The whole family was celebrating. Even though this was the fourth male child, it was big and strong. It had a future quite bright. Well, as long as a male actually can have a bright future in a place like this. The only thing that would make him great was becoming the first fighter of the city, the one to train new soldiers. Besides, the child was too big for a wizard. Naturally it was supposed he would be a swordsman. Maybe the finest of his generation, of this city. The future looked splendidly well for it. Even the vision sent by the Goddess was optimistic. He would be a great servant. That was very unlikely to happen that the Matriarch would be given such a gift in childbirth, when a boy was born. It didn’t happen even when girls were born. This thought never left the mother of the child. Even now, when she was drinking, eating, celebrating.
The hired bards were playing some ballads praising the Matriarch, her deeds for the Goddess, her wits, anything that would suit her. Many of these were of course very far fetched, but that didn’t stir her. She actually didn’t care. Under the mask of being joyful, there was a struggle. A struggle indeed. The vision. Never had she experienced such a thing. It was somehow ambiguous. It presented a man, kneeling before a pretty woman. One whose beauty exceeded description. There would be nothing to it, except for the fact, that the scene took place in the Night Above. Under the fool moon, the woman stood. Her face, though it could not be seen radiated with beauty, and the man kneled before her, on a lower step of some stone pyramid. The wind blew strong. No normal symbols could be seen there. Not one little spider. Nothing. That’s what worried her.
One of the guests asked the matriarch to see the child.
-What for? - asked the Matriarch plainly
-I just wanted to see it. It is your fourth child. And it’s a fourth boy. Maybe you should change your lover?
-Are you suggesting I could be too week to convey a girl?
-No of course not. Forgive me, if I had been wrongly understood.
-No need for that. I know what you mean. You may go. One of my boys will show you the way.
She snapped her fingers. A boy that has been doing the guests bidding all evening came closer to the matriarch. As always he had his eyes set on his shoes. He knew he would get beat up again should he not do that. And in front of the guests the punishment would surely be a spectacular one.
-Show our guest, the Ambassador, the room where your brother is. And then show my guest her way back.
She didn’t trust the women called the Ambassador. None did. She disappeared regularly. She was nowhere to be seen in the city. Then she would come back after a week or so and stay some time. She was responsible for setting caravan routes through the wild Underdark.
The boy, not once raising his head, showed the way. He opened a door and led the guest in a room with no torches, no faerie lights, nothing. Just the child and the darkness.
-Is your brother held here all the time?
-Yes milady. He is here all the time.
-How old are you?
-I am soon to be assigned to one of the male teachers milady.
-What do you think of the world above?
He was surely frightened by the question. He even forgot to hold his head lowered. He realized his mistake very quickly and immediately stuck his eyes in the floor.
-I am sorry milady.
It was sure he was ready for his punishment. But there was none.
-Leave me alone with the child. I want to pray upon it.
-And shut the door while you’re at it.
So he did. The Ambassador now was standing above the suddenly woken child. The boy opened his eyes. They were normal, red. It could see who was standing above it. Obviously not recognizing the person made it cry. But it was somehow not a scream of despair. The woman standing by its cradle knew it had its first lesson. And that it was painful. The first association. Mother - cry - pain. Dreadful.
She put her palm on the boy’s belly. She started reciting some spell, or prayer. But the words where not from any rite normally used among the drow. At least, not here. Then she started to sing gently and very silent. The song was so calming, that the child went to sleep. And it dreamed. It dreamed of a mother.
The boy standing outside took his chances. He opened the door, but just a little. He only wanted to hear, and see just a little bit. In the complete darkness, the Ambassador shown like a torch, thanks to warmth detecting eyesight. Then even more warmth appeared. Everywhere around the woman. All around the cradle emerged from the shadows, more women. All of them looking with interest at the child. They were somehow all singing. Five voices carried sadness, and then peace. Something extremely different from everything religion brought to him by now. This was the opposite. It didn’t carry anything that could be compared to the dark ceremonies of his Mother. Or his sisters for that matter.
Suddenly his drow instinct came to play. He knew that what he saw was out of the ordinary. Should he rapport what he saw to his mother, maybe he could get a reward? He heard his brother speak of the Ambassador as a person the Matriarch did not trust and wanted to get rid off. He rushed back to the ball room.
The women stopped singing. By now she knew the boy was on his way to tell his mother of what he saw. She was ready for the moment. The important thing is, she managed to bless the child. In her own fashion. She was compromised already, because one of her servants overheard her speak to another priestess via crystal ball. And she was not discussing how to treat slaves. She was talking about heresy. And she part of one. To the Lolthian church she was.
The door opened suddenly. All the women from the ballroom where now by the door. The snakes from their bats were hissing triumphantly and viciously. The smelled and extra meal.
-So you have finally fallen.
-No. I have finally revealed myself. I am somewhere far beyond. I am redeemed.
-No you are not. You are a heretic.
-Only to you I am.
-You will burn in all the hells after we’re done with you.
-So will you. Lolth does not share power. Not in the Abyss she doesn’t.
-Blasphemy! You shall die for your boldness.
-I shall die for my faith.
The child was fast asleep. The spell made it deaf, so that its sleep would not be disturbed by the screams of the dying Ambassador…
The forest was not so dense as the man had expected. He was on the surface several times before, but never before in such a position. Arrows cut the air just by his head. One hit his left arm. The arrow-shaft protruded just above the elbow. He may not have been an excellent warrior, but with the help of a haste spell he could even now turn round and cut an arrow in two with his katana sword. It took him some time to master this weapon, but it paid off.
He was running for his life. His clothes were already torn apart by the branches and thorns. His arms were bruised. Sometimes he did not have time to cut his way through thicker bushes. Moreover he felt his left arm going numb. He fell several times, once he hit himself in the head. He felt his blood flow down his face from above his left eye. Luckily he had a scale mail on him. One not done of adamantite, that would become useless anywhere but the Underdark.
It was night time and he could more or less see whenever one of his adversaries would come nearer. And he could see the running animals.
Another arrow flew just by his face, scratching his cheek. He felt a stinging. It must have been poisoned. The spells was wearing off. Everything seemed so slow all of the sudden. A dizziness came over him. But with a last effort of his will he defeated the sleepiness. His muscles were in great pain. The long run used up all of his strength. He had to stop just for a short while. But then, he knew, it would be impossible to move again. So he kept on going.
Out of the distance he heard a horn. It must have been a hunter’s horn. But why was someone going hunting in the middle of the night? The night became brighter. He changed his vision to normal and raised his head. He knew, that if it was that what he thought it would be, he would go blind. Even if a little fragment of the moon is lit, it can cause a slight blindness. And the moon was full.
-So you’ve decided to go officially hunting for me? Should I feel favored?
The moment he stopped talking an arrow his the tree beside him. The hail stopped. Silence fell across the woods.
-What in nine hells is going on?
He could not see clearly in the moonlit forest. He was just afraid to loose sight of everything. He didn’t want to risk his eyesight. Well at least not until the last moment.
He stopped by a tree. He leaned against it. By now he did not feel his arm. He couldn’t even move it below the wound. His sword was getting heavier and heavier every second. He was breathing deeply. He tried to control it though, but he couldn’t. Not after all the effort he made that night.
He didn’t hear the low grunts coming from behind. A crack of branches alerted him. He rose his sword in defense position, but the bush before him was too dense to see through. Not without his susceptible to warmth eyesight. The grunts become very loud and close. He could see a movement, but he could not make anything out of it. He was holding his sword desperately before him.
Suddenly a female voice shouted “change your sight”. It came from afar. And it was feminine. He could not do anything but obey. He closed his eyes. When he opened them, he saw a huge creature standing on two legs before him. It was really big, large paws with claws, a mouth big enough for his head to fit in. It raised its right paw and hit the man. He partially dodged the attack. But still he was sent with to the ground with great power. He almost bounced of the grass. When the beast tried another attack, he brandished his weapon. With no effect. The large paw fell upon him. Luckily his mail was strong enough to resist. But the power pierced him to the ground. Trying to catch his breath he hit the animal. A roar of pain went through the woods and out the beast arm hot blood splashed all over the man’s armour.
The last thing he remembered was female voices, and two figures leaping out from both sides, and swords waving all around. Quick and deadly. Then he passed away.
When he woke up, he was in a tent. It was dark. Outside the tent there was a fire. And a meal. He could smell the meat, ready for eating. He tried to get up, but couldn’t. He touched his head. He’s done it with his left arm. The arm! It was well again! Although there were several bandages all over his body, he was feeling quite fine.
He tried to rise again. This time he succeeded. The next thing he noticed was that he was naked. A chance to see his scared body. He noticed his clothes were lying just beside his pallet. It was all fine as well. Someone sew it together. He put his trousers on, his shirt and belt. Then the shoes. He realized his sword and mail were missing. But not his bag he had with him. He quickly searched it, but did not find the spare knife he had. Nor did he find separate belts for throwing knifes he always had with him.
“Very clever.” He said to himself. But then he realized it was only natural. He just couldn’t sneak out of the tent. Besides, those that were talking by the fire would probably track him down sooner that he would expect it. So he just went out of the tent. What he saw, amazed him beyond anything he would have expected. There were five dark elf females, sitting by the fire, all dressed in simple comfortable clothes. Their armours were lay by the fire, one on top of the other. His mail likewise. But they all had swords with them. And his sword was by the fire. The women noticed him and stopped talking at once. They rose and waited with patience.
The man could do nothing but spread his hands in the common drow gesture meaning “I’m not armed” which some interpret as “I come in peace”. One of the women replied:
-Yes we know. All of your weapons are here. We didn’t take anything, that is yours. Would you like to join us? The meat is ready. I suppose you have a long way ahead of you.
He didn’t know what to think. It was obvious he would be killed right now, or later, or taken back to the Underdark. So they were just teasing him.
-So what now? Are you going to kill me on the spot? Or are you taking me back to my family, so that they can kill me in some bloody sacrifice to Lolth?
The women seemed confused.
-You don’t, how is that you came to the surface?
-Wouldn’t you like to know?
-Well if you don’t want to tell us, just join us for a meal. You must be starving. All we could do is give you drink while you were out cold.
-How long was I unconscious?
-I don’t believe you.
-You’re rather foolish being so frank all of the time. It looks like deceit is not in your nature.
-Let’s say I always stood out a little.
-Would you like some food? There is a portion for you as well.
Without giving it any more thought the man was cut a large piece of meat and handed on a stick. He was so hungry, he didn’t care for manners, or anything accept eating for that matter. Large chunks of some animal fell down his throat. He rose his eyes from his food to glance at the women. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves. But not in a sick and twisted way.
When he finished, he didn’t feel full. One of the women (as if she knew what he was thinking about) took a knife and gave him seconds. After that he was full. He’s been given some wine even. He took it without hesitating.
-So, where are you heading now stranger?
-Stop playing your sick games with me. I’m not going with you. You might as well kill me now.
-Why? After all that you ask why? Surely you have been given orders.
-Yes we have but …
-But what? If you don’t kill me I’ll try to kill you, and you will have to retaliate. And don’t try to say no.
-Why do you want to die, and not live with us?
-I had enough of being a servant. Not anymore.
-But we… I think you misunderstood us.
-O really? Why is that?
-We don’t serve Lolth.
-Wait a minute…
It then occurred to him. Everything he’s heard as a bard in the Underdark, all the stories, legends and gossips. Everything. Some say (at least in taverns in such places as Skullport for instance) that some follow Vhaeraun, who actually is the son of Lolth. He more known in the Underdark in such places, as they are ideal for his agents to get new worshipers. Other drow (although not only drow) follow Vhaerauns twin sister…
-Eilistraee. You worship Eilistraee right?
-Yes we do. We aid other drow if need be. A rightful place awaits for you here, under the stars. You are welcome to live here in peace and harmony with other elves…
-It’s been many years since I first met them.
-Gee, daddy. Now tell me about that painting over there.
-You mean this one? - he said pointing to a frame farthest from the center of the wall
-Yes daddy. Come on, tell me. Is it one of your adventures?
-Well, to be honest I don’t know. I’ve had this image in my mind ever since I can remember. I still have, despite this paining.
-So you don’t know who that lady is?
-She’s beautiful. And that moon above her head is so big and bright. She the most pretty drow I’ve ever seen.
-It’s only a painting my child, you don’t know if the model was really that pretty.
-I’m sure she was. Even prettier!
-O? Why is that?
-Because you always draw things uglier then they really are.
The man started laughing.
-What’s so funny daddy?
-And the man kneeling before her?
-What about him?
-Who is he?
-I don’t know that either. I told you, it’s the only pleasant image I have from when I was a child.
-Wow. Let’s drink some tea, and then you can teach me to play the flute like you do, right daddy?
-Right dear. Run along and get the water for the tea over the fire.
The little obsidian skinned girl run out of the room with four lanterns, a fire-place, several paintings on one wall and book shelves on the other. The man sighed when the image visualized itself in his head. He had an association with the image. The face of a lady. A very beautiful face. The only face that ever sang him a lullaby…