Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 13
Axio stood outside Lodhart’s, clad in his full battle regalia. His magic armor shone with an inner gleam that seemed to amplify the light that struck it. The whole street was clearing out around him, and had been since he had come to a halt. Cavria stood nervously behind him, quite certainly happy to be not the center of attention. Axio looked up at the empty store windows and saw no movement, but he wouldn’t trust his vision alone here. He cast detect magic, and felt a few glimmers in the building, including behind the doors and behind the windows.
“Traps in the doors,” he muttered.
“I can see them,” Cavria said in the same tone. “Springs, magic pins. Nasty.”
“Rigged, not magical. Clamp trap.”
“Not sure,” Cavria admitted.
“Then we check there.” Without another word, Axio turned and walked between the store and the building next to it, pausing to tap the wall every few feet. When they turned the corner to the back wall, he frowned. “Hmm. Another trap.”
Cavria glanced over his shoulder. Sure enough, there was a tripwire across the back window. “Can’t see what it triggers.”
“Then we go in here,” Axio said. He reached down and tested the window. It didn’t move. “Locked.”
“I’ll pick it,” Cavria said.
“No need,” Axio said. He pressed his armored fingers against the glass pane and pushed hard, and the old glass shattered around his fingers. He withdrew his hands as fast as a viper, and a blast of light broke the window outwards in his face. Cavria’s heart leaped, but Axio just grunted.
“Bah. A simple distraction,” he said. He reached into the shattered window and grabbed the top and bottom of the frame. The wood splintered in his grasp as he pulled, and simply ripped the entire frame out of the wall.
I watched in awe as my senior partner simply removed the part of the building that stood in our way. I had guessed he was very strong from the amazing upper body build he had shown when putting on his armor, but this was unreal. The wooden frame fell aside, and he stooped to step through the hole. I followed, glancing around to make sure we weren’t about to come under attack. Axio straightened up inside room and looked around. “Hmm… there,” he said, turning to point. The door into the stairwell was rattling. “Brace for enemies.”
I moved beside him and raised my glaive to battle position. It was time to fight.
The door exploded inward. A huge creature of stone and flesh tumbled through, reaching for us with grasping claws. I felt adrenaline pound through me as I lunged forward with my glaive, skewering the gargoyle, but it shook me off with a shriek and a spurt of blood. It slashed at me with its great claws, but Axio caught it with a shield block and stabbed deep with his sword.
The stone beast heaved a gurgling noise out of its shredded throat and collapsed. Axio stepped over it and bashed the swinging door behind it open with his shield. It caught another gargoyle in the face, sending it back with a squawk. I leaned in behind him and stabbed with my glaive, taking it in the chest.
Axio crushed its chest with his armored boot. “This is odd,” he said tightly. “Gargoyles are naturally much tougher than this.”
“These are understrength?” I asked, looking around carefully. We didn’t seem to be near any traps, but the good ones would be hard to spot.
“Real ones, they have skin like stone and bones like iron,” Axio said curtly. “These may be recent constructs.” He leaped forward to dodge as another creature dropped out of the ceiling of the stairwell to try to pin him. Axio drove his sword up to the hilt in the creature’s innards and twisted, then ripped the sword out laterally, cleaving the monster clean in half.
“And you need me to hold your coat?” I quipped. “I ask, because you’re a strong, growing boy, who eats his vegetables.”
He gave a single terse laugh. “Don’t overestimate me.” He ducked his head into the stairwell and took a deep breath. “Here we go.” He charged up the stairs. His heavy weight and the force of his legs shook the wood of the stairs as he rose. I followed more quietly with my back turned, making sure nothing was following us up the stairs.
There was a crash like a collapsing wagon at the top of the stairs as Axio slammed into the waiting creatures. There were three that I could see, each waving big, ugly claws and snapping fang-filled mouths. They seemed a little larger than the ones downstairs, but that didn’t stop me.
I sprang from the stairwell already swinging. I drove my glaive into one ugly beast, wounding it and driving it back. Another swung its claws and they skittered off my chest with the awful sound of metal and stone grinding together. I recoiled from the blow and brought the pommel up into its legs, sending it stumbling.
Axio roared and swung his shining blade through one gargoyle, taking its arm off. “Die, beast, for Lady Ryaire!” The monster reeled, bleeding its odd grey blood from the stump, and honked feebly. I finished off my first target with a stab, but had to let go of the glaive as the second one grabbed my head with its horrid claws.
I screamed as pain knifed through my skin and cheeks. The creature made its horrible noise as it sensed victory.
Its notion was in error. I drove my balled fists up into the elbows of the monster and broke its grip. I hissed in pain as it took a piece of skin off with it, but I forced back my discomfort. I gave it a quick combo of punches, just like the Paladins in the Arbor had shown me. It lurched away a pace and I brought my knee up in its bony undercarriage, but it clanked off stone.
The door to the back room opened, and a beast from a nightmare emerged. It was enormous, easily twice my size, with ugly claws and huge fangs. It was a gargoyle, or it looked like one, but it was far larger than the things we were fighting. There was another figure behind it, a human by his looks, but the creature moved between us, and the battle rejoined.
Axio finished off the decapitated gargoyle with a crushing stomp and charged at the larger beast. “It’s a Margoyle!” he shouted. He spoke words of power, invoking Ryaire’s might on his blade, and it glowed with divine favor. I returned my attention to the beast I was fighting and had to spring back as it swept its claws at my knees. I jabbed with the glaive, then juked to one side and slammed the flat into its shoulder, spinning it. I drove the head of the glaive through its back before it could recover, killing it. I cursed under my breath as I regained my balance. A polearm indoors was a mistake.
I checked on the three smaller gargoyles – all dead – then moved up to help Axio. He was struggling. The man behind the Margoyle was muttering incantations beneath his breath, rummaging through a spell components case with one hand and making gestures with the other. A mage, then, possibly a wizard. I charged up behind Axio and slammed my glaive into its stony midsection. It growled and clocked me right in the face with one huge fist. I stumbled back, clutching my weapon, as Axio slashed it across the torso. It reeled but held its feet, and I snarled as I realized what was going on. The wizard was bolstering it somehow. He wasn’t healing its wounds, but he was fortifying it.
Axio noticed too. “Stop the wizard,” he snarled. He drew back for a lunging strike which drove the Margoyle back a full five paces and sent it wheezing. “Kill the bastard!”
I sprang past the Margoyle and through the door. The wizard – elf, male, black clothes, red tattoos on his face – threw the contents of his spell components in my face. I screamed and fell back, clawing the burning powders and unguents out of my eyes. I fell back through the door and slammed into the ground, rolling around in pain.
“Cavria!” Axio bellowed. He reached forward with his shield arm and grabbed the Margoyle, then pulled it onto his sword. The weakened beast collapsed, and Axio barreled towards the mage.
The wizard slammed the door in his face, and I heard the clank of a lock. Axio rebounded off the door in a shower of sparks – it was warded.
“Axio, the roof,” I croaked. “He can get out the skylight.”
“No, he can’t,” Axio said. He jerked his thumb up. “It’s in this room.” He knelt by my side and rested his hands on my face. “Hold still, okay? I’m going to heal you.”
I closed my ravaged eyes and tried not to scream as he poured healing magic into me. “Lesser restoration,” he whispered, and I felt my eyes heal. He sent an extra jolt of healing magic into my body, channeled from his pool of divine energy, and I was instantly feeling better.
I grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze as I rose to my feet and retrieved my glaive. “Thanks, Axio,” I said. “He threw his spell component bag in my face.”
“I saw. I’ll send him straight to his master for that,” Axio promised darkly.
I pointed at the door. “Can you dispel that?”
“It’s a high-level spell, I won’t bother,” Axio said. He stepped back and looked at the wall. “Is he still in there?”
I closed my eyes and extended my fiend senses. Sure enough, there was an evil signature on the other side of the door. “Yes.”
“Fine.” Axio looked up at the ceiling. “This store hasn’t been maintained in decades.”
“And the roof is wood.”
Axio looked down at the floor – stone. The walls next, they were wood. “Fine.”
He stepped up to the wall beside the door and drew his sword. “We go under.”
“Through the ceiling, from below?” I asked.
“No.” Axio drove his sword into the old wood of the ceiling, gouging a hole. Splinters rained down on the floor around him. “Cut the roof beam here,” he said, pointing at the central wooden spar of the room. I was confused, but I did as I was told. “Now above the doorframe,” he said. I did so.
“Axio, what are we doing?” I demanded.
“Going under the wall,” Axio said. “When I give the signal, I need you to get through and incapacitate the wizard. Got it?”
I squared my shoulders. “I can do that.”
“Good.” Axio put his sword in the sheath and set the sheath on the floor, next to his shield. He walked to stand beside the cut he had made in the wall and crouched down. He stuck his hands in the holes and… and lifted…
I watched in awe and total shock as my Aasimar partner simply removed the wall. The old wood shuddered in his hands, divine light poured from his eyes and lit the room in sapphire blue; somebody on the other side of the wall screamed, and the wall moved. It simply wasn’t where it had been. The wood warped, tore, splintered, and lifted, as the Chosen of Ryaire put his immense strength, more than a mortal could ever have naturally, against the durability of old wood.
I hear the skylight behind us splinter. The ward on the door exploded in fire and light, scattering sparks all over the floor. Bystanders outside screamed and ran as Axio tore the back fifth of the building’s top floor and the roof above it off and lifted it high.
The wizard scrabbled back against the floor, agog, as Axio destroyed his lair. Axio raised the part of the wall he had ripped loose, and that whole corner of the building pivoted up on the stump of wood behind the mage, at the wall opposite where Axio had cut. Axio held it up long enough for me to duck under, then stooped down to retrieve his sword and shield… with one hand still holding the building…
I was glad my features were concealed behind my magic disguise. I would have been unable to hide my shock, and even then, I suspect it would have shone through to my face had we not been in shadow. Axio held the wooden wall over his head, and the parts of roof that weren’t crashing all around us, long enough to retrieve his gear, then walked through, letting the wall collapse behind him with a thunderous smash. Parts of building fell out into the streets. I heard more screaming.
I loomed over the terrified wizard and held my glaive to his chest, but he wasn’t looking at me, and I don’t blame him. Axio’s eyes were still leaking blue smoke as he slowly walked over to us. He stopped a mere foot from the huddled elf and leaned forward, very slightly.
His voice was a divine commandment. “Confess!” he thundered. “Name your patron!”
“B-B-Bane,” the elf said, teeth chattering in fear. I felt a prickle of fiendish delight in his suffering and fear, and quashed it as hard as I could. I would NOT let my evil flesh control me, I would not.
“Why are you collecting children?” Axio demanded.
“The M-Master commands it,” the elf stammered. “Please, please don’t kill me.”
Axio stooped and picked the elf up with his free hand and let him hang a foot off the ground. “I won’t need to, scum,” he said flatly. “The people out there are about to learn who it was that has been sending monsters to attack their children.”
“Then tell me. Why does your master want children?” I growled.
“I don’t know!” the elf insisted. He clutched at Axio’s hand as if it would have made the slightest difference. “I swear!”
Axio and I rolled our eyes at the same time. We both heard the lie in his voice. “Wrong answer,” Axio said. He squeezed. “Try again. Truthfully.”
“I really don’t know!” the elf insisted, sweating and bleeding from the falling wood cuts.
Axio glowered. “Again, wrong.” He drew back one meaty fist and punched, and the elf rocked back, unconscious. “We’ll see what the Watch gets from him,” he grunted, dropping the elf on the floor in a heap.
I stepped back and blew out a breath of tension. “Axio, that… that was unreal,” I said.
Axio didn’t pretend he didn’t know what I was saying. “The wall, eh? Well, being Ryaire’s Chosen grants all kinds of powers,” he explained. “Strength is the most obvious.”
“No kidding,” I joked. The lack of negative emotion from the elf was helping me calm down. “So… no children here.”
“Yes, I’m disappointed,” Axio said, looking around. “They must take them somewhere else once they’re here. How, I don’t know.”
I looked around. “Well, this place is trashed now.”
Axio nodded. “Right. I bet the Watch knows we’re here,” he said drily. “Let’s go out and greet them.”
“Are you seriously that calm, or are you freaking out inside over having to fight, like I am?” I asked, taken aback by how cavalier he was.
He sighed. “I know it seems odd, but I really am that calm.”
“I envy you that,” I admitted. I stooped down and started tying up the prisoner.
He looked away and said nothing. I had expected a comment on my remark, but all I heard was silence. When I finished binding the prisoner, I grabbed my weapon and Axio hoisted the elf onto his shoulder.
“Off we go,” he remarked, letting me lead the way.
Below, the street was anarchy. Suivi Embersson watched the scene with shocked eyes. The Aasimar strode out of the place into the knifepoints of the Watch like an avenging god, with a person over his shoulder. The woman was standing off to the side, looking at all the smashed material in the street.
He hadn’t beaten the gargoyles with martial skill; he had ripped the fucking roof off the place and dropped it. Suivi felt ice crawl down his spine as he watched the total nonchalance on Axiopistos’ face. The Paladin had removed his helm and had it under one arm as he explained the circumstances of the fight. Suivi stood close enough to listen and recorded everything Axiopistos said in his mind, but it was a mechanical, rote thing. The sheer destruction the Aasimar had caused looked like what the Tarrasque had done some years before; whole buildings smashed to flinders.
The spy waited until the Paladin was done talking and walked back in before he took off. Toller needed to know about this. Embersson pulled his hood up and walked as fast as he dared towards the distant building with the impossible interior.
Toller already knew. He watched the entire scene unfold on the enchanted stone in his altar room. The image transmitted through the eyes of a statue on the roof of an adjacent building. The old cleric’s hands tightened on the tabletop as he watched the Paladin rip the roof off the building.
He wanted to shout at the screen for Greenpath to kill himself, or to jump out the window, or something, anything other than being taken alive by the monster who had just walked into his operation. Embersson had warned him that the Paladins knew of the hideout, and he had sent the order to strip the place if need be, but this…
He watched in disgusted silence as the Paladins emerged with Greenpath on their shoulders, tied up. The Watch took him into custody, and Embersson walked off from the crowd.
Toller sat still for a few more seconds before slamming his hands down on the table. He rose to his feet and stormed down the corridor to the sacrificial chair. He burst into the room without a knock and glared around, seething.
“Gastor!” he snapped. “Where are you?”
A pile of rags and sinew in the corner unspooled and regarded him with three baleful eyes. “Oh, what now?” it demanded.
“Greenpath’s rookery was taken by the Watch and the Ryairans,” Toller said bluntly. “What can you do?”
The sinew golem waved one fibrous hand. “From here? Not a thing.”
Toller bit back a curse. “And the gargoyles?”
“What about them? I can’t bloody command what isn’t here!” the beast said angrily. “Go to the others for help, if you need it.”
Toller clenched his meaty hands. “If the others knew what we were doing…” he muttered, before trailing off. “No. We just lay low. Greenpath won’t talk.”
“And my food?” the golem demanded.
“I’ll do what I can,” Toller said, and he slammed the door. He cursed under his breath with every step he took back up to the altar. A piteous wailing arose from the nearest little door, but he ignored it. He had far greater concerns.
The cleric slammed the door to the alter open and walked through the room to the front entry, but before he could reach it, it opened on its own. “Toller,” Suivi said urgently.
“I saw, Greenpath’s rookery got hit,” Toller snapped. “Disappear for a few days. Between the ambush yesterday and now this, we’re on the verge of losing this thing. When it’s safe, return.”
Suivi nodded grimly. “I agree. I’ll come back in three days.” He ran a hand through his hair. “You know when you promised that we wouldn’t have to endure any real scrutiny,” he said archly, “I suspected I wouldn’t have to worry about a Paladin ripping roofs off of buildings.”
Toller glared at him. “Don’t get snide. Just stay out of sight.”
|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