Preface: Greetings, all! This is the twelfth chapter of the tale that began with “Wisdom in Shadow – Chapter 1,” comes immediately after “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 11,”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 12 – Prophet
Simon had barely stepped into the library when he was attacked.
Fatigued from his trip back down the stairs leading from the monastery’s sealed reliquary, Simon staggered into the lich’s firelit chamber with a heavy heart, dreading the impending confession of his failure. Sarah had warned him that the other two routes out of the cavernous laboratory were not as safe, but now his hopes rested on the service tunnels, which at the least would not force him to accept the prospect of facing that winged warrior yet another time. Even if he encountered George or the mercenaries outside the tunnels’ exit, he believed he could come up with an excuse to distract them long enough for him to get back to the inn.
He was so consumed by his thoughts as he entered the room that he only noticed the shape sprinting at him when it came within arm’s reach. That warning was barely enough for him to subconsciously brace for impact, his mind still bereft of understanding, but even those preparations were not enough. He fell onto his back, stunned at the collision, and his assailant fell upon him ferociously.
“Wh-what are you doing here?” Simon stammered, his mind reeling in surprise as Gina bathed his face with her tongue enthusiastically. Laughing, he stared in wonder at her face, his heart swelling uncontrollably as relief crashed into him like a tidal wave. “Gina, how did you get here?” His paramour didn’t answer; instead, as soon as she met his gaze with eager eyes, she pressed forward, their lips colliding as she kissed him passionately.
“Ahem.” Sarah sighed as she watched the two lovers kissing on the floor, her eyebrow arched. They paid her interruption no mind, lost in each other’s presence entirely, and the exasperated lich fruitlessly tried clearing her throat a second time. “Whenever you two are finished, we really do have a problem here,” she tried, but the embracing pair paid her little mind, as if the kobold’s frenetically-wagging tail had batted the words away. “Oh, come on!”
Finally Simon and Gina disentangled themselves, his expression flushed with joy and embarrassment while her face was locked onto his, her tail still beating at the air behind her. “Sorry, I’ve just been worried about her-”
“I hate to break up the happy reunion, but don’t stop worrying just yet,” Sarah interjected, her face grave. She pointed towards the door leading out into the laboratory’s main hall. “While you were gone, I think I found what we’ll need to get you both out of here, but we really don’t have time to use it now. Your mutt didn’t bring the best news: it seems that your old boss has come back, and he discovered her at the inn you’ve been staying at.”
“The Lector found you?” Simon asked, whirling to face Gina. “What about Charles and Mary? Are they-?” Gina’s downturned face and whimper told him all he needed to know. Still, she pointed to the table in the center of the room, and the bound bundle of books he saw there, the same one he had left with Charles, confirmed his worst fears.
“And it gets worse. Three of them followed her to the entrance to the tunnels. She closed and blocked a few of the doors behind her, but that won’t stop them forever.” Sarah sighed, staring at Simon with tired eyes. “I was happy here in silence, you know? Nearly a hundred years I’ve spent researching and reading and studying in peace, and in one day you’ve managed to break part of my ceiling, alert my overzealous upstairs neighbors to my presence, and brought torch-bearing fanatics to my front door.” She shook her head, crossing her arms before her chest. “At this point, I just want to send you both off so I can have some quiet again.”
Simon winced at the reproach, but Gina immediately took action, stepping closer to the lich. Sarah glanced up at her, curiosity beginning to overcome the bitterness on her expression, but her eyes widened as Gina leaned closer, licking her face. “H-hey! Stop that!” Despite herself, Sarah laughed at the tickling tongue, and Gina grasped her to keep her from escaping. “Stupid mutt! That’s gross!” She giggled out loud as her composure finally broke under the continued assault, and Simon grinned at the first genuine smile he had seen on the lich’s face. “You are utterly shameless, do you know that?”
Gina finally released her, a self-assured smile on her face, and Sarah scowled in mock outrage up at the kobold. “This doesn’t mean I forgive you,” she warned Gina haughtily, but quickly retreated as Gina leaned closer once more. “But I will help you both, I suppose.” Sarah glanced around Gina at Simon. “For now, you need to get out of here to avoid capture. Judging from the fact that you didn’t just escape by the route you took, then there’s only one safe way out left. If you two will take that, then I will stay behind to seal off the laboratory to keep them from finding any of us, and follow you out later.”
“You mean we should take the path through the catacombs,” Simon replied, frowning. “The nuns found me when I tried to take the upper route, but they may not expect me to try again so soon.” He glanced at Gina, who nodded. “We can try to slip through while they watch the upstairs, and, if they catch us… I might have a way to bargain with them for our safe passage.” With trembling fingers, he reached into his pocket, brushing against the journal he had stolen from the reliquary. “But will you be okay?”
Sarah shrugged indifferently, glancing around the shadowed confines of the library she called home. “Even if they manage to arrive before I seal off the entrance, I’m more than capable of scaring off a few ruffians. Either way, I can cast a spell that will block this laboratory off from everyone for a long time. I will find you afterwards, and we can cast the ritual together.”
Simon frowned at suggestion. “But, if you seal this place, will you be able to come-”
“Don’t worry about that now, just trust me. You have to go, now.” Urgency added weight to Sarah’s words. “If they catch you before you make it through the laboratory, then things will be much more complicated.”
Simon nodded, but his face was pained. “Listen, I already owe you for all you’ve done to help me, but… one of the men coming is a friend. He’s a good person, just misled, like I was once. I know this is selfish, just like I know you have to protect yourself, but try to avoid hurting him as much as you can.”
Sarah sighed, pushing him away lightly. “Fine, I promise not to set anyone on fire. Now just try to get the same promise out of him for me, hmm? Go!”
Simon nodded, but looked back at Sarah with concern as he grabbed Gina’s wrist and began to walk towards the library’s exit. “Be safe, please.” She waved him on impatiently, and he turned away with a guilty frown, hastening his pace to a jog as he and his lover made their way out of the library. He stopped once more, glancing back at her, and he found that the lich was still watching him as she picked a tome up from her table, her face shadowed by the cowl she wore.
Gina and Simon entered the expansive chamber beyond, and with a thought Simon summoned a globe of arcane light. The deep shadows in the room swallowed that dim illumination, leaving Simon barely able to avoid tripping over long-forgotten implements that had fallen to the floor ages ago, but Gina moved with more certainty, guiding him between the tables and benches with confident haste. Together they raced through the massive room, and Simon barely had time to see the shadowed devices they passed, let alone wonder at their purposes.
They paused only once, as the wall opposite the library’s entrance came into sight. As they neared that extreme, they heard a dull booming echo through the chamber, repeated and angry, and they shared a panicked look. They knew that meant that George and the others were almost upon them. Mixed in with the cacophony was the shriek of tortured metal, hinges beginning to fail and separate, and that squeal was enough to spur them to action once more.
Gina took the lead, sprinting towards the wall to the right, and Simon pressed his exhausted legs to keep pace with her as they moved away from the sounds of weapons crashing against the yielding door. The chill, stale air burned at his lungs, but he absolutely refused to relent, focusing his entire attention on the ground before him, dreading the idea of tripping over something hidden in the shadows. Ahead of him, Gina reached the door, and slammed her shoulder into it again and again as she pressed its handle down with a paw. With a shriek quiet only in comparison to the dying portal behind them, the time-corroded hinges surrendered to her, and the door popped open, nearly spilling the kobold to the floor. Simon scooped her back upright as he caught up to her, and they darted into the darkness beyond, throwing the door closed behind them just as they heard the fatal crash of the other entrance finally crumpling to the ground.
Together the pair raced through the narrow hallway, which quickly turned into stairs that turned back upon themselves, leading to another long hallway. After this, too, became a flight of stairs, they passed through an arch and found themselves in a passage that was made of rougher stonework. Ahead, the hall narrowed, thick boulders on either side supporting a lower ceiling, and in the middle was a shimmering shadow. As they came closer, Simon could feel a tingling energy in the air, and he suspected that they were drawing near to the wards that Sarah had used to protect her home. His suspicions were given greater potency as they stepped into the shadow between the close walls, and passed through it into a familiar-looking passage with loose footstones and boneshelves along the walls. Simon didn’t know whether to be relieved or dismayed, but they had safely arrived back in the monastery’s catacombs.
He reached out and grasped Gina’s hand, and she glanced over to him. With a reassuring smile, he nodded, and pictured a now-well-practiced spellrune. He was able to modify the magic enough to cover both of them, pouring his energy into the spell in a way that he knew he would have struggled with before, yet now felt simple and natural. Drawing confidence from that achievement, he nodded again to Gina, and she smiled at him as they began to walk into the catacombs.
The next room was larger than most in the crypts, nearly the size of the chamber outside of the sealed library where he had fought against the winged woman, though it was dwarfed by the laboratory below. Unlike many of the other rooms, this chamber sported bare walls, although it did have several large biers in its center, presumably for heroes to lay in state awaiting their final resting place. Simon glanced around, taking measure of his surroundings. He had not passed through this room during his earlier visit, so he wasn’t entirely certain which of the exits would lead them back towards the twisting staircase that ascended to the monastery. He did note that he could see the flickering light of a torch down the paths to his left, and that fact made him pause; hopefully it was just one remaining from his previous visit earlier in the day, and not a sign that someone else was in the catacombs with them now.
The rattle of chains from the corners of the room immediately put that notion to rest.
“Gina, go back, we’re-!”
Dark metal erupted from the shadows in snakelike streams, wrapping around him and yanking him back against the nearest wall. Stars danced in front of his eyes as his head slammed rudely against the stone, but as he tried to steady his swimming vision he felt chains crisscrossing across his chest and limbs, binding him firmly to the wall nearly a foot above the floor. He gasped at the pain, but desperation brought him clarity enough to throw himself against the links, which only tightened in response. He could hear similar sounds from nearby, and a glance to the wall to his right revealed that Gina had suffered the same fate as he, her white teeth bared as she thrashed against the dark links biting into her skin. His struggles continued until he heard the soft, impassioned voice echoing through the shadows.
“Thou shall commit fornication… Thou shall always be lewd… Thou shall drown in pleasure… Thou shall always accept love…”
Simon looked down the hallway to the left, noticing the shadow moving slowly, confidently, towards the room he and Gina were trapped in. The form was silhouetted by the torchlight behind her, but he could see the head was bowed and the hands were held crossed in front of the white scapular, which gleamed slightly even in the darkness. She walked slowly, like a bride destined for the altar, and as he watched her head raised, and he could tell she stared straight at him. He didn’t need light to know that she smiled.
“Your lovely voice screaming love is your hymn… The lust burning in your chest is your faith… Your slamming hips are your worship… And your orgasm is your prayer to your God…”
As she came closer, entering the room, cold torches hanging in sconces on either side of the chamber burst into life, but the flames burned with an odd hue, oranges and purples and reds mingling in a cloying haze. The words he heard had the same effect on his mind, his head hanging as the room began to sway, pulsing with the beat of his heart. His vision tunneled, locked onto the woman approaching him. For a moment, he recognized her as the prioress, but as he blinked in confusion her whole body seemed to shimmer, and she opened her eyes to reveal gleaming violet that burned into his soul.
“Fill your aching emptiness with carnal desires… And drown in pleasure with he who holds your heart…”
Just like the winged woman from before, the illusion fell away from the nun. In the place of Sister Benevolence was a much younger woman, although ‘monster’ was obviously more applicable. Her platinum hair remained, cascading down her back loosely under her white coif, but her ears were long and tapered, like the elves Simon had read about in stories. Her face was sharper now, with high cheekbones and plump red lips. Her white scapular featured a gaping hole that revealed much of her impressive cleavage, the dark cloth of her habit cupping and emphasizing her breasts. Lower, much of her long legs were bare, but as she strode towards him with swaying hips he noticed the black-feathered wings behind her back, and the dark spade-tipped tail that sinuously waved as she walked. The torchlight gleamed off of her jewelry, chain-shaped bracelets and a necklace, which struck him as rather odd for a nun until he thickly remembered the pale, exposed flesh she flaunted openly.
She stood before him, and he fought to get his eyes to focus as his mind wavered, the thick scent of incense hanging in the air and muffling his thoughts. She smiled at him, staring at him with cold confidence mixed with warm longing, and as the words of her obscene prayer echoed into silence she reached up to stroke his cheek. The touch made a shiver run through his body, rattling the chains that embraced him, and her smile grew at that. “At last, my dear, I can finally give you the wisdom you have sought. Finally, there is no one to interrupt us-” From somewhere nearby, chains sang out, but a slight flick of her hand silence that distraction. “And I can, at long last, reintroduce you to our congregation.”
Simon’s mind struggled against the haze, but those efforts felt like the last desperate flailing of a drowning swimmer. “Reintroduce?”
Her eyes glowed with delight, and her hand slipped down to press against his chest. “Even now, your mind fascinates me. Most men would be drooling on themselves, but you fight on. Almost… heroically.” A shadow passed over her visage. “Forgive me, my dear, for my… doubt. It may be impious, but I must know.” She shifted her glance to his side, where his left hand was pressed palm-downward against the rough wall. She caressed his arm, her fingers trailing down to his wrist, then to the center of his hand, and he felt a strange power seep into his skin. He couldn’t see what she looked upon; he could only see the look of wonder upon her face, a religious ecstasy that crushed the breath from her chest. “We were right. You are…” She looked back to his face, and he could see only reverence there, as though she were overwhelmed by his numbed expression. Slowly, though, that rapture fell into a very different expression, and her tongue parted her crimson lips as she leaned in closer to him. “Forgive me for not knowing you sooner. When we first met, I sought to claim you for our faith, but I did not yet realize who you are. I was blind, but Mother opened my eyes to the truth. She came to me in my dreams, and showed me what I had been too foolish to realize.”
“Sister Benevolence, what are you…” Simon blinked, trying to force the dizzying presence from his mind, but he felt as though he was trying to herd fog.
“Oh, please,” she laughed, and the sound was light like tinkling bells. “I wore that humble guise as part of my duties here. I have shepherded hundreds to the eternal embrace of Pandemonium, but all this time I have waited for my own turn to go home. I have waited for the one I would pledge myself to, reveal the truth of my soul to. I have waited… for you.” She pressed against him, her soft breasts mashing against his stomach, and her eyes bored into his. “You, my love, can call me by my true name: Sophia.”
Again he shivered, the contact of their bodies sending a current running through his nerves. The sensation collected in one place in particular, and despite the secluded part of his brain that screamed of danger, his member began to swell to life. Sister Benevolence – no, Sophia, he corrected himself slavishly – did not fail to notice that excitement, glancing down with a deep flush lighting her cheeks. Her hand now slid down his side, past his waist, before crossing over his leg to begin ascending his thigh.
Simon jolted at the deep growling from across the room, and the nun glanced to the side with narrowed eyes, scowling at the disruption. As her focus left him, Simon felt his mind clear, and he looked to see Gina pulling against the chains that gripped her, her eyes glowing with amber incandescence. Watching her fight against her bonds brought clarity to Simon’s mind, and he forced himself to struggle as well, pressing through the fog that had crippled his thoughts. The prioress looked back to him to find his eyes focused on her once more, narrowed and aware. “This isn’t right. Whoever, whatever, you think I am, I barely know you. Love? Dear? I’ve met you a handful of times, nothing more. We are nothing to each other.”
Sophia smiled at that, shaking her head. “You’re wrong. You don’t know it yet, but you will. Believe it or not, you are the reason I exist, and I will devote my eternity to thanking you for that.” Simon tensed as her fingers brushed against him, teasingly, and she leaned closer once more, recapturing his eyes with her gaze. “Fate and faith have brought us together, and nothing can separate us. Come, and let me show you the glory of our home beyond, where we will be safe and happy forevermore.” Her eyes flicked dismissively to the side, towards the kobold yanking at her restraints. “You can even keep your little pet. She can sleep at the foot of our bed, after she learns a little discipline.”
“Listen, I don’t understand what you are talking about, but there are things I must do.” Steeling himself, Simon thought of the journal hidden in his pocket. “I have something you want, something precious. If you will just release us-”
He winced as she pulled her hand from him, and instead reached to that pocket, plucking the journal from it effortlessly. “And now I have it, and you.” She smiled softly at him, shaking her head. “Really, though, you are worth more than these stale words.” Simon’s jaw dropped at that, and he gaped at her as she reached up to stroke his cheek. “You are rather adorable when you are confused, I must admit.”
“But…! He is a saint to you! How can you just dismiss his teachings?”
She shrugged delicately, sliding the journal back into his pocket. “Shouldn’t you wish to know instead why I would value you so greatly?” She stared into his eyes as her fingers slid down to the waistband of his pants. He tensed as he felt those digits intrude, her slim hand questing lower. “Then relax, and let me teach you all you need to understand.” Despite the terror he felt, his body reacted to her touch, and she gripped him with an eager smile. “Just let me take care of everything. You originally came here in search of wisdom, and I will give it to you.” She began to pull him free of his pants, anticipation gleaming in her eyes. “Just remember, though, that wisdom has a price, and-”
“Hands off, Sister Slut!” Scowling at the intrusion, Sophia turned to the side, as did Simon. To their mutual shock, another person stood at the entrance to the room: a shorter girl, clad only in a flowing cloak and clutching a wooden staff with a zigzagged end, her eyes glowing with arcane light. Sarah smirked at the prioress, and Sophia’s eyes narrowed at the lich’s impudence. “You have other things to worry about now.”
“Well, if it isn’t the little rodent in our basement. Come to-” Before the dark prioress could finish her taunting, Sarah vanished from sight, leaving Sophia blinking in surprise. “You do know that we have spells to see through that, right?” the surprised nun demanded indignantly, her hand slipping away from Simon’s softening member, as the man chained to the wall above her rolled his eyes in irritation at that admission.
“You do, but they don’t.” The disembodied voice came from across the room, nearer to Gina, but the prioress’s attention was claimed by a different sound: the pounding of boots against stone. She whirled, but barely had time to act as three men burst into the room, weapons and torches in hand. The trio, George at the fore, paused in surprise at seeing her instead of the lich they had been chasing, and for a long moment the dark priestess and the hunters stared at each other in mutual astonishment.
“Monster!” George bellowed, and dashed at her, his sword leading the way as the mercenaries charged behind him.
“Oh, please,” Sophia sighed, waving her hands either side. Immediately, chains lashed out of the shadows, wrapping around limbs and torsos, dragging the furious men away from her. The mercenaries gave ground, but George fought on, his eyes gleaming with golden light as he snarled at the woman staring disdainfully at him. One after the other, the mercenaries were yanked from the ground by nets of the rattling links, slamming into the walls with thunderous finality. George stood the longest, his teeth gritted in fury, but his boots slid against the floor as he struggled like a man leaning into hurricane winds. The dark priestess met his eyes with a sardonic smile, her head tilted as she dared him onward, and with a heroic roar he threw himself forward, thrusting his sword at her breast.
The blade stopped mere inches away, and with her nod the chains around him yanked him from his feet and clapped him against the wall, his head lolling nervelessly as he hung there like a vanquished trophy. Chuckling to herself, Sophia stepped closer to the struggling mercenaries and the ensnared Purifier, deep satisfaction evident in her low voice. “So, valiant champion, you continue your crusade against those you deem unworthy.” George’s head shifted slightly at her words, but he showed little other signs of life. “Tell me, did you intend to march me to the pyre just like you did that kind old priest? Remind me, who is the monster again?”
“Let us go!” wailed one of the mercenaries, tied against the wall parallel to the floor.
“Release us, witch!” snarled the other, yanking fruitlessly at the links coiling around his limbs.
Her lips pursing at the interruption, Sophia glanced at the two men through slitted eyes. “No.” Her hands tensed, and twin fingersnaps released power into the air. The mercenaries could not see the runes that formed on the walls behind them, but they could sense something in the air, and they redoubled their efforts to escape, writhing in the chains that bound them. Their attempts were fruitless, and slowly they began to sink into the stone, dragged by the chains through the runic portals as the men screamed for help. The cries were silenced moments later as the stone rippled over their struggling forms, solidifying over the last glimpse of their bodies, leaving behind only the scorched outlines of the runes that had consumed and transported them.
Her hips swaying, Sophia stepped closer to George, but the smile she wore was far crueler than the one she had worn for Simon. She stared up at him, waiting for his head to raise groggily, but as his eyes widened into wakefulness she offered him a sadistic grin. “It wouldn’t be fair for the brave hero to fight against an outnumbered woman, now would it?” she taunted, and George’s eyes opened wide despite the pain he obviously felt, looking around for the absent mercenaries.
“Bring them back, fiend!” he demanded, struggling against the chains that gripped him. Even as those links sank into his flesh, he refused to relent, and for just a moment it looked like he might have more success than Simon.
“Do not mourn for them, for they only go to a much better place.” The dark priestess chuckled, flicking back a strand of hair that had fallen forward over her shoulders. “They are in a heaven they do not deserve. Such is the mercy of my God, that she would grant even sinners a chance at absolution, at worship. She will give the same to you… murderer.” Her eyes narrowed, and her voice dropped to almost a growl, “Tell me, how did it feel when that old priest forgave you with his final words? How do you sleep at night, knowing you burned an innocent man for trying to save his own granddaughter?” Above her, George’s struggles slowed, and his fury melted in the face of the pain he felt. “You will never know peace. Not here. You will always doubt, and dread, and wait for justice to fall upon you.” The Purifier’s eyes dimmed as his head sank, her words toying with his brain just as they had Simon’s, only to a more sadistic end. “But do not worry. We understand that pain. To all, even to you, we offer… salvation.” George’s eyes slowly closed, and his body slackened as her words and her magic sapped his resistance. “In Pandemonium, you will know the joy of forgetfulness, and in a lover’s arms you will find the peace you seek.”
George surrendered to his guilt and her serpentine words, sinking against the chains that now held him upright. Below him, Sophia smiled in triumph, and she raised her hand, fingers poised to snap. “But if you will excuse me, I have much more important matters to attend to, so-”
“You really don’t want to do that.”
The dark nun froze in place as she heard Simon’s words. Her eyes flicked to the place where he had been bound, and found his chains hanging loosely instead, glowing from where the lich’s magic had parted them. She took a long moment to compose herself, restraining her twitching brow and irritated sigh, before turning gracefully around to face the source of that voice. She opened her violet eyes to see him standing there, waiting for her. Behind him stood two women: the kobold, eyes gleaming with internal light and her teeth bared as she braced to rush forward, and the lich, violet flames lapping up her arms as her eyes shone with ominous arcane energy. In the middle stood Simon, his earlier senselessness vanished from his resolute expression, the wooden staff he held extended before him, aimed at her heart, glowing with azure power. Sophia smiled at the trio as the power in the room began to build. “Oh, come now, must we resort to this?” she entreated, looking coquettishly to the ground as she took a step towards the three, who tensed as she came nearer. Her step only paused as a dull boom echoed through the catacombs, but she didn’t stop her advance.
“We are leaving,” Simon said, his tone brooking no argument. “And we are taking him with us.”
“They can take him. You are the one I want.” Her eyes raised to his face as she smiled coyly. “You were so eager to trade earlier, so-” Her words cut off as another deep rumble shook dust from the ceiling of the room, and her eyes flicked in the direction of the sound. “Come with me, and I will release him, or otherwise he will be gone.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Simon replied, and the energy at the end of his borrowed staff surged, the wooden gleaming with restrained power. A dome of magical energy spread from that nexus, covering Simon and the two girls at his side. “He is leaving with us, and we can settle this matter another time.”
“You mean you want to try to run away.” Sophia clicked her tongue, and chains rattled in the dark corners of the room. “No matter where you flee, you cannot escape the eyes of a goddess-” Another explosion interrupted her, making the ground under their feet tremble, and her sculpted mien decayed into open frustration. “Who is shaking my monastery?” she demanded shrilly, scowling up at the ceiling above them, her earlier intentions momentarily forgotten.
“Sounds to me like you’ve got some bigger problems right now,” suggested Sarah wryly, shrugging her violet-enkindled arms. “Maybe you should see who’s knocking.”
“It’s the Lector.” Simon stared at the dark priestess, and she met his gaze with naked impatience. “He knows about me, and I bet he knows something about you, too.”
“That man is insufferable,” Sophia hissed, her hands clenching into fists. She paused, glancing back to Simon almost plaintively, but once more the building over their heads trembled. Sighing bitterly, she tore her gaze from the man she had come to claim. “Fine. We shall resume this later, after he has been… disposed of.” Her eyes met Simon’s once more, and he didn’t flinch away from the hunger in her gaze. “But I will be back for you. We have waited so long for this that a day more is nothing. However far you run, it won’t be enough.” She whirled on her heels even as the catacombs quivered under their feet once again. “Look forward to it, my love.”
Simon didn’t respond, watching as she walked briskly away from them. When she vanished from sight, hidden by the shadows of the halls, he glanced to the girls at his side. “We need to go.” The dull thump of George’s body falling to the ground punctuated his statement.
Neither of the girls were inclined to argue, and moments later the four of them retraced their steps, sprinting back towards the laboratory as they carried George’s limp body between them.
“You have to come out eventually.”
Lector Themras paused in his efforts, eyeing the stone-faced monastery with contempt. The brilliant light emanating from his body did not blind him to the fell energy seeping out from the mortar and bricks of that supposedly-holy building, and he growled at its false visage, detesting the lie it embodied. So many claimed to be faithful, but their insides were rotten and corrupt, and only fire could cleanse them. So it would be with this malign chapel.
Effortlessly, he thought of the spellshape for Bolt of the Wrathful, a charged shot of holy energy that would once have left him weakened after a single cast, and even that would have only been powerful enough to send men flying. Now, however, the orb of holy power over his head swelled like a maturing star, building with staggering potency, until with a glance he sent the energy careening at the building’s façade. It landed just above the monastery’s main door, exploding with enough might to level any of the lesser structures in the village below. The very ground beneath Themras’s feet recoiled from the collision, as if the mountain itself winced at his righteous fury.
And yet the monastery itself was unfazed, a thin aura of disquieting energy wavering like oil on its surface. That sinful protection had vexed Themras for some time now, but he hardly felt fatigued; instead, the dark magic only increased his zeal to see the treasonous structure leveled, purified by holy flame just like its inhabitants must be. His impatience instead was due to the absence of the tainted prioress; he knew she was irrevocably corrupt, but he had not expected her to be so craven. Her, he intended to see to immediately. Perhaps watching their leader combust and crawl at his feet would drive the other twisted sisters to surrender themselves to his inevitable justice.
He sighed as he gripped his crozier and thought another bolt into existence, savoring the might the artifact had granted him. The Holy One had granted him a great gift indeed, elevating him above the common arbiters of the devout so he could see this mission completed. He would not fail, however long it took; he only hoped that he succeeded before the mercenary returned with his reinforcements, so all his brothers of the church could see the depths of his piety. Themras’s heart swelled as he thought on that; he knew he had been chosen, but succeeding at this task would only grant him greater favor. He thought of the decrepit old men who had once sat in judgment upon him, the Archbishops of the Ecclesiastic Council, and he thought of how much good he could do if he were given chance to replace one of them. He would be able to reshape the face of their whole continent, purge the wicked and unclean with flame and fury by the thousands. He couldn’t help but smile at the thought of those wretches being driven before him to their rightful destinies, lobbing the simmering orb of power at the monastery with an absent wave, hardly blinking as it exploded with enough power to topple forests.
So distracted was he that he almost didn’t feel the foul presence arcing towards him. Cloaked by the midnight skies, the stream of shadows surged towards the Lector like a vaporous arrow seething with incoherent rage at his casual desecration. The shadows descended just as fast as a bolt, taking the form of a winged warrior in an instant, her sword raised high above her head as she plummeted towards him, her face too twisted by fury to make a single sound.
He almost didn’t notice her. Promachos’s blade slammed into a shield of golden energy, her meteoric descent interrupted in an instant. She tensed, driving the sword down with all of her might, but the dome showed no signs of stress, repelling her effortlessly even as she ground the edge of her blade against it, her teeth shining in the darkness with reflected light. Far beneath the shield, Lector Themras glanced up at her with a placid smile, nodding in genial greeting. “How wicked. You take the form of the angels as a mockery of the faith of the old Order.” He shook his head with almost paternal disappointment. “That can hardly drive me to greater wrath than your very existence, so the effort is wasted upon me.”
“You… ignorant… fool!” bellowed the dark valkyrie, pulling her sword back to slash again and again at the unyielding barrier. “You know nothing – you are the mockery!”
Sighing, he met her gaze, and her assault slowed as she saw the power burning chaotically in his eyes. Her rage fell away in the face of her repulsion, but beneath that was fear. “You are not worth my time.”
Promachos stared as a handful of specks of light flared into existence over the mad priest’s head. As she watched, they lengthened into incandescent spears, but they were only replaced with more, as several – many – dozens and dozens of similar bolts of divine power took form over his head. Realizing the mortal danger she was in, she beat the air with her dark wings, surging skyward in an instant. She rose toward the moon, arcing her flight away from the gleaming light beneath her, but despite her incredible swiftness it was entirely too late.
Dozens of the lances of light flew past her, and she desperately twisted as several seared against her, protecting herself with her owl-marked shield. The blessed barrier intercepted several of the bolts before it shattered, shielding her chest and face from the uncompromising energy for a long moment. It did not, however, grant the same protection to her wings. One of the shining bolts pierced straight through feathers, flesh, and bone, and with a shriek of agony the valkyrie plummeted to the earth, landing without restraint just before the doors to the monastery. That fall had unintentionally spared her life from the tens of bolts that had burnt through the air she had just occupied, but that was scant mercy. The cruel ground had left her unable to move, agony nailing her to the stone like a lepidopterist’s pin through a butterfly. The lances now aimed at her from above the priest’s head would be no more kind.
“So, monster, it is time for you to be sent back to the hells from which you were born. Bid them prepare room; there will be something of a rush coming behind you,” taunted the Lector, angling his Spears of Contempt at every surface of her supine form.
“Enough.” Both the dark valkyrie and the priest paused at the sound of the doors to the monastery opening. The woman who stepped outside wore the face of Sister Benevolence once more, but that visage was twisted in a sour frown, and she glared at the Lector with barely-restrained outrage. She extended a hand before her, snapping her fingers, and immediately a rune formed under the crippled valkyrie, who looked at her with adoration and gratitude despite the pain on her face.
“Finally. It was quite discourteous of you to keep me waiting so long,” scolded Themras. He smiled at the prioress with sardonic tolerance. “I do realize it is late, but sloth is the enemy of good works. Speaking of…”
He motioned towards the twisted form of the valkyrie, and a fusillade of holy energy lanced forward. Before they could pierce her, however, they parted to either side, searing into the ground in a V-shade around her. The air over the stricken woman gleamed with the same twisting energy that had shielded the monastery itself, and Promachos sobbed with relief as she began to sink into the earth. As she descended, she stared with concern at the prioress, who stood with hand extended, maintaining the shield that had saved the dark warrior from death. “Rest well, sister,” offered the nun as the valkyrie sank out of sight. “You have earned your reward.”
Lector Themras stared at the nun with a raised eyebrow. “I suppose this means you won’t bother protesting your innocence, then,” he suggested gamely.
“You have never known an innocent,” the dark sister replied sharply. “You would have to have possessed innocence for you to recognize it in others. No, you see everyone as tainted as you really are, and that allows you to justify your violence.”
Lector Themras chuckled at her response. “Do you really mean to lecture me?” He smiled at her, but the teeth exposed above his red beard looked ready to sink into flesh. “Spare me.”
“I would love to.” Sister Benevolence sighed as she met his gaze. “I intend to, actually. I don’t honestly know what there is left inside you to save, aside from the rotten faith that has eaten away at your soul, but someone may find something in you worth redeeming.” She shook her head as if she doubted her own words. “I wish them luck.”
“Please. Do you really think that you have the power to stand against me? To defy holy might?” A ball of light energy formed over Themras’s head, waving and surging as it swelled. “I am a manifestation of the will of the church, and I will see you and all of your wretched kind purged.”
“Power?” It was the prioress’s turn to laugh. “Divine magic, plucked from a source you don’t understand. But what is that in the face of a true goddess?” She spread her arms wide, daring him to act, as the orb of power above him grew and grew. “Let me show you the power of faith.”
Shaking his head, Themras grinned at her. “So be it, if that is how you wish to die.” His eyes flicked to the monastery’s windows, where he could see the faces of the sisters pressed against the glass, watching the confrontation with baited breath. “A fitting end for one like you, burning as a martyr to empty lies.” The globe above him seethed with potency, already nearly as big as Themras himself, and he paused until he saw her glance up at it. If he was disappointed at the lack of fear on her face, his grin did not show it. With a wave, he sent it forward, and the bulging sphere tumbled towards her as it burned like a new sun.
The explosion shook the mountain. The harsh winds whipped dust into the air, and even Themras had to protect his eyes with his sleeve, chuckling into the cloth, protected by his divine barrier. It took several long minutes for the air to clear, and he waited patiently, staring as he waited for the crater where she had once stood to be revealed.
Except, when the air cleared, Sister Benevolence still stood, her arms spread wide, a peaceful smile upon her face. She was completely unharmed, unfazed, and she glanced up to the heavens as if to offer thanks. Her eyes fell to his face, and the challenge he found in their depths gave birth to a growl deep within his chest. “Would you like to try again?”
Lector Themras stared at her flatly, his earlier jocularity vanished. The gleam around him had not diminished, however, and the fingers that gripped his crozier shook with a barely-constrained urge to wrap around her throat. “Tell me, witch, how long do you think you can manage that?”
“Long enough for your stolen power to leave you. Even if it takes days.”
“Even in the face of an army?” The Lector’s smile was cruel. “I am not alone. My brothers will arrive, as early as dawn, to see you and all your kind put to your just reward. Time is on my side, not yours.”
Sister Benevolence was slow in responding. Instead, she glanced to the ground where the valkyrie had fallen. The winged warrior had dropped something in her plummet, and the prioress hastily covered it with her foot, subtly shielding it from the priest’s gaze. “Well, then, I should make preparations, if we are to expect company.” Her eyes again darted to the priest’s reddening face. “Feel free to come back in the morning with your friends. We will show them the same hospitality, as my God is a generous one. I would ask if you could say the same, but…” Her lilted voice was a slap in the face of the furious Lector.
“Mankind has no need for gods, nor monsters like you.” Lector Themras turned, striding away from the monastery without haste. “We shall show you that tomorrow, after I have disposed of your servants in the village below.” Without further courtesy, he marched away, still glowing in the night without any sign of lost power.
Sister Benevolence watched him go. Only as he vanished from sight did she sigh, allowing her illusion to slip once more. Again wearing her true face as Sophia, she forced herself to offer a brave smile back to the watching sisters inside the monastery, who were cheering and staring at her with adulation. Her courage slipped as she turned away, but she looked to the ground to be certain of her unspoken plan.
Under her foot was a thick cigar, a trophy taken by Promachos when she had intercepted the priest’s mercenary messenger. The Lector’s reinforcements would never arrive, and his power would not last long enough for him to retrieve help himself. Still, he would have to be silenced before he could tell anyone of his discoveries, if the monastery was to be saved. She thought briefly of his final words with a frown, before glancing behind her, thinking of the young man she had left in the catacombs.
“Such a vexing man,” she muttered, her stomach sour, and she wasn’t sure which she meant, Simon or the Lector. She knew what she had to do, but despite her faith she could not dismiss her concerns. She only knew that it was time for this matter to end.
Tomorrow would be the final day any of them would see Videre.
Continued in “Wisdom in Shadow, Chapter 13“
Author’s Note: Pray forgive me for the delay in this chapter. A handful of varied events have kept me out of commission: I have been petsitting, suffered from a cold, and competed in another speedwriting competition, all since my last submission. I cringe to admit the next chapter may also be slightly delayed, considering it is meant to be the lead-in to the climax of this tale, but I can hold out hopes for a productive Friday, at the least.
Oh, I should source the prayer that Sophia utters as she first approaches Simon. That is taken from the MGE game, Another Story of Fallen Maidens: Fallen Hero and the Magic Sword of Truth. Since that is specifically used to address the Fallen God, I figured it would be the closest thing to actual scripture that her worshipers would have that I have access to. I felt like it fit in well enough, but credit for those lines belongs to the makers of the game.
I will not say overmuch in this note; I have spent hours at the keys already, and instead need to launch myself at planning out the events of the next chapter. I do offer gratitude, as always, that you have read my humble works, and especially to those who offer words or other forms of honor. I hope you have enjoyed my work, and I shall return soon with the next installment. Wish me luck!
But soon, so soon, I must sleep…
~Wynn Pendragon30932 Views