Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Twenty-Six

The musty stench of immeasurably expensive tomes arranged sometimes delicately and here and there helter-skelter, as if in terrible hurry, pervaded the round-house abode overlooking the wide, wide harbor from the strangely comforting shadow of a marriage bed, cast in the god-like fire-eyes of little lavender-scented candles imported from the far-off semi-tropical, potent enough to sting the eyes, potent enough to cast dribbles of unwanted tears upon steaming cheeks still throbbing with the rage of a violence unrealized.  She pushed aside the now-familiar sandalwood divider, clutching his hand painfully with the unreasoning demand of a woe-besotted child as his armor jingled holiday about him.  Alone now, she rested him, against his failing will, upon her hitherto lonely bed, and towered high above him, her knotted hands upon her cheeks and a coy expression playing across the corners of her lips while he continued to pretend he was elsewhere.

“I appreciate it,” she began, meandering about the several lifetime’s of esotera at fingertip’s length.  “Everything you’ve done.  I understand it’s been hard on you.  Murder from beginning to end and no end in sight.”

“Trust me, my lady,” he replied enthusiastically despite the evident exhaustion of his eyes, “I did only as any true knight would or should.”

“I know everything my mother told you.  I know everything she expects of me.”

But he smiled the queer grin of a gambler and replied only, “Matron Barsica is a fine woman, and I certainly wouldn’t expect her daughter to learn such distrust towards her living ancestor.”

“Oh come now!  Come off of it!  Like I don’t have eyes and ears within the house—and without.  She wants a baby,” she announced with a certain disquiet, rubbing the flat of her stomach thoughtfully, “and she wants it out of me.  You were only to be the stud—but goodness me how you have proved so much more.  I always wanted a knight, you see.  Always wanted my first to be magical, that is before he was taken out back and his head chopped off before the children developed an attachment.”

“I had a feeling,” he replied, sweating his brow into his hands, “that I was never intended to survive the ordeal.”

“But whether you realize it or not, what you’ve done is immeasurably more meaningful.  A husband!  Unheard of!  But it’s going to happen.”  She strode up casually, the side-slit velvet robe revealing the gossamer nightgown swaddling her youthful features beneath.  With a single motion tearing at the seams of her bodice she revealed the entirety of her chest, leaving nothing to the imagination.  “Isn’t this what you want?” she quizzed with the cruelty of the widow spider, running her fingers carefully across her nipples while her elongated tongue slowly traveled the distance to her own supple breasts.”

He snapped to attention, rising with the long-practiced novelty of salute before she again slammed him on the bed with boom that resided throughout the monstrous domicile and straddled him, continuing, “You know, you don’t give me the impression of a virgin, and neither do you seem particularly fearful of us—so just what is it?”

Without meeting her gaze, with his eyes fixated upon the meaningless treasures accorded in every direction, he responded with a whisper, “I don’t like being told what to do.”

“I’ll have to remember that,” she giggled, “husband; after all I have very high hopes for you.”

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Twenty-Five

“You may remember, Sir Arius, that this is and remains my house, and while within you shall be obligated to my rules, inasmuch as is possible.  The Matron Tyletus has arrived here at my beckoning to partake of our familial custom and ideally to smooth over any feathers ruffled during the day.  In a way,” she continued, making direct and unblinking eye contact, “I am overwhelmed at your outpouring of the most obvious affection for myself and my own, but please allow me from here on in to make such decisions as to the status of houses and the breaking of strong men upon the battlefields.”

He grasped his chin, pausing thoughtfully at length before giving answer, while a room filled with strangely glistening eyes fixated upon his deep set features shadowed in the chandelier light.  “Then allow me to apologize to the Lady of Tyletus,” he rejoined, standing at a torso-length bow, “whom I so clearly abused thanks to the exhilaration of the day’s bloodletting.”

She clearly hadn’t been contented, and the strain on her face was most obvious, curling ever further into some terrible eldritch thing far beyond the sullen nature of a mere frown, but ignoring the candor of the kinsmen’s slayer she resumed the whispering, hissing colloquium with the Matron Barsica while once again eating utensils scratched upon wondrously lacquered plateware.  His continuing stand went unacknowledged, and the room resented his presence thoroughly and once again.

He collapsed again upon his marked station and stared across at his grinning betrothed as if his only respite remaining in this life, his strongly-marked chin resting upon the table’s well-planed timbers stained in the carmine of wild cherries.

“I don’t even know what I’m doing here,” he intoned below the general din, while the Lady Rina drew close to hear, letting clatter unpleasantly her dining implements upon the sealed table.  “What am I doing here?  I’m only following the script, doing what I’d been expected to do, doing what I would do, considering—what have I done wrong?” he continued somberly.

“The other women will resent you generally,” she replied with unforeseen insight, “and what passes for males will assume the intent of their mothers, generally speaking the various Ga Zakazi of the house.  You will not be loved; you will not be adored; you probably won’t be provided any approximation of decent behavior, lest you carve it from their skulls still screaming.”

“You’ve been reading epic literature.”

“You know me.  It’s difficult not to, all things considered.  And besides, why don’t you away with me and allow the guards a few fair moments of respite?  Heaven knows they’ve been worked to the bone keeping all different manner of murderous intruder from penetrating the house and letting open the new flood-gates of immeasurable bloodbath.”

“But I still haven’t eaten.”

“And you won’t.  Even valid men are prohibited in this regard.”

“Fine.  Let us away.”

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Twenty-Four

“They weren’t kidding,” Arius muttered, hissing between the fence of his teeth, as he passed through the onion-shaped doorway and past a pair of blue-and-black attired halberdiers, armored head to toe in scales of several varieties, whose gaze never seemed to sway even as they surveyed gravely the contents within.  The chamber was monstrous, a feasting hall fit for a military legion, lined upon its mortared stone cobbles with the natural chaff refuse that would pick up the detritus and be discarded therewith within the course of not even a week.  The guardians, stone-faced, bore without the scars of convection wonderfully-constructed oil lamps etched predominantly in glowing brass, though the chamber was largely lit with the fires of a wrought-iron chandelier announced with painted candles detailing the passing of hours, invisible now to the occupants thereunder.  A single great bench—in reality several oaken benches tied in a great long team lined the entirety of the eerily silent chamber, otherwise vacuous and absent the rollicking spirit of wholehearted revelry.

The women were already present, seated and occupied broadly in idle conversation that barely raised above a murmur, dressed as they were in immaculate satins and luxurious silks decorated with gaudy and variegated golds, silvers, and gems that would give pirates and bandits fits alike, but for all this, besides the standing guards, there was not a single man present, not a single man to be seen, none at all but for the armored foreigner presenting himself, according to the direction of his bodyguard, in the fashion of a just recently restive soldier arriving triumphant from the field, pauldrons cast away but cuirass still gleaming.

He didn’t have quite the effect of his expectation—that he would hush the crowd and that all eyes would wander to his bulging biceps and throbbing thighs evident nevertheless under so much white linens; no, only a single woman had eyes for him, whose retinas tracked his progress while she commenced to speak buffoonery and nonsense to her conversation companion who seemed utterly unconcerned and glad more potential to speak on her own behalf.

“Matron Barsica,” he boomed with the practiced hyperbole of an oppositional herald, permitting himself the ablution of the salute, “Sir Arius son of Amellitus has arrived within your dining hall at your request.”

She acknowledged him merely, drawn with some irritation from a conversation with a scaled woman he did not recognize, and beckoned him with open palm seat himself opposite her beaming daughter.  In a several step motion, he did precisely that, clinking profusely as he sat himself upon this meager throne while he began to wonder the purpose of his presence in some detail.  Rina, eyes glowing like the imagination of a child, never blinked, nearly heaving to be in the presence of her fond hero.

Remembering his role, recalling his responsibilities, he asked her simply, “How was your day, my dear—enjoyable?  I must apologize for the profusion of sanguine cast before your sight.  It was never my intention.”

“Oh?” she replied, leaning back and adjoining the soles of her scaly feet with the site of his quivering genitalia, which involuntarily perked up at the sudden and unwanted physical attention, which brought an unexpected grin to the curl of her lips.  “If I had to say so, Sir Arius, I’d say you enjoyed it, something like the glee of an exhibitionist.”

“Heh,” he muffled, squirming about in vain to avoid the tracking of her taloned toes which became increasingly obvious to her neighbors.  “Anyways, where’s the rest of the men?  I was told the men and women eat opposite, not that the man and the women eat opposite.”

“Gul Ladal must have been playing with you,” she replied with a coy smile.  “I can count on both my hands the men that have eaten at this table.  You’ve been selected as something special, precisely what I’d expect from the man to be my husband.”

But this was too much to bear from the Ga Zakazra Barsica’s companion who, without introducing herself interrupted rudely, “You!  You there!  You’re the creature that killed my men this afternoon, slew them in broad daylight in a matter of moments and left there bodies there to rot.”

“Ahh, so you must be—.”

“Ga Zakazra of House Tyletus, and you couldn’t even wait long enough for us to retrieve the corpses.  As it were, they were picked clean by beggars and degenerates, and we could retrieve virtually nothing.  Do you have any idea how expensive was their equipment?”

“As dear as their lives?” he replied with a lash to his tongue.

“Heavens no.  You have no idea.”

“So have you come seeking recompense from the Matron Barsica or,” he licked his lips, “have you come seeking satisfaction from my hide?”

“He sits at the women’s table; he speaks his mind; he’s a murderer; and soon he’s to be a father in your house!  Can you even imagine it, a father?  Perish the thought.  No-one else will tolerate it, Barsica; I guarantee you!”

“And you speak with the forked tongue of a cruel old woman,” he replied with a sneer.  “You have insulted me as thoroughly as you have insulted my bride to be and the house that warms me!  Send me your best, and I shall send him down to hell, and then you can spend the next years chewing on your own miserable contempt as the product of my loins stains your city red with the blood of cowards and the impious!”

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Twenty-Three

“You probably think you were very clever,” began Gul Ladal, arms crossed in a father’s disapproval while leaning gently against the standing sandalwood cabinet.  “The Lady Rina is undoubtedly defiling her own person as we speak.  I could smell it on her in the streets, and I doubt passing strangers went utterly oblivious either.  You still have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, the danger this presents, both to your person and House Barsica at large.  I’m not trying to threaten you when I say this.  But you have to understand that this is a dangerous place and that I’m the only friendly face you’re going to see, Rina included.”

“Why would I be precious to you?”

“I could say that it’s because ‘It’s my job.’”

“But?”

“Frankly, I don’t want to explain.”

“You know, I could begin,” Arius turned, slow and shivering drawing the dusty garments from his spasmodic form, “by pointing out that this is no business of mine, that I never asked to be stolen, never asked to be a slave, that only by the fear of foreign death do I consign myself to utterly sleepless nights with a woman I could never love.  I’m just trying to survive.”

“I don’t think even you believe that.”

Arius smiled in return, at last exposing the heavily scarred fore and rear of his upper torso as he gently slipped into the acrid bath abounding in little bubbles.

“Heavens above,” Gul Ladal exclaimed in disgust, drawing his lips wide as if evidencing the precise handiwork of an experienced serial killer, “where in the hells did you get that?”

Dragging the dull excretion of lye and tallow across his suddenly fragile frame, he mostly smiled, saying only, “The punishment for failure is generally simple.”

“And you call us ‘animals.’”

“It’s often that the difference between life in death lies not in the mind but rather in the muscle.  You don’t think.  You react.  Pain is a more glorious teacher than a chalk-board, and god knows there’s no shortage of sinners to be dispatched at the end of a shining point.”  He paused, moving the bubbles about playfully in his hands.  “My family’s been in the legion since the very beginning.  We all were once, but eventually the demands proved too much for many, and they fell to the mundane.”

“Says a liar, a gambler, and a cheat, who’s had more women—I have no doubt—than I’ve had warm meals.”

“True, true,” he replied, yawning his tired frame to rest the nape of his neck on the lip of the washing basin.  “Began when I was young; had my first prostitute when I was thirteen.  My first sexual experience was somewhat earlier than that.  Didn’t know enough to say ‘no,’ and she seemed so pretty, at least that’s what she told me.”

“And I thought my life was unusual.  Mysterious how such as you can remain so sacred, at least in someone’s reckoning.”

“Moral caliber has nothing to do with it, moral caliber as at least people understand it.  As long as I do the legion’s work, I could despoil whole cities of their women and still linger in the unlikely running of a saint.  Those things don’t matter.  I’m not a hero, I’m a jailer, and that’s something the rest of the world has never understood.”

“I don’t know what to make of you.”

“Well what do you make of dinner?”

“You’re going to ruffle a lot of feathers.  You’ll be the only human there, in fact.  The males and females eat segregated, but they sit opposite each other.  Of course you’ll sit opposite the Lady Rina, who will undoubtedly chew your ear off, anything to prevent herself from raping you on the spot and ruining her good family name.  She’ll want to sing your praises and discuss the little victories of the day.  She’ll want to show off her prize.  Meanwhile, her mother’s going to be sweating bullets at the implications of all of it.  Better to leave her to her ruminations with the Ag Zakazi, who probably won’t stand to even look at you.”

“No no, I meant what are we having for dinner?”

“I’m glad it was you that killed the slaver that took you.  I would have done it more slowly.”

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Twenty-Two

“How may I help you gentle…men, I said gentlemen, gentlemen—gentlemen, this morning—this afternoon?  Basking in the luxurious spray of the warden quay?  Out for an afternoon stroll to the pier?” quizzed Arius, gazing upon the severe and unblinking countenance of a snaggle-toothed lizard bearing an unfamiliar livery and closely attended by a bored-looking scaly spearman resting the broad rim of his ponderous shield across the bulge of his upper shoulder.

A head shorter and far too lackadaisical, Arius was virtually beneath their contempt, but they nevertheless barred the way with broad-chested bravado and school-yard bullishness.  Before they found form to masticate the words of their hissing tongue they were preceded by the officious candor of the bodyguard Gul Ladal.  “I recognize you, Sfernor and Slafnr, scions of House Tyletus.  Know yourselves to stand in the presence of the wards of a superior house.  Retire immediately and make way for the property of the primary house or doom yourselves to the clear-sky consequences, gurgling your inbred ichor from between your shattered teeth as you sputter your last in the desert dust.”

The incipients, callous with inculcated apathy, locked their gaze with sneering brutishness upon their golden opponent and replied, “The man-thing is ours to take, as right as any other.  You know the law.  He isn’t of the people, and if you cannot prevent him than we shall do as we please.”

They had answered badly.  Gul Ladal grasped his furious glaive tight, prepared ever since the day of his seniority to carry his obligations to the very last, seething now to thrash beneath their embroidered shields the whole of them into a fine paste no more fit than to be the chum of fishermen, but the friendly palm of his recent charge slipped comfortably up his shoulder, and the cavalier declared in a whisper, “You know, I have absolutely no doubt your prowess, but leave these to me.  It will be pedagogical to match my might against theirs, especially should there ever be need again.”

Gul Ladal, burning with the ire of their disrespect would have none of it, though the cavalier proceeded regardless.  Grunting with emasculation the bodyguard snapped his vision to his remaining responsibility in earnest, but the sight of so-far silent Rina, bounding in place upon her supple feet and eyes wide and moist with the apperception of raw potential, ameliorated his public shame, and he traced his steps backwards and ceded him the field.

“You both have such cute faces,” began the paladin, slowly drawing the unrelentingly pale blade from its sun-stained scabbard as they adopted a defensive stance, virtually invisible behind the heavy bulwark of the broad-rimmed shields punctuated by the broad spear-points meandering just close by.  “Let us not rest on ceremony.  I have not the time or the energy to waste my afternoon on you.  Fools you must be to contend so openly with your betters, the facsimile of soldiers that have never seen more campaign than abusing crooked slaves and your immediate inferiors.”  Grinning mischievously, he lowered himself into a fool’s stance, blade pointed earthward and remaining arm cast wide, mocking with the winking eyes of open contempt.

“A bit of old soldier’s magickry,” he decried within, dipping the point of his sword into the dusty turf, before casting the blinding spray into the unsightly visage of one, who coughed and spat and screamed and clutched meaninglessly at his temporarily blinded eyes, while his companion spattering the devil-speak of the subhuman confidently lunged with his ashen spear forward and forward and forward—and ever more criminally—until he over-extended himself, and his skewering implement lodged firmly and uselessly under the grasp of Arius’s left shoulder.  In desperate recrimination, the slithering lizard drove his broad-rimmed shield forward like a star eschewing the sky, but was himself yanked forwards and forwards and forwards and found himself falling helplessly upon the presented point of the sparkling blade that penetrated within and through the spine and left him there dead and done in mere moment.

His companion had by now barely cleared the obstruction from his gaze.  Having clattered the monstrous shield from his hands, he was careful not to scratch the gleaming blaze of his own spear point within the undesirable features of his own broad countenance.  Only through tears and hazy view could he witness the wide swing of that pale edge that beheaded spear and bearer alike, tossing what few seconds remained of his vision dizzily into the air to come familiar with a squirrel’s perspective, spewing blood from shattered vertebrae upon the ground.

“Filthy creatures,” Arius remarked, prodding the slowly stiffening bodies with his boot.  “Filthy creatures.”

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Twenty-One

“Wide as the eyes can see, as expansive as the imagination,” she delighted, gesturing with open arms towards the numberless threads that composed the urban quay.  “It’s always like this,” she continued, “ships coming in and out typically bearing spices but also such desirables as horses, smelted ores, even slaves—whatever’s necessary and whatever will make a profit.”

“Have to admit, I’ve not seen such an assembly of sails in all my life, perhaps won’t again my entire life-time.  Such a panoply of different ships—brigantines, barques, sloops, men-o-war, and god knows what else beyond my own reckoning, but I have to ask, first and foremost, what are those,” he queried, gesturing to the aggressive prows of several single-masted vessels abounding in three whole ranks of oars.

“Consider yourself lucky I’m so well-read,” she replied, winking coquettishly.  “They’re called ‘triremes,’ the technology of our human predecessors, what became the Ivederenghoi.  Fine fine warships, but they require an outrageous number of slaves to successfully man; I’m told they smell delicious of human secretions after some weeks of use.  Anyways, they’re all owned by the various Ga Zakazi; you can tell by the colors of the sails.  Those the property of House Barsica are marked in blue and black stripes.”

“Do you dominate the local trade?” he requited, noting down the great number of such crudely appointed sails.

“We certainly do fairly well,” she replied, silently counting the vessels stowed in harbor, “and while they can be used for trade as in warfare I would mark their maximum range as somewhat less than the more heavily masted vessels of our foreign contemporaries.”

“I would imagine,” was all his reply, gazing out upon the numerous marble-slabbed piers half-collapsed to the unimaginable depth below replaced ramshackle and ad-hoc with crudely-sawn and improperly planed wooden slats standing upon great tree-trunks unstripped of their massive bark and undoubtedly rotting below.  “So slaves are typically reserved for manual labor, but are they ever otherwise employed?”

“Oh in all sorts of things,” she replied thoughtfully, thumbing her chin.  “For a number of years we had the services of a fencing instructor who’s recently been given leave to retire in his old age.  There’s a number of smiths working in the employ of House Tyletus predominantly in the iron smelter.  We even had a shipwright who was—under peculiar circumstances, if you ask me—disappeared one evening from his private home.  Basically talent, wherever we can get it.  You see, we live in a bipartite society.  The general population that you’ve generally witnessed about live in covens.  The female Szchellezi have marginal intelligence, and they possess, trade, and stud the virtually witless males of our species, as need be, who are generally constrained to simple labor activities—occasionally used as brute force in warfare.  The females give birth to clutches of eggs and the infants fight for limited resources before being recognized by their covens.”

“Vicious.”

She nodded assent.  “We in the upper class have to maintain access to respectable human males for the sake of reproduction.  We give live birth and even nurse our young.  Unfortunately, while our females are completely valid, the males are mules, though they remain highly intelligent and excellent leaders in both civilian and military life.”

“So without a larger upper class—“

“There’s little we can do to improve our lot.”

“The very opposite of a top-heavy society.”

“But what about the mules then, necessarily they maintain a libido even if they’re sterile?”

Here Gul Ladal interjected, “The degenerate slaves run brothels throughout the city.  Women—and men—that have been born within and never blemished by sunlight, whose beauty dwarfs their country own.”

“Somehow, I feel dirty,” Arius concluded.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Twenty

The amalgamated vulgus, whether suffering under the sin of the sky or scaly beyond all reason, by instinct and preternatural revulsion made great way for the apparently unaccompanied swordsman whose footsteps reverberated not normally in the ear but peculiar through the spine, too many tones too low to be detected in the auditory faculties of species alive or dead, animated as he shortly was with the solar god that for mere moments made him a living avatar cast in the image of the holy saints alive with molten bronze and hissing fire that poured to grim effect upon a receding earth fearful of the life that made it.  He strode confidently, like a liberated Atlas bounding from peak to peak and abounding with unearthly laughter; meanwhile his companions, shivering in the broiling air, could hardly conceal their visceral contempt that made them shy just away, so far unable to produce a salutation.

In many ways it was a wondrous city, a harbor city, filled with the colors of innumerable different accents, colors, foods, and cultures—the gifts of the blinding legion of sailing ships that filled the harbor far beyond all capacity.  Strange smells, marvelous seasonings, the slow-cooked fats drizzling upon the floor of a tall and narrow earthen oven from an animal for which he had no name, despite being lettered and educated and not altogether unfamiliar with the sailing life.  In any direction a man might cast a stone and eat something different every day for the whole score of his mortal existence, a true cosmopolitan society of both men and those only debatably.

Leaning his shoulders back comically, he asked his traveling companions with a twinkle in his eyes, “Hungry, my dear friends?  I’ve a shiny coin or two that might purchase such contents that would stun you for a lifetime.”

It was some time before her pipe-organ passageways unsealed themselves, and staggering as if gasping for breath she replied meekly and repeatedly, “No…  no…  I think I’m fine.  I’m full enough, as it is.”

“It’s a shame,” he roared in gleeful reply.  “I had you figured for a quixotic.  I had you figured for a scholar.  What you witnessed is something none of your kind may possibly witness ever again, something I may never again practice or risk the wrath of my superior.  Very few humans ever even observe the wonderful horrors of the internal cult of the Solar Legion.”

“Right…  right…  but—.”

“But I understand.  To say it’s traumatic would be an understatement.  I myself have only once previous ever been the inductee, at my proving.  The consequences are intended to be grave.  Everything is intended to be grave.  There is no going back, and for the unprepared it can have…  devastating consequences, adjoining with the merest glimpse with the eye in the sky.”

“I think I might be sick.”

“Shall we back to your residence?”

Images of her white-robed wedding flooded back into her imagination, galloping across the empty space of her eyes, and choking down the morning’s victuals she started again with a tiny murmur in her heart.  “No no.  You promised to show me something I hadn’t seen before, and I promised you the same.  It wouldn’t be right to end with half-hearted measures.  Come on now, you haven’t yet witnessed the great glory of the city of Tlexloris Phtha, jewel of the Szchellezi Commonwealth.”

“Surprised you Szchellezi didn’t retain the city’s ancient moniker, with your alleged obeisance to the solar cult.”

Struggling to accelerate to his pace, she snatched his hand in her own, feeling the digits with a strange unfamiliarity, which she couldn’t rightly recognize, but she knew it was there, lingering just beneath the surface a strange hardness and a lattice work texture that had not been there before.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Nineteen

Blinded in the unimaginable darkness, Rina stumbled repeatedly, held aloft merely in the vice-like grip of her servitor, while the clearly perceptible echo of their guide strode further and further on ahead, as if within the temple—impossible space—while he hummed, it seemed, a liturgical hymn with the blind familiarity of a Sunday-school child nostalgically admonished with the stroke of a cane.

“Arius, Arius, are you there?”  Rina shouted, which echoed return in near-mocking retort.  “You seem to be getting so far ahead.  We can’t keep up with you.”

“Hmm…  hmm?” he responded, as if altogether oblivious.  “Just follow the moon’s silver and you won’t have a problem.  Eye on the sky.”

She gazed upwards into the vast darkness of the overwhelming dome, but there was nothing, no great glory of the heavens for those destined merely the terrestrial, no undying trials at the behest of Brassos or the saints, just darkness and the guarantee of terrible predestination.

“Slow down, Arius—please,” she continued.  “I can’t see a blasted thing, and I’ve near stumbled upon my face—more than once.  Please just have some pity.”

The confident clicks of boot-heels returned rapidly, as if arriving from across a great space in the shoes of great titans, and an invisible hand pitilessly snatched hers, struggling upon the stairway paves, and launched her within the comfort of his arms as he stood her confidently upon the platform still bathed in deep and nebulous shadow.

“Just keep your hand in mine,” he advised stringently, as if interrupted from the summation of his life’s work.  “You won’t trip and you won’t stumble.”

“Just what’s the point of all this?” she replied, her throbbing heart beginning to settle.  “Can’t we just light a torch or—?“

“Absolutely not.  Don’t even consider it.  I won’t be offended.”

“But—.”

“Come on.  Just keep yourself close; stay within my grasp and bear the confidence in my breath.”

Charmed, she remained voiceless while he shortly approached an invisible brazier and postulated her with the utmost gravity, “Keep your hands utterly to your sides and do absolutely nothing.”

“But I don’t even know what to do.”

“Precisely.”

“But—.”

“You’re a scholar, right; be prepared to learn something.”

All around, the shades of a legion of slaughtered soldiers sat eternally upon their vacant thrones surrounding the platform, swooning in the ascending orange glow gleaming within the folds of the knight’s palm as it rested shortly upon the sun-whirling diadem appointing the brazier, which seemed to arrest the opaque tomb of its howling madness as the ceiling gave away and a wonderfully crafted elucidation of the undying sun overseeing innumerable farmers at labor bathed the whole chamber in near blinding light.

Stunned and overwhelmed, Rina cast her hands before her eyes, backtracking a few steps before tripping backwards over something that skittered at her rear, rescued only from collapse by the slow-to-arrive bodyguard, who with open maw surveyed the solar majesty.

The remains of men, scattered skeletons, still held within the bulwark of their scale-mail armor and bronzed greaves huddled about the facsimile altar and the countless blue eyes of the doomed and the damned resting their gaze severely from their dry-rotted thrones upon the assembly held upon every coliseum wall.

Swollen with a glory not his own, fire could be seen to drip from the merciful, burning pours of his tear-soaked eyes, as he absorbed the full contents of the god’s presence, only painfully retracting his seared and broken hand from the voracious brazier, which still seethed with solar fire.

“Captain Timon, son of Capitolinus, was the last man to place his hands upon the diadem.”

“What in the endless hells was that?”  Rina roared, virtually out of her wits.

Pitch settling upon the overhang of his cheeks, he eyed her with a mixture of confusion and amusement, “Is this not what you wanted to see?  You told me you were a scholar.  This ritual is almost lethally private by nature, and I’ve only ever performed it once.”

“We should go,” Gul Ladal whispered, eying the vacua where once rested legion in repose.

The literally imperceptible mourning of the overhanging sphere only receded slowly, the rivers of fire and glowing ash once more the flicked away waters of mundane bereavement.  “I think I know why you people fear this place.”

“That’s enough,” Gul Ladal retorted, “enough for one day.  And the Lady’s quite had enough of it.”

“It’s nothing unnatural, but I will acquiesce.  Perhaps the lady has had quite enough for one day, a story fit for wide-eyed grandchildren,” he said and sighed, exhaling the punitive warmth of the celestial disk.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Eighteen

Striated marble gleaming of alabaster, storm-grey, and basalt adorned the temple’s grand exterior, evidently all derived from the same quarry in attempt to preserve the striation’s long rivulets that ran the whole of its sparkling surface, an exultant testament to the glory of the undying sky, but it was obvious that she had fallen on hard times.  Certainly dwarfing the myriad temples ranged all about, she had not been so much maintained as merely swept, stone figures of rampant templars collapsed and left in the weedy foregrounds, face-first in the dirt to ruminate ever-after below the paddling of alien soles beating the accumulated dust and collapsed masonry into a conglomerated powder that glinted nevertheless ever-so-slightly in the still lingering innocent eye of a passing child or a surreptitious cavalier carefully striding by, fearful of being noticed.

“Carefully maintained and respectfully preserved?  You know, if I weren’t so peaceful a man, I’d actually be mad.”

“Oh oh oh, it’s not that bad,” she remonstrated.  “Our own temples devoted to our own deities have always respected the pre-eminence of Brassos.”

“And you think that’s sufficient?”

“Skilled craftsmen are nowadays few and far between.  It would take an act of will to secure such resources, certainly of anyone capable of reproducing such ancient style.”

He paused, surveying the wreckage, before shaking his head.  He strode before the vaulted entrance concealed behind weather-beaten wooden slats adjoined with a long metal chain and a welded iron lock evidently untested in lifetimes.

“The god’s temple is to ever remain open,” he moaned through sibilant teeth.

“There was a difficulty,” she replied, her eyes wandering to the mundane, “with vandalism against the temple, the local Ivederenghoi having taken issue with the perceived silence of their deity.”

“And you couldn’t maintain a permanent vigil, place a guard at the fore?”

“I confess, few so ordained were willing to remain for long.  Even upon its edifice it bears an alien countenance and decibel silence menacing from within from an impenetrable darkness that swells before the eyes.  You yourself have spoken of the god’s preference for his children.  It is not bluster.”

“My word,” he replied, “how can I argue with that?  All heresy and hearsay vomited from the mouths of scaly brutes.  I should make a contention, but I confess, somewhat darkly, my curiosity has gotten the better of me.”  He wiped the sweat from his eyebrows before again glancing up to absorb the facade of the forgotten stained-glass elucidation of the knighting of Saint Aloisius.  In a practiced motion, his blade danced outward from his palm and promptly returned within its wooden domicile, neatly bisecting the welded lock which finally permitted the guardian rungs, with a gong, their final respite on the sandy floors to be joined shortly with the splinters of weather-beaten wood caved inwards under his forceful boot-heel.

“Coming?” he asked, smiling to one ear alone.

They shied away, recoiling against the sense of extraterrestrial boiling with long unreciprocated hatred within, but they nevertheless slowly followed his treads as he made his way amongst the darkness as if swimming in the light of day.

Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Seventeen

“My goodness, just…  goodness!  I mean—my my!  Unbelievable, just unbelievable!  If my mother could have seen she’d…  she’d,” Rina gushed, percolating upwards upon bubbling heels of lethally honed ungula.  “I mean my god!  My gods!  I confess I’ve seen a man killed before, mostly executions; I’ve even seen a guard struck down in the fullness of his youth in equal combat, but that was utterly baseless.  There’s no other was to describe it.”  She stopped dead in her tracks, and the inexorable tug on his shoulder necessarily stopped him, as he struggled to remain upright without betraying his sudden weakness.  Before he could find his bearings his shoulders thundered involuntarily upwards, his rising lips crashing like the very tides upon her own, as she commenced to consume the whole of his lips and run her slithering tongue playfully about the gates of his esophagus, as if something deeply erotic.

His eyes locked with her own, as he struggled to wipe clean his face of her maw’s digestive secretions but succeeded only in smearing the whole of his countenance in the musk of her erotic display, as she rejoined, giggling like a schoolgirl, “Time enough later to mark yourself.  Goodness gracious me what a time.  And besides!  And besides!  You have to tell me.  You make it look so easy, so thoroughly easy; don’t whisper this to my bodyguards, but I have the fullest confidence they’d prove in no way your equal.  Just how do you make it look so easy?  I’ve never seen a man killed like that before; I’m not sure anyone has, and so much it was a shock to them that their hands quivered like grain in a bluster.  Slaughtered to a man before the magistrate-men could even arrive for inspection.  Barsica is flying high today!  High indeed!”

“They weren’t soldiers,” Arius grumbled, as if spitting out bile from between his teeth.  “They were assassins inasmuch as I’m an honest man,” he whispered malevolently, “abounding in the blisters that plague these so-called ‘Ivederenghoi.’  He only paused inasmuch as the strangely alien spectacle of the magnificent dome strode further into view arriving with every bounding step an iota further, and he shortly continued, “Their blades were rusty, in more ways than one.  It was no issue; it was no struggle.”

“Oh but surely you’re just being modest.  There were a score or more of them and the bare three of us!”

“A throng of people is no more an army than a collection of building materials a house.”

“Philosophy?” she quizzed.

“Something my mother used to say.”