Judah’s cheeks flooded with redness. I dropped my hand, unable to keep it lifted. Judah watched my limb fall limply to my side. His flush faded and he leaned forward. The tension thickened as he stared me down, the air feeling too hot to breathe.
He didn’t say anything for several seconds, simply keeping our gazes locked. Finally, a wide, cruel smile set upon his lips. “You know, brother, when we were children, I was convinced you were the greatest person in the world. Even above Uncle David.”
In my quick exhale I could hear a faint husky whistle, evidence of the toll my beatings were taking on my body. My throat was raw and sore, but what hurt most was the pain in my heart as I heard the nostalgia in Judah’s voice. Because I remembered it. I remembered how, when we were children, he would look at me as we lay on The Pasture’s perfectly manicured lawn under the summer sun. We would talk about how I would one day ascend, with my brother by my side. Always by my side, as God had designed it. I squeezed my eyes shut. We were innocent children then, looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses. We had no idea of the path that lay before us, the treacherous roads that we would travel.
It was strange. I could still feel the excitement we both felt back then surging within me. I remembered my fear of my personal path: becoming the prophet.
But I’d always known I could do it, because I had him.
Our unbreakable bond had been shattered mere months after my ascension. Shattered by his greed. Obliterated by his pride . . . destroyed by his need for revenge.
Jaw tightening, muscles growing rigid with hate, Judah continued, “But as we got older, all you did was frustrate me. We both studied the scriptures, yet I grasped the lessons more easily than you. We were brought up in the same way, yet only you were ever punished. You made mistake after mistake, stumbling through sermons and fumbling over our sacred passages like a blind fool.” Judah’s head tipped to the side, and his narrowed eyes ran over my inked sleeves. My Hangmen ink. I knew he hated that I had them. I knew he hated that I had been picked to carry out the task our uncle had deemed so important.
He hated that he wasn’t me.
A strange expression came over his face. For once, I couldn’t guess what he was thinking.
“Then Uncle sent you to infiltrate the devil’s men.” Judah sighed. He ran his hand down his face, just the way I did. He shook his head . . . just like I did. He must have studied my habits and mannerisms.
A question circled in my head: how long had he been planning this takeover? Enough time to have studied my every move. Long before I gave him cause. My blood chilled. My brother, my twin . . . seemingly he had doubted me all along.
“You know, when you were taken from The Pasture and placed with those men, I was relieved,” he said. “My days were spent in isolation. I studied and studied, and every day I became stronger in my faith, more knowledgeable about our movement. I strengthened my ability to lead our people.” Judah got to his feet. I had to tip my head back to look at him as he towered over me. I was on my knees, looking up at Judah above me. In his eyes, I saw the rush of power it brought him. The true prophet kneeling at the feet of the brother cast aside.
He smirked, a smug expression engulfing his face. He crouched down to meet my eyes. “I could never understand why Uncle had sent you, his ‘chosen heir’, into Satan’s grasp.” His hand dropped to trace the tattoo of Hades on my forearm. “But now I know.” Judah nodded, as if he was convincing himself whatever theory he had in his head was true. “He was testing you. He was seeing if you could resist evil’s pull.” Judah dropped my hand and shrugged nonchalantly. “It turns out you could not.”
“I did,” I spat back. “I lived among them for five years. I gathered intelligence, I made us strong. Without that information we would have failed in our mission!” I winced as my throat throbbed with pain. Pushing through it, I added, “You would have died in a matter of weeks of being amongst those men. You are too weak. I stayed strong. I did what I had to for our cause.” I gritted my teeth. “I killed for them. I took lives, innocent lives. You would have crumbled!”
Judah’s expression didn’t change, yet I saw by the tightening of his eyes that my words had hit their target.
“You did not stay strong, brother,” he said in a taunting voice, pulling his anger back from the brink. “You fell. You held a Cursed in your grasp and let her go because you believed you loved her.” He tipped his head to one side. “In reality, you were cast under her spell like everyone else. Like all the weak men that had fallen before. Your weakness led those men to our commune and got our savior killed.” Hatred for Judah swirled inside me. He had no idea what the hell he was talking about!
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