Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 32
Chapter Thirty Two:
Axio felt himself drifting fitfully through sleep that night. Cavria’s gentle words had helped, but he was still terrified, and it robbed him of his calm. He had prayed his heart out before retiring, too.
Before the sun rose, however, he felt the same unearthly sensation he had felt many times before. Relief washed through his dreaming mind as Ryaire extended her power to him and enveloped him in her endless might.
When his vision cleared, he was sitting on the edge of forest in the Arbor, looking out over the vast ring of moss and grass that surrounded the rim of the pit. He was clad in soft white clothes, shoeless, and unarmed.
He knew from experience that he would only be spoken to when he needed to be, so he sat and waited for Ryaire’s presence.
Soon, a diffuse glow approached him from behind. He turned and did not rise. “Your Ladyship,” he said, shifting into a kneeling pose.
“Hello, Axio,” Ryaire said. She ran a hand over his chin, and he shivered at the sense of absolute power that ran through him from her light touch. He let her pull his head up, and his heart ached when he saw the hurt on her face. “My dear boy, I hear something horrible has happened to your sister.”
“Yes,” Axio said. He clenched a hand in helpless rage, even as his patroness forced him to meet her eyes. “What can we do?”
“Triera’s alive, I can tell you that,” Ryaire said. “Your man Embersson has finished his co-ordination of the magic to find the way into the Baneite stronghold.”
“He’s delivered it to the Watch, who gave it to Solen. I must say,” she mused, releasing his chin and bidding him to rise with a finger, “that Embersson has impressed me. Rediscovering his conscience has made him a better, stronger man. He will earn his forgiveness soon, I suspect.”
“Well, that’s good,” Axio said, but his mind was already moving on to other topics. They had to plan their attack; they had to assemble their allies…
“Straight to business,” Ryaire observed with a sad little smile. “Well, then. I know you’re terrified, my Chosen, but don’t be. Triera’s fate is not yet set in stone. You may work your way to her in time yet.”
“I hope so,” Axio said. Even in this idyllic heaven, fear clutched at his heart. “Can I do anything else? Have I forgotten anything?”
Ryaire shook her head. “No, Axio, you’ve forgotten nothing. All there is left is action.”
“Except we don’t know the password for the portal,” Axio pointed out. “We don’t know how to find the temple yet!”
His demigoddess great-grandmother raised one finger. “Ah, but you have taken a prisoner who does.”
“The fat cleric who used stone shape,” Axio realized at once.
“His name is Bastienne Toller, and he was the leader of this raid,” Ryaire explained.
Axio stiffened. “Toller! I know that name! He led the satellite temple we raided!” he exclaimed.
“Precisely. Something is blocking or controlling him, somehow,” Ryaire said. “I do not know what, but it does not stem from the Weave.”
The Weave and its shadowed counterpart were the fundamental underpinnings of the entire realm of magic. Using magic without a connection to one or the other was impossible.
“Psionics?” Axio asked.
“Possibly. It would not be without precedent.” Ryaire beckoned him into the woods, and he followed. The sounds of the great grass circle faded into the noise of the faint, whispering leaves of the forest beyond. “My Chosen, you are nearing a turning point in your development as an extension of my Church,” Ryaire said. “You may notice soon that you will develop some new angelic traits at random, in fact.” She turned to face him again. “Never fear it, my son,” she said gently. “Embrace it. Let it make you stronger.”
“I don’t do well with uncertainty, your Ladyship,” Axio said ruefully. “Can you tell me what will happen?”
“Sadly not. It should not be a great inconvenience, you should simply be aware.” She gestured to a distant wall of mist, and Axio saw the archway out of the Arbor into the greater House of the Triad. “Now, Axio, it’s time for you to awaken. I hope I have managed to help you prepare for this trial. In the morning, make your way to the unfinished Temple of the Dark Dancer. Your Eilistraeean allies will be waiting there.”
Axio bowed again. “Yes, my Lady. And Toller?”
“Tell Solen,” Ryaire said. “He will know what to do.” She gave him a light hug, and he awoke.
Axio stared at the ceiling. He heard a faint noise beside him as Cavria awoke, yawning. “Morning, Axio,” she mumbled.
She blinked through sleep-muddled eyes and straightened her hair with her hands. “Did you finally get some real sleep?”
“Yes. Ryaire spoke to me,” Axio said. He rose and pulled on a clean tunic. “I need to speak to the Grand Cleric, immediately. Go get your gear and weapons on; we don’t have time to waste.”
Solen stood outside the little supply room. Toller sat tied to the chair inside, blindfolded, with earplugs in. “I find it distressing how often we have been forced to use this room as an interrogation chamber,” the ancient cleric said sadly.
“Agreed,” Axio said. “But Lady Ryaire said you may know how to get the information from our man here.”
Solen nodded. “I can, yes. He knows the password?”
Solen pushed the door open. “Leave him to me.” He let the door shut and stood before the Baneite. He pulled the blindfold and earplugs off and stepped back. Toller looked blearily up at him.
“I understand you know the passwords to the temple’s portals,” Solen said bluntly. “Reveal them to me.”
“Blow me,” Toller sneered.
“Among my spells I have prepared for the day, I have heal, speak with dead, and zone of truth,” Solen said. He pressed a finger to the other man’s head. “Which will you need used on you?”
Toller laughed a sickly, mad laugh. “You’re not going to torture me, old man.”
“No, that is beneath me,” Solen said. “I shall simply kill you, and allow your own fear of your fate motivate your soul’s honesty.”
Toller’s fractured mind whirled. Whatever psychic blocks Vorthane had put in him would keep him from being forced by magic to reveal the passwords, but did that protection extend into death? He didn’t know. He needed to stall. “I don’t believe you.”
The half-Celestial grabbed his head. Toller yowled as a blast of divine fire impacted his forehead and sent him sprawling, still tied to the chair. “That is immaterial,” the old man – the Grand Cleric himself, maybe? – said coldly. Toller saw him withdraw a small silver knife from his pocket. “Burn in hell,” he said, and Toller felt the cold of the knife against his neck.
“W-wait!” Toller managed. “Don’t do it!”
“Do you mean to repent?” Solen asked.
“Do you mean to defect?”
“Do you mean to tell me the password?”
Solen sighed. He would have to ask for absolution for this, he was sure, but he cared about Triera more than himself. He cast Geas.
Toller struggled, but his mind was already damaged enough by Vorthane’s torture that he couldn’t resist. “I command you to speak,” Solen said. “Reveal to me the portal password to enter your temple.”
Toller’s heart leaped. That command was just loosely phrased enough to let him get away with deception. “Malsker,” he said.
“Was that so hard?” Solen asked curtly. “Stay where you are.”
Axio stood impatiently outside the storeroom. He could feel the calm and patience Ryaire had given him slipping away. The scuffle inside had subsided. He was contemplating going in when the door swung open. Solen stepped out and shut the door behind him. “The password is ‘Malsker,’ Axio,” Solen said. “I had to use Geas to get the knowledge, but it should work.”
Axio hugged the old cleric. “Thank you, Grandfather. Shall we turn Toller over to the Watch now?”
“We shall. Let them decide his fate. In the meantime, you have work to do. Keep our family safe, Axio,” Solen said gravely. “I shall do my best to prepare the Temple, should the worst come to pass.”
Axio and Cavria moved through the city as fast as they dared. The two of them were loaded up with all their armor and weapons. They had the password; all they needed now was the rest of their party.
They arrived at the construction site to see Luanea sitting outside the curtained room in her spring cloak and formalwear, eating breakfast. Her eyes went wide when she saw the two armored Ryairans charge up. “Axio! Cavria!” she said, rising to her feet and setting aside her tea. “You’re alright! We heard the worst about yesterday!”
Axio came to a halt when he reached his friend. “I imagine you did, Luanea, but I’m afraid there’s no time to chat,” he said. “We have the password for the portal, and we know where the temple’s access is.”
Luanea started moving towards the curtained room at once. “I’ll get the others. Where do we meet you?”
“At the Temple, as soon as you can.” Axio breathed deeply. “Okay. Back home, let’s get ready ourselves.”
Cavria looked around doubtfully. The six of them would be heavily outnumbered. “Shouldn’t we bring a Watch team?” she asked, as the two of them walked briskly back towards their home temple.
“We could, but we need to be sure the city itself is safe while we’re gone,” Axio said. “We have no idea how many people they have left.”
The five divine warriors met up outside the Temple. Kyria and Luanea both gasped when they saw the damage to the temple. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” Kyria said. She sniffled and hugged both Ryairans. “This is awful!”
“Yeah,” Cavria said heavily. “We lost a monk, and many children.” Kyria wiped tears away.
“We’ll get your sister back,” Doshellas said quietly. Axio heard steel behind his voice. This wasn’t honestly so different from what his slavemaster had done in the tunnels of the Underdark – raiding surfacers and abducting their children. “I swear it.”
Solen pressed an armful of potions on them. “Suivi is waiting for you at the portal. He does not know the interior of the temple, but he does wish to help you in battle, as you agreed.”
“That’s something,” Axio said. He embraced his grandfather with a heavy heart. “We’ll be back soon,” he promised.
“Ryaire guide you,” Solen said gravely. “We will keep the home fires burning.”
Embersson was waiting for them by the wardrobe. He had clearly been home and back since the others had seen him. His normal robe and cloak were gone, replaced by leather armor and a pair of enchanted bracers. He straightened up when he saw the rest of the party. “Alright, then,” he said. He turned to the Eilistraeeans and bowed. “Suivi Embersson. I’m the man who tracks these portals,” he said. “I work for Axiopistos.”
“Welcome aboard,” Kyria said.
“Thanks.” Suivi paused. This would not be easy. “I was formerly a spy for the Baneites.”
The three Eilistraeeans stared. “You worked for the Cult of Tyranny?” Luanea asked coldly. She fingered the pommel of her bastard sword. “Axio, why did you only tell us this now?”
“Because I have no idea how long it will take for our enemies to complete their ritual,” Axio said. “I’ve extended my trust to him.”
Luanea peered at the human spy for a long moment, and then slowly shook her head. “Fine. Time is of the essence.”
Cavria coughed. “Er, for those not in the know, I’m not human.”
“You’re in good company,” Kyria said cheekily. Cavria removed her amulet.
Suivi’s knees went weak. A Succubus. His new employer’s sidekick was a Succubus. He felt his head spin as she looked around sheepishly. “I’m… not a very good spy,” he finally said.
Axio chuckled. To his surprise, so did Luanea and Doshellas. “Don’t let it bother you. I hide it very well,” Cavria said. She turned her glowing eyes on Kyria. “So… Kyria, if you want to leave, I won’t think less of you. I know it’s hard to trust a devil.” She raised her hand and showed the drow woman her amulet. “This is an Amulet of Greater Repeated Disguise Self, a gift from Her Ladyship Ryaire. It allows me to pass for mortal.”
Kyria stared at her for a long minute. Finally, she shrugged. “I guess you two knew?” she asked the drow.
Doshellas nodded. “Didn’t care.”
“I nearly killed her, if it makes you feel better,” Luanea said. “Axio convinced me that Ryaire trusts her.” She turned to smile at the devil. “And so did she.”
Kyria shook her head again, raising her hands in defense. “Fine. Fine, whatever. Let’s go.”
Cavria set her amulet back on her chest, and she again became an unattractive human woman. The group stood around the wardrobe as Axio cleared his throat. “Malsker,” he said, and the doors sprang open.
The shining circle of light beyond showed nothing. Axio frowned. “The room on the other side is completely dark,” he noted.
“Maybe to disorient us,” Cavria said uneasily.
“Maybe.” Axio drew out one of the Sunrods they had taken from Undermountain and tossed it through the glowing portal. The light illuminated an empty room. There was nobody inside, just empty wall sconces and a few crates and chests. “Grand Cleric Solen got the password from Toller with Geas, so it is accurate,” Axio reminded himself. “We’ll just have to trust that Toller had the right address.”
“It could be a relay,” Suivi pointed out. “There could be another portal somewhere else in the building.”
“We don’t have time to waste,” Axio decided. “We press on. If there is another portal, we can just come back.”
“Right.” Luanea unsheathed her bastard sword and squared her shoulders. “Lead the way.”
Axio raised his shield and stepped through the portal. The instant he was on the other side, he sprang forward and knelt with the Sunrod at his feet.
Nothing. No challenges issued from the darkness. He felt no traps trigger. The air was breathable, but dank and still.
Cavria came through next, keeping her glaive raised. She swept the room with her eyes, looking for doors.
Doshellas emerged next with his bow strung and ready. Suivi walked through, daggers in hand, but he was the only group member without darkvision, so he stayed close to the shining light of the Sunrod. Luanea was next, and she circled behind the portal. Kyria stepped through last. She cast light on the ceiling tile above the portal, and the room shone with a magic glow.
Still nothing. The six travelers scanned the room, and there was nothing at all. Axio slowly rose with his sword at the ready. “I find myself somewhat unimpressed with the scale and complexity of this facility,” he said drily. “Anybody see a door?”
“Two doors,” Doshellas said. He pointed at two stone doors set into the wall behind the large and freestanding stone square in the room’s center. “Unmarked. Locks in the door handles.”
“Anybody detect magic in this place?” Axio asked. “Besides the obvious.”
“No, but speaking of obvious,” Cavria said. She tapped a piece of parchment affixed to the stone square with the portal inside. “This has a list of passwords.”
“So this is a relay for the cult to travel,” Axio remarked. “You were right, Suivi.”
The spy acknowledged the remark with a nod. “I suspected the cult had taken the time to map Halaster’s gates and portals before trying to use them,” he said. “Toller’s mysterious employer had been working on this plan for decades.”
Axio read the list. “Hmm. ‘Store wardrobe. Undermountain. Rookery. Lighthouse. Upstairs.’” He rubbed his chin. “Have we seen a lighthouse anywhere?”
“Not yet,” Cavria said. “Maybe they have a fallback in the Grand Harbor Lighthouse?”
“I’m more interested in the ‘upstairs’ bit,” Axio said grimly. “This place may be at the bottom of a larger complex.”
“Which means my sister could be anywhere,” he said heavily. “All right. Doshellas, pick a door. We’re sweeping this place.”
“You got it, Axio.” Doshellas knelt next to the wall with the two stone doors. “Hmm. Identical. Locks are the same. Stone’s from the same place.” He ran his gloved fingers over both handles to test the mechanisms. “No traps.” He considered their choice. “Eh. Right hand rule.” He stepped back and rested one hand on the right door. “Get ready.”
I stood at the back of the formation and kept an eye on the portal behind us. I knew it would run out of its charge soon and shut and we would have to use the password to turn it back on. “Want me to grab the Sunrod?” I asked.
“No. We leave it be, so we can mark our trail in case we need to backtrack,” Axio said.
Doshellas set his hand on the door handle and glanced over the rest of the group. We were ready.
Doshellas threw the door open, and we all rushed through. We were at the end of a long, dark hallway. The portal room opened up into a corridor that stretched back over a hundred feet. Doors marked the walls in places, but there was no light. Axio cast the light cantrip on his glove, as did I with my glaive. Even the extra illumination showed nothing of interest. “Did we miss something?” I asked uneasily. “Where is this cult?”
“Not sure. I suspected they had about sixty members, and you’ve killed over thirty in your raids,” Suivi said. “They may be out recruiting or something.”
“We move out. Doshellas, tell us if any of the doors we pass are locked,” Axio commanded.
Darius Vorthane stared into the depths of his psy-crystal and meditated. The ritual was proceeding, as quickly as he could move it along without errors. The new children were down in the basement processing into Grist at that very moment, and his lieutenants were busily recalling his men in the field in preparation for the inevitable counterattack.
Still… something was wrong.
He couldn’t put his finger on it, exactly. Something was missing, or he was missing something. There was some variable for which he hadn’t accounted.
The old cleric struggled to his feet and walked towards the main altar room. There were only a few men there at that moment. They were sweeping up the altar and casting spells on the ritual needles. “Master Vorthane, sir, what can we do for you?” one asked when he noticed the door opening.
“Oh, nothing, I suppose,” Vorthane said. “I simply feel the passing of time. Could you be so kind, however, as to direct the security team to sweep the place again?”
He phrased it like a favor, but it was an order, and both men knew it. “Sir, yes sir,” the cultist said. He set his broom aside and walked swiftly out of the room. Vorthane watched him go, then slowly walked over to his throne and sank in. He didn’t engage any of the magical or psionic devices embedded within, he just sat there and thought.
Toller. The rookery. The farm. The raid team. What was going wrong? What was he missing?
I advanced slowly through the room. Doshellas had picked the lock off the corridor’s side, and it had opened up into a long gallery. A huge table dominated the center, with empty painting frames on the walls and elaborate candlesticks on the table. “Were they hosting a restaurant?” I quipped.
“Bane Cuisine,” Kyria chuckled. “Yeah, Axio, I hate to say it, but we may not be in the right place.”
My partner gripped his sword tighter. “We push on regardless. Toller couldn’t have lied.”
“But he may have been misleading us,” I pointed out. “What if he gave us the password to the basement portal because the Baneites aren’t using it? That would have fulfilled the requirements of his geas if all Solen asked was how to get to the Temple.”
I could see Axio go still as that dawned on him. “Oh, grandfather,” he said under his breath. “All right, fine. We finish sweeping the room, and then we go back and try the password labeled upstairs.”
I could practically see him kicking himself. He must have been taking the potential deception personally, thanks his sister’s peril. Doshellas finished leading them across the room, and we all doubled back, moving as fast as we dared to the entryway.
When we returned to the portal room, it was just as we had left it. Axio skimmed the parchment and found the line he wanted. “Here it is.” He stepped up to the stone square and spoke the password. “Dufriel!”
An outline appeared in the square. This room was brightly lit, and we could see people moving on the other side. As soon as we activated it, the figures on the other side drew weapons. We couldn’t hear their words, but one of them started screaming something. Doors flew open, and men charged in, brandishing daggers and spears.
“Fuck,” Suivi muttered. “They know we’re coming now.”
“They were already prepared for us,” Axio said darkly. “They were in defensive stance.”
Kyria sauntered up beside him and made an expressive gesture at the cultists beyond. Some returned it. “Yup. They knew we were gonna show up sooner or later,” she remarked. “So do we keep pushing here, or go up into the meat grinder?”
Axio stared at the dancing vision of the portal. The men beyond lined up in a great skirmish wall. Some brandished shields while others had bows nocked and ready to fire. One man in the middle had a great lance, like a cavalry charger’s weapon, drawn back and ready to stab. We were outnumbered at least five to one.
“We push on here,” Axio said. “How do I close this?”
Kyria tapped a fingertip against the stone square. “Can’t. Not normally. Let the spell charge wear off and close on its own.”
“Damn it all!” Axio snarled. “Should we just charge in and take our chances?”
An arrow zipped through the portal and bounced off his armor. He flinched back and raised his shield. Several more caught on the metal disk.
“That’s a no,” I said. “Kyria, how long until the portal closes?”
“Maybe a minute,” she said.
“Put your lights out,” Axio ordered. “They can’t shoot what they can’t see.”
We all started extinguishing our torches and cantrips. The room plunged into darkness. The arrows stopped, and the only light source became the image of the cultists. A few cautiously approached the portal, but a magic missile from Kyria dissuaded more.
The instant the portal shut off, Axio re-cast his light. “All right, that was a terrible idea of mine,” he said angrily. “Can this portal be blocked? Can we make it so they can’t come down here?”
“I can go grab a chair from that dining hall and use it to stuff up the box,” Luanea suggested.
“Do it. Suivi, go with her. Doshellas, this other door. Is it locked?” Axio demanded, pointing at the door we hadn’t opened.
Doshellas hurried over to the second door and crouched. “No.”
“Then we open it the second they get back.” Axio walked over to the door and hunkered down behind his shield. Moments later, he heard the others returning with armfuls of chairs. They hurriedly shoved them into the gap in the stone box.
“Done!” Luanea said.
“Lock the other door behind you,” Axio said. “We can break it later ourselves if we need to.”
“We don’t have the key,” Suivi pointed out. “These are turn-locks, not bars.”
“Damn. Fine, we just move fast.”
Doshellas took his position beside the door. The rest of us moved to encircle him as he set his grip on the handle. “Ready?” the quiet hunter asked.
“Ready,” I confirmed for us all.
“Go!” He shoved the stone door open.
We charged through into a much shorter hallway. This one opened to the left, and only proceeded about sixty feet before dead-ending in a second, flimsier door. It was already ajar. A cultist with a torch stood there, wide-eyed. He stared at the six armored warriors as we charged down the hallways towards him. “INTRUDERS!” he bellowed, and he slammed the door in our faces. I heard a latch scrape as we approached.
Axio didn’t even slow. Divine light spilled bright blue from his gemstone eyes as he simply ran through the door, blasting the old wood right off its hinges. The cultist squealed in surprise as my partner ran him over, sending him tumbling to the ground.
Five more cultists had been rushing towards the door when Axio made his entrance. They all had torches in their hands and daggers drawn. At the sight of my partner bull-rushing their pointman, one of them took off, but the other four threw themselves into battle.
Axio finally slowed his charge as his path was clear of targets. He spun on his heel and slammed the shield into the face of the nearest cultist, sending him sprawling. Doshellas ran in next and crouched in the corner. He fired an arrow into the cultist on the ground, pinning him there. I was next, and I paused to finish off the one Axio had plowed through on his way in. Luanea followed through and ran straight for the cultist who had made a break for it, though he slipped past her and out into the next room.
Kyria announced her arrival with a blast of magic force into another cultist’s sternum. He groaned in pain, but still hurled his torch at her. It hit her square in the chest, and she yelped in surprise as it set her robe ablaze. Suivi sprinted past her and vaulted the dead cultist on the floor. He landed amidst the two last cultists. His daggers flashed in a whirlwind of cuts and parries.
The running one made it to the far door and threw it open. Luanea raised a finger. “Eilistraee damns you,” she said coldly. “Sacred Flame.”
A blast of fire-like radiance erupted from her finger and caught the running cultist right in the back. He stumbled, but turned it into a roll and kept running. The one on the ground with the arrow through his gut managed to rise and tackled Doshellas. The drow’s head snapped back as the cultist punched him in the eye.
Axio grabbed one of the cultists fighting Suivi and crushed him against the wall with his shield. He rammed his sword through the other man’s gut and ripped it sideways, spilling him all over the floor. I stepped in to replace him and tripped the other man Suivi was fighting with my glaive. Suivi finished him off with a vicious slash.
The cultist who had ignited Kyria lunged at her and stabbed deep. She managed to deflect his strike with her arm and leaped back, still slapping at the flames. Doshellas kicked his attacker and rolled clear, then slammed the other man with a knee strike that left him reeling. He coolly shot the other man twice in the head with his bow, and he went still.
“One runner,” Luanea said. “He’s heading that way.”
Kyria put out the flames and blasted the nearest cultist with a coil of fire. He screamed and fell to his knees, writhing in the flame. I dropped the glaive through his shoulder and he died in a crunch.
Silence fell. I turned around, looking for targets. “Now what?” Suivi asked.
“Now we pursue the son of a bitch, and we find the man pulling the strings around here,” I said hotly. “Anybody need healing?”
“I’m not feeling great,” Doshellas mumbled. He was bleeding where the man had punched him, and one eye was swelling shut.
I pressed my hand against his wound and invoked Ryaire. Doshellas let out a long sigh as I healed his face. “Thanks, Cavria,” he said.
Suivi stared down the hall through which the cultist had run. “All right. We going?”
“We’re going.” Axio wiped his sword clean. “Move out.”
Vorthane leaned forward in his command throne and glared holes into the shimmering image hanging in the air before him. He hated using his spell slots to activate the scry-stone in the throne, but it did allow him to surveil the intruders. “They beat the security team in a heartbeat,” he said coldly. “All hands to the armory at once. Equip armor and weapons.”
The assembled cultists scrambled off to the armory. Vorthane had split his forces when the portal had shut down. His servants in the portal room he had sent down to the dungeon to ensure the attackers did not imperil their Grist. The other half, he had pulled back to the altar room, leaving only a token guard on the portal.
“Sir, once they’re armored up, where do we send them?” one of his lieutenants asked. “Back to the portal room?”
“No. They were coming from our own basement portal, the ancillary one,” Vorthane said. He massaged his eyes as he considered his options. “There’s no sense in guarding the portal here if they can get through the basement unobstructed. We keep half the troops in the dungeon, guarding the Grist, and we send the other half through the portal into the basement. They can follow the intruders. With luck and Bane’s will, the intruders will go straight for the dungeon anyway, and we can get them in a pincer.”
“Clever, sir.” The lieutenant saluted and followed his men into the armory. Vorthane took one last look at the running team of interlopers and scowled bitterly. One of them was Suivi Embersson. How disappointing. He had been so loyal before. What had turned his coat? Simple greed, perhaps? Had the Ryairans made him a better offer than Toller had? He doubted it. The Ryairans were not a wealthy church.
He rose from the throne and hurried into his own armory. His options were not yet depleted. There was no way the interlopers could know of his own trump card. When he reached the private sanctum, he pulled a curtain on one wall aside to reveal a pile of strange metal slats on a humanoid mannequin. He smiled as he remembered the circumstances under which he had acquired it, then pushed the memory aside. His time was running out.
Luanea sprinted after the running cultist. She and I were the fastest of the group, and we were slowly losing ground on the Baneite. He was slamming and locking doors behind him, but they were flimsy wood, not the heavy stone of the portal room. My glaive solved those problems adroitly. My breath was ragged in my chest from running in a full armor suit. Luanea was faring better, but not by much.
Finally, the inevitable happened. We reached another stone door. My glaive rebounded off the lock. “FUCK!” I snapped. “We’re going to lose him!”
The others ran in behind us and slowed when they saw our progress had halted. “Locked?” Axio asked tersely.
“Locked.” I kicked the stone in frustration. It didn’t budge. “Doshellas, can you get this?”
The ranger was panting, but he nodded. He knelt next to the door and took out his tools. While he worked, I sat on a nearby table and tried to catch my breath. Kyria hopped on the table next to me, looking a bit winded herself. We watched Doshellas work the lock in silence for a few minutes as the sound of panting faded.
“Sssooooo…” Kyria said awkwardly. “Uh… you’re, uh, you’re a devil, then?” she asked.
I sighed. “Yes. You’re an elf, I gather?”
“Well… I mean, I’ve never met a devil before,” Kyria said uncomfortably.
“And I’ve never met a dark elf. Just drow.” I turned to look at her through my magic disguise. “So this is a learning opportunity.”
She was looking very uncomfortable now. “Well… uh… how did you come to work for Ryaire?” Kyria finally asked.
“I was thrown out of Hell and landed in the Abyss. An angel found me and took me to Arvandor. A Noble Eladrin there diverted me to Ryaire, she deprogrammed me, and I took her job offer. Short version.” I shrugged. “It’s worked pretty well.”
Kyria looked like she was struggling to take it all in. “Wow. You’ve had an… interesting life.” She screwed up her face. “I’m just… I thought devils were inherently evil.”
“Devils have no souls, so they have little free will.” I thought back to my horrible creation and shuddered. “I do. I can choose my own fate, just like Luanea did.”
“Huh.” Kyria looked down at her hands. “Okay. I just… I dunno, I thought… I would probably be a lot more freaked out under more casual circumstances.”
I stared at her. “So? Doshellas and Luanea found out in the middle of a battle. Look, you can ask me questions if you want, but now’s not the time,” I said. I saw Doshellas standing up. “Okay, we’re on.”
The ranger stepped back and pushed the door in. Axio charged through, but immediately lowered his sword. “Oh, for goodness’ sake,” he grumbled.
I followed him through and groaned. There was nothing in the room but a few dead torches in wall sconces and a large metal door on the far wall. It was obviously a puzzle door. There were three large holes in the mechanism in the center, and a variety of small discs on the wall in a basket.
“Fuck. We don’t have time for this,” I said angrily. “Anybody seen these before?”
“I have,” Kyria said. “Hang on. You gotta assemble these in the right way.”
She and Suivi pulled the discs out of the basket and started piecing them into larger shapes while the rest of us stood about. Axio walked over to the stone door behind us and kept watch. I just sat down next to the door and tried to force down my tension. We just didn’t have the time to waste.
|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