Judah leaned forward. “Then even when I brought all three to you, a gift on a silver platter, you still could not secure them. Instead you let them go. You were blinded by their beauty again, ruled by your lust and sin. That, brother, is not the mark of a prophet.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but he interrupted me. “It became clear to me on that journey home why you had been sent to the Hangmen.” He was toying with me, making me wait on my knees for his conclusion. “Because our uncle knew you would fall. He knew you would be swayed by evil.” Judah’s eyes gleamed with righteousness and he nodded his head. “He took you away so I could remain in seclusion. He knew you were a distraction to me.” A slow grin pulled on his lips; my veins turned to ice. “I was the destined prophet after all. This was all meant to be mine. I see that now.”
My hands balled into fists. Losing my already frayed composure, I said, “You preach nothing but hate! I can hear you from my cell. You have announced The Rapture to the flock. You have signaled the end of days. You have sent them into hysteria!”
“Because it is, brother. The time has come,” he replied calmly.
I shook my head in frustration. “That would have been revealed by God. You would have had a direct message from our Lord. You cannot just announce that on your own! You cannot put innocent lives in danger because of your need for Hangmen blood!”
Judah smiled wider, and my heart dropped. “I have,” he said proudly. “The moment you deserted your faith by freeing the Cursed Sisters from that mill, I felt the change in me. I felt the burden of leadership fall on my shoulders, transferring from yours. And I have since received revelation after revelation from the Lord, just as our uncle did for so many years.” Judah nodded slowly. “And I have been told to prepare our people for The Rapture. It is time, brother. The time we have prepared for our entire lives has come.”
My eyes widened in shock, and I studied Judah’s face. I searched for his deception, for evidence that he was lying.
But all I saw was truth and conviction on his face. I shook my head, unable to believe it. He couldn’t be . . . no, it wasn’t possible . . .
Judah’s hand landed hard on my shoulder. “Brother,” he said softly. In an instant, his eyes had changed from hard to kind, angry to loving . . . from the prophet’s to my brother’s.
I wanted to speak, to throw off his hand and tell him I knew he was lying. But I didn’t. Because I knew him. I knew when my twin lied . . . I didn’t know . . . I couldn’t focus . . . he looked like he was telling the truth . . . my head was too sore, my instincts failing me . . .
“Brother,” Judah tried again. This time, I tiredly met his gaze. “Today is the fortieth day of your punishment. You have atoned for your weakness and misjudgment.”
I shook my head. “No, it’s been thirty-five.” I didn’t know why I was arguing the point—how many days had passed wasn’t even important. But I just needed something to be real. Nothing was real to me anymore. Nothing.
I had thirty-five tallies on my wall.
“You have not always been conscious, brother. Some of your punishments kept you out cold for a long time. More in the beginning, when your desertion from us was fresh and the punishments were harsher. It has been forty days and forty nights, as required by our holy books. I stayed away from you while you faced your punishment. Your sins had to be atoned for, just like when we were children. In isolation from those you love. I am here today to see you repent and bring you back into the fold.” His face softened. “To my arms and trust.”
“Repent?” I asked, confused. Every part of me felt numb: skin, flesh and bones. But my head began to throb again at everything he was telling me.
“Yes,” Judah said gently. “For your sins. For losing faith in The Order . . . in me.” My stomach clenched as he stared at me with such compassion. As his features softened toward me. As he looked at me like a brother.
Judah’s hand reached down and clasped hold of mine. I stared at our joined hands—mine dirtied and injured, his unmarked. I choked back a cry when his fingers gently squeezed mine. I let my gaze drift to his. His brown eyes were glistening. “Judah,” I rasped, feeling the fight drain away from my heart.
“Repent, brother, please. Please . . . I . . . ” He cleared his throat. “I need you beside me.” He laughed softly. “Like we always were . . . like we are always meant to be. Brothers bound by God, blood and faith.”
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