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INTO THE DARKNESS
Anorra’s head throbbed mercilessly.
She could not hear herself think.
And if any thought did enter her mind, it was of the extreme pain that the rest of her body felt. She was turned over and over, as if rolling down a hill. Each revolution brought a new wave of agony, followed by sharp stabbing in her temples. And all the while her soul was consumed with pitch-blackness. No shadows to focus on, no horizon to tell up from down, only the commotion that pulled her further into an unknown abyss.
But more than this, if such a measure could be followed and then endured by even more torment, were the incomprehensible feelings that tore at her heart.
Then utter loneliness.
And then fear.
She tried to fend off the encroaching tentacles that laced themselves tightly around her bosom, but to no avail.
She panicked. She thrashed wildly, but it only brought about more of the same. The vines of hopelessness relented for but a moment. Then, when all was still again, they resumed their stranglehold. Wave after wave bombarded her, two elements working in tandem: pain softened the will, and the weakened will bowed to the devices of torment.
Whether within or without, her ears heard the sounds of clashing metal and bone. Strained breathing all around was either her own or a host of troubled creatures; so full was it in her head that she began weeping, gasping for air, and then choking on her tears. She felt herself gag, the first thing yet that she knew was her own. She felt a hand squeeze tightly around her neck. A pungent odor filled her head.
She was awake.
Blood and bile mixed in her mouth. Her stomach retched, the pain overwhelming. She felt the contents of her gut run down the side of her face.
Anorra was suddenly jerked around, the loud growling of beasts in her ears. She heard a bone snap in her chest.
O Most High!
It was then she had her first clear thought.
In her mind’s eye she saw herself standing on the ramparts of Mt. Dakka. Rage and sorrow consumed her. Her arm pulled the bowstring back, finger at the corner of her mouth.
The arrow was away.
It sped through the dust of war and found its mark in the forehead of a Dairneag about to lower a hammer on a fedchulte’s trigger lever.
Another arrow had been drawn and was awaiting its order between her hands. She searched the ground below her.
And then a brilliant flash of light, and a ringing in her ears.
For a moment it dazzled her.
She was flying.
Then the sudden shock of pain—pain that grew and seemed to reach no end—stole the breath from her lungs and unsteadied her soul.
All was black.
Then the clicking.
I am lost, she realized.
She came to her senses despite the afflictions of her body. A wide shoulder dug into her stomach, a broad arm pinned her legs together. Every step her captor took jounced her frame, and more pain seized her. But the agony helped clear the fog, and soon she was aware of being carried away.
Hot breath stung her face as a Dairneag hissed and clucked its tongue at her. Her captor marched on, deeper into the enemy fold. More battle-hungry demons, which had yet to see blood spilled, sneered at her passing. They clucked and gurgled, each drawing close for a smell of Dionian flesh. So close did the monsters get, that Anorra’s hair got caught in the teeth of one Dairneag and yanked out as it turned away.
Before long, the foul fluids of the Dairne-Reih drenched her head and clothes. Such a spectacle was she that often her captor would spin around to drive off any Dairneag that seemed to get too close, or too interested.
More distressing than all this, however, was the fact that all was still dark. She could not make out shape nor shadow. If it was in fact night, she could not see a single star. And if overcast, she did not see a torch or fire pit. All was empty, her sight devoid of form.
Thinking something inhibited her vision, she reached a trembling hand to her face. Just the effort alone caused her great discomfort. Her fingers touched dried blood and torn flesh. A flash of pain ripped through her eye sockets and into the back of her head.
O Great God of Athera—
She couldn’t even finish her own thought.
She was blind.
This distressing find caused her to weep once more, now quite sure that her end was near. Far from the safety of her people, and farther still from the arms of her love, she searched her spirit for any hope, even the faintest glimmer of rescue. But none presented itself.
She knew now her body was mortally wounded. She could feel the strength leaving her body with each passing moment. Her bones ached, and blood continued to fill her mouth. She could not fight her way out of this…she could not even stand if given the chance.
• • •
Anorra did not know how long she went along, slung on the shoulder of the demon that carried her. But when the crowds of Dairneags dwindled, and fewer sought a lick of her face, she became aware of the chill that scourged her damp form.
The noise of battle was far and distant now, more a memory than a reality. She heard her own shallow breaths surrounded by the deep breathing of her captor, her little body carried on the rise and fall of its chest.
Then the demon stopped.
For a moment nothing happened. But then she heard a low murmur, and a strange vibration of the air, a wave that moved her hair and clothing in rhythm. The hair on the back of her neck and arms stood up.
The Dairneag took two steps forward.
Her body felt as though it were immersed in water, but for a second. It was heavy, even cold around her. Her ears popped. She winced.
And then, all at once, it was over.
With the calm came new sensations, and a completely new environment.
The first thing she noticed was the heat that kissed her skin. At first it stung and sent a chill down her spine. But soon she welcomed the warmth, the dampness and cold dissipating rapidly. She pictured the sun, high in the sky at midday, soaking her skin with its radiant glow.
The image ebbed quickly, cast out of her mind by a foul smell. Charred rock and burnt sulfur stung her nostrils. And more, the putrid smell of burning flesh. The overpowering odor seemed to stain her skin.
And then there were the sounds.
Far off in the distance, echoing through a series of long, endless corridors, came the most unharmonious shrieks and moans she had ever heard. Full of immeasurable sorrow and grief, they pulled at her heart until she was again reminded of her own hopelessness and utter despair.
As her captor began walking again, the wails grew louder. The bitter smell brought tears to her havocked eyes and formed a lump in her throat. Her gut heaved, but there was nothing left to expel. This was a most horrid place.
Each jouncing step sent wave upon wave of pain through her battered body. She gave one desperate attempt at trying to free herself, but the scalding agony that resulted made it her last attempt. She thought she heard herself moan in defeat, but she couldn’t be sure, for she noticed the shrieks and hollers mounting around her, the air filled with audible torment.
The space around her expanded, and Anorra sensed she was in a great cavernous hall. Upon entering the room she sensed those within it looking on at her, their resulting screams evidence of a new arrival. She felt completely exposed, put on display for all to see. She thought she heard chains snap taut, followed by the lashing of whips.
More tormenting cries.
A fresh wave of fear washed over her.
I want to go home.
She felt her captor turn this way and that, making his way deeper into the large hall. Eventually he came to a stop and spoke words she did not understand.
There was a jingle of metal, and then a thick grinding, and the occasional squeal.
Something was being opened.
She felt the arm that pinned her legs lower, her body sagging down the chest of the Dairneag. Then a scaly hand grasped her neck, and almost instantly she was dangling from the demon’s claw, limbs limp.
The monster growled at her and produced the strange clicking in the back of its throat. She knew it was glaring at her. She knew it wanted to devour her. Bile squeezed between the Dairneag’s teeth as it licked its raw mouth hole.
A shout from something behind her captor stopped the bloodlust cold.
Anorra sensed another Dairneag.
They clicked and barked at one another. Then, as if nothing more than a scrap of meat, Anorra was tossed through the air, flung to the end of a small cell; she landed with a crash on a gravel floor. Her body convulsed from the grueling blow, shuddering on hot stones. Their sharp edges cut her face and hands. She tried to lift her head, but it was useless.
The gate slammed shut behind her, and the demons walked away.
She was alone with the wailing and shrieks of company she knew not.
I want to go home, she thought.
Most High, please take me home.
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