Preface: Greetings, all! This is the fifth chapter of the tale that began with “Wisdom in Shadow – Chapter 1,” comes immediately after “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 4,”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 5 – Rapture
When Simon arrived at the monastery, he was quick to discover that he had been expected. He had barely entered the narthex when he noticed one of the nuns rushing off into the nave, probably hurrying to tell the prioress that he had arrived. Smiling despite himself, Simon looked around the entryway, discovering that fewer pilgrims stood around waiting, and those that did were deep in conversation with black-clad sisters. Most likely, the next wave of pilgrims would come with the caravan due in a few days, and many of those who had been waiting around the previous day had already received their own tours of the Chapel of Divine Revelation.
To his surprise, the person that soon emerged from the inner narthex and angled towards where he was standing, inspecting a tree laden with owls carved into one of the wooden walls, was not Sister Benevolence, but instead another of the nuns, albeit one that walked with greater confidence than many of the bowing forms he had seen during his previous visit. Under her wimple, her face was sleek and sharp-cheeked, and her blue eyes were lit by a light that seemed almost out of place on the face of a nun. “Brother Hopkins, I am Sister Faith. I have been asked to convey you to the prioress’s offices. If you would follow me?” Simon nodded, surprised at the flippant lilt in the woman’s voice that contrasted with her servile words; perhaps she was a newly-come novitiate not used to the humility of the sisterhood, he mused.
Once again he made his way past the statue of the Martyr and the other Heroes, and again into the airy nave, following close at the heels of Sister Faith. He glanced at the stained glass windows as they paused, on second viewing recognizing a few of the scenes they depicted: the Conqueror’s battle with the Demon King’s mate, his spear piercing her heart; the divine empowerment of the Paladin, when he had fought one-on-one against the Demon King; even the Martyr’s final battle, standing atop the body of the Demon King, bleeding out his last as he raised his sword defiantly against the new Demon Queen. It was interesting how much detail had been put into that final image, especially the Demon Queen’s form: he had always seen her depicted as a vague winged shape, but here she was shown with long white hair and crimson eyes glaring down confidently.
He followed Sister Faith further into the cathedral, and soon enough they traversed the narrow staircase that led upstairs towards the unoccupied abbot’s chambers. When they reached the place where Sister Benevolence had fallen on his first visit, the nun walking ahead of him led him instead to the other side of the stairwell, where side doors suggested small offices flanking one larger chamber. They entered that room, which was a small foyer with ornate, though uncomfortable-looking, chairs facing a door carved of rich wood. At that, Sister Faith paused, and Simon drew near to her, waiting for her to knock at the door. Instead, she whirled to face him, and he caught a glimpse of a sharp smile on her lips before it faded. “Pardon me, I must see if the prioress is free. If you will wait here just a moment; please have a seat.” She reached out and patted roughly on his left shoulder, which made him frown at her, but she didn’t notice, instead opening the door ahead and slipping inside.
Feeling oddly defensive, Simon refused her suggestion of sitting, instead standing and facing the door stiffly. He had questions about Sister Faith’s education as a nun, and prayed she never met Lector Themras. Shaking his head, he went over in his head the questions he would be offering the prioress when she summoned him. The Lector had been especially insistent on learning the history of this region, but Simon had questions of his own to answer. The note that he had found in Gina’s collar had mentioned service tunnels, and he had a suspicion that might be connected to the monastery itself.
When the door opened, Simon answered Sister Benevolence’s summon by stepping into the office beyond. Sister Faith exited as he entered, brushing against his left side as she did so, and so he stepped further to the side, glancing after the nun as she left, unconsciously tapping his staff against the floor. As she closed the door, he looked at the prioress, who was rising from her seat to walk towards him. She had been seated at a large desk, carved from a rich dark wood and embellished with avian forms, mostly the peering visages of owls. For just a moment, he blinked at that, his memory stirring at something that he couldn’t yet grasp, but his rumination was interrupted by Sister Benevolence placing her hand gently on his left shoulder. “Come, come, have a seat,” she prompted, her eyes watching his face closely. He glanced at her with a grateful smile, and accepted the offer, ignorant to the alarm flashing in her eyes at his composed manners. He settled into a seat in front of the desk, leaning his staff against the chair next to him, not noticing the way the prioress’s eyes narrowed as she stared at him, or the way she sniffed subtly at the air.
“So,” she began, a forced smile pressing its way onto her lips, “what brings you back to our humble monastery? Returning to continue your investigation?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. Although I must admit, I have some new orders to pursue as well,” Simon responded with a nod. “Lector Themras has asked that I research the history of this region, to gather information for our inquiry. Would you happen to have books that could help me with that?”
“Of course,” the prioress replied, motioning vaguely in the direction of one of the libraries she had showed him the previous day. “We have histories ranging from regional lore, to the development of Videre itself, to the reconstruction of the monastery after it was damaged during the Last War of the Demon King by a dragon.”
Simon leaned forward, unable to hide his curiosity. “All the way here? I didn’t think any of the wars against the monsters reached this far west.”
Sister Benevolence nodded, taking on a lecturing posture that was more teacher than priestess. “After the Great Veil was created, the Demon King lashed out against the goddess that had empowered the Priest, attacking her churches, this one in particular. Fortunately, much of the building was saved, including many artifacts of the Priest himself – before you ask, I’m afraid we keep them locked up in a chamber beyond the abbot’s offices, to keep them from being damaged by well-meaning worshippers – and the crypts below, which were… expanded.” She smiled at that, looking at him over her nose. “That is where we keep the forbidden texts that I mentioned before. If you would like…”
“Another day,” Simon agreed, his brow furrowed in distracted thought. “I presume the monastery was rebuilt by the Church of the Holy Martyr, correct? I know the old religions faded after the Last War of the Demon King, as the gods and goddesses vanished. Actually, which goddess was this originally dedicated to, anyways?”
“Oh, my,” the prioress replied, tapping her chin with a faint smile. “I know, of course, but isn’t that curiosity akin to heresy? Your church demands that those old gods be viewed as mere precursors to the faith of today, and thus largely forgotten.”
Simon’s eyes snapped back to her over the rim of his glasses, his distracted mien vanishing. “’My’ church?” He stood, noting the way her face paled, one of his suspicions confirmed. “You’re right, of course. The priests of the Church of the Holy Martyr would treat continued worship of those deities… harshly. Lector Themras in particular.” His smile was not kind, and his eyes flicked to the owls that decorated her desk, which he knew to be the mark of one of the vanished gods. He had read that in one of the books his parents had left him, though it had taken him some time to recall it.
Sister Benevolence was slow in responding, leaning back in her seat to view him with new respect. Her expression narrowed as she frowned. “What sort of man is this Lector, anyways?”
“Faithful. Strictly so.”
“So, the sort of man that would hunt for impiety even among his closest allies? Even his own servants?” Her lips perked sharply at the cloud on his face. “I will keep that well in mind, as should you. You have my thanks.”
Simon met her stare for a long moment, his expression hiding his inner turmoil. He had not intended this conversation to continue as it had, but he knew he was on to something. Unfortunately, so was she, and he did not know how. He kept his face composed, but he didn’t look away from her eyes. “Well, that said, I would prefer to take care of the research he expects, to save him the task of journeying up here himself.” At that, she nodded in mutual agreement. “I will see myself to the library, unless there is something else you would care to add to aid my search?”
At that question, Sister Benevolence took a moment to think. “Only that the reconstruction of the monastery was extensive, to make a holy site in honor of the Priest’s sacrifice. Still, it was an effort of great expense, perhaps out of line with the small number of worshippers this region can provide. Why spend so much, to benefit so few, when no such effort was made for the homes of the other Heroes? That is a mystery that has always hounded me.” She shrugged slightly, turning her face away. “Of course, any answer to that probably would be found-”
“Let me guess.” Simon stared at her with a tight smile. “The forbidden library, in the crypt?” She nodded indifferently, but he laughed at her poor acting. “Perhaps another day I will visit it. Maybe my Purifier friend wouldn’t mind accompanying me.”
Her eyes narrowed at that. “I would have thought such a man would be busy searching for the missing monsters. Like that kobold, for one.”
Simon refused to wince. “We shall see,” he responded, mentally deciding never to accept the prioress’s offer to visit that secluded location. He felt conflicted, feeling like he was on the cusp of forcing her to reveal something important, but knowing that doing so might put himself in danger – and Gina. His heart sinking at the thought of the kobold’s exposure, he nodded. “If you will excuse me, I must continue my search.”
He turned and left the office, his staff tapping on the floor as he walked, but not loudly enough to drown out her soft words as he reached the door. “Never forget, child: Wisdom has its price. You will learn that in time.” He paused at the door, but did not turn to face her. Instead, he opened the door, and stepped out into the landing, his thoughts chasing him from her office like the whisper of dark laughter he surely only imagined that he heard.
The sunlight that flowed into the innroom was darkening to orange when Gina’s ears perked at the sound of the door to the inn room opening. She looked about for a place to hide, but the faint scent that preceded the intruder put her at ease. Simon walked into the room, arriving back hours earlier than the previous day, but weariness was written on his face. He still smiled broadly at Gina as he entered, and she rushed to him, her tail wagging her pleasure at seeing him again.
He chuckled as she launched herself at him in a hug, and patted her hair gently. It felt to him like her touch bled the tension out of him, and he rested his cheek against the top of her head, returning her embrace. “Have a busy day?” he teased as they separated, and she barked in response, her eyes darting to the head of the bed where she had re-hidden the book she had convinced Mary to read to her. He laughed in ignorance, leaning his staff against the wall as Gina plopped down on the bed, watching as he stripped off the more cumbersome parts of his attire. He sat down next to her, pulling off his boots, and she leaned her head against him, sniffing cautiously, relieved not to detect the bittersweet scent of the rune that had been placed on him the previous evening.
Finally stripped down to his more casual underclothes, Simon fell back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling, his thoughts still whirling. He had found little in the library to answer the questions that his conversation with the prioress had left him with, and had scarce knowledge to offer Lector Themras, who had seemed even more distracted that evening, deep in meditation when Simon had arrived, and quick to return to it before the Inquisitor had even left. Themras had at least straightened Father Wulfe’s house, though the papers were all absent, likely condemned to the fireplace. Still, Simon’s concerns remained mostly on Sister Benevolence. Their conversation had been tense, but illuminating, even though he still chewed on their exchange.
A fluffy head nuzzled against his shoulder, and he clutched Gina closer to him as he began to think aloud. “I don’t think the sisters at the monastery are what they say they are.” Gina stiffened at that, looking closely at his face. “I think they are worshippers of the vanished gods. There’s nothing wrong with that, exactly; the Seven Heroes worshipped the same gods, after all. It’s just that the Church of the Holy Martyr tends to look upon it… negatively.” Gina glanced down, and he would bet her thoughts turned to Father Wulfe, much like his own. “Still, that means they have things to hide, and the pilgrims that are disappearing might be connected somehow.” He sighed. “And I think, somehow, she knows about you.”
Gina’s soft growl drew his eyes. He looked down to see her staring at him intently. She reached up to tap her nose, and he shook his head, confused. “Smell? No, Sister Benevolence is human. She couldn’t smell you on me…” His eyes widened. It was possible to detect monstrous presence through the energies they left behind, although that magic was rare and difficult to cast, and taught only to the highest priests for that reason. George, for example, wouldn’t know it. Simon didn’t either. The Lector might- Simon’s heart clenched, and he muttered a fervent prayer that the priest never thought to cast that spell around Simon, if he did know it. It was good that Themras had been distracted recently.
Sister Benevolence had mentioned that the library in the cathedral’s catacombs had a stock of tomes on ancient magic. It would have been easy enough for her to learn it by reading through those tomes, and she might have the power to cast it, as someone so highly ranked within the monastery. That thought peaked his curiosity at the forbidden library, but he knew better than to accept the prioress’s invitation to visit it; those had begun to strike him as rather sinister. Still, he felt that the answers he sought might be found there. He needed to see it, but perhaps without one of the nuns going with him…
He smiled at that thought, glad for once for the training he had received to become an Inquisitor. He had a bit of a talent for magic, learning it quickly, even if he was never able to conjure forth spells with quite the power of his peers. There had been a few spells in particular he had used on his worst days back in his training: Passage of the Faithful and Blindness of Impurity. With those, he could unlock doors, and evade sight for a short while. If he waited until the monastery was quiet, perhaps he could slip unseen into the catacombs, and find the answers for himself.
He blinked as he noticed Gina petting his head. In the depths of his thoughts, he had stopped stroking her, and she had instead began to pet him. “Sorry, Gina, I’ve just got a lot on my mind-” he started to apologize, but she shook her head, rising from the bed. Instead, she pulled him to his feet, and guided him to lay back down in a new fashion. Simon blinked as he found himself laying with his head resting upon her thighs. Before he could say anything, she plucked the glasses from his face and placed them on the nightstand before beginning to stroke his hair again, and he closed his eyes, relaxing against her.
His eyes opened minutes later as she tugged at his hair, and he noticed she was looking at him curiously, turning her head this way and that, placing her paws against the sides of his face as if imagining what he would look like with longer hair. “What, don’t you like my haircut?” he asked, slightly offended, and she raised one eyebrow pointedly before returning to her inspection. “Fine, the next time I visit the barber…” His heart clenched. The next time, she wouldn’t be there to see it. She would be leagues away from here, and he would be back in the capitol, an Inquisitor once more, if he had ever been one at all.
She paused in her stroking, and looked at him carefully. He met her gaze with sad eyes. “I’m sorry. I think too much.” She nodded, but her expression was serious as her paw pad stroked his cheek. He nuzzled against it, taking comfort in the touch as he fought down the ache in his heart. “I… don’t know what to do any more. I just feel lost.” He squeezed his eyes shut, his breathing ragged. She leaned over him, rubbing her paw against his chest, pressing against the tense, stubborn muscles, and he sighed in gratitude.
Her caresses lulled him into a doze, though his mind still felt hounded as it faded into darkness. When he opened his eyes again, the air beyond the room’s window had deepened into shadow, but still Gina petted him, and he was slow to rise, his fatigued mind put to thoughtless rest. Finally he leaned up, smiling gratefully at her, and she drew close, hugging him to her. In that moment, in that embrace, he found peace. “Thank you,” he murmured into her shoulder. He hugged her back, squeezing her against him hard enough to feel her heartbeat. For the first time in his life, he felt like he had found a place where he belonged, and he nuzzled her neck in happiness, not thinking, just feeling. Gina had become his only source of stability, and he felt like holding on to her forever. “I love you.”
They both stiffened at that. He drew back, finding her staring at him with wide eyes. He met that stare for a long moment, fully awake now, his heart sending fresh blood racing into the dusty corridors of his brain. He had not meant to say that. He had not planned it. He had meant it, certainly, but that did not mean it was right of him to say it. She was the first thing in his life in years that made him feel happy, made him feel welcome and worthy. Though he had only known her for days, he knew leaving her would hurt him worlds more than leaving behind anything since his parents. Still, he would have to leave her, and so he shouldn’t… She was drawing close to him, her face tilting, not in curiosity, in certainty, and he surrendered to her better wisdom.
This was not their first kiss, but it was the first time they kissed like lovers, slow and passionate and deep. He didn’t move any part of his body but his face, lost entirely in the sensation of her lips on his, her tongue flicking against his, the taste of her and the smell of her. She led the way, wrapping her arms under his, pulling them closer as she pressed against his mouth harder, moving slowly but with purpose. He melted against her, finally wrapping his arms around her shoulders and pulling her closer, his hands rubbing greedily against her shoulders.
Ages must have passed before they broke apart, their chests both heaving for breath, but Simon could see in her eyes that Gina was far from finished, and that excited him like electricity racing through his nerves. She leaned closer, nipping and kissing and licking at his neck, and he craned his head back, gasping at the feeling. Urgent need rose up within him, forcing the protesting bits of his brain into a closet in his skull and barring the door. When she leaned back, ready to return her lips to his, he pressed forward, kissing her roughly, catching her lower lip between his teeth and nibbling gently. It was obvious from her needy whimper that she enjoyed that, but he didn’t stop to repeat it, instead exploring her mouth with his tongue as he felt her claws press against his back in a sweetly-slow rake.
When they leaned back, he stared at her, savoring the lust in her eyes, but his eyes widened as he noticed her paws slip from his back to reach for her sides. His swallowed loudly as he noticed her hook her claws under the edge of the cloth she wore wrapped around her breasts, and her eyes drank in his excitement as she began to lift higher, revealing pale flesh-
A knock at the door made them both freeze. “Oh, damn it all!” he hissed, trembling in rage at the interruption. Gina sighed irritably as she hid around the corner from the door, and Simon fought not to stomp over to the door, not to fling it open, and only partially succeeded. He stared out into the hallway at the girl who waited there, heavily encumbered with a large tray, and despite his displeasure he nodded greetings at the sheepish smile Mary Kramer was offering him. “Ah, dinner; I never came down for it,” he remembered. His early return to his room had brought him back before the evening meal was ready, and so he had told Charles that he would be back for food later. It looked like Mary had decided to bring it to him, and brought Gina’s meal with it. “Thanks, I appreciate that. I, ah, dozed off…”
“That’s alright!” Mary replied cheerfully, stepping past him to carry the tray into the room. “I don’t mind bringing it up, since I have to bring up Gina’s anyways.” The brown-haired girl nodded brightly to the kobold as she passed, ignorant of Gina’s frustrated stare and drumming claws. “It’s quiet downstairs anyways. Apparently the Lector has started coming out and talking to people about strange things, so a lot of the townsfolk are staying in as much as they can. Forgive me, but he’s not a very… nice man.”
“That’s putting it lightly,” Simon admitted, stepping over to the nightstand to retrieve his glasses. “And there are plenty just like him back in the capitol. It seems like that happens to those who get higher in the church.”
Mary nodded, but she frowned as she lowered the tray to the table. “My pa says that faith can raise a man above earthly matters, but that makes him see the rest of us as lower than him. Only the best can have their heads in the heavens and their feet on the ground.” She removed the lid from the tray, revealing two bowls of a thick, meaty stew that immediately filled the room with a rich scent. “Do you think the Heroes were like that?”
Simon scratched his chin, not noticing the way Gina covered her face with her paws and sighed in defeated lust. “Well, maybe. Some of them, perhaps; the Priest never struck me as being too lofty. After all, a lot of his stories deal with him helping people suffering after monster attacks. Others involve him giving advice to people wanting to protect themselves.”
“That’s true,” Mary admitted, placing spoons in the bowls and lifting them. “Are there any stories about that in the books you have? I’ve never read about that.”
“Yes, actually. Let me see…” Mary waited, bowl in hand, while Simon stooped to dig through his books. Gina watched him, before glancing to Mary, who didn’t meet her eyes. “Ah, here it is.” Simon hefted one of the books, flipping through it before extending it to Mary, exchanging it for one of the steaming bowls of stew. “You can always read my books whenever you would like, you know.”
“Thank you! Actually, I did just that today. I stopped by and read to Gina,” Mary explaining, smiling at the kobold, who returned the expression magnanimously, beginning to forgive the other girl for her possibly-innocent interruption.
“Oh? Which one did you read?” Simon asked innocently. No answer was forthcoming for a long moment, and he frowned at the color in both Mary’s and Gina’s cheeks, and the way they would not meet his gaze. “That way I won’t start to read it to her myself,” he explained, but they persisted in their stubborn silence, finding the mundane furnishings of the room profoundly interesting all of a sudden. Realization sparked in him like dreadful lightning, and he glanced at the head of the bed. “Oh hells.” Surely they hadn’t found the dirty little book he had hidden… When Gina began to slink off the bed, making for the washcloset, he closed his eyes and growled out a sigh. “Please tell me that you didn’t…”
“It was fine!” Mary reassured him. “It was a nice story and all. I mean, the writing was a little flowery and rather descriptive, but it was sweet!” She choked back a laugh. “Like when the knight told the lady that she had ‘breasts as white as fresh-fallen snow.’”
Simon waited with the patience of stone as both girls lost their composure and began to openly laugh. “Or when the lady talked about hefting his mighty lance…” Mary gasped, trying to restrain the laughter that shook her frame. Gina had no such tact, laughing openly as she crawled back up the bed, dragging the embarrassing tome from its safe crevice and flipping through the pages. She quickly found what she was seeking and thrust it towards Mary, who glanced at it and burst into further laughter, unable to explain what had so amused her as her face brightened to crimson. Grumbling, Simon took it from her unresisting hands, and discovered it to be the part where the narrator had described the lady’s ‘flower,’ using an extended botanical metaphor that Simon, at least, had found rather tasteful.
“Okay, okay, laugh all you want, sure,” Simon muttered, and both girls enthusiastically complied. When they at long last began to calm, gasping for breath, he glared from one to the other, his ears burning like torches. “Give me a break. I lived in a dormitory with dozens of other guys for years. Of course I’m going to be curious about romance, and I didn’t exactly have a better way of learning about it. I’m afraid such books don’t make it on the church’s recommended reading lists.” He huffed in embarrassment, but jumped as he felt a paw softly stroke against his lower back. He glanced to the side to see that Gina, still with tears on her cheeks from her earlier hilarity, was giving him a much more serious smile, and he could read the offer in her eyes; she would be happy to give him a much more effective education in that sort of love, he surmised, and his blush returned.
“It’s okay, I swear! I’ve read a book like that myself,” Mary confessed. “It was just so awkwardly phrased that we couldn’t help but laugh.” Her smile wavered a bit as she looked at him, suddenly afraid that the ease Simon made her feel might have pushed her and Gina too close to bullying him. “Please don’t be angry with us.”
Simon sighed, shaking his head, but he couldn’t keep a self-conscious grin from his face. “It is pretty florid,” he admitted hesitantly. “But the action was good in it!” He paused, and his cheeks reignited. “I mean, not that kind of action-!”
This started a new round of laughter, and this time Simon joined in. Their conversation soon turned to safer topics, much to Simon’s relief, as Mary sat down and joined them, talking together far into the evening. By the time Mary hesitantly left after her father came to their door to summon her for the evening’s cleaning, it was late enough that Simon’s eyelids were hanging heavily. Gina, on the other hand, had curled up onto the stack of blankets off to the side and dozed off, snoring softly, her legs twitching gently every now and then. Wearily stripping to his undershirt and placing his glasses on the nightstand, Simon knew he needed to wake her and bring her to bed, but he paused to lay down and stretch his aching legs for just a moment. Fatigue settled into his muscles, and he looked blearily to the ceiling through the dancing light of the last candle. He needed to get Gina, at least carry her over to the bed so she could sleep with him, but…
The two were lost in sleep for a long time, the sky outside darkening to black as the wind gusted against the window. Far in the distance, the heavens grumbled in a bass voice, heralding a distant storm, but here the only sign was the swaying branches of the forest beyond the window. Even the sounds of the wind streaming through branches was held off by the window, leaving the room in silence save for two rhythmic choruses of slow breaths.
Hours passed as the taper burned lower and lower, until, with a shocking suddenness, the flame died, as though it had been snuffed out. Shadows soaked into the room, and Simon’s brow furrowed in his sleep. Tormented by dreams, he couldn’t see the dark figure standing at the foot of his bed, watching him with unwavering intensity. That figure drew closer, beginning to take form, circling the bed with arms outreached as if preparing to lift his slumbering body from the mattress.
The shadowed shape paused at the sound of soft growling. Its form hazy and indistinct, it would have been impossible to tell that it turned to face the opposite direction, if not for the violet eyes gleaming out of the darkness. Those eyes widened as they saw the girl standing across the room, her white teeth bared, her dark eyes all but glowing amber with an inner light. Gina took a threatening step forward, her paws tensed into claws, her growl deepening at the rolling laughter she barely heard. Before she could rush forward, however, the shadows exploded outward, a sudden tempest in the room that opened books and toppled candles, pressing the kobold back a step, before the room’s window burst open, and the shadows fled into the night.
Gina closed the window, glaring out into the darkness. She stood there for a long time, glancing back and forth between the swaying trees and Simon’s slumbering form, her nostrils flaring as she sniffed at the air. Finally she returned to her blankets, but did not lay down, instead sitting rigidly, keeping watch over Simon’s sleeping body. She looked longingly at the place next to him, but dutifully kept to her post, guarding him.
The sky had begun to lighten before she stumbled into bed, curling up against his back and clutching him protectively, breathing in his scent with an exhausted contentment. Soon, once more, soft breathing sang through the room. This time, their sleep would not be disrupted.
The boy in the black cloak staggered into the monastery, gripping at the chain that pulled him forward. The dark links were wrapped around his waist, and he yanked at them, but they clutched to him like a needy lover. He couldn’t see where they ended; the chain stretched taut into the dark distance, pulling him relentlessly onward into the shadows.
As he struggled futilely against the chain’s grasp, he was pulled further into the building. He passed statues on plinths, though several were toppled, lying shattered on the ground. A broken stone bow lay before the feet of one of the remaining statues, the smallest, which glowed gold in the darkness.
The chain pulled him into the nave, where dark forms huddled against the walls. Several were men, stripped bare and groaning in mindless pleasure, tended to by shrouded forms that writhed obscenely against them, yet turned to look at the boy with gazes that glowed in the darkness, wide and round like the eyes of owls. High on the walls, the stained glass windows glowed with the pulse of thunder, revealing blasphemous majesty: a knight and a spearman crumpled and bloody under a clawed foot, and, worst of all, a swordsman in the throes of passion, being ridden by a pale-skinned woman with crimson eyes and white hair, her mouth open in sinful ecstasy.
Still the chain pulled him onward, past the pulpit where a ghostly form preached wisdom and peace, ignored by the shadows, and the boy felt a deep kinship that resonated within him, giving him strength. The chain was tireless, however, dragging him to the ambulatory, and to a secluded door, down hidden stairs into dank passages like caverns, pale bones mingling wantonly on the uneven floor. Finally he came to an open chamber, at the end of which was a locked door, under which gleamed an unsettling light. The chain did not extend that far, however. Instead, it dove into a hole in the floor, which was framed with a circle that glowed with arcane light. The boy fought as he was brought closer and closer to the pit that yawned like an open maw, and from within he could hear cries of pleasure mixed with satisfied moans.
As he looked into the swirling depths, he heard a sensuous voice speak directly into his ear, and he shook with fear. “Welcome home.” And then he fell forward, forever, tumbling without end.
George Lambton had a secret. He had spent the last few years afraid of discovery, ever since he had risen from being a Page to join the ranks of the Purifiers. His training had passed in tortuous tension, as he was paranoid of his truth being revealed. He feared detection would mean his life would change in dreadful ways, and so he put on an act to conceal the truth, even from himself.
Here, though, under the shining moonlight in the dark wilderness of the forest surrounding Videre, he could drop the façade. He had no fear of being seen, of his reality being revealed. And so, he unveiled himself to the shadowed night, and felt at ease.
In his hands, he clutched, not the sword that was the symbol of his Order, the weapon of a hero, but instead a bow. He was ashamed, but he had known since he was young that he had a gift, a skill with a weapon meant for cowards and weaklings. He had a talent for tracking, adept in passing through wilderness undetected, and could easily bullseye a target at forty paces. In truth, he should have been chosen as a Warder, but had hidden his skills to become what he had always dreamed of, a Purifier, his ambition since childhood. And so, he kept his aptitude a secret, even from those he trusted.
Slinking through the forest, though, he clutched his favored weapon tightly, arrow nocked and ready. There was something fell in the air that night, beyond the howling wind and the spreading clouds that consumed the light of the stars, though fortunately left the moon untouched. He looked around warily, listening with body tensed, a faint smell in the air shaping his course. He heard a sighing breath beyond a nearby tree, and slipped through the underbrush fluidly, coming around the gnarled pillar with bow at the ready, pausing to gather himself before the final bend.
He sprang, coming around the tree with bow level with his eyes, only to freeze as he recognized the shape in front of him. Not a yard away stood a man in armor, a glowing cigar drooping from his slackened lips, and his dark eyes stared widely at the tip of the arrowhead aimed just above his bulbous nose. “Damn, boy, you about made me piss meself!” the mercenary swore, skillfully snatching the crude cigar out of the air as it began to plummet earthward, only to singe his finger on the glowing ash at the end. “Ack, by me mother’s teats-!”
“Sorry, sergeant,” George offered, though his tone did little to hide his exasperation. He had left Sergeant Pascual and the other mercenary, Manuel, to hunt on his own. The mercenaries were skilled and experienced warriors, but woodsmen they were not. George knew any prey they might find in these trees would long hear them coming, and so he had split off from the other men. He still remembered Simon’s suggestion, and honored it by staying fairly close; the other Errant was very smart, and George respected his advice. Still, he couldn’t help but feel he would have better luck in these woods without his two stomping bodyguards.
“Sorry, lad, just stopped to have me a little smoke. Helps me stay awake, y’see.” Pascual offered George a dirty-toothed grin before taking another long puff off the burning cigar.
George ignored his excuses, well used to corralling the easily-distracted mercenaries. Instead, he glanced around at the nearby trees, searching for the other man. “Where’s Manuel?”
The sergeant shrugged, souring his scarred face into a scowl. “Hell if I know. Probably off relieving himself; poor bastard never could handle his liquor without nearly shitting himself the next day.” George shook his head at the man’s coarse laughter, trying not to think about that, especially in light of his own feeble stomach after his drinking with Simon the previous night. The inn’s ale had tasted great, at least on the way down. In reverse, less so, at least from what little he remembered.
“Let’s look for him. We don’t need to split up now, especially after Alvaro disappeared. I’ve got a bad feeling tonight.” George led the way, hoping to find some sign of Manuel’s passage.
“Hells, I’ve had a bad feeling since I took this job,” grumbled the sergeant as he followed the younger man, taking a deep puff from his cigar before grinding it against a tree as he passed and flicking the butt into the darkness. “It’d be nice to have a good feeling for once.”
As the two wandered deeper into the forest, even the keen ears of the Purifier missed the soft rustle of black wings overhead, and the shadow that streamed across the sky, covering some of remaining stars for just an instant in a line leading away from Videre and deeper into the forest.
Manuel didn’t want to admit it, but he was lost. He had gotten separated from his sergeant when he had stopped to take a leak, and the sour old man had wandered off, probably to find somewhere to set up camp with his odious cigars. Manuel didn’t necessarily blame him; after all, this job was garbage, hunting for monsters in the dark. So far, they hadn’t found them, but what if they did? At the least, for the past few days they had been babysitting the kid instead of taking orders from that crazy priest, but even that was tiresome. The kid was a pretty good hunter, as good as any Manuel had met in his home country, but he had a lot to learn about how the world worked. He could start with the fact that work is better avoided than pursued, Manuel mused with a chuckle, distracting himself from his surroundings.
He raised the torch he carried suddenly, hearing a rustling in the trees beyond the edge of his vision. He squinted into the darkness, trying to detect movement as his hand slipped to the truncheon he had strapped to his hip. Something was definitely coming closer, and he planted his feet, holding his weapon aloft. “Sarge, is that you?”
A form burst from the trees, and he drew his weapon back, only to freeze as the shape collapsed at his feet. His eyes struggled to make sense of the black-clad figure panting for breath before him, but when she raised her head, Manuel discovered the woman was one of the nuns from the convent on the mountain, still clad in her confining garb. She was desperately out of breath, and she looked up at him with pleading blue eyes that seized his heart with a pang. She was young, with sharp cheeks and plump lips, and despite himself Manuel wondered what could have sent a beauty like her to a convent. “Please, help me. My sister and I got lost in these woods after she hurt her ankle, so I went for help. Can you help me?”
Manuel blinked, glancing about him for the other two men he had been travelling with as he returned his weapon to its strap. He was on the job, and he knew his sergeant would have his hide the next day if he wandered off, even if Pascual had done just that himself. Still, a glance back at the girl’s face made him swallow through his tight throat, and he nodded. “Sure, I’ll help,” he managed, and the smile she gave him was as brilliant as the moon in the heavens.
Manuel soon found himself being led through the trees, becoming increasingly aware of the fact that he had no idea how he would find his way back to the other two men as their path wound to and fro. He wondered how she managed it in the darkness, but she seemed to even have little need of the torchlight, leading them onward without hesitation. They said little, though she had extended her hand to him, and he took it, thrilled at the feeling of her delicate skin against his calloused fingers even as he wondered if it was right to hold the hand of a nun.
Finally they slowed, as they entered a small clearing, but as he began to look around the sister stepped in front of him suddenly, her blue eyes forcefully capturing his. “Oh! She’s gone. She must have recovered and made her way back on her own.” She gave him a brilliant smile, her head tilted to the side as she swayed back and forth.
Manuel’s brow furrowed as he looked at her. “Now, that doesn’t make sense. How do you know she made it? Shouldn’t we look for her-?”
The girl stepped forward, pushing firmly against his chest, and his back bumped into a tree behind him. Surprised, he stared down at her as she leaned against him, reaching up to remove her wimple and shaking free her shoulder-length platinum blond hair. Her smile revealed her teeth as she bit her lower lip, and she pressed harder against him, bringing their faces closer together. “You were so brave, escorting me through these woods. You should have a reward, don’t you think?” Manuel jumped as he felt one of her hands grip him below his belt.
The mercenary shook his head even as he felt himself swelling in her grasp. “We shouldn’t. You have vows, right, and I need to get back to-”
“I’m very serious about my vows,” she purred, stroking him firmly as he grew in his trousers, her cheek brushing against his as she brought her lips to his ear. “And I swear that you will enjoy this.”
He shuddered as she released him, his mind clouded. Before his concerns could rally, he felt her adroitly undoing his belt, and could only stammer, “But I don’t even know your name!” This was a first for him, a man more accustomed to pursuing coquettish maids than being cornered like this.
The girl gave him a wide smile as his trousers dropped to the forest’s floor. “Call me Faith.” She locked their eyes together as she descended to her knees, unconcerned that she was dirtying her habit as she knelt to take his member into her mouth. Manuel’s groan rattled his body as she devoured his half-erect shaft, pressing him deep into her mouth and sucking fiercely. It took only moments for him, hardly a virgin, to be moaning and clawing at the bark of the tree behind him. Faith had skills entirely inappropriate for a woman of her calling, and her tongue swirled around him like a coiling tentacle, leaving him weak in the knees.
As minutes passed to the wet sounds, he could feel his release building, and he stared up at the cold moon, gasping for breath as he felt his member begin to pulse in her mouth. Before he could arrive at that blinding ecstasy, however, Faith drew back from him with a wet ‘pop,’ leaving his tortured tool bobbing moistly in the air. She stood before him, her hand caressing his face as she brushed the excess moisture from her lips with the other. “Don’t finish just yet. I haven’t had my fun, and there is a much better place to spend yourself.” As he watched, she began to loosen the belt of her habit, swiftly disrobing. To his surprise, she wore nothing underneath, and her pale skin looked almost blueish in the chill moonlight.
She took him by the hand, using her other hand to direct his face towards hers, keeping their eyes locked. She led him away from the trees, to a grassless patch of earth. Her eyes flicked to the ground, and his followed, finding something scratched into the dirt before she recaptured his attention by lunging forward, mashing their lips together fiercely as her tongue plunged into his mouth. Her hand reached down to grip his aching shaft, stroking it back to full need, and she guided him to lay down on the ground, never relenting from her intoxicating kisses. Only when he lay supine did she relent, quickly straddling his hips.
“Tell me,” she asked, sliding her wet lower lips against his member in a maddening tease, “do you want to be with me?” She rubbed harder against him, and the head of his prick pressed against her opening as she rocked back, but no further. She waited for a response, her eyes almost seeming to glow violet in the moonlight, her pale hair shining silver and her skin shadowed to blue. For just a moment, that felt wrong to him, but she shifted, lifting and sliding against him once more, driving all conscious thought from his mind as his hips bucked desperately against her.
“Yes,” he groaned. “Please, yes.” She smiled sadistically down at him, rocking her hips faster, yet not granting him the succor he craved.
“Will you give yourself to me, then?” she asked slyly, moaning in punctuation as she rubbed her clit against the head of his member.
“Please!” he cried, sinking his fingers into the earth. “Yes! Just do it!”
They both cried out throatily as she plunged onto him. His pleasure was so great that he did not see the way her eyes flared with violet light, or the way the ground below them lit with power of the same hue, or the small dark wings that spread from her lower back. Those black-feathered appendages flapped gently as she rose and fell, consuming his organ hungrily into herself. She was not patient, did not allow their passion to build, instead throwing herself into a brutal rhythm that left him howling with need, racing uncontrollably towards release.
Manuel all but blacked out as he came, thrusting senselessly into her as his seed shot deep into her womb, and she laughed with a sinister thrill as she didn’t stop, didn’t slow. Manuel trembled under her, but didn’t even have time to relax as she continued to ride him, dark power flowing into him and keeping him hard, even though the sensitivity was maddening. The feelings were so overwhelming that he couldn’t even notice that he was sinking into the earth.
The lovers continued frantically grinding together as they sank, deeper and deeper, passing through the center of the runic circle that she had positioned him atop. Within moments, only her head peaked above that rim, while around the edges a glimpse of a different place could be seen, a murky purple realm that rang out with unending screams of ecstasy. Faith didn’t look up from the pleasured face of her new mate as they disappeared from sight, and with a flash they disappeared, the rune-carved earth appearing once more.
All was silent in the clearing once more. Still, a shadowed form stepped from the ring of trees, walking closer to the magic circle. The cloud of shadows took on a feminine form, albeit one clad in black armor, as she drew near the earth that had covered Faith and her captive. The watcher smiled cruelly at that place, her tongue parting her lips in a slow lick. “Welcome to the congregation.”
She faded back into mist, and exploded skyward, launching towards a looming mountain, leaving behind only the ringing of cold laughter.
Continued in “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 6“
Author’s Note: A longer chapter this time, and the next is much the same. This story is building towards major events in a few chapters, but not quite at the pace I had intended. I still hope to have an extra chapter done by Christmas, so that my next posting will be on Christmas Day, but we shall see how my writing progresses over this busy weekend, especially since I will be participating in Saturday’s speedwriting event.
I shall keep this note brief, as I have much to do today, and writing needs to be worked into my schedule if I ever hope to produce that extra chapter. Thank you, always, for reading, and know that I appreciate whatever feedback you can offer. I shall return on Tuesday, and I shall hope that you will return then for more!
Yesterday was a restful day, and I have much to do, now that I have caught up on my sleep…