by Tristan Gregory
The cleric pressed his back against the wall, his heart pounding so hard he was afraid it would give him away. Eyes closed, his lips moved as he prayed silently, beseeching the aid of Arkos even as he broke one of the most important commandments—Let Your Faith Be Heard.
He could hear them beyond the storage room. Their footsteps sounded like distant thunder, shaking dust from the wall behind him to sprinkle his already-gray hair. The few moments of respite that hiding earned him only gave his fear time to grow, as he dwelt on his fate should they find him.
He was one of those they hated most, calling him mendakos.
There was one in the hall, now. The cleric’s prayers grew more fervent. He had been a faithful servant of Arkos his entire life. Why would he be abandoned now? How could it be that his end here fit the Grand Design?
The thunder outside passed the door, and the cleric’s eyes snapped open. Arkos had heard him after all. Arkos had rewarded his piety and his years of faith, and saved him! The cleric breathed a sigh of relief and offered a prayer of thanks.
Then something massive struck the door from the other side. The thin timbers gave way and the door burst open.
The ogre ducked and entered the room.
If a strong, proud man were swollen and stretched, and given a glare like a raging bull, he would be the very image of an ogre. Their skin was as gray as the stone wall the cleric shrank against.
The cleric was hidden behind some barrels, out of sight. He fought to control himself, to remain perfectly silent. He hadn’t been noticed yet. Arkos was still protecting him. Again he felt the ground shake as the ogre took a pair of steps into the room.
He shrieked when a huge, calloused hand seized his neck from behind. He was lifted, effortlessly, until he was face-to-face with the monster, his boots dangling several inches from the floor.
It chuckled as he struggled. It leaned its face in close and sniffed, drawing a long, obscene breath.
“Hmmm. You reek of faith,” it said. Then it chuckled at his vain struggles. “Why do you whimper so? Hasn’t your master given you the courage to die with dignity?”
Through rattling breath, the priest managed to choke out an appeal.
“Please! I—I have never harmed any of you.”
The ogre’s face drew up into a snarl, revealing sharp, bestial teeth.
“Yes you have. You all have.”
Brother Peter sank to his knees in the grass. He offered a brief, fervent prayer before plunging his cupped hands into the stream. The fresh mountain water was shockingly cold, but even up here where the air was cool it was a blessing to drink directly from a stream—one of the many small gifts of Arkos.
The earth trembled slightly when a huge gray foot struck the ground next to the kneeling priest. He looked up to see Gruuth, one of the Elders of the ogre tribes that journeyed with him. The mighty creature looked at him intently.
“Is this a ritual?” Gruuth asked, showing the curiosity that was exceedingly rare amongst the ogres.
With a smile, Peter shook his head. “No. But it is holy, because I give thanks to the Master for his gift of water.”
Clumsily—the ogres did not kneel—Gruuth imitated Peter’s posture. His massive hands dipped into the spring, drawing enough water to fill a bucket. He drank messily, sloshing much of the water back over his hands and into the grass.
“It is good,” Gruuth said.
Peter’s smile spread wider as he rose. Standing, he was as tall as the ogre was kneeling. “Yes,” he said simply, turning his grateful eyes to the sun that shone through the crisp mountain air. “It is good.”
The two returned to the caravan—though that was not nearly grand enough a word for the procession that wound through the hills. Thousands of ogres, all but two of the tribes that Peter had contacted, were strung out before him. They had no wagons, and no beasts of burden. Everything they possessed, they carried. It was little enough. Ogres made no permanent dwellings, cooked with fire and spit, and wore the same clothing each day. They led lives of the utmost simplicity.
Taking in the same sight, Gruuth wore an expression of worry. It was subtle—the ogres’ faces were not as mobile as a human’s. Peter, though, had lived with them long enough to learn their mannerisms, and Gruuth he knew well.
“What troubles you, friend?”
There was a pause before the Elder answered.
“You are sure that Arkos will forgive the Unbelievers?”
Peter sighed, and thought hard before he replied. He had answered the question before, but he had never liked giving rote answers.
“Arkos is the Master of Mercy,” he began. “He will not judge them harshly.”
“But the story from the Book, of the man named Harrad. He was an Unbeliever. His family was destroyed.”
Peter nodded slowly. He knew why Gruuth worried. He was Peace Brother with one of the dissenting Elders, having ended a feud betwixt their tribes when they were young. Among the Ogres, there was no stronger tie—not even blood relation.
“Harrad was human, and lived with the Truth his whole life,” Peter said. “He turned from it. I brought the Truth to your people only a short time ago. Arkos knows our minds, and our hearts. The Master knows if they remained behind out of love of their own people or hatred of mine. If love, then they will be spared, I am sure of it.”
Gruuth nodded slowly, satisfied for the moment. Peter knew the question would come again, and briefly considered preparing another response. That would smack of dishonesty, though. Arkos would not fail to supply him with more words to sooth the ogre’s doubt, Peter knew. With the Passing so close, with Arkos ready to return his children to him at long last, surely he would help his faithful priests shepherd in every lost soul—human and ogre both.
The caravan moved on in all daylight hours, the line of plodding ogres stretching over the visible horizon, winding across the hills and valleys. Peter was ever at their head with Gruuth, straining his own stamina to keep up with the slow-but-unceasing pace. He held prayer gatherings at dawn and dusk, and back along the route other ogres whom he had initiated as fellow priests did the same for their brethren. Peter occasionally worried about having so little time to teach them the Truth. He had been raised on the Word, and even before entering the priesthood he knew many passages by rote.
“The Word is not the Truth, but the Truth is in the Word,” Peter muttered to himself.
It was an old saying amongst the priests and their followers, a reminder that adherence to the Word did not guarantee an understanding of the Truth. He had to trust that the ogres could reach the Truth, even with only a little teaching of the Word. They were leaving their homes, traveling leagues to reach the Place of Souls in time for the Passing. Surely, in that devotion could be found the Truth?
At long last the air began to warm as they descended from the heights. As he reached the top of one hill, Peter saw the grasslands of his own home spread out before him. Far, far away, on the very crest of the horizon, he imagined he could see their destination: the city of Falvingden.
“Won’t they be surprised,” Peter chuckled to himself. Most of the priests had laughed outright at his decision to bring the Truth to the ogre tribes. They told him he would be eaten, or used for cruel sport, or any other number of nonsense nightmares the humans had invented about the ogres.
“They are a speaking people,” Peter had insisted. “They have reason. They are as much children of Arkos as we are.”
Finally the Triocracy had intervened, and all nine High Priests had given their blessing to Peter’s expedition. The love of Arkos had moved them to wisdom, and he would not think ill of them, but Peter could not help but wonder how many of them really expected him to return at all—much less at the vanguard of the ogre tribes.
Once into the grasslands, the ogres spread out a great deal and gathered what food they could.
Peter gave them his blessing, though he imagined some of the city fathers would be displeased. The ogre tribes would likely eat the area clean.
“What will that matter, though?” Peter told Gruuth. “All will change with the Passing. We wil have no worry of food and drink. Take all that you need.”
Three days after they descended from the mountains, when they were still a week’s journey to the city itself, outriders were seen on the horizon.
“Scouts. No doubt the city is concerned about your sudden migration.” Peter said as he peered at the mounted figures in the distance. “Gruuth, I must go on ahead. Your people should travel on for another day, and then come no further until I return.”
“We will do this,” Gruuth said. Ogres did not trust humans easily—it was from the humans that concepts such as lying, cheating, and stealing had entered their society. Peter, though, had earned that trust. Gruuth knew that the priest would do nothing to harm them.
After leaving the ogre tribes, Peter caught the attention of the outriders, who dared approach him—perhaps thinking he was fleeing the monstrous gray invaders. Peter shook his head at the thought. None of the ogre tribes had attacked a human nation in living memory.
“Brother! Are you well?” one of the men shouted as their horses bore them near. “Do you know aught of why the ogres are attacking?”
“They aren’t attacking!” Peter shouted back. “I am Brother Peter! Two years ago I left to bring the Truth to the ogres, and share the news of the Passing. Arkos has spoken to them! They come to join us all in the next world!”
The soldiers did not reply immediately, looking incredulously at each other. Peter did not have the time to waste in convincing them. Their belief was not necessary.
“Bear me back to the city, I beg you,” he said. “I must speak to the Triocracy and the city fathers.”
They took him first to a small crossroads fort, where he was able to cajole the commander into giving him a fresh horse. Peter rode for the city without pausing to rest—though he had been awake many hours and traveled a great distance, he knew he needed to reach the city before news of the coming ogres did, or there would be panic.
When Peter finally presented himself at the Great Temple of Arkos, he was near to exhaustion. He thought he would have some hours before his request for audience was granted—supplicants were often kept waiting days before being allowed to see the holiest of the Master’s servants—but to his surprise, he was admitted immediately to the chambers of the Triocracy.
The grand hall was imposing in construction, with ceilings that disappeared into shadows overhead and arched doorway carved with scenes from the Book. The priests themselves wore simple woolen robes and sat in unadorned stone chairs, arranged in three groups of three facing the center of the hall. One triad for each of the three great prophets of Arkos.
“Most excellent servants of the Master,” Peter said, bowing to all three groups in turn. “I have returned from my journey. Thank you for seeing me with such haste.”
“How could we not?” asked the Holy Father Barone. He stroked his long gray beard as he spoke. “When you bring the entire ogre nation with you?”
With his fatigue eroding his self-control, Peter could not help but grin widely. “Forgive my pride, fathers, but it is just as I said it would be. The Word of Arkos has moved the ogres. They come now to join the rest of the Master’s children for the Passing, and the next world.”
“What possessed you to bring them all back here?” asked another priest, Father Ayleth.
Peter’s brow furrowed. “Holy father, I’ve done exactly as I said I would. Will you reproach me for my success?”
From behind Peter, yet another of the priests spoke. “We did not think you would return, Brother Peter.” he said. “We thought your faith was leading you to death.”
Peter turned to face the man who’d spoken. His name was Lukas, and he was the youngest of the Triocracy, still full of vigor, and whose every act and word showed his faith. His kind eyes regarded Peter with a mixture of amusement and contemplation.
“But when I left you said I was following the Master’s will—” Peter began.
“We said you were following your faith in the Master’s will,” Lukas interrupted. “A man can be mistaken about the will of Arkos. Men often are. A man’s faith can lead him into folly.”
“And it has led you to great folly,” said Ayleth. “You have brought these beasts to our doorstep—”
“But,” Lukas interrupted his fellow, “Here you stand, Brother Peter, having done exactly what you set out to do. And here we sit, humbled,” again he glanced to the scowling priest, “by the wisdom and mercy of our Master. Truly, he has shown himself in your works.”
“Are you serious, Father Lukas?” asked Barone. “You truly think this the will of Arkos, to bring these ogres to the Place of Souls?”
“How not? Who but the Master has the power to shift the ogre tribes, all at once, in an instant? I say it aloud—Brother Peter has worked a miracle, and we must recognize it. Arkos has given us a sign—the ogres, too, are his children, and will join us at the Passing.”
“I agree. They must all go to the place of souls.” said Ayleth.
Every head in the chamber turned to him in surprise. “Father Ayleth, I am pleased at your change of heart,” Father Lukas said, warily.
“What other explanation is there?” Ayleth said. “You are right, Father Lukas. Only an act of Arkos could bring this about. It would be foolish, would it not “—Ayleth said with a wry smile—”to deny his will at this late hour?”
Lukas joined the others as they nodded sagely. “Most certainly,” he said, still eying Ayleth.
“The ogres are prepared,” Peter broke in. “They know it will be a hard journey through the desert. They have brought great stores of food and water, and even now supplement their stores with grain and game from the grasslands.”
Peter thought he saw Ayleth wince, but could not think of why. Perhaps the man had a headache. The Triocracy thanked Peter officially for his service, and bade him select several of his Brothers to help him continue bringing the Truth to the ogres in preparation for the final hour. He thanked them in return—he had been worried about ministering to the ogres alone until the Passing.
Before Peter had gotten far out of the chamber, Father Lukas caught up to him in the hall and walked with him. The high priest turned from the path Peter was taking—out of the church—and Peter understood that he was expected to follow.
They reached Lukas’s private quarters—as austere as the meeting hall—and Lukas gestured for his guest to sit.
“You have truly done a great thing, Brother Peter. I thank you again for helping Arkos show his hand. Even with the Passing so close, he sees fit to keep me humble with his great works.”
“Truly, he loves to play his tricks,” Peter said. “I never doubted for a moment that he was with me, though.”
Lukas nodded, a smile on his face. “It must be amazing to bring the Word to so many new minds. You are like Brandobas, come again.”
With a chuckle, Peter shook his head. “I am no prophet, but thank you Father. It is amazing—and I’m glad the Triocracy will give me more mouths. I work as hard as I am able, but it is difficult to minister to thousands of new entrants to our faith. I was afraid I would be doing it alone all the way to the Place of Souls. It is easiest to teach the Truth when many mouths spread the Word.”
“Well spoken,” Lukas said with a nod.
“Would you, Father, honor them and me by ministering to them on the journey? It would be a blessing to have one of the Triocracy with us.”
Lukas’s face brightened. “I would be most pleased to do this, Brother Peter. Together we will prepare them for the Passing—and, as importantly, for the time until then.”
“What do you mean?” Peter asked.
“The Place of Souls is a small oasis, Brother. The pilgrims who have already reached it will no doubt be overflowing it. Your ogres and those who come later will spill out into the desert on all sides. For the days until the Passing comes it will be crowded, and tensions will rise.” Father Lukas sighed. “It is already happening, we hear. Sickness, violence—men and women and children are dying weeks before seeking the Master in the flesh. Arkos will not save us from our base nature until the moment of his coming, it seems.”
“You’re saying we should warn the ogres about this?”
“Yes, and have them wait to undertake the journey until the last moment. Many of the people are simple folk, and your ogres will do nothing but terrify them. It would not do to cause panic on the eve of our ascent to Paradise.”
Peter nodded. “Of course, Father. You are wise, as always—the ogres will understand.” At least, Gruuth would understand, and the rest of the ogres would follow his example. When Peter returned to them upon the plains, he had several other Brothers in tow, as well as Father Lukas. Though all had eagerly requested the honor of preaching the Word to the new-found flock, when they reached the ogre camps some of them began to quail at the sight of thousands of the hulking gray creatures.
“Calm, my brothers,” Peter reassured them. “The tales you were told as children are utter nonsense. The ogres are as peaceful and pleasant as any people.”
Not all believed him, but when they had the chance to speak to the Elders of the tribes their fears began to subside. Though they did not think exactly as humans did, the ogres were more familiar than foreign.
For several weeks Peter and his fellows lived with the ogres upon the grasslands. Lukas used his influence to bring in additional food, not wanting the ogres to experience hardship in return for their great faith—and indeed it was great. The Holy Father was astounded by their quiet zeal.
“Many of them have memorized the entire Book,” Lukas said. “The Elder, Gruuth, knows the passages as well as I do!”
Finally came the time for the journey. “We musn’t wait too long,” Lukas told Gruuth. “Your people are hardy, but they have never crossed the desert before. What a tragedy it would be to miss the Passing because we dawdled along the way!”
Despite his words, Father Lukas was in excellent humor that only grew each day. He was mere weeks from meeting his beloved Master in the flesh.
“How happy I was, Peter, when we determined the Passing would come in my lifetime,” Lukas confided to Peter one night. “I urged the Triocracy to check the signs three times, even so. The Church has predicted the Passing incorrectly before—but this time, there is no doubt. Every sign is plain, every foretold event has occurred. The belief was unanimous. Arkos will come to us in twenty-eight days!”
They stockpiled food and water for the journey, and Lukas offered to secure the use of carts and pack animals—but the ogres refused the animals.
“Ogres bear our own burdens,” Gruuth said with a smile. “We can carry all that we need.”
“The way is long and hard,” Lukas warned. “We will need a great deal of water to reach the Place of Souls, and there is none along the way.”
When they had gathered the supplies needed, though, the ogres astounded the Father by shouldering it all without trouble.
“What incredible strength,” he said. “I find it sad that they have only recently come to the Master’s service, Gruuth. What wonders we could have accomplished with your help!”
The ogres broke camp on a cheerful autumn morning, with just enough chill to the gentle breeze to make a man appreciate the sun upon his face. They traveled as they had before—from dawn until dusk. Though Peter tried to pick only younger Brothers, a couple of them had to be carried, looking like babes in the ogres’ mighty arms. Father Lukas kept up easily, his faith giving him vitality that only grew with each passing day.
“The end is near, Peter,” he said often. “All praise to the Master.”
Due to the unrelenting pace they reached the edge of the desert quickly. “If we can keep the same pace through the desert,” Lukas told the Elders, “we’ll reach the Place of Souls with over a week to spare!”
However, the traveling ogre nation was overtaken by a sand storm. They weathered it safely enough—even without their heavy fur garments, an ogre’s skin was thick and tough—but they needed much of their water to counteract the draining effects of the grit-laden wind.
“We have enough to get through to the Passing,” Peter assured the Elders. “After that we’ll have no earthly needs.”
The ogres trudged across the desert as inexorably as they trudged across mountains and grass, and with five days left until the Passing they reached the Place of Souls—or rather, the massive camp that had sprung up around it. When a desert breeze blew through the camp towards them, Peter felt his stomach turn. The stench was hideous. It was fortunate he would not have to bear it for long.
As they drew closer, they saw that there was smoke hanging over the camp, more than cook fires made—even for so many people. Father Lukas and Peter went on ahead to warn the pilgrims of the ogres coming, and their peaceful nature.
When they drew close to the camp, though, they were greeted by men armed with crude weapons—wooden clubs and spears cobbled together from sticks. Lukas held up his hands to keep them from attacking.
“I am Father Lukas of the Triocracy! In the name of Arkos, stay your hands!”
“Holy Father?” asked one man. He was a Brother of the faith, though he had on vest and breeches instead of the robes of his faith. “Blessed be the Master, it is you.”
“Brother Matthew, you have no need for weapons,” Lukas began. “The ogres are peaceful—not only that, but—”
He was cut off by another voice, coming from behind Matthew. “Ogres?” the man exclaimed. “Who’s talking about ogres? It’s them raiders we’re guarding against.”
“Speak civilly to the Father!” Matthew rebuked the man. “Beg pardon, Father Lukas. He speaks truth, though. The camp has been attacked by raiders at least three times in the month. They take as many people as they can from the outskirts and drive them off across the desert. We think they’re slavers—we try to defend ourselves, but few of the people here are anything but commoners and pilgrims.
“Father, why isn’t Arkos protecting us?” Matthew asked, tears nearly falling down his soot-stained cheeks.
“The Passing is yet days away,” the Father said. “Remember the Master’s response to Brandobas. ‘My power your strength in the next world, but your own must ye have in this.'”
Matthew nodded, his features forlorn, and the men behind him did the same.
“But they took people father,” said one. “They won’t be here—”
“They came here,” Lukas said immediately. “Arkos will not forget that. ‘Twas not their doing that they are now absent from the Place of Souls, and no slaver can take them from the Master’s heart. Trust in that. In a few days their suffering, too, will be over.”
“Blessed be,” the man whispered, and the rest took up the comforting words as well.
“‘m sorry, Father. What were you saying of ogres?” Matthew said.
Instead of repeating himself, Lukas just grinned, turned to the desert, and pointed.
The rest of the Triocracy arrived only a day behind the ogres, and by then the gigantic creatures had agreed to make their camp around the perimeter. Slavers may be able to take prisoners from the meek amongst humanity, but Peter was sure even the meekest ogre would prove more than a match for them.
“Your kind make natural guardians,” Peter said to Gruuth as they escorted the Triocracy through the throngs of people, towards the oasis at the center of the camp. “Truly you are children of Arkos.”
Gruuth looked pleased.
When Lukas greeted his fellows, his face clouded for a moment in confusion. “Where is Ayleth?” he asked.
“Father Ayleth elected to stay behind and ensure that every pilgrim was seen safely on his way,” came the reply.
“How good of him,” Lukas said. “I’m sure he greatly desires to be here with us.”
Ayleth did not come on the next day, nor the second. Only two days remained until the Passing, and there were yet eight of the nine Holy Fathers gathered. Peter was absurdly pleased when the priests asked him to stand in for Ayleth at their ceremonies.
“There must be nine,” Lukas told him. “And while perhaps the ogres deserve to rank amongst our number, they are yet too new to the Master’s service. I asked Gruuth to accept you as their Holy Father.”
On the eve of the Passing, throngs of humans and ogres alike gathered as close to the oasis as they could manage. Ayleth still had not arrived, so Peter stood with the Triocracy amidst the oddly beautiful drooping trees of the Place of Souls. They led the crowds in rejoicing, and the Brothers passed on their prayers and songs through the camp, which now spilled a great ways out into the desert. Following the mass a great feast was held, and the merriment lasted long through the night.
Even the Triocracy did not know precisely when Arkos would come to end the world and bring them all to Paradise, but Lukas though it would not be until the next dusk. “There is nothing in the Book to tell us, though,” he said to Gruuth. He had invited all the tribe Elders to eat with them. “It could be sunrise or sunset or any moment in between. We will spend the day in prayer, so we may be ready.”
The prayer service began at dawn. The many thousands of pilgrims, human and ogre alike, lay prostrate. When the first rays struck the treetops in the oasis, they raised their hands to the sky, and as one they prayed.
For hours they knelt and stood at the Triocracy’s direction, chanting prayers and singing the many hymns of the Master’s faith. Shortly before noon, when they had sung them all, they began again. Then, when the sun had nearly reached the far horizon, they began yet again. Finally, when the only light was cast by torches and fires lit by the Brothers as the people all around them sang and prayed, they finished for the third time.
The sun had long since set.
Murmurs began to filter through the crowd, and the Holy Fathers of the Triocracy looked at one another in confusion. The multitude of people and ogres looked on, unsure why the Passing had not yet come.
Suddenly, Lukas stood. “Good servants of the Master!” he shouted, and gestured for the Brothers to carry his words through the crowd. “We have purified ourselves with fast and prayer, and shown our faith to Arkos. Sleep now! Sleep in the peace of the Master! When ye wake, the next world shall ye see! Blessed be!”
“Blessed be!” came the response, and the people began to filter back to their tents and lean-tos. Some curled up and slept where they had prayed. Some, though, cast unsure looks upon the priests before leaving.
Lukas turned back to his fellows, who smiled at him with faith shining brightly in their eyes.
“Did the Master speak to you, Father Lukas?” asked Peter. “Did he reveal the moment of his coming?”
Lukas looked at Peter, and smiled. “Yes, Peter—Father Peter. Let us sleep, now. The Master will come for us.”
Peter awoke to a massive hand on his chest, shaking him awake with great urgency. It was an ogre named Horoth, close kin to Gruuth.
“Father Peter,” the ogre rumbled. “Where is Arkos? His people are dying.”
It was the first time Peter had heard fear in an ogre’s voice. He threw on robes and left the tent with Horoth.
The camp was burning. There were raging fires in the distance and smoke billowing into the morning air, blocking out the sun as it tried to bring the day.
“Have the raiders returned?” Peter asked a passing Brother. The man was armed.
“No!” he said. “Some of the pilgrims have rioted! They built a barricade around much of the oasis, and are keeping people from the food and water stored within!”
Peter’s eyes widened. “Oh merciful Master,” he said. “Food and water.”
He followed Horoth to where the rest of the Triocracy were arguing heatedly with several commoners. The ogre Elders were there as well, standing silently but with expressions of great alarm.
Gruuth’s face carried some small hope when he saw Peter. “Father Peter. These men wish us to harm Arkos’s children,” he said.
“They are keeping all the food locked away,” Lukas said. “And the water! There are already people collapsing, they need water. The ogres are the only ones who could break down their barrier.”
“Arkos despises those who do violence on their brothers,” Gruuth said, quoting the Book. “Father Peter told us this many times. Why do you ask us to go against the will of Arkos?”
“Those people have forsaken Arkos for their own selfish reasons!” cried another priest. “If you do not help all of us will die!”
Why do we speak of Arkos still? Has he not abandoned us? Peter thought. It had only begun to dawn on him that he was still breathing, walking, living upon the earth—hours after he was sure his Master would come bear him away.
“He is right, Gruuth,” was all Peter said. “These men have already done violence to us, by denying us what we must have to live. For your own sake as well as ours, you must help us. It is not attack, but defense. Arkos gives us leave to defend ourselves, does he not?”
Gruuth’s face was blank as he thought, but eventually he gave a slow nod. “Yes. My tribe will break the barriers down.”
“Master bless you, Gruuth,” Lukas said. “We will have the faithful ready to secure the food and water. We must keep order until Arkos comes.”
Peter looked at the man, and Lukas stared back. The light of his faith still burned brightly—even feverishly—in his eyes.
“The Passing is nigh, I know it. We have seen every sign. Perhaps it is this day, or the next. Soon. It will be soon.”
The rest of the Holy Fathers nodded at the words, and after a moment Peter nodded with them—but in his heart, there was doubt.
Gruuth gathered up his people, male and female alike. “Please try not to kill,” Lukas told them. “These men are afraid and their fear has led them from the Master, but we may yet bring them back to the Truth in time. Defend yourselves, but show mercy.”
It took no time at all for the ogres to destroy the barricades. The paltry attempts to stop them did worse than nothing—a few ogres, enraged by the pricks of spear points, reduced their attackers to broken, bloody piles of flesh. After seeing this, the rest of the rioters fled.
Afterward, the Triocracy gathered the ogres again and blessed them. “Your sins forgiven, your actions for the good of all,” Lukas intoned over them. “Fear not, despair not, regret not. Arkos works justice at thy hands.”
Only a few hours later, new trouble reared its head. There had been scattered reports of violence elsewhere in the sprawling camp—people being murdered for stockpiling food and water, or murdering to stockpile them—despite the attempts of the Faith to maintain order.
Then came the attacks on the ogres.
The Triocracy did not believe the stories at first—mobs armed with spears and heavy clubs overwhelming small groups of ogres. Since they had arrived, the ogres had been met with varying levels of respect, amazement, and fear. Certainly none would be fools enough to attack them.
The reports kept coming, though, and soon enough were brought by the ogres themselves, bloodied and limping.
“They swarm like ants,” said one. “They attack without words. They hate us, Elders,” he said. He spoke only to his Elders, ignoring the Triocracy.
“It is just a few misled souls,” Lukas insisted. “Keep your people close, Elders. This will subside, and Arkos will come. This is his last test for us.”
Then the mob came to the oasis. They were thousands strong.
“You brought your monsters to kill us!” some shouted. “You lured us out here for them to eat!” said others. Peter stared in amazement. For days, these people had lived with the ogres in harmony and good humor. How could they believe such nonsense?
Lukas attempted to calm the crowd—but standing behind him always were the Elders and many of their close kin. The majority of the other ogres were still on the outskirts of the camp—they likely didn’t even know of the recent events.
Peter did not know how it started. Perhaps a stone was thrown, perhaps a spear. Perhaps one man started forward and the others followed. All he knew was that suddenly he heard screaming, and found himself amidst chaos. Angry-faced rioters attacked the ogres—and at times, the robed men of the Faith. The ogres did not bother with restraint this time. People died by the hundreds—but their numbers and their hatred gave them strength, and one by one the ogres and the priests fell beneath the surging crowd.
“Horoth!” he heard Gruuth roar. The ogre’s bellow cut through the sounds of the melee with ease. “Take your brothers! Fight free! Return home and warn of this betrayal!”
“Did I betray you, my friend?” Peter wondered. So dismayed was he by Gruuth’s words, Peter failed to see the man who swung a club at his head. His last thought rang in his broken skull.