A Cursed Eight short story
Accipiter G. Goshawk
“Wequ Island is within our sights, sir. We should be there within the next five minutes.”
Inquisitor Jarr of the priesthood of Mirkal squinted against the midday sun. He sighed heavily; he detested these little forays into the backwater regions of the world.
“At least it’s warm,” he murmured, thinking back to the measly little village he had purged only a week earlier. It had been in the frozen north, past the plains of Sheltoth. He’d hated it there.
“Sir?” the captain of the sky-ship asked, eying him worriedly.
“Well done, captain. See to it that we dock at the Temple; then we can go about apprehending the pirate.”
The captain gulped visibly, his many chins jiggling slightly atop the collar of his dress uniform.
“Sir, there is one small…ahem…problem.”
Jarr said nothing, but only stood taller, dwarfing the small portly man fidgeting in front of him.
“I’m waiting, captain…,” he said softly, eliciting a small peep from the terrified sailor.
“Thing is sir, the town is empty. And…the Temple of the Twelve has been razed to the ground.”
The captain paled visibly; the sweat pooling on his hands began to drip to the ground.
“One of the scouts returned five minutes ago, informing us of the blasphemy…it seems that the populace abandoned the town and took to the hills. As far as we can tell, only one person remains.”
The Inquisitor waited.
“He was just standing on the rubble of the Temple sir, lounging in the sun. It was most definitely him, sir: the pirate! But he seemed to be alone.”
Jarr growled under his breath and quickly flattened out a map of the tiny island on to his desk.
“He has nowhere to run; the town is in a bowl. Very well, captain. Take the ship as close as you can to the Temple then leave this to me; I will deal with this Kirn Shark-friend.”
“Ye-yes, sir,” mumbled the captain as he scrambled out of the room. The last thing he saw before turning to rush for the stairs, was the bent back of Jarr as he bowed down in front of the altar of the Twelve.
* * *
The Inquisitor stepped into the ruins of the Temple, his footsteps sounding off in the remains of the once-majestic building. As he moved forwards, he cast a few simple spells on himself; wards and magical reinforcements, more than enough to discourage any blade.
“Kirn Shark-friend! I am Inquisitor Jarr, of the exalted priesthood of Mirkal. The Twelve in their wisdom have sent me here to bring you to justice. You are accused of acts of piracy in divine waters, thievery, smuggling and blasphemy. You shall be judged for your crimes and tried in this very city.”
He paused, extracting a long metal staff from the magical satchel he was holding. The ruby at the top of its spiral form glinted eerily.
“I would advise you to come quietly,” he said, licking his lips eagerly.
“Welcome, your holiness,” came the cool answer from above. “I have no intention of fleeing or avoiding the reckoning you wish to impart. Please, meet me in the bell tower.”
Jarr soon found himself in the Temple’s cloister, from which the ruins of a twelve-sided tower rose up, ending in an open platform.
He activated the enchantment in his boots, and directed himself upward, the wind rustling around his robe.
“Fancy,” came the cool voice as he cleared the top of the balcony, “I wish I had boots like those.”
The Inquisitor paused once more, taking in the odd scene before him.
The fugitive, the pirate, was…drinking!
Kirn lounged in an old armchair, happily gulping down a bottle of Brinebreath, the local grog. A simple blue bandana crowned the pirate’s head, letting his dark curls fall around his ears. A sash was wrapped around his waist, kept in place by a belt on which was fixed a simple sabre. Other than his long brown overcoat, the pirate was wearing nothing but a shirt, pants and a pair of old leather boots.
The scoundrel winked at the Inquisitor and then took on a thoughtful expression. He proffered the half-empty bottle in Jarr’s direction. The Inquisitor looked at him disdainfully and made no move to accept it.
“Your funeral,” murmured Kirn, taking another long swig.
“Kirn Shark-friend, you have heard the accusations made against you. How do you plead?” continued Jarr, the perfect model of a devoted agent of the gods.
“Guilty, on all accounts. Oh, you can add one item to your list, your holishness: I once spent a lovely evening in the company of the bishop of Surthoni’s wife. Lovely woman…a truly gifted musician…cello player, if I remember correctly? Wasted on him, of course.”
The Inquisitor stared at the impossible man before him. He was finding it excessively difficult to stay calm in the presence of the brigand and now more than ever, he wanted to separate his head from his shoulders.
“Very well,” he said, keeping his voice level. “Then, by the power of the Twelve, I sentence you to death, to be carried out immediately.”
His staff flared, as a wave of divine energy flashed through its core; the goddess was with him.
“Any last words, cur?” he said, letting the energy pass to his hand, were it crackled.
“Yes, actually, I do,” said the pirate, losing the slur he had been feeding into his words. Jarr squinted suspiciously, but waited; he could obliterate the lowlife in a second.
Kirn moved over to the edge of the parapet, looking out over Wequ Island and sighed heavily.
“You know, I’m from here, originally. Before I set out to conquer the seas, I grew up in the squalid roads of this city. And you know what I learned? I learned that life isn’t fair. I was cheated, beaten and humiliated more times than I can count. I almost lost my life over a piece of mouldy bread once. You’d think that something like that would teach a man to be hard, to take and never give.”
He paused a moment, fingering a small white pendant hanging around his neck.
“So, I left. But I never forgot and I guess I never learned. I hated that the world was a terrible place; I wanted to make it better. I wanted the children of this island to grow up knowing hope, happiness and love.”
“An honourable sentiment,” intervened Jarr haughtily, “but purely idealistic. The world is as the gods want it to be; to dispute their vision would be tantamount to blasphemy.”
“Precisely! Not that last bit, the first: the world is as the gods want it to be. I can’t quite remember when I figured it out…maybe it was when I visited Port Xirshe and saw how disgustingly rich it was. Maybe it was when I saw a bunch of priests murder a man in cold blood for daring to ask why the gods needed his land. It doesn’t matter. What does, is that this island is now free of their dark taint; the people here can now begin to live again, to hope. I freed them from the Twelve.”
“You are a fool,” the Inquisitor scoffed. “You cannot be free of the gods. No mortal has that power. No city has that power! The Twelve could squash you like a bug; you are sailing in dangerous waters, pirate.”
“Perhaps,” answered Kirn thoughtfully, “but I do know the power of hope. And I believe that people are capable of wonderful things, if they but stand together.”
He pulled out a small box and lit a match against his boot.
“All it takes is one, little, spark.”
The feeble flame in his hand burst upwards, flashing through the sky in a streak of scarlet.
“What-?” snarled Jarr, looking at the hills around the city, where suddenly he could see pale bleu lights glowing.
“You see Inquisitor,” said Kirn, lighting a cigar and blowing a small ring of smoke into the sky, “if people stand together, they can do almost anything. For example, if I were to have, say, distributed weapons to the good citizens of the island, how well do you think your airship would fare?”
A low rumbling sound reverberated from all around them and the building shook, as countless white streaks soared from the cover of the trees towards the Inquisitorial Airship. Jarr could only look on in horror as flames blossomed from every point of impact, until the airship was no more than a wreck, slowly floating down to the sea.
He turned angrily towards Kirn, flaring his staff.
“You are arrogant and puny, pirate! You may have destroyed one airship, but the gods will send more. Furthermore, I shall see to it that your remains be gnawed on by jackals; no one will recognize you when they are done. That should encourage the peasants of this wretched strip of land to respect divine authority.”
“Ah, but you see Inquisitor, that is where you are wrong: I have no intention of dying today,” Kirn said easily, placing his hand on the hilt of his weapon. “Sorry, I lied. Now, I’m going to make you a very generous offer: leave now, renounce the priesthood and I’ll let you live. You won’t get a second chance,” he added, all warmth gone from his eyes.
“Dog!” roared the priest, letting loose a deadly wave of necrotic energy and sending it hurtling to strip the life from the arrogant pirate’s body.
But Kirn was no longer there. Instead he’d rolled forward and was now standing immediately behind Jarr, a dangerous smile plastered on his face.
“Well, wouldn’t you say that’s lucky?” he said calmly into the terrified Inquisitor’s ear.
Jarr didn’t even have the time to retort; he only stared down at the steel blade protruding from his abdomen, dark with blood.
Kirn let the corpse fall and quickly cleaned his blade. He did however take a moment to go through the Inquisitor’s pockets; a man needed to make a profit somehow.
Then he calmly descended the stairs and purposefully moved through the city. By the time he’d reached The Eye of Zarr, most of the people had already come down from the hills and were standing on the docks, ready to move out.
“Where to, Cap’n?” asked Horn, his first mate.
Kirn stared towards the horizon and then glanced at the small fleet preparing to abandon the island.
“Stick to the shallows. We’re island hopping until we make the Jade Stretch. Then we set our course for Bonemount; they will be safe there.”
“Aye,” came the reply, and Horn thundered off, roaring orders at the top of his lungs.
As the sun set behind the island, Kirn smiled to himself and whistled a tune. “All you need is a little spark.”-