The Jewel of the Sands, (Book 1 of the Vicelord Chronicles)

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Chapter 2

House Duskryn, Menzoberranzan

(22nd of Elesias, 1369 Dalereckoning)

The day brought with it a momentous occasion.

House Duskryn welcomed a powerful ally; its satellite among the lesser houses. House Srune'Lett. Alirana Srune'Lett, niece of the Matron Mother Srune'Lyris Lett, attended the family dinner to celebrate sister Laele Duskryn's return from Ched Nasad and the success of the delegations.

In their dealings with House Zauvirr; a minor Drow house that had significant interests in the Black Claw Mercantile Company, which was owned by House Melarn and the Menzoberranyr House Baenre, the three of their houses had begun a conspiracy together against the Baenre, one that would offer them significant wealth in the form of the Black Claw's stores of goods. Zauvirr would and had already begun to smuggle whole sections of the stockpile through Ched Nasad, to Srune'Lett's outpost in the free trade city of Skullport. Duskryn provided armed protection to false shipments, a decoy; wagons carting heavy but cheap excess mushroom spores farmed by its slaves and sold in Ched Nasad proper.

Irae would make a note of purchasing more workers to manage the increased yield.

The actual shipments would be transported by Zauvirr's wizard, a double agent guarding the stockpile, who would transmute the desired items into miniature versions of themselves, to be moved and teleported all via spell. The transmutation was alchemical in nature, rather than arcane, and thus would not leave residue that could be traced to its source. Likewise, a transmutation would serve to disguise the worthless items that would replace the missing goods...for a time. Clerical magic would not reveal their ruse either; each family remained comfortably in the Spider Queen's favor.

Lloth would not reveal her faithful unless they overstepped their bounds.

Despite the risk, celebration was in order. The first shipments had already been pilfered; adamantine ore, rare Underdark mushrooms, and enchanted trinkets leftover from the war. Grand theft on so large a scale demanded pomp and ceremony, especially because the entire process was to be accomplished with absolute secrecy. The Drow lived on the edge of disaster by choice as much as by necessity. The Baenre was still a powerful enemy, but risks were always essential for the purpose of greater victories, and with the cooperation of each house (not without some suspicion of each other, of course), it would be extremely difficult for a single house to be exposed as the culprit.

Irae took her seat at the family table and took all of this in stride, eyeing her evening repast. Slices of Rothé steak, finely seared and seasoned by over a score of laboring slaves, sat upon her plate beside slices of fine cheese, sautéed mushroom spores, iced, crunchy tubers, and a small scoop of spreadable eggs harvested from a rare Underdark fish. A steaming mug of tea rested beside the plate, next to a slim glass of wine, and on the other side was a small row of delicate silverware. She took the second of eight forks, a three-pronged affair, and teased out a small portion of the caviar, considering it before popping it into her mouth.

Laele, the second eldest, took the seat of honor beside Matron Berni'th, much to Talice's distaste. The eldest daughter, a high priestess of Lloth, hid her displeasure well, grinning around her wine glass as if she were among fast friends. Several males sat at attendance as well; Sorn, Krenaste, Quild, and Vrinn, the elderboy and younger sons of the Matron Mother, and Berni'th's latest patron, some nameless rogue that had not been seized by the wretched Bregan D'aerthe. No common house soldiers stood in the hall. This was a time for nobility alone.

They ate in silence; most Drow preferred to savor their food and leave their satisfaction unvoiced.

Alirana Srune'Lett broke that silence.

"I feel especially festive this evening..." she said, grinning.

Everyone watched, pensive, though Irae finally caught a glimpse of Talice's dislike for their guest as Alirana finished her steak with graceless enthusiasm. Talice's face was impassive all the while, but through infravision, she could see heat bloom there, betraying her emotions.

Irae supposed she could understand; females of Srune'Lett were often known as the "fat sisters" for their stocky build. It was often jested that a previous Matron Mother had bred with Humans. Alongside her weight, Alirana was a particularly malicious specimen; crude and ignoble, obsessed with petty diversions and cheap pleasures. Her pudgy fingers were weighed down with tacky, heavily ornamented rings, her gown was overly bright and patterned, and its bosom was plunging well below commonly agreed limits of courtesy. She gave frequent passing glances to one or more of the family males, who shifted uneasily.

The wretch practically sweated animal lust.

Talice, like Irae, was of a more practical mindset, and both of them had a good idea of what Alirana would suggest. Irae also knew that both the Matron Mother and Laele shared Alirana's attitudes. So much for a quiet night in.

"I propose a hunt." the Srune'Lett female continued, her husky voice just above a whisper, which to a Dark Elf was the equivalent of a knowing wink, "No offense to all attended, but this coven of gruff, humorless warriors need know how to find enjoyment in life's simple pleasures. Your work ethic is a symptom of this; your guards patrol the walls and your field slaves farm mushrooms all day. The iblith could use some "excitement" as well. And I think, for one, that they remembered who their masters were."

It didn't take long for more than one conspiratorial grin to be passed along the table, including one joined by an amused chortle from Mother. Irae swallowed a sigh, and decided to finish her meal quickly. There were a few specimens that she would prefer remained alive.

The horn sounded too early. Was it morning already?

Vala felt Mama stir against her, so she squirmed out of the way. She stood up, waited for her, all the while clearing loose straw out of her hair. She needed to cut it again; she would have to find another knife, since she'd intentionally lost her last one before the search.

The Dark Elves came in more quickly than usual, and they led everyone out. There was no food.

"What is happening?" she asked, and Mama shook her head, frowning.

Something was wrong.

"And so the entertainment begins!" Alirana Srune'Lett said in Undercommon above the din, and house soldiers and slaves looked up from the courtyard. The latter shifted nervously. "Like many, I enjoy sava, and so the game shall represent the game to which I so adore. Three types of players are thus named; the Priestess Pieces, the Weaponmaster Pieces, and the Slave Pieces. Each noble male and female will be a Priestess Piece, and thus mount a riding lizard and select the armaments of their choosing, be it sword or spell. Every house guard will be a Weaponmaster Piece, save those that populate the wall. They choose their armaments, but will have no mount. They will roam in groups of their choosing."

"The slaves..." she continued, eyeing the lesser creatures with open disdain, especially a small, dark figure that stared up with bright blue eyes, "Will be the Slave Pieces, obviously. Each will carry nothing, but weapons will be placed in racks throughout the grove. In ten minutes, every slave will descend into the mushroom groves and seek their weapons. In ten minutes, the other pieces will follow. By that time, my retainers will have sectioned it off with columns of summoned darkness and dozens of lesser Demons called Quasit. They will attack both soldier and slave alike, but rest assured they are trifling foes. However, their cries may attract the Goristro; a massive Demon alike in many ways to the Minotaur."

She grinned at the increased unease spreading across the assembled. Even the Duskryn children beside her on the balcony looked nonplussed.

"Fear not." she added, "For the Goristro is enspelled to seek magical darkness, and avoid light. Fields of Faerie Fire will also be placed to provide light. That is my way of allowing the pieces a choice to avoid or kill him. And thus is the point of the game; The quarry is the Goristro. The Weaponmaster Pieces will draw the beast from hiding, and the Priestesses will wait in the Faerie Fire. If the Slave Pieces kill the Goristro first; I will set every one of them free."

The slaves eyed each other. Several grunted with approval.

"What are you doing?" Matron Duskryn hissed quietly, to which Alirana's grin widened, "House Srune'Lett will compensate for the loss. We now have the wealth to spare, as you know."

"If the Priestess Pieces slay the Goristro, or if the timer ends one hour after all the pieces enter the fields, the lesser Demons will vanish, and the slaves will become the new quarry. They will then try to return to this spot. If they arrive, they can resume working for this house. However, the Priestesses, with their mounts, will attempt to run them down. If that happens..."

She laughed, "And remember, if the timer runs out, the Quasits, and the bindings en-spelling the Goristro, will cease to be. The Goristro itself, will not, if he is not slain. That will be my contribution of chaos; the most important aspect of every good match of sava. Now then, I think that it has been about ten minutes. Slaves, ready yourselves!"

Netal balanced on the balls of his feet, watching as his daughter was led away beside the other slaves. The Srune'Lett cow had failed to mention that Weaponmaster Pieces were forbidden from aiding the slaves in any way. He grinned, despite himself.

He needed Vala alive. She would be too useful to leave to Alirana's sport. He had links with several other slaves, and would be able to locate her quickly. He was more than capable to dealing with Quasits alone. They were little more than Troglodytes in the hierarchy of the abyss, but wicked and cowardly as much as stupid and vicious.

He would find Vala, slip away with her, and return her to the bunkhouse, beside her mother if possible. Nobody would be the wiser, and the act would be what he needed to enlist her in time.

He waited one minute, the better for the slaves to scatter. Then he moved.

Calling upon his psionic ability, Netal did not cloak himself in invisibility. Instead, he projected a subtle telepathic suggestion that led others to dismiss his presence and actions as unimportant. Without preamble, he descended into the bog, and crouched behind a mushroom, sifting through the minds to which he was connected.

He paused as one of the slaves he was linked to crossed the same row that he just had, and turned, studying the far fields. A scraggly Goblin bounded into his periphery, joined by seven of its fellows. They held farming implements; shovels and picks, mostly, though one held a bowl aloft like a buckler. Even in his current predicament, Netal found the display amusing.

The Goblins paused, sniffing the air. One pointed his way, growling. The others bayed with excitement, cackling and whispering words in their foul tongue.

Agitated, Netal plotted his first actions. He would prefer to scatter them; it brought him no joy culling house slaves, and he needed to find his quarry quickly. He drew his thinblade from its scabbard, his shield still in his room. A humming noise filled the air as he made his body appear larger than it really was, and infused himself with an artificial presence that projected ineffable might. As he stepped around the mushroom, the Goblins visibly cowered, whimpering.

"Be gone from my sight..." he growled, brandishing his sword, and as one, the creatures retreated, yelping and cursing as they scrambled over each other in their flight.

Grinning, Netal turned, and found himself face to face with eight Quasits, souring his expression. It looked like he would have to whet his blade after all...

"Mama...What is happening?"


"But why are we-"


Gul'tah crouched between a pair of mushrooms, her eyes darting to and fro, trying to make out what she could in the gloom. She could hear others plodding through the murky water. That was good, because she couldn't see enough to tell if the footsteps were from Dark Elves, Orcs, or...something else.

She wanted to go right back to the bunkhouse, but the approach was guarded. They wanted players in their game, and while most would fight, she could not. Not with Vala with her. She would have to bide her time, and hope nothing found them. Within eyeshot of the ramp that led up from the grove, no matter the result, she could leave with her daughter when the hour ran out. She would know when that was because she would hear it.

She tensed, flexing her hands and favoring her right, the one with nails she had filed to points. She-Orcs could not hold weapons, so like Luthic the Cave Mother, she would use her claws if she had to.

Something was coming.

As the She-Elves came on their giant lizards, Gul'tah crouched a little lower, placing her other hand over Vala's mouth. Most passed without a word, as did the He-Elves that followed in packs, but the fat one, who had spoken earlier, eyed them, her eyes glowing red.

Her hands passed in such a way they did when they were casting a spell.

"Come." she whispered quickly, pulling Valla by her shoulder, positioning the mushroom between them and the Elves. To no avail. Gul'tah looked down at her hands, finding them covered in colored fire that did not burn. Vala did not have any, and her eyes went wide. She tried to squirm away, but Gul'tah held her close, "It fine. Fine. We go."

Gul'tah turned, wading as fast as she dared in the murky water, looking for a place to hide her daughter.

A strange noise startled her, and she turned her head to the side. There was a little green-skinned creature plodding towards them. A seeming mix of lizard, bug, and bat, its scaly hide was covered in boils and pustules. It loped, sometimes with two legs, sometimes on all fours, emitting a gurgling, throaty hiss.

Gul'tah turned away, holding her daughter tightly by the hand as she led them through the bog, ignoring her whimpering.

Vala was no true Orc, not in body and definitely not in spirit, but Gul'tah would not let her die. She was kin, and Orcs protected their own blood.

They continued through the bog, the little demon-thing keeping pace, but not getting closer. Still, she had to walk quickly, and the sucking sound that her footsteps made seemed deafeningly loud.

In the distance, she heard bestial growls, the ringing of metal on metal, then a terrible roar. She thought to herself that must have been how Dragons sounded.

Another Demon joined its fellow chasing them. Then another. Their yipping, giggling, and slavering became a chorus. Vala began to stumble, her entire body shaking. Gul'tah picked her up completely, and started to run.

A quick exhalation steadied him. Knowing his psionic-based illusions and charms would have no effect on Demons, Netal angled his blade low, leading with his left foot, and prepared for the first charge. The Quasits tried to fan out to surround him, but with their limited intelligence, they left gaps in their advance. He took an opening, and sprang forward. Slipping under the swing of a pickaxe, Netal used the water walking enchantment in his boots to rush forward and slide, as if he were on polished marble. Gaining a few paces of distance from the unexpected maneuver, he thrust his thinblade into the back of a turning Quasit, puncturing a lung. It gurgled, but could not scream, just as he wanted.

The two closest Demons closed ranks, ignoring their downed fellow as its thrashed and died in the water. Netal sidestepped one swing while parrying the other with his basket guard, as the blade itself was too light to manage such a bulky weapon. Gripping one of the Demon's shoulder protrusions, more a stump for a wing that a wing itself, the Dark Elf swatted the Quasit's hand with the hilt, forcing it to drop its pickaxe, maneuvered beside it so its fellow could not attack, and slid his blade into the small of its back, targeting its kidney. He missed, since it writhed in pain but did not collapse. He took an elbow to the nose, and his own blood sprayed.

The other Quasits attacked in spite of its fellow serving Netal as a shield, burying a pickaxe in its skull.

Netal ran forward, inhaled through his nose, and spat blood into the Quasit's face as it pulled its weapon free. He also drew a line across its throat, but it was too shallow to slice an artery, thanks to the scaly hide protecting its jugular. In addition to telepathy, he knew a few abilities based in Psychometabolism, and healed his nose over the next moments as he put his back to a mushroom, letting his enemies gather again.

Rather than functioning like a clerical spell; the power sapped his vitality, drawing from his lifespan in order to accelerate healing. He chided himself for losing over a week of his life, but he needed to be focused.

"Six more."

They charged, snarling. He kicked one in the midsection, crumpling it, and rolled over its back as its fellows struck the mushroom behind him and recoiled off of its hard surface. Spinning, he pulled back, and thrust through its back, then again, a moment later, through its underarm and at an angle, piercing the heart, kicking it again, this time in the rear, to draw his sword free. It collapsed and bled.

"Five more."

The Demons recovered quickly; he was forced to backpedal while using his thinblade to slap aside a clumsy thrust from a Quasit with a shovel. He retreated, spinning his blade in little loops and slapping at the wrists of any who tried to swing, bloodying them. Quasit screams filled the air.

Seeing a window of opportunity, Netal dispelled his water walking enchantment, falling straight down, and kicked a glob of mud into a Quasit's eyes, impaling it through the mouth with a precise thrust while it tried to rub the debris away, drawing his sword free to continue harrying the rest. The struck demon stared wide-eyed, gagging, and the effort ruptured the lining of the back of its throat. It fell to its knees, coughing blood. He also followed up by thrusting through another Quasit's right eye, his sword's edge scraping the back of its skull.

"Three more."

The Quasit with the sword wound across its throat growled, but its enthusiasm was greatly lessened. Demons, while savage in battle, were cowardly, especially the smaller, weaker Demons. They seemed ready to flee.

Netal dropped a globe of magical, impenetrable darkness onto them, and they whimpered plaintively, blinded. He snapped his wrist up, priming the small hand crossbow that most Drow carried with them, and fired a small, poisoned bolt into the globe, still able to see the Demons thanks to his Drow infravision, which detected heat instead of light. It hit an un-wounded Quasit with a dull thud, and after a few seconds it drooped unsteadily. Most used a sleeping or paralytic poison. Netal always used a lethal concoction, magical in nature and thus bypassing natural resistances.

He hurled a small dagger into the other one, popping its eye but not killing it, and that was all the incentive it needed. It turned and ran, gibbering wildly, before shapeshifting into a bat and flying away. The one with the opened throat followed suit soon after, becoming a caterpillar instead and burrowing into the mud, and the third collapsed in a heap.

Dispelling the darkness, lest it attract the Goristro, Netal darted as far as he could from the site, towards the manor. He had made far too much noise, drawn far too much attention. He needed to lay low for a time, then try again to locate the girl.

Alirana turned from where she had seen the Orc and her Half-breed with a smile, knowing she had probably just ensured their horrible deaths. That was well; the moment she had laid eyes on that little mutant child, she'd wanted it dead. The thought that it carried Elven blood sickened her; such oddities needed to be drowned at birth.

That done, she watched with glee as the first Quasit was impaled through the abdomen by the thrust of the barbed lance carried by Talice Duskryn, and dragged behind her lizard mount via a chain that connected the weapon to her saddle. The strike was intentionally non-lethal; the little Demon thrashed wildly as it was lynched, screaming as black blood poured from the wound. It tried to dislodge itself and crawl up the chain, but the barbs actually elongated, holding their victim in place while its bowels were pierced.

"What a wondrous enchantment." she purred, and Talice smiled back mischievously, the first genuine mirth she had seen in the woman all day, "This weapon is meant to torture, not kill. When I need to kill something, I use my mace."

The adamantine bludgeon strapped to her weapon belt seemed to perfectly fit that description. It lacked spikes or other ornamentation that would intimidate an opponent, and featured only a plain round head with angular flanges meant to wedge into bone and deliver most of its impact directly to internal organs.

So boring...

The Demon's frenzied, desperate cries attracted more of its kin; three more loped into view.

Irae Duskryn shot two down with her darkwood bow in rapid succession, one after the other. Matron Berni'th struck the last with a fireball, which detonated on impact and sent up a cloud of hissing steam as it seared the water around it. The Quasits, normally resistant to both fire and magic as most Demons were, burned brightly like a torch as it turned to ash.

How interesting.

As they ventured deeper into the grove, skirting the columns of magical darkness, each of the Duskryns used their infravision to try to locate the Goristro. Alirana knew better; she had also masked the Demon's heat signature. Her second little contribution of chaos.

While she had no intention of letting her valuable allies perish, it never hurt to cause a little constructive anarchy; it did wonders of revealing ones character, and Alirana was nothing if not willing to test her allies for weaknesses.

For allies among the Drow could quickly become rivals to be eliminated...

She ran for what felt like hours. Mud caked her leggings. She perspired heavily, her eyes burning when a droplet flowed into them. Wiping it away just left mud instead, because she had been forced to climb. She had gotten a few cuts and scrapes, but had managed to evade their pursuers.

Until now.

Two more demons joined the group, cutting off their escape. Both of them had found weapons; the crude scythes that she and the others harvested mushrooms with.

Gul'tah growled, low and threatening, setting Vala down and pushing her away.

"I go first." she told her, "You follow."

Vala shook her head, her eyes wide, and Gul'tah snarled, "You follow. Now. No argue!"

Claws alone would not avail her against so many.

If she had to go to Nishrek and kneel to Gruumsh One-Eye in disgrace when she died, then so be it. Vala would live!

She charged the two in front, determined to seize a weapon.

"Mama!" Vala screamed, weeping.

The demons cackled, their jowls drooling as they raised their scythes.

Gul'tah used her size to slam into one before it could swing, toppling it with her shoulder. It was small, barely waist-high to her, so it was not difficult. She ducked under the other's scythe, but it still grazed her arm. She turned, leaped onto it, and drove her claws against its eyes. It shrieked in pain, opening its mouth wide to bite. She shoved her other fist into it, hoping it would gag. It did, which gave her enough time to grasp the wooden length of the scythe. She kicked it, rose to her feet, and swung down, planting the curved iron blade into its chest.

The demon screamed, thrashed wildly as its black blood gushed from the wound, splattering her tunic and face. Gul'tah turned, and screamed herself, lifting her other foot. The other one, the one she had toppled, had just crawled over and bitten her, its head twisting in the wound. She beheaded it with one clean stroke, but screamed again as it still stayed attached, even biting deeper.

Ignoring the pain, she took Vala in her arms, who had followed as close as she dared, and limped forward, waiting for the demon to perish and detach. Every step brought fresh waves of pain. Her own blood flowed freely, mixed into the water. The contact between bog water and wound brought further pain, and likely infection.

Gul'tah ignored it.

The severed head twisted further, gouging a lump of flesh from her leg and slurping it down.

Gul'tah ignored it, using the scythe to help her walk.

"Mama..." Vala moaned, crying. No, certainly not an Orc. But she was hers! She would not go into the afterlife as a coward that allowed her daughter to perish at the hands of demons!

"It nothing." Gul'tah said tightly, gasping as the head finally died and slid off, already breaking apart into streamers of shadow and filth. She did not look back at what it had bitten off...

Vala held tight, weeping. She could smell Mama's blood, hear her strained breath. They walked through a wall of darkness, and she could not see. She could not see!

"Be quiet now." Mama grunted, pressing her face against her chest, like she used to after Vala stopped drinking her milk but still wanted to be close. She clamped her eyes shut, and begged Gruumsh it would be over soon. Gruumsh had never said anything to her like he had Mama, but maybe just this one time he would.

The monsters were close; as much as she tried not to, she could hear them. She also heard Mama groan in pain from her hurt leg.

They crossed into light, albeit not much, and Mama drew in a sharp intake of breath.

"There it is..." Mama breathed, "We almost there now."

Vala looked up, and she saw the last row of mushrooms, a little higher than the rest; the glowing ones. Past that was a wall, and the foundation for the houses above it. Vala looked harder, and there was a small shaft against the cavern wall, like the ones they sent Kobolds through sometimes with picks to look for shiny metal. That one had been closed up, mostly. There was still a little bit of space inside.

"We hide there?" she asked, and Mama nodded, "You hide there."

Vala smiled, then frowned, as they got closer and she got a better look. It was too small for Mama. She would barely fit herself.

Something big growled, and the water and Mama shook.

Mama moaned, nearly fell. Her arms squeezed Vala painfully. She recovered, grunted, and kept going.

"Where are you going to hide, Mama?"

She said nothing.

"Where are you going to hide, Mama?"

She said nothing.

Vala started to shake again, "Mama?"

There were sounds of metal ringing on metal. The big growl again, then a scream.

They reached the little shaft. Mama dumped her in, then started burying the doorway with heavy sticks. It got dark. Vala crawled on fours towards her, but got pushed back with a curse. She got up, and Mama was almost done. She saw only through a thin crack.

"Mama?!" Vala gasped, trying to reach through the sticks.

Mama said nothing.

The big growl repeated, closer.

Mama shivered, turned, and moaned again.

"Mama?! MAMA?!"

"You stay here." she said tightly, and as she knelt down, Vala could see past her.

And wished she could not.

Its head was nearly level with the ceiling of stone. Its fur was red, bright red, and its head was like a Rothé's, but shaggy and black. Its eyes were shut, against the light, and it crawled on fours, its hands shaking the ground as it lumbered closer. Dark Elves followed behind it, some riding on lizards. One charged ahead of the rest, raising a black bow.

"Listen to me, Vala." Mama said sadly, her yellow eyes the only thing visible she was so close, "...Do one thing. Only one thing. Be strong...and live free."

Then mama turned and ran towards the red monster.

"NO! MAMA, NO!" Vala screamed, scrabbling against the wooden sticks. She broke her nails, could see the heat of her blood against the cold wood, but didn't care.

The red monster grabbed mama, roaring as an arrow hit it in the shoulder, and again, it the back of his knee. Mama hit it with the scythe, once, but the weapon broke against its skin. The monster squeezed its hand, squeezed Mama, and she went still. Red stuff poured from her mouth; blood, but not just blood. Vala heard rocks grating against each other, then realized it was Mama's bones breaking.


No answer.


No answer.


The Goristro turned to her, its maw wide enough to fit a wagon abreast. Irae fired a pair of arrows simultaneously. Each took the beast in an eye. It howled more than roared, dropping the slave, which struck the water with a dull thud. There was not much left of the body.

Talice galloped in beside her, hurling her spear. It struck the Demon and lodged two hand's breadths in its side. Irae drew another, special pair from her quiver, and fired, her arrows burying into its throat. By the creature's size, it was no more than a flesh wound. Until her arrows animated by latent enchantment and began to burrow deeper into its hide. The Goristro sensed its peril, tried to dig the projectiles out, but its fingers only scraped the fletching before they sank into its body and out of sight.

Mother reached them next, laughing, smiting the Demon with a blast of dark energy and a whispered imprecation to Lloth. Hundreds of poisonous spiders manifested along its leathery skin and began to bite. Her house guards rushed to her and surrounded the beast, hacking at its legs. The Goristro wavered, falling again to all fours, then vomited blood. The pinpricks her arrows had left gushed black.

"Game over." Alirana chuckled, her weapon still embedded in its knee from the beginning stages of the battle, the blow that had crippled it.

The Goristro collapsed, its death throes sending up waves of fetid water mixed with black blood.

Knowing what would soon follow, Matron Berni'th ordered them to retreat, and all turned to watch the spectacle. The Goristro's body became engulfed in flames, and in an instant, detonated in a blinding display, before vanishing, banished back to its home dimension in the abyss. Her ears popped from the pressure of displaced air filling the space that its body had occupied.

"Too easy, Alirana." Matron Berni'th sighed, "The Slaves never came close to flushing it out; they wander the fields of darkness still."

Alirana shrugged, "Such is the chaos of the game, Matron Mother. We can "herd" them back to their hovel now, if you wish."

Ignoring them, Irae pushed her mount forward, around the spot where the Demon had perished, the spot that water still flowed into, the soil underneath seared into obsidian. She made a note of it; obsidian, while not particularly rare, had a dark, reflective quality that pleased her. Perhaps she would magically harden it to the consistency of diamond and make the piece into some jewelry.

She approached the shaft, heard a faint noise on the other side, and switched to infravision, ignoring the miniscule dots of heat that were in fact spattered blood. She saw a much larger, albeit relatively small, lump of heat, low to the floor, and grinned, hopping off of her mount with practiced ease.

Good, she was still alive.

Adopting a more somber expression, the Dark Elf waved a trio of her house guards over, one of which was Netal, the house's resident psionicist, who they had found bloodied and wandering the bog alone. Either his patrol had been wiped out or he had been engaged in some...very suspicious behavior.

"Clear the rubble." Irae commanded, and they set to work, pulling free the collapsed supports of the shaft with visible difficulty.

That the Orcish slave had managed to lift such heavy objects with such seeming ease when her offspring had been threatened suggested disturbing implications that she decided not to acknowledge.

A small voice cried out when a particular specimen was upended, sending up a cloud of dust, and she reached in, and drew the shivering child out, heaving it over her shoulder and walking to her riding lizard. The girl wept, openly, her entire body shaking, and Irae for a moment reconsidered the wisdom of having her as a house slave. Too soft...too weak. Then, she saw a shadow cross Netal's face as he followed, too closely, and suddenly a great many things fell into place, and her interest was rekindled.

"Leave us." she commanded, setting the girl in the saddle, and each of the males obeyed, that one slower than the rest.

Irae grinned, though the Drow made sure the girl's face was turned. She needn't bother; the girl looked at the broken body of her mother, tense as a bowstring. Tears continued to flow.

Unwilling to waste a slave for such foolishness, Irae tore a length of her piwafwi, an enchanted cloak unique to the Drow, and blindfolded her with it. The girl did not even seem to notice.

"Hold still." she said gently in Undercommon, the language of the slaves, "I am taking you to the manor."

Spurring her mount forward, she noticed Alirana, who remained even as her siblings had set off in frenzied pursuit of the slaves. The Srune'Lett cow's mount sped forward to intercept hers.

"Such odd behavior from the youngest Duskryn..." the Srune'Lett diplomat said with a grin, "Such compassion towards her lesser servants."

Irae returned the grin in full, replying in the same tongue, to which the girl could not understand, "I have no idea what you mean, Alirana. I happen to be choosing morsels from our stock for my personal use. This one seems ideally suited, and it just so happens she can no longer be raised with the others."

"Why so?" Alirana asked, irritated, and Irae knew she had her now, setting a hand on the girl's shoulder, "Because I can't have my future handmaiden ravaged by the male Orcs and Goblins the moment of her first bleed. I prefer my servants...unspoiled, and I know also that this will please Lloth. Even a Half-Drow female is half hers."

All true enough; female Drow were the favored creatures of the Spider Queen. And she did indeed favor her personal attendants so. Irae, like any practiced conversationalist, knew to withhold the truth rather than mask it, for the best lies were also truths.

Loping around her, Irae sped her mount forward, towards the manor. She had a few arrangements to make...and she was very thankful that Vala was blindfolded, lest the girl see the look of naked triumph on her face and draw conclusions.

Saving the girl's life was not an act of mercy, but merely a capitalization of an opportunity.

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