Turesi climbed out of the swimming pool, and lightly tiptoed across the tiled floor. Her journey ended at a stone bench in the corner of the room above which a large circular window gave a view of the underwater world outside the palace. A group of clownfish swam by, as did pair of security Urisha followed swiftly by ten humans in advanced Urisha diving gear. More and more humans were appearing down here, conflict was certainly approaching.
Turesi fllexed her legs and arms one by one, she had just swam around fifty laps of the twenty five metre pool and was no more fatigued than when she began. This was one of the many gifts her augmented body gave her. Another gift she had acquired was sensitive hearing, which was now picking up the heavy steps of a tall and heavy individual approaching.
She watched the entryway to the room as the visitor entered. He jumped slightly when he saw her.
“Oh sorry, I didn't realise there was someone,” he said awkwardly, turning to leave. It was Isangbe, the Superior Urisha of Justice. He was new around here from what she understood, but extremely powerful. Turesi jumped up and bowed in respect.
“Superior Urisha Isangbe, please accept my apologies for surprising you, you are free to join me,” Turesi said, “Or I can go if you like.”
“No, stay. It’s fine. I’m sorry for intruding,” he shuffled in and removed his colourful outer tunic, tossing it onto another stone bench close to the entrance. He smiled sheepishly then silently dove into the water. Turesi marveled in her head at how perfect his diving form was, although she was hardly surprised considering what he was.
She watched as Isangbe’s silhouette moved towards her under the water, then emerged at the edge of the pool near where she was perched.
“If you don’t mind me asking, why is it I never see you around?” Turesi asked, leaning back on her hands, “I remember you being there a few months ago when I woke up after augmentation, but otherwise I barely see you.”
“I’ve never been to the Underwater Kingdom before, and I’ve never seen Urisha involved in serious conflict before,” Isangbe said, “I have a whole lot to learn if I’m going to be any good at this.”
“Yes, that sense,” Turesi nodded, paused and then asked, “How old are you, if you do not mind me asking?”
“Not very old to be honest – around 143... I think.”
“You’re still five times my age,” Turesi laughed, “At thirty, some would even say I’m starting to get old. Time must be strange for you.”
Isangbe lay on his back and began to float, “It’s a weird paradox for us. To be young and old at the same time. We perceive time differently and develop differently, but we may still see just as much as you do in that time... And for the humans we watch over, we see them come and go, we see generations of hardship, repetition of the failures of ancestors. We see some of the greatest human’s legacies desecrated by the very ones they worked so hard for.”
He tilted his head back slightly to face Turesi, she stared at him with curiosity, listening intently to the wisdom he was sharing.
He continued “I guess that’s what makes you so special. Even though you’re not Alympian, you may still have the potential to live as long as they do – as long as we do.”
“To what end?” Turesi said.
“I don’t know exactly what Ulukun and Aya have in mind, but from what I can see, there’s a hope that you’ll bridge the gap. Be less removed from human society than the Urisha, but have the power, longevity and authority to do what’s best for them. You will also essentially be Urisha without an Onus. Free.”
“That’s an interesting way of seeing it,” Turesi chuckled, “I see myself as a fully dedicated servant of the Urisha. My life is devoted to the will of the Supreme Urisha.”
Isangbe shook his head, “Don’t mistake Ulukun for a tyrant or dictator. Do not mistake any Urisha for that. You may currently be an extension of Ulukun and Aya’s will, and at the moment it is focused on the conflict to come - But their purpose is balance and order. Once the war is over and balance and order is restored, they will return to their Onus and leadership of the Urisha, and your job will be done.”
Turesi paused and looked out the window. Two dolphins danced by playfully.
Dare she dream of a world where her servitude was over? She, like her entire tribe had built their life and civilisation around serving the Urisha, and she found great meaning, purpose and joy in it. But dare she dream of finally hanging up her voluntary shackles, of moving on?
“I-I don’t know what I would do,” Turesi said getting up and walking to the water’s edge.
“Lie,” Isangbe said, smiling.
Turesi quickly remembered which Urisha she was speaking to and grinned. He could sense lies.
“You just don’t know which thing you’d do first,” He wafted his hands slowly through the water and drifted to the centre of the pool.
“Superior Ur-” Turesi began.
“It’s just Isangbe. stop being so formal, save your reverence for the Supremes or the gods, should you see them.”
“You’re not what I expected.”
“And you’re exactly what I expected.”
“My main job is judging remember – and that includes judging character.”
“Judge this then,” Turesi smirked and leapt into the pool, splashing water all over Isangbe.
“One out of ten,” Isangbe said wiping his face.
The two laughed.
It was an especially slow day in the palace. The blacksmiths had just moved in, and regular activities had been paused to assist in setting up the underwater forge district. Ije had managed to avoid getting involved in this, leaving most of it to construction, water and blacksmithing Urisha. What she had spent this period doing, however, was dispatching her subordinates throughout the kingdom to catalogue as many of her treasures as possible. She had objects of unusual composition all over the Ulukun’s palace and facilities and she certainly did not want any creative smiths getting over eager and melting them down to make a legendary weapon of some sort (although if they did, she would definitely make sure to acquire the product).
She sent an Urisha of geology off to categorise a tower in the west wing just past Ulukun’s office. She felt a sudden urge to go see her mother. Even though they worked in the same palace, sometimes weeks could pass without them talking. Since moving to the palace a few hundred years ago she had got so used to spending time with Ulukun, and this meant the recent busy-ness of preparing for war had come as a surprise. Ije popped on her deep blue coat, adjusted her glasses and began making her way towards Ulukun’s office.
She approached the familiar wooden doors and pressed her ear against it. She could hear talking inside.
“Even more sided with us than we thought would. But we still haven’t got the diversity in Onus that we had hoped,” it was Aya.
“That’s fine, just because we don’t have diversity in Onus, it doesn’t mean we don’t have diversity in skill. Many Urisha have power over areas unrelated to their Onus after all. Don’t you have some power over lightning yourself?” Ulukun replied.
“Don’t taunt me, Ulukun.”
“I am not. I was merely giving an example.”
“You know exactly what you were doing. Do not blame me for Zangu not joining us.” Aya spat.
“I never blamed you. You must stop blaming yourself. Urisha are not puppets to be played. He made his choice, just like the rest of them.” Ije could hear splashes and clinking chains, Ulukun was most likely leaving their pool.
“But what if I never see him again? Or the next time I see him we’re enemies.” Aya said, sounding close to tears.
“Such attachment is not befitting a Supreme Urisha, young Aya. You are stronger than this, always have been. Treasure the thousand years you were able to spend with him already, and be prepared to do what you must if you should meet him on the battlefield.”
“Go get some rest. Your winds will be needed to start up the new forges in the coming days.”
Ije jumped back as the door opened and she pretended to straighten her coat. Aya emerged and looked at her slightly embarrassed.
“You heard some of that?”
“Some” Ije confessed.
“Do not think less of me, Ije. I may love balance, but I find no joy in war.”
“The sentiment is shared. Rest well Aya,” Ije hugged her friend, and left her to make her way back to her room.
“Ije,” The voice came from inside the office. She walked in.
“Mother, how are you?” Ije asked.
“Tired.” Ulukun said walking back across the water and sitting on their chair as it rose out of the pool.
“Are you getting enough sleep?” Ije asked.
“Why? Maybe you and Aya should spend a century or two in Idaduro. It might do you good and give us more time before the fighting starts.”
“It will give them more time to prepare as well. We need to catch them within the next decade, while they are still trying to reorganise themselves.
Ije sighed and leant against a step ladder not far from the door.
“You worry me, Mum. This entire Civil War worries me.”
“Me too, my golden child. But we shall get through it. I would not do this unless my Onus demanded it. And it does demand it. I feel it tugging at me as I sleep, burning in muscle fibres as I walk. It’s what I must do. It is my purpose.”
Ije did not know how to respond. She was an Urisha, she knew very well what weight an Onus carried. They sat in silence for a few minutes until there was a quiet Ratatat on the door.
“Come in, dearest.” Ulukun called loudly but gently. The door opened and Omanja floated in. She waved to Ije as she floated past and landed softly on Ulukun’s lap, she leaned her head into the Supreme Urisha’s shoulder, hugging her mother tightly and burying her face in the long green locks.
“What’s wrong Omanja?”
“Ishun left.” Omanja said, “she went with her mum back to the Oruka.”
“There, there, my child,” Ulukun patted the young Urisha’s back, “ it will be okay.”
Ije stood up and a walked towards her mother and sister, “it will be fine Omanja, the same way you went away for a while, she’s gone away too. You’ll see her after this little disagreement is over and we’re whole again.”
“How long will it take?” Omanja asked looking at Ije then at her mother
“I don’t know, Omanja. but it will happen, and I’m sure you’ll see her again.” Ulukun responded, then paused before saying, “unless you want to see her now.”
“Mum-“ Ije began but was silenced by a death stare from Ulukun.
“If you want to go live with Grandma Emaja on the Oruka and see Ishun and even Sesewo all the time, you can go if you want.”
Omanja stopped crying and looked at her mother, “but will I be able to see you and Ije?”
Ulukun shook their head.
“Then I’ll stay here. If that’s okay?”
“I’m glad,” Ulukun smiled. Ije too sighed in relief, “That means I get to have my favourite people in the world around me all the time. There could be nothing better.”
It was a mild day in this part of the world, and a cold dry winter had left this particular plain quite lifeless. Xipe of The Forgotten reached down and dug his fingers into the dry soil, and listened to it crunching softly at his touch. He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly as glowing aquamarine water trickled out of his arm and into the ground. The soil silently began to shift, then crack, then rumble as it was tossed to and fro, giving way to all manner of vegetation.
Xipe stood up and looked at his handiwork proudly. His smile broadened as he heard a whirring sound behind him, and he turned to see his assistant, Bia, floating a short distance away.
“This plain is not accessible to humans at this time of year. These plants will die before they are seen.” Bia said matter-of-factly.
“I am aware. Does life still not have the right to exist, even if the sentient cannot enjoy it?” Xipe mused.
“You are the god, you set the rules - You tell me,” Bia often replied this way when she could not compute response. When he was a younger (and non-physical) being, Bia had been his educator and caretaker, but after an aeon together Bia no longer had anything to teach him and acted as an advisor and assistant.
Xipe was about to reply with another witty comment when he felt a sudden chill. He turned to see a white clad figure walking towards him with their arm outstretched. Five colossal pillars of purple light rose out if the ground around him and began closing in.
“Ruin!’ he screamed at his sister, “what on earth do you think you’re doing!?”
Purple particles of light danced around her as her concentration increased. Her mouth opened and her voice begna to thunder. It was then that he realised her intentions.
“I confine you to the deepest depths of the Underlands. May the bedrock be your pillow and the molten heat temper your ambitions.” The floor began to split open and pulsating tendrils of darkness began to wrap around his legs.
“You aren’t joking, are you?” Xipe looked at Ruin in shock. She ignored him and continued her attack. He turned to Bia, “Bia, remove the entrapments on my legs, I’ll disrupt the binding pillars.”
Bia began shooting away the tendrils that had begun winding around Xipe’s legs, while Xipe summoned his strength. He raised his right hand and slammed it on the ground forcefully. The shockwave dissolved the pillars and sent Ruin tumbling backwards. Fully free, thanks to Bia, he leapt up and forwards landing in front of his sister. She looked up at him, her armour even more damaged than the last time they fought when this had all started.
“What’s wrong with you, Ruin?” Xipe said, marching up to her in annoyance, “you didn’t get your way so you decide to seal me?” he grabbed her by her chest plate and dragged her to her feet. Her amethyst eyes glistened aggressively as he looked her dead in the eye.
“The five of us made an agreement. The Urisha and humans would decide the future of our universe. Our fighting was to stop.”
“I was there, I know what was said.” She gripped his wrist and removed it from her armour.
“So why are you ambushing me?”
“Why must so many die for us to solve this disagreement. We five are equals, why can we not handle this better?”
“If we fought there would be far too much damage, and we risk leaving our creation godless should any of us fall - Or. Be. Sealed.” He poked her with each of his last three words to emphasise his points.
“Do they even need us anymore, Xipe? Maybe some of us do need disappear for a bit,” Ruin said coldly, looking at him through narrowed eyes.
“Is that a threat? You really think the Urisha and humans are ready to go it alone?”
Ruin didn’t reply.
“You don’t understand because you didn’t see the last worlds,” he backed away slowly, plants grew where his feet touched the ground, “I barely got a glimpse of them and even I know that this world would be gone in a matter of centuries if we left them to it. In face we should be doing more!”
“No I don’t want to hear it!” Xipe hopped backwards into the air and began to float skyward, “the war will start soon whether you like it or not. Then we shall see what type of future this world chooses, sister.”
Ruin sunk to her knees in annoyance, then noticed a quiet whirring nearby.
“Bia?” she called.
“Lady Ruin, I must say I’m most disappointed in the destruction caused to Xipe’s new garden. Now not even he can enjoy it.”
And with that the assistant floated skyward after it’s master.