There are only three now.
Once, there were nine hundred and nine.
They were the army of the gods. They were vengeance on black wings. They were scourge and nightmare.
They were fury.
Those who called themselves gods then were not the creators of life, only the keepers and minders. They were meant to work together, each given his or her tasks, his or her domain. But the gods grew envious of each other. They grew to value possession over service. No longer did they mind and nurture all life in the world. For they sought to own and rule over all life in the world.
And so they warred with each other.
The star gods drew forth flames. The water gods attacked with hail and torrents. The gods of earth and rock brought quakes and shattered the bones of the world. And while the gods fought each other, all life suffered. The world was ravaged by quakes that swallowed whole cities, floods that drowned thousands, and storms that broke kingdoms.
They were mighty, the gods, and so long-lived that they might be called immortal. But for the wars that tested their bodies and powers. They forged celestial weapons, plucking fire from the stars to fling at each other, forging cloaks from night to deceive each other, drawing enchantments from the moon to cast upon each other.
So came the day that one god was killed by another, and as he died, a curse dripped from his mouth. The blood of his dying body brought the curse to life. And the first Fury was born.
She tormented the one who slew her creator, her father, until the murderer was driven mad and flung himself into the deepest waters of the world, never to be seen again.
As the gods cast more curses down upon each other, as they destroyed each other, more and more Furies were born. Some were born when mother cursed daughter for killing her sister. Some were born when old oaths were broken and curses were uttered against the oath-breakers. Three of the most horrible Furies were born when a king among the gods slew his own father, severing his body and casting the still-bleeding remains upon the earth. Up from the dirt sprouted the slain god’s three avengers, fully grown and weeping tears of blood, dressed in the garb of mourning, one in a robe of black, one white, and one red. They had bright green snakes entwined about their bodies. And they tormented the god-king until he went mad and descended into the underworld. And there they tormented him still, for he cried out for mercy but did not repent of his crime.
As relentless and remorseless as they were for tormenting the guilty and torturing the souls of sinners even after death, no Fury ever harmed the innocent. And no Fury could be moved to harm her sisters. But the gods followed no such constraints. And neither did humanity, for men and women began to war as well.
More and more Furies were born, hundreds, thousands. They were legion. And with so many wronged and doing wrong, the Furies never rested. They descended in swarms. They hunted. They punished. Soon they too were hunted in turn, by gods who were powerful enough to destroy them.
And so the Furies died. Gods died. Men and women died.
In time, nine young gods gathered together and realized the folly of their war and their ways. They were Mage, Hunter, Blacksmith, Warden, Lover, Gardener, Scholar, Guardian, and Surgeon. They banded together and subdued all others. They strove to avoid bloodshed and to make a peace, a painful but honest peace. And so they did. They stopped the fighting. Those who were conquered were called lesser gods thenceforth. Of the Furies, only nine hundred nine remained. The Furies could not be ruled by the Highest Nine, as the conquerors were called, for the Furies were born of primal forces that abided long before the young gods ever came to be. But out of respect for the Nine’s dominion over the world, the Furies swore an oath to them. As before, the Furies would heed the words of the innocent and seek vengeance for the wronged, but thenceforth they would do so by order of the Nine.
Where once people and even gods appealed directly to the Furies, now people prayed to the Highest Nine. Now when curses were uttered, they were uttered in the name of the Nine.
In answer to prayers, the Nine sent forth their blessings or curses, and their curses came in the form of the Furies. They continued their torment and torture of sinners and villains. Only repentance could appease the Furies. They knew neither love nor hate, greed nor generosity. They could not be swayed by appeals for pity. And even those who claimed to repent, if they did not repent in their hearts, could not fool the Furies. But while they were cruel, they were also just.
As the Highest Nine had learned to control their petty vices and cruelties, so they taught humanity and the lesser gods to do so. More and more of the lesser gods returned to the heavens, restored to places of honor. More and more people learned solidarity. There remained still a legacy of evil within humanity, tainted as they were by the wars of their keepers. And it seemed there would ever be a need for some Furies. But soon, with peace and harmony spreading through the earth and the heavens both, there was no need for so many Furies. They lay idle and overran the underworld, the heavens, and the earth. Having no other purpose but to torment, the idle Furies found their ways into the dreams of sleeping men and women and even children. The Furies knew the realm of dreams was protected from their judgment. Still, they judged people guilty of crimes that they had never committed but had only dreamed. Though the gods did not send them, the Furies plagued humanity with night horrors and sleep terrors. Men and women began to perish, dying of fright in their sleep, or dying because they could not sleep.
And humanity prayed to the gods for respite.
The Highest Nine banded together once again. They debated for days and nights and one moon grew thin and another moon grew fat as they argued over whether they should destroy all the terrible Furies and create new beings to administer justice and mete out punishment. They wondered if they could destroy the Furies, for few of the celestial weapons remained that could harm such immortal beings as gods and Furies. And if the Nine and the other gods attacked, they in turn would be attacked, and they were far outnumbered. The Nine realized that the Furies, if they could be restrained and guided by the gods, were the best means to administer justice and dispense punishment. So they planned to create a leader for the Furies, one whom they would follow, a Fury, like them, yet one who would heed the orders of the gods.
And not by curses was she made, but careful thought and mindful choice. The gods found a young woman both fierce and gentle. A leader and a teacher. She loved her fellow humanity, but despised the gods. Nevertheless, the Nine appeared to her. She was only a mortal, only flesh and blood. They could have taken her and used her against their enemies. Instead they appealed to her, even begged her to help. And she agreed. The Surgeon reached into her chest and pulled out her heart and with it all emotion. She could neither love nor hate. She felt neither greed nor generosity. She cared only for justice and she grew a thirst for the blood of the wicked.
And so was born the last Fury. And the first to be named.
She was called Balatekarde, the Heartless One.
She carried sword and shield and dagger and mace. And the gods placed her heart in an enchanted black box and hid it. A living heart could not be destroyed, even by a god, but that was not why they kept it. They meant to reward the hero they had made once she had done the task they set for her, once she had subdued her nine hundred nine sisters.
But when Balatekarde looked upon the world and sought the wicked, her Fury’s eyes showed her only her sisters. Men and women still cried out for justice and vengeance, and some Furies answered those cries. But most hunted men, women, and even lesser gods who had done no great wrongs. For the Furies hungered and thirsted and there was no fodder for so many of them in a world of peace and harmony.
No longer were the Furies the righteous avengers of the wronged. No longer were they the punishers of the wicked, the dispensers of justice, and the guardians of oath-keepers. They were themselves the murderers. They had themselves broken their oaths. They had betrayed the gods. And they had betrayed humanity. It was too late to lead them out of their madness. They had to be stopped.
And so Balatekarde went to the forge of the holy Blacksmith and asked him to forge a sword that could kill fury, a sword that would put an end to rage. And the Blacksmith told her there could be no such sword, for all blades used to murder gave birth to fury. She went to the unholy Warden and asked him to find a prison that could contain all the furies. And the Warden told her there could be no such prison, for fury contained would become more furious. And fury intensified would become strong enough to break free of any dungeon, no matter how thick the walls, how powerful the enchantments, or how cleverly knotted the bindings. She went to the Lover and asked if the Furies could be given hearts as she once had a heart, so they could learn to feel compassion, kindness, perhaps even love. But the Lover said no heart could be created that would survive for long inside creatures born of pain and despair.
At last, she went to the Scholar and the Mage and asked why, if so many Furies had perished during the god-wars of ancient times, the Furies could not be destroyed in her time. And the two gods spoke of godly weapons, lightning and primordial fires and celestial armaments capable of killing god and Fury and titan and any other immortal being. Such weapons, if wielded by the gods again, would inflame them into war. And all the world might be destroyed even as the Furies were destroyed.
The Highest Nine told the Heartless One that they had already considered destroyed the nine hundred nine Furies and found it could not be done without destroying all else.
Balatekarde left the earth then and the heavens, and she wandered further into the celestial night, into the larger world known as the cosmos. She sought a peaceful end for her sisters. What was created could be destroyed, she thought. What was born must die. What was made could be un-made. And soon she found the way to stop her sisters.
In the center of the cosmos, there was a dark abyss. A celestial whirlpool that swallowed whole worlds and that captured light itself. If anything could destroy the Furies, it was the dark abyss. Balatekarde needed only to lure them away from the world of gods and humanity and into the black void.
There was only one thing that drew the attention of any Fury, a cry for vengeance. Once again, Balatekarde went to the gods, for it was the gods who heard the cries and prayers of those who sought justice and vengeance. She asked the gods to remember all the supplicants who had sought the use of the Furies over the ages, so that she could receive all the prayers and echo them to her sisters to lead them to her. And the Scholar brought forth a great tome in which she had recorded all the prayers of all beings since the moment of her creation. Gods, humanity, titans, and even monsters. She gave the tome to the Heartless One. And the Mage enchanted the tome so that when Balatekarde opened its pages, the prayers within would come alive and sound once more.
And so the Heartless One left the earth and the heavens again. She opened the book of the Scholar and turned its pages. She heard the prayers rise up from the pages, dozens of voices, hundreds, crying out in rage and despair. Voices begging for vengeance. Voices pronouncing curses. Voices seeking the Furies.
No Fury followed at first. And so the Heartless One turned page after page and slowly moved away from the world of gods and humanity. And soon, she saw membranous wings flapping toward her. The Furies could cross into the realm of dreams, reach past the veil of death. They had no trouble throwing off the anchor of the world of gods and humanity. More and more followed and she counted them. Three hundred three. Four hundred four. Seven hundred seven. Eight hundred eight. She opened the pages of the tome and the echoes of old pain drowned out any new cries for vengeance from the world below. More and more Furies followed, until she had almost all.
Three remained, she saw. Three remained in the underworld, tormenting a sad old god-king who had murdered his own father for the sake of supplanting him. Balatekarde let them be, for the gods and humanity were not yet so just that they deserved respite from all vengeance and an end to all punishment. Three remained, but the rest she led to the center of the cosmos. She led her sisters to the edge of the abyss.
There lay the black void, swirling and churning. The dark abyss that could swallow stars. The Heartless One approached. She tossed the Scholar’s book into the dark void. And driven blind by wrath, thirsty for the blood of the wicked, lusting for the task of torment, nine hundred six Furies entered the abyss and were devoured. And for the crime of destroying them, her own sisters, the Heartless One punished herself as well, and followed them in.
And so, for those who were birthed by strife, came a quiet end.
The three Furies who remained had never punished the innocent, never broken their oaths to gods or humanity. They judged that the gods too had broken no oaths, but had punished their sisters justly. So the oath once made between nine gods and nine hundred nine Furies endured between nine gods and three Furies.
The Nine honored the hero they had made. They took her heart and set it in the sky as a falling star. The star was named Nebukarde, the Shining Heart. It was a symbol not of fury but of triumph over fury.
For once there had been nine hundred nine Furies. Now there were only three.
One day, if the gods and humanity proved worthy, there would be need for none.
Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.