By Bailey Dixon
Date: March 13, 2021
Ch. 6II

The climate was no cooler once the sun had set. We made camp beside a hot spring that bubbled beneath a waterfall. The small overhanging cliff from which it flowed and the perimeter of tall hedges surrounding the spring made for good camouflage. Thick clouds of steam rose from the water’s surface, making me sweat uncontrollably. Travelling through the swampy heat of the Edgerealm had taken its toll on my body. My muscles ached, my hair was caked with dirt and I knew I would soon develop a rash if I wore this chaffing armour another instant. Looking to the hot spring, I thought I should take the opportunity to cleanse myself. Wex, who had been silent since our scuffle in the woods, piped up.

‘Did he speak about my mother?’

‘Yes, he said she died when you were young.’ I replied, a little stunned by his sudden humanity.

‘Her name was Mera.’ he said and sat silently for a moment. ‘I loved her. I wept for her. And he told me that was sinful. That I was sinful. Like she had been.’

I was about to interject but something whispered in the back of my mind. A ghostly but familiar voice. I couldn’t make out what it said, but the way it crept in and out my ears was enough to distract me. When I regained my focus, I noticed that Wex was still speaking.

‘Wandering the Beyond for eternity as a Shadow—that was her punishment for loving her son more than God deemed necessary.’

‘If a Shadow repents, then they may join His Holiness in his sacred halls.’ I said.

‘Spare me.’ Wex snapped. ‘Have you ever spoken to a Shadow, valkyrie? Had you ever even been in one’s presence before today?’

I had. I remembered it vividly.

‘When I was in training I was sent to exorcise a warlock. When the cleric expelled it from her body, the Shadow… it appeared before me, a grey floating figure with burning white eyes. But only for an instant... then it was gone.’

‘You saw it, eh? That means it was in the presence of strong emotion.’

‘I was afraid.’ I said, quietly, ashamed of myself.

‘Good. You’re human. We were made to feel. What are bodies and minds for if not for feeling? It’s natural.’ he said, rolling his shoulders and fixing his eyes on me before continuing. ‘Just like that body of yours. Sweltering under that armour. I’ve seen you eyeing that hot spring. I’ll take a dip if you will.’ he grinned.

I scoffed, trying to hide the excitement that swelled in my chest. Silently, I prayed for strength, turning my head away from him.

‘Apologies,’ Wex began. ‘I don’t say it just to make you squirm. I genuinely believe that it is good to feel. The Sanctum is wrong. I know that you don’t think the same and I suppose you have no reason to believe me. But you would believe if you too had seen my mother’s Shadow that day in the library.’

I turned back to Wex. He was staring at the floor. My eyes fixed on his bound hands as he spoke.

‘She was radiant. She touched my face and I felt it in my heart. We talked for hours, but my mouth never opened once. Days and weeks passed. Then months. Then years. As time went on, she faded. Visits became less frequent and each was shorter than the last. Every time her voice a little softer until there was nothing left but silence. So I read. About Shadows, about magic, about summonings.’

His gaze lifted to the night’s starry ceiling.
‘I just want to hold her one more time.’

I waited for him to speak again but he remained quiet. My mind was in turmoil. I thought back to the day of that exorcism. To the temple and the altar. To the temptations my body had felt. Was my lust so wrong? Was this God’s way of testing me? I needed an answer. I needed to wash away these thoughts.

My breastplate fell loudly to the ground as I unbuckled it, followed swiftly by the back plating of the armour. Next I unlatched my greaves and stepped out of my boots. The grass was cool against my feet. I stretched my arms, feeling incredibly limber standing in that meadow in my leather undershirt and trousers. Wex’s chain was fastened to a nearby tree as opposed to my waist where it had been. I could sense him watching me.

‘Can I ask your name?’ he said, absent minded. .

I thought for a moment. What harm could it do? He was to be executed soon.

‘Naia. Naia Vayne.’

‘That’s a beautiful name.’

I smiled involuntarily and turned my blushing face in embarrassment. My fingers tugged at the laces of my collar. Looking over my shoulder at Wex, I coughed.

‘Oh, not to worry, my hands won’t be wandering.’ he joked, raising his bound fist.

I’m not sure why expected the deviant to have the decency to avert his gaze.

‘Your eyes can still wander, warlock.’

‘That they can.’ said Wex, leaning back against the tree with his signature grin.

Reluctant as I was to disrobe in front of anyone, let alone a man of his proclivities, I was more averse to the prospect of letting him out of my sight. I had no choice.

Once my collar was loose I slipped the shirt over my head, freeing my breasts. My nipples twinged as they were exposed to the warm night air. My back was still facing Wex but I suddenly I had the urge to turn around. It felt like one of my sinful dreams come to life. Only now the demon had a face. It was rugged and handsome and wisened with depraved knowledge. In my head, that ghostly voice called to me again but this time its message was distinct. It beckoned me to fondle my breasts, to pinch my hardening nipples, to offer them to Wex. Against every desire in my body, I resisted long enough to loosen my bottoms and kick them away. Before I could give myself a chance to think of turning round again, I stepped into the water, hurriedly. I could feel my buttocks bouncing with the frenetic pace of my movements and it was clear from the breathy laughter I heard behind me that Wex was watching me intently and enjoying himself.

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