The monastery was dead to Sotiris’ eyes and his senses; as though it lacked a key quality to indicate anyone living resided there. The building was not in disrepair, per say, and the small, stone building was well-kept and in decent condition.
However, since no one else said anything Sotiris decided to keep his mouth shut about it. The sense of relief at finally making it to their destination–in one piece and without incident–was too palpable for Sotiris to ruin with a groundless perception of the place. Just nerves, he repeated.
As they approached the stout, wooden door, it opened soundlessly and a robed figure stepped out from behind it. The man had his hood up and it partially concealed his face. Strange. Sotiris stamped down the suspicion that writhed in his gut like a handful of worms.
“Greetings, Lady Charis and companions, I am here to show you to the eldest of our order,” the monk said and bowed.
Lady Charis smiled, and the only indication of concern was the slight crease between her eyes.
“I have not seen you before,” she said.
“I am new here, Lady,” he replied, not too quick and without too great a delay. He raised his face just enough for Sotiris to get a look, but the late afternoon sun behind the monk and in Sotiris’ face, as well as the shadows in the man’s hood, made it difficult to get a good glimpse.
“Welcome to your order, young monk. We would be delighted if you showed us to the elder,” Lady Charis replied, the worry gone from her.
Damien had tensed up, but then relaxed once Lady Charis responded as she did.
The monk bowed and stepped out of the doorway to let them through first, and closed the door behind them once everyone was inside. The courtyard held a few monks going about their daily chores of cleaning and caring for their animals, and paid the group no mind as they made their way toward the quarters. Since Lady Charis showed no worry at their behavior it must have been normal, but Sotiris still swept his gaze slowly and constantly about their surroundings. The only way out was through the door they came in, and Sotiris was not comfortable having only one exit.
As they went inside toward the living quarters, the air did not grow warmer as one would expect. In fact, Sotiris shivered when they stepped inside, as though it were colder inside than out in the windblown courtyard. At this point even Zoe grew wary, and looked around, too.
They walked straight through to a small dining area, where a few monks were making dinner and another one sat at a table looking over a book. The only indication he was the elder monk came from the white sash about his waist, where the others simply used thick rope.
The group approached the table, and when Lady Charis curtsied the others followed with their respective motions.
“Honorable elder, as you requested we have come to retrieve the weapon,” Lady Charis said when she finished the curtsy. The man did not turn when they approached, and he did not turn when Lady Charis spoke.
Everyone frowned, and the young monk moved forward to touch the elder monk’s shoulder. When he gave a gentle shake, the elder monk toppled over backward onto the floor. The old man’s eyes, white from age, stared lifeless up at them, and the pain of his final moments were etched into every line on his face.
Zoe screamed, Lady Charis gasped, and the men cursed. The young monk threw back his hood and merely laughed, while the rest of the monks they’d passed in the courtyard joined the ones in the dining room. They’d suppressed their demonic aura, like with the help of the King.
Sotiris and Damien went for their weapons, but given the element of surprise the imposters drew theirs quicker, and had them pointed at the group. The fake who had let them inside pushed the old man’s face toward them with his foot, and clucked his tongue in disdain. His slender features were handsome, but twisted with cruelty. Ivory hair was pulled back in a loose tail of hair at the base of his neck, and his pale red eyes burned as though they were lit by the deepest fires of Abbadon.
“He died too quickly to give us any real sport, but at least he was useful in the end.”
“Who are you?” Damien demanded, and fairly glared holes into the man’s face.
“I am crestfallen you do not remember me, Paladin of the Spear, since I knew your wife so very well. Or, at least, my power did,” the half-demon said, with a wicked smirk to match.
Everyone in their group froze, including Damien.
“You lie. I laid waste to the forces that attacked us; there was no way on any of the planes that they escaped me that night,” Damien said, his voice tight, so sure of the truth.
The smirk never left the man’s face, and if anything it deepened. He simply raised his left hand and a whisper of power flowed over their skin. Flames manifested in the palm of his hand, like they were on the wick of a giant candle. It was then that Sotiris saw something he’d never seen before—Damien flinched.
“What of it?” Sotiris asked, and came to the defense of someone he’d come to view as the proverbial guillotine that remained just above his neck. “Many of the Orpheus Society wield fire; it’s almost as common as water in a swamp,” he spat.
Like the lightest of fall breezes that stirred the leaves on the ground, the merest beginnings of anger moved through the man’s pale blue eyes. Then the man’s smile fell and he snarled. “What would you know of it, you deficient traitor? You have no power to speak of.”
“Well, at least that establishes you are lying, and possibly insecure in your power,” Sotiris quipped, and Damien looked at him.
The last thing Sotiris saw before someone smashed his head from behind was a mixture of hope and relief on Damien’s face, and then there was nothing but darkness.
His dreams came in snippets of sound and memories, mixed with nightmares and hopes. His mother’s laughter; Charis’ fingers brushing his chest; the look of loathing on every Disciples face except a rare few; and the battlefield from the future.
It was there on that battlefield he remained, though it was a dream: the stage was set, but no one was there but him and someone who stood beside him. Each time he tried to turn toward his companion, his vision would skew and the scene would shift his focus away.
“You must be someone of very high, or very low, importance,” Sotiris said, but the person did not answer.
Out of his peripheral, the figure waved its arm and his companions, plus a couple relations, materialized before him. There was Gregory, Damien, Charis, Zoe, Elias, and his mother. His mother and Elias were slightly opaque, and he guessed this was a representation of their demise. At the thought, the figure nodded and the scene changed. His mother and grandfather stood at the beginning of the road and at the other end stood his four companions at the beginning of four branches. At their feet was the shadowy form of a sword, and beyond them on the roads were four different, solid swords.
It didn’t take a genius to understand the implication: the death of his mother and grandfather, the two people in his life that loved him the most and with the most power, started him on the road he found himself today. The road to gain the weapon but not have it.
The death of one of his four companions would determine the manifestation of the sword and its power. Beyond Damien the sword was consumed with the burning of vengeful fire, terrible for the enemy to behold and all-consuming for the wielder.
Gregory’s sword was practical, strong, but lacked a sense of conviction in killing the enemy. The same feeling that caused the man to flee to the astral plane in the first place.
Zoe’s sword was barely more than a normal sword, and though it would prove a steadfast blade, it would not be suited to decimating the armies of the Orpheus Society.
Lastly, Charis’ blade was a masterpiece of beauty and art, and would heal allies but do nothing to help battle and kill demons.
“Double-edged swords, eh?” Sotiris joked, but it held no humor.
“CHOOSE WISELY,” the voice boomed through him, and his mind nearly crumbled under such a voice.
“Now I understand why you played the strong, silent type,” Sotiris replied, and rubbed his aching temples.
The Archangel made no comment, but the slightest trickle of humor rolled off them. It was not the Lord of Light, as there would be nothing but a pile of quivering ooze left if He had spoken.
“Is it necessary that I choose one of them? What happens if I kill the demon that captured us instead?” Sotiris mused.
The Archangel said nothing, but the emotion Sotiris sensed did not bode well if he made such a choice.
“How can I make that choice? None of them deserve this end,” Sotiris said bitterly, as the weight of his decision settled on his shoulders and mind.
The Archangel gave no indication for a yea or nay, but instead placed a comforting hand on Sotiris’ shoulder.
The dream-vision dissolved around him.
“How can I choose?” Sotiris mumbled, and then he heard a gasp from near him.
“He is coming around,” Lady Charis said excitedly, but kept her voice low.
Sotiris cracked open an eyelid, and the torchlight in the small room illuminated the faces of his four companions.
“You had the Light surround you after they placed us in here. You were Visited by an Archangel, if the power coming from you was any indication. What were you told?” Damien asked as he crouched near Sotiris.
“I…” he started, but looked at each of their faces, and anguish welled within him.
“Please, Sotiris, just tell us,” Lady Charis whispered, as the sense of foreboding permeated the air around them.
“They told me to get the weapon I have to kill one of you.” All his words were a murmur, but the word kill came out harsh and damned.
They let the words sink in for a moment.
“Oh, dear,” Lady Charis said, breathless.
That about summed it up.