A Fell Omen 4.1

There was a saying that Edam never quite understood – sickness and lust make the flesh go mad at times. Sickness she could understand. Aches and pains and infection alone could make it seem like the flesh had a life separate from any mind, but lust was an emotion that could be more easily controlled. Not snuffed, but controlled. 

Then, Edam watched a woman recover from being decapitated, and every sense of the phrase made sense. For a brief moment she went utterly limp at the limbs when her head came off, but then she scrambled about like a cockroach in the corner of a pantry, limbs wildly flailing. It took all three of them to drag her back into the abandoned safehouse, up into a small-windowed guest bedroom where they could tie her to a chair. There, over the course of a week, Edam observed the flesh go mad. 

  First came the veins – they emerged from the bloody stump like a bush, branching and somehow calcifying in place. Day by day, without a supply of fresh blood, they darkened as well, approaching a deep shade of brown. Eventually, they would turn black, but before that scaffolding of the rest of Khatya’s head began to take them out of view. Bones and flesh jutted into each other and even swayed in the breeze when Edam cracked open a window. And eventually, it grew still into jaw and skull and even muscle. 

For a while, Edam thought that she might be weeping out of the half-formed sockets where her eyes ought to have been. However, as she coughed and swayed and struggled the thick fluid fell to the floor, and Edam could recognize it. The flesh was mad, and having no sense it made and dripped the vitreous fluid that was supposed to be inside the eye onto the floor. And soon, Khatya was more or less whole as she was – though her hair did not grow back except in a grey-black fuzz, and her eyelids were so ragged and patchwork that when she blinked the whites of her eyes could still be seen. 

They weren’t very white anymore, either. Instead, they had almost pockmarked with little black veins, likewise with her neck and her arms. All the vampires were half-dead, but the blackbloods were closer to a quarter – and the blood went stagnant without fresh supply. She did not scream or yell in her captivity, only observed them with total contempt. She was a jagged little thing; her face sharp and angled without the aid of a mask to hide it. She almost looked a little similar to Ana in that respect, but without any gentleness or kindness in the eyes to soften a harsh look. 

She was still, too – unnaturally still. She did not tremor, did not try to break her bonds, she did not even breathe. She did not need to. Eventually, when they all felt certain that she had the capacity to speak, they all came to Khatya, and readied themselves for the interrogation. Imera stood at the front and took the lead, blue coat and all.

He started hard and plain.

“You are Khatya, correct?”

Nothing. Silence in a dusty room. They had found a plumbed the depths of the house, and found nothing but knick-knacks and a dried-up corpse in the cellar. He was nude, an older, fatty man whom none seemed to recognize, covered with the bitemarks of what could only be described as some kind of insectile proboscis. It matched with the reports of strange insects flooding the streets a few blocks down, and a maid who described a confrontation there between locals and what she could only describe as monsters.

Imera took this in stride. They all did. It was expected that a suspect or captive would typically stay silent if they were canny to their captivity – particularly a vampire. They all knew that when they had extracted all the necessary information from Khatya, she needed to be disposed of, and so the longer she could draw them out, the longer she could live, and the more opportunity she had to worm her way out of any punishment, as small as that opportunity might be. 

“Khatya,” continued Imera as Danza went and leaned on the far wall, observing them all, “From what I understand, you’ve come all the way from Sondi. Were you born there?”

“My land is here,” she said in a ragged voice.

Edam shifted her weight. A non-answer. 

“I will be frank. We can work together, or we can sit around until we get authorization from Dzhemor to execute on the spot because you’re no longer of any use to us,” said Imera, “I have the letter ready downstairs. A pigeon would only take a couple of days, judgment even less, and we have better things to do with our time unless you can give us something useful.”

Khatya looked around slyly.

“Does that put me in the position to make demands?”

“No,” said Danza.

“I’d like a good meal, a bath, and some wine,” said Khatya, “And a worm to-”
“No,” repeated Danza, “We are not here to purview your atrocities. We are here to figure out what a blueblood was doing back in Koletya.”
Edam found it was a good time to interject.

“Let’s start with something simple. Why was that pagan, Manguyaat, after you?”

She paused.

“You let pagans into your lands? Aren’t you afraid of them bringing the Kolets back to some sense?”

Imera shrugged.

“It is fitting with charity that we allow guests into our land. You cannot teach a man to be better if you meet everyone with a sword.”
Edam shrunk for a moment, trying to calculate what Imera just said. The line from the scripture was, ‘One cannot teach virtue by the blade.’ Did he make a mistake, or was he trying to explain the principle through different words? Or was he keeping the Agoran version in mind, and translating to Kolet with different words than the one that the Church used? He was always pious, but never all that studious of the words themselves. 

Edam set the thought aside. There was a prisoner to interrogate.

“She said that she wanted to kill all of you. You don’t gain that reputation easily,” said Edam, “So let’s start there. Why the grudge?”

“Why not ask her? You seem to be friends,” said Khatya, “She’s your guest, as you said. Or did you lose track of her?”

“Don’t deflect,” said Imera, “You’ll answer the questions, one way or another.”

“Is that a threat?” 

Imera began to reach into his coat pocket. Edam tried not to flinch as he pulled out the same little focus from before, the one that heated itself when provided mana. Khatya saw the move and cackled ragged eyelids fluttering with delight.

“You want to tickle me? To make me squeal like a pig? Oh, you’re so exciting, Inquisitor!”

The mana sparked, and the fork glowed red as he put it to the flesh of her arm. She writhed as she laughed, looking Imera in the eye and giving Edam only the occasional wild glance. The air filled with the smell of burning meat. She stopped laughing only to speak.

“You’re really funny, you know that? I haven’t felt real pain in thirty years. This is – it’s ticklish, really.”

He pulled away, his face hidden by the low light and the darkness of his hat. The three marks on her arm had burned black. Edam could not read his expression, but judging by his body alone he was dismayed. 

“You know, this is very typical of you men of the Sepulcher.”
“Answer the question,” said Edam.

“Repeat it,” said Khatya, “Your comrade has distracted me.”

“Why is Manguyaat following you?”

“She’s a ghost.”

All of them looked at each other with incredulity. Ghosts and other spirits were echoes of mana, tied to objects, to corpses, only lasting weeks or days in most cases. One lasting this long and crossing a whole sea was frankly impossible unless she was one of the rare and unlikely liches, a ghost puppeting a corpse with sorcery. She was obscuring, or lying. Now was the time to attack that weak point.

“Lying will hasten your death,” said Edam, “Be useful.”

“Well, we thought she was a ghost at first,” said Khatya, grinning with several half-formed teeth, “Stalking us in a crowd in Sondi. We thought we had killed her.”

“Vengeance for assault then?” Asked Danza.

“Oh no, we killed her alright. After I took up my birthright, we began to run our worms a bit dry, and eventually they met with some unfortunate ends, so we had to hunt.”

Danza shuddered. 

“So hunt we did. We were guests of a local Sondi lord, who had been keeping us, and we couldn’t just eat of him. So we went out of town for our last meal before we left. There was a shepherd who lived there with his wife, up in the mountains. Secluded. Nice, even. We live there for a week or so. Oh, and he had a boy of his own. Such a pretty boy he was, long hair and all. He must have been… seventeen? Or thereabouts. A shame. I wanted to keep him, but we had to travel light.”

Edam shuddered. Something in her tone suggested less anything untoward, and more like a person reminiscing on a good meal. Her had taken on that of some kind of bawdy, drunken storyteller, and even with the lack of drink she seemed to be enjoying the recounting.

“We invited ourselves in as travelers, because they had a spare bedroom where we could cram in. And then night came and we caught them well and good. It was fun watching the boy scream for his mother. Like a rabbit, when you catch it. We had a good long hold on them for- I think it was a week or so-”

“Get to the point,” said Danza.

“Right,” she said eagerly, “We killed them. Burnt the house to cinders, and buried the remains by a shack out in the hills.”

Edam felt a little sick to her stomach. She had worked for a short time at one of the Antipodes in Agora before her time in Koletya and had spoken with a murderer more than once. Many were repentant heretics and witches, desperate highwaymen who had only murdered and made such unnatural dealings to feed themselves or to earn a meagre pittance of money. A rare few simply felt nothing about their bad acts. Edam had felt that way before, when she had impulsively stolen or yelled at her father. She would do it on base instinct, cry bitter and arduous tears of repentance, but after she would feel as empty as a pot broken at the bottom. Khatya, though – she was full. There was not even malice in her words, not even a hatred or contempt for the shepherd and his family – just a sort of raw glee. Edam took a step back, and Danza moved off of her position from the wall. There was only a glint in her eye under the hat, but Edam could feel its heat from here.

“And then she showed up. I suppose they had an empty bed for a reason, didn’t they? Such poor shepherds wouldn’t be expecting so many guests. She looks just like her brother without a mask. Always from afar. Waiting for the right time. I suppose the right time was last night, wasn’t it? Tell me, how many of us did you string up?”

“We didn’t string up anyone,” said Edam, “But from what I hear, one of your own was burned.”

“Should’ve,” said Danza quietly.

“What was that?” Asked Khatya. Edam tried to interject, but the process was already in motion.

“We should’ve strung you all up a century ago,” said Danza, “Should’ve strung you up yesterday, but you didn’t have the neck for the noose.”

“How typically cruel of a revolutionary dog like you.”


“Yes, cruel, what you did to my forebears,” said Khatya, “To my grandmothers and grandfathers, cutting them open while they still lived and torturing them with ropes about their necks.”

Danza barreled through Imera and Edam, and slapped Khatya upside the face. Khatya brought her face low and grinned.

“What, afraid that I’m right? That you tortured-”

“It was fair!” 

“Fair? Is it fair to ask a cripple to run? To ask a deaf man to hear?” Asked Khatya defiantly after Danza landed another blow, “Fair, that you imposed punishment on for so-called crimes based on laws that did not even exist when those crimes were comitted? You impose a savage law, a half-law, a law of based on nothing natural in accordance with a-”

Another blow knocked her off that subject, and Imera pulled Danza away, who shuddered with rage and raw anger. She was less person and more shape, more the muscled arm of a prison guard, more the outline of a spurned authority made manifest. She retreated, and Khatya simply kept grinning. Edam knew what she was doing. She was an actively defiant prisoner, wasting their time because the more they spent on her, the longer her compatriots had to get away. A week wasted for nothing.

“You see? She has nothing to say in her nation’s so-called defense. This is why we had to come back. Not only do you children have no idea how to govern, you don’t even know why you ought to govern or what good governance looks like. The revolution has made you-”

A weakness, thought Edam, She’s been breaking Danza and Imera down, but she hasn’t been focusing on me because I haven’t been speaking or doing as much. She doesn’t think of me as enough of a threat to spend energy. If I can attack it, she might give something up.

“You said we,” interrupted Edam.


“You said we had to come back. Who’s we? Because blackbloods have been plaguing the countryside for years now. Redbloods occasionally. But a blueblood? How long has it been?”

The prisoner went silent suddenly, though still grinning like a schoolgirl who had learned something that they shouldn’t have. Edam didn’t smile, but felt a sense of control being regained. Danza and Imera straightened their backs as they felt the shift of power. She realized she had slipped up, so now she was trying to create uncertainty as to whether what she said was meaningful. Now she would redirect.

“What about you, shrinking violet? What do you think of all of this?”

More deflection. Edam knew she had to keep her talking, even if she didn’t provide much directly useful information. She felt odd that Imera hadn’t brought in 

“Of Koletya? I’ve rarely met a stranger or more accommodating people. Do I grow homesick? Sometimes,” said Edam, “But at times it feels like a second home.”

“But is it yours? Were you born here?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes,” said Khatya quietly, “Of course it matters where a person is born. It sets the rest of their fate.”

“I was born in a small town not far from the border, before I was sent to Fraimon. I know a lot of Kolets growing up. It’s where the nations meet, I suppose.”

“But you would return there, correct?” 

Edam thought on this question for a long time. Fraimon, its little streets, the flow of people and the long, long road back home. Something in her balked at the idea – at returning to the place where she had done so much wrong. She thought it might make her worse, or even make her return to those ways. And the church that sat at the back of her mind. For a while, when home hurt, the church and her schooling was a reprieve and a boon. And on and on her mind went to Peman, who always so sweet-

She brought herself back to focus.

“Of course. So this is a homecoming for you?”

“No,” said Khatya, “It is birthright. For I and I alone. This is not my home. I wish to make it my home.”

That was a standard line from most blackblood partisans. They didn’t believe the Republic was a legitimate or valid government, and hence it wasn’t a nation in any real sense, like Agora or Veleda. Hence, they justified that they were free to prey upon the people of Koletya because there was no law to stop them from doing that – in spite of the law saying that it was assault or murder – because that law was not even extant in the first place. It was blatant denial of the reality of the situation, but the twisted logic functioned for them in some ways.

“So there’s nothing at stake here besides… coming to the place where your forebears were born?” asked Danza.

Again, a speaking silence, and a single grin in a dusty room. Imera made the decision.

“Let’s handle this later,” said Imera, “I think we have all we need for now.”

So they went, filed out, and joined again in the darkened kitchen. The larders had been raided to fulfill someone’s ravenous appetite, and there were dozens of scrapes on the floor where furniture had been rearranged time and again over the years. The letter for Khatya’s execution was there, of course, dark red wax already sealed.

“Alright,” said Imera, seeming to catch his breath, “Are we going to really hinge on we? Just one word?”

Danza shrugged.

“It’s disturbing, certainly, but we need to focus on the other two vampires still involved. A grander conspiracy might just be an idea planted to throw us off their trail. I’ve been keeping my ear to the ground, but there’s nothing of substance so far. Edam, Imera, thoughts?”

She shook her head.

“The pregnant one told me that she was born in a place not particularly far from here. That’s not much to go on though. I could try to track down Manguyaat again.” 

Imera nodded, stroking the unshaven stubble on his face.

“Good, that’s an option. She knows how to track them, knows their methods of this specific group. There are rumours that the blueblood has wings, which means-”

“We need a grounder,” interjected Edam, “Isn’t there one in Kallin already?”

“Yes,” said Imera, “Shivyan. Order of Shattered Bones. She’s a good one from what I hear. Alright. I’m off to the constabulary and then to find her.”

And like that, Danza and Edam were alone together, the blue coat a bare glimmer as he left them both. Danza anxiously looked away from Edam’s gaze, and then back to her.

“Edamosfa, I-”

She paused, as if thinking very carefully.

“Working the Dzhemor – it’s very difficult at times. It can harden you to certain things. A prisoner will bite or try to escape by bashing you with a fist, and then suddenly you’re jumping at a prisoner asking for water for the next few weeks. Not to mention how careful you need to be around vats of mercury and all.” 

Edam nodded, listening carefully.

“And the Order of Tattered Skin – they’re superior to all of us, the best of the best, and I appreciate the work your cousin does. But sometimes he unsettles me. I thought that-”

And suddenly, all of Danza’s authority disappeared into the wind. She slumped and sat at the table, looking at the parchment envelope, and turning it over in her hand. 

“I thought that the torture was limited to one person, because the torture worked as a means of extracting information, because that’s what was necessary, in the same way it would be necessary for me to elbow or beat back a prisoner if I had to keep them in line. But this – just resorting to it right away – I’m not certain anymore.”

Edam nodded as well. It was disconcerting to her too. She tried for a moment to rationalize it, to justify it under the teachings, but she could not find a good reasoning. Eventually, she sat as well, bringing them eye to eye.

“It – well, he’s always been very zealous when it comes to punishment,” started Edam, “We come from a family of Machevins.”

Danza’s face shifted. Edam couldn’t read its emotions, but something had changed. Something less stony, and more complete.

“And it’s not like it’s a bad thing to take pleasure in one’s work and duty as laid out by the Godhead,” continued Edam, as she organized her thoughts on the matter, “And I wouldn’t say that Khatya is exactly a good person. You saw how she talked about that murder. The Godhead demands retribution and penance for grievous sins.” 

“But that – he didn’t even know what she had done, or why, or what the matter was.”

“That bothers me too,” said Edam, “But he isn’t wrong to-”

“He wasn’t taking pleasure, he was – he was – I don’t know how to describe it,” said Danza, “It was malignant, what he did up there. Like cancer. First it was in with the thaumaturge and now it is spreading. You have to see that, Edam.” 

Edam swallowed.

“I don’t want to talk about-”

“What? Are you protecting him? Do I have to worry about you not backing me on this if it comes to reporting him to a higher authority?”

Danza grabbed her hand, not ungently but not with any intent to harm. 

“This is wrong, and you and I both know it now. I know he’s your family, too, and that makes things difficult. But what happens when he turns that fork a thief? On a pickpocket? On someone who he suspects is entirely innocent, what then? Where does it stop?” 

Edam sighed.

“I’m not saying that it isn’t wrong-”

“Where?” Said Danza, “I am under orders to accompany him and aid him but order is not the same as justice or righteousness, and what sick zeal he brings to the table is most certainly not in line with the Godhead. It is- it is a zeal for pain, not for the sake of piety.”

Edam didn’t have an answer, so she fell back onto what she knew from prior experience. That was the best answer.

“Well, it’s not that far from what I did to myself when I was younger. I mean, I brought the punishment on myself, and it was usually cutting or the lash or some such.”

The lash – that was the most horrible thing in the world, and she shuddered even to remember it. A rod or a mallet never left such a permanent mark as that, the harsh leather, whistle and crack. She cried for days once after receiving just one lash; another time, she barely got out of bed except to do chores. She felt lucky at times that she quickly learned how to avoid it, how to plead for a knife, how to do it herself when necessary so that she could lessen the blows. 

“Edam? Are you listening to me?” 


Danza seemed to blur out of existence. For a moment, Edam swore she was in a dream, or a nightmare. The walls seemed to shift with living force and the whole city spun out the window in blazing heat and sunward feeling. It seemed to swallow her whole until Danza’s voice brought her back to the reality of her pounding heart, her racing breath, her itching skin.

“I’ve been talking to you for half a minute and you haven’t said a word, and now you’re crying.”

“What?” Asked Edam, “I’m not crying. I’m fine.”

On instinct, she wiped her face, and sure enough her sleeve came away wet, two things occurred to her at once. The first was that she was crying, and the second was that she was not fine at all. She braced herself on the table and tried not to cry more. The air swam and Danza shrunk to a bare presence at the edge of her mind and vision. 

“Did I say something wrong? You seem very upset. You can tell-”

“Please. Please don’t say anything about my cousin, or to him. He just – he gets mad sometimes, and you need to be able to deal with it, but he’s a good man, and I have no reproach on him, I have no space on him, no fear on him-”

“You’re not making sense.”

“He’s better than me! He just is! He’s better than me and I am in no position to criticize him in any fashion, I have done far worse than that, and to innocent people, I have disobeyed the word of the Godhead and the word of my parents and my family, and I cannot, I cannot say anything to his detriment because he is an excellent man and you are just- just-” 

She covered her face, and remembered her discussion with the thaumaturge. The discussion that he had with him before the party.

“I can’t,” she said, “I can’t do anything before him. I can’t.” 

Her ears pounded with the rush of blood and slowly, bit by bit she found the strength to let go of her breath, to breathe normally again, and she looked Danza in the eye.

“I’m sorry. I’m worse than him.”

“How? How does that have anything to do with-”

“I just am, and he just is. That’s how it works.”

Danza was quiet. She seemed dumbfounded.

“I think you know that I need help here. I need you to help me stop him the next time this comes up, and if it comes to it I need you to speak with a judge with me. I don’t understand why this is so complicated to you, but-”

She walked over to the stairs.

“You need to figure yourself out so you can better serve the Godhead. Because speaking nonsense when we’re presented with a clear sin is not our job, and not befitting of our station. I’m going to keep an eye on Khatya, see if she says anything else of value. You need to get yourself together. Because otherwise, I’m going to need to keep an eye on you too, and I’ve not got as many to spare as your cousin.”

And then, with a stomp of her boot, Edam was alone again, and she sobbed alone. There was no hand to comfort her. She pulled her knife from its sheath on her belt, readied it above her wrist for even thinking of speaking ill of her cousin, and stopped. There was no relief in the thought of it, and no relief in the thought of stopping it. Bloodlet or no, it wouldn’t change what he did. She hollowed her lungs again, and breathed out and tried to think about what had actually been said. 

Danza was backing her. She wanted the burning to stop too – she could work with that. She couldn’t beat her cousin, or criticize him aloud.

But she could stop him from bringing injustice into the matter. That, that she could do. 

She returned to her senses, bit by bit, and rose.

She had a pagan to find.

One thought on “A Fell Omen 4.1

  1. love the way you write disassociation here, the way her emotions overwhelm and shut off, the way she loses time inside if it. really hoping that Danza here opens the gateway to Edam realizing how terribly shes been abused, so she can recover


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