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The boat trip never happened for the next day Aralius’s face showed the rash that was the first sign of the Disease.

“And so the Saints strike you down,” Sistance said. “After all your blasphemies I don’t know how you expected any different.”

“Go bugger yourself,” the soldier said. “Your false religion won’t save you either.”

Then in one swift motion, he grabbed the baker and hoisted him up in a hug.

I jumped forward to seperate them, but Aralius had already dumped the baker on the ground.

“Now you’re dead too,” the soldier said spitting at the prone man. “A hug can kill as well as the sword. No need for absolution, Brother,” he said to me. “I’m leaving the company. I want to see how far I can walk before I fall down. Ha!”

Aralius walked down from the Temple and I last saw him heading into the abandoned streets. I didn’t stop him. Sistance would make trouble and Aralius was likely contagious.

“And now, with that distraction done with,” Sistance said, picking himself up, “we can begin converting the world. The Faith needs us and with you, a Living Saint, we shall conquer the world.”

“No,” I said. “Halt, stop, desist. Sistance, we are but two men. I’m not a Saint, I never was. The people might have needed a symbol, but they’re gone now. There are no people left.”

The baker’s mouth worked soundlessly. His doughy features convulsed.

“But the Faith--.”

“Died with the Emperor,” I said. “Haini, we need to get these supplied down to the boat.”

“Motley!” Sistance screamed. “No! No! No! The Faith is not dead! It’s you who’ve died! Without the Light you cannot live! Without the Light you cannot live!”

Yelling this crazed mantra, he started forward as if to strike me. The man’s mind had unhinged. Forgetting the supplies, I dodged around the man, and grabbing Haini by the hand, said, “Run!”

We sprinted down the hill with Sistance chasing us. But he was no runner and we lost him in the streets.

With the madman a vague noise in the distance, we entered a tavern and helped ourselves to the lager. The owner and his two daughters-- I assume for they were small and wearing women’s clothes-- lay in the back, faces so rotted with tumors they barely looked human.

“Dead people?” Haini asked.

I nodded.

“Strange,” she said. “The city. I mean, isn’t the city strange without all the people?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Did your family all die, Motley?”

“Everybody I know died,” I said.

“I’m not dead.”

“I suppose not,” I said and smiled.

Haini and I toured the empty streets. A few times we headed toward the Square Temple, but each time we heard the baker raving from afar and turned back. Sistance roared madness from the hilltop and from high vantage points, we could watch him stagger around the Temple failing his stick-like arms and throwing his bulbous body to and fro.

“Was breaking his Faith too much for him?” I asked Haini as we gazed toward the Square Temple from the palace walls.

“He just misses his family, I think,” the girl replied.

“What is this, child?” I asked, observing something troubling on her chin in the dying sunlight.

“I guess I’m going too,” she said. “It itched this morning.”

I hung my head, for the rash on her chin professed itself.

I sung to her for her last nights. I told her tales until she ceased breathing. Then I buried her outside the city. Then an incredible loneliness spread over my being, the sort that comes when one cannot find any person to talk to, the kind that sits heavy on the chest when you are a hundred miles away from any man. I went back to the Square Temple then, thinking that a madman was better company than nobody at all, and found Sistance dead. Not of the Pestilence, but by his own hand. One of the Temple’s ceremonial daggers lay bloodied beside him. That blood looked red, clean, and healthy.

I wandered the streets, unable to find solace anywhere. When I walked I feel into old routes and found myself tracing the way to my mother’s old house. The square that held the statue of Bonnavan was on the way. The pot-bellied woman gleamed in the light between two large lumps of broken bodies and I realized that it was the same time of day as when I experienced the miracle all those months ago. The light hit the statue just the same. I knelt and saw the statue wink. I stood. I knelt. It blinked each time.

A coincidence of light and shadow.

I knelt a final time and began to scream.

Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt.


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