Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 7
Axio lead the way through the Sea Ward. A large, well-paved thoroughfare cut through the district, lined with pretty façades and tall, wind-swept buildings.
“First time in a big city?” he asked quietly.
“Well, I was born in a city, in a way,” Cavria said drily, “but it’s the first time I’ve been in one conscious.”
Axio rolled his eyes. Her wit was perhaps a bit too dry for his liking, but if that was how she coped, he’d shut his mouth and deal with it. “Right. This is the Sea Ward. It’s sort of… well, it’s not the government district, but a lot of retired adventurers and merchants live here, so there’s a lot of nuveau riche, if you get my drift.”
“Conspicuous wealth and conspicuous consumption,” Cavria guessed. She had her amulet on now, and she was still wearing somewhat low-class clothes, albeit perfectly clean ones.
“More or less. Good people and fair police, though, and that’s what matters,” Axio said. “I grew up four blocks from here.”
“Oh, you were born here?”
“In the back room of a chapel, to the immense consternation of the midwife and swaddle,” Axio chuckled. “They were not expecting an Aasimar baby.”
“Oh, of course,” Cavria giggled. She looked around the streets at the press of people. “So busy. I like it. Solitude is nice, but I learned to like crowds in the Arbor.”
Axio turned to her. “I will ask that you be a bit more discreet about your planar travels here,” he said softly. “This city has had real trouble with planar gates and beings and the like, and planeswalkers are not especially welcome. Even involuntary ones.”
Cavria winced. “Okay, sir. So… where are we going?”
“A little bakery near here.” Axio led her through the crowd to a humble brick building that smelled delicious from a block away. “Here we are.”
Cavria kept her eyes to herself as she walked in, but the sheer diversity of the crowd was enticing to her. One of the bakers was a half-orc, she saw a gnome in the kitchen, and a half-elf worked the till. Axio was an Aasimar, of course, and most customers were human. “So many different people,” she murmured. It would take a lot of getting used to, she imagined, since they were still alive. For years, her only company had been the dead.
After the meal, the two of them reconvened in the office, where friar Dreblin had prepared what little information there was to give. “From what we have seen, and from the testimony of the City Watch, the cleric of Bane is operating from somewhere in the markets nearest the south end of the city,” the monk informed them. Cavria was reading over a list of names, while Axio pored over a map. “The abductions began two weeks ago.”
“While I was off raising money and weapons,” Axio said calmly. “Naturally. Cowards.”
“Where are these abductions taking place?” Cavria asked, still reading names.
“I have them on the map, here,” the friar said. Cavria looked up at him askance.
“Sir, is it normal for the clergy to be handling this, instead of the Watch?”
Dreblin shook his head. “No, sister, not at all. We were invited by the Watch to participate.”
Axio scowled. “Is this going to turn into a jurisdictional pissing match?”
“Heavens, I hope not,” Dreblin said unhappily.
There was a knock on the door. It swung open to reveal two more Ryairans in informal robes. “Axio!” the woman proclaimed, throwing her arms open and embracing her son.
“Hello, mother,” Axio said, returning the hug. “How have you been?”
“Oh, I’m fine, Axio, how are you? How was your journey?”
I turned away from the family moment. I wasn’t a part of this. I picked up the map and list of names and walked out, past the family scene and into the hall. I heard Axio trying delicately to convince his mother that it wasn’t the best time as I shut the door.
I blew out a puff of impatient breath. I had met his mother, briefly. Fanielle was a nice enough woman, I supposed, but being the granddaughter of a goddess had made her a bit haughty, and perhaps unable to tell when she wasn’t the one with the best-informed opinion in the room.
I walked past the closed doors of the rectory into a small garden at the back of the hall. A pair of monks were just leaving after their own luncheon, and the place was empty besides them, as far as I could see.
The stone wall that encircled the place was perhaps eight feet high, and had a large bay window set into the side, looking out over the hill that ran down to the ocean. The garden itself was a mess of tomato vines wrapped around sticks, with some chives poking up in the corner.
I sat in the corner under the window and enjoyed the salt breeze on my cheek. My disguise was up, so I was safe. I went back to reading the names and addresses of the lost children, feeling my good mood evaporate as I did.
What did the Baneites do with the children, I wondered. Why did they even want with children? Sacrifice materials? Spell components? Slaves?
I sighed and kept running down the list. I winced as I recognized a few children’s names from the ones Ryaire had brought into the Arbor while I was there. Clearly, whatever the Baneites were doing, it involved killing at least a few of these little innocents. I wished a slow death on the ones responsible.
I closed my eyes and ground my hands into my face as I remembered the look of sad resignation on Ryaire’s face when some of those little souls had awoken in the Arbor’s misty woods. Some were so traumatized they couldn’t speak, and angels had taken them into the mist to tend to them until they were healed enough to play with the others. Some had bounded up to her in fear, asking where their parents were, interrupting our lessons. I had always hidden myself when that happened. I don’t know why. Baneites aren’t fiend-worshippers, nor do they serve Hell, but I still felt self-conscious. Maybe because I was built for evil, and the Baneites reveled in it.
Speculation was useless. I forced myself to return to the task at hand. I looked over the list, resolute again. There was work to be done.
The door to the garden swung open. I paid it little heed, focused as I was on matching names to locations.
I looked up. Axio was standing there with a tea tray and a book in his hands. “Mind if I join you? I finally got my parents off my back.”
“Sure.” I scooted over so he could set his things down in the light from the window. It was still bright afternoon in Waterdeep.
“Find a pattern in there?” he asked.
“Not yet.” I shook my head. “I know some of these names. Ryaire brought some of them to the Arbor, right before I left.”
Axio sighed, eyes shut. “Fantastic.”
The two of us worked in silence for nearly an hour, until he picked up the big paper map. “Right. This map is two days old, that list was updated three days ago… I think we’re current,” he said with satisfaction.
“I should hope,” I grunted, cricking my neck. “What now?”
Axio pointed to the Watch station on the map nearest us. “We match our copy to the Waterdhavian City Watch and see if there’s any inconsistencies, then we start visiting the surviving family members.”
“Have you ever conducted an investigation like this before?” I asked.
“Peripherally, with the Watch, when some son of a bitch was robbing pilgrims outside the walls,” Axio said. “They didn’t really need my help.”
“Mmm.” I looked around the garden carefully, disguising the gesture as a stretch. “Er… do you mind if I ask you something?”
I fixed my eyes on him. “Why do you trust me already? And Dreblin, and the High Cleric? All I had to do was drop Ryaire’s name and you all trusted me immediately.”
Axio returned my stare without flinching. “Cavria, what do you think we were doing when you told us your tale? We were reading you. Watching body language, listening to your tone, checking for magic effects. If you had tried to flummox us, we would have noticed. This entire temple is sanctified, also,” he said, gesturing at the steep slopes of the roof and walls. “If you were still Asmodeus’ slave, just walking in here would have been very painful.”
I winced, chagrined. Of course they hadn’t taken me at face value. In fact, that was wise of them. I am something they usually relish killing, after all. “And the Grand Cleric?”
“Well, how did you meet him?”
I thought back to the previous week. “Lady Ryaire sent a message to the Cleric in his dreams, saying she was sending a mighty warrior to aid him. Then, two nights ago, she gave me my amulet and clothes, and said I would step through a gate and emerge in the Cleric’s room, with a note from her.”
“And you emerged disguised?” Axio asked me.
“And what did the note say?”
“That I was to aid in a secret investigation of the Baneites’ abductions in the city, and to serve you faithfully in her stead,” I explained.
“Then why would my grandfather not trust you?” Axio asked rhetorically.
I was silent for a moment. It was a fair question. “On the whole, I suppose I’m just surprised.”
I recalled out earlier conversation in the office. “Well, when we were talking before, you said you were in the Arbor.”
“For a week or so, yes. The process of being made Chosen.”
“Do you remember how the souls that had been there longer tended to be more relaxed and genial than the ones that had just arrived?” I asked.
I gestured with both hands. “There you go. I assumed living people would be a lot tenser.”
He chuckled. “The fresh arrivals were just arriving from Kelemvor’s hall on the Fugue Plane, Cavria. Everybody finds that process fraught with tension.”
“Mmm. Well… we’ll see if that holds true outside these walls,” I said. Then, a thought occurred. “So were you testing me when we went to lunch, too?”
“Well, not as such,” Axio hedged, “but I was checking to see if you were comfortable.”
I supposed that made sense. He rose to his feet and dusted off the detritus of the tea tray. “So. Do you have lodgings?”
“Your sister set me up in the women’s rectory hall, yes,” I said. “I have a little bunk in the corner room.”
“Ah. Good.” Axio gathered the map and list. “Now, be ready, tomorrow morning. Full armor. Do you have armor?”
“I do. Your father assigned me a set of armor and Ryaire gave me weapons.”
Axio sighed. “Did everybody know of your true form except me?”
I shook my head again. “Well… actually, Dreblin, your grandfather, and you are the only ones.”
Axio stared. “Father gave you armor without knowing your true body?”
“It fits. I checked.”
“Well… all right.” Axio started walking back into the church, carrying his things, and I followed. “Tomorrow, sunrise, we strike out for the Watch post. Tonight, we’re having a midnight prayer session here in the garden for the military detachment that leaves in the morning, if you’d like to join us.”
I smiled. “I’d love that. I’ll be here.”
|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