Chapter I: A Life in Ruins
Do you remember home, Daliya? I don’t mean Rohan’s grove, no. I’m talking about Dharsova. I had almost forgotten the way nature swept through the cities of the ancients there, how acres of grass carpeted their roads and entire forests burst forth from the steel frames of once-grand skyscrapers. I had always wondered how the emerald ruins of Old Dharsova must have awed countless travelers in the days of its glory long ago when the ruins were a metropolis.
I told you I was from Naileh, but to be honest Daliya, I was born and raised in Durham, a small village settled by the tribes of Aker and nestled in the foothills of the Keinshoums to the North. The elders say the bricks of the buildings there had been laid long before The Occupation, before the First Apocalypse even. The ruins were thousands of years old, and the city had fallen to the elements over the ages. Branches and vines wove through windows and walls. Wildlife made homes in the offices and stores, but game was plentiful and harvest season always filled our granaries. Life was good in Durham. You must be wondering why I ever left. I owe you that at least.
My wife was getting married to someone else. She wasn’t my wife yet though, just the girl I had loved all my life. There was an old war memorial that Miri liked. The inscription was too worn-out to read, not that I could read Ancient Dharsovan to begin with, but the statue stood high upon a hill overlooking the ruins of Durham. It was a beautiful view, and the bent knee of the bronze soldier made for a comfy spot to sit. I met Miri there every morning on my way towards my father’s sheep to watch them as they grazed, and at the end of every day I’d find her there waiting for me so we could watch the sun set over our village together as we talked about our days. When we were children, we snuck away from our parents and our chores to meet there before we ventured forth into the ruins, hoping to scavenge a working artifact or discover something about life before The Occupation.
But Miri wasn’t sitting atop the lap of the giant bronze statue today. She was somewhere else, like she had been yesterday and the day before. I had barely spoken to her in the month before her wedding. When I had caught sight of her with Rian the other day, her eyes met my gaze for just a moment before she laughed at something he said and walked away. I had simply stood there, shocked she hadn’t even acknowledged me. Finding nothing but air in Miri’s spot left me with the same cold, lonely feeling I found that day in her eyes. So I just kept walking up the path to my father’s flocks to keep an eye on the herd before he’d scold me for abandoning my chores, and as I was walking, I cursed Rian as though he had murdered my family. He might as well have.
I had spent more years with Miri pilfering through the remnants of Durham or climbing high up the last of the skyscrapers still standing from The Old Wars than the number of weeks they had known each other, but one day Rian rolled into town with a working car and swooped Miri off her feet with promises of a better life in Ralon. I hadn’t seen her in the months since.
By the time I reached the pastures, my father was already there, resting in the shade of a cherry blossom as old as he was. His father had planted it in thanks to the Prophet when our tribe had first found the empty ruins of Durham, still bountiful with ancient delicacies like chocolate or soda.
“Father, what are you doing with the herd?” I asked him, “You need to get your rest.”
When he didn’t respond, I figured the old man was sleeping and brought my attention to counting the sheep that grazed in the hills overlooking Durham. Typical. A lamb always wandered off when my father watched the flock. With a pang of irritation, I hiked along the hills in search of the missing sheep. To my pleasant surprise, Buzkashi had already found her.
Remember Buzkashi, Daliya? A boy couldn’t have asked for a more faithful stallion. He was my father’s gift to me when I came of age. I wish I could’ve given Buzkashi’s foal to my son and continued the tradition, but I have you to thank for that. The horse was smart though, I’ll give him that. He meant to warn me on that hill, I’m sure of it. I should have taken Miri and my family and run far, far away that morning, before she ever got a chance to step into that church, but all I did when I saw Buzkashi was stroke his mane and feed him a sugar cube I had been saving to share with Miri. Buzkashi even whinnied off into the horizon where the nomads would hike through the mountain passes and into the valley where Durham nested. In hindsight I should’ve known the horse was warning me, but the way those silhouettes danced across those rolling hills, I assumed the outsiders were little more than the merchant caravans that passed through our village on their camels and elephants, but if I had stayed just a moment longer, I would have known it was Rel-Sabat in their armored convoy. But like a fool I mounted Buzkashi and led the lamb back to the flock, where I kept watch for the morning.
A few hours later as my legs were growing weary, I sat down beside my father beneath his Sakura. The shade was a blessing from the prophet as a breeze assuaged the fierce summer sun. It was there beneath that cherry blossom where I first met Miri.
The sky that night must’ve been the prettiest I had ever seen, but it wasn’t nearly as pretty as the girl lying beside me. Miri Garit. She was my best friend growing up, but I couldn’t help falling for her. Everyone says their crush is one of a kind, but Miri- Miri really was one hell of a kind. Cute, smart, kind, fun. She was the kind of girl that only existed in the stories our parents told us by the fire. Her eyes shined brighter than the moon hanging over them, and her smile lit up the night sky like the sea of stars above. She was perfection incarnate.
Everything about that night was perfect. Nestled beneath a welcoming tree beside a beautiful girl as I gazed at the stars after a day of play with a cherub. What more could a boy want? Of course, a thin little arm shot through the air like the shooting star it pointed at.
“Make a wish!” Miri exclaimed with glee, eyes clamped shut as hushed words escaped beneath her breath. “I wished for a husband who’ll always love me,” she said bubbling with all the innocence of a child. “He’ll take me away from these boring, old ruins, and we’ll live some place nice like Dunlhasa, Naileh or maybe Ralon.”
“But they keep Dharsovans as slaves in Friga!” I said, scared out of my mind of ever finding myself in that frigid hellhole.
“Okay, maybe not Dunlhasa, but I wish someone would come and take me away someplace, any place other than here.”
“Why’d you say your wish out loud?” I asked, “Now it won’t come true!” I was secretly happy about that. I liked it here. But then tears began to well in Miri’s eyes.
“Never?” She asked. I couldn’t tell her the truth. My balls hadn’t dropped yet. So I grabbed her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. The smile she beamed my way made my heart skip a beat, several beats.
“Well, what’d you wish for?” She asked, breaking me from my reverie. I wasn’t superstitious, but I hesitated. I had wished for the one thing I truly wanted in life, and I didn’t want to risk it never coming true.
“Oh pretty please? I told you mine!”
“Alright,” I couldn’t argue with that, “I didn’t wish for anything cool. It was stupid, really,” I began.
Locks of golden curls draped across Miri’s face as she turned towards me. She was waiting to hear my one desire, her lips just one bold move away, a hint of cherry lingering in the inches between us. I cherished that moment. I burned how lovely she was into my memory, and it took all the self-control I could muster not to reach out and brush her rosy cheek, to shift just a little bit closer, to kiss her, but I couldn’t bring myself to risk our friendship. The thought of growing distant killed me deep down. Instead I soaked in the sight of her, letting silence reign, the soft hush of her breath ringing in my ears, the rustle of wind running through the meadow. If I listened closely enough, I thought I could hear the beating of her heart. I wanted more than anything for it to beat for me.
“What is it?” Miri asked.
My cheeks flushed scarlet as I scrambled through my thoughts, at first to make it seem as though I hadn’t been staring at her, then again for a plausible lie. “I want to be a soldier.”
“Oh,” Miri said before realizing, “Come on Krade, you’re a scaredy-cat.”
“Are too! Climb this tree!”
I sat up turning behind me to find a canopy of leaves that climbed stories into the sky. No way was I climbing that. “Uh, I broke my leg just now.” I said ‘Ow!’ for good measure, but Miri just shot me a look.. I wasn’t getting out of this one. “Okay, just promise me you won’t laugh.”
“I promise, cross my heart and hope to die.” With that I laid back down upon the grass and let my embarrassment out with a sigh, “I wished for…”
Miri’s eyes locked onto me, and the way they sparkled, I swore time had frozen for a moment, “a dance with the girl of my dreams beneath this cherry blossom with three full moons in the sky.”
“That’s so sweet! Miri squealed, “Who did you have in mind?”
The question left me caught in those doe eyes like a deer caught in highbeams because I wanted nothing more than to say ‘you.’ But like a fool, I just said I didn’t know.
“Shouldn’t you be at a wedding?” My father asked, stirring himself from his seat and me from my daydream.
“Shouldn’t you be in a hammock?” I replied, “Besides, I need to watch the flock.”
My old man clutched onto a low-hanging branch as he brought himself to his feet, “No you don’t. The flock needs to be watched, but not by you. Now go to Miri’s wedding. Stop it. You love the girl.”
“Yeah, but she’s marrying someone else.”
“Only because you’ve kept the girl waiting too long,” He placed a hand on my shoulder, “She loves you too. Set things right, Krade.”
I couldn’t argue with that, and in that moment I thanked the Prophet for my father because he had reminded me of what I needed to do. I hopped on Buzkashi’s back and galloped down the sloping hills of my father that oversaw Durham all the way to the church in the heart of the village where the service was already in progress.
The doors had been locked, of course. I spent nearly twenty minutes looking for a way in before I found an old window with a busted lock on the second floor. It was a dusty old place, filled with cobwebs and artifacts from long-gone days. A handful of skeletons were strewn on the floor in choir robes. The church didn’t get much use, but our tribe had restored the first floor soon after we settled Durham. We gathered there every week to offer praise and worship to the Prophet and to hear the wisdom of his scriptures. It was as I was nearing the stairway that I first heard her voice.
“Nice dress,” Selise said, walking into the room and oblivious to me hiding behind the spiral staircase. “It’d look better on me though.” She eyed the bridal gown from top to bottom, her gaze landing on the face of her little sister, “Prophet knows what Rian sees in you.”
Miri ignored her. The bride was too busy losing her mind before a three panel mirror of gilded mahogany. Her eyes fluttered shut behind a veil embroidered with silken petals that flowed to her nape as she tried to calm her racing heart, but Miri managed a smile through it all. A brilliant diamond sat on her ring finger, and soon she’d be living out the rest of her days in a far away land where the people flew through the air in mechanical beasts and more died from obesity than starvation while I broke my back every harvest and herded sheep.
A huge grin cracked onto Miri’s nervous face, she was choking on too much excitement to keep a stoic front around Selise, but nothing could ruin today for her, not even her sister because she was going to be Mrs. Miri Brand. “Everything will be alright,” she told herself beneath the click of Selise’s ivory shoes against the engraved marble. “Everything will be alright.”
“Please, who are you trying to fool?” Selise lifted the veil from Miri’s face, “We all know he’s just marrying you because you’d be some easy Dharsovan souvenir to bring home and fuck occasionally.” Selise’s hand wafted to her own hair, letting the flowers of lace drift back over the bride.
I could see Miri burn with envy as she watched her sister admiring herself in the mirror. Selise had always been the pretty one, but Miri had prayed that maybe, just maybe she’d be prettier on her wedding day. Well-endowed, radiant skinned blessed with a face that makes Helen of Troy look like a meth addled prostitute, Selise could fill an ocean with all the attention she showered in, and Selise never let a day go by without letting her little sister know it, and Miri hated her for it. But Selise wasn’t a very hard person to hate.
“What do you want, Selise?”
The goddess of beauty circled Miri, her fingers brushing against the frills and patterns that adorned the young bride. “Look in the mirror, Miri. What do you see?”
“I see a narcissistic cunt wearing a dress she paid for by sleeping with men three times her age.” Miri said.
Selise stopped behind her sister, “And I see your future.” Hands of silk caressed Miri’s flustered cheeks and a voice whispered into her ear, “I see him running off with another woman a year or two later. I see you begging for loose change in the slums. I see you starving with your bastard children because you married some outsider that’s going to forget all about you the day you start getting old.”
“That’s not going to happen.” Miri said.
“Oh?” Selise chuckled, “Beware false Prophets. You’re just a game that lasted too long because, let’s face it, no one cares about you. You’re as worthless as you think you are. Krade didn’t want you, so now your Rian’s sloppy seconds. Maybe his twelfth helping even. Who knows how many women have sucked that foreigner’s disease-ridden cock. I’m sure you’d know the answer.”
I wanted to wipe away the tears welling in Miri’s devastated eyes as I watched Selise’s words wrench a knife into her sister’s heart. Somewhere buried deep beneath years of living in Selise’s shadow of hating herself every time she looked in the mirror, of worrying what people thought of her everyday, a part of her couldn’t help but believe Selise.
“Poor girl, are you going to cry? This is why everyone talks about you. You might as well quit while you’re ahead. Leave him at the altar before he leaves you at the courthouse.”
Miri tried to say something, but only a whimper escaped her lips before Selise cut her off, “People like you aren’t fit to be loved, my dear sister.”
Miri couldn’t take it anymore. She finally exploded. “I hope all your children are stillborn, so you’ll have to come home to a finished, painted, empty nursery again and again. I hope you die like your daughter did.” Too far. It did the trick though. Miri could see all the life in her sister die, and without a word Selise stormed off. She was right though. The dress would have looked better on her.
The door slammed shut behind Selise as Miri watched her sister leave. “Damn it.” Miri muttered. From the looks of it, I thought she might have actually considered cancelling the wedding, and for a second I didn’t hate Selise. For a second.
Miri gazed deep into the mirror, “What does he see in a loser like me?”
A voice rang out behind her, “The most sublime work of art to have ever graced my humble eyes.” Startled, Miri spun around to find the face of an Adonis staring into her own, “I don’t deserve you.”
The groom lifted Miri’s chin, “No you don’t.” Rage coursed through my veins as their lips met for the thousandth time. “You deserve someone far better.” Rian said, and just like that Miri forgot she ever even had a sister.
How could I ever compete with that? Rian was suave, rugged, and charming. I was none of those. Jealousy consumed me at the sight of Miri stroking her fingers through Rian’s slick, black hair.
He planted a kiss atop her forehead, “Nervous?”
Miri’s eyes looked upwards, “Not anymore.”
“If my memory serves correctly, tradition dictates the groom not see his bride until the ceremony.” Miri’s father interrupted. The man stepped towards them with a purpose, his back perpendicular to the floor, his head of perfectly aligned gray basked in the kaleidoscope of sunlight that poured through the great windows of stained glass ten feet tall. I have no idea how her father didn’t intimidate Rian- Miri’s father intimidated Miri. Elder Garit stopped a few feet before the couple, eyeing them down with all the austerity and haughtiness that his age could afford. His silent glare rang out loud and clear. Leave. Now.
“Looks like I’ll see you in an hour.” And with that Rian strided through the door, exchanging glances with Miri’s father on the way out. It was the closest they’d ever come to mutual respect.
Now his gaze came to rest on Miri where it wordlessly criticized every detail of her, from the stray split end to the loose threads on her dress. She let herself breathe after a slight nod from her father. Approval. Nothing impressed this man. His quiet reservation was the most affection Miri could hope for.
“Things are going smoothly, Miri.” He said, “I trust that you will keep things going smoothly. I will not suffer any further dramatics from you or your sister.” Elder Garit straightened his fine robes. “Selise already stormed out in tears. What did you say?”
Miri refused to respond to that. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. She was nothing more than a memo in his agenda, and she wanted him to know the feeling went both ways. “You should have married Krade.” He said. Then he left the room.
The booming roar of the chapel organ heralded the bride, and soon I was all alone in the Bride’s Room once Miri had walked out the door. I wasn’t alone for long though. Selise had walked back into the room as she let the tears fall like rain from her eyes. Her makeup ran down her face in streams and the scarlet on her lips from moments ago were smeared over half her dress. It was when her eyes met mine that I really felt sorry for her for the first time in my life. She was a pitiful thing to see. I couldn’t believe the broken down mess in front of me was the beauty I had seen moments ago, and when she embraced me, I felt the sorrow of a barren woman cursed with a barren womb.
“Dear Prophet, Krade, what did you hear?”
I returned the hug as she pressed her cheek into my chest, “Everything.”
“I had a reason, you know.” She took a deep breath, “Fuck. I’m an awful person.”
I met her gaze, “I know.”
“Fuck you too Krade.” Selise rested her head against my shoulder.
“Today is your sister’s wedding.”
“I know. I tried my best.”
“Your ‘best?’” I asked, curious by what she meant, but she brushed my question aside and stayed like that for a while, just looking at me. She looked at me with a longing I had never seen in a woman. It started to grow unbearable, but when I started to leave, Selise stopped me.
“Wait.” She said, but I had a marriage to prevent and no time to wait.
She pressed her hand harder against my chest, “Please Krade.”
Her voice rang with a desperation, so I waited.
Selise grabbed hold of my hands, “I should’ve told you this a long time ago.”
Then she kissed me.
“I love you” Selise said.
Silence, I responded with.
A million thoughts bore through my head at once. She was waiting for me, for me to say something, anything at this point. Soon her anticipation and excitement gave way to fear and trepidation as I stood there with a dropped jaw and a stunned expression. I didn’t love her; I didn’t even like her. I hated her. I hated her for the way she always treated Miri, for the way she acted like she was the only person in the world that mattered.
“Selise, what about Drake?”
“He doesn’t have to know. No one has to-” She stopped when she read my face, “Miri is getting married, Krade! You can’t have her!” Her voice was trembling now, ready to burst into tears again.
“Selise, I love someone el-”
She pushed me against the wall, knocking over a clatter of furniture, “I know who you fucking love, dammit.” She stormed off, “I just wanted you is all. It’s all I ever wanted.”
I was in absolute shock. I debated telling my brother what had happened. Selise was his wife. I stood like that for several minutes trying to comprehend Selise’s confession. The most beautiful girl in the village wanted me? But my thoughts were cut short when I heard footsteps rushing down the hallway. In a panic of being where I shouldn’t, I dashed back up the stairs to where I had been hiding. When it sounded as though they were coming up the staircase as well, I found a closet filled with balls of dust and moths that fluttered away as I shut myself in the closet.
I couldn’t fucking believe it. Rian was cheating on Miri. Moments before he was to pledge his life away to the woman I love, here this piece of shit was carrying a giggling teenager from the village up into the attic to fuck. My chest erupted in anger at the sight. I could hear the girl asking if it was really alright for him to be doing this so soon before getting married.
“The Prophet’s not watching, my dear.” Was all Rian said before sliding himself into her. “Besides, the risk makes it all the more exciting, doesn’t it?”
I burst out from the closet in a rage as the girl’s moans quickly changed to screams. I swung my fist at Rian’s arrogant little face, knocking it in a bleeding mess to the floor while the girl tried her best to hide her shame. I wanted to murder the both of them for what they had just done to Miri, what they must have been doing this whole time, but by the time I had resolved to, half the village had entered the attic to investigate.
“Krade, what the hell is- By the Prophet! Rian! What the fuck are you doing?” My brother screamed at the top of his lungs.
“Drake don’t let Miri see this, please,” I pleaded with him, but it was too late.
“See what?” Miri asked as she climbed up the stairs. When she saw Rian passed out on the floor with his limp cock hanging out next to the young harlot, Miri’s legs gave way beneath her as she fell to the floor. I threw my arms around her as she kicked and screamed and cursed Rian’s name. Outraged would not have done justice to the ire of Elder Garit. Had it not been for Selise, Rian would have been a dead man.
“Father!” She cried out, clambering up the stairs, disoriented and shaken. Her dress had been torn to shreds and blood stains ran from head to toe. Bruises and cuts of all manner had covered Selise.
“My dear daughter, what in the world has happened to you?” Elder Garit exclaimed after seeing his daughter.
“Rape!” Selise cried, “I’ve been raped!”
All of the village was dying to ask who, but Selise was far too inconsolable to respond. It wasn’t until I stood up that Selise made the slightest movement. She fell over backwards, pointing at me and squirming away into the corner. “Krade! It was Krade! Krade raped me!” She screeched.
And in that moment I thought I’d die. In seconds dozens were trying to kill me. Drake was the first to land a punch on me, “YOU RAPED MY WIFE!” My older brother roared. His fists crushed my ribcage like a bundle of twigs. I hadn’t even had a chance to defend myself or reason with anyone. With a girl as beautiful as Selise, I’m sure any man would have been putty in her hands, and Selise had manipulated those men into beating the ever loving shit out of me. I REALLY hated her now. Soon enough I was surrounded on all sides by people who wanted my blood. They were stomping on me, kicking my face in. I could’ve sworn they had broken twenty of my bones in the first minute. I thought they were going to beat me to death right there.
“Wait!” Selise shouted, jumping between me and the raging villagers. “Stop! We should get Elder Daker first before we do anything else to Krade.”
Drake had been bashing my face in when his wife stopped him, “Wait? Wait for what? Did this man rape you or not?”
Selise froze. She couldn’t tell the truth. Not now, not after what she just did to me. “He did.”
“Then he dies.” Drake said.
“But no man should have to bury his son without knowing why first. Get Elder Daker.”
Soon enough everyone agreed to that while I lied in a puddle of my own blood. I needed to tell them I was innocent, but the pain overwhelmed me. I felt as though knives had been stitched into my flesh and every move I made tore through my muscles, but someone pulled me to my feet when I went to rise. I don’t know how but I managed to stand for just a second, and with what little control I still had over my limbs, I pointed at Selise and screamed at the little wench. “SHE LIES!” But that was a poor choice on my part. Drake hurled me out the window.
Charging into me from the other side of the room, he rammed all his mass into me. That hurt bad. Drake was built like a brick house from all those years forging our plowshares and hoes. It was enough for the old, rotted drywall to give way and we fell twenty feet into the streets.
I think Drake broke every other bone in my body when he landed atop me with a thud. The weight of his figure crushed my chest, and for a minute my lungs couldn’t take in any air. When I finally took in a gasp of precious oxygen, Drake struck me clean in the jaw, splattering blood all over the grass. He kept punching me again and again relentlessly until I nearly passed out.
Then a gunshot rang out through the air. The barrage of fists finally came to a halt, and Drake rose to his feet. By now everyone I knew was standing in a circle around me. Half the village was worrying I might die. The other half was worrying I might live. Several more gunshots echoed in the streets and the clamor died down to silence.
A hummer double plated with sheet metal parked a dozen yards away from us. I barely had the strength to stay conscious nevermind move. For the next few minutes, I listened in horror as I lay helplessly on the crimson block of grass. I could hear several footsteps exiting the vehicle as another pulled up beside the first. More men came out of the second as someone began to speak.
“People of Durham! We are Rel-Sabat, and I am Aliks Markov.” The man began, addressing the crowd before him, “We come in the name of The Prophet and of his chosen Yon Mithis, who has entrusted us with freeing Dharsova from the foreign devils. Should you be a loyal follower of-” The man stopped talking and walked over to me. Dropping to his knees, Markov lifted my head into his lap and fetched a waterskin from his pack. As I coughed and choked on the drink he offered me, the man of Rel-Sabat peered into my empty gaze. “I see the eyes of an innocent man. Poor soul, what have you done to deserve such treatment?”
Immediately a chorus of people cried out rape and assault and adultery. Aliks Markov let his waterskin fall to the ground, its contents spilling wastefully onto my chest. With a solemn composure the man rose to his feet. “I see.”
Markov bent over and picked up a worn chunk of a concrete slab, torn from its original asphalt. “Followers of Kisral know what the Ashrai says must be done.” After a minute everyone in the village held a stone in their hand. Even the children had found rocks large enough to bash my skull in.
“May your next life be one that takes a more righteous path.” Markov said as he threw the first stone.
I braced for impact, yet I felt nothing when I should have felt my bones crushing. Upon opening my eyes I found Selise standing before me, a great gash on her forehead. I could only wonder how the crowd must have reacted to Selise protecting her rapist.
“Stand aside, woman. Killing a mother earns a thousand lives in hell.”
“My daughter is dead.” Selise said, glaring the holy man down.
“Then a hundred lives for an innocent woman, neither of which I look forward to. Now stand aside,” Markov said, raising his assault rifle.
She stood her ground, “No.”
“You would defend this sinner? Have you read the scriptures? The Ashrai demands The Prophet’s Justice.” Markov eyed her carefully, “You know the fate of those who stand in the way of The Prophet’s Laws.”
An elderly voice cried out from a distance, “Stop this madness!” Every head turned to see who it was. An old man was running down the road as quickly as his frail legs could take him, his grizzled beard drenched and dripping with sweat. The boy that the villagers had sent to get my father was a ways behind.
“Markov, what are you doing here in Durham?” My father asked the man of Rel-Sabat.
He lowered his gun and slung it around his back, “Ah, Elder Aker, it is good to see you again after so many years.”
“Explain yourself now! Yon Mithis promised me Rel-Sabat would never take one step in Durham. We’ve honored our half of the agreement.” My father was baring his teeth now, anger pulsing from his being like the vein on his temple. I had never seen him so enraged.
Another one of the armed men spoke, “That was before the Anjalans invaded Dharsova. We are at war with the foreign devils, surely your village is willing to help us free our homeland?”
My father crossed his arms and spit on the ground, “We want no part in your war with Anjala. Now leave! Before you lead the Anjalan troops here.”
“We are here on The Prophet’s business. We will leave once it is done.”
“And what business is that? Murdering my youngest son?”
Markov dropped his guard and turned to face me, “This is your son?” His expression reflected some thought as he ordered his men back, “This was not my doing, Elder Aker.”
My father addressed the crowd, “What is the meaning of this?” He demanded. “What proof do you have of Krade’s transgression? What evidence has convinced you of wrongdoing? Or did you beat my son to an inch away from death on Selise’s word alone?”
Elder Garit stepped forward, “You would call my daughter a liar?”
“I would.” My father said, his voice cold as stone, “And I call you all fools!”
Some of the villagers lowered their heads in shame and others withdrew back into the crowd.
Markov addressed them, “Someone has been wronged. The Scriptures demand justice, Elder Aker.”
“To hell with your scriptures! The boy is-”
A flash of light filled the streets, and my father’s brains were splattered over the church doors as his decapitated body fell limp atop the asphalt. Blood spewed from his neck all over me and the crowd while Drake cried out in a rage before hurtling towards a Rel-Sabat soldier. Then they shot him too. Another thud.
Silence engulfed the village. It was Aliks Markov who spoke first, “You heard him yourself. He dared to blaspheme The Prophet’s word. Now let us finish what we-”
A weathered brick crashed into the back of Markov’s head, felling him to the ground beside my father as a pool of blood soaked into the grass by my face. His lifeless eyes peered into mine. Several of the men from Rel-Sabat cried out in horror as their leader’s corpse stayed still as a fallen statue. Then more cries followed suit when they realized Selise was the one who had killed him.
“Prophet have mercy on his soul, Markov has been slain by a woman!” One exclaimed.
A dozen or more pointed their rifles at Selise.
“What do we do? Killing a woman is a grave sin.” Someone said.
A gun clicked, “Killing an innocent woman is a grave sin. This one has slain a man of the Prophet.”
“Wait! Stop! Please, I beg of you!” Elder Garit stepped in front of his daughter. The old man prostrated himself before Rel-Sabat, “Please, take my life instead.”
They lowered their guns, seemingly relieved by the fact that they didn’t need to execute Selise. “Good, a man taking on a woman’s burden. You will enjoy prosperity in the next life, Elder.” One of the armed men handed Selise a pistol. “Shoot him.”
“You can’t force her to kill her own father!” From where I lay on the ground I couldn’t see who had said that, but it didn’t matter, he wasn’t going to live long.
“Quiet, outsider! She is the one he is paying the blood price for.”
“No! You sons of bitches have lost-” Bang. Thud. Dead. I heard Miri scream. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sound of her voice, “RIAN!” She cried.
Good, I had thought to myself.
Elder Garit was practically begging Selise to kill him now, “They will kill you if you don’t damn it!” But Selise shook her head, wanting nothing more than to undo the chaos she had unleashed with her lies. “Dammit Selise! Shoo-”
Miri screamed again for her father this time as his limp body crumpled to the ground like a rag doll. Selise let the pistol fall to the ground as she trembled and shook, disgusted with herself. Her gun hit the blood-splattered pavement a moment after her father.
No one knew what to do now. The whole village stood there, a mix of terrified or satisfied. The Prophet’s work was being done. Then their attention returned to me. One of the armed men picked up the stone Markov had dropped. In a minute everyone held a stone in their hands once more, and I said my prayers.
Then the missiles hit us.