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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 15. Episode Two: The Casteless

Loras walked through the dimly lit passageways of the Eurchurch’s dungeons, where the unfortunate souls whose bodies had been hijacked, were kept. Though the nuns tried to keep it as clean and sanitized as they could, Loras could still smell the stink of unwashed bodies and excrement. Worse yet was the creeping feeling of invisible fingers creeping through her scalp, trying to get into her mind. Demons were invasive creatures; they had ho sense of privacy.

They could sense her just as she could sense them. The wards placed upon the doors were the only thing that kept them from getting into her head. The Eurchurch’s dungeon was a prison to hold in the demons, the ones yet to be exorcised from the physical bodies they’d stolen. It was a brutal yet necessary method of trying to keep the city and the rest of the ‘scape safe - not every attempt at exorcism was successful; in fact few were. Lately there’d been too many possessions to be able to hold them all. They were spreading through Miffland and the rest of the hellscape like a plague. The Inquisition had no information as to what could be causing the rise in possessions but thus far all ties seemed to lead back to the Scarlet Church.

Her high heels clicked on the gritty stone floor. After walking down the dungeon steps they were starting to hurt her feet. When she was younger they hadn’t hurt her feet so bad. But I’m no spring chicken anymore and looking professional is starting to take its toll on my body, she thought.

Loras kept her dark brown eyes focused resolutely on the door in front of her, ignoring the taunts thrown at her from both sides in the Demon Tongue. Her jaw was set in determination. Not a single white hair on top of her head was out of place. She tucked her long black fleece around her in an attempt to stave off the damp chill within the dungeon’s walls. At long last, when it seemed like the corridor would go on forever, she reached the door at the end. It was made out of thick wood and also inlaid with powerful wards to diminish demonic influences. Behind the door she could hear the sound of wistful voices lowered in prayer. Loras raised a fist and hesitated. Are you sure you want to do this? she asked herself. Why do you keep torturing yourself like this?

She answered her own question: Because it needs to be done.

Loras pursed her lips and rapped firmly three times on the door. The prayers stopped and a moment later the door cracked open. Emerald-green eyes studied her for a second before opening the rest of the way to let her in. Loras hastily slid inside the room. She turned and felt her throat constrict at the scene before her.

The girl was young, perhaps only eight or nine. Her arms were tied to the bed’s metal headboard, the rope covered with blood from where she had rubbed her wrists raw when trying to escape the restraints. Her nightgown was filthy from where she had thrown up bile and Loras detected the smell of shit. The young girl’s hair was greasy, her forehead shiny with sweat, her flesh a pasty grey color. Her cheeks and eye sockets were sunken in, the flesh around her eyes black.

There were many demons, like the Casteless, who did not have bodies, who simply possessed their host for the need of flesh - to finally have shape; and then there were the ones who possessed only to taunt and slowly torture until the victim wasted away. But there were two types of people demons loved the most: children and healers.

Children because of their innocence. Demons loved to corrupt children. Healers because of their mana, which made them more compatible. For some reason, however, practitioners in particular were not compatible. Perhaps it was because the energies within them were too volatile. Loras had seen a possessed victim explode when a demon, too powerful for the body to contain it, tried to hijack them. It had not been a pretty sight.

Loras felt her heart sink at the sight of the young girl. When are they ever pretty? When does the sight of their ravaged state not create nightmares?

A cadre of nuns surrounded her, their heads bent in prayer. Bright, flickering light glowed around them as they exerted their mana to try and cleave the demon from the girl’s body. Though the girl appeared calm, like she was sleeping, Loras could sense the demon’s resistance. Loras managed to tear her eyes away from the possessed child and turned to face the head nun who had let her in, Sister Mariellis. Sister Mariellis, who was short and dumpy while Loras was tall and willowy, looked tired behind her wire-rimmed glasses. Loras had no doubt she had stayed up all night, trying to save the girl’s soul. But there was also something else in her eyes.

Disdain.

Many times she had made it clear she didn’t like Loras’s presence at the exorcisms. While the Eurchurch and practitioners had aligned with the Scarlet Church when faced with the war, it was a reluctant alliance.

“What are you doing here?” Sister Mariellis demanded.

Loras flicked a glance at the possessed girl before looking back at Sister Mariellis. “I wanted to offer my assistance.”

“We don’t need your help!” Sister Mariellis snapped.

“It looks to me like you do,” Loras replied evenly. It wasn’t the first time someone had shouted in her face. “The demon is putting up a fight.”

Sister Mariellis’s face softened, tears gleaming in her eyes. Loras could tell from the way she was clenching her hands around her crucifix that she was trying to keep it together. “Yes it is. We’ve been going at it for three days and it’s not going anywhere. This isn’t a mere casteless we’re dealing with. It’s a priest of the Second Caste. Its astral form has shown up twice, a dreadful looking beast! It won’t let us feed her or bathe her! The poor girl is wasting away.” Her voice was on the edge of breaking.

Loras couldn’t help but sympathize for the woman despite their differences. “What is the girl’s name?”

“Greta. Her parents brought her in when signs of demonic activity started occurring in their home. She has a bite mark high on her right upper thigh. The infection is starting to fester and spread. It won’t be long now before the infection consumes her and there’s nothing left.”

Loras put a hand on Sister Mariellis’s shoulder; the nun flinched but did not step away from her touch. “I know there is still a great divide between the Eurchurch and practitioners. But I, like you, truly want to help. Surely we can set aside our animosity towards one another long enough to help this child.”

Sister Mariellis nodded shakily. “Alright. I have a spare crucifix. Will you pray with us?”

Loras hesitated and looked down at the crucifix, dangling from a necklace of wooden beads, being held out to her. She had never been one for faith. But in times such as this, one must set aside their own misgivings and pick up a sword, she told herself. She put the crucifix around her neck and together, she and Sister Mariellis, joined the other nuns in prayer.

...may the Rays of Mercius touch this innocent soul and cast the demon back into the Abyss where it belongs...

As Loras began to pray she felt the fibrous hairs on the back of her neck rise, as if from static. Her eyes became white, a mist covering her irises and pupils. A web made of energy had formed between herself and the other nuns with Greta at its center. Loras could feel the demon wriggling around inside of the girl, wriggling about like a frantic parasite. Greta was thrashing about, kicking wildly with her dirty feet. Words hissed from her lips in the Demon Tongue, her head swinging from side to side.

That was when Loras heard someone cackling behind her; it was a dry sound, like the crackling of bone.

Loras turned her head to look but before she could Sister Mariellis grabbed her shoulder. “Don’t look!” Sister Mariellis whispered, her eyes wide with a mixture of fright and exhaustion. “It will only taunt you and try to get into your head!

Loras nodded and went back to praying. “To Mercius I pray to thee if it is Your will vanquish this lowly demon and send it back to the pits of the Abyss from whence it came.

She heard the demon cackle from behind her again. Even as she prayed she could feel its cold mental fingers trying to reach inside of her head. She could feel its power closing in around her like a tide of the blackest pitch. She willed her mana to spread out but already she could feel the presence and power of the other nuns starting to become distant.

He’s trying to isolate you from the others, Loras told herself. Without them you’re weaker, easier prey.

“What are you doing here, silly woman?” the demon said in a voice dripping with malice and condemnation. “You don’t even believe. You stopped believing in Mercius when the Eurchurch soldiers came to your village. They burned everyone at the stake: men, women, and children. You remember, don’t you? They even burned your husband and your daughter. They made you watch them burn and you were too distraught to do anything but smell their burning flesh.”

No, Loras thought. No, you’re not going to play your mind games with me, so you just stay the fuck out of my head.

But the more she tried to resist the stronger the demon’s influence became. She could feel him rooting around in her mind, raping her in only the way a demon could - not through physical touch but the worst way, mentally and spiritually. Though she was strong, had grown stronger with age and experience, living longer than most practitioners, the demon was ancient and therefore far stronger. It made her power look like a flickering candle flame in an ocean of darkness. It easily batted her feeble attempts at defending herself away.

Suddenly it was not the smell of the dank dungeons or the continuous praying of the nuns she heard but the screams of villagers as the Eurchurch slaughtered them. She smelled burning flesh and hair. She opened her eyes and found herself standing in the middle of her village, Caldreath. Loras’ eyes widened. How can it be? They burned Caldreath down to the ground twenty years ago.

She watched as a woman ran from a Eurchurchman, who rode on horseback. The woman was shouting at her child to keep running but the Eurchurchman was catching up far too fast. He had a machete in his hand.

“No!” Loras screamed. “Watch out!

But it was too late. With a single swing of his blade the Eurchurchman cleaved the woman’s head from her body. Her lifeless corpse fell into the snow, blood sprouting from the stump where her head had been. The child, a little boy no more than three or four, fell into the dirt. The Eurchurchman bore down on him, bloody blade upraised.

She opened her eyes to stare at the bed in front of her yet it was not Greta who lay on the bed, but her daughter Kara. She had been Greta’s age when she died. She was crying, her arms bound above her head. Her wrists were bloody from where she had strained and struggled against the ropes that bound her. Her blonde hair, such as it had been when she was alive, was greasy and matted with sweat. Her eyes were wet with misery and accusation and pleading. “Mommy, they’re going to burn me. You said you wouldn’t let them...Mommy you promised...

“No, no, no,” Loras heard a broken voice saying and realizing that it was her own. “This can’t be happening...not again.”

But even as she said these words, Kara erupted into flames. Her sniffling sobs and broken pleas transitioned into shrill screams of agony that made Loras' ears hurt and her heart ache. The smell of burning flesh was all too familiar, pulling her back into memories she would never be able to forget. She wanted to go to her daughter and put out the flames but she couldn't move; her feet were rooted to the spot. She was just as helpless as she had been the first time she'd watched her husband and daughter burn. And there was no greater failure than a mother not being able to protect their own child.

Kara was no longer screaming. Her body had already turned black and charred, the shape of her body barely human anymore...And it’s all my fault. Once again I could not protect her -

A hand grabbed her shoulder, wrenching Loras roughly from the demon’s illusion. She could only blink in confusion as Sister Mariellis pushed her towards the door. Before her brain could register she was being dismissed from the exorcist, Sister Mariellis had shoved her back into the dungeon’s main corridor and slammed the door shut in her face.

For a long, dragging moment, Loras could only stand there, staring at the door stupidly, trying to understand what she had done wrong. You were compromised. The demon got in your head…

She hung her head. How could she have failed so easily? She was Loras Gyrell, the woman who had led the practitioners out of the ashes the Eurchurch had created, into rebellion. It was she who had swallowed her pride and anger - not to mention the pride and anger of others - when Pope Drajen suggested they set aside their differences long enough to deal with the mounting threat of the Scarlet Church. Only several years of tenuous peace between the practitioners and the Eurchurch had passed as a result. People were still counting on her, as they’d done for decades.

She had been defeated by one demon. And worse yet she had failed the innocent little girl in the room behind her, whose life dwindled with every second the demon was inside her.

Tears threatened to overwhelm Loras. She could still hear her daughter’s screams, only it hadn’t been her daughter because her daughter was already dead. Had been dead for a little over twenty years now, along with her husband and the town she had once called home.

Taunted by her own bloody flesh, Loras squared her shoulders, and straightened her back. There was no sense in crying over the ashes of the past.

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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