“I want to congratulate you all on your hard work.”
I had asked to prophet to speak to the troops. We were tired, hungry and wounded; morale needed a boost. As he spoke and looked around at everyone, I could almost see their spirits being lifted again.
“We have broken five anchor points. And all of it without killing, without damning your souls any further. I have hope for you. We don’t have much further to go. Only the prince’s nursery and the ballroom remain. Applaud yourself!”
We cheered and exchanged smiles.
I stepped forward, the small wooden box that I had unearthed from under the statue in the gardens in my hands. “I have here the thing we need to break the spell on the prince’s nursery: Laurentia’s baby!” And I opened the box so all could see the small corpse.
Cheers erupted from the Bruja and Nosferatu, but the others gasped. Carl jumped up and pointed at me, disgust on his face. “Put that away! It’s not some trophy you get to show off. That used to be a person!”
I closed the box. My hands trembled as the prophet took it from me. I staggered backwards. “I never meant to…” My voice faltered. “It has been dead so long that I failed to realise… I’m sorry.”
The prophet looked at Carl and the ones who agreed with him with pride in his eyes. There was definitely something worth saving here.
The ballroom was a free-for-all fighting frenzy. Bullets shattered the windows. The prince had lost her wig and attacked CJ with a sword. Hawkshaw had a pistol in each hand. Charles flung someone across the room. Ernest disappeared into a corner, scared shitless.
The doors flung open and the prophet charged in.
“On your knees you wretched demons!”
Eerie silence rung in my ears as the gunfire ceased. One by one, the kindred obeyed. Kneeling, they didn’t seem so violent anymore. Hawkshaw growled. But Prince Laurentia bowed her head and prayed. As did Ralph, Oriana, David, Spiegel, Salimah and Carl.
Sigurd grinned. “So, the one they call prophet is not a powerless mortal after all?”
Christiaan let out a thunderous laugh.
“Silence!” The prophet raised his hands in the air. “The time of reckoning has come and you will all be judged.”
He proceeded to ask questions. What do you regret the most? Who do you love the most? Would you do it all over again? Do you think you can be saved? Some answers were frightened and short, but the council was haughty, refusing the prophet’s message even now that they were on their knees.
He sorted us into two groups. The ones who could still be saved and the ones who were damned. I stared across the room at Charles, who returned my look with a nod, as if he was proud of me.
“How will you judge them?” The prophet adressed the ones who could be saved. “What is your sentence?”
We looked at each other, bewildered, disbelieving. Reverent David stepped forward.
“We cannot possibly pass judgement on them. That is not up to us. We are no different from them.”
Christiaan laughed again, and Sigurd along with him. “Those wishy-washy do-gooders…”
But their mocking laughter died away when Prince Laurentia pushed him aside and walked up to us. “Dorestad is in your hands then.” She handed her sword to one of the Toreador standing at the front of our group, someone I didn’t know very well.
The silence was heavy with thoughts of sin and damnation. Then Carl spoke up.
“I forgive you.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. It was the only right thing to do. Others agreed.
“We forgive you.” We repeated the sentence until the meaning of the words sunk in.
The prophet opened the doors into the hallway and a bright light blinded us all.
“Then you may now follow me into the light.”
We stared as he walked across the hallway. He was praying again. “The Lord is my shepherd. He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes…” His voice faltered. His feet stumbled. “My soul… Please Lord… I have done Your work, I am Your servant!” He fell to his knees. “Please Lord, have mercy!” His voice echoed through the hall as he fell to the floor and lay there, halfway to the light.
A chill ran through the ballroom. Frightened looks. But the Prince accepted her fate and was the next one to walk into the hallway and brave the light. It killed her too.
The light beckoned us. Some of us entered the hall alone, some of us together. Only few made it it all the way to the other side.
Ernest and Spiegel put their arms around Ralph, who was wounded. Frans and I did the same for Charles. Without speaking we decided to go as a group. Because nossies need to stick together. I turned to Charles before we went in. His balaclava had been ripped off. His face was covered in blood.
“I love you.” I had never said it before, but I knew it was true.
He grinned. “I love you too. But you I’m not going to make it, beauty.”
“I just had to say it, handsome.”
Clinging to each other, we staggered into the hallway. The floor was littered with bodies and the bright light blinded us. As we continued, I felt Charles go limp and his head flopped forward. Ernest gave me a tearful look as the same happened to Ralph. Ralph had risked too much to save us. At the end of the hall, where no one was lying yet, Ernest and Spiegel put Ralph down. But Frans wanted to go on.
“I’m taking him with us! We should stick together!”
I grabbed him by the shoulder. “We can’t. We have to leave them.”
Crying, I let Charles slump to the floor. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.”
Frans grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the light. “Come on, I don’t want to go alone.”
I breathed in the cold air. I was outside and I was alive once again. My senses were dull but overloaded at the same time. I could feel my heart beat and my stomach churn. The cold night air against my skin gave me goosebumps.
I was alive again? No wait, how could that be? I thought we would move on. Why am I back? Why me?
What if I do it wrong all over again?