(23rd of Elesias, 1361 Dalereckoning)
night in the Underdark, though the word held little meaning to its inhabitants,
each lightless day measured as a pair of the twelve-hour cycles displayed by
the heat signature of the magical pillar of stone named Narbondel; Menzoberranzan's timepiece.
latter cycle of Narbondel, in which
heat gradually bled from top to bottom in a manner akin to a candle wick slowly
burning out, was far too dim to see from the battlements on which he stood,
atop the overhanging cliff on which House Duskryn stood; a heavily fortified
mansion in the northwest section of Menzoberranzan, fabled city of the Dark
watched again for the dim flicker of light betraying the stone's position and
its reading, and failed to find it, idly wondering if Archmage Gromph Baenre
would light it soon, staring the process and the day anew.
grimaced at the thought of a new day, though in his present state it was likely
indeterminate, thanks to his closed-face helm. It served to conceal his
expression, a useful thing for a male Dark Elf, who generally wished above all
else to be concealed and anonymous, beneath the attention of the unpredictable,
temperamental females of his species. For female Dark Elves were also generally
larger, stronger, and armed with clerical magic, which derived from Lloth, the
Spider Queen. Wicked too were their whips, animated snakes which delivered a
multitude of foul poisons, and how loosely those whips hung in their scabbards!
in the leather-backed mail of a common house guard, Netal Oblodra righted his
kite shield, emblazoned with the Duskryn crest, and checked to see if the strap
holding his slim adamantine sword in
its scabbard was loose. It was. While he was not unduly concerned, as there was
no current house war, House Duskryn had suffered several attacks from its rival
houses over the centuries, and the experience had hardened it into an effective
fighting force. Berni'th Duskryn, the cruel and sadistic Matron Mother of this
house, ran a tight ship and had the support of more than one of the other noble
houses as well as several lesser houses beneath it.
the events of the Time of Troubles, Duskryn had become the Eighth House, the
least of the ruling families of Menzoberranzan. The Houses Mizzrym,
Fey-Branche, and Tuin'Tarl ruled immediately above it, with the Baenre weaker
than it had been in centuries at the top of the hierarchy. House Oblodra's
defection and subsequent destruction had weakened it. The failed war on the
Dwarves of Mithral Hall and the death of Matron Baenre had weakened it. Triel's
questionable leadership and the rising tensions with its neighbor Ched Nasad
had weakened it.
they had friendly ties, the time might come when Menzoberranzan could carry on without the First House. The time might
come when House Duskryn could carry
on without the First House.
wished them the best of luck with that, only in part due to the fact that it
would improve his station as well. It might also serve to rid Menzoberranzan of
one or two of the current noble houses and offer him some personal
never spoke of his family; House Oblodra, the disgraced former Third House of Menzoberranzan, led by his grandmother K'yorl
Odran, destroyed during the time of troubles when Lloth herself had walked the
continent of Faerûn.
family had been poised to take Menzoberranzan from the Baenre, only to find
that their powers, psionic in nature, had become crippled just as Lloth's
clergy had regained their own, just in time for Matron Baenre (now thankfully
deceased, the wretched hag), to sink his home into the Clawrift, the pit that had and likely still held their Kobold
Netal had been far from Menzoberranzan at the time, and had only returned the
previous year well informed of his family's demise. With his abilities, it
hadn't been too difficult to cover his trail and arrange his service to House
Duskryn, though at this point he was little more than a brute mercenary,
reduced to commoner rabble. With the chaos that had ensured during the failed
attack on Mithral Hall, nobody had taken notice of his psionics. Nobody had
linked him to his House. That was well...for he did not wish to die for his grandmother's mistakes.
his patrol, Netal concentrated sufficiently to activate his latent psionic
powers, manifesting to others as a barely audible humming sound and a tangible
feeling of vibration. As was his wont, he filtered through subtle visual
leeches that he had prepared beforehand on several of the soldiers under his
command, as well as many house slaves, becoming privy to their senses and base
thoughts in addition to his own.
selected individuals that would not likely become aware of his actions.
terribly difficult, especially with the Orcs and Goblins that served as day
laborers and general servants. They were most often too exhausted, to occupied
by their duties, or too terrified by the genuine threat presented by their Drow
masters to notice his telepathic presence. The Duskryn females, he had
discovered soon after his employment, were notoriously violent, even for Dark
Elves, always itching to test themselves against foes too cowed to resist.
to his credit, just anticipated their requests and completed them before they
were even asked, preventing any contact and conflict whatsoever. It seemed to
work for him.
passed as he gathered his results. Nothing was amiss, and there was nothing
otherwise interesting to offer to the Duskryn family or any of the informants
he supplied with rumors on the side.
hairy legs..." he cursed under his breath, seeing through the stable hand,
an elderly Human male purchased from The
Night Above, and noting that one of the laborers was finally birthing. That
was potentially a problem for him, because it was her...
shift ended several hours later, and Netal attended the changing of the guard,
an affair done with military precision that was, sadly, only a pale reflection
of the Baenre's highly ordered affair, and slipped away into his room.
captain, one of four who oversaw the house's defense, under the Duskryn sons of
course, his station warranted a small bunkroom along the lower levels of the
manse. He kept few possessions; there was a wash basin, a locked chest beside
the bedroll, a cabinet that held a change of clothing, and a small desk with
loose papers spread haphazardly.
ignored all of it, sitting cross-legged near the center of the room, throwing
off his armor and weapon belt, though he always kept a series of small daggers
hidden in the folds of his threadbare tunic, just in case.
terminated the visual links on the others for the moment, concentrating on the
stable hand, seeing through his eyes with greater clarity. He saw the dim way
the Human perceived the world without infravision; the way he strained to focus
through the dim torchlight. He smelled the musky animal stink of lesser races
crammed together, accented with un-swept dung, dried blood, and heard the
panting of the Orc the Human cared for, and then her screams as another painful
contraction struck her.
might have thought that she would have had to look especially beautiful, or at
least not particularly hideous, to attract the attention of a Dark Elf, even
one that had been rendered highly intoxicated by notoriously potent Dark Elven
she looked entirely ordinary for an Orc; a short, plump body, her skin tanned
and rough, almost leathery, her eyes a dull yellow, her hair a ragged mane. Her
voice, her laugh, was equally rough, almost grating. And yet something had
caught his eyes on his trek to his room that night. Something had caused him to
approach her, cajole her, and bed her, right there among the slaves, though
none had seen him through the magical darkness he had the sense to conjure via
innate ability, even when intoxicated.
woken in his room, a crushing pain in his head that in no way erased the memory
of what he had done. He had been wary of ridicule, but no negative response had
been forthcoming. Except for the fact that this particular Orc had become heavy
with child within the next two weeks...
"There were so many other chances for her to
do that..." he chided himself, watching the spectacle, "It could have been any of the other slaves,
even the Goblins".
he had to know for sure. He had to
know that it...was not his.
screamed again, her eyes pinched shut, blood tricking down the void in her
legs. He tried to will the Human through which he saw to avert his eyes, to no
avail. He cursed silently, wishing he had created links on a any of the eight
Orcish slaves filling the room. He really didn't want to watch from that perspective.
laboring Orc groaned as the contraction passed. He could see something else, a
dark spot inside... Had it not been so dark, he might have terminated the link
then and there. It couldn't be. It couldn't be.
down the gorge in his throat.
hour and more contractions passed, the Human soaking a rag and replacing the
one on her forehead in the interim, and she soon shook, groaning.
Human watched, expectant, as did Netal, through him.
screamed a final time, her legs twitching, and the head tore free fully. The
Human dug his hands in after the next bout, pulling the newborn free by its
shoulders, and Netal was speechless. Connected to her mother by a thin cord, to
which the Human sliced with a flat-bladed razor, was a baby female, though it
hardly looked Orcish, save for the tiny lower canines that peeked through its
lips. It bled heat from its tiny, frail body, and sprang to life as the Human
cleared its throat, and its wails were loud indeed for something so small. The
Human wrapped it in a rough threadbare towel, and presented it to the mother,
who stared wide-eyed, despite the dark circles under her eyes.
too could only stare, as did many of the slaves in the room. The infant was dark-skinned,
and far too slim for a Orc infant, the points of her ears far more pronounced.
Her hair, already over a finger-length, was oil black, though a lock of grayed
white marked a ridge over her brow. Her eyes, when peeled open, were a rich,
vibrant blue, a rare color for both Orcs and Drow. They would likely appear red
in infravision, however.
could be no doubt. It was a Half-Drow and then some.
that another male had shared his peculiarity was next to nil.
Oblodra did not feel the crushing humiliation as he expected.
felt...pensive, uncertain...and that made him felt quite unlike himself.
will you name her?" the Human asked, uneasily, and it took Gul'tah some
time to frame a reply, some time to accustom.
she said, her eyelids heavy, her face pinched in discomfort, save for a
peculiar smile that marked it.
girl's name was Vala.
Netal considered terminating the link, but did not do so until the Human left
reason he could not articulate, he wanted to watch as child and mother slept.
(7th of Ches, 1367 Dalereckoning)
sounded, telling them it was morning.
woke up quickly, before the Dark Elves came in for inspection, and knelt near
the door in orderly lines. They probably wanted to be first to eat.
yawned, disentangling herself from Mama, who took a few moments to collect
herself before getting up too. She changed her tunic, rough linen, for a clean
one, but she did not get new leggings, so she kept the ones she had. Mama
fussed over her hair for a while, but Vala shook her away. She would cut it
soon, like Mama asked. She just hadn't had the chance yesterday.
walked near the front of the bunkhouse, to the second line, and knelt down,
though she kept close to Mama all the while.
didn't hurry to be the first to be fed; the males sometimes fought for it, and
it was good to be far away.
house soldiers came in, eyeing everyone with naked suspicion, especially her,
checking the room for sharp things or anything else they weren't supposed to
have. The Dark Elves swatted at the other slaves, the rounded end of a pommel
or the clink of a heavy boot often accompanied by the exclamation, "iblith."
learned that word quickly; "iblith"
was a Dark Elf word which meant "excrement" or "offal".
They used it when addressing anyone who wasn't Drow.
according to the Dark Elves, everyone who wasn't a Dark Elf was a slave, as
well as iblith, whether they knew it
or not. That meant Goblins, Dwarves, Humans, and the Faerie Elves, whoever they were.
were none of those; Vala and Mama were Orcs, which made up of most of House
Duskryn's workers. Most Orcs were big and thickly muscled, much bigger than
her, with longer tusks, thick, warty skin, and heavy-browed faces with sunken
dark eyes. Most had green skin, though hers was dark and ashen. She didn't know
why that was.
were also Goblins, like Orcs but shrunken and thin, with big, pudgy heads,
Gnolls, which had long snouts, claws, and coats of bristly fur, and Kobolds,
which looked like scaled rats if they could walk on two legs.
very friendly, so she just stayed with Mama.
Elf guards found nothing, so nobody would be tied up and flogged with the
priestess' snake whips. That was good; Vala didn't want to see that again,
since they made the rest watch.
Elves sent two of the slaves, both Goblins, outside, and they brought in loaves
of bread, made from spores from the mushrooms they farmed daily, and buckets of
rusty water. No Rothé cheese, then... Vala deflated at that, but swallowed down
the half-loaf that was passed to her, gulping the water as she was handed the
bucket, before passing it further down her line.
the Dark Elves gave a meat stew, but Vala had no idea what kind of meat it was.
Only that Mama didn't like it when she ate it. So she usually gave her share to
everyone was fed, the Dark Elves took them out in groups of three to work the
fields. Hers was second to last. She hugged Mama's skirts as they were led out
of the bunkhouse, daring a glance back to the mansion above them. It was huge;
three stories of finely quarried stone and metal that was black as obsidian,
with winding arches, towers, murals and hieroglyphics engraving the walls,
dozens of pennants, and glowing purple and red fire everywhere. Faerie Fire, she heard it was called,
made from Faerzress, a form of
magical radiation unique to the Underdark.
they farmed by torch. Sometimes they changed their eyes to see heat instead of
light. It made everything look strange; everyone looked light red, with
splotches of yellow and green, where everything else looked like shades of dark
green, blue, and purple.
Elves never used torches. Nor did they use stairs; there was no way to get into
the mansion above without levitating. She knew all the nobles and many of the
soldiers had a rock that let them float through air, and all the other soldiers
lived near the bunkhouse and never left the house grounds. She wondered if she
could get one of those magic rocks. It might be fun to float like them.
grunted for her to pay attention, so she looked away, back to the group.
went down a small ramp, away from the cliff and the manor, and into a small bog
underneath. There was putrid water everywhere, and Vala pinched her nose. There
were rows of mushroom stalks, seventeen by thirty-seven. Each mushroom was as
tall as a grown Orc, and much wider. The Dark Elves made the mushrooms grow
with magic; they came back every day. Every day she, Mama, and the other slaves
harvested the bloom on the top; a big, fat, russet brown cap that was good to
make into bread, fermented into wine, or mixed with other things to make a healing
were other mushrooms too; little glowing blue ones that made potions, purple
ones whose glossy, fibrous bodies were made into fabric, and a black one that
helped make sleeping poison. The Dark Elves used that to make the other slaves
stop if they got mean. Then the snake whips...
shivered, but remembered they never farmed those mushrooms, the Dark Elves did.
Beside the mushroom grove was a small patch of grass and root vegetables, where
over two dozen Rothé, the cattle of the Underdark, lowed and chewed. They made
cheese, the cheese that Vala liked, fur, that they never got to wear, and meat,
which they never got to eat. That went to the Dark Elves.
group stopped, near the end of the field. The scythes and picks were in the
same place as yesterday. Mama took a scythe. Vala found her shears, and waited
while a male Orc took a pickaxe and started breaking apart the mushroom cap's
outer casing, a shell that was hard as stone. Mama then used her scythe to slice
off the softer, edible sections of the cap. Mama then handed a piece of the cap
to her, usually about two-thirds the size of her body, which Vala set down, and
cleaned off any lingering residue with her shears before dropping the fibers
into the basket. They did this until the cap was completely gone, and then
moved down the row. When the basket was full, Goblins would come to carry it
away, and replace it with a fresh one.
passed by quickly. Her feet sank into the muck, but she didn't fight it.
Thankfully, she, like the others, had bare feet. Otherwise, it would be hard to
panted, sweating, trying to peel off a particularly stubborn fragment of shell,
when she smelled Dark Elf in the air. She never heard them coming, because they
walked without making a sound, even in the watery muck of the field.
keeping an eye on them.
were five, a female leading them, her bright red eyes probing for somebody
working too slowly, a leather whip at her belt. Not a snake whip, but still
painful. Vala had learned that very quickly, unconsciously knotting the muscles
in the small of her back. She had drawn on the bunkhouse walls with a piece of
coal on a night she couldn't sleep, and they hadn't liked that. Not at all.
averted her eyes; the Dark Elves didn't like being looked at, either. She
grunted, trying harder to peel the cap, and the shell broke off with a loud thump. With a sharp intake of breath,
she dropped the cap into the basket, clean as could be, and the Dark Elves
passed by without a word.
Vala took the next piece that Mama handed her, and returned to work.
were out of earshot, she looked to Mama, while peeling the next lump of
mushroom, "Do you see any coal, Mama?"
frowned at that, but did not look up from her work, "No. You not need draw
anyway. You remember what happen last time."
I won't draw on the walls again." she protested, still flinching at the
memory, "I found some mushroom husks the Dark Elves threw away. I can draw
no see any coal." Mother replied, before her expression softened, "I
look though. Keep working."
Vala dropped the next lump in the basket, and started on the next one after
that. There was always a "next one after that".
stood at rapt attention at his post, in truth more focused on the psionic link
with one of the lesser guards following behind Irae Duskryn, one of the three
daughters of Matron Mother Berni'th Duskryn.
treasured these moments in which he could look upon his daughter. Any could
tell that she was no pureblood Orc, and in truth, the Drow side of her lineage
was far more prominent. Her small body was still plump with youth, but her
slender neck, slanted eyes, and round, cherubic face, made it abundantly clear
she would grow into a beautiful female.
survived long enough.
her, Netal severely doubted she would remain a laborer for long. House Duskryn
would likely make her into a maidservant or an attendant. That could be
potentially opportune for him. While her continued survival pleased him for
reasons he could not articulate, he studied her now for the purpose of learning
enough about her to gain her trust and to quietly enlist her into his small
cadre of spies later.
extra set of eyes in the manor proper, there was much he could accomplish, for
House Duskryn, but more importantly, for himself.
also plant a telepathic link whenever he chose to, should she refuse him, but
he was also curious to see if she developed psionic abilities of her own. Their
linked blood gave her roughly a fifty-fifty chance; a mere flip of a coin. A
fellow Mind Mage as an ally would be even more useful. Survival and the
ever-consuming quest for power and influence, at least, as much influence as a
male could hope to find in Menzoberranzan, had defined his life and continued
to do so. Such was their way.
passed the spot at which Vala labored, and with nothing else of interest, Netal
terminated the connection, lest the subject become aware of the link, and again
cycled through his other prospects. There was always more to learn...
Duskryn had been keeping a close watch on this most interesting slave through
most of the day. She had no idea who was responsible for such unlikely
offspring, though the sire was likely one of the house guards, who had taken the
girl's mother out of frustration at their station and their treatment by the
superior females of House Duskryn.
not uncommon, really.
the sire, whatever the reason, Vala was Half-Drow. And female. Irae needed
capable females if she was ever to depose her elder sisters, and eventually her
mother. The idea of usurping one's family was the motivation of every ranking
female. Lloth demanded it from her faithful and her people, for it was the best
way to prevent the great houses from becoming weak and bloated.
her mother's rule, House Duskryn was becoming one of the most prominent and
stable ruling families. Under Irae's, Duskryn would rise to even higher
when she was eventually sent to Arach-Tinilith to complete her training to
become a High Priestess, she planned to do so with obedient underlings watching
her house for her, studying her siblings and mother for weaknesses. Vala would
make an excellent informant, and perhaps underpriestess. The females of lesser
races were sometimes called to faith, and as a Half-Drow, Vala could even
become a cleric of Lloth.
would just have to make sure the little wretch owed something to her, became
beholden to her.
thought she wasn't watching, but Irae had a small enchanted item on her person;
a talisman that offered her eyes in the back of her head. Metaphorically
speaking, of course. The girl clung to her mother as her men led that group of
slaves back to the bunkhouse. Tightly. And not out of fear of her fellow
slaves. She rubbed the side of her head against her mother's thigh, a distant
smile on her face.
unsure what to make of it; Orcs did not demonstrate such an odd behavior when
they grew. It seemed like something a Human or Faerie Elf child might do. It
implied some sort of...familial closeness, something that Irae did not fully
comprehend. She had been plotting against her mother since her tenth nameday,
had always seen her sisters only as rivals, and her brothers only as pawns.
Lloth despised weakness, and compassion was among the worst symptom of that
was needed. Vala would need to gain strength to survive in the Underdark, to
become a proper servant. The mother would have to die.
considered the best way to do this, to best explain to Vala indirectly that softness
was not a thing to be tolerated, all the while furthering her efforts to indebt
Vala to her. She was not unduly concerned as to how this could be accomplished.
To the Drow, conspiracy and manipulation was as natural as drawing breath.
her and Mama back home. Everyone ate more bread, and she got a whole loaf this time. Vala was more than
hungry enough to eat it all, and she drank more water than usual. Her skin was
slick with sweat, and it was still hard to breathe.
had been hard, harder than usual. She had heard that the wizards would make the
mushrooms bigger and bigger, thanks to some new spell. How would they trim them
all if that happened?
Elves left, locking and barring the doors behind them. With them gone, the Orcs
and Goblins settled in for bed, growling at anyone who got too close. Vala
stayed close to Mama, and found their pile of straw, not very big, since the
males took the biggest piles.
fine; this was where she always slept.
she wondered if the Dark Elves slept on straw. Or maybe they slept on air. For
that matter, if they could walk on air, does that mean they could go down the
big hole behind the manor? What was down there? Or outside home at all?
she whispered, not too loudly, since they might yell at her, "What is
frowned at that, scratching her head, "The mushroom bog. Why?"
Vala whispered, "Outside that."
tried to smile, but her eyes didn't smile.
There nothing past that. The world ends where you can't see any farther".
wondered for a moment, then nodded. That made sense. It explained why the Drow
said they could never leave.
pressed herself against Mama, content, and went to sleep.