0.3.5. – Inquisitive Eyes

The entrance to the fortress was a blur. One of eight identical doorways, each guarded by a single Templar in a full suit of silver plate. Aidan voiced the cold lie, ‘blessed be the peacekeepers,’ and we were admitted. I marched ahead, hands bound behind my back, walking on a leash like a fucking animal. My wrists ached. So did my back. And knees. It’s possible I was in a bad mood. The weight of the air was oppressive. Smoky, windless, choking. It felt like being underground.  

The corridor was wide enough that three men could walk shoulder to shoulder. Smooth, even blocks of stone made up the floor, walls, ceiling, all identical, seamless, undecorated. Sconces hung every few paces, housing oil lamps that burned clean and bright—entirely *too* clean for the smell of smoke in the air.  

That you, lass?  

We passed through three four-way intersections in quick succession, each one identical to the last. At the fourth, Aidan took the right-hand path unerringly, and led us into an identical hallway. Sets of decorative double doors blocked lines of sight at regular intervals, further reducing visibility. When the lass in my head answered, it was slowly, mournful.  

“This place is empty. No art, no music, no sunlight or stars…” She sounded softly perplexed.  

A right turn at the latest intersection. It looked just like the last four. Aidan led us down a flight of stairs, but despite the change in elevation, nothing changed once we passed through the next set of doors.  

Lass, I hope you’re keeping track of this.  

“Don’t you worry, my Dermot. I’m…” Another set of double doors, and the hairs on my neck began to stand on end. A chill in the air. “Something’s wrong. I–” Her voice twisted mid-word into something high-pitched, crystalline, and inhuman, a shimmering keen of rage that rang in my ears. The blood went cold in my veins.   

Aidan shoved me to my knees. I was falling already.  

The man who stood in the intersection was a peaky fuck, pale and thin. His black hair was neat and short, not a single lock out of place. His eyes were an empty blue. The winter sky, on a day when the cold gets into your bones, and you know without even having to step outside that it’s cold enough to kill you within the hour.   

I hated him.   

I hated him immediately, in the poisonous way that I hated seeing broken bones sticking through skin. Seeing him felt like the first time I’d ever been kicked in the head. The vomit feeling I had when I thought of eating raw chicken. Looking at him was the feeling of looking at your hand and seeing one finger less than usual, but in the shape of a man. It was the sensation of missing the last step and falling up the stairs, prolonged and condensed into a personality. But whereas falling up the stairs or losing a finger were temporary, limited events, his presence was continuous, ongoing, and intolerable. He stood there in front of me breathing and alive one second after another, one heartbeat after the next, and to have to kneel there on the stone floor and look at him was a wrenching personal offense and violation that cut me fresh every moment.   

The sound She made wasn’t a song, though there was a music and a harmony contained in it. It had something in common with song, in the way that the ring of a bell had something in common with the hiss of a sword out of the scabbard, and it scaled up to a volume that should have shattered my ears like glass. But despite that, it would have been worse to have silence. She gave voice to the wrongness of the thing in the hallway. Distantly, I also felt the quieter and more familiar emotion of fear, and beneath that, a dim recognition that we were absolutely fucked.   

It was pure. The purest emotion I’d ever felt. That was right. I didn’t have to fight it, like I did when the Angel’s Span was beautiful. But hate, I knew.  

Hate, I could feel.  

“Inquisitor.” Aidan’s voice was emotionless, in the ordinary human way that suggested he was refraining from expressing emotion. “An unexpected honor.”   

Grannine fell silent, though I could feel Her hate simmering in the back of my mind like a kettle threatening to boil. I managed to muster enough focus to think again, just in time to hear Aidan greet the man with curt familiarity. An eternity of loathing between us, but only moments had passed.  

“Sir Aidan.” The Inquisitor’s voice was emotionless in a way that suggested he was incapable of anything else. “A pleasure to see you again so soon. And still dedicated to your duties.”    

“Of course.”     

Aidan remained calmer than I did. I was physically blinded by visions of what it would look like to crush the Inquisitor’s head with a rock. My palms burned.  

“Shall I escort you to the dungeons?”    

“I am sure you have more pressing duties than escorting a simple Templar,” Aidan said, and I felt his hand fall on my shoulder. “I have this well in hand.”   

I closed my eyes and looked away.   

The Inquisitor stepped closer. He made no sound, but I felt his repulsive presence on my skin like a branding iron as he took me by the chin, tilted my head one way and the other, like he was inspecting a malnourished pig. His waxen face did not move.  

“Quite a prize, Aidan,” he said, his tone approving. “You’ve captured more than some simple hedge witch this time.”   

“Have I?” Aidan sounded bored.    

 “I will walk with you,” he said, in his hideous voice. “For old times’ sake.” 

He smiled, and that was worse.   

Aidan smiled back, tight and repressed. Good lad.   

“As you like, Edwyrd.”  

The Inquisitor walked ahead, opening doors for us in his wake. His shadow was a hole in the world that I felt I might stumble into at any moment if I didn’t pay attention. I also would have liked a little time to think through what he’d told Aidan. Not some simple hedge witch?   

“Dermot.” Her voice was soothing, and I threw myself into the sensation, the hum and warmth of Her attention. The sound of Her drowned out the presence of the Inquisitor. “I’ve asked you a favor before. See, can I ask you one now?”   

Lass, keep talking and I’ll do anything you like.  

“Oh?”   

I felt Her hand glide soft and warm across my cheek.  The Inquisitor’s head turned, and he looked over his shoulder.  I glared into his eye, not just with my own hate but with Hers, and he looked away.  

“Promise me, Dermot,” Grannine whispered. “If you have even the slightest opportunity…” Her hands closed on my shoulders, body pressed against my back. The Inquisitor shifted slightly, like he smelled something on the air.   

I moved my shoulder a little and my head a bit, too. If Grannine had really been there, I would have blocked his view of Her.   

The Inquisitor relaxed. I heard Grannine’s voice in my ear.  

“Kill that thing.” Her lips brushed against my neck. I knew it was false, an illusion, but it made the hair on my arms stand on end. “If you kill him, I will give you anything you ask. Anything you need.”  

There are more of them, you know.  

We walked in silence through the labyrinth. Every hall and corridor looked alike, every line of sight blocked by simple wooden doors. A fortress designed to scatter intruders and entrap them, designed by consummate hunters. Even the light was unchanging—there were no windows here in the endless halls, only the lanterns, burning wanly, uniform.  

Grannine’s voice was a hiss at the base of my neck.   

“How many?”   

 The Church’s sword is held by twelve Inquisitors. God’s wrath incarnate. Three Cardinals, God’s grace in human form. One saint, God’s hand in the mortal world. Three hundred and five Templar.   

Well, I amended, and shifted my shoulder slightly under Aidan’s grip. He squeezed ever so slightly. Three hundred and four.   

“Twelve more like this?”  I felt her coiling and shifting, restless. “Kill one, my Dermot, and I’ll give you anything you need. Power. Life. Cunning.”   

Lass, I’ve only seen you make sparks to light a campfire.   

“Oh, I can do more.”  She spoke low in a nonexistent throat, with confidence that bloomed in my chest like the bite of grain spirits. “Kill them all. The Inquisitors. Destroy them. Burn them all.”   

I wanted to joke. To point out how absolutely mental She was sounding. How mad I would sound, to agree with the voice and the presence in the back of my head telling me to destroy the servants of the Church. How tremendously fucking ironic it would be to become the heretic that I’d always been assumed to be.  

Mostly that joke would be to distract myself. From the presence of the thing escorting us through the fortress.  From the fact that I had never agreed with anyone so much in my entire life.   

Purpose.   

It ran through me in a rush, better than a drug, better than wine, better than fucking. It put me in mind of the old Blackforge clock, the last working clock in Frydain, whirring gears and chattering brass that clicked and chimed and fell seamlessly into place all together, merciless, unstoppable, inevitable.   

I was meant for this. For nothing else.   

Aright, lass, I thought, and was unable to wipe the smirk off my face. You’ve got a deal.  

If I can kill that thing before we leave, I will.   

That’s what I needed. More to do.  

*

0.3.4 – Prisoner’s Walk

0.4.1 – Iron Bars

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