A Wish for Hope
It hurt. I had to fall to my knees due to the pain, but I felt joy with the memory coming so clearly. Not just the pleasure in the scene from my past, but finding Honored Duchess Jelnaya coming close put a smile on my face even as I hurt due to forcing my mind to remember.
I said, “My wife doesn’t cook for me either.” Wanting her to share in my own joy, I explained, “We were with the mayor. He expected Keleaf to prepare a certain dish for a gathering, but I clearly remembered her telling him about certain servants.”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya and the lads had been discussing cooking. It had started as a simple set of questions from the lads surely intended to learn things of their new superior. I assumed it was because she was a woman that they asked certain questions, although finding her to give rather questionable answers seemed to entertain them. The lads spoke of being hungry while seeing how she would feed her husband, but finding her speak of hiring servants. Hearing her relate her method of cooking, trading raw meat for a cooked meal, and mentioning what animals might be found in the sewers that others would be pleased to gain as entrees, had me think of my own dining situations with my wife, which somehow resulted in my mind recalling certain memories.
The honored duchess put a hand on my shoulder while kindly asking, “Does she at least provide the meat? For me the joy is in gaining the animals, not in preparing them.”
“No, she buys it.”
Nerbink said, “You must have been rich, Esgalia.”
“Yes.” The pain stayed, but I felt some comfort in being able to state the fact. “I was considered important. I… I… I –“ The pain had me start a yell, but in trying to stifle it I found myself needing to scream out another memory. “SHE DIDN’T WANT CHILDREN! No. No. No.” I could not help but cry as I admitted, “She didn’t want the child. We were rich. She enjoyed the social life, and did not want to give it up for children.”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya replied, “None of the ladies in my family speak of children as being limiting. In fact, they speak of them as expanding their lives.”
“No. My wife did not see it that way at all. All the women who had children often spoke excuses on why they would not be present at certain events. Keleaf did not ever want to miss anything.”
“Maybe she had a change of heart.”
“No. She was lying about being angry at Unnorry for killing our child. She was just angry. At everything. Speaking of the death of the child I believe was just something she felt others would get angry about as well.”
I noticed the men step close as Honored Duchess Jelnaya said, “Those are rather harsh words.”
Tears began to flow from my eyes not from the pain, but from having to admit something I had known all along. “I only worked to save her because she was my wife. I always cursed myself as I did it, because I felt I would be better off without her. She was still my wife, so I kept saving her.”
It was Vulge that replied, “You did right, Esgalia.”
The words did comfort me. More than the feeling that I had been right to keep assuring my wife was with me, the passing of the mental agony had me feel a deep relief. While expressing the emotions in front of others did embarrass me, I rose having a sense of comfort in what might happen.
Honored Duchess Jelnaya had me assure her that I was ready to continue. Hearing me tell her I felt better than I had, she then checked on the other men. With all of us speaking of being ready, she moved back to where she had mentioned noticing the portal.
I believe it surprised all of us to step into what appeared to be a passage exactly like the one we left. Just like the other one, there was a small amount of water flowing. The only real difference was in a very disgusting smell. While there had been a hint of a putrid aroma in the sewers, it was subdued by a strange growth that exuded a pleasant smell, the flow of liquid that was mostly clean water, and I felt the evil not even allowing the creatures of decay to thrive. Here the rank of things dead being processed assaulted our nostrils. Seeing the others stop, I assumed they looked down attempting to determine the source of the smell, although when I looked down I realized the debris on the floor of the passage was not filth but baby bones.
The others looked with me at Honored Duchess Jelnaya when she said, “I am actually glad to see this.”
It was Sir Vulge that tried to make sense of her words. “You mean you think some of those bones back beneath your castle are from here?”
Abreyon asked, “Why aren’t these from our world?”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya put her focus on him as she replied, “My communities did not appear large enough to have produced all those bones.”
Sir Vulge added, “At least not in only a few years, at most. You can call me ancient, but I still believe it takes some time to make a baby.”
Abreyon said, “Uh, yes, but –“
Honored Duchess Jelnaya patted the lad on a shoulder while saying, “Don’t think about it. It really is the wrong attitude, but let’s just get this done.”
“Uh, yes, Honored Duchess.”
Sir Vulge asked, “Princess, is Fergush telling you it’s going to be bad?”
The lady answered, “He’s not speaking, although I can feel him. The impression I however have is that Samayer is not with him. Surviving is not a blessing presently available, which I am assuming applies to those here and not us.”
Nerbink declared, “I’m with you, Honored Duchess.”
After Abreyon also made a gesture with his weapon, Sir Vulge asked, “Just how bad do you think this will be? Remember, I have some experience with you.”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya replied, “I told you that Fergush is not talking. That means just don’t ask the question, Vulge.”
“Immortality is not all that great anyway.”
“See you at the table, Vulge.”
The way the two strode forward almost scared me. I believe it did the two lads as well, but with a large breath they set themselves to following. I found myself wanting to pray. I however felt that if the god of Honored Duchess Jelnaya did not want to talk about it, whatever god I could pray to probably did not want anything to do with this situation either. Wondering what type of future faced me, I strode forward behind the others.
The tiny bones became even more noticeable as we moved forward. Coming around a bend we could make out a soft radiance of light. What we also saw was a large pile of bones. While my senses had become dulled to the horrid aroma, I had to turn with disgust at sensing it even stronger. Simply needing to breathe I found myself making out the stench of something worse, and somehow I recognized it to be the oils and natural juices from the bodies once around the bones. The vile assault on my sense of smell however made it almost impossible to advance with what I could recognize not wanting me to go any further. The lads stopped as well, but Honored Duchess Jelnaya and Sir Vulge moved forward as if they did not notice.
Forcing myself to move behind them I saw a shaft in the ceiling. While what we were in was possibly a well, it had definitely been used recently as a toilet. The shaft however was much larger than any refuse hole, and I did agree with getting out of the foul mess.
The large man asked, “I have rope, but I would not chance climbing it.”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya replied, “I can do it, Vulge. One benefit of having a grandparent from the world of Terdeskollit is wonderful reflexes. Even if the rope is cut, or simply tossed back down, I believe I can gain a handhold.”
“Okay, Princess.” As he began preparing the rope, he said, “Boys, no looking up her skirt.”
The lady replied, “I do wear undergarments, Vulge.”
“I still will have to punch them, Princess.”
Abreyon moved to where he could look up, then said, “That’s about the height of a regular castle wall. I can do it. You might have to punch me, Sir Vulge, but I will follow the lady.”
“Don’t get yourself killed. How about you, Esgalia?”
Attempting to bolster my courage, the question surprised me, although I had already committed myself to the answer. “I can climb.” I flexed my paws while saying, “These hands are actually rather good at it.”
That was it for conversation. The man set himself, then after a nod with Honored Duchess Jelnaya he launched a small grapnel up. She did not wait for substantiation of the metal claw holding, but jumped, to land with one foot on a shoulder of Sir Vulge, then leapt again. Gaining a side of the rock the hole passed through, she turned to throw a dagger. Her next action had her hands lift her over the edge into the room above. Without any conversation, Abreyon stepped up to gain the rope.
The lads were not as quick or nimble going up, but they also did not show any lack of ability in climbing. I heard some fighting above, but not enough to make me think there was any great opposition. Hearing Vulge ask me a question about going up, I felt no problem with giving an answer.
“I’ll make it. How about you?”
“Navy man. We do a lot of climbing. Now, get up there.”
Not wanting to prove myself wrong, I set myself to climbing the distance. It was not the effort, but the air I had to suck in that bothered me. Still, I reminded myself that I was not still alive from standing still. I kept moving, and soon found myself climbing onto the floor of the room above.
I rose to find the combat finished. Corpses of strange humanoid creatures with scaly skin were about, but that was not where Honored Duchess Jelnaya or the two lads were looking. In a large pit in the floor were a number of creatures that appeared as human babies moving on each other as if participating in an orgy. The males were bald with their tiny members extended only enough to have them noticeable. The females had hair although really had nothing showing any sexual development. Seeing some males go upon ladies disgusted me even more than the smell. Looking in other smaller pits I saw females nursing a multitude of even smaller babies. By the time Vulge rose from below, I really thought to save him from the sight of we had found.
“Let’s go,” I said.
He however did step up to look, only to ask, “Princess?”
Honored Duchess Jelnaya kept her eyes on what was happening in a pit as she replied, “It wasn’t Grandfather Terish, but Great-uncle Ferrigote that spoke of this. He told me of horrors that boiled your blood. He however told me to keep my focus. He mentioned that it helped having Grandfather Terish with him in those times, as the attitude of simply killing without remorse was the better one to have.”
“I guess we know where all the baby bones came from.”
“They’re human, Vulge, or were. These aren’t demons, or animals, or corrupted creatures like the Privileged made, but fully degraded humanity. I actually tried to save the souls of the Privileged. I felt they could be redeemed. I don’t feel that way about these.”
Hearing what she said, I had to ask, “My people were going to become like this?”
“No. The path of the Privileged was not a good one, but it kept one hoping for something better. This is something worse, a path I cannot imagine anyone willingly following.” She then moved to put a hand on my shoulder before saying, “But I believe this is what you were running from. When I wiped out the Privileged, whatever this is I believe moved in to take over certain groups. I can accept that you were one of those groups, and knew to flee.”
Nerbink said, “Being a fox person is better than this.”
I had to reply, “But I still don’t want to be a fox person.”
The lady however had not moved from before me, and looking into my eyes she said, “But you have a problem. The Privileged could act, because they went to groups that had no divine relationships. Their souls could be corrupted without anyone being concerned. This is even more horrible. Let me stress, Esgalia, that I had to slaughter a large number of people. What happened caused She-Who-Survives to completely remove her grace and grant a liberty to her husband. He showed concern by calling in me, and not one of his more battle-prone champions. I obeyed, and slaughtered, but at the end I wanted to resolve the situation. That attitude brought me here, but here I have come to lose all concern. Esgalia, of all of us, you don’t have a standing with the divine. Esgalia, you are not going to survive without it.”
I thought to where I again felt the agony, although had to say, “I really cannot remember them.”
“Pray that you do.”
What they find answers question, some they did not want to ask.