Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 2

Preface: Greetings, all! This is the second chapter of the tale that began with “Wisdom in Shadow – Chapter 1,” 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 2 – Solitude

     When Simon returned to his room after his dinner, the stack of books he had recovered from his saddlebag held firmly in his arms, he discovered that a place had already been prepared for his new roommate.  His room at the inn was surprisingly spacious, certainly more so than the dormitories he had occupied as a Page.  The bed, he had discovered the previous night, was luxuriously soft and wide, though his tormented thoughts hadn’t allowed him to do it justice with a solid slumber.  Now, however, the bed was made, unlike the twisted mess he had left that morning, and in the corner of the room a stack of thick blankets had been arranged on the floor as a makeshift couch for his canine cohabiter.

     Simon dumped his books onto the bed and collapsed down next to them, removing his glasses and grasping his temples with both hands as he sighed deeply.  His mind whirled as he fought to stay in control of his thoughts, but failed utterly.  As dread clawed at his heart and anxiety prickled up his spine, he turned to the only distraction within reach, digging through the stack of books.  Reading had been the childish escape he had utilized ever since he had been taken from his parents by a deacon charged with finding promising youths to recruit for the Orders.  Still, his collection was small enough to be hidden from prying eyes: a handful of faded, loose-spined storybooks with fanciful illustrations, and an assortment of treatises on divine magic.  One book in particular he isolated from the others, a thin novel with a luridly-colored cover.  This one he hastened to hide, pressing it down between the head of the bed and the wall it rested against.  He had always regretted purchasing it, a vulgar romance tale about a knight and a common woman with several floridly-described love scenes.  In selecting it, he had fallen prey to two swindling con men: a smooth-tongued bookseller that had scandalously implied that it had been written by a famous monster author, and his own teenaged libido.  Still, he hadn’t discarded it; rereading his favorite sections had proven quite educational, though he had not yet enjoyed an opportunity to put said knowledge into practice.  Few women hastened to go on a date with someone who could, if jilted, order them to prison or worse.

     It hadn’t hurt that owning that book, and some of the others, had been a small insurrection against his teachers.  Unlike many of his peers, he had not entered the Holy Orders voluntarily.  His family had left their homes in Avalon City when he had neared the age of recruitment, but after they journeyed south an unfortunate encounter with one of the church’s talent-seekers years later had earned him an order to report to the capitol of the Hellenistic Empire.  His parents had trusted him with several of those books as a memento, since they knew they would be denied visits to him until after he had finished his training.  Years ago, one of his instructors had told him, offhandedly, that his parents had perished in a monster attack further east, and now those books were all that remained of his life before the church.  He reached out to one of the storybooks with a melancholy smile, trying to remember the faces of his parents.  Even if they had survived, he wasn’t certain he would recognize them.

     A quiet knock at the door made him pause.  Thrusting himself up from the bed and placing his glasses back on his face, he slipped swiftly to the door, cracking it open, his heart in his throat.  What if the Lector paid him a visit, or George?  The ebullient face and bristling beard of Charles, instead, peeked at him from the hall, and beside the innkeeper was a girl clad in a long dress with a large, fashionable hat that hung low over her face. “In you go, girl,” Charles prompted, and she walked into Simon’s room silently, brushing past him without a word. “She’s been fed already.  I’ll bring up breakfast for you both in the morning, so don’t worry about that,” the innkeeper offered in a whisper.

     “Thanks.” Simon nodded gratefully, and his co-conspirator clasped him again on the shoulder with a brave smile before turning back to the stairs that led down to the inn’s lower level.  Simon closed the door behind him, taking a long moment to gather his nerves before he turned to face his newest challenge.

     The soft sound of piling cloth drew his eyes in a hurry, and he whirled to find that Gina had removed her impromptu costume, stepping clear of the crumpled dress on the floor, her hat placed carefully on his wardrobe.  His breath caught in this throat until he realized that underneath she still wore the same rags around her chest and waist as before, preserving her modesty.  Her head was lowered to face the ground, and she didn’t look at him.

     For a long moment he froze indecisively, not certain how best to proceed.  In truth, he knew very little about how to interact with kobolds, or any type of monster, or girls for that matter.  He cleared his throat, stepping closer and bending down to pick up the dress off the floor.  Carefully folding it and placing it on a dresser, he winced as the awkward silence stretched towards infinity.  Dimly, he wondered if she would even understand him at all; were kobolds advanced enough to understand human languages?  The tension in his shoulders kept him locked in place, turned away from her as the words inside him began to boil over.

     “I’m sorry,” he managed. “I’m sorry for… for what we did, to Father Wulfe, to your family.  You didn’t deserve that.  He… he didn’t deserve that.” Simon uttered the blasphemy without regret. “I can’t change what we did, but I want to help you.” He turned, and found that she was facing him, though he still couldn’t read her expression. “I’ll help you escape to somewhere you can live without… us.” He chuckled; just a few hours into his crime, and he already felt weird lumping himself in with the rest of his Order.

     Simon started as Gina walked up to him, her eyes locked on his face.  When she stood directly in front of him, she leaned closer, her fluffy ears level with his eyes, and tilted her head to the side.  He heard her inhaling in rapid sniffs, smelling up the side of his neck, across his chest, breathing in his scent.  With that done, she straightened, looking him in the eyes once more.  Her mouth opened, but the sound that came out was more of a soft bark than speech.

     Simon’s shoulders slumped, though whether in relief or exhaustion he couldn’t tell. “So you can’t speak, but I guess that means you accept my apology?  I mean, for what it counts.” She didn’t reply, but her tail began to wag slowly behind her.  He smiled at her, scratching his head. “Well, that works, I guess.  No one will overhear us talking if you can’t speak.” Her response was a softer bark, as if she had understood.  Her eyes remained locked on his face, and he had trouble tearing his own gaze from those soulful brown orbs, drawn almost by an intense gravity to look inside. “Well, then for the next week, it looks like we’ll both be living here.”  He tore his eyes away to motion towards the pile of blankets. “Mr. Kramer has a bed for you here, so…” He felt a bead of sweat roll down his forehead as he smiled uncomfortably, feeling profoundly off-balance being the one only talking. “I’m going to get ready for bed myself.”

     With that declaration, he stepped over to his bed, clearing it of his literary debris, stacking them neatly beside the bed.  He moved to extinguish all the tapers in the room save for the one on the nightstand beside his bed as he heard the kobold get settled onto the piled blankets.  With that done, he reached down to strip to his underclothes, suddenly conscious of Gina’s presence in the room.  He glanced behind to see if she was watching, and his heart jolted when he discovered that she was staring blandly across the room at him.  He met her gaze for a long moment, trying to will her to look away, but she was unfazed. “Sorry, I’m changing,” he suggested.  She blinked, but did not move.  Sighing, Simon turned his back to her, quickly disrobing down to his long undershirt.  A suspicious glance behind revealed that her gaze had not shifted an inch, and it may have just been paranoia but he thought he saw the ghost of a smile tugging at her lips.

     Thus attired for slumber, Simon threw back the sheets and climbed into bed.  He considered staying up to read, but the sound of rustling across the room suggested to him that it may be impolite to keep her up with the light from his candle.  Perhaps, he decided, this day would be best left behind as soon as possible.  With that resolved, Simon took up the taper and extinguished it with a burst of breath, sealing the room in shadow.  Placing the candle back atop the nightstand along with his glasses, Simon rolled over, turning his back to the rest of the room.

     His stubborn heart rejected his wishes for it to slow its pace, and in the tight silence of the room his ears perked at every shift and shuffle from Gina’s bed.  Still, he stretched out as best he was able, letting his muscles voice their protests at last.  He had walked all over the town that day, seeking out villagers to interrogate, and was still a bit saddlesore from their voyage from Olympus City.  His mind, too, was wearied from the probing conversations he had fought through all day.  Perhaps, he consoled himself, it wouldn’t be as hard to sleep that night as he had feared.

     Suddenly, his eyes shot wide open in the darkness.  Sleep had been draping itself over him to the point he had not noticed the soft sounds of movement, but the rustling of his own sheets was a different matter entirely.  Even in the dim moonlight emerging from the room’s single window, he could see the bulge in his blankets traveling upward.  He swallowed loudly as a furry-eared head popped out of those entrapping sheets, brown eyes staring at him intensely in the moonlight.  Somewhere lower, he was conscious of a furred tail thumping against the constraining blankets, and she offered him the softest bark he had ever heard in lieu of an explanation.

     Simon froze in place, refusing to even blink as he stared down at her.  He had definitely not prepared his heart for this.  Instead, he tensed himself into a statue as she began to sniff at his face once again, lowering her head to smell his chest.  As he waited, she looked at him expectantly, and he met that gaze with terror pounding on his ribs.  Finally, his paralyzed brain grinding to life, he sighed in defeat. “Of course.  You aren’t used to sleeping alone.  There was only one bed in Lyra’s room.” At that name, the kobold whined, and looked down.  Simon winced at his blunder. “I know you miss her.  I… wish I could help you find her.” That drew Gina’s eyes back to him, and even in the shadows he could see her lip trembling, the moisture in her eyes.  By reflex he freed his hand from the covers, and it paused halfway to its destination, Gina glancing at it curiously with a faint sniffle.  Overcoming his hesitation, Simon pressed on, lowering his hand to her head, patting her gently. “It’s okay,” he offered lamely, stroking her head with short movements. “It’s okay.”  Her face lowered to his chest, and he could feel her trembling as moisture began to seep into his shirt.

     He jumped slightly as he felt her furred arms brush against his sides, and she paused, but when he didn’t stop her she completed the motion, hugging him tightly as she sniffled, her almost inaudible whines bringing tears to his own eyes.  He shifted in the bed, and she pulled back, revealing wet cheeks gleaming in the moonlight, but instead of moving away he slid his arm under her neck to hug her back, his other hand still stroking her head.  Their embrace complete, he squeezed her compassionately, and that broke her last resistances.  Heart-wrenching sobs filled the room as he stroked her hair, murmuring comfort into her ears, remembering a time when he had lost everyone he loved and how he had wanted to be held just like this.

     She cried for a long time, and despite himself Simon felt his brain drifting away to sleep as he unconsciously stroked her hair.  He jostled back to half-wakefulness as he felt her snuggle in closer to his body, her grief spent, and began to pet her in longer touches, his hand trailing from the top of her head down to the ends of her hair, midway down her back.  He could feel the smooth skin of her upper back under his palm, and that set off quiet alarm bells in his head, though his sleep-dulled mind was slow to pick up why.  It was only as she shifted, her soft chest pressing tighter against his, that understanding flared to life like a newborn star, and his eyes shot open wide once more.  Carefully, he stroked her hair once more to confirm his suspicions, then shifted in the bed, turning away from her to glance towards her originally-intended bed.  Sure enough, the moonlight trickling through the window revealed raglike cloths draped onto the blankets.  Simon’s overtaxed heart seized as he realized that she had also stripped before entering his bed, and now he was separated from a naked girl only by his own nightshirt.

     Gina shifted to look up at him as he turned back, her eyes curious at his terrified expression.  He forced a rigid smile, but she didn’t lose her inquisitive countenance, her head tilted slightly to the side.  As he settled back into his place, she hugged him tightly, not realizing she was only making matters worse.  Trying to restrain a surge of blood that was threatening to depart southward, Simon resumed his stroking, hoping to calm them both to sleep as swiftly as he could manage.  Instead, she smiled up at him with gratitude, and to his pleasured horror leaned closer to his face, her tongue flicking out against his chin as she lapped softly at his face.  Simon shuddered, but she continued for several moments, before barking softly with a brightening smile.  He returned the expression, even though his legs were clamped together in hopes of restraining his growing problem, and ruffled the hair on the top of her head.  This satisfied her, and she burrowed her face against his chest once more with a few final sniffs, leaving him wide awake in the darkness, thinking about runic circles and ancient stories and definitely not the soft, naked body pressed tightly against him.

     While earlier in the day Simon had predicted he would have trouble sleeping that evening, he would never have been able to predict the cause.

 

******

 

     He dreamed of shadows.

     The boy in the black cloak quaked in the darkness, looking up at the towering spire that loomed over him.  Atop that peak stood a castle, a grim edifice that was silhouetted against the dying light.  Banners flapped on its walls, painted in blasphemy, fires burning purple with lewd shadows cavorting amongst the tongues of flame.  Faceless statues stood upon the ramparts, their heads cruelly smashed into anonymity, and the smallest statue loomed over them all.

     He turned to flee, but his ankles were bound.  He looked down in terror, finding chains wrapping around his legs like serpents, teasing his thighs mischievously.  He yanked at them to free himself, but the chains continued undeterred, seizing him with stifling tightness, and he gasped as he felt his freedom sucked from him with a chilling caress.

     A sultry female voice whispered into his ear, though no one stood by him. “Wisdom has its price, my child,” warned the woman, her voice dark and rich and potent. “That price is pleasure.  Receive it, and surrender to it, and be endarkened by our enlightenment.”  He shook his head helplessly, sensing her dark humor, her lust.  She was coming to claim him, and there was nothing he could do but shiver in terror as the shadow loomed over him, ready to devour him into her eternal embrace.

 

******

 

      Soft moans greeted Simon as he returned reluctantly to the land of the living that morning.  Blinking drowsily, he tightened his grip on the warm body he was holding, squeezing it to him with the drowsy infantilism of a child clutching a favored stuffed bear.  A rhythmic motion sent throbbing pleasure waving up his spine, and he moaned in unconscious appreciation, pleased to have left some terrifying nightmare only to find a much more pleasant dream.  A soft panting sound in his ear, however, soon convinced him this was no nightvision, and he opened his eyes to the glare of morning sunlight.

     He felt a soft form grinding against his pelvis, and his brain tripped on its way to sudden wakefulness.  It seemed a certain traitorous appendage had awoken long before his brain had stumbled out of slumber, and Gina had most certainly noticed.  Now, the kobold was pressing their lower bodies together in a rolling motion, and the only thing that separated their loins was his thin longshirt, which had been moistened by one or both of them.  He could see her face, and she was biting her lip with an expression of languid need, her cheeks flushed as she breathed heavily.  She slid her body against his length, and Simon groaned at the pleasure, drawing her half-lidded eyes up to his face with a delighted smile.

     A sudden civil war erupted between his brain and his lower parts, who refused all commands to disengage and retreat, lost in the lust of battle between their grinding bodies.  Treason seeped into his head as he wondered, for only a moment, how much better it would feel to just lift his shirt out of the way, to feel her nakedness directly against his-

     A polite rapping at his door threw the conflict in favor of fleeing, and panic plunged its talons into his heart.  Hastily scooting away from the alarmed kobold, he floundered for his glasses and breeches, calling out, “J-just a moment!”  Distracted by the terror that his visitor could be Themras, he hurriedly drew up his pants and struggled into a thicker shirt as he rushed to the door.  Taking a moment to slow his breathing and calm his thoughts, he gritted his teeth in frustration that he hadn’t warned Gina to stay out of sight.  Thankfully, the bed was not in view of the door, so, as long as the Lector didn’t enter the room… Simon’s anxiety wrung at his stomach, and he felt like weeping, regretting this entire arrangement immensely.

     His façade prepared, unlike his heart, Simon opened the door with an attempt at a smile.  To his incredible relief, he was not greeted by the sight of the priest’s penetrating glare, but instead the awkward smile of a girl his own age.  The young lady, no doubt the daughter the innkeep had mentioned, was considerably shorter than him, with long, voluminous brown hair pulled back in a loose braid, and she wore large spectacles that dominated her rounded face.  ‘Round’ was a widely-applicable word for the maiden; she was generously endowed, especially her chest, which strained at the brown cotton dress she wore, but was pleasantly plump in general.  Simon forced his eyes back to her face, blushing; it seemed his thinking was still tainted by the impulses of his still-eager member. “I’m sorry to wake you; I just wanted to bring your breakfast-” the girl started, her own eyes canvassing him as well, noticing a somewhat-reduced bulge in his breeches, before glancing past him with paling cheeks. “Sorry to interrupt!” she blurted, as Simon also glanced back to notice the naked form of Gina walking unabashedly over to her barely-ruffled bedding to pick up her own clothing.  The Inquisitor grunted as he felt the tray the girl had been carrying bump into his chest, and as soon as he took it from her the girl bolted for the stairs.

     “No, no, please, we weren’t-  It’s not what you-” Simon spluttered, but the girl was gone.  Sighing in exhaustion inappropriate for this early in the morning, he turned back into the room, balancing the tray enough to close the door behind him.  “Well,” he mused bitterly to himself, “I didn’t think it was possible for people here to like me any less.  Glad to see I could add ‘pervert’ to my list of virtues in their eyes.” He sat down on the bed, lifting the lid to reveal a plate of warm bread and a container of jam, while he presumed the lidded can contained chilled milk.  He poured one of the glasses on the tray full and split the bread between the plate and the tray, handing the plate and the glass of milk to Gina.  The kobold, now dressed in her original rags, took her breakfast and sat down on the floor in front of him, smearing the bread heavily with jam before nibbling at it enthusiastically.

     As Simon chewed on his own meal, rather impressed by the flavor of the bread, his mood was a sour counterpoint to the sweetness of the fruity jam.  Some exiled part of him fumed in petulant regret that Gina had been interrupted, while the rest of him was disturbed by what had nearly happened.   He knew Gina was more intelligent than the dog she sometimes acted like, but watching her as she happily chewed on her jam-saturated bread he wondered how childish she truly was.  Not physically; in that department, she was obviously developed.  Still, he worried that, had he allowed himself to follow what had started that morning, he would have been taking advantage of her.  And, of course, she was a monster, and his faith preached that laying with a monster was a cardinal sin that very few things could cleanse, and he had nearly done it merely because of a morning erection.  He sighed, frowning at his half-eaten chunk of bread.  Plus, it wouldn’t do to get too attached to her, since she would be leaving in a week’s time, and then he could return to his normal life.  ‘Normal,’ like hunting for heretics and purging unclean men who did things that didn’t seem especially sinful-

     Motion in front of him drew his attention outward, and he looked up in surprise to see Gina’s beaming face directly before him.  She leaned in closer, licking a spot of jam from his cheek, and he laughed at the tickling feeling. “Are you trying to say I think too much?” he chuckled, as her tongue attacked places that probably had never seen jam in the first place.  She backed off, smiling at his insight as she patted him on the head with her pawlike hand. “Thanks, you’re probably right,” he admitted, cramming down the last of his breakfast and downing the remnants of his milk.  He brushed the white trail from his upper lip before she could assault it, but stroked her head in compensation, and she preened under the attention.

     “Listen, Gina, I’m going to have to go complete my assignment for the Lector.  I’ll be back this evening, but you have to stay quiet and hidden till then, okay?” Simon asked, quickly taking up his usual gear and finishing his preparations to step outside.  He took her bark to be an affirmative, but a different thought struck his mind. “Oh, you’ll have to, ah, go, eventually, right?”  He scratched his chin absently. “Do you have to go outside, like on a walk, or-?” He noticed her frowning at him, and she pointed bluntly to the chamberpot in the corner of the room. “Oh, well, great!” He asserted, laughing uncomfortably before glancing to the door for a quick retreat. “I’ll come back as soon as I can, okay?”

     He didn’t make it to the door before he heard her furred feet racing against the wooden floor.  He turned just in time for her to lunge at him, grabbing him in a tight hug, which he returned in kind, a protective desire welling up inside him.  He patted her head one final time, and she smiled up at him before returning to the bed.  Once she was safely out of sight, he opened the door and stepped out.

     He had his assignment, but the worst of the day was immediately before him.  He hadn’t been debriefed on his interrogation of the townspeople the previous day, and so he needed to speak with Lector Themras before he moved on to his investigation of the monastery on the mountain.  Still, his stomach twisted at the thought of facing the man, especially with the Lector’s obsession with secret sins.  It was just paranoia, he knew, but he worried that the man would spot his betrayal as soon as he walked in the door.

     Knowing there was only one way to find out, Simon marched out of the inn, his spine rigid and his mind armored against examination, even though the morning sun made him swear he could already feel the flames lapping at his skin.

 

******

 

     “Enter.”

     Simon entered the former home of Father Wulfe with his face set in a stoic mask.  He glanced about, hoping to see George, but the Purifier Errant was absent, either having already received his own orders or yet to arrive.  Instead, Themras sat alone, not looking up as he sorted through the late priest’s letters.  The Lector had obviously been hard at work; many of the papers had been sorted into several piles.  A wastebasket waited near the desk, though it was scarcely used; from what Simon knew of the Lector’s methodology, he would be slow to discard even the most innocuous-seeming manuscript, saving it for another passing in search of hidden meanings or coded language.

     The paper at the top of the wastebasket drew the Inquisitor’s eyes, and cold sweat trickled down his neck.  It was artwork, obviously the fruit of a child’s efforts, perhaps one of the priest’s youngest parishioners: a trio of figures, one taller than the others with a white beard, with two girls at his side.  One of the girls had been drawn with floppy ears and copious amounts of fur.  For just a moment, knowing that his deception might be revealed, Simon felt a wild urge to surrender Gina to the Lector, to blurt out that there had in fact been two monsters given shelter by the dead priest, and that he had captured one of them.  He could pull it off, he knew, and this was the last moment he would have that option.

     “Father, I have uncovered something in my investigations,” Simon started, facing the priest with an unwavering stare. “There were two monsters in this town, both given shelter by the heretic Wulfe.  However, it seems that both of them managed to escape somehow.”

     “Oh, I know,” Lector Themras responded indifferently, not glancing up from his reading. “A kobold, it seems.  Some fools believe that they are less monstrous than any other hellspawn, but they are misguided.  Those canine harlots are just as aggressive in corrupting men, their gentleness a façade over their perverse appetites.” Themras sighed, grieving for the frailty of his fellow men. “I’ve already put George onto its trail as well.  He and the men-at-arms have already departed on their hunt; it seems they are less prone to sloth.” He glanced sidelong at Simon, who winced under the rebuke. “Have you anything further to report?”

     Simon’s mind flashed over his conversations with the people of the town the previous day. “All I spoke to suggested that Father Wulfe had no further family or strong friends outside of this town.  He seemed to have traveled rarely, due to an old injury in his leg.  With that in mind, I could find no indication of where he might have sent his granddaughter-”

     “Sent the monster he was aiding,” corrected the priest fiercely, and Simon bowed his head under the reprimand before continuing.

     “I could also find no other indication of monstrous activity in the region.  I found nothing to suggest any of them knew of strange sights or secret meetings, though few of them were eager to converse with me,” he admitted, swallowing his opinion on why that had been the case.

     “Ah, but therein lies the difference between an experienced listener who knows the hearts of men, and a novice,” Themras instructed. “Your direct approach left them fearing you wanted to know what ‘they’ had done.  I gave them more opportunity to speak of the sins of others, and speak they did.  How quickly iniquity turns on itself!” He laughed, bitterly, as was his wont. “Several spoke of disappearances in the night.  Not of the people of this little hamlet, but of male pilgrims who had arrived here, yet never at their next destination.  This has led to fewer caravans making the trek to the monastery as rumors begin to build.  Too many here assume bandits, but we know the most likely suspects: those poor devouts likely were offered as sacrifices to the monsters lurking in the shadows.  The faithless here fear for their suffering businesses instead of pursuing the culprits, but we shall show them the true path of righteousness.  We shall reveal the corruption festering in the hearts of their neighbors, and those that can will be saved from torment and sin!”

     Simon blinked, filtering the priest’s sermon. “Pilgrims to the monastery, then?  Those are the only ones disappearing?”

     “The only victims that could be claimed without drawing alarm,” Themras admonished. “While we know that the parish priest was tainted, I have seen little to indicate the same of those dwelling atop the mountain.  They stay cloistered and aloof, not venturing down the narrow road to this town more than once a season.  No, I find it more likely that some among the townsfolk are the more likely perpetrators, and I am certain I will find evidence of that among the heretic’s letters.” The priest turned back to his search as he spoke, trailing off at the end.  It was clear to Simon he was being summarily dismissed.

     “Very well, Father.  Shall I still investigate the clergy’s practices as you ordered yesterday?” Simon asked, frowning at the new twist to their visit to Videre.  Themras didn’t respond vocally, instead waving over his shoulder, too distracted to amend his previous demands.  Simon took advantage of that, saying his farewells and making a quick retreat from the cottage that had once been Gina’s home.  He didn’t breathe easily until he was a good distance from the house, the tightness about his chest releasing in a drawn-out sigh.

     Still, even as he walked down the streets of the town, ignoring the surreptitious glances the townsfolk were cautiously giving him, his brow was furrowed.  Themras’s mention of missing pilgrims could be nothing more than scuttlebutt, but it did strike him as odd.  Videre was much too far to the west to be plagued by random monster attacks; the Purifiers patrolled this region routinely.  If people were being taken, then they had to end up somewhere; even if brigands were preying on the pilgrims and then killing them, eventually the bodies would emerge.  Simon thought of George and the mercenaries.  Perhaps they would find something to solve that particular mystery, though he continued to doubt that the missing people had fallen prey to monsters, who tended to only take a single man for themselves.  If so many had disappeared that rumors were spreading, then that would suggest a very large population of monsters, and that struck him as very unlikely.

     Still, he had his own duty to see to.  He looked upward as he neared the road that ascended the mountain.  Far above, he could see the peaked walls of the Chapel of Divine Revelation, a place that he had always wanted to visit.  It looked just as it did in one of the books he had stacked in his room at the inn, and his inner child had wanted to walk its halls for years.  Still, something dragged at his heels, and he had to convince himself not to stop off at the inn once more to check on Gina.  He needed to begin the long walk to the monastery, but he hesitated, and he didn’t know why.  It was almost as if looking at it scared him, as if he had seen its shape in a forgotten dream.

     Tapping his staff against the ground and squaring his shoulders, Simon pressed on.  He had a job to do, and he would do it.  And then, that evening, he could return to the inn, and see Gina once more, a thought that excited him to a worrisome degree.  There was nothing to fear about his task; after all, what was the worst that could happen in a monastery?                 

Continued in “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 3 

Author’s Note: Welcome back, my readers! Progress continues on this work, impeded somewhat by a few unfortunate events in the past week, but still I press on. I have a grim deadline looming on Friday, the guillotine of a noontime grade submission deadline scaring me to wakefulness in the dark hours of the night, but despite that I still manage to sneak in a few periods of writing in between frantically entering quiz grades and marking up tests until it feels like I am bleeding red ink onto the pages.

It also hasn’t helped that my personal computer is in for repairs with a busted CPU fan.  To those I converse with on Discord, know that such is the reason for my absence; I can hardly install it on my work tablet, which is how I have been writing in the meantime.  Writing, by the way, continues well enough, with Chapter 5 being 2/3 done. 

With that said, I will return on Saturday with the next installment.  Before I go, let me thank all of you for reading, and those of you who comment for your feedback, which I dearly appreciate. I hope you return at the end of the week for the next chapter!

Of course, between grading and writing, I find myself quite fatigued, and so, for now, I sleep…

~Wynn Pendragon

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