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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 38. Unlikely Allies

They moved through the maze of hallways cautiously, always stopping to peek around the corners to make sure a legion of the possessed weren’t waiting for them. Every second was excruciating, nerve-wracking. The catacombs were too silent for Crow’s liking. He followed Viktor, hoping the former commander of Fort Erikson wasn’t leading him deeper into the catacombs in an attempt to trick him.

If someone had told me I would be relying on a Red Wraith for survival I would have told them they were insane, Crow thought. Once again he found himself doing things he’d never thought he would ever do - things he would avoid doing if he had the choice.

“We aren’t far from the exit,” said Viktor. “You’ll know we’re close because you can feel the guardian demon’s presence - you can feel him trying to enter your mind. The exit will lead straight up into the dungeons.”

Crow frowned. “Is this not the dungeons?”

Viktor shook his head. “We are below the dungeons. The dungeons are over our heads.”

Crow glanced over his shoulder. “Where are they? I don’t like this - this silence and calm. It feels like they’re playing games with us.”

“That’s exactly what they’re doing,” said Viktor. “The wraiths may act mindless but they’re smart and they’ve been around a lot longer than we have. Chances are we’ll encounter them as we get closer to the Second Caste, so be on your guard.”

They turned into another cavernous room. This one had three altars in the middle; a skeleton lay on top of each one. Their mouths seemed forever open in silent screams. A large rat scampered over them, its tail resting on bone.

“What is with the all the altars?” Crow asked.

“Damen no doubt had it built for the demons,” Viktor said with a shrug. “Or maybe the demons built it themselves. This is a sacrificial chamber where they worship the Primordial Caste.”

“I saw something about Order of Chaos,” Crow said, gazing around the room. There were ancient vases everywhere, and statues of demons. Many of them were carved in nightmarish detail: one looked just like Yov’olbh, part scorpion and part human, and another looked like it might be part octopus, with tentacles. The flickering lights and shadowed corners created the eerie illusion that the tentacles were moving. Somehow the eyes of the statues seemed to be focused on him. They’re not alive, Crow told himself, though he couldn’t truly be sure. They’re just statues made of stone. “I never heard of such a church before today.”

“The demons have their own church? So the Scarlet Church and the Order of Chaos are two separate churches that worship the same thing?”

“Essentially.”

Crow made a face. “I want to get out of this room - it makes my skin crawl.”

“Careful,” Viktor said urgently, his eyes wide as Crow began to cross the room. “There are booby traps in this place.”

Just as Viktor was saying this, Crow felt a tile sink beneath his feet and the click of something moving. A second later the room was shifting around them. The altars shifted aside, revealing blackened pits; Crow thought he heard gears turning beneath his feet. Dust fell down from the ceiling. The possessed crawled out of the floor, in the space where the altars had been, gibbering in the demonic tongue; some of them were armed with hammers, knives and other sharp tools. The women made moaning gasping sounds that sounded almost sexual as they staggered to their feet. Many of them wore tattered, blood-stained Red Wraith uniforms. An iron gate was slowly starting to lower over the door Crow had been walking towards.

Viktor made to run for it but before he could a demon intercepted him. Viktor ducked under the attack and slashed the demon’s throat open. By the time Viktor reached the gate it had closed all the way shut. “Fuck!” he shouted.

Crow was surrounded by the possessed. Their shoulders were tensed like starving wolves ready to spring in for the kill. Two of them looked at each other uncertainly. They’re still afraid of me, Crow thought. He chose the moment to strike, slashing at one of them. The blade sliced the man’s chest open. He shouted in pain, blood spurting from the wound. Crow took the opening and lunged across the room. One of the demons reached for him but Crow was already climbing over the altars, scattering bones as he leapt to the ground.

There was nowhere to go. Crow and Viktor were trapped in the room. The room was full of possessed. A few of them chased after Crow but most of them went after Viktor. The man held his own well, the blade of his knife constantly slashing through the air. He seemed sufficient in hand to hand combat, ducking and dodging attacks.

“What do I do?” Crow asked as he stabbed one of the possessed in the backs. He hated having to kill in defense but there was simply no way to defend himself without drawing blood.

Viktor grabbed one of the vases and bashed a charging demon over the head with it. The vase shattered, shards of glass fell on the floor. “Look for a lever! It would be on one of the walls!”

Crow began searching frantically for a lever, dodging between statutes and demons. He kicked vases out of his way, shattering them sometimes, and shoved statues out of the way.

Hurry practitioner!” Viktor roared, leaping over an altar to avoid an enclosing horde of demons. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up!

Crow at last spotted the lever in the corner of the wall. Let this be it! he thought and pulled it. He let out a shout of triumph as the room began to shift once more: the altars slid back into place and the gates blocking off the room slid back up into the ceiling. He ran through the opening and turned in time to see Viktor disappear behind a horde of the possessed.

For one terrible moment Crow thought about continuing on and leaving Viktor behind. It’s what he deserves, the practitioner thought, for all the men he killed, the women and children he raped.

But I need him.

Swearing, Crow summoned his mana.

There was an explosion of fiery light in the center of the room. Rubble, bones, and demons were thrown into the air. The explosion made the whole chamber shake. Crow ran through the smoke to Viktor who lay sprawled on the floor. The former Red Wraith had a gash on his cheek but otherwise he looked unharmed.

Crow tugged on his arm until the man stood up and together they sprinted across the chamber. Already some of the demons had gotten to their feet and were giving chase. As soon as they were through the door Crow summoned a ward through the doorway. A demon woman threw herself at the shimmering blue forcefield, cursing at them in the demon tongue.

“That should hold them,” Crow said.

“There’ll be more,” Viktor croaked warily. His face had grown milky pale. Somehow the circles around his eyes had only grown darker. “There’s always more.”

“Then let’s hurry,” Crow said. “You said it’s not far, right?”

Viktor nodded. “Not far - but things will only get harder from here.”

 

 

They’d been walking for an hour when Viktor, panting, leaned against the wall and said, “I have to stop. I have to sit.”

Crow shook his head. “We have to keep going. You said we’re almost there. Besides...who knows when we’ll run into more...”

“It’s really not going to matter if we get to the Second Caste demon,” said Viktor. He slid down the wall and sat down on the ground. “Every time someone tries to get past him they go insane and kill themselves or the demon kills them.”

Instead of insisting they keep moving, Crow sat on the floor across from Viktor. He didn’t realize how exhausted he was until he actually sat down. I’ve been going nonstop. He was thirsty, hungry, and it was chilly in these hallways. I don’t know how much longer I can keep going like this. “What happens to them? What does this demon do?”

“What they all do.” Viktor tapped his temple. “It gets in your head and makes you see things. There’s been times where I’ve seen my victims...the people I’ve killed. They taunt me. And other times it’s like I relive things. Memories. And it feels so real. Only there are...discrepancies.”

Crow frowned. What an odd word to use. “Discrepancies?”

Viktor nodded slowly. “You know when you’re walking down a street or just doing something normal and you get a feeling of deja vu? You feel like you’ve done that exact thing before, standing in that exact spot at that very exact time? It’s the same thing only you know something wrong. There will be a detail out of place. In the beginning your mind’s foggy. You tell yourself you’re just seeing things and then you move on. Only the discrepancies get more and more noticeable. At least it was so for me - this was how I was able to wake myself up and get the demon out of my head. And then I just ran. Are you sure you want to try and go through it?”

Crow cleared his throat. “I told you I don’t have a choice. I’ll try it even if it kills me.”

“It just might,” said the Red Wraith.

The practitioner gave him a pointed look. “What in the Infernal Depths is that supposed to mean?”

Viktor scoffed as if Crow had asked him the most stupid question ever. “I saw you at Fort Erikson - you didn’t see me, I saw you. The others in your squad don’t have the power you do. And I saw you lose control. You literally couldn’t stop yourself, could you? This is why the Eurchurch tried exterminating all the practitioners in the ‘scape. Too much power for one person to handle. But even by practitioner standards you’re different aren’t you? Demons are afraid of you. Why?”

Crow sighed. “It’s a long story and I’m tired of telling it. You said practitioners have too much power, what about the man you were serving? The one who threw you and your people to die. You don’t think he has too much power? It’s because of the Scarlet Church any of this - the hellscape, what’s going on Fruimont - exists and is happening. I’m not sinless but I am trying to stop Damen Orlys. You and all those who were under your command willingly joined him...so don’t talk to me about power.”

To the practitioner’s surprise, Viktor nodded shakily. “You’re right. Everything that’s happened to me down here I deserve. I deserve to burn in the Infernal Depths.”

For a moment Crow watched the Red Wraith. He hadn’t expected Viktor to look guilty. There’s still hope for you, Crow wanted to tell him. When we get out of here you can start over, try and make up for the things you’ve done. How could Crow have run around with the likes of Barghast, Lydia, Jack, and Rake and not believe in redemption for Viktor?

“If we get out of here you’ll have a chance to do things differently,” said Crow. “I don’t know if there’s redemption for someone who’s done the things you’ve done but I suggest you take it.” Ignoring the protesting ache in his thighs and back. “Let’s move on. I think we’ve sat long enough.”

A few minutes later they came to a corridor full of dead bodies dressed in Red Wraith uniforms; at the end of the corridor was a black door. Crow stopped, staring at the door. He could hear voices whispering around him but there was no one around. The sound chilled his blood. An invisible pulse seemed to emanate from the door. He could almost sense the demon behind it, waiting for them to enter.

“That’s it,” Viktor said. His face had paled and he was shaking. Crow realized the man was afraid. “Beyond the door is the demon and the entrance to the dungeons.”

Wondering why he had never bothered asking before, Crow said, “If no one has been able to get past the demon then how do you know the door it guards leads to the dungeons.”

“Why else would the demon guard it?” Viktor asked. And then his eyes widened in horror. “May Mercius help me.

Crow turned to see what Viktor was looking at and came face to face with Aunt Lena.

She stood in front of the door dressed in the white nightgown she’d worn more often than not during the last year of her life. In Crow’s youth she had been beautiful but the tumor and dementia had turned her into a haggard caricature of her former self. It was this version that stood before him.

Her black hair was tangled and streaked with grey. Her face was gaunt, the skin barely seeming to stretch over her skull. Her eyes, the same dark blue as Crow’s own stared with a sickly dullness, full of accusation and madness.

Crow was dimly aware that someone was screaming, “No...no, I’m sorry...I’m sorry for what I did!” Who it was he didn’t know, could no longer remember. He couldn’t remember where he was or how he’d gotten here or why he was trying to get away. All he knew was somehow she was standing before him when he’d buried her over a year ago. Seeing her again caused him more pain than he ever could have imagined.

“You killed me,” she said. “I was sick and you were supposed to take care of me. After all I took care of you after your waste of a father and my slut of a sister, your mother, was burned at the stake by the Eurchurch. Instead you killed me when taking care of me was too much for you, burned down the house, and went off to have an adventure.”

Crow blinked, tears streaming down his cheek. “You asked me to end your pain...You begged me...”

I was sick!” she screamed, hands clenched into fists at her sides. “Delirious! I didn’t know what I was saying and you took advantage of it!

In his head Ex’olku spoke: That is not your Aunt Lena. The demon is tricking you by taking her form. You must fight it. Don’t let it get into your head.

Before him Aunt Lena’s image rippled and for a moment Crow saw the demon’s true form: it looked like a monstrous goat but stood upright like a human with big great hooves for feet and clawed hands. It glared at him with molten red eyes.

Demon’s bane!” it roared. “Agent of Ex’olku! You will never leave this place!

Then it turned and sprinted through the door, hooves clopping on the floor. The door slammed shut. Crow turned to face Viktor, his head spinning. The man stood in the middle of the hallway, face buried in his hands. He was sobbing so hard his shoulders were shaking. Crow was just getting ready to tell him to quiet down when he saw movement.

Crow shouted, sprinting towards Viktor, but before Crow could reach him the possessed woman who had snuck behind Viktor thrust the blade of her knife forward. Viktor’s whole body seemed to give a shudder and a wet choking sound emitted from his throat. His hands fell from his face. Crow’s eyes widened at the grisly spectacle before him. The blade of the knife had gone through the back of Viktor’s head and now poked out through his mouth. The possessed woman pulled the blade out with a wet sliding sound. Viktor’s body fell to the ground with a thud.

Again Crow had the feeling of losing a part of himself, a piece of his sanity forever lost. He knew he’d never forget the memory of Viktor’s death, the way his eyes had widened in an almost comical expression of pain, the way his mouth had yawned, stretched open to take the blade. The sight was almost sexual in its perversity and gore.

How much will I see and go through before I actually lose it? Crow thought.

The woman charged at him, knife raised. Crow knocked her blade to the ground with a sweep of his blade and swung once more. The blade of his machete cut through her neck, all the way to her vertebrae. She dropped on top of Viktor’s already still corpse and took in her final breath. Crow didn’t wait to watch her die, for he knew it would not be the eyes of the demon staring back at him but the eyes of the unwilling soul who the demon had possessed. There would be confusion and pain in those eyes. Or perhaps there would be relief.

Crow didn’t want to see any of it. He’d seen enough death in his short life to last more than one lifetime.

He stepped through the door to face the demon.

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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