Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 21
Chapter Twenty One:
I stared at the pair of priests in front of me. “Axio, you told me I was your only one,” I quipped.
“Oh hush,” Axio chuckled. “Cavria, this is my dear friend Luanea, a priestess of Eilistraee with whom I consult for aid in magical affairs. Luanea, this jester is my new partner, Cavria, a Paladin of my grandfather’s Order.”
Luanea smiled a beatific smile. I was assembled for maximum attractiveness, and even I felt out-shone. “Cavria, a pleasure,” she said, bowing over my hand. Not curtseying, I noted, and her arm muscles looked like the support cords of a suspension bridge when she shook my hand. Her flowing robe sleeves concealed them the rest of the time. A fighter? It didn’t diminish her beauty. “I look forward to working with you.”
“Likewise, priestess.” I returned the bow out of politeness and sat back down at the lunch table. “Axio, while you were gone, the Watch dropped off their copy of the master map of Undermountain. Apparently, their higher ranks are arranging for some big raid on what they think to be a site of worship for Loviatar in the hills outside town, and they think they might find clues there.”
“And even if they don’t, it’s a tailor-made distraction for us,” Axio said at once. His tactical sense was as sharp as ever. “Excellent. May I read it?”
“It’s on your desk.” I looked over at the priestess as she sat down beside him. No, they weren’t an item, but sex is sort of my thing, and I could tell she fancied him a bit. It was in her eyes, and how she always turned to face him when he was the one talking. I decided to ignore it. I certainly wouldn’t mind my friend getting some, but there was something far graver before us. “They also dropped off another victim’s address.”
“I see. Another abduction while we were out last night?” Axio asked heavily, pouring himself a drink.
“No, actually, this one was last month, they only just confirmed it.”
Axio frowned. “Why did the family not come for help?”
I scowled. “Apparently, the parents, the Crolet family, were Baneites themselves.”
Axio spun and stared, nearly spilling his whiskey. “What? Are you quite certain?” Luanea stared in shock at my words.
“They’re sacrificing their own members’ children now?” she asked tremulously.
“Apparently, this one couple had decided not to adhere quite as… closely to the Scripture of Tyranny as their current cult master wanted,” I said disgustedly. My debate with Axio while returning to town was coming back. I actually felt it hard to feel sympathy with the Baneites whose child was now a pawn. What had they expected to have happen?
Axio growled. It sounded so unlike him I was actually taken aback, and stared at him in surprise. “Bastards,” he snarled. He had such anger in his tone that it sounded like rock cracking. “We’re meeting these people. We’re doing it before we go to Undermountain.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, unsure of how to react. I hadn’t ever seen Axio this angry, not even when fighting the Margoyle.
He forced his rage down and sipped his drink. “Sorry. I just… this, this right here, this is what makes Ryaire’s portfolio item necessary,” he said bitterly. “People who put their children anywhere other than first.”
“Please calm yourself, Axio,” Luanea said gently, and my partner’s wrath abated a little more. If nothing else, her voice could get through to him.
“Yes. Yes, right.” Axio slammed his drink. “Get the address, Cavria, and we’ll head out. Luanea, can you be ready with the usual crew in, say, three days?”
Luanea nodded and stood. “Oh, yes, though I don’t know if all will come on such short notice.”
I looked from one to the other. “Wait, wait, you two have a party of adventurers?”
“Not exactly. There are a group of like-minded members of the drow community in Waterdeep who travel to Skullport and back every so often, to drop off supplies and pick up recruits,” Luanea explained. “I often accompany them.”
“Known some of them since I was twelve,” Axio grunted. “I trust them to watch our backs on the way down.”
He was still pissed, but at least he was calm. I stood up and made for the door. “So should we go in armor?” I asked.
“No. We won’t need it. We’re the last chance the parents will have to see their children again.” Axio set his glass down. “Luanea, do you want to come with us?”
“No, I should make preparations for our trip to the Port,” the priestess said. She stood and walked over to Axio. I watched in surprise as she kissed him on both cheeks. “Stay safe,” she said quietly.
He smiled and hugged her. “Thanks.” He turned and walked out, and I followed.
“I was kidding when I asked if you two were an item,” I remarked. I phrased it like a joke, but the surprise wasn’t wearing off.
He chuckled embarrassedly. “Yeah, I know, she’s very… tactile. But, you know, that’s how the Eilistraeeans are. They’re very open with each other. The inner sanctums of the larger temples bar clothing, so do some of their bigger weddings.” He rubbed his cheek and half-smiled. “Why? You sound like it bothered you.”
That caught me up. It had bothered me. Why? I couldn’t say. I supposed I had just assumed that a man who was so high up in the church, with so little time to socialize, would be a bit chaster. “I dunno,” I said instead. “It shouldn’t.”
He frowned, very slightly. “I have a life outside the church, you know, Cavria. You will too, I’m sure. Once this whole nonsense is over, you’ll go and explore the city, meet people.”
“It made me feel insecure,” I blurted out before I could stop myself.
He turned his eyes ahead. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do about that.”
“I should just get over it,” I grumbled. “I had this idea in my head that everybody else would have to be as abstinent as me.”
“Absti… Cavria, she kissed me goodbye,” Axio said, clearly surprised at the depth of my emotional state. “Like she has since I was about four years old. That’s how Eilistraeeans say goodbye.”
I grimaced under my magic disguise. “Yeah? Humph. I’m being irrational.” I shook my head vigorously enough to send my hair everywhere. “I need to focus.”
“Well… I’m here if you need help,” he said automatically, though internally he was still clearly a bit taken aback.
We walked through the streets together. The map led us to a house on the border between the South Ward and the Docks Ward. It didn’t look like a hive of Baneite evil, certainly. It looked like an ordinary house, and it was. Inside, the place had a kitchen and a small sitting room, and a little indoor latrine, and stairs, which led up to bedrooms.
Axio knocked on the door. After a minute, a muffled man’s voice emerged. “Who’s there?”
“I’m Axiopistos, a Paladin of Ryaire, on behalf of the city Watch,” Axio said. We had discussed it on the way here, and he thought it would be helpful to be honest upfront. “May I enter?”
“You’re just here to arrest us!” a voice inside shouted. Axio rolled his eyes.
“Sir, if I were, I would have come through the door by now. I’m here to discuss your son. May I come in, or not?”
After a minute of inaudible conversation inside, the door swung open. A disheveled man greeted us in a booze-stained shirt. He was past his prime, clearly gone somewhat to seed. “What in the fuck do you want from us?” he growled.
Axio kept his cool. “I want to talk to you about getting your son back. Do you have a moment to talk?”
The cultist scowled and held his position. Axio stared at him, arms crossed, until finally, the man relented. “The fuck ever,” he grunted, slouching back into the house. Axio and I followed.
I wrinkled my nose at the stink. The house smelled like misery. Alcohol and crying seemed to be the order of the day. There was a rail-thin woman sitting in a chair in the corner of the room with her head buried in her hands. The father stood next to the door, glaring at us.
I felt the hostility rolling off them and ignored it. They didn’t have a reason to hate us.
“Sir, madam, I understand your son was abducted by your pastor,” Axio said without preamble. “Can you tell us anything that would let us find him?”
The woman mumbled something. “Excuse me?” I asked.
“I said no,” she bit off. “He’s gone, he’s not coming back!”
“Madam, we’ve already recovered dozens of children,” Axio pointed out. “Do you not want your son to come back to you?”
“He’s DEAD, you fucking idiots!” the father snapped. “We watched!”
Axio sighed, looking up at the ceiling. “I see. Would you be willing to co-operate with us, to capture the-”
“What’s the damn point?” the father said bitterly. “He’s dead. We’re all fucking dead.”
Axio’s fists clenched, but he held his temper. “Sir, being angry at me solves nothing. I’m trying to find out where your son was taken, so we can save other children from the same fate.”
“Why should I care?” the father snapped. “Who cares about that?”
Ah, a sociopath. Lovely. Baneites did seem to attract those sorts. “Maybe I should explain where your son will be going,” I spoke up.
Both adults turned to look at me. “What the fuck did you say?” the father growled, taking a step towards me. Axio’s hand slid around his back for his dart, but I held him still.
“Your son is in a much better place, now, I assure you,” I said. “I’ve been to the Arbor of Innocence, where the souls of lost children go. It’s beautiful. Would you like me to describe it?”
The mother rose to her feet and slammed her fist into my jaw. I lurched back onto the ground, shocked at her sudden violence. Axio didn’t hesitate. He drew a punch that seemed to start a mile back and drove it into her chest. She made a wheezing sound and dropped. The father tackled Axio, but the Aasimar just reached down and dropped his free hand on the man’s neck. The father dropped like a stone.
I rose to my feet, massaging my face and seeing stars. Axio was at my side in an instant, but I waved him off. “Dirty animals,” he growled. “I’ll send for the Watch.”
“Why the hell did they let us in if they were just going to attack us?” I demanded. I worked my jaw and didn’t hear a pop.
“The woman may be drunk,” Axio said. “Here, we may as well search the place.”
“Yes.” I cricked my neck and released a mote of my divine powers, allowing the healing warmth of Ryaire to seep into my bruised jaw. “All right, let’s see what we can find.”
Axio watched the two groggy prisoners being carted off. He shook his head and went back inside, already thinking about their mission. Cavria’s question had been right on the money, the more he thought about it. The Crolet family had gone to the Watch, not the other way around. Why had they reacted so poorly after specifically seeking out the authorities for help? Had their arms, perhaps, been twisted? What could the cult hold over them if the cult in question had already killed their child?
Cavria stuck her head out of the stairwell. “Axio, look.” She held up a sheaf of papers. “There’s an address in here. I think it’s the place these Baneites are assembling.”
Axio shook his head. “They’d never be foolish enough to write that down. Where did you find this?”
Cavria jerked a finger over her shoulder. “The master bed. The kid’s room has been picked clean.”
Axio took the paper and read it. “Oh, no… this is the place where the Margoyle was,” he said. “Well, if nothing else, this proves their guilt.”
A Watch officer walked through the front door and looked around. “All right, then, Paladin, I suppose this is what we need to work on,” he said tiredly. “These two, they’re the Baneites whose kid got snatched, huh?”
“Yes, officer,” Axio said. “We found a scrap of paper with the address of the store where those gargoyles were roosting, too.”
“Humph. All right, good job,” the Watchman said. “I’ll see what we can find.”
“Thank you.” Axio bowed out with Cavria in tow. As soon as they were out of earshot, he turned to his partner. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?” he asked. “She got you good.”
Cavria waved off his concern. “I’ll be fine.”
“If you say so.” Axio looked back up at the road. “Well. Only one thing left to do.”
“This Undermountain expedition,” Cavria said. “I won’t hide it, I’m a bit frightened.”
“Good. Undermountain is a very dangerous place,” Axio said. “But the others will help. We just need to hone in on the source of the sending signal. My grandfather has an item that can help.”
“A magic compass,” Axio said. “It can home in on specific imprints in the Weave. They’re quite rare, so he’ll want it back.”
Cavria nodded, impressed. Those were fabulously scarce, and most of them were artifacts of pre-Spellplague era, which were hard to replicate. “So… I guess we’re just going to go.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be well-prepared,” Axio reassured her. “Luanea knows her field.”
That was all Suivi Embersson needed to hear.
The hooded rogue split away from the two Paladins at once. He looped around from the invaded house and walked as quickly as he dared towards the emergency entrance to his paymaster’s lair.
He could feel his pulse climbing. Undermountain? That was bad news. He had never been able to prove it, but the difference in the air between the apartment where Toller did his work and the secret temple behind it had always led him to hint that the magic door was more than a false wall. It may have been a gate spell bound to the archway. Still, now what? Toller had specifically told him to lay low. How could he get into contact with the rest of Toller’s people?
Not that he was very sympathetic to them. They paid very well, to be sure, but he could see what they were up to, and he felt more than a little distaste. Still, if he learned that they were coming for Toller and he made no move to warn the man, he would never see another coin. He cursed under his breath. What were his options?
The rookery, he realized. The Watch had cleared it out, but the sending circle would still be there. He just had to slip in at night and get to Toller’s ear. He glanced around with studied unconcern and walked briskly for the abandoned store.
When he arrived, though, his progress halted. The Watch was crawling over the building. He swallowed his frustration and kept walking as if he hadn’t been heading right there, and doubled back when he was out of sight. He would have to return after dark and try again.
|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