Days passed and no major events occurred. Jacob was tired of waiting, and he wanted to go to the Eden’s Gate complex to get the latest news and, incidentally, to meet his brothers and sister. A convoy was going there to bring bliss, so he could take advantage of being driven there.
The complex was nestled in the heart of Hope County, it was exactly the geographical and neuralgic center of Eden’s Gate. Joseph’s territory was visible from afar as high iron fences surrounded the entire property, preventing the intrusion of any uninvited person. The place was served by a single road, the only other means of access being by the lake. On the shore stood the little chapel in which Joseph held his sermons and which had been the scene of the Father’s near arrest. The place seemed deserted when the three pick-up trucks making up the convoy parked near the shack that served as a meeting room and canteen.
Faith, John and Joseph hardly looked up at Jacob when he entered the room. The discussion was in full swing, and they seemed preoccupied. He greeted them and quickly asked them about the subject at hand. Obviously, they had had more news than expected from the deputy and the sheriff on the run.
Faith deplored the fact that Whitehorse had joined the local resistance in his area, Henbane River, whose members had proclaimed themselves the Cougars in reference to the local baseball team, pride of the district. The sheriff had teamed up with the mayor, Virgil Minkler, to take over the old jail, once an outpost of the cult. This was a great loss for Eden’s Gate, as the fortress was a strategic point. Both geographically and because it was possible to house an entire militia and to defend it easily with its architecture designed specifically to prevent any escape or unwanted entry into its walls. Some of the Cougars’ strong-willed members were particularly known for making life difficult for the cultists, which did not help matters.
The siren, as she was called, asked Joseph for advice on how to deal with the problem. Jacob watched her as she gave him the facts. She had a worried look in her eyes and seemed frightened, which was unusual for her. Usually, she was always cheerful and smiling, bordering on carefree, but this morning she looked serious. It had only been a year since she joined the Seed family. But already before that, she had been fully involved in the project, despite her young age and the personal problems she couldn’t leave behind. Joseph had taken her under his wing when she had no one. Jacob had heard that she had once been called Rachel Jessop and that she had had family and friends who had harassed her for many years. She had become addicted to drugs and had locked herself in her own mind, making repeated attempts to end her life. Her meeting with the Father saved her.
Unfortunately, she had not been able to completely break her addiction to drugs. Joseph was patient and lenient with her and sometimes gave her a dose of scopolamine when the craving was too strong, but being part of Eden’s Gate had nevertheless brought her enough comfort that the intakes had spaced out with time, and she had gradually integrated the Seed family.
There had been many with that name before her. Joseph had always had a muse in the project, but this Faith was the sincerest and convinced, which made her the Father’s favorite. It seemed only natural that he would entrust her with the management of the Henbane River area and the supervision of the cultivation of the henbane flowers, the raw material for the composition of bliss.
She took her role so seriously that she regularly walked among the fields of white bells, humming and whispering secrets to them. She immediately agreed enthusiastically to confide in John, who then baptized her and carved her sin on her forearm. C17 H21 NO4 was the precise formula he had inked on her skin, allowing the world to recognize her weakness. She was Joseph’s protege, he granted her everything she asked for.
Despite her sweet and innocent look, Faith was not to be trusted. She was by no means a saint, owning a whole armada of slaves. They had once been men and women but were now soulless bodies doing the hard work required to turn henbane flowers into bliss. Their tasks ranged from sowing, watering, pruning, harvesting, drying and transporting the harvested plants to the processing center.
To ensure their complete cooperation, the siren would have them ingest the same mixture that was injected into the animals destined to become judges. The pollen of the black henbane was particularly volatile, so they were already exposed to it all day, but she did not hesitate to make them drink beverages containing an extra dose.
Too much exposure to the drug caused a lobotomy, the effects of which were irreversible. She even came up with an affectionate nickname for these workers, which she called her angels.
She herself looked angelic at first sight. Young, fresh, brown-eyed and fair-skinned, she inspired purity. Jacob was sure she was aware of this and played on it, going so far as to dress year-round in a white lace dress with fresh flowers and to walk around barefoot to maintain the image of a saint that she conveyed to those who had not yet come into close contact with her. Her sweet voice had bewitched many of the faithful as well as sinners who had renounced their cause to join the Project. Her help was not too much to ask, as the undertaking was so ambitious.
Jacob was drawn out of his thoughts when John spoke again. His annoyed voice contrasted with Faith’s complaints. The deputy woman had destroyed several bliss silos located in his area, Holland Valley, which greatly upset the Baptist. The elder Seed raised an eyebrow when his younger brother mentioned the recent escape of the fugitive. He interrupted him abruptly.
— Did I miss something ?
— About what ?
— You just mentioned the escape of that deputy… did either of you capture her ?
— Yes, my men caught her and that dirty mutt three days ago.
— But she escaped ?
— We proceeded to her…
He looked at Joseph with a frightened and hesitant look, before continuing.
— … cleansing. On the way to the compound, the vehicle carrying her and other newcomers was attacked. That damn Jerome helped her get away.
John paused for a moment, looking furious. He let out an angry rattle, then resumed.
— Excuse me, but I still have some legal papers to write. We’ll meet again at the sermon on Sunday.
The Baptist, visibly still annoyed, nevertheless took the time to approach Joseph to greet him, who fraternally leaned his forehead on his brother’s for a few seconds, as he used to do with each of them. Faith and Jacob were only allowed a quick wave before he left the barracks.
Jacob, intrigued by his younger brother’s behavior when he mentioned the deputy’s cleansing, addressed Joseph.
— What’s wrong with the sinner’s cleansing ?
— John sometimes takes his role a little too personally.
— What do you mean ?
— He forgets that we are to work for God and not for ourselves. He got carried away again by his anger and his ego.
— What happened ?
— After a devotee dipped her in the river to baptize her and free her from the evil, John judged that she was not yet cleansed enough for him and dipped her again. He held her underwater much longer than necessary and I was forced to intervene and take him back. I reminded him that this woman’s trial was also his. If her sins cannot be atoned for, then John will not attain absolution either, and Eden’s gate will be closed to him. She didn’t get here by chance, everything has a meaning. It is up to us to make good use of the messages the Lord sent us.
A grin came over Jacob’s face. He was not surprised by what Joseph had described. Not only had John always had a penchant for gratuitous violence since they had reunited, but the memory of his fascinated look when he had watched her in the chapel came back to him limply.
The youngest of the siblings had apparently had problems with addiction in the past. Joseph had explained Jacob that when he had found him in Atlanta, John was living the high life and regularly threw parties in his penthouse attended by many women, paid or not for their presence, but all beautiful. Multiple illicit substances were also shared at these parties, whose guests were mostly magistrates, politicians and high officials whose files John managed.
He had built a real empire thanks to his reputation as a talented lawyer and the money left by his adoptive parents, but also thanks to the fact that all his clients entrusted him with their most infamous secrets. He knew about every adulterous relationship, every bribe, and the smallest of embezzlements, so that he had enough to blackmail all the top brass in the region and used it without shame. The deputy woman was not particularly attractive or graceful, but the mere fact that she was unattainable was certainly a significant attraction for his brother.
On second thought, it was basically the same reason why Jacob wanted to keep sworn officers away from their vocation by enlisting them in his own militia.