God Is An Abusive Boyfriend

god-by-perin-del-vaga

(After finishing the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins for the third time in the span of about a year, and having also read Hitchens’ God is Not Great a few times as well, I found that my many opinions about Christianity finally started to take some coherent form. I could write an entire book [and I hope to at some point] about my feelings on Christianity, as well as religion in general. In an effort to work toward that, I’ve started taking notes. The following is more less copied and pasted from my notepad so it isn’t entirely fleshed out or well-organized, but it is a good place to start. I wanted to point out that these are notes for myself so that it’s clear that this isn’t the final product, just the early stages of something I’m working on.)

Christianity is a system of cyclical emotional abuse that inculcates and indoctrinates new members (almost always as emotionally vulnerable and mentally impressionable children) to believe that they fundamentally disordered in such a way that they are evil and worthy of eternal torment from the moment they are born. Not only this, but they are taught to believe that they CANNOT be anything other than evil and worthy of the most horrific kind of torture and punishment, because the only way to be truly good, moral, and decent, is to allow Christ to take on your own sin (whether you’ve committed any sin or not), and Christianity takes care to institute such rigorous regulations that most normal, healthy, biologically necessary actions are considered sinful, and thought crime is preached by the central deity, so that absolutely any moment of anything other than complete lobotomized silence is viewed as sinful and in need of correction or forgiveness. To be naked is a sin, to experience physical arousal is a sin, to desire to be close and to express love is a sin, to even think about exercising a completely healthy biological function like masturbation is a sin, even unavoidable biological functions like menstruation are sinful and “unclean,” in short: everything that any normal human being might do is considered a sin, so that no matter how hard you try, you cannot escape God’s righteous indignation.

This tactic is sometimes employed by the military, during basic training, in which a drill Sargeant will emotionally abuse his pupils by setting such absurd regulations on behavior that it becomes literally impossible for the rules to be followed, and so the entire unit is punished when one pupil slips up. Drill Sargeant will also give conflicting orders and punish a cadet no matter their actions, regardless of if they obeyed or not, simply to torture them. The reason for this barbaric method of training is to purposely bring the unit together in their utter contempt of the drill Sargeant, and yet also to fear and obey him, regardless of his orders, because it is the only way to avoid punishment, even if avoiding it is futile. Soldiers are placed under such extreme mental and emotional stress in an attempt to completely break their spirit, and then rebuild their demolished psyche into that of a ruthless killing machine whose only goal and joy comes from following orders and serving the military.

This kind of barbaric treatment is contemptible, but when it’s done in the military, people recognize it for what it is. Even those who justify this cruelty say that it’s done for a purpose. No one pretends that this medieval method of training is done out of love and compassion. But when God does the same things, and worse, people will make any excuse to justify his contemptible behavior, and most sickeningly of all: that God abuses and tortures his creations because he LOVES us. God is the ultimate abusive boyfriend. Countless times throughout the Bible he presses into service those same excuses we know abusers use: “You brought this on yourself,” “Look what you made me do,” “I’m only doing this because I love you.” If any man were on trial for doing a fraction of the things god does to his children, he would most certainly be sentenced to prison or worse. Yet his actions are excused and justified by his victims, who trip over themselves to believe that 2+2=5 if God says it does.

God

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Fairy Tale: Prologue

A bellowing screech blasted into the night, slicing the cold air, the sound rattling the tiles on the rooftops.

Crackling fire. The beating of enormous leathery wings. A green silhouette against the drop of the night sky, a bright white moon shining blue light down on flames of green that ate away at the wood, the iron, the cobbled streets. Fire in every corner.

Screams, frantic and bewildered. Confusion and the blurry fog of tears in the eyes of men and women, clutching their children, their animals, their clothing, anything they could hold while running.

A little girl, ragged breath sucked frantically into her chest, her beating heart pounding in her head, her vision a haze of madness, stumbled gracelessly into the street, tripping over her dress, and as she reached down to pluck a dangling ribbon from beneath her slipper, the sound came again.

A sound like steel twisting against itself, ripping the air to shreds, and a gust of heat blasted over the rooftops, rattling the trees and knocking over the carts. Food strewn about the street was flung up into the air from the force of it, in all corners there were flames, green flames eating the doorways, the signs, the merchant carts. Flowers crackled with green fire in the street.

The little girl tumbled forward from the blast. She landed flat on her stomach and her nose smacked hard against the cobbled street. She was vaguely aware that there was pain in her head somewhere, and her vision was now tinged with red. She fell helplessly onto her back and looked up into the sky.

Green embers over green flames, against a black sky, somewhere beyond the veil of smoke there were stars still shining thoughtlessly through.

She hoisted herself up onto her elbows and drew a breath that she could not quite hear, because all sound was now a hazy din, a high-pitched ringing somewhere inside her head. She looked up ahead, she could hear screaming in all directions, yet she saw only the empty street, its contents turned in on itself, lanterns and silk streamers and placards piled on fruit and toys. The ghastly accoutrements of festivity tossed lazily into a swarm of nightmarish fever.

There was a figure against the sky, green as the flames. It was not quite solid, and yet it was corporeal. Glowing lights where a face might be, the shape of wings unfurled, and the body a mass of green flame. Beneath the two lights, the flaming shape of jagged teeth as a jaw opened, and the bellowing screech came again, accompanied by a river of flame in all shades of green, ribbons of emerald searing across the wind.

She held up a hand instinctively to shield herself.

Flames ripped across the rooftops and into every quarter of the city. In the distance a castle was burning, green fire rising from the windows. Emerald smoke hovered in a humid vapor above the city. A trail of green fire burned down the central path of the city, and struck out at an odd angle, where it led into a square of burning trees.

Surrounded by flames, a man in dark armor held a child close against his breast, blood spilling across the metal plate and over his fingers, blood drenching the child’s back and his cotton shirt.

The king wept into his son’s neck, cradling the unconscious boy.

A woman’s voice shouted over the roaring inferno, “It must be done! He has brought the demon with him, it will not cede until he is dead!”

“Woman!” croaked the man, “You speak of your son!”

“My son has been consumed by a devil!” she wailed. The flames cast a flickering shadow onto the stones, that of a slender woman in a thin gown, tangled hair, thin fingers clutching the handle of a long knife.

The king lay the boy down on the stones. His eyes were still wide, though he saw nothing. His chest rose so gently it may not have moved at all.

The king’s eyes narrowed as he drew the sword from his side. He advanced upon her and there was a shriek, and the sound of flesh being pierced. The flickering shadows showed a woman run through with a sword, and a thin arm curving around to stab a knife into the man’s back. A guttural moan as they both fell.

The little boy’s eyes were bright blue, and his gaze held nothing at all, his thoughts somewhere far away from the heat and the fear. Blood pooled around his body, his arm flung to the side and his fingers twitching as if to grasp something that was not there.

There was a clicking of boots, the slow steps of one solitary figure, a mass of black cloak and long dark hair against the bright green of the fire. A man knelt down by the boy, his unkempt hair dangling over his eyes.

“Little prince,” he whispered, “Life has more for you yet than this.”

The man’s gloved hands scooped the boy up in one fluid motion, and his cloak whipped behind him as he walked directly into the green flame, and through it.

Green sparks fell over the dying bodies of the husband and wife who lay gasping on the stones. Green sparks whirled up into the night sky.

There was silence, but for crackling fire and a thunderous, croaking growl.

Though the spread of the fire was too quick to have begun in one place and spread outward, and though several credible sources cite eyewitness accounts of a dragon in the city on the night of the fire, there is still endless debate about what exactly caused the devastation. All that can be known for certain is that the city was almost entirely set alight within a matter of minutes, and in several places at once, as though fire were poured out of the firmament onto the city. Since there is no true record of any dragons existing outside of folklore, and since the same eyewitness accounts who credit a dragon for the destruction also claim that it seemed to vanish instantaneously, there will likely never be any solid understanding of how the great fire happened.

Equally unqualifiable are the narratives of a demon-possessed prince setting fire to the castle. Though the Church has certainly spread this account of events, indeed the belief in possession by a demon led to the religious fervor that resulted in the church stepping in to help rebuild the city, and subsequently take a hand in its governance, there is still little evidence to support any of the myriad claims of sinister thaumaturgy.

What is known for certain is that the history of Alexandria was inexorably altered by the devastation of the experience. Faith in the royal family dissipated entirely, so much so that though the line continued, no member of the royal family since has had any hand in the rule of the nation. Though a theocracy was proposed by the church, the citizenry ultimately adopted governance by council, albeit with ecclesiastical inclination: the majority of Alexandria’s council members have been clergymen or at least professed spiritualists, and several seats on the council are usually filled by representatives of the Church itself.

Folklore about the event persists to this day: mothers whisper to naughty children that the green dragon may come take them away in the night if they don’t mind their elders, and a fervent fear of possession endures in modern religious congregations.

Whether by dragon, by devil, or by human design, the proud nation of Alexandria, once famed for its ceaseless conquer of more than half of the surrounding continent, was dissolved into several regions that became their own governments following the destruction of the capital city, and though a new Alexandria rose in place of the old, the era of a kingdom fully united beneath a single banner faded into the annals of history, and for better or worse the  flames of destruction cultivated the land afresh and history gave over to a new age.

In The House of the Green Witches

The rain was coming down hard again, beating against the thatched roof overhead. The girl from the meadow was setting down a wooden tray on the small table before Lucas and Eric, who sat awkwardly on the dusty old couch in the tiny living room. Lucas continued to take in the little house around him. Above the crackling fire on the mantle were vases filled with flowers of every color, many of which looked like they’d come from the meadow in the forest. There were armchairs scattered throughout the small living room, and in one by the fire sat the elderly woman who had invited them inside. She was arranging her flowing skirts and sipping a cup of tea on a table next to her, where there also sat a pile of old and weather-beaten books.

There were books everywhere, actually. Along the walls were shelves lined with small and large books, all of which with old, yellowed pages, and there were books in stacks in the corners, sitting by the furniture, and lurking on the mantlepiece with the flowers. Across from the living room was a small kitchen area, where the girl had prepared their tea in silence. Since they’d been invited in, no one had spoken. The old woman remained contentedly sipping her tea and staring into the fire. There were doors leading off from the kitchen into what Lucas could only assume were bedrooms.

It was a small place, but strangely comfortable. It felt safe. Aside from the fire, there were candles lit in all corners of the house, casting a gentle glow across the old furniture and the dusty books. Even their ancient teacups, adorned with small painted flowers, felt homely. The girl poured steaming tea into their cups and laid them on saucers before the two young men.

“Thank you,” said Lucas gently.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like any help with that?” offered Eric.

The girl looked up and raised her eyebrows, “It would be a little late to offer help now, wouldn’t it?” she said saracastically.

Eric looked down, embarassed. Lucas tried to find a spot in the house to fix his gaze on that wouldn’t be obtrusive. He settled on a dark corner of the kitchen.

The girl left the tea setting on the table and settled into an armchair nearer to the fireplace. Lucas sipped his tea gingerly. It was warm and delicious, and one tiny sip seemed to fill his mouth, his head, and his chest with a warmth that kept suffusing his entire body. He looked down at his teacup in amazement. “Wow,” he said simply.

“Yes?” asked the girl in the same impatient tone.

“This is incredible,” said Lucas, smiling up at the girl. “I think this may be the best tea I’ve ever tasted.”

The girls face took on a satisfied smirk, as if to imply this was the only answer she would expect. Eric sipped his tea as well. “What did you make this with?” he asked.

“Witch’s secret,” croaked the voice of the old woman by the fire.

“Mother,” the girl shot her eyes over to the old woman.

“Oh calm down, Imogen,” replied the old woman, “I know a witch hunter when I see one, and these two boys don’t mean us any harm.”

“I can certainly agree,” offered Lucas, “Though I have to say I’ve never really heard of a witch hunter. Or, for that matter, a real witch.”

“Well you’re looking at two,” said the woman with a kind smile and a look of mischevious excitement flashing in her old eyes. Her face was wrinkled, her nose was pointed and her gray hair fell in brittle strands around her head. In her dark skirts and robes, she certainly looked the part of a witch.

“I didn’t know witches really existed,” said Lucas timidly, “I’ve only ever heard them mentioned in children’s stories, or in books of fantasy.”

“I expect you wouldn’t hear about real witches,” croaked the old woman cheerfully, “The church has gone to great lengths to expunge any memory of our people from history.”

“The Angelist Church?” asked Eric.

“That’s the one,” nodded the old woman, and she sat back in her chair, still smiling. There was something gentle about her. She seemed like she was having great fun, talking to guests. Lucas thought it seemed as though she might not have had many guests in a very long time. The girl remained silent, sipping her tea with the same disdainful expression plastered on her face. Her blonde curls and delicate skin were beautiful, as were bright green eyes. Her expression was cold and distant.

The girl spoke.

“The Angelist Church is a blight on human history,” she nearly spat, “They subjugated and killed our people.”

“So, you really are witches then?” Lucas asked, feeling silly for asking it again.

“Oh certainly,” said the old woman.

“The Church would like very much for there to be none of us left in existence,” said the girl.

“Oh, Imogen, stop being so morose,” the old woman waved her wrinkled hand and longs fingers dismissively at the girl. Imogen sipped her tea with a scornful expression.

“What did the Church do?” asked Lucas, “I studied the history of the Church in school, but nothing was ever mentioned about witches.”

“It’s not that it’s forbidden knowledge or anything,” the old woman waved her hand again as she talked, her voice calm, “It just isn’t spoken of. It’s a black mark on the Church’s record. Even if they can convince people that an entire population of human beings were evil, or otherwise possessed by devils, they still don’t want people to know they went around killing us.”

“If I may ask,” Eric said tentatively, “What exactly is a witch?”

“Like I said,” said Lucas, “I’ve only ever heard witches mentioned in books or children’s tales. They’re usually old hags who eat children, cast spells to torment their enemies, and live in secluded cabins in the for-” Lucas stopped before he finished the word “forest” and suddenly blushed with embarassment.

The old woman threw her head back and laughed heartily, “Well I can assure that at least only half of that is true,” and she winked kindly at him. Lucas couldn’t help but like this woman. “Witches have always been characterized as villains, cannibals, wicked conjurers, it’s something the Church spread about so long ago that it’s become folklore and legend in some places, and myth in most others. But before there were legends of hags eating children, there were legends of kind, beautiful witches, who offered spells of safety, healing, and words of wisdom to travelers. In the oldest stories, before even my time, the witches of children’s tales were wise women, sought out by heroes on their journey to fell some great foe.
“Before the witches of children’s stories offered curses and lured innocent children into their houses of wickedness, the witches of the old stories offered potions of luck and blessings of good fortune to wary travelers who lost their way.”

“So, what are real witches then, if they’re not like those of the children’s stories?” asked Lucas.

“Oh, there are plenty of nasty old hags in the world,” said the woman with a thoughtful look, “It’s just that the majority of them aren’t witches at all. I suppose our kind have had our nasty enchantresses, but by and large we haven’t ever done anything to harm other people.”

“Certainly not,” said Imogen, setting her tea down on it’s saucer with her eyes closed and her lips pressed together. She opened her eyes to look Lucas directly in the eye, “The Green Children have existed since before recorded time, and it is we who have looked after the forests that the rest of the world greedily cuts down to build their foolish temples to their angels and sky-gods.” Her tone grew angrier, “Our people have always lived in peace with nature, respecting the land, the creatures, the rivers and mountains. We come from every place and every walk of life, and once we were a thriving community of peaceful people who offered safety and wisdom to those who passed our doorsteps, just like in the oldest stories Mother mentioned.
“Hundreds of years ago, when the Angelist church rose to power, the scouring of the Green Children began. The Church’s armies marched across the continents, rounded our people up, and killed them: man, woman, and child, all dead. They destroyed our records, our precious books and possessions, they sent fire to devour our villages, and left nothing but a smoldering ruin in their wake.”

“This can’t be true…” said Lucas breathlessly.

“And yet it is,” Imogen narrowed her eyes at Lucas, “Because your people, those from the outside, believed that they would receive absolution from their deity if they wiped the world clean of anything they didn’t understand.”

“My… people?” asked Lucas.

“Calm down, Imogen,” said the old woman in a voice that was firmer than before. “He doesn’t know the first thing about the matter, and you can’t very well accuse of him of anything.”

“What are you?” asked Imogen to Lucas, her eyes still focused on him.
“I… I’m sorry?” asked Lucas.

“I saw you in the forest. You were holding fire in your hands.”

“Mm?” the old woman made a curious noise.

“I, I…” Lucas stammered, “I d-don’t…”

“Tell me the truth,” said Imogen, “Who are you, and what are you doing in our forest?”

“Honestly, Imogen, you have no manners,” interrupted the old woman, “It’s like you were raised in a barn. In the middle of the woods. Ha!” and then she threw her head back and laughed.

Imogen took a breath and steadied herself. “Look,” she said to Lucas, “I know what I saw. You were holding a flame, floating in mid-air, right above your hand, and you put it out when you saw me.”

“It, it was…” began Lucas.

Imogen interrupted. “It wasn’t a candle, or a torch, or anything else. I saw it. That I’ve ever heard of, the only people to ever conjure fire from thin air were witch hunters.”

“Wait,” asked Lucas, “There are people who can creat fire?”

“Do not play the fool with me,” said Imogen, “My Mother is a trusting person, but I am not. Tell me who you are.”

Lucas was beginning to grow tired of the accusations. “Alright, let me explain.”

Eric gave Lucas a nervous shove with his elbow. Lucas turned to him and shook his head. “No, these people were kind enough to invite us into their home when we were lost. They deserve the truth.”
“Lucas…” began Eric.
Lucas turned back to Imogen. As he spoke, his glance shifted from Imogen to the old woman, “If what you two are telling me is true, then you really are witches. The Green Children, you said, right?”

Imogen nodded.

“Well, it sounds to me like your people were treated with cruelty by those in power. I understand how that feels. I… well, the truth is, my name is Lucas Ballanheim, and I’m the prince of Alexandria.”

Imogen’s eyes widened. The old woman’s grin widened.

“I don’t know how much you both know about the political world in my country,” said Lucas, “But the royal family has no actual power in Alexandria. I grew up in a palace and I attended the most exlusive schools, and I’ve had servants my entire life, but I’m not really anyone special. I don’t have parents. I’m the only member of the royal family that there is, and the man in power in my country, the Archduke, tried to have me kidnapped, or killed. I’m honestly not sure which. I’m running right now, trying to find my friends, and trying to find a safe place.
“I have no idea where I am, or what I’m doing. I was seperated from my friends, who have been protecting me since I was attacked in a caravan, on the way out of the country, and outside this forest, they we were surrounded by soldiers, and they made Eric and I flee into the woods. We got lost, and we found Imogen, and we followed her because she was the first person we’ve run into, and we have no idea what to do.”

The old woman kept a finger pressed to her chin thoughtfully. “A prince, betrayed by his leader,” she said.

“Yes,” said Lucas, “And… well, I have my guesses as to why.”

“And why do you think you were betrayed?” asked Imogen, though her tone of voice was now much less hostile.

“It has to do with what you saw… the fire,” explained Lucas. “I… well, I don’t really know how to explain it. Until a few days ago, I’d only ever told one person in the world about it, and apart from him, the only other person who knew about my ability was the Archduke. I can… well…” Lucas sighed, and he looked down at the single candle sitting on the table in front of him, next to the pot of tea. He held out his hand. There was a tingling in the back of his head as he reached out his invisible hands and grasped the fire mentally, and he called it to him wordlessly. The flame from the candle rose up from the wick and gently hovered into the air to rest above Lucas’ palm.

Imogen took a breath. The old woman smiled silently.

“I can… communicate with fire,” said Lucas, “I don’t know how else to explain it. I’ve been able to do this my entire life. I can move it with my mind, I can make it grow larger or put it out. If I close my eyes, I can feel little lights in the darkness, where fire is. When I was a child I had to sleep in complete darkness so that I wouldn’t set something alight, and my mother watched over me while I slept. But she… well…” Lucas looked down, and the tiny flame wisped away instantly into nothing.

“She died,” said the old woman in a knowing voice.
Lucas nodded. “When I was very young, yes.”

“And your father?” asked Imogen.

“Well,” said Lucas timidly, “The King died before she gave birth to me. She was a widow queen, and she raised me on her own, but when she died, care of me was handed over to the Archduke, which is to say that I raised myself from that point on.”

Imogen’s expression was a mixture of confusion, anger, and what might have been compassion. She didn’t seem to know what to say.

“I am sorry,” said the old woman gently, “To lose a mother so young is a tragedy. To lose a father before ever even being born into the world is worse.”
“I didn’t lose anything,” said Lucas in a bitter voice, “I never had a father.”

“Imogen lost her mother when she was very young as well,” said the old woman. Imogen picked up her tea again and stared down into the cup. “I adopted her, and she’s lived with me ever since. She hasn’t been to the outside world for most of her life. Forgive her for her rudeness.”

“I… I am sorry,” said Imogen quietly, “I didn’t know.”

“It’s alright,” said Lucas, “I’ve lived in fear my whole life that someone might find out about my power. But, I can’t actually create fire, like you said. I can only move fire that already exists.”

“The witch hunters of the days of the scouring could create fire from thin air,” said Imogen, “It’s something that no witch has ever been able to do.”

“Does that mean there are things you can do?” asked Eric, “Like magic?”

“Yes,” said Imogen, “We can weild magic, but it’s probably nothing like what you’ve imagined magic to be. It’s simple. It’s Earth magic, we can bond with the forest and the animals, we can heal injuries, we can understand the words of nature, hear the voice of the wind and the soil.”

“The bits in the stories about curses are true, too,” said the old woman, “But curses are a silly business. There really is no ‘dark magic,’ like in tales devised to frighten children, our power is something more than what any human might possess, but it isn’t anything very strange or frightening. You’ve already seen our power at work.”

“Really?” asked Lucas, “How?”

“The tea, dear,” said the old woman with a small laugh, “You feel relaxed, refreshed, you feel energy flowing through you, yet I’d wager that having been on the run you haven’t had much sleep. You feel rested and powerful again.”

Lucas blinked, realizing it was true. He looked down at his own body as if in wonder at how it had done this. He felt everything the old woman had described, it was as though he’d slept a whole night.

“How did you do that?” asked Lucas.

“Simple spell,” said Imogen, “Though I didn’t trust you, and I’m still not entirely convinced that I should, but Mother asked me to do it and so I did.”

“If you’re witches,” asked Lucas, “And you can do magic, what am I?” his voice suddenly took on a yearning quality. He began to wonder if they had answers to questions he’d been asking his entire life.

“Why should we know, dear?” asked the old woman in a simple, yet compassionate voice. “What you can do may be magic, and it may not be. Even I have never heard of any kind of magic that would allow someone to command fire.”

Lucas hung his head. “I thought surely people who actually practiced some real kind of magic might know.”

“Well, it’s not to say that we don’t,” said the old woman, “As a people, I mean. Imogen and I are not the only Green Children in the entire world. And there may well be stores of knowledge among our people that can give you an answer to how you have your power.”

“Really?” asked Lucas hopefully.

“But you’d have a difficult time finding any of our kind,” said Imogen, “We’ve been mostly wiped away from civilization, and those of us who survive live in hiding. I’ve never even met another Green Witch, apart from Mother.”

“But I have,” said the old woman, “In my time there were plenty of us. The First Scouring happened hundreds of years ago, but when I was young there were still small communities of Green Children. The second great schism occurred then, and I did my best to help refugees into hiding places.”

“Mother was considered a hero among the Green Children,” said Imogen, “She was a noble protector of the innocent.”

The old woman rolled her eyes, “Honestly, I shouldn’t have let you read any of those old letters. I’ve told you a thousand times the same thing I told the Green Children who called me all those things, I was doing my job. Becoming an Elder among the Green Children means protecting your brothers and sisters. Had I not helped them, I’d have been a coward.”

“You never accept praise, Mother,” said Imogen with a sigh.

Lucas suddenly yawned. He held his hand over his mouth. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how tired I was. I feel so refreshed after that tea, but-”

“Well yes, your spirit is refreshed but your body still needs rest,” said the old woman. “The two of you can sleep in the library.”

“Library?” asked Lucas, perking up without meaning to at the mention of books.

The old woman chuckled, “It’s just a tiny room filled with moldy old tomes and a lumpy old mattress on the floor, but it’s yours for the night.”

“So, you trust us then?” Lucas asked, though he intended the question for Imogen.

“I’ve trusted you since I first saw you,” replied the old woman, “Imogen is just being protective of me.”

“And myself, too, Mother,” said Imogen.

“Yes, well, I trust you’ve gotten over your fear of our visitors, now?” asked the old woman to Imogen.

“I was never afraid of them,” Imogen set her teacup down, “But yes, I suppose they seem trustworthy enough.”

“Thank you, so much,” said Lucas, “For your kindness. Tomorrow, I’ll have to be off, I don’t know where my friends are or if they’re alright.”

“Bronwen is strong,” said Eric, “I don’t think a few soldiers could stop her.”

“I know,” said Lucas, “But until I see Hephaestian I won’t know that he’s safe…” his voice was tinged with worry and anxiety. Even the effects of the tea didn’t stop his heart from jumping into his throat as he said it.

“Well, the good thing is,” said old the woman, “If your friends enter the forest, we’ll know it.”
“Really?” asked Lucas. “Did you know we entered the forest when we arrived?”

“No,” said Imogen, “Because we hadn’t performed a spell. But the forest has traces of our magic all over it. We can invoke a spell that will alert us if someone human enters the deep parts of the forest, where we are now. People who travel this way usually go around the Grotto. That’s what we call our home, by the way. The meadow you saw, this house, it’s all a part of the Grotto.”

“Charming little name, isn’t it?” said the old woman happily.

“Alright… thank you.” said Lucas, “I don’t know how to thank you enough.”

“I’m sure I’ll think of something,” said Imogen, standing.

“And,” Lucas glanced at the old woman, “What shall I call you, ma’am?”

The old woman waved her hand, “You may as well call me Mother, same as Imogen. Everyone else does.”

“Mother, you haven’t had a visitor here for years,” said Imogen, “There’s no one but me to call you Mother.”

The old woman raised her eyebrows, “Well the birds call me Mother, in their own little way.”

“Birds do not talk, Mother,” said Imogen with a voice that showed a trained patience. “Her name,” she turned to face Lucas and Eric, “Is Samantha the Wise.”

“’The Wise’ is a title, not a name, dear,” said the old woman, “And I never much liked it. I’m not any wiser than your average old crone.”

Lucas smiled, despite himself. He really liked this old woman. “Thank you, miss… well, um, Mother,” the word sounded foreign when it escaped his lips, but he liked the sound of it.
“Yes,” chimed Eric, “Thank you, ma’am.”

“I’ll show you to the washroom,” said Imogen, “I imagine you’ll both want a bath, you’re filthy as pigs.”

Lucas felt his face redden.

“I’ll get your bed ready for you in the mean time,” said Imogen.
“And I’ll do my best to consult what references I can,” said the old woman to Lucas, “And see if I can’t find mention of someone with your powers. The witch hunters did it through runes on their hands, that the Church had tattooed onto them. It was a strange practice that had the look of magic about it but seemed manufactured. I always suspected there was more technology than magic at work there.”

“Well, there aren’t any runes on me that I’m aware of,” said Lucas, “Thank you again. I’m very grateful.”

The old woman stood from her chair by the fire, her long black skirts swishing, “Yes yes, grateful and reverent and respectful and all that. Enough with the niceties, you boys go and wash the dirt off your faces. Leave your clothes outside the washroom, I’ll have them laundered for you by morning.”

And with that, Imogen ushered the two out of the living room.

She led them through a door on the far side of the kitchen, into a small room where candles were lit against the walls, and an old porcelain tub with feet on the bottom stood. “Throw your clothes out the door and I’ll pick them up in a moment,” said Imogen, and then she shut the door on them.

Lucas and Eric looked at one another bemusedly.

“Well, this is certainly an interesting turn of events,” said Lucas quietly.
“Yes,” Eric scratched the back of his head. “I’m glad to see that you’re safe, though.”

“How exactly did you end up with Bronwen, anyway?” asked Lucas, and then he began to peel his shirt off. He’d undressed in front of Eric plenty of times before in the palace, but there was something about the situation that made him feel embarrassed to do it now.

Eric walked over to the tub and turned on the faucet. Hot water cascaded down into the tub, and he pulled his own shirt over his head, revealing a thin frame, and just a little red hair below his naval that was roughly the same color as the hair topping his head. Lucas had never seen him without a shirt on. He found himself blushing slightly, and hoped Eric didn’t notice.

“Well,” Eric sighed, “I found out about the Archduke’s plan, and I left the palace, hoping to find you. I knew you’d been attacked at the border, and I knew you’d escaped, but I knew not much else.” Both Lucas and Eric had pulled their boots off and were undoing their belts and pulling their trousers down their sweaty legs. Lucas couldn’t help but notice Eric’s legs had a light dusting of darker red hair, almost brown.

“So what did you do?” He asked, as the two stood there in their underwear.

Eric crossed his arms, “Well, I headed to the border town on foot, I ran all night, and I… well, I collapsed near the Inn. I woke up inside, though, and Bronwen had found me, and rescued me. She knew who I was, or at least she recognized my clothes as having the sigil of Alexandria palace branded in. I hadn’t thought to change into something more discreet, and I’d traveled thirty miles wearing my clothing from the palace. She thought I might have something to do with situation, so she rescued me, and she was right. I did know you.”

“She’s quick, that one,” said Lucas. “But Hephaestian doesn’t know if we should trust her.”

“There’s something off about her, definitely,” said Eric, “But she seems trustworthy to me. She did save your life, and mine, after all.”

“Not to mention Hephaestian’s,” said Lucas.

“Yes,” replied Eric quietly, “Him too.”

“I don’t know if you’ve actually met him,” said Lucas.

“I’ve seen him, but never spoken to him. I know that he’s your friend from the Academy though. A soldier in training.”

“He just graduated a few weeks ago,” said Lucas.

There was a silence hanging in the air. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. An impatient voice called from the other side, “Clothing, please. I’d like to begin washing them before the sun rises.”

Eric looked back at Lucas and gave an embarassed smile. “Well, uh…”

Lucas rolled his eyes and in one motion whipped his underwear down to his ankles and stepped out of them. “Hurry up, she’ll turn is into toads or something if we don’t do what she says.”
“I heard that,” called the voice, “Witches do not turn people into toads… unless they deserve it.”

Eric’s face twisted into a look of supreme embarassment as he gingerly removed his underwear, and then bent over to pick up the pile of laundry, pulling Lucas’ shorts out of his hand, opening a crack in the door, and passing the clothes through. He shut it and Imogen could be heard shuffling away. He turned back to Lucas, still looking embarassed.

Lucas really tried not to look, but he couldn’t help himself. He didn’t think Eric noticed, but he’d seen his member between his legs, surrounded by a tuft of red hair. He heart beat a little faster. He coughed gently, and turned to walk over to the bathtub. It was nearly full. He turned off the faucet and stepped in.

The water was warm, refreshing, comforting. He wondered if maybe Imogen had somehow enchancted the water the way she had the tea. Lucas was suddenly aware of the scrapes and cuts and bruises he’d sustained all over his body, the hot water licking them a little painfully, but cleansing them.

Eric strode over, his hands modestly cupped between his legs. “Eric,” said Lucas, “You’ve seen me naked before, it’s not a big deal if I see you naked too.”

“It’s just an unusual circumstance… Lucas.” said Eric.

“You almost called me ‘sir,’ didn’t you?” Lucas smiled at him.

“I’m not entirely sure that I shouldn’t be calling you sir.” replied Eric.

“Eric, get in the bath.” Lucas pointed to the water. Eric sighed again and stepped in, sitting down on the opposite side. He relaxed visibly.

There was silence for a while. Lucas sat, enjoying the feeling of the water, closed his eyes and saw with his mind the flickering lights of the candles. He didn’t touch them, just felt their presence. Fire had a presence. It wasn’t like a living thing, but it was warm, and real.

Eric sloshed around and Lucas opened his eyes to see him reach over to a table by the tub and pulled a sponge and a bar of soap into the water. He lathered the sponge and started washing grime off his face. Lucas rolled his eyes, “You probably need some help,” he said and took the sponge from Eric’s hand, scooted close to him, and put a hand on Eric’s shoulder as the other rubbed the dirt gently from Eric’s nose and cheeks. Eric kept his eyes shut uncomfortably.

It was an odd moment. Lucas felt his heart quickening, and a tight, warm feeling in his chest. He found himself excited at what he was doing. He reached over to the table by the tub and took a small silver cup, dipped it in the water and ran it over Eric’s head. He did it again, and ran his fingers through Eric’s hair, feeling grass and dirt and grime in his soft red hair, and found himself greatly enjoying rinsing it out.

“Lucas?” Eric asked, and he wiped the water from his eyes and opened them.

“Yes?” Lucas responded, in a sheepish voice.

Eric looked beautiful to Lucas in the dim candlelight, his hair and his face dripping with water, his blue eyes sparkling in the dark. There was a somewhat confused expression on his face. “Are you… alright, Lucas?” asked Eric.

Lucas found himself scooting backward in the tub, and Eric put out a hand to touch Lucas’ arm gently. “No, you don’t have to go away. It’s just… well, you’re being awfully affectionate toward me, it seems.”

“I just…” Lucas looked down at the water. He found that he could see the dim outline of both he and Eric’s crossed legs under the water. “It’s been… a pretty scary couple of days for me. I’ve… been very afraid.”

“I understand,” said Eric, removing his hand from Lucas’s arm as Lucas scooted closer again.

Lucas looked up at Eric, and suddenly, without realizing it had happened, he found his eyes were burning and his vision was blurred. He shut his eyes tight. The tears burned against his dry skin.

“Oh, Lucas…” breathed Eric gently, and he leaned forward and put his arms around Lucas.

Lucas suddenly found that he was crying, and that he couldn’t stop. He leaned forward in Eric’s arms, and without any awkwardness their bodies seemed to move into position, and Eric stretched his legs out beneath Lucas, as Lucas rested his head against Eric’s shoulder and cried into his neck. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed, “I’ve just… I feel so… alone.”

Eric held Lucas firm and ran a wet hand through Lucas’s hair, “It’s alright. I’m here, okay?”

This seemed to make the tears comes faster. It was as though something in Lucas’s chest had broken and he couldn’t stop the tears now. He felt them run down his cheeks and gently drop into the water. He curled up closer to Eric, sitting fully on his lap and noticing somewhere in the back of his mind that he could feel Eric’s member somewhere beneath him, but primarily just feeling sad, and alone, and terrified. He wondered where Hephaestian was right now. He wondered if the Archduke was somewhere conferring with people on how to kill Lucas. He wondered who these strange women were who had offered him kindness. He wondered how his close servant and his only other friend in the world apart from Hephaestian had somehow ended up thrust into this situation, and he wondered if he’d endangered Hephaestian and Eric forever just by being in their presence.

Eric made a gentle noise. “Shhhh, it’s alright,” he whispered, “I’ve got you, okay?”

Lucas wrapped his arms around Eric and breathed deep. Eric reached over for the silver cup and filled it, and then poured warm water over Lucas’s head, into his dirty hair and down his face. He did it again, and started to run his fingers through Lucas’ hair the same way Lucas had done to him. It felt good. Lucas found himself relaxing. He realized suddenly that he had stopped crying, and he sniffed gently, keeping his eyes closed as Eric lathered up the sponge and washed Lucas’ face off the same way Lucas had done for him.

Eric rinsed Lucas’ face, and with a finger wiped away dirt from Lucas’ cheeks. Lucas opened his eyes.

Eric’s expression was one of deep concern, compassion, and something else Lucas couldn’t quite place. Was it affection? He suddenly realized where he was, how close they were, that Eric was holding him in his arms. He realized he was hard between his legs, and he liked being close to Eric.

Lucas leaned forward and gently pressed his lips to Eric’s.

He closed his eyes. Eric kissed him back. Their lips moved softly, gently against one another. Eric’s hand held the back of Lucas’ head. Lucas excitedly slipped his tongue through Eric’s lips, and the tip of Eric’s tongue touched Lucas’. Their lips slowed and gently remained touching one another, as they each breathed silently.

Lucas stretched himself out fully, and then wrapped his legs around Eric’s waist, feeling Eric’s stiff member pressing against his own. He gently kissed Eric again, and Eric seemed to be smiling as he kissed him back. Lucas wrapped his arms around Eric’s neck and pressed his nose against Eric’s cheek, relaxing in his arms as Eric ran the sponge over Lucas’ back.

He felt Eric’s hands moving across his body, washing him, cleaning him. He felt Eric’s warmth, the warmth of the water, and the gentle pulsing of Eric’s member against his own. Lucas sighed gently. He wanted to kiss Eric again, wanted to do a lot of things, but he suddenly noticed that he wasn’t entirely awake anymore. He thought about saying something to Eric, but his thoughts were lost amidst a haze of colors and thoughts that didn’t make much sense, and he felt Eric’s lips gently press against his neck in a soft kiss as he fell asleep in Eric’s arms.

Daemon

The king held his son in his arms. Burning tears spilled down his cheeks and landed on the face of his son, whose eyes were wide with an expression of shock and fear, and whose mouth was gaping. Blood spilled forth from the enormous wound in his son’s upper back, pouring down over his fathers hands and pooling on the stones below.

Fires raged all around the king and the boy. The king knelt by a fountain in what had previously been the central square, but all of the planted gardens, the bushes of roses and wildflowers, the trees of the park, were engulfed in flames. Smoke choked the air.

The king held his son close and sobbed over his body, feeling the boy’s breathing slow. His son made no sound, only kept staring vacantly into nothingness. The king grit his teeth, and gently he lay his son down on the bloody stones. He stood, his battle armor stained red and brown with his son’s blood. He whirled, and the blue cape clasped to his armor swirled behind him as he turned to face a woman who stood across the square, between two large leaping pillars of flame that had been trees.

The woman held in her hand a long, silver dagger, covered with blood. Her hair was long, blonde and in curls around her shoulders. Her red and gold embroidered dress was stained too with blood. Her lip quivered, and a look of fear was plastered onto her pale face.

“Why have you done this!” shouted the King.

The woman caught her trembling breath. “Possessed,” she called over the sound of the roaring flames, “Possessed by a daemon! Look around and see you the fires of Hell!”

The King threw his head back and a wail escaped from his mouth, a horrified sound, the sound of a heart breaking, tears choking his scream. “My son!” he screamed at the sky, and then he extended an accusatory finger toward the woman holding the knife, “You! Witch!”

“No!” shouted the woman in fear, grasping the knife tightly, “No, husband! It is our son! He was possessed! Flames shot from his fingers and all that his gaze touched was set alight!”

The king reached to his left hip and with a lound shink! He pulled his sword from it’s place in it’s jeweled scabbard.

“Husband, no!” Shouted the woman, though she gripped ever tighter the knife in her hand.

The King pointed the sword toward his wife. “Betrayer! Child-slayer!” he roared, “You have taken your own son’s life, rather than save it!”

“But he could not have been saved!” howled the woman.

“I’d sooner have thrown myself over his body and taken the flames on myself than drove a dagger through his back!” spat the King. “You have taken from me all that I love!”

“Not I,” shouted the woman, “No, not I! The daemon! The daemon who brought the fire! It has rent our kingdom apart!”

“You have done this!” wailed the King in a rage, “You have taken from me my son, my kingdom, and my wife!”

“I am your wife still!” shouted the woman.

The King did not respond with words, only a guttural roar, and he charged forward toward his wife, toward the inferno, away from the boy who lay, nearly dead, on the stones by the central fountain.

Footsteps from behind the fountain. Boots that clicked gently against the flagstones. A man who appeared young, but who was not young at all, a man whose hair was deep auburn, and whose eyes were an unnaturally deep shade of green. He wore a long cloak that had not been singed by the fires, and as he walked around the fountain he trailed a hand lazily against the side of the huge bowl, where water still poured freely. His lips were pursed and he gazed down at the boy, whose eyes remained open, whose breathing was coming ever slower.

He stopped in front of the boy and squatted down, a hand resting lazily over one knee. His expression was one of disinterest. He spoke to the child. “Little prince,” his said quietly, “It is not from account of your own sin that you are slain.”

The boy’s eyes closed slowly and opened again. His breath came in ragged, steadily slowing bursts.

“This is not the fate you deserve,” said the man in the cloak, “To be killed now before ever you blossom. The rose has been plucked when it is but a bud, not yet come into bloom.”

The boy drew another breath and didn’t move.

The man quickly shot his hand into the fountain and dipped his fingers in, and the water began to coil, serpentine, around his fingers. He shot a hand down to the boy’s back and the water trailed behind them, he laid his fingers in the bloody wound, and the water slithered out of the man’s hand and seeped into the wound, disappearing inside the bloody gashes, and more water still flowed out from the fountain and across his fingers, seeming to fill up the void within the boy’s back.

The blood stopped flowing.

The wound was gone.

The water wound it’s way back into the fountain and stayed there.

The man in the cloak reached down and lifted the child from the flagstones. In the distance could be heard the sound of a woman’s scream, and a man’s agonized cry. He stood, holding the child in his arms, staring down at him. The child’s eyes flicked toward the man who held him, though his expression was still one of shock, and his mouth remained gaping. For a brief moment there was recognition in his eyes, the boy understood that he was being held, that someone was looking at him, but he seemed lost behind his own eyes.

“You have more left to give the world, my child,” said the man in his quiet, collected voice, “There is more life for you than you could yet imagine. Death will not take you so easily.”

The man in the cloak turned around, his cloak swirling behind him, and walked into the roaring inferno. When he came near the fire it parted, and he passed through unscathed, holding fast in his arms the small boy, and the fire snapped back together, like a doorway closing.