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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 46. Episode Five: Homeward Bound

C’thla climbed out of the basin, water dripping from her body. Her body, curvaceous and perfect in every way (apart from a few fading bruises from when Sara had inhabited this body), gleamed from the water. Her fingers were all pruney.

She dried herself off with a towel. Back in her room C’thla put on one of her new dresses, one she’d yet to wear, made of a beautiful light blue satin. The bottom of the wardrobe was lined with shoes. She slid into a pair that matched the dress perfectly with silver buckles. She sat in front of the mirror and brushed the tangles out of her hair. By this time she was hungry and was looking forward to dinner.

C’thla stepped out into the carpeted hallway, closing the door softly behind her. She walked slowly down the red carpeted hallways, enjoying the sound of the floor creaking beneath her feet. The hallway smelled pleasantly of oiled wood.

She took the staircase down to the first floor, letting her hand brush along the marble railing. Her eyes took in the vaulted ceiling, the Gothic architecture that had been so prevalent in the ancient days of the Old World. The Scarlet Church had been built in this fashion but it was not truly Gothic. Any pre-existing architecture was nothing more than rubble and dust, its builders long forgotten. Now there was only the hellscape, the Abyss on earth. By channeling the power of the Primordial Caste, the First Disciple had remade the world.

Several Scarlet Priests passed her as she walked down the long hall. Everyone bowed their heads towards her silently in respect. She could hear the buzz of their thoughts, feel their fear, the awe they felt towards her. Some of them knelt at altars, praying to the Primordial Caste, her brethren. For a moment she stopped, watching them, the men and women who stood on their knees with their head bowed. She tried not to hold it against her - how were they to know her own kind had betrayed her out of fear?

Soon, things will be different, she thought. Soon enough the Primordial Caste will be no more and they will bow to me.

She turned through the archway to her left, walking down another corridor. A small set of steps took her to another door, which was ajar. Damen Orlys was inside sitting at the end of a long oak table, sipping from a crystal glass what looked like wine.

He stood when he saw she’d entered the room and bowed. “High Priestess,” he said reverently. She watched him for a moment, frowning. She noticed for the first time he wasn’t wearing his hood. He beamed at her from across the table. His outward appearance suggested he was an attractive man, youthful, somewhere in his early thirties. He had medium length dark brown hair, a long narrow nose, and diamond blue eyes. However his youthful appearance was every bit of an illusion as his pleasant, optimistic demeanor. C’thla knew beneath the glamour spell he conjured at all times he looked like a withered tree. She also knew he was weary, weary from the passing of years, centuries. Immortality could do that to you.

If she wanted to she could peel back the glamour spell, see what laid behind it, pour the contents out of his head with a single thought, make him do anything he wanted. But she didn’t want to. After all he was her ally, an important one at that. It was because of him she had a body.

“You’re lovely if it’s not too bold of me to say,” he said. “Your new body suits you.”

“Thank you,” she said, taking the seat next to him.

“Would you like some wine?” he asked.

“Yes.”

From a nearby table he grabbed a silver pitcher and a crystal glass. The sound of liquid pouring filled the room. He handed her the glass, watching her expectantly. The smile never left his lips.

She raised the glass to her lips and took a sip. The taste of grapes sitting in a barrel for years, decades, exploded over her tongue. Tingles went up her spine. At first she wasn’t sure if she liked it. The sourness was overwhelming. She squeezed her eyes shut, gave herself a moment to adjust to the tang, and took another sip. This time the taste wasn’t so shocking. It was actually quite pleasant, the liquid chilled. She felt herself smile again only this time it wasn’t for formality’s sake. “It’s very good.”

Damen sat down, looking pleased. “I had the best Brought up just for you. Dinner will arrive shortly. I’m sure you must be famished.”

“I am.”

For a moment they sat in silence, sipping their wine. C’thla didn’t like the silence, didn’t like the way it stretched on. There were downfalls to being in a human body, to feeling emotion. You couldn’t stop yourself from feeling the things you didn’t want to feel. She was not like the wraiths, capable of only meaningless destruction. With a human body came all the human emotions, the good and the bad.

“Your priests,” she said. “They bow to the Primordial Caste.”

He nodded. “It has been that way since the church was formed.”

“It stings my eyes to witness it!” For a moment her composure slipped, revealing how she truly felt. Her hand tightened around the goblet. Wine sloshed across her wrists, the cold a shock against her new flesh. “Do they not know who I am, what I’ve been through? It was the Primordial Caste who betrayed me, who turned my body into ash!”

Damen stared back at her calmly, his face not showing any emotion. “You cannot truly blame them. I have not revealed my true intentions; to do so could ruin everything. You have been asleep for a very long time. Since before the forming of the hellscape. There is little record of you.”

She took a deep breath. “I suppose if all goes well it will matter little in the end.”

He nodded and a gleam entered his eyes, the first true emotion he had shown since this conversation had begun.

“I’ve waited for this moment for a very long time. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“Why?” she asked, truly curious. It would have been easier to pluck the answer from his memories but it was so much more entertaining to talk and interact.

Before he could answer, two priests stepped into the room, balancing a silver platter on one hand and holding rolled up silverware in the other. They bowed, muttering, “High Priest” and “High Priestess” before setting the platters down on the table. Almost as quickly as they’d appeared they stepped out of the room.

“Bon appetit,” Damen said, removing the silver top for her.

C’thla looked down at her plate. She felt her mouth instantly begin to water. For dinner they were having smoked salmon which rested on a bed of roasted vegetables. The smell wafted up to her nose. She felt her belly growl. It was everything she could do to keep from grabbing her fork and digging in.

Instead she watched as Damen unfolded his napkin and set his silverware down. She did the same, making sure to do exactly as he did. This was a custom completely new to her, some form of table etiquette. Perhaps she would ask him about it later.

She mimicked his movements, holding down the salmon with the fork and cutting into it with her knife. The meat was perfectly spiced and succulent, the vegetables tender and crunchy at the same time. As with the wine the first few bites were full of overwhelming flavor that eased a little once she became used to it.

“You never answered my question,” she said after a moment.

“You know why.” His voice was little more than a whisper but there was reproach in it.

“I want to hear you say it with my new ears.”

He frowned at her, considering for a moment. “I have been a slave for most of my life, whether it be to your brother Ex’olku or to your old lover Mazog. I grow weary of wearing chains. I want to be free of them once and for all. I know you are the only one who can free me.”

“How do you know I will not put chains around you in the end?”

To this he said nothing; she thought she saw his jaw twitch. She chewed for a moment. She was taking great joy in jabbing at him, playing with his mind. Strangely though she could not read it and she could not think of why she couldn’t. “Tell me what the world was like before the hellscape, right before the First Disciple brought an end to it.”

“There’s not much to say. The world was already dying before the First Disciple rearranged it.”

“Enlighten me.”

The High Priest hesitated long enough to refill her wineglass back up to the top. “The world was dying. Humanity was killing it: polluting it. Pouring their chemicals into the ocean, killing its animals, making it impossible to eat them. Poaching. Bears, tigers, lions, all of them pushed to the brink of extinction. Even bumblebees.” He chuckled. “Bumblebees, can you imagine? Everyone thinks the First Disciple damned this world, what’s left of it, but really he saved it. As I said the world was beginning to die. Seasons were changing, the weather was becoming more severe, the ozone layer around the earth fading. We would have pushed ourselves to extinction without help from anyone else.”

“And then my very foolish brother chose you as his First Agent to stop it.”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“Then in your rage against Ex’olku you gave your life to the Primordial Caste?”

“Yes.”

“And now you want your life back from them as well?”

At this Damen merely nodded.

C’thla smiled. “You are a very complicated man, Damen Orlys.” She found she liked him. “What do you know of Mazog and the whereabouts of the other Caste members?”

“Several years after the forming of the hellscape, the First Disciple dug up the remains of Mazog’s last vessel. He tried to perform the same ritual I did for you but before he could complete the ritual, Ex’olku’s second Agent intervened, killing the First Disciple and destroying what was left of the remains; the bitch did quite a bit of damage before I was able to kill her. We had to go into hiding afterwards. As far as I know Mazog remains trapped in the Infernal Abyss along with the rest of your brethren.”

She beamed at him. “So there is no one to oppose me but Ex’olku’s new Agent. Things could not be more fortuitous. Tomorrow I want to go into the city, Fruimont. I want to see what the people are like and I want them to see what I am like. The world may have forgotten me but soon they will remember.”

 

 

The next morning C’thla and Damen Orlys left the walls of the Scarlet Church, heading for the city of Fruimont. They traveled on a sled pulled by dogs. The journey was not as gratifying as C’thla had thought it would be. The dogs stank and the frigid air stung the parts of her that was not swaddled in multiple layers of clothing. She had forgotten just how sensitive the human body was to its environment.

Along the journey the High Priest explained they would be going to a meeting at the courthouse with the other officials of Fruimont. “Mostly politics,” he said. “You will be the center of it. I will be passing the mantle to you.”

After a time they came to the gates of Fruimont. They opened and the truck trundled through. C’thla craned her head around, wanting to see everything there was to see. There were buildings everywhere, some of them tall, some of them not so tall. It was almost like being in the great city of Rome. There were people everywhere walking through the streets, their faces braced against the cold, wearing scarves and coats.

She was glad to be away from the sled, away from the dogs. “I want to clear my nose from the smell of dog and never breathe it in again,” she said to the High Priest, not bothering to hide just how much she loathed the slobbering creatures.

She was about to begin walking when she noticed her reflection in the glass window of a pub. She stopped with a gasp, startled. The face staring back at her, though beautiful, was not her face. It should be the face of the young woman Mazog had burned at the stake staring back at her - and yet it wasn’t.

The eyes staring back at her were wide and no longer a foxy silver, but dark blue, the mouth colored dark red with the lipstick she had applied. She was vaguely aware Damen’s hands were resting on her arms, steadying her. Though his voice tickled her ear it sounded far away, as if coming from a great distance. She wasn’t sure if it was a trick of her own fractured mind or if it was really happening but she thought she could hear Sara laughing mockingly at her. Shut up you stupid bitch, she thought. This is my body, my mind. Soon you will be nothing. It will be as if you never existed.

“I’m fine,” she said, trying to break from his gasp. She was embarrassed. She was supposed to be stronger than this. She was C’thla, the mother of demons.She had survived through the millenia, bringing men and women to their knees and now she was acting like a damsel in distress. This is the part about getting used to a body I hate, she thought. “I’m just getting used to this body. It takes a few days...depending on the host. Let’s go.”

Before they left the truck C’thla glanced back in the mirror one last time. Her eyes had gone back to being silver - her silver. Sara was silent, had been silent for some time.

They walked the rest of the way to the courthouse. Here, in the city of Fruimont the weather was not as hostile as in the Ubrios Waste. Within moments the episode of identity misplacement was forgotten. C’thla became enamored with the world around her. Every sound, sight, and smell was somehow new and familiar at the same time as her memories and experiences coincided with that of her host: the people who stopped at merchant booths, buying herbs, incense, crafts, and foods; the prostitutes who lurked underneath awnings and in the mouth of alleyways, men and women, young and old, offering themselves to Damen and C’thla for a price. They showed no signs of knowing what C’thla was. They looked into her eyes without really seeing. Of course she did not act mindless as most of her kind tended to do. She had been molded and tempered by her experiences through her other hosts. She was here for a mission - she knew how to act and mix in with these mortals.

As she walked past them she searched through their minds. Underneath all their individual motives they were afraid. They knew something was coming, something big, something that had yet to reveal itself. Yet it was here already, the beginning of something cataclysmic. It would be bigger than the remaking of the world for it was to be remade again. They knew this on some instinctive level, these primitive people, and yet it was hidden underneath other feelings and fears.

They were all starving, hungry, and cold. Tired. She pitied them and was disgusted by them at the same time. She had always felt this way about them; she wondered if Damen felt the same way.

 

 

Though Damen Orlys was speaking every eye in the room it seemed, kept glancing in her direction. C’thla sat at the head of a long table, surrounded by men. She was amused to find she was the only woman in the room. There had been a brief time in the days of the Old World when women had possessed just as much power and influence as men - even more. It seemed that age had come and gone.

She smirked. I’ll have to do something about that.

There was one man in particular she couldn’t take her eyes off - or he her. He was frightened of her and fascinated at the same time and he was doing his best not to show it. His head was a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. By human standards he was older, well past the prime of his life but also very attractive. He had introduced himself as Benedict Matthiesen. She tried to be respectful and pay attention to Damen but she kept finding herself going through his thoughts and memories.

It was interesting, the things she was finding. Very interesting indeed. Benedik and I are going to have a conversation before all this is through, she thought.

“And now,” Damen said with a flourish, “I would like to introduce to you, C'thla. She will be in charge of things from now on.”

Every eye around the table turned their gaze on her; the surprise in the room was palpable. She grinned, loving the tension. She could sense their awe, their uncertainty, and their fear. The energy filling the room gave her a rush not unlike the one she’d had watching Roman soldiers being sacrificed in another life.

“Good morning,” she said.

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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