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.?
?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.
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.