Chapter 1: The Memory

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Four years ago...

The roadway was littered with corpses and drenched in blood-soaked mud.

Letting his reins fall from nerveless fingers, Dill sank to his knees and stared at the body closest to him. An old woman lay curled in a protective ball about a small child, her arm still raised above her head to ward off her attacker. Long scratches decorated her forearm, tearing her open so that he could see the bone, and a gunshot wound to her forehead had completed the bloody work. The child had no visible wounds but his young face was frozen in an expression of terror and agony. He seemed to have died from fright.

Something built in Dill's chest and bubbled up to his throat, stuck there for a moment as he tried to hold it in but failed. A soft whimper escaped his mouth, then a sob. Closing his eyes, he tried to block the vision of the child but even through his eyelids he could still see that slack jawed gape. He turned his aching head and lowered himself to shaking hands and knees. When he opened his eyes again, a cry escaped him when he realized that to the other side of him was a dead man who had the same expression as the child. Again, no wounds, just the stink of death and horrible expression. Dill curled his fingers in the dirt and threw his head back as he cried out again.

He had seen so much in his time as a Preacher but the stark reality of this unusual slaughter sunk deeper than any prayer might have.

When he looked up again, he struggled to focus upon the burning buildings and the horses running about riderless. Snorting, Fauna gave him a nudge in the back of the head to remind him of her presence. But Dill could only stare at once had been a lively town. A place that he had been charged with guiding, charged with protecting, and one he had failed. With each hot blasting draft there was a cloud of smoke so thick that each breath he took felt laboured.

The bank, the inns, the saloon, the general stores, the tents that were staggered about the street; all of them were burning.

Sniffling, he rubbed at his nose and sat back on his heels. His grey clothing was now stained with smoke and dirt and he could feel the sweat building beneath the crown of his hat and his shorn hair. He resembled a poor Pastor indeed and hardly made for a Preacher now. He had once been so righteous, he thought. He had once fought and defeated the enemies of the Order with a flick of his wrist. He had cast down Chaotics and demons alike, sent them for imprisonment with a skill that had made him the envy of most of his own men and women. Ever a loyal servant, he had been sent here to control a town that bordered on heretical.

Now he sat in the middle of the road and there was nothing to fight for. It was all done and destroyed. Blood stained the dirt and stones, fire devoured skeletal homes, scavengers were already pulling apart the bodies of the innocent, and it was all his fault. He had chosen to let this happen, had chosen to stand aside when he had been begged for help.

And for what? A few moments of peace and seduction? He would hang for this.

Resisting the need to cry, Dill stood and blinked rapidly to clear his vision. Fauna followed him as he walked up the road into town. He began murmuring over them and tried hard to feel the faith he had once had in abundance. When he came across a group of school children, dead beneath the wheels of a wagon, he had to turn abruptly away and stumble towards a pile of rubble.

When it became too much, he leaned over and vomited. Fauna whickered at something she saw but he ignored her. He sucked in what breath he could and tried to keep himself from falling face first into the rubble. A soft hand went to his forehead, cool and reassuring, and he leaned into it for a moment before realizing what was happening. He gasped and turned as fast as he could, nearly falling into Fauna.

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