Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 4

Preface: Greetings, all! This is the fourth chapter of the tale that began with “Wisdom in Shadow – Chapter 1,” comes immediately after “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 3,”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 4 – Epiphany

     The boy in the black cloak stood in a flickering ring of light amid utter darkness.  In the distance, he could see two other people, also lost, though in different ways.  One, a young man, clutched a bow and a torch, and he wandered through woods that clutched and grasped at him, ignorant of the shadow closing in behind him.  Further away stood a man of the faith atop a pile of crumbling wood.  He laughed out his sermon as the fires rose higher and higher, pressing back the darkness, his face consumed in ecstasy as he burned.

     The boy glanced down.  He held a candle, and it wavered feebly, casting as much shadow as light. “Poor child,” a sensuous voice gloated, coming from all around him at once. “Your faith burns so low that you can’t see your way out, can you?” He glanced up, and the darkness swallowed everything, even the candle dying down to a glowing wick. “You can’t escape me.  You were marked for me long ago.”

     He turned to run, but a chain burst from the shadows, wrapping around his waist and dragging him back. “That cur may have washed away the mark on your flesh, but nothing can clean the mark on your soul.  You will be mine.”  The boy felt his dragging heels slip, as though he stood at the edge of a great precipice, and still the chain dragged him back towards that bottomless maw. “Seek the truth, and you will only find me.”

     The chain yanked, and the boy fell, his cloak flapping as he plummeted forever.

 

******

 

     When Simon awoke that morning, he felt unsteady, clutching the bed as if glad to not be falling.  He gasped for breath, his heart pounding as he came to realize where he was, the memories of the dream that had so shaken him fading like morning mist before he could recall any of it.  He shook his head, trying to clear his mind against the headache dawning like the sun, but a pang between his temples sent him reeling against his pillow, and he relaxed back into bed, pressing back against the warmth on his back.

     Ah, yes, the alcohol.  He must have drank a little too much last night with George, and that had to explain his aching skull.  That was surely the reason that he couldn’t remember getting into bed the previous night either; he just hoped he hadn’t done anything improper towards Gina.  She, at least, seemed content to remain where she was, clutching his back tightly.  He was appreciative of that, just because that meant he wouldn’t have to deal with a repeat of yesterday’s erotic morning events, which definitely would have been an issue if he had been facing her.

     He vaguely remembered heading to rinse himself off, but a quick sniff suggested he had never accomplished that.  Carefully, he slipped from the bed, taking the arm Gina had looped over him and gently lowering it to the mattress.  A glance back at her revealed that the blankets had slipped from her, revealing her bare breasts, and he blushed as he tugged the covers back over her, leaving her smiling in her slumber.  Quietly, he retrieved his glasses and slipped into the washroom to bathe himself, shivering at the coolness of the water, before toweling dry.  As he left to get dressed, he paused to take an inspective sniff of his clothing, which revealed they had fared little better over the past days. It was early enough for him to pay a visit to the stream and wash them before he had to depart to the Lector’s temporary home.

     With that goal in mind, he dressed himself in his spare attire, and gathered up all of his dirtied clothing.  A glance to the clothes atop the unused blankets in the corner reminded him that Gina, too, would likely appreciate having her clothing washed; after all, she had bathed after she left the stables, but he doubted Mr. Kramer had taken the chance to do the same with her wrappings.  He added those to the pile, before pausing.  One piece of her clothing remained, but retrieving it would be tricky.

     He tiptoed to the bed, and lowered the blankets just enough to reveal her neck and the upper limits of her chest.  He fought to be as delicate as possible, but he was forced to place his knee onto the bed and lean towards her to reach to the back of her neck, where the buckle for her collar rested.  She groaned quietly and shifted, but with deft fingers he managed to undo the buckle and slip the leather collar from her neck.  He lifted himself from the mattress subtly, and she settled back into sleep, her fluffy ears flicking minutely.

     He glanced down at the collar in his hands.  A gold-colored disc hung from the front of it, engraved with the word ‘Regina.’  He smiled at that; now, at least, he knew her real name, and that thrilled him slightly.  He glanced over the collar itself.  It was reddened leather, well-maintained and cared for, and he wondered if it had been a gift from Lyra or her parents.  The inner portion of the leather was sweat-stained from wear, though he frowned as he noticed a seam that had been cut into it.  It ran the length of the collar, and formed a sort of long pocket.  He squeezed the collar, and noticed the crinkle of something wedged into the gap between the pieces of leather.  For a sharp moment, he remembered Lector Themras’s obsessive search of the old priest’s writings and letters, and his heart clenched.

     He pulled a piece of paper from the collar’s unorthodox pocket.  It had been folded into a long strip, and he unfurled it to reveal writing on both sides, in two different hands.  The first was written in a very formal, old style, the penmanship precise and strongly-flourished:

     Wulfe:
     I write to you in condolences.  You know me not, but know we share an ancient bond of kinship.  I speak only to offer a solution to your problem, a path to salvation for your child.  I have heard of what has befallen your granddaughter.  I cannot stop her metamorphosis, but I can offer a way for her to escape those who would punish her despite her innocence.    Send her to me by way of the ancient service tunnels your greatfathers used, where once you played as a child.  I will see the girl to safety.  Speak not of this note to any, lest you condemn us all.

     The brief missive was unsigned, as was the one on the obverse, though Simon had read enough of Father Wulfe’s own notes to recognize his hand, heavy and trembling, yet well-shaped.

     The Watcher in the Shadows:
     I believe I know who you are, and I thank you for your offer.  My father spoke of you, our family’s own legend, and I understand why you would show such kindness to Lyra, who also did not choose this fate.  I, too, would do anything to preserve one I love.  Please, save her.  I will stay, and accept whatever fate is mine.  However, I would also ask, if possible, that you show the same kindness to the girl that bears this message, whom I send to see Lyra arrive safely.  I understand if you cannot, and will strive to find another way.  You have my gratitude, eternally.    

     Scrawled beneath that, as if in response, were only a few words in the original hand: I am sorry, only one could go.

     Simon frowned down at the paper, the exchange that solved one mystery, and opened several more.  Someone, then, had rescued Lyra from Videre, but had not been able to do the same for Gina, and had sent her back with a response, which Father Wulfe may never have seen, or never have had a chance to destroy the evidence it bore.  Whoever had spirited Lyra away perhaps remained nearby; these ‘service tunnels’ would bear greater inquiry.  Perhaps this very slip of paper was what Themras was searching for, but Simon had no intention of giving it to him.  Instead, he replaced it in the collar’s opening after refolding it carefully.

     With that done, and his head lost in a maze of thought, Simon returned to gathering up his and Gina’s clothing, carefully wrapping her clothes inside his own to hide them from immediate notice on his way outside.  He had scarcely opened the door to leave, however, when he nearly collided with the figure outside his door.  He quickly recoiled, trying desperately to close the door to his room just in case, but a moment’s attention revealed the person in his path to be the innkeep’s daughter, and he breathed out a long gasp in relief.

     “Sorry,” she offered, glancing to the pile of clothes he carried. “I was just coming to see about what you might want for breakfast, and to offer to wash any laundry you might have.  We’re doing our own today, actually.”

     “Oh.” Simon chuckled at his good fortune. “Yeah, that would be a huge help.  Thanks so much for offering!” She reached out to take the bundle from him, and he surrendered it, thinking for a moment about the collar’s hidden contents, soon realizing there was little in that missive that needed to stay hidden from the innkeep’s daughter.  She was already a co-conspirator, and in the worst case he might have to ask her about the service tunnels later anyways.  She accepted the clothing, but made no move to leave him, instead looking to the floor with a slight blush as though she wanted to say something.

     Simon had a suspicion she might be thinking of their disastrous first meeting. “S-sorry about yesterday,” he stammered. “I, ah…” He struggled to think of a way to explain what had happened that did not make things sound exactly as bad as they had been, but his treasonous brain offered him no rescue.

     His frantic, futile thoughts were interrupted by giggling from in front of him. “It’s okay,” the girl assured him. “I stopped by your room yesterday, and Gina helped me understand that everything was fine.”

     Breathing heavily in relief, Simon put aside his wondering at how, exactly, his mute roommate had accomplished that. “I’m glad for that,” he admitted, and she laughed again at his exasperated smile.

     “I spent some time with her yesterday,” the girl continued. “Oh!  Forgive me; I’m Mary.” She offered him a laundry-encumbered curtsy, and he responded with a slight bow.

     “Simon Hopkins,” he replied. “I should have already thanked you, and your father, for helping me with…” He paused, gesturing vaguely towards his room in lieu of a more thorough explanation.

     Behind her glasses, Mary’s eyes widened. “Oh, but we should be thanking you!  It’s incredibly kind and brave of you, helping poor Gina.  All the other villagers are afraid of you, but Gina helped me see that you aren’t anything like the other churchies- I mean-”

     Simon waved off her panicked expression with a raised hand. “It’s fine, don’t worry.  I get that we Inquisitors aren’t welcome in most places.  I know why.”

     “Well, I just wish everyone else could know what you are really like,” Mary replied sadly. “You’re no different from any of us.  And, what’s more, you love books!” She beamed at him, and he swallowed through a tight throat, thinking of the lurid novel he had hidden at the head of his bed.  Surely she hadn’t found that one. “I’m sorry, I hope you don’t mind, but I glanced at some of the books you had laying out.  I love reading stories like those whenever I can find them.  My favorites are the ones about the Seven Heroes, but my pa has managed to buy a few from merchants about other heroes and battles, even some histories of the ancient nations.  Have you read-” She caught herself, a blush lighting her rounded cheeks. “I’m sorry, when it comes to books, I just ramble on and on.  Not many people here are interested in those stories.”

     Simon laughed easily at her embarrassment, glad for once it was on the other foot. “That’s fine.  Not many back in the capitol are so fond of literature either; their criticisms of that kind of story tend to be, ah, heated?  Liturgical treatises, sure, but swords and sorcery aren’t worthy topics for most of the teachers and priests.  Me, I’ve loved it since I was a kid.  I wish I could have met some of the Heroes during their adventures, and I always imagine what it would have been like to go with them.”

     “I know!  I always liked the Martyr, of course, but either the Priest or the Ranger would be my favorite.  The story of the Great Veil is so sad, but I enjoy the ones where they traveled to the different shrines of the gods to get their blessings.  And, of course, the big battle against the Demon King- oh, I’m sorry, I’m talking your ear off.” Once more, Mary looked to the ground with a blush, and Simon realized she was not used to speaking so enthusiastically.  Her quiet nature felt deeply familiar to him.

     “It’s fine, I like talking about these stories.  I know you’re busy now, but would you like to discuss them some this evening?  If you’re free, of course.” Simon grinned at her, hoping to put her more at ease, and she rewarded him with a bright smile, albeit a crimson-cheeked one.

     “I would like that.  Oh, will you have jam again this morning, or would you prefer cheese?  I could perhaps sneak in some sausage for Gina.” After he gave her his preference, she turned to head for the stairs. “I’ll bring your clothes back once I’m done with them.”

     “Just leave them in my room; I’ll be gone to see the Lector.  Thanks again.” He waved as she headed back downstairs, and he could see that she was still smiling as she turned down onto the next floor.  For just a moment, he recalled George’s teasing the previous night, and his ears heated as he retreated back into his room. 

      When he came back around the corner, he found that Gina was already awake, sitting up on the bed, waiting for him.  He blushed at her nakedness, and looked around for something to foist onto her to cover her, but she rose from the bed while he was distracted and slipped close to him.  Before he could find something appropriate human-shaped to drape over her, she pressed against him, sniffing her way up his back.  Simon stiffened, deeply aware that only his clothing was between his skin and the twin softness pressing against his back, but he managed to glance back enough to see her tail wagging, and his heart softened. “Good morning, Gina.”

     Her response was a soft bark, and she slipped around him to hug him from the front, shaking a bit back and forth from happiness.  He reached out to stroke her head, and her fluffy ears perked as she looked up at him. “I’ve got to go in a moment-” The change in expression was immediate, and drastic, her ears drooping and her lips pouting, and her eyes grew in size. “I know it’s earlier than yesterday, but I still have to-” Her face drew nearer, and her eyes larger. “I can’t stay long-” Her face was all but touching his now, and all her could see was the chocolate depths of her eyes.

     “Fine, I can stay for a bit,” he folded, and her smile was brilliant as she leaned close, giving him a peck on the cheek.  He laughed, but reached up to touch where she had kissed as she turned and returned to the bed, patting softly beside her to call him over.  She slipped under the covers, and raised them for him, though his weak eyes had to look away from the soft curves revealed in the shadows of the sheets.  He, at least, was dressed to face the world, but still he laid down upon the mattress, and she immediately snuggled against him, her tail thumping under the blankets.

     He stroked her head unconsciously for a moment, his restless heart unwilling to forget he was laying in bed with a naked girl that he was decidedly attracted to – he had no issue thinking that now, blasphemous or not – and his anxiety building as he contemplated his inevitable physical response to her nearness.  With that in mind, he leaned away from her for a moment, extending his body over the void beside the bed long enough to grasp one of his books and pull it up with him.  Distraction thus secured, he opened the book to read, and petted her head to lull her back to her comfortable cuddling.  To his surprise, however, she eyed the bright illustrations of the book as he opened it with interest, her eyes passing over each picture in turn with a contemplative curiosity. “I guess you wouldn’t know the stories of the Seven Heroes, being a monster and all,” he hazarded, thinking briefly of the priest that had raised her as a counterargument, but she did little to quell his internal debate, staring placidly at him for a moment before returning her gaze to the book. “Fine, then.  Do you want me to tell you about them?” She nodded into the curl of his arm, and he flipped through the text, in search of the right story for her.

     “Well, there were seven of them – I guess that’s in the name, right? – and they were the ones that fought against the Demon King when he tried to destroy mankind.” He paused on a page that displayed a painting of the entire group, each faceless and distinguished by their clothing and weapons.  Simon balanced the book on his chest so he could point at the picture without moving the arm that was snaked around her shoulders. “That one is the Martyr, the main one.  He killed the Demon King in the end, but died doing it.” He motioned towards the one in the center, who held a sword that gleamed golden, before pointing to some of the others. “That’s the Priest, my favorite, and that one is the Scout… his stories are usually really funny, if you can find a book that has them.  No one says much about the Ranger, and the Paladin is kind of boring if you ask me.  They say the Conqueror was the Martyr’s closest friend, though the stories don’t really show it.” He noticed her staring at the smallest figure. “That’s the Squire.  He was the one that survived the battles, and brought their stories back to us.” She stared at the featureless boy on the page before glancing to him, an unvoiced question in her eyes, before looking again to the book.  Simon pressed on, turning the page.

     “The Priest doesn’t have a lot of stories to himself; mostly, he just kept everyone else from dying in stupid ways.  Still, he’s my favorite because he always counseled doing things wisely, instead of rushing in – that was the Conqueror, who always just wanted to kill everything.  There was one story, but…” Sighing, Simon flipped further into the book, almost to the end.  The picture it bore was of a shadowed figure, from which emanated dark waves of purpled shadow. “One day, after being beaten back to the lands he laired in, the Demon King devised a plan to defeat mankind by turning them into monsters.  So, he released a dark power, an evil energy that poisoned those that came into contact with it and changed their forms.  The Heroes were immune, but realized that many would die because of it.” He turned the page, and the picture on the new pages was of a divine figure in the skies, weeping, over the form of a man in robes, who spread his arms out as if offering himself to the world. “The Heroes couldn’t think of a way to stop the Demon King’s magic, so it fell to the Priest, who was skilled with magic.  He thought of a barrier that would hold back the dark energy, but when he cast his spell, even calling on his goddess, the magic wasn’t enough.  And so, he sacrificed his life to complete the spell, turning into golden light that flew into the skies as a great shield.” The next page displayed just that, with the dark mist recoiling from the barrier, and the Demon King snarling in rage. “That’s the Great Veil that they say you can still see far to the east, though I’ve never gotten to go there myself.  I’ve always wanted to see it, though.” He smiled sadly at the page, before glancing to Gina, who was staring up at him.  She reached up to pat his head, and he grinned down at her in gratitude. “It’s a sad story, but it has a lot of meaning.  The Church says it shows that we each don’t matter individually, except in what we can do for mankind, but I don’t really see that.  No, sometimes you have to be ready to give up everything to do the right thing, to save the people you love.” He glanced again at the book. “I guess ‘love’ is the big idea of that story, really.”

     After that, he fell into silence for a long moment, and still she watched him.  Eventually, she leaned closer, and before he was free of his own deep thoughts she pressed her lips gently against his cheek.  He smiled shyly at that, but a glance at her face revealed she wasn’t done.  Instead, she was staring intently into his eyes, as if searching for any reason to hold back, and she found none.  She leaned in again, and this time her lips found his own, pressing together in a sweet kiss that lingered for a long minute.

     When they separated, he stared at her in surprise, his heart hammering desperately at his ribs as if seeking freedom.  He swallowed with difficulty, not looking away from her face, and whatever she saw in his eyes drew a smile to her lips.  She leaned in again, a different kind of kiss that nipped at his lip and rubbed her body against his, sending a jerking thrill down his body to his loins.  She read his gaze again, biting her lip in eagerness, but paused as she saw the panic on his face. “Gina, I… I can’t,” he groaned, shaking his head. “That’s… I don’t know if I can hold back-” She grinned toothily at that, but he pressed on, “And that’s not right for you.  You have to leave in a few days, to go somewhere safe, and I’ll go back to…” What, he wondered, would he go back to?  A life hunting those who did exactly what he was doing right now?  A life of hypocrisy?  Or a life adrift from everything he knew, just like when he had been forced away from his parents? “I have to get to the Lector,” he mumbled, slipping away from her, out of the bed. “I’ll be back tonight.  Stay quiet and safe, and I promise I’ll hurry back.” He offered her a fragile smile, his heart shuddering at the sadness he saw weighing at her shoulders, but he couldn’t go back now.                

     A moment later he closed the door behind him, leaving behind the girl that watched him go from around the corner, grief written plainly on her face until she returned to the bed, falling onto it and curling into a ball beside the book he had left behind.         

 

******

 

     When Simon arrived at the Lector’s appropriated home, still lamenting the breakfast he had skipped and other, more important matters, he found that he had arrived just in time to see George departing.  The Purifier Errant was frowning, and he barely noticed his comrade until Simon called out for him.  George glanced up at his friend with a furrowed brow, but he hastened to meet Simon halfway, speaking as he came close. “Be careful; the Lector is… in a poor mood.  But, Simon, it happened again.  They found another of those circles.”

     “They?”

     “The mercenaries.” George didn’t even bother to use the Church-approved terminology this time. “And there’s something else.  Alvaro was missing this morning; he was one of the mercenaries that went out last night to hunt, but he never came back.  None of the others saw him after he left, but they say he wouldn’t have quit the mission.  He was pretty greedy, apparently, and they say he would have rather died than give up the coin he’d already earned.” George stared at Simon, his concern obvious. “Simon, the Lector is right.  There is something happening here.  Maybe Father Wulfe…”

     “Maybe.  Maybe not.  Those things don’t have to be connected,” Simon reassured his friend, noticing the relief on George’s face at his reassurance. “I haven’t found anything, but I will ask the nuns at the monastery if they know anything about runic circles appearing in the forest.  Surely this hasn’t just started happening now.  But if it has, then we know for certain Father Wulfe wasn’t involved.”

     “You’re right.  You’re right,” George repeated, nodding to himself. “We don’t know who is doing this.”

     “Listen, if you go out hunting at night, don’t go alone.  Take one of the mercenaries with you, at least.  Stay safe, until we can solve this,” Simon warned the other young man.

     “I will,” George promised.  He reached out to Simon, clasping his friend on the shoulder. “Thanks, pal.  We’ll solve this, and then we’ll be big heroes when we go home, right?”

     “That’s right, we’ll be heroes.” Simon grinned at the Purifier. “And then you’ll get all the girls, just like we said last night.”

     This made George laugh, and he walked away, heading back towards the road leading out of town. “I’ll be out tonight, but soon let’s pick up where we left off last night, eh?” With a jaunty wave, the knight hurried onward, and Simon shouted agreement before turning back to the Lector’s door. 

     When he entered the former home of Father Wulfe, his immediate fear was that someone had somehow attacked the place in the moments he had been speaking to George.  The house had been ransacked: shelves had been pulled from desks and discarded, upended, on the floor, and every drawer stood wide open.  Fallen knickknacks stood like islands in a sea of papers scattered on the floor.  Even the table lay on its side, facing the door with its underbelly shamelessly.  The only normal thing about the room was the taciturn form of Lector Themras, who sat in the only upright chair in the entire house.  The scowling face showed no sign of recognition or greeting, Themras staring without sight at something far beyond the walls of the small home.

     “Ah, Lector, I’ve come for my missions, and to report-” Simon began nervously, looking around still.

     “What?  Oh, you.  Yes…” Themras nodded, but did not look in Simon’s direction. “Perhaps you can help me.  I have found nothing –yet!  Yet!  But it is here.  The Holy One said…” Themras’s head bobbed as he convinced himself. “There is something terrible here, insidious in its cowardice.  It is poison to the faith of this region, but I will dig it out, no matter how bloody or long the effort is.  Something rooted in history… history, yes.” At last, he glanced to Simon, who couldn’t help but recoil at the lack of focus in the man’s eyes. “History.  The nuns in the monastery must keep books, yes?  Books about the monastery’s construction – perhaps they haven’t been confined to the fires.  Go back to the monastery, and ask them for tomes about this region’s history.  Read all you can, and bring back to me everything.  Leave no detail out!  I must search, and think…”

     Simon nodded, clutching his staff tightly, his jaw clenched.  He finally managed to muster the courage to ask the question that had been on his mind since he had entered the home. “Lector, are you… alright?”

     Long seconds died before Themras responded, as if it had taken him a long time to understand the question. “What?  Of course.” He turned back to Simon with a fierce scowl that was almost reassuring in its familiarity. “Worry not with me, but with the souls of these poor villagers.  You have your task.  Do it, and leave me.”

     Simon nodded, offering his unheeded farewells before quickly departing from the small home.  Behind him, the Lector sat, staring into space, his brow furrowed as his eyes twitched, driven by his fevered thoughts.  In his lap he clutched a small wooden box, his fingers worrying at it as if touching rosary beads, though whatever comfort it gave him was lost to the tempest of his brain.  Simon would be far up the mountain before Lector Themras rose from that seat, and even then his mind would not be free from the thoughts that plagued it with fire and desperation.         

 

******

 

     The knock at the door went unanswered, so Mary Kramer pushed it open, entering the room carrying a tray of food atop folded laundry.  She glanced about for the young man she had spoken to earlier, but there was no sign of him.  Instead, as she rounded the corner of the washcloset’s wall, she discovered Gina alone on the bed, the kobold’s expectant expression soon falling into disappointment, her eyes faintly reddened.

     “Did he already leave?” Mary asked, disappointed herself, and the kobold nodded glumly, leaning back into the bed.  The innkeep’s daughter could tell something had happened between Gina and Simon, and her feelings were conflicted as she considered what that could be.  Still, she lowered the tray of food to a table, and placed the laundry on the dresser, before making her way over to the bed.  She brought Gina’s own wrappings, and the kobold freed herself from the covers enough to slip into those brief garments, unashamed by her nakedness in the presence of the other girl. With that done, she sighed, her ears drooping, but Mary sat down beside her, a compassionate smile on the human girl’s face.

     “Let me guess: he thinks too much?” When the kobold rolled her eyes in an exaggerated fashion, Mary laughed out loud. “I’ve always been accused of that by my pa, but I can tell it’s true with him.  You can see he’s always thinking, but he’s got a good heart.” At this, Gina nodded, a faint blush on her cheeks. “Could use a better barber, perhaps,” Mary mused, thinking of the awkward way his blond hair had been cut into a bowl-shape, and the kobold grabbed her shoulder, offering her an expression of profound agreement.

     Mary’s own argumentative heart wouldn’t let her say much more to comfort the kobold, but she wasn’t willing to let the other girl suffer, either. “Well, it’s quiet at the inn, so I don’t have much to do.  Could you use some company?”  Gina’s response was warm and grateful. “Well, in a bit, if you wanted, I could fetch my brush,” Mary said. She reached out to touch the kobold’s hair, which had gotten fairly tangled over the past days.  Deep down, Mary had always wanted to have a sister, but her ma had passed shortly after she had been born, and her pa had never remarried.  She felt a certain filial desire to take care of Gina like Lyra had, especially considering she had previously befriended Father’s Wulfe’s granddaughter as well. “And if you want, I could stay in here and read to you.  I don’t think he would mind, and I would love to read some of the books he brought.  We don’t get a lot of new things to read around here.”

      Gina nodded, a hint of sadness on her features, but it melted away into a very different expression, and Mary could all but swear there was deviousness in her grin.  She glanced at Mary with mischief dancing in her eyes, before turning away to move further up the bed.  Her paws scrabbled at the head of the bed, pressing the mattress away from the wall it rested against, until she emerged with a thin novel in her grip.  She turned back to Mary with a triumphant smile, proffering it to the other girl.

     “The Knight of the Pink Lily,” read the maiden hesitantly, noting the illustration upon the cover with a mixture of disdain and perverse excitement.  The front of the book depicted a knight, reduced to his leather jerkin and breeches, staring heroically with chin jutting into the distance with his hand upon the hilt of his sword, his other arm around a young woman, who stared up at him with a mixture of longing and adoration, her clothing somewhat abbreviated and decidedly clingy. “Is… is that Simon’s?” Mary asked with an incredulous blush, and Gina confirmed it with a conspiratorial nod and grin. “Well… I guess it couldn’t be that bad, then…” Mary relented, taking the novel from the kobold cautiously. “Do you want me to read it to you?”

     Gina nodded enthusiastically, settling back into the bed, and Mary cracked open the cover.  She began reading in a soft voice that would, many times over the next hours, range from seat-edged interest to mocking exaggeration to scandalized laughter, and all the while Gina curled up next to her, listening with an encouraging grin, her own private revenge, as small and meaningless as it was, accomplished.  The two girls made it far into the lurid tome before Mary had to leave to help her father in the kitchen to prepare lunch, but she promised to return to finish the book, and to bring her brush with her when she did, and Gina hugged her as she left.

     This time, when Gina was left alone, she had conquered her doubts and fears.  She was certain of her course now.  She just had to convince him, and she knew she could.          

Continued in “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 5 

Author’s Note: First, allow me to offer my appreciation to those who were concerned for me after my last posting.  Fortunately, my exhaustion was more work-related than anything to do with my writing; far more the opposite!  It was partially the lack of time to write that had been eating at me.  Now, though, Christmas Break has come, and until the beginning of the new year I don’t have to worry about faculty meetings or grades or ballgames.  In that time, I have a lot to accomplish, and I am already hammering at the keys.  Chapter 6 is over halfway complete, and I have roughly storyboarded the rest of this tale. 

Speaking of what is to come: This tale will be longer than its predecessor, especially since many of the ‘days’ in the story have become two separate chapters, instead of the one I had planned.  Certain events happen a little later than I would have wanted, and Chapter 6 is yet a tad dry for my taste, but don’t worry… things pick up pace very fast at a particular point.  The next chapter, due Saturday morning/ Friday night, is considerably longer than the others, so look forward to that.

Before I ramble to the point I overcompensate for my brevity in the last note, allow me, as ever, to thank you for reading.  I have a long journey ahead of me, a mountain summit I will climb towards story after story, and I hope you stay with me for this adventure to come.  Until next time; let me return to writing, because I have much to achieve before I sleep…

~Wynn Pendragon

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2 thoughts on “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 4”

  1. I love this so much. The mystery’s picking up, and the dynamics of the characters are great. I really enjoy the budding sisterhood between Gina and Mary: very funny, very cute, I love it. Can’t wait for chapter 5!

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