Chapter 1 The Penitent

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Shining in Crimson

Empire of Blood Book One

Robert S. Wilson

Chapter 1

The Penitent

Hank hadn't expected the judge to decide any other way. These days they didn't hand out robes to anyone afraid of sending less than a dozen men to Necropolis almost every day. Hank found that he couldn't blame them. It keeps the peace, he thought. Even in the days before the chaos took hold, America had never been as safe as it was now.

He sat in the back of a paddywagon surrounded by twenty or so other males of all different shapes, colors, and sizes, also condemned to die. The air smelled of bad breath, thick body odor, and stale, smoked tobacco. Only a few of them had committed violent crimes. A tall, pale, black-haired man with tattoos covering his arms had murdered three people. More than a handful of the prisoners were children. One, a young blond kid, had been caught stealing in a supermarket. Most of the men had broken the morality laws, same as Hank.

Hank wasn't proud of what he’d done, though he wasn't sure the punishment fit the crime. He could see the last of the sun being swallowed by the horizon out the back window.  They had traveled through the middle of nowhere for what seemed like days now. He saw more pale sand and tumbleweeds out that back window than he ever had before. He was pressed between two other men like a sardine. And his backside felt like it had been beaten by the hours of country roads.

A while later, the sun disappeared, taking the last rays of sunlight Hank figured he would ever see. He thought of Toby and swallowed hard. None of the other men noticed. They were all too busy with their own problems. After hours of nothing but darkness outside, street lights began poking out of the void and then drifted away just as fast. At first, it was only every once in a while. Then several at a time. Before long, there were too many to count. Finally, they streamed together into a long line of light that changed colors as it burned into Hank’s retinas. After that, large neon signs started appearing. If the colors weren’t so bright, Hank wouldn’t have been able to see them through the phantom line of light still obscuring his vision.

Now there were new, more colorful shapes. He closed his eyes to make the nuisance go away, but it only grew worse. The only sounds were breathing and the engine. He opened his eyes again and looked outside. The street lights revealed sidewalks and parking lots beyond the road, all of which were empty. He wondered why they bothered turning on the lights. It wasn't like the residents of Necropolis needed them. For the first time since he knew of the city's existence, the meaning of its name dawned on him. Necropolis, city of the dead.

He snickered. Some of the men turned and looked at him darkly. This only made him smile more. He was about to let out a burst of laughter when the wagon came to a screeching halt. All the humor left him at once. Other than the low idle of the engine, everything became dead quiet. Strange mechanical noises crept from the back of the wagon like the sound of gears waking within a clock tower. Then he heard similar noises from the front of the wagon. Twin thuds came from the front and back of the wagon, shaking it and making most of the passengers jump. Both of the mechanical doors began to open with a horrible screeching.

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