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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 37. Abattoir

Crow stood on the hill, looking down at the grave he’d just dug. He’d made a cairn out of stones. He hated the sight of the grave: it was crude and he didn’t feel it was fitting for Aunt Lena but it was the best he could give her. The town Eurchurchman had refused his Aunt Lena a proper burial. Now he threw the shovel down, his hands blistered. He had never felt so thoroughly exhausted.

He turned away from Aunt Lena’s grave and looked around the valley. The mountains huddled around him. It was the perfect place to bury his beloved aunt. He looked up at the sky just in time to see the clouds part and the sun peak out. The snow seemed to absorb the sun’s radiant waves and reflect them back.

He watched as something bright fell from the sky. No, flew. It was bright and round like a ball. It was flying straight towards Crow. He watched, eyes wide in awe. Whatever it was, it was beautiful. He’d never seen anything like it. It stopped just feet away...and just floated.

You can’t give up, a male’s voice said, coming directly from the sphere of light. You still have work to do…

Groaning, Crow forced himself to sit up. His whole body hurt: His head, his back, everything. The last thing he remembered was being shoved into the pit and the terrible feeling of falling, the bottom of the pit coming up to meet him. He’d had just enough time to think, I’m going to die, when everything went mercifully black. He didn’t remember striking the bottom.

Now he forced himself to get to his feet and look up. His head pounded as if an icepick was being driven into the back of his skull. He had to lean against the wall to keep from falling again. When the pounding slowed down enough that Crow was sure he wouldn’t faint again he focused on the ceiling once more. He could barely see the door which he’d fallen through. How do I not have any broken bones? he thought, amazed. How am I not dead from the fall? It didn’t matter, he was still alive...for now at least. If there was a way out of here he had to find it and get to the others.

Crow found himself standing on the landing of a stairway. The steps were steep and cracked, descending down into a corridor lit with torches in rusty brackets. The walls of the corridor were made of rock, the walls smooth. With his heart pounding in his chest, Crow took stock of the situation. He didn’t like the looks of it but there was no way but forward.

Ex’olku, are you with me? he thought, reaching out for the comforting presence of the entity with his mind.

Always, said the entity.

Don’t leave me.

I haven’t left you yet, have I?

You haven’t exactly helped much either. Look at where I’m at.

Crow grabbed one of the torches from the brackets, being careful not to burn himself. He had to use both hands to hold it as the torch was heavier than he expected. Carefully he began to descend the steps, listening for sounds of danger. The corridor meandered onwards with no apparent end in sight.

It was slow going. His body was bruised and aching and each step he took was painful. His throat was parched; the last time he’d had anything to drink had been back in the room where he’d woken up. It hurt to swallow. Luckily the torches on the walls provided warmth.

Careful, Ex’olku cautioned him. There is danger ahead.

Crow stopped, looking ahead. He couldn’t see anything or anyone else ahead of him but that didn’t mean the danger wasn’t there.

At some point the corridor branched off to the left into another corridor. The walls and archways were flat, clearly made by human hands. He could only assume that he was in another part of the Scarlet Church, or underground.

Crow peeked cautiously around the corner and found a rounded archway leading into a room. After a moment’s consideration the practitioner decided to go down the left tunnel towards the room. The room at the end of the tunnel was cavernous. Several meters away was another archway just like the one he was standing under. The only problem was there was someone in the room.

Crow stifled a gasp and pressed his back up against the wall. He prayed in Ex’olku’s name his torch wouldn’t give his presence away. His hands were shaking so badly he could barely hold the torch. Not daring to breathe, the practitioner peeked around the corner.

The man looked like an emaciated corpse. His skin barely seemed to stretch over his skeleton, the arms and knees all knobs and veins, the flesh paler than Crow’s own. The man’s receding hair stuck out in wild tufts. He babbled rapidly in the Demon’s Tongue, the lower half of his face smeared with blood. He wasn’t the only one. Standing on the other side of the room was a pale-skinned woman with black hair pinned up in a ratty bun and squinty almond-shaped eyes. Except for a tattered shoe she was completely naked and she held what looked like a meat cleaver in her hand. The blade of the meat cleaver was covered in dry blood.

Crow wondered if they would be scared of him the way Yov’olbh and the crone that had attacked Sara had been or if he should go back and continue going down the other tunnel. Something about going this direction seemed right even if it was more dangerous. Besides if there were other demon-possessed people down here he had to know if they were going to be a problem. He stepped into the room cautiously.

The woman saw him first and snarled. Babbling incoherently she charged, the meat cleaver raised in the air. Crow had enough time to wonder where she got the meat cleaver when she swung it at him. Crow managed to duck out of the way just in time to keep his head from being cleaved in two and grabbed her arm. She squealed, jerking away as if she’d been burned.

He heard the man coming up behind him and whirled around, waving the torch at the man. The torch hissed as it cut through the air. The man stepped back, hissing, his back bent, his head cocked to the side. “Demon’s bane,” he said to Crow. “You are all alone down here. There’s only one of you and there are many of us. We will enjoy tearing you APART!

Before the demon could charge again Crow pushed the torch against him like a spear. The demon screamed over the sound of sizzling flesh, clutching at his chest. Crow threw the torch at him and lunged down the hallway. He heard the man and woman scream in unison, heard the sounds of their footfalls on the tile, and knew they were chasing after him. His heart felt like it was trying to beat its way up his throat. He threw a glance over his shoulder. The man and the woman ran with the fury of a rabid animal - they were closing in. If he couldn’t get away he would have no choice but to use magic, something he’d been trying to avoid so he could conserve it.

The corridor stretched on. He ran so fast his shoulder bounced off the stonewall before he careened around the corner like a ball; his pursuers were never far behind. They ran with a drunken, idiotic relentlessness.

Crow let out a shout and skidded to a stop. Right in front of him was a nightmare pit of severed limbs and heads, coils of intestines and bones; he’d been so busy running for his life and looking over his shoulder he’d overlooked it. Lifeless faces looked at him with glassy eyes and silent screams. From what he could see it was a five foot drop. Beyond the pit there was another archway. If Crow was going to get to it and get away from these demons then he had no choice. Just as the woman was about to pounce on him Crow jumped feet first into the pit.

Like a drowning man he disappeared beneath the surface of body parts. It seemed as if the pit itself was trying to swallow him whole. He screamed, breathing in the stink of rot and blood, clawing at the heads and arms, trying to lift himself only to sink deeper. Multiple eyes stared into his own, reflecting the raw terror he felt and perhaps his own fate in the end.

His head just broke the surface when the woman dove in behind him, making a hooting sound. Her fingers snagged themselves into his hair being careful not to touch his actual flesh. She still had the meat cleaver. Once again Crow was drowning in the sea of red while trying to wrestle the meat cleaver from her hand. It was impossible to breathe. Acting out of desperate fear he sunk his teeth into her wrist, clamping down hard enough to draw blood. The woman howled in pain. The meat cleaver fell from her hand. Crow gabbed the meat cleaver and brought it down on top of her head.

The blade cut an inch into her skull. Blood seeped from the wound. The pain did not stop the demon but seemed to enrage her further. She fought harder, her fingers clawing at his face. With a scream Crow pulled the meat cleaver free from the top of her skull and brought it down once more. Each cut sent tremors of impact up his arm as he used all his strength to hack through her skull; it was not as easy as one might think. By the time she stopped moving he’d cut so far into her skull he couldn’t pull the meat cleaver free.

He’d been holding his breath so long everything was starting to go black now. He gave a great kick and broke the surface once more, taking in a deep breath. Rivulets of blood ran into his eyes and mouth, making him gag. He gasped in a deep breath, grabbing the edge of the pit; somehow he’d made it to the other side. He turned to look over his shoulder to make sure the man wasn’t a threat. The demon had stood on the other side of the pit watching nervously as Crow and the other demon fought the whole time. Now he snarled at Crow and dove into the pit the same way the woman had.

Crow didn’t have the energy to fight the man. His neck was bruised and he was still trying to catch his breath. It took strength he didn’t know he had to pull himself up out of the pit. He had to brace his feet against the stone and lift while pulling with his arm. Finally he rolled over to his side. Every muscle in his body burned with exhaustion. He was covered from head to toe in crimson, his black hair slicked back. There was no time to rest: Already the demon was starting to pull himself over the edge of the pit. Crow pulled himself to his feet and lashed out at the creature with a grunt. His foot connected with the demon’s head and the demon disappeared underneath the pool of legs, arms, torsos, and heads.

There will be more coming, Ex’olku said, speaking up. You must hurry!

Crow didn’t have to be warned twice. With a charley horse forming in the back of his thigh the practitioner limped in the direction of the archway. The thought of finding a way out of this network of caverns was the only thing that kept him moving.

The room he came to was almost exactly like the last one; only this one had three steps which led up to an altar. The scene he found there was the most grisly yet. Crow’s stomach jerked painfully. If there was anything in his stomach it would have landed in a puddle at his feet. A woman’s head was placed on the golden altar. Dried blood dripped down the altar, pooling on the floor, permanently staining the stone. Her empty eye sockets gazed up at the ceiling, the holes where her eyes should have been seeming to recede back forever. Written in blood on the wall above her head were the words: IN THE NAME OF THE ORDER OF CHAOS AND THE PRIMORDIAL CASTE!

The sound of multiple footsteps coming from the corridor he just left made Crow turn his head. A horde of the possessed were running down the hallway he’d just left. Just paces away was a door. Praying it would open he began prying at it with his fingers. The door was heavy but he managed to get it open. Without bothering to see where he was going he ducked inside and closed it behind him just as several demons came running into the chamber. He felt the door shake as one of them ran shoulder first into the door.

Crow drew on his mana and waved a hand over the door. The ward appeared over the door in a shimmer of light. It would keep the demons from getting inside - for a while at least.

No sooner did he turn around when Crow felt someone’s fist smash into his face. The blow sent him crashing to the floor. Crow lunged out of the way as a man charged at him with a butcher knife. Crow saw that his eyes did not glow as those possessed typically did. The man almost tripped but then turned and came at Crow, bellowing like a madman.

Crow ran around what looked like a table of some sort, trying to get something in between them. The man was middle-aged, more closer to fifty, with red-blonde hair that had darkened with grime. There were dark circles around his maddened eyes and what was surely blood around his mouth. He wore the torn remains of a Red Wraith uniform. His shoulders trembled with rage and hate.

“Wait!” Crow shouted, holding up his hands. “I’m not a demon! I haven’t been possessed! I’m trapped down here just like you!”

You,” the man said, pointing the knife at Crow. “I’m here because of you.

Crow held up his hands. His mind was racing too fast and he was too afraid to think about what the man meant. “I don’t understand...”

“You were at Fort Erikson. I was stationed as commander there. The High Priest threw me and all the others down here because of what you and your fucking squad did.”

Crow’s eyes widened in recognition. “Viktor Sanae.”

Viktor’s eyes became distant, his voice coming out raspy. “I’ve been down here for days...maybe weeks...I can’t remember. I thought I was the only one, but he didn’t tell me there were others down here too . There were a dozen of us but then everyone got bitten and possessed. We tried to find a way out but got lost. There’s no end to this place. I’ve finally found the exit but it’s being guarded...and now I’m the only one. I’ve had to eat human flesh just to survive and it’s all your fault.

His words struck a chord within Crow. Before Crow could stop himself he said, “Good, this is exactly what you deserve you heartless bastard. For all the people you tortured and killed, for following Damen Orlys. So don’t blame me for your fucking problems.”

Ahhhhh!” Viktor screamed. “I’m going to kill yooouuuu!

He charged at Crow around the table, knife upraised. Crow drew on his mana and hit Viktor with a fist of kinetic energy. Viktor was thrown off his feet and over the table. He landed in a heap on the ground, groaning. Before he could get to his feet, Crow scooped up the knife Viktor had dropped and held it to the man’s throat. Viktor went still, eyes bulging out of his head. Crow was pressing the blade down hard enough to draw blood.

“The only reason why I’m not cutting your throat is because I thought I heard you say you know of a way out of here.”

“I-It’s i-impossible,” Viktor said. “Every time we tried people died. T-There’s s-so many of them down here, the possessed. T-They get in your head a-and m-make you see terrible things.”

The practitioner gritted his teeth in frustration. “Well I’m not just going to stay down here - not without a fight. I have to get to my friends even if it means I have to die trying. Assuming you know the way out of here you can either come with me and help or I can just put you out of your misery.”

“I-I want to l-live.”

The practitioner nodded. “That’s what I thought.” He held the knife out for Viktor to take. Viktor looked down at it warily as if he suspected Crow was trying to trick him. After a moment he took the knife.

Crow stood up and took full stock of the room for the first time. The “table” rose out of the ground, cube-shaped, the edges perfectly straight, the edges sharp. What its purpose was Crow couldn’t guess or who could have carved it. There was so much about this place that defied reason; to try and make sense of it was impossible. A blood hand print was stamped on the side. In the corner of the room was the half-eaten corpse of a man. In his limp hand he held a bloody machete. His shirt had been cut away and the white of his ribs were showing. There was no telling how long he’d been dead but Crow suspected this was who Viktor had been eating to survive. The thought filled the practitioner’s head with disturbing images; it also reminded him of how hungry and thirsty and tired he was.

Viktor Sanae had risen to his feet. Now he cleared his throat, flattening his bloody uniform in a comical attempt to regain some of his lost dignity. “I guess it would be logical to join forces until we got out of here. And then what?”

“I don’t care what you do afterwards,” Crow said coldly. “You can freeze in the cold for all I care. But I’m going back into the church to get my friends.” Friends. Had he really used that word? Except for Barghast and perhaps Sara, he could hardly consider the others friends; they were just six lost souls that had been thrown together on perilous missions. It was his fault they were in this situation, therefore it was his responsibility to try and get them out. Assuming there is a way out.

Viktor nodded shakily. “You don’t know what it’s like down here, in these tunnels, unable to tell night from day. I keep telling myself the Infernal Depths would be worse but if it is it can’t be by much. The High Priest had us thrown down here like broken toys even though we served him, raped for him, and killed for him. I’ve raped women. I’ve rejoiced as I’ve watched the life leave their eyes. For him, for his vision.”

Crow laughed hysterically, the sound coming out cold as ice. “And you thought he would give you salvation? You’re a fucking idiot.”

Viktor’s head silently dropped to the ground.

Perhaps it would be better if I just killed him and be done with it, Crow thought. If only I didn’t need a way out of here.

“Well if you get out of this alive consider it a chance to do things differently,” Crow said. “It’s more than you deserve - don’t waste it.”

Crow went over to the dead man and took his machete, quickly muttering an apology. He still had the feeling he would need to conserve his energy as much as he could. Think of this as just another mission assigned by the Eurchurch, he told himself. Even if it’s a suicide one.

“Are you sure you know the way out of here?” Crow asked Viktor.

Viktor smiled dryly, tapping at his temple. “All up here. I’ve spent hours, maybe days...it’s impossible to know down here...wandering the corridors, marking them.”

Crow sighed. I’ve got to be insane trying to rely on him, he thought. “I don’t have to tell you what will happen if you’re playing games with me. Let’s go.”

Crow turned to face the door. With a wave of his hand he made the ward over the door disappear. He took a deep breath and glanced at Viktor. The man held his knife, tensed, and ready to fight. When he gave the nod Crow opened the door and together they stepped out of the room.

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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