The Impure Cross

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Demeter looked Odium dead in the eyes for a few moments. He knew very well that the old patriarch mustn’t see even an ounce of fear or doubt in his eyes.

“Odium, I didn’t expect to see you this early,” Demeter said calmly, wiping off the sweat beads that tried to escape to his forehead.

“Well, I wanted to do my routine checkup a bit earlier. I am a rather busy man, you know?” Odium stated coldly, however, in his voice, Demeter could detect an undertone of a victorious gloat “However, that’s beside the point. What’s it to you if my Sondeliers give out their divine punishment to this scum?”

“Look at him!” Demeter yelled and pointed to Sam “The poor bastard has more scars than a battlefield lieutenant and you want to inflict more on him? Just let him be for now. He will die soon anyway,” Demeter said as he held his gaze on Odium, attempting to read his facial expressions.

He could feel Sam’s eyes gazing at him, pleadingly. He wanted to return his gaze. He wanted to tell Sam it was all going to be alright and that he would get him out of this mess. But, he couldn't. He had to remain cold and unfazed or else risk incurring the archbishop's wrath.

Odium's eyes gazed every pore on Demeter's face, attempting to read any twitches and signals that might indicate his deception. However, Demeter remained unfazed by his gaze and continued to stare him down. Few moments have passed before the archbishop gave up and turned to his Sondeliers.

“Hang him back! He is of no use to us," the archbishop isssued out his orders.

“My Lord, he is a heretic! Do not waste your kindness on him just because this worm demands it!” one of the Sondeliers spoke, pointing at Demeter with disgusts as he said those last words.

Odium focused his gaze at the Sondelier; his icy eyes glared down the goliath standing in front of him. Even though the Sondelier was half a foot taller than the archbishop, he could feel an unbearable weight being put on him just from the way the archbishop looked at him.

"How weak is your faith in me?" Odium's words echoed silently throughout the dungeon.

The soldier felt as if the very earth beneath his feet had crumbled. He fell to his knees and lowered his head.

“I am so sorry for my insolence, your Holiness!” the Sondelier groveled beneath Odium’s feet.

“It has been forgiven,” Odium responded and put his ring hand onto the Sondelier’s head as he got up.

The second he had recomposed himself the Sondelier ordered his comrade to chain the prisoner back to the wall.

“Now leave us be!” Demeter commanded the Sondeliers.

Both soldiers lowered their weapons at Demeter and stood defiantly. They ignored his wishes and even considered him a dangerous threat now.

"Lower your weapons and let us be. I will call for you if I need you," Odium commanded softly.

“As you command, your Excellency!” both Sondeliers exclaimed and quickly vacated the dungeon.

“Don’t think that you are in the clear, Demeter” Odium threatened “I could see fear in your eyes. You had something to do with this little conspiracy.”

Demeter shook his head and laughed.

“You shouldn’t be so paranoid, my lord. It could be very dangerous for your sound mind."

In Odium’s eyes , a hellish fire of emotions rose. A dangerous concoction of anger, fear and mistrust flared deep within his heart.

“The Creator is wise and he will not be kind to those of a wicked heart, Demeter,” Odium whispered to Demeter.

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Demeter replied calmly.

As they walked by people lunged themselves at their barred gates and hissed at the archbishop. Some were inaudible words, other yells of pain and torture.

One cell, in particular, called out to Odium.

It was the cell of a lunatic, or so that’s what he was called, that the archbishop had committed twenty-seven years ago for slander and wicked words against the ‘holy men’.

The man would often preach of wicked sins that the Order attempted to hide. However, one day he went too far, as he suggested that the archbishop made a pact with a demon in order to gain his position. Such talk was not tolerated and he was quickly apprehended and brought to Odium’s dungeon.

Back then he was a young man in the blossom of his youth. Today he was unrecognizable.

The years of isolation in the dark made him become almost blind. A pale gray haze covered his once blue irises, snuffing out even the slightest hint of his youthful spirit. A thick, filthy, beard covered his face and spread, like a fungus, all the way down to his knees.

His hands and feet were shackled to the wall behind and only a small plate with a moldy and stale piece of bread was in front of him.

The rest of his body did not fare much better as his ribs sorely stuck out and barely held onto the thin threads of flesh, which grew a sickly grey hue over the years. It was surprising that his skin had not eroded and exposed them fully.

To some, the fact that he was still alive appeared miraculous, while to others it looked like punishment for a life lived in sin.

His looks were very much in line with others who had the misfortune of an indefinite stay at this decaying place, however, the knowledge he possessed made him a valuable asset to Odium.

At first, Odium could not believe the claims that this man truly had the ability to see the future. Such power is unheard of in the human kingdom, after all. However, he was convinced once the prisoner predicted the events of Hell’s End battle.

One of his predictions even warned Odium that one of his friends would fall and that he shall meet a mysterious child that will allow his rise to be fully realized.

Once he had been convinced of his power, Odium kept the man hidden away from the world. With his words, he was able to avoid assassinations and uprisings. Yet still, he knew that this man despised him from the bottom of his heart.

Odium looked deeply into the darkness of the man’s cell, illuminated only by the torchlight that the archbishop held firmly in his grasp.

The holy man whispered a single question.

“What have you seen?”

The old man looked up at the spoken words, his pure grey pupils staring Odium down. Suddenly, his dry, chapped, lips curled up into a wide grin, exposing his yellow, rotten, teeth.

“I have seen many things,” the prophet spoke slowly “Many wondrous things. At long last I have seen why the Creator kept me alive after all these years,” the man coughed. He clutched his teeth and winced as the pain of his starvation slowly crept upon him.

“What things have you seen?!” Odium asked impatiently slowly panicking at the sight of the prophet’s happiness.

“I have seen a bejeweled cross, rising high above this land,” the old prophet said as he looked up to the ceiling and held his hands high “It covered the earth beneath it in a sickly green glow. Its light threatened to consume everything in its path. I feared as I gazed upon it,” the old prophet shielded his blind eyes with his hands from the phantom glow.

Odium’s panic slowly subsided and he let out a sigh of relief. Hearing this sigh, the prophet removed his hands from his eyes and smiled once more, making Odium regret his sigh.

“Just as the glow had reached the King’s castle, four hands came out from the inky blackness,” the prophet said and lunged out his own hands at Odium to illustrate his point “Each one grabbed one point of the cross; One, rotten and, decayed took the top part, two, one male and another female, stood side by side and took its left and right points, while an elderly one took the bottom point. Soon these hands were joined by others, all rising from the inky blackness beyond the cross,” the prophet spoke faster and faster and clutched his stomach in pain.

Odium’s eyes widened and his breathing slowly sped up.

“Do you wish to know what the hands did to the cross?” the prophet asked and grinned wildly.

“Yes,” Odium barely whispered his respons

"They shattered it!” the prophet yelled out and laughed in pain. He began to laugh harder and harder. His laughter turned into coughs as he twisted and writhed in pain.

Days without food had finally caught up with him as his deafening screams filled the empty halls.

Demeter shuddered and even averted his eyes, as the man’s last breath escaped his lungs.

Odium looked for a few more seconds, to make sure the prophet was dead. As he looked on he could see that a smile did not leave his face. In death, he looked content, much to the archbishop’s dismay.

“I’ll have to call the cleaner now”, Odium said and walked away from the bars. Demeter quickly followed him.

The last words that the prophet spoke shook Odium to his core. His face became pale and small beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.

“Are you alright? You seem a bit shaken up, milord,” Demeter said, quickly noticing these physical cues.

“I’m fine, don’t worry,” Odium's voicesounded more distant and thoughtful.

“Anyway, back to my reason of arrival,” Odium quickly spoke trying to recompose himself “The new prisoner, did you get anything out of her?” he asked Demeter, swiftly shifting the tone of his voice.

“Well, to the best of my knowledge, she is not a witch."

“Oh, really?” Odium said condescendingly “Then it must have been just a coincidence that a blinding white light accompanied by a loud sound appeared at the same time she did. Is that what you are telling me?"

“Well, to be fair, it could have just been a lightning strike and the drunken old man just associated the two by accident,” Demeter explained.

“Still wouldn’t explain her presence in the dead of the night,” Odium retorted

“She could have been out for a night walk,” Demeterchuckled a bit under his breath.

“Spare me your jokes, Demeter,” Odium sighed in frustration “At least tell me you examined her eye."

“Of course not! The eye test was prohibited, remember?” Demeter scoffed in disgust.

“Not that eye test, you sick freak!” Odium yelled in repulse “I am asking about the serpent pupil,” he hissed, very much annoyed by Demeter’s antics.

“Oh, that,” Demeter said slightly blushing in embarrassment “No she doesn’t have the serpent’s eye, at least to my knowledge."

“At least to your knowledge,” Odium repeated those words and shook his head.

“Yes,” Demeter replied and they silently walked through the damp hallways of the dungeon.

The archbishop suddenly felt uneasy. The screams were gone; no prisoners were left alive in this portion of the catacombs. Only silence of the damned souls long lost lingered in the air above. Odium could hear his heart pounding faster and faster. It was like the air itself called out to him. So many righteous souls met their untimely end here. The silence was maddening; however, it was soon broken as Odium heard voices call out to him.

“Why have you abandoned us?” one voice spoke out to him.

“The wicked shall be punished!” another one said.

“Let the hands of fate be most unkind to you,” the archbishop heard another.

“Death to the bejeweled cross!” another spoke accusingly.

Odium felt as if all of the blood from his face perished into the ether above. He felt his knees slowly giving in, the ground beneath becoming more and more unstable. The bile in his stomach started to rise up all accompanied by the vicious pounding of his weak heart. Odium stopped and grabbed to the wall, but that only made him a sitting target.

“Stop it! Stop it!” he screamed out loud and flailed at the air.

He could see see-through figures walking closer to him. Some looked like skeletons with piercing golden eyes, others yet appeared like pale ghouls. The ghouls were missing limbs, their skin was torn and rotting as it exposed the meat that lay beyond the skin. Above them, floated an old man with a long beard. He cackled at the archbishop as he directed the otherworldly beings to extend their putrid hands towards the holy man.

Odium flailed and panicked, attempting to chase away the demons as best as he could. It was all in vain as the hands grabbed him and attempted to rip his red gown.

“Odium! Are you alright?!” Demeter yelled and shook him by the shoulders. He could notice the archbishop was having something akin to a panic attack, as he yelled and threw himself against the wall.

Hearing his voice the apparitions faded away and Odium found himself staring directly at Demeter’s blue eyes.

“Get away from me!” Odium yelled and straightened out his robe “Now where’s her chamber?”

“Right around the corner” Demeter replied, confusion firmly planted on his face.

“Well then stop wasting my time! Let’s go!” Odium yelled and fastened his pace.

Demeter was confused by these actions and turned around. He didn’t know what was he expecting but a feeling of dread started to overcome him.

“Man I hate this place,”Demeter thought to himself and shuddered.

At her cell, Ayla patiently waited for Demeter’s arrival but seeing the archbishop’s face confused her a bit. She shot Demeter a puzzling look. The King’s Hand attempted to reassure her, but Odium intercepted him

“Leave us, Demeter!”

"Are you sure about that? You might need my help in subduing her if things get out of hand."

"I'll be fine, don't worry."

"As you wish. Just don't say I didn't offer my help,"Demeter bowed his head and left.

“Bye,” Ayla waved Demeter goodbye.

As the metal door closed behind, Ayla pouted her lips.

What a shame. I was really starting to like him,” she thought to herself as she observed her new guest.

Odium gently smiled at the young girl, making her shiver in horror. The kind and gentle smile really looked disturbing on Odium’s face, at least to Ayla.

“So would you mind telling me your name?” Odium asked with a sickly sweet tone of voice.

“Nope, I’m good” Ayla replied briskly.

Odium chuckled.

“I see,” he said, “Well then, what should I call you, if not by your name?"

“You can call me Snow White, Green Eye, Heathen or whatever other names you can think of, but I am not giving you my real name,” Ayla continued her defiance.

“And why is that?” Odium asked, slightly annoyed by her behavior.

“I don’t trust you. I can see that you mean me harm,” Ayla responded as Odium rubbed his temples to calm himself down.

She is a nightmare and a half to deal with. How did Demeter put up with this act?” the archbishop thought to himself

“I sincerely am not here to harm you. If anything I am here to help you,” Odium said, attempting to keep his composure.

Ayla raised an eyebrow.

“Let’s see,” Ayla began, imitating slightly Demeter’s posture as she began her reasoning “First your people, under your influence, accuse me of being a witch and tie me to a burning pole. Next, you come in and bring me to this place where people have their arms broken, are tortured constantly and are chained to the walls. If that’s how you treat those you try to help, then I don’t want to know how you treat those that oppose you,” Ayla finished her explanation.

The archbishop’s face started to slightly twitch and contort, just noticeable to Ayla’s watchful eye. Odium kept his composure, but inside he was ready to blow.

“If you continue this behavior you will find out,” Odium turned cold and threatening.

“There we go! I knew your façade would come apart eventually! Though this was quick, even by my calculation,” Ayla smiled and exclaimed.

This behavior became intolerable to Odium. Still under the influence of the spectral apparitions that had appeared before him his fuse became shorter and shorter. He had just about enough of her disrespect for him.

“Well, milady, I think it is time to teach you a proper lesson, one your parents clearly forgot. Guards!” Odium yelled.

At the sound of his voice, two Sondeliers rushed in.

“You called sir,” one of the Sondeliers spoke and bowed down. Odium grabbed Ayla, placed her in shackles, and tossed her to the Sondeliers.

“Take her to the torture chamber and show her what happens to those who defy me,” Odium smiled and exited the dungeon with the two Sondeliers holding Ayla firmly in between them.

“Make sure to bring her to my chamber once she has been taught her lesson. I don’t want to come back down here,” Odium whispered to the Sondeliers as they parted their ways.

“Yes sir!” the Sondelier nodded his head.

The Sondeliers firmly gripped Ayla between themselves. They walked silently through the dark hallways as if not to disturb the sleeping spirits of souls long gone.

The deeper they went the more Ayla could see the cruelty of the archbishop. In this section of the dungeon laid the wretched souls of those who committed sins of unspeakable nature. Rapists, murderers, sacrilegious thieves were all congregated in these parts. Amongst them were also people who dared not only to defy Odium but to work against him and against the Order.

As Ayla looked at them she could notice fresh cuts on their arms and legs as well as certain limbs being positioned into unnatural positions. Every single one of the prisoners was merely an amalgamation of flesh and bone, barely resembling a human being

This is too cruel,” Ayla thought to herself as she felt a stabbing pain in her heart. She wanted to break free from her chains, to comfort each and every prisoner there, however, she knew the guards would not allow her to do so.

Finally, they reached the deepest pit of Odium’s hell. These prisoners served as a sickening portfolio for the archbishop’s torturer. Their mangled up bodies were used to showcase just how much damage can a human body take before its life gives out.

Some prisoners were limbless and the wounds where limbs would be were quite visibly opened and festering with blood and puss. Others had parts of their skin peeled away from their flesh, exposing their muscles to the infectious air above them. Others still had visible burnt tissue across their eyes, making them blind to the world around them. Dark blue, gangrenous, tissue was visible on just about every prisoner.

This macabre freak show slowly etched itself into Ayla’s mind. She bowed her head and brought her hand closer to her mouth in order to stop the torrent of bile that began rising from her stomach.

The fact that some of these prisoners were begging Ayla and the Sondeliers to end their misery only made the situation worse.

In order to protect herself from the perverse sight in front of her, Ayla closed her eyes in a vain attempt to block out the picture in front of her.

Without her eyes, her other senses sharpened a bit more. The scent of fecal matter, puss and dried up blood became overwhelming. In her darkness her ears focused even more on the agonizing screams of pain, making them the only thing she could hear.

To call this sight sickening would be an insult to the suffering these people had endured. There are no words neither in theirs nor mine language that could express my disgust properly,” Ayla thought to herself as she clenched her fists “What kind of a perverse abomination would be willing to do this to his fellow man?”

After what felt like a small eternity, the Holy guards finally stopped in front of a large wooden door. Above the door was a human skull, held firmly in its place with a large nail driven through its mouth, below which two sabers were placed in an X pattern. The yellow coloring on the skull indicated that it was indeed a real skull and that it had been standing there for quite some time now.

Guess I’m going to find out,” Ayla thought to herself nervously.

She could feel cold sweat beads protruding from her skin and onto her forehead. Her bronze skin turned a few shades paler and beads of cold sweat appeared on her forehead. She took in a deep breath and calmed down.

“As long as I keep my emotions in check he cannot hurt me,” Ayla thought to herself and smirked.

She looked back at the Sondeliers, attempting to read their body language. They remained stoic and calm, barely even breathing as one of them approached the large wooden door.

As it opened Ayla looked into an unknown world filled to the brim with torture devices of most unkind nature.

Racks, wheels and other devices that forced people to be stretched to their painful limits littered the floor of this horrid place. The walls were littered with whips, metal claws, prongs and strange metallic poles that had both ends sharpened.

“She’s all yours Tartarus!” the Sondeliers yelled and pushed Ayla in as if they were throwing a piece of meat to the hungry lions.

As she walked through the room she could feel a thick, warm, substances sticking to the soles of her bare feet. She knew very well what it was, but dared not to look down.

Instead, she stood in one corner of the room and looked for any entrance where Tartarus might come in from. To her surprise, there was only one door; the oonethrough which she came in.

The smell of dying breaths lingered in the air above as Ayla covered her nose to protect her from the stench.

Suddenly, a body that Ayla had presumed to be long dead raised itself from the rack and walked over to her. Ayla felt like an arrow had been pierced into her heart as her eyes widened in shock.

This thing almost looked human, yet Ayla could not believe it to be

Its grey skin had many open wounds and it appeared to be rotting right before her eyes. Large, bug-like, eyes were sunken deep into his hairless skull and its head looked somewhat smaller compared to his bulky build.

Despite his appearance, Ayla remained calm. She knew better than to expose her emotions at a critical moment such as this one.

“Well, well. What do we have here?” the man spoke in a raspy voice. He circled around Ayla, observing her for any sign of fear. Ayla just stood there, calmly ignoring his warm breath, slithering on her neck.

“Enjoying the view there, Tartarus?” she asked the man as his eyes glazed down Ayla’s gown.

“I am just admiring your physique, my dear. It is quite a rarity that such an extraordinary specimen graces my halls,” Tartarus said and flashed her a grin, exposing his black, rotten teeth.

Seeing his teeth made Ayla wince in disgust slightly.

“I apologize if my teeth disgust the fair maiden. The archbishop doesn’t provide dental care, even for his most hardworking employee,” the creature smiled and grabbed Ayla’s chains. He led her across the room and placed her in a holding apparatus.

Tartarus lowered her chains and locked them beneath a wooden plank, forcing Ayla to kneel before this beast.

Ease your restless heart. This debacle shall not last much longer. Might as well let him enjoy himself as much as he can,” Ayla calmed herself down.

“Now for the hardest part of my job” Tartarus exclaimed and opened his ‘whip’ cabinet “Which one to choose?”

Slowly he assessed every one like he was choosing a fine wine for an important dinner guest. Whips with metal balls attached to them seemed a bit much for a first timer while others seemed a bit too uncouth for someone like Ayla.

“Ah here we go,” he exclaimed and took a slick brown whip made of bull’s hide “I’ll start you off with an oldie but a goodie,” he smiled to himself. Ayla rolled her eyes.

“Just get on with it,” she said groaning at his behavior.

“Well , aren’t we impatient. Don’t worry, we’ll start soon enough,” Tartarus said and tore Ayla’s gown with his long fingernails. Suddenly a cold breeze crossed Ayla’s back.

The sudden drop in temperature made Ayla’s back muscles and shoulders twitch slightly, much to Tartarus’s amusement.

“Don’t worry my dear. I am just starting now. I’ll be as gentle as possible,” Tartarus leaned up to Ayla’s ear and whispered. He then proceeded to slide his nails against Ayla’s back, admiring how her soft skin quivered to his touch.

I am going to be sick if he continues this,” Ayla thought to herself as she prevented herself from gagging.

“Now let us begin,” Tartarus said and raised his whip high. He used all of his strength and slashed it down upon Ayla’s bronze skin.

As it hit, Ayla clenched her teeth in preparation. The pain shot through her body like a lightning strike and Ayla bit her lip to conceal her pain. She noticed the befuddled look on Tartarus’ face and smiled.

“Not even a scratch,” Tartarus looked at Ayla’s back, bewilderedly.

He lashed again and again, but nothing. Every time a few drops of crimson were released, Ayla’s skin would just fix itself without so much as a scratch on her back.

As he realized the futility of his actions, Tartarus began to back away from the young woman in fear, dropping his whip as he did so. Ayla smirked to herself.

“Took you long enough you bastard!” she said under her breath.

Her round pupils regained their slit form as Ayla stretched out her back, causing the wooden plank to break under her strength. She stood straight and stretched her chained hands above her head, ripping out the nail that held them chained to the floor. She tore off a piece of her gown and tied it so that it wouldn’t fall off.

Tartarus looked at Ayla in fear and awe.

“What are you staring at? Haven’t you seen a drakken before?” Ayla grinned as she slowly approached the terrified Tartarus.

She took the creature by his neck and raised the behemoth above her head. Tartarus flailed in the air as Ayla’s firm grip slowly constricted his trachea.

“I should just snap your neck right here and now,” Ayla spoke as she carried Tartarus over to one of his racks “However, I do need you alive to confirm that my punishment has been served,” Ayla said in disgust as she tied his hands and feet to the rack.

“I’ll do it. Please just let me go,” Tartarus begged as it became clear to him what she was doing.

“Oh, but we need to make it convincing,” Ayla giggled, her eyes now turning a deep red color, “After all, they won’t believe us without screams,” Ayla’s smile grew wider as she took the lever that controlled the rack.

Tartarus began to panic and attempted to free himself from his contraption.

“Don’t worry my dear. I’ll be as gentle as possible,” Ayla said mockingly to Tartarus and twisted the rack. Even in chains, her grip of the lever was strong and Tartarus could feel the contraption entice him. He screamed in agony, his high pitched screams echoing through the hallways. After some time had passed and her rage was satisfied, Ayla loosened the grip on the lever.

Her eyes had returned to normal by this point as she turned to Tartarus. She loosened his hold a bit, enough for him to break free at his own leisure.

“Now you will tell them that I have learned my lesson and that I am ready to leave this place,” Ayla whispered as she messed up her hair a bit.

“Fine, you win,” Tartarus exhaled in pain “Open the doors, Sondeliers. I think she has had enough!"

“Thank you,” Ayla whispered cordially “May our paths never cross again,” she said and began to make herself look presentable.

Fake tears began to flow from her emerald eyes, her lower lip quivered in sorrow and her body shivered in the cold as she held her hands crossed over her chest.

The Sondeliers opened the doors slowly and yanked Ayla by her chains. One of them noticed Tartarus on the rack and waved his head.

Some things will never change,” he thought to himself.

Ayla expected to be taken back to her dungeon, but that wasn’t the case. They took her back through the same stairs and out of the entrance to the dungeon. Ayla was stunned as the warm afternoon sun washed over her face.

“What’s going on?” Ayla pretended to be in panic “I demand to know where you are taking me!”

“Isn’t it obvious” one of the Sondeliers replied, “We are taking you to the archbishop’s palace”.

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