When they reached the place of the execution, a wooden stage, right outside of the white and gold palace, Sunny’s mouth dropped. The palace sprawled so far Sunny had trouble seeing the end of it. Instead of gargoyles, there were golden statues of the Gemini peering over the ramparts. She looked up at the statues, then at the golden cupolas, then down at the darkened moat, a waterfall pouring into it.
The crowd was divided into the different groups, Tod told her: Gemini, Cassiopeia, Taurus, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Leo. And they all milled about, like lions in cages, shooting people from opposite groups nasty looks. As soon as they got there, Isolde went over to the other Cassiopeia, and Tod and Sunny stayed back, away from everyone else. He told her to keep her head down, not look at anyone.
“Aren’t there more groups than this?” she asked, and Tod shook his head.
“No, not all the horoscopes that you know have Setareh forms. Remember, humans named the horoscopes after us. Not the other way around.”
People were shouting and cheering and waving signs, one of which said, “Death to Tyranny.” Sunny frowned. If that person was really for Eli getting killed, she thought it was kind of strange and ironic, but whatever.
“Geez,” she said. “A lot of people sure hate Eli.”
“Are you surprised?” Tod scowled, looking at the crowd around them.
“I don’t know – ” She paused. “Like what happened with him? What happened with you guys? And why are people so mean?”
Tod sighed. “It’s a long story.”
“Tell it. They’re taking their sweet time,” she said. And she just needed something to get her mind off Eli and the terrifying place she’d found herself in. Maybe if she could understand, she could be more help.
When she’d asked Tod if he had a plan, he’d just shrugged, so she guessed he was still thinking. They still had time, because contrary to what Isolde had made it seem like, they’d gotten here way too early.
“Well…everyone used to be a lot nicer and friendlier. Like on Earth. Everyone’s pretty nice there.”
“Ehh,” Sunny said, shrugging her shoulders.
“But you know, they say that on Earth, most people are nice and do their best. But it’s the exact opposite on this planet. Everyone is rude and self-serving. I’d say 95 % of people are. People don’t even know the meaning of love. And if someone does love, it’s seen as a fluke. A mistake.”
“Really?” Sunny’s eyes widened. “But – it didn’t used to be like this?”
He shook his head. “No, well, at least not as bad. Everyone used to care about Earth and other planets and want to help grant the people there wishes. But then the Setareh started to get frustrated. We have long life spans. Up to a thousand years. And…people who’d been around a while saw that humans continuously made the same mistakes. They failed again and again. They turned to war and fought and killed each other. They hated others based on their beliefs. The Cassiopeia in particular were the frontrunners of the Anti Wish movement. They basically said we should stop granting wishes because humans no longer deserved our help if they were just going to mess up again and again. But the Gemini, as the rulers, disagreed and said we should continue to help. And that’s what caused the war. It was the first war on our planet.” Tod’s eyes darkened. “I wasn’t born then. But the war destroyed so much. And…” His voice cracked. “Nothing was ever the same. These people aren’t the people of the past. They’ve turned into everything they hate. They fight. They no longer care about anyone else except themselves.” He paused. “Humans aren’t perfect but you can’t expect perfection. That’s why they need our help. But no one can help now. We have too many problems.”
“Wow.” Sunny popped her tongue. “You weren’t joking. That was a long story.”
“So…what about you and Eli? What did you fight about?”
Tod scratched his neck. “Well, we at least agreed that we wanted to grant wishes again. But he wanted to continue to fight the Cassiopeia and mow down all the opposition and…I knew that we couldn’t continue to be at war. It had already destroyed so much but he just doesn’t seem to get that. Of course my parents were on his side, but as you can see – ” He gestured to the group around him. “A lot of people hate Eli. So he actually does need me. He finally got it through his big thick head – ”
“Tod.” Sunny grabbed him by the shoulder. “It’s okay. Calm down.”
Tod took a breath. He knew that he was acting just like the others, annoyed by Eli just because he had different views, but he couldn’t stand him sometimes.
“I can’t be ruler,” Tod said. “I can’t.” He bit his lip, his voice weak.
“Well, maybe you don’t have to. Maybe after we save Eli, we can figure something out,” Sunny said.
“No.” Tod shook his head. “I have to be ruler. I already am.”
“Huh?” Sunny said, tilting her head. “What do you mean?”
He told her everything, well, with the exception of the heir.
“You fused with her?” Sunny said. “Doesn’t that mean – ”
“Doesn’t that mean what? It doesn’t mean anything,” Tod said, turning red. “Anyway, I’m stuck here with these terrible people. And I have to figure out how we’re going to fix this mess.”
“Oh.” Sunny swallowed. “I’m sorry.” She paused. “But since you’re leader, you can just tell them to not kill Eli. Simple.” She smiled, but Tod didn’t respond with one of his own.
“Yeah. See how Isolde likes that. She’s basically the leader and I’m her sidekick that she dresses up like a little puppet.”
He paused and then said, “When Eli comes out, I’m going up there.”
Sunny felt like the hot temperature was finally getting to her brain. She let out a little gasp. “Um, what? That’s your brilliant plan?”
He swallowed. “It’s all I’ve got.”
Sunny crossed her arms over her chest. “Okay, but I’m coming up there with you.”
“Sunny – ”
“We’re in this together.” She put a hand on his arm, and he looked uncomfortable, but a slight blush appeared on his face.
He didn’t answer, just nodded, and they waited, staring straight ahead.