Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 29
Chapter Twenty Nine:
Suivi sat on the floor of the Baneite satellite temple, slowly running an enchanted piece of wood over the rune carved in the wall. There had been many such runes on the stone tiles surrounding the portal. He was no wizard, but he knew a spell anchor when he saw it. His trip back to the place with the Paladin had confirmed it.
Suivi’s hand tightened on the wand as he forced away his memories of the brutal confession that had followed. He still felt a bit helpless, but…
His hand suddenly twitched. It hadn’t been voluntary. He stopped the wand as it dragged over the stone, and he felt it start pulsing in rhythm. The sensation was so faint he could barely feel it, but it was there. “This one,” he said. A Watch officer painted a daub of white paint on the same brick. Suivi put down that stick and lifted another. He pressed the new wand against the same spot and focused. Moments later, he felt the faintest pull on the wand’s end. “That way,” he said, pointing in the direction he had felt.
The Watch officer daubed a yellow arrow on the floor in the trap hall, which mercifully had been cleared of bodies. “Where did you get those wands?” one officer asked.
“Bought them, actually, from an arcanist’s store in Athkatla,” Suivi said truthfully. Hang on…” he trailed off as he paused his wand again on the next tile. “No… nothing. This portal is really old. I think Halaster himself must have made this.”
“Probably,” the Watch officer admitted. Suivi sighed in hidden relief. He had been afraid of the Watch pressing him hard. As far as he knew, only a few Watch members were aware of his new and old affiliations.
The wands attuned to conjuration and teleportation magic, which Suivi was using to detect the portal keys. Since the destination was on the same plane, the runes could align with specific, pre-set targets. A wizard could have derived the destination through a careful reverse engineering of the magic in the portal, but his lockpick’s senses were more useful for simply deriving the direction on the spot.
A crisscross of yellow paint covered the floor behind them now. Each arrow pointed to a potential destination. Suivi was willing to bet at least one was somewhere else in Undermountain, and one would be the main Baneite temple somewhere. The rest he pegged as being somewhere in Waterdeep or Daggerford, perhaps as back doors into the dungeon for Halaster to lure adventurers to their doom. He had done that a lot.
Suivi’s hope was that by finding the destination used the most that they could track the direction the cultists used when they were traveling back and forth from their main hub. Knowing the password would require a wizard’s help, if the captured cultists didn’t divulge it first.
Axio and Cavria sat in the perfumed room in the temple of Eilistraee and listened to their hosts. “And from what you can see,” Luanea asked, “there are five portal destinations?”
“We have our recent convert in the temple in Undermountain, tracking the direction of the portal’s guidance runes,” Axio explained. “They align with five total directions. That teaches us count and bearing. We can use the same technique on the portal in the bookstore’s apartment. That will give us ranges.”
“So how do we know which one to hit?” a striking young elf asked from beside Luanea. She was a dark elf, not a drow, so she was one either one of those lucky drow who had been freed from their ancestral curse by the tumult of the era following Khelben Blackstaff’s and Eilistraee’s deaths, or she was one of their children. If Cavria was any judge, it was the latter. She was clearly more relaxed than the elegant and graceful Luanea. She was sitting cross-legged on top of a large box in the corner and leaning back on her hands, looking down at the group with a carefree smile. She was also, insofar as Cavria could see from her chair, clad in really not much more than a few patches of cloth and a diaphanous cloak. She was clearly very familiar with Axio, though, as the moment she had seen him, she had launched herself into his arms with a whoop and he had lifted her clean off the ground to spin her. When Axio had set her down, the bubbly elf had introduced herself as Kryia’ardras Do’slie, descended from the long-annihilated Menzobarranzan House Slie. A traveling caravan of gnomes and humans had raised her in the north reach of Calimshan territory before she had heard Eilistraee’s call.
Cavria felt honest surprise at playful tone of her voice and provocative clothing. True, Eilistraeeans made a point of reflecting the joyful love of their mistress, but she was behaving like a frisky teenager, not a priestess. Kyria’ardras – Kyria to her friends, she had gaily announced – had paced around the room until finding a place to perch. She noticed Cavria’s attention and cocked one black eyebrow, but Cavria quickly looked away.
“The runes which activate more often will have a different arcane imprint in the stone, so Embersson tells me,” Axio said. “He thinks we’ll be ready to go in two days, at the least, four at the most.”
“I’ll be ready,” Doshellas said softly from his chair in the corner. He was most comfortable in the shaded parts of the room, Cavria and Axio had both noted, and his clothing barely showed off his physique. His past as a slave had clearly burned some discomforts into his mind.
Luanea was holding court from a comfortable chair in the center of the room. Two drow babies were fast asleep in a large crib in one of the two corners not occupied by Doshellas and Kryia. A pair of drow in late adolescence were tending to them while the rest of the group sat about. “We’ll all be ready,” she assured Axio. “Unfortunately, from the rest of the team, only Kyria was able to make it back in time.”
Axio nodded. “That should be enough people, if we’re careful. Thank you.”
“It means a lot to us that we can rely on your for help,” Cavria put in. “While so many of the Ilmateri and Ryairan clergy and allies are fighting the main body of the cult in the south, we’re so dreadfully short-staffed.”
Kyria rapped her fingers on the edge of box behind her. “Glad to help. Axio’s a friend,” she said cheerfully. “That, and, ugh, this cult is disgusting. And if we get even half the haul you guys found last time, hey, we’re set for years!”
“I can’t promise that,” Axio cautioned her. “But of course you will be entitled to half the treasure we find. Two sixths will go to us, and one sixth to Embersson.”
“The spy gets a share?” Doshellas said disgustedly.
“He had defected to us of his own free will, and I have… excoriated his hesitation,” Axio said flatly. “If he turns on us, I crush his head with my bare hands. If not, he gets a share and travel to Cormyr. That was the arrangement. Any objections?”
The others looked unhappy, but nobody spoke.
“Good. Luanea, my friend, I now must ask you. A few of the children we saved are drow, and were taken by the Baneites from their families in the Underdark.” Axio leaned forward and rested his chin on his fist. “My friend, I’m torn,” he said quietly. “These children are innocent, they haven’t been brainwashed. Some can’t even describe their parents well enough for us to even find them. What should we do?”
Luanea sighed. Kyria’s lip twitched. “I don’t know,” Luanea said sadly. “Bring them to me, and my sisters will care for them for now. If there are too many, we may need to spirit them off to a place of hiding in a more populous region, with more of my people hiding in the forests.”
“Are there no forest-dwelling populations nearby?” Cavria asked. “With two major temples in one city?”
“Nope,” Kyria said. “Not for a few day’s hard march.”
Axio tsked. “I’ll bring them by.”
“So where do we meet when we have the locations?” Kyria asked.
“The Temple of Ryaire,” Axio said. “We’ll come and find everybody.”
Kyria followed the pair outside, oblivious to or uncaring of the appreciative looks the construction crews were giving her. “Hey, so, Axio,” she asked, “what’s with the eyes?”
Axio reflexively put a hand to his face. “Yes… my eyes are transforming,” he said quietly. “Solen and Ryaire have explained it as a sort of metamorphosis. I’m coming to resemble… well, for lack of a better term, resemble an angel.”
“Wow. Why?” Kyria asked.
Cavria frowned. It was a very personal question. Axio answered anyway, without hesitation. “Because I am becoming an exarch,” he said, very faintly. “In death, I’ll be Ryaire’s left hand.”
Kyria’s black eyes bugged out. “Really?” she breathlessly asked.
“Yes. But, you know, it’s not something I wish to trumpet, you know?” he asked. “Please keep it quiet.”
Kyria nodded. “My lips are sealed,” she said, making the classic gesture across her face. Her chocolate skin shone in the brilliant light through the angled windows overhead. Just like Luanea, she was the vision of perfect health.
“Kyria,” Cavria asked, “what sort of warrior are you? Are you a Paladin, like us?”
“Nope, I’m a Wizard,” she said. “I can more than keep up in a fight, though,” she added cheerfully.
“Good. Well, then, we’ll see you soon,” Cavria said. To her surprise, the other woman leaned forward for a quick hug and kiss on both Ryairans before bouncing back into the closed-off room, despite Cavria’s ugly costume.
“I can see why you like hanging around this place, Axio,” Cavria said cheekily. “You get a lot of hugs from pretty girls.”
Axio sighed tolerantly. One of the construction workers snickered. Both Paladins started walking back to their own temple.
“So does the worship of Eilistraee just naturally attract perky, beautiful women?” Cavria quipped.
“Yes, actually,” Axio said. “It’s kind of what they do. There’s also some rules against male priests of Eilistraee left, though those are fading.”
“Oh. Really? I didn’t know,” Cavria admitted. “I was kidding.”
“There are nearly as many male worshippers, just not many male clergy,” Axio explained. “It’s partly a drow affectation, but Eilistraee also prefers female clergy for some reason. I don’t feel it’s my place to ask.”
The back garden of the temple was full of children when Axio arrived to find the drow kids. Several rushed up to hug him when he arrived, and he scooped several up in his arms with a huge smile. “Well, look who’s up!” he said, greeting several by name. “Everybody feeling better?”
Most voices said yes, though a few children on the corner bench said nothing. Cavria moved quietly around the edge of the open garden to sit next to the vegetables. It was a wonderful, if sad, feeling to watch the souls she had saved recovering in this place of tranquility. It reminded her of the pit in the middle of the Arbor, watching the children play and scramble over the garden.
With her amulet on, her appearance was inherently unappealing to each child in a different way; not many of them wandered over, but two did. A gnome boy and a human girl sat down on either side of her.
For a while, neither spoke, but eventually, the gnome found his courage. “Were you the one with wings?” he asked faintly. He couldn’t look at her directly, she noted, and she felt a surge of protective rage when she saw the huge, deep scars on his knees. He had tried to kick his way out of the cell and been savagely beaten for it.
“Yes,” Cavria said.
“They’re gone?” he mumbled.
“Well, yes. They were in the way,” Cavria said, feeling a flash of phantom pain from her back as she did so. She did miss the feeling of flying, but a room full of ghastly children staring at her in fear had burned the desire to keep her new body parts right out of her mind.
“Okay.” The boy looked down at his feet. Donations from the city’s residents had paid for simple sandals for the kids, and clean clothes. Cavria suspected it was more than some children had ever owned. Several had the missing teeth and scuffed joints of orphans and urchins. “What are you?”
Cavria had sworn to herself not to lie to others who asked her directly, but she couldn’t bear to frighten the little boy any more than she already had. “I’m a Paladin, my friend,” she said.
He looked up at her and immediately whimpered. Cavria’s eyes widened. “What? What’s wrong?”
He slowly backed up from the bench, visibly shaking in fear. Cavria stood; she was suddenly sweating. “What?” she demanded. Was he able to see her fiendish eyes?
“CAVRIA, DOWN!” Axio suddenly roared. The children scattered in fear and started screaming as the Aasimar leaped towards her, waving his hands.
Cavria reacted instantly. She tucked her feet up into her chest and fell slightly before ramming them both back against the bench, catapulting herself forward several feet in a second. The girl beside her scrambled under the bench, wailing in fear.
“What the hell?” she heard from the door. She landed hard and her lungs compressed. She wheezed and rolled over. Suivi Embersson was standing in the door to the church, reaching for a weapon.
The wall exploded, and the whole garden transformed into a warzone in an instant.
|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