The Dark Citadel (The Green Woman)

BOOK: The Dark Citadel (The Green Woman)
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The
Green Woman #1:
The Dark
Citadel
 
By
Jane
Dougherty
 

 

 
 

 

Published by
Wild
Geese Books
copyright © Jane Dougherty, 2014

Jane Dougherty asserts her moral right to be
identified

as the author of this book.

All characters in this publication are fictitious
and any resemblance

to actual persons, living or dead, is purely
coincidental.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval

system, or transmitted in any form or by any
means, without the prior permission

in writing of the author, nor be otherwise
circulated in any form other than in which

it is published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed

on the subsequent purchaser.

 

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Prologue

 
 

At the end,
the
Earth was barren and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And
Abaddon moved upon the face of the waters. Darkness extinguished the lights in
the firmament of heaven, and it was called Night. And the Earth brought forth
no more grass, no more herb yielding seed, and the fruit trees yielded no more
fruit. The seas were emptied of the creatures of the waters, the skies were
emptied of fowl of all kinds, the living, moving things disappeared from the
face of the Earth.

And Abaddon saw that it was good.

And into the Night Abaddon brought forth all the foul things from beneath
the firmament of the Earth that was called Hell so they might creep upon the
Earth, and the winged and scaled creatures that they might fly above the Earth,
and the waters brought forth the great Behemoths that they might move beneath
the waters.

And Abaddon said, Be fruitful and multiply and fill
the waters in the seas and let the foul things multiply in the Earth and in the
skies above the Earth. And he saw that it was good.

The seed that lay upon the Earth did not grow for
Abaddon caused it not to rain upon the ground but raised dust from the Earth
and covered the whole face of the ground. Nor was there a man to till the
ground and raise the seed. For all were destroyed except for the chosen few.

And Abaddon said, Let us take the soul of man and
create it in our image, after our likeness and let these men have dominion over
their fellows. And Abaddon formed a man’s soul of the dust of the ground and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of living death. And these men were
called Elders.

And Abaddon saw it was not good for man to be
alone, and he said, I give you woman, and in sorrow shall she live and bring
forth children, and you shall rule over her.

And Abaddon saw that it was very good.

At the end there was but one city spared the wrath
of the Almighty: Providence, the eternal. And beneath its steel and crystal
Hemisphere, it withstood the bombs and the earthquakes and all manner of
catastrophes. Abaddon, the angel of the bottomless pit, placed two demons with
fiery swords at the gates of the city so no man dared leave. And the men could
not see these demons, but only the fiery desolation without, and they were
afraid. The sunlit world of their dreams was dead, and in its place was a
sunless shadow land.

And darkness entered even unto the crystal
Hemisphere and filled the hearts of the city Elders. Abaddon said, Let you
build temples and sacrificial altars, draw up your rites from the cults of your
fathers and their fathers, take unto you names from ancient scriptures, pagan
stories and legends. And the Elders harkened, and they mangled and merged old
and new religions until they had the Book. And in the Book it was written all
the Elders knew. The darkness could not be vanquished. Night was eternal. The
sun was dead.

Abaddon called up his subjects, the foul winged and
scaled creatures that crawled upon their bellies and flew in the sky, and
gathered them about the crystal dome. Abaddon waited for the Memory to
reappear, the Memory of the world of light that would reassemble the Pattern
that governs all things and cast him back into the pit. For as surely as evil
had spilled forth into the world like a burst boil so good would follow to
restore the balance. Abaddon would capture the keeper of the Memory when she
appeared and use her power to increase his own. And when his dominion was
accomplished, the darkness that was cast over all the Earth would be eternal.

The keeper was there, in the city. Abaddon knew,
but she was hidden from his sight. Though his demons had crawled over the
crystal surface of the Hemisphere and peered into every dark corner, they had
not found her. But the Memory could not remain hidden; one day it would be
manifest. And when the keeper realised the nature of her power, when the
memories of the light spilled forth to pollute the darkness, Abaddon, the
Destroyer, God of the Desert, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, would know her, and
he would crush her.

 
 
 

And
he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying,

Babylon
the great is fallen, is fallen,

 
and is become the habitation of devils,
and the hold of every foul spirit,

and
a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.

Revelation 18: 2

 
Chapter
1
 
 

In the House
of Births, in the
centre of the Holy City State of Providence, white-coated medics and nursery
staff floated silently among the sleeping, perfectly formed, rose-coloured
babies in their Perspex cradles. In a nearby ward reserved for Ignorants, their
mothers lay, also sleeping—a drugged, tormented sleep full of disjointed
nightmares. The nursery assistants picked up one drowsy, sweet-smelling baby
after the other and carefully peeled back the blue or pink pyjamas. The
doctors, masked and latex-gloved, reached backwards and forwards to the tray of
vials, inserting syringes in a single, practiced movement. Each baby’s face
puckered and grimaced, and a last, feeble protest escaped on its warm, milky
breath when the needle was withdrawn from its heart.

* * * *

Anxious Ignorant men crowded into the reception hall of the House of
Births. They had slept uneasily the previous night. Work could wait; they
wanted to see their wives.

The receptionist reminded them of the no-visiting
rules while his fingers slid beneath the desk and pressed a button. In the
nearby militia barracks, an alarm bell rang and a squad of Black Boys grabbed
their weapons eagerly, preparing for action. The receptionist watched the
entrance expectantly, as the desolate sound of wailing poured down from the
floors above. The Ignorant men surged forward towards the main staircase and
found their way blocked by two armed security guards. They halted in an angry,
gesticulating mass, shouting at the guards to let them pass and fell silent as
a wild-eyed woman appeared at the top of the stairs. The woman shook back the
hair from her tear-stained face and raised the limp body of a baby, a pink
doll, her lifeless head lolling.

“They have murdered our babies!” The woman’s voice
was strident with grief, shrill with anger and despair. “Joshua! Are you there?
They have killed our Dana. She was perfect, Joshua. Perfect.” The voice stopped
short, cut off with a choking sob.

The men stared, wide-eyed and chilled to the core,
struggling to understand the horror of what they had just heard.

A steel door fell, blocking off the staircase and
silencing the screams that echoed through the birthing wards. The men surged
again with a frenzied roar as Black Boys joined the security guards and laid
about them methodically with clubs and batons, smashing skulls, shattering
kneecaps. The Ignorant men, trembling with hatred and disgust, limped backwards,
slowly pushed back outside. The rest of the squad was waiting for them, black
visors hiding their faces, batons held at the ready. The men panicked and tried
to break through but found themselves encircled. Insults goaded them, batons
swung, pushing the men into a tight mass like cornered animals. Then the Back
Boys drew their long knives.

The captain bawled loud enough to be heard across
the square by any curious pair of ears. “Insurrection, treason, ambushing His
Excellency’s armed forces, besieging a public building. The penalty for the
ring leaders is death!”

The Ignorant men huddled together, back to back,
their eyes fixed on the bright blades, their fists clenched.

“You! Step forward.”

A gauntleted finger pointed at a big man with the
black-grained skin of a miner. The man’s jaw tightened but he stood firm.

“We only want to see our wives, our babies.”

The gauntleted hand signalled to two militiamen who
leapt forward, arms pulled back ready. They struck, grunting with the effort as
the blow heaved the miner up onto his toes. The man’s face puckered up in agony
but he fought back the death cry and died in silence.

The other men stared in shocked silence until one
of them roared—“You fuckin’ pigs!”—and they all took up the cry of
anger and grief. The Black Boys’ knives twitched.
    

“You!”

The black finger pointed again, randomly, at a
young man waiting to see his first baby. His eyes opened wide in horror as the
knives struck again, like spitting pigs, and the boy heaved up his last breath
in a rush of blood from his punctured lungs.
 

“The rest of you will receive fifty lashes. And
count yourselves lucky.”

The men were handcuffed together in a long chain.
They looked back in disbelief, too sick with horror to raise their voices above
a murmur. Dark pools of blood were forming where the summary executions had
taken place.

The Lord High Protector of Providence was a firm
upholder of tradition, and he liked blood. He shunned clean, modern weapons,
preferring the sight of gaping wounds and torn flesh. The black captain eyed
the twisted corpses approvingly as he took an axe from his belt. Taking a firm
grip, testing the weight of the axe, he brought it down with all his force on
the dead miner’s neck. Stepping clear of the blood he raised the axe again over
the body of the boy.

Above the entrance to the House of Births, a statue
of Duty wearing her five-pointed helmet raised a sword defiantly in her right
hand. The captain handed the severed heads to one of his men.

“Heave them up there.”

The Black Boys grinned and clustered round. Amid
gales of laughter, one of them scrambled up to the alcove over the door and
stuck the heads on two spikes of Duty’s helmet. The captain admired the effect
but appeared vaguely dissatisfied.

“We should have got three,” he said wistfully
before leading his men back to their barracks.

* * * *

The demon looked down into the city still in the grip of the night shadows,
at the aura that enveloped it like a suffocating smog. It should be away before
the light broke, but it was loath to leave, held by the sweet, cloying smell of
hatred and cruelty. It licked dry lips and tasted the air. It was the same aura
that enveloped the Yellow Rock, like marsh gas flickering over a swamp, like
the ooze and bubbling of putrefaction. It was the manifestation of death and
decay. The demon’s mouth wrinkled into a grin, and its broad bat’s ears turned
left, then right, picking out rhythms in the silent air. It settled back again
to watch.

* * * *

Beyond the crystal dome, billowing brown dust clouds jostled and collided.
Pale daylight found its way through the gaps between them, falling in feeble
rays through the classroom window and across the open pages of a book. A boy
opened his hand and let the light stripe his palm, then lifted his face to the
crystal dome that arched over the city. His gaze followed the beam back through
the clouds, wondering what it was like, the sky that had produced such a
beautiful thing.

His science teacher would never explain what lay
beyond the clouds. The sun was dead. That was all anyone needed to know. The
firmament was filled with dust and sand until the clouds touched the coldest
reaches of the overarching dome of the sky and the dust particles turned to
ice. The sun was dead, the sky was cold and barren, and darkness enveloped the
Earth. The boy reached out a finger and stroked the pale streak of light.

“Zachariah Givenson!” The metallic tones of the
supervisor drilled through the boy’s consciousness, and he withdrew his hand
guiltily. “Do you intend to dream away the whole of the afternoon, or have you
already finished the problems you were set at the beginning of the period?”

Zachariah shook his head. “No, sir. Not quite.”

The supervisor glared and carried on fanning
himself. Zachariah bent his eyes with a sigh to the empty sheet of paper before
him and chewed the end of his pen. He knew there was no chance the supervisor
would get off his arse and check that he’d started his maths problem. It was
too hot and airless to get worked up over an idle pupil. What could he say
anyway? Supervisors weren’t professors; they were almost as ignorant as girls
when it came to science and history.

The beam of light faded, and Zachariah felt his
heart sink. His eyes strained to follow it behind the thickening cloud,
yearning after it, as if it showed the path to…something different. One day
Zachariah would find out what lay beyond the crystal walls and the stifling
mountains of dust and tradition that made Providence a prison.

The temperature dropped suddenly and the quiet became
a tense, expectant silence as a cloud, darker than the others, dipped low over
the Hemisphere. Twisting into a demonic form, it thickened and unfolded as if
it had spread heavy wings to skim the crystal surface. A shriek rang out and
Zachariah’s eyes opened wide, his scalp tingling as the hair stood on end.
Pale-faced, the supervisor half slid, half fell off his chair and blundered to
the windows. He flicked a switch and the blinds rattled down as if by magic.

For a couple of heartbeats, the boys’ attention was
diverted by the novelty of witnessing the power of the Wise God as the
invisible current of His breath worked the blind mechanism to blot out the
sight of evil in the clouds. The sight of evil was much more exciting though,
and an instant later their gaze was fixed again on the sky beyond the
classroom, bending their heads to peer beneath the rapidly descending blinds.

“Back to your work,” the supervisor screeched, fear
written all over his face. “Those who show an unhealthy interest in the works of
the Demon will be reported.”

Zachariah continued to stare at the black metallic
slats, his eyes frozen wide. But the expression in them was not fear. It was
curiosity.
  

* * * *

Shrill voices shattered the orderly silence as the pupils from Providence Central
Institute for Girls made their way home from school. As they approached the
corner of a narrow, dusty street, a tall figure broke away from the group and
turned aside with a determined stride. The other schoolgirls bunched together
at the corner to watch her go, then carried on up the main thoroughfare, their
shapeless garments fluttering.

“My name is Deborah, not
Serpentspawn,
you foul-mouthed bunch of bitches!” the girl shouted
over her shoulder after her departing classmates. “You think I care what your
cretins of parents say about me?”

“Serpentspawn!” The catcall, followed by a burst of
nervous giggling, wafted faintly back to her.

“You think I care that you all asked that I be
moved to another class?” she whispered. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes
glittered. A grey-robed man hurrying by on the opposite pavement caught her eye
and clicked his tongue in disapproval. The girl held her head high and glared
at him, the budding tears drying as hurt gave way to anger. With a defiant
gesture she wrenched off the hated headscarf and shook her hair free.

“Get yourself home, little trollop,” the man gasped
in indignation.

“If you don’t like what you see, don’t look,” the
girl spat at him and, hitching up her flapping robes, ran towards the unlit end
of the street.

She ran, her hair streaming behind, feet clattering
loudly, defying the silent watchers from dark windows. No voice snapped at her,
no window opened to let fly insults. If they had, the tears would surely have
come. It was too much to bear. First there had been the humiliation of the
snide comments from the sewing matron about how she probably got her sewing
skills from her father. Then those bitches had taunted her with their moronic
jokes about how many sacks her imprisoned father had sewn that afternoon. Was
it her fault if they were all too stupid to see that their own fathers were
just pig ignorant brutes? The pious temple creeper insulting her like that had
been the last straw.

Get
yourself home
, he said. The girl shot a glance full of loathing up and down the shabby
street. Home!

Dust clouds rolled up over the crystal dome, and
the light dimmed further. The dark end of the street, where the girl lived,
seemed unusually menacing in the gathering gloom. The sound of her running feet
was suddenly too loud, too lonely. She stopped.

A scream rang out, a harsh, evil cry from the
depths of the cloud. She clutched the headscarf, wanting to hide in its folds
but refusing to show her fear, and cast about, searching for the source of the
cry. Standing firmly in the middle of the street, with clenched fists, hair
loose and wild, she raised her eyes to the unseen crystal dome, defying
whatever was hiding in the murk to show itself. The cry came again, harsher,
strident, and the girl, with a last angry glare at the blanket of cloud, ran
for the shelter of a tenement doorway.

* * * *

Far above her head, hidden in the coils of the sandwraiths—twisting
plumes of sand that shrieked in the wild winds—a demon blinked its yellow
eyes. It gripped the crystal Hemisphere with clawed wings and turned its lizard
gaze away from the city centre, peering down into the shadows of the squalid
streets. Dust settled.

Dusk crept out from the cracks in paving stones and
mingled with the shadows cast by the buildings. Darkness crept along the city
streets, filled unlit windows, spilled out from doorways until the light was
smothered. Something darker than the night was slouching into Providence.
Something deeper than the night shadows, something uglier than the most hideous
demon, was creeping into the city’s heart. In the gathering cloud beyond the
Hemisphere, leather wings rattled, claws scratched the hard crystal, yellow
eyes peered, the demon waited.

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