Clouded Purity

by Cynus

Chapter 19

"I had no idea they'd even spoken during that time," Prism said, slipping away from Ghayle's hand to consider what he'd just witnessed. "No wonder they became such good friends."

"It must be interesting seeing them interact like that for the first time, without you serving as a medium," Ghayle said. "I remember the first time I introduced Tagren to Aika. They hated each other, but eventually became friends without my interference."

Prism nodded, still processing what Kaeral had said, and the feelings he'd received through living Grim's memories. "Grim was right, I would've worried if he told me what was going through his head. But I also would've helped him."

"You did help him, Prism. Time and time again."

"Kaeral's the one who put those violent thoughts in his head. Should I blame him then?" Prism asked, frowning.

"Blame?" Ghayle echoed. "Why are you looking for someone to blame?"

Prism's eyes darkened as he replied, "Someone made him into a killer, if not me, then someone else. Grim was the purest soul in the world when I met him."

"In your eyes, he was," Ghayle said. "Do you really believe that?" Prism tried to gauge the motive behind her accusatory question. She took his hand gently, cradling it as if it was an infant. "Prism, Grim was and is a good man, both by my understanding of good, and by your understanding of good. But do you really believe him perfect?"

"He should've never gone down that path. It was preventable," Prism said, pulling his hand away.

"No. It wasn't," Ghayle insisted, lowering her hands to her lap. "I'm not saying it was fate, but once faced with the decision, he made the only choice he could."

"Maybe . . ." Prism started angrily, but it faded along with his denial, "maybe you're right. But I would've given everything to prevent him from that."

"You didn't shed a single tear for the first man you killed," Ghayle observed. "Why is that?"

"It was a matter of duty. I had to rescue Veil, and I didn't spend time to think about it, I just acted."

"Did you mourn your own need to kill?"

"I'm not Grim, killing isn't an anathema for me," Prism said. "The Masters prepared me for it. They trained me to be able to kill when necessary. I didn't enjoy it, and I certainly wish it could have been prevented, but . . ." he trailed off, recognizing the cognitive dissonance of his own perspective.

"But when the time came, you acted the only way you could," Ghayle finished for him. Just like Grim had. Violent when necessary, when it suited the greater good. Prism stared at Ghayle with renewed respect, and she raised her hand toward him. "Are you ready to see the truth?"

"Show me."

Prism entered the Temple meeting hall with his head held high. Despite the stakes of this hearing, he would face it head-on, and answer the charges against him with dignity and honesty. Death could await him, and they'd officially remove him from Grim's service at least. Officially, but Prism would not leave Grim's side regardless of the sentencing, unless they executed him on the spot.

But he didn't anticipate that would happen. He'd come to know the Masters well during his tenure at the Temple, and didn't believe them to be so barbaric. He would be at the mercy of the court, but this court was as fair as any in Ultaka, and he believed in his chances.

People filled the room. Because of the nature of the charges against Prism, all available Masters were required to witness the proceedings. Some Masters currently serving at the Temple were still outside, tending to the refugees, but most had come inside and knelt along the walls. The available initiates, too, had come to witness the trial, and faced the council of five Senior Masters, leaving a wide gap for Prism to occupy. Their mentors had assigned their attendance, deeming this trial as an important instruction on the Ultakan legal system.

Still others stood behind the Masters. Grim, Veil, Kaeral—lacking his sword—and Sharis all occupied this space, along with all other humans and Fedain staying at the Temple who wished to witness the trial. Prism avoided looking at Grim but could feel his anxiety. This could be the last time they saw each other, but he determined not to let that happen.

Prism strode through initiates, down the single aisle left between them, straight to the center of the open space before the Senior Masters. He knelt calmly, tucking his feet beneath him with practiced precision, his posture exact and proper.

Master Jovun occupied his usual space at the head of the council and began the trial as soon as Prism had settled. "This special court has been called regarding charges leveled against Junior Master Prism regarding a breach of his oaths," he read from the paper in front of him, then set it aside and looked at Prism, his eyes narrowing. "In the absence of Grandmaster Valkean, who has left for Kobinaru, I, Jovun Belgard, will preside."

He picked up a second paper and read aloud, "Master Prism, Sharis, aide and tutor to Lord Grimfaeth of Tehir, heir to the Duchy of Tehir, has accused you of violating the fourth oath. He asserts that you have engaged in sexual relations with Lord Grimfaeth, which is also a violation of Ultakan human law. How do you plead?"

"I am guilty of relations with Lord Grimfaeth, but I do not believe I am in violation of the fourth oath," Prism replied. Gasps rippled through the room at his admission, and each of the five Masters on the council regarded him with surprise.

Of all the faces in the room, only three showed something other than astonishment. Master Vinh had a soft smile, and he gave Prism a barely perceptible nod. Kaeral grinned like an idiot, and Prism almost smiled in return at the encouragement from his friend's smile. Almost, because Grim was neither surprised nor encouraging, and his eyes betrayed his anxiety just as surely as the link did.

"You admit freely to your relationship, which carries a penalty of death in the human courts?" Master Jovun asked.

"Yes, Master Jovun," Prism replied, bowing slightly. "While I have hidden this part of myself in the past, I no longer wish to remain in the shadows. In my homeland, the Dorram, such relations are not illegal, nor even greatly discouraged. Living here, within sight of Kobinaru, has made me hide this side of my nature."

"I understand, Master Prism," Master Jovun said. "There is some question about the criminality of your act as it stands, though the foremost inquiry of this court is to establish your adherence to the oaths."

"The reason behind my confession to the crime of relations with Lord Grimfaeth, is to assure this court that my answers will be honest and complete. I understand Fedain law protects Grim from any repercussions from my actions?" Prism asked.

"That is correct. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing as the current laws stand in this country," Master Jovun stated.

Veil stepped to the backs of the Masters in front of her and addressed the council "And what of those current laws, Master Jovun?"

"Duchess Veillynn?" Master Jovun said. "While we have afforded you some measure of autonomy regarding your stay here, you are interrupting official court business."

"This court is no longer valid to officiate in Ultakan Law," Veil stated.

"What is the meaning of this!?" Sharis said, stepping to Veil's side, voicing in anger the question which rested in the calm eyes of each Master.

"While I regret to be the one to make this declaration, the rebels have declared that Ultakan Law is no longer in order," Veil said, ignoring Sharis and speaking to the council. "As they are now the recognized authority in Ultaka, and the monarchy has been deposed, there is no sense for this court to rule according to Ultakan law, whether Fedain or Human law."

"We must have justice, Duchess," Master Jovun said. "What would you have us do?"

"You retain the authority to officiate as a court of the Order of the Mountain, regarding all internal affairs, but you are no longer authorized to rule on matters pertaining to Ultakan Penal Code, as such a code is no longer in effect," Veil replied.

The Senior Masters whispered among themselves for a moment, their voices too low for anyone else to hear. After a moment, Master Jovun addressed the monk acting as scribe. "Master Drallek, in light of new information, please record the following: 'this hearing is to address the charge leveled against the accused, Prism, regarding a violation of the fourth oath. All questions will pertain to this violation, and no matters concerning Ultakan Penal Code will be addressed'."

"So witnessed," the council replied.

After the scribe had recorded the change, Veil retreated back to her previous position with a bow. Master Jovun turned his attention from her to Prism and addressed the charges once more. "Master Prism. While admitting to past relations with Lord Grimfaeth, you assert that you are not guilty of violating the fourth oath. Will you please explain to us the timeline of your relations with Lord Grimfaeth?"

"During the first year of my pardon, I left the temple at night against the rules of the Order. I encountered Grim in Kobinaru, and we spent the night together," Prism replied. "We have not engaged in any form of sexual relations since."


"None, Master Jovun."

The Master to Jovun's left, Master Lotar, a grizzled old man with sunken eyes, spoke next. "The fourth oath applies to more than simply sexual relations with another. Have you pursued any other carnal pleasures? Have you engaged in any stimulation of your flesh for carnal pleasure, or the intentional stimulation of another's flesh for carnal pleasure?"

"Since swearing the fourth oath, the only direct physical contact I have had with any other has been consistent with my duties, and nearly all of it has been with Grim," Prism explained. "However, there have been times where I have loosely interpreted the oath to meet the circumstances, and I am prepared to give you a full accounting of each of these instances."

"Please, proceed," Master Lotar directed.

"My interpretation of the fourth oath concluded that, provided I refrained from touching Grim, or engaging with him in any carnal manner, I would be allowed to show affection," Prism said.

Master Lotar snorted. "An interesting and loose interpretation, Master Prism."

When no further remark came, Prism continued his explanation. "I applied a mask to Grim's face and kissed him twice, and he returned the gesture."

"I see," Master Lotar said, "And did this generate pleasure in either you or Lord Grimfaeth?"

"I believe it did in both cases, Master Lotar. However, not all pleasure is carnal. Love is not inherently carnal."

"An interesting proposition," Master Lotar said. "Perhaps a bit too convenient, as well."

"Master Prism," Master Kashun, the Master two to Jovun's right said, "Did your body respond to this interaction?"

"Yes, Master Kashun."

"Did Lord Grimfaeth's?"

"I'm not sure," Prism said, and Grim's anxiety spiked, "but I imagine it did."

Master Kashun nodded. "I see."

"Master Prism, I'm curious about your duties as a training partner to Lord Grimfaeth," said Master Pollar, who sat between Jovun and Kashun. "If you shared mutual attraction, did you not expect all physical contact to generate stimulation for you and Lord Grimfaeth?"

"I did anticipate it might become a problem," Prism replied, "but I did not pursue that stimulation for myself."

"Did Lord Grimfaeth masturbate as a result of these encounters?" Master Pollar asked.


"Did you stop training together after the first time he did so?" Master Pollar asked.


"I see."

As it seemed his fellow council members had no further questions, Master Jovun resumed control of the trial. "Master Prism, you may resume your account. Please tell us of any other points in which you 'interpreted' the fourth oath to suit your needs."

"Shortly after my last hearing, during which my sentencing was reduced considerably, Grim and I went to the hospital for me to receive the nanite vaccine," Prism began. Grim's fear reached a new level, and Prism risked a reassuring glance at his lover before continuing his testimony. "Grim took some of my blood during that time. We used that blood and some of his own in a tattoo ritual, bonding us as familiars."

"What you're telling us is that Lord Grimfaeth is, in effect, touching you at this very moment and vice versa?" Master Jovun asked, "and you can sense everything he's feeling, including any arousal and carnal pleasure he experiences?"

"That's correct, Master Jovun," Prism replied. "However, at the time I thought such sensory information would allow me to better perform my duties of protecting Grim."

"Did you know it would bring you sensual pleasures?" Master Calthar, who sat to the left of Master Lotar, asked.

Prism replied, "The thought hadn't crossed my mind at the time, but if we'd made the decision with less impulse, I believe I would've considered that factor."

"We have much to discuss on this issue. Thank you for your testimony, and we will call Lord Grimfaeth to testify momentarily," Master Jovun said. "However, we need to address another matter before we leave to deliberate. Will you tell us what happened last night?"

Prism bowed slightly and explained, "I sensed Grim was in danger, through our link, and rushed to his room. When I arrived, a strange being was attacking him. Grim was gravely injured—I could sense it through the link better than I could see the extent of his injury—and I was determined to stop his assailant from escaping."

"Could you describe this being to us?" Master Jovun asked.

"He was naked, and I assume male from his initial appearance. He had wings at first, and six tentacles, but as I faced him his body shifted form, and he faced me with six clawed arms instead."

Several snorts of disbelief sounded around Prism, though the Senior Masters themselves continued to show proper decorum. Master Jovun spoke for them, wearing a polite smile. "You'll forgive this council's skepticism."

"If I'd not experienced it myself, I would not be telling it to you," Prism replied, "and I would be just as skeptical."

"What happened next?" Master Jovun asked.

"During the battle, he threw me against the wall and a lantern cracked open, starting the fire," Prism replied. "It appeared that the fire injured him more than any other damage I'd done. While I attempted throw him into the flames, he tripped me and made an escape."

He paused for breath, and to collect his emotions as he relived the gruesome sight of Grim's mutilated body. "Afterward, I saw to Grim, knowing he'd been injured. He healed himself, and I went unconscious and fell on top of him. I'm not certain why I slipped into unconsciousness, but perhaps it had something to do with the poison left in me from the . . . the demon? Yes, I can only call him a demon."

"Duchess Veillynn, we understand you healed the accused's leg shortly after the incident?" Master Jovun asked, turning to regard Veil.

Veil bowed to the Master before responding. "Yes. He had been poisoned by something which the nanite vaccine could stall but not heal. I'm afraid despite the foreign nature of the poison, I cannot validate Prism's story; nor can I invalidate it. I only witnessed the aftermath and offered healing."

"This council requests Lord Grimfaeth to offer testimony. Are you able?" Master Jovun asked, looking past Veil to Grim.

"Yes, Master Jovun," Grim replied. The two Masters in front of him walked forward on their knees, then slid to the side to give Grim room to pass. They resumed their original positions as Grim joined Prism on the floor before the council.

"Before I get into any specific questions, would you like to make a statement to everything addressed so far?" Master Jovun asked.

Grim bowed. "Yes. Everything Prism said is true. Everything, Except one point."

"And what is that?" Master Jovun asked. Prism's pulse raced as he avoided looking at Grim. Grim's fear and anxiety had reached new heights but resolve filled him as well.

"The poison did not cause him to lose consciousness. I stole some of his energy to heal myself, and I overdid it," Grim admitted.

"You did what!?" Sharis' anger pierced the room and drew every eye to him. With fists clenched and eyes filled with rage, Sharis looked as if he would storm over to Grim and attempt to harm him, despite all conventional Fedain tradition to the contrary.

"Sharis, you are out of order. Please do not interrupt these proceedings again or we will be forced to evict you," Master Jovun said testily.

"Humans have no authority over Fedain affairs," Sharis declared.

"And you have no authority in this court. Master Kild, please escort Sharis out." The Master nearest Sharis stood and took the priest by the elbow, guiding him from the room.

As soon as he was gone, Master Jovun returned his attention to the court. "Lord Grimfaeth, please continue."

"Prism willingly offered his energy to me, as my exhaustion and hunger prevented me from healing myself. I know he omitted this from his statement out of a desire to protect me from Fedain law, but as the Ultakan Penal Code is no longer in effect, I see no reason to evade the truth."

"So, you assert that this . . . demon, attacked you?"

"That is correct." Grim gulped back his fear, the event playing out perfectly in his mind. "He spoke to me beforehand. He called himself Khalis, and said he wanted to 'make a better world', then he . . . castrated me." He shuddered and met the eyes of each Master on the council. "I do not know if any of you are students of ancient history, but he had the appearance of a Sendar."

Master Calthar spoke to that declaration. "The Sendar have been extinct for four thousand years."

"To quote Prism: 'If I'd not experienced it myself, I would not be telling it to you'," Grim replied solemnly.

As several murmurs rippled through the crowd, Master Jovun moved past the point. "Lord Grimfaeth, you've stated that everything Prism said is true. Does that imply you are in love with him?"

"Yes, Master Jovun. And I would like to make an additional statement to that effect."


"Even if the Ultakan Penal Code were still in effect, the law specifically applies to human relations between members of the same sex. I am a Fedain, and Prism is a human. There are no laws against our union, only tradition. For that matter, the legal tradition forbidding such relationships between two humans is also unhealthy, and I for one am glad it's gone." He glanced at Prism and smiled warmly. "Love has guided every action Prism and I have taken, and if love damns us, at least we'll be damned together."

Master Jovun nodded in response. "We will deliberate in private and return as soon as we've reached a verdict." He prostrated himself before Prism and Grim, and the other council members followed suit. They filed out the back of the room and disappeared.

The crowd murmured as soon as the council left, each expressing their quiet opinions. Prism tried to tune them all out, focusing instead on feeling Grim through the link. They said nothing to each other, but as the minutes dragged on they connected through their proximity. By the time the council returned, their heartbeats and breathing were both in sync. They would face the council as one soul.

"Master Prism, this council finds you guilty of breaking the fourth oath, however, we do not believe you have done this with full intention," Master Jovun said once the room had settled again. "We believe you are guilty of self-deception, and a failure to understand the fullness of the oath. Despite your personal ignorance and naivety, the appropriate consequence is clear. You will be removed from the court of the Duke as a representative of this Order, and you will be regulated to hard labor in the service of the Order. This verdict will persist until the council deems fit to reassign you, until appropriate atonement has been made, or until the end of your sentencing, whichever comes first."

"So witnessed," the other council members replied.

"This hearing is now adjourned," Master Jovun declared. He prostrated before Prism, followed by the rest of the council.

Prism returned the gesture, dread slowly sinking in as his mind raced to find some means of staying with Grim. Would he have to escape? Where would they go? Questions continued to plague him as he rose.

But Master Jovun stayed him with a raised hand and a command. "Stay put, Master Prism."

He cleared his throat and spoke to the scribe. "This special court has been called regarding the sentencing of Master Prism. In the absence of Grandmaster Valkean, I, Jovun Belgard, will preside." He glanced at Veil before proceeding. "Let the record state that, in accordance with the termination of the Ultakan Penal Code, abolished on this date by witness of Duchess Veillynn of Tehir, all criminal charges against Master Prism are hereby annulled. Congruent with this statement, Master Prism's sentence is hereby reduced to zero years, zero months, and zero days. His time served is considered full and complete, and he will be released from the custody of the Order of the Mountain, and from the oaths hitherto sworn."

The council answered in chorus. "So witnessed."

"This hearing is now adjourned," Master Jovun said. Once again, the council prostrated themselves before him.

"I'm . . . free?" Prism asked, too stunned to reciprocate.

"You're free," Master Jovun replied. "May I offer words of counsel, Prism?"

"Certainly, Master Jovun."

"The world is uncertain. The future, whatever it will be, is not the same as the world we've left behind." Master Jovun glanced at Grim, smiling slyly before returning his full attention to Prism. "It is no secret that many people in this Order have come seeking personal enlightenment because they are at war with their own natures. Despite having broken the fourth oath, you've honored yourself this day. Grandmaster Valkean would be proud to see you here. The honesty you've shown here today will continue to serve you. Do not deny your nature. Continue to fight for the world you want to create. We know you have honored the first three oaths with distinction, and consider you a friend of this Order, and even those of us who disagree with your path will defend your right to choose it."

Prism bowed his head, humbled by the decision of the council. "Thank you, Master Jovun."

"You came to us as a pardon, directionless, with no commitment to anything but your own survival," Master Jovun continued. "The purpose of the pardons the Order takes in are to help wayward souls find direction in their life. It is clear we've succeeded in your case. Wherever you choose to go, Prism, you will bring honor to those around you."

"If I'm dismissed, Master Jovun, there's something I'd like to do without further delay," Prism said.

"Of course. May I offer one last word?"


"Be careful in how you celebrate outside these walls. Not everyone will be as receptive to this verdict as the monks will be."

"I understand." Prism couldn't hide his grin as he prostrated himself before the council. By the time he rose, the room had begun to clear. Some of the chatter was angry, and some was relieved, but all of it was moving away from him, leaving he and Grim alone in the center of the room.

He kissed Grim without hesitation, long and passionate. After a moment he let go, placing his forehead against Grim's as he said, "I'm free, and I love you."

"I love you." Grim returned the kiss and gently patted Prism's cheek. "And I'm sorry to have to cut this short, but I need to go talk to Veil. I have to thank her."

"I understand. Thank her for me too, will you?" Prism said. Kaeral approached through the diminished crowd and Prism grinned. "I could use a drink of something strong."

Kaeral slid into place beside Prism, wrapping his arm around him and hugging him tight. "I'll take care of your lover, Grim. Don't you worry."

"Yeah, I know you will, bastard." Grim laughed, rising to his feet before walking away.

"I have to admit, for a man, he's beautiful. You're one lucky rogue," Kaeral said, "but how does he know about my illegitimacy?"

"Hah! I'm sure he guessed," Prism said. "Thank you. Let's go." He stood and Kaeral followed, and they walked from the meeting hall to the stairs leading to the ground floor.

"Thank you for what?" Kaeral asked as they descended.

"Saving my life. Being there. Being my friend." Prism shrugged as they stepped outside into the daylight. "It's been awhile, but . . ." He embraced Kaeral warmly with both arms, pulling their bodies tightly together. He held the embrace for a long time as tears came unbidden to his eyes.

Kaeral returned the embrace just as strongly. "Hey, I love you, too, brother."

"There he is! And the Gor's with him, too! Get 'em both!" an angry voice said from behind Prism. Something hard collided with the back of his skull, and he slipped to the ground, dazed as someone dragged him away.

"Veil! Wait!" Grim caught up to his sister on the third floor of the Temple, shortly before she reached her room.

"Grim." Veil nodded politely, but her expression remained stony. "Congratulations on the verdict. I'm sure you'll be happy together." She turned away, the conversation complete as far as she was concerned.

Grim grasped her arm to keep her attention. "Thank you, Veil."

"For?" She asked, prying his fingers from her arm as she fixed him with an icy glare.

"For pointing out that Ultakan Penal Code is invalid."

"A man guilty of love was about to die for it when I could prevent it. I couldn't allow such a pointless waste of life. Such senseless violence is detestable." Veil's lip quivered, her eyes filled with pain and wrath.

It all weighed on Grim, magnifying the guilt for committing the greatest taboo of his people. "Is there no room for forgiveness?"

"I don't know," Veil answered. "You'll have to give me time, Grim. I can't help but think of Master Janlynd, and how we've forgotten our responsibility to care for the people. I know you care about them, but . . . what you've done is unthinkable."

"I—" before Grim could get the words out, a blinding pain erupted in the back of his skull. He staggered forward, clutching at his head but finding no evidence of a wound. It took him a moment to recover, finding himself in Veil's arms.

"What's wrong?" She asked.

"Something happened to . . ." his throat grew tight, pure fear taking over as some unseen force wrapped around his throat.

"Grim!" Veil shouted as he gasped for air.

He recovered after a moment, the psychosomatic force fading as Grim realized the suffocation came not from him, but from Prism. He slipped from Veil's arms, staggering down the hall until he regained control.

"I have to go . . . I have to . . . they're killing him!" he shouted.

And then he ran, tearing down the hall and descending the stairs four at a time. He reached the second floor and stepped through one of the windows, taking the most direct route possible to reach Prism. He slid down the slightly slanted roof, coming out above the crowd which gathered beneath a large apple tree.

A noose circled Prism's neck, the other end of the rope in the hands of several men trying to pull him over a sturdy branch of the tree. Prism's hands gripped the bottom of the noose, keeping it from sliding completely shut around his neck. He'd hooked his heels onto a root of the tree to keep the men from dragging him upward, though the force of the pull was beginning to take its toll on him.

A single human stood before Prism, fist raised in the air as he led the crowd in a series of chants. "Hang the abomination! Hang the unclean one!"

Nearby, Kaeral faced off against three men with knives. His blood splattered the ground from a dozen cuts as he tried to fend them off with his hands. His attention divided between his own survival and anxious glances at Prism, which his tormentors taunted mercilessly.

"You think yer gonna escape, savage? Think you're gonna help yer friend?"

"Kaeral!" Tala's son shouted from beyond the three men. He tossed Kaeral's sword to him, and Kaeral immediately wielded it, cutting down one of his assailants with a fluid flick of steel.

"Kill him before he kills us!" the other two shouted to the incensed crowd. Six men buried Kaeral behind a wall of flesh, and no help would come from there in time to save Prism.

With determination, he jumped from the roof, landing a short distance from the leader. The man regarded him with contempt, a sneer creasing his black-bearded face.

"Look, the Pale has joined us! Did you come to watch your lover hang?"

"Release him," Grim demanded, slowly walking forward.

The man scoffed. "You can't hurt us. We don't work for you anymore, and you won't lift a finger. Fedain are all weak, they can't do anything that needs—"

Grim closed the remaining distance between them, placing his hand against the leader's face. He established a connection with the lifeforce inside the man, and willed it to stop, to disassemble, to disperse back to the world that gave it life.

The leader's face exploded out the back of his skull, a mess of blood, bone, and brain matter splattering across the ground and Grim's arm. Grim retained his composure through the grisly scene, staring straight at the three men attempting to hoist Prism into the tree.

"If anyone tries to hurt or kill Prism, I will end them." Grim flicked his arm to the side, gore flying from it in a gracefully macabre arc. He pointed his bloody finger at the men and said with blazing eyes, "Leave, or share his fate." The men dropped the rope and ran, and the crowd left with them. Prism removed the noose from his neck, gasping.

Grim stood over the headless corpse of the man he killed, disgusted, but strangely calm. The reality of what he'd done hadn't fully set in. He felt apart from himself, as if he'd witnessed someone else commit murder with his body.

But Prism joined him a moment later, his voice still hoarse and the veins in his face still throbbing. "Grim, you . . . killed someone. Thank you for—"

Grim shook his head, his eyes locked on the headless neck, small black hairs all that remained of a face Grim melted into nothingness. "No, Prism. No 'thanks'. Not for this. Never for this."

"Come on, let's get out of here," Kaeral said, joining them, his blade dripping with at least as much blood as his wounds. "We'll pack our things and move on."

Grim looked up at last, knowing whom he'd see when he turned back toward the Temple. "Veil . . ." he whispered. She couldn't hear him, but she wouldn't have listened anyway. He'd stepped beyond the line, to a place of no return, committing the most egregious and terrible sin.

And Veil stood there, a witness to it all, having followed him from the moment he left her arms. She had come out of concern for her wayward and reckless brother, and he'd failed to live up to her expectations once again. Her eyes betrayed nothing but pitying sadness, tears of undeniable agony streaming down her cheeks.

"You are no longer my brother, and you are no longer Fedain. I strip you of your inheritance and title and remove you from my family," Veil declared. "By my oath and blood, I will never speak to you again, nor give you shelter in my home. You are bloodless and impure." She turned her back on him and climbed back inside the Temple.

"Veil!" Grim called after her, but his cry fell on deaf ears. The full weight of the moment crashed into him. He and the murderer became one, and life would never be the same. In killing another, he had killed himself.

Prism embraced him, cradling him against his chest as he whispered, "Grim . . . I'm so sorry."

Grim pulled away, staring once more at the headless corpse before walking away. "Let's go," he said bitterly. "Let's get out of here before we all get hanged for our true natures."

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