Rhiallis: Graves

      Today’s snippet, titled “Graves”, is a piece I wrote about my PC in Mark’s Pathfinder Campaign.
      Be forewarned, there may be mature themes and naughty language below.
– – – – – – – – – – –
      “There,” Mira pointed, “Can’t you see it? A secret door.”
      Rhiallis squinted. She could just make out the fine outline – maybe. Nodding, she smiled and hoped that no one could tell she was unable to see it.
      Graves sat up, straddling the pew, and leaned one elbow upon a knee, heavily. “No rest for the weary, eh?”
      “We do need to regroup, but-” Rhiallis glanced to Celeste for corroboration. “I think we have to see what’s through this door first.”
      “Absolutely. We cannot leave our rear unguarded.”
      Someone – likely Sardones – snickered at Celeste’s comment and Rhiallis was suddenly so weary. It was not that she did not like her companions, though certainly she cared for some more than others, but just that she missed her old life and her old friends. She missed her only childhood friends, Janvia and Guily, who she had not seen since she fled Ninyas at age twelve and were either white-haired elders or deceased by now; Gretti, Widow Hammond, and Lukila from Surdar, the first adult friends she had had, and the first people to love her just for her; Seraphina and Ema, friends who embraced the spirit of the Crusade and had trained with her, making her feel like a youth once more and had perished just weeks past.
      “Stand ready, we’re opening it in three, two, one!”
      Rhiallis, pushed back from her customary spot in the second rank by the arrival of Niro, who was much more martially adept, held her blade at the ready and spared a thought for its previous owner. Kumiko, I hope you are at peace with your King in your own homeland…
      “Damn.” Celeste’s voice echoed queerly from within the chamber and as they began to shuffle in, Rhiallis could see why.
      The chamber was small but some strange quirk of construction let sound waves bounce back and forth unnaturally. It had been looted to the gills, even the two massive marble statues had had precious metals and stones chipped off. A few smashed barrels and chests indicated that there had once been many fine treasures tucked away here – a keen eye could see the lingering impression of coins and bars in several of the velvet-lined coffers.
      “Demons are greedy buggers. They must’ve found this vault and robbed it blind awhile ago.” Graves kicked a foot at the dusty floor in frustration. “Don’t think this is where they kept the Sword, though. Something like that would have to be much better hidden. No offense Mira.”
      “None taken,” Mira said and shrugged affably. “Maybe there’s another room somewhere else.”
      “Like, right here?” Korael touched a section of the stone wall with one finger. Her nail traced the faint outline of a second secret door, scratching lightly at it. “No really, is this another one?”
      Mira moved forward and began to systematically check for traps. After a few moments she turned back to the group and shook her head. “Seems clear.”
      Again, they lined up and readied themselves for battle. The secret door slid slowly open and musty air billowed out. Within, there was no movement and Graves stepped inside. She gasped.
      “The Sword.”
      The second vault at the heart of Drezen’s cathedral held neither coin nor gem. Instead, there were five tall, armored statues. Rather than enamel, they were clad in real steel armor – somewhat dusty but otherwise untouched by age. Four flanked the chamber, proud and strong. It swelled her heart to see their valiant poses. On the south wall was a tattered tapestry in red and gold. On the north was an alabaster altar, a hunk of gorgeous cream stone that was so pure it could only belong in a holy place, and behind that, the fifth statue. A woman’s form, posed to raise a metal rod, wearing steel – it was a beautiful piece. Upon the rod hung an ornate banner. Magnificently detailed needlework crafted the image of a longsword, point down, before a sunburst. Rhiallis felt her heart stop for a moment, the same surge of faith she had experienced when she had first seen the succubus masquerading as Iomedae.
      As they filed in, Aimsley frowned and tapped Rhiallis’ shoulder as if to speak. In that same moment, Graves reached for the banner and as her hand brushed the fabric, one of the flanking statues reached for her.
      “It’s not even,” Aimsley said, even as the thing shifted forms before their eyes, bashing Graves with an amorphous limb. “Magic.”
      There was no time to question her, no time to think. Graves was trapped by some queer adhesive and the others had leapt to her defense. A weapon became stuck to the thing as well and Rhiallis hesitated before drawing Snowblood’s Vengeance.
      “Mimics!” Sardones cursed. “They’re mimics.”
      A second formless limb struck at Mira; one of the armored statues on the opposite wall had animated as well.
      Drawing the cold iron longsword she wore on her off-hip was awkward, but she managed and free it from its sheath and charged into the fray. Somehow, though the statue-mimics were slow as molasses in winter, she could not connected. Twice her blade caught nothing but air upon its finely honed edge.
      To her left, with a feral squeal that was at once gleeful and terrifying, Mira slid betwixt the legs of one statue and dealt it a blow that – were it a living humanoid male – would ensure the beast never reproduced in a traditional manner (boom go da nuts). It slumped almost imperceptibly and did not move again.
      Spellfire blazed to her right and as Rhiallis swung again, she overcompensated for her previous attacks and missed again. Roaring, Graves freed Radiance from the sticky goo and surged forward with holy energy flowing from her every pore. Radiance ripped through the thing’s flesh, burning the fiendish spirit and sending it to whatever hideous afterlife awaited it. Rhiallis’ eyes were drawn to the glimmering golden blade as if it were a magnet and her golden eyes were made of steel.
      After a moment to check that everyone’s wounds were tended, Aimsley and Sardones cast their arcane sight around the room to detect the presence of magic aura.
      “See?” Aimsley nudged Sardones, who nodded. “It isn’t even magic. That can’t be the Sword of Valor, it isn’t enchanted at all. Nice, but just…yeah, not magical. And The Sword is an artifact of the church. It should be blinding.”
      “Like that sword,” Sardones jutted his chin toward Radiance, which Graves was wiping clean. “Or those teeth. Or that bloody book in your pack, Rhiallis. That could do some permanent damage, its so bright with auras. Good thing you keep it hidden, mostly.”
      “It sure bruised Jensen’s ego, at least.” Mira snickered.
      Rhiallis glanced down at the jawbone hanging around her neck. It was a tremendously powerful object, but it paled in comparison to the Lymrian Discourses, safely wrapped in several layers of silk inside her enchanted pack. At least in there it won’t blind the unwary ally who attempts to detect magical auras, though perhaps it would make an unpleasant surprise for any enemy doing the same, she thought with a mischevious smile.
      “So, it isn’t The Sword. Damn. But this chamber – this has to be where it belongs. This is where we gotta bring it when we find it.”
      Celeste nodded. —
      “Anything other than us magic in here?”
      Aimsley cast her gaze around once more at Korael’s question and then pointed to one of the four flanking statues. It had not animated upon approach, so it remained tall and proud where the two that had were now slightly slumped. Niro began unstrapping the buckles and piling the pieces neatly at the base of the statue.
      “The others?”
      “No. Just that one.”
      “It was made for a paladin,” Sardones said, drawing a finger along the finely etched steel chest piece. “It seems that it will grant divine protection and allow him to heal more often.”
      Him, Rhiallis pursed her lips. Naturally, he thinks only men are real paladins. Three capable, competent – no, extraordinary, incredibly talented – female paladins standing in the same room and he says him that way.
      “Heal more often, eh?” Graves crossed her arms and shifted her weight to one side in the manner that indicated she was mulling something over. Rhiallis’ eyes moved briefly to Radiance in its scabbard at her friend’s hip and then with difficulty she dragged her attention back to Celeste and Graves, who were discussing the armor’s fate.
      “I mean, Niro’s plate is enchanted anyway,” Celeste was saying in her most reasonable voice. “But he doesn’t have the power to Lay Hands on anyone anyway. I say Rhiallis should have it. She’ll make the best use of its power.”
      Korael paused, unbuckling the mundane plate from a different statue, and smiled. “She is the one most likely to make good use of that skill.”
      “Its just too bad it wasn’t a short sword,” Mira patted her weapon hilts. “But I think you’re right about that.”
      The party commenced denuding the statues, though only afterward Rhiallis began to feel strange about doing so for the armor was not just common loot, as adventurers might claim. It was part of the holy chamber’s decor, it rightly belonged to Drezen and in her restored state, would likely need to be returned. At least, for now, she thought, sliding another piece into her sack, the enemy cannot make use of it against us. We can discuss gifting it back to Drezen after all this is done and we rule the city again.
      Sardones was chomping on an improvised meal of dried beef sandwiched between two hunks of trail bread with globs of innocuous-looking beige-colored garlic mustard dribbling down his fingers when Graves suggested resting in the secret chamber rather than the cathedral, as they had intended.
      “Only one exit,” Niro said, thoughtfully. “Defensible.”
      There was not much room to spread out, but the vault was the most secure place they had come across since entering the Citadel. Those taking later watches rolled out their beds and tried to get comfortable. Rhiallis no longer needed to sleep, though she knew sometimes she would still lay and close her eyes and sleep, if only for the comfort the ritual afforded her. She found that she no longer required food or water either, but whatever energies fueled her instead could not satisfy the need to do the simple tasks of life. If she did not, Rhiallis knew she would only feel more alien and ‘other’. And Iomedae knows how often I’ve dwelled on feelings like that before… being so similar, and yet just so… inhuman.
      “I’m gonna sit up on that altar,” Mira said quietly, “Keep watch from the high ground.”
      Aimsley chuckled and motioned to the back corner. “I want to stay out of the way, back here.”
      “I’ll be just by the door then. We can switch later, if you want.”

* * *

      The hours dragged on.
      Soft sighs, snoring, and the shuffling sounds of sleep echoed like thunder in the silent citadel. Rhiallis closed her eyes briefly, trying to push them out of her mind. She was a social animal and craved good company, but at that moment, she wanted few things more than an hour or two of privacy – real privacy, without a few thousand people in tents all around her as far as the eye could see – and maybe a hot, lavender-scented bath.
      And Viggo, she forced her eyes open. Always Viggo.
      Shadows stretched long and languid across the stone floor and upon the walls, cast by mage spells and enchanted objects rather than candles or torches. She frowned, tilting her head. For a moment, she thought one had rippled much as it would if a breeze caught a flame and set it to flickering.
      In the next heartbeat, it occurred to her that there were neither flames nor breezes in this chamber and her pulse quickened. Like with Mytra… those shadows!
      “There’s a shadow moving here – a shadow in the shadows!” Her cry sounded louder than she intended and as she drew her blade, moving closer to her allies, Rhiallis said a silent prayer to Iomedae.
      “Graves!” Mira leapt from her perch.
      It all happened so quickly.
      One moment, sleeping peacefully. The next, chaos. Not one, but three shadows infiltrated, slipping through the very floors to run their icy fingers up spines. Sardones fled to a corner, leaving Graves alone with two of them, and though one focused on Celeste, it was the commander who took the brunt. Already in a weakened state, she fought valiantly – for nothing less would do for Ivy Ellen Graves, Commander of the Knights of Kenabres, Captain of the Seventh Armored Division.
      The paladins channeled holy energy but these shadows seemed stronger somehow, a heartier breed that resisted the light. The mages spelled them with fire and force missiles even as Korael and Niro slung arrows and blades at them.
      It was not enough.
      When the battle was over, when the shadows were just shadows once more and the vault was as silent as a crypt, nothing they did was enough.
      Graves was dead.
– – – – – – – – – – –
Signed, Josie
Note: Image is “King Jagiello Statue Central” by (Mulligand) from SXC.hu; edited by me

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