Just as there are two versions to every story, there are two versions to every person. One version that we reveal to the world, and the other that we keep hidden... A duality governed by the balance of light and darkness. Each of us has the capacity to do good and evil, but those who are able to blur the line of moral division hold true power. Emily Thorne - Revenge
The Exitium, also known as "The Flame of Judgment," is a legendary secret weapon with cataclysmic powers. Created by a long-forgotten ancient civilization, this weapon is capable of unleashing a destructive energy of immeasurable magnitude. Legend says that it is the creation of a demon and the god of war, and that the person who possesses it, in addition to controlling its power, will be equal to the Gods. It was designed to be used as a last resort, as its power is so devastating that it could annihilate all forms of life on Earth.
In a dim and austere room, a shadow sitting at an old wooden table picks up the rotary phone. The room is bathed in a cold glow from a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. The face hidden in the surrounding darkness confidently dials the numbers, creating a familiar melody of metallic clicks. On the other side of the line, in the border control station, the guards are monitoring the control screens. The atmosphere is tense, as if each echo of the phone's ticking announces a potential disturbance. The ring sounds once, and then a deep voice answers.
"Border control station, who am I speaking to?"
The shadow maintains a calm and distinct tone.
"Listen to me carefully. I know someone intends to cross the border illegally in the next few hours."
The guards exchange perplexed glances. "We don't move for that kind of thing."
"But it's a deserter. A traitor !"
"Listen, we can't..."
"What if I tell you it's a terrorist?" The shadow continues with a calm yet determined voice. "The person you're monitoring has more than a simple covert passage in mind. They're planning an attack on the Order."
Silence falls over the room. The Order is the governmental entity that maintains authority over the region. Despite many rumors circulating about its corruption and abuse of power, no one had dared openly challenge its authority until now.
"Wait, how can we know you're telling the truth?" another guard asks, suspicion in his voice.
The shadow responds with certainty. "I don't have tangible proof to provide you at the moment. However, it's in your interest to take this information seriously. My goal isn't to deceive you, but to warn you." The guards exchange another look, this time tinged with uncertainty. One of them finally speaks.
"We can't move for every rumor we hear. However, if you're right and the situation escalates, we'll have to take action."
The shadow seems to understand this response. "I understand. Do what you must do. The future will reveal whether my words were true."
Sunlight filters through the curtains of Elizabeth's small room as she sits in front of her mirror, brushing her hair. Her mother, Anna, stands behind her, gently untangling the blonde strands with soft hands. A sense of apprehension forms a knot in her stomach as she watches their reflection in the mirror. She knows her mother has something important to say, and the solemn tone in her voice confirms it.
- "My dear, there's something we need to talk about," Anna begins gently.
Lizzy bites her lower lip, nervous about what's coming next.
- What is it, Mom?" she asks, eyebrows furrowed.
You know things are becoming more dangerous near the border," Anna says, avoiding her daughter's gaze in the mirror.
- "I'm worried about you, Lizzy. I don't want you to be in harm's way. The Order suspects that the Rebels might launch an attack near the border soon. We need to take precautions for our safety."
The young girl nods, understanding her mother's concerns. Tensions between the two cities had escalated lately, and rumors of an impending attack were spreading rapidly.
- But... I don't want to leave," Lizzy admits, a hint of stubbornness in her voice. "Kieran said...
- He's the one who suggested that we join him in the capital. He's already found us an apartment.
- Wait...When are we leaving?" she asks.
- I know, it's early. I'm sorry to tell you so late. Try to pack a few things when your brother is here, okay?
- Okay, Mom," the teenager agrees, looking down.
- Happy birthday, sweetheart. Just try to enjoy the day a little, okay? It's not every day you turn 13.
Lizzy manages a small, half-smile.
- Okay, okay. I'll do my best, promise.
The sound of the front door opening interrupts their exchange. Kieran enters the room, a warm smile lighting up his face. Lizzy rushes to Kieran and embraces him enthusiastically.
- Kieran! It's been forever! Where have you been? Keeping the world safe, I suppose?
-Oh, you know, Order business is quite delicate. I'm here and there, making sure everything's in order.
- Sounds boring...
- Well, you know, it's an exciting job. Always watching over the celestial energies and protecting the faithful... well, that sort of thing.
Another man follows Kieran and enters the room. Lizzy recognizes her brother's friend, Ethan, also dressed in his guard uniform.
- Happy birthday," he says, avoiding her gaze.
Lizzy thanks him, feeling an awkwardness settle in the room.
- We should get going, the temple is on the other side of town," their mother says, putting on her jacket.
- Let's go.
* * *
The temple walls are adorned with sacred symbols and frescoes depicting the gods revered by the Order. Devotees flock, dressed in their pristine robes, their faces filled with devotion. As they proceed, a sacred silence settles, broken only by the murmurs of the faithful and the distant rumble of the organ. The Order's guardians, dressed in black robes, watch silently, their scrutinizing gazes observing every movement of the participants. The celestial priest, an imposing figure in his crimson robe and golden crown, stands before the altar. He raises his arms, signaling the start of the ceremony. His voice resonates in the temple, solemn and powerful.
- Beloved faithful, today we gather in the light of the Eternals, aware of the grandeur of our destiny.
The priest's words are punctuated by the mechanical responses of the faithful, repeating the words they have memorized by heart.
- The stars themselves have revealed the ancient and eternal truth. The worst of the war is behind us, and we have the Gods' support for our quest for peace. They watch over us and our city.
The celestial descends from the platform and approaches the faithful, one by one. People step forward, eager to receive his blessing, to receive a mark from the Order. The priest places a sacred ring on each person's hand, a symbolic mark of their devotion. Lizzy's family steps forward, their hearts heavy, to receive the priest's blessing. Her mother humbly bows before him, extending her arm. He blesses her solemnly, then turns to Lizzy. The priest approaches her, his hand adorned with a silver ring that he uses to mark the Order members. She extends her wrist, but she feels a shiver of apprehension run through her body as he presses the ring against her skin. A bolt of pain courses through her being as the ring's metal touches her skin. The burn is sharp, almost unbearable, but she grits her teeth, refusing to show her suffering. The rest of the ceremony proceeds smoothly, with the faithful departing one by one. Lizzy watches each person approach the priest, receive his blessing and the mark of the sacred ring, but none of them seem to experience the same pain as she does. The ceremony continues, but a palpable tension hangs in the air. The recited words blend into a muddled symphony of voices, and Lizzy feels strangely disconnected from it all. After the final chants and prayers, the ceremony draws to a close.
Their mother opens the door to their house and switches on the lights. A few prepared boxes are placed near the door, almost enough to hold their meager belongings.
- Elizabeth, my dear, could you do me a huge favor? I need you to pick up a few groceries from the market. I forgot to buy some ingredients for tonight's dinner," her mother asks.
- Of course, Mom. I'll take care of it," she responds with a sigh.
- I'll come with you," her brother says.
- There's no need to worry, Kieran. I'm cold, distant, and totally immune to the horrors of this world.
- I'm coming with you. Ethan, do you mind staying here until...
- No problem, go ahead," he agrees with a smile.
- Kieran, hurry up!" she orders her brother with an authoritative tone. I'm not going to stand here waiting for you.
Kieran smiles and follows his sister promptly.
- Did I do something wrong? he asks, worried.
- Then something's off, Liz, I know you.
- Really? Yet you're never here.
- Liz, I'm a guardian. I can't just...
- Don't say that, please. I know that if you wanted to come, you would.
-Things are complicated.
- Because I don't know? It's always been complicated, you know.
- So you're angry at me?
- You enlisted right after Dad died. You don't know what Mom and I went through.
- If I'm doing this, it's to protect you. What don't you understand?
Tears well up in Lizzy's eyes, and she can't help feeling a surge of anger.
- Protect? Is that what you call protecting?
- Liz, I get that it must be hard for you but...
- Just drop it, you don't understand.
She quickens her pace, wanting to end this conversation as quickly as possible. He gently stops her by taking her arm.
- I'm sorry.
She simply shrugs and wipes away her tears. Lizzy and Kieran walk in silence through the market's aisles, observing the almost empty stalls. He looks sadly at the sparse stalls, the vendors wearing expressions of discouragement. The remaining people frantically search for something to buy, but there are limited options. The two continue walking through the market, absorbing the stifling atmosphere around them. The faces they encounter are marked by despair and resignation. Suddenly, she stops in front of a stall where an old woman sells a few withered fruits. Her gaze lands on the tired face of the vendor, her wrinkled hands trembling slightly.
- How much for these apples, ma'am?" she asks in a gentle voice.
The old woman looks at her with gratitude, almost surprised that someone is interested in her goods.
- Two silver pieces, dear."
Lizzy takes a few coins from her pocket and hands them to the vendor.
- Keep the change."
The vendor, touched, clasps Lizzy's hands affectionately.
- May the gods bless you, young lady. You have a rare kindness in these dark times." The teenager offers a faint, satisfied smile, thanks her, and they slowly head toward the market's exit, their meager provisions in hand. Instead of returning home, she heads toward the forest.
- Liz, can I ask you something? Kieran asks.
- Stop asking that, just get to the point, please," she says, rolling her eyes.
- Dad was researching the prophecy, wasn't he?
- Yes, in his study, why?
- Are his things still there?
- We haven't touched them, his work must be in there, do you need it?
Kieran shakes his head, but an idea occurs to him.
- No, but we should probably take them.
- Do you really think that's necessary? They're just old notebooks and books.
- Maybe, but he spent his whole life filling them and studying them. They must be important.
- If you say so," she shrugs.
* * *
Lizzy, Ethan, and Kieran enter the workshop, their footsteps echoing on the wooden floor. Lizzy runs her fingers over the furniture, raising a cloud of dust, while Kieran lights an old lamp to illuminate the dark room.
- It's been ages since I've been here," she says, lost in thought.
Her brother heads to the shelves filled with old books. Ethan carefully opens a book, revealing yellowed pages and handwritten words. He scans the passages, his brow furrowed, captivated by the content.
- Kieran, take a look at this. These books talk about the prophecy. They contain information about what we heard at the temple today,"
Ethan says, handing him a stack of books. Liz approaches and observes the books, her expression slightly hardening.
- I... I don't know. Dad was fascinated by these stories, these legends.
- You don't believe it?" Ethan asks, surprised.
- I believe in facts, in evidence. These are just superstitions," she shrugs. He smiles and closes it.
- What do you have in your hand?" her big brother asks, concerned. She steps back, a hint of suspicion in her eyes.
- This? It's nothing.
It doesn't look like nothing. Show me. She hesitates for a moment but ends up giving him her hand. He gently touches her burn.
- How did you get this?
- I...I burned myself. But it's nothing, really, don't worry.
Her brother furrows his brows and turns his attention back to their father's cluttered desk. Kieran holds an old notebook, his eyes fixed on the yellowed pages. Notes, sketches, and intricate diagrams fill the pages, forming an indecipherable maze of information.
- It's incredible... Your father was truly a brilliant man. Look at all these studies on the celestial prophecy," Kieran says, his eyes fixed on the pages filled with ancient symbols.
- Yes, he dedicated his life to trying to understand the meaning of the celestial prophecy," Kieran confirms. "But it still remains a mystery." Lizzy steps closer, scrutinizing the sketches and annotations with intent.
- Of course, it's still a mystery. As if the gods would let humans uncover their plans. - -- What does this symbol mean?" she asks, touching the black ink drawing on the wall.
Her brother looks up and ponders.
- I think it represents Lyssandre, the god of the moon and dreams.
- What are we supposed to take? Ethan asks, holding a stack of books in his hands.
- Everything," Kieran answers without a hint of doubt.
- Everything?" he asks, surprised.
- Absolutely everything. We don't know what we might need, and what might be useful."
- Useful?" her sister turns to them, intrigued.
- I...I mean what was important, you know, for...for Dad. Lizzy holds an old worn notebook in her hands, its pages yellowed by time and use. She watches as Ethan and Kieran delve into other similar notebooks and books about prophecies and legendary weapons.
- You guys could help me, you know. Instead of spending all your time on these old books.
Kieran and Ethan raise their heads, surprised by the irritation in Lizzy's voice.
- Sorry, Liz. It's just that these notebooks and books are important. They were our father's passion,"
Kieran says, placing them in the box.
- And I'm sure you'll have plenty of time to dissect them later. I've already filled two bags all by myself, and you? Zero. I don't know what kind of math you do in the Order but...
- Okay, okay, we'll help. You know what? Let us finish.
- Really, go ahead.
She smiles, satisfied, and exits the room with the items she has sorted.
- I get why you brought me here, you weren't lying," Ethan says to his friend.
- What do you mean?
- We have everything we need here.
- Not so loud. But yes, you're right. It's a good start.