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supernal

The Odd Couple

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You?ve got to stop trying to rush things. Take a seat, lean back, and let the tides of life wash over you; the more you try to fight the ocean, the angrier it becomes. Sooner or later, you?ll find yourself too far to swim back.

?Sir??

Eyes shot open almost immediately as the sound shattered against the shores of his mind. His consciousness was quick to adapt to the surroundings and, suddenly, the ?intruder? became clear in his mind; iridescent ribbons framed him.

?Wake our guest. We don?t want to waste too much sunlight; the work will be that much more difficult in the dark.?

The young apprentice bowed and left without a word, disappearing within the confines of the temple, leaving Odin merely sitting on a nondescript mound of dirt.

A slight sigh was heaved, his body rising with the expulsion of breath, and hands came to rest cordially behind him, palm of each limb grasping the wrist of the opposing. His countenance, masked from view and all things the world had to offer, stared out to the horizon?where the very first rays of the sun began to shed their golden light on the land.

Behind him lay the temple, modestly built but seeming giant in comparison to the man that stood at the base of its steps.

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?It?s time for you to work.? When he didn?t respond, the speaker?s hands grasped one shoulder, shaking him into unwelcome consciousness.

Just when it felt as though he might get some sleep, someone found fit to wake him. Every part of Solar stiffened, the typical Arcantian reaction to unexpected physical contact, causing the mangled muscles in his back to cramp in protect. His ill-tempered mood immediately heated to dangerously high degrees. In one motion he rolled over and sat up, swinging out one arm in an effort to knock the priest off his feet.

?Don?t touch me, you bastard!? he yelled, incensed further as the priest ducked under the strike. The robed man backed up a few steps, looking only slightly perturbed.

?Master Odin Haze is waiting to give you your chores for today,? the priest told him. Solar?s only response was disgusted roll of the eyes. It was bad enough he had to sleep in a dust-colored hell hole, even worse that he had to tolerate people who didn?t know how to keep their hands to themselves. Working for a crazy rock-hugging lunatic was even worse. Yes, life was hell, and the gods were laughing.

Frowning at his lack of cordiality, the priest turned and finally left him alone. Scowling, Solar slid off the bed, grimacing as his back complained. Lying down was a trial; it felt like icy hammers continuously pounding against one?s spine. Standing up was the same thing, only it felt as though your back weighed ten times more than it should. Still, he refused any healing other than wrapping bandages around it to prevent his white clothes from being further stained. Healing was for weaklings.

Ignoring the pain as best he could he walked through the temple, so different and plainer than the grand temples of Altus Arcantium, raking his hands through his disheveled hair. All too soon, he found himself out in glaring sunlight, the poor radiation of his white garments already making him hot.

And there was his slavedriver. Punishing his body by taking quick, hard strides, he glared at Odin from ten feet away, his idea of a suitable distance.

?What the fuck do you want now?? He clenched his teeth, and gritted out the last word. "... Sir."

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The sun had risen slightly higher in its cobalt perch; still present in the incipience of morning, the light shone on them gently, exempt of the heat that a couple of horse progression promised. He had been breathing free and easy, no concerns or worries seemed to weigh on his shoulders; this mien about him did not change, did not falter, even when his ill-tempered charge came about.

Without turning to look at him, Odin spoke.

?You?re somewhat predictable; I hope you know this. It?s astounding that you?ve gone around being as loud and flamboyant as you?ve been all through your life without having to answer to the hand of anyone. If you?re the best that the Arcantians have to offer, I don?t see much in your future. I should teach you to fight.?

He turned lightly, the vizier gleaming with a nearly imperceptible displeasure.

Away his visage glanced, back to the sky.

?We?re going to the mountains today. If you?re hungry, I suggest you eat something now lest you feel like hunting later in the day. And you may want to pack warm.?

And there he waited, either for a sign of confirmation of or deliberation, he merely waited; he didn?t move, seemingly statuesque against backdrop of blue and brown, of earth and sky.

Solar might notice, should he look down at all, a slight delineation at his feet?almost as if someone, at some point in time, might have predicted where the man would stop.

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Who the hell does he think he is? Oh, oh, that?s right. A saint. Silly me.

Solar?s eyes flared with ever-increasing anger, watching the stalwart back of Gaia?s priest. He didn?t know a goddamn thing. It was true he had once been a leader, but only the Fifth Leader, forced to answer to four others who made it known they did not like him, and, denied the satisfaction of his execution, were more than pleased to dismiss him. At his sides his fists clenched. Despite their offer he doubted he would ever be welcome back among them.

?I know how to fight!? Solar snapped. Now he?s making me go hiking? Inwardly he winced at the thought of walking uphill. He must be enjoying this. What the hell is wrong with him? This is humiliating... I wish they had killed me.

Exhaling harshly, he crossed his arms and was about to grudgingly take Odin?s advice of eating something and packing warm, but stopped before he took a step, abruptly remembering other details of his punishment - imprisonement, as he saw it. His fingers dug into the flesh of his arms as he looked at the ground. His eyes narrowed as he warily noticed the line. Trying not to draw conclusions, he said,

?I don?t need to eat and unless you?ve got something in all white, I?ve no reason to pack anything? so mind your own business. You act like I've never gone outdoors before. My peo-" he choked off the word. "Arcantians live their lives outdoors. So just shut up.?

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?I know how to fight.?

?Could have fooled me.?

What was Odin?s plan? Did he have some deeper reasoning, some ultimate conclusion that was beyond the perception of others? Or was it that?for some odd reason, Odin merely liked angering Solar? This would not be unjustified reason; Solar had tortured him and might have killed him outright were it not for Martin?s intervention and the help of a stranger with the power to heal.

He had yet to turn around to address Solar.

?Well, if your interested in all white food, you should think about eating cauliflower. It?s good for you. Besides, it?s not like I haven?t been to Arcantian lands. Living outside doesn?t mean that your used to the temperatures of the mountains. But, you?ve made your bed then, let?s get moving.?

And with so simple a phrase, he began the trek. Ahead of them, looming far off into the distance, once could see the snow cap tops of the mountains; the trek there was no meager distance, and it was not straight. They seemed to have to travel through a section of the village, hop a stream, and find their way through a forest before they would arrive at their destination.

And then, of course, they?d have to face whatever challenges awaited them on the mountain range.

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?You?? Furious, only the threat of a death sentence kept Solar from flying at Odin. How dare this man taunt him with such insolence? The words concerning the holy color of white enraged him further, and he struggled to remain outwardly calm. Inwardly, he seethed.

?Being in Arcantian lands means nothing. You have no right to say anything unless you?ve lived among them!? I hope this stupid priest trips on a rock and breaks his neck.

Scarcely able to stand the sight of Odin?s back, he nevertheless followed the Saint, wincing with every step. He glanced up to see the white caps of the mountains. What Odin said was partially true; he had never been high up into the mountains. In fact, the most he had seen was their grand shapes against the horizon. As such, he had no idea what to expect, save for the worse.

For what was possibly the tenth time already that day, Solar considered killing Odin, judging the weight of consequence against that of pleasure. Then he remembered the glowing eyes of his head prosecutor. Fuck it. I hope some monster rips the head off this damn priest. I should?ve killed him when I had the chance!

Five more days and I can leave, he reassured himself. He settled down to walking and envisioning rather awful things happening to his slavedriver, many of which involved bloody scenes that would likely make any soul blanch.

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The sense of animosity that flooded behind him, in almost noxious amounts, was consequently ignored; he needn?t give Solar the satisfaction of knowing that his mood was irritating him in some fashion. As long as Odin kept about his statuesque ambience, then Solar would be kept guessing; for someone who had just descended from a seat of power, not having all the answers that he desired must have been quite the ordeal.

Soon enough, their trek took them along a winding path that settled just on the outskirts of town; Odin?s prestige seemed to follow him. It should come as no surprise ? majority of the population of these lands followed Gaianism, and Odin nearly embodied every principle of the religion.

At first, his entrance into the village had gone unheeded; moments later, not more than 15 minutes, a crowd had surrounded him. Smiles were abundant, as was laugher and children frolicking around. For no reason at all, some of them joined Odin for a small walk, asking some ideas of Gaianism and personal interpretation of various statutes. Others asked Odin for his opinion of secular things, and he did not deny them his view.

Two children, nondescript save for the bright, joyous eyes that nearly shone with glee, approached Solar. A boy and a girl.

The boy, being the braver of the two, spoke first. He couldn?t have been more than 8 years old.

?Hey mister! Are you an appwentice too??

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Sickening. There were no other words to describe the pathetic crowd of people. That they treated Odin Haze like a god was bad enough; that he seemed to condone their reverence was even worse. It brought back memories of how he had so successfully converted Crimson Night, and restraining any violent actions became even more of a challenge.

Although the crowd was not overwhelming, it was still stifling for him, and he attempted to stay away from the obnoxious, ignorant people.  This day was simply getting progressively worse. Everything irritated him; the village, the people, the road, the absurd attention Odin was getting, like he was some kind of pure godly entity descended from on high.

He might act all gracious and prissy but if they really knew?

?Are you an appwentice too?? Solar blinked and only then noticed the two children, looking just about as idiotically happy as everyone else.

He recalled Arcantian children and his thoughts darkened as he thought about the striking contrast between his culture and this. Everything was different, and he despised it. At home, children ran from him. It was his first encounter with children completely ignorant of the dark vibe his people claimed he had. What was their ignorance called?

Innocence. They don?t know how lucky they are! He wanted to kick  them aside, and would have if he felt Odin wouldn?t bark like a dog at him.

?Oh, of course I?m an ?appwentice? to that wonderful god of yours,? he spat, with venomous sarcasm. His dark eyes narrowed, glaring down at the impudent kids. ?Get out of my way before I beat the shit out of both of you!?

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As Solar continued to walk, the children made it a point to stay ahead of him, but maintained contact by simple backpedaling. They?re heads canted, curiously, opposite each other; the boy?s head to the right and the girl?s head to the left.

It was the girl that spoke this time, her timidity gradually melting away. They both stopped, as if they were transfixed by a most curious site.

?You?re wying.?

She seemed to have more trouble speaking than her male counterpart; it made her all the more adorable.

?You now how I know mister? ?Cause Odeen isn?t a god, like you said. He?s a man, and that?s all he is. Like me!?

?And like me!?

The boy stepped in; he could tell that, although she seemed to have a basic grasp of the concept, the girl had a bit of trouble wrapping her mind fully around the concept. There was no doubt about it though, the child was well educated.

?Odin?s never claimed to be more than a man, and that?s all he is to us. Three weeks ago, he spent 3 days helping to fix our house after the tree fell on it.?

By now, the small congregation that had swarmed around Odin was a short distance away; while still in sight, they seemed to steadily be slipping out of perception.

The two children skipped away?but did not seem compelled to travel very far. When they had increased their distance from Solar by an additional 10 feet, they turned around with the type of smiles staining their cherubic faces that only children that were free of the weight of life could manage.

?Mister! You challenged us.?

The girl called out.

The boy continued.

?It?s our right to defend ourselves, you know.?

And they moved like one.

Each reflected the actions of the other almost identically; where a right hand moved, so did a left extend. The ground beneath, and in front, of them shook and then shot forward ? two spires aimed to impale Solar. Definitely not the most menacing attack, but one of surprising efficiency for their age.

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Although he tried his best, it was becoming impossible to ignore the children. He?d dealt with rabid dogs that were more respectful. Their words did not quite phase him ? the most reaction he gave was another eye-rolling glare.

So he helped fix a house. Big fuckin? deal. Man or god, there is no difference, you worship him like one anyway.

He attempted to suppress the urge to grab them by the throat as they followed him. It was amazing how the antics of such small mice could become such a huge annoyance. When they moved away and turned again, he knew they were up to a greater deal of trouble ? their smiles, angelic as it was, still held that too-innocent devilry within.

The little demons proved to be so once they attempted to spear him.

?FUCKING BRATS!? he yelled. Trained reflexes flared inside him, and he lunged to one side. The spikes touched only air. He rolled to his feet, shunning the complaints in his back and immediately tried to summon the Lights, all patience gone.

I will fuck them up so bad?

His teeth clenched; he hissed in pain as the burn in his right arm restrained his magic, the scabs and scar tissue feeling as though it were cracking open. A faint, warm wetness seeped into the white of his clothes. In this condition, even children were more powerful than him. Oh, the shame.

GODDAMMIT! Did Haze plan this too?! Who does he think he is? Oh! That?s right! A Saint! A FUCKING SAINT! First my cousin, then my position, and now whatever?s left of my dignity! HE COULDN?T EVEN LEAVE MY DAMNED CLOTHES ALONE!

Life was so unfair.

He flung his arms out, making himself even more of a target. ?Come on you stupid brats!? he yelled, his voice almost cracking in his anger. ?Go on and DEFEND yourselves!?

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The children, having lost all sense of delight and amusement, had adopted a countenance of severe austerity; they were more akin to miniature warriors than they were children. The boy and girl duo seemed unsurprised as Solar dodged their technique, as if they had been expecting it; more so, as if they were merely testing the limits of their target.

When offered to end Solar?s life, they did not need any further urging; no sooner had the words fell from his lips than the boy and girl slid along the ground to their right. It was a magnificent dance, gliding along the terra as if they were on ice; the ground shook and rippled from their bodies as their hands rose, fists clenched and ready to descend their prowess on their aggressor.

Then it was as if they a sudden dawn of realization broke upon them; the children let their hands fall to their sides lackadaisically and merely watched Solar. Then, like a burst of emotion, the glee returned to their faces, tinged heavily with curiosity.

?As far as I can tell, mister, we already have.?

?You?re odd mister! I?ve never seen someone so?um?so?um??

?Ready to die??

Behind the children, with such a statuesque mien that he seemed to reach into the stratosphere, stood Odin. He slid between them, hands ruffling their hair in an amiable way, before gently steering them back towards the crowd with gentle nudges on their backs.

?Go along then, your mother and father are waiting for you.?

A few smiles flashed and giggles given before the children galloped away.

?They?re good children.?

Yet again, Odin?s back was turned to Solar; he didn?t seem worried about an impromptu attack, no matter how many buttons were pushed.

?A little misguided in some of the principles, but they?re quick and eager learners. Hope they didn?t cause you too much trouble.?

A pause; the wind whipped around the two of them freely.

?We?ll have to take a little rain check on our journey. A family is expecting, and I?ve promised to build them a crib. A roof somewhere else in town needs thatching too. What are you going to eat if we have nothing white??

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Solar was almost disappointed, and no less incensed, when Odin arrived yet again to ruin his plans. Did he always have to butt in? Apparently so. He shot a burning glare first at the kids, then at Haze, a glare that landed only on an impenetrable back. He was getting sick of that unchanging view of his slavedriver.

He didn?t answer Odin?s ridiculous comment, though his thoughts were far from silent. Oh no, no trouble at all. They just tried to KILL me, is all. No big deal.

When Odin explained about the ?rain check?, Solar was no less than incredulous. ?Do you think you?re some kind of charitable father-figure to all these people?? he scoffed. Sarcasm dripped into his voice, leaking between every crack of every word. ?Are you their leader or their slave? Get them to take care of themselves. Your altruism is disgusting!? He practically spat out his words, not bothering to temper his aversion. ?Building them a crib. Get them to build one themselves. Thatching a roof? Bullshit.?

There was no doubt about it; something was seriously wrong with Odin?s mentality, if not the mentality of every non-Arcantian. And old saying increased his abhorrence toward Odin?s seemingly unlimited charity: Give him something, and he relies on you. Teach him something, and he relies on himself. To Solar, that was a universal law, and anyone who couldn?t get that far was weak and probably stupid.

This whole situation was stupid.

?Shut up about the white thing,? he snapped. ?It has nothing to do with food, or are you a retard? You have no right to talk about it! I was forced to follow you around, not to listen to you insult my god's color! And I don?t need to eat. So?. shut the fuck up!?

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?Hm??

He finally turned to face his charge, his captive; that unbending mask stole away any sense of curiosity, aggravation, or even patience and his tone was far too neutral to guess. He was mere a blank template; one could impress whatever images they wished, but it was impossible to draw one from empty man.

?Of course I don?t. It?d be selfish and arrogant of me to view myself as their benefactor. I?m not their leader, king, boss, chief or any other word that you?d like to use. On the holy days, I?m their priest; on any other, I?m just their friend. What kind of friend would I be if I didn?t help out every now and then??

Chest heaved a sigh; one could almost imagine his hand moving up to pinch the bridge of his nose in irritation?but he didn?t. He merely allowed those vapid eyes to continue boring the distance between them.

?The mother is pregnant, and has never really been good with her hands. The father works. The couple that live in the broken roof are old and would probably kill themselves in trying to fix it themselves. I have the time and skill, there?s no reason for me not to help.

?

?Your anger, your impatience, and your greedy, self-indulgent, narrow-minded ways astound me. You?re trying my patience Solar. You?re lucky that you?ve yet to show yourself as a threat to the villagers, or I?d be forced to speak the only language you seem to understand; pain?

His tone of voice was startlingly unconcerned; aloof, nonchalant, but with that unmistakable edge of promise.

?Go on then. Hunt your meat to eat and fetch your water to drink. When you?re done with that, head back to the temple and build your own bed to sleep on, make and wrap your own bandages as well. Live by the way you speak or prove yourself nothing more than a whiny child who can?t see the forest for the trees.?

And still, he remained detached, standing unwaveringly.

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The conditions of the people in need did nothing to stem sympathy from Solar. Whether or not he actually accepted the fact that help was justified was not shown in his stiff expression. He neither said nothing nor moved during the pause, but simply waited for Odin to finish spewing out more righteous words. Some people never knew when to shut up.

?Your anger, your impatience, and your greedy, self-indulgent ??

Okay, enough, I get it.

?? or I?d be forced to speak the only language you seem to understand; pain.?

Pain?

He waited till Odin was done with his lecture, realizing that even this madman had a limit in patience. He was unsure whether to feel satisfied in such an accomplishment of pushing one close the line, or to feel that he probably had made a mistake.

Pain.

If it was possible for his expression to get any darker, this was it; he glowered at Odin, recalling the foggy image of what the man?s face looked like beyond the mask. The memory made him angry, even more so than ever. It wasn?t the kind of loud, raucous anger but the quiet, simmering, seething type that built up until it exploded from the inside, and right now, there just wasn?t enough yet for that kind of explosion.

He took one step to the side and then forward, walking past Odin. ?Fine,? he said. ?Have fun with your people. You?ve given enough pain,? he muttered. A few quick strides, and he was already far down the road, glancing up at the mountain peaks and steadily making his way there through the fairly simply roads of the village. Stupid priest. I hope he falls and breaks his back.

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Odin watched, with no marked difference of apathy, as Solar side-stepped him and made his way towards the mountain range. In Solar?s current state, it?d be unlikely that he would make it through the forest, and nothing short of a miracle if he could touch the mountain summit alive.

When Solar had reached the point where spoken words would sound distant, something akin to whispers but more audible, Odin felt the need to articulate his thoughts.

?The forest that leads to the mountain isn?t ordinary. You?ll be tested, in more ways than one, and you would have been lucky to make it through alive when your powers were at their prime. Now? You?ll die. And if you die?when you die. Who?ll be left to find Crimson??

It was a risky subject to touch upon, there was no doubt about it, but it was that controversial nature that Odin dearly hoped would pass through Solar?s arrogance and reach him, somehow. If not the thought of saving the very man who had pushed him to everything that had transpired, those atrocities, then there was nothing left that could change him.

There was little question that Odin would be met with anger?but if the wrath of other?s wasn?t something that Odin was accustomed to, something that he had learned to deal with on countless occasions then?well, then he wouldn?t have made a very good priest at all.

Odin turned to walk away, the edges of his robes lifting with the sudden shift in movement. He?d let his words weigh on Solar?s mind, regardless of whether or not the man actually stopped to think things through. Odin had other matters to attend to; he had committed himself to something and sought to uphold his word.

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