Smoke by Dee

That was the first thing you noticed. The City still smoldered. No matter how long it had been since Before, hundreds of years, some even said thousands, the embers of the fires that had destroyed the old world still lived here. The City was a relic of a place that had lived and died so long ago that even its name was lost to time. She had heard it said that once upon a time this place was a center of culture and commerce. Some said that it had lain near a river, others said on an ocean. A few even claimed that it lay near both, which was a notion so ridiculous she had to laugh. It was hard enough to imagine a world were water lay above ground, in bodies so large that they were landmarks with their own names, but to claim that there were so many of them so close together that cities could be built near both was preposterous. No matter people’s flights of fantasy though, this empty scorched ruin was now the center of nothing but desolation.

Sometimes she did wonder though. The world was a different place Before. Before people were split into Sinners and Saints. Before Marks painted themselves on people’s skin and the wrong one could betray you to damnation. Before all the water burrowed down into the earth to escape the evil in people’s hearts.

No one lived in The City now of course. It was a place that made the rest of exile seem safe and cozy, it made the rest of exile seem like 5 Star lodgings in Haven. The City was home to many of the Horrors that had emerged in the Aftermath, the monsters that were the embodiment of the Old World’s wickedness, which were created with its dying breath. Few were stupid or reckless enough to brave its dangers, and even though some of those few had surely returned from it, she had heard of none.

Be that as it may, it was the one place where knowledge live where The Brotherhood wasn’t in control. Legend had it that The City was once home to huge libraries housing thousands upon thousands of books. They were probably all gone now, wiped out but the cataclysm that had destroyed the city itself. But there was still a possibility that she could scavenge something from the wreckage. Some knowledge about the Marks and where the truly came from.

The Brotherhood could claim that the Marks were Divine, a sign from God to finally differentiate between the righteous and the wicked, so that the New World could be built for the good by the good, so that Haven would protect only the truly deserving. But if that were true, if the Marks were the gifts of an infallible Divine Being, how did you explain the handful of Unmarked that appeared every generation? The Brotherhood could deny their existence all they wanted, claim that stories of people who had lived past their 18th year without a Mark appearing on their skin were heresy, but she was living proof that they were lying. Now all she needed was the truth. Its light would shine brightly enough to burn away The Brotherhood’s deceits. It would prove that all their pretense at piety was nothing but smoke and mirrors trying to cloak their main purpose: maintaining their power.

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