The captain entered the room, and walked to the cage. “Ah. Good. You’re awake. Come with me, Kaine.” He waved his hand, and the cage moved down to settle beside the altar. The iron latticework next to Kaine moved apart, forming a small opening. Kaine slipped through, and it closed behind him.
“Come, Kaine. Let’s get some fresh air and talk.” He waved his hand again, and the cage moved back into position above the altar. He gestured for Kaine to follow him, and then walked out of the room. Kaine looked at his companions, shrugged his shoulders, and followed the captain out of the room. Two guards followed from a short distance as they made their way up to the deck. The reflection of the full moon danced on the waves alongside the ship. The captain led him to the front of the ship, and stopped near the railing on the port side.
“Isn’t it beautiful, Kaine?”
“I wouldn’t think someone like you could appreciate beauty, Terrapin. I thought you people wanted to burn it all to hell,” said Kaine.
“Sadly, that’s what most people think. So they hunt us down, torture us, kill us. All in the name of their gods.” Captain Terrapin spat as he said that last word, unable to contain his hatred.
“That’s what happens when you want to destroy everything,” said Kaine.
“But that’s just it. We don’t want to destroy everything, Kaine. We love our world, and we only want it to be a safe, comfortable home for everyone.”
“Bullshit. If that’s really true, then why does your god cause so much destruction? Wars. Murder. Rape.”
“Exterminis doesn’t do that. People do. All that evil you just mentioned? That comes from the hearts of people, not Exterminis.”
Kaine looked stunned for a moment, then decided to drop it and change direction. “What about earthquakes, volcanoes, and stuff like that? None of that comes from the ‘hearts of people.”
“Exterminis is a convenient scapegoat, isn’t he? Ahto throws a temper tantrum, and a hurricane drowns some coastal town. People blame Exterminis. Kaleda gets drunk and drops his axe, and people blame Exterminis. Hunting is no good? Blame Exterminis. Never mind that Artemis is in charge of all the animals. Maybe she kept too many for her own hunts? Hell…even Asera gets in on the action. Baby dies in childbirth? Must be Exterminis. Isn’t it convenient how they blame everything on Exterminis, even though they keep him locked up?
“No, Kaine. It’s not Exterminis. The gods of our world are petty and malicious. They pour misery and misfortune on our heads, and then expect us to sing their praises. They steal our lives, hour by hour, year by year, and demand gratitude and tithes in return.
“They built this world, Kaine. They could have made it a paradise. Instead, they have given us a world with pain and suffering. Grief at every turn. Men march off to endless war, and women die in childbirth. Plagues spread across the land, and our cities crumble into ruin. Death…disease…decay…wars…natural disasters. This world is a pit of hell, and the gods keep us in it.”
“That’s not true,” Kaine replied. “I’ve read the holy books, and I know the stories.”
“You know one side of the stories. There are three sides to every story: the winner’s, the loser’s, and the spectator’s. Do you know which side holds the truth, Kaine? The spectator’s. The winners are too busy gloating, and the losers are too busy crying. Only the spectators know the truth.”
“If the losers don’t know the truth, why do you believe Exterminis?” Kaine asked.
“Exterminis isn’t the loser, Kaine. He’s the spectator. We’re the losers.”
“He’s the one in prison. Not us.”
“This world is our prison, and the gods are our jailers. Exterminis wants to set us free.”
“Free as long as we serve him. Seems to me that one warden is just as bad as nine others.”
“Not so, Kaine. He needs us. He can’t do it without us. Once we set him free, he will elevate us to godhood. We will all be equals in the new world. We will help him create the new world, and we will walk it with him…as equals.”
“That’s what he told you, and you believed him?”
“I have foreseen it, Kaine. I have seen us walking with him in paradise. You will see it, too, when we have your conversion ceremony.”
In silence, they walked back to the altar room, and Kaine stepped into the prison sphere.
The captain and his guards left the room, and less than a minute later, Smedley entered. Kaine motioned him over, and filled him in on the plan.
“Can your boys do your part?” Kaine asked.
Instead of answering, Smedley asked, “He was going to feed our souls to one of the Nine?”
Sophia answered, “Yes. That’s what they do.”
“Fuck me,” said Smedley.
“Do all men think about fucking when faced with immediate death?” asked Nightshade.
“Yes,” said Sophia, with more than a touch of irritation. “That’s all they ever think about.”
Smedley cracked a smile, and looked like he was about to deliver one of his witty replies, but turned dead serious in an instant. “The Captain is on his way back. I’ve got to go. We’ll be ready to do our part, you five just do yours.” In an instant, he was gone. He didn’t fade, he didn’t disappear behind a cloud of smoke, he didn’t make any sound or movement at all. He just blinked out of existence. Three heartbeats later, the Captain entered the room.