Thorüsa: Three Chapters
CHAPTER SEVEN: FOR SALVATION’S SAKE
“DO YOU KNOW how many people you’ve killed, whether at the stake or in battle?” sneers Salek’t. “Do you know how many men you’ve made widowers, and how many women you‘ve made widows? Do you know how many sons and daughters you’ve made into helpless orphans?” He pauses briefly. “Yes or no?”
“Such…such is war,” Imperatrix Kiyachi manages to answer, her voice a thick, wet gurgle. She coughs.
“That’s your excuse? War against what? You claim to have honor, but possess none. You claim to be virtuous, when your conduct proves otherwise. Most of all, you claim to be righteous, but you’re wicked! I want to see your face when my comrades come for you at last. Can you hear them hissing, Imperatrix? You should! The only battle you’ve ever fought is against those who do not believe as you do, and the only cause you’ve ever championed is that yours is the most powerful invisible ally! Yes, I refer to your god, who you claim is everyone’s god, or should be. However, I know whom you truly worship - our Great Foe.” At this, the Imperatrix clutches the stained bed sheets in her fists like an eagle clutches prey in its talons. “I am here to watch you be dragged to the Abyss, and your escorts are near. Prepare yourself!” These last two words, to my horror, are loud bursts of the hissing and clicking with which fiends speak…
“What’s going on? What’s happening to me?” Salek’t looks frantically toward me, and begins to squirm and writhe. His leech-fiend speech continues, and I can only distinguish two human words: “taking hold.” I float there above the Imperatrix’s bed, attached to Salek’t and growing more terrified by the second. Both he and his nemesis appear to be in excruciating pain, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. To make matters worse, I hear a shifting and rumbling coming from the rat hole from which we emerged! The three great leeches appear, and meanwhile the poor serving maid Yelina can only stand next to her Imperatrix’s sickbed in stupefied dread. She stares at the rat hole intently, but I instinctively know she sees nothing.
“They come,” the Imperatrix rasps, and gives a death-rattle. Her now-lifeless head slumps forward limply.
“No!” Yelina howls and bursts into tears, but Salek’t and I are focused upon the monsters before us. The giant fiends sniff the air, sense their prey, and barrel toward the soul emerging from the Imperatrix’s body. Without another word, Salek’t looks at the Imperatrix, now a shade, and latches onto her. Surprisingly, he keeps a hold of me as well, for a leech has two suckers. He pulls us both down to the floor of the room, and we disappear straight through it. Again, this is no shock, because we’re all spirit forms and not physical ones, but I’m still startled! Through the stone foundation of the barracks and the ground we plunge, until we find ourselves in a winding tunnel that countless numbers of rats and moles have made.
“Good,” Salek’t says as he pulls us along. “The fiends aren’t here.” I’m relieved I can recognize his words. When we finally come out of the other end of the tunnel, rising through the dirt and roots of the earth to the surface above, we find ourselves in an unfamiliar country field. The gray sky flashes ominously above us.
“Oh, no! Lightning! We’d better get…” I’m about to say inside, but correct myself in time: “…get going.”
The Imperatrix Kiyachi, or rather her shade, gazes up at the slate-colored clouds. “Where are we? Are we not bound for the Abyss?” She cannot take her eyes from Salek’t, still in his glowing orange leech guise.
“Nay.” With concerted effort, my friend focuses his mind and shifts into his true ethereal form. He appears as a fifteen-year-old lad, with copper hair and soft green eyes. I gasp when I see his face, and then smile. “My name is Salek’t,” he says. “I have taken the form of the fiends who pursue you, in order to hide myself among them in plain sight. Ever since the stake, I have been watching and waiting for you to die as well.”
“So you’ve sought revenge?” Salek’t nods gravely. “I gathered as much, but why do you help me now?”
“I’ve saved you for salvation’s sake, and because we both need it. Elysium is where I should be, but I have found the doorway to Thorüsa instead. You may ask: why does someone bound for paradise need rescuing? The truth is that I found myself becoming what I feared, and that is why I must aid you. As for my friend here?” He smiles at me. “She has the same noble goal, even though I do not know her name…”
CHAPTER EIGHT: THE THREE MARCHERS
“WHERE ARE WE?” asks Kiyachi once she looks around, and once the rain begins to fall. “I know that we’re outside the city, but how far? Also, what’s that building in the distance? It looks somehow familiar…”
Salek’t wobbles his leech-head noncommittally. If his shade had been in human form, I suspect he would have shrugged. “I don’t know. I only latched onto you both and crawled as fast as I could, away from the real leeches. We seem to have escaped them, but for how long? Our god only knows, and I don’t want to take any chances.” He shivers. “Even though I can’t truly feel the rain, being dead and a spirit, its splashing drops still touch me a little, like faint wisps of the breeze. Upon my leech form, they bead. Look!” Indeed: tiny droplets of water begin to glisten on his segmented body, then disappear just as quickly.
“I can feel it, too, although not as much as…” Careful! “…Not as much as when I was alive.” Whew!
Kiyachi folds her arms against her ethereal body to protect herself from the rain shower. It immediately becomes a downpour as thunder booms. “I never gave much thought to the rain as I marched from place to place, but now I wish we were inside instead of in the middle of this field.” She squirms uncomfortably, and so do I. The rain feels almost obscenely cold as it drips right through me without touching one inch of my spirit form. I start to wonder if I’m still living and asleep, but then Kiyachi turns to Salek’t and speaks:
“I suppose I should thank you for saving my life, even though it’s too late for my mortal frame.”
My new friend glares at her. He stays silent, but the heat radiating from his leech body - as another form of camouflage, I suppose - increases greatly. After it subsides, he simply says, “You’re welcome.” I gape open-mouthed as Kiyachi gives a nod of acknowledgment. Who do you think you are, condemned one?! Your strength may have saved you when alive, but you were defenseless against the three great fiends! I want to shout this out loud, or as loudly as I can in my present form, when I notice three marching figures.
Two of them are tall and burly soldiers, a man at the front and a woman in the rear. Both of them are wearing scale mail and white cloaks bearing our church’s symbol: the sign of the Harrow. Between them marches an old man in rags, bound in chains. His head and shoulders are bowed under their great weight, and his feeble steps cannot even come close to matching the cadenced ones of the soldiers. They march in lock-step, while he stumbles. Neither one of the soldiers says anything; they merely push him forward, without helping him to regain his balance. The driving rain tumbles down upon all three, but only the prisoner is helplessly lashed by it. It takes all my self-restraint to keep from floating over to him and shouting: Galinicus! I’ve come to rescue you, as I’m already helping to rescue one poor soul! As it is, Salek’t is holding me back, and his caution is well-warranted. If the soldiers discover me, I’ll need saving!
Kiyachi, meanwhile, appraises the two soldiers and gives crisp nods of recognition: “Marek. Tyrithica.”
“You know these two?” I ask, my shade-eyes wide.
“Of course, lost lass! While I was still alive, they were my subordinates, and served me and our Order.”
I decide to take a dire risk and ask her a dire question: “Do you also know the prisoner they’ve caught?”
“Aye. A heretic, Galinicus by name, according to the reports from our Inquisitors. Why do you ask?”
“No matter. Er - I’d heard rumors about such people before, but never thought I’d actually see one.”
Kiyachi eyes me warily, and then turns her transparent head back toward the scene before us. “Now I know why the edifice in the distance is still known to me - even to my spirit! It is the ecclesiastical court.”
Salek’t winces and dares to ask, “Why is it so far from the city? I always wondered, at least when I lived.”
“You yourself should know, apostate! We keep our court secret for the proper administration of justice…”
CHAPTER NINE: HIDE THY SOUL
SALEK’T ONLY SEETHES, and I begin to wonder: Our civil court is out in the open, right at the center of the city so all will know we live under the rule of Law, and not the sword. That said, what’s the connection between secrecy and justice here? Why is the ecclesiastical court hidden from everyone except its judges, our church’s soldiers, and those being tried? Executions, after all, take place in the public square… I tell none of this to Kiyachi, however. She stares straight ahead, watching her soldiers march Galinicus away. When she finally does speak again, she does so after closing her ethereal eyes and opening them slowly.
“Has my whole life been a lie? I think not. What could ever disprove the righteousness of my cause?”
“Perhaps the three fiends who came after you, Imperatrix?” Salek’t hisses through his leech-teeth. “I knew I should have left you for them to collect and drag to the Abyss, but it’s too late for that now - or is it?” He shudders once more, and then clears his throat. “I’m sorry. If you want to prove your life isn’t a lie, repent.”
“Repent of what? I have no wrongs to forsake, at least in the sense of my life’s mission. In fact…” She pauses a minute, and I sense she’s deciding whether or not to finish her sentence. “In fact, I wish to find the doorway to Elysium from this ‘missing place’, Thorüsa, and stand before our god to plead my case.”
“That would mean storming paradise. You are marked for eternal damnation, so you can’t go there!”
“So you say,” Kiyachi answers Salek’t coldly. “However, I intend to try. Do either of you intend to help me?”
“Never!” Salek’t shouts. “However, I can only speak for myself. What about you, friend? What say you?”
I stammer and avoid the question by asking, “How do you know for certain that Thorusa and Elysium are even connected? Perhaps the celestials and fiends travel not through ethereal doorways, as we have supposed, but through phasing to each realm as powerful spirit forms. Maybe it’s highly difficult to do so.”
“Even if it is, will you assist me?” Kiyachi’s tone is no longer imperious. “I sense I cannot do this alone.”
“Of course you won’t be able to,” Salek’t sneers. “You’ll have the entire army of Elysium against you!”
“Aye, unless I have someone with me who seeks only to aid a fugitive in finding her way.” Her onyx-black eyes peer into my own, even though they’re transparent in her shade form. “Do you remember the various callings of our church? Not only are there Imperators such as I, who fight, and Inquisitors who interrogate and convict, but also Intercessors. They pray as proxies for those unworthy to visit our priests.” Our priests are called Invokers. It occurs to me that each of these ecclesiastical titles begins with that single, solitary letter I, standing like a tower or pillar in the middle of life‘s wasteland. For that matter, so does intermediary.
“Agreed. I won’t fight in battle against the celestials, if it comes to that, but I will attempt to help you receive an audience with our deity. After all, our holy scriptures say: ‘Come before the throne of our great god, whoever ye are, that ye may be harrowed and refined. If ye be unworthy, call upon another to intercede on your behalf.’ Our god may refuse you, and banish you to the Abyss, but at least we’ll both have tried.” I frown after a moment. “Still, the matter of getting from Thorüsa to Elysium remains a total mystery to me.”
“Perhaps not for long. I know this realm, Imperatrix Kiyachi. If you truly are intent on pleading your case before our god, and not overthrowing him, then I’ll see what I can do. After all, the reason why we’re both in Thorüsa is to save the lost. Who could ever be more lost than you?” Now it’s Kiyachi’s turn to glare.
“Enough!” I hold up a ghostly hand for silence, because I hear another rumble deep within the earth…
Salek’t does, too. “Quickly! We must hide inside the ecclesiastical court!” He latches onto both of us and pulls, one step ahead of the fiends who are once more pouring out of the ground. The three we’ve seen before are here again, and we pass through the consecrated space of the court’s walls just as they lunge for Kiyachi. “We made it! ‘Hide thy soul in a sacred place, our scriptures say, and evil will not seize thee‘.”
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