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The Prophet (The Cloister Trilogy 2) Celia Aaron 2022/8/10 15:12:58

“And do what?” She lets her gaze stray down my body. “What’s your plan? You’re a white waif. What can you do to a dozen armed men, maybe more?”

“I don’t know.” I grab my hair and pull it, as if the pain will grant me some clarity. All it gives me is a headache. “I just have to get to him.”

“There are guards here constantly. On all the doors. Watching at all times. There’s no way out unless the Prophet wants you out.”

“No!” I stand and sprint to the door, banging on it even though I know it’s useless. “Let me out!”

“Shh!” a woman nearby hisses. “You’ll wake the babies.”

I bang some more until my arms tire and I slide to the floor, my tears coming in a torrent of frustration. “Let me out,” I whisper over and over until my voice is gone.

Ruth walks over to me and offers her hand. “Come on, Maiden. That won’t do any good.”

“I have to—” My breath catches, and I take several small inhales. The room spins.

“You’re hyperventilating.” She kneels next to me. “Just breathe slowly. Big breaths. Try to hold them a little.”

“You can. You have to calm down.” She moves closer, her eyes holding mine. “Chastity told me about you,” she whispers.

I finally catch my breath and take in huge gulps of air. “You’re one of—”

“Shh.” She presses a finger to her lips, her eyes wide with warning. “Not now. Come with me and get cleaned up. There’s nothing we can do but wait.”

“Wait?” I can’t bear the seconds since he’s been ripped away from me. Adding more to them is a death sentence.

“Wait.” She gives me a stark nod and pulls me to my feet.

“Everyone!” the guard yells as the women scramble to throw on their long dresses.

Ruth wouldn’t give me any information last night, just told me over and over to wait and see. She eventually disappeared—perhaps to her bed in one of the alcoves. I tossed and turned on the couch, playing out one horrible scenario of Adam’s punishment after the other until the sun began to peek through the glass panes above.

An alarm sounded about five minutes ago, and the entire room woke up, women hurrying to ready themselves.

“What’s going on?” I dart over to Ruth when she appeared in the main area.

“Looks like we’ve been summoned. We’re going out.”

“Out? Is that normal?”

She glances at the glass ceiling. “At daybreak on a Sunday morning? No.”

I don’t like the sinking feeling that settles in my stomach. Something bad is coming. Will I survive it? “Do you know why?”

“Not sure.” She fixes her hair into a messy braid and lines up at the main door. “Stick with me.”

I stand next to her, and after a few minutes all the women are ready. The doors open, and we’re greeted by the armed guards who walk us through the nursery and children’s area. Some of the women wave and coo at their sleepy kids, but the young ones appear to be staying behind.

The outer doors open, and we’re hustled into a waiting bus, the interior painted the same baby blue as inside the Cathedral. Ruth sits next to me, but offers no comfort. She’s too busy watching everything, her gaze incisive and sweeping.

I press my shaking hands to my face and try to block out the world, to sink into nothing. It doesn’t work. I can hear the sounds of Adam being beaten, see the look in his eyes when they dragged him away from me.

“Oh, God.” I sob into my palms. Everything is spinning out of control. What little hope I had is gone, nothing but ashes in its place.

We roll onto a rougher road, the gravel compacting beneath the tires. I look out from behind my hands to see the white bus from the Cloister and another red bus that I’ve noticed parked outside the Chapel.

“Gang’s all here,” Ruth deadpans as we pull to a stop.

“Out.” The Protector at the front walks down the steps.

“I can’t.” I shake my head. “What’s out there?”

“You have to.” Ruth takes my hand and pulls me with her out into the cold morning. “And we’ll find out.”

My steps are stiff, my body aching from lack of sleep and too much tension. The Maidens are already standing in a semi-circle on one side of the clearing, the women from the Chapel on the other. I find Chastity in the Spinners, but her face gives nothing away. Two Protectors hold Noah off to the side, and his expression is a mix of hatred and fear. I wonder if I look the same, strained to the point of breaking. His mother is with him, but she only has the Prophet’s bodyguard to keep her in place.

The women from the Cathedral form another semi-circle slightly apart from the other women. Two four-wheelers sit to the opposite side of the clearing near two crosses, and Protectors move around like ants in the area. I peer in that direction, but I can’t see anything for the men and machines in my way.