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Twilight of the Gods,
Book One

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Twilight of the Gods:
Book Two:
Gwi's War
Chapter 1

Slanting sunlight illuminated the passage, well enough that Gwi could see the door at the far end. Nonetheless, she held an oil lamp before her, continuing down the passageway that lay between Necron's laboratory and the alley behind it. She pulled closer the small bundle in the crook of her left arm, smelling the blood on the blanket as she did so. Her thudding heart sounded at times like pounding footsteps behind her. She was certain, judging by Necron's lax attention this day, however, that she had deceived him--again. The third time that day!

Gwi's heart ached at the losses, yet she cried for joy that not all was lost. Three lived, and this one, which moved ever so slightly within the bloody blanket--this one was a witch. She was sure of it.

Roughly heading northwest, the passage ahead was glowing golden, as if sunlight had turned to mist. Her heart lifted with relief as she came to the door, pulled it open awkwardly, grasping the iron handle with the tips of her right hand, and stepped outside, into the alley. To the right, the alley ran back toward the east, ending at a far high wall. She glanced quickly in that direction, prepared to withdraw back into the building if people were about. Nothing but barrels and dank garbage lined the brick walkway. Then she caught sight of a red flag, draped over the wall, visible only to those who might be in the alley and looking up. There the sunlight shone brightly. The red flag was a sign to continue.

She looked out from the alley into the street. Buildings across the street cast long shadows; but no one moved within them; nor did Ch'turc wagons disturb the quiet with their noisy engines.

Then came the signal.

Two short snaps of the fingers. It was only one of the hundreds of signals the Na-tés used on the streets as they dealt with each other and their many clients. One could get lost in the hand gestures the Na-tés made in their quick, wordless communication with one another. Mongrels practiced a few hand signals, but only enough to ask the price of a thing a Na-té might be selling on the street--something stolen or illegal--for despite their quick wit, Na-tés owned nothing themselves, held few jobs, and the great majority lived on the streets or in alleyways.

Gwi waited, certain the signal had come. Two short snaps of the fingers meant, "I come." Still Gwi jumped slightly when a Na-té slid up next to her on the sunny side of the street. "Na mar!" the Na-té said in the street guttural. "Sun goes down. Beasts be out."

It was said a Na-té could slit a person's throat in the middle of a public square with a hundred eyes watching and none would see. The victim would be standing one moment, the next doing the red dance and crumpling to the cobblestone. Ordinary people of Ch'turc traded legends about the Na-tés, the lowest class, many believing they carried the seed of the evil one, also called Na-té. This evil Na-té was thought to be a god by some and, therefore, the enemy of the Ch'turc god Rael. People, therefore, attributed some earth powers to the street Na-tés, like their ability to come up out of nowhere. Gwi had not grown used to their ability to do that.

She breathed in and out to calm herself, and to return to the business of the child in the bloody blanket. The Na-té was right. Darkness seemed to creep across the street, forming out of the shadows, as the last brilliant burst of sunlight slid off the roofs across the street. With the coming of the dusky shadow, came a blast of cold and the stench of the blood on the blanket. Off somewhere on another street, the first of the drums sounded that would be beating in the city that night. Gwi had not grown used to the noise of the drums, either, during her time in Ch'turc.

She handed the baby to the Na-té. The Na-té was either a young woman or a boy nearly bursting into manhood, but she could not see clearly, except the fingers wrapping upward, enclosing the small bundle. "'Tis a witch, this one," Gwi whispered. "Lok on ye, sin na mar. It is the last child for the day."

The boy nodded. Gwi was certain now it was a boy, as part of his face peeked out from under the hood, looking at the baby in his arms, his mouth showing the crinkle of a smile.

Gwi nodded, as well, and began to move toward the doorway she had come from. "Back next sun," she said, stepping away--

--but the Na-té grabbed her sleeve, shaking his head. "Ye com, now w'me. Peoples meet. Peoples want meet you."

Gwi was still holding the lamp she had brought from Necron's laboratory. She didn't want to leave it inside the door to the passageway. If Necron should come looking for her, he would find the lamp and know it was an act of stealth to leave the laboratory from the alley. And he would surely wonder why she had not left the dead baby in the box inside the alley, where someone would come along and take it for a burial.

Her mind made up. Gwi nodded firmly to the boy. "I shall go with you. But you carry the lamp, and I shall keep the baby."

The Na-té nodded, taking the lamp and returning the baby. Then immediately, the Na-té turned with the lamp and walked briskly away, motioning with a hand next to his thigh. "Com w'me." The lamp shone more brightly with the coming of night. In L'ikk, with its high city walls, protected by high mountains to the west, sunset was short, and night was upon them before they had rounded the first corner.

She followed the boy down the street, staying close to the walls of the buildings as he did and dropping into shadowed depths at every opportunity.

The newborn made little sound as Gwi followed the boy through empty streets, then into busy areas, where the beating of drums could be heard, where people gathered to drink Rhinevim, mead, and to eat pastries on a stick.

Still they traveled through the city, staying on back streets, but as the night deepened, hour by hour, they came into areas of the city Gwi had never been in, where buildings sagged in disrepair, and garbage was piled high.

In her three seasons in Ch'turc in the city of L'ikk, she had seen much poverty. Working as a novitiate in the Temple for the high priest Nostra, by day, she was protected from the poverty by the thick stone walls of the temple grounds; but living in the Mongrel quarters of the city after her duties were done at the temple, she witnessed the poverty and felt the despair of those less fortunate than she.

The lamp the boy held aloft cast a pool of dirty yellow light around them where he led; only a few etheric lamps burned in the dark buildings,. The buildings here were badly damaged, and the rubble of destroyed buildings littered the streets, causing their passage to be difficult. Gwi had no idea what had destroyed the buildings, but one often heard warlike battles going on within the city gates. Yet the boy danced through the rubble of stone, broken Rhinevim bottles, and lumps of things Gwi could not begin to recognize.

Into the darkest part of the city they went, until they came to an area surprisingly free of rubble and garbage, yet what must be in the heart of the Na-té part of the city. Some of the houses here even had the etheric light, which Gwi knew was created by the machines in the city of smokestacks on a hill to the east outside L'ikk's city walls. It had seemed so long ago that she had encountered her first etheric globe in the house of Mega Drud, even longer ago that the nasty little Ch'turc Kaldag and his companion Korn had bragged about such lights.

To Gwi, however, the city seemed darker and more dismal than any Omoham city because of these globes of etheric light burning in the buildings, and on the better streets of the city. But where they were absent, the streets seemed much darker and more dangerous than any pitch black street in the city of Cinátis from whence she had come. As she had observed on her first night in the country of Ch'turc in the dead of winter, such etheric light so highly thought of by the Ch'turc was still a dirty light.

Now that Gwi had been in Ch'turc for many long fortnights, she had learned how different its people were from the Omoham'EYE; how organized and controlled life was in this evil land. When Gwi had first been brought to Ch'turc with new and frightened eyes, the country had seemed wildly chaotic, with no sense of order at all, unless one accepted the rule of the army as a kind of order. But later, when she had become a novitiate under Priest Nostra, she had begun to understand the depth of order practiced in Ch'turc. Every segment of society had its place and, just like their cities, walls prevented people from one segment of society entering another--unless it was downward--and by ill luck, accident, or illness one became a Na-té.

Such was what Gwi had observed in her time within the city of L'ikk.

Further, even among the Na-té there existed a strict order and rules they seemed to follow, even though they were the poorest, most dismal and diseased segment of the Ch'turc society. Yet, in all that Gwi had seen and learned, she looked upon the Na-tés as the true hope of the country, for by being outcasts, with little chance to climb even into the Mongrel class, the Na-té's (those born to the cast) willingly followed their own Way. Gwi was drawn to them, therefore, because they were more like the Omoham'EYE. They would be the first class willing to throw off the yoke of the priests and their god Rael, most willing to fight the army of Ch'turc that roamed the land carrying out the dictates of the ruler priests. The order by which the Na-té lived, their tradition of theft and dealings in things illegal, was done by necessity. When they bore children, their offspring did not pass through the temples or the scrutiny of such judges as Necron who on a whim, most times, decided to execute a newborn if he even imagined it was a gifted. A favorite expression of his, said out of the corner of his mouth as he tested a newborn for the seed of Na-té, " 'tis better to err by killing an innocent child than to suffer a single earth gifted to live."

But tonight she could not dwell on the deaths she had seen of newborns; she could not overlong mourn those she could not save. The child she carried against her, wrapped within the blood-soaked blanket--this witch child--would be watched over by the Na-tés, raised as one, taught as one; but on the streets, in years to come, Gwi could only imagine what it might be able to do.

The Na-té at last allowed her to catch up with him. He lowered the lamp. They stood before a door in a building lit by etheric light from a globe above the door.

"Peoples meet. Go in. Ay'll com back."

The Meeting

She went from dirty light into sudden darkness when she stepped over the threshold, into the house. The baby moved within the blanket, and the barest flicker of light shown from its little green eyes. Gwi shivered, witnessing this felding, having no idea what power it might be evidence of.

But the hour was growing late, and she must be home when an accounting was done of the novitiates. Gwi was the one who must do the accounting. A late or erroneous report would be grounds for disciplinary measures. She kissed the baby on the forehead and moved through the darkness, catching site of a frame of light leaking around a door ahead of her. As she drew near, came the sound of laughter.

She was surprised at the laughter, thinking she had been asked to a serious meeting. And when she opened the door, blinking at the glare of light which hid people in yellow shadow, she was startled when two Na-té women were immediately at her side, pulling at the blanket.

Gwi quickly overcame her surprise, and was laughing herself as the two women peeled back the blanket from the baby's face. They smiled showing gums and few teeth, and the baby, apparently ready for the meeting, grinned back with alert eyes and pink gums as bare of teeth as the old women.

No one took the baby, but all in the room came up for a view, as Gwi was eventually led to a chair padded with blankets made from washed out scraps of material. Though the blankets were shades of gray and black and white, with some mixture of faded yellow and green, still, she knew it was the best chair in the room. She nodded around at the others who had returned to their places.

At first, Gwi made little eye contact, as she scanned the faces and smiled, trying at the same time to identify the classes of people who had come together this night.

Gwi did not doubt that the two nearly toothless old women were Na-tés. And as she looked around the room, her eyes adjusting to the light, she quickly decided that most of them were Na-tés. Most were women, too, though there were male children of the long years in the room, those graced by Rael to reach perhaps sixteen. An elderly man across the room caught Gwi's eye. Although he appeared to be laughing along with the rest near him, he was also looking around the room as was Gwi. She had deliberately avoided eye contact with him, however, to discover if she could that which arrested his eye.

He had many teeth--more than most Na-tés Gwi had seen--but his look was not that of the priesthood. For he was thin and gaunt, though his eyes were bright and reflected the glare of the yellow etheric light. Yet shadows played about his face as well, and Gwi gasped, remembering one time, now more than a year ago, meeting a Té. But he had been much younger, more like the children of the long years. Still, she could not shake the thought that the elderly man in the room was a Té, a being who, if found out, would be instantly killed. Only, this one wore clothing, and Gwi dismissed her thought the old man could be a Té, for they could not wear clothing without suffocating, it was said.

Relieved at the simple fact that would dismiss the old man as nothing more than the rest here, either a Na-té with rather remarkable health, or perhaps someone from the Mongrel class. But not a member of the working citizens, the Contributors. And certainly not a Té.

It was then that the old man caught Gwi's eye, and locked his with hers. Even though she was not an earth gifted, she saw tenebrous green light glint from his eyes, just as she had seen from the baby in the darkness of the hall. She could not look away as the green light continued to emanate from his eyes in waves, until she distinctly heard: "Awaken, my child, to the tiny spark within you."

Then she looked down at the baby, into its eyes, and was not surprised to see the green light there.

A moment later, a rather well dressed woman, whom Gwi had not noticed before clapped her hands, then stood to speak.

The noise in the room subsided quickly, though laughter came just before the woman spoke.

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