Story:Holy Opposites Chapter 30
Darius Vorthane sat on his throne in the middle of the main altar of the underground Temple of Hate. A long stone spur jutted from the ground behind him, and through masterful sculpting extended down in front of him like a hawk’s beak, shielding his eyes from the few cultists still assembled there. The inside of the curved stone glowed faintly with an embedded chain of magic pebbles, though one glowed instead with psychic light only he could see. The Baneites in the room were standing up to leave. The mutilated body of a child dissolved into powder on the rock slab beneath them as Vorthane rubbed his eyes and refocused on the embedded stones. Perceiving the shifting images in each was hard enough when there weren’t pitiful screams coming from right beneath him.
“God of Fear, let the will of the pious reach you,” he hissed as his hands tightened on the glittering gems embedded in his throne’s arms. “Let us reclaim what is ours.”
The other cultists walked out into the portal chamber, where the first team had already departed to return to the city. A few bags of limp Grist sat against one wall, awaiting Vorthane’s attention.
Time was becoming a factor. There was no point in performing the sacrifices any faster than he was already, since the ritual had a fixed length, but if their supply stayed diminished, it would cause problems. Between Toller’s failure to secure his own trail and the Watch having busted his attempts to find more children ready to be made into Grist in the city, he had had to rely more and more on his allies in the south sending bagged children through the portals far from the Temple. So far, that was not sufficient to maintain their supply indefinitely. His brothers in the south were now under daily attacks from the coalition of adventurers and Lord’s Alliance soldiers whom had dispatched from the cities to fight them. There were even rumors of Cormyr War Wizards and Purple Dragon Knights accompanying some of the retaliatory parties, so now they even had the inbred Cormyrians as a worry.
The lights went dark as he finished casting the last of his sending spells for the day. He sagged back in the chair and drew a deep, ragged breath. He was not a young man, even with the aid of his many life-extending artifacts, and maintaining psychic and magic contact with so many people at once was quite tiring.
One of his retainers was at his side in an instant with a cup of strong black tea. “Here, sir, rest yourself,” he said worriedly. “You’re working too hard.”
Vorthane smiled warmly at his adjutant. “Thank you, Clane, that’s very nice of you,” he said. He sipped the tea and watched dispassionately as the screaming form of a spectral, thrashing half-orc child disappeared into the complex arrangement of magic stones that ringed his impaled corpse on the sacrificial altar. “Hmm. That one went through,” he noted.
“There must be a more efficient way, sir,” Clane said. “We lose over half the souls we harvest from the Grist this way.”
“Oh, there are, but long compacts between Lord Bane and Lord Asmodeus about sharing magical technology prevent it from reaching our hands,” Vorthane sniffed. “Now, my boy, please clean the powder from the altar and get some rest. The success of Brother Toller’s task force is not a given, so we may as well wait and see what happens next.”
Brother Toller stood huddled under an awning in the Sea Ward. His oddly heavy cloak drew a few eyes, but he ignored them.
The garden of the Temple of Ryaire was at the top of the hill right in front of him. His people were lurking all around, some disguised, some just hiding.
He would take back what had been stolen from the Master, oh yes. He smiled with shaky lips as he thought about making the Master approve. It would be good.
A jolt of pain in the base of his mind made him wince. Vorthane said go.
Toller raised one pudgy hand, and his men broke cover. Murmurs on the street turned into shouts of alarm as twenty men and women suddenly ran up the hillside.
Suivi Embersson walked quickly through the rectory of the temple. The few monks around didn’t stop him as he approached the living quarters. Grand Cleric Solen looked up from his scroll. “Ah. Young Master Embersson,” he said. “You have news?”
“I do,” Suivi confirmed. He tapped the piece of paper in his pocket. “I have the five directions and bearings. Now, we just need to examine the bookstore’s portal.”
“Ah, good,” Solen said. “Tell Axio yourself, he’s in the back garden.”
“Yes, sir.” Suivi sketched an awkward salute and walked back.
As he did, he heard laughter and children’s voices. He turned the corner and saw the two Paladins playing with the children outside, and he slowed down. He still felt incredibly awkward around the people his former employer had taken. Taken and tortured. He still had trouble admitting it, but Axio’s advice during his confession had-
Wait. What was that? Something brown flashed past the bay window’s glass. He reached his fingers back to the knife he had concealed on the back of his belt.
Suddenly, on the other side of the garden from Cavria, and behind her as well, two figures in hoods rose up from behind the stone. Axio reacted before Suivi could. “CAVRIA, DOWN!” he shouted.
“What the hell?” Suivi demanded. He cleared his knife, and the walls exploded.
Axio flung himself headlong through the dust. He tripped over a boy who was rolling around on the garden’s soil, howling in pain from stone shards embedded in his back. A sword swung through the air Axio had been filling, and the Paladin lunged forward in the direction of his attacker. It was a human man, swinging a scimitar with one hand, and Axio brought both hands up in a grab. The swordsman squealed as Axio’s hands closed around his genitals. The sound morphed into a screech of agony as Axio simply ripped his hands away, pulling the hapless attacker’s manhood right off. Axio grabbed the blade from the senseless man and rolled away, waving any children he saw through the smoke to safety.
“KILL THEM!” a voice bellowed. A child’s wails truncated into a gurgle, and Axio’s heart leapt into his throat. They were targeting the kids?
“Cavria, they’re after the children!” he roared. A man in brown robes appeared in front of him, dropping black pellets on the ground. Wherever they fell, a dark smoke erupted, and the garden was as dark as night in an instant.
Axio’s darkvision could barely see through the smoke. Obstructed light was one thing, but clouds of opaque gas were another. He fought back a cough as he charged the man with the smoke. The man was wearing goggles and saw him coming. He dropped the rest of his pellets and they exploded, knocking both men back. Axio recovered first. He grabbed the man’s hand as he reached for a dagger and rammed the scimitar into his stomach up to the pommel, then wrenched it downward, spilling his guts out on the ground. He vaulted the body and screamed in rage as he saw a man with an unconscious, bloody child in both arms running down the hillslope.
“SINNER!” he roared. The man actually paused and looked back, eyes wide. Axio ran up to the edge of the wall and kicked off, flying down the hill. The cultist screamed and ran.
Above, Cavria was locked in a duel. She was bleeding from the face and hands, she had an agonizing cut across her breast, she had blood pouring from her slashed lip, and still she fought. The High Succubus plunged a fist into a fat woman’s stomach, wrist-deep, then spun around her and drove her elbow into a man’s neck as he stooped to retrieve the little girl he had tripped. The girl scrambled away as the man fell on the vegetable patch, crushing the plants beneath him. Cavria pivoted and drove two hard fists into the fat woman’s face, knocking her back over her fallen friend.
Everybody was shouting. Brother Cadderly and a few of the other friars had arrived, and were ushering the children to safety. Grand Cleric Solen’s arrival was unmissable, since a cultist exploding when Solen’s sword rammed through his chest announced it.
Somebody was dropping more smoke. Cavria saw a burning torch pinwheel past her face to land in the garden. Smoke started licking at the plants, and the two downed cultists scrambled away.
Stars erupted in her vision as something hit her hard on the back of the head. She groggily stumbled forward and fell to one knee; she felt a second blow rush through her hair as she did. Solen’s voice was saying something from beside her, and then the world started spinning. Tinnitus filled her ears. She slapped her hand on her chest and rolled to one side, pouring her healing power into herself.
Friar Dreblin collapsed beside her, bleeding from his neck. He looked at her with panic in his old eyes. She reached for him without hesitation and cast cure wounds, and he shuddered as his skin knit shut. He said something, but Cavria couldn’t hear.
Toller’s goggles showed him a scene that was turning against him. He dropped his last smoke pellets and ran for the door into the church. He spotted two bodies in front of him, directing people away from the fighting, and raised one hand. “Stone shape!” he cried, dropping a piece of clay at his feet as he ran over the threshold.
The floor dropped out from beneath him. He kept charging up the ramp that formed beyond the sudden gap in the floor and leaped over it. His old heart was pounding. This would be his chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the Master! He just had to find –
Ah, there. A young girl rounded the corner and spotted him. Her hands flew to her mouth and she started to scream before Toller’s fist took her square in the face. She dropped like a stone into Toller’s arms, and he took off out the front door, past the clawing hands of several monks.
Axio sprinted past the fleeing cultist and reversed direction. He slammed into the running man’s midsection with a tooth-jarring impact. The cultist folded, dropping both unconscious children. Axio snatched up both of them before their heads could hit the ground. Two more cultists ran by, with nearly a dozen people from the temple in hot pursuit. Bodies lay strewn around the hillside and garden, most of them unmoving. The column of black smoke flattened and started bleeding down the hill towards the street below.
The Paladin set the bodies down and sprinted in the wake of the cultists. He was unencumbered, but they knew where they were going. The one in the distant front extended his lead, but the second one slowed as the weight got to him. Axio followed and narrowed his lead, vaulting over benches and scattering passers-by. The lead cultist vanished into a building. Axio gritted his teeth and put on one last burst of speed as the slower cultist stumbled with their weight of his human cargo.
Axio barreled into the cultist’s back and rammed his hands under the other man’s arms. He pulled the children out of his hands and kicked his leg forward into the cultist’s backside. The Baneite stumbled and fell, and Axio was on him. He set the children down as quickly as he could and lunged onto the man’s back. “You son of a bitch,” he snarled. He slammed his arm into the cultist’s head and slammed it into the cobbles. With a loud crunch, the cultist’s nose shattered. Axio rolled clear and rose to his feet. The street was dissolving into panic as a handful of cultists ran for the building with the Church of Ryaire hot on their heels. Some quick-thinking pedestrians had seen the fight and were moving to surround the cultists, but one pushed through the throng with a girl in his arms and made a break for the building.
A girl with long, pale hair. Axio’s skin went cold as he saw the man running with his sister Triera in his arms. “NO!” he screamed, throwing himself through the crowd.
The cultist ducked his arms and ran into the building. The fat human kicked the door shut in Axio’s face. Axio was so far gone in his rage that he simply ran through it, splintering the wood. He ignored the wave of pain on his face and sighted the fat cultist puffing down a shallow staircase and through the door at the bottom. Axio flung himself down the stairs and through the door, nearly landing on the cultist.
Toller felt defeat on his heels. He couldn’t outrun the vengeful Paladin, but he could still serve the Master. He summoned the last of his strength into his burning arms and hurled the unconscious girl through the panels of the wardrobe in the corner of the basement.
Axio screamed in wordless anguish as Triera vanished through a shimmering skein of light. The light disappeared an instant later. He grabbed the cultist by the collar and lifted, slamming the man’s back against the stone wall.
“Where did you send her?” Axio screamed. “Tell me!”
“The Master will have her,” the cultist wheezed. Sweat was running down his arms and chest, and he looked barely able to stand. “That’s all… you need to know.”
Axio grabbed the fat human’s neck and squeezed. Toller scrabbled at the huge hands that were choking the life out of him, but it was like trying to fight the weight of the planet. “BRING HER BACK!” Axio roared, in a voice that shook the walls. Divine light and absolute terror alike flashed in his gemstone eyes. “OPEN THE PORTAL!”
“Make me,” the cultist sneered as his face turned red.
Axio dug his fingers into the man’s neck. Wild, horrible hate flooded his angelic face. Toller’s fractured mind recoiled from the deific wrath before him. Before either man could speak, though, a Watch officer came flying through the door.
“Paladin! Where did they go?” he demanded, before his eyes caught up with his brain. “He’s with them?” the Watchman demanded.
Axio slammed Toller’s head back against the stone wall, knocking him out cold. “Yes,” he said, and all the rage left his body in a wave. He sank to his knees and dry heaved as horror flooded in to fill the gap where hate had been. “They took my sister, officer,” he managed, before he collapsed into inconsolable sobs.
|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