Torchlight bred shadows in the hollows of her gaunt face. The prisoner, thin arms manacled together, stood just inside the Crown Jail. In here it was quieter, the jeers and murmurs of the crowd muted by the heavy oak and iron door. It was a blessing, at least, to not be standing out in the bitter Cylus frost waiting to be put to the flame. She had long, lustrous black hair, curled at the end like an afterthought. If not for the rigor of imprisonment, she might have actually been quite pretty. A line of faded silver trailed from a lip already scabbing over and vanished at the edge of her chin. No one had confessed to hitting her, but the black-blue bruise was already spreading across the right side of her jaw and up the side of her face. By its size, must have been a gauntlet at least, hard to moderate how hard you hit with something like that. Thomas had been a mistake, the brutalized scholar marched before the people in Vhalor had almost undone the Order before. Supposedly Lord Arbiter Caius had reprimanded Lord Inquisitor Kayled on his torturous practice before the execution and it was procedure to avoid unnecessary violence to the prisoner before they were tied to the pyre.
Narav had taken last shift with her, which was why he was here now, holding the chain. Behind him, Olbran, one of four hulking guards they kept in the Crown Jail, once again quietly spoke up. "It was not me wot did 'er like that." He didn't say it with any difference in inflection, probably only to break the still that had settled between them. Sarah kept her head bent low, penitent perhaps, or planning. Narav didn't gratify Olbran with a full response, only clearing his throat and stepping a little closer to the door. The wide hallway was enough for he and the prisoner to stand side by side with a Purifier behind and one ahead. Should she start to struggle, they would drag her out across the frozen courtyard and bind her to the pylon regardless. Personally, Narav doubted she would. He recognized her face, one he had seen for Cycles before pressing up against dirty iron bars. Hopelessness was a disease as potent as any plague. Just like the cold and the damp, it slithered into your mind eventually and devoured you from the inside.
She had almost escaped, so he'd heard, or at least Matthias had suggested it back at the barracks. After what happened in Vhalar, the former prisoner was surprised anyone had the stomach to defend the mages at all. Scores dead in the violence, a new Sessfiend, and only one dead mage to show for it. Had it not been for the threat the mages clearly represented, Kayled and Caius might have been discharged there and then. Ah...well, it wasn't his business what occurred above his head.
Two more Cycles of this before his sentence was served, properly commuted, two more Cycles fighting for the cause. Gingerly, Narav reached up to feel the rough lines of the scars Fridgar had left on his face. Beneath his fingers he remembered how he'd felt when the demon had clawed him, roaring, thrashing, like a wild animal. No, it wasn't that he disagreed with the mission. Magic was a kind of fascination, a terrible one that could grow in your bones and hollow you from the inside. Narav had seen first hand what sorcery had done to his world and time again he was convinced of its infinite hunger for destruction.
Violent urges flashed behind his eyes and he grit his teeth reflexively. He almost rapped Sarah on the back of the head, but paused and reconsidered. Yes, she was an Empath, but were these emotions really coming from her? The Plague Daughter's touch still swam in his veins and it was getting harder and harder to separate the urges from IT from his own, or the results of anything else. Prison had caved him in, made a cavern of his hope and filled it only with bitterness and rage. Under the black half-plate Narav burned to turn on the quivering girl and crush her head into the stone.
Taking a deep breath, he held it and released. He could not forget his place, his responsibility. Only this position saved him from the rotting madness of the cell.
Two sharp retorts upon the wood and the first Purifier stepped forward to open the door of the Jail. Narav tugged the chain toward his chest, jerking Sara into a stumble. Unprepared, she tilted, falling against Narav. Instinctively he caught her, nausea gnawing at the pit of his stomach as he realized how light she was.
"Please," Her voice was small, so small it was almost devoured by the audience, "Please help me."
A knot tied taut in his stomach and Narav quickly pushed her back to her feet, almost savagely sending her stumbling forward again. In that half a moment, he'd remembered Edalene, her eyes pleading with him in the graveyard. Now she was just another face of the mage infestation in Rynmere, wanted, hunted, gone from this place hopefully. Narav bit his lower lip hard enough to draw blood, focusing on the pain rather than the shadow of shame pummeling against the back of his eyes. There could be no sympathizing with this, he could not allow himself to be taken in. Empathy was a magic of the mind and his own emotions would be twisted, turned back on him.
But were these hers or his, really?
The question went unanswered as they dragged the prisoner out before the assembled. Luckily, when constructing the pyre, the prisoners had the sense to build it close enough to the door to avoid having to muddle through the crowd. The outcry was immediate, rising from the protesters and drowned by the others. Here they were expecting some loathsome thing, some abominable specter. Sarah was a silver-blooded woman, scared, dark eyed and alone. She seemed so small and helpless flanked by the three guards and marched up toward the scaffolding. Narav could feel the judgement descend upon his shoulders, clawing at him, biting at his resolve.
"None of you know," He muttered to himself, "They're all nightmares." But did he believe it? The words felt hollow to him somehow and he regretted mumbling them as soon as Sarah stiffened, her shoulders drooping forward as whatever vestige of hope she had slipped from her grasp. Together they ascended the scaffolding steps. Even under the armor and padding, the chill managed to find him, his breath clouding the air against the leaping torches. She did not resist when he presented the key to her manacles, snapping them open and dropping them and the chain to the ground. The two other Purifiers stepped forward, each with a hand on one shoulder they guided her roughly to the pillar and wrapped the rope. Thrice the rope was wrapped, over her shoulders, to bind her arms against her side, and to bind her legs before they stepped back, finished with their work.
Sara looked out past the flames to the sea of faces watching with abject despair etched on her features. There was fear there, yes, the animal terror of being cornered, backed against a wall without even the means of defending herself...but more evident was the ravages of sorrow that had bowed her over. Tears glistened on wet cheeks as she sought a face, any face, any soul that would step forward to protest this slaughter. Even bound to the instrument of her doom, she sought a savior from the gathered.
Above and beyond, the armed soldiers of the Order prepared for just that.
"Please!" Her voice was louder now, but so thin, "Please, By the Seven, By the Twins, Please help me!"
"Gods," Narav muttered, staring up at her, "Die with some dignity." The guilt in his gut tightened and Narav drowned it in rage, turning away from her to face the crowd and take his place at the edge of the scaffolding, hand on his blade. Curse this manipulating bitch, trying to sink her fists in his mind and tug him to her will. Whether they were his emotions or not, Narav crushed them with a furious snarl, biting down again so hard on his lip that blood trickled down his cheek and dripped onto his black armor.
Damn the bleeding-heart fops protesting piteously toward the back. Damn the garlic eaters that muttered their disapproval and looked on in anger. Cowards and morons, the lot of them. None had a bone in their body for the bloody work of rescue, here, secure in their warm furs they were as culpable as any other who joined the pyre tonight. Let them murmur, let them talk.
Without conviction (even, hypocritically, if he lacked his own), they were beneath him.