Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 34
Chapter Thirty Four:
I felt the tremble in my voice as I said it. I meant every word. I knew this place, like Axio. Unlike Axio, I had been here before, in dreams at least. I rounded a bend in the path and fell to my knees in reverence.
“I knew it,” Axio whispered. He pressed his wrists together over his heart and bowed low. “Thank you, Lord Ilmater.”
The Eilistraeeans gasped as one as knowledge flooded their minds. I felt it too, but I knew everything it was saying. “The Weeping Garden,” Kyria whispered, looking faint. “It’s real.”
Suivi’s eyes widened as he laid eyes on what we were all now seeing. “This…” was all he could muster.
The space beyond the hedge was a wide orchard. The details weren’t exactly the same as they had been in my vision of Ryaire, but they were close. The table was gone. In its place was a clear fountain of glass and white marble. Eight statues surrounded it, and the fountain and statues were each weeping water into a pool. Fruit trees ringed the garden, heavy with a variety of foods.
“This is…” Luanea managed. “I never thought…”
“Somebody wants us to succeed,” Axio said gamely. He bowed again to the fountain, and approached. He slowly crossed the space and knelt beside it. He reverently kissed the water and leaned back on his heels. “Thank you, your Lordship,” he said softly. “We accept your gifts.”
The six of us sat in a circle beneath one of the fruit trees, mending our armor. I had explained to the others that the passage of time didn’t really mean anything in this holy place, and we would return to the exact positions in which we had been at the moment we left them as soon as we departed. We were taking our time to fix our gear.
We couldn’t fix Axio’s or my armor with what we had on-hand, though Kyria did have her mending cantrip. She was repairing the heavy armor as best she could while the rest of us worked on the leather and mail of the other four.
Suivi hadn’t said a word since he had arrived. The rest of us had made light conversation – it was hard to discuss heavier topics in this place of total tranquility. The spy saw Axio sitting in silence, fixing his leather armor with what he had on hand.
Finally, I asked the question. “Suivi, are you alright?”
He looked up at me and blinked. “Huh?”
“You’re dead quiet.”
He looked back down again. “I’m conflicted. I dunno. Ask me later.”
Kyria finished fixing my armor and settled back against the soft, grassy earth. “Aahhhh… this is pretty amazing,” she said sleepily. She closed her black eyes and sighed. “This place… it feels like it’s easy to dream here,” she murmured.
I nodded. “It sort of is. We’re in the Astral Sea.”
“Yep.” She rose again and collected her armor from Luanea. “Thanks.” She slung the hardened cloth over her shoulder and ambled off into the trees, already shedding clothes. “Imma trance.”
Suivi watched her pert backside disappear into the trees, and then turned his eyes back down to his own mending. Doshellas stood and stretched. “Need a rest too,” the stoic hunter said with a yawn. He set his armor against the tree and stretched out in its shade. He was in biological reverie in moments.
Axio had finished fixing Luanea’s armor and set it aside already. He had stood and wandered off to the fountain, and was sitting beside it, watching the clear water splash about around the base of the stone. He looked like he wanted to be alone with his thoughts, but I knew better. I could tell he was hurting because he was alone.
I set my own repairs aside and walked over to him. I stood until he looked up and beckoned me to sit. I did, leaning fully against his side and wrapping an arm around his lower back. He closed his eyes and leaned back, and we held each other up in silence for a while.
I could feel his emotions. My fiendish senses are quite useful sometimes. I could taste his longing for a better outcome. I could taste and even hear the pain in his heart, for his sister and the hundreds of others we had briefly witnessed in that dungeon. I could feel his bitter disappointment that such an atrocity had been allowed to occur, and even his unfailing, ironclad love for Ryaire.
Above all the others, though, was a sense of loss. I could smell it on him, and I tasted it when I leaned over to plant a light kiss on his cheek. He had lost so much. Brother Maynard, in the hit on the temple. The children in Undermountain, the loss of whom he blamed on himself. The children in this very temple, ripped from their parents and taken to Bane’s hellish fortress.
He felt the loss of every parent whose child now suffered in the Blood Rift or the Banehold because Ryaire hadn’t been able to get to them in time. He felt the loss of every Watch officer whose comrades had been cut down by the damned cult, and even loss for me. I would never get to fly, because my appearance frightened children.
Of course, my senses of smell and taste didn’t tell me those things in such granularity. I could sense his distress and unhappiness like any other sensory input, and found their cause with a moment’s conscious thought. It was marvelous, really, that I had come to learn his heart so closely so soon after meeting him.
I did not love him, not romantically. Instead, I wanted to rock him to sleep so he could arise in the morning refreshed and happy, ready to take on the endless problems he and his faith could solve. I wanted to soothe his fraught emotions and heart; he had existed on faith for so long that there was little left but weariness
He could sense my own mind, I knew. His divine senses were as sharp as my fiendish ones. He knew I was burned by my self-loathing, however much Solen had talked me out of its depths. He knew my forced abstinence bothered me, and the necessity of my disguise wore at my patience. How many times in my endless life would I have to suffer shock and mistrust from people less understanding than Kyria or Doshellas?
He could sense my confusion at how somebody could choose to be as evil as Bane or Asmodeus. He could sense my fear of my devil creator, and my slight-but-not-insignificant fear of Ryaire, and how her world revolved around killing people like me to save the souls of children.
Or, perhaps, he didn’t sense those things. Maybe his divine senses could just tell him I was unhappy and alone, and maybe he was really just as good at filling in the blanks as I was. What I know is that after we sat there in silence for a few more long, quiet, peaceful minutes, we both turned as one and kissed.
I felt as natural and comfortable as I had ever felt. My eyes slid shut as I felt his lips against mine. I didn’t feel a flash of lustful heat or a dizzy sense of desire in my mind, as Ryaire had explained I would if ever I lost control of myself. I didn’t feel a surge of predatory hunger for his soul, as I would have if her seal on my innards ever broke. What I felt was the faint breeze on my skin, his warm hand on my back, the taste of his lips, and contentment in my heart.
We were scared. We were sad, alone, and scared, we two Paladins. We were fearless in vow and afraid in reality. We clad ourselves in a good mother’s love and struck our foes down in burning, protective hate. In that garden of peace and plenty in the sight of a god, we were alone, but alone happily together.
We both leaned back after the kiss ended and regarded each other. I wanted to thank him, kiss him more, or just tell him I didn’t care that the others were watching. Instead, I smiled, and he smiled, and we leaned back together and watched the water flow in the fountain for a while.
Luanea smiled as she saw her friends embrace. That was the Eilistraeean way. Intimacy between friends was something so many faithful of other gods denied themselves, to no real benefit in her eyes. At least those two were happy.
She looked over at Suivi, who was watching the two of them kiss with an unreadable expression on his face. When he finally looked down, he had a haunted look on his face all out of nature with the elementally good place they were sharing.
“What’s wrong?” she asked the spy.
He looked up at her. “What the hell am I?” he whispered.
“What do you mean?”
Suivi stared at the grass beneath his legs. “I’m a spy. I’m a hired broker of other people’s knowledge. But… Axio showed me things. He took me to the Temple and forced me to watch as the monks healed a child…” He buried his head in his hands. “I just… I don’t… the monks, they were healing a child they pulled out of a burning building.”
“Okay…” Luanea said, just to acknowledge she was listening.
“And the fire, the people who set it, they were a gang, and Axio couldn’t have known it, but… but I knew them! I knew the name, and I had sold them information in the past,” Suivi babbled. He was spilling his guts out, and Luanea felt a sinking feeling in her stomach that she was about to hear the details of the man’s confession to Axio. “And I told… I told…” His back heaved in a sob. “I told Axio everything,” he managed. “I told him about the smuggling I used to do, about the bribes I had paid the Watch and the Guard to get their spare weapons, and I told him about the espionage I did for the Baneites and the Zhentarim, and…” he sobbed again. “And now I’m in heaven, and I don’t deserve it, and I’m going to die fighting some Baneites and and and-”
Luanea leaned over to him and rested one dark hand on his cheek. “Shhh, shhh, it’s alright,” she shoothed. “Just let it all out. Have a cry, it’s okay.”
Suivi buried his head in his hands and silently wept. The garden’s name was apt, for him. He sat there, shaking with grief and suppressed fear, until he felt drained and exhausted. When he finally looked up again, Luanea was sitting cross-legged a mere foot away. She had a look of sad focus to her that made Suivi instantly nervous. “Listen to me,” she said firmly. “Can you do that?”
“I will not tell you that you can’t have done wrong things in the past and won’t in the future. That is not my place. What I can tell you is that you are sitting in the presence of a literal god of forgiveness,” she said. She pointed up at the shimmering blue curtain of light and clouds overhead, which served as the sky in this tiny sub-pocket of the House of the Triad in the greater Celestia. “If ever you want to do more than just confess your sins and crimes, and actually earn absolution for them, this is the best of all possible places to do it.” She leaned forward and tapped his chest over his heart. “You’re suffering immense guilt, and I understand and respect that, but this is the best opportunity you will get in your entire life to act to fix that guilt. Do you understand?”
Suivi looked up at the sky in trepidation. “Where do I start?”
“From the first line,” she said. “You will feel tempted to recall every wrong thing you’ve ever done. Don’t bother. No mortal can.”
Suivi hmphed and looked back down at the cuddling planetouched. “Not unless you’re some living saint type, like Axio.”
Luanea glared at him. “Do you really think that?”
“Axio’s standards of personal conduct are so high that the day-to-day processes of existing in a mortal body count as infractions,” Luanea said exasperatedly. “Every time he interrupts somebody, every time he can’t tell whether a scantily-dressed person likes being looked at but he does anyway, every time he doesn’t like somebody’s cooking, every time he answers one question too many… the man’s nights are filled with regret for doing things nobody else even thinks about twice. And he STILL finds time to love his life and the people in it.” She rapped Embersson on the chest again, harder. “Stop making this about other people. You think every person who’s confessed their sins had a meter against which to compare themselves? Go tell Ilmater that you want a chance to make amends, and he’ll listen! Don’t try to quantify or recall all your misdeeds.”
Suivi looked down. “What if I didn’t think they were misdeeds when I did them?”
Luanea nodded. “A much fairer question. Trust that Ilmater will know you did them whether you remember specifically or not, and just endeavor to prove you want to make amends. Believe me: your case is not unique.”
“How reassuring,” Suivi said flatly. Still, she had a point. This was probably his best real chance. Even if he just wanted to avoid turning into a lemure, Axio had shown him he had to do something. He stood and slowly walked off towards the trees, lost in his thought.
Axio and I walked slowly around the exterior of the garden, fingers entwined. This was an intrinsically kind place. I felt less out-of-place as I might have, which was greatly reassuring. A pure devil is never comfortable in a place hallowed by the Martyr God, but I was. Axio was in his element. Despite knowing the horrors that awaited us in the Baneite stronghold when we went back, he had a little smile on his noble face.
We had left our armor behind. He was clad in the padded tunic and knee-length pants he wore under his armor, as was I. Anybody could have seen the scars on my back between the sections of padding. He shot them a glance occasionally, and finally mentioned it. “You know… Cavria, if you like, we could get another disguise amulet,” he remarked. “We could disguise your bat wings as bird wings, or something like that.”
“That’s sweet, but I’ve come to terms with it,” I said. “I’m okay.” I wrapped my other arm around his and rested my head against his shoulder. “Really, Axio. I’m fine.”
He rested his free hand on my head and held me close. “I know. Consider it dropped.”
We stood there in a friendly embrace for a long time. I could practically hear his heart healing. The loneliness and terror that had defined the last few days were, he could now comprehend, transitory things. I was here, and together, we would right the state of things.
He finally pulled back and regarded me at arm’s length. “You’re far more comfortable without your amulet now,” he observed.
Indeed, I had left it with our armor. “I don’t like wearing it around people who know the truth,” I admitted. “It makes me feel ugly.”
He smiled. “We both know you’re not.”
“Yeah, but still.”
“I see.” He sat down with his back against the nearest tree and beckoned me to join him. I snuggled happily into his lap and rested my back against his slab chest.
Axio smiled distantly at the gesture. It was so similar to what Dessa and Aresh had done, when he had seen them. “What is it about my lap that encourages shorter people to simply clamber in?” he asked jokingly.
I grinned cheekily and rearranged his arms to be more comfortable between my own, clasped at my waist. “It’s inviting. You’re so big, it looks like a chair.”
“Hmm.” I felt my partner nuzzle the nape of my neck, and I cocked an eyebrow at what would have been an invitingly sexy gesture anywhere else. “Cavria?”
He rested his chin on my shoulder. I felt his feathery hair tickle my ear. “Mind if I just rest for a while?”
“Not at all,” I said. He dislodged me from his lap and lay down flat on his back. I lay beside him and closed my eyes, and we let time slip past.
Kyria completed her trance and sat up with a yawn. She scratched herself and looked around as she rose to her feet. She seemed to be alone in her corner of the woods. She snugged clothes back on and ambled out to the center of the garden.
Doshellas was sitting with his back to the fountain, munching on a pear. The others sat around him, sipping from the fountain or snacking as well. Kyria wandered over to them and plopped down next to the ranger. “Morning!” she said cheerfully.
Doshellas nodded a greeting. “Mphm. Morning,” he said around a mouthful of fruit. “Eat something, this is amazing.”
“The water and food, when consumed together, produce the effect of a Hero’s Feast spell,” Axio explained from where he was sitting. “Try it. We’ll need the energy when we get back out there.”
“And you were out for a while,” Cavria spoke up from beside her friend. “You’ll need to ask for new spells.”
“Good catch.” Kyria scarfed down a proffered apple and drank some of the water. It was just water, by the taste, but she felt a surge of health and warmth inside her like she had just had ten healing spells cast on her at once. “Wow, that’s quite something,” she said. “I wish we could take this stuff with us.”
“Sadly not.” Axio finished his food and walked over to one of the statues. He knelt at its feet and closed eyes. He was clearly praying for his daily spells. Cavria and Luanea picked their own statues and began praying as well.
Kyria eyed Suivi as he stood from his own meal. The human looked older and more tired than he had when she had gone to rest, but at least he didn’t look like he was seeing ghosts everywhere. He was fitting his armor back on, and the young wizard decided to let him be.
Silence filled the garden, save for the sound of the fountain, as the six adventurers readied themselves for resumed battle. Once the spellcasters were done replenishing their magic, each found their weapons. The air turned dour as the peaceful distraction of the garden gave way once more to the certainty of imminent, life-or-death combat.
When the six of them were done with their preparations, they grouped by the entrance they had used to find the place. Before they departed, Axio knelt once more at the base of the fountain and kissed the water. “Thank you, Lord of the Martyred,” he whispered reverently. “May my service to your lieutenant never fail you.”
The group reassembled at the exit. Axio looked around the circle and saw resolution in their faces, even Suivi’s. “Once this place fades from us,” he said, “we will be back in the exact spots we were in when the door appeared. The enemy will still be pounding down the door. I propose that we allow them to break through, and then attack them in close quarters. We only go into the dungeon when the group that enters the hall is beaten. Any other ideas?”
“No, I think it will work,” Suivi said.
“We’re with you, Axio,” Luanea said.
The spellcasters began casting their enhancement spells. Cavria hefted her glaive. “Let’s go.”
|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