A Fell Omen 4.5

They camped out on the side of the road when they realized that there was no way that they would make it to the next town in time. They had planned for it – they were pushing ahead longer in the day than most travelers would, on account of time being the essence, and so they had made a simple camp there. In short order, they had tied the horses in place, brought together a set of tents, and a fire-pit. The wilderness near to the many tributaries and streams that lead into the Teper had always been something of a fascination to Edam. Where the Agoran wilds had seemed foreboding, with wooded foothills and sheer cliffs ensconcing pockets of civilization. Fraimon was much like that. Even though it was a prosperous, well-ordered border town the wilderness beyond the fields and ordered roads menaced with harsh angles and spiny conifers. Here near the Teper it seemed as if the wilderness had entered into a begrudging harmony with the travelers. Even the muddied divets and ravines left from the harshest floods of years past had been worn into accepting passageways that man could maneuver through. Edam went with Manguyaat through them, admiring how in places heavy rain had exposed the great roots of the trees to the air. Eventually, they reached the bank proper, and looked out to the setting sun in the west.

It set the muddy water on fire; red and purple clouds loomed in the horizon, but tonight it seemed too dry to ever rain, and they had prepared the tents accordingly. 

So, with little else to do, they sat and watched. Edam had almost exhausted every normal topic of discussion with Manguyaat – what she enjoyed eating, what the strangest job she ever held was, the most foreign sights, and so on and so forth. She had avoided the topic of family, of growing up. If anything the vampire had said was true, it would be in poor taste to make that line of inquiry. Edam instead sat on her hands and tried to come up with some other reasonable question, but there was nothing that came to mind. She scratched at her hair in uncertainty. 

“Edam,” said Manguyaat, thankfully breaking the silence, “I have a question for you, and I wish to not be crude, seeing as I am a guest here in your country.” 

Edam smiled.

“I doubt that you’d be impolite. Ask away.”

“Well, when I was out earlier, I saw your cousin bathing in the river. Nothing untoward, of course, I was just looking about and saw him.”


“Well, I initially thought that perhaps he had once been attacked by an animal. But then, it looked too orderly for that. Has Imera ever been taken captive by someone?”
Edam shook her head.

“No, no. Are you thinking of the scars?” 

“Yes, of course. There was a set of them up his left shoulder like an epaulet, too orderly to be an animal. So I presumed that at some point he was taken captive.”

“No. Those are scars of penance.”


“Yes,” said Edam, “As in, remittance for a sin. I’m not certain how familiar you are with our way of doing things.” 

Manguyaat pursed her lips in thought, and picked up a smooth stone from the bank, rubbing it between her fingers. Edam could faintly remember seeing those scars on his arm. She had never quite learned the nature of the crime, but her uncle had castigated Imera very severely for it. She hadn’t been bloodletting at the time, but he was grown enough for it. Her uncle had taken her by the shoulder into the prayer room. Imera had been puffy-faced, but had wiped the tears away before she had entered. I want you to watch, her uncle had said, I need you to know how we do things around here, so that you straighten up. And she did watch, as Imera willingly added to the tally with a knife.  

“I’ll admit, I was more concerned with getting to Koletya than learning all of the customs of the Sepulcher. I know some of the essentials – that there were seven saints the founded the religion, that you keep a prophet, and believe in one god and one god alone. That seemed sufficient for the time, but I don’t see how it connects to penance.”

This excited Edam. The idea of explaining the scars didn’t attract her, but she’d always held a special place in her heart for apologetics. Most priests were too worn in and familiar to have any heart for it, and even Ana seemed to lose interest if she went too far with it, but now she had an opportunity to speak on it with a person who wasn’t so familiar. That, in and of itself, was exciting. 

Edam observed as Manguyaat threw the stone towards the river, where it skipped twice across the placid waters until it made a final plunge.

“The principle of the thing is very simple. Say as a hypothetical that a man robs you, for instance, and sells your goods before he’s caught. What should be done with him?”

“I’d say he ought to be fined for recompense, at the very least.”

“But say he doesn’t have the money to make up the difference,” says Edam, “That there’s nothing left in his coffers, for one reason or another.”

Manguyaat seemed puzzled for the moment.

“What were his reasons?”

“Let us say, for the sake of the continued hypothetical that he did this out of pure greed.”

“Most don’t steal for pure greed.”

Edam shrugged.

“Entertain the thought, will you?”

“Fine. Then… I suppose I’d like him to work for me for a while as recompense, or if you barred that too, I’d want him put in a position where he couldn’t steal from me or anyone else again.”

“Alright. How do you assure that someone does not steal again?”

“Put them in jail until they’ve learned their lesson.”

“Mm, that’s a way of doing things,” said Edam, “And at times it is necessary to restrain a person from certain sins. But among the Machevins, we have come up with our own way of seeing it. If a person does not carry a reminder of what they have done wrong, they’re liable to do it again.”


“They’re a synodoxy. The one that I’m a part of.”

Manguyaat gave a bemused smirk.

“Alright, I’ll bite. What’s a synodoxy?”

Edam’s face lit up, and she smiled.

“Oh, oh, this is a fun bit of history. During the early days of the Church of the Sepulcher, communication was slow and less standardized. Some priests developed ideas that were heretical during this period, but others simply came up with interpretations of the Seven Scriptures that were different from the Church around the Sepulcher, where the prophets reside. Hence, there are theologies which are heresy, but also those that are synodox, those that are of no difference to the true faith.”

Manguyaat nodded along slowly.

“Oh, I’ve encountered similar things. Among the Sondi, they call those schools of philosophy. Or at least it sounds as if they might be similar. At any rate, you were saying about the Machevins.”

“Yes, yes. The Machevins interpret the Book of Righteousness to be the Scripture that informs the praxis of our law. Hence, based on that, we ask those that trespass or sin to make marks on themselves by which to remember their crimes. If they will not make them on themselves, then an enforcer will bring that penance on them.”

Manguyaat squinted and frowned.

“But I don’t take it that Imera is a criminal, no?”

Edam shook her head as she picked up a stone of her own.

“When a younger person is living with their family, they’re expected to live by the rules of that family, alongside those provided by the Scripture. After all, you don’t bring your family members to the law for small matters like disobedience or not doing chores or the like. If everyone did, serious crimes would never be dealt with, no?”

Manguyaat did not meet her gaze for a short while, instead staring back at the sunset.

“I suppose,” she said. There was a hint of strain under her voice. 

“Do you have any other questions?”

“I… I’m not certain. Again, I do not wish to be impolite, but I find you all to be very strange. And I suppose I must be strange to you as well.”

Edam gave her a smile.

“Well, I think it’s better to be strange than sinful. You seem to have a good bit of integrity to you. You mentioned schools of philosophy. Do you subscribe to one in particular?”

Edam gave her own stone a deft throw, but it wasn’t as well shaped as Manguyaat’s. It only skipped once before it sunk into the tributary. 

“You aren’t trying to proselytize to me, are you?”

Edam giggled.

“I wouldn’t be against you changing your faith, but as I see it, there’s no need. You’ve already come to the moral fiber that religion ought to provide. I just have an idle curiosity for matters of theology. If I proselytize to you, I promise it’ll be an accident.”

She laughed back, a soft tittering noise. She picked up a long twig from the mud, and began to draw into the silt in the riverbank.

“I can only promise the same. When I was a child, I knew the laak’i. The gods of the Miqa. There are many, but the ones my father told me the most of were Earth, and Sky, and the great shepherd Pana.”

She demonstrated as she spoke, tracing the crude image of a starry sky, and then waters. 

“He told me that the whole of the Earth is of a piece, the shape of the goddess herself, and that she was once like the other gods and lived in the Heavens. In those days, all men had to swim like fish, struggling without dry land beneath them, and eaten by the serpent Wateta. However, she took pity on one, and brought him up to Heaven with her. This angered all of the gods, who thought of him as unclean, and they cast her out.”

Edam silently watched as she then drew a line between the heavens and the waters. A barrier between what was the realm of men, and the realm of the divine.  

“But Earth, she was fine with this at first. Now men could walk about on her, and she could be with her lover whenever she pleased.”

“He must have been very tall,” observed Edam.

Manguyaat chuckled.

“Very. They had a child together, even, who was Pana. Pana was a very clever one, being half-god and half-man, and was invited into the houses of Heaven and Earth freely. But as time went by, Earth became dissatisfied. Homesick. And so she reached up.”

She drew sharp triangles emerging from the waters.

“And that is how mountains come to be so tall. That was the sort of story I grew up with.” 

Edam cocked her head.

“But what’s the moral?”

“Hm? There is no moral. It merely describes how things came to be this way. No, moral instruction came later. Keninists have different ideas of these things. My mother was a Sondi woman, from Yeman’git. We were not very rich, but she wanted us to be educated. My brother never took to it, though, he was happy with being a shepherd, but I liked it well enough, and eventually when I was older she sent me off to an academy there.”

She splashed up water onto the silt, and scratched it until it was still a roughshod blank slate for her. This time, she began to write.

“This was what they taught me on the first day,” said Manguyaat, suddenly taking the tone of a strict teacher, “The first principle is this: mankind’s pleasures are fleeting; mankind’s pains are eternal.”

The symbols were foreign to Edam, but not unfamiliar – she had seen the same ones on the inside of the head of the watcher Manguyaat had made. Though they were still controlled and legible, Manguyaat had begun to form them with a sort of ferocity, struggling against the silt. 

“The second principle is this: all the gods are responsible for the suffering of mankind, for they have made the state of the world. The third principle is this: the Heavens have nothing by which to truly recompense mankind. The fourth principle is this: mankind must overcome the state of the world and gods through mastery. Thus spake the Great Sage Kenin.” 

She circled one of the words, and pointed to it. 

Atrā – mastery – that is what they taught me, in the form of sorcery.” 

Edam thought for a moment. It seemed an awfully pessimistic way of seeing things. She had always felt that in some senses the Godhead had tested her, treated to certain cruelties by making her a bastard, but she didn’t think of them as truly responsible. They had also made every route out of her own immorality, and so in the end they had made her a better person and in turn made the world better.

“You really believe all of that?”

Manguyaat snorted and then shrugged.

“I didn’t really buy it back then. It didn’t seem like things could be so cruel. I had spent most of my life up in the mountains near Miqa land, and while we were poor, the land and the flocks were rich. How could the gods be cruel when they gave us animals who gave us wool and meat, gave us sweet fruit and grain and sunsets.”

Edam was quiet for a long while, before asking the question that was on her mind.

“And then?”

“I suppose you interrogated that vampire, didn’t you?”

Edam nodded sadly.

“Yes. She told us about you. I was hoping what she said was not true.”

Manguyaat stared out over the bruising clouds, turning from brilliant orange-red to a darker shade of purple by the minute. A sliver of the moon made itself apparent in the sky, cradled by the dark branches and distant horizon. 

“It was strange. Strange then, stranger now how it happened. I was finally coming home after completing my education, to stay a while before I traveled out to find a job. And I had a man with me. He was my traveling companion, someone I met in my education, and I had eyes for him, you know. Thought that maybe he might make for a good fling.”

Both of them turned their eyes to the writing again, to the first principle. 

“And we went into town, and everyone was quiet. Everyone. Not a single sound in the place. And I asked what had happened, and they told me that three days ago-”

She choked before continuing.

“Three days ago, someone had burnt my home to the ground. And I didn’t believe them – I didn’t believe it in spite of the mourners, and so I ran, and I came to a wreck. There was nothing left. Just ashen pillars where a home was. And I wailed, I wailed and wailed, and I screamed and went running and my friend had to hold me back from the wreck. It wasn’t hard to find their bodies, either. So shallow that I – I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear to think that they might be eaten by wolves. And they told me not to, but I dug them up and buried them deeper and gave them proper rites.”

She sighed and kicked the dirt, obscuring her writing.

“Wasn’t hard to figure out who they were. The lord had kept them as guests for years. According to him, he thought they were harmless so long as their bloodlust was satisfied. And it was only a three days difference – if I had left earlier, if I had done anything different-”

She cut herself off, then rolled her neck back. Edam heard it pop, and she almost felt the urge to roll hers in sympathy.

“I’m sorry.”

“The Heavens are cruel. Men are their instruments. Whatever abomination created the vampires, doubly cruel.”

“I can’t imagine how angry you must feel. It isn’t right.”

“Angry?” Asked Manguyaat, “I guess I am. I hated them for a while.”

Edam fiddled with her hair. 

“You don’t anymore?”

“It’s a duty. Something I am obligated to do. A horrible thing happened to me an my family, and now it falls to me to prevent it from happening to anyone else, if I can help it. Allowing too much hatred would blind my heart to the shape of my duty.”

Edam nodded. She was taught much the same. As pitiful and damned as they were, a true hatred of witches would cloud the mind and the actual goals of the Inquisition. The devils, they could be hated more readily, but doing so would not not exorcize the devil. Time and outlasting the deal would do that. Patience was what was needed there, in planning and in praxis. She sighed.

“I understand that,” said Edam quietly.

“Also,” she said, “Being too caught up in my head and my anger once nearly killed me while I was at sea, but that’s a story for another time.”

For a while they just sat there, and Edam enjoyed it quiet beauty of the coming night. She kicked the silt, waiting for the lull to end, but it wasn’t boring. It was pleasant; a reprieve from everything else.

“How do you do it? How do you look at the world, the horrible disunity of things, the cruelty of things and come away thinking that there is one, single, benevolent Godhead?”

Edam sat with the question for a moment. There were many theological answers to the matter, even proofs she had devised for herself. She wrestled with the matter for a moment before deciding on something simpler.

“We have sunsets,” said Edam, “Don’t we? Is there not majesty in it, the way the stars come into view? The order of the heavens and earth?”

Manguyaat looked over the dimming light.

“It brings night. It has for ten-thousand years, and it will until the end of the world. It is not so special.”

Edam shrugged.

“It does not have to be unique to be beautiful.”

“I suppose that’s true,” said Manguyaat, “But it’s besides the point. All the great beauties of the world do not make up for its failing by half. How can I, in any good conscience, prostrate myself before a god that has facilitated this cruelty? I would not do so for a king or lord that facilitates great cruelty, even if my fellows would out of fear.”

“It makes us better,” said Edam on reflex, “The trials and tribulations-”

Manguyaat turned her eyes from the horizon back to Edam. Her face was stricken with disgust and grief. Edam already knew her mistake.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “It made me better.”

It had to have made me better, she thought, Or else I wouldn’t be here today.

And like that, the last sliver of the sun disappeared, leaving only an orange glow in its wake. 


Shivyan was a beast of a woman in her look, if not her dress. She stood a few inches taller than Imera, and if her ruddy hair had not been shorn and tied away Edam suspected it would have taken on wild waves. Her face was covered with so many scars that even Imera seemed taken aback by it – and they were so wild and uncalculated that Edam was certain that they were inflicted by some fierce opponent. She wasn’t in old age yet, but her hair had begun to show the first few gray streaks, and her face had acquired some of the marks of her years.

Besides that, she was exceptionally well-put-together. Edam did her best to keep her uniform and her manners in order but Shivyan had far more of a hold on herself than that. She wore an orange coat, the mark of a member of the Order of Shattered Bones who had reached a level of high commendation. The rest of her awards she wore on her breast in a neat row; an honor for being taken captive by a heretic and escaping, for being near-mortally wounded in the line of duty, and for valor. 

She was quiet when traveling with them, largely keeping to herself until they had arrived in St. Merka’s. They had found themselves in a room in an inn that was only made for three people at the most, but it had begun to storm for the second time in a few weeks, and they needed the shelter. When they were finally certain that they were not being watched, she looked around the room, before producing a map and setting it on the table.

“I have not been forthcoming with any of you,” said Shivyan, “For fear of certain elements in Kallin.”

Imera cocked his head at this.


“There are people there very interested in the movements of the local Inquisitors. That includes myself. That vested interest made me more cautious.”

Edam nodded.

“I see,” said Edam, “What’s been held back?”

She grumbled deeply. If the stakes weren’t so dire, Edam would have laughed at it. She sounded like an old grandmother about to gossip in church. 

“They told me to stop being so political on the job,” she said quietly, “And I suppose I do believe in it, that the Inquisition ought to be as politically neutral as possible. But I’ve been speaking with contacts in the military. Reputable ones. They’ve been suspecting that a new group of Erebists have been planning.”
Danza scowled. Manguyaat gave a quizzical look around the room.

“I’m not familiar with this word,” she said.

“They’re the hardline monarchists. Officially, they’re illegal,” explained Edam, “Seeing as they subscribe to the idea that leadership’s merits are based on primarily on experience and age, with everything else being secondary.”

Manguyaat seemed to make the connection as well.

“Which means to them, only a vampire would be an appropriate ruler.”

Edam wasn’t familiar with their whole history, but she knew that they were formed out of some of the philosophical ideas that were taken from the College of Dragons before the revolution. They tried to arrange a coup of the government once, and after it was decided that the military structures and the civil ones would have separate capitals as a measure of redundancy against a future attack. 

“Bluebloods are one of the only sovereigns that they’d recognize properly,” said Shivyan, “They’ve been planning for this kind of thing for years, and my contact heard rumors that they’ve formed a cell here in St. Merka’s. So, either they knew that the blueblood was coming, and were awaiting their arrival, or they had already formed a cell around an area that was important to the old nobility and the blueblood may seek them out.”

Edam whistled.

“Given the timing of things, I think there’s not an unreasonable chance that they’ve already made contact. Which means that there are more allies on the field. How many people are in this organization?”

Shivyan gave a very weary look. 

“In the whole organization? Too many. But in a cell? Anything above ten is unsustainable.”

All of them looked around. Vampires were one thing – both the Republic and the Prophet had given them a long leash to deal with the matter. Civilians who happened to be involved with a vampire were a far messier matter. They couldn’t attack them without direct evidence of a crime against the Church, or a very clear and present danger to a person’s life. That requirement was practically doubled when dealing with things that could blow back on the Church’s political status. Vampires made it on account of being a crime. That left them in a position where they needed to be defensive, or call in a militia. 

Militias were slow to raise, slow to mobilize, messy, and more often than not poorly equipped to deal with vampires and witches. They could try getting a message to the standing army, but they were by even slower to dispense their forces away from the borders and the capital. And even assuming that they only attacked the civilians when they themselves had been attacked, it could raise clamour with their sympathizers and political allies.

In short, a clusterfuck, thought Edam. 

“Let’s start with location,” said Edam, “We know that they’d be looking for their ancestral lands.” 

“Exactly,” said Shivyan, pointing to the map, “We’re looking for a place where they could achieve a good degree of defense. There’s a fort on the river that predates the revolution, but that’s occupied by the military. The manor here were burnt down by a fire a few years back. Which leaves… a graveyard. Not a good hiding place either unless they’ve decided to sleep in a coffin.”

“We could just case them one by one,” suggested Danza.

Shivyan groaned, pointing closer at the map of the roads. 

“See this area? There are fifteen or so houses there where there was once a whole manor. It’d take an age before we had a good bit of observation on all of them, even if we were to assign a house to each of us.”

Edam studied the map with them before making a mental note. 

“Hold on,” she said, “The burial grounds.”

She pointed to the small dot, far off from any roads. It was in the wilderness, but not terribly distant from the more modern graveyard.

“If they’re looking for a pagan site, that would be the most here. I mean, it predates the vampires by a good bit, but it’s secluded, most people don’t go there and it holds symbolic importance. It’s homecoming. A return to the ancestors.”
Shivyan nodded slowly. 

“The Horned Lords built their burial sites in mazes or forts. Pagan superstition about needing protection from evil spirits, but they’d make suitable battlements for a person that could memorize the grounds.” 

“Good thinking, cousin,” said Imera, “We head there first, then. First thing tomorrow. We go as quietly as possible.”

“And the Erebists?” Asked Edam.

“I feel like I’m missing something, but I gather that your hands are tied here,” said Manguyaat, “Allow me to intercede, then. I’ll do my best to draw them away, and if these Erebists show me harm I see no reason why you couldn’t intercede to aid an innocent person. After all, what reasonable man of the Sepulcher would not aid another who was assailed by a pack of thugs?”

“That’s legally… sketchy,” said Edam nervously, “But it would be the word of four reputable people against a group of very disreputable ones.”

“Or if there’s definite danger to someone else, we could find ourselves obligated to intervene,” added Shivyan, “Which is proven the moment we see a vampire.”

“True,” said Edam, “Alright. I say that assuming nothing else goes wrong, we go by Shivyan’s idea. But if a vampire does not show their face, we work with Manguyaat’s… ploy.”

It felt wrong, going around the rules of engagement like that, particularly at the behest of someone outside the Church. On the other hand, it was a good idea. It would be far less politically messy to work with that than it would be with the complicated maneuvering that was otherwise needed. 

Shivyan scratched at her head.

“I’m in agreement. Anyone else need clarification?”

No one raised their voice. Edam felt satisfied. The rest could be filled in when they had a better lay of the land. 

“Then sleep,” said Shivyan, “We move at dawn.”

With that, each of them retreated to their respective corners of their cramped room, and found what they could to make themselves comfortable. Shivyan was the last, folding her map away before snuffing the candle and shrouding them in darkness.

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