Prologue: The Cauldron of Hate
(South of the Aegen River, Kaleion, A Very Long Time Ago)
The chores were the chores, and it didn’t matter how sweltering the work was in the blasted heat of summer. Anything less than his best effort would see him punished yet again—severely! Brushing the hay straw off his brown wool pants, Kaylan checked the stack, ensuring it was plumb and level against the barn wall, with all the excess hay picked up in a feedpail for the horses. His welts still throbbed from when the last pile had fallen over. That mustn’t happen again.
His starry, bright-blue eyes shined like star sapphire gems taking in the sunset for only a moment as he ran his right hand through his wavy black hair. Feeling the sweat on the back of his neck, running his handkerchief across it, then over his forehead, removing the sweat from his brow, Kaylan crossed off another one of his chores in his head, moving on to the next—collecting eggs from the roost.
The sound of his father’s footsteps coming up from behind, with his heels scuffing the dirt path between the barn and house, made Kaylan cringe inside—if not visibly so.
“Where are my eggs?!!” Keirill demanded harshly, emphasizing his displeasure with his son with a slap of his huge hand on Kaylan’s still tender shoulder, knowing how much it would sting after his last punishment.
“Doing it now, Pa.” Pivoting away from his father’s iron grip, Kaylan moved with all the haste his thirteen-year-old frame would allow.
From just inside the barn doorway, Keirill examined Kaylan’s haystacks, taking the measure of how his last punishment had drastically improved his son’s work. He didn’t take pleasure in castigating his son—at least he didn’t think it so. Seren wouldn’t approve, but then she wasn’t here to express her disapproval either…
Every day he intended to drive home his expectations for his son’s development into a man. And he was going to meet those expectations. No matter how many whippings it took, his son was going to understand what it took to survive in this world. His father hadn’t been easy on him. He saw no reason to take it easy on Kaylan. No reason at all.
After his own experiences with his father, Keirill didn’t even want a child, and he’d made that perfectly clear to his wife from the very beginning. Yet, still…there he was—scurrying about the barn trying to prove himself. Keirill’s lips pressed together in a hard, thin line at the thought and how Kaylan had come into being. Now, his responsibility alone whether he wanted it or not… Spitting into the worn path in the grass, Keirill silently cursed his dead wife.
Simmering as he retired back to his house, awaiting his eggs, Keirill contemplated his son’s next sentence. He needed to be ready when his son next failed, for he knew failure was coming.
Letting out a heavy sigh of relief at his father’s departure, Kaylan moved with all possible speed gathering up the eggs. He knew his father wanted the brown ones, and sold the white ones. A few sweat-filled moments later, sorting them out into separate crude wire baskets, he knew he’d have to repair the baskets soon. He went from hen to hen to hen, carefully collecting, but not dawdling about his chores. Maybe a little too fast, as the white egg basket caught itself on the edge of the pen’s wire enclosure, sending every one of them to the floor of the barn in a hasty, hot, and scrambled mess. Words couldn’t escape Kaylan’s mouth, not a single curse or expression of any kind. Just shaking from the tips of his bangs to the toes on his feet in terror, standing there looking at the justification for his next beating.
“What’s taking so blasted long?!” Keirill’s voice hammered the barn loud enough to make the siding rattle against nails that threatened to loosen from weathering and wear. Noticing Kaylan using his body to shield something from his view, Keirill shoved his son aside, looking at a week’s worth of income on the dirt floor of his barn. Without a word, Keirill ripped his son’s sweat-soaked, white tunic from his young body, revealing a series of lash welts across his back, shoulders, and chest.
The fresh ones, still raised red with pus, threatened to burst and infect. Kaylan had stopped shaking as he walked over to the barn wall where his father liked to beat him—trying to comport himself for what he knew was to come. He knew his father detested the emotion of fear even more than he reviled the action of failure so Kaylan didn’t want to compound the forthcoming punishment.
Noticing his son taking responsibility for his actions triggered a faint and distant memory of a lesson from his own father—like unto a memory of a memory. “Kaylan, did you do what you promised me you would do?”
“No, sir.” His head faced the wall in obedience, awaiting the first strike.
“And what have I told you about doing what you say?”
“If you don’t do what you say, you’re just a useless bag of flesh.” A lesson he’d been taught many times and severely so.
“That’s right, and that’s why we punish the flesh. If the flesh is holding us back, then it must be pierced and cut away.” It hadn’t gone unnoticed by Kaylan that his father had already picked up his whip from the opposite barn wall.
With his last words, the first strike came across his lower back, where he had the most severe wounds from the last several beatings. Kaylan’s young body shook down to the tips of his toes resonating with the stinging pain his father’s whip had brought him. The next strike wrapped around his right shoulder to the right front of his chest, cutting him deeply and leaving ruts in his flesh as the blood began to seep out of the fresh wounds.
No longer contained to the inside, Kaylan’s body began to visibly shake as the tears began to surface. As the first of his tears hit the tops of his dusty boots, quickly followed by a second and third, he couldn’t help but look down. Watching his own tears streaking fluid trails of vanquished hope in the worn and dusty leather just as the next strike came across the same right shoulder but over the top this time rather than around the outside. Those would leave deep scars as they merged with the previous ruts, driving the leather deeper into his young skin. The tears flowed freely now, clearing the dust completely from the tops of his boots. His body was shaking so severely it was hard to concentrate on any thought at all except the one that always came to him as he was beaten. When will I ever get it right so I don’t disappoint him? I’m sorry, Father. I’ll do better. I promise.
Somewhere inside, Kaylan began to hear whisperings; from where, he couldn’t say, but as the next strike came, the whisperings became louder. Two words, overlapping one another again and again. Fight and back. The next strike of his father’s whip landed on his outer left shoulder, wrapping around to his left pectoral, leaving a heavy stinging up and down his youthful frame. Whispers became shouts inside his thoughts. FIGHT BACK.
The next strike came in exactly the same spot as the last with Kaylan grabbing the whip this time before it could recoil back to his father. Pulling it with all his might, his father’s massive frame came roiling towards him in mid-air. It happened so fast, and then his fist was smashing Keirill’s face in mid-air so hard it snapped Keirill’s neck, sending his father flying back in the opposite direction where his father crashed up against the wall in a slumping thud. How did I? He didn’t understand what was happening.
Kaylan just stood there for a moment, standing over the slumped body of his father now coming to. KILL HIM NOW! Whispers no more; these were shouts, and they were right! Jumping on top of his father, Kaylan put his thumbs directly in his father’s eye sockets, squeezing with all his might in a pinching motion between his thumbs and forefingers, watching his father’s head implode in his own hands.
Spurts of blood, gore, and cranial fluid dotted and streaked down Kaylan’s forehead and all over the barn wall planks of siding. It was over so fast for the thirteen-year-old boy—now a murderer. Watching his father’s brains running down the weathered wood planks of the barn wall and out of his crushed skull, Kaylan knew he couldn’t stay here. Was that a glint amidst the violent bloodletting?
Looking down at his hands, seeing them drenched in his father’s bodily fluids, Kaylan stood silent for a few moments, contemplating his new freedom—his new future—as the gore of his boldness drained into his starry-blue eyes. Slowly, the blackness in deep charcoal-blue hues—a mixture of cranial fluid and blood—crept over the top of Kaylan’s cornea, then his irises, turning them purple, then a smoky charcoal, then black. His only awareness was how upside-down his life had just been turned, and that staying here was not an option.
Moments later, after cleaning up in the house, grabbing a few necessities, Kaylan began heading east down the road to the biggest walled-city he knew—Basrat.
* * * *
Walking all the way through the night, Kaylan was exhausted and his wounds throbbed, but he had to put some distance between himself and the farm. The twenty-cubit-high walls of Basrat before him, he tried to form a believable story—a mostly true story of his effort to forge a new life—just absent some of the details. The city guard was coming up fast as Kaylan’s position in line progressed.
“Aye, who goes there,” the guard asked the frail, old man hauling fruits and grains into the city in a wooden cart.
“Raken the Merchant,” the man replied. “Bringing only the freshest fruits and wheat for the king’s people.”
“Unlikely.” The guard briefly eyed his cart, kicking the wheels forward toward the gate. “Get,” he ordered as the elderly man dragged his cart inside the city walls.
“Who goes there, little boy?” The city guard paid little attention to what little threat a small boy could bring to his city, but something didn’t feel right about the boy as the guard scratched the gnarled and matted mess of sweaty hair on the back of his over-sized skull.
“Damon, looking for work.” He displayed the guard his callused hands—a working boy’s hands—turning them over for the guard.
A look at the boy’s black eyes caused an alarming, taken-aback glare from the guard, “What the…”
Damon knew why the guard was staring at him. He’d seen the reason in the mirror when he was cleaning up, but he made no comment, only letting his desperation speak for him in his sullen and worn expression. He needed a break and he didn’t have the words—nor the right—to ask for it.
Scratching the back of his head again, feeling the grit and grime of his long day rolling underneath his dirty fingertips, the guard wanted to reject the boy. Looking for any reason and finding plenty, he had all the justification he needed to send the boy away, but he really didn’t look like the bad sort. He just looked…hopeless. Something worked on him from within. It was just a brief feeling, and then it was gone. “Aye, let him through.”
Damon never looked back, only exhaling in relief as he crossed into the walled city of Basrat—his new home.
* * * * * * * *
(Austin, TX, Earth, Present Day)
His work on the next new fundamental for Dark Energy wasn’t going as smoothly as had the one for Zero-Point, and Mira knew him frustrated by it. At least he had opened up to her about hearing the voices in his mind that came like ‘prayers’ he described. She didn’t know what that was about, but with Damon any number of things were possible.
“Are you hearing them even now,” Mira asked, considering his beautiful black, smoke-rimmed gems.
Her eyes blinking more than normal as he considered what that meant, given what he knew of her, Damon longed to open up to her, but feared the abyss of where that could lead. Each were very different from the others—Dallia, Mira, Mira Castille, Evanyil, Victoria, Sijil… All gave differing signals even though they were done with similar gestures. Each had a context all their own. Each time, learning a new woman was like unto learning a new language—having the potential to be either thrilling or exasperating depending on the individual, but he didn’t let the exasperating ones stick around very long.
This Mira was very special and he knew it. He wanted very much to let her in, but he just needed to figure out the safest way to let that happen—if there was one.
“Earth to Damon, are you listening to me or just looking into my eyes lost in thought again?” Lying in bed together, she longed for something more than mere pillow talk. She knew Damon’s intellect was both broad and steep and it was so rare to find a man who could carry an intellectual conversation with her instead of her having to do all the work. This was one of the rare opportunities they had to actually get to know one another and she wasn’t about to let it pass her by.
“Sorry, I heard you… Yes, I hear them even now. Even worlds away, I hear them asking me to heal this, or save them from that, or whether or not it’s safe to fall in love again with someone new they just met. I hear my society, on the rim of Creation, asking for guidance…”
“And…?” Mira sat up, placing her right hand on his chest, “Are you going to give them the guidance they need?” Internally wondering if Damon were even qualified. His power ran out in front of him like a great cantilever threatening to collapse for its overhang was too long without support from the main body that was the foundation of his identity.
He considered the question—in all its validity. Who was he to provide guidance? It was one thing for him to guide Radin in magic, but entirely something else to guide other Humans in life. What example was his life for others to follow? He needed the power of his new station to accomplish the Master Plan, but he wanted neither the responsibility nor the notoriety that came with it. Kellen was the one who sought infamy—not him. Yet, infamy found him far more often than it found even the mighty Kellen the Destroyer.
“I love your certainty of your own identity at such a young age. I miss that. It was so long ago; I barely remember it.”
Now he was talking in riddles. She loved his intellect…and his power, but often found herself in shaking terror at his ability to act with such mortal certainty with such quick decision-making. She knew and felt him a great doer of things, but she wondered if he foresaw all the outcomes of his actions before acting them out. “It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t feel like it. I can’t say I understand, because there’s no way I possibly could, but I understand feeling overwhelmed.”
A big rakish smile from Damon involuntarily made her smile in kind. “Thank you for that,” as fond memories of Dallia stirred in his mind. He didn’t want to share that part. Women didn’t like being compared to one another. Men didn’t either for that matter, but still the memory she raised was a good one.
“Thank you for what? Damon, what’s going on in that head of yours?”
“I’m thinking there’s a place I’d like to take you some day.” Deflecting away from the topic of prayers and of his past was the best way out of this conversation…
“To your new planet?!”
“No!” His response was both terse and firm, causing her to recoil her head back into her pillow against the headboard.
She didn’t understand what his deal was about not letting her go with him to the new world he’d made. It could really help her research, and she needed to find a way to make that happen. Turning her frown around, she shrugged off his rejection. Tracing ever-so-faint scars running across Damon’s pectorals, shoulders, and neck, Mira freely thought aloud, “Why haven’t you ever Healed these?”
His iron grip snatched her hand, immediately her hand from his body. Rising from his king-size bed, Damon warned, “Some lessons are best left on the surface, where we can always remember them.” His caution hung heavy in the air as he walked away from her out of the master bedroom without even looking back.
She knew Damon didn’t fit the classical definition of bipolar, but the way he could swing from loving to completely shut-down terrified her. It was like walking in a minefield without a map of where the mines were buried.
Mira knew she needed to understand him better if this was ever going to work. She knew you didn’t craft a Damon with teddy bears and flowers; Damon was forged in a cauldron of hate, and she feared, every day, exactly what that meant—for the both of them—her fears justified.
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