Morkui walked between ranked corpses, casting examinations on each he found for magic which might indicate undeath. He found nothing, and for some time swept back and forth through his section until he stopped at last over a lean, dark-skinned body with one hole in the arm and one in the aorta. The Ulmish morticians had, at least, cleaned her up and mostly covered her in a clean linen robe. He stood there for some time, leaning on his winged spear with his helm under his arm.
He felt an approaching cold-anvil presence, but didn’t turn.
“Your method produces bad results, teacher,” he said.
“The vampire has been taken,” Pelari Tur said. “Larenne of Tineburgh. For a number of years we have sought this one, because her bloodline is old and forever entangled with the Five. Your helper did as she was meant to.”
“So any tool is moral for the vigil, so long as it does the work we wish?” Morkui asked, turning.
His teacher was small, only five-foot seven, and with just her alabaster face and neck exposed above her ornate robes–black trimmed gold–she looked skinnier than she was. As always, she wore her dark-brown hair in a bun, with a lone errant lock in her steely eyes. Her new war-knife, the broad, deceptively agile thing she called Absolution, hung at her waist. In better times, the phrase “war-knife” always made Morkui chuckle; it was so typical a thing of the Black Havens to insist that a four-foot weapon was a “knife” purely because its grip was constructed like a knife’s, and therefore legally a knife.
Today, right now, Morkui could not laugh. “Do you wonder, would Ensyl think the same?”
“Ensyl long ago lost the caring to ask, if something was moral or not,” Pelari said. Though she spoke clearly, she often mixed shieldtongue with the grammar of Hafensprache. It made their conversations most diverse. “You have a misunderstanding, Morkui. You think if we’d assigned guards to Miss Shayris, she would still be alive?”
“It is more than likely,” Morkui said.
“She would,” Pelari agreed, “until we must withdraw them for another’s protection or something of a new crisis, and then Ensyl would teleport to her, kill her personally, and make himself certain you heard of it.
“I will not sacrifice any more innocents to achieve justice,” Morkui said. “Can one forge a sword by hammering impurities into the billet?”
“Many smiths cannot choose better steel to work with, and in any case cause and effect make themselves ever too broad for an analogy one bites off like this, na?” Pelari countered, miming a bite of jerky. After a moment’s pause, she pulled a stick from within her robes and began chewing.
“I have wanted some variety from dried fish,” she explained.
“Take me to this vampire, at least,” Morkui said. “She is owed something from me.”
Pelari seized his shoulder. He was reminded that her strength far outstripped her muscle-mass; in Physiomancy, and only Physiomancy, his teacher surpassed him by skill as well as power. “If you wish to execute her, I’ll permit it. But you must not let any see you do this for Shayris, hm? It must be personal between you and this vampire, that she deceived you, which you show for your anger’s source.” Morkui nodded.
They passed through the Sea-fort’s corridors, weaving around repair crews and occasionally stepping aside for one of the other Inquisitors. The blue-diamond panels glowed less brightly, and many lights were broken or burned out. Chill-water pools and submerged stairwells sometimes forced them to change course; there was much harm to undo yet.
“Final tally?” Morkui asked, throwing up a ward which would prevent any sound they made escaping a bubble around them.
“One hundred seventy-eight dead, including seven senior officers killed by the vampire when she found the chance,” Pelari said. “We have killed seventeen agents of the Five, and captured twenty more who await execution. Your scholar, this silly Filare boy, has been freed and sent on a ship to Anseth, with ample compensation for his lost time. The Sea-fort sustained critical damage which will prevent it submerging for several months.”
“It is near a major shipping lane,” Morkui said, frowning. He ducked under a pair of loose cables; Pelari maintained her pace, indifferent to their brief brush against her hairbun. “They have a solution prepared for this?”
“They’ll activate the current control stations until repairs are complete,” Pelari said.
“They assume these stations still operate,” Morkui said.
“They know that the stations still operate,” Pelari answered. “Our personnel have already these stations secured.”
“They are not our stations,” Morkui frowned.
“The Ulmish disagree,” Pelari smiled tightly, and shifted Absolution behind her briefly while a group of workers trudged past. They were soaking wet, smelling of sea-salt, and a few picked marine life from their clothes.
“Are you saying they have ceded authority to us?” Morkui asked.
“Look around you,” Pelari said, loosing a single grim chuckle. “Their efforts have nothing achieved to thwart the Five.”
“You seem… pleased,” Morkui said.
“I’m certainly not, but I can ever still recognize when events favor us in the long run. Ensyl has crippled this Sea-fort, but has he destroyed or seized it? No. Instead, he galvanizes the Ulmish against him. He wins neither the battle nor the war.”
“I do not like this line of thinking,” Morkui said.
“Your liking or disliking it means nothing,” Pelari said. “You are an Inquisitor, Morkui Bano. Put emotional reasoning aside. Only a decade go, necromancers and undead could unchecked roam through every dark harbor in my Black Havens. Now? Each day they creep deeper into shadow, cringing from the light.”
“Light can blind as well as illuminate,” Morkui said, thinking of a still form in a clean linen robe.
“And that’s why I warn you, you must shine it only on our enemies,” Pelari said.
“I still do not accept this as a victory,” Morkui said.
“And you shouldn’t, because this is called a light skirmish,” Pelari said. “But, you trapped Saijun, and she showed something new. Her escape tactic was most clever, and her handling of it too. I had never thought she was clever enough to use bravado so. There is more to her than brute force. A surprise she should have saved for later, na? From little hints like these we have always grown our final victory.”
They entered one of the Sea-fort’s meeting rooms, where a pair of Inquisitors stood with weapons drawn at either entrance–Kaning with his halberd forever humming from the micro-vibrations he enspelled into it, and placid Tetsenn, the Vigil’s first ilbaret, with a pure copper staff dangling well below her hips. She toyed idly with tribal paints before a “mirror,” which she held before her, seemingly blocking her view of the prisoners. In truth, it would be linked to an invisible portal somewhere in the room through which she watched everything. She “fumbled” the paints when they entered and snapped to attention.
“Hmph,” Pelari acknowledged. Morkui approved the utility of these acts, but it saddened him that the Vigil could so rarely be open with each other. How long before they forgot how to smile, to show friendship, even behind warded doors in the depths of Gravada itself?
Morkui moved past her to a pale redhead in a white shirt and black-trimmed gold pants. For long minutes, he and the vampire stared at each other. He breathed; she, naturally, did not.
“Do you feel you are clever?” he asked at last. “Do you feel you achieved something?” He made his expression perfectly neutral, as if studying a bird which had just flown into a windowpane.
“Your pet is dead,” she said, smiling coyly. “That’s something.”
“Pet? You mean the sailor. This was unfortunate, but losses occur in war,” Morkui said. He hated the act and himself for doing it so well, and most of all hated this vampire and all those she represented for making the act necessary. “A nameless sailor to take Larenne of Tineburgh? That is a price any general should be able to accept.”
The vampire spat, as Morkui had expected. An arcane twitch halted the gob mid-air. Without changing his expression, he drove it back into her face with such force it scoured her flesh, tearing skin loose and making dark-red pockmarks. Blood dripped, though quite slowly.
“Would you like to try again?” he asked.
“You upstart mouthbreathing whoreson!” the vampire snarled. “My family will find your slut of a wife and rape her halfway to death before they drink the rest, and all your inbred vermin children as well!”
“This will be quite impossible,” Morkui said, cocking his head. “My wife was killed by Binusi five years ago. We never did have any children. It was quick and a relatively dignified death, I was told. I will offer you the first, because I feel you have taken enough time already.”
Morkui hurled his left foot behind him, leveled his winged spear, and drove it with his right hand into the fleshy underside of the vampire’s chin. The spearhead jutted out the back of her skull, and he hauled her to her feet without needing magic. He held her there, gargling and flailing uselessly at the spear’s haft, while he set his dark helm upon his head. He put his left hand on the spear’s haft.
“I am curious what effects a spear through the brain must have on a creature which survives the wound,” he asked. “Can you still comprehend my words? Do you still understand why you are about to die? I will remind you. It is because you interfered with the Vigil’s work.”
Morkui lashed himself backward without loosening his grip on the spear, yanking it up and around. He heard a tearing not unlike an enormous, meaty thigh torn loose from a roast, and viscera spattered the room. When his spear came down on the other side, the vampire’s angry head came with it. Her body, naturally, did not. Morkui set the grisly trophy against the floor and set his foot on it, pulling his spear loose. It needed only a little magic to crush the head underfoot.
Still wearing his helm, he turned back to the other prisoners.
“It is possible we might forgive your crimes, if you will provide information,” he lied.
Author’s Note: “Dark Helm and Wing’d Spear” takes place on Canno, my personal high fantasy world. If you’d like to read more about it, Click Here for the main section. You might also be interested in Sonderhau, my previous Cannoan short story, featuring the Sword-Adherent Tervud and his bitter return home. If you thought Morkui was disturbingly violent, Tervud has some news for you!
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