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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 35. The Vessel

Ever since she’d woken up in her cell, Sara had unable to tell if she was dreaming or awake. Things had not been great to begin with. The things she’d seen in Fruimont - the things they’d all seen - were the things nightmares were made of and everything else she’d seen or done paled in comparison. Just when she’d thought things couldn’t get any worse they had. Surely the Infernal Depths can’t be much worse than this, she thought.

She gaped at the spot where Crow had been standing just seconds before. Though she had seen one of the priests come behind him and shove him in the pit her brain couldn’t register it. Her brain didn’t want to register it. The reality was made even worse when Barghast fell to his knees. It was like watching a mountain fall; mountains weren’t supposed to fall, they were supposed to stay tall. The look on his face, the horror and the sorrow and the pain only reflected what she felt.

This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening-

The High Priest was still standing, looking down at the pit. There was an emotion on his face she couldn’t read: Maybe it was curiosity or disappointment, she couldn’t be sure. He had the look of a man who had lost a chance opportunity. Then he looked up at the cloaked figures standing around them, restraining them. “Take them back to their cell,” he said. Then he glanced at Sara. “Except her. Keep her there.”

What? No! What could he possibly want with her? She was just a simple healer.

“Sara!” Lydia cried. Now it was her turn to try and fight her way through the priests to get to Sara. “You can’t have her you bastard!” she shrieked, pushing and clawing. “I’ll kill you, I swear on the Light of Mercius, I’ll fucking kill you-

Hands were pulling them apart, dragging them away from each other. Sara reached for the woman she had sworn to protect but it was like trying to cross the ocean for all the good it did. When one of the priests kicked Barghast, the Okanavian stood without fighting or giving the slightest protest. He looked like a child who had been beaten into submission.

Lydia, Jack, and Rake were being dragged away. Lydia was still screaming, her voice shrill and full of anguish. “No - Sarah, noooo! Sara, I love you, I love you so much! Don’t worry I’ll find some way to get out of this, I’ll find a WAY -

She was gone out of sight, then Jack, then Rake. Barghast followed close behind, his shoulders slumped. Sara had the sudden image of a great tree being cut down, branches snapping when it hit the ground; with the death of Crow this was what had become of the Okanavian. He had survived so much before then but the death of one person was all it took to take his hope away, Sara realized.

The double doors shut. Now Sara was alone amongst the Scarlet Priests. She looked at the High Priest and felt all the color drain out of her face. Her eyes bulged out of her head. He came down the throne steps, moving gracefully, and walked across the chamber to her. His footfalls echoed softly. There was an almost paternal expression on his face. He stopped just inches away from her. If her arms didn’t feel like they weighed a ton she could have struck him, done something to try and defend herself. There was no point. She was surrounded. Trapped. So she kept her mouth shut and prayed in the name of Mercius that her death be a quick one.

“I sense mana within you,” he said, “but you’re a healer not a practitioner.”

Sara said nothing. She was too afraid to do anything.

“Interesting.” Damen cocked his head as if conversing with someone. “Yes - it might work.”

What is he talking about?

“You could be the vessel we’re looking for. I’m a fool to have not thought of it before. It’s a toss of the coin really”

“A-A v-vessel for what?” she stammered even though she had a good idea.

“For C’thla, the mother of demons.”

Damen clamped a hand on her shoulder. She felt an alien calmness wash over her, taking her down into darkness.

    ...

 

Sara woke up sitting in a wheelchair; her hands and feet were strapped down. Her body felt as if she was floating but whenever she tried to move her arms at all they seemed to weigh a ton. The most she could do was clench her hands into fists. She was looking up at the ceiling, the dark corridor lit by torches. The wheels creaked on the smooth concrete floor. Everything was dark with the feeling of desolation.

Good, you’re awake,” said a familiar voice. It was the High Priest, he was pushing the wheelchair. If she was capable of opening her mouth Sara would scream for all the good it would have done her. Where are you taking me? she wanted to ask.

Slowly she began to remember what happened: she remembered the sting of the needle in her shoulder and the plans Damen said he had for her. Damen was going to offer Sara as a vessel for a powerful demon, a sacrifice of sorts. She thought of the crone who had attacked her in the alley of Fruimont a lifetime ago and realized her words had been a prophecy.

So ripe and perfect for my mistress, C’thla...

How? Sara thought. How did she know this was going to happen? Could demons see the future or had the crone just been trying to mess with her head? But what the crone had said was happening right now so it couldn’t have been a trick.

She remembered the other things as well: the sad woman in Olmstead who’s daughter had been taken; she had been a healer too. And the possessed woman on the Daminion Highway: she could have attacked anyone but she had attacked Sara instead. Was this to have been my fate all along? she thought

Around her and the High Priest the walls changed from smooth cement to roughtened stone within the blink of an eye. Where were they? Just how big was the Scarlet Church? Sara somehow sensed they were underground. There was a mustiness in the air that only existed underground - she assumed they were underground. There was no sense of time.

Everything was fuzzy and distant. She thought of Lydia and tried to draw her face up in her mind. In the past thinking of the woman had always made her feel safe; no matter what situation she found herself in, Sara knew she would find her lover waiting for her in the end.

Now there was no warmth in the thought. Sara was utterly powerless in a way she never thought she would be. She’d always told herself she would kill herself before she let herself experience the helplessness she felt now. No matter where she looked the sense of doom was everywhere,

“Here we are,” Damen said. “Normally we would bathe you and dress you in fresh clothes. This is what we have done for all the others. But I’m afraid time is of the essence.”

Others? How many other women had suffered the fate she was about to? Had any of them survived or were they all dead?

They had arrived at a thick, black vaulted door with a wheel in the center. Somehow it had been fashioned into the rock. It was strange that it should be placed here, surrounded by all this rock. It didn’t belong. It frightened her more than she already was. She stared at it wide-eyed, her heart a dull throb in her chest. Damen went over to it, robes sweeping behind him, and turned it easily. The door opened with an audible popping sound.

Damen undid the straps and helped her stand. His hands were surprisingly gentle and warm. Somehow he helped her walk towards the door. His fingers tingled with a light buzz. The buzz passed through her body like an electric charge, making her hair stand on end. He was controlling her body through magic as if she was a puppet and he was her marionette. This didn’t stop her mind from being aware of everything that was happening - and it was pure torture, No matter how hard Sara tried to gain control over her own body she couldn’t.

This is a form of rape, she thought.

“Almost there,” the High Priest said. He talked to her as an adult would a toddler taking their first steps. “That’s it, keep going.”

Sara could smell scented candles and incense coming from beyond the door. The perfumes made her feel light-headed. She would have normally found such things pleasant but there was something deceptive behind the aromas coming from inside the doorway. With Damen holding her hands she stepped over the doorway and into the room. Her eyes went straight to the sarcophagus standing in the center of the room. She was mesmerized by the detail given to the woman so exquisitely carved on the stone lid: the flowing curly locks of hair, the way the dress seemed to flow as if blown back by a gentle gust of wind, the way the light from the candles and incense on the altar made her face seem alive.

“Look at her,” Damen said, gently running his fingers through Sara’s greasy blonde hair. “Isn’t she beautiful?? She’s been asleep for thousands upon thousands of years, the body she inhabited now nothing more than dust. And for those thousands of years she has waited for someone compatible to come along and give her new flesh. You could be that person, Sara. You. See, she isn’t so scary, is she?”

The fear was mounting in Sara. She opened her mouth to beg but all that came out was garble syllables. She began to cry. She couldn’t stop herself if she wanted to. If only she could be with Lydia. Even if that meant being locked in a cell for the rest of her life as long as she could see and talk to Lydia, she would trade it for this.

He shushed her and sat her down so her back was pressed up against the wall and she was facing the sarcophagus. Then he turned and headed for the door. Wait! she wanted to scream. Don’t leave me in here! This time she managed to lift her arm. Did this mean the High Priest’s spell was starting to wear off? But it was too late. She heard the door shut and the locks slide into place; she heard his fading whistles as he walked away and then silence.

Now there was nothing to do but wait.

 

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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