Out Of Zion's Hill

It is the Apocalypse and Earth is a dangerous place. Everyone is united under the Trinity that rules over all: the Emperor, the God and the Prophet, who protect everyone from the many perils that now run riot.

Only a few people refuse to succumb to their rule. These are a murderous gang of terrorists, known as the Apocalypse Apostles. They are convicted of every crime there is, including the worst crime of all: Christianity.

Luke, a fifteen year-old boy, lives in the IROC, a special society centred in Paris. When the entire IROC is brutally destroyed, Luke and a small gang of other teenagers are kidnapped by the Apostles. They think they have been handed a death sentence.

But the Apostles have a secret. In fact, everyone and everything has a secret or two up their sleeves at the End of the World...

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2. Chapter 1

CHAPTER ONE

Two weeks earlier…

The black sun beat down through sickly clouds of toxic gas on the apocalyptic ruins of Paris. It looked like a huge bloodshot eye, from whose gaze nothing escaped. The dredged, filthy brown ribbon of the Seine crawled sluggishly across the horizon, clogged and heavy with the muck of millennia. The ruins of houses, blown out shells, with gaping doorways and withered gardens, through which the wind moaned and whistled like lost spirits. The Eiffel Tower; once a wonder of the world, now a twisted mass of rusted steel. A light grey drizzle that tasted of dust was falling. Nothing grew. Nothing stirred. Paris had been deserted for ages…

Underground, the catacombs of Paris…

Luke pushed through the thronging multitude. His eyes scanned the crowd; a full bodied roar of people, rushing along the bone clad walls. Someone elbowed him in the stomach: he thought accidentally, but had no time to check. His hand flew to his money pouch. Phew, it was still there. You had to be careful in this day and age, and today of all days would be the day he most needed to be on guard against thieves.

It was the monthly Cascade. The day the water came.

Luke carried on, swept along by the thirsty crowd. He licked his dry lips. The water in his Sector had been running low for days. Everyone had been on rations for a week now. Luke blamed Jude. He had a sneaking suspicion that he’d been helping himself to seconds when nobody was looking. It was just the sort of mean, underhand thing that stuck up prig would do, looking after himself, when water was so precious nowadays. And made even more precious by that recent attack of those terrorists on the bottling plant in Ireland.

The crowd eventually arrived in the huge Entrance Cavern. Whilst most of the catacombs were made of stone, the Entrance Cavern was one of the few rooms completely made of bone. Yellowish white spires hung down from the ceiling, the walls were an odd shade of beige. Mysterious lumps of half melted skeleton stood here and there, resembling misshapen characters from the age of legends. If you looked closely, you could see that the entire room was shaped like an enormous skull. The teeth formed steps, the forehead and crown made a huge sloping dome above. The eye sockets led to the two principal viaducts of the Catacombs. The nose created a pair of gigantic double doors.

It was these doors that everyone was watching intently. There was an air of expectancy in the crowd. Sordidus hung around, hoping to scavenge what they could, most gliding through the crowd in search of dropped gold and unguarded purses. Luke kept one wary eye on them and the other hopeful eye at the door.

The entire door was a marvel. Angelo, the IROC’s personal craftsman, had made it. On the Prophet’s orders, the door had representations of the Trinity, all intertwined; the dragon’s seven necks curled around the leopard body, with the Prophet himself sitting on top of the dragon’s wounded head, holding a copy of the Sarturat, the Devil’s sacred book. A menagerie of animals and plants rampaged around the edges. The entire thing was painted in black, green, red, gold and silver, the colours of the Republic.

After the beginning of the Apocalypse, tens of thousands of children had suddenly found themselves homeless, in some way or another. Most had seen their parents die. Luke had been orphaned by the Great Plague. He’d been outside the city, visiting friends in Marseilles, so the Quarantine had prevented it reaching him. But everyone he knew had been killed. That was how Paris became the view of destruction it was today, completely deserted. That was why it was perfect for the IROC. But even since the end of the Plague, it was still only safe to live underground: in the catacombs. In the Empire of the Dead.

Luke’s train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a huge cheer. The door had lit up. Something was coming through.

The grinding of huge stone wheels high in the dome announced that the openers were at work. Ropes turned, creaking awake from their month’s rest. The doors slid agonisingly slowly open.

For a moment, there was nothing. Then rank after rank of black and red poured through the gap. Steel tipped boots thumped perfectly synchronised on the ground. Lines of Soldiers marched forth, bearing the wonderful bottles. The bottles were empty. But the massive decanter carried by a huge bulk of Soldiers was not. It was full; full of the liquid diamond, full of the stuff of life.

After the Soldiers had taken up positions on either side of the huge Hall, a man dressed entirely in red marched in. Blood red; the sign of a Centurion.

He raised a sword high above the neck of a bottle. There was a sudden intake of breath. The world went quiet.

“Let us praise the Emperor!” the Centurion yelled in a voice like thunder.

“We praise the Emperor!” the crowd boomed back.

“Let us worship the God!”

“We worship the God!”

“Let us thank the Prophet!”

“We thank the Prophet!”

“Oh, Generation of the Future,” roared the Centurion, “we bring you the sparkling beverage vital for survival. You are tomorrow! Use this water well!”

The serrated blade came crashing down on the bottle. Water, pure, glittering, wonderful water, flooded out in huge gushing streams. Waterfalls swept down the steps, carrying everything before it in a beautiful stream of life. Everyone yelled and screamed with delight, fighting to be the first to gain a bottleful of the stuff. A kicking, screaming mob rapidly formed, people diving in as if their very existence depended on it. It was Survival of the Fittest, and no one wanted to lose.

Luke joined the throng. He bashed two heads together, and vaulted over another. He was trampled by a desperate gang of boys from the Triumph District, pulled one of them down, and finally bared his brand and his 666 and threw a gold piece into the hand of a soldier, who tossed him an empty bottle in exchange. He unscrewed the top, and held it under the spring. Everywhere, others were doing the same. Luke lobbed another gold coin, and another. Before the Apocalypse, he had been quite talented at basketball. Gold flew across the air like a world war of precious metals. Screams and cries rent the air like a legion of seagulls being tortured, multiplied a thousand times by the curved walls. Through all the carnage, the stream of purity kept on flowing, supplying the dwellers of the dead with life.

This went on for half an hour or more. When the last bottle was filled triumphantly by a boy from the Power District, who promptly disappeared in a rugby scrum, the grateful receivers saluted the disappearing ranks of black and red, and the doors shut with a majestic thud. The crowd began to disperse, returning to their Districts, and from there to their colonies. A few Sordidus scrambled about, frantically racing after dropped bottles of water.

Luke stumbled away down the rock hewn tunnels, with no less than fifteen bottles tucked neatly into his bag. They would drink well in the Ruby Colony for quite some time now, he thought with pride, touching the small, jewel shaped brand on his arm, coloured a bright scarlet, just above the equally scarlet 666.

Whilst the Districts were primarily the factions to which allegiance was owed, each one was divided into separate colonies, usually twelve to a District, though it varied; the Power District had thirty one, and the Glory District was only one huge Colony in its own right. Depending on where you where, the Colonies were named after different thing. Luke’s own District, the Strength District, was named after gemstones, the Triumph District after flowers, the Energy District after colours, and so on. Luke didn’t know why this was so, but he trusted that it had something to do with the Prophet meddling in the IROC again.

The IROC; the Imperial Republic Of Children. It had been formed after the Apocalypse began. Children everywhere, those that survived the Beginning of the End anyway, were suddenly orphaned. There had been a few weeks of utter confusion as the cities fell into disrepair. Finally, the Parisians had got their act together. It wasn’t long before the Prophet had found out, and encouraged it. In fact, he had become the Patron, and spread the word throughout the entire world. Three quarters of children accepted his offer, and the Exodus Of Youth began. They journeyed to Paris, and then into the catacombs, to join the Young People’s Association, which then became the Juvenile Parliament, and finally the Republic. Led by the Seven Consuls, and ultimately by Lord Alex, the Prophet hoped to make the Republic a perfect paradise where “the world could grow up safely and become afresh.”

It wasn’t until after Luke thought this that he realised that he had not heard those words at all. The voice was emanating from his pocket, where his phone nestled. He’d forgotten about the news. He pulled it out of the jeans, which were slightly too tight, but it was so hard to get material to make new ones.

This, as it happens, was exactly what the Prophet was talking about. Phones weren’t used nowadays for communications as such, news was more the focus. All satellites had dropped out of orbit when the Apocalypse began. The only one left in orbit was the Prophet’s personal one, which he used solely for news.

The Prophet grinned up at Luke from the small screen nestled in his hand.

“The IROC met today to discuss the material problem in their haven. No, sorry, I’m not going to tell you where it is. Tough luck, adult viewers!”

He laughed, showing off brilliant white, perfectly even teeth. His blue eyes gazed up confidently. The Prophet was a handsome person, always perfectly calm, cool, collected and poised. He wore a green cloak, with a snakeskin pattern, and a circlet of pure gold on his head, inscribed with the very first verse of the Sarturat; “Lo, I come, and with my coming, a new age begins.”

“For all members of the IROC, I’m sorry to say that a decision has not yet been reached on that front. The Council will meet again tomorrow, so no fear! In other news, an attack by the Apocalypse Apostles on another water plant in Cairo…”

He ploughed on, talking about the attack, and how the army was doing all they could to smoke those miserable Christians out of hiding. Next was an item about how the Emperor was preparing to pay a visit to Rome, then an announcement about sandstorms in the Sahara, and finally the long run story about the erection of the Great Temple in the world capital of Babylon.

“ ... and should be completed by the third of December. Right, that’s all for now, viewers. Today’s verse is from the book of the Nexus, chapter four, verse two; ‘Be on your guard, and refuse all that is not in league with the Trinity.’ Right, stay tuned! This is the Prophet, calling from the Palace of Babylon, over and out.”

The screen went blank. Luke slipped it back into his jeans, and carried on down the road, lost in thought. Unfortunately this bit of thought was interrupted when he walked headfirst into a wall made of flesh. He looked up, stunned.

Three boys stood over him. They were towering, huge arms, rippling with muscle, feet encased in black boots. Six small, piggy eyes glared thuggishly down at Luke, who squared his shoulders, and tried to make himself look big and tough. The three were all dressed in rags, and their arms were unscathed, aside from the omnipresent 666. This meant they didn’t owe allegiance to any colony. Sordidus. Luke almost laughed with superiority. Sordidus! Huh, the lowest in the IROC, living on the streets, always squabbling. They were formed from the people who decided, after the IROC had closed its gates to all outsiders, that they would quite like to be members of the IROC after all. They had made their way to Paris, only to discover that they weren’t allowed in. This had upset them, so they camped outside, refusing to let anything or anyone in. Eventually the Republic had voted that they were allowed in, but because they hadn’t come and formed Colonies at first, they weren’t allowed to be official members of the Republic. The Glory District had decided that this was unfair, and had let as many in as possible (which was easy for them, they were the biggest) but eventually they ran out of room, and the other Districts and Colonies flatly refused to have anything to do with them. The Republic often debated what to do with them, but Luke didn’t think they were worth the effort. They were stupid, filthy and violent. Luke had once thought that if he were on the Council, he’d expel them all from the IROC and chuck them out of Paris to relieve the burden they created on the population. These thoughts were once again interrupted as their leader, who had a face resembling that of a baboon, grabbed Luke’s arm in one meaty fist.

“Well, lookee here,” he gloated in a voice that matched the way he looked. “A little lad walkin’ ‘ome, with water in his bags. That’s nice, ain’t it boys?”

The other two chuckled. (If you could call it chuckling, Luke thought it sounded more like a pig with a cold.)

“Wonder if ‘e could spare some. What you fink, laddy?”

“Shove off, you filthy pig,” Luke snapped.

Five seconds later, Luke was lying on the ground in an arm-lock, with the administrator sitting on his back. The remaining two members of the gang, who had produced a pair of cudgels, were battering his legs. A foot came down in his teeth, causing him to bite his tongue. Agony shot through his mouth. The owner of the foot then stamped on his nose. There was a crack, and another bolt of pain ran cross his head.

“Get away from him!” A new voice.

“What’s this?” giggled the leader. “Fresh meat…”

A shot rang out. The leader roared in pain.

“Next time, I’m shooting to kill!”

The three thugs leapt up and fled, with no little abuse:

“That’ll teach you, stuck up, mingy little creep!”

“Stupid git.”

“Toffee nosed heap of parrot droppings!”

Luke lay, shivering, covered in mud, slime, and blood, heaving huge mouthfuls of bloody spittle on the ground.

“Hey! Hey, friend.”

His rescuer spoke with a Spanish accent.

“Friend! Can you hear me?”

Luke managed a melancholy groan.

“Good. Right, stay still.”

An ointment was gently massaged into Luke’s skin, someone put plasters on his cuts and bruises. A hand gently felt his nose.

“Your nose is broken, I need to fix it back into place. I’m afraid this is going to hurt.”

It did hurt. It hurt a lot. But Luke had suffered broken noses before, so he knew what to expect.

“Now, let’s get you cleaned up.”

A wet cloth swabbed the dry red blood from his skin. A further cloth swept the blood matted in his blonde hair from its hold.

“That’s better.”

“Thanks,” choked Luke, sitting up. His rescuer was kneeling beside him, a slim boy with wavy black hair, and slightly tanned skin. A blue canvas bag sat beside his feet.

“Are you OK?”

“Oh yeah. I’ve just had my nose broken. Half my teeth have been knocked out. All my water has been stolen. I was just attacked by Sordidus. But aside from that, I’m great. Hey, you a medic or something?”

 “Or something. What you do to upset those jerks, anyway?”

“They’re Sordidus,” said Luke, surprised. “They’re always upset.”

“Oh? Sordidus? You known that means ‘dirty’ in Latin?”

“Hadn’t got you down as a geek, mate,” said Luke. It came out harsher than he meant, but the boy didn’t seem to mind.

“And now, you don’t have any water.”

“Oh. Yeah. Oh dear.”

“Fear ye not,” said the boy with a smile. He slipped his hands into the bag, and pulled out a twelve pack of bottled water. Luke’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.

“What ... where ... when ... how ...?” he stuttered, bewildered.

“You wanted water. Here you are,” and the boy thunked the whole lot into Luke’s stunned arms.

“But ... but ... you can’t just give me all this,” Luke stammered. “What about your own colony?”

“We’ve got plenty.”

“Twelve bottles!!!???”

“I’d happily give you twelve hundred.”

Luke fell to his knees.

“You are a Dominating. Forgive me.”

It explained everything. Dominatings were the crème de la crème of the world. They were the world leaders. Rumour had it that Lord Alex and his council were Dominatings. They gave the orders, managed the day-to-day things, and sometimes met with the Trinity themselves. It suddenly occurred to Luke that this was probably Lord Alex himself or Master Christopher at the very least. He had probably been talking to his lord and master for the last few minutes.

“Stand up this minute! I most certainly am not a Dominating. I don’t want anything to do with them!”

“You must be. Where else would you get all that water?”

“Ireland, actually.”

“See? Ireland was attacked recently. To still get your hands on water from there, you must be immensely rich and immensely powerful. And immensely kind to give me that water, my Lord. Is there anything I can do for you?”

“Well ...” The boy froze. He began whispering something under his breath, and his hand went to his bag, where he had stashed his gun.

A huge hand pushed Luke roughly aside. For a moment, he thought the Sordidus had come back, but it was the red and black of Soldiers that marched past him. Ten marched past, with the pure black of a Decurion at its head.

The boy recovered, keeping a wary eye on his potential attackers, who were drawing knives out of their belts of polished ebony.

“What can I do for you, gentlemen?”

“Shut your mouth. Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to,” barked the Decurion. “And you can stay there and answer my questions.”

One of the Soldiers rapped open a clipboard and started taking notes with a pen that looked as if it had been made out of half a dagger.

“Did I hear you say that your water is from Ireland?”

“You did.”

“Did we see you giving it away for free?”

“You did.”

“Can we see your brand?”

“You may.”

The boy rolled up his sleeve. There was a mark on it. But it was nothing to do with any Colonies, nor the usual blood 666. Instead, a delicate cross done in spun gold blazed defiantly from his forearm.

“In the name of the Emperor, the God and the Prophet, we place you under arrest. You are accused of being a Christian. Do you confess?”

“I do.”

“Then come with us, scumbag.”

“No. I recognise no command, but the Word of God.”

“We command you in the word of the God.” The Decurion seemed confused.

“You do not order me in the name of the Father, but in the name of the Devil.”

“Then,” the Decurion’s eyes glittered cruelly, “we hereby execute you in his name.”

“Think I’m going to let you?”

In one fluid movement, his hand darted into the bag, and pulled out a small black thing. He pulled out the pin with a savage bite, and moments later, the grenade sailed through the air, and exploded in a choking cloud of white smog. Utter confusion followed. The gas billowed through the chamber, a choking cloud devouring everything in its path. In the chaos, the Christian’s voice whispered in Luke’s ear.

“Run. They’ll take the water off you if they catch you. Run!”

Take the water. Back to square one.

Luke turned and stumbled out of the cloud. His throat was sore, and his eyes were streaming, but he could see enough, and he ran. He darted through tall arches and squat colonnades, and he didn’t stop running. His existence depended on it; well, sort of.

But as he ran, he was still thinking. Only this time, it was about Christians.

A Christian! Right here, in the IROC. He’d thought the IROC was safe. But a Christian! Christians were murderers! Blasphemers! Cannibals, even. He’d heard they even ate their God and the Prophet held a special festival every year to remember the great Fire of Rome. Started by a Christian! Christians! The lowest of the low, even below Sordidus level. There was an entire book of the Sartuat dedicated to hatred of Christians! The entire world bayed for their filthy blood! A Christian in Paris! As Luke carried on running, that single word drummed inside his head like a woodpecker knocking on a tree.

A Christian!

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