Preface: Greetings, all! This is the tenth chapter of the tale that began with “Wisdom in Shadow – Chapter 1,” comes immediately after “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 9,”and is the third story is a series that began with “What You Don’t Know,” also located on this site, although it features a mostly-different cast of characters.
As always, my 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 10 – Apocrypha
“Don’t worry. I won’t kill you. I’ll just make certain you won’t remember finding this place… and, possibly, anything that has happened over the past week or so. Maybe a month.” The young woman walking towards Simon shrugged indifferently, as if the matter was of little consequence. “My apologies, I’ve not had anyone to test this magic on before, but I’m almost certain I can reasonably control its effects.”
Simon flinched back as he stared at the pale young woman approaching him. He regretted that he had ever celebrated finding the laboratory hidden under the Chapel of Divine Revelation. When he had fallen into this forgotten place, an accidental result of his battle in the catacombs above, he had believed he would actually be able to use this information to distract his fanatical superior from other pursuits, but now that Simon had discovered the laboratory was occupied he doubted that would be possible. The monster striding his way was preparing a spell, violet flames growing in intensity around her hands as she drew closer, and without his staff Simon doubted he would be able to defend himself adequately. She didn’t look particularly inclined towards negotiation, either, which left only escape as an option.
As Simon frantically searched for a route to flee away from her, the pale young woman’s eyes narrowed, and the flames burst from her hands, arching towards Simon with grim finality. “Wait, can’t we talk first?” pleaded Simon as they drew nearer, his hands futilely raised to protect his face. To his surprise, the flames paused, hanging in the air like twin burning serpents, staring directly into his fearful gaze.
“Talk?” The young woman barked a cold laugh. “Forgive me, but I have seen what happens after you ‘talk’ to someone. I would prefer not to be walked up to my own funeral pyre, thank you very much.” Her dispassionate face showed greater emotion at that, her cheeks darkening as she glowered at him. “Your type are all the same, preaching piety and mercy while you condemn good people to death. You all stink of sanctimonious zeal and…” She paused, sniffing at the air curiously. Simon’s eyes passed from the tensed flames to her expression and back again. “What is that smell, actually…?” She sniffed, louder, than stepped towards him, the flames parting to either side as she came. “Is that… monster mana? You smell like that kobold…” She froze, her jaw dropping with naked shock. “You are a hypocrite!”
Despite his mortal danger, Simon sighed irritably. “I am getting tired of people acting like I stink, thank you. I bathed before I came to the monastery just this morning, as a matter of fact.”
The woman frowned at him in disappointment. “I mean your mana, you simpleton. Your essence is mixed with kobold mana. That means that you…” She paused, her cheeks darkening again, though he suspected it was more out of embarrassment this time. “You know what I mean.”
It was Simon’s turn to be shocked. “You can tell that?” He looked to the floor, rubbing his chin. “That makes a lot of sense, actually.”
“This is beside the point! You are a… whatever that tabard means. You are a monster hunter.”
“Well, not really, but then again, I’m not even with them anymore.” Simon met the woman’s gaze directly, conscious of the violet flames hanging near him, but less afraid of them. “I’m on Gina’s side now.”
Silence fell on the pair, the only sound the crackling of the fireplace in the background, and the hissing of the flames poised to strike at Simon’s skull. The pale-skinned woman stared at him appraisingly, and his return gaze didn’t waver, as he hoped his eyes could convey his honesty. Apparently they succeeded at least somewhat, because with a wave the woman dispelled her magic, and the flames flared out of existence. Still staring at him, she crossed her arms under her chest, which Simon couldn’t help but notice threatened to free her breasts from the coverage of the cloak she wore. “Let us consider this: say I believe that you are what you say you are. You have betrayed your faith for a monster. Why, then, would you come searching for this place, if not at the bidding of your superiors?”
“Coming here was something of an accident, really,” Simon confessed, reaching up to adjust his glasses. The woman glowered at him, so he hastened to clarify. “The Lector is searching for this place, yes, but I was looking for something else, and had a little run-in with the nuns upstairs.”
“Well, if you enjoy bedding monsters so much, perhaps you should have taken them up on their offer,” came the chill reply.
“’Offer’ is a generous way of phrasing it,” Simon groused. “But, in all honesty, I don’t want to be here. If you will just show me the way out, I will go, and-”
“Lead a bunch of soldiers with torches right back to me. No thanks.”
Sighing, Simon shook his head. “Listen, I have more important things to worry about than this laboratory.”
“And I have a very different perspective on that.”
“Fine.” Simon stared directly at her. “I have something I have to do. Something more important than anything else in my life. If you have to erase my memories of this place, then so be it. I wouldn’t mind a little assistance in finding what I was searching for, a certain magical spellbook, but other than that, I never want to come back to this mountain. So if wiping my memories of this laboratory is what it takes to get that book, then I will pay that price.” His gaze revealed the depths of his resolution. “If she is safe, then I don’t care.”
Again, silence fell over them. For a second, Simon thought he saw the faintest upward twitch at the edges of her lips. “Sadly, it’s not so easy as that. I told you that I am not very accustomed to my memory-altering spell. You will probably forget the entirety of the past week. Is that a price you are willing to pay?” She motioned, and the violet flames burst back into life, coiled around her wrists.
Simon’s blood froze in his veins, and his heart ached from that ice. He thought of everything that had happened since he had arrived in Videre. When he had ridden here from the capitol, he had just been an Inquisitor Errant, starting his first real mission. He had actually been almost excited, enjoying his freedom from the confines of life under his teachers. But, then he had met Gina, and… everything had changed. He remembered all of the things they had shared. He remembered how they had been together the previous night, and how that had made him feel. He remembered reading to her, and meeting Mary and Charles, and his talk with George. He had become a different person in a week. Would all of that just disappear?
But Gina was in real danger. The Lector would be back any time now. Teleportation was the only way he could think of to rescue her. If he didn’t, then she might be the next to take a place atop the pyre, and he would not allow that to happen, whatever the price. If it meant her life, then there was nothing he would not surrender… even his own memories of her.
Across from him, the woman watched the stricken expression on his face with a subtle smile. She hid that expression when he looked up to her with grave eyes and nodded. “If that is what it takes, then I will. Save her, and I don’t care how much you have to erase, even if you take me back years.”
With a wave, the flames disappeared once more. “Alright, then. Let’s figure out how we can save your kobold, shall we?”
Simon gaped at her. “What? I mean- do you mean you are going to erase my memories later, or…?”
“Please close your mouth; I fear it might fall apart otherwise.” She smiled openly at him, albeit an expression with a razor-edge of sarcasm. “I can think of far better uses for it than an idiot’s gawp.”
Simon complied, but that did little to erase the befuddlement from his face. “I am still confused.”
“From the scant time I have spent with you, I would think you should be rather accustomed to that by now.” The woman turned, her cloak billowing behind her, and she walked to the table nearby. Brushing aside a smear of papers, she hopped lightly onto its surface, facing him as she sat atop it. “I would be willing to remedy that, if you can offer a suitable exchange.”
“If you are saying that wisdom has a price…” Simon all but growled, those oddly-familiar words pricking at his nerves.
The young woman looked distractedly to the side, considering his words. “I suppose wisdom should have a price; everything does. Still, wisdom is a rather intangible concept. I deal more in knowledge than wisdom. I hope you understand the difference?” She looked back to him, her eyebrow arched.
His shoulders slumping in relief, he nodded. “Alright, then, give me information.”
She waved a finger towards him. “Ah, no, that has a price too, remember?”
“Then what do you want?” Simon asked defensively.
“I was thinking a fair exchange.” She motioned about herself, indicating the dark chamber around them. “As you can guess, I don’t get out much, so I know very little about current events. So, propose the following exercise: I ask you a question, you answer, and then you ask one of me – of equal importance, mind you. I respond, and we repeat, until we both have the information we desire.”
“And who gets to decide what is of ‘equal importance?’” Simon asked warily.
“I do, since I have the more valuable information,” she replied with a smug smile. Despite his ire, Simon couldn’t think of a way to rebut that. “Then we have a deal?” He nodded, his jaw set, and she smiled at his frustration. “First question, then: who are you?”
“My name is Simon. I am – well, I was – an Inquisitor Errant.”
She paused at that, nodding. “A succinct answer, but I can fill in what you left out. Let me see… your accent tells me you were educated in Olympus City, but you are originally from Albion. Avalon City, perhaps. You are a magic user, talented at learning spells, but not at casting them. And you like dogs. Was I right?”
Simon’s eyebrow arched. “Isn’t that two questions in a row?” He smirked at her grimace. “But, you were right on most of it. You just guessed that about dogs based off of Gina, though.” Her proud grin confirmed that deduction. Simon nodded to himself, seeing the second level of her game. She was showing off her intellect, and he expected she wanted him to do the same. “My turn: how do I get out of here?” She didn’t reply, her lips set tightly, and he sighed irritably. “Fine. Who are you?”
The young woman nodded approvingly. “I am Sarah, and I am a lich.” She said nothing further, pausing for his reply.
Simon’s brain raced as she waited, her lips in a mocking smile, kicking her feet beneath her impatiently. He had to add something to what she said, but what? Even as his conscious mind struggled to think of anything to deduce, his unconscious was hard at work, patching together memories in a thin cloth as he remembered the note he had found in Gina’s collar. As epiphany struck him suddenly, he realized how fragile his supposition was, but it was worth a shot. “Well, then. It’s nice to meet you, Sarah Wulfe.” Her eyes widened, and he smiled at her shock, his conjecture confirmed.
“How-?” She paused, but looked to the ground, frowning in frustration. “Fine, fine. How did you know that?”
“Because you are the Watcher in Shadows.” She looked at him through narrowed eyes as he elaborated. “You are your family’s legend. The Wulfe family helped build this, didn’t they?” Simon motioned around himself, indicating the library at large. Her eyes widened, and he winced as he realized he had just wasted his question.
“Yes, they did, and even more. My family worked here, when this laboratory was in operation. My father was the chief assistant to the man that created this place for his research. The priest you so unkindly burned was a great-something-cousin of mine, and when he was a child I watched over him from the shadows as he played in the supply tunnels that lead here. He really should have burned that note, by the way.”
“And the girl you helped flee this place would also have been your relative,” Simon prompted, but the lich didn’t take the bait, arching a brow.
“My turn. Why did you betray your faith?”
Simon winced at that, but he nodded. “Because of Gina. Because what they would do to her was wrong. I have faith,” he noticed a sly smile on her face, but he met it resolutely, “but killing innocents has no place in it. And I believe that people should be judged on their deeds, not whether they were born monster or human.”
“And your faith was never that strong, even before you arrived here.” She smiled, but he didn’t reply to her deduction either way. “Your turn.”
“How did you help Lyra escape?”
The lich paused at that, considering whether the questions were equivalent, but after a moment she shrugged. “My teacher – my father’s master – left this place a long time ago, a year after I became…” She motioned down at her body, and Simon looked again at her pale skin. With a blush, he noticed that the way she was sitting left her lower body exposed, pale lower lips naked to his eyes, and he glanced away hurriedly. Sarah smiled at his bashfulness. “After I perished, victim to a illness plaguing this region, he had helped my father perform the ritual to bring me back as a lich. But when my teacher departed, he left me a way to flee, a bound teleportation spell, for the possibility of things here becoming hostile. He knew that eventually the church may come searching for this place, but I wanted to stay with my father until he passed, and he refused to leave this laboratory and his life’s work. Afterwards, I chose to stay, since my life was here, and since father’s bones are resting with those in the catacombs above.” She shrugged, kicking her feet. “I placed them into one of the empty shelves when the nuns were busy. He was a hero to me, so he deserves that honor.”
“And you used that bound spell to send Lyra instead of going yourself,” Simon reasoned, and she nodded.
“Before you ask, it was a one-use spell. The crystal that contained it shattered as soon as Lyra left. That was why I couldn’t send your kobold as well.” She shook her head as he groaned in disappointment. “My turn. Why were you in the catacombs?”
“You hadn’t guessed?” he taunted, and she frowned at his hubris. “There is a library there, where they keep texts forbidden by the church. I know one of them is about teleportation. I wanted to use it to send Gina somewhere to the east, where she would be safe from the Orders.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t find it, then.” Seeing the despair on Simon’s face, the lich continued. “I have my own books on that subject, and from them I know that teleportation magic is incredibly tricky. Even beyond the fact you use the wrong kind of magic, it typically only works if you know the destination well. Just sending her ‘somewhere east’ would have probably ended with her fused with a tree, or in the middle of a mountain.” Simon’s shivering had little to do with the chill in the laboratory’s library. “There are ways around that, but…” She shrugged, and Simon bit off his question before he could utter it, realizing the futility, at least during their game. “And you managed to get the attention of the nuns, and I bet they tried to capture you.”
“They tried to force me onto a rune of teleportation, actually.” Simon explained. The lich nodded at this, but to Simon’s growing frustration, explained nothing further. Succumbing to his curiosity, even though it wasn’t immediately relevant to his goal, he relinquished his question to handle that matter. “What is their story, anyways?”
“Oh, the pious priestesses upstairs?” Sarah mocked, waving a finger heavenward. “Worshipers of the Fallen God.” Simon quirked an eyebrow at her, and she sighed at his ignorance. “Not to delve too deeply into history: The Fallen God was one of the deities that supported the Seven Heroes.” Sarah pivoted on the table, pointing to the painting above the fireplace. “As they fought against the armies of the Dark God – sorry, I suppose Demon King is how you are taught it – the Priest’s patron goddess empowered him to heal his allies. But when the Demon King created his Curse of Divine Transformation to turn all of humanity into monsters,” she watched him closely, but he nodded; her version was close enough to the one he knew, “the Priest decided to create a magical barrier in order to save everyone from the Demon King’s reign. The Priest’s goddess gave him all the power she could, but it was too much for one human to handle, so he sacrificed his own life to complete the spell.”
“I know all that, basically,” Simon assured her, remembering when he had told that same story to Gina. The stuff about the Dark God was different, but the basics were all there.
“Well, what came after is what is important. The Demon King was so angered that he decided to punish those that had defied him. The human Hero was dead, but the goddess…” The lich shrugged, her face shadowed by her cowl. “He led his army to assault her temple, and he slaughtered her priests. Finally, he personally struck her down, and ripped much of her divine power from her. After that, for a while she was barely more powerful than a mortal being, and she gave in to despair. Most of her priesthood was dead, but the highest-ranking survivor took care of her. He was a young man, and as he took care of her wounds and fed her every day, she gradually grew to depend on him. She needed a reason to exist, and over time, he became her reason.” Sarah reached up to tap between her breasts, indicating her stilled heart. “She came to love him as a mortal woman would, not as a goddess. When they were together as lovers, the pleasure was enough to make her forget everything: her lost power, the pain she had suffered, her shame at being discarded, even the loss of the Priest she had helped martyr himself. After a while, she wanted that feeling to last forever, so there would never be a time when she wasn’t lost to that ecstasy. So, she used much of her power to make a new world for her and her followers, where they would be safe from everything, even time itself: Pandemonium.”
Simon shivered as he considered that story. “Was the Demon King so powerful, that he could really defeat one of the vanished gods?”
“Ah ah, you’ve had your answer, and it was a long one,” Sarah chided. “My turn.” She paused, thinking to herself. “Why did you come to Videre, really?”
Simon sighed. “We were ordered here to… punish Father Wulfe. But that’s not the real reason, I don’t think. Lector Themras has been searching for this laboratory; something about an Arch-Heretic.”
“I knew it was something like that when you stayed after you put the priest to the torch,” she replied, the words bitter. Simon bowed his head, but something occurred to him.
“When Father Wulfe died, he just fell asleep. He didn’t suffer. That was you.” He looked at the girl, and she met his gaze defiantly. “You used your magic to keep him from feeling what was about to happen.” Simon swallowed through a thick throat. “Thank you.”
Sarah stared at him dispassionately for a long moment before nodding. “Your question.”
Simon paused to pry his mind away from his grim thoughts. Trying to think, he glanced up at the painting that the lich had motioned to before, calling on the Seven Heroes for inspiration. He blinked, however, as he noticed something about the painting that struck him as odd. A moment later, he realized what was wrong. The painting showed a glorious vision of the Seven Heroes standing proudly, their features silhouetted as though a brilliant light shone upon them, their strong chins and well-muscled forms embodying their gallant defiance. He recognized each of them, except one: the smaller form of the Squire was missing, and in his place, standing beside the Martyr himself, was a man with a wide-brimmed hat and a staff. “Who is that?”
The lich turned to follow his pointing finger. “Oh, no one important,” she responded wryly. “Just the Seventh Hero. The one your church found so inconvenient that they wrote him out of the histories. It’s rather hard to outlaw arcane magic when one of the heroes you worship is a warlock, isn’t it?” She turned back to savor the shock on his face. “Did you really think a child was one of the Seven Heroes? That was added later, after they changed a few details to suit their purposes.”
“Are you saying they made up the Squire?” Simon demanded, feeling stubbornness well within himself.
“No, he was real. He just wasn’t a hero. He was just some orphan they picked up along the way.” She spread her hands helplessly. “The church apparently liked him better than the person that helped them make their hateful barriers.”
The resentment in her voice caused new gears to turn in Simon’s head, and he remembered things that the Lector had told him, as well as a conversation with Sister Benevolence. “The Arch-Heretic… the one that made this lab. That was him. Your teacher, the man that worked here, was one of the Seven Heroes. Is that what you are saying?”
“Well, perhaps you aren’t as dumb as that haircut makes you look,” Sarah purred, and Simon glowered at her. He was getting rather irritated with those critiques, also. “Correct.” She pointed across the room, to a thickly-padded chair. Leaning against it was a long wooden staff, whose head zigzagged back and forth like a lightning bolt. “That is his staff. He left me here a long time ago, when he went to discuss the barriers with the man he was working with. I haven’t heard from him since. It was afterwards that he was written out of history.” She looked to the ground, regret faintly visible on her features. “It’s been quite a few decades since I saw him last, but I believe he is still alive.” Simon didn’t interrupt her introspection, lost in his own consideration of what she had said. He was still struggling to believe her. “Ah, but it is my turn. So, say you manage to spirit your kobold lover out of here. What then?”
Simon didn’t hesitate. “Then I look for a way to leave and find her again.”
Sarah blinked at this. “You would leave everything behind for her?”
“I have very little to lose. The only people I care for are here in Videre, and some of them would be safer if they were far from me. I won’t ask them to come with me, but I will protect them, too.” Simon stared at the lich calmly, and she favored him with a slight smile.
“Impressive. You are more bullheaded than I would have thought from that cringing display earlier.” She motioned over to where he had been standing when she had nearly erased his memories. He didn’t respond to the teasing, waiting for her to stop chuckling. “But you don’t work well with details, I notice. You haven’t even asked about the liquid you apparently took a bath in.”
Simon started at that, and he glanced down at himself. He brushed his arm with a hand, and a dusty residue fell from his skin, sparkling in the firelight. “Oh, was that stuff dangerous?” he asked, alarmed.
The lich laughed. “No, it’s just leyfluid. Worldsblood, terrestrial mana, whatever you want to call it. It runs beneath the ground, seeping up in places. It contains magical energy, so a lot of important places tend to be built wherever it comes to the surface. The temples of the gods, for example, or…” She motioned up towards the monastery, then to the laboratory around them. “It crystallizes, and can be used as a power source for spells. This lab was built to see if that energy could be used to power barriers that would keep monsters from infiltrating human cities. Unfortunately, these days most the energy that is brought here by the leyfluid is siphoned off; partially from the wards I have around the lab, but also by the priestesses upstairs. That’s the other problem with your little plan: teleportation magic takes a lot of energy, more than either of us have, most likely.” She sniffed at the air quietly. “Well, I know I don’t, and you wouldn’t be able to cast it anyways. You don’t know how to use arcane magic.”
“Could you teach me?”
“It’s my turn-”
“Enough.” The lich drew herself up at his interruption, but he sighed, shaking his head. “I apologize, but I need to think a way to save Gina, and soon. If you know of a way, then I will do whatever it takes. I will do whatever you ask of me. But she is in danger the longer I stay here, and I can’t risk her to sate my curiosity. If you don’t know of a way, then I need to go.”
The lich regarded him silently, but she dropped from the table onto her feet. Drawing nearer, she stared up into his eyes; for the first time, he noticed she was nearly a head shorter than him. “It’s not that easy,” she warned him. “You know ‘magic,’ but not arcane magic. What you use is very different.”
“Could I learn?”
“That’s… that’s like asking if a bird could learn to swim. Maybe! But…” Sarah exhaled irritably. “Listen, magic is different depending on the source of energy. Ley energy is almost universal, but monster mana and human essence are very different, as is divine energy.”
“And I use essence? Or divine energy?” Simon hazarded.
“No. Well, yes, but…” The lich reached up to rub her forehead, and Simon was momentarily distracted as her cloak shifted enough to reveal one pale breast. Looking away, he forced himself to focus on her reply. “Before, in the days of the Seven Heroes, many humans were mages, or priests. Mages used their own essence, along with latent energy that is in the air, which is basically dissolved ley energy. But priests used divine energy in a kind of symbiotic relationship: they devoted their essence to the gods through rituals and prayer, and when they called upon miracles, the gods would grant them their energy.”
“So you churchies do neither of those things, and both. You don’t have a god. But your energy is different somehow, changed by your faith to something…” She smacked her lips, as if tasting something unpleasant. “I’ve taken to calling it ‘zeal.’ It’s faith magic, not divine, and it feels… bad. I would love to study it further, but we don’t really have the time for that now.”
“Help me save Gina, then, and I will let you experiment on me however you want,” Simon promised heedlessly, and the lich looked to him eagerly. “But what you are saying is that I can’t use arcane magic, because my energy is this ‘zeal?’”
“Well…” Sarah seemed suddenly unsure. “Maybe not. You don’t smell so bad, really. I could smell the stink of it from that one man all the way from the cliffs, but you smell… nice.” She stepped closer, sniffing at his chest. “Under all the dried leyfluid, anyways.” Simon was reminded of the way Gina would sniff him as the lich pressed against him. “Somewhat… warm…”
“Ah, well,” Simon interrupted, and she stepped back, her cheeks darkening. “I keep getting told my faith is weak. Does that mean I may have more of that essence you mentioned?”
Blinking, she nodded. “That would explain a lot, actually. At the least, we can see.” She pivoted, walking briskly toward one of the towering bookcases. She pulled from it a thick tome, and brought it back to the table. As she flipped it open, Simon saw that the yellowed pages were often consumed by large illustrations of arcane runes. “What do you feel when you look at these?” Sarah asked cautiously, pointing to one spell in particular.
“That’s…” Simon paused, frowning. “That’s almost the spellshape for Light of Faith.”
“Well, Brighten is the name we use.” She turned the page. “This one?”
“Is that Shield of Resolution?”
“Spellshield. Are all of your spells so… pompously named?”
Simon ignored her question, turning the pages. He recognized each of the spells he knew, though the circles were significantly different in small ways. He frowned as he considered that. Was it because they drew on different energy? Choosing a page that featured a spellshape that was strongly reminiscent of Spark of Enlightenment, he decided to test his theory. He stared at the rune before him, memorizing it as best he could, before closing his eyes. He held his hand out and focused, and then opened his eyes again. To his amazement, a small orb was glowing in the palm of his hand, beaming with a clear blue light. He couldn’t help but laugh at that achievement, staring into the light with a childish glee. Casting the spell had felt natural to him, certainly easier than the Spark of Enlightenment he had cast earlier.
“Well… it seems like you have something of a talent for this, after all,” Sarah mused, begrudging admiration clear in her voice. She looked at him appraisingly. “I suppose a little looking over these texts wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps we will find a potential solution for your problem.”
Simon nodded, still looking at the light in his hand. It felt to him like a new hope, and he was slow to dismiss it. Finally, he turned back to the book in front of him. He felt certain they would be able to find a way to send Gina somewhere safe from this, and then he could go and retrieve her from the inn. Somehow, despite everything that had happened over the past hours, he now had a way forward, and maybe, just maybe, his faith that everything would work out might yet be rewarded. Smiling, he looked down at the text in front of him.
“Let’s get to work, then.”
When the last of the inn’s regulars staggered towards the door, Charles Kramer allowed himself to slump against the bar as he wiped one of the final dirty mugs with his moistened rag. Today had been a busy day; the rains the past couple of days had slowed travel, but now that the skies were clearing people were streaming through Videre once more, making up for lost time. He had barely had a chance to think after the lunchtime crowd had arrived, and his rooms were all but full now.
The talk of the day had been the howling from the previous night. Everyone had their own theories, despite Charles’s insistences that it had been a dog that one of his guests had snuck into their room. That excuse was wearing thin; most of the people said that such was the cry of no mere dog, and that it must have had a supernatural origin. Many of the townsfolk whispered that it had been the granddaughter of Old Man Wulfe, come back to avenge the kindly priest. Others said that it was the cry of a hellhound, hunting for men to devour in the dark forests just outside. Yet others claimed it was the spirits of the damned, coming to punish the sinners of Videre for something-or-other, some crime up to the biases of the speaker typically.
Charles was glad, at least, not to have heard the word ‘kobold’ bandied about, but he still dreaded what would happen when that Lector returned to Videre. That priest had the eyes of a demon, the sort of man that would rather see the world burn than deal with the reality of human imperfection. Charles had served as a mercenary long enough to have seen the very best and worst of human nature, and he didn’t shy away from it, but men like that priest were too frail in spirit to deal with a world they couldn’t handle to their liking.
“I’m almost done in here, Pa. Have you seen Simon come in? He’s not had his supper yet,” chimed his daughter’s voice from inside the kitchen.
“No, I’ve not seen him yet,” shouted Charles back to her, replacing the mug and taking up another like it. “You could check his room, if you like.” He shook his head at that, wondering when he’d gotten so tolerant as to let his little girl go alone in a boy’s room, especially one he knew she was sweet on. Simon was a good enough sort, he’d decided, but he knew young men of that age thought more with one head than the other. Still, Mary had been in a mood all day, ever since she went up to his room to fetch laundry, and Charles hoped a little chat with the boy would be enough to have her skipping again. He glanced out one of the windows in the common room, noting how dark it was getting outside. It was odd for the boy to be gone this long, if he’d indeed not returned yet.
A creaking on the stairwell presaged one of the guests coming down, and Charles turned to watch them round the edge of the stairwell. To his surprise, the figure was cloaked, and almost covered head to foot; booted, gloved, scarved, and dressed in an oversized shirt and pants that looked familiar. The absurd character made their way silently towards Charles, bumping into the tables, and despite himself Charles found himself reaching under the table for the polished cudgel he kept there. It’d spent the past years beating rowdy drunks out of the inn, but back in its day Charles had stoved in more than a few brigand’s skulls with it.
As the wobbling shape came closer, however, Charles recognized the wide brown eyes between the scarf and the cloak, and his expression turned to shock. He looked around hurriedly, searching for anyone that could see them, and darted around the bar to take her by the arm. He hastily pressed her into the kitchen, closing the door behind them. “What are you thinking, coming out of the room?” he demanded, trying his best to temper his concern as not to scare the girl.
She didn’t reply at first, reaching up to pull the cloak off over her fluffy years. Sucking in unfiltered air as she pulled away the concealing scarf, Gina whined as she looked at Charles, her eyes wet with liquid worry. She glanced around the kitchen, quickly spotting the bundle of books Simon had brought to him earlier that day. She pointed at the stack and whined again, looking directly at Charles with pleading eyes.
“Gina! What are you doing down here?” asked Mary, her voice raised, coming around a table towards the shrouded kobold. Gina motioned again towards the books, and Mary’s eyes grew like saucers. “Simon? Where is he? Has he not come in yet?” She turned towards Charles. “Pa, you’ve not seen him either? He was going to the monastery. Do you think-”
“I think nothing; I know we need to be calm and reasonable about this,” Charles rumbled, motioning gently with his hands in an attempt to calm both of the girls. “He may have found what he was looking for, or have had a hard time getting inside, or any number of things. Don’t put the boy in trouble he may not have earned yet.”
“But, Pa, if he’s in trouble, then we don’t know where they may take him. Just like all of those missing pilgrims, he could just disappear. We have to do something,” Mary pleaded. Gina, meanwhile, had moved to the stack of books, cradling them in her arms and sniffing quietly, as if desperate to be reminded of Simon once more.
“Listen, girls, we can’t just go to the monastery. We’ll be of no help to anyone if we get caught too. They might-”
Charles froze as he heard the door swing open behind him. Swallowing nervously, he saw both girls standing there, paralyzed in fear, as they stared behind him at the opened door. Charles felt an urge to scoop them both up and run for the rear door, but he forced himself to turn to look behind him. “Do go on, Mr. Kramer. You were saying something about the monastery, I believe? The truth of your iniquity is revealed at last.”
Standing in the doorway leading into the inn’s common room was Lector Themras, and behind him stood the young Purifier and two of the mercenaries.
Charles turned, trying to shield the girls from view with his body, though he knew it was far too late. “Listen, Lector, there’s something going on in that monastery. They are the ones behind-” His voice died as he froze in place. His body refused to listen to his mind’s commands, save for his eyes, which managed at least to turn downwards to see the glowing chains wrapped around him, binding him in place. He fought to speak, but could only utter choked groans, and the sounds he heard from behind him suggested the two girls were suffering the same fate.
“No more lies, Mr. Kramer. You have deceived us long enough with your false claims of innocence. The creature behind you tells me everything I need to know.” Lector Themras stepped closer, his eyes burning into Charles’s. “But you will have a chance to confess your sins soon enough. And then you will face judgment.”
“Where is Simon?” burst the young man behind the priest. George stepped into the room, his face displaying naked concern. “Have you done something to him? Mary, I thought you liked him; how could you do this?”
“We shall search for Inquisitor Hopkins in time,” the Lector chided George softly. “They will confess what they have done with him, even if it takes persuasion. And if they have poisoned his mind…” Themras smiled, and Charles shivered as he looked into the darkness in his eyes. “We will do what it takes to set things right.”
“I’m going to go check on Simon,” George said, turning away from the group.
Scowling, the Lector pivoted to face him. “No, stay here. We need to take these heretics to-”
The growling sound had started so low that Charles had barely been able to hear it, but as the Lector turned, distracted, it swelled in volume. Charles felt a strange power behind him, and from the corner of his vision he could see an amber glow. By the time the priest turned back, outraged staining his face crimson, it was too late.
The shattering sound echoed through the small kitchen, and glowing shards of ethereal chain flew past Charles. The innkeeper could hear harried footsteps as glowing spears of light formed over the Lector’s head and darted forward. Apparently his aim was poor, as Charles could hear the kitchen’s rear door swing open, and the chill evening air gusted in. “Take her!” Themras snarled, and George and the mercenaries rushed past the two remaining captives, their hands racing for their weapons.
The stampede of armed men passed into the night, and Charles and his daughter were left alone with Lector Themras. The priest spent a moment collecting himself, and despite his straining efforts, in spite of all of his strength, Charles soon found he couldn’t replicate the feat the kobold had just managed. He settled for glaring at the priest, wishing he could free himself for just a minute. That was all it would take to squeeze the hateful little man’s head off, he wagered.
“Well, since my helpers are busy recapturing that beast, we will have to go about things a little differently.” Lector Themras offered Charles a wan smile. “I know that even evil men like you have your… weaknesses.” He glanced past Charles to Mary, and the innkeeper’s rage was enough to allow him to shake slightly against his chains. “A little cleansing flame would have loosened your tongue, and may have taught your daughter the price of consorting with monsters. But your purification will have to wait for now, I’m afraid.” He lifted his crozier slightly, and the head of the staff began to shine with an inner incandescence. “I will have to use less subtle methods to get the information I need. This spell is a bit too draining to use frequently, but, since I know you are some of the heretics I have sought, I cannot afford to spare it now.”
The magic building in the staff exploded into a dazzling brilliance, and Charles felt himself consumed by that light. He knew nothing more.
George panted as he sprinted through the forest. He could still see the shadowed silhouette of the monster ahead of him, but she was incredibly swift, and it was all he could do to keep her within sight. She was encumbered slightly, carrying a bundle of familiar books, but that knowledge drove George on even more, fury inspiring his heart to pound harder, his lungs to work like bellows.
His pursuit was hindered slightly by his wandering mind. He cursed himself for not finding this beast earlier; he had discovered her tracks that morning, and had followed them through the forest. He had traced them back to the inn eventually, and when Lector Themras had returned from his excursion to the west, he had informed his superior of that fact. That had been what had inspired the Lector to investigate personally, and then they had stumbled across the innkeeper and Mary meeting with this creature.
Concern for Simon pressed the Purifier to greater feats of athleticism. He feared that his friend had been captured by these monster-worshipers, and he shuddered to think what they may have done to him. The Lector would force the truth from the two at the inn, but now it fell to George to bring down the beast before it could harm anyone else. With that in mind, he reached behind him to pull his bow from its straps, and he reached back to draw an arrow from his quiver, nocking it with fluid grace even as he vaulted over roots and burst through underbrush.
He could hear the mercenaries behind him, somewhere in the distance. They were hardly prepared for a nighttime sprint through the forest, and he could hear them struggling to make up lost ground, but George knew they would be of little use until the monster was slowed somehow. They would be able to help him capture the beast if he wounded it, he knew, but that would only be necessary if he missed. With his kidnapped friend on his mind, he was determined to shoot to kill.
The kobold ran in a straight line for just a moment, but that was all George needed. Smoothly, he raised his bow, and with a moment’s thought poured his faith into his arrow. The shaft glowed with golden light as it pierced through the night – only to punch into the bark of a tree as the kobold darted to the side. George cursed as he reached back for another arrow, waiting for another chance.
The night around him grew darker as George realized they were drawing nearer to the mountain. He snarled as he deciphered her plan: that morning, during his hunt, he had followed her tracks to an odd cave in the mountainside, before tracing her trail to the inn. She was making for that same cave, he suspected, and with that in mind he forced himself onward with greater desperation. They were close now, and he could not let her escape.
Another arrow whistled through the air, but it sank into the ground as she sprinted up a hill. He drew and nocked again, pausing to aim. For a moment, she was perfectly framed, an opening in the forest’s canopy leaving her lit by cold moonlight, and he felt a surge of victory as he led his target. Perhaps realizing the end was upon her, the monster glanced back to him, and he could see the fear in her wide eyes, the desperation to live. He met that gaze, his heart pounding, and let his arrow slip.
The shot went wide.
She was gone, and, growling at his weakness, George took off after her. That moment’s head start allowed her to escape his vision, but he knew where she was going now. Moments later, he staggered, panting, into the cave that he had found that morning, looking frantically around the craggy walls. To his dismay, the shallow grotto was empty, but he knew she had come in here. Somehow, she had escaped, even though the cave came to a dead-end a few feet inside.
Furious and frustrated, George punched the wall before him. To his surprise, the stone replied with a hollow thud, and he stepped back in surprise, blinking as he glanced from his hand to the wall and back. His heart raced as he began to realize what he had just accidentally discovered, and he desperately scrabbled at the wall, searching for a hidden latch or switch. His cursory search didn’t uncover anything, but the shadows of the cave obstructed his vision, and he stepped back with a resolute frown. He knew the wall concealed a hidden passage, and he would find a way to open it.
But, first, he would summon the mercenaries, and they would go with him. If this path led to a monster’s den, he didn’t know how many beasts might be inside. Together, they could confront the monsters, and with their torches it would be easier for him to find the entrance anyways. George secured his bow, and instead slid his sword from its scabbard, glaring at the shadowed wall before him.
“Don’t worry, Simon,” the Purifier promised the empty air. “I’m coming to save you.”
Continued in “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 11“
Author’s Note:Well, I had not expected to be posting a chapter this early. After last week’s rather chaotic schedule, I was bracing for grudging progress over the next few weeks, but I managed to throw myself at the keys on Sunday, and succeeded in writing over 18 pages on that day alone. With so much achieved, I knew that I would be better off holding this chapter back in case next week is just as busy as last, but… I have no impulse control, so here we are.
Another way of looking at this is that I am posting a chapter to celebrate a personal holiday. January 14th is my Writing Day, in celebration of the day 19 years ago when I started my first fanfiction (God, I’m old). Typically, I take the day off work, sit down with a nice Pepsi float, and write my heart out. Yesterday, however, I didn’t have that option, with a wave of standardized testing going on and a trio of ballgames after school. That didn’t stop me from nearly finishing this chapter, however, so I can at least enjoy that achievement.
As for this story itself: the action is building toward the ending, as I’ve noted, but there are some twists and turns yet to come. I am still planning out the chapters ahead (There is a lot of action in upcoming scenes I need to figure out), but I would say that there are at least five chapters ahead, maybe six. By now, much of the mystery is being revealed, but only the most attentive will have made a certain connection to the previous story…
For now, though, I must work extra hard if I want to have the next chapter done in time for my usual deadline on Friday. I embrace the challenge, but I am also always grateful for the comments you all leave me. Thank you for reading, and I shall hope to return soon!
Perhaps, in time, I will even remember to sleep….
~Wynn Pendragon40422 Views