Chapter 7:

The odd one

The Journey

 “Hello. Could I have a meeting with the Shepherd?” he asked the guard in front of him.Bookmark here

The moment Marco said those words out loud, beyond the shoulder of the man he saw a face coming out of the carriage of the Shepherd. That said, after seeing Marco, the face soon hid back into the fabric covering the carriage and stayed there. Bookmark here

It was always like this.Bookmark here

Marco sighed and then returned his gaze towards the man in front of him, who had been staring fixedly at him for time now.Bookmark here

“So, my honorable sir” the man said in an affected manner, with a weird emphasis on the word “honorable”. “You want to talk with the representative of the gods himself, right? May I ask why?”Bookmark here

“I just want to make a donation to the Shepherd.”Bookmark here

“…Is there any specific reason to do so?” as the man asked, his eyes narrowed, continuing to stare directly at Marco.Bookmark here

“Do I really need one?”Bookmark here

“We can never know what some people are up to.”Bookmark here

“Fine then, I’ll tell you. I’m donating it so he can distribute it to the poor.”Bookmark here

“…You can just do this yourself directly. There’s no need to meet or donate to the Shepherd.”Bookmark here

“But I want to meet him anyways.”Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“Is this really that important?”Bookmark here

The man continued to stare at him, in silence. Bookmark here

Marco sighed.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Why am I really doing this anyways again? To improve his image of me?Bookmark here

…No, the Shepherd thinks I’m the worst person in this world anyways.Bookmark here

So maybe it’s to improve my reputation in general?Bookmark here

No, that’s only half the reason, and it doesn’t justify talking with the Shepherd.Bookmark here

…Maybe because I actually believe that the gods say that I should help them?Bookmark here

No, obviously not. Unfortunately.Bookmark here

So what is the reason?Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Oh.Bookmark here

“Because I also wish to be illuminated by his wisdom and virtue” answered Marco before remembering and adding: “Besides helping the poor, obviously” Bookmark here

When he finished saying this, he looked to the man, who now also had his arms crossed.Bookmark here

“This would be a good reason if it was true. But I want the real one.”Bookmark here

“That’s the real reason.”Bookmark here

“I’m not believing in this. I, the Shepherd, and all of his other servants know of your lies. You’re not deceiving me or any other of us.”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

I give up.Bookmark here

“I’m donating something to the Shepherd, isn’t this reason enough to let me meet him?”Bookmark here

“I still want to know the real reason regardless.”Bookmark here

“So that means it actually is enough of a reason?”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“Look, do you want me to not donate anything then?”Bookmark here

“…So you don’t care about the poor and just wanted to meet the Shepherd for your nefarious reasons? I knew it-“Bookmark here

“No no, I care about them. But, you see, I also want to meet the Shepherd. I will still donate to the poor regardless.”Bookmark here

“Then go away and do it instead of wasting your time here.”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

“A lot of people might wonder what kind of representative of the gods would refuse to make donations to the poor…”Bookmark here

“Tsk”Bookmark here

The man continued staring at him for some time before letting out a sigh and turning around.Bookmark here

“Fine” he said.Bookmark here

No matter how much of a good, moral person the Shepherd was on the inside, in the end, his power only went as far as what the people believed was adequate. Even if he’s the representative of the gods, practically, his power comes from humans. The truth he believed was only true to those who also accepted it. If he made them stop believing in him, it was the end, no matter how strong his own conviction was. Bookmark here

After all, Marco had witnessed something like this happen in front of his eyes long ago.Bookmark here

Anyways, soon the Shepherd was there in the man’s place and greeted him.Bookmark here

“Oh, Marco! It’s good to see you! So, you wish to make a donation, right?Bookmark here

“Correct.”Bookmark here

“May I ask why?”Bookmark here

“I want to help the poor of the Flock. It’s not much, and I wish I could do more for them, but that’s all I can do for now.”Bookmark here

The moment Marco answered, he could see the Shepherd’s grin trembling slightly. He seemed annoyed, but was trying his best to hide it, and Marco knew this. In fact, it could be said that Marco knew almost everything about him.Bookmark here

“If you believe in what we are doing, you can always do better.”Bookmark here

“Your way of viewing things is admirable. Abandoning your own name and identity to dedicate yourself entirely to the one truth of the gods…”Bookmark here

As Marco said this, the Shepherd narrowed his eyes, staring directly at him, face to face. Soon enough though, he stopped and returned to “normal”, or at least as normal as the composed grin he had on his face, instead of his traditional wide and honest smile, could be.Bookmark here

“It’s important that I do this, after all, Mitra gifted us, and only us, with life in this world. Each single one in the Flock and their lives is special and so should be respected and protected. That’s what gives our lives meaning. And that’s why I abandoned my own name, why I rejected my own egoistic wishes and desires to dedicate myself entirely to following the truth of the gods.”Bookmark here

When he was finishing saying this, he looked directly into Marco's eyes again, with an unusual, at least for everyone besides Marco, accusative glare, and then added:Bookmark here

“And as the preacher of the truth, the spokesman of the gods, my only wish now is that one day everyone will also believe in the truth and understand it and its implications.”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

“That’s why I’m doing this.”Bookmark here

Hearing this, the Shepherd sighed.Bookmark here

————————————————————Bookmark here

He had finished talking about the specificities of the donation with the Shepherd and now had reached his tent, which he shared with his grandson.Bookmark here

“Victor!” he called.Bookmark here

“Uh? Oh, it’s you” coming from inside the tent, his grandson, Victor, answered.Bookmark here

“I’m back from the Shepherd.”Bookmark here

“Did everything go well?”
“Yeah.”Bookmark here

“Hah! I knew it!” Victor said with a wide smile, as if this was some kind of great feat. “Well, considering how much you’ve done for everyone in the Flock, it’s no wonder the Shepherd likes you…” he added while nodding to himself in approval of his own words.Bookmark here

“So that's how it looks from the outside, huh?” Marco murmured to himself.Bookmark here

“Huh? Did you say something?"Bookmark here

“I asked what could even go wrong in just making a donation to the Shepherd.”Bookmark here

“Er…”Bookmark here

“...”Bookmark here

“By the way, that one guy, Gray, came to one of our mechanisms in the pillar yesterday with Carlo.”Bookmark here

“What does this even have to do with what we're talking about?”Bookmark here

“We let him use it but made him pay double the price. What do you think? That was the right decision, right?”Bookmark here

Instead of answering, Marco simply let out a sigh. He just decided to ignore what his grandson was saying and entered the tent. As he did this, the light coming from a lamp, which illuminated the complex and beautiful patterns of the fabric of the tent, welcomed him.Bookmark here

Besides him and his grandson, Victor’s wife and his daughter, Anna, were present there. Bookmark here

“Hello Tania” he quickly greeted his grandson’s wife, but he barely even looked at her.Bookmark here

Because, instead, his eyes were directed at someone else.Bookmark here

And Anna, a 5 year old kid, daughter of his grandson, was the receiver of his gaze. Bookmark here

Greeting her, Marco had his arms open and extended in her direction. Bookmark here

“Hey Anna!”Bookmark here

“Grandpa!” she called, as she jumped into his arms.Bookmark here

He rubbed her head with his hand and hugged her. She was still very small, so he had to be on his knees to do so. If he was younger, maybe he would hold her up there in the air, but he was an old man, with fragile bones and a weak body, he couldn’t do this anymore. Bookmark here

“How was your day? Did you do something fun?”Bookmark here

“I played with the kids!” she said while holding a doll “We were playing house! I was the mother!”Bookmark here

“Oh, the mother? So you had a lot of responsibilities, right?”Bookmark here

“Yes!”Bookmark here

“One of the responsibilities of the parents is properly educating their children. Who were the children?”Bookmark here

“The doll was the only daughter, she was called Anna, just like me” she said, while affectionately holding the doll in her chest.Bookmark here

“And did you educate her?”Bookmark here

“Of course!”Bookmark here

“What did you teach her?”Bookmark here

“Uh…”Bookmark here

“...”Bookmark here

“Oh! I told her about how to be a good person!”Bookmark here

Marco fell silent for a small moment, but quickly got back to talking.Bookmark here

“And why does someone want to be a good person?” Bookmark here

“Why?” she asked.Bookmark here

“Yeah, why? Your silly grandgrandpa doesn’t know it! Could you please teach him about this a little bit?”Bookmark here

“People want to do good things because we have to be good people!”Bookmark here

“That isn’t an answer. I asked why. I know you know the answer, so come on and say it to me!”Bookmark here

“Hm… Oh! I know it! It’s because we’re all special!”Bookmark here

“And why are we all special?”Bookmark here

“Because we’re the only ones chosen by the gods to be in this world!” she said, with her chest stuffed and a wide grin on her mouth.Bookmark here

“Hahahah I’m proud of being from the same family as someone as intelligent as you” he said giggling, caressing the top of her head with his hand. “But, did your daughter understand it?”Bookmark here

“I’m sure she did!”Bookmark here

“And did she become a good person?”Bookmark here

“Yes? Why wouldn’t she?” Anna asked, tilting her head.Bookmark here

“Some people are really weird and dumb, they understand the reasons why they should be good people, but they don’t become one. They should learn with your daughter.”Bookmark here

“Learn with a doll? But a doll can’t even think for herself!”Bookmark here

“Some people are weird and dumb because they by themselves think too much. They try to see through everything, and so they think they’re above all of this, but that’s what makes them the dumbest of all.”Bookmark here

“You ask a lot of weird things. Are you one of these weird and dumb people?”Bookmark here

“You know what? Maybe I am. So let’s hope your grandgrandpa can one day stop being weird and dumb.” he said and started laughing at his own words. Anna also did the same.Bookmark here

As she laughed, her beautiful blue eyes, which looked as if they were made of glass, resembling the ones of the doll she held in her hands, were closed. But even then, from behind her eyelids, her eyes radiated, full of life and happiness. It wasn’t something that could be seen directly, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t important, on the contrary, they were the most important between the two, for the hidden eyes were what gave the eyelid a purpose.Bookmark here

It was a strange sight. On one side, the beautiful eyes of the small girl, which, even if occulted, overflowed with spirit, and on the other, the eyes of the old man, which were laid bare, exposed, but seemed dark and hollow. His eyes were always switching between being wide open and half closed. It was as if half of the time they were searching for something, and during the other half, almost giving up. Bookmark here

The worst thing about those eyes though, is that they looked strikingly human. Bookmark here

A doll full of life and a hollow human.Bookmark here

How ironic.Bookmark here

————————————————————Bookmark here

It was already way past the time most people were sleeping, but there was Marco, awake, walking through a sea of tents which filled the, otherwise empty, space.Bookmark here

Doing this wasn’t healthy for him, especially considering he was already 69 years old, but, with the passing of the years, his sleep had got progressively worse, if not because of his age, then because thinking so much while trying to sleep simply isn’t a good thing to do. Bookmark here

And so, his old bones, attached to his old flesh, and carrying his old mind, dragged towards a shadow leaning on the back of one of the tents, just like he had done and become tired of doing years ago.Bookmark here

“I’m here” he said.Bookmark here

“Oh, I was already worried you weren’t coming to see me” a man, hidden under the shadow, answered.Bookmark here

“Don’t do this, worrying too much about things weakens the mind. I would say ruin some people's lives even”Bookmark here

“I’ll be relaxed and stop worrying about everything then... Or at least I would like to. But this one guy who you helped come out of starvation some years ago has been refusing to continue ‘paying’ us for this favor and apparently has been trying to spread the news of us extorting him.”Bookmark here

“So that’s why you called me? ...Knowing the opinion the Shepherd has of me, this will quickly fall in his ears” Marco muttered. “What’s the man’s name?”Bookmark here

Coming closer to Marco, the person in the shadows sofly murmured something in his ears.Bookmark here

“I see. You can kill him then, or maybe do something else, just get rid of him.”Bookmark here

“Good.”Bookmark here

“So can I go back to my tent now?”Bookmark here

“Actually there’s something else. You know the man we’ve been blackmailing for some time? From what I was told, we weren’t wrong in our suspicions. He really might soon start to create trouble for us.”Bookmark here

“He seemed like the type of guy who wouldn’t ever gather the courage to stand up against us, but that’s why we sent the guy to watch over him anyways... That’s unfortunate news.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, and that’s why I want to get rid of him too.”Bookmark here

“...Ok, as long as you don’t create trouble for us.”Bookmark here

“Great.”Bookmark here

“Something else?”Bookmark here

“Not much really, but yesterday, on the pillar, Gray came to the mechanism I was guarding.”Bookmark here

“And you let him use it right? Victor told me the same thing earlier.”Bookmark here

“I did.”Bookmark here

“Why?”Bookmark here

“…Just another one of my plans.”Bookmark here

Marco stared directly at him for a moment, without saying anything.Bookmark here

“Is there a problem? I can stop it if you want to” the man said.Bookmark here

“You don’t need to worry, just properly explain it to me later.”Bookmark here

“Ok.”Bookmark here

The two stayed silent for a moment, waiting for the other to say something.Bookmark here

“…I may postpone it’s execution though.”Bookmark here

“That’s the type of thing I wished you told me first…” Marco said and sighed. “Why would you do this though?”Bookmark here

“I want to first be sure I’ll really need to do it. Otherwise we might be losing things. You can consider what I’m doing now as preparations for the possibility that we eventually might need it.”Bookmark here

“Ok…”Bookmark here

“Anyways, that’s it for today, I think.”Bookmark here

“I see… Well, by then.”Bookmark here

“Bye, boss.”Bookmark here

————————————————————Bookmark here

Having finished talking with the man, Marco was, at least theoretically, coming back to his tent. Bookmark here

In reality though, instead of coming straight home, he was just walking without much of a direction. He walked alone, without a single person there, outside, still awake, and around him, there was a sea of tents engulfing his way. They all had different colors, but today these seemed washed out, as if the strong wind had swept their colors away. This was also intensified by the ever present faint bluish light which covered them, and which almost seamlessly morphed into the gray who made up the ground. Bookmark here

And so, under the gaze of this lone walker, it all resumed to that: gray and other shades of gray.Bookmark here

When looking at something more distant, it was the same thing. A gray landscape, without life, without anything, as if it was forgotten by the gods.Bookmark here

It was in this world that the Flock lived and wandered forever, alone.Bookmark here

No matter how much he aged, how much he lived, he couldn’t grow accustomed to it. It was as if his own body didn’t want to live in a place like this. The greatest defining characteristic of this world is nothingness itself, emptiness, it’s desolate landscapes, and this just didn’t sit right with him. Bookmark here

How did this all come to be? What is the purpose behind all of it? In this world without life, what’s the reason for this great exception called humanity?Bookmark here

He didn’t know, no one knows. Some tried to answer this, but none of the answers satisfied him at the moment. The Shepherd says that every single person in the Flock is special because the gods created them to be the only ones populating this world, and so this gives us meaning and is why we should respect human life. Another answer, from a long time ago, in a time when most people who lived now weren’t even alive, is that humans were in this world so they could do good actions and in the afterlife, be transported to a prettier world, full of life. Others, including Marco himself at one point in his life, had once said that existence in this world was a punishment for a natural human tendency of doing evil, and that the function of humans in this world was to learn to do good so they could ascend to a higher realm of existence.Bookmark here

How could he believe in it if what once was the supposed truth was now forgotten, and the lies of long ago which now were the truths of today. Great gods who once commanded this world, now were called false. He had seen so much of this, he could probably name a thousand different gods he had known across his long life, from the Gnishva whose name echoed through this world every time a ritual was held in his infant days, but whom no one now remembered anymore, to Mitra, who was now called the patron of humanity.Bookmark here

What was called the truth had changed so much during his lifespan, he couldn’t now be sure of what it was. Maybe the Shepherd or someone else really was correct, maybe everyone was wrong. Some kind of supernatural force reigning over it all surely exists, for there’s no other way food, materials, all different kinds of things would somehow simply be there in the pillars without no one putting them there. But, that said, he couldn’t be sure of their intentions, of what they wished him to do. Maybe the gods didn’t even care for humanity at all, and if they didn’t, if in the end, it all had no reason to be, then maybe everything wouldn’t have any value at all. Bookmark here

And so, his only hope, his only wish, was to one day find it.Bookmark here

It didn’t need to be correct, it’s okay if it’s a lie. He only wished to one day be convinced. Be a mindless doll who doesn't think by himself, simply accepting the truth he’s told, and be happy.Bookmark here

So, if he could only find something he could believe in, something that gives sense to all of this.Bookmark here

If he could do this, maybe the world would stop being gray.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.