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The Impure Cross

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To survive a war, you must know your enemy. War, to the human kingdom of Clomion, is not a novel concept. From their conception they have been fighting with other kingdoms, attempting to assure the safety and strength of their borders. However, they were not vigilant enough. The iron blades and horned helmets of the enemies past were now replaced with a bejeweled cross and a serpent’s tongue as their new enemy threatened to corrode them from within. The blood soaked battlefields have now been replaced by decrees and ploys hidden from the eyes of its citizens. They had nurtured their worst enemy yet and he was now ready to rule them with a Holy Hand. One Creator, one nation, sanctified and unified under the emerald glow.

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Wenches And Witches

The blaring noise of the heralding trumpets echoed loudly through the town of Darion.

Their sound awoke a sense of fear in the hearts of Darion’s residents as many quickly rushed to the main gate awaiting their arrival. As they watched with bated breath three figures quickly rose on the horizon. However, one figure stood out.

This man rode in front of the other two with his head held high as his pure white stallion trotted into the town. On his ancient head rested a white hat adorned with a golden cross indicating his position within the Ordo Solo Deus as well as his power and influence over his followers.

His physique was decorated by a pure white robe; a symbol of his benevolence and ever loving grace.

In his right hand, he held a staff encrusted with emeralds, diamonds, rubies, and sapphires; an instrument of power and leadership with which he was to guide his loyal subjects through both life and death. Under his left arm rested the Theistic Principle, a collection of holy laws passed down from the Creator himself, by which every man, woman, and child were to be judged.

Upon his right hand, an emerald shone brightly, captured in a golden casing. The casing spread from the middle phalange all the way to the base of the man’s ring finger with the emerald in its center. The more trained eye could see the emerald capture the rays of sunlight, as they hit it, and emitting from them a sickly green glow which enveloped the holy man’s finger completely.

The elderly priest had a sword, an iron blade, seated comfortably in a wolf-skin scabbard and wrapped around his waist. While the days of its use had long passed, it still served as a reminder of the holy man's bloody past.

But who is this newcomer that rides into the poor town of Darion so elegantly? Why, can’t you recognize those dagger-like eyes that strike into the hearts of men and make them cower in fear?

Or that white hair finely aged and crafted by years and years of rough beatings by Father Time himself? It is none other than the merciless archbishop Odium, the scourge of Clomion.

Behind him, two other men enter; one on the right and the other on the left.

One wore a white robe, similar to the archbishop’s, with a golden cross on his chest and the King’s flag in his hands. This was cardinal Cattanburry, a righteous believer and the archbishop's right hand man.

Cattanburry’s grey hair indicated that he was a man of fine years. His past had made his mind sharper than a razor's edge, however, in his gaze there was something wrong. It’s almost as if you could sense a slight deviation, an uncertain horror concealed within his soul, peering back at you through his dim brown irises.

On the left was a man concealed by a mysterious cloak. He held his head low and tried to hide it from the watchful eyes of the ever suspecting villagers. This was Demeter, the King’s assailant, and his right hand, although judging by his kind, sapphire blue, eyes and youthful appearance many wouldn’t be able to tell at first.

Due to his attire more and villagers were concerned by his presence, making Demeter attempt to hide his face even more.

“What’s the matter, Demeter? You don't seem to be so fond of being the center of attention,” Cattanburry whispered to his fellow rider.

“Very amusing, sire,” Demeter responded with a blank expression as he continued to hide his face.

“Oh lighten up. You used to kill people all the time, so this shouldn’t be that much different,” Cattanburry continued to joke with Demeter while waving to the massive crowd.

Yes, but I didn’t make a whole farce out of it,” Demeter mumbled to himself.

As the three men rode to the burning grounds a woman ran in front of them. Soon enough, a man stepped out of the crowd and took her by the hand.

“Now, you’ve done it!” he yelled at the woman who began to fight him off.

“My liege,” the man said, referring to the archbishop “I earned the right to marry this woman as given to me by her father, but she refuses to listen to me. What should I do with her?”

“Do as you please. She has been given to your custody, so it concerns you alone,” the archbishop passed his judgment without much thought.

At that moment, the woman managed to snatch herself away from her husband’s firm grip just long enough to run to the archbishop’s steed.

“Please your Holiness! Help me to get rid of this awful man! He has brought nothing but misery and shame to me! Please, I beg of you, release me from him!” she threw herself at the archbishop's feet, tears flowing from her eyes as she pleaded with the holy man.

The crowd was beginning to yell at the woman, displeased by her interruption, and both Demeter and Cattanburry stared at Odium, searching on his face for any emotions that would indicate his response to this situation. However, the archbishop’s grimace did not change. His lips had not quivered nor had his brow furrowed. His eyes stared the woman down, unfazed by her tear-stained face, as he gestured with his hand for her to stand up. The woman did as he commanded and wiped away her tears

“If your father had been so foolish to give you away to a man that only caused you misery, then you must take this issue to him. What have you paid for this woman’s hand in marriage?” the archbishop turned his head towards the man.

“I have paid three oxen and a hundred gold coins for her, your Holiness,” the man replied.

“And how long have you been married so far?” the archbishop inquired further.

“Two years,” the man responded.

“Then the due must be repaid with interest. An equivalent of six oxen and three hundred pieces of gold must be given to the Ordo Solo Deus ministry in order for us to recognize this marriage as unholy."

As the judgment was cast, the woman’s face turned pale.

“Please, your Holiness, reconsider! Such an amount is too high for my poor father to repay you!” the woman pleaded, but the archbishop was unmoved.

“That is what I have proclaimed. If you feel my judgment was unjust, you are more than welcomed to dispute it in the King’s court. For now, step aside as we have more important business to attend to,” Odium exclaimed, slightly irritated by the wails of the woman.

As the archbishop rode off, the woman’s husband took her by the hand and dragged her into the crowd.

In Demeter’s eyes, a fire raged as he attempted to hide his contempt for the archbishop. His hand firmly gripped his concealed dagger. Cattanburry noticed this and quickly approached him.

“You must contain your rage, Demeter,” Cattanburry said, attempting to calm him down “You mustn’t do something foolish.”

“If I don’t do something, then I will be betraying my sense of morality."

“These people worship Odium. What he says goes and that’s it. If you do something that goes against his will, it will only serve to damage your reputation."

Hearing that, Demeter took in a deep breath and sighed. He knew Cattanburry spoke the truth, however, he was not satisfied.

He glanced through the crowd, attempting to find the couple that had approached them once more. As he did so he noticed, just out of the corner of his eye, the same man yelling at the woman. He watched silently as the man raised his hand and began to slap her violently. She could only whimper as the an dished out his punishment to her. Demeter had seen enough and halted his steed.

Cattanburry looked at him and immediately understood what had happened. He shook his head and sighed as he too pulled to a halt.

“I apologize for this,” Demeter mouthed to Cattanburry as he rushed down from his stallion.

The young assassin stepped into the crowd of people, much to the shock and awe of the onlookers, as he rushed after the man. Furiously he pushed through the crowd, barely even acknowledging the fearful looks he was given. As he walked, his hood fell down, exposing his short, raven dark hair and revealing his identity to the masses that had surrounded him. His body was revealed to be slender and covered in dark brown, leather, armor with the royal insignia plastered above his chest.

His chest heaved with rage as he approached the man, who was revealed to be a bit shorter than Demeter.

Anger and blind rage flared in his blue eyes and for a split second, the man could have sworn that Demeter’s pupils became slit. The King's Hand picked up the man with ease, much to the surprise of the already shocked man. He brought the terrified townsman to his eye level, lifting him a few inches off the ground, by the collar of his light brown shirt.

“Lay one more finger on her and I will show you how it feels to be tormented by somebody stronger than your pathetic self, you slithering loathsome worm,” Demeter hissed through gritted teeth and tossed the man onto the ground.

As the man fell down, the woman quickly rushed to his aid, helping him to get to his feet.

Demeter attempted to ask the woman if she was alright, but, as soon as their eyes met, the woman backed up from him. The look of utter terror she gave to the royal assailant as their eyes met made Cattanburry’s words clear to Demeter. Instead of saying anything else, Demeter just returned to his steed.

“What do you think you are doing?” the archbishop hissed at Demeter when he returned to the group.

“I was merely protecting her," Demeter tried to justify himself.

“It is not your duty to protect anyone, but the King. Leave the people of this town to me," the archbishop continued to lecture Demeter.

“I understand, milord,” Demeter bowed his head in shame "It was a lapse in my judgment. It shall not happen again."

"For your sake, I hope so," Odium threatened as they moved to the burning ground.

As the three horsemen continued to press on, their destination finally appeared on the horizon.

A woman with luscious, white, silky hair was tied to a burning pole. Her slender figure was covered by a white, flowing, gown, that reached all the way down to the soles of her feet.

Beneath her feet, the citizens gathered dry sticks, leaves, and hay to assure that the fire would engulf her body whole. However, the woman held her head high and proud as the citizens started to insult her.

“You demonic being! You shall pay for your crimes!” one woman cried out from the crowd.

“We shall send all of you demons to where you belong!” another man's furious voiced echoed through the crowd like a scream of a banshee.

The woman just laughed at these insults, which made the provoked and unruly citizens even worse than they were before. A gallop of horses stunned the crowd as the archbishop and his two accomplices climbed up to the executioner.

As they walked on the stage, the crowd started to mumble and grumble again.

Odium held up his index finger to the crowd. That sign was more than enough to silence them all as they waited for his judgment.

With the crowd under control, Odium turned his attention over to the executioner.

“Why have you summoned me here?”

“This woman has been accused of witchcraft,” the executioner exclaimed and pointed his burning torch to the woman tied to the pole. “She was seen walking in an ungodly hour, prowling around in the night while everyone was sound asleep,” the executioner spat before the woman’s feet.

The woman looked down at the foul excretion and then back at the executioner with an exaggerated expression of sadness on her face, pouting her lips a bit as she did so. The executioner’s face turned red as a tomato and he shook his fist at the woman to which the woman only responded with a supressed chuckle.

“How can you confirm these rumors, if you claim everyone was sound asleep?” Odium pressed on, ignoring the woman’s actions.

“Well,” the executioner stumbled as he turned back to the archbishop “a few townsmen were awoken by her.”

It’s true,” a man with a thick, gray, beard spoke out from the crowd “I saw ’er with my own eyes. I saw this...” the man gestured a sudden explosion with his hands, “BRIGHT flash of light through my slumber, and when I woke up she was standing in front of my house!” He pointed to the woman angrily. “She blew me a kiss and ran away into the night.” His finger wagged wildly as his arm was thrown back and forth accusingly at the woman. “She is a witch and a temptress I say!”

The woman winked at the man who was accusing her.

“See that! She is doing it again!” the man yelled viciously at the woman as the rest of the crowd began to follow his example.

“Calm yourselves!” the archbishop roared.

His loud booming voice echoed through the unruly mass, ringing in every ear. It worked like a siren’s song as everyone was entranced and calmed as they waited for the archbishop’s judgment to be cast.

“It is clear to me that you already view her as a witch. The evidence does suggest some suspicious activity on her part, but it does not equate to witchcraft. However, there are ways we can determine that."

“What do you suggest we do, sir?” the executioner asked with fear and anticipation very visible in his eyes

“Take her to my dungeon! I will examine her and determine our net course of action,” Odium proclaimed in the same booming tone as the citizens roared with joy and excitement at the righteous judgment of their benevolent leader.

“Demeter, since you seem to defend the honor of these wenches, then you can have the honor of taking the heretic onto your steed,” the archbishop said with a slight smirk.

“As you wish, sire,” Demeter said and untied the woman from the burning stake.

He took her over to his steed and hoisted her up on it. Once he too climbed up, the archbishop was ready to leave.

The crowd cheered Odium’s name as the three men left Darion and began their journey to Odium’s palace.

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