You can’t lie through your teeth when you got none. That’s what Mawk’s father use to tell him each time he came home with one less tooth and a battered face to complement it. That was before they strung him up, gut him open and hung him from the walls of the Temple, leaving his boy at the mercy of a bunch of holy fanatics.
Mawk followed the dragging frame of the screaming prisoner between the arms of his two Superiors. Why did they always scream? Down here in the depths of the Temple, the only things listening were the dark halls, damp walls and wisps of dead air lurking in every shadow.
“I got my rights!” came the pleading voice, high like a child’s. “You can’t do this to-“
The man’s head snapped back with a crunch, speckles of blood spitting up in front of the flickering torch in Mawk’s hand. “You got the right to shut your mouth,” said Superior Loth. His booming voice matched his towering heavy set frame.
Rights? Mawk shook his head in disbelief. You had no rights once you were judged culpable and deemed fit for interrogation.
The prisoner suffered in silence for the rest of the journey. They brought him the whole way down to the last cell at the end of the corridor, his feet slipping across the icy grey stone. Superior Mend produced a thick set of keys from the pocket of his robes. For a long moment they stood there listening to the rustling of brass against brass and Mawk felt his frustration rising under the surface of his skin but kept his mouth closed. The last and only time he vented his opinion, he spent a week on the wheel with two black eyes as his only companions. Still though, watching his superior struggle with something so straightforward, annoyed him. It was a ritual of sorts and he could not help but wonder how the man still could not figure out which was the right key after this long. Bronze-coated head, two-headed tip, five notches, and six teeth. Why they never gave Mawk the key, he could not understand. How could he escape? The key had only one purpose, one door. Besides, why would he even bother, when behind its thick wooden frame was his home.
A click declared Superior Mend had finally overcome his challenge and with a tug, he turned the handle and the door creaked open to reveal a room smothered in darkness. With a wave, he beckoned Mawk forward.
Torch in one hand and a sachet in the other, Mawk passed him and entered the room. He lit the quenched brackets on opposite walls and with a quick glance and sigh of content, allowed familiarity to sink in. The room was mostly empty but for a giant wheel suspended by chains from the back wall and the blood of past victims forming a crusted puddle on the cold tiles beneath its frame. Behind him, the prisoner trembled and tried to squirm away his escape with fruitless results. He was no match under the shovel hands of Superior Loth and was rewarded with another punch by Superior Mend, this time to the gut.
They dragged the gasping man over to the wheel. Superior Loth hoisted him up as Superior Mend strapped him in. The man cried out as the straps were tightened painfully around his wrists and ankles, cutting off the blood circulation. It would not be long before numbness kicked in. That was deliberate. There was something more terrifying about looking at missing fingers and not feeling the pain.
Their part done, the two turned to leave. Mawk moved aside for them to pass but Superior Loth still managed to knock into him and glared. He bowed his head quickly, even as he found his footing, averting his eyes to the floor. He did not want to be punished again. The lacerations across his back were not yet fully healed from his previous “sinful transgression”. Superior Mend passed him and like always, and rustled his head with a hard hand. “Do your thing, lad,” he said and closed the door behind him. Mawk waited until their heavy footsteps became a distant echo before he turned to get acquainted with the prisoner.
“Hello”, said Mawk, with a wide smile.
The man lifted his head up and regarded Mawk’s smile in disgust. His eyes glared across Mawk’s thin frame and he spat a ball of bloody phlegm on the ground. “Who are you?”
Mawk was slow in his movements. He walked over to the frail table against the wall. Dust coated its surface. It’s been too long. He blew gently, stirring a small cloud and used the sleeve of his robe to wipe the table. Once satisfied, he placed the sachet down, turned and stepped up in front of the hanging man, thumbs stuck into the pockets of his trousers. “I’m the one that’s gonna’ make you talk.”
“Hah!” spat the man. Specks of blood splashed against Mawk’s dirty tunic, adding to the grime.
Mawk clicked his tongue and returned to stand beside the table. He kept making sure the satchet was in clear view of the man. Slowly he peeled back the fabric bit by bit to reveal each of his tools. The man’s eyes went wide, darting left and right, taking in every shape and edge. He writhed around, struggling against the straps, his mouth twitching. Mawk couldn’t hide his grin. At least this one had nice teeth. ,
The candle was burning low when Mawk finally took a step back to admire his night’s work. Eyes gouged out, mouth hanging open tongue-less, eight fingers missing; what was once a man had served its purpose. He walked over to his instrument table where his stained tools rested after their labour. Their work was done for the night. He took a dirt stained cloth from one of his pockets, spat into it and begun to wipe the blood-smeared knife, ensuring every speck of sticky red was removed from the steel. Focused on the task at hand, sticking his tongue out in concentration, he did not hear the muffled entrance of another.
“Finished already?” spoke a deep quiet voice.
Mawk flinched with a fright and wheeled around, keeping his head low. The newcomer was near two heads taller than him. Broad of shoulder, he wore a leather chestpiece over a tunic of grey. Wrapped around his massive shoulders was a black cloak, trimmed with silver. Beneath the tip of the raised hood was mask of silver. Two large brown eyes stared out from behind the velvet.
“You scared me, Sir,” said Mawk, lowering his small knife. “I was not expecting you until morning.” He looked around and saw the old puddle of blood had been given a fresh coat beneath the dead man, limp frame. “Excuse the mess.”
His master gestured to the body. “Did he talk?”
“Yes Sir. He told me everything.”
That seemed to surprise his master. “Everything?” Mawk just nodded, worried he might have missed something. His master remained silent for a moment before raising a gloved hand to Mawk’s shoulder. “Well done Mawk. You have done us proud.”
Mawk beamed. He relaxed his shoulder under his master’s firm grip. “Thank you, Sir.”
“So,” continued his master, moving past him to admire his tools, “where are they?”
Mawk took a moment before he answered, making sure he got it right. He played it back in his head slowly, making sure he missed nothing, pressing his tongue against the roof of his mouth. It slipped across his toothless gum; the feeling rough, worn and comforting. “Fifteen are still in the business running around Eastern Vosa, doing their master’s work. Seven retired, three of which he confirmed dead. One rode off to Talvosh, something about returning to his people. Two are somewhere in western Vosa. And…and one is in Cravenmor last he heard.”
“Cravenmor?” asked his master.
Mawk hesitated for a moment as he made sure he was right. “Yes Cravenmor,” he spurted out, “he kept saying the name.”
“Are you certain?”
The tongue always spills its secrets under the knife his father use to say it. It sounded smart but just in case, best not to mention it incase he’d get the lash again for trying to sound too smart. “I’m certain, Sir.”
His master was quiet for a long moment as he rubbed the chin of his mask with the open tips of his left glove. Mawk could not help but notice the tiny patterned symbols embedded in the dry scalded skin. The silence stretched until it became too awkward and he felt the increasing urge to piss. Not wanting to embarrass himself in front of his master, he risked the whip and asked, “Do you think it’s him, Sir?”
“Could be. Either way you did well.” His master considered the mess behind him. “You continue to impress me, boy. It seems you have a knack for this.”
Mawk beamed again. “Thank you, Sir.”
His master suddenly reach out, grabbing him by the chin, dragging him close. He stared at Mawk for a few moments before he clicked his tongue. “Let’s get you a set of teeth Mawk, you look like some old scurvy beggar and we can't have beggars playing host to our guests. In fact, how about a bath? You look like you wrestled with a bloody pig. We expect a certain degree of décor from all our people."
Mawk didn’t understand the word décor but jumped at the mention of teeth and gave his toothless smile. His master patted him on the shoulder and turned to leave the room. He stopped at the doorway, his shadow dancing in the flickering light on the wall of the stone passage. "Would you like to go on an adventure, Mawk?"
Mawk just nodded. He never had been on an adventure before.
“Very good. Now be a good boy, clean up the mess and come see me when you are done.” His master swept around the doorway and disappeared from sight. Mawk turned to admire his handiwork once again. He blew out a sigh and grabbed the bucket of dirty water beside the table and started scrubbing, all the while, humming a soft tune.