The Seventh Execution

by Amber E. Scott

Chapter Three: The Fettered Freed

The moon was a yellow bruise in the sky as I hurried through the streets of Edme. Sweat poured off me as if I raced through a furnace. I ran without seeing, navigating the streets by long practice. I felt I had left part of myself back at home, as if I had lost a limb.

I stopped, panting, when the cobbled road spilled into a flagstone-plated quadrangle. Prickly weeds, trampled flat by the mobs that congregated there, sprouted from cracks in the stones. The gray walls of Torvin Academy bounded the opposite size of the plaza. A few lights burned in upper windows, but the plaza was full of moonshadows.

Razor Jenni stood in the center of the quadrangle, atop a wooden platform braced with heavy timbers. I shuddered when I saw the final blade, her thirsty edge held aloft atop a scaffold. A set of stocks at the base of the scaffold snapped around the prisoner's neck. A groove cut through the yoke allowed Razor Jenni's blade to slip through and take the prisoner's head with her.

I spied movement at the base of the platform. Bradach stood concealed in the shadow of the scaffold. When he saw me, he took a step forward and beckoned. I scanned the quadrangle a final time to ensure no one watched, then hurried to meet him.

“It's good to see you,” Bradach said. He wore a heavy, dark cloak and stood with his hands deep in his pockets, shoulders hunched against the chill. “Did you succeed?”

“I spoke to my... I spoke to Mirford.”

Bradach looked alarmed. “You told him our plan?”

“No.” I shook my head. “I asked about the executions. I wanted to prove to you that the guilty, the traitors, are the ones who are executed.”

Bradach sighed and crouched to face me. “And what did you find?”

When you are a halfling, you get used to living in a world unsized for you. Yet it always seemed to me that I was the proper height, and everything else overlarge and exaggerated. In that moment, though, I felt small. “He implied that the evidence used—” My voice broke. I cleared my throat. “The evidence might not be as ironclad as I would prefer.”

“It's hard to admit that the things we fought for weren't worth our dedication,” Bradach said. “It's taken me a long time to reach the place I am now, and I took many wrong turns along the way. But what we do here can make up for many sins of the past. You see that, don't you?”

I nodded.

“Then do you have the medallion? Hand it to me and we can set about freeing these poor souls.” He stretched a hand out.

I have said before that halflings must remain alert to survive. We have learned to carefully read the humans who run the cities in which we live, attuning ourselves to their whims and desires to remain useful, and thus safe. Bradach's words sounded well enough, but the way he thrust his hand toward me was a shade too quick, too eager. It unnerved me for reasons I couldn't articulate.

“Tell me more,” I said. “What led you to undertake such a selfless mission?”

“We are exposed here. I'd be happy to answer your questions afterward, but we can't delay. You did get the medallion, didn't you?”

“Even the most desperate looter would hardly stride up to the doors of Torvin Academy. We have a few minutes.” I met Bradach's gaze. “I spent most of my life allowing myself to work for a man whose intentions were not wholly admirable. Forgive me if I make more certain this time. What spurred you on your mission?”

He looked away as if weighing my question. When he spoke, his voice was low and sad. “Someone I care about is trapped in there. Do you need to know more than that?”

But I had seen a flash of annoyance in his eyes before he looked away. My sense of unease deepened.

“How did she come to this?”

He gave me a lopsided smile. “It is that obvious that she's a woman? We worked together in Mivon. She hated injustice as much as I did, and we undertook several missions together. Six months ago she traveled to Edme in an attempt to free a prisoner awaiting the blade. She failed, and was executed herself.”

"Razor Jenni claims both heads and souls."

It was a good story. Yet if Bradach had known what function I truly performed for Mirford, he would have used a different cover. My life revolved around executions, and I knew well enough that there was only one woman to die in Razor Jenni's arms in the last few months. I took a step back, anger replacing the nausea in my gut.

“You had nothing to do with her,” I said, harshly, foolishly.

Bradach straightened. “I choose to keep my motivations private. I may be guilty of misleading you in that sense, but I wanted to make sure you understood how important this is. It's all that matters. Now we can argue about this all night or you can tell me whether you got the medallion.”

I took another step back. “I couldn't get the opportunity. You'll have to give me more time.”

We stared at each other. Branach looked me over from tip to toe, tapping his chin. After a long silence, he spoke.

“I think you're lying.”

“That makes two of us.”

He gave me an ugly smile. “Then I won't waste any more words. Give me the medallion or I'll take it off your corpse.”

He reached for me and I stumbled back, flailing my arm to keep him off. My little knife leaped into my hand.

“Get away from me!”

He put a finger to his lips as he advanced. “Voice down, slip. Do you want to bring the whole city down on us?”

My heart thudded. The fiery anger inside me turned in an instant to icy rage.

“Chelaxian!” I dropped my voice to a shaking whisper. “I've sent more than one of your kind to their deaths.”

“And now you'll help one of my kind release those souls.” He darted forward and grabbed for me again. I ducked under his arm and skipped out of his reach. “They'll be invaluable in my rituals. Perhaps I'll even find a use for your corpse.”

I darted to the left. Bradach rushed forward and caught hold of my wrist. A soundless explosion of cold shot up my arm and numbed me all the way to my shoulder. I bit my tongue to keep from crying out. I flailed, kicking and scratching, and threw myself back. Bradach lost his grip. I tucked into a roll as I fell. My numbed arm threw me off. The roll broke apart and I sprawled on my stomach.

For an instant I felt a terrible weakness grip my limbs, but I shook off the lassitude and scrambled to my feet. I kept as quiet as I could. If I cried out, someone was bound to hear. The guards at the Academy would simply arrest us both, and I had just stolen from my master. Looters would cut us down.

Bradach loomed over me. My knife lay on the ground to my right. I dropped to my knees when Bradach swung at me. His arms whooshed overhead. I snatched up the knife and stabbed him in the thigh.

Bradach stumbled back with a muffled cry. His heavy cloak blunted some of the impact, but the edge of my knife came away wet with blood.

I leaped to my feet again as Bradach took another run at me. He had his own knife out now. I dove forward and to one side of him. His knife scored my back as I rolled past. The cut stung, but not badly. I kicked up to my feet a dozen paces past him.

“I get worse than that chopping carrots.”

He threw his knife at my head. I ducked down and raised my hands for cover. Too late I realized that Bradach's throw was careless, meant only to distract me. I tried to back up but he had already charged. As I scrambled back, Bradach caught me in the chest with a sharp kick.

I flew back and slammed into the cobblestones. Bradach twisted his hands together. Blue light built between them.

I had hoped our forced silence might keep him from casting, but no words accompanied his intricate gestures. Light shot from his hands and streamed toward me like ethereal arrows. I rolled away. The missiles followed my movements. I bit my fist to keep from screaming as the bolts slammed into my side.

My body shrieked with pain, but my heart bled with regret. To conspire with a Chelaxian, even unwittingly—I could think of no greater ignominy. I had paid for my betrayal, and paid dearly.

Bradach twisted his hands together again. I bounced to my feet and sprinted for cover. I whipped around the edge of Razor Jenni's platform and crouched behind one of the timbers. I heard Bradach's quiet curse.

I panted, trying to regain my breath. I blinked in surprise to see I still held my knife. Instinct must have kept it in my hand. I could hear Bradach circle around Razor Jenni's frame. I waited until he had almost rounded to my side, then ran the other way.

Bradach reversed direction. I'd expected that. I raced up the stairs onto the execution platform and cut across it. Bradach heard me coming and tried to back away. I threw myself off the platform and crashed into him, burying my knife in his shoulder.

His howl of pain eased the ache in my heart. We fell together. I tried to pull the blade free but Bradach rolled to the side and threw me off. I had always supposed wizards to be weak and frail, but Bradach was no pale scholar. His strength and size far outstripped mine.

My knife stayed buried in Bradach's shoulder. I scrabbled for a weapon but came up with nothing but a chunk of broken flagstone. Bradach rose to his feet, panting. I clutched the flagstone to my chest and crawled under Razor Jenni's platform.

She was a presence, that blade. I could feel her weight above me, pressing down, waiting hungrily for her next victim. I shuddered and forced myself to remain in the shadows, half-hidden behind a timber pile.

“Come out of there you rotten little slip,” Bradach whispered. I could hear the faint rasp of his boots as he circled the platform, trying to spot me. “Or throw me the medallion and I'll let you go.”

Halflings survive by reading human intentions. I knew Bradach was lying.

Bradach finally got on his hands and knees to peer under the platform. I summoned all my strength and flung the flagstone chunk. The rock struck Bradach above his eyes. He whimpered and collapsed.

I waited for a minute to catch my breath. My heart beat crazily and would not calm down. I crawled out from under the platform and rolled the wizard over. He was unconscious, but still lived. I went through his clothes and removed a case of scrolls and a pouch half-filled with gold and silver coins.

Then I dragged Bradach up the stairs to the platform. My side ached. Blood dripped from the cut on my back, but not much. I used all my strength to pull the wizard's warm, heavy body along. My sense that Razor Jenni was alive—was watching me—grew stronger as I dragged Bradach across the platform and onto the chopping block.

Six traitors I had sent to their final rest. Six that I was certain of.

That night I made it seven.


Her or me, I'd said. I had saved myself by condemning her. In truth, though, I had condemned both of us. When she made the march to Razor Jenni, I'd walked beside her, though I hadn't known it then. A part of my soul stays trapped in that blade, too. I believe it always will.

Galt is no longer home to me. I am armed, though, and I have money in my purse and new courage in my heart. I'm told the River Kingdoms hold freedom for all, even servants. The road there is a dangerous one, but halflings have learned to survive. I travel when the roads are empty and sleep in ditches when I can. My sleep is untroubled. The nightmares have gone.

Coming Next Week: Varisian scoundrels in the streets of Magnimar in Bill Ward's "The Box."

Amber E. Scott is the author of "The Swamp Warden" and several chapters in "The Compass Stone: The Collected Journals of Eando Kline," as well as numerous Paizo RPG products such as Heart of the Jungle and Halflings of Golarion. She writes from her home in Canada, where she lives with her husband, Jason, and her two cats, Dabu and ZugZug.

Art by Mike Capprotti.

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Poor Tibeth. It is hard when you find the entire paradigm that your world is built upon crumbling down around you.

This story succeeded in pulling me in to the characters shoes (or lack thereof), so that I really emphathized with him. Well done Amber Scott. Well done.


It will be interesting to see where Tibeth's path leads him, particularly in the River Kingdoms, home of so many Galtan noble refugees and their descendants....

And I'm also wondering what intriguing properties the master's amulet might have, especially when combined with the scrolls from the wizard.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8


I was hoping to find out if the spell worked. But then such 'breakings of finality' are more the subject of PCs, not story characters. ;-)


Thanks for all the comments, I really appreciate it!

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