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Authors: Glen Krisch

Arkadium Rising (38 page)

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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"RJ?"

"You look surprised to see us." The kid's sister and his girlfriend were a few steps behind him, hesitant. "Well, do you want to get out of here or not?"

"Fuck yeah, kid."

"There is no way out of the keep," Adam said, but Marcus didn't believe him.

"I guess that also means you want to see your brother?" RJ stepped off the last step to the ground floor. He looked different. Not physically. Something in his eyes… it was confidence.

"Jason? Where is he?"

"He's praying," Dawn said.

"What?" Marcus said in disbelief. The idea of his brother and prayer didn't correlate in his brain.

"He's right through that door." Kylie pointed to the door to the temple and the Tree of Life beyond. Marcus had never been a religious person, or even vaguely spiritual. Hell, he'd done any number of vile things against any number of different religions in his youth… but that room… the Tree, its power. It's evident… holiness… It was in that room and under the imposing branches of the Tree that he found the courage to take the final step to getting clean. He had never felt anything so uplifting and accepting of who he was until he stepped through those doors two years ago.

Marcus walked toward the door.

"There is no way out of the keep!" Adam insisted, following close behind.

Marcus turned the latch on the door. He pulled it open and walked inside.

 

4.

 

Jason was in deep prayer for the first time in his life. He felt his mind drifting away from his body, lifting high into the canopy of the Tree of Life.

No, not his mind, his
spirit
.

He prayed for sanity in an insane world. He prayed to be surrounded by people he cared about. Who they were, it didn't matter, just as long as he had his own community. He prayed for Mike and Cora, for Kat, too. He prayed that what Leah had gone through hadn't left any permanent damage.

He prayed, projecting his thoughts out into the world. He didn't pray to God. Merely focused his every good intention out into the world.

And that's when he realized that the world… Nature… Nature really was God. An all-encompassing wonderment that held man's survival in its ephemeral hands.

He prayed, and he prayed to nature… and to God.

He leaned over, just realizing his legs were falling asleep in his seated position on the temple's floor, the Tree of Life sprawling, strong, and indelible before him. He needed to stand, to stretch his legs…

And when he stood, he felt light-headed, but also that he could breathe. His pain wasn't gone, no certainly not gone. But he could breathe. Like a weight had been lifted, a weight that had been pressing down on every square inch of his skin. Like he had just surfaced from the darkest depths of… floodwater.

He heard a commotion in the circular hallway outside the temple. Shouting that sounded like muffled whispers in the insulated world of the Tree. Leah, who sat next to Linda a short distance away, noticed it too. Linda seemed oblivious to anything happening outside her silent prayer. She sat with her feet crossed at the ankle in front of her. She held her arms out wide, like she might start flapping them and just fly away. She blinked with her glassy eyes staring up at the Tree, and mouthed silent words of prayer.

"Is it the Anaki?" Leah asked.

"I don't know," he replied. "I wish I could snap my fingers and take us away from this place."

"Where would you take me?"

"Anywhere but here."

They looked into one another's eyes, sharing a moment of intense silence.

The door to the temple burst open and Marcus entered, his broken arm wrapped in white gauze that made his blood-choked hand look distended and black in the low candlelight.

"Marcus. Of course. Who else would it be?"

"We don't have much time. The Anaki are set to destroy the island."

"Obviously."

The others came in through the door at a rush. Kylie, Dawn, RJ, and Adam, who had a blade point pressing against the back of his neck, courtesy of Delaney.

"And I'm assuming you have a plan figured out."

"No, I don't," Marcus said. "But Adam here, he knows a way out. Isn't that right, RJ?"

"Yes, he does. There's a secret chamber underneath the temple, and a tunnel system that goes under the river. And Adam knows where it is."

"No, there's not!" Adam glared defiantly even with the knife point pressing into his neck.

"And how do you know he knows, RJ?" Jason asked.

"The tunnels and Tree were built at the same time. I've seen the blueprints."

"I thought the written word was banned?" Jason said.

"The Arkadium couldn't do away with
all
writing. Not if they wanted to maintain their upper hand on the rest of the world."

"Figures," Leah said.

"Sound familiar, Marcus?" Jason said.

Marcus ignored his brother's jab, instead focusing on Adam. "So where is it?" Marcus took hold of Adam's shirt collar and practically dragged him across the temple's dirt floor to the base of the Tree. "Show me the tunnel."

"There is no tunnel. What RJ read, that was purposely written into the recorded history of the Arkadium. It's meant to confuse and obfuscate."

A number of voices chimed in, some arguing with him, some defending him. Jason watched them all, and as he watched, the sounds of the Anaki breaching the keep registered even through the temple's soundproofing. With everyone still arguing, he ran to the door and threw the bracing arm down to lock it.

Marcus smacked Adam across the face with his right hand. Adam flew backward against the Tree. He slumped down to the ground, but Marcus again grabbed his collar.

"We don't have time for this." He shook Adam, more to jostle the fog from his head than to harm him. "Delaney, grab his arm."

Delaney relished the task of doing as she was told and took hold of Adam's wrist. Adam struggled against her grip, but he knew the situation was untenable. Marcus would have his pound of flesh, and he would have to suffer through it.

Marcus splayed the fingers of Adam's right hand wide, the palm parallel to the floor. He then removed his knife, and tapped each of the fingers with its tip as if he were playing a game of eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

The knife stopped on Adam's index finger. Marcus smiled. "Hold it, Deli. Hold it good."

Delaney grabbed the selected finger and Adam struggled even more. "This is going to hurt," Marcus said, "but you've left me no other choice. There's a way off this island, and you're going to tell me."

Jason rushed back down to the Tree in time to see Adam swaying on his feet. Delaney held fast, anchoring his hand so it wouldn't move.

"Dear heavenly father," Adam trailed off into prayer as he closed his eyes.

"Wait!" Jason called out. "Maybe there's another way."

"Like what, brother?"

"I don't know. Something else… Not this…"

The Anaki pounded on the door to the temple. It was only a matter of seconds before they tore it off its hinges.

"You know, I always thought you were above human weakness. But I guess I was wrong. Which is why you're going to tell me…" Marcus slipped the knife point under Adam's fingernail and pressed it deep, until the blade reached the submerged depth of the cuticle. With a flick of the wrist Marcus sliced the nail out.

Adam screamed a throaty agony, and his legs went out from under him.

"Where's the tunnel, Adam?"

"There is no…" he replied, sobbing.

"Grab his hand again."

Delaney grabbed Adam's hand. Blood was dripping from his ruined nail bed. Tears and snot ran down his face.

"Hold him steady, God damn it."

"Wait!" Linda said, and everyone turned in her direction. "Let me… let me talk to him."

Delaney eased her grip and Adam nearly pulled free.

"Delaney, I need your help. I need you to focus. Now hold his hand."

Delaney did as she was told.

"Marcus, let me talk to him," Linda repeated.

"We have no time, old woman," Marcus said.

Linda ignored him, stepping close to Adam. She moved so steadily, so lightly, it almost seemed like she floated across the temple floor. "Evan, did you know that God speaks to me?"

Confusion rippled through the gathering.

"For instance, he told me your real name is Evan Daniels. You studied to be a high school guidance counselor. You're from Hobart Indiana."

Adam shook his head. "How… how did you know?"

The door started to bow under the constant barrage from the Anaki.

"Like I said, God speaks to me." Linda reached out for Adam/Evan's damaged hand, and transfixed, Delaney relinquished her hold. "He told me why you no longer work as a counselor. He told me that you are a good man, a man who sins terrible, horrible sins, but a good man nonetheless."

"H-he did?"

"Yes, He did. He also told me that you would lead us to safety, so we could worship Him as it should be. In the wild. In nature.
Inside
of him."

She covered his ruined fingernail with her hand, pressed it with her gentle fingers. When she released her grip, he looked down as if expecting it to be healed, but a steady pulse of blood still trickled from the wound.

"Why… why didn't He speak… to me?"

"Evan, you know why He didn't. Am I right? He may forgive your sins, but that doesn't make you a righteous vessel for His message."

Adam/Evan looked away, ashamed.

"Will you do His will? Will you show us the way out of here?"

Still looking at the ground, Adam/Evan nodded and sniffled back a tear.

"It's over there, on the far side of the Tree."

"Let him go, Deli," Marcus said.

Adam/Evan clutched his injured hand to his chest and then practically ran to the far side of the Tree. He dropped to his knees at the base of the Tree and started digging in the loose dirt gathered around one of the intricately carved tree roots. When he unearthed a shallow tunnel underneath the root, he shifted something in the divot—a lever.

Stones shifted beneath their feet, and then the edges of a five foot-wide rectangular shape defined itself in the dirt floor. The dirt within the rectangle began to vibrate, shaking until it became loose dirt and dust. The rectangle shifted open, and the loose dirt piled up to one side, and once the opening in the floor was revealed, the piled dirt fell into the opening.

"That's it?" Marcus asked.

"Did you expect an escalator?" Adam/Evan looked like a defeated man on so many levels.

There was more pounding on the door, on the walls themselves. It was more than pounding, more than the force of a battering ram. It was explosions, and they were tearing the walls apart.

"Everyone, inside!" Marcus grabbed a torch from the wall and handed it to Jason. "We're going to get out of this."

"I think you might be right," Jason said.

"Don't sound so disappointed."

Jason took the torch and followed the others into the opening. A stone stairwell descended at least a hundred feet into a vast alcove that seemed nearly as big as the temple room above them. The couple of torches they brought with them barely did any good. Jason and Marcus fanned out, searching for an entrance into the tunnel system, while everyone else shuffled close behind.

Stones came crashing in above them as the Anaki tore down the walls and flooded inside.

"They're in!" Dawn cried out.

"What now?" Kylie asked.

"I see light!" Leah grabbed Jason's arm and pointed him farther to his right. There was a light, but it was dim; such a meager beacon to shepherd all the hopes for their survival.

"That's it," Adam said. "She's right."

"Everyone, head toward the light. It's the tunnel!" Jason said. Dawn, Kylie and RJ huddled together as they hurried past him. When Leah stood by his side, he said, "You too, Leah."

"Not going to happen." She folded her arms and stood at his side.

Linda passed in front of him, her eyes cheerful as she made her way toward the tunnel light.

Delaney carried the other torch as Marcus manhandled Adam/Evan, who seemed reluctant to leave.

Jason and Leah brought up the rear. She ran by his side. "Snap your fingers, Jason."

He smiled and snapped his fingers. Nothing happened. They weren't whisked away to a better place. They were still in the deplorable murk beneath the Arkadium temple to the Tree of Life. And when they reached the dim light, they realized why it was so dim. The tunnel existed, but it was flooded.

"The water is too high!" Jason yelled and almost broke out into laughter. "You idiots set nature free, or whatever the hell you call it, and now the water level is too damn high."

A couple of the steps into the tunnel were visible, but the tunnel was submerged completely. The faintest light at the end of the floodwater shone like a halo just out of reach.

No sooner had they reached the light than the ceiling started collapsing, sending huge blocks of cut sandstone and plumes of dirt down into the secret chamber near the stairwell.

"What is that?" Marcus shook Adam/Evan by the arm as they rushed by with their torch. Delaney kept looking over her shoulder, making sure the Anaki hadn't yet reached the stairwell.

"I don't know!" he replied.

"The Anaki tore down the wall to get into the temple," RJ said. "It probably caused a cascading failure of the walls and floors above."

"It's coming down. All of it. It's coming down!" Dawn cried. She wrapped her arms around her brother and Kylie.

More stone from the temple came tumbling down, revealing more light from above. The stones fell like dominoes, one after another, closing in on where they stood.

Marcus turned on Adam/Evan and stabbed him low in the gut. He pulled the blade high, until he split him wide. "If I'm going to die, I'm going to die as Adam."

Adam/Evan fell over in the puddle of his own insides.

A large stone collapsed, separating Delaney from Marcus.

"Marcus!" she screamed, but he didn't seem to notice. His only focus was on Jason.

"We have to go, brother."

"What are you talking about?"

Anaki warriors fell among the falling stones, and their bodies littered the floor of the secret chamber like scattered debris. Some of them started to move. Some of them gained their feet. Some of them got their bearing and then sought their targets. They grabbed whatever they could fashion into weapons. Shards of rock, spear-like branches torn from the Tree itself.

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
12.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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