Hunt - Chapter Twenty-Four
~ 24 ~
24 Arodus, 4692 AR; Tower of Estrod, Kenabres

“How is the â€~sneak in and take them by surprise’ plan working now?†Strune asked, an annoyed tone in her struggling voice.

She stood at the very bottom of the spiral stairs leading up to the ground floor of the tower. Two cultists, wearing black robes with red threading and embroidering, lashed out from their spots a couple of steps up from her with their glaives. Her shield blocked both attacks, each letting loose with a shower of orange sparks as they connected. Not even the light shining from the sparks would let her see under the hoods, the surely artificial shadow obscuring everything but the tips of their noses. The only thing she could tell were that they were both elves by the long ears threatening to rip from their hoods.

Hearing a grunt from behind her, Strune turned as fast as she could make her weakened body move and raised her shield. More sparks shot out as a great force slammed into her shield, nearly sending her to her knees. The tiefling pulled back his morningstar, a spherical mace with spikes jabbing out of it, and held it over his head, ready to bash down upon the horribly defenseless strix woman.

The twang of a bowstring saved her. An arrow, with green and brown fletching, pierced the half-demon’s hardened forearm, spilling black blood onto the stone floor of the Tower of Estrod’s basement. Following the arrow was a white furred form leaping at the man. He pulled his mace down across his body so that the wolf’s jaws closed around the wooden staff of the mace. They jerked back and forth a couple of times before he tossed the wolf aside. It landed on its side on top of the makeshift desk, sending both wolf and wood crashing to the ground.

“I say it is working a lot better than your â€~charge in’ plan would have.†Kaira growled, “They were obviously expecting us, and watchful prey are impossible to kill.†She pulled back her prepared arrow and let loose at the cultists on the stairs. Both of them managed to avoid the shaft but it gave Strune the chance she needed to get to her feet, “At least we were able to get them in a rather disadvantageous position before we attacked.â€

Huffing out pained breaths, Strune started muttering a soft prayer to Iomedae. She could feel her patron goddess answer through the palm of her hand, which started glowing with a pulsating golden light. The concentration needed to form the holy spell was too great and the cultists let out laughs. Their glaives bit into her armor, the metal staving off most of the damage. However, she could feel some blood flow from her side. That did not prevent her from completing the prayer, though, and she pressed her hand against her own chest.

Holy energy coursed through her body, destroying some of the foul magic the tiefling attacked her with. Strune could feel her strength returning slowly. However, the damage the tiefling did was too much for one Lesser Restoration to heal. So, when she stood back up to face the cultists on the stairs, she could hold her shield without shaking, but her body was still ready to crumple.

The tiefling was now focused fully on Blueeye. With a naturally hoarse yell, he swung down the morningstar two handed. One of the spikes on it left a line of red forming on the white fur, but Blueeye did not even notice it as he went low and latched onto the tiefling’s ankle. As if she had read the wolf’s mind, Kaira let loose with an arrow that sank deep into the other ankle. The arrow did not trap him to the floor, but it effectively crippled him. So, when he tried to kick the wolf away, he had to place weight onto the now injured ankle and almost stumbled.

Strune saw her opportunity and took it.

With a struggling yell, she spun around raising her blade. The cultists behind her saw their chance and stabbed forward with their glaives. Both landed hits, piercing through her armor and shallowly digging into her back. She did her best to ignore them as she swung her weapon downward onto the tiefling.

Metal met wood, letting out a deep thunk and sending wood splinters outward. The tiefling let out a laugh as he twisted, throwing the warpriest away from the stairs and toward the center of the room. She landed on her shoulder, nearly sending it out of socket, and her breath blasted from her lungs followed by groans.

“You think that you can fight me, Faxon, in your state, worshipper of doomed gods?†He limped toward the fallen strix, “The pantheon of gods will be destroyed, molded and reshaped! The Demon Lords will see to it!†Strune rolled onto her back to find the morningstar falling toward her face, “And you will see it from the Ethereal Plane, unable to save your precious goddess!â€

Strune watched as the morningstar fell. Then she found that Faxon was falling as well, influenced by Blueeye’s ability to trip his foes. With effort, she threw her head to the side, feeling the stone where it was before shatter and hit her cheek. What little breath she had escaped again when the tiefling fell right on top of her. She could feel him struggle, but she used the last of her strength to tighten her hold around him.

“Tell your men to back off.†She growled, “Or by Iomedae’s light I will burn you right here and now.â€

To add to the threat, she started praying to Iomedae, louder than she normally does. Answering her prayer, her hand started glowing with that golden light again. Normally, Strune did not prepare this particular spell. But, knowing that she would be a part of the teams sent out to investigate the Templar bases, she added a prayer for Inflict Light Wounds just in case. She knew that it would not kill the tiefling, but she hoped that she could either threaten him, or stall until Kaira was ready to help her.

Her hopes were squashed when he let out a soft laugh, “You think that a threat and a light show will work on me?†Without any warning, he placed a hand on her head and hissed out a word.

Pain. Indescribable pain coursed down Strune’s body. It shuttered uncontrollably, her voice coming out in soft rasps. Yet, she did not release Faxon. With a raspy cry out to Iomedae, she gripped naked, scaly flesh and released the spell held in her hand. She had expected a cry of pain from the form on top of her, but instead all she got was another laugh.

“Let him go, Strune!†Kaira yelled.

Letting out a growl, Strune did the exact opposite. Enduring the pain the tiefling was sending at her, she pawed around her, trying to find Radiance. After an excruciating amount of seconds, she finally found the grip of some kind of weapon. Without even looking at it, she palmed it backhanded and thrust it into Faxon, who was just laughing away as he kept his hand on her head.

She heard the splatter of blood against her gauntlet and felt some droplets against her cheek. The laughing was replaced with gurgling chuckling. Faxon’s head, now listless, dropped onto her’s and an inaudible whisper could be heard before he breathed his last.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Do you have any idea what a â€~Nahyndrian Crystal’ or who â€~Vorlesh’ is?†Strune asked.

The horseshoes of Landria under her clomped against the charred and cracked stone of Kenabres. Saddlebags to either side of the horse were full of feed for the horse as well as the supplies the pair retrieved from the Tower after killing the rest of the cultists. Kaira rode next to her, Hawthorn letting out a horse huff from his nose. Blueeye, between the pair, let out an answering bark.

“No idea.†Kaira answered, “Why do you ask?â€

“Both are mentioned in this missive from a…†she looked down at the rumpled parchment in her hand, “â€~Minagho,’ yet another name I do not know.â€

Kaira shook her head, “If you do not know, there is not much we can do about it now. We can ask Irabeth when we return to the inn.â€

Strune sighed, “I guess so.†She folded up the parchment and placed it inside one of the books she grabbed out of interest from the Tower, “But as a Warpriest of Iomedae and a Crusader, I should know about them.â€

Kaira blinked, “Even though we only just heard about them?â€

“Maybe I have read about them before.†She retorted defensively, “I took my studies rather seriously, you know.â€

“That, I have no doubt.†Kaira answered.

Strune gave her a sideways grin. Ever since she and Kaira worked together to get her strength back after Faxon sapped it away, she had been a lot more peppy and energized, “I actually have a question for you.â€

Kaira nodded, “I was wondering why you asked me along.â€

Strune flashed another grin, “Besides your hunter skills?â€

The hunter nodded, “Yes. For attacking a tower, you could have easily taken Mordria or Snaga. Even Shayliss would have been a better pick than me. All of them have close quarters fighting experience. At least better training than me. So, you had a goal for bringing me with you.â€

Strune raised her eyebrows, surprised, “Wisdom. I like that.†She took a deep breath, “I wanted to ask why you wanted to join the Crusade.â€

Kaira did not hesitate, “What do you mean?â€

“Well,†Strune hedged, “I already know, or can work out, the motivations of everyone else. Shayliss said with certainty that she was not going to join the Crusade at all. That she only came with me to find her lover. But I have a feeling that Iomedae has another plan for her. Snaga, silent as he is, is also an open book. His past and present brought him here to determine exactly who he is. Mordria is most likely trying to stave off the stigma of her race and I was born into it by generations of strix before me.â€

She turned to look at Kaira, “But you are not so easy to figure out. You hide yourself behind layers of subtle misdirection. Your eyes give me nothing, and you do not seem to have much motivation for being here.â€

Kaira said nothing. For long minutes, the only thing that could be heard between them were the clomps of hooves against stone and the small pants from the wolf. Strune was about to say something else when Kaira finally piped up.

“You want to make sure I do not betray the Crusade. Is that it? Chaleb and the Corrupted Crusaders in the square are eating at you more than Shayliss.â€

Strune did not respond. She did not think she would be able to without snapping at the hunter or burst out crying.

Seeing her reaction, Kaira nodded, “I understand.†She looked up to the sky, “I am looking for someone.â€

Strune blinked and gazed at Kaira, “Someone? Who?â€

Kaira moved her gaze down to Blueeye and says nothing. But Strune was able to find the answer she needed from the hunter’s eyes. This was the first time that those orbs were vulnerable and she was able to practically see into the woman’s soul.

“I see.â€

“What do you mean?†Kaira asked, returning her look to Strune.

“You are unsure of who you are looking for. And uncertain of why you are. There is conflict in your eyes now.â€

Those eyes locked back up, returning to their neutrality, “I have no idea what you are talking about.â€

Strune only nodded and remained silent as they rode back to Defender’s Heart.
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