Cale trudged up the winding path, rife with debris, that led to the Archive. He treaded along Oki’s vein, blue light peering up through dead leaves and litter. He spotted the stained building atop the hill. What had once been stark white had fallen to mottled greens. In the light of the setting sun, the Archive’s black windows seemed to glare down on him. As he approached, he wondered if Terach had been having a go at him. The place looked deserted, a forgotten relic as old as the gods it paid homage to.
He stepped up to the alcove, a giant slab serving as a doorway stood in cold disapproval. The small screen next to it had been smashed, adding to his growing suspicions. He took a deep breath, pressing the bump on his wrist to call Terach. He played out his conversation, the verbal lashing Terach would give him for this fool’s errand. Terach would simply shrug it off and smile. He peered back, spotting Na Creidmhigh in the distance. From here he saw its spiraling towers but little else.
“Hello?” A man’s voice crackled behind him.
Cale spun around to see the shattered display alight with white noise. The image pivoted in one of the shards as the man on the other side angled himself to get a better view of his guest. Cale could only see a bloodshot eye.
His ear buzzed. “This is Terach.”
“I’ll call you back,” Cale muttered, closed the line. Leaning into the feed, he said, “Evening, sir.”
“What’s your business?”
Cale stiffened, remembering himself and rearranged his posture, face going slack, and he presented his badge. “I’m Officer Edmonds, number 1783271-b.”
“Yes yes, I don’t need that long list. I can tell by your uniform what you are. Why have you come up here? I don’t have time to waste with permits and such.”
“Believe me, sir. I’m not interested in more paperwork. I came to ask you about the gods. May I come inside?”
The muscles around the eye seemed to relax. With a lighter, less interrogating tone, the man on the other end said, “Of course.”
The slab groaned as it began its slow swing inwards. Cale moved through the opening, then shivered as the temperature took a drastic decline. The building had been made out of bronze marble, polished to an immaculate shine. Only a few lights lit the place, just enough to give it a moody atmosphere.
His boots echoed, leaving him feeling alone as he passed a glass room on his left, filled with trinkets and artwork. While no traces of the refuse had made their way inside, the entire place felt abandoned. Framed paintings lined the walls, incomplete renditions of gods, sloughed paint collected at the base of the frames.
Continuing down the hallway, he heard the brisk clomp of footsteps coming toward him. He turned to see an old gentleman, his stark white hair swooped back, if a bit long behind the ears, approaching at a rapid clip. He had a worn suit on, frayed at the cuffs.
The man feigned his best smile, which came out as a frown, and said in a jovial voice, “Officer Edmonds, I’m so glad you came up here. As you can see, we’re always open for business, but no one seems to come. Thankfully we’re independently funded, so we’re ready to serve.”
“That’s good to hear, Mr. . . .?”
Cale nodded. “Mr. Gurnam, I need your expertise. What can you tell me about Theon?”
Gurnam’s eyes twinkled in the light. “What has that charlatan been up to, Officer?”
“That’s an interesting word choice. Does that name get thrown about a lot?”
“Follow me. I’ve got a visual aid for you.” A smile played at the edges of his lips without materializing. The curator pressed a hand onto Cale’s shoulder, leading him forward.
They crossed into a large chamber. Six wide monitors sat at the edge of giant glass display cases, at a forty-five degree angle. They played a looping video about the gods, each screen focusing on a different deity. Along the walls were a number of displays, quotes, and labeled portraits of the gods. Cale’s eyes flicked over them, only faintly identifying the deities’ names. He caught Theon’s, but Gurnam led him away before he could read the text underneath his likeness.
“All that stuff is interesting, but I’ve got something we’ve been working on that I’d love to show you,” Gurnam said, distracted.
Cale caught sight of various antiquities — masks, weapons, even sigils, meticulously arranged in the showcases. “Does anyone still worship these gods? Other than Keir.”
“Oh, most definitely. Their popularity has waned in the last century,” Gurnam responded. “However, it’s their past that excites me: they had many different beliefs, most of them contradictory. Journey, for instance, had people taking pilgrimages as a display of their faith, often without basic gear to aid in their survival.” He turned at this. “Though many people cheated on that tenant. However, Dawber believed in strict discipline. His followers were there to put down insurrections. They’d go anywhere when called upon, but otherwise led sedentary lives. That being said, that caused more problems as their bloodlust grew. There were even stories about Theon’s followers inciting riots so that Dawber’s would have something to kill.”
“So mercenaries and travelers, but they seem to cross over in the middle. Did they ever clash?”
“Of course. You can’t have six completely different gods without a bit of blood being spilled. But you’ve got Dawber’s followers all wrong. They were not mercenaries. They did it for the thrill of the battle. It’s okay, it’s a common misconception.”
They passed a weapons case, each implement more barbaric than the last. “Dawber’s work?”
Gurnam peered at the giant vertical name plate attached to the metal, then walked off without a word. Cale looked up at the bold letters, Dawber, then followed sheepishly.
They stopped at the end of the cases. Cale shot a glance back at the quotes, then noticed Gurnam had stopped speaking. “Excuse me?”
Gurnam waved a patient hand, gesturing to a spot squared up with the rows of glass. “If you please.”
Cale must’ve looked confused, because Gurnam sighed and continued, “I’ve got a presentation for you. A pet project you might call it.”
Deflated, Cale took his position. Gurnam disappeared. Off in the distance, Cale heard the gentle trickle of water mixed with the constant video loop. Staring down the lane, he saw nothing but a confusing tangle of items.
A loud clunk filled the room.
His head spun in the direction that Gurnam had disappeared, but then he heard grinding metal from the cases, turned to see the artifacts changing places in their displays. Some dropped into the ground while others seemed to extend out, becoming almost a three dimensional construct.
Gurnam’s voice crackled through the room. “Oki, the water goddess, is the head of the gods and the heart of Sandhyanen. Her veins move through every street, every building, a constant reminder that this is her city. Do you know who made this all possible?” The lighting changed to a deep blue, highlighting the artifacts. “Pelageva Feoktista is correct! She was instrumental in the design of this city.”
The lights shifted. “Now the interesting thing about our gods is that none of them are related. They all hail from other parts of the world, coming together out of duty rather than some forced familial bonds.” Grinding gears filled the air and several of the masks refused to budge.
“You would think that Kanya, the child god, would be the daughter of Oki, but instead she is the idealist of the gods.” A fresh batch of items appeared, reflecting Kanya’s youth, her child-like visage. More poles refused to retract, leaving the case partially filled. The lights turned orange.
“Then there’s Liam.” Cale perked up at this, his brow furrowing. “He’s the newest of the bunch. Reclusive, he’s known most for his red hair. This is one of the many factors that marks him as an outsider to the other gods.” The grinding became louder, completely drowning out the video. Gurnam continued speaking, though Cale strained to make out his words. The next set of artifacts descended, scraping the frozen ones. He started to move, but was stopped by Gurnam’s stern voice, “Please stay, Officer. We’re just about to get to your question.”
Half of the lights transitioned to a brilliant white, blinding amidst the gloom, while the other half shone that same bright orange. “Theon is the trickster god.” The items that could still move transitioned, though several more artifacts were caught in the process. Cale watched the gaps between items lessen, forming a crude face between the cases, almost creating a grin. Orange poured through its empty sockets.
“He is known to play with humanity. Even his ceremonies were plagued with practical jokes, celebrations that never seemed to end, but many believed he was the most active god. Several supernatural events were noted before his temple was decommissioned. He was such a popular god that his followers moved his temple from the Lower District to the Upper. At one point it seemed like he would rival Oki.”
“Dawber—” Gurnam started as the lights shifted, then a horrible crunch cut him off and the place went dark. Red emergency lights flicked on, bathing the room. Gurnam appeared on the main floor “I’m sorry, Officer. Still got a few kinks to work out.”
Cale looked through the cases at the face, its wide smile grinning out at him. Without turning away, he said, “You might want to check your artifacts.”
Gurnam turned, eyes going wide. His voice came out in a croak. “Why didn’t you stop me?” Freezing at the edge of Kanya’s case, Gurnam inspected the torn clothing as if trying to figure out how to untangle them from Dawber’s barbed weapons. His hands worked uselessly, separated from his task by thick panes of glass.
“I’ll see myself out.” Cale wasn’t sure the curator heard him, but he didn’t want to stay there under the scrutiny of Theon’s eyes.