A Fell Omen 4.6

The stake-out went long into the cloudy day. Shivyan was as dour as the sky, having produced a bow, arrows and the kind of professionalism that came with a long time on this sort of job. The barrow was far larger than Edam had expected – a great artificial hill with three stony turrets that contained darkened doorways to the interior. It was deep in the woods, far from the touch of everyday people. Either by superstition or by design, it had been abandoned. A doe stared at their motley group before fleeing the brush.

Dreary, moss-covered headstones dotted the mound. There must have been fourty or more that Edam could see; even more scattered about by the ages and weather. Even further out from the mound, small cairns stood covered with the oldest form of the Kolet language inscribed in the stones. They took cover by one in a stand of trees, far from the main paths to the mound. Qeqem was dutiful as could be expected from a watcher, never straying too far from Manguyaat’s side. When she squatted down beneath the shade of the bower with the rest of them, it sat down and watched with her. 

There were no wards or hexes set on the grounds that they could see, which was a small blessing. It troubled Edam though. If there was anyone home, they might have focused their defenses within the mound. That could be far more problematic than any forewarning their quarries might get. 

If was the critical word there. There were some signs of scratchings and footprints in the dirt, but the storms as of late made for difficult work with tracking. They could have belonged to stray hunters and travelers just as easily as they could have to Erebists. Eventually, after a little more scouting, Danza, Imera, Manguyaat and her servitor walked together towards a separate bower, as per the plan. In two groups they could cover all the exits, and if anyone was to take to the air, Imera would sound a whistle to get Shivyan’s eyes pointed upwards. Meanwhile, Edam would be her bodyguard. They hunkered down in the shade, and waited.

The air was thick with dew. Even with the rain stopping, it felt intensely humid and the heat didn’t help much. The lifeless cairns had quickly filled up with new life; cicadas and katydids hummed all around them, and Edam spied a centipede crawling over one of the darkened stones closest to her. There was some sign that human life had returned here every once and a while. In places, little heptagrams had been gently laid over the stones, or even carved in empty spaces where there were no runes by which to read. 

With nothing else to do, Edam decided to make quiet conversation. She kept her voice at a hush, trying to blend in with the sound of the wildlife.

“Do you know what that one says?” Asked Edam, pointing to one of the closest headstones.

Shivyan squinted hard. 

“S’old. They don’t teach us much of the runes, but I picked up a little in my time.”
She crept a little closer to the stone, and then traced a finger along it. 

“Here lieth Gyad Kostolin, daughter of Kostolin the Stone-Wright. Thou wouldst have been twelve had not the fever taken thee. More than any stone thou art mine sole gift to the world, and to thee I giveth mine own place among the honored dead. Rest easy, noble Ikhami.”

Shivyan spoke slowly and carefully through the eulogy.

“I see,” said Edam quietly, “So it was an honor to be buried here?”

Shivyan nodded.

“Very much so. Before the vampires took control of things, the Horned Lords would offer places by their side in death. It’s very much like the matter of the donation of bones. Here the purpose is much more symbolic, but the point remains.”
Edam looked around. There must have been hundreds of headstones. 

“All of these people showed that much valor?”

Shivyan shrugged as she looked out over the many cairns.

“No. It wasn’t honor in combat, if that’s what you mean. They were all people who did services for their lord. They built forts, they advised, they lent a hand when a storm came, they plowed the fields and raised the prized cattle with care. It was merit that decided this kind of burial. Those that were so honored would hold court with their lord in the afterlife.”

The runes were written in-line, but not in a way Edam was familiar with. Instead of going in neat rows, they instead followed a strange curve that had been carved into the stone. Faint, beneath the years and the wear and tear, there was the crude image of a man standing tall with a horns emerging from his head. To his side was a smaller figure, with long hair. The careful work of a carver who knew his tools well. 

More than the tools, Edam could feel that it was a labor of love. She felt a sudden uneasiness in her stomach. She had known in the abstract that they were going to a graveyard, but the immensity and number of bodies that were all around her had not fully dawned on her until now. 

“Of course, vampires wouldn’t have any of that.”


“They didn’t intend to die? Why bother about what you do to people in this life if you’re never facing one after you go.”

Edam thought on this for a moment.

“But didn’t they have priests of their own? A religion of sorts, even if it was a pagan one?”

Shivyan shook her head.

“Maybe some of them were true believers, but I read documents that they recovered from the College of Dragons. Not for long. They’re disgusting.”


“They had plans. Plans on plans on plans, most of which they burned when they heard that the revolutionaries were coming. Plans for the next year, and five years, and ten years, and the next half-century. The furthest point of order was only a date. The rest of document was burned.”

Shivyan paused. Her face shifted slightly from dour calm to disgust.

1945. That was the date. Centuries from now. And much of that planning was on the matter of how they’d use the religion to keep people in line. Turns my stomach just to think of it.”

Edam kept her eyes on the yawning entrance to the mound. The shadows seemed to swim and flow in the humid air. As she waited, she slowly examined her tools. Flail in one hand, mask covering her face and her pistol at her side. She’d kept an athame and a blood weight on her as well, seeing that they were dealing with human foes alongside vampires. Her pistol was loaded and ready. The tense minutes passed into hours little more conversation, and Edam’s mind began to wander.

“Is this the longest stake-out you’ve been on?”

“The longest continuous one, yes.” 

“And there’s still not a single sign of them besides a hunch,” said Shivyan leaning back against the tree, “A good, well-thought-out hunch, but a hunch nonetheless.”
Edam sighed.

“Well, there are tracks. But just charging in all headstrong would do us pretty poorly. What’s the longest one you’ve ever gone on?”

“Two weeks,” said Shivyan plainly.

Now she had Edam’s interest piqued.

“What was the case like? I presume there were a few actors involved.”

“No. It was one, single, extremely paranoid witch,” said Shivyan, “Though maybe paranoid isn’t the right word for it. We were definitely out to get him. He’d set traps and fortifications in any place he intended to live for a long time.”

“I see,” said Edam, “You planned to catch him unawares, when he came out.”

“Aye,” said Shivyan wistfully, “Two weeks holed up in the house across the road. We were lucky that it was empty. He knew we were coming too, so it was just a waiting game until he ran out of food and drink. We got him alright. Shame we lost a man to him, though.”

Shivyan seemed to think on the anecdote for a moment.

“I was told your partner, Ana, broke the oath. She’s on the lam now, isn’t she?”

Edam nodded. It had just been getting easier to think about Ana when she had dropped out of the blue into her lap. She had tried to dismiss it; to imagine it as some kind of flight of fancy, or a thing she only dreamed of, or a wild miscommunication. She knew she was lying to herself, but it was a comforting lie to tell. The truth – the slow spilling of the truth, when she said that if she was of lesser fortitude she would gladly go with Ana – that made her feel vertigo. As if she stood on the very edge of a cliff, her arms spread open and ready to drop into the unknown. 

“Yes,” said Edam.

“I only ever had to deal with one Inquisitor in my entire career breaking the oath, and even then it was a much simpler case.”

“Who was it?”

Shivyan let out a long sigh as she traded places with Edam, watching the entrance for a while. 

“He was a mentee who I was working with. Promising young fellow. Very clever, charismatic. I thought he had a good heart.”


“After a while, I learned he had been abusing his position over some prisoners. Making them into servants, more or less.” 

“Oh,” said Edam quietly, “And what happened to him?”

“He was stripped of rank and is currently spending a very long sentence in the Dzhemor,” said Shivyan coldly. There was a degree of force behind her words. 

“And you’re pleased by it?”

Shivyan shook her head.

“No. I hate it more than anything. I thought I had a friend in him, and more than that I thought I had met a moral, genuine person who had joined to make the world a better place. Instead, I received a wretch who was too cowardly, too incompetent, too unvirtuous to stand by a simple and plain code. I hate it, but I have accepted the shape of it.”

“How do you do that?”

“I can’t say anything other than time will do it,” said Shivyan, “But I do believe that you’ll find her, and she’ll be brought to justice. Just you wait.”

“She’s wiley,” said Edam, “She knows how to keep her head down and move without giving herself away too much.”

It almost made her suspect that Ana had arranged for the two of them to meet in the first place. Edam dismissed that, though; if she couldn’t tell when Ana was lying, she could at least tell damn well when she was surprised. Ana didn’t seem to notice it, but she talked faster, with a downward lilt to her voice. The same thing applied when she was particularly frustrated, though rarely did talk when angry except to grumble to herself. It was, in its own way, endearing.

“It just feels like I never even knew her in the first place,” added Edam, “Or at least, I didn’t understand her the way I thought I did.”

Shivyan nodded heavily.

“Aye, you do get used to working with a partner. I had one who I worked with for nearly eight years. By the end of it, we could practically work a case without talking to each other.”

Edam suppressed a chuckle at the thought of Shivyan and some anonymous Inquisitor playing a game of charades over a case. 

“Yes,” said Edam, “It’s difficult. But I guess you’re right when you say that it’ll fade with time, and when justice is done.”  

“Good,” said Shivyan reassuringly, “You’re doing good work, you know? Even if you’re not out there finding Ana, you’re doing your best to help people and the Church in other ways. And that’s worth a good bit.”

Shivyan didn’t smile but her face shifted enough that Edam figured that this was her closest equivalent. It occurred to her that if a higher court than the Dzhemor were to try Imera, he might the same fate. Years in prison, or worse than that execution, should he be found guilty of breaking the oath. It felt disloyal to even think of such things. She lowered the mask over her face and perished the idea. They would use a verbal warning first when they went to stop him, and then he would come to his senses about these things.

And Ana faced execution almost certainly, if she were to be caught. Edam kept telling herself that it was necessary, that no Inquisitor who became a witch could be allowed to live. To do so could jeopardize vast swathes of the Church’s mission with the Inquisition. It wasn’t just the Antipodes at risk. They had also been drilled on the basics of their lesser jails as well, and the way that Inquisitors maneuvered, thought and planned. That sensitive information was too dangerous to let leak in any large quantity.

It also occurred to her that the same fate would befall her if they found out the full extent of what she had done. If they learned that she had been the one who made the first move – who kissed her first in a moment of desperation, and who let Ana kiss her back – they would have her head. It was easy to ignore or put away when she was around familiar people, when she needed to put on a brave face, but here in the quiet, her thoughts thrummed with the katydid song and made her body tremble more than she had in any fight. She felt no particular shame for it, wanting Ana, and that made it all the more shameful. And all the same it enticed her, confused her, made her run in little circles in her mind, shimmering images of Ana at work and reading and leisure. 

Edam suddenly felt very aware of a particular paradox: that she knew so much and so little of Ana. She had practically memorized so many of the details, and the fact that some of it escaped her grasp disturbed her. It was still difficult to accept that it had happened, and difficult to imagine why. Ana, of course, was attractive. She was fit, and kind, and sociable enough. She always seemed attentive when Edam prattled on and interested even when she was silent for a long period. Still, Edam could not find the root of it. Ana had said that she chose a devil not because of her feelings for Edam, and that struck her as odd. She plumbed herself for a moment, and came back around to a simple conclusion. 

I am not lovable.

It sat in her head for a moment, then disappeared before bobbing back up to the surface, bouncing around the hollow parts of her skull. What, pray tell, had Ana even seen in her in the first place? There was nothing in her worthy of conquering. She was barely better than Ana by way of sin, and she held no high position to seduce. Her body was not sufficient and her soul a scarce thing, and her position in the Inquisition not much higher than a trainee. 

Then, her line of thought was interrupted. Something was coming up through the main road to the barrow, long overgrown with dark moss and foliage.

She pushed her fingers together over her flail, listening attentively to her surroundings as she did. She needed to pay better attention and not linger on such things. There was a sudden tightening in the air, and a sound in the distance. She made a signal to Shivyan to get her attention before putting her hand back towards her pistol.

There, in the distance was a small entourage. Most of them were well-dressed young men, the kind that would hunt for leisure more than sustenance. Alongside them there was a lone mule that was burdened with packs. Lucky for them, they were not being subtle – in fact, they were being particularly loud. The natural sounds of insects and birds fled before them, the warning cry of a lark playing out before it flew away. It seemed less like they were radicals and more like a bunch of drunk men that had wandered far from the path while reveling. 

There were no bottles among them, though. Instead, she spotted on one a long spear with a crossguard made for hunting boars, with sabers and the like on others. Edam lowered her voice to a whisper.

“That’s six of them,” said Edam, “Do you see any guns?”

Shivyan shook her head. They both knew what was going on. They needed to wait for aggression if they wanted a proper right of way in the conflict. That was Manguyaat’s job.

“Do you think-”

Before Edam could even speak, she saw Manguyaat jolt out into the road, masked, stave in hand. They stopped their jokes. She stood with her chest puffed out and her whole body presented. They were far enough away that most of the voices sounded muffled, but hers penetrated the underbrush and made Edam’s spine shiver.

“I am looking for the immortals!” She declared proudly, “And the secret of their immortality. Could any man among you show me the way to them? I have heard they lie in the barrow.” 

It was then that Edam saw her plan. Qeqem had worked his way to the other side of the party. He crept up towards the man closest to the back. With Imera and Danza on one side, and Edam and Shivyan on the other, they would be totally encircled.  All of them seemed to murmur before one yelled something about it being private property that she couldn’t come on. Manguyaat’s voice came through clearly once again.
“You deflect, friend. I have it on quite reliable suspicion that you are friends of the immortals. The vampires, I believe you called them, yes?”

Shivyan and Edam crept closer to the overgrown main path towards the barrow.  Shivyan carefully produced a short wand from her coat as she did. A man with a saber drew it, and began to approach Manguyaat, yelling louder.

“Where did you hear something like that, friend,” he said, “Because as far as I know, vampires haven’t been spotted around here for a long while.”

“I met a sympathizer with your cause in my home. An… Erembist, I believe the word was?”

“Ereb,” corrected the man.

“Yes,” said Manguyaat, “As I said, Erembist.”

Qeqem was now terribly close to the man at the back. Edam stood only a few paces from the road, carefully looking over the party. There was still no sign of a gun between them, but they had readied every weapon at their disposal for a melee. None of them were immediately apparent as sorcerers. Looks could be deceiving, though. Edam silently pointed out her attention – the man with the boar-spear. He was a short, unmuscled fellow with a clean-shaven face. The spear gave him reach enough that he was one of the higher threats. Meanwhile, Manguyaat was doing her best to infuriate the man at the head of the group.

“You see, I’m just a humble Sondi woman, and if you’re not an Erembist it is perfectly fine for you to tell me-”

Then, things collapsed inwards. The man lunged for Manguyaat, a trepidant, lazy blow that might not have been meant to connect in the first place. Qeqem lunged from the underbrush and grabbed the man at the back, and Edam rushed in towards her target, the man with the spear. In the chaos, she saw Imera get to his own quarry just before she brought the head of her flail into the gut of her foe. He stumbled to the side, caught off-guard by the blow before swiveling to face her. Imera’s quarry was more aware. He had dodged Imera’s first blow and brought down one of his own. 

For a moment, Edam gasped, thinking he would be hit. Instead, azure mana flashed all about his coat, and it suddenly seemed to stiffen in the breeze. His sword’s blade sparked against the hardened fabric as if it were striking a stone, and Edam swore that she saw the tip of the thing fly off in an entirely different direction. 

Meanwhile, the boar-spear man was not at all finished. He pulled something from his pocket, and ochre mana sparked. Edam recovered her flail and swung it for him again. This time he was far quicker – she figured the charm had something to do with that – and Edam grunted as the used the verdure to redirect the chain. The head swung back on the invisible pivot before scarcely missing the man’s shins. He brought the spear down, locking the chain into the guard and tried to reel Edam in. 

Edam let the ochre flow throug her mask so it would do the work of balancing for her. It took the reins of her legs, and readied her for the contest. The chain was thoroughly tangled now in the crossguard, and as he tried to drag his spear back in, it dragged her with it, even in spite of her digging her heels in.

Then, to her left came a ragged cry. The man who had been attacked by Qeqem had escaped from his grasp, his neck blue and his eyes bloodshot from the struggle. He bore down on her with saber in hand. 

There was no time to think. Edam’s body did precisely as it was commanded to. She let go of the flail, and leapt up past the head of the spear. She tumbled in the air, and balance shifted from her feet to her head. Her hands grasped for a new point of reference. 

Her left hand found one. 

It tightly grasped the haft of the spear and hoisted her upwards while still upside down, giving her a clear view of Imera, Manguyaat and Danza thrashing their marks. She wasn’t sure if it was just the blood rushing to her head, but it seemed that in that brief moment she had more clarity than ever. The world seemed strange and crisp while it was upside-down – the mask was telling her that were she to let go, she would fall upwards into the sky, away from the ancient barrow. Manguyaat slammed her stave into the knee of one of the Erebists, and he crumpled, wailing.

Meanwhile, in her peripheral vision, there were two dumbfounded men; one on her left holding the spear, and the other on her right who had accidentally lodged his sword into the ground. Edam let her arm bend inwards, then pushed up and let go of the spear at her peak. For a moment, it really did feel like she would fall upwards forever, but eventually she managed to reorient herself in balance, bringing feet down square on the spear. It crunched and shattered, and she tumbled away before landing on her feet. 

The flail’s handle was only a few feet away. She grabbed it, and swung it around the waist of the man who was now only holding half a spear. Another burst of verdure left her fingertips as she aimed it. If she had just the head of the flail to work with, she would’ve missed the other man. Luckily, the other half of the spear was still stuck to it. She had put it to a coin toss whether he would be hit with the sharpened or blunt part of the broken weapon. He took the wooden haft to the chin with a loud crack before the flail made another revolution that ensnared the first. 

The man who had once been in Qeqem’s grasp fell to the floor with a bloodied mouth, and his compatriot knelt with him in surrender. Edam looked behind her to see that Shivyan had brought a third to the ground, his clothes smoking in several places. To the other side, Imera’s crew had made similar short work of the party, all of them groaning on the ground in defeat. Edam breathed in deeply before checking herself over. No injuries that she could see, and she only used a little mana. 

Shivyan examined the coat of the man she had downed, and searched through it before producing a small signet ring. She held it up to the overcast light.
“No sign of the vampires, but these are Erebists alright,” she said, “You’re sure we have the right place? Wouldn’t they come out to fight themselves?”

Edam shook her head.

“No. They’re not the type for unnecessary-”

Faintly, Edam more footsteps from the barrow. They all turned to face it, and saw the extent of what they had heard. Two more men had knelt for their ruler’s approach. A dark cloud of insectile limbs and beady bodies had come from the mouth of the barrow like vomit, thinning out over the entirety of the mound. Two men had come to flank the entrance. They had marked their faces with pale blue woad and bore heavy-looking swords apiece. Between them emerged the face of their blueblood, and the vampire that had once been pregnant. Where before they were dressed for revelry, they now seemed decked for battle. The once-pregnant one bore several foci, bristling like an angered cat. None of them seemed to be direct weapons, but she was dangerous nonetheless.

No, what worried Edam was the blueblood. She had decked herself in black armor, a helm bearing the impression of a hideous demon with a snub nose like a pig. She bore the gaze of a commander at war. Behind her vast black bat-wings emerged, spread, and flapped. Edam could almost feel the wind beating on her face as she struggled upwards into the air, the great beastly wings stretching so far as to cover the sun as much as the clouds did before she perched in a pine tree. Her cold eyes met them.

“You may lay down your arms, usurpers,” she said, “Or perish here with your forebears.” 

Edam gripped at her flail again, throwing aside the broken spearhead before looking at the rest of them. They were, in all odds, outgunned. Imera and Danza stood their ground, standing tall against the wind. Imera briefly met her gaze. 

“Ready, cousin?”

Manguyaat stamped her staff impatiently as Qeqem came to her side. Edam nodded as Shivyan readied her bow. 

“Aye,” said Shivyan, “Let’s make them remember who won the war here.”

Even from a distance, Edam could see the blueblood smile as she cocked her head. 

“Your first mistake was assuming that it ended.”

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