Chapter 18:

A false god

The Journey

From down there, he looked at the pillar they approached. It seemed like a beacon of light, and at the same time, a source of life, and the way it supported the Sky on top of it reminded him of how it supported the existence of the Flock.Bookmark here

Having this in mind, it should be no surprise how big it is, taller than everything else in this world, and how thick it is, with one being even able to live with a full family in here, were there a house inside it. But even then it was only in moments like these that he was reminded of this reality.Bookmark here

Once upon a time, this would spark a sense of wonder and utmost desire in him that couldn’t be easily rivaled. He would fantasize about the view there from the top; how he would touch the very Sky with his fingers; how he would see from close how the Sky opens and the powerful winds come down to carry away the people and their possessions from this land. But now, although such a desire was still there, he feared doing this even more than he dreamed of doing it. Were the wind to come, wouldn’t it knock him onto the ground? What if as he climbed the pillar, his hand slipped and he fell? Bookmark here

No, it wasn’t just that. Maybe he feared these desires themselves now.Bookmark here

More than anything though, this made him wonder about how his father used to climb these pillars until the very end; he transpassed the wind, climbed and climbed despite the limitations of his own body, and at the same time even helped others. It was as if he was some sort of hero, always doing the right thing, despite any sort of selfish desire or fear.Bookmark here

At that moment, this seemed to Nico like some sort of ideal human.Bookmark here

That’s it then. He made up his mind.Bookmark here

He took a look around. Eyes were set on him, although in a more discreet way than before, and the people seemed restless. After his talk with him two weeks ago, the Shepherd publicly denounced the acts of whoever took part in the incident, and declared that Nico was ‘a person like any other, who should be protected of such brutality’. Nico was happy for this, but the realization that the general people didn’t share the kindness of forgiveness the Shepherd demonstrated at that moment made him somewhat sad.Bookmark here

But despite this he had to continue his walk. So, step by step, together with Natta he pulled the cart where Gray lay. Bookmark here

His joints hurt and were making a creaking noise, and with each step, he felt like he was losing strength. The life they had been leading wasn’t exactly the best, and it wasn’t really possible to say their bodies were as strong as before. Slowly, the increasing lack of what to eat was taking its toll on them. It wasn’t like they didn’t have anything, or that they were going to die from starvation, but it clearly wasn’t enough to lead a healthy life.Bookmark here

Yet, he couldn’t stop. It was still too early.Bookmark here

After all, he had a debt to pay. Debts that couldn’t be paid even in a full lifetime, so big that they were. Bookmark here

Now, this was the first time such a thought came to him, but what would happen with these debts once he died? Would someone become responsible for them?Bookmark here

Bookmark here

The dust, coming from afar with the winds, in a journey it would pursue across all of this land, for all of eternity, impregnated his shoes. It was annoying, but some said it was also special and were quite fond of it. ‘It will be there forever, until the very end of this world’ they claimed, but in the end, it was just passing by, waiting to be blown away to somewhere else, at the mercy of powers outside of its control.Bookmark here

The Shepherd said that once someone dies, they will become dust; they wouldn’t ever leave this world, they wouldn’t ever stop existing. Before, Nico didn’t believe this though. To him, dust was just dust, and he didn’t want to ever become something as worthless as it. Bookmark here

Now though, he didn’t know. Actually, looking through that lens, of what he once believed, it was a somewhat sad thing. Strangely enough though, it had never seemed so to him before.Bookmark here

He concluded that whatever dust was, in one way or another, one day it would carry these debts away with it.Bookmark here

He let out a sigh—this was frustrating.Bookmark here

I wonder if mum and dad are part of the dust in my shoes right now. Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Inevitably, his mind darted towards the golden ring he wore in his right hand. It had been there for so long, without ever being taken out, that he had grown completely used to it. Actually, it was there for so long, that it made Nico wonder how it still fitted in his hand just like it did before even after more than three years. It felt like an extension of his very body.Bookmark here

What should he do with it? Bookmark here

There was no doubt it was something special for him, but it was because of it that he made so many mistakes, that he allowed himself to have bad thoughts, right? After all, it’s not like something special has to be good, it can also be a bad thing.Bookmark here

…Everything would be a lot simpler if this ring never existed at all.Bookmark here

“You don’t dare—”Bookmark here

Right?Bookmark here

Dinner time came and they finally stopped—it had to be done now, as soon as possible.Bookmark here

He stood still, his eyes set on his right hand, looking for one last time at the golden ring and its carved inscriptions; for a moment, he could almost swear that in their places was written “damnation” or “salvation”, but after double checking, he saw nothing of this.Bookmark here

Oh, this was no good, no good at all.Bookmark here

As he reached for the ring, he noticed that his hand was trembling. He gulped down and continued, slowly pulling it away, sliding through his sweaty right hand index finger.Bookmark here

With that done, he watched it in the palm of his hand; it started to glow in its bright golden color, like a fire in the dark. Bookmark here

Why does it shine like this? He asked himself, but soon dismissed the question—it was better to forget about it. Bookmark here

To forget about it all.Bookmark here

To let it go.Bookmark here

Wasn’t it?Bookmark here

Slowly, he released it from his grip and—Bookmark here

It wouldn’t be a problem if he left it in his pocket, right?Bookmark here

———————————————————Bookmark here

“So, tomorrow I’ll climb the pillars,” he told the sick man who lay in front of him.Bookmark here

In the dark tent, the candle’s light illuminated the man’s wrinkled face as his eyes slowly turned towards Nico, and his trembling hand reached to him.Bookmark here

“…Don’t.”Bookmark here

“I need to do it.”Bookmark here

Gray gripped the hem of his shirt.Bookmark here

“Why?” he asked Nico.Bookmark here

“What other option do we have?”Bookmark here

“It’s—” he was interrupted by a dry, harsh cough, “it’s good enough as it is. You’re too young to occupy yourself with this. The equipment won’t fit on you and you don’t have the strength to do it by yourself. It’s easier for you to end up dead than for anything good to come out of this.“Bookmark here

Gray’s face was wrinkled and pale, but it hadn’t always been this way. His eyes were tired, and his movements sluggish, as if his body couldn’t stand it anymore, even though he once was surprisingly physically able for his age.Bookmark here

“Please, I want to do everything possible to make things better… No, actually, I need to, and that’s the only way.”Bookmark here

“…”Bookmark here

“I’ll do it independently of whatever you say.”Bookmark here

“…Alright” Gray sighed and turned to the other side of the bedroll.Bookmark here

“Good night.”Bookmark here

He didn’t receive an answer.Bookmark here

I hope he doesn’t get lonely while I’m outside.Bookmark here

He blew out the candle and everything went dark. Bookmark here

Step by step, walking in a fine line between falling after tripping over something and standing up, he got to the bedroll, where he slept in fear of the dreams he might have.Bookmark here

The few things he could still see disappeared as he closed his eyes, and soon they were substituted for something out of this reality.Bookmark here

“Hello.”Bookmark here

It was a strong, reverberant voice, echoing inside his head.Bookmark here

He turned back and saw someone floating there; it must’ve been the origin of the voice.Bookmark here

It had a familiar face…Bookmark here

“After all you can’t forget me as long as I still exist, even if you wish so.”Bookmark here

“W-wha—“Bookmark here

“Well, I’m Mitra, the patron of humankind. Nice to meet you, again.”Bookmark here

In the completely dark place they were, so much so that he couldn’t know where the ground ends and the walls, or maybe the horizon or something else, start. As a consequence, the man—or maybe, the being—in front of him, who even if somewhat overwhelmed by the oppressive darkness, shined, stood out strongly against the background.Bookmark here

“Are… are you real?”Bookmark here

It was the same question from long ago.Bookmark here

“As long as you believe so.”Bookmark here

It was the same answer.Bookmark here

“I… I don’t.”Bookmark here

“I see. Well, but unfortunately for you I’m here anyway.”Bookmark here

“Then what you just said is a lie?”Bookmark here

“No, not really.”Bookmark here

“Then—”Bookmark here

“You’re probably holding some kind of misconception,” he interrupted.Bookmark here

“Which is?”Bookmark here

The man shrugged it off, “it’s up to you to know.”Bookmark here

He claimed to be a god, yet affirmed that his existence depended only on others’ belief. How ironic.Bookmark here

Shouldn’t a god be self-evident?Bookmark here

There’s no way he isn’t a fake.Bookmark here

But then, who is he?Bookmark here

Bookmark here

This was a question he couldn’t think of an answer to at the moment.Bookmark here

It’s not like he could tell anyone about this either, or it would have some… unwanted consequences.Bookmark here

“Well, besides all of that, it looks like that other guy finally won his bet, doesn’t it?” the self proclaimed god let out a sigh and continued. “I’m disappointed in you.”Bookmark here

The bet…Bookmark here

“I did the right thing.”Bookmark here

In the blink of an eye, the nonchalant posture of the man changed completely. He had an accusing glare in his eyes, and his muscles contracted as if he was ready to jump at Nico.Bookmark here

“Oh, really? The right thing?”Bookmark here

“Yes, the right decision.”Bookmark here

“You gave up on all you had, you forgot what was taught to you, you resigned yourself to this illusion… and that’s the right decision?”Bookmark here

At that moment, the man, the self proclaimed god shone brighter than ever before, illuminating Nico’s face, which was previously hidden in the shadows. And as the darkness retreated, he aggressively walked a few steps forward, approaching Nico.Bookmark here

“…Yes,” Nico said unwaveringly.Bookmark here

But the light stopped advancing, and the man came to a halt before he could reach him.Bookmark here

“You’re confined there, aren’t you?”Bookmark here

The man stood still and answered him. “Yes, this darkness is like a jail.”Bookmark here

“Which type of god is powerless like that?”Bookmark here

“Sometimes the obliviousness of many overwhelms even the brightest of truths.”Bookmark here

“…Stop making excuses. I won’t believe in your deceit. Not anymore.”Bookmark here

The man stopped floating, his feet now touching the ground. His head was on the same height as Nico, and he was looking at him eye to eye.Bookmark here

“Funny, you were proven wrong the moment you came in here.”Bookmark here

With the wave of a hand, the man had a ring floating in front of him. Bookmark here

It had a golden color, and was shining just like him. In it, there were carved inscriptions, which the meaning was unbeknownst to him.Bookmark here

Nico immediately reached for his pocket. It was empty.Bookmark here

“You—”Bookmark here

“Will you really choose to ignore all of what he did for you?”Bookmark here

“I…”Bookmark here

“Will you?”Bookmark here

“He doesn’t exist!” Bookmark here

He would be very grateful if he did, but that was not the case.Bookmark here

“In my book, that’s the same as saying ‘yes.’”Bookmark here

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“Y-you can get rid of it then. I don’t need it anymore…”Bookmark here

“Look properly at it.”Bookmark here

He gave a step forward, into the light, but immediately came to a halt. It was too much, too bright, it hurt his eyes.Bookmark here

He tried to get out, but the man held his arm there, and with time, he grew used to it and the pain went away. The only thing left was a feeling of vulnerability and discomfort, as if at any moment something would happen to him.Bookmark here

“Now, look at it,” the man commanded.Bookmark here

He felt reluctant, but even if hesitantly, did as commanded.Bookmark here

He put his eye right in front of the ring. Across it, he could see a different world entirely; green hills and weird sticks coming from the ground, full of a green covering themselves and carrying what looked like fruits in them. He blinked and, right next, this sight was substituted by another, of a place full of red mushrooms, of the most varied sizes and shapes. Then, another, and another, and another.Bookmark here

“What is this?” he asked.Bookmark here

“It’s what you are giving up.”Bookmark here

“I’m not giving up on anything. I just looked at reality.”Bookmark here

“As your god, I assure you they are real.”Bookmark here

“You are a false god.”Bookmark here

The man sighed and looked right into his eyes.Bookmark here

“Listen, you are free to think whatever you want.”Bookmark here

“Thanks, I guess.”Bookmark here

“No, that’s not a permission I’m giving you, it’s something you need to realize.”Bookmark here

And with that mysterious affirmation, it all went away.Bookmark here

He opened his eyes, and there wasn’t any of this there anymore.Bookmark here

He put his hand in his pocket—it was still there.Bookmark here

He wondered what to do, but in the end, left it there.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.