Emilia rose to her feet, unsure what she would do as a woman slipped from the shadows of the library. Stepping out into the foyer, she recognised them immediately. Both Rachael and Victorie looked down to the woman. Dressed in red linen that covered only their hips, bands bound their chest and their body was alight with red ink tattoos. Long flowing black hair seemed to trail as though wind whipped along the ground floor of the manor, and twitched and tangled as the woman came to stop at the foot of the staircase.
“It is said that the faithful rarely die.”
“Who are you anyway?” Emilia stepped down a stair, between the woman and her friends.
The cultist she had saved, the cultist that had brought the Pillar into the world. What evil would they commit now?
“Saviour, he thanks you. Do not forget. Only one more soul may be saved today.”
“Where is Anna?”
“Safe, she has found sanctuary.”
She straightened, the serene smile of the woman was... unfitting for the scene around them. Dead bodies, blood, broken souls cast aside because of what one side claimed was a misunderstanding. She questioned that... she questioned both, a friend and the friend of her love.
“My name is Emilia.”
“Yes, Emilia, I know. Call me Sana.”
“Your god, I’ve seen them raise the dead.”
“Yes, that is one of his many talents. But, there is a price and he cannot pay it today.”
She took another step down, and the woman turned from her to crouch and caress the face of one of the dead.
“Death is so passionless. Life itself is the pursuit of passion.”
“Begone!” Victorie screamed, Emilia’s heart skipped a beat, “I don’t want to hear your lies!”
They pushed Rachael away and grabbed hold of the sword beside Rachael to throw at the woman. Sana watched as it flew past, no concern it may strike them.
Sana rose, nodded respectfully and left. Emilia looked up at Victorie and Rachael, as Victorie collapsed to their knees again a lifeless expression on their face.
“I’m going to go find Anna. Are you two, safe here?”
“I’ll take her back to the house,” Rachael wrapped an arm around Victorie’s shoulders.
Emilia noded, then left.
Victorie hung her head, barely able to breathe in, so instead she just breathed out. After everything, all her secrecy and deceit. The world around her crumbled, bathed in blue light. A flicker of red cast red light on the veins that had grown in the tiles. As much as everything hurt, she knew she had deserved this. Any god that were real would punish her for her sins, but why had they punished others just to get to her...
“I could use a drink.”
Rachael patted her shoulder, “Come on, let me help you up then.”
“No... I... I can’t go in there,” she swallowed, fresh tears welling in her bloody eyes.
Rachael looked around for a moment, then got to their feet, “Alright, I’ll be back. Stay here.”
Rachael took a few steps still watching her, then turn and briskly walked down the hall. They were right to worry, but she had always been a coward. Never pick a fight you had a chance of losing or... this happens. She shuffled back against the wall, and let herself rest against her friend. Evie... was it worse that so few people knew of them, or that no-one would have cared. To think ill of the dead... she couldn’t help it, Evie had been a royal whore of a woman. Constantly irritated, abrasive, condescending, brutish. Resolved everything with harsh words. They hadn’t inspired lasting friendship, they had simply been a caravan guard that no-one ever seemed to remember.
She would give anything to have them back.
Anna would give anything to know the answers to all these questions. Though she had never been quite so good with words, it had eventually spilled from the young boy’s lips the true reason he was so obviously uncomfortable around her. That however only raised more questions.
Anna had been constructed, she did not have the faults and flaws of the human body as far as she knew. She had not even realised that she was supposedly female until people assumed she was. She understood the idea of what made someone male or female, but she didn’t know specifics.
She wasn’t going to deny to herself her curiosity, but nothing about the boy intrigued her beside his obvious shallow charm. The fact he had at one point been a mystery to her. As he spoke about the process of the various different purges she pictured herself doing them.
The six rituals of purging the spirit.
Meditation to clear away intoxicating thoughts. She could imagine herself sitting alone in a room and thinking of nothing until she was calm and at peace. That had been taught to her by the Creator.
Donation to the church to give away the corrupting influences of greed. She had questioned him, and to his knowledge they used the money from the people who donated, to hold ceremonies and on public projects for the town, and in taxes to the mayor. They would also often burn things of little value as an offering against greed. She wasn’t sure it needed to be a ritual, it felt like common sense to her.
Prostration to others, to give away the illusions of power over others a faithful person might hold. She was told it was often in the form of bowing and kneeling, but in extreme forms included servitude. When she remarked that it seemed natural for men, he had agreed despite her sarcasm. Apparently part of his belief was that men were inferior to women because women only struggled with prostration while men struggled with everything else.
It was a greater sin, in Simon’s words, to be lustful, greedy, drunk, or faithless than it was to hold power over others. Which surprisingly to her, she agreed on - because power was only morally wrong when it was abusive, which is always seemed to be here.
Fortification was a strange one in which the fearful were exposed to their fear in an attempt to become used to it. However, Simon said, it was more common for normal people who were fearful to ask for indulgences.
Indulgences was the way of the church absolving a sin by way of personal prayer, and was apparently what most of the happenings that went on in the back rooms. It was acceptable to be fearful, if the indulgences were granted, because fear was what was called the “unavoidable sin” as even the Lost God feared for her children. She simply accepted that, as the Creator had told her growing up, ‘fear is your mind’s way of telling you something is wrong and you should listen to it.’
Faithlessness was purged in a similar manner. By learning the sermons, by proving to the priestesses that you understood the scriptures, they could absolve you. And to do this, they symbolically washed away your sin with actual water.
Lust was the most interesting purely because it seemed so contradictory at first. It was also the only one she could not imagine herself being part of. It seemed to indulge what it claimed to fight, at least until he explained it, with a great deal of awkwardness.
It was really far too much information for her... to know... ever. The idea that anyone would agree to going into a room, letting them touch you while you try not to think about them touching you. It made her skin crawl.
But she quickly put that aside, to spare her own sanity, and pressed him on her original point.
“You purge everything but love and hate.”
“Well, because they’re the cornerstone of the church. The Lost God died for us because she loved us.”
“But why not purge hatred? Surely that is worth not feeling if, passion and strength and possession aren’t.”
“Possession is good to you?”
“To own something, to hold it and know that it is yours, yes. It is a wonderful feeling, almost as much as giving that away to make someone else happy.”
“Then why isn’t that just, charity?”
“Why is hate not worth purging?”
He looked way, “I don’t know... because hate is necessary.”
“So is fear, so is greed and power and desire. Life is not made worth living by love alone, what is it without passion?”
“And what, hate is order?”
“Love and respect are what makes our society whole. Without it we’re no better than the cults!”
It clicked into place, “Hate... you must hate the cults.”
“They’re evil and wicked! They corrupt people, try to make us live perverted like animals!”
“I do not know enough to disagree. But have you never wondered why there is no cult dedicated to the Pillar of Hate?”
“Hate is dead.”
She stood, her heart too heavy to force her point, “Of course... I should let you get back to your prayer.”
“Wait, you can’t go out there!”
“I feel I would be safer at home with my family, goodbye Simon.”
She turned from him, paused waiting for his goodbye but it never came and so she left him. She had no interest in zealots, not when they were so obviously blinded by their own rubrics. But now she knew who they were truly facing.
The Seventh Pillar lives.
Black blood oozes in a way that red blood never could. She coughed violently, bringing up more and more of the ichor from her lungs. Some fucking joke this was. One lesser monster got a hold of her helmet and her head had nearly caved in. She spat up clots, her cheek had been split open, two teeth had been knocked loose, she had bitten off the tip of her tongue and accidently swallowed it.
“I admire your bravery, coming here.”
She looked up from her chair, sitting in the middle of her room, upon the map of the town under siege. Half her face was swollen, black from bruising. How she was alive was beyond her, but she didn’t think she’d be seeing from that eye for a while.
“It’s not bravery, it’s pity.”
The pale, almost ghostly man looked an awful lot like the husband she had lost... a long time ago.
“I could be missing both arms and I’d still find a way of killing you.”
It grinned wickedly, “What, you’ll kick me to death?”
“I was thinking I’d tear your throat out with my teeth.”
“You fancy yourself a hawk, but even hawks know when they’re facing their own predator.”
Karis coughed up more blood, ending any chance she had at a quip.
“I admire your passion, and if anyone knows passion it is me,” it smirked, “but do yourself a favour and let this die.”
“You killed my family,” her mouth started to stab at her, her tongue was getting worse, filling her mouth up with blood.
“Did I? Or were they killed by a deranged group of people with my religion?”
There was peace to be made here. The only reason she had let live after stepping into her room was, pain.
“You taunt me with my husband’s face, and you want me to forget.”
She rose to her feet, “I sold my soul so you can’t have it.”
She picked up her sword from where it rested on the back of the chair. Her ribs split, aching, lungs drowning.
“You’re about to die, but here you are still clinging to your painful life. Just let go.”
“You underestimate how far I’ve gone to live long enough to kill you.”
Karis drew her blade, the cutting edge shimmered white in the dim moon-like silver light. Black blade, white edge, she held it at the ready and smiled at the Demon’s visceral snarl. A flash of claws and vines that pierced the beast’s lying skin. With a brush of her blade, she carved through all of it and she sliced clean through the beast’s arm.
It howled in agony as the pieces she had pruned disintegrated like droplets of water evaporating into the air and when she struck for the killing blow, it could do nothing but shriek in horror as she carved into its mortal body. With the hiss of vipers it managed to pry itself loose, slipping away from her faster than she could pursue it over the balcony. There was no point chasing it.
She sheathed her blade, her body was starting to crumble. She made her way to her chests by her bed, and opened up the smallest box she could find. The silver trim glinted as if it knew and inside she found a small canister and a mouthpiece she hooked it into. With a strong suck, her lungs filled with a mist and her body was wracked with new, searing agony.
She sat herself down, and observed the town.
Tomorrow would be interesting.