They were an army with no one to fight.  Comprised of converted soldiers and bedraggled peasants, they had been gathered for days by the mysterious man in the worn cloak.  Led to no purpose, apparently, as the city had become a graveyard.  They had come to offer truth and healing, to fight for people’s souls, and found only corpses.

            “Now what?”  A farmer asked, looking around the charred ruins.

            “I suggest you all get out of town as fast as you can.”  Their leader said.  He did not look at them, his gaze was riveted on the Citadel.  He drew a glowing sword from within his robes.  “One way or another, it’s all going to be over soon.  And if I don’t get to the top of the tower in time, none of you are going to want to be here to see what happens next.”

            With that, he left them as quickly and silently as he’d come, the only sign of his passing the faint, white light of his blade.

 

***

 

Reza dumped Jason onto the floor of the Hall of Elders like he was an unimportant sack.  He didn’t even deign to look down at the cowering huddle by his feet.  He knew that the simpering coward wasn’t going anywhere.

            Donovan strode into the Hall grinning widely as he called for Neal.  A moment later, the richly robed, self-styled king of the world emerged from the balcony.

            “Ethan!”  Neal smiled.  “Have you been down among the troops?  Are they pleased with our victory?”

            Reza smiled back.  In Neal’s imagination, the silence of the necropolis below signified the triumphant ending of battle, with his loyal guards taking a well-deserved rest.

            “Yes, old friend, victory is good!”  Reza laughed.  Neal chuckled too, and moved to embrace the demon he perceived as a friend.  He seemed oblivious to the blood on the Reaper’s clothes.

            “Well done, well done!”  Neal clapped him on the back.  “I’m glad you’re here, Ethan.  Not like the others, the one’s who betrayed and abandoned us.  The ones who were weak, and broke under the pressure.  You and I, we’ve done well, haven’t we?”

            “Things couldn’t have turned out better in my wildest dreams,” agreed Donovan, embracing Neal again.

            This time, he slid his dagger between Neal’s ribs, twisting the blade with a grin of satisfaction and malice.  Neal stared at him for a moment, as if unable to believe what had just happened.  He was still lost in his fantasy.  But then cold reality hit him and he understood it all.  His eyes filled with horror, but the scream he tried to bellow came out as a gurgle, blood spilling from his mouth.  He reeled away dizzily, back towards the balcony, his blood trickling down to the floor where he left red footprints trailing.

            Reza was content to let him walk away.  Neal’s final moments would be terrifying enough now that he knew the truth:  blinded by his ambition, he had let the world around him crumble to dust.  He had tried to build an empire, and seeing it destroyed as easily as a wave destroys a child’s sandcastle did more damage than physical torture could ever do.

            The Reaper turned back to Jason and dragged him from the room.  They had urgent business on the roof.

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The Pilgrim

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