Check back every week for a new instalment of the online exclusive by Richard Cozicar The Ice Racer
Crowds of people flood the streets as we walk the final blocks. Echoes of footsteps and muffled conversations are heard on the main street before the masses of people appear. Still a block away from the palace steps the people begin converge forcing us to slow down. I take the opportunity to look around.
What started out as a few scattered people only blocks ago quickly transforms into clusters as other individuals join them in the walk toward the palace. The clusters rapidly grow in size until they finally meld with the already waiting crowd.
Our own arrival is easily masked as we blend in with the throngs of townsfolk. Standing in the middle of the growing mass of onlookers, I watch over the heads of the crowd waiting silently. Each of us is painfully aware of the impossibility of the task ahead. Being surrounded by all of these people our small group feels even more diminutive.
I scan the crowd and try to read the faces. Will any of these bystanders rise up to help us once we make our move or will they turn in protection of the Prophets? I search for a way to disrupt the trial until Marcus returns, if he returns. Our hastily rushed plan contains many hazards and even if everything goes in our favour what chance do we really have against the trained military guards?
A hush falls over the crowd. I turn my attention to the palace doors. A line of guards marches through the open doors closely followed by four colourfully robed Prophets. The procession of guards parts at a dais set up at the edge of the palace steps, the Prophets stop a few steps behind.
The murmuring and jostling from the growing crowd falls silent. I feel my heart start to race as I continue watching the open door in anticipation. I can’t help but think if it weren’t for me Annaliese would not be in this position.
Surprised gasps are heard as the people react and hushed comments of disapproval rise up from the crowd as Annaliese walks through the door, her head held high; her hooded face a blank mask as she looks beyond the dais at the crowds.
Close on her heels walks another Prophet, this one adorned in robes of a more intricate design and bolder colours. I assume he must the high Prophet but I refrain from asking the people around me for fear of drawing attention to myself.
The crowd starts to become restless; the subdued whispers rise in pitch. Looking around the fringes of the gathering I can see men in military robes searching for the more boisterous of the city folk.
My attention once again returns to the scene on the front steps. The High Prophet’s voice is barely heard above the din of noise from the onlookers. Although I cannot make out his words, I can see when the Prophet pauses a moment to allow the noise to from the crowd to subside.
"It is with great displeasure that we gather here today." He announces. “The treachery of one so close to me bears heavy on my heart.” The Prophet makes a show of staring disappointedly at his daughter before he delves back into his speech.
“We, the Prophets of Adams Mountain, have given our lives for the protection and well being of the citizens of this city only to be blindsided by one we thought of as a true believer of our faith.”
The Prophet gains momentum lamenting the unselfish sacrifices of the ruling class all for the good of the city. He speaks of how the city was settled by his ancestors as a refuge to avoid prosecution from the outside world. How the blame was unfairly placed on the Prophets for installation of the billions upon billions of energy producing turbines.
The disbelievers falsely claiming that the over abundance of the large metal towers caused the earth’s core to tremble and eventually triggered the mass eruptions of the earth’s volcanoes. Volcanoes worldwide that continuously spewed ash clouds high into the skies blocking the life-sustaining rays of the sun from reaching the planets surface.
While the Prophet droned on about how grateful the people of Adams Mountain should be, I scanned the streets and alleys leading to the steps of the palace. When will Marcus appear and with how many others? The military guards that are interspersed throughout the crowd along the streets are many compared to the small band of Marcus’ men who ventured into the crowd with me.
The long-winded speech from the steps sounds like it is about to end. Then what? The Prophet is telling the people of Adams Mountain about savage people from the outside world and how the city is in constant danger from rival cities.
This statement garners my attention. I have traveled the surface above this hidden city for years and never once came across any other city poised to attack. In fact, I have rarely ever noticed tracks from movement aside from our own and knew damn well the people of the New Capital had no intention of ever attacking anyone.
Hell. We had no idea this place even existed. The Prophets obviously relied on fear caused the spreading of erroneous misinformation maintain their grasp of power over their citizens. Combined with the promise of a life toiling in the oil mine for anybody who dares challenge their authority appears to grant them godlike authority.
The High Prophet ends his propaganda filled speech amidst a smattering of applause. The anger that had changed his face during his rant is replaced by a look of sadness and disappointment. He pauses dramatically then reads the charges against Annaliese.
“With a heavy heart the council finds my daughter, Annaliese Sento, guilty of treachery and colluding with the enemy against the people of Adams Mountain city. A second charge is raised against her in the aiding and abetting of a known enemy while helping him spy on our cities defenses.” The High Prophet lowers his head in a show of sorrow as he lets his words settle over the milling bystanders. “Obviously her betrayal against our city was meant to do only one thing. To assist our enemies in their advances to conquer this city and the enslave its people.”
The mood of the crowd changes from the sympathy they first showed when Annaliese appeared on the palace steps to rumblings of disbelief and even shock and anger that she would dare conspire against the very people she had lived among all her life.
My anger rises at the flood of lies that Annaliese’s own father apparently had little or no remorse in fabricating. The thought that this man was more than willing to sacrifice his own daughter so easily for power made my blood boil.
“The punishment for such treachery will be dealt with harshly and quickly. After hours of soul searching the council has decided that the punishment must set an example to others who think of threatening Adams Mountain.” The Prophet faces Annaliese. “For your dreadful act of betrayal daughter, you will be placed upon the surface where you will be left to your own devices for survival.” He announces. “This sentence is to be carried out immediately.” The High Prophet takes a few steps away from Annaliese and motions for the guards to size her.
The reading of the charges and then the outrageous sentence catch me off guard. She will not last an hour on the deadly surface and I can’t let the Prophets get away with the trumped up charges just because she risked her life for kindness.
I grip the rifle by my side and then pat the reading paper hidden under my robe. I need to somehow convince the inhabitants of Adams City that they are being lied to and manipulated by these phony Prophets.
My time is short. In a panic I desperately cast about for signs of Marcus and the extra help he promised. I have never considered my self a hero but damned if I was going to stand by while Annaliese was punished for the Prophets propaganda purposes.
I have no idea of what type of delay I can provide but that doesn’t stop me. I grip my rifle tighter. I feel a hand fleetingly grip my robe. Glancing at the man beside me I see the hand quickly retract, one of Marcus’s men trying to caution me. I ignore the warning. With a shove I start to shoulder my way through the anxious crowd toward the steps and Annaliese.
Damned if I will let anyone banish her to the surface.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.