Rick came in once the cultists stopped firing on his position, covering the entrance with his rifle carefully. The reek of burnt flesh assaulted his nostrils, the dark inside the temple stopped his vision. He ducked behind what he assumed was a bench, keeping his eye out for anyone coming his way. A shout rang out from the deep of the building, but it was strange.
The shout was Skie’s. There’s no way it could have been anyone else.
Rick carefully got up while scanning for anyone threatening him, but it was for nothing. All the defenders had dropped their weapons and held their hands open to the front of the building. He looked to the front and saw Skie holding the kid, Damien, in one hand and a gun to his head with the other. A grim grin crossed her face as the defenders surrendered.
“Now that I’ve got your attention, I’d like you all of you assholes to open the doors. You have some people to answer to.” Skie’s voice shone like a brilliant ray, a welcome sound over the guns cracking and sounds of death from before.
Rick navigated his way to the altar where Skie stood. “Skie, how..?”
“Found the little weed in the corner over there.” She made a vague gesture to an alcove not far from where they were standing. “And I’m really fucking glad that my gamble worked out.”
Rick stared in disbelief as the kid stood there, too panicked to talk. “How’d you know they wouldn’t shoot you?”
Skie shrugged. “I didn’t. I guessed.”
Before Rick could ask what she guessed on, the doors at the front of the building opened up to the rest of the villagers, who barged in. Cat led the front, and the group clubbed the first couple of cultists that were too close to the door before they stopped abruptly.
“Rick?” Cat stepped forward. “Is the fighting done?”
“For now. We still need to figure out what to do with the Lamb who surrendered. Several of them are injured and many are dead, but thanks to Skie, there’s a lot of people to work with.”
Nodding, Cat spoke some orders to the figures closest to her, who started gathering the remaining Lamb together. A couple more words and several members of the community started exploring the temple itself. Rick admired Cat’s seemingly newfound ability to take charge of a situation. Her abilities lent themselves well to leadership.
“Cat, could you come here?” Rick asked.
She nodded, and met Rick, Skie, and Damien on the stage. Although her eyes were kind to Rick, her glare turned icy cold and venomous towards Damien. He didn’t balk at her, but that might have been because of the gun against his head being a bigger threat more than anything.
“Damien.” Cat’s voice was ice, cold and cruel.
“Hello Cat.” Despite his outward appearance, Damien’s voice sounded cool and collected. “It seems I’ve been caught. What will you do with me?”
“Damien, there are many things I would wish upon you.” She wasn’t lying; Rick immediately thought of the same things himself, her ability projecting her desires to everyone around her. Rick had to concentrate to keep himself in check. “There is but one thing that is right, in the eyes of God. It was your father who sacrificed so many to save you. He died in the church to the hands of the one who holds you hostage now, and his pain, though it was great, was brief. I would wish that pain on you, who has betrayed me, cursed the community, and caused the needless deaths of so many.”
“Wait, this shit’s dad was the fuck in the church?” Rick was incredulous. How could he have not made the connection from before? The same nose, the same cruel smile. He should have known they were related.
“Yeah, he was.” Skie’s grin grew. “I noticed about halfway when we were walking with him, and that’s why I gambled on him. I figured if anybody had the ability to rally the remaining Lamb, it’d be the son of one of the leaders.”
Damien stood silently, staring at Cat. The two would not let go of each other’s gaze. “So,” Damien said, “what happens with me after all? Do I wander in exile? Am I forgiven? Or do you just kill me?”
The last couple of words struck a chord in Rick’s mind. Without thinking he drew his repeater on Damien, and almost pulled the trigger before he realized what was happening.
“So close, hunter.” Damien smiled. “It seems you wish me dead, why not just do it?”
Again, Rick’s hand almost pulled the trigger, but he was prepared this time. “You too, huh kid? Cat, you’re not the only one with… gifts.”
Damien’s eyes locked on Cat’s gaze again. Rick could feel the tension between the two as Cat wondered how to deal with the kid, while the kid tried to force someone else to help him take the easy way out.
“How?” Asked Cat, her steely gaze faltering for all of a second.
“Because we’re related. That man, my father, was yours too. He didn’t believe a girl was fit to lead in this wasteland.”
“But my mother-”
“Wasn’t mine, correct. But it was our glorious father’s blessing we received, not your weak mother’s. Your strength comes from him, he who was a soldier all those years ago.” Damien paused, and licked his lips. “He told me the stories. He told me so many amazing stories about the hardships he suffered to live down here. The pain he endured. The life he lived, before you ended it.”
“If what you say is true, Damien, then I am glad to have helped in ending a life of such cruelty. It took someone shocking me out of his grasp to understand what we were doing wrong.” Cat’s calm nature began to come back, he voice padded now with the confidence she lacked before. “That man was as demonic as the monsters he claimed to fight against.”
Rick was absorbed. All of this information helped make so much more sense of Cat, and of why so many people followed the Lamb. It was nothing short of sheer manipulation; it’s not like anyone had much of a choice. If their father had the same abilities as Cat and Damien, it’s not incomprehensible that he would have passed it on in his genes.
“Are you any different, Cat? You just helped slaughter many members of the Lamb that were once friends. For what?” Damien spat angrily., “a barely defendable shelter? Your life is just as meaningless as mine.”
“No. Because I will not make the same mistakes you and your father did. I will not sacrifice innocent lives on the altar of selfishness. I will use the power granted to me by God to better their lives. I have that responsibility. As for you, Damien, death would be far too simple for such a hateful mind.” Cat’s eyes practically glowed blue, he body quaking with rage. “But you are too dangerous to keep here.”
She turned to Skie. “Could you escort him outside the building please? I mean to let him wander. Maybe God will spare him.”
Skie nodded. “Gladly. Let’s go.” She shoved Damien forward, and they walked to the front of the building. The doors shut behind them with a thud. Rick Rubbed his eyes, wondering how on earth this had all worked out. Under most circumstances, he’d consider this a modern miracle. Still, he had been awake far too long with far too little to eat. It was time for some rest.
Skie walked with Damien a good while, the temple growing smaller behind them. They made their way through the buildings, past broken shelters and the grisly remains of those unlucky enough not to have made it to the temple. Onwards the walked, minutes of silence between her and the boy. She had to remember not to go too far, since every moment she spent walking the little shit was another moment she’d have to go backwards.
After a while, they stopped next to an old post, its pointy summit stabbing at the dark sky above. Surrounding the two of them was more or less open expanse, the ruins of larger building dotting the landscape. “This is the end of the road.” Her voice didn’t come across as grim as she would have liked.
Damien stared ahead, silent. He didn’t even try to move.
“Alright, well, see you never. Have fun with the monsters.” The image of long sharp teeth penetrated her mind, only briefly, but it made her think.
“Kid, before I go, I’ve got a question.” Damien turned, and stared at her. His green, awful gaze fixated on her.
“What is it? It’s not like I’m in any rush.”
Skie knelt down in front of him. “Are you scared?”
He laughed. “Scared? Of death? No. Of the demons?” He paused, his bottom lip quivering. “I would rather have liked you shooting me in the temple. I was quite sure I could get the hunter or Cat to do it but…” he trailed off, staring into the distance.
She felt badly for him. Yes, he nearly killed her and yes, he was a horrible monster in sheep’s clothing. Everything up until this point was completely deserved. But the thought of one of those horrors, with blades for hands, too many heads and not enough eyes, was too much. It was too much for a child, even this one.
She raised her pistol to his head. “I can change that. It won’t be the first time I’ve killed a kid in the last little while.”
Damien stared down the barrel, his eyes flicking between Skie’s blue eyes and the gun’s black barrel. Long, awful moments passed as Skie listened to the dead wind throw itself at stones long since defeated. She could feel her arm starting to shake from having to hold the position for so long, and her hair fell annoyingly on her face. Still, she didn’t move.
Slowly, Damien’s head moved, nodding. The tension that was hiding beneath the veneer of cool Skie had build up rose to the surface, causing her stomach to twist and her breath to catch before an all encompassing calm took her. Serene, complete control.
“Bye.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say.
A singular crack echoed over the landscape.
End of Part 24