Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 11


Preface: Greetings, all! This is the eleventh chapter of the tale that began with “Wisdom in Shadow – Chapter 1,” comes immediately after “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 10,”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 11 – Relic

    Simon groaned in pain as he slumped against the wall.  His legs trembled, and his lungs were on fire.  His vision swam as he blinked into the dim light ahead of him, trying to force himself to stay upright despite the agony, the searing pain that reached all the way into his bones.  He didn’t know how much more of this torture he could stand.

     “How many of these stairs can there be?”

     He glared up at the stairs above him, zigging and zagging back and forth in tight turns.  So had it been ever since he had left the lich’s library, taking this vertical shaft straight to one of the only escape routes that led out from the laboratory.  As he rested, trying to ignore the shooting pain from his thighs, he remembered the conversation that the two of them had shared before he had begun his ascension:

     “Gah!” Simon shouted, leaning forward to plant his face into the musty open spellbook before him. “None of this is useful at all!”

     “Did you think that this was going to be easy?” Sarah demanded incredulously, rolling her violet eyes as she scanned over the manuscript before her. “I’ve lived- well, been- here for the better part of a century, and I don’t remember seeing any way to teleport someone to a place that neither of you have been to before.  Summoning spells, sure, and short-range translocation, but nothing like blindly hopping leagues.” She sighed, placing the papers down and taking up the next in the stack she had freed from her bookcases. “And anyways, we will find it sooner if you complain less and read more, especially since you are distracting me, too.”

     “Well, excuse me,” Simon mumbled, trying to resume his reading through swimming eyes and pounding temples.  His frustration only grew by the moment. “While I’m doing this, Gina is in danger.  I can’t just leave her there.”

     “It’s not like you have many other options.  Unfortunately, even if you wanted to bring her here, most of your ways out of the lab are through hostile territory.”

     Simon glanced up at the lich, concerned. “What do you mean?”

     Sarah didn’t look up from the papers she was scanning. “Well, there are three ways that lead outside.  Two are through the room you came in before, and one of those leads right back into the catacombs that you just fell out of.”

     “Well, I’ll pass on that one.”

     “The other is the service tunnels, but I have scrying spells that watch the entrance, and they showed me enough to think that way is being monitored.  This morning, one of the other churchies was nosing around there, following your kobold’s tracks from yesterday.” Sarah sighed irritably. “She took refuge from the rain in the cave that hides the entrance to the tunnels, but she managed to inadvertently lead them right to my home.  I’m getting rather tired of your hound leaving messes on my doorstep.”

     “Why do I feel like you include me in that description?” Simon asked, glancing over to see the smarmy smile on the lich’s face.  He suspected that the person she had seen had been George; he should have thought that his friend might find Gina’s tracks, but that only increased his urgency to rescue her from the inn. “And what’s the third way out?  The path to the cliffs?”

     “Unless you can fly, no; there’s no way down from there.” She pointed to one of the doors leading out of the library. “I merely use it to go out every now and then for fresh air and a little sun.” He glanced at her translucently-pale skin, but wisely kept his mouth shut. “No, the third way is up, into a sealed chamber in the monastery proper.  They keep it locked since it is important to them, and it’s placed behind the office of one of their leaders.  My teacher had that way installed when he had this laboratory built, since he had the room filled with mementos from one of his friends, and he would occasionally go there to meditate.”

     Simon started at that.  He knew she meant the Priest’s chamber, off from the abbot’s office where he had been during Themras’s interview with Sister Benevolence.  He remembered the locked door behind the prioress, and knew that was the chamber Sarah was referring to.  To think, one of his only means of escape might be through the place he had wanted to see most, the shrine of his personal hero…

     “But, on the other hand, even if you went that way, you would still have to go through the monastery itself, and after your escape earlier they will be watching for you.”

     “But they will expect me to come through the catacombs,” Simon insisted, feeling a surge of excitement.  His gut feeling was that this route could work, especially since he had managed to sneak into the monastery easily enough that afternoon. “If I can just get through the nave, I will be fine.  I can use Blindness of– err, Invisibility to sneak past the nuns and be gone before they realize I came another way.”

     Sarah looked at him dubiously, shaking her head. “You are entirely too foolhardy.  What if they catch you?”

     “They won’t.” Simon’s reassurance was meant as much for himself as for her, because this was the only way he could see would allow him to reach Gina’s side quickly.  Outside, it had to be nearing evening, and he knew that it was possible George or the Lector might come looking for him, and grow suspicious if he didn’t return from the monastery.  Keeping them both far away from his room, and Gina, was imperative.

      “Fine, then, get yourself kidnapped and sent to a sex dimension for all I care,” Sarah huffed, rolling her eyes.  She pointed behind her to one of the doors leading out of the library. “If you manage to make it out, your kobold knows the way through the tunnels; you can follow that route to come back to continue our search when you think it safe enough.  Just don’t bring the rest of your little fire-happy friends, please?”

     “I promise,” Simon smiled. “Even though it would nice to see you pick on someone else for once.”

     She didn’t met his gaze, looking aside with a sharply-sweet smile. “Oh, no, you’re plenty enough to keep me busy; I wouldn’t have time for anyone else.” Feigning distraction, she turned her gaze back to the tome before her. “Hurry back before I get bored and come up with new research concepts in need of a live subject.”  Her feral grin was threat enough to send him striding for the door.

     Gathering his resolve, Simon resumed his climb.  It was impossible to tell, but he believed he had already surpassed the catacombs and reached the lower level of the cathedral, so his destination on the upper level could not be far, or so he hoped.  He briefly envied those in the other Orders, whose training tended to be more physical than mental.  Alternatively, he wondered, had he overlooked a levitation spell during his research?  Distracting himself from his wailing leg muscles with those thoughts, he pressed on, going round and round, back and forth, in the darkness of the stairwell.            

     At long last, he arrived at a landing.  The stairs here ended at that platform, which itself merely stood before a blank stone wall.  Catching his breath, Simon leaned against that wall for a moment before beginning to run his hands over it, searching for a trigger or catch.  He found it in a shallow depression at waist height, and as he toggled it he heard a mechanism inside the stone activate, and he quickly realized that he could now swing the wall itself towards himself.  He slipped past it, glancing down at the latch and examining the other side of the wall for the matching trigger, aware that he may be forced to return this way quickly if things went poorly in the monastery’s other chambers.  Satisfied he could return, he continued on into the next room, pulling the wall-turned-door closed behind him.

     The room he found himself in was a small office, bereft of windows and smelling of dust and stale air.  The light from his Glow spell was enough to reveal the entirety of the chamber, which had more of a feel of a forgotten closet that a religious shrine, but immediately Simon felt a peace settle over him, and he gave only a glance to the sealed door at the other end of the room, knowing he would have to move on soon, but too curious to leave just yet.

     Much of the office was taken up by bookcases, although a small closet interrupted them, its doors open to reveal a collection of drab priestly robes, along with a single black cloak.  Across from these stood a small desk, which bore a smattering of papers and books.  Feeling excited and terrified beyond breathing by the knowledge of who all of these items had originally belonged to, Simon’s curiosity howled at him until he stepped closer to the desk, and with trembling fingers he reached out to touch one of the books laying there.  When a bolt from the heavens failed to appear and strike him down for this trespass on sacred ground, he grew bolder, picking the book up and brushing the dust from the cover.  Underneath that thick gray coat, he found a leather-bound tome with an owl embossed on the cover, and he looked at the shape with conflicted feelings, reflecting on everything that Sarah had told him about the Fallen God.  Still, he opened the book, and found it full of psalms and hymns, all devoted to the goddess of wisdom.  His eyes alighted on a particular line, and a chill ran up his spine as he read the name it was praising.  Nodding to himself, he closed the hymnal and replaced it on the desk where he had found it.

     He glanced up, noticing a painting above the desk.  The artwork was framed, but looked unfinished, with a wide stretch of white canvas at the bottom.  Simon knew enough about art to know this was the creation of no master, but it did have a certain warm talent to it, a fond softness to the figures it depicted that made it instantly appealing.  The art featured a vague background, a smattering of trees under a clear blue sky, but detailed in the foreground were a group of young men, each of them smiling and looking forward as if joking with the painter, all formality absent from their stances as they waited to be preserved for history by this image.

     On the far left stood a hulking young man with brown hair and a scruffy, thick chin that made the rest of his features look small in comparison.  He had his bulky arms crossed in front of his chest, and the top edge of a shield peeked over his wide shoulders.  He smiled brightly at the timelost painter, brown eyes narrowed against the gleaming sunlight.  Leaning against him casually was a second youth, this one shorter, with a swarthy complexion and a hooked nose over a mustache only an adolescent could be proud of.  He wore dark leathers and a cap over his black hair, and his smile was the widest of them all, his eyes twinkling eternally.  His hands rested on the hilts of sheathed daggers belted to his waist, but he stood with one leg crossed in front of the other, his weight supported by the pillar-like youth beside him. 

     Further to the right and behind the pair proudly stood a tall, slim youth with a vibrant green cloak thrown over his shoulders.  He had long blond hair cascading down his back, and his features were sharp and delicate, almost feminine, with high cheekbones, ears that almost came to a point, and almond-shaped eyes that gleamed with emerald pigment.  He had a bow in his hands, and he wore a slight smile, though his gaze was turned slightly to the side, aimed at another pair of the young men.  Next to him and in the middle of the group stood a slender youth that held a spear upright beside him.  This young man had curly blond hair and piercing blue eyes, and a sharp nose over his challenging smile.  His tunic left his arms bared, and he wore sandals that were laced high up his calf.

     Next stood another young man, tall and well-muscled, with his brown hair pushed back and up by a leather headband.  He stood confidently, beaming out of the painting, but his smile was no less warm for his surety.  He had a scabbard belted to his back, the strap running diagonally across his chest, but the hilt of his blade was hidden by the wide-brimmed hat of the young man that was leaning against him, his arm thrown jauntily over the swordsman’s shoulders.  The youth in the hat wore a dark robe, but the lopsided smile on his face was bright, and over the prominent nose his brown eyes shone with life.  He held a wooden staff at his side, and it ended in a familiar zigzagged shape.

     The last young man, standing only slightly apart from the others, was rather short, and looked decidedly undeveloped in comparison to the others.  His blond hair hung low over his eyes in a bowl cut, which made Simon wince sympathetically as he acknowledged how awkward it looked, and his shy smile and bright eyes made him look kind and eager.  He clutched to his robes a leather-bound book, and behind his hands the shape of an owl was visible.

     Simon stared at that final figure for a long minute, his pulse pounding in his head.  He knew who these young men were, or at least who they would become.  This painting was nothing like the featureless statues he had come to associate with them, or even the heroic forms in the painting in the library; these were just seven boys younger than himself, probably at the very beginning of the journey that would change history, before anyone knew that they were special. “You were right, Mary,” he finally murmured, still staring in awe at the painting before him. “They were human.  They were so incredibly human.”

     His eyes fell to the bottom of the painting, where a small looping signature proclaimed the painter as ‘Norelle.’  Further down, in the white of the canvas, seven signatures were arranged below the figures in the painting, each in a different hand: Theodric the BoldChristophe SuttonPercival FordAlex WilliamsAdam MiltonJohn FosterPaul Bernard.  These words seared themselves into Simon’s mind like brands, and he found himself reading over the signatures again and again.

     Overwhelmed, he leaned forward to get closer, but his hand fell unevenly on a book on the desk in front of him, and he pulled back, looking at it.  Unlike the hymnal from before, this was a slim journal, the cloth cover darkened by sweat and frayed at the edges.  His eyes widening in wonder, Simon delicately plucked the book from the desk, opening the clasp with his breath locked in his lungs.  The writing inside matched that of the final signature, and despite himself Simon found himself reading, flipping from page to page.

      …Alex is injured, again, all because he charged in before Adam could get into position…

     ….Theo is still looking for his sun medallion.  I am tempted to tell him Christophe took it while he was bathing, but I know that will just mean that something of mine turns up missing for a while…

     …John has a new theory about the difference between monster magic and his own.  He also won’t stop talking about it.  John always has new theories…

     Simon paused on one particular page.  The writing there seemed darker, coarser, as if deep emotion had gripped its author.    

     They say this time is different from the rest, worse.  They say that’s why the gods chose to bless seven of us this time.  They say that the other gods were too afraid to give their blessings to heroes of their own, but that we will be enough.

     They say that the Dark God himself, the one that made the previous Overlords, leads the monsters this time.  They say he has awoken the dragons from their slumber, and creates new creatures to wipe out everyone that stands against him.  They say he is unbeatable, that no mere mortal could resist his powers. 

     They say that this is supposed to be the final battle.  They say this time, either we win, or humanity loses.  They say we could save the whole world, or that this could be the time that humanity is wiped out completely.  They say even the gods are afraid.

     I hope they’re wrong, but I feel that they are right.  May the gods protect us all.

     Simon flipped on, but paused as a familiar phrase caught his eyes, and he turned back to that page hurriedly, quickly devouring its contents.

     Wisdom has a price, and that price is pain.  I know this when I look at the people around me, people who have lost so much, and have been changed by it.  Grief writes wisdom deep into us, so deep that we can never forget.  I see it when Adam and John talk about the village they grew up in, lost to the Dark God’s armies before I ever met them.  I hear it when Christophe speaks about sweet, kind Norelle.  I find it on the faces of the refugees we try to help, and those we are too late to save.

     I know all of this suffering has a purpose, and that purpose is to help us end suffering.  We learn from pain to avoid pain, and we pass our wisdom on so others will do the same.  Everything we endure is for a better tomorrow; if not for us, then for those we love.

     I am a healer.  That is all I can do.  I can’t throw fireballs like John, or cleave boulders in half like Adam, or fend off blows like Theo.  But I wasn’t there to heal Norelle when the sickness took her.  I can’t be there for so many people we find, when we are too late… I can’t heal them all.  What, oh merciful goddess, am I to learn from all of this?  From those who are gone, who I cannot heal?  They carry on no wisdom, so it falls to me to bring it with me.  But what am I to learn, except that pain is everywhere, and that war will only come again and again?

     What wisdom comes from the pain I feel at failing them?

     His throat tight, Simon lowered the book, his chest aching as he imagined himself in the Priest’s – no, Paul’s – place.  He could feel the helplessness, the fatigue, hanging on those words.  And, for all the heroes had done… it hadn’t ended with them.  Monsters and men were still at war.  The killing continued.  Maybe it always would.

     Refusing to set the book down just yet, Simon flipped onward, seeking out the ending.  The journal only contained writing three-quarters of the way to its rear cover, and a cloth bookmark was pressed into the final inked page.  Bracing himself for what was to come, Simon sat down in the dusty chair in front of the desk, his arcane light hanging over the book in his hands.

     I finally understand.

     For a while, I despaired.  The Dark God’s new magic is truly terrible.  I watched as people turned into vicious beasts right in front of my eyes.  I watched soldiers get torn apart by their fellows, now twisted monsters full of rage.  If not for John’s magic blowing those dark mists away from us, I might have changed just like that.  Maybe that is what the Dark God wanted.

     But I see how to stop it.  The old legends tell of a hero who sacrificed himself to make a magical wall to keep the monsters back.  I could never manage something so impressive, but I think I know of a way to keep that magic from spreading, at least.  If I could do that, then we might just have a chance to regroup, and then maybe Adam’s infiltration plan will finally work.    

     If I fail, then the winds will carry those dark mists to the west, towards cities full of people living their lives.  They would all change, become slaves to the Dark God, turn on their families and their friends and their lovers.  Everything we’ve done, everything we’ve sacrificed, would have been for nothing.

     I can’t fail.  I choose not to.  I know this is my purpose, and I pray that my goddess will help me achieve this.  Whatever it costs me, I will pay it, if it can end the suffering.

     I miss my old chapel, full of moldy old books and half-broken pews.  I miss the priests there, even drunk Father Barolo.  I miss the days when all I had to do was read, and fetch supplies from the town below, and sweep – always sweep.  But I was chosen as a hero for a reason, and this is it, I know.  I will trust my goddess’s wisdom.  Whatever happens, whatever I have to do, I will be happy to make a real difference.

    I just wish I could see that mountain one more time.

     Simon closed the book, his breathing ragged.  the darkness, his mind whirling, before he could finally move once more.  He started to replace the book on the desk, but froze halfway there, his mind rebelling at the notion.  What good was this wisdom, locked away in a room to decay?  Which was better: preserving the Priest’s relics, or bringing Paul’s words into the light so they could help someone else?  Simon made his own decision, and he slid the journal into one of his pockets as he stood from the chair, a new determination burning within him.

     A moment later, the chain binding the door shut rattled to the floor.  Simon stepped out of the darkened chamber into the abbot’s office, his jaw set as he strode into the room, dismissing his lighting spell with a wave.  With a thought, he cast another spell and faded from view, and it took him little time to walk through the unoccupied office.  He remembered the debate between Themras and Sister Benevolence, considering their words in a new light now that he knew the truth behind the nun’s faith.  He remembered that Sarah had said that the Fallen God wanted to defeat time itself, and he thought of the sealed office, where they had hidden away every last relic the Priest had owned.  Simon couldn’t help but feel that such a way was cowardice; Paul had wanted to make the world better, not hide away from it.  At the same time, he definitely could not agree with Themras, who had wanted to burn such knowledge as useless.

     He didn’t have time to consider such philosophical ideas, however.  Instead, he carefully opened the door that led from the abbot’s office into the landing, peeking out into the open area around the stairwell.  He could see none of the nuns walking about, so he opened the door only wide enough to slide out, closing it gently behind him.  He made his way towards the stairs, keeping his footfalls as quiet as possible as he searched every shadow for watching eyes.  He watched the doorway that led to the prioress’s office in particular; after his run-in with the armored woman in the catacombs, Simon especially did not want to encounter Sister Benevolence.  He suspected that she was much more than she seemed.

     He made his way down the stairs to the first floor, and then to the nave, without incident.  The monastery seemed perfectly silent, and the dancing torches that lit the halls glowed off the pale stone, creating shifting shadows in every corner.  He didn’t see any nuns until he was into the nave, but as usual clusters of the sisters were standing along the walls chatting in whispered conferences, even despite the late hour.  Simon glanced down at his hand once more, glad to see the shimmer of his invisibility magic, but still he watched the nuns to see if any turned his direction.  They did not, distracted by their conversations, their faces hidden under their wimples.

     As Simon approached the center of the chamber of worship, he checked every nook and cranny for signs of someone observing him.  The windows were dark, their frames glinting in the firelight.  As he looked up at the ceiling, he again noticed the avian statues along the tops of the pillars, including the owls, which all seemed to be staring in his direction.  This gave him pause as he looked forward to where he had been standing earlier that day when he had first noticed the uncanny sculptures; they had been facing that way then, but now… His skin standing in goosebumps, Simon slowed his pace to an amble, looking around him in anxiety.  He knew instinctually that something was very wrong.

     As he reached the center of the nave, the nuns began to move as one.  Without a word, with no sign of a cue, they all turned and walked towards the room’s exit.  Those standing closest to the narthex filed into it and made their way towards the main door leading out of the monastery.  That uncanny procession included enough of the sisters that Simon knew he wouldn’t be able to slip past them, but even as he stopped in place he knew that they were not the only problem he was about to face.  They were stalling him, keeping him from making it out of the monastery, which meant…

     Pivoting on his heel, Simon turned and sprinted back towards the staircase, abandoning all efforts at remaining silent.  He dashed out of the nave and ran as hard as his legs could carry him towards the stairs, but even as he ran he could hear the main doors to the monastery bang open.  He took the stairs three at a time, vaulting up them as he heard a sound like howling wind flow into the nave below.  As he crested the stairs, barely keeping himself upright, his terror pressed him towards the door into the abbot’s office even as his lungs screamed at him with fiery agony.

     As he pushed himself into that office, he spared a glance behind him, and what he saw terrified him even more.  A stream of shadows erupted from the center of the stairs, arcing straight after him.  He threw himself past the door, flinging it shut behind him as he dashed across the office, black spots dancing in his eyes even as adrenaline kept his legs pumping.  He flung himself against the unlocked door to the Priest’s sanctum, but lost his footing, falling to the floor with a crash that left him breathless.  He didn’t have the capacity to think enough to realize he had just condemned himself to capture, clawing at the floor in utter helplessness.

     But nothing happened.  Panting for breath, he turned to look behind him.  Fear spiked anew in his chest as he saw a familiar shape standing just beyond the doorway: the armored, winged woman that had challenged him in the catacombs, her face twisted in rage.  Her eyes cored into him, but she didn’t move, unwilling to cross the threshold.  Simon gulped down a few more breaths before she spoke. “Do not touch anything in there.” She scowled at him, daring him to defy her. “You do not know what you tempt by going into that room.  My wrath is nothing compared to that of a goddess.”

     Simon thought briefly of the journal in his pocket, but he refused to acknowledge that to her.  He wasn’t certain why she wouldn’t come into the room, but he didn’t want to realize the reason belatedly. “The Priest is sacred to me, too,” he managed through his heaving breaths.

     “Children like you are not worthy of his memory.  You pervert everything he was.” The woman’s gauntleted hands twitched into claws, as if she desperately wanted to seize him and drag him from that room. “You make a mockery of his sacrifice.”

     “And you don’t?” Simon couldn’t help himself, his righteous frustration forcing the panted words past his lips. “You lock away his memory.  You put on a façade in order to kidnap people, all for some twisted fantasy.  He wanted to change the world, not stop it from changing!”

     The woman recoiled from him, a procession of various forms of fury flitting over her face. “You don’t understand.  This world is broken, and your false religion only makes it worse.  We are just trying to save those we can.” For just a moment, she shook her head mournfully, looking away. “We act out of love, not hatred like you.” Her anger returning, she raised her eyes to him once more. “But you will learn, soon enough.  In Pandemonium, you will realize the error of your ways.  She will show you.”

     “Sorry,” Simon said, climbing back to his feet and reaching for the edge of the door. “I think I’ll pass on that invitation.” She stared at him fiercely as he began to close the door in her face. “But I thank you for it all the same.”

     The door closed, and Simon leaned against it, his heart still pounding.  From the other side of the door, he could still hear her voice. “You’ve already been chosen, and my mistress is very persistent.  Whatever she thinks you are, whether or not she is right, she will have you for her own.”

     Simon didn’t respond.  Instead, he staggered further into the office, summoning his ball of arcane light once more.  He had managed to escape, but now that route out of the monastery was closed to him.  He moved to the false wall, his mind heavy with concern as he felt for the hidden trigger that would allow him into the staircase.  He knew that he wouldn’t be able to return to the inn through the monastery, which meant he would have to try the route through the service tunnels.  He would just have to hope George wasn’t watching that way very closely, and try to conceal his tracks as best he could.

     Even so consumed by what was to come, Simon still paused to glance back one final time at the sanctum.  His eyes drank in every detail they could, and he smiled a final time towards the painting.  He wondered, briefly, what Paul Bernard would think of his own actions, his decision to risk his life for someone he cared for.  He believed his hero would approve.

     Reassured and resolved despite the setback he had faced, Simon proceeded back into the stairwell, and the door closed after him, leaving only silence and footprints in the dust.

 

******

 

     As the door opened into the home that had once belonged to Father Wulfe, and before the man on the other side could enter, he heard the faint sounds of sobbing from within.  Bracing himself for the worst, Sergeant Pascual stepped into the small house, staying bent at the waist to keep his head from banging against the low ceiling.  He had never enjoying visiting the new inhabitant of this place, but never before had he dreaded coming here as much as he did now.

     Inside, the scene was only partially what he had expected.  Certainly, the young girl sobbing in the corner, her hair disheveled and her wrists and ankles shackled to a nearby dresser, was nothing to surprise the jaded mercenary; he knew what men such as Themras would do to get at the truth, and he knew well no one was safe from that malign curiosity, regardless of age or gender.  Instead, it was the Lector himself that surprised the sergeant; instead of busying himself with pliers and hot pokers, the priest sat sedately in his chair, staring off at one of the walls with a contemplative expression.  In front of him stood the innkeep, a bear of a man that Pascual would not have enjoyed tangling with.  Now, however, that man stood rigidly, eyes open but sightless, as a golden gleam emanated from his entire body.  He showed no signs of life aside from the rising and falling of his chest, and stood unnaturally still, as straight as the low roof would allow, as if held up by invisible strings.

     “Ah, sergeant, you come at a good time,” murmured the priest offhandedly. “Mr. Kramer here has just told me everything I needed to know.  It seems our faith in young Inquisitor Hopkins was decidedly misplaced.” Themras wore a sharp smile, but his tone was self-assured, as if he had expected little else. “The boy has been keeping a nasty little secret.  He has been under the sway of a monster this entire time.  This is a harsh lesson: never can we relax our guard, because heresy can sink its claws deep even into those that appear the most pious.”

     The sergeant nodded mechanically, trying not to look at the spellbound man standing in front of the priest.  He made the mistake of glancing instead to the crumpled form of the girl, and she looked at him pleadingly, begging him for help with her eyes.  He could only look away; whatever her crimes were, he didn’t want to share her punishment.  Not when she had crossed a man that solved all problems with fire.

     “He also confessed to knowing that the witches in the monastery are corrupt as well, sending creatures in the night to kidnap victims for their dark rites.  It seems this town will need to be cleansed of such vile influences.  It will not be a peaceful process, but it is necessary if we are ever to be free of corruption.” Lector Themras stood, plucking a rolled missive from the desk nearby. “But such is not a concern for men like you.  You only think of coin, and wicked ways to spend it.  So here, earn your pay: ride out and deliver this letter to the nearest outpost of the Orders.  It is a call for reinforcements, so make certain they know that it is urgent and of the greatest importance.  Tell them to come with greatest haste, because I will not wait for their arrival.”

     Pascual stepped forward to receive the letter, nodding to convey his understanding of the orders.  He had learned as a novice that the less one said to men with power, the less they would focus on you, and he was once more proven right as the priest glanced back towards the stone-still form of the innkeeper. “I will see to the monastery myself tonight, but ride as swiftly as you can.  Tomorrow, I shall need your help preparing at least two more pyres.”

     “You monster!” screamed the girl on the floor, lunging towards Themras as far as her chains would allow. “We didn’t do anything wrong!  Gina is innocent, and Simon is a good man!  You just want to hurt us because that is what you like-!”

     The Lector snapped his fingers, and a golden glow appeared around the girl, who immediately went still, her eyes dimming. “Oh, and, before you go, could you help me lock these criminals in the bedroom?  I would hate for them to try to escape before their purification ceremony tomorrow.”

     His throat thick with guilt and trepidation, Pascual moved to comply.  He plucked the key to the shackles from the desk next to the priest, and used it to free the girl, who stood mechanically as he pulled at her elbow.  She trailed wordlessly after him as he led her towards the bedroom, dragging her chains behind her.  The room that he deposited her in had belonged to a girl perhaps a few years younger than her, still decorated with wilted flowers and frilled curtains, but the furniture was solid enough to bind her to, and with a heavy heart Pascual did just that.

     When he came back into the main room, he found the Lector sitting there with a small wooden box in his hands.  As he watched, the priest caressed the box, staring at it with unnatural passion, his fingers brushing lightly against the clasp as he gripped it as though he were afraid the shadows would steal it from him.  Saying nothing, Pascual grabbed hold of the innkeeper and led him into the room as well, bringing another set of heavy chains into the makeshift prison.  He made the large man sit down as he shackled him securely, wrapping the chains around his limbs, but the prisoner made no move to resist, staring straight ahead.

     Shaken by the pair’s silence, Sergeant Pascual closed the door, sliding a small table in front of it to keep them from escaping easily, although he knew such precautions were likely unnecessary.  He didn’t know how long the priest’s magic would last, but he had spoken before to someone who had suffered under the same spell, and the words they had used to describe the experience had left him determined never to bring it upon himself.  Even after it wore off, neither of them would probably be able to rise from the floor for many hours to come.  By that time, they would probably recover just enough for them to walk to their own executions.

     When Pascual returned to the Lector, he noticed something had changed.  The air itself felt strange, thick and charged, and a pale light glowed from the box in the priest’s hands.  The open box; inside, for just a moment, Pascual could see a single shimmering feather, incredibly white to the point of being translucent.  The glow came from that item, and Themras was staring down at it with unconcealed rapture on his face, eyeing it greedily as though the item were worth all the riches in the world.  The Lector reached out to cradle the feather gingerly, and the light in the room dimmed, as though the priest’s hand drank it in.  His skin did seem to take on a shine of its own, and when Themras turned to look towards the sergeant, Pascual recoiled from the pale golden light that seemed to be burning within his eyes. “Forgive me,” the priest demanded, “but it seems I have still have work to do.”

     Sergeant Pascual could not leave the building fast enough.  He was already on his horse, galloping away, when Lector Themras emerged from the home, his regalia and his crozier gleaming with their own luminescence, his eyes alight in gold, and the shimmering feather crushed within the grasp of his other hand.  Without a word, the priest began the slow walk up the road that ascended the mountain, a newborn star burning within the darkness and climbing to the heavens.

 

Continued in “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 12

Author’s Note: Well, I was successful at producing two chapters this week, which I consider a surprising success with my current schedule.  With testing over, next week will most likely not be as productive, so, barring a snow day or some other great boon, expect my next chapter will be released in a week.  The next one should prove interesting with a few anticipated confrontations; please look forward to it!

     I will admit that I had to go back to an old chapter to make another change, although for reasons I mentioned in another author’s note previously.  Chapter 4 of Not Alone had another instance of me referring to the age of the Seven Heroes being centuries ago, instead of just over a century, so I updated it to make that in line with my current chronology.  Hopefully by now, much of the ending of that chapter in particular will be beginning to make greater sense… 

     I still intend to try to complete this story by chapter fifteen, but there is a lot that has to happen before then.  We are into the real action of this tale now, and it doesn’t slow down much until the end – that is not to say we are done with the more lascivious side of this story, however!  That is coming, too… But, allow me to thank you all for the generous comments I have been receiving (They helped to motivate me greatly this week!), and I hope you’ve enjoyed this chapter as well. 

     Now, I return to my planning, and my pen… perhaps after I take this chance for a little stolen sleep…

      ~Wynn Pendragon  

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