Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 31
Chapter Thirty One:
Cavria crouched before Solen, resting a hand on his head. The ancient cleric had taken a brutal hit in the melee; blood and matted hair covered his hair. Dreblin and Cadderly were injured but alive, and two of the other friars were badly wounded. So far, they counted one monk, eight cultists, and seven children dead. Five children were missing.
The High Succubus’ blood boiled, though she hid it well. She hadn’t known the young friar well, but he had been there at dinner tables with her, joined her in prayer. This was an insult to Ryaire.
“The children,” Solen muttered deliriously. “Where are they?”
“We’re working on it, Solen,” Cavria vowed. She struggled to keep her temper in check. Over two dozen children were still present, and they were in no shape to be witnessing her break down. Some were catatonic, clearly lost to their trauma, while others simply sobbed or paced in anger and fear.
What kind of horrible, atrocious monster would do this? She knew the answer, of course. One such a being had created her. Bane’s willingness to hurt total innocents as a simple act of spite appalled her.
She heard heavy footfalls behind her and saw Axio stumble his way up the hillside towards the ruined garden. Her heart ached as she saw him pause and stare in horror and grief at the ruined garden. The vegetable patch had burned away from the fallen torches. The wall was a ruin. The ground ran red in places. Worst of all were the little bodies of the victims of the bomb, scattered about, some in pieces. It was a sight she knew would haunt her for years. She could only imagine what it was like for the kindly Aasimar.
Axio wobbled up next to his grandfather and fell into a crouch. Cavria and Solen looked at him in shock. “They took… they took Triera, grandfather,” Axio sobbed. Tears stained his shirt; Cavria could see his hands shaking. He was even paler than usual. “They got her.”
Solen grabbed Cavria’s shoulder and forced himself upright despite the dizziness. Cadderly looked up from beside them in alarm. “What?” Solen demanded. “They got Triera?”
“They… they threw her through a portal,” Axio managed. “They threw her through.”
Cavria clenched her fists. “This was a targeted attack, then,” she said darkly. “They knew the children would be here.”
“And Triera was in the kitchen during the fighting,” Cadderly recalled. “They had to have looked for her.”
Axio heaved and nearly vomited. Pure, animal fear curdled his stomach. It was bad enough to fight such evil when it was purely theoretical, worse yet when the innocents were clinging to his tabard and begging for him to lead them home, but now… his own sister…
A strong hand grabbed his chin and forced his vision up. Cavria’s magically disguised eyes met his and fixed his gaze. “Listen to me,” she said. “We are getting her back. Do you understand? We are getting her back.”
Suivi stood uncomfortably in the corner, looking at the carnage. He had done what he could in the fight, but he was just one man. He had tripped a few cultists and saved a child from the flailing blows of one monk, but he had taken a few nasty hits himself in all the chaos. He suspected at least one monk had mistaken him for the enemy. He watched the family drama play out in the triage corner and gingerly cleared his throat. “This portal you saw,” he asked carefully, “was it still intact?”
Axio looked up at him and wiped his tears away. “Yes,” he managed.
“But it closed?”
Axio glared at him. “I would have pursued him if I could!” he said angrily.
“Then I should get down there and see if I can figure out where it goes,” the spy pointed out. “We may be able to follow them.”
“Go!” Solen said. He sank back down on the stone and coughed feebly. For all his power, he was still a very old, tired man. “Go, find the path. Let money be no object.”
Axio was trying to pray, but it wasn’t working. He had his face buried in his arms, with his holy symbol clutched in shaking, bloodied hands. He was in his room, leaning back against the headboard of his bed, trying to finish a single prayer.
“Please,” he whimpered. “Please, help…”
I was listening from the door. He hadn’t noticed in his grief that the door was open. I hesitantly knocked, and he jumped a hand span.
“Cavria!” he exclaimed. He started to scramble up, but I put a finger to my lips.
“Shh, Axio, it’s not an update,” I said gently. “Just sit back.”
He slumped against the headboard. His face was swollen and red. On a human, it would have been uncomfortable enough, but on his angelic face, it looked simply wrong. “Cavria, I can’t even talk,” he mumbled.
“I know, Axio,” I said. I sat down beside him on the bed and took the holy symbol from his hands. “I just want to help you feel less scared,” I said gently. I wrapped an arm around his sagging shoulders. “I know it’s hard to talk to Ryaire right now, so just listen to me,” I murmured in his ear.
He closed his eyes and leaned against my arm. He was so much taller than I was that he could have only managed it as scrunched up as he had been. I straightened out his hair with my free hand and set his holy symbol down on the bed next to me. I was quite aware that a Succubus sharing a bed with a Paladin in more or less any other circumstances would have been disastrous, but this was about as un-sexy as I could be. He didn’t even react as my skin shifted back to its natural blood red. I took his hand in mine and sighed to myself. The blood was his. He had gripped the badge so hard that it had torn his palm. I let my divine healing pour into his hand and felt it heal. “Trust us,” I whispered. “Trust Ryaire, and me, and Luanea, and Doshellas, and… ah…”
“Kyria,” Axio mumbled.
“And yourself,” I finished as smoothly as I could contrive. Nice. I had forgotten the name of the woman I was trying to get Axio to remember. “If anybody can save these kids, and Triera, it’s us.”
“We’re fighting somebody we can’t even find.” Axio rubbed his dry eyes. He felt so young; it was almost pitiful. My mind went back to the temple in Undermountain, and the sight of him so helpless broke my heart. I knew him to be such a mature man and this helplessness wasn’t like him. Then, I supposed an Aasimar would be somewhat less emotionally able to adjust to events this frightening. An inherent sense of good and evil wasn’t always a good thing to have.
I shut my eyes and ran my hand through his hair again. “I know you can’t sleep right now, but I can help you feel better,” I said. I lifted his glittering holy symbol and set it in his hands, then wrapped mine around his. “Ryaire, I know you can hear us,” I said quietly. I closed my eyes and started reciting a simple prayer. It was an old verse, the first Solen had written once he had spun off the Church of Ryaire from the Church of the Martyred God. All of us knew it by heart.
‘Lady of the Young Lost, keep us in death. Lady Ryaire of the Martyr, guide us in life. Our divine mother, shield the souls of the children, and watch over the endless summer in your Arbor,’ I said softly. I felt Axio’s lips move with mine. ‘Teach us service and vigilance, Lady Ryaire, and patience. To you we give our thanks and our love, for you do the same. To you we entrust our souls.’ I felt Axio gradually relax as the simple prayer soothed his ragged mind. ‘Above all, our beloved lady, deliver us from the hateful and the cruel. In your arms will we find safety, and the children of the world will find your unending love.’
‘Amen.’ Axio spoke the final word aloud. We sat in silence for a little while, before he spoke at last. “Thank you, Cavria,” he whispered. “I feel a little better.”
I kissed the crown of his head and stroked the back of his hand so he would release the holy symbol. “Maybe you should eat something,” I suggested.
“I can’t.” He held his stomach with his free hand and grimaced. “Trust me.”
“Okay.” We sat there a while longer, listening to the noise outside as workers and healers tended to the children and hastily repaired the wall. We doubted there would be another attack so soon, but it didn’t hurt to be careful. Eventually, Axio leaned back against my arm and sighed.
“Does somebody need me outside?” he asked.
“No. Solen and Cadderly are healed up, they can handle things.” I resettled my arm around his neck and hugged him close. “Just rest. We’re going after them the second Embersson finishes locating the portal passwords.”
“Yeah. Did any of the Baneites realize he was there? That could be trouble.”
“Dunno. None of the prisoners have awoken yet.”
Silence filled the room again. We sat there still, each lost in our thoughts. Finally, he set our holy symbols aside and stretched. “I think I just need to sleep, if I can,” he said heavily. “You should too.”
“Yeah, I should,” I said. “I sent a message to Luanea to prepare. They’ll be ready when we are.” I squeezed his hand as he stretched out on the bed. “Want me to stay here?”
He blushed. “Uh…”
I shook my head. “Just to stay,” I said.
He looked down at his spacious bed and slowly nodded. “Yes, I would,” he said. He cleared his throat and blew his nose on his handkerchief as I shifted out of my tunic. I lay down on the bed barefoot, showing him my underclothed back, and he settled down beside me. I felt him hesitate, then awkwardly rest a hand on my shoulder. “Thank you, Cavria,” he said quietly. “I’m glad you’re here.”
I smiled and rolled over. He looked into my fiendish eyes without the vaguest hint of fear of me, and leaned over to kiss me on the forehead. “Sleep well, Axio,” I said quietly. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”
It was no lie. He slept fitfully, waking with a start more than once. Each time, he would look wildly around the room, and then settle back down with a groan. For the next six hours, he would go through the cycle, awakening long enough to be miserable before falling back asleep. I debated getting him some wine to help him relax, but I decided against it; he was in no shape to get drunk. Finally, I drifted off too.
A knock at the door awoke me that evening. I disentangled myself from my sprawling bunkmate and put my holy symbol back on. I moved to the door and opened it a crack. “Yes?” I asked. “Axio’s asleep.”
“Evening meal, sister,” a friar said.
“Thanks.” I shut the door and walked over to where Axio had curled up in the bed. “Axio?”
He stirred. “Fmhuh, what? Cavria?” he mumbled.
“Supper, Axio,” I said.
He slowly rose, looking quite a mess for his fitful sleep. “Hmm. Alright, thanks,” he said. He paused as I pulled my tunic back on. “Cavria… I’m sorry you got dragged into this mess,” he said heavily.
“How did I get dragged into it?” I asked around a mouthful of shirt. “This is my church too.”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “But now they’re targeting my family directly.”
I smiled at the implication. “And I’m in your family now?”
“You may as well be,” he said. He rose and started rooting around in his cabinet for clean socks. “I do apologize if I made you uncomfortable.”
“Axio, I swear, you apologize for things I haven’t even noticed,” I said with a chuckle. I finished reattaching my belt and put my sandals on. “What on Toril could you have done to make me uncomfortable here?”
“Sobbing like an infant,” Axio said gloomily. “I’ve not had a cry like that since I was fourteen.”
“Well, you needed it. I’d not think less of you.” I affixed my amulet and felt the magic shift my appearance.
“Or kissing you like that,” Axio continued.
“I liked it. I don’t know where you get this idea that friends can’t touch each other,” I remarked.
Axio finally managed an apathetic snort of laughter. “Doesn’t bother the Eilistraeeans much, that’s for sure,” he said. He cracked his back and knuckles, and I heard his stress and uncomfortable rest pop loose in his joints. “Humph. Haven’t shared a bed like that before,” he admitted. “Kind of awkward, but… it did feel nice knowing somebody was there,” he said wistfully. “All right. Let’s get some food.”
Darius Vorthane looked over the pitiful remnant of his attack force and sighed. Three men had returned, from a group of twenty-one. Toller captured, fewer than half a dozen sacrifices reclaimed. The operation was a technical disaster. “Go and rest, brothers,” he said. “We must prepare for retaliation.”
“Yes, sir,” the trio said, and quickly withdrew.
Vorthane waited until the others were gone before looking over the pile of sacrifice choices on the floor. There were a few children added to their selection, at least, and one was the sister of the Paladin who opposed them. She would make a perfect sacrifice.
All five children were bound, but it wasn’t really needed. Each had had the talismans of restraint affixed to them, like the Grist in the bags below. They would be prepared and inserted into the order of sacrifices like any other. At least the ritual now had sufficient raw materials.
The real problem was Toller. In his mind-shattered state, he was at best a non-issue, but if he had the passwords to the portal network still locked in his mind, it could cause all the problems in the world. Now, he had to harden his temple against attack, since the very real possibility of Toller’s fragile mind yielding the passwords existed.
After a moment’s thought, he rose from his throne and walked down the stone steps to the main floor. He strode past the unconscious sacrifices-to-be and into the inner halls. The path branched in a triangle at the spoke. One led back to the main temple and the hidden door to his private study where his psionic artifact sat, one led to a short flight of stairs, up and down to barracks, and the third to the laboratory where his subordinates were patiently unlocking the secrets of Bane’s higher arcana. He took the left route towards the barracks and walked up the half-flight to the upper level.
The air was heavy in this part of the temple, since it was farthest from the surface vents. Unlike Undermountain, the Temple of Fear did not have its own internal portals to circulate air. Machines of gnomish and dwarven ingenuity kept the air breathable, but this was where most of the personnel slept, so it was still a bit thick on the breath. Vorthane walked to the back of the barracks level and looked out over the room that filled most of the rest of that floor. A huge armory, easily forty-five feet high and well lit, with stairways connecting it to the both barracks floors and the portal room, sat sprawling in the large room. Racks of arms and shields filled the bottom of the room, while empty stone shelves sat above, accessible by ladders that rolled around the room on casters.
He had been slowly purchasing weapons for the last eleven years, so the temple would be ready for Bane’s arrival. The setback of losing his attack force had cost him much. He doubted the Ryairans would find the weapons to be of much use, but the Watch would almost certainly take it for themselves.
He sighed. There was no use in weeping for what would not return. He climbed the ladder down into the armory and walked towards a small door on the other side, one that he ensured had a guard around the clock.
The guard snapped off a razor-sharp salute and stepped aside. Vorthane walked through and turned his little metal key in the large, locked door on the other side of a small antechamber. Decorative artworks dotted the walls in the antechamber, in stark contrast to the room beyond.
This was the back entrance to the dungeon. A trio of soldiers stood at attention as he walked into the corridor. He returned their salutes and walked up to the railing over which they stood guard. “Any problems today, men?” he asked.
“Nothing new,” one guard replied. “It’s always noisy, but, well, what can you do?”
“Indeed. You’ll be getting five more today,” Vorthane informed him.
“The more, the merrier,” the guard replied, to which the others chuckled. “How long until the ritual is complete?”
“I’d say two months, but we may come under attack before then,” Vorthane said. “We can’t really speed things up, I’m afraid.”
“Should we stock up on supplies, sir?” one guard asked worriedly. “Is this a siege scenario?”
“It may be,” Vorthane said sadly. “I am sorry, my friends. I know you did not sign up for such an inconvenience.”
All three men stood proud and tall. “We’re ready, sir,” their leader said firmly, and Vorthane smiled warmly.
“Your piety warms my old heart,” he said kindly. He turned back to look over the rows and rows of bloodied, sniveling children, bolted to the floor in the dark chamber below, in the aptly named Grist Cage. “Well. I simply wanted to let you know the state of things.”
“Always appreciated, sir,” one guard said. “Stop by any time.”
Suivi Embersson fought back fatigue. The stones in the walls of the basement around the portal wardrobe glistened with fresh paint. He felt his fingers tingle and he withdrew his wand. “Here,” he said. “It points due south this time.”
A Watch Sword – the equivalent of a Guard Corporal – painted a line on the compass they had sketched on the floor. “Think that’s it?” he asked.
Embersson blew out a weary breath. He hadn’t eaten in fifteen hours, he hadn’t slept in forty. “Yes.”
“Good job, Master Embersson. Go get some rest,” the Sword said. “I’ll trace the compass and run it up to the temple.”
Shaved and fed, Embersson sat back against the wall in the ruined garden and looked around. He wondered… would the Baneites have known to hit the temple if he hadn’t told them that Axiopistos was leading the investigation against them?
Of course they would, he rationalized. The massive Aasimar had ripped the roof off the bookstore that one time. He was impossible to miss.
“Hard to see, isn’t it?” a loud voice asked. He looked up to see a friar in damaged robes standing across the ruined vegetable patch.
“Yeah.” Embersson squinted. “Cadderly, right?”
“Suivi Embersson. Axiopistos hired me as a consultant,” he lied.
“Ah, yes, the portal tracker.” Cadderly crossed the messy garden and shook his hand. “Good to have you on board.”
“Mm.” Embersson stared at the devastated garden. The bodies had been carted off for cremation, but there were still discarded smoke bombs and swords scattered about. “I just came to tell Axiopistos about the progress of the tracking we did in the basement of the… you know, the house,” he said, jerking a thumb in the general direction of the wardrobe. “I got distracted.”
“I see. Do you need somebody to talk to? I assure you, I can help,” the friar asked.
“Kind of you, but I’ll be alright.” Suivi stood and dusted himself off. “In fact, I think I’m just going to go to bed. This was a long day.”
“Don’t I know it.” Cadderly sighed. “Poor Brother Maynard. He’s with Ryaire, now.”
“There were monk casualties?” Suivi asked.
“I didn’t see. I’m sorry,” Embersson said, at a loss for anything else to say.
Cadderly looked up at the setting sun. “It hurts, but the day will break once more. Axio and Cavria will put things right.”
“You have a lot of faith in them,” Suivi said.
Cadderly nodded slowly. “Yes. Yes, I do.”
|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