Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 35
Chapter Thirty Five:
As soon as the group emerged from the door, it vanished behind them, and all six people instantly returned to their positions. Axio got a quick nod from each other warrior and stepped back from the door. Luanea did the same, as the rest of the party readied actions.
The door blew outward into the hall on its hinges. A cultist with a large chunk of stone in his hands stumbled as he suddenly experienced no resistance. Axio grabbed him with his free hand and pulled him through, tossing him to the floor, and the entire group erupted into combat.
Kyria acted first. ”Cone of Cold!” she barked, and her hands erupted in freezing mist. Two of the Baneites on the other side collapsed backward, convulsing as their blood exploded in their veins. One larger cultist with a shield sprang over his dying allies and slammed it into the wizard’s chest. Kyria reeled backwards with her wind knocked out; Cavria swept her glaive down to knock the man’s shield aside. Axio poured his divine energy into his blade and swept it upwards from the floor to the arch of the door, opening one cultist up like a paper bag and giving them some breathing room.
A cleric at the back of the wedge of crooks dropped a clay figurine on the floor, and suddenly the stone door was gone. The empty socket in the wall was much larger than the door had been. A cultist with two crooked daggers sprang through the widened gap and stabbed at Luanea. The priestess caught the blows on her armor, but one made it through. She staggered, bleeding heavily, but still managed to retaliate with a blow of her own, which laid the cultist’s arm open to the bone.
Suivi darted through the gap and swept the cleric with his daggers. The Baneite roared in pain and brought an enchanted war mace up in the spy’s ribs, but he expertly parried the blow with his knives.
Doshellas slapped a wad of paper on the end of his arrow and fired. The paper exploded into a tangled web of fishing nets as it hit its target. The cultist he hit yelped in surprise as she fell to the floor, dragging the two nearest cultists down with her. Axio caught sight of the children beyond the battle – to his horror, there seemed to be fewer – and let his rage propel him forward. He grabbed one cultist with his huge fist and crushed him against the wall, then pinned him there with a vicious stab of his sword. An enemy blade bounced off his armored shoulder, and he pivoted to kick the attacker in the sternum, folding him up like vellum.
Cavria risked a quick look at the balcony above – there was movement, and at least one archer she could see – and ducked back. She hurled her javelin at the archer, and her reward was a cry of pain.
Kyria recovered from her stumbling and cast a bolt of brilliant fire at the nearest cultist. He shrieked and swatted at the flames.
Far above, Vorthane watched the image, seething. These Ryairan scum were not fighting as if they had just barely won a battle. They were fighting as they were at their peak. Even as he watched, the cleric with the silver hair cast a spell, which immolated one of his men.
“How did you manage this?” he hissed. “Where are you finding this strength?”
At the back of the image, he saw the last of his men from the portal room and the throne room charge into the dungeon. They paused to take stock of the scene and ran for the stairs down to the dungeon room.
“Rejoice,” Luanea said, casting her Mass Healing Word. Her party members felt their injuries fade as she did so. Axio reached out with his gauntleted hand and rested it on Kyria’s shoulder, healing her further. The wizard was not doing well in such tight quarters. She nodded her thanks, and then had to leap back as a cultist with a huge two-handed maul lunged at her, swinging wildly.
Luanea stepped in between the two and caught the blow on her bastard sword. She had the long blade in a double grip, and with a whirl of its silvered length, knocked the fighter back a pace. He brought it back in a pommel strike she caught on her blade, but followed through with a downward sweep against her helmet she didn’t block in time.
Cavria gasped as she saw her friend crumple. She stabbed with her glaive, driving the mace-wielder back, and then whirled it in a circle to her left side, disarming him when the blade caught his hand. He gasped and tried to draw a dagger, but she stopped the blade’s arc and slashed sideways, and his head lolled off his shoulders.
The High Succubus knelt at her Eilistraeean friend’s side and desperately cast Cure Wounds. Luanea stirred slightly, blinking. “What happened?” she mumbled.
“You got hit. Stay down for now,” Cavria said quickly. She leaped back up and rejoined the fray. Her heart sank when she saw what was rushing through the dungeon, though. Seven more cultists, one of them in armor as good as hers, were dodging between the children and racing for them.
“More are coming!” she snapped.
“I see them,” Axio said shortly. He caught a blow on his shield and deflected it into the wall, then pulped his attacker’s elbow with his retaliatory strike. He ignored the screaming cultist and pushed another back into the dungeon with a kick. “Is Luanea alright?”
“She will be,” Cavria said. She hissed in pain as an arrow slammed into her pauldron. It pierced the steel and scratched at her skin. She grabbed it and ripped it out. “I don’t know if we’re winning, Axio.”
Suivi ducked under a warhammer blow and slashed at his attacker’s stomach. “They’re not so bad individually,” he grunted. His snide remark turned into a shout of pain as his target recovered from the blow and slammed his hammer into Suivi’s shoulder, popping it out of socket.
“You were saying?” the Baneite taunted.
Suivi feigned more pain than he felt, dropping to one knee. The cultist towered over him, preparing a killing blow, when Suivi brought his other knife up into the man’s groin and cut it wide open. The Baneite’s eyes bugged out, and he stared in stupefied disbelief long enough for Doshellas to shoot him in the head.
One of the charging cultists in the second group collapsed as the drow hunter shot him, too. The armored lieutenant in the front barreled through the fight as soon as she reached it, throwing herself at Axio as fast as she could. The Aasimar caught her charge and readied his shield.
The Baneite had a huge two-handed sword clenched in her armored fists. She spun on her heel and swept the blade at waist height, and Axio grunted in pain as he partially blocked the blow. Cavria ducked under it and swung her glaive at the armored woman, but she simply ignored her blow as it bounced off her back plate. Axio slashed at the woman’s neck, but she simply tilted her head back and caught the blow on her chest plate.
Suivi popped his arm back into socket with a yelp of suppressed pain. He quickly chugged a potion of healing from the stock Solen had given them and glanced over the fight.
It wasn’t pretty. Bodies from both fights lay strewn everywhere. The entire hall smelled like death and shit. Blood caked the floor in places. Luanea was slowly standing back up, pouring healing magic into herself and the party, but even after all that killing, they were still outnumbered. Doshellas hadn’t been hit yet, and he was still determinately firing arrows into the morass of battle.
Guttering torches and items with light spells lay everywhere, giving the scene an unreal look. It was chaos, and with the last group of Baneites joining the fray, it would only get worse. Suivi finished off his potion and dove back in. He had promised Ilmater he would make amends, and this is where he would start.
Luanea rose back up to her feet and cast her final healing spell. She hadn’t thought she would need more than she had prepared in the Garden, but if the number of enemies they faced at that point was any indication…
Another Baneite cleric saw her get back on her feet. “Lance of Faith!” the cleric cried.
“Counterspell,” Luanea said, and her own magic fizzled out the Baneite’s spell.
The Baneite glared at her indignantly. He drew a throwing knife from his belt, but before he could throw it, a blast of shimmering green and brown light, twisting together like plant roots, erupted from Kyria’s outstretched hand, blasting him off his feet. His knife skittered down the row of children, mercifully not hitting any.
“Thank you, little sister,” Luanea said. She grabbed her sword as Kyria shot her a smirk.
“No problem.” She turned back to the battle and cast another firebolt at the armored warrior dueling Axio. “How are there so many of these guys?”
“I don’t know.” Further conversation became impossible as a huge chunk of stone flew down the corridor at her. Luanea saw stars as the chunk of stone slammed into her mailed breast, smashing her back down to the ground.
“What?” Kyria yelped. She spun, looking for the attacker, but there was nobody there.
Vorthane twisted the psionically-enhanced metal slat in his hand, and the stone rose up in the air to fly back into the fight. This time, it hit the Ranger in the leg, sending him down to the floor in a heap.
Kyria snarled in the back of her throat. “Fucking asshole! Leave your parlor tricks at home!” She pointed her palms at the stone. “Dispel Psionics!”
The stone tumbled harmlessly to the ground, and Kyria smirked. Doshellas struggled back to a sitting positon, favoring his broken leg. She crouched down beside him and cast another firebolt into the fray, hitting the armored warrior again.
Axio felt his opponent tire from the pain and burning. He feinted back a step to draw the swordswoman forward, and then quickly stepped back up close. He swung his long magic blade left, but pulled his hand back towards his own head as he did so. The greatsword the woman was wielding started to move back into a defensive position, but Axio quickly brought his shield up in front of his own arm. It was a hugely risky move, since all the other fighter would have to do to wound Axio afterward was slash low, but Axio guessed his opponent was tired enough that she wouldn’t see it coming.
Sure enough, the shield’s edge impacted with the underside of the woman’s helmet. Her greatword swing angled upward, straight into Axio’s rising shield. As the woman desperately tried to right her helm, Axio leaned forward on his left foot and slammed his blade’s pommel into her skewed eye slit, while also shifting his right foot behind the Baneite’s ankle.
The Baneite toppled backwards, landing painfully in her heavy armor. Axio thrust his blade through the eye slit, instantly killing the cultist.
One of the cultists from the second wave stared in shock as Axio cut his leader down. He looked at the fight with desperate, frightened eyes. Before he could make his move, Suivi sprang out into the main dungeon room and grabbed him, pulling him quickly between himself and the railing.
Four arrows zipped out of the darkness above and slammed into the hapless cultist’s midsection. Suivi narrowed his eyes. “Four men with bows on the catwalk above!” he shouted. He dropped the twitching cultist and ran back into the shelter of the opened wall.
Luanea struggled to rise, but her knees gave out. She fell back to the ground, stunned and bleeding heavily. It felt like mere seconds ago, they had been lounging in the comfort of Ilmater’s private garden, and now she was dying on the floor of a dungeon. She reached down to her pouch for a healing potion, but her hand came back wet – her fall had broken them.
“No,” she managed, and then the world went black.
Cavria slammed the haft of her glaive into the nearest surviving cultist and knocked him towards Kyria, who released four magic missiles into his face. The cultist collapsed, stone dead, and sudden quiet fell.
Axio looked around. The three surviving cultists were running for their lives across the dungeon floor. There was a pile of bodies all around them, easily thirty or more. Luanea was lying still behind him, and Doshellas was nursing a fractured femur, but the others did not appear badly hurt. He, himself, was slashed up at a few points where the stream of blades and magic had made it through his armor, but he was still on his feet.
He knelt beside his friend and rested a hand on her wound. “Cure Wounds.” He felt her flesh start to knit shut, and he cast another spell to be safe. “Lesser Restoration.”
Luanea’s vision swam back into focus. She slowly rolled onto her back and looked up as the others crowded around her. “Stay with us, Luanea,” Axio said gently.
“I’m… alright,” she said. She struggled to her feet with Axio and Kyria’s help. “Did we win?”
“A few got away, but yes, we won,” Axio said.
Something behind him let out a funny groan. Axio looked back and gasped. One of the children had slumped over in their shackles, impaled by an arrow. “No!” he shouted. He sprinted into the dungeon room. Ice surged through his body as adrenaline caught him and gave him speed. The Baneites were killing the children to deny the Ryairans the rescue.
The others ran in his wake. Axio held his shield up over his head to turn arrows aside as he ran for the stairs. He felt two scatter off his shield as he ran, and another nearly took him in the knee, but still he ran. Doshellas propped himself against the bare stone edge of the gap where the door had been, and fired his bow up into the gallery. He didn’t hit anything, but he saw one shooter duck aside.
Kyria raised her hands and gestured at the stone railing above. “Fireball!” she shouted, and a blast of green and brown fire exploded in the midst of the shooters. Axio reached the bottom of the stairs and started climbing. The three cultists who had ran were standing at the top of the stairs, throwing missiles at him, but they bounced off the charging Aasimar. He stumbled and nearly fell as a thrown chair tangled in his legs. He groaned in pain as a chunk of masonry hit him right on the head, but he still forced himself up. The cultists scattered as he reached the top of the stairs and started hacking away with his blade.
Suivi was only a pace behind. He kicked off the stone railing and flew past the three men fighting Axio, landing among the shooters. One was clearly dead, burned to death by the fireball, but the other three were still up and still shooting. One turned and fired, catching him right in his leather-clad chest. Suivi forced back the pain and stabbed laterally with his blade, cutting the bow. The bowman fumbled for a dagger, but Suivi simply lunged downwards and lifted the man off the ground, flipping him over the railing.
Cavria cleaved through one man and nicked the one behind him. Luanea reached the bottom of the stairs at her limping pace, but it was already over at the top of the stairs. Axio and Cavria impaled the last cultist between them, and his body fell bonelessly down the stairs.
Suivi pulled the arrow out of his chest and dodged another from one of the two remaining archers. He stabbed one in the chest and slashed sideways with the one in his deadened hand, but the fourth didn’t go for his bow. The last archer reached into a pocket and hurled a small flask over the railing into the room below.
Time seemed to slow. Suivi’s horrified eyes followed the arc of the glass as it fell through the room towards the helpless sacrifices below. It had nearly reached the ground when a blur of white paper and wood zipped in from the entrance and hit the bottle. The grenade flew sideways and burst against the wall, its alchemic payload scattered harmlessly on the stones.
Doshellas lowered his bow and quietly sighed in relief. With so little light, it had been a tricky shot.
The last cultist crumpled under the sustained attacks of Kyria and Suivi, and the room went still. Axio slowly lowered his sword, chest heaving. One or two of the Baneites were just dying, instead of dead, but…
The children. He turned and raced back down the stairs to the rows of bolts.
He knelt before his sister and grabbed her chin. “Triera? Triera, are you in there?” he begged. His voice cracked as crashing adrenaline and days of fear nearly overwhelmed him.
His sister looked up with dead eyes. He felt bile rise in his throat as he saw the metal shards embedded in her forehead. They pulsed in rhythm with her heartbeat, which he could tell, even through his gloves, was too slow. Her head slumped back down when he released her, though he heard her whimper faintly.
Luanea knelt beside him and looked his sister over. “Axio, she’s not gone yet,” the priestess said firmly. “Those are psychic anchors. They can be removed. Not yet!” she said, grabbing his wrist as he moved to yank them out. “We need to find the psychic controlling them first.”
“Why are they shackled down?” Suivi asked from behind them. The two clergy folk looked up to see the spy cleaning his blades on a dead cultist’s shirt. “If the psychic anchors control them, why do they need to be restrained?”
Luanea shook her head. “Because the children can fight free, even if it’s hard. Listen, all of you,” she said, raising her voice. “We need to get to the psychic controlling this place, quickly. I can’t tell by looking if these have kill-switches.”
Axio rose, shaking from head to toe. Cavria rested a hand on his shoulder and looked up at him sadly. “We’ll get her, Axio, I promise.”
“I know,” Axio said, in a voice that trembled as much as his body was. “I know.”
“Anybody else need healing?” Doshellas asked from the missing doorway. “If not, does anybody have a potion of restoration?”
“Here,” Suivi said. He knelt by the sharpshooter and passed him his last potion. “That was a hell of a shot, by the way,” he said to Doshellas.
“Thank you.” The taciturn ranger drank the potion, and both men winced as his bone snapped back together. “Fucking hells, that hurts,” he grunted. He cast his own final healing spell and gingerly rose. “Humph. Wish restoration healed injuries as well as impairments.”
“Yeah.” The two men walked over to where the others were preparing. Axio kept looking over at his sister in distress, so Luanea was leading the discussion.
“We need to fight our way up to wherever this psychic is hiding, and we need to kill them quickly,” she said. “He’s not attacking us, so I think he doesn’t have any traps in this room, but if anybody here sees things moving around with nobody to move them, tell me at once. Does anybody have dispel magic or dispel psionics?”
“I used mine up for the day,” Kyria said unhappily.
“I have one use left,” Doshellas said.
“All right. We should go, then,” Luanea said. “We’ll heal as we walk.”
The group made their way as quickly as they dared up the stairs and away from the carnage below. They skirted past the dead archers and through the door behind them into an antechamber. It wasn’t decorated like the entrance to a torture pit, certainly. It looked like the rectory of a well-to-do church. Kyria looked askance at the décor. “Kinda… incongruous,” she remarked.
“Drag marks on the floor,” Suivi said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “The sacrifices get brought in through here.”
Doshellas rested a hand on the door. “Not locked,” he said, puzzled.
“They didn’t think we’d get this far,” Axio rumbled. His terror and anguish were shifting into molten rage, now that his innocent little sister wasn’t right in front of him. “They were just that foolish.”
Doshellas pushed the door open. The six warriors filed into a large armory, which they could all see had been upended. Armor and weapon racks sat empty, open-topped chests dotted the place, and all the arrows were stripped from the box next to the fletcher’s station. “They prepared for fighting us here,” Cavria remarked. “No guards, though?”
“They’re scraping the bottom of the barrel, I’d wager,” Kyria said. They proceeded through the large room to the ladder and door at the far side.
“Two ways. One up a floor, one here.” Cavria shrugged. “I say we stay on this floor.”
Doshellas nodded. “Works for me.” Suivi and Doshellas took up positions on either side of the door and pushed it open. Nothing challenged them inside. Doshellas poked his head around the door and looked around with his darkvision. “Not a thing,” he said. “Totally empty.”
“Press on,” Axio ordered. They moved out again, feeling the haunting emptiness of the place weigh down on them. After a day of peace and quiet and five minutes of pure hell, it felt confining. Each warrior felt their hair stand on end as they passed rows of bunks and footlockers sitting vacantly.
Still, no psychic attacks threatened them. They moved through the barracks towards a small stair. After a quick debate, they proceeded down the hall to a distant light source.
The three-way intersection welcomed them with emptiness. They looked around, choosing their options. “So… towards the lit area, or do we go the third way?” Cavria asked.
“The lit area,” Kyria said. “I can sense enormous magic in that direction.” She shuddered. “And something else. Something psionic, I think.”
“The cultist leader,” Axio snarled. He was only barely keeping his rage in check. “We claim his head today.”
“Axio, stop,” Cavria said. She moved to stand in front of her partner and met his eyes. “Please. This isn’t you. This cultist will die, yes, but I don’t want to see you enjoy it.”
Axio started to snap a reply before composing himself. However awful it was, he knew she had a point. “Yes. Alright.”
She leaned up and hugged him quickly before turning to face the light. “Let’s go.”
Vorthane sat in his private office and thought. He had left the control throne behind when he had seen the fight in the Grist Cage end. There was no point in launching further psychic attacks against his enemies. He would need his strength to fight.
He had used a sending scroll to contact his brothers in the south. They had, despite some smugness, accepted his offer of his own help and much Grist, should he emerge victorious here. They were prepared to send reinforcements of their own to help him through the portal network, but they had their hands tied fighting the armies the Lords’ Alliance had dispatched.
He was not entirely alone. He had one of his lieutenants and a single guard from the portal room left to him. They stood nervously beside his desk. They had never been in his psychic focus chamber before. He had offered them both a chance to run to the city and make a break for it, or retreat to the south, but neither had taken it. It warmed his heart to see such unassailable faith in a time of hardship.
He heard some commotion from the end of the hall. Both of his men readied their weapons, but he made no movement. They would attack the empty throne room, react to its contents, and then come for him. They were in a hurry, and he did not need to be.
Axio looked over the foul contraption beneath the stone chair on its slender bridge and nearly retched. Cavria took two steps forward and swept her glaive through the device, smashing it to pieces. “Soul Cleavers,” she said with utter disgust. “They used Soul Cleavers on children.”
“Where did they even find those?” Luanea asked. The drow wasn’t pale, but her voice trembled with shock and horror. The thought of those innocent souls falling through the arcane guts of the horrible machines made her head spin.
Suivi looked sick. “Toller didn’t have those!” he said. “This must be where they were conducting one end of the ritual.”
Axio turned away and looked at the rows and rows of seats. “This was a church,” he said angrily. “People spectated this!”
Cavria finished smashing the machines and kicked the debris away. “I’d bet you anything that stone chair up there has psionic components,” she said darkly. “The cult master probably controls the entire operation from here.”
Doshellas gingerly poked a pile of densely-written scrolls in the corner with the tip of a dagger. “These… aren’t in Common,” he said. “What is this stuff?”
Axio wandered over and read one scroll to himself. He blinked in surprise as he recognized the language. “This… this is Celestial.”
“Celestial? In a temple to a God who wasn’t present for the birth of the world?” Cavria asked doubtfully. “Why would that be here?”
“No, no, not Creator Celestial, the language Selûne and Shar used to create the world,” Axio corrected her. “Dialogue Celestial, the language of angels.”
“Still seems a weird place to find that,” Cavria said.
“It’s a temple to a god, even if he is utterly evil,” Axio said grimly. “Perhaps it’s their form of encryption. Nobody else here would know it.”
“What does it say?” Luanea asked.
“They’re… logistics orders. They’re confirmation of the shipment of something from another temple in Athkatla,” Axio said. He shook his head. “It’s not relevant. We need to find the dirty bastard who did this and skin him.”
“Right.” Kyria drew her Wand of Accuracy and looked around. “Two doors. One behind the throne, one to the left.”
Both were unmarked. Axio looked back and forth between them. “The one behind the throne is more heavily traveled. We use that one.”
The party stacked up behind the door. Doshellas pushed, and it opened wide. A narrow stone hallway faded into the distance, and dead-ended at a T-intersection. Axio lead the group down the corridor. The left door was unlocked, and revealed just a privy and sleeping quarters, but the other door would only open with a kick from the Aasimar.
|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