Storyteller did his best to keep his head together – no easy task, as the situation was about as dire as he’d ever been. He was entirely alone, facing down the Conqueror of the Southern Wastes and a group of his elite warriors. He had no chance to hide, and little hope of escape. There had to be some way out, but it eluded him.
“I remember everything now,” said Storyteller, a slight tremble in his voice. “It was all another story, one that I invented to give the others hope. I told it so many times that it became real for me, as real as any of my actual memories. I deceived myself as surely as I deceived the world.”
“It’s good that you acknowledge this,” said Conqueror. “Unfortunately, this is only an explanation, not an excuse. In any case, you still owe a debt, and I don’t believe you have the means to repay it.”
“But I can!” Storyteller held his bag aloft. “You wanted to know about the past. There are data discs in this bag, and in the structure to the rear is a computer to read them. All of this is yours, a contribution to your body of knowledge.”
Conqueror shook his head. “You expect to buy your way clear with the work of another? No, Samuel. I’m afraid that this is one offering that you must make yourself.”
“Then, this is your excuse?” said Storyteller.
“No,” said Conqueror. “This is the way it was always going to be. The songbird was always going to die.”
“Of course,” said Storyteller.
There was a moment of perfect stillness as everyone on the street waited to see what would happen next. It was Storyteller that broke the quiet first, dropping his bag and sprinting away from Conqueror. Conqueror’s men quickly joined the pursuit, charging down the street in a flurry of red and the thunder of feet on the pavement. Storyteller’s body was exhausted from the trek, but he ignored what he felt and ran on, knowing that any hesitation would mean doom. Finally, he reached the Cathedral. There was nowhere to go, no easy escape from the horde that was hot on his heels. The only path was straight up. He grabbed hold of the surface of the Cathedral, scrambling up higher and higher. As the warriors reached the Cathedral, they stripped off their armor and climbed as well, bending the structure beneath their combined weight.
“You want an offering?” shouted Storyteller as he climbed up a length of pipe. “Very well. I have one final story for you. Once upon a time, there was a place called Planet Earth. It was home to a magnificent group of creatures, the human race. The land was beautiful and vast, providing everything the humans needed. They built wonderful things, chronicled the nature of their world, crafted things of great beauty, and mastered the art of the miraculous. It was a paradise.”
One of the soldiers reached for Storyteller’s ankle. He shook the man free, grabbed a bundle of wires and pulled himself further up. A bullet streaked past his shoulder, so close that he could feel the air move as it passed. He almost let go, but he held on as tight as he could, pulling himself up to the next terrace.
“But it wasn’t enough,” he continued. “The humans wanted more. And when they got it, they decided that it still wasn’t enough, and they needed more, and more, and still more. In the name of their avarice, they began to destroy their paradise. They stole from their neighbors, and then made slaves of them. They made war on each other, using the sword to steal the land itself. They built machines that filled the world with poison. In the end, they became terrified, afraid that their pursuit of more would bring tragedy and death. But they were more afraid that they would have to give up their wealth.”
Storyteller grabbed the side of the Cathedral, braking his slide off the structure. The metal was beginning to buckle under the weight of the men climbing it. Storyteller leaped to the next terrace, dodging another pair of grasping hands. A spear clattered off the side of the Cathedral mere inches away. Spotting another warrior nearby, Storyteller kept climbing.
“Suddenly, a man appeared offering the greatest miracle of them all. He said that he had a machine, a very special machine that could fix all of the damage and bring their paradise back, all without sacrifice. So great was the avarice of the humans that they believed him without question, and gave him everything he needed to build his machine. In truth, this man hated humans, and relied on their greed to fuel his true intention – the end of Planet Earth.”
Storyteller reached the very top of the Cathedral, clinging precariously to the side of the narrow steeple. The warriors were just inches away now. There was no more time.
“In the end, they destroyed both the paradise and the miracles they had wrought. Pursuing of more, they ended up with nothing. If only they had acknowledged the beauty that was around them, and the beauty within, perhaps the conclusion would have been different. Perhaps…”
There was a loud, horrifying creak from the Cathedral. The entire structure pitched forward slightly. Some of the warriors jumped back to the ground, but it was too late. Bits of the facade fell first, kicking up clouds of dust and fragments of material as they hit the ground. The wooden supports splintered and the metal bars bent as the foundation fell apart. Most of the men had only enough time to scream as the Cathedral fell apart around them.
Storyteller only had time to fall.