Questions – Part 2
“Perhaps… what is most different from past Zeroths is the fact that I am a woman,” I say. As if given a shock, Dom’s eyes clear up and his gaze wanders the room.
After a moment of seemingly being lost, he moves his hand and lays it on my chest. It takes every ounce of willpower I possess to stop Rei from immediately tearing out his throat. It takes just as much to not do the same myself. Instead, I calmly reach down and pull Dom’s hand off of me and ask, “I’m going to choose to believe you didn’t do that for the obvious reasons, Dom.”
The man’s craggy face seems almost embarrassed as he clears his throat and says, “Err. Yes. Look, ‘tis plain as day that I will forget this information soon. However, my drive to learn what is happening to you will not, of this you can be assured.
However, he says, “Back to your original demand, to answer that, I believe you need some history on who the Zeroth is.”
He gestures to the seat in front of his desk. “You see, the story of the Zeroth is the story of our people, and our world.” From here, Domnis starts to weave a tale as old as time.
The first accounts of the Kingdom of Arsea, of the continent Hadel, of the planet Tardius speak of a before time that is tantamount to fairy tale and lost records. It speaks of times of great kingdoms and terrible wars. The records talk about creatures able to manifest within men and steer their actions. Supposedly in order to combat this growing threat, the ten strongest kingdoms came together to form a union, the likes of which our world had never seen before. However, man is always ruled by hubris; and though the world now held within its hands, the power to push back against the evils that lay in shadows, the kingdoms could ultimately not fully trust one another. At every opportunity, they plotted and schemed in ways that would lead them to remain the most powerful of men.
Unable to take the injustice of it all, one servant among them gave it all up and told the world that enough was enough. He donned his garb and walked the world, teaching all who would learn, preaching to all who would listen. He spoke of the unruly Kingdom Ten and the problems they self-imposed.
It was not long before the Kingdom learned of this man, and less time still before they saw him hung. As the man’s last breath escaped his lungs he swore to his followers that he would return by raven to save all the weary souls.
As the kingdom’s squabble and the lands were taken by the beasts of old; it was the poor, the young, those lacking in intellect and charm that were made to suffer most.
Before the world fell to its knees, a savior arrived; and with his midnight hair, and his golden eyes did he decree, “Kingdom Ten, you are unfit to rule this world. I shall take you and wield you to free my people.”
Now even the fairy tales seem to lose focus here. Some say the Raven challenged the mightiest of knights from all ten kingdoms and came out victorious. Other tales speak of the savior as if he went on a murdering spree and simply killed all the kings who opposed him. However, it is not long before most tales come back in agreement that eventually, the savior stood as head of all the Knights. He proclaimed to rule the Knights Ten, but to not stand with them. He spoke of controlling their armies and their assets, but swore no fealty to any one land. He was not a part of their ranks, but above. He proclaimed himself the beginning of the revolution to take back their world.
As the beginning, and to fit the theme of the Knights Ten, some started calling him the Knight with no number. This, in turn, evolved into the Knight with no loyalty. As time went on, it was only natural for it to end where it did. The savior became known, the world over, as the Zeroth Knight. All who approached him, to learn of him, his life, and his name were all met with the same answer. He professed to everyone that all that he was before, he is no more. Now he simply stands before them as Zero.
Nearly all the stories end the conflict the same way. Eventually, this man lived up to the title of “Savior” and brought an end to the wars. Yet ever one to be wary of the hubris of man, he refused to step down from power.
Instead, he fused the Kingdom Ten into one massive kingdom that was to be known as Arsea. He installed a Consulate that would strip power from the One King and hold within their rights the ability to select the monarchy to take over after the current one retires or passes, to enact and enforce world order, and to select the Knights Ten who would rule the land’s armies.
Domnis takes a moment to breathe and gather himself before continuing, “That’s where the legends end.”
“From there, we have the actual first historical written accounts of our Kingdom’s founding. Besides a few references here and there, there’s verifiably no information to back the tales of old.” Dom says.
He takes this time to lean back in his chair, and I am dumbfounded. None of this really answers my questions or gets my demands closer to coming true, but it’s eerie how close to home those stories are.
Creatures that live inside of men, and are able to manipulate their actions. This part alone is terrifyingly close to explaining Rei. Before I’m able to follow that train of thought much further, Dom continues, “What we do know is that the Zeroth was there at the beginning, and from the beginning, has always headed the Knights. The title of Zeroth is passed down through the generations, not through bloodline, but by chosen individuals. Obviously, only the highest quality of people may become even considerations for the title. Once the Zeroth of the last generation has retired or passes away, the title is given to another.”
“But I don’t understand. This is not just some “title.” This is not just something I am called.” I’m on the edge of my seat.
“Indeed. It is a title to be sure, but it is so much more. The individual chosen as the Zeroth has a magical rune carved into their soul that identifies them as the Zeroth. That is from where the pain derives,” Dom says with a faraway look in his eyes, seeming to reflect back at the time of my coming to this world, and taking his spell in place of Fennis.
“The rules of succession are also clear. There is only one Zeroth at any time. The Zeroth is only allowed to pass upon the death of the Zeroth, or retirement of the Zeroth title.”
He continues, “Likewise, to ensure the absolute best possible offspring are birthed, the magical rune carved into the Zeroth is tethered and tied to the souls of individuals deemed to be high enough quality for birthing the Zeroth’s children.”
He stops again and his breath hitches. He tries to pretend it didn’t happen and leans forward again.
“This entire thing is nonsense. Complete. Utter. Nonsense.” Misery tints my voice, but I continue, “You’re telling me that those women literally exist for a single purpose, and a barbaric one at that!”
Dom seems taken aback but is able to recover in record time. “I don’t know what bothers you Zero, but things are how they are and no man alive can change it.”
“That’s complete b*******! You even said that the Zeroth title is not hereditary! So why does the Zeroth need the “best” women around to sire their children?” I’m nearly shouting at Dom at this point.
“The Zeroth is not chosen by heredity, but even if a child of the Zeroth is never going to take up the title, it still makes our world stronger simply to have the best of us together,” Dom’s voice, reminiscent of an authoritative teacher.
“So not just them, but the Zeroth as well! You treat us like livestock!” I spit at Dom, only to be met in kind.
“I don’t treat anyone like anything! I am not the one who selects the Zeroth!” I’m taken back to my memories for a moment before I rebuttal with them as evidence
“No. You were there and you chose me that first day to be the Zeroth!”
“I lead the ceremony and handle the logistics but only the One King can choose when it is time to designate a new Zeroth! Only the King can ultimately choose who it goes to!” Dom says, almost pleadingly.
“Then take me to see this Bastard King and I’ll make him remove it!”
Dom is physically lurching backward at my statement. I suppose calling someone like their King a bastard is pushing it, but I don’t care.
“The One King tried to remove your Zeroth, remember?!”
My mind twists and turns and races all over before arriving at the moment before Fennis and I fought.
“You don’t mean- When Fennis and I fought, that man was the One King? But that’s nonsense! That man failed to remove the Zeroth from me!” Full confusion assails me.
“And so we come to the crux of the matter Zero. The man who grants the Zeroth is unable to take it away. We know not if it’s impossible because of your strange circumstances in receiving the title, or if the incantation ever worked to begin with,” Dom says while letting out a sigh and leaning back into his chair again, seemingly exhausted.
“How could you not possibly know if something so important worked or not?!”
I shout, standing up and slamming my fists on the desk.
“Because for all we know, you’re the first and only person to ever voluntarily give up the Zeroth!”
He shouts back, as if stating the obvious; and for senses sake, he’s almost certainly not wrong. Who in their right mind would normally give up such a title?
“And if the Zeroth can not be removed…” I let my unasked question hang in the air, to which Dom replies, “Then it stands to reason the others are bound to you permanently as well, yes.”
This disheartening news causes me to wither and crumble back into my chair. “And,” I say, while leaning my head back to rest on the chair in full, “And all of this aside, you still haven’t explained what is happening to me.”
“I’m sorry?” He asks. I pull my head down for a moment, and see a look of genuine confusion on his face- well, he did warn this would happen.
However, it’s always related to me directly, such as my gender, that people tend to forget. But what if a more general statement is spoken, would they forget that?
“Dom, you should probably look into whether or not this…. blessing of the Zeroth is exactly as it says on the can.”
He looks at me for a moment before stroking his beard. “You mean to say, there’s more to the Zeroth than what is common knowledge?”
He gives a huff, “As unlikely as it is Zero, I shall do this for you. But I promise you no deadline. What am I looking for?”
“Anything that doesn’t fit with your preconceptions. But if I had to nail it down more specifically, see if you can find anything about how the Zeroth title could influence others- physically.”
“That is an odd request and yet, I feel it is as good as any other. You may consider it done.” Dom says with a nod.
“And now, I’ve shared our story with you. It is about time you shared yours, no?” That throws me for a loop and I jerk forward.
“What? What makes you think I have a story to tell?” I ask.
“Everyone has a story to tell Zero. Yours just seems more foreign than most. Hearing it could possibly help us a great deal in what we each seek.”
“And what do we both seek, Dom?”
To which he replies immediately, “Understanding.”
I look Dom over. He seems sincere, and so I ask once more for good measure, “Domnis, what is different about me compared to the Zeroths of before? Something you can tell me right now?”
Dom looks me over and says, “I do not know Zero. That is why I wish to know your story.”
I feel my heart hurt at this and ask him, “Are you good at telling when perceptions are being muddled?” Dom’s eyes slowly widen as if in understanding but holds up a hand.
“Zero, just tell me your origin in full and I will do all I can to remember what I can despite whatever it is that’s happening to you.”
So with a heavy heart, and a depression blacker than any pit, I weave my tale to Dom; from the beginning of that day- the day I would confess to Him, until now.
I tell Dom of my meeting with him and Fennis. I tell him of Nina taking care of me before and even after. I tell him about my connection with my wives, and even with Charlie and that man. I tell him everything pertaining to me, without contradicting whatever image of me he carries; all in hopes that he’ll remember most of what I say.