‘Hey! Don’t look up, you’ll get caught by the gods!’
The teenage girl who had just come out from the tunnel saw what the boy was doing. She panicked and pressed his head down a bit roughly.
‘”Ah! It hurts, big sis Jade!’
‘Roger, how many times have I told you before? It’s very dangerous above ground! Didn’t you just promise that you won’t cause any trouble? Don’t make me tell your mum, alright?’
‘Sorry… But I was just a little curious…’
‘No good,’ The teenage girl, Jade, sighed. ‘In the past, we offended the gods, which is why all of us now hide underground. It’s a great taboo to peek at the sky out of curiosity.’
Roger lowered his head and dared not to look anywhere above himself.
‘Good boy.’ Jade showed a merciful smile and patted Roger’s head. ‘Let’s quickly move the lightstones outside. Don’t stay out there for too long, aunt’s worried about you.’
Roger nodded and joined Jade in pulling the three trolleys connected in a line out of the tunnel.
On the trolleys were loads of lightstones enough to illuminate their underground village for three days. However, these stones had long since expended their energy and lacked their usual dazzling brilliance.
As they left the tunnel, the two were immediately enshrouded by a dense, glittering smog that moved along the air currents. Not only did the smog drastically lower the visibility above ground, it also contained substances that were hazardous to humans. When inhaled in large quantities, it would cause dizziness and nausea.
To avoid the gods from locating them, residents of underground villages were usually forbidden from leaving. However, it was Jade and Roger’s turn to transport and change the lightstones today. They had to exit the village through the tunnel and drag the trolleys to a vacant spot about a hundred metres away.
It was part of the village’s daily routine. Lightstones could absorb the harmful smog and convert it into light and fresh air. As such, for the two decades that mankind had been living underground in order to hide from the gods, lightstone had always been an irreplaceable item.
It had also been a while since Jade last left the village. The verdant vegetation above ground eased her heart. Sometimes, when the breeze temporarily dissipated the smog, she would take in a deep breath and enjoy the scent of freshness and freedom. If not for the gods and the smog, she would really love to lay on the grassy field and take a nap.
‘Big sis Jade, do the gods actually like or hate us?’
Roger asked out of the blue.
‘Eh? Perhaps… They don’t really like us I guess? Why are you asking?’
‘Because everyone says the lightstones are gifts from the gods! But if that’s true, why did they also create this strange smog thing? And why do they have to lock us underground? Big sis Jade, I have always felt that it was strange.’
‘Mhm…Big sis hasn’t really thought about it,’ Jade hesitated for a short while because she was unsure how to answer him. ‘Roger, you’re a smart kid, maybe you can tell big sis the answer when you grow up.’
‘I think, if we can understand the gods, or maybe talk with them, can we also become friends with them? Will the gods chase away the smog?’
‘A world like that must be amazing. But… Maybe it’s a bit difficult.’
Roger’s pure and naive thoughts brought a bitter laugh to Jade’s face. It was because she knew what kind of existences the gods were and also understood that what the young boy had in mind was something impossible to achieve. Even so, she did not want to strike down the kid’s pure thoughts right away and leave him depressed.
‘That’s why I said if’! If!’
‘If that really happens one day, I’ll definitely…’
The two leisurely chattered as they walked, and they soon arrived at the place where the villagers always placed the lightstones.
Roger’s seemingly childish thoughts had an impact on Jade. It made her think, if the gods were really willing to communicate with them, what would she say? She gave it some thought, and came to the conclusion that she would probably outright yell at the gods for all the trouble they had caused.
In the end, this was just something she thought of on a whim. The gods descended on their own and completely changed the lifestyle of humans, not to mention the tragedies they caused time after time. Jade shook her head and dismissed the pointless thoughts.
It was at this moment she realised that there were two unnatural silhouettes within the dense smog ahead.
‘Strange, big sis Jade, why is someone already…’
Roger lowered the ropes in his hand and seemed like he wanted to have a closer look. However, Jade who realised that something was off seized his hand quickly and covered his mouth with her hand. She dragged him to the roadside and hid themselves.
Before leaving the village, Jade had checked the entry and exit logs. The only ones who were supposed to be away from the village were the two of them.
Although the unknown figures in the smog might be travelers, the chance of that was too low. She would rather act prudently in such a situation.
For a while, the smog had been too dense for Jade to clearly identify the unknown silhouettes. The thick smog dissipated slightly when a swift breeze blew past them.
That short period of time was enough for her to have a good look at the two figures. They bore wings on their backs, something humans did not have.
Jade gasped as her mind went blank.
This was the first time she had seen the gods with her very eyes.
The next second, an enormous explosion that shook the ground came from behind.
She turned to look at where the explosion took place, only to find that the short hill that had originally been the entrance to their village had been completely obliterated. The shockwave dissipated the smog, replacing it with filthy dust. Another shadow descended from above and entered the underground village from the recently created crater.
‘Big… big sis Jade…’
She let go of Roger as the two sat on the ground powerlessly, unable to believe the outrageous scene in front of them. That was until they heard heavy, eerie footsteps from behind.
Those footsteps almost robbed Jade of her breath. With courage that seemingly came from nowhere, she slowly turned to look back.
With two horns, six eyes, and an unnaturally large mouth, the uncanny appearance of the god made her feel nauseous. Unaware of Jade’s inner turmoil, it lifted up its arm and aimed at the two on the ground.
Azure light gathered at its palm; it was the terrifying power of magic that the ‘gods’ possessed.
Jade’s mind went blank upon seeing the mystifying light. She had even forgotten about the fact that she should be escaping instead of sitting there. Roger, who was younger than Jade, was more composed in this situation. He immediately got onto his feet and threw himself at Jade in a desperate attempt to move both their bodies out of the way of the incoming magic.
The glowing orb of blue swiftly struck the ground, sending the two flying through the air. They held onto each other tightly even as they crashed to the ground.
He spat out a mouthful of blood onto Jade, and his usually energetic eyes were now lacking vitality. It was at that moment she realised that the right half of his torso was missing.
Things that should have been within his body were falling out one after another.
‘It… It’s my fault… Shouldn’t look… look up to the sky…’
The boy’s torn up body remained motionless.
Struck with grief and nausea, tears uncontrollably flowed from her eyes.
Looking up to the sky would lead to the gods’ sanctions were no more than lies adults used to keep children in check. However, Jade no longer had the chance to explain that to Roger.
It hurts… This is too painful…
Jade could not tell if the pain was from her physical body or from the depths of her heart, or perhaps, both. Her body was also immobilised. She could feel something gradually seeping out of her body that was slowly turning cold.
Surrounded by chaotic noises, she could no longer make out what the sounds were.
Just as her consciousness was about to fade away, a shadow slowly approached her.
Jade knew; the ‘god’ was about to further rob her of her life despite the fact that she would have died soon anyways.
Can we also become friends with them?
Ironically, what Roger had said as they left the village now flashed through her mind.
She did not understand why she had to die here.
She did not understand why the gods had to kill humans.
At that moment, Jade recalled a memory from a few years ago, when a traveler visited their village. The person spoke of a sword that has the mysterious power to slay gods.
The sword, what was its name?
Jade’s vision finally turned dark.
She knew she was on her way to the other side. The only thing she could ask for now was for Roger to walk a bit slower so she could catch up with him. At the very least, he would not be lonely on his way to the final destination, and she could apologise to him for lying.
Just before her consciousness and ego dissipated completely, her barely functioning ears heard someone talking to her.
‘Even if it’s such a world, do you wish to live?’