Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 24
Chapter Twenty Four:
Suivi Embersson kicked back in his little flat, downing half a beer in one go. The professional spy was battling boredom. He had sent off his message after sneaking into the rookery’s ruins when most of the Watch went home for the night. He had burned off his lingering nerves after ten hours of solid sleep, and now he had the jitters.
He dropped the tankard of ale on the table and stood, pacing. He ran his hands over his unshaven face and sighed between his hands.
What the fuck was he doing?
The golem in the altar room had haunted his dreams the previous night. He felt a pang of actual conscience, something he thought he had specifically excised a long time ago. That awful sight of the wires of meat dragging the child off to be devoured…
“FUCK!” he bellowed, and his voice echoed around the stone room. “What the fuck! What the fuck do I do?” he demanded of the empty room. He kicked a scrap of bark into the cold fireplace and stared at the ashes.
He always came out ahead. Always. No exceptions. He won, that was what he did, over and over. That was why he had more money than a middle-sized town, that was why he had survived every scrap of conflict in the last twenty shitty fucking years, and that was why he was here today.
So how did he come on top now?
The Baneites were losing, that much was obvious. He could sell all his things and take off without too much trouble, and if they were losing as badly as he suspected, he should do it soon. He was confident that he should.
But what if they won?
That was what was scaring the shit out of him. The fact that the ritual they were performing, whatever it was, was apparently fueled by the souls of children was, despite his practiced unconcern, wearing at the edges of his professionalism. It wasn’t even that he cared so much about the kids, either, but what in the world could be fueled by children’s’ souls and be good for whatever was standing nearby when it ended?
Embersson slammed the other half of his drink and dropped the mug in the basin. Having a conscience was a pain in the dick, and he tried to tell himself it was just a momentary distraction, but no matter how many times he tried, he never quite convinced himself.
Cavria gasped and flung herself out of the way of the dropping blade. “YOU ARE NO ANGEL!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. She sprang sideways to avoid a cleave.
“I am, devil, and I am your end,” the angel said, swinging again. This time it connected, and Cavria screamed in agony as ice crawled over her exposed arm. Axio swallowed. Whatever was going on with her back – all he could see was blood and ropey flesh – had destroyed her torso armor. She was nude from the waist up, save her helmet. The amulet of disguise was gone, which means she had no holy symbol, which meant she had no spells. Axio forced back his shock and sudden fear and raised his blade.
“Holy one, STOP!” he bellowed.
“Save your breath, Axio,” Cavria coughed. She stumbled out of the way of another swing. “It’s an illusion or something!”
“How?” Axio demanded.
“How would I know?” Cavria snapped.
“There!” Doshellas said. He fired an arrow up at the ceiling, and Axio saw a shower of sparks. A lantern hung from the ceiling, and Axio frowned, trying to see what his friend was shooting. The lantern flickered, and the angel seemed to fade for a moment.
“It’s a projector!” Axio gasped. He charged the angel’s back and stabbed deep with his sword. Cavria limped out of range of the wounded illusion’s blade.
The angel backhanded the Aasimar, and Axio went sprawling. He tasted blood and forced himself to swallow. He struggled to his feet, but then there was a blast of light overhead, and the angel vanished.
Luanea lowered her hand, and the wisp of radiant flame from her hand wafted away in smoke. Before anybody could react, she had crossed the space from where she had been to Cavria’s side in an instant.
“Do not move,” she said coldly, and it was the most wrathful thing Axio had ever heard from her. “I do not know what you are, but you are not my friend Cavria.”
The High Succubus looked up at her safely from her sitting position. “No, this is me,” she said sadly. “It’s really me.”
“It’s really her,” Axio said, wobbling over to her. His head was still ringing from the smash to the chest he had taken. Doshellas was slowly following, arrow nocked. “I swear, Luanea, it’s her. She’s a devil, and I knew.”
Luanea turned on him, silver eyes flashing in anger. “You knew?”
“What the hell just happened?” Doshellas demanded. His voice was uncharacteristically high and shaky. “Why do you have wings?”
Cavria blinked her hellish eyes and looked over her shoulder. “…I have wings?” she asked. She gingerly rose, Luanea tracking her every movement. “I… I have wings!” She leaped up and hovered in the air a moment before landing. “Whoa! Okay, that has to go,” she said. “This… this is horrible.”
Luanea stepped back and let her bastard sword hang. “Cavria, Axio, the very least you owe me is an explanation,” she said tightly.
“Yeah,” Cavria said heavily. “Okay, can somebody heal me?”
Axio leaned forward and rested a hand on her shoulder, then cast cure wounds at second level. Cavria sighed as warmth and health flowed into her, and her cold-ravaged arm knitted its flesh back shut. “Thanks, Axio.” She looked around for her armor and winced when she saw it was scattered to pieces. “Great.”
“Spit it out,” Luanea said tersely.
“Yeah, I’m stalling. This is embarrassing.” Cavria took a deep breath, and then yelped in surprise as the lantern fell and exploded. All four adventurers whipped around, weapons up, but what emerged from the lantern was no threat. A thick grease, already aflame, oozed out of the large glass and gold enclosure, and sloughed down the drain, leaving a trail of feeble flames behind it.
The group slowly lowered their weapons as the sound of the crashing and flames faded. “Okay… so,” Cavria started. She explained the quick version as best she could, hands raised to her shoulders. Axio noted in distress that she was hiding the fact that she disliked how the two drow were not sheathing their weapons.
After a few minutes of expositing, Cavria lowered her arms. “So… Luanea, Doshellas, the children may be on the ritual table right now. Do you trust me to fight or not?”
Luanea sheathed her bastard sword. “If you personally received a vouch of piety from Ryaire, then we’re alright, though I want it remembered that I dislike surprises of this sort,” she said, though at least the anger and fear were gone from her voice.
Doshellas just shrugged. “Heard weirder things,” he said. He looked her over. “Like the look.”
Cavria frowned, though she did note the tiny curve of Doshellas’ lips. He was just teasing. “Well, I didn’t want to let you be the only person who got to take their shirt off today,” she said flatly. She drew a deep breath. “Axio, can I… can you help me with these?” she asked, pointing over her shoulder at the black bat wings on her back.
“What about them?” Axio asked.
Cavria steeled herself. “Cut them right the hell off.”
The others froze. “Wait, what?” Axio demanded.
“I don’t want this. There’s no way I will be able to hide these,” she said firmly. “Cut them off.”
Axio set a hand on her shoulder. “Cavria, they’re wings! You want me to remove them?” he asked, still feeling stunned. “They’re a part of you!”
“A part I want gone,” Cavria said forcefully. “Want me to do it myself?”
Axio scowled, and Cavria flinched. “I want you to wait until you get back to the surface before you go making a decision like that,” he said sharply. “I’ll make it an order if I have to, Cavria.”
“I hate this! They’re hideous! I can’t wear a shirt now!” Cavria pointed out. She leaned down and scooped up her holy symbol, and strung it back around her neck. Sure enough, the wings emerged from beneath the magic that made her look different. “See? This won’t fool anybody!”
“You have a spare shirt in your bag,” Luanea pointed out hesitantly. Cavria looked at her with eyebrows raised. “Well, you could tie it on.”
“Enough! We have to go!” Axio said. “Cavria, I am making this an order. Do not ask others, nor attempt to remove your wings, until we are in a place where such a decision can be made rationally and we have the means to stop you from dying of shock," he added in a thunderous growl when she opened her mouth to protest. “Is that understood?”
Cavria glared molten anger at him, but drew a deep breath anyway and saluted. “Yes, sir.” She grabbed her pack and pulled out her spare shirt, which she and Luanea hastily tied to her chest. “I still look like a fucking monster,” she muttered when he was out of hearing range.
Axio opened the stairway doors and sniffed the air. “This goes down. We’re going,” he said. “Doshellas, on point. Check for traps. And good catch on the lantern,” he added belatedly.
“Thanks,” the drow said. Overall, he seemed remarkably unconcerned about the revelation of a High Succubus in their midst. Maybe coming from the Underdark inured him to such things. He looked down the stairway and wrinkled his nose. “Something dead down there. Animal. Big.” He walked down to examine it gingerly as the others reached the top of the stairs.
Axio held Cavria up. “Cavria, I admit I have made a mistake in my judgment,” he said softly. She blinked in surprise.
“When we rescue the children, they may not follow you if they see what you are,” Axio said wearily. Suddenly he felt about forty years older. “If you insist, and if you accept the consequences of my doing so when we are about to enter battle and are miles from surgical treatment, I will remove your wings. Understand that I will endeavor never to forget vital information while giving orders, nor have I failed to catch the undertone of self-resentment in your request. However, given the… pertinent tactical information,” he said grimly, “I will accept the request.”
Cavria stared at him, and then saluted again, this time slowly and with proper respect. “I understand, Axio. I’m sorry I shouted at you.” She took a deep breath. “Maybe after we kill the cultists but before we free the children. If I pass out from blood loss while we’re fighting, you’re as good as dead.”
“Thank you,” he said, ignoring the slight to his fighting skill. “Let’s go.”
Fifty feet below and six hundred feet away, the hidden chamber was a riot of activity. “I don’t even give a damn about the Paladins or whatever,” one cultist said grumbled, emptying the contents of a desk drawer into a bag as he did so. “Walls are solid stone. The fuck are they going to do, come through them?”
“It’s Undermountain,” another one shot back. He slapped a piece of runic paper over a bundle of struggling burlap, and it went still. “There could be ten ways in we don’t see.”
“Eh. Maybe,” the first one allowed. He turned to the coil of slowly unspooling sinew beside him. “So, you coming with us?” he asked with barely-hidden distaste.
The golem chuckled wetly. “Oh, yes, I certainly am,” it said. Its voice was too low for a creature of its shape, the cultist thought in disgust. “I am not yet complete.”
“Your call, I guess,” the cultist grunted. He hefted the bag of desk items and heaved it onto his shoulder. “What kinda golem can talk like you, anyway?”
“The very best kind,” the Wire Golem said drily. The daemon possessing it marked the cultist as a target for potential retaliation in the future, but made no actions yet.
Doshellas held up a fist. Axio looked up from his compass and narrowed his eyes. Something was different ahead.
“Light?” Cavria whispered.
“Yes,” Doshellas confirmed. “Faint. Crack in the wall.”
Luanea glided silently over the stone tile floor to the wall Axio’s compass indicated. “It’s close,” she whispered.
Cavria engaged her divine sight and swallowed. “Oh yes,” she whispered. “There’s something big and evil on the other side of that wall. Big and evil. Like the Wire Golem from before.”
Axio nodded. Concerns about Cavria’s well-being and Doshellas’ lack of armor had to wait. He silently walked forward and rested his hands on the stone walls. He felt no vibration. The walls were thick.
“Very solid stone,” he said quietly. “Not sure I can level this.”
Doshellas checked the map. They were on the uppermost of the fourth level’s subfloors, in a largely unexplored region. The paths the other adventurers had tread were useless to them now.
“Fan out. Find a way in,” Axio whispered. “We meet back in ten minutes.”
Axio and Doshellas peeled off in one direction, while Cavria and Luanea walked the other. They carefully walked around the room in the manic maze of Undermountain, but to Axio’s increasing frustration, they found nothing. The room was entirely sealed off.
When they reconvened, the expressions on the women’s faces told him everything he needed to know. “All right. Suggestions?” he asked softly.
Cavria shook her head. “Nothing.”
Doshellas just looked unhappy. Luanea glanced back the way they had come. “How do they get in and out?”
“A gate or portal, I would guess,” Axio said.
“This place is full of those,” Luanea said. “I know, it’s insane, but what option do we have?”
Axio stared at her. “A random door in Undermountain?” he asked in astonishment. “Luanea, those portals don’t even all lead to other spots on this planet! We could go to Glyth for all we know!”
“Then I’m out of ideas!” she said.
Axio ground his palms against his face. “Damnation. Listen, we fade back one room and I will try to pray to Ryaire for advice. I can contact her as her Chosen.”
“Yeah, when were you going to tell me that?” Doshellas asked. He sounded vaguely piqued, but it was hard to tell with him.
“I wasn’t,” Axio admitted. “Even some of my own clergy don’t know. Not yet.”
“Humph. I’m not hiding anything, if you’re curious,” Doshellas said curtly.
Axio felt like snapping back, but refrained. “Whatever. You all rest, I’ll see what I can see.”
The other three adventurers sat around a table in the empty banquet hall they had found in the previous hall. The place settings were immaculate, the candles waiting a match, and the chairs soft and comfortable, but no food had ever been served here, not in at least a century. Axio was out in the hall, praying with his badge of office in his hands.
Cavria crossed her arms and sat back in her chair, then winced in pain. She had compressed her wings against the chair. “Mph. That hurts,” she muttered.
“So you just… know how to use those?” Doshellas asked. He was staring at her in the utter darkness of the room. “They just work?”
Cavria shrugged. “I guess. I don’t think they’d work if I wasn’t magical.” She flapped one wing, and the dust on the floor stirred. “They’re not big enough to let me fly, but they work somehow. I don’t know.”
Luanea looked at her askance. Cavria noticed. “Look, Luanea, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I’m really ashamed of what I am,” she said bluntly. “This isn’t something I’m, you know, proud of.”
The drow priestess met her eyes. “I know how you feel.”
“I worship Eilistraee. That’s a death sentence amongst other drow. I could never go to the major cities, not openly.” Luanea rested her pretty head on her crossed arms and looked blankly into the empty room. “We’d both be killed if we went about our homes openly. I should have been more sympathetic once I heard the truth.”
Cavria shook her head. “No, that wasn’t what happened,” she reminded her friend. “You only drew on me once I lost my amulet. As soon as I explained, you put your weapon down. You did the right thing.”
“Thank you.” The priestess looked out the hallway at where Axio was sitting cross-legged. “I hope Ryaire is listening.”
“She is,” Cavria said, in total confidence. “I promise.”
|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