Chapter 70 {Part 2}: A Servant of Chaos


Richter returned to the office with Everett. Their companion, Theo, had been sent back to Zarus after an altercation with the Earl of Hawthorne at the town of Averly. Ripper frowned as he recalled the still unpunished resistance they had encountered there, from a young, relatively unknown baroness of all people. As much as he also regretted the “misguided” actions of his hunters, the fact that any noble had dared to challenge them openly was—troubling. Once Theo’s twisted, shattered knee had been reset and secured in a splint, the crippled witch hunter was sent back to Zarus with an early report to Jericho.

Ripper watched the two remaining hunters split up to deal with the hanging corpses. With any luck, Jericho would send a few more reinforcements this way. Perhaps even Ripper’s second in command, Demon Eyes Tarlay.

“Let’s burn this one first,” Ripper called out with a sharp nod to Prudence. “You can just bury the others in the morning.”

“Good idea,” Everett muttered as he changed directions. “I wouldn’t want to be wandering around in the dark in witch territory anyway.”

“What are you worried about?” Richter retorted as he changed direction with a resigned sigh. “We already burnt nearly fifty of these cannibal cunts.”

“Their Abbess is still missing,” Everett pointed out as he placed restraining cuffs around the witch’s wrists and unlocked the chains that bound her to the chair. “There’s no way a true sister of the church would have remained unaware of all these witches hiding inside her cloisters.”

“Perhaps the Cannibals ate the original Abbess Mercy?” Richter suggested. “Either way, this Mercy probably fled after sending the Pope that letter.”

“It’s more likely the Abbess has gone underground with the rest of her witch coven,” Everett retorted as he took Prudence’s arm and hoisted her to her feet. “Up we go, Witch!”

‘Underground?’ Ripper’s eyes narrowed as he thought back to the bones of earth witches they had found.

“Less chattering,” the Witch Hunter Commander growled. “You never know whose listening.” He glanced up to the rafters and narrowed his eyes at the sound of distant scratching outside the window. There had been a suspicious number of crows lingering around the town for the last two days, though given the name, Crowhaven, perhaps he shouldn’t be so surprised.

Everett followed his commander’s gaze and shook his head. “Walk or be dragged, witch, your choice,” he muttered as he yanked Prudence towards the door.

Provincial Superior’s only response was a cynical laugh as she turned and stumbled towards the open office doors. The nun’s expression and manner were far too calm for one headed towards a grizzly death.

“That one’s a few eggs short of a cake,” Richter muttered, then motioned towards the half-witch boy licking his plate clean behind the witch’s empty seat. “Feeding the mutt already?”

“You got a problem with the way I do things?” Ripper asked softly with a single raised pale brow.

“No!” Richter hastily replied as he dropped his gaze. “Of course not.” He pivoted sharply and headed after Everett and the witch, yanking the older half-witch after him.

Ripper caught the gleam of hatred in the older boy’s fatigued stare but said nothing. Both boys would be handed over to other witch hunters who were talented at breaking in and training the next generation of witch hunters. Ripper’s days of training the younger generation had long since expired. He was far too busy with the Pope’s war with Ventrayna, and someone had to keep an eye on the ever greedy cardinals.

The last apprentice Ripper had taken on was the same half-witch that had dragged him into the rotting corpse of Lafeara. ‘You won’t escape me forever, Nero. What a bitter disappointment you turned out to be.’

Ripper whipped his hands absently on a corner of a woven tapestry. The dried blood flaked away from his fingers and nails against the fragile, ancient threads as the witch hunter’s mind turned once more to the provocation of Averly. It was only a matter of time before word of Richter and Theo’s misconduct reached the Crown Prince. As to how Lafeara’s young monarch would react, Ripper wasn’t going to wait around to find out. He had chosen to leave punishment for later and focus on covering as much ground as possible before Nicholas gave them the royal boot.

So far, his strategy had worked. The nobles assigned to supervise him had barely gotten any food or sleep as the Pope’s emissary “burned” through one church after another. The town of Crowhaven was the last province with a chapel, and thereby church grounds Ripper was permitted to search.

Ironically both nobles had chosen to depart for the business of Ambassador Haemish’s negotiation, though they left two knights behind to keep an eye on Ripper’s movements. Among those knights was Sir Declan. Digby, one of the older witch hunters assigned for this mission, was quite keen to pull this half-witch into the witch hunter’s order—should the occasion arise.

So far, their hasty inquisition had yielded more than enough witches, and yet—

‘Some larger picture still eludes me. Once we’re done with the witches here, I should check in on Bishop Murdock, see how Lafeara’s negotiations are faring, before we call an end to this inquisition.’

Ripper smiled as he walked over to seize the chain that bound the half-witch to the chair. “Time to go, mutt.” He tugged, and the boy relinquished his plate to crawl after Ripper on all four legs. “That’s right. The sooner you shed that foolish mortal pride, the sooner we’ll shape you into a real hunter.”


The yawning blue sky lay hemmed in a citrus orange sunset. The picturesque landscape of a warm summer’s evening blighted by the towering pyre placed in the far corner of the chapel’s yard, which connected to the road which led into Crowhaven. Ripper had chosen that spot so it would be accessible and visible to the townspeople who had already gathered around for this evening’s entertainment.

‘Morbid curiosity and ignorant bias never disappoint.’ Ripper tugged the mutt boy over to the water pump where his brother lay sprawled out on the ground. The witch hunter gave the exhausted older boy a good kick to the ribs. “Eyes open. If I see you blink even once while the witch burns, you’ll go another week without food.”

The boy rolled over and lowered his forehead to the ground submissively, but his dirty trembling hands gave away his anger.

‘This one will take longer to break. Hopefully, he’ll survive his future training.’ Ripper chained the younger mutt to the metal pole and eyed them both. Their matching dark hair and hazel grey eyes were the only similarities between them. The older boy had a muscled body developed from hard labor, but he possessed a pitiful amount of magic. In contrast, the fragile and feeble-looking younger brother had a stronger amount of magic, though he would never be able to master it the way a coven witch could.

“Now remember,” Ripper taunted. “When I say bark—”

The younger mutt eagerly “woofed” at Ripper’s command while the older boy scowled at the ground.

“Looks like this mutt is hard of hearing,” Ripper growled as he grabbed the older boy’s neck and lifted the half-witch to his feet. “Perhaps instead of a mutt—I should make you a bitch instead?” The knee punch that accompanied his threat forced all the air from the older boy’s lungs as his suddenly flushed face contorted in pain. Ripper dropped him and watched as the half-witch curled around his crushed genitals, unable to breathe. “Keep it up, and I’ll remove them for good.”

Leaving the brothers to contemplate his words, Ripper turned towards the pyre and came face to face with Sir Declan. The look of clear disapproval in the knight’s olive-green eyes was one Ripper was used to seeing. Still, he offered the knight a charismatic fanged smile as he stepped forward.

“If you’re not going to pull that sword and stop me, then just stay out of my way, Mama’s boy.”

Declan went rigid, then flinched as Ripper veered past him, intentionally knocking into the knight’s armored shoulder with enough force to make the half-witch wince and stumble.

‘Ah, Digby, you always pick the soft-bellied ones.’

He glanced to where Digby had positioned himself on the roof of the chapel. A crossbow draped casually over his dangling legs as the senior witch hunter watched the crowd and remaining witch hunters below. Everett finished securing the witch’s bindings and carefully dismounted the pyre to where Everett waited with two lit torches.

“Any last words, Sister Prudence?” Ripper called out as Richter handed Everett his torch. “It’s not too late to avoid this fate. Tell me where the Abbess and your other coven witches are hiding, and Digby here will send you off quick like.” He gestured to the roof where Digby spit out a wad of herbal tobacco and heft his crossbow upright.

“I have lived long enough,” Prudence replied with a shudder as her eyes roamed over the crowd who had come to witness her death. “None of us can outrun fate.”

Ripper motioned the over-eager Richter back as the witch hunter edged his torch towards the pyre. “What fate?”

Prudence shook her head, then, after a long moment of silence that nearly made Ripper lose what little patience he still possessed, answered in a shrill, loud voice. “The world was formed of earth and water, but at its core, the fires of destruction burn! Yet who can say if our existence will be swept away in a rage of flames or the cold embrace of winter?”

The crowd stirred uneasily at her words while Ripper let out a disappointed sigh. “The world will not end, old witch. Not while a descendant of the Saint’s still draws breath!” He added the last part loudly for the crowd’s benefit, then nodded to Richter and Everett. The waiting witch hunters stepped forwards and twisted their torches into the dry, oil-soaked timber.

The flames danced and spread as the timber cracked and popped. Smoke billowed out of the bramble, tucked behind the heavier branches, which provided the perfect kindling to nurture this bonfire of death.

Prudence focused her open eye upon the horizon. Her silver hair had been pulled away from her face so the onlookers could witness her suffering. Yet even now, beneath the choking smoke, she smiled—peacefully.

“I embrace you, Kritanta, Goddess of Flame. I am willing, Veles, God of Air. I am ready, Minerva, Goddess of Earth.” Prudence paused to cough as the smoke filled her throat. The fire had already caught upon the hem of her dress as the flames climbed higher greedily. “Arachne spare me—your tears of sorrow—I-I am—ready—” Her face finally spasmed as dry lips twisted in agony just before the flames roared up to swallow her body from view.

The silent crowd watched, waiting for screams that never came. Richter shifted uneasily, and Digby whistled to pull Ripper’s attention, then nodded his head towards the town behind them.

Ripper felt a chill run down his spine as he turned to view the sea of crows spread across nearly every roof and surface in sight. He signaled Everett, who unhooked the spear strapped to his broad back.

Half a dozen screams erupted from the townsfolk of Crowhaven, and Ripper whipped back towards the fire. A burning human figure stepped down through the smoke and flame to walk across the church lawn towards him. From the hellish vision, the voice of Prudence echoed out, contorted in pain, anger, and malice.

“We see thee, Ripper. Traitor. Brother Slayer. Dog of the crippled Pope.”

A thousand laughs echoed from the flames as Ripper eased the long sword free from its sheath at his side and faced his demonic accuser. A bolt from Digby passed through the witch’s throat and impaled the ground a few feet away. The burning specter took no notice as she continued to advance closer to the albino.

“This time, you cannot stop us. A true Isbrand heir has returned, and she will bring about a calamity that will engulf this world and end the bloodline of Saints.”

“You cannot end it. Even if you killed the last Pope, bringing about another Calamity will only summon a new Saint. You know this!” Ripper growled in frustration as he gripped his sword tighter.

‘If Digby’s arrow did nothing, what use is my sword?’

The flames cackled again as they rolled over the inhuman face beneath. “The spark of the next Saint is already within our grasp and will be smothered from existence before they awaken.”

“That’s a bold claim to make,” Ripper replied uneasily. “Why tell me this now?”

“Because there is nothing you can do to stop us. By burning this witch, you have unified all the Covens of Lafeara—just as we planned.”

Ripper narrowed his eyes at the burning woman and realized, belatedly, that it was Prudence who taunted him. He stepped forward and raised his sword to the burning corpse’s throat. “Who are you? And who was she?”

“The Cannibal Queen. The Mother of Crows. Mercy Kiernan.”

Ripper’s jaw clenched even as his blade curled and melted against the witch’s throat.

“Her death has made us stronger. Her sacrifice shall be the call to war that binds our kind together. Your mission here has failed, Ripper. Return to your Master. Tell him only death awaits should he take one step onto Lafearian soil.”

The burning specter threw her arms out wide, and a circle of fire burst forth from her chest. Ripper barely blinked as the flames ripped past him. But behind his back, the crows launched themselves from the rooftops and dove into the witch’s fire. Their shrieking squawks of pain filled the air as the burning crows flew on, spreading the fire back through the town as the crowd of mortals ran away, screaming in terror.

Ripper remained rooted in place as he watched the crest of his long-forgotten witch bloodline blaze into the air before him. The image of a dragon burned from red to white as the dead witch laughed manically.

“Tell the Divine Heir, the Queen of Calamity is coming for her throne. All those who spilled the blood of the Isbrand kings and their descendants shall perish! That includes you—Ripper Isbrand.”

With those parting words of warning, the witch exploded in the throes of unholy laughter. Her scattered charred remains splintered across the churchyard, where they hissed and smoldered against the blackened grass. The cold flames of the burning sigil of Isbrand’s last King faded in the air before him as Ripper stabbed his ruined sword into the ground and sank on one knee.

‘It never bodes well when gods meddle in the affairs of mortals.’

He spat at a lump of witch charcoal and raised his albino red eyes to the already burning town of Crowhaven as Digby jogged over towards him. Ripper accepted the arm offered towards him and rose once more with a determined grimace. “It’s time to leave.”


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