Suffer the Children

by C. Scott Davis


This novel was written from 1 November to 30 November, 2004.

NaNoWriMo 2004 Winner

Deadlines

ChapterTitleDeadlineStatusLengthTotalDate completed
1Where Angels Fear to Tread3 November, 2004complete5,3185,3183 November, 2004
2You Can't Take it with You6 November, 2004complete5,24710,5655 November, 2004
3You Can Run, but You Can't Hide9 November, 2004complete4,44315,0087 November, 2004
4Seek and Ye Shall Find12 November, 2004complete6,54621,55411 November, 2004
5Thou Shalt not Kill15 November, 2004complete5,02726,58115 November, 2004
6Out of Sight, Out of Mind18 November, 2004complete4,03830,61917 November, 2004
7Curse the Darkness21 November, 2004complete7,01237,63121 November, 2004
8Lest Ye be Not Judged24 November, 2004complete5,62443,25526 November, 2004
9The Devil You Know27 November, 2004complete5,38448,63928 November, 2004
10Honour Thy Mother30 November, 2004complete4,88553,52430 November, 2004

Progress

Zokutou word meter
53,524 / 50,000
(107.0%)

DateDaily minimumWords writtenTotal lengthTarget lengthComplete+/- Daily+/- Total
1 November, 20041,6671,8211,8211,6674%+160+160
2 November, 20041,6611,9253,7463,3337%+264+413
3 November, 20041,6522,3306,0675,00012%+678+1067
4 November, 20041,6273,5499,6256,66719%+1,967+2,958
5 November, 20041,5531,75211,3778,33323%+199+3,044
6 November, 20041,54521511,59210,00023%-1,330+1,592
7 November, 20041,6003,41615,00811,66730%+1,816+3,341
8 November, 20041,5211,06416,07213,33332%-457+2,739
9 November, 20041,5421,97118,04315,00036%+429+3,043
10 November, 20041,5221,40019,44316,66739%-122+2,776
11 November, 20041,5282,47721,92018,33344%+949+3,587
12 November, 20041,47843322,35320,00045%-1,045+2,353
13 November, 20041,536022,35321,66745%-1,536+686
14 November, 20041,6262,38624,73923,33349%+760+1,406
15 November, 20041,5792,45327,19225,00054%+874+2,192
16 November, 20041,5211,42128,61326,66757%-100+1,946
17 November, 20041,5282,00630,61928,33361%+478+2,286
18 November, 20041,491030,61930,00061%-1,491+619
19 November, 20041,6153,69534,31431,66769%+2,080+2,647
20 November, 20041,4261,38935,70333,33371%-37+2,370
21 November, 20041,4301,98337,68635,00075%+553+2,686
22 November, 20041,36886938,55536,66777%-499+1,888
23 November, 20041,43129238,84738,33378%-1,139+514
24 November, 20041,5931,37540,22240,00080%-218+222
25 November, 20041,6301,52641,74841,66783%-104+81
26 November, 20041,6501,50743,25543,33387%-153-78
27 November, 20041,6862,49945,75445,00092%+813+754
28 November, 20041,4153,29549,04946,66798%+1,880+2,382
29 November, 20044763,30352,35248,333105%+2,827+4,019
30 November, 200401,17253,52450,000107%+1,172+3,524

Characters

Natalie Cross- Main Character
Lucas Cross- Natalie's 4-year-old son
Mrs. Cross- Natalie's mother
Joseph- A Scholar
Lisbeth- A Young Girl
Donnie- A Wizard
King Andrew- The Wizard King
Lisha- A Wizard
Aaron Hamilton- Mayor of Belton
Michael- An Attendant
Bethany- An Attendant
Isabis and Yuri- A Couple
Simeon Gant- A Purger Priest
Lucy- A Woman
Tiberus LeMark- The Purger Archpriest
 

The Novel

Due to potential issues with first-publication rights, I am not posting the entire novel publicly.

Excerpts

Chapter 1:

Where Angels Fear to Tread

"I'll be fine," Natalie said, fumbling for her car keys, while holding her sleeping four-year-old over with the other arm.

"You could stay here, you know," her mother offered, for what must've been the tenth time that night.

"I know, Mum," Natalie said, trying not to sound as exasperated as she felt, "but I've got work first thing in the morning, and Lucas has day-care, and it's a long drive."

"Too long a drive for you to have to make this late."

"Mother..."

"I can make up the guest bed," Natalie's mother looked at her hopefully, "And Lucas is already asleep."

Natalie said nothing, just continued getting her things ready to go.

"You could head back first thing in the morning, with plenty of time to get Lucas to day-care and get to work on time."

Natalie sighed, and shifted her son gently to the other arm, so she could get her coat on.

"You look so tired," her mother said, still fighting the losing battle.

"I'm fine, Mother," Natalie lied, "Really I am." The truth was that she was very tired, and she wasn't looking forward to the two-hour drive that lay ahead of her.

"Lucas is already asleep."

"You already used that one," Natalie said with a smile, "He can sleep on the way home."

"Call me when you get in, okay?"

"I will," Natalie said, leaning over to kiss her mother goodbye, "And don't worry so much. We'll be fine."

Mrs. Cross hugged her daughter, and kissed Lucas on the top of the head, causing him to stir slightly and then snuggle closer, burying his face deeper in the crook of his mother's neck.

Natalie made her way out to her station wagon, settled Lucas into the back seat, and then sat down in the driver's seat and started the ignition.

She let the car run for a few minutes, so that the heater could drive the chill from the cold February air, and then slowly backed out of her mother's driveway.

 

Less than 30 minutes down the road, Natalie's fatigue was already catching up with her. If she was honest, she knew that her mother was right, but if she could just get through another hour or so then she and Lucas would be at home in their own beds.

With her hectic work schedule, and taking care of her son, these visits to her mother's were really taking their toll on her.

Unfortunately, moving closer was out of the question; There was no way she was going to change jobs at this point. She'd tried to convince her mother to move closer to the city, but she was just as adamant, and stubborn, as her daughter. She insisted that she would live in that house until the day she died.

It wouldn't be so bad, if she didn't have to make the whole round trip in the same day, but she just wasn't in a position to take any days off right now. Maybe when things calmed down a bit, she could start taking some weekends and things would be easier.

Natalie shook her head and scoffed at her own thoughts. She knew that wasn't ever going to happen. She was always going to busy with work, and she liked it that way. She loved her job, almost as much as she loved her son, and nothing was likely to ever change that.

She'd just have to cut down on the number of visits. Both Lucas and her mother would be upset with her, but she really might have no choice.

She rubbed her eyes and rolled down the window, letting in a cold, jarring blast of air.

Lucas really loved his Grandma, but there was only so much Natalie could do, and spending four hours driving, when she had to work the next day, was pushing that limit.

She closed the front heater vents, leaving ones in the back open, so that Lucas wouldn't get cold. Her eyes felt gritty and uncomfortable, and the trip seemed to be passing very slowly.

She glanced back to check on Lucas, and then stared at the road ahead of her, concentrating intensely on keeping awake. She could feel the car sounds closing in around her, in an sort of auditory tunnel vision, and each blink of her eyes seemed to try to linger longer and longer.

Natalie slapped her face rapidly, trying to keep herself awake. This was not good. She still had a good hour ahead of her, and she was finding it very difficult to stay awake.

She turned the radio on quietly, so as not to wake Lucas, and then quickly tuned it to the most obnoxious and disagreeable talk show she could find. Anything to keep her awake.

 

In the breadth of a second, between one blink and the next, something happened.

 

The road suddenly became very rough, and Natalie found herself fighting to control the car. Her heart began to race rapidly, as she struggled to slow the vehicle and figure out what was going on.

After her initial confusion, she realised what must've happened. She must've fallen asleep and run off the road. It was a miracle she hadn't hit anything... or anyone.

She hadn't hit anyone, had she? "Oh god, I hope not," she muttered under her breath. Surely she would've felt it if she had.

As she brought the car to a stop, she glanced back briefly at Lucas, who was still sleeping soundly, in spite of the rough ride.

Looking ahead of motionless car, she could see grass and brush in the headlights. Obviously her initial guess had been right; She had run off the road.

She opened the door and got out to see if she could determine how far off the road she'd gone. There was no road in sight as far as she could see in any direction, but there was a clear trail of torn up ground behind the car. It should be possible to follow it back to the road.

Leaning back into the car to make sure that Lucas was still okay, Natalie noticed that the radio was hissing static, so she reached over and turned it off, then grabbed her emergency torch and locked the doors.

Making sure she kept the car, and her sleeping son, always in sight, she backtracked the path of the car a short distance.

Thankfully, there didn't seem to be any immediate obstacles, so if she was careful and took it slow, she should be able to drive the car back along the path.

Several metres back, the tracks abruptly ended at a slab of asphalt.

It was roughly the length and width of her car, and it was just sitting isolated in the middle of the field, with no road still in sight.

Natalie glanced nervously back over at the car and then took a closer look at the asphalt slab. It appeared to be part of an old road, but there didn't seem to be any other pieces near by.

It was remarkably intact, and the painted divider lines were still visible on its surface. It stopped cleanly, on both ends, as it if had been cut.

She must've run across it, although that seemed pretty unlikely, and there was no sign of any car tracks beyond it.

Natalie shined her torch around the area, but couldn't find any other tracks at all. They seemed to begin right at the edge of the asphalt slab, even though that simply wasn't possible.

As she walked back to the car, Natalie could see that the tyre tracks ran in a fairly straight line. If she followed them back, and stayed in that same general direction past the asphalt, she should eventually meet up with the highway again.

Getting back into the car, it occurred to her that her other option was to call for help on her mobile, but she'd really rather or not do that. Or, if she had to, she'd at least prefer to be by the side of the road at the time, rather than out in the middle of a field somewhere.

Natalie turned the car around, and very slowly made her way along the tracks, back towards the asphalt slab. There terrain was bumpy, but she could still feel a noticeable jolt when the car went over the asphalt, and she wondered if that might've been what woke her up in the first place.

The night was overcast, and the sky was full of clouds, but even though she couldn't see any particular constellations that she recognised, she was able to pick out a small group of stars in the general direction she wanted to go, and use them to keep her bearings.

She was making slow progress along the rugged ground, but she was pretty sure that she was heading the right way, and she hoped and expected to see the road or lights or other signs of civilisation at any time.

After a few minutes, she turned the radio back on, and was rewarded with static. She tuned around, but couldn't get it to pick up anything, so she just turned it off. Something had probably shaken loose when she ran off the road. She'd be lucky if that was the only thing wrong with the car, at this point.

 

Natalie drove for almost half an hour, and there was still no sign of a road.. or anything for that matter, except grass, weeds and more grass.

She must've veered off course somehow. There was no way she'd driven 30 minutes in her sleep.

She looked up to verify that she was heading in the direction of the stars she'd selected. She was sure that she was, since she had been the last time she checked, which was only a few minutes earlier.

Still, there was really nothing else to do, but check again, and then give in and call for assistance.

As Natalie looked up, the clouds parted, and the moon showed through, looking bigger or closer than she'd ever seen it before.

As the clouds continued to drift aside, she gasped and slammed on the brakes, stopping suddenly.

She threw open the car door and bolted outside, staring up at the night sky.

There, floating serenely in the heavens, was what appeared to be a second, smaller moon.

...

[end excerpt from Chapter 1]

 

Chapter 2:

You Can't Take it with You

"Right," Joseph said, standing up again, "Would you like some tea? It isn't really tea, of course, but I've found some herbs and leaves that have a very similar flavour when boiled. Soak a piece of cane in it, or add a drop of honey when you can get it, and it's really not bad."

"No thank you," Natalie said, and then looked at him, still waiting for an answer.

"I'm not trying to put you off, Natalie," he said, "or maybe I am, but I don't mean to be. It's just that you're New and--"

"What does that mean anyway?" Natalie interrupted, "You're the second person who's said that I'm New. New? New how?"

"It means you've just arrived here," Joseph replied.

"Arrived here," Natalie repeated, "Where? and How?"

"I don't know exactly where this place is. It's nowhere on Earth, but then you've already worked that much out yourself."

"I've seen a lot of things that don't make sense in last several hours, not the least of which are a pair of moons."

"Right," Joseph said, "As to how you got here, well that's an easier answer to give, but it may not be an easy one to hear."

"And that is?" Natalie said, getting impatient.

"You died," Joseph said flatly, "You and Lucas actually. You died, and now you're here."

"That's nonsense!" Natalie exclaimed, "I'm not dead. WE'RE not dead."

"No, no, of course not. You're definitely alive," Joseph said, "But you also most certainly died. It's the only way I know of to end up here."

"And here is?..."

"Afterlife."

"The afterlife?" Natalie said, "You mean Heaven? Hell?"

"I don't know, maybe, probably not," Joseph said, "All I know is that this place, this world, is called Afterlife, at least by most of the people in this area. Some people have other names for it, and I have no idea what it might be called further away," He motioned towards the blank areas of the map, "but around here, it's Afterlife."

"And when you die, you end up here?"

"I don't know if everyone who dies ends up here or not," Joseph replied, "but that's how I got here, and everyone I've ever known or met here, and I'm fairly sure that includes you as well."

"So... I died, and came here... in my car?"

"Yes."

"I brought my car with me?" Natalie said sarcastically.

Joseph nodded.

"That's the craziest thing I've ever heard."

"Maybe so," Joseph said, "but it's true."

Natalie said nothing, still trying to take it all in.

"I died in this room," Joseph said, "sitting in this very chair in fact. One minute I was sitting in my study, reading a book, and the next I was here."

"And you brought the room with you?"

Joseph nodded again, "Everything that was near me when I died. That seems to be how it works here."

"So, part of your house just vanished when you died? And no one noticed."

"No," Joseph said, "At least I don't think so. I wasn't there any more, so I don't know for sure. But I'm pretty sure that I just brought, for lack of a better term, a copy of the room."

"A copy."

"Right. From talking to other people here, that's the best theory I've been able to come up with so far."

"I think I might like that tea now," Natalie said.

"Sure," Joseph said, getting up and heading into the other room.

Natalie looked down at Lucas, who was still colouring. Had he died? Had they both died?

"Are you doing okay, honey?" she asked.

Lucas nodded and held up his drawing for her to see.

"Very good," Natalie said, giving him a hug.

Maybe what Joseph had said was true, and maybe it wasn't. They were definitely somewhere though, and it somewhere very odd.

So, if they had died, everything that was nearby came with them? She thought back to the strange slab of asphalt. Had she brought a slice of the road with her, as well as her car?

But if she'd fallen asleep and run off the road, which is what she thought she'd done, how could that be? She thought about the asphalt again, the divider lines. Something about the divider lines was bothering her.

Then it hit her. They were on the wrong side. The way her car was going, the lines should've been on the other side. She hadn't run off the road, she had drifted over into the other lane.

Joseph came back, jarring her out of her thoughts, and handed her a steaming cup, before sitting down again, "I've tried to answer your questions, Natalie, so I need to you answer one of mine, okay?"

"Sure."

"How old is Lucas?"

"How old? He's four, why?"

"Right, he looks about four, but what I mean is how old was he Before?"

"Before?"

"How old was he back there, before you died?"

"Four," Natalie repeated, "He was four then, and he's four now. It was only a few hours ago."

"Oh," Joseph said, sitting back in his chair, "That changes things."

"What does?" Natalie said, feeling overwhelmed, "I don't understand."

"How old do you think I am?"

"I don't know, 14 or 15 maybe? Why?"

"Because, Natalie," Joseph said, "I was 82 years old when I died."

...

[end excerpt from Chapter 2]

 

Chapter 3:

You Can Run, but You Can't Hide

Natalie stared into the night, lost in thought, as she slowly drove the cart. Lucas sat beside her, contentedly eating a piece of fruit that she'd cut up for him.

Where had they been for 42 years? No wait, that wasn't right. Joseph said he'd arrived here 40 years ago, so if he died in 2046, then over 80 years had actually passed since she and her son had died.

Natalie sighed heavily. That was assuming that Joseph had come here immediately. If she and Lucas hadn't, who was to say that he had? Hundreds, thousands of years could've gone by. There was no way to know.

Everyone she had known was probably long dead. Actually, that was no reason to be upset. She was long dead too, and here she was.

Natalie looked down at her son, who smiled up at her, hiding his teeth behind a wedge of fruit.

Were they all here somewhere? Her mother? Her grandfather? Even her father, who'd died before Lucas was born? Where they out there somewhere?

She had too many questions, far too many, and precious few answers. How could everyone who'd ever lived and died be here? Wouldn't that be an awful lot of people? What about babies who were born here? Did people have babies here? COULD they?

Natalie was starting to understand how religion had survived the transition to this world. There were at least as many unanswered questions here as there were Before.

She was pretty sure that Joseph knew some of the answers, or at least had theories about some of them. She wouldn't have minded staying there with him for a while and finding out more about this place.

Right now though, the most important thing was keeping Lucas safe. She looked out ahead at the mountains that were barely visible in the distance, tiny bumps on the horizon.

There was no way of knowing how long it would take to get there, or how they would get across them when they did. All she could do was add that to the already long list of questions, and keep heading West.

 

"When can we go home?" Lucas asked, lying beside his mother, in the back of the wagon.

It was almost morning, and Natalie had found the most secluded, and well-covered spot she could for them to wait for nightfall.

"We can't go home, sweetie," Natalie said, "I'm sorry." She had gone back and forth in her mind, as to what to tell Lucas when this subject came up, and she'd finally decided that the truth was the only real option.

"Why not?"

"I don't know how to get there," she answered.

"Can't you ask somebody?"

"I don't think anybody knows how to get there, honey."

"Joseph?"

Natalie shook her head no. "Not even Joseph."

Lucas thought for a moment, looking very intent and serious. "When I grow up, I'll find a way home," he said.

"That would be nice," Natalie said, deciding that she'd handed out enough truth for one conversation. There was no need to shatter all of his hopes, if she could help it.

At this point, hers were pretty much shattered enough for the both of them.

 

The day passed uneventfully, for which Natalie was grateful.

They slept a bit, played some games, and ate the last of the cold stew that Joseph had sent in a lidded clay pot.

Natalie set the pot aside when they were done. Hopefully they would come to a stream or river and she would be able to wash it out.

One of the things that Joseph had stressed, other than keeping Lucas out of sight, was to think carefully before getting rid of anything, no matter what it was.

Even things that had been trash Before, like an empty soda bottle or an old soup tin, could have their uses here. Bottles could be used to keep water; a tin could be used as a cup or a scoop, or it could be traded to someone for the metal.

Even though she was still tired, Natalie was glad to be moving again. She just felt more vulnerable sitting still. Besides, the sooner they got past the mountains, the better.

They didn't look any closer as she started the second night of travel than they had the first, which probably showed how far away they really were.

So far, they hadn't encountered any people, which was good. Joseph had shown her the more populated areas and travel paths that he was aware of, and she was staying well away from them.

She had also worked out a game with Lucas, to see how fast he could get under the canopy and how quiet he could be. He didn't understand what was at stake, of course, but he enjoyed practising the game, and was pretty good at it.

Hopefully they would never have to play it for real.

 

Sometime before morning, it began to rain. It was just a mist at first, but eventually it started coming down hard enough to drive them inside the wagon, to huddle under the canopy.

She also took the opportunity to wash out the clay pot, and even left it outside afterwards to fill with rain. It wouldn't hurt to keep some water on hand that they could use for washing up, without having to waste their supply of drinking water.

The rain didn't last very long, but Natalie couldn't help but wonder what would happen if they encountered a real storm. She wasn't sure the canopy would hold up to a really heavy rain.

Lucas seemed hardly phased, if slightly damp. It was amazing how easily he seemed to be adapting to all of this. Natalie had expected him to have a hard time adjusting to all of the sudden changes in their lives.

He had lost his home, his family, his friends, his possessions, his whole world, and yet here he was, in a horse-drawn wagon going who knows where, and he was treating it all like it was perfectly normal.

Truth be told, Natalie thought he was coping with things better than she was.

 

Another day passed uneventfully, and as darkness fell, they prepared to get underway again.

By this time, the mountains definitely appeared to be just slightly closer, but Natalie couldn't swear that it wasn't her imagination or just wishful thinking.

She had found some fruit and berries earlier, and had collected them to supplement they food that Joseph had given them. Lucas loved to chew on the dried meat, although he could barely manage it, but Natalie knew that there's was no way of knowing when they'd be able to get meat again, and so they needed to make it last.

They had just started out when Natalie heard a strange humming noise. It was coming from in front of them, and it was steadily getting louder. Even when she stopped the wagon, the sound continued to increase in volume and pitch, and she began to smell an acrid odour like ozone.

"Lucas! Hiding game!" she shouted, watching nervously as he scrambled into the back of the wagon and burrowed down under a pile of blankets.

The noise become impossibly loud and then suddenly stopped, as her ears popped painfully.

In that same instant, a gallows appeared, along with a man lying on the ground, beneath the open trap door.

The man immediately stood up, and looked around, in a panic. There was a noose around his neck, and the end of the rope was hanging down to the ground. It appeared to be cleanly cut.

He kept turning around in a circle, first one way, then the other, as if expecting to see something that wasn't there.

Silently willing Lucas to stay down, Natalie just sat still and watched, as the man turned her way, noticing the wagon for the first time.

"Where did they go?" he shouted, "Where did everybody go?!"

Natalie wasn't sure what to say. She knew the man was confused, and probably scared, because she'd so recently been there herself, but anything she did could put Lucas at risk, and she wasn't willing to take that chance.

"Are you deaf?!" he screamed, "WHERE DID THEY GO?!!!" After a minute he spit on the ground, turned around and stomped away.

He'd only gone a short distance, when he noticed the rope. He stopped just long enough to take it from around his neck and throw it to the ground, before he took off running into the night.

"Welcome to Afterlife..." Natalie whispered, as the man ran out of sight.

She waited until he was long gone, and then walked over and looked down at the rope, just standing there for a moment, trying to make up her mind. Finally, she reached down and picked it up.

It felt like kind of a ghoulish thing to do, but there was no way of knowing when a piece of rope could come in handy.

"You can come out now," She called back to Lucas, as she climbed back up on the wagon.

"Did I win?" Lucas asked, poking his head out.

"Yes, sweetie," Natalie said, kissing the top of his head, "You won."

...

[end excerpt from Chapter 3]

 

Chapter 4:

Seek and Ye Shall Find

"Why didn't you tell me?" Natalie demanded.

"I didn't know for sure," Joseph answered.

"You suspected."

"Yes," he admitted, "but that was based on rumours and speculation. You had more than enough to worry about, without my adding to it with something that might not even be true."

"You still should've told me," Natalie accused.

"Maybe," Joseph said, "but it wouldn't have made any difference." He looked over at Natalie, who was still frowning at him, unconvinced, "Honestly, do you think telling you would have made any difference?"

"Maybe... Probably not," she said, "but you still should've."

"I probably should've," Joseph said, "I'm sorry."

"It doesn't matter," Natalie said, shaking her head, "Right now, I just need to find out where that castle is, so I can go and get him."

"Natalie..."

"It doesn't matter what you say," she said stubbornly, "I AM going to get my son back."

Joseph closed his eyes for a moment and sighed deeply. After a moment, he looked back over and Natalie and said, "Alright. I'll help you, but only if you'll get some rest first."

"But--"

"You wouldn't make it another step in the condition you're in now," Joseph said, "and that horse of yours will be lucky if he makes it through the night. Just rest for a bit, and then we'll talk about how to get Lucas back. Okay?"

"I'm not sleepy..."

"Don't sleep then, just rest. That's all I'm asking."

Natalie nodded reluctantly. "I'm not going to sleep though."

"Okay," Joseph replied.

In less than five minutes, she was sound asleep.

 

"Where am I?" Natalie could hear Lucas' voice, faint and distant, lost in the inky blackness that surrounded her. She tried to look around, but she seemed to be stuck, unable to move.

"You're home," Natalie recognised the voice of the Wizard boy who had taken her son. She strained against whatever force was holding her, but couldn't break free.

"No I'm not," Lucas insisted, "Where's my momma?"

"She's safe."

"I'm right here, baby!" Natalie tried to shout, but no sound came.

Natalie felt something brush past her in the darkness, and she suddenly felt as if Lucas was looking at her, even though she couldn't see anything.

"She's with Joseph?" Lucas asked.

"Yes," the boy answered, "She's with... Joseph."

"Okay then," Lucas said, "She's safe." Then both voices faded away into silence.

"Lucas!" she shouted, "LUCAS!" but she was still unable to make a sound.

As she fought against her bonds, she felt the slight tingle of pins and needles, and could almost imagine that she could feel her fingers moving, impossibly far away.

She continued to struggle, still silently screaming her son's name.

Then she felt something give, and she was pulled rapidly back, down and in, suddenly returning to herself in mid-scream.

"LUCAS!!" she shouted, bolting upright, still on Joseph's couch, in his study. Her heart was racing, and her breathing was fast and shallow, her muscles still trembling from the effort of breaking free.

But breaking free of what?

Now that she was awake, it felt like a dream, but it had been so real, so frightening.

Natalie looked around the room, and noticed Joseph's empty chair. "Joseph?" she called out, "Are you here?"

She stood up, putting aside the blanket that Joseph must've covered her with while she was asleep, and walked through the rest of the house.

Joseph wasn't there.

 

Natalie walked back to the study and sat down. She'd looked outside, but he wasn't there either. Her wagon had been moved into the shed, and the horse was penned up out back with a trough of fresh water.

As she looked around the room, she noticed that the large map was gone as well. She stood up and walked over to Joseph's desk. The map had been taken down from the wall, and in it's place was a hand-written note, reading simply: "Natalie, Please wait. I'll be back soon." Damn him.

Natalie sat back down, annoyed with herself. She wasn't usually like this. Then again, she didn't usually die, go to some crazy mixed-up world, and have her son kidnapped either.

She reached up and rubbed her aching shoulder. It certainly didn't help that she was so sore and exhausted. It would take more than a few hours sleep to get her back to normal, but Joseph had been right about her needing the rest. Even with her strange dream, or whatever it was, she still felt slightly better than she had earlier.

 

Joseph returned a few minutes later.

"Sorry I was gone so long," he said as sat down, "I had hoped to be back before you woke up. Did you have a good rest?"

"Yes, thank you," Natalie said, deciding at the last minute not to mention what had happened while she was asleep.

"Someone from town is coming in the morning to take a look at your horse," Joseph said, "He's in pretty bad shape."

"Sorry," Natalie said.

"It's your horse," Joseph said, although he was clearly unhappy about the animal's condition.

"Where's the map?" Natalie asked, trying not to give Joseph a chance to shift the subject of the conversation to other things.

"Don't worry," he said, "I promised I'd help, and I will. I just wanted to make sure you didn't leave before I got back."

"I'd find the castle either way you know," Natalie said, "I'm sure everyone around here knows where it is."

"I have no doubt that you would," he said, "but if you insist on doing this, you might as well have all of the help you can."

Natalie nodded, her gratitude showing through, in spite of her annoyance and frustration.

"You're not going to get him back though," Joseph said, "I'm sorry, but no one ever comes back from that castle."

"Look--" Natalie started.

"I'm not saying I won't help you," Joseph interrupted, "I'm just saying that if you go there, you won't come back either."

"You said that what you know is based on rumours," Natalie said.

"A lot of it, yes."

"Maybe you're wrong then," Natalie said, "If I can find him, maybe he WILL want to come back. Maybe he's not even..." She let the sentence trail off.

"No," Joseph said, "That much I'm sure of. I wasn't at first, but I am now."

"How?" she asked, "How can you be sure?"

"Because," Joseph said flatly, "you're still alive."

...

[end excerpt from Chapter 4]

 

Chapter 5:

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Natalie dropped to the floor, feeling dizzy and disoriented. She was definitely inside the castle for real this time, not like in her dreams.

The Wizard children were circled around, eyes wide, obviously startled by her appearance. The one called Donnie looked outright terrified.

"MOMMY!" Lucas shouted, running up to her and hugging her fiercely.

"Hey sweetie," she said, kissing his cheek and tasting salty tears.

Lucas looked up at the other Wizards and smiled, his eyes still wet, "This is my mother."

"How did you do that, Lucas?" one of the Wizards asked.

"I just did what Donnie said," Lucas replied, "Right, Donnie?"

"What? Oh... Right," Donnie stuttered.

"I'm a WIZARD," Lucas said proudly, still holding tightly to his mother.

"Yes you are," Natalie said with a smile, trying not to let him see how worried she was.

"Donnie said I could have anything I wanted, and he was right!" Lucas said, "Weren't you, Donnie?"

"That's right," Donnie said, smiling coldly, "Whatever you want buddy." He glanced briefly at Natalie, and she could almost feel his hatred of her. "She can stay here as long as she wants to."

"You'll like it here," Lucas said.

"Michael!" Donnie called, and a small boy walked out of the darkness. From his appearance, it the boy was clearly one of the Attendants. "Find a room for Lucas' mother," Donnie ordered, "And make sure it's a NICE one."

Michael nodded and headed off into the darkness.

Natalie stood up slowly. She still felt weak and off-balance, but she seemed to be recovering.

"So," she said, "Who are your friends?"

"They're Wizards too," Lucas said.

"All of them?" she asked, even though she knew the answer.

"Wizards and 'Tendants," he said.

"Just one big happy family," Donnie interrupted, smiling broadly and clapping Lucas on the back.

"This is Donnie," Lucas said.

"We've met," Natalie said flatly.

"Yes," Donnie said, his hand still firmly on Lucas' shoulder, "And I want you to know that I'm REALLY sorry about our little misunderstanding."

"Misunderstanding," Natalie repeated.

"Oh yes," Donnie said, "I had no idea who you were at the time. If I'd know that you were Lucas' MOTHER... well, I'm just really sorry." In spite of his words, Donnie's tone and manner said that he was anything but sorry. If he had any regrets at all, it was only that she had survived.

"Well," Natalie said, gently pulling her son away, "We're together now, and that's all that matters."

"Of course," Donnie said.

He stood there clenching his fist, as Lucas led his mother off to see his room.

 

"Andrew is the KING," Lucas explained, as he walked down the hallway, holding his mother's hand.

"I see," Natalie said calmly, determined not to allow herself to be frightened of her own son, in spite of how she'd been brought here.

"He's nice," Lucas said, "but he's sad a lot."

"Why's he sad?" she asked.

"Dunno," Lucas shrugged, "He just is."

"How about you?" Natalie asked, "How do you feel?"

"I was scared," Lucas said, "but not any more."

"You're happy here?" she asked cautiously, still feeling strongly that there were things she simply shouldn't voice.

"I am NOW," Lucas said, grinning up at her.

Natalie smiled down at him and squeezed his hand tightly.

 

Later, as they were eating, Natalie got a chance to really look at the young Wizards for the first time since she'd arrived.

Andrew and Lucas were among the youngest there, with only one girl looking as though she might be just a bit younger. The oldest child looked to be about 10, and the others all looked to be somewhere in between.

Natalie was surprised at the quantity and variety of food on the table. She didn't get a really good look at in her dream, but she had really expected to see candy and sweets and other things that a child might think of as good food.

Instead there was meat and cheese and noodles, and a wide array of other basic food items. Admittedly, she didn't see broccoli or sprouts or things like that, but it was still real food, and there was a lot of it.

"So," she turned to Andrew, as she ate, "You're the King?"

"Yes," he said, then paused a moment and added, "ma'am."

"Remember who you are, Andrew," Donnie said quietly, obviously upset at the show of respect.

"King of what?" Natalie asked, "King of the Wizards?"

"Everything!" Donnie proclaimed, "Andrew is the King of Everything."

Natalie still hadn't figured out the dynamic among the Wizards. Andrew was supposedly the King, but Donnie clearly was the one who called the shots. He issued orders as readily to the other Wizards as he did to the Attendants, although usually less harshly. At the same time though, he seemed almost deferential to Andrew, and to Lucas as well. Why?

"There really is a lot of food here," Natalie said.

"Yes, ma'am," one of the Wizards said, taking her cue from Andrew, "It's really good too, isn't it?"

"What's your name?" Natalie asked the girl.

"I'm Lisha," the girl announced with a smile.

"Yes, Lisha," Natalie replied, with a smile, "It's very good." She turned back to Andrew, "Shouldn't the others be joining us?"

"The Attendants?" Andrew asked.

"They eat later," Donnie interjected, before Natalie could respond.

"There's always a LOT of food left," Andrew said.

"Yes, lots," several of the other Wizards chimed in.

"I imagine there is," Natalie said, remembering back to the vanishing food in her dream.

"I'm through eating," Donnie said crossly, "Let's go play."

"Wanna come with us?" Lucas asked his mother.

"You go ahead, honey," Natalie said, "I think I'll stay here for a bit," She looked directly at Donnie, and added, "while the Attendants eat."

"Suit yourself," Donnie grumbled, "C'mon, let's go."

Lucas hugged his mother and then headed off in to the darkness with the other Wizards.

In spite of his urging them on, Donnie actually held back a bit, until all of the others were out of earshot, and then turned back to Natalie.

"You don't BELONG here!" he hissed, and then stomped away.

...

[end excerpt from Chapter 5]

 

Chapter 6:

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Natalie carefully opened her eyes, letting them slowly adjust to the dim light of the night sky. What had happened? The last thing she remembered was being in the castle. Donnie had done something to her.

She tried to sit up and immediately regretted it. Her head was pounding and she felt sick at her stomach. What had he done to her?

She was outside. How had she ended up outside? Had Donnie sent her here, away from the castle?

Natalie had a sudden frightening thought, and tried to sit up again, only more slowly. Had he KILLED her? Was she now in some place even more bizarre than Afterlife?

She let her eyes roam across the sky, until she saw the two moons, so shocking a few weeks ago, but now familiar and even comforting. At least she could be pretty sure that she hadn't died again.

She grunted as she shifted positions. The ground felt very hard, and she ached all over, a feeling that she was starting to associate with life on this world.

Natalie looked down at the hard, rough surface she had been lying on. Asphalt. The moons weren't the only things that were familiar. She seemed to be back where she'd started, on the same chunk of road that she'd brought with her from Before.

She stood up, her legs feeling wobbly. What did he think sending her here would accomplish? She would just go back to the castle again, and if Lucas found her, she'd probably be back there even sooner.

She took a few steps, before having to stop and sit back down again. At this rate, she would never make it. She was still too tired and woozy from whatever Donnie had done when he sent her here.

After sitting for a few minutes, Natalie came to a decision. Joseph's house was a lot closer than any of the towns she'd gone through on her way to the castle, and she was sure he wouldn't mind if she stopped there and rested for awhile, before starting out on the much longer journey.

The truth was she wouldn't mind see Joseph again anyway. He was probably the only real friend she had here, other than Lucas, and she had really missed sitting in his displaced study, drinking his home-made herbal tea, and chatting.

Putting it off as long as she could, Natalie finally stood up again, and made her way slowly and painfully towards Joseph's house.

 

Her progress was very slow. The trip that had taken only an hour or so in her car, even as slow as she'd been driving, wound up taking many times that long on foot. The fact that she was having to stop and rest far more often than she felt she should wasn't helping either.

Eventually she came to the dirt road, and turned left, reassured by the fact that she at least knew she was still going the right way.

Even if she wasn't so tired and weak, this would've been a long and difficult walk. She couldn't imagine what it would've been like if she'd had to try it with Lucas, that first night here.

Finally, as the sun was just starting to peek out above the horizon, she saw Joseph's house in the distance. Even from so far away though, she could tell that something wasn't right. The closer she got, the more clearly she could see.

Most of the house was gone. Only one corner remained, a hollowed out shell of scorched brick, surrounded by loose stones and bits of charred wood.

Joseph's house had burned to the ground.

...

[end excerpt from Chapter 6]

 

Chapter 7:

Curse the Darkness

"That's not possible!" Natalie exclaimed, her hands trembling from a combination of fear and fever.

"We'll figure this out," Joseph said, "I promise. We will figure this out."

"Later," Issie said, glaring at Joseph, "For now, let's just let her get some rest." She made a shooing gesture in Joseph's direction.

"But--" Natalie said.

"You're still very sick," Issie said, ignoring Natalie's protest, "Get some rest, and we'll sort everything out once you're feeling better."

"Best do as she says, Natalie," Joseph said with a smile, "Isabis is not known for taking no for an answer."

Natalie nodded reluctantly, lying back on the bed and closing her eyes. Her mind was too occupied to let her sleep, in spite of how weak and tired she felt. Instead she just lay there, trying unsuccessfully to make some sense out of everything.

After a few minutes, she heard them whispering among themselves, and she just lay there quietly listening.

"Is she going to be okay," Joseph asked.

"She should be," Issie replied, "She caught a nasty bug, but if once she rests up, she should be fine."

"Good," Joseph said.

"Who is she, Joseph?" Yuri asked.

Joseph sighed. "Someone I met a long time ago. Someone I never thought I'd see again."

"Has it really been a hundred years?" Issie asked.

"At least," Joseph said, "Maybe a bit more. So much has happened since then, I really can't be sure any more."

"And she went to the castle?" Issie asked, "The Wizard's castle?"

"That's right," Joseph said, "She showed up on my doorstep, with a little boy, looked to be no more than five."

"Oh no," Issie said, "The Wizards took him?"

"Yes," Joseph said sadly, "She tried to hide him, but it didn't do any good."

"From what you've said, it never does," Issie said.

Joseph didn't answer, and Natalie couldn't see if he shook his head or made some other gesture.

"She went after him?" Issie asked.

"Oh yes," Joseph said, "She's very headstrong, very determined."

"You sound like you admire her," Issie said.

"I did," Joseph said, "I do. I think she'd do anything for her son."

"Her son?" Issie said, "You're kidding."

"No," Joseph said, "He was her son. They arrived here together."

"That's strange," Issie said.

"Yeah," Joseph agreed, "but not unheard of. It's the first time I've ever heard of it happening with a child though... especially a Wizard."

"Her son?"

"She said he was four years old when they died."

"She's lucky she's still alive," Issie said.

"I think her son had a lot to do with that," Joseph said.

"Really? A Wizard?" Issie said, sounding shocked, "You know better than anyone what they're like, Joseph. You've told me so yourself, more than once."

"I know," Joseph said, "but he really seemed like a good kid."

"I'm sure a lot of them are, at first," Issie said, "but who knows what he was like by the time she got to the castle, or what he would've been like now..." Everyone was silent for moment. "Anyway," Issie continued, "It doesn't matter now. The Wizards are gone, and good riddance to them."

"Maybe," Joseph said.

"Oh come on, Joseph," Issie said, "You're not still thinking they're out there somewhere?"

"I don't know, Issie," Joseph said, "I've never been convinced that they're gone."

"Well," Issie said, "I certainly hope they are, because we've got too much else to deal with right now, to have Wizards back in the mix."

"True," Joseph said, "There is one thing I'm sure of now though."

"What's that?"

"Either the Wizards really ARE gone... or her son has become like the rest of them by now."

"Why do you say that?" Issie asked.

"Because," Joseph said, "Otherwise I don't believe he would've ever let her come this close to dying."

...

[end excerpt from Chapter 7]

 

Chapter 8:

Lest Ye be Not Judged

"So you ARE fighting back!" Natalie exclaimed, breaking into a smile.

"Not yet," Joseph said, "But hopefully soon. We're trying to get prepared at least, so that we're ready when the time is right."

"When will that be?" Natalie asked.

"When we have enough people," Joseph said, "And enough weapons to defend ourselves. We're making progress though."

"I knew you were up to something," Natalie accused, still smiling.

"The Purgers suspect something too," Joseph said, "but then again, they're suspicious of everyone. Fortunately, they're hindered by the same communications difficulties we face, so even though it makes it harder for us to get organised, it also makes it harder for keep control as they continue to spread out."

"That's what you REALLY do, isn't it?!" Natalie exclaimed, "While you're travelling around with your vegetable cart, you're passing around information."

"It seemed the best way to do it without drawing too much attention," Joseph said.

"How many people do you have anyway?"

"Quite a few," Joseph said, "All of the people down there." He gestured towards the valley. "And we have at least five more groups at least that size, some larger, spread out all over the area. The trick has been to keep them from actually looking like groups."

"And you're in charge of it all?" Natalie asked.

"Me?" Joseph laughed, "No. Each group knows what they're supposed to do, and they do it. Some people, like Issie, Garrett and few others are responsible for a lot of the planning, but--"

"And you," Natalie smiled, "Come on, admit it. I already know you play a bigger part in all this than you're letting on."

"I help out where I can," Joseph said, "I guess if we have any real leader though, it would have to be Aaron. A lot of it was his idea to start with."

"Aaron Hamilton?" Natalie asked, pointing towards the distant building that she thought to be his cabin, "From Belton?"

"Yes," Joseph said, "but he doesn't use his surname any more. Most people don't. The Purgers require all Members of the Order, especially the Priests, to use both their first and last names, at all times. For just about everyone else, that was enough to make them drop their surnames altogether."

"I can see that," Natalie said.

"Of course, a lot of us had taken to using only our first names long before that anyway, so it didn't really matter much to us. Since there's no one to pass your family name along to, it doesn't make much sense to have one, does it?"

Natalie thought about it. Not to be Natalie Cross any more. It just seemed too strange. Cross was part of her identity. It was her mother's name, her son's name. It connected her to them, even if they weren't here.

"Hey," Joseph said, putting his hand on hers, "It's not a requirement. You don't have to give up your name, if you don't want to."

"I know," Natalie said, "All of this talk about family names just makes me think of Lucas, and how much I miss him."

"I'm sorry," Joseph said.

Natalie looked up, gently squeezing his hand. As her gaze passed over his eyes, she suddenly felt very awkward and embarrassed, although she wasn't sure why.

She dropped her eyes, and felt his hand slip away from hers.

"One of our people is an engineer," Joseph suddenly said, with an odd nervous sound to his voice, "And he's already worked out a plan for basic plumbing for the town." Joseph stood up, pacing around slightly as he spoke, "He's also put together some of the parts he'll need to built a water-wheel so we can set up a mill."

Joseph pointed towards the river that was visible at the far end of the valley. "He said he'd even once managed to build a working steam engine, before the Purgers came and destroyed it."

"Joseph?" Natalie said, looking up at him.

"What?" he asked, still standing, facing the valley.

"What's wrong?" Natalie asked.

"Nothing," Joseph said, "I was just telling you about--"

"Will you sit back down?" Natalie asked. When he didn't say anything, she added, "Please?"

Joseph sat back down beside her, looking troubled.

"What's wrong?" she asked again, wondering if she needed to be asking herself the same question.

"I just didn't want you to misunderstand anything I said," Joseph said, "or did."

"You mean when you took my hand?" Natalie asked, reaching over and taking his.

"I..." Joseph started, "I just didn't want you to get the idea that I was the kind of person who would try to take advantage of a young girl. Because I'm not."

Natalie laughed, caught off-guard by the absurdity of hearing someone who looked like a teenager call her a 'young girl'.

Looking over at him though, she could see that this was really bothering him, and she abruptly cut off her laughter.

"Joseph, I never thought for a minute that you were trying to take advantage of me," she said, still holding his hand, "Not in any way."

Natalie was surprised at how attracted she was to this man, and frightened by all of the things that could go along with that.

She leaned in, bringing her face closer to his.

"I'm old enough to be your grandfather," Joseph said quietly, when her lips were just inches away from his own.

"You're also half my age," Natalie whispered, leaning closer, brushing her lips against his, "We can work out which is which later."

...

[end excerpt from Chapter 8]

 

Chapter 9:

The Devil You Know

Natalie stared at the small building.

Michael? Here? She had only seen him for a brief moment, but she was certain that was who it was. How? Why?

She barely had time to think about it, before she realised that the man who'd just walked out of the building was walking towards her.

"You have been Welcomed?" he asked, pointing to her shoulder.

Natalie pulled aside the top of her shirt, just enough to reveal the Purger Mark.

The man smiled and nodded, as if answering an unasked question. "Good, good," he said, "What's your name?"

"Natalie Cross," she answered, hoping that using her last name would make it seem more like she belonged here.

"I am Tiberus LeMark," the man said, holding out his hand to her, palm down, "Archpriest of the Holy Order." He just stood there, looking at her as if there was something she was supposed to do.

Natalie looked at his hand, unsure of what was expected. Was she supposed to take his hand? or kiss his ring? or just kneel. Since she didn't see any rings, and his hand was turned the wrong way for shaking, she decided to kneel.

This seemed to please the Archpriest, who smiled benevolently and motioned for her to stand back up.

"You've come for the Word, Ms. Cross?" he asked, as he approached.

Natalie nodded, hoping that was the right answer.

"So few of you do," he said, shaking his head sadly, "In spite of my best efforts, most seem determined to squander their Second Chance."

Tiberus LeMark looked to be in his forties, although as always was the case here, that was no true reflection of his age. He didn't look like a Priest at all. He looked more like some kind of middle manager, someone who might be your boss or your uncle, than the leader of a religious cult.

"I'm on my way to the next Service now," LeMark said, "You can walk with me."

"Thank you," Natalie mumbled, following him.

"How long have you been in Purgatory, Ms. Cross?" he asked, as they walked towards a large tent.

"A few months," Natalie lied.

"Life is simple here," LeMark said, "Hard, but simple. God provides us with what we need though."

Like weapons? Natalie wondered how they managed to fit that into their theology. Destroy all Artefacts from Before... except for these weapons that you can use to enforce your will?

As they made their way to the tent, Natalie noticed that everyone they passed gave some sign of reverence to the Archpriest. The other Priests all bowed their heads to him, and everyone else dropped to one knee.

"Here we are," LeMark said, as the approached the tent. The Priest standing by the entrance dipped his head. When he looked back up, Natalie recognised him. It was the Priest who had been at Issie's.

"I know you," he said to Natalie, recognising her as well.

"You Welcomed me," Natalie said, unsure if she was supposed to add some kind of honorific, such as 'Your Grace' or 'Your Honour' or something.

"Good work, Simeon," LeMark said, "Ms. Cross has come for the Word. You should be proud that you have inspired her to seek out the Order."

"Thank you, Sir," Simeon replied, pulling aside the tent flap for the Archpriest. LeMark smiled again, and then made his way up to the front.

"It is good to see you again," Simeon said, letting his eyes flick briefly down her body, "Perhaps we could Pray some time."

Natalie looked nervously at the Priest. There could be little doubt of what 'praying' would entail with this man.

"Service is about to start," Simeon laughed, seeming to enjoy her discomfort, "Just stand anywhere you like."

Natalie made her way to an open space, trying to select one that was as far from Simeon Gant as possible.

"We have failed!" Tiberus LeMark shouted, getting everyone's attention, "That's why we're here. We failed to live up to our promise to God. We were not faithful enough, not good enough, not HOLY enough."

As the Archpriest spoke, he lost all semblance of being merely a harmless, middle-aged man. His eyes betrayed his true nature. His eyes burned with faith. This was a man who truly believed. And his voice thundered with conviction.

"But God, in His Love, and Mercy, has spared us from Hell," LeMark said, "He has brought us, instead here, to Purgatory. He has given us a rare and glorious Second Chance!"

The crowd was watching him, with silent attention.

"PURGATORY!" the Archpriest shouted, "God's Gift to us. In this place, if we CHOOSE to, we can truly live without the Taint of Sin. In this place, we do not have to give in to the Call of the Flesh. In this place, we can live as God intended. Here, we can be Redeemed!"

LeMark suddenly lowered his voice, almost to a whisper. "I, too, have failed," he said quietly, "I failed, as we all did, in the world Before, but I have also failed here, in Purgatory."

A few people looked surprised, but most of the people in the crowd seemed to have heard it before.

"I tried to Save them from themselves," LeMark said, "but the lure of Sin was too strong, even here, and they refused to hear the Word. I tried to destroy the Unholy Artefacts that were polluting their Souls, but they resisted.

"I wasn't strong enough," he said sadly, "I didn't have the Power I needed to overcome their Sin. But GOD provides!" His eyes flashed as his voice raised again.

"God provides," the crowd muttered, under their breaths.

"I failed there," LeMark said, "but then I saw the Sign. I saw the sky light up, as Heaven did battle with Devils. I followed it here, to the shadow of the Devils' Black Castle itself."

Natalie listened closely. Was she hearing the Purgers' version of what had happened to the Wizards?

"I saw one of the Devils cast down," LeMark said, "And he lay there at my feet, with the face of an Angel and a Heart of pure Evil. I saw Heaven's Victory as the lights blinked out of the sky, and the foul Castle vanished from the face of Purgatory, never to be seen again!"

Cast down? Had one of the Wizards been killed? Natalie's heart raced, as she tried to convince herself that even if it were true, there was no reason to believe it had been Lucas.

"I knew then that we could succeed," the Archpriest said, "And that no failure, here or Before, no Sin or Sinner, no Man or Devil could stand in our way!"

Most of the crowd was no chanting something, repeating it over and over, but Natalie couldn't quite make it out.

"Yet they try," LeMark said, "We do everything in our Power to Help them, to Save them, and some of them still fight us. We Forgive them, and they fight us, and we Forgive them again." He gestured to someone at the other side of the tent. "But there are limits. We are patient, GOD is patient, but there are limits."

Two Priests dragged a man up to where the Archpriest was standing. The man was bound, hands and feet, and his face was bruised and bleeding.

"This man," LeMark said, "Has refused to take the Mark of the Order. He refused to surrender his Unholy Artefacts, and has even refused to give us his name."

Several members of the crowd gasped.

"We took them anyway," LeMark said, "and destroyed them, but they still didn't release their Evil hold on his Soul. He fought us, tried to get away, and even killed one our Priests."

The crowd began murmuring angrily.

"I have no fear for our Priest's Soul," the Archpriest said, "He died doing God's work. He will go on to Heaven." He turned to face the man, who seemed barely conscious, "This one though... I'm afraid this one may be beyond Redemption."

"Send him!" someone shouted from the crowd.

"Yes," shouted another, "Send him on!"

"You are not an Evil man," LeMark said to the prisoner, "You can't be or you wouldn't be in Purgatory. Take the Mark of the Order and we will Forgive you for the death of the Priest."

"I will not be branded," the man said, his speech slow and slurred. It sounded as though his jaw was probably broken.

The Archpriest shook his head sadly. "Keep him here," he said to the Priests, "I will go Pray. God will provide an answer."

LeMark left the tent and started walking back towards the small building.

Natalie made her way through the crowd, trying to get closer to the entrance, so she would have a better view of LeMark and the building.

"Not leaving us, are you?" Simeon Gant said, stepping in front of her.

"No," Natalie said, "I'm just trying to get a little closer to the front. I couldn't really see very well from over there."

"Ah," Simeon said, eyeing her with a combination of suspicion and lust.

She walked past him, trying to get close enough to the front of the tent to support her story, but close enough to the entrance so she would have a clear line-of-sight.

As she watched, the guards unlocked and opened the door. LeMark entered the building and walked past Michael, to someone Natalie hadn't seen before, someone who was lying on the floor.

The Archpriest leaned down and whispered something to the prone figure.

When he stood back up and turned around, he was a holding a weapon: a shiny, deadly-looking sword.

...

[end excerpt from Chapter 9]

 

Chapter 10:

Honour Thy Mother

Natalie felt a familiar tugging sensation, as the building dissolved around her. It seemed to last much longer this time though, as if she was being pulled to somewhere a lot farther away.

She could feel things moving through her, and around her, but she couldn't see anything. Eventually, after what seemed like an impossibly long time, the world suddenly unfolded around her, and she dropped to the floor, unable to stand.

From what she could see, she was inside the castle, but it was dark, and cold. She slowly turned her head around, trying to ignore the pounding in her skull, so that she could take in her surroundings.

Standing in front of her, not more than a few metres away, was Lucas. He had his back turned to her, and he was staring out into the void beyond the castle.

Natalie tried to stand, to call out, but she was still too weak and disoriented from being sent here.

Lucas looked just the same as he had when she'd last seen him, and yet different at the same time. He was no older, still four years old, but his bearing, his manner, the way he stood, looking sad and world-weary, made him seem much, much older.

"Lucas!" she finally managed to gasp, causing him to turn around, startled.

His eyes flew wide with disbelief, and then his face broke into a smile, as he ran and threw his arms around her.

"Mama," he said, smearing her face with wet, salty tears, "I thought you were dead."

Natalie shook her head. "It's okay, sweetie," she said, gently stroking his hair, "I'm fine."

Lucas pulled his head back, and looked her in the eyes. "You weren't anywhere," he said, "I know, because I searched the entire world. I spent years looking for you." He shook his head, "But you just weren't ANYWHERE."

"No," Natalie said, wiping the tears from his face, "I wasn't anywhere. Somehow Donnie sent me forward in time, apparently about a hundred years or so."

Lucas' nostrils flared and his eyes went hard. "Donnie..." he growled.

"We don't have time to worry about that right now," Natalie said, "I need you to take us back from... wherever we are. We need to go back to where I just came from. It's very important."

Lucas avoided her eyes, and said nothing.

"Lucas," Natalie said, "Please. We have to get back there, NOW. You can do that, can't you?"

"No," Lucas said, shaking his head, "I'm sorry. I can't."

"LIAR!" Donnie's voice thundered, as he floated into the room, "Why don't you tell her the truth, Lucas?" If Donnie was surprised at seeing Natalie, he wasn't showing it. "What's the matter? Don't want Mommy to know what a bad boy you've been?"

"Shut up," Lucas said.

"Why don't you tell her how you've kept us as prisoners here for all these years?" Donnie yelled, "Are you afraid she'll find out that you're no different from me?"

"I said SHUT UP!" Lucas screamed, thrusting his arm out and sending Donnie flying backwards across the room.

"See what I mean?" Donnie said quietly, wiping his hand across his nose, smearing his sleeve with blood, "How long before he turns on you? I'm thinking ten years, tops. And I'm being generous there."

"Lucas," Natalie said, "What's he talking about?"

"I don't know how you got here," Donnie continued, "But you'd best make yourself comfortable, because you're going to be here for a very long time."

"How DID you get here?" Lucas demanded, his voice sending a chill down Natalie's spine.

"Andrew sent me," she replied flatly, refusing to let herself be frightened of her own son.

Both Lucas and Donnie reacted to Andrew's name.

"That's not possible," Lucas said, "Donnie killed Andrew. I'm sure of it."

"You were sure he'd killed me too," Natalie said.

Lucas looked up at his mother's face, and his expression softened.

"See?" Donnie said, "You wouldn't believe me, but I TOLD you that I didn't kill your mother, or Andrew!"

"If Andrew were still alive, I'd know it," Lucas said, "I can feel the other Wizards, but he's not there."

"Donnie hurt him," Natalie said, "Badly. He's still alive, but there's something wrong with him. He can't talk or move."

"But he still sent you here?" Lucas asked.

"Yes," Natalie replied, "He still has power, but I don't think he even knows that he's using it. It's like his mind is gone."

Donnie retreated into the shadows, trying to avoid Lucas' icy glare.

"Now do you understand why we can't go back?" Lucas asked. "Why we have to stay here?"

"Where are we anyway?" Natalie asked.

"We're in a Pocket Space," Lucas said.

"What is that?"

"I'm not sure," Lucas said, "That's just what one of the Attendants calls it. When I thought Donnie had killed you and Andrew, I had to take the rest of us away, so I tried to send us as far away as possible, and we ended up here."

"And you can't take us back?" Natalie asked.

"Oh, he COULD," Donnie said, from out of the darkness, "but he's the only one who can."

"Is that true, Lucas?"

"It's true," Donnie said, not waiting on Lucas to answer, "I MADE this castle, pulled it up out of the ground itself, and Lucas is more powerful than me. He's stronger than any of us, maybe even all of us put together, and if he wanted to take us back, he could."

"Lucas?" Natalie said.

"I can't," Lucas said, "This is the only place that's safe."

"Safe from what?" Natalie asked.

Lucas shook his head. "I mean it's the only place that can keep everyone else safe from US."

...

[end excerpt from Chapter 10]

 


"Suffer the Children" copyright ©2004-2017 C. Scott Davis
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