Osyth rode Jeremiah at the head of the procession. A large gathering of men and women followed close behind. Blood tinting their eyes. Grins stretched wide beneath their hoods. The endless ranks of the Veng marched at their backs.
The faithful in the crowd stood upon their tiptoes and Osyth looked at them with great sadness but their eyes were full of tears and turned to the sky and they did not see him. Their chanting resumed, their arms opened wide, and Osyth knew that Vellah had begun to consecrate his road. The blood was already spilling.
When he reached the Colosseum plaza he stopped and spun Jeremiah. The men and women stopped as well. One stood at their fore, a man with deep bloody tracks on his face and the roots of his lower teeth showing from the chewed gaps in his lip. He smiled as best he could.
“Lead them inside, Veric,” Osyth said to the man. “There are ropes in the belltower, hammers in the chambers beneath the arena floor. Break whatever doors you need to. Get as many as you can and meet me at the foot of the throne. Be fast.”
Veric said nothing. He shuffled away towards the colosseum and the others followed at his heels. Osyth watched them disappear into the mouth of the Colosseum. Then he turned to the approaching Veng and signalled.
The soldier that broke from the front rank was indistinguishable from those that surrounded him, save for a small hole in the forehead of his helm. He approached Osyth and knelt. Behind him the great marching column split down the middle and began to fill the Colosseum plaza. Osyth had to shout to be heard above their footfall.
“Rise,” Osyth said. “Tell me your name.”
“I am Confluencer of the Sixth Legion,” the soldier said as he stood. His voice cold and absolute, eyes ice blue and near hidden in the void of his helm. “Mouth and mind to my cohort. Loyal son of the Angel Coriel.”
“I was not expecting Vellah to grace your ranks, Confluencer.”
“Nor was I, lord Osyth. The Angel was waiting for us in the fields beyond Vennath. He and his coterie.”
“Did you speak to him?”
“No, my lord, I was not given the honor. I spoke with his attendant, an Ascended named Prudence.”
“Yes, my lord. She commands this legion.”
“I command this legion,” Osyth said.
“No longer,” the Confluencer said. “The Angel Vellah has blessed Prudence with our command. We are bidden to obey her will, no others.”
“And what is her will?”
“Obedience,” my lord. “And silence.”
Osyth looked to the man for a long moment, then pulled on Jeremiah’s mane and steered the beast to the mouth of the Colosseum. The Confluencer said nothing as they left. He stepped into the nearest passing rank and vanished into the lines of soldiers.
Shouts greeted Osyth as he rode through the Colosseum tunnel and when he emerged onto the arena floor he saw a priest standing before Veric and the others. The priest was red faced and sweating and when Osyth approached him he dropped to his knees and brought his hands together above his head.
“Lord Osyth,” the priest cried. “Oh thank the Spire for your arrival. I’ve been beset by monsters! Just look at them! I’ve been shouting for the Vacant, but they’re tending to the flock and… Oh thank the Spire you’ve come! They’ve just gone running through this holy place to break into the old armories. Just look at them!” He pointed a gnarled finger to Veric.
Osyth ignored the priest. He rode Jeremiah to the foot of the mountain throne. He whispered and Jeremiah bowed low to the arena floor. Osyth stepped lightly from his back then walked to the first of the marble stairs. He looked skyward and to the great statue crowning the high reaches of the throne. The vast and shrouded face upturned, fierce among the heavens.
“My lord…” the priest muttered.
“Quiet,” Osyth said without turning. “Veric, come to me.”
Veric walked dutifully to Osyth’s side. He carried the mouldering remains of an old warhammer, its leather wrapped hilt cracked and rotted with age, its metal rusted to the point of unrecognition.
“Look to the statue. Do you see it?”
Veric snapped his neck upwards, then nodded slow and deliberate.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Veric did not stop nodding. His head drifting up and down, again and again. The eyes wide and thoughtless, hair spilling over his face.
“It was my final gift to Mayfaire.”
Veric groaned from his torn and tongueless mouth.
Osyth looked to him and smiled. “I once thought it was the most beautiful thing in all of Lyr,” he said. “Such a vision… But Vellah will not understand. He will see it and be threatened by its beauty. And we cannot have that, can we? The Angel must find himself at home here. He must feel safe and unchallenged.”
Veric opened his mouth and shut it several times in mimicry of speech. A line of drool formed from his shredded lips and Osyth wiped it away. He put his hand on Veric’s shoulder. “I need you to tear it down,” he said. “You and the others. Do whatever it takes. I know you have the strength.”
Veric bobbed his head up and down. His eyes widened. He twisted his neck towards the group and barked at them and they all moved at the sound. Some carried bundles of rope, wrist-thick and dark with oil. Others held the pitted shells of old clubs and maces, or mauls so large they dragged the ground. They shambled to Veric then followed him like a pack of hounds.
Osyth watched them go. The priest rose and came close then dropped once more to the ground. He kept his head bowed and Osyth did not turn to look at him. He looked to the statue of Vellah. To the shapes of Veric and the others now gathered about its feet. Small and ragged and filthy. Vermin in the shadows of a god. He saw the ropes as they snagged along the ridges of the statues hips. The tiny figures bracing them and drawing them taught as spiderwebs. The first thunderous cracks of metal on stone.
The priest looked up as the first blow was struck. “My lord Osyth!” he cried. “Oh by the Spire! They cannot… they simply cannot!”
Osyth faced the priest. “And why can’t they?”
The priest was dumbstruck. He looked at Osyth for a moment then back to the statue as a head-sized piece of its calf came tumbling down the stairs of the throne. He covered his mouth with a skinny hand. His eyes were unbelieving. “The statue of Vellah is holy, my lord! It is holy! It cannot be touched. Least of all by heretics. My lord it is blasphemy!”
“Heretics? Why would you call them heretics?”
“Did you see their eyes? They have no touch of communion in them. They are faithless my lord!”
“They are young. The first fruit from the vine. Their faith is beyond reproach, I promise you. And their souls pure. Their blood unbound.”
“You…” the priest started. He looked to the men and women smashing and wrenching on the statue. He rose and faced Osyth. “You made them Vacant…”
“Far from it. They are free from the blood, not enslaved to its absence.”
“Free? My lord Osyth they are not free. They are thralls. Slaves. Just look at them…”
“They are free of corruption.”
“You… you’ve taken their very souls. You’ve damned them. And now this!” He pointed to the statue. “They tear at the Angel himself!”
“Look closely at that statue, priest. See the face of your Angel.”
The priest did so. Then he looked back to Osyth. His eyes darkened. “My lord…” he muttered.
Osyth nodded. “It was never a statue of Vellah,” he said. “Just a dutiful and obedient man. A man too weak to see how the world was shifting. Too weak to act.”
“But how… how can this be?”
“Necessity, and nothing more. I claimed Mayfaire forty-two years ago, and even then Vellah’s body was not fit to stand upon the mount. Those early fragile days… This city would have turned away in disgust at the sight of him. I should have seen the truth in that, but I didn’t.”
If the priest heard these words he made no sign. He watched more and more chunks of marble fly from the statue. He helplessly wrung his hands.
“Statues of Vellah, the real Vellah, once graced the Pale City,” Osyth said. “They sat upon pedestals in the divide of the Pilgrim Road. One erected for each of his Ascensions. Shrines to his new flesh. He’s torn them all down now, but I remember a time when you could walk the road and see how he changed through the years. I once thought it holy, but no longer. Now it only breaks my heart. How the monsters at the end of that promenade bore no resemblance to the man at the entrance. That man who was my friend. My mentor. Prince of a proud and noble house, yet unsullied by it’s luxury. He was humble and he was kind and I miss him dearly. And now…”
A splintering crack began to form along the left leg of the statue. It wrapped in a crescent up to the knee and widened as the hammers fell against it again and again.
“Now he is lost. And this city will bear witness to his death.”
The crack widened. It spread to the thigh.
“I wonder if his limbs will curl like a spiders when he finally dies. I wonder if his blood will die with him or if I’ll have to pull it from each of you myself.”
“Heretic,” the priest hissed. “Befouler. I’ll not witness another second of this. You are misled, Osyth. If only you could see it. You’ve lost yourself.”
Another splitting crack, deep and resonant. Then another.
“The old world must make way for the new,” Osyth said, holding out his hand. “It is the way of things. Just as I am the way. I beg you to see it.”
“You are damned, Osyth. Damned in the eyes of God. You don’t reflect the love of the Spire, you swallow it up.”
A final hammerstrike and the second leg of the statue broke with a tremendous popping sound that called across the empty expanse of the Colosseum. The shadow in which Osyth and the priest were held began to slide away. The statue descending in behemoth grace, breaking at the knees and shins then crumbling down to its waist then rolling to its back. Ropes stretched taught now loosening, figures unrelenting in their labor and flying silently skywards. The goliath head turning in collapse to face the sun. The leviathan movement, the fall. Splintering to the ground beneath a glittering of dust.
The sound was tremendous. It shook the Colosseum and brought further breaks to the already splitting stone and as it resonated Osyth’s eyes turned amber and he peered into the body of the priest and split the man’s veins clean down the middle. All at once.
Osyth did not watch the priest fall to the ground. He looked instead to the broken statue and the men and women standing amidst the rubble, their shoulders heaving. They were all facing him, waiting.
“Destroy the face!” he cried. “Break it and scatter it. No part of it can be in tact when the Angel arrives. No sign!”
The men and women didn’t nod or otherwise acknowledge Osyth’s words. They simply turned and congregated on the area where the head had fallen and set upon it with the hammers.
“Jeremiah,” Osyth said, his voice gentle. “Get the priest’s body. Take it somewhere far away. The river if you can make it without being seen.”
Jeremiah went to the priest and scooped up the body and cradled it in his forelimbs. He looked once more to Osyth then galloped to the southern tunnel entrance and vanished. Hands slapping their rhythm against the mosaic floor then fading.
When the face was splinters Osyth called for Veric and the others followed. Seven of them had collapsed from the labor and he ordered those still standing to gather them up and carry them. When they came close enough he could see that those collapsed had died with their efforts.
“Bless their souls,” he said. “And their sacrifice.” He walked to the one nearest him and ran his hands along the face to close the eyelids. He took a deep breath. “You must all get out of this Colosseum,” he said at last. “Get to the temple in the Reaches and wait. I will find you all there, my precious children.”
They never stopped grinning. One’s jaws locked so tight the teeth overclenched and turned pink with blood. Another was pierced at the neck by a shard of marble and Osyth plucked it out and dabbed at the welling blood. All their hands were blistered and raw. They looked at him with their passionless eyes. Sweat shining on their faces, darkening their clothes. The sharp musk of wild animals hung about them. Osyth went to each and brought the hoods down over their faces and kissed them on the forehead. He did so even to the deceased. Then he watched them walk away.
He stared at the mountain throne a long time. Broken pieces of the statue lay in great piles wherever they had fallen, mostly splintered by the impact, but some still held a resemblance of what they once were. Here the hilt of the sword, the crest of an elbow. The hand that once reached to the heavens now lay palm skyward and resting on the arena floor. Osyth smiled at it. He knew Vellah would enjoy it as well. The Angel loved to sit among rubble of the once glorious.
“You will feel right at home here,” Osyth said. “In this ruin.”
He looked to the colosseum surrounding him. The sudden stillness of it. The endless rows of marble benches radiating from the arena floor, all of which were empty. He saw the breaks in the foundation, the cracks in the walls. Weatherbit remains of the high arches. Drifting eddies of dust.
“It was never my throne.”
He walked to the east tunnel entrance and out to the plaza beyond, now filled with ranks and ranks of the Veng. He saw the shape of Vellah’s carriage temple, hazy in the distance, growing larger and larger. The strange movement of the Acolytes before it. The mighty Velatis, led by his chained horde of penitents. And somewhere unseen the willowy form of Prudence, her foul mind already tickling along the edges of his thoughts. They were all approaching, and soon they would be upon him. And he would once again be dutiful and obedient. A spider setting the silk.