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Ascent Chapter 4 – The Thief

Updated: May 1

After finding disappointment at the temple of Lamire, the group was deeper in despair than they would like, but there was still hope. They would find the scroll and correct everything. Jaymes eyes were on Ariadna as they walked out of the temple… The goddess put up a brave face, but how much of that was actual courage? Would she be able to do this repeatedly without having her spirit completely broken? How many more false leads could they explore before the goddess lost all hope?

All of these were good questions, but it was not in Jaymes’ nature to give up so readily. They would continue on their search for the scroll. He had confidence that it would be found. The only mystery to solve now was the next step – figure out who took the scroll, and to what end.

The bright sun beat down on them as they exited from temple proper and it took Jaymes a few minutes to adjust to the light after being in the dark interior. Holding his hand up to shield his eyes from the bright sun, his eyes focused and he saw two figures standing before them. They were a good fifty feet out from them, but Jaymes didn’t need to see them up close to know that they were dangerous. The color of the armor and cloth that they wore made it obvious that they were followers of Karn.

Jaymes reached his hand up to his sword, drawing it from the scabbard over his shoulder. He was prepared to fight them and whatever ambush that had been prepared for them. Was this all a setup? Had they been tricked to the temple so they could be ambushed by Karnites when they came out?

The man with the short dirty blonde hair raised his hand up. He made no move for his sword that was strapped to his own back. The girl that stood next to him also did not make any threatening moves. Jaymes found all of this too disconcerting. His eyes focused back to Kaya who had also drawn her sword. He could see that she was looking around the area, looking toward the top of any walls for signs of movement.

With no sign of back up, Jaymes found it odd that a single follower of Karn would be here to deal with them. He was either a fool or this was some kind of trap. “State your business!” the soldier yelled across the dusty expanse. The man began approaching the six of them with both of his hands held up. He made no move to draw his weapon. The girl that followed alongside him stayed a few feet behind him and to his left.

“I wasn’t expecting such a warm welcome,” he said with amusement in his voice. “I’ve come here to talk. He reached his hand back to take his sword and dropped it on the ground before them. “I’m not here to fight you. I just want to talk.”

That voice was familiar… and now that he was closer the rest of him was too. Recognition did him no favors… If anything, Jaymes’ knuckles went white as he gripped his sword harder. The green of his tunic and the shiny metal of his armor revealed his rank… This wasn’t any follower of Karn, but an Inquisitor. The one who had hunted down Jaymes and Kaya half a decade ago… this mad had been responsible for raping and attempting to execute his wife, and who knew how many priestesses he had been responsible for hunting down. Jaymes tensed up more and sensed Kaya do the same beside him as she likewise recognized the monster approaching. This had to be a trick.

“What could you possibly want to talk about, you murderous scum?” Jaymes spoke with vitriol in his tone. He had no respect for any of Karn’s followers, but this one… this one he had a special level of vitriol for. Inquisitors were hunters… If this inquisitor had managed to find them, it was likely that more were on their way.

He continued walking forward, his arms stretched out. “Are you going to kill me, Jaymes?” he asked, smiling. “Murder me in cold blood?”

“You wouldn’t be the first priest, Camden” he said, but he didn’t step forward to attack… staying back with Ariadna and the others. “And you would deserve it more than most.”

Camden grinned. “I can understand your hatred toward me… and it is a well-placed emotion, to be sure. Nevertheless… I think it behooves you to listen to what I have to say.” He looked to Ariadna where she stood behind her protectors. “Thankfully for you all, I don’t think you’re the ones calling the shots, are you? Hello, Goddess.”

Jaymes frowned grimly. So. They knew.

“My name is Camden,” the blonde continued. “I’m an inquisitor of Karn. And… for the longest time now, I have had a feeling that I am not in control of my own destiny. I don’t like the current path that I am on. I want to change that for the better and I think that you can help in that regards.”

Jaymes considered running the man through with his sword to be done with this nonsense. No good could come from having ahy follower of Karn knowing anything about them, and an inquisitor would be worse by far. He could turn on them without warning. He could even kill Ariadna which would make their quest all for naught. “What could you possibly offer to us that would make me reconsider putting my sword through your throat?” Jaymes felt compelled to step forward. His sword at the ready. He could behead this monster now and be done with it.

Ariadna held up her hand though to stop his advance. Her soft voice spoke to him, calming him slightly in his angered state. “Let us here what he has to say.”

“If after I finished you want to still kill me, then by all means. An honorable death would be better than a life filled with doubt and remorse.” Camden smiled again, but there was a brittle edge to it now. “I would like to forge my own path in this world without feeling like someone is controlling me. I want to change my destiny.” Camden motioned his hand behind him toward the brunette woman that was dressed in a black gown. “This is my s- This is Inara. A former priestess of yours, goddess. And she has quite the story to tell all of you. Give her time to tell her story to you. Then you can decide what you want to do afterward.” Camden approached one of the crumbling walls. He left his sword a good distance away. The man simply sat down on a stone brick while his slave approached the group.

The woman appeared to be shy as she stood before Ariadna and her followers. Her hands fidgeted in front of her, toying with her finger tips and her nails. Whatever she had to say, she was quite nervous about it.

“Hello. My name is Inara.” She swallowed. “Please, Goddess… forgive me for my transgressions. I must confess everything. This… this is all my fault.”

Inara felt nervous about standing here before her goddess. She had heard who Ari really was when they priests had been informed, of course… and she had scarcely been able to believe it. She had screwed up so badly that she wasn’t sure if forgiveness was in the goddess’ heart. Was there any way that she could be forgiven for the horrible things she had done… the disaster she had caused? She was responsible for the death of thousands, if not tens of thousands. Even worse than that, the torture and enslavement of even greater number of Ariadna’s priestesses and followers. Her crimes were heinous.

For the very reason she stolen the scroll in the first place, she would help now. It was love that had tricked her into taking the scroll. Love was the reason she would help them. Love for her fallen companions. Love for the way things used to be in the world. Hope for forgiveness was the only thing that spurred her on to stand before the goddess.

Hope would be the saving grace of her soul. She had to atone for what she had done. She didn’t deserve forgiveness, but she hoped for it. She didn’t want to see more suffering because of her inaction. She knew how to fix this. She had known for years how to fix this, but because of her station in the temple of Karn, she was not able to act on it. Now she had been presented with a golden opportunity to make things right. Camden had offered her an audience with Ariadna if they were able to find her first. She wasn’t sure what she had done to deserve such an act of kindness from her cruel master, and she wasn’t sure if she could take his word that he truly wanted to be… other. It didn’t matter. She would take any offered assistance to undo her mistake.

Fidgeting her fingers together in front of them, she started to tell her tale.

“I stole the Scroll of Destiny,” she began, shame on her face. “I was a fool, and in love… and I remember everything. I remembered how it happened.”

Before the fall at the grand temple, Inara was a minor priestess there. The dark haired beauty was a vibrant young woman at the age of eighteen, having studied and trained to become once since she had become an accolyte at twelve. She was among the least of them, but a priestess of the temple nevertheless. Even though she was young, however, she had always been a very inquisitive woman. Perhaps the current high priestess had seen promise in her, because the temple certainly wanted to nurture her fascination with the world. She had been taught many of their blessings and rituals and had become quite proficient in her learnings.

The downside to her inquisitive nature was that her curiosity got the better of her. She would hide around corners and spy on the elder priestesses and the high priestess. She learned things that she was not supposed to know until she was more experienced, wiser, and less foolish. One of the things she learned early on was the location of the secret rooms in the temples… how the majority of them were hidden, and where to find them.

Inara didn’t like for secrets to be kept from her. She liked being a priestess, but she wanted to know everything. Even if it meant that she had to learn second hand from others or spy on the high priestess. That was how she came to find out about the sacred artifacts room. She noticed one day that the high priestess disappeared down a hallway with only one room off to the side from it. When she came to the room, there was no sign of the priestess. That meant there had to be a secret room somewhere nearby because the priestess didn’t vanish into thin air.

Inara searched through the smaller room, but she didn’t find anything that would trigger a secret switch Deeply frustrated that she wasn’t able to figure out how the high priestess had disappeared, she resolved herself to lean against the wall in the room and she would wait it out.

Minutes passed by before she heard the faint rumbling of stone against stone. It wasn’t coming from the room she was in but from the hallway outside. She peered her head around the entryway to see a secret room at the end of the hall. That was where the high priestess had disappeared. It was clever that it was hidden so well too. Inara would never have guessed a secret room would be hidden there…

“I don’t see how this is explaining anything?” Jaymes appeared to be quite frustrated and annoyed at having to sit through Inara’s story with that damned Inquisitor sitting within view.

Inara sighed, placing her hands into her lap. She took in a deep breath and shook her head. “I know it is a long tale, but I must say everything. I want you to be clear on what I did and how I knew where to look.”

Ariadna, who was sitting next to Jaymes during the story, reached over to pat against Jaymes’ arm. “So far her story is adding up to what we know so far. The scroll was hidden in a secret room. The way she describes it tells us how she knew the location and why the scroll was missing.”

Grumbling, Jaymes looked over at Camden who was leaning up against a wall. Kaya had the inquisitor’s sword next to her, his wife holding one hand on it to make sure there was no chance it was going to suddenly be used to attack them. “How do we know that this is not a distraction until we are surrounded and can’t escape. There could be a whole group of Karnites coming to surround us and we wouldn’t be able to do anything to defend ourselves. The longer we stay here, the higher the risk of capture.”

Ariadna’s brow furrowed. “Jaymes, please. This is the best source we may have on where to locate the scroll of destiny. If her story is true, it may be the only lead we have to find it and restoring order. We can’t pass this up.”

He was fully aware that she was right, but still, Jaymes was deeply annoyed by the situation… and the nearness of Camden. Jaymes rose from the ground anxiously, throwing his hands up into the air. “Fine. I’m going to walk around the perimeter to make sure we are safe.” He looked to his wife, silently encouraging her to keep a close eye on the inquisitor while he made sure they weren’t being trapped, then guardian paced off through the sand to reach the wall of the city. He disappeared from sight, walking around the city like he announced.

With a look of concern on her face as she watched Jaymes go, Ariadna waited until he was out of sight before she turned her attention back to Inara. “Alright. You’ve explained how you knew where the scroll might be. There are several temples though. How did you know where to find the scroll exactly… and more importantly, why did you do it?”

Inara bowed her head. Her hands smoothed across the front of her black dress. She cleared her throat before she responded. “This is going to sound ridiculous to you, I’m sure of that. I did it for love. Let me explain.”

After the revelation that this was the most important and sacred of hiding places for artifacts in the temple, Inara felt compelled to discover what would be hidden inside. She waited until late one night, when she was sure that no one would be watching her, before she before she enacted her plan. Sneaking back to the hall, she pressed against several of the bricks to find the right one that would open the door. It took her a few tries before she heard the rumble of the stone door as it opened.

Now that she was inside the secret room, Inara really had no idea of what she was going to actually do… so she started looking around. Inside the small room, there weren’t too many objects of note honestly… a few relics that she had seen brought out on holidays, a few works of art. Most of the items in here, however, were scrolls. What was so important about scrolls that they had to be hidden away like this, rather than be placed in the library with the rest?

Inara never was good at accepting secrets. She picked up a few of the scrolls, opening them up to look at the information they contained, and… Some of it boring. Ancient medicines and herbs that could be created, some of which were toxic or dangerous enough they probably didn’t want just anyone reading about them. Other scrolls listed in detail all of the known ceremonies, rituals and blessings that the church of Ariadna performed. There were even a few scrolls that contained information about lost treasures.

The most interesting thing that Inara stumbled across, however, by far was a record that mentioned the Scroll of Destiny. A scroll on which the laws of the universe were written. A scroll with the power to change your fate, or the fates of others. She had never seen anything that seemed that extraordinary… It seemed farfetched to her, like a fairy tale that was told through the ages. There wasn’t much written in the scroll about it. The only thing she found was a single word. Lamire. Not even an indication if it was a place, a person, or a thing.

Fearing that she would be discovered in a room that was meant for the leaders of the temple, Inara quickly made her way out of the secret room and closed the door. She wasn’t about to go back in there anytime soon. There were too many priestesses and people roaming about the temple. Sneaking in there in the first place was risky. The duties of being a priestess soon overwhelmed her and over the next year she had all but forgotten her adventure… The name Lamire had been temporarily forgotten in the back of her mind, the Scroll of Destiny not thought of any further.

Then, of all things, a chore to head into the market brought it back.

“We need more flour to prepare bread for the homeless,” the high priestess had addressed her directly in the middle of her duties. “Would you go to the market to fetch some for us, Priestess Inara?” The offer was exciting to the young priestess… She had not gotten an opportunity to leave the temple in such a long time. Visiting the nearby town sounded exciting… She would get to meet different people and she could do some good while she was there.

She had smiled at her. “Yes, high priestess. I would be happy to!” Taking the small coin pouch and almost giddy with excitement, Inara travelled down into the town of Danessa, and it was exciting. She didn’t get to interact with the town folk too often as she worked at the temple most days. Everyone was very friendly to her and greeted her with respect and kindness, even if she wore her mask. The merchant that she found with flower was only too happy to take her coins and fill up a huge bag with flour before turning the bag over to Inara.

She just wished she had thought this through more. Inara hadn’t expected the bag to weigh so much… She had trouble lifting it from the ground. She cursed herself for not thinking to bring a helper from the temple with her to help, perhaps one of the handsome young men who would have been able to lift the bag of flour without any trouble.

However, her struggle to carry the hefty bag and carry it back had not gone unnoticed…

“You look like you could use a hand with that,” a young, strong man said from behind her, and Inara could have blessed him as a gentleman. “I’m Koul.” His hand outstretched to offer it to Inara. She blushed, stunned by how handsome he looked, taking his hand into her own to shake it, smiling at him before she really looked at him. When she did, she took in her breath in a gasp. He was dressed in the clothing of a Karn priest. If there was anything that she was certain of in her religion, fraternizing with a priest of Karn was forbidden.


“Inara.” She gave him her hand, shaking it. Inara wasn’t sure why they had that rule. The man seemed nice and he was offering her help, and what else would they have her do? If she were to carry it back herself, she would take all day to get back to the temple. The high priestess would be angry at her that the bread was not prepared for the evening. If she left the flour here, someone would steal it and then she would have to explain why she returned with no money and no flour. “Thank you. I could use some help,” she admitted. Inara watched as Koul picked up the bag of flour, hefting it over his shoulder easily. Such a strong man. She was fascinated by him. Handsome and strong. Her heart raced whenever she looked at him. What was this feeling? She spent so long being groomed into her priestess role that she had forgotten what it felt like to be alive.

Koul carried the bag of flour back to the temple for her. She made small talk with him along the way and found him to be quite charming. What was the problem with someone from Ariadna’s temple and Karn’s temple getting along? They were both acting civil and she didn’t mind spending time with him like this. If all of the followers of Karn were this nice, she might have to talk to the High Priestess to convince her that they were alright.

When they reached the temple, Koul dropped the bag of flour down by the steps. His hand had lingered on hers, and she had taken advantage of the moment to embrace him quickly. That was immediately noticed by one of the other priestesses. She grumbled as she was scolded after that. She thought it was unfair. Did the followers of Karn have such stupid rules as this? In the end, she was forbidden to associate with him again.

It was perhaps the single worst thing the temple could have done to discourage Inara. As an act of defiance, Inara started to find any excuse to get down to Danessa again and see Koul more often from that point onward. What started out as a friendship soon blossomed into romance… she loved the feel of his muscles as he held her, the firmless of his chin and the softness of his lips, the way his eyes lit up when she had first removed her mask. Then, before long, she found herself in his bed several times a week, enjoying the pleasures of his company.

“Does the temple of Karn forbid you from interacting with Ariadna priestesses?” she had asked him once.

Koul had merely laughed, rubbing his hand across Inara’s bare shoulder. “Well, we aren’t supposed to talk to you at all. I think both of our temples forbid it, but…” he smiled. “There is no temple to Karn in Danessa, now is there? So who’s going to stop me?”

Curling up next to his side, Inara sighed. Her naked breasts pressed against his side while her finger traced over top of his chest as she gazed at him longingly. “I wish we didn’t have to hide this from everyone. It’s so stupid that we can’t reveal how we feel to the whole world. Why can’t we be lovers and be from different temples? What difference does it make?”

The look of concern on Koul’s face conveyed his emotion. She knew he felt bad for her… he didn’t like her needing to keep secrets, or for him to be the secret kept… but he had no solution for her, either. For now, they had to keep their activities to the shadows.

The two lovers kept meeting in secret, over and over again. It couldn’t last. It was only a matter of time before she was spotted, which finally happened about 6 months after they had started meeting. One of the acolytes of the temple saw her with Koul in the town center. Her relationship got her a second, serious scolding from the High Priestess who explained to her, in depth, that while perhaps Koul was trustworthy, his god and his temple was not. In a way, her explanation was even kind, understanding. Inara didn’t hear it that way. To her, it seemed filled with nothing but scorn. Greatly upset, Inara fled from Ariadna’s temple to meet up with Koul, unsure if she would ever return.

After a night making love, they lay in each other’s arms, cuddled against one another. The priestess explained her troubles at the temple, wishing for it to change… and for the first time in more than a year, she remembered what she had read of the Scroll of Destiny. Bitterly, she told her lover that she wished it was real, and that she could use it and change her fate. Being in love, Koul did not like to see her so upset, and the next morning as he did his rituals, Inara heard him praying to Karn for her, pleading for help. “Father Karn. I know you see fit to direct my hand where it may best serve you. I only want what is best for all. Please help me change my destiny so that I may be with the one that I love.”

That was the first time Inara had seen true magic.

Out of the shadows, a scaled, grey-skinned man had appeared… one of Karn’s Furies. From his reaction, Koul hadn’t been expecting it any more than she had been. “You ssseek to change your destiny and hersss?” he said, his voice a sibilant hiss. “Your fates were ssset by choices made long before your birthsss… There is only one way to change that.” He looked at him, and then back over his shoulder at her… reptillian eyes seeming to glow as the divine servant stared at her. “Have the priestess of Ariadna take the Scroll of Dessstiny. It alone can change your fates. Do this, and you can be with your lover… The world of man will not separate the temples any longer.” Then, without another word, he vanished, leaving the two of them to discuss that excitedly.

“The scroll can change our fates. We can be together if you find it!” He was talking fast, obviously excited. “Do you… do you know where it is? Can you get it for us?”

Nervous about the idea of taking such an important relic but nevertheless excited, Inara stood before Koul with her fingers fidgeting. She slowly nodded. “I don’t know where to find it exactly…” Inara said softly. Then she took in a deep breath. “Give me a few days to see if I can learn of its whereabouts.”

“That is great news!” He kissed Inara on the lips, excited for their destinies to change for the better.

The next day, Inara returned to her duties as a priestess. She apologized to the High Priestess and her peers, and threw herself into her duties, volunteering for a great deal of extra work… in the library. A month passed by while Inara researched the scroll further. It took surprisingly long to find the name Lamire, but a reference to it in a crumbling scroll revealed that it was a location, and that gave her the hint she needed to work with to know where better to search. At last, on a parchment map so faded it was nearly white, she found it – an ancient city to the south of Danessa, swallowed by the sands of the desert. That night, she stole a horse and rode out of town in the dead of night, taking only what she needed.

Being in the abandoned town made her feel like a ghoul, like she was invading a tomb long since gone still. The darkness of the temple chilled her to the bone. Was it right for her to be here? Was this considered stealing? Inara told herself it couldn’t really be stealing, since the scroll wasn’t being used, that this was a practically unknown set of ruins and no one had stepped food in her what seemed like centuries. It was easy, in that way, to convince herself that she was doing the right thing. She could change her fate. She could change Koul’s fate. All it took was to take the scroll and things would be different. They could be happy.

As she wandered the dark halls of the temple, she could see that it was similar to the temple in Danessa. This was a temple of Ariadna before it had been abandoned… which meant the scroll of destiny could only be in one place.

Inara pressed the remembered switch to activate the entrance to the secret room. The stones rumbled and ground against one another as it opened… and there on an altar, not even covered by a speck of dust, was a single scroll. She couldn’t believe that she had found it. Her hand wrapped around the scroll, grasping it firmly. As she took it in her hand, and lifted it away from the altar, her glee was such she didn’t even hear the mighty crack of thunder that echoed through the skies outside of the temple.

With her prize in hand, she’d ridden back to Danessa. Excited, she rushed to Koul to show him that she’d succeeded… that they could change their destinies… and that was when she’d first realized that something had gone horribly wrong for her. Koul was not… he wasn’t like she remembered. Something about his was different. Angry. Violent. He had tackled Inara, trying to grab the scroll from her hand. One some instinct, she held it away from him, keeping him from taking it, and he had forced her to the floor, ripping at her priestess robes.

Scared of her love for the first time, she gasped and tried to back away from him… and he’d slapped her. Then Koul had grabbed her ankles to pull her back to him. While she screamed and struggled and pleaded, he finished tearing off her clothing, and then pressed himself between her legs, sinking his hard cock deep into her.

He’d done it many times before now, certainly… they’d been making love for half a year. This wasn’t love. Koul wasn’t gentle, his touches weren’t filled with worship or adoration. His hands bruised her arms, her breasts, her neck. His thrusts violated her deeply, pounding into her tightness with no regard for her. The usual tenderness he displayed during their lovemaking had been replaced with violet aggression as he brutally raped his lover, cursing her, calling her one of Ariadna’s whores as he continued to take her pleasure from her, slamming his prick into her and using her like a piece of meat. Inara cried, begging him to stop, pleading that she did not want this. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. The Koul she had known would have listened… but the Koul she had known would never have made her say the words at all. This Koul, instead, grabbed around her throat with both hands, choking her as he fucked her.

Struggling for breath, the priestess hadn’t realized that his cock was still going in until his hips finally smacked up into her as he hilted all the way inside her snug little cunt, filling her as much as he could. He continued to to thrust away at her gripping snatch with the utmost violence, like he was trying to stab her womb with his cock with each slam. The loud slapping of flesh against flesh filled the air as he raped his former lover, the only distracting sounds the gagging and choking as Inara struggled to breathe. Her hands, balled into weak little fists, slapped against Koul’s strong arms as he held her by the neck, fucking her raw.

Before, Inara had always thrilled in the size of her lover… in feeling his huge, strong arms surrounding her, in feeling him fill her body utterly with his length. He had always been gentle, been slow, and made sure her body welcomed him. No longer. Now another harsh thrust was making wet sounds with each meaty thump of their bodies together, the quivering priestess suffering under the strain of every thick inch of him invading her with as much violence as possible as he slammed into her with a feverish haste, over and over.

Gasping for breath, suffocating and dying, Inara clawed at her rapists hands and arms to get him to let go. He was so much larger than her, so much stronger… she couldn’t free himself from his grip. The scroll, forgotten by both of them, lay on the ground, a trophy to be claimed after he had finished with her. Finally, desperate, her grasping hand managed to find something… something heavy. She gripped a clay pot, and as her vision began to go dark she slammed it over his head with the last of her strength.

The blow knocked him back and allowed her to breath again as broken ceramic shards rained down around her. The fury in Koul’s eyes, however, did not lessen. He jumped at her again… but this time, she managed to grab a piece of the broken pot. Desperately, her stiff arms held it away from her, warding him off…

Koul didn’t hesitate. He didn’t even slow down – he threw himself at her, directly onto the makeshift ceramic blade she held. The jagged edge pierced his throat. Eyes wide with horror, Inara watched the man she had loved fall to the ground in a pool of blood.

It took several seconds for what had just happened to sink in… and then Inara simply collapsed, sobbing. She had been attacked… attacked by her lover. The one person she had done all of this for… and then she had killed him. Their fates were supposed to change for the better. How could it have ended up like this? Fear and panic set in. She needed… she needed advice. She needed help.

Inara fled from the scene, riding from town as quickly as the horse could carry her, riding back up the mountain to the grand temple… and as she did, she noticed the army marching in, closing it on it. Armies waving the banners of Karn. With blood on her hands and the scroll of destiny, Inara wailed on the temple door until an accolyte opened it for her, rushing in, heading straight toward the High Priestess.

“I… Forgive me,” she had pleased with the woman. “I fear I have may done something horrible…” Inara was crying as she looked at the masked woman, deep in shock. She didn’t know what to do. Her lover was dead and… and… The high priestess had wisdom beyond her years. She would know what to do.

“What have you done? Is that blood? And what is that?” The high priestess took the scroll from Inara. Unrolling it, she scanned over it and realized immediately what she held in her hand, shock rolling off the woman. “This! Inara, this is not meant for mortal hands!” she gasped. “Do you realized what you have done?”

Tears streaking her face, Inara knew exactly what she had done. She had messed up. In more ways than she could ever imagine. Time would eventually reveal how badly this one act had changed everything… but hearing the story, Ariadna already knew. She had unmoored the world from Taelin’s laws. The gods were suddenly able to change… a process that Karn had used to brutal advantage. But now, as she wept in the temple, Inara didn’t know that yet. She wiped her hands across her face. “I know what I did was wrong. But we can fix it, right? I can take the scroll back there, yes? That will make everything better?”

While the high priestess had wisdom, even she was out of her depth… She rolled the scroll back up, holding it In her hand. “I don’t know if that will be enough. It is a start though. The longer the scroll is out of place, the longer that things will change. We need to get the scroll back to where you found it… now.”

Before they could even set foot outside of the room, the temple shook. Dust cascaded down from the ceilings. A clamor of people running and the guardians rushing around could be heard. Another priestess put her head into the room, panicking. “The temple is under attack!” she exclaimed. “It’s Karn… His followers have declared war on the temple!”

Inara had seen the army, and seemed dreadfully sure of what was to come. There was nothing that they could do to defend themselves on such short notice. The guardians were too few to fend off a mass scale invasion of this size. The priestesses could fend off a few of them, but it was too much. The sheer number of Karn followers would overwhelm them.

The High Priestess set her line in a grim expression. “Quickly… We must get the scroll to safety. They can’t get it.” She took Inara to the secret artifact room. Another jolt shook the temple as the door opened. Massive stone blocks fell from the ceiling, breaking through the floor to fall to the catacombs below.

The high priestess still held the scroll as she stumbled across the wide-open gap. She was falling into the deep pit. Her footing fell out from under her. Inara grabbed at her hand, catching her before she plummeted to the cold, dark recesses below.

“Hold on! I have you! Don’t let go!” The high priestess still had her hand on the scroll and would not let go of it. Inara pulled, but she wasn’t strong enough. She cursed herself for her weakness… if she’d been stronger, she never would have even met Koul in the first place. Once again Inara attempted to pull the priestess back but her grip was slipping. “I can’t hold on much longer!”

The high priestess reached her other hand up, but as she did the scroll hit up against Inara’s arm. The scroll got knocked loose, tumbling out of her hand. The high priestess tried to catch it, but the extra movement caused Inara to lose her grip. The last thing she remembered from that moment was the look of horror on the high priestess’ face as she fell to her death, somewhere deep in the catacombs below.

“And then the siege weapons kept firing,” she said softly, wiping tears away. “The whole area was buried beneath the rubble. Then the army marched in and…” Inara swallowed. “Well, you were there. You know the rest.”

Ariadna looked at Inara, placing her hand on her shoulder. Pain and anger and frustration surged in her, but they were blanketed by a far more dominant emotion… the pain and sadness. “It wasn’t your fault,” she said softly. “You were tricked. I understand now why you did it. Thanks for coming forward and telling the truth.” Slowly, she looked around at her followers. “Well. It looks like we need to find our way into the catacombs beneath the Grand Temple.”

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