Beauty closed her eyes briefly and opened them on a sigh. “She has a hell of a lotta scars on her body, Styx.”
I stilled, heart pumping, rage building, and asked, Where? But Beauty’s eyes were fixed on the bed. Spinning her around by her arm, I signed, Where?
“Mostly her back. Look like pretty severe lash marks. They go from side to side like someone’s whipped her good. But… who the f**k would do that? Who gets lashed nowadays?”
I raised a questioning eyebrow as Beauty’s gaze saddened.
“Has some on her inner thighs too. Look like old cuts, blade marks… or… something worse.” She didn’t go further, letting the implication hang in the air.
Beauty walked toward the door, laying a hand on my rigid arm as she passed. “I hope she pulls through, Styx. Looks like she deserves a better life than the one she’s got.”
I couldn’t respond. Couldn’t think. Scars on her f**kin’ inner thighs…
I sat on the chair next to the bed, watching the bitch’s chest rise and fall. I leaned in, took a deep breath, working my throat like hell to manage a whisper.
“I-i-if you c-can hear m-me, p-p-pull through. W-wake the f-f-fuck up. I’ve b-been w-waiting on you coming back to me for f-f-fifteen f**kin’ years. No d-dying on m-me now, you hear me?”
A long sleeveless flowing gown of white stared at me as I huddled against the cold wall on the floor of my room with my legs pulled firmly to my chest.
A gown. A white marital gown mocking me, teasing me, telling me by sundown today I would be married. The seventh wife of Prophet David. The wife revealed to him by God. I would be the one to bring eternal blessings to all in The Order—his chosen people. I would help redeem the status of the Cursed, absolve us of our sins.
Leaning my head against the gray brick wall of my quarters, I closed my eyes, imagining what it would be like to be free. What was life like outside of the great fence? Were people truly evil out there? Did everyone on Earth want to inflict harm on us? Did men really just want to possess and ruin women?
I did not know. Sometimes I doubted Prophet David’s teachings, but I would never say that out loud. No one questioned the teachings—at least those who wanted to avoid punishment. I knew nothing of life beyond these walls, and after tonight, my duty would be as head wife. I would never be able to leave.
Rubbing my shaking hands down my face, my stomach flipped. I just could not do it. And worse, I had no idea where my oldest sister was. My blood sister, Bella, who disappeared weeks ago—no sign, no contact, simply vanished. No one would tell me where she had gone. After too many days of silence, I had begun to fear the worst. Brother Gabriel knew something. The way he looked at me, smirking, almost gloating, gave it away. He had grown obsessed with Bella over the years, but she never returned the sentiment. You could see in his eyes that he wanted her to pay for her indifference toward him.
A sharp knock interrupted my wayward thoughts. Sister Eve walked into my room, clutching a garland of fresh white flowers in her wizened hand. She spotted me on the floor and stomped in my direction.
“Get up, you insolent child. Why are you not in deep prayer? Do you realize the significance of this night, of your marriage; the significance to us all?”
I was jerked off the floor as her hand gripped my upper arm and pulled me to a standing position. Sister Eve, one of the twelve Originals and the woman I both feared and disliked most, was here to aid me in my preparations. The feeling of dislike was mutual. The envious jealousy seeping from her large, aging body was so intense it thickened the humid air around us.
I was one of the four Cursed. One of four females classed as too tempting to men. One of four who were segregated from the rest of the commune, as it is believed the devil had a hand in our creation. The four consisted of my blood sisters Bella and Maddie, our friend Lilah, and me.
“Sister Salome! You best pull yourself together and get dressed.” Sister Eve wrenched me closer to whisper in my ear, “You are not worthy of Prophet David in my eyes, but God chose you as the seventh wife and I cannot doubt the revelation.”
I bowed my head. Sister Eve was a superior and I did not want to face the punishment of disobedience. Lashes, lots and lots of lashes.
“Yes, Sister, I understand. I will begin to dress immediately.”
She walked to the table and laid down the floral head garment, fragrant vanilla oil, and white ceremonial sandals. She held the edge of the table for a few seconds before facing me, lips tight, hesitation in her stance.
“You will need to take special care this evening in your consummation.”
I swallowed back the bile rising in my throat. Prophet David had a disease. Puss leaked from huge, gaping sores all over his skin and I had been instructed on how to care for him, but the duty made me feel sick at the thought.
“Prophet David, due to his ailments, finds it difficult to become… aroused sexually. You will need to take great care in preparing him for your joining this eve. Your union will change the fate of us all and must be sealed under God’s eyes. You must fall pregnant to complete the prophecy.”
My legs wobbled as I thought of what I must do. Prophet David was in his seventies, very overweight, and apparently smelled… badly. When I was thirteen, he declared I would be his wife when I reached the age of twenty-three—the Lord revealed it to him whilst he was in exile out of the The Order. My fate was sealed from that day forth.
Sister Eve took my chin in her hands. “You understand, Salome?”