The False Prophet Part 1 (D1)

It had never started out as a sham. The visions had been an accident, living dreams that had been made mistakes the moment he had spoken of them to his parents. They had sold him to the Sovereign, before the Sovereign had been known as that and had only been a tall, handsome, ambitious young man with his own dreams of a greater unified wasteland.

Neither of them had begun as a sham.

The other prophets, if anyone could even call them that, had been phonies from the start. It may have been obvious to Baylo but the Sovereign had become too absorbed with his dreams of the future that he had allowed the devils to surround him.

His friend had been a kinder man back then.

A cruel world this was. A world where the man you had once looked upon with awe and admiration only brought fear to your heart now. A man who had protected Baylo from the twisted nature of people now left him to be eaten by them. He had once called the Sovereign his best friend but now all he saw was pure evil.

At least Baylo was still alive.

He had seen what the Sovereign had done to the rest of the false prophets. Gave them a taste of his own cruel visions and left them on the ramparts for the world to watch as the vile birds peeled the flesh off of the still-living frauds.

Baylo hated carriers.

In a way, maybe the Sovereign wasn’t so bad or maybe he still had a soft spot for Baylo. Maybe somewhere, deep down, the man still held an ounce of care for the friend who had been with him from the very beginning. After all, Baylo wanted to believe that as evil as the Sovereign had become, he could still feel something. 

He wouldn’t have launched this pointless crusade in search of the Green-Eyed Devil if he had nothing left in his heart.

Baylo had pleaded with him not to go after her. Begged him to let her rot in the wasteland, but he had not listened. There was another at his side now, whispering in his ear, urging the Sovereign to give in to his impulses and move up the timeline. He was a lying bastard, Baylo was sure of it. It had been the last true vision Baylo had been gifted with, the last warning by whatever being or random happenchance that bestowed the visions.

Maybe there really were gods out there. Powerful beings that determined their fate and played a part in shaping their wasteland and truly had chosen the Sovereign as their chosen one, but it was far from what Baylo believed. He had been tasked with helping unite the people to their cause, and being gifted with ability to read had made him realize that men of the Old World united for causes they could not explain more than those they could. The visions were not gifts from the gods, they were likely just growths within the sponge inside his head, but if he went around telling people that, he would end up with his skull split apart faster than his current, slow-burning fate, and he rather enjoyed his current status.

He was the Prophet after all, but for how long, he couldn’t say. Not with this new bastard, Donyall, around.

It was nice living with wealth, fine robes, endless food, women, and protection from none other than the Sovereign himself. All he had to do was pretend until his visions returned.

If his visions ever returned.

Pretend, just as all the other false prophets he had helped pick out had. He understood why they had done it now. It was better than being a street rat who was used and abused endlessly. The life most men lived in the wastelands was nothing to yearn for and it was exactly what the Sovereign and Baylo had been working toward improving all these years. He hoped that their time together would buy him enough compassion within his old friend’s heart to not give up on him yet. 

As little as he enjoyed the way things were now, he could not forsake the cause the two of them had worked so hard toward. He had done many cruel things in the name of his Sovereign, in the name of a greater wasteland. Running away was not an option any longer. He needed to prove his worth again, one way or another. With every moment that passed, the whispering bastard gained more ground over him. 

Baylo had done what had been asked of him, not only out of necessity but because he had believed in his friend and his cause. This bastard revelled in the power, enjoyed sending men to their deaths. He basked in the pain and suffering as he watching their flesh being pecked apart, listening to all the false prophets scream and plead for days to make the torture end. The only way it ever stopped was when their skin gave way and their entrails slowly fell to the ground far below them, leaving the green orb in the sky to char them for the carriers.

Baylo hated those diseased birds.

No matter how much history Baylo and his Sovereign had together, Baylo was becoming just another heavy mouth to feed. Another mouth that this new bastard would call forward and deem the ultimate message to the wastelands.

There was no man safe from the wrath of the Sovereign, not even his Prophet.

Carriers were the stain of the wastelands. Vile, opportunistic creatures. Flew around in search of the scraps left by anyone else so they never had to do a damn thing to earn their keep. It’s why they had left the men to be eaten by them, so they could see in their final moments how sick it was to have a creature feed off of your hard work. 

Baylo did not deserve that. He had earned his keep over the years, a thousand times over. He had been the entire reason why the Sovereign reigned over so much of the wastelands. The scattered Factions that remained had become only a game to display the control the Collective now held. His visions had been the ones that had led the Sovereign to victory. Every devoted member of the Collective had been recruited because of the guidance that Baylo had provided. Every city, every man, every enemy defeated had all been owed to him. 

The Collective was his, just as much as it was the Sovereign’s, and Baylo would not simply watch as this encroaching bastard whispered in his Sovereign’s ear and painted him out to be a sham. He would not roll over and allow this man to take his position without a fight, especially when he knew this man was not the Truth.

Baylo was the Truth.

He had lied, sure, but it had been an act of desperation. There had been no ill intentions behind it. He had been pushed to perform when he had fessed to his Sovereign that the visions had not come in some time. It had not been his fault. Those people’s lives were on Donyall. The bastard was responsible for it all. The boy had watched for a long time, learned what the Sovereign wanted to hear, studied his master until he was sure he could convince him and defend himself when he was wrong. It was then that Baylo’s visions had disappeared, and soon after, everything had begun to go wrong.

He needed to show his Sovereign that, even if he could provide him visions no longer, he could still show him the way. He didn’t know how, but he needed to find an angle. Break through the bastard’s control over his Sovereign and allow the Truth to feast on his lies.

“I be always wonderin’ why you make me brats a me all sit here for long hour while ya fuck whores in ya room,” came Donyall’s soft, raspy voice, disrupting Baylo’s meditation. Baylo kept his eyes closed, hoping the bastard would go away. “I be seein’ why now, though.”

Baylo opened his eyes. The “Altar of the People” lay tall and proud in front of him, a massive statue made from the breaking down of many other statues of the old world, depicting the Sovereign kneeling while holding a person in his arms. It looked nothing like the Sovereign but the message came across clear as day. It was one of Baylo’s proudest works.

He could see the bastard’s outline out of the corner of his eye, standing alongside him and staring at the altar. Maybe he could simply strangle the shit and be done with it. It would likely cost him his life, but at least that way he knew this bastard would not continue corrupting his Sovereign’s mind. 

“I never lay with a woman till I come here,” said the bastard. “I remember when you tell me I be ready. I be excite, I think of all the woman I see before that my eye not be able to stray. I be nervous too, I think, what if I not do somethin’ good? You remember?”

Baylo saw the bastard look down at him but he continued to stare at the Altar. “You take me a me room, tell me a wait until you fetch her. I wait for what feel like all life but finally you come back. You tell me a close me eyes and lay on me stomach. I hear her come in and she be gentle at first, get me mind goin’ and afore I think, she be havin’ somethin’ in me. She turn me over and I see a most revoltin’ woman I ever imagine. Twast like the Unbroken One look down on me ready a take me a her realm. The beast hold me down an take me while you smile an see in the corner.” 

A grin appeared over the bastard’s face. “I no walk right for many day come that.”

“Of all a things I teach you, you not learn how a even speak proper,” said Baylo. “Let alone use your memory.”

“Good time,” said the bastard, grinning wide, “So good that I no see no need a sit round here when I can be with me beast instead. Ya hide here in ya head all ya want Prophet, but don’t think just ‘acouse ya eyes be close, the world not be able a see ya.”

Baylo turned and stared into the man’s eyes. Donyall’s grin mocked back, but Baylo’s mind felt no scorn or disdain, only curiosity. There was something about how the bastard had said his words that made Baylo uneasy, that made Baylo feel as if the man did not truly know the way that visions came.

The Prophet had left the disciples in meditation in order to cultivate their any ounce of gift they may have. To allow for a free mind where visions could flow unhindered. So far, it had all been a waste. His own mind was the only one to be born with the gift. Nearly all of the Prophet’s own visions had come to him during meditations, he knew this and understood it. He had tried to get the disciples to understand so they too could become one with the Collective and contribute to a united people, but it seemed this one had not.

He had held high hopes for Donyall at first. The Sovereign had been told that the boy was possessed by creatures of the other realm. Creatures that would attempt to take over his body, causing the boy to shake uncontrollably and foam at the mouth as they tried to voice their incantations. They had claimed that the boy had even bit the fingers off a man that had come too close as a creature tried to enter him. Naturally, the Sovereign had been intrigued and brought him to Baylo to mold in hopes a second prophet could be made.

When the runt had come to him, the boy had been malnourished and sickly. Baylo had watched him frequently fall to the ground as these supposed creatures would attempt to possess him. His other disciples, most who were no longer alive, were frightened of Donyall. Ridiculous that to this day educated people still believed in tales of magic and other worldly beings. The disciples tried to outcast and abuse the runt but Baylo had taken the boy in as his own and refused to allow the other fakes to mistreat his child. An empty threat to beat them if he caught wind that they were abusing the boy had resolved the problem.

Donyall had woken from his episodes many a time, ranting and rambling. Sometimes he would speak of lands where short, green leaves would grow from the ground and cover more territory than the eye could see. Other times it was of clear juice that men and women would soak themselves in as if the radiation within it had no effect on them. A few times he spoke of a united people who seemed happy and cared for each other. Baylo did not know if the boy truly had the gift and was seeing the future to come or if his sponge was simply protecting itself during an episode. It wasn’t long, however, until the rants came to a halt, and along with them, the memories Donyall held of them.

Baylo sucked his tooth loudly and turned to face the statue.

“The Sovereign not be wantin’ a see ya, Prophet,” said Donyall. “He be busy preparin’ for the invasion.”

Baylo tried hard to restrain his anger but he found his jaw clenching involuntarily. It was a mistake, just as the invasion of the Blood Woods. This fool would lead their Sovereign to ruin if he was allowed to continue.

“Will he be missin’ a Gatherin’ again?” said the Prophet as calmly as he could muster.

“Likely,” said Donyall. “But don’t ya worry, I be there a support ya.” The man turned his body and walked away, each step making a sticky noise that made the Prophet realize he had not heard on the man come in to begin with. “Maybe we do somethin’ good this time, ya?”

The Prophet forced his eyes shut and felt the ring in his ears as his teeth ground tight together. He wanted to kill him, to rip him apart as the vile birds had all the others before him. He was the second most important man in the wastelands, the second most powerful man to ever live. He should never have to endure this level of ridicule from anyone other than the Sovereign, but he knew that while others held their power through brute force, he held his through the sponge inside his head.

Violence was not the way of the Truth, but The Truth always found a way.

Baylo shuffled his way through the long stone halls of the Sovereign’s temple. If the wealthy of the wastelands displayed their power by building wood homes, this stone temple was the ultimate display of power. It had taken many years to build and countless lives were sacrificed in the process, but the result had been nothing short of godly.

The slaves who had not died from the untold trips out into the Forbidden were surely dying now, slower, more painful deaths. There were stories of monsters that lived inside the Forbidden, creatures that would feast on the flesh of men for no other reason than pleasure. Radiated fiends that would roam the desolate lands without purpose. Many said they were once men and women from the Old World deemed unfit to be carried off to the realm of the gods before the Doom and instead stripped of their souls and forced to roam eternally in the most uninhabitable remnant of what once was. 

He didn’t know if they were real, he had never seen one himself after all, but many claimed to have. Many slaves who survived their tour through the Forbidden yammered on about the creatures with melted skin, fangs and claws all over their bodies or organs that dripped acid as they shuffled about. It was likely loads of beast dung they spewed between each other to make themselves feel more important, if only for the short moments they would tell the stories. 

The only monster out in the Forbidden was the unseen butcher left behind by the Doom that infested the air, the soil, the juice, the walls, everything it came in contact with. Radiation was something that hit hard and by the time its effects began to show, it was already too late. 

There were many real monsters he had encountered over his time, but they had been empty shells of men. The true monster was the man who had slowly allowed the power of the world he had created around him, and the opportunistic creatures it brought with it, to corrupt him and let him slip further into madness. 

Baylo had felt repulsed by many of the actions his Sovereign had forced him into over the years. They had been innocent at first. 

“Show me who a speak with that can be bought,” had turned into, “Speak a the people of this city for me and rally them a our duty.” Soon after, though, the Sovereign was no longer collecting the willing but gathering the unwilling and ensuring they were not around to rise against him. 

He had to wonder if maybe his best friend had played him from the start. All of the talks of uniting a broken people, of bringing back the order of the Old World, eradicating humanity of the unhinged rulers that constantly waged wars amongst each other at the expense of the innocents had all been a ploy to place the most unhinged of them all at the top. Maybe the man the Sovereign was now had always been, and it was Baylo who had changed. 

He didn’t want to believe that the man who had educated him, taught him to speak and read and brought him thousands of books that had stimulated his childhood had only done it for selfish reasons. No, their duty was truly something Baylo believed in. 

If Baylo’s mind had been warped by his friend, his soul had stayed true. It was the only way that he could feel the repulsion at what he had done and what he had become. He may have turned a blind eye to it when he was younger, but he would no longer. He had to wonder about his friend, sure, but he did not believe it, could not believe it. 

It was the carriers that surrounded him now that had twisted his friend and strayed them from their true path. It was not too late.

“The Sovereign reward well those that inspire loyalty in others, but most all, themself,” said the Prophet loud enough to let his words echo down the hall, reaching the ears of a thick man riddled with scars over his arms, face, and likely many other places his garb covered, who had just stepped out of his chambers.

The man stood in place, his arms behind his back and a faint close-lipped smile over his face that welcomed Baylo as he waited for the Prophet to shuffle his way to him. 

“My Truth,” said the man in a calm, gentle tone. The way the man carried himself, a calming confidence that invited all to him, as if there was no way this man was capable of harm. The Prophet knew better. Not because of the scars, or the stories that floated around the ranks. One look into the man’s cold, lifeless eyes let the Prophet know that this was a man who you wanted on your side, always.

“You enjoy your stay here with us Officer Edo?” said Baylo.

“My Sovereign be kind to me,” said Edo. “I hope it mean he like the offerin’ our city bring ‘im.”

Baylo smiled. “I am going a walk among the people,” he extended his hand in front of him, “the Truth need protection.”

On a simpler man, the request may have been taken as one that could be refused, but Baylo knew this man to be educated. At least enough to know that refusing the Truth would not end well for him.

If the Truth still held any ounce of power, that was. 

“I be honor,” smiled Edo, his eyes wide and unmoving. 

“Good,” said Baylo, stepping forward and forcing the man to walk beside him. “I have not had chance a speak with you since you make it in.”

“Ya have not sat in any of the meals my Sovereign prepare for us,” said Edo.

“Aye, I have been busy. There is trouble I deal with that is close to home.”

“Anythin’ I can help with?”

Baylo pushed the big wooden double doors that kept him between his safe, stone temple and the masses of ignorant commoners within their city. Both guards on the outside of the Temple doors raised their rifles to the ready as they saw the Truth exiting, prepared to abandon their post in order to guard their Prophet with their life. Baylo raised his hand to them and allowed for Edo to exit with him, placing both of them at ease. 

A crowd of people outside the Temple doors turned to him and began to swarm toward the Truth. Edo stepped in front of him but Baylo placed his hand over his shoulder.

“You will know if I am in danger,” said Baylo and stepped beside him. 

The crowd of people began to reach out toward him as he walked to them, some kneeling, others yelling words of praise or begging to have the Truth bless them. Baylo ran his hands over the people’s heads, arms, and hands. 

“Your city,” said Baylo loud enough for Edo to hear over the words of the growing crowd, “is it still as happy as when we leave it?”

“Ya my Truth,” said Edo, returning to his calm, composed nature. “The people understand that there be only our Sovereign.”

“Are you?” Baylo turned toward the man to watch for any hesitation, any flinch or hint of dishonesty, but the officer was unmoved.

“My Sovereign rid me city of a coward who would have killed all me people in order a live. He give me freedom and task me with creatin’ order among me people. I hear the stories men be tellin’ ‘bout me, but just ‘acous I be good at killin’ don’t mean I like it.”

Liar.

“He give me purpose, one bigger than just killin’ a Faction for the fuck a killin’ another and another. All the while, the people who got nothin’ a do with it pay for the wars both with they lives and they freedom.”

“Spoke like a true thinker,” said Baylo. And a man who I need a keep  close a heart. Just in case.

“I believe in what my Sovereign stand for with all me being but if ya allow me a voice me true thought,” said Edo, waiting until the Prophet nodded his head and gave him permission. Edo leaned in close to whisper in Baylo’s ear. “I know my Sovereign not be a god.”

Baylo smiled without turning his attention away from the people but allowing Edo to see it well enough. “What gave it away?” He began to chuckle, “Finally a man I can speak open with.”

Edo stayed quiet, carefully watching the reaction of the Prophet but never losing his calm edge.. If the officer had dared to say these words to what the world knew to be the right hand of the Sovereign, he either had to know that the Truth was losing all power and the Prophet’s title would soon be passed on to another, or he simply did not care and was prepared for whatever consequence may come of his words.

Baylo had a feeling both scenarios rang true.

“How much longer do you plan on staying with us?” said Baylo.

“I be riskin’ the loyalty of me men if I stay too long,” said Edo. “Beside, my Sovereign not need my help for the battle a come.”

Fucker. Baylo forced himself to smile even though he hated the thought of being milked by an uncultured soldier. Just a few months back and this man would be begging for any scrap of opportunity the Prophet had. Donyall would pay. 

“Do you know who decide a let men live after our Sovereign take a town?” said Baylo as a woman reached out and touched his face. He stopped and stared at her. She had dirt and grime all over her face, but underneath it Baylo could see a beautiful young girl yearning for salvation. He reached into his pocket and placed a small piece of parchment between her hands, whispering something in her ear that only the two of them could hear, before gently kissing her lips. She tried to cling to his hand as he continued to walk.

“Do you know who decide the favor that each man deserve when our Sovereign decide a bestow favors? What about who help our Sovereign in choosin’ the men he trust and the ones he not?”

“The Truth, of course,” said Edo, allowing Baylo a closed smile to show he understood.

“You have had men who tried to unseat you, yes?”

“Aye.”

“What you done with those men?”

“The last, I gather his women, sons, daughters, and slaves and I slice them inside out in front a him, then have the animal eat them. I leave him tie a post in front a all people and let the green orb melt his starvin’ body.”

And yet you say you don’t like killin’.

“Was it carriers?”

“Was what carriers?”

“The animals that eat his flock. Did you feed them a the carriers?” said Baylo, his heart thudding faster and faster.

“No,” said Edo. Baylo heard himself sigh. “Feed the farm beasts with ‘em. Better a fatten ‘em up over ‘em disease-filled scavengers.”

Baylo felt his lips smiling involuntarily. “I take it you don’t like carriers?”

“No.”

A man after me own heart.

“What if you have a carrier among your men who is tryin’ to unseat you, but killin’ it openly would only mean you kill yourself?” The Prophet stopped and faced Edo. “What you do then my cubrat?”

The wrinkles on the sides of Edo’s lips creased as they tried to reach the corners of his face but his eyes held no sign of joining. They continued to stare, wide open and unwavering, into Baylo’s own.

The man was a monster, that much was clear, and Baylo couldn’t help but wonder what that made him.

It hurt Baylo deeply. He had never experienced such sorrow before. Even when his parents had sold him to the Sovereign, he had not felt what he now carried around with him. He had been sad, sure, but it had been more from surprise than true anguish. This. This was different.

The mix of emotions that swarmed his body were nothing short of unexplainable. The level of love that he held for the man was like no one else, not even himself. It was not a sexual love, although Baylo was sure that if his Sovereign were to request that from him he would not deny him, but a pure love stemming from awe, respect, and adoration. A love that would quickly flood with hatred, jealousy, and disdain. Feelings that would leave the Prophet fantasizing over revenge only to quickly realize that he was helpless and his quarrel was not with the man, but with himself.

He hated feeling worthless. Even more, he hated knowing that the person he loved so much thought the same of him.

Baylo used to love the attention he would receive during the Gatherings. He had been tasked with finding a way to rally the common people to them and Baylo had done just that. He had made his Sovereign a walking god, and Baylo his Truth. The Prophet would preach to the people, first in the streets, then in structures, and finally in the Temple and for a brief moment he would feel like a god. 

Since the inception of their Gatherings, never once had the Sovereign missed it. He had always sat at the point, surrounded by guards and made untouchable, his full attention on his Prophet. His full support to his friend.

All the attention of hundreds, now reaching thousands, of commoners could not compare to how a single man made Baylo feel.

Looking out at the people gathered, listening to him with their full attention only made Baylo more aware of the absence of his Sovereign. He could hear the squawking of the carriers around him, reminding him of how alone he truly was.

“The home a the Unbroken One is the most strong structure there ever is,” called out the Prophet to the crowd. “It may not be pretty, not even what we imagine when we imagine a home of a god, but it is the structure that keep all a us that follow the way in this realm and join the Unbroken One in the next. It a home that be touched by the Unbroken One and made unbroken ‘acouse a it. No part a it is out a place, everythin’ together, perfect. 

Every part on it own is worth nothin’, make nothin’. Together, it become our home in the next realm. Our great Temple, home a our great Sovereign, the son of the Unbroken One, show how workin’ as one help our people achieve great things, but even a great achieve like this can crumble down on us if all part not workin’ together.”

He watched as the people shifted and looked around the massive room, uncomfortable at the thought that it could all come down on them. He doubted the simpletons could understand the true power behind his words.

“Your home cannot allow doubt. It cannot allow heresy or uncertain,” continued the Prophet, “If your woman speak against our Sovereign, bring her a me so we may set your home right! If your slave refuse a believe in our cause, cut they hands and feet and let them roam the wastelands alone. Do not let corruption make up your home. Tear it from your walls, rip it a the ground at your feet if you must and rebuild but do not allow the carrier a keep you from our true power!”

The crowd began to cheer. 

Baylo gripped the slab of stone in front of him with both hands, harder each time as the cries split through his ear. It was all he could do to keep himself from cupping his ears. He was the Truth, he could show no weakness, especially during these times. He held his head high for the people, pretending to be an unwavering force among the booming echoes of their cries, but at the very front of it all was the empty seat that pierced louder than any cry this crowd could muster.

He watched out of the corner of his eye as Donyall stepped forward and waved the crowd quiet. 

The squawking birds rang through the temple. 

Baylo grit his teeth, his knuckles trembling and losing color as they clenched the slab. This bastard had some nerve interjecting himself in the Prophet’s duties. This was Baylo’s territory, his creation, his time.

He should have this man whipped, teeth broken with the end of a club until Donyall learned his place. He should have done so years ago, when the bastard was first brought to him as a boy. Instead of protecting the child, showing love and kindness, Baylo should have destroyed any ounce of ambition from the bastard. 

But he was too kind, too hopeful.

“Prophet!” called out a woman as the rest of the crowd began to sit. “Prophet!”

Before Baylo had time to respond, Donyall spoke. “Speak daughter.”

Bastard!

“I know it not me place a question. I know me Sovereign have big plans we not understand, but…” The woman hesitated, “why he not be gracin’ us with he presence no more?”

Baylo felt his stomach sink. 

He watched out of the corner of his eye as Donyall turned back toward him, the remnants of a smile on his face. 

Baylo wanted to speak, he knew he needed to. They had all heard it. Every single person in this massive room watched in silence, awaiting a response, but the Prophet gave no sign of moving.

“Come,” he heard Donyall call out to the woman.

He knew it should be him to do it, he knew it had to be done, but he felt frozen in place. It was no longer just him that sensed the absence, all of his followers could see that his Sovereign had abandoned him. 

He wanted to feel bad for the woman, but all he could feel right now was his own broken heart. Or maybe it was his ego. 

The woman kneeled in front of Donyall who stepped obscenely closer and took the woman’s head in between both hands. He began to stroke her hair as he stared out into the crowd.

“This woman do MY Truth a great honor today,” called out Donyall as he continued to stroke her hair. “She show everythin’ MY Truth speak a ya today ring true. Who here claim this woman?”

The crowd was dead silent until eventually a man stood. “She be one a mine,” he said reluctantly. 

“You should be proud a her,” said Donyall as some of the other disciples began to climb down next to him. “MY! Sovereign, he know all a us feel his absence. He ask me a reward those loyal a him, those who keep comin’ a hear MY Truth’s teachins! He wish all a us, even slaves, learn a become one with the people. The Unbroken One welcome all who live in her light to her home, and so does her livin’ son!”

He took hold of the woman’s hair and pulled it back, exposing her neck and face to the ceiling. His hand extended to the man in the crowd, “Do ya give MY Truth permission a set ya home right?”

“Always,” said the man.

Donyall looked back at Baylo as if asking for his permission but it was all a formality. The man had stripped him of all options in front of all of his flock. All Baylo could do was grit his teeth as he nodded a single time toward the man. The man’s hand went up toward the ceiling as if calling down the powers from the sky.

“Then let this lesson never be forgot by any a ya! We respect MY SOVEREIGN!” His hand formed a tight fist and descended full force into her face. Baylo flinched as her head swung violently before she brought it back to place. “MY SOVEREIGN name never a be misused!” Her nose splattered blood as the second blow landed. “It not be me, ma, or meh. A god walk with us, grace us, lead us! We be nothin’ without him. He be MY SOVEREIGN!”

Donyall hit her again, “MY SOVEREIGN!” Again. Again. The crowd began to chant after him, repeating “My Sovereign,” after each fist that made contact.

Baylo felt his body tremble with each blow. He didn’t understand how this woman could endure this without making any attempt to protect herself. 

Donyall threw her down to the disciples that had gathered behind him and raised his arms in the air as the disciples began to whip her with thin rods. The crowd continued to chant “My Sovereing,” until the woman could hold herself up on her knees no longer. Donyall’s arms came down and he turned back to her, waving the disciples away as he knelt over her.

Baylo had never approved of such cruelty. He knew the purpose behind it, understood how it created a barrier between them and his Sovereign. It forced the man to be seen as something higher, something unattainable. Godlike. But even still, he did not like it. He took no joy in enforcing things in such a harsh way.

Donyall helped the woman to her knees and held her head gently in place. Baylo could not even see her eyes any longer, only the giant puffs of flesh that had swollen over them. 

“For the battle a come, MY Sovereign ask me a gift all a ya somethin’ special. I go out and gather a most difficult a animal to gather alive so all a ya can consume it fresh! Consume the power a livin’ creature offer, just as we disciple do!” said Donyall without his eyes straying from the woman’s face.

Baylo looked behind him and saw the disciples untying ropes that had been placed on the walls. Had he been so lost in his own head that he had not even noticed what they had done inside his Temple?

He heard the squawking again, loud and clear. He looked up and saw the sacks high above. Whatever was inside them fought against the cloth that held it in place. 

Baylo did not need to see what was inside to know what was held within.

“Since this woman do us the honor of strengthen your teachin’ today, do ya feel she deserve the honor of goin’ first, only after ya, MY Truth?” said Donyall, turning back to him and letting his sinister grin slowly spread over his face.

Baylo felt his throat go dry. The cries of the creatures forced his attention back as the disciples undid the sacks and exposed the long, dark green bodies of the carriers. Their massive wings tried to extend, flap about to help them escape but they had been chopped to nubs along with their beaks and talons. Each of the eight fleshless arms that protruded from their bellies had been clipped at the wrist but it didn’t stop them from flinging about as they tried to tear at the disciples. Even if they could somehow make contact and release themselves from the rope that held them upside down, they could go nowhere. They were dead already. 

The hairless sacks that led to their head began to expand and excrete a slime that dripped over the stone floor leaving a smell more foul than excrement to linger in the air. Baylo felt his skin crawl as the thousand eyes over their tiny heads all moved in different directions.

He forced himself to swallow. “Since she do me such a great honor today,” said Baylo, turning back to the crowd. “I will honor her by goin’ even before me.”

Bastard. Bastard, bastard, bastard!

“My Sovereign honor us with this great gift, and My Truth make stronger our unity by showin’ us that even he be nothin’ but a humble servant of My Sovereign!” yelled Donyall.

There was no way out of this, and the bastard knew it. He was being cut at the legs and head, having his power slowly stripped from the people and his great friend at the same time. Worst of all, this sadistic fuck was torturing him in the process.

The bastard draped the woman’s arm over his shoulder enough to help drag her to one of the squawking birds. He let her drop to her knees with a loud thud and stood behind her, making sure she did not fall over and holding her head back.

“I thank My Sovereign!” called the bastard as the disciple behind the squawking bird gripped its head and ran a blade deep across its hairless sack. Blood sprayed in all directions, drenching the woman’s face in blood other than her own. 

The squawking of the other carrier turned to wild shrieks. 

The sack deflated, leaving a strand to hold the head in place. Donyall said something to the disciple who then ripped it off with his hands and placed the blade inside the severed beak and cut out the bird’s tongue. He handed it to Donyall who held it up for everyone to see.

“We offer this woman the tongue, so she may forever speak the truth over My Sovereign!” The bastard pried her mouth open and shoved the tongue into her mouth. He turned her to face the crowd and released her, nearly slamming the ground before her hands stopped her. 

The crowd watched silently, only the bird’s shrieks of fear made a noise as the woman did not move. Her mouth began to move, slowly chewing past the pain until she lifted herself off her hands and mumbled, “I thank My Sovereign.”

“We thank My Sovereign!” yelled Donyall, the crowd repeating the words after him.

Two disciples came forward and lifted the woman, dragging her out of the chamber from the doors that only the disciples and the Truth were allowed to enter from. The crowd would think that they would take her back and care for her, but truth was, she would be dumped outside the Temple walls and left for her man to hopefully find her.

“We will be victory!” continued Donyall, “I be seein’ it!”

The bastard stretched his hand out to the Prophet, his smirk silently mocking Baylo in front of all his flock.

Baylo stepped down from his altar and placed his back to the crowd, purposely ignoring the bastard’s helping hand. Before he could kneel in front of the creature, Donyall called out, “My Truth, will ya not show us how a receive such a great gift?”

Baylo glared at the man, wishing he had let the runt suffer at the hands of the disciples long ago. He felt his jaw ache from how hard his teeth were clenched together and thought of how satisfying it would be to clench them over the bastard’s liver. 

He was being pinned into a corner, his only option to follow along. He walked around the carrier, keeping his eyes from the creature’s disgusting features and vowing to get his revenge. He needed to keep his appearance, it was the only way that he could keep this slight from being obvious to the flock. If he cracked, his power would quickly crack with it and he would be seen as unworthy of his Sovereign’s favor.

He knelt in front of the bird who screeched loudly and flailed about desperately, trying to peck at his face as if it still had a beak to shred his skin. He forced his eyes to focus on nothing and held his chin high. 

Donyall leaned in close and whispered, “One day, it be the other way, just as you do a all me brat afore.”

The bastard took the blade from the disciple next to them and slit the bird’s sack. Baylo felt the blood hit him like sand pelting his skin. The smell was rancid, as if he were inside a room filled to the brim with age old shit. He gagged but continued to remind himself that he could show no weakness. 

This was a gift from his Sovereign. 

Baylo stretched his arms out wide, allowing the blood to soak him completely. He was being taken through the mud, but that didn’t mean he needed to be dragged. 

“I thank My Sovereign!” he called out when he felt he was no longer being showered. He heard the crowd boom back the words.

He opened his eyes and found Donyall standing over him, watching him through his brows, unable to contain his gloating. Baylo raised his chin further and smirked back. 

“You are a fool, boy,” whispered Baylo.

“True, but I keep me secrets close a me heart.” said Donyall before turning to the massive crowd and yelling, “For the man who see our future an help make it true, we offer the thousand seein’ eyes a the carrier so he may forever see what be comin’!”

Baylo’s eyes went wide as he focused on the thousand tiny orbs that still moved over the bird’s head. His skin crawled as he imagined them twisting around inside his mouth, never ceasing to rest. Popping as they pushed their way down his gullet, releasing all of the offspring that had managed to fester the eye and turn it into its egg. They would be inside him. Inside his belly, leeching him of everything. 

His body trembled, his eyes unable to see anything but the thousand black eyes as Donyall placed the blade over the creature’s head and carefully carved off the top, ensuring that no eye was left to waste. The bastard knelt next to him and held it out to him. 

“Show ‘em the truth,” he heard the bastard whisper, “Prophet.”

Baylo felt his stomach turn. He could not stop imagining the tiny creatures inside him, traveling from organ to organ, their clawed hands holding them in place as their tiny beaks sank into them and robbed him of everything. 

They would be inside him.

“Show us the way My Truth!” called out a man from his flock.

“Yah!” yelled another. “Lead us ina the days a come!”

“Show us the way!”

He ripped his eyes from the carrier’s eyes and looked out onto his people. They all watched expectantly, waiting for the man that had made all of this possible for them. The man who had taken their broken town and turned it into the wasteland’s most bustling city. Who had unified their people and eliminated the constant warring between Factions. Who had brought them a living god and, along with it, salvation. 

They were the Collective, and the Collective was his.

He took the eyes from the bastard’s palm and shoved them into his mouth. The sticky slime spread everywhere but he forced himself to ignore it. He chewed, causing hundreds of them to explode and coat a bitter taste over his tongue. He gagged and felt his eyes water so he forced them shut, spreading his arms out again. He chewed down again, another set of hundreds bursting and sticking between his teeth. 

They would be inside him.

He gagged again and felt tears trail down his cheeks. He continued to masticate the tiny orbs, forcing himself to breathe through the smell that made its way from his tongue and into his nostrils. He kept chewing, even when he knew he could simply swallow them down he continued to chew. He would not let any of these vermin take root within him.

The Collective was his.

He ran his tongue around his mouth and felt only the slime everywhere. He needed to be sure. He gulped down everything and brought his arms down to his sides, forcing his breath to slow and focusing on calming his body. 

Focusing on-

A gargantuan figure enveloped the sky, its thick wings stretching further than the eye could see. It beat them with so much force that the sand below rose into the air, spinning violently in a beautiful display of chaos. Each time it beat its wings, the creature’s head would look back into the green orb in the sky and let it sear its eyes, the orb burning brighter each time.  

Towers began to form as the sand spun together and just as they were about to clump together and become one, the next beat of the wings sent it into disarray. The creature grew frustrated, its focus between two realms. The beating of the wings would change, powerful flaps would turn soft, soft would turn quick, quick would draw out but in between each, its head would rear back and stare into the green orb it had covered and yearned desperately to bring closer, knowing that if it did the orb would only char every part of it.

An identical but much smaller figure flew higher, close enough to touch the green orb, but somehow unaffected by its scolding heat. It roamed in the sky giving an aimless appearance and everywhere it went, the green orb followed closely as if protecting it. The creature was so small that one could have easily missed it, if it weren’t for the massive rifts it made everywhere it flew.

It may have been aimless, maybe even lost, but its purpose was clear. Its beating wings never wavered, causing all of the sand below it to continue to spin until it unified into crystal towers more breathtaking than anything a living creature had ever seen. They were so strong that not even the violent wingbeats of the gargantuan figure could topple them. 

The smaller figure began to take the straying sand that the bigger beast had lifted and use it to continue building its crystal towers, growing them so large that the bigger beast struggled to keep itself in the air. Lower and lower the big beast went, while the smaller one rose higher, and along with it a single tower that pierced the heart of the gargantuan figure until its wings flapped no longer. 

The green orb watched as the smaller creature grew into something so grotesquely large that it crushed everything below as it tried to perch. The dying creature below looked around, pleasure in its face as it saw the crystal towers in the air but then its eyes rested on the orb in the sky and sadness overcame it. The orb came down to the dying figure, reducing its brightness so as not to burn the creature, and held it close until it died.

The perched creature continued to grow until the ground below it began to crack. The orb stayed by its side, protecting it from all but itself. It jumped into the air and beat its wings a single time and in the process, made the world go dark.

Baylo’s body ached, as if he had been kicked a thousand times and left to rot. He felt weak, his limbs refusing to cooperate as he tried to sit himself up and his eyelids unable to open as if mud had been plastered over them. He forced his hand over his face, letting his fingers push all the crust from off his lids and invite a swarm of blinding bright green light through.

He squinted, opening his eyes little by little until they could adjust enough to reveal a blurry figure sitting in front of him. He blinked a few times until the outline became clear enough to recognize the small child that had been brought to them by Edo.

A bright green light hit her, causing her to glow in front of Baylo, but she seemed unaffected by it. Her eyes were wide as she watched him, unemotional. She scooted closer and reached out to him with a piece of cloth. She wiped his face clean, removing the rest of the gunk that had been placed over his eyes. She was so gentle, so methodical in the way she cleaned him that Baylo found himself mesmerized by her. 

He snatched her wrist as she tried to pull away, fear showing for only a split second before disappearing into stoicism. He turned her wrist over and saw the marking on her forearm. A single tall, thin tower. It looked like an ink marking, but Baylo knew this girl had been born with it. He could see from the tear of her clothes at her shoulder another smudge on her skin of the same color and he wondered how many more covered her.

“What is your name?” croaked Baylo.

“She don’t speak much,” came an unexpected, yet familiar, voice from the back of the room. Edo sat in a chair, staring out of the window behind Baylo. 

“She is special.”

Edo stretched his lifeless smile. “That I know, Prophet.”

The girl slipped her arm from his hold and sat back, drawing his attention once more.

“It seem our Sovereign still care for you,” said Edo. “Reeka, fetch the food.”

The girl stood without question and walked to the corner of the Prophet’s chamber. The Prophet’s stomach growled as he watched the girl place chunks of meat and sludge into a bowl.

“How long was I out?” said the Prophet.

“Enough a know I need be headin’ back a me people,” said Edo. “About five day. Reeka be watchin’ over ya while the carrier ya raise be layin’ roots further.”

He thought of the eggs in his stomach and felt a chill run through him.

“He was supposed a die,” said Baylo, forcing his arms to lift him up. “You was supposed a kill him.”

“Aye, and ya was suppose a be ‘round a defend me.”

Baylo tried to grit his teeth but there was not enough strength in his jaw to make it worthwhile. He took the bowl from the girl and tipped it to his lips, letting the sludge work its way into his mouth. It brought back memories of his parents, going days without eating and finally getting enough to trade for a single bowl between the three of them. Nothing had tasted so perfect. He had never wanted to let go, but when they would take it from his lips he had feigned his desperation and refused to complain. They would all share in the agony.

He doubted they had lasted much longer past that. Blew everything the Sovereign had traded to them and died like the worthless rats they were. 

He would never return to that life.

“Ya be safe now, ya know?” said Edo. “Our Sovereign ask me a bring ya his gift a care for. He think ya see a vision. He be right?”

“Yes,” said Baylo between bites. The thought of his Sovereign welcoming him back brought him glee. 

“And what ya see, Prophet?”

“This girl,” said Baylo, looking into the girl’s eyes. “She will build the tower that pierces our enemy’s heart, and I will be there a protect her all step of the way.”

Edo began to nod. “Good, then ya don’t need me anymore.” He stood and headed toward the door.

“I need allies, anywhere I can get.”

“Ya have ‘em,” said Edo as he stood next to the door. “Call ‘em if ya ever need ‘em.” He opened the door and didn’t move until finally saying, “Take care a the girl, ya? Make sure too her ma be treated well.”

The man’s cold eyes turned back to stare through the Prophet telling Baylo what the monster really meant to say. The Prophet’s status would not protect him if Edo found that the request had not been upheld.

Baylo nodded.”You leave ‘aday then?”

“‘Amorrow, ‘afore the troops.”

The man stepped out of the room and a disheveled woman entered not long after who began to organize everything. Baylo knew the man would be useful but he wondered if Edo would be more trouble than it was worth. Baylo would call on the dog and the dog would come, but at some moment, it would bite back and the Prophet needed to be prepared.

The temple’s halls had been intended to be awe inspiring. Long and wide to remind its inhabitants of the great achievement only a god could accomplish.

The only thing it reminded Baylo of now is how desperately weak he was.

He should have waited to have his Sovereign learn that he was awake and let his old friend come to him. 

Should. 

There’s countless choices Baylo should have taken. 

Should. 

Please, the man was riddled with bad decisions. He should have kept his visions to himself, should have never helped seat a tyrant, should have never indirectly killed men, should have never let the Green Eyed Devil into their home, should have never let her escape, should have let the bastard rot as a runt instead of taking him in and allowing him to slither his way into his halls. Should, should, should. Everything in his life was filled with fucking shoulds.

Instead, here he was, shuffling his way through the halls, using the child as a crutch, so that he could be welcomed back into his old friend’s warm embrace.

Should was a thing of the past. 

Baylo had his visions back. He was the Prophet, the Truth, and he belonged at the side of his Sovereign.

“Out a the way,” said Baylo as he approached the giant double doors guarded by six men.

“I be sorry my Truth,” said the guard in the middle of the doors, “my Sovereign be meetin’ with-”

“I am most important man in the fuckin’ world!” hissed Baylo, “You want our god a find you keep his closest friend from him for some pointless meetin’?”

“No, my Truth, but order come direct from my Sovereign. No one, not even our Great Prophet, be enterin’ his hall without his say so.”

“Then what you standin’ here still for? Go get his fuckin’ say so!”

The man hesitated, likely wondering who’s wrath he would rather have upon him. The Sovereign had supreme power, but everyone had heard the stories. 

One of the doors opened and a tall, slender man with a gentle face slipped out. He was as stoic as men came, especially when exiting the Sovereign’s hall.

Baylo recognized the man but he couldn’t figure out from where.

Behind him, Donyall slithered out and placed his hand over the man’s shoulder.

“We keep ya know, for when we need ya,” said Donyall.

The man bowed, then turned to the Prophet and bowed again, saying in a raspy whisper of a voice, “Ya honor me again, my Truth.”

The man straightened and Baylo saw a man he should not know. A man he knew from a time before he was the Truth, who had helped create him the title. A most dangerous man who held no loyalty to anything other than himself.

This man should not have been anywhere within days of their great city.

He watched the man’s eyes quickly glance at Reeka, a glance most men would have missed, but Baylo knew better. He felt himself bringing the girl closer to him as the man slowly walked past. 

He turned his attention back to the doors, where Donyall met him with his shit-eating grin.

“My Truth,” said the bastard, “ya be awake.”

“Let me see him,” hissed Baylo.

Donyall turned and called out loudly, “My Sovereign, our Truth be here a see ya!”

After a moment, the bastard looked down and frowned, pulling one cheek back in their customary unvoiced way of saying no.

“Step aside,” growled Baylo.

“He will come a see ya when he be free.”

“He even in there?”

“When he be free,” hissed Donyall.

Baylo felt his hands trembling, the rage coursing through his veins. A single squeeze of his arm made him look down at Reeka, looking up at him as if pleading for them to go. Maybe it was the vision, or maybe the girl held a power over him, but she made him want to protect her from any pain that could come her way.

“Tell him I be with the Altar a the People,” said the Prophet.

Donyall smiled and shut the doors.

He felt the eyes of the guards, of everyone around him, burning through his skin. He turned around and saw the gentle faced man slowly walking through the massive corridor as if nothing in the world could shake him.

He wanted to protect the girl but he wanted his life back even more. What was one more should to his already long list of them?

“Have you ever seen somethin’?” said Baylo, his eyes closed as he sat in front of the statue with Reeka at his side. “Somethin’ that just came a you. Maybe you not able a explain it, just random. Things you never see ‘afore but feel as if they real.”

When she did not respond, he opened his eyes. She was gazing at the statue which made Baylo realize that there was likely much she had never seen before other than the bright red trees from the Blood Woods.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said softly. He realized that he had yet to hear her utter a sound in the time she had been given over to him to care for, or maybe it was she who was intended to care for him. “It’s our great Sovereign, holding all a us in his arms.”

“It be one man,” said the girl in a whisper, her foreign accent thick through her words.

Baylo smiled. “It IS only one man,” he corrected. He placed his hand on her back and forced her attention to him. “Sometime, one word can mean two. Most men, they see only one but those who learn, who listen, they see all.”

“I be seein’ one man.”

“It come, in time,” he said, focusing on the man held by his Sovereign. “Edo, he hurt you? Your ma?”

She shook her head. 

“You like Edo?” 

She nodded.

“Why?” he said. When she did nothing, he said it again, louder.

“He not let nothin’ happen a me ma,” she said.

“He keep you both safe?” 

She nodded again.

“He tell you why he bring you here?” he continued.

Another shake.

“Our Sovereign take interest in younguns that are special,” said Baylo, “you know what make you special?” She stared up at him, eyes unblinking. “Edo say he see you fall a ground and shake, like the Unbroken One tryin’ a take you a her realm.”

She broke his gaze and stared at the ground as if embarrassed by his words.

“You see things then, do?” he continued and watched her nod her head. “What you see girl?”

She hesitated for a long moment until finally saying, “I not know.”

“Look at me,” said Baylo, repeating it once more until the girl did so. “What if I teach you a know? Help you learn how a see more than just one man.”

She stared at him but he realized she was only doing so because he had asked her to.

“What you want girl?”

“Me da.”

“I not able to get you your da. He gone,” said Baylo. He had no idea where the man was, but he was sure the man was gone. Even if he hadn’t been killed during the raid or on their journey back, whoever had claimed the man as a slave would never release him. “But I can help you keep what you still have.”

He expected to see a change in her expression, a sign that he had struck the right sound, but the girl seemed unaffected. “Edo, he see me as a friend. He trust me a look after you. He know I keep you and your ma safe, take good care a you. Better than he. I make sure both a you eat good. Both a you clean. Both a you happy.” Still nothing. “To make fair, you learn all I teach. You give your word a always trust me, even if you not always understand. Do?”

She nodded.

“I be like, your new da,” he smiled. “Where you go, I go.”

She continued to give him a blank stare but he would have to make due for now. Big crowds were easy to sway, they required only loud words and passion. They were quick to trust anything that sounded good. Street rats, though, were different. They were weary of anything and everything around them. They required love, patience, and time, but once a street rat trusted you, they were yours for life.

“Close your eyes,” he said, and waited until he was sure she had. He closed his own eyes. “Breathe big, let your belly get full a air.”

He listened to make sure the girl did so and was glad when he heard her trying to pull in all the air. He had dealt with enough children over his years to know that many were defiant for the sake of defiance. He had never liked those. They required a level of attention that Baylo had never been fond of. A strong character needs a stronger club. The ones who listened, though, like Donyall and now Reeka, they were the ones who would rise.

A shame that one would have to fall.

“Keep at it my dostraya,” he continued. “Let your body feel calm. Let your ears hear everythin’ around, your skin feel all tingle, all itch, all, but you don’t focus on it. Focus on the air fillin’ your belly.”

He continued to listen to her breathing until the silence broke and she said, “What be focus?”

He smiled, not bothering to open his eyes. “Give me your hand.” He knew she was watching him and stretched his open hand toward her until he felt her tiny fingers over his palm. He squeezed, lightly at first but progressively harder. “If I squeeze your hand hard, what you think about?”

He felt her trying to pull her hand away so he relaxed his grip. He opened his eyes and looked at her. “Trust, do?” he continued. “What you think about?”

“It hurt,” she said.

“You think about anythin’ else?” he said and watched her shake her head. “That is focus. If I tell you a think about your ma face and you think about that only, that is focus. Follow?”

She nodded.

“When your sponge up here,” he let go of her arm and tapped his head, “think only of one thing, even if there is many other around it. Now close your eyes and focus on the air in your belly.”

He didn’t wait for her to begin. He closed his own eyes and took exaggerated breaths so she could follow suit. Moments after, he heard her breathing trying to match his unsuccessfully and so he slowed his own to make it easier for her.

“It strange at first,” he mumbled to her, “long, but soon it become like your own realm.”

He thought he heard her say something but it was distant, as if she was sitting leagues away. He could still feel the aching throughout his body, his mind focusing on how weak and heavy he felt. Normally he would be able to let his thoughts shift back to his breathing and ignore everything else but when he tried, each breath would pave the way for a pounding in his head. The beating of his heart was in his head, trying to break free from up high. His fingers began to shake uncontrollably, something within his chest felt as if it were being squeezed, his stomach burned as if fire were raging inside it, or as if there were tiny creatures trying to feed off of him.

He continued to try to focus on his breath until he could breathe no longer and he felt the hands around his neck, slowly crushing his throat.

Baylo stretched his neck out and dug his fingers between the hands, pulling away to give himself air.

The bastard wouldn’t dare do this in the Altar of the People. The Sovereign wouldn’t allow it. Baylo wouldn’t allow it. 

He opened his eyes and saw a strange man standing atop him, trying to squeeze the life out of him. The man’s face was frenzied with bloodlust.

Baylo tried desperately to claw at the man’s hands but he felt his consciousness fading. He could no longer feel the sand at his knees, the spittle from the man’s mouth hitting his cheeks. He could no longer hear the cries from the fighting all around him or see the bright green orb in the sky as it beat down over his skin. 

Everything went dark. 

He heard a faint bang in the distance and suddenly the world around him rushed in. He toppled over and began to cough, holding his neck as he tried to get it under control to get the next breath. He looked to his left and found the body of the man, the sponge within his head splattered over the sand. He knew it was the frenzied man’s body, but the blast had split the face open so badly that there was no way anyone would ever recognize it.

Baylo spit over the body and looked the other way. 

There was fighting all around him. Warriors with bright yellow faction colors butchering his people by the dozens. Where was his guard? Where were the troops? How did these people slip by into the city without being noticed?

He got up and tried to run toward the Temple. He needed to warn his Sovereign. It wasn’t far. 

He saw the man who had rid him of his attacker and ran toward him. An axe came down by him and Baylo barely dodged it in time. The man he was running toward noticed and fired his rifle at the new attacker, hitting him in the knee. Baylo yanked the axe from the man’s hand and hacked his neck until only half of the flesh held it together and the body dropped. 

“Help me get a the temple!” Baylo screamed at the man with the rifle as he got close. The man looked familiar but everything seemed so foggy.

A bullet whizzed by Baylo’s head and he did not wait to see if the man joined him. He ran toward the temple, as fast as his old legs allowed. He ignored the fighting around him but continued to grip the axe tight in his palm. 

The closer he got to the temple, the less fighting there was. 

As he reached the temple doors, he saw there was no one guarding it. A single man stood outside, his arms behind his back and a shit-eating grin on his face.

“I need a warn my Sovereign!” screamed Baylo to the bastard. “We need a get the troops out here.”

“He not be able a see ya,” said Donyall. “He be takin’ they city.”

Baylo grabbed the man’s collar and pushed him back, knocking him on the ground. “You fuckin’ fool! You ruin everythin’ we ever work for.”

Donyall’s fear began to show through his grin. “Ya not understand, Prophet. This not appose a happen! They not appose a be here. It be an easy win. No one need see visions a see that.”

He felt his fingers trembling over the axe as the world began to turn red.

“I be sorry da,” said Donyall.

Baylo took the axe and plunged it into Donyall’s skull. 

He heard the tick of a tongue behind him and turned to see the man who had saved him watching. 

“Shame he go a waste, carrier like him must be havin’ lots a give.” said the man. Baylo looked down and saw he held a beating heart in the hand where the axe should have been. It looked like it had been pecked apart by birds. Behind the man, a mass of people ran toward them. “What ya think they do a the man who took everythin’ from em? What ya think they do a the man who kill ‘im?”

The man raised his rifle and stretched his empty smile.

“Sorry Prophet.”

The Prophet’s head shot back.

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