Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 10
I snuggled down under a blanket in the garden in the little temple, reading. I had finished my exercises for the day, I was rested up for days, and we had done all we could until the Watch got back to us. Now, I just wanted to relax.
I missed the Arbor. Well, of course, it was heaven. Those precious few hours I hadn’t spent resting with the nymphs – and yes, the idea of perhaps allowing myself to enjoy their more sensuous skills did occur to me, though I should never indulge – or studying, I had spent dancing in the woods. I was far away from anybody, listening to the music the petitioners were playing on pipes, drums, lutes, and more. I never felt ashamed or lonely, since I knew I could find company if I wanted it. I just enjoyed existing, in a way indulging in my instincts would have never allowed me to do. I didn’t need to wear silly clothes or recite names and dates, as much as I appreciated Ryaire’s efforts in teaching me.
I looked up from my book in the little garden and smiled at the clear blue sky. I would go back one day, either because I had fallen in battle or because I was retiring, but I would go back. I promised myself that.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have, though. I had no idea whether or not my soul would even go to Kelemvor for judgment when I passed away. Most devils reconstitute themselves as a lower form in the Hells, after all. Would my devilish nature override my free will?
I shook my head, determined not to care. I looked back down to see I had company. Triera was back, and she was angling for me.
“Hello, Sister Cavria,” she said.
“Hello, Triera,” I replied. “What can I do for you?”
She cocked her head. “You look comfy.”
“I rather am. I wanted to enjoy the spring afternoon, you know?”
“Yeah.” She sat down uninvited beside me. “Can I ask you something?”
“What is it?”
She fidgeted. “Does… being ordained hurt?”
I blinked. “Er, as a Paladin? Well, no, but the training is difficult. Why?”
Triera sighed. “Oh… I dunno. I want to serve Ryaire, but I just don’t think I’m cut out for combat.”
I shrugged. “We all serve in our own ways.”
“Where did you train?” she asked.
Luckily, I had a cover story in place, should anybody ask such a question. “Baldur’s Gate,” I lied. “I was abandoned there.”
Triera looked away. “I’m sorry.”
I shrugged. “Whatever. I was too young to remember. But I grew up in Ryaire’s arms, and joined up with her as soon as I could swing a blade.”
“That’s good.” Triera scoffed. “I’m being a baby, aren’t I?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I reassured her. “Battle isn’t for everybody.”
Triera nodded glumly. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.” She stood back up again. “All right. Thanks, Sister.”
“Oh, just Cavria,” I said. “It’s fine.”
She finally smiled. “Thank you. I’ll see you around.”
Axio paced in his office, waiting. The damn Watch were late. There was nothing he could do but wait, coiled up like a snake in the cold, and the Watch was late.
When his door knocked, he nearly jumped to open it. “Yes?” he demanded.
Brother Cadderly stared at his obvious intensity. “Er, brother, there’s a Watchman here to see you.”
Out in the main chapel, two Watch officers were indeed waiting. One was Stoneshaft, Axio observed, but the other was a higher officer, a Rorden, the equivalent of a Senior Lieutenant in the military. “Ah, you must be Paladin Axiopistos,” the Rorden said. He did not offer a hand, or his own name. “Am I correct?”
“You are,” Axio said, as he led the two men into a small side room. When the door closed, he turned to face the policemen. “What can I do for you?”
“Try not to be too troublesome,” the Rorden said flatly. Axio bristled.
“I’m the opposite of trouble, Rorden,” he said carefully. He knew he tended to be awkward under these circumstances. “We were done with a map of victims and times of abduction before your own men were.”
“And therein lies the problem,” the Rorden said bluntly. “I am under orders to allow you to participate in this investigation, but I advise you to leave the work to the professionals.”
Axio’s temper flared. He kept his cool with some effort. “I have broken demons with my bare hands, officer,” he said in a controlled tone. “I am very much a professional.”
The Rorden’s lip twisted. “Of course,” he said coolly. “We think we know where the abductor will be striking next.”
“That’s our business.” The Rorden raised a finger when the Paladin started to protest. “Paladins are all well in battle, but you’re not suited for stealth. My men will handle the stakeout. We will let you know when we have our man, and then you can assist us in the assault on his hideout if you insist.”
Axio clenched both fists. He wasn’t in armor, or he might have struck the man. “Oh, we shall,” he grated out. “Ryaire speed your steps.”
The Rorden took the hint and departed, Stoneshaft tagging along in his wake. Axio was ready to punch something.
The Aasimar stomped along through the halls of the rectory towards his office. So the Watch thought him beneath them, did they? That simply wouldn’t do. He forced himself to calm, though, when he reached the wooden door. No. No, a single Rorden thought he was beneath them in importance. This was their jurisdiction. Perhaps the Masked Lords had ordered the Watch to involve the Ryairans, and wouldn’t have given the order under circumstances that were more normal.
That would be it, Axio supposed. He wasn’t fond of being brushed off, but then, who was?
“Pardon me, sir,” Cavria said from behind him. Axio turned. “Was that the Watch?”
Axio sighed. “Yes. We have been go cordially invited to fuck ourselves.”
Cavria’s eyes narrowed. “They told us to butt out? I thought they were the ones who wanted us involved.”
”I have the feeling that the Masked Lords or some Watch Commander wants us in, not the lesser commanders or the rank-and-file,” Axio grumped. He let them into his office. The paper piles were gratifyingly smaller that day, thanks to his hard work yesterday. “Still, they said we could tag along after they catch the man responsible.”
To his surprise, Cavria immediately removed her amulet upon closing the door. “No, that won’t work,” she said. “What little the souls of the children could tell Ryaire included was that they were knocked out immediately after being taken, or they were taken asleep. More than one person was doing the… actual murdering,” she said, wincing at the recollection of those poor petitioners in the Arbor, lost and traumatized by their sudden deaths. “The Watch is looking for one cultist, when they should be looking for an entire cult.”
Axio grunted. “No offense, Cavria, but you might have told somebody.”
She looked away. “Yes, I should. I erred. I’m sorry.”
“Humph.” Axio sat down in his chair and looked at the amulet. “Is that uncomfortable?”
“This?” Cavria held it up. “Yes. A little. Is it disconcerting for you to see my true self?”
Axio, surprised by his own reaction, shook his head. “No, not really. But this building is full of people who don’t know, right?”
The High Succubus nodded. “Fair enough.” She set the amulet back on and hid behind magic once again. “So… we need to act. We need to carry out our own investigation if the Watch are being fools.”
Axio shrugged. “How? We have no more intelligence than they do, and we have less manpower.”
She gave him a crafty look. “Perhaps we can derive more.”
“How do you mean?”
“The other victims, they were taken from the places we have marked. The kidnappers weren’t foolish enough to just attack homes in a circle around themselves, which means they had to have attacked homes that were easy to reach, otherwise they might have been seen carrying children through the city.”
Axio nodded. “Makes sense.”
“Which means they needed to bring the children about the city in a means they could disguise, or spend a vast fortune on scrolls or training that would them use greater teleport, or some other spell of mass movement,” Cavria reasoned.
“Well, I’m with you so far.”
She leaned forward. “What’s the last place in the city where anybody would raise an alarm if there were people going about in the middle of the night with suspicious packages?”
Axio grimaced. “It’s not that simple. The markets, the dockyards… there’s several places.”
“So what are the Watch doing?”
“Staking out what they think the next victim’s home will be,” Axio said.
Cavria nodded. “So while they’re staking out the potential victims, we stake out the potential hideouts.”
Axio leaned forward too, and tried not to sound too condescending. “Cavria, it really isn’t that simple. We’re not dealing with burglars. We’re dealing with people who are using an evil god’s magic to steal children away. We need to be more attentive to the possibility that they’re using magical means of concealment. I sincerely doubt that these villains are stuffing children in bags and scampering over the rooftops like they’re nicking Grandma’s pearls.”
Cavria pouted. “Well, it was a thought.”
“Not a bad one. We’ll go with the Watch tonight, and when they complain and tell us to leave, we will. We’ll just need to leave in a certain direction.” Axio stabbed the map of abductions with his finger. “The Watch came up with something to predict which house will be hit next in one day. They won’t tell us how they got that location, they just got it. Not even a few days, a few hours at most. That’s fast police work. If we go with them, we can stay long enough to find out how they got this address, and we can use that to discern where to go next. Do you have any special vision abilities?”
“Me, too.” Axio tapped his finger on the map again. “Any flaws in this plan?”
“The Watch won’t want to talk with us anymore,” Cavria pointed out.
“Surmountable. They don’t need to like us, and whomever ordered them to work with us may come and talk to us in person, which is always a bonus.” Axio looked over the map. “We just need to follow the Watch when they go to stake out the next target’s home.”
“Yeah, I don’t like that. What if we blow their cover?” Cavria pointed out.
“Mmm, true,” Axio mused. “So… do we really just wait?”
“We could check out the home of a previous target,” Cavria pointed out. “We could ask the parents what they saw.”
“The kidnappers didn’t always leave the family alive,” Axio said heavily. “We’d have to find one.”
She joined him in looking at the map. “Well, then we’d better get started.”
Several hours later, just before suppertime in the city, the two Paladins were standing before the fireplace of two distraught humans.
“He was just gone,” the mother whispered, staring into the cold ashes. “He went to bed, and then we haven’t seen him. He’s just fallen off the world.”
“We’ve done everything,” the father growled. The list said their names were Farlie and Mirta. Their son had been Renald. He’s named after his father’s father. “The Watch, the Guard. Nobody will help us.”
“The Watch are helping right now, I promise,” Cavria soothed. “And we’re here. We want to figure out where the criminals went after they took Renald. Which way they ran, whether they used magic.”
“Humph. Well, the lock on the window was forced,” Farlie said coldly. He jerked a thumb at the stairwell. “He slept over the dining room, in the loft. We slept down here. We didn’t hear nothing.”
“Thank you, sir. May I examine his room? I promise, I will be respectful,” Axio said gently.
“If you think you can find something those Watchmen didn’t, fine,” Mirta sniffled.
Axio bowed. He walked up the stairs, careful not to strain them with his weight, and looked into the little loft. Half was storage, with random boxes of wood and bags of burlap, and the other half was a cozy little bunkroom. A bed, fit for a small child, filled one corner, with a chest of clothing, and some toys on a tiny table.
His head sagged as he thought of the child who lived here winging his way off to the Arbor, lost and alone. Renald’s name wasn’t on the list of those who had already died, but that list was far from complete.
Cavria walked past him and leaned down into the little chamber, barely five and a half feet tall. “Here,” she said. “We’ll start here, okay, sir?”
“Yes,” Axio said, shaking off his distraction. “Yes. All right. What do we bring that the Watch doesn’t?”
Cavria produced a small set of thieves’ lockpicks. “This, for starters.”
Axio stared. “Dare I ask where you found that?”
The disguised High Succubus giggled. “Ryaire.”
“Nope. Going-away present.”
Axio slowly shook his head. “I… know little about her, it seems,” he said, but then Cavria laughed.
“I’m pulling your leg, sir, I bought this at the key-grinder’s store in the market last night.” Cavria smirked at the confused expression in her memory of the shopkeeper’s face. “He was as surprised as anybody that a Paladin would be buying a picking set from a locksmith.”
“Hmm. Well, what do you mean to use it on?” Axio asked.
“Observe.” Cavria slid out through the window and closed it behind her. She set the tumbler jamb against the keyhole and looked around herself. “Okay,” she said. “In order to use this, I need to be coming from above. I’m crouched at the bottom of the gap between this building and the next.” Indeed, she was sitting on a ledge over an alley between the house’s wall and the neighbor’s much taller home. “So… how did I get up here?”
Axio stooped over to the window and peered out. There was no ladder. “Hmm. Jump, maybe?”
“Straight up?” Cavria asked. “That’s twelve feet. Who can jump that high from a standing position without making any noise?” The glass muffled her voice, but she had a point. There would have been a great clattering if somebody had simply landed on the edge of the awning.
Axio rubbed his chin. “…What if it wasn’t a humanoid? What if it were a creature of some sort?”
“Which creature can silently pick a lock?” Cavria asked, re-opening the window and crawling back in.
“Well, anybody can pick a lock in silence if you can see it,” Axio said. “The question becomes, then: who can see in the dark, jump and land in silence, pick a lock in the dark without making a sound, grab a child, and leave without waking it up?”
Cavria shook her head. “And without waking up the people in the room below.”
Axio turned. “We need expert advice. We should find a consultant.” He started moving towards the stairs. It was no small feat in his massive frame, especially in the armor he was wearing, and under the cramped loft ceiling.
“A consultant into magic beasts? Like what?” Cavria asked.
Axio smiled. “An old friend.”
|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