“Brothers!” Solomon Rex roared cheerfully, as he flapped down to land heavily on the stone pavers of the courtyard inside the walls of his order’s fortress-monastery. Raising an unconscious prisoner in each hand, he proudly displayed them to the inquisitors who stood solemnly in a wide circle around him. “Not only am I now a beautiful Angel of the Lord, I have returned bearing gifts! A couple more freaks for our dungeons!”
“And what of your mission?” The encircling inquisitors parted deferentially for the man that had spoken, who, though old, approached the hulking Rex with a confident stride and straight back.
“Father Clement,” Rex answered respectfully, “the mission was a success. Both the witch and the traitor are dead. I killed them myself.”
‘Indeed?” Father Clement peered up at the tattooed mutant. “Very well then. Inquisitor-brothers, take the freaks into custody.”
Solomon Rex grunted in surprise as Taser barbs sank into the bare flesh of his chest. Blinking in confusion, he took one juddering step toward Father Clement before spasming leg muscles forced him to his knees.
“Why?” he grunted out through clenched teeth, before falling fully to the stone floor.
“Look at yourself,” Clement answered mildly, “what did you expect us to do?”
Lieutenant lowered his field binoculars, handing them to down to the young adjutant waiting patiently below him in the belly of his command tank.
“We’re ready,” he said, “take out the towers.”
At his command, the Leopard shook with the force of its main gun, arcing a shell onto the closest of the prison camp’s two guard towers with pinpoint accuracy. Almost simultaneously, a howling gout of witchfire bathed the second tower, roasting its inhabitants in a merciless inferno.
Their target du jour was a not inconsequential prison camp, the kind that the Church erected liberally amongst their more inhospitable state-run farmlands, administrated with soldiers and propganda priests, and populated with non-violent criminals, people that could serve as cheap labor in the fields until such time as they were determined to have been rehabilitated from whatever transgression had gotten them sent there in the first place. It was usually something minor, The Church was not in the habit of keeping more serious offenders alive.
The prison camp was iris shaped, its curved stone and barbed-wire walls anchored on the points by the two guard towers with spot lights and heavy machine gun placements. Lieutenant had wrung what slight advantage he could out of their attack route by approaching from the west, so that his tank could provide enfilading fire down the length of the fortification. He had timed their attack for late afternoon, so that the low hanging sun at their backs would provide some concealment from the eyes of the prison’s defenders. Even with this, he knew his main force would be spotted long before they reached firing distance, there simply wasn’t enough cover available for that many men in the relatively flat farm land surrounding the prison. That was why he had sent small commando groups ahead with the majority of his witch force tagging along to provide magical concealement.
The flaming ruin of the far guard tower showed that his plan had unfolded perfectly. His decision was further validated when snipers armed with rocket propelled grenades stopped a major attempt by the guards to flee in an armored prison bus through the main gate. A couple of guards did manage to race away on foot in the confusion of the attack, but Lieutenant was happy to let them go. He wanted news of the assault to reach Rome. This was the third Church target his troops had raided. The sooner the city leaders reacted to his attacks and sent out their garrison, the sooner the special strike team could split off from the main force and inflitrate the city on their rescue mission.
Having the main gate stuck open by the burning hulk of the bus proved disastrous for the prison’s defenders. Deirdre and her men were quick to take advantage of the gap, and soon swarmed into the prison interior. Even from his distant perch, Lieutenant could hear the rattle of small arms fire, and the screams of dying men. The battle would be short now, but Lieutenant couldn’t bring himself to smile. Having seen the results of Deirdre and Konstantin’s attacks in previous raids, he knew the horrors those Church soldiers now faced. The two had become shocklingly bloodthirsty.
“Take us in,” he sighed down to his driver, “lets stop this before it gets out of hand.”
“Hit him again,” Deirdre commanded, her voice cold as ice.
“Happily.” Konstantin responded, flexing his scarred fists as he wound back for another swing.
They were in the warden’s office, the unlucky warden bound to the radiator behind his massive desk. Deirdre was sitting primly on the desk edge, one hand resting on her crossed legs as the other directed Konstantin in his beating with her nail file raised like a conductor’s wand. Or a witch’s wand.
They were alone in the office, the troops who had found the warden cowering beneath his desk during the height of the fighting had left soon after Konstantin began his ministrations. They now stood uncomfortably outside the closed office door, pretending they didn’t hear what was going on.
Konstantin had stripped off his ragged coat and vest, but sweat still trickled down his bare back. He had been at his work for some time.
A commotion in the hallway earned the bruised and bloody warden a brief respite, as the office door swung open and admitted a very angry Lieutenant.
“Damn it Deirdre, what in the hells are you two doing? We don’t have time for this.”
Deirdre shrugged off his ire. “We’re interrogating the warden.”
“Interrogating?” Lieutenant spluttered, “this isn’t an interrogation. Have you even asked him any questions, or have you just been beating him? Konstantin, stop that!”
Konstantin refused to look at the small officer, but he did release the warden, who he had been slowly throttling.
“Now come on,” Lieutenant said, “we have to keep up our pace if you want to have any chance of sneaking into the city before Solomon Rex gets there with the twins.”
The battered warden surprised them by beginning to chuckle.
“What is this? Why is he laughing?” Lieutenant asked.
The warden coughed a thick wad of blood onto the ground, and said, “I’m laughing, because you’re too late.”
“What do you mean, too late? What do you know?” Deirdre asked.
“We have an office of the inquisition in this prison. They tell me things. I know Inquisitor Rex has already returned to the city,” he said, “with his prisoners. And I know who you are, Apostate Konstantin.” He glared at the former inquisitor through swollen eyes, his bloody lips pulled back in a sneer. “You’ve failed, traitor. The witch-children are being tortured by your order as we speak, unless, of course, they have already been fed to the flames.”
His laugh cut off abruptly as Deirdre, with magic fuelled rage, kicked him under the chin so hard that his neck snapped. His body slumped over the radiator he was chained to, his head hanging grotesquely down against his back, his mangled face frozen in a rictus of surprise. His dead eyes stared blindly at Konstantin and the shrieking Deirdre as they stormed out of the room, followed by a shaken Lieutenant.
Passing into the hallway, Lieutenant hurried to keep up with Konstantin, who was running toward the main gate even as he re-buttoned his vest and coat.
“Deirdre, come on,” he yelled, “we’re going. NOW.”
“Wait!” Lieutenant called after him feebly, “what about the plan?”
Konstantin didn’t even slow down. “There’s a new plan.”
“What about us? What about all the troops? We need time to get reorganized.” Lieutenant asked.
“I don’t care,” Konstantin replied, “I’m not waiting. Follow me if you want to. Or go home. Just don’t get in my way.”
“How are we getting to Rome?” Deirdre wanted to know as she sprinted beside him.
Konstantin raised the framed picture he had taken off the warden’s desk. “We’re taking this.”