Virtue and Sin

Warning: Some content in this story may not be suitable for all readers due to implied unpleasantness.



The next morning found Meliantha in the chapel, kneeling, forehead against Chainbreaker’s crossguard. She breathed, and prayed, and in one of the things that was taught to her by Dathleene, let her mind move through her body, taking stock of it. She felt her muscles, made strong by dedication and practice. She felt her bones, supporting her form. She felt her skin – the calluses on hands from sword work, on feet from walking, running, and taking stances; the scars from battle. She let herself feel her body, even the empty places within her – she would never bear a child, never have her moon-times, and never had known the passionate touch of another. She felt the differences in her body – a heart that beat just a little faster than a normal person’s, eyes that saw through darkness as well as most elves. Ears that mostly got in the way of things – she couldn’t wear a helmet until she could get one custom-made to let them out.

She kept going, turning her mind farther inwards, and the world seemed to fade as she reached deeper inside herself. She did this from time to time, looking for places in her mind where she was weak – another skill taught to her by Dathleene – and recognizing them, so that they could not affect her. This time, she found something new: a very specific fear. The torture and the threats by the two had left a mark on her, and she recognized that. As she did so, the mark faded – her recognizing the fear had, she realized, taken away its power. She knew what they had done to her, and she accepted it, and with that acceptance came its failure to mean anything to her, to be a weapon to be used against her.

She came back to her full awareness, and rose from her kneeling position to standing. A moment’s work slid Chainbreaker into his scabbard, then strapped him to her back.

She stepped out of the chapel. Ravenbrow, two of the local priests (Rauthinger and Picodil), and Durtharr were waiting. “Ready, miss?” the last said.

“Indeed,” she said.

* * *

Members of the Purple Dragons and War Wizards had, in an intensive and somewhat brutal search, discovered the hiding place of the two: a hidden room under the warehouses of the House of Baerlear trading coster. (They hadn’t the motivation before, but the attack on the two Dragons and the direct orders of their commander pushed them to work a bit harder on it.)

They approached the hidden entrance to the room, on the south wall of the southernmost warehouse. The area was shaded by taller buildings except at noon, and none of the buildings had windows on this side, so it was easy to overlook. The five gathered, and Picodil did something to the door, allowing it to swing open and reveal a small cubby, and then to the left stairs going downwards. Meliantha gave him a look, and he smiled up at her.

“Wasn’t always a priest. Was a bad’un afore I got caught and sent to the prison. Heard the word of Helm from a wandering preacher, and came to the temple once I got out. Eh, Rauth, the special, eh?”

Rauthinger smiled, and reached out a hand towards Picodil. “Helm, quiet down this idiot, please.” Before Picodil could react, utter silence surrounded them. Picodil gestured at Meliantha, and she followed him down the stairs.

The area below was mostly stone, but with one crudely-set wooden wall, centered by a door. Facing away from the stairs, kneeling at a crude altar, was Norvin, apparently praying. Picodil touched one of the rings he wore, then moved like a blur up to Norvin. Before the defrocked priest had a moment to realize the sudden deepening of the silence around him, Picodil had slammed a sap into his head one, two, three times, and Norvin fell over like a sack of potatoes. It was a matter of moments to tie him up and gag him.

Through Chainbreaker, Meliantha reached out and called the others down. As they arrived, the enchanted silence faded, and they could hear a noise from the other side of the door. It sounded like someone howling in the grip of a nightmare, but the words they spoke were in some horrific language. Meliantha felt a chill as she realized she could understand him, then shook it out of her head, not wanting to listen.

The door slammed open then, and Felger stormed through, a blade in his hand, clad in the plate he’d been wearing before, without a helmet. His hair was greasy, his skin pale and a little shiny, and his eyes blazed on the edge of madness. In the center of the breastplate, the skull-on-purple sunburst symbol of Cyric was painted. He smiled, baring teeth that had not been well cared for. He looked around, saw Norvin on the ground, and sneered.

“I told you they would find us,” he said. “You should have let me take her!” He gestured with the hand without the sword at Meliantha, then turned to look at her. “Now I’ll kill you and dedicate your death to the Black Sun!”

Meliantha unsheathed Chainbreaker, and looked at the other four. “He’s mine,” she said. “I owe him.” Durtharr’s eyes narrowed, Ravenbrow’s namesake features lowered, and the two priests looked uncertain, but all four stood back to give them room, dragging Norvin with them by his legs.

With a dark, unsettling smile, Felger raised his blade, a piece of dark metal that was dull and nonreflective; etched into the crossguard was the symbol of Cyric. With a flourish and a blasphemous word, a blast of hideous green light flew towards Meliantha, limning her for a moment before fading. For herself, she raised Chainbreaker, whose edges began to almost throb in time with the green light from Felger’s blade. At that same moment, it gave off a pale white flash.

The two brought their blades to almost the same guard position, showing the training they both had from the same master.

“You can’t beat me,” Felger said, smirking. “I’ve been training since leaving the temple. Cyric sustains me, and his curse is on you.”

“I’ve never had a problem beating you before,” Meliantha taunted, “so that just makes it even.” She shifted her position slightly, watching for his reaction. “After all,” she continued, “you never had the skill or the talent to even be my equal. You needed to sell your soul just to be my equal from how you remember me. And in case you hadn’t paid attention – as you never did – I’ve been trained by more than one master.” She bared her teeth, looking more feral than he’d ever seen. “Come on. Prove you can at least make it worth the sweat.”

They faced each other for a moment, and then he took two steps forwards and struck at her. She parried his sword with the flat of hers, and he felt a strange, painful vibration in his hands as they clashed. A second swing, and they clashed again, his hands burning a little from the vibration. He launched into a furious offence, striking at her time and again, and this time she chose to avoid, letting him come after her, tire himself out. Indeed, whatever was going on, he was panting inside of a couple of minutes, while Meliantha, with her lighter armor and lack of waving (instead of carrying) eight pounds of metal. He struck recklessly, without any plan or tactic, letting her lead him around as he became more and more tired.

“Is that how Cyric sustains you?” she taunted, trying to get him angrier. “It looks like he can’t do a thing to help you.”

With a snarl, he reached out with one hand, the hand glowing with a black aura, and lunged at her. She moved, quickly, but even the brushing glance from it left her with a bloody burn in her shoulder and a feeling like she’d been clubbed in the head. With a laugh, he brought his blade around, only to have it blocked by her sheer reflexes.

She shook her head clear, and brought Chainbreaker up again. They clashed again, Meliantha working hard to ignore the pain in her shoulder, and then driving Chainbreaker into a gap in his side. He let out a cry of pain, backing up, and Meliantha took the advantage, using the strength she’d conserved and bringing it to him. She was faster, stronger, and even with the cirse, just better than him. A few more painful clashes of the blades, and a trick she’d learned from Storm took his sword and sent it clanging across the floor.

“You’re done,” she said. “The Dragons can take you, and the King’s Justice on you.” She spat on him. “My oaths are upheld. Helm’s blessing on this city.”

That last managed to enrage Felger beyond all reason. His hands burning with black flame, he charged Meliantha, screaming in the tongue of the Abyss. She sidestepped his charge, spun, and brought her blade down on the back of his neck, just below the helmet and above the gorget. With a hideous burning noise, Chainbreaker severed his head, the blade’s aura turning to a red fire. The wound cauterized, no blood came out, and the only sound was the paired noise of head and body hitting the floor separately.

“Wait!” cried Picodil, reaching for his holy symbol. “There’s still something there!” And there was – a black mist rising from the corpse, but becoming a shape instead of dispersing. It continued to rise, as a humanoid shape, a pair of green circles appearing where eyes might be. Norvin’s eyes were wide, and he was shaking and trying to say something, but his bindings and gag kept him from being understood, but the paleness and sweat on his face showed his fear.

Its’ voice was like a razor scraping hide clean of flesh, as the two green orbs looked at Norvin.

Your failure is almost forgivable. Almost.

A burst of hellish green fire leapt from one of the eyes of the shadow-thing and, in an instant, Norvin was gone. It then turned its gaze to Meliantha. Part of the area below the eyes shifted into what could only be thought of as a horrible, sanity-scraping smile.

Your father sends his regards.

Before any of them could take more than a step, it vanished, leaving the beheaded corpse behind.

* * *

“You could stay here,” Ravenbrow said.

Meliantha shook her head, placing the new shirt into her backpack. “No, I couldn’t. I hated them, but… what happened still bothers me. Was this all some kind of plot to get me here? What’s going on with my father, and why would he be involved otherwise? Too many questions, and it’s not fair to Arabel for me to bring the answers here.” She turned around, and sat down on the bed. “I need answers. Perhaps Shadowdale again, or maybe somewhere else. Daggerdale needs help.” She reached into her shirt, and pulled out her neckchain. A new symbol of Helm, and a small silver shield inset with two purple gems, hung from it – symbolizing her service to the Crown, and giving her certain special rights – and responsibilities if needed – within Cormyr.

Ravenbrow nodded, slowly. “You’ll always have a place here.” They were both distracted by a knock on the door, and a note passed in. “It’s yours,” Ravenbrow said, offering the scroll tube. Meliantha regarded the seal, broke it, opened the tube and read it. Her eyebrows went up.

“Well,” she said, “and my choice made for me. To Waterdeep for me, it seems. I’m summoned to Blackstaff Tower.”

As Meliantha left the inn, she did not notice Ravenbrow looking out the window and watching her go, so she didn’t see the curiously sad expression on the woman’s face as she went out of sight, heading for the caravans to hire on for the trip to Waterdeep.

* * *

The cave hidden deep under the abandoned house was dimly lit by a┬ápair of torches. A large, disheveled bed held a shapely form, which read a somewhat trashy book while waiting for… something. As she reached the point where she was about to just do something, damn anything else, there was the sudden appearance of a cloud of smoke through a crack in the ceiling, and it settled to the floor.

The cloud of smoke solidified into the shape of a man with bat-wings, a tail, and a pair of green-glowing eyes. Before doing anything else, he pulled the two eyes out of his head with a scream of pain. Tossing them into the fire, he snarled, then sat down. “I know it was needed, but I hate the fact that I need to wait for my eyes to grow back,” he complained.

“All part of the plan, Trevaxes,” the woman said as she sat up. She could have been Meliantha’s twin, except she was soft and rounded where Meliantha was muscular. “We needed to destroy the priest if things failed, and the beholder eyes were our best option.”

The incubus snorted, his eyes filling in slowly. “And that idiot killed the women instead of breeding us a new portal.”

The woman waved dismissively. “It was just a backup plan. Too much of you bled over into him. It was inevitable that he lost his mind. He was useful for our purposes, and the priest was good for feeling out other who might be willing to follow the master. As it stands, a number of the abyssal stelae are in motion. It will help our master when the time comes.” She rose from the bed. “And it will come soon enough.”

Posted by Meliantha Demonblood

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