The high priest stood before an open book sitting atop an altar at the far side of the room. The wall before him enclosed a large round glass window with colored glass just like the ones in the hallway. The mosaic of colors depicted a man hanging from a tree (whom I recognized as Judas) with his innards spilling from his stomach. The man was dressed in a black robe with a cross hanging low on his chest, just like the robe that Hadyn was now wearing.
Below the roots of the tree were pictures of fire and flame. It was a picture of hell. The black gates leading to the lake of fire were closed. On either side of the gates stood a hellhound with treacherous red eyes and sharp fangs. They guarded the path to the realm of the damned.
Above the tree where Judas hung were clouds of white outlined in gold. A man dressed in a long white robe stood before a gate made of pearl. It was heaven and just like hell’s gate, heaven’s gate was closed. In one hand the robed man held an open book, and the other hand he held out in front him with palm forward. It was Peter and the book of life.
The window depicted the death of Judas and his rejection by both the upper and lower kingdoms. It mirrored the story Cassius had told me when I had first arrived.
The high priest didn’t turn as Hadyn and I neared the altar. His head bowed low over the pages of the book in front of him. Hadyn motioned for me to stop. I did as he commanded, and he silently stepped closer to the altar.
Bowing on both knees before the high priest, he placed his head on the floor. “I have brought the girl to see you as you commanded,” Hadyn said to the high priest. I can’t explain what I felt at the sight of Hadyn bowing before the high priest. The small amount of interaction I have had with him, he has always exuded power followed by a sense of fear. Seeing him bow before another, it was strange, to say the least.
“Leave us,” the high priest commanded. Hadyn bowed his head to the floor once more before standing to leave the room. My heart raced in my chest as I realized I would be left alone with the high priest. I opened my mouth to protest but Hadyn shot me a warning before a sound could leave my throat. From this point on you are mute. Hadyn’s warning rung through my ears.
He left the room closing the door behind him. I stood there, in the center of the room, before the high priest trembling. Try as I might, I couldn’t get my body to stop shaking.
“Come here, child.” The high priest held his hand out to his side. He had yet to turn around and face me. I walked up to where he had motioned keeping my eyes trained on the floor. He turned the page in the book on the altar and continued to read.
Standing still (or as still as I could with quaking legs), I silently remained by the high priest’s side as he continued to read. The better part of an hour passed before the high priest broke the silence between us.
“I saw you staring at the painted window,” he said with a deep tone.
I didn’t dare to speak. Hadyn had warned me to remain mute. Standing quietly, I lifted my eyes up to the painted window and beheld the imagery. “Do you know of this story?” Keeping my mouth closed, I nodded in affirmation. “Why do you not speak, child? Did Cassius rob you of your voice?”
He reached out and touched my shoulder turning me to face him. His face didn’t look much older than thirty although his hair had turned grey around the ears. He was slim with narrow cheekbones making his face extremely angular. His features were similar to the elven beings I had read about in some of pappy’s books.
What was most striking about him was his eyes. They were a mixture of colors with hues of red, brown, and orange like the leaves of the trees during autumn. His skin was pale beneath the black cloth of his robe.
His gaze met mine, and I quickly reverted my eyes back to the floor. “Do not fear me, child. I will do you no harm. You are a daughter of both the sovereign and the damned—a curse and a blessing for our kind.” The high priest turned back to the book on the altar and flipped towards the end.
A daughter to both the sovereign and the damned? I had little time to think about his words before he found the page he was looking for and ushered me to take his place in front of the book. The book was old with pages yellowed from age. “The end of days is upon us, child, if you are to believe the prophecies of old.”
The end of days was recorded in the book of revelation. Pappy had urged me to read it once, but I had declined. I didn’t want to know what would happen when the end draws near. With only one life to live, I should embrace the blessings given instead of worrying about what will be. I can’t change the course of the future. I can only determine my own actions and how to handle the trials set before me.
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night,” he continued. “While people are saying, peace and safety, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” I recognized the scripture he was quoting as one of Paul’s prophecies from the book of Thessalonians.
Paul had once persecuted anyone who believed in the Christ. He killed without mercy or conviction. It wasn’t until the resurrected Christ took Paul’s sight from him, chastising him for his sins, that he had become blessed and changed his ways.
It’s funny to think that the high priest would quote such a man. The revenants’ hands are soaked with the blood of men, more so than Paul’s had ever been. They nearly took destroyed humanity, God’s creation, his children. I laughed (forgetting that I was supposed to be mute) at the irony of the high priest’s words. He did not mention my laughter as he pointed to a highlighted passage on the page of the book. It was a passage from the book of Hosea.
Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.
Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night, and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; they changed their glory into shame. They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways, and repay them for their deeds.
“The first part of the passage is about the sinfulness of humans,” the high priest said. “There is no faithfulness, nor loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Humans have forgotten the ways of the blessed. Many of today’s humans can’t tell you a single story found within the scriptures.”
The high priest’s words rang true in my ears. God’s existence was a myth among the people I had had interactions with. Even Val and Danny were nonbelievers claiming God must have died a long time ago. Had it not been for pappy, I never would have learned about the stories within the pages of the bible.
“Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish,” the high priest continued. Most people within the city struggle just to eat a proper meal each day. They are unable to go out at night for fear of the evil lurking in the shadows—like the gang of men that took my pappy from me.
“The second part of the passage is a warning for the revenant,” he continued. “You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night, and I will destroy your mother. The revenant has borne many children over the ages, but none of those children were female. Non but you.” My breath stuck in my throat at his words. “They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. The blood of man contains the sin of man. We require human blood to survive.”
It was true. The revenants would perish without human blood. The Covenant had been made not only to end the war between us and the revenant but also to preserve the human race while providing the revenants with the sustenance they needed.
“The last sentence of the passage is a warning. And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways, and repay them for their deeds. According to the prophecy, a day of reckoning will come for the revenant. That, my child, is why you are both a blessing a curse.” He placed a hand on either side of my shoulder and turned me to fully face him. “I believe you will determine the fate of not only humanity but also the revenant.”
I didn’t understand what he meant. Why would I determine anyone’s fate? Even if my blood did have similarities to the revenant (which I was still in denial that it did), why would that have anything to do with the anything.
The high priest moved a piece of my hair from my face and tucked it behind my ear. “Sweet innocent child, if I were smart, I would take your life right here.” His thumb grazed the vein on my neck. My heart raced at his touch. “But enough blood has been spilled because of the curse of my father.” He released me, and the breath I had been holding escaped my chest. My heart pounded in my ears as I alarmingly watched his movements, readying myself for a possible attack (as if I could fight him off).
“What is meant to happen will happen. I cannot change what is written, only delay it for a time.” I took a step away from him as he looked up at the painted window. “I will give you a choice, one that none of us were given. You can stay in the city and live as the wife of Cassius, or I can cast you from the city’s walls. You can take your chances among the wilds.”
A choice? He wasn’t going to kill me. He gave me a choice. I had a chance to leave here and to survive. It was possible that I wasn’t going to die by the hands of the revenant.
“Tell me, child, which option do you choose?”
My throat felt dry as I opened my mouth to speak for the first time since I entered the sanctuary of the high priest. It was an easy choice to make and I would not let this chance pass me by.
“I choose the wilds.”
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