No one worships the minor gods anymore, but everyone knows about them from stories. Old stories, ones that even Hayden’s peers know, isolated as they are.
Even with all those books, Hayden had never read those stories, not when he was five years old. It was Irene who’d had to recount the stories to him when he first arrived, starting with the most well known tale.
A long time ago, so long ago that there were no more eyewitnesses to speak of all the horrors, an angry spirit took out his wrath on Aricus. Impurity, he was called. No one knew why he was so wrathful, only that he insisted that the Goddess caused it, that it was her fault. He brought with him an epidemic; it was said that only the touch of his hands could make a person become impure, make them go mad. The disease even affected the land, causing crops to wilt and animals to die.
The Goddess couldn’t bear to see her people in pain like that. She came down from the Heavens personally, and soon came across a poor farmer’s hut. The soil was dry and brittle, and all his produce had shriveled up pathetically. Not even the Goddess’s touch healed it.
“O Great Goddess,” The farmer told her, “my daughter caught a sickness so terrible that just her presence is killing my crops.”
“I will be able to heal her, surely.” The Goddess promised, and visited the ill daughter’s bedchambers.
The girl had been touched by Impurity like so many others, her eyes hazy and absent. The Goddess, the most pure being in the universe, did not worry about being infected. I am the Goddess, she thought, no disease could reach me. And so when the girl looked up at her with her impure eyes, and laid her sullied hands on the Great One, the Goddess did not flinch away.
But Impurity’s rage was great, great enough that even the Goddess became sick, sick enough that she no longer cared about Aricus. Crops wilted, the farmers ill or not, and the oceans began to dry up. The gods themselves were greatly worried, and all met in the Heavens, asking themselves, “What ever will we do about this?”
They came to the conclusion that, until Impurity stopped wreaking havoc across the land, they would stay hidden in the Heavens where no impure hands could reach. Of course, the Goddess eventually healed, being the most powerful deity there is. Impurity could not kill her, no matter how powerful his rage. The land, however, is still affected by him to this day, and the gods remain hidden in the Heavens, waiting for the day he grows tired of Aricus.
Hayden thinks about the story, lying in bed, exhausted from training. It was dinnertime, but he decided to forgo it; the constant sound of a voice in his head did not do good things for his appetite. And the Encyclopedia of the Godshad moved to his nightstand somehow—Irene’s doing, no doubt. Amery is the least loyal roommate in Aricus.
It’s not like you can ignore the book forever.
Hayden groans, dragging his hands over his face. The voice had been bugging him all day with its comments, even giving him pointers when he was sparring with Amery. Either he is really going crazy, or something is up. Maybe it’s a magic thing. Maybe he should ask his superiors about it…
It’s not a magic thing. It’s more of a… me-thing? The voice laughs, though it sounds more like music than anything. It startles Hayden; the voice has never talked directly to him. Regardless, you shouldn’t tell anyone about me. At least, I wouldn’t.
So now he’s taking advice from a strange disembodied voice. The day has certainly taken an odd turn.
The voice laughs once again. I’m Heru, it says. Sorry for the strange method of communication, but in my situation, there’s not much else I can do, other than send you messages through clouds, which isn’t very convenient.
Heru, Hayden thinks, the god of the day. His throat tightens as he recalls the picture in the book, a god with round cheeks and magic at his fingertips.
I have a proposition for you, if you don’t mind.
Hayden runs a hand through his hair, sighing. A… a god was speaking to him, and he had an offer for him, no less. This was… Hayden was starting to get lightheaded.
Please don’t faint! Hayden shakes his head, blinking rapidly. It’d be horrible if you fainted before I could even ask you. Are you okay? I know its maybe a little overwhelming or weird…
I’m okay, Hayden thinks, sitting up and willing those black dots out of his vision. I’m okay.
Uh, alright. Heru seems uncertain, almost worried. There’s a moment of hesitation, leaving Hayden on edge. He almost assumes that Heru’s gone; just a passing moment of insanity, but his voice pipes up once again:
I… I’d like you to be my prophet. He sounds almost bashful about it, like a shy boy asking out his crush, not like a god asking a human to serve them.
Because really, a prophet? Prophets were followers of the gods, ones that sat in temples delivering prophecies and interpreting the will of the gods. They were not fifteen-year-old boys, uncertain and isolated from the world.
I know it’s a little nerve-wracking, but you’re the first proper prophet born in hundreds of years. There hasn’t been one that could really see the future since I was worshipped, since before… Heru sighs, a deep troubled sound. Since before Impurity, before the kingdom started locking you all away.
That’s certainly a distasteful way to put it—“locked away”.
I really don’t mean any offence but… I remember a time when people with magic weren’t taken from birth. They were normal people, a long time ago, and they made honest livings with their abilities. Though I suppose you were all a bit more common back then.
Anyhow, you can see the future. In a time of trouble like this, I could really use a prophet—we all could. You’re human, yes, but us gods, we rely on you when we’re stuck hiding in the Heavens. Before, prophets were mainly silly tourist attractions, but now? You’re very important, you and your visions.
But what exactly did the gods need with his visions? It’s not like they were spectacular prophecies, not… usually…
He thinks of Ophelia, eyes unseeing, and Robin’s tight grip on a knife. He thinks of old architecture and an ever-flowing river. He shudders.
Your friend, Robin… Heru pauses, silent for a moment. We can’t exactly be sure, from the vision, but my mother thinks that he’ll be infected, impure. If you accept my proposition, you’ll be serving the gods. You’ll have to deal with your friend, when the time comes.
Deal with Robin. That doesn’t sound nice.
I know, but… we need you. We need prophets, followers. Please consider accepting.
Yes, but the gods need him. They need Hayden specifically, because… he is a prophet. The first in hundreds of years. He has a responsibility, Robin or no Robin.
“I accept,” He murmurs to himself, but there’s no need; Heru knows, simply from his thoughts.
Thank you. His voice is warm with gratitude.
Heru is, at first, the source of most of Hayden’s discomfort.
For a full week Hayden remains jumpy, easily startled, all because of Heru’s random remarks and comments. It’s nerve-wracking, to have a voice in your head aside from your own at all times. Hayden isn’t exactly happy about it.
(The two have many awkward conversations that first week.
“Look, I know you can hear my thoughts and all, but… you seem to always know what I’m doing. Can you see me? Because I’m never going to feel the same about getting dressed ever again.”
I don’t watch you undress!
“But you can hear me speak!”
I’m not a peeping tom.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
You look like a crazy person, talking to yourself, alone, in your room. Quit it.
After the first week, things smooth over, and Heru turns from a big discomfort to a mild one, and eventually his voice is just normality. Hayden grows used to his remarks and advice, his cheery greetings in the mornings. (It’s a welcome difference—Amery is usually a force to be reckoned with, so early, and a “good morning” would have him biting off Hayden’s head.) Occasionally he finds himself snickering at an especially amusing quip from Heru, which earns him a few confused smiles from Irene and Ophelia, but other than that, everything goes well.
Ah, there’s Robin!
Hayden looks up from the wound of one of the older kids. He’s volunteered to help Ophelia patch anyone up who got injured during training (those who were 17 got to spar with actual blades, under the supervision of a superior—even so, cuts and wounds ensue), after getting tired of Amery beating him at every duel. He pauses his bandaging, much to the chagrin of his patient, and spots Robin, sure enough.
He seems very reluctant, standing awkwardly with a practice sword in hand. Irene stands across from him, grinning like a madwoman, already in a battle stance. The sight makes Hayden smile a little: a begrudging Robin and an overly competitive Irene, ready to spar. He finishes wrapping up the older girl’s arm and lets her go with an absentminded reminder to be careful, turning to watch Robin and Irene instead.
They circle each other for a moment, Robin none too eager to get the fight started and Irene trying to tease him. She eventually sees the futility in her actions, though, and lunges for him.
Robin evades, his movement quick and fluid, and Hayden blinks, shocked by the sudden change in the way he carries himself. He and Irene exchange blows, wooden blades clashing, his movements graceful and hers full of power. Eventually he must notice something, though, because he quits being on the defensive and steps forward, eyes narrowed, letting his hand brush by her side. Hayden notices a spark of red magic, and can’t help but laugh, surprised.
He hears Irene’s frightened cry from all the way across the field, and watches her reel back with a sympathetic wince. Robin lets her adjust, and she blinks rapidly, grip tightening on her sword. Finally, with her teeth bared, she prowls forward, a blind wolf on the hunt.
But Robin does not play with her—silently, he creeps behind her, and taps his sword on the small of her back. Her shoulders slump, and she tosses her own sword to the side, defeated. It’s a wonder that Robin hates fighting, Hayden thinks—he seems so skilled at it, even if he did win by cheating.
Oh, he moves very smoothly, Heru acknowledges. He’d be good with a rapier.
Hayden sighs, lamenting Robin’s distaste for combat, when Ophelia plops down in the grass next to him. She smiles at him, a strange, wide smile, more a grin than anything.
“Robin’s good, right?” She says, nudging Hayden in the ribs.
“Very pretty style of fighting.”
“I suppose so.”
“Almost as pretty as him, huh?”
She laughs, in unison with Heru. Hayden turns away from Ophelia stubbornly, face burning, only to catch sight of Robin, talking to a very bitter Irene, pushing his bangs back and out of his face—
Hayden hides his face in his hands, humiliated. He’s always looked to Robin with some sort of admiration or awe, eager to befriend him, yes, but not—it wasn’t like that—
Ophelia pats his back, still giggling. “It’s okay,” She assures him, “everyone thinks he’s pretty.”
Do you like him?
Hayden let out a terrible squawking sort of noise that made Ophelia laugh even harder. Irene joins them at some point, practice swords in hand, one brow cocked in confusion.
“Are you blushing?” She asks Hayden. He squirms, very uncomfortable.
“No,” He insists, “it’s just the cold!”
Irene shakes her head, smiling, obviously not believing him but letting him be anyway. She drags Ophelia away into the field for a duel, insisting that she “is the only one who will give me an honest fight here”, leaving Hayden to wallow in his despair.
It’s okay if you like him, Heru says after a moment, despite the vision.
Hayden hugs his knees to his chest, huffing, face still red. He doesn’t like Robin, that’s ridiculous. Heru’s assurances are empty—Robin is going to hurt Ophelia, of course it isn’t okay to like him!
Heru goes silent, not bothering to argue.