So, here’s the final version after some edits. Still not great, but it’s as polished as I can get it. It’s really more of a prologue, but even then it would probably get cut.
As an exercise, it was great to get back into writing again. I may or may not revisit this world, but we shall see.
The first breath shattered her world, the second shattered her heart. The third ended in a wailing cry that was quickly cut off. Emenda held the child close to her breast and felt him latch on.
The room stank of afterbirth, blood and unwashed bodies. It was simple stone cell and she lay on a wooden slab that had once served as a table. No restraints. They didn’t expect her to wake again.
He looked up at her then. His eyes were an iridescent blue that shaded into green, and they glimmered in the meager light. She could lose herself in those eyes.
A light patch of dark fuzz covered his head. It felt like soft velvet, but she recoiled slightly as she saw her hands. Broken fingernails and cracked skin bore the evidence of her struggle.
Time was running out. She wrapped him tightly against her chest with the rags that were left of the shift she wore. Excess movement would slow her down. They would be coming to check on her soon.
Her legs felt wobbly still. Using the blood pooled between her legs, she wrote the Writ of Strength on her belly. Her Will was weak after months of torture and confinement but with it she found the strength to stagger towards the door and peek outside.
Mother Superior was entering the room two doors down, her sharply pressed habit impossible to miss as she disappeared inside. Emenda slipped into the hallway and ran towards the opposite end.
The stairs there would take her to the main floor. The doors would be unlocked. They had become complacent.
The stairs led into the transept, behind the altar. Nude bodies writhed in mad embrace and covered almost every part of the floor. None of them noticed Emenda as she crept through.
She sidled up to the cracking plaster wall that separated the altar and the nave from this part of the church and surreptitiously looked out towards the exit doors: solid oak framed by concrete pillars. That was where her freedom lay, but it was unreachable all the same.
The beast lay in the center of the room, pews pushed to the edges by its great bulk. Its leathery skin was a red so dark that it looked black in the faint light of the moon shining through the skylight windows. And yet it had felt like the softest suede against her skin. She shuddered at the memory.
It lay curled up like a lion in slumber, daggerlike claws and teeth sheathed. It’s horns reached towards the ceiling and swayed with each breath.
The exit beckoned and a flicker of hope bloomed in her breast. The baby squirmed against her, but kept silent. His eyes were closed tightly. It wouldn’t be long now.
But hope’s feeble flame died as the doors splintered and blew open. Standing in the wreckage was a figure of shining gold and steel. A blue silk surcoat bore the distinctive Mater Dei Cross.
“No,” she whispered. Joy and despair clashed within her. Seeing him again was what she had prayed for. But now, she was torn. He would take the child and kill him. His Oath would allow nothing less.
The beast stirred and opened a baleful eye.
“Begone, Raktha.” It’s voice was surprisingly smooth, a mellow baritone timbre. “The vessel has been spawned. It is too late.”
The Oath Knight charged as he cried out the words of Dei engraved on his armor. He crossed the room with sword held high, the Sacred Writ leaving trails of blue smoke as it glowed.
The beast struck so fast it looked it blurred as it moved. Emenda staggered as she felt the room itself shudder from the impact. Shockwaves reduced the remaining pews to splinters as they battled. Afterimages of red and blue light swam before her eyes. The battle was horrific.
She was so close; but no manner who won, her and the baby would lose. It was an easy decision to make.
Blue smoke had turned grey as the Knight’s Writ faded. His breastplate was a disfigured mess of twisted steel and his surcoat lay in tatters. The final word of Dei left his lips and he slumped to the floor, but his eyes were fierce.
The beast’s breath slowed as it looked down on the sword embedded in it’s chest. Blue light shone brightly along blade and hilt.
Emenda didn’t even realize that she had moved as she strode into the open. They hadn’t noticed her yet, and she moved up behind the Knight and pulled out the dagger he kept in the small of his back. It was hers, of course. How else would he have found her.
Take or be taken. It was the Final Oath of the order. She remembered that part of herself at least. Aim below the breast, between the fourth and fifth rib at an angle and slant towards the left.
She plunged the knife in perfectly. The pain barely registered. It was a minor irritant compared to what she had already suffered. She would only have a few minutes more.
The Knight turned to face her, his expression changing from puzzlement to shock.
“Jura Dei,” she said. There were no tears left in her. She held out her son. “And thus, I transfer my Oath.”
“Emenda, no.” Grief gripped his heart. He had tears enough for them both. “I have searched so long.”
She smiled then. Her first smile in months. “I knew you would come.”
“But I was too late.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered. I was lost as soon as I was taken.” She gripped him fiercely. “So much was taken from me. But this, I give freely.”
The Knight stroked her hair. It was limp and oily, but his touch was as soft as it had ever been. He looked at the child.
“It is an unholy vessel,” he said. “How could you let this abomination live?”
“I have given my Final Oath. You can’t deny me this.” She could barely breathe out the words. “He is, and always will be, my son.”
She smiled as the blackness closed in. No more pain.
Oren sat slumped against a single pillar standing among the ruins of the church. The light of morning warmed his face. Only a day ago, he would have seen the hand of Dei in the rising of the sun. But now, he had other things on his mind.
The source of confusion lay swaddled on his lap. The child looked so much like her it hurt. There was really, no other choice.