Vur and Tafel climbed outside of their carriage as the undead horse sat on the sandy ground beside them. They stopped in front of a city with stone walls and metal gates. A naga guard eyed them while gripping his poleaxe tighter. The sun reflected off the axe, revealing a layer of runes on the blade.
“We don’t take kindly to strangers here,” the naga said in snaketongue as he advanced towards the duo. A torch lit up behind him, causing a clamor to erupt on the city walls. Multiple nagas appeared with their bows in hand and their arrows nocked.
“Tell your chieftain that the devourer is here to take him up on his offer,” Vur said back in snaketongue and crossed his arms over his bare chest. The naga frowned before signaling towards the city wall with his free hand. A naga nodded in return and slithered off into the innermost parts of the city.
“You can understand them?” Tafel asked Vur as she shielded her eyes from the sun and looked at the nagas on top of the city walls.
Vur nodded. “Auntie took me here when I was younger. She sold me to the coliseum and had me fight to make her money,” he said and scratched his head. “It’s been a while since I’ve spoken snaketongue though.”
“She sold you?” Tafel asked and raised an eyebrow. “Why am I not too surprised? Now I know why she’d send us here as part of our honeymoon.”
The metal gate behind the naga guard screeched as it opened and the chieftain came out. He wore a silk vest and had dozens of golden necklaces adorning his chest. A Cerberus followed behind him with its heads held high. Its legs were as tall as the naga next to it and its heads were wider than a human body. One of the heads glanced at Vur out of the corner of its eye and let out an involuntary yelp. The Cerberus dashed ahead of the chieftain and lay prone in front of Vur while letting out tiny whimpers.
Tafel’s eyes widened as she reached forward and pet the beast’s middle head. The chieftain let out a sigh as it walked around the beast and faced Vur. “Greetings, devourer,” he said and lowered his head. “I didn’t expect to see you so soon after your ceremony with your mate.”
“We’re exploring the continent and just happened to pass by,” Vur said. “Then I remembered your offer of hospitality and decided to take you up on it.”
“Of course,” the naga said and smiled bitterly. “Come. I’ll show you around our city.”
“It’s so cute,” Tafel said as the Cerberus licked her hand. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. It makes me wonder what lies even further south.”
“We’ll find out soon enough,” Vur said as he shot a glance at the Cerberus, “but for now, let’s enjoy ourselves here. The antlions taste really good.”
“Oh joy,” Tafel said and wiped the slobber onto the Cerberus’ face, “more bugs.”
Michelle frowned as she wandered around Gale’s room. A human-shaped stain that smelled like vomit and alcohol lay in the middle of the carpet. “Where could Gale have gone?” Michelle muttered to herself as she rummaged through his closet, looking for any hints. “Don’t tell me he actually dissolved into a puddle of vomit.”
A knocking sound echoed through the room, causing Michelle to jump and knock over a pile of clothes. “Michelle? Are you in there?” Paul’s voice asked from the other side of the door. “The corrupted one has a message for all the bishops.”
“I’m here,” Michelle said as she dusted herself off and opened the door. “Message?”
Paul nodded. “The bishops are gathering in the central room of the temple right now,” he said. “Let’s go.” The two walked down the hall and headed towards the gathering spot.
“Greetings, ye holy peeps,” a skeleton wearing a top hat said as the duo arrived. “Welcome, welcome. Make yourselves at home.” The group of twenty bishops frowned as they glanced at each other across the tables. Paul raised an eyebrow, but remained silent as he and Michelle took their seats.
“I have a proposal for all of ye from our lord and savior, the corrupted one,” the skeleton said as it bowed and swept its hat off its head while bringing it to its chest. It raised its head and made eye contact with all the bishops. “Join us and become bishops of our religion.”
The bishops fell silent. “What?” one of them asked as he stood up. “Are you joking with us right now?”
“No. I’m being absolutely serious,” the skeleton said as its eyes glowed purple. Lindyss’ voice rang out of the skeleton’s mouth. “Your god and pope ran away from their responsibilities; I’ll be taking over. It’s up to you whether you want to join me or not.” The skeleton smirked.
Paul threw his hands up into the air. “I’ll join,” he said and scrambled to his feet. He walked over to the skeleton who nodded at him.
“Paul!” Michelle said and furrowed her brow.
Paul shrugged. “Vur ate a god,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually did run away after that and Gale’s already been missing for a week.”
“Smart man,” the skeleton said as its eyes stopped glowing and it readjusted its top hat.
“Don’t you worship our god?” Michelle asked. “Why did you even become a bishop if you’re so easily swayed?”
Paul scratched his head as the other bishops turned to stare at him. “Well, Vur kinda just made me one,” he said and glanced at his feet as he took in a deep breath. “And, quite frankly, I like you and I wanted to get closer to you.”
The skeleton laughed and placed its arm around Paul’s shoulder as Michelle’s face turned pink. The other bishops’ faces turned weird as they muttered amongst themselves. “Just one of you?” the skeleton asked when it finally stopped laughing. “Well, that’s one more than what I expected.”
“Won’t you come too, Michelle?” Paul asked, his face slightly flushed.
“I refuse,” Michelle said and crossed her arms.
Paul frowned. “Didn’t you tell me how much you hated being raised as the pope’s daughter?” he asked. “There’s a chance to leave now, but you won’t take it?”
Michelle shook her head.
The skeleton let out a sigh as it pat Paul’s back. “She probably feels obligated to take up her father’s duties,” it said. “Don’t worry. I got this.” The skeleton walked towards Michelle and placed its mouth next to her ear. It whispered something into her ear.
It pulled its head back and winked at her. “We know more about you than you think,” it said. “Want to join us now?”
Michelle bit her lip and furrowed her brow. She let out a sigh. “Alright,” she said and hung her head. “Count me in.” Her ears burned as the other bishops stared daggers at her.
“Excellent. Any more volunteers?” the skeleton asked with a grin.
A young child sat next to his bedside with his hands clasped together. His eyes were closed and his head was tilted towards the ceiling. “God, if you’re out there, please give me a sign. Something. Anything.”
A few seconds later, a skeletal hand popped out of the ground next to the boy, grasping a wooden sign that read, “Here you go.” On the bottom of the sign—in fine print—a message read, “From your newest local god, the corrupted one.”
The boy opened his eyes and fell backwards.
That night, everyone’s prayers were answered by skeletons to the best of their ability.