The Strongest Feller Around, Pt. 9

Maya left me to the inquisitors. They visited a thousand horrors upon me, scribbling their ideas and observations and notes on my reactions in great books. Whenever I seemed to be on the verge of passing out, or else fading completely into oblivion, they revitalized me with their magic. A few gestures and chanted phrases, an invocation to the Many, and a laying on of hands, and my bones and skin and sinew healed as if they had never been injured. All my wounds were gone, save for the scars left from the embers Inquisitor Obadiah had used on me. I don’t know why. I didn’t care. I ask you, what kind of gods grant healing magic to those who would use it only to torture more efficiently? I asked this question aloud when I could muster the breath, but the inquisitors ignored me. Unlike Maya, they could not be goaded into anger. Eventually they left.

Time passed. There were no windows in my cell, and so I do not know for how long I was there, alone with my thoughts and my memories of pain. I wondered what had become of Enrico and his family and their friends. Were they too trapped and chained to the walls, helpless before the whims of the High Prelate and her bloodthirsty minions? A sick sensation crept into my stomach. Were they dead know just because they’d known me and accepted me? Sir Perceval had threatened to kill every last inhabitant of Quail’s Leap, just because he suspected them of having been tainted by my presence.

My heart sank even lower. Was Maya right about my origins? Was I truly a demon bound to a corpse given unnatural life by the necromancer? In the darkness of my cell and the depths of my despair, anything seemed possible.

Time passed. No one came for me, and my fantasies of rescue became fantasies of revenge, revenge against the nameless, faceless inquisitors and Maya. I would see their own devices turned against them. I would break free at the moment of my execution and slay them in front of the people of Glimmerton. I would escape from my cell and reveal Maya for the monster that she is. These thoughts kept me warm, warmer than the brazier.

Time passed. I fell asleep, and when I awoke, Maya stood before me in her robe and her veil.

“This is your last chance for freedom, demon. Tell me what your master did to me and how to undo it, and I will release you. You have my word.”

I studied Maya carefully. Behind her veil, she was a monster every bit as strange and unnatural as me. Moreso, even. I’d never seen a human that had looked the way she had. I didn’t even think it was possible. “I’m not a demon and I don’t know a damn thing about what the wizard did to you, or even if he did do anything to you.” I snorted. “And even if I did, what good is the word of someone who would consort with demons?”

Maya’s frame stiffened, and her hands glowed with dark magic as they had before. I braced myself for the blow that was sure to come, but surprisingly, it did not. She took a slow, deep breath and spoke in a voice heavy with barely contained rage.

“I have agents all over this land. I have heard stories about Perceval and Alonsisus and Quinara. I know that none of us have been the same since we slew the necromancer. And I know that he is behind it all.”

“Do you know that Sir Perceval is dead?” I asked.

Maya’s breath caught in her chest. “That’s… that…”

“I killed him months ago. I was staying in a little village, and he and his men came and found me and–”

“You murdered him!”

I shook my head. “I didn’t murder him. I killed him. He was going to kill me and he was going to kill the villagers, so I killed him first.” I thought of Perceval so proud and certain of himself, and how he had been ready to murder a village full of innocents in his delusion. Was Maya any different? Here she was, some kind of priest, and at her will, her faith was torturing and executing and perverting the magical gifts their gods had given them. “I killed him and I’ll kill you, too,” I growled.

Maya shook her head. “You lie. Perceval was the kindest, most upright man I ever knew. You lie, demon!”

I leaned forward as best as I could and grinned. “Why don’t you ask your gods about it, if they will even speak to you.”

At last the blow came. Like before, it burned like fire. No, worse than fire. The pain cut to my bones, to my soul. Maya turned to leave without saying another word, and I was once again alone.

* * *

They came for me in the early morning. They dressed me in breeches that were too small and a shirt that was too tight, bound my feet and my hands with rope, and at spear point, they took me out of my cell and forced me into the hallway. The walls were lined with sconces and I saw that there were other doors, heavy wooden doors that probably hid away other prisoners like me. Or maybe I was alone. If the inquisitors had been torturing other people, I’m sure I would have heard the screams.

They were stairs and a door at the end of the hallway. A guard opened it and daylight shined through. I winced. The White Guards at my back pushed me onward. “Ready to face your doom, abomination?” one of them said. They laughed. I grunted and shook my head. Whatever fate awaited me outside had to be better than spending another day as the plaything for my captors.

The White Guard escorted me through the streets of Glimmerton. I didn’t recognize the area I was in and I had no idea where they were leading me; I just went where the humans prodding me along with spears told me to go. As we marched along, I slowly realized what was happening. My execution was meant to be a spectacle. I was being paraded through the streets, an enemy for the crowd to spit upon and jeer at. The people of Glimmerton looked at me from windows, from doorways, from alleys. The citizens in their finery threw trash and shouted curses. The poorer ones wore expressions of fear, of pity.

I was led through the city for what felt like an hour, until at last the neighborhoods began to look familiar to me and I realized we were nearing the city square. A considerable crowd had gathered behind me, and by the sound of it, there was an even larger one already awaiting me at the place of my execution. We turned the last corner separating me from my final fate, and I gasped. A huge wooden platform had been built while I was imprisoned, twenty-some feet tall, a stage greater than any other. There was a large wooden block atop the platform, and one of the inquisitors stood there motionless with a large axe. As I was led up to the platform, the crowd greeted me with cries of hatred. I noticed that there were members of the White Guard intermingled with the crowd and that they seemed to be leading them in the howls of anger.

The White Guard surrounded me and led me up the steps. They took up their places behind me, ready to cut me down should I attempt to run. The inquisitor watched and when he was certain that they were all in position, he produced a scroll and began reading from it.

“By order of the High Prelate, the 32nd Edict requires that all enemies of the city of Glimmerton be publicly executed, that their deaths may serve as a lesson to would-be criminals and a reminder of the Many’s justice. Tusk Willvic, you stand accused of demonology, of corrupting Brother Zechariah of the White Guard with dark magic, and of sowing discord amongst the people of Glimmerton. Have you anything to say for yourself?”

“Hurry up and kill me, you bastard. I don’t have anything to say to you or your High Prelate or anyone else in your damn city,” I said, loud enough for the people closest in the crowd. I heard a few cries of assent, and then I heard the White Guards down in the crowd moving to silence the people.

“So be it,” the inquisitor said. “May the Many swiftly guide your soul to whatever hell awaits you.”

The guards forced me to my knees, and pinned my chest against the block. I looked out on the city of Glimmerton, looking for Maya, and I did not see her. I looked at the people, at the city walls, and beyond them the road and the trees. And what was beyond the trees? I supposed I would never know.

If only I could have died fighting, I thought. If only I could have taken a few of these inquisitors or maybe even the High Prelate herself with me. Behind me, there was the sound of footsteps, of murmurs. The crowd was silent. I watched the inquisitor’s shadow, watched the axe rise, and I shut my eyes.

The crowd screamed. Something heavy hit the ground. All around me there was the sound of shouting and fighting. I opened my eyes and dared to look over my shoulder. The White Guards were fighting amongst themselves, striking each other with spears and shoving each other off of the platform and onto the ground below. One of the guards called out to me, “Free yourself and grab a weapon! If you die today, at least die on your feet!”

The voice stirred a memory in me. “Enrico?” I asked, but none of the guards responded. I shook my head. There was no time for confusion. I found the inquisitor’s axe next to his limp body and used it to cut through the ropes at my hands, I freed my feet, I grabbed a spear, and I swore that I would die fighting.

Down below, the gathered crowd panicked. The White Guards who had been below us tried to push past the surging mass to join the fight. The few White Guards who remained on the platform spoke quickly in the language of the Fierans, and one of them reached into a satchel that hung on their hip and produced some glass vials. They threw the vials into the crowd, and a thick, noxious smoke sprang up. There were more words in Fieran exchanged, and then one of the guards, thicker than the others, ran up to me and put his hand on my shoulder. He pulled up the visor on his helm, and I was greeted by Enrico’s grinning face, his dark eyes twinkling. “We have never left one of our company in the hands of an overzealous authority yet, and we will not do so now! Now run!” We rushed down the steps of the platform and into the crowd. Enrico’s men threw more of their horrible concoction into the crowd, and we bashed our way to the city gates amidst cries of, “Many save us!” and “He’s a demon! Run!” and “Someone stop them!”

* * *

The escape was a blur. A few of the White Guards confronted us, and some of our number fell, but somehow we made it outside of the city gate. The guards who had been stationed there were helpless to stop us as we barreled past them and into the woods, shedding our armor and our weapons and anything that would slow us down as we ran.

We ran until our lungs ached for air, and at last we came upon a clearing where the rest of Enrico’s company awaited us. What men and women hadn’t been part of our rescue were busy packing their things, carefully cutting their hair and altering their clothes so as to suggest new identities. The next time they stopped at a city or a village, they wouldn’t be Fierans at all.

Even though we were deep in the woods outside Glimmerton and we were tired from the escape, there was little time to waste. I had no doubt that Maya and the inquisitors would be leading a search for us. I looked for the tent that had been my own, and finally realized that it was gone. Maya and her inquisitors must have confiscated it when they’d arrested me. So there I was, with nothing.

Enrico was somewhere behind me, speaking with one of his cohorts in their native tongue, cursing and spitting. Finally he turned to walk over to me.“We have to split up,” he said. “For the good of all of us, my people and yourself. They will be hunting all of us now. Here, take this. My people have prepared it for you.”

He offered me a pack with some food and a knife in it. It wasn’t much, but it was more than I’d had a few minutes before. “Thank you, Enrico.” I frowned. No human had ever done so much to save my life. I didn’t know what to say. “Thank you for everything,” I offered, but it didn’t feel like it was enough.

“Where will you go, Tusk?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. Somewhere far away. But I’ll come back to Glimmerton some day, and when I do, the High Prelate is going to pay.” Despite myself, I could feel my lips drawing back in a grimace, my sharp teeth exposed for all to see. “They’ll all pay.”

Enrico said nothing. We stood there in silence, and after a few moments, Francesco walked up to us.

“Are you okay, Mr. Willvic?” he asked. “I wanted to come save you, but Papa told me it was too dangerous.”

I thought about everything that had happened to me since I’d left Quail’s Leap, and even before then. Given life by a madman who used me as a tool, left for dead by “heroes” who cared nothing for the innocent and the helpless, hunted and betrayed everywhere I went.

Willem and Victoria had been decent to me, that is true. Enrico and the others had saved me from execution. But they were the only decent humans I had met, and the world was full of humans, humans who wanted to control me, to kill me, to name me and use me for their own ends. I had the scars to prove it, scars etched into my skin with fire and steel.

“No, Francesco. I am not.” The child looked sad at this. That bothered me. I forced a smile. “But I will be soon. I wouldn’t be strong, otherwise.” He smiled. In his innocence, he reminded me of Victoria, but how long did innocence last in these humans? How many years, how many bad experiences before they became like Sir Perceval, like High Prelate Maya? I frowned. I didn’t want to think about it. “Perhaps we will meet again some day.”

I said one last goodbye to my friends, and then we all departed. I took my gear, and set forth along the dirt path before me. I thought about the name Willvic, how I had made it up in honor of the two people who were first decent to me. The inquisitors would be looking for that name, and if I used it in the wrong place, it would mean my doom. It was time for a new name, then.

I thought about this as I walked along. I scratched my chest, feeling the sting of pain where the wounds the inquisitors had inflicted on me still hurt. They had healed me, it was true, and the pain I felt from the devices and implements they had used was probably just my memory playing tricks on me, but the burns from the embers lingered, and every scratch stoked the anger I felt deep in my chest like a flame.

Coalheart, I thought. Coalheart would be a good name.

Thank you for reading! So, for the rest of the month, I’ll be publishing more short little art-inspired pieces. Why? Because I’m working on something secret and sneaky for November and I need extra time to devote to it. I’d say more, but then it wouldn’t be very secret and sneaky, would it? Anyway, be here on Saturday for the next installment of “Random Writing Prompt!”

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