The city was a nest of angry bees after a honey-loving bear’s visit. The patrols of hard-nosed guardsmen and their rude searches when they had been looking for Cael and Belon were nothing compared to the pressure they were applying to the city in the wake of the bombings. The guardsmen weren’t afraid to use the stick. They went down hard on suspected Nirmathi sympathizers, and anyone they thought might know anything. In a day, the somewhat civilized city transformed into a strict military state. The Guard declared late-night curfews and even recruited the help of the local mage school and their divination magic for the searches. Whoever was behind the bombings, their best cover was absolute anonymity. No-one in the city seemed to have the damndest idea who had killed over a fifty people. Nirmathi rebels were blamed, but that didn’t help the Guard one bit. Anyone could be the enemy, and in a weird way, this helped Cael and Belon instead. Focus moved away from them, though they still had to be careful.
As things were, finding a suitable place for a meeting had been difficult. Of all locations, Nyra had recommended Canorate’s Cathedral of Iomedae.
“It’s like the one in Magnimar”, Belon noted as he gazed up towards the curving ceilings of the central dome lighted by everburning torches and came out of invisibility.
“Empty as a rain barrel after a drought, though”, Cael replied. Dead silence, dusty corners and the scent of a few burning candles greeted them.
They had helped themselves in through an unguarded side entrance. Cael assumed they wouldn’t mind the broken lock too much. He had heard of the cult’s troubles in the city, but he found it pitiful that a holy place of a military organization had such weak security. As if the place had been vacated. But as it was, it made for a perfect place to meet in safe privacy.
It was close to midnight and Cael could see only one soul present. Nyra Sunn kneeled by the central altar and the massive statue of Iomedae, longsword resting on the slab of black marble beside her. She had her head down and held her hands together in prayer. For once, she was without her plate.
In almost lockstep, the brothers started towards her.
“I hope She gives you all the help we’ll need”, Cael called out as he pulled back his hood. She deigned not to give him an answer but eased herself up.
When she turned to face the brothers, Cael could see the change in her. As if someone had sharpened her severity like a blade, and hammered all the joy off her.
“Well met, brothers”, she began. At least she still sounded ten years younger than she was.
“Nyra”, Belon replied, wearing the same silly smirk when he had ogled the pretty girl in Fort Thorn. As if smiles would make things better.
The paladin didn’t smile. “Tell me, and be honest – did you have a role in the bombings? Are you Nirmathi rebels?”
Cael’s answer was quick and level. “No.” She was covering her bases. Smart.
“Do you know anything about them?”
Nyra tilted her head to the side, as if she was trying to discern lies, but Cael’s damaged face betrayed none. Thankfully, his brother kept his tongue. Belon was a well-meaning man, but the war was a distraction. Nothing to be worried about. Hells, it was just that the Nirmathi pulled the Molthuni’s noses off their own powdered asses to smell the realities of war. Actually, after breaking the weremonsters loose, they fucking deserved it and all the hell they were given.
A petty man would’ve found joy in the Molthunis’ plight but Cael was not a petty man. But there was poetic justice in it.
“Very well. Do you have a sound plan for us?”
The scarred Greymarsh nodded. “We have a window of opportunity tomorrow to get into the Horryn estate.”
“Our contact is delivering goods for the House, and their shipment is big enough that we can slip a handful of people inside in crates.” Saying it aloud made it sound stupid. Smuggling people in. But it was all they had. Cael was certain a straight-backed paladin of Iomedae would not agree to such a clandestine plan.
“Fine. How many crusaders can I take with me?”
Cael raised a curious eyebrow. “No more than ten.”
Nyra sighed. “Good. At least we don’t have to consider a frontal assault, given the mess Canorate is in.”
“It would be still extremely helpful for us.”
“My company is quarantined in the Imperial barracks”, Nyra grimaced, “since whoever bombed those soldiers and Abadarans were wearing the colors of my creed.”
“We heard”, Belon joined the conversation, sounding like it was his fault.
“So any large-scale movements my company makes will be through the city gates and nothing more.”
“How did you get out of the barracks?” Belon asked.
Nyra smiled weakly. “Let’s say I have a history of sneaking out at night.”
How sweet, Cael thought. “You can however bring clerics with you, to combat the sorceress, can’t you”, he asked.
“I’ll bring my most experienced and powerful magic caster. Tresh Stormborn has fought evil for two decades. And don’t worry about the rest of my crusaders. I’ll take my best ten, and we can get out unnoticed.”
“I hope that’s enough.”
“It is. After we’ve gained entrance, what then?”
“We’ll attack Horryn first, deal with him and his bodyguard, then find your man and the other captives.”
“We vanish”, Cael told a white lie. “I don’t know about you. If we’re lucky and quick enough, we won’t get the entire House garrison against us. We might even get out through the front door.”
Nyra frowned but said nothing.
After a few minutes spent discussing the details of the plan and agreeing on next steps, Cael felt confident the Iomedans could actually be of use. With Galicus’s help, the plan felt solid. Soon, Cael would get to Horryn, reclaim what he had stolen and put an end to him, for good. Then he’d blow up the place and kill every last member of the House.
The thought was intoxicating. He couldn’t wait.
He found himself balling his fists, so hard the knuckles hurt. The Mark of Wrath tingled on his brow, forcing out a few tiny beads of sweat, but didn’t appear.
For a second, he had forgotten all about Aurora and Gabriella.
“We’re done here?” He asked, aghast and ashamed, releasing the stranglehold of his vengeful dreams.
Soon it will be over, a warm, friendly voice told him.
“I think so”, Nyra replied, eyeing Cael with suspicion. The scarred half-elf paid it no heed and spun towards the side doors they had come through. Five or so steps later he noticed his brother wasn’t following.
“How are you faring, Nyra?” He heard his brother ask the paladin. Cael sighed, but didn’t slow down. His sharp hearing allowed him to hear their exchange from the opposite side of the empty cathedral, if it came to that. So he pulled up his hood and continued.
“I.. I’m alright. I appreciate your concern, Belon.”
“I mean, I sympathize with the troubles you might have. I don’t know anything about life as a paladin of a deity but I can imagine working in such secrecy is not usual.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“It will be alright at the end, Nyra, I promise you. I’m certain Horryn and whatever he is planning is the reason your goddess sent you here. And we will come through this, together.” Really, Belon?
“I know, it’s just-” Something made her hesitate.
“What?” Belon asked.
“It would’ve all been easier if I had only left my company camp outside the gates, and ridden in with my select few when the time had been right.”
“A hero arriving at the neck of time”, Belon said with a chuckle. Gods, brother, be a bit less syrupy. “It would’ve been harder for us to meet had you been out there.”
“That’s true.” Cael could hear the smile in the paladin’s words. “Tell me, Belon, why now? Why are you here now?”
“Horryn has wanted us dead the day we got away from him. We’ve evaded his hunters for years, until..”
Don’t, brother. Cael felt his brother’s eyes on his back.
“Until he found a way to strike at us without getting at us. He killed Cael’s loved one and their daughter, and stole their souls, to provoke us to return.”
Of all the bland words Belon had said to her, this truth seemed to move her. It made Nyra’s clear voice heavier, as if it had finally pushed her mind over something.
“He truly is a monster.”
Cael had reached the doors and stood waiting, watching the two. By the massive golden statue basking in the light of a dozen torches, the paladin looked sideways at him. But she said nothing. Belon looked back at Cael too, and Cael could see the plea in his blue eyes to spill the rest of the things they had not told her.
We all have our secrets, he told them in his head.
“Time to go, brother.”