Darksong- Warning, mature content.

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Aylstra Illianniis
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Postby Aylstra Illianniis » Sat Jan 15, 2011 9:29 am

A kick in the ribs woke him. He grunted in pain, and tried to sit up. He immediately wished he had not done so. His mouth tasted full of spider-silk, and his head felt as if a rothe herd had run over it. More disturbing was the queasy feeling in his gut, and the odd blurring of his vision. When he shook his head to clear it, he found himself half under a table, with no real memory of how he had gotten there. He vaguely remembered something about a foul-tasting mushroom, and suddenly cursed as everything came rushing back.

“Are you getting out from under there, or do I have to kick you again?” The owner of the foot nudging his shins bent down, lifting up the table drapery, and smirked at him.

“Do it, and I’ll break your leg, Taz,” he said, glaring at the common-born lad. He slowly got up, and glanced around to find that most of the revelers were engaged in some form of debauchery. Many had slipped off to one corner or another to indulge in orgiastic sex-play, while others sat with glazed eyes- much as his had been- in a drug-induced haze of euphoria. Indeed, he could still feel the effects of his unfortunate misadventure with the mushroom, though thankfully the wine enhancement had worn off, leaving only a mild sensation of tingling and a feeling of bliss.

“How long was I down there?” he asked, frowning in disgust at what he saw all around. Everyone seemed to be drunk, or in the throes of carnal pleasure, or simply passed out from over-indulgence. He even noticed a few drow who were quite dead, having likely been poisoned by a rival or so-called “friend”.

“Only about an hour or so. I’d have left you there, but G’eldreth wouldn’t let me. He likes you, I think,” Taztran said with a knowing smirk. The young noble almost let that pass, but shuddered, for he was well aware of G’eldreth’s proclivities. He shook his head in disgust; though he knew the weasel-faced youth had an eye for him, he wondered how the Teken’gyhm lad expected to ever fulfill his desire.

“Wonderful. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have half the city’s females all over me- now I have to worry about him, too?! How does a eunuch even…?” He asked, though he was not certain whether he truly wished to know.

“He doesn’t. Let’s just say he likes to play the part of ’wenress’!” Taz snickered, giving Lothir a meaningful wiggle of his brows. He chuckled when the young prince made a grimace of revulsion.

“Ugh, that’s just disgusting,” he said, rolling his eyes. He followed his friend back over to their earlier table, where the others were happily debating over the merits of a trio of nubile young ladies who appeared to be eying them with obvious appraisal. He sighed, irritated by the blatant promiscuity displayed by his companions- not to mention nearly every other person in the fest-hall. He glanced at the three women in question, and found them fairly attractive, though obviously arrogant and vain, to judge by their high-nosed posturing, unsubtle preening and attempts at blatant seduction. He groaned to himself, not knowing whether to feel annoyance or pity toward the inclinations of his fellows.

He sat watching the banter and rampant hormonal displays of his friends for a while with mild interest, until even that became boring, and he let out a sigh and got up to wander about the room in frustration. Clearly, the excitement of the evening was over, and all that was left was the intoxicated aftermath of erotic games, underhanded deals, and worst of all, outright murder. As he meandered through the crowd, he wondered if it was even worth the fee he had paid to join the revel, and seriously considered simply walking back to the relative peace and familiarity of the Academy. Somehow it had begun to feel like a second home, one which, though far from safe or comfortable, was at least familiar and relatively sane in comparison to the rest of the city.

He was so distracted by his ruminations that he hardly noticed the pair of eyes which watched him, or the slight smile of amusement on the sensuous lips of the shapely figure who began to glide along behind him. Lost in his thoughts of loneliness and gloom, he was almost unaware that he was being shadowed until he happened to turn around and glance around the room, and suddenly found himself almost colliding with a very attractive- and familiar- face.

As graceful and alluring as she had been out on the floor of the pit, the woman in the long blue gown was even more stunning up close. Her silken gown was cut low in the front, revealing a generous cleavage, and the sleeveless cut showed off a pair of graceful and well-toned arms, resplendent in various bands and bracelets of silver and nearly black sapphires. The long, silvery-white tresses that fell to her waist floated about her head like a halo, framing perfectly angled cheekbones, a delicate chin, and large almond shaped eyes of a dark green shade. For the briefest instant, the young prince let out a soft sigh of surprise, struck dumb by her beauty, and her sudden appearance so close.

“Vendui, handsome. You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself. Something on your mind? I saw you watching me dance earlier.”

He stared at her, unable to form a coherent thought. She was probably half-way into her second century, but had not even begun to approach middle age. After several long moments, he vaguely remembered that Taztran had mentioned her name, and tried to stammer out a response. “Uh, Lady Valdra, right? House Arken’ate? Vendui, Jabbress. Forgive me if I offended you. I’ve never been to one of these revels before, and I, ah-….” He did not know what to say, and suddenly blurted out without even thinking. “I’ve never seen anyone dance like that before- you were amazing! Could you teach me?”

She stared blankly at him for a moment, then broke out into peals of laughter. He suddenly realized what he had said, and winced, feeling utterly embarrassed. Why had he just asked her for lessons? He felt like a fool for even thinking of it.

“Teach you? Well, now that’s one I haven’t heard before! And why should I do this? What can you offer me?!” She asked, with a meaningful smile.

“I- that is…” He began, but could not quite form a reply. At last the young drow shook his head and began to turn away. “Never mind. It was a foolish thing to ask. Forget I said anything.” He started to walk away, head down, berating himself for looking like a fool.

“Hold, young one, I did not say you could leave yet!” He halted dead as her hand grabbed him from behind, wondering what kind of punishment he had just earned for himself for walking away from a noble lady without her leave. He turned back around, and realized with a start that she had no snake-whip, nor even the long scorpion-tail ones of the junior priestesses. In fact, he saw nothing at all that she might use to strike him with.

“Forgive me, Jabbress. I did not mean to be rude.” He gave her a low bow of apology, waiting to see what she would do. Yet instead of attempting to punish him, she merely looked him over carefully, noting the finely-tailored dark green velvet jerkin over the sky blue silk tunic he wore, of a shade to match his eyes, and the close-fitting black trousers of soft rothe-hide. His hair hung loose to his shoulders, with only a couple of shorter locks in front that fell down in front of his ears. The woman made a small nod as if to herself, then smiled.

“I did not say I was not interested- only that I want to know what is in it for me. I am not in the habit of offering free lessons to any young fool who asks.” She stepped closer, her eyes falling to the clasp of his piwafwi, and then lower, to the buckle of his belt. She must have recognized their significance, for one brow shot up. “A son of one of the Great Houses? I have not seen you before. To which House do you belong, handsome?”

He gulped, wondering if her idea of payment would prove to be as predictable as every other female he had met. He nodded slowly, and straightened, holding his head high in a display of confidence he wished was real. “E’Terrin’dar, my Lady. Ustdalharn Lothir. And I can pay you for your trouble, do not doubt. Will you do it, then?”

Her eyes seemed to light up with genuine surprise, and she smiled at him graciously. “Well, then- this is a pleasure. Why did you not say so before? I would be most pleased to accommodate your wish, my Lord. Or should that be ‘Your Highness’?” She gave him a polite curtsy, and slid closer to him, and leaned down to whisper in his ear. “I would be happy to serve you in any way, young prince. Are you certain it is only dancing you wish me to teach you?”

He jerked away in surprise, and stared at her for a long moment, not quite believing what she had just offered. After a moment, he laughed, realizing that she thought he was yet inexperienced in such matters. “Oh, no thank you. I’ve had my fill of that sort of teaching. No, what I really want is to compete in the nedierras.”

He looked at her expectantly, and saw her brow furrow in confusion. “When I was watching earlier, I wanted nothing more than to be out there in that pit, to…” He frowned, struggling to find the words for an emotion he could not quite identify. In the end, he simply shook his head, having no words to explain his wish. “All I know is that I want to try it, but I need someone to teach me. You are obviously the best one of them all. If I learn from anyone, I want it to be you.”

She studied him again in silence, as if uncertain whether he was serious. Seeing the hopeful look he gave her, she decided that he was. “I see. Why dancing? You are from Telamurin D’ Thalack, correct? Surely you have better things to do than this?” She asked, wondering why the noble youth- still not much more than a half-grown child- would choose the nedierras as a pastime. Of course, many bored nobles of both sexes often used it as a way to amuse themselves for a few hours, yet this one appeared much more serious about doing so. In fact, she thought he might even have become enchanted by the idea of competing in the dance, perhaps out of simple desire for the joy of the art for its own sake. Not many ever chose to participate out of a purely artistic impulse.

He frowned again, still not quite certain what had prompted him to ask. “Because, when I was watching, I- felt something. The music felt as if it was inside me somehow. I can’t explain it, I just know that it is something I want.” He shrugged, and looked around the room. Taz and the others were all still pleasantly inebriated, though G’eldreth had apparently been watching him with the Lady Valdra, for he was glaring at her jealously. He glanced over at the group of musicians, who were still playing in the corner in a sedate, unobtrusive manner, while the revelers all enjoyed sinking into a state of blissful obliviousness to their usual paranoid endeavors. He scowled, not knowing which was worse- the near-constant state of alertness that pervaded everyday life, or this decadent descent into utter carelessness and lechery. Both were depressing, he decided.

Valdra listened to his words, and realized that there was a unique opportunity here to elevate herself- and her House, of course- in ways that far surpassed the usual methods of assassination or the House wars. Perhaps by making herself useful to the heir of the king, she could, in time, arrange for a more profitable alliance. Though she was no cleric, her mastery of illusions and scrying magic had garnered many valuable contacts and resources in the past. Yet this new one promised to become the most prized prospect of all. In one night, she might not only score a tremendous advantage over her family’s rivals, but perhaps even find a little entertainment in the bargain, as well. She paused, sending a silent prayer of thanks to her own goddess, Vallenya, Lady of Mirrors, in thanks for the golden break which had fallen into her hands. The Lady wizard nodded, gave the lad her most dazzling smile, and slipped her arm in his, pressing close in a subtle attempt at fawning.

“Ah, so it is excitement you crave. A fire in the blood, perhaps? Something to break the unending boredom? I understand, of course. It is fortunate that you came to me for this- most of these others, for all their talent, do not know what it truly means to feel that burning desire in the soul for true beauty. They are all amateurs, hardly worth noticing. You have excellent taste, my Lord.” She beamed at the youth, and saw him smile hesitantly back, clearly flattered.

Lothir nodded, though he could see that she was trying to curry his favor. And why not? It was not a stretch of imagination to realize that she was as ambitious and conniving as every other power-hungry individual he had met. Even Taz and he rest of his small group of companions were more hangers-on than real friends. Yet it was perhaps the closest he would ever come to having friends of his own race, so he accepted that fact, and tried to enjoy it for as long as it might last- which was to say, until one or more of them chose to betray that friendship.

“How much do you think this is worth?” he asked, wondering what she intended to gain from the bargain. “I can pay anything within reason. However, I require secrecy- I do not want others to know what I am doing. And I am prepared to pay extra for discretion.” He had learned enough about the ways of his people by now to know how deals were made, and how to entice someone to keep his- or her, as the case might be- mouth shut. He would never resort to violence or threats, of course, but anything short of that was certainly within his means.

“Ah! Straight to business- I like that. Would five hundred orbben be acceptable? It’s a fair price for my time and silence, don’t you think?” She gave him a sly smile, and pressed closer, as she led the young male to a table laden with glasses filled with various drinks. She plucked up a goblet of a sparkling green liquid, with a heady, sweet scent, and held it out to him.

“That would be fine,” he replied, and took the drink.

She took another and held it up in a toast. “It is a deal, then. Shall we drink on it?”

“Of course,” he smiled back, though inside, he was shouting for joy. “When shall we meet?”

“My family’s castle, up near the Night Bridge, on this side of the river. Tomorrow evening, just after dinner?” she replied, and he nodded and touched his glass to hers. “Then it is a date,” she continued at his assent, and downed her drink. She gave the youth a polite nod, and spun on her heels to leave. The young prince watched her glide away, and a smile spread slowly across his face, for he now had found precisely what he had been searching for to give his existence some kind of meaning.

“I will be there- you can count on that…” he murmured to himself, and swallowed the sweet, thick fruit wine before setting down the empty goblet and wandering toward the door whistling a merry tune.


The next evening, he had arrived at House Arken’ate at the appointed hour, and was pleasantly surprised to find an escort of elite guards waiting at the gates for him. He thought of dismissing his trio of bodyguards, but decided against it after concluding that they might cause a scene in protest. After so many years spent with them following him about, he had grown somewhat used to their near-constant presence, and felt more comfortable entering a strange abode with them at his side. In any case, the three knew how to keep silent, so he was not worried about rumors from them.

A pair of older males bearing the Arken’ate livery of a blood-red eye surrounded by eight silver rays above a fanged mouth met him inside the largest of the trio of spires that made up the Arken’ate castle. It rose up almost to the ceiling of the great cavern, jutting up like a spear as if to pierce the heart of the rock above. He followed the two pages up through a winding stairway to the private chambers of Lady Valdra. Along the way, he saw a number of slaves and low-born servants going about their tasks of cleaning and other menial duties, but they all averted their eyes at his approach, and paid him little attention. As he approached the door to her private quarters, he wondered if the drowess had used his request as a pretext to get him to come to her, but when he entered, and found her lounging casually on a reclining couch with the rest of the spacious room cleared of furniture, he decided that she must have simply wanted privacy for their meetings.

“Welcome, young Prince. I am pleased to see that you are indeed serious about wanting me to teach you. Would you like a glass of imported honey-mead before we begin?” She rose, waving over a kobold slave laden with a tray with two silver goblets and a decanter. The small creature, which resembled some curious cross between a rat and a lizard with sparse hair sprouting from its body, a long-jawed, sharp-featured face with many small sharp teeth, beady red eyes, and a long scaly tail scuttled up, holding up the tray to her with its eyes down at her feet. Lothir watched the nearly naked servant whimper as she back-handed it for wobbling the tray while she poured the drinks, and bit back a protest at its treatment.

She held out a cup to him, and he took it, not wanting to appear rude. “I appreciate the offer, milady, but I would prefer to get started. I have only a few hours tonight, and my fellow students will wonder where I am. I must not be gone past the curfew hour.” He gave her a polite bow, and set the cup aside on a table shoved against the wall.

“Are you always so blunt and to the point?” she asked, smirking. “One would think you had not learned the arts of deception or diplomacy. Surely you can enjoy one drink first?” She said coyly, cocking her head at him. He grimaced, realizing that she was testing him in some way.

“Funny, I thought those were one and the same.” He raised one brow at her, hoping that the mild humor would distract her, as he glanced down at the goblet and picked it up. He shrugged, and gulped down the warm, sweet amber liquid, then placed the cup back down on the table again. “There, that should take care of the pleasantries. Can we please get down to business, now? Here is your payment.” He took a small rough orange stone from his pouch, and placed it on the table next to the cup. “One uncut topaz, worth five hundred orbben, as agreed. I had it appraised earlier this afternoon.”

“Very well, as you wish,” she replied, taking a long swallow of her own drink before setting it back on the kobold’s tray. It shuffled over to take his cup, and then left the room, mumbling something in a voice that sounded like a hissing, yipping noise more than actual speech. Valdra watched it go with a mildly annoyed look, before she turned back to him. “Now, strip down, please,” she said when it had left, and eyed him expectantly.

“What?!” answered the young noble, incredulous. “I came here to learn to dance, not for-” He began, but she cut him off with a wave of her hand.

“Yes, of course you did. But if I am to teach you, I must see how you move. Clothing is restrictive, hindering a full range of motion, no matter how loose or comfortable it may be. To truly judge what you are capable of, I must be able to study your movements without such impediments. Do you understand?”

He stared at her for a second, mulling that over. At last he decided that her words made sense, or at least that he could not refute her reasoning. “Very well, if you say so. Yet somehow, I suspect you just want to see my we’ha,” he said cynically. “Everyone else does, for some reason…” He heard her stifle a chuckle, but ignored it as he began to disrobe.

When he had finished, she glided forward to examine him with an appraising eye, while he stood in nervous silence. She circled around him slowly, occasionally running her hand over some part of his body as if he were a prize rothe bull. He began to grow irritated, wondering what she was looking for.

“Is there a point to all of this?” he asked finally, growing impatient.

“Of course. Do not rush, silly boy. I was simply checking your tone and fitness. I believe you’ll do rather well, with the proper instruction. Now, first, a few rules. The first and most important one, naturally, is do not question my instructions. Just do as I tell you, and pay attention. Second, when I tell you to practice a certain step, you will repeat it until I am satisfied. And third, when you are not doing so, you will remain standing still and silent, in what I call the beginning stance. Understood?” She glanced at him archly, her tone making it clear that she expected compliance. He nodded, and she smiled and faced him squarely. “Good. Then let us begin.…”
By the Dark Maiden''s grace do we meet. May she guide and protect us.

"Where Science ends, Magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491

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Aylstra Illianniis
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Postby Aylstra Illianniis » Sun Jan 16, 2011 7:30 am

He spent the next few weeks alternately going out to enjoy a few leisurely hours of carousing with his small cadre of friends, and slipping away from the Academy for his lessons with Lady Valdra. He soon found that she was a patient and even pleasant teacher, as close to a kindred spirit as he had ever known among his own kind. She was still every bit the conniving, immoral minx that he might expect from a noble drowess, but he discovered that she- and most of the rest of her House- followed a different deity than Lothrenya. She was instead a faithful of the Lady of Mirrors- Vallenya, the Mistress of Illusions and Lust.

He was mildly surprised by this unusual choice, for it signified a shift in the balance of power in Terrillis, and perhaps elsewhere in Argonia. He had known that some Houses were turning away from the cruel and jealous Venom Queen, now that the power between the Matrons and his father’s faction was nearly equal. Still, even a vain and shallow goddess like Vallenya was hardly an improvement, for she fostered lies and false promises even more than the Venom Queen herself.

In all of the city, there seemed only one other drow who was as disappointed by the strife and chaos that surrounded them as himself. That one was Serath, whose favorite student he had become. The Arms Master would often join him in a study room as he sat reading a new book acquired from a shop at the Bazaar, sometimes even discussing philosophy or history with the youth. He shared an easy comradery with the older male, whom he had come to think of as a mentor. From some of Serath’s ideas, he often wondered if he could trust the Arms Master with the secret of his own faith, but a part of him knew it would not be wise, so he kept silent on the matter.

During this time, he also finally found a small abandoned manor near the small temple he had passed on his first day in the city. The manor was a simple narrow spire of four levels, each large enough for two or three rooms; in truth, it was barely large enough to qualify as a House. Its previous inhabitants had been a merchant family of relatively low rank, who had been slaughtered by a rival clan after it was discovered that they followed Elistarrya. He thought it somehow fitting that he should take over the empty home of her faithful and had promptly moved Arianna into it, along with a few things for himself, intending to use the small manor as an occasional retreat.

The human woman was ecstatic when he showed her to her new home, and even more so when he told her that it would be hers to do as she wished with, with the single exception of leaving the tiny chapel within for his own use. He had then set about helping her in cleaning it up, removing the signs of desecration that the fanatic followers of the Venom Queen had left behind when they had slain the former owners. Since the spire had belonged to a fallen House- and a heretic one, at that- none had dared set foot in it until he claimed it. Thus he felt relatively safe in bringing it back to its former beauty, albeit with a few minor alterations to make it more readily defensible. He even paid- with several valuable gems from his pouch- for a few protective spells to be placed on the spire, most especially to prevent scrying or teleportation within its walls.

In only a few days, Arianna had made the place mostly livable again, clearing out the filth and cobwebs which had accumulated from years of neglect, removing the remains of the fallen drow who had made it their home- though only by giving the dried old bones a proper cremation, as he had requested- and scraping the walls and floors clean of blood and moss. For himself, Lothir bought a few simple pieces of furniture for his own personal use, and used one room as both a small study and practice room.

He did all of this in secret, at odd times when he was neither out with his companions or meeting with Valdra for his lessons. He was delighted when Arianna had announced that she wished to start her own business. As it turned out, Arianna had been the daughter of a skilled seamstress before her family’s murder and her own enslavement as a young girl. So he happily agreed to help her set up a small shop for making gowns for the women of the city, and even offered to find helpers to aid her in the work. The human woman readily agreed, and so he began searching for other slaves to free and offer a place within the small sanctuary.

Of course, his main concern during all that time was with his lessons with Lady Valdra. The physical demands of her instruction quickly proved much more difficult than he had ever imagined, but he persevered, knowing that in the end, it would be worth it to feel the music and the thrill of competing, and perhaps to know the pure joy of doing something that was only for himself. It was that more than anything which drove him on, in spite of the long hours of strenuous exertion and little rest he received during those weeks of intense practice.

Valdra had been surprised at how quickly and easily he picked up and excelled at her teaching, mastering basic dance steps with remarkable swiftness, until she began to wonder if she had not just discovered her most gifted rival for the prestige of being the champion of the nedierras. The boy learned in hours techniques which had taken her weeks to learn, and soon enough was mimicking her perfectly even when she demonstrated the more advanced steps. Had she realized that his gift was the product of a keen intellect, near-perfect balance, and a complete and detailed ability to recall almost anything he saw, she would have been even more surprised.

After spending four days each week with Lady Valdra for nearly four months, she finally announced one day that he had learned enough to be competent in the nedierras. Elated, Lothir could hardly wait for the next revel to be held, for he had attended several since that first one, always as a spectator with his companions. He longed to be out in the middle of the excitement, to move to the seductive rhythm of the drums and feel the music flowing through his soul. He had even enticed several of the musicians to allow him to borrow their instruments during breaks in the music, to try his own hand at playing.

At first they had been reluctant, in spite of the fact that as a noble, he was perfectly within rights to demand it. Yet it had not taken long before they were eagerly offering advice or showing him the proper techniques as he discovered a gift for music that astounded them. In little time at all, he had become more than competent with drums- which he easily mastered in only a single sitting- as well as the violin and his much-loved flute. Indeed, he could hardly wait for the day he would return home to his secret valley and use the magical one he had left with Sivestrik for safe-keeping.

He was excited when Taztran announced one evening that another party was being hosted at the fest-hall. He tried not to be obvious about it, but as the day dragged by, the others soon noticed his nervous fidgeting throughout the day. That afternoon, during his daily chores, he felt a nudge on his back while scrubbing dishes in the kitchen, and whirled around to discover Nymtyr standing behind him with a smug expression.

“You must be slipping, abbil. I can only ever sneak up on you when something’s on your mind.” The black-haired youth leaned against the stone table piled high with the pots and plates from the mid-day meal. “So what’s so important it’s got you running around like a nervous lap-lizard?”

“What are you talking about, Nym? And would you stop doing that? It’s annoying. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to stick a knife in my back.” Lothir gave his friend an exasperated sigh, and went back to trying to scrape burnt eggs and cheese from the pot soaking in the steaming water.

“Nah, what would be the fun in that? Besides, you’re far more entertaining alive- and I like watching you squirm.” He smirked back, folding his arms across his narrow chest. The young noble rolled his eyes.

“I’ll bet,” he said sourly.

“So? What’s got you distracted? That can be dangerous, you know. Care to divulge?” The sly young assassin-in-training raised one brow- dyed black, to match his hair- and gave him a quizzical look.

“It’s nothing, really. I’m just anxious to get out of here and enjoy myself, that’s all.” He shrugged, still wrestling with the caked-on food remains.

“You don’t like being walled in, do you?” said Nymtyr after a moment. The noble-born turned, eying him warily. How much did he know? Or suspect?

“No, I suppose not. I hate this place,” he said after a pause. “It’s always the same- I’ve been here six years, and I’m already tired of it all. I’m bored. I just don’t see any point to living like this.”

“Interesting,” replied Nym, twirling his odd double-dagger. “Taz says you have no desire to rule- is that true?”

“So what if it is? I don’t really give a vith about this place- why would I want to rule it? Just means I’d spend the rest of my life dealing with annoyances and duties I don’t care about, and watching my back for someone else to try to take it from me. Who needs that? I’d just as soon let them have it, and walk away. I don‘t want power or wealth. Let someone else walk around with a target on his back.”

“You must be the most un-ambitious drow I’ve ever met,” Nym smirked, leaning back with his feet crossed. He watched the young prince continue with his task for a few moments, and finally shook his head. “You’re lucky, you know- most of us will never know what it’s like to have anything you want there for the taking. Just accept it and make the most of it. This is what we are. It’s our nature.”

“Don’t you ever wonder what else is out there? Don’t you ever feel like there is more to life than pursuing power and glory?” Lothir asked carefully. He had never spoken to anyone but Master Sareth about his personal desires, fearing that others might think him weak. Yet a part of him wanted to feel that he belonged, for he had long since realized that he was alone.

“No, why should I? Everything I could need or want is right here, and all I have to do is reach for it. If you don’t want power, what do you want?” Nymtyr said, looking at him with what might have been a suspicious expression.

“I want to see what’s beyond these cavern walls. I want to explore other places. I feel like I’m suffocating here.” It was true; he had wanted to see the world above for as long as he could remember, hearing Ravyn read the old stories of distant lands, knowing that only when they were both free would he have the chance to go to any of those places. He had seen the sun and the moons, the sea, even mountains and stars, and he wanted more. The part of him that was true Quessir whispered of deep forests, warm breezes, and the songs of birds. His visits to the sacred valley had given the youth a taste of something better than that which he had always known, and now it haunted his dreams, and left him sighing in wistful longing at odd moments during the day.

“Sounds like you should get yourself a ship and go hunting for surfacers to kill. That’s what your family does best, isn’t it?” Nymtyr said absently. He frowned, for he had caught a hint of something in the noble’s voice that he could not place. It was not an emotion he knew; and why should he? Most drow were passionate about exactly two things- power, and pleasure. They sought after both to the exclusion of all else, so the emotions of love and loneliness were foreign to them. Likewise joy and sorrow. To most surface dwellers, it would hardly come as a surprise to learn that drow did not cry.

“A ship… Perhaps I will have one someday….” The young prince sighed as he watched Nym take his leave, thinking that he might indeed enjoy sailing on a ship of his own- but not to rob or kill surface dwellers. No, his thoughts had turned to slaying dark elven pirates.


A short time later, he found himself once again standing in front of the huge octagonal bulk of the “Webdance,” admiring its elegant architecture as he watched a stream of that evening’s crop of bored well-to-do dark elves entering the fest hall. He saw a few who were already on their way toward inebriation, seduction, or both, from their mildly distracted and wobbly gaits. As always, he shook his head in disgust, wondering how so many folk could throw all sense of decorum aside so easily. Of course, he mused, it was at least a mild respite from the paranoid alertness most drow usually exhibited.

He followed his friends inside, grabbing a wine glass on the way, and the seven youths took up their normal spot near the musicians, which pleased Lothir immensely. He would never admit it to the others, but he took as much pleasure from studying the musicians as they played their instruments, as he did watching the dancers themselves. And as always, his keen mind memorized each song they performed, learning the notes almost as if by magic. He would file the knowledge away for later, when he could borrow one of the instruments to practice on. At present, he was fascinated by the flutes; he still remembered the silver one he had left at home, and wanted greatly to practice what he had already learned on it, in the hopes of unlocking its magic.

The lutes were quickly becoming his other favorite, for their diverse sounds. Sometimes hard and almost disturbing, or plaintive and wailing, other times soft and mellow, he loved the way the instruments changed tone and emotion from one tune to the next. As he took a seat at the end of the table nearest the players, he eyed one lute curiously, noting the unusually large number of strings, and the strange way the instrument’s neck kinked into a second set of keys above and slightly to one side of the normal set. The neck was slightly wider than normal as well, to accommodate the greater number of strings. He counted twenty, and wondered how it would sound if played.

His ruminations were cut short, however, when he heard the cheers go up from the crowd, as the dozen wizards who were to judge the competition all took their places around the pit, and dozens of drow began to make their way down into it. He glanced over at his companions; Taz was busily placing wagers on the dancers, while Durnozz was coldly eying an older male from a rival house across the room, with bloodlust in his eyes. The young prince glanced at the object of his friend’s ire, and decided that one of the two might well be dead before the night was over.

Nym and the twins were whispering among themselves, while G’eldreth was, as usual, fidgeting with one of his stars, while he gazed around enviously at many of those who were already engaged in enthusiastic and blatantly public displays of lust. None of the lads were paying any particular attention to him, so he gulped down the cup of wine he had picked up on the way to the table, and rose. He unclasped his cloak and left it draped over his seat, along with the jerkin he wore. He started for the steps, when Taz grabbed his arm and held him back.

“Where are you going?” the Arabana lad asked, curious.

“I thought I’d join in this time. Try something new for a change.” He shrugged off the other’s grip, and continued down the steps into the pit. Behind him, he heard a chorus of exclamations of disbelief.

“You’re competing?! Well, now this should be interesting!” Taz laughed, and suddenly turned to the others. “I put down five orbben on him.”
“To win?” asked G’eldreth incredulously. He sat up quickly, staring at Taz as if he had grown a second head.

“No, that he won’t last three beat changes.” Taz countered, chuckling wickedly. “There’s no way he can win. He’s never even competed before.”

“I’ll take that bet,” Durnozz replied. “I have twelve orbben that says he lasts through ten. He had an odd look that tells me he’s serious.” He glanced over at the E’Terrin’dar youth, and shrugged.

“In that case, I’ll lay odds, too,” said G’eldreth with a smirk. “Ten orbben. I say he outlasts half the participants on the floor.”

“Done!” Taz replied. “I’m going to enjoy making you all pay up.” He grinned, and all six pairs of eyes turned to watch their friend as he took his place on the floor, and the music began to play.


From the moment he heard the first beat, he suddenly knew this was where he belonged. The drums pounded slowly, a rhythm that he could feel in his bones, and he closed his eyes and began to move. He went into a slow, steady swaying motion, feet stomping in time to the drums, arms held up toward the ceiling. Then the flutes began to play, adding their eerie whistle to the beat, and the fiddles ground out a hissing wail. He opened his eyes and continued, sliding and turning as he began to get the feel of the music, and quickened the pace when he heard the drums thump faster. The trio of lutes joined in, and then the single piper added his tones. A cry went up, and suddenly the tempo sped up, as the dance began in earnest.

Lothir spun, twisted, swayed, and tamped out the major beats of the melody, as one by one, he saw a few of the hundred or so other dancers suddenly light up with the white fairie-fire that denoted elimination. Yet still he remained. Valdra had taught him well, it seemed, for he felt confident that he would not falter, as he fell into a rapturous state of pure joy. Nothing before had ever felt like this. It was like catnip to a cat, this delicious feeling of freedom and peace, as if something had wormed its way into him, body and soul.

All around, others moved like willows in a wind, and the rhythm began to change, becoming more intricate and wild. He smiled to himself with satisfaction, somehow keeping pace when several others stumbled or lost the beat. He made no wild and elaborate moves as many others did, wanting to keep his energy up for the long run. Of course he did not expect to win on his first attempt, but it would be fun to see just how long he could last. A female in a red gown that was little more than two strips of cloth in front and back tied together with a golden cord at her hips, and with a deep neckline cut out in the front, suddenly bumped into another drowses in a deep purple skirt which swirled around her feet and a tight black lizard hide bodice with no sleeves, and both were suddenly lit up as they were thrown off balance. He grinned, elated to still be among those who had not been counted out.

The music went on for several minutes in this fashion, while Taztran and his friends watched with eager faces, waiting to see the young prince become the next one out. Yet it soon became clear that Taz, at least, was going to loose his wagers. At the very least, he already owed Durnozz five of the large spider-emblazoned coins. And as time went by, he began to suspect that he might owe G’eldreth as well before the night was over. He scowled, wondering how a first-timer had lasted so long against regular participants.

“He’s not half bad,” said Nym after a few minutes, as yet another illuminated dancer stalked up out of the pit. G’eldreth nodded absently, as if in a bemused daze, his red eyes riveted to the noble lad with his thin silk tunic plastered to his body.

“Do any of you boys know where he learned that? He’s never done it before- at least not that I’ve ever seen,” asked Taz, scowling at the prospect that he might have to hand over more of his hard-gained coins soon.

“Arken’ate,” muttered G’eldreth, and the others all turned to regard him curiously.

“What’s that about?” asked Filas and Kethan together, their sea-foam eyes blinking in confusion.

“He was talking with Lady Valdra that first night here, and he’s been disappearing for hours at a time every couple of days ever since. I heard rumors he’s been to see her a few times.” The weasel-faced youth played idly with a throwing star, flipping it back and forth across the back of his hand between his fingers almost casually.

“You sure that’s not just another ‘satisfied client’?” snickered Taz lewdly.

“He’s right,” replied Nymtyr, startling them both. “He’s been humming at odd moments the last few weeks, and yesterday I saw him doing some little skip-step jig in the corridor on the way to the morning lecture. He looked around like he thought no one was watching, but I’d misplaced a boot, and came out of the barracks behind him.”

“So what does that mean?” Durnozz asked, looking curiously across the room to where their friend was now wildly gyrating to the increasingly fast music in a near-frenzy of what could only be considered ecstasy. A few seconds later, they heard the rhythm change yet again, becoming slower and more sensual, and he nearly fell as he tried to slow and change his steps to match it. Almost at once, the youth was hit by a charge from one of the wizards floating above the pit, and he lit up like a white-flamed torch.

“Well, that’s the end of that,” Taztran said with a satisfied smirk, and held out a hand. He made a little ”hand it over” gesture to G’eldreth, who sighed and plunked the agreed-upon sum into his palm. “Better luck next time, G’eldreth,” he said, noting the eunuch’s sour expression.

They watched at the noble-born youth came back from the dance pit, sweat pouring from his brow and his clothes sticking to him in a most provocative way. Already, Taz noted with mild jealousy that several women had paused at the young male’s passing, their gazes following his lean figure with keen interest, followed by whispers and giggles. The E’Terrin’dar lad ignored them, however, and returned to his seat, smoothly swiping a cup of sweet fruit juice from a passing servant with a tray before settling back down at the table with his companions. He leaned back, clearly out of breath, but with a slightly flushed face, and a brightness in his eyes which had not been there before.

“That was incredible. Now I wish I’d known about this place sooner. I’ve never felt so alive!” he said, grinning. He was still covered from head to toe in the pale white flickers of the illusory flames, which seemed to mirror his earlier twisting, swaying dance.

“At least now we know where you’ve been wandering off to for the last few weeks. Not bad for a beginner. Gotta watch those changes, though,” Nym said, eying him closely.

“The lessons really helped.” G’eldreth supplied, perhaps a little too helpfully. Lothir glanced at him and rolled his eyes, wondering once again why the other lad had fixated on him.

“Thank you. I just wanted to see if I could do it. How did you boys know I was taking lessons, anyway?” Lothir frowned, wondering if someone had been spying on him.

“What do you expect? Always disappearing for an evening- and whispers flying about that you’ve been seen at House Arken’ate. Besides, I saw you talking to Lady Valdra that first night. It wasn’t hard to figure out. As secrets go, yours was rather ill-kept.” G’eldreth gave him a cocky, narrow look, his tiny red eyes gleaming with amusement.

“Oh, Hells; I should know I couldn’t keep anything private in this city. Too many damned nosy spies everywhere.” The young prince scowled, and let out a heavy sigh of resignation. “Doesn’t matter anyway. I learned what I needed to. So, who wants to wager on the winner?” He asked, changing the subject. The others just laughed, and turned their attention back to the pit full of dancers, as each tried to pick out his choice for the winner, and then they all made their bets. In the end, it was the E’Terrin’dar’s choice who proved victorious once again- he was becoming adept at spotting the truly gifted performers- and he left the fest-hall with his pouch heavier than when he had arrived.
By the Dark Maiden''s grace do we meet. May she guide and protect us.

"Where Science ends, Magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491

A link to my tales, including my Marvel hero!:
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Aylstra Illianniis
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Postby Aylstra Illianniis » Thu Jan 20, 2011 8:36 pm

It became his custom after that night to attend every revel, whether the others joined him or not. It had become like a drug to him, this intense, wild, exciting sport which he had chosen as his favorite activity. And in what seemed a remarkably short time, he was gaining a reputation as one of the most talented of the contestants. After a few short months, he had gone from being called out while over half the field remained, to moving up the ranks by degrees to the final dozen or so. And with each elimination, he would simply move aside to a spot near the musicians, and watch the remaining dancers intently, studying their every move.

When he found an occasional moment alone to himself, he would go to the small manor he had set up for Arianna, and spend some time reading in solitude or practicing the very steps he had seen others using in the nedierras. He discovered that it made an ideal place to practice with various instruments, as well; on one of his secret shopping trips- after having slipped away from the trio of diligent, but to his mind inept, bodyguards- he had bought several drums of varying size, a set of birdpipes, as some called them, and a fiddle. Sometimes he would sit and play for a while, alone, only to discover after a few minutes that Arianna had taken a spot near him to listen.

For her part, the human woman had grown to like the young dark elf, for he was quiet and always kind to her. He never stayed long in the private abode, since he was still technically bound to remain in Telamurin D’ Thalack for his training. Yet in spite of that, she found that she enjoyed his company- the clever humor, the inquisitive mind, even his marvelous gift at singing- all had long since proven that she need not fear him. Her only real complaint was his occasional penchant for practical jokes- something which even his so-called friends in the Academy had yet to learn of- and which caused her no small amount of embarrassment when he indulged it. Unlike Morganna‘s, however, his pranks were never intended to hurt her. A greased chair or an object that stuck to something when she tried to pick it up, or a sudden burst of noise from an unexpected source were the extent of his wicked streak, fortunately for the woman.

Besides the music and the dancing he practiced during those brief visits, he had also found time to master more of the peculiar sort of magic which seemed to come so naturally. Unlike the spells of most wizards, his were almost entirely reliant on his voice or a few simple gestures, and only rarely both. Instead, he had begun to experiment with a few simple magics from among the few books he had managed to acquire in the city, as well as those he had brought with him. Strangely, unlike most dark elves who seemed to prefer deadly magics such as fireballs or rays of destructive power- which he quickly realized he could not wield properly no matter how hard he tried- the ones which came most easily were those that merely created some image or sound, as well as a few more practical ones that he soon put to use playing amusing jokes on Arianna with.

Of course, he was not above more mundane jokes, either. More than once, she had been startled or amused to find a small air-filled bladder placed under hear seat, or a candle that refused to blow out. Had any of his friends seen such antics, the lad might have soon become a target for those who feared such pranks directed at them to strike first- and with more harmful results.

So he began leading two lives; one which seemed outwardly no different than any of his fellow students, and the other which he kept secret from all but Arianna, whom of all those he had met, was the only one he truly trusted. Thus it came as no surprise hat she had come to feel an almost protective fondness for the young drow. When he procured several beautiful rolls of fabric and other sundry items for sewing to help her start her shop, she had immediately wrapped the drow in a bear-hug and then kissed him soundly. He had been caught flat-footed by the unexpected display of affection, becoming embarrassed to the point of stuttering. This of course had made her laugh, and she quickly took advantage to tease him wickedly.

Time passed in this manner for a few weeks, with life becoming a mostly pleasant round of attending to his training in the Academy, before taking a few hours each day to roam the city after ducking away from his guardians, or perhaps going out to the taverns and brothels with his friends, and attending the revels at the Webdance, which occurred at least once or twice a week. The rest of the time, he was either asleep in his bunk, or sneaking a few hours to read or practice his hobbies in his private sanctum, which he had jokingly told Arianna was called House Ken’erelaun, a name which meant “Sworn to the Moondancer“.

One day, while out wandering the Merchants’ Ward, he came upon a drow woman- an acolyte of Lothrenya to judge by her black-trimmed purple robes and the simple scourge she carried in lieu of the magical scorpion-tailed or snake-headed whips of a full priestess- mercilessly lashing her small halfling servant in the street. She snarled curses at the poor unfortunate hin girl, who cowered on the ground with her arms over her head, whimpering in pain. Incensed, he stepped forward, forgetting the consequences of interfering with a member of the Venom Queen’s clergy, and grasped the furious drowess’s wrist as she drew back for another stroke.

“Enough! I believe the slave has learned her lesson, milady!” He said loudly, as the female turned on him, sputtering in anger. Her eyes flashed a darker shade of crimson, and she rounded on him with her scourge, snarling curses.

“How dare you interrupt me, foolish male! Do you know what the penalty is for that?!” she screeched, as he ducked and side-stepped out of her reach. The halfling lifted her head cautiously, gaping at the sight of a young male boldly challenging her mistress.

“Probably no worse than the penalty of assaulting a noble of the First House,” he grinned back, and she stared in shock, eyes going wide as she realized his meaning. Lothir had long since learned that his family name used at the proper time could often forestall most threats against him. No one wanted to rouse the ire of the most powerful House in the city, let alone the entire Empire.

“If you are as you say, then you should know it is forbidden to interfere with the punishment a priestess metes out to incompetents and heretics. This wench dropped my new mirror and broke it because of her clumsiness. She is worthless, and deserves what I give her!” She glared at him as if daring him to argue- a dare he promptly took up, to her dismay.

“Well, in that case, perhaps you should sell her. But beating the little thing to death is such a waste, don’t you think? If she is so clumsy and incompetent, why not let someone else deal with her? Besides, we both know you are only an apprentice, not a full priestess. Until you are ordained, my interfering is hardly a crime.” He smirked at her, knowing she could not refute his point. Though she was technically still clergy, she had few of the privileges that a full priestess would have. She glared in silence for a moment, then let out a loud huff, and slowly relaxed.

“Very well, since you seem so interested, you take the little wretch!” The drowess shot back, thinking she had just found an easy mark to pawn off her useless slave.

He almost laughed out loud at his luck. She had done precisely as he wanted, of course, for he had a notion that the young slave was hardly as clumsy or incompetent as the woman claimed. More likely, her mistress had simply kept a pace her short legs could not maintain, and she had stumbled trying to keep up.

“Oh, if I must. I suppose twenty orbben should cover it. Does that satisfy you? It should at least cover the expense of replacing the mirror.” He smiled amiably, and pulled out the coins from his pouch. Fortunately, his frequent winnings from betting with his friends had made it quite full, in addition to the large number of crystals he still carried.

“Ha! She’s not even worth that much. Take her then, and may I never lay eyes on the miserable creature again.” She took the coins he held out and handed him the slave‘s chain and key, and spun around to go on her way, only stopping to pick up a small box which undoubtedly held the mirror which had been he cause of all the fuss.

Lothir waited until she was out of hearing, and then turned to the frightened halfling with a grin. “Hello there, little miss. Welcome to your new life. Now, let’s get you to your new home and take that damned collar off, shall we?” He chuckled, leaving the small female staring at him in utter confusion.

“What do you mean?” she asked, wary of this stranger who was now her master- or so she thought. She winced when he came to crouch beside her, holding out a hand to help her up.

“I have a place on the edge of the city, and I think you will like it there. What is your name, little one?” He smiled to her encouragingly, and the diminutive girl hesitantly took his hand.

“Gisellie, Master.” She rose, and bowed in deference. She kept her head down, no doubt afraid to look up at him, lest she be punished.

“No need to call me Master- just call me Lothir. Come along, I’ll give you the key when we get to your new home, and you can take off the collar.” He took her hand in his, and led her back to the small spire he had claimed for his own. “There is a human lass there I would like you to meet, Gisellie, I think the two of you will get along very well….”

She looked up at him cautiously, not quite certain whether to believe the drow. “You’re taking off my collar? Why?”

“Well, I suppose if you really want to, you can keep it on, but I don’t see much point once you’re free, do you?” He shrugged, gently tugging her along as he strolled casually down the street.

“Free?! Truly?!” She looked up hopefully now- and then frowned and averted her eyes, as if afraid it was all a cruel trick.

“Yes, truly,” he replied, and smiled down at her sympathetically. She said no more, and they continued on in silence, the halfling girl wondering what sort of man had bought her.


A few days later, he returned to the Spider’s Den with Taz and the others, for their usual evening of cards, massages, and steam baths. As usual, Taz was the first to disappear into the back with one of the brothel girls, while the rest of their group played a few rounds of Eight-Legs. Lothir soon left the table, calling one of the girls- the buxom half-drow girl who was their regular server- over to whisper in her ear and rise when she nodded yo him.

“I’m done for the night, boys, so have fun without me. I’m going to enjoy a massage,” he announced, picking up his winnings from the game and following the girl back to one of the private rooms. A few minutes later, he was laying naked face-down on a cushioned bench, with the lass kneading deeply into his neck and shoulders. He let out a sigh as the tension of weeks of strenuous physical exertion melted away, along with his worries and fears. In no time at all, he had relaxed so completely that he was nearly asleep.

The young drow was so content that he nearly missed the sound of the door swinging open, as a dark-clad figure slipped in, its hooded cloak hiding its form- as well as the long slender dagger in its coal-black hand. He did not see the girl turn to stare wide-eyed at the silent intruder, but her sudden pause in rubbing the muscles of his back made him frown slightly, wondering why she had stopped. He turned to ask why she had stopped, and caught the movement of the stranger’s cloak out of the corner of his left eye. At that moment, the assassin struck, lunging at him with the dagger raised. The wench screamed, and scrambled away from the assassin, while Lothir rolled off the opposite side of the bench and ducked under the assailant’s blade.

Realizing that he was vulnerable and unarmed, he glanced around to look for his swords, only to discover that they were on a small changing seat by the far wall- behind the assassin. He saw the girl make a run for the door, but the attacker lunged after her, intending to leave no witness. Without thinking, the youth grabbed the nearest object- a bottle of hot oil- and heaved it at the figure as hard as he could. The bottle broke against the intruder’s chest, sending hot scented oil streaming down his front in a scalding mess. It also splattered on the floor, causing him to slip as he made another step toward the brothel wench.

Lothir wasted no time, and launched himself over the massaging bench at the stranger. The assassin tried to regain his balance, but the young prince tackled his legs, and down he went. The dagger skittered across the floor, and the half-drow girl flung open the door and ran out. Snarling a curse, the assassin rolled over, whipping out a second blade from somewhere inside his cloak. He tried to slash at the youth, but instead struck only air as Lothir jerked back and grabbed his belt and sabers from the changing seat.

He came up with the belt in his hands, and yanked out one of the blades before he tossed the rest back down. Seeing that his quarry was no longer helpless, but was now armed and alert, the cloaked figure jumped up and made for the door, deciding that he had lost his chance. Growling a curse, the angry noble charged after him, right on his heels as the hooded figure ran out the door and into the hall beyond. By now, the girl’s screams had alerted several patrons and servers alike, and they were poking their heads out of their own rooms. Taztran spotted the assassin as he rushed toward him, and stepped out of his room only half dressed.

“Don’t let him get away!” Lothir shouted to his friend, who grinned wickedly and flicked two small throwing knives out at the charging stranger. They struck him one after the other, and the would-be assassin grunted as both blades sank into his chest and gut. He stumbled, tried to regain his footing, and then slumped to the floor, gurgling as his life’s blood flowed out from the wounds. Taz looked down at the fallen stranger, and kicked at him contemptuously.

Lothir reached the assassin, and went to his knees, heedless that he was still naked, and turned over the figure to determine who had attacked him. The hood fell back, but the face was not one he recognized. He did, however, recognize the crimson sash at the intruder’s waist. Then he saw the tattoo on the side of the dying assassin’s neck, and his suspicions were confirmed. The attacker had been a member of the Venom Daggers- the very organization led by his own father.

“Who is he?” Taztran asked as he bent down to retrieve his knives from the intruder’s body as blood ran from the assassin’s mouth and he breathed his last. He wiped them on the dead drow’s cloak, and put them away.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen him before. But he was from the Venom Daggers...”

“Someone sent a Dagger after you? That’s nasty business. Sort of fitting too, since it’s run by your family. Who do you suppose sent him?” Taz asked, suddenly curious.

“I don’t know, Taz- someone killed him before I could find out!” he returned acidly, glaring at the other youth.

“Well, you did say to stop him. You didn’t specify how.” Taz shrugged, and looked around at all of the curious on-lookers, “We’re attracting too much attention out here, you know. And you might want to think about putting something on. I don’t want to stare at your we’ha- that’s more G’eldreth’s thing.”

“Oh, very funny, Taz,” the noble-born shot back sarcastically, and stood up. “Well, whoever he was, he’s not going to tell us anything now. I’m going back to the Academy. This place has lost its appeal for the night.”

He sighed, and stalked back to the room he had left to retrieve his clothes. His enjoyment of the evening had been shattered by the attack. Still, he wondered who might have sent the killer, especially since they had hired someone from his father’s own organization. It made little sense. He spent the rest of the night pacing restlessly in one of the small study chambers in the Academy, until fatigue finally forced him to seek sleep. Yet he was too worried by the assault on his life to risk sleeping in his own bunk, since there might be another attempt. Instead, he left an illusion of himself in it, and placed another one of an empty bed over one of the ones vacated by a deceased classmate, and slept in it with the hood of his cloak up to make himself invisible to heat-seeing eyes.
By the Dark Maiden''s grace do we meet. May she guide and protect us.

"Where Science ends, Magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491

A link to my tales, including my Marvel hero!:
http://mickeys-tavern.com/index.php?showforum=188

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Aylstra Illianniis
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Postby Aylstra Illianniis » Fri Jan 21, 2011 6:12 am

Had he known that it was Sabal who wanted him dead, he might have been less inclined to ignore the woman. After her small defeat in acquiring the pouch full of gems, and the loss of one of her best slave-girls, she had decided to make the young male pay for threatening to expose her thieving. Dishonesty and rampant theft were expected among their people, even encouraged by the chaotic goddess most drow revered. It was hardly unheard of for a drow merchant to sell an item at a high price, then have the buyer murdered shortly afterward, and take the item back to sell again. Such practices were considered just part of the risks of doing business in a dark elven city.

When she discovered that her assassin had failed, Sabal was furious. She had personally followed the lad to see which room he went into, and then had told the number to the Dagger. She had been amused by the irony of sending one of the guild’s members to murder the boy, knowing full well that no one would have expected a Dagger to slay a relative of their organization’s own founder. Of course, had the assassin known who his target was, he might have balked, fearing the wrath of his leader should he be caught. Knowing this, she had not told him the target’s name- only his description and the room number.

Now, several hours after the boy and his companions had left, she sat contemplating her next course. Her plot had failed, and the arrogant boy still lived. She still wanted him dead, of course- even if not for the enticement of the gems, the blow to her pride was enough in her mind to justify murdering him. Males had become far too bold and ambitious of late, to her mind, and though she was not of the Venom Queen’s clergy herself, her House was among those still faithful to the old ways. Fortunately, the assassin had been slain before he could reveal anything about his employer, which meant that she was safe for the time being. Yet this was not over; no, it was far from over….


The next evening, Lothir joined his friends at the fest hall again, though he kept his silver dagger on him at all times, along with two more blades concealed in his boots. He did not relish the prospect of fighting, and was even less keen on killing any would-be attacker, but he recognized the need for self-defense, and though he did not expect another attempt on his life so soon, he wanted to be ready. Paranoia, it seemed, was contagious.

Though there had been other attempts before- always by fellow students jealous of his status- this felt different. It felt more personal. For that reason, he kept his guardians close for once, hardly daring to set foot outside the compound walls without them following close behind. By now, their true purpose was a more-or-less known fact among his clique, but no one ever mentioned it, and the others seemed to take it as simply a sign of his status that he was allowed an armed escort outside the Academy’s walls. Since they stayed mostly out of the way and unseen, none of the youths thought much of it. To them, it simply meant that their noble-blooded companion was less vulnerable than their peers in case of treachery on their parts- a fact which they did not take lightly, and made them less likely to attempt any harm toward him.

When they entered Webdance, the three guardians followed at a discreet distance while the youths took their normal place near the musicians, and then took places of their own further down the table from the minstrels. All three looked about with alert eyes, scanning the crowds for possible signs of a threat to their charge. They need not have bothered. The first assassin had failed, and so the unknown conspirator had not yet had time to form another plot.

Lothir took his place in the pit when the wizards entered, anxiously awaiting the signal for the nedierra to begin. Over the previous weeks, he had grown steadily better, and now he was beginning to get a feel for how and when the music would change, and thus was learning to anticipate the changes to keep up. As soon as the drums started, he felt that familiar surge of something indefinable flowing through him, as if there was a voice within the beat that only he could hear. It called to him, a sweet siren song of pure joy and beauty, and he closed his eyes as he began to move to it, letting it envelop his soul. He embraced that feeling, for he suspected he knew its origin. Each time he had entered the contests, he had thought he heard- or rather, felt- the echo of the song the Moondancer had sung on that long ago night. This was his tribute to her, his holy prayer and sacrament.

On this particular night, he felt it stronger than ever, and when the music began in earnest, he threw back his head and howled out his exhilaration with the rest of the competitors. A high, ululating cry rose up from his throat, which was echoed by a hundred voices. Watching from the sidelines, six pairs of eyes took note, brows raised in curious puzzlement over the strange expression of emotion which none of them understood. And so it went. Minutes passed, beats changed, wound in and out, sped and slowed in an ever more intricate spiral, the frenzy building and ebbing with each new rhythm or tempo, always weaving a complex pattern of sound.

Most of the dancers were counted out within the first two or three tune changes, as some stumbled or slipped, others were left breathless and unable to continue, and a few simply found that they could not keep up. Minutes passed, the melody changed again and again in an ever more complicated play of tones and beats, and the crowd thinned as time went by. Yet still the young prince held his own, perhaps even began to rise higher in creative skill than the rest. He leaped, twirled, swayed, and dipped in a display of artistry that even those cavorting in their own exhibitions of physical dexterity soon began to envy.

After nearly an hour and a half, only a dozen or so were left. Three changes later, there were only eight. When the last four were left, it slowly began to dawn on the lad that he was now competing- though he did not think of it that way- with the best of the best. Valdra was still going strong not far from him, and two others on whom he had wagered in the past were all that remained. Another new rhythm began, and it seemed as if his feet found the new beat almost effortlessly, slipping from one pattern to the next as if it were a part of his very being. His clothes were damp with perspiration, his hair fell into his eyes, completely mussed and hanging limp in places where it stuck to his neck. His breath came in quick heaves, heart hammering in his chest like the pounding of a rothe’s hooves, but he did not care. He was lost within the drums and the melody, caught up in some primal, beautiful emotion that had no name.

Suddenly the music built to a frenzied, dizzying crescendo, more intricate and faster than ever. One of the three others- a male in a tight pair of dark green cannons and a matching vest, with a bald head and rings on every finger, as well as necklaces, arm bands, and ear and nose rings- lost his footing on the sweat-slicked floor, and was immediately lit by a judge. The next, a small, lithe female in a long gown studded with pearls, faltered a few moments later, and she too was eliminated. It was down to himself and Valdra now, and the older woman was amazed- and more than a little jealous- to see her own student suddenly her greatest opponent.

She spun toward him, kicking out with one leg high above her head, hoping the unexpected steps would startle him into loosing the rhythm. Instead he only mimicked her, and did so again when she side-stepped into a spinning leap. Impressed, the drowess tried every complicated step she knew, yet he kept pace, mirroring each one as if he had done it all his life. They continued in that way for two more changes of the beat, each coming faster and harder until they were both heaving near to exhaustion. At last, Valdra spun close to the lad, reaching out to swing him in an arc, deciding to turn the solos into a duet in hopes of throwing him off.

She was quickly disappointed when he spun away, and then came back quickly in an aerial kick that brought him neatly beside her, and took her in one arm to dip low with her before coming back up into another pivot and kick-step. Surprised by his move- one she had not taught him- she slid on the slippery floor as he dipped her, and kept going- right down on her rump. A pale white glow engulfed her, and suddenly, the competition was over. She looked back in astonishment, as she realized that the boy had won.

Only when the music stopped did he come out of the odd euphoric state and discover that the contest was over. He slowed to a stop, as he heard a wizard from among the judges announce him as the winner, the throng of dark elves who had either already been eliminated or who had been betting on the outcome all let out yells of mixed anger and smug amusement, depending on their position. As one, all twelve judges floated down; a thin, frail-looking older mage with a balding head and a strange clawed hand strode over to give him a polite congratulation, along with the evening’s prize, which was a set of three potion vials, each containing the valuable sleeping poison which dark elves frequently used to capture enemies alive for use as slaves or sacrifices.

Lothir muttered a brief acknowledgement of the praise, before returning to the table and his companions. He pulled his cloak from the bench, put it back on, and sat wearily down to rest, while his astonished fellow students congratulated him and offered him a cup of wine. He drank it in one swallow, and leaned back to enjoy the heady feeling of exhilaration and fatigue after having completed his first competition. The thrill of his victory was singing through every vein and nerve, as sweet- as addicting- as any drug.

He sat and listened to the idle chatter, nodding now and then at some inane comment from the others. After a while, however, the euphoria began to wear off, and he found the conversation less interesting than it should have been. Somehow, after having felt the touch of inspired triumph, of pure joy, nothing else could ever compare. He knew he had heard the song of the Moondancer in his blood, and now it ran like fire through his soul, burning away everything else.

He was interrupted in his reverie by a nudge from Durnozz, who was looking at him strangely. “Hey, high-nose! Did you hear me, or are you too busy ignoring us low-borns?”

‘’Huh- what?” The young noble shook himself out of the blissful obliviousness to look at his companion. “Sorry, I was just- thinking.” It was a weak excuse, but he knew they would never understand what had happened to him on the pit floor this night.

“I said, why don’t we all go to see the Games? There isn’t much else going on here. Besides, we made quite a few coins off of you tonight. I say we all celebrate.” Durnozz held up his glass of the dark crimson wine known as Spider Blood, and waved a mock toast.

“Gladiators again- what is it with you wanting to see people killing each other for sport?” Lothir rolled his eyes, wondering why the group’s nominal leader was so bloodthirsty.

“Speaking of killing- who do you think sent that assassin after you?” Taztran asked suddenly. “Maybe it was a rival for the top spot in the Melee.”

The young prince shook his head. “I doubt that- I’ve never been higher than fourth. It’s not as if there isn’t anyone higher-ranked than me to go after. Besides, it wasn’t one of the students, and if any of them wanted me dead, they would do it themselves, not hire someone else.”

Taz let out a harsh laugh. “Don’t be so certain! You’ve been here long enough to have heard of the rule of denial. If it can’t be traced back to you, you can’t be held accountable. Every weanling knows that.”

“He’s right, you know. Anyone could have greased that Dagger’s palm for the job. Know anyone you might have annoyed enough for them to want to kill you?” G’eldreth asked.

Lothir shook his head, wondering who would have reason for taking such subtle measures. If Taztran had not killed the assassin, he might have learned the employer’s identity, but now he might never know. “No. I can’t think of anyone,” he said at last.

“Hmm, well then, why don’t we shelve the discussion for now in favor of having some good bloody fun, shall we?” Durnozz replied.

As usual, Kethan and Filas agreed- as they always seemed to do, being little more than toadies to the tatooed youth- and even Nymtyr nodded enthusiastically. Taz merely shrugged, having nothing better to do. G’eldreth waited for Lothir’s response, having long since become, next to Taztran, at least, his staunchest supporter Having no better suggestion, he finally agreed, and G’eldreth followed suit. With the matter settled, the band of friends rose and headed for the door; the trio of ever-present guardians followed discreetly behind, always keeping their charge in sight, and their hands near their weapons in vigilant readiness.


A half hour later, they had taken seats in a comfortable box in the stands of the massive Battle Dome, which consisted of a fighting pit more than a hundred paces long, and half that distance wide, surrounded by tiers of long benches for the common masses, with rows of enclosed viewing boxes at either end. The pit was nearly twenty feet deep, carved right out of the cavern floor. A roof of calcified webs supported by magically altered spires which curved inward toward the pit covered the entire arena. Eight entrances were placed at intervals around the outside, each with steps leading up the stands for access.

As he sat waiting for the next match to begin- they had arrived between bouts- Lothir looked around in morbid curiosity, taking in the throngs of rabid fans of the so-called “Games”, which were really nothing more than forced battles between slaves trained just for that purpose, as well as condemned souls who were considered unfit for use as sacrifices, but had earned their deaths for committing sacrileges against the Venom Queen or who had been disgraced from their houses. Most of the unfortunate combatants were surfacers or the stronger slave races, but occasionally, a drow of exceptional skill at arms who wished to make a name for himself would enter voluntarily in hopes of improving his status in the city. Those who did were almost always given an unfair advantage over their opponents, of course.

On this particular evening, a match had been scheduled between a well-known rising dark-elven gladiator and a half-dozen captured surface elves from Whisperwood on the Anterrian mainland. The fair-haired elves were led into the pit in chains, by a heavily-armed escort of drow warriors, and only when they had been unchained and a pile of weapons and a few shields left on the ground before them did the escort leave and slam down the gates of the pit behind them.

As they scrambled to arm themselves in what they must have known was a futile attempt at defense, a dark elf entered the pit from a gate at the far end. He was easily taller than any other drow the young prince had ever seen, and wore nothing at all above the waist. He was built like a large human, wide of chest, with limbs whose girth was larger than any two other drow. Though dark elves were generally smaller and shorter than their surface kin, this one dwarfed even his opponents.

Stranger still was the huge two-handed sword he held as easily as if it weighed almost nothing. He stalked into the middle of the arena with a deceptively calm expression. The captive elves all stood close together, wielding swords, or in one case, a bow, and eyed the drow warrior warily. One, a female who had clearly been harshly used before being sent into the arena, glared at the dark elven opponent with hate and vengeance in her green eyes. The others were all males, and all bore the marks off torture and battle.

Then the elves called out as one with a battle-cry to their gods, and the archer among them let fly an arrow at the drow, as the others began to rush at him, perhaps thinking that they could overpower the lone drow. They were wrong. The arrow struck home, but he had already begun to dodge its flight, so that it merely embedded itself into is upper left arm. Grinning like a madman, the drow’s eyes took on a wild, almost demonic look, and he roared in fury, as he rushed to meet the charging elves.

Lothir watched in horrified silence, as the drow swung his huge blade at the leading elf, a lean fellow with coppery red hair using a pair of short swords. The fair-skinned combatant raised his blades to block the attack, and was promptly thrown back by the force of the blow, stumbling as he lost his footing. Surprised, he was almost cut in half by the return swing, but managed to hop back out of the way just in time.

A second elf joined him, stabbing at the drow with a rapier, a dirk in his off hand for defense. Unfortunately, he had not accounted for the strength in his foe’s arms, for the huge blade shattered his dirk as he raised it to ward off the back-swing. A look of fear spread over his face, and he spun away to try to attack from the side, while the female joined in with a long sword and a shield, slashing out at the drow’s legs. Her attack was stopped short when he rushed straight at her, narrowly avoiding the second swing from the red-haired elf, and causing the one with the rapier to lunge at empty air. He bowled into her like a wild boar, and her shield was all that kept her from being cleaved in half as he brought the over-sized blade down. She fell back to the ground, rolling aside instantly, while the dark elf spun around with a mightily swing of his sword that took the red-haired elf by surprise as he turned to face his foe.

The blade sheared through his middle easily, slicing through spine and flesh like butter. The elf went down with a scream, his entrails spilling out onto the hard stone floor of the pit, along with his life’s blood. The archer let loose another arrow, which stuck in the drow’s right buttock, but seemed hardly to slow him down. The last two closed in then, one armed with a spear, the other with a net and a katar, which was more commonly called a punching dagger. He maneuvered around to come up behind the drow, while the golden haired elf with the spear thrust at their enemy from just behind the female.

Lothir stifled a gasp of horror when he saw the first captive slain, and almost became ill. For a moment, he had dared to hope that they might overpower the dark elven warrior by force of greater numbers, but now he realized that the enemy the captive fighters faced was no ordinary opponent, but a rager. He had ignored both wounds from the archer, and had used a strength almost unheard of to shatter the dirk and cleave through the elf who now lay dead. With a low growl of primal fury, the rager swung again, only to be met by the female’s shield. She stabbed at him, her blade thrusting into his left thigh, but once again, the drow only seemed to grow more angry, and continued as if he felt no pain.

Now he was wounded in several places, yet still he fought, slamming the pommel of his sword into the stomach of the elf with the rapier. The elf doubled over, nearly dropping his slender blade. Seeing a chance, the one with the net threw it at he drow, hoping to ensnare him for an easy kill from the others. He was utterly astonished to see the drow’s huge blade shear through the strands as if they were no more than thin silk. Undaunted, the elf punched with his katar, landing a glancing blow to the drow’s side.

Lothir was growing more uncomfortable with every moment, realizing that unless one of them managed to land a fatal blow, the elves in the pit were all doomed. The drow down there with them would not stop until he was dead. They suddenly seemed to understand this too, for they began to attack more cautiously, each one darting in from a flank, only to retreat when he spun to retaliate. This had two effects; first, it began to wear him down little by little, and second, it drove him into an even deeper rage. At last, panting and dripping with blood and sweat, he launched himself at the one who had thrown the net, his sword smashing down to literally disarm the surprised elf, who cried out in fear, and scrambled back cradling the stump of his now missing hand.

The drow kept coming after him, in spite of a spear-thrust to his back. He swung out at the defenseless captive, who could only drop to the ground and roll away, then dash toward the pile of weapons in an attempt to defend himself once more. He came up with a shield, bringing it up in front of him just as the drow charged at him with his sword raised over his head. The dark elf brought it smashing down at him with a yell of fury, and the power of his attack cracked the shield in half. The others, hoping to save their friend, attacked him from behind- only to have him bring the blade angling down in a wide arc that turned sideways, as he swung it in a full circle at them. Two of them fell to his sword without even a chance to block it, their heads being severed even before they could make a sound.

The female and her remaining companion scattered, as the archer raised his bow to aim once again, and suddenly found himself the object of the drow’s attention. He had forgotten the one with the missing hand for the moment, and now focused on the two remaining threats. He charged at the archer, who had time to let fly his arrow before he threw down the weapon and ran. He had nowhere to go, but that hardly seemed to matter. He simply did not want to be caught by that deadly mountain of enraged dark elven might. He passed by the pile of weapons, and grabbed a javelin, and turned briefly to throw it. He missed. The woman yelled in anger, and charged up from the drow’s off-side with a wild swing, but he turned at the sound and shoved his blade deep into her ribs. She looked startled for an instant, then dropped her own weapon, and slumped to the ground without a sound as he yanked the blade back out again. A cry of elation went up from the spectators, all of them overflowing with bloodlust.

By now, the last two had retreated to the gate, pleading loudly to be released. The crowd jeered and snarled down curses at their hated cousins, laughing as the frenzied warrior advanced on the helpless pair. With all of their friends gone, they knew they had no chance left. Still, they turned to face the drow valiantly- one with only a broken shield and one hand, the other with no weapon. They moved to tackle him and wrestle him down bare-handed, but he proved far stronger, and knocked the one-handed one aside with a hard blow from his elbow to that one’s jaw.

He dropped his huge sword, and grabbed the second elf by the throat, yanking him off his feet. Lothir heard the crowd cheering as he squeezed, and there was a sickening snapping sound; then the elf went limp. The last one screamed as he tried frantically to escape his fate, and made a fervent plea for mercy. His cry was ignored. The drow came on, and picked him up over his head, struggling and screaming in terror. Then he went down on one knee, and brought his squirming victim down over his other knee, snapping his spine. The elf’s scream of agony was cut short, as the drow picked him up, still barely alive, and slammed him against the spikes of the gate, pinning him to it with a half-dozen iron spikes poking out of his body.

Lothir stared, stricken by the brutality of what he had just witnessed. “They never had a chance…” he said softly to himself, while his companions cheered and hooted at the vicious warrior’s victory. He hardly heard the shouts of excited drow who had bet on the hulking warrior to win, nor did he pay attention to his friends as they clapped each other on the back in jubilation. In truth, he could not see what was worth cheering about.

At last, he sighed, and decided that he had seen enough. How anyone could enjoy such cruel “sport” was beyond his understanding. He rose, and left the box without a word to his companions. As always, the three guards followed him out, as he wandered along through the bustling streets, unable to shake the images of the deaths from his mind. Though he had long known how brutal and cruel his own kind could be, this was the first time he had seen it first-hand; somehow, though, he doubted it would be the last.

After a while, he realized that his steps had taken him almost to his private retreat, and he paused, uncertain whether to continue to the small manor, or to turn away to avoid the trio of guardians discovering his best-kept secret. Thus far, he had been careful not to be seen coming or going, so that no one would connect him to the shop Arianna had so recently opened, with the help of Giselle. The young halfling girl had taken to Arianne quickly, as he had known she would. Within only two days, the pair had become almost like sisters, and had even agreed- albeit reluctantly- to his suggestion that they both wear their collars whenever they went out to do errands in the city markets. He had given them the keys, of course, so that they could remove them whenever they wished. In that way, they could do as they wished and none would dare challenge them, for he had sanded down the symbols of their previous owners and replaced them with that of his own family.

Suddenly, he dashed into a side-alley, and pulled up his hood to become invisible; then he levitated up onto the angled roof of a small shop, and raced silently across to leap onto the next. He smirked as he heard the trio cursing down below, and ran on, leaping from one stone rooftop to the next, until he had come to the end of the winding avenue where his private manor sat. He slipped in through the narrow door at the front before finally pulling off his hood- which startled the two women where they sat together chatting as they sewed an elegant if somewhat revealing gown- and striding up the few stairs to the small suite of rooms he had claimed as his own. He said not a word to the pair, who simply stared after him in puzzled curiosity, but did not attempt to follow. They both understood that he did not wish to be disturbed. The drow stayed there all through the night, silently contemplating all that he had seen, and singing softly to himself in prayer to the Moondancer for the fallen elves. Only when he heard the first gong of the morning from the nearby temple to the goddess Ocarina- the dread Lady of Bones- did he finally leave his small chapel and return to the Academy.
By the Dark Maiden''s grace do we meet. May she guide and protect us.

"Where Science ends, Magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491

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Aylstra Illianniis
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Postby Aylstra Illianniis » Sun Jan 23, 2011 6:17 am

He spent the next few days in a deep funk, hardly acknowledging his friends, until Taztran began to realize something had changed, and asked what was on his mind. The young noble answered that he simply had a lot on his mind, but refused to comment further. Taz had his suspicions, but given the secretive nature of their kind, he knew better than to pry. He simply assumed that his companion’s lack of interest in their usual activities had something to do with the plot against his life.

In truth, Taztran was only half right. Although he continued to keep his eyes and ears alert for any sign of his enemy, after several weeks with no sign of further attack, he began to relax, and eventually forgot about it for the most part. Of course, he had no way of knowing that the assassin’s employer was very close by, watching him closely whenever the group decided to spend an evening in the Spider’s Den. Sabal had already determined that a simple hired assassin would not do. For one thing, she was worried that the Daggers might come sniffing around to learn what had become of their associate. The League was known for keeping watch on its members- not out of any loyalty or concern, but simply because loosing a member to failure was poor for business, and they preferred to punish failures themselves- quietly.

As the weeks and then months went by, however, she began to look for other ways to avenge herself on the young noble, preferably without anyone being alerted to her activities. She knew all too well that angering the Patron of the First House by slaying his kin would be a sure way to find her own grave. Meanwhile, the prince and his companions returned night after night, never imagining that they were sitting in the very web of the would-be killer. And as time went by, his reputation as a popular socialite and drinking companion grew, for he was well known for his willingness to join in whatever activities were the order of the evening- so long as it did not involve the Arena. That, he avoided adamantly.

Several years passed with hardly a change in his routine. He still took every opportunity to enter the nedierras; after that first taste of victory, he thirsted for it as for nothing else. In no time at all, it seemed, his skills had far surpassed even Valdra, who grudgingly admitted that she envied his gift. He won every competition after that first victory, and soon his reputation as the finest dancer in the city become almost legendary among the nobles and wealthy commoners who attended the revels. In time, a few of the less enthusiastic dancers began to avoid competing with him altogether, knowing that they had little chance against a dancer of such talent. This bothered the young prince not at all, for he joined the dances not so much for the competition, but for the sheer joy and exhilaration of the art.

While his renown among the ranks of those who regularly attended the revels grew, it had a few unfortunate drawbacks, the worst of which was that he quite naturally drew the eyes of many bored and lusty noble ladies. The same agility and flexibility which had come to serve him so well on the floor, proved no less useful- at least in the minds of the women who desired to take advantage of it themselves- in other ways. It became an almost routine occurrence for the young prince to finish the contest and collect that evening’s prize- usually a small purse of coins or gems, or perhaps a small minor item of magic, or a voucher for one of the many merchants in the market or Bazaar- only to be dragged away almost immediately by one of the ladies, to one of the screened alcoves or private lounges in the side-corridors of the fest-hall.

More annoying still, he often had to deal with the inevitable arguments between rival ladies vying for his time and attention, often with embarrassing results. On more than one occasion, he was even forced to stop the issue from escalating into outright violence by convincing the women in question to share his attention, which made for a few awkward encounters, not to mention jealousy among his fellow students and others. He ignored them, for the most part, and wondered if they would be quite so envious if they had ever realized what an annoyance all the attention truly was. He had once seen a lady who was bored with her current lover order the unfortunate drow to be taken to her chapel; Lothir had later seen the same male’s corpse being carried out to be dumped into a feeding pit for he guard spiders of the lady’s house, sans heart and skin. The incident had served as a chilling reminder of how dangerously fickle- as well as demanding- the noble women of Terrillis were.

And still there remained the mystery of the assassin to unravel. Fortunately, there had been no further attempts against him, but he knew it was not an isolated incident. Someone had wanted him dead, that much was certain, though why they had not tried again was unclear. Even a few discreet inquiries among the students and staff of the Academy had brought no leads, and in the end, he had simply given up, for his contacts among the noble women of the city had known nothing of the attack, and none of them had been able- or more likely willing- to dig up the identity of the assassin’s employer.

He did not know it, but there had indeed been other attempts. He simply never saw them, because Lady Sabal had gone from using hired killers to trying to poison him, with even less success. She had no way of knowing that on his second win in the dance, the prize had been a delicate silver ring studded with amethysts, which granted immunity to poisons and venoms of all kinds, and that he had worn it ever since- not out of any real fear of poisoning, but because it was both useful and attractive.

When that failed after several attempts, she tried using street thugs, only to have them swiftly slain by his ever-vigilant guardians, who never even connected the seemingly random attack with the earlier attempt. In the end, even a bugbear drugged with a powerful strength enhancer, which had the added effect of causing uncontrollable rage, ended in failure, after it attacked while he was with his friends in the street, and it mistakenly went after Taztran. He and the others had gutted the hulking brute before it could even realize its mistake. Eventually, she had simply given up, though she still hoped for an opportunity for a fitting revenge.

Among the prizes in the nedierras, Lothir also acquired several slaves, which presented a problem of its own. After all, what did one who detested the very idea of slavery do with one? Much less with four or five? The hardest part proved to be simply finding a way to take them to his manor without anyone discovering it. He had finally decided to tell his three honor guards about the manor, simply to have a means of escorting any new “slave” to the manor. He gave the trio strict orders to remain outside, however, and even on his few visits to the home of Arianna and the growing number of former slaves who were now firmly ensconced within its walls, he never allowed them entry. This naturally caused some grumbling among the three. Of course, eventually the secret leaked out, at least to the extent that his ownership of the spire became known. He kept his involvement minimal, however, if only to prevent unwanted attention on his venture.

There was little else he could do, however. The end result was that as the months and years went by, Lothir slowly acquired a reputation not only as the most talented dancer in the city, but also as somewhat of a rake and a philanderer. This was not to say that he particularly cared what anyone thought of him- he had little use for the opinions of most of his peers in the Academy or the city at large- but it did not take long for his small covey of rescued servants to become known, especially once Arianna had opened her shop. Fortunately, his rooms were at the top of the small spire, away from the eyes of the clientele, but that did not stop inquisitive drow from noticing his frequent presence in a shop whose “slave-workers” he owned. Nor did it go unnoticed that nearly all of them were females of various races.

After he had been in Telamurin D’ Thalack for over a decade, it was no surprise that he had gained several rivals for the honor of Champion of the dances. Most of these were minor, no more serious than the usual jostling for the top position in the classes of the Academy itself. He had deliberately kept out of that arena, always being careful never to finish the Melee higher than fourth, for the simple reason that it kept his fellow students’ eyes off of him and on those ranked higher.

The nedierras were another matter. In those, he strove for perfection in all ways, and frequently practiced even away from the fest hall, either in his small private suite in the manor, or occasionally in the training room of the Academy late at night when he was restless and everyone else slept. At such times, he would experiment with new steps, often humming one of the tunes from the revels, or casting one of his illusions of music playing, which he had become quite adept at. He never allowed anyone else to see or hear his practices, of course, as they were nearly always done after hours in a dim room, with a sound barrier spell keeping the noise from alerting anyone to the fact that he was awake after hours.

It was during one such late-night foray in the silent practice hall that he began to idly play with his song magic, weaving ghostly music into his swordplay, simply to have something to keep himself company. After a few minutes of this, he suddenly had a notion to try dancing to the softly playing tune while he practiced various parries and thrusts. Before he even realized what he was doing, his love of the dance took over, and his movements became something altogether unlike the simple practice drill he had been performing. He closed his eyes and simply danced, letting the blades in his hands become a part of the weave and flow of the melody and the steps.

He continued this for some time, until the spell wound itself out and he was heaving from fatigue. At last the ghostly tune faded, and he came to a stop, shuffling over to a rack where he set down his sabers for a moment to rest. It was then that he heard a quiet clapping of hands. Startled, he whirled around to discover the Arms Master leaning casually against one of the doors, which was slightly ajar. Master Serath tossed him a respectful and half-amused look, and then slowly entered the room, studying the young noble curiously.

“An interesting display, lad. Where did you learn that technique?” He asked slowly, as Lothir gulped and stood nervously staring at the instructor. It was long after the curfew hour, and he was not even supposed to be awake, much less out of the barracks. He was well aware that he could be severely punished for such an offense.

“I- I didn’t learn it. I was just sort of- experimenting. I thought of it just now, while I was practicing.” He gave an apologetic shrug, and moved over to a low bench by the wall. “I’m sorry if I was doing something wrong, Master Serath. I just couldn’t sleep.” It was a pitiful excuse, and one that would not have been accepted under most circumstances, but it was the best he could do. Besides, it was true. He had been dreaming of her again, and the dreams had awakened him and left him too restless to return to sleep.

“Ah, no, lad. To tell the truth, I was rather impressed. I haven’t seen that style used in over two and a half centuries! And no one taught it to you? Amazing. I’ve never heard of a battledancer learning the art without instruction.” He studied the boy closely, wondering how it was that a mere youth had stumbled onto a style of combat that had not been used in centuries, and then only by a single warrior. Then again, the young prince was clearly no ordinary fighter. He knew some magic beyond the normal gifts of their race, and was something of a scholar, from all that Serath had seen. A natural spell-singer, perhaps? It was rare, but not unheard of.

Lothir gave the older male a quizzical look, wondering what he meant. “Battledancer? What is that?” he asked, suddenly curious. From the sound of it, Serath was not at all angry, but more puzzled by his dance. But that was all it was- wasn’t it?

“You don’t know? Strange. It is an ancient art, said to have been brought here to our home when our ancestors were driven to this land by their kin, long ago. It is very rare, for few have the natural talent for it, and it is rarely taught. Once, there were a few battledancers who would teach apprentices their art, but the last one I know of died over two and a half centuries ago. I had thought the art dead. You have a gift, lad. One I’ve not seen in ages.”

Lothir stared at him, suddenly embarrassed. A gift? He had believed it was nothing more than some idle play, combining his one passion with the more mundane art of swordplay, in what he had thought was a new and unique form of fighting. Yet it was not unique, or so it would seem. Had he truly rediscovered something that had been lost? What did that mean?

“I didn’t know. It just sort of came to me- I was just playing foolish games. I didn’t really think it would be good for anything.” He shrugged, and sat down.

Serath smiled, and nodded. “Well, your form needs work- you’re leaving yourself open a bit, for one thing- but aside from that, it’s much more useful than you realize. It’s a deadly art, in fact. Quite effective, when perfected.”

He sat silently and thought over what the Arms Master had said, and finally decided to ask him to help him improve this new-found skill. He spent the next hour with Serath watching his moves, occasionally offering advice or sparring against him to hone his art. When he fell into his bunk some time later, he was exhausted but content, for now he had something to truly call his own. He fell asleep that night with visions of dancing beside a tall dark-elven woman in a strange, graceful duel, singing as swords flashed and rang sweetly in the silvered light of two moons.
By the Dark Maiden''s grace do we meet. May she guide and protect us.

"Where Science ends, Magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491

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Postby Aylstra Illianniis » Mon Feb 14, 2011 4:37 am

Days went by, as he began to spend more time perfecting the new art, for he was determined to prove that he was worthy of the Lady’s gift. He knew almost without doubt that it had come from her, for why else would she have told him that “when the time came” he would be able to join her in the Dance? He would spend long hours with Serath in the training room after everyone else had finished for the day, once his daily chore assignments were done, learning how to use his blades to shield himself from attack, or to use his own natural agility and speed to slip under or behind an opponent, never remaining in one position long enough for his enemy to strike.

Turning the rhythms and fluid motion of dance into a fighting art seemed to come naturally, for in the end, the two skills were not so different. Serath explained during one practice that a battledancer viewed combat as an intricate dance between life and death, a philosophy that made sense to Lothir, as he understood instinctively how the two were linked. A step here, a twist or turn there, never standing still- he treated each fight as if his opponent was his partner, and the dance would end only when one had fallen. He would always hum or sing to keep his thoughts focused on the natural flow and tempo of each match, and he quickly discovered that each new fight had its own dance, which changed depending on the weapons used, the number of opponents- for Master Serath would occasionally call in other masters or guards from the compound to join- or even the fighting styles that he faced. Each new situation created its own steps, and the young prince learned them all with an ease that astonished the aging Arms Master.

Of course, he still attended the revels with his friends, as well, and often still joined them in their nightly rounds of enjoying the night-life of Terrillis. They managed to convince him to return to the Games one night, but once again, he found himself sickened by the cruel and pointless brutality of the battles within, even though the match was between a pair of driders and a half-dozen hook horrors. In the end, only one of the driders survived, mainly by remaining out of reach while his companion was attacked by the monstrous hook-clawed beasts, only to attack them from behind. Lothir decided the “victor” was really nothing but a coward who had sacrificed his partner to save his own skin. He had almost been glad when the drider had been cut down quickly in the very next match- and by nothing more than a quick halfling with only a dagger, at that. It was at that point that he decided to make a discreet exit to the lower levels of the Arena to buy the halfling, a curly-haired male named Bucklind, whom he promptly took back to his manor as a guardian for Arianna’s shop, leaving him with the promise of freedom and proper pay for his service.


The next evening, in the Spider’s Den, a randy young dark elf was enjoying the ample charms of one of the slave-wenches when the door to the private room he was using opened, revealing the sultry proprietress. The youth was about to protest the intrusion, until he looked her over- then he gave the drowess a lewd smirk, and chuckled, as he patted the bed.

“Well, the more the merrier, eh? There’s plenty of me to go around, mistress,” he said, lounging on one elbow. The drowess simply stared at him impassively, hen turned to glare at the half-elven girl in the bed.

“You- out! We have business to discuss.” The slave hastened to comply, pausing only long enough to gather her scanty clothing from the floor as she raced out of the room. The door closed behind her, and the young drow scowled at her luscious retreating form.

“I do hope this is something worth cutting my fun short for, milady. I’ve paid good coin for that doxy’s services.” He turned back to the voluptuous figure of Lady Sabal, and gave her a look which was blatantly lecherous.

“Forget the wench. I wish you to perform a task for me. One that will be mutually beneficial to us both. You are Elderboy Belgreth of House Duskrune, correct? You are in the class with that E’Terrin’dar boy at Telamurin, are you not?” She asked bluntly. She slowly moved toward the bed, and stood gazing down at the unclad youth coolly.

“Yes, so what of it?” the young male replied. He swung his legs around over the edge of the bed, sensing that this was something more than just bedroom games with the mistress of the brothel.

“You have competed against him in the nedierras rather often, have you not? And yet he always wins. And I have heard that he excels at the Melee every year as well, while you must settle for a lower rank in both. Would you not like to end his lucky streak? Permanently, perhaps?” She lowered her chin, smirking down at him with a look that was calculating and abundantly clear of intent.

“You mean kill the spoiled runt, right? Why? What’s your grievance against him? He forget to pay you?” Belgreth was not as cunning as some drow, but he was no fool. He knew the woman must want the First House’s heir dead badly to seek his help.

“It matters not why I desire it- do you not agree that he should die? If nothing else, you would have one less rival in the dance. And I can make it worth your effort, of course. The boy has been a thorn in both our sides- shall we make a deal?” Sabal asked, moving to stand over him, her posture one of dominance and superiority, a subtle reminder to the youth of his place.

Belgreth paused to stare up at the voluptuous but arrogant proprietress, and thought for a moment. It was true that he had become intensely jealous of the young prince of the First House, for he was more popular, more handsome, wealthier, and better at the dances and in the Grand Melee. In short, the E’Terrin’dar youth had what he wanted for himself- the rank and privileges far above his own meager place in their world.

“All right, Mistress, what did you have in mind?” He replied at last, a dark cold smile spreading over his face. Sabal grinned back, and slipped out of her gown, revealing her lithe, shapely figure.

“Hmm, why don’t I join you, and we can discuss the matter? I believe you were complaining about interruptions?” She draped her arms over his shoulders, and saw the young male’s eyes light up at her suggestion. He pulled her down onto the bed, leering wickedly. They spent the rest of the evening in very pleasant conspiracy….


Several weeks later, Lothir returned to his bunk late one night, and discovered a surprise there when he turned down the blanket- in the form of a small black viper. It hissed at the disturbance, and struck at him, sinking its fangs into his thigh before he even realized it had moved. The drow knew a moment of panic as he felt the venom burn in his veins; then the sensation faded, and he remembered the ring he wore. He pulled out one of his sabers, flipping the intruding serpent off the bed, and then held it down with the flat of the blade while he drew the other to behead the writhing reptile.

Several pairs of eyes popped up at the commotion of the hissing snake, and he glanced around to note that one of them belonged to G’eldreth, whose bunk was across from his. A second pair of amber ones narrowed slightly as their owner- a noble youth from House Duskrune named Belgreth- saw that he had killed the serpent, and was now watching him with an almost dark expression. Had he put the viper in the bed, then?

He decided that it might be prudent to keep a closer eye on his classmates. He did not truly suspect G’eldreth; the Teken’ghym lad might be fixated on him, but his obsession was more possessive in nature, rather than murderous- or at least it appeared so. He tried to remember if he had done anything to make an enemy of Belgreth, but beyond his higher rank in the Grand Melee every year, he could think of nothing. He had seen the Duskrune’s Elderboy in many nedierras, but since Belgreth had never been considered a serious contender to win the competitions, he thought little of it. Or had he misjudged, and the culprit was someone else entirely? At last he stabbed the snake’s head on the end of his blade, and scooped up the still-slithering body in his other hand, and carried them off to dump in the guardrobe for disposal. Doubtless whoever had placed in his bed was wondering how he had avoided death from its fangs. Well, he thought with a satisfied smirk, perhaps his ring was more useful than he had believed.

Several days passed without further incident, until one afternoon while he was busy directing some younger students from the Initiates’ Tower in their daily drills- older students were expected to assist in the teaching of their younger peers once they had reached the Journeyman’s Tower or higher- when he and Belgreth were called on to demonstrate an advanced set of parries to the less experienced class. Such sparring matches were usually performed with wooden weapons to avoid accidental injury, so he felt confident that even if the Duskrune youth wanted him dead, there was little chance of harm. In any case, Belgreth would hardly be foolish enough to try to kill him in front of an entire class- such lack of subtlety and patience was considered unbecoming of a drow, not to mention disgraceful; in their world, one could get away with anything- even murder- so long as there was no witness to the crime.

The demonstration went normally for a minute or two, as they traded blows with the heavy practice sticks. But then Belgreth began to speed up his attacks, seeming to forget that their match was intended as instruction for the younger class. Lothir kept up easily, his skills well-honed from hours of practicing alone or under Serath’s keen eye. His many hours of practicing for the nedierras had proven useful as well, lending a speed and grace to his cuts and thrusts which left his opponent growling in frustration.

Belgreth began to switch up his tactics, becoming more aggressive and striking much harder in his anger. It was then that the young prince realized that something was wrong- the match had gone on longer than it should, and his partner showed little sign of stopping. He glanced to one side, and saw that the watching Master- it was Master Barrimtor, he noted with annoyance- seemed completely at ease, and clearly had no intention of ending the fight. So be it, then.

He dodged a strike at his left flank,, spinning into Belgreth’s right with a swing at his arm, but was blocked. The Duskrune youth struck at his head, and he moved to parry, only to discover that the blow was much harder than he had thought. Growling in anger at the bone-jarring clash of his opponent’s sticks against his own, he pushed back, hoping to drive Belgreth away and off-balance. He was surprised when the other lad swept out a leg to knock his legs out from under him, sending him sprawling to the floor. He felt a hard crack across his head, and grunted as he rolled aside to avoid he second hit he knew was coming.

Lothir staggered to his feet, dazed by the blow to his head, and already he could feel the bump forming. The match should have ended there, but Belgreth came on, apparently determined to end it permanently. All he could do was try to block the attacks. His opponent was forcing him to stay on the defensive, relentlessly driving him back. At last he found a rhythm, and began to counter with attacks of his own. He could see that the other was wearing down, his fury burning itself out. So he waited, and finally found an opening. With one swift move, he slipped under Belgreth’s left stick, cracking him hard in the ribs before pivoting away, only to spin around behind and slam the other into his back.

Belgreth fell with a curse, and scrambled to rise- only to find his rival’s sticks on either side of his neck, close enough to brush his hair. At last Master Barrimtor called a halt, and he swore under his breath as he rose and tossed his practice sticks aside, glaring darkly at the other youth. He should have won the match, but the foolish prince had not known when he was beaten. He had intended to “accidentally” hit his throat and crush his windpipe, but the spoiled runt had moved too fast, even after he was down. No matter, he thought. He could always try again another day. And now he knew he could beat his rival. Soon, he would make Lothir suffer. Before he was finished, the prince of House E’Terrin’dar would beg for his life.

Lothir felt the other’s eyes on him, and stared back, wondering what had caused Belgreth’s animosity. Perhaps he was the one who had planted the snake after all. Still, he could see no reason for this sudden hatred, which puzzled him. Duskrune was a noble house of only moderate power- hardly a threat to his own family- which meant that it was probably not a prelude to a house war. Unless Belgreth’s family had allied with another. Even then, there was little chance of a direct assault on his own home, for it was hardly within reach of any but the most powerful of houses. Even to attack it, another house would have to either trek through a hundred miles of tunnels, or sail over the treacherous sea to the cavern of Argos Hall- and that was assuming they could get past the outposts.

He was left to ponder the mystery, for the training session continued as though nothing had happened. The Lore Master said nothing of the incident, for he had seen such rivalries many times over the centuries, and saw no reason to interfere. Such was the way of their people- the strong survived while the weak were crushed underfoot, often as a result of being on the loosing end of those very same rivalries.

Unfortunately, Lothir’s refusal to yield and his eventual victory in the demonstration match had earned him even more of Belgreth’s ire, which had already been considerable. As a member of a lesser noble House, the amber-eyed youth could only hope to achieve power by ascending to the ranks of the Masters of Telamurin D’Thalack, or by commanding a ship and earning a favorable reputation among the many corsairs who plundered the coasts of Anterris. Most Houses had only one or two such ships; some had none at all, and made their wealth in other ways. Duskrune was primarily a family of wizards and merchants. However, Belgreth himself had little talent for magic, which meant that he was considered less useful.

Over the years, he had watched the spoiled prince grow in favor from the Masters, as well as among many of the students themselves, due to his penchant for jokes and his liberal spending of coin for libations and entertainment. Even more infuriating, his charm and wit had earned the favor of many of the city’s most powerful priestesses, and even a handful of Matrons. Belgreth thought him little more than a preening lap-lizard, strutting and posturing for the attentions of every female who happened to pass by. It was enough to make a drow retch.

He could not have been farther from the truth. Every day that went by found Lothir growing more restless and frustrated, without ever knowing why. He had begun to slip out of his bunk lat a night, locking himself in the largest training room to practice his new art, spending hours perfecting the whirling, twisting, leaping blend of swordsmanship and dance which was as deadly as it was graceful. He would move in a blur of steel and flesh, like a child’s spinning top gone mad, until he was so exhausted and soaked with sweat that he could barely stand and his sides ached from lack of breath, simply because he could not sleep.

And then there were the dreams. They were becoming more frequent as the months and years passed- and more unnerving. When he did sleep, he often woke in a burning sweat, with the uncomfortable realization that once again, he had developed a most embarrassing condition. He tried to ignore it, even tried focusing on the most disgusting and off-putting things he could think of, but to little avail. He took to sleeping on his side- always facing away from the wall so that he could see anyone who might slip up beside his bed in the night- to keep any others who might be awake from noticing his predicament.

Those evocative night visions were always of Ravyn. Why he should dream about her- and in that particular way- he did not understand, yet it always left him feeling strangely discontented afterward. After several weeks of this, he finally decided that he needed someone to talk to, for the problem was growing worse, and was beginning to affect his concentration. Yet he knew of almost no one he could trust with such thoughts. Certainly none of his friends in the Academy would understand. They had little concern for slaves in general, and would surely not look kindly on anyone having affection for one. That left him with only two choices that he could see- Master Serath, whom he hardly knew outside of their occasional discussions over practice drills or in the study rooms, or Arianna, who was the closest thing he had to a confidant. He was a little afraid to bring up such matters to her, however, for he somehow felt that she would only laugh and call him weak, as Morganna always had.
By the Dark Maiden''s grace do we meet. May she guide and protect us.

"Where Science ends, Magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491

A link to my tales, including my Marvel hero!:
http://mickeys-tavern.com/index.php?showforum=188

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Aylstra Illianniis
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Postby Aylstra Illianniis » Thu Mar 03, 2011 3:49 am

Eventually, he decided to ask Arianna, as she seemed the more approachable, and he was reluctant to disclose his problem to one of his own instructors. He left Blackhawk Inn early one evening, wandering through the busy streets to his private manor, watching the endless parade of slaves, commoners, nobles, and merchants all engaging in their respective struggles for survival. He passed through the Bazaar, and caught the scent of salt-water and dead fish from the distant Dock Ward, while his three guardians flanked him and glared menacingly at passersby. A low-born drow with only one eye and skin that appeared diseased hurried out of his way, while a cowled drow with a thin goatee and mismatched eyes warily watched hm and his escort from a shadowed doorway. A female goblin with a broom and metal pan followed along behind a pair of lizard-riders on patrol, cleaning up after the beasts.

Lothir was relieved when he finally reached the manor, and as always, he ordered the “Troublesome Trio”- as he had come to think of them- to remain outside as sentries. They grumbled their usual protest, but he remained adamant in keeping his business private. He entered after assuring them that he would be safe within its walls.

He found Arianna talking to a well-dressed- and rather heavy- drowess as Gisellie brought out a long blood-red gown. They saw him, but paid no mind as Arianna moved to complete the sale. The woman, clearly ignoring his presence, looked at the gown and suddenly slapped Gisellie. “This is too big! Only a cow would fit in this! I’m not paying for that until it’s fixed!”

“Mistress Zaurae, I measured you for it when you ordered it!” Arianna protested. “It is cut to your size!”

“Are you calling me fat?! Insolent wench!” The drowess screeched, turning to Arianna, and then slapping her and tossing the gown back at Gisellie. Lothir decided he had seen enough. No one treated his friends like that without consequence.

“Milady, that will be quite enough. If any punishment is to be carried out, it will be by me.” He said, grasping her hand before she could deliver another blow. She whirled, crimson eyes blazing, and snarled at him.

“Who are you to interfere? Foolish male, I will have your head on a pike!” She reached for her whip, but he stood his ground and looked her sharply in the eyes- something most males could rarely get away with.

“You could, but rest assured that yours would likely soon join it. And since you asked, I happen to be the owner of this property. And Ustdalharn of House E’Terrin’dar. Any more questions?” He stepped back, releasing her hand, and let his words sink in. Knowing the arrogance of most drow women, it was possible she might move to strike him anyway, but only if she was a fool or a Matron- and judging from the coiled whip, with only two heads, she was a low-ranking high priestess, and nothing more.

She sputtered for a moment, before regaining her composure and glaring at him. “And what do you intend to do about this? I paid good coin for that gown, and now what am I supposed to do? I cannot wear that piece of iblith!” She waved her hand absently at the young halfling and the silken bundle in her arms.

"Very well, then, you can have your money back. If you wish.” He turned to Arianna, rolling his eyes, and it was all the woman could do to stifle a laugh. He motioned her to go and retrieve the drow woman’s payment, an she nodded and swiftly glided off to do so.

She came back after a few moments, with a small bag full of coins. She emptied it and counted them out for the drowess to see, and then handed the bag of coins to the woman. The lady glared at her, then back at the gown. “What about my dress? I will expect you to re-do it. And this time, do it right!”

“I can have her make you a new one- but then you will have to pay for the new gown.” Lothir said, giving her a smug look. She turned a withering look at him, jaw moving like a fish gulping for air; then she simply whirled with a vile curse, and stormed out of the shop. As soon as she was outside, all three broke into gales of laughter.

“Ah, bless you, milord! I detest doing anything for that one- she is both cow and elg‘caress!” Arianna laughed, while Gisellie fell to the floor in a fit of giggles. He grinned back, and nodded.

“Clearly. And you were right of course. Any fool could see it would fit her perfectly. Never have I seen a female so over-stuffed as that.” He was shaking his head at the thought of the priestess trying to squeeze into anything smaller, while he moved to help Gisellie up from the floor. “I doubt you’ll see her again. If you like, you could always take the gown in and sell it to someone else. Or keep it.”

“Oh, thank you, my Lord. Oh! What was it you wanted?” She replied, curtsying in appreciation. She smiled at him, and waved the young halfling lass off to put away the dress.

That sobered him quickly. He glanced nervously toward the door Gisellie had disappeared through, and then back at Arianna. He ignored her insistence on calling him "Lord", and shook his head in frustration. He was not entirely certain how to discuss the delicate subject which had brought him to see her, but he had to tell someone. The problem was eating at his insides like a swarm of crawling spiders in his gut. The restless nights and constant loss of concentration had begun to wear him down to the point of exhaustion.

“It’s a personal matter. May we speak somewhere privately?” He asked, as the other rescued halfling, Bucklind, came through the room carrying a roll of silk that appeared larger than he was. Lothir smiled to himself, and grabbed one end of the roll to help the halfling place it on a rack, before turning back to give Arianna an expectant look. The front of the shop was far too busy for such a discussion, he decided.

“Of course we may. After all, this is your place too, my Lord.” She nodded, and led the way up to her own room on the fourth level of the spire. It was just below the small chapel and practice rooms he had taken for his own; she shared the floor with Gisellie and a gnome woman of near middle age named Vreena.

He followed her into the small but comfortable chamber, and looked around for a few seconds before deciding on plopping down heavily on the edge of the bed. She waited patiently, as he sighed and tried to think of how best to begin. At last, he simply looked up at her hesitantly, and tapped a spot on the bed beside him.

“What is it?” she asked, her brow furrowed over soft hazel eyes, a frown of concern on her lips.

“I’ve been having strange dreams,” he replied. “I don’t know what to do about it. I can hardly even sleep anymore, it’s so bad.”

“Nightmares?” Arianna asked, lightly brushing a lock of hair from his eyes. “I thought you looked a bit done in.”

“No, not nightmares,” he said uncomfortably. “The kind of dreams that- ah, I keep waking up with a certain condition that- well, you know….” He could not help feeling embarrassed, though he knew it should not bother him. It was natural, after all, and he had learned long ago that his people felt no shame in indulging such urges whenever they could.

Arianna frowned again, until she realized what he meant; then her eyes flew open wide, and she laughed. “Oh, that kind of dream! Is that all that’s worrying you? Why not visit a brothel and-” she began, but he stopped her with a finger on her lips and a shake of his head.

“You think I hadn’t thought of that? It wouldn’t do any good. They’re always about Ravyn. I don’t know why I keep dreaming about her, especially like that. I don’t understand it. Why am I dreaming of her like that? Why now?”

Arianna gazed knowingly at her young patron, and smiled. She understood intuitively what was wrong. He was experiencing something that few dark elves- if any- ever felt, even if he was unaware of it. More to the point, he had probably never connected his feelings with the physical act of intimacy. And why should he? Love was a concept largely foreign to their cutthroat nature; to most of them, it had nothing at all to do with physical desire. Small wonder then, that something so simple could cause such confusion and consternation to one unused to the idea of passion as anything more than a tool for power of self-indulgence.

“You love her, don’t you?” She said at last, as though it was obvious. He jerked his head up to look at her, startled.

“Well, yes- she’s always been like a mother to me, for as long as I can remember. But now…. I feel different somehow. Lately, I can’t stop thinking about her. Is that wrong?”

Arianna blinked. Then she giggled- she simply could not help it. “That’s what is bothering you?! Mother Hellanya preserve us!” She laughed. He looked bewildered, and she sighed. “Well, I suppose it depends. Is she blood-kin?”

“No, unless you count my half-sister. Ravyn is her mother. “He wondered why she had laughed. He thought his problem was utterly serious, after all. Apparently, Arianna thought otherwise. “But she’s not even a member of my family’s House.”

“Then you have nothing to worry about. You feel guilty for harboring a desire for someone you’ve always believed was forbidden. But there’s nothing wrong with you. It just means that you’re a man in love.” She smiled, and rested her hand on his arm. “No one ever told you about these things?”

The drow stared at her, stunned. In love? He mulled over her words, trying desperately to understand what she meant. After a few minutes, he sighed. “But why do I feel that way for someone who was more of a mother to me than my own? I don’t understand it! Why did everything change?”

She studied him for a moment, and realized that as intelligent as he was, the youth knew little about matters of the heart. He had thought of the slave-woman as a surrogate parent, but now that had changed. He had, quite simply, grown up.

“Your feelings for her changed because you changed. It’s natural to want to be with the one you love. That’s part of what love is between two grown people. You‘ve just been missing her.”
By the Dark Maiden''s grace do we meet. May she guide and protect us.

"Where Science ends, Magic begins." -Spiral, Uncanny X-Men #491

A link to my tales, including my Marvel hero!:
http://mickeys-tavern.com/index.php?showforum=188


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