17:3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
17:4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
17:5 And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
When the gatekeeper stared at her filth-smeared face, she knew she would not be granted passage. Not without prices she was unable to pay.
“So,” he said, his voice jagged like a saw, “you think this gives you right to enter my City.” He still clutched her medallion in front of him. Dirt from his fingertips stained the white metal. She shuddered at the sight and looked away. To respond would grant this small man another victory. She would not debase herself so.
Sneering, he continued. “This is not a place for you. Perhaps in many years, when I have left my post and the Words of our King have been forgotten, this will allow you through these walls.” He flicked the medallion forward. It spun in the air and landed half-buried in the mud. “Come back with proper coinage.”
Like a snake she struck, whipping the knife forward, slicing through his throat. He gurgled, frothing grey blood pouring from the wound, took a step forward, then another, then fell. She knelt to pick up the medallion, restrung it around her neck, and stepped through the crumbling walls into the City.
When she entered the store, the shopkeeper opened his mouth to tell her to leave. When he saw the medal at her neck, he fell to his knees.
“O Mother,” he cried, head bowed, “O Mother, I am not worthy. This City is not worthy. Please Mother, leave this place, so you are tainted no more by our presence. I beg of you, Mother.”
She knelt beside him and placed a hand upon his cheek.
“My child,” she said, “Do you not see? You have remained faithful, and that makes you more worthy than all the rest.”
He wept, and nodded, and did not lift his forehead from the floor. “O mother, thank you, thank you. What is it you would have your son do?”
And the corners of her lips twisted to a smile. “Child,” she said, “we will make this City ours.”
She stood with her only son, watching from the rooftop and men fought and screamed and died below. Steel and bronze ripped muscle apart, skulls buckled under knotted clubs, arrows pierced unarmored flesh, until the pavement was invisible under the bodies and blood and gore. Still the men fought on, two armies surging against each other like a bloody hurricane. It brought her joy to see.
“You have done well, to find me such skilled warriors,” she said.
Her son bowed his head. “Mother, I regret that this was all I could accomplish. We should have won this battle handedly.”
“Winning is enough,” she said, as her men beat back the enemy. Soon we will crush them, but until then they will feel our sting.” Many men tried to turn and run from her soldiers’ advance. Her archers put arrows into their backs as her army continued to march forward.
Later, she stood among the bodies, one of her captains approached her.
“Mistress,” he said, kneeling. “We have captured over a hundred enemy soldiers. Twenty Warlocks, thirty Twisted Men, and fifty Silverhearts. What would you have us do with the prisoners?”
She touched the medallion at her neck. Even after all these months, after being cleansed a hundred times, she could still feel the gatekeeper’s touch upon it.
“Kill them all.”
And when she had finally salted the streets with blood, and burned buildings to ash, and torn her enemies from their thrones, and butchered every man, woman, and child who opposed her, the city was a better place. She sent workers to rebuild, and when they were finished, the houses were better than before. She sent soldiers to patrol the walls, and no one dared invade her kingdom again. She opened the gates for the poor, and hungry, and sick. All were welcome in the streets of her City, for all were her children.
And it was not enough.
There were other cities, she knew. Lesser ones, though with great potential. She could almost taste them on the wind. And now, she had armies.
It was time to march.
The knotted serpent came in a dream, its black and white scales shimmering in the wasteland of her mindscape, twisting around her like a noose and whispering its dark language in her ear.
What have you done here, sister?
Are you here to pass judgement on me, brother?
The serpent grinned, the type of smile that could devour worlds.
Sister, if anyone could judge you it would not be I. But your work strikes me as peculiar.
Its coils tightened around her, and she could feel the snake’s heart beat against her skin, and the heat of the fire it carried.
You do realize, Babylon is gone? Are you that desperate for what you have lost, that you will run so far for naught but an imitation, that you will pretend to be someone so much greater than yourself?
The tip of its tail brushed against the white medal.
That you still carry mother’s gift with you?
She gritted her teeth and wished she could hurt him.
You know exactly how desperate I am.
The serpent cackled, and unwound itself from her.
Indeed I do, sister, and it brings me great joy. I hope your actions bring you the same, though I doubt it. Maybe one day when this is over you will join me below, for we have much to discuss.
And she awoke in sweat, and pounded her fists against the floor and cried out at the wind for the injustices spoken to her. But when the sun rose it was over, and she had work to attend.