I spent the last couple weeks with an elusive cult called the Children of Athelias. When I met the Children of Athelias, they were incredibly nice to me. They practically treated me like their queen, minus the responsibility, and they called me their “Chosen One”. During my stay, they made sure I had everything I ever wanted or needed. I tell you, a girl really could get used to being treated like that. However,
“The Children of Athelias,” Evaira said, putting down the diary, unable to read any further due to the partially burned page, “I’m guessing they’re the cult described in ‘Queen for a Fortnight’. They’re supposed to be around here somewhere. Maybe Liza returned to see them.”
“The page is burned,” Chira said, looking at the diary, “maybe there’s more to the story.”
“Regardless,” Evaira said, “it’s a place worth visiting.”
“But the diary says they’re elusive,” Bill said, “How will we find them?”
“They’re elusive alright,” Evaira said, “but Jake and Selina both mentioned this entry. I fed the information they gave me into Alpha, and he located a few possible locations for where the Children of Athelias meet. One of them is not far from here.”
“Evaira,” Chira said, “I hope you’re not all caught up in how Liza described the cult. There’s likely more to the story.”
“I know,” Evaira said, “we’re here on business, not pleasure.”
“I hope so,” Chira said.
“Me too,” Bill said, “but worrying about it doesn’t do anything.”
“You’re right,” Chira said, before changing the subject, “Hey, Bill, maybe I could teach you how to play Gwyldo to pass the time until we get there.”
“I was actually meaning to ask you,” Bill said, “if Evaira can’t understand that game, maybe I’ll have better luck.”
They continued down the road towards the cult’s meeting place, the road got increasingly less smooth and more rugged as they travelled further out of the way. As they travelled, Chira played Gwyldo with Bill, who did not understand the game any better than Evaira.
“Hold it,” Chira said, after Bill made an illegal move, “you can’t move a back offensive piece in front of a front offensive piece.”
“But you did that two turns ago,” Bill argued.
“That was with defensive pieces,” Chira said, “It’s okay to do it with defensive pieces, but not offensive pieces.”
“I think we found them!” Evaira interrupted, staring out the window.
Outside, several people were walking around, all of whom were wearing similar black outfits – everybody wore long-sleeved black shirts; the men wearing matching pants and the women wearing long skirts. They were near a small group of houses and shops, all built in an old-fashioned wooden style. A sign nearby identified them as the Children of Athelias.
Bill and Chira approached the window and gazed at the village as well.
“Well,” Evaira said, “let’s go ask them about Liza.”
“You sure we’re not rushing into things too much,” Chira asked, “we don’t have the complete diary entry.”
“It really doesn’t sound like they’re dangerous,” Evaira said.
“Still,” Chira said, “Alpha, could you try to recover the rest of that diary page. See if we can make out anything more?”
“As you request,” Alpha said.
He grabbed the diary, and began to stare at the page. Evaira had ignored Chira and was already headed out of the RV. Bill followed.
“Wait up,” Bill said.
As Evaira stepped out of the RV, she noticed all of the nearby cultists almost immediately turned to look at her.
“A chosen one,” one of them muttered, “one who will save our village.”
“Why are they all staring at you?,” Bill asked.
One of the men approached Evaira.
“Greetings, chosen one,” he said.
“Chosen one?” Evaira asked.
“Our master Athelias says that brown-haired outsider girls who pass through, and wear colorful clothing are chosen ones.” The cultist explained, “And it is you who will save us. I am Brother Jones. Welcome to the Village of Athelias.”
“Awfully specific description,” Bill said, “but how do those things make her so special?”
“Do not question Athelias’s words!” one of the cultists demanded Bill.
As the cultists glared at Bill, obviously offended by his question, Bill stepped back.
“Come, chosen one,” Brother Jones said to Evaira, “let us prepare a feast for you!”
The cultists surrounded Evaira, and escorted her away. Bill tried to follow, but all it took was one look from the cultists, and it was clear to him he wasn’t welcome.
“Don’t worry,” Evaira said, “I got this.”
But Bill couldn’t help but worry.
Evaira was taken to a room in one of the houses in the village, where she was allowed to rest. Two other cultists came and made sure she was comfortable. She was given a black dress, which looked similar to the clothing worn by the women in the cult, but of significantly better quality. After she was allowed to rest up for a bit, she was taken to a dining hall, where a massive feast was being served.
Brother Jones greeted her.
“Welcome, chosen one,” he said, “this feast is in your honor. Enjoy.”
“Thank you,” Evaira said.
Two cultists accompanied her to the chair at the head of the table. She sat next to Brother Jones, and was given a generous portion of the food.
“We thank Athelias for this food,” Brother Jones said, and the other cultists repeated.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Evaira said, “who is this Athelias?”
“Our great hero,” Brother Jones said, “Athelias offered to bring us here, and give us better lives. If it wasn’t for his wisdom and protection, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
“I see,” Evaira said.
Though she would normally be a little uneasy about the way they seemed to worship this Athelias, she was too caught up in the feeling of being their chosen one to care.
That evening, back in the RV, Bill and Chira were playing Gwyldo while waiting to see if Alpha could recover any more of the diary entry. Bill moved one of his pieces.
“Do you have any idea how many rules you’re breaking with that move?” Chira asked.
Bill moved the piece back and tried to look for another move he could make, but before he could, Alpha approached them.
“I have been able to recover more of the diary entry,” Alpha said.
“Well,” Chira said, “what does it say?”
“However,” Alpha recited from the burned diary page, “I have learned that the cult was not as benevolent as they seemed to be. Based on some conversations I overheard, everything they did was just a ruse to make me stay until they would hand me over to ‘Athelias’ on the day before a full moon. I later stumbled upon one of the bodies of one of their past chosen ones, and at that point, I fled. I don’t know the full story, but I think this is one investigation better left incomplete.”
“Why is it the important parts of the diary are always the burned ones?” Bill complained.
“It looks like I was right,” Chira said, “We’ve got to warn Evaira!”
“Alpha, scan this village,” Bill said, “Lead us to Evaira.”
“As you request,” Alpha answered.
He opened the door and stared out at the village for a moment, gathering as much info as he could.
“Miss Evaira is this way,” Alpha said.
He proceeded out of the RV, and Bill and Chira followed closely behind. They walked through the village, passing many of the houses. Bill looked around cautiously at first – knowing the unwelcome greeting he received earlier, he didn’t want to be seen – but he soon realized that all the streets of the village were empty. Lights were on in the houses, and everybody was inside. Alpha eventually led them into a large building labeled “Guest Rooms”. Inside the building, they walked through a corridor to the first room on the left. Alpha opened it and they enterered a large, and rather posh bedroom.
“Well,” Chira said, looking around the room, “Liza wasn’t kidding when she said they pampered her before they were going to…”
“Let’s just get her and leave,” Bill added, trying not to think about what they would do to Evaira.
“She’s in here,” Alpha said, pointing to a door in the side of the room labeled “Sauna”.
Bill peeked in the window, and saw Evaira’s face, barely visible in the steamed-up window. He knocked on the door, but when she didn’t respond, he figured she could not hear him. He tried to open the door, but it was locked.
“We have to get in there to warn her,” Chira said, “and get her out!”
“I know,” Bill said, “fortunately, I’m a really good locksmith.”
He looked at the keyhole in the door. He put his finger up to it, shapeshifting it to fit the hole, then turned the lock and opened it.
“Evaira,” he said immediately.
“Don’t look,” she cried, “turn the other way!”
“Bill,” Chira said.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, turning to face the door, “I had no choice!”
“You really shouldn’t be interrupting me here,” Evaira said wearing only a towel, “and don’t you go shapeshifting eyes onto the back of your head!”
“You’re going to get those cultists here if you’re not quieter,” Bill argued.
“They’d never come,” Evaira said adjusting her towel, “Athelias doesn’t like it when his followers are out after dark. Okay, you can look now.”
Bill turned back. Evaira was mostly wearing a large towel, obviously very soft.
“Evaira,” Bill said, “we’ve got to get out of here!”
“Why?” Evaira said, “Because you don’t feel welcome.”
“No,” Chira said, “it’s more than that, it’s…”
“I’m not done here,” Evaira said, “Liza was here for at least several weeks, maybe even longer. Do you have any idea how much they could know. They could give me the lead that brings me to Liza. Liza could even still be here!”
“But she’s not,” Chira said, “because she learned that these people aren’t as friendly to chosen ones as they seem.”
“Besides,” Bill added, “they locked you in the sauna.”
“No,” Evaira said, “I locked you out.”
Bill was getting impatient. Evaira wasn’t even giving them a chance to tell her.
“Look,” he said, “we’ve got to get out of here! They’re going to…”
“I’m not finished investigating here,” Evaira said, “They could know something about Liza. Just stay out of the way!”
Bill was getting even more frustrated, and grabbed Evaira’s arm.
“Alpha!” Evaira cried, “Please get Bill and Chira out of here, and don’t let them disturb me again until my work here is done!”
“As you request,” Alpha said.
“We’ll have a nice long talk then,” Evaira said.
Alpha escorted Bill and Chira out of the room.
“We lost Evaira again,” Chira sighed.
“She didn’t even let us explain,” Bill said.
“She probably got caught up in the way they’ve been treating her like a queen,” Chira said, “in some ways, she’s never really gotten used to the travelling lifestyle. Of course, they probably also drugged her.”
“And she doesn’t know what they’re really doing,” Bill said, “We’ve got to get her out of here!”
“You cannot interfere with Miss Evaira’s wishes,” Alpha said.
“But you know what the diary says,” Bill said, “You know she’ll be killed if we don’t get her out of here.”
“Affirmative,” Alpha said, “but I am programmed to follow Miss Evaira’s instructions, and cannot deviate from them unless she tells me otherwise.”
“Come on, Bill,” Chira said, “We should get back to the RV. We’ll think of something.”
Bill sighed, and returned to the RV with Chira and Alpha. They sat down inside. Bill stared out the window at the village, thinking of Evaira, too caught up in the way the cultists had been treating her to pay any attention to them. As he looked out, he noticed the moon rise.
“Full moon tonight,” he sighed.
Chira looked outside.
“Almost, it’ll be full tomorrow,” she said, then she remembered what Liza’s diary said, “hey, wait a minute! The diary mentioned the day before a full moon.”
“Wait,” Bill said, “the diary says they do it the day before a full moon! We’ve got to get Evaira out of there tonight!”
“I cannot let you interfere,” Alpha said.
“Doesn’t he have some kind of emergency override?” Bill asked.
“Of course,” Chira said, “the code 1-9-6-2-Gamma. Unfortunately, Evaira had it disabled after some crook used it to turn him against us.”
“Can we turn him off?” Bill asked.
“He won’t let us if it will get in the way of following Evaira’s orders,” Chira said, “so, no.”
“I figured as much,” Bill said.
“We’ve just got to work around it,” Chira said.
Unfortunately, when morning came, they were still stuck on what to do. They figured their best bet was to somehow expose the Children of Athelias for who they really were, but as they didn’t have any evidence, aside from the passage in Liza’s diary that Evaira wouldn’t listen to, they were at a loss.
“Great,” Bill sighed, “Alpha’s against us, Evaira’s about to be killed, and there’s nothing we can do to stop her.”
“I know that,” Chira said, “but complaining that it’s hopeless doesn’t help.”
“But it is hopeless,” Bill said, “There’s nothing we can do!”
“Wait a minute,” Chira said, “nothing we can do, as in, nothing you or I can do. I think I have an idea.”
“I sure hope it’s a good one,” Bill said.
“Alpha,” Chira said, “go bring Evaira back to the RV.”
“As you request,” Alpha said.
Alpha began to leave the RV.
“Evaira never said anything about Alpha leaving her be,” Chira said.
“But she can still order him off,” Bill answered.
“Good point,” Chira said, “Alpha, if Evaira resists or tries to give you further instructions, stun her before she can.”
“As you request,” Alpha said, continuing to exit the RV.
“That should do it,” Chira said, “now, we wait.”
Back in the village, Brother Jones was escorting Evaira to the town square, at the center of the village.
“What’s going on,” she asked.
“The time has come,” Brother Jones said, “for you to save us. For you to meet Athelias!”
“Meet Athelias?” Evaira asked.
“That is the role of our chosen ones,” Brother Jones said, “on the day before a full moon, we must send a chosen one to meet Athelias, to save our village. You should be honored, as none of us have ever seen the face of the great Athelias.”
“So is he in your town hall?” Evaira asked.
“How little you’ve learned,” Brother Jones sighed, “but it doesn’t matter at this point.”
Evaira looked at him suspiciously, and began to wonder what Chira and Bill were talking about yesterday. Something definitely felt off with his answers and the tone of his voice.
They soon arrived at the town square. The cultists were all gathered, surrounding a stone platform in the center of the square.
“Merely stand on that platform,” Brother Jones said, “and you will be taken to meet Athelias.”
“Not until you tell me what’s going on,” Evaira responded.
“You must go,” Brother Jones insisted, ignoring Evaira’s request, “it is the will of Athelias!”
“No,” Evaira said.
“Get her to the platform!” Brother Jones ordered.
Three of the cultists got up, and grabbed Evaira. She struggled to get free, but couldn’t. They began to drag her towards the platform.
“Help!” Evaira cried.
Then, Alpha arrived. He grabbed one of the three cultists, and electrocuted him, knocking him to the ground. Several more cultists got up to join the struggle. Alpha was able to hold his own against them, but he wasn’t quick enough. Evaira was soon on the platform.
“Alpha,” she cried, “get help! Quick!”
“Now, Athelias,” Brother Jones cried.
The platform was soon covered in a cloud of smoke, and when it faded, Evaira had disappeared. Alpha hurried back to the RV to get help.
Evaira, meanwhile, felt the platform lower under her as the smoke appeared. It appeared to be some kind of elevator. As the elevator lowered, another stone platform slid into place above her, replacing the platform. Evaira was lowered into some kind of underground dungeon chamber. The floor was cold, made of stone, and covered in dried blood, and various medieval torture devices filled the room.
In the back, a tall, skinny, dark-haired man sat at a computer console. He pressed a button, ultimately stopping the elevator, and making a translucent glass wall rise in front of her.
“It never gets old,” the man said, “these fools will do anything for me. A few simple illusions and empty promises for a better life, and I become their god.”
“Athelias,” Evaira said, recognizing him.
“Ah,” Athelias said, smiling when he heard his name, “the name. Has an enigmatic, powerful feel to it, and best of all, I created it myself.”
“Who are you?” Evaira asked.
“I am powerful,” Athelias said, “as you will soon see. You are nothing but a sacrifice I had my servants bring me – somebody to demonstrate my power to.”
“So you used lies and tricks to get these people to worship you,” Evaira said, “so they’ll do what you want.”
“They respect my power,” Athelias said, “as you will in your last moments.”
He pulled out a knife. Evaira knew she was trapped. The walls around her were solid, and couldn’t be climbed, and Athelias has clearly done this before. He would overpower her no problem. Her heart raced, there had to be something she could do.
Then, she heard a loud crashing noise from above her. The stone slab was destroyed by a large force. A bird flew through the wreckage and landed beside her before turning back into Bill.
“Bill,” she said.
“You dare intrude on me,” Athelias said, “You dare disrespect my power.”
“All you have are lies and tricks,” Evaira said, “Bill here has real power.”
Bill ran towards the glass, and turned his arm into stone as he punched it. The glass shattered on impact. Athelias stepped back, terrified.
“You can’t stop me,” he said.
Athelias rushed toward Bill with the knife, but with Bill’s shapeshifting and quicker movements, Athelias couldn’t get a hit. They struggled for a minute or so, before Athelias saw an opening. He ran free from Bill, rushing at Evaira with the knife. Evaira ducked out of the way. Athelias tried to follow her, but in doing so, tripped, and fell on his own knife.
In his last moments, he muttered “you can’t kill me, I’m invincible,” before coughing up a few bits of blood.
Bill and Evaira briefly checked the body to make sure he was dead before Bill turned to Evaira.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I am now,” Evaira said, “and I’m sorry about last night. I really should have seen this coming.”
“Like Chira said,” Bill said, “you’re still not really used to living on the road. I suppose I can understand you wanting to be pampered a bit. Maybe I was too harsh.”
They smiled at each other.
“We should get back to the RV,” Evaira said, “I’ve had enough of this place. But how do we get out of here.”
“Leave that to me,” Bill said.
He shapeshifted into a giant bird, and grabbed Evaira, gently pulling her up with him as he flew to the surface. When they reached the ground, he put Evaira down before changing back. Then, they saw the angry cultists around them, led by Brother Jones.
“You dare defile Athelias’s home,” Brother Jones said, “you disrupt our most important ritual and threaten our very livelihood.”
“Athelias has been lying to you,” Evaira said, “it was all tricks and deceit.”
“Kill the heathens!” Brother Jones cried.
The cultists prepared to attack.
“Run!” Bill cried.
Evaira and Bill ran back to the RV. The cultists followed behind them, but Alpha had already started the RV. Once they got back on, he quickly started the RV and drove off, leaving the cultists behind.
“That was close,” Chira said, peeking out of her pot.
“Yeah,” Evaira said, “too close for comfort. Thanks again, guys. I promise I won’t ignore you like that when you try to tell me something again.”
“For some reason,” Chira said, “I doubt that.”
“I wonder what will become of those people,” Evaira said, “now that Athelias is dead.”
“I don’t know,” Bill said, “but Athelias is clearly such an important part of their lives. They’ll probably act like nothing’s changed.”
“But he lied to them,” Evaira said, “manipulated them and tricked them to satisfy his own power trip.”
“I know,” Bill said, “but wasn’t there an entry in Liza’s diary where she talked about faith?”
“If somebody is truly faithful,” Evaira said, “even when everything they believe in is all but proven wrong, they will keep believing. That’s what she said. Unfortunately, the Children of Athelias’ faith is misplaced, and they may never realize that.”
“Right,” Chira said.
“But faith in something true,” Evaira said, “there’s nothing like it.”
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
I originally planned to do this one back in volume one, but pushed it aside because a couple other stories were coming out smoother. I’d originally planned this story to be a lot more comedic, especially in regards to Evaira’s reaction to the cult, and how they make her blind to the truth, but I like it better the way it is. If I overdid her reaction, it would seem too out-of-character, which also led to the comment about her being drugged.
As for the villains: I wanted Athelias to be basically a madman with no redeeming qualities. Whereas I usually like my villains to have some sympathetic trait, or at least something to make it clear they’re at least somewhat normal, in the case of Athelias, I just wanted a sociopath.
And Brother Jones and the other cultists – at the end, they remained loyal to Athelias. Faith as strong as theirs is not easily shaken. And the scene at the end – I didn’t want to seem like I’m speaking out against all religion – I’m a bit religious myself – I mostly wanted to speak about misplaced faith.