The rain from the storm outside seemed to shift back and forth uncontrollably. Maenad could hear the water droplets pelt the side of the old church building as they made their way down the south side corridor and to the quarters of The Magistrate. Occasionally lightening would flash and cast shadows on the walls all around them. Thunder rumbled overhead as Maenad’s thoughts trailed off to darker times. Times in which he was driven by nothing but his passion to kill Jessica Maxwell. He clenched his fists as his thoughts dropped even lower into his subconscious. It felt like digging into thick, dark, mud; there was no way he was not going to get dirty from the exertion. There was no way he was not going to get stuck in the past without someone, or something, to pull him out again. Good and bad men could die mentally inside digging up horrible memories from the past.
The thought of the thick mental-mud brought back images of the wild animals that would get stuck in the iron sediment of the Tarmac Desert. They would struggled for a time to get free before exhaustion would set in to their muscles… then they would simply collapse into the ground and give up. There was no escaping the nightmare of death; at that point they were food for the buzzards. Maenad could see their bleached bones as they littered the pit. He was no different from any of them. He was tuck in the mud of his own making, with no one to pull him out again. It was foolish to think that he, of all people, could have redemption for his sins.
Maenad almost flinched as Jessica’s voice sounded in his skull. It was cold and unwanted as it pressed against his thoughts “Can you believe he said he loved me, Maenad? Your brother actually said he loved me.”
The phantom laughed at this notion.
Maenad growled back at it. He felt like a wild animal being prodded in a steel cage he could not escape. He braced himself as Jessica’s voice intruded into his subconscious a second time. Her voice was dubious and harsh “You always were a hard one to convince Maenad, always telling your brother how you didn’t trust me.”
Stop! Demanded Maenad before the phantom could say anything else.
Jessica’s voice spoke up over his thoughts anyway; there was no regard for personal space now. She was pleading, like she did before she died back in the desert “You can’t do this to me, Maenad! We could still run away together, you and I, maybe even start a family of our own somewhere on the Tarmac. We could leave all this fighting behind us and live a better life.”
Maenad’s jaw clinched at the thought. Never!
He would rather die a hundred times than consider the action of being with a woman of her caliber. Maenad wasn’t ignorant to the rumors that had spread about him and Jessica over the years; most of it being fabricated by Jessica herself as a sick, twisted joke. People were always telling tails to help them make sense of the chaos that ruled their lives. The lie about him and Jessica having a romance was the sickest of them all. He had heard it repeated to him over and over back in prison. It hurt to hear them also coming from Hannah.
Maenad’s dark thoughts turned to the girl. Her harsh words back at the basin of vices could still be felt in his chest. It was true he had not told Hannah everything about his past; and for good reasons. How do you tell someone, you only met a few days ago, that her father was also responsible for the murder of your brother? Supreme Governor Whitecliff had bought and paid for Jessica Maxwell way before the bullet train. The greedy governor had given her a reward for the capture of the Miller brothers. Jessica Maxwell had done it all for greed and glory. The death of both Whitecliff and Maxwell brought a feeling of devilish delight to Maenad that made him feel both happy and sick all at once.
He hated himself for it.
Maenad stopped walking forward and breathed out a harsh breath at the emotional concoction in his chest. Water came to his eyes as he sought desperately to resolve the pungent feelings. He felt like a raging bull inside. The lies that he had heard people speak while pursuing Jessica across the dessert sprang up suddenly in his mind again; shattering his concentration into a million pieces. People actually thought it had to do with a love triangle between him and Jessica. People actually thought he was in love with his brother’s killer. Maenad had heard the accusation in Hannah’s tone only moments ago. He had seen it in her eyes when she had tossed the perfume vial at him before leaving the chapel.
The perfume! Thought Maenad bitterly. His right hand was covered in it; the sweet smell was almost unbearable to take in. It was Jessica’s smell. The perfume from Ballbaling had only been there to taunt and torture the woman. It was his way of telling Jessica that she hadn’t gotten away with anything; he was always watching her. The real challenge in this all was in explaining this dynamic relationship to Hannah. Maenad felt like he owed her no explanation. These were things in his past that never involved the girl. In the end Hannah would go on believing what she wanted to believe. Most people threw out the truth for fables.
The Prime Priestess paused and looked over to Maenad. “Is everything all right?”
Maenad shifted his gaze to the old church lady and studied her withering features. She seemed genuinely concerned about him. He cleared his throat and tried to sound convincing. “Everything is fine… I just need a minute to organize my thoughts.”
“The girl you are traveling with,” said the Prime Priestess softly as she indicated back down the hallway to the chapel. “She seemed remorseful at the words she had spoken to you moments ago. I believe she is still processing what she actually meant by them.”
“I know what she meant by her words,” said Maenad sharply. He couldn’t help himself. His feelings were spilling over into his speech and gesticulations. He felt like an overfilled dam. “And it seems that everyone has got an opinion about me and my former life.” Maenad pause and thought carefully. “I wasn’t always good tempered in the past.”
“Maybe you can explain these misconceptions to the young girl after meeting with The Magistrate,” said the Prime Priestess encouragingly. She smiled slightly, trying to redirect the mood that was filling up the hallways. “Maybe you can be a little more forgiving toward the follies of youth. I am sure you were youthful at one point and made a few mistakes before getting your head straight.” She chuckled. “Heaven knows I made mistakes before finding myself and getting back on the path.”
Maenad said nothing. He really didn’t know what to say to the old church lady; on the surface, it sounded like fair advice. Maenad had made mistakes while in his youth. He had said and done a lot of stupid things that he was still paying for. Maybe he needed to give Hannah the benefit of the doubt and swallow his pride. Something inside of him hated this thought and was begging him to reconsider.
The Prime Priestess continued forward and motioned for him to follow. She seemed to take courage in the silence of the church. “I know you don’t want to hear my advice right now, but I am going to give it anyway, regardless of what you might think of me.” She looked back at Maenad. “I am not too sure of your relationship with the girl back in the prayer room, how you guys came to be friends, but one thing is clear to me. The young lady takes stock in you and you shouldn’t take that for granted. The poor thing was in tears when I left her. I don’t know her life story, but it seems like she has been through a lot and she needs you.”
They came to the end of the hallway and stood in front of the thick wooden door for a moment. The Prime Priestess placed her hand on the iron handle, as if to open it, and paused. She turned to him. “Promise me you will forgive her after all this is over. She is hurting inside still and needs to find a resolve for something that has cut her deep.” She eyed Maenad searchingly for answers. “The Lady of The Desert compels me to speak so boldly to you.” She took her free hand off his chest. “Please be kind to her when you speak next.”
Maenad nodded slightly at this. The old church lady seemed so genuine when she spoke.
The Prime Priestess pulled away from the door. “That is all I need to hear.”
Maenad turned and watched her retreat down the hallway. The raging bull in his chest had substantially. He would talk to Hannah after all this was over. He was feeling more like himself again. He turned back to the door and opened it.
The first thing Maenad recognized was the striking contrast between The Magistrates room and the rest of the old church. It was like he had walked into a new world; even the storm outside seemed oddly distanced at the present moment. The smell of Kellwood could be sensed burning in a basin somewhere. The subtle changes in atmosphere bothered Maenad straight to his core. He didn’t quite know why the room bothered him so much but it did. Maenad’s muscles clinched up habitually. They usually did this just before walking into a trap.
“It was foolish of you to come here tonight Maddi,” came a stern voice from the far end of the room. It continued, not waiting for a response from the outlaw. “Tell me why I shouldn’t contact the authorities in town and tell them you are here? It would be my right as a member of this community to do so. There’s pictures of you on every comm station in town… People are still talking about the mess you made at the prison yard.”
Maenad turned to the older man sitting at the desk. He was positioned at the opposite side of the chamber; closer to where the fire was burning in the hearth. He seemed to be writing something down. A sermon perhaps? Maenad studied him for a minute trying desperately to gather his thoughts before speaking. He hated how ill prepared he was. It was amazing how much people could change in just eight year’s time.
Maenad didn’t quite recognize his father in this new authoritative light. He was wearing some kind of monochromatic uniform that seemed to hug his slender frame. The front coat had several brass buttons that came up symmetrically on both sides. The sleeves were long and white and stopped just above the wrists, then doubled back. He looked very official.
“I won’t be here long,” said Maenad as he turned away from his father and looked at all the books in the office around them. The place was like a personal library. Thick leather bound volumes on ‘The Philosopher of Religion’ could be read on most of the titles. Maenad was sure Hannah would have loved to see it all. “I have come to discuss a few things with you. I just need some information, and once I have it, I’ll leave you to write your sermons.”
Maenad’s father looked up from his writing with a puzzled expression. “You need information from me?” he reached across the desk and held up the letter Maenad had sent with The Prime Priestess. He seemed disappointed as he spoke. “This letter had been about extending my hand in forgiveness to you and your foolhardy brother back in the desert. This was not meant to be an invitation to help you in your ongoing quest to commit crimes and disrupt the community. If this meeting has anything to do with that, then I will call the authorities.”
Maenad shook his head in protest. “I am not asking you to aid me in committing crime, father. I am looking to set things right between you and me.” He glanced back over at The Magistrate and tried to read his expression. It was hard to do; Maenad felt like he was looking into a mirror of his older self. Is this how I come off to Hannah and everyone else? He thought suddenly. With a piercing gaze and a furrowed brow?
Maenad pushed this thought aside as he continued. “I am taking steps to become a better man, father. Part of that journey is meeting with you and settling what has happened between us in the past. That means coming here and asking your forgiveness for being headstrong and foolish.” Maenad hated the feelings that sprang up as he spoke. Something inside of him was fighting this request to either give forgiveness or receive forgiveness.
Maenad’s father set the letter back down on the desk in front of him. He seemed slightly more comforted by his son’s confession. He breathed out a sigh of relief. “You want my forgiveness for you leaving all those years ago?”
Maenad paused and listened as the fire cracked in the hearth; why is this so hard to do? Why is it so hard to say ‘yes, I want your forgiveness’? In his heart he felt like this is what he wanted more than anything. He suppressed the emotions welling up in his chest. His throat got tighter as he forced himself to speak. “Yes, that is what I have come for. If you don’t want to give it to me… then I understand. I have made a lot of mistakes.” He cleared his throat habitually and tried to stand a little taller. He didn’t want to display the emotion he was feeling. Crying would make him seem weak. “If you will give it.”
“It is given,” said his father loudly and without hesitation as he threw his hands up. “It is given! I am not proud of what you have turned into Maddi, but if this is truly a change of heart, and not something contrived to get gain on me or humanity, then you have my full pardon and blessing in your pursuit.” He stood up and walked around the desk. The ends of his long white magistrate coattails flopped behind him as he approached Maenad. “It is our Ladies will that we forgive openly… that wounds may heal quickly.”
He embraced his son.
Maenad didn’t pull away from the hug. He embraced back and breathed in the moment with his father. He never thought in a million years this would happen. It felt surreal; was this the trap he had felt would spring? The trap of opening his heart?
“I never thought this day would come, Maddi,” said his father in almost a whisper. He was becoming chocked up. “I have dreamed about it happening, but never thought that this day would come. Praise be to The Lady that it has, my son.” He pulled away and studied Maenad with a smile; taking in his sons expression. “Will you forgive me for not seeing the hurt you went through with the passing of your mother?”
Maenad took off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair. He shook his head ‘yes’ because he didn’t really know what to say.
His father embraced him again. “What a day this is! Your mother would be proud!”
Maenad couldn’t help it or hold it back anymore. The feeling that had haunted him inside retreated as his father spoke the words. These were words that he didn’t even know he wanted to hear. It felt like the nicest thing on earth; as if someone, or something, had just lifted a stone off his soul. It felt like hope had finally found a place in him. Tears were coming down his face as he cleared his throat and pushed passed all the thoughts coming to his head. “I have come to make things right with a few more people I have wronged in the past,” said Maenad as he pulled away from his father and walked over to the desk. He quickly wiped his eyes on his sleeve and breathed out a sigh of relief.
Maenad was beyond glad that Hannah wasn’t here to witness him blubbering like a fool in front of his father. Seeing her reaction would have made this more embarrassing than it needed to be. “There is a boy in town that I have wronged a while back. He was taken to the Smash’s estate about 7 or 8 months ago. He was going to be married to Smash’s daughter.” He turned to his father. “Have you heard of any wedding announcements around town? Am I too late to put a stop to any of it?”
Maenad’s father seemed puzzled by the questions. He shook his head. “I have not heard of any engagements to Christina Smash. If the young lady were to be married to anyone around the Tarmac Desert, all of Wichita and the surrounding governance's would have known about it. This is not something that they would keep secret from the public. What is the boy’s name?”
“His name is Jim…” said Maenad. He paused as he tried to think of his last name. It suddenly dawned on Maenad; he didn’t know the boys last name. The feeling of the stone appeared again in his chest; this time more weighted and cold. He had done all this to Jim and didn’t even know his last name. “I am not sure what his last name is. I never thought to ask.”
Maenad’s father could see the distress in his son eyes at this new revelation. “I am not aware of any boy named Jim at the Smash’s estate,” said Maenad’s father as he paused and thought for a minute. He tapped the end of his jaw as he went along. “He must have been enslaved for his crimes against humanity. I am assuming he was charge with the same crime of robbing the bullet train as you were… or did he help you with something else? Did you guys rob Supreme Governor Smash?”
“No, it was the train,” said Maenad as he leaned against the desk and tapped the end of his jaw; he stopped immediately when he recognized what he was doing and placed his hands under his armpits. Being this close to his father always brought out these innate behaviors. He had forgotten all about it.
Maenad allowed himself to concentrate on Jim again. The fact that his father didn’t know about any marriages in the Smash’s Estate spoke volumes to Jim’s grave situation. The boy could be long dead or worse. Smash might not have been a very religious man, but he would most certainly keep up appearances with a wedding. If his daughter was going to be wed at all… he would have done it properly in a church with a magistrate like his father. This meant that Smash had enslaved Jim or worse; maybe Jessie Franklin had already killed him.
Maenad could feel the anger serge inside of him at the thought of being too late. Jesse Franklin was notorious for his cruelty to others. Maenad had heard stories of the man while pursuing Jessica through the desert. He hope for Jim’s sake they were not true. He didn’t know what he would do to everyone at the Smash Estate if they had killed Jim or tortured him. Would he would resort back to the old ways? The thought of it scared him; Maenad was way more fragile than he realized.
Maenad’s thoughts turned to Hannah and the advice he had given her outside the church about revenge not bringing peace. The hypocrisy in his own developing thoughts caused him to flush red. His collar got hot as he squirmed inside. Here he was telling Hannah to change her way of thinking when he himself was walking a thin red line. He tried to tell himself that he wouldn’t act out if the news was bad about Jim. He didn’t quite believe his own thoughts. No good could have come from the boy’s captivity, no good at all.
“You mean to free the boy if he is there at the estate?” Asked Maenad’s father almost incredulously. His son’s thoughts seemed like an open book now. “If he is a slave he was most likely branded and deemed property of the state. If you manage to free him he will not have much of a life around the Tarmac Desert. He will be deemed a runaway by his community and most likely shunned wherever he goes.” He walked over to Maenad. He was trying to be sensitive to his son’s feelings. “It may be the best thing for the boy that he remain in captivity.”
Maenad shook his head at this thought. If Jim was branded a slave he wouldn’t abandon him. If his community rejected him then Maenad would take responsibility for everything that would happen after. What else could he do but try and make it right again? He had dumped Jim into it all. “I promised I would free him, father.”
“You promised him that?” ask Maenad’s Father.
Maenad pushed off the desk and started pacing the floor. He felt like a wild animal. He didn’t have all the answers. “I didn’t say it verbally to the boy at the time, but I did promise I would try and make things right when I got the chance. Jim wanted me to do something, but at the time I couldn’t. I was exhausted…”
“You don’t meant to cause any more harm to anyone, do you?” asked Maenad’s Father. He was watching the strange behavior in his son now. He was debating whether to reach out and stop him from pacing. “No good can come of resolving this all by violence and murder. The government is already shaky from the election and the transition of powers. People feel wronged by the change in station and are ready to fight if need be. If the six governors tonight can’t come to an agreement on Supreme Governor Smash being the central leader we might see war and bloodshed across the whole Tarmac Desert again… it would be the start of a new war between the territories. The government would never be the same.”
Maenad shook his head at this foolish conjecture; he wasn’t looking to start a war with anyone. He was still fighting with himself inside about Jim. He stumbled slightly as he turned around on the rug. “I mean to get him out of there without confrontation. My intention is not to start a war but to make things right between the people that I have wronged. I mean to free him and give him back to his parents.” Maenad stopped pacing and pointed to his father. “His parents will take him back. They can look after him…scars and all.”
“Maddi,” said Maenad’s Father softly. “Perhaps you need more time to think about this. You might be placing his family in danger if you give him back.”
Maenad was stifled by this. He studied his father for any hint of diversion. He finally relented, somehow he knew his father was right. The situation was way more complicated than it at first appeared. His rescue of Jim would go just like his escape from the prison yard. It would be half-baked at best; and get them both killed at worst.
“I would suggest you wait until the inaugural celebration is over and then make your move on liberating the boy from the Smash Estate. At least then there will be less of a chance that civil war might break out,” said Maenad’s Father. “Stay here tonight and we can think about it more in the morning. We could even create a plan, if need be, to retrieve the boy without subterfuge at all. Smash could give the boy to The Grand Church of The Lady of The Desert, and Jim could work here for a while until he has served his time. I don’t believe that all is lost in this matter.”
Maenad felt slightly comforted by this council from this father. There were other options out there that didn’t involve him risking Hannah’s life or Jim’s. Maenad finally nodded his head in approval. The advice seemed sound and like it could actually work. He would have to relay the information to Hannah before they left in the morning back to the cave. “Okay, we will do it your way to begin with. If nothing comes of it…” Maenad paused and stopped pacing. He turned to his father. “We can try it the hard way. I need to tell Hannah what the plan is.”
Maenad turned toward the door. He was going to leave when his father called out to him.
“Wait just a moment son.”
Maenad stopped and turned; his heart was racing in his chest. He watched as his father walked back over to this desk and sat back down. He reached over and opened one of the draws and sifted through the contents. Maenad’s Father finally pulled out a black boxes and held it out in front of him for a moment. “I was told to give this to you when you finally came back.”
Maenad seemed puzzled as he gazed at the box in his father’s hands. He walked over to his father slowly. The feeling that a trap was going to spring started to well up inside of him. Maenad didn’t know why, but a single thought crossed his mind at that moment. The thought was ‘Leave it’. It felt as if someone where whispering it to him.
“What is it?” Asked Maenad.
“The Lady of The Desert told me to call it the ‘God Killer’,” Maenad’s Father said as he open the case and showed the pistol to his son. The thing was made out of a solid black chrome that seemed to reflect little to no light. Etched in the metallic dark surface were gold swirls that formed letters that Maenad was not familiar with. The barrel was longer than a normal revolver and thick at odd places. He could already see the innovation in the open breach and stock. This gun would only hold one really big round.
Maenad shifted his cautious gaze to the wicked looking bullet at the base of the velvet case. It seemed to have a life of its own. It was made of see-through glass and at the center rested a chaotic black dot. It seemed like the glass could just barely hold the energy from the dot. It was swirling violently in all directions.
“How in the world…” asked Maenad puzzled.
“For about eight years I have been having dreams given to me by The Lady of The Desert. These dreams started happening shortly after the death of your mother. I, at first, thought they were only dreams, but found out quickly that they were real.” Maenad’s Father laughed as he continued. “The Lady of The Desert has been showing me were to get all the supplies I need to create this thing. The Lady has been using my gifts as a gunsmith to finally bring real lasting peace to the Tarmac Desert.” Maenad’s Father rested the black box on the desk and pushed it toward his son. “The Lady of the Desert said you were chosen at one point to have it.”
Maenad reached out and picked up the gun without hesitation. It felt foreign in his hand as if her were holding a heavy piece of glass. How did his father even cast such a thing? It was beautiful in so many ways.
“In my recent dream, Our Lady said you are no longer worthy to have it. That if I were to give it to you, it would prove disastrous for all in this world.” Maenad’s Father leaned forward. His voice sounded encouraging as he spoke. “After seeing how much you have changed, I feel like you are still worthy to have it. I want you to take it and use it.”
Maenad turned to his father confused. He was feeling unsure about all this talk of god speaking in dreams. “Use it for what?”
“To kill the Lady of The Night,” said Maenad’s Father with a twisted smile that seemed almost out of place. He indicated to the gun in his son’s hand. “This is what will truly bring peace to everyone in the Tarmac Desert.” He cleared his throat. “There will come a time real soon when the Lady of The Night will reveal herself to you. It will be at a time when everything seems to be falling into place. The Lady of The Desert told me once that you would know. This was before you left and were running around the desert with your brother.”
Maenad felt uneasy at this revelation. His father didn’t really sound like himself at the present moment. The feel of this being a trap welled up inside of Maenad even further; he just couldn’t explain it. One thought came to mind again ’leave it’. It was soft but more prominent now, as if he where touching the property of another person. Maenad placed the gun back into the velvet case and secured it in the folds again. He let his fingers linger on the cold metallic surface. The gun wasn’t made out of any material he knew about. Maenad couldn’t really tell what it was made out of; he felt like he was doing the right thing by leaving it.
“Forgive me father, but I am not fully a believer as of yet in these revelations of god killing. If the Lady of The Desert said that it doesn’t belong to me…” Maenad looked up at his father and studied him for a moment, “Then it no longer belongs to me.”
Maenad’s Father was going to protest when a loud explosion shook the whole building. It felt like a bomb had gone off on the north side of the church. The sound of the Priestess Diana screaming from the chapel was heard down the hall.
“Hannah”, thought Maenad quickly as he rushed out of the room.