This is the first installment of Khada’an’s story in Dante’s Hell.
You may remember her from the previous chapter with Captain Smith.
However, if you’d like to start reading my story from the start, click here.
At first, it was a tug. It was barely perceptible, but it was enough to disturb her sleep. She searched her memories and whetted her eyes to blink away the hardened sap that caked her lashes.
Once her vision cleared, Khada’an sighed and stared straight out from her lonely cliffside. The vastness of the red lake below always made her feel insignificant. It looked endless and engulfing, and she lusted after it. Her dry and brittle limbs cracked causing her to bleed uncontrollably. It was only when her blood was nearly drained completely, would the bleeding stop. If she were out in the lake, she would be surrounded by liquid and the life-force that leaked from her skin.
She felt another small tug. This time, it was heavy and so sudden, it took her breath away. The rope pulled tightly around her trunk, dug into her skin and instantly tore the flesh. She looked down, but because she could only move her eyes and nothing else, she could only see and feel the erratic sway of her rope.
She had been surrounded by a breathless air for centuries. How could her rope move if there were no breeze, but it tugged again with such weight, she was sure she was snap in two.
Khada’an strained her gaze downward to see what or who approached her, but before she could make out anything, she felt one of her roots burst from the cliff’s edge. Her breathing increased to sheer panic as she looked out toward the red lake and the steaming sand below her.
Surely, she would shatter if she fell.
A thought came to mind, and her breath caught in her throat. It could not be him, could it? Red bubbles the size of cannonballs rose to the surface of the steaming lake and popped, splashing molten blood in all directions.
Her gaze followed the shoreline, but she saw no evidence of a blood trail. After nearly five centuries, she was still terrified of the man who took her life, but she still envied his demise is a liquid state rather than a dry, brittle, and broken one that she suffered. And suffered for what? Because she refused to be made a concubine to a brute?
The fibrous rope dug into her trunk with such weight she lunged forward again springing the loose root from its hold. Khada’an screamed because she knew this meant she would meet her enemy once more in his ring of hell. Much to her surprise, something black appeared at the surface of the lake about five ald from the shoreline. After studying this same form for some time, she knew exactly what it was.
She sighed in relief knowing that whoever or whatever pulled at her rope was not the reason of her death. Another root wiggled forcing her trunk to lean forward more, but this time, she called out. “Why do you climb me, sir? Do you know the pain I am in?” Khada’an had not heard her own voice for years, so it startled her, but evidently, it also started the man who strained to get closer.
“I do know the pain, madam, but I just want to get out. Can you help me? Please?”
Who was this man? And if he had such grand dreams of getting out, why should he be extended the privilege?
“This is certainly not the way out.”
“What, may I ask, is the reason for your being here?”
The man’s question stopped Khada’an short. What was her reason for being down here? She took her life to save it, and she is now eternally punished. Thinking back, maybe the hell on earth would have been better than living as a tree in the underworld with nothing to glean from, nothing to do, and certainly no way out. “I committed a sin against the god and king.” Her voice was barely over a whisper, but he seemed to have heard her.
Just then, she felt a harsh tug on the rope, and she heard her bark crack around her trunk. She could not hold this man much longer without succumbing to the fate she knew he would suffer momentarily.
“Am I causing you pain, miss?”
Her voice strained against his weight, “Of course! I am the tree and my limbs hold you up. But I am not a strong tree…” She knew what she had to do. The rope was wrapped around her trunk, but she knew if she broke her own leg, she could free herself of this terrible burden. But she would also be severing any tie to conversation.
Then, it dawned on her to whom she was speaking. She had heard him talk to another man down below a few days before. His body would repair if she dropped him, but hers would not. “I must let you go.”
Captain Smith’s voice grew shallow. She could smell the panic on his breath as he moved around causing a tear in her skin. Blood dripped from her tender bark bringing tears to her eyes.
“You say there is no way out your way?”
She choked back her tears not only for him, but also for herself, for she knew there was no getting out of Hell. “None. And why should I help you when you associate with the demon in your lake?
“Demon? You mean Samuel?”
Khada’an did not mean Samuel, and she seethed with Captain Smith’s ignorance. There was an even worse villain in his midst, and he had no idea. Submerged in the boiling lake was a creature so vile that Samuel would pale in comparison. And this creature was why she was mounted to this cliffside in a terrible turn of disgusting irony. “No. There is a monster submerged who murdered my entire village, and sadly, I am here to see him every day. This is a hell I cannot bear.”
“My dear lady, I do not see anything in the lake. Are you sure you are not mistaken?”
Her patience grew thin, and her leg grew weak. She had no intention of educating this man for she saw her fate in the steaming sands below in shards. “Captain Smith, take another look.”
She did not give him the chance to respond before gritting her teeth and cracking her own leg. The pain was insurmountable, and blood seeped from the wound. The rope tore into the rest of the bark and severed her whole limb taking it with Captain Smith to the sandy beach below. The sickening thud that came next made her want to scream. But instead, she wept.
The small ball of matted hair Khada’an spotted before was now floating out into the depths of the never ending ocean. She glanced down to the sand and could barely see Captain Smith broken into several pieces. His legs looked decayed and discarded and forgotten like a battleground corpse. But she could see his hand, outstretched toward the lake. It was a sickening black with holes in the flesh. Bile filled her throat, and she fought the urge to retch onto his already disgusting body.
Her hip, or what used to be her hip, throbbed with a dull pain. That must mean it was beginning to seal. Her eyes drifted closed as the blood loss finally made its way to her head. She suddenly felt exhausted. With Temujin’s scalp no longer in view, she closed her eyes and let her tears turn to sap.
* * * * *
Now that Khada’an knew the name that matched the scream, she wished a special pain on Samuel and his inhuman noise. Each day, he was born again into the pains of the boiling lake, and each day she had to hear the familiar sounds of torture. But this time, his scream was different. It wasn’t of pain but of fear.
Desperate to know what was going on, she tore her eyes open. Eyelashes were still glued together on the corners of her eyes with blood-laced sap, and she grunted in pain foolishly for forgetting.
Samuel screamed out again. Khada’an quickly blinked and looked at what caused such peril. Samuel was fused to his same spot but ever muscle was flexed as he tried to move away from Temujin’s floating scalp. What he didn’t see was the same man’s left hand bobbing behind him with the gentle waves of the calm lake. She started to smile when she felt an intense pain coming from her torn limb.
Blood continued to drip from her bark slowly, but what she felt was a rough-edged, prickly wood filling the gaping hole she had created the day before. A wooden branch was growing into her tender and raw skin, and it was doing all it could to scratch away any nerve and deadened cell, so she was forced to feel every new tear and fusion.
She could not cover her face with her hands to weep, so she just cried into the emptiness of this ring of hell. Below her was Captain Smith, back in his same spot, seated on the scorched sand. His decrepit hand was now whittled to a stump, still black and decayed.
Khada’an cried harder. She could not get Captain Smith out of this hell, and she could not get herself out of it. It has been more than five centuries, and she remained as this discarded tree on the side of the mountain. Utterly alone and forgotten with a view of her killer in her sights everyday.
Something tingled along her spine and she abruptly stopped crying. “What is that?” She sniffled a few times thinking maybe it was her imagination.
She blinked away her tears and looked as far as she could to her right. Then she looked to her left. Nothing. But then, she felt the tingle on her shoulder. It was unmistakable. “What is that?” It was an itch she could not scratch, and it suddenly felt like it was all over her body. Her arm, her back, her neck. The light tickle covered her skin and made her feel prickly and irritated. “What is happening!” she shouted.
And just as suddenly as it began, it stopped. Her breathing slowed, but every sense was on high alert. She spotted the bobbing hand off in the distance now, and Samuel had finally stopped screaming. But before she fully resigned herself to her own private hell, a voice whispered in her ear, “Admiring my handiwork?”
She opened her mouth to scream only to feel the tiny prickles of spider’s legs on her tongue.
To be continued…
Khada’an is a woman who would have surely been at Genghis Khan’s mercy, so why is she sentenced to Dante’s Seventh Ring of Hell? Continue reading the next installment of her story next week.
To read more or start from the beginning of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2017, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.