Ten Years After the Fall of Ariadna
Ari walked into Pantaglin with the dawn.
Getting used to being dirty had been an adjustment for her, but it was a lesson well learned – clean travelers attracted attention, while dirty ones did not. She wore her hair tied back and away from the dirt as much as possible, tucking it beneath the hood of her travel cloak, fabric neither too dark nor too bright. Ari had become an expert in avoiding notice the last decade – it was better that way, for everyone. Earlier on, she had been too overt, been seen too often. These days, the former worshippers she saved rarely saw her anymore. She was just a legend, whispered of by believers and Inquisitors alike. Ariadna’s High Priestess, walking the land and defending her goddess still.
She still carried her mask, though she rarely wore it anymore. It was growing increasingly risky to be seen with one, even as far east as Pantaglin – no longer than a hard days ride from Raegis and the Emperor’s dictates. She had it tucked inside her pack in a false bottom, buried beneath food and clothing and funds and all sorts of things a goddess had never needed to worry about a decade ago, and now couldn’t live without. The adjustment had been a hard one over years, but the first months were by far the worst… she wasn’t used to the idea of needing to eat, needing to sleep, but within days of escaping from Tabharos even her divine strength and health had begun to fail her. Learning what the aching pain in her stomach meant, and about the different between “can be eaten” and “should be eaten,” was not an experience she ever wished to have again.
Pantaglin’s city limits were walled, and even this early in the day there were already wagons lining up to enter the town, being looked over by the guards. While nothing she had to hide was something the guards were looking for, it was still best to avoid the suspicion that a lone traveler would bring, so she scanned the line, meeting the eyes of everyone she could until a farmer and his daughter caught her attention — yes… these ones.
She had gotten better at telling her worshipers apart from the crowd, learning to see them through mortal eyes. She didn’t know his name – she rarely knew the name of the one praying to her – but she knew his daughter’s name well, for she had been the one he was praying for.
The twelve-year-old girl was named Ana, and when her mother had taken a bad fall on her seventh month, the beautiful child had been born too soon. For four days and four nights, she had balanced on the edge of life or death as her parents had sought blessing after blessing, healer after healer until a whispered plea had found Ariadna’s ears. One of Ariadna’s wandering priestesses had come by and seen to the child for several days until she began to grow stronger – and her father had never forgotten it. Every day for the next two years until the Fall, he had offered her prayers daily.
This one was a good man.
Ari walked up to the wagon, smiling at the farmer as he looked back over to her and pulling back her hood enough to show that she was a woman. “Pardon me, sir… I was hoping I might ride the last bit with you? I am trying to get to the temple…”
The man looked somewhat curious about her, but the moment she mentioned the temple, his face lit up. “The temple? Then, you’re… you’re a priestess?” He took off his hat. “Please miss, my wagon is yours. I’m glad you made it as far as Pantaglin!”
She smiled at him and his daughter. “I am as well,” Ari said as she climbed into the wagon. It was true, she was… if not for the reason the farmer thought.
Yes, it would be best if she could avoid being seen as the High Priestess at all… but she didn’t think that was going to be an option here.
After the Empire had collapsed nearly a mortal lifetime ago, Imperial law had stopped meaning much. The Emperor technically forbade slavery, executions unless performed by an Imperial Justicar, warfare between the cities or the temples, and dozens of other crimes, but it no longer had to means to enforce those dictates much beyond its own city borders. Mad Emperor Tibalt had spent the coffers dry, and without the gold to pay his armies had lost the ability to tax more. Perhaps beneath a just Emperor, most of the cities would have stayed, would have accepted the letters of credit, but Tibalt had been a violent madman prone to fits of rage. Dozens of cities already unhappy with Imperial rule had seceded from the Empire within months, and more followed in the years to come. With every city he tried to hold onto, Tibalt – and his brother after he overthrew the madman – the Empire only lost more of its precious resources, until it found itself in its current sorry state.
Now, while many city-states paid lip service to the Emperor, he was nearly powerless. Imperial law meant almost nothing outside of the walls of Raegis now. It was why Karn was so bold, why his priests were able to do as they pleased… after the fall of the central Empire, the only thing that the churches could agree on was that they would police their own followers. According to the dictates of Taelin, for Karn that now included Ariadna’s former church.
Imperial law might forbid what they did, but Tabharos was far from Raegis. Pantaglin, however, was not… and while the fabled legions of the Empire no longer existed, it had enough soldiers and Justicar’s left to enforce much of its law here. Perhaps that was why the priestesses had thought they could get away with founding a new church here.
She had just wandered for most of the last decade, following her whims and trusting her luck… but when she had heard of a new temple being founded in her name in Pantaglin, her blood had run cold. She almost couldn’t believe it, but it made a certain kind of sense – she had certainly sent as many priestesses as she could closer to the Raegis because if they could make it there, they should be safe. One of Karn’s Inquisitors would have to be bold indeed to go after them there. Founding her new temple in the Imperial capital would be safest, but since it was forbidden to build a temple to any god in the Imperial capital one of the nearby cities would be the safest place. In theory, it would expand the area of “safe” territory for worshipers of Ariadna. In theory, it made sense.
Except that Ari was dreadfully sure that the priestess who had founded the temple had miscalculated. Karn, by now, surely suspected that she lived if he didn’t know, and he couldn’t afford to let his sister get a foothold back towards divinity. Jaras, for his part, would naturally assume that the High Priestess he hunted was behind its creation. They would come after it with everything they had. If she was going to save the well-meaning followers who had made this place, she needed to get to them before Jaras walked in with another army.
But he hadn’t gotten here yet.
The temple was a fairly plain building, clearly one that had been built for another purpose and purchased. If Ariadna had to guess, perhaps it had been an auditorium, or perhaps a bank – nice enough, but not built for worship. She watched as people came and went, observing and going back and forth on whether or not she should wear her mask when she approached – would whichever priestess was in charge here listen to her if she approached her as just a woman? Would she need to pretend to be the High Priestess?
Sighing, Ari began to dig into her pack, finding the false pouch and pulling out the golden mask she had stolen long ago. It was scratched and tarnished now, despite her work cleaning it, but Ari had earned every scratch through hard lessons… learning to be human, escaping from her brother’s minions at every turn. She would no more replace it now than she would her own face. Slipping the mask’s band beneath her hair, she pulled it down to cover her features, hiding herself behind the golden face.
Then she walked up to the temple, pulling her hood off her head entirely.
She didn’t even make it halfway up the stairs before another masked priestess came out of the doorway, flanked by a pair of guards. “Stop!” The priestess commanded. “Remove your mask.”
Ari didn’t move. “Why?” she asked.
“We need to know who you are,” the priestess said – her voice was kind, but firm, utterly unyielding. “We can’t allow an impostor into the temple.”
Ari lifted her hands slowly, though she knew she carried no weapons to reach for, and pulled off her scarred mask, letting the other priestess see her. “I am Ari, a priestess of Ariadna,” she lied smoothly, as she had been doing for years. “I seek shelter, and to speak to the founder of the temple.”
The guards and the priestess didn’t relax, but they seemed to become slightly less concerned. “Where were you a priestess before the fall?”
So, they intended to question her. To ensure she really was a priestess then. That was a potential problem. “I was at the siege at the temple,” she answered. “I escaped out the catacombs with several others.”
“Did you?” asked a voice from the shadows, inside the door — a womans voice. “Bring her inside,” the woman said, her tone authoritative.
Ari stepped forward as the guards moved aside, but her comfort was fading quickly. Nothing that had happened was unexpected, but still…
There was something that was making her nervous. Nothing seemed wrong — even masked, Ariadna could see the eyes of the priestess on the stairs. She knew this woman, knew her prayers – she had been an initiate during the Fall, not yet a full priestess. Exactly the sort of follower that might have slipped Jaras’s net. She could remember the woman’s devotion, her genuine heart…
Ari passed through the door, entering a foyer and finding another priestess waiting for her, flanked by four more guards. Her golden mask was almost as beaten up as Ari’s was, but like her she stood with dignity anyway, unconcerned about the tarnish. She met the priestesses brilliant blue eyes and saw a glimpse of a soul she recognized. This woman was a priestess as well, only a few years older than the initiate had been during the fall. She had been devoted and true.
Then why did she still feel like something was rotten here?
Eve, Priestess of Ariadna?
The priestess looked into Ari’s face, tilting her head slightly. “Yes,” she said softly. Then she took off her own mask. The woman was blonde, beautiful – perhaps as old as thirty but Ari doubted it. Her eyes glittered, and she was smiling. “Yes, I remember you. You were at the Grand Temple,” the priestess agreed. “But you didn’t escape through the catacombs, did you?” Her smile widened. “I saw you there. Do you recognize me, priestess?”
Ari narrowed her eyes, trying to remember. The woman was definitely familiar, but it had been so long ago – her memory had grown no less crisp, but a decade had changed the woman, turned her into someone else.
“I’ve been called many things,” the priestess said, a hint of laughter in her voice. A triumphant thrill of humor. “Most of them… unflattering. But my parents named me Eve. Do you recall meeting me, priestess?”
Ari shook her head. “I do not,” she whispered. Wrong wrong wrong wrong. This woman knew too much.
“You didn’t escape at the temple through the catacombs with the others. You didn’t escape the temple at all.” She smiled, the expression pleased with herself. “You were brought to Tabharos, same as I was,” Eve said. “And there you stayed. Until you escaped that first night. Isn’t that right, High Priestess?”
Ari’s stomach sank down into her feet as she abruptly recognized the woman. She had been at the temple – she had been in the very room Ari had awakened in, when she was pulled out of the fountain. She had been the one panicked, screaming that her goddess had abandoned them to die. And in Tabharos, when Jaras had asked who was ready to renounce their goddess and serve her brother, this priestess had been one of those that had stepped forward.
Eve smiled. “She’s the one we’ve been waiting for.” She raised her voice. “Take her!”
Eve backed up as her Master stepped into the room from the back, already raising his hand. Karrus was a handsome man, just a year her senior – the kind of man she had dreamed of as a naive child a lifetime ago. Tall and strong, he wore his blonde hair cropped short, and he wore a crimson cloak over his armor, covering the steel that protected him. She had been the Inquisitor’s since that first day, ten years ago – Jaras had given her to him on that first day in Tabharos.
Of course, much had changed since then.
Karrus, Inquisitor of Karn
Karrus strode forward confidently, his hand already raised. His will, the will of Karn himself, poured through the room and washed over the High Priestess – ordering her with sheer willpower to remain still, not to move. From around the room, three other guards raised their hands as well – Junior inquisitors under her Master, lesser priests of Karn.
Throughout the room people stared, unsure of what was happening. Some other worshipers of Ariadna had also been caught in the trap, but Karn didn’t care about them – they were free to do as they wished. The other priestesses caught in the trap, however… while they hadn’t been the prey that Eve was baiting this trap for, they were going to be scooped up along with the High Priestess. Two of them froze, golden masks hiding what Eve was sure were terrified faces. On the stairs, the little priestess initiate, Kiree, tried to run and one of the guards punched her in the stomach, driving her to the ground.
With Ariadna gone, having betrayed them a decade ago, her priestesses were helpless before the might of Karn, as helpless as Eve had been once.
All of them but one.
Wave after wave of oppressive thought and willpower washed over the unmasked priestess from every direction, attempting to Subjugate her – but Ari stood her ground. Eve could actually see the clashing willpower around her, the air shimmering with repressed power. This woman had burned a room of soldiers alive, had escaped from under the eyes of a dozen priests and a hundred soldiers over the years… they were taking no chances with her. They had brought the best they had, every Inquisitor under her master’s command. However, despite the best efforts of four priests, one of which was her own Karrus, the High Priestess was holding them off. No soldier could approach her… that clashing mess of wills would all but tear them apart.
But Eve could.
Taking her old golden mask off, she tossed it aside like the filth it was and narrowed her eyes. “Ariadna is a whore,” she growled as she raised her own hand… and added her will to those of the other priests of Karn.
Karrus would probably punish her for this later – she wasn’t supposed to use her abilities without his permission. That was alright. She had earned that punishment honestly, deserved to be kept in check for her stupidity in worshiping Ariadna to begin with. Karrus was a kind master – he had shown her the way, and if he had needed to be brutal with her to make her understand her place from time to time, that was alright.
Eve knew of a few other Slave-Priestesses who had become worshipers of Karn in truth – but none of them had her position. None of them had been anointed as a full Priestess of the God of Fate yet. So far, it was only her.
“Ariadna is a betrayer,” she hissed as she stepped further forward, bending her will against the pretty blond high priestess. Around her, Karrus moved further to her right and Ephram to the left, forming a pentacle around the woman rather than a square as Eve joined their efforts. “She left her worshipers to die – she is unworthy of your devotion, or any devotion. She is a cock-sucking whore… and soon you will be too.” Kneel, she thought at the priestess as hard as she could. Kneel. Kneel. Kneel.
The commands from them formed a chorus that swirled around inside doomed high priestess’s soul. Kneel. Kneel. Kneel. Submit. Bow your head. Give in. Yield. Kneel. Kneel. Kneel. Five priests of Karn pushed at her… and still, she stood. Eve didn’t understand how it was possible. She knew perfectly were that Ariadna was dead and gone – she couldn’t grant blessings, and couldn’t give her strength to a priestess. This one should be powerless beneath them. Was she being protected by another god? Someone sympathetic to Ariadna? That made sense, but it enraged Eve all the more. Why hadn’t he granted his protection to the other captive priestesses? Why hadn’t be protected HER? She narrowed her eyes in rage and pushed hard. “Kneel before your god you fucking slut,” she cursed from between clenched teeth.
Eve wasn’t sure what happened. One second, they were pressing down on her. The next, there was a flash of light, and all five of them were laying on the floor, knocked sprawling by the blast of energy from their warring wills and magic. And the High Priestess was running. The guard on the stairs tried to stop her, but Ari grabbed his arm and flung him hard to the side, barely pausing a stride before she flew down the stairs in three long-legged steps and was fleeing.
Eve didn’t hesitate. She rushed after the High Priestess. This was her trap, her idea – she had been the one to suggest that she could impersonate a priestess of the Goddess to lure out the others, to create a situation that the High Priestess would try to save her from. She knew all the rituals, knew all the words – she could fake a devotion she had long abandoned to that whore-goddess. And the trap had worked, but now their prey was escaping? She couldn’t let that happen. She had promised her Master this would work. He had believed in her.
Kiree lay on the stairs where the guard had hit her, and Eve was on her in a flash, a knife at her throat. “I’ll kill her!” she shouted. “I’ll slash this whores throat, you bitch!”
Ari took one more step… and stopped.
“That’s right,” Eve hissed. “Or are you going to abandon them like your goddess did? I swear to you, I will kill them all before I let you get away from me.” Her blue eyes narrowed to slit. “Kneel. On. The fucking. Ground.”
And Ari fell to her knees.
The priests were not taking any chances with Ari. She had burned her way out of ropes before… this time, she wore iron.
Three different sets of manacles bound her arms behind her back: one at her wrists, one at her elbows and one nearly at her shoulders. The chain was attached from there down to three more shackles around her ankles, calves, and thighs, forcing her into a kneeling position. She was gagged, an open ring in her mouth, and her hair had a rope braided into it that held her head in place to the cuffs behind her.
Then they loaded her into an iron cage on a wagon’s back, and three more iron bands attached her to the side there. Jaras’ prize would not be escaping a second time.
Eve could feel Karrus’ hands on her back, his warmth against her. She pressed herself back against him, and his lips pressed against the back of her neck. “You did good today, lover,” Karrus said softly.
She looked up at him, craning her head to see behind her. He was more than a foot taller than she was. “You aren’t mad that I assisted?”
Karrus chuckled. “I told you… you’re anointed now. I lifted that prohibition on you two years ago.”
Eve shook her head. “It doesn’t feel right,” she protested. “I betrayed God by denying him what was his. I don’t deserve to serve to him properly, the way you do.”
The inquisitor laughed. “It appears that God disagrees. I felt your power alongside mine, lover… all that is left for my duty is to continue to care for your spiritual growth.”
Slowly, Eve lowered one hand to brush against his armored crotch. He couldn’t feel her hand through the plate, unfortunately, but he could feel the pressure as she pushed. “I do hope that isn’t all,” she said with a slow smile.
Karrus’ smile was wicked. “Of course not,” he said. “That is also an important part of your spiritual growth.”
Eve saw Ari looking over at her. The high priestess’ bright eyes were sad… betrayed. “What are you looking at, slut?” She chuckled, climbing into the wagon cage with her. “Don’t you judge me because I’m so much smarter than you, because I see the shape of the world.” Eve ran one hand along Ari’s cheek. “Don’t worry… Jaras will show you himself. You’ll be begging to suck Karn’s cock for him in a few years. The High Priest is going to make you his personal project, Ari.”
Ari moaned, trying to say something, and Eve just laughed. Then she reached beneath her dress and pulling off her panties, stepping out of them before shoving the damp fabric into the high priestess’ mouth. “I’d love to take you myself – or maybe feed you to my man – but we just don’t have the time… if we delay, someone like that snake Camden is likely to poach credit for finally capturing you. We aren’t going to take any risk of that. You’re precious… you are going to be Karrus’ ticket to the head of the Inquisition.”
She jumped down, and Karrus slammed the door shut, locking the door. “With any luck,” Eve said with a smirk, “Jaras will be happy enough he’ll let us have some fun with you while there’s still something left. Have a nice trip, whore!”
“Get her moving,” Karrus ordered as he got onto his horse, holding Eve’s steady for her to get onto for a long, hard ride. “Next stop, Tabharos.”
There once was a time when the followers of her brother were… well, not precisely kind, but not uniformly vicious. A time that there was a kind of respectful standoff between her followers and those of Karn. Even after the fall, as they grew more and more vicious with every passing day, Ari had heard herself spoken of in whispers. “Ari,” the whispers had said. The masked high priestess of the fallen Goddess. The Bane of Karn. She had been feared, wanted, but most importantly of all respected. Now, in captivity, it was despair-inducing to see just how fast all that prestige could come crashing down.
The only thing Ari was spoken of as now was a convenient resident cumdump of the caravan made to transport her.
Down on her knees, the proud and helpless goddess glared up at a guard with burning rage in her eyes as he forced his fat cock down her throat. It was only the third one she had been forced to orally service that day, but the scribbled tallymarks across her thighs and ass told a more detailed story about the use of other holes. Cum dripped from every part of her body but none more so than her pussy and ass. Even all the thick loads that had been pumped inside weren’t enough to serve as adequate lubrication, and both of the fallen goddess’ sore holes were bright red and puffy from overuse.
Luckily for her, most of the guards had already retired for the night to get some sleep, leaving only the final soldier currently violating her throat before his shift was over. He pumped the gurgling blonde’s gullet with reckless abandon, hips smacking against her wincing face again and again with reckless efficiency. Bitter tears of helpless anger rolled down her cheeks across the streaks of dried cum that had already caked against her pale skin. When finally he shunted his full length down Ari’s throat and smashed her nose into his pubic hair, choking grunts filled the iron cage on the back of the wagon as her throat bulged out and steadily gulped down each pulsing shot fired into her stomach.
As she swallowed the gooey load, Ari’s mind wandered back to that first time she had been forced to suck a cock. Her brothers. That bastard who had not only been responsible for tossed her out of the heavens but also for introducing her body to cock and cum. Even after a decade in the surface of the world, even after watching horror after horror and having been defiled by the human followers of that bastard, she still remembered every second he had spent raping her like it was carved into her brain. How he had spent hours fucking her into a state of pathetic weakness, filling her holes with so much cum that she was sure there were still some bits stuck far inside her that had yet to dribble out. Stark memories of his sneering face as his cock slammed into her ass or pussy relentlessly still burned in her mind… and each new rape felt like a continuation of that first one by her brother.
The wrenching sensation of the soldier’s meaty shaft pulling from her throat brought Ari back to the real world, and she coughed up flecks of cum and spittle all over the floor of the wagon cell. As Ari leaned forward and struggled to catch her breath, the chuckling guard slapped his wet cock against her tear-stained face, flicking her own spit onto the marred skin. “I’m going to miss this slut when we turn her over,” the soldier laughed to the only other still there, still guarding the door and following the instructions of the two Inquisitors.
“It will be a shame,” he agreed, hefting a bucket. “You done with her?”
“I’m spent,” the man who had just finished raping her agreed, stepping away just before the bucket was poured over the cum-covered goddess, cleaning her up with all the care of a bathroom floor. They didn’t even have the decency to wipe her down when they were finished.
This was the third day on the road.
Just like every day since she had been captured, the guards had been absolutely brutal in her treatment of her, and Ari had the marks to prove it. Small bruises and tiny red welts covered her body from head to toe, particularly in the firm, meaty parts that they loved to grab such as her breasts, ass, and neck. One vigorous guard had even left the faintest imprints of his fingers upon her hips where he had gripped tightly to pull her back into his thrusting cock from behind. Ariadna knew that she healed faster than a human… that the bruises would fade soon enough… but the sore, lingering pain was a horrible reminder of of the multiple loads that man had dumped into her body. The door to her prison slammed shut, leaving her shuddering in the cold. Having just been “cleaned,” this was a pristine as she knew she was likely to get… though she still felt soiled from all the cum that had been left inside of her. Those would likely ooze out on their own in time, which meant that her thighs and ass would be stained and soaked all night with their disgusting seed.
She didn’t know which was worse: the endless gangbangs or the knowledge that she was headed back towards the High Priest to his personal plaything. Maybe he would discover the truth of her identity… or may she would just spend the rest of his life as his favorite cumrag. Either sounded hopeless.
Still, Ariadna’s eyed burned in the darkness of her cell. All her time rotting in in the fallen world, in captivity or out, hadn’t tempered her spirit the slightest. The soldiers of Karn could spend day and night breaking her body, but her mind remained as sharp and strong willed as ever. She couldn’t save the rest of her people, and her heart burned for them… but she could do this much for all the women who had loved and trusted her who languished in captivity. She didn’t see a way that she could escape… but she wouldn’t break.
No matter what Jaras did to her.
The End of Book 1
One thought on “Chapter 8 – The Priestess”
Alright, finale of Descent. This one is, in hindsight, perfect for going kinda off-topic with, because it’s really short.
So Ariadna’s been recaptured, leaving us on a cliffhanger that does set up nicely for the second book.
I will admit I was very surprised by the villain here. I thought for sure it was going to be the tall woman from Chapter 3, since she loudly renounced Ariadna ten years earlier. Little did I know it would be the blond one instead! So we now know her name is Eve, and she is…something else. One wonders how she’d feel if she knew that was Ariadna, and that her goddess had never abandoned her. It’s hard to say, though it seems likely she’ll find out at some point (I mean, that’s too damn dramatic not to bring up). Of course, even if she were interested in redemption, that’s intensely complicated with characters like this, since now that she’s channeling Karn’s power, he’s influencing her morality.
This also applies to our new priest, Karrus. He’s…nice? Well, ok, he’s nice to Eve, which would normally make him a little different from the others. Again, however, how much of that is him and how much of that is due to the fact that, since Eve genuinely worships Karn, that whole thing about what priests do to those associated with Ariadna doesn’t apply? We’ll find out!
So, now it’s time to bring up what I tried not to mention next chapter. Before I start, I want to make it clear that I am not mad at you. I’m just very frustrated at the situation that has emerged.
We have now gone through the entire “Meet the Team” arc and have thus met four characters or sets of characters on the side of good.
Nira is the confidence artist, working in the interest of doing good but having the skills to deceive when it’s necessary, both in the mundane ways and more complex manners (use of herbs that produce euphoria, for instance). If these characters are brought together (and from some art I know they do meet at some point), she is a natural pick for the “face” of the team.
Lady Amelissan is harder to call, as her family riches were likely confiscated by the Church of Karn when her house was burned. Nonetheless, she is extremely close to being a priestess herself, so for all I know she could end up channeling divine magic if she gets close enough to Ariadna. Even if that doesn’t happen, she may have connections and allies among the nobility.
Leila is the assassin, and she is both an expert combatant and the mistress of stealth. On the team, she’s their way to get into places they’re not allowed into, picking locks, opening jail cells for rescues and sneaking into buildings for spy work, in addition, of course, to her ability to kill bad guys from the shadows.
Then we have Kaya and Jaymes, and here’s where I get upset, because of where things stand for me now.
Nira is the face.
Lady Amelissan is the funder or the priestess.
Leila is the spy and the assassin.
Kaya is the failure.
This was what I was talking about with regard to the ripple effect. Every other character has an intro chapter that shows them beaten and raped, but they come across well in those chapters.
Except for Kaya.
Kaya is supposedly a skilled sword wielder and, judging by the cheers her rebels give her, supposedly a talented leader, but no evidence of that is ever shown. She kills a barely-trained teen whose guard is down, and that’s the only combat success we see out of her. You could count her multiple successful missions and rescues with no casualties, but as you confirmed, she’s only been successful because the Church of Karn has been ignoring her. If a mosquito flying around me is still alive, that’s not because the mosquito is intelligent, strong or faster than I can hit. All it means is that it hasn’t annoyed me enough yet to crush it to paste with a single movement.
And as Camden explains, Kaya’s rebels were disappointingly easy to find. When he tries to give her a bit of Villain Respect, he can’t. She has no accomplishment worth complimenting.
Unlike every other character, Kaya looks bad in her introductory chapter, and that was where the ripple effect started. As the chapters went on, bitter thoughts began to worm their way into my head.
When we meet Lady Amelissan, she talks about her capabilities as a nobelwoman, what she can do for the cause and what she can’t, and says:
When I read that – and it upsets me to say I am being serious – I very nearly went “Heh,” at the first sentence, and the thought that crossed my mind was “Well, there’s your mistake. You trusted Kaya to be capable of doing this job.”
The bitter thought wasn’t necessarily wrong either. Not only were Kaya’s rebels easily found out and defeated, but Kaya failed to compartmentalize information properly, meaning that her soldiers knew who their financial backer was, which in turn means that the brutal rape of Amelissan, the beating and rape of her servants and the burning down of her manor can all be laid at Kaya’s feet.
The theoretical scene you laid out when responding to the Chapter 6 review, that Kaya and Jaymes were at one point going to launch an attack that would save Ariadna and Amelissan, that would have solved the problem immediately. It would have shown that the two of them are extremely talented fighters, able to face a large number of foes, and assuming Kaya was still in the leadership role, it would have shown that she was indeed an intelligent leader, capable of planning and launching a successful rescue with only two people against a much larger force.
The scene was never written, however. It quickened the pace of the story, mind you, but in the process removed Kaya’s moment of competence.
Then we got to Leila’s chapter, and for as unhappy as I was about my bitter thoughts before, here’s where I became really frustrated. I know, and I mean I KNOW you didn’t do this on purpose, but if you had been deliberately writing Leila as a foil for Kaya, for the express purpose of making Kaya look even worse, you could not have done a better job.
Leila and Kaya’s chapters are similar in many ways. Both are action heroines who have completed several missions, and now the Church is taking action against them. Both are engaged by mercenaries and captured by subjugation magic, both are raped by a priest of Karn, and both think that their deaths are inevitable and that they’ve come to terms with that, only to learn they haven’t.
Judging by the illustration you did, they’re even the same height.
The differences, however, begin with the fact that we get a very detailed look at one of Leila’s assassination missions, step by step, and we see precisely how talented she is, and how well she’s thought this through.
When the trap is sprung and the mercenaries attack, Leila has, as mentioned in the last review, lost the element of stealth, is not a melee fighter, and has no one to help her. She manages to kill a priest, injure two mercenaries and kill a third.
When the raid happens, Jaymes is taken in his sleep, but Kaya manages to get her hands on a sword. She’s without armor, but she does have help (two or three other rebels), and she is trained to fight armed opponents. She fails to so much as injure a single mercenary.
When Kaya is raped, the rape goes on from late at night into the morning. Let’s say six, maybe seven hours at the outside. Kaya is so exhausted and beaten by it that the mercenaries take the bindings off of her long before it ends. She’s not going to try and fight back or escape.
When Leila is raped, it goes on for fourteen hours. After being gangraped for twice the amount of time Kaya was, the second those cuffs come off she jumps through the window.
Kaya has accepted her own death, given up, and the only reason she doesn’t die earlier is because crucifixion keeps the body alive as long as possible by involuntary reflex.
When Leila falls into the river, she contemplates giving up like Kaya did, but then swims to the surface and makes her escape, climbing onto the boat where Ariadna need only stall the solders for a matter of seconds while she hides.
That was why I got so frustrated last chapter, and what I was fighting not to talk about then and there.
For the record, I am rooting for Kaya, more intensely than you can imagine. Part of it, I’m sure, is the physical image, the (supposedly) tall, voluptuous female warrior carrying a sword and clad in armor. Beyond that, though, is the character. I like that she is brave, to an extent anyway, and I like the fact that she has a loving relationship with her husband. Happily married couples are weirdly rare in fiction, and I love seeing one, especially when they fight together like this. I was also happy in her introductory chapter when Jaymes said she was the leader, since I liked the idea that she isn’t just dumb muscle, but rather an intelligent warrior who can guide a team effectively.
It’s why I’m so frustrated that the story has put this burden on her. It’s not fair, at all, but as the tale goes forward, among the characters who make up this party, Kaya and Kaya alone must prove herself. Jaymes also has to, somewhat, but he has better excuses than Kaya (drunk and captured in his sleep) and Kaya is the leader, so the responsibility falls hardest upon her.
Kaya will have to prove that Jaymes and the dead rebels weren’t wrong to trust her to lead; that Lady Amelissan wasn’t foolish to put her faith in her; that Camden might have made a mistake when he dismissed her.
That she is more than just a failure.
I don’t know how this will work going forward; what chances they’ll be given. Ariadna’s part of a prison caravan, and hypothetically Kaya and Jaymes could hit the caravan and rescue her, which would actually do all the same things as the scene that was never written, proving that they can be competent and work on their own. Hypothetically they could then join the party, and Kaya and Jaymes could take up the role of both fighters and military strategists.
A much harsher lesson could also be learned, that Kaya was never a good leader, that it was a mistake to even try, and that she needs to stop trying to compete with intelligent people like Camden, and instead just focus on killing people with a sword while someone legitimately smart gives her orders. That would be a valid lesson, but at the same time I will freely admit that it’s not one I want her to learn, because as stated, I liked the idea of her as the leader, and the idea that she deserved to be one. Furthermore, the way the intro chapters are set up, they seem like they’re meant to show the characters doing what they’re good at, rather than what they need to give up on.
Again, I know how bad this sounds, and I PROMISE I am not mad at you. I still like the story overall and will continue to read it. Who knows? After LF2 Chapter 10 tomorrow, the first chapter of Ascent might be the pickup I need. I am very sorry for how harsh this sounds. As I said, I’m just frustrated by the situation this character I really like finds herself in. I don’t like that she’s the only one of the cast who has to prove herself, but I sincerely hope she does.