The Monster Born of My Father
Fear causes me to tighten my grip on my Father so much I’m not sure how he’s breathing. We’re one hour from Wieder, and I’m a hundred times more frightened than I was when we stepped aboard our transport flight north.
The rumbling engine and dim lights only add to my worries.
Why isn’t Father afraid? Why isn’t he terrified!
Achca’s faline, the ultraviolet pattern on his torso, flickers with nervousness. He clenches his fists, causing the dark skin of his knuckles to grow pale. He’s trying to be brave for our Father.
I don’t want to be brave. I want to be comforted, and I want my brother to have comfort, too. I untangle an arm from Father so I can reach across the one-meter-wide isle that separates my leather seat from Achca’s and grab my brother’s hand. After a moment, I’m not sure who’s gripping whom more tightly.
“All will be well,” Father says.
“I know, Father.” Achca pulls his hand away from mine, showing his nerves by fluttering his wings.
“How do you know?” I ask.
“You always want an explanation,” Achca says.
“What good is my intelligence if I don’t use it to understand the universe?” Is he really going to argue with me now?
“I know,” Father says, interrupting what might have been my last argument with my brother before we both become monsters, “because I have faith in Adhol.”
And therein lies my problem. I wouldn’t be sitting here terrified if Adhol, our god, hadn’t summoned us for ascension. My father’s the most faithful man on our home planet of Orlon. Anyone would be a distant second to him, but my desire to match Father’s faith is overmatched by the fact that I don’t want to become a Var’lechen.
“Faith will bring us through,” Father says. “Faith will keep us together.”
My mouth opens, but Achca interrupts.
“It’s okay, Sis.” This time, he reaches over and takes my hand. “I get it. You had a million questions this morning, and I’m pretty sure you have a million more now.”
“I didn’t have a million questions.”
“You asked at least a million questions.”
“Five is hardly a million.” Will it hurt? Will we have to leave? Is there any way to save our home? Does our great tree have to die after we ascend? What if I don’t transform?
It would be far easier for me to calm down if I had a single answer, but that last question scares me the most. Adhol performed transformation after transformation for a full year until one of the Seferam who came to him didn’t change. He said the Seferam’s sin would not permit him to rise to glory. We all accepted this since it was our god who gave the explanation. Over the past two years though, approximately thirty percent of those who’ve been called didn’t ascend. The only thing I fear more than changing is not changing.
I glare at Achca, but his dark oval eyes don’t have any malice. He’s just teasing me. His lips curl into a small smile that brightens his bearded jaw and eases my temper.
“I’m afraid, too,” Achca admits. “I’m sorry, Father, but I am.”
“That’s alright,” Father says. His deep voice is firm and confident. “Whatever happens is Adhol’s will.”
But does Adhol want to turn me into a monster or forsake me?
“I’ll love you both regardless,” Father says.
Achca glances into my eyes. Father will always love us both, but we know he loves me most. That glance hurts me more than any shout from Achca. I love you, Achca. I’d tell him, but I’m not sure how. Instead, I release Achca’s hand so I can reach up and gently twirl the long, dark strands of Father’s side locks around my slender finger. The gesture is something I’ve done since I was a little girl. It makes me feel safe when I do that or kiss his cheek and feel some of the hairs of the beard that stretches from his chin down to his collar bone.
Father looks down at me and smiles. All I need to feel safe in the world is to see that smile. My family protects and cares for me. As long as I have them, I have everything. “Close your eyes,” he says. “Rest now.”
I lean against his square chest, counting out the number of beats per minute. I’ve been counting my whole life, 21 rotations. Numbers speak to me. Numbers make sense. They don’t bring sleep.
Minutes pass before I hear Father say, “You need to be there for her.”
I keep my eyes shut. Curiosity usually overrules my other instincts. Achca and Father had been out of our great tree more often as our time to ascend approached. Every time I asked about it, they said they were just working. That was a silly lie. They left the great tree forty-six times, only taking their tools with them on an average of thirteen percent. They know I’m a genius. They should work harder to fool me. Then again, if I’m so smart, I’d have figured out what they were up to. Maybe pretending to sleep now will give me some clues.
“What about you?” Achca asks.
“I’ll be fine,” Father says. “When everything is over, and we’re together, you’ll see. Can you do it, Son? Can you make sure to watch over her after I approach him?”
Is he talking about the ascension? Is there a chance they’d separate us? Why do you use the word, ‘him’?
That’s the funny thing about Father. When he’s referring to Adhol, he uses our lord’s name, but I’ve never heard him use that title in reference to the creature our planet has deemed ruler and god. It’s almost like he doesn’t believe, but that’s ridiculous.
“Yes,” Achca replies, as if that wasn’t already decided. He’d obey Father no matter what.
They remain quiet for the rest of the flight, and I’m no closer to learning what they were planning than I am to being ready to face Adhol.
The transport lands, and as we exit, I feel like I’m on another planet. I’ve never been to Wieder, and from my point of view, the city in which I stood wasn’t Wieder any longer. Even the word city is alien to me. This place, though it’s the capital of my planet and is the center of our religion, is foreign to me.
The transport takes off again having deposited us directly where we were supposed to be. Watching the craft as it leaves, it seems as if the dark spires of the enormous buildings that surround me are like knives that stab into the beautiful swirling colors of the sky above. It feels as if the ground has started a war with the sky.
My eyes linger the longest on the blackened stump of the once large, brown-red great tree that housed the Ertrian pod. Once the most powerful pod of Seferam in terms of wealth, respect, faith, and bio-electromagnetic power, now their stump is as black and leathery as their skin. They’ve shown no remorse for the loss of their home as far as I can tell on newsgrams.
I reach into the small pocket on the hip of my dress and pull out a schonblu blossom I had tucked away before I left. Father would be furious if he found out I plucked a few of them from our great tree, but I wanted a part of my home with me before it was turned into something like the stump in front of me now. I only glance at the pink petals that surround clear needles, once blue with energy. The moment gives me a chance to collect my breath as I carefully tuck the blossom back into my pocket.
I look at my father and brother, who are bare-chested. The looping cloth of my blue dress covers my breasts, but all Seferam keep the faline on their stomachs visible. We’re all in our traditional virock, which hang from our waists over our normal clothes. I watch Achca unconsciously run his fingers along the fringes of the four-pointed cloth. He’s nervous, and I wonder if it’s because he senses how wrong it feels here. What was once the centerpiece of our planet has now become the centerpiece of Adhol’s shrine. Statues commemorating the very cause of the death of Wieder’s great tree depict the moment Ertrian’s pod father was blessed. The backdrop is slightly less intimidating in terms of my faith, but it’s all the more imposing because of its size and makeup.
We don’t have a word for it on Orlon, but humans would call it a castle. I count the pointed spires of the dark-gray building named Gotenkonreich until I come to the tallest towers in the center of the building. My eyes lock onto the large window in the center spire. At any moment, Adhol will appear from that window and take away my home and change me into a creature matching his likeness.
As if he could hear my thoughts, he comes out of the large, rectangular window to stand on the balcony. I don’t know if his exit caused the bio-electronic surge of power through the building or if it was just fortuitous timing, but arching blue light spiderwebbes along the building and behind the recognized god of our world.
He is the largest, most powerful being on the planet in both bio-electromagnetic energy and physically measured attributes. My eyes use the known variables around him to learn Adhol’Tielf is more than 2.5 meters tall. He is an intimidating block of muscle chipped out of onyx. He stands on the midnight-blue trimmed balcony of his castle and unfurls his leathery, membranous wings. They stretch out and up, spanning half again as long as he is tall.
The crowd that surrounds us cheers, shouting his name. He launches into the air as the ever present electromagnetic storms in our planet’s atmosphere ripple across the sky. The colors, for one moment, are still beautiful. Waves of light shift from blue to green to yellow. As Adhol’s silhouette reaches the peak of his flight, the hues shift to a deep red.
“The sky shall surge red with his arrival,” my father whispers the first miracle of the Khran. It is one of eight signs we were to recognize our god when he returned. The waves of red pulse, and then Adhol’s body begins to shine. Seferam, and even Var’lechen, have faline. It is how we identify our families and each other. It is the genetic marker of our history and the indication of our bio-electromagnetic power.
Adhol has no faline, but when he absorbs the atmosphere’s power, he shines so brightly I have to clench my eyes shut and turn away. I’ve seen him on newsvids. I’ve recorded his luminance for study. I’m trying to mathematically determine why some Seferam don’t ascended. Adhol may say it’s a matter of sin, but I’m not convinced. However, I’m not foolish enough to tell people I’m attempting to use math to prove Adhol’s words. Some may say that sort of action is heretical. Seeing Adhol in person makes me wonder if I’m wrong. If he is not our god, he is still a god, so I, and all the Seferam around me, kneel.
“Do not look away.” His size and appearance are monstrous, but his voice sounds gentle.
The intense light of his power fades, letting the sky shift back to its normal kaleidoscopic pattern, and I open my eyes and lift my head. His wings flap above us. He begins to land just in front of the statues commemorating his eighth miracle. Large, oval eyes stare through loose strands of black hair. The lips of his snout spread open in a smile that seems more predatory than benevolent.
His wings give one final thrust, and he drops to the ground. It doesn’t tremble, though I thought it might. He folds his leathery wings around himself, letting the long, sharp talons that extend from the thumbs of his wings clasp together like a cloak.
“None who are faithful should ever fear to gaze upon me,” Adhol says, “especially on such a day as this.”
The crowd cheers. A small part of me feels as though they’re happier it isn’t them than they are at my impending mutation.
He extends a midnight-black arm in my father’s direction. “Rise,” he commands.
Perhaps I only imagine it. Perhaps my fear and doubt, sinful though it may be, cause me to hope my father is every bit as afraid as I am, but I think I see him hesitate. Imagined or not, he stands and approaches Adhol.
I glance around, curious. I had thought Adhol would have some sort of Var’lechen guard or procession, but I don’t see any other figures. I glance at him again and realize why. His power is overwhelming. He is intimidating in every measurable way. As he stands there in only a loincloth, which stretches past his enormous thighs, I wonder, What fool would ever try and undermine him?
“You are the father of the Therios pod?” Adhol asks.
“I am,” Father replies. He takes a knee. His lips move. He’s probably praying. I hear nothing, and Adhol says nothing in reply.
“Stand in the presence of my light,” Adhol says, and the sky turns red again as he burns with bio-electromagnetic energy. “I will be the source of your power, faith, and sustenance now and for all time. Let all you were be washed away by my grace, and rise as one of my most loved.”
It’s hard to see, but I force myself to look. I watch as the light of Adhol’s energy flows around and into my father. The light fades. The sky shifts back to its original coloring. For one last, hopeful moment, my loving, kind, strong father, appears the same. It only lasts a moment.