Vure wandered the vast, ordered halls of the Tenenment library, their hand gently stroking the spines of books as they passed them. They did not look at the category, row, or even the names on the books; they wandered with their eyes closed until they felt their hand stop upon the spine of a book with a strange feeling coming from it. But when they opened their eyes, the feeling faded as they read the name on the spine. Vure closed their eyes again, and slowly, the feeling resurfaced. Their brow tensed as they thought; pulling the book from the shelf, they felt the feeling wane, so they slid their other hand into the gap made by the book. The feeling returned much stronger as they touched a book that had been lodged at the back of a shelf. Struggling quietly, they removed the wedged book and replaced the mundane book back in its spot.
“Now, let us see what makes you worth hiding.” Vure muttered as they floated off to the secluded reading corner they frequented often.
Sitting down, they got comfortable, then nested into the groves of the old chair, taking solace in its familiar comfort. It was dark where they sat; the nook was hidden behind a set of stairs and nearly completely devoid of light. Fortunately, Vure brought their own candles and lit them every time they visited. The soft glow was invisible to any who wandered past the narrow opening to the reading nook, but to Vure, it was a soft, orange flickering that brought them joy and added to the reading experience.
Examining the exterior of the book, they failed to notice any markings to signify an author.
“Strange, never known a god to not mark a book they made.” They said quietly, trying to avoid others finding their spot but loud enough that they felt as if they were in conversation.
Opening the cover, the front page was blank, but Vure noticed that the grain was perfectly in line, running horizontally across the page. Turning the page was the title of the book.
‘Tales of the gods that forgot what they were.’
The ink was raised and felt as if it was embossed on the page; Vure gently scratched at it but failed to break any of it off under their nail.
“Strange, maybe this is their mark.” They turned the book over in their hand, eyeing the ink from various angles. “But maybe not.”
Venture flicked to the next page, and where they expected to find an index of the works inside, instead they found another page with a horizontal grain; turning back to the title, they examined the paper to find that its grain was more random, less curated, and organized.
“Interesting, this might be the mark… But maybe not.”
Flicking forward, Vure cocked their head slightly as the beginning half of the book was empty. They kept thumbing through until they hit the center point, where they finally came across a chapter title.
‘Story one: Deity death by self-belief.’
“Why halfway? Am I missing something?”
Vure flicked back through the book and viewed it from every angle they could, generating different colored lights to try and reveal secrets that might be present. Failing after a few hours of different attempts, they flicked back to the center of the book.
“All right, book, give me your secrets.”
‘These are the stories of those who got lost in their own minds; they found who they thought they were and became that despite who they were. They took the images of what they weren’t, then forgot who they were,
Old, young, smart, dumb beliefs from mortals can lead to belief in self, then belief leads to is, in the case of the lost deities.
Some lost their lives while others far surpassed what they were capable of; the greatest of minds and those with scabbed knuckles were all born of the same form of belief.
Death, power, creation, ineptitude, all possible if you become what are not.’
Vure flicked through the rest of the pages in disappointment.
“Is that it? This is a lot of… energy for such a small passage. Hardly a story, let alone multiple.”
Vure struggled for days as they tried to decipher the text but eventually gave up.
They let loose a loud sigh and tossed the book onto the small table in front of them, their head cocked slightly as they noticed a small print on the base of the book. They rubbed their finger across it with curiosity.
“Don’t overthink? Surely not…” They tapped their mask and looked towards the door of their nook. “Maybe it is that simple.”
They stood up, snuffing the light and heading back to where they found the book. Looking around, they put it back in its hiding spot. Walking calmly, they moved out of the library before warping through their field of thunder, arriving in Anodyne’s universe.
“Now, time to test a theory.” They muttered to themselves as they flew around looking for Anodyne.
They eventually came across him standing on Hollow; breathing deeply, he watched as the heat of his breath became visible in the cold air that surrounded him. Next to him, the Conductor stood; his head had turned to the side to allow him to see Vure as they approached.
“Have you come for something Vure?” The Conductor asked.
“No, just watching.”
The Conductor turned their head back around, facing forwards. Vure stood a few meters back from Anodyne and decided to follow him.
Anodyne kept breathing heavily until his vision returned to normal, and the vapor appeared as vapor again.
“How was it, my lord?” The Conductor asked Anodyne.
“It is better than the last compound, but it still only lasts a few hours. We can do better.”
“Yes, my lord, shall we head to the factory?”
“We don’t need to; they know what they are doing. I want to wander; let those on Hollow remember who I am.”
“As you wish.” The Conductor said with a slight bow.
Anodyne started to wander off into the wilderness when, out of nowhere, a child erupted from under a blanket of snow and plunged a dagger into Anodyne’s leg. Anodyne looked down at it before looking at the child, who looked to be filled with fear.
“Don’t stop now; you started something. Kill me, plunge that dagger into my heart, end my life.” Anodyne said calmly.
The child lurched forward for the knife with a more focused look on their face, but Anodyne knocked them back to the ground.
“No fair, you told me to kill you. Why did you do that?” The child cried out through tears that were starting to appear.
“I told you to kill me, not that I would let you kill me. Now work for it!”
The child got back onto their feet and charged at Anodyne, dodging the slow and methodical attacks that Anodyne made to deter the child. Knocked to the ground time and time again, the child eventually acquired the knife once again; making their way up Anodyne’s body, they plunged it into his heart. Anodyne then pulled the child off of him by the scruff of their shirt, holding them at their eye line.
“When you attack, you either finish the kill or die; if you are smart enough for a sneak attack, you are smart enough to know that. Next time you don’t get special treatment, next time I will kill you like I would any other.”
The child grabbed the knife from Anodyne’s chest and drove it into his eye before spitting at him. Anodyne chuckled as the kid started to become increasingly violent, biting and scratching at Anodyne’s hands.
Anodyne grabbed the knife from his eye and flicked the blood back at the child. His eye regenerated back to normal before the first drops of blood hit the child.
“Now you are getting it; if you bring me a corpse, I will give you a reward, whatever you want.”
Anodyne dropped the child, then dropped the knife next to them. The child grabbed it with haste and ran off into the wilderness.
“Do you think the child will do as you ask?”
“I think they will try, but who knows if they will succeed.”
Anodyne smirked at the Conductor before turning invisible and running to follow the child; the Conductor and Vure both followed suit, trailing after Anodyne. They all watched as the child ran through the forest with a goal glinting in their eye. Each time they seemed to slow down over the day, Anodyne would whisper into their ear, making the fire in their souls re-ignite.
The child eventually found themselves on the edge of a small fort, running to the gates they were opened at the sight of them and closed quickly behind them. The tall wooden walls were covered with ice, scratch marks, and charred chunks of wood. Anodyne floated through the wall without leaving a mark; upon coming out on the inside, the child had already climbed a nearby individual and was in the process of stabbing him.
They made several cuts in the legs to drop the man before he started to slash into his upper torso, slicing through a defensive hand and splitting the man’s lip with a kick. He finally managed to push the blade through the man’s eye and into his brain. The nearby patrons started to run to the child to calm his aggression. The child looked at the sky and started to scream.
“I brought you a body; I want a nightmare army that obeys everything I say.”
A couple of the adults running stopped to look around the sky while the others kept running over, all with weapons in hand.
“You little shit, you can’t just go around killing people. We are going to have to muzzle you, your animal.” A woman yelled as she approached with a small, heavy chain net.
Anodyne looked to the Conductor and shrugged as the Conductor pushed his hands together and grinned. Turning back, Anodyne waved his hand.
There was a sudden shriek in the distance, and those in the town looked around at one another with concern. Those who had stopped running had already started to pack their belongings and were leaving the town as the shrieks resonated in the air. Behind the screams was the sound of wings beating, and a small horde of gargoyle-like nightmares rose above the walls and surrounded the child, protecting him from the adults. The child jumped with joy and sent the nightmares out to start killing all in the town over the course of less than ten minutes, and the child was left alone with his collections of nightmares bowing before him, blood covered and obedient.
Anodyne lowered to the ground and made himself visible once again.
“You did well. The more corpses you bring, the greater your army will become. I expect great things from you, child.”
The child watched as the corpses on the ground started to twitch and turn, slowly standing once again; they rose like zombies from the grave. Taking a place near the gargoyles, they, too, bowed in anticipation of the orders that were to come from the child. The child jumped with joy and watched as Anodyne floated away, disappearing into the sky. The child looked back down to his small gathering of nightmares that were now under his control; his eyes darted over the gargoyles and noticed that some had gotten larger.
“Why have you changed?” The child asked.
The gargoyles looked up and spoke in unison.
“The more we kill, the greater we become.”
The child grinned and looked around the wastes of the town it stood in. They listened to the calm, hoping to hear someone scrambling among the ruins. Instead, Vure appeared before the child. Their image was enough to scare the child, but the addition of their voice froze them.
“You have two options that lay before you, you can use this army for the purpose that you have already exacted, or you can use it for a purpose that is greater, that is kinder.”
The child looked up to Vure in bewilderment.
Vure knelt to eye level with the child, Vure’s eyes a swirling pool of black and stars, their voice lowered to a growl as they spoke.
“This army and you have potential. You can build, or you can destroy. But the rewards from one will be greater long term, and the other will only give you brief satisfaction before you are killed by someone greater. Choose wisely.”
The child looked down at their hands before gazing back at Vure’s eyes.
“I don’t know what I want.”