The Karthian, part II by David Staiger

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Visions of torment filled her senses as her body drifted along the lazy river current. Rape and bloodshed licked at her nerves like angry flames. She imagined a young girl, bloodied and beaten, standing in a house of candles, though the thousands of tiny flickers of light did nothing to warm her naked skin. She stood in a circle of cold and darkness. Red wax, the color of blood, trickled from the base of each candle as the flames consumed them, and one by one they began to gutter and die. As each point of light extinguished, the dark territory expanded and the wax bled more until a crimson flow stretched across the floor toward her feet. Faster and faster the lights sputtered out, the darkness grew, and the wax ran until she stood barefoot in a pool of warm blood.

When the last of the candles blew out, the cold dark surrounded her like a sepulcher. Black wings seemed to beat around her head, talons poised at her throat. Only the blood at her feet possessed warmth and light, filling the chamber with an incarnadine glow. In fear and desperation she fell to her hands and knees, scratching at the crimson pool for succor. But the darkness redoubled itself, and the thunder of its wings blew about her like a storm.

The shadow reared terrifyingly above her. It raised its head, its eyes ablaze like molten lava. Too frightened to look away, she held that gaze, fixed her vision on those twin flames as if they alone commanded her life. Fangs appeared from the dark like splinters of midnight, and a tongue of fire licked outward as if tasting the red pool for itself. With a deafening roar, those terrible eyes blazing like pure passion, a searing blast struck out from the dark as if from the heart of a furnace.

The world erupted in flames about the little girl, igniting all of the chamber in charnel fire. The blood and wax boiled away, burned clean of the stone as if it never existed. The child's flesh blackened and charred painfully, yet she remained conscious of her immolation, a silent scream drowned beneath the sudden gale of heat. The fire consumed her body as steadily as a pyre, and soon even her bones were blown to ash. All that remained was a pit of agony, as if her soul alone endured, white-hot and raw.

In the dark of her mind, Arabel went on screaming, but only a slight trembling and hiss of breath disturbed her outward body. She awoke to the night as quietly as a breeze.

She lay still for a while in the shadow of the canopy listening to the sounds of conversation. The gentle roll beneath her bedding reminded her that she was on the river's surface still, but the stationary aspect of the stars suggested they were moored. The branches of a tree hung close by, lit by the soft flicker of an open flame.

"We find ourself outside the prison," she heard the deep harmony of Minge's voice speaking in low tones, "but still close by to see the fire in the tower. All round we hear the sound of horn and bark of dog. We sit in ditch full to the neck in mud and filth and waste of human.

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