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Out of the Dark and the Mist


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#1 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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Posted 02 December 2006 - 01:35 PM

Hello everyone? It?s been a while since I wrote new stuff, but this story and characters just kept begging me, so I finally gave in. (I have to sleep eventually, after all.) As I see it, this happens after ?A Spymaster?s Musings?, although it?s really not necessary at all to read it before this one.

As always, I hope for reviews, although I don't keep my hopes toooo high knowing this is not a very NWN oriented board, but since Celestine and Shadowhawke were so kind with their encouragements.... here goes :)

We have a saying here in QuÚbec: tie your hat down with wire? This is going to be a long and angsty story.


Out of the dark and the mist


Prologue. A reckless summoner and an out-of-control leader

?Very good!?, Drogan exclaimed as the summoning circle appeared on the ground, regular, glowing, and flawless. ?You?re learning quickly, girl.? He beamed proudly at his student.

Chamaedaphne paused thoughtfully. ?I?m not learning, master Drogan, I?m just using skills I haven?t used in some time.?

The old dwarf looked at his pupil pointedly. ?You?re not nearly experienced enough to have summoned demons before.?

The elf slowly lifted her head to stare at him. The coldness and detachment in her eyes chilled Drogan. He knew that stare. It was the dead eyes of the magic users who had almost sold their soul to the craft; those who became liches; those who sealed deals with devils and demons.

?No, I am not, I see this now. But not all masters are as you are. Many are willing to sacrifice a few apprentices if there is a possibility of gain. I was taught how to summon devils and demons before now.?

She blinked rapidly, her eyes shining as if a few tears had suddenly found their way in their unrelenting coldness.

?I never failed, as you can surely deduce from my survival. I? wore a circlet of intellect and a ring of clear thought at the time. That is how I managed it then. I don?t need all that gear anymore.?

Drogan looked carefully at Chamaedaphne Indiwasi, his newest pupil. She had been there for a few weeks only. When she had reached him, she had been tired from the long road from Neverwinter, but the wise dwarf knew that something else had seeped exhaustion deep into her bones. She had the looks of a veteran coming back from years of war in distant lands when she got down from her room the first morning. He had thought that she looked like she was used to waking at a precise hour and did not remember what sleeping late meant.

In the following few weeks, he had explored her skills, both as a thief and as a mage, and it had quickly become obvious that there was not much left he could show her that she did not already know.

So he was left wondering why his old friend Aarin Gend had seen fit to send her here to ?learn? from him as a master.

Knowing what awful twist of the mind the combination of the circlet of intellect and ring of clear thought forced, and witnessing the exhaustion and uncertainty of Chamaedaphne in the first few days, and now hearing that she had already summoned demons and devils, Drogan understood suddenly what he yet had to teach her.

Aarin Gend was often more clever than he allowed people to guess.

?Now, girl, we need to have a talk.?

?Master Drogan, I already know that you?re not supposed to wear a ring over a circlet, and that the process of summoning is not to be tried by the novice, but??

?No, girl, that is not what I mean.? She flushed angrily each time he called her ?girl?. He wondered how much more she would take it before she exploded. ?I must tell you that I will not let you risk yourself in this way while you are my pupil. You are therefore forbidden to wear a circlet or a ring for the duration of your stay here. Is it clear??

She shrugged. ?Very well.?

?You will also make a list of all the spells you have cast in your life. All of them. I must know to what lengths of recklessness you can go.?

?Very well.?

?Lastly, girl, I would like to know how you came to convince yourself to try something as foolishly dangerous as summoning a devil.?

The frail elf before him paled. Even as her body gave sign of weakness, her features froze into a grim expression and her eyes hardened, becoming black and unyielding as stone.

?It?s classical enough. I wanted power,? she answered, her voice guarded.

?Yes, I could guess that. But I want to know why.?

?That?s my own business. What does that have to do with my training here anyway?? She was becoming defensive, and he could see that she was withdrawing from him. Soon she would shut the door and never let him in again.

?It has to do that, in the short time you?ve been here, I?ve come to care for you, child. I wish to know what has pushed you into ambition, that I might recognize it and warn you if it starts happening again.?

Chamaedaphne blinked a few times, frozen in indecision. It was obvious she had no idea whatsoever as to how to react to that unexpected show of affection. Finally, a still guarded, but warmer, expression made its way back in her eyes.

?I thank you for your concern, but my past is my own. I will not discuss it with anyone ? not even you. I will tell you, however, that you need not fear for me. What made me crave for power will not happen to me again here.?

Drogan took a step forward and patted her shoulder in a fatherly manner. ?Fine, I am content with that answer for now, but know that if you wish to talk? I am here. Now, since you obviously know what you?re doing, there might be a way to skip ahead a bit.?

There was a long silence on Chamaedaphne?s part as Drogan prepared reagents and explained what the exact phrasing for the summoning ritual was when he was interrupted by her small hand landing on his arm, halting him.

?Master Drogan? thank you. It? has been a long time since someone showed me kindness so selflessly. As for the magic? for once I would prefer not to burn any steps. It is your guidance much more than your lessons that I need.?

It was obviously a shameful admission for her, so Drogan nodded and smiled kindly.

?Ah, very well then. In that case, you will trace fifty others of those summoning circles, and prepare the spell components yourself. As you will soon find out, you will miss many reagents, so you will have to search for them around the shops in town or in the nearby wood.? A very sour expression made its way on the elf?s face, but she kept quiet, knowing full well that she had brought this down upon herself. ?Now, I will leave you to begin. Record any failings for later discussion with me. I think I will go see how Mischa is doing with her goblin roommate. Notify me when you will be done.?

Chamaedaphne Indiwasi, the Hero of Neverwinter, sighed and bowed. ?Very well, master Drogan.?

Master Drogan sighed to himself as he went up the stairs leading out of his lab and up to the kitchen. She truly was determined to follow his guidance if she was ready to submit to such a tedious and useless exercise. It also showed a bit more of wisdom than his other pupils that she was ready to accept such unpleasantness as a price to pay to learn. And he admitted quietly to himself that the depth of darkness in her eyes was not hinting only at kindness. Taking into account her considerable power, he was grateful that she was willing to accept that he called her ?girl?, that he forbid her to wear enhancing items, and that he forced her to do chores, because he was not sure he could survive the onslaught of her full powers.

Aarin Gend was much cleverer than he allowed people to see.

***


Valen Shadowbreath wrestled with the demon within for a few seconds.

He?s a fool! An incompetent fool! You could kill him without breaking a sweat and he dares to order you around!, the demon half of him screamed.

Valen took a few careful breaths. General Warizmi is not a fool. He knows we?re not ready, but there?s no escaping this first engagement with the Valsharess. He?s trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

The demon snorted. Of course, what commendable excuse to send you in the most dangerous spot and be free of the most dangerous rival.

Now that?s enough, Valen retorted. I?m not his rival. I serve the Seer just as he does. We?re not competing against each other. We?re fighting for the same cause.

And with these final words that forced the demon to submission, still grumbling about receiving orders from a weakling, Valen turned his attention fully back to the general. Warizmi was a competent strategist, but was not a warrior capable of holding his ground against a weapon master of Valen?s experience. He was very aware of it as he had watched the big tiefling?s eyes simmer in yellow tones, with patches of blue and red swirling and pushing each other. The old drow?s silver eyes were clouded with wariness and he was holding his balance on his feet, ready to jump back should Valen do a hostile move.

?I see the need for my presence to hold the center,? the tiefling finally agreed, his eyes reverting to their cyan blue, ?but might I advise against sending Imloth there also? There will be a need for a commander should either of us fall, and the center appears a dangerous place where to concentrate our most needed forces.?

?Agreed,? the general declared, before turning back to Imloth who had been observing the exchange in silence. Besides Imloth, Nathyrra and four other captains stood. Warizmi distributed his orders, pointing to places on a map and explaining what his plan was and what each captain needed to do.

Valen observed in silence, knowing the plan was sound, but had no chance of success. The army was not drilled in discipline, the ranks were not closed in emotionless habit, the soldiers were not trained enough. He was aware that a battle between drow would have nothing to do with what he was used to in the Blood Wars. There would be assassins using the cover of shadows, and they would face destructive magic tearing their ranks apart. There would be no lash from a fiendish slave master twice the size of any other demon, there would be no devils sneering with many rows of teeth, there would be no devil blood spilled to make the drums of the Blood War rise loud, harsh, violent and irrepressible in his veins.

Once the meeting was over, he went to take his place as captain of the strongest and toughest of the Seer?s swordsmen, and told them curtly that they would hold the center. Those were men he had trained himself, and they were among the best in this army. They warmed up briefly, and fell into ranks behind him.

The army moved, slowly but with purpose, to take their positions in the large desolate plain that stretched between Lith My?athar and the Valsharess?s stronghold. Facing them was the army of the drow queen, much bigger, with its duergar and drow allies, its drider regimens, its scores of assassins already melting into the shadows and its ranks of arcane users.

Valen waited as the generals and the heralds of both armies met. He knew Nathyrra was there with Warizmi, but he could not see her, and he had no doubt that the enemy army had an assassin there of their own, ready to strike if anything untoward happened. There was a cold emptiness inside of him knowing that he might very well die there this day. He had had countless occasions where he could have died in the past. Sometimes he had wished to die, but always he had been kept alive by some twist of circumstances. Now his destiny had taken a twist; he was out of the Abyss and more or less free of the demon blood. He could rule his own life as he wished it.

He suddenly wondered what life had in store for him, because it suddenly appeared absurd that he had escaped so much and was still alive if only to die in a few seconds.

This was a most disturbing thought to have as he was trying to prepare for a deadly battle. He shut the thought out of his head and listened to the footsteps of the army starting to come towards them on the other side of the plain, the universal sound of coming battle. Valen?s blood picked up the rhythm and the drums of the Blood Wars started to sing in his veins.

I can make you stronger, the demon whispered.

I am strong, Valen retorted with gritted teeth, his eyes turning yellow.

I can make the blood of battle sweet.

The tiefling?s eyes turned red.

?Stay behind me. Whatever happens, stay behind me,? he ordered his troops.

?Yes, sir!?

The drums were beating louder now, drowning any sound in his ears, the pounding of his heart, the approaching footsteps, the orders from the captains, the whistling arrows and roaring magic. Dust was rising in the air to cast a cloud over the hundreds of fighters advancing to meet another army.

And battle was upon them.

?Into the flames we leap!?, Valen screamed. He let out a laugh as he swung from left to right, his heavy flail wreaking havoc amongst his enemies.

So sweet was the battle, so welcoming the incoherent rage that pushed his body always harder in the fight to the death. He had not come to the Seer that long ago. He was not a snarling beast anymore, but the demon could easily take control again with just a short lapse in Valen?s vigilance.

And that day on the battlefield, it happened. The demon resurfaced, with all the reckless joy of a freed monster, to savour the destruction and chaos he sowed with each effortless hit.

The demon laughed, his eyes a blazing red, as his enemies were cowering in fear before him, hesitant to come closer, as he was tearing a hole in the center of their ranks. But the enemy leaders saw it and sent reinforcements, and Valen was hard pressed, his rage increasing tenfold with each step he was forced to take back.

Someone tugged at his arm and he swung around madly, knocking this one on the side of the head with the handle of his flail, with all his enraged strength. Blood spilled from the cut black skin of a young drow soldier, white hair spraying in the air as the helmet flew away.

Valen snapped back into himself, the demon still laughing cruelly deep down inside of him, and he caught the soldier before he hit the ground. One of his own soldiers. He was hit by two daggers and four swords in his side and back as he turned to protect the man he had knocked out, and he dragged him behind the lines, leaving his soldiers to hold the center by themselves, against enemies enraged by the previous slaughter.

He dropped the man on the ground and reanimated him with a rough touch on the quickly expanding bruise on his cheek. The soldier stirred and groaned, trying to turn to his side to get up; any drow knew better than stay helpless for long.

?Drink this.? Valen shoved a potion in the man?s hands and stood up again.

He was standing behind the lines on a gentle slope, and he was high enough above it to survey the battle. The left had fallen, squished back onto the center by relentless duergar fighters. The right was held fiercely by Imloth, assisted by his competent archers, but they were losing great numbers. As he watched, seeing the chaos and destruction calling to the demon within, Valen felt a great sadness suddenly at all the deaths that had been dealt that day. And even as he watched, looking at their forces losing the best of their soldiers holding the center, Warzimi fell, an assassin?s dagger slicing through his throat.

The drums of the Blood Wars fell silent suddenly. Exhaustion settled in Valen?s limbs. He knew when to recognize a hopeless cause. He took up his horn and blew. Almost immediately Imloth?s horn answered him, and the army turned around in defeat, starting to run in a disorganized flight. Many were cut down as they ran.

Valen ran with them, holding them together with lashing words or intimidating glares to keep the pace up despite the wounded and the dying. No one questioned his authority as the new leader, and he was seen as a natural follower for Warzimi.

It took days to reach the haven of Lith My?athar again. The broken army entered silently by the gates, without cheers from the people and without cries of new widows. That was not the way of the drow.

Valen guided the army in the city, and was the last one to come in, after the last of his wounded soldiers. The Seer had let all the wounded walk past her without a look, which was most unusual and was duly noted. Valen suddenly paused when he saw her standing there and waiting for him. A hush fell on everyone.

?I have seen you,? she said.

Valen stopped, suddenly ashamed of his actions, stealing a glance at the soldier who had been carefully avoiding him for all the duration of the flight. He had avoided looking his way too, to keep the shame away, but the Seer had a way to make him look at himself and see there what he did not like to see.

?I am surrounded by the wounded and the dying,? the drow lady murmured sadly, ?yet it is you who is in the most dire danger. You must reach a peace with yourself, otherwise you will lose yourself.?

And to his surprise, Valen felt a quiet settle in his heart. He was still alive and he was master of himself. It did seem like life had something in store for him yet after all. ?I know, Seer. I will not lose myself.?

The Seer nodded, and then turned away calmly. But then she finally saw all the wounded requiring her healing skills, and frantically started to distribute her spells, beginning with the worst wounded. Her two acolytes assisted her.

Valen looked at the army. It was almost sure that they would all die in their next engagement with the Valsharess. Was this his destiny then? Coming out of the Abyss, getting out of the planes to the Prime, all to die fighting for the Seer for a just cause after he came at peace with the demon within?

The demon half furiously rebelled and raged. I am not at peace!

Neither am I. But you will never master me again like this. I promise this to you. I promise it to her. And I promise it to myself.

The demon screamed and kicked, but Valen did not listen. He could shut a mental door on the demon. He could now. He smiled grimly. It was a few months at most before the Valsharess struck one final time. Surely he could manage to hold off the demon that long and die with his humanity and dignity.

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 02 December 2006 - 03:19 PM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#2 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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Posted 08 January 2007 - 05:46 PM

Chapter I. Meeting and clashing

Valen Shadowbreath listened distractedly to Imloth?s report on the Valsharess?s army movements and of their recruits? progress. He was not really paying attention, because he already knew much of what the drow commander had to say. The number of swordmasters was dangerously low. The number of assassins was excessive, so a few should be trained to fill the ranks of the sword fighters. The archers were progressing nicely, being trained by House Mae?viir?s sergeant. Considering the grim circumstances, the report was encouraging.

The tiefling snapped sharply to attention, however, when suddenly he heard the otherworldly detonation of a magic of great magnitude right under his nose. He snarled, thinking he should have known better than suppose the Seer?s magic could completely shield them, even in their stronghold of Lith My?athar. He could not recognize exactly what was happening, but he unhooked his flail from his belt and crouched into his fully offensive battle stance.

Then he saw that it was something like a teleport or a dimension door. The exact spell was irrelevant; what mattered was that a threat would soon materialize right in front of him. A surface elf tumbled through the portal.

She stepped back hastily, surveying the room with quick and competent eyes. Valen saw her swift through the anonymous guards quickly, then focus a brief moment on the Seer, and then shift her gaze towards him.

He was shocked when she looked at him ? her black eyes stopped and bore through him. Her posture changed completely, from one of defensive readiness to one of cold and reluctant acceptance. She did not bring her hands up to the deadly-looking bow on her shoulder, and did not reach to what was obviously a belt of spell components around her waist. She stood there proudly, defiantly, staring at him with cold eyes that stated that she knew she could not overcome him, and she was awaiting death calmly, unyielding.

The human half of him reeled from the inner strength that transpired through this simple stare. The demon had no such scruples, however, and he stepped forward, ready to swing his flail ? the Seer would not come to harm while he was there. He knew his eyes were turning red, and it felt strange to summon the demon at will and still be in control. He used his demon half to push ruthlessly forward towards the defenceless female elf who had just appeared ? his enemy. Not in every battle did he need to call to the demon within.

She was stronger than she gave herself credit for.

But on this thought sending the man reeling far back behind the demon?s rage, Valen was halted in his advance.

?Wait a moment,? the Seer ordered imperiously in a raised voice. The guards stopped as one, but Valen knew that this order was meant for him, not for the other guards.

He would not have needed the order, however, because at that very moment, he noticed Nathyrra now standing behind the stranger, with a kobold, of all creatures of the Prime. Valen realized at once that the surface elf was this woman, Chamaedaphne Indiwasi, of whose arrival the Seer had had visions. He looked the elf over a second time; she did not look impressive to him. She was a wood elf, with chocolate brown hair and black eyes, and was as short and petite as the drow were. Her equipment was visibly enchanted, but he thought to himself with a snort that she was probably weak without it. She carried a short bow on her shoulder and a long sword was belted at her hip, glowing a wicked red. Still, there were pouches for spell components around her belt, and a full array of scrolls and wands tucked in her sash or in a strap that ran across her chest for that purpose. He could not expect a spellcaster to look physically impressive, he guessed, and he knew that the Seer and Nathyrra, despite a benign appearance, were of strong minds capable of shaping magic in the form of impressive destruction. And, since Chamaedaphne had made her way through Halaster?s dungeon, she obviously had a few skills that might not be readily apparent.

He stood silently at a respectful distance while the Seer stepped forward.

?Do you not recognize one of our own?? the lady asked around in her soothing voice, obviously trying to calm the guards and ensure the stranger?s safety. ?Nathyrra, you have returned.?

The assassin flashed one of the rare joyful smiles Valen had ever seen her give. ?Mother Seer, it is good to see you once more.?

Indeed, she had been gone for over two months, and Valen had a good idea of the dangers she had had to avoid while travelling alone the length of the Underdark and the lower levels of Undermountain.

?And you,? the Seer answered with a smile. ?But I see you have returned with another; someone very important, indeed.?

At those words, the surface elf took a small step back and blinked a few times, as though she could hardly believe that she was the topic of the conversation.

?You are most welcome here, rivvil,? the Seer addressed her now. ?I am the Seer. I have awaited your arrival with great anticipation. Please, come, do not be alarmed.?

The elf exploded into humourless laughter. ?Don?t be alarmed? Forgive me if I find it somewhat difficult with a geas hooked into my soul.?

?A geas??

?I believe I can answer that, Mother Seer,? Nathyrra chimed in, and explained how she had helped Chamaedaphne and her companions battle the Valsharess? drow and free Halaster. Unsurprisingly, the mad mage had been ungrateful and had thanked Chamaedaphne for rescuing him by stating she had ruined his plan to get rid of the Valsharess and by forcing her by way of geas to eliminate the drow queen of the Underdark.

Valen felt even less sympathy than before towards Halaster, and he was unsure if their prophetical saviour being under a geas was a good thing. It did seem to offer superficial insurance that she would put her earnest efforts into their cause, but Valen knew it was also likely to embitter her to them for being the cause of her troubles. Having been a slave himself, he could easily imagine what state of mind Chamaedaphne was in at the moment; he felt marginal sympathy for her.

After that bit of explanation, Nathyrra explained to the newcomer who was the Valsharess and what kind of threat she posed, and the Seer repeated her faith in her goddess with an absolute trust that worried Valen quite a lot.

?There is only one thing that I can do,? the Seer said to the stranger. Her voice carried the characteristic tone of deference and trust without question that she used when speaking of Eilistraee. ?I must put my faith in the goddess? and that means putting our faith in you. Our fate lies in your hands.?

He stepped in. A tiefling with demon blood, even if mostly human, would never agree easily with blind faith. That was a behaviour fit for devils. Not demons.

?Are you sure, Seer?? He turned his back on the stranger, not caring for her presence. ?What do we really know about this? this woman? She could be the death of us all!?

He stopped short, with an angry twitch of the tail, when the Seer lifted a delicate hand in his direction to stop him.

?Our lives are irrelevant, good Valen. The Valsharess must be stopped at all costs, and Chamaedaphne is the key to stopping her.?

?You know I don?t believe in your ways, Seer. I won?t throw away my life by blindly following anyone, and I don?t think anyone here should, either.?

The stranger?s expression became thoughtful. ?That?s alright, actually. I don?t know exactly what I should do to stop the Valsharess, but I assure you that no one will be forced to follow me blindly. Reports, discussions on battle plans, whatever you wish, I?ll submit to it. I?ll even ask for advice. If that will satisfy you, sir???

Valen scowled furiously at the insolent elf smiling roguishly at him, but against his better judgement he found himself repressing an amused smile. Well, she certainly looked frail, but you could not accuse her of lacking courage and audacity. ?Valen Shadowbreath,? he introduced himself.

?Pleased to meet you,? she answered with a flourished curtsy that managed to mix elegant grace and mockery. ?Since you already know my name, I will spare you the exercise in pronunciation. You can call me Chama as a shortcut. It?s easier to pronounce for those not used to the tongue of the elves.?

Then she turned back to the Seer with a disregard for his presence as great as his had been. Really, she did not lack cheek. ?I thank you for your welcome. It is the kindest I could expect given the circumstances. I would, however, appreciate a moment to myself. I need a healing kit?s magic, but I would rather not strip in so public a place to disinfect the wounds of my chest, if you don?t mind.?

?Just keep still a moment,? the Seer ordered, and started an incantation.

The stranger did not move, and when the spell was over, she spoke in a slightly amused tone.

?I thank you for your healing capabilities, Seer. However? not very perceptive for a seer, are you? I would appreciate a moment to myself nevertheless. Much has happened to me in the last hour, and I would take a few moments to adjust to the hooks that have jabbed at my soul and how they affect my perception of magic.?

The Seer actually smiled at this. ?I merely wished to spare you any unnecessary discomfort. Quarters have already been prepared for you at my request. Mayonseth here,? the Seer gestured and one of the guards stepped forward and bowed, ?will show you to your room and perform any urgent errands you might have.?

?Thank you, Seer,? the stranger nodded, then bowed. ?Could lodging be arranged for my friend Deekin?? She was looking at the kobold besides her, who squirmed in discomfort at all the sudden attention.

?Hm, Boss? Why can?t Deekin be sleeping on your floor like during adventure??

The elf smiled. ?Because I?d like a bath, Deekin. Besides, you?ll get a big room where you can put all those notes of yours in order? and where you can invite drow people to tell you of their lives in the Underdark. Don?t you wish a room now??

The kobold?s eyes were literally shining with joy at the prospect of a private place where to conduct interviews for his new book.

Both adventurers followed the guard to the back of the temple, where the highest ranking officers had personal quarters. Valen stared at the strange pair: a wood elf pushing a timid kobold in the back with a friendly hand. He glowered after Chamaedaphne, but kept silence, and after a while, seeing the Seer still required him to wait until the stranger was ready to speak to him instead of doing something useful of his time, he left after Imloth to help in the recruits? training. Nathyrra, for her part, discussed with a few of the spies that came to give her their report on intelligence; she had two months? worth of information to catch up with.

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 18 January 2007 - 11:17 AM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#3 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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  • 439 posts

Posted 15 January 2007 - 05:12 PM

Chapter II. Exploring Lith My?athar

Chama, once alone in her room, smiled to see that the Seer had indeed prepared a room very fit to her needs, since a gently steaming tub full of warm and perfumed water was waiting for her, as well as a set of clean clothes. Chama sat on the wooden chair at the desk, not wanting to dirty the bedcover with her filthy clothes. She sat, looking out the window at the darkness of the Underdark and, in an accustomed gesture, she drew Aarin?s amulet from one of her pouches of spell components. She rubbed her thumb across the smooth moonstone, freeing the spell, and took comfort in the familiar pearly glow that bathed her room. She wondered if Aarin had any inkling how appropriate his gift to her had been, even if he had intended it as a gift from more than a friend, and things had turned out as they had.

She held the amulet a moment, drawing strength from the simple dispelling of darkness, and then heaved a sigh and went back to reality and everything she had to do before she could collapse on the bed for a much deserved full night of sleep.

She stripped of her weapons, spell components belt and wand straps and put it away neatly in a corner. Then, she stripped of her armour, the under-padding it carried and the cotton clothes she wore underneath. This, she just threw away in a pile, because it was so dirty it would need to be washed through and through.

She had spent the last three days in the bowels of Undermountain without a trip to Waterdeep?s surface, and she reeked, along with her equipment. It was not only the lack of facilities that posed problem ? a talented mage had quite a few ways to render the small inconveniences of life easier to cope with ? but also the lack of privacy ? she had been travelling with two men. Daelan Red Tiger was the image of gentlemanly behaviour, if one forgot his half-orc physique, and he would not have looked her way while she washed. Deekin neither would have peeked. Still, she was who she was, and she would not disrobe next to two males, even if they looked the other way.

After decades of adventuring, being so dirty had become some sort of habit, and she always had a thought for her father when she was about to wash away a particularly thick layer of grime off her ? and her father had thought dwarves were filthy. Despite all the changes that she had undergone in her long life, she had always been amused by the prospect of what her father would think to see her at the worst of the inglorious moments of her adventures.

The need to wash a considerable amount of grime on repeated occasions also teaches a thing or two on how to maximise the use of water. It was easy enough finding two large bowls that she could use for her needs. She used the first one to take water from the bath and pour it over her hair, while she used the second one to hold the water that fell from her hair, accompanied with the blood, dust, soot and grease that it washed out. She rinsed her hair with water a few times, then foamed it thoroughly with the washing cream the drow used, wrinkling her nose at the heavy, flowery smell. Then she rinsed all of her hair again, the water coming out a doubtful shade of grey. The recipient was full of dirty water when she was done, so she could not wash her hair a second time in this way. She just stepped into the tub and allowed the hot water to soothe her newly healed wounds. She did not doze off, however, since it would have been a most dangerous thing to do in her state of weakness. She could easily faint in this hot water if she did not pay attention, and a drowned hero would not do much to defeat the Valsharess or free herself from a foul geas, would she.

So she scrubbed away the dirt under her nails, as short and mangled as a peasant?s, washed the clogged blood from her older wounds, and soaped herself generously, to make sure the scent had gone away. After that, she got out of the tub, dried herself, and tried on those drow clothes that had been lent to her.

She did not know if they belonged to anyone, although it was doubtful since they did not appear worn out. They were cut in the same style as Nathyrra?s, which meant comfortable and functional, if a bit snug to Chama?s tastes. They were the right size, too, but they were made of a fabric she could not guess at. The texture was approaching linen, however. She brushed her sable hair, just to remove the tangles from it, then separated it in the middle and pushed it behind her ears. She had never been fond of elaborate hairstyle, and it had not changed when she set to adventuring and lost access to many commodities.

She rummaged through her pack until she found the small pouch in which she put the tools she needed to take care of her equipment. She cleaned her bow, checked the string and the shaft, and removed all offensive material from the quiver. She cleaned and polished her sword, trying not to listen to Enserric?s rude comments about being rubbed by a woman?s hands. When she turned her gaze on the armour, she sighed, chagrined, and decided to let this work to someone else.

She used what was left of cleaning power to her bath?s water to roughly wash her underclothes. The water turned a dirty and smelly grey. She sighed and twisted the cloth to squeeze water out of it.

Looking at the sand clock that stood by the gigantic, smooth, soft and very tempting bed, Chama saw that it had taken her nearly two hours to get her equipment nearly clean, and that it was late evening. She rolled her armour into the leather padding that went underneath and strode out of her room. She gave an apologetic smile to the two boys in charge of the chamber service, looking back ruefully at the mess they now had to clean, then went back to the main portion of the temple, where the Seer still was, no doubt.

When she arrived, Deekin was nowhere to be seen, probably in his room sifting through his notes or something. Nathyrra was there, however, in deep conversation with a nervous-looking girl who cast suspicious glances around while she spoke to the assassin. Chama let them confer, since the matter seemed important. The tiefling, Valen, was nowhere to be seen. The Seer was also listening to a series of reports, so Chama went straight to one of the guards.

?Good evening,? she greeted. The guard nodded nervously. ?I would need someone to guide me around Lith My?athar. Since Nathyrra and the Seer seem busy and Valen is not here, I am left to ask you.?

?I cannot leave the temple, honoured female.?

?I understand that. Can you point me to someone who would show me around??

Nathyrra, with the keen elven ears, had overheard. ?Valen is currently with Imloth training the recruits; he?s just a little down to your right once you get out of the temple. He?ll show you around.?

The guard bowed as Chama, smiling slyly, was turning to Nathyrra. ?Are you sure he would not rather lose me in the direction of that poisoned river of yours??

Nathyrra smiled at that. ?He wouldn?t do that. He might try to make you believe it to be sure you?ll stay in line, but he wouldn?t do that.?

?Ah. How reassuring,? Chama replied.

She passed the temple?s doors, and easily found Valen and Imloth, making the recruits line themselves and repeat a series of moves with their swords. Chama made a face in spite of herself; she hated that precise exercise, and she was barely better than those recruits with her sword.

Valen turned to her; although Commander Imloth gave a nod to the head to politely acknowledge her presence, the tiefling gave no indication of respect.

?Nathyrra told me you could help me find my way around Lith My?athar,? she said lightly.

The tiefling was eyeing her up and down again with those harsh eyes of his. There was like a thunderous fury held just barely in check behind the savagery of his cyan eyes and his set jaw. Chama observed him carefully and levelly. She knew that expression only too well: the half-convinced mask of someone trying to break free of a violent past despite a long habit of rage.

?The Seer believes you are our prophetical saviour; our only hope of defeating the Valsharess. I, however, do not believe in prophecies.? She was not surprised or fazed by his coldness. She merely lifted an eyebrow, totally unimpressed, and obviously too confident in her abilities to be disturbed by his words. So he conceded grudgingly, ?Still, you are obviously capable in your own right. And we need all the help we can get if we are to win this war. So I?m willing to take a chance.?

At least, he?s not totally against the very idea of my presence in the Seer?s camp, she thought wryly. Still, she felt it better to clarify a few things with him from the beginning. She knew how to deal with people in his state of mind, after all.

?I get the feeling that you don?t like me very much,? she stated calmly and without resentment.

She saw Imloth, behind Valen?s back, stare at her with widened eyes, as though no one ever dared to talk back to Valen or something. Well, considering his size, height and obvious mastery of his gigantic flail, it was probably the case. But the tiefling answered softly, his rough but gentle voice a stark contrast with his icy eyes. ?Untrue. I do not even know you, so I can hardly dislike you. But unlike the Seer, I?m not about to put all my faith in you until you?ve proven yourself against the Valsharess.?

She nodded. ?I can work with someone on those terms,? she said. ?Now that we know where we stand, I would like to get my armour to a smith before he closes for the night; the sooner it is repaired, the sooner I can do something against that Valsharess of yours.?

Valen nodded curtly and gestured her ahead of him. While they crossed the small settlement that was Lith My?athar, Valen pointed and named the different buildings to her, with their importance and function.

?I should have kept my circlet,? she observed absent-mindedly, ?my memory feels doubly fuzzy.?

?Doubly fuzzy? What do you mean??

?It is that I usually wear a circlet of intellect ? a helm that will make me more intelligent. Now that I don?t wear it, I feel slow in comparison to what I usually am, and moreover I?m not yet adjusted to the lack of enhancement. So I?m less sharp than usual, even without my circlet. I?ve been using it for too long. It will likely take me a day or so to adjust to myself. I feel doubly fuzzy now trying to memorize the buildings and such.?

Valen quirked a curious eyebrow. ?If this circlet of yours is such a marvel, why do you take it off ??

Her expression froze into an expressionless mask that chilled him, because it showed an unnerving detachment. For one part, it contrasted with the gentleness with which he had seen her act up until then, and for another part, it reminded him of a lich or some other undead; the expression was deader than any devil or demon he had ever met.

?I take it that you?ve never tried one,? she surmised. ?It will make your mind sharper, yes, but there?s a price to pay. It twists your mind in order to bend it to new pathways, to create new space for memorized words, and to take new short-cuts. It?s a useful twist of the mind, but it can become dangerous if sustained for too long. I?ve needed it to match Halaster?s traps in Undermountain, and I?ve been sleeping with it for nearly twenty days. The colours are starting to change and some things that I know don?t exist start appearing on the periphery of my vision. That?s when I know I?m really due for a break. I will not be turned a mad mage like Halaster by lack of precaution. I almost did once before, but I learn from my mistakes.?

?A sound precaution then,? Valen agreed. He understood that coldness now; he could imagine how the prospect of almost losing her mind by ambitious use of a dangerous magical object was disturbing her. He went on with naming the buildings for her.

Eventually they reached Lith My?athar?s forge. Chama observed curiously the smith and his two apprentices. Very big arms for elves, she reflected. They were also covered in soot and sweat ? even if the soot did not show so much on their dark skin, it matted in a dark grey over their white hair. As she watched, the one who was obviously the master smith brought his hammer up, uttering a word of power, and the hammer glowed as it was brought down on the long blade the drow was crafting.

The crafting of a magical weapon is not a work easily interrupted, so Chama and Valen waited as the smith hit the blade three more times. One of the apprentices was using the bellows to keep the embers red hot, and the other was holding himself at the master?s disposal. The forge itself was not a big structure. There were two anvils, one mundane and the other very heavily enchanted, a single forge fire, and three buckets containing different liquids to quench the steel. Chama was not well versed into weapon crafting, so she was not sure what else than water was used. Besides the soot covering everything, the place was orderly enough.

Soon the smiths interrupted their work and the master wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He nodded to Valen, but addressed the female directly.

?You?re the surfacer the Seer?s been waiting for, aren?t you? I wondered how long until you wandered over my way. My name?s Rizolvir, master craftsman and weapon smith extraordinaire. And you?re Chamaedaphen Indiwasi, right?? Not even awaiting an answer, he went on, ?Pleased to meet you. If there?s anything you need, I?m here to help. Feel free to look over my inventory or, if you want, I can upgrade your weapon for you.?

She let out a light laugh. ?Well, my sword is enchanted enough as it is, and besides, I doubt he would take kindly to be held by male hands, no offence.?

Rizolvir frowned, and then his expression lit up in understanding. ?A sentient blade! Where in the Nine Hells did you find a sentient blade??

?Nowhere so far and exotic as the Nine Hells,? she answered laughing. ?I found Enserric in Halaster?s dungeon, in the care of a ?dead? skeleton king that was very eager to awake as soon as I stole it from his lap.?

?Enserric? I?m told he?s among the worst mouthed sentient blades to have ever existed ? along with Liliarcor, that is.?

?Liliarcor? I don?t know that one. I can tell you, however, that Enserric is? well? not outright bad mouthed, but he definitively lacks class. If you will forgive me for cutting short our exchange, I still have a few things to do, and it?s late already. I would require your services as a smith.?

?I had surmised as much,? the big-armed drow answered slyly. ?What can I do for you, rivvil??

?My armour has been needing mending for a tenday now. It?s about time I find a competent smith to take care of it.?

She unceremoniously unrolled her armour and the strangely shining metal, dirtied and tarnished, was exposed to Rizolvir?s critical eye.

?I know, I should care for it a little better, but I already spent two hours today cleaning lots of other things, so I brought it to you as such.?

?I see what you want me to do with the armour,? Rizolvir said, surveying the damage with a reprobating eye. Truly, cleaning the blood once in a day was not luxury. This armour had been badly neglected, and it was a shame since it was highly enchanted. But wizards had always been wizards, and they had much to do in the way of studies each day that did not allow for much care of armour and weapons. ?What of the leather padding??

?It also needs cleaning and mending, I am afraid. If it?s a hopeless case, could you start from scratch and make a new one??

?That should not be a problem, I could use this one as a template. Anything else??

?I?d also like to look your inventory, if you would be so kind.?

Rizolvir proceeded to guide her to the nearby stand where his stock was displayed. She looked at everything with quick eyes, sifting through his goods expertly, discarding instantly things that were of no use to her and evaluating rapidly the quality of his work. The smith assessed for himself that she would strike hard bargains, but her obvious lore was a skill deserving of better prices anyway.

?Forgive me for not buying anything right away, I have to count my gold and set priorities. When do you think you?ll be done with my armour??

?Tomorrow around mid-day,? the smith answered. ?I could do faster if necessary.?

?No, take your time, I have to stay here a day at least, to recuperate from Undermountain and get to know who I am working with a little better.?

The smith shook her hand vividly. ?A pleasure doing business with you, rivvil.?

She nodded, and then turned around. Valen heard her gasp quietly.

?Who is this male??, she asked, looking at a drow across the square, in front of a stand, wearing the robes of a wizard. She eyed him quickly; he was tall enough for a drow, and wore black and yellow wizards? robes in the elaborate style of the Underdark. He also wore a small hat which she found rather comical and a threatening-looking ring on his right hand.

Valen found her use of ?male? unpleasant, even if he was growing accustomed to it after a few years surrounded by drow. He had not thought surface elves did the same.

?This is Gulhrys, house Mae?viir?s High Wizard,? Valen told her.

?Does he hold merchandise?? Her inquiry seemed, in Valen?s opinion, a little too eager and excited to account for the simple prospect of a bit more shopping.

?Not to everyone,? Valen answered. ?He certainly refused to sell anything to me for a long time because I was not a magic user.?

A playful, wicked smile crossed Chama?s face and she walked straight to the mage. The male had his usual dour expression on at first, but as she came closer, a smile matching Chama?s made its way on his face.

?So, it seems I have found a willing challenger at last,? the drow said.

?I?m always in for a challenge. I hope my performance will not disappoint you too much, I?m currently recuperating from a circlet of intellect.?

The male?s face fell. ?You cheat,? he stated.

?I am unaided at the moment,? she countered quietly. ?Do you wish to reveal your name to the challenger, or do you keep it in reserve in case of disappointment??

?I will hold it back and see if a cheater can do anything by herself, without her magical help.?

Chama nodded. ?So, what is your challenge??

The mage thought for a moment, then said something in a tongue Valen did not understand. The tiefling knew, however, that this tongue had something magical in it and he warily took a step back. He was relieved when he only saw a small flame escape from Gulhrys? forefinger. Chama shot something back, her finger flaming also, and they exchanged short sentences for a good ten minutes, Valen watching in boredom the flame which kept blinking on and off their fingers. Finally, there was a silence after the mage said one last thing and Valen saw the male?s face light with the prospect of victory, and suddenly Chama exclaimed, ?Seiche bachata merankali!?

The annoying flame reappeared at the tip of her finger. The male?s face fell. There was a longer silence, and finally he said, ?Koromo hikati bevine.?

?Zarath isith sssris.?

Again the silence stretched.

?I am bested,? the mage observed at last. ?What is this tongue you just used??

?Ancient kobold dialect from the Spine of the World.?

The mage smiled, amused, then bowed to Chama. ?It has been long since I had such a challenging opponent. I thank you for this most satisfying match, rivvil.?

?It was my pleasure. Perhaps you could show me the basics of the mermaid?s casting tongue? I am largely unfamiliar with it.?

?If you will explain how you came intimate with this ancient kobold dialect over dinner,? the mage answered, treading carefully now.

Valen quirked an eyebrow at the male drow, behind Chama?s back. Males were rarely so bold, especially those who had reached a high status without being associated with any female. The mage had his head lowered while he awaited Chama?s answer, humbly now. The surface elf was immobile, and Valen was unable to see her face and quite curious about her reaction.

?Will you first tell me your name, my challenging opponent??, Chama answered at last.

?My name is Gulhrys, High Wizard of House Mae?viir, at your service, my lady.? The drow bowed low, ceremoniously.

?I am Chamaedaphne Indiwasi, only child of the House of the Sun. Very well, Gulhrys, I will explain to you how I came to know this ancient dialect over dinner, and you will show me the base of the mermaids? casting tongue.?

The male lifted his head at last and Valen observed him closely. His face was carefully expressionless, as was the prudent attitude around female drow after being so bold. He bowed again.

?You honour me, female. When will you wish my presence??

Chama laughed. ?When you will call me by my name and stop bowing endlessly. If you can manage such by tomorrow night, we should be able to have a civil dinner.?

The male smirked slowly, looking at Chama with a glitter in his eye that made Valen clench his fists and grit his teeth. Valen was used to be looked at like an object or a possible conquest by the drow matrons, and the lecherous but more respectful regard Chama was drawing now was making him strangely jealous. Valen shook the feeling and forcibly relaxed his hands. It was none of his business. It was a measure of the High Wizard?s distraction that he did not notice the daggers Valen had been staring at him; adult drow males rarely missed that kind of mortal threat being directed at them.

?Very well, Chamaedaphne Indiwasi,? Gulhrys concluded. ?Where shall I find you, to escort you to my House?s dining quarters??

Chama hesitated. ?I am not well versed in your culture. Can you search for me at the temple, or would it be inappropriate??

?If the temple is currently your House, there is nothing inappropriate in this,? the mage replied.

?To the temple then. Is there somewhere I can send a message for you in case I have need??

?My House?s guards will get it to me, Chamaedaphne Indiwasi, if you wish to send me a message.?

She bowed to the mage.

?Now, I hope my performance earned me the privilege of looking at your inventory??

?Of course, my lady. I have an amulet you might find interesting while learning the mermaid?s tongue??

Valen watched as the two wizards discussed things he did not understand, switching frequently between many tongues, half of which he did not know, despite many travels through the planes. At the end, Chama concluded, ?I will likely come back to your stand tomorrow to buy more things, but I need to take a better look at what I carry in my pack. There are many interesting objects and books I found in Undermountain. Maybe you would be interested in a bit of further trade??

?I would undoubtedly be, Chamaedaphne. Is there anything you would like right away??

?Well, I will take this amulet of yours and this ring of clear thought? it is more powerful than mine.?

?You use a ring over a circlet, Chamaedaphne??

There was a warning in the drow?s words, despite the carefully studied neutrality of his tone.

?I do. I know what you think, but as I am aware that I am cheating, I am aware of the danger.?

?It is not my place to question a female. I wondered if you might gift it to a companion mage; I heard you arrived here with Nathyrra.?

Chama gave the drow an indecipherable look, and Valen wondered what she thought of this subservient attitude.

?I might gift one of the rings to Nathyrra if she agrees to accompany me and does not need another ring more badly. But for now, how much do I owe you for the amulet and ring??

?The ring will cost you 23 000 gold pieces, a fair price, you will agree. As for the amulet, I give it to you if you wear it tomorrow. The delicate design would suit your neck.?

She blushed. ?I?m afraid I can?t accept that. This is somehow symbolic in my culture. If you wish to see me wear the amulet, you?ll have to let me pay for it.?

?As the lady wishes.? Gulhrys bowed again.

They concluded their transactions and the drow bowed one last time. Valen and Chama left in the direction of the public house, where a couple of haberdashers resided and held a stand. Valen was careful with the distance behind him and waited until he was sure to be out of earshot of the mage.

He refused to acknowledge what he itched to snap about. ?What is this challenge you two fought??

Chama startled slightly. ?An old trick between wizards. It?s a challenge in spellcraft. The goal is to use as many languages as possible to cast a pre-cantrip.?

?A pre-cantrip??

?A simple, barely magical exercise, if you prefer. It?s not a full cantrip, but only a slim calling on magic. We used the preparing exercise for Candle today, and I was lucky that it was an introduction to Evocation, which is my school of magic of choice. Gulhrys is very learned in spellcraft. I?m not sure I could best him in Illusion or some other foreign school of magic.?

Valen laughed. ?Well, whatever it is you won, he was considerably more kind on the prices for you. Had I known that he prefers to deal with mages, I would have sent Nathyrra when I needed something from him.?

Chama shrugged. ?Where are those haberdashers you said I could hire? I really need my clothes dealt with.?

?They are in the public house. But before we reach it, I would discuss something with you.?

?What??, she asked, turning to look at him.

?You were asked to his House?s quarters, which are in the Mae?viir?s House??

?I already told him that I?m not very familiar with drow culture,? Chama cut, ?and asked where I can get him a message. I trust him to be smart enough to know that I?ll change the arrangements after some consultation with someone who can council me with drow customs. If you don?t mind, I?d prefer to discuss the need of a chaperone or any other particular custom to be respected with Nathyrra or the Seer, and not you.?

?I was kindly designated by Nathyrra to shepherd you around Lith My?athar,? Valen retorted, ?if you recall. I can rid you of my guidance if you don?t wish it.?

?Don?t take it so,? she answered gently. ?I know Nathyrra for a slightly longer time than you, though, and would feel more comfortable discussing what awaits me ? because I have every intention of trying to know what to expect ? with a woman. If you don?t mind.?

He struggled for a while before finally yielding in what he hoped was a graceful manner. ?Very well, if you will discuss politics and customs with Nathyrra. I feel I must warn you, however, to tread carefully. The Underdark is unknown to you, and it comprises many dangers that you will not suspect.?

?I?ll be careful. I?m aware that I am in unknown territory.?

They made their way in silence to the public house. Valen gallantly opened the door for her and she was somewhat surprised by the sudden chivalry of the harsh tiefling in full armour, with a behemoth of a flail hooked at his belt.

?I had no idea you could actually be gallant. That armour of yours can be misleading.?

Valen smiled grimly. ?Mereth and Silmoraner are over there,? he pointed.

She found the two merchants sitting behind their stall, looking bored. It was obvious business had been slow lately.

?Greetings!?, the female, Mereth, exclaimed, springing to her feet to welcome them. ?Customers! The rarest of furniture these times? What can I do for you, Valen? Rivvil??

Chama smiled to herself, wondering if being brisk was a prerequisite to be merchant in the Underdark.

?I am in need of a miracle, or new clothes, that depends on your skill,? she said as she unpacked her still drenched underclothes.

Both merchants wriggled their noses, although careful to keep pretence of politeness for their customer.

?I washed it before I brought it to you. Imagine that,? Chama grinned. ?I really like those clothes for under my armour, because it is soft and cut just right for me, but I am afraid it has seen better days, and there never seemed to be an occasion to have a copy of it made. Now I am afraid that I have to make the occasion. Is it possible to save it??

The male, after a glare from Mereth, unfolded the drenched and smelly cloth prudently. The female, looking but not touching, assessed the state of the clothes before her.

?I doubt it will ever smell good again, and it is worn out almost beyond repair. Even if I sew the tears, it will tear apart in other places in a matter of days. It would be wiser to replace it.?

?I thought so,? Chama sighed. ?Then, could I see your choice of fabrics??

Silmoraner folded the dirty and worn piece of clothing and put it away under the table, hastily cleaning the counter under the renewed glare of the female. She then proceeded to show the customer the different fabrics.

?No linen or anything resembling, my skin can?t tolerate that under armour,? Chama pleaded.

The female put aside a whole bundle of fabrics, and then pulled another, with a look of haughty pleasure on her face.

?The lady has taste, I see. My choice of silks is all for you to try.?

?You only have silk? No cotton? No nothing else??

?Cotton is hard to grow in the Underdark, rivvil,? the female answered with amusement.

?Silk it is then, I guess,? Chama sighed.

Valen frowned. She was not really going to buy enough silk to replace all her underclothes? But she did, after a hard enough bargain that brought the price lower than Valen expected, but it was still an outrageous sum.

?When will it be ready??, Chama asked.

?By tomorrow night; earlier if you pay a supplement.?

?Tomorrow night is fine.?

Chama gave half the sum to the merchant as down payment, then was out again with Valen. She paused, and Valen asked, ?Where do you want me to walk you now??

?I?m sorry if I?m losing your time, but I really needed someone to show me around.?

Valen frowned. ?I didn?t say that.?

?No, but it?s written in that frown on your forehead.?

Valen blushed slightly, facing Chama?s amused smile. She lifted an eyebrow; huge tieflings with harsh eyes could blush?

?I think I walked around enough for my tastes for tonight,? she concluded. ?I will go back to my room in the temple, and you can go back to your training with Commander Imloth.?

Valen nodded, but nevertheless escorted her to the temple.

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 18 January 2007 - 06:38 AM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#4 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
  • Member
  • 439 posts

Posted 22 January 2007 - 04:21 PM

Chapter III. Making a team

Chama sighed and turned in the incredibly comfortable bed to look at the clock. It was early, but the day was very likely to be long. She sat in her bed, waiting for the dizziness to fade, grimacing at her many wounds that had re-opened during the night. Facing the facts, she was going to be forced to stay in the city a few days. Her body did not take kindly to the treatment she had received throughout Undermountain, not to mention Halaster?s geas.

Again, she cursed her female body?s weakness, but pushed the rage, humiliation and violence aside. She had strength of mind and determination. It was enough for her to make of her life what she wished. And she did not wish it to be rage, humiliation and violence.

She dressed in the Nathyrra-style clothes again, and then went out of her room. When she reached the temple?s main room, overlooked by the Spider Queen?s statue, Valen was pacing back and forth, his tail lashing angrily, Deekin was careful to make himself forgotten in the furthest corner, and Nathyrra was practicing her throwing of a dagger on a target.

Here it goes, Chama thought with some nervousness at facing her would-be team.

?Good morning. I see you?re up early.?

Valen stopped pacing and fixed his intense and unsettling gaze on her as she was coming closer to him and Nathyrra. Deekin hurriedly skittered closer.

?Good morning, Chamaedaphne,? Nathyrra greeted, retrieving her dagger. ?I guess you came to hear about the Valsharess?s army??

?I guess now would be a good time to begin to know of her, yes. But first, you can call me Chama, you know, it?s much shorter and more practical. And I don?t care much to bear the name of a flower.?

?Have to note that about Boss? name,? Deekin muttered. ?Where did Deekin puts his pencil??

Valen raised an irate eyebrow at the kobold, but turned back to the elf. ?A chamaedaphne is a flower??

?That?s not one I know,? Nathyrra added.

?You don?t have to,? Chama replied. ?It?s the elvish name for a remarkably unremarkable flower. It has small greenish white flowers, does not smell particularly nice and does not bear edible fruits. Of course, my mother always tried to make me recall that it will survive in poor conditions, is not demanding for water or sunlight, and is used in many useful folk remedies. But I always stayed stuck with the idea that it?s just some ordinary flower.?

There was a dark look on her face at the mention of her mother, but she chased it away with a kind smile.

?Anyway, I don?t think you need a lesson in surface flowers this morning. I?m here for information. The Valsharess. Her army. What of her allies. What of ours. How long before she moves. Any information on so-called ?dread Mephistopheles?.?

Mephistopheles?, Valen thought in surprise, but kept silence. How had she learned the arch-devil?s name? Nathyrra too quirked an eyebrow, but answered, ?You should see Commander Imloth for information on troop movements, and maybe the Seer if you wish to discuss the arch-devil. I can tell you of the Valsharess?s allies.?

?Please do. Can I call you Nat? I?m pretty lazy when it comes to names.?

?You can call me Nat,? the drow smiled. ?The allies we know of the Valsharess, besides the powerful drow Houses and duergar servants that she directs and cannot be swayed in so little time, are undead, beholders, and illithids.?

?Start with the undead. What kind of undead? Numbers plausibly raised by priestesses, or something graver is to be expected??

?Something graver, I?m afraid. The undead creatures are mostly zombies, skeletons and mummies.?

?Nothing too exotic,? Chama said. ?Vampires likely to be expected? Liches??

?As far as we know, nothing of the sort. We are told a cult of necromancers exists, but it is just second-hand rumour. Since we ignore the true source of those undead, we cannot eliminate any possibilities. ?

?Sound precaution. Do you have any information as to their origin??

Nathyrra sighed. ?This answer is going to be repetitive, but it is somewhere in the Underdark area adjacent to Lith My?athar, somewhere to the west. We don?t know for sure. The same is valid for the two other allies.?

?Very well. The beholders??

Nathyrra explained that the eye tyrant of the closest hive had been recruited by the Valsharess, by unknown means.

?At least,? Chama concluded, ?if I clean their nest nothing much should come from their hive. I would expect the illithids to be another story though. What do you know of them? How were they convinced into the Valsharess?s service??

?We don?t know. We know that the drow queen likely recruited the service of many Overminds? I?m sorry. You seem to know illithids, but maybe not as well as I suppose. Am I getting ahead of myself??

?No, I know quite well what an Overmind his ? in theory at least. I could go and try to negotiate, but mind tyrants will likely ask a high price to remove their promised help from the Valsharess.?

Nathyrra nodded, while Valen listened silently. At least, she was not some stupid hot head who would run into a fight without caring to design a battle plan. She was perceptive and carefully appraising about their situation. The tiefling let out an inaudible sigh. He was cynically relieved that his job of protector to the Seer would not include rescuing the army from the stranger?s foolish orders.

?So, besides Imloth who can likely give me more pragmatic advice on fighting those creatures,? Chama concluded, ?you don?t have anything else to say than exploring the surrounding caves to the west of Lith My?athar.?

Nathyrra smirked. ?My spies have already told me this much, Chama.?

?I know it?s much,? the wood elf corrected quickly. ?I couldn?t have simply guessed this information. I had just hoped for something a bit more specific, but I imagine I?ll make a plan as I go. Besides, it?s nothing I?ve never faced before.?

?I would advise to visit a few other places also,? Valen chimed in.

?Very well. What locations do you have in mind??

?Recently, I?ve heard tales of some strange islands nearby. Based on the legends, there may be something on these islands that could help us against the Valsharess.?

?Tell me about these islands then. But I thought the river was impossible to cross.?

?I will get there,? Valen replied. At least she seemed to have a memory, doubly fuzzy or not. He proceeded to explain to her what he had heard of the Isle of the Maker and the town of winged elves.

?Winged elves? Avariel??, she asked.

?I?m not familiar with the term you use for them, but I?ve heard they are winged elves. They likely appeared there by the magic of a powerful artefact ??

?It would take no less for a town of Avariel to end up in the Underdark.?

Valen glared at the interruption and went on, ?? that we might use in our fight against the Valsharess.?

?But that she?s also likely to want for herself.?

Valen nodded. ?As for crossing the river, we can request the services of Cavallas, the boatman.?

The tiefling tried to explain as best he could the strange being that was Cavallas, and the support he lent to the Seer without disclosing his reasons. Chama frowned slightly, but nodded at Valen?s explanation. It was late enough in the morning once Valen and Nathyrra were done showing her maps of the surroundings and the four of them had heard the latest reports on their army?s state.

Chama pushed back the maps.

?I really am impatient to wear my circlet and ring again. That?s such a temptation? Please change my mind. Tell me, if I am to venture out of this town to the west, I would appreciate a guide. More than a guide, a companion to fight at my side.?

?Boss not be forgetting Deekin??, the kobold suddenly chirped, tugging at her sleeve with a distressed expression.

Chama beamed at the kobold. ?Of course not, Deekin, but you can hardly be my guide in the Underdark? I need a companion who knows this place.?

The kobold nodded wisely, sliding back into silence, soon forgotten by the others.

?I?m not sure how these things work in the Underdark though,? Chama confessed and turned back to Nathyrra and Valen. ?Do the drow function as mercenaries, or as parties? Who would be willing and skilled enough to accompany me??

?I was hoping you would ask,? Nathyrra grinned. ?I would gladly journey with you. Far better to be active than to wait here for the Valsharess to act.?

Chama shook the drow?s slim hand. ?I?m glad for your presence, Nat. But? between the two of us and Deekin, we?re embarked on a journey to death. We need someone to take the brunt of the fight, because summons can only do so much, and I doubt that, with the Valsharess on the move, we can afford to rest every five hours to replenish our spells.?

That?s when Valen spoke, his voice low and measured.

?I don?t believe in the Seer?s dreams, Chamaedaphne.?

?Chama.?

Valen glared, irritated, at the interruption, but Chama just kept smiling at him in a sunny manner. His irritation had melted down in good part under that smile when he continued. ?Though I do believe you want to stop the Valsharess. Yes, I think it would be to everyone?s advantage if we were to join forces.?

She shook his hand, with a great smile.

?I?m glad you accepted. Now I feel like I have a team with a chance for survival.?

?How optimistic of you,? Nathyrra observed with a giggle.

Deekin started humming the Doom Song, and there was some wicked sense of humour in his timing that did not escape Chama.

?I?m serious,? Chama countered, even if she repressed a smile because of Deekin?s antics. The kobold really did not look like it, but he knew he could make her laugh and always tried his best. ?We?ll train this afternoon, and you?ll see why I don?t have much trust in my survival if I go alone. But first, let?s see about your equipment. If you will wait for me a few minutes, I will retrieve my pack from my room, and we?ll see if anything can be of use to you.?

Valen and Nathyrra waited, still discussing the Valsharess?s allies, while Deekin stayed there, inconspicuous and forgotten, until Chama came back, carrying her pack. It was, unlike a warrior?s more voluminous bag, a little leather bag that she could strap to her back. Warriors and thieves were more of the habit of something to be slumped over a shoulder and hastily dropped as combat was beginning, because a heavy weight on the back is hurtful for balance.

She set the bag down and opened it. In it were many bags of holding, six of them. She took the first one.

?Armour and weapons. You might want to look through it, Valen, and then hand it over to Nat, I think there?s a dagger or two.?

She got another one out. ?Potions and healing kits. I need to sort it out and see what we won?t need. Your opinion, Nat??

The drow took the bag and opened it. ?Well, you?ve got pretty much all kinds of potions.?

?Yes. What I usually do is sell all those that enhance attributes such as strength, because magical equipment will play that role. I usually sell lore and speed also, since I have a few pairs of boots with that magical property, but perhaps you?d like one??

She was looking critically at Nathyrra?s boots and it was obvious that she knew what their enchantment was without the need to examine them closely or flip them over.

?I could keep a few ones, yes,? the drow added, then stashed them in her belt.

?I?ll keep the most powerful healing potions for Valen and a few less powerful for us. We?ll keep the healing kits and antidotes, and then sell the rest.?

?I agree. I don?t think we would have much use for the rest.?

Valen had been oblivious to that last exchange as his awed eyes slid over the sleek and glowing lines of the three armours ensconced in the bag of holding.

?Where did you find a red dragon scale??, he asked.

?Oh, well? I killed a red dragon, why? I know it?s grand and glorious, but you?d probably be best served by the chainmail of speed. That is, if you?re willing to stop wearing the one you have now, and I know it?s symbolic to you.?

Valen looked over the other chainmail, which was also red in appearance. It was indeed better than the one he wore.

?I can never give up my armour,? he declared.

Nathyrra clucked her tongue impatiently. ?You don?t have to give it up, but it seems to me that it?s wiser to wear the best equipment you have. It?s a rare engagement when you don?t have to use every edge you have.?

Chama lifted an eyebrow. It was the assassin within Nathyrra who had spoken, but she had given sound advice. ?She?s right. You can still wear your armour most of the time, but I think it would be safer, for the four of us, if you wore the most powerful armour when we are to face a dangerous battle.?

Valen nodded. ?I will try it on this afternoon to train, and will ask Rizolvir about any adjustments if necessary. Thank you, Chama, for this armour.?

?My pleasure. Do you think Imloth would like the red dragon scale? I?d offer it to Rizolvir, but I suspect he would hang it to expose it in his forge but do little use of it.?

Valen and Nathyrra laughed. ?Imloth would not like a red dragon scale,? Nathyrra finally exclaimed, ?he would drool over a red dragon scale.?

?Very well then. But maybe it would be better if? if it is one of you who gave it to him? I am still new here, and I don?t know how giving such powerful armour to someone is going to be perceived.?

?As the new leader of our forces, it will show that you take your officers seriously if you give the armour to Imloth personally,? Valen said.

?The new leader of your forces??, Chama repeated. ?The Seer made it pretty clear yesterday that it was your battle prowess that kept you all alive up until now. I don?t see why I would suddenly be the new leader of your forces.?

?Because of the Seer?s visions,? Valen spat.

?Are you questioning the Seer, Valen??, Nathyrra demanded, her tone cold and sharp as a blade.

?Not yet, Nathyrra. Not yet.?

There was a moment of silence.

?So? here are the wands and magical scrolls,? Chama announced, taking another bag of holding out of her small backpack to change the subject. ?I was thinking of selling all the parchments and rods but resurrection, summon creature of levels seven, eight and nine, and Tenser transformation. You can pick the rest if you think you will use it.?

She took another bag out; this one was smaller, but not as heavily enchanted as the other true bags of holding.

?Gems, rings and amulets. There are a few among those that are magical. You can pick what you will. Oh, all but the Amulet of the Master. I need this one on occasion.?

She tossed the bag to Valen, who opened it and looked at the contents.

?A ring of clear thought!? Nathyrra suddenly squealed and jumped for the ring in the middle of the bag. Then she looked up to Chama. ?I?m sorry, is this yours??

?Not anymore, Nathyrra. You can take it, but I think Gulhrys has others, more powerful. I?ll check with him tonight. Which reminds me, I need to speak with you privately.?

Valen growled. ?You had better warn her well, Nathyrra. She?s been invited by Gulhrys for dinner tonight.?

Nathyrra arched an eyebrow. ?The high wizard invited a female to dinner? He?s bolder than I gave him credit for. But Valen?s right, there are a few things you should be warned about.?

?Later, in private, please, Nat.?

The drow nodded.

?What is in this last bag of yours??, Nathyrra inquired, curious.

?My spell components. It?s rather smelly, so I don?t open it unless forced to.?

The drow winked. ?I understand. I know all to well what a bag of spell components smells like.?

Once her two new companions were done donning their new equipment ? with the exception of Valen?s armour ? Chama eyed them.

?You two need gauntlets. But it will do for now. I?m a bit hungry now. It would be nice if Nathyrra would show me to somewhere where I can eat and warn me enough to ease Valen?s worries during lunch, and we could train this afternoon. We need to know how each other fight and the team needs to practice a few basic tactics.?

?I agree,? Valen concurred. ?I need to try this new armour too, and Nathyrra should also familiarize herself with all her new equipment.?

The drow nodded, and then helped Chama to pack her things back up. She stood up gracefully. ?Let?s lunch and discuss, and after that we will shop a bit ? we need to empty this bag of yours if we are to bring back spoils from those many glorious adventures awaiting us.?

Chama stood in her turn.

?Hm, Boss??

?Yes, Deekin??

?What should Deekin do while Boss speaks with drow lady??

Nathyrra smiled, flattered to be addressed as ?lady?.

?I don?t know, Deekin? What would you like to do??

?Deekin is a bits hungry??

Valen saw it coming, but still growled when Chama turned to him. ?No,? he muttered.

She glared at him with narrowed eyes. ?Yes,? she whispered, and turned on her heel before he could protest, leaving him baffled and alone with the hungry kobold, to find suitable food for such a creature.

After two seconds, he overcame his shock at being treated so forcefully and how she had dared to so blatantly ignore his opinion. His eyes flared red and he glowered at the kobold who, surprisingly enough, did not skitter away as was intended. The kobold looked at him patiently and, if Valen could read reptilian faces better, he was sure he would have seen amusement there. It baffled him even more and he growled, getting to his feet, ?Come on. Let?s find something you can eat.?

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A picture of Chamaedaphne calyculata, an indigenous plant species here in QuÚbec with what I thought was a nice name: Chamaedaphne calyculata

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 22 January 2007 - 04:38 PM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#5 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
  • Member
  • 439 posts

Posted 31 January 2007 - 04:54 PM

Hello! Sorry for the delay, but I had to rework it seriously, so it took a while longer. It was also muuuuch too long, and I cut it in two, but I knew the transition would be a bit harsh for two seperate chapters, so I posted them together.

Chapter IV. Clashing again

Nathyrra and Chama went up to the public house to get their lunch. They settled at a table in an isolated corner and were served by a discreet male.

?Now, Nat, I?d like to know. Why did Gulhrys invite me to dinner? Is it some sort of social meeting, or because it is an occasion to share knowledge with a fellow wizard, or because he is male and I am female??

Nathyrra smiled at the last phrase. ?I don?t know Gulhrys very well, but if I had to guess, I?d say he?s interested because you impressed him in his spellcraft challenge. How many tongues did you use against him before he bested you??

There was a short silence. ?He?s never been bested before??, Chama asked.

?No, he hasn?t. Now wait? you won??

?Well? yes. Forty-three languages to cast the candle pre-cantrip, if I recall correctly.?

Nathyrra cast a surprised but admiring glance at her fellow wizard. ?Alright? now it?s possible he invited you because he?s male and you?re female. Did he say where he was taking you??

?He said to his House?s dining quarters. I hesitated; it seemed a bit intimate to me, and I told him I might send him a message, in case I changed my mind.?

?That?s a bit rude, but he?s smart enough to understand that you?re not aware of our culture and that Valen wouldn?t explain that sort of things to you in his presence.?

She grunted. ?I?m grateful. Now, are his House?s dining quarters an intimate place??

Nathyrra pondered briefly the question. ?Not so much, since it will not be a private dinner, but it?s still in his? in his territory, so to speak, and it?ll forward his status to you and to the others of his House.?

?I hate politics,? Chama declared with heartfelt conviction. ?Alright, since guessing his intentions seems hard enough, maybe you could just spare me the politics and warn me of the potential dangers and what I should avoid doing at all costs.?

?I like how you always go straight to the point, Chama. You must not accept his proposal to give you a personal item of his ? a ring, or an amulet, or a pin, or a brooch, or anything else.?

?I would not be comfortable accepting something such, but tell me? what exactly does it mean??

?I think I?ll clear this particular custom just a bit. In the traditional drow houses, males are females? properties. Among the followers of Eilistraee, however, even though long habits die hard, it?s not legally the case. In drow tradition, the male gives one of his personal items to a female to signify that he surrenders his possessions and himself to her.?

She grimaced. ?I see.?

Nathyrra frowned. She was one of Eilistraee?s followers and approved the idea of males belonging to themselves, even if she had not had any occasion to experiment this particular kind of relationship yet, being a new follower. Still, she found Chama?s apparent disgust of her people?s customs a bit insulting.

The wood elf had noticed it. ?I?m sorry, Nat, it?s just that it reminds me of some unpleasant things,? she specified hastily. ?In the human world, the males dominate, and I cannot say that either system has convinced me that it is a good thing.?

At that Nathyrra nodded thoughtfully. ?Besides making him keeping his own belongings,? the drow added, ?I?d advise against discussing Eilistraee, the Seer, the Matron Mother or the Valsharess while in the House Mae?viir.?

?Does that apply to public areas only or does it also include private discussions? Gulhrys is an arrogant wizard, and I can tell that he wouldn?t serve any House at all if it wasn?t necessary for his survival. I think he?d be willing to discuss the Mae?viir?s intentions with me, if in private. I?d trust his private workspace to be free of spies or magical surveillance, given his status.?

The drow lifted an eyebrow. ?I wasn?t aware you were a spymaster.?

Chama smiled slyly. ?Oh, I?m not, but I used to know one and he did manage to show me a few tricks. So, what of Gulhrys?s private quarters or lab??

Nathyrra considered a moment. ?Well, such information would be valuable to us. House Mae?viir?s support is not? guaranteed. They fear the Valsharess, and it might be that they fear her enough to betray us. I agree that you should try and tear information out of the High Wizard, if you?re relatively confident that the surroundings are safe.?

?Alright. Now, a more pragmatic topic: what should I wear not to appear inappropriate? I was thinking of my old robe of resistance to fire. It?s a functional piece of clothing, yet it has some style, and it would put me out as a wizard, not as female. What do you think??

Nathyrra approved. ?Very good choice in my opinion. Gulhrys might think it?s a bit lacking in power for a magical garment, but then it will not serve to pull things in a direction you don?t desire.?

?Alright. I admit it would? it would feel good to have my hair up and feel? like a beautiful lady, not a dirty adventurer, just for a night. Would you? would you help me with my hair, Nathyrra??

The drow smiled at Chama?s embarrassment, and nodded her agreement.

?Besides avoiding such topics of conversation as politics and the current troubles of Lith My?athar and refusing personal items of his,? Chama summarized, ?is there something else I should not do??

?You should not let a drow guard insult you.?

?I?m not in the habit of letting people insult me, but I admit that my methods are probably not those of a Matron Mother. I hardly have the strength to physically handle anyone. Will a smart answer will do??

?You have to make sure it?s smart enough.?

Chama smiled innocently. ?Would a polymorph spell be smart enough??

?Most definitely,? Nathyrra agreed with a wicked smile, ?moreover since the poor victim would have to seek Gulhrys?s assistance in turning back to his original form, and it would be greatly humiliating since you were Gulhrys?s guest.?

?Alright, I also have some scorching cantrips that can teach a pig his manners. Would that be too rash??

?Keep that for extremes measures. You are catching up quite nicely to drow culture,? Nathyrra smirked.

An expressionless mask settled over Chama?s face for a moment and the drow fell silent. Oh, how I have been accused of this before, Chama thought, before she forcefully went on. ?Any other advice on how to behave? I know I shook your hand earlier, but I think it?s not a customary way to answer to a greeting.?

?A simple bow of the head will do. You?re expected to bow your head to the Matron Mother if you meet her.?

?No curtsy required??

?No curtsy,? Nathyrra confirmed, laughing at Chama?s relief.

?Is this all??

?That?s all I can think of. I?d advise against flirting too much with Gulhrys either. He?s a powerful male and you wouldn?t like to give the impression of grovelling before him.?

?Oh, I have no intention of flirting or grovelling. I accepted his invitation to tell him how I learned an ancient kobold dialect and to learn the base of the mermaids? casting tongue. Now I hope that Valen will think me adequately warned. I?m not sure if it?s this way among drow, but it would be extremely rude for a male elf to advise a woman on such matters.?

Nathyrra smiled slightly, trying to picture the weapon master with his behemoth of a flail discussing the choice of dress with Chama. She shook her head and banished the silly image. ?I?m afraid Valen wasn?t even aware he was being rude and embarrassing. Drow males would not dare to tell a female what she must be careful about ? not even the followers of Eilistraee ? and I think Valen?s lived with us for long enough to know. But he isn?t a drow male, and isn?t treated as such.?

?I understand,? Chama nodded. ?I just hope he won?t come back on the subject.?

Nathyrra smiled. ?Don?t worry. If he does, I?ll distract him.?

They left their table once they cleared the last remnants of their lunch and went to collect Chama?s armour at Rizolvir?s forge. The elf also bought gauntlets for Nathyrra and Valen, and then both women went to meet Valen and Deekin at the training grounds, where Commander Imloth was busy drilling a score of recruits. Deekin stood to one side, his crossbow at the ready, and Valen wore his new armour and was making a few warm-up swings with his huge flail.

By Mystra, he is intimidating when swinging that thing, she thought to herself while the piece of metal whistled back and forth through the air. Even in a human city, Valen would have struck as very tall; he seemed even bigger in contrast with the shorter and leaner drow. He was huge, and even more so with a full chainmail on, but he moved agilely and quickly ? quicker because of the armour, but Chama could tell that his balance was not only the benefit of his armour.

The weapon master stopped when they came closer and gave a bow of the head to the two women. Chama smiled to herself; he was becoming more civil. Should she consider it a good sign, or merely a deception to better surprise her with curtness later on?

?How is the armour??, she asked.

?It?s not helping my dilemma,? he admitted with a regretful smile. ?It?s comfortable, light and powerful. I consider putting my armour away for good to take dust into my pack.?

?I?m pleased you like it. Now, speaking of armour, Commander Imloth, I have something that you might find useful.?

The drow warrior stepped forward after growling a word to his troops who hastily set to the newly ordered series of exercises. Imloth looked curiously while she unpacked one of her bags of holding and opened it, revealing a Red dragon scale underneath. She covered the stunned silence of the drow commander with a short history of the armour he was gaping at.

?I carry this with me for months; I was hoping to find someone who could use it and I didn?t want to just sell it away. Since I already equipped Valen, I thought you should be next, being the troops? commander.?

She pulled the scale from the bag and put it down on the ground to be admired. The recruits had stopped their exercises and were staring in awe.

?Resume!?, Valen barked. ?What do you think you?ll learn standing there with your mouths gaping? In position! All together. Keep the pace! Faster!?

Under Valen?s stern commands and intimidating cyan glare, the recruits hastily resumed their exercises.

Imloth looked at Chama with a curious expression on his face, but finally he smiled, ?Thank you. I assure you that this armour won?t be wasted. I will wear it at all times and I will serve Eilistraee with it. I think you did well to carry this armour for so long. Now it will serve a worthy cause.?

?I?m pleased you like it,? she repeated with a smile. ?But you have to do something for me in exchange.?

?What is that??

?Just hand us a few recruits that we can train with this afternoon. We need to train as a team for a bit before we set off.?

?Of course! Those here are at your disposal, as am I, as soon as I slip this marvel on. Valen, could you help me please??

After one last glare to keep the recruits going, Valen moved to Imloth?s side and helped him remove his drow chain and try the dragon scale. The drow rolled his shoulders experimentally, and then made a few moves.

?My leather armour is not exactly fit for this new mail, but Rizolvir will take care of that easily enough. Now, what do you have in mind, Chamaedaphne??

?Please, call me Chama, it?s much shorter. First I?d like to see my warrior ? sorry to call you that, Valen ? in a full attack and see how long he holds. I need to know when he needs my spells or not.?

A grim smile appeared on Valen?s face at those words and he turned challengingly to the recruits he would be facing. A few already started fidgeting nervously. Still staring at them, the tiefling drawled lazily, ?You might like to get me a practice weapon, Imloth, unless you want your recruits somewhat? roughed up.? He had learned long ago in the Abyss that a part of the battle began before the first swings were exchanged.

Imloth handed him a practice flail, with a head of padded leather, then took a wooden sword and took place at the head of his troops. The drow warrior issued a few orders and the soldiers took place obediently behind him, breaking neatly into orderly ranks.

Valen crouched down into an offensive position, brought his flail up, and looked at the squadron of ten drow facing him. He evaluated his chances and opening carefully, and then charged.

?Into the flames we leap!?

He let out a savage laugh and Chama watched silently. He rushed into one of the recruits shoulder first, sending the soldier plummeting backwards into two of his comrades. Valen turned around quickly enough to deflect three blades descending at his back with a single swipe of his flail, which he brought around with unbelievable speed to strike again, right on a recruit?s shoulder, who winced in pain.

?That would have been at your head! Step out!?, Valen said. He did not even sound breathless. He did not break his move and brought his flail around as he spun again, kicking out behind him right in Imloth?s chest to keep his adversaries away from his back.

The size of his flail seemed a complete contradiction with the speed with which he swung, and each of his hits lost nothing of precision because of his quickness. He moved his considerable bulk and the heavy weight of his armour effortlessly, in perfect balance. It took him barely more than twenty seconds to bring the ten drow down.

?All this and not breaking a sweat,? Chama commented when Valen stood in the middle of the defeated recruits. ?Again. I need to know how long you can hold out, so I know when to send in back up or spells or order the retreat.?

This time Imloth commanded only five recruits, to be replaced by the other five as soon as one fell. Again Valen crouched down, his flail pulled back to swing, and charged happily into the fray. This time there was no breathing time, because his adversaries were deftly replaced one after the other. However, the recruits were opponents that he could spar with effortlessly, and he did not feel hard pressed.

Chama, watching him silently again, could see in his carefree swings that indeed, he had no trouble at all. Imloth and the recruits looked more breathless than the tiefling who was having no break. The elf waited until she saw that Valen?s hits were only slightly slower than at the beginning, and then she called out, ?Halt. I think I have seen what I need to see.?

Valen turned with a grin to Chama, to see the effect his skill had on her. Imloth?s recruits were not adversaries with whom he could show off the extent of his mastery, but he still was satisfied with how he had dealt with their numbers. Chama was eyeing him with a bland look and said in a flat voice, ?You are a fighter.?

?A weapon master, to be exact, Chama.?

At that she gave him a small smile. ?I meant it as praise. I have fought for a time with a monk, then a thief as my warrior, and then with an Uthgardt barbarian. Daelan ? the barbarian ? was more into blind charges and overrunning enemies with his mere size and strength. It is the first time I will have the opportunity to travel with someone whose main focus in combat is the mastery of his weapons.?

?As a weapon master, I wield only one weapon,? Valen pointedly corrected her use of the plural, ?and it is the heavy flail.?

?I can see how it must have been useful to you in the infinite battlefields of the Blood Wars.?

Valen took a step back, his eyes flickering in colour in an unnerving way. Nathyrra was frozen, as were Deekin, Imloth and the recruits, determined not to attract an angry and off-balance tiefling?s attention when someone else had struck so sensible a chord.

?Why do you speak of the Blood Wars??, Valen asked.

Chama kept her bland calm, but she could tell she had said something she should not have. ?That battle cry of yours: ?Into the flames we leap?,? she explained. ?I know it?s the battle cry of the tanar?ri. With your horns and tail that herald you as a tiefling, I just supposed you learned it there. Forgive me if I offended you, it was not my intention.?

?How do you know it to be the battle cry of the tanar?ri??, he inquired suspiciously.

She shrugged. ?I?m a wizard. I can summon demons and devils to my service. I tended to prefer demons. I found it easier to deal with ?Into the flames we leap!? than with ?I obey you only as long as I have to? while in the middle of a battle, because I usually sent back my fiendish servants as soon as the battle was over. I also got the feeling that demons were less of a kind to hold a grudge against a wizard to be summoned for a bloody battle than devils were. Demons seemed satisfied with the destruction, while I always got the unnerving feelings that devils would only have been satisfied with a way to break their contract and accomplish my destruction.?

Valen looked at her uneasily for a long moment, feeling shame, mixed with rage, well up inside of him at how accurate her perception of things was. She looked away suddenly, and added, ?I don?t summon demons or devils anymore. I stick with dire monsters and elementals now, and I don?t think I would ever have had the power to summon one such as you, if it?s any consolation to you.?

Nathyrra, Imloth and the other drow were still frozen and holding carefully still. Making oneself forgotten is a skill necessary for survival in drow society and each drow that reaches maturity has mastered it. Deekin had nothing to envy to the other?s ability to make oneself forgotten, with his white dragon of a master.

?Was this at the same time that you almost lost your mind to a circlet of intellect? Because summoning demons is known among wizards as an endeavour for the foolishly ambitious,? Valen shot back. The demon stirred within. He wanted to hurt her suddenly. She looked back at him with an expressionless mask and cold eyes that spoke of alien detachment; it chilled him and made him momentarily forget his anger.

?Yes, it was during that period of my life,? she concurred flatly. ?I will tell you one more thing. I have spied by indirect means on Belial for personal reasons. Did you know that the demon prince was recently freed and returned to the Abyss? Now, I will kindly keep for myself what I have seen all the demons do during the Blood Wars ? no doubt what you have done also, when you were in the Abyss ? if you will refrain from inquiring more about my past.?

The fearless tiefling with a temper paled before the small and cold elf. ?We both obviously changed since we are here to help the Seer now,? she added, some emotion returning in her voice. Her tone had been as icy and chilling as the coldest winter night Valen had ever experienced in the frozen planes. ?So I would concentrate on the present and not on the past. Now let us train together, my warrior.?

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 07 January 2008 - 06:10 AM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#6 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
  • Member
  • 439 posts

Posted 31 January 2007 - 04:58 PM

Second half!

Chapter V. Training

Chama snapped her icy eyes on Imloth and he looked into a pair of black eyes that reminded him of handmaidens of Lolth. He swallowed and bowed.

?Your instructions, Chamaedaphne??

There was a chilling smile on her lips. Who would knowingly call me by a flower?s name while in this state of mind?

?We need to practice our retreat move,? she said, although by the sound of it, it was as clear an order as Imloth had ever received.

She gave instructions on what exercise she had in mind and everyone moved silently to comply. There was a hard edge to the battle at that moment, Valen swinging harder, with a fiercer determination, while he covered his companions? retreat.

?You?re too fast, it leaves us open for arrows,? Chama noted tonelessly. ?You?ll get used to the armour?s hasting in time, I imagine. Let?s do it again.?

They did, several times.

?That?s the best we?ll get in one day, I think,? Chama finally decreed. ?Now, we need to practice fights in confined spaces. Do you have a corridor or a door we could block for a while??

Imloth, still treading carefully despite the cold blackness that was gone from her eyes, gestured them to the infantry?s dormitory. He took the occasion to replace his ten recruits by fresh ones. The freed soldiers exited the dormitory and went to collapse as one by the riverbank to rest their sore muscles. Valen, Nathyrra, Deekin and Chama fought against a dozen new recruits in a narrow door.

On their second try, a particularly limp swordsman managed to slip under Valen?s left arm when the tiefling swung on his right side. The drow thrust at Chama. The elf side-stepped the first blow, but was hit in the gut by the second one. The recruit was cut down immediately by Nathyrra and her hidden dagger, but the assassin called a halt to the exercise.

?Stop, Chama?s been brought down.?

Valen turned, frowning.

?He would not really have brought you down with just a stab at the gut??, the tiefling asked.

?I?m glad that at least you know what happened,? she answered, and her familiar lightness had returned. ?But yes, without stoneskins he would. Now you know how easily I am brought down and why I need a warrior so badly.?

?I also know that I must make sure not even one manages to run past me, no matter what is happening in front of me,? he replied, still frowning, as though not quite believing what had happened. ?Nathyrra, where were you??

?In the shadows,? the drow answered with a self-satisfied smile, ?in your shadow, actually, to your right.?

?It would be better if you kept the left then,? Valen advised. ?If someone is going to sneak past me, it?s likely to be on my left side.?

?That would be where I summoned my dire creature if it was safe to use one in training. On the battlefield, I?ll put a bear there, if we fight in a door like that.? Seeing the bland look she received from Nathyrra, Chama added, ?No bears in the Underdark, I take it? Bears are all left-handed.?

They trained a while more, and finally, it was Nathyrra who said, ?I think we?ll do fine in small spaces. Dinner time is approaching.?

?I agree that it?s enough for us today,? Chama concurred. ?I have still a bit to do, and I would like you to watch, so you know? know my weakness a little better.?

She pointed to the male who had brought her down earlier. ?You, what is your name??

?Mekefal,? the drow answered with a slight bow.

?From what I can tell, you appear to be a match for me, where fencing is concerned. How long have you been training intensely like this??

?A little over three months.?

?Encouraging,? Chama stated acidly. ?Last time I checked I measured to a two-week trainee at the Academy. But never mind. Would you spar with me, one-on-one??

The drow shot an inquiring look to Commander Imloth, who gestured him ahead.

?As you wish, darthirii.?

They made their way outside, while Imloth ordered the recruits to put the furniture that had been moved back into place. Chama and Mekefal drew their wooden swords and started circling each other cautiously.

?I?m a wizard, so you don?t have to be overly concerned by my attacks,? she smiled.

The swordsman kept silence, observing her moves carefully. He made a thrust and she sidestepped the same way she had earlier. She did not lunge to counter-attack, and she seemed determined to fight defensively. Prudently, he attacked a few times, and she appeared easier to hit by thrusting than cutting, with that elven grace of hers that allowed her to sidestep quickly.

Valen watched the both of them and repressed a snort. He knew the recruit?s style well enough to spar with him with his eyes closed, and anyway he was more interested in Chama?s skill. She was a typical spellcaster; sloppy style, weak guard, half-hearted counterattacks, but quick hands, attentive eyes, and intelligent strategy. He assessed silently to himself that the long sword was not a weapon fit for her; with her impressive speed and incredible balance, she would have been better off with a light weapon she could have manoeuvred more proficiently. That was another thing typical of spellcasters: they never received proper counsel where the bodily aspects of battle were concerned.

At his first thrusting cut, Mekefal grazed Chama?s left arm, and he escaped a blow to the head by a hair breadth. The few following minutes of fruitless attacks on either side only served to confirm Valen?s initial assessment. Mekefal suddenly lunged for an opening when Chama drew her blade too far forward after he avoided it, and he slashed at her waist, hitting hard enough on her side.

It was just a practice strike, though, one that only left a bruise, the kind of bruises that covered his body for three months now. He was surprised, however, when she groaned and collapsed, both hands to her side. It was a very surprised Mekefal who let his sword fall and caught her before she fell head first on the ground. He helped her down to her knees.

?Mekefal, are you mad, hitting so hard in practice??, Imloth shot him angrily.

The young drow immediately let go of Chama and stepped back, bowing his head in shame before his Commander?s ire.

?He? he didn?t!?, Chama panted.

?Boss be injured!?, Deekin screamed, jumping up and down in agitation. ?Boss be injured!?

?You?re bleeding,? Nathyrra stated.

?An old wound,? Valen noted in sudden understanding. ?Did the Seer not heal you yesterday??

?She did,? Chama managed. ?It seems the geas has something to say against the Seer?s magic.?

She stayed prostrated on her knees, clutching her weakly bleeding side, and it took Mekefal a gesture from his Commander to bring him to speak.

?My apologies. I hurt you, but it was not my intention.?

She waved him off and he stopped. ?Halaster hurt me. You just practiced with me. Now help me to my feet, please.?

The soldier took her arm and she leaned hard enough on him. He pulled her to her feet, then she let go of his arm and steadied herself.

?Now you really see how easily I can be brought down,? she addressed Valen and Nathyrra, with an icily controlled voice. ?I wanted you to know this before we set off. But I tire of showing off my weakness. I have strength of a different type, and this is what I would show you now.?

She turned to Imloth. ?Do you have a combat dummy you can spare? Resistant and expandable if possible??

Imloth grinned. ?I think I know what kind of combat dummy you have in mind.? He turned and pointed at something down by the riverside opposite the resting soldiers. ?The mages usually use that rock over there for this purpose.?

Chama smiled. ?Well, that will do. I just need another few targets. Can you mark a few with paint, or some other trick??

Imloth gestured one of his soldiers off, and the drow ran back after a while with a closed container holding red paint used for targets and combat dummies.

?Ten red dots on the ground there, around the bigger rock, please,? Chama asked him.

He marked the ground in ten places, and then stepped back with the others. She started with a single cantrip, making a light appear over the bigger rock. In this light, it was obvious that the rock had seen much abuse by diverse spells. Chama cast another light over her own head. Deekin watched worriedly the patch of blood widening on Boss?s abdomen. After her light spell, Chama cast something on herself that Valen could not recognize. He nudged Nathyrra by the elbow.

?What was that??

?Light, then resistance.?

Valen suffered what he thought of privately as the ?show of sparks? stoically, without a comment about his boredom. Not being a mage, all he saw were sparks, glows and smoke when Chama cast spells. If not for Nathyrra who named all the spells for him ? many of which seemed to repeat themselves, although he knew the difference between ?Endure? and ?Resist? must be of prime importance for spellcasters, he just could not bring himself to remember those trivial details ? he could never have distinguished between the spells being cast.

Although, to be honest, he had to grudgingly admit to himself that the ?show of sparks? lasted quite a bit of time, and he was almost sure that he had seen no one, not even the Seer, cast continuously so many spells from memory before.

Chama used Deekin, Nathyrra, Imloth and Valen as targets for her defensive spells. Valen ended up sheathed in thick, flexible and protective skins of stone. He was also surrounded by yellow specks of light that danced in the air about him; they felt at the same time soothingly warm and cool. And there was like an unearthly glow to his skin that was useful in resisting the effects of spells, Nathyrra informed him.

?Have I missed much??, a slow drawl asked just then over Nathyrra?s shoulder, sounding slightly breathless.

Deekin, Nathyrra and Valen turned to see Gulhrys standing there behind them, his hair in disarray after what was obviously a dead run from the other side of Lith My?athar where he held his magical stand. Valen had to squish another upwelling of intense dislike for the High Wizard.

?She?s exhausting her spells in order,? Nathyrra exclaimed excitedly, ?you?ve only missed two Lights, two Resistances, two Endure, two Resist and two Protection from elements, four Acid arrows and these four Fireballs.?

The High Wizard nodded appreciatively and Nathyrra smiled to herself. The possibility of him inviting her because they were male and female, as Chama put it, was rising by the second.

?I saw the first Light, I think,? Gulhrys whispered. ?I thought it might be her casting without cheating, and after her demonstration of spellcraft, I was intrigued.?

?With good reasons,? Nathyrra agreed. ?Look at her. She?s not halfway through.?

Gulhrys nodded. Valen frowned, wondering how the two mages knew how she was half through or not, but decided that it must have something to do with spellcraft.

Chama turned to address her team and hesitated slightly when she saw Gulhrys there. ?This, Valen,? she said, ?is the basic state you will be in for any serious fight we pick, if I have the time to cast as I wish. For more powerful opponents, I would use a Protection from elements on you instead of a Endure elements.?

Valen acknowledged with a bow of the head. She turned towards her rock again, and started another spell. The ?show of sparks? went on for some time still, and the ?special effects? notably became progressively more spectacular. Dire monsters appeared out of thin air above summoning circles glowing in baleful red; arrows of fierce fire burned against the bare surface of the rock for a few seconds before giving out; bluish white globes of searing energy arced through the air and thudded malevolently against the rock; protective spells fizzled out of existence with a strident noise of static; brown dust and black light unfurled and covered half the training grounds; and gigantic boulders of ice crashed down from the sky.

After the third Ice storm Chama cast, the practice rock suddenly gave way and fell backwards. Chama laughed.

?Giving up so soon, are you? I?m not done with you yet,? she told her target.

In the assistance, Gulhrys let out a low whistle. ?Whyever does she use a circlet and ring anyway??, he asked.

He exchanged a glance with Nathyrra, who was equably impressed.

?That be simple,? Deekin said haughtily. ?Boss be even better with circlet and ring. Boss be better than Old Boss even!?

Valen frowned and wondered who was this ?Old Boss?, but wisely decided that finding out was probably not worth the trouble of actually encouraging Deekin to speak.

?Another monster summoning,? Nathyrra identified the next spell to be cast.

?Fine!?, Valen exclaimed in exasperation. ?I can recognize the monsters she summons.?

?I have far too much fun at finally being able to match Gulhrys at something to stop now.?

The wizard blushed, pleased at Nathyrra?s flattery, but as arrogance can sometimes blind people, he did not see that she was mocking him more than a bit.

And still the ?show of sparks? went on. When another volley of globes of pure energy pounded into the poor practice rock, it shook under the repeated impact, slanting further backwards.

Chama laughed. ?I told you I was not done with you!?

After that Missile storm, Valen saw familiar fire curl between Chama?s hands. He frowned slightly, wondering why she went back to the Fireball after casting those other, much more powerful spells. He was sure that Nathyrra had said she cast her spells in order, from the less to the most powerful.

Gulhrys gasped quietly. ?She?s squeezing it very dry.?

Valen turned to Nathyrra with exasperated impatience, and she kindly explained, ?She?s pouring more power into that spell than a simple fireball. She?s making it the most burning it will ever get.?

Said fireball suddenly flew from her hands to crash into the rock with a deafening roar and a blinding flash of orange light. The heat wave rolled out and over to them. It felt like opening and leaning into the door of an oven to get the baked bread out.

?Another spell squeezed dry, an ice storm this time.?

The stalactites of ice that fell from the sky were of gigantic proportions and the ground shook when they hit the solid rock that was the Underdark?s floor.

The final spells that Chama cast were summons of elemental creatures, and this managed to catch Valen?s attention fully. The first one was a huge elemental whose apparition made Valen blink a few times in surprised respect. The amount of power necessary to tear one of those proud creatures from its home plane was impressive. The next spell, however, left him truly baffled with admiration. As an outsider, he could recognize one of the elemental princes when he was faced with one. He swallowed nervously while Chama bowed respectfully to Zaaman Rul, Prince of Fire. The Prince grudgingly bowed slightly in answer and stood to the side while Chama concluded her demonstration.

?Your torture is at an end, don?t worry,? she told her practice target, which earned her a few laughs among the recruits.

?Greater missile storm, squeezed dry,? Nathyrra announced for Valen?s benefit. White light seeped into Chama, and again she threw her hands forward, and searing balls of white energy flew and buried themselves in the targets marked on the ground, the energy writhing ferociously against the unyielding surface of stone for a visible moment before fading away.

She bowed one last time to the Prince of Fire, saying something in a tongue Valen did not understand, and the proud creature spun as he disappeared.

Valen?s baffled admiration was instantly swept away when she came back. She was relaxed, panting slightly, and her whole side was plastered with fresh blood. Valen noticed this with some alarm at the intensity of the writhing of his demon within; it was enraged and demanded more of her blood spilled for taunting him earlier. Valen reminded himself sternly that he had the power over the demon and forcefully visualized the iron door he had shut on half of his soul.

?Now I know why I use a circlet, and why I should not,? Chama sighed, oblivious to his struggle. ?I need the extra spells each day, but casting tastes so much better without the twist in my mind.?

Deekin was dancing from foot to foot in worry and excitation, but it was Nathyrra who dared to say, ?You?re bleeding badly enough, Chama.?

The elf sighed, looking down at her side. ?Yes, I guess I am. I tried a potion this morning, but it won?t do.?

?The Seer?s magic helped you, didn?t it??, Valen asked in an attempt at natural behaviour.

?It did.?

?Then she can heal you again.? Despite his words, the tiefling?s eyes were edging dangerously towards yellow while he fixed with morbid satisfaction her sides heaving heavily. He knew she was at her most vulnerable, drained of magic like this, and with a wide patch of fresh blood on her clothes.

She took a step back, edging behind Gulhrys and hiding her side from Valen.

?I will go see her now,? she said. ?Valen, Nathyrra, Deekin, I will meet you again tomorrow morning, and I will see if the geas allows the Seer?s magic to heal me tonight.?

She turned to the High Wizard. ?I hope you will be patient and tolerate that I keep you waiting for a while? I need to get healed and clean this.?

?Of course, Chamaedaphne.? Gulhrys bowed low. ?Shall two hours suffice??

She bit her lip. ?No, a single hour should be enough.?

?I will wait for you, Chamaedaphne.?

She cast a glance at Valen, whose eyes had reverted to cerulean as soon as her blood was out of his sight, then back to Gulhrys. ?I will see you later, then. Nathyrra, you remember my request??

?Of course,? the drow assured her warmly, and she followed her back to the temple. Valen stalked off towards the river, Gulhrys back to his stand, and Deekin stayed there, scratching his head and taking notes on a small notebook he kept at hand in his belt. Now that he knew that the nice drow seer would take care of Boss, he could take the time to take notes.

Imloth waited for everyone but the kobold to move out of hearing range. He called back his recruits who were resting by the riverside and waited until all of them were near.

?Now, I think all of you understood why it would be unwise to speak of the Blood Wars or a certain wizard?s past to anyone??

The soldiers nodded with a bland look. ?Good. Now, Sharni, tell me how it is that Valen managed to disarm you, and what you should have done not to let him.?
"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#7 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
  • Member
  • 439 posts

Posted 05 February 2007 - 07:18 PM

Here comes this week's chapter... I'm sick so if I didn't see some mistake or flow problem, blame it on the flew (the real thing, not just a cold)... and kindly point it out to me so I can try to reverse the process of my brain turning to ... well ... some wet, unidentifiable substance. (Did I mention disgusting?)

Chapter VI. Perspectives and reactions

When Chama finally arrived at the temple, half her dress was splattered in blood and she did her best to hide her painful panting. She swallowed back her disgust at being injured by a practice strike with a wooden sword. The Seer healed her in a moment.

?It?s much better now,? Chama said with a smile. ?Thank you.?

?Mother Seer,? Nathyrra exclaimed, ?she says the geas fights with your magic.?

The elderly drow sighed. ?That it does. I can quell the injuries for a time, but they come back until they are healed by the body, not by my spell.?

?What does it matter anyway,? Chama declared fiercely, ?while adventuring you?re always injured. I already feel the geas? harshness fading. I think I get used to it and it gets used to me.?

The Seer agreed, and assured Chama she would monitor her condition regularly. Chama was only too happy to leave for the women quarters with Nathyrra and leaving behind the touchy subject of her fragile health. She strode into her room and poured some water in a bowl, then put a cloth in the water. Nathyrra sat on the bed, waiting for Chama to wash and change before she could pull her hand up.

Chama held her back on Nathyrra and played nervously with a hand in the bowl of water. She spoke with her back turned, and her voice was a bit strange.

?Nat, I know it sounds strange, but I don?t like anyone to see me? I have scars and they embarrass me. Would you please turn around just for a short while??

The drow lifted her eyebrows, but answered while she turned around, ?Of course, but really, we all have scars. It doesn?t really matter.?

?Mine do to me.?

Right away, there was nothing to answer to that placating statement. After a while, though, when water had finished splashing and Nathyrra heard the rustling of clothes being pulled on, she said tentatively, ?As we travel, it might be hard to avoid seeing the others sometimes. I promise that I will not? notice your scars, if they bother you.?

There was a long silence.

?I thank you for that, Nathyrra.? Chama?s voice was calm and soft, as though she was suddenly relieved of something. ?Before you turn around, I just want to ask your honesty. Tell me what you really think of that dress to go have dinner with Gulhrys. Now you can turn.?

Nathyrra grinned and whirled around.

?You know, seeing that he came halfway across Lith My?athar at a dead run to see you cast, I?d say the main reason why he invited you is that he?s interested by the female at least as much as the mage ? because he could tell what spells you used from over at his merchant stand.?

She looked Chama over with a critical eye. As the mage had said, the robe had some style, with its black and red cloth, finely sewed epaulettes and a square neck that was modest enough without being sober. The black and red suited Chama?s pale skin and dark hair.

?You need a necklace, but the robe itself is alright,? she finally judged.

?Yesterday, I bought an amulet that will help me to learn tongues from Gulhrys. I?d like to wear it, I just hesitate because he wanted to give it to me at first, and well? this means something for my people.?

Nathyrra cracked a smile of foreseen amusement. ?What does it mean??

?If a female wears a jewel a man gave her on an occasion when she goes specifically to see him, it means she loves him forever and ever.?

Nathyrra smiled wryly. ?Gulhrys is a smart man, but not overly worldly, so I wouldn?t think he knows this particular custom of the elves. Besides, you did buy the thing from him, didn?t you? It?s alright, you can wear it safely.?

Chama buckled the amulet on.

?Unlike many magical items, this amulet is finely crafted and actually beautiful,? Nathyrra remarked, admiring the amulet?s design.

?It is. What do you think we should do with my hair??

Nathyrra lifted a few strands, pulling them up experimentally, before she decreed, ?I think I have an idea. Will you let me try??

Chama nodded and sat at her dresser to let Nathyrra work on her hair. The drow twisted her mid-back locks up until there was a pile of loops of hair on top of her head, and she let the rest of her hair fall straight on her back.

?Like that, you don?t even show your ears off too much. I think Gulhrys will get the message.?

?Showing your ears off is a sign for drow??, Chama asked.

?Well? it?s sexier to show your ears off.?

Chama lifted an eyebrow. ?Since we?re both females I don?t think I?ll insult you, so I?ll ask? You always have your ears shown off. Does that mean you?re always? shall we say? available??

Nathyrra laughed. ?No! You have to wear a decent hairstyle for that to mean anything. My adventuress? ponytail hardly qualifies as decent hairstyle.?

Looking herself wryly in the mirror, Chama smiled. ?It seems what drow qualify as ?decent? would be ?overly elaborate? in my culture, but I?m willing to try to fit through doors with that over my head.?

Nathyrra looked slightly wounded, so Chama corrected hastily, ?I like it, Nat, it?s just drastically against everything I?m used to. I can see it fits me, and it?s beautiful, but? I?ll be self-conscious for a while with that pile of hair on top of my head.?

A smile returned to the drow?s lips. ?I?m satisfied of my work. Let me look you over one last time, and then you?re off to learn to cast in mermaid.?

Chama stood and turned one way and the other to Nathyrra. ?Very good,? the drow approved. ?Now, off with you!?

The two women came back into the temple?s main room to find Imloth and Valen there, discussing, and Deekin speaking with a guard in a corner and taking notes. Again. Gulhrys, in a ceremonial robe with the insignia of his House and status polished and sparkling on his shoulder, waited by the door. The pin that identified him as the High Wizard even gave off a faint magical glow. He was impressive enough in this formal attire.

The high wizard curtsied to Chama who bowed back, and then he offered her his arm. She told Valen, Nathyrra and Deekin that she would meet them the next day in the morning, asked if one of them could get her clothes from the haberdashers, took Gulhrys?s arm, and the two of them left the temple.

Valen growled something under his breath. Even if the tiefling was obviously irritated, Imloth?s curiosity overwhelmed his sense of self-preservation and he dared ask him to repeat himself.

?What did you say??, the drow warrior inquired with feigned innocence.

?I just hope she doesn?t get herself foolishly assassinated by the Mae?viir house,? Valen snapped, ?or that she doesn?t worsen relations between the House and the Seer by making some stupid comment.?

Imloth tried to soothe the tiefling. ?She?s not completely familiar with drow, but she has a quick tongue and knows how to use it. I doubt she?ll make a stupid comment.?

Valen heard well enough the unsaid in Imloth?s sentence. She had been successful with words when facing an angry Valen, so his worries were partly assuaged, although he was even more irritated now.

?As I said, I hope so,? the weapon master repeated harshly. ?I guess I?ll go get her clothes as requested and see how Rizolvir?s doing on the recruits? equipment.?

Valen stalked off. Nathyrra padded off conspiratorially to Imloth?s side. Nobody noticed Deekin whose keen ears could pick off their conversations.

?I think they?re a match,? Nathyrra said as she elbowed Imloth gently.

?Gulhrys and Chamaedaphne??, Imloth replied, his silver eyes wide.

Nathyrra snorted. ?Of course not. I mean Valen and Chama.?

Imloth considered for a moment. ?Well, it is true that she stands up to him, but as to see if they are a match, I wouldn?t know. What makes you say that??

?I mean a match in temper, experience and skill, Imloth, you gossip. Valen is always? harsh but held in check. He?s a great warrior, but he knows nothing of spells and such. Besides, his past troubles him, but he tries to change. Chama strikes as much the same, yet different.?

?Much the same??, Imloth inquired dubiously.

?And different, I said. She, too, has a troubled past, as far as I can tell, and it?s as sensible a chord at it is for Valen ? we all heard them this afternoon. She?s a great wizard but can barely hold a sword. In the battle, I?m sure they?ll complete each other well. I?m curious though, because Chama, in everyday life, is light and gentle most of the time, but you can feel that there is something else underneath. Like Valen; Valen is dour and serious, but you can feel that it?s not all that he is ? and his temper shows often enough. I?m curious to see how they?ll deal with each other, having so much in common and so much not in common.?

Imloth lifted an eyebrow at Nathyrra. ?Who?s gossiping now, starting rumours about their past and how they?ll deal with each other??

Nathyrra smirked. ?I?m discussing things with you, only to have your opinion on the matter,? she explained with feigned harmlessness. ?If you start repeating this to your recruits, that would be gossip.?

Imloth shook his head. He might have laughed if he had not been raised in a world where males do not laugh of the jokes of the females.

?I don?t know, Nathyrra. They only know each other for a day. I hope for your sake that they don?t keep clashing like this afternoon all the time, otherwise you might end up taking a random fireball or a hit of a flail not meant for you. He is? part demon, and given to fits of temper. She? I don?t know what she is.?

Imloth kept to himself the coldness in her eyes that had reminded him of a handmaiden of Lolth for a second. Nathyrra thought for a while.

?I don?t think it?s in her veins,? she said finally. ?I think it?s in her past.?

The Seer suddenly appeared from behind the staircase leading up to the living quarters and stared at them sternly. Both gossips swallowed and waited to see if the Seer would comment.

?Their nature is theirs to reveal,? the Seer finally declared in the regal manner that was her prerogative in Lith My?athar. ?If you plan on speculating on it, please do so out of this temple and anyone else?s ears. It will not do to have the leaders? personality questioned by the master of spies and the forces? commander.?

Imloth and Nathyrra bowed obediently to the Seer before leaving the temple in contrite silence. The priestess of Eilistraee closed her eyes on a silent prayer for Valen and Chamaedaphne. Valen was already in her prayers for some time, and he was doing nicely. Chamaedaphne, however, was much more of a puzzle to the Seer. The priestess acted the unquestioningly trusting herald of her goddess in public for the sake of stability, but she was wise enough to see that Chama was not the perfect beacon of light that everyone would hope as a saviour. There were two attitudes in Chama ? the light-hearted surface and the deepest motivations underneath. The Seer had a way to read people, but the surface elf was beyond her ability to sense. She could feel the danger and balance that lurked beneath her light-hearted fašade, but she could not sense its reasons or mechanisms.

Yet she needed to, because both Valen and Chama would need guidance, even regarding each other if she was to believe Nathyrra?s views, and she could not advise either of them if she did not know how her advice would be met. She needed to pray.

***

Much later, after many errands around Lith My?athar, a training lesson with Imloth?s recruits, and a solitary ascension to the top of the Lone Peak ? the settlement?s watch post ? Valen was back in his room, pacing angrily. He had just been forced to physically put that annoying kobold out of his way to his room to avoid his prying inquiries. He had not hurt the reptile, but had merely lifted him and put him down to the side.

But Valen was pacing angrily, recognizing privately to himself that his true emotion was trouble. It was just the infernal part of him taking advantage of his uncertainty to resurface with anger.

He paced in his room, his tail lashing from side to side, trying to make sense of this first day with the stranger. He tried to build in his mind only one picture of a surface elf who was their prophesized saviour; who had almost lost her mind to a circlet of intellect; who had summoned demons; who acted with light-heartedness; who had treated him without regard for his demon blood even if she was well aware of what being a tiefling meant; who had so carelessly hurt him by her assessment of the tanar?ri; who held all this magical power; who managed to get Gulhrys to invite her for dinner; who came through Halaster?s dungeon with a kobold as companion; who avoided all the mad mage?s tricks but fell to his geas.

He tried to decide how he felt about soon setting out the gates with her, in an attempt to strengthen their forces or weaken the Valsharess?s. He was distrustful of the Seer?s visions ? especially since Chama had obviously not always been an angel. He was almost convinced that nothing could be done that would save them from the Valsharess?s wrath. Yet he hoped that the Seer?s vision was right and that Chama would prove their saviour.

Suddenly he heard the Seer cry out ? his room was right next to hers, which was appropriate for her defender. His heart wrenched and he bolted out of the door to gather Nathyrra and Imloth ? whatever had made its way to the Seer here in the safety of Lith My?athar?s temple, he could not take it out alone.

The Seer could not die and leave him alone now. The Seer must not die. He needed her so badly when he was tormented or tempted by the demon, but he also needed one person in the world to be kind to him; to be a friend to him. Even tieflings with a demon?s blood have a vulnerable heart sometimes.

***

That same night, alone in her dark and sumptuous room, Chama tossed restlessly into bed. She had just come back from her dinner with Gulhrys. He had flirted with her a bit like only a drow male could ? subserviently and suggestively. She had tried to play his game without giving into it, and quickly enough he had seemed to understand the message and had changed the subject to more technical matters. She had been able to gather important information. But this was not what chased sleep away.

So much had happened. She found herself in the Underdark, held by geas to help the cause of these rebels, a mixed group of followers of Eilistraee and traditional drow Houses - with even a seer, a turn-coat Red Sister, a tiefling, a kobold and a surface elf among their ranks now. She knew their cause was good; followers of Eilistraee deserved help against Lolth?s tyranny and the drow prejudice wherever they were. And the Valsharess needed to be stopped for the sake of Waterdeep?s citizens.

And yet, Chama was not certain that, without the geas, she would have had the courage to do what she must. The Underdark exuded of evil. People here almost expected her to be evil. She could join House Mae?viir?s almost open treachery. She could butcher the roth beast for no other reason than put the shepherd in trouble. She could have killed a svirfneblin servant by forcing another beer down his throat. She could have put Imloth?s recruit into trouble by letting his commander believe that he had hit her hard. Evil was more seducing in this forsaken place far from the light of the sky and, seemingly, out of sight of the gods themselves.

And it was not easy for her to admit to herself that she did not know what she would have done if the geas had not been there to force her at the Seer?s side. She hoped she would have had the strength, but truthfully, she was not certain of her heart. She was so confused that her prayers to Mystra left her with a hollow feeling, as though the goddess was not listening, when it was surely the worshipper who could not speak clearly.

Chama held back bitter tears and forced her mind to review the training session, trying to chase uneasiness away by focusing on a more concrete purpose. It seemed she had no choice but Valen as her warrior. It was a bit hard though to coordinate the moves with both Nathyrra and Deekin into the fray. It would be more reasonable to choose only one of them. She liked Deekin very much and his Doom Song had an unexplainable ? truly unexplainable ? way to lift her spirits. Nathyrra, though, was a master in stealth and knew the Underdark like the back of her hand. Sensibilities put aside, Nathyrra was the most sensible choice.

Chama was half-calmed by then and reviewed in more detail the training session. Deekin she knew well, and did not concentrate on. Nathyrra, for her part, was what you would expect a drow assassin to be: lithe, quick, smart, silent and remorseless. Her ability to use the cover of shadows was impressive, and Chama knew that no one could quite rival with her when it came to scouting ahead. Valen, for his part, was about the same size as Daelan, with whom she had fought many battles, so at least she had an instinctive idea of which doors he would block and how hard he would be to knock off his feet. His fighting style was unknown to her though, but he seemed incredibly deadly with this monster of a weapon he carried around like a mere pebble. He was strong, quick, and tough, but he was not stupid or burned-headed.

A sickening feeling settled in the pit of her stomach while she contemplated his obvious strength and tall hands. He could lift her off with one hand and throw her aside easily. He could break her arm with a snap of his fingers. There was a savagery in his eyes despite his civil behaviour. She knew this attitude, this need for battle to vent some rage. He needed an outlet for violence on occasion, so he could maintain peaceful behaviour the rest of the time.

But regardless of the civil but distrustful behaviour, of the monstrous strength, of the savagery, he was a handsome man. And Chama did not allow men to be handsome to her eyes. But she could not stop herself from thinking this. And she was afraid of those thoughts. She was afraid of him ? a cold feeling in the pit of her stomach, a visceral fear because of the weakness of her body and the strength of his ? so how could she feel attracted to his features, this other aspect of his terrifying body?

She turned in her bed, agitated, trying to force her thoughts to something else than those questions without answers. In vain. She did not sleep much, and the sudden commotion outside her door, demanding her presence, was a relief rather than an interruption of sleep.

***

The Seer was praying quietly, kneeling before her private altar adjacent to her quarters in Lith My?athar?s temple. It was not the Spider Queen that inhabited her own temple now, though. It was the benevolent presence of Eilistraee who supported and guided the rebels, until the Valsharess was defeated and it was safe to escape to the surface.

The Seer was questioning her Goddess?s wisdom. She tried in vain to order her thoughts and to present things differently, but honesty commanded that she recognized her doubts for what they were.

She took a while to think things through carefully, to calm and ready her mind for the prayer. And finally she opened her mind to Eilistraee.

My Goddess, I do not understand your orders.

She waited and finally there was openness in her soul that had not been there the moment before. The goddess was listening.

I have received visions of the stranger, who is meant to help us in our defeat of the Valsharess. I know what you have shown me, my Goddess, but still I am confused. The stranger, Chamaedaphne Indiwasi, is not what she seems. I cannot see past the distance she puts between herself and the others, but I see something dark in her.

She is in conflict with herself. Her fašade is that of a light-hearted darthirii, but a dark ocean runs deep beneath it. I cannot see through its depths. Her patterns of thoughts are alien to me. But I know her ocean is dark, terrible, and stirring.

She is not at peace. I feel she walks on an edge now, and she could fall on either side: ours or the Valsharess?. I do not know that I can do anything to sway her, my Goddess. I understand that our lives are irrelevant, but the Valsharess must be defeated and, with Chamaedaphne allied with her, I doubt that it could ever happen. I merely ask for your reassurance or advice to make the stranger at peace.


The smell of incense was suddenly heady, and the Seer felt a heaviness cloud her mind. She sat back on her heels and closed her eyes. She relaxed her shoulders and breathed slowly, inhaling of the incense?s smell, while she slowly slid in the trance.

She gradually came aware of the vision. It was dark and raining outside. She did not know where she was or what was happening. She only knew a consuming pain, a scalding humiliation, and devouring madness ? a flash of Chamaedaphne?s past, the stirring force at the bottom of the dark ocean. The Seer was helpless in her trance while she was victim at the same time as the surface elf to this unbearable suffering.

Suddenly it was gone, leaving the Seer to stare at the Underdark through Chamaedaphne?s eyes. The Underdark was vast, dark, dry, dusty, and concealed a thousand unknown dangers. Chamaedaphne wondered if she could adapt and survive in this harsh and merciless world; she wondered if her frail resolve would hold against the evil that seemed to permeate the very air.

But then the trance deepened and the Seer steadied herself for what she recognized as the onset of a dizzying jump in the future.

Time expanded like a ribbon of swirling colours and magical energies, before it shrunk back into focus in another time and place. A strange woman stood. She was frail and winged, her frame reminiscent of the Avariel, but her eyes held a fierce coldness that left no place for compassion. Chamaedaphne was facing the strange creature; she was clad in a robe of terrible power and was half-displaced from the tapestry of existence. The winged woman called Chamaedaphne the Light of Cania and welcomed her.

Time strewn out again in a dizzying blur, the harsh winged creature stepping back in the mists of time, and Chamaedaphne stepped forward through it, followed by Valen ? it surprised the Seer to see the tiefling suddenly appearing in her vision ? and a ghost who had been part-elven in life. There was much rage and sorrow, though, in this ghost, so much that the Seer could feel it through her vision, and she turned away from it lest she lose her focus on Chamaedaphne.

Valen and Chamaedaphne were facing each other now, amidst the swirling of time running past. There was a strange understanding between them. There were tall tails of flying energy emerging from their back, deployed behind them like great wings; on these wings were painted their past and torment. Valen?s guilt was in the form of sneering devils and raging demons, of destruction and chaos without measure or reason. Chama?s remorse took the face of magically silenced men screaming and of their spraying blood. But the images were wearing thin as they looked at each other; their features were quiet and peaceful as they looked at each other.

The darkness from their past was pushed away by each other?s presence, and the great light and goodness in their souls was called to the surface. They were each other?s solace.

Suddenly, the trance broke and the Seer was back in her body, shaking and drenched in sweat. Her body was still hurting from the first part of the dream, and she did not trust herself to stand.

It was not necessary. The door abruptly burst open and Valen was there, his flail free, with Chamaedaphne behind him, a spell ready at the tip of her fingers. Imloth and Deekin were there too, dire mace and crossbow held fiercely.

?No traps,? a disembodied voice stated.

The group stepped in and soon Nathyrra appeared visibly to the Seer, in a corner full of shadows.

?Mother Seer! What happened??, Nathyrra exclaimed.

?Just a vision, Nathyrra.?

?A trying one, Seer, it seems,? Valen said, eyeing her sweating brow pointedly.

?Very trying, my good Valen, but the Goddess needed to tell me something important.?

Valen hooked his flail, looking harshly at his companions. They bowed and left at the silent dismissal ordered by the tiefling. Imloth exchanged one last look with the Seer before leaving her in Valen?s company.

?Do you require assistance, Seer??, he asked gently.

The Seer nodded. Valen strode to her in his full armour, bent and lifted her in his strong arms. She slid her arms around his neck so he could carry her more easily, and abandoned herself gratefully to his care. He took her back to her living quarters and gently laid her down on the bed, before straightening and asking, ?Do you need anything??

There was something stormy in Valen?s eyes, and his tail was twitching nervously.

?No, Valen, thank you. But tell me, what is troubling you??

Valen startled, then stared down at her with a mix of indignation and anger. He tried to keep silence, but it was no use trying to resist the Seer?s gentle inquiries. He sighed and blurted out, ?It?s the stranger.?

The Seer gave an inward sigh. Valen was not the only one troubled by the stranger, and she was still unsure what her vision meant. It would be delicate to advise Valen in that domain.

?What has she done to trouble you, Valen??

The tiefling sighed and started pacing slowly. ?I would have thought either Nathyrra or Imloth would have gossiped everything back to you by now,? he started with dry humour.

The Seer chuckled softly. ?They did say that you two ?clashed? this afternoon, but gave no details. Do you wish to explain to me why you are troubled??

Valen sighed, stopping his pacing to stare back at the Seer. ?How is it possible that she knows so much about me without ever meeting me before??

?What does she know about you??

?What happened exactly is that she recognized my battle cry when we were training. She knew it was of the tanar?ri and, seeing that I?m obviously a tiefling, and she knows what a tiefling is, she just supposed I?d learned to fight in the Blood Wars.?

?A simple enough assumption, Valen,? the Seer reminded softly, ?but it does not define all of you.?

?It?s not supposed to, no,? the tiefling retorted. ?She said she had summoned demons before, and made quite a short but effective summary of my kind?s characteristics ? the taste for destruction and the careless chaos. She said she spied on Belial for a while and knew what I surely did in the Blood Wars.?

?Surely she did not just say this without reason, just like that,? the Seer protested, appalled.

Valen glowered at the Seer, but he was wise enough to be honest and not petty. ?No. It was after I accused her of foolish ambition for summoning demons. She said she would not say what she knew I did, if I did the same about the demons she summoned.?

The Seer sighed. Time was ripe for a little discreet guidance, it seemed. ?Valen, she might have made a simple mistake when she spoke of the Blood Wars to you. She must not have realized it was as uncomfortable a subject to you as the summoning of demons is to her.?

Valen sighed angrily. How could the Seer be so perceptive? It would be less embarrassing if Nathyrra or Imloth had told her that Chama had concluded the episode by precisely that, ?let?s not speak of the uncomfortable past, let?s be allies in the present?.

?Maybe, Seer,? Valen conceded, ?but that?s not what?s troubling me. How could she know so much about me when she just met me? Am I really so predictable? Am I so much of the demon that I can be described and handled as a simple tanar?ri? Am I still such a snarling beast of the Abyss, despite everything I?ve done and everything I?ve learned since you looked into my soul, that she doesn?t even need to ask me who I am to already know it? She was so sure, Seer, and more disturbingly, so right about the Blood Wars. She seems to know quite well what a demon is. Will she ever see me as something else than a demon? Will people ever see more in me than the part that is infernal, whatever I do with my life? Is it as a blood-thirsty demon that she wants me to fight by her side? As a killing machine that will dismember anything she orders me to without second-thoughts??

Valen?s voice was getting progressively rougher, his heart exposed with each sentence. The Seer had claimed back some of her forces by then, and was sitting in her bed, listening intently. The goddess?s vision seemed much clearer all of a sudden, and she understood why Valen had been in her vision. He was in it because he could make Chamaedaphne more at peace with her past, as she had seen in her vision, but also because Chamaedaphne could make him more at peace with himself. And the Seer had asked her goddess for a way to put the stranger?s heart at peace so she would keep to their side. Her vision came down to the knowledge that she had already done much in that direction, just by taking Valen in three years ago.

She was not afraid of Chama?s choice anymore. She thanked her goddess silently, and then lifted a delicate hand to halt Valen. He quieted obediently, looking at her with deeply troubled and sad eyes.

?No, Valen, I am sure she does not see only the demon in you. You have to remember that she, too, has a past of which she is not proud. I am certain she understands you, and you should understand her. I think, Valen, that she knows what you have done, but does not care. I think she wishes a warrior who will defend her in the most physical aspects of the battle. She wishes a warrior who is experienced enough to survive in the difficult battles that she knows are to come. She wishes for a worthy comrade in arms to help her in her quest. I think she trusts you to be this faithful and powerful ally, even though she knows what the demon within you has made you do in the past.?

Valen turned her words in his head for a while, before he declared unhappily, ?You have troubled me even more, Seer, but I thank you. I know you were trying to give me kind words, but still I am unsure. I truly hope you are right about the stranger. I know I sound distrustful, but I cannot believe? I can only hope.?

?That is well, Valen. Forgive me, but I need to rest now.?

?I?m sorry, Seer, for keeping you from your rest for so long. Again, thank you for your kind ear.?

Valen bowed and left quickly, in a clinking of this new armour that Chamaedaphne had given him.

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 05 February 2007 - 07:22 PM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#8 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
  • Member
  • 439 posts

Posted 13 February 2007 - 03:58 PM

Hello! Here is this week's chapter. I'm not too sure about the absolute time of HotU, so if I'm putting my finger in my eye down to the elbow (that particular idiom must translate pretty bad, doesn't it?) about Drizz't, please kindly tell me so :) I still hope to get comments, you know, so feel free to leave any :)

Chapter VII. Setting off finally

Chamaedaphne, Valen, Nathyrra and Deekin had to stay another day at the temple because of Chama?s injuries, but she used the time to strengthen her position as a leader and train with them. They practiced more battle strategies and again Chama made her little showdown of exhausting all of her spells on the badly abused practice stone. She discussed further what needed to be done to stop the Valsharess with Valen, Nathyrra and Imloth.

Chama purposefully and, to Nathyrra?s admission, skilfully avoided any questioning for all the duration of the morning. At lunch, not able to keep her nosy inquiries for herself any longer, the assassin asked Chama how things had gone with Gulhrys, even if Valen and Deekin were there.

Nathyrra half-expected a scorching glare, but got a small amused smile and a shrug instead.

?Gulhrys was true to his word and I was true to mine,? the elf answered lightly. ?He was rather amused by my account of Deekin?s antics.?

?Deekin?s antics??, the kobold exclaimed, clearly wounded.

?Deekin, you know what I mean.? She tried to pat the bard?s head, but he mumbled something under his breath and moved away moodily. ?You know, how you?re too excited about the tales and the tragedy to pay any attention to the dangers. I call that antics, but that?s courage.?

Valen ground his teeth and looked away, grunting in annoyance and thinking to himself that the sheer obviousness of that statement could not possibly work out, but the kobold suddenly beamed at his ?Boss? with his small pointed teeth. Nathyrra hid her laughter behind a delicate hand.

?Don?t try to change the subject,? the drow interjected. ?Gulhrys??

Chama laughed. ?He?s quite the gentleman, if you must know. He?s also very smart, but his intelligence is bent only on his own advancement. He really has a natural ability to learn and teach tongues. It was a pleasant dinner, but I?m afraid I have nothing but dull wizardries to recount, unless you speak sssrathlisss and I could repeat a few jokes he made. I?m afraid they lose some interest if spoken in another tongue.?

Nathyrra had sobered, and Valen wondered what was going on. Catching his frown, the drow signalled him discreetly to keep silence.

?Maybe you?d explain it to me privately??, Nathyrra asked.

?I think I can do that,? Chama answered with a grin.

?Valen, would you escort us to the temple??, Nathyrra asked him. ?We?ve got a heavy enough package from Rizolvir to carry.?

Valen shrugged. ?I am yours to command.?

?And, Deekin??, Nathyrra added, turning to the bard.

?Yes, drow lady??

?I?m sure a bard would like to hear this. It could be such an inspiration for a comic play.?

The kobold nodded enthusiastically. The four of them made their way to the temple and Nathyrra requisitioned one of the private antechambers. She closed the door, and then checked around carefully.

?Alright, we?re not listened to,? she declared curtly. ?Now spit it out, Chama.?

Chama smiled at the impatient eagerness of her companion. ?Well, since Gulhrys and I were sitting in the middle of the dining room with a dozen other drows of House Mae?viir, I can?t exclude the possibility that he was lying to me, but he said that not a stupid oaf of his house could identify sssrathlisss, much less understand it. He doesn?t strike me as the kind of man with a natural ease to perform, though, so I?m inclined to believe he was saying the truth.?

?We?ll judge the likelihood of what he said later,? Nathyrra interrupted tersely. ?For now, I want a report.?

?A report?? Valen snapped. ?Nathyrra, don?t tell me you put her up to this? I was counting on you to warn her!?

?Hush, Valen,? the drow answered, waving her hand impatiently at him.

His eyes flickered to red only briefly, but still he spoke through gritted teeth, ?I won?t be ignored, Nathyrra. Didn?t you warn her not to speak of politics while in the House Mae?viir??

?She did warn me, Valen,? Chama retorted, not letting Nathyrra the time to answer. ?However she agreed with me that, should the occasion present itself, it would be too good to miss not to learn a little more from inside the House Mae?viir. Gulhrys is really a lovely character, by the way; he outlined very neatly his plan to flee and offer his highly-sought-after services to another House if ever the house or the war turned against him. Lucky him that he?s civil and learned in spellcraft, I might have left him to finish his dinner alone after he?d said that.?

Valen receded grudgingly into silence. Much as he disliked the idea of Chama risking being discovered gathering intelligence inside House Mae?viir, both women were right: the occasion was too good to miss.

?Did Gulhrys say anything about Matron Myrune??, Nathyrra inquired.

?He said that she was a traitor that planned to sell Lith My?athar out to the Valsharess.?

?Ah, the makings of a classical tragedy??, Deekin babbled happily, taking out his notes again.

Chama spared him a glance, then to Valen who could be heard grounding his teeth, but went on undisturbed. ?Gulhrys said Matron Myrune was not ready to act right now, that she was waiting for the Valsharess? move. By the way, there?s something I should probably tell you. While I was in the public house yesterday with Valen, speaking to the haberdashers, there was a female behind me that was desperately trying to get my attention and have me talk to her.?

?That?s Matron Myrune?s only heir,? Valen informed her. At Chama?s raised eyebrow, he shrugged. ?I had noticed her too, but thought no good could come out of that knowledge at the moment.?

Chama agreed with a nod, and then commented with a wry smile, ?I?m not that fond of politics, but this whole affair seems like a dangerous succession underway, doesn?t it??

?It does,? Nathyrra concurred. ?The Valsharess? opponents that are not devoted to Eilistraee are still drow Houses by the tradition, I?m afraid.?

?I?ll talk to this heir? but not right away. I?d prefer to do something else for the camp before I meddle in a touchy succession.?

Valen quirked an eyebrow. She was showing adequate judgement of the situation again, and was wisely checking where she stuck her toes. Good so far for the Seer?s visions.

They trained together again that afternoon.

***

The next morning, the geas was not rebelling so hard against the Seer?s magic, and Chama was completely healed. It was the morning, and the time to set off if she wished to. She looked at Nathyrra, Valen and Deekin who were awaiting her orders patiently and froze for a while. She was about to lead the two most powerful warriors of the camp off on some dangerous mission. They had better come back alive ? especially Valen ? otherwise it was over for the Seer and her rebels.

She set her shoulders. It was the first time that so many people depended on her and that she was determined to do something for them, and not only for her own foolish quest for power.

Let?s find out how I bear the pressure, she thought to herself.

?To the Isle of the Maker,? she decided. ?Imloth made me realize yesterday that a golem would be a very good thing to have around if we ever have to fight illithids.?

Valen and Nathyrra approved, while Deekin nodded, as always silently following his boss?s orders. But then Chama turned to the kobold.

?Deekin??

?Deekin??

?We can?t go all four. It?s too many, too hard to coordinate.?

?Boss doesn?t want Deekin anymore! What did Deekin do? Is it when Deekin annoyed Goat-man??

Valen growled. He was not a beast. Couldn?t the little monster refrain from referring to him using an animal?s name?

?No, Deekin, it?s not that I don?t want you anymore. I need Valen to come with me because he can take the brunt of a fight.?

?Goat-man not as nice as Orc-man.? The kobold tugged at Chama?s sleeve until she lowered her head and he whispered conspiratorially. ?Boss be careful around Goat-man.?

At that Chama chuckled. ?I don?t know yet. And I need Nathyrra because she can be my guide in the Underdark. She knows all the secret passages. But, Deekin, I need your help too, but here in Lith My?athar.?

?Yes? What does Boss want Deekin to do?? The bard looked distinctly sulking and unhappy, convinced that she was just trying to find an excuse to leave him behind.

She knelt and gestured him to come closer so she could whisper in his ear.

?Deekin, I need you to boost the morale around camp. You need to be careful, though, not to sing the same thing to the followers of Eilistraee and to the drow of House Mae?viir.?

?Yes, the Doom Song! Deekin will??

?No, Deekin, not the Doom Song. That certainly boosts my morale, but that?s because I know you and like you. I would like you to sing all the songs you know about heroes. Do you know songs about Drizz?t or other drow heroes??

?Deekin knows many songs about Drizz?t and Wulfgar and Cattie-Brie and??

?Yes, yes, that will do when you sing for the followers of Eilistraee. Deekin, sing them all the songs you know about heroes. If there are people from House Mae?viir, sing about war and conquest and strength of arms. I want the public house of Lith My?athar to be resonating with glorious adventures for the two following days.?

?Deekin can do that?? The kobold was looking distinctly alarmed though.

She corrected hastily, ?But don?t forget to eat and sleep a bit, alright??

?Deekin can do that too.? Now he looked relieved and she smiled.

?And if I don?t come back in two days, I want you to start singing about Undrentide.?

?Boss? adventures??

?Yes, but only in two days, alright??

The kobold nodded enthusiastically and hurried out of the temple with his harp under his arm. Valen watched him go warily, wondering what unexpected, unexplainable, and weird evil was afoot. Nathyrra just looked, intrigued.

?A mission in public relations,? Chama explained succinctly. ?He?s surprising, but he?s rather good at singing.?

?You asked him to sing??, Valen let out in disbelief and exasperation.

?Yes, he?ll sing of great adventures. The taste of despair hanging in the air is almost heavier than in Neverwinter at its worst. Something needs to be done about it.?

?You were in Neverwinter?? Valen was the one to ask, being more familiar with surface affairs than Nathyrra, embroiled in drow politics and intelligence.

?Yes, I was? I have few good memories of the plague-ridden city. Now, shall we go??

Valen shrugged, accepting her awkward change of subject, and the three companions were out to speak with Cavallas.

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 14 February 2007 - 05:44 AM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#9 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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  • 439 posts

Posted 20 February 2007 - 05:20 PM

Chapter VIII. First adventures

The Isle of the Maker was taken care of surprisingly quickly and safely. Among Chama?s hidden talents that Valen had no way of guessing beforehand, there were the thief?s small lithe fingers able to disarm traps that her quick and watchful eyes detected flawlessly.

With her elven piercing eyes, she did not even need to slow down to detect traps that he might have missed even if concentrating solely on that. She realized early enough that he was keeping watch for traps and told him that she would take care of that herself.

He made a side mental note to ask her about this unexpected set of talents later ? he hoped it would not count as the kind of inquiry about her past that she did not want to answer to.

Chama was also very quick to understand what was going on and to stir them in the direction opposite to that of the scavenger golem and closing doors safely behind them.

While they discovered the different rooms, Chama took the time to finger through the different books and look about for anything interesting. Valen saw her gathering books and other seemingly insignificant items like a round crystal globe and a small statue bearing no enchantment. He agreed, however, that the different golem body parts they found were worth studying and accepted readily to transport them in his pack, despite their weight.

Eventually, they found their way to a large circular room filled with golems and minogons. Once the constructs were beaten, Chama examined carefully the panel that stood in the middle of the room.

?Simple enough control room,? she decreed lightly. ?Let?s see if I can get it to work for our uses.?

She examined carefully the magical runes inscribed on the central panel and on each side. Valen and Nathyrra observed her with interest.

?Ah, it?s even simpler than I thought,? she finally exclaimed.

She pressed the left panel and the number ?one? appeared out of thin air in front of her. It was marked in the form of magical, yellow lightning running between magical globes hanging in the air. Chama hit the left and right panels until ?54? was hanging above her head. She checked something in one of the books she carried.

?That should do it; that seems to be the scavenger golem?s controlling number. Just in case something turns awry, Valen, would you stand in front of the control panel please??

Valen stepped in. Chama pressed the central panel. The scavenging golem appeared. Valen took his run-up with his flail, Chama quickly pushed the button again and the golem collapsed in a heap of undead flesh, metal gear and supple fabric cloths.

?Well done,? Nathyrra commented.

?That should make our life easier? well, for the next hour that is, until we?re done here and have to move on deeper.?

Valen found himself smiling slightly in spite of himself. Concentrate on your immediate objective, but never lose sight of your ultimate goal, his infernal masters had taught. Apparently, this surface elf had learned quite the same wisdom.

***

They explored the first level, finding many powerful magical items after a fight with no other than the spirit of Chama?s weapon, Enserric. They reached the second level quickly, after Chama used the control room again to disable the last guardian golem standing before the door to the second level. They explored around a bit and, after they had spoken to both Aghaaz and Ferron, Chama called a pause in the middle of the central room. She looked unhappily from one team-mate to the other.

?What shall we do now??, Nathyrra asked with her silky voice.

?Neither faction will hear reason, I think,? Chama sighed.

?I doubt that,? Valen concurred.

?Then, what do I decide? I either destroy Aghaaz, a sentient being set on waiting for the return of his maker, or I destroy Ferron, another sentient being, set on trying to overcome what he is. Either way, I commit an evil. Either way, I decide who lives and who perishes, and I act with them as did the Maker, and I almost take the role of a goddess in their finite world.?

There was a dark cast present in her voice that chilled them, even if both Valen and Nathyrra had seen much in their lives. To Valen it sounded like the guilt of a long-carried burden. It sounded like she spoke out of experience. He uneasily shifted his weight from foot.

Nathyrra finally gave her opinion. ?I understand your dilemma, but you should remember the bigger picture here. If by doing this, we can save the Seer and everyone in Lith My?athar, then maybe it?s worth it.?

Chama?s face was impossible to read under the skins of stone and helmet, but it seemed to her companions that her voice hardened.

?Well reasoned, Nat, but still reasoned pragmatically. I know the idea of a good balancing for an evil is attractive, but it is too easy to twist to fit every whim. And... nothing should make a sentient being?s life less meaningful.?

Nathyrra lifted an eyebrow, but said nothing. Such discourse was rarely upheld by anyone in the Underdark. Valen felt strange all of a sudden; such idealism was totally alien to him ? even the Seer was not philosophically so zealous ? and it sounded strange after a voice so heavy of a violent past close to the surface.

?But I guess,? Chama decided at last, her voice sounding reluctant, ?that if we do nothing they will fight each other until there is nothing left. The lesser evil it is then.?

When it was obvious that neither Nathyrra nor Valen were sure what she meant, she added, ?Well, considering that I trust both Ferron and Aghaaz to hold their word and assist us in the battle against the Valsharess, my best guess would be that the lesser evil would be to end the war quickly ? so that less golems will perish in the process ? and to end it in favour of Ferron?s faction ? because he strives to become more than a witless servant.?

Nathyrra shrugged, and Valen turned towards Aghaaz?s part of the dungeon of the Maker. They made their way to him, Chama informed him of her decision, and battle ensued.

***

The golems of Ferron?s faction let them go down to the Maker?s chambers. Valen, when he saw the two mithral golems and how Chama walked past them without waking them because she had spoken to the ghost of the Maker?s apprentice, was suddenly very grateful of her lock picking and trap disarming skills. Just before she opened the door, though, Nathyrra and Chama cast many enhancing spells on him.

The spells were not wasted. The Maker had turned as many obsessed magic users turned: he had taken the path to become a lich, and had progressed further, becoming a demi-lich. The three adventurers looked at each other, a bit intimidated to be faced with one of the most powerful undead creatures of the realms, but Chama walked forward to speak with him, and expectedly he proved unreasonable and hostile.

Once the battle was over, Valen stood to the side, watching, still bursting with an energy that was not his own, itching to use all this power Nathyrra and Chama had poured into him. He just paced restlessly, his tail lashing nervously. Chama sat, patiently studying the many tomes of the Maker, occasionally lifting her head to observe important parts of the strange magical apparatus that the Maker had readied.

Nathyrra was looking disbelievingly at the lich?s skull, checking twice the magical properties Chama had said it would carry. Chama was right, by all accounts, the assassin found.

?I?ve decided what I?d make it do,? Chama suddenly declared, snapping her book shut and getting up to look at the magical apparatus before her. ?Let?s see if I understand this Maker?s notes right.?

Valen had already put the golem parts down on the table, so he turned to watch their prophesized saviour move to it warily. She uttered a word of command, holding the strange amulet they had found on the Maker?s body, and the spell conducts suddenly flipped on, humming in barely audible frequencies that resonated within their chests. Valen looked at Chama?s face turning into a mask of utter concentration as she unrolled a magical parchment, held it in front of her and started to read it.

Her voice seemed to expand and resonate with another voice, more distant and eerie, and her figure shimmered slightly, just like the horizon in the distance in the heat of the Abyss. Finally, the incantation was over and, with a single point of the finger, the shimmering that had been hovering over her condensed and rushed to the spell conduct.

The pillar-like structure, which had looked very mundane to Valen?s untrained eyes, suddenly lit from within and diffused a pearly white glow in the dark room.

Calmly, still wearing her mask of concentration, Chama made her way around the table, casting a spell on each of the conducts. Valen had no way to tell which spells those were, but the effects were slightly different each time. He was sure, however, that no spell had been quite as powerful as the first one she cast.

At the end, slightly shaking from so much powerful spells in so little time, she stood in front of the golem now assembled on the table. She used the amulet of the Maker one more time, and the creature rose in an eerie silence.

Valen was very conscious of his breathing at the moment. The golem stood, towering four feet above Chama?s head, unmoving, his eyes glowing yellow. Finally, the construct made a few steps to the side, then to the other.

?It?s easy enough to order around,? Chama commented in an absent-minded tone of voice. ?Just standard mental commands, only in a much looser bond than with a familiar. It will follow orders from whoever wears the controller amulet.?

There was a noticeable silence, and finally Valen murmured, his deep voice carrying in the empty silence of the Maker?s chambers, ?You are a wizard.?

Chama turned to him, blinking. It was an apology and a flattery of a sort, and Chama understood very well. Accepted, she thought to herself, bowing her head slightly at Valen who stared back at her with an unreadable look.

***

?Hey Imloth!?, Nathyrra called as she elbowed him slightly. ?Have you seen our newest ally??

The drow commander nodded, waving the recruits he was training away. ?Yes, Nathyrra. I have seen the golem when you were going to the temple earlier. I?m glad you brought back so formidable an ally.?

?It?s not over! This one?s just a mindless construct that?s under Chama?s control and will fight according to her orders. We found sentient golems on the Isle of the Maker, and we managed to make them allies in the battle against the Valsharess. I?m here to tell you so, so you will send them a message when the Valsharess is on the move. They need a day to come here, they said.?

Imloth nodded his understanding.

?Now,? Nathyrra went on, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, ?do you know she?s starting to make him melt??

Imloth looked about nervously for any sign of the Seer or any other within hearing range.

?Valen? Melting??, he repeated incredulously.

?Positive. You remember how she said he was a fighter and meant it as compliment? Well, after she assembled the golem, he said ?You are a wizard?. And he hasn?t shouted at me or her of the whole time we were on that Isle.?

Imloth smiled despite himself, and then finally chuckled. ?Well, it seems they have kept from clashing long enough for you to survive the trip to that Isle and back. I hope it goes on so. Our army is hard pressed enough as it is, we don?t need Valen and Chama killing each other.?

Imloth looked over at his recruits training with the long bow and let out an inaudible sigh. They were good people, all of them, but they lacked time to train, and the army was not ready to face the Valsharess.

?Don?t brood so much, Imloth,? Nathyrra suddenly said, putting a hand on his shoulder, following his regard. ?We have a new ally against the Valsharess. Chama will find others. She truly is what the Seer hoped for. She?s powerful and she will help us.?

A strange look crossed Imloth?s face, but Nathyrra did not push further. She smiled and left the commander to brood for himself. Chama could do more than just weakening the Valsharess?s army and finding new allies. She could appease Valen and make sure he did not kill anything that stood in his path in a fit of demonic rage.

Imloth had seen Valen in the heat of battle once before, three months ago. He had slaughtered legions of drow allied with the Valsharess with his eyes lit red from within. The tiefling had been in such a battle rage that he had almost killed one of their own, with just one careless and unrepressed move of his flail. The sight of the fallen follower of Eilistraee was the only thing that had snapped him back to reality in time to call the retreat of the army and save what could be saved of the rebel forces. Valen had been crushed, Imloth could tell; he had hid it and assumed the responsibilities of the army?s new leader, but it had resurfaced when they arrived in Lith My?athar. The Seer had waited for Valen, declaring he was in great danger. Everyone had heard and understood. Since then, Valen had never completely lost temper again; he had been badly irritated at times, but never truly enraged. But Imloth was acutely aware that this state of affairs held only so long as there was no battle involved. There was something in the chaos of large scale battle that was almost impossible to resist for Valen?s demon half.

Imloth still wondered uneasily what would have come to pass during the battle if a swing of a flail too full of rage had not knocked a young follower of Eilistraee unconscious.

If Chama managed to make Valen keep his cool in the heat of battle, she would have made her part in the coming battle against the Valsharess. Imloth would be grateful to her.

***

That night, alone in his quarters at the back of the temple, Valen lay sleepless in his bed. He reflected on what had happened on the Isle of the Maker. It was the first time that he met a demi-lich; it was one of the most powerful undead creatures one could meet on the planes. Valen was surprised how little his flail accomplished against the magically floating skull that made up the physical support of the creature. The skull was magically resistant, yes, but the little he accomplished was also due to the quickness of the creature?s death, dealt by volley after volley of blue globes of pure energy, by massive fall of ice boulders after scorching balls of fire. Valen had been boosted by stoneskins, a cantrip to allow him to resist more hardships, a shield against elemental damage, a spell to make him stronger, and a potion of speed. He was so overpowering, protected by all this magical energy poured into him by Chama and Nathyrra, that he actually had the time to listen to what was happening behind him as he swung his flail into the demi-lich?s face.

So he knew that most of that raw magical power was coming from Chama; the vast majority, in fact, as it had been hinted to by her showdown in training. Nathyrra was not concentrating all her efforts on becoming a mage. In fact, right now she was putting her efforts in becoming a better assassin. It was the first time that Valen was in contact with such a powerful spellcaster as Chama. The demons and devils were more physical fighters, with the most powerful having magical resistances seeped into their skin and bones, and a little power over elemental energies present in their realms. There was also Gulhrys, the High Wizard of House Maeviir, of course, but the man had never cast a spell in Valen?s presence.

Valen admitted grudgingly to himself that he was impressed.

He reflected on what they had done of their first day of adventures together. They had acquired the golems? help, and had assembled one for their own purposes ? again, Chama?s craft more than anything else. But there was more to this first day than that.

Chamaedaphne Indiwasi ? it was disturbingly easy to call her Chama, he found ? was a competent adventurer, there was no doubt to that. He was not ready yet to let go of his negative prejudices towards the Seer?s visions, but this mission had forced him to admit that she was a worthy adventurer. More than that, she appeared a woman of strong convictions, and Valen had not known many people of this type. It was peculiar, however, this dark past she seemed to carry around, and at times he thought he could see it weight her shoulders down.

He wondered for a time if his own actions seemed to weight him down to other people?s eyes, but decided he preferred not to try to answer to that. He veered his thoughts back on track.

He was unsure if he trusted Chama?s good-heartedness. He was not a creature of duplicity like the drow, but he was not stupid, and his time in the Underdark had shown him more than enough treason to give him a minimum of carefulness and reserve.

He trusted Chama to guard his back in battle, but he would watch the Seer?s back in Chama?s presence, he decided. And with that point resolved in his mind, he finally fell asleep, and dreamed troubled dreams of mistrust, overpowering darkness and heavy pasts.
"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#10 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
  • Member
  • 439 posts

Posted 03 March 2007 - 10:47 AM

Sorry for the delay, but Monster (that's my new computer's name... guess why, lol) was going to see the doctor, so I couldn't quite write. Now everything's back in order.

Chapter IX. The beholder hive

The next morning, the team plus Deekin was sitting at a table at the public house after having what drow considered food fit for breakfast ? what Chama had declared inwardly belonging to either one, or a combination of, three categories: slimy, smelly, or still moving. Chama waited until they finished the last bits of food and checked their packs one last time before she made her announcement.

?I think we should go for the beholders.?

?Why so, Chama??, Valen inquired. ?It would seem a natural sequel to our actions to go the other island, would it not??

?It would, but we appear to be lacking time and I think it better to set priorities. My opinion is that, for now at least, it is more important to weaken the Valsharess?s allies than to find new allies for ourselves. Undead are a pain, but a minor pain. Mind flayers are difficult to sway. Beholders are a plague; they kill with spells and can stop our magic. Our enemies being such, I would surmise beholders are the easiest but worse threat to be dealt with.?

?Seen this way, it makes sense,? Valen shrugged. ?To the beholders then.?

Nathyrra watched, amazed. He was not yelling at Chama. He was not rebelling. He was agreeing. He was being ordered around. Well, not exactly, but still. The drow assassin stayed silent, observing with a strange fascination the queer, tense yet soothing byplay between the two of them. Suddenly, Chama turned to Deekin.

?How is your singing doing, Deekin? Do people start to cheer??

?Deekin thinks that drow can never cheer,? the bard observed with a strange wisdom. ?But drow don?t glare at Deekin when Deekin sings. Drow start glaring when Deekin stops singing.?

Chama patted him on the head and grinned in obvious triumph at Valen and Nathyrra, who looked at each other briefly in disbelief.

?That?s good, Deekin,? Chama congratulated warmly. ?Sing to them about heroes and triumph for another day. Tomorrow, if I?m not here, start singing about Undrentide.?

?Deekin remembers. Boss can count on Deekin. Deekin loves to sing about Boss?s adventures!?

Chama smiled at him. ?You know, Deekin, I think that people like to hear what you sing when you love to sing about it.?

?Yes, Deekin knows.? The kobold nodded wisely.

Chama patted him on the head one last time, and then she turned to Nathyrra.

?Do you agree to go for the beholders??

?Of course. As a spellcaster, I am particularly aware of the danger that they represent as an ally of the Valsharess.?

After one last encouraging comment to Deekin, to tell him not to worry too much about drows? glares, Chama and her companions left the public house. When they reached the outer gates of Lith My?athar, Chama asked Nathyrra to scout ahead a bit, under the cover of shadows. The drow nodded and disappeared, melting into darkness ahead, and Valen was left alone with Chama.

?Might we speak??, he asked.

?Certainly, Valen. What would you like??

Chama felt his intense blue eyes boring into her and stared back at him blandly, bracing herself inwardly for what would come.

?I wish to know what makes you so special??

Chama blinked. This was not exactly the kind of question or comment she had been expecting. Valen was painfully serious and there was no way to mistake his manners for flattery.

?What do you mean??, she asked flatly.

?I speak, of course,? he answered a bit disdainfully, ?of the fact that you have replaced me as the leader of our forces. I have kept us alive for months, and suddenly you appear, and it is over.?

Chama frowned and gestured at the smothering shadows surrounding them. ?Do you see any forces? What am I in charge of??

?You may not be directing them at this moment, but when the time comes I?m certain that the Seer intends to put the lives of our forces in your hands. That is what I worry about.?

Chama?s frown deepened. She was not a leader of men. She could be an appropriate team?s influential member, but she was not the one to lead armies. Why the Seer would put their forces into her hands, she could not fathom. She was there to help, yes, but why take away the command from Valen?s hands, when he had already shown that he was more than capable in that domain?

?I didn?t ask to be put in charge,? she muttered defensively.

?That?s true. But you are in charge now. Does that mean nothing to you??

Chama became fiercer before Valen?s eyes and there was something that seemed condensed in her bearing. ?Of course it means something to me. I will do everything I can for the Seer and the rebels. If she is determined to have me lead her forces, I will do so ? with your guidance if you are willing, since I have no experience in that field. I shall see this duty through the end, I promise you.?

Valen studied her thoughtfully, not sure if he trusted her honesty yet.

?I? am glad to hear that, if a little surprised. You barely know us, and you?ve no reason to accept such a duty gladly.?

Chama stared at him. ?Who said that duty was a glad thing? Some things just need to be done.?

Valen was silent for a long time, troubled by his lack of trust and her seemingly determined sense of duty.

?The Seer believes what she believes,? he finally declared. ?Her goddess leads and she follows without question, and this has been enough? so far.?

At that Chama huffed. ?I don?t need a goddess that is not mine to lay my path before me. I will do what I have to no matter what you or she thinks.?

?Is that so?? Valen replied coolly. ?You sound quite confident. Some might call that bravado, I think, considering what we face. I believe that the Seer has visions. I believe it may even be that her goddess sends them. I am a being of the planes, however, and I ascribe no infallibility to gods and goddesses. The Seer believes that you will lead us to victory, but nothing is said of what such a victory might cost us.? He paused to look at her pointedly, his icy eyes glaring in a most intimidating manner. ?Some costs, I think, are too high.?

?Meaning what??, Chama retorted, angrily this time. Spit it out, you hypocrite!, she dared in her mind. Name me the traitor you believe me to be!

?Meaning that the Seer assumes that you are here to help us,? he answered simply. ?I make no such assumption. I have led these people through every danger so far and kept the Seer safe throughout. I won?t see them betrayed.?

Now you?ve said it out loud. ?You think I would betray them??, she shot back hotly.

?And why not??, he shrugged. ?You?ve no loyalty to beholden yourself to the drow or the Seer. For all I know you may see the death of any drow as a good thing.?

?I?m not a devil to have to be bound to do something, Valen! I have already told you that I would fight for the Seer! What more do you want from me? My word I won?t betray you??

He regarded her with an arched brow.

?Would you give it??

?If that?s all you need, a stupid promise that I have already committed myself to, then yes, I would.? You fool.

He stopped and considered for a short while. ?I am not asking you to give your word. Too much has been asked of you already.?

She let out an exasperated sound. ?You think I?m a traitor! What do you care what?s been asked of me already??

The geas burned within all of a sudden. She turned her eyes away from him. It was hard enough to hold on to her determination without anyone doubting her. And she disliked being forced by a geas to do something she feared she would lack the determination to do otherwise. But these concerns were not for this rude excuse for a team-mate to see.

?I said I would help you and I intend to do so faithfully,? Valen said with renewed steel, his eyes shifting to a hard and unyielding black. He ignored her latest comment completely. ?But I intend to watch you, as well. I don?t trust you, and it is as simple as that. Don?t let me delay us any longer. Let?s move on.?

Chama didn?t look back at him. She walked briskly past him and followed in the direction taken by Nathyrra, hoping the drow would melt out of the shadows soon to keep her mind off the doubt Valen stirred within her.

***

It took a few uneventful days to explore the Underdark caves near Lith My?athar. Nathyrra scouted ahead a lot under the cover of shadows, while Chama and Valen followed behind her, trying to avoid speaking to each other if possible, seeing the tendency their conversations had to heat.

There was something else, however. There was a natural easiness for them to fall into battle next to each other; so much so that a conscious effort was necessary to include Nathyrra in the battle plans. As time passed, Chama seemed to hold Valen at a slightly shorter distance, and Valen seemed not to doubt her loyalty so much. Neither had said anything with words, however, and often Nathyrra found the atmosphere to be forbidding between the two of them.

Eventually, they reached a bridge of shadow that crossed a chasm, and it looked like the path to a beholder lair to the three of them. They all bent down over the control panel of the bridge. Nathyrra and Valen wrinkled their forehead in thought as they looked at the design and symbols of the panel.

?Chama, can you read what it says??, Nathyrra asked.

?It says 1, 2, 3, 4 and left, right,? the elf answered carelessly, oblivious to Nathyrra?s impressed stare at the alien runes. ?I just have to manipulate to align the lines in the middle of the dots.?

?What do you mean??, Nathyrra asked again.

?See? This way.?

Chama pushed the buttons to move the lines to the left or right on each row, until a continuous line displayed on the control panel.

?Just in case I missed it and it zaps something magical our way, you would probably do better standing to the side. I?m pretty sure I can avoid or resist it. I?ve seen lots of those things in the Plane of Shadows.?

Valen and Nathyrra stepped back. Valen was silenced by the knowledge that she, a non-planar mortal, had survived a stay in the dreaded plane. Chama, oblivious, pushed the central button of the control panel, and suddenly a bridge of shadow materialized over the chasm.

They crossed it.

***

The beholder lair was a dark, damp and reeking place whose walls pulsed with a life of their own. The walls, doors, and ceilings hid a thousand dangers and many beholders. Valen walked in first, focusing the attention of all enemy creatures upon himself, only to be healed by potions afterwards. After a few battles, however, he was starting to feel a bit weak from all those repeated injuries, which he could still feel through the potions? magic.

Chama had the habit of adventuring with a warrior before her, though, and she called a halt so he could catch his breath even if she or Nathyrra obviously did not need it. After half an hour of rest, they set off again.

To his surprise, it was a kobold and not another eye-tyrant who greeted Valen when he pushed the next door after Chama assured him it was not trapped. He ground his teeth and glared at the little monster before him.

Not another annoying kobold, by all the devils of Baator!

He was mildly satisfied that this one was properly intimidated and took a few steps backwards, but then Chama walked passed him and called in a soft, sickly sweet voice, ?Wait! We don?t mean any harm. Please? maybe we can help each other.?

Valen sighed, resigned to suffer the indignity of more kobolds? nicknames and annoying doom songs. He turned to Nathyrra, looking at her helplessly, and the drow laughed out loud.

?Valen? this can?t be worse than a meeting with House Mae?viir?s war leader??

?Are you sure??, the tiefling muttered back with heartfelt despair.

Meanwhile, Chama had started talking with the kobold, who obviously could not answer by vocal means. Valen relented when he understood that the creature?s tongue had been cut. He could feel sympathy for slaves, no matter their race. He did not protest or glare anymore when the mute kobold guided them to a nearby chamber, where more of his race were kept. They all moved away from the adventurers when they came into the room. Only one still had his tongue and could talk.

?We don?t mean any harm,? Chama reassured them gently. ?In fact, we are here to fight the beholders. I wanted to speak to you, to warn you to stay here, out of the battle zone. The eye-tyrants will likely be angry when they notice that half their ranks are already missing.? There was a silence, Chama obviously pondering something, and then she asked, ?Will you wait here for a day or two??

One of the kobold gestured to the many wounded, and mimed that it was hard to go anywhere in that condition. Finally Attiz, the one who still had a tongue, spoke up for the others.

?We wait.?

?Very well. When we will be done with the beholder tyrant, we will come back and get you out of here. There is a friend of mine who will be happy to help you.?

The kobolds looked at each other, and their spokesperson nodded, with a curious expression now.

?My friend is a kobold like you. Like you, he was once a slave, but is now free. His name is Deekin.?

There were some wordless exclamations at the mention of Deekin?s name, and the kobolds started to grow agitated, making signs to each other.

?Wait for us here, and stay out of the eye-tyrants? way,? Chama ordered.

The kobolds nodded, and then started to confer to each other as best they could with signs and mimes.

?You are going to bring them back to Lith My?athar, aren?t you??, Valen sighed.

?Well, yes? In fact, I was thinking that, once drow are tired of Deekin?s voice, he could train these kobolds with crossbows, if they wish to help us. Knowing how kobolds are eager to repay every kindness made to them, I?m sure they will. They?re smart and I?m sure they?ll make good marksmen.?

?Kobolds in the Seer?s army??, Nathyrra exclaimed a bit disdainfully.

?I will try to enrol every trustworthy ally I can find,? Chama replied defensively.

Neither companion added anything, and they went deeper and lower in the beholders? lair.

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 03 March 2007 - 10:48 AM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#11 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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  • 439 posts

Posted 11 March 2007 - 08:14 AM

Chapter X. Dead magic and living project

The dead magic zone proved a dangerous surprise. Hopefully, after they left all the extra weight by the door, they were able to carry on without too much trouble, only changing their tactics slightly ? Valen could still be deadly in close combat, Nathyrra could still slide in the shadows, and Chama was deadly and sneaky with her bow, taking advantage of her targets? distraction while they battled Valen.

The only problem was that there were no spells cast, by either Nathyrra or Chama, and it proved a strain when they were faced with the huge spider demon that Chama identified as a bebilith from afar.

?How can you tell from so far what type of demon it is??, Valen asked. ?I am an outsider and I lived in the Abyss for years, and still I would hesitate.?

?Well, from what bestiaries I read ? and believe me, I was made to read a lot of them in my training as a mage ? there is not a single creature in the shape of a spider that can reach this size. There?s a strand of giant spider, rumoured to feed off light; they?re spoken of in ancient legend, but according to the few descriptions available, its legs bore four articulations, not three as this one, proving its more ancient origin? So I conclude that what we have before us is a bebilith.?

Valen shook his head. ?If you say so. What shall we do??

?Nat should slide in first under the cover of shadows to get one sneak attack at its back. Valen, you should charge up front. I?ll slide on one side to get good shots with sneak attacks while you keep it busy. If you are poisoned and are badly pressed, retreat. Nat and I will replace you in close combat the time for you to drink an antidote and a potion.?

Valen nodded. Nathyrra set off into the shadows and they executed the plan. All three of them ended up poisoned, but after using antidotes and healing kits, they were ready to continue.

Chama, again, was the one to solve the mystery of the obelisk?s workings and retrieve its core. Immediately, she felt all her magic fly back into her, and her mind expanded at blinding speed under the renewed influence of her circlet and ring.

?I?m scared to carry an artefact that can generate a dead magic zone around me. I?m worried it might backfire or something if I cast a spell anywhere near it. Valen? would you mind carrying it??

?Not at all, Chama.? He took the orb off her hands. ?Why do you want to bring it back? Do you see any use to it in our conflict with the Valsharess??

?I don?t know yet. Maybe there will be a zone where it can be harmful to the Valsharess and not to us. Let?s take it back with us anyway. Maybe the Seer will have a better idea.?

They returned to the entrance, where their rope still waited, hanging from far higher, in the beholder lair. Valen sighed as he looked up.

?Are you going to be alright, climbing all the way up with your heavy pack??, Chama asked him. ?Nat and I aren?t carrying much. We can help you if you need.?

?I?ll be fine now that the strength of my magical equipment has been returned to me.?

Chama nodded, and Valen started to haul himself up, him, his full armour and his heavy pack. A nasty surprise however was awaiting them when they finally emerged from the pit they had climbed down into.

?Ambush!?, Valen yelled while a dozen beholders suddenly floated down from the ceiling and started zapping magical beams and snapping their jaws in his direction. ?Keep cover!?

?Yeah sure, we?re going to just watch them tear you apart,? Chama muttered and pulled herself on ground level, immediately hit by three rays of death magic. She staggered and started casting, followed by Nathyrra.

The tiefling tried to center the enemies? attention on him with battle cries and whirlwind attacks, but the beholders were smart and they knew that the two spellcasters were easier prey. They kept zapping at them, and Valen was amazed to hear that Chama could keep her concentration and cast even while hit like this. Nathyrra had more trouble, however, and soon enough she tried to slip out of the room and the heated battle.

She never reached the door. One of the eye-tyrants had carefully aimed and hit her in the kidney with a destructive ray of magic. The drow went down with a grunt, starting to writhe in convulsions on the ground.

Valen let out a cry of pure fury and transformed into a whirlwind of destruction. Chama screamed out in rage and exploded in maximized fireballs. She reclaimed her self-control quickly enough and ran to Nathyrra?s side as soon as the battle lost in intensity, leaving Valen to deal with their remaining enemies.

The drow was still alive. Her breathing and heartbeat were quick, shallow and irregular. Chama pried open the higher part of her companion?s armour and held back the flow of blood from the drow?s side with a hand, opening a healing kit with the other. The disintegration ray had opened a gaping hole in Nathyrra?s abdomen. Soon Valen was besides Chama, the last enemy crushed and his eyes yellow. Chama had quickly learned to recognize that this colour took over his eyes when he fought the demon.

?Snap out of it, I need your help,? she ordered. ?Hold back the blood.?

Valen moved obediently to put pressure on the wound, his hands large and rough on Nathyrra?s lean abdomen. Chama was fumbling with a healing kit with her bloodied hands, preparing healing herbs and clean bandages. Eventually she turned back to her patient, whose face was of an unhealthy grey now. Chama prepared a pressure bandage in her right hand.

?On three, you remove your hand and I put the bandage.? Valen nodded his agreement. ?One? two? three??

Valen removed his hand and she covered the blood well with a cloth drenched in a liquid of pungent smell.

?Hold it there, it will quell the blood somewhat. I need to prepare another one; it will take two.?

Valen put pressure on the bandage. Chama opened another healing kit and produced another pungent-smelling cloth. She replaced the one held in place by Valen, now soaked with blood, and saw with relief that the healing magic was doing its work. The blood was spilling more slowly. Nathyrra stirred.

?Stay put, Nat,? Valen said, ?we?re putting you back in one piece.?

The drow groaned and opened her eyes, seeing Valen holding bandages to her side, and Chama looking through a healing kit?s contents with bloodied hands.

?All this blood? is it all mine??, she asked faintly.

?I might have contributed a few drops, but it?s mostly yours,? Valen grinned. ?Don?t worry, you?ll be fine.?

?Don?t speak, Nat,? Chama suddenly asked. ?I need to listen to your breathing and heartbeat to know how your blood pressure?s doing.?

The drow obediently fell silent. Chama monitored her state for a while and finally declared, ?You?ll do fine. The herbs just need a few more minutes to stop your bleeding.?

Chama replaced Valen to hold the cloth, and the warrior turned his back on the ladies, blushing a bit now that he had the time to realize that he had seen Nathyrra?s undergarments and touched her lithe, flat stomach? The drow really was an attractive woman. He coughed and scratched his head, watching around for any sign of other beholders in an attempt to concentrate on something else than his distracting thoughts.

There was a long silence while Chama helped Nathyrra to slip her armour back on, and finally Valen could turn back around.

?How are you feeling now??, Chama asked, scrutinizing Nathyrra?s face attentively.

?I?m alright, but I still feel a bit weak from my injuries. My spells are still alright; you got me out of unconsciousness really fast.?

?Here, drink this. It should make you feel better.?

Chama handed a potent potion to the drow, who sat up carefully, with Valen?s help, and drank. Her skin instantly gained back its healthy bluish hue, not the grey one of disease. Chama watched, seeing again how everyone but her appeared tough and capable of sustaining their injuries and pain.

The assassin stood and tested her strength by a few moves. ?Ready to go!?, she decreed with a predatory grin.

?Are you sure? We can rest for a while, if you prefer.?

?No, I?m fine.?

Chama turned to Valen and, after a quick survey of his wounds, handed him a potion. ?Will this be enough for you??

?Yes. Thank you.?

They went back to see the kobolds, and offered them the possibility to follow them back to Lith My?athar; they were not ambushed or intercepted on their way back. The kobolds chatted and gestured happily among themselves all the way back, obviously overjoyed at their sudden and unexpected freedom. Nathyrra slipped to her room without another word as soon as they reached the temple though, understandably tired.

Valen stood by Chama?s side while the wood elf explained to the Seer and Imloth that they had killed the beholder-tyrant, found kobold allies, and retrieved a magical artefact capable of creating a dead magic zone. The tiefling knew the Seer well, and he could tell she was impressed.

?Do you have use for the artefact??, Imloth asked.

?Not really. Can you make it useful??

?I believe so,? the commander answered. ?It occurs to me that the Dark River makes us safe from mundane boats and assaults, but if we are to be attacked on that front, it will be by magical means. A dead magic zone on the docks would take care of that threat.?

Valen looked with approval at the drow strategist. ?Very good idea, Imloth. I don?t know how you can make a dead magic zone spring out of that artefact though. It?s inactive in its current form. Chama, do you have any idea??

The elf bit her lip, thinking a moment.

?Well, the obelisk that hosted it was not overly sophisticated, and I know it was adamantine-based technology, with a net of beholder runes in a language I know. It would require a bit of work, but I? Oh, I?m thinking, wouldn?t Gulhrys agree to help me with that??

Valen forcefully turned his mental back on any opinions he had about the High Wizard and the prospect of a common project with Chama. Valen and Imloth exchanged a look. ?Since his House is allied with us, it would be hard for him to refuse,? Valen commented dryly. He did not add that if he was to believe Gulhrys? repeated looks in Chama?s direction, the mage would be eager for a reason to work with the surface elf.

?Then, between the two of us and Nat?s help, I?m pretty sure we can manage. Moreover he must have a well-supplied laboratory. I?ll just miss Deekin to hum along while he measures my reagents? He?ll be needed to train the kobolds.?

Suddenly an unbearable sense of doom crashed down on Valen. Obviously, he could be of no use to Chama and Gulhrys while they worked on that magical apparatus. He was therefore expected to assist in the training of the troops, as he usually did in his free time. This meant he would have to put up with Deekin and the score of other kobolds. His mind set out in frenzy for a way out of this situation. Any way.

He was unsuccessful.

***

The next afternoon, after being chased away by Imloth who declared that he was far from helping the kobolds to learn ? which was true; they were fearful enough as it was and lost all their means when he could not keep from glaring at them in an intimidating manner ? he went to check on Chama?s and Gulhrys? progress.

He was guided by one of Mae?viir?s guards through the public house of Mae?viir to the mage?s laboratory. From quite a distance he could hear the regular boom of magical explosions, and a suffocating and multicoloured smoke started to choke the corridor thirty meters from the laboratory?s doors. The guard knocked on the door, bowed respectfully and left when Gulhrys opened the door.

?Valen,? the mage greeted flatly. That was a show of drow animosity if ever there was one. That unexpectedly lifted Valen?s spirits.

?Ah, Valen! Come in and take a look. We?re progressing nicely,? he heard Chama?s voice across the billowing smoke.

Valen walked in warily, waving a hand in front of his face to try and clear the smoke from his watery eyes. When finally he discerned something through the peasouper, he saw Chama, Nathyrra, Gulhrys and Rizolvir, all four covered in soot and magical powder of all colours, and an indescribable jumble of magical devices, heaps or bars of metal, grinders, magical rods, sheets of parchment covered in hurtful and alien runes, and even Rizolvir?s anvil and hammer.

?By all the devils of Baator, what is all this mess??, he asked.

Chama laughed. ?This is a mage?s laboratory, and this is an ongoing experiment.?

?Rizolvir, what are you doing here??

?Well, that contraption of theirs involves a frame of adamantine, and they figured a smith would be more efficient in creating the metal structure they need. I hope you had no urgent request for my forge. Transporting my magical anvil here was complicated enough, even with three wizards? help. I plan on finishing here before going back to the forge.?

?No, Rizolvir. This should be considered a higher priority than weapons or armour requests,? Valen ordered, still surveying the muddle. He turned to Chama who was observing a small piece of cloth with strange glasses. ?So? sparing me the details? how is it going??

?Well, we?re pretty sure we solved the problem,? she began.

?Thanks to my lady?s original and insightful perspective on the problematic,? Gulhrys purred.

Nathyrra snorted out loud. Valen swallowed and stared firmly at Chama, refusing to glower at Gulhrys suddenly.

He?s begging for it, Valen?s demonic half pleaded. What right does he have to speak to her like that? You should teach him a lesson. He?s going to put her into trouble.

That?s not an argument you would use. You don?t care whether or not she gets in trouble. Now shut up, she can handle herself, and she can handle him.

Then he added to himself, sighing inwardly, She can handle me after all. Chama seemed slightly annoyed by Gulhrys. Of course, a drow male would take a mild annoyance as a sign his flattery was very welcome. Valen?s anger flared, but he kept staring firmly at Chama, who went on awkwardly, apparently unsettled by his gaze, ?Yes, well? we?re pretty sure our plans are sound. What?s left to do is build the thing and test it. It should take four or five days to finish; the metal structure will be done by tomorrow, but the heavy enchantment in the eye-tyrant tongue is going to take a few days to soak in.?

?I see.?

Valen was displeased that she would be stuck in Lith My?athar for so long. Their days were counted before the Valsharess struck. Her work here on this device would delay them dangerously. Still, he could not deny that another security at the docks would be a good idea.

?I plan on getting Gulhrys started on the magic tomorrow, and then I?ll leave the whole thing to him. I?ll just come and check the final testing, so Nathyrra and I can be here to counterspell in case something goes wrong.?

?Ah. Very well then,? Valen breathed in relief.

Rizolvir, who was striking and quenching metal in his corner of the laboratory, suddenly called out, ?Hey, Valen, would you mind lending me a hand? My apprentices are far too cowardly to come within House Mae?viir, so I?m left without a help.?

?Sure, Rizolvir!?, Valen exclaimed enthusiastically. Anything not to go back to training those annoying kobolds. Anything. ?What do you need me to do??

The drow smith grinned, sweat trickling down his face. ?You might like to remove your armour; it can get pretty hot in here. I just need you to hold the metal for me or work the bellows at times.?

Valen stripped of his armour and was about to put it down in a corner when suddenly Nathyrra yelped, ?No! Not there! Not on my invisible crystals!?

The tiefling chuckled. ?Well, you see, it was the only visibly unoccupied corner. Now, would you be so kind as to point me where I can put my armour??

The drow grinned and swept up a corner with a move of the arm, pushing unceremoniously various objects in a disorganized pile. She pointed the newly available piece of ground.

?There is going to be fine.?

And Valen set to work with Rizolvir on the forge. To his surprise, the work was rather trying, with the heat and the heavy bars of adamantine to be manoeuvred around. Moreover, they worked until a late hour of the night, when finally Gulhrys declared that it was time to stop, lest Matron Myrune complained of the noise. Even Valen felt a pang of dread at that idea, and so they cleaned up the laboratory and readied everything for the next morning.

Gulhrys walked them to the door and kissed Chama?s hand. Nathyrra snorted again, so Valen allowed himself to growl, and Rizolvir shook his head. The High Wizard then went back into the house, after one last bow.

?You have to be firmer than that with males, my dear,? Nathyrra advised when the door closed.

Chama blushed a very bright shade of embarrassment and Rizolvir excused himself to go back towards the public house where he lived. The three travelling companions walked back to the temple, where an excited Deekin was waiting for ?Boss? to tell her everything about the progress of the kobold recruits.

Valen and Nathyrra hastily slid away from the long-winded kobold to let Chama deal with his personal way of retelling the day. Valen, however, waited in the corridor until at last, nearly an hour later, Chama came up towards her room, looking tired and drawn, accompanied by a now silent Deekin. The kobold was smiling happily, uncovering his reptilian, sharp teeth, and he actually seemed satisfied with the silence. Valen could not fathom what lengths of patience must have been necessary to finally drive Deekin to a content silence.

Chama stopped hesitantly when she saw Valen in the corridor, but started back towards him and sent Deekin ahead alone to his own room.

?Yes, Valen??

?I just? I just wanted to thank you.?

She frowned. ?What for??

?For saving Nathyrra.?

She nodded, and then looked more closely at Valen. His expression was hard to decipher, but he seemed worried.

?I?m glad too that I could bring her back.?

?I? didn?t know her very well before we started travelling with you. I? haven?t had many friends in my life. I wouldn?t have liked to lose one so quickly.?

So, that was the cause of Valen?s strange expression.

?I understand that very well,? she replied sourly.

Valen stared at her with piercing eyes. ?I do think she considers you her friend.?

Chama smiled mirthlessly. ?I would rather ask her than discuss it with you, if you don?t mind. Anyway, one out of you two is a good score for me anyway.?

Valen stared at her with an uncertain expression. He wanted to be her friend, but he was still a bit distrustful, even if his fear of treason had been alleviated since he had seen her torn about the actions she must take in the conflict between the golems of the Isle of the Maker.

Chama turned away and conspicuously focused on unlocking her door, ignoring Valen and leaving him to go to his own room.
"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#12 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
  • Member
  • 439 posts

Posted 17 March 2007 - 08:56 AM

Chapter XI. Interlude

The team spent another day working on the magical device designed to create a dead magic zone from the obelisk?s core. Valen helped Rizolvir to fashion the metal structure, then to assemble its heavy weight. Nathyrra took care of the magical gear assemblage, while Chama and Gulhrys concentrated on scripting spells in the tongue of the beholders and readying spell reagents. Meanwhile, Deekin was arranging the last details regarding the kobolds? quartering and equipment, and starting to teach them the rudiments of ranks and military action.

Again, it was deep into the night when Rizolvir, Valen, Nathyrra and Chama emerged from House Mae?viir, exhausted and covered in magical soot. Again Gulhrys kissed Chama?s hand, earning a snort, a growl and a shake of the head.

The next morning, though, the team was ready to set off again. They were a bit tired from the short night, but Chama nevertheless exposed her plan to her team-mates with enthusiasm.

?Now I would suggest going to see the illithids. Negotiations with them are likely to take some time, so we should not wait until the last minute before the confrontation with the Valsharess.?

?Boss not lets devourers eat her brain!?, Deekin suddenly exclaimed. ?Boss so smart, Deekin sure all devourers wants to taste??

?I?ll be careful,? Chama promised with a smile. ??Devourers?, Deekin? You start to speak like a drow. I take it you?ve held some interviews??

?After Deekin be done singing in public house at night, sometimes drow come and speak with Deekin. Drow people say they be proud if Deekin sings their stories when he gets back to the surface.?

Valen frowned in disbelief, exchanging a sceptical glance with Nathyrra. Chama giggled and patted Deekin?s head.

?I hope you will, Deekin. You will continue to train the kobolds while I?m gone??

?Yes, Boss!?

?Very good, Deekin. Be a good leader to them.?

At the word ?leader?, the kobold suddenly became agitated. ?Deekin not be leader,? he protested uneasily.

?That?s how they see you, Deekin, but don?t worry. Just train them like you did yesterday, and everything will be fine.?

The kobold was definitely less assured when the team parted ways with him at Lith My?athar?s gates.

***

Mere hours later, Nathyrra, Valen and Chama were back, all shaken up to varying degree from the illithids? and umber hulks? stunning psychic attacks, with a score of freed slaves hot on their heels. Valen went with the slaves to Imloth so the commander would find them a place where to live, while Chama, Nathyrra and Argosus, the slaves? leader, went to speak with the Seer.

?I?m afraid the negotiations didn?t quite end up in our favour,? Chama announced bluntly when the Seer arrived in the main temple?s chamber. She had been in her private quarters. ?The Elder Brain asked for a powerful artefact called the Mirror of All-Seeing in exchange to refuse his promised help to the Valsharess. If this Mirror is what I remember it is from my lore classes back at the Academy, then I?d never have dared give such a powerful item to an evil race like the illithid anyway. So we went and freed the slaves. At least this might slow them a bit in the days to come? I don?t know.?

The fire of passion for right and justice was strikingly fierce in the elf just then. The Seer was surprised; it was very different from the perilous moral edge Chama had been walking when she first arrived. The Seer prayed in gratitude to her goddess and requested to be forgiven her foolish doubts. She smiled warmly to their prophetical saviour, who started not only to act like a hero, but to feel like one. The suffering and stirring depths behind Chama?s fašade did not seem so close to the surface and threatening anymore.

?We trust your decisions, Chamaedaphne,? the drow lady answered. She turned to address the illithid drow slave standing with Nathyrra?s help. ?These ex-slaves? I take it you are their leader??

?Yes, Mother Seer? I am Argosus, the slaves? leader. In their name and mine I would like to thank you for your hospitality in Lith My?athar.?

The Seer walked closer and cast a spell, healing the man?s ankle. It had been bitten by a manticore in a fight days ago, and the wound had started to fester and was becoming more painful with each passing instant. The drow blinked in amazement at his restored feet, then up to the Seer. She smiled kindly.

?You are most welcome here, as are all those who seek freedom, be it from the Valsharess or another of her allies.?

?Th-thank you! Thank you, Mother Seer, for showing? for showing mercy for my weakness?? The drow male trailed off, realizing that a seer to Eilistraee would not expect to be addressed in such a manner, but he did not know how to address a female otherwise.

He cleared his throat, taking his weight off Nathyrra?s shoulder, and bowed to the Seer, still smiling benevolently at him.

?In the name of all the slaves and mine, I assure you that we will offer whatever assistance we may provide in your coming battle against the Valsharess. I?m afraid we are but meagre soldiers, but we will stand fast amongst your ranks.?

?Everyone in Lith My?athar thanks you for your courage.?

Chama let Arogsus discuss in drow with Nathyrra and the Seer. She walked out of the temple and was intercepted on her way to House Mae?viir by Valen.

?Chama? Where are you going??

?Going to check on Gulhrys?s progress? Why? Does something urgently require my attention??

?No,? he reassured her. ?I just thought you might be going to see him, and? I think it would not be a good idea for you to go alone in House Mae?viir, considering the? political debate currently happening, and your possible implication by Zesyyr.? It was unusual to hear a treacherous voice other than the demon?s speak up in his mind. As if the political situation is the true reason you don?t want her near Gulhrys alone, he snorted at himself.

She shrugged. ?Very well, do come along. Although I?m quite surprised that you?re willingly coming to meet with Gulhrys again.?

It was quite an exercise of Valen?s will not to blush in embarrassment at the thought of what she had noticed that made her say that. He sighed. ?I have promised to serve you faithfully. I do what needs to be done in order to do so.?

She smiled and they were on their way. Gulhrys himself escorted them to his laboratory and the magical device. He exposed the extent of his progress in great detail. Valen felt Chama?s effort to keep the visit short though, and he was grateful. At last, when the High Wizard walked them back to the door, Valen tried his best to ignore the irritating fact that the damned drow was still kissing Chama?s hand. He could not completely explain the fact for himself, but he was comforted by the knowledge that Nathyrra shared his annoyance. At least it seemed annoyance was a normal reaction.

Valen escorted Chama back to the temple, and fled to his room when Deekin suddenly appeared, yelping joyously that ?Boss? was back. When the tiefling closed securely the door to his room behind him, drowning out most of Deekin?s noise, Valen chuckled lightly to himself.

A weapon master terrified into a shameful flight by a kobold bard. Surely a skald somewhere ought to make a song out of that.

***

The next trip they undertook was to the second Isle, since Chama had judged that it was now time to search for more allies and strengthen themselves, and that everyone agreed. So they journeyed onboard Cavallas?s boat again, the strange boatman navigating his drow ship wisely and expertly.

The air over the Dark River was pleasantly cool and fresh, with a gentle wind, and Chama stood at the prow, looking at the darkness of the Underdark and the many rocks lying treacherously just below the surface; she could see them only as they passed them by, but Cavallas steered them through a safe path. The air was cool, but the smell hinted at the poison that ran in the river nonetheless; the smell was piercing and slightly gagging, like a magical broth gone awry.

It was the first time in quite a few days that she felt alone. She had a time to look into herself and appreciate the change happening within her. It was strange that she had seen so many places in her long life, but had to come to this forsaken underground maze to finally find peace.

She was astounded that Halaster?s geas had not even crossed her thoughts for the last five days. She had followed the path she had set ? striking at the beholders, freeing the slaves of the illithids ? and not once she had thought of the geas. She had thought of the Seer?s rebels to be helped in their justified conflict with the Valsharess and of the slaves who deserved freedom. She had felt no calling at all to let them rot or see them fight in the pits. She wondered if she would always need to be surrounded by smothering blackness to feel the longing to accomplish good. But then she smiled at the blackness of the Underdark stretching before her. Then she would just have to remember this place for the rest of her life and she would be fine, wouldn?t she?

It felt good to be alone with her thoughts, but not as much as she would have expected. To her surprise, she found that she appreciated Nathyrra?s and Valen?s company.

She was still a bit intrigued by Valen though. How did a tiefling end up embroiled in a drow rebellion on the Prime? And why was he so fiercely protective of the Seer and distrustful, ready to suspect anyone of treachery? Was he so influenced by drow culture already?

As though answering to her very thoughts, she heard his heavy footsteps and the clinking of his armour as he walked closer.

?Might we speak??, he asked in his almost curt voice.

?Yes, Valen??, she answered while she turned around to face him.

He watched her for a moment. He seemed uncertain, but still his fierce eyes unsettled her.

?I wish to talk about the Seer,? he began.

She sighed, wondering if he wanted to speak about his drow friend or question his party leader?s loyalty again. Chama felt more assured of her answers now than the first time, but still?

?Why do you want to talk about the Seer??, Chama sighed out in defeat. ?Do you still think I will betray her??

?Possibly. I think you need to know just how important the Seer is to me? to everyone who follows her.?

Instantly she felt more at ease; if the subject of the conversation was not going to be her allegiances, then it could be nothing but a brilliant success compared to her last conversation with Valen. ?Ah? I would hear why you care about her so, then.?

?I intend to protect her at all costs,? he confirmed. Then he hesitated a while, pondering how he could best explain himself. ?I am unsure how much knowledge you have of the planes, Chama. I know you have summoned devils and demons, but that is a different matter than knowing the planes. Does the Blood Wars mean anything to you??

She smiled a slightly condescending wizard?s smile. ?Well? I read about it, studied the speculations as to its beginnings and possible conclusions, wrote essays about its consequences throughout the planes, but still I have not experienced it first hand as you have. I would like to hear your perspective on the subject, if you are willing to share it.?

?Very well,? Valen agreed. He surprised even himself at the ease with which he spoke to her about it now, after the last time she had brought the subject up. ?The Blood Wars are the ages-old conflict between the demons of the Abyss and the devils of Baatezu. We have battled so long and so ferociously that the War is now part of our blood. There is no true hope of winning, just one battle after the next is fought wherever demons and devils encounter each other. An endless cycle of rage and bloodshed. I was? recruited into those battles.?

He looked away into the blackness of the cave. How could words ever describe this eternal conflict? Endless cycle of rage and bloodshed? He had no words to adequately describe the scope and the brutality of the Blood Wars, but the haunted quality of his eyes succeeded in communicating it with Chama.

?For years I fought in the Outer Planes as something less than a soldier,? he explained in a toneless voice. ?I was a beast.?

There was a short silence, and she asked gently, ?How were you recruited??

?I was captured. I spent all of my youth fleeing from the Blood Wars, but I was scooped up by the demons and made a battle slave anyway.?

A ?battle slave?. She had never thought of this in those terms.

?I had little choice but to fight. I was a slave, you see, the property of my demonic master. He threw me into each battle and I fought to survive.?

?How long did this go on??

Valen wrinkled his forehead in thought. ?I cannot be sure. Much of my time in the Abyss was spent in incoherent rage? perhaps twenty years? More? Time has little meaning there. In any event, the Blood Wars made me into the warrior that I am.? He gestured at his old armour, which he wore right now since they just left Lith My?athar, and weapon. ?Though it meant nothing to me. I was a mindless soldier, no more. My infernal masters encouraged the demonic blood that was within me. I was beholden to it? I revelled in it, and was desperate to please my masters with each opponent I slaughtered.? His voice had darkened. She was looking at him without surprise. She would expect this from a tiefling with a demon?s blood, he thought sourly. ?There was nothing in me that was human,? he still explained, ?and that meant less than nothing to me. Until the Seer found me.?

?She came to the Abyss??, she startled.

He shook his head, a brief smile of amusement on his lips. ?No. The first time I saw her, I was summoned along with my master to your world by a spell? to fight against the Seer, in fact. A drow priestess had called us and so we were beholden to do battle. During the attack I came face to face with the Seer? and she? looked into my soul. I have no other way to describe it. We were banished back to the planes, but the memory of the Seer stayed with me. It haunted my dreams.?

He closed his eyes and she saw something she never thought was possible. Valen shuddered.

?For the first time in decades, I began to remember the life I once had.?

?And she hadn?t even done anything to you.?

?Not directly, no. But? I think she was the first person who had really looked at me. And therefore she made me look at myself. I didn?t like what I saw.?

?That can?t have been easy, considering where you were,? she noted in a gentle voice.

?It wasn?t,? he confirmed flatly.

?So what did you do??

He paused and closed his eyes against the images conjured by his memory.

?My master sensed my? difficulty. I was tortured, for months or years? I really could not tell. I only remember that it was agony beyond measure.? He laughed harshly. ?Demons know how to torture. But eventually I was able to escape Grimash?t. I made my way to your world, an alien place for a planar such as me, and searched until I found the Seer. She healed my wounds and? spoke to me. She offered to help me. If I wanted it.? His voice was thick with sudden emotion. ?She saved me in every way that one can be saved.?

There was a noticeable silence. Suddenly Chama did not mind so much his distrustful attitude towards her. If anyone had suddenly appeared in master Drogan?s company, she was sure she would have been equally wary ? she had been, when Ayala had arrived in a very timely manner after the kobolds? attack that had poisoned the dwarf.

?I understand,? she said quietly. ?I don?t know if it means anything to you, but I really do.?

He tilted his head slightly in acknowledgement, and for a moment an understanding and a comfortable feeling passed between them, as though they were old friends sharing a beautiful panorama on a quiet afternoon after a long and arduous ascension to the top of a mountain. Valen was the first one to look away, back into the blackness of the cave, and his stance tensed up again.

?I thought it necessary to tell you all this simply so you know how truly important the Seer is to me,? he concluded more tersely. ?I would never betray her? or allow her to be betrayed.?

?I?m not going to betray anyone, Valen,? she stated, in a gentle tone unlike the one she had used the last time they had spoken about this. ?I have already told you this. If you don?t want me to give you my word, then you have to trust me.?

He grimaced. ?I?m sorry, I do not mean to make accusations. I simply thought you should know that.?

He suddenly pointed to the island appearing above the horizon in front of the boat. ?At any rate, we are arriving.?

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 19 March 2007 - 05:40 AM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#13 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
  • Member
  • 439 posts

Posted 24 March 2007 - 10:31 AM

Some amount of cuteness ahead? Be warned!!! And please, keep the reviews coming :)

Chapter XII. Talona?s touch

Once on the island of the Avariel, Chama, Nathyrra and Valen spoke to the winged elves nearer to the gates and to the man in the library. After those disturbing conversations, Chama stopped her team in a discreet corner behind the library.

?It?s a mirror,? she stated.

?A mirror??, Valen inquired.

Chama?s face was unreadable under her helmet, but her voice seemed embarrassed when she explained herself.

?Well, yes... some sort of spell obviously changed these Avariel from one end to the other, down to the last one of them, and the merchant spoke of a piece of glass. I suppose a magical mirror did this to them, by way of a curse, or a wish, something of the sort. After what the illithid said, it might even be the Mirror of All-Seeing.?

?Well, yes, that?s possible,? Nathyrra agreed. ?Although I don?t know what particular artefact would have this power.?

Valen looked at both spellcasters blandly before turning to his leader. ?I wouldn?t know. What do you expect us to do now??

?I think we should search for Queen Shaori for a few explanations, and the other shards of glass, of course. Which reminds me, let?s try this compass the merchant gave us. This thrash over there seems a bit strange to me.?

They searched the island. They found Shaori in a cave just a little further behind the library; she did not shed much light on what happened, but she did demonstrate that she was no longer a queen and she informed them of the presence of the Valsharess? agents on the isle.

Chama, Nathyrra and Valen found the piece of glass belonging to the merchant in the thrash Chama had noticed, the one guarded by the medusa in the library, then another one in the mage?s tower, and finally they made their way towards the temple and the palace, although Chama decided that they should visit the temple first, trying to recover as many pieces of glass as they could before risking an encounter with Sabal.

They were walking in a narrow ravine between the palace and temple, when suddenly drow poisoned arrows flew at them from all sides, from the top of the cliffs on each side of them. Nathyrra and Valen sprung forward and ran across the deep ravine; there had to be a way somewhere to get up, since the assassins were there.

?Stay together, don?t be overrun! On the left side, that?s the spellcasters? side!?, Chama yelled behind them. She had not moved, and Valen heard the familiar magical sound of the ground crawling up her body to cover her in skins of stone.

Valen knew this ambush had a good chance of success. Mass spells would be hard to use for Chama, with enemies scattered about like this. Nathyrra?s stealth was useless, and he would lose a lot of time running after them. And, more importantly, the weakest member of the team was standing in the middle of the ravine, a target of choice for arrows and bolts as she cast. Her stoneskins would not hold for long.

Three drow warriors tried to block his way when he started climbing the narrow passage leading up the cliff. Even with the disadvantage of the slope, however, he was still big and strong enough to drive them back. He laughed as he fought, each swing hitting true, and keeping them distracted so Nathyrra could place a few devastating sneak attacks.

Reaching the top of the cliff proved to be the longest part of the fight, because the score of enemies on the left side of the ravine was dealt with in just a few minutes. Nathyrra and Valen turned back and rushed to the other side, but all that was left of the enemy squadron were bodies; the sight was grim indeed. Corpses were scattered, their hair and skin burned and blackened, with boulders of ice embedded in skulls and chests. The ice was slowly melting away and making the blood drip off into the grey and dry soil of the Underdark.

The two companions exchanged a look, panting; it was the first time they were given to see the full extent of Chama?s offensive powers on something else than a practice rock. She had never used so much spells at a time before, careful not to catch her companions in the area of effect of her spells. Silently, they got down from the cliff, where Chama was still standing. A dozen of bolts and arrows were embedded in her chest, abdomen, and legs. A good amount of her blood was pouring from her wounds. Valen tried not to pay too much attention to that, despite the demon begging for destruction within.

Chama was waiting for them. When they were close enough, she informed them quietly, ?My stoneskins didn?t stop everything. There?s an arrow in my right shoulder that seriously impedes my dexterity. I don?t think I can take it out by myself. It would be nice to find a secure corner where to take care of that, because I?m poisoned and injured badly enough. I won?t hold on my feet for another hour.?

?Don?t worry, I?ll find us a defendable spot,? Nathyrra assured and scurried off back the way they came.

?I will help you to walk,? Valen offered, pushing the demon back forcefully. He took her arm gently and she leaned on him heavily as they followed Nathyrra. A good part of her weight rested on his arm, and yet she was very light. He could not help noticing how slim she was, even for an elf.

Nathyrra, with her assassin?s eyes, had quickly spotted a corner which entrance was partly concealed, and she was scanning through a healing kit?s contents. Valen helped Chama to sit with the arrow in her left thigh, and respectfully turned his back to the ladies when Nathyrra began disrobing Chama. The drow pulled out the arrows unceremoniously, before finally tending to her leader?s wounds and curing the poison running through her veins. Finally Nathyrra told Valen that he could turn around.

He turned and scrutinized what he could see of Chama?s face through the eye slits of her circlet.

?Can you remove your helmet??, he asked.

?No, it will make me lose my extra spells. Why??

?I was trying to assess your state. You still look a bit pale. Do you wish to rest for a while??

She hesitated, before agreeing reluctantly, ?A short while, yes? A few minutes.?

She lay down on the hard stone ground and closed her eyes, letting her head rest and the world slowly stop to swirl. Poison always had a devastating effect on her. She was already weak; she did not need to be made weaker. She tried to block Valen?s thoughtful concern from her mind. She did not want his pity, and she surely did not need to be angry at him for it now. They had two shards of glass to find yet. She concentrated on a breathing exercise taught to her by Drogan, and after a few minutes she sat up and declared that she was ready.

***

They went to the temple next. Chama was secretly hoping to find someone who could cast a restoration on her.

The reality was totally to the opposite. As soon as she crossed the threshold, she felt something slick and terrifying slip over and under her skin. She staggered, choking, and every limb and inch of her body burned. Valen?s hand was there holding her elbow to steady her. But as the first wave of pain left, leaving her feverish and stricken, she pushed him away and strode angrily to the smirking avariel nearby.

?What have you done to me??, she snarled.

The dark-skinned priest explained how he had switched to Talona?s worship, and that Chama was to be put to the test in an arena against a monster. The elf glared at her winged cousin and considered a long moment before she nodded.

?I will accept your challenge. I guess I could have Valen and Nathyrra kill you, but then the town would be left without their devoted healer when this place returns to the surface. Because I intend to set things right again.?

Valen blinked, his anger at the priest?s dishonourable behaviour lessening suddenly. He had not realized that this man would be a good, kind and thoughtful healer once the Avariel town was turned back to what it once was. Chama was right to accept the challenge, but he was worried for her safety. She had just recovered from another poison after all, and he was sure that Talona?s touch would have crippled one even such as him. Chama startled him out of his musings.

?Valen, your belt, gloves and boots please.?

He blinked a few times before he understood that she needed the magical enhancement of her strength and constitution in her current state of weakness. He handed her the magical items, which shrunk to accommodate her smaller hands, waist and feet, when she caught them. She pulled the new equipment on, and then carefully studied her scrolls, wands, and potions. She rearranged the items in her sash and took a scroll in her sword-free hand.

The challenge started when she pulled on the first of three chains hanging from the high roof of the temple. She was transported into the arena, and anger exploded in Valen like a star of rage and desire for destruction. He seethed, standing by the side, his eyes the deepest red, while Chama faced a troll in the arena.

She was already diseased. She should not be faced with a monster that could weaken her further. And most of all, he should not be standing by the side watching. He should be with her in the arena, standing in front of her and making sure the troll could not as much as lay the tip of a claw on a hair from her head.

The demon showed in his eyes, but it was still the human thinking, and the demon could do nothing at all despite the door wide open to unadulterated rage in Valen?s mind.

And, as suddenly as this terrible anger had flared inside of him, Valen suddenly feared. He saw Chama bend her head to read the scroll and the troll taking its claws up to strike at her through the chest. She would never see the hit coming. The creature would tear her apart.

The air started to shimmer, and a magical square appeared on the ground, filled with arcane symbols in dizzying red, and the troll fell straight dead, its claws still pulled back, ready to strike.

Valen blinked a few times, staring in puzzlement. He turned to Nathyrra.

?A power word to kill,? the drow whispered. It was obvious from her voice that she was equally worried about Chama?s health.

He sighed in relief when she reappeared by their side, but then she staggered again, and from the heavy cough she let out, he knew for sure that she was not free of the disease.

?What have you done to her??, he snarled to the priest. ?She succeeded your test!?

The priest smirked and laughed cruelly. ?She did, but do we choose what illness or disease will plague us? Do we choose how many stages an affliction must progress through before we emerge from its deadly grasp??

?We should have expected this treachery,? Valen spat. ?Talona is a vile god who enjoys tormenting others.?

?It?s alright, Valen,? Chama said then, straightening, and turning to the priest. ?I am ready for the next trial.?

Before he could say anything though, she had pulled at a chain again. The same thing happened: she used a power word from a scroll to kill the troll, and was taken back to them. This time she fell to her knees with a cry of pain, clutching at her chest through her clothes. After a while to compose herself, she got up from her knees.

?I see now why Talona chose to test you ? you are very strong. Even racked with illness you have completed this stage of the trial.?

?How many stages are there??, she asked calmly, but Valen could see, even through the thick glove of strength, that her delicate hand was shaking.

?It depends on the strength of the individual to challenge,? the Avariel answered condescendingly. ?You must be pushed to your very limits before you can prove yourself.?

?We?re sick of your games, priest,? Valen growled, making a menacing step towards him and letting his eyes flash red. ?So quit stalling and answer Chama?s question!?

His eyes had turned not as a part of his intimidation tactic; they had turned of their own accord, because he was genuinely angry. How could a winged elf be more treacherous than even the cleverest of devils?

After a few more seconds at letting a mysterious silence stretch, the priest answered that there would be five stages. Valen turned to Chama, his hand on the handle of his weapon. She shook her head no.

?I?ll be fine, Valen. I?ll not let him die if there?s another way.?

?But you are held by no word and no honour to take his trials,? Valen protested angrily. ?He is not being honest to us. He is playing with you, enjoying watching you suffer. You don?t have to spare him.?

?Not him,? she agreed calmly, ?but I do have to spare the person he can turn back into.?

And she pulled at the chain again. Valen watched, wishing he could be there instead of her. Nathyrra, silent and withdrawn, watched. She let her two companions come to an agreement and was content to be forgotten at the back of the party. However, she still watched for any sign of further treachery on the priest?s part, fearing he might be buying time for Sabal or something.

This time, in the arena, Chama summoned a creature, a dire bear, to battle the troll, and she disappeared from sight after drinking a potion, quickly escaping the creature?s notice. The battle lasted for a while, but then the bear finally gave one final hit and fell the troll.

Valen just watched, helpless and silent, when Chama collapsed again, then got back to her feet and dragged herself towards the chains. She drank two potions ? healing and endurance, he saw ? and was sent again to battle. She repeated the same tactic, summoning an elemental this time. The creature of fire took only two hits to get rid of the troll.

Valen helped Chama back to her feet once she was done taking the last stage of the disease. She could barely stand, and she was going back to that vile arena again. He was still seething.

?There is only one stage left,? the priest observed with evil glee, ?though I wonder if you will be able to survive it. The pallor of disease colours your skin and the sweet stench of the rotting grave is in your breath. You have come farther than most, but Talona?s Fever has ripped away your strength and power. You are a shell of what you once were. I doubt you can survive the final trial.?

The Avariel?s words lit up a string of pictures in black and red in her mind; she had been a shell before, and this priest did not know the tenth of it. Her old violence shot up from those memories, and she was damned if she would let any of them see how deep those simple and unknowing words cut.

She let out a harsh laugh. ?Seriously, if you think I am a shell right now, you have no idea what I can go through. So don?t worry about me. You just remember to live up to your end of the bargain.?

?I won?t betray you. Though you can?t really be sure, can you? The fever is in your brain, your thoughts swim in confusion. The trial drains your very spirit, and you are falling into doubt and despair.?

?Now don?t overestimate yourself, boy.? She hoped he would be as infuriated by that nickname as she was by ?girl?. ?I can?t really be sure you won?t betray me? Very well. If you do, I?ll let Valen deal with you. From the colour of his eyes when he looks your way, he?d be glad to. That?s something I can be sure of. As for swimming in confusion and all that, I?ll have you notice that it is my strategic use of my magical devices which has allowed me to survive this far. Obviously I have not lost all wits. Now, unless you are suddenly afraid and think this disease of your dear Talona needs more time to work on me to really affect me noticeably, you will stop speaking to me and I will survive your final stupid test.?

The priest?s mouth opened to say something, but he was silenced by a most murderous look shared by both Valen and Nathyrra. Chama pulled the chain.

The fifth and last troll died as had the first, killed by a power word. Valen thought she should have used the summoned creatures first; this way she still had the strength to escape if they ignored the creature for some reason. Chama was on her knees now, not even able to stand on her feet, and she was reading her scroll. Her voice was firm and unwavering as she weaved magic despite the illness. And the troll died, his life sapped away by the word of power.

Chama was back next to them. She started to stagger to her feet and Valen moved to help her, but she pushed him away and stood on her own, facing the priest.

?Poison and disease kill the unworthy, they cull the weak and leave only the strong behind. By surviving Talona?s trial you have proven yourself worthy of life.? The priest bowed with respect.

?Heal me,? she demanded.

He obliged, handing her a vial of antidote.

?Chama, let me take a look at this first,? Nathyrra suddenly chimed in, snatching the potion away from the Avariel?s hands and sniffing it delicately. It smelled like any other antidote, only sweeter and it was clearer, showing its great potency. ?It seems safe enough.?

The elf took the potion back and drank it, swaying slightly as it came into effect and chased the fever from her body, leaving her drenched in sweat, weak and trembling.

?Give me the piece of the mirror,? she ordered to the priest.

He obeyed.

?Now let us leave. I want nothing more to do with this place of poison and lies.?

She turned and staggered to the doors. Valen was watching her closely, and he paused in alarm when she stopped to watch the temple?s doors close behind them.

?Chama??, he asked.

She heard it from far, far away, strangely detached. She removed her helmet; she had trouble breathing through it. She saw Valen watching her with a very peculiar expression ? her eyes must have been playing strange tricks on her, because his eyes were not fiercely cold and harsh now. They were veiled in grey and clouded with concern. She was still puzzling at this sudden concern etched on Valen?s features when she fainted.

Valen and Nathyrra both lunged to catch her before she fell. Nathyrra surprised the unguarded look of worry in Valen?s eyes as they were lowering Chama to the ground. The drow startled, but did not dare comment.

?Nathyrra, I?m no healer. Can you see what is wrong??

The drow quickly assessed Chama?s state, checking her temperature, eyes, heart rate and breathing.

?She seems alright,? Nathyrra declared. ?She?s shivering, but her temperature is good. I imagine she only fainted out of exhaustion.?

?Let?s find a place where to camp. If she doesn?t need the Seer?s magic, I would rather not lose too much time; the Valsharess already has agents here.?

?I agree,? Nathyrra nodded. ?Let?s go back to the defendable corner we rested in earlier. Let me scout ahead. Can you carry her??

Valen nodded. He let a few minutes of headstart to Nathyrra, then lifted Chama. She stirred and he froze; she became increasingly agitated, moaning and weakly pushing against his breastplate in an unconscious attempt to free herself. Valen smiled slyly; behaviour worthy of any drow ? suspicious even while unconscious.

?Please keep still, Chama,? he finally whispered as she became weaker, but more agitated. ?I am merely carrying you to safety.?

She calmed at the sound of his voice, but she was definitely tense for an unconscious person ? he wondered if she was not still half-conscious. He carried her carefully and eventually he saw Nathyrra emerging from the shadows and gesturing him to come. She had found their small hollow in the wall of the cliff, and it was still unoccupied and safe. Nathyrra unrolled a bedroll and Valen put Chama down on it gently. He pulled the covers over her and helped Nathyrra to set up the camp.

?Do you prefer the first or last watch??, he asked when they were done.

?The first one. Easier for spells.?

Valen nodded and lay down to sleep; this night would be short, without Chama to take one turn of guard.

***

He was confused and not feeling in excellent shape when Nathyrra shook him awake a few hours later. He sat up and saw the drow?s tired eyes and moves as she lay to sleep in her turn. After the heavy confusion and sleepiness faded to an acceptable drowsiness, he turned to look at Chama. She was still pale and looked feverish, a thin sheet of sweat wetting her face and gluing free strands of hair on her brow and cheeks. Valen scanned around for any activity, and seeing they were alone and safe, he moved by Chama?s side. He wet a corner of his cloak with water from his flask, and wiped her forehead gently. He remembered how the Seer had done the same to him countless times while she was slowly healing him from Grimash?t?s tortures and his struggles on Toril?s surface. He remembered how the tender and selfless act had made the demon reel and fight, how it had soothed the human within. He hoped he could soothe Chama like the Seer had soothed him, but he did not have the Seer?s fine and delicate hands. His warrior hands seemed too big to be gentle enough for Chama?s frail brow.

Even her brow was frail; her slim limbs, lithe frame, delicate bones, everything in her looked frail. But she was strong. Her will was so great that it overrode the needs of her body. It kept her going when she was worn out by exhaustion. It made her hold on to her incantations even as she was hurt. It held her on her feet and fighting when she was broken by a disease. This strength was not readily apparent, making it more formidable when it finally showed. She had a formidable will, a sharp mind and fierce concentration.

Her power was one of the mind.

Valen?s breath caught in his throat. He looked at Chama lying helpless in her sleep. Even when she was unconscious, she was willing to fight against anything ? she had tried to push him away. He was humbled before her iron will. He fought with his body, and when his body gave up, he stopped fighting. And so he was defeated.

She did not. She never gave up.

Even though his body was considerably stronger than hers, possessing the tanar?ri?s defences and the warrior?s training, she fought harder. But he wanted to defend her, to protect her. He wished she would not hurt ever again. He wished she never risked death like this afternoon again while he stood by and watched. He wished he could keep death far away from her.

He was dizzy all of a sudden. How was it possible? Chama had changed so quickly in his mind from a distrusted foreseen ally to someone whose safety made his chest constrict. Someone who made his heart break just watching her sleep. Someone he admired for her inner strength, her gentleness, her light-heartedness in the face of adversity, her idealism and her constant struggle for the greater good. Someone he longed to be worthy of.

He found himself yearning. He was not aware of what exactly. It involved human feelings and the sharing of those feelings; and it made the demon half of him reel in revulsion. He closed his eyes, his mind and heart in turmoil with intense feelings he could not disentangle or recognize, mixed with the demon?s revulsion towards his sudden softness of heart.

But even despite the confusion, there were two certitudes rising.

He had been wrong about Chama. He owed her an apology for openly doubting her and insinuating that she might betray the Seer?s rebels. She had given no sign of deceit, evil, or treachery, despite her heavy past. She had been nothing but concern and compassion. She had shouldered the collar and set to fight besides them. She had taken great responsibility and risk upon herself by exploring the surroundings in search of allies and of ways to weaken the Valsharess?s army. She had proven a seasoned adventurer, a competent leader, an ingenious strategist and a powerful wizard.

He owed her an apology for all his distrustful insinuations about possible treachery. He had come to consider her a friend, like Nathyrra or Imloth. In all things, except for their first training session, she had acted trustfully and kindly with him despite his demon half, his attitude, and the difficult circumstances in which she had found herself in the Underdark. That was the first certitude.

The second was that he needed to speak with the Seer. Something about his new feelings was clashing mightily with the demon within. No matter how inadequately he would voice his confusion, the Seer would understand and explain to him. She would help him deal with the demon and master himself.

As he pondered and tried to make sense of himself, time had passed. He scanned around again, in fear something had taken advantage of his distraction to approach, but they were still alone and safe. He looked down at Chama, whose forehead was covered in new sweat.

He wiped her forehead again gently, his hands shaking a bit now. Chama stirred, and he removed his cape from her face. He was looking down at her when her eyes opened. She blinked rapidly, looking up at Valen watching her. His face was utterly serious, his eyes clear and stormy with emotion. He blushed and looked away. She struggled against sleepiness.

?What happened??, she murmured, trying to sit up.

?Stay down,? he ordered in a voice low enough not to disturb Nathyrra?s sleep. He put his hand gently on Chama?s shoulder to keep her down. She moved away from his tender touch and the emotive intensity of his gaze. ?You fainted just outside of Talona?s temple.?

She made a face, wiping her forehead and pushing her hair away from her face. ?So much for putting up a brave face,? she muttered.

Valen cleared his throat and asked cautiously, ?Do you often ?put up a brave face???

?If I need to,? she shrugged.

He looked seriously at her. ?You don?t need to. In fact, you should not.?

?I doubt you mean that,? she replied, lifting an eyebrow. ?Showing off the leader as a weakling hardly accomplishes anything.?

?You?re not a weakling,? Valen replied calmly. She flushed violently. ?You?re a spellcaster. You?re strong and tough for a spellcaster, but you stay a spellcaster. You can?t expect to withstand the brunt of a battle the way I do.?

?Of course I know that,? she retorted. ?It?s just that I won?t complain each time I bear a scratch.?

?Talona?s touch was considerably more than a scratch, but that?s not my point,? he said, refusing to let the discussion drift in another direction. ?I understand that you can?t look afraid or cowardly when facing Imloth?s soldiers, but Nathyrra and I aren?t an army. We?re your companions, and to consciously hide the extent of your injuries from us would not only endanger yourself, but also endanger us. We count on your alertness to detect traps, on your dexterity to disarm them, and on your magical firepower. There is no shame in being injured, but we have to know when we can count on your full power and when we must keep harm from you, just like you do with us.?

She was blushing. ?I-I know.? She attempted to roll the other way, but struggled weakly against her covers. Valen gently disentangled her and helped her to roll on her side with a hand on her arm.

?Chama? I know you must be tired, but there is something I need to speak to you off.?

She fell back down on her back. ?What, Valen??, she asked timidly.

Valen sighed and looked at her with a bit of reluctance. She rubbed her eyes to make sure she read his expression right. This was not ?usual Valen?.

?I have been wrong about something. I owe you an apology.?

?An apology? For what??, she responded dumbly.

He pondered for a moment, thinking a bit belatedly that he might have thought a bit more about this before he actually dove in.

?Ever since the Seer foretold your coming, I have resented you. A little. I think? I think it was more because I wanted to be the one who kept the Seer safe. I had been working so long to save the rebels I did not want someone bursting in and taking all the credit.?

?I have no intention of taking all the credit, Valen. I understand how you felt like her defender.?

He nodded, grateful of her understanding, at least. He was reassured that she seemed to have already accepted his apology.

?So I convinced myself you could not be trusted,? he went on, ?that perhaps the Seer?s vision was wrong. And yet you have proven yourself time and again. I? am very sorry.?

?It?s alright, Valen. I thank you for your candour.?

?I am glad,? he smiled in relief. ?It has been good to fight at your side so far on this journey. I begin to believe that perhaps we really will win against the Valsharess.?

It hit him just as he said it; he had not realized this. He had always thought his life would end defending the Seer against the unstoppable armies of the Valsharess, her allies and her bound arch-devil. If he did not die fighting this battle? he was not sure what the future held for him. His need to go back and have the Seer soothe his doubts grew.

?I feel I must warn you, however,? he went on. ?The Valsharess may not even be our true opponent. If she holds an arch-devil captive, he may indeed be far more powerful than she.?

?Indeed. I know only too well that summoned fiends are often more powerful than one can handle. It just occurs to me that as a tanar?ri, you might know something about him. Do you??

Chama?s speech seemed slurred, and he realized just how exhausted she was. He made his answer short.

?Little. My old master, however, was a dread Balor, one of the most powerful of all tanar?ri. Yet an arch-devil such as the one the Valsharess holds would laugh at his abilities. I say this because he may be the primary reason that the Valsharess possesses the power she does. If we could find out how she controls him, and perhaps break that control? then we might have a chance. But perhaps it is pointless to speak of this now until we learn more.?

He paused while Chama yawned theatrically.

?Rest now, my lady. I will watch over you.?

With a last pat on her shoulder, he moved out slightly to stand guard nearer the entrance of their hollow in the cliff, leaving a baffled Chama behind, puzzling at this new way of naming her, and the comfortable ease with which he had stated that he would defend her, his tone highlighting that he did not think of Nathyrra?s safety just then.

***

He was feeling better while he stood watch. He was fighting sleepiness, but that was nothing he had never done before. The end of his watch was nearing when he heard a quiet rustle behind him. He turned to see Chama walking up to him, rubbing her eyes and yawning.

?It must be around time I take a watch,? she yawned.

Valen slipped back inside their hollow gratefully, and was feeling better when he was awoken later by Chama poking his armoured shoulder. Nathyrra was stretching cat-like, looking much better rested now.

?I?m afraid we?ll have to stop again soon. I managed to prepare only half my spells.?

Valen nodded and gave her an encouraging smile. He was glad she was warning them and not ?putting up a brave face?.

?Waking in the middle of the night, I guess it?s only natural,? he said.

She smiled back timidly, and they were off to the palace to meet Sabal now that they had found the last shard of glass that the drow Red Sister had not gotten her paws on yet.

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 01 April 2007 - 02:40 PM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#14 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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Posted 04 April 2007 - 05:35 PM

OK, I know, the first two or three paragraphs are a bit bumpy/feel out of context, but I am answering a repeated and justified request for ?behind the scenes? information on the game plot? Consider this a ?catch-up? measure? Next chapters should flow more easily. I hope you still read, enjoy and take time to review this story :) And, by the way, I?ll do my homework and read the wealth of new fanfiction hanging around here eventually. I?m on my own end-of-session bumpy ride right now, but there?s only two more weeks of it? Surprisingly, I feel like I?ll survive this time. Thank heavens Opeth exists so I don?t have to bang my head on the wall? the music does it for me :devil:

Chapter XIII. Valen?s confidences

Once the team had found all the shards of mirror that Sabal had not managed to get her hands on yet, they made their way to the palace to find the Valsharess? agent waiting for them there. The Valsharess? and the Seer?s factions being equally determined to secure for themselves the powerful artefact, whatever it was, that had pulled the avariel town down to the Underdark, Chama expected the battle to be bloody.

The meeting between the Fool, who acted as something of an arbiter, Sabal?s group and Chama?s team took place in the throne room of the palace. The room?s high vaulted ceiling was designed to let light in through painted glass. While no doubt magnificent when lighted by the sun or the moon high in the clear air of the mountains where the avariel resided, it only gave a gloomy and depressing atmosphere in the greyish brownness of the Underdark. A series of eight pillars supported the high ceiling. Chama had noticed on her first visit that they radiated with magical energy.

The Fool informed both adversaries that the pillars? magic would be awakened and triggered by any artefact powerful enough, and the shards of glass from the broken mirror more than qualified. Sabal had an understandable moment of doubt when she realized that Chama, holding the vast majority of the shards of glass, would have access to most of the power from the pillars.

The battle went well for Chama?s side, with Nathyrra using her spells, Valen his flail, and Chama combining the use of the magical pillars and her powerful evocation spells. When the last waves of fiery mist dissipated from the scorched battlefield, Chama strode to Sabal?s body and retrieved the last piece of broken glass missing to reassemble the Mirror.

She ceremoniously presented all the shards of glass to the Fool. She helped him fitting the shards of glass in the mirror frame like the pieces of a puzzle. Valen averted his flashing red eyes each time a drop of blood beaded on her fingers from the sharp edges of the glass pieces.

?I wish I could do something for you,? Chama said quietly to the Fool when they looked at the assembled Mirror, ready to be empowered again. ?I can see no way for my magic to spare you without condemning all of your fellow avariel.?

Valen and Nathyrra looked at each other, unsure what she meant. Seeing their incomprehension, the Fool explained, ?Once I restore the mirror, I will again be nothing more than a dancing fool. Order must be restored, even if that means I will once again be a fool.? There was fear in his eyes.

?You are brave, little man,? Valen praised. ?I hope your sacrifice is not forgotten when the kingdom is restored.?

And, with slightly trembling hands, the Fool cast the spell that would pull the avariel back up on their aerial summits.

Chama was surrounded in a drowning mist and she fought to conserve her foothold in reality. When the mist dissipated, she was back in Queen Shaori?s cave, and the avariel and their village were gone. Only the Queen and the Fool stayed behind to do their farewells. The Queen looked adequately regal now, and the Jester was a simple soul again.

Chama accepted the Queen?s gratitude and the Mirror of All-Seeing. She bowed graciously to the avariel and left the cave. As soon as she was out of it, followed by her two companions, she heard the incantation for a teleport spell, and she turned to look at the two last winged elves leaving the Underdark.

?My lady??, she heard.

He had seemed to make a habit of this new name, she reflected. She tried to focus, growing progressively detached as the poison coursing through her veins sapped her life away from her.

?What??, she slurred.

?You do not seem well.?

?I bet Sabal?s bolts were poisoned,? Nathyrra remarked.

?They were. I would have already done something about that, but we have no more healing kits or antidotes. I thought it was about time to go back to Lith My?athar anyway.?

They started back to where Cavallas? boat was anchored and, about half-way, Chama stopped and knelt.

?I think I?m about to faint again.?

She removed her helmet slowly and looked with confused eyes at Valen coming nearer. He saw her fighting against unconsciousness, blinking slowly, and he realized just how close to death she was.

Chama was more than half unconscious, and she saw strange things through her subconscious? eyes when Valen knelt next to her and said something. She perceived his eyes big and clear, like those of a bird of prey, his long straight nose a predatory beak, his horns changed to plumes of feathers. She thought in an unseemly fashion that even if she heard nothing but silence, the usual sounds of his armour were much too loud for him to be one of the silent predators of the night.

But then her strange vision disappeared as he suddenly bent towards her to encircle her in his powerful arms. She startled, trying to move away, but she was too weak and just fell down in the dust. Sound returned to her ears.

?My lady, allow me to carry you. You require the Seer?s assistance urgently,? Valen repeated.

She nodded. With surprising gentleness, he knelt besides her and lifted her. She was pressed against his metallic armour, but he was careful not to poke her with the pointed ends of his stylish collar. She held her breath in a physical sign of her attempt to push down all of her feelings and memories boiling below the surface, and saw with relief Cavallas?s boat appear in sight. Valen climbed the narrow railway and put her down gently near the prow. She let out a sigh of relief, and gladly passed out for the duration of the short and uneventful trip. Chama awoke with a start when the boat hit the docks of Lith My?athar. Valen was still by her side, looking at her with an intense expression. He extended a hand towards her, moving to lift her again.

?No, help me to my feet. Now is one occasion when to put up a brave face.?

His eyes clouded in grey.

?You are far too unsteady to climb down the railway,? he countered quietly. ?The poison of the Dark River would be deadly to you in your current state. Let me get you down the boat, and then I will put you down on your feet.?

She nodded, accepting the compromise. He lifted her once more and carried her down the railway in the eerie silence, every inhabitant of Lith My?athar halting when they saw him carrying her. The whispers and activity resumed when he put her down, and she started towards the temple, Valen besides her in case she required assistance. Nathyrra ran off to alert the Seer.

Time and distance stretched in front of Chama in a surreal illusion. She walked, one foot after the other, her vision darkening to red and black. Even though she knew she advanced, she felt as though the distance was interminable. Truly so. She would have cried if not for all the people?s stares. She was grateful when she reached the doors at last and Valen opened for her. Her eyes were filled with tears despite her wishes. She slowly walked up to the Seer.

The drow saw her walking with staggering exhaustion. Valen followed behind her, a little to the side, obviously worried and hesitant. It is happening, the Seer thought. She healed Chama, and the elf merely took a breath and a moment?s pause, before she focused on business again.

?We have found a powerful artefact, Seer. It is called the Mirror of Seeing.?

Chama took it out of her pack and presented it to the drow priestess.

?I should warn you, Chamaedaphne? I know something of this mirror. It is a very powerful ? but very dangerous ? item. What do you intend to do with it??

Chama hesitated. ?I don?t know. Can you make use of it??

?I might be able to, though I would have to be extremely careful with such an item. But I could never ask you to turn such a valuable artefact over to me.?

?You do not have to ask, I am offering it. If you can make use of it, take it, and I will be glad if maybe it can help.?

She extended the mirror to the Seer. The drow?s eyes widened in shock, and Chama smirked. For once, something she had not foreseen.

?I? that is very? generous of you, Chamaedaphne. Thank you. I? will try to put it to good advantage. I dare not use it before the coming battle, for I fear to fall victim to its power. But in the days that are to come it may one day help us to find our way to a better life than this.?

Chama was only momentarily disappointed. ?I am glad I gave it to you, Seer. I thought it might serve immediately. That you are reluctant to use it shows that you have a greater wisdom than I, and I fear little for you if you know when to use it and when it is better not.?

The Seer bowed, accepting the compliment, and then returned it, ?That you can see this shows that you have a greater wisdom than you might think. Kneel, my child.? She pushed down gently on the elf?s shoulder. Slightly curious, Chama obeyed. ?Do not fight,? the Seer ordered gently, ?it is to help in your healing.? The Seer cast her spell and Chama obediently fell asleep without resistance. The Seer held the elf?s shoulder when she went limp, and looked up at Valen still standing there. The tiefling now looked relieved.

?Valen, would you please carry her to her room??

The tiefling nodded, knelt and gently lifted Chama. The Seer and Nathyrra followed him when he went up the stairs and into Chama?s room. He stayed just long enough to put her down on her bed gently, and he left so the drow women could make Chama more comfortable. He waited in the corridor in front of Chama?s door for a while, uncertain, until the Seer came back and took his arm to guide him to her antechamber. She could feel his confusion and the intensity of his feelings, and she guessed correctly that he wanted to talk.

The Seer?s antechamber was a small study simply furnished and adorned in black and silver; it was the place the priestess used to meet those of her followers in need of guidance and, occasionally, to hold meetings and receive reports. As soon as she was alone with Valen, and the door was closed behind them, the weapon master asked anxiously, ?Is she going to be alright??

?Of course, my good Valen. I have healed her, and she will rest tonight.?

?I don?t doubt your healing capabilities,? Valen hastily specified, frowning deeply.

?Then what is it you are doubting??, she inquired softly.

She was surprised to see him blush. ?I doubt she is herself. She would never allow herself to pass out if she was not more than halfway to the gates of death.?

The Seer pondered for a while. ?Maybe she doesn?t allow herself to pass out, but permits others to order her to, when the command agrees with her desires.?

Valen chuckled. ?I will remember this. I have no doubt that I will have ample occasion to order her to rest or something of the sort, and we shall see if it is not simply you that she is willing to obey.?

A silence stretched, and finally the Seer stated, ?Something happened while you were there. You look at her in a different manner than before, and you are intensely troubled.?

He smiled ruefully. ?Am I so transparent?? She smiled kindly. ?She was poisoned by arrows and bolts a first time, yesterday. And after that, she was touched by Talona. Today, she was sickened a third time by Sabal, a Red Sister.?

The Seer gasped in shocked anger. ?How did Talona extend his hand to her here??

?One of the avariel was a priest of Talona. He was entertained by watching her fight against sickened creatures in an arena while she was crippled by the disease.?

?How did she survive??

?She used spell scrolls and wands to kill the creatures thrown at her, and potions and enchanted objects to keep the worst of the disease tolerable.? Valen?s eyes had hardened, but they remained blue. His regard, his voice and his countenance all hinted to his restrained fury. ?There were five rounds of fights,? he explained further. ?Afterwards, the priest healed Chama and gave us a piece of the Mirror. She was walking steadily when we exited the temple. She wore her helm and it was hard to tell that she had suffered at all from the disease. She closed the doors of the temple, and she fainted. Even so, she still tried to struggle when I carried her to the secure location Nathyrra had chosen to set up the camp. That?s why I say that Chama would never have allowed you to force her to sleep unless she was seriously injured.?

?I think she was,? the Seer agreed smoothly. ?She must have been exhausted from the three poisons affecting her in as many days. But you blush. Why??

His blush darkened to a brighter shade of red. ?I don?t know, Seer. I am embarrassed to have carried her three times. I don?t exactly feel as thought she welcomes it.?

?But she accepts.?

?She? she allows, yes.?

?You are troubled.?

He sighed. ?She troubles me, yes.? He blushed at the admission. The Seer waited for long seconds, and eventually he went on. ?I don?t know what to make out of what I feel for her. At first, I was suspicious, but not anymore. I have observed her closely; she is a powerful ally and I trust that she is truly dedicated to our cause. I admire her idealism. I? don?t know what I should feel.?

The priestess smiled kindly. ?Valen, you must know what your feelings are.?

?Do I??, he asked ruefully. ?I barely know her.?

The silent admission was not even disguised.

?Of course,? his drow friend answered, ?but you will get to know her better as you continue your travels together.?

The Seer was grinning and looking much like a teenager matchmaker in Valen?s opinion. The whole experience was totally alien to him.

?Is this supposed to help me with my confusion??, he asked, half-mocking, half-frustrated.

?I would expect things to become clearer with time,? she countered softly. ?I see you?re not denying yourself, so things will sort themselves out, one way or the other. Everything will be fine, Valen, as long as you don?t deny yourself.?

Valen?s features hardened and threads of yellow started to twist in his irises. ?But how can I not deny? How can I accept? I? am vulnerable when she is near. My demon half does not agree with the way I feel when she is there. The infernal part of me denies mightily. It leaves me confused and disgusted of myself for unclear a reason. Then how can I not deny??

The Seer was suddenly thoughtful. ?I?m sorry, I should have understood this sooner. You should realize, however, that whatever you do and whatever the infernal part of you says, you will never stop being human.?

?I would like to think so, but in the Abyss, there was nothing in me that was human.?

?That is not true. Even then, you took the decision of getting out of the Abyss. You had to be partly human. You can never be only demon or only human. You will always have to accept a part of you, and live with the feelings of the other. You need not be ruled by the demon, nor do your human feelings, but you will be influenced. But do not look so desperate. I am telling you that it is normal to be influenced by the feelings of the demon, but it will not keep you from experiencing some of the best aspects of mortal life, such as what you might come to feel for Chamaedaphne, in time.?

Valen sighed. ?Thank you, Seer, I know your words are meant to soothe me.? It was clear, however, that he was not feeling much better than when he came in, and that he felt like being alone now.

?Don?t worry overmuch,? the Seer concluded. ?Trust me, things will sort themselves out.? She was willing to let him go; there was only so much she could do for him. There were things he needed to think out for himself.

He nodded, bowed and left, leaving a thoughtful Seer behind. You are always so wise, my Goddess. If Chamaedaphne could make the human in Valen know love, then what could Valen accomplish for Chamaedaphne?s soul tormented with guilt?

The Seer smiled sadly. The road had not been easy for either of them. Maybe that is how they could find solace in each other now, after a long, winding and treacherous road.

***

When Valen went to his room afterwards, he saw Deekin, asleep on the floor with his crossbow just outside Chama?s door. Valen squinted in the dim magefire light of the corridor, but his eyes had not tricked him; there were reptilian wings protruding from the creature?s back. He shook his head; a red dragon disciple? This kobold bard held many mysteries. Not that Valen was overly curious about them.

***

Imloth gave a reproving glare as Nathyrra walked closer. She was back in Lith My?athar for two hours already, but she had run around between stores for all this time before finally coming to tell her old friend the last developments in their adventures.

?Hey, Nat! I heard he calls her ?my lady? now. Is that true??

The drow assassin nodded and Imloth noticed how tired she looked. He relented slightly.

?Didn?t you think of poor old me who would have preferred to learn it from you, not from one of the temple?s guards??

She shook her head. ?I?m sorry, I thought of armour to be repaired, rations to be bought, clothes to be washed, packs and quivers to be restocked, maps to be copied??

She gave him a piece of parchment. ?The plan of the avariel?s isle. It could be a good refuge if necessary, it?s remote enough and easy to defend.?

Imloth nodded and accepted the map. ?Thank you. Doesn?t Valen usually take care of weaponry concerns??

?Yes, but he needed to talk to the Seer. He was looking so troubled that I didn?t have the heart to ask him to take care of equipment.?

At that Imloth was concerned. ?Troubled??

?Unstable. You know what I mean.?

Everyone in Lith My?athar could recognize Valen?s ?episodes? of torment. There were days when the infernal part of him was agitated, and people knew to avoid baiting or irritating Valen in those circumstances.

?But he looked sad, not angry,? Nathyrra specified. ?Really, he was a sorry sight. I hope the Seer will calm him a bit.?

Imloth nodded, but seeing Nathyrra did not appear too eager to run for a well-deserved rest, he insisted, ?So, what happened out there??

She suddenly grinned impishly.

?Well, you see, there was this avariel priest of Talona. He hurt Chama pretty hard, and she fainted afterwards. Valen carried her. You should have seen his eyes? all grey from concern. I?m sure that?s when he decided to call her ?my lady?.?

?Now, that?s what I call gossip worthy of my notice??

?I am wounded, Imloth, that you accuse me implicitly of losing my touch. But that?s not all there is to it. We went to the palace after that, and??

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 06 April 2007 - 04:44 PM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#15 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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  • 439 posts

Posted 20 April 2007 - 08:14 PM

End of session's now!!! Yippee! As a ways of celebration, after I slept 12 hours in a row, drank 2 cups of wine at dinner and managed to sew the fallen buttons of my coat askew because of it, went for my weekly RPG and asked what time of season instead of what time of day it was (and, oh yes, there's a phytoplankton bloom in spring because of nitrate accumulation before thermocline shoalling), I revised this chapter and posted it here ;) So if you spot any strange things, blame it on the 12 hours of sleep not being enough, lol!!! (But please point it out to me so I can set it right).

Chapter XIV. Climbed up here?

Chama slept like a stone throughout the night. When she woke the next morning, she was physically well, but restless. Moreover, her spells were flat, after two nights without convenient preparation, and the team was stuck in town for another day. There was no good excuse to exhaust herself at training and she could hear in her mind Drogan?s scolding voice anyway, ordering her sternly to take a rest once in a while.

She slipped out of her room, stepping silently over Deekin?s sleeping form and smiling fondly to herself. The kobold would have woken at the slightest sound but that of her footsteps; it seemed he could detect her presence through his slumber, because he hugged his crossbow closer and sighed contentedly in his sleep. He had grown wings while she was away, no doubt gaining assurance because of his responsibility to the kobolds he trained. She hoped his wings were symbolic for more than his bardic craft.

She moved to the temple?s main room, and asked one of the pages to find Nathyrra and Valen and tell them they had a day of freedom.

After she took her armour to Rizolvir, she looked around for any idea of what to busy her day with, again hearing in her mind Drogan forbidding her to use her circlet and ring. A higher peak in the surrounding cliffs caught her eyes, and she realized she missed the forests. She had lived long in cities, so she was used to deny the pull, but that lonely outcropping of rock seemed like a place of quiet where she could feel some degree of communication with the ?nature? of the Underdark.

She walked to its foot, then around the base a while, looking up for the best route. She gave a last look around her, making sure no one was there to see her antics, and started to climb up the vertical face of rock.

Soon she was panting and sweating comfortably, her body set into the rhythm of sustained exercise. The illusion of freedom she experienced when she climbed, suspended between earth and sky like this, was always a powerful call. She was careful not to give in to it as she had so many times before. She just climbed, peacefully tasting the pleasure of her skilful and graceful ascent.

But suddenly she heard something, and stopped, flattening herself against the cliff wall, straining her keen ears to try and identify the sound?s source. She recognized it almost immediately. Not many people in the Underdark had Valen?s height and bulk after all. She let out a sigh of relief not to have been caught by a hostile creature, alone and unarmed. By the sounds of his booted feet scraping the stony ground, his grunts of effort and the loud clinks of his armour, she knew he was training. She pondered briefly what to do, but it would have been foolishly risky, in her current state of fatigue, to climb down. So she started up once more.

When she arrived near the edge leading to a flat near the summit, she was faced with a zone of friable rock, so she had to move laterally until her holds were safe again. She was now in a very difficult place where the rock actually climbed steeper than the vertical, and her breathing soon came in a ragged whistling, her hands slightly slippery with sweat.

It was a relief when she finally reached the edge. She dragged herself up, until the ledge of stone was comfortably under her elbows, and looked up to see Valen training. He was drenched in sweat too, swinging his heavy flail about, practicing his whirlwind attack against the air around him. The show ended exactly then, though, because Valen suddenly saw her, cried out in shock, and his flail went flying out of his hands.

?Chama! Why didn?t you cry out for help?? He was already next to her, grabbing her arms and pulling her up. In a careless display of strength, he grabbed her arms near the shoulder and lifted her completely, her feet dangling in the air, turned and made a few steps, then set her down on her feet, further from the edge. ?What were you doing there? How long have you been suspended like that? By all the devils of Baator, you?re shaking. How much longer were you planning to hold there??

He guided Chama, stunned by all these words ? surely it was the longest discourse she had ever heard him make ? to a nearby bench, where he sat her down before fetching his flail a little further away. He stood in front of her, crossed his arms over his broad chest, and prompted, ?Well??

?I? felt like climbing.?

An expression of utter shock registered on Valen?s face. ?You climbed up here? Aren?t you aware there?s a trail? And why, in the name of the Nine Hells, did you do that??

She burst out laughing under his incensed glare. It was a hysteric attack of laughter. She rolled from side to side on her bench, then wiped the tears from her eyes and managed, ?Oh, by Mystra, you sound like master Drogan!?

Valen had not lost his countenance. ?Then I would surmise this master Drogan also urged you to show more wisdom in your actions.?

She sobered. ?He did, and I did listen to him? most of the time... not quite, but oh well, when it was really important. And you, what were you doing here??

He was surprised by the sudden turn of the conversation, finding himself on the receiving end of questions. ?I was training to pass the time. I volunteered for a turn of guard. This place is called the Lone Peak, and it?s a permanent watch post.?

Chama looked out at the landscape stretching out in the darkness below her.

?No advancing armies yet??

?No, but? I still would like to know? you really climbed up here??

She sighed. ?Yes. It looked like a quiet place with a view, so I decided to come take a look.?

He looked at her strangely. ?If you were drow, I would say you?re about half drider, walking on walls like that. You have a taste for danger.?

?This isn?t as dangerous as you make it sound. I know not to try myself against walls too hard for me.?

?I was sure you had fallen and were waiting there, suspended, for who knows how long.?

?Sorry to have worried you.?

With a start, he realized that it was true. He struggled for a second against his rebellious demon, and said, ?It?s alright, I just jumped to conclusions? but I guess I couldn?t expect to see someone arriving here by that road.? Then, to change the subject, ?Who is this master Drogan??

?One of my teachers in the magical arts. He used to train pupils in his house in Hilltop. I was one of them. While I was there, there was an aspirant paladin, Mischa; a dwarven thief, Durna; and a half-orc sorcerer, Xanos. Drogan? taught me much. I owe him a great deal.?

There was an air of melancholy on Chama?s face.

?I notice you speak of him in the past,? Valen remarked gently. ?Why is that??

?The obvious answer,? she sighed. ?He died.?

?I?m sorry. I can hear in your voice that you held him in great affection.?

?Yes, I did. And? thank you. It?s strange, but it?s the first time anyone expresses sympathies for my loss. He? he died so Durna and I could have passage in a portal we needed to cross to fulfill a mission given to us by the Harpers. He was one of them and he believed in their causes. He gave his life for them? and for us.?

?A courageous man,? Valen praised. Chama nodded silently, looking off into the distance and wrapped in memories.

?I think? that he was to me what the Seer is to you and Nat? He brought me back from the brink, from the life I once led.? She paled and paused, looking away into the blackness. ?I hope you understand now how I could never betray the Seer.?

?My lady, please doubt my judgement of you no longer,? Valen said softly. ?I know? I trust you to fight loyally on our side, because I have come to know you as we have travelled together. I see that the Seer was right and my doubts, unfounded. I didn?t need to know about Drogan to be convinced of this.?

Chama looked at him thoughtfully for a long time. ?Thank you, Valen, for your trust. I assure you that I will do everything within my power not to disappoint you. The Valsharess will be dealt with.?

?And I assure you that I will do everything within my power to help you.?

Chama stood and extended a hand that was still slightly shaking from exhaustion. ?Then we are agreed for a new beginning.? She smiled wryly. ?On better footing, I hope.?

He smiled and shook her hand in his big paw, with his fierce strength. ?Agreed, my lady.?

A young drow suddenly appeared on the plateau, on the side opposite to the cliff; he was obviously the next watcher, and he arrived just in time to see them shaking hands.

?I think I?d take the trail now,? Chama grinned. ?Would you show me the path??

Valen gestured her ahead and nodded to the guard as they passed by him. They were a bit further down the trail when Chama spoke up.

?You know I had a strange vision of you while I was in the fever?s grip??

Valen blushed and chuckled. ?Really??

?I saw you with a bird?s features.?

He frowned, puzzled. ?A bird? The feathers and wings??

?Not exactly. More the beak, eyes and horns? you reminded me of a great horned owl.?

He lifted a pensive eyebrow. He would usually take great offence at being compared to an animal, but he found no objection against owls. They did not strike as feral and enraged.

?I?m telling you because I know sooner or later I will call you Granduc without noticing.?

?Granduc??

?The elven name for the great horned owl. It must have been subconscious, but it fits you so well that I can?t help but think of you with that name now.?

Valen didn?t exactly know what to answer.

?I wouldn?t mind such a name, I think.?

Chama nodded and blushed. They walked the rest of the path in silence.

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 22 April 2007 - 05:48 PM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#16 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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  • 439 posts

Posted 05 May 2007 - 09:11 AM

As you might have read at the beginning of The Irony of Fate, these two story will be taking turns. This week, it's Chama's and Valen's turn. I hope you're still interested in following Chama's and Valen's adventures even if they come less often... And please keep reviewing, you keep me writing people :)

Chapter XV. Nightly troubles

Chama checked on Gulhrys?s progress that afternoon ? everything was going fine for now, and the new obelisk was nearing completion ? and then spent the night in the public house where Deekin performed, watched raptly by a score of kobold refugees turned soldiers. Neither Valen nor Nathyrra wanted to come and watch the show, which amused and saddened Chama a bit. Nevertheless, it was good to hear Deekin?s music again, even his Doom Song which was totally inappropriate for the setting. It emptied half the place, but those who left were soldiers with a sudden and irrepressible urge to go training. Chama had no doubt they would find themselves much more deadly than usual.

After this quiet night, she prepared her spells fully, slipped her helmet back on, and woke the next morning for the first time in three days with her head filled with magic. And the team was ready to set off again.

They explored around Drearing?s Deep that day. This small village west of Lith My?athar was filled with self-proclaimed ?free people? who acted like nothing but slaves and appeared harmless enough, but Nathyrra was positive that the undead legions of the Valsharess originated from this unseemly settlement. Chama?s team discovered a worrisome temple at one end of town, and they decided to take a night of rest before they went in. The group of adventurers left the town to set up a camp, afraid to attract attention from the temple if they spent the night too close to it. Valen and Chama waited while Nathyrra scouted around, and finally the drow came back and guided them to a hollow in the rock with an easily concealed entrance.

They set up the camp mostly in silence; they had the habit now and did not need to speak to each other much. Chama ended up with the first guard. She settled near the entrance with her spellbook as her companions drifted off to sleep. Despite her necessary studies, she found her gaze repeatedly drawn away from her formulas to where Valen lay, as it had for the past few nights. It never ceased to amaze her that he managed to sleep at all in that armour of his. Even abandoned in his sleep like this, he did not look inoffensive in the least; the armour was not concealment enough for his muscled arms and chest. Even without the harshness of his eyes, there was something fierce and utterly determined in the line of his set jaw and powerful neck.

But the evidence of danger was not all there was to see. She knew how his face transformed when he smiled, how his eyes were no longer harsh but only intense and clear. She knew his strong arms could be gentle ? he had carried her after all.

Still, she struggled with her two-headed emotions. She tried to understand how she could find him attractive even as he scared her. She had been wondering for over a tenday, each night as she stood guard. She had promised herself a long time ago that a male would never have her under his power. She had held that promise for a long time. She had allowed master Drogan to direct her for a time, but she was never at his mercy, and he was not one to abuse her trust anyway.

Valen, now, was another story entirely. She could not defend herself against the warrior should the need arise. Moreover, he was half-demon, a veteran of the Blood Wars, and very capable of violence. But it was not his potential violence or possible lack of control that was putting her at his mercy. It was her own fault. Her own feelings.

She was perfectly aware that she was putting herself in that situation, and she was afraid of allowing herself to let go of her old promise. It had been long enough since the events that had triggered that promise had occured, and she was older, wiser, and more at peace with herself. She knew it was foolish to forever hold all males at arms? length.

But surprisingly, it was not her old promise that fiercely held her back; it was her even older fear. The obvious danger shrouding Valen in an intimidating aura. How could she find him attractive even as she feared him?

The same question had swirled in her head, tormenting her fragile peace, for nights now. Each time, she tried to ignore the attraction which had turned into friendship and was now turning into something much more committing and intense. But each time, she looked at him and she could not deny her feelings, because it threatened her inner peace more than the two-headed torment.

The result was that she had not slept much in the last tenday. That night outside Drearing?s Deep a thought suddenly struck her. This surely is my punishment for all that I have done. Thinking on the punishment she herself had inflicted on some she had been a victim of, a dark amusement curled her lips into a self-deprecating smile. I guess my punishment could have been worse. But then amusement fled, leaving her uneasy and sad. She was not denying or refusing anything anymore. She was seized in panic as the fragile security of her old promise was gone, leaving her alone and afraid, adrift in a dark ocean, of which she knew nothing.

She turned away from Valen, her heart pounding, her breathing quick and heavy, and tears stinging her eyes. You?re a fool. How could it be a punishment if it wasn?t so bad? Then she snorted to herself. Imagine that, it?s only you. You haven?t even considered him yet. Cold sweat suddenly covered her body. Has he noticed? How would he react? What does he think about me? He certainly warmed up in the last few days. She shut her eyes tightly. You?re not standing guard very well. Get a grip. She opened her eyes, blinking back the tears, and looked around carefully. The Underdark spread before her, dark, dusty, menacing, and quiet. Still, the insidious voice whispered at the back of her head. This surely is my punishment. Such turmoil. Not even when I? She shot her mind?s door on the coming images, the gaping mouth on a silent scream, the spraying blood, the glazed eyes? Never did I feel so tormented. She took a few breaths and surveyed the surroundings, still devoid of all living things.

If this is my punishment, then so be it. I have earned it and more. These intertwined feelings are something I can live with. Badly, but I can.

She spent the rest of her guard squirming and wiping her cold and wet hands against her robe, trying with dubious success to focus on the watch. The sandglass, a gift from Drogan, eventually ran out, and she was shaking when she went to wake Valen for the next guard.

He sat up and frowned, looking at her with concern in his eyes.

?My lady??, he whispered. ?Are you alright? You look feverish.?

?O-oh, do I?? She brought a shaking hand up to wipe her forehead nervously, not meeting his eyes. ?I?m not. I?m just?? She shot him a look, his quiet concern quickly turning into a more serious expression. She sighed and her shoulders slumped. ?I?m sorry, I?m just? thinking of the past. Sometimes I can?t help that.? She trailed off momentarily. ?I didn?t want to force you to see that.?

Valen put a hand on her shoulder. ?I understand. I don?t like to expose my past at all times either.? He looked at her intently, the nervousness and fear and torment written in her eyes. ?I know it must sound strange coming from one such as me, but? I offer advice, if you will hear me out, my lady??

She chuckled. ?You have no idea how many people tried to ?advise? me. I have found that good advice is scarce and comes from unexpected people. So? what advice do you offer??

?I have no good advice to offer on my own. I just wanted to suggest talking to the Seer.?

She looked at him strangely. ?The Seer??

?Yes. She? is a friend to me. It is surprising how she can put me at peace with myself when I am? tempted by the infernal part of me. I think she could calm you, even if your uneasiness does not sprout from a demonic half.? He smiled faintly.

?I always think of her as the leader, but I should not forget that she must be very wise to be her goddess?s seer. I? will think on your suggestion, Granduc. Thank you.?

Valen blushed slightly at the nickname, but nodded and, after one last pat on her shoulder, went to take his post near the entrance for his turn of guard. He sat in the entrance of their rocky hollow and had to resist the urge to turn around and look at Chama. He was sad to see her like this. He wished she would talk to him about what troubled her; after all, after a bit of insistence on her part, he had told her about his demonic master Grimash?t and his escape from the armies of the Abyss. Then Valen heaved a loud sigh. He had not really insisted, had he? He had not even offered to hear her out. Eventually, he turned around to look at her. She was curled into a ball, lying on her side and her back on him. It was impossible to tell if she was asleep or not. He had his head turned, trying to judge from the rhythm of her breathing if she was sleeping, when someone hit him on the head from behind.

He merely grunted as he was knocked off his seat, his ears ringing like a cathedral?s bell and blackness threatening to engulf him. He shook his head, trying to clear the black from his vision, just in time to see a vicious-looking drow male, violet eyes alight with a dark flame, taking a run-up for his two-handed dire mace to smash his skull.

Valen rolled aside quickly, already tensing to push himself to his feet despite the ringing and dizziness, when suddenly there was a loud roar and a great yellow light. A fireball flew past him to smash into the assassin?s chest. The drow flew back under the impact, leaving Valen with a split second to spring to his feet and evaluate the situation.

Chama had not been asleep ? that much was obvious, since she had cast so quickly. Amidst the darkness clouding his vision, Valen could discern eight enemies: the male warrior, and seven Red Sisters. He blinked a few times, steadying his battle stance and his grip of his weapon.

The drow warrior got back to his feet, brushing is armour in a studied gesture of indifference. Looking at it more closely, Chama could see it was made from dragon?s scales. Avoid elemental damage against this one, she noted to herself. At least the fireball had been useful by the force of its physical blow.

The drow spoke. ?So. What have we here? None other than the very one who hampered the attack efforts in Undermountain, it appears. We have been looking for you for a while, elven female, but we certainly did not expect you to fall right into our hands.?

?I?m not down and dead yet,? Chama answered calmly.

?Be careful, Chama. I know Eldath, this male, and he is very dangerous,? Nathyrra whispered in her leader?s ear.

The elf nodded, indicating she was taking the warning very seriously. ?Hold Valen?s left,? she muttered in answer.

Nathyrra moved; Valen was obviously in no fit state to hold the first line alone. After one last challenge by Chama, Eldath and his accomplices pounced down upon Valen and Nathyrra.

The tiefling held his ground as best he could, wrestling with dizziness and sickness much more than with his enemies, fighting to the best of his impaired skill to keep Nathyrra safe from Eldath?s hits. To his relief, Chama kept breaking the attackers? lines with fireballs, and soon the Red Sisters were as confused and hurt as Valen. The mage finished the battle quickly with one of her usual volleys of magical projectiles of glowing energy, burning holes in the drows? chests.

Valen willed himself to keep standing for a few seconds more while Chama activated an ioun stone to make sure there was no hidden assassin waiting for an opening.

?There?s no one else,? she declared.

Valen sank to his knees and retched, the world swirling wildly about him. He felt hands holding back his hair and testing carefully the back of his skull, where he had been hit. He did not try to get up from his hands and knees.

?He managed to hit you hard and true,? he heard Chama?s voice. It was her hands then, so soothing as they played through his hair. ?I would never have survived that. I guess Nathyrra?s right. He was very dangerous.?

A wet cloth was pressed to the base of his skull, the healing magic warm and itching against the wound.

?Don?t move yet, it will kick in in a few seconds.?

He grunted his agreement, becoming increasingly aware, as pain lessened, of her hands in his hair, her flowery perfume he could not quite identify, and that something was definitely wrong with him.

?I can sit back now,? he told her, lifting a hand to hold the cloth. His fingers intertwined with hers briefly while she transferred the cloth to his hand. He leaned back on his heels, trying to look around him, but a black mist partly hid everything. A hand on his cheek forced him to turn to Chama?s worried face.

?Valen, look at me, please,? she ordered, her voice heavy with concern.

?I?m trying,? he answered, blinking owlishly a few times to bring her face into focus. ?Something?s wrong with me.?

She was looking into his eyes, and he was beginning to feel like he was floating. He would have wanted to abandon himself and drift away looking into her velvet black eyes. The demon, however, writhed in a corner of his mind, screaming and kicking. Valen could barely hear him now, and that forced him to acknowledge exactly how badly injured he was. He wondered if he had ever been that hurt before. Not even after months of torture had he felt so close and so willing to just drift away. He clung to the sight of Chama?s eyes.

?I think I will soon lose consciousness,? he warned her.

?Hold on a moment yet,? she requested.

She brushed her thumb across the pearly white stone of a pendant he had never seen her wear before, and a soft light suddenly appeared in her hand. She held his chin and lifted the light to his left than right. He saw her velvety eyes widen in surprise and concern. Her hands suddenly started to shake as she let go of his chin and gave him a potent healing potion.

?You?re right, something?s wrong with you, and it?s something I can?t fix with a healing kit and a few potions. We must get you back to the Seer. Drink this. We need you conscious. We can?t drag you all the way back to Lith My?athar.?

He paled a greener shade of white at that. ?I?m sorry, but I don?t think I can??

?Of course not,? she cut worriedly. ?I have a shortcut available. But please, do drink the potion before you pass out.?

He drank the potion. He felt the pressure inside of his skull, a pressure he had not noticed before then, lessen to some degree. The black mist that veiled his vision thinned somewhat. Chama stood with her elven, cat-like trademark grace, and fumbled with the strange device attached to her left shoulder. She fed it a rogue stone and the device glowed. Then she turned to Valen.

?Please hand us your gauntlets and belt,? Chama asked.

Nathyrra was back and Valen realized he must have blacked out at some point, because the tent and the rest of the camp were packed. Valen stared at Chama in confusion.

?We need more strength if we?re to carry everything and help you and your armour to walk.?

He gave her the gauntlets, which she handed to a silent Nathyrra. Chama put the belt on when he gave it to her. She shouldered his pack and Nathyrra, the tent and gear. Both women bent to help Valen to his feet. Nathyrra let out a groan of effort and Valen apologized.

?Be still a second,? Chama panted, fumbling with her shoulder device once more. Suddenly Valen felt the familiar heap in his insides indicating they were taken through the planes.

They landed in a small, enclosed space delimited by steely walls, floor and ceiling.

?What is this place?? he asked curiously. ?This looks like some kind of demi-plane. How did you get access to this place??

?Long story. Could you please concentrate on not crushing my shoulder with your weight and getting yourself to that gate over there before you pass out??

Nathyrra chuckled. Valen concentrated on walking, trying not to lean too heavily on either of the elves supporting him. His head had started to feel heavier again and the black veil was quickly diminishing his range of vision.

Chama opened the door she had pointed earlier, revealing the blue shimmering horizon of a planar gate. They stepped through and suddenly found themselves in Lith My?athar?s temple, interrupting brusquely one of Imloth?s reports again.

The Seer gasped silently when she saw them arrive. She had never seen anything that could force Valen to need help to walk like this. Even when broken from months of torture and a terrible battle against Grimash?t, he had kept to his feet alone, held by defiant pride more than anything else.

Chama and Nathyrra helped Valen to sit down and the Seer was before him in a second.

?He was hit on the head,? Chama informed the healer. ?There?s a problem with his blood; his pupils don?t dilate at the same width and rate.?

He was uneasy to hear of his condition in so cold and well-chosen words. The Seer lost no time in choosing a treatment. She almost immediately started to cast a spell and Valen was soon surrounded with sparkles of white magic. When the sparkles died, he felt the pressure inside of his skull vanish. Incredulous, he shook his head and noticed he still held the wet cloth at the base of his skull. The cloth was dripping from his blood now.

?Thank you, Seer,? he exclaimed with heartfelt gratitude. He would have caught her hand, but his hands were bloody, so he just looked up at her.

The drow smiled kindly and patted his armoured shoulder. ?Think nothing of it, my good Valen. You should thank Chamaedaphne however. Her use of the asarum root was sensible and her assessment of your state, accurate. Tell me, Chama, you combine many different skills: rogue, wizard, and now healer? Where did you learn the ways of the healing magic??

The elf shifted nervously. ?Here and there in my travels, as I met healers willing to show me. I learned quickly. I guess my blood made it easy for me; my mother was a priestess.?

The Seer saw Chama?s reluctance and did not push further. She just nodded and turned back to Valen. ?You should be careful for a few hours. You should not sleep for the next ten hours, and if you feel dizziness, come back to see me.?

The warrior nodded and sighed, a bit unhappy to be ordered so, but cleric?s orders were cleric?s orders. He turned to his leader.

?I apologize. I should not have been surprised during my watch. It won?t happen again.?

?It?s alright,? she told him with a kind smile. ?Anyone would have been surprised by someone of Eldath?s skill. I?m just glad there were no unfortunate consequences.?

He bowed, still mortified. Maybe she would not be so lenient if she was aware that he had been hit because he was distracted while he watched her. Chama let out a sigh and turned to Nathyrra.

?Since we?re here, we might as well go help Gulhrys. Do you want to come??

?Of course. And you, Valen? What are you going to do??

The warrior shrugged. ?I can only imagine there are plenty of reports to review with Imloth.?

Nathyrra smirked. ?Still the army?s leader in facts, I see. Good luck though. Wish for us not to blow ourselves in the High Wizard?s lab.?

Valen chuckled. ?Good luck.?

They parted ways at the temple?s gates, and the Seer marvelled at the team they made up now. She did not see them in the many days they spent out of Lith My?athar, and so she observed the change only in steps; each time it was a surprise. What Imloth had repeated of Nathyrra?s gossip was true: they were soothing each other after all.

Edited by Dalre´Dal, 14 May 2007 - 05:51 AM.

"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#17 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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Posted 20 May 2007 - 12:13 PM

You?ve been very silent lately? Won?t anybody please review? Please?

Chapter XVI. The Seer?s reassurances

After six hours spent helping Gulhrys, Chama was quite fed up with beholder phrasing, and she declared that she was tired and would retire. Nathyrra and Gulhrys were only too happy to have an excuse to call it a night, and so the wizards abandoned their work on the obelisk for the time being.

On her way back to the temple, Chama spotted Valen down by the soldiers? barracks discussing something with Imloth, and suddenly her nightly troubles resurfaced in her mind, coupled with her centuries-old guilt, anger and fear.

As strange as it seemed, Chama inclined towards following Valen?s advice and going to seek the Seer?s council. The only problem was that she could not bring herself to speak about the cause of the torment awoken within her by her feelings for Valen, and she would be just too embarrassed to state to anyone knowing him that she found him attractive. That sorely limited the amount of guidance the Seer could provide. Yet, maybe there was a part of her troubles that she could speak about without retching or being embarrassed beyond words?

She hesitated as she pondered, but after her decision was taken, Chama continued towards the temple, carefully taking the back door to avoid Deekin no doubt waiting for her in the main hall ? she did not have the energy to speak with him now.

She stalked the temple?s back corridors until she reached the Seer?s door. Chama took a breath and knocked. After a few seconds, there was movement in the room, and the drow opened with a kind and caring smile.

?I? I needed to speak with someone,? Chama whispered, shy to state it out loud.

The Seer opened her door more widely and invited the elf in. Chama slipped in with her thief?s litheness. The Seer?s quarters were spacious and functional, but devoid of the exaggerate luxury that the elf had come to associate with drow architecture. Chama observed them, having had only a short glimpse when she had flown to the Seer?s rescue a few nights ago, only to discover that the priestess? distress was only caused by a vision.

The door opened into a small study where the Seer invited Chama to sit. Through an open archway, Chama could steal glimpses at the bedroom, with its wide but simple bed flanked by a small table and a chest of drawers. Chama slipped in one the study?s chairs, and the Seer sat across her, resting one delicate ebony hand on the table grossly carved in rock that stood between them.

?What is troubling you, Chamaedaphne??

?I? think I need council. Reassurance. I don?t know.?

?What about??

Chama closed her eyes. She could never speak of her feelings or doubts while looking people in the eye; she feared their regard and the judgement that sometimes lurked there.

?I know you?re a seer,? Chama muttered, forcing the words out one at a time, ?so I guess my past is not as secret from you as I would wish it to be.?

?I know not what happened to you in the past,? the Seer denied kindly. ?I have sensed a great pain, a greater vengeance and a greatest guilt, but I do not know what gave you this pain or these regrets.?

Chama took a relieved breath, and suddenly she realized how she could speak of her past without making any references to Valen or the events themselves. ?I think I would prefer to avoid the details. It is just that? that sometimes I think the guilt will crush me, but I know it is only a small punishment for all that I have done. My sleep is ruined now, but I have ruined many lives in the past. But it is cruel to? to acknowledge that at all times. And yet? I cannot forget all I?ve done, because if I forget I will become the same person I used to be. I am? I am afraid of the anger. Like Valen, who can?t give in to the anger because it summons the demon within. If I am angry? dark thoughts surface once more, and they seem all the sweeter because they have long remained unanswered. But? but there are times when I almost can?t help but being angry. I? how am I supposed to react, Seer? What am I to do to banish anger??

?My child,? the Seer began firmly. Chama wondered in an unseemly fashion how old the Seer was to call her ?my child?. ?You do not have to banish the anger.?

Chama lifted her eyes to the Seer and the elder drow continued, a kind smile on her lips. ?You are but a mortal, Chamaedaphne. Mortals have a right to happiness and anger. Eilistraee is a benevolent goddess, and she teaches that all of us have a right to be flawed. There are situations when anyone would be angry, and you are no different.?

?But I am, Seer,? Chama protested, closing her eyes again. ?I did what I did. Allowing anger to take me over would make me fall again.?

?It does not have to be so. Your past is your past, and it does not rule your present. Even my goddess has seen and shown me that you are very different now than you once were. Anger is a sane emotion for a mortal. We need the anger to keep pride in ourselves when we are hurt, or to have the will to fight for a just cause. You only have to be careful to choose your anger?s reason carefully.?

Chama held her eyes shut tightly.

?Chamaedaphne, you have been walking into darkness for so long. I know you have been plunged into it against your will, then you revelled in it for a time, and now you keep to it deliberately. You pull yourself down with a guilt you cannot carry. Guilt should be the path back into the light, not the chains bearing you down. We all do things we are not proud of.?

At that Chama choked briefly, her chest contracting painfully. ?I did not do things you would not be proud of, Seer. I did things that would make a tiefling weapon master of our acquaintance blanch.?

Chama spoke with such conviction that the Seer herself paled, but Eilistraee had been firm in her vision ? the Light of Cania, whatever that meant, was before her.

?Whatever you have done,? the Seer pleaded, ?the guilt should show you that you are redeemable, that you have changed your ways. The guilt is the way. Eilistraee tells us that there is a bright moon waiting for us on the surface when we exit the Underdark. She tells us that, whoever we are, there is a possibility of happiness and peacefulness. Even for you, Chamaedaphne. You just have to accept it.?

Chama had her eyes closed, but tears were slowly falling down on her cheeks. ?But how can I ever be happy after what I have done? How can I ever be so heartless as to forget??

The Seer shook her head. She moved her chair closer to the elf and put an arm around Chama?s shoulders.

?You must not forget. You must forgive yourself. It is not the same. You can forgive yourself your mortal fallibility.?

Chama cried, her eyes still shut tightly, and the Seer gently rocked her for a while. It was long before the adventuress calmed, opened her eyes and looked at the Seer. The drow priestess could imagine the words stuck in the elf?s throat.

?You?re welcome,? the Seer said with a smile.

Chama flashed a very surprised but amused smile and nodded. She squeezed the Seer?s shoulder gratefully before returning to her own room, feeling inexplicably at peace despite how little she understood the Seer?s words. She imagined they would come to hold meaning, in time? She took a bath, to wash the tears and the magical grime of Gulhrys?s lab away, and then dressed again in her old robe of fire resistance.
"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#18 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
  • Member
  • 439 posts

Posted 06 June 2007 - 10:31 AM

Chapter XVII. We should come here more often!

Chama wandered aimlessly around Lith My?athar a while to reclaim her serenity after her intense interview with the Seer. After a few minutes, she suddenly realized she should avoid the surroundings of the public house. She was too tired to talk with Deekin right now, and he must be looking for her if he had heard she was back in town. She veered towards the docks brusquely, and almost ran into Valen coming around the corner. Valen gallantly flashed a hand out to steady her when she stumbled back, but her lightning reflexes were quicker and she regained her footing alone.

?Sorry,? they exclaimed at the same time.

There was a bit of an awkward silence and Chama manoeuvred around the corner to get out of sight of the public house. ?Where are you going??, she inquired.

?I was tired of Imloth?s reports, so I was going back to the temple to see if the Seer could not be convinced to let me sleep a while.?

?I don?t think she would.?

?Me neither,? he sighed with frustration, ?but I need an excuse not to go back to Imloth and his tons of reports.?

?Do you play chess??, she asked suddenly.

?I do, although I?m not a very skilled player.?

?Would you like a game? You have to stay awake after all.?

He hesitated a bit, but not for very long, and blushed. After all, he did wish to spend time with her aside from the time they spent fighting for their lives.

?Well? yes, I would like a game.?

She smiled. ?Good! I don?t carry a board though. Do you know where we can find one??

?I know Imloth has one. Let me ask him.?

They walked back to the training grounds, where Imloth was drilling his recruits as always. The commander smiled knowingly at Valen and told him he kept his board in his room in the temple. Chama followed Valen silently and waited, immobile in the shadows at the corner of the temple, until he came out with the board under his arm. It was one of those boards that could be folded in half to make a box holding the pieces.

?Do you know a place where we could play??, she asked.

Valen pondered the question thoughtfully for a while. ?We could go back to the Lone Peak. It?s quiet and I?m sure Imloth?s soldiers wouldn?t mind being replaced for a while.?

She nodded and they headed towards the trail?s entrance.

?Do you climb there often??, she inquired.

?Fairly. I used to go there to ponder the tactics and intelligence. Strategy is Imloth?s role now though. With all he?s shown me this afternoon, I can tell he does a great job.?

?Do you miss being the army?s leader??

He considered, rubbing the back of his powerful neck distractedly. ?Not really. I am satisfied to be where I can do most for the Seer?s cause, be it at the head of the army or now adventuring with you.?

?I admire your dedication.?

?Thank you,? he answered lightly.

They climbed the rest of the way in silence. When they reached the watch post, the soldier on guard duty was sleeping.

Valen silently handed the chess board to Chama. He smiled grimly and let his eyes turn to a blazing red. Chama observed amusedly when the tall tiefling walked heavily, with his chain mail clanking and clicking neatly, towards the soldier napping slumped against a rock.

Needless to say, the guard woke rudely to a most unnerving sight. He jerked up at the sound of clinking armour, jumping to his feet with a drow?s spring. He tried valiantly to stand to attention, even though a cold sweat was starting to bead on his forehead and his hands were visibly shaking.

?Attention!?, Valen snarled menacingly.

The poor soldier almost bent his back backwards in an attempt to stand straighter.

?Your name??

?M-Makaveneth, of House Mae?viir.?

?You shall be disciplined for sleeping on watch duty,? Valen decreed in an ominous tone of voice. He let the silence stretch ? and the soldier sweat ? a good long while. ?If I ever catch you at it again, I will show you how I used to discipline my lazy underlings in the Abyss. Now, report to commander Imloth. I will let him decide your punishment? this time.?

?Th-thank you, sir, I assure you??

?Do not waste my time with your excuses,? Valen growled, taking just half a step forward to better tower over the squirming guard. The poor drow took a hasty step back. ?Report immediately to commander Imloth. Unless you wish my assistance to take the shortcut involving the cliff?? He completed the threat with a meaningful look at the gaping void looming just beyond the cliff?s edge.

The soldier yelped and ran off to the trail. Valen watched him go with a smile, though it was a highly disturbing sight since his eyes still glowed with a malevolent red. Finally, the tielfing?s eyes reverted to blue and he grinned impishly, genuine and inoffensive amusement on his face.

Chama could not quite smile. She shook her head. ?I am so glad not to be one of your soldiers.?

He frowned. ?Why??

?I think such treatment would give me a heart attack.?

He smiled kindly. ?That is totally untrue. You would narrow your eyes and send me flying with a fireball. Do you remember the first day when you arrived in Lith My?athar??

?Of course. How could I forget??

?I was doing more than trying to intimidate you. I was plainly and simply attacking you. I have seen you react to pressure and it was not with fear. It was with pride and defiance. Besides, I am convinced that you would never give me reason for such anger. You are much too smart to sleep on watch, and I have seen that you are never lazy.?

She blushed, but flashed a roguish smile. ?Do I hear a compliment under all this, Sir-Military-Discipline??

?Well, you should, miss-I-never-give-up, because there is.?

They smiled at each other and Chama gestured to the board she still held. ?Shall we play??

Valen set up the board on a rock and they seated themselves on the ground on each side of it. It was slanting slightly, but not enough to make the pieces fall off.

He gestured to the board between them. ?The lady can take the whites.?

She shrugged and moved a pawn. Valen looked at the board, frowning in concentration, and moved one of his own pawns.

After a few moves only, she said, ?I?d like to ask you a question, but I?m not sure if I?m going to embarrass you. If I do, please forget I asked anything.?

?Very well, my lady? what do you wish to know??

?You spoke of the first time we met a few minutes ago, and it reminded me of something I had forgotten until now. I think your eyes turned red when you started towards me. Is it really what happened, or was it just my imagination??

?No, it is true,? he answered with a bit of reluctance.

?What had I done to anger the demon part of you, so he could break free from your control??

Valen slowly took his hand away from the board, forgetting the game for the time being. He looked at Chama for a while.

?You did not anger the infernal half of me. It is hard to explain? You were standing there, looking at me and expecting your death at my hands? or so it looked to my eyes,? he hastily corrected.

?I was standing there waiting for my death at your hands. My spells were flat, and you were obviously a capable fighter.?

He nodded. ?But suddenly? you were defying me. You were not afraid, either of me or of impeding death? I thought you were stronger than you gave yourself credit for, because you had the strength of character to stand up to me even as you awaited death. And so? the human half of me could not strike at you. The only thing the human half could do was let the demon take control and strike at you, because I was determined not to let anything happen to the Seer.?

She had not expected something that heavy as an answer.

?I-I didn?t know,? she stammered.

?You couldn?t know,? he murmured, before bringing his attention back to the game. After he made his move, though, he spoke again, his tone lighter now, ?I think we made an equally formidable first impression on each other back then; you were convinced I could kill you easily, and I was stunned by your unwavering determination.?

She chuckled. ?Yes, it appears so.?

She moved her bishop, and they resumed the game. They were half-way through when she decided to speak again. ?You play very well. Where did you learn??

?Grimash?t, my demonic master while I was a slave in the Abyss, taught me. He believed that each of his lieutenants should be competent at chess. He was convinced it was some kind of proof of our tactical abilities when leading troops on the battlefield.?

?I see. Do you agree with his views??

?I don?t know. Although I remember that I was learning chess and training for the whirlwind attack at the same time, and chess did help me to master the whirlwind attack. So I guess there was some sense in Grimash?t?s beliefs.?

A thought suddenly occurred to Chama. ?Is it he who trained you as a weapon master??

?Not Grimash?t personally, no. It is his army?s weapon master, a death knight called Sherenz, who trained me.? He moved his knight and she reacted instantly, making him realize that she had been manoeuvring him into that move. She moved her bishop, and he found his queen impossible to save. He sighed.

?You really bested me here. I can?t believe that I didn?t see this coming.?

?Me neither. I think I have just discovered what advantage I do have over you. I have a better concentration; I can speak to you without losing attention to the game. Or maybe it?s the subject itself that distracts you. I know I made a mistake the first time I spoke of the Abyss to you. Do my questions now bother you? I don?t mean to pry.?

?It?s alright.? He was touched by her thoughtfulness. ?We know each other better now, and I know you don?t mean to insult me. I think I owe you an apology for my behaviour back then.?

?No, you don?t. I apologize for having been so tactless. I hope you can forgive me??

?I forgive you, and I apologize for reacting like an uneducated, temperamental and moody brute. We should be even now, don?t you think??

She grinned. ?Well, one more misunderstanding we just dealt with. We should come here more often, don?t you think??

Valen laughed. She realized she had not heard him laugh often. The sound made her heart give a strange lurch, which was completely unexpected but not totally unpleasant.

His eyes sparkled impishly when he extended a hand.

?I would propose a toast to solved misunderstandings, but we don?t have any glasses. Will you shake my hand as a manner of? of replacement??

She was out of the mood suddenly, but she gave him her hand, trying to smile her best. He took her hand over the game board and, to her surprise, brought it up to his lips. He caught sight of her face while he was lowering her hand and immediately apologized.

?I?m sorry, I presume too much. Please, forgiv??

?No,? she breathed, and Valen fell silent. Now whyever did I say this? Now I have to explain my words! ?You have not offended me. You have surprised me a great deal and I? am not used to such treatment. I just? didn?t know how to react immediately.?

He cleared his throat. ?I will try not to surprise you so again.? Although his thought were more along the lines of ?I will try not to surprise you so badly again?.

?No,? she repeated, and visibly struggled for words. ?I like to be surprised in that way, and it?s good that someone finally considers me enough of a lady to kiss my hand. It?s just that I?m really not used to it. I hope I didn?t scare you away completely??

He had not kissed so many ladies? hands in the past ? willingly, that is, not counting demonesses or Matron Mothers with a whip nearby ? so yes, he was feeling a bit scared away.

?No,? he lied politely. Her answering smile, however, was warm and relieved, and worked some magic on him to make him forget the past awkward minute.

He was still sitting there half-dazed when she gestured to the board again. ?Your turn.?

Valen bent over the board in thought, focusing on how to minimize his losses now that his queen was condemned. He lost the game, but not by much. They started another game, and he decided to try a more defensive strategy. This worked much better, and he realized that she played on instinct, without training. He had no doubt that she would beat him completely and utterly with just a few days with a master. They were about half-way when this time Valen spoke up.

?And you? Who taught you chess??

?I learned a long time ago? as a child, from my parents. I left home very young though, and never really played since then.?

?I can tell,? he replied with mock superiority.

?Really? How?? She, however, was serious.

?Your style is disorganized and relies on improvisation. You don?t recognize easy and classical many-moves strategies, but you nevertheless predict and plan many moves ahead. You?re not aware of your body language.?

She smiled ruefully. ?That bad, uh? Are you letting me win??

He laughed. ?Not at all. Your strategies are clever ? you won the last game beautifully ? and you have a talent to see ahead, but there are many things that show that you play by instinct rather than training and habit.?

?Well, I feel my instinct won?t save me this time.?

?You haven?t lost yet.?

They played on in silence for a while.

?You said you left home early. How old were you??

?I was four,? she answered distractedly, moving her only remaining tower.

?Four? But you must have been a child. Especially since you are of elven blood,? he protested.

She smiled up at him slyly. ?Four decades-old.?

?Ah? oh,? Valen said, suddenly wondering how old she was. He scrutinized her face quickly, finding no hint in her ageless features, before he realized she would understand what he was doing and he embarrassedly lowered his eyes to the board again.

?You?re too polite to ask,? she remarked slyly, ?but I?m forty-three. If you prefer, four hundred and thirty-six years-old.?

He grinned. ?Well, I?m certain Rizolvir would advise me to keep silence when discussing age with a lady, but I will disregard his opinion. You still look young to me, my lady.?

She laughed. ?Rizolvir is involved with? shall we say? a drow lady??

?Yes, she is a follower of Eilistraee, but she is still a very drow lady. You have met her, actually. She works at the temple; she prepares potion brews for the Seer.?

?Ah, yes? But don?t worry, I won?t think of giant spiders, collars or whips if you say what you truly think of my age.?

He blushed at her directness and obvious amusement at his expense. ?I really don?t think much. It is difficult for me to guess at elves? ages, so I don?t usually try. You just did not strike me as especially young or old.?

She chuckled and let it drop, tilting her head and concentrating on the game. Valen beat her this time. She stood to stretch her heavy limbs and shook his hand in congratulations.

?Congratulations, and thank you for this game. It was good to speak of something else than battle with you for once.?

Valen grinned back at her. ?I agree.?

They had to wait a few minutes until the next guard arrived. When he did, they nodded to him and left together, doing companionable small talk.
"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#19 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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Posted 05 July 2007 - 08:11 AM

Well, life being what it is, it seems my updates are doomed to come more despacio. It's the pre-loading-the-ship blitz here :) I'm in the process of getting big arms, moving all my heavy oceanography equipment about... soon you'll get my picture as a model for a warrior female half-orc, lol. But I swear, I'm not giving up on this story. I've never given up on a story before, and I won't start with Out of the Dark and the Mist or The Irony of Fate. So thanks for hanging on ;) And I'm still review-addict, btw... So please send in any comments you have about my stories.

Chapter XVIII. Traitor!

?So, what do you intend to do for the six or so hours left of your prescribed waking time??, Chama asked, rearranging the pieces in the chess board so it could close properly.

Valen shrugged, and started walking when Chama caught up with him. ?I don?t know. Maybe a recruits? drill, or reviewing reports and such with Nathyrra. But not Imloth. I?m going to be sick if I have to review just one more possible route for supply lines.?

?I don?t think the Seer would agree for a drill??

He let out an exasperated sigh and shot her a ?I-already-know-that-but-can?t-you-allow-me-my-wishful-thinking? look.

?But reviewing reports appears alright,? Chama grinned back, ?even if very boring. I?d like to be there, but unfortunately I have to check on Deekin and his marksmen, before my favourite bard starts running around town and asking for me. He must have learned I?m back in town by now.?

?Indeed he must have. The creature skittering about and badgering anyone about your whereabouts would be most unnerving,? Valen agreed dryly. ?If I check on House Mae?viir?s troops, and you monitor the progress of our kobold allies, I think we could declare that to be an exchange of services.?

She chuckled. ?I think I?ll agree with th??

But then she cried out and whirled around, her naked hands clutching at the air behind her. Valen instantly unhooked his flail, and his warrior?s eyes spotted the wicked dagger?s hilt protruding from her back. He blanched, knowing how deadly such a hit was; just below the last ribs, it had stuck either the liver or the kidney. Either way, she had a few minutes at most to live if her wounds were not tended to.

What he had taken for empty air was in fact a grey cloak that obviously offered magical assistance to melt into the shadows. Chama had managed to grip it, and the drow assassin spun free, shedding its cloak in favour of a quick escape. Valen charged after the running male, but a volley of globes of energy flew past him. The purple energy missiles struck the assassin unerringly between the shoulder blades, despite the drow?s wild leaps to one side and the other in an obvious attempt to avoid any projectiles directed at his back. The impact staggered him and he violently fell face first on the ground, his back scorched by Chama?s spell. Valen hardly spared him a glance; he stopped and warily turned to examine his surroundings, because they tread a narrow path lined with rocks large enough to hide a man. And suddenly an unseen attacker hit him on the side of his skull.

His head exploded with pain and he saw a flash of white. When he came to his senses, he was on his knees and he was deaf. His nose was bleeding. But only a fraction of a second had passed. He shot to his feet and spun, meeting the other?s mace with the chain of his flail. This second assassin was a female. A female he recognized. He caught her weapon with a twist of his flail?s chain and disarmed her. She instantly drew a dagger and crouched into a competent fighting stance, but she knew what awaited her, and Valen could smell her fear in her sweat. He forcefully quelled the rising of his demon blood.

?I have no mercy for traitors,? he spat, but deaf as he was, he heard no sound.

He struck.

***

The Seer was officiating the evening prayers honouring the rise of the moon in the central hall of the temple when brusquely the large double doors burst open. Everyone turned, hands instinctively searching for weapons. The Seer stopped in the middle of her sentence, the words chased from her mind by the sight that greeted her. Valen staggered in, flanked by Imloth and another captain, carrying an unconscious Chama.

The Seer and Valen locked eyes. Valen?s eyes were the blackest night. She had never seen him with that colour of eyes before, but the set line of his jaw and the grim line of his lips revealed that it was the colour of utmost determination. As they exchanged a look over the worshippers? heads, his eyes reverted to their usual cyan and turned back in his skull. He collapsed. He all but dropped Chama as he neared the ground and the two of them lay in a heap of armour and limbs.

A worried murmur ran in the assembled drow when the Seer ran to her defender?s side, flying over the smooth tiles covering the floor. She quickly looked Valen and Chama over. Valen?s eyes, nose and ears were bleeding, and she feared for an instant that her earlier healing spell had failed in the long run, but then she saw the huge lump on the side of his head, just over his left ear. He had been hit in the head again.

?Imloth, help me move him,? she demanded.

The drow commander deftly crouched on Valen?s other side and helped her turn the huge tiefling on his back to remove his weight from Chama?s body. The elder drow examined the elf; her pulse was faint, her breathing shallow, and much blood covered her back. These injuries were more urgent, but easier to treat, than Valen?s wound. A simple spell would do; the Seer cast. Chama jerked awake, sitting up and on instinct violently pushing the Seer away.

?Easy, Chamaedaphne,? the drow soothed, turning back to Valen immediately.

Chama brought a hand down to her side in confusion and sat there unmoving for a moment. Slowly she turned and observed the Seer tending to Valen with numerous spells and herbs brought by an acolyte. Suddenly Nathyrra and Deekin burst in, the double doors flying open and banging loudly back against the walls. Deekin?s wings twitched as though he would land off at any time and Nathyrra was breathless.

?What happened??, the drow assassin asked.

Something came back to life in Chama?s mind. She lunged and feverishly clutched Valen?s limp hand, looking up hopefully and fearfully at the Seer.

?He was hit hard on the head again. Is he going to be alright??

?I believe he will,? the Seer reassured her kindly, ?but it might take some time. Please, let me concentrate now.?

Chama let go of his hand slowly, then turned to Nathyrra, staring at her intensely.

?Get everyone out, now. Secure the temple against spies.?

A dark light appeared in the assassin?s eyes; Valen?s injury clearly resulted from some treachery. Chama probably knew something of it, if she requested that the temple be secured.

Nathyrra turned to the assembled worshippers. ?You heard her. Out, now.?

She emptied the temple of everyone ? followers, acolytes, servants, officers. Even Deekin left, declaring with uncharacteristic loudness that he would find anyone who had hurt Boss. Nathyrra did her best to close windows, doors and secret passages, and to examine every concealed spot she knew of. Then she went back to Chama, still observing Valen?s treatment and occasionally assisting the Seer.

?Chama, what is it??

?Just before I passed out, Valen said something to our attackers. He said he had no mercy for traitors. I?m forced to conclude that they are supposed allies in Lith My?athar, but I didn?t recognize them.? Then she stopped short and cursed loudly. ?I?m a fool. They?ve had time by now to retrieve and get rid of the bodies.?

?No, don?t worry about that, Imloth and two of his captains went up the Lone Peak in search of them as soon as you two were safe in the Seer?s care,? Nathyrra informed her.

?I should commend Imloth more. He has really good ideas in crucial matters,? Chama noted thoughtfully. ?But for now? you do understand that if Valen should not recover or? come to further harm while unable to defend himself, we will likely never learn their identity??

?I understand perfectly,? Nathyrra declared haughtily, ?and I will ensure his security at all times. But I have to point out that you were likely the target, not Valen. While it would be safer not to leave any witnesses, no one but us knows for sure that Valen can identify the traitor. They?ll probably try to come back for you though. So I will ensure both your safety.?

Chama nodded, but they were interrupted by the Seer sitting back on her heels and sighing tiredly. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, looking drawn.

?There, that is all I can accomplish for now,? she said. ?He should be alright, but he needs to rest. We should move him to his room, but I am afraid he is too heavy for us alone.?

?He?s not,? Chama countered quietly. ?Just give me a moment.? Chama fumbled in her scroll case a short moment and fished out a sheet of parchment. She used it to conjure a magically floating disk that conveniently came into existence just under Valen. The disk was just tall enough to lift him, with his head and legs dangling over the edge. ?I can get his head. Seer, if you would just make sure his arms don?t fall off.? She tossed a potion over to Nathyrra. ?Bull?s strength, in case his feet are heavy.?

The three women manoeuvred the floating disk carefully to climb the stairs and go through the room?s door. When she conjured off the disk, Chama realized she was in a man?s room. She took a quick, embarrassed look around. It was neat and tidy and she wondered fleetingly if all demons let law rule the order of their room in military discipline. The room was also impersonal enough. No clothes were lying scattered about; all were stashed away, well hidden in the closet. There was no aesthetic decoration whatsoever aside from the armour stand proudly displayed in the best-lit corner of the room.

The Seer gently straightened Valen?s head on the pillow and gave his heavy chain mail a reproving look. ?He won?t rest well like this.?

She began to undo buckles, soon imitated by Nathyrra and Chama. Quickly, the three women stripped him of his mail, and then they began to remove the leather armour underneath. Chama soon noticed that it was only a linen shirt he wore under the leather, wet and clinging to his skin; she caught a glimpse of the taut muscles of his lower arm. She blushed self-consciously.

?Shouldn?t a male be doing this??, she asked. ?I?m sure Imloth??

?The temple is secure,? Nathyrra objected immediately. ?We shouldn?t let anyone else in before we?ve taken precautions regarding this room.?

?No, Nathyrra, we can trust Imloth,? the Seer spoke up with conviction. ?He has been with us for thirty decades. He has earned our trust. But he is on the Lone Peak right now, and I?m sure Valen wouldn?t mind being put comfortable by us.?

?At least he doesn?t have to worry about being abused in his sleep like with some Matron Mothers,? Nathyrra giggled.

The Seer smiled and Chama, embarrassed and slightly reluctant, helped them to remove Valen?s leather armour. At least I don?t have to remove his pants, she thought as some wicked sense of humour finally returned to her. She helped the Seer to slip Valen?s arms out of his leathers, and turn him on his side to remove it from under his back.

?Now we?re like his brothers who put him to bed the first time he got real drunk,? Nathyrra jeered and unceremoniously dropped his armour pants on the top of a nearby chair.

The Seer chuckled, and even Chama smiled slightly.
"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!

#20 Dalre´Dal

Dalre´Dal
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  • 439 posts

Posted 08 August 2007 - 07:10 PM

And a long one to compensate for all that time without updates! Work has slowed down, so I should be able to update regularly again?

Thank you for reading! Please review :)


Chapter XIX. Dealing with the traitors

Nathyrra arranged for the secret accesses to Valen?s room to be blocked and their exits guarded by people she trusted. She stood guard herself by the door, and Deekin by Chama?s door. The bard?s devotion to his beloved Boss made him leave even his new kobold friends to look after her. That is, when Boss wasn?t watching over Goat-man.

Valen remained unconscious for a day and a half. The Seer, her acolyte and Chama took turns at sitting up with him.

It was Chama there when he awoke. She was studying a beholder phrasing that kept Gulhrys from finishing the enchantments. She was deeply concentrated on her spellcraft, sitting with a book and a scroll on her lap, when suddenly Valen grunted and brought his left fist up to rub his eye, like a child. She extended her slim spellcaster?s hand and put it over his right hand, still resting by his side.

He startled and opened sleepy eyes to look at her. She rolled her fingers around his tall palm. And then he smiled, closed his eyes again and squeezed her hand back. She let go slowly, shaken by the blue of his eyes, his contented smile and his hot fingers trapping hers gently.

?I am so glad to see you alive,? he whispered in relief.

?Me??, she exclaimed incredulously. ?You were worrying about me? Do you know what the Seer had to do to ensure you would ever wake up again, and hear again??

He opened his eyes again, his relieved and sleepy smile fading away. His expression slowly turned grim as the events came back to him. He tried to sit up, but dizziness forced him to pause.

?Hey, go easy,? she advised gently. She rearranged the pillows behind his back so he could sit.

?How long have I been out??

?About forty hours.?

?It?s a miracle nothing happened to any of us in the meanwhile. Did you go check on Gulhrys??

?I didn?t dare. I heard what you said to our attackers? You recognized them, didn?t you?? He nodded. ?I told Nathyrra and she made sure nothing would happen to either of us. Valen? who were they?"

His eyes were fierce and harsh. ?I don?t know the male, but the female was the eldest cousin of Matron Myrune. She rose by the matron?s will and cannot hope to be matron herself one day. She therefore is one of the few loyal allies the matron can be sure of.? His eyes hardened, but did not change colour. ?They have dared to plot to kill you. Are you well? You were stabbed in the liver??

?I?m fine; the Seer healed me. Still, I think I should have told you something earlier. Right now I can?t die.?

He frowned. ?Of course not. You?ve already accomplished much for us, but without your drive we won?t defeat the Valsharess.?

She laughed. ?Thank you, Granduc, but that?s not what I meant. You remember the device on my shoulder?? He nodded. ?It?s something I found in the Plane of Shadows. It is somehow connected to the demi-plane that you have visited briefly. As long as I keep rogue stones to feed it, it will bring me back to that demi-plane as soon as I am about to cross the threshold to death. It will also allow me to come back, either to Lith My?athar, to where I fell, or to any other location I have marked with a binding.?

Valen nodded knowingly. ?Ah. This demi-plane must be some type of nexus then. Either that or it hosts a gate builder of great power.?

?The Reaper says it?s a nexus. Anyway, I just wanted you to know that you don?t need to worry about me too much.?

?It is reassuring,? he agreed. ?But do you know the nature of this device??

She made a face. ?Not in the least. That?s why I use it only in cases of emergencies. I don?t like the idea that it may have a limited number of uses, or a curse that comes into action after some time, or I don?t know what.?

?That?s probably wise. I can try to examine it, if you wish. Maybe it will remind me of something, as an outsider.?

?I?d like that, but not now. We?ve spoken long enough already. You should try to sleep a bit more now. I?ll send an acolyte or the Seer in to make sure you?re alright.?

He nodded silently as she headed to one of the secret passages leading out of his room. He wished he could have caught her hand again, but he had had no occasion. His hand still felt imprinted by the contact of her slim, cool fingers curling about his palm. He had thought it was a dream. But then he had realized, what a way to wake up. Doubts had forced his eyes open, however; Chama would not hold his hand, would she? But she had. His heart fluttered. Although it was just a friendly and brief squeeze, it still meant a lot to him. It meant that she cared that he was alive. It meant she considered him a friend and had forgiven him his initial lack of trust. It meant he had a chance to convince her to continue travelling with her once she defeated the Valsharess.

He smiled to himself. He didn?t even bother with the ?if? part anymore.

***

Nathyrra, standing guard by Valen?s door, stood out of the shadows and bowed when a worried Seer rushed to her.

?Where?s Chamaedaphne??, the Seer asked.

?Watching over Valen? why??

?Because she isn?t. One of the pages just came to see me. She ordered him to come tell me to go check on Valen, and then she webbed him and fled.?

Nathyrra?s eyes went wide. She opened the door, startling Valen who fumbled under his pillow for a concealed dagger. Seeing that Chama obviously was not there, the drow cursed loudly.

?What?s happening??, Valen asked, visibly exhausted merely by his frantic search for a weapon.

?Glad to see you awake. Chama?s missing,? Nathyrra explained succinctly.

The tiefling?s eyes clouded with heavy grey. ?Voluntarily or not??

Valen struggled to pull his feet over the edge of the bed, but the Seer quickly halted him with a hand on his shoulder. ?Whatever you think she is gone doing, you are in no shape to aid her,? she declared sternly. ?Tell me, why do you wish to follow her? What do you think she is attempting??

?Nat, close the door and make sure we are not listened to, please.? The drow did so, quickly scanning the room. When she nodded to him, he went on. ?She went to destitute Matron Myrune. It was her cousin who attacked us on the Lone Peak.? He turned to Nathyrra and they exchanged an intense look.

?I?ll get Imloth to watch your door,? the assassin decided. ?I?ll try to catch up with her.?

?Don?t kill a single guard if she?s not there,? Valen ordered. ?If she fails, it will complicate matters.?

?You think she can fail??, Nathyrra exclaimed, appalled.

?Tebimar is a very capable fighter, and we saw her disastrous fight with Mekefal.? He shook his head in helpless frustration. ?I?m not there, Nat.?

Nathyrra paled slightly, but nodded and stalked off, melting in the shadows. Valen fell back down on the bed, shutting his eyes tightly.

?Don?t move, and try to calm down,? the Seer soothed. ?I have to divine if everything is well with you.?

Valen made an effort to steady and slow his breathing, and he let the Seer tend to his healing wounds.

***

?Chamaedaphne!?, Gulhrys purred when the mage came into his lab. ?A pleasure to see you, my lady? Have you solved our problem??

He noticed, then, that something was wrong. Something deathly danced in Chama?s step, and a terrible storm raged in her black eyes. He very carefully avoided getting in her way.

?As a matter of fact, I have. We were stating it reversely; in imperative form in the beholder tongue, the complement has to be put before the verb of action. See, like this: seretel a le menaki fer lo alcari mel.?

Her words appeared, glowing, on one of the blank parchments littering Gulhrys?s desk. He marvelled at the beauty of the powerful and flawless enchantment, but he did not congratulate her. She was obviously not in the mood and Gulhrys knew quite well when not to irritate a female.

Her eyes were boring into him. He lowered his head, trying not to cause her ire to fall on him exclusively. She broke the tense silence, speaking in the beholder tongue.

?Do you wish to forward your status??

?I am always willing to forward my status, honoured female,? he answered carefully, keeping his head bent. It did not appear she was offering him to become hers, although it was a possibility. He found himself dreading that possibility. He had experienced first-hand that females were acting completely differently with males and with their males. Chamaedaphne had not struck him as stormy and cruel, but if this was Chama?s way to deal with her males, or would-be males, then he thought he had ample reason to fear her proposal. He had been attracted to her from the beginning because she was a proud and challenging spellcaster. He had not wanted to get involved with a moody female; he had been careful all of his life, and he would be disappointed in himself if he had been attracted to a cruel female in the end.

?Are you willing to risk your current status and your life for it??, she went on.

He lifted his eyes to her face that time. He gave her a carefully appraising regard. His ambition could smell that the plot she was about to expose did not concern at all a change in their relationship. Gone, dread and disappointment.

?We should switch to sssrathlisss if we are to discuss dangerous details. An ambassador to the beholders might be able to understand us,? he explained in sssrathlisss. ?What are you planning??

She smiled grimly. Her black eyes transformed into icy pools of blackness; the sight was chilling, even to a drow. ?Not much planning is involved,? she sneered. ?I am leaving in a few minutes, without further plan, to put your highest female ? your mother ? I dare not say her name here ? to put her out of politics. I have a feeling she won?t be reasonable, so I expect trouble. Will you come with me? I am certain her heir would be very grateful to you??

?Such actions are dangerous for a male. The heir?s rewards are not guaranteed.?

?I told you that you had to risk your life and status. I thought you were daring and ambitious; should I change my mind to cowardly and meek??

Gulhrys took a breath, lifting his chin and pulling himself up to his full height.

?I am neither cowardly nor meek!?

?Then act accordingly, male,? she snarled. ?Take me to the highest female.?

The High Wizard took his staff and stormed out of his lab, the darthiir in his step.

***

A few minutes later, Chama exited the Mae?viir tower by the main door, followed by a billowing cloud of dark smoke. She crossed Lith My?athar with heavy feet, heavy heart and grim face. The temple?s doors were still secured and guarded by two of Imloth?s captains. They opened the doors when she came nearer, though, and she strode in.

Nathyrra, no doubt alarmed by the sound of the opening doors, suddenly melted out of the shadows.

?Chama! Where in the Nine Hells have you been??

?Where do you think? Have you spoken with Valen??

The drow nodded, her grim expression indicating that she had indeed guessed where she had gone.

?So? what happened??

?Neither Matron Myrune nor Tebimar will betray us again,? Chama stated. ?You can open up the temple again. Now, if you?ll excuse me??

The Seer suddenly appeared from behind the stairway, where a quick access to Valen?s room was hidden.

?Chama, you are injured!?

?Don?t heal it,? the elf snapped, batting the Seer?s hands away from the bloody gash on her shoulder. ?You shouldn?t have to heal murderers. It?s a wonder the geas won?t keep me from doing that.?

The Seer admonished herself for being so slow at catching Chama?s mood. She put a hand carefully on the other arm of the elf to keep her from storming off.

?Wait, Chamaedaphne. You are not a common murderer.?

The elf let out a strangling sound, and then cleared her throat. ?I certainly hope no such thing as a common murderer exists.?

?I mean that you are not someone who kills out of cruelty. You only do what you must. Would you call Valen a murderer??

?No!?, Chama exclaimed. ?That?s not??

?Yet he has killed many more than you in his life.?

The Seer fought hard to keep her ground faced with Chama?s furious black eyes.

?You don?t know how many I have killed in my life. Don?t dare to think you know my past just because your goddess shows you glimpses of the future when she feels like it.?

At that the Seer had to take a breath to control her anger. The Seer?s anger disturbed Nathyrra; she had never seen her losing her temper before.

?Do not blame my goddess for the failings of her servant, Chamaedaphne. I will not tolerate this blasphemy.? The iron in the Seer?s voice was formidable.

But Chama?s will was no less formidable. ?Fine. I should have said: don?t dare to think you know my past just because your goddess shows you incomplete glimpses of the future at confusing times.?

?I do not like your tone, but there is more important to consider at the moment,? the Seer declared, her voice dripping with poison. Any Matron Mother would have been proud to be able to produce such a voice. Suddenly, though, the formidable Matron Mother that the Seer could have been faded back to the kind-hearted drow that everyone in Lith My?athar followed. ?Something stirs in you when you speak of the geas. What does the geas have to do with you dealing with known traitors who have tried to assassinate Valen and you??

Chama suddenly startled, her anger visibly dissipating, and she blinked, turning away.

?Leave me be,? she said, pulling on her arm.

The Seer tightened her grip slightly. ?Answer me,? she ordered.

Chama?s temper flared again. ?Let go of me!? Her free hand started to glow with yellow flames.

?Answer me,? the Seer repeated sternly, unimpressed.

?It has nothing to do with it! Nothing!?

?At least you are telling the truth now, but why have you spoken of the geas earlier??

?What do you care!?

?I care that you are a mortal and that, as a Seer of Eilistraee, it?s my duty to do what I can for mortals when they suffer!?

?I would not suffer this scorching heat in my right hand if you weren?t clutching at my arm! Now let go of me!?

?Is it the first time someone tries to understand you, Chamaedaphne?,? the Seer exclaimed in alarm. ?Did you have to come as far as the Underdark to meet someone determined to be a match for your temper to help you??

The elf startled violently, and a fireball shot from her right hand, flying through the room to crash upon one of the pillars. It set the tapestries on fire, and shook the whole building down to its foundations.

There were tears on Chama?s face now. ?Let me go,? she pleaded.

?I have not held on for so long to let go now,? the Seer stated, gently placating. ?What is this with the geas??

The silence stretched. The Seer feared someone would crash in to see what was wrong before the elf had emptied her heart out. The fire spread to nearby tapestries, and the Seer thanked her goddess that the temple was constructed in stone and not in wood, like the one in the human city of Waterdeep.

?It has been my perception since the beginning that the geas is some kind of measure that forces me to do good,? Chama finally exposed. ?What it actually does is forcing me to fight on your side, which is a slightly different constraint, but as you see, I confused the two.?

?Chamaedaphne? the geas could not alter you. You are strong and I am sure that, if you were determined, you could fight it. You do not have to be forced by a spell to do good.?

Chama closed her eyes, shook her head and opened her mouth to speak, but the Seer did not let her say a word.

?Please, trust me, Chamaedaphne. I have watched you. Was it the geas when you freed the illithid slaves?? There was no answer. ?When you chose Ferron?s side on the Isle of the Maker?? Still no answer. ?When you spared the priest of Talona on the Isle of the Avariel??

?How do you know about that,? Chama retorted, her tone more one of accusation than one of question.

?I try to learn as much as I can from your adventures, from Imloth, Nathyrra, Valen, or even Deekin. Please, Chamaedaphne? do you not see that Matron Myrune could not be ignored any longer? If she had carried her betrayal through the end, she would have killed both Valen and you; we would have been left without our greatest warrior and without our greatest wizard. She would have turned us over to the Valsharess; we would have lost her guards? support in the conflict, and we would have been forced to fight them as well as the Valsharess? forces. You did what you had to??

Just then, Valen rushed down the stairs, escorted by the guards which had stood by his door. He was sweating and swaying on his feet, but held his flail valiantly.

He looked at the three women; Nathyrra frozen, the Seer worried, and Chama? devastated. He looked from them to the burning tapestries, and then back to Chama; no doubt she was the one who had set everything on fire.

His first reflex was to ask what was going on, but then he thought better of it.

?Is anything wrong??, he asked carefully, his eyes going from one to the other.

?No, Valen, nothing is wrong,? Nathyrra answered calmly. ?As you can see, I didn?t catch up with Chama on her way to House Mae?viir, but she?s back and alive. I?d ask you to help me put out the fire, but I can see from here you?d do better to go back to bed. Sleepyhead.?

Valen snorted in disbelief. If nothing is wrong, I am a devil of the ninth hell of Baator. He did sit in the stairs however, because his head was spinning. Chama and Nathyrra extinguished the fire with spells, and then Chama fled to her room, leaving Nathyrra, Valen and the Seer alone.

Valen finally had an occasion to ask what was on his mind. ?What is going on??

?She feels guilty for having killed Matron Myrune,? Nathyrra explained truthfully. The Seer felt grateful for the young drow?s way of explaining things to Valen honestly, but without betraying Chama?s trust.

Valen?s eyes hardened. ?I see. But a traitor should not be worth that much remorse.?

***

Alone in her room, Chama cried herself to sleep, crying over how anger had almost taken her over again, and crying for five lives she had ended ? the six others, the five remaining guards and Tebimar, had been victims of Gulhrys ? and crying for guilt crushing her, and crying because she had a right to anger when someone tried to assassinate her, and crying because not all was hopeless, because the Seer had said that guilt was the way to redemption, not the chains bearing her down.

She shouldered her guilt and cried. At length pain faded to black and she fell asleep.

***

?Remorse is what separates the mortal from the inhuman, Valen,? the Seer warned.

?I know, and I don?t mean that she should not feel guilt. Just that? some things just need to be done. They are harder to do because they are ugly and give us remorse, but they still must be done. Thinking this way is not being inhuman? at least I hope so? and you can still live with yourself if you accept this.?

The Seer looked at him. His words were wise, and she could see pain in his eyes; he lived in this way, she knew. Doing things that need to be done, bearing the guilt for his actions, but accepting it and not being crushed by remorse.

?Yes, Valen? you are right.?

Nathyrra suddenly came over to where he sat in the stairs, leaving the Seer to take down the burned tapestries from the wall, and hugged him quickly. She surprised him completely, more with her teary-eyed look than with the hug itself.

?Our weapon master is a philosopher,? she said. ?Now get your ass off that step and come help us; we need that extra foot of arm?s length to take down the highest tapestries.?

***

Imloth walked into the Seer?s antechamber confidently; he had a long habit of delivering reports to her here. The day had been busy, both inside the temple and out; he was as eager to tell her of the consequences of House Mae?viir?s change of hands as he was to hear the temple?s perspective on Chama?s actions.

He bowed when he came in, and closed the door. She was sitting in a chair and gestured him to take the other. He was half-way through the room and his sentence, when he noticed how exhausted she looked.

?Mother Seer, I bring you news? By Eilistraee, Mel, you look terrible!?

He let go of his dire mace and hurried to her side, kneeling on the floor in front of her. As always, the torments of the day seemed to lift from her slim shoulders when he spoke her name ? not her given name, ?Seer?, but the shortened version of ?Melosira? that was his sole privilege. She shifted back from a pressed leader to a simple woman, tired and needing to confide in someone, she who was everyone?s confidante and councillor.

?I am tired,? she admitted. ?My Goddess knows, Chamaedaphne is a lot to handle.?

Imloth chuckled. ?I guess we should thank Eilistraee that at least it?s Valen handling her most of the time. Do you wish to tell me what happened to drain you so??

She reached for his hand in an accustomed gesture. He took it and stood up to perch himself on the armrest, an arm draped across the back of her chair to keep his balance. She rested her head back on the backrest.

?She felt guilty for dealing with Matron Myrune. She? is harsh with herself. She carries remorse and tries to be holier than a saint in fear that she will repeat the evils of her past. She does not accept failings of herself, either in battle or in morality. She even considers as failings things that she should not. It? was difficult to convince her that she did right to kill Matron Myrune and Tebimar.?

Imloth sighed. ?I understand that. It is far behind me now, but I still remember the first moments after my conversion to Eilistraee, how I feared to displease her in each of my actions.?

The Seer smiled at the memory. ?Yes, you were so fearful.?

Imloth slowly let go of her hand and started to play lightly with a strand of hair over her ear.

?You should get some rest. I will keep my reports for tomorrow. Suffice it to say for tonight that everything is fine in Lith My?athar.?

She smiled. ?Thank you, Imloth.?

He nodded and stood up from the armchair, ready to leave her to rest, but then she took his hand again.

?Would you stay with me a while, or will someone come looking for you??

?I said I would deliver my report and take some rest. We have a few hours.?

He was already moving to free her hair from the bun at the back of her head. She let him free her hair, and took his hand to guide him to the bedroom. He followed silently, and she helped him out of his armour.

They lay down and Imloth quietly drew her against his chest. She fell against his shoulder contentedly and with relief, and he murmured in her hair, ?Good night, Mel.?

?Sleep well, Imloth.?

And soon she was asleep. Imloth stayed awake a long moment, watching her sleep. It was often like this in those rare moments when they were alone and free of their respective responsibilities. She would collapse, exhausted, sleeping in his arms, and he would hold her and watch her and stay awake to savour and treasure the moment. On some other rare occasions both of them were rested enough that they did not feel like sleeping right away. Still, there were times when they were weeks or even months without a chance to see each other outside of formalities. Some days he was bitter about it; he would have liked to sleep next to her and to wake by her side everyday, and call her by her name when he wished it. But he understood her situation. A Seer of Eilistraee could not govern her people with a male in the equation, especially not if he was the army?s commander. There would be slandering rumours about her acting as a matron mother and taking a favourite consort.

He always had a wry smile at that thought. He acted nothing like her consort or bodyguard, and she acted nothing like a matron mother; maybe it would have been the best example to show to Eilistraee?s followers, but Imloth possessed enough wisdom to understand that the drow of Lith My?athar were not ready yet to accept that their Seer had a lover.

And so this was how things were between them. They did not hide, but they were careful not to look suspicious. Imloth had been serving her for so long that no one ever questioned his presence or his actions. This made it easier not to hide or lie to anyone.

So Imloth stayed awake, holding her gently and hoping that this night would be dreamless for her, that she would taste a bit of the peace she so needed. But eventually he allowed himself to drift off to sleep, because he cherished waking next to her as much as he loved observing her sleep.

He sent a short prayer to his goddess; he humbly asked that Melosira, his beloved, rest well for a night, and he wished Eilistraee?s benevolence upon all the rebels.
"I set on this journey trying to understand why has metal been stereotyped, dismissed, and condemned. My answer is this: if, listening to that music, you don't get that overwhelming rush of power that makes the hair stand at the back of your neck, you may never will. But you know what, it doesn't really matter. Because, judging from the 40 000 people around me, we're doing just fine without ya." :) Cheers! And two horns up for metalheads all around the world!



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