Well, this one got dark very quickly. Probably the darkest thing I’ve ever written. I don’t know why, there’s nothing dark in my life at the moment, and I hope it continues that way. I can’t say too much about my inspiration for this story without spoiling it. I will say it involves brave women risking their lives to provide evidence of wrongdoing to the outside world. That simple premise was all I had to start with, and the rest just followed along. The ending came as a genuine surprise, although it made sense for the rest of the story, so I suppose it could have been subconscious.
* * *
Devotee Seleen was checking the altar when she heard the commotion from the outer temple. Devotee Meedra was shouting a warning about men in the temple. Her shout turned into a scream, quickly cut off. Seleen moved to block the entrance to the inner temple but was too late. Five armed figures rushed in, their blades dripping blood. They were dressed in loose temple robes but one of them had a beard.
“Men are not allowed in the inner temple,” Seleen said as if that mattered more than bloodied weapons.
One of the intruders ripped off his robe, wiped the blood off his sword with it and then pointed the weapon at Seleen’s throat. “And who’s going to stop us, the goddess?”
He was taller than Seleen, broad-shouldered and covered in leather armour. The hilts of several weapons could be seen around his waist.
“Her punishment will be swift and merciless.”
“Of course, it will. Now shut up and get out of my way.” The man jabbed his sword at Seleen and she moved back against the side wall. The man approached the altar and began to search it.
“No man is allowed to touch the artefacts on pain of death,” she pronounced.
The man picked up an incense holder and licked it, making sure she was watching. “Oh look, nothing happened. It’s almost as if this stuff is just metal and your goddess isn’t real at all.”
The man gestured one of the intruders over. They were carrying a sack, which they held open as the man filled it with the items from the altar. Once it was empty, he turned to Seleen.
“Where is it!”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
The man ripped the altar cloth away and tipped the stone over. He searched the resultant wreckage for a few moments, then turned back to Seleen. “Where is it?”
He approached her and put the tip of his sword against her throat. “Where is the ring? Where have you hidden it?”
Seleen began to pray to the goddess, sure her life of service was over. The man pressed the sword until a trickle of blood ran down her neck. “Show me where the signet ring is and I’ll spare your life.”
“The ring is not to be touched by men on pain of death.”
“Yazix!” The man shouted and one of the intruders came over to him, removing their robe. Revealed was a tall woman similarly dressed and armed as the man. “You let me worry about that. Just give me the ring.”
“I am devoted to the goddess and will gladly give my life in her service.”
The man lowered his sword and stepped away. “Is that right? What if we bring in some of your friends and start chopping them up?”
“They will give you the same answer. It is an honour to die in her service.”
“You really are devoted to this nonsense, aren’t you?” The man began to loosen his trousers.
“What if I take your virginity? You won’t be allowed to serve your precious goddess then, won’t even be allowed in here.”
“No, please, this is my life.”
“Then tell me where the ring is!”
“I cannot betray my goddess.”
“Do you really think the goddess is real and cares about you? What a fool.” He gestured to his men. “Look, men, inside the inner temple, taking your altar treasures to make a few gold coins to spend on whores and drinking. Yet here they are, and where is your goddess’s wrath? Nowhere. Now tell me where the signet ring is.”
The man sighed, then lashed out with his blade.
When Seleen came around, she was lying on the floor with her robes around her waist and the man kneeling between her legs, his erection sticking out of his trousers. “Last chance,” he said.
“Do what you must, I cannot be broken.”
“Come on lads, form a queue,” the man laughed and laid himself down on top of Seleen. It was only when he glanced at her face and saw her smile, did he realise where she’d hidden the ring. He pulled out of her as his skin contacted metal. It was too late, he’d already touched it. He studied his rapidly softening penis, then backed away, barely controlling his panic.
“I touched the ring! Does that count? It’s all nonsense, right? There are no deities. Right?”
The other intruders stood unmoving, torn between running and laughing. Several moments went by and nothing happened. The man began to laugh in relief. “See, nothing. No punishment for me. I’m going back in!”
The man was correct. If gods and goddesses do exist they have no interest in the petty lives of humans. Unfortunately for the man, the ring was possessed by the spirit of a vengeful demon, and she was really angry.
He knelt down and reached out to fish the ring out of its dark hiding spot, his erection returning. He felt a sharp pain on the end of it as if he’d been bitten by a flea. He examined it and saw a tiny black spot. “What is that?” Another sharp pain followed and another black spot formed. “What’s happening? Has this whore got the pox? So much for temple virgins!”
Another sharp pain, this one worse. Then another, and another until his helmet was entirely black. “Help me!” He screamed. “Get it off. Yazix! Help!” The other intruders backed away swiftly when they saw what was happening.
When he looked down again the spots appeared to have little teeth. They grew into mouths with bigger teeth, growing larger still as they consumed his shaft and headed for his testicles. A few moments later they’d grown to the size of rats and were gnawing away at his bowels and the tops of his thighs. The temple was filled with one continuous scream until the demon took his soul and the holy place fell silent.
Yazix and the others had fled by then, leaving Seleen alone. She gently pulled the ring out and threw it across the temple. The goddess would never have made anyone suffer like that, not even a man. Whatever spirit was in the ring wasn’t the goddess. Seleen dressed and then went over to the discarded sack. The altar treasures had been left behind by the intruders. She began to replace them on the altar, then stopped, dropped the sack and turned away. The ring was still lying where it had landed. She picked it up and studied it for a few moments. Never had the goddess showed herself, not to her or anyone she knew. But the entity in the ring, she’d seen its power with her own eyes.
Seleen slipped the ring on her finger and left the temple, never to return.