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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 55. Wicked Little Town



 

Seeing the town of Annesville brought back memories of Loras’ own hometown. With its wooden buildings and frost-covered windows it easily could have been mistaken for Caldreath.

She was stuck in the past again, in a different time when she had been younger and powerless. She remembered the memory the demon who’d possessed Greta had shown her. Demons, if they were powerful enough, could show you memories but they could also twist the memory into illusions and make the memory seen real. What the demon had shown her had not been an illusion but the exact truth as it had happened. She remembered trying to run towards the little boy who had fallen in the snow, before the Eurchurchman on the horse with his sword could get to him; she remembered, with a heartwrenching twist of guilt that she hadn’t been able to get there in time, just as she had been too late to save Janif and Cara.

This isn’t the same hometown. This isn’t my hometown. This is Crow’s town and he hated it. He did everything he could to leave it behind. Not that he left behind much from the looks of it. So why would he return to it even when he knows he’s being hunted as a criminal?

She felt a shiver go up her spine at the sight of the empty streets. The horses were tense, swinging her head from side to side, the whites of their eyes showing in distress. It was no wonder Crow had left this place;to say it lacked charm would have been an understatement.

“Something’s wrong,” Barghast said. “There’s not a single person in sight. Where is everyone?”

Loras was glad to know she wasn’t the only one who felt this way. There should have been someone out andabout or at least a light in the window to indicate the presence of life. But there was nothing. The town was barren. Loras sensed danger despite the lack of evidence. Her experience had taught her instinct was evidence enough. Even Jack had one of his revolvers out.

Seeing something half submerged in the snow, Loras climbed down from her horse long enough to pick it up: it was a doll. A single button eye stared at her; the other one was missing. The doll smiled at her, as if harboring some terrible secret. Loras shivered, a shiver that had nothing to do with the cold, and dropped it back in the snow wishing she had never picked it up; the rough-hewn patchwork dress was stained and torn in some places. Some little girl loved this ugly doll, Loras thought. She wouldn’t just leave it in the snow like this. She wouldn’t have just forgotten about it. Something has happened.

Barghast was saying something under his breath, in Okanavian, in a voice so low she could barely hear it. His eyes kept scanning the area from left to right. Whatever pretenses he had tried to keep up were gone now. Loras gulped. Her throat felt incredibly dry.

“Are you praying?” she asked.

He nodded.

“Are you as frightened as I am?”

“I’m about to piss my pants. Who knew Crow came from such a charming little town?”

Loras chuckled shakily. “All northern towns are pretty much the same.”

“Can you reach out to him again, pinpoint his location?” Barghast’s voice turned into a low growl. “I’m not letting him slip away from me this time. If I have to throw him over my shoulder and carry him all the way back to the bus I will.”

“I can try,” Loras said reluctantly. “But the last time I tried reaching out to him he literally threw my Aspect back into my body. It was not a pleasant experience.” She stopped, closing her eyes. She was about to step out of her body in Aspect form when Barghast grabbed her arms, his fingers tightening slightly. She stared dowm wide-eyed at the size of his fingers; they practically swallowed her hand whole.

“Do you hear that?”

She looked in the direction they were heading in. The wind moaned, making the ends of her cloak billow around her. Red bloomed across her dry cheeks. Dark circles covered her eyes from lack of sleep though at the moment she was not tired. But nothing else moved. Was Barghasat letting his nerves get the best of him? “I hear nothing...”

She stopped. She did hear something. Voices. They were coming from somewhere ahead of them. They spoke in a rabid, nasal dialect that she recognized instantly. Her knees almost buckled from underneath her in sudden dread.

She was hearing the Demon’s Tongue. And the words were being uttered by human vocal cords.

Before she could sink into the snow, Barghast seized her and Jack by the arm and fled. She marvelled at the speed in which he moved for a man of his size. Loras and Jack had no choice but to run after him lest they be dragged through the snow like disobedient children. The trio pressed their back to the side of a two story building. For the next minute Lora listened to the voices get louder and louder. She carefully craned her neck to look around the corner.

They came out of the gloom, armed with axes and pitchforks. They seemed oblivious to the cold. There were men, women, and children - too many to count. Some of them bore injuries: cuts, slashes, missing limbs and yet they still moved with a synchronized, predatory sort of grace. If they sense us we’re fucked, she thought.

Their focus was directed on a single building, the pub. They surrounded it from all sides. They moved in as one, bashing through the windows with their tools and climbing inside, letting out cries of anger and excitement.

“Loras, reach out to Crow,” Barghast whispered urgently. “Now!”

Grabbing a hold of herself, Loras closed her eyes, searching for Crow. To her shock she found him almost immediately. “Mercius help us, he’s in the pub,” she muttered. Crow! We’re coming! Don’t move!

“They’ve got him trapped in the pub,” she said to Barghast and Jack. “We have to go and get him. Are you prepared, Okanavian?”

Barghast pumped his shotgun, the only answer he gave. It was the only answer she needed. The Stray Dpgs were just stepping out from behind the building when Crow’s voice filled her head, echoing like frantic bells.

Loras, you must leave this place - now! C’thla’s here! C’thla’s -

The thought was cut off abruptly. Loras stopped. The air seemed to draw around the pub. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. Barghast’s shotgun boomed twice. A woman’s back exploded in a shower of blood; the shot spun her around on her feet before knocking her onto the ground with a feral wail. A man’s head exploded in a mess of crimson, shards of white skull, and pulpy brain matter.

“Barghast!” Loras shouted. The shot gun went off twice more, drowning out the sound of her voice. Jack was firing off several shots of his own, dropping more bodies to the ground.

She broke into a run. Barghast was already almost at the pub - too close to it. In the back of her mind Loras knew she was too late, there wasn’t enough time. But she ran after him anyway,

The pub exploded outward in a concussion of flame, burning wood, and shattered glass. The blast slammed into Loras. She spun through the air, the world a blur of color, before slamming into the ground. The breath was crushed from her lungs.

She couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. Things were happening around her but she didn’t know what. At the moment she couldn’t even say where she was. All she knew was that she was in pain. She thought she heard screaming - shrill screams of agony and anger - but the alarms ringing in her ears muffled the sounds. Debris fell around her, sending up puffs of snow. A piece of wood fell on her hand. Pain lanced up her wrist, making her cry out. It was this pain that raised her onto her haunches despite the aches in her body, back into awareness. Suddenly Jack was by her side, pulling at her arms. He spoke but his voice was lost in the cacophony.

The chaos happening around her was all too familiar. I’ve experienced this before, she thought. The sound of people dying, the smell of smoke and burning flesh. It seems our lives are nothing more than a repeating loop.

She gaped at what was left of the saloon. The explosion had gutted the building, obliterating the entire front wall. She could see burning rafters. There was glass and debris everywhere, and worse yet there were flocks of people running out of the wreckage, burning, screaming in agony. Loras was too stunned to be afraid, stupid with confusion. The smell of smoke brought her back to her younger days, days filled with blood and death and grief, and the need for revenge. She could have been back in her village, watching helplessly as a platoon of Eurchurchman drove through her town, burning down houses and slaughtering anyone who stood in their way.

A woman ran past her, babbling shrilly in the Demon’s Tongue. Her hair and flesh were burning; the explosion had turned her into a human torch. A man fell to his knees just feet away from her; he had been impaled by a large piece of wood that went all the way through his chest and back. Gouts of blood sprayed from his lips with every breath.

Barghast. The thought of the Okanavian brought Loras out of her stupor. She craned her neck about in search for him, but there was too much happening around them.. Movement out of the corner of her eye alerted just in time to duck beneath the swing of a bloodied meat cleaver. A woman was coming towards her, flecks of spit spraying from her lips. “T’lala venet la’bar!” she barked.

Loras had no idea what the woman was saying. All she was aware of was the hissing path of the meat cleaver in the air and the woman’s hate-filled amber eyes. Loras backed away, felt her legs strike something behind her. She fell back, scrambled on her hands and feet. The possessed woman kicked the thing aside, a smoking piece of wooden table, and ran towards Loras once more, the meat cleaver raised above her head. She was almost on top of her. She glanced over her shoulder, searching for Jack. His back was turned to her. He was letting off volleys of fire. A small army of the possessed was closing around them, too many to fight off on their own.

The possessed woman was standing over now, raising the meat cleaver above her head. Loras summoned her mana and slashed a hand through the air. The top half of the woman’s body split open down the middle, as if bisected by a sword. Blood spouted from her body, raining down on Loras, soaking her hair and dress. The blood was shockingly warm against her skin. The woman fell into the snow heavily with a wet splat,

Loras did not allow herself to feel the shock and revulsion that threatened to overwhelm her. She forced herself onto her feet once more.

The trumpet of a familiar voice brought Loras fully back to herself. Barghast was running towards the burning wreckage. He ran with a limp; there was a bloody scrape on the back of his arm and a gash on the side of his face. It was impossible to tell how deep it was. His face was drawn in a naked mask of panic.

He’s going to get himself killed, she thought.

“No Barghast!” she screamed but he had already vanished into the wreckage.

Copyright © 2020 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.

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