Kiol’s heart dropped to his feet and he stumbled forward. “N-Nirin!”
Nirin's head lifted and glanced over his shoulder. Kiol’s relief made him almost dizzier than his horror. He grabbed the boy and pulled him up, away from the blood. “What the hell is this? What is this? Are you hurt?” He realized he was frantically touching Nirin’s torso and pulled his hands away.
“I’m not hurt,” Nirin reassured him, perfectly calm. “Please stop panicking.”
“I’m not panicking!” Kiol straightened and stubbornly forced his head to cool. He was a soldier, he didn’t panic at the sight of some blood. Well, more than some. Kiol stared down at the mess, its stench so strong that it was like he was swallowing it. “Whoever donated this to the ground is dead now,” he signed.
“It was a sigil.” Nirin walked the perimeter of the puddle.
“A sigil? For what?”
“I don’t know. But there are only a few that require so much blood.” Kiol waited as Nirin came back to his side. “Transferring a soul to another body—”
“—forging a supernatural weapon, or instant transportation.”
“What was that first one again?”
“Transferring a soul to another body.” He signed it too casually, Kiol almost felt that it really wasn’t strange at all. Nirin crouched again and Kiol looked askance at the blood. It did seem to have a form, like it was once strategically placed lines but had seeped together.
“Those uses really don’t seem equal,” Kiol said flatly.
Nirin tilted his head. “Maybe not to our mortal understanding. They are all things that require great amounts of energy; not even the gods could do them without a sigil.”
“How do you know any of this?”
“Okay, but then how does anyone else know of these things?”
“It’s ancient knowledge, so it wouldn’t be strange for it to have spread around over centuries.”
Kiol crossed his arms and stared harder, but he didn’t know why. Even if he could make out the distinct form of a sigil, he wouldn’t know which it was. And all he could smell was blood, there was no use in trying to identify other scents that could determine who had done this. “Come on,” he muttered. “Let’s go.”
Nirin let himself into the front door of the cottage and held it for Kiol. It hadn’t even been locked. The front room was dark and empty, the fire only pulsing embers in the hearth. In the kitchen Creator sat on the floor surrounded by dozens of soft pink petals. It would have been picturesque if she wasn’t in the dark and looked almost crazed, muttering as she cupped something in her hands. As Kiol and Nirin walked in she opened her palms and another petal drifted to her lap. She lifted it, examining it closely, then sighed and tossed it. It fluttered to the ground with the others.
She looked up at them, then stood and brushed off her robes. Nirin was holding onto Kiol’s sleeve, which he thought was a warning until he realized the boy just couldn’t see anything.
“You came back,” Creator signed.
Kiol nodded. The woman moved over to the lantern on the table, lifting the paper covering and blowing softly onto the wick. A flame grew from it and burned brightly, illuminating the kitchen and casting shadows across the walls. Nirin walked over to the mess of petals, lifting one up.
“These look good,” he signed.
Creator turned around with a sigh, her face grim. “They’re good, they need to be perfect.” Kiol picked one up too. To him it just looked like a flower petal. Soft and powdery and frail.
He rested it on Nirin’s shoulder and the boy glanced at it, then left it there, signing again. “Why not just change what perfect means?” Creator’s eyes had drifted away but they snapped back to him at that, a strange expression on her face. They stared at each other. Creator opened her mouth, closed it, and looked away.
Even the One True God couldn’t withstand Nirin’s gaze. Kiol felt better about himself at that realization.
“That’s not in my power anymore,” Creator murmured. Then she brushed past them, carrying the paper lantern to the front room. Nirin bit his lower lip and gazed down at the petals. Before Kiol could do anything Nirin also turned around and followed Creator. She had started the fire and sat on the rug before it, once again looking calm and confident. Kiol sat beside Nirin, leaning his weight on his palm and watching the fire caress the bricks around it.
“When will you be at full strength again?” he asked, and let his gaze flick over to see her response.
“I don’t know,” Creator signed. “Not any time soon. Tell me, what has been happening in the capital?”
“Answer me this first,” Kiol said. “How do you know Ruadhan?”
Her calm shattered again, just like that. Her expression dropped, sad and pained and angry, and she looked away, teeth clenched. She was silent for a long, long time, but Kiol waited patiently. Nirin also said nothing and watched her, hands in his lap.
“Ru is…” She took a deep breath. “He was the catalyst of the Thousand Night Battle.” Kiol’s elbow buckled and he righted himself before he toppled into Nirin.
“He was the one who whispered in Envier’s ear, incited his anger and jealousy and despair. The one who provoked him to violence.”
“Why?” Kiol asked, head blank and heart beating so hard in his chest he could almost hear it through his deafness. “Why? What could— how could he do that?”
Creator closed her eyes and shook her head. “I told you, Ruadhan is not someone to take lightly. Even as a mortal, he is a formidable match for me.”
“But he’s not,” Kiol said sharply. “He’s not mortal if he’s lived that long. How?”
Creator lowered her head. It was another few minutes before she continued. “He’s not immortal,” she signed. “He can die, just not of natural causes.”
“He can be killed,” Kiol verified. She nodded. “So kill him.” She blinked at him. He met her eyes defiantly, not caring if she, like Nirin, could feel the turmoil raging inside him.
“I cannot,” she said, and though Kiol couldn’t know, he thought she whispered it. “I create, I don’t destroy.”
Kiol opened his mouth, the ‘I’ll do it’ on his tongue, but it wouldn’t come out. Instead he asked, “So even death won’t touch him, then?”
The corner of Creator’s lips quirked up in a brief, wry smile. “That wouldn’t be a false statement.” She turned serious again. “I know you’ll ask, so I’ll tell you. Before the Thousand Night Battle, hundreds of years ago, Ruadhan was a priest. It wasn’t the Society of the One True God then, it was simply called the Order of Creator. There was no Archbishop or soldiers; it was only me, and my priests, and the layman followers. I wasn’t worshiped I was…” She sighed. “I was loved. Respected. My priests spread my word, the guidance I offered, and they came to me with the worries and tribulations of the masses so that I may help. But Ruadhan, he… he wanted more. He wanted to be on the same level as me—no, above me. He thought he could do better than I did. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, prayed to me every day. Of course I could not answer them all, and I depended on my priests to come to me with the most important burdens. Nobody ever prayed to Envier so when Ruadhan did, of course Envier came. And Ru manipulated him and turned him against me.”
“So Ruadhan is… a god now?” Kiol signed. He couldn’t even say it, he could barely sign it, it was so incomprehensible.
“Not exactly,” Creator replied. “But I suppose in some ways he got what he wanted. It is his world now, isn’t it?” And Kiol helped to keep it that way. Would likely continue to do so. Because people like Domora… they were worse than Ruadhan could ever be. Kiol had no qualms about stopping such evil, even if it kept Ruadhan in power.
“So he didn’t want you to awaken,” Kiol signed slowly. “But why would he want Envier to?”
“Now that I’ve remembered it… he likely thinks he can harness Envier’s powers. If he does then he will be a god, or the closest thing to it. He’s already found a way to connect his life to Envier’s so that he will not age.”
Kiol really couldn’t handle much more. He had asked, he had wanted to know, but now he understood better than ever the saying, ‘Ignorance is bliss.’ Well, ‘bliss’ didn’t exactly describe his life before, but it had been simpler and easier. Nirin shifted and Kiol looked over in time to see the boy place the flower petal that had been on his shoulder onto Kiol’s. He smiled, and the tenderness melted Kiol’s heart. How could Nirin remain so collected in the face of such information? Or had he already known? But he had said he didn’t know how Creator was so familiar with Ruadhan.
Kiol and Nirin reported the goings-on of the city and Society. They told her of the blood sigil in the forest. Creator listened intently, never commenting, never reacting. Even when they were finished all she gave was a single nod and she stood. “Please have something to eat before you go.”
And so Kiol and Nirin sat on the front stone steps, a paper lantern glowing between them as they ate veggie rice balls and watched the dark sky turn navy as dawn began to light it.
“It’ll be harder to sneak in with the light,” Kiol said. He didn’t move his head but he could read Nirin’s signs from the corner of his vision.
“You can do it anyway.”
He smirked and took another bite of the rice. “Is that encouragement or dismissal?”
“You don’t need encouragement.”
He raised his eyebrows and looked at the boy with feigned offense. “Is that so?”
Nirin took another bite of rice and gave a nod. Kiol met his eyes originally, but he couldn’t help his gaze as it wandered across Nirin’s stuffed cheeks and sauce-specked lips. He tore his eyes away and held out a handkerchief. “Don’t eat so messy.” Nirin took the offering after he swallowed, and wiped his mouth.
“You can’t say that to me,” Nirin signed, and reached over to wipe Kiol’s face. Kiol froze, shocked, and just let him do it. Nirin carefully brushed the grains of rice and vegetables from Kiol’s mouth and chin, his strokes slow and gentle. Then he folded the cloth and placed it onto Kiol’s knee. “You are even messier,” he finished.
Kiol took the cloth and stuffed it back into his pocket, ignoring the slight tremble to his hands. He pushed himself off his knees to stand. “I’d better go back now,” he stated, sticking his hands under his arms. He glanced sidelong at Nirin.
“I will stay here for a while,” Nirin signed. “I’ll be back tomorrow morning.”
“Fine,” Kiol said, turning away. “Just stay safe.” He had taken a few steps towards the bridge when a hand caught the back of his shirt. He glanced over his shoulder. Nirin didn’t let go, staring at him. “Nn? What is it, kid?”
He seemed as though he wanted to say something. After a suffering pause, he forced a smile and slowly released Kiol’s shirt. “You too,” he signed. “Stay safe.”