“ASCEND,” I self-mock, talking back to a scribble on the wall.
A ghost of a graffiti really. Or to nothingness, a fleeting resignation from the mundane and the asinine. The brutal world of the Merciless and the Slave. Nothing I belong to nor should care about.
“An angel has to gain its wings.” The storm clouds reverberate in agreement. How predictably Gothic.
And there I was at the edge of a tall building, coldly calculating my immediate fall when I should be celebrating as The Chosen One. Power at my beck and call.
“Sir, they’re ready for you.” Interruptions. Congratulations. Noise. Slave to wild applause. Merciless in fake laughter.
The collected rains gave in. Another dark storm illuminating the celebrated dream. Somewhere else, not mine. They chose Darkness.
“False God!” a little child pointed to the new leader.
“Shut up, Loser!” one of the Merciless argued otherwise, their mouths frothing at the prospect of the spoils of war. For they have won as wolves encircling the farmers’ coops, their hungry claws ready for the taking—fresh meat to start and end their days…effortlessly. But for tonight’s show, they raised hands with the Slaves.
Starstruck, the Slaves nod in agreement, but for a different reason–the salivation for silver linings in their smog-filled existence. Always hopeful and hero-worshiping. For once, the two of them celebrated their Chosen One. The Slaves in their shanties, the Merciless in their mansions. All glued to the same show before their TV screens.
A child’s last words. A child found dead along a busy Slave road, unnoticed by a euphoric crowd. Then another…until the bodies piled up with the same clenched fists, “False God” as their final words. Or the same words as graffiti marking every pavement that escapes the attention of tireless, aimless City Cleaners.
“Ghosts! Covered in blood! Stay home! Go home!” The City Cleaners warn onlookers and journalists curious about the sudden bloodshed.
The Island-Nation has always been torn by endless wars between the Slaves and the Merciless; their tug-of-war games predictably in favor of the Merciless.
But The Egalitarians believe otherwise.
They are convinced that The Islanders were one and the same spirit whose equality only finds rivalry on how they mischievously outdo each other in festiveness, artistry and pageantry. But they always ended up as brothers no matter what. That was their gift: a much treasured authenticity and dignity. But this was histories ago, long forgotten and uncelebrated.
“The Merciless have only gained more power, and it’s the Slaves that gave them the keys to such unrivaled authority,” claims one of the Egalitarians.
“We are also to blame for relinquishing power and calling for The United Islands when time called for justice to be swift and unforgiving. We were such pussies!” countered a younger voice.
“Hush, young brother. That time is past. Today is a different battle to be won.”
The two knew they were both right. And wrong. And helpless.
“Let’s bring ourselves back to the question please, fellow Egalitarians,” a voice of reason from The Maverick, “How do we fight against the Merciless?”
The Maverick surveys her army, now dwindled in number and in spirit. She never imagined herself leading this new ragtag rebellion having been a reluctant recruit, a Maven then, when The Descent happened.
The months leading to The Descent painted a different scene. The Egalitarians peacefully ruled the Island-Nation and very quietly built up opportunities for the Slaves to change their lives. No fanfare, no pandering press releases, just a genuine thankless effort aimed at finally re-empowering the Slaves with the life they deserve.
Soon enough, the Slaves began to prosper and focused their attention on what they dream best: getting out of slavery. At any cost. But their gratitude for the opportunity extended only up to their innate intelligence and capacity to succeed.
“We worked hard for this opportunity ourselves. We owe no one and we deserve to succeed,” became their declaration, on the days leading to The Descent.
“Besides, we’ve always deserved more,” they added.
Not that the Egalitarian bothered so long as they see fruition from their efforts. They never bothered, and the same seeming insensitivity became a hole in their armor.
The Merciless were especially unhappy about the cusp of change, and saw the hole in the armor. Many among the Merciless’ ranks who were caught plundering the Island-Nation’s Treasures were being prosecuted, jailed and rendered persona non grata. They felt scorned, and a hornet’s nest stirred.
“Such treacherous ingrates! Don’t they even realize who they really are?” the Merciless were unconscionable. Though the Merciless share the same heritage of bounty and power as the Egalitarians, the Merciless have always branded the Egalitarians as hypocrites for acting against their own kind.
Despite their strength in number, the Slaves are just as divided in trusting either. Or themselves. The Merciless would rather keep them that way.
“Our source of strength, so long as we make them live in fear, subservience and ignorance,” so goes an open secret shared among the Merciless.
As the Egalitarians fortified their ranks from scraps left behind by the failed experiment called United Islands, the Merciless regathered and drew for themselves a malevolent plan that would topple the ruling Egalitarians with the help of the Slaves.
“You must never forget: He who has the gold makes the rule,” the Merciless scathingly warned the Egalitarians.
The Descent happened.
The Charmer always held in him such mystery–both terrifying and tantalizing. Everyone is moth to his flame. But no one knew exactly if the vibrant flame enlightened or engulfed its visitors. Not one has lived to tell the tale.
The Slaves, though fearful of his reputation for summoning Ghosts, find themselves in the Charmer’s penchant for inglorious self-deprecation. The Egalitarians, though alarmed by the same urban lore about the Charmer and his Ghosts, do not carry as much charm and gift for crass entertainment. Their dire warnings about the Ghosts that never returned went unnoticed.
“Ghost stories by old wives and has-beens. Find me fresher ones and who among you wants to be first?” the Charmer jokes in response, to the crowd’s roaring approval and applause.
The Merciless seized their flame. The Next Purge was going to be won by the best entertainer and only The Charmer carries as much fire. And this time, they will win hearts and minds. And Ghosts.
“The un-charming Egalitarians bore the Slaves, and us, to death,” began the Merciless’ Master.
“The Merciless will entertain them to their deaths!” The Merciless stood in ovation and applauded the presented strategy.
Addressing The Charmer, “You will loathe us. Slaves like to believe that lie. (Laughter.) But Slaves in reality want to be us. (Wild applause.) You will be the Slaves’ face and voice, but only to satisfy their lies and secure their nods.”
“You will be Egalitarian, except you will charm them to their last centavo.”
“You will be The ultimate Charmer, until the world kneels to you as The Merciless Tyrant. And we, the Merciless, will stand beside you.”
The Charmer has not seen a more united meeting of Merciless Rulers past and present, young and hardened, and everyone bringing with them their gleaming gold, guns and goons along with their trolls and whores. He was pleased.
The Purge that followed left the Egalitarian army in tatters, except for the newly sworn Maven who became The Maverick as months progressed, along with a scattered few; some of them silenced by the changed sea. The Slaves had never been happier, desperately hooked on The Great Lie they have sworn to as the only truth. The flame became a conflagration, magnifying only its master’s charm and mystery.
The Merciless started devising ways to rewrite their legacies. Historical revisionism changes mindsets, and changed mindsets help revise policies to the advantage of who else but themselves.
As everyone busied themselves securing an audience with the new leader, The Charmer had other plans. The Ghost-Hunting began.
Undoubtedly, the child who shouted “False God” had to be the first to go.
A never-ending report of Ghosts huntings and sightings followed. Day in and day out, the numbers soared, including non-targets who in The Charmer’s words should be treated as “collateral damage”.
The Charmer became The Hunter obsessed with new Ghosts to add to his reputation.
“The Slaves get fucked by these Ghosts. If they die, should I be sorry?”
“The Egalitarians fucked with these Ghosts. Don’t you think they deserve to rot with these fuckers?”
“The Merciless? Let them fuck their own Ghosts. Should that be your problem, too? No!”
Speech after speech, each of the Charmer’s chants became powerful mantras that only emboldened him to seek more Ghosts. Soon, the Wealth of the Island-Nation funded his expeditions. And the City Cleaners are only more than happy to share the Charmer’s obsession, with promises of prize, promotion and pardon per Ghost captured.
The Island of Ghosts was born and caught the attention of the other nations.
“Blessed Hunter, other nations seek an invitation to investigate if the Ghosts are true,” one of the Merciless reports.
“Or do you mean Other Nations? Tell them to purge their own Ghosts! Those fucking hypocrites!”
“But the Egalitarians are opening the portal for them, Blessed Hunter.”
“Ahh, that Justice Whore! She dares to fuck with my Ghosts! Then she gets what she wants. Assemble the Merciless Leaders at once. It is time the Island-Nation witnesses a cowering Egalitarian Ghost.”
“But Blesssed Hunter, that will only further anger the Other Nations, won’t it?”
“They are not the only Other Nations, are they?”
A Patriotic Genius. A Prime Strategist. The Purge Press never ran out of superlatives to describe the man behind The Charmer, enamored as they were about his mysterious methods and, some of them say, majestic madness.
“A fucked-up mass murderer and thief is more like it,” quipped the Egalitarians.
But tonight, the Egalitarians are caught up defending one of theirs: a publicly persecuted and illegally detained Lady Justice. Whore now to the Slaves, Traitor to the Merciless, and Martyred to the Egalitarians and the Other Nations.
“Open the portal and let the Other Nations stop the madness!” Lady Justice was defiant.
“The Tyrant and his Ghosts must be stopped now.”
The other Other Nations just want her silenced for good. Bad for business, the say of her kind. Comrades to The Charmer/Hunter/Tyrant, they are also Ghost Hunters.
“It is time you become more than what your names stand for, Egalitarians,” an unknown yet eerily familiar voice declares its urgency. But only the stormy wind brought its message to every chosen Egalitarian, Slave, Merciless, and Ghost.
“This is your fight as an Island-Nation. The portal will open when it is time.”
“But how do we fight?” The Gathered asks in almost desperate unison, surveying their battle wounds and scars more than their bullets and ammos.
“An angel must gain its wings,” the Child who cried False God turned up among the crowd.
“We need to ascend.” Another voice, this time from The Purge not so long ago.
The Chosen One has returned.