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Chapter XVIII – A Painful End

Illuminated by the orange sky of daybreak, Hana rode her horse hard to reach the place Entirelle and Kaori had set out to investigate as soon as possible. It was a small grove off the beaten path, but Hana knew exactly where to look for. Hitching her horse to a tree, Hana decided to cover the last hundred yards on foot, carefully scanning the area for any sign of bandits or beasts. Soon spotting the small wooden shack, Hana knew she had found the place. Surrounded by an old wooden fence, the entire area looked like a long-abandoned farmstead. Cutting a hole in the fence, Hana climbed up the elevated ground. Raising her gaze, she was left stunned and in shock. Some fifty yards in front of her stood a tall wooden cross, the body of a young girl still affixed to it. Silently cursing the bandits, Hana drew her longsword, slowly and carefully approaching the execution ground.

Yet nothing could have prepared Hana for what she was about to see. Exiting the small grove of trees blocking her view, Hana's gazed at the sight, stunned. She had found Entirelle. Completely naked, her inflamed skin covered in numerous jagged lacerations, Entirelle hung from another cross, long, thick iron nails pinning her forearms and feet to the wood. "Almost a full day...", Hana mused dazedly, cautiously approaching Entirelle's cross. She did not believe her friend still lived. She, however, was wrong.

Only the otherworldly quiet of the meadow allowed a thin, ragged whisper to reach Hana's ears.

“K...l. ... me....”

Seeing her fast friend grotesquely stretched out above, her arms and feet pierced by thick iron spikes, Hana wanted to vomit accumulated rage and grief. Crucified on either side of Entirelle were two young women. One, Hana did not know but the other...

"Kaori...", gasped Hana tearfully, gazing at her ravaged body. In that instant, a jolt of realization struck Hana. She had gotten distracted while Entirelle still somehow lingered. Hana knew what she had to do but the thought did not make it any easier. For the moment she entertained the thought of taking Entirelle down, just so she wouldn't expire up there only to realize she would cause her friend great pain and likely death just by taking her down.

"I am sorry, Enty.", spoke Hana with a demure expression, before stabbing her longsword underneath Entirelle's outstretched rib cage, piercing her heart, eliciting a brief groan of pain. As life rapidly left her, Entirelle wished to thank Hana or at least smile only for the final realization to hit her instead. She hadn't told Hana what evil lurked in the meadow. Her mouth slightly agape would not convey her last message as Entirelle's head slumped to the side, her eyes closing for the final time. As her entire body quivered, Hana’s legs gave out. Holding on to the hilt of her longsword, Hana gazed downwards, tears running down her cheeks.

She, however, would not be left to her grief for long. In the corner of her eye, Hana spotted three ancient-looking swords approaching her. Hana knew the spirits holding the weapons were wraiths, sheer malice given form. The chill aura they radiated betrayed their locations and Hana effortlessly blocked an attack aimed at her upper torso, immediately stabbing the wraith with her longsword. The weapon destroyed the wraith instantly as its fuller was lined with pure silver, a bane of undead and spirits both. The other two wraiths attacked simultaneously but Hana stood her ground, slashing at and destroying yet another wraith. She could not fathom how the spirits managed to capture Entirelle and Kaori, both having been fine soldiers, the former nearly hear equal in martial prowess. Her rage once again overflowing, Hana struck hard at the last wraith’s sword, the force of the impact pushing it downwards, breaking the spirit's defense. Quickly finishing off the wraith before it could recover, Hana let out a sigh of relief, catching her breath. Unfortunately, the moment of relief would not last.

Hearing a clang of metal, Hana immediately turned her head. Where there had previously been nothing but thin air, eight long iron blades now levitated. The wraiths advanced, quickly assailing yet another foolish guard who had come to investigate the area. Hana slashed and stabbed with her longsword in the direction of her invisible foes, but, at the same time, could not block all of their attacks. Although the Imperial half-armor protected her vital spots, long bloody gashes appeared where the wraiths’ blades found their mark. Slowly retreating back towards Kaori’s cross, Hana breathed heavily, holding her longsword in a middle guard.

“Just how many of the fiends roosted in this cursed place?”, Hana wondered gripping the handle of her longsword tightly, cutting down the two wraiths that came at her.

Despite not seeing them, Hana could feel the presence of the wraiths and when they neared her. Suddenly, having mustered her resolve, she charged. If she was to die in battle, she could at least take as many as possible wraiths down with her. Putting all of her weight into the thrust, she skewered the first wraith in front of her, reaching for the dagger strapped to her back to parry the blade she was sure was behind her. Grabbing nothing but air, Hana was momentarily perplexed. Then she remembered. She had forgotten to retrieve the dagger from the table she had stabbed with it. Hana’s eyes widened in disbelief at her carelessness. Carelessness that had now left her lower back completely exposed. The wraith struck quickly, only, instead of skewering Hana, it quickly turned the blade, striking the girl’s lower back with the sword’s iron pommel. Feeling the full force of the hit against her spine, Hana cried out in pain. Unable to remain standing, she fell on her knees, her longsword escaping her grasp. Raising her head, Hana’s gaze met with the three swords aimed at her head and neck. Despite her valiant struggle, she knew it was over.


Chapter XIX – Defeated and Broken

Instead of finishing her off, two wraiths grabbed Hana’s arms, while the others began to tear at her armor, ripping off the plates one by one. Hana attempted to kick the wraiths but could only cringe in horror as the wraiths began to strip her clothes, wincing when wraiths’ talons cut into the soft skin of her abdomen as they ripped apart her leather coat. Before long, Hana was covered in many bloody gashes, completely nude other than the small loincloth, a remnant of her undergarments.

Her arms held tightly, Hana gritted her teeth furiously as she watched the wraiths separating Entirelle’s arm and feet from the beams they had been nailed to, leaving the spikes in Entirelle’s limbs. For a brief moment, Entirelle hung only by her left arm, before the wraiths detached it as well, letting her body fall to the ground like an old sack. Just the sight of bloody pointed spikes protruding from Entirelle’s torn skin and flesh nauseated Hana. At the same time, another wraith had been releasing Kaori’s body, the resulting thud from her fall to the ground stinging Hana’s heavy heart greatly. Raising her gaze to avoid looking at the broken bodies of her friends, Hana suddenly froze. The heavy horizontal beam of Entirelle’s cross, now separated from its main part was slowly moving towards her. Despite the pleasant warmth of the summer morning, Hana's entire body shivered.

Two wraiths carried the heavy wooden beam, placing it on the ground a few yards behind Hana. Not wasting time, another wraith grabbed the girl’s bound hand, yanking her towards the timber. Hana attempted to dig in her heels but the grass, still slick from morning dew offered no support. Once she was dragged to her destination, a wraith violently hit Hana in the sternum with the pommel of its sword, causing her to cry out in pain and fall backwards. Her arms and hands were quickly pinned to the beam by the strong undead hands of the wraiths. Utterly defeated and without a chance to escape, Hana watched in horror as the wraiths extracted the nails from Entirelle’s arms. As the two nails slowly approached her, Hana let out a weak whimper, betraying her terrible fear of what was to come, her heart beating faster than it had ever beat before.

Holding her arm tightly, the wraith placed a small, thin, wooden slab on Hana’s forearm, just below her wrist. Her body trembling, Hana’s gaze focused on the nail seemingly standing atop the wooden slab. Without warning, the wraith pushed the nail downwards, instantly piercing through the piece of wood and into the soft skin of Hana’s right forearm. As the tip of the nail bit into her skin, Hana’s eyes widened in shock, and her teeth clenched. With the nail secured, the wraith pushed it further.


Hana screamed from the top of her lungs as the nail burrowed through her forearm, tearing the soft flesh as it went through. It took all of Hana’s willpower not to try and rip her arms from the beam. The entire time, she screamed and wailed as the ravaged flesh between the bones of her forearms radiated unceasing waves of pain. The wraiths were efficient and methodical, managing to avoid both the bones and important veins so Hana would be able to “dance” on her cross and not die a relatively quick death from blood loss. Both of her forearms nailed, Hana quietly sobbed, taking many a shallow breath with her mouth. Remaining as still as possible did not dull the pain but it thankfully added no additional pain, either. Hana had heard from other women that childbirth was the most painful experience a woman could suffer. None of them were being crucified, Hana's pain-deluded mind mused.

Not caring for her sobs, the wraiths quickly picked up the beam to which Hana’s forearms were affixed, raising it just enough to force the girl into a sitting posture. The repositioning caused Hana great amount of pain, but what she saw next hurt her heart just as much. Her friends’ broken bodies were being pulled away from her by their limbs, and towards a small muddy pond at the edge of the meadow. Entirelle’s and Kaori’s stiff bodies slid over slick grass, still wet from morning dew. Upon reaching the edge of the pond, the wraiths unceremoniously tossed Entirelle’s body in first, the diligent captain partially sinking into the mud. Kaori’s body experienced the same fate, landing on top of Entirelle’s, her dead, glassy eyes continuing to stare into nothingness through the muddy water of the pond. Seeing her friends’ bodies disrespectfully tossed into the water like trash, Hana let out a prolonged shriek of pain and anguish.


Chapter XX – The Captain’s Agony

Shortly after dumping the two girls' bodies, two wraiths grabbed the beam to which Hana's arms were nailed and began dragging it towards the upright beam. The sudden jerk as the beam tilted shocked Hana even though she knew what the next phase of her execution would be. Loud groans escaped Hana's throat as she was being mercilessly dragged, the nails in her forearms grinding against the torn flesh and nerves. As they began raising her up the main beam, Hana clenched her teeth but could not stand the pain as her entire body weight pulled against two sharp pieces of iron in her forearms, which now pushed against the bones of her wrists. Her eyes shut tightly; Hana screamed as she realized the purposefully slow raising was deliberate - simply another way to exacerbate her already indescribably horrible torture. In order to relieve some of the pressure on her wrists, Hana attempted to hold onto the rough wood with her feet and calves, succeeding in her intention but, sadly, failing to dull any of the pain. Reaching the top of the vertical beam, Hana's body slumped, her weight pushing the patibulum down, reconnecting it with the main beam. Her body unsupported, Hana hung only by her fully extended arms, struggling to breathe. If only she would be left like that - to asphyxiate quickly and mercifully, Hana thought wistfully. The sight of another, even longer nail nearing her from below brought her back to grim reality: her death would not be a quick and merciful one, but rather, a pitiful struggle until her torn muscles eventually gave out. Hana simply could not watch what was about to happen, turning her head and gnashing her teeth in grim anticipation.

Forgoing the wooden slab this time, the wraith positioned Hana's feet one atop the other before placing the long nail atop Hana's right foot. Achieving the angling it desired, the wraith pushed the nail into Hana's foot.


The pain Hana felt reminded her of a time when, as a young trainee, she had stabbed her foot with a spear. Still, the pain she felt then was nothing compared to the sheer, concentrated agony as the long iron spike, still slick with Entirelle's blood, tore through her feet, ripping flesh and crushing bone on its way. After what seemed far longer than twenty seconds, Hana's feet were securely affixed to the wood, providing her body some support but at the expense of terrible pain. Hana screamed and writhed, attempting to shift her weight and find a slightly less agonizing position which would prove an impossible task.

Dawn turned into day as Hana's throat grew hoarse from her incessant screaming. Not even ten minutes had passed but Hana was already baffled at how a human being could withstand so much pain without their mind breaking. Gazing at the cast iron nail heads protruding from her forearms and the right foot, the situation once again became clear to Hana. Hours? A full day? Multiple days? How long she would suffer, she could not guess. Scourged as she was, Entirelle (who was physically weaker than Hana) lasted for a full day. In her mind's eye, she could clearly see Entirelle's face - her tortured, resigned gaze. Yet more tears flowed down Hana's cheeks, the crucified girl fully comprehending her miserable fate. 21 years of her life had led to this. She was crucified. In time, her pain would progressively grow even worse, her muscles would tear, and her shoulders dislocate, leaving only her legs to push her upwards. Her last moments would be spent in agony, desperately gasping for the shallowest breath until death finally took her. Hana's whole body shook as she sobbed inconsolably. Who was it that first devised such a gruesome punishment, using only two pieces of wood and three iron nails?

The hours of the morning passed slowly as a crucified girl "danced" on her cross. Every time she needed air or when the pain in her shoulders grew too much to bear, Hana would be forced to lift herself upwards, experiencing jolts of terrible pain from her forearms and feet. This rondo of agony went on seemingly indefinitely. At one point, nearly two hours into the rhythm, as she returned to her original position, Hana felt lightheaded. Before she could guess the reason, Hana's head fell. Slowly losing consciousness, she thought of her deceased friends, Entirelle and Kaori. They had come to the meadow seeking only to investigate the area, coming across a crucified girl whose lifeless body still hung from a cross to Hana's left. Ambushed, scourged, and, finally, crucified, together they endured their agony, perhaps even comforting each other as they suffered. How terrible was it to die alone... Hana's thoughts slowly faded as her eyes closed. Occasional minutes of tranquil oblivion would be all the relief she could hope for.


Chapter XXI – The Light in the Dark

Hana did not know how long she remained unconscious before being woken by a lark blowing across her face. The summer sun had nearly reached its highest point in the cloudless sky and was slowly roasting Hana's pained body. The muscles of her lean arms were already sore, and her shoulders hurt ached more than prior to her loss of consciousness. Arduously lifting herself upwards once again, Hana's ears suddenly picked up a familiar sound - that of several pairs of hobnailed boots hitting the ground in rhythmic unison. Hana knew full well it was but an auditory hallucination but could not stop herself from turning her head to the direction of the sound. What she saw shook her to her very core. Over the crest of the hill, four steel spearheads emerged, glistening in the sun. They were soon followed by their long wooden shafts, as well as tall, steel helmets. Cresting the hill, seven; no; eight men appeared, four of them fully armored and carrying long heavy spears and three the newest Imperial muskets. Leading the men was a soldier clad in majestic black plate whom Hana knew well - captain Heinrich von Gerleigh. He had arrived to Hykage shortly before Hana on Emperor's decree in order to inspect the troops and hopefully offer the most promising ones a place in the Imperial Vanguard. Hana had hoped to refer Kaori to him as she showed great promise, and the much higher salary would have allowed her to send more money to her family. It would have been a surprise for the girl once she and Entirelle returned from the quest they embarked on.

Seven men matched in unison under the command of captain Heinrich. Three of them: Erik, Hensel, and Ulrich, had attempted to dissuade Hana from searching for Entirelle and Kaori alone. Shamed by her resolve, they informed captain von Gerleigh of Hana's actions. Being fully aware of Hana's overly daring nature that was certain to catch up with her at some point, Heinrich quickly gathered four more men and organized a patrol. They would venture down the southern road. Being a man of caution and aware of the rumors of a pack of banshees roaming the area, Heinrich commanded the soldiers to dip their weapons into the church altar's holy water and the musketeers to load silver bullets into their guns. The patrol quickly advanced down the road, soon reaching the place where Entirelle and Kaori had left their horses. The animals had managed to free themselves and were drinking from a nearby creek. Advancing up the hill, Heinrich ordered the soldiers into formation so as to not lose cohesion if suddenly attacked by bandits or banshees. Enraged by the appearance of yet more guards before they could vacate the area and relocate to a new ambush spot, the wraiths assembled on the road, just in front of the patrol, their blades ready to cut down the soldiers. Seeing the ancient blades floating in mid-air, Heinrich immediately recognized what they were up against.

"Musketeers front, pikemen behind!”, commanded the captain, raising his longsword as the soldiers formed an orderly formation, tightly gripping their weapons. They were not expecting a battle but would teach the undead a final lesson. Three gunners shouldered their muskets.

"Present. Aim. Fire!"

As the battle was joined, and the screams of the soldiers reached Hana's ears, she hung her head in shame. Not only had her recklessness led to her own crucifixion but now also to the needless death of good soldiers. However, this time it was the wraiths that underestimated the humans.

With Ulrich and Erik finishing off the last two wraiths, all the remaining guards breathed sighs of relief. The battle had been far more grueling than they had expected. All the wraiths were felled but two musketeers and one pikeman, lay dead also, killed by the spirits' blades. The pikemen had stabbed in unison, while captain Heinrich methodically cut down any that had attempted to flank the formation. Collecting themselves, Heinrich and the young pikeman named Conrad raised their heads, only to gasp and freeze in place. The other three reacted in the same way once they realized what lay in front of them. Not two hundred yards away, in the middle of the meadow stood three crosses, of which two weren't empty. From the right one hung the body of a girl whom the soldiers didn't know, but on the middle one was...


Chapter XXII – An End to the Nightmare

"WHAT THE! NO! NO!", Erik exclaimed, quickly rushing towards the crosses. The other guards followed suit, following Erik's lead. Reaching the clearing, all of the guards stared in shock. Up above them was the Hana von Leititz, completely naked other than a small loincloth that nevertheless covered nothing when viewed from below. Painfully outstretched and hanging by her nailed forearms and feet, Hana had been crucified.

"Pl... ease. Don't leave me up there! PLEASE!!!", cried Hana, her whole body shaking.

It hurts... It hurts so... much AAH!", whimpered Hana through tears, once more succumbing to the pain.

All the guards had bowed her head. Although Hana was an incredibly beautiful woman, none of them could bear to look her in the eyes. All but one.

"What are you all doing?", asked Heinrich, the tranquil fury in his deep voice immediately rousing the soldiers more than any shout could.

"Conrad! There is a shed there. Go inside and get a ladder. NOW! ", commanded Heinrich, startling the youngest guard who immediately did as he was instructed. The others did not have to be told twice, scattering to find either the ladder or an axe to make one themselves. Luckily, they did not have to resort to that. While the ladder leading to the top floor of the shed was bolted in place, Ulrich and Hensel managed to find two heavy ladders in good condition just behind the shed, quickly bringing them out. Conrad, on the other hand, had managed to find several coils of rope inside the shed.

"Conrad and I will take down the girl. You two help Hana. And quickly. ", said Hensel, motioning for Conrad to pass out the ropes.

"Got it!", affirmed Ulrich, taking the other ladder and a larger coil of sturdy brown rope.

Setting the ladder against the main beam of Hana's cross, Ulrich began climbing. Being the strongest of the guards present, he had no trouble carrying the heavy rope with him. As he approached Hana, he could clearly hear the pained sighs coming from the girl, which only urged him to work faster. Being the son of an architect, Ulrich was familiar with measurements and was able to cut off just the amount of rope he needed, tying it around the horizontal beam and Hana's arms. Another rope he tied tighter, around Hana's torso and the vertical beam. Her arms and body now far better supported; Hana felt a small measure of relief.

"Oi, Ulrich, need any help?!", shouted Erik from down below. He had been holding the ladder.

"Yes. The ladder looks quite stable so go and hold her legs in place. You'll soon see why."

Descending a few steps until he could look Hana in the face, Ulrich called to Hana drawing her attention, wincing when he saw how the agonized look on her face.

"Hana... I have to do something. It will help you but will also cause you a lot of pain. Please forgive me for doubting you earlier."

Hana lightly nodded twice, panting heavily. She knew what Ulrich had to do and it terrified her. Ulrich ascended the ladder again, gently stroking the undamaged skin of Hana's right arm before clasping her arm and forearms with both hands.

"Okay. On three, push your hand forward as hard as you can.", said Ulrich to hyperventilating Hana who quickly nodded in affirmation.

"Here it goes. One… Two… THREE!"


With all his strength, Ulrich pushed Hana's nailed arm from the beam, the old and porous wood giving way easier than he had expected. Pushing herself, Hana screamed in agony as the wooden slab between the head of the nail and her wrist dug into her wound. The freeing of her arm lasted for ten painful seconds. As the nail was thankfully narrower at the tip, Ulrich was able to extract it from Hana's flesh with relative ease though it still pained Hana greatly. Ulrich used the same method to free Hana's left arm as well which caused her body to slump downwards, the ropes around her elbows holding her in place. Letting out a sigh of relief, even as Hana quietly moaned in pain, Ulrich instructed Erik, who was preparing to free Hana's feet. By that time Hensel and Conrad had managed to free the body of a girl to Hana's left, Conrad gently placing her down on the grass.


Chapter XXIII – Freedom

Pull quickly, as strong as you can. said Ulrich exasperatedly. Hana's horrific screams still haunted him.

Got it., nodded Erik. All he wanted at the present was to free Hana without adding yet more unnecessary agony. Himself shaken; Erik had to mentally prepare first

"Okay... Okay. One, TWO!!!"

Tightly gripping Hana's soft right foot with one hand and the head of the nail with the other, Erik pulled with all his strength, Hana's pained wail only strengthening his resolve. Thankfully, the aged wood of the cross offered less resistance than Erik thought and, soon enough, he managed to separate Hana's right foot from her left and the wood they had been affixed to. Lacking any tools, Erik twisted the nail in Hana's foot before ripping it out, eliciting an agonized roar from Hana. Her feet and arms now freed, she slipped downwards, holding onto ropes with her elbows, while the rope around her torso provided much welcome support. Erik stood below her; his arms raised.

"You can let go as soon as Ulrich cuts the ropes. I'm going to catch you.", said Erik.

Soon enough, Ulrich approached, Hana's longsword in hand. Taking care not to cut Hana, he slowly slid the blade between her body and the rope. The old strands of the rope gave way quickly, falling to the ground below. Wishing nothing more than to finally leave the dreaded cross, Hana raised her arms, cringing from the pain in her strained shoulders. With nothing holding her anymore, Hana fell towards Erik. Being physically fit and quite strong, Erik was nevertheless, somewhat clumsy. Instead of deftly catching Hana's body below her armpits, he missed, resulting in the full force of Hana's upper torso colliding with his face. Recovering quickly from the hit, Erik was left stunned as his nose was wedged in between Hana's soft, plump breasts pressing against his cheeks. His face turned beet red, and Erik quickly moved Hana away.

"I knew you were a lucky guy, but this was on a whole other level!", shouted Ulrich, attempting to hold back hysterical laughter.

"Hit in the face by Von Leititz's melons. Gonna be the talk of the guard for months!", exclaimed Conrad.

Even Hana herself raised her lips in a gentle smile. Her pierced forearms and feet still radiated waves of pain, but it was tolerable compared to the previous agony, which was finally over. She was embarrassed by five men seeing her completely nude but couldn't hold that against them. Not after everything they had done.

"Entirelle and Kaori...", uttered Hana weakly.

"They... threw them in that pond; aah!" Hana attempted to raise her arm, but it was as if all her strength had been drained.

"We have to get you to the healer right away. But do not worry. We will come back for Entirelle and Kaori immediately afterwards. You have my word." Seeing Hana's sorrowful eyes, Erik reassured her.

"Gods' blood...", muttered captain Heinrich before taking off his cloak and cutting it in half with his sword. He handed one piece to Erik and the other to Hensel. The men needed no further instructions. Both Hana's warm and Helena's pale dead body were soon wrapped in pieces of captain Heinrich's maroon cloak. Erik then gently picked up Hana, setting her on his shoulder. Conrad picked up Helena's wrapped body and the whole company began to move towards the road and the horses they had hitched in the valley below. Only the captain Heinrich remained, silently gazing at the three, now empty crosses. Hensel looked over to him.

"It would be a quaint little grove, were it not for those abominations. If the Imperial Church finds out about this, I wouldn't be surprised if they erected a monument", said Hensel solemnly.

"The grove of agony...", muttered Heinrich under his breath. Gazing one last time at the crosses, he too turned and began to depart.
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