Blood for Blood 2.1

Edamosfa-Iforfit Miaza heard a humming in the air, soft and low.

“Ana?” She whispered, still only half-awake. 

She opened her eyes. It was still early enough that there was almost no light. The window hung open.

For a second – only a second – Edam saw her there. She knew that it was impossible. That Ana was miles away by now, and yet in the dark, her eyes filled the empty space with Ana’s spectre. Long brown-black hair; an aquiline nose and gentle eyes; a stature that towered over her. The space where Ana wasn’t stood plainly in the dark, unwavering and unmoving. 

And as quickly as it came, it was gone. She blinked and her eyes washed it away with the last remnants of sleep and an already forgotten dream. She rose and stretched her legs and felt an odd desire come over her. She walked carefully to Ana’s side of the room and sat on her bed.

There was something there. At first she couldn’t even place what sense it belonged to. Then, it crept in: a smell of sweat, of something woody and acrid iron from bloody bandages. She brushed her hand across the blanket.

It was Ana. What was left of her at least. 

Edam put her face to the pillow. She wanted to scream, to cry out; and yet as much as she wanted to, she had no voice. She had been punched in the gut once. That was what it was closest to – to having every last bit of air knocked out of her lungs until she choked on nothing at all. 

She clutched herself as she rose. She hardly slept last night. Her cousin was right about her – of course he was right. She needed to get herself in order. She walked back to her trunk, and pulled out old clothes, old components for foci. Beneath it all, she found the wine bottle and a little wooden box that she hadn’t touched in over a year. 

Edam closed the trunk, and quietly walked out of the room with both in tow until she reached the prayer room. She opened the door. The sun was rising. The sky was bruised purple with the morning light. Slowly, carefully, she prepared. She set down the box and wine in front of her, put a cone of incense onto a plate in front of the heptagram, and knelt down before it. The sweet smoke filled the air.

Her hand trembled as she undid the latch.

Inside the box were her uncle’s parting gifts. Fine, white linen bandages served as the bed. On top of them were the real gifts. The first was an obsidian knife. Even in the low light of the morning she could make out the outline of her reflection in the black stone. 

The real piece, the one that she preferred, was the mallet. The hilt was carefully forged and carved metal into the shape of Saint Paiman, her body bent and crooked. The blunt head was cork, seven metal spines extending just through it. 

It was a wretched, awful little instrument. One she had dreaded to even look at for over a year. She laid out some of the bandages on the floor. They were soft and fine. Edam breathed in to prepare herself, and undid her blouse button by button, bare skin revealed to the air. She stared down at her own body.

She didn’t like it. At least, she didn’t like most of it. Being a witch-hunter had remolded her more than she had noticed. She now could see muscle under the skin and fat, faint as it was. A long scar marked her left arm, dark and angry; another two marked the underside of her breasts, broad semi-circles with another set of strokes that reached down to her belly. Those she wore with pride. They were emulations, her marks of passage. Three more scores sliced her belly, tally marks. In the center of her chest were some of the lightest scars in a loose circle, little pinpricks.

Edam took off her skirt and underthings next, and neatly folded her clothes to her side. She didn’t want to get them dirty. More scars down her calf; more down her right arm. She took the mallet in hand.

She shuddered at the cool air on her back. She focused herself. She couldn’t linger or dally any longer. She steadied her breath again and gripped the mallet in one hand. She washed it with drops of the wine. Some spattered to the floor beneath her. 

She raised it high. She knew these words by heart, even after a year’s absence.

“O Godhead. I know my sins are many. By the law of the Machevin Rite, I am judged, and by the law of the Machevin Rite, I am punished. O mighty supreme divinity, destroyer of wickedness, let me be your willing instrument of wrath. Let me be the willing vessel of your word and way.”

She brought it down onto her chest, above her heart. The spines sunk in, sharp pain drawing her breath away. She didn’t flinch. To flinch in the face of her punishment would only make it worse. It would twist the spines in her flesh, and it would be even more awful than it already was. She placed the mallet on the linen bandages to sop up the blood before raising it again.

“I have sinned, and by this blood I am forgiven. I have sinned, and by your hand I am forgiven.”

She brought it down again. It thudded against her flesh, followed by an awful sting as the spikes entered. The next part was the worst. 

“I have sinned against myself, and against the Church. I have lusted after a woman who-“

Her voice faltered at the thought of Ana. 

“Who was my companion and compatriot, and who herself was a sinner who had laid with the devil.”

The betrayal shook her body as much as the next blow. 

“I am evil and imperfect. I have failed you, O Godhead, master of my fate, and I beg you not to send me into Torment.”

She raised the mallet again.


There were no words for what she felt for Ana. Her voice failed. Her body trembled. She could see the edges of the bruise forming. She thought of what Ana would say.

She’d tell her that it wasn’t her duty to do this. She’d touch her sweetly, like she had the night that they had kissed. She’d take the mallet from her hands and hold her. 

That was precisely why it needed to be done. She had to deny herself that pleasure. 

“I am a sinner. Please take my sin from me. Remove my guilt. Lighten my burden as I lighten my heart.”

Edam brought it down for a last, awful time, and tears welled in her eyes. She collapsed to the floor and sobbed. She felt no lighter. The blood trickled down her chest and onto the floor. 

Ana had betrayed her. She had taken everything that they stood for, and turned her back on it. She had made a deal with something foul, a false divinity that had preyed on uncountable numbers of people, and she had lied about it. Not directly, but by omission. She was a traitor, an enemy of the Church, and a witch. 

And yet, some implacable, awful part of Edam believed Ana. It quietly insisted that Ana had told the truth when she said that she had no choice. It said that she would never do such things without the best imaginable reasons.

She desperately tried to make the thought go away as she continued the sob, curling up into a ball.

Eventually, she put herself back together in silence. There was no need to complete the prayer – she had done what was needed. She gingerly removed the wine from its place, and poured it over the wound, cringing as it seared her flesh. She wiped away her tears and blood with the linens before her. She extinguished the incense but felt too exhausted to leave it anywhere but its place. 

Slowly, achingly she walked down the stairs to the church’s nave, where she saw her cousin. I-Merach-Lluar Miaza. 

The-Hammer-of-Virtue Miaza. A utterly ridiculous and absurd name – not that her own was any better. Her father had gone for something equally ridiculous in honor of her grandmother. Edam felt no animosity towards her. She just kept running out of ink when she tried to write her signature, and that irked her more than any meaning it had. I-Merach was by far worse. It held more pretension, and it wasn’t even proper. It should have been I-Verach, but his father had treated it like a single word instead of two, and they had merged together into Imera in time. 

He was praying too. He was hunched forward, with his long fingers clasped together, and even though his eyes were closed Edam could tell that he hadn’t got much sleep either. She took the moment to observe him.

A few years of difference had changed him less than she had expected. He was older, certainly; pushing twenty-four to her own twenty-two. He had some of her uncle’s features, some of her father’s. His jaw was strong, covered with stubble that was long overdue for a shave. The scar on his cheek was new. It wasn’t emulative or a punishment as far as she could tell – something that was earned by experience. His eyes opened.

“Cousin,” he said, “You’re up.”

Edam nodded dutifully. It felt almost impossible to have a discussion with him, even disregarding the circumstances. Edam decided to respond in Agoran. At least she could swear with some faculty in her native language. Not that she would swear in front of Imera; no, he would be terribly upset and sad if he heard her swear. He’d chide her about being unwomanly and say that bad language was unbefitting of her station as an Inquisitor and probably give half a dozen other reasons why she shouldn’t say such things. 

“I just want to thank you for reminding me about my duties the other night.” 

She lowered her blouse just enough that she could show the bandages on her shoulder. He leaned back and smiled weakly. 

“Did it help?” He asked.

“Yes,” she answered absently. The word left her mouth before she could even process it. The pain stinging on her chest was familiar, and she understood it, and that was better than nothing.

Imera rose. He was still nearly a head taller than her; that hadn’t changed. Without warning, he embraced Edam. His arms came around her like a vise. She could imagine the scars underneath his shirt like it was yesterday – one across his left arm, and seven more down his chest. 

His hands were horribly rough. She could almost feel his calluses through her blouse. Edam gave her reciprocation, putting her arms around his chest until he pulled away. He left a hand on her shoulder.

“I know it’s hard, losing a partner,” he said, “Even in the best of circumstances. I couldn’t imagine being betrayed like that. I apologize for putting the suspicion on you at first, and I understand why you stood in the way at first. When you said you hadn’t been keeping up with your duties, I thought you might have been shirking from our faith. I shouldn’t have doubted you. You’re family.”

Edam nodded as he drew his hand away. She had shirked. She hadn’t had a bloodletting in a year and she had an affair with one of her own comrades. She couldn’t think of many ways she could have done worse outside of cold-blooded murder.

“Would you join us in the dining room? I know that it’s hard, but you’re the best person we have regarding Ana. I think that you could help us.”

“I can do that,” she said, bracing herself. She needed to get herself away from thinking of Ana as a person who she trusted or as an object of her lust. She was an enemy of the Church now. Edam needed to treat her like one. 

It won’t be hard, she told herself, She betrayed you. Use the anger from that and find her, and then-

Her mind stopped as she followed her cousin towards the dining room. And then what? The answer was obvious. The punishment for such a high treason would invariably be death. She would be sending Ana to her grave.

It still hurt. It ached in her chest. She tried not to think of it.

Tarnye sat by the fireplace, slowly cooking eggs over it. She stared as they both entered. Danza and Verat were at the table. If she had hardly slept, Verat looked as if she had not slept in months. Danza was leaning back with her arms crossed. A map was laid out on the table for them. She sat and tried to lower her shoulders and relax. There was an uncomfortable number of eyes on her. She said she had failed to catch up with Ana while she ran downriver. There wasn’t any real suspicion on her. At least not yet. 

The map was a mess of ink markings and notes. Danza had clearly taken the liberty of annotating it with small paper scraps and her own notes. She had at least taken care to include a legend in the corner. The labeled dots were towns and cities. The Dzhemor was a box; the various Inquisitors stationed in the towns around it each represented by a little tally-mark beneath the town. Crosses stood for reports of potential blackblood attacks. The Teper made a long, winding line through the nation – upriver from them were Berus and Tyeka, twin capitals for a fledgling nation. Downriver was Kallin, in the Bay of Biral. The wretched old capital. 

“So, what do we know about Ana Metremte?” Asked Imera as he sat. 

The room was silent for a moment.

“She was born here, in Tyeka. Trained in Berus. She’s a savant. Skilled with making and using foci. She has no family to speak of.” 

He exhaled heavily.

“Good news is that there’s no one we know of who will shelter her. Bad news is that we also have no contacts that she might go back to.”

“Except in Tyeka,” added Danza, “And we can’t discount the possibility that she had other contacts that we don’t know about.”

Tarnye had portioned the scrambled eggs onto several plates, and began to serve them one by one. Edam tried to keep her memories straight so that she could be of some use.

“I couldn’t speak to any other contacts. She spoke of some old friends – a Serga, I think. None of them sounded like the kind to hide a fugitive.”

It was always scraps with Ana. Family was sensitive for her; it was sensitive for Edam; and she seemed to understand that well enough. What she did give was less a sense of family, and more an impromptu education. A bunch of hellions running wild over Tyeka, finding shelter where they could, trying to keep herself fed. A little pagan tribe of sorts. She would share a happy memory – one of common, Sepulcherite kindness – and then trail off at a certain point. She never said it out loud, but Edam could always tell that it was when the memory stopped being happy, and had begun to broach on something unseemly.

At least, she thought she could tell. Now she wasn’t so certain when Ana had been telling the truth and when she had been embellishing, and her tendency to trail off took on a sour, sinister tone. Edam felt her lip twitch with dehydration and discomfort. 

“When I last caught sight of her, she was headed downriver,” said Edam hoarsely.

She remembered last night. She had mentioned Daisya and Agora. Somehow she doubted that she’d leave for either.

“Which would point to her heading towards Kallin. Easy to disappear there in Blackwood, or charter a ship out of the country. I don’t think she’ll be doing that though. Doesn’t know anything except Koletyan.”

She had to very deliberately swallow the eggs that she had placed in her mouth. They tasted like butter and oil – a little relief. It still hurt her chest when she swallowed too hard.

“So we need to make chase,” said Imera, “I’ll send messages to Larena and Kallin, tell them to be on the lookout for anyone suspicious matching her rough description. You’ll stay here-”

“No,” said Edam quietly between bites, “I will be coming with you. She was my comrade. I will see this to its end, one way or another.”

“We ready a wagon with good horses,” continued Edam, “And we look for petty thefts. Larceny. Then search the local squatters, criminals and the like. It’s what she’d be accustomed to.”

She sighed as her eyes turned back to Kallin. The Blackwood Quarter was one of the largest criminal underbellies in the nation. If she made it that far it’d be like looking for a needle in a haystack. 

Difficult, but not impossible with providence on their side. She sighed. If the Godhead was feeling generous, maybe some of the hay would be blown away. Maybe she’d get some closure on it all. 

Imera nodded slowly, thinking it over.

“If that’s what you think is best. I’ll have to send for replacements to this post, but I can smooth it over. Alright. I’ll make provisions.”

Tarnye knocked her hand on the table slightly to get their attention.

“I’m coming too,” she signed out. All eyes shifted to her – a demure, entirely unwarlike woman coming along on a manhunt.

“Why in the world would you want to do that?” Asked Edam.

At this point, Tarnye started making signs at a quite rapid pace, and though she could not tell all of them apart, Edam got the gist of it. She wanted to help however she could. 

“Also,” she added, “Danza’s handwriting is not good enough. I can do the transcribing for you all. It will make things easier for the judges.”

“It’s not that bad,” Danza protested.

“I have been a bookmaker for many years,” said Verat, “Your handwriting is amongst the worst I have ever seen.”

Imera scowled, but didn’t make any moves. It wasn’t worth his trouble. For a moment Edam saw just the edges of a smile, banished as soon as he turned his attention back to her.

“Alright. Six then,” he said, “Pack your things and travel light. We ride at midday and no later. Edam, would you take care of the paperwork and look after Verat?”

She nodded. It was best practice to avoid heavy labor after bloodletting. Edam stared as Danza and Imera took their leave. Tarnye sat and stared into space.

“I didn’t think he’d say yes,” she signed slowly, “I’ll be in my room if you need me.”

When she left as well, she and Verat were alone. There was a long silence between them. Verat didn’t meet her gaze – instead, she stared out the window. Edam played with her hair nervously. Eventually, she couldn’t bear the silence any longer.

“I know my cousin is difficult.”

Verat looked at her with confusion.

“He can be hard to work with,” said Edam cautiously, “Especially if you don’t know him. But what he’s doing to you isn’t right.”

His zealousness had exceeded his own good in this one case. It was a breach of propriety and the General Covenant, and it certainly wasn’t fair to Verat. It was doubly unfair to force his synodoxy on her without her even understanding the whole motive behind it. Bloodletting was useless without a person understanding why it was happening. 

“If he even breathes about punishing you in that way again, you can come to me, understand? I’ll deal with him.”

She continued to stare, seemingly unsure what to say. Edam waited for a response, if there was any, then stood.

“Alright. Come with me, I’ll show you the aviary. I’ll write the original letters of excommunication, and you can copy and send them out.”

Writing the letter of excommunication for Ana took more energy than she had expected. When she returned to her room, she nearly collapsed onto her bed. 

Instead, Edam soldiered on and packed, putting her things into her travel trunk. Enough clothes for a week and two days, pen and ink, and her diary. Her hand brushed the leather, and her heart stopped.

She had forgotten about her diary in the chaos. She had tried to keep her feelings for Ana out of it, and she was too weak-willed for even that. There was enough in it to incriminate her, if only by inches.

Edam tried to run through the options as she packed the other items, leaving it be for the moment. Keeping it at a foot’s distance. She could burn it in the fireplace downstairs. 

Her heart wrenched at the thought. It had been her faithful companion for longer than even Ana. She had added to it over the years, page after page and ink bottle after ink bottle spent to fill it out; it was thicker than her wrist now, and the leather had worn nearly white in places. 

She couldn’t burn it – they could find remnants in the fire. She didn’t have time to bury it. 

Eventually, after everything else had been squared away into her trunk, she hid it in between her clothes. Edam resolved to fix the problem later. She could slip away at some point, and throw it in the river, or find some other means of destroying it. Then the last weight would be off her mind, and she could bloodlet again and be forgiven for hiding it. 

Edam closed the latch. The first stop would be Larena. It was an easy trip, as far as they went. She’d feel well enough to bloodlet again by then. She could feel it in her bones. 

All she needed was the will to follow through.


Edam didn’t have the will to destroy it, and she hated that. Every day on the trip, she woke up, rifled through her clothes to change, and found the diary again, and could barely stand the sight of it. She nearly managed it once. She snuck away from the rest in the dead of the night and very nearly threw the last thing she had of Ana into the river. Just as she was about to throw it in, she pulled back and clutched the diary close to her chest. She couldn’t let go.  

She didn’t bloodlet either. Edam kept careful track of the progress of her wounds like she had been taught. The new marks on her chest had scabbed over in shades of yellow-red, but she was in no place to fulfill that duty again. She worried a little at first that she’d get an infection, on account of not having good access to a bath, but in the end it seemed to be healing alright. 

The only pleasant thing about the journey was the landscape. The Teper’s bank and the long roads beside it should have felt calming. It was pastoral; almost quaint compared to the harsher Agoran landscape that she was formerly accustomed to. There were places where the plains went clear out for so long that she almost felt a sense of vertigo – that in her imagination, she could have laid down and gravity would have taken her straight to the east. Farmlands and pastures dotted the landscape, with swamps and bogs closer to the Teper proper. 

The company was less idyllic. Imera prattled on about his adventures in Veleda and Agora and now Koletya. He had a way with words, but it was a way that had been trod over in Edam’s mind long enough that the paving stones were starting to crack. He’d make an absurd claim, she’d nod along, and then he’d say that he’d fooled her and it was actually a little more mundane than that, and she’d humour him by laughing. Then she’d have to hide a cough from the pain in her chest, and he’d give an approving look. 

That did warm her heart a little. A proof that his piety was backed with some genuine care for her.

They reached Larena after five days, and Edam practically collapsed onto the bed in the lodgings that the local parish had been so polite to offer. She could barely remember walking into the old stone building – the summer nights sometimes ran cold, and this was one of them.

It was an actual, proper, soft bed, with sheets and the like. That was a cruel comfort – comfortable for her, and an indulgence for her soul. She’d made no progress at all. She hadn’t bloodlet again, and she hadn’t rid herself of the diary. It was the weekend. The night service was singing, and the last thing she heard before she fell asleep was church bells.

Home. Edam knew she was home before she could see it because she could smell it, the petrichor, the ash, and the lavender plant by their doorway. 

She was dreaming. She knew she was dreaming; it never helped that she knew that she was dreaming. It was the distinct feeling of opening her eyes and knowing that they were still closed; the way she half-walked, half-floated. Reality was not all gone yet. The house stood sensibly upright, though the sky was dark and starless, and the moon was covered by the hazy clouds. The brass door knocker loomed. A grotesque face was twisted into the metal, sharp teeth clenched around a tarnished ring. 

She knocked. Once, twice, three times. 

There was no answer. Maybe her uncle wasn’t home. She tested the knob and found that it was unlocked. 

Her steps echoed into the foyer. There was a ritual that had to be done here. She scraped my boots on the mat to rid them of any dirt or mud that could be tracked in. She hung her coat on the hook – and then something was off. 

It was a petticoat. White. Soft. She reached out and felt it between her fingers, running the fabric between them. An old favorite of hers. She had left it behind when she joined the Inquisitiors. 

Edam wondered if it was still there, so many miles away. She thinks she used to miss it. She looked to the stairs and again the dream revealed itself. The geometry stood at the wrong angles – the doorway to the central courtyard was tiny, and an odd vertice of the wall covered the handle. The candles were all lit, like little beacons up the stairwell and into the darkened hallways. 

Edam entreated the dream. Her legs did, at least, as she ascended. She wasn’t sure how much choice she had in it. It was almost exactly as she remembered it – even the third stair from the last, the way it wobbled slightly under her weight as she stepped on it. The bedrooms were to the left; first her aunt and uncle’s bedroom, then her cousins’ and then at the very end her own. It was a guest bedroom before her residence was more or less permanent. There was the scuff on the bottom of the door, the wood worn down with how many times she had slammed it just a bit too hard. 

She turned the knob, and it twisted at an awful angle until it finally came undone, and she could open it. It creaked on its hinges. There were no windows in her room; only a single candle on her bedside table. Her bed was laid out carefully, just like the day she had left it. Her desk was in its place; her drawers all closed. Even her diary was there, significantly thinner and smaller. 

Rain began to patter on the roof, down tiles and through the slots and gutters. There was a crack of light from beneath the door – a shadow, and thunder rolled over her bones. Murmurs spread through the crack too. Discussions, a frantic back and forth between my uncle and my brother. 

“You’re certain you want to do it?”

“I’m certain. She needs to take responsibility for stealing it.”

Edam didn’t remember stealing anything. At least not recently. Her gut churned. 

“You know, I’m very proud of you, Imera. You’re taking responsibility too. You’re becoming a very virtuous young man.”

It occurred to Edam that this conversation might have never happened. That she might have never heard any such thing. She didn’t remember hearing anything like it before, as much as she grasped for context outside of the dream. 

Something was coming. Some creeping thing that hid over her shoulder even when I turned to face it. It rattled the doorknob; played with the lock.

She smoothed her dress and played with her hair, and waited for the nightmare proper to start. There was no fighting it at this point.

Thunder again; then all quiet but for the whispering of a child. Edam turned to face its source. On the bed with her was a half-child thing – only half by far, the shape and essence of a child without any of the constituent parts that could be considered childish or adult. Indeed, most of what she could make of it, through the shadowy candlelight and the empty black was scar tissue, deep and roiling orange-red-purple scar tissue, empty, ugly, wretched scar tissue. The child’s teeth were yellow and crooked; nails gone feral with heavy use as they dug into her shoulder. 

“Be a vessel for good things to happen by,” it said, “I need you to be a vessel for good things to happen by. Are you hollow?”

She shook her head. The fingers dug deeper.

“Be hollowed, be hallowed, and take up the mallet again.”

“I won’t – I can’t. Not again.”

Her perspective shrunk. She was now like the child-thing – younger, shorter, the expanse of her bed seeming much larger by comparison. The child-thing pushed her away, and opened a yawning mouth with teeth that overcrowded even its own black tongue, like the maw of a sheepshead fish and it handed her the mallet, rough and seven-spined and-

In the corner there is a girl, with dark curls that spill down over her head. She is placing her hand in her mouth, half out of shame for what she had said, and half to see where she can get with it. Her fingers taste like salt and sweat.

A little further down and then spittle and bile comes back, spilling out of her lips-

The child-thing began to eat its own arm while it grasped her with the other. It devoured while Edam stared at it. Chew, chew, chew, down to rotten and spongy white bone. Black fluid spilled out and flooded the floor like the bad oil or honey, viscous and thick. 

“Stop it,” said Edam.

It didn’t stop. The waste-black honey spiraled up bedposts in reverse. She ran to the door, her shoes getting stuck in the fluid. She banged on the door, frantically trying the knob.

“Stop it!” She yelled, “Stop! Let me out!”

It incessantly chewed and mangled its arm further, and a finger emerged, tar-black flesh and arms and legs emerging from the lot at haphazard angles, more and more coming from the floor. Hands grasped at her feet which laid over the bed and the ink sunk backwards to reveal human features and human flesh – a sea of brown eyes and raven hair and raking fingernails and open pairs of legs.

“No, no, no!” She yelled, “No! Stop!”

She prayed – she cried – still the mallet was in her hand. They were Ana – all of them. 

“I don’t want this. Please.”

Rough hands dragged her down and smothered her mouth and still there was the incessant sound of chewing and endless breathing, hot breath all over her body like how she used to break out in hives. The hands stripped away her clothing, clogged her mouth, strangled her neck. They raked her back, and she felt as if she was bleeding, thrashing around like an animal at slaughter. The brief openings of light through her struggle showed only glimpses of faces and annulled images of Ana. Abbreviated images of her. Incorrect images of her. Muscles spilling out in thick veins through bellies and breasts and legs. There were no genitals to speak of, even when there ought to be genitals, empty expanses of skin and spirit and something that resembled the ideal of Ana. It suffocated. It touched her roughly. It was too much.

The mallet was in her hand. It was her duty. She needed to kill Ana. 

Edam brought it down, and she shattered like a clay pot. Whatever was in her – good deeds, perhaps, spilled out like knives into the sea of flesh. The good deeds were black and scuttling like scorpions. Chewing and devouring and poisoning. Red. Black. White. Hands sliced from arm; annulled and contextless threads of sinew and muscle severed and writhing under the swarm of poisonous insects. They twitched, and eventually, the room was empty, even the child-thing gone. Blood pooled around her legs, and she heard the shattering of pottery.

Bit by bit she crumbled, sweating, breaking apart to the floor. To severed bits and pieces. Her arm came off at the hinges; her legs at the joints. 

She fell a little further down, and knew that she was damned.


Edam woke up sweating. Tarnye had shook her awake. She was making signs faster than Edam could make out. 

“Stop it,” said Edam, “Stop – what’s going on?”

She slowed down. 

“You were speaking in your sleep,” signed Tarnye, “You were-”

She didn’t recognize the sign. Edam rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

She made the sign again. When Edam continued to not understand, Tarnye turned and rifled through her bag. She meticulously pulled out a sheet of paper, a pen and an inkwell. With that she quickly scribbled down a fragment. Even when she was rushing, she was careful to make it legible.

Scaring me.

She looked at Edam with puppy-dog eyes. She was worried.

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t look it,” signed Tarnye.

“It was just a nightmare.”

She tried to shake the dream from her mind. First the funeral, then the home, then something like being dead. It was close to all the other times she imagined dying. She was fairly certain that Torment would look something like that. 

She had sweated through her nightclothes. The air was humid enough to earn it. 

“Tarnye, could you leave? I need to change.”

She did reluctantly, and Edam slowly changed into her work clothes. Meticulous. That’s what she needed. A little discipline would send her dream far away. So, button by button, buckle by buckle, she dispersed her thoughts. She could rid herself of the diary on the way to Kallin. It wouldn’t stop the nightmares – those still came to her no matter what she did – but it’d rid her of the burden.

It helped. The deliberation helped.

When she was done she walked with Tarnye down to the common room of the church. The priest was nowhere to be seen. Her cousin had already made breakfast. Danza and Verat looked equally tired. Rye bread, pork-belly, well-water. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to fill her belly.

Imera spoke up.

“I spoke with the mayor last night. Apparently, a young man named Nikol disappeared recently. Not recently enough to fit Ana arriving here, though.”

Edam nodded slowly. Kidnapping didn’t seem like it’d be in Ana’s wheelhouse. Then again, neither did witchcraft. 

Mid-bite, there was a shrill cry and a knocking at the door. It was frantic and repeated. Like a bird shrieking at the crack of dawn. She rose and walked down the unfamiliar hallways; her cousin beat her to it, and Danza and Verat followed close behind. It was a messenger boy, ruddy-faced and brown-clothed. He couldn’t have been older than thirteen by Edam’s reckoning. He wore a rather sturdy-looking bag around his  back. Almost immediately, he grabbed at Imera’s shirt and started yelping at him.

“Sir, you’ve got to come!”


“To the tree! The orchard! They killed him! Strung him up! Tomas Inila, they killed him and he was arguing last night and he was drunk and he said he was going to leave town but then he didn’t, he ended up passing out under the bridge last I saw him, the bridge at the little river, not the big bridge, that one, and then-”

“If you’d just slow down,” said Imera futilely. The boy was determined to deliver the whole story, even if it cost him all of the air in his lungs. 

“-he got up again and I was watching him but I lost sight of him and then I had to go home because my mom gets angry if I don’t go home early but then when I was doing my rounds this morning I found him out by the orchard and he’s dead and they hung him but I think they did a pretty rough job of hanging him because you can’t strangle someone around the feet, sir, you have to come! It’s probably a witch or something!”

He finally finished and panted, totally spent.

Imera carefully removed the boy’s hand from his shirt and lowered himself to the boy’s level, taking a knee. 

“I think we might be able to take a look.”

He turned back to Edam, smiling up at her. This was the part where they acted like they were happy to see the child even though there was troubling news. It was supposed to comfort the kid and make it seem as if they had control – as an official of the Church was supposed to have. She played along, and smiled back.

“Are you sure this is in our jurisdiction?”

“It wouldn’t hurt to check,” said Imera, “It’d be saving someone else the paperwork.”
“We’re already behind on catching up with-”

“We’re going. We’ll make up the time,” said Imera, “Go on, show us.” 

The boy took off like a bullet. Down lanes and byways, through the backways of Larena and to the outskirts. It was a large town, but fortunately church wasn’t far from the orchard. They had seen it on the way in. In spite of being twice his size, the rest of them could barely make pace. Larena was dominated by winding streets and byways that made it seem much larger than it actually was. Edam nearly cursed the holy wounds on her chest as she ran, her lungs burning. 

Eventually, they reached the orchard – for apples, as it seemed. It could have been an excellent morning if it weren’t for the circumstances. The air was crisp and cool, and the sun was shining brightly over a clear sky. She just barely caught her breath as they arrived before it was taken again. Every tree was full of life except one, at the far end, where a small crowd had gathered round. It was white as a sheet, scarce bits of bark only occasionally emerging from the expanse of dead wood. It twisted upward like a horrid hand, and from a single finger hung a rope. 

As she approached she noticed the stench first. Tomas had not been rotting for long; at least he was courteous to die recently. Old corpses were far worse. The crowd parted for them. They were startled by their appearance, whispers and murmurs spreading through the crowd. Everyone took a step back from them. He was the colour of old plaster and weathered limestone. Yellow-white, tinged darker in places where drink had more of a hold. The man was hanging by his legs, like the boy had said; they had been tied together in a careful knot up around his thighs and calves. Pants preserved his modesty; his chest was bare and his belly sunken and thin. His arms, on the other hand, hung limp, only inches above the ground, swaying in the summer wind.

His mouth lolled open in a silent yell. A cloth gag limply rested between his teeth, wetted with saliva and blood. His throat and wrists had been opened like the gills of a fish. For a brief moment, the wind whistled and Edam felt as if he was speaking to them, the air moving through his dead lungs like a flute. She thought it was absurd, but it felt real for the moment.

He was dead, but his eyes looked scared more than anything else. 

“Saints,” said Imera, “That’s something.”

He lowered his voice, so that only they could hear.


Her eyes went to the knots around his legs. They were elaborate – layer over layer of rope. It would have taken half an hour at least. It was ritualized, and the pattern felt familiar. She had seen it on old buildings in Tshalagrod.

“They took a lot of care with those knots for a lynching,” said Edam, “And Kolets traditionally hang people guts-out. Lynching is a possiblity, but…”

She took her gloves from her pocket, and put them on before kneeling to get a better look. Then, she noticed it. Something was missing. The earth beneath him was clean; only a few drops of blood had actually made it to the ground.

“Cousin,” she said, “There’s not a spatter of blood on the ground. And his major veins are all open. This wasn’t Ana, or a witch.”

Imera’s shoulders slumped. Danza’s eyes widened. 

“Oh,” he said quietly, “You mean blackbloods.”

Danza groaned and covered her face with her hand. She was trying to hide her words from the crowd so that they wouldn’t panic.

“Fucking vampires,” she whispered under her breath.

One thought on “Blood for Blood 2.1

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