The War God’s Collection; A Tale of Greed

The War God’s Collection; A Tale of Greed

Back when I started the Seven Deadly Sins project, I joked that there were probably enough off-shoots of Domerin that I could write a prompt for each sin featuring him. It’s taken some time but I have, indeed, found a Domerin for every sin.

So far we’ve covered Wrath, Pride, Envy and Sloth, and Gluttony.

Greed features another Domerin that hasn’t occupied my blog before. I’ve mentioned that he occupies a bit of a multiverse. Well, the major keystone of that universe is “war god” Domerin. He’s not actually a god. He was created by an advanced race of alien scientists out of the remains of the original Domerin’s bones. They genetically enhanced him to make him seem like a god, and set him the task of monitoring the development of their chosen civilization.

But because he was born from Domerin’s remains, he has, somehow, gained access to the memories of all Domerin’s former lives. In fact, he cannot help but remember these things. He and his siblings refer to it as the madness.
. . .

From the moment he tasted Sesha’s blood, he felt driven to add the doctor to his collection. Mortals could never get away with thinking such things. But gods were allowed to do whatever they pleased. And since they had given him all the names associated with War, no one was going to listen if he tried to protest about the limits of his power. They wanted to worship, so they did, making the battlefield his altar so that every casualty became a sacrifice to the divine cause.

But Sesha was different. He didn’t look up on the Lord of War with moon-eyes, and he didn’t sing the songs of blood and death. He wanted to put a stop to all that, in fact. And somehow he had managed to look upon the war god as a person; at least, when he had been able to do so from afar.

His people had chosen him for his innocence, still foolishly believing the god of war preferred purity above all else. They had managed to miss his fire. But it was that fervent resolve that had allowed him to lie brazenly upon the altar – a simple rectangular table set in the center of an unadorned white room. It was that quiet courage that had kept him from screaming when the first searing pain of the war god’s blood fell upon his forehead, though two fat tears had managed to squeeze from the corners of his eyes. And it had been that hidden spark that drew the two of them together, for Domerin hadn’t failed to recognize it when they shared their first glance.

He had seen it dozens of times in dozens of places, but always lurking behind the same eyes. The doctor who waded into the midst of an ongoing battle to save a life hovering on the brink of loss. The mage who defied an army to avert an unnecessary war. A voice that spoke of reason and kindness even when nothing but cruelty had been turned in his direction. Few could see what use a creature of war and destruction could have for such a sweet soul. But Domerin had grown so used to having Sesha walk at his side, he couldn’t fathom anymore how he had survived without him.

Though that always seemed to be the way of it. It was the meeting that sparked the memories. And then suddenly he could see them, see how close they had always been lurking within the shadowed recesses of his mind. He kept those flashes in the forefront of his memory now, summoning the shades of the past, calling them back to his side, though there seemed no way to transfer his recollections during the ritual.

If only he could show the men who became his generals what he had seen and experienced. The universal truths that bound them and connected them across the vast ages of history. But then they would skirt the same madness that plagued him, the same constant uncertainty that he moved through the proper time.

The best he could do was gather them to his side. Rilan with his steadfast inspiration. Elian with his boundlessly clever wit. The ever intractable Crescent – though he served another master and lay always just tantalizingly beyond his reach. Even Kail, who seemed doomed to long for him until the universe gasped its last, though the ill omen of their shared pasts forced Domerin to keep him ever at arm’s length. And there was another, somewhere, a distant call. He seemed to think it had one eye, but he couldn’t yet conjure the face into his conscious memory.

These thoughts haunted and hounded him while he kept his silent vigil, watching another of his unsuspecting companions awaken to the reality of moving through time at the side of Domerin Lorcasf; the curse of all curses. He always hoped they would greet him with fondness, with relief that the sacrifice didn’t mean death, as all of them somehow managed to believe. But of them all, only Rilan had wept joyful tears. The rest had greeted him with venom, perhaps piercing the veil just enough to glimpse his true nature when the transformation completed. Yet he held on to the hope that this time would be different.

Outside of selfish greed, hope was the only thing he had left.

Sesha woke with a gasp and instantly tried to rise. The movement was enough to allow black shadows to spill from his back. Only as Domerin lightly caught him and tried to restrain him did he realize his mistake. He had been thinking of all Sesha’s previous incarnations when he initiated the transformation. So pieces from all of them had wound their way into the framework. Including the wings. Wings this version of Sesha hadn’t been born with.

Shit!

“Careful,” he said aloud, forcing himself to focus on his companion’s panic and confusion. There would be time to fix his mistake later. If he could fix it. He certainly hoped he could. “Don’t move too much or too quickly. You’ll hurt yourself. You’re safe.”

Sesha looked terrible, covered in sweat, his hair matted to the sides of his face and neck, his clothing stained and torn. And yet, as he frantically pulled each new breath through quivering lips, Domerin couldn’t help thinking about how beautiful he was, how perfect. A man was never more alive than in the moments after he realized he wasn’t going to die.

“Something’s wrong,” Sesha managed to gasp at last, tension still bundled into his muscles, as if he still intended to leap off the table. “What happened?”

Domerin made a soft shushing sound, though he doubted it was as soothing as he wanted it to be. “Nothing’s wrong. Unless you count the wings. They were an accident. But I rather like them.”

Sesha didn’t exactly relax, but he did at least stop fighting to sit up.

When he didn’t speak further, Domerin swept on. “The sacrifice is over. You’re one of mine now. I hope you weren’t too attached to doctor since it’ll be general from now on.”

“What are you talking about?” Sesha rasped, anger creeping into his raw, scratchy voice. “Doctor is all I am! What’s going on? I was supposed to die!”

“You did. Several times over the course of the last hour, actually. There’s no easy way to make a mortal immortal. But it’s over now. No more pain.”

Sesha flailed again and, instead of restraining him, Domerin eased him into a sitting position. That allowed him to unfurl the black wings curled against his back, though he greeted them with horror instead of excitement. “What have you done to me?” he demanded, panicked tears seeping from the corners of his eyes.

Fuck. Well, this could have gone better. Then again, it could have gone worse.

Gently, Domerin caught Sesha’s cheeks between his hands and forced the man to look into his eyes. “All will become clear soon, General, I promise. But for now, you must sleep.” There was a hint of Command in that last word and, given Sesha’s state of exhaustion, that was all it took to tumble him into the embrace of sweet oblivion.

“My stubborn little sacrifice,” the war god murmured as he gathered the limp figure into his arms. “You can’t fix the entire world in a day.”

*   *   *

In the quiet moments, he remembered. He had no choice. The images came to him unbidden and lingered in the pools behind his eyelids, refusing to shake free no matter how violently he tried to cast them aside. He remembered names and faces and places that had long since crumbled to dust. He remembered events, remembered dates, anniversaries and jokes that would mean nothing if he ever repeated them aloud.

Sometimes he simply relaxed and allowed the stream to carry him from one memory to the next. Time was a river and its current was strong. He could spend a hundred years inside its sheltered alcoves and never revisit a recollection. A thousand years. Ten thousand, perhaps.

He always felt somewhat bereft when he woke from those journeys, as if the return to reality robbed him of all the good he had ever experienced. Could he help it if he spent all of his waking hours trying to get them back?

He didn’t gather the figures in those memories to his side one by one so that he could re-live some glory days that passed long before he ever came into existence. He did it because his life felt empty without them, meaningless. If he couldn’t share those smiles and that laughter, if he couldn’t build new memories with those he cared for most, what was the point of his endless toil?

I’m ready to speak with you, my lord.

The quiet summons dragged Domerin back to the present and, with a soft sigh, he gratefully pushed the rest of his thoughts aside. It would be good to get this over with. The my lord at the end of Sesha’s query was enough to indicate what he thought of his new life.

They’re all so afraid of dying. I can’t imagine what’s so much more terrifying about getting to live.

He crossed the distance between them with only a thought. Then he knocked on the door to his newest general’s room and waited patiently for the man to answer. There was anger in his eyes, a barely contained fury that smoldered with every shift of his gaze. Could he really blame them for hating him when he pulled them from the depths of his past, from the heart of memories they couldn’t share?

“You learn quickly, Doctor Laitos. Most people don’t figure out how to summon me until I show them.”

“Your servant, Kail, told me what to do.”

Domerin nodded, though he waited until Sesha invited him in to say more. He expected Sesha to assail him with a torrent of anger the moment the door was closed but, when he said nothing, Domerin moved on to the usual introduction. How the house worked. What few rules he had established for his generals. What Sesha should expect the next few days to look like. How he could find his way around and who would be assigned as his instructor.

Sesha weathered it all in silence, his eyes glued to the floor. Every time Domerin paused to see how he would react, he received an “As you wish, my lord” or “if it pleases you, my lord.” By the time Sesha uttered the words “I will do as I’m told, my lord,” Domerin was ready to puke.

“Stop with the my lord shit and say what you want to say, Sesha,” he snapped. “You’re wasting both our time.”

“It’s what you are, isn’t it?” Sesha retorted, his lower jaw jutting stubbornly forward.

“No,” Domerin replied, his tone dry. “It is not. I take it this means you are retracting the forgiveness you offered me before the sacrifice took place.”

“You lied to me about what would happen.” Sesha didn’t stomp his foot but Domerin could imagine him doing so. Perhaps this Sesha hadn’t yet developed the maturity he was used to. “I forgave you for my death. Not this eternal life!”

“Don’t speak to me about eternity, Sesha. You know nothing of it and never will. But I suppose you could say that I lied to you, yes, by omission. If anyone knew my sacrifices became my generals, they’d line up in the streets for the honor of serving at the war god’s side. Only the people who don’t want such accolades are worthy of them. If a man believes he must give all of himself and everything he has, then far fewer are willing to follow through.

“You gave me your life. I chose to use it. If that makes me cruel, if that makes me greedy, then so be it. But I don’t know what you expected me to do with a corpse.”

“You may have gained another servant, Lord Ares, but you’ve lost whatever feelings I had for you. If my life is no longer my own, then I will serve and serve faithfully. But that is all it will be.”

A blow and a heavy one, but Domerin didn’t allow himself to flinch. The price of his greed seemed ever to be that he could see and speak to his old companions, but never bring them in line with their old relationships.

“Do you think I didn’t know it would be so?” he said, his voice cold as ice. Let the man hate him. Let them all hate him. It would be easier in the end. “If the wings bother you, I will find a way to remove them,” he added, thinking a change of subject was in order.

“They do,” Sesha replied, his tone clipped. “Why did you give them to me in the first place?”

“It was an accident. It may take some time for me to find a way to remove them that will not cause you pain, but I give you my pledge that I will do so.”

“How does a god make a mistake?” Sesha grumbled, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

“The answer to that is complicated. It would involve another conversation like the one we had before.”

“The one about DNA?”

Domerin tilted his head to one side. “Yes, and the images you saw when we discussed it.”

“The pictures?” Sesha’s curiosity seemed to be getting the better of his anger.

“They weren’t pictures,” Domerin replied, shifting so that he could pace the confines of the room. For some reason, he always thought better on his feet. “Not photographs, anyway. Not like you’re thinking.”

“What were they then?”

Domerin let a soft sigh escape his lips. He could refuse to answer. He didn’t owe Sesha anything, especially not after his sound rejection. But there seemed no point in concealing what the man was bound to learn eventually anyway. “They were memories,” he said at last.

“Memories?” Sesha sounded mystified. “Who’s? Yours?”

“They were mine and they weren’t. They came from the lives of my progenitor.”

“Lives?” Sesha stressed the plural. “How could he have lived multiple times? And how would you know about it if he did?”

“DNA.”

Sesha frowned. “I don’t understand.”

Neither do I.

“Remember what I told you about DNA? It’s the core of what e are, the building blocks that define who and what we will be. Some races have what we refer to as genetic memory. That means the memory of everything they experience is ultimately stored in their DNA.

“My progenitor only had one life. Well, actually, he had two but that was a special case. At any rate, somehow his memories were stored in his DNA.”

“So because you were born from his DNA, you have access to his memories?”

“Exactly so. Though I don’t remember his entire life. Just pieces of it. The trouble is that I shouldn’t be able to remember anything. His race didn’t have genetic memory. Even stranger is the fact that my DNA came from a single lifeform, yet I possess memories from dozens of different lives.”

Sesha’s dark eyebrows shot skyward. “You’re talking about reincarnation. You think the soul of your progenitor came back to life over and over again?”

“I don’t think. I know. Though I don’t know how much souls have to do with it. Someone genetically identical to my progenitor was born somewhere else in the universe, lived a life and then died. That genetic pattern repeated dozens of times. Perhaps hundreds. And somehow one strand of DNA from one copy is all it takes to gain access to all the lives that came before.”

“It sounds like madness,” Sesha murmured, not realizing how close to the truth he struck. “Is this like the forest you told me about? The one you thought you were born in but didn’t know where it was?”

The war god’s eyes began to glow blue. The sterile white walls of Sesha’s room shifted until they projected images of a forest. The trees were taller than any Sesha could possibly have seen before. They were ancient trees, centuries old. And amid them were dwellings. They hadn’t been built on the forest floor or even carved from the trunks of the trees. Rather they were made from the living wood, from branches encouraged to twine in different directions until they formed the basis of walls and walkways. The city had several layers, connected by rope bridges and spiral staircases. Lanterns lit the paths. Fireflies danced in the distance. It was beautiful and graceful, unlike anything that could be found in the realm of gods or mortals.

Domerin said its name then, though it wasn’t a language Sesha would ever have heard. “Mistborn,” he translated. “That’s what they called it. My progenitor was born there.”

Sesha turned in a slow circle. The fire was gone from his eyes now, replaced with awe at the majesty that surrounded him. “You must miss it,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper.

Domerin shrugged. “I have never been there. I’m not sure it even exists anymore, or how I would get there if it does. But you were not interested in this forest. You wanted to know about the wings.”

The light faded from Domerin’s eyes and the images of the forest faded with it. “Many cultures believe that souls are reincarnated in clusters. Which means that you tend to encounter the same people over and over again in every life.”

Sesha seemed somewhat disappointed when the forest faded. He stared longingly at the verdant green, then blinked, perhaps savoring the last echoes of it on the backs of his eyelids. Then he shook his head. “What does that have to do with me sprouting wings?”

The war god’s eyes glowed again, summoning a new spread of images to cover the walls. Sesha would recognize the face that inhabited them. Sometimes he wore his hair long and sometimes he kept it short. Sometimes he was just a man but, more often, he had pointed ears and flowing black wings.

“I know you,” Domerin whispered. “I have known you, many times.”

Sesha gasped and one hand shot to his mouth, belatedly trying to hide his shock. “Is this why you accepted me?” he demanded sharply.

Domerin sighed and once again allowed the images surrounding them to fade. “It would be a lie to claim otherwise.” It was always the memories that made him grasp hold. And once he did, he could never let go. He was like a miser hoarding his gold, except the treasure he most desired was souls. “But ultimately, it was not main reason, no. Whether you choose to believe it or not, I chose you for your compassion and dedication. For your strange and compelling ability to put yourself between others and danger, even when you can’t possibly hope to win the struggle in question. Not many people would put themselves between the war god and an object of his wrath, but you did. You didn’t even hesitate. That goes beyond integrity, Sesha. It’s the kind of quality I need for my generals.”

Sesha didn’t answer, he merely nodded and Domerin could sense the conversation was about to turn back to mundane things like duty and expectation. So his explanation had earned him an uneasy truce, one he had no choice but to accept for the moment.

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