Syche: The Dark Element

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Chapter 18: False God

Chapter 18: False God

We’ll get to this later of course, but while we waited for the King’s arrival, I would take strolls around the palace grounds and would often come across that burnt down chateau where Kael’s branch of the royal family lived.

Did you ever get a chance to see the monument your father built there? He worshiped that woman.

###

And so it was, that Joshua began his plan to liberate Kael a few hours after nightfall. A little after dark, lanterns started to pour out into the street as the nomad turned townspeople headed to their nightly service. Joshua thrust himself into the masses, hoping anyone watching him would lose him in the crowd. Keeping his head down, he quickly veered off into an ally way and hugged the wall. Looking at the crowd, the other dark veiled ally, and moon glistening rooftops, he couldn’t see anyone watching him.

The trick to fooling any watching Syche’s was to have them look in the wrong place. If they felt through the various houses and side streets, they’d feel Joshua’s life force easy enough. But if they thought he was with the crowd, why would they bother?

The hours ticked by and he was still alone. Joshua pressed himself further to the shadows as the procession left the temple. A few more hours passed and the night was over halfway gone now.

He crept through the empty city streets and past the fountain up the steps to the giant iron doors. Pulling, he jumped and flailed in the air in panic as someone tapped his shoulder. Gianna stood there, looking perfectly calm, as if it wasn’t a strange thing that she was there at all.

“I came to join you,” she said sadly. She paused and then repeated the words like a normal human.

“Yes,” Joshua said with a pause. Every now and then she gave him some concern. She could say anything off the cuff that made him think she was no better than the day he broke her out of prison. Still, he couldn’t deny how much better she was doing in general. Wait. Why is she here? “They have Syches here, they’ll sense you!” Joshua stammered in a frantic whisper.

“Well too late if that’s the case. I was getting bored being kept out in the desert so I marched through the metal-ocean-thing and came to help.” She paused looking up and down the giant doors. “So are we breaking into this building or....”

Joshua pulled open the doors and forced her through. Better to talk in there than out in the open. “Kael is a hostage. Nile’s said he’d rescue him, but I’m not risking that. As well, we’re going to look for any evidence we can show the town that these people are Dark Element or Taerose,” Joshua said, walking down the rows of pews.

“Sounds important. Glad I got here in time.” Approaching the other door at the far end, Joshua halted and pushed his ear up against the cold metal surface. “No one is in the hallway, we’re safe,” Gianna whispered, stretching out and feeling through the rooms. The two entered the same hallway he had been in the night before and stopped seeing a light in High Priestess Veletta’s office.

“Please tell me she is asleep,” Joshua said.

“Couldn’t tell you that if I wanted to, but I can sense that there is no one in there,” she replied. “That’s even better right? Or did you want to kill her now?”

Joshua ignored that last comment and tiptoed down the hallway and slowly pushed the door open with Gianna hanging right over his shoulder. They both entered the brightly lit room. The desk sat empty besides a window and the cabinet with the antidote that had cured Kael. Joshua traversed the carpeted floor and sat down at the desk. He began opening drawers and shuffling through the contents looking for something incriminating. Gianna stood watch by the door as Joshua rummaged through the junk. He found sermon notes on clumps of scrap paper, some standard desk supplies, and a locked drawer. He fiddled with it with no luck. The drawer wouldn’t open no matter how hard he banged at it.

“Sssh,” Gianna ordered, standing flat up against the door, looking down the dim hallway. Joshua really was making too much noise with the lock. “Trade spots with me, I can blow it open if you need.”

“No need,” Joshua answered. “Already on it.” He worked a paper clip from one of the drawers between his fingers bending it and then grabbed another. He stuck them into the little lock that held the drawer shut and jostled it around until a faint click echoed through the room. Greedily, he yanked open the door and pulled out a stack of papers that were kept much neater than everything else in the desk.

“Well?” Gianna prompted as Joshua poured over the contents. He held them up and studied them carefully.

“Blueprints for this building,” he said hesitantly, turning them over and twisting them as he tried to make sense of the diagrams. “Here we go, we are on this floor,” he said putting the piece of paper he was holding to the side. He brought up the next blueprint and squinted at thin lines stenciled in. “This is the basement right below that.” He held up the next drawing. “And… the floor below the basement.” He moved that piece of paper out of the way and grabbed the final one. “And look at this. There is a floor below the floor below the basement. There’s like thirty different sub-levels here.”

“Really thirty? You have the blueprints for thirty different floors on those three pages you’re holding?” Gianna asked.

“It’s hyperbole. Can’t you just accept the general idea I’m trying to get across?”

“Sure, sure,” Gianna said, her eyes darting to a corner of the room, transfixed on something. “Take them with you and we can go check it out,” she whispered.

Outside, the sounds of heavy steps banged down the hallway. Joshua sucked in air and held his breath. Having Gianna with him was like a beacon if any Syche tried to look around with their powers. He should have told her to go back. But as the footsteps faded and he was sure they were safe, he let out a large gasp of air and was once again thankful for having someone to keep him company.

“No,” Joshua answered folding the papers neatly and putting them back into the drawer. He re-locked it and moved over to Gianna. “Let’s not let anyone know we were here.”

“As long as you know where we are going, it doesn’t matter I suppose,” she said as they both entered back into the hallway.

Joshua took the lead. “It’s all in my head,” he said. “The bottom two floors are practically a labyrinth, but I think I have it all memorized. Downward!” he said as loudly as he felt comfortable and yanked open the door. Some stairs wound upwards in a spiral. “Hm, that’s the path to the roof. Let’s see,” he paused deep in thought. “Ahah!” he said turning around and opening the door behind them. Behind this door was a set of stairs that led deep into the dark abyss of the temple’s depths. “Ladies first,” he said stepping back.

Gianna grumbled something but stepped confidently into the pitch-black stairwell. Joshua stayed on her heels as he kept a palm on the wall to steady himself. The door at the bottom opened into a well-lit hallway. Candles lined the walls and the entire passage was quite spacious.

“Where to now?” Gianna asked, staring at her feet. She hadn’t even looked around yet.

“Well, there should be a large antechamber somewhere down here with a secret entrance to the second sublevel.”

“Which direction?” Gianna sighed. It almost sounded like a genuine sigh of frustration to Joshua.

“You’re a little testier than normal, but it’s this way,” Joshua said confidently, pointing in the direction to their left. Gianna started to walk that way. “No wait, other way,” Joshua corrected himself.

She u-turned and punched him in the shoulder as she led the way into darkness; that was something Avonly always did. Now that he thought about it, she was starting to act more like Avonly. Before. Wait. Was she copying Joshua and Kael previously? The more he thought about it, the more it hurt his brain. She was always odd, but this added in a new layer of trying to understand her. Just who was she when no one else was around?

All questions for another time when they weren’t in the basement of zealots and assassins perhaps.

They turned the corner at the end and went halfway down the next dim path. Gianna stopped without prompting before two long steel doors with large casted handles.

The room they stepped into wasn’t like anything they had seen before. The yellowed stone floor was covered in gray micro grains of metal-- the same stuff that floated in the metal-sea. Along the sides of the room were pillars of similar metal shards that started at the ceiling and then slowly cascaded down, moving slower than gravity should allow in their own warped sense of time. The room was dimly lit with braziers along the walls. Against the far wall, away from the doors, a bronzed altar stood on a raised platform. As they entered the room, it grated and heaved to one side, seemingly on its own accord. Where the altar first sat was a dark hole delving somewhere into the abyss.

Joshua jumped backward and moved behind Gianna as a hand reached from below. Another hand appeared, fingers scraping at the floor. And then a blonde head slowly rose as the person struggled to push themselves to the floor. Halfway up, with her legs dangling, Valletta looked up and gaped at Joshua and Gianna who in turn looked on confused.

“Really, you too?” Her voice cracked. Her hair hung in unorganized strands on her face. “First the boy is taken, and now I can’t go five seconds before finding someone who shouldn’t be here.”

The boy had to be Kael. It was the only thing that made sense to Joshua. Who was she chasing? Did Niles come through on his promise? Blood coursed down her right arm, and he did seem dangerous. Gianna moved in front of Joshua, poised and ready to strike.

“Oh screw this.” Veletta’s fingers released and she slid down into the hole.

Before Joshua could chase, the alter slammed across the passageway sealing her retreat. He turned around to ask Gianna for help but was caught off guard seeing the doors had disappeared. They now stood in a completely solid metal room.

Joshua put his hands up. “Okay, let’s work through this. Metal Syche. Metal alter. Metal room?” He passed by Gianna and put his hands on the smooth wall where the door had been. “The walls are going to crush us!” Joshua threw himself against the cold surface and pushed, for a solid few seconds before hesitantly looking around. “Okay, so the walls aren’t moving. What is she up to?”

Fortunately tuning Joshua out, Gianna sprang backward just in time as a thin, blood colored snake-like-creature sprung from the ground in a burst of gray and opened its gaping mouth trying to get a chunk of her. The creature’s eye struck the wall as Gianna fell on her side. It writhed in pain trying to bury itself in the sand, but clawed her way forward and brought a hand crackling with crimson red sparks of sychkanetic energy down on its neck. A small explosion cracked the air just before she made contact and cleaved the beast’s head from its body. The lower part of the body that was still attached to the sand wriggled violently and lashed back and forth before withdrawing back into the ground.

“Nice work!” Joshua cheered, seeing she had killed a platelasher.

“Um, Josh.”

Joshua turned to address her, but stopped, staring at the middle of the room. The metallic floor writhed and churned violently as a large, hulking mass rose from the depths. Eight blood colored creatures with metallic plating sprung up around the shifting mass in the middle. Two of them were sporadically jerking around their missing teethed heads– one from Kael and one from Gianna. The red, snake-like protrusions that ran along its long body were no more than tentacles that served as this creature’s eyes. The actual beast was something chimeric. A cross between a squid and a giant slug. Bits of metal and dirt slipped through the armored plates that stuck out in violent angles along its carapace as it rose out of the heap. The creature’s putrid mouth was almost the same size as the body, an impressive feat considering it was taller than Joshua who was pushing six feet on a good day (and 5′10″ on a bad). The plates hummed, serrated and vibrating. And between the large plates, small spines vibrated softly. The mighty creature’s underside may very well be soft and squishy for all Joshua knew, but its giant slug-like mass clung to the ground.

The platelasher wiggled on its belly getting a feel for the environment. The uninjured tentacles rose and peered around the room taking keen note of Joshua and Gianna plastered against the wall. The air was tense, waiting for the inevitable.

“Whassit doing?” Gianna asked hesitantly.

“Thinking,” Joshua answered ominously. “All of those eyes are looking at the one who hurt it. Easily smart enough to be trained. Do you think it’s like their guard dog?”

“Then no point in waiting around!” Gianna said raising her hand and sent an arc of crimson red energy through the air. Joshua flat out gasped as a monstrous explosion racked the creature. Through the black smoke, the thousands of barred, mismatched teeth appeared through the smoky haze yellow-white. It pulled itself towards Gianna slowly. Then, it dove headfirst at Joshua. He flung himself to the side as the platelasher’s body hit the metallic wall, a rain of dirt and gray sand falling here or there.

Quickly recovering, Joshua turned on the creature only to see one of the tentacles had entangled Gianna by the leg and was lifting her high above its mouth. The three working tentacles on Joshua’s side whipped out. He barely weaved through them as he sprinted along the side of the room. The platelasher gurgled a high-pitched screech as Gianna grabbed hold of the appendage tightly. The segment bulged and that bulge spasmed down the tentacle to the creature as it all exploded at once, taking a small chunk of his sizable body. She landed feet first and skirted over to Joshua, looking genuinely concerned.

“How did you do that!” Joshua asked.

“Animals don’t have their own life force to protect them. But. . . .” She paused looking to the behemoth lashing around in pain throwing itself blindly into every surface of the room. “This one actually has Sychakenetic energy in its blood. I couldn’t blow the torso. It’s. . . . resistant?”

Joshua’s eye grew large as he backed away and moved to the side. Gianna didn’t even need to look but did so anyway, seeing the beast charging her at full speed. Gianna ran. Not fast enough, she let out a burst of explosive energy and dodged as the platelasher’s main body crashed full force into the wall.

Realizing he had to move fast, Joshua looked around quickly before noticing a loose rock in the wall. He jerked it free and lobbed it towards the monster, the chunk of stone simply bounced off the armored hide. Why did I even try that? Joshua rubbed his chin, and slowly looked around the room once more.

The metal beast barreled for Gianna in the corner, with no place to escape. As the razor-sharp teeth of its mouth and the equally sharp teeth of the tentacles all closed in on her at once, Gianna was in the air in a literal flash. With an explosion from underneath, she hurdled upwards. The tentacles were fast though. The remaining five shot for her and she twisted her body, tagging two before landing on the creature’s other side. Those two tentacles bulged and then exploded at their necks.

Joshua watched in amazement as one of the tentacle’s heads hit the wall right next to him. “Wow,” Joshua uttered completely impressed. “You’ve improved a lot since giving yourself a concussion. It was basically the same maneuver that gave her the concussion, only competent and without brain damage this time.”

“I didn’t want to die.”

The monster turned itself around out of the corner with no small difficulty, emitting a high-pitched screech deepened into a low rumbling. It slowly backed into the corner. The tentacles around its mouth slithered along the floor and hid under the creature’s body.

“Well,” Joshua said, lost in thought. “We’ve blinded it, but it’s not really hurt. Maybe just jump right in its mouth and blow it up from the inside?”

“Are you trying to kill me? How about you grab that sharp rock you threw, jump up on top, and jam it into the thing’s spine?” Gianna suggested.

“You’re trying to kill me. Which is fair. I had that coming.”

She looked Joshua up and down. “Better than your plan. There is a chink in the armor up there. It could work.”

Joshua grimaced. “You know what? I will handle this.” He strode over and picked up his jagged chunk of rock. “Just distract it.” The smallest weakness was all he needed. It worked on Syches; surely it would work on monsters. Joshua saw little difference between the two.

Gianna gave a deep sigh and started towards the monster. The thing wiggled hesitantly, shying away. How did it even sense her? Vibrations? She took another step towards it and sent a crack of energy through the air that combusted harmlessly on the armored hide; the platelasher shuttered and tepidly began inching towards her.

With the monster sufficiently distracted by its arch-nemesis, Joshua looped around the room and came up on the creature’s side where the tentacles attached to the body in slimy notches. With a giant leap, he jumped upwards and grabbed onto a small spine on the platelasher’s back, but the creatures vibrating plates cutting into Joshua’s fingers and palms. He grunted and dug in, heaving himself up against the pain and blood. The platelasher reared and Joshua had to grab hold tightly as it nearly flung him off. But in that moment, he saw the chink Gianna spoke of. It wasn’t really a chink. It looked something like a dolphin’s blowhole. He crouched down and then leapt forward. As he slammed the pointed end of the stone into the fleshy spot on the monster’s back a brilliant white flash filled the room and blinded him.

“Ha!” Joshua yelled triumphantly, as he felt the beast below him settle. He blinked trying to regain his eyesight. With his blood pumping hard in his head and pouring out of his hands, he took a deep breath as a repugnant odor assaulted his nostrils, as if a thousand corpses rotted in its belly. He hazily slid off the creature’s back and then stumbled around to find Gianna. Steam rose out of its mouth and its insides were a disgusting gelatin, searing with heat and letting off the offending odor.

“That flash of light?” Joshua asked.

“Yea I was getting sick of that stupid son of a--. Never mind. I broiled him. I guess this is where I make a joke or something right?”

Joshua did many double takes from Gianna back to the creature, his eyebrows as low as they could go. “Why are you a hundred times more powerful all of the sudden? Is this what you can do without a concussion?” Joshua bit his lip and scowled. “And here’s the big one. Please don’t take this the wrong way. WHY DIDN’T YOU LEAD WITH THAT?”

Gianna shied back and grabbed her arm uncomfortably. “I. Uh. I just needed time to realize that resistant didn’t mean immune.”

With the initial excitement out of the way, the next problem they had to overcome was getting out of the room. The door had been sealed off, and no matter how much they tugged or kicked at the wall, it sat resolutely unmoving; Gianna was hesitant to try blowing it open in case it brought the room down, or worse the entire temple. They each paced the perimeter looking for another door or passageway that was hidden but had absolutely no luck finding it if it was there. Reluctantly, Joshua made his way to the altar that sunk into the floor and tried to move it. A hard thing to do without Valetta’s connection to Metal.

“Gi!” Joshua yelled as she walked lazily along wrapping her knuckles on the walls. “Can you melt the altar away? We’re going deeper.”

Gianna regarded him slowly and then began to walk over. Before she had taken two steps though, the altar began moving on its own, slowly grating against the floor. Joshua pivoted his head to peek inside the opening and then backed off, stumbling backward into Gianna. A man dressed in Dark Element robes hefted himself up into the room, and then another. Gianna walked forward cocksure and unafraid but stopped upon hearing that grinding sound again, now from behind. The pair both turned to see the metal walls opening: seven more members of the Dark Element standing abreast at the opening. And even more assassins streamed from the opening in the ground.

Joshua and Gianna pressed together, back to back looking over the assassins. Blades of blood drawn. Electricity coursing over the bodies of others.

Gianna’s hand crept around Joshua’s arm until she found his wrist and his heart fluttered for a second. “We’re running. Way we came in.”

Joshua watched as more Syches pulled themselves up from the floor. He expected a countdown, but instead, she pulled him along as hard as she could and sprinted for the seven Syches at the door. With no corresponding motion, a dark red bolt of energy shot towards them. In turn, one of the Lightening Syches jumped forward with inhuman speed and intercepted the bolt of energy. It fizzled out against his body diffused. Panic rose in Joshua. And yet still they ran towards the horde of Syches, all of whom looked at them eagerly.

Joshua gulped down one final breath in terror. Gianna’s foot made contact with the metallic sand on the floor and then everything went white. Blind and confused in what seemed in the span of a second, he heard a cacophony of sounds, grunts, curses as Gianna kept pulling. She was going to pull his arm off at this rate.

As his dazed vision returned, he slowly realized they were running through a hallway. He shook Gianna’s grip and sprinted forward, not daring to look back. The door wasn’t that way, was it? Gianna had already found it though.

They came to the top of the stairs and Joshua held up a finger. Rubbing his hands together Joshua skewed up his face. “Okay. I can fix this. You can tell everyone the platelasher kill was yours, Gi because I’m about to save the day. Go outside, get to a high point and cover me. I’ll stay here.”

“Are you insane?” Gianna asked, her face not matching the situation.

“Relax,” Joshua hissed. “I almost always, sometimes know what I’m doing. They are Dark Element, and I’m quickly becoming a pro at beating these guys.”

The troops of assassins raced upstairs after the intruders and barely spied as Joshua ran up the final set of stairs as Gianna sprinted off towards the chapel.

“Get the girl, she’s the dangerous one,” the old man barked. The horde of assassins sprinted off down the hallway with the Lightening Syches in the lead. Assassin turned priest turned assassin alighted to the roof of the temple as dawn broke.

The topmost part of the temple was completely flat sheet metal save for three large windmills that rose from the center of the building. The stairs to get down were built right into the floor. The assassin strode across the roof partially shaded by the dome towards Joshua who stood at the very edge of the building. The morning sun was minutes from cresting on the horizon.

“End of the line kid. You took the wrong path,” the assassin taunted Joshua who did his best to look worried.

“Haha,” Joshua gave a weak laugh. “Peksa right? Your name. You helped bring Kael in last night.” The assassin, Peska, merely shrugged so Joshua continued sheepishly, “got a little lost. Why do you even have a stairway to the roof in the first place? It just makes the layout confusing and easier to get lost in.” Joshua’s grimaced. That was so stupid to point out. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone for an obvious plan.

“If you must know, one of us gives service here every morning, before the heat turns this thing into an oven.”

Does he not realize what I’m doing? “Ok, well, how about we just talk about this?” Joshua said with an unfakeable nervousness.

“Or I can just kill you now you stupid kid. What do you think of that?” the priest growled viciously. He and Joshua began walking in a large semicircle opposition each other.

“You could!” Joshua hesitated, putting his palms out motioning the man to stop. “But, personally, I like the sound of my voice. Mmm? You too I bet. So just tell me what the Dark Element is doing here before you kill me.”

They both stopped moving. Peska stood where Joshua had been standing, back to the edge. “Or we don’t talk and I just kill you? That’s what I’m feeling right now.”

Joshua wildly threw his arms up in defeat. “Come on, it doesn’t make sense. Why the desert? Why phony religion? Why squids?” Joshua clapped his hands together for emphasis. “Big, friggen, squid-slugs.” Joshua spoke as loudly as he dared.

Peska’s wrinkled hand ran down his face. “Fine, I’ll tell you.” But just as his mouth opened to speak again, his wrist flicked and a chunk of metal tore itself from the room and shot at Joshua’s head. From that distance, Joshua dodged easily. Peska crossed his arms and nodded smugly. Now another metal shard flung with no tell from the man’s body. Joshua twisted his body, dodging the projectile by the slightest of margins.

Body movement was absolutely useless in the mental art of Sychakenetics. While amateurs almost felt compelled to use hand motions, punches, kicks, etc., experts could control the elements without a single twitch of their physical bodies. Peska was now slinging metal completely still. It meant it would be harder to react; it meant that the man was no beginner.

Joshua was in a dead sprint now trying to circle around and get back to the stairs. He was supposed to monologue. Why isn’t he monologuing? Joshua’s feet slammed in a break-neck halt as the ceiling broke away and revealed a plummeting drop to the chapel below. Nearly tripping, he reversed and sprinted back towards the edge he started at. His eyes stayed locked on his opponent. The assassin was motionless but not perfect. Joshua let his smile be seen.

Suddenly a trio of metallic spires jutted from the ground attempting gore him right through. But Joshua was already in the air. He hurdled clear over them and skidding to a stop laughing.

Peska’s eyes snarled as they followed Joshua and his lip quivered a tad. No matter what he could throw out, Joshua was dodging it, almost supernaturally. He shouldn’t be able to predict the attacks, and yet he was.

“How are you doing that?” Peska finally yelled, metal he was pulling towards him clattering against the roof as his focus broke. “You are dodging before I even attack!” His voice rasped, his breath was heavy.

“Well. It’s because you suck,” Joshua jeered. Anger would only help him. “The way you fight? It’s bad.” Joshua forced a bellowing laugh-- anything to bother this guy. “You’re so focused on your body you don’t even realize that your eyes move whenever you are going to hit. That’s a bad habit and one not easily changed.”

Peska looked at his feet and Joshua lightly jumped out of the way as a jagged spear of metal wrenched skyward. It was a lucky guess on Joshua’s part. Peska was clearly up to something, so best to keep moving. If Peska was going to continue on staring at his feet, Joshua would need a new plan or be dead in seconds. He really shouldn’t have been the one to begin rattling off secrets.

The Dark Element assassin gritted his teeth hard enough to grind down the pointy ends slightly. “Okay,” he huffed in sheer disbelief that Joshua had dodged that attack as well. “If that’s not going to work. We’ll try this.” The man held out his hand and a spear rose into his hand, finely crafted and well made. His foot kicked the base where it connected to the roof and broke it off.

“This I like.” Joshua mouthed as he stood on his toes, ready to dodge another surprise attack or charge the priest.

The assassin’s eyes darted and Joshua jumped aside as a portion of the roof collapsed. He is desperate. And then they were mere feet apart. Three more steps. Three. Two. One.

Crack.

The air split with a loud noise and the priest toppled over, his weapon sliding towards Joshua. Kicking it up with his foot, Joshua craned his neck and turned to see, on a few buildings back, Ell with his rifle poised to shoot again. He gave Joshua a halfhearted nod.

The assassin’s screams pierced the air as Joshua dug the dull end of the spear into the bullet wound on his leg. “You could have just monologued like you were supposed to. Let’s face it, you were going to talk one way or another. Remember, you chose this way.” Joshua wiped the sweat out of his eyes the best he could; the roof would be a furnace soon. “Nuh-uh.” Joshua placed the pointy end of the spear to the nape of his neck. “I see your hand there. You so much as try to phase through this roof or fall through a hole, this is coming out the other end of you. So let’s just talk. This whole religious schtick?”

“We made it up,” the man said barely audible.

“I’m an old man, son,” Joshua said, stepping on his ankle. “Speak up. Real loud.”

“It’s bogus,” he screamed.

“Are you a priest?”

“I’m a bloody agent of the Dark Element.”

“Good. But I knew those answers. So here’s the real life or death question.” Joshua pushed the spear into the skin but not enough to break it. “Where do all the missing people go? There are no missionaries.”

“We experiment on them. Down below. No one is going to miss a bunch of savages.”

“Well I got to give it to you,” Joshua said pleased. “It’s a flawless system you have created here. Just perfect. No drawbacks at all. But there’s just one thing, remember how you mentioned that people gather at the fountain for their morning sermon? You notice which side of the temple we are standing on?” Joshua looked out over the mass of people right below him; he avoided eye contact but the general mood of the crowd struck him very clearly.

Taking his foot off Peska, Joshua turned and raised his arms preparing a proclamation. Now was the time. But as he looked on their tired, dejected faces now, he decided against it. These people didn’t need any more prodding.

Down below, the select few nomads who had joined the church ripped off their stoles, their emblems. A slow murmur began to churn through the mob as the full extent of the betrayal was realized.

Joshua turned back to Peska but found him absent. Joshua let out a mild “eh” of disinterest and moved to find some shade. It didn’t look like it was going to be safe down there any time soon.

Down around the fountain, the people of Dania churned. They threw rocks, yelled for death, and swelled forward to the giant iron doors. Joshua peered over his work contently as the town descended into utter chaos.

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