Hey everyone! Man, am I pumped about this week’s chapter. It’s a real doozy. I’m excited for you to read it, so I won’t take up much time here, but…
I wanted to propose a question. A couple of my readers have expressed interest in a section of the site that has brief chapter synopsis or maybe a small paragraph before each chapter to get you caught up. Kind of my version of a “previously on LOST…” type thing before each episode. I realize a week can be a long time to wait between readings, so this could help jog your memory about events and people. Any thoughts? Hit me up in the comments or my contact form or any social media (links at the bottom of the page). Oh, and as always don’t forget to sign up to the mailing list for update emails. I love getting new subscribers.
And tell your friends about the book!
Ok, that’s it. No more interruptions. Time to sit back and enjoy this next chapter. I know I enjoyed writing it!
Chapter Nine – Morning Star
Six riders head out from the Sovern Lodge, four run the forbidden roads to the west. They wait until they are far beyond the sight of the city to light their torches. They breach the far borders of the New Forest and set out among the Barrens. One carries a letter.
In the east two scouts race along the Pilgrim Road. They ride lean and harried, tucked against their horses. They are they eyes of Mayfaire, the eyes of Cosmin, and they make for the Holy Lands. The stars are fading in the eastern sky above them. The moon is in decline.
In Mayfaire there is only a faint cusp of grey on the horizon. It is dim, but the brightening sky tells of the dawn and of the sun. And the city turns to it and waits.
The light does not spread to the Reaches. Here the night seems endless. Here it is dark and rank. Forever rotting. The air is wet and stale and stays so even with a breeze. Insects swarm. The sewers are overflowing. The day’s first light seems held forever away.
Osyth stood watching the district spread out before him. Deep lines of worry on his face. Broken piles of stained glass at his feet. Such misery. He flipped a piece of the glass with his toe then bent and picked it up and held it against the moonlight. The face of a golden and smiling sun lay rendered in the glass, edged in deepest blue. A broken sun in a midnight sky. He threw it back to the ground.
An empty temple rose behind him, a hulking building all ringed in archways and stone buttresses that reached spiderlike to the wide and desolate plaza beyond. Osyth stood framed in the grand doorway of the temple. Cool air drifted from the building, some draft conjured from the enormity of the rooms within and it caressed and caught in his robes. It carried with it the temple’s scent of incense and the heavy lingering musk of thousands of unwashed bodies. All the scents of the faithful. Osyth was thankful for it. It was a true scent, and pure. A relief from the miasma he endured in the streets of the Reaches.
Those unwholesome streets and their buildings knotted like the hives of unhealthy insects. The vileness of them.
“This is not the city it is supposed to be,” he said to the lingering night.
The words roused a sleeping Jeremiah. He crept from a dark crevice in one of the temple antechambers and stood and stretched and shook himself before trotting to the entryway. He saw Osyth silhouetted within the pitched frame of the door. He went to him and nudged him on the arm. Osyth did not turn.
“Not now, my friend,” Osyth said. “I would prefer these moments alone.”
Jeremiah huffed and slid back into the shadows.
A howling came from the streets and with it came the dark shapes of the Vacant. There were three of them, and they broke from the wall of buildings and came scurrying down a pale granite road that cut across the plaza. They carried a body between them, bound and struggling. Osyth watched as they approached then stood tall as they dropped to their knees on the stairs below him.
“This way,” he said. He turned and walked into the shadowed building and the Vacant followed with their prize.
The room had once been a small chapterhouse that extended from the rear of the temple nave. It was round and without windows and the curving stone of the walls reached up to the bones of a once exquisite ceiling. Deep carved arches of stonewood were laced into a pitched crown high above the floor. They held true, but in support of nothing. Broken plaster and a glittering of mosaic was still stuck to their edges, but the rest of the old ceiling lay heaped about the floor. Whatever pattern once held in the tiles had been long since shattered, forever lost, though now a new design, one of a faint predawn sky, was caught in the polished scattering of the tiles and reflected a thousand times among the rubble. There was little in the room besides.
Osyth entered and the Vacant followed. They dropped their burden to the ground and it winced as they did so.
“Careful,” Osyth said, but the Vacant only tilted their heads at the word.
“Is good, lord?” one of the Vacant growled through clicking teeth.
Osyth walked to the kneeling figure and pulled the shroud from its head. Strands of dirty brown hair rose with the hood then fell across the frightened face of a young man, bound and gagged. His eyes shining silver in the moonlight.
“Poor thing,” Osyth said as he knelt before the man and brushed the hair from his face. “Look at me, child. Do you know who I am?”
It took the man a moment, but he nodded furiously.
“Then you know that you’ve no reason to cry out when I take this gag from your mouth. You are quite safe here.”
The man hesitated. He looked at the three standing Vacant, their hunched shoulders and slavering mouths, then back to Osyth. He nodded once more, reluctant.
Osyth reached behind the man’s head and untied the knot of the gag. Once it was removed he stayed kneeling. He looked into the man’s eyes and saw himself reflected in them, two dark patches in the dirty silver of the man’s eyes, frail shadows beneath the stars. He smiled, and the man smiled with him. He untied the bindings that held the man’s hands then gestured for him to rise. The man stood and Osyth waited until he was standing before he rose as well. He towered above the man. He turned to the Vacant as they paced behind him.
“You may leave us,” Osyth said, and the Vacant crept from the room with their heads bowed. Jeremiah growled from somewhere in the temple as they passed, then slid into the chapterhouse. He walked in a small tight circle, then walked it again, before folding his limbs neatly beneath his body and nestling down with his side pressed against the curve of the wall. He stared at the man for a moment, then turned away to rest his head on a piece of tiled plaster. He took a deep sighing breath.
The man watched Jeremiah. He shuddered at the beast’s movements. Osyth place his hands on the man’s shoulders and smiled again. “You are quite safe here,” he said again.
The man dropped his head. “Of course, my lord. Of course.”
“Tell me your name.”
“Veric, my lord.”
“It is good to meet you, Veric. You may call me Osyth.”
The man nodded again, but kept his eyes on the floor. He rubbed his wrists where they had been tied. “If… If I done some harm against you my lord—I mean Osyth. If I done anything against you I—I just can’t say… I live only for the Angel and his blessings sir. My life is God’s life and if I done some harm…”
Osyth laughed, warm and friendly. He shook his head. “Dear Veric you have done nothing. It is I who need to apologize to you. I asked those foul things to be gentle, but they have no idea of the word. You’re sure they haven’t hurt you?”
The look of terror would not leave the man’s face. He trembled. “Not hurt sir, just a bit thrown.”
“Good. Do you know why you’re here?”
“No sir. For the love of the Spire I’ve no idea.”
Osyth smiled. “And neither do I,” he said. “Not yet. I only asked the Vacant to find someone of faith. I gave them no other instruction. I left the rest to the will of God… and they found you. Of the tens of thousands you are the one they brought. And you are faithful, aren’t you? I can see the shine in your eyes. You’ve taken Vellah’s communion. You belong to him.”
“I do, sir. My heart and my soul. I love the Angel Vellah. Love him with all I have.”
Osyth watched the man for a long moment. “And does he deserve your love?” he said at last.
Veric’s eyes went huge. He did not answer.
“I would like to speak openly with you,” Osyth said. “And I would ask you speak openly to me in return. Can you do that?”
“Aye.” The word was barely above a whisper.
“Good. You are important to me, Veric. I need you to know what’s in my heart. What’s in my soul. It is important for what is to come next. I must speak to you without fear, and you must do the same for me. Fear keeps us quiet. It keeps our wilder thoughts hidden. Keeps us caged. I wish to be free of that tonight. I have much on my mind.”
“You can say anything to me, sir. I daren’t speak a word of it to no one.”
“Of course you won’t. Of course. I’d like you to tell me something first though.”
“Anything, sir. Anything at all.”
“I’d like you to tell me about the Reaches.”
“What would you have me tell?”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty two, sir.”
“Stop calling me ‘sir,’ Veric. My name is Osyth.”
“Twenty two… And you’ve lived here your entire life?”
“Aye, near every breath of it.”
“Was it a good place to grow up? Did you know any kindness?”
“It…” Veric hesitated. He looked to the ground.
“Be honest with me.”
“It used to be better. Now it’s an awful place… if I’m to say the truth of it.” He raised his face to Osyth’s and saw nothing but a gentleness in the Ambassador’s eyes, an urging to continue. “People here is mean,” he said. “So you get mean to match. Lots of fighting. Lots of cruelty. The rules here are hard, and the Vacant watch you, sure as anything they watch you. They’ve eyes and a nose for sin.”
“And what of the rest of Mayfaire? Do you ever venture out to the rest of the city?”
“I been out sometimes, sure. Draped a blanket and pretended to be a beggar, or gone out at night. It’s hard to do it. The rest of them in this city looks at us like thieves. They don’t like us, not a bit, so you have to hide.”
“And what did you see?”
“The rest of the city ain’t like the Reach. Not even a bit. There’s people laughing. There’s music… they live like kings, but they’re none of them saved by the blood. They’re all damned. And we can’t be wanting after the damned. There’s sin in that… in wanting like that.”
“But you do want it, don’t you? A better life.”
“I’m not here to judge or condemn you.”
Veric shrugged. “Sure I want fine food. Sure I do. And a warm place in the night. No fights, not havin’ things stole… Sure. But that’s our lot here, ain’t it? That’s our price for what’s next.”
“And what is that?”
Disbelief crossed Veric’s face. He looked as if he couldn’t understand the question. “Paradise,” he said at last. “That’s what. A life with the Angels. A life that don’t end in death.”
Osyth was silent for a long time. He watched Veric, looked deep into his eyes. When he finally spoke the words were hoarse. “I hate what the Reaches have become. I can say that with honesty. They are nothing like they should be. Nothing at all. I’ve been coming here for forty-two years. Ever since the First Congregation and every Census that followed. Forty-two years. And when I first came I was amazed at what I saw. Simply astounded. This city fell to the edge of ruin, you know. Mayfaire was abandoned after the Spire fell. Completely abandoned. I arrived here decades after the first settlers came back. They saved this city from oblivion. It is truly amazing, the tenacity to do that. The fire that it takes to reforge a broken city. And to do it all without the love or knowledge of God. Without the promise of immortality. I never understood that. How extraordinary to strive for greatness knowing that you will die and be forgotten. How truly extraordinary.” He shook his head. “This district was once the home of artists and musicians and scholars. Did you know that?”
“It was. This very temple was a great library once. It held nothing but lies from the old world, but it was beautiful. The entire district was beautiful. A place of grand design. It’s funny to think of it that way. It was beautiful when I first arrived and it was beautiful when I left. And every time I have returned I see it fall further and further into decay until now it is a place so foul I can hardly recognize it.”
“The Reach is a mean place,” Veric said. “Mean as they come, but it’s holy. These streets belong to God.”
“They do, Veric. They belong to God. This entire world belongs to God. But you are not seeing God’s work here. You are seeing the work of the Angel Vellah.”
“Aye, but God speaks through him.”
“Does he though? I once thought that the suffering in this city was a necessary suffering. That it is the crucible through which devotion is formed. The only road to salvation. So I became blind to it. I accepted it as the path to grace. This is Vellah’s belief and it became my belief as well. It is the rock on which he has built his cities, and they have all suffered the same. They are all wretched and falling apart. The buildings, the streets, and the people to match.”
Osyth turned from Veric and looked up to the dark sky that showed through the arches of the ceiling. Stars still hung there, clustered in the dark at the western rim. Osyth watched them for a long time. Veric watched as well though he did not know what he was looking for.
“Something happened to me in the Holy Lands,” Osyth said at last. “Something divine. A true miracle. And now I wonder if it changed the way I see the world or if the world has always been this way and I had not the eyes to see it… It always comes down to the eyes, doesn’t it? I wonder how I would see the streets of Vennath now. I’ve always thought of those streets as a true reflection of faith, but I wonder if they would also be foul. And what of the Pale City itself… I wonder. I wonder…” He turned from the stars and looked at Veric. The man was holding his hands in a knot at his stomach. “Do you believe in providence?” Osyth asked. “Do you understand that word?”
“I… I believe in God. Nothing else.”
“Then do you know why God placed you here before me? You, and no other.”
“Because you were meant to be here. Right now. Just at this moment. And here you are.”
Osyth laughed. “Yes indeed,” he said. “The Vacant are such foul things. Hardly a touch of the Spire left in them, and yet even they can be Its instruments. Do you know how they came to be? Do you know what they are?”
“Aye, they’re murderers. They all killed somebody. That’s the one thing you can’t do. All sorts of reasons to kill someone I figure, but don’t none of them matter. You kill and you get pushed out of the Reach. No way around it. Only way back is to pray to them priests in the Pale City. Repent to them and if they listen you can come back Vacant. Vellah forgives you then. He loves you again like you was never wrong.”
“They take all of their blood,” Osyth said. “Did you know that? That’s how it’s done. Every drop. Vellah is in that blood. And when the blood is all gone the bond is broken. Most people die… and they all lose their minds. Every single one. You don’t realize how your soul comes to depend on the Angel’s presence, and when it’s gone… It’s like taking the sun out of the sky.”
“I can understand that, sir.”
Osyth smiled. “And why is that?”
“Because they’s life in the communion. And health. The Reach is nasty but you’ll not find anyone sick here. Not a one. And people live long. There’s a man I know is well over a hundred. He remembers the city before the Spire even. He was old when he took communion and he’s still here. Others too. The Angel’s blood does that.”
“Yes it does. It also twists people’s minds. It makes them cruel. It pollutes the souls of the people it touches. It infests them.”
“But the blood’s in me,” Veric said. “And I ain’t cruel.”
“No, you are not. And you are young and strong, and your mind is your own. You are very rare, Veric. You are the providence of God and that foul beast Vellah does not deserve your love.”
Veric took a step backward. “I—” he started. He looked at Osyth, at the gentle face, then he looked to the door. “My lord Osyth… Vellah is an angel of the Spire. This city belongs to him.”
Osyth stepped forward. “Vellah is an abomination,” he said, all humor gone from his voice. “He is lost.”
“That’s heresy…” Veric said, his words quivering. “Heresy like I never heard.”
“Yes it is. The Vacant would punish me for it, wouldn’t they? Would you like to call them back? Would you like to see what Jeremiah will do to them if they come near me with their clubs?”
Veric stood slack jawed. He started to speak then stopped himself.
Osyth folded his hands behind his back. He stepped away and softened his voice. “Be calm, Veric. I said I wanted to speak to you openly, freely, and that is what I’m doing. I know it is hard to hear. You are faithful and the Spire loves you for that. You are also misguided, and that is something that no one wants to hear. Tell me something, how old were you when you took the pilgrimage?”
“I… I was very young. I don’t remember much of it.”
“Do you remember how many children arrived with you at the gates of Vennath?”
Veric paused. “Seven, I’d guess. We left with more, but that’s how many survived the road.”
“And how many came back with you?”
“Just three of us. Me and a boy and a girl. They was brother and sister if I remember.”
“And do you know what happened to the others?”
Veric hesitated. “They weren’t meant for the communion,” he said. “They weren’t worthy of it.”
“Vellah ate them,” Osyth said. “He always eats a few, and he eats them alive. He starts at the feet because he enjoys the screaming. What do you think of that?”
Veric was silent.
“Is that the blood you want wrapped around your soul? Tell me.”
Veric could only stare. Osyth placed his hand on the man’s shoulder.
“There is no divinity in that. There is no grace at the end of that suffering. It is cruelty and nothing besides. And it is the only thing I will share with you, though it is not the worst. Vellah’s faith is gone. The love of the Spire is corrupted inside of him. It’s changing him into something awful, and his flock is changing with him.”
Veric looked at his own arms. Turned them in the faint light. He looked at the lines of the veins, dark against the skin. He shook his head slowly. He swallowed. “It don’t always feel right,” he said at last, the words quiet. “Not for me at least. I don’t ever say nothing about that. And I remember that city and it didn’t feel right either. There was dark things there. The streets and buildings were all so clean and pretty but there was dark things. Some of em just walking out in the daylight. It didn’t feel holy. It sure didn’t. But what could you do? There ain’t no world for me but this one. And I’ve the communion in me now. I can’t take that back.” He looked up Osyth. “I never had no choice to begin with.”
Osyth looked at the man. He shook his head slowly. “No you didn’t,” he said. “But you have a choice now.” He stepped close. He looked into Veric’s eyes. “Tell me, what color were your eyes before the communion? Do you remember?”
“Aye. They were blue, same as my sister’s. Blue like the sky.”
“Would you like to see those eyes again? To see who you are without the Angel? I can reveal that man to you. I can bring him back. I believe that is why you are here tonight. That is why God brought you to me. That is the choice you have.”
“You can take away the communion?”
“I believe I can, by the grace of God. Do you want that?”
He looked once more at his arms. “Yes,” he whispered.
“Look at me, Veric.”
The man brought his gaze to Osyth and looked into the Ambassador’s eyes. They were pale grey, only just kissed with a metallic shimmer. They were kind, honest eyes. Trusting and wholesome. And as Veric watched they shifted from that pale grey to a familiar sky blue.
Veric opened his mouth to speak, but his throat was locked tight. His eyes grew wide. He began to claw at the air and then the hands turned back and he tore at his shirt and the skin beneath it.
Osyth saw the map of the body laid out before him and he guided himself along it. He walked upon the land of flesh and bone, he swam through the maze of nerves. He saw the eddies of blood and the pounding of the heart and he drifted within them. He listened. He tested the currents, felt their rhythms and harmonies and found a concert in balance. Only it was not a perfect balance. There was a hint of dischord in the notes. Some key within the music that was off pitch and out of tune, something screaming when all else sang. Osyth heard it and in the hearing it coalesced and he knew it to be the ache of Vellah’s blood. Opalescent and swimming dark. An abhorrent galaxy of its own that pierced and suckled upon all it could touch and once Osyth found it the rest of the inner world went dark and misted beneath him. He held the blood. Gripped it all invisibly and entirely and held it and somewhere far in the darkness he heard the drum of the heart speeding up and the cords of slippery muscles as they tensed. Tendons stretching taut. And somewhere far, far away he heard a screaming. It started in pain then turned wild and braying. Screaming and laughing and crying all at once and it rose and rose and then there was a ripping of skin and a far distant smell of iron. Osyth ignored it. He tore at the Angel’s blood and split it from all its rooting. He found the edges of the body and opened new lines to the cold outer world and he pulled the foul blood of Vellah like worms from the soil.
Veric was screaming and screaming. His chest and face and head were clawed in rough raking lines and hands were full of blood and skin and clumps of his own hair and the nails of the hands were driven deep into his palms. His jaw clenched on his tongue and snipped it clean off and the blood filled his mouth and poured from his chin and his screams were bubbled and wet. He snapped at the air like a chained ape. The teeth clacking shut over and over. He caught his lip and more blood flew and he screamed and soon he was nothing but biting and gnashing and screaming.
Jeremiah held him by the wrists and ankles. He had seen the man’s body go rigid and the hands begin to claw and he sped to Osyth’s side then swept behind the crazed man and held him. Blood spattered along his hands and arms. He growled and cried out to Osyth.
The sound reached somewhere deep in Osyth’s mind and his eyes shifted from that fair sky blue to their own grey. It took him a moment to understand what he was seeing. Veric was in the throes of a violent fit, held aloft by a whining Jeremiah. There was a dark shining pool at the man’s feet and lines of the same fluid were running from cuts across his neck and thighs and from the undersides of his arms.
Osyth took a step towards Veric and Jeremiah whined as he did so.
“Keep a hold of him,” Osyth said as he came close. He looked into the man’s eyes and saw that the shine had left them.
Veric tried biting at Osyth’s face. He was babbling and crying out and the hair and eyes and teeth all unhinged and there was little there but madness and pain.
Osyth frowned. He peered into the man once more. His grey eyes gone blue to match and he saw the map of the body stretched before him once again and something was alive and explosive within the man’s skull. A lighting storm flickering along the tangles of the brain and the core of the storm so bright it didn’t flash at all but only burned with some cosmic intensity like the heart of a violent sun. Osyth found this and he held it and peered within its webs to the places where the storm seemed to stem and he snipped at them. He darkened them with razor flicks of his will and soon the light was calm. Soon it was pulsing steady, relaxed. No longer a maelstrom. Now only a calm and soothing tide.
Veric eased in Jeremiah’s grip. A line of bloody drool ran down the side of his mouth. A faint grin was spread upon his face.
Osyth’s eyes swam back to grey. He stepped back. He looked to Veric.
“Let him go,” he said to Jeremiah, and the beast opened all of his hands and Veric stood there on his own, his arms still held out far to his sides as though waiting for an embrace.
“Veric?” Osyth said. “Can you hear me?”
The man mouthed some slow dumb words, but they were lost and gibbering, barely a moan.
Jeremiah grunted and slid out his own tongue and pointed to it then pointed down to the ground. Osyth followed and saw Veric’s cloven tongue there among the shining darkness of the Angel’s blood. He frowned. He knelt and looked at the pool on the ground. He didn’t dare touch it.
“Did any of this get on you?” he asked Jeremiah.
The beast held his limbs in the moonlight and looked them over. He shook his head.
Osyth looked at Veric a long time. He walked to the man, as close as he could without stepping in the puddle. The eyes were sky blue, even in the dawning grey light, but there was nothing there of the man besides. Nothing but a grinning waxen face and a body swaying soft on bloody legs.
Tears filled Osyth’s eyes. He couldn’t keep them away. He looked upon the gift that God had seen fit to place before him. A feeble, empty thing. A soul lost entirely.
“Oh Veric,” he whispered. “What have I done?”
Veric only stood and grinned. His eyes were fixed on the wall at his side or perhaps to something far beyond them. They were rolled and gawking, nearly all the white exposed. They seemed to register nothing. The brows raised high. The mouth moving up and down without sound or comprehension.
“Poor soul,” Osyth said. “Poor, poor soul. Have I stolen you away?”
Veric blinked slowly. A few strands of hair were caught in the eyelashes and Osyth brushed them away. He touched the man’s cheek.
“Can you not even look at me?”
The eyes snapped to Osyth. Fast and deliberate. They locked on him and held.
Osyth faltered. He stepped away and the eyes followed. He stepped to the right and the eyes moved to match. They were empty and dumb, but seemed governed by some hollow will.
“Look at Jeremiah.”
The eyes jumped again, straight to Jeremiah. The beast growled.
And they went.
“Now to the sky.”
Veric bent his head slightly and the eyes shot to the ceiling and he stared blind beyond the arches.
“Put your arms down.”
He did so.
More tears fell down Osyth’s face. He wiped at them with the edge of his sleeve. Jeremiah circled behind him and whined from over his shoulder. “My God…” Osyth said. “My God.”
The sun breached the horizons of the brightening East. It spilled over the grasses of the Wastes. It spread through the heaping deadfall of the Barrens then crested the canopy of the New Forest. It chased away the night and the stars and the moon and tinted the grey eastern sky in pink and gold. Finally it touched upon the waking heights of Mayfaire.
One of the Vacant watched the sunrise from the center of the Colosseum plaza. She stood alone, her head tilted to the sky. Blood on her hands and face. She held the broken ankle of a man dragged from the cold forges above Riverside, a man who had died hours before, though the Vacant did not know it. He died even before she had cracked his ankles, long before the rough stones of the city streets scraped the hair and skin clean from the back of his head as he was dragged. A streak of blood lay in her wake and there were similar streaks painted throughout the city. They all led to the colosseum.
Below the market of the High Circle a small gathering of Vacant congregated to investigate the stench of their own blood. The alley was clean, but the smell lingered and they pawed at the ground and brought their noses to it and breathed deep of the damp stones. They growled, and spoke in rough barks to one another. Something had happened. Some sin had fouled the alley, but it was one they could not trace.
A solitary figure watched them, perched among the rooftops.
The sun rose higher in the sky. It settled on the tops of the four watchtowers along the eastern edge of the wall where the City Guard still held their patrols. Each tower held a watcher, and each watcher sat in reverie of the sun.
A trindlebacked woman stood in the belltower of the Colosseum, a thick rope clutched in her hands. Her back was to the dawn and the western sky reflected in her dull shining eyes. A great bell filled the tower beside her, shifting imperceptibly in the morning breeze. She watched the edge of the Colosseum without blinking, eyes fixed upon the arches that crowned there. She waited. Her heart pounding in her chest. The sun crept higher. An orange sliver of it touched upon the highest edge of the arches and the woman saw it and heaved down on the rope with all of her weight. Her hearing was shattered years ago, but she could feel the pressure in the air when the bell began to ring. It collided against her in waves, beating harder and faster as she wrenched the rope again and again.
The tolling of the Dawn Bell rang across the city, and life began to stir.
It began in the Reaches. The ringing echoed along its failing streets, doors creaked open, and the faithful poured out into the cold morning air. Most had not slept at all the night before, compelled instead to stay awake in huddled prayer. They filled the streets of the Reaches, and soon a great swelling of bodies reached the city’s arterial roads like streams draining to a river. The South Road and the Second Circle filled entirely, and the current ambled slowly towards the Colosseum.
Osyth emerged from the temple and crossed the empty plaza. Jeremiah strode at his side and behind them walked Veric. He stood tall and proud. His steps were sure.
The faithful shivered in the cold air. They pulled wool blankets and threadbare robes over their shoulders and looked up at the warm light crawling down the heights of the Colosseum and waited for its warmth to reach them. Their eyes glimmered in the dawn. They recited prayers under their breath as they walked through the city. They passed the shuttered stalls of the Lower Market, and the noble houses and tended gardens of the Circle. They traveled beneath the watching parapets of the Barracks where sentries from the City Guard leered at them in open contempt. They moved slowly, purposefully, and they all rept towards the Colosseum.
Osyth, Jeremiah, and Veric walked at their heart. The crowd parted before them and when they saw who stood in their midst they all dropped to the ground. Osyth did not stop them or tell them to rise. The three walked along the waking streets and crossed the Colosseum plaza and passed through the golden tunnel that led to the arena floor. The crowd swarmed behind them. They swarmed the archways that lined the Colosseum’s sides and stumbled through the building’s inner dark before filing out to the rows upon rows of benches. They pressed against one another, all facing a great mountainous throne that rose impossibly high from the arena floor. They cowered beneath a vast and mighty statue that stood at its peak.
The Colossus of Vellah was a masterpiece. It was rendered in marble and stood as tall as any building in Mayfaire. It depicted Vellah as beautiful and strong and perfectly human. His face was concealed beneath a many-horned helm though enough of it was exposed to show the hard jawline, the full lips. He was clad in a scaled suit of armor and a cloak was draped over his shoulders, the wrinkles of which were so perfectly rendered that they looked soft to the touch. The Angel’s hands were bare, and one was placed upon the hilt of a sheathed sword. The other reached towards the heavens, the palm upturned, the fingers slightly bent, as if he were receiving a gift from above. The gesture was one of loving, of longing, and it had always stopped Osyth in his tracks.
He stared at it now. It was a masterpiece, and it was of his own design. He had personally overseen its creation, bringing in the most skilled artisans from the Pale City to realize his vision. The artisans had worked for over two years, suffering every wrinkle and fold, and when they were finally finished they had created a picture of Vellah so beautiful and mighty that any who looked upon it felt overcome with the Angel’s glory. A statue so divine that it would galvanise the city of Mayfaire and show them a pure vision of their lord, and the truth of the Spire’s grace.
The statue of Vellah was magnificent. It was perfect in every way.
It was also a lie. For the fierce figure that crowned the throne of Mayfaire, the benevolent warrior king that stared into the heavens with love and conquest in his heart, was not a rendering of the Angel Vellah at all.
It was a statue of Osyth. And he walked the great height of stairs that led to its feet and once there he turned and faced the faithful of Mayfaire and they all fell to their knees before him. Jeremiah sat at his side like a statued lion. Veric stood and watched and saw nothing at all but he grinned at the world entire. A trace of blood welled in his perfect blue eyes.