All Chains Broken 6.3

The night before Edam’s scheduled execution was hot. Sweat beaded on Ana’s brow and mingled with the humidity, wetting her shirt slightly. She checked again as she waited for the signal. First, a loaded pistol on her hip, to only be used in the worst of contingencies. A sword likewise on the other. That much wasn’t forgotten. The low lamplight revealed two iron forks – Ana was fairly certain that its intended use was for music, but Dzhate or one of her associates had certainly taken it far from that. Each was around the length of her arm and inscribed with dozens of tiny letters, which were finely painted with something ruddy. Their neatness and careful arrangement made Ana feel fairly certain that Dzhate herself had made them, but she couldn’t be sure. Her ward hung around her neck, next to the little charm she had made for Tros. Third to that was a whistle on a necklace, a way of signaling Korel when he was out of sight. Lastly, a fresh pair of boots, also courtesy of Dzhate. They were a little tight on her, but that was a small complaint to the benefit they’d bring. 

She rolled her shoulders and kept muscles loose. She knew that worrying too much about the plan would only make her more likely to fail. She felt the bracelet Sol had given to her on her hand, and waited for a little while longer until she heard the muffled call of a raven, shrill and hoarse, three times. She pocketed the iron forks once more and donned the mask she had ready. She kept a brisk pace, took a quick left, and turned into the side of the court building. She tried not to glance upwards at the stone bricks – they seemed to go own forever up into the sky from this close. Still, a single thought kept coming up in her head over and over.

I used to call places like this home.

Maybe not places as heavily fortified as this, but places like it nonetheless. Now, what might have been a sanctum seemed more like a predatory juggernaut. At any moment it seemed as if the building could uproot itself from its foundations and topple over to swallow her alive. That was, after all, what exactly what Inquisitors had designed it to be – not a death trap so much as a snare, a living, mana-fueled snare that could detain those trying to break in unprepared without an inquisitor lifting a finger under the right circumstances. It wouldn’t literally swallow and digest her, but she was certain that it would try its damndest to do so. 

She reached the side entrance without issue. The door was heavy wood, with a circular lock on one side. Korel cried out again. She scoffed, touched the door, and waited a moment. No cry of alarm or sounds of boots coming to get her. The lock opened smoothly of its own accord, and the door slid open without Ana even pushing it. She slipped in, and was almost immediately hit with a wave of nostalgia. There was a slight but real distinction between the places frequented mostly by laity and priests, and those frequented by the Inquisition. The architecture was a little more rigid, more angular and geometric in its construction; even the small decorations in the baseboards were more raw, more brutal in their construction. There was a simplicity to it that Ana had to appreciate.

Ana dismissed the thought and emotion. She needed to stay focused; there was no time to reminisce. 

The back corridor was relatively short. Korel was waiting in raven-form, jittering along. Ana blinked, and he appeared again in human form.

“Sticking to the mask?” He asked in a low voice, “I thought we had it planned out well enough to not need that. Besides, don’t they already know your face?”

Ana shrugged. 

“The less they know, the better. If I can give them doubt as to who did it…”

“Right,” said Korel, “I’ve cut the eye-hexes from here to the archive. Let’s move.”
Before she could respond, he was a bird again, fluttering away. She followed close behind, watching it leap from perch to perch, lamp to lamp. The hallways were eerily quiet and familiar. Ana felt as if she was entering into a long corridor of memories – little inlets were put into the wall, with vague saint-figures and grotesques looking down and watching them. He had assured her that the eye-hexes had been removed, but the saint-figures, made with little distinguishing features besides their piercing eyes and halos. She exhaled and let just a trickle of azure mana into her boots. They seemed to soften, and soon she couldn’t make out her footsteps against the floor. 

They reached a right turn at a branch in the corridor, and Ana leaned up against a corner as her companion fluttered into the open doorway. She peaked around the corner, and with a glancing nod from Korel, she moved in. The archive was just as familiar was a trespasser as it would have been when she was a member of the Inquisition. Vast walls book shelves flanked her, with two interior shelves as well. Most were annals, small reports, theological documents, prepared sermons. The more arcane elements of book-sorting and filing had always been a little outside of Ana’s grasp – technically, there was supposed to be a unified system for this sort of thing, but there was a tendency for that technicality to be ignored and for each librarian to do their duties more or less as freeform as the Church could permit. Still, there was a consistency to them here and there. Banned books, the grimoires as they were called, were to be kept in a secure facility like this, and they were to be kept in a locked-off section of cabinets. 

The air was thick with the smell of old paper and vellum and ink, dust and humidity combining to give it an almost muddy quality. Ana began to feel more confidence, striding forward confidently. It was odd to take a stride that should have been making solid stomps, but instead she could only make out the sound of her clothes shifting. As she moved towards the back of the archives, the books became increasingly esoteric. First they shifted to the first principles of sorcery; how it tied with Sepulcherite philosophies of matter and alchemy, and how it hewed to their theological beliefs. Then, it came to manuals for the standard sorts of sorcery. Simple farming implements enhanced by the use of mana and refinement. Detailed treatises on how sorcery could be used for medicine and curing common illnesses – and then more speculative methods. Treatises on cancer, on plagues, and on how highly speculative foci could solve them.

It took a minute of searching, but eventually she found a locked-off section of the archive. It was divided off from the rest of the shelves, a heavy iron padlock and sturdy wooden doors separating it from the other books. Thin inscriptions surrounded the lock, a little reinforced ampoule of mercury being integrated into the bottom of the lock. She silently signaled for Korel to watch the entrances. As soon as she was certain that his attention wasn’t on her, she put her hands on the door, and the padlock undid itself, a hissing spark of azure mana spewing from the keyhole as it fell towards the ground.

Ana scrambled and caught it by the hinge just before it impacted the ground. She hefted it up, put it in her bag, and opened the cabinet door to a small library of heresy. 

It looked as if this section had not been touched in years – a good thing, in Ana’s opinion. Half of the books looked to be from a crop of local heresies that showed up after the Revolution, and imported old heresies for comparison and study purposes. More unnerving were the grimoires – mostly prewar by how aged they were. Judging by the number of books, and her general knowledge of the topic, she could’ve been looking at the names and ritual invocations of hundreds of demons. She shuddered as she gingerly ran a finger along the spines of the books. She felt lucky that this section was in alphabetical order by title. The book she was looking for was bound in read leather, with a title scrawled on the spine hastily. When she pulled it free she felt surprised at how young it seemed in comparison to the other books. It couldn’t have been older than ten or twenty years. She stuffed it in her bag as well, then signaled to Korel again. 

The crow scouted ahead again as they moved out of the archives and into another side hall. With a little bit of fancy flying, Korel had apparently found his way to the main hall. Ana wanted them as far away from that as possible – odds were that the security measures would be most concentrated there. Instead, they were taking the roundabout route that Korel had scouted. This late at night, it seemed that most of the staff and Inquisitors were sound asleep, and they made steady progress towards their next errand on the first floor. 

The back entrance to the armory was well hidden. In fact, it wasn’t an entrance at all – it was a wall. Korel had mentioned the dead-end in the bowels of the building, and Ana had instantly known what was going on. Most of the buildings made in the immediate years after the Revolution were made with the potentiality of counter-revolutionary forces attempting to re-take a city. Ana approached the wall, and her suspicions were confirmed when she found a finger-shaped divet in the stone where several parts of the wall met. She extended it, let azure mana flow through it, and waited. 

It was odd to see such large pieces of stone silently twist and expand. It opened to racks of weapons and foci, a back entrance in case the front was somehow blocked off in the case of an attack. 

Ana took a few steps in, feeling a soft bit of strain from her use of azure mana. It wouldn’t be anything to worry about for at least a few more minutes at this rate, but that wasn’t her problem. She immediately knew something was wrong. Somewhere inbetween the racks of weapons, someone was muttering a prayer.

“O Godhead,” said the voice, “Sharp be my blade…”

There was a loud sound of a whetstone being dragged over a blade, scraping it to sharpness. Ana froze, before taking another unsteady step, scanning for any sign of Edam’s things. There, at the far end, she spotted them – a beautiful mask and a chain flail with little charms placed along its length, both hanging from a wooden post. Korel hopped alongside her, and shook his head disapprovingly. Ana looked at him, looked at the mask, and took another step, peering just around the edge of the rack.
There, at the far end, there was a light-set woman with braided brown hair. She was wearing an Inquisitor’s half-garb, but the white was tarnished with sweat and humidity. When she was hunched as she was, the massive blade almost seemed to dwarf her body. Ana instantly recogized it as a blade of mercy. She felt lucky that she was looking the other way. She stretched, reaching out and grabbing the mask lightly off of the post. Then, she stretched a little further, and waited. 

“I know now what I must do, O Godhead. I am to return your children unto you, O Godhead, and I will be a shepherd to them, a guide to them, to bring them unto the next life. As we are born from clay, to clay we shall return. Guide my blade true, Godhead, and make it the implement of your vengeance upon this earth.”

Ana waited. She held her breath for what felt like an eternity. The Inquisitor brought down the whetstone again, and Ana snatched the chain, the sounds of metal commingling. She darted back behind the rack and inched back towards the passageway, carefully closing it once more once Korel was back through as well. 

Ana exhaled heavily. 

“Too close,” she whispered. 

Korel bobbed his head in agreement again. For a moment, he opened his mouth as if to caw, but then decided against it.

They proceeded back towards the side stairwell that went towards the prison. It wasn’t a far walk, most of it retracing their old steps. She traced her hand quietly over the stone walls as she walked up the stairs, observing a broken eye-hex sitting on the top step. At the landing, she stopped at a walled-off landing with a passageway leading to the next set of stairs. The door was entirely open but Ana wasn’t a fool. She carefully counted the slabs on the wall. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. The seventh brick out was marked ever so slightly. A less experienced person might have thought that they had simply chosen a slightly different shade of stone, but Ana knew better. She pulled out the tuning forks with one hand, and looked at Korel.

“Once I trip this, it’s only a matter of time that they notice that someone is doing maintenance when they shouldn’t. That puts us on a time-limit.”

The raven bobbed its head in acknowledgement. 

“Remember the plan. You distract the guards, I unlock the door to her cell, we get out of here as quickly as possible. If necessary, we fight, but we don’t kill. Don’t need that kind of heat.”

Another nod. The raven passed over the threshold unmolested, waiting expectantly. The number echoed in her mind. The third cell down, on the left. She carefully put her fingers on the brick, and let azure mana flow through her again. They had intentionally put a heavier charge on this one – they didn’t want just anyone getting access, so a correspondingly higher amount of her own mana would be needed to open it. The stone peeled open like a fruit, revealing the void in the slab. Inside, azure and verdure mana glowed and spat between the symbols, dimming slightly as the panel sat open. Even then, they were so concentrated and donated from so many different people that they seemed near-white in their hue, only faint shades of blue and green appearing under Ana’s eyelid as she blinked. She couldn’t see all of the sigils, but most of them looked related to some kind of debilitating curse, with specific passes being needed to get in or out. She carefully centered it over a word she recognized from Veleda – “pass.”

Ana slammed one fork against the other, and it made a low, resonant tone as she let verdure through it. The stone shook in time with the fork, and shook more and more, until it cracked. The crack spread from weak point to weak point, wrecking half of the inside of the slab. The mana sputtered out, having nowhere to properly go. 

It was more destruction than she had wanted, but it did the job. She walked over the threshold, and the mana sparked ineffectually as she did. The raven threw itself forward, screeching and cawing the whole way down the corridor. Ana hid around the corner, listening intently as the raven went further and further away.

“How did a bird get in here?” Asked one voice.

“Ugh,” said another, “Not our job. We can talk to one of the acolytes in the morning, get them to hunt it down before it shits all over the place.”

There was a silence for a little while, to the point that Ana could hear only her own breath and her heartbeat, caught right in her throat. They didn’t fall for the first ploy. That was fine. Ana had planned for that. She waited a little longer. There was a loud banging noise, like someone slamming on a wooden door. The two guards suddenly went to alarm. She heard them walking away, and turned the corner just in time to see them turning their own likewise to investigate the noise. There was a sudden flash of green light, and the two of them fell to the floor as if the had been struck across the face. One, shorter than the other, stumbled to the floor. Ana could already tell that Korel had them in hand. She rushed to the cell. Third door, on the left.

The doors here were, of course, some of the most securely locked in the city – probably in this region, besides in the Dzhemor. The massive lock looked to almost be the size of Ana’s head, a strange, circular mechanism of burnished brass and steel. She smirked as she caught Korel hogtying the two inquisitors out of the corner of her eye as she placed her hand on the door and pushed. One by one, the tumblers came undone, thick metal spines emerging from the side of the mechanism like a porcupine until finally, mercifully the door opened. 

And there she was. Edam. She knew it was her, even by the dim lamplight. She was dressed in coarse sackcloth, her skin marked by the thin beams of light from the moon and stars that managed to find their way through slat-like windows. The sweat and her heavy breathing almost made her seem iridescent for a moment, twinkling in the light. She was as beautiful as she had last seen her; her face just as sculpted, if clearly caught in a state of pain and shock. Her eyes were slammed shut, and she rolled about from side to side like a baby might to rock itself. Ana ran to her side, shaking her as lightly as she could to wake her. The moment she touched her damp skin, she knew something was wrong. 

She looked down. She had a bandage – she had been injured. Even as she slowly roused and groaned, Ana carefully touched her head.

“What?” Said Edam meekly, “Is it time already? I’m ready, Saints, I’m ready.”

Edam was burning hot, and sweating even worse than Ana. Ana gingerly peeled back the bandages to reveal a thin crust of yellow purulence, confirming her hypothesis. She had an infection.

“Edam,” she said, “We’re getting you out of here.”

“Yes, yes,” said Edam dreamily. She had opened her eyes, but they were unfocused and unclear. She was clearly delirious. 

“Go on. Take me to the chopping block. I can stand.” 

She kicked herself out over the bed and tried to stand up, almost immediately losing her balance. Ana lept to action, quickly grabbing her torso and heaving her back up. She managed to carefully hook herself under Edam’s chest so that she could guide her up before reaching into her bag.

“Edam, Edam, we’re putting on this mask so you can keep balance. You know how to do that right?”

There was another muffled sound of conflict from the hall – the noise of a gag being applied, perhaps, and someone trying to scream through the cloth. Ana quickly secured the mask around Edam’s face, and instinctively she seemed to let ochre flow through it, the thin streams of mana pooling around her black locks and dark, hazy eyes. She stumbled when Ana let her go, then caught her balance again as she exited into the hall, somewhere between a drunkard’s walk and a dancer’s waltz. Ana grabbed her hand just in time to leave into the hall with her. She relished it, touching her hand, but now she had a larger problem. Edam wasn’t lucid enough to fight, and she was hardly in a space to run without her support. 

“What a strange execution,” she mumbled, “What are you bastards waiting for? Did you change your mind about having it in public?”

She coughed, pulling away from Ana slightly.

“Bastards, all of us.”

“Come on Edam,” she said, trying to snap her back to lucidity, “Come on, we need to move.”

Korel joined them swiftly. Ana turned to him. The moment she let go, Edam did another dizzy half-spin before using the mask to catch herself without Ana’s support, landing on the wall and propping herself up with it. 

“You didn’t see the infected wound?” She asked incredulously.

Korel put up his hands.

“Blame the guards! It wasn’t infected a week ago.”

Ana fumed. The fact that they had let an actual infection progress this far should have been a disgrace, even if Edam was going to be executed anyways. More than that, she felt a growing sense of worry. She had only grabbed a brief glimpse in the moonlight, but the infection was pretty far along now. If she caught blood poisoning, she might need an amputation, or worse, she might not recover at all.

She couldn’t think about that now. She needed to focus on getting Edam out of there so that worry could come to full fruition.

“Enough,” said Ana, “We’re leaving. Edam, grab my hand.”

“Yes, you son of a- a-”

She stuttered, and stopped, seeming to have lost the thought. Ana grabbed her hand and dragged her back towards the stairs. Korel followed close behind. They hadn’t gotten five steps before another inqusitor rounded the corner. She was a short, light-set woman, the same one that she had seen sharpening her blade earlier. She hefted the enormous mass as if it was nothing, a charm around her wrist fuming with ochre mana. She took a low knight’s stance, her blade held upright. She kept whispering the same prayer to herself. There was a look of determination and youthful rage in her eyes. Ana put Edam behind her, and readied herself to fight her way out.

One thought on “All Chains Broken 6.3

  1. Another great chapter, hope everything turns out well.

    Couple of typos:
    The archive was just as familiar was a trespasser >> as a trespasser

    And “He had assured her that the eye-hexes had been removed, but the saint-figures, made with little distinguishing features besides their piercing eyes and halos.” feels like it needs an extra clause at the end, but maybe I’m just parsing it wrong.


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