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Ezekiel 8 (working title) Chapter 1 - The Dread Sword

In a dank cave with a single beam of daily light, Ezekiel had a happy childhood.

He grew up with fireflies and glowing mushrooms, bioluminescent plankton in the saltwater lake, and a network of caves that seemed to branch out into infinity.

Not that his parents let him explore outside their territory.

Too dangerous, they said.

But their territory was vast, so he never felt a strong desire to leave, anyway. Their home cave was grand, with bright mossy lichen, towering crystal columns, and tunnels to seemingly endless other caverns.

Mama and Papa often took Zeke along to hunt and forage. He grew up on a diet of goat, fish, shrimp, mushrooms, tubers, legumes, blind birds, eggs, crickets, berries, honey, salad, sea salt, and local herbs. Sometimes a great pale bear would wander into their territory, and then Zeke’s parents would show off with a feat of power and skill, and everyone would eat bear meat for days.

In almost all things, Mama and Papa were total opposites.

Mama was passionate and knowledgeable and summoned fire.

Papa was quiet and absurd and summoned shadows.

Mama was a kitsune with jade green eyes, copper red hair, claws, and a bushy red tail. Mama was lovely.

Papa had burn scars on half his body and head. His face was mostly spared, but one ear and most of his jet-black hair had melted off. His left arm was entirely burned, as was his backside.

Papa’s legs were severed at the knees. He conjured shadows to move around. Simple legs, usually, but on occasion wheels, or a column to reach high places.

Papa wouldn’t talk about his injuries, but sometimes Papa looked off in the distance, and he’d wear an angry, vengeful expression. When Papa noticed Zeke watching, he’d put on a smile and say, “I love you. Let’s play a game.”

They had several board games and an entire library of books. Their home was grand, splendid, and crafted out of carved stone.

Aunt Gwen was their only visitor. She came twice a year to bring supplies, and usually something special for Zeke.

But they were never alone. They had each other.

Since the day Zeke could walk, at first light beam, Papa would make breakfast, and then Mama would take Zeke for a day of training.

Mama knew everything. Encouraging yet demanding, Mama taught Zeke how to read, write, and dance, how to fish, and how to properly swing a sword.

Zeke adored his parents and wanted nothing more than to make them proud. All his life, he studied diligently to make Mama happy, practicing swordplay every day, until he finally, finally won in a practice duel against Mama.

Zeke felt his victory was illegitimate, since he tricked Mama with a joke and struck while Mama was distracted and laughing. But Mama said the win counted because it showed ingenuity and resourcefulness.

When Papa heard about Zeke’s victory, he killed a goat, cooked a feast, and threw a celebration, proclaiming Ezekiel a man at last.

Then everything changed.

As Zeke finished dessert (honeycake with berries), Papa stood and reached into his shadow pocket to draw a sword.

The sword was unique, made entirely of translucent white ivory, with an etching of a winged serpent coiling around the hilt.

Zeke had never seen the sword before, yet the sight of it evoked an indescribable sense of dread like nothing he’d ever felt in his life. Something about that sword terrified him.

Papa passed the sword ceremoniously to Zeke, who accepted it reluctantly and with trembling hands.

Mama said, “It’s time you learn why we’ve been training you. This Ivory Blade is yours. It belongs to you, alone. And it’s time you learn to wield it.” Zeke tore his eyes away from the dreadful sword and asked with panic in his voice, “You’re going to teach me to use this?”

“No,” Mama answered.

Papa spoke. “Starting tomorrow, Mama and I will reverse roles. Mama will make breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I will be your new instructor. And in our lessons, you will use this sword.“

“No!” Zeke shouted impulsively.

Mama and Papa both looked surprised and concerned.

“What’s wrong, Zeke?” Mama soothed.

Tears filled Zeke’s eyes. He shook his head in confusion. “Why am I like this? I don’t understand. I… I can’t breathe.”

Zeke dropped the dreadful sword on the floor and then stumbled outside for some fresh air.

The light beam had gone out. Mushrooms lit the darkness with an eerie green aura, while the plankton in the water shined a bright blue. Fireflies danced in the air. Everything was bright and beautiful, and Zeke loved his home, but for the first time in his life, he felt trapped.

Ezekiel had to get out.

“Describe what you’re feeling, Zeke.” Papa appeared next to him.

“Like I’m buried alive. I can barely breathe. What is that sword?”

Papa’s kind, scarred face grimaced in sympathy. “It was your prison.”

Zeke stopped breathing entirely.

Mama arrived on Zeke’s other side and said, “Many years ago, Papa and I, with some help, we stole that sword from the man who imprisoned you in it. And then we set you free. The man’s name is Adam.

“One day, Adam will come for that sword. He will come for you. That’s why we raised you here, hiding you, preparing you. But no matter how long we delay it, one day, you will face him.”

Zeke took a slow breath in, and a long time to consider his new reality.

“Why did Adam imprison me?”

Mama answered, “Because you are one of the 8 Ikons of Eden. That makes you powerful, and Adam wants that power for himself.”

Zeke considered in relative silence. The frogs and crickets were singing loudly.

He finally looked at Mama and asked, “You said you freed me. I’m not your real son, am I?”

Mama winced. “In all the ways that matter, you are my son. Your body was a stillborn. We needed an empty vessel for your soul to take root.”

“So I was some random afterbirth you found and used.”

“You are not your vessel,” Mama said passionately. “It is only a tool. You are my son.”

“Your mama is right, son,” Papa said. “And we love you.”

Together they embraced Zeke.

Zeke pulled away, demanding to know, “What is an Ikon of Eden?”

Mama calmly answered, “Long ago, 8 Ikons were created to tend Eden in God’s absence. Adam deceived 5 of the 8 and murdered them, trapping their souls into artifacts he calls Blessings. With the souls of 5 Ikons, Adam was able to dominate the world, and slaughter anyone who opposed him, including… all of my people.”

“What?” Zeke said dumbly.

“I am the last kitsune. My people don’t grow old. Adam can lie to the humans until the truth dies, but my people would remember Adam’s betrayal of the Ikons. Adam determined we were a threat, so he destroyed my home island of Inari and massacred everyone on it.” Mama said sadly.

They were silent again for a moment.

Finally, Zeke turned to Papa and asked, “If I’m an Ikon, and Mama is the last kitsune, what does that make you?”

Papa was a statue of pain and remorse. It was the most emotional Zeke had ever seen him.

Papa said, “My mother was Adam’s first wife, Lilith. He abused her, yet she was banished to Nod. Lilith raised me to be Adam’s downfall, and destroy all of Adam’s kin. I led her armies.

“On Lilith’s orders, your mama and I stole 2 Blessings. Adam took countless lives in retaliation, and I lost my legs in the process, but we succeeded. I brought the Bone Gauntlet and Ivory Sword home to Nod and to Lilith.

“But I returned home a changed man. I had found love and seen beauty in humanity. I could no longer do as Lilith demanded. So I stole the Ivory Blade again… but as I was escaping, Lilith… punished me. She has the Bone Gauntlet, you see. It controls fire and lightning…”

“Your own mother set you on fire?” Zeke was aghast.

Papa answered with silence.

Mama spoke again, “Like Adam, Lilith wants the Ivory Sword. More accurately, she wants your power. You are central to her plan.”

“What happens if they get what they want?” Zeke whispered.

Mama answered, “It’s a race to capture you, Zeke. If Adam wins, he’ll imprison you again and use your power to rule Eden forever.”

Papa rejoined, “And if Lilith wins, she’ll use your power to open a doorway between Eden and Nod. She’ll send her armies through, and those armies will slaughter every human on the planet.

“Maybe Adam defeats Lilith. He still has 3 Ikons. Against Lilith’s 2, odds are in his favor. In that scenario, Adam takes back all 5 Ikons and rules Eden forever. The only certainty is the death count, which would be catastrophic.”

Zeke felt dizzy and had to sit down on a nearby bench. “Just the fate of the world, then. No pressure.”

Papa laughed and said, “No, none at all. That’s why we waited to tell you until you were old enough and capable enough. You’re ready. It’s time for your real training to begin.”

Zeke was uncharacteristically speechless. It was all so much. He could only nod.

Mama sat next to Zeke. “It’s not right, what was done to you. I’m sorry. And we had no right to hide the truth from you all these years. But we wanted to give you a childhood. Hate us if you must, but please trust us. We love you, and we believe in you.”

That night, Zeke dreamed he was drowning. The Dreadful Blade was tied to his feet and dragging him down. He couldn’t escape. He couldn’t breathe. There was no escape. He would drown for eternity.

Zeke woke up drenched in sweat and tears. The walls in his room suddenly felt cramped and suffocating. He had to get out.

He jumped out of bed and went for a walk, only to find Mama in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Candles already lit throughout the house.

“You’re up early!” Mama proclaimed while kneading biscuit dough. “Breakfast isn’t ready yet, but you can help me set the table. Your papa was teasing me all night, saying it’s finally his turn to do the fun job. Do me a favor and don’t go easy on him today.”

Zeke set the table as requested, appreciating the distraction, but nothing could keep his mind off that damn sword.

“What does the sword do? What is its power?” he asked.

Mama frowned. “Your papa should be here for this conversation, but that lazy ass is sleeping in.” Sigh. “The sword is only a conduit. It has no power on its own. You’re the one with the power.”

“So then, what is my power?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. I wasn’t near Adam long enough to learn the specifics. But I saw the sword used like a key to make doorways across vast distances. So I assume your powers include creating doorways. Beyond that, I can only speculate. No more questions. Wait for your training with Papa.”

Papa arrived downstairs as Mama was finishing breakfast. Biscuits with goat meat and mushroom gravy, with fried eggs on top. It was the most delicious breakfast Zeke had ever eaten. Mama was undoubtedly the superior chef.

Papa sat back in his chair with an air of supreme contentment, proclaiming, “I’m going to enjoy the next few years.”

Mama smirked and said affectionately, “Get up and out, you lazy ass. It’s time to train our son. He’s been pestering me with questions all morning, and it’s now your job to answer them. Go, both of you. I have a house to clean.”

Zeke followed Papa to a large open cavern a short crawl from their home cave. There was no glowing life in this cavern, so Zeke lit the sconces with the torch he brought from home.

Stalagmites, stalactites, and columns covered the walls and ceiling, but the ground had been smoothed flat like the floor at home.

This enormous cave was prepared long ago for open training.

Papa drew the Ivory Blade.

Zeke immediately felt panic. The cave was too small. He had to get out. His heart started racing.

Papa passed him the blade, but Zeke was paralyzed.

“Why must I use that sword? If the power is mine, I don’t need any sword, right?” he begged.

Papa said sadly, “Yes, you should be able to access your powers without a sword, but you’ve forgotten how. I believe your time trapped in this ivory left an indelible mark on both of you. For thousands of years, whenever your powers were used, it was through this instrument. The first step to mastering your power is to master this instrument. And to do that, you have to master your fear. Take the sword.”

Zeke hesitated but took the sword, as ordered. It was heavy. Heavier than anything he had practiced with before. He needed both hands to hold it. But the anxiety was overwhelming. Zeke could barely stand.

Papa corrected Zeke’s position and said, “Feel that extra weight in the pommel? That’s for balance. You’ll get stronger through daily practice. One day, you should be able to wield it one-handed.”

Zeke was trying to focus but all he could think about was throwing the sword and running in the opposite direction.

Instead, he asked, “So what’s next?”

“Next, you swing that sword around. We’ll start small. One of Lilith’s soldiers”

Papa raised his hand and gathered shadows from the surrounding darkness to form into a grotesque winged monster the size of a small person. It looked famished, skeletal, more claws and fangs than muscle. Its movements were rapid and twitchy. Its wings, leathery and bat-like.

“What is that thing?” Zeke asked.

“One of Cain’s kin. Lilith has thousands on Nod. They’re mindless, savage beasts, and they will rip your throat out and drink your blood in an instant, given the chance.”

As if Zeke wasn’t already terrified enough, he had to fight bloodthirsty monsters.

“Hey,” said Papa. “I know you’re afraid. That’s alright. But this beastie, he’s only smoke. He’s my puppet, and I won’t hurt you. Take a slow, deep breath. Hold it in. Release. We’ll start slow. Ready yourself. Begin.”

The cainkin launched itself at Zeke, who dropped the sword and ran away.

“Ezekiel!” Papa’s barking voice brought him back to his senses. He froze and turned around.

Papa frowned but said nothing. The shadow cainkin lifted the dreadful blade and brought it back to Zeke, who sheepishly accepted it.

Papa summoned a hard shadow sword for himself. Lifting it into the ready position, Papa said, “Okay, let’s slow it down further. Attack me.”

The shadow cainkin flew away to spectate, but Zeke was more afraid than ever. He had never sparred with Papa before. Zeke would have been intimidated even if he wasn’t wielding his own prison.

He hesitated.

“Attack me now!”

Zeke lunged. Papa deflected easily and Zeke stumbled.


Zeke steadied himself and swung. Again Papa deflected.


Papa continued until Zeke couldn’t lift the dreadful sword anymore.

“You did good, son,” said Papa, taking the Ivory Blade and returning it to his shadow pocket.

With the dreadful sword’s absence, Zeke felt such relief as he’d never experienced before. It was like color had returned to his sight. He cried tears of joy, but once that dam had broken, the tears wouldn’t stop. Zeke collapsed to his knees.

“That wasn’t good. I’m a coward. I ran. And in that fight, I didn’t even touch you. Not even close. I’m weak.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” Papa sat and embraced Zeke tightly. “That’s alright. Let it out. No one is brave and strong all the time. You were brave when you swallowed your fear and swung the Ivory Blade. That was what mattered. And you will get stronger. Beating me today was never an option. When you’re ready, we’ll go see what your Mama made for lunch. That sounds good, yeah? Yeah.”

Mama made honey shrimp stir fry. It was incredible.

“You know, I taught your Papa everything he knows in the kitchen.” Mama bragged for the third time. “But I’ll tell you a secret. I have been cooking for a long, long, long, long, long time.”

“Can you teach me how to cook like you do, Mama?” Zeke asked.

“Ezekiel, you are not using me to get out of training. Done with your plate? Good. Get your ass back out there.”

Papa led Zeke to the same training cavern. Like before, he summoned a shadow cainkin and drew the Ivory Blade, handing it to Zeke, who took it without hesitating, burying his fear and dread so he could focus on the enemy in front of him. “Attack the shade,” Papa ordered.

Zeke grit his teeth and lunged. It flew out of reach, then dived for Zeke’s head.

Zeke swung on defensive instinct alone, and cleaved the shade down the middle.

Papa smiled. “Good.” He summoned another shade, exactly like the one before.


And so Zeke passed his days, every day.

And every night, he dreamed the sword was drowning him.

He hated training. Papa was kind, but holding the dreadful sword was torturous.

Over time, Zeke became increasingly irritable. He slayed the shade, over and over again, but even as the fights became increasingly difficult, he never felt progress.

“What am I supposed to be doing?!” he shouted at Papa one day after several rounds of combat practice. “I swing the sword. I kill the shade. Nothing changes. What’s the point? What am I doing wrong?”

Papa calmly blinked at Zeke’s outburst. “Several points. One is to familiarize you with Lilith's hoard. You will likely face several before your story ends. It’s important you know how they move and attack.

“Second, you’re rejecting yourself. You’re rejecting the sword. It’s a part of you, and you hate it. You’ll never master it that way. You need to surrender. Embrace it.”

Zeke scoffed. That was easy to say. Embrace prison. Embrace isolation. Embrace loneliness and insanity. He looked down at the Ivory Blade. That used to be him. In a haunting way, it was beautiful. He tried to do as Papa ordered.

Zeke took a slow breath and tried to surrender. His left hand caressed the ivory grain and detailed engraving. It felt smooth and strong. He ran his fingers along the blade, cutting a finger. A drop of blood fell on the blade.

Papa interrupted pensively, “But maybe we have been going too slow. Alright. Let’s speed things up.”

Papa waved his hand and the cainkin shade evaporated into swirling darkness. With his other hand, Papa gathered more shadows and molded the darkness into a human shape.

As the shade took form and definition, Zeke had an increasing foreboding. The shade’s brow, cheekbones, and jaw, its shoulders and shape, were all so familiar. Zeke felt an emotion he’d only read about in the books at home: hate.

Zeke hated the man this shade resembled. Adam. Without knowing, he knew. This was the monster that trapped him for thousands of years. Murderer. Betrayer.

Zeke launched himself at the shade. Casually, it blocked. Zeke attacked again and again, but nothing went through. Shade Adam was too fast. It went on the attack, and Zeke could barely deflect its blows, the dreadful sword was so heavy.

Zeke took a kick to the chest and fell to the ground and then rolled away.

Papa said, “You’re fighting two opponents. Stop fighting the blade and focus.”

Shade Adam slowly stepped toward Zeke.

Zeke pulled himself up. He let his rage and hate flow into the Ivory Blade, and then he swung it.

Then the strangest thing happened. Zeke felt something, and then the edge of the blade sorta disappeared and reappeared in the air next to Shade Adam, and as Zeke swung the Ivory Blade, the edge fell in the same arc, cleaving Shade Adam’s head.

“What just happened?” Zeke asked.

“You did it! You used your power! You doorwaed the edge of the blade! Again!”

Shade Adam reassembled and attacked again. Zeke barely deflected in time. He jumped back and tried to cut from afar, as he did before, holding the thought and intention in his mind. Nothing.

Shade Adam dashed forward and threw Zeke to the ground.

“Use your power!” Papa ordered.

“I’m trying!” he shouted back. What am I doing wrong? Zeke wondered. He imagined reaching into the sword, where he sent his rage and hate. He concentrated on how it felt as the blade doorwaed itself. Zeke swung the sword. Nothing.

Shade Adam attacked again, knocking Zeke to the ground. He tried again and again. Nothing.

And again and again, Shade Adam threw Zeke on his ass.

Finally, Papa said enough.

“Hey, you made a breakthrough today. Not only did you access your power for the first time, you’ve grown closer to the blade. You’re a much stronger fighter. I know today was hard, and I know being around the Ivory Blade takes a lot out of you, but I want you to appreciate this moment. Be proud of yourself. I’m proud of you, of the hard work you put in, and the progress you’ve made.”

That lifted Zeke’s spirits immensely, even while holding the dreadful sword. He was surprised to feel both joy and grief at the same time, and in that moment he realized the misery he’d been feeling was grief. Zeke had never grieved anything before, so he didn’t recognize it at first.

“Why am I like this? That shade was Adam, wasn’t it? How do I know that?”

Papa gently took the dreadful sword and returned it to his shadow pocket, saying, “Your memories are stored in your brain, in your vessel. Your vessel has to experience a thing in order for you to remember it. But your soul has been around for many thousand years, and it doesn’t remember the same way your vessel does. You have no memories of Adam, or being trapped in the Ivory Blade, but your soul remembers, and your vessel is reflecting that fear and anger. Sometimes ‘intuition’ is when the soul knows something your mind hasn’t figured out yet.”

Papa conjured a shadow carpet to carry them home, where a surprise awaited them.

Aunt Gwen was back and sitting at the dinner table.

Aunt Gwen was a very small and young-looking person, but she was wise and strong. She had pixie white hair and wore dark clothes and a long leather jacket with lots of pockets.

Zeke waved excitedly and ran forward and knelt down to hug his aunt. ‘What’s new?’ he signed. ‘Did you bring me anything cool?’

Aunt Gwen laughed and signed, ‘Of course! Your mama told me you’re a man now. It’s time I give you a man’s gift. No more candies. Anyway, your mama and I ate them all while we were waiting for you.’ Gwen laughed again, then she uncinched one of her belts, handing Zeke a sheathed longknife.

It was a quarter the size and weight of the Ivory Blade. He drew the knife from its scabbard. The edge was one-sided and gently curved. The handle was unadorned yet elegant, with a small knuckle bow guard on one side. Made of good steel and razor-sharp, this was a discreet weapon of a master assassin.

‘This was a gift from my big sister Morgan, who you will meet someday. Now I give it to you, my darling nephew. Wield it with honor.’

Zeke hugged Aunt Gwen again and thanked her profusely.

Then they all sat down to eat dinner. Mama had prepared a mushroom risotto with fish and carrots.

‘Tell us about the war,’ Zeke asked.

‘It’s not a war. We lost long ago. Now it’s about surviving. We wait for hope. We move refugees. We hide.

‘With 3 Ikons, Adam is still godly powerful. He has eyes and ears all over the world, looking for you. But we’re still here, and that means he hasn’t won yet. And maybe one day, if we play our cards right, we can liberate another Ikon or two or three. Even one Ikon could change the scales. But that’s a bridge to cross another day. In the meantime, how are your new studies?’

‘Grueling. But I used my power for the first time today!’

Mama and Aunt Gwen both reacted excitedly. Papa smiled and ate his carrots.

‘Yeah, but it only happened once. I swung the Ivory Blade and it cut something far away. I don’t know how to replicate it yet, but Papa and I are gonna train until I master it.’

Mama and Aunt Gwen were beaming with pride and joy.

‘Of course, you will,’ signed Aunt Gwen. ‘You’ll master your power, and when the day comes to use that power, we’ll be standing next to you, fighting alongside you.’

That night Zeke had a different dream. He dreamed he was running. Or was it jumping?

He was fleeing something- no, someone. Adam. There was someone with him, someone helping him.

Betrayal. A stab in the heart. And Adam’s smug, perfect face leering down at him.

An explosion woke him up and shook the ground. He was sick to his stomach, but there was no time for that. Nearly falling out of bed, Zeke grabbed his longknife and ran outside to find the sky was falling. Literally. The cave ceiling had been blasted clear, and sunlight was cascading into their home like a revelation from on high.

The light blinded Zeke, who had never seen direct sunlight before.

He couldn’t see, but he heard Papa’s voice next to him shout, “We’re under attack! Take the blade and run with Mama and Aunt Gwen. They’ll know what to do. I’ll be right behind you. Go!”

Papa threw the Ivory Blade into Zeke’s arms and pushed him away. “Go!”

Zeke shuffled back, squinting and closing his eyes, reaching out for something to hold onto. A hand grabbed his tightly.

“Hurry, this way,” Mama said, and pulled him into a run. Zeke stumbled but Mama kept him upright.

Zeke’s vision was returning but he had to look down. They crept along in the shadows. His eyes slowly adjusted.

Zeke looked back and saw Papa fighting a swarm of bizarre flying leaf monsters all on his own, wielding a shadow sword and shield. Papa launched himself off the ground and summoned smoky black wings to fight the plant-like, insectoid aliens in the air.

Papa was careful to stay out of direct sunlight, where his shadow constructs would break down.

“Hey!” Aunt Gwen whispered. Zeke hadn’t noticed her before and was surprised to see her. Aunt Gwen signed, ‘Don’t look back. Do as you're told.’

Zeke nodded and turned to follow Mama. He heard explosions behind him but didn’t look back.

They ran to a corner of their home cave Zeke had never explored closely. It looked like a nondescript dead-end until Mama pushed aside a stone to reveal a slide.

Mama signed, ‘Gwen, you go first. Signal blue for clear and red for trouble.’

Aunt Gwen nodded and jumped down the hole that slid into darkness.

While they waited, Zeke looked back to see how Papa was faring. Papa was midair but bloody. The leaf/bug monsters had torn large chunks of flesh from his already mangled body.

Suddenly, a beam of light blasted from above and struck Papa in the chest. He crashed into the ground. The leaves swarmed on him.

“No!” Zeke shouted. A few leaf monsters heard and flew toward them.

“Time to go,” Mama said, pulling him and pushing him down the hole. “I’ll be right behind you.”

That’s what Papa said.

“No, no, no, no, no!” Zeke shouted, but he was already sliding into the narrow, dark escape, still holding the dreadful Ivory Blade.

Zeke fell in total darkness for what seemed a long time, sobbing with terror and rage.

Then from below, a flickering red glow illuminated the dark.

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