Chapter 30: The Gatekeepers

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“–but a time shall come when the pathway between our new world and the holy Origin must again reopen. When our colony lies in dire need of our ancestors, the Caelum Lex shall be broken and the deliverance of our people shall be gifted.”

Corra propped her head in her hand as, from her raised dais in the center of the room, she watched the woman read from the crusty old book and gesture dramatically to her audience. All around the walls of the little chapel, the rest of the Gatekeepers (or whatever this bizarre little cult called itself) nodded along in solidarity. As they had with every other other time this passage had been read aloud over the past few days. Which was a lot.

Knowing that bursting into the unassuming building that housed the Gatekeepers’ religious center would end in her becoming their ‘honored guest’ or rather, well-treated prisoner, to listen to recitations of their scripture for days on end would not have stopped her from doing it to save Cyrus and Addy. But it certainly would have resulted in her doing it a little differently.

Still, she’d been in far worse captivity than this. She may have been politely discouraged from leaving (she’d yet to test if anyone would outright stop her if she tried), but the Gatekeepers treated her like a princess. They catered to her every ask, waited on her hand and foot, the children had even made her a crown to wear on her head. It wasn’t ideal, but it made them worth hearing out, especially since their stories were interesting.

“On that day, a woman whose being belongs not to herself will come among us.”

Except that part. Corra didn’t like that part.

The woman didn’t notice her face scrunch with disgust and went on, “She will bring unto us the Transmission that will unlock the Gate at last and we shall celebrate her and relieve her of her pains and suffering. When the time is nigh, we will look to the night sky and gather the Keepers for the sacred ritual of joining key to lock by her hand.”

Corra leaned forward in her seat for this bit. She’d heard it a few times, but it was the one part that still confounded her. This time, she would get it, surely.

But when the woman said, “The Gate will be opened and from it will flood the vessels of our dignity and obedience towards our salvation,” it made just as little sense as it had before. Corra let out a grunt of disapproval and sat back in her chair heavily.

“Joy to the vessels, holy in their–” the woman was saying when Corra cut her off, “But what does that mean?”

The entire room grew quiet, all eyes upon her. The woman with the book looked shell-shocked until she was finally able to glance down at the pages and muttered, “Well, we think the vessels could be spirits? Or perhaps people. And obedience–”

“There are many interpretations,” said another woman, a tall, middle-aged spindly thing that Corra had come to recognize as being the closest thing to a ‘leader’ this mob seemed to have. She stepped forward to join the reciting woman and gently took the book from her hands. “We daren’t say we know exactly what the prophet saw when he wrote his accounts.”

“And that’s all he says on that matter?” Corra demanded, feeling rather impatient about this whole ordeal. “Some vague nonsense about vessels? What happens after?”

The spindly woman turned the page of the book and opened her mouth, about to start reciting again, but Corra jumped in, “A summary, please.”

Her face twitched with annoyance, but she complied. “Well. After, we celebrate and give thanks to the Origin and our ancestors until the vessels are finished with their work and we must seal the Gate once more.”

“What work?” Corra wanted to know. Desperately.

“It is not our place to–” were the only words she managed to get out before Corra’s loud groan silenced her. A sharp frown creased her brow and had the book she was holding not specifically ordered her to ease Corra’s pain and suffering, she probably would have smacked her. Instead, she clenched her jaw and said to the room, “The Catalyst must be exhausted, what with all the knowledge we’ve shared with her today. We should recess and allow her rest to prepare for the ritual.”

There was a murmur of agreement among the congregation before they slowly started to shuffle out of the room, leaving Corra slouched back against her chair, staring up at the ceiling and feeling hopeless. Then, a face appeared in her vision.

“I think that was their way of saying you need a time out,” Finn told her, leaning on the back of her chair and looking down at her.

Corra glared at him. “It’s not my fault I’m cranky. We’ve been going in circles for three days.”

“Four,” Finn corrected and Corra groaned again.

“See? I’m even losing track of time. It’s ridiculous.” She pushed herself forward and dug her hands into her hair. “All I want. Is to know what happens. When you put the Transmission. In the Transmitter.” She looked up at Finn as he circled around the chair to the front. “Is that so hard?”

“When you’re working off a book of bullshit from who knows how many centuries ago?” he mused. “Yep. Seems it is.”

Corra rolled her eyes. “I want to know what it does and what it is. They won’t even let me see the damn thing before this ritual of theirs. It’s called the Transmitter, but it’s also the Gate? Is it actually a gate? Is something going to come out of it? And is that a good thing?”

A slow smirk pulled across Finn’s face as he gestured to the door, “Want me to go get that lady back and ask her? I’m sure there’s another twenty pages of nothing she can read to us.”

“Please no,” Corra begged, dropping her head in her hands. “They’ve probably read me the whole thing twice now and it’s only given me more questions than answers.”

“As the best religious texts do,” Finn chuckled.

When Corra dragged her hands down her face to look up at him, he was still smiling as though he hadn’t also been here for four days, listening to readings and trying not to outright make fun of their hosts.

“You don’t have to stay here with me y’know,” Corra pointed out, not for the first time. Cyrus and Addy had left pretty much as soon as they knew no one was going to get killed. None of the Gatekeepers would even bat an eye if Finn walked out the front door.

But once again, he shook his head. “And leave you here alone with these crazies? Not gonna happen. We could both leave though. I have a gun. Two guns, even. Exit’s right there.” He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder.

And once again, she shook her head. “Not until I get what I came here for.”

Finn shrugged. “Suit yourself. But if I hear the word ‘sacrifice’, even once, I’m getting you out of here, with or without your cooperation.”

Corra grinned and came to her feet to pat him on the arm. “As the Catalyst of the Gate for obedient vessels, I couldn’t ask for a better bodyguard.”

Finn raised his hand in salute. “Just doing my holy duty, ma’am.”

Behind him, movement caught Corra’s eye as the main door creaked open slowly and a familiar shape shuffled through the crack. “Hello?”

Corra’s grin doubled as she nudged past Finn and flung herself across the room to embrace her visitor. “Cai!” She squeezed his bony shoulders tight then pushed him back to arm’s length. “How’re you–they let you in?” She peered past him at the young man guarding the door outside who just smiled at her casually.

“Alyx had a theory that they might be a little more lax with me than they were with her and the others,” Cai muttered, tugging his cropped ear beneath his bushy hair reluctantly. “Same as you and all. Guess she was right.”

A spike of pity jabbed through Corra’s heart. Cai had made it perfectly clear to her how little he liked using his ex-ally status to gain special access or otherwise. “I’m sorry, I never would have asked you to do that,” she muttered.

“Nah, but you didn’t ask for this either.” He gestured to the room around them. “The least I could do was bring you some supplies.” It was then that he slipped the pack off his back and opened it, as discreetly as he could. “Some snacks from the pantry, a couple weapons in case they took yours–”

Suddenly, Finn was hovering over her. “Clean clothes?” he asked, a note of desperation in his tone.

“Yeah, I grabbed a couple shirts and–” Cai barely got out before Finn had seized the bag from him and stalked out of the chapel towards the living quarters in the back, calling, “Thank you!” over his shoulder.

Cai looked a little perplexed, but Corra just laughed and muttered, “He was beginning to smell a little…” She looped her arm in his and lead him over to the dais to sit down. “How are things on the ship?”

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