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Haran could feel the scorching heat of the merciless sun beating down upon the back of his neck and across his bare shoulders. His right hand rested on the bone handle of his knife where it protruded from the leather sheath that was slung about his body from right shoulder to left hip. He licked his lips nervously as he waited, his ears straining for any sound at all in the eerily silent streets of another abandoned town. The third they had encountered since crossing into Nod.
Where all the people of the villages had gone was a mystery, they had left their homes with doors open, their fields unattended and their flocks had scattered to the hills as if something had frightened them. In one town they had visited, Aliuem, the evening repast had even been set out upon the tables as if the people had prepared their meals and then simply stood up and walked away. Whatever was happening in the land of Nod, Haran didn't like it and desperately wanted to turn west and go home.
Fear coursed through his veins as his imagination worked it's evil charm upon his mind, with each passing second he imagined more and more terrifying explanations for what he and his companions had discovered here in this heat blasted wasteland. He wished they had never come here, wished they had never left him with the oxen and the cart, wished he knew where they were now. They had left to explore the small town when the sun was still low in the eastern sky – how long had they been gone? It seemed as if he had been alone here with only the team of oxen for company for days, although in truth it could not have been more than an hour.
Something moved off to his left and he turned sharply, slipping his bone handled knife from it's sheath and dropping into a half crouch as he let the oxen's bridle slip form his left hand. Peering across the dusty square he could see a tall, dark man coming towards him from a side street, in a moment the man was joined by a second, shorter man and Haran felt a wave of relief wash over him as he took up the Oxen's bridle again and slipped his knife away once more. As the familiar figures of his companions Itamar and Eitan drew closer he could see the worry etched upon both their faces.
“We should leave this place.” Eitan's tone was flat as he glanced about nervously, his studded club resting over his shoulders.
“What did you find?” Haran asked, his nerves screaming at him to be away from this place.
“Nothing,” Itamar answered for his friend, running a hand down his black beard as he spoke. If the gesture itself was intended to conceal from Haran how the older man's hands trembled, it didn't work. “We found Nothing, and no one. Just like before. Let us be on our way!”
“We should go back!” Eitan grumbled.
“There is a caravansary east of here, we can be there by nightfall if we do not tarry. We will rest there and decide what to do in the morning. Perhaps some one there will know what is going on.” Itamar climber up into the wagon as he spoke, his tone was uncertain.
“and if there is no one there either?” Haran asked nervously.
“We head east!” Itamar snapped, his mind evidently made up.
* * * * * * * *
The sun was little more than a red glow in the sky by the time the caravansary came into view of the heavy wagon, plodding along at the relentless but slow pace of the oxen team that pulled it. Gourds swung from the roof of the wagon where they hung, occasionally knocking together with a deep, hollow note.
The caravansary itself squatted on the landscape, a low, blocky silhouette that seemed terrifying and brooding. The three men exchanged worried glances as they drew nearer to the small collection of buildings which were shrouded in darkness, even as the sun dipped out of sight beyond the horizon. Where there should have been light – of fires, lanterns and so forth, there was none, only the ominous gloom that foretold of more emptiness, another place devoid of people.
Itamar was first to jump down, his hand instinctively moved to his own knife.
“Eitan and I will search the main building. Haran, water the oxen. Don't unhitch them until we are sure it is safe”.
Haran began to protest, but the two other men were already on their way to the caravansary's main building, their weapons at the ready. Reluctantly Haran lead the oxen to the well and let them drink.
Trembling slightly he peered about in the darkness, his hand once again resting on the bone handle of his knife. How he wished for a more potent weapon than that. How he wished to be home.
His thoughts were interrupted by the return of his two companions. Looking up at them expectantly his heart sank as they shook their heads.
“Empty.” Itamar bit his lower lip in thought for a moment “We can't go much further tonight, it is too dark to risk it, one of the oxen could stumble and break a leg, or we could find the wagons wheel in a rut and smashed to kindling. We will sleep here tonight and decide again in the morning if we should go forward or back.
Haran exchanged a worried glance with Eitan, but in his heart he knew that there was no choice. The dangers of the road at night were real, the ones of an empty caravansary, abandoned for no known reason, were as shadows on the wall. Reluctantly he nodded and began to unhitch the oxen.
They built a small fire in the hearth of the common room that night, and ate in silence, a meal of bread and cheese taken from the caravansary's own larder. The flames cast dancing shadows upon the wall and deepened the darkness in the corners of the room such that each man grew more on edge as the night wore on and sleep was hard to come by. At last though the weariness of a long journey outweighed the fear of the unknown and one by one, they slipped into the arms of unconsciousness.
* * * * * * * *
An eyeless face screaming in agony.
A rain of blood from an angry sky, the colour of bruised flesh.
Twisted abominations, the mockeries of life writhing and slithering, gibbering and whooping.
The rending of flesh from bone, accompanied by the screams of tortured souls.
Twisted, gnarled hands ending in bony claws extending from the darkness to grab and rend and tear.
Cadaverous forms shambling endlessly into a giant machine of bronze and stone, their flesh rent from their bones, their bodies broken and twisted till they emerge as horrors, barely recognisable as having once been living people at all.
Screaming masses, their flesh hanging in bloody shreds from their faces as they beg for mercy, crawling up from the depths of an abyssal chasm.
Sulphurous air, burning the lungs and choking the nostrils and throat.
Agonized howls filling a darkened air that hangs heavily with the almost tangible essence of malice.
Through it all the silvery eyes of some inhumane monster staring, stripping away all the illusions, pretensions, thoughts, beliefs and emotions until a naked, bruised, twisted soul is all that remains.
Haran awoke, screaming, his flesh glistening with sweat. His loincloth so soaked with it that at first he thought he had soiled himself. Slowly the waking world coalesced around him and he was aware of others, screaming as he had done. Looking about him in the half light he saw his companions. Itamar was panting, his skin aglow with the same night sweats that were running down Haran's back in rivulets. Eitan was rubbing his face vigorously with his hands, muttering in terrified tones “No. no. no. no.”
“You had the dreams as well?” Haran asked, his voice seeming weak and mousy.
The others nodded. Eitan stopped rubbing his face, but his hands remained upon it, cupping his head as if he was in morning or unwilling to look at the world again.
“It will be dawn soon. Water the oxen and hitch them up, let us be gone from this accursed place!” Itamar's voice trembled.
“Back to Eden?” Haran asked hopefully.
“Back to Eden.” Itamar nodded.
A wave of relief washed over Haran as he leapt to his feet and started for the door.
A low, muffled sob came from Eitan.
Haran froze, something was wrong. Turning slowly he saw the big man rocking gently, back and forth, his hands still clamped over his face.
“Eitan...” Haran spoke softly, hesitantly... “Show me your face”.
Eitan whimpered and shook his head. Itamar and Haran glanced at each other, their faces pictures of worry and concern.
“I'll bring light,” Itamar said. Understanding his role, Haran nodded and knelt by Eitan,
“Let me see. Are you hurt?” he took his companions arms by the wrists and slowly pulled them away from the big man's face as Itamar returned, a sputtering torch held aloft to shed light upon the scene unfolding before him.
As if they were one Itamar and Haran gasped.
A deep, impossibly bloodless, gouge ran down Eitan's face from forehead to chin. It twisted his mouth where the two crossed, baring teeth that had taken on a feral aspect, as if those of a hunting Hyaena. His eyes were both heavily bloodshot and they too had taken on an inhuman quality, as if the man they knew was possessed of some strange spirit. His eyes welled with tears and his hands trembled.
“It hurts.” he whimpered.
“I will bring you the salve from the wagon, and something to drink that will help to numb the pain.” Haran spoke as softly as he could, but even he could hear his voice cracking as he spoke. He got up, glad to be able to look away from the ruined horror that was his companions face, and ran to the wagon to fetch the medicines that were the three men's stock in trade.
* * * * * * * *
The three men sat in silence as their cart trundled west once more, back the way they came. It would be several days before they could leave this accursed land and the mysteries that it presented, mysteries they had no wish now to learn more about. All they wanted was to be away from here and safe once more in the land of Eden.
They no longer travelled the trade road that had brought them here, past one village after another that was emptied of life, taking instead the shorter, more direct way – the goat herds path. The path was rarely used by merchants, for it avoided several of the towns and villages where one might sell this thing or that, or trade for local goods. None of that mattered now, they no longer sought trade or profit but only a quick and safe way out of these lands of horror.
They passed goats and sheep roaming wild, the animals, normally so bold around men, fled as they approached. Not once did they see a Sheppard or goatherd watching over the flock. It seemed that whatever strangeness had taken all those who dwelt within the towns had touched these more rural places also.
“There!” Itamar spoke so suddenly, shattering the silence the three men had been travelling in for hours, that it startled Haran, who looked out where Itamar was pointing. The sun was beginning to dip in the west again, and there, silhouetted against the skyline was a small adobe shack. There was, as far as Haran could see, noting unusual about the structure. Nothing to differentiate it from any other goatherds modest abode in these lands.
“Someone moved!” Itamar explained.
“A goat perhaps? Or something blowing in the wind?” Haran offered, although in fact, there was not enough of a breeze to stir much.
“Not something” Itamar corrected “someone!”
“Are you certain?” Haran squinted in an attempt to see the person his companion had claimed to have seen.
“Yes! Someone went into the hut as we approached, I saw them clearly against the skyline. There is someone there! The first person we have seen since we came to this place!”
“We should keep moving,” Haran offered, a sense of deep foreboding was creeping over him.
“NO!” Itamar shook his head fanatically, “If there is someone there, they might be able to explain all of this. To tell us what has happened here,” He softened his tone as he realised how forceful he had been “besides, it is getting dark, we will need to stop soon anyway.”
Haran nodded forlornly. Every inch of his being wanted to be gone from this place, but he was wise enough to know that they couldn't travel at night, not safely, not over such rough ground. They would have to rest sometime, and the oxen couldn't go on without sleep soon. At least the shack offered some shelter where none other might be found before nightfall.
* * * * * * * *
Haran cautiously opened the wooden door, it swung inwards with an audible creek that jarred his nerves as his two companions slid past him and into the shack's interior. Taking a deep breath for his nerves, Haran followed.
“GET BACK!” a thin, rasping voice cried out in the darkness of the hut's interior as the three men entered. It's source, it seemed, was a short, bedraggled man. His robes were tattered and his hair dishevelled, a wild shock of grey, much like his beard. The old man shuffled backwards and brandished a staff, inexpertly. What struck Haran most about the old man though, was not his hair, nor his attire, nor even the improvised weapon he jabbed inexpertly in the general direction of the three men, rather it was the raw, bloody wounds in his face where his eyes should have been.
“I'll not become one of you! I'll die first” the man snarled fiercely. His determination belied the apparent frailness of his limbs and body.
“We mean you no harm!” Itamar's voice was pitched low, as he did when he tried to be soothing, he was greeted with bitter, mirthless laughter from the old man.
“Acolytes! Does a weak old man warrant your attention then?” the cackling seemed to rise in intensity and left Haran with the sense that the old man was quite mad, “but you can't dominate me now, I'll die before you twist my body and you can no longer twist my soul – the windows are closed!” his laughter grew louder again “The windows of my soul! I plucked them out! Plucked them out! You can't see into my soul now!”
Haran's blood froze at the old man's words, the windows of his soul? His eyes! The old man had plucked out his own eyes!
* * * * * * * *
The three companions spent a long and fraught night in the old blind man's hovel. Outside the wind howled, an unearthly sound that worked upon Haran's nerves, fraying them at the edges. He swore there were other sounds within the wind's voice. Unearthly sounds. Loathsome sounds. The gibbering and ululation's of unseen and unspeakably foul things heard across a vast distance. He cared for what he heard within the hut not much more than for what he heard without.
Itamar had eventually been able to calm the blind man, although it had taken all his resources and skill to do so. He had told the man of their home in Eden, of how they had travelled here as merchants, trading in potions and unguents, salves and pessaries. Medicines and things to cure what ails the mind and body their stock in trade. He spoke of how each place they had come upon since entering the land of Nod had been abandoned, devoid of people, and he recounted the dream they had all endured in the caravansary the night that Eitan's face had been mutilated in his sleep. In exchange the old man told his own story, a story that seemed fanciful, naught but the ravings of a mad man, and yet, a story that in his heart, Haran knew was true.
The old man told them of the temple to a dark god that stood upon the high plateau of Gul, near the wailing falls, at the wellspring of the river of blood which, according to him, flowed across the plains a day's walk south of here.
He told of the silver-eyed acolytes that had come to the towns of Nod and how they had spoken to the people and bid them pilgrimage to the temple to offer sacrifice to the mad god there. In the beginning, most refused, but many did not. The acolytes would oft be driven from the towns with rocks and with sticks to scuttle back to the temple with what converts they could muster.
He told of how this was not the last that was heard of these acolytes. How soon the towns were attacked by twisted abominations. Grotesque mockeries of life, their limbs twisted and torn, their bodies broken as if by great tortures, a horde of broken things that gibbered and whooped and ran through the streets. These abominations soon grew to be feared across the land of Nod and were given the name of 'The Torn' after their monstrously mutilated aspect. Where they attacked, the strongest of will they would kill and devour, or would maim and drag the wounded away. The weakest they would drag before the acolytes who's eyes would shine as they gazed into their victims very souls, and how these victims would rise, their minds gone, pliant, and meekly they would follow the acolytes away to the temple at the well spring of the river of blood.
The temple of the torn.
* * * * * * * *
It was still early dawn when they heard the approach of the torn.
A whaling, whooping mass of abominations that rolled out of the half light to the east, a small dust cloud following in their wake. The air was still cool and the sky a pallid grey colour. The distant ululations grew closer and as they did the blind man began at first to whimper and then to scream and beat at is head.
Frantically the companions tried to harness the oxen to the cart as the gibbering mass grew ever closer.
“It's too late!”Eitan cried “They are almost upon us.”
Cursing, Haran and Itamar drew their weapons and joined their companion where he stood ready for battle, swinging his great maul from left to right in a few practice swipes.
Heart pounding, Haran shifted his weight and recited a prayer that his grandfather had taught him as the dust cloud grew closer, the torn themselves out of sight now, over a dip in the ground, but their approach caused the ground to rumble as they ran on.
Eitan sprang forward as the first of the monstrosities came into view, his great maul struck it square on the top of the head, shattering it in a spray of bone and gore, the creature that had once been a man flopped to the ground, it's three arms and two legs twitching and flailing madly as it died, and then the others were upon him. Tentacles lashed out at him, twisted mockeries of faces that had once been men leered at him, gnashing their teeth or drooling as they came. His club worked franticly, staving in skulls and reducing limbs to pulp, flinging back a skeletally thin form with two heads and arms that had split open form the elbow down. The blood thirsty howls of the creatures turned to screams of pain as Haran and Itamar joined the melee.
Haran's knife slashed open the soft belly of a twisted creature that lunged at him with gnarled claws that had once been hands. It hissed, revealing a serpents tongue, as it's putrid guts spilled out into the sand and Haran struck again, driving his knife into the side of it's head which proved soft and spongy and not at all as he had anticipated. The creature stopped hissing, it's eyes turning upwards as it slid to the earth. A sharp bone, jutting from the ends of fingers that were pealing back, slashed at Haran's arms, drawing blood, he struck out again with his knife, catching the owner of the claw in the neck. A spray of hot blood splashed across his arm and face as the attacker tumbled backwards to be trampled by another, even more horrific apparition. A creature that had once been two people, a man and a woman, fused together now, their four legs acting in concert, their torsos growing out of one another, lunged for Haran. In a moment of terror he slashed wildly at the thing, only to have his wrist caught in the vice like grip of the abomination.
The screams Haran could hear in his ears were, he realised, his own, as his head wrung from blow after blow. Try as he might he could not wrest his wrist back from the monsters grip. Other creatures, each more gruesomely twisted than the last, joined the first, ripping and tearing at him. Then suddenly, his wrist was free! The vice like grip weakened and fell away as the familiar spiked club of Eitan smashed in the twin skulls of the creature. Slashing desperately, Haran lost all sense of time as the desperate battle to survive wore on until at last he and Eitan stood amidst a mound of dead things, gasping and splattered with gore. Haran was aware of pain from a dozen wounds.
Glancing around he saw the last of the torn dragging a screaming Itamar before a sinister robed figure. Spitting blood from his mouth Haran raced for his friend,
“Come on Eitan, Itamar needs us!” he called as he raced forward, knife in hand. By the time they reached Itamar he had been forced to his knees before he robed priest, his head was being held back, tilted to face the priest, who's eyes shone an unearthly silver.
The torn holding Itamar saw them coming. One, a corpulent being with feet seemingly grafted directly to it's knees and with an eye at the back of it's bald head let go of it's captive and shuffled about to meet the charge. Slowed by it's own mass and stubby legs the creature crumpled as Eitan's maul shattered it's sternum in one mighty blow. Even as it died it struck. Eitan's momentum carried him onto the spear the blubberous mutant had brought up to strike. He gasped, his eyes growing wide as the spear took him just below the ribs.
For his part Haran closed on the second of the torn as it turned to face him, a nightmare creature with half of it's face missing and a raw wound open to the skull. The right hand side of the thing seemed to have been torn away from just under it's arm to it's hip, as if bitten out by some giant beast, only to have healed over. At the last moment Haran swerved past it, his knife rising from a low guard to sever it's neck faster than it anticipated. Haran let his momentum carry him forward and barrelled into the startled priest, who broke eye contact with Itamar and tried in vein to bring his hands up to protect his face as Haran struck, stabbing out first one eye and then the next as the priest's agonized wails split the air. Enraged Haran struck again and again, his bone handled knife striking down into the dying priests face until both his screams and his death throws stopped and he sagged backwards in a spreading pool of his own blood.
Itamar staggered to his feet, pain lanced through his eyes where the priest's gaze had seemed to bore into his very soul. Tears of blood rolling down his cheeks. Behind them both Eitan coughed out is last and then died.
* * * * * * * *
The old man had died of fright, it seemed to them, during the battle with the torn and their acolyte. It had taken an hour or more before Itamar's eyes had stopped bleeding. As the last stone was laid upon Eitan's grave and the sacred prayers of burial faded on the wind Haran turned to go,
“Let us leave this accursed place and return to Eden.”
“NO!” Itamar snarled the word with such ferocity that Haran was taken aback. Itamar had always had a brusk manner about him, but his voice now was harsher than Haran had ever heard it, his tone would brook no argument. Haran turned to face him, puzzled and a little afraid.
“You go back if you wish friend, but I can't come with you,” he looked directly at Haran's uncomprehending face and as he did, his face softened, “Eitan and I were friends since childhood. I can't just go home now, not after what was done to him. I have to avenge him, have to at least try,” he explained, “you need not come with me,”
Haran thought for a moment and then sighed deeply,
“We will need a plan.”
* * * * * * * *
An unmistakable coppery smell hung in the air as the two men stood upon the banks of the red-river. Haran could not hide the look for disgust that twisted his features. The river, which he had assumed was named for some unfortunate feature that resembled blood, did indeed seem to be a constant stream of the life giving humour. Worse still, occasional barely-recognisable solid masses of gore and bodily organs floated down the slow moving stream as the two men looked on in horror.
“Are you sure about this?” Haran asked his companion, involuntarily fingering the bone hilt of his knife.
“Yes,” Itamar nodded, although his voice seemed to waver upon the single syllable, betraying, perhaps, his true uncertainty. Itamar had, however, never been a man to stray from a course of action once his mind was set upon it.
Without a further word the two men turned and followed the river of blood – more of a slow moving stream in truth - upriver.
The day was beginning to cool in the late afternoon when they came upon the screaming cliffs. The jagged, basalt rock rose more than a score of cubits above their heads, a shower of blood and gore spilled over it's walls and fell to the river of blood in some monstrous parody of a waterfall, and all the while the air was filled with the sound of agonized wails and pained screams. Haran clamped his hands over his ears as if to keep from hearing the cacophony, but to no avail. The pained cries seemed to echo inside his skull, driving him almost to the point of madness. Gritting his teeth, he took his hands away from his ears and began to climb, following Itamar who was already a half dozen cubits up the side of the cliff, his knife gripped in his teeth and his face bent to an aspect of grim determination.
Despite the roughness of the cliff and it's abundant handholds, the climb proved more fraught than Haran had expected. He had to fight down the urge to let go of the cliff face and clamp his hands over his ears to try and block out the horrible clamour of screams and whales that seemed to emerge form fissures in the very rock itself. As if to make matters worse still, every so often the climbers would be spattered by blood from the falls nearby. The natural instinct was to recoil or worse yet, wipe it away, yet to yield to either desire was to risk plunging from the cliff face to the rocks beneath and an ignominious fate.
Always the better climber, Haran found himself almost side by side with Itamar by the time the cliff top came within an arms span. Gazing upwards Haran saw a monstrous form looming over the edge, it had once been a man, or so he supposed, but it's body was twisted and ripped apart as if from the inside. Ribs jutted through it's chest, as teeth had ripped through it's own lips at strange angles. It's gnarled hands had grown claw-like in appearance where the bone now grew through the flesh, and it was with one of these monstrously long appendages that it reached down towards Itamar, who seemed oblivious as yet, to it's presence.
Cursing beneath his breath, Haran hurled himself headlong up the last few spans of the cliff face and hauled himself onto the flat ground at it's top, his muscles aching with the effort of it. Dropping to a crouch he pulled his bone handle knife from it's sheath and slashed at the monster's hamstrings, taking it by surprise. It flailed it's arms at him, turning it's attention from Itamar, but Haran had been ready for it. His low stance let him pass under the monster's wild attack and he came up to full hight in time to ram his bone knife into it's neck just beneath the ear and jaw bone, up to the hilt. The creature went limp and dropped to the ground at his feet, upon the edge of the cliff, so quickly it wrenched the knife from his hand. It was then he saw a second creature, as mangled as the first, lunge at him with a spear. Skipping off to one side he grabbed the spear shaft with both hands and pulled with all his might, throwing his attacker off balance. At the same time he brought up his own leg and tripped the creature, with a cry like a startled bird it disappear over the cliff, arms pin-wheeling madly, missing Itamar by less than the span of a hand.
* * * * * * * *
Still trembling from a mixture of fear, exhilaration, exertion, Itamar and Haran stood atop the cliff, upon the banks of the river of blood. There, before them, erupting form the plateau like some monstrous cancer of the earth itself was a black, misshapen, mass. An immense and twisted tabernacle – or perhaps the blasphemous mockery of such – that must be the temple that the blind man had spoken of. It's entrance stood gaping wide, a cleft cut directly into the side of the rock and lacking any form of gate or doorway to seal the portal against the ingress of any who came here, be they friend or foe.
With mounting trepidation the two men gripped their weapons tightly and made their way within.
* * * * * * * *
For how long they had navigated the winding, twisted passages that seemed to have been laid out without thought or care for any design, the two men could not say. Several times they had come across chambers of various sizes, each of them empty and devoid of life, but all the while the distant echoing screams and anguished cries could be heard – shredding their nerves and setting their hearts racing with fright. They had, they were both certain, been descending all of the time, some times the corridors would visibly slope downwards, other times they would seem almost level, their downward trend barely perceptible – other times still they would navigate flights of stairs hewn from the very rock of the structure.
At last they came upon an immense chamber, the size of it like none other they had ever seen before. Within a machine – the workings of which they could not fathom.
A machine of bronze and stone.
The machine from the nightmare they had both experienced that night in the caravansary!
It's scale was immense, larger than the great tabernacle of Eden, and winding it's way into the machine, following an undulating, snaking path across the immense chambers floor was a line of people, naked and dead eyed. They walked slowly and as if in a daze, each of them disappearing in the machine from which the terrible cries of agony that filled the entire temple seamed to emanate. In the distance things – things that might once have been the people fed into the machine – emerged.
Rent in horrific ways.
These were the torn, this was how they came to be.
“A beautiful sight, is it not?” A voice came at them from out of the gloom as three cowled figures in sack-cloth robes seemed to drift across the floor from one of many alcoves.
“Don't look into their eyes!” Haran called a warning, needlessly, perhaps.
“Beautiful?” Itamar gasped, “How can you call this device of torment beauty?”
His question was met with a peal of mirthless laughter, a sound so dripping with malice and madness that Haran wished he could shut it from his mind. Unbidden his hands went to his ears, trying to block the malignant sound of the acolytes voices.
“HE has made us in his own image, so they say. A great conceit, do you not agree? Here, the machine turns the abominable flesh into something new. Something not in the image of a vain god but something new, unique. Each creation it's own thing!”
“But look at them!” Itamar snarled, “listen to the screams! What monstrous agonies it inflicts!”
“Monstrous?” the three priest in sackcloth spoke as one, their voices so matched in pitch it was as if only one spoke and the others were echo's of his voice. “No, not monstrous, exquisite!”
“You are insane!” Haran bellowed, his knuckles turning white where he gripped the bone handle of his knife.
“Life is pain!” the priests again spoke as one “Birth is the greatest agony we endure – such is the reason we scream as we are ripped from our mothers and into the world, and from that moment on we suffer. Here, here the machine offers re-birth and those that endure the agony of it emerge in a new, unique form, and never feel pain again! Is that not wonderful? A few moments of agony for a lifetime without ever feeling pain again?”
Haran's mind boiled, such was his rage. The priests spoke of exquisite agony, of emerging anew in a unique form, yet he noticed they had not subjected themselves to the ministrations of their machine, and in that moment he knew what he must do. He would feed these monster into their own machine!
Determination gripped him and he bounded forward, he gave no indication to Itamar of his plan, for fear of the enemy hearing, but he knew his companion would follow. The priests made no move to stop him as he approached, kicking one in the groin so he doubled over, he had assumed in pain, but it was another moment before he realized the man had uttered no sound save that of wind escaping him in a rush. By now Haran was wrestling with the second priest, trying desperately to avoid his gaze. The man was incredibly strong! Stronger even than Eitan had been, although his build and height had not hinted at it.
“Help me Itamar!” Haran called, “He is too strong for me!”
“Yes.” his friend agreed as he drove his knife deep into Haran's spine, “They were too strong for me as well.”
Haran's eyes widened briefly in shock at the betrayal, he blinked once, hot tears beginning to form and then Haran of Eden was no more.
The three priests loomed over the lifeless body of Haran before speaking again, this time to Itamar alone.
“Take your place in line.” and as the spark began to dull in Itamar's eyes, he silently joined the end of the line.