Dead of Summer is a short story by S.G. Basu from her KP world of The Eternity Prophecy. In this story you'll learn more about Steffen Pere and the things that make him tick!
About Dead of Summer
My name’s Roli. Everyone calls me a worthless squatter. I don’t care. I know I’m a hero.
My life changed the day I saw the Metal Man kill the oracle. Turns out that murder was just the tip of a huge conspiracy to fake the Eternity Prophecy. Turns out seeing the murder was the thread that untangled the awful plot.
I should be put on a pedestal then, right? No such luck. I’m still a squatter and still plenty worthless.
There’s one new thing in my life though. Fear. Lots and lots of it. I know one of these days the Metal Man’s gonna come and get me. Rip me to shreds like he did the oracle. Winning against the Metal Man might not be in my future but one thing I’m sure of—I’ll give him one hell of a fight.
If only he'd show up . . .
A Note from S.G. Basu
Ever wondered who’s the most pivotal character of The Eternity Prophecy? If you say it’s Leon or Mako or Bryanna, I’ll agree. All of them are absolutely necessary in unraveling of the conspiracy. No wonder all of them got their own chapters in the novel to tell their part of the story.
However, one person didn’t get the attention he deserves. That’s the spunky orphan Roli, the only witness to Leon’s murder. Come to think of it, if Roli hadn’t seen the murder and told Mako about it, Eos would likely have a different fate.
Since Roli was robbed of a voice in the novel, I decided to bring him back to life in this short story, The Dead of Summer. Here, he gets to tell you a bit about himself and gives you a peek into the Empire's state of affairs right after events in The Eternity Prophecy. The Dead of Summer is a quick, light read, with a sweet twist at the end that’ll leave you smiling.
Dead of Summer
Summer has never been my friend. Not now, not ever. But at least I’ve never had to fear for my life like I do now.
Second thoughts . . . that’s not quite true. You could say I was born fearing for my life.
Years ago—fourteen to be exact—on the night I came to be, the worst summer storm in centuries hit Ajokkan. There was no electricity for weeks, no running water, and thousands got sick or died. My poor mother, after the day-and-a-half-long labor I put her through, had to go all primitive in getting me out of her. It was one heck of a complicated birth. My life was on the line, hers as well. But both of us made it somehow. She lost so much blood in the ordeal that for the rest of her life she was barely a shadow of herself. I gained a loathing for the season that stayed ingrained in me since.
I grew up hating the blazing suns, the long days, and having to wash the sweat off my shirt every evening. I’ve lived most of my life out on the streets. That’s where summers are really hard. Our winters are mild and the boarded-up abandoned houses work out fine as shelters. During the blazing Ajokkan summer though, things get a little tricky. I put up in the abandoned buildings during the night, but they turn into steaming hothouses during the day. So in between running errands, I have to secure a daytime resting spot—some shady corner that’s away from the local constabulary’s patrol route—to ease the daylight hours. The best spots always get taken early and most days I have to beg or fight or bribe someone into sharing their corner with me. But today I lucked out. I found an empty bench under the trees near the river. Weird! Usually, every spot in the area is taken by this time of day.
We, squatters, are a populous bunch. So it follows, there’s a lot of competition over the few things that come free in Ajokkan, the capital of the magnificent Veloressian Empire of Twenty Three Stars. It’s a fantastic city with sights to see and riches to behold. It’s also got us, scores of homeless squatters. You can find us everywhere. The Empire calls us blight on beautiful Ajokkan. Sweet name, huh?
Hearing that used to hurt a lot. It still stings a little, but I’m getting better at handling it. The thing is: it doesn’t matter what anyone calls us, as long as they don’t evict us from here. The eviction threats have grown more frequent lately, but I think it’s just talk. With all the drama going on with the Eternity prophecy, I doubt the Empire has time to bother us anytime soon. They are too busy covering up their involvement in faking the Eternity prophecy and bringing the real Adi Niappan back to the people. If they can find her.
“Hey, Roli!” someone calls my name. It makes me jump. I’ve been jittery lately. Ever since I watched the metal man rip the oracle apart near the old tree stump six months ago, it has been hard, especially during the day when I’m out in the open. I startle at every unexpected sound and the tiniest shadows scare the living daylights out of me. I’m definitely not the fearless Roli I used to be.
This voice though, I recognize. It’s Lyka’s. It brings a smile to my face, like always.
Lyka’s another squatter, a red-haired, button-nosed girl I’ve been crushing on for as long as I can remember. She plonks down next to me and shuffles near. I want to tell myself my charm’s irresistible but I know the only reason she’s come closer is to get a bit of the shade covering me. When the two suns are nearly overhead like they are now, it’s pretty terrible out in the open. Lyka nudges me sharply and her brows dance. “You looked scared when I called. What’s going on?”
I wish I could tell her, but I can’t. It’s a secret I’ve been guarding since the day I saw the oracle getting butchered. I can’t tell her that it was me . . . that murder of Oracle Leon Courtee I witnessed was key to finding out the Eternity prophecy was fake. I was the one who’d first heard of the real prophecy. If it hadn’t been for me, we’d still be worshipping a false Adi Niappan and waging a wrong war. I can’t tell Lyka how important I am or brag about my bravery and intelligence. So I simply shrug and pretend to be an idiot.
She fixes an accusing gaze on me. “You’re hiding something, Roli. You’ve been strange since . . . since the fake prophecy came out. Why can’t you tell me? I’m your oldest friend.”
She’s right about that. I’ve known Lyka since forever. Her family and mine were friends—our fathers worked at the old tannery and our houses were next to each other. We used to play together every day. It was good times. Even the summers were not as unbearable.
Then the slump happened.
I was three when my father lost his job at the tannery. The man drowned his frustrations in alcohol and quickly graduated to the smoking dens. Before I could turn four, he was dead. At his funeral, a tiring affair at the public pyre in the scalding heat of summer, someone called me “bad luck Roli” and somehow the name sunk into my innocent head like a nail in butter. For years I believed I truly brought ill luck on my parents, that I was responsible for my mother being sick and my father, dead.
I get life somewhat better now. I have to. A fourteen-year-old squatter in Ajokkan is far from a trusting child. I’m pretty sure my father was a coward. The sucker didn’t know how to fight back. What happened to us was less because of me and more because he gave up so easy.
My mother lived a few more years after my father’s cowardly exit, but with the house forfeited and having to work through the day to barely make enough to keep our bellies full, I had known she’d not last long. I turned into a full-time squatter when she was gone, creeping into one abandoned house near the tannery and then another. I picked up survival skills—needed loads of it to find my way around town without drawing the attention of the constabularies—quickly. I was too young to get a job legally but scouting around for simple errands every day helped. At least it has never kept me wanting for food.
“You’re thinking about useless shit again,” Lyka’s sharp voice cuts through thoughts, and yanks me out into the present. I unclench my fists and let go of the breath I’m holding. She’s right. There’s no point thinking about things I can’t change.
I turn to look at Lyka. Strands of flaming red hair across her tanned forehead partially hide her bright green eyes. Her face is flushed, her lips slightly parted. A flutter comes to life in my stomach and I recognize that urge—I’ve known it long enough. I want to kiss her. I’d give anything to kiss her. But I can’t. I tuck my hands between my knees and fling a whip over my daydream. I’m a marked man, and I can’t drag Lyka into my mess. I force my eyes away from her mouth, an act Lyka doesn’t miss. Her lips twist into a small smile before I can turn attention away.
“What’s going on with you, Lyka?”
She gives me an amused look before a reply. “The usual,” she says, fanning herself with her right hand. “I heard someone’s looking for you.”
My heart jumps and I gulp to make it calm down again. That’s how I’ve been since the murder. Somehow I can’t stop thinking that the metal man who killed Leon will come for me someday. Even though they caught his helper, the master assassin was never found. I think he’s still out there, somewhere in Ajokkan. I think he’s watching me.
“W-who?” I manage a stutter.
“Beni told me he didn’t see the man’s face,” Lyka replies with a shrug. Beni is the older of Lyka’s two brothers. “But he was asking for you by name. Gave Beni this.”
Lyka pulls a piece of paper out of her pocket. It’s folded neatly into a small square. My fingers shake a little as I grab it. I have to squint hard to read the tiny letters that make up the short message.
Come see me at double-noon.
My heart skips another beat. Orin is Makos’s nutty father. Mako, the Special Ops guy, is the one I told about the metal man and Leon’s murder. The whole Empire knows about Leon’s murder now, but Mako was the first. I believe Mako had something to do with exposing the fake prophecy. But I still can’t figure out how he did it. I’ve listened and looked in the newscasts. There’s no mention of Mako anywhere. And the thing is—I don’t see Mako around anymore. He’s gone. Disappeared.
My take on it? I think the metal man killed Mako too. And I’m to blame. But what else could I’ve done? I just couldn’t forget Leon being murdered. I had to tell someone, and Mako was the best choice. He was Leon’s friend and being in the Imperial Special Ops, he knew how to handle assassins. So I thought. I thought he’d know how to get the metal man without getting killed by him first.
“Roli!” Lyka pokes me hard in the ribs. “You’re making that sad face again. What are you thinking?”
I can’t tell her. I can’t drag her into a dangerous assassin’s crosshairs. That’s the reason I haven’t visited Orin to inquire about his son. Because I don’t want the old man to get in trouble either. That’s the reason I always stick to crowded places now. If Mako couldn’t survive the metal man, what chance did I have against him?
“It’s nothing, Lyka,” I say.
Lyka crosses her arms and sighs loudly. Perhaps she notices the determination on my face or senses the reserve in my voice. She gets to her feet and dusts her sweaty shirt that clings stubbornly to her. Damn! Who knew getting my eyes off from her chest would be so hard? Luckily, I manage to look away before she notices.
“I’ve to go, Roli. That bakery near the Archives is looking for helpers in their loading docks.”
I nod hastily, hoping she’d leave without asking any more questions but she doesn’t. Instead she points at the piece of paper in my hand. “Who’s Orin?” she demands.
“Just an old man I know.”
Lyka’s face twists. There’s pain in her eyes. “See you later then,” she says before leaving. I want to stop her, but I do what I have to—let her go. Gulping hard to rid the pain in my throat I tear my eyes away from her.
A pang twists my stomach reminding me that’s I haven’t eaten in a while. It’s not like I don’t have coins to buy some food. What I don’t have is time to lose. The two suns—Yimma and Soren—are almost overhead. That’s as close to a double noon we’ll get anytime soon. It’s today. I have to meet Orin today, now. I jump to my feet and with a quick look around I set off across town toward Mako’s house.
The walk feels endless. Sweat pours down my forehead as I stare up at Mako’s front door. The rays of the two suns are trying to drill through my skull, but I know well that I’m sweating more out of fear than the heat. I’m afraid of what I’m going to find behind that door. I have thought about it all the way here and now that I’m about to face Orin, I can’t take the final few steps. He has found out about Mako, I think, my heart sinking like a rock in the water. The old man knows his only son is dead. Murdered by the metal man. Murdered because I told him about Leon. I did this. I took that blind old man’s sole support from him. I—
“So . . . this is it, huh?”
I whirl around to find her smiling. She looks as if she has won the lottery for a whole month’s free food.
“Lyka? What are you doing here?” I demand, frowning. Glaring, you might say.
Her jubilant smile doesn’t fade. It doesn’t even waver. She points at Mako’s front door and raises an eyebrow at me.
“This where old man Orin lives?”
“W-what? No . . . that’s—”
I’m too slow to react and my stutter is a dead giveaway. She smirks and sprints up the stone staircase leading up to the red door.
She’s already rapped by the time I run up to her. The door falls open in an instant. Orin’s smiling face pops out a moment before a blast of cool air hits my face and makes my skin tingle. My heart picks up pace. He’s smiling—maybe Mako is all right.
“You must be Orin,” Lyka says, flashing her light-up-a-room smile. “I’m Roli’s best friend, Lyka. I’m the one who got him your message. Can we come in? It’s so damn hot out here, your cool air is just what I need.”
But there’s no stopping that girl. Like the Goddess of War, red hair billowing like a halo around her face, twisting her arm free of my grip, Lyka steps past a bemused Orin and into Mako’s house. I rush after her into the dimly lit hallway, still hoping I can somehow get Lyka out of there. She can’t be part of this, she can’t know about the murdering metal man.
“Who’re you?” Lyka’s voice, sharp and shaky at the end floats to my ears along with the click of the door closing behind me.
I grab Lyka’s arm and pull her near before blinking desperately to make my eyes adjust to the dimness fast. I want to see who Lyka is speaking with, my heart doing wild flips.
Mako! Could it be Mako? It has to be Mako.
It’s not. The man at the far end of the hallway, the one Lyka’s staring at, the one dressed in a long, brown robe is far too tall. And Mako didn’t look like this. This is a face from a nightmare—one that I’ve been living with for the last six months. His face is battered—an ugly lump of deep gashes, some stitched, and some filled with gleaming metal. His one eye, sunk deep under a swollen bulge of an eyelid, gleams at me across the room. The other, with some sort of instrument embedded in it, moves, no . . . telescopes in and out as it focuses on my face. This isn’t Mako. It’s the hideous assassin I saw murdering Leon.
It’s the metal man.
And now he has found me.
I scream. I tell Lyka to run while she can. Only no sound comes out of me.
Orin whispers in my ear. “It’s all right, Roli. Sit,” he says, patting me on the shoulder.
“He,” I manage a cracked whisper between gasps, “t-that man is a killer.”
Sit? Mako’s father was nutty the last time I met him but this is bat-shit crazy. Maybe Mako’s death has done him in.
We have to get out of here but Orin’s blocking the door. I try pushing him. Orin doesn’t budge. For an old man, he’s strong. The metal man had been standing quietly in the far corner, watching. Now he strides across the dim room. Toward us. His metal feet tinkling on the floor.
Tightening my grip on Lyka’s arm, I fall back another step.
“He killed the oracle. You friend Leon,” I scream at Orin.
“I know,” Orin replies.
He knows? Then how can he be so calm about it?
Questions buzz like trapped bees in my brain. Why did Orin call me here? What does the metal man want from me?
The metal man looms over us, his face—a lumpy mess of flesh and metal—so close that I can see every gash on it.
“Please, please let Lyka go,” I plead, knowing it’s useless. But I have to try. “She knows nothing. Please.”
“I’m not hurting you, am I?” His voice is raspy and just as unpleasant as the rest of him.
His words sink in slowly. That is true. He hasn’t laid a finger me. And I know I’d already be dead if he wanted me to. I’ve seen this man in action, I’ve seen him rip Oracle Leon Courtee to shreds.
“I’m not here to hurt you.” He tilts his metal-entrusted head toward Lyka. “Or your friend.”
But if he doesn’t want me dead, what else can he want?
Orin thumps my back. “He’s a friend, Roli. He’s helped Mako in the . . . fake prophecy business.”
“Sit down, Roli,” the metal man says. He points at the couch behind him. I know I don’t have a choice.
“Can you at least let Lyka go?” I croak.
“Shut up, Roli,” Lyka snaps, pulling her arm away for the second time today. Placing her arms on her hips, she flicks her head and tosses her hair. She does that when she’s mad as heck. “I don’t wanna go. I want to find out what you’ve been up to. What this is all about.”
Next to me, Orin chuckles. He winks when I frown at him. “I like your Lyka.” He wobbles over to Lyka, bows at her and smiles. “Young lady, welcome to the Order of Eternity. Together we shall protect the Adi Niappan from all evil. We will be her champions.”
“Wait. What?” I blurt. Everyone knows the real Adi Niappan is missing. The Empire has been searching for her for months now. Orin doesn’t seem to hear me. He totters past Lyka toward the back of the house, but I yell my question at him regardless. “You know you have to have an Adi Niappan to protect before you can protect her, right?”
Orin turns back a little and winks again before disappearing behind a door. I turn to the one person who I suspect can explain. The metal man simply stares, his expression unreadable.
“Mako has her,” he says after a bit.
My mouth falls open. It takes me a while to find words. “Has her?”
“He’s keeping watch over her.” I hold my breath when he continues. “Order of Eternity is Orin’s. . . fancy name, but Mako does need help to keep the Adi Niappan safe. We called you here because I think you might assist with something—”
Lyka rushes forward. She holds her right hand up just the way you’d do when taking a sacred oath. “I’m in. I’ll do it. Whatever it is,” she says in one breath.
The metal man studies her for a while before turning toward me. He doesn’t have real eyes, let alone brows, so I can’t guess what he’s thinking. Doubts cloud my head, fear too. Protecting the Adi Niappan is a noble cause, the grandest cause a squatter like me might ever know. But how can I be on the same team with a killer? How can I ever un-see Leon’s murder?
Lyka’s flushed face and her shining eyes tell a different story. She’s already pledged her loyalty and anyone who knows Lyka even a bit knows her promises are forever. But she has no idea what she’s getting into. I do. She’ll need me. I have to agree to this. For her.
So I nod. Slowly.
“What do we have to do?” I ask.
“A lot of things,” Orin declares from the doorway behind which he had disappeared earlier. In his hand is a plate heaped with honeyed bread. My stomach lets out a pathetic growl stripping off my last bit of reserve. Orin sets the plate down on a table and makes a sweeping gesture with his arms. “But first, we eat.”
To hell with it! I dive in; the soft sweetness of the honeyed bread crushes my worries. Orin can be nuts but he’s one mean cook.
This will be one crazy summer, I know. Right now though, I’m gonna stop fearing. I’ll just eat. And be happy I’ve lived another day.