(A/N): I did not expect this story to drag out this long...anyway, expect the end by the next chapter.
"Maix, what in the hells is going on?"
Before Lystra could react, one of the men grabbed her from behind put a hand over her mouth. She struggled and watched in horror as another cloaked figure walked over Ghalarin. The swordsman woke up with a start but it was already too late. The cloaked figure held a crossbow in front of his skull. Bright red blood spattered on the wall as the figure pulled the trigger. The crossbow bolt had plunged deep into Ghalarin's skull, ending his life quickly and violently. Tears streaming from her eyes, Lystra struggled even harder as Maixanne stood up.
"It could have been any other mission, Lys, anything but this one. I'm sorry but I can't let anyone expose the abraxilites here. Ghalarin, Neganus and Colrenz will all have to die."
The archer nodded at the cloaked man who held Lystra. In the next moment, the man had plunged a needle into the acolyte's neck. Maixanne shook her head sadly as her "friend" slumped against the man's arms; she was out cold. It wasn't that she enjoyed this. There were things that just had to be done…
"Can I ask where you are leading us, Maiha?"
Colrenz asked the question only after making sure that he was a good distance away from the assassin. He did not like the feeling he got in her presence. This Maiha Xalascent smiled sweetly easily enough. She had been helpful, kind and polite. She was also alluring and possessed an enchanting grace from the mere way she walked. Still, he had to admit that he was somewhat scared of her. There was something…wrong with her and he couldn't place it. From the way Neganus walked beside her though, it was as if he didn't notice a thing…
"Impatient already? I assure you, Colrenz Caimmis, which it's going to be worth your while."
The mage's eyes narrowed. He had introduced himself earlier after they finished eating, but he only mentioned his first name. It was clear to him now that meeting this assassin was no accident. Neganus did not even flinch at this. He continued to walk beside the assassin as if he had heard nothing.
"Here it is…"
The assassin stopped. They were in the outskirts of Payon now. There was nothing in the clearing that gave any clue to their mission. All Colrenz saw was an open grave plot…
"What's going on? What is this place?"
Colrenz turned to look at Neganus, perhaps the acolyte would know. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain by his left side. He clutched his shoulder painfully and whirled. The assassin already right behind him. She was holding a bloody gladius in her right hand…
"Nothing personal, Colrenz, I am getting paid after all…"
Maiha laughed softly and put an arm over Colrenz's chest, locking him in a tight embrace. She held the gladius over his neck, close to the jugular vein and whispered in his ear…
"Your good friend over there is really quite the backstabbing little runt…I almost feel sorry for you, not as much as I'll feel sorry for your acolyte girlfriend. After all, I'd rather be munching on her heart than watch those abraxilites shrivel it up for their purposes."
Colrenz was completely motionless as his eyes shifted their focus on the hateful visage of Neganus Caranis. The acolyte had led him to a trap. It was probably a way to separate him from Lystra and deal with him alone, but for that to work he needed another…
"Neganus, you bastard, what are you doing!"
The acolyte smiled again. It was a smile of triumph though. The kind of smile, Colrenz imagined that would come from a vile, conniving bastard who had just betrayed his allies.
"You're out of your league, Colrenz, both you and Ghalarin are the only ones that are not needed here. Maixanne would have probably killed that fool of a swordsman right about now. Other than that, there's no need for me to explain anything to you. You're going to die for being involved with the cult of Abraxil here in Payon."
Colrenz thought hard. He couldn't die here yet. He had to warn Lystra of this crazed acolyte and the assassin he had hired!
"Why are you doing this, Neganus!"
The acolyte turned his back and walked away.
"There's no reason for you to know, Colrenz. Maiha, finish him off already…"
The muscles in the assassin's arms tensed. Colrenz closed his eyes, all it would take now was a swift, slashing motion from Maiha and his throat will be cut wide open. The slash never came though, when Colrenz opened his eyes, the assassin was no longer behind him.
To the mage's shock, the assassin was in front of Neganus. Her gladius had plunged to his neck and poked out of his nape. Blood dripped from the gladius's point, staining Neganus's brown robes crimson. More of the red liquid streamed from his cut neck…
"I kind of liked you, Neganus, but you know that nobody uses that tone of voice on me…at least not yet…"
The assassin laughed softly again and gently licked some of the blood from the acolyte's neck.
"Besides, Colrenz here reminds me a lot of a wizard I know; helplessly infatuated and in for a lot of hurt. I'm not killing him yet…"
Neganus slid to the ground. Colrenz continued to watch in horror as Maiha plunged her gladius into the corpse's chest and began carving a hole into it. Moments later she reached into the hole and pulled out the heart.
"Let's see if he's ruined it already…"
Colrenz could only watch dumbly as Maiha bit into the lump of flesh in her hand. More blood spurted from the heart, spraying all over the assassin's face. She didn't seem to mind though. Suddenly she grimaced and spat out the piece she had tried to eat.
"He's been eating too much meat and laying off the exercise! Bah! This heart tastes awful! Too much fat clogging it up!"
The assassin tossed the heart aside and returned her focus on Colrenz. The mage was still frozen on the spot. Even though he hated Neganus, watching the acolyte get killed and mutilated shook him to the very core. This woman was insane!
"You're probably wondering what's going on, Colrenz. Why this fat-laden runt tried to get you killed and his little hinting to that archer-cultist friend of yours…"
At last, Colrenz recovered his nerve. If he could believe this murdering assassin then Maixanne was a traitor as well. Ghalarin wasn't but without warning, he was at a disadvantage. That meant Lystra was in trouble!
"I don't have the time! Let me through!"
The assassin laughed softly again and moved aside.
"Your loss, you won't find them in that inn you know…"
The mage looked back for a brief moment.
"Neganus mentioned the cultists. That means they're in the caves!"
Maiha merely shrugged her shoulders.
"Go save your acolyte love then, mage. I have my own fun to savor for this whole cult business…you'll have to find out later…"
Colrenz did not look back again. With Neganus dead, Maixanne a likely traitor, Ghalarin probably dead as well, Lystra was his only concern now…
Lystra opened her eyes. For a moment she couldn't see anything except a hazy blur. All she could deduce was that she was in a dark, torch-lit room. Slowly, her vision adjusted and she saw other things. She was in a cage; the walls were made of natural rock so she was probably inside a cave. Outside the cage was…
The archer sat outside Lystra's cage. When she turned around, the acolyte shivered. This wasn't the Maixanne Malians that she had known for two years. There was no sign of the serious yet friendly attitude on her face. The archer's face was devoid of emotion when she responded to Lystra's calling her name.
"You're awake. It's a shame; it would have been a lot better if you stayed unconscious for the entire ritual."
The acolyte sat up. Her head was spinning and her body felt like a huge lump of dead weight.
"Don't move about so much, Lys, the drug takes a while to wear off. Besides there's nowhere for you to go…"
Lystra clutched her head. The room was still spinning and everything was still blurry. She caught a glimpse of the red-haired archer and remembered the body of Ghalarin crashing to the ground.
"Ghalarin…you let him die…no…you killed him…how could you, Maixanne?"
The archer's voice was icy when she spoke again.
"Ghalarin wasn't supposed to be killed…he shouldn't even be in this mission but he was too insistent. So was Colrenz…Neganus has probably killed him by now."
Lystra gasped and clutched the iron bars of her cage tightly. Tears sprang from her eyes. It was devastating alone to know that Ghalarin was dead but Colrenz?
"I say she doesn't need to do this last mission! Lystra's already proven to the church that she's worthy of priesthood on several occasions!"
The acolyte hung her head in shame. She was no priestess. She couldn't keep her two closest friends alive…
"You're a heartless monster, Maixanne! Did you and Neganus plan all this?"
The archer remained impassive as Lystra shouted at her.
"Neganus is my enemy, Lystra. He seeks secure his position in the church by bringing the entire cult down. In addition he wants you and Colrenz dead in order to take full credit for a successful mission."
The archer stared at the ceiling of the cave. Lystra followed her sight and stared at a portrait that was hung on top of the cage. It was the portrait of a man, wearing crimson, priestly robes that had ancient, Glastheimian scripts all over them. He had both arms raised and fire descended from his hands. The flames extended to his feet, the flames from the right hand formed the image of a horned, goat-like demon with a massive scythe in its hands. The flames from the left formed an armored figure on horseback.
"You're a cultist…"
Lystra's voice quivered. It made sense why Maixanne would betray them. She had probably known from the start that they would encounter her cult in Payon. That was why she was so insistent on coming along…
"I am a follower of Abraxilism, the true religion that was created by the greatest of all priests, Abraxil Sovivor. You understand why I do what I must now, Lystra."
The acolyte shook her head.
"No, I don't! Abraxilism is heresy, Maixanne! Why would you follow such a twisted and false religion?"
The archer's face darkened with fury.
"It is your church that professes a false religion! Abraxil Sovivor surpassed all the priests of his time. He was the one with a true connection to the divine hence his teachings is the only true word of God! Your church branded him as a heretic and blamed him for Glastheim's fall. Those are lies they spread so they can supplant his teachings with their weak teachings. One day, Abraxil Sovivor will return to Rune-Midgard and he will sweep this land of all living things save for his followers. That day is coming soon, Lystra! Consider your beliefs before you face that reckoning!"
Maixanne's eyes were livid as she spoke. To Lystra she sounded like a fanatic. After a while she calmed down.
"The cult only needs you, Lystra. Neganus is an opportunist who will get what he deserves. Colrenz and Ghalarin were victims of circumstance…"
The acolyte's eyes narrowed.
"What do you want from me?"
The archer stared long and hard at Lystra. Her eyes gleamed with anticipation…
"The sacred records points to you, as a Cafilence, as a bearer of Abraxil Sovivor's greatest creation, The Sangius Magnus Exorcismus. If we can extract it from you, it will hasten the return of our master."
Lystra pressed her face against the bars.
"Why me? What's so special about me?"
Maixanne continued talking despite the outburst.
"We would prefer your older sister, Silmeia, but she has become too strong to be subdued easily. You would make an easier target and the results will remain the same…"
Before Maixanne could continue one of the cloaked men suddenly entered the room.
"Maixanne, the acolyte's mage friend has been spotted approaching the caves."
The archer stood up and frowned.
"So it was Neganus who ended up dead…it doesn't matter. I'll have to kill Colrenz myself then…"
Lystra stared hatefully at Maixanne. This wasn't her friend. This was a murdering cultist who would kill all of her friends. As a priestess or an acolyte she would ensure that this cult was destroyed!
Maixanne Malians's eyes widened as a spark of crimson flew from the acolyte's right arm…