Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 1

Preface: Greetings, all! This story is the third in my series of stories, following “Not Alone,” which was itself a sequel to “What You Don’t Know,” also located on this site. Each tale features a mostly-different cast of characters, though in the end they are strongly connected. This tale is perhaps slightly darker than its predecessor, but, as always, I prefer happy endings. The main monstergirls in this work are a kobold and a lich, though are are several others that will be revealed in time. This story features sexual content, at perhaps a somewhat more frequent pace than its predecessor.

And, to conclude with a standard disclaimer: The monster girls featured in this tale, and many elements of the setting, are based off of the works of Kenkou Cross, and as such this work is intended to be a tribute to his creativity. The characters, however, are my own. Pray neither sue nor steal; I have very little to take, but I love that which is mine.

Wisdom in Shadow 

Chapter 1 – Pyre

     The old priest died at dawn.

     The people of Videre gathered at the town square, called from their beds by the brazen horns of the mercenaries that had ridden into town the previous day.  They stumbled from their homes like the undead, their uneven gaits stemming less from slumber than from dread.  They all knew what they were being called upon to witness, and that knowledge dimmed the rays that were only just beginning to peak above the eastern mountains.

     As they clustered around the edges of that plaza, few of them had the heart to look upon the four men standing at the center of the clearing, illuminated by the torches held by the five grim-faced mercenaries that were spaced around them.  Those scarred soldiers looked out at the crowd, each with one hand near the sweat-stained grip of their weapons, as if they expected any of the unarmed and timid villagers to stage a daring rescue attempt. Instead, the townsfolk refused to meet their steely gazes, preferring to study the cobblestones than the stone-faced killers.  None of them, especially, had the heart to look at the towering wooden pole that stood upon a wooden base, heaps of kindling arranged beneath it, only awaiting the burden of its sacrifice and the kiss of flame.

     Instead, many of the villagers offered prayers, their eyes rising up to the craggy mountain that loomed over the town.  High on that upright bluff was the structure that had given birth to the town ages ago, an ornate monastery that had once been devoted to a now-forgotten god.  Now, that ancient structure had been rededicated to the Church of the Holy Martyr, and had been claimed as a holy site by that imperial religion.  Banners emblazoned with the seal of that church flapped in the morning breeze even on the walls of that grand edifice, the Sacred Flame on them glowing as dawn flowed down to shine on that cruelly-ironic symbol.

     Far below, in the lands still gripped by night’s lingering touch, judgment was ready to be dispensed.  The four men in the center, ringed first by the mercenaries and further by the solemn townsfolk, began to move to their positions.  One of them, a man bedecked in the regalia of a Lector of the Church of the Holy Martyr, ascended onto a podium, his face gripped with a simmering fury.  He did not look at the eldest man of the four, a white-bearded sexagenarian who wore simple black robes.  That feeble elder was flanked by two much younger men, late in their teens, who also wore signs of the church, although their attire marked them as servants to two different Holy Orders, the martial arms of the church.  One of them, sporting an awkward bowl cut and thin-rimmed spectacles, offered the old man his arm as he led him toward the pyre.  Few of the townspeople looked kindly on this gesture, however, distracted by the staff on the tabard he wore, the emblem of the Inquisition.  The other man looked at the crowd with a distracted frown, his hand on the sword strapped to his waist.  A blade was also present upon his tabard, marking him as one of the monster hunters, the Purifiers.

     The oldest man of the four allowed the Inquisitor to lead him to his final pulpit with a sad smile.  He let his eyes pass over the crowd of people watching, his eyes crinkled in an expression that hinted at his gentle mirth, but many of those at the closest edges of the crowd noticed the moisture beading at the corners.  He turned away to climb atop the unlit pyre, but tripped, falling hard against the platform, his bound hands barely stopping his fall.  The young man beside him knelt in a panic, helping him back to his feet with a stricken expression, and the old priest regained his feet, patting the Inquisitor on the shoulder in gratitude, a final benediction.  The young man stepped back, his face hidden from the peering audience, as two of the mercenaries stepped closer, carrying thick ropes.

     As the men began to tie the old priest to the stake, the Lector began a sermon of his own.  He spoke to the villagers of sin, of deception.  He spoke of the enemies of mankind: the monsters, the seducers who turned good men into corrupted, twisted creatures.  He spoke of the fate of those who gave comfort to the enemy, and as he said this, his face red with fervor, his voice cracking under the pressure of his zeal, the mercenaries lit the kindling beneath the platform.

     The Lector did not cease his preaching while the fire grew.  The two young knights that had taken up position on either side of him did not watch as the flames licked higher, their shoulders set as they waited for the worst.  They expected for the old priest’s torment, but they were spared his cries of anguish.  Instead, as the people of Videre would speak of for years to come, something strange occurred as the old priest leaned back against the wooden stake, his eyes closed in resignation.  Slowly, his features slackened, as if he were drifting to sleep, and by the times the flames roared higher and higher, he moved not a whit.  It was as if the man had passed on waiting for his execution, though only the Lector seemed distressed by this, his sermon growing hotter as the flames surged heavenward.

     In time, it was done, and the townsfolk returned to their homes, their faces gray.  The Lector and his aides left as well, their mission only begun, while the mercenaries that served them headed for the local tavern, hoping the taste of ale would wash the soot and bile from their throats.  They left behind the grave reminder of the power of their faith, and the consequences of defying it.   

     As dawn flooded into the town, as if striving to wash away the shadows of that morning, the smoke drifted skyward as the flames retired from their macabre feast.  High above the town square, lost among the crags of the mountain’s rough face, a single figure stood watching over the retreating townsfolk.  Her lips set in a thin line, she looked down to where the old priest had left the world, and she shook her head bitterly.  As the light of day began to reach around the boulders that had hidden her in darkness, she turned and disappeared into a crack in the mountain, leaving the ghastly spectacle behind.

 

******

 

     “Heresy, my friends, spreads like a disease.  It must be isolated and excised, before it contaminates the entirety of the healthy body of the faithful.  We are merely healers, not murderers.”

     Inquisitor Errant Simon Hopkins almost listened to the older man lecture as they stepped into the humble home that they had taken as a base of operations, nodding even as his heavy thoughts kept him from digesting the Lector’s words.  He reached up to adjust his glasses absent-mindedly, ducking slightly under the doorframe as he entered the small house.  Behind him, the third member of their party followed them inside, closing the door behind them.  With just the three of them in the living area of that dwelling, it seemed unbearably cramped, especially with the small writing table and dining bench taking up so much of the space.  Two doors led into different bedrooms, one of which had been claimed by the Lector as his own during their stay in Videre.  He had no compunctions against taking it from its owner, who had just that morning had ceded ownership of that domicile, and everything else corporeal for that matter.

     Simon glanced around the home uncomfortably.  It was still stained with marks of its previous owner; small knickknacks placed on windowsills, well-thumbed books on the shelves, a fragile pair of reading glasses perched atop the writing table.  Father Gerard Wulfe, as the old priest had been named, had not lived ostentatiously, but his humble abode did show a few decorations scattered about, including a vase that held long-dead flowers.  That in particular made Simon wince, as he suspected he knew who had picked those flowers in days gone by, and his eyes slid to one of the closed bedroom doors.  Inside, he knew from his previous visit, was a room decorated as befitted a girl of her early teens: the old priest’s granddaughter.

     In many ways, that girl was the reason they had come to Videre, and the reason he knew his restless gut could not be blamed on the lingering reek that had emerged from the flames.  His orders had been to accompany Lector Themras to this town in order to punish a man who had given aid and shelter to an enemy of the church.  It had only been on their way that he, along with the other Errant, had discovered the real details of their mission, and he had not rested since.  After all, who could blame a man for trying to save his granddaughter?

     Simon’s introspection was interrupted by the Lector’s harsh voice. “Very well. With that task done, it is time we saw to the rest.” Lector Themras was a tall man, with a face that had no doubt once been handsome, but now wore a fierce scowl as its default.  His clamped jaws were framed by a well-trimmed beard, as much red as brown, although white had begun to supplant both.  His hair was similarly cut short, and combed straight forward in a way that was neat without being vain, as the clergyman no doubt intended.  His regalia, on the other hand, was ornate: white robes embroidered with red and bronze patterns, the uniform of a man of his esteemed rank.  Back in Olympus City, Themras had carried a reputation of being strict and vigilant, as much towards his own behavior as that of the scurrying acolytes who served him.  Simon couldn’t help but contrast that with the kindly face of late Father Wulfe, a parish priest who had turned down a position at the monastery on the mountain to tend to his more common flock, and had been beloved by the people of Videre for it.

     “I will see to reviewing the heretic’s notes and letters here, searching for any mention of accomplices or methods.  I am certain this corruption runs much deeper than a single man.” The Lector scowled down at the scattered letters that covered the man’s writing desk, revealing his disdain for the task ahead of him. “I am sure his correspondences will reveal his co-conspirators, but this search will take the bulk of my attention for the next few days.  That, of course, and interviewing the townsfolk.” He glanced at Simon, offering a rare smile at the boy’s raised eyebrow, though the expression was less than kind. “Unless you have issue with this?”

     Simon sighed and shook his head.  As an Inquisitor Errant, he knew that his mission was the same as the Lector’s: to search for those who were insufficiently loyal to the church, and turn their names in for evaluation.  His conversations with the Lector as they rode to this somewhat distant village from the capitol had, it seemed, portrayed him in the Lector’s eyes as ‘soft,’ an appraisal that he had often suffered from his teachers during his atypically-long training as a Page and Squire.  Simon wondered occasionally if his talent with holy magic, the usual purview of the Inquisitors, was the only reason he wasn’t still cleaning boots and sweeping floors at the headquarters of his Order.     

     “Instead, I have another assignment for you.” Themras peered at Simon in a way that made the younger man feel as though he were an insect writhing under a magnifying glass. “The traitor Wulfe was not known to often visit the Chapel of Divine Revelation; likely as not, he was warded off by its hallowed ground.  Still, I would like for you to speak to the Prioress and the other members of the clergy who maintain that holy site.  It would not do well for pilgrims to be corrupted by the sloth and extravagance of an indolent priesthood, so far from the watchful eye of the Church.  Feel them out, and see if we need to increase our scrutiny of that congregation.”

     “Yes, Father,” Simon agreed, trying hard to suppress his surprise at his good fortune. “I will go immediately.”

     “No, tomorrow.  You may spend today getting acquainted with the townsfolk.  I could use another pair of eyes watching for suspicious behavior today, when the culprits are the most likely to reveal their perfidy.” Themras turned, summarily dismissing Simon. “George, you are to begin searching the surrounding forests for any sign of monster dens.  This region should be clean of any such creatures, so their presence will reveal any conspiracy that has taken root to pervert this town.”

     The other young man in the house stood at attention, banging his head on the low roof.  He was a Purifier, and in their short time together had come across to Simon as very representative of that breed of knight: eager, proud, and a little dim.  His squared chin, blue eyes, and short, brown, spiked hair gave him all the look of a hero from the stories Simon had read as a child, and the Inquisitor suspected that was intentional.  From their brief discussions, it was clear that Errant George Lambton had anticipated their journey as a grand adventure, though his face at that morning’s grim ceremony had shown he had come to reappraise that expectation.

     “Yes sir!  I will depart immediately!” The Lector nodded without paying him much mind, and George marched, stooped, to the door and departed.  Simon watched him go, wishing him luck; not as much in his hunt, as in his solitude.  Simon, speaking for himself, would not want to be alone with this thoughts and guilt out in the wilderness that day.

     As Simon moved to follow the Purifier in his escape, the man behind him called out. “Oh, and Simon,” Themras began, not bothering to move his eyes from the letter he had plucked from the table. “Do take care to listen with an open mind and a closed heart.  Don’t assume innocence, and you will rarely be surprised.” The Lector offered him a chill smile, and Simon nodded, his features carefully sculpted into a dispassionate mask.  He bowed and thanked the other man for his advice, and swiftly made his retreat.

     It was not the first time Simon regretted the course that his life had taken him on, wondering if he had any business as an Inquisitor.  It would also not be the last.

 

******

 

     Evening was painting the sky in vivid pastels as Simon trudged towards the inn, his assignment for the day completed fruitlessly.  While the Lector he accompanied had chosen Father Wulfe’s home for their base of operations and his own place of rest during their stay, Themras had left the two knights accompanying him to find lodgings of their own.  George had managed to stay with a wealthy family on the town’s outskirts; the lord of that manor had strong connections to the Church of the Holy Martyr, and thus had offered room and board to the Purifier as well as the four mercenaries that had accompanied them as guards.  That had left Simon to find room for himself, since the Lector had insisted he stayed close to the heart of town to better observe the doings of the townsfolk, and so he had claimed a room at the inn.  The innkeep had hastened to offer him his very best room, typically reserved for the sort of pilgrims who rode carriages to this remote location, and had given it to him at a discount, but still Simon lamented the fact he was likely going to foot the bill for his stay.  At the least, the spacious room offered him privacy, and after a day spent harassing villagers about the life of a man he had just helped to end, he craved that solitude.

     Simon leaned heavily on his staff as he walked closer to the inn.  The pole was another ceremonial accoutrement of his position, but it made a decent enough walking stick, he supposed, smiling wryly.  The head of the staff was carved in the shape of a star within a pentagram, over which was imposed a single eye; supposedly, it was a sign that the Inquisitors watched over mankind.  It also had the effect of unnerving those who saw it, which was proven by the way the villagers Simon passed stared more at that disembodied eye than the Inquisitor’s own pair.  While Simon was cursed with a face slow to shed its childish pudginess, that carved eye spared him the disregard of those he spoke to, and he knew he should be thankful for that.

     As he arrived at the door to the inn, Simon paused, wracking his fatigued mind.  There had been something he had meant to do before he retired for the evening, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember it.  The smell of meat wafting from inside tempted him towards the entrance, but he held his ground against that appealing scent, struggling to think.  Finally, his eyes shot open.  His books!  He had been so exhausted upon arrived in Videre the previous day that he had left several of his personal tomes stowed safely in his saddlebags, and hadn’t returned to claim them, instead heading straight to bed after he had gone with Lector Themras to interview the condemned priest.  He knew that sleep would be just as elusive this night, and hoped that reading might distract his mind enough to allow sleep to sneak up on him before his inner turmoil could blaze into a fire that would light his eyes until the morning came.

      With that dim hope in mind, Simon turned away from the door of the inn and headed instead for the adjacent stables.  He wondered if the innkeep or his workers might have discovered his books within his saddlebags and already delivered them to his room.  He hoped not; his treasured tomes would be considered childish by most, save for a tawdrier novel sandwiched among the others, and he faced enough justified prejudice from the townsfolk without them also sneering at his reading selection.

     Instead, as he made his way among the stalls, he saw his saddlebags hanging just where he had left them, outside the stall for the slight palfrey he had ridden from Olympus City.  As he made for that bag, smiling in relief as he noticed the swollen pocket that contained his books, he heard words being hissed from around a corner, further into the stable.  He paused as he fumbled with the strap of his saddlebag, his imagination overworked by the Lector’s paranoid insistences to expect conspiracy in every corner.  The desperate tone of the speakers drew him up short, and he found himself silently toeing closer, ears perked to overhear the terse conversation, believing for just a moment that the bitter priest may have been right after all.

     “We can’t wait a week.  I’m telling you, we have to get rid of her now!  You saw what happened to Old Man Wulfe.  They killed him for sneaking his own granddaughter out of their hands.  How do you think they’ll take us hiding this from them, after they burned him alive?” This voice came from a younger man, and Simon swore he recognized it.  After a moment, he recalled it as the stablehand that had taken his palfrey’s reins from him the previous day.

     “And how do you intend to do that?” rumbled a bass voice that was similarly familiar. “We can’t release her to the wilds with that monster hunter prowling about.  She’s as like to lead them right back here.”

     “Then we turn her over!” hissed the younger man.

     “Tell me, boy,” growled the deeper voice, “Are you prepared to watch her burn too?”

     “Better her than me!  I’m going to go fetch that Lector now, and-”

    “You take one more step that way, and I’ll clout you so hard you won’t be able to speak for a week,” threatened the innkeeper, whose voice Simon finally placed.

     “We’ll see about that!  I’m not going to die for some stupid beast!”

     The stablehand dashed away from his employer, but had made it only a few steps when he froze in place, nearly tumbling onto the muck-tainted earth.  Standing directly before him was one of the men he had been so terrified of.  The fact that they were scarcely separated in age did not resound with his trembling heart, only the dreadful eye upon the staff and the glint of glasses in the dim light.  He gaped at the Inquisitor, shaking his head, a thousand stammered denials dying a half-syllable into their lives.

     “Pardon me,” Simon apologized, his face carefully carved from stone. “What were you men just discussing?”

     “Ah, nothing, sir, just-” mumbled the innkeep, wearing a bright façade of a smile that was moistened by the sweat on his brow.

     “I don’t want to burn,” trembled the stableboy, swallowing past his quaking adam’s apple.  The innkeep shot him a naked scowl, and Simon was quite certain the lad would at the least be unemployed by day’s end.

     “Perhaps I should see what you are talking about,” Simon suggested.  He walked past the stiffened servant and up to the innkeep.  For just a moment, the older man stood his ground, crossing his arms in front of him, and Simon noted the scars that crisscrossed their lengths.  Videre’s inn had probably been purchased with a mercenary’s wages, he deduced, and the cudgel the man kept at his belt would be enough to stave in a skull as well as a cask.  The man was a behemoth, and Simon’s eyes were level with his bushy brown beard, but Simon adjusted his staff slightly, and as if on command the innkeep’s eyes slid to glance at the symbol upon its head.

     “She’s harmless, my lord,” he started, frowning but not meeting Simon’s eyes.

     “We shall be the judge of that,” the Inquisitor responded, refusing to relent.

     For just a moment, the innkeep’s hands twitched, as if he were contemplating reaching for his cudgel.  Instead, with a heavy, bitter sigh, he stepped aside.  Simon noticed he had been standing in front of a stable door, and stepped closer, peering through the slatted panels of the door’s upper half.  It was dark inside the stall, so it took his eyes a moment to adjust, and a moment longer for him to understand what he was seeing.

     At first glance, it looked as if a young woman was curled into a ball in a corner of the small room.  That was remarkable enough, but her clothing was quite atypical: matching furred sleeves and leggings, along with a blouse that contrasted oddly with the cloth wrapped around her chest and serving as a skirt.  She wore a thick red leather necklace, its pendant hidden from his sight.  Her hair was thick, and colored the same as the majority of what she wore, while her eyes were hidden by her bowed head.  It was only a moment later, as he noticed her legs were oddly formed, that realization struck Simon.  Her sleeves, blouse, and leggings were not clothing at all; they were her own fur, much like that which covered the ears drooping atop her head.  The necklace was in fact a collar, fitting for a dog more than a woman.

     “A kobold?” Simon asked, shocked.  His parents had told him stories about these creatures.  They were monsters, but only just; in days gone by, they had once been accepted even among the cities of the old Order, before the rise of the Church of the Holy Martyr.  As a child, he had even been told fanciful tales about how kobolds had been dogs that had been transformed into monsters on accident, cursed to be separated from the men they had faithfully served.  Looking at the maiden in the stall, he could hardly see in her anything of the monsters he had heard about in his training to become an Inquisitor.

     “She was Lyra’s,” the innkeep explained, looking in at the girl with a grieving expression. “Father Wulfe’s granddaughter, you see.  He took in Lyra and Gina here after her parents caught the fever, passed away a couple years back.  We all knew, but no one said nothing.  A kobold’s not even a real monster.” He glowered over at the quaking stablehand.

     “Yeah, well, how do you explain what happened to Lyra?” demanded the younger man, and Simon cast an inquisitive glance to his hulking companion.

    “You daft fool!” The innkeep snarled at the stableboy. “Everyone knows that kobolds don’t attack humans.” He glanced down to Simon. “Gina went with Lyra to visit her parent’s old home, leave some flowers on their graves.  It was a long trip, pretty out of the way, and they ran into some trouble with a werewolf.” He shook his head slowly. “One bite is all it took.  Lyra came back here so her granddad could try to cure her, but it was no good.  She started to change, and Old Man Wulfe got her out of here somehow, even though word had got out and the churchies watched the roads.” He blinked, as if remembering who he was talking to. “No offense, sir, just how we say it around here.”

     Simon waved him off, still staring into the stall.  As he watched, the girl inside raised her head enough to stare blankly at the wall opposite, only to lower it again with a faint whimper.  She hadn’t even glanced at him, but he saw the naked grief on her face.  She had been torn from her master, and now the old man that had taken care of her had… Simon swallowed, his eyes locked in place. “What are you going to do with her?” he asked, his brain not tending to his tongue.

     “Well, I…” the innkeep paused, clearly surprised by the question. “I didn’t mean to keep her, sir.  Not here; I have a daughter of my own, I don’t mean to anger the church.  I had thought…” He paused, noticing the unwavering way that Simon was staring at the kobold, his face clean of malice. “Well, there’s a caravan headed east due to arrive in a week.  Out there, they are more friendly to her kind.  I had wanted to send Gina with them, let her find a home where she’d be safe.”

     Simon blinked at that, finally glancing at the innkeeper. “You mean to keep her here, in the stables?  You know the Lector will find her, and he will-” Simon’s tongue locked in place, and he remembered seeing the old priest tied to the stake, awaiting the flame that would consume him.

     The innkeep stared at Simon now, realizing that his audience was far more sympathetic to his cause than he ever would have expected. “She’s just a pet, sir,” he suggested meekly, lowering his hands. “She don’t deserve to burn.”

     Simon looked again into the stall.  He jolted as he realized that the kobold inside was staring at him now, and he swallowed loudly, unable to shift his gaze from her inscrutable brown eyes.  Their shared stare continued in silence, until finally Simon spoke to the other man. “How do we save her?”

     The stableboy interjected. “You’re crazy,” he mumbled, shaking his head, his wide eyes frozen on the Inquisitor.

     Simon whirled, his eyes narrowed.  He straightened his spine, channeling his fiercest instructor from back at the capitol, wearing the same haughty scowl, the same potent voice. “Are you questioning me?” he demanded. “Do you doubt the will of a servant of the Holy Martyr?” The stablehand shook his head frantically, but Simon gave him no chance to speak, his eyes flaring. “I represent the faith, and the faith brings both judgment and mercy.  Choose your next words carefully, so that I know which you deserve!” He slammed the butt of his staff into the soft earth at his feet, visualizing the runic circle of a familiar spell, and though he was denied the sharp crack a harder floor would have made, the head of his staff flared with an inner light.

     The terrified stablehand dropped to his knees, babbling as Simon drew nearer.  Still the Inquisitor did not give him a chance to complete his mewling apologies. “I condemn you to holy wrath should you speak of this manner to anyone!” he declared in a booming voice, holding his staff over the man, and the resulting sharp ammonia reek suggested that either a nearby horse had casually relieved itself, or the stableboy had just soiled his breeches. “Go, and keep your tongue still lest you be damned!”

     The chidden young man sprinted from the stables in a wobble-legged dash, and Simon watched him go with a smirk, the light fading from his staff.  He turned back to the innkeep, who was watching with a smile, his eyebrow raised. “Light of Faith?” the man guessed, naming a harmless spell that served best as a replacement for a torch.

     “It was either that or Spear of Contempt,” Simon replied, shrugging at being caught in his deception. “And I didn’t want to hurt him, so long as he will keep quiet.”

     “The boy’s none too bright.  I gave him work as a favor to his pa, an old campaigning buddy from a town over, but maybe it’s about time he went home for a visit,” the innkeeper suggested, smiling at the younger man.

     “And stayed for a week or more?” Simon prompted, drawing a laugh from the other man.  Still, Simon swallowed as he realized he was swiftly getting into a matter that was far more serious than he would have liked.  Lector Themras would not be understanding of any of this, were he to discover Simon’s actions.  At best, were he to be discovered, he would face excommunication and exile.  At worst… 

     “I think I like you,” the innkeeper chuckled, extending a meaty hand. “Name’s Charles Kramer.”

     “Simon Hopkins,” the Inquisitor offered, taking the offered hand and shaking it, trying not to wince at the pressure of the larger man’s grip. “So, if she is to remain here a week, and she can’t stay in the stables, where do you propose to move her?  The Lector will be paying visits to each of the homes in this town, and he has something of a nose for deception.”

     “Yeah, I know his sort.  Self-righteous and paranoid as the last hog in a butcher’s shop,” Charles muttered, then offhandedly added, “No offense.” Simon waved it off, mentally chewing on the analogy. “To be honest, I hadn’t gotten that far.  All the people in town think that Gina probably left with Lyra, however Old Man Wulfe got her out.  He trusted me to keep her safe, and I gave my word, but…” He glanced towards the stall. “Not really certain how I’m to do that.  Your Lector friend is going to look everywhere.”

     Simon’s mind whirled at that suggestion.  Charles was right; between George hunting in the forests around the town, and Themras scouring the village for heretics, nowhere was safe for the kobold.  Themras wouldn’t trust anyone from Videre, no matter their social status.  The only people above suspicion would be- 

     The innkeep looked to him with concern as Simon groaned from deep within his chest, hanging his head.  He had an idea; it was absolutely, mind-numbingly terrible, but it was the only idea he could conjure.  To think he had been worried about being excommunicated for conspiring to help hide the kobold, he wailed internally.  What he had in mind would see him following in Father Wulfe’s footsteps all the way to the stake. 

     Simon knew he owed this girl nothing.  He had no reason to risk his position and future, not to mention his life, for a monster, no matter how benign.  He was insane to even consider it; instead, he should do the duty his faith demanded of him, and report her to Themras immediately.  Doing so would see him rise in the eyes of his peers, and the tales of what he had done would immediately prove wrong all of the instructors who had scathed him during his time as a Page.  He was an Inquisitor, and he had a responsibility to protect mankind from the depredations of monsters.

     And it would be participating in murder, his second for the day.  He had spoken of the church’s mercy, and he did believe that was true: his faith was one that offered mercy to those in need.  He remembered the despair in the kobold’s eyes, and could think of none more worthy of kindness than a girl stripped of her family and home.  He had a responsibility to protect those in need from the depredations of those who would prey upon them, also.  Even if that meant defying a man with the power to end his life.

     “Send her to my room.”

     Charles gaped openly at the younger man. “Are you sure, lad?  That’s…”

     “Heresy?” Simon chuckled, and there was a degree of madness in the sound. “It’s been that kind of day, I guess.”  He stepped closer to the door, looking inside once more.  To his surprise, the kobold was standing just on the other side, and she met his gaze with her own.  For a long moment, the man and woman didn’t move, eyes unwavering.  For a fleeting second, Simon thought he saw something in her gaze, a flicker of hope that crushed all his resistance. “I’ll protect her as best I can until she can be spirited away to the east.  I can promise nothing more than that.” He frowned as he looked back to Charles. “Do you think she will be quiet enough to hide her?”

     The hulking man laughed. “I don’t think you have to worry about that, lad.  I’ve not heard a word from her.” He clapped his hand on the Inquisitor’s shoulder, squeezing in solidarity. “I’ll have my girl help her bathe so she doesn’t smell like the stables, and we’ll sneak her up to your room late this evening.  The inn’s pretty quiet now; not many wanted to stick around when you all rode into town.” Charles nodded gregariously, smiling at the girl in the stall. “At least if we burn, we’ll be in good company,” he offered optimistically.  On the other side of the door, the kobold’s tail began to gently wag.

     Somehow, however, Simon was not reassured.

Continued in “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 2 

Author’s Note: Welcome back, my readers, for the third of my MGE stories! This tale sprang into being as a concept on the same day as “Not Alone,” and I began writing it almost immediately after I finished that work. As of now, the third chapter is already complete, and the fourth begun, though I may experience some interruptions in my writing with grades due next week and my personal computer out with a dying CPU fan. Still, I shall press on, and hope to maintain postings on Saturday and Wednesday of each week for as long as I am able (I lied about the weekly thing.  I am far too vain for such a slow pace, so long as I have content to post). Let us pray my skill and fervor are the match for my ambition!… for once.

This story starts in a dark place, atypically so for my writing. It was important to the tale as a whole, however. I will say that, as of now, this work should feature more erotic scenes than its predecessor. “Wisdom in Shadow” is a slightly different genre than “Not Alone,” having more of mystery in it than anything else I have written, so I pray you bear with my experimentation. It also features a great deal of explanation of my altered setting, which I try to keep dispersed enough not to be overwhelming.

Thank you again for reading this far, and I shall return soon enough with the second chapter. Please remember that I rejoice at comments on my work, and would absolutely love to hear your opinions. Nothing fuels my efforts at writing more than to hear someone’s opinion on what I have created!

But, in any case, I had best return to the story itself if I am to maintain this pace. And, inevitably, sometime I must make time to sleep…

~Wynn Pendragon

 

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