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Sins of the Blood

Tendrils of smoke rose languidly from burning timbers, burdened with ash and the scent of charred flesh. I searched the remnants for life. There was none. I could feel my skin tingle from the sorcery in the air. The use of the dark magic sent a chill to my bones far more effectively than the snow around me. Evil coursed here. The sins of my quarry.

I'd been a military man most of my life. I'd seen things, taken part in things that none but my sword brothers would understand. Enemies are detestable to each other and to the people who live in enemy territory when on a campaign. Even with what I'd seen and done for King and country, I knew they served a purpose. They sent a message to the enemy.

The destruction of Dansbry was no such message. The witch burned simply for the sake of being evil. She gained pleasure by it, for it was evil she served.

I searched for clues as to where she went, yet turned up little. On the road, I stumbled over the body of a young woman, bearing her child in her arms. Even the most innocent had not escaped. Something caught my eye amidst the corpses, and I knelt to examine a blanket, mostly scorched by the flames. It was blue with a small flower pattern neatly sewn onto one corner. Its familiarity pushed through my numbness. Less than a year prior, I'd purchased a similar blanket for my little boy.

I wanted to grieve. I could feel the tears welling up inside as I remembered my son's sickness. He was the best thing I could have ever hoped for, and far more than I deserved. Just as his illness had started to progress, I received orders, which took me to the other side of the world. I wasn't there when he passed. That sort of guilt sticks with a man worse than anything imaginable.

I returned the blanket to the owner and pulled the furs tighter around my chest. In the distance, I saw smoke rising from a monastery further up the mountain. I headed in that direction, desperate to forget.

The mountain road, if the dirt and broken cobbles could be called a road, looked out across the trees and fields that stretched for miles towards the horizon. My wife would have loved this place, despite the cold. She found beauty in the subtleties of life where others would just feel cold. At least she used to.

I came to where the monastery stood, surrounded by a few small buildings for storage and the livestock the humble priests traded with Dansbry. I saw no one, none of the chaos reflected in the village. I knew that had to do with the priests. Comfortable in their faith, they would not flee for their feeble lives in desperation to live. They would remain and let the witch burn them where they worshiped.

The smoke came from the main building of the monastery. I shifted uneasily before the looming structure. Even after what I'd seen in the village, after chasing the witch this long, I was nervous about what I'd see. Whom I'd see. I took a deep breath, drew my sword, fitted my shield on my arm, and pushed hard on the large wooden door.

My quarry stood in the middle of the monastery. I hardly recognized her as my wife.

Fedra's dress was dirty, torn, and little more than rags, her hair a tangled mess of mud and blood unkempt from months on the move through the countryside. Blood ran from her nose and ears. She was using the magic too much. More would kill her. Blood magic always killed its user.

"Beloved," she said. She sounded pleased with herself.

"Not anymore. The woman I loved is dead." I spat on the floorboards and raised my sword and shield.

"Aw." She pretended to plead. A wicked smile played across her face. Whatever doubts I'd harbored about being able to face her were washed away by the evil that now resided within my once beautiful bride.

When I returned to my village from the King's service, a survivor told me Fedra used sorcery in a vain attempt to save our son's life. Blood magic always taxes the user. It's wild and uncontrollable. A fool convinced they can control darkness ends up becoming a part of it. After our son had died, her lust for the dark magic remained, and it poisoned her. Now my wife was gone. Only her vestige remained.

She splayed her fingers and fire shot out towards me.

I pulled my shield up to block the fireball and was knocked back. The heat seared my arm, metal scorching flesh, and I screamed, but I wouldn't part with my only defense.

Fedra shrieked and threw the force of her body into the next fireball, creating a much larger burst. I leaped out of the way and tumbled to the floor. Her magic took out the back wall of the monastery. A whorl of gray dust assailed the room as rocks and timber crashed to the floor, the roof creaking above. The building rocked and protested with a groan, bits of the wall coming down in the start of an avalanche of stone. I bolted through the opening and into the snow.

The witch followed before the wall gave way, crumbling to ruin behind her. Blood dripped like tears from her eyes now as she staggered towards me. She splayed her fingers again.

I barely got my shield up in time. Heat flashed around me and, again, I was tossed to the ground. The flames continued, skin catching fire even behind my shield. I screamed and cursed myself for being so foolish when it suddenly stopped.

Fedra collapsed.

I flung my shield away and crawled towards her. By the time I reached Fedra, my gut wrenched with regret and sorrow. I raised my sword over my head. Her eyes flicked open.

"Beloved?" she whispered. This time it truly was my wife. Her gaze was a chamber of horror and fear. It was as if she were suddenly aware of everything she'd done for the very first time. Months of murder, lust for power, and a thousand sins committed were seared upon her eyes. What words could she express to me?

She closed her eyes, and I knew they would never open. She would say nothing ever again.

I let my sword drop and collapsed on my back. I'd spent months chasing her down. Months trying to stop the atrocities she caused. But she killed herself with her darkness. As I lay on my back, burnt, I remembered when we were still young, what seemed forever ago. I would give anything for that time back, to have been there when this all started.

I had no family. No purpose. No reason to live.

I waited for the sound of the crows.

About the Author
Eric Fomley lives in a small town in Indiana where he works as a facility manager for a large retail company. In his spare time, he enjoys reading science fiction and fantasy stories, tinkering with his own stories, and playing more than a small dose of video games. You can catch his ramblings and publications by following him on his website at ericfomley.com.
Background image by ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron.
http://www.eso.org/public/images/etamosaicnm2/, CC BY 4.0, Link