Chapter One: The Relics of Saint Malathric
Part Two: The Perils of Apostasy
In which the callow young Siskington learns the errors of his ways.
It was not difficult to infiltrate the Merwynnese sect of the Church of Morrow. Infiltrate is in fact too strong a word, as I joined and conducted myself in reasonably good faith. My parents were of mixed faiths, and this gave myself and my numerous siblings a relaxed attitude to religious practice. It all comes down to what days you eat the whole chicken and what days you have to offer half of it to the gods before eating the whole chicken in secret, really. Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, the Church of Morrow. The war had brought its own unique issues for the Church. Due to their feats of prowess and great sacrifices in the name of Morrow, members of the Merwynnese sect kept ascending. Not ascending with a capital A, but still departing this mortal coil at a rapid enough rate so that the upper echelons were almost empty.
Thus it was that I became a senior herald within the sect within a few weeks of joining, responsible for proselytising and general correspondence. I was really a glorified secretary, but between the endless food drives and parish meetings I got my hands on a lot of inter-sect communication. It seemed that the relics of Saint Malathric had been discovered in a long-deserted outpost in the Bloodstone Marches. I have to admit I shivered when I saw that name. Folk like me instinctively avoid the Marches, which are only fit for savages and renegades. It seems that everything bad in Immoren dwells there, whether it be a band of smugglers, a secret cult, or an ancient civilisation believed to be destroyed but instead returning with a vengeance.
Once I had found the location, I went straight to Scrutator Semper, my lord and master. Renovation works on the former guild master’s house where he lived had continued apace. The west wing had been converted into a penatorium where conviction, judgement and punishment all took place conveniently under the one roof. I entered the place to the joyous sound of searing flesh and pained moans. While on the walls the paint chipped and wallpaper peeled, the various horrific implements and devices gleamed with polish. Clearly the good work of Menoth was being done here. The scrutator appeared to have taken on more staff since my last visit. On my way to his office I passed several trainee scrutators being shown how to apply “the boot”, an ingenious device which applies the principles of a table vice to the human foot. Judging by the novel sounds emitted by the subject of the demonstration, it would soon become a firm favourite of the Lawgiver’s inquisition.
The honourable scrutator was enjoying a glass of sherry with a colleague as I entered his office. “Ah, Siskington,” he said, “allow me to introduce Grand Scrutator Severius.” I put my best foot forward and bowed to the man, concealing my confusion. Grand Scrutator? Surely Severius now went by the name of Hierarch? I could not hope to deceive such a keen student (and harsh instructor) of human behaviour as my master: “I see you are not as familiar with our Protectorate’s leaders as you should be, young Siskington. This is Alphonse Severius, cousin to our munificent Hierarch. You would not imagine the position of the head of our order would be left vacant, with a great Crusade taking place? No indeed.”
Alphonse Severius nodded at me, and downed the rest of his sherry. “So this is your catspaw, Victus? He looks disreputable enough, to be sure. Rise, Sackington, and report.” After my brief account of my activities, the two scrutators crossed the room to the map table, where a chart of Occupied Llael took up most of the space. “This is the spot, here?” Severius the Lesser asked, stabbing a be-ringed finger at a dot in the midst of the trackless wasteland. “I believe so, my lord scrutator,” I said, anxious to please. I really was quite the coward in those days, but nothing compared to the heights of calumny I would later attain.
The Grand Scrutator considered this for a moment, and then shook his head. “There is more here than meets the eye. Can it be a coincidence that Warmaster Duggan’s forces deployed there only last week? I think not. They seek to undermine our influence in Llael, and they are doing it in the most immediate and palpable fashion: by eroding our faith. This must be dealt with immediately.” Turning towards the doors, he clapped his hands.
The weak spring sunlight streaming in from outside was eclipsed by an enormous man, who had to turn sideways to get through the door. He wore immaculate white robes under a red and gold breastplate, and his mask was burnished brass. Smoked black glass covered his eyes, and only his ungauntleted hands gave the impression that this was a man and not some golem animated by the Lawgiver’s will.
“Siskington, this is High Exemplar Kreoss…no relation,” Scrutator Semper said. The huge man crossed the room in a single stride and grabbed my hand, mashing it in a handshake. “A pleasure, I’m sure!” Kreoss boomed, in the unmistakable accents of my own Five Fingers. I couldn’t stop myself: “You’re not one of the Diamond Alley Kreosses, that own the fishmongers, are you sir?” “Why yes, those are my cousins!” “My niece married the youngest son last year.” “You don’t say, that makes us cousins!” To the collective horror of everyone else in the room, the High Exemplar enveloped me in a crushing bear hug.
This always happens. You find yourself halfway across the world in some half-abandoned hamlet, and the first person you meet comes from the slum around the corner from your tenement at home. People from Five Fingers seem to end up everywhere. I remember when I first heard of *the* Kreoss, the Intercessor I mean, I thought he must be a Fingerite, but he turned out to be from somewhere in Khador. Quite disappointing, really.
After a short interlude where this Kreoss – his first name was Gavram – and I swapped life stories while the scrutators watched in frosty silence, we got back to the matter at hand. “We must seize the tomb of Saint Malathric for ourselves, before the Morrowans can do any more damage,” said Alphonse Severius. “Master Siskington, you will accompany us to the spot, your knowledge of the Morrowan sect may be of some use.”
My instinctive horror of anywhere more rural than a city park kicked in then, of course, but I had to quash it down and smile graciously, “Of course, my lord scrutator, anything for the cause.” The scrutators shared a look then. They were men who employed and encouraged fanatics, but in all my dealings with them I found that the scrutators who served Menoth did so with cold calculation, never with blind faith. They saw through me, of course. But not everyone in the Northern Crusade was so cynical.
“Excellent!” boomed the High Exemplar, slapping me on the back with a meaty palm. “We will make our preparations immediately, and leave at first light. Grand Scrutator, I beg your leave while I go to ready the men.” Alphonse gave his assent, and I left with my compatriot. Gavram Kreoss kept up a lively monologue on the way out to the street, apparently oblivious to the scenes of torture taking place in the rooms we passed. When we set foot outside, he bid me a cheery farewell, and said he would meet me at the Ostlers’ Gate the next morning. All the while I was wracking my brains to find a way out of my current predicament, but I was as trapped as ever.
I walked towards my home, my head whirling. The Bloodstone Marches! Of all the places I could end up, it had to be the most uncivilised and dangerous. Doubtless those Skorne savages would be behind this plot of the Morrowans and I would end up spending the rest of my life in some sort of slave camp. Or some druids would cut my heart out for the glory of the Devourer Wurm. Or some sinking sand or particularly sharp desert grass would do for me. Any way you looked at it, I was doomed.
Tramping up the stairs to my room above a garlic mongers, I’m sure there are things I could have noticed. Like the door being on the latch when I had definitely locked it leaving, or the candle already being lit inside. I stepped inside, suspecting nothing, and then footsteps drummed across the floor and my throat was on fire. A knee slamming into my back increased the pressure, and as the man behind me hauled with all of his weight on the garrotte, he hissed into my ear, “Sic semper proditoribus. You have thrown your lot in with one too many gods, *brother*.” I had been discovered, and the vengeance of the Morrowans was swift.
As my body fought for its life, my mind floated in odd directions. What god would claim my soul in Urcaen? Menoth, whose worldly minions had claimed it? Morrow, whose assassins had sent it heavenwards? Or was there some other god who had an interest in me? My fingers clawed at the sawing garrotte, frantic for life, as my heels drummed and eyes boggled and lips turned blue. The last thing I heard before it all went black was glass breaking, and my last waking thought was a concern for my rent deposit. The human mind is a strange place.