The Prophet: Life
The second book in The Prophet series is out. I promise, you've never read of a world like this before.
In Book One, you met The Prophet. Now, come meet Rachel Veritros.
Rachel Veritros was 19 years old when her life changed. The one that would come after (his name David Hollowborne) was younger when it happened to him, and the one that came before (her name lost to the world) was much younger. Much of Rachel’s life had been lost and distorted over time. The sect that continued on after her knew some of it, but no one knew the entirety. Too many years had passed and the Ministries grown too powerful.
They took what she was and what she did, and they twisted it for their own purposes.
The truth—as nearly all truth is—does not rest with the devotees who canonized her, nor the Ministries.
The truth lies somewhere in between.
At 19 years old, Rachel Veritros was nearing the age of marriage under the Constant Ministry. She woke up each morning and said her prayers, asking for the Constant’s protection and that she do Its will. Her marriage was coming soon, with the Community deciding her--and a nearly innumerable number of people’s--future. She would marry her first mate and have her first children, then she would give them up to the Community—just as she had been given up to It.
Rachel Veritros was nervous about these things, especially the marriage. She knew it was her duty, and excitement also resided there as well. At 19, without ever having had contact with boys, she couldn’t deny that the stirrings of lust played a part.
Who wouldn’t have been nervous, though? Meeting the man that you would spend the next ten years of your life with, regardless of what happened to either of you. A forced dedication, but also one that brought some comfort: one person, no matter what, would always be there.
Rachel had six more months before her marriage.
The Unformed came to her first, though, and Its marriage was for life. Nothing would ever separate her from It, nor It from her--not until she drew her last breath and died known as a horror, a traitor to humanity.
Perhaps the labels were worth that marriage, perhaps not.
History, like so many other things surrounding Rachel Veritros, left us in the dark on that matter.
* * *
The only thing Rachel Veritros disliked about her birthplace was the cold. The Constant Ministry grew out of the ancient Russian people. There were some warm places within its borders, but where Rachel grew up, cold reigned with impunity.
It was December and the sky was gray. Layered clouds rested overhead, creating a canvas that the blue behind them could not break through. Rachel was wrapped in a thick coat topped off with a heavy hat. She didn’t want to be outside, but she was needed at her job. The Constant Community was working toward a future which Rachel knew she’d never see—one in which robotics replaced the need for any human effort—but she was happy to work toward it. Maybe her children, or their children, would one day see it.
Snow was coming down, though not as heavy as most days. She was walking from her dormitory to the factory, where she would continue her apprenticeship. Rachel’s tests had shown aptitude in many areas, but the Community decided her personality would mesh well with military intelligence. She was being groomed to build future AI systems that could defend the Community against other Ministries.
There was no doubt in her mind, or anyone else’s inside the Constant, that one day others would come wanting to spread their own faiths far and wide.
When Rachel learned of her test results and the Community’s decision, she’d thought it sounded superb.
“Constant be with you,” she said as she passed a pair of girls heading back to the dormitory. She couldn’t tell who they were because their hats covered much of their faces, but she probably knew them, and they her. The dormitories were large and the amount of girls in them the same, but over 19 years, she grew acquainted with most everyone.
“Constant be with you,” she heard their muffled response.
She kept walking, feeling the fresh snow crunch beneath her feet.
It came then, the thing that would change her life—and that of so many others—in such drastic and disastrous ways.
The snow fell from above and Rachel took another step forward.
Her head jerked upward so that she stared into the sky. Gone were her amber colored eyes, replaced with a brilliant and shocking gray, sparking in and out, coming alive and dying. Her arms shot downward and her legs tightened—her fingers were daggers pointing straight to the path below. Rachel’s back leg stepped forward so that both feet stood next to each other.
Rachel’s body looked strange, but her mind was somewhere else, somewhere far stranger.
The walkway, both in front of and behind her, was empty of people. No one was there to see it as it happened. A lone figure standing beneath a gray sky, eyes full of electricity.
Rachel stood that way for only a single minute.
To her, time seemed endless.
In fact, that moment might not have ended for Rachel Veritros … not until just before her life did.
* * *
Rachel Veritros saw the Unformed in that cold, snowy plaza. She saw Its glory and heard Its seductive voice.
When the connection finally broke, her eyes were nothing but gray sparks, though they were fading. She didn’t know that, of course. She only knew that there was work to be done, much of it, and that she needed to start immediately. Rachel Veritros came to know what all great people eventually discover—that when one finds one’s purpose, they don’t wait around to start it.
They begin at that very moment.
Rachel went back to her dorm, forsaking the job the Ministry gave her. Truthfully, she forsook the Ministry then too. There was no considering what she’d seen, no wondering if she was losing her mind. Rachel Veritros knew what she was to do from the moment her connection ended. For Rachel, crystallization had occurred and her life irrevocably changed.
She would, as time went on, wonder why the Unformed chose her—as all of her kind did. There were answers, though none of them felt right to her. Genetics was a possibility—her DNA allowing the creature from the Beyond to find her more easily. Personality, perhaps? The Unformed saw things inside of her that others in the population didn’t possess? It was possible.
There was no single answer for it and the Unformed never ventured to tell her. She never asked, but she imagined It wouldn’t have understood the question. The inquiry would have been too small, too limited for It to grasp.
Upon returning, Rachel didn’t stay long at her dorm. She packed up as much as she could, as quickly as she could. One of her roommates started asking her questions, and Rachel innately understood that those from before the Unformed no longer mattered. They weren’t real—creations from these Ministries that would shortly fall and burn.
She didn’t hurt her roommate, but thought she could have if she’d wanted. Rachel felt the power inside of her, even if she didn’t understand it. It was like looking at a sleeping predator, one that she’d never seen before. Rachel understood that if it woke, it could kill … though she didn’t know how—by tooth, claw, or something else.
She didn’t question the feeling, but accepted it the same as she had accepted what she must do.
Rachel Veritros packed two bags and walked out of her dorm room, her roommate calling after her.
She walked out into the winter knowing that soon she would be hunted. The Ministry would hear of her, of her escape, and they would send people to find her. Rachel—at that point—didn’t know the Unformed’s history, or that another had come before her. She didn’t consider that the Ministry might have suspicions about what happened to her … but it wouldn’t have mattered.
She walked out into the cold and left her old life behind.
All of this, from start to finish, took only two hours.
* * *
The next few years of Rachel’s life were, more or less, a tornado. When she looked back on the ages of 19-23, she knew she survived only by the Unformed’s grace. She should have died innumerable times, but somehow managed to keep going.
Men came and went in her life. Early on, Rachel had been almost comically stupid. She spoke of the coming changes, of how the world would fall and the Unformed would take its rightful place. She could have been found immediately if someone had told. No one did, though. The men Rachel ran into weren’t concerned with glorifying the Constant Ministry, but with other things. They pretended to believe her, promised to help, and then used her until they had their fill.
The Unformed didn’t return to Rachel during this time. There was no connection for those five years, forcing Rachel to keep her faith despite no other proof.
She wandered the wilderness, latching onto different men and speaking words considered insane by anyone who heard them. She slept in the forests most of the time. Once in awhile she--or the man she was shacking up with--could afford a room in a city, but Rachel was wary of them. She understood that if the wrong person did hear her, she wouldn’t make it through the night. Winters were the worst, especially when she first started out, but by the end she had adapted.
At 23, Rachel still physically resembled the girl who had left the dorm room, but any innocence she once possessed had been killed, and ruthlessly so. She was still pretty, but harder. Sometimes, at night, after the man next to her was asleep and snoring, she would think back to that day in the plaza. She would remember what happened, and the words that had been spoken to her. She’d think about all the miles she’d traveled and wonder if it was worth it.
Sometimes, as the nights stretched long, she’d wonder if maybe she was insane. Men had told her that, right before they packed up their shit and left. They said she was nothing but a crazy whore and they hoped she’d contracted the syphilis they were carrying.
Rachel pushed all of that away, time after time.
Only at night, she couldn’t always do it as forcefully. Doubt crept in. Because there hadn’t been any other contact with the Unformed. There’d been nothing but struggling to live through each day, struggling to find the next meal and to survive the predatory people she clung to. The Unformed, if it actually existed, had forsaken her. She was out here in the wilderness living amongst people who were off the grid, doing their best to take advantage of anyone they came across. She couldn’t go back to society. Not anymore. She was an outcast and would be seen as such immediately. What skills did she have? What could she even do if she returned?
She’d given up everything. A future. Family. Friends. Her entire life.
And for what? The man lying next to her? The trees above her? The snow coming down? The cold that embraced her each night?
It was on one of these nights that belief blossomed again inside Rachel, and it wasn’t the Unformed returning which did it. It was actually the piece of shit lying next to her.
His name had been …
No, that’s been lost to history, and a good thing, too. It is best not to remember such creatures’ names.
He woke up while Rachel was thinking her doubts, wanting another go.
“No,” Rachel said.
“What?” he asked, clearly not expecting any rebuke.
“No. Not right now.”
He looked at her for a few seconds, head cocked as if he wasn’t hearing correctly. As if he couldn’t believe the bitch would say anything like that to him, especially not after all he’d given her. Didn’t she have a mat to sleep on? Hadn’t he … well, no, he hadn’t shared any food with her, but what the fuck did that matter?
So, he reached down into his boot and pulled out a rusty knife.
“You’re gonna give me what I want, or you’re gonna have a second smile,” he said.
Rachel knew what to do then. It wasn’t the first time such things had been threatened, and usually the men meant what they said. It was easiest to give them their squirt and then roll over and try for sleep.
This time, though … she felt different.
She didn’t even look at him when she said, “No.”
Even as he stood, Rachel didn’t grant him a glance. She kept staring straight up into the starry sky, tall trees cupping her view.
“Fuck you,” the man said, knife in hand and looking down on her. He was a bit unsure of what to do, though the hard-on in his pants wasn’t going to let him just quit. Nor would his pride. Normally these little forest skanks did whatever he wanted, but this one didn’t seem the least bit scared. “Fuck you,” he said again.
He kicked her in the ribs, his foot launching forward while both happiness and rage rose simultaneously inside him.
Or at least, that’s what he thought he was doing.
His foot froze in the air and he looked down at eyes he’d never seen before. Eyes that fit her perfectly, because the bitch beneath him had been crazy--and now her eyes were glowing gray like the dirty snow they trudged through each day.
He tried to yank his foot back but he couldn’t. He couldn’t move it at all.
Rachel looked up into the sky, finally feeling the predator wake up. For years it had remained dormant and forgotten. Right after seeing the Unformed, it’d been there like a lump in her throat—noticeable. But then it faded.
The man was screaming something but Rachel didn’t hear the words. She felt good. She felt happy. She didn’t know her eyes were far past sparking, now nearly on fire.
The man was inconsequential, and Rachel realized she no longer wanted him here.
He began floating into the air, at first only a foot off the ground, but Rachel didn’t stop there. She kept pushing him higher and higher until he reached the top of the tree line.
She paused for a second, seeing his outline and hearing his shrieks calling down to her, begging her to stop.
No, she thought. That’s still too close.
He floated higher, and over the course of the next hour, his ascent didn’t stop. In the end, the oxygen grew too thin for him to breathe and he passed out, eventually suffocating while unconscious—which was probably too peaceful for someone like him.
Rachel remained on the ground, lying in her same spot, eyes bright in the darkness and resembling the moon above.
She could no longer see the man, and with another thought, flicked him.
His body fell back to the Earth, crashing down amongst trees miles from her, breaking branches and brush alike. Rachel didn’t hear it, nor did he ever cross her mind again.
She stayed where she was until the sun rose.
The gray sparks in her eyes finally died down as she stood up.
There’d been no connection with the Unformed, but Rachel finally realized that wasn’t needed—not for her to begin working.
At 23, Rachel Veritros’s time in the wilderness ended.
She headed back to society, back to the Ministry she’d left, knowing what she must do.
* * *
Rachel Veritros wasted no time once returning to civilization.
She understood what was to be done, her path crystallizing during her long years of walking in the wilderness.
The recruitment started in earnest on day two of her return. There wasn’t time to waste. The quicker forces gathered to her side, the quicker her purpose would be fulfilled.
It’s important to understand Rachel’s need. What consumed her wasn’t passion—the word wasn’t strong enough. Perhaps obsession wasn’t either. Rachel was possessed. She’d been shown a truth that only one other person had known. Rachel was aware of the young girl, and that the Ministries had murdered her and her followers.
Still, some had managed escape. Not all were found.
And their blood spread to their offspring. The Blood of the Touched. Waiting on another Touched to arrive.
Veritros went to them first, those descendants of the murdered young girl. Some heard her, and when her eyes turned gray and their blood began to itch, they knew she spoke the truth. They knew that she would bring final and everlasting justice upon this world.
She was what many had been waiting for.
Not all, of course. She went to some who thought her insane, and their betrayal couldn’t be risked. Rachel disposed of them quickly, without any more thought than she’d given the man in the woods.
Her numbers grew. The first year was the harshest. It involved travel and avoiding authorities, but Rachel knew she was on the side of the righteous. She couldn’t be stopped.
Sometimes, those descendants showed up on her doorstep, their blood leading them to her. Rachel never asked questions, she simply accepted it as divine intervention. The Unformed was with her, guiding her and them. Guaranteeing Its arrival.
Rachel’s power grew greater, her connection with the Unformed stronger. Her followers saw it, and they both feared and respected it.
She assigned lieutenants, people who swore loyalty to her and the Unformed. They would die for her, sacrifice their families and whatever else they held dear. These were true believers, and all ended up giving their lives for Rachel Veritros.
Once a girl that only wanted to serve her god, she was now a woman possessed of a divination.
And perhaps, there was very little difference between those two people.
Or, perhaps, there was more difference than anyone could adequately express.
Rachel stayed below the Ministries’ radar, even as her numbers swelled. Perhaps the Ministries didn’t understand that the Unformed would return. Perhaps they’d forgotten the message received last time. Perhaps they were too arrogant to think they could miss something growing beneath their foot.
Or, a better analogy, something growing inside of them.
The Ministries would have thought it cancer, something to be cut out, excised.
Rachel Veritros considered it evolution—an organism that eclipses its host, and when it finally happened, the frailties of humanity and their false gods would fall away.
Leaving only perfection.
The five years after her return were ones of rapid change for Rachel Veritros, in which her faith abounded and her conviction knew no bounds.
She was the righteous.
She was the harbinger of the universe’s rightful God.
She was what would end this world, and begin a new one.
Those five years ended, though, and just as it would for the one who came after her, war began for Rachel Veritros.