Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 9
Axio sat still in his seat as a pair of city Watchmen hemmed and hawed over the map he and Cavria had made the previous night. He watched as the two matched up names and addresses, dates and death notices, and came to the same conclusion he had.
“This all seems correct,” one of them finally ventured. Axio focused on him. He was a stocky dwarf, Sergeant Stoneshaft by his own mention, and the higher-ranking of the two. “I suppose I should reiterate that the Watch is grateful for your help, but the more discreet you are with this information, the better.”
“I wasn’t planning on levelling any buildings without telling you first,” Axio said drily. Both Watchmen looked up in alarm. “That was a joke. I won’t do anything destructive unless it becomes absolutely necessary.”
Stoneshaft sighed. “Paladin Axiopistos, the Watch is as concerned as anybody with the abductions.” Axio noted he entirely lacked the traditional dwarven accent. He must have grown up in the city proper, rather than the dwarven enclave. “We must also preserve the city, you understand.”
Axio leaned forward. He towered over the dwarf, even sitting. “Sergeant, Ryaire has already received the souls of several children from this city,” he said flatly. “Whatever these Baneites are doing, they’re doing it now. The chance to end this without violence has passed.”
Both Watchmen winced. “Very well, then,” the Sergeant said heavily. “We will send somebody over to your temple this afternoon with the best guesses we can make about the location of these cultists. What do you plan to do once we give you this information?”
“Bring Ryaire’s wrath at knifepoint,” Axio said flatly. “They started killing these children days ago. Our chance to save them is slipping away. We cannot afford delays. Yes, I know,” he said, as Stoneshaft opened his mouth again. “Planning may be crucial, but let us be realistic.”
Stoneshaft looked up at him, coolly and unimpressed. “We will keep you notified, Paladin.”
“Thank you.” Axio rose to his feet and saluted, then turned on his heel once the gesture was returned.
Outside, Cavria loitered in her new armor. “So, how did it go, sir?” she asked.
“Poorly,” Axio said wearily. “I overstepped my words. As if two Watchmen would need to be reminded that time is of the essence in a kidnapping.”
Cavria rested a hand on his shoulder. “Well, at least now they know why we’re in a hurry,” she said diplomatically. The two of them worked their way up the gently sloping road back to the temple, already planning their next step in their minds.
They did not go unobserved. A third person was making their way up the hill in their wake. He was wearing a cheery pumpkin robe, a coat and cloak of subdued dark yellow, and a gray winter hat, which were all quite seasonal in these last few weeks of spring. Neither Paladin noticed as he followed them at a shifting distance, never losing sight of them. When they rounded a corner, he broke off his trail and turned back around, down a side street, never quite doubling back.
Suivi Embersson was not an amateur tail. He didn’t particularly trust these Baneites, but they paid a king’s ransom, and that was what he needed. The Paladins were working closely with the Watch, it seemed, but not as closely as they wanted. That was good to know.
He let the Paladins get within sight of their temple before he let them go. He had to report in now. These Baneites had no real respect for the concept of subtlety. They wanted him to report the moment anybody saw anything anywhere, even the irrelevant stuff.
Whatever. The money was good. He was already making more money in a week than those pitiful Watchmen were making in a month, actually. That was retirement money. He wasn’t about to turn it down. The professional spy walked back down towards the markets, nonchalant but quick.
After another half an hour of circular wandering, he stepped into a small road between rows of short, squat buildings. They were bustling with customers. One was a bookstore, one a small butchery, one was a bakery, and another sold maps to adventurers who wanted to try their hand at Undermountain. He stepped into the bookstore and immediately climbed the stairs to the little apartment overhead.
The floor leveled off into a modest sitting room. Suivi walked through into the water closet, and closed it behind him. He turned to face the dingy mirror. “Vortese,” he said, and the wall swung open.
How, exactly, there was an entire hallway behind an exterior wall of a building, he didn’t know, but he also didn’t greatly care. He assumed a wizard did it. As long as it worked, he felt no real need to press. The floor turned from wood to stone beneath his feet, and carpet replaced bare rock after a few yards. Little doors, barely five feet tall and quite narrow, lined the hall, with a pair of normal doors at the near and far end of the corridor. He walked past the little doors and into the large one, where he was expected.
“Suivi, good to see you,” a man said from behind a large, circular table. He didn’t look the part of a savage murderer, Suivi thought. He looked like somebody’s rich uncle. He had rosy cheeks, wrinkles around his eyes when he smiled or frowned, a beer belly, and classy robes over his tasteful tunic and pantaloons.
“Sir,” Suivi said politely. It never hurt to be nice to the moneyman. “The Paladins from the Temple of Ryaire are co-operating with the City Watch, like you predicted.”
The other man just raised his bushy eyebrows. Suivi groaned inside, but externally said “Yes, hello, Toller. Nice to see you too.”
“Paladins, eh. Which ones?” Toller asked.
“No idea. I’ve never seen either before,” Suivi said honestly. It was never wise to make things up. Speaking falsely got spies killed. “One was a human woman, short, brown hair, kind of scarred. The other was a very tall man with a concealing helm, built like a brick shithouse.”
“That would be their nominal field commander, Axiopistos,” Toller said disdainfully. “Mind like a child’s, strength of ten bulls. Swallow a bottle of acid before you let him take you.”
“Neither will take me,” Suivi said flatly.
“Good boy.” Toller sat behind the huge table and gestured Suivi to do the same. “What did the Watch do?”
Suivi shrugged. He did not sit down. “Not much, from what little I could hear. The tall one went in and talked inside, and they had the windows shut. The other one, the woman, I didn’t get past her. She was watching the front door from across the street, like a hawk.”
Toller rubbed his unshaven chin. “Hmm. Describe her.”
“Woman, human, ‘bout five ten maybe, hunched over. Short brown hair, scars on her face, kinda ugly,” Suivi said. “Paladin, but a low-ranking one. No good gear on her. Good eyes, though. She didn’t make me, but she would have if I had walked by any more times.”
Toller tsked. “Fine. She’s not known to us, but as long as you stay in their wake and not their path, you’ll be fine.”
“Right.” Suivi stood. “That’s it.”
“Well done.” Toller slid him a bag of coins across the huge table, which had hinges in random places. Suivi had never quite figured out what the table was supposed to fold into, exactly. “Make yourself scarce for now. I’ll let you know when you’re needed again.” Suivi nodded and took the money, then left without a word.
Toller waited until the spy was gone before rising as well. He crossed the room and shut the door behind Embersson, then listened. No, none of the traps had triggered. Good. He hadn’t been sure he had disarmed them all.
He hated relying on hired help, but the extra pair of eyes and ears Embersson lent him was valuable. He was outnumbered, after all. The Watch in this city numbered in the thousands. These Paladins were trouble, too.
He stepped back from the door and cursed under his breath. Paladins, of course. They couldn’t have gone off with the military convoy, to battle his brothers in the south. No, two had to stay behind in the city and bother him.
Ah, well. “Needs must, and all that,” he muttered, turning away from the door. He crossed around the altar – disguising it as a conference table was a stroke of genius, really – and entered the hidden door at the far side.
Beyond was his real office, and off of that, a stairway that descended into darkness. No torches lit the path, but he didn’t need them. The Master had given him better eyes, eyes that could see everything. He walked through the utter darkness of the underground chamber as if it were bright sunlight on a rooftop. He passed dozens, perhaps hundreds of those little doors, just like the ones above. Specifically like the ones above, in fact. He had paid thousands of gold to have every single one of the doors in his lair manufactured exactly to spec, identically, all part of his elaborate trap.
Some of the doors rattled as he went by. He scoffed. That was irritating. The occupants had woken up, and some were mobile. He would have to send somebody in to help put them back to sleep soon.
The far end of the corridor loomed. He pulled the stone door open on its hinges – stone is so much quieter than metal and needs so much less maintenance, after all. He walked in and planted his hands on his hips. “Now, now, that’s no good!” he scolded.
A huddled pile of ragged cloth and skin stirred from beside the blood-soaked chair in the middle of the room. “Oh, have I displeased?” it asked, in a voice like sandpaper over pebbles.
“You ate him, didn’t you?” Toller asked in exasperation. “You were supposed to finish the first one before you moved on to the second!”
“I did,” the thing on the floor said indignantly. “He was frail.”
Toller sighed. “Oh, fine,” he said irritably. “I hope you’re sated. There may be some interference.”
“Whom. Paladins. A couple stayed in town.”
“Trouble. What sort?”
“Who knows?” Toller asked, though he directed his irritation inward. He hadn’t thought to ask if they were Ilmateri, though they probably weren’t, if Axiopistos was one of them. He was Ryaire’s spawn. Master Bane would reward him greatly for bringing him that man’s soul. “Anyway. How goes the progress?”
“Progress?” the shivering creature said. “It goes. Not well, not poorly. I am sustained. The bridge lowers, to span the gap of planes.”
“Good. Are my dear brothers in the south interfering?” Toller asked. Ironic, really. His allies in the city and in the southlands were more of a hindrance than the actual law enforcement of the town had been so far.
“No, I suspect they don’t care,” it replied.
Toller nodded. “Hmm. All right, I’ll restock tomorrow night. Oh, and a few of the occupants woke when I was coming down. I’ll have somebody subdue them.”
“Do as you will,” the creature rasped. “Struggling or not, all I care about is freshness.”
“How endearing,” Toller sneered, and he shut the door. Some alliances, he grumped to himself, were barely worth maintaining.
|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