The Prophet: Death
(Chapter One Below)
The Prophet: Death is out today. You should get it.
Rather than detailing out what the book is about here, I thought I'd tell you a bit of my process behind this series. (You can read what the book is about with the links below).
In a lot of my novels, I've taken a somewhat harsh view on religion. Many of the characters who have faith are devastatingly fucked up, and this probably stems from my own upbringing. The older I get, though, the more I'm starting to see things a bit differently in regards to religion. I'm actually in a relationship now with someone who is very devout, and it's changing a lot of how I view something that was once close to me, and then that I held at a very skeptical distance.
All that said, I think that's where The Prophet is coming from. Now, I know that the people who are currently reading it, are probably thinking, David, you're full of shit. The religions you're describing here are at least as bad as anything else you've written.
If you are thinking that, you'd be right. The world in The Prophet isn't somewhere a lot of us would want to live, but ... trust me. This is going somewhere, and it's not a place I've ventured before in my fiction.
If you haven't started the series yet, get book one here: The Prophet: Birth.
Raylyn Brinson stood once more in front of the First Council.
They sat above her, not a single hair to be found on any of their heads.
It’s almost over, Raylyn thought. Everything, all of this. It’s almost over.
This would be the end, the last time that Raylyn ever had to stand in front of this ancient council. She had arrived here for the first time a few weeks ago … but that felt like another life. This Raylyn had not stood before them. It had been someone else. Another woman who hadn’t seen the things she had.
A hopelessly naïve woman, and someone Raylyn hardly even understood.
“We give thanks,” the First Priest said.
The other four Priests repeated the mantra.
“We give thanks,” Raylyn said last.
“How are you, Sister Brinson?” the First Priest asked.
“I’m well, your Holiness.”
“Were you able to get any sleep this past week? The five of us have tried to keep many of the issues facing the True Faith from reaching you.”
Were you able to get any sleep this past week?
A simple question, but one that didn’t have a simple answer. Raylyn wondered if she would ever have simple answers again, or if the world had moved past that. Her world, at least. Perhaps simplicity was only for children, and perhaps a week ago Raylyn had been childlike. This new world was full of complexities that Raylyn wasn’t sure she could ever unravel.
No black and white.
“Yes, your Holiness,” she said, lying without hesitation. When she first came here, such a thing would have been unthinkable. Now, she hardly even cared if they knew she was lying.
“Good, good,” the First Priest said.
I hate him, she thought. A new thought, not something that had ever risen in her conscious mind before. She’d felt many feelings toward the man sitting above her, but never explicit hate. Now that she had thought it, though, she found the truth undeniable. I hate everything about him.
And the rest of them?
Yes, Raylyn found some residual hate rubbing off on them, as well. Simply for knowing the First Priest.
“We’ve called you here today, Sister Brinson, to thank you for your service. We’re going to do it privately, if you don’t mind. There is much work to be done outside of these chambers, as you know. Will a private ceremony be acceptable? There will be an announcement that goes out to the True Faith, and it will be recorded accurately for historical purposes as well.”
“Of course that’s fine, your Holiness,” she said.
“Step forward then.”
The row of Priests stood up behind their table. They wore black robes and looked down upon her. The First Priest pulled a coin from his pocket, and despite Raylyn’s hate, her heart sped up.
She might hate the First Priest—might even hate the other four standing next to him—but she loved her God. She loved Corinth.
The coin was blood red, and green dots lit across it as it left the First Priest’s hand, floating into the air.
“This coin is Corinth’s Blood, that which he shed for us. It is only given to those who have served Him with distinction and valor. In 7,000 years, only 12 of these have been granted. You are number 13, Sister Raylyn Brinson,” the First said.
The coin slowly moved through the space between her and the Council. Raylyn’s eyes held it firmly in her vision, never breaking from it. Not even the green nanoparticles could hide the red beneath.
Corinth’s Blood, Raylyn thought as tears flooded her eyes.
She had never—not even once—thought she would receive an honor such as this. Raylyn didn’t know the last time such a coin had been awarded, only that it was almost unheard of. Yet, she now saw it moving toward her.
She put her hand out, palm up.
The red coin fell into it, the green light dying and the red staring back up at her.
Raylyn didn’t want to close her hand, didn’t want to block out the beauty in front of her. She forgot about the Priests above and even the room around her. All that mattered was the coin she held.
“The True Faith Ministry gives its thanks to you, Sister Brinson,” the First Priest said. “For standing true in the face of the Black and for helping locate Its Prophet. Your service will never be forgotten.”
“We give thanks,” the four Priests to his side said as one.
Raylyn closed her hand over the red coin and brought it to her heart. She held it there, shutting her eyes—the tears in them running down her cheeks. She’d never felt such joy in her entire life.
She heard the Priests sit down, but she didn’t open her eyes. She didn’t want to leave this moment, not for them or anyone else. She wanted to remain in it for as long as possible.
No one said anything, the room silent.
Finally, Raylyn swallowed, then opened her eyes and looked around. She brought her left hand up to her face, wiping the remaining tears with her palm.
“Sister Brinson,” the First Priest said, “there is something else we need to tell you.”
Raylyn’s breath caught in her throat, her chest frozen. The First’s voice had changed, though subtly. There had been gravity in it before, a sense of duty that the whole room shared. That had disappeared and been replaced with …
Both words felt right, but also slightly off. Because the First Priest’s voice held cruelty too.
“Yes, your Holiness?” Raylyn asked as her lungs started working again.
“It’s unfortunate news, but it must be done,” the First said, though he didn’t sound like there was anything unfortunate about it. He sounded positively fortunate. “Your courter, Manor Reinheld, was a member of the Black. We’ve taken him into custody, and he’s currently being detained with the other followers.”
“What?” Raylyn said. She didn’t understand the man’s words. Was he speaking a different language?
“Manor Reinheld killed many, many True Faith adherents, Sister. He tricked you, and tried to trick us as well. He will face the same fate as the rest of the Black,” the First said.
Raylyn’s mouth moved, but no words came out. She stared at the five in front of her, but their faces grew blurry as tears filled her eyes.
Manor. Manor. Manor. The name ran through her mind with barely a pause between words.
Slowly, the First Priest’s message made its way into her brain, a tunneling worm that she couldn’t hold back.
The tears flowed again as understanding filled her.
I’m fine, she thought. I’m fine. You’re fine. All of this is fine.
She kept thinking the words even as her knees unhinged, kept thinking them even as her body collapsed to the floor. It wasn’t until the blurry room around her turned black that she finally stopped thinking them, falling unconscious in front of the five most powerful people in the True Faith.
The coin rolled from her hand and across the floor. It began its movement quickly, but slowed the further it went. The room was silent except for the sound of its metal ridges running over the stone floor.
The coin started turning inward, making a circle and slowing further.
At last, its energy spent, it wobbled on its edge and fell to the floor.
The blood red face of Corinth stared up at the ceiling.
* * *
“It’s you,” the man said.
Rhett opened his eyes. He had heard the wall flicker away and then listened as guards shoved someone in. He’d even heard the watery noise as the wall restored itself, returning to solid white again. He’d kept his eyes closed the whole time, because he honestly didn’t care who they threw in here with him. The pain in his shoulder was gone—the True Faith had at least done that for him—but everywhere else, hurt reigned.
A deep, all consuming pain that knew no end. Not of the body, but of the soul.
They could throw the High Priest himself in here and Rhett wouldn’t have cared.
Rhett did open his eyes when the man spoke, though.
He was younger, lean. The man looked like he might have seen some horrific things recently, but then, Rhett figured everyone had.
“Who are you?” Rhett asked from where he lay. The back wall had a bench attached to it, and Rhett spent his days either sleeping or staring at the ceiling. He preferred to sleep because then the pain receded slightly.
“You ….” The man paused and looked around the room as if someone else might hear him. He looked at the ceiling next, most likely checking for listening devices. Finally, his eyes flashed back to Rhett, but he said nothing.
Rhett looked back to the ceiling. “It doesn’t matter. It’s over and we’re going to die. I don’t think whatever you say in here will help or hurt. If you’re with the Prophet, then your fate is sealed.”
The man looked to the ground and stood silently for a moment. “You converted me. Five years ago. My name is Manor.”
Rhett closed his eyes.
How many had he converted? More than he could remember, that’s all he knew. He said nothing and the other man was quiet too. Finally, he walked over to the other bench and sat down on it.
“It’s really over, isn’t it?” Manor whispered.
Rhett nodded, tears brimming hot behind his closed eyelids.
“Were you there when it happened? Is that why you’re here and not out in one of the cities?”
Rhett nodded again. He couldn’t find words; it was hard enough acknowledging the truth internally.
“Me too. Kind of, I guess. I saw it anyway. I just can’t believe it. Even now, a week later. It doesn’t seem real.”
Rhett understood, though he said nothing. He’d been contemplating the same thoughts for the past seven days; none of it seemed real. He knew why; Rhett’s faith had been so strong that the thought of failure was unfathomable, and now, his mind simply refused to believe it. He sat in a cell with no hope of escape, and still his mind held onto the belief that this wasn’t real. That perhaps in some other universe, things were still unfolding as they should. The Summoning. The Union. It was all taking place, and he’d simply walked through the wrong door and ended up here.
Rhett heard the wall fall away again and looked over—were they bringing in more prisoners? How many people would they cram in here?
The wall hadn’t disappeared completely, though. It was only transparent.
A woman stood on the other side. Her eyes were red and puffy, her right hand closed around something that Rhett couldn’t see. She’d been crying, that was clear, and Rhett thought he saw similar pain reflected in her. She wasn’t one of David’s, he knew that, but that all pervasive depression hung across her body like a heavy coat.
You can’t hide that kind of hurt, he thought.
She wasn’t looking at Rhett, but staring at his new cellmate.
Rhett looked over to him, too. He was leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. Tears were in his eyes now as he watched the woman standing behind the wall.
She shook her head, a large tear spilling out of her eye and down her cheek.
Manor didn’t move. He said nothing and the two stared at each for a few more seconds. Rhett only watched, unsure of exactly what was happening. Finally, the woman took a step back and the wall refilled, blocking their vision to the outside world.
Still leaning on his knees, Manor looked down at the floor. Rhett watched him from where he lay. There was a slight hitch in Manor’s chest, but he made no noise.
“Someone without the Blood?” Rhett asked, looking back to the ceiling.
The man in the cell with him said nothing.
Rhett didn’t care. What did it matter if a heart was broken? Millions of hearts had been broken, and millions of throats slit—none of it mattered in the slightest. Perhaps he and this man had once been united, but that was no more.
David is gone, he thought. It doesn’t matter what else happens in this world, because soon you’re going to die.
Rhett closed his eyes and went back to depression’s cold embrace.
Soon you’re going to die.
For Rhett, soon couldn’t be soon enough.
* * *
The First Priest stared at the woman the way a predator might stare at some new, large animal. Wary, and ready to strike at even the slightest hint of aggression.
She sat alone in her room. There was no bed—only a single chair and a toilet. She’d been there a week, just like the other one they brought back. Rhett Scoble. The First Priest had kept these two alive, though he’d had the older couple killed before even starting the trip. He hadn’t cared in the slightest about the two that had briefly housed Hollowborne.
These people were different, though.
With Veritros, no one had been able to get her lieutenants. Nothing had been learned from her.
The First Priest had both the weapon’s closest friend and also his sister. The First had thought little about the High Priest since returning, partly because he didn’t have time and partly because he didn’t think there was much to him anymore. He could sit in the One Path with his treasure, but the First didn’t see his hand reaching very far—certainly not all the way down here beneath the Earth.
Which meant, the First could do as he wanted.
He could rebuild the True Faith, and the two people he held captive … they would help. Even if they didn’t understand that yet. The next time the Black decided to show up, the world would be ready.
The First had broken a Proclamation, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be forgiven.
Let me enter, he told the wall separating him from the woman. The wall flickered for a second and then fell away completely.
The First Priest stepped through the open space; Rebecca Hollowborne’s eyes flicked to him for a second, but then she looked away, back down at the floor in front of her.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked.
Nothing. No words, no movement of her head. She stared at the floor, and while the First Priest wanted to think she looked like a dumb animal … a cow perhaps, he knew she wasn’t. The woman was a predator. Even now, trapped and locked away, he saw danger in her. She had betrayed her brother, but that didn’t change who she was—if anything, it demonstrated her danger.
“You do,” he said. “You know.”
The First took a few more steps into the room and the wall rippled upwards, becoming solid again.
“You did a good deed. You saved the world.”
Still, she didn’t look at him.
“It’s not done though, is it?” the First asked. “The Black. It’s probably already looking for Its next weapon. We may have defeated your brother, but we’re not done with It, are we?”
The woman acted as if he wasn’t even in the room.
A chair formed out of the far wall and floated to the Priest, folding out in front of him. He sat down and leaned back in it, crossing one leg over the other.
“You are going to help me make sure It doesn’t ever return. Because you know It better than anyone else alive, and there was a reason you turned on your brother, wasn’t there? If you don’t help me, his death—your betrayal—it’s all for nothing.”
“I don’t have anything to say.”
The First Priest didn’t move at all, showing no surprise on his face at her speaking. “That’s where I think you’re wrong. There’s a lot for you to say, maybe more than you realize right now. You can tell us about It. Everything you know. Everything your brother told you. The next time It strikes, we can be ready.”
“Where is Rhett? Christine?”
“Rhett is here. We’ve heard the name Christine, but we haven’t gotten to her yet.”
The woman swallowed. “Those two live. If you guarantee that, I’ll tell you what I know.”
“Sure. They can live.”
Her eyes flashed to him, practically spitting hate. “I’m not fucking around. I want them out of this Ministry. I want them with new identities and sent somewhere else in the world, and after you do that—I’ll help you. But not until.”
The First Priest kept breathing normally, not allowing himself to show any anger. The only other person who had ever spoken to him in a similar fashion was Raylyn Brinson, and her comeuppance arrived this morning. The First knew that she had wandered down and looked in on her lover, and he’d smiled when he found out. Now, this one seemed to think that he didn’t serve Corinth.
She acted as if she was somehow in control.
The First Priest stood up, looking down on her. Her eyes still stared, hiding none of the hate or disrespect she felt.
The First Priest’s hand connected with her cheek, hard—an echo of flesh on flesh sounding off the walls. Her head whipped to the side, blood spurting from her nose and flying to the white floor beneath. The First Priest stood, his arm still extended.
“The quicker you understand that we’re not equals here, the better this will go for you. Your friends, all of them, are going to die. I wouldn’t let them live if Corinth himself commanded it. You’ll live as long as you serve a purpose, and the moment you stop, I’ll kill you too.”
Hollowborne didn’t move, but kept staring at her blood sitting on the floor like tiny red streams.
“I’ll let you think about this some, but I’m going to come back, and when I do, you’re going to start talking.”
* * *
Rebecca listened as the Priest left, but didn’t look over. She heard the wall fall away, the Priest’s footfalls as he walked down the hall, and then listened as the wall reformed.
Her face stung, and she could still feel his hand connecting with her cheekbone. The sound of him slapping her face seemed to continue ringing across the room as if it might not ever end. It would continue on and on, reminding her of what she had once been and now what she was. The sound would only stop with her death, because then, it wouldn’t need to keep telling her how foolish she’d been.
No, she thought.
Rebecca remained still. She stared at the red liquid which had fallen from her body, knowing that more was dribbling over lips.
No. I wasn’t foolish.
The words went through her mind, but the sound of the Priest slapping her grew louder—impossible but true.
Because that never would have happened before. No one would dare touch her. Equals? Is that what the old man had said, that they weren’t equals? She, whose brother had been the Prophet, wasn’t this man’s equal?
You killed your brother, Rebecca. You watched him fall from the sky and now he’s no more. You’re no one’s sister. You have no family. No friends. You gave up everything you care about and everyone who loved you.
Did he do that? This Priest? Because if not, then you’re not his equal. You’re beneath him.
And he just showed you that, didn’t he?
Rebecca finally sat up. Tears were no longer in her eyes, which was why she hadn’t moved at first. The slap had made them water, and she wasn’t going to cry anymore in this room. She wouldn’t give any of the True Faith such satisfaction.
They may not watch you cry, but what does that matter? Is that your final stand? Where you leave your mark, that you, Rebecca Hollowborne, sister of a murdered Prophet, will not cry in front of them?
The thought lingered in her head, mocking her.
The First Priest was going to come back, and what would she do then? Tell him no? That she wasn’t going to work with him? The idea was laughable. He would get what he wanted from her, the only difference being he’d probably add a healthy dose of pain.
Rebecca stood up from her chair without knowing she was going to do it. She stared at the wall which would allow others to enter and exit, but only kept her locked inside.
You killed your brother to keep the Black at bay, Rebecca. Will you not help the True Faith as well, if the result is the same?
There was an almost physical reaction to that thought. Helping the True Faith … it felt like helping cancer grow inside her own body, feeding it the necessary fuel to let it continue feasting on her healthy cells.
Yet, regardless of her feelings, the thought was true. She had let David die. Watched him fall from the sky to a watery grave. So would she keep her mouth shut now, in order to … what? Simply refuse the True Faith.
Rebecca lay down on the hard, cold floor. She curled her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. She barely managed to keep her tears at bay.
They’d had everything.
And it was all dead.
Yet she still had to keep going, didn’t she? There wasn’t anything else she could do. She’d given up heaven, and now she would have to adapt to hell.
* * *
The First Priest left the meeting with Hollowborne and traveled down a few floors to where Scoble and Reinheld were being held. His hand hurt from slapping her, his bones too old to be doing such things. Yet, a part of him liked it.
But that wasn’t being truthful either.
All of him liked it. The First Priest had never found sadism attractive, though he’d heard some Priests had a predilection for it. Yet, slapping that woman across the face had truly felt good, even though his hand was hurting right now. He didn’t know if it was because of what she had served, or if it was helping him reestablish some of the power he felt the High Priest had stolen—but either way, he’d enjoyed it.
The First Priest hadn’t known about the woman named Christine, but the moment Hollowborne said her name, his nanotech had sent out alerts across the territory. She would be found soon, then brought here with these two. The First wanted everyone who had surrounded the Prophet at Corinth’s Shrine. The rest of the Ministry was still in shambles, and would be for some time to come. Here, though, the First could work without fear of interruption.
The rest of the Council could rebuild.
He would ensure the Black never returned.
The First Priest reached the cell without slowing as he came upon the wall. It disappeared just before his foot would have touched it, and he crossed the barrier into the cell.
Manor Reinheld sat to the Priest’s right and Rhett Scoble lay directly in front of him. These two had benches attached to the wall, unlike Hollowborne further up the building. Reinheld looked at him, but Scoble didn’t move.
For a brief second, the First Priest thought about three things. First, his hurting hand, which led quickly to how much he enjoyed hurting the woman, and then unexpectedly, he thought about the blonde girl the High Priest had taken. A week had passed and not a word from the old man. He was alone with his plaything, and the First Priest wondered if he perhaps felt the same joy the High did right now.
At hurting someone.
“Scoble. That’s your name, correct?” the First asked.
The man opened his eyes a little and looked over, though didn’t move his head at all. He looked at the First for a few seconds, then closed them again.
So, the whole group thought themselves greater than the True Faith.
Maybe this was a gift from Corinth. All these arrogant people delivered to the First Priest, and then him slapping someone for the first time in his life? Feeling the pleasure that came from such a thing? Yes, maybe this was a gift, a forgiveness combined with a reward.
“Your friend is upstairs. Rebecca Hollowborne. Your other friend, I believe her name is Christine, she’ll be here soon, too. I believe her last name is Fain. Everything you wanted is over, and I know you think you’re going to die soon. That doesn’t have to be true.”
The First Priest let the offer hang in the air, but Scoble didn’t react at all. Reinheld was still looking at him, but the First was keeping him around for a very different purpose.
“You and your two friends are going to help the True Faith,” the Priest continued. “You’re going to help us make sure that the Black doesn’t return, and that if It does, we’ll be able to kill It. I wanted to give you some time to think on this, because right now, I imagine you’ll act like your friend upstairs. Indignant. Arrogant. Silly, mainly.” The First paused for a second, wondering how much he should say. He wanted to destroy this man, body and soul—though unsure which one he would enjoy more after the slap. “I’m sure you’ve both noticed your nanotechnology doesn’t work here. There won’t be any communicating with each other, nor anyone else.”
The First Priest took a few steps forward. Scoble still didn’t open his eyes.
“After what I say next, you may want to try contacting your friend upstairs. You won’t be able to … It was her, Rhett Scoble. She was the traitor in your organization. She was the one who told us where he would be at the end, flying so high in the sky, looking infinitely powerful, but having no idea that his life was nearly over. He had no idea we had him surrounded, and by the time he did, it was too late. She told us all of that. She killed him. Not us.”
Scoble didn’t move at all, and if not for the slow rising and falling of his chest, the First Priest might have thought him dead.
“Think about the things I’ve told you. They’re all true. There’s a lot of pain in this place for people who don’t love Corinth. For people such as yourself. I’ll be back soon. I hope you’re ready to talk.”
The First Priest stared for a second longer. The man showed nothing. That was fine. He could be as arrogant as he wanted right now. Corinth and the True Faith would break him of that.
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