SINS OF THE VIRTUOUS
By Remy Chartier
Gillian's mind was but a passenger in his shivering body. He was no longer in the world of substance, but rather, a world created against his will by his guilt-ridden conscience. He was acutely aware of being in two places at once. His body, his true body, was slumped uncomfortably on a bench in a long boat bound for an island almost directly south of the city where, three months ago, he had raced to stop a disaster. At the same time, his mind was a prisoner of himself on that fateful journey. He was there within the memory of himself on that night, feeling everything he had felt and seeing everything he had seen.
So it had been ever since the first of the countless thousands had begun to die in this meaningless and sudden war. Each innocent face, each senseless act of aggression, each drop of blood spilled by Those calling themselves the Blood of the Virtuous, men who had once been ordinary, every-day people made no sense to him. He still could not understand them, and truth be told, there were times he did not want to understand them. He wanted only to cut out the heart of the Blood, Father Pious Akilis. Somehow, that single mistake of nature had polluted the minds of many men; men who had once loved their families and worked hard to live by the guidance of Aluron the White, their loving creator. Akilis had perverted their love of Aluron into a twisted belief that all the world's creatures that were capable of reasoning must be saved from the dark desires that exist within them. The fact that Father Akilis had convinced them to use torture and murder to preach this misguided edict was cruelly ironic.
Gillian hated dwelling on the past; he couldn't change what had already happened, but like so many times before, he was now being forced to relive yet another lost cause, as if he needed to be reminded of the Blood's cruelty.
The snow-white gelding was charging down the narrow dirt road at a frightening speed, Gillian felt every thud of the animal's hooves, just as he had on that day. Again, he felt the same sense of panic as his memory self was jounced violently in the saddle. It had grown so dark; the storm clouds had dimmed the early evening light to an almost imperceptible cluster of shadows. With each jolt, Gillian's memory was feeling the seconds rushing past. He heard his own exhausted prayers for strength, for time. He heard himself pleading to the White to keep him from failing the people of his home who were still oblivious of the danger that could snuff out their lives at any moment. He knew his praying had been in vain. The only answer was the gravelly rumble of distant thunder.
Gillian remembered it all with the clarity of one who had relived the same moments time and time again. He could feel each ache in his old muscles as he urged the horse on. He was in remarkably good shape for a fifty year old man, but that night, he had been riding for hours, pushing the gelding to the point of exhaustion. The blood of the Virtuous had caught the spy that had been planted in their midst, but not before he had learned that the "righteous" Father Akilis was planning on obliterating what he perversely thought of as a bane against the Goodness of the White: the City of Eidenburg, which was home to thousands of people, including Gillian, and many of the remaining aurists who had not already been hunted down by the Blood. The spy had been mortally wounded by an arrow during his escape, but had still managed to outdistance his merciless pursuers and stumble into Gillian's camp with this grim news. Gillian had set out immediately to warn the people of Eidenburg to evacuate. He felt the fear of Akilis's intent once again as he relived his desperate attempt to save the people of the city. He felt too the shame and sorrow of knowing that Father Akilis would prevail.
The horse was veering to the left. His memory self was holding fast to the pommel of the saddle as the animal swerved to avoid a black mass lying in the middle of the road. There was a shout behind them as they sped past. His head turned and he was looking back. He saw the same thing his memory self was seeing: the outline of an overturned wagon and two horses. He caught movement in the darkness; someone was waving and shouting at him, but the wind caught their words before they could reach him.
Gillian heard himself shout back. "There's no time, I need to get to the city!"
In the end, the wagon driver had been safer where he was.
What had started out as a troublesome autumn breeze became an icy gale that partially blinded him. The numbing chill buffeted his face and caused his long gray hair to whip around his head. His mind became as cold as his body had been on that night.
His memory self was hunched low in the saddle. The pommel ceaselessly beat against the organic metal he wore under his billowing white weather cloak. The sky had grown darker and the clouds, thicker; the dying would start very soon. He wished he could open his eyes and leave this memory, but if the White was in the habit of granting wishes, memories like this would not have begun tormenting him to begin with.
In the same instant the first true peel of thunder bellowed from the sky, the bloated clouds gave birth to a flood of rain. The downpour was caught by the wind and transformed into thousands of tiny needles which hissed as they met the sprawling grasslands.
The gelding tossed his head and let out a protesting snort as the rain found him. Gillian knew how the animal felt. Water was running down his memory self's cloak in rivulets, and just feeling the water sloughing off him increased his misery.
As they rode on, thunder boomed again. There was no lightning. He felt the flow of aura, the essence of all life and being stir restlessly in the air around him. He knew what that meant. He had felt the same feeling only once before, when Silverstone, the Capital city of the kingdom of Whalen had met the same fate, and for the same reason. That time, there hadn't even been a chance to warn the people, and it was a miracle that anyone had survived at all.
He was glancing over his shoulder and silently praying to see only darkness. That prayer, at least, had been answered; it had been an empty blessing.
The discomfort of being churned like butter finally ceased as his memory self stood in the stirrups, shielding his eyes against the drenching onslaught with one numb hand. Through the torrent of rain, Gillian saw the faintest pinpricks of orange light, high above and barely discernable through the moving cloud cover. He willed himself to open his eyes as his memory self nearly cried out in relief. He'd known those lights anywhere, even through such sinister clouds. It was the aurist's tower. And sprawled all around it, cradled in a grassy bowl lay his home; the city of Eidenburg.
His memory self was nudging the gelding's flanks. The exhausted creature was ignoring him. It would die soon.
The clouds all but hid the brightly lit windows of the tower, where many of his fellow aurists and their young students had spent their days. Some of the aurists, at least, had been lending their abilities to the war effort in Whalen's eastern half, and overseas. The ones who had remained in the city had never known they were in danger.
More lights were appearing in the distance. He had prayed the sentinels on the watch towers along Eidenburg's wall would have spotted him and somehow understood his haste. In these dark times, the watch towers were never deserted, and anyone looking out over the grasslands would be able to see an approaching visitor well before they came within sight of the city. On that night, however, the clouds had completely hidden him from their view. Nobody could have picked him out of the darkness.
The air around him seemed to hum as the natural aura was violently disturbed. Even though he was only reliving the experience, Gillian could still feel the discomforting tingle in his brain, as if it had lost circulation like any other body part. The horse was slowing, its exhaustion finally getting the better of it. The world swiftly began to brighten then, and Gillian tried to force his eyes open, tried, one more time to escape the haunting memory. Instead of waking, he saw what his memory self saw as he looked back the way he had come. In the distance, an unnatural white light grew swiftly brighter over the horizon.
His memory self cried out a warning. "Get out of the city!", but it was too late. He thumped the horse's flanks a final time; another useless action.
The wind and rain were suddenly sucked upwards. Gillian's breath was snatched from his contracting lungs and he gasped emptiness. On the boat, had he stopped breathing as well? The horse screamed in mortal terror and reared up onto his hind quarters. Gillian was sent tumbling backwards off the saddle. He felt it all happen again. He felt his head and feet trade places, and at the same time, his insides seemed to be rising through his throat as the force that still swept overhead sucked up the aura to feed its destructive power. Gillian crashed to the ground on his side and right arm, all the while vomiting and choking as he gasped for breath. His arm collapsed under him as the bone snapped.
As his memory self finally came to a jarring stop, Gillian heard the faint screams. They were blessedly brief. There was a violent concussion in the air when the brilliant light collided with the city below. Windows everywhere shattered; the sound was almost musical. There was a continuous grating as stone was rent apart by the decimating energy. The earth trembled with the collision of tons of stone and the cacophony as everything collapsed. The aurist's tower, the place where he had grown in body and mind for so many years, along with everyone within it had just been utterly obliterated, along with much of the city.
Flat on his back in the rain, Gillian's memory self clenched his one good fist. Both his past and present minds resonated with a scream of fury and heartache. He cursed the White who had let this happen, he cursed the Blood of the Virtuous for causing so many needless deaths in the name of righteousness, and he cursed himself for being so utterly powerless. He beat the sodden ground and screamed uncontrollably as the echoes of destruction still sounded. From the recesses of his dark and vivid memories, down through the layers of consciousness and out into the waking world, Gillian's cries followed him.