sundiver: (SF- Lady With Parrot)
[personal profile] sundiver
This story keeps expanding as I write and at the rate it's going, it'll get close to being as long as the NaNo. Sigh.

Word of warning, major run-on sentences. Petra has this tendency. You may need to reread her lines a couple times before understanding what she's going on about. (I had fun writing that section. (The SO, not so much. Something about wanting my attention.) I still read it too fast, so editing it is a nuisance.)
Last updated 12/10/11


Previous

Ailith led the way down the corridor, chiming softly with each quiet step she took.  Tae followed gamely along, trying to step softly to keep the sound of her booted feet from echoing in the narrow hall.  After a few minutes of following the other priestess, she grew tired of the silence.

“Where is it we are going?  A priestess of the moon would not attend a ceremony for the sun.”

The other woman chuckled darkly.  “The Isadors in Khorevail serve the Jadens,” she replied.  There was a note of bitterness in her voice.  “We do not even have our own temple, not since the last Helios Megistos had it closed thirty years ago.  So to say the sisters of Isis do not attend the ceremonies of Jadus is not true.  There are those we do take part in.”

Tae did not understand the relationship between the clergy of the two deities, but obviously all was not well.  She knew enough of the followers of Jadus to know that it was not merely the Chained God causing these things.  They were notoriously prejudiced against those who did not follow Jadus and, while more accepting of their god’s consort’s followers, they felt the Isadors less important in the grand scheme of things.  The politics of the Khorevail temple were not what she had asked about however.

“Is it a common trait of the Isador sisterhood to avoid direct questions?  That was not the first time you have done so, nor are you alone in the matter.”

The priestess shot her a smile.  “We are terrible about it, yes.  Especially when we know there is a good chance other ears are listening in.”

Tae raised her eyebrows.  “So in other words, it will be a surprise.”

“A good surprise, I think.  Or I hope it will be.  But you will have to stay silent past here.  The temple is too populous for everyone to know each other and you can pass for a moonblade if people do not hear your strange accent.”

“Moonblade?  Does Isis call to warriors as well as diviners?”  The gift of a few seconds of foresight would be priceless to someone who did battle.  Knowing where your enemy would attack and when-

“Obviously not in as great numbers as Jadus does.  They are few, but there are those who walk the path of the blade for Isis.  The moonblades serve much the same purpose as the crusaders.  Most sun-knights are part of the laity and have only taken the first set of vows to serve Jadus.  They cannot call upon his power.  However, both the crusaders and the moonblades have very close connections with their patrons.  The moonblades do not stay in Khorevail; merely pass through as the occasion calls for it.  There are more here since the overrun of their monastery in Telubra.  When they are here for extended stays, they borrow sun-knight’s armor.  The Jadens are more accepting of female warriors if they bear the symbol of the sun and the moonblades would prefer not to draw undue attention to themselves.”

She could not remember seeing another woman in armor the other time she had been here, but Yseult could not have been the only one of her kind.  Most likely they had simply been on a different part of the grounds than the office where the women had spoken with Helios Cuthric.  They had not toured the compound, after all.  Merely been hurried to their destination and shooed out even quicker.

“The symbol on my armor is not one of Jadus’.”

“That is why we will be moving quickly to our destination.  To give people less time to inspect you.  They will hopefully just notice the fact you’re female and pay less attention to your armor design.”

“That relies a great deal on your fellows being unobservant,” Tae said neutrally.  It did not sound like a well thought-out plan.

“I do know the people around me better than you, peregrine.”  The dark-haired woman sounded mildly annoyed.

“I meant no disrespect.  You may be taking a risk with what you are doing, but should we be found out, I will bear the brunt of the punishment.”

“It is not as great a risk as you think.  The sisters we might pass will pay us no mind, and the ones I have taken into confidence are already running interference with those whom it would be most troublesome for us to be discovered by.”

“You have discussed your actions with others but cannot explain yourself to me?”

The priestess turned to look at her.  Her dark eyes were serious. “There is a great deal of maneuvering going on behind the scenes, and where we are going is under great debate.  There are ways to turn your ears to specific words.  Quite a few of the ones necessary to explain our destination have been marked this way.  I would prefer not to call attention to ourselves.  Please trust me in this.  I could not keep you from Crusader Yseult’s mission, so I am trying to find another way to speed you on your way home.  No place on Caldonia is safe for you.  There are other storms brewing, greater ones than this implosion of the Sund faiths, and you are acting like lightning rods.  You must not stay.”  Her voice grew fierce with that final statement.

Tae had forgotten about the odd letter Ailith had sent to her brother that Petra had made off with.   Perhaps the priestess was trying to find them a way to avoid the trek to the Lothar Heights they wanted to take.

Of course, it was one of her fellow Isador sisters who had told them that Lothar was the next place to look.  There was no telling what was going on here, not with so many pieces of the puzzle missing or disguised.  Ailith, at least, did seem genuine in her aid.  Why remained something of a mystery, though.  Sealing Khoresbar’s temple, and saving her brother in the process, could not be the cause for such urgency.  She must have seen something in a vision concerning them that she did not want to come to pass.

They came to a door at the end of the hall.  “Past here is where you must be silent.”

Tae nodded in understanding.  She pulled her hair out of the short ponytail it was tied back in, casually ruffling it to hide her pointed ears.  Times like this, she was glad she took after her human heritage.  Athena would always look too fey to pass for human.

“Stand up straight, look haughtily at anyone who looks like trouble, and stay two paces behind me to my right.  Moonblades have some training as bodyguards, and being to the right of her escort leaves her right arm free to draw her weapon without worrying too much about her client getting in the way.”

“And they do not speak much?” It sounded strange.

“They haven’t taken vows of silence, but they do not generally speak to outsiders.  Should you meet a moonblade- a real one- she’ll likely have someone with her to speak for her.”

Ailith opened the door and sunlight filled the corridor.  “Keep quiet,” she reminded Tae one last time.  Tae felt a frisson of irritation at the repetition, but stayed silent.  They stepped outside into a narrow alleyway.  The building next to them was another drab dormitory.  The donjon took up much of the view past it.  She had not realized how far into the compound they had been taken.  It had felt a much shorter walk.  

Ailith led the way to a small courtyard.  A few young apprentices were fighting with wooden practice swords, supervised by a dark-skinned, gray-haired man in a somewhat stained tunic.  He sat on a bench, one leg stretched out in front of him.  A walking cane leaned against the back of the bench.

“Ho, Selene Ailith,” he called out in greeting as the youngsters ignored the women.  “Lady Knight.” She could hear the mild curiosity in his voice and nodded in greeting before moving her gaze to the children.  She was no expert, but could tell they had yet to learn proper form in their swordplay.  Perhaps this was how all the children on the grounds spent their free time.  Pages for the sun-knights would have already started their lessons by now.

“Sir Osmund,” Ailith said.  “Keeping the play from becoming serious?”  Tae tore her attention from the children to look back at the man.

“Nothing squashes young spirits like an old cripple knocking them around.  They know better now and behave when I bark.”  He adjusted his leg.  “Getting their respect early on means I don’t have to move my bad leg much.  You remember this, Selene, when you get around to breeding.  A scared child is a well-behaved child.”

“You weren’t too rough with them, were you, Sir Osmund?”

“No worries, sister.  The only bruises they have are the ones they’ve given each other.  But what brings you so far from the Isador halls?”

“Sister Linette has never been to Khorevail before,” Ailith gestured to Tae.  “I offered to show her the grounds.”

“Don’t forget the donjon.” He nodded his head to the tower that took up much of the eastern skyline.  “The lay brother in charge of showing guests around always skips it.  Says it’s not a proper place for visitors to see.  But it has lovely murals.  They date back to the empire,” he explained to Tae.

“I had not thought to show it to her.”

There was a high shout of pain from the yard.

“Wil, if you don’t get off Boyd this second I’m going to tan your hide,” Osmund roared.  Ailith took a startled step backwards into Tae, and hissed in surprise at the jolt against unforgiving metal.  He shot them a sheepish grin as he pulled himself up.  “Apologies, m’ladies.  Duty calls.”

“Don’t be too rough on them,” Ailith said as he hobbled over to the squabbling boys.  The largest had one of the other two pinned and was trying to hit him.  He was impeded by the smallest of the three hanging onto his arm. The dusky-skinned little boy had the sharp features and faintly-tipped ears of a half-elf, and was likely the same age as the boy he so nimbly held onto. Half-elves’ fey blood slowed their aging.

“You mind your duties and let me take care of mine,” he told her.  He lifted the angry boy by the collar of his shirt.

“Come,” Ailith said as she led the way through the courtyard to another dormitory.

“I apologize for the somewhat circuitous path,” she said as they entered the building.  The hallway was deserted, but Tae could hear noises coming from further inside.  “The guardsmen are more likely to notice you as an impostor, so I am doing my best to avoid them.  That means going through the buildings instead of around.”

Osmund had not been a priest, not if Ailith had greeted him as ‘sir.’  Tae shot a look back at the door, trying to get her question across.

Ailith followed her look, puzzled for a moment.  “Oh, you’re thinking about Sir Osmund?  He came here from Hallovar in Telubra a few tennights ago and won’t mind us pulling a fast one over his fellows if it means no proper trouble for them.  He’ll not cover for me if we’re found out, but he won’t report you either.  The locals have annoyed him, I think, with their lack of welcome for a fellow sun-knight.”

Tae followed in silence as Ailith led her through a maze of busy corridors.  Most of the men they passed wore the light colors of the laity and Tae wondered at the rarity of those who had finished taking their vows. The other time she had visited, the clerics had been much more in evidence, even if still outnumbered by their lay brethren.  It seemed important, but staying quietly at the dark-haired woman’s back and avoiding eye contact with others was her task for now.

---

Carmen was interrupted from her light nap by a rap on the door.

“Could you get that?” Odette asked, not looking away from the spot on the wall she had been staring at for the past half hour.  She had clambered onto the bed and settled herself into a meditative lotus position.  Athena had tried to join the sorceress in her meditation, but after only a few minutes she had gotten twitchy and returned to the window to stare moodily outside.

Carmen kicked the chair back onto all four legs to get up.

There was a rap on the door again.

“A mite impatient, isn’t he?” she remarked, removing the bar from across the door.  Not setting it down, she pulled the door open.

An unfamiliar man in a coarse pale blue robe stood in the doorway holding a tray with several bowls of stew.  “Hello, duck,” he said in a faintly familiar voice.  “Can I set these down on your desk?  I’d rather not spill your dinner trying to pass it over to you.”

She heard a sharp intake of breath from Odette, and was already shifting her weight defensively when the sorceress quickly said, “Do let him in, Carmen. I am certain he has many other errands to attend to as well.”  She could hear the sorceress moving off of the bed.

He gave her a toothy smile as she stepped guardedly out of the way.  He gingerly moved into the room, careful to make certain his burden did not slosh over the rims.  His back went rigid at the sight of Odette and the bowls clattered slightly on the tray, but he did not speak.

“The door, Carmen,” Odette said softly.  She had tidied up the mess of papers she had left on the desk.

Carmen shut the door with a quiet snick.  “What is going on?” she asked, her grip still firmly on the door bar.

“You did not recognize the voice?” Odette asked as he set the tray down.

“I’d shift back into Brother Elias for you, duck, but then I’d forget which lay brother I impersonated to get in.  The servants are barred from this building and there are only a few members of the laity allowed in. My memory isn’t so good as to be able to recall a ‘shift well enough to fool people as detail-oriented as the Inquisitors without reference.”

The shapeshifter from the abbey.  “The loremaster.”

He gave her a short mocking bow.  “Lorist Teilomere, once again at your service.”  He folded his arms behind his back, bringing himself fully upright.  “Though this time it is I who can be of aid to you.” His eyes shot to Odette, curiosity burning in them, but he had too much tact to ask about her change of appearance.

“Oh really?” Carmen asked, setting the bar down against the wall.  “And just why do you think that?”

“Helia Wymarc doesn't care what happened wherever it is you just came from; she just wants your heads on a platter for killing her daughter.  I figured you ladies were too attached to them to agree with her plan. I also know there is something here you must do before making tracks ahead of the Helia’s ire.”  His eyes kept drifting to the transparent dragonfly wings fluttering slowly behind Odette.

Carmen couldn’t blame him.  She caught herself staring at them frequently. The pale colors pulsing through the venation were hypnotizing.

“But we didn't kill the sun-knights,” Athena objected from her spot at the window.

“Something here we must do? How do you know what's going on?”

He shrugged. “I don't know much of what's going on.  Just that the Helia's bulldozing her way through the higher ranks demanding you ladies be clapped in irons to be interrogated under more- strenuous conditions.  I like to think I know you well enough to know that you wouldn't have killed Yseult.  At least not on purpose.”

Odette pinched the bridge of her nose in an exasperated manner.

“The building collapsed on them!” Carmen exclaimed, then lowered her voice and continued.  “Crusaders can tell honesty from lies; they must know we didn't lie when we said we did not kill her.”

“The gifts of the crusaders are not infallible.  The Helia is insisting the sorceress was using magic to keep Crusader Tunwald from sensing deception.”

“Hogwash,” Carmen muttered.  She helped herself to a bowl.  It was refreshingly bland compared to the dinners they had eaten the last time they were in Khorevail.  The Sunds put spicy peppers in everything, but the temple cooks seemed to have sworn off anything stronger than salt.  Odette passed the bowl Carmen handed her over to Athena and shook her head as Carmen offered her one of the others.

Did pixies not eat meat either? In the two days they spent resting near the broken temple, Odette had traded away much of the jerky she had brought in favor of the dried fruits the two half-elves had stocked up on.  Carmen’s food didn’t have enough sugar to satisfy her new cravings, and Petra’s dhourra cakes, while very sweet, were as hard as bricks and tasted terrible soaked in water.  None of them wanted to chance her reaction to the energy-rich coffee Petra used to soften the hardtack.

“That is not rational.”

Odette’s new dietary needs weren’t something to worry about now.

He arched his eyebrows and crossed his arms.  “My lady, we speak of clergy folk.  They are mouthpieces of the gods, and have you ever known a deity to be rational?”

“There are a few,” Odette replied dryly.

Teilomere picked up a bowl and set in. Waste not, want not, after all.  Or perhaps he was trying to distract himself from staring at Odette and her mesmerizing wings. “Being less irrational than mortals does not make them rational.  Trust me on this.  Age rarely brings wisdom.  But we digress, and I fear I do not have time to tarry.  The Inquisitors do not like leaving someone with my abilities idle.”

“So did you come merely to warn us to wrap things up quickly, or did you have advice as well?”

“Warnings only, I’m afraid. And you must be away from here soon. The Helia is highly placed within their ranks, and it will not be long before she has swayed her few superiors to her side. An angry mother is difficult to argue with.  I would not suggest waiting here for the priestess and child to return.  Considering what I’ve overheard from the Isadors, they won’t be coming back this way.”

Ailith had been very vague about her plans.  What were the moon priestesses up to? And what wrench would Crusader Yseult’s mother throw into the works?  “What have you heard?”

“I spoke with someone who had bumped into a Selene and a moonblade headed in the directions of the catacombs.  I imagine that would be Peregrine Tae-Lana.  No one has mentioned the little redhead, but I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you.”

“She’s very good at not being noticed,” Carmen said.  “You think they’ll take a different exit?”

“The catacombs are vast,” Odette said.  “And predate the empire.  Some of them can only be traversed in one direction.”

“You’re well-versed in history, my lady,” he said.  “While I cannot tell you for certain where they’re going, the entrance they seemed to be headed for leads through a containment area the Jaden higher-ups would like to keep secure.”

“Is Selene Ailith trying to steal something?” Odette asked with a frown.

“In a manner of speaking,” he replied with a shrug.  “It might be better to say she is trying to fix something.  I imagine she is hoping Peregrine Tae-Lana, as a healer and a follower of a different pantheon, can do something with it.”

“And how do you know this?  I doubt anyone who knows the Selene’s plans would simply tell you.”

“A combination of shapeshifting and shameless eavesdropping,” he said, smiling.  “I’m a member of the Loremasters’ Guild.  I’ve taken an oath to find out everything about everyone.”

“Tell me you’re not interested in having Petra join,” Carmen said as she set the empty bowl on the tray and moved on to the next.  All five would have to be eaten or there would be more questions about why someone was skipping supper.  Perhaps because someone had gone exploring somewhere they shouldn’t.

He laughed.  “We also hold with telling everyone everything and your young friend is too much of a secret keeper for that.”

“You’re not telling us much.”

“I also believe in keeping my head firmly attached to my shoulders and I work for these people regularly.  I’m telling you as much as I can get away with without them realizing it was me who gave you the information.  You drawing conclusions from something I said is another thing entirely.”

“So ye take a page out of the Isador handbook and be indirect and vague.”  Carmen hated conversations like this.  She thought in a straight line, not quickly like Odette or in different directions at once like Petra.  Athena at least understood people, and Tae floated above such conversations as if they did not matter at all.

“You’re in their stronghold, woodswoman.  Your privacy spell may keep out minor eavesdroppers, but should any of the higher-ups bend their will upon this room, it would be easy for them to listen in on this conversation.  The only reason one hasn’t yet is because they set up keywords to get their attention. You’ve been lucky in avoiding them, but it’s only a matter of time.”

“Should they eavesdrop, they would not hear Allekheirn.  My translation spell does not work that way.”

“Both you and I are speaking it though, my lady.  You will have to watch your words until you leave the complex.  And your less-educated friends will still have to watch their proper nouns.” Carmen tried unsuccessfully not to be insulted by his words.  They were not from Caldonia, what need had they to learn the tongue?  Petra had the quick wit of the young and clever, and Odette’s family made their living with their words, musicians and diplomats that they were. Tae, Athena, and Carmen had no such gifts working in their favor.   “Names cross languages, after all.  But I have delivered my warning, and eaten my supper, and now I needs must return to my keeper to let the masters know your story did not change in the telling.” He set the bowl back on the tray.  

Carmen noted the chunks of beef remaining in it.  She cocked her head in consideration.

“So they do know you came here,” Odette said.

“Somewhat.  I was not asked to speak with you, but it was expected.  After all, I had been in your company before, on friendly terms.  They would find something amiss should I not find my way here somehow.”

“Suppose that makes sense,” Carmen allowed.

He took one long last look at Odette’s wings and moved towards the door.  “I shall have to copy you ladies and be completely honest and absolutely circuitous in the report.”

“We are merely trying to protect ourselves from zealots,” Odette said with a small shrug.  “You should possibly look within the loremasters' ranks for others.  The report sent in about the events at the abbey where we met placed the blame squarely upon our shoulders.”
 
He stopped short, his hand frozen for a moment where it had been reaching to pull the door open.  “I beg your pardon?” he asked, turning around.
 
“Crusader Yseult was given a report detailing the deaths at Folken Abbey.  The black magic stained into the stone there was blamed on us, for sacrificing the innocent brothers in a dark ritual.”
 
He frowned. “Did she mention which investigator it was?”
 
“Duck something,” Carmen said promptly. 

“Duxxil,” Athena corrected.

“Do all loremasters have such odd names?” the taller woman continued, not bothered by Athena’s interruption.
 
“We’re not local,” he said absently, gazing over Odette’s shoulder with a thoughtful look on his face. He opened his mouth to speak, and then shut it again.  He shook his head, clearing his thoughts.  “That would explain a few things.  It would seem I still owe you ladies a favor.”
 
“Do you know why he would do such a thing?” Odette asked.
 
“Who, Duxxil? I have my suspicions.  Nothing I care to share with someone outside the guild,” he added apologetically.  “Thank you for the information, though.”  He smiled genially, his eyes hard, and gave them a jaunty short bow.  “Until next we meet, fair maidens.”

“Really now,” Carmen said.  “Do we look like-”

The door shut behind him.

“What do ye make of that?” Carmen asked.

“I might be reading too much into his words, but I think he was trying to let us know what we came for is here,” Odette replied slowly.

“Ye be just as vague as him,” Carmen complained.

“He was right to warn us to watch our words.  I had not thought about binding alarm spells to spoken words.  But with the,” she paused, looking for a more tactful word than insanity, “strangeness of the clergy right now, it is something we should be on guard for.  Especially myself, at least when speaking Allekheirn.”

“Why not us?” Athena asked.  “Is not your spell translating our speech for us?”

“It is triggered by presence.  The spell translates for someone you are speaking with.”

“Be that why the tavern gossip-mongering was done by Petra?  I noticed we could speak with people, but that others further away from us spoke in an unfamiliar tongue.”

“Exactly.  The spell can only extend so far.”

“So what did we come here for, if not to return the sun-knights’ remains?” Athena asked. “And why would he try to help us?”

“Consider it.  As a lorist, he likes to know things. Or perhaps needs to learn things.  He can change his shape well enough to fool acquaintances, if his story about his stay in Folken Abbey is to be believed. He can see what is happening to the Jaden order just as well as we, and obviously fears it. He does not follow their god. With the way things are going, sooner or later he will come under suspicion. You told him yourself, back when we were escorting him away from the abbey, that we had sailed over here in search of a friend.  So tell me, why would he warn us about saying proper nouns, about saying names, when we spoke ours amongst ourselves with no cause for alarm?” The excited words tumbled out of her mouth almost faster than Carmen could keep up with them, and Odette breathed in with a deep gasp as she finished. With her new high-pitched voice, the flow of words sounded a great deal like Petra.

Who else’s name would they speak? Who had led them here?

Crunch.  That was where Odette was going with this.  Teilomere thought the half-orc was here. Had he seen him? No, that would be impossible. Mayhap he had overheard it somewhere.  Possibly even from the Isadors discussing what Ailith was up to who he had supposedly happened upon.

Could that be where Ailith had taken Tae?

“He said Selene Ailith was taking Tae to fix something,” Carmen said.

“What?” Athena looked confused, not following Carmen’s flash of intuition.

“And possibly steal something,” Odette added.

“Return someone,” Carmen corrected.

“So I suspect,” Odette said.

“Are you talking about-” Athena made a muffled noise of surprise as Carmen and Odette both leaped for her.  Carmen slapped a hand over the blonde’s mouth, cutting her off. Odette tilted awkwardly off balance and stumbled to a stop before them.

“Our missing friend, yes,” Carmen said as she released her hold on the blond. “He mighta been tritely named after a verb, but how abouts we not chance it?”

“Even if they were eavesdropping, we’re not speaking Allekheirn. What does it matter?”

Odette brushed her dress back into place. “Translation spells may be more commonplace amongst ley manipulators, but that does not mean clergy folk cannot call upon their patron’s favor to do so. I like to think I would notice if such energies were in use near us, but we want to attract as little attention as possible.”

“Far too late for that,” Carmen said, sliding Odette’s papers back into their satchel. “I’ll believe the lorist about that Helia and her need for our heads. We shouldn’t stay where they can find us.”

“Running would make us look guilty,” Athena objected.

“Staying will make us look stupid,” the taller woman rejoined. “Did ye not hear him when he said this building had high levels of security? We’re already in trouble with them and now we've been told someone is actively looking to cause more trouble for us. Staying where they can find us is foolishness.”

“We should at least prepare to leave quickly.” Odette said, retrieving her satchel from Carmen. “Is there anything else we unpacked?”

Athena motioned to where Tae's spiked chain had been draped across the foot of the bed. “I can carry Tae's chain. But we did not truly unpack, except for your papers.”

“'Twere written here, so that does not count.”

Athena shrugged. “So we are set for a quick withdrawal. Should we tarry awhile? We gave Ailith two turns of the hourglass.”

Odette crossed her arms. “A part of me does not want to linger here, but I also know that bureaucracy does not move quickly. I feel we should give Tae and Petra time to return.”

“Ignore the lorist's advice?” Athena questioned.

“No, we are taking it under advisement. Have we not prepared for leaving? I simply think he was being a bit dramatic about us needing to leave right this moment.”

---

Petra walked with careful steps down the dank corridor. Her green tunic had been pulled off and folded away in favor of the gray hooded robe she usually kept hemmed up. She had tugged the hood up to cover her dark red hair and pulled the light stitches out of the robe and let it fall to the floor. Wandering around under a magical disguise such as invisibility was a beacon to some, so she turned to the very minor magics woven into the robe to allow her to blend in with her surroundings. It was currently the same murky color as the wall she was sliding along. The skirt was loose enough to let her move freely, but she still had to be careful to make no sudden movements. And she had to be very quiet.

She was good at being quiet though. Noisy people got attention paid to them, and certain attention should never be sought. She shook her head to clear her thoughts.

The soft chime of the bells on Ailith's skirt grew louder.

Ailith had led Tae into a disused building and down into the basement, through a poorly-hidden sliding panel. Re-opening it after waiting for the two to get out of hearing distance had been a nuisance, but she didn't trust the Isador priestess not to lead Tae into a trap.

The sounds slowed, and she crept forward on silent feet close to where Ailith was reaching towards a heavy door handle. Neither was looking in her direction. In the colorful layer of magical energies, she could see a spark of light zap the moon priestess. She pulled her hand back with a soft gasp.

“Something is not right,” she told Tae. “You should have that blade ready.”

Tae muttered a soft curse and Petra covered her mouth to hold back a laugh as Tae awkwardly unbuckled Carmen's baldric. “This was supposed to just be for show. I only have basic training and have never used a sword this large.” Finished removing it, she drew the heavy blade from its scabbard and slung the baldric back on.

“Better that than going unarmed here. Men have come out of here with strange injuries.”

“And you did not think we might have the same thing happen to us?” Tae asked, her voice mild. Petra recognized it as one the healer often used right before swatting her upside the head. Ailith would obviously not get the same treatment, but Tae had to be thinking about it.

“The sisters who have come here have been left alone. Then again, we do not dress for war as the sun-knights do. And as you do. Perhaps that was what the warning meant.” Ailith pushed the door open and they disappeared inside. The door remained open behind them. Petra spared a moment to wonder if it was because the moon priestess knew someone was following them or if it had merely been overlooked.

She continued her slow creep forward. She hadn't quite passed the door's threshold when there was a high shout of surprise, a fleshy crashing noise, and a sharp ringing of metal striking metal. Underneath that noise was a different sound- straining stone or metal, she couldn't tell for certain.

Quiescent wards suddenly burst into brilliant light. She quickly looked them over.  She didn’t have the time to do an in-depth analysis of what the flickering symbols meant, but the major one was easy to read.  There had been a jailbreak of some sort. Whether it was Tae and Ailith's intrusion or some prisoner further in released, she couldn't tell. Those battle noises could be either from a loose prisoner or an unexpected jailer on duty.

She didn't want whoever it was to have warning of her approach, but she sped up her steps as much as she dared. She took a sharp corner, following the clattering ringing noise. Tae probably wasn't trying very hard to take the offensive- the healer wanted to save lives, not take them.

The sight of the combat threw that line of thought out the window. Tae would never have taken the offensive. Not against him.

Gray skin, dark hair, and big as a house. It was Crunch.

He was also completely out of his mind. Seeing him lost in the bloodlust his orc heritage allowed him, she understood why he had been brought here. But she had no time to be furious.

Ailith lay crumpled against the wall near where Petra stood- a quick glance showed no obvious injuries. Either the diviner was playing dead- usually a good idea around someone looking for a threat- or she had been thrown there with sufficient force to knock her out.

Considering the makeshift weapons shackled around his wrists, she was leaning towards the latter. The chains he held were meant for imprisonment, not for use as weaponry. The free ends had chunks of brick attached to them from where he had torn them out of the wall. Tae had danced as far back away from the enraged half-orc as she could, the big bastard sword held grimly in her hands, deflecting the blocks of stone swinging into her. Her movements were unnaturally graceful, and out of keeping with what she knew of Tae's abilities. Occasionally one of the chains would wrap around the sword and the healer would glide away with a quick push-pull of the sword, the chain falling loose before the half-orc had time to try and tug the big weapon out of her hands.

Odd. Hadn't Tae said she was inexperienced with the weapon?

Crunch's feet were shackled as well, but he hadn't yet managed to pull those out of the wall. They were drawn tight though, the half-orc straining at them as he swung the chains mindlessly at Tae.

“Calm down,” the half-elf shouted at the raging half-orc. It was perhaps more scolding than angry, but then, one never wanted to provoke the ire of someone who could lift one's self, armor and all, over his head with one hand.

He only roared back at her, too caught up in rage and bloodlust to actually see anything but the sun emblazoned on her armor. There was no telling what the sun worshipers had done to encourage his outbursts, but once things settled down, he could tell his story. Provided he remembered it.

First though, he needed to get free of his berserker rage. Preferably before he hurt Tae. She had to distract him from the healer, give the half-elf a better shot at calming him down. As long as he was occupied with trying to hurt a sun-knight, he wouldn't be able to concentrate on other things. Like facial recognition. He liked Tae and would be upset if he managed to hurt her. Carmen's sword was keeping her safe so far, but it was only a matter of time before she ended up like Ailith- unconscious and likely concussed.

How to distract him without getting near those spinning chains? With his strength, he'd break something. She glanced at the manacles keeping him in place. He was barefoot and his skin where the metal rubbed against it was bloody and raw.

She already had one bad arm, so she'd just have to use her feet for this instead. Or his feet, as it were.

She backed up to give herself room for a running start. Hopefully he would be too focused on Tae to notice what she was about to do.

She sprinted forward and fell into a dive underneath the wildly swinging chains, sliding across the floor noisily and coming to a stop just past the combatants and far too close to the half-orc for her comfort. Before Crunch had a chance to look down towards the noise, she flipped over and shoved both her booted feet as hard as she could into one of his thick ankles, just underneath the chain cuff, directly into the oozing skin there. The manacles were already taut and there was no slack for him to move away from the strike. He gave a pained shout and wobbled, dropping the chains to wave his arms to try and stay upright, and she rolled away quickly.

Tae took the opening. She dropped the borrowed sword and leaped onto the half-orc, completely upsetting his balance. The two fell with a loud thud onto where she had just been. Petra gingerly got back up on her feet, trying to untangle the robe from her legs.

Tae pulled herself upright, straddling the big half-orc, and slapped him across the face.

The absolute look of disbelief on his face made the ache in her arms completely worth it. The shock of Tae’s actions looked to be keeping him from reacting, but it was only a matter of time.

“Snap out of it, you blighted half-orc,” Tae said, her voice surprisingly even.

“I don't think he's clear of it yet,” she told the healer in her native Kelathyl, moving over to peer down at them. Crunch's eyes were still a bit coulded, but he looked to be tracking. She waved her fingers in his line of sight in a cheeky greeting. He looked confused. All the better. Confusion meant he was trying to think.

Tae looked up, startled. “When did you get here?” she replied in the same tongue, her accent like nails across a chalkboard on Petra's ears. For all that she served an elven deity, she didn't speak the tongue with any grace.

The language- not spoken anywhere on Caldonia, and completely unknown to the locals, unlike the Brygean the women regularly spoke- succeeded at clearing his berserker rage where defensive swordplay had not.

“Tae!” He sat up, wrapping the half-elf into a bear hug and squeezing tightly. Petra winced at the creak of metal and Tae’s eyes crossed momentarily. She punched a gauntleted fist into him, trying to get him to release her.

“Ease up, big guy,” Petra said. “She had a ceiling drop on her, she doesn’t need you trying to realign her spine too.”

He loosened his grip and Tae extricated herself, climbing back up onto her feet slowly. The half-orc stood up much faster.

“I should not be surprised that you followed us,” Tae said as she placed a hand on her back, grimacing and stretching backwards with a groan.

“You’re lucky,” Petra replied flatly, tugging Crunch’s hands up to peer at the locks.  They had been weakened by his exertions and it was easier for her to finish prying the hinges apart than to try picking their broken locks.  “She was overextending her foresight, trying to bypass guard routes to get you here.  I had to waylay two of them on the way in because she was too focused on someone else.  Getting out of here is going to be a lot trickier.” A complete understatement. The flashes of magical alarms going off all around them were disturbing. She could already make out one she'd have to disable to have any chance of leaving the room with all limbs attached. Those wards were playing for keeps. But she saw no need to scare them with what she could see.  “The wards around here aren’t particularly strong- subtlety is useless considering what they were keeping an eye on- but they’re all set to go off once he breaks free.”
 
“So they have already gone off,” Tae said.  “Because he pulled the chains out of the wall.”
 
“Precisely.”  There was a quiet creak as the manacle eased open.  Petra knelt to examine the locks on his ankles.  She snorted at the wards in place on them that kept him from merely prying them off.  The Jadens were obviously inexperienced at keeping captives if they were relying on magic layered over weak manacles to keep their prisoners from escaping.
 
“You’ll be able to pull these off once I remove these spells,” she told the half-orc, prodding a finger into the energy encasing the manacles.  It was a basic locking spell, the only unusual thing being its modification to keep Crunch from being able to touch the manacles.
 
“I should check on Ailith.”  The healer moved over to where Ailith had landed.
 
“Don’t trust moon girl,” Crunch said.  “Moon girls are liars.”
 
Petra snorted, eyes not moving away from her work.  “When they’re trying to cause a metaphysical solar eclipse?  That doesn’t even count as a surprise.  Hold still,” she commanded him as Crunch shuffled his feet.  No doubt the magic felt unpleasant as it unraveled away.  Or else his injuries itched.

“Would that not be metaphorical?” Tae asked from where she knelt, one hand hovering over Ailith's body. In the din of magical energies they were swamped in, Petra could barely make out the weak diagnostic spell the healer was using.

“The Isadors plan on blocking the Jadens from whatever it is they've been building up to and are using their visions to get the end results they want. Sounds metaphysical, not metaphorical, to me.”

“Suit yourself,” Tae murmured.

“This place is packed with crazies and liars,” Petra explained to Crunch. “The sun worshipers are mixing dogma with politics and the moon worshipers are mixing manipulation with revolution, and who can tell what Sundabar's exiled gods are up to.  Probably egging Isis on while they poke their fingers into the Eater of World's different jail cells.”

The god had bound too much of his power into his avatars during the ancient wars the pantheon had descended into. Once Jadus had revealed this to the sky god's enemies, all Khory and her children had had to do was find them and lock them away in places nigh unreachable.

She shouldn't have known all that.  She was running out of time.

And there was still so much to do. She frowned, drawing the counter-sigils onto Crunch's manacles jerkily. There was no smile on her face as the wards blinked out of existence.

There was quiet coughing from Ailith as Tae brushed lightly-glowing fingers across her forehead. “Jail cells?” the priestess repeated, pressing a hand against her stomach with a pained look

“You know, like the one here where you've chained up our half-orc to control the Hekatonkheir outside of Khoresbar?” Ice dripped from every word and she could hear her careful accent slipping back into the original sailor's cant she had first learned the language in. “Don't tell me you didn't know that one, Selene, not when you Isadors have made it your business to send us traipsing into every infested stronghold to clean house for you.”

“You speak of things you don't understand,” the woman said as she stiffly got up onto her feet.

“No, you don't understand,” Petra snapped back, hopping back up. She could feel the air around her warming up. She couldn’t bring herself to rein her temper in. Not when it was letting her think so clearly. “You got Odette killed back there! I had to sacrifice something that I can never get back to save her and she'll spend the rest of her life trying to understand what she's become because fey aren't supposed to have souls and she'll be constantly at war with herself. And you people just sit here in your spider web, gloating over the fact you managed to pull an alternate sun cleric, not to mention a sorceress, in to fix the problems with your misbegotten deity. And all just by convincing the Jadens the best way to clear things up is to awaken demigods best left forgotten. Because that's the real reason you had Crunch brought here.”

More lights in the ley energies lit around her as she spoke the half-orc’s name, and a rush of power pressed down upon her, intent on caging her. It was the easiest thing in the world to send it rebounding back to whomever the spell had originated from.

She pressed forward with her assault, focused on the silver-clad moon priestess.

“They needed something that could get just as angry as Khory to be the go-between for them and the crazed monster, and who better than a berserker of the north? But you Isadors gave them the idea about using the Hekatonkheires because you wanted Tae and Odette. The Jadens would have been better served by torching their temples and rebuilding new ones that didn't stand where the Chained God's temples did. Because the madness that's infecting them will never stop spreading so long as they keep worshiping in profaned places, feeding their god poisoned faith and him feeding them poisoned spells in return.”

“Petra,” Tae whispered softly, like she was speaking to a wild animal. But Petra was too caught up in the cascade of knowledge feeding into her to notice what Tae had. Crunch shifted on his feet uneasily behind her, confused by the rush of words in a language he didn’t understand.

“Don't tell me you can't see it,” Petra said, head turning in a quick snap to look at Tae. “It's been staring us right in the face. The run-around the Isadors were giving us, buying time for the Jadens to mess around with poor Crunch here. We cleaned up their messes while they used him to make an even bigger one, and then sent us to clean up that one when it failed spectacularly. And the reward for our hard work? The death that would find us in Telubra?” she said scornfully, glaring at the dark-haired priestess.

“I tried to warn you,” the priestess said in a harsh, broken voice, taking a step forward.

“No, you egged us on. Telling us we'd find what we were seeking, when you were sitting on him this entire time.”

“I never told you he was there. Only that you would find him.”

“Implications,” she bit out. “Leading us on to one final mess, the original mess. The key indicator as to why the Jaden faith is falling apart at the seams. Because Jadus always belonged to the Eater of Worlds.”

Aiilith's face grew pale. “That's heresy.”

“They've rewritten the stories hundreds of times, cleaning it up to better feed the masses, but I like poking through old texts, Selene. And you and your sisters have been sending me to all the old Jaden temples, where the original scrolls of the creation stories can still be found. The first Sky God creating Day to fight Darkness, their battle creating the Sun, who dwells always in the Sky's realm. Who served him faithfully in striking down Nature, creating Death. And the war between the gods that followed, ending with the Sky God locked deep away from his realm, his name struck from all records, to be remembered only as the Chained God, the Eater of Worlds. The only reason the Sun didn’t get the same treatment is because the Moon was created to sway him back to Khory’s side.”

“Those stories were lost before the rise of the Empire.” Ailith's voice took on a different pitch, a different accent. There was an unearthly glow to her and her robe billowed softly at the swirls of energy rising up from her. The bells on her skirt were silent. “They would not have been in the texts you speak of, child.”

She was channeling her goddess.

“My lady, if you didn't want someone to find out, you shouldn't have sent me someplace with a partially unbound avatar of the Eater of Worlds. Because when I gave up my death to save Odette, he took advantage of the missing pieces of me to fill up those holes with pieces of himself.”

“Oh child.” Isis took several steps from where Tae stood frozen in horror. Tae really hadn’t understood her bargain, then. The days spent digging up the bodies had given her time to think about it. Odette’s fate was hers. Elisar Ibryiil had exchanged their fates- Odette became fey as Petra had once been, and Petra left herself open to becoming the doom the avatar planned on inflicting on those who had imprisoned it, its fellows, and its greater aspect, the god himself. And now she was in the center of the largest Jaden complex, the heart of the entire faith. She’d already had practice in destroying two temples before, would it make her help destroy another?

“Don't ply me with false sympathy, my lady. Not when the silver sisters are called to you through the gift of foresight. You knew what would happen should someone go there, even if you could not see that place any more clearly than your faithful could. You just thought you'd hedged your bets well enough to keep us doing what you wanted. But you didn't count on us catching on to it and cluing your own faithful to what was going on. You needed the Jadens to use the Hekatonkheir to get Crunch here. To get us here. But Khory's creations have become nightmares for today's people. Ailith realized what had happened, what might still be happening, and she decided it needed to be stopped. And the only one she could sneak in was the likeliest one to set him off again- because the Protector’s symbol is the sun.”

“And what makes you so certain I did not request that of her as well?” the goddess asked, a cold smile on her lips.

“Because she's the best diviner the Isadors have ever had. She had the gift naturally. She and Edric were orphans, raised in one of the faith's orphanages. Edric had no special talents, merely a need to repay the kindness shown him, and he joined the laity. But Ailith had visions even before joining your clergy. That's why the Jadens coddled her so much, their ability to get out of her what they couldn't out of you.”

The goddess wasn't so uncouth as to make faces at her, but she could read the narrowed eyebrows all the same. “So many puzzles you've tried piecing together into one. I wonder if you understand the implications of what you see.”

“That you will do anything to keep your consort from creating another empire?” Tae said quietly.

Petra started at the interruption. She had gotten so focused on the goddess that she had completely forgotten the healer and the half-orc were there.

“The worst atrocities of Allekhor have been wiped from record, but I remember them well. And I will not stand by this time.”

“You could have found a way to ask,” Tae said. “Have you not seen what has been done already? There was no need for such tactics.”

“There were things that needed done.”

“Lives that needed lost, you mean,” Petra said angrily. “You had your chance, my lady. You squandered it.” The room felt like it was boiling hot.

Tae made a soft distressed noise, reaching a cautioning hand in her direction. She wondered what her friend saw.

“Then you will sit by and do nothing while Jadus incites his faithful to yet again spread and conquer, forcing all to convert or die? Finish destroying the power bases of the other gods so that he may reign supreme?” Ailith’s soft features contorted angrily as the goddess finally began to lose her temper as well.

“Not. Our. Problem.”

Tae placed her hand on the amulet at her neck and murmured a soft prayer. Ailith crumpled as power swept outwards from the healer. Petra recognized it as a banishing spell right before it hit her.

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