Chapter 5 - Perspectives
“This way Inquisitor, sir.” Private Morten said, his voice betraying his age with an embarrassing squeak. He swallowed, unsure why his mouth was suddenly so dry. He swallowed and tried to clear his throat, but the damn prickling was still there and so was the damn Inquisitor.
Why did he get stuck with escorting the Inquisitor and not Corporal Farris? Farris outranked him, after all. Shouldn’t he be the one to escort an official agent of the Inquisition? Private Morten sighed. He hadn’t been in the army long, but it had been long enough to know that the worst jobs are always reserved for the lowest ranking. And every soldier here would have chosen to muck out the stables for a week before volunteering to escort an Inquisitor for five minutes.
Every child growing up in any of the countries of the Ossory Empire has heard dozens of tales, nursery rhymes, and bedtime stories about the black-cloaked Inquisition of Vesenia coming to take the misbehaving children from their parents in the dark of night. He had never seen an Inquisitor in person before, of course, but the man clad in all black standing before him, with his chained, pitiful prisoner, did little to dispel the images portrayed in the stories.
He had one of those thin, dueling swords strapped to his hip, the kind he heard the Castilleans were so fond of. His stovepipe hat, one of the dreaded signs identifying the agents of the Inquisition, had a dent in the side of it, which made the top stick out at a funny angle. Although he doubted anyone would laugh at an Inquisitor showing up on their doorstep, bent hat or not. His black cloak was torn sightly and disheveled from the road as well. Although that did little to diminish his intimidating demeanor. After all, they did survive making it through the line of gnolls, somehow, and if a little dirt and a bent hat was all he had to show for it, he must have been pretty damn good with that thin, little, sword of his.
Aside from his penchant for black clothing, he looked little different from any other man. Except he had a face that looked like it had forgotten how to smile long ago. And then there was something different about those eyes... Two pieces of ice-cold flint that stared at him from under the brim of that hat, judging him, penetrating into his soul like a broken shard of glass seeming to uncover every thought before he had the chance to think it. Morten felt like his gaze cut right through him to the bone. He couldn’t meet it any longer and looked at the miserable man in chains behind him: a prisoner of the Inquisition; a fate he wouldn’t wish on anyone.
The man behind him was a pitiful husk of a human. He had long, greasy black hair covering a pale face with sunken, hollow eyes, dark and baggy as a racoon’s, from lack of sleep or perhaps just regular bruises. It was hard to tell who he might have been, or what his clothes might have looked like underneath all that muck. Morten had some trouble pinning down his age as well with the gag covering the bottom half of his face, but he guessed the prisoner couldn’t have been more than a few years older than himself, certainly younger than the Inquisitor and Commander Peshka. He wondered what crime someone so young could have committed that was bad enough to warrant being beaten, chained, and gagged so. He didn’t look like a particularly evil man, a bit snively, maybe even a little weasely, but not evil, and certainly not dangerous... Although Morten probably wouldn’t trust him to hold his coin purse. He looked more like a snake oil salesman who was caught trying to swindle peasants with magic cure-alls, or love potions, rather than someone worthy of the Inquisition’s time.
“Lead on soldier.” The Inquisitor said, his voice as cold and dry as an empty well.
“Yes Inquisitor, sir. It’s this way.” Morten swallowed and turned toward the tower on the west wall. His slightly too large helmet began its regular thumping cadence as it bounced on his head with every step. He led on silently, daring not to say a word unless spoken to first, which he hoped he wouldn’t be. Just finish this, and then get some shuteye. All day on the wall, and now stuck escorting this damn black specter. Morten wasn’t sure how, but he could feel the Inquisitor’s gaze burrowing into the back of his skull, his over-sized helmet doing little to protect against his penetrating glare. He quickened his pace, and so did the tempo of his bouncing helmet.
The moon hung low in the sky like a fat, swollen peach. One of the biggest moons Morten had seen in recent memory. The excitement of a new arrival died down, and the camp had become as quiet and somber as an undertaker’s parlour. The tension and silence only interrupted by the occasional moan of the wounded coming from the infirmary, or First Sergeant Goren’s gravelly voice echoing distantly somewhere along the battlements.
“Are there many other prisoners being kept here?” The Inquisitor’s prickling voice made Morten’s stomach tie up in knots.
“Uhhh... no sir. Just the one.” Morten swallowed nervously and found that his hands were sweating.
“Ah yes, the Commander mentioned him. The one that survived the giant.”
“Alleged giant, yes sir. Giles has always been... a bit prone to tall tales and fancy.” Morten chose his words carefully, afraid of saying too much or too little to the Inquisitor and still just wishing he could say nothing at all. Morten continued his brisk pace without turning back, trying not to make direct eye contact with the Inquisitor out of fear, or at the prisoner out of pity.
Whatever crime he had committed, it made no sense to lock anyone up at a time like this, not when they needed every available fighting man. If he was condemned to death anyway, why not put a sword in his hand and force him to fight with the rest of us? Put him in the front lines even. It made no sense that soldiers should have to fight to the death to protect a criminal already sentenced to death. Then, once we die and the fort falls, he will just be killed by the gnolls anyway, just after everybody else. None of it made any sense, but things seldom did since he had joined the army.
Morten just sighed, his thoughts drifting back to home, as he found they did more and more often lately. He felt like something in his life had gone terribly wrong, that he had made a wrong turn or choice somewhere along the line. Why had he ever wanted to leave the farm so bad? Sure, his father was a drunk and his mother could be as overbearing as a badger, but at least they loved him. His younger brother and sister may have annoyed the piss out of him, but at least they looked up to him.
His family, his home, the farm, his little town of Luneburg... He doubted he would see it or any of them again. Never taste one of his mom’s homemade meat-pies or see his sister’s sweet smile. He even missed his younger brother’s annoying voice, always whining and begging to play swords with him. He should have been nicer to him. If he had one regret, it was that he was so mean to his brother. He was just trying to toughen him up. Teach him to be the man of the house after he left. Instead, his brother hadn’t even said bye to him before he left for the army. Probably just thought he was a bully. Now he would never even get the chance to apologize or tell him why.
Home all seemed so far away now, like a box of someone else’s memories he got to view on guard shifts and when he lay awake at night. He was frightened to find that the more he viewed the memories, the hazier and more uncertain they got, it was becoming harder and harder to remember what his mother’s voice sounded like. That scared him. Almost more than the gnolls... almost.
What was wrong with wanting to be a farmer, anyway? In such a hurry to get away and see the world, only to be sent to the Farlands, the biggest armpit in all of Ossory, and to probably die a few months after that.
Morten felt the hairs on the back of his neck crawl again, could almost feel the Inquisitor’s gaze behind him, worming inside him, trying to dig the truth out of him, make him admit he was terrified, that he regretted ever leaving the farm, and sure as damn hell wished he never joined the army... or was it all just his imagination? Surely the Inquisitor couldn’t really read his mind.
“Is this it, soldier?”
Inquisitor Deza’s voice snapped Morten’s box of memories shut. He looked up, so lost in the fog of his thoughts he hadn’t realized he had already made it across camp to the western tower.
“Huh? Oh yes. Sorry, Inquisitor, sir.” The door creaked as Private Morten pulled it open and led the Inquisitor and his prisoner inside the tower.
Inquisitor Deza ran his gloved hand along the stone wall as he paced the perimeter of the cell. He paused to rub at a seam of mortar until a small piece of it fell off, then he crumbled it between his gloved fingers. He made a dissatisfactory, “hmmmmmmm,” noise then turned his attention to the iron bars. He grasped them firmly, and tried to shake them, then nodded to himself after they didn’t rattle.
While the Inquisitor was inspecting the cell, Malfus took the opportunity to take stock of his surroundings as well. There was one other cell aside from the one the Inquisitor was inspecting for him. A man sat on a wooden chair in the middle of it, staring out a window too high for him to reach. Half of a small loaf of bread lay on a table next to him. The prisoner showed no interest in it, but Malfus could already feel his mouth watering. He was really regretting not grabbing some of the meat and cheese from the Commander’s room earlier.
The young soldier standing next to him looked at the other prisoner with pity and remorse. “Hey Giles, how’s it going?” Private Morten called to the man in the cell, but he didn’t answer back.
“We brought you someone to keep you some company, so you won’t have to be alone anymore. Come on, don’t you want to say hi to your new roommate?” Again, no answer. Malfus’s feelings weren’t hurt by his new roommate’s lack of interest, his attention still too focused on the lump of uneaten bread on the table.
Inquisitor Deza stepped out of the cell. “This will do, I suppose. Nothing to rival the Inquisition’s holding cells. Normally, we don’t allow the prisoners to have windows or be close enough to communicate with one another.” He turned to Malfus. “Enjoy the luxury while you can.” Then he stepped behind him, shoving him roughly into the cell. Malfus, focused only on the bread, toppled forward in an ungainly motion before sprawling on the stone floor. He rolled over to glower at the Inquisitor right as the iron door slammed shut in his face, loud enough to make him blink and snuffing the fire out of his stare.
“This should hold you for tonight. Don’t think of trying anything foolish or I shall cut the regret from you later.”
Malfus pushed himself up off the ground and dusted himself off. “I wouldn’t dream of it, Inquisitor. You wound my pride to even think me capable of such mendacity. I shall be here ready and eager to continue our wonderful adventure tomorrow morning.”
Ignoring Malfus, Inquisitor Deza tried rattling the bars of the iron door one more time for good measure. He nodded satisfactorily, then turned to Morten. “Where is the key for this cell kept?”
Morten blanked for a second, then looked around nervously. “Oh, uh... here Inquisitor. In this drawer.” Morten opened the drawer of a wooden desk across from the cells. He took a two-pronged iron key out and handed it to the Inquisitor. The Inquisitor tested the key out, briefly unlocking then relocking Malfus’s cell, then put the key around his necklace, next to the key for Malfus’s arcanull finger-cuffs.
“This will suffice. Come, soldier, you may take me to my quarters now.”
“Yes, Inquisitor sir.” Morten said, then opened the tower door leading back out into the courtyard. “This way.”
Inquisitor Deza followed Morten and then shut the metal door behind him with the finality of a coffin lid. Malfus breathed a sigh of relief. At last. The dreaded Inquisitor was gone. His body may still be a throbbing collection of pain and exhaustion, and his fingers and wrists were still bound together with the accursed arcanull chains, but it still felt like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders now that the damn bloody Inquisitor was finally gone. For the first time in nearly a fortnight, those cold fisheyes weren’t burrowing into him and watching his every move. Freedom, even if just for one night.
Malfus yawned and stretched, then got up to look around the cell to get a measure of his new but temporary accommodations. It was dark, no torches inside the stone tower, just a small, round window, too high to be reached even from a jump, which Malfus’s blistered feet were far too sore to attempt anyway. Malfus brushed his fingers along the cold stone walls as he paced around the perimeter of the cell, feeling the rough stone and grooves of mortar along his fingertips. The only furnishing was an empty wooden bucket whose purpose was easy to ascertain. There was also a lump of damp hay piled in one corner. As Malfus got closer to it, a whiff of mildew assailed his nostrils, making them itch and forcing him to hold back a sneeze. He continued his tour unabated, trying not to let it dampen his newfound sliver of optimism. Even a mildewy pile of hay was better than the hard ground outside.
He sighed, ready to retire on the probably lice-infested pile of mildewy hay to try to get some rest, but then a growl and sharp pang in his stomach reminded him of how hungry he was. Still hungry, but at least he could get some shuteye now. Malfus patted his angry stomach. Now, now, behave yourself. We all want things we can’t have. Let’s compromise on just getting some sleep for now. His mouth started watering instinctively, not as willing to accept defeat as him. The extra push made Malfus remember that half a loaf of bread he saw sitting in the other prisoner’s cell on the way in.
Malfus slinked back to the front of his cell on the side that was next to the other prisoner.
“Psssssst. Hey!” Malfus hissed.
Malfus crept as close to the corner of his cell as he could. The bars were too narrow for him to stick his head to look through.
“Hey. I know you’re over there. Are you awake?”
Better pour on the charm.
“Cooooome onnnn... Don’t you want to get to know your new cellmate? Why don’t you tell me what you’re in here for? I’m a superb listener.” Malfus added the best silky timbre to his voice he could manage.
Still nothing. Malfus sighed and turned to walk toward the pile of hay. Still have some blisters I better get to work on anyway.
“Locked up for telling the truth!” A haunting voice half-yelled, half-cried out.
Malfus walked back toward the bars. The man continued in the same neurotic voice, “They’re coming! They’re coming! Why won’t they listen? We should all be running now! But it doesn’t even matter... They’ve got a bloody giant with them. A GIANT! You hear me? Why? Oh, why a giant? Don’t they know they’re coming? Why doesn’t anyone know?” His voice trailed off into a rasping sob.
Eeeish... dramatic much? “There, there, it will be alright.” Malfus said. Definitely crazy. Malfus had seen their like before plenty around the markets of Akkadia, doing everything from muttering to themselves while they rummaged through the trash, to standing on corners and shouting at the sun. No point in mincing words, or conversational foreplay with these types, no honeycoating anything. Best just get straight to the heart of the matter...
“Are you going to eat your bread?”
The ranting stopped, and then there were several long seconds of silence, followed by a clatter on the stone floor. Malfus bent over to greedily scoop up the plate with the bread on it, having to turn it slightly to get it to fit between the bars of his cell.
“What does bread matter at a time like this? Why bother eating when they are coming for us tonight? The giant will make bread from our bones.” The prisoner mewled.
Malfus only half-heard him as he crawled on the stone floor, cradling the plate of bread in his arms like it was a newborn, moving toward the light from the window so he could get a closer look at it and make sure it was real. The prisoner started whining and ranting again, but Malfus couldn’t hear the words, too focused on the bread. As he got it into the moonlight, he saw that there were several greenish-black blotches of mold on the bottom. He didn’t let a little mold stop him. Not tonight. Not on this night free from the Inquisitor. Malfus just picked away at the mold the best he could, then stuffed a gigantic piece greedily into his mouth.
The stale bread tasted like sawdust and turned into a lumpy putty that absorbed what little moisture remained in Malfus’s already desiccated mouth. He didn’t care though, he hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday. The Inquisitor had been feeding him only at night when they made camp and Malfus felt like he was in a constant state of starving.
The other prisoner began droning on again in his shrill, neurotic voice, but it sounded like the distant cry of a child at the market, someone else’s problem to deal with; Malfus was too busy stuffing his mouth with another delectable morsel of moldy bread to hear him or care.
“Here it is, Inquisitor.”
Morten opened the door to a stone-walled room with a single window, not too unlike the cell they had just taken the prisoner to, except it had a wooden door instead of iron bars and it was significantly better furnished. There was a wood-framed bed that at least rivaled the quality of an average inn and a desk that even had a mirror, with a cushioned chair in one corner. There was a pair of boots under the bed and a crisp uniform still laid out on the bed.
“This used to be Lieutenant Erikson’s room. Guess no one came to collect his belongings yet. I doubt he will mind you sleeping in his bed anymore.” Morten said.
“Thank you, soldier. This will be suitable for my needs.” The Inquisitor said curtly, his back to Morten.
Finally free, Morten turned to leave the room and grabbed the door handle, excited to salvage what sleep he could from the night.
Morten swallowed, caught like a hooked fish, he froze, half between the door, half still in the room.
“Y-yes?” Morten asked, using the door as a shield between him and the Inquisitor.
“Tell Commander Peshka I will be with him soon. I must seek guidance first.” The Inquisitor said, still not facing Morten.
“Y-yes... of course, Inquisitor.” Morten closed the door, latching it in place. He breathed a sigh of relief and then paced down the hall quickly, his helmet bouncing with him as he went.
Inquisitor Deza picked up the dead soldier’s uniform, folded it neatly, and then placed it behind the boots under the bed. He took off his hat and laid it on the bed, revealing a head of shortly cropped raven hair that had the slight curls like most other Castilleans. He unstrapped his sword belt and laid it on the bed next to his hat. He unsheathed his rapier, wrinkling his nose at the dried blood of the savages that still tarnished his blade, but set it aside for now. Then he took off his black gloves and laid them on the bed next to his belt, one on top of the other, fingers of each folded together as if in prayer. He reached into the small leather pouch at his side and took out two sticks of incense, then lit them from the torch in the room. The thin sticks of incense billowed a bluish-white cloud of smoke, filling the room with a cloyingly sweet smell and a membranous cloud that hung limply in the still air of the room. He pushed the chair away from the desk and placed the sticks of incense on the desk in front of the mirror.
Inquisitor Deza reached into his collar and took out a cord of leather with the keys to his prisoner’s cell and cuffs, placing them on the bed. Then he grabbed the second cord wrapped around his neck. Tied to it were two barbed chain links forged from brass, which overlapped to form an eye, the holy symbol of Vesenia. The added barbs were a mark signifying an agent of the Inquisition. He laid the holy symbol on the wooden desk, next to the burning incense. Then he unfastened his tunic, revealing a muscled, sinewy back covered in a network of pink scar tissue that spread across its entirety. He neatly folded his tunic and laid it on the bed next to the rest of the articles. Finally, once he was sure all the other items on the bed were meticulously straightened and organized, he reached for a folded-up piece of leather the length of his forearm. Inquisitor Deza closed his eyes and took in a deep steadying breath, then something in his demeanor changed, an added air of reverence and sanctity as he unrolled the leather, spreading it out across the desk.
Inside were more than a dozen shining metal tools. Tools that one might mistake for a woodworker’s kit, until a closer inspection revealed a much more insidious purpose. Glinting in the torchlight were pieces of barbed and hooked metal, different sized shears, rolled up pieces of chain with razor sharpness, as well as other less identifiable implements. As varied as the tools may look, they were all devoted to a singular purpose. Pain. The tools of a torturer. The tools of the Inquisition.
Inquisitor Deza looked down at the instruments with a slight glimmer in his eyes as he brushed his fingertips over the cold metal reverently. His fingers stopped as they rested on a length of neatly folded chain, each tiny link was hammered flat, and the edges sharpened and filed down to keen points. He took it from the leather satchel and let the length of metal drop to the ground. He took in a steadying breath to calm himself, but his hands still trembled. He opened another small pocket and took out a palm-sized vial of holy oil, blessed by the priests of Vesenia and infused with Thesera’s Tears, an herb that slows the healing process and inflicts pain when rubbed into open wounds. Used by the Inquisition both for extracting confessions from prisoners as well as other sacred rites. Inquisitor Deza mouthed a silent prayer, then poured a trickle of the golden oil down the chain, making the bladed edge of each link glint menacingly in the torchlight.
Inquisitor Deza dropped to his knees and closed his eyes, folding his hands in front of him in prayer. The chain glistened with oil, dangling between his outstretched hands like a metal snake, wriggling as if it were alive and... hungry.
“Blessed Vesenia, hallowed be they name. Watch over the wicked and the lost, but be stern when you mete out your justice, to set them on the path of the righteous. Blessed are the righteous, who walk already in your grace... yet spare not your rod for them. May your hand be the most severe to those who walk already in your wisdom. Lest they ever stray from your path, they know full and well the price of their folly.”
He flicked his wrists in a burst of movement. The chain became a metal blur as it arced over and behind him.
The metal chimed as the links bounced off the stone floor. The metal shimmered and glistened with crimson in the torchlight. The veins of the Inquisitor’s neck bulged, but he stifled any cries of pain.
“Vesenia, grant me the grace to walk always in your light.” A slight strain to his voice bled through its normal frigidity.
The chain bit into the flesh in his back again, cutting a crease in his skin down to the pink and bisecting the network of scars crisscrossing his back. Crimson rivulets of blood welled up and ran down the ridges and valleys of scar tissue on his back like little red rivers. His breathing came in coarse, ragged gasps now, and beads of sweat covered his face and back. He took a few more deep breaths to steady himself before continuing.
“Vesenia, grant me forgiveness for my past transgressions.” His voice stifling a sob.
He hissed sharply through clenched teeth. There was blood splattered across the flagstone floor behind him in an ‘X’ and blood ran freely down his back, soaking the hem of his pants. Several fresh cuts crossed the countless older scars on his back. The chain’s metal links rattled in his shaking hands.
“Vesenia, grant me the strength to walk always in your light and guide my hand to be an extension of your divine will.”
The Inquisitor’s body shuddered as he let out a muffled cry, but any seasoned prostitute from the merchant-city of Akkadia to Zollaroh, the so-called “Jewel of the Desert,” would know there was a hint of ecstasy layered underneath the pain in his cry. The oil infused with Thesera’s Tears was doing its job now, his back alight with pain from the alchemical fire. A pungent smell filled the room as the sour and salty musk of sweat mingled with the coppery tinge of blood and cloying perfume of incense still burning on the desk.
“Show me the path, Divine Mother. Show me what I must do.” His voice just a shallow gasp now.
The chain made only a wet slapping sound this time as it hit the Inquisitor’s lacerated back, then he collapsed in front of the desk. A few seconds later, a bloody hand reached out to the wooden table, weakly grasping the side to pull himself up. The face that reflected in the mirror was nearly unrecognizable as that of the man from earlier. It was a carnival mask of pain and ecstasy, his teeth gritted as they clenched together in a rictus grin, his eyes wide and wild with zealous, religious fervor. A single tear fell from his eye, rolling down his cheek to his maniacal smile.
“Yes... I see.” He gasped. “I am... but your humble servant.”
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My name is Casey Sutton. I've been reading fantasy books ever since I could pick them up. I was a typical, nerdy introvert growing up and found like-minded fellows to play dungeons and dragons with. Being a dungeon master gave me my first taste for storytelling by creating adventures for my friends.
At some point after that, I had always had it in my mind to eventually turn some of those ideas into books and stories, but never acted on it. It took a near-death experience in South Africa, to finally give me the push to sit down and write!
Some quick things about me. I have a degree in psychology. I am an army veteran. I love cats. I am an amateur mycologist!
You can find my full bio on my website, linked above.