I was tired. I was so tired. His hand lay in mine, the warmth of his affection seeping onto my skin. I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I was sick of being alone.
“I don’t want to be alone anymore,” I whispered.
Judah’s forehead pressed against mine. “Then do not be, brother. Come back to us. Free yourself from Satan’s grip and come back to us. You have a home here with me. A home that is waiting for you to return. Repent, brother . . . simply utter those two liberating words.”
My lips twitched as I felt my resolve flutter away. I wanted a family again. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be whole again.
Judah held his breath as my mouth opened . . . but nothing came out. Instead, my mind raced with images. Flashes of activities I’d seen here in New Zion. Judah’s videos of children dancing seductively. Judah inviting me to choose one to take as my consort. The awakenings that I knew Judah had participated in. The taking of young girls. The sex, the acts of endorsed depravation. I could see the Cursed Delilah’s scarred face as if she were before me, could see her fearful, terrified gaze.
“Brother, listen to me,” Judah continued, his grip growing tighter and tighter on my hand. “We just had it the wrong way around. I am the prophet and you are the Prophet’s Hand. It was why you struggled to cope. Because we were meant for different roles.”
Judah sat down before me, meeting me at my level. At this height he appeared my equal once more. But I knew that wasn’t possible. Too much had happened, too many things had blotted stains on my faith to ever make things return to the way they were before.
Nothing could be the same. The knowledge I had now made sure of that.
“No,” I whispered dejectedly, before I even realized I had spoken. I lifted my eyes to see Judah watching me intently. “No,” I said again, stronger this time, feeling adrenaline surge through my body, bringing life to my bones and clarity to my mind.
“No, what . . . ?” Judah asked, frowning.
“No to it all. I won’t repent.” Judah tried to snatch his hand from mine but I held on tight. “And repent for what, for saving us? Keeping the Cursed Sisters would have led to the Hangmen raiding our commune again. The Cursed Sisters are all betrothed, married or bearing children. They are no longer spiritually pure enough to be the prophet’s bride, even if we did get them back.” I took a much-needed breath and continued. “And I won’t stand by and allow children to be violated by grown men, Judah. I still believe in all of this, in our cause. But I will stop the practice of awakenings. It’s . . . barbaric. It’s just plain wrong!”
“No,” Judah replied through clenched teeth. “It is the way of the prophet, revealed to him by the Lord!” He pushed to his feet, ripping his hand from mine.
I fought with what to say next. I knew the impact it would have . . . I decided to say it anyhow. “I do not believe that practice was revealed by God. How would any God condone that?”
Judah’s eyes widened. “Now you choose?” Judah said and staggered back to sit on the stone steps. His eyes narrowed as he watched me, as though he was staring at a stranger. His face clouded over. “Now you choose to question the scriptures, at our most crucial and significant time? When I need you with me most?”
I stayed silent and stared back. Judah’s lip twitched in agitation. “Tell me,” Judah said and paused, drawing it all out. “If you had succeeded in getting the Cursed Salome to stay in the commune, would you be feeling these things?”
I felt as though my twin had punched me in the gut. He knew how I had felt about Mae. Now he was using it against me. Judah leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Well? Would you?”
I thought about his question, truly thought about it. I pictured Mae’s beautiful smile, her long dark hair and her ice-blue eyes—always my favorite feature. But then I closed my eyes and I saw her in Styx’s arms. I saw the way she looked at him. I saw the way she now looked at me. Pity, maybe even hatred.
Never love and respect.
What the hell was I doing?
Everything was a mass of confusion in my brain. I tried to imagine being married to Mae here in New Zion. I would never have taken another. But Mae would have never have suffered this life. She hated this place, and I had once loved her enough to not want it for her.
Hell, I had no idea what I felt anymore. The longer I had stayed in that cell, hurting and in pain, the more my feelings for her had dimmed. Who wanted someone who despised you? Who wanted a woman who was repulsed by everything that you are?
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