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The World Wants to Be Fooled · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
The full moons’ blessings haunted the young seer.

They hung upon the treetops, specters of good tidings, cleared up by the fragrance of incense. Those whose names had been etched into the wood would prosper. A bountiful harvest, an overflowing business, a true love’s kiss in marriage—the bones he threw at the soil and the dice he played upon the ground detailed only the best of times.

It was an anomaly. His father, the Wizened Prophet Rihampli, had never claimed such prosperity in his decades of foresight. The oral traditions of his fathers ad infinitum, too, had not recorded such spiritual luck falling on their laps.

That anomaly would lead him up the endless stairs of the dream mountain, Beejel, past the glades of the seers he was wary of, and up to the copse of the oldest, Kasdaq, the elder who brought him into the prophetic council upon Rihampli’s death.

The youth could not take his eyes off of the waxing and waning moons perched on the old man’s swaying cypresses. Upon judging the disarray of water jars and cards laid at each tree’s feet, he gathered that Kasdaq’s town would suffer political turmoil, leading the mayor and several loyal followers to desert their home.

“And so, is it true, that there will be no major misfortune for your town, dear Eomanti?” Kasdaq asked after the youth’s report, his sagging throat housing a profound bass.

“Yes, Master Kasdaq. I’ve burned the incense for each soul in this town, and the moons were bright as day, without a single crescent.”

Kasdaq sat cross-legged on a log by a fire Eomanti would not remember having ever ignited. “It is a strange development, but the gods are more than capable of doing good. Your Craytmeur god would definitely have an army of shrines enacted by the pragmatic, at the very least.”

“But what should I do?”

Kasdaq’s brows bend like a bow. “Have you lost your mind, boy? You do the seer’s duty of telling this to the council.”

“But Sortes and the others—“

“May become jealous of your good omens, at worst, but that is up to their faith and their gods. If Sortes wants to get his anemic god Trepuds into another fight he’ll lose, so be it. But if it reaches that point, I will vouch for you.”

The council’s formality was made up of five logs for sitting and one blazing bonfire, stationed at the highest point anyone dared travel up the stairs. What towered over them beyond were a valley of sky-high peaks that kept ascending, heights even the first generation of oracles, in their own sleep, could not attain. No foot came upon these steps, these dreams, unless they were a seer appointed by the gods themselves.

“You’re lying or you’re mad!” Sortes declared, a ruddy man whose clothes were muddy from séances with dirt and water jars. His compatriots, skull-reader Citephlo and bird-diviner Yornis, joined him in his scowls. “Full blessings for the indefinite future, for everyone?”

Eomanti gulped once more, inhaling the earthy scents of spice-filled flame. “Yes, that is true.”

And Sortes took a stick from the fire and broke it under his toned knees. “By the might of Trepuds, are you sure that is the truth?!”

But his eyes darted quickly to Kasdaq, who had rushed to Eomanti’s side with nothing but his robes and his stretched-out hands.

The would-be attacker spat on the ground. “Fine. Kasdaq’s kept you safe for now. But don’t you see the lack of wisdom you’re attributing to your own god, Eomanti? That the god of the youngest seer, with not a month of experience under his belt, would seek to unconditionally bless your village?”

And Eomanti bowed, exuding humility. “It is indeed an unexpected blessing, but it is something the town of Avasra would be much grateful for.”

Eomanti woke up from the council, his time with the seers last night no longer needed.

Having coughed up the dry potions needed to induce such a strong sleep-state, he got up from his cot and left his hut, which was a crude wooden home situated at the top of a forested hill.

A quick jaunt up stone stairs led him to the mayor’s house, which itself was a stone’s throw from the village’s river. The water passage was a main thoroughfare for traders from across the fields, where gold and spices have been flowing exceptionally as of late.

Up the stairs, the door was already open, the mayor himself covered in robes of silver. Rotund from his humble days of baking, he sported a mustached smile. “You seem to be in good spirits today, young seer.”

“Now is not the time for your wordplay.” After a pause, “My visions portend something unusual.”

Remez’s grin disappears. “What is the matter? Are those Empirics finally going to attack us?”

“No, no, quite the opposite! The Empire won’t attack us!”

“Alright, alright… then what is it?”

Eomanti scratched his chin for the best words possible. “There will be nothing.”

The mayor tilted his head. “Nothing?”

“Nothing bad. No famine, no pestilence, no wars. There will be peace upon the land.”

Remez’s skeptical look didn’t go away. “For how long?”

“Indefinitely, at least from what I could tell.”

And the slightly fat man clapped his hands. “Well, what a joy this is! Come, come! I knew you’d make your father proud in your role, but not to this extent! Look, here you are, right at the balcony—everyone, dear citizens of Avasra, listen to what our Judicious Seer Eomanti has for us!”

And before Eomanti, wooden railings popped up to protect him from an untimely fall, and beyond these lay a bevy of Avasra’s people. Their names, carved into the wood of trees from unreality’s dreaming, would sparkle tomorrow and for eons to come in a land of gold, where plenty must flow.

He lifted his hands up, prostrate before the earth that Craytmeur made for the land. “Fear not, Avasra! For unlike the weeks and months and years before, we have now upon us unrelenting life! Blessings shall rain from the sky! No pestilence, no famine, no war! Rejoice!”

And he lifted his hands high, joy surging through his veins.

“Are you sure about that, Seer Eomanti?” cried a voice from the crowd, a woman carrying a bushel of bread.

He looked down. “What do you mean by that, Cojuti?”

“We have always had such plague us, were it not for Prophet Rihampli’s exhortations and measures,” she said, standing on the balls of her feet, to be seen carrying a dozen necklaces around her neck and arms. Already, the crowd forms a space around her, their informal representative raising the garlic-made bracelets of anti-superstition. “And you mean to tell us that we can live without preparations because we shall be blessed forever?”

“Why yes! Is that not good?”

Weights bore down on his heart.

He sat down on the ground, his head raised to behold the last tree whose moon was not revealed tonight. Cojuti, another baker, mother of three thanks to a succession of dead beat husbands, yet a tibia facing upwards would only mean that her current husband would be faithful and true until the very end, and that all her children would be of good cheer. All thanks, then, to the incense clearing up the clouds and the moon being full, just like the rest of the trees that lay behind him.

He swore he checked them all. The bones and the dice of the ground would roll; they would not lie. He ruminated on the revelations as he ascended the steps, passing the oaks and rowans of the other seers, with their moons in different phases, inviting the smells of rotting corpses covered in herbs.

“...and my own settlement of Letious has already built up mini-dams like beavers to stave off next month’s flood,” Sortes was saying by the fire, in between chews of tobacco. “Ah, the latecomer finally arrives.”

Eomanti put his head down to hide his wince as he sat down on his log, Kasdag set to his left.

“And what say you?” asked the curious Yornis. “How will Avasra fare?”

“It has been the same for the past four nights,” Eomanti replied. “I can’t control the fates and wills of the Earthen God Jiomestris.”

“And what is your special about your god other than his own element?” asked Citephlo pointedly, nose now inches away from Eomanti’s face. “Do you not know how cruel my deity is? Your father should’ve told you... Swidbyor often asks for sacrifices, and we’ve only gotten by the skin of our—“

“He doesn’t need to hear all this,” Kasdaq said. “The boy has been trained well by his father. He only lacks experience, which is nothing to belittle him for. Now,” turning to Eomanti, “how has Avasra continued to react?”

“Not so well.”

Yornis shrugged his shoulders. “Your town are ungrateful lunatics.”

“They had the same mindset as Sortes here,” Eomanti continued, pointing at him across the crackling flames. “They thought the whole thing was incredulous and that I should check the signs again.”

“I assume you have checked that your bones and dice were all right, no?” Sortes inquired.

“Yes, I have, and I’ve used up all the fresh deer blood I could find. And I seek to inquire you, Citephlo, about how to read the skulls.”

That got the morbid prophet up from his log, a grin leaking out of his lips. “Swidbyor claims yet another.”

Sortes shook his head, spitting that dark ball to the fire. It sizzled, writhing until death. “Well, that is all fine and dandy, but Citephlo’s readings have been refined by his many years of expertise. I suggest that you should stick to what you know… and find fresher blood. Perhaps Craytmeur’s extraordinary message requires extraordinary precision.”

Eomanti forced his eyes wide awake, facing the crowd again at the balcony, at the insistence of a growing throng of questioners.

“What are you going to do?” Remez whispered, a jovial robe colored yellow surrounding his neck. “They clearly do not like your... well, positive pronouncements.”

Bracelets and necklaces were being sold, and coins were thrown around in the name of Eomanti, Rihampli, and Craytmeur. The tinkling of secret gems rattled the seer’s ears under near silent murmured prayers to ward off evil.

“Just trust me on this, okay, Mister Remez?” Eomanti whispered back over a covering hand.

A bead of sweat rolled down the mayor’s face. “Whatever you do, Seer...”

And Eomanti turned away to the crowd and stretched out his hands. “Avasra!”

And the heads looked up. All murmuring stopped.

“As your Seer, I must be aware not only of what ails you, but also what ails me. As much as I walk in the steps of my father, I do recognize that there is still much for a seer to see in his life.”

“What are you doing?!” Remez whispered angrily—a hand now on his hips, about to steer him away. “Being humble now?!”

“Which is why I’ve checked the signs once more much more thoroughly than last time!” Eomanti declared, and already, applause was arising, with necklaces of garlic hurled at him for good measure. “And I must warn you, that after indeed an undeniably good day of great crops and trade, we must be prepared for the inevitable!”

“Are you mad?!”

And concern marred Sortes’ features, the creases on his face aging him by a dozen years, shadowed by the loam-smelling bonfire.

“Look, perhaps I was wrong!” Eomanti said. “It is security, is it not? My father was renowned for single-handedly preventing every disaster that came our way! It is not like our god would simply become much more competent by selecting an inexperienced seer in the Prophet’s place!”

“Not by lying to them!” Kasdaq said, and in the corner of Eomanti’s eyes, Sortes sighed, relieved. “You said you’ve seen your signs and double-checked them, have you not?”

“Triple-checked,” Eomanti corrected. “And yes, tonight, they were all of auspicious moons, all full. For this night, a day-old deer was killed, just as I promised, the freshest and most accurate I could ever get.”

Sortes stood up from his log, circling halfway towards Eomanti. His feet churned up the misty soil. “You are... conflicted, to say the lest, young Seer. Can the signs you report be trusted or not?”

His eyes darted. Yornis had his prying eyes, brows like crow’s feet, looking in askance; Citephlo sneered, his dirty teeth showing the grime of his own séances with the dead. Kasdaq’s own expression was an impassive, bearded brick wall.

“I... I know that I could be wrong. My father nor your fathers nor any of our ancestors have remembered a single night of such blessing, let alone for more than a week straight. And... and maybe the deer I’ve been hunting are getting older, less fit... but the fawn...”

Eomanti watched slaves from beyond hew bricks, scraping everything, including bare straw, to form bricks out of thin air.

He had watched the poor mayor send envoys to the other seers’ towns, then debase himself before a governor of the Empire for a request for help and slaves. A plague upon the crops—and perhaps upon the people—loomed over them. Fortunately, the Emperor’s own religion subscribed to the tree of deities, so he had then sent not only his own seal of approval but also a wagon load of dice, bones, and spices, all masterfully smithed or harvested by his own estate for the seer’s benefit.

But the full moons did not go away at golden dice clinking against dry stone, nor at cleanly cut bones being hurled against bark and sky. The skulls now laid before the roots stood uncracked, showing the god himself to be innocent of lying or self-deception. The birds, too, without Yornis’s permission, flew from his hands, in glorious sync—that the moons stood for harmony, not for the chaos of deceit. So the bright, full moons stood, eyeing him in their benevolence, and his face shone in terrible blues.

The mayor’s face came upon him when he woke, hair frazzled from sleep.

Eomanti sighed, his heart sinking deeper. “What is it now? You can’t just sleep here without your guards!”

“No sane man would invade the privacy of a seer’s sleep.” Remez stood up from his log, level to him. “Now, what do the moons say tonight? What precautions did you take?”

“Full once more. The leaves have now bloomed flowers too.”

Remez kicked the dirt. “This is... the wall is almost built up completely, so we can defend against a foreign invasion from a land beyond the Empire’s. Apparently, Citephlo’s locusts have done the irrational thing and decided to multiply away from the most fertile wheat in the land and towards this flock. And finally, those wards and shaman healers we’ve had to purchase from across the ocean will be here and will be under your orders. And all for what? A lie?”

“What is the mission of a seer?” Eomanti asked, stepping forward, the black loam of his sandals building up on his feet. “Is it not to serve these people? And protect them from all danger?”

“And if you are a danger, what then? Or what if they find out? It has been weeks... you can’t keep track of your own falsified moon readings at this rate. I can’t even keep track of all the minute details, and I’ve had a scribe! You will slip up! It’s just a matter of time. For the life of me, I can’t go on living if you keep up with the indignity you bring to your post!”

And Remez jabbed a finger to his chest.

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing your father personally. Even at the divine’s worst, he sugarcoated not a single iota of the signs. And Citephlo might’ve had worse... sacrifices to the blood god Swidbyor; that he continues to keep the faith of a whole village is in itself a miracle—“

“Just give me a few more nights. I’ll make it worth your time... I’ll make sure something bad happens, then we fix everything up, then we can have the line of full moons again. Legitimacy to my seership first, and then they’ll believe me on this, right?”

He fumbled in his pockets—there, a little mountain of coins landed on the mayor’s hand that Eomanti had forced open. “Here, here... that’s my promise... my promise that there’ll be prosperity, I swear upon it. Keep their mouths shut and live!”

And a confounded Remez was left alone in the seer’s hut as Eomanti hurried to oversee the wall’s construction.

The morning sun attacked his eyes as the farmers led him through the footsteps of stolen stalks, crops burned down in the scent of failure. Words were abuzz as the mercenary soldiers—granted generously by the Emperor—inspected up bits of charcoal and live burning torches.

“You were right, in a sense, young Seer,” the silver-clad captain boomed. “There would indeed be a famine. But it has been instigated, a crime of men, not of insects.”

Sweat drenched the young man’s coats and robes, for another young man was in the Empire’s custody. Shackled, bony, once known as a beggar on the street.

“And what do you have to say, criminal scum?” the captain ordered the bald man held at the neck. “What has brought you to—?”

And coins were thrown at the soil, metal against each other on the soft ground below.

“Is something the matter, young Seer?” the captain asked

The rest of his speech was blurred, as Eomanti stared upon the confidant’s ashen lips, scared out of his wits.

Up the steps, away from the cursed full moons, he forced his hasty march on in the sleep of morning. The clouds thundered overhead with rods of fire and flame. The steps grew wider, farther apart, with each threat of falling as the soil deepened for a trip and fall.

His only beacon was the bonfire that lay ahead, brighter against blackened leaves, and Sortes’s face was now a blessing.

“What has gone wrong?!” Sortes yelled, shaking the arriving Eomanti by the shoulders. “Don’t tell me that—“

And he looked at the log Eomanti beheld. Kasdaq was not here. Instead, on his dead tree, sat another man, certainly past his prime but not as ancient as the kind elder.

“That’s Kardec,” Sortes said. “Kasdaq has died. Now, the skies would indeed be black on the first day after this death, but not like this! And he was not a bad man, so...”

Kardec eyed Eomanti. “Aren’t you the one yammering about full moons in your forest?”

“Get away!” Eomanti shouted, and he reached for his pockets—no coins in the spirit realm. “We’re all in danger!”

Yornis questioning look etched his features. “In danger how?”

“They’re... Avasra... they’ve all seen the deceptions I’ve put them through.”

“Haven’t they already?” Citephlo mocked. “The full moon bit? You’re slow to catch onto your own schemes.”

“No! They’re... I set up the disasters myself! Simulated the lot of them... the full moons were the true signs, and... they saw that all of it was fake. They’re now tearing down the wall for scraps and parts, and they’ll soon converge on my sleeping body! I... I don’t want to die!”

“That’s what you get, you—!”

Sortes held out a hand. “Citephlo, sit down.”

And Eomanti sighed once more as the aggressive oracle groaned, his legs back on the scruffy log to warm themselves.

“Thank you, Sortes, I—“

“I am not done, Eomanti.”

And his heart pounded, adrenaline attacking every part of his body.

“So the full moons were real, correct?”

“Yes, they’re correct, Sortes. I checked them every single night... that’s what they all are. No deviation, nothing, not with the varied fates I get from each person every day.”

“That... they will be prosperous and blessed in all things, for as long as possible.”

Sweat trickled down. The image of fires slowly burning the trees in the waking world, of pitchforks and torches pursuing him—“Yes, yes... I… I wanted to prove that I was a true seer, but they wanted disaster! So I gave it to them! Why won’t they want blessings?!”

“As we understood nothing from you at first,” Sortes continued, pacing around the fire, scratching his chin, “so do they. But if the worse comes to worst, killing a seer would be... unwise, to say the least. They must learn, then. Your best course of action is to reason with—“

Eyes snapped open, slaps on the face, awake—

“Eomanti, we wish to know!”

His heart pounded, and he witnessed the mob that gathered—no safety of the balcony, right there past his logs, tripping over his own cots, crowding him in the hut. Another beggar ducked under the chimney, the pot for potion brewery removed so he could be warm, burning his necklace alive.

“Wish to know what?! Wh-where is Remez? He can tell you everything you need to know!”

The crowd parted. Across the room lay the fat man, in sleep with a bruised neck. A dark stain ran across his yellow robes; his hand stuck on a knife across his gut.

“This is...” the baker tried to say, Cojuti, scared through bloodshot eyes. “We... a-are you alright? We need to see... why you lied about the full moons! Y-you’re... you’re a mad man!”

“No, I’m not mad! I’ll just...” And spices were thrown, bottles placed down before their feet as he bowed. “H-here! I can’t take all of you, but just... follow the steps, listen to every word I say, and I’ll see you on the other side! I-I’ll show you that they’re real!”

From the landing spot at the bottom of the staircase, he stepped over the corpses of those who had died just getting in, bodies too weak, mixtures inhaled too quick.

He ignored the complaints about the supposedly impossible climb. The mountain was not too far; it was just infinite. His glade would be up momentarily. There would be no rest; he would be sure to beat them into submission if someone threatened to rest his or her feet. His own feet pushed them on, was the model for everyone to march on through the pain, the adrenaline, the fire licking the skies above.

His trees, his cypresses, loomed overhead, with fiery clouds roosting on their tops.

“Here, here!” he yelled, with dice and bones in his pockets, out of his hands, spilling out of his hands.

He threw one, then another. The name of Cojuti herself, on the bark—her watchful eyes, hazel like the tree, unwavering in belief.

His hands fumbled for an incense stick—there, to burn the clouds away, and let the moon shine bright in full for the first time. With a torch, he lit it up, and the fragrant smell of sugared herbs wafted through soil-buried skulls and caged birds, ready to show the divine. Still, the dice would not play well, rocking against the bark, then against a random pebble, never at the ground, never there, as sweat blurred his aim—

Pain torched his insides, crumpling to the floor, and commotion splattered all over, and there, he could feel too much warmth—corner of his eyes, the fire burning through all the sticks, and the robes there, skin frying alive—

He could only scream, could only discern words of judgment—“You are a liar! You’ve misrepresented Craytmeur! You think you’re a hot shot with all your good tidings?!

But screams flowed, and judgment, too, was silenced. He felt the wind of others trying to fan the flames, only for them to be spread—he could link their hands, join them in his suffering, and trying to turn over, but he looked up. Shouts for Cojuti to run to safety, blasphemies against Eomanti—

Screaming up the stairs, screams fading away, he could see the clouds dying. They had obscured a crescent moon.
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#1 · 2
A few minor grammatical things like tense shifts and number mismatches.

The world-building is strong with this one. I like the system for auguring the future, that each town has its own god and its own prophet, and the seers have almost a business meeting to discuss how to handle everything. Plus you made several of them interesting characters. Then you play Eomanti as almost a Cassandra character, every one of his predictions too good to be true.

The only thing I was confused about was the bad portent at the end. Had that been there all along and Eomanti had just been unable to see it? Or did it only switch to a bad omen right as things started to to go bad for Avasra?

I also get that he took everyone into this dream realm with him at the end to prove what he was saying, but that only some could survive the journey, plus a fire had started in the waking world and burned them while they couldn't do anything about it. And maybe that's part of the moral? That he left nobody on guard in the waking world who could have prevented that?

If I have one criticism, it's that the ending feels rather abrupt. Not that it doesn't make sense for it to be, relatively speaking, but it seems like it's so rushed as to skip even all of the internal turmoil that would be going on at the end. Fast pacing does make sense there, but fast pacing doesn't necessarily mean a small footprint on the page, as long as the words have enough energy to them.

Still, you kept me interested throughout, and I liked the characters, which is most of what a reader wants from a story.
#2 · 1
Neat world here and I like the exploration of the concept of what fate is.

These names are okay enough and conversations to me were easy to follow right up to a point. Eomanti then runs into this problem with the town not believing his message from the town god saying: "It's going to be good times! Don't worry." They get pissy, he tries to create problems to for tell them - gives them what they want, they find out he lied and did sabotage and it all goes to hell.


Neat story I would say, but not this time. It's more than competently written, but my main issue is how does this fit with "The World Wants to Be Fooled"? It tries to subvert that a bit, but it fails for me. From my experience people who are not super stressed out want to believe that everything will be fine. It'll be fine! Maybe since the townies had too many bad times and were not ready to take a win form all the hardships they prepared for? They were given good news and they couldn't accept it. Guess the new guy they didn't trust? Poor Eomanti.