CHAPTER 15: THE LORD’S PROPHECY
A Deva, a human being who has crossed over body and soul to the afterlife, is a hardy creature. He or she will not age, will not succumb to disease and does not need to eat or drink. They do sleep, but less than when they were alive, and when they do they do not dream.
And yet, they can die. A Deva whose skin is pierced will bleed the white/pink sand that fills them. This is the remains of their bones, organs and bodily fluids that were compacted when the body and the soul fused at the crossing over. And once it has bled from them, the Deva dies. Finally. Totally. There is no after-afterlife. Those who die in Heaven, Hell or Purgatory cross into the final realm, from which even angels cannot return. The final night, that no dawn shall ever pale. They say that those who go there linger for a few brief moments over everything, and can see the whole infinity of creation, the endless lattice of light and dark, the Yoli-awhey and Goli-awhey snaking and curling and cascading over and around and through each other. It is said that from that cold perch, far above all that is, they finally know a true wisdom, one beyond the knowledge of angels and devils, even of Yol and Gol themselves. And with a sad smile, they nod, and turn to face the final night, and pass away to shadow.
Cole’s eyes started open and looked into total darkness. He gave a low, short scream of fear.
Where was he? Where…?
In the darkness he felt arms holding him, and his bald head kissed gently to reassure him.
“Ssh.” he heard Isabella whisper “It’s okay. You’re okay.”
“Oh my God. Oh God, I died.”
“No, you’re fine. You’re fine. Look.”
He felt her tiny hand taking his and planting gently on his chest.
The place stung still from the Black Scorpion’s blow, but he could feel she was right. The wound had healed. He was still whole, that terrible sense of emptying that he had felt as the sand had run from him had subsided.
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Ah yes, he still breathed. Why was that, he wondered? His lungs were gone, along with the rest of his organs. Was breathing simply so ingrained in his behaviour that he couldn’t stop, even now that there was no need for it?
Or maybe there was. What would happen if he stopped breathing?
He remembered that terrible, cold blackness that he had come from and decided he did not want to know.
“Are you okay?” he whispered to her “Did he hurt you?”
“No.” she said “I’m fine”.
“Me too, just in case you were wondering.” said a voice from behind him.
Cole turned and was surprised at how glad he was to dimly see Holtz sitting in the shadows.
“Where’s Thomas?” Cole asked “Actually, hell with that. Where are we? How did we get here?”
“You don’t remember anything?”
Cole shook his head and looked around. Faintly he could make out iron bars surrounding them.
He reached out and took a hold of two of them and pressed against them, testing their strength. He could feel rust flaking off on his palms, but the cores were rock solid.
They were prisoners. Something struck him. The bars were almost a foot and a half apart.
“Bella, you could fit through these.” Cole said.
“Oh yes.” Isabella “But I’m not going to.”
He stared at them again and looked down.
He saw what looked like a pale, greenish blue puddle on the ground around the cage.
And then the realisation hit him as to what he was actually looking.
“Okay. That’s the ground.” said Cole.
“Yup.” said Holtz.
“So we are, how high up?”
“Well after the first two hundred foot it’s all a little academic, ain’t it?”
Now that he knew what he was looking at he was starting to make out the details a little clearer. They were hanging in an iron cage, suspended hundreds of feet above the ground in massive cavern.
Mabus didn’t have anything like this, so why would the Black Scorpion have brought them here.
Hell, for that matter, why had the Black Scorpion brought them anywhere? Surely the point had been to kill Cole? Hadn’t it? He had stabbed him through the chest. That usually was a good indicator, surely?
And why was he so cold?
“Where the hell’s my armour?” he asked.
“Dunno. They took you away to patch you up, and when they brought you back you were in your underwear.”
“Which, I gotta say, I am quite glad it’s too dark to see.” Holtz noted.
As if on cue, light struck the cage, casting black bars of shadow across them, and revealing Cole standing in his underpants.
“Okay, what’s going on now?” Cole murmured to himself.
He went to the edge of the cage to see where the light was coming from. Four spotlights were shooting from the darkness below, two striking the cage he stood in. As for the other two…
He followed their path and realised they were directed at another cage, hanging from the roof around one hundred feet away from them.
And in that cage he could just make out the figure of Thomas, gripping against the bars, his face meeting the harsh light full on.
“Why does he get a single room?” Cole asked.
“Well that’s the thing.” said Holtz “These guys, whoever they are, they really don’t like Tom.”
All three suddenly screamed as the cage jolted, but instead of plummeting to the ground it started to slowly descend. In the distance, Cole could see Thomas’ cage had also started to slowly lower itself towards the ground.
“Okay.” said Cole “We got a few minutes before we hit the ground, I need to know everything. Now.”
“Alright, alright” said Isabella flustered “Well, after you got stabbed we thought it we were going to die but then we heard shots. And then arrows and spears and all kinds of things started shooting from the rooftops, like we were surrounded.”
“No. They weren’t shooting at us. They were shooting at the Black Scorpion. And then he vanished and…I don’t know…A smoke bomb must have gone off because suddenly I couldn’t see anything, there was just clouds everywhere. And I felt someone grabbing me, pulling me off you, and I tried to fight them because I was scared you were going to bleed out but he was too strong…”
“Okay, who are they? Did you get a good look?”
“No.” said Isabella shaking her head “I couldn’t see. I heard a big gang of them fighting the Black Scorpion. Sounded like they were getting slaughtered, but I just couldn’t see…and then I think they brought us down a manhole…”
Cole raised his nose and sniffed. The closer they got to the ground the stronger the smell of sewage was becoming. And it hit him.
“Do you think?”
The cage struck the earth with a squeal of metal on rock.
Thomas’ landed around half a second later.
A crowd was gathered around the two cages now.
There were hundreds of them, and they simply stood there, staring silently at the two cages and their occupants. The looked strangely pale, although Cole couldn’t tell if that was just from the light cast by the searchlights. There was something else odd as well. They were all wearing clothes from different periods, something that would mark them as Mabi, and many of their faces even seemed familiar to Cole, as if he had met them before. And yet, there was something odd about them as well. These weren’t simply random members of Mabus’ army. There was something else going on here.
Eventually Cole decided that if anything was going to happen, it was up to him to start things rolling.
“Hi.” he said.
“My name is Joseph Cole. You all know me. I want to know who’s in charge here.”
Still no answer. Cole realised that it was not that they could not understand him, or hear him. It was that they were choosing, no, that they were refusing to answer him. And in the perfect silence he could hear them seething silently. They were furious. They were bristling with black, silent hatred.
“Tom?” Cole called.
“Yes.” Thomas said simply. His voice was extremely hoarse, and Cole remembered that not too long ago his sister had stuck a knife in his throat. Cole presumed that their captors had patched Thomas’s wounds up just as they had his.
“You see anything over there?”
“A lot of people who really, really shouldn’t have locked me in a cage.” said Thomas, regarding the crowd of onlookers with a gaze as cold as it was homicidal.
“Wait a minute…” Cole said, studying their faces. “They’re not like us. These people are dead.”
“Yes they are.” Thomas agreed.
“No, I mean they’re actually dead. They’re not like us, they don’t bleed sand.”
“Cole, as long as they bleed something, I really couldn’t care less.”
“I’m right amn’t I!” he shouted at the man standing nearest to him “You’re dead! How did you get into Gomorrah?! How did you die?!”
Suddenly the crowd’s veneer of coldness evaporated and the crowd turned into a rabid, spitting mob.
“You! You killed us!” he heard them screaming “You killed us!”
Isabella screamed as the mob surrounded them and hands shot in through the bars to tear them apart. Over in the other cage they were doing the same to Thomas, who calmly and efficiently set about breaking the arms of anyone stupid enough to lay a finger on him. Cole, Isabella and Holtz desperately retreated into the very centre of the cage, with was large enough to keep them out of reach. Thomas’s cage was smaller, and within seconds three pairs of hands had grabbed each of his legs, and another cluster of hands had grabbed both arms. Thomas felt their fingers digging into his limbs as they tried to pull him two.
White hot pain lanced through his body as he felt he was seconds away from coming apart like tissue paper.
And then came a single sound, cutting through the jungle of noise like a great bronze machete. A bell tolled, once and only once. And the strength of the note haunted the now silent air.
Instantly Thomas felt the hard knots of human hands melting away from his legs and he fell to the floor of the cage. As one the mob pulled away from the cages and silently turned their backs on them.
“What just happened?” Isabella gasped.
“Okay.” said Holtz “My mistake. They don’t like Tom OR you.”
Cole said nothing. Because he realised why some of the faces in the crowd had seemed familiar.
You killed us.
Yes. He had.
Or at least some of them.
He recognised some from that terrible night Thomas’ riots had swept through New Gomorrah. He had had to fight his way from one end of the city to the other to rescue Marie and Isabella. And he was sure that many of the people he had fought and killed that night were now standing with their backs turned to him.
Cole knew that when a person died back in the living world their soul was taken, either to Heaven or to Hell. But New Gomorrah’s walls were made of New Matter, invisible to both angels and devils. So it stood to reason that the souls of those who had died within it’s borders had remained uncollected, haunting the city, invisible and tormented. Until finally Mabus had brought New Gomorrah into Hell and all the souls of the dead had become solid again. They were not devas, but departed souls, just like the souls Cole had been trying to rescue from the storm.
And now they had gathered here, deep in the bowels of New Gomorrah, unknown to anyone. Unknown even to Mabus himself.
And then the spotlights swivelled and pored over the crowd, and Cole saw just how many of them there were. Hundreds and hundreds. All silent, all with their backs to them, all looking in the same direction. And then the spotlights came to rest on a single figure standing on what could only be described as an altar. He was immense, tall and broad, almost a giant. His head was bald and his eyes seemed too large for his head. And hanging behind him on the wall was a massive tapestry, fifty foot tall depicting a young girl standing over a great mass of people, a comb in one hand, and a sword in the other. Her hair was drawn as fire, a great fiery red halo enveloping her head and her arms were stretched over the crowd beneath her, although in benediction or threat of violence Cole could not tell, and indeed it seemed the artist had intended some ambiguity on that point.
“In the other cage, Thomas stared at the tapestry depicting Marie, unable to tear his gaze away.
God, thought Cole, he’s totally obsessed with her. It’s like it overrides every other thought in his head. As if he can’t even think of anything else if he even sees a picture of her. And not for the first time he wondered just why Thomas was so insanely committed to killing Marie Daschonde.
He had heard Thomas’ reason, that he had sworn to kill her as revenge for the death of his father. But to Cole that just didn’t explain his sheer implacable hatred. Marie had had nothing to do with the death of Thomas’ father, other than being unlucky enough to be the daughter of the man who had hung him.
Cole just couldn’t understand Thomas’ reasoning. But then he was mad, so clearly he wasn’t supposed to.
“Oh my God.” Isabella whispered, staring at the tapestry “Is that…”
“Quiet.” said Cole.
The figure had begun to speak, and Cole had a suspicion that missing the slightest word he said could mean the difference between escape and death.
Roland Betts Nyquist spread his arms, and addressed the crowd with these words:
“Oh my brothers! Oh my sisters! My children and my adoration.
I place great tidings upon my tongue that you may listen,
And rejoice. Deliverance crests the hill at last,
The reign of tyrants enters the final hour,
And their thrones will be cast down,
I speak of Mabus son of Gedi, king of New Gomorrah.”
At these words the massed souls roared so loudly that the great chamber shook with their voice. Nyquist silenced them with a gesture, and continued.
“I speak of Gol, king of Hell
He known as Lucifer, Abbadon, the Shaitan
They are two men fighting for the same house,
But the house is aflame and soon will be nothing but ash,
I have seen this. When Mabus split the sky we saw the end
Of the earth and all who live upon it,
But I tell you there shall be a new Earth!
Soon you shall see the death of Hell,
Yes, even this place, death’s cradle
I tell you it shall crumble and fall to void,
But I tell you there shall be a new Hell,
And the Devil’s Heir shall be it’s master!
And over this, over this new Earth, this new Hell
A great sight my brothers, a shining kingdom!
A mountain crowned with seven seraphim!
For there shall be a new Heaven!
And I have seen it’s gates opened for your welcoming!”
Another roar, this time so loud that Cole felt it like a solid wall of sound.
“I have told you often of how I came to be here,” Nyquist said
“How I came to be imprisoned in this form”
“How the Devil, my ancient enemy, betrayed me”
“And left me powerless. But though I am now but a man,”
“Am I not still the Lord?”
The throng cheered, and Cole thought how unsettling it was to see dead people so passionate.
“Am I not still a man of war?”
“Am I not still a mighty king?”
“Am I not still the judge of men?”
“Oh, I see.” said Isabella “He’s crazy.”
“Quiet.” Cole whispered.
“But he thinks he’s God.” said Isabella.
“Actually, he thinks he was God and then the Devil tricked him and trapped him in a human body without any of his powers and that he has to raise an army to overthrow the Devil so he can be God again.” said Holtz.
“Oh, I see.” said Isabella “He’s not crazy at all. I should apologise to him.”
“But I will not be there with you.” Nyquist called to them.
“For I was the God of this world. Of an ancient Earth.”
“Of an ageless Heaven. But this new Heaven will not be mine.”
“The angel has told me this.”
Cole studied the crowd intently. At the word “angel” every head in the mass had turned ever so slightly to the left. Cole followed the glance and saw that they were looking at the doorway from which Nyquist had entered the chamber. So that’s where he’s keeping Joriel, Cole thought. Good to know. If we can get to him, the odds tip right over to us.
“But fear not. For the Lord’s Heir shall watch over you”
“For she shall be Queen of this new heaven and all beneath it.”
Isabella’s eyes widened. “She?” Surely he didn’t mean…
“Ave Marie!” Nyquist boomed, spreading his arm upward to the great tapestry.
“AVE MARIE! AVE MARIE! AVE MARIE!” roared the congregation.
Cole couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The worship of Marie that he had witnessed at the front, what he had thought was simple soldier’s superstition, was in fact a full fledged church.
Isabella for her part was biting her cheeks and trying not to burst out laughing. The idea of her best friend being worshipped like this was funny enough. The fact that she was sure Marie would have been rolling around on the ground hooting at the sight only made it harder to keep a straight face.
“You will know when the hour approaches” Nyquist called out to them.
“For I shall give you this prophecy as the angel gave it to me.”
“There shall be three signs:”
“The great serpent shall come to the city to devour all,
But the Lord’s Heir shall stand in it’s path,
And the serpent shall be struck down,
And the city will be spared
There will be a second sign,
When the lake of blood has been emptied,
The wrathful shall march upon a den of rats,
And the Devil’s Heir shall take the Black Throne
There will be a third sign.
A harrowing of angels, they shall fall as rain
Until only the tenth part of the tenth part remain
And then all will be as death.
This prophecy, my gift I do bequeath to you.”
No more time to waste, thought Cole. He turned to Isabella.
“Bella.” he said “Can you squeeze through these bars?”
“I dunno.” she said.
“You don’t know?”
“I didn’t try.”
“Because we were half a damn mile up in the air and I would have fallen to the ground and exploded in little bits don’t snap at me!”
“Sorry! I’m sorry. Listen. We don’t have much time here. Whatever he’s got planned for us, I don’t think it’s good. I need you to get to Joriel. I need you to go through the door to the side of the stage and tell him we’re here. Can you do that?”
“What? No! They’ll see me, that’s crazy!”
“They won’t see you, they won’t see you, I promise. Look. Look at them. They’re all looking at him. They won’t notice you. Just move quickly and quietly, stick to the walls and the shadows. You’ll be fine. Now try and squeeze through.”
Isabella rather gingerly turned sideways and tried to push her shoulder through two of the bars to the rear of the cage.
“No.” she said after a few seconds “Can’t fit.”
She tried to pull back.
“Oh wonderful.” she said.
“I’m stuck. I’m stuck, Cole!
“I knew this would happen.”
“Relax. I’ll get you out.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m just going to pull the bars apart and get you out.”
“Then why are you putting your hands on my back…”
Her words were cut off as Cole suddenly pushed her hard enough to break a brick wall and she went flying out from between the two bars like a champagne cork.
She scrambled to her feet and glared furiously at Cole.
Cole simply smiled and pressed a finger to his lips.
Oh you are dead, Isabella thought to herself as she crept past row after row of the Lord’s followers, next time a giant praying mantis wants to eat you I will set a table for it and offer to show it the wine list.
Nyquist was still delivering his sermon, and Isabella wondered what would happen when he reached the end. How much longer did she have?
Suddenly she got the horrible sensation that someone was watching her.
Don’t turn around, she told herself. He’s still talking. They’re all looking at him. You’re imagining it. Don’t turn around.
She turned around.
All she could see was a line of backs and heads. No one was looking at her.
Far over on the other side of the chamber, one set of eyes was following her every twitch.
Thomas gazed coolly through the bars at his sister, and she thought for the hundredth time how his eyes didn’t even seem human. The only time they seemed to come alive was when he was about to cut someone. Otherwise they remained dead, cold and lifeless.
She watched numbly as he traced a finger across his throat along the scar where she had buried the knife. A threat and reminder, in one gesture.
Although it took all her willpower, she turned her back on him and continued making her way silently to the door. But not a second passed when she did not expect to feel Thomas’s hand reaching from behind and grabbing her throat.
She knew that he was hundreds of feet away from her, and that between them were the iron bars of the cage and around a five hundred souls who would tear him to pieces if he so much as stepped outside it. But still his hand seemed to hover behind her, inches from her neck. And the sensation did not abate until at last she had reached the doorway, and vanished into the shadows beyond.