Thorüsa: The Worth of Vengeance
CHAPTER SIX: THE WORTH OF VENGEANCE
AFTER CONSIDERABLE MANEUVERING, Salek’t and I manage to position ourselves in front of the three great infernal escorts, with my new friend now latched to my apparitional arm instead of my spirit’s shoulder. In order to keep track of the fiends, Salek’t twists his wormlike head almost all the way around! I gape in wonder, not daring to say anything lest the leeches discover me. Further and further we crawl, with ever-greater speed, until Salek’t pulls me slightly to the right of a crumbling brick wall. “I know this place. Quiet.“ The three fiends are behind us, and to my dismay, they’re all headed in the exact same direction! Without another word, Salek’t and I plunge into a hole that some burrowing animals, most likely rats, have made in order to get into the building. When we emerge on the other side, I smell vomit and fever-sweat. “Apparently, the leech-fiends haven’t located this rat hole yet, but I have. I’ve been watching and waiting.”
The room in which we’ve found ourselves seems to be the main part of a soldiers’ barracks, as there are many armored men and women surrounding a sickbed in the center of the room. From this bed, wracking sobs and wails emerge. Who is it? I want to ask Salek’t, but remain silent. Who is suffering so greatly? Salek’t pulls me a bit closer, and I see the grave’s next victim: a beautiful, olive-skinned woman with a gaping wound to the gut. Much of it is scabbed over, but the open part is oozing with trickles of pus. “Imperatrix?” one of the armored men asks nervously. “Shall I summon a priest to conduct your last rites?”
“Nay, you fool! Go!” These four words are as sharp as the tip of the soldier’s broadsword. As if in payment for them, however, a howl of pain seizes the woman’s throat and expends much of her strength. “My…our god shall know me for who I am, and for the faithful service I have done him. I need no priest, only peace.” She closes her eyes and lets out a quivering sigh. Her end is near, and its stench is vile. Not even in the privy, in the worst of summer’s heat, have I smelled a miasma so horrible. The irony is that my true nose is not even here, because my mortal body is asleep! How is it that shades can still be overwhelmed by the reek of approaching Death? I must ask my master Galinicus this once he’s acquitted at his trial…
“Of course, Imperatrix.” The soldier taps his gauntleted right wrist to his left shoulder in salute and departs.
“Let’s move in closer,” Salek’t whispers. “I want to see her face.”
Somehow, the tone of his hissing leech-voice scares me. “I don’t understand. Who is this?” Then the realization hits me like a ton of bricks, like those threatening to tumble from the barracks wall: It is SHE.
“Hail, Kiyachi,” Salek’t murmurs darkly in a tongue only the fiends understand, but which I am beginning to grasp.
Amazingly, the dying woman lets out an even longer gut-wrenching scream than before. A serving maid rushes over with a wet cloth to place on her forehead, but in vain: “A fiend! A fiend has come to take me!”
“Impossible,” the servant says gently in her peasant’s dialect, which I speak. “Our god has chosen you.”
“Has he? Look! Look!” The terrified Imperatrix sits up and points frantically at Salek’t, ignoring the foul yellow liquid from her wound that’s seeping into the bedsheets. “Are you blind, Yelina? Open your eyes!”
“I see nothing but a rat hole,” replies the servant, chuckling softly. “Rest now, my Imperatrix, and fear not.”
The Imperatrix resumes screaming, and I beg Salek’t, “Please! Let’s leave her alone, and flee this place.”
“Not until I’ve had my say! You may stay here while I approach her, but I sense that my fellows are near.” Thus, I let him pull me forward until we can almost smell the Imperatrix’s breath as well as her sweat. He raises his glowing leech-head, and her eyes, almost onyx-black, grow wider as Salek’t begins to speak:
“How well can you fight? Can you raise your sword, as you did to my throat before capturing me?” My heart sinks. “Nay. You cannot. You are marked for Death, and I’ll see you vanquished! You lit my stake in cold blood, with triumphant fire in your eyes. We shall see what kind of fire awaits you now. Our priests say that repaying wrong for wrong is the most worthless aim, but you have taught me the worth of vengeance…”
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