Hunt - Chapter Four
~ 4 ~
16 Arodus 4692 AR; Temple of Torag Courtyard
Fearing the worst, Shayliss yelled, "Strune! Go!"
Strune was already moving though. Her plated feet clanged against the stone of the temple as she ran as fast as she could outside. Mordria and Kaira, with Blueeye, were close behind, rounding the corner of the antechamber to head around the back of the temple. Slower than them, Shayliss and Snaga took the rear.
When she left the confines of the temple, she could more clearly hear what the noises were: shouting. But the shouts were not mixed in with other combat sounds. They were on their own which made Shayliss wonder what exactly was going on. Rounding around the last corner of the temple, she got her answer.
Out in the courtyard of the temple stood Anevia, Aravashnial and Horgus as they were when she entered the temple. Anevia's bow lay unattended on the ground along with the arrow that was nocked into it. With the way it was positioned, Shayliss suspected that she had tossed it aside.
The archer was leaning forward in anger, her face red and contorted into a snarl. In her line of sight was Horgus, face also reddened but also shocked, as if he had been suddenly slapped. He moved forward with his hand upraised but by then Strune had reached them and made herself a barrier between them.
"You dare call me faithless you dirt-chomping thief?" Horgus snarled, "I do not know why the city tolerates such a combination of freak, promiscuous harlot and gold-palms."
"Excuse me?" Anevia fought to get past Strune. Despite her strength and balance, the strix was having a difficult time holding the woman back. "I guess I should not be surprised that one that hides his faith, if he has one at all, would go to insulting one's lifestyle. Especially since hiding one's faith is just as if they were consorting with demons themselves."
"No wonder you and your freak of a lover get along so well. You both spout on utter nonsense!"
By then Shayliss had reached Anevia's side. The red-haired woman did not say anything, but pulled Anevia back from the conflict. Anevia was anything but willing and fought tooth and nail to try and hit Horgus. That struggling, plus the woman's awkward leg, made it difficult for Shayliss but she eventually got the woman toward a pile of rocks. As she directed Anevia to sit, the crippled woman was just then starting to cool down. Her breaths were coming out hard and in long hisses.
"I do not understand that man." Anevia growled, "Who does he think his is to say such things?"
Shayliss looked up at Horgus. He was having what looked like a conversation with Strune. His face was still red and he was yelling at the strix. The two women were far enough away that the echoes did not bounce to them, but Shayliss could imagine what the man was saying to Strune. She, in a great show of willpower, only calmly listened to Horgus' ramblings.
Mordria and Kaira had moved to the entrance of the courtyard to watch for anything that wanted to attack. The fiend-blooded woman looked as if she wanted to punch something while Kaira remained carefully neutral. Snaga, like a child who wanted to get away from two parents fighting, made his way to the temple, shutting the door once he was inside. At this point, it was only Strune and Shayliss who were involved with the fight.
"I know what you mean." Shayliss said, "What started it?"
Anevia put on a very fake and overblown imitation of Horgus' voice, "You are really slowing us down. It may be best to part ways."
Shayliss narrowed her eyes, "Ah." She turned to look at Anevia, "How are you holding up anyway?"
Anevia sighed which seemed to let loose a lot of her tension, "I don't know. The idea that my home is being destroyed an unknown distance above me is killing me."
"It is about your husband as well, right?"
The expression that formed on Anevia's face made Shayliss instantly regret asking the question. It was something that she had seen many times in the mirror. A look of pure pain and anguish about the unknown state of a loved one. Shayliss was about to get up and leave Anevia alone when the woman whispered, "Wife, actually."
Shayliss blinked in surprise but shifted her weight back down to be sitting.
"How did you know?" Anevia asked.
Shayliss sighed, "I am in the same boat. My love has been missing for two years."
This time it was Anevia who blinked, "Two years? You have really been searching for her for two whole years?"
"What else am I supposed to do? Just let her go?" She shook her head, "I can't."
Sure you can. She did it to you. If you keep trying to hold on to something that volatile, you will die. Your damn chest is a testament to that! Shayliss' chest burned with hell-fire and it took all of her willpower just to hold back her grimace of pain.
She barely noticed Anevia shake her head furiously, "Oh no! I did not mean that! It is just a surprise that someone can hold so much devotion. I am actually kind of jealous."
"Strune said sort of the same thing." Shayliss responded with a cracky voice, "Said that not many would do such a thing. Especially with a destination so close to the Worldwound."
"I have to agree. It takes a lot of bravery to come out here." Anevia said quietly.
Shayliss shook her head and looked up. Horgus, still talking with Strune, had finally calmed down. He was talking at what seemed to be a normal volume and Strune had a smile on her face.
"We may be close to calm now." Anevia muttered, anger still hinted in her tone.
Shayliss nodded, "We will give Strune a bit longer then head on. I want to get out of these caves as soon as possible."
As soon as she finished her statement, Horgus moved away from Strune to sit on a rock himself. Shayliss motioned for Anevia to stay seated and moved over to the Strix. With each step, the red-haired woman could see the details of strain that marred black skin. Creases had formed on her forehead and did not seem to go away no matter what expression was on the woman's face. Her hands were clenched tighter than they should have been and her eyes were downcast. Those dark lips moved as if she was muttering to herself. However, when Strune saw Shayliss walking toward her, she made a visible effort to control herself.
"Trouble getting him to relax?" Shayliss asked in a whisper that should not have traveled far even in this cavern.
Strune nodded slightly, "Yes. But my words seem to be working. How can I help you, dear?"
"I was just wondering when you think we will be ready to head out."
"Oh, it won't be for a few hours yet." She said it in a very matter of fact tone. As if she had just said that fish could swim.
Shayliss blinked, "What do you mean?"
Aravashnial, who had been sitting down nearby, perked his pointed ears up and turned toward the pair's general direction like a dog who has caught an interesting sound.
Strune gave Aravashnial a smile, "You think I am going to leave this temple corrupted as it is? No! I am going to spend the time to consecrate it and return it to what glory it was at before."
Shayliss sighed. She should have seen that coming. There was no way a devout follower of any god would leave a temple in a ruined state. But she tried to fight it anyway.
"What about the surface? The longer we stay down here, the more we risk rising up into nothing."
It was only there for a fraction of a second, but Shayliss saw the flash of pain and worry fly across the strix's face. Seeing it sent a pang through Shayliss but she did not try to back down, "Look at them." Shayliss waved a hand at the three survivors, "You can see the strain on their faces. They want to get home!"
Strune did. That flash of emotion grew, but she shook her head, "No. I know their pain. And I wish to return as fast as possible as well." A sudden steely will entered her. It straightened her back and contorted her face into something fierce, "But I will not abandon holy ground such as this."
Blue hot fire blazed within Shayliss. The anger entered her head and flowed over her vision. Her hand clenched into a fist and she nearly slammed it into the woman's face. It must have shown on her face as Strune took a cautious step back.
The brand burned furiously as she growled, "If the demons succeed at their plan, whatever it may be, there will be no holy ground to sanctify."
Strune stared at her for a second, but then said with an iron hard voice, "I will not back down."
Shayliss felt the fire blaze and spark like a forge. Yet, something in her mind clicked and that forge started to die down. If she was not going to back down, then might as well help get the work done faster.
"Fine." Shayliss growled, "Let's get it done and over with then."
Eight hours of hard labor later, the work was done. Strune had been muttering prayer after prayer under her breath. As she did, a soft glow seemed to emanate from her and everything she touched. Shayliss had moved rubble to the walls of the room, keeping any of it out of anyone's way. She worked silently, trying to keep her annoyance from boiling over, the brand burning ever more. Anevia had even come to assist, muttering her own prayers. She did not glow like Strune did, but that did not demotivate her. With her leg, she could not do much, but what she could do she did with a will.
Horgus kept to himself, completely out of the room. He sat on one of the surviving benches in the antechamber, hands on his chin, staring at what he probably thought was total nonsense. Aravashnial sat next to him, hands clasped together as if waiting politely. The others were out and about, either scouting around waiting just outside the temple.
By the sixth hour of work, Shayliss, Horgus and Aravashnial were all out. Shayliss was asleep leaning against the stone door leading to the antechamber. Her breaths came out in tiny snores and a spittle of drool was inching out of her mouth. Horgus was curled forward as if he just toppled over and Aravashnial leaned his head back against the wall.
It was only Strune and Anevia left standing. They were taking a small break before continuing the last stretch of work. Each sat on a stable pew pushed against the walls of the room.
"I saw you two arguing." Anevia whispered.
Strune looked back at Shayliss and nodded, "Yeah. That girl has a fire in her."
"I was surprised." Anevia said, "She normally seems so meek and timid. Yet I could practically feel the heat from her."
"You weren't right in front of her." Strune let out a small chuckle, "When she gave me that look, I thought she was going to pounce on me right then and there. It was as if she was a demon ready to tear at my throat."
Anevia let that sink in for a bit. She shook her head, "I saw her at the attack. Even then she kept a cool head about her. The anger she showed only hours ago was something different."
"I think she holds back her emotions. Bottles them up like a potion. That's why when she nearly attacked me you could feel it about to burst."
Anevia shook her head again, "I don't think so. Have you ever noticed her suddenly flinch, as if something was burning her?"
Strune blinked and turned to look at the sleeping girl again, "No. I haven't."
"She did it twice while we were in the tunnels and at least once while we talked. So, I have been watching her a bit while we were cleaning up here."
"Oh?" The strix turned back to look at Anevia, "What did you see?"
"It is not obvious," Anevia said looking down at her open palms, "And she works hard to hide it. But when she bends down, you can get a glimpse at her chest."
Strune's face started to heat up in embarrassment, "Oh?"
Anevia laughed, "Don't worry. I have a bit more excuse than you do." She sobered up quickly, "On her chest are scar lines. Like something was branded onto her. Like she was cattle."
"Could you see what it was?"
Anevia shook her head and let out a slow breath, "No. I do have my fears though."
Strune nodded, "I see. But why do you bring it up in the first place?"
"Because she may be in danger. If something has an influence over her, it is only a matter of time before she succumbs to it."
"And it may explain the sudden rage." Strune said, "Making people angry or depressed are the most popular ways for demons to influence someone."
"We need to keep an eye on her."
Strune looked back, "Maybe. For now we keep this to ourselves. We don't want to scare her."