- The armor fell to the ground with a loud ‘thump’. Stafford wiped the sweat and blood off of his forehead as he fell down against a tree, bringing up one knee to rest his arm. He looked over at the grave he had just finished filling with dirt. His sword sat slightly tilted as it stuck out of the ground at the head of the grave. It still ran red with blood. He heaved a great sight and looked up through the canopy of leaves at the sun above. The wind stirred up noise of all nature around him.
- Looking into his hand he saw the amulet that belonged to the one he’d just buried. Gold decorations enveloped a central ruby with a small rope to hang it about the neck. It was roughly made and clearly not the work of an expert smith. Stafford wiped away the blood that marred the grooves cut through the sides of the jewel before clenching it back into his fist.
- As he rested his head against the tree he felt the fatigue that overwhelmed him lately. Stafford had been a paladin for almost twenty years, an inquisitor for almost as long. He stood tall above his comrades, his sword long stained with the creatures of these lands. The life of an inquisitor was prestigious and they were sought. They were sought as the first to strike in battle, they were the last to leave. They see to it that any comrade who fell was not turned. He could no longer count how many friends he had killed while watching them slowly change into a succubus or any manner of beast. When you returned to the cities of man your conquests stood celebrated and you could not find time to mourn. Even among celebrations inquisitors were still sought. Sought after to bear children and provide another generation of paladins. His beard and long hair had already greyed from the stresses of battle and magicks, scars and runes ran across his body.
- Stafford no longer wished to fight. An inquisitor is the trusted son of the Eldest Scholars and with that came the most critical missions. Missions that would make a man question his morals if not for the fact that what you were killing were monsters. He had struck into untouched territories, scouted, razed, returned with the heads of those who had betrayed the Order and the monsters they decided to raise families with. These blasphemers had entire sermons dedicated to them to ensure that no one would dare to take their path. Entire villages of monsters and their stolen men burned in front of Stafford and for so long he never felt anything but seething rage. Age had made him weary and he now questioned his place. Not once has there been an incursion into a city of man. Never without moving into the beasts’ territory had he even seen a hint of them. He knew that when a paladin began to question their very purpose that death would soon come. When the time came to raise the sword again he may hesitate and fall before them. He chuckled to himself that he would share the fate of many of his fallen friends.
- Raising his head from his thoughts he saw a figure approaching. His senses immediately sharpened because what was coming toward him was a succubus. That’s not quite right, she was becoming a succubus. He had seen this transformation enough to know the progression. Her eyes seemed dazed and she moved unevenly on her feet as she came toward him. She had not grown accustomed to her abilities yet, her form still slender. Her hips and breasts were still humanly, not mutated into the voluptuous curves gained through demon energy. A blue robe was all she wore, the back must be torn to pieces as see-through wings and a tail could be seen trailing behind her. A blue robe indicative of a sorceress training to become part of The Order. The demonic features were barely visible. She was now standing a few feet away from him and had stopped. He made no effort to stand.
- Looking at the ground he spoke, “Here for me?” She jolted as if something had just hit her but did nothing more. Looking up at her he noticed she had started to say something and then closed her mouth again as she looked away. He now saw that she had a large rune that had been branded on her forehead. He knew this rune, it was used to seal demonic energy. Someone had attempted to stop her transformation and now she was stuck and likely starving. Could she still eat something that wasn’t a man’s spirit? He reached into his bag and grabbed a piece of bread to throw to her. She fell to the ground and began munching on it. As he watched her eat he noticed she seemed to be in pain but aside from the rune he saw nothing else. She noticed him looking at her and opened her mouth while sticking out her tongue. On her tongue sat another rune, this one meant to seal one’s voice. His chest felt heavy as he thought of former friends and how they’d transformed, how he’d murdered them. She had finished the bread and looked now at Stafford, her hands against her seated knees. The robe she was wearing had fallen over the front of her shoulders revealing her small chest.
- Slowly she moved toward Stafford and he only watched. His armor sat at the side of the tree, his sword too far away to reach. This would be his last moment as a paladin as she took advantage of him and he was far too tired to care. Stafford closed his eyes and accepted his fate.
- Her arms wrapped around his neck and she brought him close. She was shaking and even though she made no noise he could tell she was crying. He didn’t understand, why wasn’t she taking advantage of him? Any monster in this situation would already have his clothes off and he would only watch as the life was drained from him. She squeezed him and he sat against her as she trembled. These were the actions of a human. Had she stumbled upon him only a little earlier she would be strewn across the field around them without a moment’s hesitation from him or from the comrade he’d just watched die.
- Something dripped against her shoulder as she held him. Stafford had started crying himself. Overcome with twenty years of his conditioning falling apart in front of him he collapsed onto her and bawled. Friends, so-called enemies, so much death and now he didn’t understand the point. Thinking back there were many of the creatures who begged for him to let them live, conditioning told you it was one of their demonic tricks. Everything had always felt so natural but now it felt like murder.
- Stafford again clenched the amulet in his hand to the point that it cut into him and drew blood. The ambitious young paladin with Stafford had moved ahead and stumbled upon a Jinko and her two young. By the time Stafford had come upon the scene she had killed both children and stood over the wounded mother. He had torn the young paladin’s head from her shoulders with a single swing of his blade and watched her body collapse to the ground and felt the seething rage he’d felt so often before. The Jinko reached out to him with the amulet in her hand, asked him to return it to her husband in the nearby town. It was the same town they had been sent to raze to cleanse the heretics. He had held her paw as he watched the life drain from her as she held one of her dead children. Providing them with a proper burial felt more right than anything he had found himself doing under the command of the Scholars in years.
- Stafford found his fatigue waned and he pulled the succubus away, “What’s your name?” She looked at him confused and then looked around. She crawled across the ground on her hands and knees and began scratching against the ground. He stood up and walked over. She had scrawled out the name “Sarah” and was smiling up at him. The smile was so bright and warm he almost hugged her again. Her eyes closed tight when she smiled. Her long hair fell messily about her head, a dark auburn that the barely visible white horns contrasted against.
- “Sarah I have something I need to do in a village near her, do you want to join me?” He asked as he reached out his hand to her. She seemed to nod at him with every fiber of her being as she took his hand and stood. Stafford grabbed his pack and looked beyond the tree where the corpse of his ally lay now headless. Sarah had not noticed previously and now stood behind him with her face buried into his back. He grabbed her hand and led her as he picked up his sword and put it back in its sheath.
- They walked away from the field where a Jinko mother and her children lay buried and a young paladin’s corpse lay in pieces. The armor that identified Stafford as an inquisitor of The Order sat against a tree, fresh with the blood of a comrade. The Inquisition was beginning.
MindTheGap Feb 11th, 2015 (edited) 720 Never
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