Fictober, Prompt 9 – “There’s no right side to this.”
Warnings: threatened violence, non-graphic discussion of blood magic.
A steady stream of pleading and whimpers fell from the man’s lips as the guards threw him at my feet.
“Silence!” I snapped, and quiet descended, at least momentarily.
This was one of the men responsible for the theft. As if it was not enough that they had stolen from me in the first place, they continued to skulk around, as if waiting for more.
I paced for long minutes while my guards waited patiently, and my prisoner continued to cower. At last, I thought I could be calm enough to keep him alive. Pausing before the fire, I turned and strode back, allowing my staff to tap commandingly against the floor, the hems of my robes swirling dramatically around my feet. Since it seemed that intimidation might get me the answers I sought, then so be it.
“You have stolen from me,” I said, coming to stand before him. He flinched, deliberately bowing lower toward the floor and I sneered. “Sit up and pretend you are in possession of a spine, at least for the next five minutes.”
“What- What will happen at the end of five minutes?” He whispered, making some effort to straighten in spite of the manacles binding his wrists at his back.
“That remains to be seen.” He flinched again, and did not keep his shoulders from curling in. “Speak. Tell me why a thief dares to return to my lands.”
“I did not—”
“You wear the same colors and crest as those that did,” I cut him off. “Speak truthfully or I will not need the remainder of the five minutes to make my decision.”
“We were commanded so by the Voice!” His words now almost tripped over each other in their haste to leave his mouth. “Blood magic is forbidden, and he commanded that no such spells—”
“If it is forbidden,” I cut him off again, voice low and quiet, “then why do I find that your precious Voice also commands his men to use it? Why do I find that my spell has been taken from me to be used?”
“The Voice—” he gulped, “after careful study the Voice commanded that the spell could be adapted for use without forbidden magic, and that it should not be kept from those who needed it greatly.”
“I see,” I said, and indeed many things were now becoming clearer. This Order, whatever they called themselves, wished to reap the rewards of others’ blood.
That was the one thing that was truly and rightly forbidden.
“That spell,” I told him, holding his gaze, my words carefully measured through my rage, “was created in the only proper way that spells of that kind can be created – with my own blood.”
“Blood magic!” he cried out, almost as if relieved. “So you admit to it! Whatever the spell’s utility, your use of forbidden practices meant it was unacceptable as created. Only the Voice has the power to cleanse such a spell so that it can be used in a righteous way. It is true that theft is generally forbidden to our Order, but the Voice said that in this case the need was too great. There is no right side to this, I admit, we have done a wrong as you have. But our wrong was lesser than that of a forbidden practice, and in the service of something greater. Surely you must see that?”
I had thought that what I felt before was rage.
I had been wrong.
Still, he spoke. “The Voice has urged you to give up your wicked practices and to join us. Surely you have received our messages? Indeed, it was only to see if they had been delivered that I came. The Voice can guide you if you know no other way—”
I disliked that even my guards seemed wary at the sound of my voice, but at least it snapped the man’s mouth shut again.
“No,” I repeated, voice barely above a whisper. “You are wrong. There is a right side here, and you are wrong, and your vaunted Voice is wrong.” I drew in one breath, then another, and saw that frost and fire now limned my steps along the stone, and the air fogged before my face. I closed my eyes, fighting for control.
Feeling frost and flame recede, just enough, I opened my eyes and looked to my prisoner again to find him cowering once more.
“Five minutes has passed,” I declared. “This is my judgment: you will be escorted to the borders of my land, under guard. You will return to your ‘Voice’, and you will tell him this: there is only one forbidden practice in relation to blood magic, and rightly: to use another’s blood instead of your own. You will tell him that others have tried many ways to circumvent this law, and that all have failed. You will tell him that there is always a price, and that it is always blood – your own blood. Nod if you understand.”
He nodded, jerky, eyes glazed with terror.
“Then go. The next of your Order to appear on my lands will not be shown mercy.”
He was gone a breath later, hurried out by my guards, who seemed almost as eager to go. I closed my eyes again, and promised silently that I would reassure them later. Power had its price, even when used within the laws that bound it.
As for those who used it outside the laws, or tried to evade them…
There was always a price. It would likely fall to me to exact it from this “Voice” of theirs, one day, if he did not hear my warning now and change his ways.
I could not pretend that the thought displeased me.