Everywhere she stepped, death followed. Blood flowed. The burning of the bonfires held a different smell now. An acrid taste in her mouth, her stomach churned as she whiffed the scent of death.
Anna suppressed a scream as a hand pressed gently against her shoulder. She froze, unable to move, a fire down her spine felt like everything was shutting down.
“Fear not sister, only the true believers die today.”
Her skin crawled but she turned her head to glance at the woman as she passed by. Nearly naked, shaved head, tattoos across their skin interwoven with body paint. They strode towards the clashing guards, towards the dying and the dead.
With horror she watched. Her body locked into place, every part of her burning. They crouched down to lift the head of the dead high priestess, and they kissed the corpse’ lips. They breathed deeply.
Anna finally found her courage to move, hunching down and shrinking into a ball. The pallid cries of the woman broke her. Anguish seethed up between pained sobs as the cultist clutched their stomach and bled.
Her complexion paled, feeling woozy listening to their wailing. Another woman’s coughs cut through her shell, she looked up at the horror of the scene. The cultist hunched over, blood seeping down their legs and the corpse they had kissed coughed and choked back to life.
The High Priestess opened their eyes, alive, alert. They felt the hole in their chest and found it healed shut. Anna watched as the priestess sat up and regarded the end of the carnage. Of the cultist stumbling to their knees. Instinct forced them to action, to tend the woman as they collapsed.
Then a new hand pressed against Anna’s hair. The gentle touch her mother had given her centuries ago. Instead of scream and try to escape she looked up to see a man looking down and smiling at her.
The man’s eyes were bright yellow gold, his skin soft brown. He looked as exotic as she felt, a person out of place and time.
“I am glad we could finally meet.”
Looking up at him she felt no trepidation, no fear, “Who-?” but her words still struggled to form.
“Veitoa, or as you may know me – the Pillar of Lust.”
The Pillar… she scrambled away from its touch.
“Tell me Anna, how many do you think I have killed? And why would I not returned them?”
With the raising of his hand, the world changed around them. Vines and shoots pushed up through the cracks of the stones of the plaza, walls grew thick with green leafs and a rainbow assortment of flowers blooming. Water pooled, dewed against the ceiling and fell in a soft rain that washed away the grim her world had been covered in. Colour seemed more vivid, more abundant. More beautiful. And more importantly there was no blood, no death, no pain. Under the mural framed by roses rose the dead priestesses and the guards. The few assassins that had not fled fell to their knees one by one.
“What is justice, Anna? Those who kill the innocent, should not be allowed the chance of life themselves, but what do I know? Allow me to ask a philosopher.”
Anna, sitting on her hand, trying to keep away from the Pillar as it slowly advanced towards her, she found herself stopping. The Pillar stopped before her and offered her a hand.
“If you were made to judge the whole of humanity for its sins, what would you say to a man who sees the sinners harming his children?”
She took his hand and was lifted gracefully to her feet, “Society cannot function without an agreement we won’t break its rules. If you break the rules, even to punish those who break the rules, you break that agreement.”
“If I am above your rules?”
“Then no-one will accept you when you break our rules. We can’t trust you, if you don’t agree to respect us.”
The Pillar nodded, and gestured to the mural, “And would you agree that being under the control of another is, respectful? Do people ever truly respect the opinions of children?”
“Do you think they would agree with you?” he gestured to the priestesses.
“But. The greatest gift ever given to humanity was the ability to deny its own reality. It took pain and turned it into pleasure. It made slaves willing to be shackled. It made despair into hope, hope into happiness, happiness into love. Love into hate.”
Anna turned to look at the risen as they fell to their knees as well. The guards, fell to their knees. The only one who stood was the cultist, still bloodied but now standing tall and proud. A grin crossed the woman’s face as they pulled the high priestess to their feet and brought them to the Pillar. Too scared to struggle, the high priestess still dug their feet in and resisted.
“You and I, Anna, we are equals. That I am more powerful does not make me better, more righteous. I am a Pillar of what they call sin, what they fear, all whilst indulging in it.”
Indulging in it. Anna questioned that for a moment before the sobbing, terrified high priestess fell to their knees before the Pillar. Anna’s heart ached for the woman, feared for them.
“We are enemies, aren’t we Fionne.”
He placed a hand on the priestess’ head, “I forgive you the trespasses of your nature against my own. You did not know any better. Be free to celebrate your beliefs. Take your sisters, preach your word. But if you hold any gratitude in your heart remember we mean you no harm, no matter how many barbs you prick us with.”
“Do not fear,” Anna told the woman, unsure why she intervened, “I-”
“I do not fear,” the woman said, “I am in awe.”
“There is no need, Priestess. For though you have witnessed the face of a God, you serve someone equally deserving of devotion. Go forth and spread her message, accept her love into your hearts.”
The woman rose to their feet and bowed and scraped away, rushing to their fellow priestesses and gathered them up before running away to the safety of the Sanctuary. As Anna’s eyes followed she realised that cultists already stood guard by the door.
“I do not understand what has happened.”
“In a moment of strength, one you considered an ally has betrayed you not expecting me to show my own face. They were wise, but they were also wrong. They believed me too weak to fight, too cowardly to chance the risk of my own death.”
“So,” Anna asked, off-handedly, “you can be killed?”
“Even you could kill me, Anna.”
“I have many questions…”
They placed a hand on her shoulder, turning her to look him in the eyes, “Perhaps questions are best left unanswered for now. Come with me, let us talk about philosophy.”
“My friends are-”
“They will be fine, I will send Sana to collect them.”
The cultist, the woman called Sana, bowed respectfully and made their way towards the guards. It seemed that they had been as confused as the priestesses, and that with guidance they sprung to action.
“You can bring people back to life… so can she.”
“It is not some great power I hold, each life requires a death in return. It is a skill all Pillars can offer, but at a price.”
“So, you cannot simply return everyone to life?”
“No,” he gestured for her to follow him towards the Battery, an unease rose in her stomach, “if I could, there would be no death in this world. The deaths need to be the result of my own actions.”
“You caused this?” she recoiled from him.
“My being here caused this, the ones that drew their blades were working for another.”
“And you don’t know?”
“I know only that which my cult offers to me, the information they share through their prayers. I do not see into the souls of women and more than you do.”
The Battery was thick with people gathered to sit and bask in the glow of the sea now on fire.
“I do not believe you.”
“You are smart not to, after all you’ve ever learned of me. The difference between being smart and being correct however is perspective, do you follow me?”
“Two hundred years ago Mesogrin began a war to destroy the Pillars. She has been losing for nearly as long. Her hatred of us is eclipsed only by our love for her. In some twisted way she believed that only her love could save humanity, and that we hated them.”
“You say her, as if Mesogrin is a person.”
“Yes, I do don’t I.”
“Mesogrin is a person?”
He showed her to a crowd sitting in a circle listening to a woman singing.
“To those who show talent, I am the greatest of muses. Lust is just a small piece of what I represent. Passion, creativity, pleasure and happiness. All are a function of desires, of lusts.”
“Okay, but that doesn’t answer my question-”
“I know, but I’m not answering your question, that is something you’ll need to discover on your own.”
He gestured to much denser crowd, in which women painted themselves ready to join the ritual taking place out beyond the guns of the Battery. She realised that these people were not cultists, they were pilgrims. It seemed the chaos of the central town had not come out here yet.
“What do you think the functions of love are? Trust, security, respect?”
“I don’t disagree.”
“Why would I ever seek to erase this?”
“Because it doesn’t conform to your own world view.”
He laughed, “You stand beside a God and call them arrogant. My sister would despise you for your disrespect.”
“Your sister is a Pillar?”
“The Pillar of Hate.”
“The Pillar of Hate was a woman?”
“No, just what she preferred to go by.”
“And you are a man for the same reason?”
“I am whatever you want me to be, I am fluid.”
Her skin crawled, but it only raised more questions until she thought about it and then her stomach lurched. She turned away from him and prepared herself to leave when he placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Anna, you had questions.”
“I do not wish to ask them here.”
“Very well, perhaps we could go somewhere more private.”
“No, I think perhaps I would just like to leave.”
Everything had become very uneasy again. Her chest tightened and her mind was telling her to just run.
“Alright, but if you change your mind, come visit me here once the festival has concluded. It is a great shame that, this whole beautiful town was sullied by an attempt at violence. I don’t think it went quite as well as they had hoped though,” he smirked, “enjoy your night, Anna. Live with passion.”
He turned from her and walked into the crowd, disappearing. It could have been that he disappeared like any human could amongst a crowd but something about it left her chilled. She half expected him to reappear as she ventured down the street away from the remaining few celebrants.
Unfortunately, the Pillar had not been correct. As soon as she got far enough from the noise of the crowds gathered at the Battery she began to hear the screams of other women echoing through the town. She ran towards the square, the feeling of eyes following her the entire way through the dim streets. The guards at the square would save her, she trusted Karis’ men, the ones that had already cut down the assassins, or fell to them.
Emerging into the square, she sprinted halfway across it before realising it was empty. She doubled back quickly to the Sanctuary, there inside the halls cultists stood on guard confronted by a single of Karis’ men. The woman uncomfortably shifted but did not speak, it seemed that they had drawn the short straw of watching the Sanctuary.
Anna made her way through into the main hall, there the Priestesses tended to the anguish of crowds hiding away from the chaos outside. She nearly screamed when a hand touched her shoulder. Whatever it was with people and touching her shoulder had to stop. Simon’s panicked smile greeted her and her anger melted away.
He hugged her, “I saw you in the crowd, I’m so glad you’re safe.”
“I have had a strange night. I am happy that you are safe as well.”
He led her to a seat where he sat himself down, she joined him. Together they sat, in silence. Just sitting, trying not to speak. Anna’s mind finally stopped racing and settled on a tenuous thought.
“Simon. This may be an awkward question to ask right now, but it occurs to me that there are six sins your church tells you that you must purge correct?”
“That’s, uh-” he reddened, “that’s true.”
“Lust, greed, intoxicants, power, fear and faithlessness. Yes?”
He nodded, swallowing something down.
“Why do you not purge hate?”