A shove from behind sent her sprawling forward, and her bones shrieked with pain—but it was a cry only she could hear. As Carissa fell into the barred room, she curled protectively around her satchel. After searching it for weapons, they’d allowed her to keep it.
The other women and Akar were shoved in after her. There was a pregnant pause, as if the world held its breath in anticipation—or fear—of what was to come.
Though the nightwomen clung to one another, the men descended on them like vultures on carrion, ripping them apart from each other, shoving them to the gritty, grimy ground.
Hands touched and gripped her. Carissa held her breath, hugged the satchel tighter, and stared at the ceiling. Wreaths of slimy green oozed across the rock. The stones were mismatched. One was a smooth cobblestone, another a shard of granite, and a third was burnt and blackened.
One man was being particularly rough, and agony clenched her body. She stifled a whimper and squinted, so all was blocked from her vision but the ceiling above. The stones must have been from the ruins of other houses.
She swallowed tightly. This gray sky was likely the last thing she’d see before she died—whether it was within the next few minutes, hours, or days. The thought of days of enduring this awakened her senses to reality and the pain being inflicted upon her.
Carissa gritted her teeth. She would only have to endure this for a little while longer, and the men would soon tire of her.
They did leave her after a while—though she wasn’t sure how long it had taken and how many men she’d been used by. Eventually, she’d closed her eyes lest she catch a glimpse of their faces. Just the thought of their faces and their expressions was enough to make her stomach clench.
She dragged herself to the edge of the prison room, her satchel strap tight against her neck as she pulled it with her, and she ignored several things:
Her shredded clothing.
The trail of blood left in her wake.
The bruises purpling her skin.
The hot bile simmering in her throat.
The watery weakness eating at her bones.
And the pain. Always the pain.
When she stopped, she told herself it was because she was close enough to the wall, where the shadows would keep her hidden, not because each movement of her body threatened to rip her apart.
Carissa forced herself onto her back, biting her lip to smother a pained scream. She must not make a noise or draw attention to herself, lest she invite more torment. Better a neglected doll with her seams gently unraveling than an abused doll having her seams yanked out.
Death’s sickly sweet breath kissed her skin, tantalizingly close, but too far to grasp. How long until she could welcome its embrace?
She brushed her hand along the soft sides of her satchel. There was one thing she could do, one thing she’d promised herself until she’d been captured, one thing that might take the edge off of her transition from life to death.
Reading the letters.