The Eight Crimes of The Iconodules

The Black Halberd

Lieutenant Percival only saw it once.

His back was against a stone wall. Familiar Periad stone, familiar Periad streets. Percival had not made a lifetime of stealth, but his ancestors had, and that was serving him well at the moment. His calm eyes narrowed slightly behind his slightly upset hair. The familar stones were shaking. What slipped through the streets ahead was larger than he had any idea how to confront. He didn’t panic, of course. The concept would’ve been alien. Part of him did wonder where the new hire was, but she wasn’t even assigned to this corner of the district, and even at her considerable land speed (when using all four limbs), Percival doubted she could handle this.

But the Captain was here.

Admittedly he wasn’t doing much better. Captain Kelling had his back up against the wall across the street, flattening himself as the creature trashed its way across the intersection of Dart and Uriel. Its path of destruction had started in the soft dirt under the Stilts and made its way progressively southeast. “It’s probably seeking water.” Anis had said at the time, completely unhelpfully. “I don’t know any spells that could help with something of that size.” She was remarkably matter-of-fact about her own usefulness. Captain said he would handle it. Percival followed, wholly cognizant of the uselessness of his own spear, because duty demanded nothing less.

Now here they were, a pair of old souls who had spent most of the afternoon chasing something ten times their size while wearing full metal armor. Captain Kelling, whose great misfortune was to be born human, was covered in sweat. Percival had merely temporarily lost control of his bangs which, he took a moment to notice, would need to be cut if he survived.

The creature at the intersection rolled towards another residence, trying to burrow underground through the stone of Periad’s streets in desperate, writhing motions. It failed, and took out its frustration on the suddenly-fragile stone walls. “Captain?” Percival asked. He didn’t need to say much more. They had done all their communicating long ago. The men understood each other.

“I know. I called for help. Just waiting on it now.” Kelling responded, watching the sky.

“We can’t wait.” Percival said. People were fleeing nearby buildings, taking to the streets or basements to escape. The ones in the basements were probably making the wrong choice. “If it comes down to them or us…”

It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t even a reminder. It was just a statement of fact. If it came down to either of them or the life of a single citizen of Periad.

The two paladins stood, stepping out around their respective corners into the street. Kelling shouted something, but Percival was unfamiliar with the language. The old weather vane that the Captain carried was hurled, carried aloft by the Idol’s will. It sunk into the worm’s hide, causing it to immediately change direction. The monster’s movements still struck out randomly at buildings on either side of the street, but now the wall of purple scale and meat was heading for them. Percival glanced to Kelling, now unarmed. Kelling was still watching the sky. This didn’t seem like the time for that.

Until that same sky disgorged death.

Percival would later recall seeing some flying creature well above. Strange, of course, for its height. Usually creatures that high are forced down by the laws concerning the walls. What was dropped, though, was far worse than either the monster above or the one before them.

It struck the ground with remarkable force. At first it seemed to wedge itself between two cobblestones, until Percival realized that neither stone had been parted before that moment, and the smooth rift between them was caused entirely by the Black Halberd. Kelling strode forward, his gauntlet closing around the weapon’s ebony haft, pulling it from the stone and settling the weapon on one shoulder, his stance comfortable and familiar with the weight of it. The entire weapon was black. The haft was ebon, the metal was black iron, the blade was obsidian, curving with razored scallops. There was no color to it, a trait which Percival found familiar somehow.

But never frightening.

Percival scarcely remembered the battle that followed. When the time came that he would become Captain Leroux, and wonder at what happened to his friend, he would return to the corner of Dart and Uriel, where the Captain’s weapon had left perfect, almost melted grooves in the stones of the building and street. Sometimes, Captain Leroux would run his hands along them and remember.

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