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  • Ten.


    Ten, ten, ten, five, multiplied by two makes ten.


    Ten.


    Ten what?


    Ten days, ten months.


    Twenty divided by two makes ten.


    Bare stone walls stood maliciously around him. Four of them sneering at him. Gloating, they were free, and he was not. A prisoner in his own mind, and in the mind of society. The walls bore no signs of mold, or moss, or any form of growth. They were dead. Dead and cold, barren like the wasteland that was to be seen outside the iron bars blocking the window the cell. Harsh gray, jagged rocks sprung from the earth like daggers, slicing all those who wished to oppose it. The Daggerlands they called it. They. They called it that, but what else did they call names? Poor, poor Empharos.


    The walls were lined with messy scrawls. Chalk diagrams riddled the bricks like ancient cave drawings, and made little sense to any other than Empharos.
    Circles and grid, filled with numbers and words, paragraphs of text, arrows pointing to seemingly random locations. A diagram of A'therys. A chart of the sun's cycles. He was crouching in the center of the room. His long and dirty fingernails had scratched at the skin on the back of his left hand, so it was red and raw, the flesh exposed dried blood shining crimson in the moonlight, invading the cell from the barred window.


    He stood up, his frail limbs barely supporting his malnourished body. He hobbled feebly over towards one of the walls, where some of his oldest scrawlings lay. Suddenly, the haggard man began to remember. Remember a time before, of a time in which he was free. Free of Him.


    A younger Empharos, brown of hair and eyes, sat at his desk which was an equally deep shade of brunette. A pile of paper lay to his left, stationary and equipment to his right. A patriotic Daggerlander and avid mathematician, he was one of the brightest of the early Age of Uncertainty. He was staying, for the time being, at his father's house, which was situated in one of the quieter corners of Monas Roth, Empharos needed the silence. Needed it like the sun needs the moon. He thought a lot about them. Two orbs, dominating the sky; always traveling, never resting. But where did one go when the other arose? 


    His father walked in, a middle-aged man, well dressed in a suit, an old merchant driven by newfound economic success. He dominated the animal meat market from the first herds brought in by Alor ambassadors, and he didn't intend to lose his supremacy any time soon.


    “Business plans, son?”


    “No father. Something new. I don't want to be disrespectful, but it requires the utmost amount of concentration.”


    His father averted his eyes to the floor. He was sure Empharos would find no riches in his current domain, and feared for his future. None the less, he turned and left Empharos in peace.


    Ten.
    Make it ten Empharos.


    The voice came from inside his head. Empharos stood, his body rigid with fear. He called out, “Who's there?” But no reply came. He must have imagined it. He sat back down on the chair, and it creaked under his weight. He picked up a quill, dipped it into the bottle of thick, black ink. The voice came again, deep and hoarse.


    Ten Empharos, it must be ten, Empharos.


    The mathematician flung himself backwards, the tar-like ink spilling onto the wooden floor, ever expanding to fill as much space as it could. Empharos fell from his chair and landed on his side. He couldn't have imagined it. It was so real, so vivid.


    It's all about precision. Symmetry. Perfection. You can make it so, Empharos. You can make it ten.


    NO. Fifteen. Sixty-three. Forty-Nine. Jagged edges must shine through


    The new voice rang in his head, taunting him, Empharos lashed himself against the side of the mahogany desk in a vain attempt to stop the voice. Crimson fluid stained the wood as Empharos arose and swayed where he stood.


    The books on the wall began to fly from their shelves – paper birds, singing a humiliating rune flung themselves towards him, turning themselves to ash just before they hit him. Empharos covered his face, his hands serving as a shield to the onslaught of disintegrated books. He stumbled backwards and hit the desk. The ashes of the books began to gather into two piles, each rising from the floor as two giant hands, groping the hair like the hands of a madman. Ten fingers.


    Cowering in fear, his hair a mess, stained with blood, covered in ash and dust, Empharos cried out.
    “Who are you?” His voice quivered like vibrato on a violin.


    I am Llyrrh, charged long ago to maintain cosmic order. You must do as you have been told, Empharos. It is you who mus-  the soothing voice was abruptly cut off.
    I am a shadow of what I once was. This voice dripped with malice and spite. The ordered made chaos. A steady tick driven to rail in disarray. The timekeeper, made the trickster.
    Empharos felt a great force rush through him. All went black. Then he could see again. But everything was distorted, jagged, twisted and broken. The walls began to run, dripping, oozing. Then the voice came again; Be different Empharos. You don't have to follow her. Break the rules.


    Suddenly, there was silence. No mocking voice. No flying books. Empharos began to sob. It was only then that his father burst through the door, gazing upon his son, a blood-stained sobbing mess. 


    “Ten.” whispered Empharos, the words forced from his mouth. He muttered under his breath something that could not have been understood by any mortal. But Llyrrh understood. She had won. Whilst Limnas Von had violated the mind, almost destroyed it, she had planted the seed. Order would come from the chaos. Empharos looked at his father, then at the poker lying next to the fire. His father. The poker. He reached for it, tentatively. His father, realizing what Empharos was about to do, rushed forward to prevent him from doing so. But he was too late. The iron poker sank deep into his father's chest. His eyes dilated as Empharos let go of the implement, and his father staggered backwards. A single tear rolling down his cheek, he fell onto his back, his clothes sopping with the crimson ink. 


    Empharos pulled a large scroll from a drawer in his desk. He spread it over the floor; its left corner came into contact with the blood and stained it red. He then draw up a chart, columns and rows filled with writing.


    Ten.


    That was the key. The sun and moon, chasing each other, lapping around A'therys. Ten times, then start again. That was the key. Ten.


    Back in his cell, Empharos lay down on the floor. His mission in life had been fulfilled. And although A'therys did not yet know it, soon all would worship ten. Ten days. Ten months. Limnas Von withdrew his grasp from the frail man, and allowed him to die in peace.

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