Ch4.14 Fatal Prophecy

“Embrace tha gifts of tha Great Cuttlefish! Heed His callin’ and he’ll bring blessins into yer lives, mah Brothers and Sistas! As he spake tah me just t’other day, ‘Cal,’ he says tah me ’cuz we’s buddies and I’m his priest, ‘Cal’, he says, ‘Go forth an’ spread mah word and there’ll always be bread on yer doorstep and wine in yer napkin.’ At this point, Imma tell yah I think he was a bit on tha tipsy side but I know what he meant, Brothers! And Sistas… Sistas are important too and ain’t no one talkin’ ’bout sistas ’nough these days, ain’t that right Brenda? ’xcept people talk ’bout yah everyday on account of yah bein’ always in everybody’s business, but that’s fine, Cuttlefish loves yah anyways. And that’s His message, mah people! Accept His love and he’ll always make sure ye’re not short of somethin’ tah eat and tah have. And I promise I’ll have a talk with Him ’bout his aimin’ when it comes tah the wine… Aaaaaanyways! Who here will accept His touch today and see His message first hand? I got the sanctuary all fired up and there best be somebody ready tah take in tha Holy Visions ’cuz I can’t on account of havin’ tah write everythin’ down fer future interpretation of Cuttlefish’s wise words and His message tah y’all young and attractive people. Not you, Brenda. I ain’t talkin’ ’bout you.”

Cala almost flinches in disgust from the flood of preaching as she and Aliyah pull open the doors of the restaurant-turned-church, which reveals its mundane past in the form of scarred tables and splintered counters, but which is festooned with blue and green bunting and crude handmade posters depicting a tentacled deity blessing a motley collection of mortals of various species. “Ugh, ridiculous prattle…”

Aliyah laughs. “Good ol’ Calimari Cal. He’s hilarious! Really built up a head of steam there.” She cups her hands around her mouth and shouts, “Yo! Cal!”

“And so I say – Oh, crap, what’s tha cops doin’ here? I mean, that’s not what I say… Y’all just pray amongst yerselves.” The preacher, his bishop’s-mitre-shaped body rising almost as high as Cala’s shoulder, huge blue eyes with barbell-shaped irises down near the floor, slithers down from the pulpit and stage on eight relatively short, muscular tentacles, holding up two longer ones questioningly. “Whaddyah want?! I’m preachin’ here!” His squeaky voice blats out from a modified organ to the side, that would normally be used for channeling water, if his species of giant cuttlefish had not evolved to live on land.

“Preaching?” Cala says with disdain. “You call all that preaching? You’re no holy man. You’re nothing but a small-time grifter.”

Aliyah looks a little thoughtful and blurts out, “Are you even male, Cal?”

The cephalopodic preacher tilts back to glare up at her, the chromatophores in his skin flashing agitatedly. “I’m as male as an octopus in heat, Miss Copper! And that was some real good preachin’ too! Just ’cuz yah can do all that kneelin’ and risin’ stuff, it don’t mean mah kind o’preachin’ ain’t preachin’. We all gots our styles. Get with tha times, lady! Now, whadda youse two want from me?”

Aliyah crosses her arms and says, “We got people wanderin’ around the streets talking about crickets and oversexed llamas!”

Cala rolls her eyes and says more clearly, “We have reports that your worshippers are imbibing some kind of mind-altering drug. What do you know about it?”

The land-cuttlefish turns white with fear. “I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout no drugs. All I know now is tha callin’ and message o’ tha great Cuttlefish, God of all Cefflapods. ’cept fer squids – he don’t like no squids… Thinking they’s too important tah have Cuttlefish as a god an’all… Oh! An’ God of saltwater and seaweed and stuff like that. An’ crabs! He likes crabs too. Grilled… with a slice o’lemon.”

“Aww! Poor squids…” Aliyah sounds sincerely sad.

Cal points an accusatory tentacle at her. “Don’t yah side wit’ dem!!! They’s evil, I tells yah! They’s snobbish and they’s squishy and they turns tah rubber if yah tries tah cook’em and they’s not a part of tha Great Cuttlefish’s divine plan!” He turns to his mostly human audience and raises his longer tentacles. “Death ta tha squids!”

”With flames and butter sauce!” the audience replies, the human members in an almost mystical trance, the scattering of land-cuttlefish more self-aware.

Cala looks shocked and disturbed at the human parishioners’ lack of affect. “Uh…” She stops and, sort of herding him with her hand but not quite touching his smooth, color-shifting skin, she takes Cal aside and asks, “Tell me straight up Cal...does this god even exist? I mean, you know, as one of those who walk around claiming to be gods?”

“Straight up, miss… He exists tah me and that’s what matters, ain’t it? There’s a little o’im in every one of us. Unless ye’re on o’dem veggie lovers.” The human-sized invertebrate looks at her up and down. “And yah don’t look like no veggie lover...”

Aliyah pokes Cal. “Don’t you be talkin’ ‘bout Cala’s weight!” She looks at her finger in surprise. “Hey, you’re a lot less slimy than I thought you’d be.”

Cala glares at both of them. “What you’re doing is affecting people outside this so-called church. Now what is this mind-altering substance you’re using?”

“Yeah! Dude was seein’ hippos! In our Guardia station!” Aliyah crosses her arms as well and uses her height to try to intimidate the tentacular preacher.

He flaps the fins that line his mantle and flashes colors and patterns. “Well ain’t mah fault youse don’t cleans up yer place of work, is it? Besides, I ain’t dealin’ no drugs. I swear! I’m out of that there line of business. Ever since that thing with tha saltwater pills fer treatin’ stress, I promised mahself I’d never deal no drugs again.”

“Those pills very nearly killed some people!” Cala says severely.

“How was I supposed ta know youse primates get sick when yah drink saltwater? Anyways, all I’m doin’ is lettin’ people share in mah god’s message tah mankind an’ other kinds alike. ’cept fer squid.”

A smaller cuttlefish squeaks, “Flames and butter!”

“Shuddup, Franky!” He rolls his eyes and raises his longer tentacles in a sort of shrug. “Mah sista’s kid. And she’s got like 200 more o’those back at her place… Look, ladies, I got a sermon tah finish… It’s gettin’ tah the good part too, with all tha flames and tha monsters and tha squids gettin’ eaten and mah cousin Ben doin’ all tha scary noises and my pickin’ someone to go inta tha sanctuary tah receive Cuttlefish’s message of tha day.”

Cala blinks. “Sanctuary? Where is that?”

Aliyah glowers and almost growls. “Yeah! Make with the cooperation with authorities, Cal!”

“I ain’t makin’ with no cooperations! Don’t ye go disrespectin’ me like that! I’m all ’bout tha small business owners, I tells yah! Cooperations is fer squids!”

“With butter!”

“SHUDDUP, FRANKIE!” Calimari Cal half-closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Fine, whatevahs, I’ll show ye tha sanctuary. Even if youse is smirchin’ me. Cuttlefish teaches us tah show th’other cheek and cooperate with authority, he does.”

Aliyah laughs. “Cheeks? What cheeks?”

“Lead the way,” Cala says.

Cal slithers ahead of the two Guardia and takes them into what was once a back room meant for parties. The walls are covered with undulating curtains of blue and green, giving it a peaceful, undersea feeling.

“So here’s tha sanctuary, where people get tha message and I write it down. May not look like much but it’s holy enough fer two. Like tha decorations? I picked ’em meself.”

Aliyah pokes around. “Well, there ain’t nothin’ here that looks like drugs.”

Cala asks Cal, “Is there anywhere else the people go before they start having these so-called visions?”

“Well, I always has ’em shower first. Cuttlefish is very picky ’bout that. I mean, humans stink all tha time but in this weather, they sweats like it’s no squid’s business. Shut up – Oh… where’s that kid when ye need’im?”

Aliyah steps into the washroom, Cala close behind her, and they register a large tub added to the center of it before the smell slams into them.

Cala, coughing and putting a handkerchief over her mouth, gasps, “This room...that smell!”

“It stinks like rotten eggs in here!” Aliyah cries.

“Hey, don’t look at me,” Cal says, looking confused at their reaction. “Imma male. I don’ know nothin’ ’bout no eggs.”

Aliyah sways. “Whoa...Callie? Uhh...I can...I can...I can totally see hippos…”

Cala grabs Aliyah and yanks her out of the room, rushing them both outside, past the parishioners, into fresh air. Holding her friend to keep her from falling, Cala fights off dizziness herself and asks, “Are you all right? Are you still hallucinating?”

Aliyah looks at her in fear. “Uh...are you a giant praying mantis with two heads?”

Cala shakes her head and feels a wave of nausea. “My head is swimming a bit. Come on, Aliyah, snap out of it!” She shakes her patrol partner and friend.

“Fine! Stop shakin’ me! I’m better now...at least, you only have one head now.”

Following them out onto the street, Cal says, “Youse two shouldn’t be drinkin’ durin’ workin’ hours. That’s bad Guardia work, that is.”

Cala snaps at him. “Cal, whatever is in that room is a dangerously powerful psychoactive drug! You have to stop putting humans in the baths, immediately! And we need to get our people to look at this.”

Aliyah, looking slightly less green now, asks, “You mean the Inspector and the Dei Sergeants?”

Cala shakes her head no. “There’s nothing supernatural about this. We need Syron. And Doctor Nataniel.”

Cal tries to hand them an orange sheet of paper. “Y’all wanna take a pamphlet tah help spread tha word ’bout tha Great Cuttlefish? I gots one right here.”

The two Guardia shout together, “NO!”

Cal raises his tentacles in another shrug. “Can’t blame a guy fer tryin’...”


Ch4.13 Fatal Prophecy

The air has a different quality here. Instead of whiffs of rotting garbage and urine-filled gutters as in Three Rats, the breeze carries a heavy scent of flowers that leaves Mayumi almost dizzy. And the people: most of them slender and pale, dark-haired, eyes with epicanthic folds. They look like me! Well, except for the ears. For a moment, she thinks she is in the place she grew up, in her dream-life. The flowers everywhere – but no, they are not sakura. Though many are pale pink, they are flowering from vines that cover nearly every surface.

Still holding her hand, Sky leads her away from the portal – just in time, as someone appears behind them. She looks back and sees an androgynous figure of unearthly beauty, crimson-skinned, a halo of light outlining – his? her? – curly-haired head, two hands folded in prayer, two others holding shopping bags. The god glances at Mayumi and smiles beatifically, reaches a hand toward her, and strokes one of her ears with two fingers. She feels the power of a blessing fill her.

Sky tenses and shifts, pulling Mayumi behind him as he simultaneously steps in front of her. The crimson god flinches back as a sound of a roaring ocean fills the air, and the feeling of a storm about to break prickles her skin. The crimson god looks surprised, and Sky relaxes slightly, and bows formally. The god also bows and smiles again, then walks off into the crowd, serene. Sky watches the deity go.

“What was that about?” asks Mayumi. She squeezes his hand to remind him that he’s still gripping hers, a bit too tightly in fact.

He releases her. “What you said about Alma before. I...guess I’m rather protective, too.”

She looks at him curiously, as the stormy aura around him fades away and he looks once again like a mere mortal. “Are you all right?” she asks after a moment.

With a small smile, he says, “I’m fine. But how do you feel?” He starts walking into the crowd, signaling for her to follow, glancing back to make sure she’s keeping up.

“I feel fine!” she calls to him over the rising noise of the people. They’re speaking Urbia peppered with words she doesn’t recognize. “Where are we?”

“This is Geumjeong Ward, Third Ring. Like Three Rats, it broke free from another world, maybe even the same world as Three Rats, but it’s been part of the Insula much longer. And it’s in a higher-mana area. Magic works more freely and easily here. Almost everyone can do minor spells as a matter of course.”

As he is saying this, Mayumi gasps to see two small children laughing as a taller child, perhaps a sibling to them, gestures over a handful of matchsticks and makes them assemble into two stick figures that begin to fight in unarmed combat.

She has to tear herself away from watching it in delight, but fortunately Sky is so tall that he cannot be missed among these people, who are on average a bit shorter than most residents of Three Rats – though still taller than she. Dodging between people, she quickly catches up to him, impulsively sidling up next to him so that on his next glance back, he doesn’t see her. Before he can stop and start searching for her, she takes his hand again, causing him to look down at her. He smiles and she smiles back, and she feels that familiar feeling from him – that warmth, that feeling she is becoming sure is a mutual attraction. She feels her heart speed up.

“I almost lost you in the crowd,” she lies, and squeezes his hand. “So why are we here?”

He holds her hand comfortably and gestures at the flowers and the crowd with his free hand. “The Mugungwha Festival. When these flowers blossom, the whole place turns out every year. And gods and mortals visit from all over the Urbis. Would you like something to eat?”

The aroma of grilling meat and vegetables comes from the food stalls they are passing. It evokes memories of her dream life, similar smells, yet very different. Stronger, more garlic and other ingredients. She chooses roasted corn on the cob, dripping with butter, and gasps when she sees one stall selling bowls of red pickled cabbage. “Kimuchi! I haven’t had it in so long! I love it!” Sky buys one bowl to share, and two bottles of tea.

They mount some steps and find themselves next to a wall overlooking a dropoff down the holy mountain on which the enormous Urbis Caelestis is built. The view is incredible: clouds drift by above and below, small rivers flow down and spill over as waterfalls, and variegated swaths of forest, field, and city wind their way down as well. Sky sits on the wall and helps her hop up to sit beside him. Not that she needs any help, but she enjoys feeling his big hands on her waist. Still, she resists the urge to lean against him as she uses a pair of disposable chopsticks to dig into the kimchee, as the locals call it.

Sky chuckles as her face turns red, but she chokes it down. “It’s...a lot spicier than I remember!” She forces herself not to gulp her tea, drinking slowly. Then she has more kimchee, eating more cautiously.

Looking back at Geumjeong Ward, she sees floating balls drifting along, and wonders if they are normal balloons or some kind of magic. She hears music coming from a nearby stage. She catches a glimpse of a food-stall owner starting a fire in his grill with a gesture, and a street performer juggling balls of water that spring to life and swim off through the crowd in the shape of fish, prompting laughter and applause.

“Everyone looks so healthy and happy here,” she says, and a sadness fills her, thinking of Three Rats.

“It’s a prosperous place.” Sky agrees. “The crime rate is very low. No one here goes hungry, or uneducated, or homeless. These people have a strong sense of the need to work together, provide for each other. A person without a home would be front-page news and cause for soul searching and demands for explanation from the ward mayor.”

“Could Three Rats ever be like this?”

Sky shakes his head. “I don’t know. This place would seem like a utopia to the people of Three Rats. But there’s no real reason it couldn’t be done. We just have to change people’s minds about what is possible. And defeat those elements that profit from misery.”

“Both of those are much easier said than done,” Mayumi points out.

“Anything that’s worth doing is easier said than done,” Sky counters. “Now tell me again, how do you feel?”

She looks at him, to find him staring at her curiously. “Why do you keep asking that?”

“I’ll tell you later. For now...humor me?”

She realizes he’s quite serious. She looks down, and mentally examines her physical state, and begins to narrate it to him. “I feel much as usual. No fever, no tiredness. My heartrate is a bit fast, from excitement I suppose. I’m a bit overwhelmed with all the beauty around me, the sights and smells and sounds. The air here feels...charged? Is that the magic? I feel...happy. Quite happy. But also...well, that’s not important.” She shakes her head, her ears flapping against one another.

“What is it?” he prompts.

She looks at him in silence, then says, “Remember what I told you, that night you gave me the ball of mana for Alma, in case of emergency?”

“About your father?”

She nods. “That neighborhood I lived in was not so very different from this. The people and the architecture, and the way they celebrate festivals here, remind me of it strongly.” She reaches out and takes his hand again. “Sky...I’m going to find it. I know it exists in this world. I...I met my father again, in a dream.”

He looks shocked. “When?”

“A couple of weeks ago,” she says. “I don’t remember all the details, but I was there, in the same dream-place, and my father – Sky, he’s not just some dream character my head makes up! He’s alive, in this world, and he misses me! And since then, I’ve dreamt of him again. I have to find him!”

He puts his free hand over hers, his face solemn. “All right. We will. I promise. But Mayumi...be patient. Now is a very bad time for that.”


“Trust me. I’ll explain. But not here.” He slips off the low wall and stands before her. Though she doesn’t need his help at all, again she lets him lift her, but before he can set her down she strokes his cheek, in a manner she only realizes later is just like Alma’s. He pauses, holding her by the waist, as she looks into his eyes and says, “Soon?”

He nods, his eyes seeming almost afraid of her. “Soon. We’ll find him. Now come – we have other places to go.”


Ch4.12 Fatal Prophecy

As they depart Three Rats Guardia Station after leaving the intoxicated citizens in the care of Syro and the Doc, Aliyah hooks her thumbs in her belt and says, “Sooooo...Nate says it’s a new drug or somethin’. Guess we better go around knockin’ some heads, huh?” She grins at Cala.

Cala shakes her head. “Just remember to actually leave them conscious this time.”

“Hey! That was one time! And I only hit ‘im because he was tryin’ to run away!”

“You shouted and ran right at him! Of course he ran away! I would run away too!” Cala laughs at the memory.

Aliyah joins her. “Whaaaat? Are you sayin’ I’m scary when I’m mad? ‘Course I am. Anybody sellin’ drugs around the school had better run.”

“Let’s just focus on the job at hand, Allie. Isn’t this close to where Nate and Syro say they’ve found those two men?”

“Think so…” Aliyah spots a large figure and points excitedly. “Oh hey! Check it out! Ain’t that Brew? The god of, uh, brews?”

“Oh, yes! Maybe he knows what those two’ve been drinking,” Cala suggests.

Approaching him with a wave, Aliyah calls out, “Hello, uh, your…Brewiness?”

The bulky beer god, his long dirty-blond hair draped over his shoulders, hears the familiar voice of the Guardia corporal and turns guiltily. “Uuhh… Whatever it is, I didn’t do it!”

Cala, using her serious “Guardia voice,” asks, “And what didn’t you do?”

The deity shifts his eyes back and forth between the two mortal women. “That...thing I just said I didn’t do? I guess. Yeah, I definitely didn’t do that. And nobody saw me when I wasn’t doing it.”

Aliyah tries to suppress her grin and follow Cala’s lead. “Sir? Are you drunk?”

Brew snorts. “Well, yeah! What kind of a question’s that? I’m the god of beer! I’m always drunk! It’s kinda my thing.”

Aliyah shares a glance with Cala that says, Gods, huh? “Oh right...well, anyway...we found a couple of guys wanderin’ around in a state of whatchamacallit public intoxication. And we’re tryin’ to find out if they got some new kinda drug...or drink. Because, uh, our guy said that it was some kinda new dr–…intoxicant. Thing.”

Brew looks thoughtful and rubs his stubbly chin. “Were they babbling about crickets?”

Cala seizes on that. “Yeah! That’s right!”

“Maybe seeing other animals that weren’t there?” Brew continues.

Cala nods her head. “Yeah, they were!”

“And was there any mention of chocolate fountains?”

“Yeah! That’s it exactly! So you’ve seen it!”

Brew shakes his head. “Nope. Never heard of it.”

Aliyah throws her hands wide. “Nope?? Whaddya mean nope?! They were talkin’ about sex-crazed llamas!”

“Well, It’s not really my business what people do for fun, is it? It’s just that everyone seems to talk about strange visions that aren’t really there, these days. I mean, I’ve seen my fair share of hallucinations but I’m not sure I can drink enough to see llamas.” The god pauses. “Hey, what’s a llama, anyway?”

Aliyah tries to repeat what Syron told her. “It’s a cameloid with, uh, long ears and...I think it spits at high altitudes.”

Brew looks confused. “So, it spits at mountains?”

Aliyah looks very unsure, but says with as much confidence as she can muster, “...yes?”

Cala puts her hand over her face. “Look, forget the llamas. Do you have any idea where these people are getting…uuhh…intoxicated? Or what they’re getting intoxicated on?”

“Well, all I’ve got is this here flyer for the new church that everyone’s been visiting.” The beer god hands Aliyah a sheet of cheap paper, the ink smudged. “Here, you can have it.”

“A new church? Huh.” Aliyah looks at it. “The Esoteric Church of the Almighty Cuttlefish? Who what now?”

Reading over Aliyah’s shoulder, Cala says, “Seems like there’s a new god around.” To Brew she asks, “And you say you’ve seen all these intoxicated people hanging around there?”

Brew shrugs. “Well, I guess crazy people need to hang out somewhere too.”

Aliyah points. “Look, Cala...it has an address. Huh, I think I’ve been there.”

Cala murmurs, “Didn’t that use to be a steak joint?”

Brew nods. “Yeah! Drop-dead Al’s! Best steak in Three Rats! Almost 100% rat-free too! Now it just stinks of fish. I mean, come on! Fish? Have you got any idea how hard it is to find a beer that goes well with fish?”

Aliyah says, “Oh thaaaaat place… Yeah, well, thanks, your Brewtositude. You’ve been a big help.”

The god says magnanimously, “Brew’s fine.”

“Oh, thanks! Well, uh…” Aliyah puts her hands together, preparing to offer a prayer to him, while Cala looks somewhere between embarrassed and disapproving.

Brew waves his hands. “Wait, wait, WAIT!! What the Hell are you doin’?”

Aliyah gasps and turns pale. “You said the H word! You’re not supposed to say the H word!”

Brew looks confused. “The H word? What the Hell are you talkin’ about?”

Aliyah claps her hands to her mouth, as if afraid she might say it too. “Gah! You did it again!”

Cala grabs Aliyah’s arm. “Maybe it’s just best if we go and check this place out. Like, now!”

Brew says, “Sure! Hey, if they still have beer around, have one for me. I need to recharge, anyway.”

Aliyah immediately looks fascinated. “Oh wow, you mean you get power from people drinking beer? That’s awesome!”

Brew says, “Yeah, that’s really the best way for me. You know, people just prayin’ to me and all that… C’mon, that’s just stupid. That’s like praying to the god of poor decisions!” He looks off into the distance. “Now that I think about it, I might be the god of bad decisions. I should really read my charter some time and figure out what all is in my domain.”

Aliyah gives him a thumb’s-up. “Gotcha – me and Cala will…” She pauses at a glare from Cala. “I mean me will...I will drink a beer for you! Two of ‘em!”

Cala growls, “Yes, she will. Once she gets off duty. Like, hours from now.”

“Yeah. What she said,” Aliyah cheerfully agrees. “Well, nice seein’ ya!”

Cala pulling on Aliyah to get her to move, calls out, “Yes, we’ll be seeing you around. Thank you for your help!”


Ch4.11 Fatal Prophecy

“Now remember: stick close to me. Memorize our route, and if something happens…”

“I go straight back home as fast as I can.” Mayumi suppresses a sigh. Why is Tuma-Sukai making such a big deal about a simple trip outside Three Rats? Still, at least he’s talking to her again, instead of being distant like he’d been since that fight with Alma weeks ago.

She notices he’s fallen silent and she steels herself. Has he noticed her exasperation? But his voice is soft and self-deprecating. “I’m sorry. I know you know. I’m just...nervous.”

She looks at him and smiles briefly. “It’s all right. I would be nervous too. Alma is very protective.”

He looks as if he’s about to say something, then changes his mind. “So...this is a portal. Have you used them before?”

She looks at the tall ovoid frame, made of alchemical silver and other materials, its design utilitarian and relatively new. “I used the portal system to go to the Guardia Academy, of course, and to return after graduation. I didn’t visit home during my studies. It was so expensive – but my father came to visit me twice. Mortals don’t often use it, right?” She leaves unmentioned that she could have scraped the money together for a visit, but she hadn’t wanted her father to think she was weak. She’d never told anyone that she’d cried herself to sleep the first three nights.

“Yes,” he confirms. “Gods can easily use it by giving up some of their mana when they go through. This is the toll exacted by the portal system, a sort of tax. The mana is accumulated and used for various purposes, such as paying me.” He gives her a little half smile. “Paying public servants in general, of course.”

“Because you’re not allowed to have organized worshippers.”

“Right. People can pray to us if they want, as a gift, but no shrines or temples for us.” And no bribery, of course. The rules, Mayumi has heard, are complicated. “Mortals, on the other hand, have to buy tickets – or you can just ride along with a god, and I pay a little extra mana. That’s how we’re travelling today. For now, let’s go.” He touches the frame. The space within glows gold. Sky reaches his hand out to her.

“But where are we going?” Mayumi asks as she puts her hand in his. Rather than answering, he pulls her close to him and they step through together. She feels as if she is falling for just a moment, and then they are elsewhere.