a pause. Other people could do useful things like lift heavy objects or make clean water for drinking or washing, but she couldn’t do anything nice like that. She could make a flame, but it took her a lot of work. She’d never been able to Feel. Almost nothing came easily. “I can do one thing, but it’s not helpful for anything.”
Samanta brought her hands up in front of her, palms facing each other with a small gap of space between them. She concentrated, seeing the tiny luminescent lines, hearing the “tck” sound they each made inside her head, willing them into existence. Suddenly, several minuscule lightning bolts jumped between her hands. It had started as a joke. One day she’d shocked herself on one of the metal farm tools that they’d been transporting and her older brother had laughed at her so hard that she’d sworn revenge. For some reason, creating her own little shocks had turned out to be quite easy for her. As a revenge, it had worked out fabulously — she used it on him all the time, especially to wake him when he overslept. Outside of petty vengeance, however, her talent had no real use. At first she’d dreamed of becoming a human storm, blasting down trees with massive displays of fury, but such thoughts were nothing more than childish delusions. Sparks were all she’d ever been able to do from the start. She’d long ago come to grips with the fact that she’d have to earn her keep with her mind, not her soul. That was why she’d always planned on becoming a merchant like her parents, using her skills with numbers. That is, until everything went wrong.
Strangely, Blake did not laugh at her like others had. Instead, he stopped the skitter they were riding, along with the other guard skitters, leaving them standing above a forest in the middle of nowhere. Getting up from his seat, he got down to one knee in front of her and removed his mask. “Do that again,” he said.
She did, envisioning the sparks jumping from her hands once more. Blake stared intently as the tiny lightning returned, crisscrossing between her palms and fingers.
“Can you make all of them come from just one hand?”
“I guess? I’ve never tried before.” She focused, trying to control how the sparks traveled, and found that with a little difficulty she could. The sparks were a little larger and brighter, she noticed.
“Do you feel anything coming from the hand where the electricity comes out?”
“Um, a little...”
“What about the other hand? Does it feel a certain way?”
“Does it feel different?”
“Okay we’re going to try something.” Cold metal hands grabbed her wrists and pulled them apart, until a gap wider than her head. “You I want you to imagine the feeling from the hand where they come from. I want you to build up that feeling in that hand, stronger and stronger. BUT! Don’t let the second hand feel like it just did. I want that hand to feel perfectly normal. Then, when I say so, make that hand feel they way it did just now. Can you do that?”
“Ummm...” This was all very sudden, and a lot of handle at once.
“Just give it a try.”
“Fine...” Samanta said with a sigh. Maybe if she indulged him for a minute he’d leave her alone. She refocused on her hands, willing the strange sensation into her right hand, feeling it build and build. It felt strange, like her palm began to itch, the itching feeling growing in intensity faster and faster.
“Alright, now add in the second hand.”
Samanta rocked back in surprise as bolts thicker than her fingers jumped from her one hand to the other for several moments before petering out. That was... that was almost real lightning!
“Holy shit!” Blake cried, rocking back at the sudden light show. “Did that hurt?”
“Hmmmm. Okay, listen up, Sam. If you’re ever in a fight, or in danger from somebody, here’s what you do. You put your hands on that person’s head here, and here,” he said, putting his hands on her temples. “And then you release exactly like you just did now right through their head. Depending on how strong it is, that might even kill somebody.”
Samanta’s arms shot towards her captor’s head as fast as she could move them, but smooth metal gloves seized her arms before she could fully extend. “Come on,” Blake scoffed with wry amusement, “everybody and their mother saw that coming a mile away.”
“Here we are!”
“There’s nothing here.”
“Ah, you may not be able to see it, but hidden beneath this mountainside is something incredible. Behold!” Blake’s eyes unfocused and his breath became ragged.
For several moments, Samanta looked at him, then back at the mountainside, then back at him again, waiting for something to happen. “There’s nothing here,” she repeated.
“Must be the wrong hill,” he said after another moment. “They all kind of look alike.”
“You’re an idiot.”
And so they continued to the next mountainside, and then to the next one, and the one after that as Blake searched futilely for something.
“Okay, it’s got to be this one,” he said on the fifth mountainside. “I’m pretty sure I recognize that tree.”
“You said the same thing about a rock the last time.”
“Shut up.” Once again he entered his strange trance, but this time he came right back out. “Here it is! Behold!”
Slowly and loudly, a portion of the rock shifted out of position, revealing a dark passageway behind it. The six-legged skitter lowered itself down, a ramp emerging from the side, and they disembarked. The air inside the passage was musty and stale. Samanta followed behind the metal-clad man as they descended a long spiraling stairwell lit by glowing crystals that reminded her of the lights Blake had set up in Wroetin.
“Did you make this?” she asked.
“What? No! This place is ancient! If anything, you could say that in some ways it made me.” He chuckled at his own wit, ignoring the fact that it didn’t make any sense to anybody but him.
“So why are we here again?”
“We’re here for answers.”
“To lots of questions, many of which we don’t know we even have yet, and one very important one that I’d almost rather not know.” As he said that, the two finished their descent and entered a short hallway.
“Man I must have been really out of it when I first got here. To think that I didn’t even notice these side rooms when I left...”
The hallway terminated in a large room filled with an assortment of metal objects that seemed to serve no purpose. More glowing crystals lined the walls, their eerie luminescence casting strange shadows across the chamber. The entire ensemble made Samanta feel mildly uncomfortable just being there.
“What is this place?” she asked.
“This,” replied Blake with excitement, spinning about with his arms wide, “is the greatest feat of engineering and physics that I have ever seen.”
“This... bunch of shapes?”
“Sam, this ‘bunch of shapes’ pierced the very fabric of reality! It broke through into another dimension and plucked me from my... uh... my house, and spat me out here! In all of the history of my world, nobody has ever been able to do anything like that! Hell, we didn’t even know for sure if other dimensions existed! And all of it was done by people who lived right here! Don’t you see? You think everything I’ve been teaching you is some weird shit from my world, but it’s not! Your own ancestors were fucking amazing!”
Samanta looked around at the mysterious devices. They sure didn’t look impressive. Still, as much as she despised the man before her, she couldn’t help but admit that he was capable of technological feats she’d never thought possible — if he thought this was amazing, then maybe it was true. Maybe her ancestors were workers of miracles. But that just left one problem...
“So then what happened? Why don’t people make stuff like this today?”
“That’s what I want to know,” he said as he strode back into the hallway.
Samanta followed him as he turned into a doorway and found herself in a room that reminded her of Leo’s office, except more crowded. Three metal desks lined the three other walls, with several metal boxes on each one. Each box had a transparent pane sticking out from the top and a strange board protruding from the front with dozens of buttons on it.
“Oh, ho!” Blake exclaimed. “What have we here?” Eagerly, he grabbed a box and began to fiddle with it. With the flick of a switch, the pane lit up and he clapped his hands together with delight. “Yes!”
“What are you doing?” she asked as he gazed at the box expectantly.
“I’m going to try to figure out how this computer and screen works, and then I’m going to steal everything I can from it.”
“You’re going to steal from my ancestors too?” This was beginning to feel like grave robbing. Had he no respect for the dead?
“A good programmer never duplicates work when he doesn’t have to.”
All Samanta could do was harrumph and stand there, waiting for him to finish as he removed a side from the box and began to peer inside, muttering to himself as he went.
“So how does this work... so the energy goes in through there, and then it cycles into that, and then... oh, that’s really smart, why didn’t I think of that... so if I adjust the energy flow here... what’s this do here... what the hell?”
“What is it?”
“There’s some kind of memory in here. It’s a brilliant design, and I might use it myself in newer models, but... it’s empty. I know it’s working because I was able to store some random filler data in it, but there’s nothing inside. No operating system, no instructions at all. This machine is completely empty. Like it was wiped on purpose or something. Which fucking sucks, because I was thinking we might be able to find answers on these things.” He walked over to another machine and inspected it. “This one too.” He strode to the third machine. “And this one. All of them are wiped. God dammit!” With a sigh, he back into the hallway. “Let’s look elsewhere. Maybe we’ll find something.”
The next several hours were spent by Blake puttering about in various rooms while Samanta waited uncomfortably nearby. She didn’t like this place one bit. The entire facility unnerved her, like the spirits of the past still roamed these halls. She was not supposed to be here. Not that she voiced those feelings to Blake, of course. He wouldn’t listen either way.
Every so often, Blake would call her over to look at some incomprehensible doodad. She never understood any of what he was talking about, but that didn’t stop him. He’d just babble on about ‘crystals’ and ‘circuits’ and ‘capacitors’ and whatever else. Soon Samanta found herself wishing for anything else, even the dreaded ‘chemistry’ lessons.
“Can we go now?” she pleaded as they exited the fourth room.
"Soon. There's just one more thing I need to check first. You go play or something. I'll be out when I'm done."
“Okay.” Grateful to be anywhere but in that place, Samanta rushed outside into the open air. Judging by the position of the sun, it was mid afternoon by now. Sitting down for a spell, she relaxed and enjoyed herself by playing a game with Alpha. She would throw rocks at him, and he would try to dodge them. It was a fun game that had been born out of her initial sadness and frustration at her new life. It was good that Alpha was metal, because he would never had survived the things that she’d thrown at him in the beginning were he flesh.
The day stretched on, and on, and on. The afternoon had depleted into evening when Blake finally emerged from the place beneath the mountain. Immediately she knew that something was off. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he replied. She didn’t believe him for a second.
The trip back was as boring everything else in that day. Samanta spent her trip practicing her new lightning powers, secretly delighted with the sudden improvement. Not that she would tell Blake that.
“Leo, don’t you ever leave this room?” Blake asked with some exasperation. Sam stared at the massive pile of documents that had moved from one side of Leo Feldmanis’s desk to the other. She didn’t entirely agree with the man’s philosophies, but his work ethic left no doubt as to his love for their country.
“Maybe if the ruler of this nation would stop going on vacation all the time, I’d be able to,” the administrator replied.
“Hey, we went on an important mission today, didn’t we Sam?”
“You took me to a mountain and then stared at objects for hours.”
“See? Important! And there’s still more to do today!”
“There is?!” Samanta cried in dismay.
“Leo, the Church has a main library where it keeps all its old books and stuff, right?”
“It had a main library, yes.”
“Had?” Blake wondered. “What happened to it?”
“You happened to it,” Leo replied, doing little to hide the displeasure in his gaze.
“Yes, well... uh... hmm... I... you see...” Blake coughed. “That is quite regrettable. Might there be a... backup library somewhere?”
“Somewhat, assuming you didn’t happen to that too,” Leo responded. “Out by the Academy, there’s a small stone building on a corner with a round roof. I ended up going there once, back when I was a student looking for a hard-to-find text. It’s not a library, really. It’s an archive, and then only for the tomes that were not deemed important enough for the main library.”
“Oh, sounds wonderful,” came Blake’s sarcastic reply. “Super useful. Exactly what I was looking for.”
“If you have a problem with it, I suggest you take your complaint to the perpetrator. You’re lucky it exists at all.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Blake said, waiving dismissively. “Come on, Sam, let’s go.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yep! We’re getting answers to something today if it kills us.” A low growl emanated from inside his armor. “After we eat, that is.”
With a sigh, Samanta fell in behind him as he headed off in search of a meal. This was turning into a long, long day.
The sun was nearly past the horizon and the ‘street lamps’, as Blake called them, were beginning to light as they set off towards the Academy. What was left of it, at least. The place had been the second to fall, after the Grand Cathedral, but unlike the Cathedral, the country’s conqueror had done nothing to replace it. Ruined walls and collapsed ceilings littered the grounds of the former institution. She could still remember the panicked people pouring from the exits as the compound burned, Blake’s metal creatures descending upon the section where Apostles were trained, ripping and tearing, massacring hundreds.
It was that truth that scared her more than anything. Most of the time her captor seemed like somebody’s fun uncle, cheerful and a bit of a goof, but she knew all too well that all that just served to hide the terrible butcher that was his true self. Something told her that the others, like Leo and the others who had joined in later, didn’t fully understand that a monster lurked beneath Blake’s affable veneer. She was the only one who’d been there, who’d seen the madness in his eyes as blood soaked the streets of the capital. To be fair, they’d never seen his eyes at all, or any of his face for that matter. He never took off his mask unless only the two of them were alone.
Makeshift tents dotted the ruins now, meager attempts at shelter from the destitute and desperate. Samanta wasn’t sure why Blake had left the ruins there instead of replacing them as he had the Grand Cathedral. Was it some sort of warning, or did he just not care?
“This must be it,” Blake said, pulling her from her thoughts. The skitter had stopped outside a nondescript three-story stone building that matched Leo’s description. Blake hopped down and strode up to the wooden door, pounding on it with his metal fist. “Yo! Anybody here?”
A soft light illuminated an upstairs window, before disappearing again for a moment. Several moments later they heard several bolts sliding out of their holes and the door creaked open slightly.
“I was trying to sleep,” complained an old man with a long white beard and shiny bald scalp as he stuck his head through the gap. “Whatever it is you need, come back tomorr-eeeep!” His eyes flew open at the sight of Blake’s imposing armored figure.
“Is this the archives?” Blake asked.
“I-I-I-I,” the elderly man stammered.
“Is this the backup archives?”
“M-my apologies, sir, I meant no d-disrespect. Please, if you will f-forgive my remarks I would be forever grateful to-”
“You got books in there or not?”
The man swallowed. “Y-yes sir, though at this hour I’m afraid reading them would be quite-”
“Great!” Blake pushed the door open and strode in, ignoring the old man’s cowering. Several small skitters no larger than Alpha crawled out of the transport, smaller versions of the street lamp crystals sticking out from the top of their backs. Strange, she hadn’t noticed those on the way over.
“Sam, you can read, right?”
“Good, because I can’t.”
“Um, sir, if I may,” interjected the elderly keeper, “what are you looking for?”
“Old stuff. The oldest stuff you have.”
“I-I see. If that is what you require... though I doubt you will get much from it.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“As you wish.” The man headed off into the gloom, a glowing skitter following him. He eyed it warily. Soon he returned with three ancient-looking, dust-covered books, placing them gently on a nearby table.
Blake took the first one and placed it to the side, opening it up carefully and beckoning her over. “So, what does it say?”
Samanta stared at the ink flowing down the page, its paths looping about in strange squiggles that were as beautiful as they were incomprehensible. “I can’t read this,” she said.
“I thought you said you could read.”
“This isn’t writing.”
“Hey old man! What is this?”
“T-those are the oldest books we have, m-my Lord. Y-you asked for the oldest.”
“Can you read it?”
“N-no. They are older than Otharia itself. Nobody can read them. I believe they were kept back in the past to study their materials in the hopes of figuring out why they have decomposed so little over the years, but then were eventually forgotten. Everything is forgotten in this place...”
“Interesting. What about old things that we can read?”
“T-there is nothing original, but I have some reproductions...” He walked off into the gloom again, before coming back with several more books, these ones marked with a different script, one she could recognize.
“Can you read these?”
Blake opened the top book carefully, its pages far more delicate than the strange ancient tomes.
“The Writ of Otharo?” she wondered. “That’s not right... It’s called the Word of Othar.”
The Word of Othar formed the foundation of the Church. It told of the life, words, and deeds of Othar, a simple farmer who took up arms against the bane that was the dragons, slaying them with his holy might before ascending to the afterlife to protect the spirits of those who would come after. Samanta loved the Word of Othar. Like almost all other Otharians, she could recite the entire scripture from memory.
"The Writ of Otharo is one of several early variations that later became the Word of Othar," chimed in the old man, his voice no longer quavering now that he was talking about an apparent subject of interest. "It differs in some substantial ways from the more recent texts that were codified in the Convention of Nont."
"The rough draft, huh?" Blake said, intrigued, motioning impatiently to Samanta. "Go on, read it!"
"Once there was a time when the people feared the sky as they trembled beneath the shadows of the scourge of the old gods, for they were mighty and terrible things that brought disaster upon the world. And the people cried out in despair, for they were weak. And lo, did Otharo descend to them from the mountains, fully formed, to battle the old gods for the sake of the people." She couldn't believe her eyes. This was not the Word of Othar! This was completely different and wrong!
“Woah woah woah, hold up. Read that again.”
Samanta repeated it.
“Nooooooooo, no way, it can’t be.” He held his head in his hands and rocked back and forth for a moment before realizing what he was doing and stopping. “Sorry, keep going. This just suddenly got much more interesting.”
Samanta did, slowly reading the words on the pages. It was hard, as not all the words made sense and the language was archaic, but she worked through it.
“... and so the Godslayer spoke unto the people, and he said ‘call them not gods but dragons, they cannot call down the might of the heavens like Zeus, they cannot unleash the mighty tides as Poseidon can, they cannot sway the hearts of men or prophesy the future like Aphrodite or Apollo. These beasts may be mighty, but they are not divine.’ And so Otharo became known no longer as the Godslayer and instead as the Dragonslayer.”
“Jesus Christ on a cracker, I was right,” Blake muttered to himself. “Sam, skip ahead to the end, would you?”
“Maybe not the end, the part where he what, leaves? Goes away?”
“The part where he ascends to protect the spirits of the people?”
“Yeah, sure, around there. Maybe a little before that.”
Samanta carefully turned the pages until she found a section that she somewhat recognized — Othar’s speech prior to the final victory against the vile dragons.
“Otharo said to the people, ‘The final battle is upon us, and so I must journey forth. The battle will be great, but know that, no matter what becomes of me, I will be with you always, either in flesh or in spirit.’ And the people did rejoice in the truth that the Dragonslayer would be with them for eternity, protecting them from evil.
“And so Otharo set forth to the home of the dragons, and he did war with them. The sky shook and the very earth was rent asunder by their blows. Finally Otharo struck down the last of the great beasts, but as it lay dying it sent out a great storm, to curse the world with its anger. But Otharo would not allow the people to suffer. He...”
“What do you mean ‘that’s it’?! What happened to him? Did he get to go home?”
Samanta showed him the book. The writing simply stopped there, the sentence incomplete.
“Yo, old man, what the fuck is this?” Blake yelled.
“T-t-that’s all there i-is,” the archivist stammered. “T-t-the o-original m-must have been d-damaged, the rest l-lost...”
“What about your version?” he asked Samanta, his voice filled with a desperation that she couldn’t understand. “What happens to Othar? Did he leave?”
“Othar ascended to the heavens after his battle with the dragons, to protect the spirits of the people for all of eternity from the dragons’ curse.”
"He ascended?! What the flying fuck does that even mean? Did he die? Did he find a way back? That could mean fucking anything! FUCK!" Blake's right arm slammed down upon the table with terrifying force, splitting it into two pieces, catapulting books across the room. Samanta yelped in surprise and the old archivist scurried for cover. The armored man sighed. "Shit, sorry about that." He picked the broken table up, holding it together as some metal melted off a nearby skitter and bonded the two pieces back together.
“I think it’s best if we leave,” he said as he picked up the books scattered across the floor. “I’m taking these. Come on, Sam.”
Without another word, Blake opened the front door and walked out, books underneath both arms. Samanta followed and they boarded the transport skitter, setting off for the fortress looming over the city.
Samanta couldn’t help but give the man several worried glances as they went. For just a moment, the man she feared had shown through. She wondered what would happen when it fully got loose again.
“I never thought I would see the day where I would actually care about religion,” the man mused, glumly. “Never thought I’d ever be in the same position as a man named ‘Otharo’ either. Life comes at you fast...”
“His name is ‘Othar’,” Samanta interjected. “And don’t talk like you and he are the same.”
“But we are, Sam, don’t you get it? Nobody knew where he came from. He just appeared out of nowhere, from the mountains. He talks about gods like Zeus, a god from my world, not from here... Othar was an Elseling.”
Samanta shot out of her seat in fury. “You take that back!” she cried.
“It’s true. We’re the same.”
“No you’re not! He was a hero! The man that became a god! Protector of the people! Savior to Otharia!”
“He was a xenophobic asshole who preached hatred towards anything he didn’t understand,” Blake replied. “Or did you forget the part you read tonight where he talks about how all elves and people with animal tails and whatever are ‘chimeras’ who cannot be trusted and should be put down?”
“Shut up! He’s nothing like you! You’re just a murderer! A killer!”
“That’s enough, Sam,” Blake said, warning in his voice.
“You’re nothing but a monster who pretends to be a person! I wish I had killed you when I had the chance!”
Blake stood up and Samanta’s blood ran cold. She’d said too much. Her mind went back to the day they’d met, to the collar that she still wore. With just a thought, he could make that collar explode and kill her, any time he wished. The man crouched down, his head level with hers. She could hear his muffled breathing behind his mask, could hear the rage boiling beneath the surface. Would now be the time?
“You,” he growled, “are soooooooo grounded.”