Chapter 43: Exposition Man
“Okay…” I could feel myself staring at him, slack jawed and incredulous. The idea that people can change the world with will alone was plenty enough to send me firmly into the realms of skepticism. The implication of gods walking the earth was simply too much.
“Are you serious?” Rick that seemed much more shocked than I was. “Gods? Man, I didn’t believe in invisible bogeymen before your so-called ‘Event’, why should I believe in them now?”
“Don’t shoot the messenger!” Claude had thrown his hands in the air in mock surrender. “I said that Kadmon believed this, not that I did.”
“Well, do you believe?” I raised an eyebrow, intrigued at the implication that Claude was leaving hanging. “Is he right?”
“Short answer? No.” He grinned. “Long answer? Sort of.” With a laugh, he looked at each of us, relishing our mixed looks of confusion and annoyance. “Fine, fine. I’ll explain. See, the way I understand it. These folks aren’t really any God or Goddess, only really powerful people. Some of the Untouched are literally world shaking in their power, depending on how aware of things they are and how aware of themselves they are. Some of the Touched might even be godlike in their powers, depending on who they are and their role in the world.” He shrugged. “I don’t think people were transformed into literal Gods by the Event, but that doesn’t mean that some people didn’t end up way ahead of the rest of us in ability or power. Some were lucky and found themselves powerful because of what they became. Some were just that talented, as some people have been since the dawn of time. Either way, they were fortunate to get out ahead of us, but its not because they’re divine.”
“Makes sense, I guess. But what does this have to do with me?” Rick seemed nervous, fidgeting in place as he leaned forward to hear Claude’s response.
“Simple really. It means that you’ve been Marked, or claimed, by one of those super powerful folks. They’ve Touched you with their own power and changed you, but not enough to make you one of either generation of Touched. You can almost think of it like a branding,” Claude pantomimed a cow being branded with a hot iron. “It marks you as part of their self-styled flock. You aren’t quite as locked into a nature as one of us Touched, but you don’t have the ability to warp the world around you like the Untouched. You can think of it being like normal. Pre-Event normal, that is. You’ve got a flavor, which anyone who chooses to look hard enough can taste, which reminds everyone to whom you belong.”
“Belong? I don’t belong to anyone…” He seemed confused and affronted, and rightfully so. I had no idea when or how he might have been Marked, but I found myself looking closer as I watched him. I realized that there was a faint chill around him, a chill I could only sense when I focused on him. It reminded me of a winter wind through a valley, cold and crisp and with a hint of pine. Beneath the surface though, there was a faint smell of grave dirt and its loamy smell was faint but distinct. Now that I was looking for it, I saw exactly what Claude meant by Marked.
Before Claude had a chance to respond, I interjected. “Rick. Wait. I think I see what he means. There’s death clinging close to you. I don’t know what it means, but I can definitely see it when I look for it. It even carries a bit of a threat. Kind of a “don’t mess with this guy, unless you want to mess with me.” It’s not strong, and its easy to miss. Hell, I missed it all this time. It’s there though.” I sighed, feeling depressed that apparently I had failed all of my companions, not just Tom and Bobbi.
“Well done, milady. Of course it’s there, would we have lied to you?” Claude smirked as he turned back to Rick. “Don’t worry kid. I’ve met a few of your kind before. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything. You don’t have to do anything other than attract one of these guys’ attentions. There’s no sign of anyone having been called in by a God, yet, so I wouldn’t worry about it for now. Until the time, when and if, that your check comes due, you have a free ride. No one, not even Kadmon in his infinite egotism, would dare mess with you, just in case. Enjoy it.” His grin was wide. “Hell, I’m almost jealous.”
“Yeah, I’m sure…” Rick muttered, then fell silent. His eyes tracked down to the ground, staring at a stone beside his feet. I sighed, hoping that this revelation would not turn into another existential crisis. It was intolerable enough having one companion who was unstable and moody, but a second would simply be too much.
“Alright. Whatever. Moving on…” I waved a hand dismissively. “So why is Kadmon so important in all this?”
“Simple. He’s a god.” Claude grinned and shrugged. “Wasn’t that obvious?”
I wilted. “Not really, no.” I paused for a beat. “Really?”
“Yes, really.” He laughed. “Or at least inasmuch as I was saying earlier.” He waved a finger. “He thinks he’s a God and he’s got power, and I mean Power with a capital P. Whether he actually is or not is probably a matter of semantics.”
“Wait, so he thinks he is a God? He isn’t one?” “Have you even been paying attention, milady?” His tone turned mocking in an instant, acquiring a biting edge, which stung harshly. “It is all in the belief and the power to make it real. If he believes himself a God, and has the strength of will to make it so, he is a God. Except he isn’t.”
“Wait, I’m still confused.” I was feeling indignant, bristling under his harsh criticism. “So, he is a God, but isn’t a God?”
“Okay…” See, this is where I turn to you with a personal request.” His grin had turned, becoming almost primal in his fanged visage. “Can I trust you with some dangerous information?”
I glanced between my companions. Bobbi nodded without a moment’s hesitation, but remaining vexingly silent. Rick agreed, but it took some degree of prodding to draw a response from his contemplative state. His response was dismissive, but it was in the affirmative. I turned back to Claude and nodded my head. “Yeah. If we’re going to take part in this whole nexus thing, I want to know everything I can before getting in too deep.”
“Noble. Wise. Kudos.” Claude smiled and nodded deeply. “I expected nothing less. Hence why I came to you. Well, that and all the others in the camp are in Kadmon’s proverbial pocket. They might as well be Marked. Hell, some of them actually are.”
He glanced around the camp, eyes shifty and nervous, as he checked for eavesdroppers. Finding none, he leaned forward and spoke again in a quiet and conspiratorial voice, “I overheard Kadmon talking the other day. He was talking about his ritual, the one that he’s roped you into, and what he plans to do with it.”
“Yeah, restoring the natural order of the world.”
“Not quite, milady. Not quite. See, he has every intention of changing the world alright, but not to the way it was before. He’s not even planning to stabilize what we have now.” He glanced around, eyes still shifty as a thief’s. “See, he thinks that humanity ruined the planet. That we brought all this on ourselves because of how we treated things before. Right or wrong, it’s enough that he’s hella pissed about it. He wants to use this ritual to remake the world in his image. A primal place with no humanity, except for the Touched who are willing to follow him. He wants to turn everything into a predator’s paradise, and he doesn’t care if he has to sacrifice everyone in the ritual to do it. He isn’t content being a God in the “post-Event” sense, he wants to claim the high seat for himself, once and for all.”
My eyes had gone slightly wide as Claude spoke, surprised that the large man would be capable of such a betrayal. If not for the inherent distrust and hinted aggression he had show to Rick, I would not have refused to believe it. He was bold and gruff, but this? “Are you sure about this?”
“Absolutely. He wants us to help him ascend to true Godhood. I don’t want any part in it. The problem is, though, I do want the world to stop going bonkers. Hell, I’d sell my soul for a chance to see the moonrise again.” He smiled sheepishly.
“Figuratively speaking, of course.”
He leaned back, still whispering in his quiet tone. “That’s why I’m feeling stuck. I swore to do this, to help save this world, and I still think it could do that. But I didn’t sign up for some whack job becoming all powerful. I’m fine with the former and pissed with the latter.”
“So, what are you planning to do about it?” Bobbi finally chimed in.
“Ah, there’s the rub. Straight to the point. Gotta respect that.” He nodded to Bobbi, smiling respectfully. “I do have a plan, but I can’t do it myself. “ He glanced at each of us in turn. “That’s where you folks come in.”
“We’re listening.” My voice was edged, ready for a brutal rejection if I didn’t buy his plan. I would hear him out, however, because I found myself agreeing with him. If we could fix the planet without promoting Kadmon to some dictatorial Godhead, I thought it was worth a shot.
“See, he has a ritual. It’s supposed to help focus the sheer numbers of powerful minds towards one goal, to get everybody to focus all of their creative and powerful energy towards the same goal.” He wiggled his fingers, to imply a pilfering action. “I managed to get my hands on the copies of what he’s planning to hand out to everyone tomorrow, when we all meet at the nexus.” He pulled a sheet of paper from somewhere on his person, though I couldn’t see where he had hidden it in his scant and tight clothing. He drove his finger over the page with reckless abandon as he continued. “Most of the ritual’s pretty straightforward. Save this, preserve that, blah, blah, blah. It’s the last few lines that have me worried.”
He held up the sheet of paper, turning its words to face us and pointing at the bottom of the sheet with his finger. I glanced over the rest of the sheet before letting my eyes land on the indicated lines. They didn’t seem out of place, at first glance. If this had been handed to me for the first time at the ritual, while we stood at the nexus and prepared, I would likely have thought nothing of it. The lines read, “…may our thoughts speak to the heart of the land. / Let our very minds be channeled through him. / The world shall be forever remade. / He will lead us in our hour of need.”
I looked over the page at Claude, eyebrow raised in question. “Are you sure that this will turn him into some sort of god? It seems somewhat vague to me. I mean, “he” could be nearly anyone…”
“Ah, but see, that’s the rub. “He” is vague enough that no one will suspect anything of Kadmon’s plot. If it were only the words of the ritual, I wouldn’t be concerned. However, when you take into account that I’ve heard him discussing the very idea, when combined with some of the lines, like “He will lead us” and “Channeled through him,” are enough to make me nervous. Especially when one takes into account that we know he’s planning to stand at the center and be the “spiritual conduit” of the whole ritual. The wording of the ritual is enough to make my skin crawl.”
I glanced at my companions, lifting an eyebrow. They each gave me a passive shrug.
“No idea. I’m not exactly an expert on magical rituals. A few weeks ago, I would have called us all mad for simply talking to this joker. Let alone for lookin’ at how he’s all beastie-headed.” Bobbi shrugged again, deferring to me for this decision.
“Can’t argue with that logic, I’m afraid.” Rick was shaking his head, uncertain. “I have no idea how to approach this situation. It might be harmless or it might change everything. It all depends on how delicate fragile these rituals are. Most old movies and books and stuff that I’ve read seems to think that one misspoken word is enough to make all sorts of crazy shit to happen. No idea how true it is though, what with magic not being real. At least, it wasn’t…” He trailed off, looking concerned and confused.
I nodded, fully understanding his unease, it was a feeling that I was sure we all felt. The world had turned upside down and we were only now beginning to catch up. I knew that our preconceptions had little bearing on the events at hand, especially when so much was defined by those who observed. Finally, after a long moment of quiet consideration, I turned to Claude.
He sat, patiently smiling, already knowing my answer before I could say it. “Fine. What were you planning to have us do?”
“Well, you see it’s very simple. All you have to do is to take these slips of paper,” He produced more slips of paper from wherever he stored the first, and handed one to each of us. “And, when you join the ritual, try to position yourselves opposite each other and me, so we make a rough square around his circle. Then, all you have to do is recite what’s on the page. Simple as that.” He dusted off his hands in satisfaction.
“That’s all. Your presence and mine, disrupting those final lines, will cause just enough interference to prevent Kadmon’s ascension, but not enough to prevent the ritual’s true purpose from being realized.” Claude nodded, self-satisfied that his plan would work. “So, you game?
“Fine. We’re in.”