Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 33
Chapter Thirty Three:
Bastienne Toller sat in the cell of the Watch post with his hands tied behind his back. He stared at the floor in blank hate.
There was nothing for him here. He wanted to serve the Master, and of course, to do the work of Hate, but now all he had was the floor and the local drunks. There was no news from the outside. He felt the phantom glass tubes pierce his skin in a sudden flashback to his reeducation, and he whimpered. He hadn’t felt so helpless even during the height of his torture in the Harness.
The Watch officer outside his cell looked up briefly, noted Toller’s lack of movement, and looked back down to his game of solitaire. Toller sighed and closed his eyes. How could he even do his duty now? At least Vorthane would have the chance to react now that Toller had sent the accursed Paladins to the basement instead of anywhere important.
I stretched and smacked my lips. The wait for the puzzle to end was interminable. With no natural light, there was no way to mark the passage of time. Suivi and Kyria had solved two puzzle keys and put them in the right slots, and now they were struggling with the third.
Doshellas had taken Axio’s place at the door. Axio himself was slowly pacing the far side of the room, clenching and unclenching his fists. He looked about as nervous as ever. I stood and walked over to where he was tracing a path in the floor. “Hey, Axio,” I said softly. “Do you want to talk?”
He sighed and clasped his hands behind his back. “I’m scared witless, Cavria. I’m… not hiding it well. I can joke in front of the others, but…” he said, almost silently. “You know better. I suspect Luanea can tell too.”
I moved up behind him and slid my hands into his where they sat at the back of his armor. “We’ll do our best, I promise,” I reassured him. “Trust us.”
“Yes, trust,” he muttered. “I can think of few parties with more reasons to distrust each other than this. Between the two of us mutating, you hiding your fiend nature, and Suivi switching sides, half the party is unstable.”
I frowned and grabbed his shoulder, turning him to face me. “Now you’re projecting,” I said crossly. “We’re working together. Don’t let this get to you. We need you. You’re the leader.”
He started to object, and then paused. “Fine. Yes. You’re right. You’re right.”
The door clunked open. The others reached for their weapons and stood back. The large metal panel swung into the room and stopped halfway. Doshellas peeked through. “Nothing.”
“Probably setting up an ambush ahead,” Kyria remarked. “We should be careful.”
“Move out,” Axio said. He grabbed his shield and took point. “We’re finishing this nightmare.”
Vorthane watched as they finally solved the puzzle that he had left on the wall. Why they hadn’t just doubled back and taken the long route, he didn’t know, but now they were on the move again. They would reach the stairs in minutes.
He looked over at two men in armor beside the altar. “Gentlemen, run through the portal downstairs and tell the defense team in the other end that our foes are on the move. They should follow discreetly. They will know when the time is right to strike.”
“Yes, sir. Which path should they take?” the cultist asked.
“The one with the puzzle door. Tell the team to follow in the intruders’ footsteps, but to stay undetected.”
The cultist saluted and ran off. Vorthane looked back to the floating image in the air before him and raised one of the metal slats affixed to his arm. “Now, let us see how far you get,” he said softly.
Axio looked up the steep stone stairs. “Looks like this is the bottom of three levels,” he remarked. “Suivi, any ideas about where to go next?”
“Nope.” The spy pushed his lanky grey hair out of his eyes. “I’ve never even been to this temple. I have no idea where to go.”
“Then we go up one floor, clear it, go up to the top, clear that,” Luanea suggested. “We should stick together and move quietly.”
“Right.” Axio gestured at the stairs with his sword. “Move in single file. Watch for traps on the walls.”
Vorthane flicked his wrist, and one of the metal slats on his armor glowed.
Axio gasped as a torch in the stairwell slipped from its sconce and landed on his head. “Gah! What?” He slapped the torch aside before it could light his tabard. “Where did that come from?”
Vorthane flicked the metal slat, and all the other torches in the stairwell rose from their sconces, directed themselves at the Aasimar, and rocketed down.
“LOOK OUT!” Luanea shouted. She grabbed Suivi and dragged him back into the hallway behind them as Axio sprang aside. He threw himself bodily under the stone stairs. Dozens of pieces of burning wood slammed into the stone all around him, showering him with pitch and fire.
Axio cried out in pain as a few torches actually bent their path around the stone to slam into him directly. He grabbed at one and splintered it against the stones, rolled out of the path of another, and smashed a third with his shield.
“What the hell is this?” Suivi demanded. “Are we fighting a ghost?”
“A psychic!” Axio said. His voice cramped in pain as he rose from his hiding place. Cavria rushed to his side and started healing him. “The senior cultist cleric, he’s a psychic!”
“Damnation, nobody told me!” Suivi said. He looked up the tall stairs and quailed. “How much more of that do you think he’s got?”
“Not enough,” Doshellas said angrily. “Move fast.”
Vorthane let the torches lie and turned his mind to the next obstruction. With a tap of the metal slats, a chunk of stone from the walls around the staircase emerged to block the path.
Axio snarled when he saw the stone move. “I think not, Baneite.” He ran up next to the block and dug his fingers in. To Vorthane’s surprise, however, he did not try to push the stone back in, but instead pulled it further out. The Aasimar’s back muscles tightened as he wrenched the block further out of the trap and dragged it over the edge of the stairs to topple to the floor below.
“Move!” he commanded. The other five fighters scrambled up after him as Axio ducked into the first door on their new level. Axio held the door shut, and the others listened carefully, but none of them heard more objects moving.
“So Toller’s boss is a psion,” Cavria said dourly. “Fantastic. Anything else we need to know about him?”
“Not that I ever knew,” Suivi said. He ran a shaking hand back through his hair. He didn’t allow his emotions to show most of the time, but fighting an actual psychic was new to him.
Kyria patted him on the back. He started, but relaxed once he saw where it was coming from. “Relax. We can beat this guy,” she said confidently.
It wasn’t a gesture to which Suivi had had exposure in his life. He stared at the perky dark elf for a moment before he nodded. “Right.”
Axio poured a bit of his healing magic into his own body before looking around their temporary shelter. It looked like a small alchemic lab, but disassembled. This was new work, not the dusty and abandoned realm of Halaster. “Anybody else hurt?” Axio demanded.
He heard a chorus of ‘no.’ “Fine. The stairwell won’t work if the psychic has it trapped. We have to find another way up.” Axio pushed the door back open. Nothing happened. “All right. Move out, my friends.”
The marching order shifted with their backs now exposed. Axio and Luanea took the point, with Suivi right behind them. Doshellas and Kyria, the ranged players, took the middle, with Cavria and her glaive at the rear. The hallway was long and straight, but there were doors at random intervals. The sheer size of the temple was disconcerting to the Ryairans. Axio especially found him clenching his teeth. How could the Baneites have made their temple so grand? More importantly, where the hell were they? The air pressure didn’t feel odd, nor was the air especially warm, but they had seen not one window or door out of the building. Were they in a surface cave? Was their building inside a larger structure? And why, why, why did it have a portal to old Halaster Blackcloak’s Undermountain dungeons?
“Does anybody else find it odd that they have no other people here?” Luanea asked uneasily.
“We should have encountered more, if the psychic can’t attack us again,” Cavria agreed.
“Maybe he can but isn’t,” Doshellas muttered.
Suivi paused the others. “There’s a door here… it’s hidden.” Axio and Cavria flattened themselves against the walls and kept watch as the others inspected the wall panel. Sure enough, the stone blocks concealed a clever hinge.
“Should we?” the spy asked. “It could be another trap.”
“Or a hidden staircase that doesn’t have quite as many psychic torches in it,” Luanea pointed out.
“Open it,” Doshellas voted. The four of the set their hands against the hinge and pushed.
Stone ground against stone, and the door swung back. Suivi let out a whistle at the sight behind the false wall. “Wow. That’s… a trove.”
Inside was a heap of tubes. Each was around one and a half feet long, though they varied. Some had metal inlays, others had decorative leather pieces on their outsides, and a few had jewels in the caps and lids.
Kyria looked longingly at the prize. “Scroll tubes. Dancer, that’s a lot of magic.”
“You can loot it barren the second we’re done,” Axio said. “I promise.”
She grinned. “I love you, big guy,” the wizard said. “Sorry, babies, mommy will have to come back for you.”
The crew manhandled the door shut and moved forward. The side rooms they passed were empty of people, though some contained treasure that made the more adventurous party members ache to leave it. Eventually, though, Axio held up a fist for silence.
He closed his eyes and listened carefully. Sure enough, he heard the faint sound of metal clinking together from somewhere ahead of them. “Ambush,” he said quietly. “Blades out.”
The rest of the party unsheathed their weapons and held them above their sides, so they didn’t clatter off their armor. Axio advanced slowly, keeping his divine senses probing their surroundings. As he drew nearer to the sound of metal, he thought he heard voices, but it was indistinct. He could still hear the metallic noises, and they were getting louder.
Vorthane watched the party of troublemakers advance through the hall. Relief surged through him when he saw them leave his cache of scrolls. He had spent years carefully collecting them.
A lieutenant, Drentil, jogged up and quickly bowed. “Sir, the assault team is still following him, but the enemy is approaching the Grist chamber. Apparently, it took so long to establish a portal because the enemy stuffed the gap with things.”
“That may not be the worst outcome, actually,” Vorthane said calmly. “How many guards are there in the dungeon?”
“And pursuing them?”
“Wait for them to enter the dungeon, then attack them from behind,” Vorthane said decisively. “Let them die before the Grist they hoped to save.”
Axio watched tensely as Doshellas checked the door at the end of the hall. “Nothing,” Doshellas whispered.
“Good.” Axio tapped his hand against the flat of his blade and let his divine power enhance the weapon. Cavria and Luanea began casting their own enhancement spells in preparation for battle. Axio wasn’t sure what was on the other side of the door, except that it did not return a signal in his extraplanar senses.
Doshellas stood beside the door with his hand on the knob. “Ready?” he asked when they were all done casting their spells.
The others all nodded and hefted their weapons. Doshellas threw the door open and stepped back.
Axio and Cavria charged in with their weapons and skidded to an immediate halt. Axio doubled over, clutching his stomach. He held back bile with a tremendous effort.
The others crowded past him and stared in utter horror. Luanea had to lean back against the doorframe to support herself. “Who… could…”
The room was a grid. Each stone tile, ten feet wide and long, had an iron deadbolt driven through it. Each draped chains over the back of a child. The children all sat nearly still, save feeble twitches or helpless whimpers. Axio took a few shaky steps forward when an arrow caught him in the side of the head.
The Aasimar staggered. The balcony above suddenly flooded with light and movement as the dungeon guards ambushed the party. A hailstorm of arrows thudded into the group.
Axio dropped to his knees as two more arrows took him in the flank. Neither penetrated his new armor fully, but his vision swam from the head hit. The arrow stuck in his helm, scratching him as he moved. Embersson went down screaming as three arrows lodged in his leather armor. Cavria avoided a hit by a minor miracle, but that just left her in a position to see the other cultists boiling out of the distant stairwell behind them.
Luanea ripped the one arrow that had made it through her armor out of her flank and grabbed Suivi’s collar. “Move! Back into the hall!” she shouted.
Kyria collapsed back through the stone door with a dazed look on her face. She was leaking blood from two holes the bowmen had punched through her shoulder. Cavria grabbed her partner and manhandled him back towards the door as the archers nocked more arrows.
Doshellas limped through the door, trying to ignore the arrow in his ankle. The cultists at the far end of the hall charged, crossing the space between themselves and the party at a dead sprint.
Luanea grabbed Suivi and cast her mightiest cure wounds, and did so at the highest level she could. Cavria did the same with Axio, who was still staring at the bound children in shock. “Triera?” he whimpered. Cavria risked a look, and sure enough, there was his sister, bolted to the floor with the others. She wasn’t even looking up at them.
“We’ll get her later, Axio, we need to fight now!” Cavria shouted in his ear. He flinched from her sudden volume, and it seemed to wake him from his horrified shock.
“R-right. Right.” He wobbled to his feet and looked around, as if just noticing that the group was injured. He grabbed Doshellas and poured his divine magic into the other man’s leg. Doshellas yelped in pain as the arrow ejected itself, then sighed as the wound shifted closed.
“Thanks, Axio.” He struggled to his feet and grabbed the stone door behind them, slamming it shut. “That will hold them for a while,” he said.
“It’s a dungeon, it’s meant to be hard to open from the inside. Good thinking,” Luanea said. She finished casting her healing magic and pulled Suivi to his feet. The rogue drew a throwing knife as soon as he saw the enemies charging them.
“Ready yourselves!” he shouted. He threw the knife, taking one cultist in the chest. Doshellas snapped up his bow and fired, finishing the cultist off. Axio hurled his dart at one, pinning his foot to the floor. Cavria joined in with her javelin, skewering another man, who managed to limp forward despite the impact.
Luanea’s eyes blazed with Eilistraee’s fire, and she unleashed it over the nearest cultist. The sacred flame washed over the man and left him reeling and singed. Something heavy hit the door behind them, but it held, as Luanea predicted.
Axio shouldered his way past the others and sprinted towards the charging cultists. His many stacked defensive spells sent a faint aura of light in his wake. “BASTARDS!” he screamed. “RYAIRE JUDGES YOU!” The front rank of cultists slowed as he approached, with various looks of fear and anticipation on their faces. He did not slow down as he impacted their front line, knocking one man flat on his ass. The others charged in his wake, save Doshellas, who leaned back against the outward-opening door to help hold it shut, and fired from a crouching position. The whole corridor staggered as Kyria unleashed a massive fireball, targeted behind the cultists’ packed front rank. Axio slammed his sword’s flat against one man’s head, sending him reeling, and then caught another blade on his chest plate. He bit back a groan of pain and lashed out with a shield bash, knocking one cultist back against the wall.
Several days of mental anguish over his innocent sister’s fate sprang free from his mind. He felt his sword pulse with divine energy as he swept it about, smiting and blasting. Arcs of radiant light leapt from its surface to scatter over the bodies of his targets.
Things were not going entirely their way, however. Cavria reeled back from a savage blow, bleeding from the mouth. Axio himself lurched a pace to one side as a cultist with an enchanted war club smashed it into his already-damaged helm. He swung at his attacker, who skipped nimbly out of the way.
Kyria danced from foot to foot behind the others, trying to get a clear line of sight. Most of her attack spells affected an area, but the fight was turning into a brawl, and she didn’t want to hit her allies. Finally, she relented and cast magic missiles at a cultist trying to draw Cavria into a grapple.
Doshellas grimaced as he felt something slam into the door behind him. The stone would hold, but eventually they would get through. His heart was pounding. He was no clergyman like half the party was, but the sight of those helpless children had set his skin crawling. He wanted nothing more than to rip the door behind him open and lay into the monsters on the other side. He set his sights on a cultist that had skipped past Suivi and was charging Kyria, and shot him in the neck.
Suivi kneed one man in the balls and flipped him feet-over-face to land on his back. He rammed his dagger into the stomach of another cultist, and then screamed in pain as the man he’d flipped stabbed him in the thigh from the ground.
Cavria could do the math. They were winning, but barely. All of them were hurt now, some of them badly. If the door behind Doshellas opened before they were ready…
Luanea cast healing word, and she and Suivi felt Eilistraee’s loving warmth rush into their wounds, knitting them shut. The drow priestess caught a swipe on her bastard sword and turned it into a parry, slicing one cultist’s hand off.
Axio disemboweled one attacker and broke through to the other side of the melee. He ran straight for the cleric at the back of the pack, swinging his sword at waist height.
The cleric gipped his holy symbol tight and cast a spell. Axio stumbled as a wave of necrotizing energy washed over him, but he gritted his teeth past the pain and forced himself to charge. The cleric’s eyes widened as he realized Axio hadn’t stopped. He brought up a hand mace to deflect the Aasimar’s charge, but it was too late.
Axio ran his sword clean through the other man’s armor. His sapphire eyes blazed under his cracked helm as he bellowed his rage. “SMITE EVIL!”
The last of his energy reserves surged through his glowing sword and into the cleric’s stomach. The man’s tendons tightened as the immense heat blasted through his body, cracking his back and yanking his mouth open. He tried to scream and couldn’t. Axio poured all of his divine favor through the weapon, cooking the cleric from the inside. The older man simply exploded.
The battle slowed as the rest of the combatants took in the sight. Axio slowly turned to face the rest of the Baneites. The shockwave had blown his damaged helm off, and his gore caked his entire front side. He set his burning blue eyes on the nearest cultist, a bloodied swordsman, and bared his teeth. “Suffer,” he snarled, and he threw himself on the man.
If there had been a pre-arranged signal for a retreat, that had not been it, but it was enough. The surviving cultists broke and ran for their lives, back towards the staircase. Axio bore his target to the ground and crushed his head against the stone; Doshellas and Kyria brought down another with ranged fire.
Vorthane’s hands cracked on the psychic control slats on his armor. The imbeciles. The utter imbeciles! Why, WHY had the ambush force fired on the Ryairans before the damned interlopers had walked all the way into the room? If the man who fired that first shot lived through this, Vorthane promised himself, he would spend several hours – a day! – on the Harness.
The lieutenant at his side felt Vorthane’s seething anger and wisely said nothing. Vorthane turned to her, and his eyes blazed with psychic fire. “Rally the entire armory crew, the portal room guard, and all the survivors from the attack group,” he said, in a voice devoid of any emotion at all. “Stick some metal bars through the portal door in the main room, so the Waterdhavians cannot come through.”
“I shall, sir. Where shall I lead the men afterwards?” the lieutenant asked, sweating heavily.
“The Grist chamber, of course,” Vorthane bit off. “We have only numbers to our advantage now. Amalgamate your men, and the dungeon guards, and attack as one.”
The lieutenant saluted and ran off.
Vorthane sat back against the cold stone of his control throne and forced his breathing into a regular pace. He closed his eyes and whispered a prayer for patience. He had not lost yet.
Axio limped back to the others. His hate had burned out, and now he was just sobbing. The sheer wrongness of the dungeon beyond was weighing on him now. His nature made it hard to process, more so than for the the others.
Kyria wiped blood off his face and gave him a worried look. “Uh… what now?” she asked carefully. “The cultists on that balcony will shoot us if we go back in that way.”
“The portal to the top floor,” Suivi said. “This cult master can’t have many men left. We should go around the dungeon and kill the people guarding the main entrance.”
“Call in backup from the Watch?” Kyria asked.
“We could.” Axio tried to assert his discipline over himself and failed. This entire affair was chipping away at his soul. “We… yes.” He took a deep breath. “My sister…”
“We’ll get her, Axio, I promise,” Cavria said. “She’s right there. We’ll get her.”
Axio slowly wiped his blade clean on a cultist’s robe. “Right. Right.”
“GUYS!” Doshellas yelled. He was straining now. He had his booted feet dug in against the stone tile, pushing his back against the dungeon door with all his might. “HELP ME!”
The others ran over past the pools of blood. The drow hunter had set his bow aside now. His arms were bulging with the strain of holding the door closed. “They remembered they had a key,” he grunted.
Axio reached over his friend and set his superhuman strength to holding the door closed. Doshellas gasped in relief and stumbled out of the way. Luanea braced herself in his place. Cavria kneeled beneath her and lent her fiendish strength to the task.
The door stopped moving, though Axio could feel the dungeon guards pounding on it. Doshellas slumped against the wall besides the door. His muscles were protesting their abuse, and he rubbed his arms to get the circulation moving properly.
Then he paused. What was that beside them? He squinted, and his darkvision made out the shape of a door in the wall that he hadn’t seen.
In fact, it hadn’t been there. He felt his hackles rise as he saw where a splash of blood from one of them disappeared where it crossed the outline of the door. “Uh… guys?” he asked nervously. He stooped and retrieved his bow. “This is weird.”
Luanea looked over from her spot by the door and saw the same door. “Was that there the whole time?” she grunted.
“No,” Suivi said certainly. “It wasn’t.”
Cavria looked up and felt her heart seize. Where the others save Axio were seeing a blank door, she saw a wending garden path, leading back from the stone wall into mist. She looked up at Axio, who returned her look of overwhelmed shock. They knew what it was.
“Go,” he said quietly. “We’ll be right behind you.”
Cavria stood. She was shaking from head to foot, now. She distantly supposed that that was silly. A goddess in heaven had raised her; even knowing that, she still felt a sense of wonder. She reached out with one trembling hand, and it passed through the stone.
Doshellas’ eyes widened. “What are you doing?” he asked.
Cavria took a step through the stone and onto the path. In an instant, her five companions were standing around her, without having moved at all. Axio stumbled as the pressure of the door disappeared.
The High Succubus took one tremulous step after another down the path. Suivi looked around, clearly frightened. “What is this? Is this some psychic trick?”
“No, Suivi, and put your weapons away,” she said. “This is the best thing that has ever happened to you.”
|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