Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 20
Toller hid a frown as he endured his colleague’s lecturing. “Of course, your little side operation was clever,” the other priest said, as if it were the height of magnanimity. “It might have even worked if not for Greenpath’s loose lips.”
“I honestly can’t blame him for talking,” Toller said flatly. “The Paladin they sent is a monster. He probably scared Greenpath out of his mind.”
The old human cleric across the table from him looked at him over his spectacles, devoid of emotion. “And does that forgive his trespass?”
“How about yours?”
Toller glared at the other cleric. “I haven’t committed one, sir.”
Darius Vorthane looked up at Toller with a hint of anger stealing in under his expression. “We shall see, shan’t we? For now, the Church of Ryaire is onto us, the Guard has destroyed two of your side depots, they’ve reclaimed hundreds of children, and lest we forget, captured your second-in-command. Would you say that half our plan being jeopardized by your actions constitutes trespass?”
Toller’s fists clenched. “No.”
Vorthane smiled thinly. “We shall see,” he repeated. He stood behind his desk, and Toller felt his blood chill a bit. Vorthane may have been old, but he was no weakling. His might and connection to the will of Bane surpassed Toller’s by a great deal. Toller knew better than to push his advantage. “Now, brother,” he said, putting a bit of stress on ‘now,’ “I want you to return to the fold, and do the work of Hate. This time, I trust you will invest perhaps somewhat less of your own time in the… super-jurisdictional activities.” Darkness flared over the candles of the room as his anger seeped through. Toller felt pressure against his mind as Vorthane let his building hate show visibly.
Toller did not like being told not to pursue his ambitions. He did not like to be told he was not doing the work of Hate. Being told he was insubordinate and incautious was something he did not enjoy at all.
“Yes, sir,” he said, and he turned on his heel and walked out without one more word.
The door shut behind him, and he ground his teeth. He certainly, utterly, absolutely, definitely did not like Darius Vorthane. But that room… that altar, sacrificial chamber, laboratory, and armory all in one, was his lair, his place of power. Half the objects in it were magical, at least one he suspected to be psionic. There would be no challenging him there. No. That would be elsewhere. It would come later.
Much later, now. He felt his shoulders sag as the enormity of the loss he had just suffered weighed him down for a long moment. A year and a half of hard work. Thousands of gold pieces. Two whole properties. Five loyal minions. An entire rookery, and worst of all, nearly four hundred children’s souls.
Damn it all. Damn the Paladins. Damn them to the Hells.
Vorthane looked through the two-way mirror that comprised his sanctum’s door and watched his subordinate fume. Toller was a man at odds with his own nature, and that made him hard to control. He was prone to disruptive conduct and mood swings, and his love of killing was perhaps a shade too large for a man whose soul was supposed to be devoted only to Hate, glorious Hate. Conflict breeds maturity and hierarchy, and Toller lacked the former and sought to claim the latter.
Nevertheless, he wasn’t stupid. No, Bastienne Toller was not stupid. He would wait. As long as he felt some profit was to gain in the current ritual’s preparations, he would be loyal.
Vorthane watched Toller storm down the long, stone hallway into the general portion of the church. When he was out of sight, Vorthane turned his seat to face the long, black crystal embedded in his office wall. He leaned back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other, staring deep into the crystal’s depths from thirty feet away. It had always been beautiful, but now it was in its proper place, embedded in the wall of the church he had labored sixty years to find.
He rose from his seat and walked over to the wall, looking into the crystal. It was a single piece of stone, about forty pounds, and polished to a mirrored sheen. It had been a gift from Bane, he had always thought, though his god had never confirmed it outright. He had bathed it in the blood waters of the Rift, he had shined it by the lightning-gleam of the Banehold, and he had used it as a focus of his admittedly meager psychic power since he had discovered that by accident in his youth.
Now, it was the centerpiece of his own, private hold in the greater Church of Hate.
He knelt by the stone with some effort and pondered. Meditation soothed his psychic headaches, and it helped him plan. He had stayed ahead of the probing lances of the Triad and the Seldarine for sixty years, thanks to his meditations. How, then, to best make use of Toller’s failures?
Toller had blown the cover of the operation. That much was clear. Ryaire was moving openly against him, and her master Ilmater wouldn’t be far. Where that crippled fool went, Helm, Tyr, and Torm would be quick to follow. No, this was bad, undeniably bad. Vorthane, however, had not attained his position as fifth in command of the entire Cult of Hate by failing to exploit the upsides of his church’s losses. Not even Bane’s death during the Avatar Crisis and the rise of Xvim and Cyric had spoiled his trust in his god. With Bane’s resurrection, the Cult of Hate had returned as strong as ever.
But what to do now? He was not sure. Bane would not tell him, he didn’t even bother asking. Bane preferred to work through agents, and who blamed him? Seeding strife was not always easy, but it did take omnipresence. Vorthane did not feel in one way abandoned for his master’s relative lack of attention.
Attention… yes, perhaps that was it, Vorthane mused. The attention of the forces of law and the like would surely be on him now. Perhaps… perhaps Toller would gain a chance to redeem himself. Perhaps martyr himself. Yes, there was irony there, and a chance to gain strength back in the face of adversity. A foe of the God of Martyrs, martyring himself for a master he hated and god who barely cared… that was delicious. It would work.
Vorthane would make it work.
Axio beamed from ear to ear as Luanea presented him with his gift. “Oh, Luanea, you shouldn’t have! This is so thoughtful!”
The graceful scion of Eilistraee smiled right back. “No, I really should, and I knew it would be yours the moment I saw it.”
Axio held up a handful of four little silver beads. Each was no larger than a thumbnail, but each gleamed with a sparkle of moonlight, despite the blazing sun overhead. “Oh, Luanea, this is a lovely gift!” he said, delighted. “I hope this didn’t put you back, I would feel so guilty if this cost you too much.”
Luanea seemed to look secretive for a moment. “Well, you didn’t hear this from me, but a certain friend of mine in the Night Below found them for me, and he assures me the slaver who ordered them will not miss them at all, that we’ll ever hear.”
“Ah, well then,” Axio said. He inspected one silver chunk – yes, they did have the light of the moon trapped within. The gentle glow of Selûne in each cast odd shadows from his fingers. The stones were well-pebbles, relatively easy to make but expensive. They were focusing items, and they could be used to make it easier for a divine spellcaster to commune with their deity if they were used outdoors. They calmed the mind and slowed the heart, and could be used as sleeping aids as much as they could be for religious ceremony.
The priestess herself was preparing for action, too. Axio saw that one of the pair of obviously enchanted bastard swords on the wall over the cabinet was missing. The cabinet was a bit empty, as well, so somebody had been draining holy water.
Dessa looked on morosely as her surrogate mother prepared to depart. “Nobody else can do this?” she asked. Her eye sockets were a bit red. Axio felt a pang. The girl had been crying, quite a bit if he was any judge, since his visit the previous morning. He had slept like a stone overnight, and come back just after lunch today.
“No, sweetheart, nobody else can,” Luanea assured her. “If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been down and back many times.”
“This feels different,” Dessa sniffled. She was still dressed as if she was anticipating a sun-tanning marathon, but now she had her knees hugged up against her chest, and she looked anything but perky.
“Perhaps, Dessa, but my mind is made up,” Luanea said firmly. Axio suddenly felt very obtrusive, and stepped back into the construction site.
He looked around at the hive of activity. Most of the construction workers were human – this was Waterdeep, after all – but many were elves, too, and that warmed his heart. The Dark Dancer’s followers were mostly drow, and the vast majority of drow hated elves and eladrin with a fiery, loathing passion. Their surface kin held the drow in utmost contempt, too, at least in part because the drow were a living reminder that the loss of the empire of the elves had been the result of their own pride and shortsightedness. That elves and drow were working hand-in-hand with their human cousins to build a place of worship, love, and acceptance in the middle of the mercantile capital of the North Coast was reassuring sign.
Not if their children were being abducted and tortured to death, though, of course. Axio’s stomach lurched as he recalled the sight of that terrified boy’s life crumbling to dust and oozing away on the bed. He shook his head vigorously, trying to dispel the image.
“Sorry about that, Axio,” Luanea’s voice said behind him. He turned to see her standing there, hands clasped. “She doesn’t understand why this is important.”
Axio cleared his throat to hide his momentary flash of hate. “Yes, of course. If I may, my friend, I don’t get it either. Why are you so dead-set on accompanying us?”
Luanea looked down at the floor. “The children of the Quessar, the greater elven people, are among the lost, are they not? Eilistraee admires and trusts Ryaire to keep safe the souls of the young lost, but what are we, their servants, do not work together to save them before it becomes necessary?”
Axio rested one hand on her shoulder. “A wise decision, Luanea,” he said. “I welcome your aid.”
“Good.” The two of them walked off through the construction site for the temple of Ryaire together. “Tell me of this new Paladin of yours.”
“Ah, Cavria,” Axio said. “A noble and skilled friend. She only joined us recently, but she’s a mighty warrior. She’s a Paladin of the Path of Devotion, like me. She prefers glaives and javelins.”
“I see. Where is she from?”
Axio hesitated. Oh, if there were ever a topic upon which even he could see he should say no more… “I think she should tell you,” he said lamely, and kicked himself inside. Well, that had all but guaranteed Luanea would ask! Keeping secrets was far from his strength. Dismantling buildings, sure, but pulling his foot out of his mouth, no, he left that to experts.
He blinked. Luanea was giving him an odd look. “Er, sorry. Anyway, she’s quickly earned our trust, and I think you’ll like her. She’s my immediate subordinate, like most of the Paladins.”
Luanea nodded. “Is she aware of your vaunted status?” she asked, taking a second to make eye contact with him.
Axio nodded. His status as a Chosen wasn’t public. “Oh, yes, she knows.”
“Good. I needn’t be discreet.”
The two of them walked the rest of the way in companionable silence. They had been fast friends, despite Luanea’s far greater age, and Axio was confident Cavria would let her into her own confidence before long, but Ryaire willing, he wouldn’t make that decision for her.
|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