Book 1, Chapter 13

Nyr Kelly took a seat before a large, simple desk, his hands in his lap, fingers twisting and lacing with each other nervously. He wasn’t generally a nervous man--hesitant and easily flustered, but hardly nervous. Then again, it wasn’t every day he willingly went against a cardinal rule of the priesthood. It felt like stones had settled in the pit of his stomach while he waited for the man he had come to see. To his displeasure, the office was sparsely decorated, leaving him with little to look at while he waited.

The entrance to this organization’s headquarters was an drab and heavy door at the foot of a short flight of stairs leading down from an alley to the basement level of what had once been a hotel--it had been renovated into an apartment complex a few years prior. He’d deduced that, when the building had been a hotel, the entrance he’d used had actually been an exit used by the housekeeping and maintenance crews as a shortcut to the dumpsters. Now, with each resident responsible for their own waste disposal via duct shoots installed as part of the renovation, the doorway and the basement itself had become obsolete. It wasn’t often a business worked from such a location, but then again, the business itself was rather unconventional.

He’d come across a news ad for the Protectors of Antiquity while looking through the job listings for something worth waking up for. The ad hadn’t caught his attention, really; it had looked like a sale ad for an antique shop selling twenty-year-old alarm clocks. When one read the news a lot, though, one became rather good at catching certain buzz words and phrases, the kind that were guaranteed to pique the public’s interest. The one the Protectors of Antiquity had used was “the Surge.” It wasn’t any bolder than the text around it, but somehow it always seemed to pop out of the screen, begging for his attention.

The Protectors of Antiquity: Artifact Appraisal and Historians. Reward for information about the Shards, Gaigulos, or the Surge. Contact for details.

Though it pained him on a deep level, he told himself there were times when it had to be alright to break a vow of confidentiality. He had called them, set up an appointment, and the following day been ushered inside the basement office with a mixture of intrigue and skepticism. He was sure they got quite a few people calling with bogus leads to rob them of their money, and he had no real idea how he could prove he was not one of them, nor any evidence to offer with his story.

For the moment, though, he simply sat alone on one side of a wide desk, waiting and going over what to say.

Spying a picture frame facing the other way, Nyr pulled it across the desk and peeked at the small screen, eager for a distraction. It was of a young family: three children standing in front of their parents, looking as though their smiles might devour the world, all the energy in their little bodies utilized to force their lips back over their shiny white teeth and stand still simultaneously. The mother must have spent hours getting ready; every strand of her bleached blonde hair was perfectly in place and her makeup was applied without a smudge. Standing beside them, the father seemed very out of place. Three kids with faces so bright they could light a dark room, a beautiful wife with a magazine cover appearance and the smile to accompany it, and he stood there almost straight-faced. Nyr felt his own face mirror the expression of the man as he stared, feeling a softness in his eyes that was as subtle as the smile on his face. Perhaps the reason he didn’t blend in was the fact that, in the face of his family’s posing and preparations, the father’s expression was genuine, not exaggerated like his children’s or painted in place like his wife’s. It was the face of a man who could not fake happiness and would rather bask than gloat. It was a lovely picture, and Nyr placed it back on the table.

Moments like this reminded him of why he needed a new profession.

Feeling a little down, he turned his attention to the ceiling, trying to find a name for what could have possibly left the stains up there and then to guess which pipe was for what purpose. He had just about figured out the water pipe from the gas one when the door opened behind him; he startled a bit in surprise, and looked over at the man he was there to see, not at all surprised to find it was the father from the picture. That was comforting, in a way. He felt as though he already knew him to some small extent.

Nyr stood and extended his hand. “Hello. You must be Ath’ran Mukshah. I’m Nyr Kelly.”

Ath’ran shook his hand, then went around to the other side of the desk, ushering his guest to take a seat as he did the same. “Father Kelly, wasn’t it? Of St. Margaret’s Church of Christ?”

“That’s correct, but please, just call me Nyr. I don’t care much for titles.” Nyr smiled cheerfully at him, feeling much more relaxed. He was pleased he had peeked at the photograph beforehand, or else the man across from him might have seemed very formidable and frightening. Ath’ran was tall with dark skin; his hair was a black mass of corkscrew curls that looked like it would be hell to manage. Judging by the thickness of the braid at his back, it wasn’t a feat he mustered the energy for often. His shoulders and arms were enormous--he looked as though he could bench press Nyr if he wanted to, which would have been quite an accomplishment. While not so much fat as plagued by stubborn baby pudge, Nyr did not imagine he would be at all easy to lift in such a manner.

“You told our operator, Jin, that you had pertinent information about the Surge,” Ath’ran began, looking quickly over the notes that had probably been taken down for him. “Why don’t you explain what it is you have to tell us?”

Nyr nodded, hoping his thoughts were collected well enough to make sense to someone else. “As you know, I am a Catholic priest. For the past few years, it has been my duty to sit in the confessional box and offer forgiveness and administer penitence to those who confide their sins to me. I’d get mostly the same things over and over: adultery, impure thoughts, covetous feelings and actions. Every time someone had something interesting to confess to, it stuck out. That’s how it was with this man,” he began. The clearer he painted the picture, the more believable it’d be. He hoped.

“At first he was just another voice with the same things to confess, but then they became...different. I read the news pretty regularly--it’s best to keep up to date on things so sermons are relevant to current events--and one day I realized that the story I was reading gave me a strange sense of deja vu. I’d heard some of the details the day before, sitting in the confessional. The paper attributed the event to the Surge, and I became suspicious. The next time I heard his voice, I listened even more carefully, waiting for another hint. Over months and months, he dropped clue after clue without ever really admitting to it, but the clarity of the events, the fact that he was present for so many of them, and that all of them were attributed to the Surge, made short work of my doubts.

“Then there was a long pause. I didn’t hear his voice in the confessional for a long time and I would frequently search the news for any mention of him. I found the lack of appearances there coincided. When I did finally hear from him, he sounded...broken. The things he told me are no one’s business but his, but he sounded so hurt. I think he may need help. Someone caught him and hurt him and even though he’s escaped, he’s all alone out there now with no one to talk to.”

Ath’ran studied him for a while, not making a sound or movement as he listened. “So, it is your belief that the vigilante known as the Surge is Catholic and attends your church?”

“He views himself as a guardian over all of Solace. He was given the power to exact change and revenge on the corrupt people of our city and he feels it would be wrong to not use it. He was blessed and cursed with his gift and he is very selfless in his motivations,” Nyr explained. “Whether he attends my church or not, I do not know. I only know he has a background in Catholicism and on occasion attends confession. The only reason I’m telling you anything is because I feel your reasons for finding him are different then those of the bounty hunters and police agencies. I want someone to find him and make sure he’s alright. He’s not a bad man.”

Ath’ran nodded slightly, leaning back in his squeaky chair. “And you say you recognized his voice when he came in?”

“I can’t really describe it. He’s not what you’d think he was, though. He’s very human in some ways.”

“But if you heard it again, you would recognize him?”

Nyr nodded firmly. “Absolutely. That’s how I know when I haven’t heard him in a long while. In fact, I haven’t heard from him since he came in after that long break. Just that once and then nothing.”

The dark-skinned man stood up, pacing behind his desk. Nyr watched him, curious as to what he might be thinking. Hopefully it wasn’t that he was completely off his rocker.

“Would you be willing to peek and see what he looks like the next time he enters the confessional?” Ath’ran asked.

“I would have some issues with it, yes, but that’s not really a possibility. I’m leaving the priesthood and I doubt he’ll be by again before I leave.”

Ath’ran grunted, as though he would need to reformulate whatever plans he had hastily made. “I don’t suppose you could alter those plans until the Surge has been identified?”

“No, sir,” Nyr answered honestly. “I’m a little tired of doing things because other people would like me to. There’s nothing that would make me stay with the church. I’ve just completed my basic medical training and I’m looking at getting a job as a personal aide. If I were to come across him somewhere, I would certainly consider telling you, though.”

“I don’t suppose I could interest you in a position with the Protectors of Antiquity?”

Nyr stared at him for a moment. “Wait, you’re offering me a job?”

Ath’ran took a seat on the corner of his desk, looking at the wall even though he was addressing the other man. “We could have use for a man with medical training. It wouldn’t be a high paying job by any means, but room and board are provided if you require it. Most of my employees work and live here and you could do much worse considering you’ll only be needed for your medical capabilities every so often and will otherwise just be on staff.”

Nyr found he had no voice as he sat there, mulling over the offer. After a moment, his words came back to him, along with questions that required answers. “Sir, forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the basis of your studies sort of contradictory to my religious background? When I was on the phone with your secretary, he mentioned something about goddesses.”

“The goddesses are an integral part of our current investigations, yes. These are not deities that exist anymore, though--they faded from existence along with the ancient world of Gaigulos.” Ath’ran watched the dazed, uncertain expression on the priest’s face begin to pinch in confusion. He sighed heavily. “This will no doubt sound like a bedtime story to you, and that is how I first came to hear it. Before even pre-history as we understand it, there were civilizations as powerful and as advanced as ours was around eight hundred BC.* The most well-documented of these was Gaigulos. The deities of the Gaigulosians were the goddesses Kitaan, Sindar, D'nali, Rashira, and Asht-Ashka; there were also the twin gods Desar and Ashe-im-Torim. When Gaigulos fell and there was no longer anyone to believe in the deities, they and their world itself faded away as a result. However, no being with a soul can completely disappear from existence. The goddesses are reborn as humans but all are flawed--born blind, deaf, physically handicapped, mute, etcetera, so that they can never realize their innate power. Except for Asht-Ashka.

“Somehow, Asht-Ashka’s soul splintered into seven parts, which we call the Shards. These shards are known as the Oracle, Messenger, Witness, Impulse, Healer, Prodigy and Metamorph--each is named after a somewhat divine gift unique to them that they inherited.”

“You think the Surge is one of these Shards?” Nyr questioned, skeptical but enthralled none the less.

“There’s little we know for sure about the Shards. We know the Surge can travel through the electrical wires of the city--he may be the Metamorph, since he undergoes a physical transformation from man into wavelength. The wires are also a form of communication; perhaps he’s the Messenger. The only thing we know for certain is that the Surge is in some way connected to Gaigulos. He would not have the abilities he does if he were not,” Ath’ran explained.

Nyr nodded slightly, having followed along as best he could. From what he could gather, all the Protectors of Antiquity really knew was that there were a lot of things they knew they didn’t know. They had a basis, a vague understanding, and a belief. In that way, he admired them a great deal. Even if it sounded far-fetched and unbelievable, the men involved had a certain measure of merit in their convictions. They’d be nice to deal with on a day to day basis, and would certainly offer interesting conversations. He stood up and extended his hand. “I won’t pretend to agree with you, but I guess you’ve got yourself a medic.”

Ath’ran’s posture relaxed a bit and he smiled faintly as he shook the priest’s hand. “Glad to have you on board. I’ll get Jin in here to get you set up, then, if you don‘t mind waiting a bit more. We’re a little unorganized today. We had a long night last night.”

“Oh, no, I don’t mind.”

“Alright then, just one minute.” He excused himself and walked out, closing the door behind him.

Nyr sighed and sat back in his chair, wondering in what ways he could entertain himself now. He had rather a lot of information to digest, though, and soon found himself thinking over the strange stories. It was almost an unwanted interruption when the door opened again, admitting the secretary on hand.

The man’s sly grin was spread ear to ear as he practically bounced to the desk, making himself comfortable between the stapler and family photo. It wasn’t a goofy sort of energy he seemed to be bursting with, but one fueled by amusement. There was something oddly sinister about him all the same, and his grin made Nyr feel self-conscious more than welcome.

“Well, I guess it’s about time we upped the diversity. Congratulations on being the first white guy. I’m Jin, the first yellow guy, but they generally just call me Shut Up.” His smile grew a bit with that. He extended a small data pad towards Nyr. “You just need to fill out the usual here. If you’re going to live here, you’ll receive less pay, but you won’t be charged for utilities or anything. It’s like getting an allowance rather than a paycheck. Daddy Ath’ran likes to make sure his little employees have enough pocket money to see movies and buy candy.”

“I see. Well, if I’m the medic on hand, it’d probably be best for me to live here. I’m not sure what kind of injuries you are used to, though,” Nyr admitted, filling out the easier portions of the form, such as his name and bank routing number.

“Oh, well, Du’shan got killed last night with a stab wound to the lung, so it’s generally drunken bar fight injuries like concussions and knife wounds. Sometimes someone trips on something and needs a band-aid. Or a paracetamol.” Jin shrugged. “Basically, you’ll probably just be patching Du’shan up because he’s a dumb ass.”

“I thought you said Du’shan got killed last night,” Nyr pointed out.

“Well, that was last night. He’s over it now,” Jin noted calmly.

Nyr stared at him for a minute, then figured it was best not to ask and returned his attention to the data pad.

Jin sighed, kicking his feet a bit as he watched and waited for his new co-worker to finish. When the data pad was returned to him, he scrolled over it quickly for anything that was missing, then hopped down from the desk. “Well, that’s it then. We’ll have a room set aside for you. Just move in when you’re ready and payment will start then.”

“Thank you. It was nice to meet you, Jin.” Nyr shook the secretary’s hand, still a little unnerved by his unrelenting smirk.

Nyr followed Jin to the exit, waving slightly to him as he stepped back up the short flight of stairs into the alley. It was a very unconventional place for a business, and now it would be a very unconventional place to call home. Still, regardless of how confusing a lot of it seemed, Nyr was hopeful and even looking forward to his new line of work. The sheer excitement of being able to finally turn in his resignation was enough to make him feel drunk. His feet were so eager to walk they didn’t care where they went; wandering through the city without a destination or reason sounded like an excellent way to spend the rest of the day. So he did.

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