Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 17
Morning came in a rush of noise. The door nearly blew off the hinges as one of the sisters rushed in. “Cavria!” she said, waking me up. “Cavria, please, come out and see the Watch!”
I rolled over, checking to see my amulet was still in place – and I wasn’t happy about sleeping with a cord around my neck, I promise you – and clambering out from under the covers. “What? What’s happening?” I demanded.
“The Watch have found the Baneites,” the sister said breathlessly. “They’re rallying for an attack.”
I put real clothes on and bolted out into the chapel, where two Watchmen were waiting. Axio was right behind me, hurriedly trying on his shoes.
“Ah, yes, Cavria, Axio, good,” Solen said, waving us over. “The Orsar was just talking about you.”
An elf in Watch armor straightened up and saluted as we approached. “I’m sorry to shake you out of your beds this early, Paladins, especially so soon after your last action, but we have a problem,” he said immediately. “The Watch wizard we sent to the sight of that gargoyle rookery found evidence of a fixed sending spell rune inscribed into the floor. It could send and receive messages of twenty-five words or fewer, anywhere on the planet. The wizard analyzed it, and they found a nearby resonance.”
“A recipient of the spells?” Axio demanded.
“It seems the sending was directed towards a small farmstead north of the city walls,” the Orsar said, “but it also infrequently communicated with a place we suspect to be in Undermountain.”
I quailed. Undermountain? The most terrifying dungeon in all of Toril?
“Which one are we hitting first?” Axio demanded.
“The farm. There’s a caravan headed north on the highway to Rassalanatar,” the Orsar explained. “The farm is near the road. It’s in a well-patrolled area, so we are assuming that the enemy has some means of either avoiding or circumventing the local law. There are over a hundred Waterdhavian Watch and a thousand Guard within a day’s walk, so they clearly will be prepared for an assault.”
I looked out the open door of the chapel at the morning crowds. “Do we have any clue what we’ll be facing?”
“None whatsoever,” the Watch officer admitted unhappily. “But at least we can prepare now. The farmhouse is small, it’s not isolated, we can be there in under a day’s march.”
“We’ll be ready. When and where do we meet?” Axio pressed.
“Tonight, midnight, the northern gate,” the Watchman said. “Bring any magic items you may possess which can interfere with spellcasting. Counterspell totems, holy water, that sort of thing.”
Axio saluted, razor-sharp. “We’ll be ready.”
We spent the day preparing. I asked Ryaire for my new spells, and Axio drew holy water from the small container at the back of the church we kept for emergency exorcisms. Solen blessed the water personally, while the other few fighters in the temples, like the chapel guard and the Paladin trainees, readied to defend the place from Baneite retaliation. I was a bit scared, but I was as ready as I could have been, and the Guard was coming with us.
Where the Watch were the defenders of local law, the Guard were the military might. A mixture of spear foot, light lancers, swords, bows, crossbows, and combat mages (alchemists, sorcerers and the like), the Guard represented the central military authority of Waterdeep. Two full Sword teams, ten men each with an officer in charge of both, would accompany us into the field, alongside a Watch patrol. The thirty of us would together hit the farmhouse like a tornado, and rip the Banites asunder.
Axio was just finishing with the holy water bottles when I found him. He was splashing a bit of water on the palms of his hands and whispering a prayer. I waited for him to finish before I spoke. “Axio?”
“I’m ready,” he said. He turned to face me, and his expression rang with certainty. “Are you?”
“I’m fine,” I said, and it was weird. I was scared, but not as scared as I thought I would have been. Maybe it was what I knew about our force. With thirty people, this would be heavily slanted in our favor.
“Good.” He hefted his sword and shield. “Time to go.”
Outside, Axio saluted his parents and Solen, and marched down the street towards the north gate in full battle regalia. He had his cloak, coat, armor, cape, hood, and helm all on, and he cut a swathe through the crowd with his imposing bulk. Cavria followed in his wake, and the two made excellent time. They were at the Gate just as the Guard contingent rolled up.
The officer was addressing his men, and the Watch. “All right, soldiers,” he snapped. “We’re heading north, to put a stop to this Baneite filth. When we reach the farm, we hit from the south, and attack the main house. The Paladins… ah,” he said, as he registered the approach of the two divine fighters. “Yes, these two are the ones who found the gargoyle rookery, so they’ll be joining us. We need to try to leave the buildings intact as possible, since we need to ascertain that there is a sending circle there. Any questions?”
One Guard raised his hand. “Ah, Captain?”
“These cultists, er… they’re taking kids, right?”
The officer sighed. “Unfortunately.”
“Do we need to worry about crossfire, then?” the Guard asked uncomfortably.
“I see.” The rest of the Guard fell silent. The Captain looked around, then over at the two Paladins.
“You, Paladins… Axiopistos, and I’m afraid we haven’t met,” he said politely.
Cavria offered him a parade-perfect martial salute and clicked her armored heels. “Sir! Sister-Paladin Cavria, Order of Ryaire, sir, and long-arm specialist.”
The Captain returned her salute. “Yes. You and Paladin Axiopistos will provide healing and counter-magical support. Have you holy water?” Axio held up a pair of jugs and a small satchel of glass bottles. “Excellent. It is not unknown to us that the slaves of Bane may summon daemon mercenaries to protect their installations,” the Captain explained. “Have you been briefed?”
“Thoroughly,” Axio replied.
“Good.” The Captain returned his attention to his soldiers. “Men, we depart at midnight. Prepare your rations and waterskins, because we’re not stopping until sunrise. When we reach the place we’ve set aside for staging, we will rest under cover of our camouflage blankets until evening, then storm the place under cover of night. Fall out.”
The Guard saluted, and they and the Watch moved over to a bag-and-blanket-stuffed cart. The Captain turned to the two holy warriors. “And you two,” he said. “These Baneites. Anything to expect?”
Axio shook his head. “Bane cultists like magic that causes pain, but they don’t really focus on any one specific spell above others. They may use undead, they may not. We won’t know until we arrive.”
The Captain scoffed under his breath. “So we shall,” he said darkly.
The two Paladins rode behind the Guard in their mounted patrol out from the gate at midnight. The ride was a mere twenty miles past the edge of the city, but in the darkness, they were bound by their need for stealth. The group left the road at the appointed place and walked off into the fields. The carts and horses were tied up under the eyes of the Watch. The soldiers and the Paladins crept forward as far as they dared and pulled camouflage blankets, covering themselves.
The day was longer now. The group sat still under their blankets, flat on the ground, eating their hardtack and sipping water. When the sun went down, the group rose again, walking the final two miles to the farm in silence.
The Captain held up a mailed fist when the collection of soldiers was within firing range of the farm with their bows. “Hsst! Darkvision front, eyes out for traps,” he muttered.
Axiopistos and Cavria were both among those present with darkvision. Both crept forward, glancing about as they did. The ground and sparse vegetable crops didn’t seem to be trapped in any way.
Axio felt a mote of concern in his mind as he advanced, crouching low and holding his weapons for silence. He scanned the windows for any movement – nothing. The barn and farmhouse had dim candles in a few windows, but there were no people he could see, even as he closed to a hundred feet.
The Guard followed them from patch of vegetables to patch of vegetables. The candlelight didn’t spread far from the windows, and the moon was dark tonight behind storm clouds, though the rain hadn’t started.
Cavria froze when she came within sixty feet of the farmhouse. There… she could just faintly sense something at the extreme edge of her perception. She held up both hands to her shoulders to signal the stop, and the other soldiers paused.
“Cavria?” Axio asked faintly.
“Something. Moving in the house. Magic beast,” Cavria hissed. “Big. No idea what it is.”
Axio nodded. “Which floor?”
“Ground, moving away from us,” she replied, her voice barely above a whisper. Axio turned and relayed that to the Captain.
The officer nodded grimly. “Got it,” he said quietly.
Axio waved a hand, and he and the two half-elves in the Captain’s Guard unit advanced with Cavria beside. A female dwarf walked on her other side from him, and she kept her eyes to the ground as well.
They closed within thirty feet. The door was on the side facing to their left, and there was no access on the side facing them. Axio looked back to the officer and nodded towards the front porch – he would attack there. The Captain tapped his brow, and peeled off. Axio and one of the Guard teams, a group of five humans, followed, while Cavria trailed behind them, watching the road in their wakes. The Captain took fifteen more men to attack the front door.
Axio paused at the bottom of the back porch steps and whispered some spells. The Guard behind him shifted as they felt the divine power of Ryaire bleed into them. “Protection from Evil. Bless. Heroism,” Axio muttered, making the requisite gestures. Three of the soldiers behind him seemed to glow for a moment. “Now we wait.”
Moments later, the front door exploded.
Cavria watched the path behind her as the soldiers under the Captain charged into the farmhouse. She engaged her fiendish senses to their fullest. There was still something mighty in that house, but it was moving quickly.
Something tumbled out of a window and landed beside her. She sprang back and leveled her glaive, but it was one of the Guards, looking stunned. Cavria dragged him up. “Here, stand watch,” she snapped, and she charged into the farmhouse.
The front room was a cramped mess. One Guard was sprawled against the wall, bleeding heavily, while two more were slashing at a cultist in tattered brown robes. The majority of the room was engaged in a brawl between some beast and about half the living Guard. The rest were nowhere to be seen. Cavria slammed her glaive into the cultist’s midsection and delivered a blast of divine energy that knocked it back a step. She felt her skin crawl as the cultist just stood back up, grinning like a madman despite the wound, and threw himself at her.
Cavria’s neck tingled as something big landed on the wall beside her, but she couldn’t spare a glance. She rocked the cultist back with a solid blow to his head, then one of the Guards drove her sword straight through him. The cultist went down with a gurgle, and the screaming started.
Cavria’s heart leapt into her throat as she heard a child screaming, somewhere close. The thing that was fighting the Guards threw one out the same window as the other one had flown and charged, and suddenly she was locked in a duel.
Axio kicked the back door down and charged. A blast of metal shards deflected off of his shield as he ran through – a primitive scatter-trap. He ignored the pain as one piece punched through his rib armor beneath his raised arm, and slammed headlong into the first person he saw.
It was a dwarf in neat brown leather armor, wielding two short daggers. Axio simply lunged sideways, head tucked, and caught the dwarf’s blade on his shield. He nicked the shorter man with his sword, nothing more than a cut, but it was enough. He focused his divine energy and sent a blast into the target as Cavria had moments before, and the dwarf yelped as a shock of radiant damage raced over his clothes, setting threads aflame.
The enhanced Guard rushed in behind him and raced up the back stairs, where Axio heard somebody scream. Axio swung his blade again and growled as the dwarf deflected it with his blades.
“Stand down, cultist, and I will allow you to live,” Axio snarled.
“Piss off.” The dwarf kicked Axio in the shin and sent three short stabs into his midsection, somehow bypassing the shield with his speed. Axio howled in pain as the daggers bit deep, cutting him. He drove his shield down in retaliation, and one dagger clattered to the floor from the dwarf’s numb hand.
“Then die!” Axio roared, and he swung the blade at neck height. The dwarf screamed as the blade slashed his throat, and he collapsed, blood pouring everywhere.
“PALADINS!” somebody upstairs screamed – one of the Guard! Axio spun and rushed up the stairs, but skidded to a halt when he saw what he was facing.
Axio stared in horror through his eye slits at the beast that was fighting the Guards. It was a Bodak, a monster of undead energies that could transform anybody which made eye contact with it into more of itself. One of the Guards was reeling in the corner, dazed by something, while the other two were grappling with the monster.
Behind the Bodak, though, was something worse. A pair of adult humans and a Halfling had a child strapped to a blood-soaked bed and were driving pins through its arms. The child was screeching in agony.
Axio’s heart pounded into his throat. “RYAIRE!” he screamed, charging the monster. The Bodak saw him coming and grabbed a Guard, flinging it at the Paladin. Axio tucked his feet up to his chest and vaulted the body, landing without breaking stride. The other Guard sprang back as Axio rushed past him in the narrow hall. “DIE, FILTH!” Axio roared, sounding more like a banshee than the scion of a goddess. He drew his arm back and lunged with every scrap of his Chosen strength.
The Bodak wailed as the sword plunged deep into its sternum, but Axio wasn’t done. With a roar of magic, his sword nearly exploded with a torrent of shifting, liquid radiant light. Streams of energy writhed over the Bodak’s body as Axio dumped fully half of his divine power into a singe, massive blast.
“SMITE EVIL!” Axio bellowed, and the back of the Bodak simply exploded. Pieces of the undead scattered over the macabre scene in the bedroom.
The humans dropped their pins and charged him, swinging bodkins, but Axio was beyond enraged. The halfling quickly drew its own weapon as Axio bull-rushed the humans.
“I bring RUIN to you, scum!” Axio screamed. The child’s noises suddenly ended in a heart-wrenching wet sound, and Axio’s limbs spiked with adrenaline. Axio drove his still-glowing blade through the first human’s right shoulder, taking its blade arm clean off, and shoulder-bashed the second into the doorframe. He stepped over it and ran, already knowing he was too late.
The halfling sneered as he turned to face the Paladin. “Did I keep you waiting?” he chortled. The child behind him was lying still, with an ornate dagger lodged in its heart. Already, black mist was pouring out of the child’s slack mouth and eyes.
Axio clenched his teeth so hard his jaw creaked. He reversed direction, sending his elbow into the wounded human’s head, knocking him cold. The other human died as the two remaining Guards cleaved him with their swords. The Halfling sprang for the window.
Below, Cavria was in worse shape. She was fighting the monster in front of her, but her own senses were distracting her. It was clearly a golem, but her divine senses and fiendish senses alike insisted she was fighting a daemon, the neutral evil monsters which inhabited what was left of the Blood Rift.
She swung her glaive upwards in a sharp, straight swipe, then followed through with a spin towards the monster and an armored backhand. It took it on its disgustingly fleshy chin, and lashed out with a whip-like arm that knocked her back two full paces. Cavria shook the pain away and swept her blade laterally, slicing through its ropy body and drawing a gruesome brown ichor.
It bellowed and sprang sideways with shocking speed, knocking a Guard Sergeant clean off his feet. The monster wrapped its tendrils around the wooden beam that held the ceiling aloft and tugged, bringing wood scraps and dust down on their heads.
Axio stumbled as the floor dropped an inch. The halfling fell to his knees and rolled towards the window. The Aasimar bellowed in wrath as he saw his target slipping away.
A tiny hand shot out of nowhere and grabbed the halfling’s leg. It shrieked and tripped, and Axio was on him in a second, crushing the little man’s legs with his armored boots. Axio looked around wildly for the source of the bloody arm he had seen trip the cultist.
A pair of wide, teary, brown eyes peeked out at him from inside a burlap sack on the floor. Axio immediately calmed his blinding rage and lowered his sword. “Thank you, child,” he said in the gentlest tone he could manage. He looked over at the bed and choked. The child’s body was barely even there. The black mist had desiccated its body to dust. “I’ll get you out of here, I promise.”
The halfling on the floor writhed and groaned, and Axio knocked it cold with a savage stomp. He was sure the child wasn’t better for seeing that, but at this point, he was a bit too far gone in righteous rage to care much.
Cavria sliced her glaive downwards and severed the tentacle holding the support beam up. The golem squealed and tried to entangle her, but a Guard officer stabbed deep into its heart from behind, and it slumped over dead.
The Paladin fiend had an instant’s notice. “DOWN!” she screamed, and the golem exploded.
Two Guards were pitched back on their asses by the blast of horrid stench. A wave of toxic air, laden with the smell of rotting blood and shit, rushed to fill the room. A monster emerged from the golem’s corpse and sprang towards the broken window, but Cavria was on it in a second.
“Die, beast!” she snarled, and drove her glaive through it. The little daemon squealed and died, immediately dissipating into red mist.
“The… the fuck was that?” a Guard wheezed.
“A lesser daemon,” Cavria said disgustedly. “They must have a Conjuror around.” She poked the toppled golem with her foot. “They made a Wire golem and animated it with Conjuration instead of with pure magic. It’s the poor man’s Flesh golem.”
“Disgusting,” the Guard grunted.
Cavria shook the remnants of the daemon off of her blade. “Axio! The first floor is clear!” she shouted.
“Top floor is clear, we have two prisoners!” she heard her partner shout.
The Guard Captain poked his head out of the cellar door. “The basement is full of children in stasis magic,” he reported grimly. “Almost a hundred.”
Cavria’s spine tingled. “I’ll be right there.”
|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