Vile Shadows

Ambrose: Sypheros 4, 1423

“What’s troubling you, boy?” came the grizzled voice of Vincent Ward. He was an old man now, but his arms were still strong and his eyes keen. Gray hair framed his face. Ambrose was laid out on his old bed, arms behind his head. He sighed.

“This day has been difficult for me, Master. I question my god, consort with a demon, threaten the livelihood of my old friends, and even Eiremis..”

The old man came in, sitting on the bed’s edge. Here was a young man who had seen entirely too much in such a short period of time. The last few months hadn’t been kind to him. But it was the path he’d chosen, years ago. Ward patted his leg, then shook it a little to rouse Ambrose’ spirits. “Ambrose. Being a paladin isn’t always easy. Most people don’t believe in us or our cause. So much evil exists in this world, that it can become easy to doubt what you’re doing. So long as you hold justice in your heart, and protect those who need protection, take solace in that you are doing what you must.”

The young paladin nodded faintly. “Still. I feel like I’m constantly treading a fine line, between good and evil. I wanted to kill a man today. He had committed crimes, yes, but.. did he deserve to die? I do not know.”

“Did you kill him?”

“No, Master.”

“I see. Why don’t you tell me what happened..?”

“It was yesterday, mid-afternoon. I was walking through the town, when a man bumped into me. I didn’t notice anything unusual about it, but.. Well, I used to be a thief. It was the sort of thing I would do. When I checked for my coin purpose, it was gone. I pursued the man, working my way through the crowds until I caught him.

To my surprise, this brown-haired thief was Able! Do you remember him?”

Ward leaned back in thought. “Scrawny kid? Good heart, but alot of bad luck? You were always bailing him out of bad situations.”

Ambrose nodded. “That’s him. He gave me my money back, but I gave him some coin regardless. I thought, ‘If he still needs to steal, then surely I can lighten his worries’. We chatted for a while, talking about old stories. Then I got an idea- so I asked him about Samael.”

“Samael?”

“He’s a man we’re hunting. My new mentor, Christoph, has some history with him. I’ve seen his depravity first hand recently. We’re short on leads. So, Able doesn’t know anything, but he says that maybe Grayson, his boss, might. Grayson was that guy who ran a small-time thieving operation back before you picked me up.

As usual, no one wants to cooperate without getting something in return,” Ambrose sighed, running a hand through his blond hair. “So I agree to help with a pickup of goods. I knew the goods were probably smuggled or stolen, but if the information I got could save lives, I decided it was worth it.

We arrived at Edmund’s Fineries at nightfall. In his basement, we collected a number of crates and.. a girl.”

“A girl? Grayson must be involved in the slave trade,” commented Ward.

Ambrose nodded a little. “That’s what I thought, too. She was tied up, beaten and battered, and they were very rough on her when they were taking her back. Before you say anything, I thought about stopping everything then and there. Then, I had an idea. If I followed them back with the girl, I could learn more about what they were doing, and maybe save others like her.

When we arrived back at Grayson’s, they led her to the back. He said something ominous like, ‘We’ll take what we need from her later.’ At this point, I knew I had to step in. I demanded to know what was going on. In the end, I had to fight Able, four men, and another of my old friends, Henry. He.. he was hopped up on something, some kind of drug. It looked like part of a plant. I’m no expert on such things.

I subdued Able and Henry, and saw to Henry’s wounds. When I went to the backroom, I was immediately attacked by Grayson. I dodged his blow and cut him twice. He stabbed me once, in my side, before I subdued him as well. I had the foresight to tie him and the others up, like you taught me.”

Ward nodded in reply. “Glad to hear you were paying attention.”

“Of course. Your teachings have been very beneficial. I’ve learned a few new things along the way, though.”

“You’ll have to tell me about them later. What about the girl?”

“Right. In the room, there was some odd machine- lots of tubes and pipes. I wouldn’t find out what it was for until later. The girl was in a cage. I thought I might need to pick it-”

“You still do that, ey? I told you that everything happens for a reason.”

Ambrose chuckled weakly. The next part of the story was a little more difficult for him, “I found the keys instead. She was gracious for being freed. She clung to me. I have to admit.. she was very pretty. Something about her just drew my eyes. I used my power to heal her of her wounds, and then went to make sure that the others were where they should be.

And then she spoke to me, telling me not to leave.

I found myself swayed by her pleas. I agreed to stay, to protect her. But I wasn’t done with my job yet. I turned and went to Grayson, making sure he wouldn’t escape. And then..”

A gentle thud, the rustle of clothes. Ambrose turned. The girl stood before him, naked, swelling bosom and sex exposed. At first, he was taken aback, but then.. “It’s alright. Come, let me reward you for saving me.” He tried to deny it, but his will wasn’t strong enough. He walked to her, and she rested a hand on his chest, leaning up to kiss him. Her lips were sweet, her eyes speaking of sensual desires when she looked into his. The touch of their lips gave him the most unusual sensation. Ambrose went to pull away, but she spoke again, her voice sultry and commanding.

“Why do you pull away? Take off your armor. Cast aside your sword. A hero such as you deserves more than just a kiss,” came her voice.

Ambrose struggled against it. This wasn’t like him. He would never..but even as his mind fought it, he found his lips speaking, his hands working. “If you insist..”

“Of course I do,” she said with a sweet smile. Ambrose undid the latches and buckles on his armor, tossed Exordius aside. He didn’t need any of that. Not right now. She touched his bare chest, kissed him softly along the nape of his neck. Gentle hands guided him to the floor, and her lips trailed down his body. She rose up, positioning herself over him. His hands slid against the grimy floor as she slid down onto him, causing him to gasp.

He’d never had a woman before. He never imagined his first time would be in a place like this. It felt incredible. One of the most amazing sensations he’d ever had. And she was certainly beautiful, her breasts rising and falling in a steady rhythm as she rode him. Her lips parted slightly.

It was then that he felt something- an odd weakening of his body, his life force being pulled out of him. At last, he fought off her control. He shook his head to clear the fog, then wrestled her off of him. He stood and got his distance.

“Why do you stop me? Did it not feel good?”

Ambrose narrowed his eyes. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I know that not all is as it seems.”

She frowned. “Surely you’re just being paranoid. Come back to me, it’s okay. I’m not trying to hurt you.”

“You’re lying,” he replied. He was good at noticing. After all, he used to lie all the time.

She laughed at him. Ambrose kneeled, getting his sword. He stood, bare to the world save for the weapon that had become so familiar.

“And what would someone as…inexperienced..as you know?”

“Inexperienced?” he demanded, missing the point of her verbal jab. “I’ve fought the undead, a werewolf, monsters of the land, and slayed a necromancer. Inexperienced? Hah!”

She looked at him quizzically, then laughed again. “Very well.” Her appearance began to shift. Rigid plates of bone began to cover her body. Horns grew from her head, and her fingers became like claws. She was still seductive- the armor seemed to accentuate her breasts and hips. He could still feel her pull, even though he knew what she was now. Succubus..

”..she wasn’t what she seemed. I feel a strong guilt for what happened, even though I had no control. There is a woman, Kalfyra, who has taken my heart. I feel as though I have betrayed her.”

“Does she know how you feel?” asked Ward.

Ambrose sighed. “I didn’t get to spend much time with her. She was..she was bookish, and clumsy, and very sweet. She was all the things that I never knew mattered to me until the moment I met her.”

Ward smiled softly. “I know the feeling. You should write her, and tell her how you feel. You can tell her what happened, if you wish. This life of yours isn’t going to stop just because you’ve fallen in love. If she is to accept you, and to be with you, then she needs to understand the dangers you face. Even strange girls.

You said something about your friend, Eiremis? He’s…”

“He’s the wizard.”

Ward sneered a little. “Ah yes, the wizard. Lowly bunch of-”

Ambrose held a hand up. “Eir isn’t like that. He is..honorable. Quiet, brooding.. but the man’s heart is in the right place. I trust him. I can’t really talk about what happened. Only that, for a moment, I doubted him. I understand more what happened now. Why he did what he did. I still don’t agree with it.. but I feel as though it was important enough to let it be.

“Master.. Grayson, the succubus, Eir.. even Marius and this Samael.. I keep feeling as though Ezra isn’t my true calling anymore. I spoke to one of the fathers at the Cathedral of Baldur, and got a book of His tenants. I don’t like this feeling of doubt.”

The old paladin nodded, resting his hands in his lap. “What did the father have to say?”

“He said that such doubt was natural. That Baldur’s methods were sometimes the best way.”

“I see,” began Ward. “And what brought you to a Cathedral of Baldur in the first place?”

Ambrose sighed. “I took Grayson there. I knew that if I took him to followers of Ezra, they would treat his wounds and let him free. Nothing would be gained.”

“And, what does your mentor think?”

“I haven’t consulted him yet.”

Ward stood, heading for the door. “Write this girl of yours, and then talk to your mentor. Faith is an important thing, Ambrose. I can tell you haven’t lost it. Ezra and Baldur are alike in some ways. Perhaps, your destiny belongs to Baldur instead. Find what works for you the best. And Ambrose?”

“Yes, Master?”

“Don’t lose yourself in the process. You’re a good boy. Always have been. Even when you were stealing food just to live, you felt guilty about it. Now you seek to help others in that situation. You risk your life to save others. Don’t lose sight of that. Baldur is.. his tenants might be more suitable to you now, but don’t let that take away your compassion. That’s all.”

Ambrose smiled back at him. “Of course, Sir Ward.”

“Good lad,” he said, shutting the door behind himself. Ambrose rolled out of the bed, sitting at the desk and getting a piece of parchment from the drawer. He took a quill in hand, dabbing it in ink once, then twice, before taking it to paper.

Dear Kalfyra,

It has been many weeks since we met. I find my mind wandering to you. I imagine your face. I’ve never felt like this before. Women have tried to get my attention before, but I’ve never been interested. And when I met you, that changed. Every time you stumbled I smiled as I helped you, and having you at my side filled me with something I hadn’t felt before.

I know the time we spent together was brief. Forgive me if this is too forward. I feel as though I need to say this. I feel like I want you to know. When I left you last, I said I wanted to see you again. I don’t know when that will be. This road I walk seems to take me far from the places I wish to be. But.. the people I am after threaten many innocents. I cannot stand aside if there is something I can do about it.

Being what I am, doing what I do.. I have to face alot of strange things. The truth about you was surprising enough! I am surprised, in some way, that knowing what you are doesn’t diminish my feelings. I don’t know if I’m silly for them. To love a dragon was not even in my wildest dreams. Unfortunately, not all I face is as pleasant as you are. Recently I was forced to fight a succubus. I am ashamed to admit that I fell to her powers, and broke the chastity that I have been upholding.

We are not together. And yet, I felt like I betrayed you. Is it chivalry, or guilt?

Regardless, my heart remains yours. I hope that you don’t mind my continued writing. I do not wish to let you slip away.

Yours,

Ambrose

He penned the last few lines, then put the quill away. He took the letter, rolled and sealed, with him as he went out into the city of Kingsdale. After depositing it with a merchant headed to her town and a bit of coin for the trouble, he searched out Christoph.

“Christoph! I wanted to speak to you about the gods..”

The other paladin gave a gruff reply. “Oh, you do? And what would Ezra have you do now?”

“Actually..” he began, walking over to him. “It’s about Baldur..”

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