She enters the cellula and sits before the priest joins her. In silence does she wait, listening to his heavy shuffling and throat clearing; a short time later, he begins with a blessing,
“Good tidings, my child. May honesty be in your heart and upon your lips, that you might truly and humbly confess your sins. In the name of the Spring, the Lord, and His prophet.”
She chalices herself afterwards and closes her eyes, hoping that she might not yet be entirely craven,
“I confess before the indelible light of our Lord, before the Holy Order, and before you, Father, that I have sinned by my own fault; in thought, in word, and in deed; in things done and in things left undone.”
She hears the priest’s hum of acknowledgement – a promise of impartial judgment, and feels encouraged to continue,
“It has been five days since my last Confession, Father. In the time since, I have welcomed Taint and impurity into my soul. I have dishonored my name and my title. I have made myself the slave of indulgence; the courter of temptation; the whore of vice.” She feels her voice shaking, and curses the childishness of her lisp. She tries to lower her pitch, tries to emulate the stronger, commanding tones of the women she knows; the Countess; the Captain; Lyonie; Vlora, “I pray the Lord has mercy upon my soul, and humbly beg forgiveness of Him and His Order. I seek guidance and absolution, and in earnest await my penance.”
She can hear the whistling wheeze in the priest’s breathing as he coaxes,
“Tell me your sins.”
And she does.
There is some more shuffling, a soft cough, and a deep murmur of bemusement before,
“You are a maid still?”
She says yes.
There is the indistinct murmur of something that she wishes to hear, but the priest speaks too quickly, too quietly. She begins to feel her heart pound against her chest and she grows suddenly empty of all but that thudding beat. She steadies a shaking hand and tries to resist fainting. As the ringing in her ears fades, the priest’s words grow more and more coherent,
“…put to rest wicked and immoral thoughts. Find solace within the embrace of His word. In your reconciliation, linger not on your notions of unworthiness, but instead on your dedication to commitment anew. Accept His teachings wholly, and stray far from the path of hedonism.”
Her eyes remain shut as she whispers,
He recommends her penance and she thanks him for his mercy. After the closing blessings, she departs and begins her patrol.
Later that eve, she kneels bare before her bed, a six-thronged scourge in hand. She shivers as she brings it up and over her head to lash at her back. The force makes her buck and hiss, but she bites down on her braid to silence any further noise. The second lash is stronger, and makes her teeth cut into their soft barrier. The third sends her into a minute haze. It is on the fifth stripe that the throngs return slick. The blood is dark on the leather, but she cannot be sure, for there are white flares at the edges of her vision. The sixth, ninth, twelfth, and fifteenth strokes all seem to coalesce; each brings agony fiercer than the last, but none are distinct enough to warrant more than a stifled sob.
She seems to unravel after she drops the scourge, dark strands of her hair strewed into disarray from the flogging. She spits out her plait and grips the bed’s edge with crimson-tinged fingers. The braid hangs down her front, pooling at the tiles below; it resembles a snake in her blurry sight, and she must force herself to remember that she is still awake, and thus nothing she sees is an accurate representation of her surroundings.
Her body is wracked by a relentless throbbing as she drags herself into the bed, lying down on the raw ruin of her back. The white sheets are smeared red, and their contact upon her wounds makes her see stars until she falls off the precipice of pain and sinks into the depths of a haunted darkness.