Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 1
Axio leaned back against the trunk of a huge birch tree at the outer perimeter of the camp. There was no settlement between Daggerford and Waterdeep large enough to accommodate this caravan, and banditry this close to the walls effectively didn’t happen, but it never hurt to be careful.
The crackling of a cooking fire behind him caught his ears. The merchants and caravaneers were clearly not too interested in a cold meal that night, and Axio had to admit it sounded appealing.
“Excuse me,” a small voice said. Axio looked down to hear that the footsteps he had heard approaching were indeed those of Aresh, who was looking up at him while his mother watched from the fire.
“Hello, Aresh,” Axio said. “Can I help you?”
“Um… I was wondering,” the boy answered. “What was that man talking about before?”
“A gate? What is that?”
Axio sighed. “A gate spell is a mighty piece of magic that allows you to travel from place to place instantly. Other planes, heavens, hells, other worlds… anywhere, really.”
“Wow. And you did it?” Aresh asked in awe.
“No, my little friend, Ryaire did it. She brought me to her.”
Axio hesitated. “She…” Did he really want to keep going? He had made an ass of himself before the child earlier. He thought for a moment, and then knelt before Aresh, bringing him to eye level. “She wanted to meet her great-grandson,” Axio said. He removed his helmet.
Aresh gaped. Axio’s face was a flawless image of handsome strength. His eyes were unearthly blue, with platinum blonde hair cut to shoulder length. His face wasn’t human, but it wasn’t eladrin, like Aresh’s. He looked like the angel he claimed he wasn’t.
“Um… so the guy in the cart was right?” Aresh finally said.
“No. My mother is Ryaire’s granddaughter; her father was Ryaire’s son. He never met her,” Axio explained. He rocked back on his heels. “My parents serve the Church of Ryaire, just like I do.”
Aresh seemed to be struggling to take it all in. “So did you get to go to heaven even though you’re not dead?”
“I did. Briefly.”
Aresh’s eyes widened. “Can I go? I want to see if my sister’s okay!”
Axio’s heart broke. He bit back tears and put his helmet down on the ground beside him. “No, I’m afraid I can’t open a gate myself. I can pray for your sister, though, and Ryaire might hear me.”
“Can I? What do I say?” Aresh demanded.
The empathic Aasimar sighed. “Well… here. When you lie down to bed tonight, close your eyes and ask Ryaire, in your mind, without saying anything aloud, to greet your sister, and to welcome her, and to love her. And then, if you don’t feel better, ask her to take care of you, and keep you safe, too. She’ll do it if she can, you know.” Axio finally smiled. “She loves all whose lives are lost too young.”
Aresh sniffled. “Will you say it too?”
Axio reached over and, with immense care, squeezed the child’s hand. “I certainly shall, little man. Now, may I ask you a question, since you’ve asked me so many?”
“Well… okay,” Aresh said.
“Where is your father?”
Aresh looked down. “Mother says he stayed behind to look for Lyafe in the house.”
“In the house?”
The little half-eladrin rubbed his nose on his sleeve. “The… mother called them madmen. They burned our house, and our barn with all the goats. Father stayed with the house to look for Lyafe.”
Lost to madness, then, or killed by the Baneites. Axio couldn’t restrain himself from embracing the boy. Aresh stiffened as he felt the huge warrior encircle him, but Axio applied no pressure. “Aresh, I promise you, I will do everything I can to put this right,” Axio said sadly. “I can’t bring you your sister or your father, but I can ask Ryaire to watch over them, and I can punish the wicked men who took Lyafe.”
“Sir?” a familiar voice asked.
Axio sat back and looked up to see the human woman standing over them. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Aresh here was telling me things, and asking me questions,” Axio said. “I couldn’t help myself.”
The woman sighed. “I suppose that’s alright. Aresh, are you bothering the healer?”
“No!” Aresh said indignantly.
“No,” Axio echoed. He rose to his feet. In his armor, he towered over the woman, whose eyes widened as she saw his deific features. He smiled with wry sadness in his face. “I am sorry if I was inappropriate, but the lad needed a hug, I’m afraid.”
She narrowed her eyes again. “Humph. No harm done. What did you tell him?”
“He wanted to know about gate magic, so I explained what it is, and how it lets you travel.” He looked down at Aresh. “I’m afraid I didn’t get to the part where it’s hugely expensive. It’s a ninth-level spell, so only the mightiest of mages can cast it. Elminster, the Blackstaffs, you know.”
“Oh.” Aresh looked down. “Well… if a grown-up dies, do they go to the Arbor?”
“Only if they serve Ryaire, as I do. Otherwise, their own god takes them, if they have one,” Axio explained.
Aresh squinted in the gathering darkness. “And what if they don’t have a god?”
Axio winced. That story he hated even telling adults, let alone little children. The fate of the Faithless in the Wall of Kelemvor was horrific. “I do not wish to answer that question, child. It is not a good thing to know. But,” he said, as the mother inflated to speak, “know this. You have your whole life to choose. I don’t get to tell you who to worship. Nobody does.”
Aresh pondered that. “…Ryaire is taking care of Lyafe?”
“I suspect so.”
“Okay.” Aresh kicked the sod and stared down at his shoes. “I’m hungry.”
“Let’s get you some food, then, Aresh,” the mother said, gesturing to lead the child away. She shot Axio an odd look as she did so.
Axio watched them go, and then turned back to his vigil. He had gone too far, again. He sighed heavily. Growing up immersed in a profoundly military culture his entire life had somewhat stunted his ability to speak to civilians. Children didn’t seem to mind, but adults could often perceive him as odd.
“At least I’m still overwhelmingly attractive,” he said aloud, reciting his stupid old joke. Nobody was in range to hear it.
Flawed though his social method was, his word was an oath. As Axio lay down to sleep underneath one wagon, which had pulled off the road for the night, as others lay beneath blankets, or pitched tents. He closed his eyes. He clasped his hands over his chest, around his holy symbol. It was a lovely piece of art, a badge of tin embossed with platinum, in the shape of a pair of wide-open eyes in a circle, with an open pair of wings behind it. The appearance of the wings had confused him, since neither Ryaire nor her husband had ever had them, but she explained that all of the angels who had joined her service since she had risen to divinity had had wings of exactly that shape, for some reason. She had added it to the symbol out of respect for their hard work at securing her pocket dimension, off the House of the Triad proper.
Axio rested in stillness, quieting his heart. He reached out with his mind into the emptiness of the Astral Sea, knowing Ryaire was listening. ‘Lady Ryaire, guard of the young and mother to the sacrificed, please hear me,’ he thought. ‘Tonight, I ask on behalf of another. A small child, Aresh, today met me on my path to Waterdeep. There is a strong chance that his sister, a girl of eight years named Lyafe, is now winging her way to your arms.’ He swallowed. ‘Please send somebody to watch over her, and welcome her into the Arbor if you can. Her father is also probably dead. He may have been killed by the Baneites. If he lives, then please watch over him, too. If not, then show me, that I may at least know that much.’
He sighed. ‘I go into battle soon, my great-grandmother. I will bring this Baneite filth to heel, and I will stop their rapacious fear mongering. I vouch you this.
‘I ask for your blessing, Ryaire, and your wisdom. I will have need of both.’
He received no reply, not that he had expected his prayers to lead into a conversation. Still, the holy symbol’s cold metal seemed to glow in his hands for a moment, and he smiled. That was more feedback than he usually got. He glanced out to the side of the cart’s sheltering lee, and saw the curling smoke of the campfires. He squinted… was that smoke moving against the wind?
It was. Before his eyes, he saw a plume of smoke round off a bit, drifting away from the column of white, and the way the wind tugged at its edges… it was forming a skull.
Axio scoffed and rolled to his feet. He could be stubborn and insist that it was a coincidence, but it wasn’t the first time Ryaire had sent him a signal in smoke. “I get it,” he growled to himself. “I’m not telling the boy.”
He scooted out from beneath the cart and stood. As a Chosen, he barely needed any sleep, and he could skip days without effect. He was too emotional to sleep that night, anyway. He vaulted up into the cart and stood, arms crossed. He would protect the cart, at least. He could do that much. He couldn’t bring a sad little boy to heaven, make sure his sister made it there safely, or bring back an eladrin who just wanted to make his daughter secure, but he could guard a damn cart.
|The tale of the Holy Opposites ||
|Arc 1: | Prologue | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 |
Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10
|Arc 2: | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 |
Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20
Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25
|Arc 3: | Chapter 26 | Chapter 27 | Chapter 28 | Chapter 29 | Chapter 30|
|Arc 4: | Chapter 31 | Chapter 32 | Chapter 33 | Chapter 34 | Chapter 35 |
Chapter 36 | Chapter 37 | Chapter 38 | Chapter 39 | Glossary