Eden’s End: Illusionary Birth
by J. H. Zech
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Project Eden’s End will save humanity, or so the leaders at The Organization had told Keuvei Lansforun. Instead, he had been sitting in a clunky old bus for four hours, his back and shoulders aching. He had imagined embarking on a heroic adventure to exorcise evil spirits, making friends along the way.
Far from a great adventure, he was journeying to investigate a disappearance in some remote village in the Republic of Radiant Dawn, or East Radiaurora as its citizens called it. And he was alone. No one from this country was riding this bus line, let alone foreigners like himself. At least there was the bus driver, but his reflection in the mirror at the front of the bus returned nothing but a deadpan look ahead.
Finally, the bus ground to a halt at the last stop. The doors in the middle and front of the bus swung open. The driver hopped out the front and had already lit a cigarette by the time he landed. Keuvei slung a backpack over his shoulders, his green T-shirt drenched with sweat, and stepped down onto the dirt road.
The town was up ahead but the only things near him were a wooden shelter and a faded bus sign. He raised his hand overhead to block the intense glare of the summer sun. The driver was smoking at the shelter bench without a word; only the cries of cicadas from the forest surrounding the road filled the silence.
Earning money to support the cause is a noble duty. At least, the treasurer had said so to coax him into this mission. Still, even if there was money to be made, Keuvei had his doubts that it would be found in a town like this.
He walked ahead toward the town, passing a sign reading “Welcome to Somira Village!” in Radiauroran. A few minutes later, he had arrived in the town proper; a two-story apartment and a convenience store complete with an “OPEN” neon sign, giving him sure evidence of civilization.
Keuvei looked at the map on his phone. He was relieved that his phone had a signal this far out into the sticks, a testament to the modernity of this once-ancient nation on the eastern peninsula of the continent. The client lived in a house on a hill. He looked up and spotted a large complex with black shingling on the roofs of the walls surrounding it. Wooden steps led up the small hill upon which the Radiauroran-style mansion was perched.
He walked toward the hill, passing by numerous houses, some built in the pentagonal Western style with glass windows, and others in the Radiauroran style with papered walls and trapezoidal roofs.
Finding no doorbell when he arrived at the door, he grabbed the black circular handle attached and knocked it against the door. A middle-aged man in a suit answered, his shoulders broad and his height a head taller than Keuvei’s. His imposing presence might as well have been another door. He looked Keuvei up and down, no doubt noticing his combed blond hair and blue eyes.
“You must be the exorcist,” he said in Britannian, with only a slight accent.
“Indeed, I am,” Keuvei said, a surprised look on his face, as few Radiaurorans spoke Britannian. “I can also speak in Radiauroran if your client feels more comfortable that way.”
“That would be a big help. I can see why you were sent. Right this way, mister—”
The butler had Keuvei take his shoes off and follow him across a wooden tiled walkway. He stopped at a door with a wooden grid frame and white papering filling the gaps. The butler kneeled and sat on his legs. “Mr. Gim, the exorcist Mr. Keuvei Lansforun is here.”
“Let him in,” Mr. Gim said from inside the room.
The butler slid the door open and motioned Keuvei in.
Inside, a balding man in a polo shirt and slacks sat on a mat cross-legged at a low table. The floor was made of a polished yellow wood, and a large ink painting with folds like an accordion stood behind him. “Please have a seat,” Mr. Gim said.
Keuvei sat, mimicking Mr. Gim’s stance. He glanced around, unsure what to do. Usually the situation would provide an obvious set of manners, but the combination of an old Radiauroran house, a Western-style butler, and modern comfort clothes on the owner gave him a very mixed impression.
The butler soon returned carrying a tray with tea and cookies. He set the plate of cookies in the center and poured each man a cup of tea. He then promptly left and slid the door closed.
“Welcome to Somira Village, Mr. Lansforun. I’m Mayor Huban Gim.”
“Keuvei is fine. Thank you for the reception. If I may be blunt, I’d like to hear further details about your request.”
Mayor Gim took a sip of the steaming hot tea and set the cup down with a clatter. “The first incident happened about six months ago. A woman disappeared from this village without a trace. The police couldn’t even find a body.”
“The first incident? So, there are others?”
“Yes. Every month after that, one person would vanish in the same way. Our village’s population numbers in the hundreds. We can count the number of tourists on one hand. Even one person disappearing is a big deal. Everyone knows each other, too. There’s no way someone could just vanish without anyone else knowing what happened.”
“You don’t suspect outsiders? You said there are some tourists.”
“If the same tourist showed up every month around the time of the disappearances, then sure. But no tourist has ever shown up twice. In fact, it’s rather depressing when they leave bad reviews on the Net. For this to be the work of outsiders, individual tourists would have to be victimizing exactly one person per month. Even a tabloid couldn’t make up a story like that.”
Keuvei had a sip of tea, burning the tip of his tongue. He winced and tried to smooth it over with a cookie. “I see. That’s a troubling predicament. But why did you hire an exorcist and not contact the police?”
Mayor Gim leaned forward. “There’s a nasty rumor going around. People say the ones who went missing were spirited away.”
“You mean kidnapped by a ghost? What’s the source of these rumors or, rather, why did you think it was more credible than the explanation that a human is behind this?”
“There’s a legend in this village that goes all the way back to the Three Kingdoms era. Once, there was a goddess named Suni who brought great harvests to the people here. The village prospered for many generations under her guidance. But then a drought and a famine came. People stopped worshipping her and turned against her, believing that she was the cause of their suffering.”
So far, it was a rather traditional earth-goddess story, a dime a dozen among cultures. The part about people losing faith came as no surprise either. Even worship was often self-serving.
The mayor continued, “They grabbed their pitchforks and axes and went to threaten her to bring back the rains or die. She cried, not for her own misfortune, but for the people’s hearts. She was not an all-powerful goddess, and she couldn’t prevent the famine. Suni was sad that the people had betrayed her, but she had chosen to bring prosperity to them knowing the nature of humans from the start.
“Even though the villagers had surrounded her, she continued crying but neither begging for mercy nor rebuking them. Eventually her tears formed a lake. Having used up the last of her power to create the lake, she drowned herself, as she knew she didn’t have a place among humans anymore. Being a goddess’s tears, the water was not salty. The villagers used that water to survive the drought, and that’s why our lake is named Suni Lake.”
Keuvei crossed his arms. “That’s a fascinating tale, but I’m not sure what this has to do with the disappearances.”
“Suni was saddened that she had been betrayed but chose to protect the village even after her life. She warned the villagers to at least not betray each other. She said that she would take away anyone who betrayed the village to the other side.”
“Then, are you suggesting the people who disappeared had betrayed the village?” A goddess spiriting people away was not impossible but highly unusual. Usually ghosts did things like that. Divine beings gave divine punishments.
“I suppose many people view it that way. Each of the people who have disappeared was despised by the village in some way.”
Keuvei needed more information. “These incidents started only six months ago. The Three Kingdoms era of Radiaurora stretches back almost two millennia. Surely people had been hated by the villagers before. How many people have gone missing so far?”
“Five. June is half over, so I expect we’re due for our sixth one soon, though I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Mayor Gim slid a piece of notepad paper across the table. “This is a list of all the people who’ve gone missing so far, and their addresses and phone numbers of their family members. If you have any questions, I’ve put my number on there, too.”
“Thank you, I’ll begin immediately.” Keuvei paused. “One last thing. Has anyone ever seen Suni?”
“Mrs. Ou claimed she saw a glowing woman by the lake one night, but other than that, no. She’s one of the people on the list, the mother of one of the disappeared persons.”
Keuvei had decided upon his first person to interview. In his business, an unprovable claim by one person was about as good as it got for leads. He and Mayor Gim stood up and shook hands. The butler came by and escorted Keuvei to the front gate, once again passing over the wooden walkway surrounding the tranquil lotus pond in the center of the rectangular complex.
“I wish you luck, Mr. Lansforun.”
* * *
Copyright © 2019 by J. H. Zech