I followed the sound. The fog and canyon like landscape made it difficult to locate where it came from. Would not have found it if I hadn’t tripped over what I thought at first was a bundle of sticks, breaking the tip of my staff in the process. However not even the fog could hide it when I fell and came face to face with a small, obviously malnourished child.
I looked around in panic for the child’s parents and that’s the moment that a breeze thinned the fog out enough for me to see what I had tripped over. Not sticks. I drew my feet away and then looked and saw far more than I wanted to see. Nightmare images I shall never be free of. A killing field. Everywhere I looked the moon revealed more horror; some old, some new, all of pathetically small bodies and small rag swaddled bundles with obscene bits and pieces sticking out.
The moon also revealed it. First animal I had seen in days and it turns out to be a mangy carrion eater that looked alarmingly like a bastardized cross between a mangy cur and a corrupted porcine. The legs were longer than any feral pig I had seen in the forest. Its body matched that of a slightly rotund hound as did the fur covering its body and long, oddly bent tail. But the beady red eyes, face and tusks were surly porcine though of what breed I do not know … possibly a devil breed as I’d never seen the like and hope to never again.
It viewed me as a threat and charged before I even had time to be afraid. I scrambled to my feet and held my staff as my brothers and Nat had taught me and when the beast hit, the broken end disappeared into its eye cavity and continued until the animal finally accepted it had accidentally suicided on my weak defense. I fell to the ground and saw that it had pushed me the length of a man’s height before finally allowing whatever angels tend to animals to carry it off. Given the beast it was probably carted off by demons rather than angels.
I pried the staff from the carcass – not an easy job – and then crawled back over to the child who stared at the beast in such terror it could no longer cry. I quickly checked the child over and then wrapping it in the cloak I wore stumbled out of that boneyard looking for my original camp to try and light the fire and to give some warmth to the child who felt cold near to death.
No matter how I tried my weakness made me too clumsy and the fire would not light. So instead I crawled into the small alcove I had found and tried to rock the poor thing so its terror would subside. It took an amazingly short time before I felt the child relax in my arms and drift into a slumber I prayed was dreamless. The child was even weaker than I. Doing my best to inspect it … her as I found out … without frightening the child proved easy after it fell unconscious.
Someone had cared for the child. Washed and dressed it in clean though primitive clothing. I began to wonder if I had spoiled someone’s sacrifice. I’d read reports of such places as I’d just viewed. I had thought them historical anomalies brought about by religious mania or madness. It was shocking to learn that such places were still in use in our modern era. The Destruction and Chaos were far behind us. But on further consideration I realized if the Priests of the Damned could still practice their religion with such fervor it was not beyond the realm of consideration that someone would be sacrificing children to that dark god.
I thought to be away so that whoever left the child would not discover it had escaped the fate meant for it but the sun had crested the horizon and the day was already heating up. I just hope that my skin of water will last long enough that I can get us to the next seep … and that I don’t run into trouble along the way.
By all the saints and martyrs combined, what am I going to do with this child?!