Sarenrae's Burning Hand Monestary - Near the boundaries of the Worldwound
Sarah opened her eyes to darkness... much like the dreamless sleep she had awoken from. You would think that after everything that happened to her, she would have nightmares, or at leased not be able to sleep. Even now she could feel the press of unknown flesh against her own (and what did it say about her that it didnt even bother her anymore?) though it was oddly cool... She blinked; the bodies against her's were cold and clammy, they didn't move... not even to breathe, and weighed down on her, and while she ached... she didn't think she had been used in a while. She raised her arms and pushed as much as she could. What she felt were... limbs, bodies, more than one, and none made so much as a sound, not even as she shoved them around. Panic and vague horror pierced her detached state as her subconscious realized something her conscious mind absolutely refused to accept.
The young monk flailed blindly, kicking and shoving in wild, silent panic, eventually dislodging enough bodies to open a hole to the sky above... or what was left of it, and dragged herself free of the pile of... corpses. She couldnt help turn her gaze back the mass shed just crawled out of, one part of her noting how the top-most layer of bodies was badly burned, while the ones underneath were less and less so, that must be how she survived... While another part of her brain distantly noted the identities of the people there, even the badly burned ones she could tell, they had been after all, her family, both by blood and by bond. Most had been desecrated, their flesh carved up into profane sigils, eyes and tongues cut away... Bile abruptly rose in her throat, and Sarah turned, falling to her knees as she vomited up her last 'meal'. Not that the thick liquid that splattered over the stones, stained yellow by her stomach's humour, had ever been food.
Shakily rising back to her feet, the young monk looked around for the first time, she was in the monastery’s courtyard, once a wide open expanse where they had raised crops and trained, it had been turned into a battle ground, then a demonic funhouse... and now it was abandoned, nothing but bodies, refuse and the occasional bit of scrap. The monastery gates, smashed open and barely dangling from their hinges, stood on the far end, while nearer at hand, the gates to the inner-keep were similarly smashed.
Admittedly, she herself wasnt in any better condition ('Gates smashed!' A voice laughed hysterically somewhere in the back of her mind), her robe hung about her body in soiled tatters, mostly ripped away below the waist, and at the front, and the back was shredded by sharp, gripping claws... but somehow it stayed together as a piece of clothing, just enough frayed threads to keep it in one piece. It was worse than being naked, but at the same time, she couldnt bring herself to take it off. Her thigh length hair was... soiled, what wasnt matted together by the dried fluids of her tormentors, or stained by ash and dirt, hung in thick greasy ropes from her skull. At least they hadn't cut it. Her body was... caked in the evidence of her suffering, she could feel the dried patches between her legs and ass, on her stomach, chest, back and face, she could feel them crinkle every time she moved. Worse, she could feel it within her, feel it shift when she stood up, and already fluid that was anything but her own was gently oozing from her.. broken gate. Her jaw hurt, everything ached, and what didnt ache was sore, her mind was flowing like syrup.
They had been in many ways, simple folk. Sarah, for her part, had been born to the monastery, her parents had been monks, and their parents before them. But there were many others, some came seeking to turn over a new leaf, others came seeking enlightenment, some came seeking strength. Sometimes people who followed the Goddess in other ways would come, seeking to expand their understanding. They woke at dawn to greet the sun, meditated in the early morning rays, ate breakfast, then studied musty scrolls of theology and philosophy. Afterwards they would eat lunch, then train and work the fields until the sun set, eat a twilit dinner, bathe in the hot spring, and finally retire for the night. Then do it all again the next day. A disconnected thought flitted through her mind as she looked up at the setting sun. Tonight I will be bathing alone...
The sickly-sweet scent of rot caught her nose and the young monk would have thrown up again if there had been anything left to lose. The comfort of ritual pierced the haze of her mind, someone had to prepare the bodies, and there was no one left but her. Glassy-eyed, she fired up the kiln the monastery used for cremations, collected the nearest body, composed it the best she could and then tossed it into the fire. There were prayers to say, and ritual to follow, but young Sarah did not know them, she hoped the cremation would be enough. Body after body went into the furnace; Mother, Father, Master, Brother, Friend, Teacher, and more... so many more. Before long they all began to blurr together.. none were whole, every body had been desecrated by the demonic invaders, their faces carved, or missing, or any number of other things.... the denizens of the abyss lacked not for creativity and never again would Sarah be able to picture those she loved whole and hale.
She worked long into the night and when her grisly task was done, the young monk shambled over to the open-air cave that the hotspring waters collected in, and sat quiet and alone in a place that had once been so full of laughter and life. She scrubbed away the filth that she had been covered in, then the ash from the furnace that had covered that.... then kept scrubbing until the waters around her were pink and her flesh was raw and sore.
Sarah didnt remember returning to her room, but she awoke with the dawn, on her cot, wearing fresh clothing... not hers, it was sized too big, but looking around her sacked and half-burned room, she was not surprised that none of her own robes had survived. Out of habit, if nothing else she headed for the chaple, through the shattered inner doors, deep into the heart of the Monastery.... and found the doors sealed. Confusion curled in her gut, why would the doors still be closed? She reached out and felt power flicker under her fingers, but it did not stop her, and she pushed... the doors creaked loudly in the silent monastery, revealing the shrine within.
It was... pristine. The demons had been warded away somehow and not a single thing was askew. The sitting cushions still ringed out from the shrine, the solid gold statuette of Sarenrae still stood on the white stone altar, there was even a brazier with slow-burning incense smoking off to the side. Sarah, shocked by the untouched state of this most holy of places, stepped quietly past her usual spot and slowly lowered herself onto the front-most cushion, right in front of the shrine. She sat there for a long time, not praying, not thinking, just... sitting there.
It finally hit her then, the loss and the grief and the survivor's guilt and everything else. The young monk seemed to collapse in on herself, crumpling up and falling forward until her forehead touched the floor. There she cried until tears would no longer come, her pain filled howls echoing in the silence. But in her grief, something else was born, and Sarah's eyes snapped up to the golden statuette as she pushed herself up off the floor, “Why?” she asked, and when no answer seemed forthcoming, she asked again, volume rising; “Why!?”. If this place could be kept safe, then obviously her family and everyone else could have been safe too. Surely a being as powerful as Sarenrae was enough to handle a band of middling demons, if she was so good, why wouldnt she have stood by and watched them all die? A servant, a sign, intervention, allies, anything
. But she had done nothing
. Sarah reeled inside and out at the revelation, she felt sick, and vaguely realized she was still yelling, vision blurring with fresh tears, she lashed out.
Saying she 'woke up' wouldn't be correct, she had been fully conscious the whole time, rather she returned
to find the shrine completely wrecked. The pillows had been shredded, the alter knocked over, the coverings on the walls were smouldering and embers of perfumed wood were scattered liberally across the floor. The idol was on the floor, streaked with blood, it had been buckled, its wings bent, it had been beaten against the stone until it was almost unrecognisable. Sarah stood there for a moment her hands were cut and beginning to swell around broken bones, the corner of her lips twitched, and then she turned away...
She walked out. Out of her faith, out of the shrine, out of the monastery, out into the hills that surrounded it. She kept walking, barely noticing as she passed the boundary of the Worldwound, she kept walking until she passed out from thirst and hunger, having not eaten anything in days and thrown up what they had fed her.
By all rights, that should have been the end of her, but a chance encounter saved her life. She was discovered by a woman, a ranger of some sort, the woman fed and watered her and helped guide her away from the roaming demons. When that failed, she slew them with a bow and arrow.
In time the woman guided her to a boarder patrol, Templars from Mendev, and vanished moments before they arrived. She was brought back to the city, healed and relayed the destruction of the Monastery to the local church of Sarenrae, they offered her a place to stay of course, but Sarah turned them down. Never again would she put her faith in the gods, she would make her own way, stand on her own two feet. She continued her training, stripped of the philosophical and religions elements, raw physic training. She trained as hard as her body could take, and on the few occasions she had extra money, would train even beyond that and pay for healing after. She found work, there were surprisingly many opportunities for a girl with a comely face, strong arms and few scruples in Kenebras.
Though Sarah cleaves firmly away from religion, she recalls and idolizes the mysterious woman that saved her. She held a vigil for almost a year, hoping to see her saviour again, but the woman never turned up in Kenebras, nor had she ever found any creditable individuals who claimed to know her. This has lead the young monk to conclude that the woman must live (or lived) in the Worldwound, waging a one-woman campaign against demonkind. Such a life appeals to Sarah's notions of duty and vengeance, and she prepares for the day when she will make her own way into that realm and wage her own war... and maybe meet her hero once more.
And paused, as a memory of the torments she suffered at the hands of the demons bubbling to the surface. The fiends dancing around her; mocking, writhing, touching. Sarah shuddered. It had seemed random at the time, and she had been long gone by then, but now... for some reason she couldnt shake the feeling that there was something more to it. Thinking back it felt almost... ritualistic.
It would be so easy to write it off as random acts of debased desires and cruelty, but no, the more she thought about it the more she felt that there must have been some... purpose to their acts. She had been wall taught, she knew full well that it was a mistake to underestimate the intelligence and cunning of Demons. Perhaps her survival had not been as coincidental as it had seemed. The thought infuriated her, why had she been chosen to live and suffer? The twist to her lips grew into a big smile, and not a nice one; Whatever their purpose, it had clearly failed, and she would make them pay for that mistake one day.
Then she walked out. Out of her faith, out of the shrine, out of the monastery, out into the hills that surrounded it. Secure in her sense of purpose she headed towards Kenebras, the city of crusades, for she could think of no better place to begin her training anew. She revised her training, stripping out the philosophical and religions elements, boiling it down to raw physic training. She trained as hard as her body could take, and on the few occasions she had extra money, would train even beyond that and pay for healing after. She found work, there were surprisingly many opportunities for a girl with a comely face, strong arms and few scruples in Kenebras.
Nightmares have been her constant companion since that day, sometimes going away for weeks, just long enough to start to hope they might be gone for good only to return with a vengeance, often wracking her for several days in a row. As punishing her for daring to hope for freedom, and over the years, Sarah has long since accepted that she will never be rid of them, and instead seeks a purpose in them. Dreaming of being ravished by demons constantly as endured her to the memories, and each time she wakes up in a hot sweat, she reclaims alittle more of her lost time. One day she hopes to figure out what the purpose of the ritual was supposed to be, and perhaps find a clue leading to the being ultimately responsible for it.
In the meantime, she will settle for killing as many demons as she can.