Voidguards are all the same.
Kentaris stepped back, snapping her knife up. “What do you mean, exactly?”
The Voidguard’s face was a solemn mask. “By the Covenant of the Church of Creation, within the Holy City of Amarantopolis I cannot permit a witch to live.” He pressed his lips together. “Leave now, and I shall pursue this no further.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” she said.
She shifted, extending her arm and aiming her witchblade at his throat. The Voidguard clearly had some kind of fencing experience, though she hadn’t seen any fencing school that integrated firearms. On the other hand, all she knew about blades was how to direct the point at the opponent and drive it in. She didn’t even like blades, and the only reason she’d grown her witchblade was because she suspected Simon would have neutralized her long-distance magic.
The Voidguard kept his arms high, almost like a boxer. His soulblade was made entirely of quintessence. It brimmed with energy, yearning to release it all in a single flash. And he had more quintessence on him, too. Spare ammunition, it seemed. If she had to take him, she would fake high, fake low, buying time to launch a dart of detonation. And she had to strike first.
“I have my duty, hexe,” she said.
“So do I, Voidguard.”
“And what is your duty?”
“I have business to finish here. And I must tend to my dead.”
“And so long as I am within the city limits, I cannot permit a witch to live.”
Her arm grew tired, but she dared not let it show. “That’s a common mistranslation. The actual word means poisoner, not witch.”
“Now that is a common mistake. You gain your power by imbibing what your people call ambrosia, yes? This makes you a pharmakeus. One who makes potions with magical effects. From that word we derive poisoner. And witch.”
She licked her lips. “If you’re going to debate theology, then at least acknowledge that the original word was k’shaphim, and the intent behind it refers to magic that cuts off life and property. Hence, ‘poisoner’ as a metaphor. I have done nothing that falls under this proscription.”
The Voidguard chuckled, once, but kept his guard up. “The destruction you have wrought today speaks otherwise. Leave the city, or face the consequences.”
Her arm betrayed her, wavering in his face. “I can’t walk away.”
“Neither can I.”
“That leaves us in an interesting position, does it not?”
“Yes. And we can’t stay here forever.”
She was getting tired. If she had to act, it had to be now. And yet…
…And yet, he didn’t have to warn her. Warn the coven.
“Why did you warn us?” she asked.
“You were about to be ambushed by Voidspawn. And I vowed to use my gifts to serve all mankind, be they believers or otherwise.”
He stepped back, lowering his guard ever so slightly. “This blade is for monsters.”
“And?” she asked, also taking another step back.
Now they were both out of each other’s range. He lowered his soulblade even further. “And I have not gathered enough evidence to prove that you’re one.”
“That’s generous of you.”
“I have my Covenant to keep.” He lowered his blade to his hip. “Truce?”
“Truce. Let’s put our our weapons away on the count of three.”
“Three,” they said together.
The soulblade glowed and shrank, collapsing into a fist-sized lump. She sent a touch of entropy through her, breaking down her withblade and scattering it to the winds.
“What is your name?” she asked. “I don’t want to keep thinking of you as ‘the Voidguard’.”
He made a soft, indistinct sound. “Alan Beringer. And yours?”
“Seraphina Kentaris.” She narrowed her eyes. “And before you ask, that’s my cover name. Unconnected to my real one.”
He laughed. “I expected nothing less. Tell me, why did you come to this city?”
“My coven and I heard that a Fellbeast haunted Amarantopolis. We came to investigate, and if necessary, handle it.”
“You mean ‘demon’. Or ‘Voidspawn’.”
She shrugged. “Same difference.”
“I’ve never heard of a witch-cult hunting Voidspawn.”
She prickled. “Followers of the Tradition prefer harmony and non-violence. We don’t ‘hunt’ Fellbeasts. We send them from this world.”
“Which was why you set up an ambush for the ghouls.”
“Ghouls aren’t intelligent enough to negotiate with. The fastest way to send them is to destroy their shells.”
“And the Defiled?”
“They belong to the Fallen now. We simply returned them home.”
“That’s a funny definition of harmony and non-violence.”
“The terms we use don’t translate cleanly. Let me rephrase. Everything we do is in line with the All. We did not corrupt the world. We simply restored harmony by utilizing natural processes.”
“Well, so long as it helps you sleep at night. Are there any other creatures in Amarantopolis that we need to worry about?”
She shrugged. “Hey, this is my first foray into your fair city.”
“Not my city. I just got here myself.”
“Indeed. But back to the original question: why did you come here to ‘handle’ the demon? The Holy City falls under the jurisdiction of the Church. You have no business here.”
She pressed her lips together. “Because Fallen like Simon need a human conduit to cross over. If…when the Voidguard locates and eliminates Simon, there will be panic. Demands for answers. Your superiors will need a scapegoat. A pharmakon.” She smirked. “Who do you think they’ll blame?”
“You deny that the Tradition is responsible for calling Simon?”
“We have no central leadership and no formalized doctrine. What we do have is the Creed, and through it we are bound by oath to do no harm. I cannot see how bringing over a Fallen harms none.”
“I have seen quite a few witches summon Voidspawn.”
“Witches? Or warlocks? They violated the Creed and they broke their oaths. They are not followers of the Tradition. Unlike your paedophile patriarchs.”
“Not all of us are in line with the Supreme Ecclesiastic Court on that matter, nor do we all ensure that these monsters escape justice. But I take your point.”
“So we finally agree on something.”
“Yes. All the same, I cannot take your words at face value.”
“Perhaps you’d like to see what’s in my backpack then.”
“Show me. Slowly.”
Very, very slowly, she eased it off her shoulders and set it on the ground. She noticed that he stooped over and picked up his pistol. As she unzipped it he fumbled with the weapon, uttered a soft curse, and holstered it. She opened her bag and stepped back, letting its contents glow.
“What’s this?” he asked. “A paling-stone?”
“Yes. Our second oath is to restore the world to harmony, and the paling-stone prevents the Fallen from crossing over. When we learned that the cemetery’s paling-stone was gone, we decided to replace it. I imagine you do not wish to be plagued by wights.”
“Very well. Let’s go replace it.”
She retrieved her bag, and together they headed for the paling-tower. She sipped a little more ambrosia, just enough to maintain her Dark Vision. She kept her head on a swivel, watching for signs of the Fallen. None. She heaved a soft sigh of relief. The paling-stone hadn’t been gone for too long.
“Are you alone?” she asked.
“Does it matter?”
“It seems you are. Odd, really, in the city that founded the Voidguards.”
“One crisis, one Voidguard.”
The paling-tower was in the heart of the necropolis. It was a stone obelisk covered in inscriptions. At eye level on every side was a hexagram. She’d read in old books that witches shunned holy symbols. She found that both sad and hilarious; some witches she knew incorporated the hexagram into their own practices.
The access hatch to the paling stone was locked. Beringer placed a small aethertool up against the lock. In moments it transmuted into a key. He unlocked the hatch and opened it. Kentaris retrieved the paling-stone, and very carefully set the giant crystal on the receptor within the tower. When the paling-stone was in position, the hexagrams glowed a pure, brilliant white. In her dark vision, a curtain of white descended upon the area, washing away the presence of death, replacing it with a calm serenity.
Out the corner of her eye, she caught Beringer staring at her.
“What is it? Expecting me to burst into flame?”
He chuckled. “Perhaps.”
“You, sir, are a wicked, wicked, man.”
“Yes. So, is our business done here?”
“I still have to tend to my dead.”
“You do not sound particularly saddened by their deaths.”
“We were thrown together at the last minute. I barely knew them. But they were good people and I will see them treated properly.”
“Leave their bodies.”
“Leave their bodies,” he repeated. “I need to explain battle to my superiors, and they won’t believe me if I said I killed them all by myself.”
“These are people we are talking about. You know how the Church handles the bodies of witches.”
“Yes, and by your faith, if they were good people then their essence would have returned to the All. The bodies are just sacks of meat now.”
It was a lie. She had seen what Simon had done to them. Still…she suspected he was doing his damnedest to grant her leeway. She had to work with him too. “Very well. But they will be treated humanely.”
He smiled. “We are not monsters.”
They trudged to the direction of the exit in silence. The Voidguard maintained his vigil, watching every nook and cranny. His vision was enhanced like hers, but in a different way. The energies within him were a raw, roiling, chaotic mess that sought to convert everything into itself. It was what the Church called the Void, she supposed, and not so different from the Fallen. In the face of naked evil, what were differences in dogma?
“What’s your number?” he asked.
“You have a telecrystal, do you not?”
“And what if I do?”
“You are here to neutralize the Greater Demon, yes? We have the same goal. We should work together.”
“You don’t mind working with a witch?”
“My organization’s mandate is to protect humans from monsters. And, I suspect, so is yours.”
She whirled around. “What?”
“Oh, don’t look at me like that. You knew of a Greater Demon here, you brought guns and a paling-stone, and you clearly know how to handle yourself in a fight. That means training, resources and intelligence. That implies an organization. Secretive, yes, informal, perhaps, but clearly an organization.”
She didn’t say anything.
He smiled. “I knew it.”
“I’m not saying anything to the likes of you.”
“Be that as it may, I don’t want to hunt a Greater Demon alone, and neither would you. We have to work together.”
“I thought you said something about not permitting a witch to live?”
He laughed. “I cannot permit a witch to live in the Holy City of Amarantopolis. Therefore, if you finish your business in the City, you will move on, yes?”
“It’s good enough for the law, and therefore good enough for me.”
She laughed too. “I’ll hold to your word, Voidguard.”
“I intend to keep it, hexe.” He extended his hand. “Enemies?”
She took his hand. “Enemies.”
If this story looks familiar, it’s the original concept of my Covenant Chronicles series. To see how it really turned out, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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