"This's ridiculous," whispered Morthros, tugging at the blue robe and cowl that disguised his silver armor.
"Aye," agreed Balos. "If'n ye want tae just stroll in and get yerself killed after all I did tae get hold of these, you go right ahead. Ainslyn and I'll wait 'ere, an' make our own attempt later."
"I didnae say that," Morthros objected, but he removed his helmet and dropped it into the bag along with his axe and Balos' crossbow. Ainslyn's morning star, buckler, and helmet were in there as well. "Ye're certain this'll work, though?"
"Nothin's certain, brother," said Balos. He glanced at Ainslyn. "Are ye ready?"
"As much as Ah can be, fer this," she told him. "Ah've a bad feelin', though."
"Aye," agreed Morthros, "but it has to be done. Our niece is a vampire now, an' her father has tae answer for that."
Balos rolled his eyes, but didn't object; Ainslyn just nodded. "Onward, then."
* * *
The temple had once been set with four towers, and filled with a staff of devoted worshipers. Now three of the towers were fallen, smashed into rubble by the power of Indra, and only the Tower of Wind remained. Balos led his brother and sister past the bones of the ancient gold dragon -- which stirred long enough to regard them, but made no move otherwise -- and into the temple itself.
It was raining, of course. It had been raining ever since Durest's... ascension, if that's what it had been. Balos had managed to track down Vandraka and confirm that she'd become a vampire -- of her own free will, she said, but when it came to vampires any such claim must be suspect. She'd even confirmed that her father Durest had become a lich, shortly after the Order of Secrets had disappeared. She and her human girlfriend seemed confused that Balos wasn't more happy for them.
It was early evening, and the temple was settling down. Word had it that Durest spent much of his time in the sanctuary, and sent lesser priests out to host services and recruit new worshipers. Ainslyn had shaken her head at hearing that. Clearly, she didn't approve, though that might just have been because it made their work more difficult.
The guards didn't stop them, though it seemed to Balos that most of Indra's priesthood here was human. Their disguises were apparently good, even if their faces were unfamiliar... and Indra's worshipers had been growing in number. Strange faces might not be that noticeable just now.
The entrance to the Sanctuary was unmistakable, and Balos walked calmly up to it and ascended the stairs. A handful of other priests stopped to look at them, then hurried on about their business; evidently anyone summoned to the sanctuary was either important, or doomed.
The doors were open, and the interior was lit with a perpetual, magical glow. There were rows of wooden pews, arranged around a central altar. And there, at the altar, was a stout figure in blue robes, with a rod tucked into the back of his belt. A giant skeleton with a gleaming ruby eye stood on the far side of the altar.
"Quick and quiet," said Balos softly, and started down the aisle towards the altar and the dwarf who stood with his back to them. Ainslyn and Morthros followed, their steps clearly audible in the silence, and Balos cursed silently. Still, Durest remained silent and apparently absorbed in the study of a large book that he had spread open atop the altar. It was only after they'd passed the last of the pews that he turned to face them.
"And what can I do for you?" he asked. "Come to offer worship and praise? Seeking advancement in the way of our lord?" There was something terribly mocking in his tone and posture.
"Durest Inglorian," pronounced Morthros, "We've come to take you back to the clan to answer for your crimes." He pulled off his hood and dropped the bag beside him, then reached down and opened it up.
Durest started laughing, a horrible sound that filled the temple. The thunder outside seemed to echo it.
Morthros pulled his helmet on and passed the other one to Ainslyn. Balos knew he should have been attacking already -- he had daggers concealed in his sleeves, ready to go -- but he couldn't seem to move. Something was horribly wrong. Durest should already have been attacking them, or calling for reinforcements, or fleeing. Instead, he just stood there, contempt in every line of his body.
Morthros pulled out his axe, while Ainslyn retrieved her morning star and buckler.
Balos licked his lips. "Durest?"
"Not any more," said his brother, and then the screaming began.
* * *
"Go!" screamed Ainslyn, as another bolt of lightning tore through her and blasted towards Balos. He rolled aside, barely avoiding it, then turned and sprinted towards the nearest window. It was a lovely piece of work, stained panels in a leaden frame, and he smashed through it without even the smallest twinge of conscience. There was nothing but open air on the other side, a good thirty feet of it, but he hit and rolled and came to his feet.
There were other people all around, watching the flickering lights and listening to the sharp cries from the battle inside the sanctuary -- if what was going on inside there could even be described as a battle. Ainslyn wasn't down yet, but it was only a matter of time -- and she seemed determined to buy that time for his escape. Meanwhile, a couple of the nearer priests had turned towards Balos and were raising their hands... I'm going to die if I don't do something. He stepped over, grabbed the nearest priest, and yelled: "HE'S GONE MAD! HE'S KILLING EVERYONE!"
The human's eyes widened, and he stepped back to look up at the window. Balos dodged past him, still screaming his warnings, and charted a staggering course towards the entrance. He'd only just ducked through and tumbled down the steps when he heard Durest call out: "Where is he? Where is the last of these pathetic assassins?!"
Belrab, lend me strength. Amun, lend me speed. Demeter, lend me life! Balos ran. His brother and sister were dead, and whatever Durest had become, he would need far stronger allies to have any hope of facing off with it. He needed to get out of Solstar, at least for a while. He needed shelter, and time to recover. And after that, he needed to recruit more allies.
An' nae from the clan, either, he thought. I'll nae get any more o' us killed. No, he needed the sort of heroes who might stand a chance against his brother: the King's Solari, or something very like.
And somewhere in there, he needed a drink.