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Genesis 💫: Episode 4 – Decisions
Gene faces hard choices about where to go, and who to trust
This is Episode 4 of Genesis: Until The Stars Burn Cold, a fantasy story written in a psychedelic magepunk setting. It explores mental health through allegory along with an array of deeper themes: war and peace; love and loss; anger and forgiveness.
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Episode 4 – Decisions
Gene navigated the yurt with his flashlight and a box of matches while he lit lamps and candles. The flickering flames made eerie shadows dance on the walls and floor.
Once the room was bright enough for conversation, he turned off the flashlight and gestured to a threadbare cushion near the center table with a nod. He watched Neon sit down, then walked over to his shelf and picked up a steel cup.
He turned to Neon and waved the cup in the air. “Water?”
Neon nodded, and Gene grabbed a second cup. He fetched a liter of water from the pallet near the door, then sat on a cushion near the table and filled the cups before pushing one toward Neon.
Gene picked up a folded blanket from under the table and wrapped it around his shoulders. “Alright, kid. Tell me why I should trust you.”
Neon cleared his throat then leaned back on his hands. “For nearly five years now, Artemis has been entering my dreams and giving me instructions. At first, I thought they were just dreams, but then,” he paused and gave a deep sigh.
Gene raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
Neon glanced to the side, then back at Gene. “Then she started teaching me magic. I’d always had the spark, but for some reason, I struggled to make even simple spells work. They’d either fizzle out, or explode in my face and cause injuries. I was on the verge of getting kicked out of the Academy.”
He leaned forward. “I was trying to cast from heartstones, the way the Coalition Magi do. But no matter how hard I tried, it just wouldn’t work. The energy from the heartstones felt wrong, somehow. Angry. And that rage was almost impossible for me to control.”
He raised one hand and pointed his first finger upward. A yellow flame emerged. “But Artemis showed me how to cast in the old ways, drawing energy from the natural world, and sometimes, from my own body.”
The flame disappeared, and Neon made a fist. “Of course, the Academy didn’t like that, when they finally found out. It was their job to stamp out the old ways, after all. They told me that wild magic was evil, and they banned me from using it.”
He dropped his hand and sighed. “For a year or so, I was able to fake it. I’d hold a heartstone and make it shimmer, then I’d cast my spells. It was tough at first to cast two spells at once, but over time, it made me stronger.”
He raised his eyebrows with a mischievous smile. “Finally, though, a Magister caught me practicing and reported me. They threw me out a week later with a warning that if I ever got caught using wild magic again, I’d be arrested by Seekers and returned to the Academy — in the Asylum Wing.”
He leaned back on his hands again. “I survived for a few months by joining a traveling group of performers. I did stage magic — throwing cards, making stuff disappear, and sometimes, a few harmless fireworks. For a while, I didn’t see Artemis again.”
He reached out a hand to pick up his cup, took a drink, and then set the cup back down without looking at Gene. “Then, earlier this year, she returned to my dreams. More urgent this time. She told me about you.”
He turned and looked Gene straight in the eyes. “She told me how you hunted her down for months.”
Gene narrowed his eyes and steadied his breathing, but didn’t move.
Neon kept staring with an intense gaze. “When you finally found her, you and a team of half a dozen Seekers chased her deep into a salt mine. Then, a tunnel collapsed and isolated you and her from the other Seekers.”
Gene closed his eyes and felt his heartbeat increase.
Neon continued speaking. “Instead of fighting her or subduing her, you treated her like an equal. You talked to her. And you listened. For nearly a week, you worked together to stay alive underground.”
Gene opened his eyes and saw Neon leaning forward with one fist held out in front of him.
Neon opened his hand to reveal a cherry blossom pendant on a golden chain. “You admitted having doubts about the Coalition. You asked her questions about magic, and about the heartstones.”
Gene’s eyes went wide at the sight of the necklace.
Neon laid the pendant on the table, then gestured toward it with a tilt of his head. “You helped her survive and escape, even though she was your enemy. And you decided that there must be a better way to live than by hunting down Wild Magi and collecting heartstones for the Coalition.”
Gene reached for the pendant. His hand was shaking.
Neon took another drink of water. “You followed her, and you lived together for five years, avoiding the war, always on the run, until,” he paused, “something happened. She won’t tell me what, no matter how many times she visits my dreams.”
Gene held the necklace in his lap with both hands. His vision blurred, and something warm ran down his face.
Neon shuffled in his seat. “A few months ago, she told me she needed a favor in exchange for everything she’d taught me. She sent me to find you, and told me that once I found you, she’d lead us to her, and she’d finally explain where she went and why.”
Gene’s head snapped up. The muscles in his neck and jaw tensed. His eyes went wide, then closed as he took a deep breath. He let out a long exhale and opened his eyes again, then his brows furrowed into a glare as he drilled a furious gaze into Neon.
Gene clenched a fist. “You're either insane, or you're lying.”
Neon smiled. “She told me you’d say that.” He pointed at the cherry blossom pendant. “So she led me to the necklace. It was under a pile of rubble in an old mountain cave that I sheltered in with the reindeer caravan. She told me you’d recognize it.”
Gene looked at the pendant again, then turned it face down. On the back, he could see a faint inscription. It was a name.
Gene didn’t look up. “Where is she?”
Neon’s clothing rustled as he shifted on his cushion. “I told you — I still don’t know where she is. But she told me where we need to go next.”
Gene held completely still, focusing hard to keep his breathing steady.
Neon’s cup made a sound as he set it down on the table. “She says we need to speak to the Sage of the Hidden Village, deep in the Kōrisu mountains, and that the Sage will give us our next step.”
Gene’s breath caught. “The Hidden Village?” He looked up. His eyes narrowed. “This is a setup. You’re working with the old man!”
Neon put up his hands in a gesture of peace. “Yes, he’s part of this, but it isn’t his idea. The Hidden Village is impossible to find unless you already know where it is. The old man has a tool that can guide us there, but he isn’t the type to do something for nothing, and so the heartstones are his price. But isn’t Artemis worth it?”
Gene made a fist and spat through clenched teeth. “Get out.”
Neon sighed. “Genesis, come on. Be rational.”
In a movement as fast as lightning, Gene drew his knife and plunged it into the table, then his eyes went wide with rage. “Get out! Now!”
Neon lowered his hands. “Alright. I’ll leave. But understand this: if we don’t talk to Artemis, you’ll never be able to rest. Not really. You’ll be haunted by half-memories and delusions, trying to piece together the truth from a million broken shards. And, you’ll never be able to stop running — not only from the Seekers, but from yourself.”
Gene snarled and dove towards Neon, knife in hand, but Neon vaporized instantly into a cloud of colorful mist. Neon’s voice echoed in the yurt from no place in particular. “Just tell the old man if you change your mind.”
The mist faded away, and Gene sat in silence, holding the cherry blossom pendant in one hand, and his bronze knife in the other. He closed his eyes.
Minutes passed, but it felt like years.
He shivered, and not just from the cold.
When he finally opened his eyes, the morning sun was shining through the cracks around the door. He stared at the cherry blossom pendant, then hung it around his neck.
He gave a faint smile. For the first time in five years, he had a connection to Artemis. That, at least, brought him some joy.
He stood up and stretched, then did squat jumps and push ups for several minutes to work off his fatigue — and take the edge off the cold.
He opened the door to let in the sunlight and the outside air. The damp, earthy scents of the mountain mingled with the smokey smell of the settlement. He paused for a moment to listen to the fading sounds of birds as the low din of human activity grew steadily louder.
Gene walked around the outside of the yurt, untying knots and folding back the rainstop fabric covering the crown. A pair of bleating goats wandered by at a blissful pace as they grazed on patches of grass that grew along the path.
When Gene stepped back inside, the room was full of sunlight. It was a bit of a mess, too, thanks to the fight from the night before. A tangle of footprints marked the packed earth floor, his pack had tipped over, and the travel supplies he’d laid on the table were now strewn across the floor.
He gathered a metal pot and a bag of coffee from his storage shelf, then carried them along with a liter of water to the fire pit outside. He got a fire going, then added the coffee and water into the pot and set it on the rack to begin warming. In the sunlight, Gene could faintly see his breath with every exhale.
He reentered the yurt to clean up the mess and blow out his lamps and candles. Then, he used a stiff broom to smooth out the dirt floor where it had been churned up from the fighting. He fetched a steel camp mug and carried it to the fire, then brought it back inside full of steaming coffee. Its aroma filled the air and brought Gene a temporary sense of peace.
After the recent chaos, Gene knew it was time to leave Yamafumura, so he began going through his belongings, deciding what to leave behind. He gathered up weapons and tools, stowing them in pockets and hanging them from hooks built into his sturdy pack.
He attached a bedroll to the bottom of the bag, then filled the main pouch with travel clothes and all the dry food he had. He loaded up medicine, water purification tablets, matches, and rope, along with a small travel tent. He packed all the pieces of his recurve bow, then strapped his quiver to one side of the pack, and his tomahawk to the other.
After over an hour of packing, he was ready. But he still had one thing left to do.
Gene stepped out of the yurt and looked toward the bath house near the Lodge. He was aching and dirty from days of fighting and traveling, and he had no idea when he’d be able to take a bath in hot, fresh water again.
He stood still for a moment to weigh his options, then went back into the yurt and changed into casual clothes. A minute later he came back out, doused his cook fire, finished his coffee, and locked the yurt door before setting off toward the bath house.
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