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Old 04-26-2012, 04:45 PM
American Soldier United States American Soldier is offline
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Drow

Pinkie Pie doesn't have much to say here, other than welcome! You've just entered Drow, Pinkie Pie's first (almost) completed novel. Pinkie Pie was done with it, but then she went back and said, "❤❤❤❤ that ❤❤❤❤," and kept going.

Quote:
Premise: Drawn together by parallel plots of conspiracy and murder, an Elf, a Drow, and a Mage must put aside their differences to halt the advances of a subterranean group of Elves bent on the annihilation of all life on the surface.
* * *


Quote:
CHAPTER ONE


It was early morning, just after sunrise. A caravan of twelve people traveled along a beaten dirt road running parallel to a thicket of narrow trees. In front, five men and three women dressed in mismatched leather clothing. Some carried stubby iron swords, others carried axes. Two others made up the rear. They were twitchy, their eyes in constant motion.

Between the two groups was a thick wooden cart pulled along by a brown packhorse. A woman was held against it. Except for her head, her body was wrapped in a tight brown fabric, reinforced by seven leather straps that bound her arms and legs together. One gagged her. Three steel iron chains linked to the floor of the cart and wrapped tightly around her body, further restricting her movement.

Her eyes were a bright red, but were bloodshot and lazy, drifting in and out of focus. Her head lolled to one side, bouncing with the cart whenever the wheels crossed a rougher patch of soil. Long pointed ears stretched far past the top of her head, twitching at every noise. She suffered occasional spasms, but never enough to return her to consciousness. The flesh of her body was pure black and her hair white, though it was shaved close enough to her head that it was little more than fuzz.

A driver sat ahead of her, occasionally glancing back at the woman’s body as he managed the reins of the packhorse. Each time he looked to her, his arms shook. He would look ahead, only for his gaze to return moments later. At last, he seemed to gain control of himself, hunching over in his seat as though to be closer to the horse.

One of the men from the front slowed his pace and walked alongside the cart. Unlike the others, he was dressed in a long brown robe that covered his feet. His face and head were completely shaven, though stubble peppered his cheeks.

The driver slowed to a stop.

The man reached a trepid hand over and held the woman’s chin, adjusting it till he was granted a better view of her eyes. Before long, he moved his hand to her mouth, holding it above her lips to gauge her breathing.

“She’s developing a resistance to the sedative,” he said—his voice was uneven. “I’m doubling the next injection.” He undid the two buttons at the collar of his robe and reached inside. From an inner pocket, he retrieved two corked glass vials filled with clear liquid, and a needlepoint syringe. Uncorking both, he dipped the tip of the syringe in each and extracted the contents.

The man paused for a moment to return the vials to the inside of his robe, delaying for a moment as he searched for the loose fabric of his pocket.

After stretching his fingers and examining the point of his syringe, he leaned over the cart and placed his free hand against the woman’s neck. Behind the matte black of her skin, veins were virtually invisible. He located one based only on touch. Wiping the area of dirt, he eased the tip of the syringe into her flesh.

The woman winced, but not enough to sabotage the injection. Her eyes seemed to liven for a moment, twitching into awareness long enough to observe her captor, but she became docile shortly after, letting out a long, uncontrolled breath.

The man withdrew to the front of the caravan, wiping the needle of the syringe with the fabric of his robe before returning it to his inner pocket. Looking to the others: “I can’t estimate how long she’ll remain sedated. Drow physiology is extremely adaptive. The next dose likely won’t have any effect.”

One of the soldiers, a woman, nodded. Her skin was marred without countless nicks and scratches. Her hair was of a dark brown, tied behind her head in a braid. She stood at the head of the group. “Can you brew more?”

“Not without the proper apparatus.”

The woman brought a fist to her head, rested her forehead against it, and sighed. “We can be to Faedland by afternoon.”

The man in the robe looked to the sun. “We may lose control by then.”

The woman shrugged. “Four hours—if we push it.”

“We will still be pushing our luck.” The man glanced over his shoulder at the woman tied to the cart. “If she frees herself, we’ll have little chance of restraining her.”

“Couldn’t you just put her down before then?”

“If she allows me the time. I’ll no doubt be the first one she targets.”

“Dammit.” The woman lifted a hand and signaled for the caravan to continue moving. They did, but she and the robed man remained at the front. “This was a stupid idea.”

“It was.”

“We should have brought more people.”

“I know.”

“Why didn’t we?”

“The money.”

“The dead can’t split rewards.”

The woman curled her lips as she stepped over a small crevice in the dirt road. On their right, the trees grew sparse, giving way to rolling grassland. The horizon seemed never ending as long shadows stretched across its rolling surface. The road itself seemed to go on forever.

The woman leading allowed her eyes to wander, moving to the captured Drow. It was there that her gaze lingered for a while before giving way to a question: “Did she have a name?”

“Do Drow take names? It seemed the only thing she knew was violence.”

“We’ll need a name to execute her by.”

The man smirked. His eyes flashed with loathing. “The people of Drayen called- her as Aritha.”

“‘Aritha’.”

“Now you have a name by which to execute her.”

“You still want samples of her blood?”

“That was one of the terms of my contract. Why do you ask?”

The woman looked again to the Drow, but her gaze was laced with the trappings of sympathy.

The man grabbed her upper arm. “Don’t.”

Behind them, the caravan rolled to a stop. Beside them, the other men watched. They were a messy group. All seemed tired and unwashed. Some kept their hands at the hilts of their weapons.

She jerked away. “Don’t what?”

“Pity her.” He turned and continued onward, forcing the woman to continue alongside him. “They do that to you. You’ll feel sorry for them and decide they’re like children, acting out because they don’t feel loved—but the moment you think you’ve won one over, it will turn around and slit your throat.”

He reduced his pace, once again alongside the woman.

“Who do you think the first victims always are?”

No further words emerging, the woman emitted a contained, “oh.”

He grabbed the woman’s arm. She did not jerk away as quickly as before. “I’m serious. Don’t think of it—don’t. Remember that she killed thirteen of your people before we brought her down.”

He tightened his grip.

“Thirteen. And there would have been more. You did a good thing yesterday—don’t let your doubts convince you otherwise.”

The woman’s chin moved down, as though she intended to nod again, but her face seemed numb. She turned back to the journey at hand and said nothing more.



* * *



They neared Faedland without incident. The Drow’s movements grew more erratic, but it did not appear to have regained consciousness.

Faedland was a walled off community of moderate size. It was protected on all sides by a barrier built from the debarked logs. The point of a chapel teased against the sky, rising above the wall’s protection, but it was the only building to do so. A closed double door wide enough to accommodate for a coach made it impossible to see inside,

Outside the settlement were two guards positioned on either side of the door, both armed in reinforced coats of chainmail with full-helmets masking their faces and leather baldrics strapped to their backs, each housing a claymore sword of identical make. Their surcoats bore the image of the hawk, a symbol of one of the older Human houses.

Some ways from the settlement, one of the guards walked forward, lifted a hand, and said, “Hold.”

From a distance, the soldier spotted the dark flesh of the Drow woman. He stopped in his tracks and moved one hand to the leather hilt of his blade, drawing it several inches from its sheath.

The man in the brown robe stepped forward. “I can—”

“You would bring one of the darklings into our midst?” The soldier’s grip on his blade did not lax.

The female leader of the caravan rummaged through the packhorse’s saddlebags.

“We’ve been granted clearance to bring it within Faedland’s town limits.”

“Not by us.” The soldier eased the sword back into its sheath, but the intensity of his stance did not waver. “You risk a massacre by bringing that thing within fifty miles of here. I’d sooner kill the folks myself than leave them to the—” He gestured to the Drow, but seemed to experience difficulty finding the word he was searching for. “—that thing.”

At last, the female leader returned with a crumpled sheet of parchment, stained in one corner with something green. “There!” She walked up to the soldier, but stopped abruptly. “A signed agreement with your Mayor Geldin to allow us passage into Faedland. We’re to execute her here.”

The soldier uncrumpled the parchment and held it up so it could be read through the slit of his helmet. Even through his helmet, his eyes could be seen skimming the tightly written document. The bottom of the page was marked with a signature and a red wax seal. The soldier’s eyes lingered at that seal. He rubbed an index finger against it, then held the parchment up to the light.

“Hm.” The soldier rolled the parchment up, though he did not do so gently. The force with which he returned it knocked the woman back several steps.

The woman shared a brief glance with the man in the brown robe.

The soldier directed his next words at the woman: “Your name is Lyssa Harman?”

Lyssa puffed out her chest, but the effect could not be observed through her leather armor. “Yeah,” she said.

The soldier’s glower was visible even through his helmet. “Spend your money quickly. When you lose control of that thing, the death toll will be on you—and I’ll see you and your cohorts hanged for the crime.”

“‘When’?” said the man in the brown robe.

“They always break free.”

“This one is sedated.”

A glare from the soldier. At last, he turned from them and returned to his place at the left of the gate. As he went, however, he said under his breath, “They’re always sedated.” He rapped twice on the door. A moment later, the doors groaned and opened inward.

“Move,” the soldier said.

The caravan did so, at last in motion. The moment every member was through, the gates closed behind them, sealed by steel bars and manned by four additional guards, each as armed as those protecting the exterior.

The township itself was off middling. Homes were crammed together as if to conserve space, giving it the claustrophobic feel of a city street, yet only a few seemed poor. Ramshackle structures served to the town’s destitute, but were relegated to a place near the town’s rear, mostly hidden behind town hall. Much of the center was taken up by a marketplace, where merchants peddled goods of the same middling quality as the settlement itself.

The caravan moved through the gathered people. For the size of the market, there were not many. Fewer remained as the Drow passed. None of the fear was displayed overtly, but its presence was obvious. Men and women inched away. The faces of some turned deathly pale, others began to quake where they stood. Only a few of the younger folk seemed oblivious to the danger surrounding the Drow.

Town Hall was an innocuous small building constructed near the rear. The stonework was newer than the rest of the settlement, and seemingly neater. A slanted roof constructed from clay tiles brought it almost beyond the height of the wall, but fell just short. In front, a flat wooden block bearing the faint stain of dried blood. The wood itself was small enough that one would have to kneel to place their head upon it.

A man walked out to meet the group. He was tall, scrawny, and young, but the brown hair on his head was receding. Though his clothes were somewhat more fanciful than those of the peasant populace, they seemed on the brink of slipping from his waist. A thin belt was all that kept his undergarments out of display.

“My friends!” He held his hands out to his side, though the happiness did not spread beyond his lips. “I did not expect you to return.” A woman trailed behind him, maintaining her distance. She as taller, her features long. Her dress was simpler than the rest of the populace, but far cleaner. Her hair was long and brown, falling past her neck and down her back.

One of the caravan’s guards directed the packhorse to stop before the man.

Alyssa nodded to him. “Mayor Archer.”

The mayor lowered his hands. “Alyssa. You were successful?”

“Thirteen of our people died.”

He approached and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I am sorry for their loss. But their sacrifice will allow us to instill confidence in our people.”

He moved to the card, leaning over the side for a better view.

“These Drow will soon find that we are not so easy to kill—not after the execution of one of their own.”

“Mayor Archer,” the man in the brown robe said. “This one has developed a resistance to the sedative I concocted. If we dawdle, she will awaken, and all this will end in slaughter.”

The mayor pulled back. His expression grew darker as his eyes lingered on the Drow. “Of course.” He turned to Alyssa. “Can you move her to the chopping block?”

Alyssa hesitated. For a moment, she stared at the unconscious darling.

“We can,” said the man in the brown robe. “Miss Harman?”

Alyssa’s eyes lingered for several moments before she responded, moving her gaze back to the mayor. “Of course.” She gestured to several the men under her command. They moved to the card and began undoing the binds holding the Drow. Though the spasms continued, the creature did not attempt to free herself.

At last, two lifted the Drow from the cart by her arms and her legs. Beneath the creature’s bindings, her clothing was ragged. Puffy brown trousers and a thin white shirt. Cuts and burns littered its surface, revealing a flesh that itself was far more scarred. Half-healed injuries marred her face. Free of the bindings, her arms and legs hung at her sides, occasionally stiffening, only to fall limp once again.

The Drow blinked.

They forced the creature into a kneeling position on the chopping block, holding it steady as its head was twisted sideways and pressed against the wood of the chopping block. After some prodding, she remained upright on her own.

Mayor Archer knelt before her. “Where is your power now, creature?” He slapped her head, but his expression grew pained as it damaged his hand more than her face. “Make sure everyone sees this,” he said the Alyssa. “If one-hundred voices spread the tale across the land, we will have a weapon not even a darkling can face.”

To one of his own soldiers, he said, “Gather everyone around town hall. I will kill this Drow myself.”

“Mayor Archer.” The words came from the woman who trailed the mayor, the one with the long brown hair.

Archer seemed disenchanted from his anger. He righted himself and turned to the woman. “Ah, forgive me.” He made a sweeping gesture from Alyssa to the other woman. “This is Cassandra Phillias, a representative of the Coalition of Mages. She’s come to observe the execution and document the results for the benefit of her organization.”

Cassandra Phillias bowed.

The mayor glowered at the Drow, his eyes wracked with a simmering rage. To one of his soldiers, he said, “Bring me an axe and signal for the town to gather here. I will execute the ❤❤❤❤❤ myself. Then—they will see that there is nothing to fear from the Drow. They’re mechanisms of death, but they can be stopped by the force of will.”

The addressed soldier uttered a brief, “Yes sir,” before turning and venturing into the narrow confines of town hall. A minute later, the ringing of a large bell sounded from atop the building. All remaining life in the settlement seemed to grind to a halt as attention shifted to the Drow. A crowd formed, growing in size until at the entire town had gathered. The bell then ceased and the soldier whom had been sent away returned with a thick hatchet, its handle smoothed by years of the use. The blade, however, remained sharp.

Before the crowd, Mayor Archer accepted the axe. It contrasted his slight frame, but he still managed to heft it against his shoulder. He surveyed Alyssa and her group, but said nothing else to them. His attention turned then to the crowd, who looked on with a slew of expressions. Some were bored. Anxious. Excited. More than a handful seemed aware of goings on and jeered the sight of the Drow. Besides them, the crowd was silent. When Archer did move to speak, he did not need to spend any time quieting them.

He moved beside the Drow, his eyes flickering several times to its fallen frame. With his free hand, he reached up and scratched the side of his cheek. “There is no crime the Drow have not committed,” he said, “and I have no time for speeches.”

He hefted the axe with both hands, bringing it above his head.

“For everything we’ve lost to these creatures.”

The blade of the axe came down, imbedding itself in the wood of the chopping block.

There was a rising mumble from the crowd.

Alyssa and her group stepped forward, weapons drawn, but hesitated.

Cassandra Phillias disappeared.

The Drow was upright. The blade of the axe was imbedded in wood, bare of any blood. In an instant, she was a powerful figure, the dark black of her fingers wrapped around Mayor Archer’s neck. The expression on his face was horror. As she lifted him from the ground, his face reddened. As the Drow’s grip tightened, his windpipe ruptured.

She tossed him aside as though he were a broken twig.

The crowd scattered. Some ran to their homes, others to the town’s gates, forcing their way past the guards and removing the steel plates holding the doors shut.

Alyssa was the first to move against the Drow, her long-sword in hand. Her stance was trained and her movements were patient, but her heart raced. The screams of many beat against her ears, deafening her. When the Drow did little more than stare her down, she made the first move, swinging the blade from the left.

The Drow moved through the attack as though she were water, delivering a sharp blow to Alyssa’s chest with her fist. The attack peeled through armor and shattered ribs. Alyssa felt her entire chest cave in, followed by a burning in her lungs that forced her to scream. The Drow moved again, shattering her throat with a second blow.

The Drow’s eyes never changed. The whites of her eyes were no longer bloodshot. Her red irises showed like torches. She stole the blade from Alyssa’s lifeless hand before it could slip to the ground. Discarding the body, she swept the sword around, cleaving another man’s head from his body. At once, a splatter of blood and a crack of bone. The head rolled from the shoulder to the ground.

The Drow stepped forward, driving her sword through the stomach of another before he could react. He stumbled back, his hands holding the area where steel had pierced leather armor—then collapsed. Blood leaked from the wound.

The other soldiers broke away, the mixture of chainmail and leather highlighting their escape. They made for the gate, interfacing with the crowd and disappearing through the twin doors. The Drow followed at a casual pace, resting the blade of her sword in her opposite hand. Blood ran from its steel to the black of her flesh, worming across her skin till it reached the bottom of her hand.
Last Edited by American Soldier; 07-14-2012 at 02:36 PM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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Old 05-04-2012, 11:14 AM
Anathema Anathema is a female United States Anathema is offline
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Re: Drow

You're a pretty good writer, but I love the Drizzt series. R.A. Salvatore was an excellent author.
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Old 05-04-2012, 02:29 PM
American Soldier United States American Soldier is offline
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Re: Drow

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Originally Posted by Jasmine's Wrath View Post
You're a pretty good writer, but I love the Drizzt series. R.A. Salvatore was an excellent author.
Pinkie Pie wasn't targeting Salvatore as an author, she was targeting Drizzt as a character.
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Old 05-05-2012, 05:43 PM
American Soldier United States American Soldier is offline
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Re: Drow

This is perhaps Pinkie Pie's least favorite chapter, but she has vowed not to revise until completion.

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CHAPTER TWO


Close to fifty miles east, near the coast of the country of Alveraen, a ship made port. It was a large carrack, finely crafted, but unable to protect against the devastation of age. The edges of its guardrails rotted under improper care. Its four sails, though magnificent and pure white, were filled with holes, some burned at the rims. The ship approached the port city of Maijdrin and docked at an outstretched pier, setting its gangplank up across a smaller vessel.

Seventeen people crossed the plank. They were of varying ages, mostly male. One man brought a child with him—a boy no older than six. All were mangy and unwashed. Ninth person to depart was a woman, shorter in stature. Her form was petite and her face matched it. In the sun, her skin was pale. Pointed ears stretched up to meet the sky. Short brown hair was tied up behind her head in a tight braid.

Across her left shoulder, she hefted a loaded bag that conformed to the feel of her shoulder and clattered with bits of metal. Further along, she paid the dockmaster her due of three imperums and moved into the city, paying little heed to those around her.

Maijdrin was sparsely built. It was crowded with neither people nor buildings. What was erected was stretched out, covering as much ground as possible. Between some houses there stretched almost one hundred feet of unused land. The gap was enough that the green horizon could be seen to the back, though it was nearly two miles away.

The place smelled of youth. Even the stone from which the city was constructed was fresh, still thick with the air of the earth. It was closer to silver than gray and was no closer to aging than the woman with the pointed ears.

She moved towards that horizon and took a drink from the leather canteen strung around her neck.

For all its space, the city managed to be loud. Each noise seemed to stretch across the roads and corridors till it echoed a hundred times in the ear of each inhabitant.

The woman stopped near the edge, reaching a point where the dirt road beneath her gave way to the grassy plains, unmarred by the city.

"As young as ever," said a man who approached from behind. He was older, his hair thinning. When he walked, a slight hump protruded from his back. A chunk of flesh was missing from his left calf. But even so, there was a sparkle in his eyes that could not be hidden behind his still vividly red beard.

The woman turned and dumped her bag to the ground before stretching her arms wide and smiling. "Tucker?"

The man met the embrace and wrapped his arms around the woman. Despite his age, he still managed to lift her from the ground and twirl her about for a moment before releasing her. It left him breathless, but smiling. "It's been awhile, Emile."

Emile laughed and smoothed the bottom of her blue jerkin. "Walk for a bit?"

"Always."

Emile retrieved her bag. They walked together away from Maijdrin, along the grassy plains. It was a short distance along when Tucker said, "How was pirating?"

"Privateering."

He waved a hand as though to dismiss the word. "Bah, it's the same thing. Anyway, how was it?"

"Noisy."

"Just noisy?"

"Nothing I've not seen before." Emile looked up. A silver sun hung in the sky, bathed in a flurry of low-hanging clouds. From the side, her face was sharp and angular. Her lips were dry. "I learned to fire a crossbow."

"You didn't know? Don't all Elves pop from their mothers with bows in hand?"

Emile smiled. "Only some of us. And besides, it's not the same."

They moved along, putting further distances between themselves and Maijdrin. From such a distance, it seemed little more than a children's plaything.

Tucker patted his left breast, though it seemed to indicate nothing. "Where did that ship take you?"

"Oh, Zaedus, Skullport, Fjellhelm—"

"Fjellhelm?"

"Fjellhelm. I'd never seen a dwarf before. They weren't as hairy as I expected."

Tucker stopped, gripping his chest as he elicited a stifled chuckle. "I have something to give you."

Emile stopped. "Already?"

"Unfortunately." Tucker reached into his coat and pulled a tightly rolled bit of parchment, held shut by red string. "You're being called on."

Emile reached for it, but hesitated. "By who?"

Tucker said nothing.

Emile repeated her words, harsher this time, lacking her previous levity. "By who?"
At last, Tucker answered, though by his tone, it pained him to. "King Marthen."

Emile lowered her hand. "Why?"

Tucker offered the parchment a second time.

Emile took it, tore the seal, and absorbed its contents. Her eyes moved across many lines of finely transcribed text, at last coming across the small wax seal at the bottom, preceded by a signature. "I thought we agreed you weren't going to sell my name."

"This was different. This—" Tucker moved away, twisting his hands. He would not look at Emile. "This was an old debt."

"How old?"

"When I was young and handsome enough to turn an Elf's gaze."

"Old."

He turned to her. "What did it say?"

She looked up. "You weren't told?"

"The debt was ours, but the task is yours."

Emile tore the parchment in half, then again. When the pieces were such a size that she could do no more to them, she scattered them across the grass, where the wind caught them and scattered them further. "He wants me to kill a Drow. We're to meet to discuss the details of my payment."

"A Dark Elf?"

Emile winced at the use of the term.

"Why?"

"Why shouldn't I? If I don't, a hundred people will die."

"And if you do, ten more will take its place."

Emile shrugged. "The king seems to think this one is a threat to him."

"That he'll wake up one day and discover it in his bedroom?"

"Something like that." Emile crossed her arms. "But one Drow—why pick out one? They never specify marks. If he keeps out of its way, it'll never touch him." She looked to Tucker. "Does his family have any enemies who might try and manipulate a Dark Elf against him?"

Tucker shrugged. "This is a different generation of Marthen. The old rivals are probably dead or dying."

"Damn." Emile walked on, further from the city.

Tucker followed. "Aren't you forgetting something?"

"No."

"The last time we fought a Drow, you ended up in a medical ward for a year."

"I know, but I'm better now. It'll never know I'm coming."

Tucker grabbed her left arm. She stopped, but would not look at him. "That's what we thought before, too," he said. "I know I'm too old for this now, but I still have my mind. If you throw yourself at this the same way we did, you'll end up dead. I can't be there to drag you away from the battle this time. I have responsibilities here."

She shook him off. "I know."

"Then stop for a moment!"

"I know."

Tucker retreated. The lump on his back seemed more evident, as did his age. "Then stay for a while. It's been years since I hosted a pretty girl."

Emile smiled. It was a nostalgic smile. "I suppose. Just for a bit."

"Also, I kept all your old equipment. I still keep a whetstone, so your blades are still sharp. Can't imagine you'll last long against a Drow if you just run in fists first."

* * *

The Elf armed herself. She strapped a dagger to her right leg, a broadsword to her back, and a bow alongside it. She eased into leather boots, the smell of them still fresh and the fit still tight. Her clothes were cleaned as well, and the stench of travel done away with. The weight of it all was refreshing, as was the dry land beneath her feet.

She stepped out of the bedroom and into the long hall leading into the tenant house's other rooms. Tucker waited for her, but the expression on his face was unreadable. He didn't offer anything beyond a solemn gaze.

"I didn't expect you to become a landlord," she said.

Tucker crossed his arms, but his expression lightened. "I don't like it. Being here makes me feel like some prickly war veteran hounded into buying a tavern."

"But you still do it?"

"It's something, I suppose. Humans only last for so long. We can't travel with Elves our whole lives." He turned and walked away.

"Wait!"

He stopped.

Emile moved towards him. "I'm still staying for a bit—and are you sure you won't come with?"

Tucker laughed. "So eager to have me along again. No, I don't mind being here." At her skeptical gaze: "I'm serious. Maybe it's not where I thought I'd end, but I'm still doing what I used to: helping the less fortunate."

Emile made a show of looking around. "There's no one else here."

"It's been a slow year eight years."

The words turned Emile' head away. She did not meet his gaze. "I needed time to myself."

"I know."

When silence persisted, Emile straightened herself, her sword, and her bow, and tried to move down the hall past Tucker, towards the exit. He caught her around the waist and held her back, but it was not a forceful touch. Emile stopped at the slight gesture, but still did not meet his eyes.

He looked to her as though to speak, but did not.

"The Drow's name is Aritha," she said.

"Drow take names?"

"I suppose."

Tucker retracted his arm, but Emile did not move. She continued to stare ahead, towards a door propped open to allow the spring air inside. At last, he stepped aside. "I hope it's not another eight years before I see you again," he said.

"The Drow is supposed to be close to Faedland," she said, her voice weaker than before. "I won't be gone long."

He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Don't get cocky."

Emile embraced him. He did the same. When they separated, Emile smiled, but said nothing else, continuing instead to the flat wooden door leading back to the city.
Last Edited by American Soldier; 05-31-2012 at 08:19 AM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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Old 05-06-2012, 05:06 AM
American Soldier United States American Soldier is offline
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Re: Drow

Quote:
CHAPTER THREE


The Drow, Aritha, was many miles from Faedland before she stopped. Her pace slowed as night fell around her. In darkness, all but her red eyes became invisible. She moved as a true predator, stalking the road with the human’s sword in hand. Her footfalls were silent. To only the most sensitive of ears would she be detectable.

Hungry, she delved into the grassy wilderness and hunted. It was but a minute later that her prey was in hand—a brown rabbit, its neck snapped. Holding the head in one hand and a rear leg in the other, she tore into its flesh, the body still warm. She ripped apart chunks, chewing and swallowing without a moment’s consideration. She was replenished soon after, discarding the beast half-eaten beast and continuing onward.

Blood clung to her lips and stained Aritha’s teeth. She spared a moment to wipe the crimson away.

The world was silent.

The Drow walked on. She later discarded the ragged shirt she wore, for her chest was slight enough that it made little difference. The spit of the wind cooled her flesh, enunciating the numbness felt beneath the dry blood across her skin. It was the lifeblood both of her, and of others.

There was a glow in the distance—an orange flame peeking out some ways further. Though the darkness was thick, her eyes guided her, eyes that had long ago adapted to such conditions. Moving towards it, she was able to make out four Humans; three male, one female. There were young, but rugged. One of the men tended to the flame, stoking it till the fire grew taller, licking at the shadow. Behind them was a covered wagon and a pack-mule to pull it. The beast was unhooked from the wagon, sleeping a short distance away, and the wagon was held upright by thick blocks of wood.

Aritha moved closer. She talked across the grass, the black of her flesh blending with the darkness of night. Her red eyes were unblinking.

She was upon the woman first. A single blow to the back of the woman’s neck and her spine snapped. It was a silent death. The woman slumped over from her place on the ground, half a scream stuck on her face.

The men did not share a common reaction. The first ran. He did not call to his traveling companions, nor did he spare a moment’s concern for the woman. Another stared, as though he couldn’t comprehend Aritha’s presence or the death of the woman. The one tending the fire screamed and reached for one of the sticks he’d been about to burn. He was the youngest, barely old enough to grow facial hair.

Aritha moved to him first, he lashed out with the stick as though it were a blade, but there was no discipline behind the blow. In an underhanded blow, she crushed his stomach. She felt the organ rupture. Her hands then went to his head, grabbing him by his hair. The man’s hands moved to react, but Aritha brought her knee up, shattering his nose and his jaw. She finished by smashing his windpipe with the side of her hand and tossing his body aside.

The entire exchange lasted only a second.

The second of the men had moved to the fallen woman, trying to pull her away from Aritha. But whenever he tried, his hands began to tremble and his mouth began to quake.

Aritha wrapped a single hand around his neck and lifted him from the ground. He scratched at her flesh, leaving welts where his fingernails moved, but his strength was not enough. With her opposite hand, she broke his nose. At that, he ceased to struggle. She delivered another blow—and another. Aritha continued until his face felt like clay, molding to each of her blows.

She let him slip to the ground. When his head met the dirt, it elicited a crack as a softened bit of his skull split further.

Aritha paused, spending a moment in the glow of the flame.

Behind her, the slightest footstep.

She whirled around, only to be thrown backwards across the flame. The fire licked at her back, but did not burn her flesh.

Aritha was upright immediately, but something pushed her back down and held her against the dirt.

“Hello,” said a woman’s voice. Someone stepped out of the darkness—a woman. Her hair was long and brown—and clean. She was tall and thin, but engulfed in heavy travel wear. Over a white shirt she wore a moderate brown coat, the sides of which draped down to her thighs. Below that, a pair of dark green trousers. On her hands, she sported black cloth gloves. She held one hand out as she approached Aritha, the palm faced downwards.

The woman moved still she stood beside Aritha, who still lay pinned against the ground by some invisible force.

“I apologize for meeting you under these circumstances,” she said, “but I can’t take any chances, especially with someone of your reputation.” She knelt beside the Drow. In her opposite hand, a thick leather band. She placed it next to Aritha’s neck, where it seemed to take on a life of its own. The band slithered around the Drow’s neck, melding itself together at both ends so it wrapped around Aritha’s neck.

Aritha cease fighting against the invisible force.

The woman stepped back. “You may stand.”

The Drow did so, but without urgency, she pushed herself into a standing position. But despite accepting the order, her eyes continued to overflow with hatred. Her face contorted into a scowl, the force of which she directed at her captor.

“My name is Cassandra Phillias,” the woman said. “We met, briefly, though you were feigning unconsciousness at the time.” She moved to the other side of the fire, though her gaze did not deviate from Aritha’s. “I am a representative of the Coalition of Mages. We are not a formal organization as many believe, but rather an association of individuals with a shared interest and common abilities.”

Cassandra Phillias brought the tips of her fingers together before her, at last looking away from Aritha.

“I attended your ‘execution’ to evaluate you. The Coalition has use for someone with your potential.” After a pause: “I also volunteered for the assignment in order to observe you. This is the first time we have taken an interest in the Drow and we are curious to see how much we know about you is true. If you impress, and you desire it, we may see to it that the stigma surrounding your people is done away with.”

The hostility of Aritha’s expression did not fade.

“The collar around your neck ensures that you do not harm me, or anyone else outside of the objectives granted you. It will prevent you from attempting to remove it, inquire for someone else to remove it, or gain any sort of freedom not granted by me.” After a pause: “And it will prevent you from fleeing.”

The Drow said nothing.

“It does not, however, prevent you from speaking.”

The Drow still said nothing.

“Very well.” Cassandra moved to the opposite side of the fire and sat down, crossing her legs and resting her hands in her lap. “Then I will speak.” She made a wide gesture with her hand. “You may sit, if you’d like.”

The Drow did not.

Cassandra lifted her head. The corners of her mouth twitched, as though she was withholding a smile. “Very well. The Coalition would like you to kill someone.” And then, with a wave of the hand: “Not immediately, but should our suspicions prove correct, your target will be the most powerful non-magical in the land.”

She leaned forward.

“Tell me, Aritha: have you ever performed an assassination before?

The Drow said nothing.

“King James Marthen the First is consorting with evils from far below the surface of our world.” Cassandra brought her hands together over her lap. “Sit.”

Though her expression twisted in anger as she did so, Aritha sat.

“He is attempting to stretch his power beyond the throne, move his influence across seas.” Cassandra amended herself: “This is speculation, of course, but we are very rarely wrong about something so significant.”

The Drow glared.

“But that is vague, isn’t it?” Cassandra smiled. “I wish I could offer more, but he has thus far prevented us from gaining access to his secrets. You and I are to gain access to his castle, discover his connections to the underworld. After that, you will be permitted to kill him. Such a task may even prove challenging to you.”

Cassandra pushed herself to her feet.

Her smiled grew uneven, shifting more to one side of her face. “I dislike these formalities,” she said. “You now know as much about the situation as I do. And…” She paused, twisting her hand as though struggling to find some illusive word. “We will be traveling by day. I can do some to alter your… appearance, but we will be relying on the eyes of the Coalition.”

She slipped her hands behind her back.

“Now, I order you to speak.”

“No,” came Aritha’s immediate response. The voice was rough, as though it were being used for the first time.

Cassandra laughed. “Clever,” she said. “That is very clever.” Her expression turned serious. “Very well. You will carry out polite conversation or I will command your heart to stop.”

The Drow attempted to hide it, but her face twitched at the threat. Within their sockets, her eyes seemed to grow more active.

“I do not wish to kill you, but there are others who could accomplish this task. Drow are not so few in number that we cannot quickly locate another. In fact—” A lift of the chin. “How many other Drow have you met, Aritha?”

The Drow stiffened. The response seemed to come reluctantly to her lips. “None.”

“None? Surprising.” She circled back around the fire to Aritha, drawing closer to the Dark Elf. “Then we both have something to learn.” Cassandra drew away, moving into the darkness opposite of the Drow. “We’ll be moving northeast, towards Summer Keep. King Morthen will be away for several weeks, along with a large number of his personal guard. We will use that opportunity to infiltrate the keep and sever his links to the underworld. We will then eliminate his family. At that point, I grant you free reign with anyone connected to the king.”

The Drow said nothing.

Cassandra paced about the fire, her gaze drawn back to the flame. “Have you eaten?”

In the same forced tone: “Yes.”

“And what did you eat?”

“Rabbit.”

“Raw?”

“Yes.”

Cassandra nodded, though she seemed to accept little of the information, her eyes veering off in other directions. “What is Drow society like?”

“I don’t know.”

Cassandra looked to Aritha as though sizing her up. She stepped back into the light and circled around the fire once again. Her arms appeared twitchy. “To amend my previous order: you are to answer all my questions honestly. What is Drow society like?”

But with ease, Aritha said, “I don’t know.”

Cassandra was silent, considering the words. “Truly.”

The Drow was silent. Her glare remained hostile.

“I am sorry for you. It must be difficult not having any world to call your own.” After a glance at Aritha: “Answer my remark in a full sentence.”

“I do not care.”

“For what?”

“Drow.”

“Then—”

“The fourth one ran.”

Cassandra opened her mouth as though to speak, but fell silent. After, she glanced to the bodies of the fallen and lifted an eyebrow. “Pardon?”

For the first time, Aritha moved. She stepped closer to the shadow, turning her gaze to the north. The black skin of her exposed upper-body disappeared into shadow. Even in night, even so far away, Aritha felt his presence. His tracks were deep, though to others they would not be evident. With each step away, the Drow’s hands loosened, at last falling open.

“He must die,” Aritha said.

Cassandra made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “Fine. Kill him and return.”

Aritha moved across with grassy knolls without a sound. Her legs carried her meters at a time, but even at a sprint, her breathing was slow. She stayed low to the ground, leaning forward and minimizing her form. She carried on for nearly a mile, invisible, even beneath the moon.

The man’s form was haggard when Aritha came upon him. He was slowed, panting. At one point he tripped, recovering a moment later. He did not notice as Aritha overtook him. The only indication of her presence was a slight change in the wind as she interrupted its flow.

He stopped again, struggling to catch his breath. In his right hand, a steel knife with a leather-wrapped hilt. His grip was loosened by sweat.

Aritha stopped ahead of him, shoving the heel of her foot into the ground to eliminate her momentum. She threw her hand forward, catching him by the neck. The impact sent his feet ahead of him, dangling in the air. His words were choked from him. When he tried to struggle, she tightened her grip. His movements became panicked and sporadic. He clawed at her flesh like a cornered dog, but caused no damage.

His neck snapped.

Aritha threw him to the side and fell to her knees. Her eyes were wide as almonds, unblinking. She stared forward, saying nothing. It was in that position that she remained for several minutes. Around her, the world stood still.

At last, she rose, and returned to Cassandra Phillias.
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Old 05-07-2012, 11:45 AM
Anathema Anathema is a female United States Anathema is offline
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Re: Drow

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Originally Posted by Pinkie Pie View Post
Pinkie Pie wasn't targeting Salvatore as an author, she was targeting Drizzt as a character.
Well, Drizzt was a so-so character. Kind of an anti-hero, I guess. He wasn't terrible. On a scale of one to Bella Swan on bad heroes, (Bella being the worst), he was a four.
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Old 05-07-2012, 10:27 PM
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Re: Drow

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Originally Posted by Jasmine's Wrath View Post
Well, Drizzt was a so-so character. Kind of an anti-hero, I guess. He wasn't terrible. On a scale of one to Bella Swan on bad heroes, (Bella being the worst), he was a four.
...if you continue to respond here, would you mind providing some thoughts on the story? This continued discussion is best saved for VMs.
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Old 05-08-2012, 09:49 AM
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER FOUR

For several nights, Emile did not sleep. She spent her many moonlit hours writing. She uncrumpled the parchment she brought, uncorked a bottle of ink, dipped in it the tip of a pen, and wrote. Her thoughts were of buccaneers, of days and nights at sea, of others spent among exotic races. She thought of the unfamiliarity, and of the discomfort. But as she came to some revelation she couldn’t fathom, she abandoned the letters, shoving them to the bottom of her bag, beneath her two changes of clothes and a rough brown sleepmat, blanket, and pillow. She moved along the roads alone, sometimes wishing she’d invited Tucker along.

With one hand, she reached up and touched the tip of her right ear. They stretched to the top of her head, stretching through even the long brown hair she tried her best to comb over them. Failing again to do so, Emile blew a strand of hair out of her eyes and hefted her bag a second time. Beneath her clothes, several blisters were developing on her left shoulder.

One traveler commented on her appearance: a young girl atop a horse drawn cart being driven by her father. The girl had leaned over the edge of the cart, messing blonde hair in tow, and pointed to Emile, shouting, “Needle-head!” There was a smile on her face as she looked to her father, who did not acknowledge the nickname.

Emile smiled, waved to the girl, and continued on. She was traveling up hill at the time, moving north across a more twisted section of landscape. The trees grew thicker, less contained in their growth, eventually encompassing the entire area. And though an alternate path split off to provide travel for the less adventurous, Emile continued on. The shade felt easy on her skin, though it was merely spring. The road itself began to grow narrower, but never abandoned her completely.

A thought occurred to Aritha then: she wished it were snowing.

She dismissed it and continued in silence. Close to two hours later, she entered a clearing, where the trees were held back and the grass was cut short. It was home to a collection a buildings, all of which looked to have been constructed from the trees inhabiting the area. Of the half dozen there, Emile picked out the one that interested her: the inn, over the door of which hung a sign labeling it as The Wistful Maiden. The sign itself held a picture of a young girl asleep among the upper branches of a large tree, the sky above her blue.

The inn was two stories tall with a flat roof. Two round holes for windows were carved out on each side, on each floor. The front door was uneven at the edges and blackened, as though something had once tried to burn through it, and given up skin deep.

Emile paused, considered the inn, and entered. One step in and the air seemed to grow thick, smelling of smoke and baked fish. Its inhabitants were four. The keeper, who stood behind the counter and hid behind a bushy mustache working his way through a string of dirtied glass mugs with a wet rag and a bowl of water. A boy, who stiffened up, brought his mug to his lips when Emile entered, and did his best to stare straight ahead. Several stools behind him, a middle-aged woman who craned her neck to see Emile, then tried to mask her doing so.

Behind them, a man paced circles across a red carpet placed in the middle of the room.

The innkeeper looked to Emile, but she found it difficult to drag her eyes from his mustache, even as she approached the counter. Behind the facial hair, it was impossible to tell what expression the man wore. After she dropped her bag to the floor and stretched her shoulder, he said, “Do you know how to use that?”

“Hm?”

He nodded to the sword strapped to her back.

“Oh.” Emile leaned forward on the wooden counter. The slight shift of weight felt like a burden removed from her back. Her muscles cried out in joy. “I do,” she said.

“Good.” The man returned his attention to the mug at hand.

Emile leaned forward, looking over the glasses at his disposal. Her eyes moved to four in particular, more elaborate than the others. Along the sides, the shape of vines running all along the outside of the mug, winding their way up, over the lip, and into the center. Unlike the others, they did not possess a grip by which to hold them.

“Are those Elvish?”

The man followed her gaze. “They are. One of your kind broke a few of mine and handed them over as replacements.” He paused his cleanings, considered his words, and looked back to Emile. “No offense intended.”

Emile lifted a hand to dismiss the statement. “None taken.”

“Now—” He placed his current mug among on a hook inside the counter wall, alongside eight other mugs of similar design. Afterwards, he reached for one of the Elvish mugs, taking greater care with the bits of food wedged within the cracks. “What brings you to our forest?”

“Passing through.” Emile pulled up one of the stools and sat down. Again, her body cried out in relief. She slumped against the counter, though she did not realize it. “But I was hoping to check up on someone. I have a… friend—” She stumbled over the word. “—who settled here some time ago.”

The man with the mustache slowed his cleaning of the glass to a crawl. “What’s the name?”

“Kathryn Melok.”

“It’s familiar. When did she settle here?”

“Thirty years ago.”

The innkeeper paused. “…that’s a ways back. How old would she be now?”

Emile leaned back on the stool and pondered the answer for a moment. “One-hundred and… nine, I think.”

“One-hundred-and-nine? Most of us Humans don’t live to be seventy.”

“She was strong.”

He chuckled, but it lacked malice. “A lot of strong women, but I don’t think your friend is here. Most of the residents are regulars, and I know those who aren’t. If she was here, she left before my time.”

“Do you know where I could find her?”

“Not here.”

Emile bit her lower lip and brought a hand up to massage her forehead. “Dammit,” she said.

“Old friend?”

“Yeah.” Emile let a hand fall open on the counter, the palm facing the ceiling. “Do you carry milk?”

The innkeeper nodded. “We do. A glass?”

“Please.”

The innkeeper disappeared into the back room, returning a moment later with a bubbling glass of smoky white liquid. He had chosen the Elvish glass, and watched Emile as she accepted the mug, as though expecting some extra reaction.

Emile hesitated before lifting the glass. Beneath her fingers, the object seemed foreign.

“Now, why are you here?” He extended an open hand out. “Two qens, by the way.”

Emile reached into her pocket, sorted the silver coins from the bronze, and handed the innkeeper two bits of the lesser brown currency. “Thanks,” she said.

“That’s why I’m here.” He went back to cleaning mugs, but kept her within the corner of his gaze.

After a breath, Emile said, “I owe someone.”

The innkeeper scoffed, shaking his bushy mustache, but said nothing.

Emile took that as a sign to continue. “I’ve been away for a long time, so his son called upon me. I’ve been hired to protect him.”

While rubbing a freshly wetted cloth across the rim of the final glass mug, the innkeeper offered an unassuming nod, inattentive eyes, and eager ears.

Emile leaned back, swallowed half her glass of milk, and sighed. She waited several moments before continuing, moments she spent checking the shape of her hair over the points of her ears. “Are they obvious?”

“Yes. But even if they weren’t, you’re far too pointy for a human.”

Emile scowled, but went on. “So I’ve been drafted to kill a Drow.”

At that, the innkeeper stopped. The humor fled from his face, as did the jovial nature of his mustache. “A Drow?”

“Yeah.”

“Is he trying to kill you?”

Emile shrugged. “He’s looking for someone who can tangle with one on its own terms.”

“And you can?”

Again, Emile shrugged. “I fought one to a stalemate before.”

The innkeeper’s expression did not change. “You’ll die.”

Emile did not respond immediately to the remark. She paused, swallowed the rest of her milk, and pushed the mug towards the innkeeper. “It’s a debt I have to fill. If I die by a Drow, then I’ll die by Drow. No since in worrying over something that can’t be changed.”

“A pessimistic view.”

“A realistic view.”

By then, all other patrons were silent, observing the exchange.

Emile’s eyes flickered about the others. Their silence perturbed her more than their indifference. Even the man who paced ceased his continuous movement, stopping mid-stride, one foot placed unevenly before him. His eyes blinked more than the others, yet his stare seemed more difficult to bear.

Emile stood, pushing her stool back with the heel of her right foot.

The innkeeper knelt down, reaching into the cupboard stash below his counter. “Hold on—you don’t run off. You’ll need something stronger if you want to fight a Drow.” He slapped a small leather contained against the counter, barely as large as the palm of his hand. “Old stuff. Year ‘a 349. It’s been sitting in different cellars for almost seventy years.”

Emile stared at the leather flask, somehow both enthralled and bored.

“Someone told me it’s Dwarven, but I don’t believe that nonsense about Dwarven ale.”

“Most of it is true.” Following a great deal of hesitation, Emile took the body, flipped open the clasp at the top, and smelled the contents. The stench was near enough to part her nose from her face. She plugged it immediately and again considered the bottle. For many moments, it seemed to control her gaze.

“On the house,” the innkeeper said. “No more than a sixth of the thing at a time, otherwise you’re likely to lose more than your mind for a few hours—and don’t drink it more than once every two days.”

Emile offered him the flask back. “Alcohol won’t help me against Drow.”

“No, but it’ll help the pain of every bone in your body being broken within a second, right before the thing rips open your stomach and feeds on you.”

The hand holding the flask stiffened. Emile’s expression grew tense and her eyes unfocused. She drew the bottle back and held it close to her breast, staring at the counter as she did so. “I appreciate the gesture,” she said, though her voice lacked conviction.

Still holding the final glass mug, the innkeeper replaced it on a wooden hook alongside the others, allowing the moisture to eke out of the bottom. “Then don’t die. Good ale shouldn’t be wasted, especially Dwarven stuff.”

Emile hefted her bag over her shoulder and turned to leave.

“If I hear from your friend, I’ll send word. Is there someplace I’ll be able to contact you?”

Emile bowed her head. “In Maijdrin, there’s a poorhouse run by a man names Tucker. Leave all messages with him. He’ll see that I receive them.”

The innkeeper nodded. “I’ll make sure to.”

Emile nodded again and left, returning to the dirt path and traveling further into the forest. She exited the clearing a moment later, returning to the narrow corridor of trees where sun was a rare commodity.
Last Edited by American Soldier; 05-31-2012 at 07:48 AM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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Old 05-10-2012, 12:20 PM
Anathema Anathema is a female United States Anathema is offline
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Re: Drow

I think you're developing the story nicely. Emile seems like an interesting character.
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Old 05-13-2012, 12:10 AM
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER FIVE


Cassandra brought the Drow many miles before sunrise. Their pace was rapid and constant, but Aritha’s body seemed to crave more. Harsher circumstances. A more dangerous pace. Violence. The more nothing occurred, the faster the Drow’s heartbeat. Each thump reverberated through the collar, echoing in Cassandra’s thoughts. Initially, the noise served to disrupt her thoughts, but overcame it, relegating it to the back of her mind. Though she no longer heard the Drow’s heart, she felt it.

Their travel ceased two miles from civilization. That place near which they stopped, Ikidrein, was a town of some significance. Its proximity to the center of the kingdom transformed it into a courier’s office. Inns and stores typical of the world were still prevalent, but none were as powerful as Ikidrein’s trade of information. Courier hawks littered the sky, creating a sea of moving shadows across an otherwise clear town. Sunrise served only to stretch those dark forms till they formed pillars of shadow.

The town itself stretched out in all directions, branching from a single central point where a large stone fountain could be found. Leading up to that fountain from four directions were stonework paths, each stone of which was inscribed with a name, date of birth, and date of death. Around those paths, buildings constructed of the same material. No house seemed to stand as high as the hawks’ housing, however, and no bird of prey ever experienced trouble navigating the rooftops.

It was only through great resistance to pain that the town of Ikidrein was not alerted to Aritha’s existence. Even miles away, still hidden among the grassy knolls, the pain welled up throughout her body. Cassandra’s link to it through the collar was enough to compromise the situation, but she endured. She pressed the tips of her fingers against Aritha’s head and willed the Drow’s flesh to change.

Cassandra’s hands trembled as she did so. Beneath her, knees came close to buckling.

Yet somehow, the Drow appeared unaffected by the pain. Her expression never wavered. No hint of pain marred her features, even as Cassandra’s power infected the Aritha’s form. Patches of the Drow’s skin began to change, growing lighter in complexion till they resembled Cassandra’s mild coloration. The change spread, eventually encompassing the rest of Aritha’s form. Her hair, meanwhile, had grown to a darker brown. Only the red of her eyes remained unchanged.

Cassandra drew back, winded. Her body trembled and her mind buzzed with a pain the Drow seemed capable of brushing away without a thought. “You are to maintain this change to your form,” Cassandra said after regaining both her breath and her composure. Righting herself, she slipped her hands behind her back and suppressed what pain nagged at the edges of her thoughts.

The Drow’s eyes grew bloodshot. Through gritted teeth: “Yes.”

Cassandra closed her eyes against the oncoming sunrise, granting them reprieve from exhaustion. When she opened them again, a white-bellied hawk soared into her field of vision, a roll of parchment tied to its right leg. It descended towards the pair, eventually landing on Cassandra’s outstretched arm. She did not react to the talons digging into her skin for grip.

Almost as an afterthought, she drew a shirt from her pack and motioned for Aritha to don it. The material was a faded brown and the size was far too wide for the Drow’s frame, but it hid the build of her body.

With her free hand, she undid the loose not and removed the parchment before lifting her arm in the air and tossing the hawk away. Whatever its destination, it returned without hesitation.

Perusing the scroll’s contents, Cassandra said, “We’re on schedule. One of the Coalition’s number will be updating us as to King Marthen’s location.”

The stony manner of Aritha’s expression had reduced itself somewhat, but her only response to the information was a stiff nod. She did not look at Cassandra. “Why?”

“Why what?”

Aritha did not answer. She moved several steps ahead, moving her bare feet through waves of grass. When Cassandra was no longer within her field of view, she stopped, but said nothing more.

Cassandra stared after the Drow for a moment, but dismissed the question and moved on. Ikidrein protruded over the horizon close to a mile away. As she moved towards it, the Drow followed. Having abandoned the formal road, a protective wall of stone barred the city from immediate access, they moved alongside it, hugging the wall until they met the road leading inside, a road that turned to stone the moment it passed into the city.

The gate was barred by an iron portcullis and a single guard stationed within the walls, away from potential threats. He did not notice the two as they approached, for he was too occupied with a small brown book in his hand, which he read with one hand while using his other to lean against the inner gateway through which the portcullis led. Occasionally, he shifted his way to turn the page.

Cassandra lifted her chin and waited.

At last, he noticed them, flipping his book shut without marking the page, and slipping it into his armpit, a position that made his crossing his arms somewhat more difficult. The guard sized them up for a moment, his eyes illuminated by the morning light through the slit in his full helm. “State your business.”

Cassandra produced a folded slip of parchment with a wax seal on the back. “We are members of the Coalition of Mages. We need one of your hawks to communicate with another member of our group.”

The guard considered her again. Against his waist, a sword mounted on a baldric that hung across his rear. “You don’t use your own channels—magical ones?”

“We do not have any ‘magical’ channels through which we communicate.”

He stared, considered, and finalized. With his free hand, he wrapped against the inner wall and said, “It’s fine. Open the gate.”

Some seconds later, gears cranked, sending the portcullis into a slow upward climb. Before the gate was completely open, Cassandra slipped beneath, followed by Aritha. The mage passed by the guard without a word, not meeting his narrowed gaze, but Aritha’s eyes flickered to the corner of her vision and offered him a look of contempt.

They continued along, following the straight road to the city center, where the great stone fountain rested, as did the center of the business district. The further along they moved, the whiter the architecture grew, progressing to a point where the stone appeared to be marble, smoothed to a pristine sheen. When the distance between the pair seemed to grow, Cassandra gestured to Aritha and said, “Faster.”

Aritha complied, but her increase in pace was minor.

Cassandra stopped and turned to her. “You will respond to my commands in the manner in which I interpret them.”

Aritha glared. Even behind a more Elvish appearance, her eyes were bright red.

“The more you attempt to turn this into a game, the fewer freedoms you will have.” Cassandra continued onwards, dodging a young boy who made little effort to avoid her before disappearing around a corner closer to the gate. “The proposition I made in the beginning still stands: the Coalition is powerful enough to see to it that the Drow peacefully are integrated into the rest of society—but you must provide reason.”

The Drow walked alongside Cassandra, but stared ahead and said nothing.

“Do you understand?”

Following a pause: “Yes.”

“Will you comply?”

“No.”

The edges of Cassandra’s mouth twinged, but she said nothing more. They approached the fountain, where three people rested on its edge amongst a crowded market square. Cassandra joined them, sitting down and leaning back until she was in danger of tipping into the fountain.

She looked to Aritha. “Sit.”

The Drow did so, taking a seat on her right.

Almost immediately after doing so, someone at to Cassandra’s left; a young boy, no more than seventeen. His black hair was messy, but clean, splaying all across his head. His face was boyish, but the innocence was betrayed by deeper gray eyes. The rest of his form was thin, almost sickly, yet taut. Arrogance manifested in the way he sat beside Cassandra.

Cassandra smiled, but it was forced “Michael?”

“Cass,” he said, smiling and placing a hand on her shoulder. “I should have known you’d volunteer for the Dark Elf.”

At both instances of slang, Cassandra twitched. Her eyes grew narrow. Despite the conversation, she did not look at the boy. “And it continues to surprise me that you survived puberty.”

The boy grinned. “Well, when you can do this—” He lifted a palm. Flame sparked up along his skin, tracing a path across each of his fingers. “—it eliminates most of the competition.”

“I do hope you intend to complete your job.”

“As ❤❤❤❤❤y as ever, eh Cass?”

Cassandra said nothing.

The boy, Michael, relented. His expression turned serious and he sighed, resting his hands on his knees. “Fine. The—” He paused. The area surrounding the fountain was busy, filled with people both Human and Elvish, but not so large that a conversation could be kept secret, even as stores opened and the sea of the market began to flow. “How do you feel about your pet listening?” he said instead.

“The collar’s control can’t be broken. No matter what she hears, it does not matter.”

He grinned again.

“Yeah, you and your—”

“Move on.”

The grin fell. “Morthen is no longer at Summers Keep.”

“Then where is he now?”

“We don’t know.”

“…you’re part of the group assigned to monitor him, I suppose?”

“One of seven. Our wards were impossible to avoid. Someone must have helped him slip through.”

For the first time, Cassandra allowed her gaze to move to Michael. It was not so hostile as before, allowing instead for a touch of curiosity to move in. “And you’ve no idea where he is presently?”

“We’ll find him—”

“You don’t know.”

“No.”

“Then you will find him and I will bring Aritha to Summers Keep.”

Michael leaned backwards for a better view of the Drow. “You named it?”

“She took the name before I met her.”

Michael stood and turned to face them. For a moment, his eyes lingered on Aritha. His gaze was not kind. “Right. Just keep a collar on your ❤❤❤❤❤. Reservations have been made in your name for inns here, in Augusta, and along the road near Summers Keep.” Michael shifted his weight onto his heels. “The Castoff Sailor, The Moon’s Maiden, and The Blue Stag. The Coalition will keep you informed of all developments. They said to expect specifics near Augusta.”

Aritha stood, ascending several inches above Michael. Her hands were twisted into fists. She breathed down the boy’s face, never blinking.

He stumbled back as she did, but attempted to hide it and twirl about before regaining his composure. “Keep the leash on her,” he said.

“I do,” Cassandra said, standing up beside Aritha, “but I don’t mind her scaring the children.”

He turned to walk away, but stopped, glancing one last time over his shoulder. “Also, word of warning: Morthen has a tool. Watch for signs up an ambush.” At that, however, he did vanish into the crowd.

Cassandra cast a sideways glance at Aritha. The Drow’s expression was one of impenetrable neutrality. After many moments’ consideration, Cassandra moved along, passing around the fountain and moving deeper into the city. “Come,” she said to Aritha almost as an afterthought. “Knowing him, he’ll likely have booked rooms at a whorehouse.”

Aritha said nothing. She followed, her eyes moving between the city’s many inhabitants. The beat of her heart accelerated till it was a constant ringing in Cassandra’s mind. She glanced once at the fair skin of her body, then back to Cassandra.

Aritha stopped.

Across the crowd, she caught a glimpse to black skin. It was momentary, like a flash of light, but the image was powerful enough that it lingered.

“Aritha,” Cassandra said, but the words seemed to ring on deaf ears, for Aritha continued to stare on. Her gaze was a stew of shock and anger, as though she seemed unsure which to wear.

Then Cassandra stepped in front of the Drow, interrupting her gaze.

“What is it?” the mage said.

“A Drow.”

At that, Cassandra twisted around and followed Aritha’s gaze, but found nothing. “A Drow? Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Would your people try to rescue you?”

Aritha opened her mouth as if to speak, but her jaw hung open, the words halfway out of her throat. “No.”

Cassandra considered it. She looked to the ground, stared for several moments, then shifted her gaze to the leather collar around Aritha’s neck. The look in her eyes was quizzical, touches of fear moving about its edges. “Drow have never been known to appear peacefully,” she said. “That… can’t have changed now.”

Aritha said nothing. She continued to stare at that spot where the flash of black flesh had appeared.

“We are still on a schedule,” Cassandra said. She began to move through the crowd, leaving Aritha several steps behind. “We can cover half the distance to Augusta by nightfall.”

Compelled by the collar, Aritha followed, pushing her way through the ocean of humans surrounding her as though she were moving through water. They impeded her progress, but never for long.
Last Edited by American Soldier; 05-13-2012 at 12:11 AM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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Old 05-31-2012, 07:55 AM
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER SIX

Emile was in the town of Augusta by mid-afternoon, though the term “town” was an accurate assessment of its size. Though it had been classified as such, it consisted of little more than a single hut, pushed some ways away and connected to the main road by a winding path, and two taverns resting on opposites sides of the road, both of which seemed to be competing for customers. They were both large in size, though the one on the left seemed newer, as its materials more vivid in color and its roof better maintained.

On the left, The Moon’s Maiden, announced by the sign hanging above its entrance depicting the moon with the image of half a woman’s face painted onto the right side, its expression solemn. In the wind, the sign was lifted to a point where Emile was forced to walk beneath it for a clear look at the sign. On the opposite side of the road, The Cracked Mug, a name that seemed to imply more about the tavern’s condition than it did the quality of service. It did not carry a sign, only a name burned black into the wood above its doorway.

A group of four men pushed past Emile as they exited The Moon’s Maiden, only one of whom paid her any heed. The one who did stopped when he caught sight of her ears, which continue to poke through Emile’s hair, despite her best efforts. “You’re—” At that point, he seemed to lose interest, choosing instead to run after his friends, who had long since moved to through the open door of The Cracked Mug.

Emile took a moment to test the weight of her coin-pouch before stepping through the door and into the musty air of The Moon’s Maiden, into a room that smelled of fried food and alcohol. Though several open windows illuminated the room and provided circulation, it somehow remained smoky, congested by scents and people alike. The area around the counter was crowded, the rest of the room less so. People flocked to the beer. Emile, meanwhile, stood at the edge and watched.

A hand grabbed her shoulder. Its grip was not kind.

Emile twisted, wrenched herself out of the arm’s grip, and twisted its owner into a chokehold. Some of the patrons stopped to watch the exchange, but none for more than a few seconds.

The man behind the provocation was smaller than Emile expected. The manner in which he dressed was artificial—a long black cloak designed as if to cover as much of his body as possible. Against the crowd, he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A hood in particular covered most of his features, leaving room only for pale cheeks and a sharp chin.

“Yes?” Emile said, her grip still tight. She allowed the man enough breathing room to respond.

After a gasp: “Emile, I am—” His eyes moved about the room. He then said in a softer tone of voice, “Marthen.”

Emile tensed, considered it, and released the man.

Marthen massaged his upper chest. “Thank you.”

Emile was silent. She crossed her arms and offered nothing more than a glare.

“If I were my father, you would hang for that.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

Fair—” He twisted his jaw around. “Enough. He thought highly enough of you, even if he never had the opportunity to acknowledge it.”

“How old are you?”

The man smirked. “An Elf asking how old I am, that’s very… Nineteen.”

The king twisted around, moving his eyes across the tavern’s many inhabitants. He struggled to avoid bumping shoulders with them. “May we speak further outside?” he said.

“A crowd ensures no one will overhear us.”

“Right. I’ll try and be brief. It was father’s will that I not come into all my rights until the age of twenty-one, so my regent holds much of the power until then.” At this, the young king seemed particularly bitter, for his expression darkened before he continued. “My name is James, as well.” He held out a hand to Emile.

She did not take it.

“Right,” he said, and withdrew the offer.

“You summoned me.”

“Yes, the summoning.” There was an air about the boy, but not one that could be described as true anxiety. James rubbed his hands together, as though seeking warmth. “Someone is going to attempt to assassinate me.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then why suspect?”

“Because—” He lifted a hand, attempting to stretch the point. Someone bumped into him as he did, splashing a clear substance across his shoulder. After taking a moment to wipe it away as best he could, James said, “Because I may have provoked very powerful people. Magical powerful people.”

Emile moved her hands from her chest to her waist. “Mages?”

“Yes. The Coalition. Of Mages.”

Emile turned and paced. “What do you expect me to do against mages?”

“Kill them.”

“Your letter told me I needed to deal with a Drow.”

“There’s a Drow, too.”

Emile stared at the boy, her expression torn between anger and pity. “I don’t fight mages,” she said.

At this, the boy’s expression hardened. “If you don’t, I’ll die.”

Emile shrugged.

“The world hasn’t forgotten what you used to be!” James said, jabbing a finger into Emile’s chest. Her hand twitched in response, nearly jumping upward to break his, but hesitated. “I can bring Hell down on you if you don’t help me.”

“And why not your own soldiers? The crown is not wanting for an army.”

James pulled back and turned away from Emile. “I cannot let this reach the regent. If he finds out what—” He stopped, biting his lip. “This must stay between us. No one connected to the royal family must know. Kill whatever agents the Coalition sends and never repeat what I’ve told you.”

“What did you do, Your Highness?”

“Nothing.” The answer was too quick and the boy’s eyes swiveled about as he uttered them.

For a moment, Emile said nothing. She looked to crowd behind James, none of whom were paying two misfits any mind. She tested the leather of her belt for strength before moving to her coin pouch, which she massaged with a certain level of fondness. “If I do this for you, I want all legal copies of my warrant. The law has never touched me.”

“Done.”

“And I want a fee.”

At that, James’ eyes widened, an action at which Emile almost laughed. “A fee? You ask—”

“I’m not doing this for you, James. I didn’t like your father. He was never my king, no matter what he might have done for anyone else.” With a wave of her hand: “And it’s not for me. A friend of mine set up a poorhouse in Maijdrin. Once I see this through, I expect that poorhouse to be treating the poor like kings.”

James looked at the floor. From beneath his hood, a mat of brown hair poked out. “Done,” he said through gritted teeth.

Emile patted her chest. “Don’t forget that I have your signature on an order calling for the unjust execution of innocent. That would be enough to irritate your rule for a couple of months. Maybe even enough to show the people that a teenager isn’t fit to rule.”

The young king was silent.

“Now—” As Emile spoke, she seemed to calm herself. Her shoulders relaxed, her expression eased. “What did you do?”

James lifted his head. He studied her for several moments. “Nothing.”

“That isn’t true.”

“I’m paying you,” he said.

“I don’t care. What did you do? You’ve angered the Coalition enough to make them send an agent after you—and a Drow.” Emile paced about, gesturing with her hands as she worked through the point. “What do you expect to happen if I kill their agent? They’ll just send another. What if they decide to send more than one?”

She lifted a finger as something dawned on her.

“What if they already have?” she said.

“I don’t know!” James brought a hand up against his forehead, his eyes twisted shut. “I just need to stall!”

“Stall for what?”

“Nothing!” His breathing was rapid, his eyes wide with a mixture of rage and fear. He brought a hand to his chest, held tight to it for a moment, then let it fall back to his side as his breathing returned to normal. “If you don’t obey, I’ll have your past revealed to the whole world. There will be nowhere for you to go. Even if you kill me, I’ve planned accordingly. Everything will happen without me.” After a twitch of regret across his face: “Even the regent will operate without me. They’ll find a new king.”

“Then why should I help you?”

His gaze grew solemn. James looked to her with a different expression in his eyes. “Because that king won’t be as empathetic as me.”

A moment of silence.

“Okay,” Emile said. She followed the word with a shrug, turning away from James.

He opened his mouth, his eyes wide. “You’re—”

“I’m helping you. But if I kill an agent of the Coalition, what’s to stop them from sending more?”

“I can keep them from sending more.”

Emile looked to him from over her shoulder. “You can? How?”

“I’m the king.”

When he said nothing else, Emile turned again to face the tavern exit, where sunlight continued to stream in through a door propped open by a stone doorstop. Through that light, the dust floating through the air seemed thicker than butter. With a twitch of her hand, Emile gestured for them to move their conversation outside. She exited first, James in tow. They began a slow trek up the dirt road, moving outside the village. Around them, a grassy clearing stretching on for miles.

As they did, James tugged at the hood of his cloak, pulling it further over his eyes.

Some distance further, Emile said, “You’re trying too hard.”

Though he walked alongside her, James did his best not to make eye contact with Emile. In response to her statement, he offered only an inquisitorial grunt.

“You’re trying too hard,” she said again. “The cloak. The stealth. If you’re looking to avoid attention, act like part of the crowd. You’ll look less like a king in hiding.”

At this, James stopped for a moment, his eyes wide, before pushing the hood of his cloak back around his neck. “Where is the Coalition agent?”

James hesitated, his mouth dangling half open. “Nearing Summers Keep.”

“The Highland Castle?”

A nod.

“Why?”

“…I can’t say.”

“Why?”

“Be—” He shook his head. “I can’t.”

Emile stopped and stretched her arms behind her back, staring into the white of the moon. A long pause passed between James and Emile, a pause during which he seemed afraid to look at her. “One more condition.”

The young king said nothing.

“I’m looking for someone—an old friend: Kathryn… Melok.”

“I’ll… see what I can find out.”

Emile continued walking along the road, though James stopped somewhere behind her. She paused, crossed her arms over her chest, and followed the dirt path with her eyes, doing so until it became too faint to make out. Emile noted two people traveling along: a Human woman and an Elf with brown hair shaved less than an inch from her head.

The Elf smelled odd. Red eyes.

Emile’s gaze followed her for a moment, but the interest was passing. James took no notice, fidgeting as the silence persisted. “I wonder,” Emile said, though she said it long after the duo of woman and Elf had entered The Moon’s Maiden. She pondered the sight for a moment, but ultimately dismissed it.

James spoke. “Will that be all?”

Emile was attentive once again. “Yeah.”

Red eyes. An interest in those eyes festered within her thoughts.

James adjusted his black cloak, bringing the hood up to again cover much of his face. “I’ll leave to your task.”

Emile’s nod was slight.

Red eyes.

Though there was little reason to stay, Emile turned around and moved towards The Blue Maiden. James stared after her, as though unsure whether his task was done. Following several moments’ consideration, he moved down the road, away from Augusta.




Seven

Cassandra could find no place to sit, so she stood. Atop a hardwood floor, surrounded on all sides by the bustle of people, she realized how strained her legs felt, how much they ached at the simplest of movements. The Moon’s Maiden granted her some reprieve. It was there that she purchased a package of dried meats and a larger container for water.

Aritha reacted to the crowd only through the connection granted to Cassandra by the collar. Her heart raced. The activity of her senses accelerated. She absorbed scents, sights, and sounds. Though such things did not affect the thoughts of the Drow, they clamored inside the mind of Cassandra, who brought a hand to her head to stable herself against the influx.

“Do Drow eat?” Cassandra said at one point, retreating along the stairs leading to the second floor of the tavern.

“Yes,” came Aritha’s immediate response. It held no more emotion than before.

“What do they eat?”

“Everything else.”

Cassandra’s brow furrowed. Her feet were caught halfway between ascending the stairs and returning to the main floor. One woman dressed with an emphasis on her bosom pushed past, casting a gaze of halfhearted interest at Aritha, who responded with a blank stare.

Cassandra rested her weight against the wall, a more shabbily built portion of the staircase that felt cold to the touch. “What does that mean?”

“We do care.”

Cassandra stiffened, looked to the floor, then back to Aritha.

The Drow was rigid in her stance. She kept her hands at her sides, but bent them as though prepared for a confrontation. Her legs were split just enough to provide proper stance in combat—or enough leeway to ready one. Whenever Cassandra spoke, Aritha’s gaze seemed to grow lax. Her arms loosened. The strength of her legs faded.

“Why are you the way you are?” Cassandra said.

Again, the Drow did not answer immediately. She stared ahead, across the heads of those lined up at the counter, making demands of the woman tending it. “I don’t know.”

A nod from Cassandra. She crossed her arms, seemingly accepting of the answer.

Aritha’s eyes moved to the young woman who had pushed past Cassandra a moment ago: a young, loving creature, carrying a head of flowing blonde hair and an ample chest, topped with a girlish face that seemed to defy age.

“Have you ever met another of your kind?” It occurred to Cassandra then how conspicuous their dialogue was. Even the crowd provided only moderate cover for one attempting to maintain a low profile.

“Yes.”

“When?”

“I do not remember.”

Aritha’s eyes continued to follow the girl’s movements, who crossed the room to the tavern counter and shared several hushed words with the barkeeper before taking up a wooden tray carrying half a dozen wooden mugs filled to the rim with a golden frothy substance. The girl moved about, handing the mugs to customers specified by the tender.

Cassandra sighed, though it was inaudible against the din of the crowd. After bringing a hand to her forehead, she said, “What are you looking at?”

“The girl—there.”

Despite the lack of specificity, Cassandra located what she assumed was the Drow’s subject—the blonde. A girl—or woman—at least ten years her junior, young and beautiful. She seemed little more than a teenager, still fresh from the trappings of childhood. “Why her?”

Aritha was silent.

“Why her?”

The Drow hesitated. Her shoulders lifted, at last shrugging. The expression on Aritha’s face, however, remained intent. Her eyes wandered from the face of the girl only when another curiosity entered her field of view: the Elf who had noticed her scent. She moved through the crowd, never moving her head, yet always watching the people around her. Each moment, the Elf seemed keen to pull a weapon from her back, an arsenal of knives and bows.

Cassandra did not notice the shift in Aritha’s attention. She continued looking to the girl serving drinks, who twisted about the crowded common room of the tavern with surprising grace, hoisting in one each hand a different drink, both filled to the point of overflow. One, she placed in the hands of a wearier looking woman, whose face seemed taut with age and rough as leather.

The second drink was brought to a young man on the fringes of adulthood, no older than twenty-five. He sat at one of the few tables available, speaking with a group of men his own age, their innocence showing through their faces. When the girl arrived with his drink, his eyes lingered near her legs, uncovered and pale in comparison to the fair flesh of her face.

It was at that moment that Aritha’s gaze moved back to the girl.

The man said something to those he sat with and reached out for the girl’s legs. She jumped back, bumping into a female customer standing only a few feet behind her. The contact was not enough to elicit a reaction in the hectic environment—but the girl’s face grew tense. She bit her lower lip and did her best to move away from the men.

“Some men will swipe at anything that moves,” Cassandra said. She took several steps down the stairs, stepping aside to allow an older man to trudge up to one of the seven rooms, but did not move back into the crowd.

“Yes,” said Aritha, though she did not provide further context for the statement.

The young waitress moved to the counter and said something to the female barkeeper, who dismissed it with a callous wave of the hand and pushed another pair of drinks on the girl, pointing to the upstairs and saying something that Aritha read as “four”. Following several moments’ hesitation, the girl followed whatever directions were given and moved to the stairs, climbing past Cassandra and experiencing an odd amount of effort maintaining balance of the drinks as she went.

Though the twist of the head was slight, Aritha’s gaze continued to follow the girl, eyeing the serving girl out of the corner of her as she went.

Cassandra stared ahead, her face expressionless. “Are you hungry, Aritha?”

“No.”

The mage nodded. She watched as the young man from the table before stood. He lifted his arms in the air, a broad grin on his face, and pointed to one of his drinking partners. They laughed, pressed their palms against the table, and said something of equal joviality. An air of seriousness entered the expression of the first man, who turned from the table, took a step away, and called something back to the others.

They laughed, talked amongst themselves, and ignored him.

“Do Drow ever eat?” Cassandra said.

“Yes.”

“Then why not here?”

“There is no food.”

The man moved towards Aritha, though not intentionally. He made for the stairs, at one point calling back to his companions from the table. They ignored him.

As he passed Aritha, he placed a hand on her shoulder and uttered, “’scuse me.”

Though he passed her, Aritha’s gaze was not kind. Where she stood, she seemed to boil, he face growing tenser. She placed a hand against the wall and dug her fingers in, quickly chewing through the wood.

Cassandra glanced behind her, but did not react so acutely. “It won’t come to anything.”

“Why?”

“‘Why’? People like to think they’re strong. He’ll proposition her, she’ll reject him, and he’ll put on some display.” But Cassandra’s expression did not support the words. She crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. “I’m not so disconnected from the world that I don’t see such things often.”

“You are wrong.”

“Do you care for the girl’s wellbeing?”

“No.”

“Then why does it matter?”

At this, Aritha did not respond, though her mouth opened as if she meant to. She stepped back up the stairs, moving her gaze to the Elf who mingled among the crowd below, her gaze moving upwards to Aritha, though never overtly—and never in such a way that Cassandra noticed. “…it does not,” she eventually said, though the words sounded somehow forced.

Behind them, creaking hinges. A door opened.

Aritha turned around and stepped upstairs, rounding the corner when she reached the top.

“Aritha, no!” came Cassandra’s voice, but Aritha continued on as though unhindered.

She moved down the hallway, a plain thing with four doors on one side and three doors on the other, each marked with a bronze number. On either end of the hall, round windows, allowing for streams of light to flood the upper floor. Beneath Aritha’s feet, a long rug laid out to mask the decrepit appearance of the wood floor.

“Aritha!”

The mage was behind her, wrapping fingers around the Drow’s upper arms to hold Aritha back, but the strength was not enough. She discarded the mage as though she were little more than a gnat, moving to the single door left swaying in the sunlight, moving about as the wind pulled and pushed it. Her final step was thunderous, commanding such forced that it cracked the floor.

She found the young man inside, the boyish innocence of before gone. He’d pressed the serving girl against the wall, holding her back with one hand while attempting to lift her left leg with the other. Her blouse was pushed up, held up with the hand that held the blouse. The girl’s face was beaten bloody, her jaw hanging limp. Her right eye swelled unnaturally, half the white flooded with red.

When Aritha entered, the boy’s gaze turned to her. On his face, some twisted mixture of fear and anger. He seemed about to move, but the serving girl struggled beneath his hands, so he remained against the wall, no longer attempting to violate her so much as keep her subdued. When Aritha approached, he exhaled once, his breath cracking into something higher pitched.

Aritha wrapped her fingers around his face. Beneath her grip, his skull felt soft.

He released the serving girl as if by instinct, who collapsed, her legs a quivering mess against the floor.

His eyes widened.

“Aritha!” Cassandra called again.

Aritha did not hear. She slammed the boy’s face against the wall. His skull fractured under the first blow. Beneath her hand, he screamed, though the sound was muffled.

Aritha beat his head against the wall a second time

He continued to scream.

A third time.

A bloody smear streaked across the light brown of the wood.

The man stopped screaming. His eyes slipped to the back of his head while his eyelids flickered shut. His mouth gabbed without feeling, words coming out in messes of syllables.

Aritha threw him against the bed, a single mattress resting upon a thing wooden frame. It collapsed under the pressure, dropping the man to the floor.

Cassandra’s presence was felt at last. Aritha lost control of her body and was pressed against the wall by some unseen force as Cassandra lifted an arm, her eyes wide with panic. “Aritha!” she said again, the tone of her voice scattered beyond recognition. “N—”

The serving girl staggered to her feet and felt her way past Aritha, pressing her hands against the wall to guide her steps. She looked to the Drow for several panicked moments before slipping from the room.

On the fallen bedframe, the man’s breaths were slow and ragged. Blood matted his hair as he struggled to coordinate the movements of his hands, eventually resting them against his side as he attempted to right himself. At last, he began to scream again, though all strength he mustered for it seemed to drain his limbs of strength.

Cassandra’s breathing seemed almost as severe. She stared at the man, but never moved to help. Her gaze moved then to Aritha, her eyes wide. “Gods—How did you—” She brought a trembling hand up and rested it against her forehead, where she felt sweat running down her skin.

Pressed against the wall, the Drow said nothing.

Cassandra eventually released her, after which the Drow stumbled forth. Aritha’s gaze moved to the man thrown onto the shattered bedframe, whom she began to walk towards.

“Arith—”

The Drow did nothing to the boy, instead pacing around him. From unfocused, dying eyes, the broken young man looked to her. In his right, a blood vessel was ruptured, flooding half of his gaze with red. From those eyes, tears rolled, but he seemed not to feel them.

It was then that Cassandra moved to the hallway and to the stairs, where she called, “Someone’s hurt up here!”

The bulk of the crowd did not notice her, but several people broke off their festivities, even if only to stare numbly at Cassandra. Only two acted with haste: the Elf from before, who groaned as the joints of her leather armor took the stairs two at a time. The other was the barkeeper, who finished exchanging words with the injured serving girl a moment before and leapt out from behind the counter, forcing her way through a crowd that seemed only to realize she wanted through by the time she’d already done so.

But it was the Elf who arrived first, pushing past Cassandra’s slighter frame to the source of the brief commotion. She moved to the open door, holding the frame with both hands as she stopped herself from running inside full force. “What happened?” came the automatic response to the situation, but it died halfway at the scene that beheld her.

Behind her, the female barkeeper, whose body seemed more leather than flesh. Her apron was fresh with the stink of spilled alcohol, the stain ripe. She took a single look at the broken man, then moved to Aritha and pushed the Drow against the wall, her forearm at Aritha’s neck. “What did you do, Elf!?”

The other Elf, meanwhile, moved into the room and to the young man’s side. She gingerly pulled back a tuft of his hair, at which the man winced and screamed. Without making further contact, she examined his face. “You’ll be okay,” the Elf said as she rested a hand on his cheek, her voice soft enough that only he could hear.

She stood, working her way off the bedframe. To the barkeeper pinning Aritha to the wall, she said, “His right eye socket’s been crushed and his eye ruptured. His skull is fractured in seven other places.” She paused, wiping the blood from the man’s hair on her sleeves. “Several pieces of bone have been forced into his skull. There’s no way he can be treated without causing further injury.”

Cassandra approached the Elf, her eyes wide. Her arms seemed unwilling to stay still, forcing her to hold them across her chest, where even then they trembled. “You’re a doctor.”

The Elf shook her head. “No. Just some experience as a medic.”

Cassandra looked at the floor.

The barkeeper pressed her arm harder against the Drow’s throat, but Aritha seemed not to notice. Her expression remained straight, her eyes fixed on the boy strewn across the bedframe. “You’ve killed him! The ❤❤❤❤❤—” She bit her lip and discontinued the statement. “I want guards, or soldiers—or something!”

The Elf then said, “I can put the boy out of his misery.”

The room was silent.

The barkeeper grew in anger like a throbbing vein. With her free hand, she punched Aritha four times across the face. The blows left a swelling that grew as she held the Drow against the wall. “❤❤❤❤ing Elf!” She threw Aritha against the wall to her left, a movement the Drow did not resist, spending little effort to right herself.

The other Elf knelt before the boy and placed a hand on his arm. From her belt, she drew a thin dagger, forged with an elaborate hilt of speckled white. The boy’s eyes seemed to plead with her, pushing her to hesitate for a moment, but she did so for only a moment, sliding the blade of the dagger across the boy’s throat a moment later. When the last spasms of life slipped away, she closed the boy’s eyes and uttered a few words in a language Cassandra did not recognize.

She turned to the barkeeper, who was moving away from Aritha while resting her chin in one hand. “Gods,” she said. “Gods—All the damned Gods!” She pointed to Aritha. “I will kill you for this!”

The Drow said nothing.

“You killed a boy!”

Nothing.

“Say something!”

Then Cassandra said, “Aritha, say something.”

At the mention of the name, a slight twitch of the Elf’s head. The Drow noticed, but Cassandra did not.

As if the words meant nothing, Aritha said, “He was violating the girl.”

“And that gave you the right to kill him!?”

“Yes.” The Drow spoke the words without a thought—and she spoke them without mercy. Her eyes bore into the woman, eyes of penetrating red that knew all secrets. At those eyes, the barkeeper drew back a step.

The trembling in Cassandra’s arms ceased. She drew in a sharp breath, looked to the boy, his blood leaking over his neck and onto the mattress. The Elf still spared him her attention, but no longer was he her focus as she stood and turned her back to him. The whine of leather continued as she moved. In an almost hushed manner, she sniffed. “What’s your name?” the Elf said as she looked to the elder woman.

The barkeeper looked up to confirm it was her the Elf was speaking to. “Karen.”

“Karen. Short and powerful. I’m Emile.” She placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder, a hand Karen responded to with narrowed eyes. In that instant, the woman seemed much older, her gaze hardened by time in a way Elves would never know. “I’ll compensate you for the bed and all other damage, but we’ll need to clear out the lower floor before we can move the body.”

The barkeeper—Karen—seemed to calm at those words, though not completely. “He was sitting with a group,” she said at last. “I’ll… find out his name.”

Emile nodded.

At that, Karen seemed content enough to leave the room, but did so only after many moment’s hesitation at the doorway, eyes lingering on Aritha for as long as she remained in view. “I’ll still see you hanged,” she said under her breath, but only after distance had been put between them.

Emile then turned to Cassandra.

The mage bowed her head. “Than—”

“Don’t thank me. I was only fixing the error of your… companion.” The look in Emile’s eyes hardened. Her arms tensed as her gaze moved from Cassandra to Aritha. “Keep your pet on a better leash if you want to haul it around.”

“Ah,” said Cassandra.

She paused for a moment.

“Aritha is one of the tribals. I am still… educating her, but her beliefs still show through.”

“A tribal? I haven’t seen a tribal Elf in years.”

“She was from the Dwarven colonies, but accepted passage to the mainland when it was offered.”

Emile scrutinized the Drow. “I see. She’s lucky I agree with her stance—” Anger hidden behind a cool gaze. “—but not her severity. Death is permanent.”

Aritha spoke. “Rape is unending. Death is quick.”

The tone of Emile’s gaze lightened, but not its severity. She crossed her arms, lifting her eyes upward to cover the half foot height difference between herself and Aritha. “Hmm.” The Elf said nothing further, moving to the door as Karen had a moment before. When there, she paused, turned to Cassandra, and said, “Don’t let it happen again.”

Cassandra did not meet the Elf’s gaze. She listened intently to the Elf’s footsteps as she moved back down the hallway and out of earshot. Shouts could be heard as the crowd downstairs was silenced.

Cassandra stepped further into the room, pacing a short path back between Aritha and the corpse of the boy. She crossed her arms, then brought them to her side, then crossed them again, repeating the process many times. “How did you do it?” she said, her voice little more than a hiss.

“You allowed me.”

“I did not!” Cassandra’s arms began to shake again. Her eyes widened not with anger, but with fear. “I know about your heightened resistance to disease, but that can’t be it. You can’t adapt to the collar.” She tugged at the leather strap around Aritha’s neck, pulling it down an inch till it was at eye level. “But nothing’s wrong—the connection is still there. I can still sense your emotions.”

She released the collar and stepped back.

“You are to obey only my explicit orders from now on! Is that clear?”

“Yes.”

Cassandra’s gaze did not relax. She circled Aritha for a moment, analyzing the Drow. At last, she looked again to the body of the boy and said, “We need to leave.”

“Yes.”

An irritated glance to Aritha. “That did not require a response.”

Silence from the Drow.

Another glance to the boy, whose throat continued to ooze blood. Cassandra then departed, moving from the room to the hallway, Aritha in tow. They exited the tavern with haste, slipping out among the crowd being ushered out by the Elf, Emile.
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Old 05-31-2012, 07:58 AM
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER SIX

Emile was in the town of Augusta by mid-afternoon, though the term “town” was an accurate assessment of its size. Though it had been classified as such, it consisted of little more than a single hut, pushed some ways away and connected to the main road by a winding path, and two taverns resting on opposites sides of the road, both of which seemed to be competing for customers. They were both large in size, though the one on the left seemed newer, as its materials more vivid in color and its roof better maintained.

On the left, The Moon’s Maiden, announced by the sign hanging above its entrance depicting the moon with the image of half a woman’s face painted onto the right side, its expression solemn. In the wind, the sign was lifted to a point where Emile was forced to walk beneath it for a clear look at the sign. On the opposite side of the road, The Cracked Mug, a name that seemed to imply more about the tavern’s condition than it did the quality of service. It did not carry a sign, only a name burned black into the wood above its doorway.

A group of four men pushed past Emile as they exited The Moon’s Maiden, only one of whom paid her any heed. The one who did stopped when he caught sight of her ears, which continue to poke through Emile’s hair, despite her best efforts. “You’re—” At that point, he seemed to lose interest, choosing instead to run after his friends, who had long since moved to through the open door of The Cracked Mug.

Emile took a moment to test the weight of her coin-pouch before stepping through the door and into the musty air of The Moon’s Maiden, into a room that smelled of fried food and alcohol. Though several open windows illuminated the room and provided circulation, it somehow remained smoky, congested by scents and people alike. The area around the counter was crowded, the rest of the room less so. People flocked to the beer. Emile, meanwhile, stood at the edge and watched.

A hand grabbed her shoulder. Its grip was not kind.

Emile twisted, wrenched herself out of the arm’s grip, and twisted its owner into a chokehold. Some of the patrons stopped to watch the exchange, but none for more than a few seconds.

The man behind the provocation was smaller than Emile expected. The manner in which he dressed was artificial—a long black cloak designed as if to cover as much of his body as possible. Against the crowd, he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. A hood in particular covered most of his features, leaving room only for pale cheeks and a sharp chin.

“Yes?” Emile said, her grip still tight. She allowed the man enough breathing room to respond.

After a gasp: “Emile, I am—” His eyes moved about the room. He then said in a softer tone of voice, “Marthen.”

Emile tensed, considered it, and released the man.

Marthen massaged his upper chest. “Thank you.”

Emile was silent. She crossed her arms and offered nothing more than a glare.

“If I were my father, you would hang for that.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

Fair—” He twisted his jaw around. “Enough. He thought highly enough of you, even if he never had the opportunity to acknowledge it.”

“How old are you?”

The man smirked. “An Elf asking how old I am, that’s very… Nineteen.”

The king twisted around, moving his eyes across the tavern’s many inhabitants. He struggled to avoid bumping shoulders with them. “May we speak further outside?” he said.

“A crowd ensures no one will overhear us.”

“Right. I’ll try and be brief. It was father’s will that I not come into all my rights until the age of twenty-one, so my regent holds much of the power until then.” At this, the young king seemed particularly bitter, for his expression darkened before he continued. “My name is James, as well.” He held out a hand to Emile.

She did not take it.

“Right,” he said, and withdrew the offer.

“You summoned me.”

“Yes, the summoning.” There was an air about the boy, but not one that could be described as true anxiety. James rubbed his hands together, as though seeking warmth. “Someone is going to attempt to assassinate me.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then why suspect?”

“Because—” He lifted a hand, attempting to stretch the point. Someone bumped into him as he did, splashing a clear substance across his shoulder. After taking a moment to wipe it away as best he could, James said, “Because I may have provoked very powerful people. Magical powerful people.”

Emile moved her hands from her chest to her waist. “Mages?”

“Yes. The Coalition. Of Mages.”

Emile turned and paced. “What do you expect me to do against mages?”

“Kill them.”

“Your letter told me I needed to deal with a Drow.”

“There’s a Drow, too.”

Emile stared at the boy, her expression torn between anger and pity. “I don’t fight mages,” she said.

At this, the boy’s expression hardened. “If you don’t, I’ll die.”

Emile shrugged.

“The world hasn’t forgotten what you used to be!” James said, jabbing a finger into Emile’s chest. Her hand twitched in response, nearly jumping upward to break his, but hesitated. “I can bring Hell down on you if you don’t help me.”

“And why not your own soldiers? The crown is not wanting for an army.”

James pulled back and turned away from Emile. “I cannot let this reach the regent. If he finds out what—” He stopped, biting his lip. “This must stay between us. No one connected to the royal family must know. Kill whatever agents the Coalition sends and never repeat what I’ve told you.”

“What did you do, Your Highness?”

“Nothing.” The answer was too quick and the boy’s eyes swiveled about as he uttered them.

For a moment, Emile said nothing. She looked to crowd behind James, none of whom were paying two misfits any mind. She tested the leather of her belt for strength before moving to her coin pouch, which she massaged with a certain level of fondness. “If I do this for you, I want all legal copies of my warrant. The law has never touched me.”

“Done.”

“And I want a fee.”

At that, James’ eyes widened, an action at which Emile almost laughed. “A fee? You ask—”

“I’m not doing this for you, James. I didn’t like your father. He was never my king, no matter what he might have done for anyone else.” With a wave of her hand: “And it’s not for me. A friend of mine set up a poorhouse in Maijdrin. Once I see this through, I expect that poorhouse to be treating the poor like kings.”

James looked at the floor. From beneath his hood, a mat of brown hair poked out. “Done,” he said through gritted teeth.

Emile patted her chest. “Don’t forget that I have your signature on an order calling for the unjust execution of innocent. That would be enough to irritate your rule for a couple of months. Maybe even enough to show the people that a teenager isn’t fit to rule.”

The young king was silent.

“Now—” As Emile spoke, she seemed to calm herself. Her shoulders relaxed, her expression eased. “What did you do?”

James lifted his head. He studied her for several moments. “Nothing.”

“That isn’t true.”

“I’m paying you,” he said.

“I don’t care. What did you do? You’ve angered the Coalition enough to make them send an agent after you—and a Drow.” Emile paced about, gesturing with her hands as she worked through the point. “What do you expect to happen if I kill their agent? They’ll just send another. What if they decide to send more than one?”

She lifted a finger as something dawned on her.

“What if they already have?” she said.

“I don’t know!” James brought a hand up against his forehead, his eyes twisted shut. “I just need to stall!”

“Stall for what?”

“Nothing!” His breathing was rapid, his eyes wide with a mixture of rage and fear. He brought a hand to his chest, held tight to it for a moment, then let it fall back to his side as his breathing returned to normal. “If you don’t obey, I’ll have your past revealed to the whole world. There will be nowhere for you to go. Even if you kill me, I’ve planned accordingly. Everything will happen without me.” After a twitch of regret across his face: “Even the regent will operate without me. They’ll find a new king.”

“Then why should I help you?”

His gaze grew solemn. James looked to her with a different expression in his eyes. “Because that king won’t be as empathetic as me.”

A moment of silence.

“Okay,” Emile said. She followed the word with a shrug, turning away from James.

He opened his mouth, his eyes wide. “You’re—”

“I’m helping you. But if I kill an agent of the Coalition, what’s to stop them from sending more?”

“I can keep them from sending more.”

Emile looked to him from over her shoulder. “You can? How?”

“I’m the king.”

When he said nothing else, Emile turned again to face the tavern exit, where sunlight continued to stream in through a door propped open by a stone doorstop. Through that light, the dust floating through the air seemed thicker than butter. With a twitch of her hand, Emile gestured for them to move their conversation outside. She exited first, James in tow. They began a slow trek up the dirt road, moving outside the village. Around them, a grassy clearing stretching on for miles.

As they did, James tugged at the hood of his cloak, pulling it further over his eyes.

Some distance further, Emile said, “You’re trying too hard.”

Though he walked alongside her, James did his best not to make eye contact with Emile. In response to her statement, he offered only an inquisitorial grunt.

“You’re trying too hard,” she said again. “The cloak. The stealth. If you’re looking to avoid attention, act like part of the crowd. You’ll look less like a king in hiding.”

At this, James stopped for a moment, his eyes wide, before pushing the hood of his cloak back around his neck. “Where is the Coalition agent?”

James hesitated, his mouth dangling half open. “Nearing Summers Keep.”

“The Highland Castle?”

A nod.

“Why?”

“…I can’t say.”

“Why?”

“Be—” He shook his head. “I can’t.”

Emile stopped and stretched her arms behind her back, staring into the white of the moon. A long pause passed between James and Emile, a pause during which he seemed afraid to look at her. “One more condition.”

The young king said nothing.

“I’m looking for someone—an old friend: Kathryn… Melok.”

“I’ll… see what I can find out.”

Emile continued walking along the road, though James stopped somewhere behind her. She paused, crossed her arms over her chest, and followed the dirt path with her eyes, doing so until it became too faint to make out. Emile noted two people traveling along: a Human woman and an Elf with brown hair shaved less than an inch from her head.

The Elf smelled odd. Red eyes.

Emile’s gaze followed her for a moment, but the interest was passing. James took no notice, fidgeting as the silence persisted. “I wonder,” Emile said, though she said it long after the duo of woman and Elf had entered The Moon’s Maiden. She pondered the sight for a moment, but ultimately dismissed it.

James spoke. “Will that be all?”

Emile was attentive once again. “Yeah.”

Red eyes. An interest in those eyes festered within her thoughts.

James adjusted his black cloak, bringing the hood up to again cover much of his face. “I’ll leave to your task.”

Emile’s nod was slight.

Red eyes.

Though there was little reason to stay, Emile turned around and moved towards The Blue Maiden. James stared after her, as though unsure whether his task was done. Following several moments’ consideration, he moved down the road, away from Augusta.




Seven

Cassandra could find no place to sit, so she stood. Atop a hardwood floor, surrounded on all sides by the bustle of people, she realized how strained her legs felt, how much they ached at the simplest of movements. The Moon’s Maiden granted her some reprieve. It was there that she purchased a package of dried meats and a larger container for water.

Aritha reacted to the crowd only through the connection granted to Cassandra by the collar. Her heart raced. The activity of her senses accelerated. She absorbed scents, sights, and sounds. Though such things did not affect the thoughts of the Drow, they clamored inside the mind of Cassandra, who brought a hand to her head to stable herself against the influx.

“Do Drow eat?” Cassandra said at one point, retreating along the stairs leading to the second floor of the tavern.

“Yes,” came Aritha’s immediate response. It held no more emotion than before.

“What do they eat?”

“Everything else.”

Cassandra’s brow furrowed. Her feet were caught halfway between ascending the stairs and returning to the main floor. One woman dressed with an emphasis on her bosom pushed past, casting a gaze of halfhearted interest at Aritha, who responded with a blank stare.

Cassandra rested her weight against the wall, a more shabbily built portion of the staircase that felt cold to the touch. “What does that mean?”

“We do care.”

Cassandra stiffened, looked to the floor, then back to Aritha.

The Drow was rigid in her stance. She kept her hands at her sides, but bent them as though prepared for a confrontation. Her legs were split just enough to provide proper stance in combat—or enough leeway to ready one. Whenever Cassandra spoke, Aritha’s gaze seemed to grow lax. Her arms loosened. The strength of her legs faded.

“Why are you the way you are?” Cassandra said.

Again, the Drow did not answer immediately. She stared ahead, across the heads of those lined up at the counter, making demands of the woman tending it. “I don’t know.”

A nod from Cassandra. She crossed her arms, seemingly accepting of the answer.

Aritha’s eyes moved to the young woman who had pushed past Cassandra a moment ago: a young, loving creature, carrying a head of flowing blonde hair and an ample chest, topped with a girlish face that seemed to defy age.

“Have you ever met another of your kind?” It occurred to Cassandra then how conspicuous their dialogue was. Even the crowd provided only moderate cover for one attempting to maintain a low profile.

“Yes.”

“When?”

“I do not remember.”

Aritha’s eyes continued to follow the girl’s movements, who crossed the room to the tavern counter and shared several hushed words with the barkeeper before taking up a wooden tray carrying half a dozen wooden mugs filled to the rim with a golden frothy substance. The girl moved about, handing the mugs to customers specified by the tender.

Cassandra sighed, though it was inaudible against the din of the crowd. After bringing a hand to her forehead, she said, “What are you looking at?”

“The girl—there.”

Despite the lack of specificity, Cassandra located what she assumed was the Drow’s subject—the blonde. A girl—or woman—at least ten years her junior, young and beautiful. She seemed little more than a teenager, still fresh from the trappings of childhood. “Why her?”

Aritha was silent.

“Why her?”

The Drow hesitated. Her shoulders lifted, at last shrugging. The expression on Aritha’s face, however, remained intent. Her eyes wandered from the face of the girl only when another curiosity entered her field of view: the Elf who had noticed her scent. She moved through the crowd, never moving her head, yet always watching the people around her. Each moment, the Elf seemed keen to pull a weapon from her back, an arsenal of knives and bows.

Cassandra did not notice the shift in Aritha’s attention. She continued looking to the girl serving drinks, who twisted about the crowded common room of the tavern with surprising grace, hoisting in one each hand a different drink, both filled to the point of overflow. One, she placed in the hands of a wearier looking woman, whose face seemed taut with age and rough as leather.

The second drink was brought to a young man on the fringes of adulthood, no older than twenty-five. He sat at one of the few tables available, speaking with a group of men his own age, their innocence showing through their faces. When the girl arrived with his drink, his eyes lingered near her legs, uncovered and pale in comparison to the fair flesh of her face.

It was at that moment that Aritha’s gaze moved back to the girl.

The man said something to those he sat with and reached out for the girl’s legs. She jumped back, bumping into a female customer standing only a few feet behind her. The contact was not enough to elicit a reaction in the hectic environment—but the girl’s face grew tense. She bit her lower lip and did her best to move away from the men.

“Some men will swipe at anything that moves,” Cassandra said. She took several steps down the stairs, stepping aside to allow an older man to trudge up to one of the seven rooms, but did not move back into the crowd.

“Yes,” said Aritha, though she did not provide further context for the statement.

The young waitress moved to the counter and said something to the female barkeeper, who dismissed it with a callous wave of the hand and pushed another pair of drinks on the girl, pointing to the upstairs and saying something that Aritha read as “four”. Following several moments’ hesitation, the girl followed whatever directions were given and moved to the stairs, climbing past Cassandra and experiencing an odd amount of effort maintaining balance of the drinks as she went.

Though the twist of the head was slight, Aritha’s gaze continued to follow the girl, eyeing the serving girl out of the corner of her as she went.

Cassandra stared ahead, her face expressionless. “Are you hungry, Aritha?”

“No.”

The mage nodded. She watched as the young man from the table before stood. He lifted his arms in the air, a broad grin on his face, and pointed to one of his drinking partners. They laughed, pressed their palms against the table, and said something of equal joviality. An air of seriousness entered the expression of the first man, who turned from the table, took a step away, and called something back to the others.

They laughed, talked amongst themselves, and ignored him.

“Do Drow ever eat?” Cassandra said.

“Yes.”

“Then why not here?”

“There is no food.”

The man moved towards Aritha, though not intentionally. He made for the stairs, at one point calling back to his companions from the table. They ignored him.

As he passed Aritha, he placed a hand on her shoulder and uttered, “’scuse me.”

Though he passed her, Aritha’s gaze was not kind. Where she stood, she seemed to boil, he face growing tenser. She placed a hand against the wall and dug her fingers in, quickly chewing through the wood.

Cassandra glanced behind her, but did not react so acutely. “It won’t come to anything.”

“Why?”

“‘Why’? People like to think they’re strong. He’ll proposition her, she’ll reject him, and he’ll put on some display.” But Cassandra’s expression did not support the words. She crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. “I’m not so disconnected from the world that I don’t see such things often.”

“You are wrong.”

“Do you care for the girl’s wellbeing?”

“No.”

“Then why does it matter?”

At this, Aritha did not respond, though her mouth opened as if she meant to. She stepped back up the stairs, moving her gaze to the Elf who mingled among the crowd below, her gaze moving upwards to Aritha, though never overtly—and never in such a way that Cassandra noticed. “…it does not,” she eventually said, though the words sounded somehow forced.

Behind them, creaking hinges. A door opened.

Aritha turned around and stepped upstairs, rounding the corner when she reached the top.

“Aritha, no!” came Cassandra’s voice, but Aritha continued on as though unhindered.

She moved down the hallway, a plain thing with four doors on one side and three doors on the other, each marked with a bronze number. On either end of the hall, round windows, allowing for streams of light to flood the upper floor. Beneath Aritha’s feet, a long rug laid out to mask the decrepit appearance of the wood floor.

“Aritha!”

The mage was behind her, wrapping fingers around the Drow’s upper arms to hold Aritha back, but the strength was not enough. She discarded the mage as though she were little more than a gnat, moving to the single door left swaying in the sunlight, moving about as the wind pulled and pushed it. Her final step was thunderous, commanding such forced that it cracked the floor.

She found the young man inside, the boyish innocence of before gone. He’d pressed the serving girl against the wall, holding her back with one hand while attempting to lift her left leg with the other. Her blouse was pushed up, held up with the hand that held the blouse. The girl’s face was beaten bloody, her jaw hanging limp. Her right eye swelled unnaturally, half the white flooded with red.

When Aritha entered, the boy’s gaze turned to her. On his face, some twisted mixture of fear and anger. He seemed about to move, but the serving girl struggled beneath his hands, so he remained against the wall, no longer attempting to violate her so much as keep her subdued. When Aritha approached, he exhaled once, his breath cracking into something higher pitched.

Aritha wrapped her fingers around his face. Beneath her grip, his skull felt soft.

He released the serving girl as if by instinct, who collapsed, her legs a quivering mess against the floor.

His eyes widened.

“Aritha!” Cassandra called again.

Aritha did not hear. She slammed the boy’s face against the wall. His skull fractured under the first blow. Beneath her hand, he screamed, though the sound was muffled.

Aritha beat his head against the wall a second time

He continued to scream.

A third time.

A bloody smear streaked across the light brown of the wood.

The man stopped screaming. His eyes slipped to the back of his head while his eyelids flickered shut. His mouth gabbed without feeling, words coming out in messes of syllables.

Aritha threw him against the bed, a single mattress resting upon a thing wooden frame. It collapsed under the pressure, dropping the man to the floor.

Cassandra’s presence was felt at last. Aritha lost control of her body and was pressed against the wall by some unseen force as Cassandra lifted an arm, her eyes wide with panic. “Aritha!” she said again, the tone of her voice scattered beyond recognition. “N—”

The serving girl staggered to her feet and felt her way past Aritha, pressing her hands against the wall to guide her steps. She looked to the Drow for several panicked moments before slipping from the room.

On the fallen bedframe, the man’s breaths were slow and ragged. Blood matted his hair as he struggled to coordinate the movements of his hands, eventually resting them against his side as he attempted to right himself. At last, he began to scream again, though all strength he mustered for it seemed to drain his limbs of strength.

Cassandra’s breathing seemed almost as severe. She stared at the man, but never moved to help. Her gaze moved then to Aritha, her eyes wide. “Gods—How did you—” She brought a trembling hand up and rested it against her forehead, where she felt sweat running down her skin.

Pressed against the wall, the Drow said nothing.

Cassandra eventually released her, after which the Drow stumbled forth. Aritha’s gaze moved to the man thrown onto the shattered bedframe, whom she began to walk towards.

“Arith—”

The Drow did nothing to the boy, instead pacing around him. From unfocused, dying eyes, the broken young man looked to her. In his right, a blood vessel was ruptured, flooding half of his gaze with red. From those eyes, tears rolled, but he seemed not to feel them.

It was then that Cassandra moved to the hallway and to the stairs, where she called, “Someone’s hurt up here!”

The bulk of the crowd did not notice her, but several people broke off their festivities, even if only to stare numbly at Cassandra. Only two acted with haste: the Elf from before, who groaned as the joints of her leather armor took the stairs two at a time. The other was the barkeeper, who finished exchanging words with the injured serving girl a moment before and leapt out from behind the counter, forcing her way through a crowd that seemed only to realize she wanted through by the time she’d already done so.

But it was the Elf who arrived first, pushing past Cassandra’s slighter frame to the source of the brief commotion. She moved to the open door, holding the frame with both hands as she stopped herself from running inside full force. “What happened?” came the automatic response to the situation, but it died halfway at the scene that beheld her.

Behind her, the female barkeeper, whose body seemed more leather than flesh. Her apron was fresh with the stink of spilled alcohol, the stain ripe. She took a single look at the broken man, then moved to Aritha and pushed the Drow against the wall, her forearm at Aritha’s neck. “What did you do, Elf!?”

The other Elf, meanwhile, moved into the room and to the young man’s side. She gingerly pulled back a tuft of his hair, at which the man winced and screamed. Without making further contact, she examined his face. “You’ll be okay,” the Elf said as she rested a hand on his cheek, her voice soft enough that only he could hear.

She stood, working her way off the bedframe. To the barkeeper pinning Aritha to the wall, she said, “His right eye socket’s been crushed and his eye ruptured. His skull is fractured in seven other places.” She paused, wiping the blood from the man’s hair on her sleeves. “Several pieces of bone have been forced into his skull. There’s no way he can be treated without causing further injury.”

Cassandra approached the Elf, her eyes wide. Her arms seemed unwilling to stay still, forcing her to hold them across her chest, where even then they trembled. “You’re a doctor?”

The Elf shook her head. “No. Just some experience as a medic.”

Cassandra looked at the floor.

The barkeeper pressed her arm harder against the Drow’s throat, but Aritha seemed not to notice. Her expression remained straight, her eyes fixed on the boy strewn across the bedframe. “You’ve killed him! The ❤❤❤❤❤—” She bit her lip and discontinued the statement. “I want guards, or soldiers—or something!”

The Elf then said, “I can put the boy out of his misery.”

The room was silent.

The barkeeper grew in anger like a throbbing vein. With her free hand, she punched Aritha four times across the face. The blows left a swelling that grew as she held the Drow against the wall. “❤❤❤❤ing Elf!” She threw Aritha against the wall to her left, a movement the Drow did not resist, spending little effort to right herself.

The other Elf knelt before the boy and placed a hand on his arm. From her belt, she drew a thin dagger, forged with an elaborate hilt of speckled white. The boy’s eyes seemed to plead with her, pushing her to hesitate for a moment, but she did so for only a moment, sliding the blade of the dagger across the boy’s throat a moment later. When the last spasms of life slipped away, she closed the boy’s eyes and uttered a few words in a language Cassandra did not recognize.

She turned to the barkeeper, who was moving away from Aritha while resting her chin in one hand. “Gods,” she said. “Gods—All the damned Gods!” She pointed to Aritha. “I will kill you for this!”

The Drow said nothing.

“You killed a boy!”

Nothing.

“Say something!”

Then Cassandra said, “Aritha, say something.”

At the mention of the name, a slight twitch of the Elf’s head. The Drow noticed, but Cassandra did not.

As if the words meant nothing, Aritha said, “He was violating the girl.”

“And that gave you the right to kill him!?”

“Yes.” The Drow spoke the words without a thought—and she spoke them without mercy. Her eyes bore into the woman, eyes of penetrating red that knew all secrets. At those eyes, the barkeeper drew back a step.

The trembling in Cassandra’s arms ceased. She drew in a sharp breath, looked to the boy, his blood leaking over his neck and onto the mattress. The Elf still spared him her attention, but no longer was he her focus as she stood and turned her back to him. The whine of leather continued as she moved. In an almost hushed manner, she sniffed. “What’s your name?” the Elf said as she looked to the elder woman.

The barkeeper looked up to confirm it was her the Elf was speaking to. “Karen.”

“Karen. Short and powerful. I’m Emile.” She placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder, a hand Karen responded to with narrowed eyes. In that instant, the woman seemed much older, her gaze hardened by time in a way Elves would never know. “I’ll compensate you for the bed and all other damage, but we’ll need to clear out the lower floor before we can move the body.”

The barkeeper—Karen—seemed to calm at those words, though not completely. “He was sitting with a group,” she said at last. “I’ll… find out his name.”

Emile nodded.

At that, Karen seemed content enough to leave the room, but did so only after many moment’s hesitation at the doorway, eyes lingering on Aritha for as long as she remained in view. “I’ll still see you hanged,” she said under her breath, but only after distance had been put between them.

Emile then turned to Cassandra.

The mage bowed her head. “Than—”

“Don’t thank me. I was only fixing the error of your… companion.” The look in Emile’s eyes hardened. Her arms tensed as her gaze moved from Cassandra to Aritha. “Keep your pet on a better leash if you want to haul it around.”

“Ah,” said Cassandra.

She paused for a moment.

“Aritha is one of the tribals. I am still… educating her, but her beliefs still show through.”

“A tribal? I haven’t seen a tribal Elf in years.”

“She was from the Dwarven colonies, but accepted passage to the mainland when it was offered.”

Emile scrutinized the Drow. “I see. She’s lucky I agree with her stance—” Anger hidden behind a cool gaze. “—but not her severity. Death is permanent.”

Aritha spoke. “Rape is unending. Death is quick.”

The tone of Emile’s gaze lightened, but not its severity. She crossed her arms, lifting her eyes upward to cover the half foot height difference between herself and Aritha. “Hmm.” The Elf said nothing further, moving to the door as Karen had a moment before. When there, she paused, turned to Cassandra, and said, “Don’t let it happen again.”

Cassandra did not meet the Elf’s gaze. She listened intently to the Elf’s footsteps as she moved back down the hallway and out of earshot. Shouts could be heard as the crowd downstairs was silenced.

Cassandra stepped further into the room, pacing a short path back between Aritha and the corpse of the boy. She crossed her arms, then brought them to her side, then crossed them again, repeating the process many times. “How did you do it?” she said, her voice little more than a hiss.

“You allowed me.”

“I did not!” Cassandra’s arms began to shake again. Her eyes widened not with anger, but with fear. “I know about your heightened resistance to disease, but that can’t be it. You can’t adapt to the collar.” She tugged at the leather strap around Aritha’s neck, pulling it down an inch till it was at eye level. “But nothing’s wrong—the connection is still there. I can still sense your emotions.”

She released the collar and stepped back.

“You are to obey only my explicit orders from now on! Is that clear?”

“Yes.”

Cassandra’s gaze did not relax. She circled Aritha for a moment, analyzing the Drow. At last, she looked again to the body of the boy and said, “We need to leave.”

“Yes.”

An irritated glance to Aritha. “That did not require a response.”

Silence from the Drow.

Another glance to the boy, whose throat continued to ooze blood. Cassandra then departed, moving from the room to the hallway, Aritha in tow. They exited the tavern with haste, slipping out among the crowd being ushered out by the Elf, Emile.
Last Edited by American Soldier; 06-01-2012 at 08:52 AM. Reason: Reply With Quote
  #13 (permalink)   [ ]
Old 06-05-2012, 07:25 PM
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Cassandra could find no place to sit, so she stood. Atop a hardwood floor, surrounded on all sides by the bustle of people, she realized how strained her legs felt, how much they ached at the simplest of movements. The Moon’s Maiden granted her some reprieve. It was there that she purchased a package of dried meats and a larger container for water.

Aritha reacted to the crowd only through the connection granted to Cassandra by the collar. Her heart raced. The activity of her senses accelerated. She absorbed scents, sights, and sounds. Though such things did not affect the thoughts of the Drow, they clamored inside the mind of Cassandra, who brought a hand to her head to stable herself against the influx.

“Do Drow eat?” Cassandra said at one point, retreating along the stairs leading to the second floor of the tavern.

“Yes,” came Aritha’s immediate response. It held no more emotion than before.

“What do they eat?”

“Everything else.”

Cassandra’s brow furrowed. Her feet were caught halfway between ascending the stairs and returning to the main floor. One woman dressed with an emphasis on her bosom pushed past, casting a gaze of halfhearted interest at Aritha, who responded with a blank stare.

Cassandra rested her weight against the wall, a more shabbily built portion of the staircase that felt cold to the touch. “What does that mean?”

“We do care.”

Cassandra stiffened, looked to the floor, then back to Aritha.

The Drow was rigid in her stance. She kept her hands at her sides, but bent them as though prepared for a confrontation. Her legs were split just enough to provide proper stance in combat—or enough leeway to ready one. Whenever Cassandra spoke, Aritha’s gaze seemed to grow lax. Her arms loosened. The strength of her legs faded.

“Why are you the way you are?” Cassandra said.

Again, the Drow did not answer immediately. She stared ahead, across the heads of those lined up at the counter, making demands of the woman tending it. “I don’t know.”

A nod from Cassandra. She crossed her arms, seemingly accepting of the answer.

Aritha’s eyes moved to the young woman who had pushed past Cassandra a moment ago: a young, loving creature, carrying a head of flowing blonde hair and an ample chest, topped with a girlish face that seemed to defy age.

“Have you ever met another of your kind?” It occurred to Cassandra then how conspicuous their dialogue was. Even the crowd provided only moderate cover for one attempting to maintain a low profile.

“Yes.”

“When?”

“I do not remember.”

Aritha’s eyes continued to follow the girl’s movements, who crossed the room to the tavern counter and shared several hushed words with the barkeeper before taking up a wooden tray carrying half a dozen wooden mugs filled to the rim with a golden frothy substance. The girl moved about, handing the mugs to customers specified by the tender.

Cassandra sighed, though it was inaudible against the din of the crowd. After bringing a hand to her forehead, she said, “What are you looking at?”

“The girl—there.”

Despite the lack of specificity, Cassandra located what she assumed was the Drow’s subject—the blonde. A girl—or woman—at least ten years her junior, young and beautiful. She seemed little more than a teenager, still fresh from the trappings of childhood. “Why her?”

Aritha was silent.

“Why her?”

The Drow hesitated. Her shoulders lifted, at last shrugging. The expression on Aritha’s face, however, remained intent. Her eyes wandered from the face of the girl only when another curiosity entered her field of view: the Elf who had noticed her scent. She moved through the crowd, never moving her head, yet always watching the people around her. Each moment, the Elf seemed keen to pull a weapon from her back, an arsenal of knives and bows.

Cassandra did not notice the shift in Aritha’s attention. She continued looking to the girl serving drinks, who twisted about the crowded common room of the tavern with surprising grace, hoisting in one each hand a different drink, both filled to the point of overflow. One, she placed in the hands of a wearier looking woman, whose face seemed taut with age and rough as leather.

The second drink was brought to a young man on the fringes of adulthood, no older than twenty-five. He sat at one of the few tables available, speaking with a group of men his own age, their innocence showing through their faces. When the girl arrived with his drink, his eyes lingered near her legs, uncovered and pale in comparison to the fair flesh of her face.

It was at that moment that Aritha’s gaze moved back to the girl.

The man said something to those he sat with and reached out for the girl’s legs. She jumped back, bumping into a female customer standing only a few feet behind her. The contact was not enough to elicit a reaction in the hectic environment—but the girl’s face grew tense. She bit her lower lip and did her best to move away from the men.

“Some men will swipe at anything that moves,” Cassandra said. She took several steps down the stairs, stepping aside to allow an older man to trudge up to one of the seven rooms, but did not move back into the crowd.

“Yes,” said Aritha, though she did not provide further context for the statement.

The young waitress moved to the counter and said something to the female barkeeper, who dismissed it with a callous wave of the hand and pushed another pair of drinks on the girl, pointing to the upstairs and saying something that Aritha read as “four”. Following several moments’ hesitation, the girl followed whatever directions were given and moved to the stairs, climbing past Cassandra and experiencing an odd amount of effort maintaining balance of the drinks as she went.

Though the twist of the head was slight, Aritha’s gaze continued to follow the girl, eyeing the serving girl out of the corner of her as she went.

Cassandra stared ahead, her face expressionless. “Are you hungry, Aritha?”

“No.”

The mage nodded. She watched as the young man from the table before stood. He lifted his arms in the air, a broad grin on his face, and pointed to one of his drinking partners. They laughed, pressed their palms against the table, and said something of equal joviality. An air of seriousness entered the expression of the first man, who turned from the table, took a step away, and called something back to the others.

They laughed, talked amongst themselves, and ignored him.

“Do Drow ever eat?” Cassandra said.

“Yes.”

“Then why not here?”

“There is no food.”

The man moved towards Aritha, though not intentionally. He made for the stairs, at one point calling back to his companions from the table. They ignored him.

As he passed Aritha, he placed a hand on her shoulder and uttered, “’scuse me.”

Though he passed her, Aritha’s gaze was not kind. Where she stood, she seemed to boil, he face growing tenser. She placed a hand against the wall and dug her fingers in, quickly chewing through the wood.

Cassandra glanced behind her, but did not react so acutely. “It won’t come to anything.”

“Why?”

“‘Why’? People like to think they’re strong. He’ll proposition her, she’ll reject him, and he’ll put on some display.” But Cassandra’s expression did not support the words. She crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. “I’m not so disconnected from the world that I don’t see such things often.”

“You are wrong.”

“Do you care for the girl’s wellbeing?”

“No.”

“Then why does it matter?”

At this, Aritha did not respond, though her mouth opened as if she meant to. She stepped back up the stairs, moving her gaze to the Elf who mingled among the crowd below, her gaze moving upwards to Aritha, though never overtly—and never in such a way that Cassandra noticed. “…it does not,” she eventually said, though the words sounded somehow forced.

Behind them, creaking hinges. A door opened.

Aritha turned around and stepped upstairs, rounding the corner when she reached the top.

“Aritha, no!” came Cassandra’s voice, but Aritha continued on as though unhindered.

She moved down the hallway, a plain thing with four doors on one side and three doors on the other, each marked with a bronze number. On either end of the hall, round windows, allowing for streams of light to flood the upper floor. Beneath Aritha’s feet, a long rug laid out to mask the decrepit appearance of the wood floor.

“Aritha!”

The mage was behind her, wrapping fingers around the Drow’s upper arms to hold Aritha back, but the strength was not enough. She discarded the mage as though she were little more than a gnat, moving to the single door left swaying in the sunlight, moving about as the wind pulled and pushed it. Her final step was thunderous, commanding such forced that it cracked the floor.

She found the young man inside, the boyish innocence of before gone. He’d pressed the serving girl against the wall, holding her back with one hand while attempting to lift her left leg with the other. Her blouse was pushed up, held up with the hand that held the blouse. The girl’s face was beaten bloody, her jaw hanging limp. Her right eye swelled unnaturally, half the white flooded with red.

When Aritha entered, the boy’s gaze turned to her. On his face, some twisted mixture of fear and anger. He seemed about to move, but the serving girl struggled beneath his hands, so he remained against the wall, no longer attempting to violate her so much as keep her subdued. When Aritha approached, he exhaled once, his breath cracking into something higher pitched.

Aritha wrapped her fingers around his face. Beneath her grip, his skull felt soft.

He released the serving girl as if by instinct, who collapsed, her legs a quivering mess against the floor.

His eyes widened.

“Aritha!” Cassandra called again.

Aritha did not hear. She slammed the boy’s face against the wall. His skull fractured under the first blow. Beneath her hand, he screamed, though the sound was muffled.

Aritha beat his head against the wall a second time

He continued to scream.

A third time.

A bloody smear streaked across the light brown of the wood.

The man stopped screaming. His eyes slipped to the back of his head while his eyelids flickered shut. His mouth gabbed without feeling, words coming out in messes of syllables.

Aritha threw him against the bed, a single mattress resting upon a thing wooden frame. It collapsed under the pressure, dropping the man to the floor.

Cassandra’s presence was felt at last. Aritha lost control of her body and was pressed against the wall by some unseen force as Cassandra lifted an arm, her eyes wide with panic. “Aritha!” she said again, the tone of her voice scattered beyond recognition. “N—”

The serving girl staggered to her feet and felt her way past Aritha, pressing her hands against the wall to guide her steps. She looked to the Drow for several panicked moments before slipping from the room.

On the fallen bedframe, the man’s breaths were slow and ragged. Blood matted his hair as he struggled to coordinate the movements of his hands, eventually resting them against his side as he attempted to right himself. At last, he began to scream again, though all strength he mustered for it seemed to drain his limbs of strength.

Cassandra’s breathing seemed almost as severe. She stared at the man, but never moved to help. Her gaze moved then to Aritha, her eyes wide. “Gods—How did you—” She brought a trembling hand up and rested it against her forehead, where she felt sweat running down her skin.

Pressed against the wall, the Drow said nothing.

Cassandra eventually released her, after which the Drow stumbled forth. Aritha’s gaze moved to the man thrown onto the shattered bedframe, whom she began to walk towards.

“Arith—”

The Drow did nothing to the boy, instead pacing around him. From unfocused, dying eyes, the broken young man looked to her. In his right, a blood vessel was ruptured, flooding half of his gaze with red. From those eyes, tears rolled, but he seemed not to feel them.

It was then that Cassandra moved to the hallway and to the stairs, where she called, “Someone’s hurt up here!”

The bulk of the crowd did not notice her, but several people broke off their festivities, even if only to stare numbly at Cassandra. Only two acted with haste: the Elf from before, who groaned as the joints of her leather armor took the stairs two at a time. The other was the barkeeper, who finished exchanging words with the injured serving girl a moment before and leapt out from behind the counter, forcing her way through a crowd that seemed only to realize she wanted through by the time she’d already done so.

But it was the Elf who arrived first, pushing past Cassandra’s slighter frame to the source of the brief commotion. She moved to the open door, holding the frame with both hands as she stopped herself from running inside full force. “What happened?” came the automatic response to the situation, but it died halfway at the scene that beheld her.

Behind her, the female barkeeper, whose body seemed more leather than flesh. Her apron was fresh with the stink of spilled alcohol, the stain ripe. She took a single look at the broken man, then moved to Aritha and pushed the Drow against the wall, her forearm at Aritha’s neck. “What did you do, Elf!?”

The other Elf, meanwhile, moved into the room and to the young man’s side. She gingerly pulled back a tuft of his hair, at which the man winced and screamed. Without making further contact, she examined his face. “You’ll be okay,” the Elf said as she rested a hand on his cheek, her voice soft enough that only he could hear.

She stood, working her way off the bedframe. To the barkeeper pinning Aritha to the wall, she said, “His right eye socket’s been crushed and his eye ruptured. His skull is fractured in seven other places.” She paused, wiping the blood from the man’s hair on her sleeves. “Several pieces of bone have been forced into his skull. There’s no way he can be treated without causing further injury.”

Cassandra approached the Elf, her eyes wide. Her arms seemed unwilling to stay still, forcing her to hold them across her chest, where even then they trembled. “You’re a doctor.”

The Elf shook her head. “No. Just some experience as a medic.”

Cassandra looked at the floor.

The barkeeper pressed her arm harder against the Drow’s throat, but Aritha seemed not to notice. Her expression remained straight, her eyes fixed on the boy strewn across the bedframe. “You’ve killed him! The ❤❤❤❤❤—” She bit her lip and discontinued the statement. “I want guards, or soldiers—or something!”

The Elf then said, “I can put the boy out of his misery.”

The room was silent.

The barkeeper grew in anger like a throbbing vein. With her free hand, she punched Aritha four times across the face. The blows left a swelling that grew as she held the Drow against the wall. “❤❤❤❤ing Elf!” She threw Aritha against the wall to her left, a movement the Drow did not resist, spending little effort to right herself.

The other Elf knelt before the boy and placed a hand on his arm. From her belt, she drew a thin dagger, forged with an elaborate hilt of speckled white. The boy’s eyes seemed to plead with her, pushing her to hesitate for a moment, but she did so for only a moment, sliding the blade of the dagger across the boy’s throat a moment later. When the last spasms of life slipped away, she closed the boy’s eyes and uttered a few words in a language Cassandra did not recognize.

She turned to the barkeeper, who was moving away from Aritha while resting her chin in one hand. “Gods,” she said. “Gods—All the damned Gods!” She pointed to Aritha. “I will kill you for this!”

The Drow said nothing.

“You killed a boy!”

Nothing.

“Say something!”

Then Cassandra said, “Aritha, say something.”

At the mention of the name, a slight twitch of the Elf’s head. The Drow noticed, but Cassandra did not.

As if the words meant nothing, Aritha said, “He was violating the girl.”

“And that gave you the right to kill him!?”

“Yes.” The Drow spoke the words without a thought—and she spoke them without mercy. Her eyes bore into the woman, eyes of penetrating red that knew all secrets. At those eyes, the barkeeper drew back a step.

The trembling in Cassandra’s arms ceased. She drew in a sharp breath, looked to the boy, his blood leaking over his neck and onto the mattress. The Elf still spared him her attention, but no longer was he her focus as she stood and turned her back to him. The whine of leather continued as she moved. In an almost hushed manner, she sniffed. “What’s your name?” the Elf said as she looked to the elder woman.

The barkeeper looked up to confirm it was her the Elf was speaking to. “Karen.”

“Karen. Short and powerful. I’m Emile.” She placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder, a hand Karen responded to with narrowed eyes. In that instant, the woman seemed much older, her gaze hardened by time in a way Elves would never know. “I’ll compensate you for the bed and all other damage, but we’ll need to clear out the lower floor before we can move the body.”

The barkeeper—Karen—seemed to calm at those words, though not completely. “He was sitting with a group,” she said at last. “I’ll… find out his name.”

Emile nodded.

At that, Karen seemed content enough to leave the room, but did so only after many moment’s hesitation at the doorway, eyes lingering on Aritha for as long as she remained in view. “I’ll still see you hanged,” she said under her breath, but only after distance had been put between them.

Emile then turned to Cassandra.

The mage bowed her head. “Than—”

“Don’t thank me. I was only fixing the error of your… companion.” The look in Emile’s eyes hardened. Her arms tensed as her gaze moved from Cassandra to Aritha. “Keep your pet on a better leash if you want to haul it around.”

“Ah,” said Cassandra.

She paused for a moment.

“Aritha is one of the tribals. I am still… educating her, but her beliefs still show through.”

“A tribal? I haven’t seen a tribal Elf in years.”

“She was from the Dwarven colonies, but accepted passage to the mainland when it was offered.”

Emile scrutinized the Drow. “I see. She’s lucky I agree with her stance—” Anger hidden behind a cool gaze. “—but not her severity. Death is permanent.”

Aritha spoke. “Rape is unending. Death is quick.”

The tone of Emile’s gaze lightened, but not its severity. She crossed her arms, lifting her eyes upward to cover the half foot height difference between herself and Aritha. “Hmm.” The Elf said nothing further, moving to the door as Karen had a moment before. When there, she paused, turned to Cassandra, and said, “Don’t let it happen again.”

Cassandra did not meet the Elf’s gaze. She listened intently to the Elf’s footsteps as she moved back down the hallway and out of earshot. Shouts could be heard as the crowd downstairs was silenced.

Cassandra stepped further into the room, pacing a short path back between Aritha and the corpse of the boy. She crossed her arms, then brought them to her side, then crossed them again, repeating the process many times. “How did you do it?” she said, her voice little more than a hiss.

“You allowed me.”

“I did not!” Cassandra’s arms began to shake again. Her eyes widened not with anger, but with fear. “I know about your heightened resistance to disease, but that can’t be it. You can’t adapt to the collar.” She tugged at the leather strap around Aritha’s neck, pulling it down an inch till it was at eye level. “But nothing’s wrong—the connection is still there. I can still sense your emotions.”

She released the collar and stepped back.

“You are to obey only my explicit orders from now on! Is that clear?”

“Yes.”

Cassandra’s gaze did not relax. She circled Aritha for a moment, analyzing the Drow. At last, she looked again to the body of the boy and said, “We need to leave.”

“Yes.”

An irritated glance to Aritha. “That did not require a response.”

Silence from the Drow.

Another glance to the boy, whose throat continued to ooze blood. Cassandra then departed, moving from the room to the hallway, Aritha in tow. They exited the tavern with haste, slipping out among the crowd being ushered out by the Elf, Emile.
Last Edited by American Soldier; 06-05-2012 at 09:07 PM. Reason: Reply With Quote
  #14 (permalink)   [ ]
Old 06-05-2012, 09:10 PM
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER EIGHT

It was cold that day.

The hairs of Emile’s arms rose up as if to cling to warmth. Even among the bustle of people exiting The Moon’s Maiden, she still managed to feel cold. Her thoughts, however, were numb. She did her best to shut out the experience, relegating the image of a rapist boy to the back of her mind, where she would decide later whether she was to feel empathy for him.

At some point, she noticed the odd smelling Elf slip out alongside her Human companion—the mage. Though Emile had seen nothing to confirm that, the Elf’s name matched; Aritha. A Drow in disguise, working as a slave to a mage. Though the Drow’ appearance was masked, the collar around her neck and the red of her eyes were familiar sights. Both were reminiscent of things seen years before.

When The Moon’s Maiden was at last empty, the people dispersed in a number of ways. Most shuffled about the two buildings comprising Augusta before moving further along the road. A few went through the ragged double doors of The Cracked Mug. Some simply lingered, crossing their arms over their chests as they wondered aloud what had transpired.

One went into the woods and peed.

Emile watched the direction in which the Drow and the mage traveled, but she needn’t bother. They moved with the intention of killing a king, which would put their destination at Summer’s Keep.

The first part of her new duty done, Emile returned to The Moon’s Maiden and sought out the woman with skin like leather and graying brown hair tied behind her head in two short braids. Karen leaned against her counter, looking older than she had a moment ago. The wrinkles on her face were more prominent, as was the gray in her hair.

Emile shut the door behind her, latching it from the inside.

“The boy’s name was Michael,” Karen said.

“No last name?”

“Not that they knew. He’s from ‘up north’.”

“That’s not much.” Karen pushed herself away from the counter. “I’ll send a courier to Ikidrein . If its ever announced that a boy named Michael has gone missing, I’ll… know where to send my condolences.”

“And the body?”

“I’ll bury him in the back.” Karen rested a hand against her forehead and closed her eyes. “Never thought I’d be dealing with corpses.”

From its place at her waist, Emile drew a small pouch containing an assortment of jingling coins. “How much for repairs.”

Karen shook her head. “Honestly, no idea. I…” She trailed of and offered nothing more, continuing only to shake her head.

Emile drew a pair of gold coins from her pouch. They were engraved on each side with the portrait of the past king, a serious looking man with a great deal of facial hair. “What if I just guess?” she said.

Karen looked to the coins. “Are you serious?”

“I am.”

“I could remodel the entire place with that. Keep it.”

“You’d be surprised how much money builds up over three hundred years.” She offered Karen the coins.

“No.”

“I’m giving them to you.”

Karen stared at the coins for many moments, during which Emile took one of Karen’s hands and placed the three gold coins in them. “Thank you,” Karen said at last, her voice soft. She did not look Emile in the eye.

“It’s nothing.”

After a pause: “That other Elf—she should be bludgeoned.”

“I’ll see to it.”

Karen looked up.

“I know that Elf. This wasn’t the first crime she committed.”

Karen placed her hands against the edge of the counter as if to steady herself. “I’ll spread word about her. She can run, but—”

“No.”

“Why?”

“If you do, she’ll go into hiding. I can handle her.”

“She caved the boy’s skull in.”

“I have enough experience to deal with an impetuous child.”

Following a moment’s hesitation, Karen nodded. She offered Emile her hand. “Thank you. You’ve given me a lot. I’m sorry I couldn’t accommodate your stay.”

Emile took the offered hand. “It’s all right. I didn’t expect to find that Elf here. Even if she hadn’t killed the boy, I’d still have followed her later. She… smelled odd.”

Karen did not question that final remark.

Emile turned and left, unlatching the door, and stepping out of The Moon’s Maiden, waving a hand over her shoulder as she did. In that brief time she’d spoken with Karen, the Drow and the mage had moved far enough from the town to be out of line of sight. Returning to her original assessment of their intended destination, Emile move north-east, but traveled along the wooded parts of the road, sprinting noiselessly through the underbrush.

Close to two miles ahead, she came upon them. The mage—Cassandra—spoke to the Drow, who responded only with the briefest of words.

Emile reached for the longbow strapped to her back and an arrow from her quiver. She positioned herself some meters ahead of the pair and crouched among the dark of the plants offered by the wooded area. Tilting the bow sideways, she notched a steel tipped arrow and pulled the bow’s drawstring back. Her breathing slowed to a mere crawl, as did the flow of the world around her.

Emile trained her sights on the mage, for the Drow would be able to match the arrow’s speed.

She waited.

They passed across the stone path in front of her, the road having turned from dirt to stone close to a mile before. Cassandra was more than in range. Emile could read the expression on her face; see her brow furrow as the Drow answered her questions only with snippets of dialogue. The mage tended to lift her hands in response to something, but it was in her fingers where the true reply took place. Nervous twitching permeated her hands at the Drow’s every move.

They passed within range and then out of it.

Emile relaxed her bow and allowed a normal breath, albeit a silenced one.

She moved forward, but her path of camouflage was dwindling. Close to a hundred feet of ahead, the woods dwindled and gave way to a young prairie, where she would be less likely to mask her form from the Drow. Taking the circumstances into account, Emile moved ahead of the pair again and repositioned herself, pulling back her bow’s drawstring and slowing her breathing once again. For the second time, she took aim at the mage, placing the point of her shot at the woman’s throat.

Emile aimed between the gaps of the trees, waiting for the mage to connect with the path of least resistance. Her moment arrived soon enough. Aiming through a gap no larger than the head of an infant, she loosed the arrow. At the release, a twang, followed by a brief hiss as the arrow ripped through air.

Both the mage and the Drow reacted simultaneously, but only the Drow’s reaction mattered. As if omniscient, she propelled herself in front of the mage and snapped the arrow out of midair. In a single movement, she twisted it around in her palm and flung it back in the opposite direction.

Emile rolled to avoid it, chastising herself for the attack. As she righted herself, she drew two arrows, notching both at once, and let them loose immediately, taking aim at the Drow instead. Though Aritha was able to catch one, the other met flesh, imbedding itself in the left side of the Drow’s abdomen. Even so, the creature did not seem to notice. She charged forward, ripping the metal tip from her chest, even as it caused further damage.

In the background, Cassandra said something, though neither Aritha nor Emile could hear.

Emile sprinted right as the Drow burst into the underbrush, who ripped aside branches as thick as her arm without even a thought. She moved only just in time, as the Drow’s hand passed within inches of her body.

Emile slammed her right foot into the ground, cancelling her momentum and giving her enough time to bring her bow about and slam it against the side of Aritha’s head. The force of the hit shattered the bow, scattering its fragments, while the force behind it staggered the Drow, who, for a moment, seemed surprised by the strength.

Breaking forward out of the underbrush, Emile leapt out onto the stone road, drawing two more arrows from her quiver and taking up one in each hand.

Cassandra brought her hands up.

In the presence of magic, Emile felt her skin tingle. Behind her, the Drow righted itself and continued its pursuit.

“The tips are coated magebane!” Emile said. “No trick of yours can stop them!”

The Drow exited the woods, but did not charge, the wound on her chest already sealing itself. Her stance was wide, but her arms stayed close to her chest. She stepped around; moving opposite of Cassandra till Emile was surrounded on either side.

“Do you think you can do you trick before you can do mine?” Emile did her best to hide the rush of adrenaline brought on by her quarrel with the Drow, a quarrel that sent her heart racing and did not allow it to slow.

In the mage’s eyes hesitation. “…I think we need to talk.”

“Do we?” Emile twisted around, making sure one arrow would be ready to stall Aritha, should the Drow charge.

“You’re being misled by your king.”

“Says she who conspires with Drow.”

“To kill a traitor.”

Emile’s response to the accusation seemed instinctual. Her hands twitched and her expression tightened. Under ideal circumstances, she would not have allowed such a thing to occur, but her dealings with the young king left uneasiness in her mind that she could not quell.

“I will force Aritha to stand down if you will,” the mage said.

Emile glanced to the Drow. “You first.”

Cassandra lowered her hands. “Aritha, stand down. You are not to injure Emile.” After a moment, she added: “Directly or indirectly.”

Though there seemed almost pain in her movements as she did so, the Drow lowered her arms to her sides, where her fingers ripped at air, as though unable to remove the craving of flesh from their bones.

Emile then lowered her own weapons, but did not return them to their quiver.

“Aritha is only here to kill King Marthen if our investigation bears fruit,” Cassandra said. “Aritha, to my side,” she added almost as an afterthought. When the Drow had at last done so, the mage continued. “The Coalition believes the king may be conspiring with Drow.”

“‘Conspiring’? When has there ever been a Drow society to conspire with?”

Cassandra ignored the question. “Their increased numbers and their heightened aggression. Until a year ago, we were seeing a decline of Drow appearances, but now they’ve more than tripled—and most of them appear in close proximity to Summer’s Keep. But most of all, the Coalition feels something stirring underground, something they’ve never felt.”

“That’s not proof.”

Cassandra frowned. “No, it’s not. If our suspicions prove false, we will compensate His Majesty for his troubles.” She lifted a hand and held it out to Emile. “If you’ll accompany me, you can see for yourself. If His Majesty is guilty of nothing, we will leave without incident.”

“And your Drow?”

Cassandra drew her hand back, instead crossing her arms over her chest. Her gaze flickered once to Aritha, who did not react to the question. “Aritha will stay with me—”

“No,” Emile said.

“—and the Coalition will decide her fate.”

“Your Coalition does not hold rights to murderers.”

“And what if she acted in defense of someone? What if the people you condemn as evil are somehow misunderstood?”

“Your Drow killed at least three dozen people before you adopted it. It doesn’t matter whether one of the deaths was justified. Do you think she would hesitate to kill you, if the opportunity arose?”

“I would give her the benefit of the doubt.”

Emile stared the mage down. Such ignorance in the face of the obvious, yet there was passion to it. She replaced her arrows in her quiver, but did not move from her place opposite of the pair. Her expression was like rock. “…I’ll come with you, but I will end both of you if anything you’ve said turns out to be false.”

At this, the Drow seemed almost to laugh, the lips of her faux Elven lips tightening at the edges.
Last Edited by American Soldier; 06-05-2012 at 09:11 PM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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Old 06-10-2012, 11:30 PM
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER NINE


Aritha was permitted to hunt that night, moving along on her own with the order that she obtain pretty as quickly as possible and return the moment she’d captured it. Still bearing the disguise of a surface Elf, she did not move with true invisibility, the flesh of her skin somehow glowing, even in true darkness offered by a moonless night.

Behind burning red eyes, something else lit anew. The Drow’s actions seemed less coordinated than usual. She passed along the prairie with great speed, but her form did not pass across the ground noiselessly as was normal. At the very end, when she jammed a foot into the ground to halt her advance, her arms shook, a motion she was able to quell only by bringing them to her chest, across a human fabric that itched at her skin like a disease.

She crouched, smelling another creature. It wandered about the tall grass without a care, a plumper bird with dark strips of brown and white running down its back. In the way it walked, Aritha was reminded of the flightless white birds Humans tended to keep as cattle, save for great puff of orange flesh at its neck. She reached out from the shadows and snapped its neck with her index finger and thumb, before lifting it from the ground, where its legs continued to flail for several seconds.

Aritha held the beast at the leg and held it up to her teeth, only to drop it and throw her head back as pain ran up her spine. She grabbed at the leather collar wrapped around her neck, but as she touched it, could not find the strength to pull it away. Even so, she pulled at it both hands, stumbling back as she did so. For almost a minute, she continued to pry at it before moving back to her prey and wrapping her fingers around its neck.

She squeezed.

What bones were left in the creature’s throat crumbled beneath the slightest pressure. The throat soon felt like paper. It was then that she turned and moved to join the other two, who had established a fire some ways back. Aritha threw the creature close to the fire ring and said nothing, moving as far from the others as the collar would permit.

The mage, Cassandra, sat cross-legged before the flame, her eyes closed. With a twist of her hand, the flame sputtered and began to die. With a twist back, its rose to greater heights than before. Her hand withdrawn, the flame returned to normal.

When the bird was tossed beside Cassandra, she was drawn from her quiet manipulation. She first noticed its neck. “Carried away?” she said.

“No,” came the Drow’s response.

Even at the single word, Cassandra smirked. She looked to the Elf, who had positioned herself on the opposite side of the fire and continued to stand. In the light of the fire, she seemed much older, the weapons on her back daunting. Even so, Cassandra said, “Do you know how to cook, Emile?”

Emile narrowed her eyes and looked to Cassandra. “I am not here to socialize with you.”

The mage did not respond to the sharp words. She moved her gaze instead to Aritha’s prey, and with a gesture of her right hand, lifted it into the air, where it hovered without support. Cassandra closed her eyes and lifted her other hand. Her left hand began to tremble, as did the flesh just above the bird’s neck. Pulling with her left hand, a terrible ripping sound followed. The bird skinned itself, dropping feathers and some of its exterior flesh to the ground.

Cassandra stood, maintaining her grasp of the creature.

After curling her left hand into a fist, she gave another pull and wrenched the creature’s organs from within, flinging them over Emile's head. The Elf did not react outright, but her arms stiffened and her gaze hardened. A drop of blood fell to fore head, where it was immediately wiped away by Emile.

Cassandra masked her satisfaction.

She tore strips from the creature’s body, moving them above the campfire.

Though it followed many moments’ apprehension, Emile as last said, “That’s not as simple as you want it to be.”

Cassandra looked up.

“Unless you use hickory wood, you’ll end up with a bitter aftertaste.”

The mage lifted the poultry just above the lick of the flames. After a moment’s paused, followed by a scratch of the chin, she said, “I’ll hold my nose then. My cooking has kept me alive so far.” She lowered the strip of meat back into the flame, where the flames cooked at the pink underside.

“If you’re lying, I will kill you.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m not lying.” Cassandra rested the arm maintaining the bird on the palm of her opposite hand. “Your name was Emile?”

The Elf said nothing.

“You don’t seem friendless, but you couldn’t have earned those friends by acting like an antagonist. What are you—”

“You want to be my friend, mage?” Emile’s brow furrowed. Though she did not wear a scowl, she might as well have, for her expression darkened. “No friend of mine would knowingly harbor a Drow, the Elf Butchers; scourge of every mortal race. That’s the first step to getting on my good side.”

“And you’re so willing to condemn a species.”

“Have they proven themselves otherwise?”

At the fire, Cassandra smiled. “When you attacked us, you startled me, but I was still paying attention. You put yourself between Aritha and myself, yet she chose not to attack you, despite the opportunity to do so. There were no orders in place saying she needed to abstain from combat to protect me.”

Emile crossed her arms and said nothing. She looked to Aritha, who was standing just out of reach of the firelight, the outline of her black skin only just visible. “That’s not proof enough to tack morality onto.”

“But if she had opportunity, why not—”

“Self-preservation.”

Cassandra laughed. “Of course.”

From the darkness, the Drow said, “You staggered me.”

Emile looked to her again. “I did.”

“How?”

“I hit you.”

Even at the jests, Aritha’s cool did not break. Her expression did not bear open hostility, even as the questions passed from her lips. “No one has staggered me.”

“You’re not the first Drow I’ve thrown myself against.”

At Emile’s words, curiosity. “Who else?” Aritha said.

“I didn’t know hi—its name.”

“A male?”

Emile nodded.

Aritha stepped into the light, widened her stance, and lifted her arms. “Fight me.”

Emile analyzed the Drow, her stance, her expression, and the way the muscles of her body clenched as Aritha shifted her weight. “Why?”

“To kill you.”

The answer was unsurprising and Emile accepted it without consequence. “We did fight.”

“No, we did not.”

Emile considered the Drow. She reached for the buckle of the leather baldric holding her broadsword, but reconsidered, and brought her hands back to her sides. “No. I’ll not be tested by an animal. It may satisfy you to know that my previous encounter with a Drow did not end in victory.”

The Drow did not object, but even as she fell out of her combat stance, she did not step back into the shadows. “How did stagger me?”

“I’m stronger than the average Elf.”

The expression on Aritha’s face was of dissatisfaction, but she said nothing more. She instead reached for the prairie bird, tore from it a jagged strip of flesh, and ripped pieces of it away with her teeth, all the while looking at Emile.

In the firelight, Cassandra seemed to smile.



* * *



They arrived at Summers Keep a day later, the Drow, the Elf, and the mage. They shared only one thing during the journey: feelings of mutual distrust. Moving, they did not speak, save for Cassandra, who often spoke to Aritha and received only a pittance for her efforts.

Summers Keep was not so much the home of a king as it was a city built around one. There were no walls, mazes of narrow streets and byways to those wishing to enter. In the center, close to two miles in, was a towering castle built within a circular wall of gray stone. Only the tips of it turrets poked over the walls, giving it just enough presence to be known.

Outside the city and off the main path, Cassandra renewed the charm maintaining Aritha’s Elvish appearance, but still found herself unable to mask the red of the Drow’s eyes. Content with the risk, Cassandra led them onward. Emile remained at back, watching Aritha with one hand prepared to draw her knife, should the Drow somehow escape the confines of the mage’s obedience collar.

They entered through a more populated street, crowded at points with swellings of people. A guard stopped her—a competent looking female in leather, her face uncovered to reveal a taut, militaristic glare coupled with long brown hair done up in a bun behind her neck.

“We’re here on business,” Cassandra said, lifting one hand and conjuring a small flame above her palm.

The guard stiffened and reached for her blade, but ultimately nodded, gesturing for them to continue through into the city. They did so, entering a section of the city that seemed to shift gradually from impoverished to middle class. As the trio ventured deeper, the buildings—packed together as they were—grew less ragged, displaying such increases in the condition of the white brickwork, the glass planes in some windows, and the functionality of the locks.

In a different situation, Emile might have said something to her companions, made some witty remark about the ever rising condition in contrast to the lower population. But in the presence of the Drow, she offered no such witticisms. She offered nary a smile. “You intend to break into Summers Keep itself?”

“‘Break’ is such an unpleasant word.”

“Infiltrate.” Emile watched as the guard who’d allowed them into the city passed word into one of the crowds, a crowd that promptly dispersed, its numbers spreading out in all directions, some passing Emile, trying to appear discreet while doing so.

“Fine. Infiltrate.”

“You entered the city without submitting papers.”

“The Coalition of Mages holds more power than its lets on. It could rule, should it desire to, but it exists only to maintain order.”

“What’s the difference?”

A smirk from Cassandra as they moved closer to the inner wall. Up close it seemed taller and the bricks large, cold to the touch as Cassandra ran the tips of her fingers across their smooth surface. Several passersby stared at the gesture as though it were inappropriate. “You’re misinterpreting what we do. Though we could, we do not influence monarchies out of spite. We do so only when the situation could result in the death of innocents.”

“…do you intend to just walk into the keep?

“If the Coalition believes something is amiss, no authority stands above it.”

Emile observed the hypocrisy in silence as they rounded the stony bend, passing down a narrow street till they reached a gate. Though it stood open, the battlements above were manned by two guards, each sporting a crossbow strung back and ready to fire. On the ground level, a further four men toted long swords, though only one had drawn the weapon. The other three monitored the comings and goings of the many civilians entering and exiting the keep, some with carts of goods in tow.

Cassandra brushed aside the crowd, lifting her hands to force her way through with a hint of magical force. Some were pushed hard enough that they stumbled to the ground, only to look up with a mixture of shock and anger for what had shoved them aside so easily.

The manner in which Cassandra approached the guards was almost a strut, as though she struggled to contain some excitement. At the last minute, she contained herself. Behind the mage, Aritha remained in tow, Emile behind her. The Elf’s hands turned nervous, finding comfort at her hip, within safe distance of her dagger.

As she had at the city entrance, she spawned an orange flame from the palm of her hand, presented it to the guards, and said, “We’re here on business for the Coalition.”

The guards glanced to one another. Through the slits in their full helmets, their eyes narrowed. “What sort of business?” one said, his voice muffled by metal.

“We believe a rogue splinter group has infiltrated the royal family and may be administering a form of mind control.” Though it was a lie that slipped from her tongue, Cassandra spoke it with the utmost conviction. Her gaze never slipped, nor did the seriousness of her expression. “If you notice any strange behavior among your people, I trust you’ll report it to one of the Coalition’s contacts.”

The guard considered her, but the eyes behind the helmet were less sure then than they were a moment ago. “Of course,” the guard said at last. “Proceed.”

The other two guards stepped aside and allowed the trio to pass, but their stances never loosened. Every step the mage-led group took, the eyes of many followed.

Summers Keep seemed built to match its name as closely as possible. Though constructed from the same white stone as the rest of the city, it shimmered with a golden hue when angled in the light. The structure itself was tall, almost a town in and of itself. The keep in the center seemed more a manor than a holdout in the event of siege. Wider than it was long, it spanned three floors, all the rooms of which were sealed and marked by opaque glass windows, all with blue tints.

In the courtyard, a great stone fountain that seemed to run perpetually, on the edge of which sat a young man in servant’s clothing scratching at a sheet of papyrus with the jagged tip of a quill. Beside him rested a small container of black ink. At the trio’s approach, the man looked up, considered them, then looked back to his work.

Emile crossed her arms. “That was good.”

“What was?” said Cassandra.

“The lie.”

At that, Cassandra smirked. “It just came to me.”

Emile did not pursue the subject further, saying instead, “Do you know what it is you’re looking for?”

“A gateway, most likely. The Drow are said to live so deep underground that they cannot be reached through conventional means.”

Emile nodded.

“Suddenly unsure if I’m lying?”

The Elf offered only a twist of the head, a gesture that seemed to surprise Cassandra with its silence.

“What is it Marthen offered you that made you pursue me?”

Emile was silent.

“Alright.”

Behind them, the Drow brewed. Aritha’s eyes flickered about the estate, taking in every wall, every window, and every possible opening. She said nothing as the others continued onward.

“How do you intend to enter?” said Emile.

“Front door.” In a show of force, Cassandra placed one foot forward and thrust one hand out. The double doors on the front of the manor flew open, loud enough to cause a ruckus, but not a ruckus loud enough to draw attention. One servant passing the door inside stumbled backwards, narrowly avoiding the swing.

Emile almost smiled, but then remembered on what side of the table she sat, and refrained from such a noise. Even so, she followed the mage’s lead without question, in spite of the past with which the child-king threatened her.

The inner chamber was divided into three sectioned floors. The bottom was the smallest, the area into which the door opened leading to a square tiled floor, polished to sheen. To the left and right, identical sets of stairs that led up to the second floor, a wraparound section that served only to move guests to the third floor, where the manor proper existed. That topmost set of stairs stood a floor above and directly across from the trio.

In the back of her mind, Emile acknowledged the absence of guards.

Cassandra made quick work of the stairs, taking them two at a time as though she were a child. Aritha followed next, mimicking the mage’s pace. Emile remained in the rear, her movements slow. She ran her hand across the stone railing as she went. The material was warm to the touch; glowing with the same golden light that permeated the manor’s other stonework.

Even standing still, Cassandra’s excitement seemed childlike. Her eyes were those of a young girl given a new toy to play with. “Marthen’s quarters are in the west wing. His father was never one to play in a throne room.” She seemed to restrain herself for the moment, reducing her speed to a casual strut. She did not mind the sparse number of servants who passed, sometimes paying her brief mind.

They passed along a wall of portraits, displaying the Marthen line. With each generation, they seemed to grow less intimidating, till at last the empty space was reached where James Marthen was to be immortalized. Instead, whatever portrait of him lay beneath was covered by a white sheet, thick enough only to prevent the unworthy eye from catching a premature glimpse.

The office of the king was hidden some ways back, past windows and busts that imitated the gradual procession of kings shown in the portraits. A single soldier stood guard, hardly paying attention as he rapped the tips of his boots against the ground. Though the man looked up in time to see Cassandra’s approach, he spoke too late to alert others.

The mage pulled a hand back and thrust it forward. At that movement, the soldier’s half-helmet slammed three times against the stone of the wall. He legs quivered for a moment before he collapsed, the steel of his armor scraping against the wall as he slipped backwards.

Emile paused at the sight. Her face revealed little emotion, but her eyes boiled with indecision. Even so, she passed the man, moving into the King Marthen’s office behind Cassandra. Aritha inside after her, she turned to shut the door, a simple wood thing that didn’t betray an ounce of royalty. Inside, a desk, shoved up against a windowless wall till there was scarcely room to slip a chair behind it. Strewn across the surface were sheets of parchment. Some were rolled; sealed. Some lay half finished, left to dry midsentence. Spilled to the side was a bottle of black ink, long since soaked into the material of the parchment and the dark wood of the desk.

“When did his father pass away?” Cassandra said, pausing for a moment to examine the inkbottle.

“Ten years ago.”

Cassandra ran a finger across the edge of the desk, picking up a thick layer of dust as she went. “Hm.”

The rest of the room seemed somehow typical. Spread across one wall, a portrait of James’ father, James Marthen II. The subject of the portrait adopted a more powerful pose, turning his head sideways and lifting his chin upwards, but the artist somehow captured the weakness of the moment, the flash of guilt in the man’s eyes.

A suit of armor manned the corner of the room, while a large fireplace rested next to it, thankfully unlit in the warmer weather.

“I am not impressed,” said Emile.

“He may grow into it.”

“No—with your ‘underworld’.”

Wrapped power around each drawer in the desk, she ripped them out, demolishing each lock with a display of telekinetic force. In each, papers, some kept aligned in folder and standing upright against the inside of the drawers, while other, fresher papers were shoved in haphazardly.

At last, Emile brought a hand to her forehead and said, “Why are you checking his desk?”

Cassandra looked up. “And where would you recommend?”

“Somewhere less obvious. Were he trying to hide something from your coalition, he wouldn’t leave it in a drawer to be rifled around with.”

Cassandra considered the words, stared at the drawers, and then to the fireplace. “Aritha,” she said. “Break down the fireplace.”

The Drow did so almost gladly. As she had in preparation for facing Emile, Aritha widened the stance of her legs and brought her arms closer to her body. She moved to the fireplace and brought her fists forward in rhythmical fashion, alternating quick blows till the stone crumbled beneath. Glistening stonework collapsed inwards, revealing a room ahead that reeked of darkness in all senses of the word.

The Drow’s knuckles were bloodied by the impacts, but only slightly. The effect was minor enough that she took no notice. Finished, she stepped back, even without word from the mage.

Cassandra stepped into the darkness, casting a flame from her palm as she did so. Despite the flame, the darkness did not whither, seeming to grow in intensity in the presence of light.

Though she did so without thought, Emile stepped back.

“This is familiar,” Cassandra said as she stepped forward, before a thought occurred to her, and she stepped back. She placed her index finger on the exposed flesh of Aritha’s forearm, breathing deep for a moment. “Huh.” She moved back to the darkness, reaching out with that same index finger as she approached the shadows once again. “What do you feel in this darkness, Aritha?”

The Drow seemed almost in a trance when asked. She too had stepped into the darkness, her arms beginning to lift from her sides as her palms opened. The previous intensity of her combat stance faded. “Comfort,” she said.

Emile drew her dagger from its sheathe and held it sideways before her, the blade kept close to her forearm. She stepped back again, resting a hand on the edge of the king’s desk. Though the room was windowless, her eyes surveyed it, examining any possible points of entry. “Mage,” she said, “we need to go.”

“But this is it!” Cassandra said with youthful glee. Her pupils expanded far beyond the natural range of darkness. “A portal to the underworld! Pure darkness. So thick you can—” She grabbed at it with her free hand. “—reach out and touch it.”

“We need to go, mage!” She advanced on Cassandra, her knife still held before her.

“This—”

“Mage!” She grabbed Cassandra by the arm and pressed the knife against the mage’s throat. “Think clearly!”

The Drow turned, compelled by the collar, yet unable to act on it due to its last orders. Even in darkness, the irises of her eyes flared red, narrowing into a protective gaze.

Only then Cassandra seemed to slip from her hypnosis. Though Emile still held a blade to her neck, her muscles loosened. She did not lift an arm to object to the Elf’s grasp. “Of course,” she said, her voice weak.

Emile released the mage, who stepped back on her own.

“I feel it,” Cassandra said. “Compulsion.”

The Drow’s eyes moved to the darkness, where they lingered, not with the same stupor that had possessed Cassandra, but with interest. For a moment, she defied the collar and stepped forth. The shadows wrapped around her hand as the Drow offered it, but she retracted it a moment later. Her heart began to race.

Emile turned to leave the darkness, struggling to mask an overwhelming sense of panic.

She came face to face with a pair of red eyes.

They were not like the eyes of Aritha, full of anger that flared up in the presence of any other emotion. Emile met with red eyes that reeked of cunning, eyes that tore through her soul in the split second she met their gaze—the eyes of a Drow. But this Drow was not like any Emile could remember. Its skin was pale, a mild gray in its complexion. Even in the weakest of light, the wrinkles across its skin were enunciated, an unnatural sight on an immortal. Such a body was one of a woman, lithe and womanly, curving in form as though it obeyed no natural laws.

Emile lifted her dagger, but had raised it no more than an inch when the Drow brought a hand to the Elf’s face. At the touch, Emile’s strength vanished. Thin, web-like lines of purple crawled from the tips of the woman’s fingers and wormed their way through Emile’s skin. The effect began to bleach her flesh, turning a once fair complexion white.

Somewhere, in the corners of her gaze, Emile saw Cassandra and Aritha fight. She saw the mage lift her hands to cast a spell before something leapt from the darkness and pulled her in, where the Cassandra’s screams vanished. It seemed the same for Aritha, the Drow. The darkness claimed her as well, and even in the presence of others like herself, the expression in her eyes seemed, for a moment, one of fear.

It was as Emile’s legs lost the strength to support herself that the woman spoke, Drawing back as her parasites worked through Emile’s body, corrupting her flesh with a labyrinth of purplish veins that seemed to rip the life from whatever they reached.

“You are She Who Once Was,” the Drow said. Unlike the words uttered from the clumsy tongue of Aritha, the words of this Drow came laced with an accent—a toxin. The parasite, they seemed to sap at Emile’s strength. “Such years passed that many began to doubt your existence—but I knew you would return to us one day.”

Only Emile’s hands kept her from collapsing. True darkness ate away at her vision as the voice of the Drow grew distorted.

“I have come to bring you back.”

Emile found the strength to stand again. She fought back at the darkness as best she could, reaching out with both hands and grabbing hold of two tufts of the woman’s dress. The Drow did not fight the gesture; rather, it seemed to satisfy her. She smiled, a grin that revealed two rows of jagged fangs, cutting away at the inside of her mouth.

“You are still strong, even in this form,” she said. With one hand, she reached out and stroked Emile’s cheek. The smile turned almost nostalgic.

The Elf leaned into the gesture as though compelled, her grip on the Drow’s dress weakening. Bits of the material held between her fingers slipped away. Darkness persisted at the edge of her vision. The parasites seemed to well up inside her again, causing such pain that she could do nothing more than lock away her thoughts and hope to survive.

And then Emile lost her grip, collapsing against the cold stone of the floor, unable to act as consciousness slipped away.
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Old 06-11-2012, 12:28 AM
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CHAPTER TEN

Aritha possessed no memories of sleep.

She remembered hunting through the night, stalking, moving, waiting—but she did not recall sleeping. She did not recall affording herself such a moment of weakness before. So when she awoke, strapped to a stone table, her hands and feet bound by a rope she could not shred, she cried out. It was the cry both angry and wailing. She struggled with her bonds for many seconds before registered the shadows gathered around her.

Her vision cleared as her head did. Her eyes functioned in darkness as they did in the light of the surface—and these Drow were the same. They stared down at her like puppet masters; and though none moved, one at each end of her bed, they seemed in a state of constant rotation. Their robes formed a blur of purple, an act that seemed to dull Aritha’s senses. She could not see their faces, for their hoods fell forward enough to block them from view. Only the bases of their necks were visible, each a shade of gray or black.

The one near Aritha’s head held an index finger above her forehead, allowing a single drop of black, steaming liquid to fall to her flesh, an action slight that sent pain flaring through Aritha’s body. She arched her back, screamed, and uncurled her hands as she struggled to loose it from her body. She noticed then that those garments the mage had donned her in were stripped away, leaving Aritha bare beneath the eyes of those who seemed so much like her. Even that collar binding her to the mage had been torn away.

In that moment, she could not bring rage to surface. She could feel only fear.

And then the Drow who brought on the pain said, “Do you remember this place, Aritha of the Black?” She ran a cold hand across the flesh of Aritha’s arm. “This is where you once called home. This room—” The fingers moved to the edge of stone table. “This room. This table.”

The woman standing at Aritha’s head lifted a hand. Another drop of the liquid seemed to emerge from the tip of her fingertip, falling to Aritha’s forehead.

Aritha screamed. She arched her back. She tore at her bonds with new ferocity.

“You do not remember because we buried ourselves so deep inside you, so deep that your return to us would prove arduous.”

“Aritha of the Black,” the other Drow who stood around Aritha said in unison. All three were female.

But the fourth, the one who stood at Aritha’s head, lifted a hand. That gesture drove the others from the room, leaving through an exit behind Aritha, one she could not see, for it pained her even to urn her head.

“Aritha of the Black,” the woman said. “If only you could remember how important you were—how important you are.” She ran a finger across the path between Aritha’s breasts, across her neck, and up to the point between Aritha’s eyes. “But we will make you remember. You will remember the role you have played for the Drow, and for the Mother. The Human mage believes she controls you—”

The woman dug a fingernail into the skin between Aritha’s eyes. However, this time, Aritha did not scream.

“We will remind you what control is.”

Aritha felt the liquid fall into the open wound. The agony tore her apart. Her body quaked, no longer capable of combatting. Her back quivered and her eyes filled with tears, tears that clashed with the hardened red gaze of the Drow. “No!” For all the energy she thrust upon the word, it still seemed little more than a whisper.

“‘No’?” The woman lowered her face till it rested at the same level as Aritha’s. “What do you remember of us, Aritha of the Black? Do you remember the other members of your house? Or perhaps it collapse?” She circled around Aritha, moving to the opposite side, always followed by Aritha’s gaze. “Do you remember how we rescued you from its fall? How you begged for new purpose?”

She pressed a finger against the wound on Aritha’s forehead.

Aritha screamed, writhing against the stone of the table, held in place by her bonds. “You never moved far from our control. How much did it please you to be taken by the mage? To be subjugated? You knew somewhere in your broken mind that it reminded you of us?” The woman drew back, stepping half into the darkness. “You know so little. You are of Black—from the nothingness of Mother. You are nothing. Without a host, you are nothing.”

She ran a hand along the edge of the table.

“A parasite.”

She placed both hands on opposite sides of the table and held herself above Aritha. Long, white hair streamed down past the hood and tickled at Aritha’s flesh. The hints of a softer face were visible past the woman’s hood, but none clear. “Would you like to know for what purpose it was that we cast you out to the surface? It was I who vouched for your usefulness in such a task. In a world ruled by might, your power would serve as a dark contrast to that of humans.”

Aritha struggled to maintain hardiness in her gaze, but said nothing.

The woman backed away. “It is intriguing how much the world above changed you. Aritha of the Benaar was softer. That Aritha would have begged for an end.” She pressed a finger to Aritha’s forehead, driving the pain throughout her body again.

Her response this time was less erratic, for her body grew numb to the pain, her body seeming a nerve that knew nothing else.

“But it matters how little you speak. Even if we must cast you out, you have given us everything we desire from the surface.” The woman lifted a hand and rested it over her lips, which themselves twisted into a tightlipped smile. “What if I were to peel the flesh from your mage? Slowly. How much would it tear at you to watch her suffer a slow death, begging for death?”

She paused and lifted her chin.

“I do not think she would take to pain so well as you.”

Aritha said nothing.

“And then I would reintroduce you to those who hated the house of Benaar. There are many who would see you torn limb from limb. You killed so many, even among us.” A laugh. “But of course, you do not remember our world. Your family then. They would enjoy meeting she who abandoned them at the tip of a knife.”

The woman moved to the door, pushing her hood back as she did. The face beneath was young in flesh. Soft cheeks gave way to eyes that seemed older than time, who slipped deeper into the woman’s head, surrounded by heavy shadows that seemed far blacker than the world around them. From the back of her head, a cascade of silvery white hair that contrasted the black of her skin.

“I will do all those things in time,” she said, and then left through that same exist Aritha could not see.

When she seemed sure no one listened, Aritha screamed again, the pain stemming from her forehead still ripping across her flesh.



* * *



Emile staggered back, barefoot, stripped of her weapons and armor till only her unmentionables remained. The purple webs continued to stretch across her body, paling her flesh till it was little more than white. The Drow had placed in in a metal room, small, containing barely enough room for her to maneuver. She found herself flat against the wall, the cold of the metal sending a sensory shock throughout her body.

One Drow was dead before her, his face beaten until the bone had caved on itself. Blood eked from his head onto the floor where he’d fallen. In spite of the death, there was no exit for Emile. Though the metal cage had been entered, there seemed no way out. Only small, useless holes in the ceiling allowed air into the room.

She turned and pounded her fists against the wall. The pain of doing so shook her to the bone, forcing her to stagger back. Emile mumbled to herself, resting one hand against her chest as she leaned against the wall to her left. Her hands trembled, a sensation that traveled to her legs, weakening her till she could barely stand. In her chest, her heart raced till Emile could no longer discern each beat.

Then, from outside the prison came a voice: “Hello, She Who Once Was.”

Though Emile heard the voice, she said nothing in response to it.

“We have not forgotten you, though the years have been long.”

Emile stumbled across the prison, her foot slipping in the growing pool of blood.

“You see well in the dark for one who is no longer Drow.”

Emile said nothing. She grabbed at her bicep with the opposite hand and squeezed, as though she could force the Drow infection from her flesh by strength alone.

“You are not like Aritha. You have not forgotten us completely.”

Emile spoke at last: “I am not Drow.”

The voice outside the prison was silent. Action only came when the wall opposite of that which Emile leaned on opened, sliding up as though it was a great door, allowing a single figure to slip inside. In her brief glimpse outside, Emile saw elaborate stone halls, wider than the confines of her cell.

The figure who stepped in was the one who had infect Emile on the surface. Her hood was drawn, revealing a younger face, older eyes, and silver white hair that fell along her shoulders. The room closed behind her, but there was no alarm in her eyes. Rather, she smiled and spread her arms wide. “But you are, She Who Once Was, with us again. In such proximity, can you claim to be so different from us?”

Emile flattened herself against the wall, unable to move further from the woman then she’d already done. When she’d gathered her voice and her thoughts, Emile she looked to the infection on her body and said, “What have you done to me?”

“What you have done to yourself, She Who Once Was.” The woman lowered her arms, the expression on her face grower darker. “You did not return my embrace.”

“What did you do to me?”

The Drow stepped around the corpse, taking little notice of it. “The Mother is returning you to your natural state, giving you—“

“No!” Emile stepped forward, lifting one hand as though to reach out for the woman.

At the response, the Drow smiled.

“The ones above who claim to be of Drow supplanted your form and replaced it with their own. We are rescuing you.”

“No!” Emile turned and slammed her fists against the wall. The pain that shot up her arms staggered her, sending her backwards, but its impact was less than the Drow’s words. “I do not want the Mother’s gift.”

The Drow smiled. “Foolish thoughts put in place by a foolish people.”

“I’m not Drow!”

“They have taken your form from you, but your conscience remains connected to us.”

“I’ll—” Her hands curled into fists as her legs twisted into an unstable combat stance. But even as she did so, the strength of her form seemed to give out. Emile fell to her knees, unable to lift he head even to meet the Drow’s gaze. As weakened as she was, however, she still said, “I’ll not be Drow again.”

The woman stepped across the corpse to Emile and knelt before her, reaching out to hold Emile’s chin with the tips of her fingers. “Those thoughts are not your own, She Who Once Was. The Mother feels part of herself in your thoughts. She has been connected to you, even as you were stolen from us by those who claim ancestry with Drow.”

She moved her hand up Emile’s cheek, a touch the Elf leaned into.

“You crave us even now. We have what those who claim to be Drow cannot give you: balance within yourself. At their meddling, you strive to be two people, even though there is but Drow.”

“…I’m… not…”

“You are. You long for us, for the people stolen from you.” The woman brought her other hand up and cupped Emile’s cheeks. “Do not fear what you lost. We welcome you back as a sister, as the Mother welcomes back Her daughter.”

Emile’s eyes closed as her speech slurred. She fell into the sensation of the woman’s touch. “…Mother…”

“Yes, She loves you, She Who Once Was. She has never ceased loving Her daughters.”

Emile’s eyes then opened, and she seemed to recover a fraction of her strength. She pulled away from the woman, colliding with the wall behind her and stumbling to her left, before falling to her side. As ever, the Drow parasite consumed her, stealing away what strength she mustered. “…not Drow,” she said, struggling to prop herself up by her arms.

The woman’s gaze hardened, though frustration dominated anger. “You have always been Drow, She Who Once Was. You have but to embrace it again.” Behind her, the cage wall lifted, revealing briefly the outside world of stone halls and shallow light. The woman—the Drow—stepped through the exit, but in her weakened state, Emile could not follow.



* * *



Cassandra’s mind was addled when they spoke to her, the words finding no bearing amidst a sea of drugged thoughts. At last coming to, she found herself propped up in a stone chair. She knew this only because there sat a candle in the middle of the room, providing her just enough light to establish her bearings. Though she was not bound to the chair, she felt no desire to move. From every direction, the darkness seemed to consume her.

And the silence.

For the first time in her life, she heard nothing but the air escaping from her lungs. Cassandra’s fingers wrapped as tight around the arms of her chair as possible, to a point where some part of her mind wondered if the thing might shatter beneath her. Her feet scrambled back, pushing the chair till it found itself against a wall.

Still, Cassandra did not move.

The air seemed so shallow.

Her heart rang through her ears.

“Cassandra Phillias.” Someone stepped from the darkness; a lithe form, wrapped in black. The voice behind it was female.

Cassandra’s chin trembled. She could say nothing.

“You are not so irrational as the others. Let us speak as equals.” With a wave of her hand, the figure seemed to conjure a chair identical in carving to Cassandra’s. As she sat, much of her upper body disappeared into darkness. All that could be seen was the crossing of the woman’s legs, revealing skin of a light gray. “The Drow are not irrational. If we agree to terms, we will release you to the surface and never harm you again.”

Cassandra’s trembling did not cease.

From the darkness, the woman said, “They call you ‘mage’, yes? The word is a simplification of another word, maijrin. The most literal translation into your language is, ‘being of great power’.” The Drow leaned forward till the reds of her eyes shone through the darkness. “I am also maijrin. We both know what it is to hold another’s life in our hands.”

Though the reassurance was minimal, the words seemed to provide Cassandra some level of comfort. Her death grip on the arms of her chair loosened, allowing her to lean forward and, for a moment, overcome her fear. “…what do you want?”

The Drow’ eyes narrowed. “Do not be so fearful with your words, or I may not think to treat you as equal.”

Cassandra swallowed, drew back in her chair, and rested her hands across her lap. She thought then how long it had been since her last bath. “What do you want?” she said, somehow mustering more strength in her voice.

The Drow’s eyes returned to their normal intensity. “The Mother desires one of your creations for use in her crusade—the collar by which you forced obedience into Aritha of the Black.”

“…why do you want the collar?”

The Drow’s eyes narrowed.

Cassandra looked down, tried to straighten her back against the chair, then looked up again. “Why do you want the collar?”

“So that we might bring justice.” The Drow was standing, but the manner in which she did so was not threatening. As she stood, she lifted her arms from her sides and spread them out wide. “The Mother wishes retribution. Long have we beseeched Her for vengeance against those who displaced us, and she has heard.”

The woman in purple paused.

“Do you know the tale of Drow?”

“…I—” Cassandra feigned the clearing of her throat. “I do not.”

On the woman’s face, a ghost of a smile. “Drow once ruled. The world was ours, both below the sun and below the surface. We knew no equal, not in Human, nor Dwarf.” She balled up one hand into a fist. “But there was division in our numbers. A splinter of our people, Those Who Are Not Worthy, took pity on those beneath us. They called the treatment of those creatures ‘unjust’.”

A dismissive wave of the hand.

“We were Drow. We ignored the words of Those Who Are Not Worthy. But they conspired with Humans and Dwarves. They produced offspring with the bodies of Drow, but the flesh of Humans. They gave themselves to the corruption of the lesser races—they called such offspring Elfani. But we were Drow. We scoured the world and hunted down the abominations of flesh. But we were careless. In our negligence, we allowed our warriors to be spread thin. The Elfani possessed the cleverness of Drow.

“Our armies were drawn into traps, beaten until they were but cripples. The Elfani struck at our hearts and minds, driving us to the underworld, a place where only Drow could survive. Before we could be followed, we sealed ourselves from the surface, abandoning Those Who Are Not Worthy to the weakness of the lesser races.”

At that part of the story, the Drow smiled. Her grin revealed rows of jagged teeth that glowed in the shallow orange light of the candle. “But we were not forsaken. In the depths of the earth, we found Mother, who showed us our weaknesses. She showed us the weakness of men, how their arrogance corrupted our armies and the minds of our leaders. In her underworld, we have flourished, more powerful than even the maijrin of the surface can imagine.”

The Drow’s story ceased. After a sharp intake of breath, she returned to her chair and leaned back into darkness.

“…you want me to help conquer the surface.”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“You will help us to bring light to the surface, to purify those who can no longer survive Drow.”

Cassandra wrapped her fingers tight around the arms of her chair.

The Drow smiled again. “You fear the possibility because you have been brought up in a world nourished by weakness—but you are not weak. Your power is in common with Drow, and is part of our bloodline. The Mother offers you the opportunity to join with Drow.”

Cassandra’s mouth twitched. She was silent for a moment, before saying, “Where is Aritha?”

“Aritha of the Black is being reintroduced to Drow.”

“…and… the Elf? Emile?”

The woman’s smile seemed to grow conniving. “The one you know as Emile is Drow.”

“That’s…” But Cassandra was silent, for “impossible” seemed the wrong word. “But she doesn’t look Drow.”

“She was changed by Elfani many years ago, made to think and feel as Those Who Are Not Worthy. The Mother called her back to us, just as she called Aritha of the Black.”

Cassandra lowered her gaze and stared at her lap, where her legs squirmed under the Drow’s gaze. “I would like to see them.”

But as if she did not hear, the Drow said, “You will provide us with all knowledge pertaining to your collar of obedience. Once the Mother is satisfied that you keep no secrets, you will be returned to the surface world, your mind wiped of Drow.”

Cassandra’s gaze remained low. “…no.”

The Drow moved into the light, revealing more of her face. Eyes glowed red, even in darkness. Her gray skin seemed closer to silver. “The Mother does not request this. You will create for us plans to your collar, or we will feed you to the darkness.”

“I—”

The leapt from her chair and moved towards Cassandra, wrapping fingers around the mage’s throat that threatened to snap her neck. She lifted the mage from the floor as though she were a child. The Drow drew her close, close enough that Cassandra could smell bated breath and see deep into the red of the woman’s eyes. “You bear connection to Drow, but do not mistake the Mother’s demand for complacency. You are granted this opportunity only at Her behest. The answers can be extracted from your mind by force—a process you will not survive.”

Cassandra’s feet dangled just above the floor. Her eyes grew wide as she scratched at the arm that held her, unable to conjure a spell.

“Were my word law, I would peel away your mind without a second thought!”

Cassandra’s flails grew weaker.

The Drow’s head jutted to the side, as though she listened for something. “But the Mother demands a second answer! Give her one so I may tear out your throat!”

As her vision faded and her limbs grew weak, Cassandra’s head lulled to the side. In the weakest of voices, she said, “…fine.”

The Drow threw her aside, where she crashed against the stone of the wall, whimpering once as her black erupted in pain. She did not move from that place. Cassandra’s eyes welled up in tears, but her sobs were stifled. “You will be permitted to see your companions until then,” the woman said, turning and moving out of the light.

The sound of stone shifting and grinding against stone was heard.

“Your continued existence will serve only to purify the lesser creatures from the surface world. Your connection to Drow has earned you the shelter of the Mother, but even She cannot protect you from purification.”

When the woman was at last gone, Cassandra did not move. She stared at the candle placed on the floor of the room, where the wax continued to burn away, leaving the flame almost dead. To her tears, she brought up a hand, wiping away what she could, leaving her face heavy and swollen. Without another to overhear them, her sobs went unstifled.
Last Edited by American Soldier; 06-15-2012 at 09:18 PM. Reason: Reply With Quote
  #17 (permalink)   [ ]
Old 06-15-2012, 09:19 PM
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER ELEVEN


They brought Aritha from her prison in binds constructed from a dark metal even she could not break. They clasped her hands behind her back, but left her otherwise unhindered as she was moved throughout the underground. The Drow did not protect her so vehemently as Humans. She was provided with only two escorts: the woman of gray from before, who still bore the hooded robe of dark purple that hid most of her being from view, and a soldier, whose body was encased in armor of the same black metal that held Aritha’s hands together. Only the man’s eyes remained visible, glowing a brighter red than Aritha’s.

The woman in purple escorted her through the under, a massive natural cavern that stretched for many miles in all directions. Into the walls, buildings were carved, taller, and finer than anything from the surface. Their stonework was gray, inscribed on most sides with runes that glowed blue in the darkness. Though from a distance they seemed empty and lifeless, upon closer inspection, they were manned on all sides by Drow of both sexes dressed in the black armor of before, a design that allowed for none of their natural features. The only part of the armor that distinguished soldiers of different houses was the design engraved on the chest piece.

The woman in purple brought them across the cavern floor, an area that seemed lifeless. Around them, the world was scarred and uneven. Fragments of corpses were strewn across the floor, some accompanied by black marks of an explosion. Much of the terrain seemed altered by artificial means, providing trenches and bunkers.

Aritha noted at one point a set of weapons: triple pointed metal claws that seemed meant to be overlaid with a hand. Though all three claws were jagged and rusted away, they seemed nonetheless menacing.

The woman in purple brought Aritha to a smaller structure, though still built into the cavern wall. Though it appeared to at one point have been as large as the others, stretching miles into the air, the upper half was gone, the earth where it must once have rested melted away, leaving only a molten crevice in the wall.

Aritha was directed through what looked to have been a reinforced door, arched at the top and the first of several layers of metal covering the entrance, but the entryway had long been pierced, peeled apart as if by some monstrous creature. The inside of the structure remained intact, though signs of battle dominated the rooms. Corpses lined walls, some wearing a simplified version of the black armor that did not cover the face or arms.

Winding stone corridors were splattered with blood and black smears. Down one in particular, a trail of bodies all bearing the same cross symbol upon their chests had been cut down, each body bearing wounds from some creature with four claws.

“Do you remember how you fled from this battle, Aritha of the Black,” the woman in purple said. She made a wide gesture that encompassed the building. “This was the final stand of House Benaar. It was here that they were stripped of their leadership, and the spoils of the victory claimed by House Endin. It was from this battle that you came to me, begging for a place in the House of Endin.”

She turned to Aritha.

“Do you remember the deaths of those who owed their loyalty do you?”

Aritha said nothing. She held her gaze low, though she did not submit. The expression on her face remained one of stone.

“Then remember, Aritha of the Black!” The woman in purple stepped towards her and placed an index finger on Aritha’s forehead and her thumb on her chin.

Aritha reeled back as though struck. The act of regaining her balance was made more difficult by the binding together of her hands. But as she did, her eyes widened. Her mouth fell open as if she meant to say something.

“Do you remember, Aritha of the Black?” The woman in purple a hand on each of Aritha’s shoulders and forced the other Drow to the ground. “You were maijrin—and yet House Benaar was lost by your cowardice.”

The woman wrapped her fingers around Aritha’s neck and lifted her from the ground.

“It does not matter to me what you think of those memories now. All that matters is that you feel the guilt—bury it as you might. The Mother wishes you… reintegrated into Drow, but I will not do so happily. I will make you remember every facet of your life, every failure. You will end this charade no more than my dog, just as you were when I—”

The woman in purple paused. Her left ear twitched.

She released Aritha, who staggered back, but righted herself.

“…the Mother—”

Aritha charged forward, driving her head into the woman’s stomach, forcing her into the stone wall, where sharp fragments of rock lashed out at the woman’s back. Aritha turned then to her guard, who lifted his hands, each bearing the triple clawed gauntlets she’d observed on the battlefield. The movement was not fast enough, however, as Aritha spun around and brought her foot to the soldier’s head. The impact rattled his armor, enough so that he brought his hands up to stabilize his helmet. In that moment, Aritha delivered a second kick to his chest, sending the man crashing to the ground.

Then she ran.

She’d made it only to the end of the hall before she was flattened against the floor by some invisible force. Against the floor, she was spun around so that she once again faced the woman in purple, who was again standing, albeit it with one hand brought to her chest. The other was lifted, the palm facing down, as she moved towards Aritha.

“Aritha of Benaar did not have such spirit,” she said, though her voice sounded damaged. She encircled Aritha, all the while staring her down. “What part of the surface changed you? What remains in you of the dog who fell before me, begging for purpose?” The woman in purple knelt beside Aritha and drew back her hood. Again, silvery hair fell across her shoulders, masking in part a face hardened by war. The red of her eyes seemed somehow darker than before. “Had you killed me, where would you go? To Drow? They know you have returned, and they will butcher you like the animal you are?”

She twisted her hand. Aritha was spun against the floor, the scraggy surface tearing away her skin, leaving dark red marks on the floor.

“Or would you return to the surface? Where they mark our kind as murderers?”

Aritha made not a single noise.

“What would you do? Tell me so the Mother may laugh!”

The woman in purple held Aritha flat against the ground many seconds more before she seemed to regain control of herself. She reversed the force that held Aritha to the ground and propelled the other Drow to her feet. “Magic is your bane as it was on the surface,” she said. “Display such obstinance again and I will cleave your head from your shoulders.”

She moved through the stone hallway, towards the House’s exit.

“I trust you are familiar with such means of death.”



* * *



Where they brought Cassandra Phillias, there was no light. They thrust her into a dark, steel room, where she was given only a glimmer of light, revealing a second huddled form in the opposite corner, before that light was cut off and she was left to flounder in the shadows. Around her neck, she bore the marks of the Drow who had sought to strangle her.

She lifted a hand and conjured a flame.

The room in which they’d stowed her was little more than a hollow steel cube. At the top, holes through which oxygen entered. In the presence of the flame, it reflected a dampened form of the light across all sides, providing dim illumination. The form in the corner opposite of Cassandra was Drow, stripped naked and thrown against the wall. In the dim light, the black of its skin seemed almost to enunciate its form.

At the conjuring of the flame, it looked up. Its red eyes seemed weak—tired.

“…put that out,” it said—she. The voice was female, but sounded as coarse as gravel.

Cassandra did not comply. She stood straight and lifted her other hand, preparing a second spell, if further magic proved necessary.

The Drow pushed herself into a sitting position, but the action seemed pained. Across her shoulder area, a blotch of paler flesh, interlaced with some web-like infection that pulsated out of sync with the rest of her body. At each movement, the Drow cringed. “My eyes, they can’t—”

The Drow did not finish the sentence, instead bringing a hand up to block the light.

Almost at once, she lowered it again, and squinted at Cassandra. “—mage?”

Cassandra lowered her hand. “Emile?” In her surprise, the flame began to die.

In the reduced lighting, the Drow’s eyes returned to their normal size, allowing her to look at Cassandra directly. “I assumed they’d killed you.” She slumped against the wall again, wincing as her flesh met metal. “You should sit down. Even the smallest exertions can kill you down here.”

Though Cassandra’s expression relaxed somewhat, she did not sit. “That woman said you were being returned to Drow—I didn’t know…”

Emile looked away. Her body seemed in a state of flux, trying to be both Drow and Elf. Though much of her skin had turned to the black of the Drow, blotches of fairer complexion remained on her neck, chest, and the calf of her left leg. Her hair, despite the transformation, stayed the brown of the Elves. And even though her right eye bore the red of the Drow, her right eye remained a pale green.

“What happened?”

“A gift from the Mother.”

Cassandra crossed her free arm over her chest and began to pace a small path across the room. “…is that… some sort of deity?”

“Yes.”

Cassandra nodded, though the response did not seem to register. “You were Drow?”

“No.”

“But she—”

“I am nothing like them!” In a sudden burst of strength, Emile stood. The intensity of the pulsations on her shoulder increased, as though it intended to consume what remained of her Elven flesh. The exertion brought with it pain, causing her to stagger back the moment she’d risen to her feet. “I am nothing like them.”

She remained standing, but slumped against the wall.

Cassandra looked away. “I’m sorry.”

Emile said nothing.

“…but I suppose this confirms it.”

“What?”

“James Marthen was conspiring with Drow. He opened a Gateway to the underworld with the intention of allowing them through.”

Emile stared over her knees at the floor, as though struggling to find some reason to be angry with the mage, rather than the circumstances. When she at last found none, she said, “I suppose he was.” Following those words, Emile struggled to her feet with legs that didn’t want to support her weight, and propped herself against the wall.

“But how could he benefit from the purification?”

After shifting her weight against the wall, Emile crossed her arms over her chest, and looked to Cassandra. “What are you talking about?”

“…the Drow in purple called it the purification. Wiping out everything that isn’t Drow.”

“Why did she tell you?”

“She wanted me to explain the mechanics of the collar that keeps Aritha under my control.”

“Did you?”

“No.”

Emile paid further attention to the strangle marks around Cassandra’s neck. As if the marks were on her own skin, Emile reached up to her collar, hesitated, and brought her hand back to her side. “You have rock fragments in your hair.”

“I—” As if by instinct, Cassandra reached up to her hair. Though it was clumped together, dirtied, and knotted in places, there were indeed bits of rock on the side of her head, clinging to strands of her hair.

“We’re both trapped here, mage. There isn’t any point to lying.”

Cassandra bit her lower lip.

“Can you breathe all right?”

Cassandra drew her hand back to her side. “Yes.”

“Can you cast?”

“Yeah.”

Emile nodded. “Then save your strength and don’t give in. There are few Drow torture cannot break.”

Cassandra did not respond immediately. Her eyes were drawn instead to Emile’s half transformed state. “…have they ever attempted to take the surface before?”

Emile offered a slight shake of the head. “They’ve never possessed the means. For all the Drow legends of superiority and power, if they ever attempted a proper invasion, they wouldn’t have the power to maintain it. The ones like your pet, who appear on the surface and slaughter whatever they can, overwhelm because no one is ever prepared for them.

“…that Drow in the purple robes seems confident.”

“Malia.” Emile’s expression hardened. “From House Endrin, I think. She’s the one who did this—” Emile placed a hand upon her right shoulder, where the purple, web-like infection continued to fester, pulsating like an overgrown vein.

Cassandra’s almost seemed to smile. “It’s… weird that I’m just accepting you were—”

“I was not Drow.”

A moment of silence, during which Cassandra drew a foot further away from Emile.

“I remember the world, some of the people, and the history, but I know nothing of what I might have been before. There is nothing before Emile.” At that moment, she seemed to remember her nudity, and brought an arm up to cover her breasts. “Whatever Malia says is to create distrust between us. I am not Drow, nor was I ever. That was a different person.”

Emile moved several feet to her left, leaning against the other wall.

“Are you all right?” said Cassandra.

“I’m fine.”

“I may be able to do something about…” She paused, unable to find an accurate enough word to describe that which changed Emile from Elf to Drow.

Emile brought a hand to the infection. “I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think you can.”

“You’re welcome.” And then: “What happens when it turns you fully?”

At that, Emile hesitated. “I’ll find a way to change back.”

“…and what if you can’t?”

“I will.”

Cassandra nodded, though the gesture itself was noncommittal; a reaction to Emile’s speaking, but not the words. “We need to do something about the purification. Thousands of people will die.”

“We don’t even know how they intend to invade the surface. What about your collar? What use would that be to them beyond enslavement?”

Cassandra shrugged. “They could use it to control key figures. The collared could be ordered not to display signs of control.”

“The Drow don’t want control. They want slaughter.”

“Kings control armies.”

“But that would require them to use someone from a ‘lesser’ people. If the Drow intend to wipe out all other life, they wouldn’t spare someone just so they could use him later.”

“Then what?”

Emile’s expression twisted into one of concentration, but even so, she could think of nothing else. She brought a hand to her forehead, massaging flesh that was a mixture of black and cream. “I don’t know. They’ve never attempted this before.” And then a thought: “Maybe the Mother is pushing them more than usual.”

“That Malia kept mentioning a Mother. Is she some sort of god?”

“Do you think the Drow would throw their faith into some intangible idea?” Emile lowered herself to the floor. “The Mother claims to be the first Drow, the being from which all life of worth sprung forth. She’s never compelled anyone to act in her name before.”

“…what does she look like?”

“I don’t know.”

After a pause, Cassandra said, “…by the way, where are the men?”

The question seemed to amuse Emile, for she began to smile. “They are Drow. To them, men are little better than the surface dwellers.”

They were interrupted by the groaning of metal. The cage wall behind Cassandra lifted, revealing a slimmer of light from the outside. At once, Cassandra doused the flame maintained by her hand, and drew her arm back to her side.

“Save your strength,” Emile said, her voice quick and hushed. “They won’t kill you so long as they have a use for you.”

Cassandra nodded, but there was no confidence in the gesture.
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Old 06-19-2012, 09:16 PM
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER TWELVE


To Cassandra, there was but darkness as they crossed the Underworld. Beneath her feet, the uneven ground and stony floor chewed through the soles of her leather chews, nipping at flesh. She relied on Aritha’s hand for navigation, which she held tightly within her own. With her other, Cassandra held it up above her head and masked their presence from the sight of others.

Or rather, that was what she assumed.

She’d not once had the opportunity to test such a spell against Drow, and could not gauge tits likelihood of success.

The experience sent quakes of fear running down her spine. In her chest, the beats of her heart became indistinguishable. And though she could see naught but darkness, her eyes flew wide with panic, interpreting every slightest noise as a threat. Her movements were spastic, her thoughts rushed, and the arm casting the spell of invisibility seemed to numb whenever her thoughts moved to it.

Through Aritha's eyes, the world remained clear, a vision of black and white, where even in darkness, she could find light. She guided them in accordance with the path Malia had brought her down before, a winding road of crevices and drops, passing rotting corpses and the stench of battle as they went. Other than the drops of water that fell from the stalactites hundreds of feet above, there was no noise. Even the Drow who stood watch over their Houses were silent, unwavering in their watch.

Yet so far, they did not see the motley trio cross the Underworld, trespassing on some ancient battlefield.

Aritha stepped over a shattered black helmet containing the remnants of a Drow head, blood splattered against the inside. Across her shoulder, she continued to carry the Elf, Emile, though the term no longer seemed accurate. There was no Elf left.

The House Benaar did not match the glory of Aritha’s memories. Though the fortress was massive in scope, a literal column of stone, stretching up to the ceiling while spanning a circumference of more than a hundred feet, it had long since fallen into disrepair. The mixture of stone and metal that reinforced the outside had begun to crumble away. Up the staircase that led to the shattered front doors, a trail, of blood and corpses could be found.

Aritha guided Cassandra around such bodies, lest mage get blood on her shoes.

“I want a bath after this,” Cassandra said at some point.

Aritha said nothing. She looked upon the fortress with a degree of reverence, for though the memories told her of its downfall, they also told her of its glory.

Cassandra’s journey up to the stone steps was a slow one. Each step was a careful trace of Aritha’s, but the stone beneath her was unstable, often times crumbling as the edge of her foot reached the step above the previous. When they at passed through the shattered metal doors, bent and broken inward as though sieged, Cassandra released the spell masking them from the eyes of the Drow, and changed spells, emitting instead a soft blue light from her hand.

Around the entryway, the bodies of Drow long since rotten away, the smell of decayed flesh writhing through the air till it twisted Cassandra’s nostrils. Though she did not seek them out, her eyes somehow managed to cast wayward glances at the corpses whenever her thoughts went adrift.

Aritha adjusted the positioning of Emile across her shoulder. “She will wake soon.”

Stepping forward, through crumbles fortifications and fallen weapons, Cassandra moved further into the fortress. The hallways were narrow. Broken door alternated cross either side, leading to rooms where further death awaited. Lost in her thoughts, she paused, looked over her shoulder, and said, “…can you keep her under?”

When the Drow was at last moving alongside her, Cassandra continued onward.

“Where are you going?”

Aritha stopped. The blue light cast by her hand flickered. “I don’t know. It’s just feels... nice—being able to walk without thinking about Drow.”

She furrowed her brow.

“Just for a moment.”

Aritha passed her, moving with haste, despite the second body slung across her shoulder.

“Can you keep her under?”

“Not without hitting her.”

“…right.” Cassandra fell back in line behind Aritha, who led her through the ruined House of Benaar. It was near the back, amidst further bodies and mangled corpses, the limbs of many of which had been torn away and strewn across the floor, that they found a great spiral staircase, stretching hundreds of feet up, to a point where even Cassandra’s light could not reach.

The stairs seemed intact, but even so, Aritha’s initial steps were cautious. She tested each as though it might collapse at any moment. As Cassandra followed, she imitated the placement of Aritha’s feet.

“The gateway is on the thirty-second floor.”

“The top floor?”

“No. Three short.”

“You remember that?”

“Yes.”

“…will it still work?”

Aritha paused mid-step. “Yes.”

Though they continued on for some ways, the silence was only glancing. After ascending three floors, Cassandra expanded the blue light, stared upwards, and said, “Are you planning to kill me?” Halfway through the sentence, she tripped on one of the steps, catching herself. The spell of light faltered for only a moment.

Aritha did not stop to respond. “No.”

“Would you…” The words died before they could pass from Cassandra’s tongue. She shook her head.

“If I wished to kill you, I could have done so.”

They continued on in silence, passing ten floors before Emile began to stir, the reds of her freshly Drow eyes flickering open. It was not a movement Aritha ignored, for the moment Emile began to struggle, Aritha slammed her against the wall, pinning her at the neck as she’d done before.

But this time, Emile brought her hands up to struggle against the other Drow’s grip, and struggled to push the arm away. For a moment, her strength seemed sufficient to do so. Emil pushed Aritha’s arm away, freeing her windpipe and allowing for the intake of air.

Only then Cassandra lifted her free hand and restrained Emile with the grip of magic.

Aritha then punched the Emile across the head. The blow was powerful enough to push the Elf back into unconsciousness, though not without a swelling that developed short time after.

As Aritha replaced the other Drow across her shoulder, Cassandra bit her lower lip. Though her legs tired from the upward climb, she possessed enough energy to say, “I don’t think that’ll be good for her head.”

“She is Drow,” Aritha said, as though the statement answered everything.

Cassandra brought her free hand to her forehead, where she wiped away sweat and grime.

They ascended past another floor.

“Where are we?”

“The fifteenth floor.”

“Right. Thirty-second.”

“Why?”

“Anxious.” Cassandra shrugged. “On the surface, I’ll need time to construct another collar. If we use it Emile—” And then a thought: “The Coalition must be told about the purification. Whatever the Drow are planning, the Coalition could rain Hell down on the Underworld.”

A pause.

“And then Emile.”

Aritha said nothing.

Seven floors up, Cassandra’s pace began to slow. She stopped for an extended period of time, propping herself up against the wall, her feet on two separate stairs. Across her face, a smile spawned from fatigue. Though her breathing seemed normal, the arm that maintained the blue light trembled, the light itself beginning to flicker.

Ahead, Aritha continued on. Only when she was close to fifteen steps ahead did she seem to realize the mage had stopped, and twisted around to face her. Even with Emile held across her shoulder, her energy seemed never to falter.

“…I haven’t eaten in a long time.” She accompanied the words with a halfhearted smile.

Aritha stared at her.

“…I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat.”

Aritha said nothing.

Cassandra continued climbing the endless spiral staircase.

They did not reach the thirty-second floor without enduring another pause at the hands of Cassandra’s fatigue. She stopped, breathed deep for several moments, and continued, till at last they’d climbed far enough that the ground beneath disappeared into darkness.

The hall they treaded down next seemed to have suffered a far worse fate than the many floors it rested upon. The very stonework seemed bunt, melted in places. Remains had been affixed to the wall by the heat of fire, at one point protruding forth a skull that still possessed one intact eye.

But Cassandra was not one to notice the marks of war, for she busied herself attempting to combat the fresh darkness. It resisted her attempts illumination, granting her only a view of the walls to her right and left. There were no side-passages, rooms, or superfluous elements of any sort. Even in places where the stone was unmarred, the make of the hall seemed simple, a flat gray stone carved into a cylindrical passage that was almost difficult to stand on.

Twenty feet in, Cassandra stopped. She held her arm forward and attempted to project the blue light further a second time, only for it to be rejected, engulfed by darkness. “I don’t like this.”

Despite the words, Aritha continued into the darkness unabated, for a moment disappearing from view as she wandered beyond Cassandra’s field of vision. The mage hurried to catch up, maintaining pace with the Drow despite her previous needs to rest.

The hall continued on for a ways, seemingly without end. After a certain point, the marks of battle diminished, leaving an empty gray that began to grate at Cassandra’s vision. After what seemed like an eternity, the stone changed. The hallway proper came to an end, through which a tunnel had been dug, leading to a darker mixture of brown and gray rock and soil. All around them, the terrain grew rough, no longer refined for the likes of a Drow House.

There came a point where even Aritha’s pace slowed. At times, the Drow paused, as if considering the way forward, questioning the route.

“Did you remember this?” Cassandra said, making a wide, panning gesture towards the path before them.

Again, Aritha stopped. Though her purpose in doing so seemed to be to adjust Emile, whose limp form remained across her shoulder, her eyes remained locked to the path before them. Behind those eyes, a hundred thoughts seem to brew at once. “N—yes.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Cassandra looked to her. “…what does that mean?”

“Benaar is not as I remember it. Not—” For a moment, hesitation in the Drow’s voice.

“Not dead.”

“Yes.”

“Then how do we know the gateway is still there?”

“I don’t.”

Cassandra curled her lips together and stared at the ground. Any response she could formulate seemed to die before it could reach her lips.

“But we will continue.” Even following those words, Aritha did not immediately begin to walk. Her gaze lingered through to the ends of the darkness Cassandra’s own eyes could not penetrate.

“Can you see through that?”

“No.”

The response surprised Cassandra. “I can carry Emile, if you’re tired.”

“No,” Aritha said, though she bowed her head, as if considering the thought. She glanced at Cassandra out of the corner of her eye. “You’re tired. You have not eaten since we were brought here.”

Despite the circumstances, Cassandra smiled, though the grin was rueful, and reflected that which Aritha had observed. As if aware of the conversation, the blue light she maintained flickered, briefly casting the entire cave in darkness. “I’ll be fine.”

“What of water?”

“Hm?”

“Water.”

“Oh.” The smile disappeared. Cassandra realized then how thirsty she was, how her mouth dried and shriveled, her tongue a weak piece of flesh that flopped about the insides of her cheeks. “Damn you for doing that.”

Aritha chose that moment to continue into the darkness.

Cassandra followed. Under her breath, she said, “A starving mage is still a mage.” Despite the bravado, her gait changed, no longer as strong as it once was.



* * *



The cave changed some ways on, expanding in scope till Cassandra at last could see only the ground beneath her feet and the Drow who walked beside her. When she sought to confirm with Aritha that the direction they moved in still led towards some form of escape, the Drow chose only to nod, an answer Cassandra met by biting her lower lip.

The duo stopped.

It was an abrupt thing. Aritha came to a halt, holding her free hand before Cassandra to force the mage to do the same.

By instinct, Cassandra lifted her free hand and molded the power that flowed through it. Though Aritha offered no warnings about what lay in the darkness, Cassandra assumed. They were not yet free of Drow, of the destructive people thought by many to be little more than a tale told to children in the dead of night.

Even hefting Emile across her shoulder, Aritha managed a fighting stance. Her legs widen as she brought her free arm up, holding it close to her chest.

From ahead, quick footsteps, treading lightly across the ground, leaving only the softest echo of noise in their wake. From the shadows, a form emerged, though it moved with such speed that Cassandra could not identify it before it was upon her. In the form’s right hand, an angular piece of metal bent crudely into the shape of a sword. At its handle, brown wrappings, around which the form’s figures held.

Though feeling the effects of hunger, Cassandra lifted a hand and propelled the figure back with a short release of power, sending them skidding across the uneven terrain of the cave floor.

Another appeared on her left, leaving her enough time to react, but not enough time to act. The second came close enough that Cassandra was offered a brief glimpse of their features. The red of the Drow gaze was familiar, almost seeming normal as Cassandra met it again.

The Drow grabbed her wrist and twisted it around her back, straining it till Cassandra feared her bones would snap. As she opened her mouth to cry out in pain, she blue light maintained by her free hand flickered into darkness.

Emile was laid across the ground.

Aritha’s powerful legs propelled her sideways, towards the Drow who held Cassandra. She flickered in and out of Cassandra’s field of view, but her presence was made most apparent by the crack that resounded as her fist collided with the face of Cassandra’s attacker. Even if the force of the blow were not enough to send the Drow flying back into darkness, the force of their grip went limp just as they did. Death came regardless.

Aritha offered Cassandra a brief glance, who brought her hand over her chest and pressed against her body the parts the Drow had threatened to snap in two.

“Aritha of the Black,” came a voice from the darkness.

Though neither Cassandra nor Aritha stood down, both paused to listen, for the attacks did not continue following the words. From the shadows, another Drow stepped forth. This one was shorter, but brawnier than the others. Her dress was in equal disarray, and she carried the same crude metal weapon in one hand. Stretching from her shoulder to the opposite side of her waist was a scar of deformed flesh.

The Drow’s voice was like gravel. “Have you come to spit in our faces?”

Four more Drow stepped forth, flanking the first on either side. Only two carried weapons, but all looked to be capable fighters.

Aritha said nothing.

Both groups stood opposite of each other for many moments, during which no words were exchanged. The Drow with the scar across her chest rested the metal of her jagged blade against her other hand and cut hard enough that blood eked from the wound. In a voice of acid, she said, “Does the House of Endin wish to cut off our head after all this time?”

Aritha’s response was immediate. “No.”

“And yet they send you back to us.” A twisted smile formed across the scarred Drow’s face. “Endin possesses such a sense of irony.” Her eyes moved to Cassandra. “And you bring maijrin to us. Do the surface races see so well in the dark now?”

Cassandra’s light flickered.

“I am not Aritha,” said Aritha, taking slow steps sideways to lessen the gap between herself and the mage.

The Drow with the scar scowled and stepped forward, pointing the tip of her blade at Aritha. “Endin did not take my eyes! I know the traitor when I see her.”

Aritha’s expression remained neutral, though the tone of her words shifted towards irritation. “I am not the one you knew, Heia.”

“Then why do you carry the face of the one who brought Benaar to ruin!?” Heia’s face contorted in rage. Unwashed white hair fell over her eyes as she stepped forward. “It That Betrays! I will cut you—”

Heia was pulled from her feet and slammed against the ground, her face driven into the stone till she could not speak.

It was Cassandra who had lifted a hand and commanded the force to do so. With her opposite hand, the maintained the blue light. When the Drow who flanked Heia stepped forward to stack the mage, she said, “I wouldn’t. I can snap her neck with a thought.”

The Drow hesitated.

At their pause, a tugged at the edges of Cassandra’s lips. “I’m thirsty—I’m hungry. I haven’t seen anyone down here eat, but there must be food somewhere.” She applied greater pressure to Heia’s neck, enough so that the Drow cried out in pain, unable to struggle against the invisible force Cassandra commanded. “We are not here to hurt anyone—just the way out.”

At that, Cassandra released Heia, who, caution lacing her movements, pushed herself back to her feet and retrieved her blade. Though the expression on her face was no less hostile than before, Heia refrained from speaking for a moment. She considered Cassandra, then, for but a moment, moved her gaze to Aritha.

Heia then said, “Is this Human maijrin your toy, She Who Is Not Worthy?”

“No.”

A long moment of silence.

“Maijrin,” Heia said resting the blade of her sword against the palm of her opposite hand, “the Drow with you is the bane of House Benaar.”

Cassandra’s expression displayed only the slightest hint of surprise at the statement, an exclamation she stifled as soon as it manifested. “But she is with me.”

Heia lifted her sword.

Cassandra lifted her free hand.

But it was Aritha who acted next. She brought her hands back to her sides, though the gesture seemed somehow painful, and relaxed the muscles of her face. “I am Aritha of the Black. I am not the same person who betrayed House Benaar.”

Heia laughed. A horse laugh, full of malice. “Excuse my skepticism.”

“I have the memories of the betrayal, but I am not the one responsible.”

“Do you think I care!?” Though Heia did not attack, the hostility of her stance grew. Her eyes grew wide, exposing her blind left eye. “I will rip off your head!” Heia charged towards Aritha, only to be thrown back by a casual blast of power from Cassandra, who struggled to mask the quakes and blurred vision that welled up after the use of her power.

Heia again rose to her feet.

The arm holding Cassandra’s light grew weak, barely able to remain steady. Even so, she mustered her strength and said, “Back off.”

Heia’s gaze lingered on Cassandra. “You look tired, maijrin.”

Her gaze turned then to Emile, whose unconscious form lay sprawled across the uneven cave floor. Her right arm had developed a thick coat of mud. For a single moment, she spasmed, and seemed close to waking, only to slip back into silence.

“And what of the one you carry with you? To what House does she belong?” A grin, full of jagged teeth coated with blood. “How many will you try and protect before you realize nothing you touch remains sacred?”

Aritha’s stance did not waver.

She said nothing.

To Heia’s sides came six more figures of darkness; four to her left, two to her right. One, even in the dying light, Cassandra recognized as male. “The Mother fed you the darkness, but Benaar possesses enough power to rip you limb from limb.”

Cassandra’s weakened movements seemed somehow heightened just then. Her eyes had grown bloodshot. In her chest, her heart pumped faster than ever before. The pitiful display of magic she maintained in the blue light began to flicker and die. During those fleeting moments of darkness, the mage’s eyes glowed with fear.

“How many do you believe you can stop, maijrin?” Heia said.

That same jagged smile, full of blood and teeth.

On the ground, Emile’s movements were slight, worthy of little notice.

In the moment that followed, there was a rush of movement. Figures of black all bearing bladed weapons moved towards Cassandra from seemingly every direction. She panicked, that moment, and stepped back. Though she lifted a hand as if to cast a spell, she could not conjure the strength to do so. What little power remained fueled the blue glow that allowed her sight.

Aritha cut through the darkness, intercepting two of the Drow. From their bodies came sharp cracks as bones in their chest were shattered, and the Drow themselves thrown back against the ground, where they writhed in pain. She caught another, though not before enduring the edge of a blade, which cut along Aritha’s right arm before she could pull it away.

Blood fell along the murky brown of the cave floor.

As another of the Drow moved towards Cassandra, she twisted to avoid the oncoming arch of its blade, leaving its wielder open to the brunt of Aritha, who snapped the jagged metal sword in half with a single hand, enduring numerous cuts along her palm for her trouble. She followed the interception with a blow that shattered the other Drow’s nose, pushing the fragments of cartilage into its brain.

Aritha and Cassandra exchanged a brief glance, though in the darkness, it seemed even the briefer.

Emile’s eyes opened. They grew wide, red with Drow.

She sat up and reached out for the leg of the male attacker as if by instinct. With a horizontal chop of her arm, she shattered every bone in his calf. When he keeled over, his leg unable to bear the weight, Emile was on her feet. She broke his neck with the same ease she broke the rest of his body.

And then she was up. She moved to the other attacking Drow with speed that could not be matched. Their weapons offered as little resistance as the darkness. All the while, her eyes remained wide, frantic. She tore into her victims as a crazed animal would.

The others hesitated as Emile entered the fray. The Drow who’d so callously attacked the others turned their attention to the newest combatant, only to find their weapons ripped away and their lives snatched from them.

Where there was once a force of ten, there remained only one.

Aritha held Heia by the neck, hefting her from the ground as if without effort. Emile remained to the side, her upper body leaning forward, arms loose. Though she did not attack Aritha or Cassandra, she remained no less an animal.

“You have a cache of supplies,” Aritha said, her expression moving into anger. Only near the edge of her voice could it be noticed that she was winded.

Heia did not struggle against the grip, even as the hardened flesh of Aritha’s fingers dug into her neck. Though her legs twitched and her body struggled not to wrench itself from its neck, she smiled. Though her air was limited, she managed to say, “Yes.”

“Where?”

Though the smile remained the same, something else manifested in Heia’s eyes, a pity. “F…For your… maijrin?”

Aritha said nothing.

Cassandra moved beside her. The blue light continued to flicker.

“You—” Heia began to gag, but Aritha’s grip did not relent. “—weak.”

In their final moments, Heia’s eyes flickered to Cassandra—and the grin turned to a scowl.

“—Trash.”

Aritha threw Heia to the ground, and brought her foot down on the Drow’s kneecap, shattering it.

Even Heia could not resist the pain. She screamed, though the smile returned to her features, almost nostalgic. She gritted her teeth and balled her hands up into fists.

“Your supply cache,” Aritha said.

Though she was silent for a moment, Heia turned and laughed in Aritha’s face. The large scar across her body twisted as she did.

Aritha brought her foot down against Heia’s other kneecap.

The Drow screamed, her lips growing crimson with blood as her jagged teeth cut into her gums. Yet even then, she smiled. “Your—pets can’t—”

Heia brought her head back and breathed through tightly held teeth.

“—you’ll die for your trash.”

Aritha rested her foot atop Heia’s pelvis. She spoke her command a third time: “Your supply cache.”

“You cannot break me, Betrayer. Everything you could have broken is gone. Your strength will—” A breath through gritted teeth. “—it means nothing!”

Aritha required little force to break what remained of Heia’s torso. Bones shattered to dust beneath her feet. No longer able to move her legs, Heia screamed, stopping only to breathe. She no longer maintained a smile, no longer looked to Aritha as the Drow propelled her across the floor with a powerful kick.

Heia was thrown to the darkness and forgotten, save for her wails.

Aritha turned her attention then to Emile, whose haggard stance betrayed none of her thoughts. During the long moments that had passed, the fresh Drow had straightened her stance, but had not narrowed the gaping sockets of her eyes. She looked to Aritha, then to Cassandra. Though she did not move closer to the others, she acknowledged them with a slight nod of her head.

“Emile?” Cassandra said, stepping forward. That effort alone seemed fatiguing, for her walk slipped and she tumbled a step.

Emile the Drow’s red eyes followed her short journey. In the darkness, her figure seemed as indomitable as Aritha’s. She stood in the nude, though Emile seemed not to notice. Her jaw clenched and trembled with the same anger that moved across her eyes. Her fingers, though spread, shook with rising fury.

Cassandra lifted a protective hand against her chest, but the blue light flickered even as she did. “Are you all right?”

Emile’s gaze flickered to her. Her breaths were rapid. Her chest rose and fell in great speed. “No,” the Drow said. The words were like gravel, as if she’d not used the voice in some time. She lifted a hand to her face and held it before her eyes, where she glared at it as if willing it out of existence.

She looked to Cassandra again.

“I killed. That’s the only reason I can think!” Narrowed red eyes. “Like your—” She made a slight gesture to Aritha. “—pet!”

Emile brought her hands through the white of her hair, clawing at the flesh of her scalp.

She staggered backwards.

Aritha stepped forward, placing her left hand across the wound ripped up her right arm.

“You—” Emile lifted a finger with which to accuse Aritha, though she held up for only a moment before drawing it back to her hair. “You did this! You did all of this!” She drew her hands from her hair and held them before her, but they did not shake with fury as they did before. They shook instead in a moment of weakness.

Her nostrils flared.

“And you, mage.”

Emile stepped forward, grabbing Cassandra by the collar of her shirt and lifting her till only the tips of her feet rested against the ground.

“I—”

Aritha moved forward and punched Emile in the face, who released Cassandra’s collar as she flew back, bouncing once against the stone ground. Outside of the force of the blow, however, she seemed unharmed, and was on her feet fast enough, her bile redirected to Aritha.

“Are you playing civil now, Drow?” She moved in a circle around Aritha. “Do you think your master will be able to do anything for you that haven’t already sabotaged?”

Aritha said nothing, but her gaze remained collected. In spite of circumstance, she placed her left hand on Cassandra’s shoulder, though the mage seemed not to notice.

She stopped speaking for a moment, as if she’d run out of thoughts, then: “I had something on the surface! More than you, or your—” Emile brought her hands to her face and fell to her knees, where she began to scream.

Neither Aritha nor Cassandra moved.

Emile’s brow furrowed. “I’ve had—many companions. Many lovers. Even if I hated the immor… long life, I was—content.” Her chin dipped and her gaze moved to the ground. “Then you came. You came, and dragged me down here, and then—they made me like you.”

She pushed herself to her feet.

“And I’ll kill you for it.” A deranged smile spread across her face. “Isn’t that Of Drow? To kill till the tallest stands atop corpses, and have them lead?”

Aritha said nothing, but her eyes followed Emile as she strafed.♥

“Isn’t that what you are?!”

“No.” The word seemed to echo throughout the empty darkness.

Emile lashed out with great speed, her movements enunciated by the flickering of the light. Her fists moved to Aritha’s chest, only to be deflected and returned with force, pushing Emile back. Again, the blows seemed only to stagger her, causing no actual injury. At the infliction, Emile smiled.

Aritha lifted her hands, something tugging at the edge of her lips.

Emile leapt forth, propelling herself with powerful legs—

—only to be slammed against the ground by one last twist of the hand from Cassandra, who fell to one knee as she did, unable to maintain the magic for only a second before she was forced to abandon both spells, bathing her in darkness. In the moment before shadows fell, she glanced at Aritha. After that moment, Cassandra no longer knew if she remained stood on her feet, or laid across the ground.

In the darkness, Aritha moved to Emile before she could right herself, and pinned one of the Elf’s arms with her knee, the other with her hand, and pinned Emile’s throat against the ground. And though the strength of the Elf’s limbs rivaled Aritha’s, Emile remained pinned to the ground, even as it strained Aritha to do so.

Pulling her hand away from Emile’s arm for but a moment, Aritha bounced the Elf’s head against the stone of the floor, knocking her unconscious.
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Old 06-21-2012, 09:08 PM
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN


In darkness, Cassandra was made to trail behind Aritha like a hound, guided by a hand across uneven ground. She remained on the brink of unconsciousness, her legs weak, and her movements little more than the shifting of jelly across ground. At one point, she tried to speak, only to find the words slurring as they slipped across her tongue.

Aritha moved through darkness with ease, even as she carried Emile over one shoulder and guided the mage through darkness. Not once did she display hints of exhaustion, let alone fatigue. The expression on her face remained neutral.

The tunnel they traveled through diverged into two paths, equally innocuous. At the split, Aritha paused.

She lifted her head sniffed.

For nearly a minute, she considered the paths. Behind her, Cassandra did not question their pause, having dipped too far into her energy. Through magic, she’d slipped into a state of quiet delirium. When Aritha chose the path to the left, a narrower road than that offered by the right, Cassandra did not object. The mage stumbled along, bleary eyed, even in darkness. When the erratic movement became too difficult for Aritha to control, she brought the mage closer, and wrapped an arm around Cassandra’s waist to keep her upright.

A moment later, her first coherent sentence since the conflict with Emile: “Is there going to be food soon?”

She grabbed at Aritha’s arm, as if trying to rap her fingers around fabric that did not exist.

Aritha said nothing.

Realizing after but a second that grip was for nothing, Cassandra relegated herself to the guidance of the Drow. Even so, her words did not cease. On the fringes of each word was the slurring of speech. “I can’t see anything.”

Aritha said nothing.

“Arith…a?”

At last: “I am here.”

“…I don’t think you’ve ever said my name.”

Silence.

“Do you even know my name?”

“Cass—”

“I think Emile’s going to have a head injury.” Then, in the darkness, she turned her gaze to Aritha, who stood close to five inches the taller, and said. “Cass? I like that name.”

Aritha paused and separated herself from the mage for a moment in order to adjust Emile’s position over her shoulder. In that moment, she began to feel the stain. She felt the torture. The weight of another carried by the strength of her back. The burden of guiding one little better than a child through a world of night.

After seeking out Cassandra, Aritha lifted her chin and sniffed a second time.

From the mage came a panicked utterance. “Arith—where am I?” The anxiety in her voice heightened. “What happened?”

“You exhausted your energy.” Aritha forced a degree of inflection into the words.

“…I can’t feel my legs.”

“Can you walk?”

“…I’m… not sure.”

“Then I will carry you.”

Though the darkness was absolute and offered nothing to one who was not Drow, Cassandra looked to the shoulder upon which she imagined Emile rested, and said, “…no, I’d… not. You’re already carrying her.”

Aritha guided them by smell to a slight crack in the wall, colored till it was near indistinguishable from the rock face it peeked through. The jagged crevice in the rock was large enough to fit a humanoid of moderate build through, but only just. She thought then of what the House Benaar had once been: a force of power.

A force of power demeaned to hiding food in a crack in the wall.

“The Elf will need to wait here,” Aritha said.

The slur returned to Cassandra’s word, though it did not mark the return of delirium. “Why? You’ve—what is it?”

“The remnants of the House Benaar.”

To that, Cassandra did not respond.

“Food and water.”

“Then why aren’t we there?”

“There is a crack in the wall serving as a passageway. I cannot bring the Elf through. You will need to traverse it on your own.” Aritha removed her hand from the mage’s waist in order to remove Emile from her shoulder, who she placed in a sitting position against the stone of the wall. “I will guide you through.” She again took the mage’s hand.

Cassandra bit her lower lip, but nodded. Her legs quivered beneath her, but she remained standing in spite of them. As Aritha face straightened her body in accordance with the crack and began moving through its depths, Cassandra followed as best a blind woman could. Jagged bits of stone leapt out of the wall at her, cutting across her arms and nipping at the fabric of her clothing.

At one point, she began to hold her breath.

When the silence was not broken beyond the scraping of stones, Cassandra said, her voice sounding almost desperate, “Why are you still here?”

Aritha’s head turned at the question, but did not pause their journey; a journey that seemed to continue forever, for the tunnel possessed no apparent end. “Because I owe you a debt.”

“…no, you don’t.”

“I owe you more than you know.”

“You owe me what?”

“Does the reasoning change that I am here?” The tone of her question was without emotion.

“Yes!”

Aritha said nothing for many moments. She could see the end of the side passage some thirty feet ahead. Thirty long feet. “I owe you a debt because I am no longer Drow.”

Cassandra’s hand slipped from her own and she paused, the breast of her shirt snagged on a sharp bit of stone. “But you’re still Drow.”

“The word possesses many definitions.”

“Oh,” Cassandra said, and the subject seemed to die. Aritha reclaimed her hand. They continued onward, through a tunnel of broken stone and demented angles. “If we were on the surface, what would you do?”

There was silence.

Cassandra waited close to a minute for a response, but none came. “Aritha?”

“I don’t know.”

They emerged at last into a smaller chamber, into which Cassandra nearly stumbled, despite the guidance of Aritha’s hand. The room seemed artificial in nature, the walls smoothed till they resembled the upper half of a sphere. In the very center was a square metal door, colored a mixture of gray and brown, and built into the floor.

Aritha separated herself from the mage.

“Ari—”

“They were using a safe to house their remaining food and water.” Aritha knelt over it. Across the center were four crude, circular dials onto which the digits one through eight had been scratched in.

“…then… it could be a trap. I can’t open it, and—”

A moment later, the lock clicked, and the metal door opened.

Cassandra fell silent.

Aritha reached through the hole in the ground and extracted a large metal flask. After removing the airtight cap, Aritha paused a moment to sniff the contents. “This water is from the surface.”

“…is there a difference?”

“In smell.” She moved to Cassandra and placed one of the mage’s hands around the container itself, the other at the lip, where some of the water sloshed over the side, running over the mage’s fingers. “Can you manage?” She placed a hand over Cassandra’s, though the gesture lasted for only a moment.

Cassandra nodded, but she’d already brought the flask to her mouth before doing so. For as much water as she consumed, just as much ran over the edges of her lips and down her neck. But the mage did not notice, and Aritha did not point it out. The metal container was empty before she was satisfied, leaving her shaking it as she ached for the very last drops.

“There is more,” Aritha said.

Though Cassandra seemed prepared to respond, her breathing was too rapid to allow it. Her lips glistened under the stain of the water. Her mouth was alive again, and she became aware just then how close she’d felt to dying of thirst.

Cassandra nodded and held the container to her chest with both hands. There seemed less darkness then.

Aritha reached into the vault a second time and removed from it a bundle of gray fabric wrapped to encase something. Uncovering its bundle, Aritha found two dozen dried strips of pale white meat. After sniffing them for a moment, she stepped away from the hole in the ground and back to Cassandra.

“Here,” Aritha said.

After a moment, Cassandra reached out into the darkness.

Aritha placed one of the strips in the mage’s hand, her touch coating parts of it in a thin layer of mud. “The meat is from a crawler. Do not eat more than a quarter of the strip at a time.”

Though Cassandra accepted the food and brought the edge to her lips, she stopped. “Why?”

“You’ll die.”

The words took Cassandra aback, but she hesitated for but a moment before biting the tip off, ripping the flesh away only through excessive force. The salt stole the saliva from her mouth, but it began to sate her hunger.

She bit bit off another small piece.

Aritha moved away, placing her arms at her waists as she moved about the perimeter of the room. “Will you be able to cast your spells?”

After chewing, Cassandra said, “Some sleep would be nice.”

“We do not have the luxury.”

“…right.” A pause. “Was that all of Benaar—back there?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know?”

“Because they are no longer trying to kill us.”

“They could just be waiting.”

“Drow do not wait. When an attack begins, it must not end until one side has lost completely.”

Cassandra bit off a third piece of the dried meat, chewed, and swallowed, gagging for a moment when her chewing proved insufficient. “That doesn’t seem wise.”

“It is Drow.”

The mage nodded, though it seemed not to indicate anything.

Cassandra consumed another mouthful of water. She pushed herself to her feet, but remained unstable on her legs. Unlike the tunnels they’d traveled through before, the ground of the half-sphere room was unnaturally flat. Cassandra lifted one hand from her chest and conjured a faint blue light from its palm. Little more than half a second after doing so, she keeled over, dropping the flask of water to the ground, where it spilled across the floor.

Aritha looked to her. “Be patient. Energy does not return immediately.”

“You said we didn’t have time for patience.”

“We have enough time for you to allow the water to work its way into your blood.”

Cassandra lowered her gaze, though it made little difference in the darkness. Though she was quiet for a moment, she lifted her chin again and said, “You said you were in my debt.”

“Because I am no longer Drow.”

“What does that mean?”

Aritha moved around the edge of the room, closer to the mage when she stopped, and rested her right hand against the wall. “I do not think as they do.”

“…I didn’t know you…” Cassandra paused, frowned, and turned her head to the side. “…thought.”

“Not as Drow do, but I acted as they would have.”

“By killing?”

“Yes.”

“But you caved that boy’s skull in.”

Cassandra could not see it in the darkness, but Aritha looked to her, and pulled away from the wall, moving around the mage. “The rapist.”

“He didn’t deserve—” She brought a hand to her forehead and turned towards the source of Aritha’s voice. “That’s off topic. Sorry.”

Aritha said nothing.

“Okay. What do you mean you acted as they would have?”

“I killed without thought.”

“And I somehow changed that?”

“You collared me. The collar forced me to stop. It chained the killing.”

Cassandra was silent, and seemed not to know what to say next. After a minute’s pondering, she said, “So your personality was like this before?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“I learned from the memories given to me of Aritha of Benaar.”

“…what was she like?”

“Weaker.” She drew away from Cassandra and began to move about the room again. “It was through her actions that the House Benaar fell to House Endin.”

To that, Cassandra did not respond. She brought the water to her lips again, wiped away the drops from her lips, and said, “Are you going to kill me?”

Aritha paused. “No.”

Cassandra’s gaze lingered on the ground. She stood, and cast the blue light from her hand a second time. It remained steady, in spite of Cassandra’s weakened state. Though the light illuminated Aritha’s form, it did not seem to reach her eyes, leaving them as black orbs that the mage could not make out. “We should keep going.”

“You are weak.”

The statement seemed to anger Cassandra, whose brow furrowed. She did not look to Aritha, even as she next spoke. “It doesn’t matter. The sooner we get to the surface, the sooner I contact the Coalition, the sooner Hell is rained down on the Drow and their ‘Mother’.” Cassandra abandoned the dried strips of meat to the floor, but kept the flask of water in hand, curling her right arm around it.

She moved to the crack in the wall, reaching inside to cast the blue light forward and illuminate the path ahead. “I suppose I need to think about what will happen to you once we’re on the surface.”

Cassandra paused.

“I masked your appearance before, but that was only temporary. I don’t know a way to permanently make you look like something else.”

Aritha moved behind her. “You are not bringing the food?”

Accompanied by a slight shake of the head, Cassandra said, “No, water will be enough.”

The Drow pushed past Cassandra and placed one hand on the inner stone of the narrow passageway leading out of the half-sphere room, but turned back to Cassandra. “Give me the water.”

The mage tensed.

“If you intend to guide yourself, you’ll need one hand to move along the wall, as well as to light the way.”

Though there was a great deal of hesitation behind it, Cassandra handed Aritha the flask of water. The Drow brought the flask to her ear and shook it. “This is less than a third full,” she said. “You should take a full one from the safe.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Aritha wrapped a hand around Cassandra’s upper arm and held the mage back. “If you are not strong, you will die.”

“Why? It’s not as if we’ve encountered anyone outside of your family.” Cassandra attempted to jerk away, but found her strength insufficient to do so. She faced the crack through which they’d entered, bowing her head, refusing to look at the Drow. The blue light Cassandra cast from her hand seemed dim then, though her strength did not falter.

“There is the Mother.”

“Why don’t you use contractions?” Cassandra said as she turned to Aritha, the Drow retracting her hand as she did. “Everything you say sounds… fake.”

“…it is how I speak.”

Cassandra’s gaze moved to the ground at Aritha’s feet, then back to the Drow’s face. For a moment, the look her eyes her eyes appeared damaged, on the brink of tears.

“Now is not the time to become emotional.”

Though the jibe appeared initially to sting Cassandra, her twisted up into a smile, almost a laugh, several seconds later. She crossed her arms over her chest. “There are other flasks in there?”

Aritha nodded.

“Okay.” Cassandra moved to the vault in the ground, the metal door still propped open. She knelt beside it, supporting her weight with her free hand, while reaching in with the opposite, casting the blue light across the container’s contents. Though she’d not interpreted it from the way Aritha had spoken, the contents were scarce. One larger flask with a flat bottom was shoved against the vault’s inner wall. Close to it, a smaller flask, along with two wrapped mounds of dried meat, the spiced scent of which tickled at Cassandra’s nose.

She reached for the smaller container.

The blue light faded from her hand as she wrapped her fingers around the flask. After removing the container of water and pushing herself to her feet, she cast the blue light again. Cassandra turned, only to find Aritha’s form inches away. The sudden appearance made the mage jump.

“You need rest,” the Drow said.

“…we didn’t have time for rest a moment ago.”

Aritha placed a hand on Cassandra’s shoulder. Though no pain came from the gesture, it possessed force enough to hold the mage in place. “It does not matter. You need sleep as much as you need food.”

Cassandra smiled and laughed, though both were small and brief.

Aritha replaced her arms at her sides and stepped back, but did not remove herself from her place in front of the gaping crack that marked the exit.

Despite Aritha’s words, Cassandra moved to the edge of the half-spherical room and placed her hands flat against the wall, continuing to smile. “This may sound stupid and premature,” she said, her voice echoing slightly about the room, “but I think you’re a friend.”

The mage looked over her shoulder to catch the Drow’s reaction.

Though much of Aritha’s expression remained the same, there was a slight change in her eyes. In that moment, she seemed tired.

Cassandra turned to face her. “What about you?”

Aritha was word did not come immediately. There was a moment where she opened her mouth, then hesitated. “I am Drow. We do not require rest as you do—nor do we require as much food and water.”

Cassandra nodded. She lowered herself to the ground, stretching one leg forward while holding the other to her chest. She made an attempt to lean against the chamber’s inner wall, but the spherical shape made such an endeavor uncomfortable.

Aritha took three steps forward. “Men have little place in Drow society because men are believed to be weak.”

She paused.

“For all that has happened to you, a Human, you are strong.”

Cassandra laughed again, though there was no unkindness to it. “Was that some sort of backhanded compliment?”

Aritha nodded.

“Then thank you. I’ll take what I can get down here.” The mage adjusted her head against the wall, giving up, and choosing instead to lie down on the stone ground. “You know, you’re still naked.”

To that, Aritha did not respond.

“I don’t think I’ve heard you use my name before.”

Aritha said nothing.

Cassandra placed one hand over her chest, leaving free the arm that held her light. She continued to smile, but the expression seemed to grow. “I think this is the most comfortable ground I’ve ever been on.”

She laid her other hand over her chest as she closed her eyes, extinguishing the light. Cassandra seemed very tired just then, though sleep did not come to her immediately, as she thought it might.

“Cassandra.”

The Drow’s voice was close—next to her. Though Cassandra did not conjure the light again to confirm the proximity, she turned her head towards Aritha as if by instinct. “That—”

“The Elf.”

Those two words seemed enough to pull Cassandra from her levity and rip the smile from her face. “Right. …I guess we both forgot about her.” The mage pushed herself to her feet, recasting the spell of light. Then, across her face, another smile, almost sad in nature. “I think… we just wasted…”

There was a moment when they were close, when Aritha was near enough that Cassandra might have reached to touch her. In darkness, the black of the Drow’s skin was enticing. The mage almost acted on that impulse, and her mouth hung open. Her mouth quivered, trembling as she struggled to force out some confirmation that the moment was real.

And for a moment, Aritha seemed to share the impulse.

The light maintained by Cassandra’s hand flickered, but it was not from any lack of strength.

Aritha reached out and placed the tips of her fingers against Cassandra’s cheek. It was a gesture the mage almost leaned into, had it not ended as quickly as it had begun. A moment later, the Drow drew away, moving to the jagged crack through which they’d entered.

In a voice without tone, Aritha said, “We should collect the Elf and move on.”

Cassandra searched for the strength to object, but could not find it. In the end, she nodded, and followed the Drow out of the room, relegated to silence.
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Old 07-07-2012, 02:55 PM
American Soldier United States American Soldier is offline
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Re: Drow

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN


Before, the way ahead had been empty. No Drow soldiers had pursued them through the jagged tunnels of the Underworld, no obstacles barred them. But in the wake of recent events, it seemed not empty, but dead. The silence was all encompassing, consuming even the most trivial of scraps till there seemed naught but the ringing of ears.

It seemed a monotonous journey. Cassandra moved as she had before, following behind Aritha, keeping the way illuminated in through the blue glow of magic, though shadows seemed to fester even in the wake of light. The Drow was the statue, saying nothing, even when prompted. She carried the Elf as she had before, and did not once complain of the burden.

The path ahead seemed linear. For a moment, Cassandra wondered what reason she had to follow.

“Does anything actually live down here?” Cassandra said.

The Drow did not respond.

Even so, the act of speaking seemed to provide small comfort to the mage, who continued to bite down on her lip, avoiding looking to Aritha, even though she followed just behind the Drow. Signs of fatigue wrapped around Cassandra’s eyes, though few were visible in the darkness. Were they, the shadows beneath her eyes would have shown almost as brightly as lights.

She yawned.

Aritha stopped and paid the mage a moment’s attention, but continued on before Cassandra could offer any sort of reassurance.

They walked in silence.

Around them, the shadows seemed to deepen, consuming further the edges of Cassandra’s light. Even as she poured more energy into the spell, the light diminished, shrinking till the mage seemed almost alone, accompanied only by Aritha, whose form was melded with the darkness.

They stopped again.

“The Elf,” Aritha said. “We should leave her.”

Cassandra’s objection did not come immediately. Ignoring the darkness, she looked to Aritha’s shoulder, where she assumed the Elf remained.

“She has done nothing for us.”

Cassandra’s gaze moved elsewhere, avoiding Aritha, but the thought remained. “We shouldn’t. She’ll…” She twisted her free hand into a fist. “She wasn’t turned willingly. We have no right to abandon her.”

“She is Drow.”

Cassandra’s gaze returned to Aritha.

“The Drow will care for one of their own.”

The mage’s brow furrowed, but the gestured seemed more sad than angry. “How far is the way to the surface?”

“A short ways.”

“A short ways and you want to abandon her?!”

“She is no longer who she once was. She cannot be leashed forever.”

“I can build another collar.”

“In weeks. She may have killed you by then. She is Drow.”

Cassandra’s expression was dead. Against everything, she began to cry, though the tears were not violent. It was a quiet thing, something she mulled over for what seemed like an eternity. She brought a hand up to wipe away the ears.

Cassandra felt tired. “We can’t,” she said at last.

Aritha stared at her.

Then she let Emile roll from her shoulder and drop to the ground, sprawled across the uneven rock face.

Cassandra fell open in gasp, and she stepped forward, but did not otherwise approach the Elf.

“I am making the decision,” said the Aritha.

“You’re Drow, too!”

A long moment of silence. Only after the Drow stepped further in Cassandra’s light could her expression be seen. Though the change was slight, the nature of her eyes seemed changed. They reflected something softer. “I am Drow, but I am not Of Drow.”

She gestured to Emile.

“She is Of Drow.”

“That’s not what she said when she woke up.”

“She acts as they do. Violence for the sake of violence.”

“You changed.”

“I was made to.”

Cassandra meant to speak again, but brought a hand over her mouth to silence herself. She paced, but for only a second, then closed her eyes, as if hoping to shut out the darkness. In a small voice, she said, “This is stupid.”

“There are few Drow. She will be welcomed.”

Cassandra’s head jerked up. “What?”

“I do not believe any plan the Drow concoct will reclaim the surface for them. Only House Endin seemed strong. The others were abandoned. Do you recall the battlefield?”

A slow nod.

“They have eaten themselves.”

Cassandra stared at the ground. “…I suppose that would explain why…” She finished the thought in her head.

She looked to Emile. The mage could muster no words for the Elf, and so offered only a solemn gaze. In the darkness, they continued to walk. Cassandra moved ahead of the Drow, even though she did not know how accurate Aritha’s words were of their proximity to an escape.

The Drow followed, eventually overtaking the mage, as they left the Elf behind.



* * *



The Gateway was a light in the dark, almost in the literal sense. It was represented by two red lights, glowing from either side of a smaller passage connected to the end of the more jagged landscape of the tunnel. Beyond those lights, however, nothing could be seen. Even the light offered by Cassandra could not penetrate it. The Gateway was a wall of black in a cone of light.

They did not enter immediately.

Aritha lifted a hand to command Cassandra’s stop. Without Emile slung over her shoulder, her form seemed easier to detect, and did not cling so completely to the darkness.

“This is it?” the mage said, swiveling around, as if looking for more.

Aritha nodded, but said nothing. She reached out, moving on hand into the corridor marked by the two red lights. As her hand passed through the frame, it disappeared. Her arm appeared severed, but there was no blood. She then withdrew it, revealing her flesh to be unharmed. Aritha brought the hand to her face and flexed the fingers.

She turned to Cassandra. “This is the way out. The House Benaar once used it to move supplies from the surface—and ready for war.”

“And it was just left here?”

Aritha turned back to the Gateway. “Yes.”

“Is it the one connected to Summer’s Keep?”

“No.”

Cassandra crossed her arms. Emile lingered in her eyes. “This… didn’t accomplish anything. This isn’t proof enough to dethrone a king.”

“How prominent has that goal been?”

Cassandra looked to the Drow, then away. “…I suppose I haven’t been thinking about it. The Coalition should have chosen somebody else.”

Aritha said nothing. She rested an arm against the cave wall and paused. Her breathing was labored, as if the Drow were winded. Her eyes moved to avoid looking into the tunnel that rested between the two red lights. It was cold then. She felt naked, remembering for the first time that she’d made no effort to claim other clothing.

She felt cold.

“Are you all right?” the mage said, stepping forward and resting a hand on Aritha’s shoulder.

The Drow’s gaze moved to the Gateway, where it lingered for many moments before she spoke. When she did, the words came slowly, as if each and every one were being chosen. “I… am Drow.”

Cassandra chuckled, though only once, and not unkindly. “So you keep saying.”

“What am I in your world?”

Cassandra’s hand remained on the Drow’s shoulder, though her brow furrowed as she considered the question.

“If I chose to stay, would you deny me?”

Cassandra’s brow furrowed further, she drew away and doused the blue light conjured by her hand. In the dim glow offered by the two sources of red light on either side of the Gateway, she could still see well enough. She moved a few feet from Aritha, till she stood out of range of the light. “I’m not sure how to answer that question the way you want me to.”

Aritha’s fingers ground into the stone.

“I don’t think you’re Drow. You haven’t tried to kill me. You think. You’re rational.”

“I am still Of Drow.”

“You told me before that you weren’t.”

“I am being compelled to abandon that from which I came. No matter how I may have changed, or how many I may have killed, it does not change what I am.”

There was a long silence.

Cassandra approached Aritha again and laid a hand across the Drow’s back. The noted for a moment how warm Aritha was, the rough nature of her skin. The mage opened her mouth to speak, paused, laughed, and said, “Aritha. What if I push you in? Because we’ve spent enough time on this, and I think I need to make the decision for you?”

Aritha lifted her head, eyes open with new awareness. She turned her head to Cassandra, only to be lifted from the ground and moved through the Gateway, beyond which Cassandra’s grip of the Drow and all measure of her presence vanished.

Alone, the world was quiet. Cassandra stood in place for a moment, listening to the sound of nothing. In that moment, there was truly no one else.

“Mage.”

The voice came from behind, from the darkness into which Cassandra could not see. She whirled around, finding herself a mere five feet away from a pair of bright red eyes that stood out even from the darkness.

“Did you mean to leave me here?”

The voice was familiar—that of the Elf.

Cassandra stepped back.

The figure stepped forward, entering the radius of the red light. The Elf-Drow seemed somehow more deranged, more uneven in her appearance. Beneath her eyes, wrinkled folds of flesh that cried out for sleep. Her smile was toothy, displaying both rows of the pointed teeth present in the Drow.

“Drow adapt,” Emile said with a sneer. “That includes head injuries.”

Emile’s steps were slow. She was smaller than Aritha in form, but appeared no less lethal. Her hands were lifted from her sides, her legs spread wide as she stepped.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you do real magic.”

Cassandra lifted two defensive hands.

Through the darkness, a laugh. “Calm yourself, mage. I have—” The Drow hesitated. “—friends. On the surface. Kathryn. Tucker.” Across her lips, the names sounded foreign. They slipped over her tongue without grace. “I… want to see them again. So many years left.”

Emile stepped forward.

“So. Many. Years!” The final word turned to a scream. “I was supposed to kill you and find someone else! Find another vessel for my ❤❤❤❤ing immortality!”

Cassandra took a step back, closer to the Gateway.

In the red light, Emile’s expression turned cold. “No. I’m not letting you leave. Not letting you leave ever. You did this.” She lifted a finger and pointed it at Cassandra. “You put all these thoughts in my head. Drow. Killing. Drow. Drow. Drow. Death!”

Cassandra moved into the Gateway. Half her body disappeared.

Emile screamed something and lunged forward, a wave of shadow moving through darkness, only to be propelled back by an invisible concussive force, tossed across the stone floor, where bits of flesh ripped from her back and clung to the rock face. Even so, she was up a second later, only to discover the mage had disappeared.

Frenzied, she moved to the Gateway and disappeared into it.



* * *



Cassandra entered the Gateway, only to find darkness on the other side, a darkness her light could not penetrate, no matter what light she cast into its depths. For all the energy she expended on the task, she managed only a slight circle of the dim blue light that stretched only inches away from her. Even so, it was enough to keep her sane.

The ground she walked on was level, unnaturally so, so she walked forward, her steps brief and cautious. “Aritha!” she called out, only to be met with silence. Her own steps filled the air with echoes.

“Aritha!”

The words were blasted back in her face.

Cassandra’s heart raced in her chest. The sound ripped through the air and into her ears, beating in an endless wave.

She walked on, though she could not see where it was she went. Though she check behind once to see if the Gateway worked in both directions, she could find no trace of that which brought her to the darkness—so she walked forward.

A flash of red passed across the darkness.

Red eyes.

Cassandra stopped. A second time she poured her energy into a light, only to find the effect blasted back in her face. When she moved ahead to where she’d seen the brief flicker of light, she found nothing.

“Aritha!” she called out again.

Met only with silence, she continued onward.

The flicker of red passed across her vision again. Though it appeared for less than a second, she saw eyes, wide and malicious.

A pillar of flame erupted from the palm of Cassandra’s free hand, billowing forward, ripping away at the darkness. She ended the blast a second later, when it seemed to contact nothing. For when it ceased, and Cassandra stepped forward, her heat racing, she found nothing but the emptiness of the black.

“Aritha?” she said, but her voice weakened. “Aritha, are you there?”

Cassandra kept her free hand close to her chest, poised to defend herself.

Footsteps echoed from further away, but they were not Cassandra’s.

The mage froze in place. “Who’s there?”

The footsteps grew in intensity. They were echoed by the distant words, “A mother loves all her children.” The voice was female.

Cassandra was ripped from her feet and pushed to the ground by some indomitable force. Though her arms were still free, the energy to lift them faded, as did the light she cast. Darkness consumed her, leaving her with nothing but the weight of power atop her chest, a power that crushed her ribs, threatening her breathing.

Something touched her neck. The gesture was softer, the touch passing, but something leapt from it and bonded to Cassandra’s flesh. It drilled into her flesh and spread across her neck, across her shoulders, across her chest. The pain brought on by the pressure atop her chest seemed nothing, for something else entirely ate away at her body from the inside.

Cassandra bit back a scream, but only just.

The pressure atop her chest disappeared.

The mage scrambled to her feet. With both hands held up, she sent forward a cone of blind energy, hoping to force back that which attacked her.

…but the pain in her chest grew. Cassandra drew back both hands and clutched at her heart, that precious organ that seemed no longer to be beating. She beat on her chest, her hope fading with each passing second till her heart at last beat anew. Some semblance of strength restored, Cassandra stumbled back.

“A mother loves all her children, even those who deny her.”

“Where is Aritha!?” The words leapt from Cassandra’s mouth before she’d the chance to think them.

“The child is away. She has abandoned her mother.”

Cassandra grabbed at her chest again, where the pain did not cease. “What did you do to—” She bit down, unable to express words over the pain.

“Parting words from a mother.”

Cassandra staggered forward. Again, she lashed out with flame, casting it in a horizontal arc, where it faded almost immediately from view, extinguished. The darkness seemed somehow more vivid. It erupted towards her. “I—” The pain grew. Cassandra gripped her chest with force enough that she worried her ribs would crack.

From the darkness, words that seemed little more than a prolonged laugh. “A mother knows best.”

Against the pain, Cassandra moved forward, though she did not release the death grip on her chest. She could utter no words. Through the sensation, she could find no room even to think.

The red eyes appeared in the darkness, but did not vanish as they had before. They lingered, as if disconnected from a body. “Mother knows you will not forget her,” they said, though they had no mouth with which to speak.

Without a thought, Cassandra reached a branch of her magic out to crush them. But even force wrapped around them, the mage could not deal a final blow. They moved closer, passing through Cassandra’s power as if it did not exist. She staggered back, still gripping her chest, still biting down a scream.

Something reached out and brushed against Cassandra’s chin. In that instant, all the magic at her command seemed for naught, for she could not lift her arms to retaliate. They hung limp at her sides.

“Mother would not have you fret.”

Even in the darkness, Cassandra could almost see an outline.

“She would see you return, welcomed with open arms.”

Cassandra focused only on her arms. All thoughts she could manage went to lifting them, all energy she could muster to lifting them, if only for a second. She could not speak or move, so she could offer the red eyes only her deepest hatred.

“So she has commanded me to leave you this gift, so that you might know what it is to be Drow.”

Cassandra thought of lifting her arms.

“For she knows you are maijrin, one whose powers come from Drow.”

Arms.

“Bring it to Aritha of Black, so she knows what it is to abandon her mother.”

Cassandra felt her muscles tense, a feeling that stretched to the tips of her fingers.

“Then—”

Cassandra found the strength the lift her arms. She curled both into fists and brought them up one after the other. In that moment, she thought only of crushing the red eyes. Her hand met flesh, and the red eyes were jerked to the side, an expression of surprise caught in them as they were thrown to the ground.

Cassandra lifted both hands into the air and conjured up all the force she could muster, throwing herself into a final blow. Her knees weakened, and her heart threatened to give out, but she brought it down with fury. Even in such darkness that her eyes could no longer serve, she felt the impact ripple up her arms and into her bones.

She forgot the pain in her chest, even as it crept into her limbs.

The mage fell to her hands and knees, deprived of her strength. Even so, she crept forward, casting a dying blue light from one hand. She found a body in the darkness, one clad in purple with skin a light gray. Its body convulsed for a moment, it spitting up blood, but it faded from life before Cassandra could interact.

One thought passed through her head: Malia.

She pushed herself forward, even as she felt the effects of such careless distribution of power. With her final breath, she said, “Aritha,” before collapsing, and slipping from consciousness.
Last Edited by American Soldier; 07-12-2012 at 06:02 PM. Reason: Reply With Quote
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