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Authors: Glen Krisch

Arkadium Rising (37 page)

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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"No, please… no…" The man held up his hands defensively and backed away.

Kylie saw the bloodied edge of the axe head and the descending pike staff, before seeing the black armored upper torso of one of the Anaki. The axe head came down on the maybe-gardener, splitting his forehead near the part in his gray hair. The falling of his body pulled the axe free. The Anaki swung his weapon around in a clean arc as he brought his elbow up high, as if he were readying to fire an arrow from a bow. He pointed the tip of the pike staff at the armed man who had been guarding the door to the keep, swirled the staff through a figure-eight, and then started forward again.

The armed man let loose a spray of bullets that ricocheted off the Anaki's chest and arms. He advanced, unaffected.

"The keep!" Kylie said, and grabbed Dawn's hand. When she reached the door, she was relieved to find it unlocked. She pulled open the heavy door and hurried inside. Dawn was a step behind, and then Jason, Leah, and Kylie's mom followed.

"What do we do?" Leah asked. Jason leaned against the wall, looking even weaker than the straggler cut down before their eyes. His beard was growing long and had turned gray at the point of his chin.

"What does God want us to do now, Mother? He guided us to the keep, right? What does that mean?"

"It's not up to me to divine the Divine's intentions," her mother said softly. "But I can pray for His forgiveness and the touch of His ever-gracious heart."

Linda stepped away from her daughter and toward the doors to the temple, and the Tree beyond. Jason and Leah followed, unsure of what else to do.

"Screw His ever-gracious heart." Kylie felt a small amount of satisfaction seeing her mother flinch, but she said nothing in response as she opened the doors to the temple.

Kylie marched over toward the spiral stairwell that was half as wide as the ring-shaped hallway.

Dawn hurried to catch up to her. "Kye, that was a bit harsh, don't you think?"

"Not really."

Kylie didn't look back. She climbed the curving steps. At the first level above the temple, a catwalk bridge extended from the stairwell to the central pillar. She knew little about what went on in these rooms. Just that members of the Arkadium came here to train. Whatever that meant.

"What now?" Dawn asked.

"RJ!" Kylie shouted in reply and kept climbing.

 

 

Chapter 31

 

1.

 

"It's beautiful." Jason's voice was a respectful whisper as he slowly walked through the interlocking tree roots pushing randomly through the packed dirt floor. The roots weren't real, none of it was real. But it was breathtaking nonetheless. "Remarkable."

"Oh… wow…" Leah drifted away from his side, her eyes wide as she approached the Tree of Life. She walked carefully over the rooted ground until she reached the base of the Tree, and under its enormity, she simply stood and stared.

Torches hung from iron rings along the curving outer wall of the temple. The Tree stood at the center of the room, a massive gnarled tapestry that spoke of great age and an almost palpable spirituality. Low-burning red candles lit up a canopy that covered the vastness of the ceiling, some thirty feet or more above them. The individual leaves were hand-carved works of beauty all by themselves, but there were thousands of them sprouting from equally beautiful branches. The trunk was made up of one layer after another of ornately carved whorls and waves.

"Eldon told me about this place, and if anything, he failed in his description," Linda said with a sad laugh.

Jason took his eyes away from the Tree long enough to look at Linda. The stress lines had left her forehead and at the corners of her mouth. Her glassy eyes reflected the candlelight. She looked so full of joy and wonderment.

"It looks so real, yet so… I don't know—
super
-real."

"After they finished building the outer walls, they built the Tree before anything else. It's carved from the finest woods. Eldon called this the most sacred place in the world."

"How can you have so much faith in something you just learned about? You had your own faith before Marcus destroyed Concord, a strong, Christian faith."

"Election Day changed everything. It opened my eyes, and it's like I'm seeing the world for the first time."

"But this religious cult destroyed your town and the entire country for all we know, and just like that," he paused to snap his fingers, "you fall under the spell of who…? Eldon? Who was he, exactly?"

"Eldon was a wise, pious man. His faith was unwavering; he was the perfect Brother Abel."

"Who convinced you that the Arkadium are following the true path? That they worship according to the One True Word, as the Arkadium so often like to put it?"

"Eldon didn't cast a spell over me. God spoke to me. He showed me my path and how important I am to future events. God convinced me; no one else had a voice in the matter."

Linda's head tilted back and she took in the vast canopy and the candles that cast shadows through the countless leaves.

"I thought the Arkadium don't believe in civilization. Civilization is about sharing a common structure, a rule of law. It's about believing in a common good. This just shows that the Arkadium wants civilization, but only under their terms."

When Leah reached out to touch the Tree's trunk, Jason nearly called out to her to stop. But he didn't, not wanting to unsettle the room's stillness.

"You're wrong, Jason. My time with Eldon was short, too short… but in those few days he taught me so much."

"How so?"

"The Tree for instance. Many of the religions that followed the Arkadium have at their core the holy cross. That symbol is about religion governed by a human hierarchy."

"And that's different from the Arkadium? What about this island? This building? This place of worship?"

"All impermanent. Just like you. Just like me." She smiled at him as if he were a willful child. "You heard Adam. The shelter provided by this island is short. You come in from the wild, you witness the Tree, and then you return to nature. The Arkadium don't need a place of worship. Not when nature is now set free and all around them. Not when God and nature can once again merge into a single entity. That's what God told me. He is everywhere. Every breath I take, He nourishes my lungs with oxygen. He is my blood, my spirit, my pain and happiness. God is nature, and nature is God."

He realized he could no longer hear the fighting outside. It was as if by stepping into the temple they had been transported to a distant forest, perhaps the very first forest—Eden. He knew it was just a matter of a well-soundproofed room, but the effect only added to the Tree's mystique.

"Pray with me, Jason." Linda patted the ground next to her. "We could all use His strength."

Jason hesitated.

Linda bowed her head and closed her eyes. "Oh Lord in heaven, we call to You in our hour of need, for we have faced many losses. Please look after Mitch, my love. My life. Now that You have called him to Your wing, I am here to serve at Your Will, unalloyed and unafraid…"

Jason drifted to his own thoughts. Linda sounded somehow both remarkably sane and unhinged at the same time. What she said about nature made so much sense, yet…

"But what about your daughter?" Leah said.

"I've given my life over to Nature. It's for the great good of man."

"So you're just giving up on her?"

"No… no, I wouldn't say that. It's more like she gave up on following a righteous path, and I can no longer stand idly by while she defiles her flesh." Linda sat among the roots and stared at the Tree. She patted the ground next to her. "Please, at least come sit with me."

 

2.

 

Kylie and Dawn had finally found RJ in the uppermost level of the central pillar. They'd rushed into the room blindly, knowing that this was the last place he could possibly be. And finding him alone with his face buried in a book didn't seem unusual, even under the given circumstances. He had his back to them and was standing in front of a drafter's desk covered in books, maps and schematics.

"RJ!" Kylie yelled, but he didn't respond.

"Junior!" Dawn smacked his shoulder when he still didn't move.

"Hey." RJ jumped up from his desk and pulled earplugs from his ears. "What are you two doing here? You're going to get us all in trouble."

"The only trouble we're in is the Anaki warrior that's turned the courtyard into Black Friday at the outlet mall," Dawn said.

He turned away from his work desk. "They're inside?"

"There's one that we saw, but we heard more commotion coming from the front wall."

"It makes perfect sense." RJ began to pace, his hands folded behind his back.

"What makes sense?" Kylie asked.

"The Anaki… of course they would come here. I bet they infiltrated the island long before this. Just like the Arkadium in mainstream society."

Kylie didn't want to hear anymore crazy talk. She went up to him and embraced him, hard. He no longer hesitated when she showed him affection. He embraced her just as fervently.

"Junior? We need to figure a way out of this mess. The others are here, too. Linda, Jason, a girl he found along the way. They're all here."

"Where?"

"In the temple."

"That's good. That's exactly where we need to go." RJ stepped away from Kylie and headed for the door.

"Why? What's going on?" Dawn asked.

"It's true." RJ's face was full of awe as he opened the door.

"What is? Can you just hold on a minute and tell us what the hell you're talking about?"

"Everything about the Arkadium. Everything. It's true."

"Everything?" Kylie said.

"I've been poring over their religious texts, blueprints for the island, family lineages, histories that have passed down for millennia."

"So these freaks are descendants from Adam and Eve, and they possess the One True Word, and… and that's what religion is all about?"

"Well, I don't know about the whole spiritual component, but the history. My god, the history of these people! What I've read is crazy, and I bet I've only scratched the surface."

"So why do we need to see Jason and the others?"

"We don't. But there's a secret way off of this island, and you can only get to it through the temple."

 

3.

 

"Jason!" shouted Marcus when he burst through the door to the keep. He had momentarily spotted his brother in the chaos in the courtyard, but had lost track of him. His best hope was that he had the sense to take cover inside.

His whole left arm felt like it was on fire. He didn't want to look at it, afraid of what he'd find. Before they had left the infirmary, he'd had Delaney wrap the freshly-set forearm in an inch of gauze bandaging. She'd wound it tight, just like he asked, and now his hand had swollen and was getting numb.

"Marcus, wait up!" Delaney rushed in through the door. Adam came through a second later, and he lowered a bar across it just as the Anaki horde slammed into it. When the warriors worked together, throwing multiple bodies against the door, it shook in its frame. It wasn't nearly as stout as the door on the fort's outer wall.

"Jason! We need to get out of here." Marcus turned to Delaney. "Where can they be?"

"I'm guessing somewhere out there." Adam pointed to the door as it continued to shake. "He's probably dead, like everyone else will be before night falls."

"Don't say that," Delaney said.

"It's true, my dear. We're all short for this world. All of this time preparing for the future—our new life, our new world—and it's just now dawning on me that you can't prepare beyond today. Not really. Not like we were doing… how silly. How terribly, wastefully, silly."

"Jason!" Marcus shouted. Even though he could barely think straight because of the throbbing agony in his arm, he was glad he had declined the morphine shot. They would've never gotten out of the infirmary otherwise. And once they did leave, they'd rushed to the front wall, but by then, it was too late. Other embedded Anaki had made their presence known, and as they advanced through the interior of the fort, it was a bloody rout. Marcus and Delaney had found Adam and then barely made it back to the courtyard before the heavy twin doors were opened and the rest of the horde poured inside.

"You sound like you just want to open the door, get it over with," Delaney said.

Adam shrugged. "The walls worked beautifully, just beautifully." He chose to ignore her. "Everyone performed as they were instructed."

"Not everyone. Not the fucking turncoats," Marcus said.

"Even that…" Adam trailed off.

"Even what?" Marcus said, his attention falling on his leader.

"Even the secret Anaki… in here the whole time? Living in secret for the time when they could rise and assume their role in bringing down civilization. Just… beautiful."

"Have you lost your fucking mind?"

"Nothing of the sort, brother. The Anaki have their role. We have ours. We're basically one in the same. They just follow through less…"  he said, his mouth forming a wicked smile, "judiciously. If anything, their behavior is much more in tune with Nature. And God is Nature, and Nature is God. You have to respect that."

"I don't need to respect anyone, or anything." Marcus grabbed Adam by the collar and shook him. The older man's head flailed wildly, but he still smiled as he started to laugh.

"Marcus!" Delaney said.

He ignored her, shoving Adam hard until he slammed against the keep's outer wall. Marcus's rage was building. His pain was also starting to ebb in direct proportion. His nostrils flared and he tightened his one good hand into a fist and advanced on Adam, ready to find release.

"Marcus!" Delaney's voice was shrill in his ears.

"What is it?" A single stride away from striking distance, Marcus turned on his heel, ready to knock Delaney on her ass for interrupting him. She only pointed to the stairwell leading to the training rooms above.

"Hello, Marcus." The black teenager from back in Concord strode down the spiral staircase. "Do you want to get out of here? Because I sure do."

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
8.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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