Preach on, My Brother
‘Remember my brothers, we are the gods own chosen soldiers,’ Preacher hollered, arms raised toward the cafeteria roof. ‘For we have been granted great gifts that we might use them for their glory—‘
‘Get off the Pit damn table.’ Four-Fingered Djan was not a fan of Preacher’s rousing oratory. He threw a stale bread roll at Preacher’s head from the end of the long table.
Preacher snatched the baked projectile out of the air, a snarl twisting his lips.
‘Heretic,’ he spat, eyes bleeding bright yellow.
‘Oi, warden,’ Syslacki yelled, ‘Preach’s seal is broken.’
The wardens were already descending on the long row of tables where the inmates of Meznow prison sat eating. Magic crackled around the fingers of the lead warden, an overweight dogsbody called Kaplizky. With a jerk of his forearm and flick of his wrist, an energy whip snapped through the anima charged air.
‘Alright that’s enough,’ Kaplizky barked. ‘Get down off the table Alianov. Now.’
Too late. Flesh and muscle rippled down Preacher’s back, his face mottled purple-dark like someone was choking him and long, sharp yellowed teeth erupted from his gums, cracking Preacher’s elongated jaws wide open. Sputum flew through the air.
Seated at the next table over, Yasha Alukov dropped his fork down on his plastic dinner tray and propped his elbows on the table. He was used to Preacher’s antics and he’d seen this particular show more than once, but there was some novelty in knowing this would be the last time.
Preacher staggered as the energy whip lashed him across the shoulder-blades. He was too far gone into his wildr Turn to back down, however. Dropping into a feral crouch on the table top, neck muscles standing out in stark relief, Preacher threw his head back and howled.
The inmates at the table leapt up, scattering to the edges of the room with muttered curses and complaints about lost lunches. The wardens swarmed the table. Djorvic roped Preacher around the throat with an energy lasso, wrenching him to the ground.
Preacher bounced off the bench and hit the poured concrete floor, writhing like a man seizing, which he was. Kaplizky and a dozen more wardens converged, drawing truncheons.
Yasha turned away.
He didn’t need to see the beating; he’d seen it all before. Preacher was a pitiable soul. As a feral, he was unable to control his wildr side. He was five years into a day and night stretch for killing his wife in a feral rage. When he wasn’t proselytising he was weeping for his poor, butchered, Magdalena and the regular beatings didn’t stifle his rhetoric or his grief at all.
Warden Jarnow clapped his hands and bellowed, ‘All inmates are to return to their cells.’
Cutlery clattered as three hundred men rose to their feet and scraped away from the tables. Murmurs of complaint floated on their air but none loud enough to be distinct. No one wanted to draw warden attention right now. Kaplizky and his cronies might be occupied with Preacher, but there was bloodlust in the eyes of the wardens who filed into the cafeteria, pulled from their own break to help deal with the inmates.
Preacher’s faulty seal notwithstanding, none of the inmates had access to magic and all the wardens did. Those were not odds any inmate was eager to chance.
The inmates queued in front of one of three doors leading to a cell block. The prisoners were segregated by magic type; the wildr and the handful of necromancers who had avoided the pyre went to Block A, the highest security solitary block. The other two blocks had a mixture of soulsmiths, conjurers, and seers, divided by their Cantor-Levene score – basically how much magical juice they had.
Yasha did not join any of the lines, instead he waited for two wardens to peel away from the phalanx and flank him. Today was the day. He was being released, his time served.