Chapter 19: Betrayal of the Mind

In Keenin’s dream the neighborhood pickpockets were in his house again and they were noisy. His mother would never have stood for it, but his mother…he wondered if that was why he was sitting there, back against the cupboard. Flour was sprinkled over the floor like dust from when his mother had made bread atop the counter. He sure was hungry. But he would not move from his spot. He refused to. This was his last stand and he would prove…he would.

“Hey,” a pickpocket said.



His eyelids flickered open and he raised his head again.

“Come outside,” the Lester in his dream said.

Well maybe…he shuffled slightly over towards the wall and looked down in resolution, but then he couldn’t ignore the tap, tap on his shoulder, like the water when it dripped and dripped. He glared at the nuisance boy, who stopped his poking, and Keenin resolutely slid one more foot away from him.

“Aw, come on you are almost there,” the annoying boy said, “You can see outside now right.”

Keenin refused to look towards the door. He was proving…he couldn’t remember what exactly.

Either way the light from outside was annoyingly bright. He would just wake up soon.

“Is this your house?”

Keenin’s eyes fluttered open. He was still in the dream house of his childhood, but the voices of the pickpockets were gone. A familiar face looked down on him, her eyes bright and her hair as soft as feathers. Tess had found him. Keenin looked around one more time for his friend Lester, but not only was the dream house empty, but it somehow looked more real, as though the surface lines had been bolded over.

“Did you do this?” Keenin finally asked.

“If you’re finished here someone wants to talk to you,” Tess told him.

Maybe he should have been more concerned that the ghost of his dead friend was invading his dream, but Keenin knew that there was indeed something between them that had to be settled. He followed her out of the dream house and through the dreamed-up streets of his hometown.

“I heard you were going home,” Tess said. “Visit my grave if you do.”


It didn’t seem to matter since it was all in a dream.

“You aren’t very talkative these days.”

“There’s more to think about.”

The houses lacked certain detail that he was sure he would not forget. He noticed that the dream bakery had no sweets in the window, an item he would have never missed. Tess must have guiding the dream. She had not known the structures as well as him.

“You’re so grown up now that it’s funny,” she told him.

He shook his head.

“It’s only been one month Tess.”

“But it feels like forever. Isn’t it odd? You were the same as every other beggar on the street and I was just some girl caring for my sick mother and now we’re so far away.”

She was tempting him. He remembered Dia telling him that ghosts did that.

“This meeting won’t take long will it? You’re not leading me in circles are you?”

“Me. You’re the one who– oh never mind,” she said stopping by one of the nondescript wooden houses, “This guy will explain it all to you. Just try not to offend him.”

Keenin noticed the cold feeling of his hand as Tess let go and the real world popped back into focus. His attention was focused on a moth fluttering around an oil lamp affixed to a stone building. Wet fog blurred the edges of every opening, but under the archway next the lamp Keenin saw a woman waiting outdoors for him, holding a small lamp of her own. Keenin rubbed his left arm in an attempt to regain warmth as a numbing cold had seeped in from his dream.

“Sir,” the woman said. “Someone would like to speak to you.”

She did not wait. Keenin followed, not daring to ask how otherworldly forces had influenced her as she led with her small light into the darkened home and up a narrow flight of stairs to a less heated second floor until he was outside the door of someone’s room. The door was open, but it was still too dark to see into the entire space. This room seemed personal, but she did not enter.

When she glanced at him, her eyes were full of sadness; whether her emotion was for him Keenin could not say. He stopped rubbing his cold arm not knowing how to respond. But with no words, she simply walked back down the steps, her weak light retreating as the space fell further into darkness and a more pronounced silence.

Moonlight danced with the shadows in pools on the floor. His adjusting eyes caught shapes of toys such as wooden swords and carved horses in an unorganized mess across the room.  There was the faint smell of smoke accompanying a pile of weakly glowing embers in a fireplace and a small bed with sheets tucked neatly and undisturbed. In all appearances the room was uninhabited.

“Please do come in,” he heard the child before he saw him.

The child sat in a chair in the furthest corner of the room where moonlight didn’t reach. Keenin gripped his arm a little tighter and moved forward until he abruptly stopped when his focus met the speaker’s cloudy dead eyes. And a familiar bluish glint that shone past the dead eyes reminded Keenin of how all his troubles started. That was all Keenin needed to know this boy with a pasty complexion and milky eyes was inhabited by a god of death.

“Finally,” the child said. “It comes to an end.”

And Keenin knew the god came to collect him. He stood quietly a long while, feeling adrift in an endless time.

“Why?” Keenin asked quietly.

He had survived this long. Why not longer?

“We made a deal Keenin. You would die and Tess would stay here. It was simple.”


He was sure Tess should have lived then.

“Yes. Your one and only love would get to live according to our deal.”

“But we’re not…

“What,” the boy mocked. “She’s not ‘quote on quote alive’ and you’re not, what?”

The boy dared an answer. But Keenin started to recall the night of the fire. Just him, and Tess, and the fire. Then Alaban. Isn’t that how it had been?

“I walked out of it,” Keenin said doubtfully.

“Please. A few steps and you were practically in my realm. Do you wonder why the ceiling didn’t fall on your head or why you didn’t scream in flaming agony. How about why your words didn’t choke up in smoke? I mentioned a saving the day solution. And you thought…

“I agreed to die,” Keenin finished for him.

He did remember it now. Tess had already been dead when this guy had offered to bring her back. The smoke must have clouded his head and he had honestly not wanted to think about it.

“Finally,” the death god said.

“But why…

Keenin could hardly believe that a god was here.

“Because,” the god said. “The fire spirit Calendor got to you before I did and everything went and stopped. No more Tess and no more you dying. Really, he and I are quite the companions, but he has never been such a nuisance in his entire existence.”

It would have been funny if Keenin wasn’t listening to the death god.

“So…” Keenin started. “You. Want me to die? Now.”

Surely the guy could make an exception for his own mistake. Keenin had other things to do.

“I want you to agree to die,” the death god clarified.

Agree, Keenin noted. This death god must have had restrictions, which explained how Keenin had survived for so long. Perhaps he could keep on surviving.

“Can’t we change the….

“No,” the death god said flatly.

“Tess isn’t alive,” he argued.

“Keenin,” the death god said. “I am trying to do my job.”

The idea of the death god having a job like a regular person was almost just as odd as being talked to by a corpse. Keenin scrutinized his enemy, noting that the god did not have perfect control. The dead boy’s eyes were slightly facing separate directions and his muscles seemed stiff.

“Can it not wait a year or so?” Keenin suggested.

He still liked his life. The death god stared unwaveringly back through his corpse’s blue eyes.

“Not at the rate at which Iscara is hoarding souls for his army. Those ghosts are all going to be stuck here eating away at life until there is none.”

“Then what?” Keenin asked curiously.

If he wasn’t going to live then he might as well know.

“Then…” the god paused. “I don’t think telling you any of this is helping.”

“It’s helping,” Keenin insisted.

“Fine. Then…the god of life gets to redesign the world, I get to gather all the souls to sort into new forms of life, and fate gets to start a new script. But let’s keep her out of this.”

The boy moved his thumb beneath the nail of his second finger as though to clean any dirt that had offended him. Or perhaps he was trying to ignore Keenin’s stupid comments.

“Fate,” Keenin said.

There was actually a god of fate. The death god explained it so simply that it didn’t seem real.

“Stop getting distracted,” the death god accused, ceasing to pick at his fingers. “This is about us.”

“You mean the end of the world.”

“I said us,” the boy said putting a hand to his chest. “Forget all that useless stuff. I just need you to die. A simple yes would suffice. Is this what you do when you get nervous, question everything? No don’t answer. Now you’ve got me doing it.”

“Why, exactly?” Keenin asked.

The god closed his lips into a frown.

“I just told you.”

“I mean what will my being dead do for you?”

That got a real pause out of him.

“Well…,” he responded. “I possess your body. Did you not know?”


How was Keenin supposed to know any of this?

“Ah,” the death god said. “Been a while since the great celestial wars I guess. It used to be an honor. Why are you looking at me like that?”

“You said I would die,” Keenin accused. “Not that you would be pretending to be me.”

“I would not pretend.”

“Look like me.”

The frown did not leave Keenin’s face.

“It would be for maybe five minutes and then you would just be a soulless godly vessel while the rest of my power leaks out. No one would ever confuse the two. Ah. You wouldn’t have even cared if that stupid fire elemental had not interfered,” the death god defended.


“Yes. I need a living body and willing consent. You happened to be next to die when I made my choice to come down here. But now it is only you. I can only make the deal with one person at a time and I have kept my word to my fullest ability.”

Perhaps it was not the god’s fault, but dying was not as easy as the god wanted him to believe.

“Keenin it has to end.”

But it hadn’t. Thinking of the friends he needed to get back to Keenin knew that life could go on. He remembered the hopeful future that he had imagined for himself when he held Ikabod’s sword in Diana’s temple.

“I’m sorry,’ Keenin told the god.

Keenin felt the warmth of the fire spirit Calendor at his side and when he raised his hand the corpse child caught fire. The death god smiled as his vessel burned and a horrid smell filled the air. Keenin felt like he stood there for an eternity with the heat against his skin, until this too melted into a dream.


Keenin jolted awake and put a hand to his face to repel the bright sunlight. The sky was blue and bright and he didn’t know how he could ever imagine it otherwise. The cart bumped over another stone and he felt slightly sick. Lying down on his back in the middle of the cart had not been such a good idea. He sat himself up again against the headboard.

“I can’t believe you fell asleep in the middle of the day,” Dia said from her seat on the right.

“Where are we?”

“About twenty minutes from where we were before.”

A plane of grass stretched out beside them. Had it really happened?

“I mean…which direction from the city.”

“West for the seaport St. Marco. But we have a stop in Midden,” Dia said.

“That’s right,” Clide said.

Somehow the dragon looked more human than ever since his boyish disguise had gained some height and donned some simple school clothes.

“And I quote,” Clide continued. “ ‘Driver, take us as far as you can.’ Robert must have dazzled you with his stories.”

Dia joined in his laugh. Keenin turned his eyes to the fields of wheat dotted here and there with farms. That’s right. He had said it that very morning after running all the way back to meet his friends. It just didn’t seem real. Had he really burned a god?

“I’m glad,” Keenin said.

With any luck he could catch a ship across the ocean where other gods might make the rules. Perhaps he could grow more powerful than his fate, stand before the battle and burn it away to a quiet nothing.

Keenin curiously eyed the other two travelers on the wagon. There was a soldier who was traveling back to his home in Cider Hamlet and a middle-aged farm wife who had arrived in town for a bit of shopping. She now sat reading a book. Keenin leaned over to try and read the title. Le-ge-nd-

“What are you doing brother? People will think you’re weird” Dia said.

Keenin raised his head and saw her smiling. Keeping the sibling act had amused her.

“Were you interested in this book?” the woman interrupted.

They looked at her.

“Ah, yes,” Keenin said.

“Would you like to borrow it?”

“No. I just wanted to know what it was about.”

“You don’t know Legends of the World. There are amazing stories related to the gods. Like an island of animal-like people and a cloud-shrouded mountain where things don’t age.”

“You call Legends of the World a good book,” the soldier scoffed. “That’s all rumor. The fate and gods are a bunch of nonsense made by people who don’t understand what’s real.”

“Oh, stop it. You know the spirits will be upset.”

“Spirits. Don’t you think these kids a little too old for that,” the soldier said.

“You better apologize to Baytu when we get to his shrine. I don’t want an unlucky trip.”

“A god won’t do anything. It’s the bull men of the plains that will get us. What do you think I’ve been watching for?”

“Then it looks like we’ll all have to apologize for you.”

Keenin and his friends didn’t agree with worshiping the gods, but they weren’t going to say anything.


As the farm wife had mentioned they stopped by Baytu’s shrine that night, a simple stone by the side of the road. Keenin realized that he had seen one before, a rock shaped into the rounded image of a hooded figure holding a bird between its hands. He had assumed they were simple distance markers.

“Make sure it’s a good apology. All of you,” the wife told them.

Out of respect, they sat behind her facing the shrine, but none of them were thinking of prayers. Clide was focused on clearing his fingernails of dirt and Dia was watching the soldier pile wood a few feet away as the cart driver struck flint over the dry kindling. Keenin was trying to decide how to convince his friends to cross the ocean. He heard Clide stand.

“I’ll help with the fire,” the dragon said wandering away.

Keenin hardly noticed. His mind had taken him back in front of the statue of Ikabod who watched them all with kindness.

“You didn’t want to save them all either did you,” he told the statue.

In his mind’s eye, Keenin sensed his fire elemental silently burning behind the statue.

“I’m not very good at this,” he told it.

Yet the flame elemental said nothing. It simply crackled, embers dancing, wood smoke drifting.

“Hey,” Dia said.

Keenin opened his eyes and looked at her.

“Were you actually praying?”

“No. Do you think we should?”

Gods really liked to mess up his life.

“Of course not. They never helped anyone,” Dia said.

“Right,” Keenin said. “I think they have the food ready.”

He said it, but it wasn’t true at all.

“You’ve been acting strange.”

“I have.”

“Yes, you. You haven’t finished a full thought all day.”

“I was thinking.”

“About what. That other girl?”

“No,” he said irritated. “I was practicing to visualize my magic like you told me to. Besides, Tess is my problem.”

“She is not.”


Dia stood.

“She’s not your problem.”

She turned. Keenin stood.


He took two quick steps and wrapped his arms around her. He had to make her stop.

“Don’t do that,” he told her.

Standing as he was his eyes met Clide’s. He let go and turned away.

“No excuses,” Dia called after him referring to her instructions that they meet again that night for magic lessons.


Chapter 18: To Admire

Chapter 20: Silhouette