Athera’s Dawn: Chapter 23

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Chapter Twenty-Three

FORGOTTEN SOULS

Anorra clung to the bars of her cell, white knuckles and trembling arms racked by fear and exhaustion. She peered with her Second Sight out into the vast sea of horror before her, her face half hidden in the shadows of the hot steel. The cracks in her flesh were scabbed over, and her eye sockets swollen with infection. But she couldn’t feel the pain in her body. It was her heart that hurt the most.

The cavern in front of her was a tumultuous sea of writhing limbs swirling wildly like a forest on fire, beaten by gusting winds. Hands, feet, and arms stretched into the air through metal grates that covered massive pits in the ground. She could only guess what matter of vile fury lay below as billowing smoke and bits of molten rock shot upward, bringing horrific screams with each blast.

The screams, however, seemed familiar. Those of people. She studied what she could make out of the extremities more carefully. She saw individual fingers. They were indeed human hands, grasping at the air. For anything.

The anguish she felt then threatened to crush her chest. Dear Most High!

When the infernal shrieking seemed to reach a climax, the entire cavern trembled with a subtle quake. A churning pool of molten rock then flooded the floor below. It rushed up through the prisoner-laden cells and spewed between the grates overhead. The captives disappeared beneath the torturous deluge, and the room had a new floor, a churning mass of boiling lava that burned cherry red. All was calm.

It was then Anorra noticed the watchmen, demons standing along charred pathways that looked over the giant pool. They strode back and forth, eyeing the bubbling surface below with keen stares. They each carried a long whip in one hand and an overlong spear in the other: a breed of Dairneag with enough hand-articulation to carry weapons.

A deep clunk echoed up from the depths, and the lava began to recede. It seeped back down through the grates, and the cavern resumed its former appearance, save for the captives. All was silent.

But she assumed too much too soon.

Miraculously, a lone hand rose up from between glowing red bars, fingers gnarled and twisted. Surely no mortal could endure such a horrific bath! But the victim seemed undeterred, though at least wary. Resilient perhaps? Or, from what happened next, perhaps just new to the order of things here…

Swiftly one of the watchmen nearest the unlucky victim sent its whip trailing through the air like a snake’s tongue. The length of the weapon uncurled and snapped at the outstretched arm, lashing around three-fold. Then with one sharp yank the whip jerked taut, and the captive hollered as joints separated and ligaments tore. Anorra covered her eyes instinctively, but the action availed no relief. Her spirit saw it all with unending clarity.

Trying to save the one, other hands reached up and endeavored to free the victim, fingers prying at the bond. But the watchman was keen and ready for this. A flip of the wrist, and the whip end was loose again, only to be answered by a jeering howl of voices below. But their revelry was short-lived as the guard’s spear shaft was sent swinging over their heads in an instant, cutting through flesh and bone like a scythe through ripened wheat.

Soon the severed limbs were joined by the masses and, amazingly, the plight of those encaved below resumed just as it had before, the cycle complete.

Anorra sank to the floor of her cell, unable to bear the scene any longer. And for once, her Second Sight obeyed. She coughed. Her broken ribs stole her breath away, and she tasted blood in her mouth.

She needed to hear Him again. She needed His presence. If not, she knew she would be no different from those poor souls caged up in the pools below, writhing monsters with the blood of Ad still running in their veins.

I need you now, my daughter.

Though she could barely discern the words, more prompting than audible, she knew it was Him by the way He spoke. She had always known Him. And even here in this place His voice was not foreign. If anything, it was more welcome.

“Aye, my King. I am ever yours.” The words slipped from her swollen lips, heard by no one but her Maker.

Her vision opened once more, projecting the writhing arena as before. Then, as if carried on the wings of a bird, the image in her spirit moved out the far side of the cavern and into another twice as large as the first. Smoke filled the room, and she could taste the sulfur in her mouth. Burning bodies swung from the ceiling on metal chains, and watchman slashed at them for a game.

The room passed, and she traveled down a long corridor. Enormous stalactites and stalagmites grew from the ceiling and floor, like enormous teeth waiting to feed on any who passed by. She hovered between them and raced down the length of the tunnel and into a strange room, wide and tall but extremely shallow in depth. Small cells were pock-marked all along the wall in front of her like swallow nests in the side of an embankment. Except these chambers had no access and their gates were permanently sealed: the inhabitants were never intended to leave.

She cast a long stare down the length of the corridor, the cells stretching on out of sight to the right and left. Anorra could feel that there was something much different about the atmosphere in this room; these souls were unlike those in the lava pits. None of them screamed out; no hands reached between the bars. Everything was silent. She passed up through the small chambers, passing row after row, looking into the shadows. Lurid eyes stared back but never recognized her—their once-gleaming faces now barren and haunted, full of despair. Full of defeat.

It was then she understood.

These souls were forgotten.

Her view raced on along the wall, high up now. She cast a quick glance down and suddenly wished she hadn’t, for the floor far below was swallowed in darkness. Then her progress slowed and she hovered before a cell that bore no bars.

“What is this?” she asked of her Creator. She peered into the darkness but saw nothing.

Look closer.

She edged nearer.

A set of old eyes opened.

Anorra lurched back in her cell, but her vision did not move.

These eyes were different again. There was something about them…as if this being could see her. It was gazing back at her! All at once a man’s face appeared. Sallow and grave, he fumbled forward. Seeking rescue? A gnarled hand stretched forward, just bones beneath seared flesh. Anorra screamed, hearing her own voice echo in her cell.

The vision vanished.

She sat against the far wall of her cage, listening to her own labored breathing. “Who was that, my Lord? Why show me such a thing?”

I want you to rescue him.

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