Copyright © Adam Scopp, 2015
The right of Adam Scopp to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher or author.
For Those You’ve Lost
42,732 years after the Initiation
My sister stood directly opposite to me, exactly five metres away. To her left was a table, various weapons laid out. A replica table sat to my right.
“Ready?” She asked, her lip turned up halfway.
“Ready.” I answered. My sister nodded and snatched up her first choice weapon: a dagger. Not shocking, she always liked to start off strikingly.
She winked at me before pulling her arm back and catapulting the dagger forwards. I watched it spin, slicing through the air until it hit me square in the chest, right between my breasts. I gasped at the impact, stumbled back slightly from the force she’d issued so early on. She was mad today.
I pulled the dagger from my flesh, seeing it painted red with my blood. I looked down at the wound, gushing manically. In less than a moment the skin stitched itself back together.
I dropped my sister’s weapon to the ground, bending over my own table and choosing the bow and single arrow. I slid the arrow into place, bringing it up and aligning it with my peripheral vision. I pulled back gently on the bows string, as if massaging it, and took a deep breath before letting the arrow fly.
I stared at the look on my sisters torn face as the arrow flew towards her stomach. She didn’t even flinch as it entered her greying flesh, she simply pulled it free and allowed the wound to ooze a thick, black substance.
There was a time, countless years ago, when my sister and I were exactly identical. Same pink eyes and rosy cheeks, same mousy hair and unblemished skin. Life before the Initiation had been perfect for us. We were adored. Loved by all who laid eyes on us.
You’re no fun playing this game, you know that? Don’t you ever want to play dirty?” My sister grinned, her chapped lips flaking as she did. She snatched up a triumvirate of throwing stars, dishing them out one after the other whilst laughing her delight.
I tried to relax, but against my will I tensed up just as the stars sliced into me. The first two protruded cleanly from each of my arms, whilst the third poked out from my throat. I screamed as I pulled them free, the searing pain vanishing as the lesion healed. Something was tugging at my sister’s thoughts; something eating away at her. This would always happen from time to time. She would be overcome with unexplainable anger, and would happily take it out in our monthly game. I tried to talk to her, to understand how she felt, but she shut me out millennia ago.
My eyes darted over my weapons, seeing the slender spear laid out at the top. I picked it up, catching the glimpse of shock from my sister. She quickly masked it, but I’d seen all I needed to. She was listening now, whether she wanted to or not.
“Tell me, sister, what’s bothering you today?” I asked, twisting the spear in wide arcs.
“Tired.” She answered tepidly.
“How can a sleepless girl be tired?”
My sister’s eyes seemed to darken. They were the only recognisable feature she still had left after all this time. As eternity had sauntered past she had rotted whilst I had blossomed.
I waited for my sister to say something, to open what was left of her withered heart and finally console in me. But she remained silent, her chin outstretched. I ground my teeth together and fired the spear, hitting her square in the chest. My sister blinked twice before aggressively pulling the spear free and throwing it to one side.
I hated this game. I still had no idea why my sister insisted on playing it. Every cut I inflicted would simply add to the scars that littered her body. She didn’t posses the power to heal. She was pure and utter death, and that only came with one quality.
The gift to kill.
“What’s it like?” She suddenly asked, scanning her remaining weapons.
“What do you mean?”
She picked up a throwing knife, twirling it between her broken fingers until turning to face me. “What’s it like to be immortal? To be perfect on a timeless scale?” Her words dripped with insolence.
“I didn’t ask to be this way.” I argued, feeling the prick of her sharp tongue right at my core. My sister’s thoughts were trickling through her many cracks, and I waited patiently for her to carry on in her confessions.
“And neither did I, but these are the hands we’ve been dealt. Chance was happy to issue us with Godly power, but even with all this power we’re both still depressingly human.” My sister grunted as she tossed the knife. My head lurched backwards as the blade sunk precisely between my eyes. For a fleeting moment, the world went dark. Blindly, I pulled the knife from my face, and in a second my vision had been sewn back together again, like a tapestry before my eyes.
“Did you forget, that before we were ever granted these lives we were both human?”
My sister scoffed. “Lives? Only one of us is immortal. You are Life! You are connected to every living person on Earth. But I’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel alive. The dead and I are linked, bound, and it’s been that way for so long that I’ve become one of them.”
“You are immortal, just like me. You’ve been by my side since the very beginning.” I took a step forward, but my sisters blazing eyes burnt holes into my courage, and I retracted my foot.
“I’m not immortal. I’m not even mortal. I’m anti-immortal. I am the complete opposite of life. I am Death for all of time. My body is but a flimsy corpse.” My sister pulled at the few strands of hair still attached to her scalp, and I watched as they came free effortlessly. She was a morsel of the girl she had once been, when we’d been plucked from the Earth and chosen to take on a purpose that was unimaginable.
I picked up my own throwing knife, tracing the point where my sister had just injured me.
I was always afraid that this would happen. That over the course of forever my sister would become so bitter that she would resent me for the role I had been given. It wasn’t my fault that Life had been woven into me. As a girl I’d loved the world around me, the way it worked, how atoms and particles could intertwine to create such beauty. My sister, however, had been intrigued by the idea of life after death. Of there being no end, but rather endless beginnings.
My sister had lost sight of her calling, her eyes slowly fading green with envy.
“I’m sorry.” I said.
“There’s nothing you can do to change what I think.”
I threw the knife, watching it glide towards its target. My sister’s eyes went wide as the blade made a deep incision in her skull. She staggered away, breaking formation and scratching at her face until she found the hilt of the knife. She pulled it free, bellowing with self-pity as she clawed at her eyes.
“What have you done to me? What have you done?”
“You would watch, each month, as you hurt me in every way possible, but never once leave a scratch. I realise now why you wanted to play this game, sister. You wanted to see what you didn’t have. You wanted to feel sour, to pity yourself. You made yourself hate me for the sake of it.” I walked towards her, my pace even. My sister had fallen to her knees, her nails digging into the rigid ground beneath us, as if to anchor herself to reality. “You are not Life. You are deathless Death. If you can’t bear to see what you can’t have, then you shouldn’t see at all.”
I left my sister to wallow, deciding instead to stroll along the skyline. Here I could feel every thread of life that connected me to all those above and below. I could hear each new heartbeat, feel each eye blink.
It was my duty to watch over the land of the living. Just as it was my sister’s to protect the land of the dead. A sudden wave of guilt washed over me for what I’d done to her, but it was all I could do to numb the pain. I had faith that she would forgive me one day.
For now I focused on the small prickle I felt on the back of my neck, and smiled.
Somewhere, a new life had just begun.
207 years after the Initiation
Every day, when I woke from a pointless rest, I would look at my reflection. I never understood why I did this; the only sight that met me was one that could cause grown men to tear their eyes from their sockets.
I would pick up the brush that laid flat on the dresser and I would run it gently through my hair, watching as it came away in monstrous clumps and floated to the floor beneath my feet.
I darted my eyes upwards, looking at my sister through my reflection. “That’s not my name.” I continued brushing my hair, trying in vain to ignore the lump forming in my throat.
Autumn sighed. “Yes, it is. I don’t care what any of those oddballs on the Council told us, I’m Autumn and you’re Summer. Not…not those other things.”
I felt a scorching fury flush my system all of a sudden, and had to strain from not turning and tossing the hairbrush at my sister. Of course she could say something like that, she didn’t get turned into a monster.
“They gave us a purpose, Autumn. Something only very few ever get offered. How could we refuse?” I placed the brush down and smiled at myself, my once-plump lips cracking as I did. I saw my sister’s fleeting look of sympathy, and felt my anger twinge further. I didn’t want her pity. I didn’t want anyone’s pity.
“By saying no and moving on with the lives we had.”
“Well, now we have new lives. Better lives that have no expiration date. Anyone would kill to have what we have, Autumn.”
I froze in my place, my hand hovering over the thin tube of lip gloss. Yet another accessory that could never change the irreversible damage that’d been done to my body. I was sure I only used it to feel as close to normal as humanly possible.
Autumn must have seen my rigid stance, because she quickly fumbled with her words. “No, no, I don’t mean it like that! I mean…immortality isn’t for everybody.” She winced as she heard the phrase out loud, knowing there was no way to mask the true meaning behind her pathetic excuses.
“Just leave.” I said, sounding undeniably bitter. Autumn opened her mouth to talk again, but I cut her off by screaming, “Get out!”
She left, her saccharine scent lingering in the air around me. Why did I even bother to inhale it? I had no need to breathe, no need to sleep or brush my hair or wear lip gloss. I did things for the simple sake of them. For the habits that would take an eternity to break.
I stared myself in the eyes, the only thing that hadn’t been infected with this curse I now carried. Of course I would be the one to be granted the gift of Death, to become an embodiment of endless pain and suffering. I could feel them, the lost souls that scampered the Earth. They were like an itch in my skull that was unreachable. I was sure my heart was just as scarred as my flesh.
I turned away, making my way towards the doorless doorway. I halted when I heard my sister’s voice carrying in the open space beyond.
“How is Death today?” I heard a woman’s voice enquire. Faith, possibly.
“As she always is – broken.”
I couldn’t deny the sting I felt when I heard my own sister say the words that taunted my very existence. It took so much strength to be able to look at myself and not want to tear away my skin until only the greying bone was left.
“It will take time for her to accept the fate she has been given. It is why we are immortal; time is our only method of healing.”
Autumn laughed jovially, although I knew my sister well enough to know she was hiding how pompous she thought Faith was. Each member of the Council spoke as if they had all the answers, but my sister and I were so new to these lives that we didn’t even have the questions to begin with.
“Not even forever can heal a scar, Faith.”
My heart tore open slightly in my chest. She had said the very words I was so subtly terrified of. As children, it had always been like my sister and I could look at each other and know what the other was thinking. It was like a bond between us that no one could ever understand. A frequency only we were tuned in to.
Their voices faded, and I found myself feeling ornery. Why should I have to be the one to bear a thousand scars like a tainted canvas? Why should my sister be the one to live out all of her endless days as a vision of pure perfection? We used to be the same. Identical. The only ever thing that made us different was the birthmark behind my left ear.
Even from birth it seemed I was destined to be marked permanently.
I pivoted on my heel and stormed back over towards my mirror, placing my palm flat on the glass, hoping against all odds that the familiar wintry chill would greet me like it always did.
Of course, I felt nothing. My body was a painless shell that I wore simply for the sake of it.
I saw tears of pus leak from my eyes, and suddenly I couldn’t find the strength to support myself. I sunk to my knees, smashing my fists against the glass over and over. I wanted to hurt. I wanted to physically ache, just to remind myself that I was still me. Still Summer Pyra, who made up the other half of the Perfect Pyra Twins.
You are Death.
You are an embodiment of endless agony.
You are nothing compared to her.
And they didn’t stop. The torturous thoughts continued to swirl in my mind, like crows picking at dead flesh.
Make her feel your pain.
I wasn’t quite sure where the voice even came from, only that it didn’t use the same tone as all the other overbearing comments. It was darker, more sinister. It had come from somewhere deep inside myself, and strangely enough, I wanted to hear more of it.
Make her suffer.
Show her what it’s like to feel scarred. To feel broken.
Without realising it, I was grinning. It was the first time since the Initiation since I’d smiled and actually meant it. The voice – whatever it may be – was right. I could no longer feel any pain; nothing could hurt me.
But I could hurt my sister.
“Autumn!” I called, pulling myself to my feet and wiping away the yellow trails that still stained my face. In less than a moment my sister appeared from thin air, her shapely eyebrows raised in apprehension.
I laughed – really laughed, which only provoked my sister further. If only she knew that this was the best I’d felt in hundreds of years. Finally, she’d understand my suffering.
“I want to play a game.”
1 year before the Initiation
Hope sat around the table, the orbital projection of Summer and Autumn Pyra spinning for each member of the Council to see.
“You want Life and Death to be related?” Questioned Chance.
Choice nodded his head, twirling his fingers so the image spun to face him. He stared admiringly at the young girls, both caught up in their lives. Hope wondered what Choice could possibly tell the girls to make them want to give up everything for a life like this. From experience, she knew how persuasive he could be.
“You and I both know what happened to the Life and Death before these girls. Each time they destroy each other. But this time…this time will be different.” Choice waved his hand and the projection shattered.
“This time it will be worse.” Faith argued from beside Hope. “You know what it means to be Death. Whichever of them receives that fate will grow to hate the other.”
“Possibly. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
Faith rose from her seat, her palms flat on the table. The blue lights that ran through the floor like veins lit up the woman’s sharp features, and Hope found herself feeling a sliver of jealousy. She’d always been close to Faith, ever since her Initiation had taken place so many centuries ago.
Hope could happily sit and watch Faith for hours on end, and feel like only a minute had passed. She was the definition of prepossessing, with skin the colour of hot caramel.
“Calm down, Faith. He’s clearly made his decision, there’s no point quarrelling.” Trust berated. “When will they be made aware of their new purposes?”
Approximately one year from now. To have enough time to tie up some loose ends, so to speak.” Choice rose from his seat dramatically, something Hope had noticed he did quite frequently. “This meeting is adjourned.” He left without saying anything further. Trust and Thought quickly followed behind him, like dogs desperate for attention. Faith stormed from the room apoplectically, leaving only Hope and Chance sitting silently.
“What do you think?” Chance suddenly asked, startling Hope. Out of the current members of the Council she had been there the least amount of time, still on the cusp of being a part of the group. She would usually just remain quiet and listen to their discussions, avoiding anyone’s eye.
“Well…I think…uh…” She cursed herself for being so unprepared.
“Come on, Hope. You are the representation of what people look to confide in. Hope should not stammer or fumble. Convey the strength that people need. So tell me, what do you think?”
Hope swallowed. “I want to see them.”
Chance nodded his head once, a smile tugging at his lips. Hope knew what Chance’s purpose entailed, and couldn’t comprehend how he could even manage a grin. He, apart from Death, had the darkest deeds to commit. Hope, to say the least, acted more as a figurehead, as did Faith.
The world around Hope melted away, and in its place was a petite children’s park. A cold wind brushed past Hope, sending her blonde hair sweeping to one side as she stared at the two girls swaying on the swing set.
“Can they see us?” Hope asked, noticing that Chance had muted the girls. He shook his head. He, too, was handsome. Each member of the council typically was. Members seemed to be chosen based on their genetic material, but Hope knew she was nothing special. Not ugly, but nowhere near beautiful.
She hesitantly approached the girls, the noises of Earth slowly coming into focus.
“Oh, come on, Summer, don’t be coy. I know you like him.” Teased Autumn. Summer’s eyes darted down to her shoes, which scraped the ground.
“Just drop it, Autumn. I don’t like him, trust me.”
Hope tilted her head, a small smile playing on her lips. She could remember her days as a teenager, young and vibrant and carefree. Life had been so simple for Hope, back when she wasn’t Hope, but Harley Jayne.
Then she’d met Choice, and everything had changed.
The two girls continued to bicker, Summer obviously getting more and more irritated as Autumn insistently pressed on the topic of her sister having a crush. At first glance, anyone would think Summer was just embarrassed. But Hope saw things, felt things. She could sense just how hopeless Summer felt, as if she were trapped under a soundless glass dome.
“There’s something wrong with her.” Hope stated. Time around them froze, and she turned to see Chance with his eyebrow raised. “Summer. She’s…empty, almost. Her sister is making it worse.”
Chance nodded. “There’s a reason Choice wanted to wait before he offered them the opportunity. He first needs to find his way into their lives. His angle. Otherwise he has no hope of getting what he wants.”
Hope almost laughed out of spite. That was exactly how Choice worked. An analyser. “I assume he found a way into your head, then.”
Chance said nothing, but that was the only answer she needed. Hope had been weak-willed when she’d first encountered Choice. Since then she was considerably stronger, the flare of her anger fuelling her. She glanced at the two girls, caught up in their own problems to even dare to imagine what happened outside of their knowledge. She could still feel the buzz of Summer’s false hope, and tried to translate where it was coming from.
“Summer likes girls.” Hope breathed, understanding. “That’s why she’s so hollow. She’s terrified of what her sister will say.”
“And that, Hope, is what you call an angle.” Chance said, and then dissipated into the atmosphere. Hope blinked, and she was standing in her abode.
Choice was sitting on the sofa, to Hope’s surprise. She stood still, waiting for him to offer an excuse as to why he was in her home. Or her ‘place of rest’, as Faith so glumly described it.
“I need your assistance.”
Hope crossed her arms. “Well it’s not on offer.”
Choice tutted. “Come now, Hope. Surely you can’t still be sore over our disagreement all those years ago.”
Hope would always say that she was a relatively calm person, but as those scarcely thought words tumbled out of Choice’s mouth she felt something inside her snap. “Disagreement? You call pretending to love me and tricking me into this life a disagreement?”
“Fine. Our misunderstanding.”
Before she could think, Hope snatched up a book off of the coffee table and tossed it at the ignorant man, smiling happily as the spine hit him in the shoulder. “Get out.”
“Harley, just listen-”
“No, don’t you dare call me that. Harley’s dead, do you understand? She’s dead, because you broke her. You broke her into what I am now.” Hope felt her voice quiver. She was losing grasp on her emotions, and so took a few deep breaths to deter the rising storm.
“I need you to seduce the girl.” He suddenly blurted.
“Summer Pyra. Her sexual orientation leans closer to women than men, and whilst I will deal with Autumn, I need your help in convincing Summer.”
“Deceiving.” Hope corrected bitterly.
“There is a balance that has to be maintained. No matter the damage in between.” Choice reasoned, raising from the sofa to tower over Hope. For someone who wore such a young face his hopeful heart gave off an ancient essence. Hope could almost taste it.
“Ask Faith.” Hope turned and walked into the adjoining kitchen unit, pouring herself a glass of orange juice. It used to be her favourite thing to drink in the morning, back when eating and drinking had been a necessity. Now it was a simple pleasure.
“Ask the woman who represents all religion and belief to pretend to be homosexual?”
Hope didn’t turn to face him, in the fear that she would throw her glass at his head. “So you instead ask me to offer a confused girl false hope?”
“Summer Pyra is Death. If we do not set her on this path the one she follows on Earth will be far more brutal. She will grow up convinced that she cannot be who she truly wants, and so feigns loving a man, who will later discover her ongoing affair with a local waitress and beat her in front of her two children. However one night she will kick out and hit a table leg, which will knock a candle over and catch fire to the Christmas tree set up in the corner of the living room. The man will escape, and before the firemen arrive the entire house will be consumed in flames, where she and her two children will perish, whilst her husband goes free and undetected.” Choice had inched forward as he told the story of Summer’s life, and slammed his palm down on the breakfast counter, making Hope flinch. “Help me avoid that fate, Hope.”
She knew, as she stared into the boy’s ebony eyes, that he wasn’t lying. Seeing the past and future was apart of his gift. No matter what, Summer was destined to live a life of misery. But the more horrible of the two could be averted, if Hope did as she was asked.
And so Hope repeated the very last phrase she’d spoken as Harley Jayne: “I’ll do whatever I have to.”
Except this time, she didn’t add, “I love you” at the end of it.
Summer and Autumn Pyra sat in separate rooms that were both identical. Both had the same dimensions, and both were completely bare apart from a piece of paper, a pen and a gun, pre-loaded with a single bullet.
Both girls were on their knees, sobbing. Both were under the impression of committing an unspeakable crime they could not recall, and both were convinced that the only way they could replenish their sin was to end their lives entirely.
Autumn Pyra had been told she had murdered her sister in cold blood. Summer Pyra had been told the same. However each girl’s reaction was different. Summer stood up straight and gyrated her head until she found the camera. She put the barrel of the gun to her temple, and smiled before pulling the trigger. Autumn, however, emptied the gun of its bullet and tossed it to the side. She reached over and began to write a note, and once she was finished she crossed her legs and leaned her head back against the wall.
The camera stationed in Autumn’s cell zoomed in until it could clearly depict the squiggle of the girls handwriting.
Death is not a large enough punishment for killing my sister. I deserve to sit here and rot, slowly, in order to truly pay for what I’ve done.
– Autumn Pyra
Members of the Council would often mistake the true purpose of the Initiation. Most believed it to be a test of bravery, honour and intelligence. It was in fact none of that. It is merely a means to allow the chosen civilian to prove that their soul is in fact tethered to the infinitive destiny that will be offered to them.
The roles of Life and Death did not choose Summer and Autumn Pyra. For Autumn chose to live, whilst Summer chose to die.
That, in itself, is all the proof that is needed.
I wrote these stories on a whim. They were not planned in the slightest, and that’s why I think I love them so much. Not because I think I’m a genius or a prodigy, but because that means these stories can be freely interpreted as you please. They were written without one specific purpose, to allow room for the infinite purposes that you all can come up with. You decide what these stories mean to you, how they affect you and the way you understand them.
That, as an author, is all I can really ask for. (And maybe money, but we’ll pretend I’m just that nice of a human being.)
Thank you for reading and I hoped you enjoyed!
The Tempus Series:
The Surf (Coming April 2015)
The Reeper Trilogy:
The December 32nd Series:
December 32nd: The Vipers
Their Twisted Worlds: A Collection of Stories