“No! Please! Do not harm him!” I cried.
Gabriel spun Rider in his arms and Rider glanced down at me, a strange expression on his face. Was he tormented… conflicted… regretful?
Gabriel removed a large knife from the inside of his boot and held it in the air. “You want me to save this savage, huh?” Gabriel was clearly enjoying himself. Rider appeared numb.
My cheeks were wet with tears. I watched as Gabriel took his knife and ripped apart Rider’s hand ties. I felt like I could not breathe. Gabriel was going to kill him. I was about to watch the two men I cared for most die before my very eyes.
Gabriel gripped at Rider’s arm and he spun his victim around, knife braced to strike at Rider’s throat. I heard Styx take a loud, expectant breath and I followed suit.
Gabriel moved closer to Rider. “Are you ready to die?”
Rider glared at Gabriel impassively. Why was he not fighting back? I wanted to scream at him to fight back, but my voice found no sound.
Gabriel stood still as he watched for Rider’s reaction, then abruptly dropped his knife to the floor with a clatter and spread his arms wide. “Brother Cain! It is so good to see you again!”
My eyes widened as Rider straightened. A huge smile graced his face, his injuries suddenly seeming painless and all his tiredness was forgotten. “Brother Gabriel!” he responded in kind, as they embraced.
Each heartbeat in my chest was louder and more pronounced than the next. Everything around me slowed to half speed as I watched Rider and Gabriel basking in a joyous reunion.
Gabriel’s words suddenly sounded in my ears. Brother Cain, it is good to see you again…
I slumped to the floor, depleted. My body had collapsed in shock. My eyes denied the scene before me; Rider embracing the elders one after the other. Brother Cain, it is good to see you again…
My eyes looked to Styx. His eyes looked to me.
Rider’s the rat. Rider’s the f**kin’ rat! He communicated with his gaze.
Rider’s a disciple? I relayed back.
Brother Cain? BROTHER… CAIN!
“No,” I barely croaked. The elders and Rider all turned to meet the sound and I met Rider’s now-alien brown eyes. I found more energy and queried, “You are Brother Cain? You are Prophet David’s nephew? The heir of The Order?”
Rider just stared. He was a stranger to me now. Cain was the disciple who would inherit The Order when Prophet David passed. Rider is Brother Cain. Rider does not exist.
Sobs ripped up my throat and I broke down right there on the floor. I could hear the sounds of Styx thrashing around again, trying in vain to break free to get to me, to comfort me. I could not handle it anymore. I could not take any more loss.
“Get her. We need to move out.” Rider’s—no—Cain’s command broke me from my sorrowful thoughts. Rising to my knees, I shuffled over to Styx, throwing myself into his body, slick with exertion. “Styx… I love you… I love you.”
Styx growled and snarled as he fought to be free, fought to wrap his arms around my waist. His lips moved as if trying to speak but in vain—only silence… only silence. His words would not come and I could see the frustration on his face.
“Baby, look at me. LOOK AT ME!” I shouted as his desperate eyes met mine. I pleaded, “Do not try and find me.” He frantically shook his head. I pleaded again, “Please. Do not look for me. They will never let me go again. I will never be free of this life. Let me go… Let me go. Protect yourself, protect the club… your brothers.”
Suddenly, large hands gripped my arms. I fought against the strong hold, smashing my lips to Styx’s, needing that connection. I tried to savor his smoky taste, his musky scent. But our fleeting touch was over too soon. I was lifted off my feet and into a tight iron grasp: Cain.
“Noah, Moses, send the Hangmen a message,” Cain commanded and the elders closed in on Styx.
“No! NO!” I screamed over and over. “I love you, Styx. I love you!”
Rider carried me out of Styx’s room and to the stairwell that led to the yard. “Damn you to hell, Cain. Damn you to hell!” I yelled as I fought to get free.
Cain stopped and slammed me against the wall and his blazing eyes bored into mine. “I’m already in hell! This is f**kin’ hell! Seeing you with him… is hell! I’m bringing you back home, away from this sinful place! Back to our people! And away from him!”
Anger blazed through my body. Before I even knew what I had done, I spit in his face. Cain froze as my saliva trickled down his cheek, then into his beard.
“I hate you! How can you take me back to that den of evil after what they did to me for years? You told me you loved me! That was a lie! If you loved me, you would not take me back there. You might as well kill me. JUST KILL ME NOW!”
Cain leaned in real close and once more slammed my back against the hard cement wall, the action robbing me of my breath. “That’s the f**kin’ problem, Salome. I do love you. I’m not meant to. It is forbidden. I was meant to free you for my uncle. Deliver you to Prophet David. And I must. It is the will of the Lord. But I do f**kin’ love you and it is my burden to bear.”
I was even more confused. “What? If you love me, you should let me go. Please…” For a moment, the Rider I knew and loved as my best friend stared back at me, but when Moses, Noah, and Gabriel dragged Styx through the bedroom door, the cold Brother Cain persona reasserted itself.