TITLE: The Fifth World
Balaam wasn’t expecting his world to fall apart that day. Of course, an apocalypse can put a dent in the best of plans.
Late the previous evening, he'd begun the journey from Sayil. He had arrived at the temple complex shortly after dawn, his fatigue evaporating as he passed under the sacred arch for the first time in many weeks. He felt at home here, deep in the wilderness. The great city of Sayil seethed with humanity, and a villager such as Balaam could never feel comfortable there. Especially not yesterday, with the massive gathering at the Palace and the dread of what he might find here when he returned.
The smell of carrion reached his nostrils. He wiped his face, as if to dispel the odor, and his hands came away covered with grime and sweat. As he moved up the weathered stone steps, the stench became overpowering. His heart started beating faster and he wondered if they were dead already. As he gazed into the central courtyard from the top step, he stopped wondering.
The bodies adorned the grassy space as if arranged with a purpose. Some were seated, some lay on their backs in a sleep-like pose. But this was no siesta. Even from where he stood, he could tell they were dead. The signs of the great sickness were on them, dried skin and shriveled flesh.
In the five seconds it took him to realize the extent of the carnage, Balaam dropped to his knees.