The problem was more about what she could do for the village, rather than what they could do for her… and right now what she could do was leave, and never come back. An ache in her jaw began on the right side of her face, and Melki took a moment to unclenched the muscles.
“You knew this day was coming,” accused her father, his back to her as he packed a lunch. “Don’t go cursing it now.”
“Who’s heard of a god leaving their home?” she complained instead, swallowing the phrases she’d been intending to say instead. There would be time aplenty, and freedom enough, to let the poisonous words fall from her lips when she was walking away. Her father didn’t need the bad luck, the village didn’t need the bad luck, and she didn’t need the bad luck either. A brief whisper brought up Kors, the innkeeper’s son, but he didn’t need more bad luck.
“Gods leave and come back when the time is right,” he said, turning around and handing her a journeyman’s pack. The smile didn’t reach his eyes though, and she decided not to bring up the fact that none of the earlier reincarnated gods had come back. Bastards. They’d left, probably found a better life, and had ignored everything, everyone around them. Forgotten everyone they’d promised to come back and help.
“I’m not going to forget,” she said softly, not looking at her father. “I’m going to come back. I’m going to make sure we’re protected, and I’m going to do everything-“
“Melki.” Her name on his lips stopped her tirade of promises. “My little Melki. Don’t worry about us. Leave, and live your life.” He smiled. “You being free means you’ll have more years than you’ll know what to do with. Use them for enjoyment. For bettering yourself.”
“…you don’t want me?”
He was next to her in a flash, broad arms wrapping around her shoulders, his tight hug pinning her arms to her sides.
“Melkinanka-vas, I love you more than life itself. I do not want you coming back.”
She went to open her mouth and fight him on this, but as quick as one of the garden snakes he covered her up with his hands.
“Listen to me, and listen well stubborn daughter of mine.” His voice dropped. “This village is what it is. We sacrifice people once a year to appease the land, and we allow one ‘god’ to leave. It’s a balance. If no one ever left, then people wouldn’t be willing to live with the sacrifices. If there were no sacrifices, then there wouldn’t be a village. There is nothing you can do except live a long and healthy life.”
Melki tore herself away and pinned him with a nasty look. Her ‘evil eye’ as the village referred to it. Meant to keep people away, it had been her first sign of magic, and with that, godhood.
“The more you argue with me, the more suspicious everyone else becomes.” He smiled. Held out his hands for a final hug. “I’ll always think of you, and miss you. That’ll have to be good enough for you.”
She started to tear up, grabbing his shirt to keep the tears from spilling out.
“It’s been a joy to be your father. Not living here with me anymore doesn’t erase that.”
Melki didn’t know what to say. The rest of the evening passed by quickly. She thanked the newest sacrifice, an older grandmother who was calm about the whole ‘die for the good of the village’ idea, and then was sent on her way, marching toward the unknown, with no information, and little to her name.
The trees lined the path, green and swaying in the wind, and the shade they offered was a bonus. Then the shade disappeared, and she gasped. No more green clouded her vision, no bird songs talked about a beautiful day. Ahead of her were ruins, destruction, and ravages of both man and nature.
“What the hell…?” She looked back, and in the distance there was the village, hearth and home hale and hearty. “How…?”
“Do you know how we pick ‘gods’?” asked a voice from behind her. Melki spun, her right hand going to the hidden knife at her hip. “We look to see who’s going to cause the most trouble.”
Well. That was, and wasn’t, surprising.
“And why did you think I’d be causing trouble?”
A shadowed being stepped out from behind the trees. No eyes, no face to see, just a body wrapped up in dark cloth.
“Your grandmother did too. As did your mother.”
“So, genetics. Great. How about giving me an answer to something more important?” She didn’t look away from them as she pointed. “Why does the world look like this? And who the hell are you?”
“One of the ones who remain, who can breath the poisoned air, drink the dirty water. What happened was war. What remains is war.”
“This is nothing like the village.”
“We take your ‘gods’ and remove them from the equation. We take your sacrifices and bring them into our own tribe.”
“What’s in it for you?” Melki took a step forward. “What do you get out of this deal?”
“Our kids grow up,” they said, holding out their hands. “There’s something in the air, an illness or disease, or maybe even a nanobot, but it hits kids the worst. We use all of our might, all of our power to protect your village, which in turn raises our children.”
“…we’re an incubator.” Melki blinked. “But… I don’t remember people in the village adopting kids. When a parent knows they’re going to have a child, they leave for the bottom of the mountain caves, and when they and the baby are ready for society, they come back.”
“It doesn’t…” she stopped. It could work that way. If the adults didn’t say anything, and kept lying to their children. “Then… what am I?”
“You’re my child.”
Melki’s face grew hot as a rush of anger flashed through her.
“I’m my father’s child,” she snapped, a lip curl showing exactly what she thought of the being’s words. “And I will always be so. He’s the one that brought me up, not you.”
“And I’m here now to take you the rest of the way.” They stepped forward and held out a gas mask, and another long piece of cloth. “Wrap yourself. Put on the equipment. I will ask for a year to show you, to explain to you. And if you think that in a year you need to come back here and ‘rescue’ your home, then do so. After a year.”
She took the items, snatching them and putting them on.
“One year. No more. And I will come back here to release everyone.”