Purple Silver

"Seriously, Jason," said Roland the following morning, once the trio had all awakened and convened in the living room, "why did you do that?"

"It was a great plan!" Jason insisted. "If it hadn't been for, well, what happened―"

"Reality came and foiled your plans." said Roland.

"Oh, c'mon! How was I supposed to have seen that coming, with the vampirism and all?" Silence. "My point exactly. Y'see, if I'd managed to convince them—and I almost did—we would've solved this mystery like that." He snapped his fingers. "Not to mention that it really wouldn't hurt to have forty cultists who'd put their lives on the line for me."

"It worked out better than I'd expected." said Roland. "Still, I do think it was rash of you to put yourself in unnecessary danger."

"I thought the possible benefits outweighed the costs." said Jason, shrugging. Then he recounted the matter of the phoenix. Once he was finished, he added "So now you'll believe me about the bloodbreast and the red rat, won't you?"

Roland took a deep breath and looked thoughtful for a few moments. "I don't know." he said finally.

"Curtis," said Jason, frustrated with his foster father, "what do you think?"

"What do I think?" said Curtis, his tone suggesting the question was alien to him.

"Yeah, what's your opinion? You seem to barely ever voice one, just sittin' there watching me and Roland go at each other, even when we speak in Common, but you must have one."

"Well… uh… I guess they're all omens. And the phoenix was divine aid."

"What?" said Jason, raising his eyebrows.

"Well, nobody else than a god could do all those things."

"A god! What god?"

The question was mostly sarcastic, but Curtis took it seriously. "Abon, I guess."


"Yeah, the god of adventure."

"Ah," said Roland, "Curtis is a polytheist. A Frotanist, to be specific. It's a Starving-Sea religion."

"Huh!" said Jason. "In this day and age. Well, Curtis, tell me about this, uh, Frotanistic deity."

"Frotanism isn't outdated just 'cause it's old." said Curtis. "Abon protects adventurers, people who get in trouble a lot. He helps adventurers get out of trouble."

"Indeed." said Jason. "I guess we qualify for his help, if anybody does. So you suppose Abon made that phoenix?"


"That doesn't explain the other two animals. Nor does it say anything about what in the world happened to Zadoc. Man, the way he acted, you'd think he really was possessed! Not to mention the vampirism."

"No, the bloodbreast and the rat were omens."

"Of what?"

"I dunno. Think about it. Or, maybe what they predicted didn't actually happen. The future isn't fixed."

Jason thought about the emotions he'd felt in the presence of each creature, and what those emotions might've been meant to foretell. The bloodbreast had caused dread. Had anything worth dreading happened afterwards? The Piercers were worth dreading, Jason supposed. Then, for the rat, there was the sense of impending solution to a mystery. He'd come a long way since then in solving the Piercer mystery, hadn't he? And the phoenix had brought happiness. Perhaps something really worth rejoicing about would happen in the near future—like an end to this stupid wild-goose chase.

So, yes, the omens could be stretched to fit the events. That didn't mean much to Jason, though. Such vague messages could be interpreted to have predicted nearly anything. And Jason was still agnostic. Thus, this explanation, though it might actually be true, was far from satisfactory.

"Maybe." he said after a while. "And the vampire?"

"A new spell." said Curtis.

"Roland, a penny for your thoughts."

"As we speak," said Roland, "the value of American currency is steadily converging on zero. If I lived on Earth, I'd take nothing but euro-cents. Anyway, I suppose I have to trust you about all those animals appearing, even the phoenix, inexplicable as such a beast is. However, I continue to hold that there's nothing magical about those feelings. Come to think of it, in light of the phoenix's particular emotional load, I think I might know the true source of those emotions."

"That being?" said Jason.

"Well…" Roland glanced at Curtis apprehensively. "Jason, it's no secret that you're approaching a pivotal point in your growth as a human being."

Jason thought for a moment, puzzled, then guessed "Puberty?"

"Precisely. Now, you've taken sexual-education classes in school; you know that in addition to the eponymous physical changes, there are a number of emotional changes."

"I don't see the connection. Spontaneous feelings felt in the presence of red-colored animals aren't among those changes, to my knowledge."

"Oh, yes, that's fairly unusual. But I was thinking about the emotion you felt in the presence of the firebird specifically. Perhaps I just got the wrong idea from your description, but it sounded to me like love, or some other kind of sexual feeling."

Jason made a face. "Are you saying I'm inclined to bestiality? I haven't hit puberty; I'm not even eleven yet!"

"Terran culture has misled you once again. I know that Hollywood portrays children as having their first crush at, oh, twelve at the earliest, but the fact of the matter is that in most cases, sexual attraction is the first outward sign of puberty. Ten is the most common age of first sexual attraction, so I'd have expected you to feel it at least once by now."

"I've never heard of anyone having a crush on a phoenix." Jason protested. "Besides, I wasn't attracted to it. I didn't actually feel a connection between it and the pleasure. Also, I felt that only while it was looking at me for the first time. The rest of the time it was there, including the moment it was standing right in front of me before it left, I was untouched. And is it a coincidence that this momentary crush should come about in such a way as to mirror what happened to me with the bloodbreast and the rat?"

"Jason, you're attempting to use logic to explain the behavior of these feelings. You must understand that your sexuality is still in its infancy. Your feelings will necessarily be chaotic and confused until you've settled a bit more comfortably into adulthood. Not to mention that, in any case, sexuality isn't bound by logic! It is infinitely plastic, ever-changing. Such transcendence of order and convention is the very source of its glory. I myself have had stranger experiences than falling in love with a phoenix!"

"I'd hoped to avoid ever having The Talk with you." said Jason. "Look, my 'sexuality' isn't the issue here. The issue is that a sort of animal none of us thought existed appeared out of nowhere and rescued us from certain death. And I experienced an intangible connection between this animal and two others that were colored red and appeared and disappeared in a similarly abrupt fashion. Obviously, something a lot weirder than puberty is going on here!"

"Don't underestimate puberty."

"Aw, c'mon! Don't you think your explanation is a little far-fetched?"

"Do you have a better one?" Roland countered, smiling slightly.

"No! And that's the thing that's driving me crazy! So many things happen with no explanation! There must be a satisfactory explanation for it all, there must be! Yes, I have no idea what it is. But I will not rest until I find it."

Roland shrugged. "Hopefully, everything will be cleared up for you in a year or so."

"Hopefully much sooner." said Jason. He glanced at Curtis, who was writing something on a little notepad.

"Quit looking at me like that, guys." Curtis said without pausing.

Jason looked away. "So, let's take a look at Zadoc's PDA and see if it has any clues for us."

Very conveniently, the device contained a journal that Zadoc had written to keep track of the cult's activities. The cult was six years old, so the journal was longish, but enlightening.

Zadoc, actually named Zadocus Fain, had founded the cult, and had always been its leader. It wasn't clear what the original motive for Thanatos's formation was. ("Insanity, I guess." said Jason. "Seems like all our villains-of-the-week are insane wizards.") Zadoc and friends seemed to believe that the god Thanatos (as well as, perhaps, some others) had always existed, and they'd just decided to serve him. Supposedly, the faithful would be rewarded, just as Jason had promised. The nature of such rewards wasn't made clear initially.

Zadoc knew that he and the rest of the cultists would be frowned upon by society in general if their worship was made known. So, they all swore vows of secrecy. They constructed that little outdoor temple in the desert, believing that such a setting was appropriate for worship of a death-god. And once in a while—say, every three or four Gregorian months—they would convene on that temple to sacrifice an animal or two and pray. They got no response. They were undeterred, believing that the god might help them in subtle ways, or that he was simply waiting for them to show enough faith.

Things changed rather abruptly one night in December 2000. Once the sacrifice had been made and most of the prayers recited, something extraordinary happened. Zadoc described it thus:

All of a sudden, the flames of the fire turned magenta and a voice came out of them, saying "Behold! Your great loyalty has earned my trust. From now until you at last see me in person, all of you shall be my servants. Serve me well and I shall reward you as only a deity of my stature can."

Thereafter, Thanatos apparently contacted the cultists at most meetings at the altar, and sometimes at other places and times, in one supernatural way or another—sometimes through disembodied voices, sometimes through possession, sometimes through writing that mysteriously appeared and disappeared. In each case, some shade of the color purple was involved.

Thanatos made a lot of requests, all of which the cultists duly fulfilled. The reasoning behind them wasn't always clear. He seemed to be attempting some kind of political engineering in Gyeeds. In particular, he tried hard to get an agent high up in the Gyeedian government; when his cultists' attempts to climb the political ladder failed, he got them to convert Keaton, already a close ally of Stanley, with bribery. The general goal of his missions, actually, seemed to be split between promoting pacifist and authoritarian interests. He had cultists become activists for disarming Gyeeds and reducing its exorbitant military budget, but he also supported Stanley, capital punishment, and government-funded health care. Finally, he seemed to be trying to create enmity between Gyeeds and verses that Gyeeds was traditionally friendly with.

Occasionally, the cultists would ask their god for help. Usually, Thanatos gave it in the form of advice. Sometimes, he would provide funding for the cultist's work or reward them for jobs well done: with a flash of purple light, a few ingots of pure silver would appear on the altar, worth enough in total to pad each cultist's bank account a substantial amount. Thanatos also promised that in due time he would grant Zadoc, and then other especially loyal cultists, "the Gift": vampirism. (Details of what becoming a vampire entailed were not given.) The cultists seemed to like the idea, though Jason didn't see the appeal.

Things got even weirder when Thanatos gave his servants a different kind of gift: a rough outline of a recipe for an alchemical creation. Can you guess what that creation was? Of course you can; if you've followed my story this far then you must have some brains. Well, Thanatos told Kevin specifically to give this proto-recipe to Jake, but not to tell the alchemist that it was by the cult's request. Kevin was also told to report on Jake's activities. When Jake sold some Piercers on the black market, Thanatos got the cultists to buy them, give them to some hired thugs, and send the thugs on what soon became known as the Raincatcher massacre. The god's motive for this, too, was unknown.

Finally, Thanatos had put special emphasis on the reelection of Stanley Ironbone. There the journal ended.

"Well," said Jason, "the hits just keep on comin'. Those were some clues."

"I wonder which god Thanatos was." said Curtis. "Maybe Rinew."

"The god of the afterlife." Roland explained. "There is no real Frotanist god of death."

Jason sighed. "I guess Zadoc, crazy as he was, was a clever enough wizard to pull this off. I can't imagine why he wanted to do all those things, but… insanity, eh?"

"So you think it was all a hoax he created?" said Roland.

"Of course." said Jason. "Who else could be responsible?"

"Rinew." said Curtis.

"Oh, no way!" said Jason. "No way am I going to start believing in gods. This world has dragons and wizards and vampires and phoenixes in it; it's no great stretch that a wizard should manage supposedly divine feats, right? I mean, think about what he did: turn a fire purple and make a voice come out from it, teleport some silver ingots, and finally, turn into a vampire. And he had the Piercer idea. Can't a wizard do all that?"

"Not the vampire," said Curtis, "except with a new spell. I dunno how it'd work."

"Yes," said Roland, "I've heard of no mortal spell that can transform one into that. Also, there is no known way to teleport something without also teleporting oneself."

"Maybe he got someone else to do it who was using an invisibility potion." said Jason. "Maybe he used another new spell. What do you think is responsible for all this, Roland?"

"I truly don't know. I'm inclined to believe there was some divine involvement."

"Then why wasn't the god involved from the beginning? Why did he only pop up nearly three years in?"

"What he said about faith."

Jason shook his head. "Bah! I'll get some satisfactory answers if it kills me. Chances are I'll run into a minotaur or something and it will. And then, in the afterlife, we'll see."