The Church, 1020
The men stood, their heads bowed, their eyes downcast, like children being scolded. The woman whimpered, clutching their chests, handkerchiefs knotted, as they avoided their gazes. The children wailed, their voices screeching, in confusion and fear.
And the rest of the world stopped.
Not a soul outside breathed, whispered or sighed. Nor the wind did sway, the leaves rustle or the birds call. For all had stopped, but for the few shaking bodies, huddled together, in the forlorn damp church.
A dark figure stood at the front of the terrified congregation, a sombrehood pulled over his face, and a staff presented in his left hand. His aura was brooding and reeked of destruction. He was a thing of nightmares.
'My humble servants,' his voice was a loud boom that bounced off the walls. 'I gather you all here today to witness an act of cleansing. A member of our people, our Church, has sinned, and must therefore be cleansed!'
A gasp swelled through the church as husbands gathered their families into their arms, lovers clung to each other, friends clasped each other's hands, and children pressed their heads to their mother's stomachs.
'Yes, be afraid of her sin! Her wretched signings! For she is a disbeliever, and like all disbelievers, she must be punished!'
A mother wailed, her head falling back as a horrific scream tore from her throat. 'Sweet mother of all thing holy, forgive her, forgive my child!'
The woman's outburst brought her attention. Shocked church goers ripped their gazes off the cloaked man and toward the woman who sat slobbering on the ground. She was an ugly sight; her clothes were ripped rags that seemed to have been dragged through hell and beyond. Her face was old and pruning, her eyes sunken globes and her body thin as paper.
'Silence, woman!' The priest screamed in anger, his staff hitting the marble floor of the church as he accentuated his words with his staff. 'She has sinned, your daughter. And to be forgiven, she must be cleansed.'
The woman fell to the floor, her body pressed against the cold marble, her face pressed into the stone as she screeched her horror. 'No, great Father, do not hurt my child, for she is small and ignorant, but take me, Father, take me! I beg you mercy and forgiveness upon my young one, and take me! Cleanse me, Father!'
'Do you dare defy my order?!' His voice roared over the congregation, making the already quivering people howl in surprise.
'No Father! No! ' The blubbering woman scrambled into a sitting position, her head hanging low as sobs continued to rack her body.
'Then you shall watch, and then you shall watch your daughters cleansing.'
The woman stopped shaking, her body freezing in fear. Her eyes dried up, stretching over her face, until it dominated. 'No..no..no my Lord! Please, I beg of you. Do not let me watch my daughter suffer!'
'It is your punishment, woman, for defying my order. Beware of your consequences, and be a warning unto others.'
The woman seemed to fall into the ground, her soul vacating her body in a tiny gasp that slipped from her throat.
'Now,' the priest turned to his parish, his gaze searing them through his hood. 'And now you shall all witness the cleansing of a sinner, and the punishment of those who defy me.'
The crowd whimpered as three men dressed in black came out from a door concealed in the shadows of the gloomy church. The men were frightening, their bodies tall and broad. Their skin as white as milk and their hair as black as midnight. They seemed to be mirror images of each other, as they drifted down the congregation, to the mother laying in defeat.
They picked her up roughly, two of them tugging her into a standing position by her arms while the third grabbed hold of her ankles. Their handling was rough, but she didn't complain. Not a moan slipped from her lips as they carried her toward the priest, throwing her at his feet. She landed with a soft thud of hollow bones and an empty set of lungs.
The Father leaned over her, his face shadowed. 'You pathetic creature.' He hissed into her face before clearing his throat, gather mucus in his mouth and spitting it on her face. 'Just pathetic.'
The woman shuddered, but never made a move to wipe off the green slime that was slowly sliding down her cheek and over her cracked lips.