Chapter 70 {Part 1}: The Poetry of Cannibals


The setting sun filtered through the scarlet, azure, amethyst, shamrock, and other prismatic colors of the stained-glass window shaped in the visage of a Saint wandering through a garden, holding the hand of a small boy with sapphire eyes.

Ripper stared at the child-like figure as the light sank into his demonic red eyes and cast his pale skin and snow-white hair in a painter’s collage of colors that lacked all the warmth of the sun.

The witch hunter sat comfortably in the confiscated office and chair of the Provincial Superior, Sister Prudence. Ripper picked through the remnants of his lunch, a local pheasant that his hunters had trapped and cooked with a dash of powdered mixed herbs carried for their meals. The witch hunter’s long nails tore through the already cold meat quickly, his fingers still stained from his most recent and rather vigorous interrogations.

Ripper paid the crimson grime little mind as he used his sharp, filed teeth to gnaw away the cooked flesh which clung to the bone. His was a canvas painted with blood, death, and misery, though he took comfort in knowing he was the source of such devastation and not its victim. The same could not be said for the childhood of the albino half-witch.

Ripper had entered this world as little Casio. His mother was a fallen noble who fell prey to the charm of a witch. She gave Ripper up to the church early on enough that he did not remember her face and had long ago forgotten her name. As an albino half-witch, Casio had more than enough trouble and unwanted attention to contend with, especially when his instructors learned he couldn’t use magic—not even the artificial kind they enchanted into the order’s rings, weapons, and armor.

Still, as with most half-witches, Casio was stronger, faster, and more agile than mortals. He also had a sharp wit, no doubt inherited from his scum of a father, and a keen eye for discerning others’ wants and fears. Casio was a quick learner when it came to judging when to cower and when to break a few noses.

But if there was one thing young Casio could not stomach, it was feeling useless or disposable. So, when the priests discovered that Casio was resistant to all forms of magic and took a particular interest in him, the boy embraced this newfound ability and turned it into a weapon.

Casio became the church’s secret weapon against the most vicious and ruthless of witches. And after the albino half-witch ripped out the throat of his first pure-blood with his bare teeth, he earned the name all would come to know and fear him by, Ripper.

The witch hunter chewed and swallowed his minuscule meal with little interest. Trained half-witches did not require much in the way of food to sustain themselves. They needed to be able to survive in the unforgiving terrain of swamps, deserts, and long ocean voyages in the pursuit of their prey. Witch hunters took a special tonic of crushed dragon bone and herbs once every month or before a particularly challenging mission.

The remedy lengthened the time each hunter could go without food or water. While dragon bone was certainly scarce, the amount of powder required was minimal, and it had little other use beyond enhancements for those with magical affinity granted by their cursed blood. The church would certainly rather have the bones of the ancient earth dragon consumed by their Witch Hunter Order rather than vengeful witches.

Ripper set down the mostly cleaned leg and cast his albino red eyes across the office room to where two witches hung from the rafters in chains, their life long extinguished after failing to provide the necessary information their tormentor required.

The Provincial Superior, Sister Prudence, sat chained to a chair across the desk from him. The old woman’s chin lay slumped against her filthy robes, caked in blood, sweat, and tears. Disheveled silver hair masked the nun’s frail face, marred by sunspots, aged by wrinkles, and layered in a fresh coat of bruises. Were it not for the slight rise and fall of the woman’s shoulders, the faint quiver of a breath against the hair which curtained her face, Prudence might have appeared dead.

But Ripper knew she was alive and deceptively alert. The witch was merely hiding inside the mortal shell she now clung to, waiting for him to lose interest.

The witch hunter gazed at the remnants of his meal. The albino’s appetite wavered, not due to the smell of blood and carnage, but rather the rot which clung to the witch before him. The church’s special training to enhance their witch hunter’s ability to smell a witch also left them defenseless to the putrid aroma that clung to the worst of their species. Cannibal witches.

Ripper had found one of these man-eaters in each of Lafeara’s churches. Each of them a Superior who managed the church and nuns who lived there. His suspicions of the missing Abbess Mercy grew with each detestable discovery. Cupboards of bones. Graves with dozens of occupants stuffed into one hole. Jars of ears, eyes, hearts, and genitals hidden in catacombs below the church reserved for the burial of priests.

The witch hunter snorted and pushed his plate away in defeat. It was disturbing to imagine the faithful gathering to pray each week over countless remnants of hunted, murdered mortals and half-witches. He had even detected an earth witch or two among the remains. No doubt, hunted down near the border.

‘How did the old saying go?’

“The blood of a water witch controls the weather,

The bones of an air witch remove the earth’s tether,

The flesh of an earth witch folds kingdoms together,

But eat the heart of an ice witch, and you’ll live forever.”

Ripper finished his recitation of the ancient nursery rhyme and watched a flicker of regret ripple across the face of the cannibal nun seated before him.

“I’ll admit, I’ve tried a bit of witch in my days,” Ripper said conversationally as he picked up his all but cleaned pheasant bone and tossed it at the witch. “But witch magic in every form has no effect on me, and the taste—well, there was no getting past that damnable flavor no matter how much seasoning you pour onto it.”

The stick of cartilage smacked against Prudence’s cheek and then rattled to the floor, where a boy, chained to the witch’s chair, snatched it up eagerly and gnawed away ravenously at what little flesh remained.

“Perhaps I should feed you to him?” Ripper mused as he leaned back to observe the half-witch brat, the younger of the two brothers he had obtained from the Hargreve Duchy. “Since, if your positions were reversed, you would have happily eaten him.”

The witch maintained her act of unconsciousness, and Ripper’s smile faded. He selected an untouched piece of pheasant leg, held it up, and whistled sharply to the chained boy.

The half-witch flinched at the sound and looked up cautiously. Beneath the boy’s greasy black hair, two hazel-grey eyes eyed the meat with unmistakable hunger as the brat dropped his already dented piece of bone.

Ripper nodded his approval and then tossed the leg just out of the boy’s reach. The half-witch brat lunged and yelped against the chain wrapped around his neck as he stretched his grime-covered nails towards it. “Come on then,” Ripper taunted. “Is that the best you can do?”

The boy sniffed pitifully as his trembling hand strained towards the morsel of food.

“Bah!” Ripper spat loudly in disappointment. He leaned his chair back against the wall then crossed his feet noisily on the wooden desk. While appearing to have lost interest in the chained half-witch, Ripper narrowed his eyes and smiled as the leg of pheasant trembled and rolled half an inch towards the boy’s outstretched fingers.

‘Not bad for a half-witch.’

While the church maintained that any natural ability to control magic marked one a witch, even half-witches could, on exceedingly rare occasions, use the cursed witch blood they had been born with. The artifacts provided by the church helped half-witches control their abilities with more ease and enabled them to learn to control other elements.

Despite his handicap, Ripper found his own way to use the artifacts. After all, even if his albino blood neutralized the effect of magic, the blood of witches he hunted and collected still worked, provided he did not mix his blood with theirs.

Still, the drawback with artifacts was obvious. Half-witches possessed a limited supply of internal magic to infuse into these artifacts. They could only fight for a couple of hours against a coven witch who could cast spells from sun up till sundown, or even worse, pure-bloods, who could wield their magic for days on end.

‘And that’s before one takes into account the purity and potency of a coven or pure-blood witch power.’

The only artifacts capable of comparing with the power of a pure-blood witch were the sacred treasures made by the Second Saint and passed down through the Popes’ bloodline.

Or at least, that had been the case before the discovery of Ripper. Twice a month, his blood was collected and used to neutralize dangerous witches. An arrow tipped in the albino’s blood would temporarily make any coven witch or pure-blood little better than a mortal.

Due to his blood’s rarity and apparent benefits, Ripper had become a highly guarded treasure of the church. The previous Pope had even tried breeding more albinos from him, but with, unfortunately, little success, whatever element of Ripper’s albino blood made him special also prevented him from having children.

Ripper smiled as the pheasant leg rocked two inches closer to the chained brat, who seized his prize and sank his teeth into the dirty bird meat. Wary hazel-green eyes darted from the meal to Ripper as the boy inched back on crouched legs behind the chair and its battered witch.

‘This one has potential,’ Ripper mused, then turned his narrowed eyes towards the chapel door that swung open with a loud creak. Richter appeared, dragging along the half-witch’s older brothers, covered in sweat, and just about ready to collapse from hunger and fatigue.

“Pyre’s ready,” Richter reported as he stalked forward and kicked aside the abandoned chicken bone with a glare at the younger boy, who quickly scampered to the other side of the witch’s chair for shelter. “Everett wants to know if he should rally the townspeople to come watch or—”

“If the pyre’s built,” Ripper interrupted as he stretched his legs, then dropped both feet to the floor once more. “The townsfolk will come of their own accord. The spectacle of a witch’s death helps to ease the fear of such timid mortals. Nothing like a bonfire to raise one’s spirits.”

Richter grinned and nodded as his gaze turned towards the two dead witches dangling in the corner of the office. “What do you want done with them?”

“Bury them away from the town. Have Everett come and help,” Ripper replied with a casual shrug.

“There’s light enough for that, I suppose,” Richter returned with an amicable grunt. The witch hunter turned promptly and dragged the older half-witch brother out the door behind him as he left to do his commander’s bidding.

Ripper’s expression darkened as he regarded the Provincial Superior who sat before him motionless. “How long are you going to play dead?”

The matted silver hair stirred with a soft chuckle as Sister Prudence raised her head and regarded him through a swollen eye.

“Did you have a good rest? Still have nothing to say?” Ripper pressed with a cynical grin. “No explanation as to why we’ve found at least three of you cannibals in every single chapel we’ve searched so far. At least tell me why you stayed put even though you knew we were coming.”

The witch stared back; her dusk-blue eye distorted by the vein of red that circled the abyss of her dark iris. Prudence remained silent.

“Bah!” Ripper raised a hand scornfully in defeat. “I can see the curse written on your face. Some pure-blood witch has you bound, so you can’t speak, but perhaps you could tell me who they are?”

The witch sniggered and dropped her chin back to her chest.

“I suppose that would have been too easy,” Ripper agreed with a sigh. He moved around the desk to lean against it and study the old woman. “You know—as strange as this inquisition has been with you all sitting around like lambs waiting to be slaughtered—you’re a bit of an anomaly yourself.” Ripper mused aloud as he pressed two fingers against the nun’s forehead and tipped her gaze up towards him. “All the others—they were barely coven witches, but you—a Cannibal pure-blood. You are what—close to two—no, three-hundred years old now? Why would you sit there and do—nothing.” He removed his hand and sighed with annoyance when the witch’s chin dropped back down to her chest. “Are you eager for death? Do you want to be tortured? Hmm?” Prudence gave no response. “Don’t tell me you’re looking forward to being burned alive?” Still nothing.

With a faint growl, Ripper picked up his glass of wine and finished it off. Then he grabbed his unfinished plate from the desk, set the remnants of his meal down on the floor, and kicked it towards the boy who regarded the offering for less than half a second before he stuffed his mouth with bone and gristle.

Ripper ignored the hungry brat as he turned back to Prudence. This time he grabbed a fist full of the witch’s hair and yanked it away from her face as he forced the woman to look up at him. “The town folk told us that you are a very recent addition to this chapel, Provincial Superior Prudence. Sent over by Abbess Mercy herself. Tell me, what does the Abbess hope to gain by sacrificing so many witches? Is Prudence even your real name?”

The witch offered him a cynical smile and more insufferable silence.

“You’re either extremely brave, foolish—or just pitiful,” Ripper muttered as he studied her bruised face without remorse. “But courage won’t spare you from the flames. You’re no fire witch after all.” He leaned closer. “So, here’s an offer born out of what little respect I hold for your kind. Tell me where the rest of your coven is hiding, and I happily provide you with a clean, painless death.”

Prudence’s laughter struck his face like an invisible slap. Her dry lips cracked into a merry, maddening grin as her mirth rose in volume, clashing against Ripper’s ears as it filled the office.

Behind the chair, the boy whined strangely then gripped his ears with a sharp bark of pain. Ripper could barely feel the tingle of magic against his own eardrums, but the spittle the witch sprayed over his face was enough to strike a nerve. With a slow, resigned sigh, the witch hunter released his grip, then leaned back and backhanded the witch hard enough to tip her and the chair over onto the floor.

Prudence’s laughter turned into a broken jumble of snorts and giggles as she curled against the floor. The unease in Ripper’s gut twisted into an iron knot even as he watched the half-witch boy reach across the floor to pull a chunk of pheasant meat towards his mouth.

‘Nothing good ever comes out of Lafeara.’ Ripper glared down at his hand and curled his pointed claws into a fist. ‘Something about this inquisition—not a single effort of resistance among the witches we found—it just isn’t right!’ The tips of his fingernails pinched his skin as Ripper pressed his white knuckles against his hip as he watched the witch fall silent once more.

‘Someone ensured that this pure-blood would be here waiting for me and even took the trouble to bind her from speaking. Another pure-blood, someone higher up in this coven’s hierarchy, is pulling strings—but to what end?’

Ripper turned towards the stained-glass window that adorned the office and followed its light towards the empty seat. ‘I will find you eventually, Sister Mercy. And when I do, I’ll get my answers.’


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