You could think of this as sort of a sequel to the previous one, but really it's because the world doesn't recover from an apocalypse overnight. Then one has to think of what religions would form in a world with a 'God' and ties to Hindu mythology, not to mention all the demons in human form (until they were cured, anyway).
He's asked for the tattoo every year for his birthday, and his parents always said no. He asked Fred to intercede for him, Fred was cool, but he'd gotten his hair ruffled instead, which he didn't take from anyone else, but Fred was Fred.
Fred had been there, had known the people they were named after.
The real Embryon.
They, his friends, called themselves the Embryon, because they were named after them. Well, not all of them were, but Gale had insisted on Jenna joining because she was his girlfriend, and Roland got to be in because the real Roland had joined, and Greg got to be in because Fred told them Lupa, who was his father and the real Greg, had helped the Embryon in the Junkyard.
Eugenia, or Jinny, was Argilla's best friend but wasn't in the Embryon. She had her own tribe and they played war in the old ruins. They each had their secret hideouts and stuff, with water pistols and balloons.
Serph was theoretically in charge, but it was really him and Gale that did all the work. It was Gale and Jenna that hacked in and got them the security footage. That was when he'd see it. The demon mark the real Heat had had.
He'd wanted one. It looked so cool! He drew it on with marker when they were going to have a battle.
When he'd joined the border patrol, he'd gotten a real tattoo. They all joined.
It wasn't just bandits. There were people who believed that the Embryon weren't the ones that had talked to God and brought back the sun, there were all these cults out there… Mayor Fred was a great mayor, but outside the territory Portland and the other civilized places claimed it was chaos.
This wasn't what the Embryon had fought and died for. What if God got pissed off again? Fucking idiots.
They said he fought like a demon, they called him the Wrath of God, and Gale's plans gained them allies, and Argilla's carefully placed shots blew cult leaders' heads clean off, and when you called Cielo for air support you damn well knew he would be there.
They said they were the Embryon reborn, sent from God.
It was worst for Serph and Sera. Serph had been the leader, so of course he was expected to become mayor. And Sera was the Cyber Shaman, who had spoken to God, and so people begged her for help for their sick children.
But they held up under the pressure, and the legend spread.
When they sat down to talk peace with Mayor Serph, Heat stood at his right hand, the devil to his angel, the reminder of what would happen if there wasn't peace.
Eventually it was just mopping up, and all he'd have to do was show up someplace and they'd surrender at word of his coming. That was good, he was getting old.
Maybe it was a good sign that he died of a stroke instead of a shot.
"Hey," he greeted them.
"Heat." And it was both their voice, not just Sera's.
"Why didn't you get reborn with the rest of us?" He'd always known, somehow, that this life's Serph and Sera had just been kids with his two's names.
"Because we have become more now than data."
"That enlightenment crap." Heat looked down at the earth. "I can't join you."
"You will," they knew, and were not angry, if they were capable of anger anymore. They loved him.
He held on to his anger: it dragged him down, it was an anchor. "I love you guys," he said, and he almost felt his soul fly, felt the dawn approaching, and he knew if he looked he would see, would understand something beautiful. "But they need me."
"We once fought for Nirvana," they murmured. "Now you turn your back on it."
Heat remembered the life before he was a program, how the scientist's ghost had stayed tied to earth, an angry spirit, but used its power to help Serph overcome his past. "You-Sera came down to the Junkyard to help us."
"Yes," they said. They knew.
They kissed him on the forehead and he knew he had to leave now, or he wouldn't be able to leave them. But he would do anything for them, and he didn't want them to grow as sad as God had been.
He felt the ghost of his arm tingle, and knew what he'd find there.
"Is it some kind of hoax?" Serph asked, looking down at the baby in the cradle.
"I don't see how," Jenna replied. "Every test says it's an ordinary birthmark." She looked at Gale, who looked at Cielo.
"It's him. I don't know how I know, I just got tis feelin, ja?" Cielo shrugged, saying what they were all thinking.
"At least it's not a real demon mark." All the demons had been cured when the sun had been healed. "Nine months after Heat died… but Heat didn't have a birthmark like this!" None of them had.
"I don't get it either." Gale shrugged.
They looked down at the baby in the cradle in wonder.
"Another fake," Gale reported to the others in the chapterhouse. "I am worried. It is not like Heat to take so long to be reborn."
"Remember what happened to Argilla three lifetimes ago?" Cielo nodded at her.
"You think someone has found him and is trying to influence him as he grows up so they can use him to gain power?" Argilla snorted. "They should know by now that never works." Her 'predecessor' had escaped the compound of the then-Lord of Sheood at the age of five, found the nearest chapterhouse and demanded the guardians come with her to rescue her parents.
"The rest of us are always reborn right away, but Heat sometimes takes as much as a year before he's conceived," Roland reminded them. "Perhaps he just wanted to stay longer this time." They all looked up through the glass to the sun, shining serenely as it had for millennia.
"Any other business?" Greg asked, checking his watch. "The negotiations I'm mediating resume in an hour."
"There's a succession dispute in Kebek: two drastically different copies of the will have been found and the Regency Council is asking us to send forensic experts and oversee their verification of the documents…"
The 'baby' screamed bloody murder. Perhaps they should have drugged it, but it would cease to matter soon.
A Demon Lord, born to one of their own! The woman had been stoned to death, of course. Who knew what sins she had committed, to allow something like this to nest in her womb!
This was the Demon Lord of Fire. How appropriate that the ancient way to deal with witches was to burn them alive. There had been some debate: some had wanted to cripple it but keep it alive, so it would not be reborn elsewhere, others hoped that this would extinguish it for good.
The cameras were rolling: hopefully, when the world saw it, they would realize that the demon lords could be killed and would cease to treat them almost as false gods! The only god was Gaia, the Earth Mother, and the sun was her enemy that had sought to kill all her children, killing all but those who had sought shelter within her and finally sending the demons to devour them all, until the sun had realized that if it killed them all it would not be able to gain their souls, it needed to deceive them…
Finally, the pyre was lit.
Then it froze solid. Ice appeared everywhere.
When the personal guard of the Chief of Baika Station burst in (they were the first force that had been able to get there after the signal was traced: her shuttle had been in transit overhead), Heat was warm, unharmed, and covered with small black cat hairs.