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A Prayer In The Darkness
by Ishmael


I whisper in the Darkness,
For the Darkness,
To the Darkness,
Oh Shadow!
Shield me!
Raise me to thy side!
And bestow unto me thy power of retribution!

Zio smiled as memories of Kadary flooded him. It was good to be back. The memories weren't pleasant, of course, but the feelings they brought to him were...

I shivered as my mother and I stood in the food lines. It was cold, but it was better to be here, with the promise of food, than on the streets begging as I did most of the day. We waited for almost an hour before we were at the front, and given a tiny loaf of bread. Just as we finished eating, a government official stepped to the front of the crowd and cleared his throat.

"I regret to inform you that, due to the drought, we will no longer be able to distribute food. The government of Kadary expects to begin distributing food again next spring." The official shuffled his feet, cleared his throat again, "Thank you for understanding." My mother was already hurrying out of the square, clutching my hand. We got out just as the riot began.

Zio walked the streets of Kadary. It was a cold night, and all but the homeless were inside. He was in a good mood. After all these years, he was going to pay a visit to Caris, the respected government official. It had been easy to find out where Caris lived...every homeless Palman in the city could tell him. It seemed that Caris had become a fine, generous man, and he always welcomed the poor, gave them a meal. Zio felt sorry for the poor who would be bereft of their benefactor. Ah, well, he would do much better for them. He turned his head sharply at a piteous voice.

"Please sir, a few meseta?"

"Please sir, a few meseta?" I whined, head down. I looked up just in time to see that I had made a mistake. The large man, gang insignia tattooed on his arms, backhanded me viciously across the face. He leered at me as he grabbed the two meseta that had been rattling in my bowl all day. They had both come from the same person.

"I'm sorry, young man, I don't have any money on me. But come to the central square at dawn tomorrow, and I might have something for you then. For you, and everyone else you know and choose to bring," said Zio with a gentle smile. He continued on his way. He could see Caris' house, now. It was a large house, in good repair. The warm, flickering light of a fire was cast onto the street. Yes, fire would be a good way...

I huddled closer to my mother, our tiny scrikka-weed fire's warmth insignificant beside the night. But we were eating, and that made up for it. I rarely got more than two meseta in a day, but that was okay. Mother had found a job. Her cheeks reddened every time I asked her what she did, and she would hurriedly talk of something else. But, she brought home enough meseta for two meals a day, and that was more than enough.

Zio stepped up to the door and knocked. A child's cry drifted from a window, and he heard a gentle, soothing man's voice humming a lullaby. A very familiar lullaby...

My mother sang to me as she rocked me in her arms. Spring was finally drawing near, and before long food would be easy to get again. I smiled and snuggled deeper into my mother's arms. The lullaby stopped abruptly when the door of our tiny shack burst open. A large man with tattoos on his arms lifted my mother by her throat.

"Hey little miss, pleasant night, isn't it?" he said with a grin. He brought his other hand around, and slashed her throat with a knife. He dropped her, pausing to rip her purse from her belt. I ran forward, clutching at my mother. Her hand lifted, touched my cheek, then dropped. The man looked at me, said,

"My name is Caris, and you're in my new home." His foot kicked out, slamming into my face. I fell, and the last thing I saw before my vision went black was the life fade from my mother's eyes.

I awoke in the desert, whimpering with pain and cold. Caris had taken my clothes, and the desert cold would kill me, soon. I felt my limbs going numb, and waited for the cold to reach my heart. Thoughts of hatred and anger coursed through me. My mother was dead, just so some vicious gang member could have a few extra meseta and a place to sleep for the night. And then, just to satisfy his own sadism, he threw me out of town, with no clothes. I began to scream incoherently, wishing that my anger could kill the beast that had taken my mother. As the cold finally reached my center, I felt myself lifted, and saw a bright light...and awoke in a castle. That was where I gained power. For years I lived in that castle, an old man in ominous armor teaching me. Sometimes, the teacher would be a voice in my head. From the voice I learned of the cleansing, and what I must do. I would be given immortality, and lead the world in its salvation. And then, there would never be another Caris. Not for anyone.

Zio knocked again, and the humming stopped. A large man with fading tattoos on his arms opened the door.

"Yes? What can I do for you?" said Caris, with a kind smile. Zio pushed him into the house, a sneer on his lips.

"It has been a long time, Caris."

The door closed behind him.

Coroner's Report: Case 97AW2283

Subject: Caris Oleanis [male] [p1], age 32, Civil Services/Director

Elyin Oleanis [female] [p2], age 33, Koil Street Food Bank/co-owner

Nanya Oleanis [female] [p3], age 1, unemployed

[unknown] [unknown] [male] [p4], age [unknown] estimate 50, [unknown]

Cause of death: p1/severe blood loss, extreme burns, multiple punctures

p2/organ and vein collapse, blood loss

p3/eaten

p4/loss of head

Coroner's notes: I'm at a loss to explain the cause of this one. Caris was obviously the main target here, as he took the longest time to die. Caris had a rough youth, and has probably committed some crimes, but he's done so much for the city that I can't imagine anyone from Kadary wanting him dead. The murderer was clearly a very talented tech user. The punctures on Caris were mundane enough...obvious knife wounds. But his burns had that special Foi aroma. Elyin had the collapsed veins and organs characteristic of a very powerful Gra tech. And Nanya...her cause of death is also the cause of three resignations within my staff. Somehow the murderer got Caris, a loving father, to consume his baby girl. Sickest thing I've ever seen. P4 just...had no head. His neck seemed to have been cauterized instantly, and his head was nowhere to be found. I've never heard of a tech that does that. I'm guessing, though, that that was one of the homeless men that frequently got a meal at Caris' home. There were no living witnesses, and no evident suspects. Solving this one is out of my hands.

Governor's notes: That's gotta be the sickest report I've ever read. Get this man. Now.

Police Chief's notes: I'm working on it, get off my ass. And, uh...wear silver, maybe?

Zio grinned at the sight of the packed square. His delicately worded promises the night before had paid off better than he had expected. Dressed all in black, he made an imposing sight as he walked to the center of the square and climbed onto the podium. He smiled out at the hopeful faces looking up at him. At the edge of the square he spotted policemen, undoubtedly wondering why a huge crowd of homeless people had gathered in a little-used square with no prior warning. He raised his hands for silence and began to speak.

"Three months ago, when Director Oleanis and Governor Shane took office, life started to get better. Government food distribution became a steady thing, schools started to open up, housing projects were begun, and the government finally took an active interest in finding jobs for you all. They promised that by the end of the year, there would be no one sleeping in the streets, and no one eating garbage. Those are two conditions that I'm sure many of you are familiar with. But thanks to two men you were all on your way to steady meals, a roof over your head, employment, and educated children. But you know what? The suffering will never end. There will always be hungry people, cold people, poor people. And there will always be someone who takes advantage of all that. The pain of Algo will only cease if the impure are cleansed. Fires will sweep over the world, and only the followers of righteousness will remain. My name is Zio. I will lead you to a new beginning, and a new end." Zio didn't bother with eloquent words, or even full, logical ideas. He didn't need to. He needed only a basic idea, and the shadow would do the rest, whispering into the crowd's ears. There were a few who resisted, pushed him away. But only a few.

1 month later

Zio sat in a simple wooden chair, looking out at Kadary in the distance. He hadn't planned on a castle, really. But his army was larger than he had expected, and he had swelled the Palman ranks with darker creatures, children of Idola. He watched as a line of troops left, toward the caves. They would take out the bridge by Nalya, and bring more followers back with them.

"Algo will die. When Algo is gone, Dark Force will be freed. When Dark Force is free, the creation will begin anew." Zio began his mantra, his reason for life. "Algo will come again, and at its front will be the followers of Idola! We will never hunger, never anger. We will live forever, and never fear."

"WHEN I AM FREE, ZIO, YOUR SUFFERING WILL BE OVER. YOU WILL NEVER FEAR. THE FEAR YOU CAUSE IN MY SERVICE IS FORGIVEN, FOR IT WILL CREATE PARADISE. YOU HAVE LEARNED ALL LASHIEC HAS TO TEACH. GO NOW, FEED THE FLAMES, AND END THE BEGINNING!"I nodded, and stepped through the light. I stepped through to that place where I had fallen so many years ago, where I had lost it all. Yes, I would end the beginning, and begin anew.

I whisper in the Darkness,
For the Darkness,
To the Darkness,
Oh Shadow!
Grant to me this eternity,
May my name echo beside yours forever! Idola!

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