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Chapter 00


Two is an uneven number; if there cannot be one, there should be three. Two is an unlucky number; if three becomes two, misfortune will fall onto the others. Two is an evil number; it is avoided at all costs. Because once, there were two gods: Creator, the One Who Created Us, and Envier, the One Who Destroyed Us. Before humans, the two were nameless. They were together, they were opposite, they were whole.


Then Creator made humans and enjoyed their worship. She found their quirks and petty turmoils and silly desires a wonder. She helped them build up society and be the best they could be, because she loved them. But the other god envied Creator’s worshippers while simultaneously yearning for the times Before—before humans, when it had been just the two of them. His envy overtook him and he started to massacre them all. Creator tried to stop him and they fought for a thousand days and nights. Their battle toppled temples, burned down libraries, leveled cities. As Creator loved her creations, she loved her counterpart, and did not want to live in a world without him. But she realized after the thousandth night that Envier would not stop unless she stopped him. So she did.


She solidified Envier’s immortal body into stone, and hid the statue away where it could not be harmed. And then, in heartbreak and shame, Creator hid herself from mortals.


But hundreds of years is a long time and millions of humans is a large number. When the remnant of Envier was found, because inevitably it was found, it was not destroyed. It was coveted. The Cult of Envy wanted to reawaken the old god. With gifts of limbs and senses from only the most worthy, the remnant could be reborn. The cultists worked to cultivate their minds, bodies, and souls in the hope that their offering would be accepted. Because for sacrificing a worthy gift they would receive a part of the god in return, a piece of his abilities.


In response, the Society of the One True God formed a special sect of trained soldiers to combat the cultist regime. After all, very few actually wanted Envier to be awoken, with no telling what he would do or destroy when he was. Without Creator’s help, the temples had not been rebuilt so glorious, the libraries had not been filled with so much knowledge, the cities had not been remade so splendid. If Envier had another go, society would surely crumble under his rage and humanity would not recover at all.


But unlike the Society, the cultists were scattered and secretive. They did not build temples, did not gather in more than ten, did not keep rigorous contact with their leader. It was not easy; no matter how many limbs they cut off, if they could not cut off the head then the beast would never die.


Then came the news. The Envier had been gifted a voice. The next gift, a life, was the last needed to awaken the god. The Temple General pleaded to the people of the city and received not just thousands of donations, but hundreds of citizens enlisted into the sect to help root out the cultists. They lay an all-out siege on every city, town, and hamlet. They killed hundreds, tortured dozens, until the information they wanted was obtained. The location of the leader of the Cult of Envy.


Knowing the cult leader would move quickly and be aware of any attacks, they had to act quicker and lighter. Ruadhan sent his best soldier to infiltrate the leader’s multilayer hideout and kill everyone there. He was fast, efficient, and skilled. He reached the leader’s quarters in under an hour with two dozen lives behind him, ready to end more. A boy in the antechamber stopped him in his tracks. No older than eleven or twelve, he stood when the soldier entered. Just stood, and stared. Faced the soldier’s sword with no fear, no surprise, no anger. He did not even sound an alarm.


The soldier moved into the inner chamber and killed the four guards around the leader with ease. The cult leader was skilled in combat herself and it took another hour to subdue her. The actual killing was easy. No one survived disembowelment. When the soldier left the boy was still there, quietly sitting, wordlessly watching, as he vanished out the door.


Kiol's orders had been to kill all, and he could not let others know he had a moment of weakness, and so that is what he told them. Ruadhan accepted the report. Kiol knew he was sending a team to clean up his work and would see for himself. With the success of the mission, Ruadhan brought him to the Society temple. And there, hidden behind the glorious statue of the Creator, was a staircase down into the earth. It went down in a straight, steep line, its sides closed by rock. At the bottom, stepping stones the size of beds drifted across a pool of black water. And at the other end was a statue. Bigger than any statue Kiol had ever seen, as big as a house, and so worn with age and mold its features were indistinguishable. Unlike the statue in the temple above, and all others of the Creator, it was not posed heroically or wisely or compassionately. Its figure twisted in on itself, as though afraid of the flickering torchlight that walked towards it as Ruadhan and Kiol approached. Maybe not fear— maybe anguish, or sorrow. It was impossible to tell with no expression to be seen.


And there Kiol learned the true story of the Thousand Night Battle.


Creator knew she and Envier were equally matched and one could not defeat the other. So Creator defeated herself in order to defeat Envier, turning them both into remnants. The world would fall to chaos if it was known Creator was gone, so they protected her here and when a worthy vassal showed itself they slowly worked to awaken her as the cultists tried to awaken Envier.


Kiol gifted his hearing to the remnant and in return his every other sense was heightened—smell, sight, touch, perception, even taste. It was a glimpse of being god. But the high didn’t last long. Even deadlier than before, Kiol was idolized by citizens and fellow soldiers alike, but without hearing them, he grew ever distant. He had never realized how much of the world, how much the joy of living, relied on sound. Conversation, music, debates, sermons. Even Ruadhan, who had once treasured his most talented soldier, seemed to have had his use of Kiol and disregarded him. Unable to hear shouted commands, he could no longer function in the regime. He was relegated to assassin; a position that afforded him a large amount of free will and free time, but it was the least honorable of positions and it isolated him even further.


He killed many. Whoever Ruadhan assigned, from the lowest citizen to the highest political figure. The Envier remnant was never found. The sense of joy and freedom from eradicating the Cult of Envy fell to quiet contentment, which fell to tolerant obedience. Soldiers marched the streets in the shadows of cramped city buildings, themselves in the shadows of golden glorious temples from centuries past. They kept the streets and the people safe. Sacrifice some autonomy, the Archbishop explained, sacrifice some tolerance, for peace and safety. A worthwhile and necessary sacrifice.


Citizens clung to the One True God even more. She offered community, sanctuary, certainty, vindication. The Archbishop was glad to give it all in Creator’s name. And in Her name the world obeyed, or otherwise suffered.


>> Chapter 01


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