Chapter no 27 – Forsaken

Empire of Silence

“SHE HAS FORSAKEN US!” the vate shrieked, reaching gnarled fingers up to the sky in the raised square before the massive dome of the Borosevo

Chantry in the White District. The holy madman stood on a scaffold ten feet above the paving stones, crying out to all who would listen. Most days the people hurried past such as he, scurried out from the canals or up from the

sealed parking lot for those few citizens wealthy and vapid enough to purchase groundcars in a place like Borosevo, where the roads were few.

But it was Friday, and the weekly Litany was being celebrated by the

system’s grand prior, an aged priestess called Ligeia Vas who put me in mind of withered old Eusebia. Because of this, the plaza was flooded with worshipers who could not fit into the Chantry sanctum and who would instead watch the prior from screens hung between pillars depicting the Four Cardinals.

Beggars crowded the entrances to the plaza and clustered about the pillars that stood before the double doors, young and old alike. Many were bandaged, sores weeping from Gray Rot. Yet more bore the marks of the Chantry’s justice: missing fingers, thumbs, eyes, tongues. You could see their crimes tattooed in black lettering on their foreheads: ASSAULT,


The more naked among them showed the signs of whip scars on their backs or ugly wheals and burn scars bright as new metal. A disproportionate number of them were men, though the Rot showed no such prejudice. Some among the standing congregation wore masks over their faces or else wore gloves despite the heat of the day.

The crowds also meant conditions were right for begging. With an icon of Charity carved above the doors of the sanctum, even the most

hardhearted of the faithful thought twice before spurning us with a toe.

Whether they gave us any spare steel bits or quarter-kaspums was

something else entirely, but I bobbed my head in placid gratitude all the

same, kneeling like a penitent alongside Cat near a street corner leading into the plaza. The vate still screamed from his pulpit, naked and stinking. “Our Mother, the Earth Who Was and Will Be Again, has turned Her face from us. These Pale devils are Her punishment for the vanity of our ways! Mark me, brothers and sisters, children of Earth and Sun! Mark me, for the punishment is coming! A cleansing fire that will wash away all our sins!

Repent! Repent! And be clean again!”

A man dropped a coin into Cat’s begging bowl; she looked small and terribly forlorn beneath one of the city surveillance cameras. “God and Emperor bless you, messer,” she said, bowing her face over the bowl. I couldn’t help but notice that she had nearly three times the coin I had. I grimaced. At least my ribs had healed.

“You’re sharing some of that with me, aren’t you?” I asked, smiling. I kept my voice down but was wholly incapable of keeping the playfulness from it.

“Gods no,” Cat spat back. “Get your own!” She swatted at me, smiling so that the light caught her crooked teeth. I chuckled softly. It felt good to laugh again, to be given a reason to laugh. Her hand lingered a moment on my knee, fingers warm and damp with sweat through my trousers. The day was hot, the air thick and steaming. We stayed there all morning, as we did each morning on the day of the High Litany. A woman in a violet suit

walking beneath a bright paper parasol placed a whole silver kaspum into Cat’s bowl with a smile. The girl nearly cried and stood to bow in thanks.

I looked down at my own bowl, at the paltry collection of steel bits and the crumpled twelfth-kaspum note there. The smile on that woman’s face has never left me, though she never said a word. When I think of kindness, it is to the shape of that mouth with its cheap red lipstick that I turn.

“We have rejected nature!” the vate cried. “We bend the knee and the neck to lords made less than human!” And here the naked madman clutched his own member with a gnarled hand, beard blowing in the wind atop his

scaffold. “The Mother knows! Knows the nobiles have forgotten Her, have worked Her from their blood!” The part of me that had been an archon’s

son twitched, half expecting to see the prefects—or even soldiers in the

green-and-white of the count’s service—march in to take the sun-crazed old preacher away. None came, for it is said the mad are close to Earth.

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