The Cathedral was silent when Aoife returned. None of the candles were lit, enveloping the place in darkness. Forgive her for thinking it, but the young orphan couldn’t help thinking how sinister the place looked without light. That the candles weren’t lit had her worried, though. It was possible that evening mass had dragged on longer than usual, but surely there would still be signs of life in the place? The young woman managed to find a candle and a match as she fumbled around in the dark, listening for any other sound as she lit the candle. Nothing. Absolute silence, save for the blood pulsing through her ears as they strained to hear anything.
The orphan knew the candles should be lit, and while duty pushed her to light the rest around the Cathedral, she knew she needed to find the priest first, or even one of the Sisters. The light from her candle barely illuminated the path before her, and her free hand clung to the wall beside her instinctively. Feeling her way through the Cathedral, a sense of fear began to wash over her. What if something had happened? What if someone had taken her friends? Her family? Heartbeat increasing, she could hear its steady thump, thump, thump in her ears. And still that silence.
“Sister Ciara?” she called out weakly.
Before her sat the nave, a vast wall of pitch blackness. Too thick and too dense for the meagre light of her candle to permeate, the space filled the young orphan with a sense of dread. But Aoife was naive, and optimistic. Everything would be fine. She would cross the nave, make her way into the underbelly of the Cathedral, and she would find someone. She would likely trip along the way, but that was only to be expected in the rising darkness.
She inched her way along the pews, taking tiny steps that spoke of her anxiousness. And then suddenly she slipped, the hard stone of the tiled floor rushing forward to catch her, and she knew she would have bruises later. Worrying about bruises would have to wait, though. Something wet touched her hand. It was lukewarm, and sticky to the touch, and she could feel it seeping into her skirts. She righted herself, rescuing her candle from the pew it had rolled under, and turned to face the mysterious wetness. The naive part of her wanted to believe it was nothing but rainwater. The Cathedral had had leaks before, but there hadn’t been a rain for weeks.
A quiet gasp—somewhere between shock and fear—escaped her when she caught the red hue of whatever it was staining her hands. Blood. It was blood. She could try to convince herself that it was wax, or something equally as innocent, but she was a woman, and she knew blood better than any man. Her stained hand rushed to her side, trying in vain to wipe the blood off onto her skirt, candlelight illuminating the puddle on the floor. More blood. Pooled across the tiles, smeared away from the nave. It was everywhere. No matter which way she turned, all she could see was red.
Panic began to set in. Her breath came in short, sharp bursts that left her dizzy. Her heartbeat was so loud in her ears. And still there was all that blood. Her body moved for her. The orphan wandered further into the depths of the Cathedral, following the drying trail of blood. The further she walked, the more she could smell it. That tangy, metallic scent that followed shortly after whenever blood had been spilled. The air was ripe with it, and it made it hard to breathe, but the orphan did not cover her nose. Her actions were no longer her own. Instinct and fear were the only things moving her, and they were moving her in the wrong direction.
Her feet stopped her as she reached the dormitory. A wall of darkness stood before her again, and she had used up all her nerve just reaching the place. Blood seeped from the room in a torrent, or at least it had, before the liquid had started to coagulate. Now instead of a river, the orphan was faced with a thick pool of red coloured jelly.
“Niamh?” she breathed out, voice barely above a whisper.
Nothing. Just more silence, and more darkness. She took a deep breath. She willed herself forwards again, crossing the threshold of the room, footsteps wet as she walked through the blood. The flickering candle shed light on the walls, casting grotesque shadows as she walked. And then her foot hit something solid. Aoife froze. A quiet, muffled bleat of panic escaped her, and the orphan forced herself to look down. A hand. A child’s hand. Small and frail and covered in blood.
Aoife turned, weak candlelight cast onto the bed to her left illuminating another of her faux sisters. More blood. It stained the sheets. The floor. The walls. She could feel it seeping into her skin. Her clothes. For a moment she thought it might seep into her very soul. Panic began to rise in the girl, bubbling under her skin like a pan of boiling water. She took a step. Then another. Then another. Tiny, sheepish little steps that lead her further into the room, toes brushing against limbs every now and then. She had to know if Niamh was there. Had to know if her friend was dead, or if she had managed to escape somehow.
She reached the centre of the room. Turned to face the doorway—not that she could see the doorway—and tried to illuminate the scene beneath her with her candle. The first thing she saw was an eye. Lifeless and glassy and staring straight at her. She turned again, motion sending more shadows flickering on the walls. Surrounding her, piled in a heap like pigs at a slaughterhouse, were the bodies of everyone she had ever known and loved.
Aoife froze. She could feel a scream trying to make its way forward, but found no purchase in her voice. She took a few tentative steps back, trying to make her way back towards the door, but her legs gave out and she crumpled to the floor once more. The candle skittered from her grasp, flame extinguishing in the puddle of blood. Her scream found its footing then. She screamed for help. For Niamh. For Sister Ciara. For anyone. She fumbled around in the dark, trying to find her way, and only succeeded in backing herself against the wall. Wordless screams of terror and grief poured from her, echoing around the chamber. She was powerless. She was blind and in the dark, and everything she ever knew was piled up before her. The sight was still seared into her brain. She could still see those eyes, even in the darkness. If she looked hard enough—which she tried not to—she was certain she could see them glistening in the darkness.
And then arms were on her, dragging her to her feet. She heard a voice, but the words didn’t register in her mind. She lashed out in fear, struggling in the stranger’s grip, almost knocking a lantern from their hands, but they held fast. This was it. This was the end. This was how she was going to die. Not tucked up in bed, old and grey like the Sisters. Not by her husband’s side in Olmaea. Not surrounded by children, and grandchildren. She was going to die alone, in the dark, and she would never know why.
She kept struggling as she was dragged through the darkness, twisting and turning and trying in vain to break free of her captor’s grip. And as it became all too evident that she could not free herself with strength alone, her struggles turned to pleas. Thick, messy tears trailed down her face as sobs wracked through her, begging with her anonymous captor not to kill her. She would do whatever they wanted. Get them whatever they wanted. Please. Her captor spoke but she was still too shaken to comprehend, resorting back to begging and pleading.
She’d been in the dark for so long that the light from the street almost blinded her. Was he letting her go? Surely he’d know she’d run to the police? Maker preserve her, what if he was going to do something worse? The grip on her arms softened a little, but pulled her round to face whoever had hold of her. Blue. That deep oceanic blue. She’d recognise those eyes anywhere.
“Aoife, calm down, it’s me,” the voice insisted, and through the fog of mindless terror, it started to register in her head. Rinian. “I know you’re scared, but you need to stop shouting or you’re going to bring the police here.”
Aoife couldn’t quite will the tears to stop, but she managed to gain at least some control over her voice. The pleading and the yelling reverted back to those quiet bleating sounds, more of a whimper than anything. Her hands were shaking. Her whole body was shaking, and she found herself gripping Rin to keep herself upright.
“They’re all dead, Rin, we have to tell someone,” she said through the tears, voice cracking as she spoke.
“No, we have to get you out of the city,” Rin asserted. He knew the young orphan would be confused, but he could already see how things would play out. Aoife was the only witness, drenched in blood and all too familiar with the Cathedral’s layout. They would paint her as a murderer, bitter about the Sisters trying to convince her to stay. She would be locked up, made to stand trial, and then she would be executed. He couldn’t let that happen. “We have to go somewhere they won’t find us. I’m going to keep you safe, I promise.”
“We have to tell someone,” Aoife repeated. “We have to… to… to find the priest, and—”
“Aoife, the priest’s dead,” Rin said, somewhere between sympathy and exasperation. “If we are still here when the city watch get here, it isn’t going to look good. We have to go.”
Her legs felt like stone, but some small part of Aoife knew what her friend was saying made sense. Someone would need to be held accountable for what had happened, and being the only survivor certainly made her look suspicious. Who would believe her word against a judge in court? She took a shaky breath, trying to calm herself down, and gave Rin a small nod to say she understood. The city streets passed her in a blur as Rin lead her to Maker knows where. For all she knew, it was him that had murdered her family, but he was the only person she had left to trust. She would simply have to have faith in him, for now.
She faintly heard him making excuses and apologies for her being covered in blood. The words wouldn’t make sense in her head, but perhaps that was for the better. The young man knew he had the perfect cover story in his friend’s anatomy, blaming her unsavoury appearance on being ill prepared for her menstruation. Most of the cab drivers they found weren’t willing to take such a messy passenger, but after almost an hour of searching, they eventually found a man who put a towel on the seat as if Aoife were an ill trained dog. Were the duo not in such a hurry to flee the city, and if he possessed more of a backbone, Rin might have scolded the driver for being so rude, but time was already against them, and it wouldn’t be long before the city watch were on the hunt.
The towel didn’t matter much to Aoife, anyway. She was asleep before the cab had even left the city.