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To Serve the Goddess

xanaphia

Likes big words and playing pretend
Joined
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2,874
#1

If he dies, the truth dies with him…​
In the demon-infested hellscape, humanity fights a battle for survival. Mykel fights on the front lines of this conflict, serving the goddess of love and war, Afodisia.​
After one such battle, an interaction with a survivor reopens old wounds and tests Mykel’s faith. Guilt over the daughter he left behind resurfaces, just as a larger threat looms on the horizon.​
His only hope lies in a woman who sacrificed her past and name to serve as Afodisia’s Oracle. With nothing left to lose, she looks to the future for meaning. Mykel seeks to reconnect with his faith through her, but with an impossible battle before them, will it matter? And if he dies, will his daughter know who he was?​



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xanaphia

Likes big words and playing pretend
Joined
Sep 28, 2013
Messages
2,874
#2
The Miracle
Mykel scrubbed at the visor of his helmet, trying to wipe enough clotted gore from the slots to see. Beside him, his acolyte Matthias struggled for breath. The boy –man, really, although he wouldn’t see his 18th birthday for four more months– coughed and spat blood. “You alright?”

Matthias grinned weakly. “Been better,” he managed, before turning his attention to the hand pressed to the hole punched through his hacked and scarred breastplate. Murmured words suffused the hand and wound below with a golden light. It was enough to stop the bleeding, but not enough to heal the punctured lung completely. If they lived, he’d need more care.

They probably wouldn’t, though. Not with half a hundred demons streaming down the pass towards them.

Matthias hefted his sword wearily. “So,” he said with a casual, forced bravado. “I’ll take the thirty on the right?”

“Thirty?” Mykel laughed, joining in. “I’ll have to take forty of them, the way you keep slacking on your sword practice.”

Matthias laughed, the sound turning into a choked gasp of pain as he clutched his chest. “Be honest,” he gasped. “We’re going to die here, aren’t we Master?”

“Honestly?” Mykel nodded grimly. “Yes, we are.” He raised his own sword as the horde drew closer. “But make the bastards work for it.”

Matthias spat bloody phlegm and nodded, closing his own visor. “Sure thing.” A pause. “Think the nevin will get away?”

“I hope so,” Mykel answered, no trace of confidence in his voice. “I hope...”

Lift up your hearts and rejoice, My sons,” declared a strange, familiar voice. “I am with you.”

Mykel half-turned and found a young woman addressing them. She was streaked with mud and blood, hair matted and clothes in rags. But she stood tall and erect, and her eyes burned like molten gold. “Goddess...” he whispered.

You will not fall nor fail this day,” proclaimed the goddess Afodisia, through the throat of the woman behind them. “Stand firm, and show that I am the Lady of Love and War both.”

Newfound strength flowed through his limbs. “Thank you, my Lady,” Mykel breathed. “Thank you.”

Matthias stood straighter as well, heedless of the wound that had punched through his chest. Their blades burned bright, radiating with the Goddess’ blessing. The first wave of demons descended upon them, baring claws and fangs. Black blood sprayed as hallowed weapons tore into their flesh, stopping these first fiends in their tracks.

Numbers that would have overwhelmed the paladin and aspirant fell before the might of Afodisia, their swords reflecting her benediction even as clotted ichor clung to the steel. The pass transformed into an infernal abattoir, muddying the soft dirt with the carnage. The demonic onslaught did not abate, not until every last fiend stopped twitching. Until every last demon stopped howling for blood.

An impossible feat, beyond what even divinely gifted paladins could hope to accomplish. The Goddess’ grace granted Her servants greater strength and endurance, and one paladin could fight with the prowess and determination of ten regular humans, or, as they were commonly called, nevin. But even paladin might couldn’t explain the triumph in that pass. The goddess, the presence of the Lady of Love and War was with them. They hadn’t fallen or failed.

They lived.
~*~​

After having survived the impossible. Mykel, Matthias and the young woman were left needing a place to sleep for the night. And, even with the enhanced strength and endurance their goddess granted –or, perhaps because of the additional strength and endurance she had granted them, beyond their normal gifts– the battle had left them exhausted. So, gathered around a makeshift camp in a cleared section of the canyon, the three ate a meal of scrounged rabbits.

“Who are you?” Matthias asked, watching the woman as she ate. It was hard to tell her age, or really any details about her identity. Her height and build were slim, making her appear young, but despite her injuries, she carried herself with a dignity that generally came only with age.

“I am the Oracle of Afodisia,” she replied, before ripping into a rabbit leg and chewing the roast meat with enthusiasm. “Her voice and Her prophet, sent to bring light and hope in a time of darkness and treachery.”

“All right,” Mykel said, enunciating the syllables and feeling out of his depth. He’d felt the truth of her words, when she’d rallied them against the demons, but he still felt out of his depth.
“But, who are you? What’s your name? Where do you come from?”

She turned her head slightly, staring at him with burning golden eyes that seemed to bore into his soul. Within a minute he shifted uncomfortably. “You... do have a name, don’t you?”
She smiled a faint, knowing smile. “Perhaps.”

Matthias snorted. “That’s an unusual name, ‘Perhaps.’” Then he ducked as she playfully threw a gnawed rabbit bone at him.

“Seriously, though,” Mykel said, with a warning look at his acolyte. “Who were you, before you were called as a prophet?”

She stared into the flames, and the flickering light cast long shadows across her features. “It doesn’t matter,” she replied. “Perhaps I was a wealthy landowner. Perhaps a peasant farmer. Perhaps a whore, or a thief, or a bereaved mother forced to live as demons or men like demons had her and her family.” She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, not now. Not any more than the whore that gave an apprentice to the Temple or the woman that bore her master a daughter.”

Both men looked at one another, an awkward silence filling the space between them. The woman, for her part, tore into a second roast rabbit. “What should we call you, then?” Mykel finally asked.

The response was an unconcerned shrug. “Whoever I was, I am the Oracle of Love and War now. Call me that.”

(A/N: @TheCorsair gets 90% of the credit for this chapter, I just did some light editing and embellishing)
 

xanaphia

Likes big words and playing pretend
Joined
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Messages
2,874
#3
The Survivor
“Can you wield a weapon?” Mykel asked… well, he supposed ‘Oracle’ would have to do. They were heading back to Wellspring, to check for any stragglers and gather supplies. And while he didn’t intend to let this prophet of Afodisia out of his sight, he did want to make sure she could protect herself, if needed.

Oracle considered his question for a moment, before answering. “I lived on the edge of the demon’s claim, I must have had some proficiency.”

After a moment’s consideration, he pulled the spear from his back and handed it to her. The paladins who dedicated themselves to spears used weapons made of thick wood, or even fully metal, too heavy for a nevin to wield effectively. But the spear Mykel kept as a backup weapon wasn’t fancy or heavy. Just a simple shaft of wood, with a metal leaf blade on the tip.

“You’ll want to use range to your advantage,” he advised, showing her how to hold the weapon. Standing behind her, his hands covered hers. She was over a foot shorter than him, and slight in build, her thick cloak obscuring just how slender she was. “Don’t risk yourself going for a kill, just keep the demon away long enough for one of us to finish it off.”

“Why, what would any of us nevin do with you paladins around?’ she asked, twirling the spear before her, to get a sense of its weight, most likely. “It’s almost like you’ve forgotten who saved whom, yesterday.” Over her shoulder she flashed a sly smile, full of challenge and bravado.

With a nod and shrug, Mykel returned her smile with equal daring, “Perhaps.”

~*~​

The village of Wellspring was empty today. A stark contrast from two days prior, when it bustled with life. The houses and buildings still stood, a cruel joke the demons liked to play. They didn’t destroy the homes when they raided a town, so much as they could avoid it. Intact homes and buildings would lure more victims into thinking it was safe, and lull them into a false sense of security. All that remained in the southern half of Phileon were ghost towns, haunted by those who had fled, and those who could not.

“Looks like they mostly got away,” Matthias noted. Still, he held his weapon in one hand. It was not so easy to forget how close they’d come to death, just the day before.

“You arrived in time to save them,” Oracle declared, walking two paces behind them. “But you’ve embarrassed Zargolis and he will be back. In the flesh, this time.”

“Zargolis?” Mykel was familiar with this name, and the reputation ascribed to him. One of the Lord of Hate’s top lieutenants, he was an especially cruel monster. Countless paladins had fallen to him personally, in known memory. Once more, Mykel felt out of his depth. “You’ve seen him around these parts?”

“No, but I know he is behind these attacks.”

“You know this? With the Goddess’ eyes?”

She stopped, and even with his back to her, he could see the frustration in her expression. “You don’t believe me?”

Mykel sighed, turning towards her. She wore righteously offended well. “How can a mortal see with the Goddess’ eyes? To see not merely what is, but what could be?”

“I can assure you, I’ve born a heavy price for this …gift.” The word came out bitter, as if she were trying to spit an unpleasant taste from her mouth. “But, we don’t turn away, when the goddess calls upon us to serve.”

Bitter memories resurfaced up at those words, and Mykel turned away. He knew all too well about the call to serve, and what he’d missed out on in his service. What he was still missing out on. Shaking his head, he returned his focus on the task before them, rather than give in to regret or self-pity. His service to the Goddess could occupy him a bit longer. “And you’ve seen this, with the Goddess’ eyes? That Zargolis will return?”

She nodded, “Yes, but not here. Another town, nearby. Another town, flush with survivors fleeing from here.” She was silent for a moment, eyes distant and looking past him. “Duncaster.”

That checked out. Duncaster was the nearest village, less than a day’s trip on horseback. With a nod, Mykel formulated a plan, “Once we comb through here, we’ll head there. We might have just enough time to get them out before he arrives. Maybe…”

Matthias continued unheeded by their discussion, head cocked slightly. “I think I hear something, Master.” Mykel and Oracle raised their weapons as well, following in the acolyte’s footsteps. Moving deeper into the town, the three identified the sound as crying. Still, it was dangerous. Demons used whatever means they could to lure humans in.

The sound seemed to originate from a smaller home on the edge of town. Matthias turned towards Mykel, waiting for the permission before pressing on. Pushing the door open, the stench of sulphur and iron assaulted their senses. The scent of death.

The crying came from a girl, a scrawny thing with dirty blonde hair. Huddled over body over an older woman with clothes shredded and covered in blood, it was clear what happened here. Well, mostly. Finding a young girl mourning a dead parent wasn’t so strange, not so close to the demon’s claim. What was strange were the four dead imps surrounding them.

Matthias examined the remains of the imps. Small demons, no threat to even an acolyte like him. One on one, they were only a small threat to an adult nevin. But they rarely attacked alone, instead using numbers to overcome their victims. Four on one should have been an overwhelming victory for the demons. Not a victory against them.

His armor jangled as he moved through the small dwelling, and the girl met his arrival with a short blade in hand. More a cleaver than a weapon, the type used to butcher livestock. Dried ichor clung to the blade, clues that weren’t difficult to decipher. Terror and determination in the girl’s eyes became hope, and she jumped to her feet.

“Please, you must help her!” Tiny hands gripped Matthias’ arm, surprising strength in her slight frame. Matthias didn’t answer, eyebrows furrowed and lips parted. He glanced at Mykel, beseeching aid in a dismayed expression.

Mykel squatted down to her level, and cupped her chin in his gauntlet. “She’s gone home to the Goddess, hun. She’s not in pain anymore.”

The girl sniffled, barely restraining her tears, “But she’s my mom, and I need her.” The words broke her, salty rivulets streaming down her cheeks. “It’s not fair.” Repeated refrains tugged at his own heartstrings, but he maintained a comforting expression. “It’s not fair.”

“No, it’s not,” he agreed, brushing a few strands of hair back behind her ear. “But she would be proud of you, fighting off the monsters all by yourself. And she wouldn’t want you to stay here, not like this.”

“But, it’s my home. And she, she’s my mom.” Lips quivering, she continued, “I can’t leave her like this.”

There was quiet for a time, save for the girls whimpers and sniffles. Mykel placed a heavy hand on the girl’s shoulder, “What’s your name?”

She looked up at him, blue eyes still wet with tears, “Diana.”

“Okay, Diana,” He acknowledged, “If we help bury your mom, will you come with us to safety?”

Diana didn’t speak for awhile, deep in thought towards what was likely the biggest decision she’d ever had to make. Finally, a question came, “Where would you take me?”

“You have a gift, child. The Goddess called upon you, to serve Her. She’s called you to this war against the demons, and She’s given you the gift with which to fight back. Now, it’s still your choice, but, if this is something you would want, we can take you back to the Order of Afodisia, and train you to be a paladin.”

“Like you?

Mykel nodded, and offered a warm smile, “Yes.”

Diana glanced over at her mother one last time, before agreeing without words.

~*~​

The last few hours of morning were spent digging a grave and a pyre. A burial for Diana’s mother, and a cremation for the imps who slew her. Matthias and Mykel took up most of that duty, while Oracle and Diana scoured the abandoned homes for any supplies left behind. They scrounged up a few short blades and another spear, as well as leather armor for both of them. It wasn’t much protection, but something was better than nothing. That there was armor sized to fit a child like Diana enraged Mykel. Oh sure, he was glad they found some, but the fact that it had been created in the first place spoke to the dire situation all mortals faced, as demons became a larger presence beyond the Seraphim wall.

“She bears the mantle,” Matthias noted and Mykel nodded. The mantle of Afodisia was but one of the signs of Her gifts, signs one had been chosen to serve Her as a paladin. Even children bore the mantle, because even children need to be able to defend themselves when the demons come. Avowed paladins were further strengthened by the Goddess, empowered by their service and faith.

“Should we really let her carry a weapon?” Matthias asked in a hushed breath.

“You said it yourself, she bears the mantle,” Mykel pointed out.

“That doesn’t make her an aspirant, much less a paladin,” the boy argued.

“No, but children begin their training with such weapons by her age.”

“Wooden practice weapons, not live steel.”

“Yes, and we don’t let them in the field either. But this isn’t the same, and we’re not safe out here.” Mykel shrugged, turning his gaze towards the girl and Oracle. “She’s defended herself once. And while we’re in the demonlands, it may be that she’ll need to defend herself again.”

While Oracle and Diana fit themselves in armor, Mykel and Matthias had stripped away their full plate. Digging the grave wasn’t hard, just tedious, and both men built up a sweat. As the sun hung high and hot in the sky, the men piled the imp corpses in the pit and lit the pyre. Flames licked the bodies, sending up a vile plume of black smoke, but it couldn’t be helped. This was the best way to dispose of the bodies, as to prevent the spread of disease.

Diana’s mother was interred, but not yet buried. Mykel decided that she should have a short funeral, for the girl’s sake. A bit of closure, and a last chance to say goodbye. It was the least he could do for her. It was all he could do for her.

Oracle led a prayer over the body. Mykel and Matthias repeated after her, but Diana stayed silent, gazed hardened towards the hole in the ground.

“Did you want to say a few things, hun?” Mykel asked, wrapping an arm over her shoulder.

Diana stared at the grave, at the corpse of her mother, and frowned. “I don’t know what to say,” she admitted.

“Say… say goodbye. Tell her how much you love her. Tell her how much you’ll miss her. Thank her for everything’s she’s done, and all that she’s given you.” He smiled through his own tears, having a harder time than he wanted to admit. His own loss returned, and he could see Lyara’s face in the dead woman’s.

~*~​

They’d left for Duncaster within the hour, and would arrive on horseback by evening. Oracle would join him on his horse, and Diana would ride with Matthias.

Duncaster was another small farming hamlet, like many of the villages in these parts. Once, farmers on this land sustained a kingdom, and even sent their excess crop down the river into the Jewel Archipelago. Now, the remaining settlements scraped by, barely sustaining enough food to feed themselves. The land itself had changed in response to the demon’s presence, infernal corruption leeching into the very soil.

For a time, the Order had tried to defend the various homesteads strewn through the land, but more and more it became a losing battle. The demons grew in strength and numbers each day, and more villages were lost to the conflict. Duncaster would likely be another casualty of this losing war, especially if Zargolis had his eye upon it. It would take a score or two of paladins to defend it, and it would only be a temporary victory.

It wasn’t sunset when the paladin’s rode into town, but the townsfolk met their arrival with heavy acceptance. Once the survivors of Wellspring started to arrive, they knew it was only a matter of time before they were forced to leave, or find themselves besieged. Mykel confirmed their suspicions, laying out plans to pack up during the night and leave as the sun rose. Perhaps the survivors of Wellspring were better situated, with their exodus already accepted, and their homes already abandoned.

The group managed to get rooms in the smallish inn, and after the day they had, were looking forward to finally getting some rest.
 

xanaphia

Likes big words and playing pretend
Joined
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Messages
2,874
#4
The Supplication
“Do you know the tale of the Onyx Queen?”

They settled into two rooms, with Matthias and Diana taking one room, and Mykel and Oracle taking the other. Diana was already lying in bed, and Matthias was sitting at the table by the window. Mykel had been going over the route, and where the safe places to put up camp would be, when the soft sobs caught both men’s attention. It was Matthias who had spoken first. Not to offer more condolences or platitudes, but to tell a story. Diana didn’t speak, just sniffled and shook her head.

Matthias continued, “She was a princess in the Jeweled Archipelago, Rashida Aregawi.”

Diana interrupted, “What’s the arch-pala-goh?”

“Archipelago,” Matthias repeated, enunciating each syllable. “It’s a series of island chains, to the south of the Cerulean Coast. The river Sarn flows from Mount Fearfire, winding through the lands of Phileon before depositing in the Vishanti Sea.

“What did she do? The Onyx Queen?”

“She sailed the Vishanti sea, and all along the Phileon coast, even as far north as Streganna. She led the largest fleet of ships in the region, and eventually married the king of the neighboring kingdom, Caliph Suleiman al-Udain.”

Diana perked up at that, “Were they in love?”

“Not exactly,” Mathias shook his head. “It was political, to bind their kingdoms together after five generations of war. But,” Matthias continued with a smile, “they did fall in love, over the course of their marriage.” He went on to describe their story, emphasizing the fairy tale aspects. He continued talking until Diana dozed off, her tiny body snuggled under a mass of blankets.

“That was… pretty impressive,” Mykel noted, nodding towards Matthias. “I’m proud of you.”

Matthias shrugged, “She’s had a rough day. I figured a little distraction couldn’t hurt.”

“You should be getting to sleep as well. You’ll be leading the townsfolk back to Hopeshire at first light.”

“And you, Master?”

Mykel studied Matthias for a moment. The boy was perceptive for his age. A trait that would serve him well in his calling. “I am going to cover their retreat. Keep the demons at bay. I’ll meet up with you at Hopeshire.”

Matthias held his gaze for a moment longer, lips pursed and brow knit. He likely heard the lie in Mykel’s words, and was debating whether to let it pass or to call his master out. Respect won, and he nodded with a simple, “Night, Master.”



Retiring to the other room, emotion weighed heavy upon him, and Mykel knew sleep would not come easily. Oracle stayed up with him, too stubborn to heed his order to get some sleep. Though, if he were being honest, he did appreciate the company.

Fire crackled in the stove, heating the smallish hovel. Mykel opened a wineskin, hoping the bite of alcohol could chase away the memories of the woman he couldn’t save. Wounds reopened after encountering Diana.

“You have a daughter,” Oracle said, and Mykel noted that it wasn’t a question. He took a long tug off the wineskin before deigning to answer.

“Yeah, back at the order, now at least. She’s about the same age as Diana, and chosen by the Goddess, as well. But she was younger when her mother died.” Mykel shook his head and snickered. “Same godsdamn way though. Sometimes I question why we have this power, these gifts, when we can’t even save them.”

“It’s not our place to question the Goddess’ wisdom. We save the ones we can.” Oracle offered, leaning in closer. Slender fingers brushed his hands as she took the wineskin, but didn’t drink yet. “Tell me more about your daughter.”

Mykel met her gaze, the golden glow of the goddess’ grace, before sighing. “She doesn’t know she’s my daughter. I wasn’t around when she was born, and I only found out about her because I sought out her mother years after we’d been together. To encourage her to relocate to the temple, away from the growing demonic threat. Finding her raising my child all alone…” Mykel waved his hand before himself, and exhaled deep.

“Why haven’t you told her?” she asked. Her tone was neutral, but Mykel could hear the judgment in the question and it stung.

“Lyara, her mother, wasn’t sure if we should tell her about me. She didn’t know if I was going to stick around and, well, she wasn’t wrong to worry. I hadn’t expected to discover that I was a father out of nowhere.” Mykel stared into the dancing flames, years of regret and loss resurging within him. “Then we had to bury her mother and I had no idea how to tell her that I’m her father. Still have no idea how to tell her. Maybe I’m hoping she’ll figure it out, on her own.”

A deeper drink of alcohol dulled the vulnerability, the guilt. But if she was going to probe deeply, perhaps he should too. Passing the bottle back, he posed his own question, “What all did you give up? For the sight, that is,”

Oracle laughed breathlessly, “Everything and nothing. Everything I was, every memory, all the joy and the pain. Now that it’s gone… Well, now I only have the future. Nothing to hold me back. Nothing to tether me.”

Again, thoughts of his daughter returned. Was she his tether? Or was that the goddess? “Do you regret it?”

“I don’t know. I suppose I am incapable of regret, now. Maybe it’s for the best.” She held the wine bottle, running her finger over the opening, before simpering, “This must have seemed like a good deal for me at the time, to have accepted it. Whatever it was I lost… well, I can’t lose it ever again.”

“Yeah,” Mykel agreed, resurgent grief bubbling just under the wine. Losing Lyara had been hard enough. What if he’d lost his daughter as well? “I could imagine a loss so deep you’d rather lose everything than carry it with you. That’s a heavy weight too.”

“All this time, and there hasn’t been another?” She finished off the bottle and placed it on the floor, its empty thud resonating with him.

Mykel leaned back on one hand, legs stretched out before him. Drawing in a deep breath, he drew on the memories that’d been haunting him all day, and the past five years.

“She was my first love, and our tryst lasted just long enough to etch her smile into my mind for life, without lasting long enough to become disillusioned.” Mykel laughed at himself, a hollow sound as he considered how their relationship came to a short end. He stroked Oracle’s pale locks behind her ear, seeking distraction in affection. “I suppose it’s hard for anyone else to compete with the ghost of an idealized lover.

“I suppose so. Though, I imagine this ‘pity me’ routine gets you plenty of action.” Half her lip curled up, and the half light of the fire cast mischievous shadows over her features.

Mykel shrugged, and smirked. “You see right through me.”

“I do have the sight, after all.” She leaned in, and temptation followed. Temptation to kiss her, caress her, taste her, and have her. Temptation to forget the memories the day had dredged up.

“So, what comes next?”

“Next you tell me that I remind you of her, maybe even your favorite attribute of hers. You phrase it in a way that compliments how I’m different from her. Similar enough to fill the hole in your heart, different enough to know I’m not a replacement.” Her hand brushed his, a welcome warmth that invited more contact.

Mykel laughed, “Look like her? No, not really. She was tall, with dark hair. She… she reminded me of the statue of Afodisia in the cathedral of Caerhold. But you do remind me of Afodisia, as well.” It was probably her eyes, he knew. Like liquid gold, staring at him. Through him. Past him. It filled him with a terrifying awe, as if he could touch the goddess in the flesh.

“So, what do you try next, if I don’t fall for either of those?” Her voice was low, drawing him in closer. Close enough that her warm breath wafted over his cheeks.

“Then I have to bring it back to religion, with something like… Love honors the Goddess,” he whispered, caressing her cheek and pulling her closer.

“We’re not in love,” Oracle reminded him. But she didn’t resist when he brushed his lips against hers, and opened her mouth to receive his tongue. Her own fingers, slender and strong, trailed down his throat.

“Our passion can still honor her.” With one hand in her hair, he pulled gently, encouraging her to arch her neck, and offer him a taste of that smooth column of skin.

“You’ve definitely rehearsed that one before.” She giggled, before sighing. Hot lips traced the pulsing artery in her throat, planting soft, lingering kisses in time with her beating heart. Leaning back, she lied herself on the floor before the firepit, and he followed her down.

“Perhaps,” he agreed, easing open the robes she wore, “but I have another that always works. Especially on the eve of battle.”

Oracle ease his tunic up over his head, curious hands tracing the shadows cast by the low light, “Hmm, and what is this?”

Firm muscle pressed into her soft curves, and he stroked her bare shoulder. “Because we might die tomorrow.”

She shook her head, and held his in both hands. “We’re not going to die tomorrow.”

“You can’t know that.” He murmured, pushing the hem of her gown up over her hips.

“I do. Have faith, and you can too.” She caressed his cheek, fingers trailing over the rough stubble. Hope had been so distant, nearly out of reach, for so long. But, after seeing the true belief alight in her golden eyes? Mykel reached for that hope, reaching for her hands as he shifted between her thighs.

“Show me how to have faith, again.” He wasn’t playing the game anymore, and he wasn’t talking to the woman beneath him. He called to the goddess, turning this act of lovemaking into a prayer for guidance.

Golden eyes met his, filled with understanding. Then they went wide as he pushed into her, slick, smooth muscles resisting for but a moment, before opening to him. “You, you know,” she assured him, fingers digging into his shoulders as she took his full length. “You’ve always known.

“Goddess,” he gasped, moving inside her. Her moans echoed the soft slap of flesh against flesh, and he drank them hungrily from her lips. Savoring her pleasure, adding it to his own, and returning it to her in each new stroke. Their kiss broke with a desperate gasp for air, “My goddess…”

“Mykel… don’t stop,” she called in a strained whisper, nails dragging down his back. The long scratches ached, a stinging counterpoint to the way her body gripped his in a silken vise. Fluid friction drove him harder, deeper inside her, seeking devotion within her. Heaven awaited him in each kiss and between her thighs, a glorious communion of souls seeking the divine.

“Mykel,” she called again, inviting and imploring his consecration. Trembling inner walls fluttered along his shaft, a glorious, sultry caress bringing him closer to paradise. Bringing them closer together, her arms tight over his back. “Mykel…”

“Goddess!” he cried, hips rigid, and buried to the hilt inside her. Rapture burst in his mind and deep within her, his lust coating her depths and leaving him breathless. She pulled him into the kiss, her thirsty mouth drinking in his rapturous praises.

Finally spent, he collapsed against her, head resting against her sweat-slick hair. “That… that was…” he tried, but words failed him. Her response was similarly wordless, a fatigued laugh and fingers combing through his hair. They kissed again, now lazy and lingering in the aftermath of passion. When the need to breathe broke them apart, Mykel hovered over her, and caressed her face with the back of two fingers.

“You should try and get some rest,” he offered, suppressing his own yawn. What he really wanted was to cuddle up beside her, hold her in his arms as they slept side by side. But he had a duty, a duty he’d already shirked in lying with her.
 

xanaphia

Likes big words and playing pretend
Joined
Sep 28, 2013
Messages
2,874
#5
(Before I get into this last chapter, I want to let all my readers to know that To Betray a Master is free this weekend on Amazon. Pick it up before the 3rd, when it goes back to full price. Thanks again, and I would love to hear if you enjoyed it!)

Divine Intervention

Under the dim light of dawn, the townsfolk of Duncaster filed out of their homes, taking only what they could carry on their backs. A scene that had played out before Mykel more times than he cared to count. Every time it was the same, and every time it was heartbreaking. The demons claimed more and more every day, driving humans into hiding.
What’s the point of raising up Her paladins, when we can’t even past the demons back? How can the Goddess of Love and War lose this war?

“I’m not going with Matthias,” Oracle asserted, adjusting the leather and chain armor she donned. “And since I’m not a paladin, you can’t just command me to leave.”
Mykel sighed, “The Order needs you more than I do.”

“And I told you, we aren’t going to die here.”

“How do we survive this? Have you seen this with your sight? Care to share the battle plan?”

Oracle glanced in his direction, spear raised and golden eyes ablaze, “Have faith.”

The sun was still low, but bright as it illuminated the newest ghost town in the demon lands. Shadows cast long against the empty houses and abandoned farms. The things they left behind always weighed the heaviest. Even divinely gifted strength didn’t change this fact for him. He’d never see his daughter again, and worse, she’d never know he was her father. As much as it hurt him, perhaps it was better for her. She’d done well enough without a father, so far.

The horde started as a trickle, small demons arriving first, easily cut down by the veteran paladin. Even Oracle, without divinely gifted strength, defeated the early foes. Their bodies piled in the village and their blood soaked into the ground, turning it dark and muddy. As the battle raged on, larger demons joined the fray and incessant numbers wore Mykel down. For each he struck down, two more appeared in their place. The muck weighed down his feet, and muscles burned with ache.

At some point, Mykel realized their foes were not intent on slaying them, but playing with them. Already surrounding them, cutting off their retreat, and any hope of making it out alive. Was this what she meant when she said they weren’t going to die? The words no longer held hope for Mykel. Demons surrounded Mykel and Oracle, closing them into a tighter and tighter space, until their bodies touched, and they were back to back.

“I don’t suppose you can call upon the goddess to intercede for us again,” Mykel managed through heaving breaths.

An infernal sword lazily swung forth, and Oracle barely deflected, wooden spear splintering as the blade cut deep. “You know divine intervention isn’t meant for our convenience. And it doesn’t mean she’s not here. Have faith.”

Movement beyond the group surrounding them caught Mykel’s attention, and a being came into view. He stood taller than the demons surrounding him, by a few feet, at least. Great gnarled horns twisted from his head, forming a broken circle over his head. His skin was grey, like a month-old corpse. Black armor covered the rest of his body, thick as steel and crafted with the forsaken souls of mortals, it could withstand even a paladin’s strength. Most damning was the scythe at his side, a monstrosity that seeped with infernal smoke. Zargolis. Only a miracle could save them now.

“There’ll be no death for you, Paladin. Not easily, at least,” Zargolis snarled, smoky miasma dripping from his fanged maw. His mouth twisted into a mockery if a smile. “Your woman will serve our lusts and bear our bastards. You’ll be broken, tortured until you forsake the War Whore, and offer your soul to Vaebahl, Lord of Hate.”

Arrogant, but empty boasts waited on the tip of Mykel’s tongue. Last words before trying to figure out a way to get himself killed, before the demons could capture and corrupt him. But Oracle pushed past him, possessing greater strength than even a paladin was capable of, and addressed the demon crowing before them.

Zargolis, you once served as an Archon of Justice. A little thing like rebellion does not excuse you from service.” The voice came from Oracle, but Mykel knew it was not hers. It spoke with authority far older than time. Only the danger that surrounded them now prevented him from falling to his knees in supplication.

Zargolis released a short bark of laughter. “Despair, War-Whore, as we slake our vengeance upon your servants. Know we would do the same to you, given half a chance.”

“Pity Zargolis. You are the last of my late Husband’s retainers. With you dies his legacy.”

“Strike me down yourself, then,” Zargolis called, weapon heaved in the air over his head. “This slave you sent before me is not up to the task.”

“And your mistake is to presume I’ve only sent the one.”

At that moment, arrows tore through the surrounding demons, golden bolts of light that pierced through several fiends without stopping or slowing. Scores fell, opening a path for Mykel to charge Zargolis. Nevertheless, the elder demon did not back down, spinning his terrible scythe before him.
Radiant light enveloped Mykel’s sword, opposite and opposing the dark miasma seeping the blade of Zargolis’ scythe. Steel rang on steel as the weapons came together, neither paladin nor demon giving an inch in the deadlock.

Zargolis pressed in closer, testing Mykel’s strength, his faith, his dedication to Afodisia. When he could not break the conviction Mykel possessed, he merely smiled, and exhaled his toxic breath. Like breathing in brimstone, it burned as it reached Mykel’s lungs, triggering a coughing fit that disrupted the deadlock.

Mykel stumbled back a few steps, but it wasn’t enough to save him. The scythe hooked behind his boot, and pulled him off his feet. He landed with a slick thud, heavy armor sinking into the sludge of the battlefield. Despite the brief tremors of hope, Mykel knew this was how he would die. Had he bought enough time for the nevin to escape with Matthias? He’d have to have faith. He’d find no peace otherwise.

The scythe came down, but sword materialized to intercept it. No, not materialized. Matthias wielded it, stepping in at the last moment to save him. It meant the boy hadn’t followed his orders, but it was difficult to be angry now. He wasn’t dead, and he owed that to his acolyte.

“Together, Master?” Matthias asked, deflecting a blow on his shield.

Mykel lifted his sword. “Together,” he agreed. Then, as one, the men charged Zargolis with powerful wide strokes. The demon blocked one, but the other struck true, slashing deep across

Zargolis’ back. He stumbled forward several steps, and spun just in time to avoid Matthias’ follow-up strikes. Not in time, however, to dodge Mykel’s swing, the blade catching his arm and spilling more black blood. Flailing, Zargolis parried two more blows, until Matthias landed a horizontal slice into Zargolis’ thigh. This sent the demon down, landing on his knees with a massive thud, and meeting Mykel’s eyes once again.

“You weren’t strong enough to defeat me on your own, Paladin,” Zargolis growled.

“No,” Mykel agreed, hefting his great sword back over his shoulder, “I never needed to be.” The blade whistled as it sliced the wind, until it met the brief resistance of flesh. Zargolis’ head slid from his body in a wet thump, and ichor sprayed from the massive would, showering Mykel and Matthias alike.

Golden light poured from the heavens, and focused upon Oracle’s position. Her spear, splintered, but still solid, served as a conduit for concentrated rays, focusing the radiance on a single point, before expanding outward, cleansing the corruption of the remaining demons. Then she collapsed.

~*~​

“So, what is your very good reason for disobeying my orders?” Mykel asked, turning his attention on Matthias as they rode side by side. The refugees of Wellspring and Duncaster marched on ahead. The victory over Zargolis was powerful, but it was only a temporary reprieve. At least the path back to Hopeshire was mostly safe, now.

“Besides saving your ass?” Matthias asked, daring a short laugh. Mykel’s gaze hardened, and Matthias cleared his throat. “It was Oracle’s idea.”

“You abandoned two villages worth of nevin on the word of a single woman, who can’t even remember her own name?”

“It didn’t come from her. It came from Afodisia.” Matthias sighed, and looked ahead, “I can’t explain it, not logically, but I just know. I just had faith, and faith led me back to you.”

Mykel didn’t need Matthias to explain it, in order to understand. Oracle had been explaining it to him for days, but he’d been too stubborn to listen. Faith was a paladin’s most powerful weapon, and he’d neglected it for too long.

Oracle rode up ahead, with Diana sharing her horse. Mykel couldn’t hear their conversation over the recurrent hoofing of their steed, but he could make out Diana’s laughter. His duty to the goddess kept him from his daughter, but now the goddess was bringing him back to her. There was still a chance to be a father.

The Goddess was with them, now. She hadn’t abandoned her children, and she wouldn’t.

THE END​
 
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