Inquisitor Gregor Ezekyle Kern watched his two burly escorts drag the soulless heathen kicking and screaming from her disgusting hovel. Kern leafed through the Latin-inscribed book in his hands and stopped on the cleansing scripture, a simple verse all inquisitors use when cleansing the world of filth.
The two men forced the witch onto her knees in front of Kern. Tears streamed down her face. “Please. I’ve done nothing wrong. Mercy, sir. I beg you. Mercy.”
Kern smiled. He liked it when these soulless devil worshipers begged for their worthless lives. “You have been found guilty of witchcraft. A crime of the highest degree, punishable only by d---”
A man cleared his throat behind Kern.
Kern turned around. A man wearing a grey highwayman’s jacket stood before him, head hung low, face hidden below a traveler’s hat. A leather messenger bag dangled next to a rapier on his hip. Two flintlock pistols were strapped to his chest. Kern raised an eyebrow and glanced over his shoulder at his escorts. They looked at each other and shrugged. Why did he even bother with these two idiots?
Before Kern could speak, the man held up an envelope. “Inquisitor Kern? Message from the Grand Master himself.” The messenger walked towards Kern, envelope extended.
“The Grand Master?” Kern snatched the envelope from the messenger’s hand and shooed him away. What did that old bag want now?
Inside was a folded piece of paper. Kern slid it out of the envelope and into his palm. A hand-sketched, beautiful woman stared back at him. Kern rubbed his chin. A single picture? What good was that?
Kern looked in the envelope again. Maybe he missed a note with some kind of instructions. The Grand Master never gave him a contract without information before. Then again, he never gave him a new contract before the old one was complete either.
“The bitch bit me.” Yelled one of Kern’s men.
Kern snapped his head towards the commotion. The brute jerked his hand away from the witch. The other man punched her in the jaw and she dropped to the ground. He scooped up a fist-sized rock. “This’ll teach her.”
Kern leapt at the gunshots. Both his escorts collapsed to the ground. The witch jumped to her feet and bolted for the forest. Kern spun around. The messenger held two smoking flintlock pistols. He tossed them aside and drew his rapier.
“Draw your sword, old man.” The messenger pointed to Kern’s rapier with the point of his sword.
Kern stared at the messenger. An intense rage burned in his eyes, something Kern knew all too well. This boy wanted revenge. Kern stepped back, gently placed the book on a clean patch of grass, and slid his rapier from its sheath. Who did he kill now?
Kern raised his rapier. The highwayman did the same. The messenger performed a beat. Kern parried it and followed up with a riposte. He lunged at the messenger, but was deflected.
“You have good form. Who might you be, lad?” Kern slashed.
The messenger ignored him and deflected. He lunged, pushing Kern back. Kern stumbled over one of his dead escort’s leg, but recovered just in time to block another lunge. Kern sidestepped and slashed out. He scored a hit.
“Ha, a noble by chance?” Kern twisted his rapier playfully.
The messenger stepped back and pressed his palm to his wounded shoulder. He stared at the blood on his hand like he couldn’t believe the greatest swordsman alive had just wounded him. Kern seized the opportunity. He slashed and lunged. His rapier clanged off the messenger’s with every stroke.
The two men separated. Kern took a deep breath. It had been a long time since someone proved himself to be a worthy foe. “Who are you, truly? I must know.”
“You don’t know who I am, but you might remember my wife.” He glanced at the mud-stained picture on the ground.
Kern followed his gaze, “I do not.” But in truth, she did look strangely familiar.
“You burned her at the stake.” The messenger blocked another lunge.
“I’ve had many heretics burned at the stake.” The messenger brought his sword down at an arc and it’s tip smashed into the mud. The messenger pulled on the blade, but it was stuck.
Kern smiled. Perfect. He slashed the messenger’s back from shoulder to buttocks. The messenger slumped to his knees. He furrowed his eyebrows. His mouth moved, but only silent mutterings came out. He stared at his stuck blade wobbling back and forth in the mud.
Kern stepped around his wounded adversary. He placed the sword under the messenger’s chin and forced his head up so that he was looking Kern in the eyes.
“You truly were a worthy foe, but alas this quest for revenge must come to an end. If I killed your wife, it was because she deserved it.” Kern cracked a smile. “You can join your devil’s whore... in Hell.”
The messenger grabbed Kern’s blade with his bare hand. Blood trickled from his steel grip. Kern chuckled at the man’s futile last effort to fight him. He ripped the blade from the messenger’s hand, slicing off three fingers with it.
The messenger screamed, but only for a second. He lost a lot of blood and didn’t have much strength left in him now. His eyes began to droop, along with his head. Kern nudged the man’s chest with his boot and his lifeless body collapsed in the mud.
Kern looked from the dead messenger to his dead escorts and sighed. What a waste of perfectly good, albeit stupid, hired help. That’s when he spotted witch’s tracks in the mud forming a line straight towards the forest.
Kern slid his rapier into its sheath and retrieved his book. He walked toward the forest. He made sure to smash the woman’s picture into the mud with his boot as he did.
Bio:John Rolf is a part-time anthropologist and a full-time aspiring novelist. He is currently putting the final touches on his dark fantasy, science fiction novel, A Shot in the Dark, which tells the brutal story of a Delta Force Team sent to Afghanistan to prevent a fanatical sorcerer from resurrecting a demon prince that could trigger an ancient doomsday prophecy. John writes book reviews in his spare time on his website theordoliterati.com.