The Impure Cross

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In The Bowels Of Hell

Five miles west of the luscious palace, hidden deep within the grove, stood a small stony shed. This shed was no more than ten feet high and six feet wide with moss slithering across its very walls and crawling into its crevices. Those who would discover this place, either by accident or by intent, would be greeted by a cold, rusted, steel door; a befitting welcome to their descent into hell.

Demeter dismounted his black stallion. He noticed that the woman’s hands were tied, so, to help her dismount, he placed his arms around her slender waist. The woman’s eyes widened in shock a bit as she felt Demeter’s firm grip as he picked her up from the steed and gently placed her down on the ground.

Demeter quickly turned his face away from her, attempting to find the key to unlock the gateway to Odium’s dungeon. The white-haired maiden couldn’t help but to smirk to herself at the clear embarrassment this interaction had caused one of her captors. While Demeter was busy with the keys, the woman took the time to examine her surroundings.

Amidst all of the green of the forest, her sharp sight was able to determine a glare of pure white armor in her near vicinity, exposed by the few rays of sunlight that managed to break through the mighty oak branches. Their glares were barely discernable and, was she not directly searching for them, she would have never spotted them.

“How very observant of them,” the woman thought to herself.

A loud creak of metal doors opening managed to revert her attention back to her main captor. By the time she noticed him, Demeter already stood at the top of a staircase leading deep into the bowels of the earth. In his hand, he held a lit torch to help him guide his prisoner into the abyss.

He held the door open as the woman cordially bowed to the King’s Hand and approached him without a single word of protest.

“Watch your step, it’s a long way down,” Demeter’s words echoed ominously.

The very moment they began to descend into the dungeon a loud, metallic, creak was once again heard, followed by a heavy thud and the activation of a locking mechanism. The door was locked from the outside.

The dim light of Demeter’s torch exposed cold, earthy, walls that surrounded them, supported by sturdy wooden beams. Every now and then he would look across his shoulder at the woman, to make sure she was following him.

She was still very cooperative, even waving and smiling at Demeter once she noticed him looking. All of this made Demeter more cautious around her since it only served to strengthen his original assumptions.

Eventually, they descended low enough to reach a wooden door which Demeter unlocked.

As they entered they were greeted by moans and cries of the prisoners locked up in their cells. Even though the dungeon appeared dark, small candle lights shone from each cell, indicating that their inhabitants were wide awake. Some asked for forgiveness from the Creator, while others cursed Odium’s name to high heavens for the cruel fate that he had inflicted upon them.

Hearing the wooden gates open some prisoners reached for the doors to their cells, attempting to see the face of the one who came to greet them. Their eyes were still hopeful, still expecting salvation for their transgression and their sins. Their hopes were quickly shattered once they noticed Demeter’s figure walking in front of another captive, doomed to share their fate.

As they passed by, the people in their cell lunged themselves at the door and hissed and snarled at Demeter.

He would try to avoid making any eye contact with them, but it was in vain. He accidentally walked too close to one of the cells as one prisoner lunged himself at the gate.

The man was rather tall, with long, dirty, unkempt, dark brown, hair and a brown beard covering his face. The arm with which he held Demeter’s hood was fairly strong; however, Demeter could easily notice his other arm. It appeared to be limp and deformed; a clear indication that it had been broken recently. The assassin could already determine the sin for which the man was imprisoned, waking a sense of sympathy within him.

“You hypocritical bastard!” the prisoner yelled at Demeter as his arm firmly grasped onto the young man’s hood “How many men have you slaughtered in your lifetime? How many families have you made suffer because of your actions? Why aren’t you here instead of me?!” the man continued to scream as tears began to wash over his face.

Demeter’s eyes turned cold as he looked at the prisoner. He walked closer to the cell where this man was held and removed the prisoner’s hand from his hood. The man howled in pain and began to cry as he sat back down and attempted to reposition his arm to ease the pain.

Suddenly he heard the door to his chamber begin to unlock. He looked up in fear as he saw Demeter’s slender stature looming over him. Fearing for his life, the man curled up, but Demeter only extended his hand.

Cautiously the man looked at the King’s Hand in confusion as Demeter beckoned the prisoner to give him his broken arm. Very slowly, the prisoner repositioned himself in such a way that Demeter was able to see the damage done to his arm. There was no doubt in Demeter’s mind; this was the aftermath of an altercation with the Sondelier.

Demeter took out his dagger and the man closed his eyes, fearing that worst was going to happen. However, he only felt a part of his robe being cut off. As he reopened his eyes, he noticed the assassin, the man he loathed, making an improvised sling in which he enveloped the prisoner’s broken arm. In shock, the prisoner looked up at Demeter with eyes that hungered for answers.

“I cannot remove your pain, but I will attempt to alleviate it.”

Upon his return, he could see the white-haired woman kindly looking at him. Her eyes glistened with tears, but her lips were curled into a genuine smile of empathy. Demeter felt his heartbeat quicken and he turned his head forward once more.

“Let’s continue!”

As they pressed onwards to the woman’s cell, both Demeter and the white-haired maiden could feel the oppressive nature of the dungeon.

Dark, damp hallways seemed to spread into infinity only diverging on a few points, while cold, grey, naked brick walls served as the only companions for the lonely prisoners suffering in their jaws.

Soon enough, they entered the part of the catacombs where Odium kept his special prisoners. These prisoners were people that openly opposed the archbishop’s preaching whether by their words or by their actions. As a special form of humiliation the sanctimonious prophet had this section separated into two parts.

On the left were regular cells, reserved for those whom only spoke against the archbishop, and on their right, prisoners were hung, by their wrists, on metal chains. Their feet were chained to the wall as well, making their movements impossible. Most of them were barely skin and bones as they would often be starved for as long as humanly possible. They had very pronounced bruises and cuts, some earned from their routine torture and others given to them by the abuse they would suffer from the Sondeliers.

“Well, well, look what the cat dragged in,” a man, hung on the wall, yelled.

Hearing this voice, Demeter stopped in his tracks.

He quickly shone the light of his torch in the direction of the voice that yelled and he came face to face with a young man in his mid-twenties chained to the wall. His wounds were still fresh and his body was weakened, however, his face was still recognizable. That long dirty blond hair, those dim, juvenile, green eyes, which once gleamed with youthful vigor, were all too recognizable to the assassin. Demeter shuddered as tears gleamed in his eyes.

“Sam!” he exclaimed, looking at the tortured boy.

“The one and only, although I don’t know for how much longer,” the man said through pained breaths.

“What did they do to you?

“Oh, the usual course: a little bit on the rack, a few lashes of the whip and they really knocked me around a lot I can tell you that. I think they have started a sport of it. I could definitely hear them counting points for each punch they threw. Bonus points if they broke a bone! I guess even sadists need some fun.”

Sam began to laugh at that last remark. His laughter turned into gasps for air whichwere soon followed by pain filled coughs as Sam’s faced grimaced in pain and discomfort.

“Please, don’t do that,” Demeter said through his teeth as he clenched his fists in pain.

“Don’t do what?” Sam asked, puzzled by Demeter’s reaction.

“Don’t toy with the situation you are in!” Demeter almost yelled through gritted teeth.

Sam only smirked sorrowfully to that regard.

“My laughter is the only thing that allows me to deal with the situation I am in. Please don’t take it away from me.”

Hearing those words coming from Sam, coupled with his tearful eyes and smiling face, made Demeter felt like his heart was being torn in half. He had to turn away and take in a few deep breaths in order to recompose himself.

“What about the others? How many have survived the attack?”

Sam’s face suddenly turned grim.

“I am afraid to report that I am the only one that survived,” Sam sighed “We didn’t even stand a chance. The only reason I am here is that they wanted one of us to serve as their perverted trophy,” Sam exclaimed with disgust and spat on the ground in front of him.

Demeter shook his head in defeat.

“Have they at least located the decree?” Demeter asked dreading the answer.

“What do you think?!” Sam scoffed “We couldn’t even reach the front gate before the Sondeliers started to attack. They are not human, believe me. Those things are pure military machines. They slashed us with such ease and they didn’t even blink,” Sam said as tears began to flow down his face.

Demeter only stood in silence as he could barely feel the ground beneath his feet. He began to move away from Sam as if in a trance. The King’s Hand could feel his steps becoming heavier and heavier as he began to stumble, barely able to support his own weight. Right when he could no longer support himself and was about to fall, he felt that something had stopped the impact.

He could feel the woman pulling on his right arm and placing it around her neck. Demeter grasped onto her shoulder as she moved her tied hands around his waist in order to hold him up.

“Thank you for that.”

The woman smiled.

“Don’t worry about it.”

The woman’s tone of voice was gentle and soft, much like a lute ballad, causing Demeter to grin slightly.

“So, the lady can speak,” Demeter said as he repositioned himself.

“Only to those who are worthy to listen to my enchanting voice.”

Demeter laughed at her remark.

“Well, then I must say that I am rather honored."

The aura this woman radiated was impossibly bright and her spirit simply allured him to her. If she wanted to seduce him, then she was doing a great job.

“May I know the dame’s name or is that too forward of me?”

“Only if you tell me yours as well."

“My name is Demeter Antegard,” Demeter said and extended his hand.

“You may call me Ayla,” the white-haired woman introduced herself while cupping his hand with her tied hands.

“Shouldn’t you also have a last name as well?"

“Mysteries make our lives more interesting, Demeter,” Ayla responded and winked.

Demeter smirked.

As if I expected anything else from a woman such as her, Demeter thought to himself.

“At least now I can formally thank you for your assistance, Ayla."

“Don’t worry about it,” Ayla waved with her hands “I am sorry for what happened to your friends."

“Thank you, but you shouldn’t concern yourself with it. It’s a sensitive matter of sorts,” Demeter sighed.

“Then I shall inquire no further."

After their exchange, Ayla and Demeter moved silently as they soon approached the archbishop’s holding cells. Demeter pulled out a rusty key that was wrapped around his waist and unlocked one of the empty cells.

“Well, home sweet home,” Demeter welcomed his guest into her cell and undid the ropes that tied her hands.

As they entered, Ayla quickly scanned her surroundings as she stretched out her arms. The chamber was barely furnished. A wooden plank, covered in hay, was nailed to the wall opposing the entrance. Atop of it was placed a single white sheet of fabric.

To the left of the plank was a wooden night stand with only a single chair next to it and a candle on top of it. Right to her bed stood a brass pot which emanated a slight, pungent, odor when close to it.

The white-haired maiden pulled up her gown beneath her knees and seated herself atop of her wooden bed, placing her hands in her lap. Suddenly, she felt something run up her leg as she let out an audible giggle. Her giggle soon turned into a burst of roaring laughter as Demeter quickly lit up the candle. He brought it close to Ayla’s face as she held a small, brown, rat in her hands.

“Looks like he wanted to greet me as well,” Ayla laughed.

Demeter backed away from her and placed the candle back onto the nightstand.

He watched as the young woman caressed the fur of the mangy rodent.

Under the candlelight, Ayla’s tanned skin and soft facial features became more prominent. Demeter could notice how the orange color of the flames seemed to dance in tune with the emerald green color of her irises as her pink lips curled up into a childlike smile of joy and amazement at this particularly mundane beast.

The rat seemed to have felt her calming aura as it was now gently nodding off to sleep in her hands before Ayla set him down on the floor. Her actions were very cautious so as not to awaken the slumbering creature.

As she placed it down, Ayla perched her hands beneath her chin and observed the slumbering rodent, her smile slowly beginning to shrink.

“Isn’t it amazing how little some creatures truly need to feel safe?” Ayla commented as she continued to observe the sleeping rat “A small, kind, gesture is enough to ensure that these little beings trust you enough to rest in your presence. Really makes you think, huh?”

Having said that, the young woman lied down on her bed, resting her head beneath the chair where Demeter was seated.

Demeter's sapphire eyes met with Ayla's emeralds as she smiled at him. He laughed and shook his head at her antics.

“You are one fascinating creature, Ayla,” Demeter said as his smile slowly faded.

“I’m glad somebody noticed,” Ayla joked “I was beginning to think that my act was wasted on you people.”

“You people?” Demeter raised an eyebrow.

Ayla gasped in fake shock and covered her mouth with her left hand.

“I have said too much already,” Ayla said and pretended to seal her lips.

With that said Ayla covered her eyes with her forearms and promptly fell asleep, her slow breathing turning into snoring as she snoozed off.

Demeter sat there, observing her as she slept.

So far she does not appear to be a threat, he thought to himself as he stood up from the chair and began to pace around the cell However this too could just be an act to gain my trust. What would she even have to gain from that? I gave her ample opportunities to attack me and yet she did nothing. If she wanted to harm the king there would be plenty of ways to do so, all far less risky than befriending me. Maybe she is after Odium’s head? Maybe she wants to use me to get to him? Though she must have realized by now that we are not on best terms so that plan would be doomed to fail before it even began, Demeter continued to battle with himself.

He sat down again and rubbed the temples of his head in frustration.

I’ll have to put these ones under a less likely outcome for the time being. Her stature and behavior all seem to point out that she is a person of wealth so my previous theory still stands, Demeter concluded She must have been caught accidentally using her powers by the locals. Wouldn’t be the first time we had this sort of issue, Demeter sighed and leaned back in his chair.

Her accuser claimed he heard a loud sound followed by a flash of blinding white light before he saw her, Demeter furrowed his brow and rubbed his hairless chin as he thought Which could be a sign of a specialist light user or a transformation type magic similar to that of the Beastarians or the Drakken. It could also be a recount of a drunken old man who saw lightning hit behind her. In which case she could be toying with us and wasting our time, Demeter continued his train of thought as he nervously scratched his head.

There are still too many unknown variables to make my call,” he sighed in frustration “I’ll wait for her to wake up and proceed with my questioning. With any luck, I might find some answers to these questions.”

Demeter slunk back in the chair and kept an unrelenting eye on his sleeping prisoner.

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