She tried not to wince openly, each time metal slammed against flesh and bones. Resulting to a decapitated human head rolling down the wooden stairs, leaving a trail of red in it's wake and into a waxed basket at the bottom.
Nausea clouded her brain taking hold of her stomach threatening to spill over the contents she had taken for lunch.
Her face was pale green each time she behold and heard, blood spill in torrents like an opened tap from the headless body. Which was left to fall to the ground and was dragged away to the hungry feral bloodhounds busy feasting on their flesh.
The pungent scent of blood reached her nose and her mouth opened slightly to breath. Trying to avoid gagging at the smell, tears brimmed her eyes and she quickly brings her hand to her mouth coughing slightly. Blinking, she discreetly wiped her tears, before raising her head to the people.
"That will be enough for today!" His raucid voice filled the air, eliciting claps and cheers from the crowd.
"Kill us you thieves! You think by this act you will tie us down, you will pay for-" The boy yelling suddenly stilled. A gasp of pain left his throat as he looked down. Part of the long bloody blade protruding from his chest from the back, met his blown pupils. Scarlet drops broke from his mouth in a cough as the blade was yanked out of him and he fell to the ground with a loud thud. A pain filled smile stretched across his lips, blood running down his brown malnourished cheeks.
Steele took a bottom lip into her mouth. Chewing nervously on it until the iron taste of own blood filled her mouth and she quickly let her bottom lip go. Blocking the voices around her. A song pervaded her brain, taking her to a happy place as her hand shook and she quickly tucks it into the unusualy deep pocket of her austere tan habit. A hand gently nudging her makes her head rise to look at the woman.
A dolorous smile from the senior nun met her, as she was gently nudged to move with the rest of the nuns. Steele's heavy feet move slowly keeping her head down. Grey, tall, castellate walls holding her hostage inside the compound come into view. One by one the tan and beige habits disappear through the wooden gate.
A little voice filled with dread, whispers for her to turn around and run away while she was free but with a clench of her teeth. She shoves the little voice away, focusing on the next few steps. Crossing the barrier, her heart picks ups pace.
Not about to be the cause of the other postulants and novices punishment. She keeps a level head crossing the yard. A few stone walks wobble slightly against the heels of her closed toe shoes, but she doesn't raise a voice to complain. As they all come to the open archway, Steele eyes the curved bricks. Memories of the same way she crossed the space, that allowed her to join the convent fill her head.
Three weeks ago she would have been the one under the blade of that guillotine. Waiting for her death or probably in the dungeons with the rest of the women getting raped to bear children forcefully. Maybe she would still be in her father's house waiting to get married off like every other 19 year old.
More tears brim her eyes and she takes deep quiet breaths wiping them away. To avoid questions from the prioress standing at the end of the hallway with a whip. The other novices greet her with gentle head bows walking past. Steele does the same as she crossed into the chamber silently.
She remembers when her parents burst into the house. Cheering happily about the new law of murder to all homosexuals. Who didn't agree to a conversion therapy. How she quickly moved to her room in panic for she was about to face death.
The long stare she had outside her window, mapping out how painful her death would be and how short her life was going to be cut. Only for the calendar beside her window to remind her that the date to submit a letter to join the convent was still due.
She looks straight ahead to find sister Faith handing out the bibles and her jaw clenches.
If it weren't for the snake that bit the woman and allowed Steele to mix her letter with the rest of the old ones. She would probably not have made it into the convent.
Her jaw ticks with an inconspicuous smile ghosting over her lips, right before she pulls her plump lips together in a tight line.
"What are you doing Steele?" Her father's baritone voice reached her ears venomously and the girl turned trying to look as panicked as possible.
"I was preparing to turn in, when I recalled that I had made prioress Samantha a promise to bake her favorite almond cookies and take them by tomorrow!" She says in faux panic, as she gripped the various baking sheets. "She likes them cold and soft, baking in the morning won't be an option!" She adds in another faux cry, sounding desperate and this keeps the man quiet.
Anything involving the church even when they we're running low on resources, was heavily prioritized.
It's was the only way to sneak her letter into the old pile to join the convent, to avoid being brushed off as a late entry. She had heard a few of the girls from church, claim to have left theirs at the prioresses office.
To Steele, the cookies we're her master key! The only way to escape the guillotine in a near future, was for her is to join the place she has always despised the most.
Wishful thinking of the skill to sail filled her, as the soft dough took shape beneath her hands. Huffing with a head shake, that was not an option to Steele. The heresies must have started patrol across all borders to capture any fleeing citizen of Anzumi.
Steele's palms sweat in the cool morning air as she walked through the corridors covering her hair with a shawl. Her fingers crossed hoping nobody could hear the slight crackling of the envelope in her pocket.
The paper was barely making a sound, but the girl couldn't help but think if anyone noticed. It might arouse questions of a last minute entry. Something she whole heartedly wanted to avoid.
Her parents were respected members of the church and if she dare made a mistake of getting caught, they won't hesitate to give her away as an example. That would hurt their pride and her siblings would suffer her actions. If she couldn't leave Anzumi. She would stay and fight for their peace.
Her parents may not deserve it but her siblings did.
"Prioress Samantha,good morning" she greeted the woman, who smiles when she sets her sights on the girl. The wrinkles beneath her eyes becoming more prominent.
"Steele,good morning my dear?" She greets putting a hand over Steele's head and the girl curtseys slightly. "Mother sent me,I bring you a few goodies." She says showing the basket in her clammy hands and the Priory sighed gleefully. "Why thank you dear, here just walk right down and you know where to put them." She says sweetly and Steele nods.
"Prioress,I also bring you a tiny snack I had promised." She adds with a smile, hoping the woman wouldn't remember that they had never had a conversation about cookies.
The prioress gasps delightedly before removing a key from her pocket. "I had forgotten. Here, you can place them in the basket in my office."
"I will,where do I find you when I leave?" Steele inquired taking the key and she hums. "When you leave just find Sister Faith and hand her the key, she'll know what to do." Said the nun leaving Steele to it, who was almost unable to contain herself over her luck.
"Got it. Good day prioress." She says walking past her keeping her head low. Steele first heads to the office opening the room casually, not to seem in a hurry to the women in habits walking past her. She casts her eyes around seeing the pile of letters in the little basket and she moves first to place cookies away.
"What are you doing here?" She turns around surprised at the malignant voice, coming face to face with sister Faith who glared and Steele's smiles her way.
"Good morning sister Faith?" She greets and the nun glared even harder lips pressing into a thin line. "I had promised prioress Samantha a few cookies and she asked me to place them here, before leaving the basket in the post room." She says showing her the cookies in the tin.
"Good,you've done it. Now leave!" Faith growls and Steele gets up taking her basket while gnawing on her bottom lip. "Good day." She mumbles walking past the woman, going towards the post room.
The basket touches the wide table filled with even more baskets. Her nose crinkles in disgust and anger, but she clenches her jaw walking out.
A pain filled scream from behind her gets her attention. Steele quickly turns around, almost tripping on her dress, she takes the material into her fists hauling it up as she took the corner with speed. At the end of the hallway, outside prioress Samantha's office. Sat sister Faith on the ground gripping her leg.
All around her, we're the convent entry letters. Steele's heart beats fast as she realized her luck, rushing towards the fallen nun.
The letter in her hand met the rest of the scattered letters while she knelt down to help sister Faith.
"Are you okay? What happened?" She questions kneeling down next to the nun and she whines. "G-Get the nourice! I've been bitten by a snake!" She says through gritted teeth and Steele gasped quickly standing up to look around and the nun huffs. "It's already gone! Quickly! Get the nourice!" She growls and the girl nods ripping a a length of her shawl, tying it tightly on her calf. A few inches from the snake bite, on the nun's ankle.
Getting up, Steele rushed through the corridors almost bumping into prioress Samantha. "Why are you running around here child? It's not allowed!" She rebukes angrily and Steele shakes her head. "Sister Faith was bitten by a snake!" She gasps breathily before pointing to the big white building with a small red cross at the door right across the yard.
"The nourice." She begins and the prioress gasps. "Quickly!" She orders the girl, as she moved towards her office.
In minutes, sister Faith was sleeping on the sickhouse bed, her leg swollen slightly after the poison had been sucked out.
"Dear?" Steele turns to the prioress who had a hand on her shoulder. "It's alright you can go home now, she'll be fine." Steele nods following her outside.
"Do you know how the snake got in?" She asks warily, noticing the nun tensing slightly before shaking her head with a smile. "No,we don't."
"Father says to avoid snake attacks, we sprinkle old oil from the sulh around the fence and a few feet into the woods around the house. The smell keeps them away. Maybe it will work here." She innocently recommends and the nun nods.
"We will try it Steele." She assures opening the gate for the girl to leave through the side, far from the larger gate that leads into the market. Steele doesn't think anything of it going to cross the threshold, only to stop at the hand gripping her shoulder slightly hard and she winces.
Spinning around to face the nun who gives her a hard stare. "None of what happened behind these walls leaves, Steele." She says sternly and the girl nods.
"I mean it,not a word to anyone" she adds with a reticence smile and Steele gives back a warm smile. "Understood prioress." She whispers and the nun holds onto the girl for while to get her point through, before letting her shoulder go at last.
Her eyes followed the girls every step, until she was meters from convent. Right before she closed the heavy door behind her and Steele breaths out. For a moment, she could have sworn the nun would have followed her home.
Someone lands at her feet on their front hard groaning loudly. The girl let out a pig like squeal jumping back. Holding a hand over her head, to avoid being knocked down by the bags that followed in the person's wake. "Don't think of coming back again!" A heresy spits, an index pointed at the frame before shoving the door closed with a bang.
"I won't come back but you won't escape what is coming for you." Steele realizes it's the voice of a woman and moves towards her slowly. "Hello?" She throws cautiously and she turns to the girl fast. "Good morning child." The woman says getting up as she dusts herself.
She huffs gently with pursed lips, glaring at the oil stain now covered with dust before shrugging with a smile. Bending over to pick the contents spilled from her bag. Steele notices a card getting carried by the wind and quickly heads over taking it in between her delicate fingers.
"Here" she mumbles handing her the card and the woman stays still staring at it. A wider smile breaks from her face exposing a her crooked pearly whites. "What is your name child?"
"Steele,Steele Murdock" Steele replies and the woman beams. "Steele of Thorn Devin,the military mage." The woman muses looking down at the card with glee.
Steele notices it's a white wolf with an arrow like symbol on the forehead, a faceless woman with a wicked blade at her side rides it. Steele's jaw clenches trying to look slightly put off.
"A witch." She whispers monotonously gaining a laugh. "I am not a witch darling, more of a scryer." The woman says taking her card from the girls fingers. "I see good things in your path child," she throws over her shoulder walking off.
"Wait!" Steele calls making the woman slow. "Who is this Thorn Devin you speak of?" She enquires and the woman smiles mysteriously. Turning to look at a window in the convent building, before walking away fast leaving the girl standing all alone in the alley. Steele stares at her retreating back before shaking her head.
"Crazy woman," she huffs taking a wide swerve to rush to the market. "What difference is there between a scryer and a witch anyway? They both do the same thing. Spells and curses, they probably throw a balls of fire if they're mad." She mumbles absentmindedly walking into a crowd of people.
Oblivious to the eyes that had their gaze fixed on her back, two floors above the ground.
"You say her letter is here?" The Abbess enquired with a clenched jaw, eyes fixed at the long fiery red hair of the disappearing girl. "Yes." Prioress Samantha says holding the torn envelope up. "She knows too much now,we cannot refuse to take her in. Make sure she's the first to be picked up, don't search her belongings incase her tongue slips. They will all be searched when they're settled." The Abbess says twirling to meet the other woman.
"We must find out what the scryer revealed to her, can you get it out of the girl?" She asks and prioress Samantha sighs. "She is pretty secretive. I can try, but I think it would be good to make them go into confession early and find out" The nun reveals making the Abbess nod.
"I will fix a date, before the Suffragan finds out that an outsider knows of the visiting scryer." The abbess ensures.
Steele didn't know why her entry was considered so quickly, but counted it on the fact that her parents were members of the high orthodox table.
Her mothers lips were pressed in a thin line, as she watched her daughter get taken away by the nuns. She had never known of Steele's intentions of joining the convent.
She had always slept late at night. Wondering how she would get one of the rich merchants son's to gain interest in the girl and marry her off. So their status and wealth could rise but then she couldn't help but seethe inwardly.
Her hopes of rubbing elbows with the high members of the community was shattered. Her anger kept pressurized inside her, she watched Steele's father laughing heartedly with the nuns. Helping the girl into the coach and waving goodbye as they whisked her off.
A wide smile makes way on Steele's plump lips as she stared into space, remembering the satisfaction it brought her. Spitting indirectly at her mother's face, killing her dreams off like that, fuelled the little devil on Steele's shoulder.
A body clad in austere blue comes into her line of vision and she looks up still smiling to sister Faith. "What has you this happy?" The sister asks and Steele faces down with a blush at her selfish thoughts.
"It has been a while since I felt my heart at ease." She lies smoothly, "joining the convent was the best thing that ever happened to me." She adds taking the grey bible from the sister who smiles back at the young postulant. Moving to the next greenhorn.
Whispers filled the little room and Steele leaned her back a little to listen to the gossip coming from the novices. "...behind the alter going under the Church," was all she got before the voice of prioress Hannah filled the room.
"Good afternoon," the nun said monotonously and Steele averts her focus to the woman.
What is beneath the church?
She raises her eyes to listen to the woman. A part of her brain mulling over and over at the new information.
"... confession." Steele's eyes jerk upwards confused, staring at the woman. Who continued to explain that the girls had to consecrate themselves, every end of the month by confession. The priests wouldn't overlook it but the abbess herself.
Chill rose up Steele's spine the more the woman spoke. She had met the Abbess once and she knew the woman was a stricter of rules. She would have to be careful of the words she would say in the confession box.
More so be open.
Memories of talking with the scryer in the alley slam her and she gulps. Steele remembers that the scryer had looked at a window in the convent before she left.
There's no telling who would have seen her interact with the strange woman weeks ago. She also didn't trust the fact that the abbess, wasn't informed of the pact of secrecy Samantha had sworn her to.
Her brain didn't have time to think, as she watched the girls make a line for the said box where the abbess sat. She took fifth place unknowingly after being pushed by the rest to go forward. She gulps loudly, her seemingly salty tongue darted out to lick her chapped lips alarmed.
She couldn't explain why her brain was blank, as she walked into the structure and knelt on the padded board.
"I consecrate myself on my vow of joining the convent Abbess." She mumbles lowly remembering in bits of what she had been taught.
"Mother I have been tested off my sanity. The temptation to almost reveal something that happened three weeks ago to my family almost made me break my sworn vow. I thank the Lord for guiding me. I regretted my choice of joining the convent as my mother wasn't happy, but I have never felt this fulfilled in my life. I thank the Lord." she continues in a monotone voice.
"I bumped into a strange woman weeks ago, she revealed to me of the good things in my path,I did not believe her. For I was taught good things are worked for not given. The desire to know more almost tempted me into a dark path mother. I seek forgiveness from the lord. Guide me mother, consecrate me." She mumbles listening to the nun's voice of how she was to pray and moves to the church kneeling down. She stared at the cross at the front silently.
Steele didn't pray nor did she see the expensive alter infront of her, clad in golden satin and pearls gleaming under the candlelight. Steele didn't see the facade, that was used to hide what was behind the door that had a sign of 'do not enter' warning over it. She couldn't help but see through the alter before turning to the mosaic floor below, lost.
Her curiosity blooms over what she would find, beneath the concrete.
This is an excerpt. The rest of the book can be found on Payhip. Link in bio.