It is once said that for want of a nail, the horseshoe was lost. With the lack of the horseshoe, the horse was lost; then the knight who rode the horse; then the battle that relied on the knight. Ultimately, the kingdom that depended on the battle was lost as well.

And all in need of a single nail.

Kingdoms and empires rise and fall through centuries, some overnight, yet whatever differences they possessed, such powerful demonstrations of the human ability to deceive and to be deceived, proof of our race's uncanny capacity to organize in hierarchies, have several things in common. Land. Power. Supremacy. Most of all, it is that interlocking mechanism, like clockwork of gears and machinery, of bolts and screws and metal that ensured the steady grinding of its heavy bulk. A government existing in symbiosis with its society, force-fed with the doctrines that held the central dogma of faith, for upon realization, all things, even law, are founded on faith.

That is the creed of a government, of a kingdom. The tenets of ideology and philosophy, made tangible by the enforcement of rule and reign, by blade and by gun, a suppression of freedom and choice in exchange for life and allegiance. Without this clockwork of varied screws, nails, bolts, and axles, of wheels turning upon and within wheels, the government as we know it will be over, and the society shall rise in anarchy and chaos, the echoes and throes of the clockwork disintegrating. It is thus the imperative of the organs of the government to use whatever means necessary to preserve the rusty clockwork, if only for a little while, the staving off of the inevitable, a delay to the day where it will nod and close the curtains forever.

One such kingdom – or the only kingdom – is called the Church of Millennium. Formed from the ashes of an Armageddon four hundred years ago, it is a theocratic government that administrates humanity in an iron fist of unyielding doctrine and oppressive, bigoted rule; its way of keeping the clockwork intact, to be sure. Propaganda, rained from the skies, plastered on walls, lampposts, arches, and city squares, is the people's daily meal and prayer. The black-cloaked Michaelites armed with both blade and quarrel, ruthless to both citizen and outlaw, are their angels in a city of soot, rotting metal, and unlit streets of huddling, be-candled pilgrims and half-beggars. Every dusk, as the sun dips into the horizon, the faithful are called to prayer, but not prayer to a God who they believed had abandoned them for some purpose on a damned Earth, but a prayer to glorify their ancestors and the Bride of God, Saint Gabrielle.

And yet, such misinformation and deception blind people from time to time. It is not uncommon, as once I made my rounds through the greasy, dreary streets of Sion, that people believe, and follow. This, a parody of faith, a mockery of religion, is what the Church of Millennium espoused. Our rectors preach in pulpits, agitating the populace, whipping them to bloodthirsty ruckus against the demons outside the borders of our holy land, teeming with the unenlightened Gypsies and their demonic arts.

"Annihilate the heathen! Bathe them in the brimstones of hell! Do we stand by here, idle in our secure land of hedonistic plenty, while the rest of the Earth languishes in the torpid filth of those calling themselves humans? Are we content on thronging like affrighted rabbits in a den, forever afraid of the outside? No my brothers and sisters in Gabrielle's mercy and might – no we don't! We shall rise! We shall destroy them all, crucify them and gut them and trod them to the ground as wont the mother of our God! Crucify them until their souls sing out to their devils in damnation, and then we shall burn them! Ayii!"

And so we did. Michaelites, citizens starving, old people and children all, lost in the journey, lost in the battle.

I once believed. In our misguided hypocrisy as paladins of faith and law, we have laid siege to countless cities, towns, hovels; killed mothers, sons, fathers; made witness to rape, plunder, and slaughter. In those acts of mindless brutality I have not for once hesitated, or wondered if I was accomplishing one of the greatest mass-murders in our history. I believed. And so I was blind to suffering, deaf to pain, numb to sin.

That sermon on the Cathedral of Wisdom at Jerusalem spurred a legion nearly two-thousand strong to sail to the western island of Cyprus and rescue a city of ours from an enemy invasion, of a banner we know not. And sail we did, with high hearts and burning, righteous anger, not one of us patient to set our foot on land and avenge the rapine of Nicosia. Not once did we see the irony of it. And not once did we take heed to the peril we have entered.

It was raining when my band was slaughtered. Nicosia was all but gone, a massive crater at its very heart, teeming with abominations only God knows from which hell was birthed. We fought bravely, but there was no denying the force that waited for us, no denying our fear.

In the end, we died.

As I lay bleeding in a pool of my own blood and mud, blinking back the tears that mingled with the rain that pelted my face, I saw my brother. He, Keter, champion of the Inquisitors that shone the beacon of Gabrielle to the darkest corners of the world – this hell – I saw. I reached for my brother. I reached for him whom we all thought dead for years.

And then he said, "Find me again."

And with his noble gun, the gun of our father, and his father before him, stretching back to the time of the seven and seventy Elders, he shot me, and there I died.

I awoke later, not knowing the time or day, save the promise that I must find my brother, Keter. It was still raining on Nicosia when I woke, but if a hundred or ten years passed, or a minute or eternity, it makes no matter. Upon my breast I saw Answerer, my noble brother and father's gun, the weapon of the order of the Fusileers, and I took it, knowing it would be the link between I and him.

It is raining again.

Below me, the Holy City of Sion sprawls like the whore of Babylon surrendering her womanhood to all who would see its depravity, its filth, its corruption. The annual Feast of the Blessed, celebrating the years since the battle of Armageddon, is in full revelry, with its dancing lights, its beating rhythm, its noise, like thousands of copulating lovers at the peak of their ecstasies. Once I was part of this wanton debauchery. Once, but no more.

I gaze at the inky sky above, and being greeted by the rains that assailed my face, I implore the rain for answers. For years I have sought answers, but none came, and here, at the pinnacle of my existence, still none arrived. And here, I decide to end it all.

I put my foot to the empty air before the face of the gargoyle. And then the next.

And then I am falling, plummeting headlong to the ground, alongside the droplets of rain, next to the smooth walls of the spire, downward, ever downward. I close my eyes with abandon, letting the final few moments run through my entire being, I give myself to the sweet embrace of gravity as it claimed me. Here, at last – before I fall – I shall tell you my story.

It is once said that for want of a nail a kingdom is lost.

My name is Arye Shiki.

And I am that nail.