Chapter 2: Rey
It was an excellent plan. Well thought out, diligently prepared, designed to embarrass, not cause any actual harm. It was a plan Rey was proud of and it should have been a culminating triumph, an event so momentous that it would forever scar his sister and her reputation in Coran. It should have finally settled the numerous scores and grudges Rey held against his sister, not the least of which was her uncanny ability to be just a little better than Rey at anything the two of them tried. It would have erased the tally of minor victories she had won over the years; forever marking her as an undesirable outcast in a small city, where long lives led to even longer lived reputations. It should have been all these things, but it wasn’t, and now Rey was an undeserved hero and his sister maimed for life.
Rey had always had a turbulent relationship with the truth. When he was just a boy and didn’t know better, he developed a reputation as an embellisher, an exaggerator, and somewhat uncharitably — an outright liar. Even now, Rey didn’t think of himself as a “bad person”, he just found it hard to separate what he wanted the world to be, from what it was. Reality had a stubborn habit of failing to conform to his ideals. When he couldn’t alter the real world, he simply acted as if he had, could, or already did. As he matured, his skill with fabrication and unquestionable intelligence, allowed him to shed prior labels and cultivate a reputation for honesty and integrity. His good name was hard fought, but it belied a deep, almost pathological need, to manipulate the truth.
Rey’s life of deceit stood in stark contrast to his twin sister’s outward virtue and honor. His multi-layered deceptions were the antithesis of Noria’s earnest striving. Rey understood the dichotomy. He believed that God had created the two of them as polar opposites, as a means of balancing creation. This meant that deep down, at some primal level, his sister must be evil, for he himself, at his very core, was good. Most days his feelings toward his sister were a confused mess of envy, admiration, jealousy, and resentment. Rey was a quick learner and excelled at practically every undertaking he tried. He wasn’t just good, he was nearly the best, at almost everything. Anything he endeavored to learn, any skill he sought to master, one person was always just a little better, a little stronger, a little quicker — and that one person was Noria and he hated her for it. And so he planned her demise, a fall from grace that would so humble her that she would forever be in his shadow.
All births of Coran, whether on the Argon or Pellan side of the city, were celebrated with incredible enthusiasm due to their rarity. But the birth of twins had been a truly exceptional event. Rey and Noria were the first ever conceived on the Argon side; the only other recorded occurrence had been twenty-five hundred years in the past. “The twins”, as they came to be known, entered their small little world with notoriety and renown. Rey loved the attention, and firmly believed he deserved the distinctions and honors that came with his unusual birth. From as early as he could remember, he had wanted to be a hero, to be recognized widely and forever for the accomplishments he knew he would achieve.
By the time the twins were teenagers, their natural gifts had branded them as special. Both were widely seen as attractive. Rey’s dark symmetrical face was punctuated by piercing eyes and a near constant half-smile. It was the type of smile that wordlessly said ‘I know something you don’t’ or ‘please forgive my latest transgression’. Noria wore her tightly curled hair in long elaborate braids. The braids were heavy, but easily secured. She kept them up, away from her soft, warm, and inviting face. Her eyes were large, brown, almond-shaped beacons that drew immediate attention whenever she made eye contact. Like her brother’s expressive smile, Noria’s eyes could communicate full thoughts and ideas with just a look.
At as early as his sixteenth year, Rey’s body was already statuesque, laced with long thin muscles from head to toe. Musculature like his was easy to underestimate, but repeated wrestling wins over larger, bulkier men, had marked his strength widely. His sister’s body was similarly well-muscled, only gently curving in her hips and breasts. Hiding her face and wearing Rey’s clothes, Noria could easily pass for her brother in general size and shape. The twins tended to dress in similar colors, both favoring golds, whites, and silvers that accented their dark ebony skin. So attired, they made a gorgeous pair, impossible to ignore. Noria’s apparent affection for Rey was demonstrable in many ways. She imitated Rey in demeanor and dress, she followed him and supported him when others questioned his words or intentions. She confided in him and was a willing listener to any of his stories and concerns. Noria seemed to be the perfect sister and Rey hated her for it.
Of all the athletic competitions that Coran people regularly took part in, wrestling was considered the the pinnacle of sport. The need for strength, stamina, and skill in equal measure, combined to make wrestling the truest test of physical ability. With such a small pool of participants available for any competition, athletes were grouped in pods by age. The first grouping consisted of five to ten year olds, the second, eleven to sixteen year olds, and the third and final grouping, seventeen to twenty-three year olds. Rey won his pod two years in a row, when he was nine and again when he was ten. Unlike most competitors, Rey had a willing, strong, and capable sparring partner in his sister. During training, they practiced and traded known stances, but also invented new techniques and tactics regularly. The twins didn’t keep score, but they both knew, they were evenly matched on the mat.
When the twins were fifteen, Noria petitioned the Coran high council to open wrestling competitions to young women. A short debate yielded no good reason to exclude women, and so Noira was entered. By tradition, wrestlers wore only small loincloths to cover their midsections. Much more modesty was expected of women throughout Coran culture, but Noira opted to wear a simple loincloth and a small, tightly wrapped piece of linen over her breasts. Minor protests followed, her presence greatly unnerving the young men she wrestled. Her dark, immaculately toned body caused conflicting feelings of envy, desire, and awe in their pubescent brains. In subsequent games, a more formal and modest attire was adopted for female participants, but only after Noria had won her first competition outright, the final match a narrow three to two victory over her sibling.
Despite making the finals himself, Rey felt betrayed by his sister’s win and vowed not to train with her for the next year. Noria pleaded and begged Rey for forgiveness. She even vowed not to enter the competition if he would train with her again, but Rey refused. As sixteen year olds, both twins finished in the top five, but neither won the competition. The championship instead went to a mutually disliked rival from the opposing state of Pella. After the loss, Rey outwardly swallowed his pride and the two began training together again. Noira had spent the past year apologizing and pleading for Rey’s forgiveness and when he finally relented, she believed his acceptance genuine. It wasn’t. They traded titles with apparent amicability through their early twenties, but Rey secretly and patiently plotted revenge.
As their final competition came near, Rey began to keep careful notes on his sister’s comings and goings. Most of her time was easily accounted for: she played games with friends, wrote songs and painted, but most of all, she studied. Her days and weeks were filled with activities that made her an exemplary for citizens their age. But once a week, she ventured out of the walled city, and made her way to a nearby cave. The cave was one of hundreds of known caverns that dotted the island on which the city of Coran was located. This particular cave was known, but little used. Most Corans, both Argons and Pellans, felt little need to leave the high rounded walls that encircled and protected the city. Idle exploration was frowned upon, considered too dangerous a venture to risk harm to a sacred Coran life. The world for Corans existed inside the walled city. Little consideration or thought was given to the outside, other than in preparation for the yearly defense.
It surprised Rey that even Noira had her secrets. As he trailed behind his sister on her latest excursion he considered his options. Rey hadn’t dared follow her into the cave before, but intended to do so this trip. In preparation, he had made two journeys out to the cave on his own, attempting to become acquainted with what he’d find inside. Staying out of sight was easy among the thin woods that surrounded the city, but once they entered the cave, darkness and unfamiliarity would be the enemies of stealth. Rey had discovered that the darkness gave way to a light blue luminescence after a short descent. A type of fungus gnat glowed during its larval stage, producing a sticky, mucus-covered thread that attracted unsuspecting insects that became food for the larvae. Rey watched the process with amazement and wonder, appreciating the use of a shiny object to lure in prey. The lit path led further down and ended in a large warm pool. Here the larvae were so dense, they created a bright glow that allowed Rey to see the rocks on the bottom of the shallow basin. Rey suspected that this was Noria’s ultimate destination and he’d been correct. What he hadn’t foreseen, was that his sister would shed her clothes once the path became lit. Her immodesty took him aback, he followed less closely and allowed her to stay out of sight. When she arrived at the pool, Rey heard her enter the water. Once the splashing had subsided and she’d grown accustomed to the water, she began to sing a beautiful and sad song. Wordlessly, the notes carried echoes creating a symphony of sound that almost overwhelmed Rey. Was his sister’s voice always this beautiful? Rey buckled from the emotion and made a quick retreat out of the cave and back to Coran. There he further formulated his ultimate plan.
Patience. Rey wasn’t usually the most patient person, but he had learned to accept that time was nearly eternal and that great plans took time. Most other Corans were patient by nature and necessity. The average lifespan on the Argo side had reached 176 years. Pella was only slightly behind at 173 years. These were just averages though, the oldest living Argon was Master Aren. He celebrated his 376th birthday earlier this year. All seven council members, the three from Argo and the four from Pella, had each lived more than 250 years now. This, in itself, was a little unusual; the council was typically made up of individuals spanning a long range of years, but no new council members had been added in over a hundred years.
Coran history told the tragic story of ever increasing longevity that was coupled with ever decreasing fertility. When the twins were born, they represented citizens 1003 and 1004 respectively. In the twenty-three years since their births, there had been just sixteen more children born, while twenty-five elderly had passed away. When the population fell below a thousand, it was for the first time in five thousand years of recorded history. Coran life was precious and long, but it required patience to endure.
Rey noticed a pattern in Noria’s excursions: they almost always occurred the day after a major paper was due or after taking an important test. He tested his theory, asking her if she’d do extra training with him on one of these occasions. When she politely declined his theory was confirmed. He mused at how important the excursions of hers plainly were. The plan ended up being rather simple: he would wait for a day where Noria’s swim and a public gathering coincided. The entrance to the wall city opened into a large main plaza called Savior Square. Most assemblies took place there, as the plaza’s function was both practical and defensive. The massive open area had been designed as a funneling point that was easily defended should the entrance gate ever be breached.
Rey noticed that an important test and presentation by the Research class would coincide next month. The Research classification was made up of all citizens over 150 years old. A presentation day meant that the majority of citizens from both sides of Coran would be milling about in Savior Square. Even the Schooling class, of which the twins were part, would be free after their earliest sections. Their peers would most likely be found asking the researchers about their work and trying to catch a glimpse of what would be shared. With well over half the population present in the square, Rey’s plan would have maximum impact. Noria’s embarrassment and shame would mark her for life. The long lives and even longer memories of the Coran people would ensure that the stigma that attached to Noria from the day’s events would follow her until she died. Or so Rey thought. But even the best plans, executed flawlessly, with patience and preparation, could go astray. He hadn’t anticipated his sister’s strength nor her fear. He could have never guessed that his relationship with Noria and the city itself would forever change that day.
To execute the plan, Rey needed to follow Noria to her cave and steal her clothes. She would be forced to walk back through the gates of the city naked and into a crowd of her peers and other citizens. She would be forever shamed and humiliated. It should have worked too, but Rey didn’t foresee his sister’s reaction nor her determination. After burning and burying her clothes, Rey retreated to a vantage point on a small hill outside the city and near the gate. His anticipation of her pain made him happy and he passed the time on the hill waiting for her return idly imagining the large crowd’s reaction to her nakedness. Modesty for women was paramount in Coran culture. Many men would see their first unclothed woman only several years into their marriages. Noria’s stunt at the wrestling games was still whispered about disreputably among the proper people in Argo. In Pella, her lewdness at the games was openly despised and seen as a prime example of Argon depravity.
When Noria finally approached the gate, Rey furrowed his eyes and for the first time began to doubt his plan. She was sobbing, holding her breasts with one arm, the other arm feebly attempting to cover her midsection. She was running awkwardly, the heaving of her sobs and her arms creating a disjointed and awkward gait. Rey turned away, ashamed of her nudity, feelings of guilt ruining what should have been his moment of triumph. He debated going to her, apologizing, ending the awful scene before it could play out any further. But before he could act, she had done the unthinkable. Instead of going through the gates, she was making for the edge of the curved wall that surrounded the city. Her purpose clear, her arms released from her body as she made her way to the wall. Rey watched in horror as she began to climb.
The walls of Coran rose at a steep, but slight, curvature toward a flat defensible top. The walls were not constructed to keep out humans, they were made with one purpose: to slow the hordes of Termin. The ongoing Termin threat is one of the defining features of Coran society and history. Twice a year, for as long as the Coran people have recorded history, the Termin have come in great numbers with the seeming intent to destroy Coran existence. Early history described great battles with large casualties on each side. In more recent times, the Termin threat proved more nuisance to be managed, than actual danger. The tall curved walls had razor sharp protrusions that shredded the abdomens of the large insects as they mindlessly advanced. The walls themselves neutralized the majority of the Termin, leaving just the especially hardy few that overcame the walls to be dealt with by the waiting defenders. Leaving aside the purpose behind the walls, they were widely considered unclimbable and deadly to humans as well. No human had attempted to climb the walls before. Warnings to children were frequent and stern: the walls were deadly, do not approach them.
Noria’s sobbing and heaving continued as she made her way up the wall. Twenty feet up, her body was already lacerated by the spikes, running blood making her tenuous footholds slippery. Shame and fear mounting, Rey ran towards Noria as she continued to climb.
“Noria! Stop!” He screamed, just onehundred feet from the wall and her perilous climb. She turned her head slightly, her grip loosening, and she fell. Her body tumbled down the wall in slow motion, acquiring new deep wounds on both sides of her body. A slick sheen, with just a hint of red, covered her completely as she landed in a crumpled heap of limbs at the base of the wall. Her movements stopped, and Rey’s heart sank. He ripped his own clothes from his back and waist, rushing to her side and draping them over her naked body as he lifted her into his arms. Paralyzing fear crushed Rey. This should be me. This should be me! What have I done? What on Ares have I done?
Dazed, he entered the gates of Coran, his blood soaked sister in his arms. The throng of people in the Square fell silent as first whispers then shouts announced his arrival.
“Are you okay? Is she okay?”
Questions went unanswered and unheard by Rey, his mind still reeling, wracked by guilt, fear, and utter desperation. He fell to his knees as they took her body from his arms.
“Get her to the medical facilities, now!”
Commands were issued and followed.
“Rey? Are you okay?”
“You saved her.”
“You’re a hero.”
“A savior in Savior Square.”
The last phrase stuck. Rey became widely known as “the living Savior from Savior Square,” most people began to call him “Savior Rey”, as if the honorific was now the definition of who he was. The next several hours, maybe days, were a blur. Rey didn’t know how he got to his sister’s bed, nor how long he had been there. He couldn’t remember changing his clothes or eating. He didn’t recall who was treating his sister or what the prognostics were. He was only vaguely aware of small owls in the room and the enormity of what had transpired.
“She’s awake!” The call startled him. Rousing from restless sleep, he looked at his bandaged sister’s face and saw her beautiful warm eyes were open and focused on him.
“They say you saved me. They say I was dying and you saved me. Savior Rey. My savior. I love you, Rey. More than you can ever imagine,” her words slashing his heart to shreds. He couldn’t take it. His head fell into her lap, she jerked slightly, clearly still aching from the countless cuts and bruises that covered her body. Rey’s body began to shake. The crushing weight of his pain and shame burst forth into violent sobbing and then a primal cry of pain. Noria cradled his head gently, ignoring her own pain, utterly focused on her brother.
“I’ve always loved you Rey, but I sometimes wondered if you even liked me. You saved me. I promise you, I will never falter in my devotion to you. You are my Savior and I am forever in your debt. It’s all right. I’m going to be fine thanks to you,” she hushed him gently.
“You saved me.” Rey’s mind and heart went numb. He wanted to die, to be erased. How could this go so wrong? Time seemed to slip unnoticed. How long was he here? As his sobbing slowed and his senses returned, he heard her voice singing. It was the same haunting melody he’d heard her sing in the cave, only now there were words.
My idol, my friend, my brother
From birth, we’ve been as one
Your actions, your words guided my life
From birth, we’ve been as one
Your charm, your smile, my happiness
From birth, we’ve been as one
My savior, my life, my happiness
From birth, we’ve been as one
Those last words, that last moment, that was when Rey’s heart permanently shattered. His self-hatred became all encompassing. Uncontrollable loathing poured forth from him. His plan had given him fame and notoriety beyond his wildest dreams. But he had almost killed Noria and the guilt was too much the bear. He hung his head and sobbed. There was no God, there was no justice in the world, there was just lies and pain. Rey stopped thinking and feeling, he was a cold lifeless stone and he hated the world and everything in it.