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Ascent Chapter 5 – The Broken

Updated: May 1

Their horses trotted through the barren wasteland north of Lamire as they headed back toward Danessa. The now-abandoned town that the Grand Temple of Ariadna had been built to oversee was a good seven days away. Lamire had been the perfect place to hide an artifact like Scroll of Destiny… days away from the nearest other town, in an abandoned town buried by a desert storm, in a secret room that only a few would know about, it had remained hidden from human eyes for centuries. Now, it needed to be found and returned.

Amellisan knew the consequences of not finding the scroll. Things would only get worse if their goddess was not returned to the heavens… every day, things grew worse, and they were already at an all time low. Without Ariadna, the hope was fading from the people. They were overwhelmed with with bad fortune. They had to fix this… no matter what.

The noblewoman had seen how distraught Ariadna had become when she learned of the eventual resting place of the scroll. During the fall, a majority of the temple had fallen. It was laying in ruins and the scroll may be buried deep underground. It may even be under mountains of rubble that would be impossible for them to move. With the possibility of the scroll being lost forever, Amellisan watched the goddess’ mood change over the next couple of days. Her bright, cheerful smile that was full of hope and reassurance had changed to one of worry. Unsure about the fate of the world. Unsure about the fate of her people and followers.

Ariadna had every right to sink into the despair and depression that she was now feeling… but despair couldn’t be the determining factor right now. The fate of the world rested on their shoulders. If there was even the slightest chance that they could restore order, they had to take it.

Riding next to Ariadna on a horse, Amellisan examined the blonde goddess as she rode, seemingly lost in her own world and unseeing. The expression of her face made Amellisan’s heart ache… She couldn’t let the goddess continue to feel sorry for herself. She needed to be prepared for whatever awaited in Danessa. Being depressed didn’t help in a battle, and it certainly wouldn’t win a war. She would need strength right now. The strength to carry on. Her spirit needed to be strong. If the goddess had depleted her stores of hope, then they would need to be replenished. The goddess had given her strength for decades. It was her turn now to provide the same to her.

Reaching over to touch her hand against Ariadna’s arm, Amellisan smiled at her. “I know that things are not looking great at the moment. You are worried about things that we are unsure about. Anything could be waiting for us when we reach temple… your brother’s forced could have reached there ahead of us, and there could be an ambush waiting for us… and thats even if the scroll hasn’t fallen somewhere down to the deepest part of the catacombs and been buried where we wouldn’t be able to reach it.”

Ariadna’s head tilted down, staring at her hands on the reins of the horse she guided. She didn’t speak a word… her mind still fragile from the fractured thoughts she was having over the state of the scroll.

“But you have to look at it from the other perspective, Ari. There may be no one there when we reach the temple. The scroll could easily have fallen into a tunnel in the catacombs and still be easily reachable, it could behave could be a straight shot and we get the scroll in our hands with no problems. If you let dark thoughts of the worst way things could go govern your actions, you will always live in self doubt and fear.” She paused before continuing. “Your heart is one of the brightest I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. You smile when hope seems lost. You carry on when you know there is danger. Even though you have sadness in your heart, it hasn’t ruled you. You should never let that change.”

The words must have been reaching Ariadna because her head lifted from staring at her hands to turn to look at Amellisan. The corners of her lips curled upward into a small, half smile. Amellisan just wished she knew if it was real, or if the goddess was just putting on a strong face for her? Regardless, the noblewoman continued. “You are viewing the world from a whole new perspective for the first time,” she said. “You’ve been through worse things than many of the people of the world have ever experienced… and yet you’ve kept going. Even now, with all that has happened, there is still hope in your heart. It might have dwindled down to an ember, but even at its weakest we could still feel it burning. Feed it, and I promise you… that ember will ignite a flame that will burn brighter than the sun.” She smiled at the goddess. “It is in your nature to have hope. You ride with us now because that hope is still there. You ride toward the horizon hoping for a better tomorrow. Don’t let doubt, fear and uncertainty cast a fog over who you really are. Be the beacon of light that we all know you have always been… A star that will outshine all of us.”

Quietly, she finished. “I never lost hope in you. Please don’t lose hope in us.”

Something in the speech seemed to finally register with Ariadna. The goddess looked more alive as she straightened her back. That faint smile she produced for Amellisan’s benefit became even brighter. “Thank you, Amellisan,” she said softly. “You’re right, of course. It is true what you say… I can’t lose hope and let uncertainty win the day. The time is right. We have all the pieces but one. We can make it a better tomorrow for everyone.”

Amellisan rode beside Ariadna to make sure that she did not have any more doubts. After their talk, she did not see Ariadna falter anymore into worry or depression. She remained vigilant and guarded against the seeds of doubt. Every step they took now brought them closer to their goal, closer to a new beginning. It seemed like, finally, their luck was beginning to change for the better.

The wagon came to a halt near a river bed at the edge of the near-desert badlands. The trickle of the water as it washed down the bank gave a peaceful atmosphere to the surroundings, and the fact that there was shade to be found beneath the rare trees meant it was an ideal place to rest. Leila reached her hand up to rub across the back of her neck, letting out a long, deep sigh of relief. She didn’t mind riding in the wagon or driving it, but the roads were not smooth… it left her feeling sore and aching. They still had a few more days before they would reach Danessa, and she could only hope that this would be enough. The goddess and the others had been through an emotional and physical gauntlet over the last months and years. They were all strong people – and she supposed she should include herself in that category – but still, the trial of constant travel, danger, and brutality were hard on the body and some days the 19-year-old felt closer to 40. She could hardly imagine how some of the others must feel.

Leila hopped down from the wagon, stretching out her legs and lifting her arms over her head, turning her body into one long cord of muscle so she could stretch out further. She kept herself limber with physical activity… during most parts of her life, doing otherwise would have gotten her killed in quick order. Only speed and nimbleness had saved her through most of her career. That thought forced a laugh from Leila’s lips. Career. Not much of a career, if you could call it that. Assassination… Taking revenge on the priests of Karn. Her whole lifestyle was based on the generosity of others and what little coin she could secure from those she had killed, and that kind of life meant that there was plenty she had missed out on.

The soft rippling sound of the river drew her like a magnet. The dust from the road clung to her, sticking to the sweat from the beating sun until she wanted to claw at her skin to get rid of it. Eagerly, Leila walked to the river bank and knelt down. Her hands cupped up the cold water, splashing it across her face. It was stunningly cold, and the chill feeling helped to shock herself back to alertness. She splashed her face a few more times, making sure to get fully awake and clear what dirt she could from her face. She then cupped her hands once more, but this time it was to take a long, refreshing drink. The clear water coated down her throat, seeming to almost bring her back to life with the cool, refreshing sensation.

Shaking the water from her hands, Liela she stood up straight and turned to watch as Nira exited from the back of the wagon. Nira was… just one of those things that she had missed out on. Leila had never met anyone quite like her. She was humble and modest, and beautiful, and she didn’t give herself nearly enough credit for the things that she did. Leila knew strength… She’d been doing this for far too long to not recognize it in others. It was a hidden potential that Nira kept hidden away.

Nira wouldn’t admit that she was strong… She would always deny it. She felt she had done a disservice to Ariadna’s followers by pretending to perform miracles and blessings. A fake in the midst of true believers. Leila did not see it that way. She was brave, she knew how to carry herself, and her actions spoke far louder than her words… Nira did what she felt was necessary to keep hope alive. People needed that now more than ever. It was in short supply… and over the course of their travels together, Leila had found herself growing closer to her with each passing day.

Sitting down on a nearby rock, Leila watched the priestess move around the camp with rapt interest. She washed her face in the river just as Leila had done moments before. Her skin glowed in the evening sun, catching the beads of water trickling down across her cheeks and landing across her pale cleavage. Nira must have sensed that she was being watched. She turned her head toward Leila, giving her a smile that would shatter the most hardened of souls.

What was it about this woman that had her heart racing so much? Her beauty? Her courage? Her faith? Her modesty and humility? With a chuckle, Leila had to shake her head and admit that there were plentiful reason. Whichever one she chose, one thing was undeniable… Leila was stunningly smitten by the dark haired priestess.

She often told herself that she could not fall in love… that love was a luxury she couldn’t afford in her life. It would be dangerously foolish to take a lover in her line of work. There were too many dangers – Assassins didn’t get to grow old. She was living on borrowed time until she was captured – again – or killed. Worse yet, if she was found out, her enemies would use her lover as a bargaining chip. Capturing her or even killing her in the process to get revenge on Leila. She couldn’t allow something like that. Being an assassin meant she needed to have keen senses and remain in control. An assassin that lost control of their emotions in battle would find themselves dead. She had managed to keep her emotions at bay for far too long. She would let out her anger in the kill, that was it… she wouldn’t risk it all falling apart for the sake of something like love.

But… the heart didn’t care about her careful reasoning. She had never met someone that she cared for more than Nira. The way the priestess talked, the way she smiled, just the way she made Leila feel sitting beside her filled her heart with a joy she hadn’t known since she was a child. Her beauty attracted Leila, like a moth to the open flame. It might consume her, but she would happily fly into her doom regardless for what she felt for the priestess.

Should she tell her how she felt? She wasn’t sure if loving the woman was the right thing to do… especially with the insanity of the world, and the desperation of their quest. Leila shook her head. No, that wasn’t fair… there was more to it than that. She, the Weeping Angel, feared assassin, was afraid. She feared the consequences if she told Nira how she felt and the woman rejected her. Did Nira feel the same way about her? Did she even like women at all? They had traveled together for only a short time, but Leila felt like they shared something special. Did they?

Why was she being such a coward?

Walking over to the wagon, Leila leaned up against the back of it and stared down at the ground, scuffing her boots through the sand. She couldn’t allow herself to be distracted in battle. They only had a few more days to go before they reached Danessa. This was stupid. This was stupid. This was stupid… and there was only one thing she could do. She would tell Nira how she felt about her. If the priestess didn’t feel the same… well, at least she would have a few days to mentally prepare herself for what would follow, what they could face. She might be heartbroken, but she would be alive, right?

And… if she did feel the same…

Leila gathered her nerves, bracing herself for the worst outcome. Her head turned to look around the camp, seeking out where Nira had gone after cleaning in the river. Finally finding the priestess near the campfire that Jaymes had prepared, she walked over to her, forcing herself to look straight ahead and feeling at least five years younger. “Excuse me,” she said, hated how awkward she felt… but much of her unease vanished as Nira offered her her signature smile. “Could I… uh… talk to you for a moment?” Leila asked as she leaned down to look into Nira’s, bright soulful eyes.

The priestess just smiled wider and offered her hand to Leila. “Of course,” she said, her voice sweet, kind, strong. Leila gripped her hand to help lift her to her feet, and sighed as she found it hypnotic the way her brown hair fell in curly waves down to her shoulders. Every motion that Nira made set it bouncing, and just watching set her heart ablaze. She wanted to wrap her up in her arms and kiss her and damn the consequences, but she resisted for the moment. She had to know for sure.

Leading Nira over to the wagon, she stood before her. She reached her hands out to take hold of Nira’s hands into her own. She held onto them as she spoke. “I’ve… really enjoyed traveling with you,” she started. Goddess, that was lame. What the hell was that?

“Leila, your hands are shaking,” Nira said softly, her eyes soft, comforting. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” she said, voice a little shaky. “Yes, I think. We’ve been traveling, and… and over the past few weeks, I’ve felt something. I’m not sure how to describe it. I enjoy spending time with you and being with you. You fill my heart with joy when you smile at me and I want to spend every waking moment with you.” She swallowed, hard. “I… enjoy your company. I appreciate your friendship, but I can’t help but feel that there is something more. I would like there to be more.”

Nira listened intently to Leila talking. Her expression of admiration toward the assassin did not change over the course of her exposition. She was still smiling. Her thumbs traced over the top of Leila’s hands while she held onto them as they shook harder.

“I can’t deny how I feel any longer, Nira. I tried to repress it. Tried to hide it. I thought it would be unfitting of someone in my line of work to get close to anyone. I thought they might get hurt, or I would, and I want to protect you more than anything in the world. At the same time, I want you to be my world. I guess, I…” She hesistated, suddenly unsure. “I… what I’m trying to say is… uh…”

Hearing such sweet words pouring forth from Leila struck a chord with the priestess. A single tear trickled down her cheek. Then she leaned in and kissed Leila. Warm, soft lips roamed over the top of Nira’s succulent ones as they kissed deeper, lightly pinning her against the wagon as their lips met.

When the priestess finally pulled back, Leila could see the tears in her eyes… She was crying tears of joy. She nodded her head enthusiastically, speaking back to Leila. “I love you too,” she said, smiling softly.

Knowing that Nira felt the same way about her, Leila placed her hands onto the back of the brunette’s head and pulled her in. She kissed her again, harder as she pressed her body against Leila’s, and her mouth parted, pushing her tongue into the priestess’ mouth. Her hands drifted down across Nira’s back, tracing the contours of her muscles and only stopping when they came to rest lightly holding her pert ass, squeezing softly.

“I’m wasn’t sure how you felt,” Nira moaned against her lips, “so I kept quiet about it, but…”

Leila had heard enough. Life was far, far too short. The others were still within ear shot, but they were not paying attention to the two of them and right this second Leila hardly cared. Their passionate kisses continued as they circled behind the wagon. Leila broke the kiss long enough to climb into the wagon and then offered her hand to Nira to help pull her up into the back.

Once inside the confines of the wagon, her dexterous hands came to Nira’s dress. She unlaced the sides of the dress, letting the strings loosen before her hands hooked at the top of the pretty fabric, pushing it down the woman’s figure. Leila inhaled sharply when the naked body of the woman she desired came into full view. Her breasts were nice and plump with pink areola that had stiff nipples at the center. Suddenly a bit shy, Nira blushed as she looked at the still fully dressed woman before her. The assassin hurried grabbed onto her own clothes, already more slight than those the priestess wore. With eager hands shaking for a very different reason now, she unbuckled and tugged the pants down. She lifted her tunic over her head and casually tossed it to the side. Then, when she was just as naked as she was, she pressed herself firmly back against the priestess. It was odd how when they were dressed their breasts must have pressed together almost like this when they kissed but it felt completely different… now Leila was incredibly aware of the dark haired woman’s hard nipples rubbing up against her own. Sliding her hands down Nira’s back, she cupped her fingers around her, caressing softly, squeezing.

Gently guiding her to lay down on her back, Leila moved her lips over her lover’s neck. She placed several kisses to the soft flesh before she slid down Nira’s body, finding her taut nipple and sealing her lips around the erect flesh. She sucked gently on it, flicking it with her tongue, and smiling as a delighted moan escaped from Nira’s lips. That sound was music to Leila’s ears. She wanted to hear more sounds like that from this beautiful creature who seemed to actually want to spend time with. She kissed down across that bare stomach and then pushed Nira’s legs apart. The treasured apex of her sex was hidden in a soft tuft of brown fur. Spreading the thatch of hair away, Leila bared the woman’s pussy lips and snaked her tongue across the lovely pink slit, licking over the edge of it and around the sides. She didn’t really know what she was doing, but she tried to imagine what it would feel like to touch herself, to imagine, and Nira let out another moan that let her know she was doing this right enough.

Placing her hand between Nira’s legs, she thrust a finger into the wet slippery walls. The sounds of her elated moans were enough to send trembles of joy down Leila’s spine. She kept licking at her pussy and then added a second finger to the first. The wet slick walls clung to her fingers. Nira’s feet slid across the blanket laid out under them. Her toes curled. She was getting close.

Leila moved her head up, letting her lips latch around Nira’s clit. She suckled on it, rolling her tongue around in a gentle, gyrating motion. That pushed Nira over the edge. Her back arched and gasped for pleasure, the sound echoing through the wagon back and the evening air. Collapsing onto the wagon floor after such an intense orgasm, Leila crawled up next to Nira. She kissed the priestess on the lips several more times and smiled at her. “I’m glad that you didn’t reject me. You’ve brought me so much joy these past few days, I only wanted you to know how much I felt about you.”

Nira brushed her fingers through Leila’s red hair, feeling it spill between her fingers as they lay together. The priestess leaned in to kiss her. “Mmmm. Me too… but if you think we’re done, you’re a bigger fool than I was not to say something weeks ago…” There was a sparkle in Nira’s eyes as she met Leila’s. “I’ve enjoyed spending time with you too… Let me show you how much.” With that, she leaned in to kiss Leila deeply on the lips, her tongue sliding further in, and Leila muscles trembled as the dark haired woman’s hand drifted down her body in turn…

Traveling with Ariadna and the others certainly did not feel like the right thing to do to Camden, but he didn’t really have a lot of choice. In hindsight, he could appreciate that he had kind of put them in a bind. If they weren’t going to simply kill him, which it seemed like they weren’t going to, they couldn’t really do anything but take him with them. If they didn’t the moment he was out of their sight he could run off and tell someone of their location and their destination. Camden wasn’t even sure he trusted himself not to. How could he? He knew all but for certain now that his fate and his choices were not his own.

Jaymes and Kaya watched him like a hawk as he walked, bound with ropes. He couldn’t blame them. At the slightest hint of betrayal, or that he was leaving a trail or perhaps signalling someone, or trying to escape, they would turn on him and kill him. It was probably for the best. He knew where they were going after all, and where the scroll was now. Camden wasn’t sure if he could feign ignorance if questioned by Jaras. The high priest of Karn would not be pleased with him if he learned what Camden had done, that was sure… if it came out what he had done, he would surely be killed. Merely letting Ariadna escape would be met with severe discipline, but actually assisting the Goddess of Fortune was betrayal on a grander scale. He would more than likely end up dead.

It didn’t matter. He couldn’t go back to them anyway… not now that he knew. Nor could she serve Ariadna… not when every time he looked at her he had… urges. He looked look at her without imagining what her face would look like as she screamed, what her thighs would feel like in his hand as he pushed them apart and… Camden squeezed his eyes shut, breathing hard. He had hunted and killed many people. Ariadna’s worshippers. Her followers. Her priestesses. Even if his nature returned to normal today, would he really be able to live with the horrible things he had done? He couldn’t help them… not now.

Camden lay on the hand ground, way from the fire where he was tied and tried not to pay attention to the footsteps he heard in the night. That would probably be Jaymes, or possibly Kaya. Either way, the result would be the same. Laying just barely lit by the glowing embers of the distant fire, he thought back to all the things he had done in the past. The things he was proud of… and the things he wasn’t. When had things spiraled so far out of control? Each step had felt so natural, so… right. He had done horrible things in the name of Karn. And yet… did that make it better? Did the fact that he served a god that rules his hand justify his actions any more?

Camden was pretty sure it did not.

He listened to the crackling, unforgiving sounds of the fire as it sparked and bit and broke wood. The wood crackled in the night air. Fire did not change. Fire would always be fire. The nature in which it was used determined whether it was good or bad. Fire could burn things. It could burn down a person’s home. It could burn wood to keep them warm. Fire could light the way in the darkness. Maybe he was flame, then. A tool that one wielded… and he had been wielded for ill. He’d did more harm than good. He destroyed rather than nurtured. His flame cut into the life of those around him. He burned them with his cruelty.

He felt the hands on him, and prepared for the end… but instead, someone’s fingers dug into his bonds. Tugging at them. Silently, Camden opened his eyes to see Inara standing there, looking intently at the knot as she did undid it one pull at a time. “Why are-”

“Shh!” she hissed, snapping to look behind her. Then she resumed working on the knot. Camden shut up.

A few moments later, the ropes came loose and Inara grabbed onto his arm, helping him to his feet. Silently, Camden stood, following her lead as she led him off, out of the camp and away from the wagon… and then further.

They walked for what felt like hours, until the moon was nearly back on the horizon and Camden was exhausted. Only then did Inara stop, sagging to a stop beneath a free. She closed her eyes almost immediately. Camden didn’t know what to make of it. His eyes looked over the beautiful girl who had been his slave for a decade. More than anyone else, she knew what he was… she had witnessed first hand his cruelty and his brutal nature. Violence that surfaced inevitably had been directed against her over and over and over again for years… and yet she had taken him from the camp. Freed him from his captivity.

Through everything, the beautiful woman still remained at his side. Was it out of fear or hope? Did… she think there was something worth saving?

Camden didn’t like to think about the past. It made him angry that he had acted in a such cruel and devilish manner. His own treatment of Inara had been abhorrent. She had been raped and abused by him many times. She would resist and he still forced himself on her. Breathing out a sigh, he brushed his fingers back through his hair. Inara did not raise her head as he settled down near her and began speaking. “Thank you… Inara,” he said softly. “I know that I have been cruel to you. I’m a monster… and I realize now that I have done many things to harm you. To hurt you. I can’t take back the things that I have done to you. I can only ask for your forgiveness… and thank you for having faith in me.”

Inara didn’t opened her eyes. She just chuckled. “Cruel?” she said softly. “I’m not sure you even know the meaning of the word. You ripped out my nails. You beat me within an inch of my life and left me hanging by the neck for hours, stretching for the ground with my toes. You burned me, cut me, whipped me… and raped me again and again and again for a decade!” She scoffed. “Your actions… they’re abhorrent. You think that because you are having a change of heart that it justifies an apology that I will willingly accept? You can take your apology and shove it up your ass!”

Camden felt his heart sink. “Then, why-”

“They don’t know what you are,” Inara said softly. “I do. You’re an a silo fire waiting to happen, monster… and I’ve already hurt her enough. I won’t let you hurt Ariadna or hers when you lose it.”

The words spoken by Inara shook him to the core. He never knew how she really felt about him. The way she spoke with such vehemence and vitriol in her voice about him. He felt his blood boiling with anger. She was his slave and his alone. How dare she talk to him like that! “I was a good man!” he shouted. “I… collected tithes for children! I tended gardens and built things with my hands! I just wanted things to grow strong! It was stolen from me!” Camden was clenching his fists in rage. “I was good!

“If you felt so guilty about your actions, you could have renounced Karn at any time. You didn’t though… You continued to serve him. Because you enjoyed it. Your nature will never change, priest.”

Fury coursed through Camden. All his rational thought, all his careful discipline and very, very firm reminders not to obey his urges were vanished, forgotten as he saw read and his actions vanished into the haze created by the way Karn had changed the world. Camden lunged forward, grabbing onto Inara’s dress and yanking onto it as he pulled her away from the tree. The dress ripped down the middle easily and her breasts bounced free in the dim light of the fading night as they were released from their confines.

“Fuck you!” he snarled and tore the dress the rest of the way. It didn’t even occur to him that only moments before asking forgiveness for this very thing. He couldn’t remember. He wouldn’t think. His hands unbuckled his belt, pushing his trousers down, and the fact that his cock was a length of steel felt like the most natural thing in the world. Grabbing onto Inara’s ankles, he dragged her toward him and his hand slapped across her face, quieting her from her instinctive scream. She might have cried out. She might have begged him to stop. Camden didn’t hear… his fury drowned out all logical thought. He would not tolerate her talking back to him. She was his.

Taking hold of his cock, he lined it up with her bare pussy. With a firm thrust, the full length plunged deep into her waiting depths, the action of violating Inara’s unwilling hole as familiar to him now as breathing. Inara cried out in pain, reaching her hands up to push against his chest. She managed to scratch him, but it did not phase the inquisitor… His hands simply grabbed her wrists and pinned them down to the ground above her head. His body hovered right over top of hers as his firm cock pounded into her sex, driving her down into the earth like he was trying to push her through it with nothing but his dick. He took his pleasure from her… she was not his companion, not his victim, not his regret. She was his property and he would use her anytime that he wanted.

Thrusting into her cunt several times, he could feel her body betraying her. After a decade she was a well trained fucktoy… her pussy squeezing him just how he liked, her body clenching and relaxing in a rhythm that would have milked the cum out of him even if he had been sitting still. Instead he pounded deep into her, rocking inside of her soft, squeezing walls. Her pussy clamped down hard on his cock, completely knowing what it was good for by now even if Inara was still confused in her stupidity. Laughing aloud, he pushed his cock up to her womb as he looked down into her wide, pained eyes as he raped her again, harder and harder and harder and harder and ha-

Camden’s cock swelled inside of the slave without warning, his pleasure peaking in a rush. Warm jets of his seed spurted deep into her belly, splashing against her cervix and filling her up utterly. Inara went completely limp beneath him, just seconds before he all but collapsed down on top of her, panting with his pleasure as he came down from his orgasm. Slowly, regretfully, his slowly softening cock slid out of Inara, taking some of his cum with him and setting the signs of his sexual conquest dripping down across her inner thigh.

And the haze was gone. He was able to look at Inara’s face. During her rape she had held a look a fear. It was still there… but not nearly as much as anger, and disgust… and maybe a little bit of pity. Camden snapped back to reality like someone had banged a gong against her ears, her whole body shaking.

“Maybe,” Inara said, her voice venomous, “you weren’t an evil man… but you weren’t a good one, either.” Slowly, she pushed herself away from him and stood. She stared down at him, hard, as he remained on his knees and she forced herself to stand, ignoring her torn dress and the cum dripping from her. “Koul was a good man. When he had to make the choice, he threw himself onto the blade. He killed himself rather than hurt me. I see that now. But you…”

Inara shook her head. “There are worse things to be than a coward, Camden… but there are better ones, too.”

Camden stared up at her, and he didn’t notice the tears slipping down his face. Why would Inara forgive him? She was right. Knowing what he knew now, it was clear that that was how her lover had died… choosing suicide rather than hurt innocents. Could Camden do that?


When Inara had pointed out his flaws, instead of feeling shame, instead of sacrificing to protect her, he did… this. He fell back on the ground, pulling up his trousers. He couldn’t stay with Ariadna and her followers… and he couldn’t stay with Inara. Rising, he swallowed. He felt that he should say something to Inara. That he should apologize, or tell her she was right… but what kind of apology could possibly mean anything? Instead, he simply turned, walked away, and vanished into the night.

“Should have killed him when we had the chance,” Jaymes cursed as he sat on top of the horse, shading his eyes against the morning sun as he scanned the horizon. “Shit, he’s nowhere in sight.”

Leila swallowed her guilt. Some apprentice Guardian she was… she was the one on watch last night. She was supposed to be watching the camp, and she had… but she had been distracted by the woman sleeping curled against one of her legs, her mind almost anywhere else but on the prisoner in the camp. She hadn’t been expecting him to try to escape, he had barely moved since he had turned himself in… that had been an amateur mistake, and not one the assassin had ever made before. Already her relationship was causing problems, and it was just hours old.

“He took Inara with him when he left, too,” Jaymes growled. “That miserable little-”

“I… don’t think so, Jaymes,” Kaya said as she held onto one of the ropes, feeling its edge. “This wasn’t cut or chaffed away… it was untied. Someone let him free… someone who isn’t in the camp anymore.”

Jaymes tilted his head. “You think the priestess did it?” he said, almost disbelieving.

“Does it matter?” Amellisan said softly. She, more than anyway, knew the potential danger that man was, the lengths he was capable of going to. “He’s gone. What are we going to do?”

“The only thing we can,” Kaya said, dropping the rope. “He knows where we’re going, he heard the story the same time we did. If Inara wasn’t lying…” Kaya looked over and Ariadna, and when the goddess nodded in agreement she continued, “then we have little choice but to reach those catacombs before he can bring an army to them. Once Jaras reaches the church, we’ll never get that scroll.” She began climbing onto her house. “We ride in ten minutes. Get ready to move.”

Camden could not wait around for the scroll to be retrieved, his destiny was not his own. He knew that now… It was never clearer. He could go back to doing the same things. That wouldn’t improve things. He would need to change his life. He had to make a change for the better. Inara was right about one thing. It would be better to die in honor for a heroic act than to live a life is misery. He walked until he collapsed, asleep before he hit the ground. When he woke, he walked again, and collapsed again, and walked again, until he reached and town and stole a horse.

The journey back to Tabharos on horseback took him only a few days. This would be the one thing that he could do to help Ariadna. To restore order. It was a gambit, but it had to be done. He couldn’t let his nature go unchecked any longer.

Ascending the stairs of the temple, Camden entered into the main chambers, knowing that Jaras had certainly been sent for the moment he stepped foot in the temple. He waited on his knees for the man to arrive, and when he did the huge High Priest seemed blot out the light as he stood over Camden. “So,” the man said. “You have returned then.”

Kneeling before the High Priest of Karn, Camden nodded. “High Priest. I have returned with news about our enemy.”

Jaras walked past him to sit on his stone chair, holding a goblet of wine in his hand. His hand gyrated gently to swirl the deep red liquid in the container decadently. Casually, he lifting the goblet to his lips and drank deeply of the sweet wine, sending some of it spilling down his cheeks like blood. “I have been waiting for good news. Well, do not keep me waiting Camden. I am anxious to hear it.”

Rising from the floor, Camden prepared his lie. “I witnessed the goddess Ariadna and her compatriots leaving from Parnas. They were heading toward Alasta when I left from them to come here.”

Taking a long drink from his goblet, Jaras let the goblet fall to the stones. Wine stained the stones like ichor as the High Priest slowly stood. “That’s fascinating,” he said slowly. “Considering that I know they were in Alistar barely a week ago and headed for Lamire.” He stretched his neck left and right, and Camden heard footsteps behind him. Turning, he saw Karrus and Eve enter the room behind him, a cruel smile on the blonde priestess’ face. So… that was how it was. It seemed that their rivalry had finally come to an end… just when Camden no longer cared.

“Camden, Camden,” Jaras said softly. “We all know that you are an excellent fighter… but I thought you were a better liar. You think we didn’t observe that you came from the East? Parnas is to the North. If you are going to make up something, you should do better than that… and you should have brought your slut with you.”

Sensing that he had been found out, Camden reached for his sword before he forgot that he didn’t have it anymore… that Jaymes and Kaya had taken it from them. It probably didn’t matter. He was a good fighter, but Karrus was at least nearly his equal, and Jaras was a monster even before he had become a High Priest and been blessed with strength enough to lift wagons.

“Jaras, you have to listen to me,” Camden begged. “This is… this is wrong! We don’t have to be like this! You don’t have to be like this, Jaras. Karn is making all of us into monsters. We are not in control… Our will has been subverted. Not all of you are monsters.” Camden spoke fast, wanting to get his entire plea out before someone rushed to shut him up. “We can go back to the way things were. If Ariadna returns, I think you’ll all be yourselves again. You can fight this… we can all fight it. We can be better! We don’t have to be like this!”

Jaras listened to the words spoken by Camden, almost idly hefting the warhammer that Camden doubted that a mere man could even lift with both hands. “You make an interesting argument there Camden. One might even be inclined to agree with you.”

Hopeful that he was reaching the high priest, Camden lifted his head proudly. This wasn’t over yet. If he could make Jaras see reason… he could end this. The man was strong. Proud. Camden had always admired his strength, his sense of purpose. It was what he had always thought the epitome of what Karn could mean for the world, a man who had risen up from nothing to rule here by nature of his strength of will and personality and arms. If he could keep the temple of Karn, with the furies and the inquisitors away from Ariadna, perhaps she could accomplish her mission. Life would return to normal.

“Where you err,” he said softly, “is that some of us might like things better this way.”

Camden felt his heart stop. “Jaras!” he begged. “Karn’s changed you. You don’t have to be a monster! Karn made you into one… he’s done it to us all!”

Jaras turned to face Camden, lifting the hammer. “I know,” he said as he swung.

As Jaras watched blood seep out from the man’s crushed chest, pouring towards the empty chalice as if he meant to refill it, he chuckled. “Who cares?”

The world faded for Camden. It hurt too much to feel pain. At least… at least that was one priest of Karn that would never hurt anyone again. He could be… satisfied wit-

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