"Hey, Ashley can...thank you," Lynn asked, cutting herself off when Ashley passed her the short bronze rod she had clasped in her fist.
"What's that?" Chess asked Lynn though she suspected she knew.
"Command rod. Now let's see if it's an overseer's or a master's. Though I believe…" Lynn sat up and leaned over to dip the end of the rod into the mush that remained of Gwen's head before touching the rod to the collar around her neck. With a faint click, the hidden fastener unlocked and the collar slipped off and fell into her lap.
"Yep. A master's," Lynn said with a wide smile of relief as she stared down at the object.
Lynn's eyes grew distant for a few seconds before slowly filling with tears despite her wide smile.
"Still Level 15," she breathed her eyes flickering back and forth as she read notifications. "And oh. Oh no, but... I see," dismay quickly replaced by resignation filled her voice.
"What is it?" Ashley asked, turning away from the vine-choked cleft and back to the others.
Lynn didn't answer.
A quiet sob escaped a few minutes later when Lynn broke her silence and answered the question. "My class is locked," she whispered, slumping back onto the vines and crushing a bunch of flowers, their scent mingled with the coppery tang of blood muting the nearby horrors. "My new ability choices and perk are held until...well. They warned me of the dangers of straying..." she mumbled the last.
"What? How's that possible?" Chess studied her friend, at a loss on how to help.
Lynn took a deep breath before answering. "I'm an oath-breaker, a heretic," she said simply.
"How does that affect your class?" Chess asked with a frown. "Wait, what is your class?"
"True-Light Priestess," Lynn mumbled her answer.
"Kinda pretentious name," Chess observed dryly. "Priestess of light huh? But your magic is shadow manipulation?"
"Luminous is kind of a pretentious God," Lynn said, matching Chess's tone. "And you need light to create shadows."
"Fair enough," Chess conceded then grew thoughtful. "What are you going to do? Can you make amends somehow?"
"No," Lynn drew the word out with a sigh. "No, I think it's better to lean into it," Lynn answered and leveraged herself to her feet.
"It seems I have work to do before we leave," Lynn seemed to gain a new sense of purpose as she started for the tunnels.
"What do you mean? Do you need help?" Chess asked after her.
"No, not yet. I was warned about this possibility. This is my burden to bear," she said over her shoulder.
Lynn returned shortly with most of her equipment strapped back on and a few of her pouches in her hand.
Seeing this Ashley quickly disappeared into the tunnel herself.
"Can you make me a dagger from this?" Lynn asked while taking off one of her vambraces.
"Sure?" Chess shrugged taking the item. Lynn insisted on a thin leaf blade without a guard. It took only moments before she handed it and some light silk cord over, letting Lynn deal with the grip wrap herself.
The group then got to work dragging the bodies of their foes into the main cavern, stripping them of their gear while Ashley harvested their pyths from them.
"Any cores or anything rare?" Lynn asked Ashley when she'd finished.
"No," Ashley said. "Gwen only gave some binding, quick-step, and penetration. I think Chess destroyed a lot of it with her head. She might've had something good."
Chess felt a blush touch her cheeks at the reproachful tone.
"Okay, we'll deal with that later then. Chess if you'd store them?" Lynn said.
Chess nodded, storing the large bag of pyth bags before returning to her task of digging out all the coins and adding them to a single purse.
"What are you doing?" Chess asked when Lynn started cutting the vines binding the still-living woman.
She started around the unconscious woman's shoulder first before probing at the nasty injury with a frown then standing with a firm nod of her head. The woman had gone pallid and was sweating profusely. Chess figured she'd likely die soon, without help, but felt it hard to care, after how the sadistic woman had treated Lynn.
"A moment," Lynn said, then moved to inspect the man, Flemming. She slapped his cheek a few times eliciting a moan and some muffled sounds. "He'll be fine," she murmured to herself then shook her head.
"What are you doing?" Chess repeated when Lynn returned to the woman and started cutting her free but the leaving the vines around her legs, arms, and face.
"I need sacrifices," Lynn explained.
"What?" Chess asked, bemused before focusing on the woman Lynn was in the process of moving.
Her eyes widened.
"No," Chess drew the word out with a breath.
"You," her breath hitched. "You can't do that!" Chess protested.
"Why not? Are you telling me Freya doesn't accept blood sacrifices? She is a Goddess of war for ancestor's sake!" Lynn asked, dropping the woman's legs to study Chess.
Chess swallowed then pulled at her hair remembering some very detailed shows on the Vikings. "No. I mean. That is to say, she did, but..."
"Good," Lynn said, cutting her off and picking up the discarded limbs.
"But! You can't!" Chess paced beside her friend.
"What did you expect we were going to do with her? Take her with us!?" Lynn raised her arms again in exasperation before continuing softly. "Look, she's not long for this world. It's better to slit her throat anyways. This way her death is meaningful. Trust me, Freya will more than welcome the sacrifice despite the condition she's in."
"But," Chess began to protest further. "It's different. Wait, Freya?"
"How? No. You're being unreasonable and short-sighted. Sure, being a mage, she's likely got a decent assortment of pyth or even a core but I need a worthy sacrifice before I can even hope this will work. A powerful enemy is perfect for many of her aspects," Lynn said.
"No, no, no! that's not what I meant at all! You can't just go sacrificing people!"
"Why not!? How else do you bless the crops or prevent droughts?" Lynn argued.
Chess rocked back on her heels. Waaait, does magic make it so that actually works? Do real active gods mean… a wide chasm opened in her belly at the true horror such a thing would mean and all the other implications. Chess's thoughts spiraled further and she fought against the impulse to be sick as her head spun.
It took her a while to gather her thoughts and offer a rebuttal. She needed clarification. She needed to know how common such practices were.
"You can sacrifice nearly anything other than a living thinking person. Pyth, carvings, food, gold, gems… I can think of a million things," Chess said.
"None of which will be as potent as the lifeblood of a true foe will be to a Goddess of war and fertility. She's even a beautiful woman," Lynn said gesturing to their captive.
"That does nothing to change my mind. On the contrary, that only makes it fucking worse!" Chess cursed. Great. Way to make me feel like we're the villains here. Sacrificing beautiful women to our pagan Goddess.
"Lynn's right," Ashley said, laying a hand on Chess's knee after inspecting the woman's injury herself. "She is dead either way. Her shoulder and a few of her ribs are in pieces and her breathing is all wrong. I used both my heals on Lynn already."
Not you too. Chess met her daughter's eyes.
"Even if she lives and we take her with us no one is likely to buy such a damaged slave or hostage and getting her healed would be expensive. And if we let her go, she'll tell her friends everything about us. You're being unreasonable. Let me do this, it will be a mercy," Lynn implored.
"But..." Chess muttered.
"Chess," Ashley said reproachfully. "You sacrificed the bodies of the bandits that killed my parents to a dryad!"
"That's different. They were already dead," Chess argued.
"I knew you grew up sheltered but this…" Lynn said, shaking her head, then she grew thoughtful while studying Chess intently.
Chess frowned at the anthropomorphic skunk. "What's that look about?"
"You said Freya brought you here when your family was done with you, from your world right?"
"Yeah?" Chess furrowed her brow and drew the word out. She'd said something like that. "Where are you going with this?"
"You have a nearly pointless smattering of skills, an almost supernatural beauty, coupled with this baffling innocence of yours." Lynn tapped her chin. "Yeah, it fits. Almost too well. You're not a true blood elf and I'd swear you haven't known a day of true hunger until recently. "
"What fits?" Chess wondered.
"You were raised as a sacrifice. It explains everything. Well, everything except why Freya chose to save you but I'm sure she has her reasons," Lynn said before meeting her eyes seriously. "Though come to think of it. Did your family do something to anger her?"
"What? No, it's not like that," Chess protested.
"What is it like then?"
Chess opened then shut her mouth unsure how to explain or where to start to unravel the half-truths she'd been spinning.
"Right. You're trying to tell me Freya didn't require sacrifices when she brought you here?"
"Uh yeah, but not...people…" Chess began, remembering Freya asking her to sacrifice aspects of herself before Lynn cut her off again.
"See! She was replacing the power she would've otherwise gained."
"No, listen," Chess snapped. "Where I came from people stopped sacrificing other people centuries ago."
"Why would they eliminate a potential source of power?"
"Because it doesn't…didn't work. It was just wishful thinking," Chess said, feeling her argument coming apart in the face of real magic and real gods that paid service to their followers.
"Maybe, you said magic was rare, nonexistent even, but I suspect you were merely sheltered from the reality so as to not taint your purpose."
"No. It's just not done anymore. It's wrong." Chess struggled for a way to make herself clear, to make Lynn understand but drew a blank. She could even appreciate how flimsy and lame her argument sounded. You can't because it's wrong? I sound like a six-year-old.
She knew that Lynn was likely to kill the two or even insist she or Ashley does it as a lesson. When you take morality out of the equation it makes a sick sort of sense. I never in a million years thought I'd need a prepared argument against human fucking sacrifice.
Chess let out a weary sigh of inevitable defeat.
"I fail to see how it's any different from slitting her throat to save her the pain," Lynn said more compassionately.
"I guess it's not really..." Chess grimaced. "It's just the morality of the action."
"Morality is a framework of customs dictated by the strong. Not some intrinsic value, known by all instinctively," Lynn said. "A value, I might add, that you've been misled in the current understanding of. If I simply killed her then sacrificed her body it would be a lot less potent and a waste, since she's dead either way. Good and bad don't enter into that equation."
Chess didn't agree with that argument one bit but failed to see how she could dissuade her friend from going through with her plan. Lynn seemed set on killing the woman no matter what Chess said.
"Fine, start your murder cult," Chess said throwing her hands up in the air. "I think it's a slippery slope you're starting on. If this becomes a regular occurrence..." Chess let the sentence hang with a scowl.
"What are you going to do with Flemming?" Chess made sure to use his name in order to humanize him. She only wished she knew the woman's so that she could do the same.
Hurt flashed across Lynn's face but she quickly replaced it with a steely smile.
"If he wakes up fully, I'll offer him a collar and binding. If he won't submit fully to Ashley's magic, he'll share the same fate." Lynn gave Chess a cold level look.
Chess took a long-ragged breath.
Lynn cut her off before she could speak.
"You don't allow enemies like these to live without making sure they would never dare dream of crossing you again. We don't have the luxury of dragging along an uncooperative captive that will turn on us at the first sign of his friends and we don't have the power or reputation to dissuade him," Lynn finished and turned back to dragging the woman.
Freya's jiggly junk, I hate this place. I miss Canada... I miss Gramps, Chess decided while hugging herself. She suddenly felt very alone, lost, and powerless.
Chess refused to make an altar when Lynn asked out of stubborn spite but Lynn just shrugged and asked for the spinnerette core and a few mundane items. Chess grudgingly handed them over including a small roll of pink silk and a pair of the folding stools that Lynn and Ashley preferred.
As she sat and stewed, Chess realized that Graventy could very well have wanted them for a similar purpose regardless of what he'd said about his father's breeding program. Especially if she had continued to fight or defy him. The thought made her shiver with a cold sweat.
Still, the realization did little to change her mood. Only increasing her dread and weariness.
I need to get stronger faster. I will never be someone's sacrifice, Chess vowed. Freya's right we need proper training. Even if it costs every cent we've earned so far.
Is there anything I can make right now? She racked her brain for any ideas.
A repeating crossbow of some sort? Use a crank of some sort? It won't have the power to punch through armor but could still be useful on unarmored opponents.
Chess dug a bunch of stuff out of her inventory and set to work. She knew it was possible because she'd heard they existed but she had to work from scratch since she had no idea how. She purposely lost herself in the work as Lynn with only token help from Ashley worked.
When Chess finally braved a look up, Lynn had set the two stools beside each other before pulling lengths of vegetation from the pool of vines and flowers on the floor and draped them over the seats to make a low altar. She and Ashley were in the process of cleaning the comatose woman that now lay on the altar which they'd draped in the shimmering pink silk Chess had given her.
The vine bindings had been replaced with pink silk as well and Lynn had removed the blindfold and gag.
"Did you really need to strip her naked?" Chess asked.
"I will not be offering a dirty sacrifice. It's bad enough I'm doing this without a proper sanctified altar and using an injured foe," Lynn snapped then promptly ignored her again instead casting some sort of magic on the woman.
"I thought your class was locked?" Chess asked.
"It is. I have a Mend Flesh Pyth, I don't want her dying before I'm ready," Was the curt reply.
The woman looked peaceful lying there like she was ready for some perverse sexual encounter, spread out and tied with silk ribbons. Chess had to admit Lynn was right the woman was beautiful and not as human as Chess had first thought when she'd been armored.
She had the soft wet nose of a cat, though it and the fur that covered much of it was the same tan color of the rest of her face making it hard to notice at first. Same with the round black ears that blended in with her shimmering blue-black hair. Otherwise, she looked very human if in slightly larger proportions. She was very well endowed.
The observations made Chess's stomach flip flop and the acrid scent of bile filled her nostrils as she turned away.
When Lynn stood before the finished and ready sacrifice and altar, Ashley's Heliwr finally returned. The two females carried some sort of white rodents in their mouths. Which they then proceeded to share with the male in the corner. Making quite the racket as they ate.
After taking the time to hone her new ironwood dagger to a razor's edge with stone and a leather belt, Lynn spent a long time kowtowing to the altar and speaking softly while placing various objects around the woman including the spinnerette core and a piece of armor and blood collected from each of the dead bandits in small bowls before she rose to her feet and gestured for Ashley to bring the first of five-empty bowls, she'd laid around the woman.
Lynn worked with the confidence of someone who'd done this before.
"You've done this before," Chess accused.
"I've helped. Proper sacrifices are rarely necessary for a fertile kingdom like Brastia so I've only had the opportunity to assist a sentient sacrifice once but we often sacrifice animals," Lynn explained.
"How rare?" Chess asked fearing the answer.
"We always sacrificed a goat on the first day of summer and a pheasant at the start of winter," Ashley supplied.
Lynn nodded her agreement. "If the seers predict a good summer, a goat, horse, or hmil is a common sacrifice. It's hard and costly to raise a proper sentient sacrifice for Luminous or Helgrew and it's best to save them for a bad year. Freya's aspects are simpler to satisfy from what you've said."
Chess nodded numbly more than a little sick that they were talking about people like this. They do embrace slavery quite readily, she forced herself to remember.
"But you're sacrificing a person now?" Chess prodded.
"I'm asking for a lot. I'm a disgraced Priestess of another god. The offering needs to reflect my sincerity. No God or Goddess should rightfully trust me after such a betrayal but Freya said she'd give me one opportunity," Lynn explained. Chess heard a note of fear and uncertainty in Lynn's voice then but didn't know how or what to feel about it. She still felt lost.
That's when it became all too real.
With a gesture to Ashley Lynn approached the woman's thigh. A quick slice and blood started bubbling out. Ashley set the bowl on the ground to catch the majority before they quickly moved to the other side and repeated the motions. Then they slit the woman's wrists and placed two more bowls.
Then the final largest bowl in hand, Lynn waved Ashley back and placed it below the woman's head then slit her jugular on both sides.
It took only a moment for the woman to finish bleeding out while Chess's gut clenched tightly.
Lynn then reached forward over the woman's head and sunk her dagger into her heart the moment the blood trickled to a stop.
Lynn fell to her knees again and pressed her head to the floor before speaking firmly. "Freya, I offer you all that I am and all that I rightfully possess. I offer you the blood and souls of our enemies. All I ask is that you let me serve you."
Nothing happened for long seconds.
Then Lynn carefully stood and retrieved her knife from the woman's heart.
"I swear on my blood and soul to never stray," Lynn said. Then using the knife she slashed down her own wrists, opening her veins before holding them out over the exsanguinated woman, letting her blood pool above and into the hole in the woman's heart.
"Lynn! No!" Chess and Ashley said with horror, stepping forward in unison. They made it a single step before an amber dome popped up obscuring Lynn and the altar from her and Ashley.
Then behind them, the bodies of their dead foes burst into amber flames filling the cavern with a coppery glow and the scent of caramel.
Bio: I'm a Canadian carpenter that doesn’t understand the metric system. That spends most of his day swearing every other word at the philistines he works with, and writes in his copious amounts of “cough” spare time. When I'm not busy scratching my balls and having cold baths.