25: The Beginning of the End
A day passed, Antonio kept quiet and stayed his distance from the evil goddess. He knew he was powerless to do anything against her now, by himself.
The caravan completed the slow trek back to Cormanworth; he collected his pay and promptly headed out of town to the Church of Bhuul. The small temple is set a few miles away from the main city. The simple square building contained all that was needed for Bhuul's Purifiers to aid in containing the demons and undead that roamed the area.
Antonio passed the stone wall with the iron-tipped spikes, moving to pass the lush gardens that were neatly and lovingly tended. He pushed past the double-wide doors filled with protective runes and into the main chapple. Several brown-robed priests provided greetings as he passed them, and in-kind he did so to. "Praise Bhuul."
Lincoln G’nisleh sat comfortably in his leather-bound reading chair. His desk was filled with paperwork, a Writing pencil, ink pens, and a few pieces of archaic ink wells and feather quill pens. The room was sparse, no-frills of luxury, only the barest of necessities. Lincoln was a pious man, only taking what he needed. Though not a requirement to follow Bhuul, one of the ways to become a Fallen was to engage in the sin of hoarding and coveting wealth. The room’s lighting was from the magic light globes that gave soft white color to prevent accidental fire.
A knock came at the door; Lincoln looked at the door in frustration; most of his Purifiers would leave him alone during his administration hours, which he found almost as refreshing as his midnight gardening. He did enjoy the peace he often had during these times. “Come in,” Lincoln spoke.
Antonio Flanigan bowed his head as he entered, "Praise Bhuul."
Lincoln responded, looking up with one eye as well, "Praise Bhuul, I see this must be important. I expected you to rest after your mission with the GrindHouse Guild."
Antonio had to report this; the information was too important. "I fear the Goddess of the Pit is much stronger than we had thought. I have discovered that Ka'Azalin is indeed here. She has been here for months."
Lincoln put his pen down, "How so? What makes you believe that a goddess has been staying here in Cormanworth."
Antonio kept a straight face; fear was not something he was allowed to show. Fear was a weakness; the Church of Bhuul had painful ways of making one forget fear. "Yes, your grace. Master Martin is a true threat. He commands a Hand of a God, the Demon Sorceress Ka'Azalin. I witnessed as she used grace to open the Forbidden Vault. When the demon tried to kill us by releasing the ward pact demons on us, trying to hide who she was. Master Martin commanded her not to kill us and forced the goddess to make a safe passage for the guild so we could escape."
Lincoln knew he was not lying, or at least he thought he was not lying, "Continue."
Antonio smiled; Bhuul would shine his grace on him. "The Hand of Katalina has a weakness. She can not use her grace in stressful situations. She could open the vault but could not close the door when under pressure. Master Martin is the only one who can call the Goddess Katalina to do his bidding. He ordered her to defeat the ward pack demons and build a new exit. The goddess announced her Hand to us that day."
Lincoln reached up to his clean-shaven face and stroked his chin. "Interesting, but not unexpected. The Church of Bhuul in Bale has been sending out updates on what to expect from the Goddess of the Pit. She does not get directly involved with her Hand unless she needs to do something or another god intervenes. I think we have an opportunity to destroy this Hand of evil."
Antonio bowed, "With respect, your lordship, this foul Hand has also corrupted the leadership of the guild and has taken possession of the virtuous warrior Charmeine. The fiend has even said to make him her husband. This is a stain on us all. This man's purity was lost to such a foul creature is just unforgivable.
Lincoln reached to his chest and fingered the round cold iron symbol of his faith. "Yes, this is a loss. We can rectify this, though, and we are the Purifiers. Our holy fire will purge this demoness and send her disease-ridden body back to her god."
Antonio raised his head, "My lord, do you think we can ask for help from the Church of Toluene? They have lost one of their own, and a powerful blooded to one such evil god."
Lincoln thought for a moment; the idea had already thought about the potential meeting. "Maybe, we don't see eye to eye on our ideology. Most of their teachings are contrary to our own on the creation and destruction of our world. Bhuul teaches that every bad tendency you have comes from the Mother of Monsters. She created demons, creatures that would amplify the seven immoral sins. This Ka'Azalin is just an amplification of her sick twisted desires."
Lincoln gestured to Antonio to take a nearby seat. Antonio quickly obliged, sitting comfortably. "Now, my son, tell me all you can about the Ka'Azalin. What have you learned about this demon."
Antonio started to inform him of what he had learned, "First, she attempted to seduce every man in the team. Master Martin had warned us all to ignore her advances, we did. Though I thought it was odd, she did not use any of her demonic powers on us. I did not know she was the true Ka'Azalin until we got to the Vault. Master Martin still has 3 command sigils left he can use. As you said, The Goddess of the Pit does not control her Hand at all times. She is inexperienced in using her godly powers. We waited about a half-hour as the demon meditated to summon her power to open the door."
Lincoln folded his hands together. "Do you know what dark goddess was after?"
Antonio shrugged, "No, the details were left only to the Guild Leaders. We were paid handsomely for the job. I did see the inside of the vault; I have never seen so much treasure in one place."
Lincoln smiled, "Fools Gold, more than likely, these treasures were created by the whim of the god, not earned through hard work or captured as a prise."
Antonio nodded, "I hatched a plan. I myself did not have a weapon that could hurt a god, much less a god. Charmeine dose, his spear Testament is a god tier weapon. Forged by Toluene himself. His anger was evident against Ka'Azalin. He told me he felt betrayed by her; they had spent time together. I and a few others convinced him to try and take on the goddess."
Lincoln continued to listen to the report, interested. His full attention focused on his young Purifier.
"Charmeine went off to fight the demon alone."
Lincoln shook his head disapprovingly, "That was foolish. A god is something one should never fight alone. They have a way of shaping events into their favor."
Antonio's voice took a much more depressing tone, "Days went by, neither returned. They both returned hand in hand. Ka'Azalin had beaten Charmeine into submission. She took him as her mate. She even confronted me, letting me know what I had done, and because I was part of the Guild, she was not going to harm me, this time."
Lincoln looked puzzled, "I don't understand; mercy is not something a demon or the Goddess of the Pit is noted for. Is there anything else you can think of that might be out of place?"
Antonio thought for a moment, then his eyes brightened, "Yes, my lord. The sound of chains."
Lincoln mused, "Explain."
Antonio continued, "Before Master Martin summoned the Goddess, the Hand used her grace. Her usage, I would have to say, was wild, chaotic, and barely controllable. The ground vibrated for a moment, and all could hear the sound of chains, scraping, clanking, and moving. I swear the sound was coming from all around in the Vault walls and floors. When Master Martin did summon the Goddess true, the sound was not there. The feeling was more oppressive and dark but controlled and fluid."
Lincoln fingered his well-shaven chin, "Interesting, and this is something that is not in line with the known abilities of the Hands of God. They mirror the power of the god they are passed by. Or this could be just a fluke of the inexperienced Hand of a God. There are not many known studies of a Hand of God having free will. I will have to go into the city and speak with High Priest Termine; this issue is too great to deal with by ourselves, though we will if the fear they have of this dark goddess is too great. Antonio, thank you for your courage. May your soul be reincarnated as another follower of Bhuul after you parish. You are dismissed for now."
Antonio stood and bowed; he turned and left the small office.
Lincoln now started his own prayers to Bhuul, asking for guidance. He started his meditation practices when he felt the familiar warmth of his god. The vision he got showed him a tactic to use and a new rune to add to his Devil Trap. Bhuul showed him that he needed to pull all of her support away from her at the time of the trap. The new rune would make the Purification aspect of the devil trap the most painful he had ever thought of. Bhuul also showed him an improved Devil Trap sigil, one that may work against the Hand only because she is a demon. The Devil Trap needed a rare ingredient, which would normally be very hard to come by.
Lincoln quickly grabbed his loose sheets of paper, a sharpened pencil, and began to write down the new rune information best his mind lost the new information. He traced and erased the new rune over and over until the copy was just right.
Lincoln also knew that this new Devil Trap would have to use rare ingredients; usually, the caster's blood was needed. He was going to need something stronger to capture the Hand of God. The church here in the outsides of Cormanworth held an extraordinary secret, buried down in the depths of the earth itself.