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Father Angus stood in the center of the medicinal garden, just feeling the cool winter breeze. It was the final day of the year, and the start of a new cycle. That meant hard work and very little sleep during the festival of rebirth. The parish would want to make sure that they had the gods’ favour for the coming year; else if the new cycle meant the appearance of another deity for them to idolise, they would be prepared to quickly become favoured worshippers. Angus thought that paying lip-service to various powers was asinine, but he was not his parish.
He was a priest, and so he knew best how uncaring the gods truly were. He knew his role well, but he did not like it. Angus would spend most of the year passing messages down from the gods to the people, while making sure challengers were ready to try to climb Babel for the rest of it. It was tiring, thankless, and sometimes down right messy, but the allure of becoming a challenger, and the possibility of ascending to godhood was too much for some people. If you survived climbing the tower, even if you didn’t become a god, you could become still tens, maybe even hundreds of times stronger than the average person.
This meant that people who either wanted to prove their strength or had nothing left to lose would come in hordes. Hordes that Angus had to test and decide whether they actually had the mental fortitude to survive inside Babel, then if they failed the first floor he often had to treat their injuries. It was a draining job, but a necessity to make sure that people wouldn’t throw their lives away.
The medicinal garden always looked its best at night. A lot of the flowers and herbs released a gentle glow that could only be seen in minimal light, and was a key identifier to distinguish the medicinal herbs from their normal counterparts. The garden was designed to be a piece of art in and of itself. Crafted by one of the many previous priests who had a passion for gardening and medicine, it was a bizarre piece of artistic horticulture. By day, it was an archaic map of the local area, but by night it was a flickering earthen light show that supposedly represented the priest’s view of the absolute. Some people would spend days in the gardens after they were rejected from the chance to enter Babel, as its healing aura could stimulate their bodies in ways normal medicine never would.
The aura was the reason why Angus liked it so much. His life had been filled with so much bloodshed, but in that garden he felt at peace. A warrior priest who practiced the Book of Life was considered indestructible on the battlefield, and a perfect guard for any situation. There were so few who had practiced in any of the Books before entering Babel that no one was even a challenge to Angus. The constant worthless challenge often made him wonder whether he missed his old life, before he was assigned this job and met Maris, his wife.
Angus strolled up and down the pathways in the garden, surveying each herb and checking that they were growing properly. Certain plants when combined with a prolific root called Silkweed would augment the healing speed of any wound they were applied to, and because of that Silkweed was considered a staple of any medicant. The bulk of the garden contained Silkweed, but there were Iconis Roses, for stemming bleeding and sealing wounds, Dragon Lilies for restoring flesh and muscles, and even Cillin Root for curing sepsis. Each plant gave off a blue light during the night, allowing for them to be identified by those trained as a healer.
Angus dug out a few Silkweed roots, putting them into a small pouch with arcane symbols that writhed all over it’s surface. Some symbolised preservation, some symbolised freshness, and a few symbolised space. It was a bag made by a master in the Book of Creation to preserve herbs and plants for use in making elixirs, pastes, powders, and pills, simply known as a herbalists bag. The bag looked slightly silly in Angus’ large hands, as it looked like a baby’s mitten when he held it, but its value was so great that he could not afford a bigger one. After picking the herbs he wiped his hands on a grey cloth he was carrying and returned to the rectory where he and his wife lived.
Maris was looking lovely as she prepared dinner for them both, her long brown hair tied back to make sure it didn’t get in the food and her forehead slightly furrowed with concentration. She was a good chef but had not cooked anything truly difficult for several months as she was spending most days helping Angus look after the house and land. She was cooking something special to celebrate the new cycle and it had taken her all day to prepare. She set the meal on a lower heat to let it simmer and turned round to face her husband.
“Darling!” Angus said, “How is the food coming? It’s going to be the latest dinner we have had since the time you decided to help with fireworks night. Making all fifty people in the village a full three course meal still seems like a fool’s errand to me”.
“As my mother always said: ‘Good things take time, and there’s no point doing something if you aren’t going to put the time in’”. Her voice was a bit rough on the ear, but Angus loved that about her. He had spent most of his life listening to people with overbearingly rich and defined voices, a little roughness now and then made a welcome change. “Either way, I’m just letting everything simmer for five more minutes and then it will be ready. Did you get a good haul in the garden?”
Angus smiled, looking at his beautiful wife. He loved everything about her, from her short, plump frame to the way she swayed when she walked. He felt truly blessed to be with her. “Yeah, I trimmed the garden, made sure there were no plants growing in regions they shouldn’t and harvested a lot of Silkweed. If we stock up over the next couple of years we should have enough powdered Silkweed for when we are inundated with Babel challengers”. He grabbed a couple of bowls and a fresh loaf of bread to prepare for dinner. “We shouldn’t have to worry about that for a while though. My predecessor said that even the shortest and most turbulent cycle had a five year wait on Babel re-opening”.
“That’s good”. Maris looked at the pot, tasted it and smiled. “So is this. I’ll serve the food up and we can go and sit in the main hall. You can tell me more about what to expect from these would-be challengers”.
Maris poured a beautiful, clear broth into the bowls and took them into the main room of the rectory. It was a large hall with a door at either end of the building. One door led to the outside world and the other led to the first floor of Babel.
Babel’s door was incredibly ornate. Made of a dark material, it seemed to absorb the light from the surrounding area. Even though the material it was constructed from was pitch black you could still clearly see six representations of the six great books. Life, a teardrop that symbolised the Absolution clan. Death, a fang that symbolised the Mephisto clan. Order, a crown that symbolised the Caesar clan. Chaos, a four-pointed star that symbolised the four elemental clans. Destruction, a sword that symbolised the Dominus clan. Finally as Maris and Angus at their eyes on the last symbol, a glyph that had been there for time immemorial, they could not help but gasp. The symbol of the book of creation, and the Hephaista clan had been removed.
This was a completely new event and could only mean one thing. Yes gods rose and fell, but one of the great clans being removed was inconceivable. There were nine great and four lesser clans, each one with at least five Ascendant Immortals, true gods. Ascendant Immortals had completed the trials within Babel and were incomparable existences. Their very will could rewrite aspects of reality in connection to their study of the world. The fact that the clan had been removed from power meant that there would soon be a new powerhouse coming out of the depths of the darkness. If the richest clan could fall, then no one was safe. Angus rubbed his hands together nervously, thinking about how the tests would be impacted. If his clan fell then he would leave with Maris and perhaps they could climb Babel together, away from the prying eyes of his old family. He looked at the woman he loved, but she could only continue to stare at the wall in fear. She was only brought back into the present when they heard a knocking at the door.
The knocking was regular, like a heartbeat. Angus got up and walked over to the door. He assumed it was some excited or arrogant fighter who thought because they were the strongest person in their village or town they could climb the tower. He reached the door and pulled it open to find no one outside.
Maris looked at Angus as he closed the door. “There’s no one outside, my love”. He said walking back to his wife, but his words did not make the knocking stop. After about thirty seconds of panic Maris suggested that the knocking could be from the other door in the hall. Perhaps someone was coming from Babel, trying to get out through the entrance rather than one of the many exits. Angus strode over to the door and opened it. Like usual there was a great black abyss on the other side, but on the step of the door was a small cot. In this small cot were four things; a book, a small metal hammer, an envelope and a newborn child. There was no one else around who could have been knocking, so Angus had to assume that this child was what the knocking was about.
Angus brought in the baby and its cot, grabbing the letter as he put it on the table. He broke the wax seal on it and began reading as Maris walked over and looked at the child. It was sleeping extremely peacefully despite the noise and having been left on a celestial doorstep. Maris couldn’t bear to see the poor child left on its own and began stroking it. The child turned in its sleep when Angus looked up in horror and said “We have to get rid of it”.
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