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The long hallway ended at a heavily reinforced metal door with a dark blue hue to it. The Corpse Hunter had been here before and so he knew what he would find beyond this door. Two of the closest guards opened the formidable entryway, allowing the three visitors to pass through before closing it immediately behind them.

Three doors greeted them in the hallway in which they now stood. The door to the left was labeled "Death Row," the door in the middle was labeled "Execution Chamber," and the door to the right was labeled "Emergency Containment." They walked through the middle door.

Inside was a twenty foot by twenty foot stone chamber with no entrances or exits other than the one the trio had just passed through. There were stone slabs on the ceiling, walls, and floor with arcane scripts carved neatly into them. These were Wards crafted by Fate Holders to deter any uninvited guests from entering the room or those within it from exiting with the aid of their Fate.

The entire Academy was littered with them but most were built into the foundation and were not visible to the naked eye. This room's Wards were laid bare for all to see, a declaration that any who entered into this chamber with a debt to society would not be allowed to leave until it was paid in full.

In the center of the room was a gallows with a blindfolded figure wearing a noose around their neck, ready and waiting. A bulky man wearing a purple hooded mask and matching robe approached them, he was the only other occupant in the room besides the one in the gallows. His pot belly caused the fabric around his waist to stretch a bit against his torso.

"Everything is ready, my lady," the man said with a hoarse voice that came from decades of heavy smoking. The smell of pipe tobacco radiated outward from his person, filling the small chamber as he spoke.

"I will address the offender then you may proceed," the Martinet said.

“Yes, my lady,” the hangman said before stepping off to the side near the man in gray. "Corpse Hunter," he said cordially with a nod.

"Nullifier," Aiden replied, returning the nod. The two men were brought together whenever their Column needed to rid itself of a serious internal threat. Here they stood, side by side once again, like surgeons gathered to amputate a gangrenous foot before it could consume the whole body. They never said much to one another, preferring their professional relationship over that of an actual friendship.

Those with the Fate of the Nullifier had a rare ability that allowed them to essentially cancel out the powers of other Fate Holders. It took a good amount of focus to do so and without advanced training they could only pick one target at a time. But they could strip even the mightiest of Fate Holders back down to that of an ordinary human being.

If a Nullifier were to target Lady Edevane, for example, she would only be as strong as the greatest punch she could muster. Under the brunt of a Nullifier her Organic Alchemist Fate would be nothing but a name and a carving on a Medallion. This was the reason Nullifiers were given one of three choices when their powers came to fruition.

They could serve the Council of Plinth, the Academy of Ascension, or be expelled from the Column and face the horrors that lurked within the Blackened Wilds. They were far too great of a threat under the wrong supervision to be left to their own devices, as was the case with a number of other such Fates. The man who smelled of pipe tobacco had elected to serve the Academy.

Lady Edevane cleared her throat and pulled a small script of paper from her pocket before proceeding.

"You stand accused of the most serious of crimes of which I will now read. One count of conspiracy to commit murder of an Ascension Academy member equal to or greater than Martinet, two counts of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, seven counts of conspiracy to commit heresy, and one count of a crime so heinous it shall not be spoken aloud.

For refusing to name your co-conspirators the Ascension Academy, in agreement with the Council of Plinth, have denied your right to trial. You are also denied a right to any final words or the visitation of any next of kin. Your name will be erased from the halls upon which you once studied so that none may speak it or be reminded of the treachery you have committed. You are hereby sentenced to death by hanging, there will be no appeal process for this sentence and it shall be carried out henceforth."

When she had finished speaking the redheaded woman looked back to the burly hooded man and nodded. Without a word he walked straight to the gallows and pulled a lever, opening the trap door beneath the blind folded figure who fell through it. A sickening snap echoed through the stone chamber as the figure's spinal column broke from the weight of their own body. Death had been instantaneous, Aiden could sense it even without the audible cue.

But it was customary to wait a full five minutes to ensure the hanged man or woman succumbed to the full effects of their sentence. There was an unpleasant sense of nostalgia that came with being a Hangman's watcher. It reminded him of the first time he had done it at the ripe old age of ten.

His Fate had arrived on his birthday, the same day the previous Corpse Hunter had died. It wasn't the gift he'd been hoping for but he didn't have a say in the matter, no one ever did. And a Corpse Hunter's duties weren't dictated by age, they were dictated by necessity.

After the allotted time had passed the Nullifier climbed to the top of the gallows and cut the body down. His job was finished and now it was Aiden's turn. The Corpse Hunter dragged the body out from under the wooden frame so he could inspect it properly. First he checked for a pulse, of which there was none. He then pulled a small pocket watch from his overcoat and checked the time.

"Time of first death, three seventeen," he said to the room as the Martinet scribbled his words down onto a scroll.

The Academy was very thorough in all of its proceedings and accurate record keeping was mandatory. Now he worked to ensure there wouldn't be an opportunity for a second death. He looked over the neck and wrists for bite marks, once satisfied that there were none he inspected the body's teeth. They were normal and so he moved on to the fingertips, then the toes, checking the entire corpse top to bottom for any irregularities.

He pulled a silver dagger and made a small cut along the wrist, when there was no reaction he sheathed it. Then came an assortment of herbs, ointments, and holy symbols which he pulled from the many pockets of his overcoat. They were sprinkled, rubbed, and pressed against the body with short pauses between each to see if there was a response from the dead body. Then the Corpse Hunter recited a few words quietly over the body before turning to face the other occupants of the chamber.

Everything had checked out and he gave both the Elder Councilman and the Martinet a thumbs up before putting his things back where they'd come from. There was a precedent for corpses returning to life in one form or another and so it was part of the Corpse Hunter's duty to prevent them from being able to do so.

Generally speaking that was a slow process, if it happened at all, but the Ascension Academy didn't take chances. This was especially true with corpses belonging to those that had a grudge against the Academy when they were alive, as a grudge didn't always end with the owner's death.

"Best to be pragmatic," the Martinet said.

The Corpse Hunter looked to her and nodded before he placed one palm over the other and rested them on the chest of the body that lay motionless before him. Seconds later his hand began to glow with a dull green energy which he released into the lifeless corpse. It jolted as though it had been struck by lightning as the dead tendons fired up one final time.

"They won't be getting back up," he declared, wiping away the blood that was dripping from his nose.

"For services rendered," Lady Edevane said, handing a small leather coin purse to the man in gray. "I will escort you back out of the building."

Aiden took the money bag and tucked it into his belt, gave a final nod to the Nullifier, and left the Execution Chamber. He longed to trade the newly acquired gold for the company of a stiff drink and intended to do so once he left the Academy. Lady Edevane and Councilman Donovan walked ahead of him, chatting quietly along the way to the exit.

"The Council offers it's full support to the Academy in rooting out the other heretics," the gray haired man said.

"My superiors prefer to keep all Academy affairs within the Academy. However, I think it would be mutually beneficial if we shared any new information between us," the red haired woman said.

"Between the Council and the Academy or between you and I?"

"The latter."

"You are a very wise woman for your age."

"Thirty five is hardly an age to commend someone for putting the well being of the Column over their organization's pride."

"Well I surely can't commend your superiors for that now can I?"

The Corpse Hunter couldn't see their faces but he wouldn't have been surprised if the two ahead of him had shared a brief smile together, not that he cared if they did. Whether the Council and Academy worked together or not was of little concern to him. He only had two things on his mind these days, working to afford drinking and drinking to put up with working.

When the trio reached the hallway that was lined with Guards the conversation in front stopped and they continued in silence. Upon opening the door at the end of the long hallway they were greeted with a familiar room five feet wide and five feet long. Inside was the same fake man that had met them earlier.

"Please state the floor you wish to reach and present your Medallion for inspection," the construct said with the same cheery voice as before.

"Ground floor," the Martinet said, handing her Medallion forward for inspection again.

After the process was complete she shut the door. When she reopened it the room was gone and the lobby to the Ascension Academy was visible.

"When did the Academy start replacing living staff with lifeless dolls?" the Corpse Hunter asked, stepping into the lobby.

"We have found the need to supplement our work force in recent weeks," Lady Edevane informed him.

There was sure to be a reason for that but it didn't matter. Aiden was just expressing his dislike for the hollow man, not asking a sincere question about the Academy's staffing policies.

"How unfortunate," he said, not sounding the least bit concerned.

The man in gray then walked off, not bothering to bid farewell to either the Elder Councilman or the Martinet, despite being two of the highest ranking individuals in the entire building.

"What a strange individual," Councilman Donovan commented.

"Do you think if I killed him the next Corpse Hunter would have better manners or are they like that by their nature?" Lady Edevane asked.

The older man chuckled in response.

Before Aiden could reach the front door of the lobby he heard a voice call out to him. It was female in tone and unfamiliar to his ears. "Corpse Hunter," the voice said.

He wondered how far he'd get if he just ran for it. Surely there wasn't another execution scheduled today, they'd have told him if there was, so whatever this person wanted it wasn't urgent by his standards. Still the thought of getting dragged back into the building by a group of Enforcers or Grapplers, or any of the other hundreds of different Fates at the Academy's disposal, was enough of a deterrent to keep him from bolting.

"Yes?" he asked before even turning his head, trying to keep a sour expression from spreading across his face prior to meeting the gaze of whoever was addressing him.

"I'm sorry to bother you, it's just that, well it's not often you grace the Academy with your presence," the voice said.

The Corpse Hunter slowly turned one hundred and eighty degrees to face the young blonde haired woman who was speaking to him. She looked vaguely similar to the woman that had greeted the Martinet's carriage when he arrived, though a few years older. The other woman was likely her younger sister as it was fairly common for Academy members to encourage all of their children to join their organization as well.

Encourage might not be the right word, expected was more like it. That was the nature of family traditions for some Column Dwellers. He looked her over, watching her smile diminish as his eyes lingered on her for a little longer than she would have liked. She had a thin but attractive figure but the annoyed look in his eyes made it clear that wasn't why he stared at her.

She was being far too polite which meant she wanted something from him, something he tried to ascertain without having to chat her up about it. When he couldn't make an accurate guess he finally spoke, seemingly unaware of the awkward silence he'd created while brainstorming her motives.

"You're not in mourning and you don’t seem rattled enough to be in need of my services. What is it that you want from me?" He had failed to avoid this social interaction so now he was attempting to speed through it. "Speak up," he said when she hesitated.

"I...thought it would be of great benefit to…" the young woman said.

"To what?" The Corpse Hunter asked. His growing agitation was becoming more audible.

"To have your insights shared with my students!" she blurted out nervously.

"What insights?" he asked incredulously.

"Well, you're a veteran Ascender right? You clear the Dungeons above us of other slain Ascenders and return their bodies to their loved ones. I'm sure that in your years of experience you have gained wisdom and insight that others might lack. Knowledge that could help save lives."

"My job is to hunt corpses, not to teach children how to avoid becoming them."

Her statement was true, he had spent more time in the Dungeons than almost anyone else in his Column. But he had little patience for her and even less patience for the students she was asking him to help educate. He turned and began to walk away, heading for the exit.

"The Academy would gladly pay you for your efforts!" she called out to him.

She might be young and sincere but she wasn't stupid or naive. There were two things that motivated people in the Column of Plinth above all else, compassion and greed. If she couldn't play to his heart she felt confident she could play to his wallet.

A smile crept across her face when the man in gray stopped and it grew even wider when he turned back around to look at her. "How much?" the Corpse Hunter asked.

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About the author

Chester.R.Hemsworth

  • United States

Bio: Just an aspiring writer.

https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/60280/designated-healer [Ongoing LITRPG]

New Chapters posted daily.

https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/50090/corpse-hunter [Finished]

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