“Quenched In Blood” by Max Carrey

They’d been shoved into a blacked out van and driven on winding bumpy roads. Overcrowding, that’s why they were relocated; at least that’s what they’d been told, but this was no prison or holding site. It was a rundown building in the cover of a wood. Prison guards replaced with mysteriously black dressed men. Their bodies fine-tuned, sharpened, most likely military of some sort. Upon the realization of this threat a roar of grumbles burbled up from the gagged prisoners. There were thirty of them in total. Sweaty, hot, crammed together, being forced to walk single file all the way into a room glowing orange from coal fueled flames. This place was a forge, and a great burly blacksmith greeted them with a smudgy smile as he tinged away on his hammer against heated metal.

They tried to fight but their captors swatted them behind the knees to make them drop to the ground, and dragged them the rest of the way. They lined them up on the wall opposite of the blacksmith, as if they were an audience going to take their seats to watch a show, though shackles and cuffs constrained them. Iron tightly wrapped around their wrists and ankles, cutting into their skin the more they fought against them.

Abruptly left alone in the presence of the blacksmith, with the heat of the forge beating in waves against their skin, looking to one another with widening pupils, tears dripping down until evaporating off their faces, it became apparent that this man, this place would do them no good.The blacksmith, muscles tensed and taut, worked efficiently and quickly churning out stacks of unfinished metal. No longer just billets but not quite knives, the rough blades sat raked amongst the coals with their tangs piling outside the heat begging for handles.

The prisoners pulled against their bonds, but they refused to give. They bit down on their gags, but they didn’t budge. Their cries were muffled and weak in their throats. It had been hours, a horrifying slow burn, waiting for the peak of the moment to rise and reveal itself. No heart beat steadily in those men’s chests. They pinged off ribs in a deafening symphony as blood rushed to their eardrums booming the sound.

“Damascus-” the blacksmith began suddenly, causing the men to start and send them to the brink of fainting. “-blades normally aren’t the strongest of metals, but they stay sharper for longer. And you can make such intricate patterns.” He bellowed deeply, though his voice was surprisingly polished. “That’s usually why blacksmith’s chose to make them. For their cutting and their beauty, but I-I can make any blade strong, despite the metal. I could make a piece of scrap indestructible, but Damascus…Damascus is the best. It holds the most inside it, because of its layers. Things…” he chuckled darkly, “tend to get trapped there.”

The blacksmith threw one last rough blade into the pile and then leaned against his workbench facing the prisoners. He dragged a dirty hand through his sweaty beard. His fat cheeks pushed up into a grin, flashing a golden tooth. “With these blades I not only can make them stronger than any other, unbreakable, but the more blood spilt the stronger the wielder, the more powerful they become. The blade and the solider together as one, unstoppable.

”The sense of dread mounted, and each man began to see his years coming to a close, all culminating to this moment. The prisoner’s arms slackened against their restraints, defeated. Some tired bodies slumped low to the ground, others hung in mid suspension against the pull of the chains. In all their years of being a prisoner, this was the truest form of it enforced upon them. Their resolve weakened. Because who would care? Who would save them, even if they could? They were murderers, assaulters, and thieves. They were heathens, who would question their fate? People only cared if they met an end at all.

“It’s time!” the blacksmith growled. The door flung open and the room filled up with soldiers. Some faces recognizable, the men in black now dressed in camouflage, but there were more of them crowding into the room stifling out the light breathable air. Too many bodies. Each one stood in front of their chosen prisoner. Each prisoner gave one final surge of effort, tugging against their bonds, tearing their skin, blood leaking forth and dripping over.

“Well, gentlemen I suppose it’s symbolic in a way…because here you are on the road to Damascus,” the blacksmith chuckled wryly as he passed a glowing blade to each solider. Thirty prisoners, thirty soldiers, thirty blades. He then turned his back, preparing the grinder that would shape the metal into a smooth surface ready to cut with ease. The solders smiled and gripped the scorching blades in their clamped fists. The blacksmith’s voice roaring up over the prisoner’s terror as their muted screams landed dully in the cloth wedged between their teeth. “Perhaps if the metal you all were made of had tested well you wouldn’t be here. But so be it. Time for the quenching!”

The crude weapons were drawn back in synchronizing motion, the exacerbated energies of the prisoners heightened and they flailed so hard against their bonds the sounds of joints snapped as wrists cracked and broke, but then the blades were struck forth embedding messily and coarsely into their chests. Those that didn’t puncture and simply broke the ribcage swung back and struck forth again until it was buried in flesh. The blood dripping down over the blade, the prisoner’s soul evaporating out their body with a molten heat, but they did not travel far instead going down, down into the metal, deep within the layers.

The blades now quenched, hardened, and their souls trapped inside. They cried new soundless screams of terror that only bounced off the metal, pinging like a bullet to echo among them in the lonely dark. But soon others would join, paying an unlawful penance, crowding in around them. All kept prisoner inside the blades to give the wielder the power of God. Though this was no heaven. This was a place that the Devil ruled from afar. The layers of hell made of Damascus.

Max Carrey loves to delve deep within the complicated pasts and suspense filled futures of her characters. Currently she lives in sunny California, but will be moving to a gloomier location much like the settings in her stories (hopefully without the tragedy and mayhem involved). She has several upcoming stories to be released in print and online with magazines and indie publishers alike. To stay up to date on future releases follow her on instagram @maxcarrey