The warehouse door crumpled under the first blow of the hammer. Solid oak splintered and blew apart on the next swing of the heavy adamant maul. At Heather Blackthorne’s command, five angry guardsmen charged into the breach. With their shields up and short swords drawn, they swarmed inside. Cries of their suspect’s surprise and alarm rose from the room.
“You’re under arrest!” bellowed a guardsman.
Heather followed in their wake, gauntlet clenched around her father’s silvered mace. Her bloodshot, dark green eyes swept the room. Observe, be the mind within the mind. Put your eyes where others aren’t looking, listen for the sounds others would ignore. Heather’s conscious mind floated above an ocean of perception, as she’d been trained.
Her ears strained for every echo. She drew a breath, taking in the smell and taste of the air. Use every tool you have. Don’t just rely on magic. Your senses can tell you more. Observe the room. Observe the moment.
Three suspects at the scene of the crime. Those two on the left, I’ve seen them working the docks before. Their surprise is genuine. They have no idea what this is really about. Third on the right, ah, he looks guilty as sin. There he goes, clenching his jaw, he wants to be the tough guy. He’s got something to hide. Smuggler, bad enough, but he set his jaw when he saw me. He knows what the Church being here means.
Stone walls, magically warded for fire suppression only. Fourteen crates. More than was listed on the manifest. Smuggling is a diverse industry. They’ve probably mixed their goods in with a legitimate shipment.
“Got them, Detective,” said a guardsman.
“Keep a good hold on them, please,” Heather replied. She strode past the city guardsmen and kicked off the top of an open wooden crate, to reveal straw inside. She stirred it carefully with her silver-plated mace, until the first hint of bone emerged from under the straw. It was a single, gleaming white finger-bone, wrapped in twine and leather to make a wand.
And here we go, thought Heather. Necromancy. For a second she saw white behind her eyes, felt rage burn through her, and shoot from her spine to her fingertips and weapon. Her mace burst into bright, white flame, and she hastily pulled it away from the straw before it could ignite.
She chastised herself mentally. Emotion fuels magic. Will gives it shape. Serves me right, throwing that much anger through Dad’s mace.
Heather stared fiercely at her mace. The worst of her anger burned like magnesium fire around her weapon. I’ve got better uses for that anger, right now.
The fire around her mace flickered, dimmed, and then vanished. It left everyone in the room blinking away spots in their vision. She slipped the mace back into its belt-loop, and lifted her helmet just long enough to run a hand through her short-cropped, black hair.
“So,” she began, turning to face the two innocents. “Seems we’ve got ourselves a problem, here. Anyone know what happens to folk caught dealing in necromancy?”
The two dockside workers burst into loud, frightened denial, holding up their hands and pleading innocence. Heather silenced them with a slap of her gauntlet atop a crate. The sound of leather and steel on wood cracked out, as loud as a pistol shot. Silence reigned, and Heather let it linger, watching the men sweat and tremble.
Already stammering to be the first to deny it, and they haven’t run afoul of the Church before.
Her eyes darted over their hands, feet, posture, and expression of the protesting men. Probably not entirely innocent, but they definitely had nothing to do with this, not those two. Maybe come to wet their beak on a simple smuggling deal, take a cut off of a tariff evasion. Necromancy, though, no. So. Nothing hurt by cutting them out.
“Looks like you do,” Heather went on, pacing around the trio.
Her eyes swung back to the man on the right. But you…
Unlike the two pale, trembling dock workers, her tentative suspect had gone nearly purple, the muscles at the back of his jaw flexing. Motes of unfocused magic, fed by his rage, spat from his eyes as he stared back at her. They dissipated in the air between them like smoke.
You’re insulted, aren’t you? Looking at me like I got bad manners coming in here and breaking up your sweet little deal.
“So. Guards, if you’d like to go ahead and arrest these two as accessories to smuggling?” Heather said, gesturing to the men on the left.
The guard captain at the doorway nodded, and gestured with his hammer, keeping his pistol pointed at the ground. Three of the Guardsmen sheathed their swords and produced heavy manacles.
The cowering pair all but flew into the Guard’s custody. Better a month in prison than a dance on the gallows, Heather thought.
“You want irons on your suspect too, Detective?” asked the Captain.
“Yes, thank you Captain,” Heather replied, and the two remaining guardsmen forced the smuggler against the wall. They pulled his hands behind his back, and slammed iron shackles around his wrists. Quelling runes on the manacles flared to life, denying any hope of using magic to escape.
“That’ll do.” Heather said, sliding her mace back into her belt-loop. “The rest is church business, Captain. Thank you for your help. Think I could ask you and yours to wait just outside, and secure the room? There’s necromantic materials in here, and they need to be secured and destroyed. Church knights will be on their way within the hour to see to it.”
“Sure thing, Detective.” He waved his men out of the warehouse, and pulled the broken remains of the door shut. Then he pointedly faced away, his body barring the doorway. That way he can say with a straight face he didn’t see me bust up this bastard. No sympathy anywhere for defilers of the dead, Heather thought.
Once the guards were through the warehouse door, she turned to the smuggler, and clapped a hand on his shoulder. Anger brought color to her ruddy, sun-browned face. “Good money, smuggling body parts? They dock you for missing teeth?”
Before the smuggler could answer, Heather turned and hurled him into the nearest crate. She used her other gauntlet to grab the back of his head, and drove his face into the wood. His head bounced back up, and she kicked him square in the back, knocking him sprawling onto the crates. Wood cracked beneath him on impact, snapping loud enough to be heard over the man’s scream.
“Five days!” she roared as the smuggler folded up. His arms struggled against the manacles, trying and failing to protect his side.
Broken bone, wood, or both? Right about now, I don’t much care, thought Heather.
“Five days I have been after your ass, you motherless filth!”
She forcefully hauled him back to his feet, eyes blazing as she stared him down over her raptorial nose. Motes of fire gathered around her lips and hair as she shouted, filling the air with the stink of her own hair burning with her anger.
“I know you’ve been supplying necromancers. And if you ever want to see the sun before you meet the hangman, you will give me names!”
“You get your hands off me, Church thug,” the smuggler snarled, spitting a wad of blood onto her tabard. “It’s my family or me. So I’ll tell you nothing. Nothing! And they’ll come for you anyw–”
Heather gave him a sharp shake that turned his brewing rant into a scream, and his ribs made a sound like knuckles popping. A few flecks of blood painted his lips as he coughed.
She hauled him close, nose to bloodied nose, forcing him to meet her eyes. He must have seen something of her murderous thoughts behind them, because he blanched and fell silent.
“They’ll have to do better than the last ones who tried,” she snarled, and drove a fist into his injured side. The impact prompted another pained shriek from the man.
Yeah, she thought, wiping at the gob of bloody spit the smuggler had left on her tabard. Yeah, I’m enjoying this all right. Blood when he coughs. Punctured lung? That must hurt. But I’ve got no pity for your ilk, you bone-thieving bastard.
She planted her boot in his gut, and shoved him back into the crates again. This time, one smashed apart under his weight.
There came an uncertain noise from a guardsman behind her. Heather turned her head towards the door and paused. Alarm painted all the faces of the uniformed Guardsmen, their heads sticking in from every side of the door like goggling barn owls. Wait, what’re they staring at? Heather wondered. I’ve seen the Guard crack heads harder than this for less.
The Captain pushed his men aside and entered the room, eyes locked on a point over her right shoulder. Following his gaze, she turned around. Her gaze followed past the groaning smuggler slumped against the wall, and landed on the broken crate.
The crate with the words FRAGILE painted in neat letters on every face.
Directly above the Imperial seal.
And then the tinkle of settling, broken pottery began to register. Pottery, that looked very, very expensive. And very old.
“Something must be done about this one, Neela.”
Roland was little more than a beautiful silhouette in the afternoon sun. He stood framed by the golden light of sunset streaming through cathedral windows. His voice reminded Neela of buckwheat honey, poured through sunlight, dark and sweet and warm all at once. His voice never failed to make her breath catch, despite all the years she’d known him.
“That’s why I brought her to your attention, Roland,” she replied.
She was no less beautiful, leaning her willowy frame in the doorway. Her dress was no less tasteful than the silks of a queen, full of suggestion and invitation despite the modesty of the cut. The panels of the dress were just translucent enough in the sunlight to hint at the curve of her body underneath.
Neela slipped from his doorway, after the silence between them stretched too many heartbeats. Quiet, graceful steps took her to Roland’s side. She studied his expression, and her green eyes glinted like the emerald chip earrings she had chosen to match.
His window faced west, overlooking private gardens below, and the church courtyards beyond. The courtyards sprawled out eight city blocks until the garden walls met the busy streets of the capital.
She knew why he loved this window in particular; it overlooked the beating heart of the Montaigne Empire, the city of Bastia. Fed by her arteries of four rivers converging, carrying trade to ports, and ships that sailed the known world. Within that beating heart of the Montaigne Empire, the grand Cathedral shone in grand, white marble, reflecting light onto the gardens and streets beneath his window.
But today, Roland was paying it no attention. His deep brown eyes were on the folder in his hands. To her searching eyes, he looked troubled. Nobody outside of their order would ever see it, but for her, he would let her see him creasing his eyebrows just so. For anyone else he would smile. For her, he would frown.
“This woman. Detective Heather Blackthorne.” Roland said the name carefully, as if weighing every syllable before continuing. “They mean to have her salvaged.”
Neela nodded, and waited for the words she expected from that beautiful man. He never disappointed her.
“If we’re going to save her, we certainly can’t have her here.”
Casefile: Widow Bannon, Day 4 — Knight Blackthorne
No further leads forthcoming. Widow Bannon is positive that her teenage grandson has been corrupted by, varyingly: Dark arts, witches from Hanshu, fell magic, apostates, reprobates, heathens, and barbarian spies, the last of which has nothing at all to do with the Church anyhow. Likely tomorrow it’ll be some new horror story. It is the opinion of this Knight that the boy simply got fed up with his grandmother, and shook the dust of Bastia from his heels weeks ago. Recommend case transfer to City Guard.
Brass rattled and clanked on the heavy oaken door of Heather’s office. Her hand flew up from the page to wipe away the tears clinging to her lashes. It was a pointless gesture; her paperwork below was peppered with drips and blotches.
More than once she’d overheard mutters that the Knight’s Wing of the Holy Citadel had acquired its own personal ghast clothed in flesh, the way she’d haunted its halls day in and out.
It was almost funny, really. The pity, unwelcome as it was, had given way to scorn only a couple of months ago.
It was amazing how a crate of old pottery could change the winds of opinion.
Her Captain swung the door open, his eyebrows furrowed in concern. He was a broad man, with two scars across his lip earned in service long before her time. It broke his concerned frown into a disjointed, jagged line, as though a thunderbolt of consternation had been scraped across his face.
Heather swallowed. “Captain Watts.”
He came around the side of her desk without a word, and sat on the edge of it with a bone-weary sigh. His heavy hand fell atop her shoulder and made her jump in her seat.
Easy now. Just the Captain, she thought, disgusted with herself. I jump at everything these days.
The captain produced a rolled and sealed bundle of paper. He put it into her hands. “I’m sorry about this.” he said.
“Sorry about what? What’s this?” she asked. Her voice was thick and strained from the crying that didn’t ever seem to want to stop these days.
“Briefing notes, Knight, and transfer orders.” The Captain’s face, seamed with small wrinkles and larger scars, was blank. Devoid even of the irritation that always creeped into his expression when he spoke to her of late.
The words took a moment to sink in, her eyes falling to the roll in her hands, then to the piles of papers arranged around her desk. “Captain, I’ve got work, I can’t leave it off. There’s Widow Bannon’s kid, and the Mayers up Bright Street have been waiting for an answer about the ghast in their attic for months, and I ain’t got one to give em, and—”
“The ghast in the Mayers attic will keep a while longer,” the Captain said, cutting her off. “Shadows and Saints only know where the Bannon kid got off to. And it looks like you’ve come to the same conclusion the last three Knights did,” he said, waving his free hand at the unfinished report in front of her.
“You’re going, Blackthorne. That’s final,” her Captain finished. His tone was firm, but edged in kindness. “We’re sorry to see you go.”
No you aren’t, she thought, breaking the seal on the scroll. Nobody is, anymore. Not after my family, and then the pottery. Twenty years salary worth of damage, all because one smuggler couldn’t resist mixing his goods with a royal gift from Venicia to House Montaigne. I’m surprised it wasn’t an international incident.
“Thank you, Captain. It’s been good to serve,” she muttered dutifully, picking at the edge of the scroll. “Where are they sending me, then?”
She looked up, only to find the Captain at the door, scurrying out.
“North,” he said over his shoulder. The door shut hastily on her widening eyes.
He made it five steps before the door banged open again, startling the entire office into silence. Squires and scribes jerked their heads up from their work as her door crashed open.
“North?” Heather barked. “North as in north?”
“North as in north,” the Captain answered with a resigned sigh.
It would be three hours’ penance for her cursing.
The confessional chair was comfortable. The cushion on it was sun-warmed, and its teak wood was polished to a dark chocolate gleam. Three priests sat on benches around Heather, within the circle of sunlight cast by the great, round window. It was an uncomfortably familiar sight, even if the priests weren’t familiar.
Better this way, thought Heather. No biases.
Her tears welled uncontrollably at the thought of the words she’d spoken before, and would again today.
“Would you like a quelling rune, before we begin?” one of the priests asked her.
Heather shook her head, and wrapped her hands around the sun-warmed teak of the chair, grateful for the way it hid her trembling. “No, thank you.”
“Anytime you’re ready, Knight. Take your time.”
Let the words and the feelings out into the Light. The catechism rang hollow in her mind. Let the secrets out, let the light wash them clean. So they can’t fester in the dark and turn rotten, and in turn, rot my soul. May the truth be found in the Light. May my words be met with compassion. May the Saints guide my words true, and may the ears around me hear my soul.
Heather gathered herself, and took another deep breath. Searching the faces in front of her, looking for a sign of recognition. Confessionals required strangers, whenever possible. Foot traffic came and went through the doors of the large chamber, though they all walked in reverent silence, so as not to disturb.
I air my soul to the Light; where any and all can hear. May all who open their ears to my sins lend their hearts to my burden; may their prayers guide me when I am weak. May mine guide them when I am strong.
Her voice cracked. “It’s been ten months since my family was murdered.”
The three priests, two women and one man today, stirred in shock. They wouldn’t know her, they wouldn’t know her reasons, her history. That was the point.
May I come before each soul washed clean, anew. May my confession relieve me of my stains of sin. May the Saints guide me to compassion; may they guide others to compassion around me.
But each face nodded, holding their silence. Their solemn eyes on her turned sad, their full attention turned upon her.
“I-” Heather faltered, her breath caught, as tears washed fresh down her cheeks. “- I dream about them every night. I dream about them. I can’t let them go. I can’t… I can’t live without-” she cut off again as her voice echoed off the white stone walls of the chamber.
“I dream about revenge. Not… not justice. I want revenge. I go through every day sick with wrath. Sick with-” her voice dropped into a whisper. The room’s acoustics carried even her whisper, taking her words to the listening priests. “- sick with living. When they’re not.”
It should feel better. It should feel right. To let the words out. To let others hear it. But it never changes, not this feeling, not inside me. I can’t let it go. It’s my fault. I missed one. And they paid the price for it.
“I can’t let go,” she finally said. “No matter how I try. I can’t let go.”
She hitched a last breath, rising from the chair, and scrubbed at her tear-blind face. “That’s all.”
May the Saints guide the souls around me to compassion. May the price of forgiveness be named, and fair. May I pay it gladly, and my sins relieved. May the souls who bear my confession, bear me as I would bear them in turn.
The first priest rose, her hands smoothing down her dress. She stepped forward with two long strides, and drew a blue linen handkerchief. The priest touched them to the tears coursing down Heather’s cheeks, her hand gentle. Her sad smile crinkled her crows feet in a way that reminded Heather of her father, long ago.
“Preserve for others what was denied you by evil,” the priest said, her voice soft. “For every week you spend consumed in wrath, spend an hour in protection of a family in need, as you find them, Knight. Do this, and you have my forgiveness. Will you pay this price?”
Heather nodded. Her position made the price simple simple to pay, an extension of her duties.
The priest touched her hand gently. Heather fought to avoid flinching reflexively away, and failed. After a moment’s hesitation, Heather forced herself to return the gesture. She grimaced, hoping it looked like a grateful smile.
When the first priest stepped back, the second arose, and stepped close. He took both of Heather’s hands in his own. His skin was dry and papery, and his eyebrows and whiskers white as snow. They caught the light from the grand window above.
His voice was reedy, but kind, and he spoke with a patient compassion in his voice borne of decades of moments like these. “Preserve for yourself and others the joy of living. Do you sing, oh Knight?”
Heather shook her head. “Very terribly, Father. It would probably drive more than me to suicide.” she said with a shaky, sad laugh.
The priest’s hand lifted gently, and cupped to her cheek, ignoring her desperate attempt for gallows humor. “Then I want you to find a joy worth sharing for others. One hour a week, for as long as this feeling haunts you. A warm hearth, a good bowl, a story, a song. Something that matters to you.”
“I can cook,” she whispered, her throat closing in so tight the words were almost a squeak. Cooking together used to be so important to us. The last people I cooked for was my family.
“A bowl a week, for someone else. Charity, or companionship. Do this, and you have my forgiveness. Will you pay this price?”
Heather’s second nod was shakier. The priest didn’t linger, drawing back to make room for the third.
The third priest stepped forward, a woman in her early forties with long brown hair and farm-hand freckles. She embraced Heather, squeezing her.
“I ask that you do not take your own life,” the woman said, her own voice hitching. “Preserve it. So that others are not robbed of your strength and compassion, Knight. Do this, and you have my forgiveness. Will you pay this price?”
Heather broke into sobs, and it took her three tries to get the words out: “I will.”
I’d like to think I mean it.
Heather’s hand trembled as she opened the door to her house. The silence inside hit her like a fist to the gut, as it did every time. Some days she made it past the threshold without crying. Tonight wasn’t going to be one of those nights. The sob tore through her as she stepped through the door. It filled the silence, at least.
The kitchen was quiet and dark, the hearth nothing but barren ashes. She channeled the day’s irritation through her fingertips, fuelled by her anger at her own failure. Flows of fire, tiny sparkling motes collapsed leapt into the space between her fingertips. Just enough to ignite the wick of the oil lamp and lend some light to the gloom.
This house is four walls and misery. One last thing to do, she thought, as she fetched paper, quill, and inkwell, and set them on her kitchen table. Then I can start packing, and never have to see this miserable place again.
It took her three tries to get up the nerve to push open her old bedroom door. The silence inside it yawned around her, a sort of silence that felt like going deaf. The new bed that rested inside it was pristine. Heather had never slept in it. That would have meant lingering in this room.
It wasn’t her old bed, the one her mother had sent from the ranch as a wedding gift. That had been burned. But Heather still couldn’t bear to look at it, at the reminder of what had once been there.
Don’t look at the floor. The stains aren’t there. They aren’t real. Just get the deed for the house from the lockbox in the closet. Four steps. Turn. Grab. Walk out. WALK out.
By the second step she jumped into a full sprint, and her run ended with her leaning over her iron stove, breath hitching. She hastily hurled the deed onto the kitchen table, and then planted her hands on the iron of the stove.
Cold sweat coursed up her spine, and her fingernails tried to scratch gouges in the cast iron. Heather grit her teeth until her jaw creaked, trying to bite back on the scream. It escaped as a strangled, aggrieved noise, fighting past her clenched jaw.
Magic surged through her hands, and she channeled it into the iron of the stove, throwing her sick terror into the oven. Flame erupted inside it, sending air roaring through the chimney.
That’s it. Pour it all in there, where it’s safe. Heather pulled her hands away only when the heat threatened to burn her palms.
Heather could smell blood, could taste it. Bit my tongue, she analyzed. Superficial. Still can’t unclench my jaw. Maybe I can sit? Her hands were shaking too badly, her fists clenched too tight to open just yet.
It took three tries for Heather to bang the chair around with her fists, turning it enough for her to collapse onto it. She put her head down on her arms and sobbed, until her head ached, until her back hurt, until her jaw would unclench again and she could pack away the feelings just stepping into that room had filled her with. Dread. Sorrow.
I hate this. Why can’t I just shut it off? I can’t just zone out, like others do. I can’t put my head down and work, ignore how I feel, or the world around me, and just get through my day. I sit behind my own eyes and I watch and I feel and I can’t shut it off. I can’t stop watching. I can’t stop thinking and analyzing. I couldn’t look away. I can’t look away. I don’t know how. But I didn’t even see it coming, when it mattered.
I missed one, she thought, weeping bitter tears. And my family paid the price.
It took twenty minutes to put herself back together again. She wiped her eyes, and pulled the deed and quill in.
Eight years under this roof, she mused, pen shaking as she began to scratch out her letter. Eight years of loving, worrying, smiles and tears. I don’t want to set foot in this place anymore if I can ever help it. Not anymore. This used to be a home. Maybe when it’s out of my hands, it could be again, for someone else.
The letter she drafted was simple, and to the point:
I hereby leave my house and all remaining contents as tithe. Please find enclosed the property deed. May it serve the cause and please the Saints. – Knight Heather Blackthorne
She blew out the lamp, and threaded her way down the hallway in the dark, and into her son’s room. She threw herself down onto his small, cramped bed, then stripped down and burrowed in under the blankets. Too drained to cry another tear, she stared at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to come. It certainly wouldn’t in her old room.
Here. I can just pretend he’s sleeping next to me. Anthony. My boy, my little boy. I miss you. I miss the warmth of you against my back, when you couldn’t fall asleep alone. I miss watching you breathe at night. I miss you and your Daddy. I’ll try not to be long joining you.
Heather shifted her weight, turned, and burrowed her face under the blanket. Wasn’t going to sell the house. Wasn’t going to let the bastard take one more part of us. But the church can have it. They’ll take care of it, make sure it goes to someone who needs it. And tomorrow I won’t ever come back and have to see this place again. It’s not a home anymore. Not for me.
The day had left her exhausted, physically and emotionally. She fell asleep immediately.
The dream, as always, was waiting.
The house was quiet. In the two years since her son’s birth, she had grown familiar with the different silences of the house, and their nuances. Which silences were those of her young son napping, which were those of an exhausted husband, awaiting her in their bed. But this silence was absolute, not a floorboard or bed-frame creaking. There was a stillness to the air, almost stagnant.
The ride had been long, in from afield. She was dusty, and bloody, and the wounds the skeleton had left in her arm were barely closed. Her mace flaked dried ichor onto the floor; she hadn’t bothered to wash it, in her haste to be home.
And now she was home, and something was very wrong.
The smell hit her first. The smell of blood, of shit, of fear. It was the smell of death, and it was mixed with a smell that was rotten, musty, like a grave half-opened. It seemed to clench around her nose, pulling her forward, drawing her towards the bedroom. The back of her mind screamed at her to run, run now, to never look back.
Heather tossed in her sleep, crying out a mother’s grief. The dream, the same dream, every time. She knew what came next, fought it in her sleep, and lost.
A sound caught her ear. The sinister sound of a butcher’s back room, the hiss of thin steel being drawn against a whetstone.
Heather’s hand clenched around her mace, as Knight training wrestled with panic, and her foot nudged open the door. Her husband and son, she saw first. They were seated upon the bed, next to one another. Limp and motionless, like marionettes whose strings had been cut.
In the far corner of the room, a figure in a deep crimson cloak awaited her. His wicked, thin knife rasped softly across a whetstone. A vengeful smile shone from the concealing darkness of his hood.
“You forgot me,” the man in the crimson cloak whispered. His voice was chiding. He kept his attention on the knife he was sharpening, not turning, not bothering to look at her. “You missed me. Of all my comrades, killed by your hand before we could make greatness. You forgot me.”
She froze, not of her own volition. His hand still moved the knife across the stone. But the tip of the blade had had its chance to weaving a sign in the air; and his dark magic was done. Any other time, any other place, she would have noticed the spell being woven around her, would have had a counter ready. Distracted by her terror, she had missed the subtle motions of his hand.
Strength left Heather’s body. The world around her speeding faster than her thoughts could grasp, yet her heartbeat felt as if slowed to treacle. She slumped to the floor, sinking to her knees. It seemed to take a thousand years just to raise her eyes, to see the man in the cloak raise his knife. His eyes were black rimmed with red, like an ember gone dark in the hearth.
And then it was too late to turn away.
There, on the bed she and her husband had shared for three years, the bed their son was conceived in, the bed she had given birth to him in, the cloaked man set to his bloody work with merry satisfaction.
“You forgot me.” he repeated, as a small, chubby foot thumped to the floor. It bounced once, before teetering to a halt between her knees. “Sloppy, sloppy, Knight Blackthorne. You should have known better. Your husband and son, though, they will repay your debt. Fine, sturdy bones, he has, your husband. Supple sinew from your boy.”
It took thirty endless minutes for the necromancer to reduce the two greatest loves of her life to nothing more than a pile of wet, glistening organs and shapeless meat. Thirty endless minutes of whispering knives, and wet, carnal sounds, as each bone was meticulously drawn free. Their heads placed carefully on either side of the growing pile of offal. Facing Heather with eyes wide and horrified, gazing blindly through her.
Until he peeled their skulls like grapes, and dropped their blood-slick bones into a sack.
As the man in the crimson hood gathered up the bones, he paused, and met her eyes. “You forgot me, Knight Blackthorne. But I’ll never forget you.” And then he stepped around her, whistling a festival tune. The bedroom door clicked shut in his wake.
It was ten minutes later, when the magic binding her faded. Too late to stop him. Too late to save them. But not too late to scream. And scream. And scream.