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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 33. Episode Four: The Scarlet Church

Barghast slowly surfaced from the darkness with the sensation he was rising. At first his mind was foggy, unable to comprehend what his eyes were seeing. Then the terrifying realization something was wrong, he was not where he should be, drove into his mind like a nail pounded in by a hammer.

His body began to catalog senses: He was laying on a cold, hard surface. His body ached all over. Before he realized it was happening bile surged up his throat. He was quick enough to roll over and vomit on the dusty floor on which he lay. Just this simple physical motion took a surprising amount of effort, not unlike pushing a boulder up a steep hill. It left him breathless and aching.

“Barghast?” a tentative voice said, followed by what sounded like the clinking of chains moving.

He managed to raise his head and look at the woman chained to the wall across from him. At first he didn’t recognize her. Her blonde hair was a tangled mess and her eyes were red and puffy from crying. Am I in a dream? he wondered.

“Sarah,” he managed to croak. His voice did not sound like his own voice but the voice of a stranger. He tried to go to her but couldn’t. His arms and legs had been shackled together and there was another one around his neck. He tried to pull at it with his hands but there was no give; he couldn’t even get the tips of his fingers through the collar.

“It’s no use,” Rake said from his left. He was slumped on the floor over by a barred window and was shackled in the same way Barghast and Sara were; just several feet away, almost within arm’s reach of Rake, was Lydia, and across from her Jack. Jack’s glasses were gone. “There’s no getting out of these chains. Believe me I’ve tried everything.”

Still feeling disoriented, Barghast looked around. They were in some kind of cell. He stared at the rusty bars on his right and the dark stone wall beyond. There were several candles sitting on a rickety table with two chairs; the candles provided enough illumination to see by. Sunlight shone through the window but it was a weak light. Beyond he thought he saw the edge of a snow encrusted cliff.

“Where are we?” he croaked, managing to get to his feet.

“The Scarlet Church,” Lydia said. She too had risen to her feet and was peering out the window. The light touched her face. One eye was puffy and swollen completely shut and her lower lip was split. “It’s kind of hard with all the damned snow and my fucking eye being useless but I can see buildings beyond the cliff. Not Fruimont though. These look old, like parts of them are missing. I think we’re in the Ubrios Waste.” She grunted. “For years the Eurchurch has searched for the base of the Scarlet Church and they never thought to look here. Dumb fucks.”

“What happened?” Barghast asked.

“You don’t remember?” Lydia croaked. “They must’ve hit you over the head really hard. The Red Wraiths got us. We almost made it to the tunnel when they closed in around us from all sides. I thought we were dead for sure but then the High Priest showed up and told them he wanted us alive. That’s when I felt someone hit me from behind. Then I wake up and we are all here.”

Memories now began to reassert themselves. Barghast remembered catching up with Sara, Lydia, Jack, and Rake. They’d taken the alleys, winding through them, running as if their lives depended it on it. They had almost made it when a large group of Red Wraiths surrounded them. And then Damen Orlys appeared and told the Red Wraiths not to shoot. Barghast’s rifle was taken from him and the next thing he felt was being hit by something hard in the back of the head. He’d tried to fight only to be surrounded by Red Wraiths, being hit from all directions. There was no getting away from it, no fighting his way out. And then, blissfully, nothing.

With a jolt he remembered something else.

“Crow?” he whispered. “What happened to Crow?”

Sara shook her head. Her face had reddened and Barghast knew she was fighting back tears. “We don’t know...There’s no way to know.”

Barghast couldn't believe the words he was hearing. It couldn't be possible. The idea of Crow's death was inconceivable. For the past year he'd joked with the young nab, watched his back, and fought by his side. He'd seen the side of the practitioner that no one else saw or appreciated. The way his lip upturned at the corner and his eyes brightened when he smiled; the way he relaxed around Barghast and the ease Barghast felt when around Crow. Gradually he'd fallen in love with him, something he didn't think could ever happen again.

Little Bird, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I doubted you even for a second and I’m sorry I left you. I should have stayed with you instead of running away.

When Sara had come back to the hideout and told the squad about what had happened in the alley, Barghast had felt betrayed. He couldn't stand the idea Crow was an imposter, perhaps even a spy for the Scarlet Church. And when Crow had stepped in through the door Barghast had been afraid of what he might do if he got his hands on the young Practitioner. Betrayal had never sat well with Barghast and he'd been betrayed one too many times.

The moment Crow pulled the back of his shirt up and showed them his scar the shock was like remembering a childhood long forgotten. Barghast remembered sitting around the fire with his parents and the rest of the tribe, listening to Steig, the tribe leader, telling stories. The story of the Agent defeating the First Disciple was a favorite and Barghast grew tired of it. Then Barghast grew up and left that life behind, sick of the superstition, wanting to be something more than a barbarian. A life he had forsaken and could never go back to.

As it turned out it wasn’t superstition. It was real and Crow was proof of this.

A sorrow unlike anything he’d ever felt filled Barghast’s heart. It was impossible not to think of all the things he’d wanted to say to Crow but didn’t have the courage to - and now it was too late.

“Good,” Lydia said. “It’s his fault we’re in this situation.”

“Lydia,” Sara said reproachfully.

“Well it is.”

Barghast didn’t have the energy to defend Crow’s name. He was too tired. He wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and go back to sleep.

“Shut the fuck up Lydia,” Rake said.

Barghast looked at the man. Had he just heard what he thought he did? The mutual looks of surprise on Sara and Lydia’s face told him he wasn’t. Even Jack had looked up to stare at the cutthroat.

“Regardless of what secrets he hid from us he stayed behind so we could have a chance at getting away. We don’t even deserve to be alive. I was wrong about him.”

“Are you sure they didn’t hit your head too hard?” Barghast said.

“Maybe,” Rake said. “We should have treated him better.”

“Well it’s too late,” said Barghast, relishing the anger he heard in his own voice. “He died even though you couldn’t see past your own damned nose.” He swept his angry gaze from Rake to Jack, then Lydia, including them in the accusation. She glared back at him as if refusing to accept her own faults, but in the end she looked away first.

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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