Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 36
Chapter Thirty Six:
Vorthane looked up from his psychic node stone as the Ryairans kicked their way in. “That door does tend to stick,” he said mildly, “but I doubt that was necessary.”
I felt my skin crawl as I walked into the office at the end of the hallway. It was brightly lit, decorated like a chapel, and utterly repulsive. Knick-knacks packed all eight corners of the room, but they were all trophies of a sick mind. One corner held a collection of dust jars that she couldn’t have forgotten anywhere – they were the remains of the children fed to the soul-extraction ritual. Another had what looked like a chunk taken from a Beholder’s eyestalk, with no eye attached to either ragged end. Another had a pile of what looked like common ivory, but which she could tell were pieces of a Hell-Herd’s skin.
Worst was the large piece of black and red stone lodged in the far wall. It pulsed with an energy that just felt wrong, like scraping fingers over sandpaper. Two men stood beside the large wooden desk. One looked like the man Axio had killed below, all armor and blades, while the other looked like one of the security team they had fought by the portal in the basement.
“I suppose you feel proud of undoing all my work,” the third man said from behind the desk. “You haven’t, of course, Ryairan. The souls we harvested from the Grist are feeding my master, even now.”
“Why would anybody work for a god who demanded a sacrifice like that?” I snapped.
“Because, girl, all things should strive to be more than they are.” The old cleric leaned forward and his eyes flashed purple. “As you shall be, when I lay you before my master.”
“You don’t get to make threats, you meaningless fraction of a man,” Axio hissed, and he hurled his dart as hard as his deific muscles could propel it. It slammed into the un-armored guard’s forehead so hard his head turned concave, and he toppled back over the desk to land on the floor.
I hurled my javelin at the armored guard, who deflected it on his breastplate, but not fast enough to dodge Kyria’s blast of eldritch fire. He staggered and fell to one knee.
Vorthane grimaced. He had hoped he would not have to use his trump card in the first round, but so be it. His eyes flashed again, and the stone on his wall pulsed black.
The two drow fell to their feet in an instant, shrieking in agony. The dark elf woman looked at them in confusion, and Vorthane shot her neatly in the head with his concealed hand crossbow. The pulsing waves of energy from the stone were more than just psychic imprint waves, as a cursory examination would have revealed. They were the psy-shock of Menzobarranzan itself, the death screams of the Illithids and duergar who had died in the ancient drow capital’s streets, collected from their roiling souls in the Blood Rift through years of careful effort on Vorthane’s part, and there was no drow alive who could withstand them.
Axio roared his wrath at the old Baneite and sprang onto the desk, swinging his mighty blade. Vorthane kicked off the desk and landed several feet out of range, then threw his hands up. He knew a Paladin of Axiopistos’ level of power would be immune to disease, but perhaps not pain. “Flame Strike!”
Axio’s roar of anger turned to a howl of pain as a wall of fire engulfed him. I finished off the armored guard with a blast of divine light from my glaive lodged in his flank, and rushed to the Eilistraeeans’ side. Kyria was dying, that much was clear, but the other two were thrashing about, garbling their words and foaming at the mouth. I looked around desperately for any source of their pain.
Suivi grabbed my arm and pointed. “The crystal! It’s doing something!” he said urgently. “Smash it!”
Axio staggered out of the column of fire. His tabard was ablaze, and his spell component case had burned away in the blaze, but his magic armor had allowed him to weather the pain and move. He jumped down from the table and brought his sword down on Vorthane. The old cleric rolled his shoulder aside to dodge the blow and kicked his chair at the Paladin, who cut it in half with one blow. Axio circled the older man so his back was against the wall and lunged.
Vorthane staggered back against the stone wall as the Paladin’s sword slammed into him through his armor. He was wearing his psychic-enhancing slats on the outside of his chain mail, which provided excellent protection, but the Paladin hit like a Frost Giant. Vorthane’s breath left his mouth in a rush, and he nearly gagged. “P-psychic wave,” he managed, and a blast of purple scattered from his hands over the Paladin. Axiopistos stumbled and fell as the stone beneath him turned to water. He managed to roll clear of the effect, but Vorthane was on him. The old cleric slid a blade into Axio’s back through a crack in his damaged armor, and Axio nearly ripped his own shoulder off as he wrenched clear.
“You’re tired, angel-boy,” Vorthane snarled. “Why not go to sleep?” He cast the spell at the highest level he could, and Axio’s eyes sagged shut.
I drove my glaive through the crystal on the wall, and it shattered. Vorthane’s head snapped up as he saw his artifact explode. “NOOOO! You foolish bitch, do you know what you’ve done?” he demanded. He left Axio’s inert side and rushed over to where I was standing, knocking me aside. “The psychic energy-”
The crystal exploded. Vorthane flew backwards, impaled by a dozen shards of black glass. The desk practically disintegrated as pieces of hot shrapnel tore it up. Luanea looked up from where she had been seizing and quickly pulled Kyria into her shadow. She cried out in pain as two chunks of stone cut through her anyway. Suivi managed to duck behind one of Vorthane’s statues, and emerged unscathed, but a piece took Doshellas right in the chest and drove him back to the floor.
My vision swam as huge block of the evil thing crunched into my chest. My amulet exploded as it mashed between my metal armor and the psychic rock. I tried to speak, but all I could produce was a hissing noise. I looked down and distantly noted that one piece of the psychic rock was actually penetrating through both sides of my chest, which was certainly novel. I tried to remark on it before chuckling to myself. Of course, I couldn’t speak now any more than I had a moment ago! How silly.
I awoke with a feeling of glee racing through my body. I was laughing before my eyes even opened. I felt hot thrills rush through me from head to tail, from wings to claws, as something hot and wet lashed my aching groin.
“Oh, yes, master, destroy me!” I mewled. “Never stop!”
Asmodeus loomed over me, looking quite bored. “Is that all it takes?” he asked disgustedly.
I focused on him, despite the attention of the creature tonguing me. “W-what?”
“My High Succubus, the handlady of the Sinners, is satisfied by a simple creature?” he asked. He kicked the dog-like devil between my legs and it slunk off. I reached for it as it went, but I suddenly couldn’t move. I cried. I wanted more! “What a failure you were, little whore.”
“Master, no!” I wailed. “I’m not failing you!”
He laughed and kicked me in the flank. I cried out in pleasure. “Look at you! So full, now, of me and my blood, and yet so weak!”
I flicked my wings and tail, trying to rise. I flexed my claws and bared my fangs at him. “But I am so much! Look upon me, Master! I can lead any soul to you!”
He glared. “You dumb thing of meat, you can’t even seduce a Paladin whose bed you share!”
“I play a long game,” I said, licking my fangs. My horns tapped against the stone tile beneath me as I tried to twist my head. “Give me another chance!”
The archdevil rolled his eyes. “No, Cavria, I think I will leave you right where you are.”
Axio struggled to rise. He planted one foot against the wall and feebly pushed, trying to force movement into his body. There was a great blast of energy from somewhere in the room, which forced him right back down. Something hot clattered off his armor, and then all he could hear were cries of pain.
The young Paladin drove himself upward with a titanic effort and surveyed the room. It was an utter mess. All three Baneites lay dead. Cavria was bleeding horribly from a stone shard through her chest. Suivi was unharmed, and pouring a potion down Luanea’s throat.
Axio cried out in anguish when he saw Cavria’s state, and Kyria’s. The peppy wizard was lying still on the cold ground, bleeding fitfully from a hideous head wound. He struggled to knee-walk over to his partner, and took her hands in his. He wanted to say something, to tell her to stay alive or fight it off. He poured every drop of his divine energy into her ravaged body, and he thought he saw her eyes shift behind their lids. She coughed, but did not awaken.
Luanea rose, hacking up blood. When she saw the state of her young friend Kyria, she immediately rolled over to her and cast a spell. “Lady Dancer, I ask you to Spare the Dying!” she whispered. Kyria twitched feebly, and she cast another. “Revivify!”
Kyria moaned as the arrow from the hand crossbow fell from her head. She coughed and put her hands to her wound. “Oh, ow… he’s a cleric, crossbows are cheating…”
“Lie still,” Luanea commanded, and she turned to address Doshellas’ wounds.
Axio cradled Cavria in his arms. “She… she isn’t dying, now, I don’t think, but there’s still something wrong,” he said desperately. “Does anybody have healing left? I’m spent!”
“I have one cure wounds left,” Luanea said. She moved beside her friend as Doshellas stirred. “Axio, we’re all hurt badly, except Suivi. We need to contact your grandfather.”
“And the children downstairs will need help, too, I imagine,” Suivi said grimly.
Axio’s face darkened with fear. His sister. “I… I have to go, but…”
“Suivi, run back to the temple of Ryaire, right now,” Luanea said urgently. “Get more healers, and the Watch.”
“On it!” Suivi threw the door back open and took off at a sprint.
Doshellas slowly sat up patted himself down. “Anybody… got any more potions?” he asked with a cough.
“All I have left is feather fall! I used the others in the battle downstairs,” Kyria said. Axio pulled one gauntlet free and rested his hand against Cavria’s head. “She’s burning up,” he said fearfully.
I squealed in pleasure and pain as a massive pile of hooks and chains wrapped itself around me and ripped into my bare flesh. My fiendish body twisted and healed around the cuts.
Behind the noise, though, I felt control return. My reaction in the dream wasn’t me. The noises I was making weren’t mine. I scratched and clawed at the illusion, trying to escape, but the vision of my body wasn’t my own.
Axio gently set Cavria down on the stone floor and stood. “Luanea, can you tend to her?” he asked urgently.
“I can, Axio,” Luanea said. “Go to her.”
Axio took off down the hall as fast as his injuries would allow. He wasn’t ten steps out of the office when he heard the distant screaming. His heart broke as he heard hundreds of children – at least a hundred – yelling. He heard cries of pain, indistinct words, and the word ‘mother’ in about ten languages.
He nearly flew through the temple, down through the barracks, and the armory beyond. His legs were aching, his heart was hammering in his chest, and he felt the unpleasant cramping of fading adrenal shock in his entire body. His half-closed wounds all over were opening as he ran, but he didn’t slow one bit.
He bolted through the antechamber and slowed to a halt at the railing of the great open dungeon. Hundreds of eyes tracked him, and the room filled with gasps of fear and hope. He gripped the railing, feeling his head spin with helpless rage and relief.
The children below were alive. Each had droplets of blood emerging from their heads where they had been impaled, but only a few were dead. It was still a few too many, of course, but still…
He raised his voice to be heard over the cries. “Children, my name is Axio. I’ve come to bring you home.”
“Axio!” Triera shouted. Axio ran down the stairs and slowed as he approached his sister. As conscious as he was of how it looked to be ignoring the others and moving straight to his blood relative, in that moment he didn’t care at all. He knelt by his sister and grabbed the iron bolt that held her arms down to the floor. He tested it for yield, and growled in his throat when he didn’t feel any.
“Can anybody tell me which of these dead people has the key?” he asked over the general noise.
A human boy spoke up from the front row. “That one!” he said, jerking his head at the man Suivi had flipped over the balustrade. Axio walked over and quickly patted the man down, and sure enough, he had a small bronze key in his pocket. Axio tested it on the nearest child’s restraints. They popped off at once. The boy’s hands flew to his forehead, but Axio caught them and held him still.
“Please do not touch the probes, young man, I don’t want you to dig them out,” Axio said. His voice may have sounded ragged to his ears, but to the little boy, he certainly sounded convincing. One by one, Axio freed the children. Some were so traumatized that they didn’t even move, while others immediately hugged him, or pulled the prongs out of their foreheads even as he cautioned them not to. Most simply cried and cried.
Triera was actually one of the older children present. Some were as young as four, and barely fit their hands in the restraint shackles. Axio lined the children up against the far wall as he opened the shackles. Tears poured down his face the whole time, though he had stopped sobbing, at least. He just felt numb. Grief washed away his hate, and left him feeling numb and weak.
Suivi emerged from the portal and ran headlong into the Watch. “Hey! We need healers and sentries, right away!” he said to the assembled Watch on the other side of the magic passage. “We found the children, but we’re all hurt, and the kids are all kinds of fucked up!”
The Watch officers on the other side looked amongst each other as Suivi blew out a shaky breath and brushed his hand back through his hair. “I need to get to the Ryaire Temple, okay? I’ll be right back!”
Bastienne Toller sat still in his cell in the Watch post. He had to serve the Master, of course, but he also had to serve himself, and Vorthane. He had to stay put until somebody contacted him; it was the only way-
Toller blinked and the world looked different. He opened his mouth to scream as the entirety of his torture and breaking on the Harness rushed back, all at once, but no sound came out. He choked on his suppressed terror as Darius Vorthane died, and all his trauma smashed into his damaged mind at once.
The Watch officer outside the cell looked up and recoiled at the look on the cleric’s face. The antimagic field over the cell was holding, but he looked like he’d been shot.
Toller’s mind heaved and shifted under the sudden absence of his psychic block. Vorthane had actually been blocking some of his pain! He collapsed sideways, grabbing at his head and wailing.
The Watch officer shot to his feet. “The hell’s going on in there?” he demanded. Toller rolled onto his side and convulsed once. The wailing stopped and he simply lay there, shivering.
The Watch officer backed off from the bars and ran for a healer. Minutes later, he returned with the cleric of Torm who served as their de facto doctor. The cleric unlocked the cell and crouched by the shivering Baneite. “Now, let’s see,” the Tormite said distractedly. “Detect Magic.”
The anti-magic field of the cell held, and the Tormite frowned. “He’s in shock, I believe,” the cleric said. “He’s had some horrible-”
A horrible what, he never got to say. Toller’s elbow came up in a thrust and snapped the other man’s mouth shut. Blood squirted through his teeth as the Tormite bit his tongue. The cleric rocked back, stunned, as the Watch officer scrambled for his blade.
Toller was faster. Burning with pure, psychotic rage, the cleric leaped over the bleeding Tormite and punched the Watchman square in the jaw. The Watch officer stumbled back, and Toller rammed his head against the bars. He grabbed the unconscious officer’s blade and ran for the door.
The only thought in his ravaged mind was vengeance. Against Vorthane for torturing him, against capturing him, against –
No. It couldn’t have been. It couldn’t! Toller gazed with his jaw agape as Suivi Embersson skidded to a halt in front of the Watch post. The two former allies stared at each other for a long moment, before Toller let out an anguished scream and charged the former spy.
Suivi drew his own weapons and sprang back out of the old cleric’s path. He lashed out with one boot and knocked the Baneite out of his bull-rush. A space cleared in the crowd as the two men clashed.
“Toller, what the hell are you doing out of your cell?” Suivi shouted. “Somebody go in there and get the Watch!” he yelled to the crowd.
“YOU TRAITOR!” Toller screamed. He slapped his hand against the flat of his blade and sent a wave of burning radiance at the rogue. Suivi rolled away and lunged forward, stabbing deep. Toller yelped as the impact broke one of his ribs.
“I’ll send you straight to Bane!” Toller threw a handful of magic flame at Suivi, who didn’t manage to dodge that shot.
Two of the crowd members darted into the Watch building and started shouting for help, but all they could find inside was the two injured men. With the majority of the Watch dispatched elsewhere, there was no help coming. Suivi batted out the flames and swung his blade at neck level, but the cleric ducked back, and he only cut cloth. “Stay down, you old bastard,” Suivi growled. Before Toller could react, Suivi stepped in to stab with his off-hand weapon, sinking it up to the hilt in Toller’s chest.
The older man gurgled and collapsed to his knees. Suivi ripped the blade out sideways, and his former boss died.
Suivi let out a long, shaky sigh. He never really liked killing, and killing somebody he knew, even a person he didn’t especially like, wasn’t any easier. With an effort, he forced the emotion back. He still had work to do.
Axio was still unlocking children. He had only found the one key, so he had to retrieve each child in turn. He was growing numb to their visible pain and suffering as he moved from one to the next, but he still felt the sense of helplessness in his stomach. It was starting to dawn on him, as he looked at the sheer number of bolts, how many children must have died already.
The children were huddling together in the corners of the dim room, where he had lit torches and given them to his sister to place in the wall sconces. They wanted to stay out of the darkness, of course, even given their filthy states. The Baneites had known they were going to kill the children, of course, so none had been provided latrines, none had been given food for days. Some were on the verge of death.
As he opened the last of the shackles, he stood and surveyed the room. A trail of children, especially the small ones, had followed him around on the filthy floor. They were quiet except for their tears, and each one was caked in blood from the prongs in their foreheads.
Axio was at a loss. He could lead them all out of the place, he was sure of it, but were there even enough healers in the city to tend to them all? He looked around once more, and drew in a ragged, exhausted breath. “Little ones, I’m going to lead you out of here, all right? I know you’re hurt, I know you’re hungry, but I know the way out.”
One little waif of a girl, her cheeks pinched with starvation, clung to his leg. She looked like a Sun Eladrin, though she was so filthy that it was hard to tell. He knelt by the girl’s side and gently lifted her up into his arms. He cradled her like a baby and walked towards the stairs. “This way, my friends.”
He walked slowly, leading the herd of children away from their imprisonment. Triera walked beside him, shaking from the cold and shock. “Axio?” she asked. Her voice was weak and slow, as if she wasn’t sure she was allowed to talk. “Where are we?”
“A temple to Bane,” Axio said. “I’m getting us out of here.”
“I know.” She shuddered. “They hurt me. They hurt all of us.”
Axio felt his bile rise. “Did they…”
“No. Some of the others.” Triera wiped her eyes. “Did you… come alone? I heard your voice before, but…”
“I brought three of the people from Eilistraee’s temple, remember them?” Axio asked. His mind was holding back the horror of what they were seeing with an effort. Talking to his little sister was helping. The girl in his arms may as well have been a feather. “And two others. Cavria and… a mercenary.”
Triera sniffled. “Axio, they can’t keep up.”
Axio paused and looked back. Some of the children had sat down on the steps, crying. They couldn’t climb higher. The armored Paladin looked back and forth between the antechamber ahead and the children behind, torn. “Can you stay here for a minute and keep an eye on them? I have to open the portal.”
“I… I can try,” Triera said. She peeled off and walked back against the flow of the children climbing the stairs behind them.
Above, Doshellas finished setting his leg and hobbled over to the door. “Gonna find Axio,” he said. “Cavria gonna be okay?”
“I can’t tell, Doshellas,” Luanea said. She rested her hands over Cavria’s face and felt her eyes twitching furiously behind the lids. “She’s feverish,” the priestess murmured. “We need to move her, quickly.”
Doshellas stuck his head back in the office. “Axio’s leading the kids out of the dungeon,” he said. “They’ll lose it if they see Cavria.”
Luanea sighed. “We leave her here, then, and go get help from the city. We spent every healing spell we had between us!”
Doshellas pulled his hood up and hobbled down the hallway. He made sure to call Axio’s name before seeing his friend. These children may have had poor experiences with drow. Kyria was already there, opening the portal again, since it had closed behind Suivi. “This way, kids,” Kyria said, waving the first ones through it.
“Axio!” Doshellas called. Most of the children shied away from the new voice, but Axio looked over and nodded, just to show the others he trusted the ranger.
“Axio, Cavria’s got a fever or something,” Doshellas said. “Do you have any healing left?”
“No.” Axio returned a hug from one girl who nearly ran through the portal the moment he released her. “Doshellas, do you think there’s a hell deep enough for the people who do this sort of thing to children?”
“There can’t be,” Doshellas said heavily, “because a God told them to do it.”
“Mmm.” Axio rose to his feet and slowly walked back to the end of the bedraggled row of children. “Can you help lift the ones who can’t walk?”
“Not with my leg all broken up,” Doshellas said. “Where’s the Watch?”
“I sent Suivi to get them. He’s probably on his way back now,” Axio replied. “I have to help the wounded. Look after them, will you?” he asked, gesturing at the children. Why they hadn’t broken into a sprint yet, he couldn’t imagine. Maybe the prongs in their heads kept them from sleeping? He clenched his fists at the thought of that indignity heaped on all the others. Mind control and torture. There was no depth to which the Baneites wouldn’t sink.
Triera was watching over the last few children still alive in the dungeon when Axio reached her. She immediately hugged him, and he stooped down to return it. “Hello, little sister,” he said. He felt another round of tears stain his eyes when he looked at her. She was so filthy that it was hard to see her under all the blood. He took out his canteen and poured some water on a clean corner of his scorched tabard, then wiped the blood off her face. She fidgeted, but didn’t fight. When he was done, he pulled his helm off and clipped it too his belt. “We’re getting you home,” he said. He reached down to lift one unconscious child into his arms. “All of 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