I had been tortured before. I had forgotten, and now, as I lay in the dirt, crumpled on my side and watched the sorceress clean my blood from her hands and arms using my legion cloak, I remembered why I had forgotten and prayed that I could forget again. I did not think I would be as fortunate as that this time.
I lay there and tried to relearn how to breathe, my legs and feet from the knee down were burnt and broken so badly now that I couldn’t feel them. It was a blessing from Aion, but a poor one. My voice had long deserted me with the ragged screams that had clawed their way from the pit of my being out through my throat. They had stopped for a while when I had lost consciousness, but had resumed once more when the assassin had put a vile of foul smelling stuff beneath my nose which had brought me sputtering and choking back to this hellish reality.
Feeling lost, and abandoned by Aion, I had given up on my prayers and I turned my thoughts instead to Aalairius, as much as I could. To the feel of his hands on me, his arms around me, and of seeing him once more. Those thoughts had dimmed and dissipated hours ago too as the whole of my being became cold and hollow under the relentless assault on my body. I recalled now the humans I had eased between this world and the next and how they had said they were cold, and the light grew dim, I had never truly understood what they meant until now. My will was slowly wearing down, not my will to protect my Legion and the people of Elysea mind you. That was still strong, that still kept my tongue still and silent under their fury and questions. My will to exist, however, was dwindling fast and it was now that I understood how Daeva’s had become lost to us. How things like stigma stones came to be.
The assassin and sorceress, Switchkin and Kuraia spoke in the rough Asmodian tongue in velvet undertones out of my hearing’s range. No doubt they were devising what to do now. The assassin, Switchkin’s calm had begun to fray under my steel resolve to say nothing. He was a man that was used to getting results; it vexed him that I provided him none.
So sudden, it startled even my captors, the heavy wooden door crashed open to its fullest, slamming loudly into the workbench behind its’ swing and rebounding halfway before being stopped by a silk clad arm.
The intruder was awe inspiring; his skin was the soft blue of the clouds when they threaten rain, and broad of shoulder. His hair was somewhere between regulation short and wildly unkempt, and kept in check and out from his eyes by a circlet on his brow. His expression was hard, and his eyes threatening as his gaze swept over Kuraia and Switchkin. His voice when it emanated from his broad chest was deep and rolled like thunder. I could not understand any of the words, but the question in them was clear. Kuraia’s expression went wintery and her intense gaze icy with defiance as she responded cold and clear.
Switchkin looked bored as he leaned a hip against the workbench, watching the two. The new Asmodian male ignored him completely. I prayed he would not look at me, that he would leave… my first prayer was denied, as his attention swiveled first to the side of the room I was on before his countenance settled toward the floor where I lay. Something flashed in his eyes as he took me in and his look went at once from aristocratic and cold to one of sheer revulsion. I disgusted him. Perfect, maybe he would kill me.
Instead he barked out what could have been orders and both Kuraia and Switchkin snapped to attention. He uttered something low and threatening and Kuraia blanched. The commanding Asmodian whirled, long coat snapping around his legs, his legion cloak swirling about his shoulders and he departed, answering my second prayer.
Switchkin calmly gathered his weapons and their holder and stood by the door waiting. Kuraia spit on me and snatched her tome off the table before storming out the door. Switchkin considered me for a moment, his gaze intense and unwavering before inclining his head slightly and following her out. He shut and latched the door behind him, and I was left alone in the dark, burned, broken and bleeding. I closed my eyes.
The sun was warm and the skies clear, it was spring and though the grass was damp we sat in it any ways. Claire was in trouble again, and had to stay in the cloister and meditate. Evensong had been asked to sing at the equinox festival and had chosen to remain behind with her instructor to practice her mantras. It was just me, Zenton and Elethor with our books and scrolls and arguments to occupy our afternoon.
“There can be no peace with the Balaur.” Zenton seethed his voice low and intense. “Israphel is a fool and Ariel his…” I cut him off sharply.
“Enough Zenton, there is nothing wrong with either point of view; you’re just being stubborn as always.” I looked at Elethor exasperated and he simply shrugged, refusing to entertain either of us. He simply lounged in the grass, tome open to some obscure spell and chewed a piece of grass, silent on his feelings about the matter as always. I believed in Lord Isphraphel and Lady Ariel and prayed for peace in my daily meditations. Zenton however, could not leave me be about it. It was as if he took it as a personal affront that the idea of peace with the Balaur had even been thought, and that the idea that I agreed with it was simply absurd. Zenton fumed silently for a moment before turning to me.
“You’re weak Sirona. Soft and silly and no one need a soft cleric at their back in battle.” I was hurt by my friends words and I looked to Elethor to see if he felt the same, but Elethor had gone very still, his gaze directed toward our headstrong friend was considering and very unfriendly in that moment. I swallowed my retort and lowered my vision to my open book of prayers, in that moment opting for peace within my circle of companions.
I do not remember falling asleep, perhaps I had not, and maybe I had simply passed out. I opened my eyes in the small subterranean room my captors held me in and did not move. I was stiff and the agonizing grinding fire in my destroyed legs made its self known. Something had woken me and I strained to hear what it was. The bolts on the door were sliding; they made a resounding thock as they slid home in their holders. The door swung open silent and tapped gently against the workbench.
My breath came ragged and uneven with the rush of fear. The Asmodian male from earlier stepped through the darker portal the door way had left, the dim light from the furnace glittered off of his finery and his eye glowed faintly as he swept all four corners of the room. He swung the door into a semblance of being closed without fully latching it and stepped toward me, unfastening his Legion cloak at the shoulder as he moved. I closed my eyes resigned to what I thought sure was to come and wondered vaguely to myself who would want me that way in this state? As his clawed feet grew closer I shoved feebly at the ground in a bid to get away. The tears spilled hot and sudden down my cheeks, cutting tracks in the blood and grime there.
“Nnn.. nnnno, no, no.” I stammered as he knelt in front of me, swinging his Legion cloak over my prone body as he made shushing sounds. I sobbed wildly voice catching in my throat like a wounded animal as he said something over and over in Asmodian that I couldn’t understand. My hands fluttered against his chest, too weak to inflict any damage, utterly useless in fending him off.
“Shhhhhh… shhhhh… shhhh. You’re graxiichealet.” He said in his deep voice, sounding desperate the more sound I made.
“Please, no… no. Not this, not this.” I begged futile as his arms went around me and he pulled me into his lap.
“Hushhhh hushhhh. Sirona.” He rocked me and at my name I stilled… how did he know my name? His voice, when it came next from the dark, was rough over the words long disused.
“You’re safe Sirona. You are safe now. Shhhhhh.” He spoke Olde Daevic, pre-cataclysm speech and he knew my name. I sat in the stranger’s lap in the dark, broken and hurt beyond any hurt I had ever been before and wept both bitterly and with relief upon his chest.
Safe I thought to myself. I would never be safe again.
“Who are you?” I asked in the old tongue.
“That does not matter now, what matters is that I have to get you out.” He wrapped his legion cloak around me, tucking it close to my body to keep me warm and I think to try to stave off shock. He stilled for a few moments before carefully sliding one arm beneath my knees above my ruined legs and the other behind my back.
“I cannot promise that this will not hurt.” His voice, velvet over iron sounded sorry, but before I could respond he lifted me in his arms and got to his feet. Pain jolted through my legs, ribs and back and my vision was suddenly shot through with streamers of crimson and gold. I think I vomited on him before I passed out. I can’t really be sure.
I don’t remember much of what happened next in a linear fashion. I know that he took me from the scorching heat of that fetid room, and I was dimly aware that we traversed a long corridor. He kept me well wrapped in his Legion cloak, the material soft and flowing, it was long enough that it covered my ruined legs and hung past my feet hiding the lower half of my body from view. He was tall enough and broad enough in the shoulder that the cloak wrapped my torso and hooded my face from view as well.
For all anyone looking at us knew I could have been an Asmodian female that had over indulged being carried off to bed in her man’s embrace. Though it was dark in Asmodae all the time, I gathered that this was their deepest night time hour as I saw no one stir, and in fact we passed several men sprawled in the corridor. Unconscious from too much drink, several of them snored softly.
We were in some sort of barracks or common house. The tap room was vast, banners for many different Asmodian Legions fluttering from the rafters. I buried my face in my savior’s shoulder and breathed through my pain. He smelled good, of herbs and earth, ink and parchment. I listened to the even beat of his heart as it matched his long purposeful strides, biting my lip against the wretched pain as the shards of bone in my broken legs, ankles and feet ground together with each movement like so many bits of broken glass. I whimpered helpless to keep the small sounds of pain from escaping my throat when he was forced to step over some obstruction in his path, jostling me in his arms. Though he wore the cloth of a sorcerer, he was physically strong, holding me aloft for that long with ease like he did.
When we reached the door to the outside, he hefted my broken body slightly and made sure his Legion cloak was tucked well around me before shouldering the door open out into the frigid night air. The cold made me gasp, as it knifed through the cloak and ate along my burned flesh, razor sharp and clean. The pain mounted with every sure stride he took. I watched him for as long as I could, the set of his jaw firm and the red glowing haze emanating from his eyes shifting this way and that, as he scoured the way ahead for any potential trouble.
I could feel my body grow heavy and lethargic, with every bump and jolt and the increasing cold. I closed my eyes and prayed to Aion.
Please Aion, let his intentions be good. Do not let me trust in error.
I struggled to stay conscious, to see where he took me, but I could not… the white of snow and gray of stone blurred in my vision, until finally, dizzy, I closed my eyes. I felt him quicken his pace further as my body went lax in his arms, then, mercifully, the darkness swallowed me whole.