Sun, Sept 13th, late at night
I didn’t do much for the rest of the day; I caught up on my homework and wrote notes on the past week for Hull, which kept me busy into the evening. Joel was quiet and kept to himself, and I decided not to bug him. I tried blowing off some steam before bed playing video games, but I hadn’t gotten anything new in a while – I’d been too busy with exam prep in the second half of the summer – and none of my existing ones grabbed me. I went to bed early, for once.
Instead of waking up in the morning, or in the middle of the night needing a bathroom, I found myself either awake or in an entirely-too-vivid dream, and there were people in my room. OK, this has to be a dream, otherwise I’d be freaking out. I found myself reaching for my glasses next to the bed, and then I was certain it was a dream, because I could see fine without them.
“Hello, Mark,” said a deep voice. “Take your time, if you haven’t been contacted like this before, I hear it’s disorienting.”
The voice came from a bearded man in a tunic standing back from foot of my bed; I recognized him at once, as I’d gotten a good look at his statue earlier. He looked older than his statue, though – somewhere between my dad and my grandfather in age. The statute did not capture the darkly tanned and weathered skin, nor the mixture of gray and brown in his hair and beard.
Yup, definitely dreaming. I’ll run with it. “I guess you must be Zagras?”
The man – or deity – or whatever my imagination had produced, nodded.
“I told you he was a sharp one,” came a woman’s voice from my side. The woman there, sitting backwards and astride the chair at my desk, was equally easy to recognize. Unlike Zagras, she showed no visible signs of age, with impossibly smooth olive skin, and waves of brown hair so shiny it sparkled. Just like her statue, the dress she was wearing here left little to the imagination, although the back of my chair and her crossed arms made up for that… somewhat.
“I think he’s embarrassed,” said Jaklamina.
I can blush in a dream. Who knew?
“So, am I dreaming, or are you two actually here?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Jaklamina.
Zagras rolled his eyes, and when she didn’t go on, he explained, “It’s both. It’s much more convenient and more private to visit a human this way, rather than having to manifest ourselves physically. It’s not a typical dream, since you’ll remember it clearly when you wake up.”
“OK,” I said. “I think I get it. So why me?”
“Straight to the point. It’s refreshing when humans don’t try to brown-nose. And to answer your question, we were nearby because the Obdresti Goddess, Tennia, decided to pay a visit to your friend. Once we had to be nearby to keep an eye on her, it seemed like it would be an interesting diversion to drop in.”
“Really?” I asked. “I’m just some guy.”
“Right, right,” said Zagras. “Indeed you are, and your friend there is a King and is headed for either a very bright destiny or a dark fate, without much in between.” After a pause, he went on, “The interesting thing about you is that most people who are ‘just some guy’ don’t have much of a fate or destiny at all. Maybe they’ve got the potential for a crime of passion or for jumping in front of a car to save a kid, but nothing that changes the world. You, by contrast, are a blank slate.”
“As for me, I can always tell when I’ve got a fan,” said Jaklamina, leaning forward on my chair a bit. “You caught my attention – an agnostic trying to pray, and then never asking for anything for yourself. So awkward it was cute.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“You really do enjoy embarrassing them,” said Zagras.
Jaklamina responded by stretching, which unblocked my view of her chest for a moment. My face felt bright red.
I decided to change the subject. “I feel like it would be rude to ask, but I understood very little of what you said about fate and destiny. Aren’t those the same thing?”
“It’s fine. Not rude at all. Time doesn’t mean much here, so I’m happy to answer,” said Zagras. “In your language, I suppose they are about the same, but the terms are clearer in Old Imperial. One’s destiny is the greatest thing their future might hold for them, and their fate the worst thing they might do.”
“I suppose it makes sense that gods can see the future,” I said, “but how can someone have both?”
“There’s no one future to see,” said Zagras. “There are an immense number of possible futures – possibly infinite – and we get a sense of their range. Especially when it comes to our domain. She, for example, would be much more likely to have a sense of your future love life than I would.”
“What does it mean to be a blank slate?”
“It means we can’t see a thing beyond later this year for you. Before you ask, that doesn't mean you die – it’s easy for almost any of us to spot when humans are likely to, and while there are some paths where you do, none of them are likely. Almost all of the paths lead to a point where you will have to choose to stay here or go back to your world for good. After that, we truly can’t see what’s going to happen.”
“Isn’t that a bad thing?”
“There’s no way of knowing except to let things play out,” said Zagras, “but when you’re closing in on three thousand years old, and subjectively much older, it’s not a bad thing for us to have humans around who can still surprise you.”
“Can you tell me anything more about that point?”
“It’s not always the same, and for most of them I am quite certain you will know it when you get there. I think I’ll leave it at that. Do you have anything to add, dear sister-in-law?”
“Not really,” said Jaklamina. “Just that in many of them, you’ll have to make the choice just as your love life might start to get interesting.”
“How does my love life possibly get interesting?”
“I could tell you, but where’s the fun in that.” Then, she winked at me.
I shook my head, trying to get my burning cheeks to go away. “How do I know any of this was real?”
“You can’t,” said Jaklamina. “You have to take it on faith or it isn’t proper faith, right?”
I looked at her skeptically.
“He’s not falling for it,” said Zagras after a moment. “She was trying to mess with you again. We heard by way of the newcomers that’s what some of the faiths back in your world believe,” and then to Jaklamina, “do you mind doing the honors?”
“I don’t mind,” she said. “Young men this innocent are too much fun,” and then with another wink, “who knows, if you’re around in a few centuries, we’ll have a laugh about it!”
Centuries? What the heck is that about?
“Have a look on your desk when you wake up,” she said.
“I think you’ve embarrassed Mark enough,” said Zagras, and then to me, “Given your friend there, I expect we’ll look in on you again one of these days.”
And then I woke up; someone was a knocking on my door.