O, dear gods of old
Do you hear the fearful prayers
Of your lost children?
Where have you gone to
And left us here to suffer
In your world of ruin?
Twins of life and death
Do you watch over us still
Judging and waiting?
Lord of Chaos Brave
And Lady of Order Fair
Did we make you proud?
No songs in the sea
Nor divinity in clouds
The lush earth silent
Yet we remain here
No deity to guide us
To where you have gone
What wrong have we done
To be left lost and alone
Shunned from holy touch?
Only one remains
Living corpse of a dead god
Who was never born
Dead without a name
Peaceful rest violated
Brought to painful life
Its scared blood flows
Within a vessel of flesh
Bringing shame to all true gods
Feasts on tormented life
The primal vigour
It burns like growing embers
Writhing from within
Crimson clouds my mind
Bloody taste on a dry tongue
Stranger crawls inside
A God’s red tears flow
Spirit of the restless dead
In unwilling flesh
Squirming under skin
Foul hunger that isn’t ours
The tormented god cries
Unborn and frightened of life
They all crawl inside
Conquered veins now scream
Heart and mind ensnared in trap
Crawling and clawing
A god’s agony
Trapped within a mortal flesh
Yearning for release
True gods hear us now
Pitiful pain of their kin
Please deliver us
Keiko flipped to the next page of the old journal.
“That’s it,” she said, staring at the blank yellowed paper. “That’s all Kasumi-sama wrote.”
Louise, who’d been laying splayed on the couch opposite to her, sat up properly and stretched her back. She’d changed from her sleeveless hoodie to a pastel yellow onesie that was probably made with a child in mind and looked just a tiny bit tight around the chest.
“You translated that to commontongue pretty well,” she said.
“Thank you!” said Keiko. “I did major in linguistics after all.”
Beside her, Valen sat rubbing his pale chin with a serious frown on his face. He’d finally traded the spiffy waistcoat he seemed so fond of for something normal people actually wear.
Though Keiko tried not to stare too much, she did notice that the black T shirt he hastily slipped on after being called from the shower hugged his muscular chest just a tiny bit too tight. His long black hair which was usually tied into a neat ponytail now flowed loose over his broad shoulders like midnight waterfalls, still smelling of the herbal coconut shampoo he’d washed it with.
“Not that I’m doubting you, Keiko,” he said. “But are you sure about those translations? If this writer of yours really did have contact with the Unborn God, these poems make them appear like a victim.”
“Yeah,” Enid agreed. “This makes it sound like they don’t even want anything to do with mortals. Hell, it makes the Unborn God sound like the victim in all this.”
Keiko shrugged. “This is what it says. I might’ve missed some subtleties present in the original Jadinese but this is what it says.”
“This doesn’t even sound like the same god.” Valen absentmindedly twirled a lock of his black hair around a slender finger. “The Unborn God seemed all too eager to make me the prophet of its word when I was in its heavenly realm.”
“Maybe it changed its mind?”
Louise nodded in agreement. “Gods do tend to be the fickle sort.”
“How long ago did this Kasumi person live?” Enid asked.
“Kasumi Kouki-sama lived about…five thousand years ago?” said Keiko. “Typewriters had just been invented but she was famous for preferring to write by hand.”
“This book is pretty damn well preserved for something four thousand years old,” said Louise.
“It’s enchanted,” said Enid. “If I focus then I can sense a tiny bit of magic emanating from it. Probably preservation glyphs drawn in invisible ink.”
“What kind of person was Kasumi?” Valen asked.
“She was a human mystery writer,” said Keiko. “Apparently she was so good at creating and unravelling mysteries that even the police consulted her during her time in Dragon’s Rest. There are....rumours about her, though.”
“What kind of rumours?”
“There are two major ones. One is that she was a royalborn, an exiled member of Port Jade’s imperial family.”
Valen considered the possibility of the rumour being true. If that was true then she might’ve had a chance to talk to the Unborn God face to face like he did. He recalled the Unborn God telling him that he was the first one to ever understand its voice, but that could have easily been a lie to make him feel more special and likely to accept its offer. Did Kasumi reject its offer like he did as well?
“What’s the second rumour?”
Keiko grew visibly uneasy.
“That she got exiled for practising necromancy,” she said. “Some say that she’d use necromancy to summon spirits of the dead to help with difficult cases.”
Now that was interesting, though Valen still couldn’t tell how that possible fact could affect her relationship with the Unborn God. If anything, shouldn’t it hate her more for practising it?
Colton said that the gods would despise him for practising necromancy. If Kasumi really was a necromancer too, then she was showing an unusual amount of sympathy to the Unborn God in her poem. Did being a necromancer give her some sort of greater insight into it?
“How’d she kick the bucket?” Louise asked.
“That’s up for debate,” said Keiko. “Some say she got drunk and accidentally fell from the balcony of her bedroom. Others say that she jumped on purpose to take her own life after losing a battle with depression.”
Enid grimaced. “Her bedroom?”
“It should be the master bedroom,” said Keiko. “I’m guessing that’s where you’ve been sleeping?”
“Yes.” Enid leaned back on the couch with a look of displeasure on her face. “I really did not need to know that.”
Keiko rubbed the back of her head. “Sorry.”
“Well, this is all very interesting,” said Louise dryly. “But does any of this actually help us in any way?”
“I…guess not directly, no,” said Valen.
Louise threw her arms in the air. “Then why worry about it? Let’s just go to sleep and worry about all this Unborn God shit tomorrow.”
“You know what?” Enid rubbed her icy blue eyes. “You’re right for once. I could use some shuteye.”
“I guess it’s getting pretty late-or rather, early.” Keiko ran her dainty fingers down the final page of Kouki Kasumi’s unpublished poem. “Still, to think that the Primordial Church has existed for so long. Doesn’t it make you wonder? How big this all is, I mean.”
“Nope!” Louise backflipped off the couch for no other reason than to show off. “I’m going to bed now. You lot should too.”
“Good idea.” Valen stood from the couch and put a hand on Keiko’s shoulder. “We can worry about this once we wake up. Everything will seem less overwhelming after we get some sleep.”
Keiko sighed and closed the leather notebook.
“I guess so.” She walked over to the bookcase she got the notebook from and tucked it back in its original slot. “Going to have a lot to dream about, though.”
“You’re telling me.” Enid strutted towards the library exit. “I just found out someone died falling from my bedroom.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry about that,” said Keiko with a nervous chuckle.
“Do you need help unpacking?” Valen asked. “I’m done with my shower now so I might as well.”
Keiko looked at him and felt her face grow hot at the idea of being in a room alone with him. He was plenty attractive before when he had his quaint waistcoat and pretty ponytail, but seeing him in nothing but his joggers and a T-shirt with his glossy black hair flowing loose over his muscular shoulders was something else.
“I’m good,” she said, averting her gaze. “Thanks for the offer though.”
The four of them retired to their bedrooms for the day. Valen, Enid, and Louise went to bed immediately. Keiko took her time unpacking her stuff to get her mind off things before showering and going to sleep.
The moment the sun descended back into the horizon, Valen’s eyes fluttered open from a deep slumber. His phone on the nightstand blared a generic alarm tune that was way catchier than it had any right to be. Stifling a yaw, he picked up his phone and turned it off before hopping off the bed.
He’d made a point to set the alarm earlier than last night hoping to be up before anyone else this time.
After brushing his teeth and tying his hair, Valen went downstairs to where he remembered the kitchen was. He let out a sigh of relief when he saw that he’d managed to get there before Enid or Louise this time.
The sandwich press that had suffered Enid’s attempt at fulfilling its purpose still sat tucked away in the kitchen counter. Even with it closed, Valen could faintly smell the remnants of the burnt blue cheese still stuck inside it. He’d have to try to scrape it all off when he had the time.
“Alright!” Valen walked over to the fridge and pulled it open. “Let’s see what I have to work with…”
A few hours later, Louise woke up to the smell of something delicious wafting into her bedroom.
Curious, she rolled off the side of her bed and strutted to the door on all fours.
Upon stepping outside on two feet, she sniffed the air and registered the smell of at least seven different spices she couldn’t remember the name of.
“Something smells good.”
Louise turned around to see Keiko walking down the hall. She wore an odd-looking set of black pyjamas that reminded her of a hospital gown. Her bushy orange fox tail poked out from under the robe-like top, slowly wagging side to side in the air.
“What are you wearing?” asked Louise.
“It’s called a jinbei.” Keiko rubbed her tired brown eyes and let out a long yawn. “It’s a kind of traditional house clothes in Port Jade.”
“Huh. You got a good night’s sleep?”
“I did.” Keiko stretched her arms into the air. “Just getting used to the mattress is all. I usually sleep on a futon.”
“Wanna go see what that smell is?”
“Was already planning to do that.”
Keiko and Louise headed downstairs together. On their way to the kitchen they found Enid already awake. She was sitting at the long dining table that was already set with utensils for four, a cup of tea in one hand and a brand new smartphone showing the latest news in the other.
Like them, she was still in her night clothes. In her case, a pair of dark blue shorts and an oversized grey t-shirt that hung off her massive chest like a floating curtain.
Her one icy blue eye not hidden by her messy scarlet hair glanced at Keiko and Louise for less than a second before returning to the screen of her phone.
“Good Morning,” she said plainly.
“Mornin’ to ya too, Thunder Tits.” Louise loudly sniffed the air. “Is Valen in the kitchen?”
“He’s making…breakfast? Dinner?” Enid shook her head. “Whatever. He’s making food. Not sure what it is though.”
As if on cue, Valen emerged from the kitchen. He wore the same black t-shirt and joggers he’d fallen asleep in, covered by a bright pink apron with a white cartoon puppy printed on the front. Four plates of steaming white rice were meticulously balanced on his left arm while his right hand held a large saucepan with a ladle sticking out of it.
“Good evening, everyone!” He said, strolling gracefully to the dining room table without wobbling a single plate on his arm. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve made you all breakfast-or rather, dinner.”
“I could eat,” said Keiko, sitting down next to Enid.
“Same here!” Louise climbed onto the seat across from them. “What’s on the menu?”
Valen set a plate of fluffy white rice in front of each of them and one more at the end of the table for himself.
“Yellow chicken coconut curry.” He set the saucepan on the table and ladled a healthy helping of curry into Enid’s plate. “By the way, Keiko, are you a vegetarian? I saved some curry sauce without the chicken in case you were.”
“No, I’m not vegetarian.” Keiko felt her mouth water at the smell of piping hot curry so close to her. “Although, I don’t think I could say no to this even if I was.”
Valen smiled with his pale lips pursed together. “You flatter me.”
He poured the curry sauce over Keiko and Louise’s rice. Sweet shredded vegetables and chunks of perfectly cooked chicken floated in the golden curry, speckled by green flecks of fresh spinach.
“Looks delicious!” Louise picked up her spoon and got ready to dig in.
“Hold on.” Valen wrinkled his nose.
“What is it?” asked Louise, her spoon stopping inches away from the curry surface.
“Open your mouth and say ‘Ah.’”
Louise felt heat rise in her cheeks as her white face reddened.
“Heh, ain’t we a bit too old for this?” she teased, but closed her eyes anyways. “Ahhh~”
Instead of a spoonful of delicious curry delivered into her mouth, Louise felt a light flick on her nose.
“Oy, what gives?!” Her eyes fluttered open to see Valen looking down at her with a face scrunched up in mild disgust.
“You haven’t brushed your teeth yet,” said Valen.
“I’ll do it after I eat, okay?”
“Louise…” Valen looked down at her, a thin frown on his disapproving face.
All of a sudden, Louise felt incredibly small. Well, smaller than she usually is anyways.
For a moment she was transported back to a childhood she never had. A little girl getting chastised by her mum for sneaking a little extra snack from the biscuit jar or slacking on her chores. She didn’t like the feeling, but it was still better than getting beat by her dad.
“Ugh, fiiine.” Louise slid off her seat. “I’ll go brush my bloody teeth.”
She mumbled under her breath all the way up the stairs.
Valen ladled the last plate of rice for himself and turned to Keiko.
“Keiko, do you prefer coffee or tea?”
“Tea is fine,” said Keiko.
“Any particular type you’d like? This place is pretty well-stocked.”
“Any kind of green tea would be great. No need to flavour it.”
“I’ll go fix you some then.” Valen put the ladle back in the saucepan and returned to the kitchen.
Keiko looked at Enid, who was already digging into her curry.
“Does he do this every night?”
“Usually it’s only for me, but yes.” Enid took a sip of tea before going back to demolish her meal.
“Huh.” Keiko scooped a spoonful of curry-coated rice into her mouth and immediately felt her body freeze up.
When the moment passed, she scooped another spoon of curry into her mouth. Then another. And another.
At one point Enid glanced at Keiko in the middle of her meal and found the kitsune staring straight at her with her bushy orange fox tail wagging behind her back.
“What?” she asked through a mouthful of white rice and golden curry that stained the corners of her pink lips. “Do I have something on my face?”
Keiko put a hand on Enid’s shoulder.
“I’m giving you advice from one girl to another,” said Keiko, looking her dead in the eye. “Marry. Him.”
Enid seriously considered Keiko’s advice.
But before she could answer, Valen walked back into the room. He was no longer wearing the pink apron, but had a porcelain cup of translucent green tea in his hand and a hearty mug of black tea in the other.
“Here’s your tea, Keiko.” Valen placed the tea beside her plate.
“Thanks!” said Keiko before taking a sip to wash down the curry sauce clinging to her throat. “This curry is delicious, by the way.”
“Thank you!” Valen placed the tea mug beside Louise’s plate before taking a seat for himself. “I wasn’t sure what you’d like so I decided to play it safe and make curry.”
“Good choice.” Keiko took another sip of green tea. “I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like curry.”
Valen heard the sound of tiny wolf nails scuttling down the stairs on all fours. Louise slid into the room seconds later and immediately clambered up on her seat.
“Teeth brushed!” Louise rolled her eyes at Valen’s direction. “Can I please eat now, mum?”
“You may, Lou,” said Valen, using his fork to push perfect proportions of rice and curry into his spoon. “Thank you for following basic hygiene.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” Louise started shovelling the rice and curry into her mouth. “So, we’re going back to the Sterling Sanctum tomorrow, yeah?”
“It’ll be Keiko’s first time there,” said Valen.
“It's the home base of this Silver Star Society or whatever, yeah?” asked Keiko. “Are they like a paladin order or something?”
“If by paladin you mean stock brokers,” said Enid.
“What about their leader?” Keiko asked. “You said he’s a necromancer?”
“And a powerful one,” said Valen. “I also…don’t think he’s all there. In the head, I mean. You should be careful with him.”
“Have we told him about the little runt yet?” asked Louise. “I wasn’t really paying attention when you were talking to him.”
“You mean Lacey?” Enid washed down the last of her curry with a sip of tea. “No, it didn’t come up.”
“It’s better if he doesn’t know,” said Valen. “I don’t know what it is, but that man has some sort of grudge against the gods. He wants to kill a god just for the experience, and I don’t know how far he’ll go to accomplish that goal.”
“You think he might hurt Lacey to learn more about the Primordial Church?” Keiko asked. “And we’re working with a guy like that?”
“I don’t know for sure if he would or not,” Valen said quickly. “But it’s better if we don’t risk it for her sake. Poor girl deserves to live a new life away from all this.”
Keiko studied Valen’s face as he calmly ate the curry he made. “You know, you’re awfully calm considering the situation we’re all in.”
A loud ding came from the kitchen, causing Valen to stand up from his chair.
“What’s up?” asked Louise.
“I’ll be right back,” said Valen before disappearing back into the kitchen.
Keiko and Louise looked at each other and shrugged. Enid just finished her remaining tea and set down her cup.
Valen returned to the dining room seconds later holding a tray of freshly baked cinnamon buns covered in sugary white glaze.
“Dessert!” he said with a smile that beamed brighter than the sun that would burn it away.
It was at that moment that Keiko decided, if Enid wasn’t going to marry this man, she would do so instead.