Driftwood’s tavern was among the new buildings, a lurking slanted mess of old planks and half-eaten draperies. An ancient shark’s jaws hung above the bar, so large that they’d started collapsing the small bowsprit from which they hung. Oily lanterns cast sickly light through the interior, where many an unsavory type waited. Cadence made their usual mind-sweeps for other psionics and mages; finding none, nor any of the bright lightning-sear spots which were how their mind interpreted any form of raw supernatural power, they relaxed a little.
The Chaplain took up a rickety stool at the bar, noting that–unsurprisingly–Driftwood’s drink selection far outstripped all its others. There must be a hundred vintages of wines, liquors and ales uncounted, all found sealed within this or that wreck, all now stacked far back into a coral cavern’s gloomy depths. Knowing that the tavern thus obscured more of the islet’s true beauty didn’t help Cadence’s mood.
“So, what brings you to these parts?” Ovin asked, sliding them a whisky-glass and pouring without asking whether they wanted whisky. Fortunately, Cadence always wanted whisky. “Don’t see too many ladies out here. That is, I see plenty o’women, but always them rough n’tumble types. None so pretty as yerself.”
Cadence used the whisky’s burn to hide their growing scowl. “Well, don’t add me to your count. I’m not a lady.” And more rough and tumble than any of you insects, she thought, with acid rather than pride.
Ovin guffawed. “Well, sure as sin, you’re not a man!”
“See? It’s that simple,” Cadence said, giving him a chance.
“D’you prefer to think of yourself as a girl, then, or?” Ovin let the question hang, appropriate for a man figuratively hanging himself.
“I am Tundra-Chaplain Cadence Pariah,” Cadence said, with finality, “in lifelong service to The Boreal Lady, Mirtulla. You may call me Chaplain Pariah or just ‘Chaplain.’ That is who I am, and matters to me; the concepts of sex and gender as you understand them do not. If you need refer to me in the third person, you may use ‘they,’ or again, ‘the Chaplain.'”
“Seems a mite convoluted,” Ovin said, with a certain bitter tone Cadence was sick to death of listening to.
“You went out of your way to address my supposed womanhood,” Cadence said, “as opposed to my armor, polehammer, or the fact that I am raising ice crystals on your bar with each breath. It is not my fault if you don’t choose interesting topics when they’re handed to you.”
Had Ovin simply confessed he’d ignored those things because he hated to admit someone he wanted to think of as female had power he didn’t, Cadence would’ve been willing to forgive him. Everyone had irrational flaws and wicked instincts–a psionic learned that better and sooner than anyone. All people knew these flaws for flaws; the good ones turned against their own weakness and crushed it so it didn’t harm others.
The bad said things like those Ovin said next.
“Be that as it may and call yourself what you will, I don’t hold with this outsider religion of yours,” Ovin said. Ah, Cadence thought, and here we are. “My father and mother, rest ’em both, kept their own gods. Far as I can tell, those gods didn’t save them nor me. Why should yours be any different?”
“Well, I’m sure there’s no reason for you to find out,” Cadence said, with a radiant smile. “I’m just here to make sure all’s well in Driftwood and pass on.” They chose to look away while Ovin grunted something and stepped back, turning around. More bottles clinked. Meanwhile, Cadence pretended to look at the tavern’s decorations–strands of seashells intermixed with old harpoons, netting wound over serrated pieces from a great carnivorous crustacean. In reality, they felt out the tension among the tavern’s other patrons. Sure enough, a few were fixated on the Chaplain.
Cadence reached behind, took the latest shot, and knocked it back after a slight pause, noting the astringent aftertaste. “A bit of lore before I leave, Master Ovin? I promise you’ll enjoy it.”
“Oh? Well, might be nice to learn something from you, Chaplain. Speak on,” Ovin said, chopping something up. Cadence ignored the clumsy insult and cleared their throat.
“Now, I was born with certain gifts,” Cadence said, accepting another shot, “but I called them a curse. Being a psionic drives many insane before they even learn to speak, you see.” Ovin made a strangled sound beside them, but otherwise hid his panic–as if that mattered! “All this, call it mind-noise, pouring in all the time,” Cadence continued. “To shut it out, I turned to all sorts of things.”
They tapped their polehammer on the floor, and a wave of Ovin’s concern washed through the tavern. “Let’s just say there’s a reason I became a Tundra-Chaplain, hm? Our Lady looks for particular breeds of people. Not always the ones you’d expect. Before then, though, I learned all manner of substances that made withdrawals easier to take. Some were poisons, or supposed to be poisons. There’s even one that grows underwater in this very region, a kind of kelp, I think? Normally if you dry it out and grind it up, it’ll put a grown human to sleep in seconds.”
Cadence turned slowly on the stool and met Ovin’s gaze, loving every panicked drop of sweat on his filthy brow. “Of course, I built up such a tolerance it no longer does anything at all.”
Ovin lunged with the dagger, but a mind-flick from Cadence slammed the angular helm’s visor down and the tarnished blade shattered against the frigid metal. “I told you that you should’ve asked about the armor,” they said, an instant after their right hand flickered up and snared Ovin’s wrist.
Sliding sideways, the Chaplain dropped low even as their boots struck the floor and pulled the treacherous tavernkeep’s arm full out against his own bar. When Cadence went low, Ovin’s hand went with them, and Ovin’s elbow couldn’t take the weight. A horrendous crack echoed through the tavern. Screaming and the sounds of trickling blood from a torn artery soon followed.
Sensing three fast-approaching presences, the Chaplain kicked up their polehammer. The whole exchange took but a breath’s length.
Cadence whirled, both arms full-out behind the mighty hammer, and its murderous crush smashed right through a raised buckler to explode a ruffian skull. The dead woman’s headless corpse spun mid-air, leg-bones splintered through the knees by leftover force. Hips driving through behind the strike, Cadence whirled themselves and the polehammer around and twisted it on the followthrough so its back-spike punched clean through a sword-wielder’s old great helm. This corpse hurtled through the air and smashed into the stacked bottles behind the bar.
Waste of good drink, Cadence thought sadly.
At the same instant, Cadence caught the first kill’s skull-fragments in a telekinetic vise and drew a tiny portion of the Lady’s waiting power, freezing them hard as steel and launching them at the last attacker. They carved right through his skull and pierced out in bloody gouts laced by pink-grey brain.
Snarling with disgust and righteous fury behind the helm–they couldn’t see it, but the patrons must hear it in Cadence’s grating bellow–the Chaplain demanded, “Any one else? Doubt not, dredge,” and they spun to face Ovin, who cradled the pulpy, bone-sharded ruin of his right arm, “Our Lady has sent me here to deliver Her Benediction! If any other filth infest this town, stand forth and die easily! It’s a full purgation now–show me your truth and I’ll end you swift. Hide it like this wretch, and share his fate!”
Ethereal blue light and snowy howling filled the tavern. Its doors froze shut an instant before one panicked man could reach them, branching frost cracking and groaning until blue-white ice and drifting snow filled the tavern. Mirtulla’s power carved at Cadence, every vein spiking and tearing, her heart and lungs aching as if caught by vises. Whatever the Chaplain’s agonies, however, Ovin fared worse. Cadence stabbed two fingers towards the iced-over ceiling and an arctic gale blasted forth beneath him.
Ovin screamed and tried to writhe, exposed flesh icing over, wilting necrotic black, and tearing away to unveil raw sinews and bursting veins until the torrent worked down to his bones. Unable to close their psionic senses and still call the Lady, Cadence was forced to share every flesh-paring moment, both numb and burning, seized by spasms yet unable to move. Ovin’s limbs went first, then as his clothes ripped away his torso and tortured face shredded. It took a full minute for the ruinous freeze to kill him; by then his nose, his eyes and most of his face-flesh had gone. Cadence ceased channeling their goddess’s power.
“I find, sifted from his memories, that I am not the first traveler Ovin has killed–or rather, attempted to kill,” Cadence said, turning to face their captive audience. “If in this room there are any other murderers, any who have raped or enslaved, step forward and I promise you’ll die before you have time to realize it. You do not deserve this mercy, but I’ll grant it anyway.” No one took Cadence’s offer.
By the time the Chaplain finished their investigation, eight more wished they had. Thlibnarinc found Cadence swabbing down the polehammer outside the frozen tavern, its doors now burst open and gushing frost–as they’d do for eternity, or until an arcane power undid the Lady’s latest monument to Her justice. The alien looked at the carnage within and made squeaking sounds.
“Cadence… holy fuck…” he said, his circle-maw so wide with shock that he drooled. “We’ve been here less than five minutes.”
“Well, I pride myself on my efficiency–or would you rather I take all day about it so they have time to hurt more innocents?” Cadence said, with hints of spite that Thlib simply didn’t deserve. “Four rapists, three murderers, and a slaver looking for young bodies to snatch–her thought process, not mine,” they added to explain this last phrasing.
“You can’t just… invade people’s minds!” Thlib said. “It’s not…” he flapped his arms.
“Thlib,” Cadence said, “You know I don’t dig deep unless they give it away in their surface thoughts. I won’t give an innocent person an aneurysm. If I go awry, the Lady shall destroy me on the spot.” They sighed. “We’ve been over all this. I think you’re only against it because it’s so austere. It feels too harsh to be just, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said, looking at the blood staining the ice and shuddering, “yes, it does.”
“It tends to be that way with the worst ones,” the Chaplain agreed, and rose. “They’re so awful that when you treat them as they deserve, you can’t bring yourself to believe it’s right.”
Thlib waited a long moment. “I hate how much sense that makes,” he said at last.
“Not half as much as I do,” Cadence said. “Come. Let’s find Appy and leave this place. It’s been ruined for me.”
Cadence pressed a well-painted nail into the polehammer’s gleaming head and channeled a frost-power shear along the digit, adding yet another disintegrating snowflake emblem to the otherwise-impervious metal. This one made forty-six.
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