“And one day,” the street prophet declared, “one day, a man worthy of the blessing will appear in front of the Elected, and she will bestow it upon him, and there will be peace and prosperity for us all. So go forth! Go forth and be worthy, and remember that only worthiness will bring us deliverance from the curse. Go forth!”
Deovar went forth with a fellow listener’s wallet. It was too late for worthiness anyway.
“Buy this concoction from before the World’s End, and be free of the curse that has befallen us all!” The prophet stood on a box raising her above the crowd and held up a bottle that looked suspiciously like Sevnvik Moon Brand with the labels removed. Deovar stood to listen for a moment, hoping to disappear into the crowd and lose any attention he might have caught.
A young man raised his hand. “Can it free us of impure thoughts and cowardice?”
“It can!” the prophet exclaimed. “Our ancestors spit upon those things! And we can be free of them again!”
The young man reached for his wallet.
Deovar took a swig of Sevnvik Moon Brand and looked over the crowd. Not bad today. Putting the bit about the Elected into their act had been a good move.
Miafa strolled into their parked shuttle wearing her prophet robes. “That’s our salvation you’re drinking there.”
He grinned and screwed the bottle shut. “Sorry.”
She took the bottle and opened it again. “There’s someone who wants to talk to us, Temple police. Says we can’t do the Elected part, but he’ll make a deal with us.” She took a long swig herself.
“Ugh. Just what we need.”
“It’ll be okay. Let’s see what he has to say. Probably just wants money.”
“I wanted that money.” He reached for the bottle, but she held it out of his way.
A striking young man in Temple police uniform entered the shuttle. His eyes fell on the bottle and narrowed in unveiled disapproval. Great, one of those. “Hallav, Temple police. You’ve spoken for the Elected. I can’t let that go.”
“We don’t even have an Elected at the moment,” Deovar pointed out.
“The office has a dignity that can’t be besmirched, even when unfilled at the time. Besides, there’ll be a new Elected soon. The Council is convening as we speak.”
“Great. So the situation’s serious, we got it. What do you want to let it go?” Deovar reached for the bottle again, but Miafa drank from it instead.
The policeman shook his head. “We need people to help lift the curse. I want to take a shot joining the Elected, and I have to bring in people to do it.”
“Lemme guess,” Miafa slurred. “Nobody wants to after the last times so folks like us are your last resort.”
“You may have guessed correctly. Look, it’s this or five years in prison. And I have enough witnesses.”
“Well, shit,” Deovar said. “Can’t we just pay you off? Nobody else cares. ‘s rough times.”
“That’s why we need the Elected to succeed in eliminating the curse. And we need people for that.”
“Well, shit,” Miafa said. “You actually believe that.”
“Then it’s settled. Don’t make those faces, I just bought you out of jail.”
“How long are they taking?” Miafa muttered, sitting on a bench outside the Temple with her old and her new companion.
The summer air was thick, and breathing was a chore.
“The Election is an important matter that can’t be rushed,” Hallav said, wiping sweat off his forehead. Had to be dying in that uniform. Pretty though.
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, already too tired to complain.
“Think this one’ll bring us peace?” Deovar asked after a while.
“They never do. If she brings us pay, I’m content,” Miafa said.
“We must keep up hope,” Hallav said more quietly. “Despite all. There must be a plan in all this.”
Miafa rolled her eyes.
An insect chirped.
“You’ll make a good hero of legend,” Deovar said.
Hallav stayed quiet but there was a small smile on his face.
The Electors’ Council stood in a circle around the new Divinator as Sarvir explained the model to an audience less enthusiastic than himself. “It’s entirely randomised this time,” the Council researcher assured them. “So mishaps like the last time shan’t occur. We employed a matrix of…”
“Enough,” Rutholf cut him off. The Council Elder twirled the tip of his greying beard between his fingers. “I’m still sceptical. Can we really know the gods are speaking through this… instrument? Call me old-fashioned, but I think we’ve gone wrong somewhere.”
The Divinator blinked invitingly.
“What instead?” Grizir asked. “Ask a Council member with a daughter? Or one with a son that can be married off? Get them to do the auguries like in the good old days?”
Rutholf rolled his eyes at his former ward. “Once you have children, you will be more patient with that sort of thing.”
“As if that’s a good thing. Parents don’t admit their children are idiots.”
“Isn’t that a bit harsh? Sure, Amelia wasn’t…”
“She bestowed the blessing upon the shuttle repairman. Who was driving drunk. With the Elected in there. She’s dead, and that idiot is alive because of her gift.”
Rutholf sighed. “I know. I know.”
“I agree with him,” Sarvir said, pointing to the Divinator. “This is why we have the new model. Those stories keep happening. If the last Election had gone right, the Elected wouldn’t be dead, and we wouldn’t be standing here.”
“Are you saying,” Menrav’s smoke-strained voice interrupted the budding consensus, “that the last Elections didn’t go according to the will of the gods? That the gods are fallible?”
“Quite the opposite!” Sarvir continued his sales-pitch. “In fact, they may have been a warning, a message to set us upon the right path, to root out the corruption…”
Several Council members spoke up at once. “Are you saying…?” “That kind of phrasing…” “This is an ancient institution from before the World’s End, we must…”
“Silence!” Rutholf shouted and then coughed. “We will not have this discussion again. Very well. Let us see what this apparatus does. What the gods do,” he corrected himself.
“We can always vote for another when the next one dies or gets replaced,” Grizir said.
Ignoring him, Rutholf nodded to Sarvir, and the researcher pressed the button to begin the process.
The Divinator was humming and blinking along.
“So all the eligible young women are in the system?” the Elder asked, likely just to pass the time.
“Yes, with some recent additions,” Sarvir said. “I double-checked it would run as intended…” Then he turned pale. His hand froze in its spot in mid-air. Then he caught himself. Grizir could see him steadying his breathing. The researcher cleared his throat. “We ran a lot of tests with test quantities. But the… The real will of the gods is inscrutable, of course.”
Rutholf was just nodding tiredly. Nobody else seemed to have caught on. Everyone was bored and lethargic. But something was up. Well. Wouldn’t be the first time.
The machine stopped. Everyone woke up at once, looking at it and at Sarvir, who would be the one to announce the result.
The researcher’s face was set in stone. He cleared his throat and looked at the round. “Grizir…”
“Yeah? What? Need help?”
“Grizir.” Sarvir would not meet his eyes. “Congratulations. The gods have chosen.”
There was no uproar. There were only faces settling into dignified expressions with more or less difficulty.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Grizir muttered.
Menrav looked around, lips pressed tightly together. “I suppose,” he snarled, then banished the emotion from his voice, “that this all went as it should.”
Sarvir straightened his posture. “Are you saying the gods are fallible?”
Grizir bit back a smile.
“Do you accept the Election?” Rutholf asked him. “If we run it again, there will be dire consequences for those responsible.”
The smile disappeared without any effort on his part. “Fine. Suit yourselves.”
Sarvir exhaled audibly.
Rutholf raised his hand in a tired-looking gesture. “The gods have spoken.”
The Elected ought to feel invigorated after the ritual of receiving the blessing to bestow upon the hero later, but Grizir just felt drained. When he stepped out onto the hallway, Sarvir was waiting for him.
“Are you alright?”
“I…” Sarvir cleared his throat. “Thank you. That spared me a lot of…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Grizir said. “We’ll get this over with, and then we vote for the next one.”
“So who was on the list?”
Sarvir sighed. “It was a trial list. Forgot to swap it out this morning.”
“All of the Council. The Sundvik Raiders and Bears. The girls at Lurna’s Dream. The cast of Before our days.”
“And they say the gods don’t choose wisely.”
Sarvir smiled. “There are people here who’ll accompany you. A Temple policeman who wants to win a seat on the Council, and two criminals who spoke in the name of the Elected and who he recruited.”
“This is getting less glamorous with each iteration. You think we’ll ever lift the curse?”
“Sometimes I wonder if we’re not the only curse there is.”
“There’s nothing there, I’m telling you,” Deovar insisted. “We’ve searched the libraries, the databases, we’ve talked to most of the Temple till they got sick of us, we’ve talked to the fucking Madame of Lurna’s Dream and her connections to the underworld, there is nothing there.”
“There has to be,” Grizir said. “We need information on this damn curse, and this can’t be all there is. What the fuck have people even been doing up until now?”
“Don’t know, you’re the one on the Council.”
Grizir sighed. “Fuck off.” He looked up. “Wait.”
Deovar grinned, not moving from his spot in the alley where they were supposed to meet up with the others again. “I’m waiting.”
Grizir leaned against the wall, not caring for the moment that it was dirty. “So’m I.” That didn’t even make any sense. “Do you have some of that stuff enchanted by the Elected?”
“All out. Business is bad since we can’t speak for you anymore.”
“Damn. I could use some supernatural help.”
“We could go back in,” Deovar pointed at the seedy bar they had just left after a fruitless conversation.
“Can’t. Next one we come across.”
At last, Hallav and Miafa reappeared.
The prophet shook her head. “Nothing. We should give this up.”
Grizir brushed off his coat. “We’re doing this for the people.”
“The people can fuck off,” Deovar said.
“I’ve got something!” Miafa slapped a piece of paper on the kitchen table. “We know it’s tied to Endrov’s descendants, but did you know that includes Bidrar the Careless?”
Deovar’s eyes fluttered open, and he pushed himself up from his half-lying position on the table. The other two did the same. “Bid… who?”
“Bidrar the Careless!”
He wished he had her energy.
“He’s connected to that fella we talked to in the Lantern, the one who…”
“Ugh, don’t remind me. So what now?”
“Can you give us details?” Hallav asked, blinking sleep from his eyes.
“I can. In a minute. So what does happen? We find someone who carries the curse, and then? We kill him?”
Deovar grinned lazily. “Grizir bestows the blessing upon the hero of legend, the worthy one, and the hero goes forth and slays the cursed one, and then we’re all saved.”
Grizir sat back in his chair, nearly tipping it over but catching himself on the table. He frowned, looking down at the chair’s legs and sat up straight. “Not as easy. First the hero has to be in mortal peril. That’s what the prophecies say. Then the Elected saves him from certain death with the blessing. One use only. Then the hero slays the cursed one and we’re all saved.”
“Almost,” Deovar said. “So Hallav, ready to get in mortal peril?” He frowned. Suddenly it didn’t sound so good anymore.
“I am, for the people,” Hallav said. “Always been.”
Deovar nodded, slowly, and pointed to his uniform. “You people aren’t all bad, are you?”
The night air barely differed from the one at daytime, hot and thick and stifling and not giving them any break to speak of. The others had gone to bed, while they were out here staring at the sky and getting headaches from the heat and Sevnvik’s Sun Brand. The good stuff. Grizir passed the bottle back to him, and Deovar took a swig. The glasses had fallen over in the dirt sometime earlier and been forgotten. The plans were all hashed out, so were the opinions, and so all that was left was this. Deovar smiled at the sky and the Elected. Not half bad.
The mansion’s alarms were shrieking all around them.
Miafa swung around to Hallav. “I thought you know what you’re doing!”
“I thought so, too!” He ran down the corridor. “We have to hurry. Bidrar should be up there. Grizir, I’ll need you.”
“Sooner than expected.” Steps approached rapidly, then a door in front of them opened. “Fuck. Run!” Grizir yelled at Hallav. “Do it, nevermind the prophecy.”
Hallav nodded and turned around a bend in the hallway.
Moments later, they were surrounded.
When Hallav returned to the others, blood dripping down from his brow, the guards had gone down, and Miafa was standing in the front door. Relief washed over him. Taking criminals along had been the right idea after all. But then, what was he?
Miafa turned to him. “Is he dead?”
“He is. Do you feel uncursed yet?”
“Thought as much.”
“We have a problem.” She stepped aside and gave way to the doorstep outside, where Deovar was lying on the ground motionless. That was a shame.
“Is he dead?”
“We don’t know. Grizir’s trying to phone in help.”
“So much for getting out of here unknown.”
She smiled, then the smile faltered and died. “Don’t think it matters anymore.”
As Hallav stepped closer, Grizir came into view, tossing the phone into the grass. “Didn’t work, did it?” the Elected asked. His voice was unsteady.
“Don’t think so.”
“Thought so.” Grizir bit down on his lip. “Oh for fuck’s sake.” He dropped to his knees and slammed the palm of his hand on Deovar’s forehead. “Come back already.”
A glow emanated from his hand and surrounded them both.
Finally, Deovar’s eyes blinked open. He turned to his side coughing, then looked up at Grizir.
“Good,” Grizir said. “There’s no one left to kill, and we blew it, so just… stay around.”
Deovar broke into a grin, then winced in pain. “Can do.”
Miafa picked up the phone from the grass and tossed it at Hallav. It was wet.
He did the only thing he could think of and called up his department.
“Yeah. Hallav here. We’re at Bidrar’s mansion. Got a situation here. Come pick us up before the state forces do. And you’ll want to prepare an Election.”