The Black Mist
The black mist swallowed everything that it touched. It moved from house to house, room to room, greeting any unfortunate soul that it happened upon with a kiss of death. The black mist left no marks on the bodies. One could even imagine they were asleep if one wanted to. Soon, the whole city of Carrefor would be asleep.
In a distant place, two beings watched the black mist move, one watching with utter glee, and the other watching with a pang of remorse.
“This bastard!” shouted Menes. “I’ve been begging Death to take him for years.”
The black mist fell upon a man as he was butchering one of his many victims, a boy no older than ten. The mist would not take the boy.
“Must you take so much pleasure in this?” asked Sophus, the older of the two. “It concerns me, brother.”
Menes shrugged and continued watching the black mist as it encircled the vast city, its long tendrils creeping through alleyways and spilling into the main streets. The ground rippled as black hands grabbed several unsuspecting victims. Menes cheered again, but Sophus had to close his eyes.
The two did not notice someone else entering the throne room. The newcomer stared in horror at the reflections in the summoning pool.
“You called the black mist?” asked Amora, the youngest of the three.
“He did,” replied Menes, jabbing a clawed finger at Sophus.
“The black mist is not mine to control,” said Sophus. “I merely made a suggestion. Besides, this town has long mocked the Gods.”
“Not all the Gods,” muttered Menes.
“True, but the point remains,” continued Sophus. “Something had to be done. We could not wait for your counsel.”
Amora choked back tears as the black mist claimed more victims: a woman asleep with two children by her side, a mangy dog fighting with a rat over scraps, a noble prince en route to a pleasure house.
“The black mist does not discriminate,” said Amora. “It will kill every living thing, innocent or not.”
“Find me an innocent man, woman, or child in Carrefor,” said Menes. “The entire city prides itself on sin.”
“What of Patmos?” asked Amora. “He has been faithful to us since the beginning. You would see him die with the rest?”
Even now, Patmos prayed in the tiny shack that he called a church. His congregation was usually no more than a few weary souls and an occasional drunk. They would listen to his words, but the Gods had little interest to them. They worried about their next meal, and if it would ever stop raining.
Sophus sighed. “It’s a shame about Patmos, but it’s a blessing that we offer him. He has spent his whole surrounded by sinners. Imagine his joy at receiving the next life.”
“You two sicken me,” said Amora. “You can sit here and justify this madness, but I’m going to stop it.”
“You know the holy laws,” said Menes. “And don’t even think about summoning Father.”
“I’m not,” said Amora.
Menes and Sophus watched as their sister stormed out of the throne room. The heavy doors slammed shut, and the ensuing silence made the place feel like a crypt.
“You don’t think…” said Menes.
“Yes, I do,” replied Sophus. “Let’s hope she doesn’t get lost in the Endless Wastes like the last time.”
Amora didn’t move as normal things might. She simply had to imagine where she wanted to be, and then she was there. It had been many years since she had been in the Endless Wastes, so she had to remember where she was heading.
A signpost that constantly changed stood before. She waited until the arrows stopped moving for a brief second. Now, with a direction, she simply had to imagine an end to the wastelands. She closed her eyes, opened them, and the Brothel of Lust stood before her surrounded by vast expanses of nothing.
This place was unknown to Amora so she kept her gait fast and her eyes ahead as she passed through the open doors. She ignored the pleasures that tempted her: food, wine, and company of all kinds. If Amora stopped even for a moment, she might never leave. Amora climbed higher and higher until she reached the highest room in the brothel and was rewarded with a peculiar sight. A multi-colored flame burned in a brazier surrounded by all manner of creatures engaged in all manner of activities. It greeted Amora as she entered.
“What brings you here, child of Peace?” asked the flame.
Amora walked straight to the brazier, ignoring the strange creatures that ogled her as she walked past.
“I seek an audience with the Lord of Lust.”
The multi-colored flame bid his companions goodbye. They scampered, scurried, crawled, and flew out of the room, leaving Amora alone with this enigmatic God.
“Your city Carrefor is under siege from the black mist…”
“Yes, I know,” interrupted the Lord of Lust. “What of it?”
“Aren’t you concerned about the welfare of your people? The city worships you and you alone.”
The flame laughed. “They worship themselves. It’s true that they’re one of my most cherished cities, but as the black mist grows so too does its desires. You can’t possibly imagine how many delicious desires exist in that wondrous prison you call the black mist. Besides, I have no power over it, but you already knew that, didn’t you?”
Amora had to bite her tongue or else she would offend the Lord of Lust in his own home.
“You could ask your brother, the Lord of Desolation, to stop this madness before the entire city is consumed.”
The multi-color flame burned brighter, threatening to leap from the brazier and consume her.
“Why do you care so much about Carrefor? You have no worshippers there.”
“I have one. A man called Patmos.”
“Ah yes,” said the Lord of Lust. “How could I forget him? He has no wants or desires, other than to help others. Sickening, really.”
“So, you’ll save him?” asked Amora.
The flame paused for a moment, contemplating Amora’s request.
“Why not?” said the Lord of Lust. “I’ll send a message to him to leave the city. But I choose the vessel.”
“Very well,” said Amora. “Do what you must but do it soon.”
Rain crashed down on the church’s roof so hard that Patmos could not hear himself as he said the evening prayers. Children and old women made up his usual congregation, but tonight he had a drunk and even a few working women, thanks to the weather. He doubted they were here for any kind of spiritual guidance. Despite the large crowd, he didn’t see a single familiar face. That didn’t surprise him in the slightest.
Before Patmos began the Psalm of Sophus, he was interrupted by a woman staggering in from the night. She wore clothing that could hardly be considered clothing, and her face was painted many a color. She made her way to the front of the church, eyes wide with panic or under the influence of some toxin. The brand on her arm told him she was a concubine from the Temple of Lust.
“You are Patmos, are you not?” asked the woman. “You must come with me.”
The woman was no doubt troubled. Patmos offered her a seat in his congregation, but she refused to sit down.
“I’ve had a dream. A fox came to me and told me to find you. It told me to leave the city at once by way of the mayor’s airship.”
Patmos was starting to lose his patience with the woman. He did not come into the Halls of Lust and mock her, so why now did she stand here and mock him?
“Suppose I were to believe you,” said Patmos. “Stealing the mayor’s airship is a grave offense.”
“Not if the Gods command it.”
Patmos could not argue with her logic.
“Why must we leave tonight?” asked Patmos, still unconvinced. If this were some trick, she was putting on a wonderful performance.
“The fox didn’t say. It just said that we had to leave now. I woke and ran here as fast as I could.”
If the Gods truly wished him to leave the city, why not tell him directly? Why not send a different emissary? Then again, who was he to dictate how and when the Gods spoke? This woman clearly believed the Gods had spoken to her, and Patmos had faith in men as well as the Gods. Otherwise, he would have left this city many, many years ago.
“Very well,” said Patmos. “If the Gods offer a warning, then we must heed it.”
A few children and one elderly woman followed the wide-eyed woman and Patmos out of the church, but most of the congregation remained seated. A few shot piteous glances at Patmos.
Outside, the rain made everything slick, black, and sinister. Patmos could swear that he saw the ground reach up and swallow someone a few streets away, but his mind must be playing tricks on him. The group hurried across the mostly empty town until they reached the mayor’s house, a gaudy spectacle that made Patmos cringe when he saw it.
The wide-eyed woman distracted the guards in front of the mayor’s house while the children pick-pocketed them. Minutes later, Patmos and the others had slipped through the gate unnoticed. They climbed inside the airship docked in the center of the courtyard and waited for the wide-eyed woman. When she arrived, Patmos didn’t bother to inquire about the guards.
“Did the fox tell you how to operate this?” asked Patmos.
“No,” replied the wide-eyed woman. “I suppose I should have asked.”
An elderly woman named Liara stepped forward to offer her help. She had known the previous mayor when she was very young. He would take her in his airship sometimes, and they would spend the whole day together in the clouds. It all sounded too wonderful to Patmos.
Liara turned a handle on a few nearby canisters and pressed a switch on a stand attached to a balloon. Seconds later, a ring of fire burned, filling the balloon with hot air. The balloon started to lift from the ground, but the airship didn’t budge.
“It’s too heavy,” said the elderly woman.
At that instant, screams pierced the air, and the town alarm began to clang; Carrefor was under attack. Patmos thanked the Gods for warning him, but how were they to escape now? The children huddled together while Liara and the wide-eyed woman began tossing everything out of the airship save for food and water. Still, the airship didn’t budge.
Patmos prayed, asking the Gods for a miracle. The alarm continued to ring, and the rain continued to fall when a terrible thought occurred to Patmos. What if the Gods only intended to save him? Patmos knew he did not deserve such an honor.
In all his time in Carrefor, Patmos had not brought a single soul to the light nor had he saved a single life from enslavement or worse. As Patmos stared at the huddled children, a new idea occurred to him. Perhaps the Gods weren’t saving him; perhaps they were testing him.
Patmos hopped out of the airship while Liara and the wide-eyed woman argued, and the ship began to rise immediately to his delight. The children called to him, thanking him as the airship drifted higher into the sky. Suddenly, Patmos noticed the ground shimmer, and a black mist encircled him.
Faces emerged and collapsed into the mist likes waves upon the shore, but it did not advance any further. For what seemed like hours, Patmos prayed, and the mist remained a few feet away until it disappeared, leaving him completely alone in a dead city. Patmos fell to his knees, his tears of joy dissolving in the rain.
“I’ve never seen that before,” said the Lord of Lust, watching Patmos as he thanked the Gods for his life and for the lives aboard the airship.
“Thank you,” said Amora, taking her leave.
“Save your thanks,” said the Lord of Lust. “I told you I have no control over it.”
Amora smiled as though she knew a secret that the Lord of Lust didn’t.
“You also said the mist was consumed by lust. It fed on the deepest and darkest desires of men, but Patmos had no desires. He had finally saved a life.”
The multi-colored flame flickered as Amora left the room.
“No desires,” muttered the Lord of Lust.
The idea terrified him.
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