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

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Chapter 3

House Duskryn, Menzoberranzan

(23rd of Elesias, 1371 Dalereckoning)

Vala celebrated her tenth nameday alone. Mistress Irae had no need of her thanks to pressing matters among the family, which currently had all the Duskryn females sequestered in their private sanctum where they did worship to the Spider Queen.

She also thought that it must have something to do with the Menzoberranzan as a whole. They said the slaves, far outnumbering the Drow, were especially restless, and that there had been a string of vandalisms in the bazaar; painted symbols of Orcish clans and the like. The city, they said, had not been so restless since the Time of Troubles, which happened before her birth.

She shrugged; everyone always seemed tense and restless in Menzoberranzan, Drow or otherwise. Though not the slaves of House Duskryn lately, surprisingly.

Since the "hunt" that had taken her mother, the strange meat soup had been in abundance. It hadn't taken Vala long to make the connection. She wanted to vomit, every memory of taking a bite making her belly quiver.

She dismissed the memory before she really did throw up.

Vala had come to learn of the city as she had of several other large settlements beyond Menzoberranzan's walls; Ched Nasad, its largest ally and trading partner, Eryndlyn, a sinful place in which many gods were followed against Lloth's decree, and many others, not all of them populated by Drow. West of the city, there stood Blingdenstone, peopled by the Svirfneblin, or Deep Gnomes, the most immediately hated of the Drow's enemies, as well as Drik Hargunen, which was much further away in the Darklands and peopled by the Dreugar, or Grey Dwarves.

Actually, the Underdark seemed a much larger place than what Mother had led her to believe. She wondered if she would live long enough to see any of it.

No matter.

Now that she had some time to herself, Vala had decided to catch up on her chores, one of which included preparing the mistress' wardrobe. She had nearly finished a week's worth of silks and leathers, polishing the latter and washing the former. The boots were always an issue; in addition to stepping into who knew what, the mistress had a most distinctive case of boot foot. Leaving a slab of pungent mushroom fiber in each sole to neutralize the stink, she turned to the piwafwi. Entranced by its shifting patterns of color, which could mask a Dark Elf even from their race's heat-detecting vision, it always disoriented her when looking too closely.

"No." she grunted, folding it and setting it aside with difficulty, "It needs magic, and I don't have any."

All that was left was the coat of adamantine mail, the lady's spare set, which she leaned against the back of a chair and began to polish with a lump of steel wire dabbed in specially-made oils which were given to her by the house smithy; a Half-Drow like her, though definitely part Human if his pale complexion was any indication.

After shearing off the grime with the pad of wire, which took almost an hour since it was so much bigger than her, Vala followed up with a dry cloth, which drew in the oil and dried the ore. She was careful not to cut against the links, which were subtly barbed, the better to discourage attackers. It also made this part painfully tedious, because she had to get all the oil on the mail before it dried.

By the time Vala was finished, she found herself short of breath and beaded with sweat. She was grateful that the sleeveless gown of black spider silk she was given to wear was enchanted not to stain. On the downside, the soft fabric reminded her how sensitive her skin had become. Before...before she had moved into the manor, such activities had not winded her. Nor had they caused her to perspire, thanks to the moisture present in the bog.

Admittedly, she was more comfortable now, in body, at least.

She lived in constant threat from her Drow keepers. All three of Bern'ith's daughters were priestesses now; all carried those dreaded snake whips. She had tasted a snake whip two weeks after Irae had carried her in. In the middle of painting her mistress' toenails, she had spilled a small measure of dye within view of the eldest, Laele.

There had been a sharp intake of breath, a reptilian hiss. The sound of a belt buckle being tapped by something.

Her back muscles had twisted in pain, and she had convulsed on the floor for what felt like an eternity, too shocked to scream. Needless to say, she had spilled far more dye in her tumble, earning another strike when she came to, which had left her unconscious.

It had become very clear that she meant nothing to any of them, even her mistress, which had taken her from Ma-...her mother's body. She was a tool, a thing that they found useful, or amusing. Her half-blood made her less than any Drow, even the males, though it also made her more than any Orc or Goblin..

As a Half-Drow, she had also come to know of Lloth, the Drow matron deity and queen of spiders. While she had made no effort to commune with the goddess, she had learned of her history; how the Drow had once been allies of the Faerie Elves of the surface (There was that word again. Surface. Was it an upper level of the Underdark?). The Faerie Elves, however, had been cruel and spiteful, and betrayed the Drow, and nearly exterminated them. Lloth had nurtured the Drow nation back to health in the lowest reaches of the Underdark, spawning many great cities, of which Menzoberranzan was the crowning ideal. From the Underdark, the Drow conquered or destroyed the civilizations of the lesser races and of Drow not rightfully loyal to the Spider Queen.

In theory.

Aside from a failed attack on a place called Mithral Hall, a kingdom ruled by Dwarves; the pale-skinned cousins of the Dreugar, Vala knew of no such incidents. The Drow seemed more interested in lingering in their cities, leaving only to trade, mostly in slaves.

She eyed the iron bracers that were bound to her wrists. They had been a condition of her stay in the manor; so that Irae could know where she was, and that she could not leave. If she tried, or so Irae said, she would fall into a deep sleep, and not awaken until a priestess revived her. Then, would come the whippings, or, if she was deemed unfit for service, death. Irae would take her heart and offer it to the Spider Queen in atonement for the injury of refusing her gift.

Not like Vala felt like leaving anyway.

In spite of things, there was nothing left for her outside of House Duskryn. Her mother was dead. The only thing she had to remember her was...

Sparing a glance about her, Vala reached down her gown, and pulled on the length of wrapped cord that she had tied about her neck, freeing the object at its end to rest against her gown, instead of inside it. A small lump of bone; a chipped tusk.

She had asked Irae for one thing and one thing only during her two years of service; a token from her mother. Since Gul'tah had been a slave, and bore no private possessions, Irae had returned with the tusk, cleaned and polished. Vala had not understood why Irae had done that, nor had the woman ever explained herself. Nor had she explained why she had saved her.

The rest of her mother, no doubt, had gone to the stew.

Sighing, Vala put away the polished mail, alongside the laundry, neatly and per the mistress' set arrangements, every movement made with delicate care, forcing herself to focus solely on the physical activity.

She would not cry. She could not. Such behavior was un-befitting of a servant of the house.

Netal found his days to be increasingly troublesome, in spite of the swift advances he made among the Duskryn house guard.

She was beyond his reach now; Irae kept the girl sequestered in her personal chambers, or in the dining hall in the manor proper. He had no way to reach her, no way to monitor her. He didn't even know if she had manifested already, or if she ever would...

The death of Gul'tah had troubled him, if only for the detriment it posed to his plans. The true loss was in his daughter. What he had learned about her...disturbed him, but had convinced him that she would have been a loyal agent, more so than he could expect in any of the others. He could have raised her himself, taken her in and told her what he would. If only he had reached her first...

The Drow returned to his meditation. It was the only thing he could do not to scream in anger and frustration.

Vala dreamed of shadows. But she knew this was no dream, because it hurt when she pinched herself. It was dark, but she was not afraid. Merely...expectant. In the shadows, she saw skittering shapes. There was blood, whose, she could not say.

There was a woman, cloaked in darkness.

Vala knelt before the woman, though she didn't know why.

From their hair were strands of spun webs, on which hung many spiders. Menace radiated from their body, and the woman opened her eyes. In them was red brighter than all the blood around her. They stood far taller than Vala, taller than any Drow. In their shadow, Vala saw an iron fortress crossing a blasted landscape, heard the screams of the damned and roars of something far more frightening.

Eyes...eight eyes, black and merciless, bored into her from that shadow.

The woman, the Drow that was not a Drow, reached out a hand, an offering to her supplication. Vala looked at it, tempted, and reached her own hand forward to touch it. Spiders covered the woman's arm and her own, their tiny bodies oddly warm. Their presence oddly comforting. She heard her mother scream, in fear or in pain, she did not know.

She woke suddenly, in cold sweat and sharply drawn breath.

Her wrists, or, more accurately, the bracers lining them, vibrated, a sign that her mistress desired her presence.

She looked at her bracers dimly, confused. It had felt so real...

The bracers vibrated more rapidly, insistently.

She shrugged; the present was more important. Though it had likely been less than an hour since she had fallen asleep, she prepared herself for staying up another cycle of Narbondel.

Yawning, Vala rose from bed, hastily donned a new gown, righted her short bangs, and opened the door to Irae's bedchamber. Her own room, little more than a closet with a small bed, directly connected to it, allowing her swift passage.

Irae Duskryn sat at the foot of the bed, tossing aside her boots. Vala abased herself, kneeling, pressing her forehead to the floor, hands palms-down and outstretched forward.

"Mistress." she stated, and waited to be acknowledged.

"Rise." Irae Duskryn commanded, watching the girl climb to her feet. Her eyes stayed downcast. That was good.

Irae rested her feet upon her wash basin, removed from its stand and set on the floor.

"Massage my feet. Sitting in the Duskryn chapel has been taxing."

To her credit, Vala hid her distaste, and without hesitation, walked to the cabinet, drawing a small jug of lotion. She whetted her hands with the thick paste, made from a rare Underdark flower mimicking aloe, and considered for a moment.

Vala's hands, softened with her departure from hard labor but still highly dexterous, grasped her right foot, and began probing the wiry muscles just below her calf for several minutes. Forcing the tension further down, the girl moved to Irae's ankles with practiced confidence, and then to the bottom of her foot, before alternating to the spaces between each toe, over the course of roughly an hour.

Sighing as her stress dissipated with the physical release of tension, Irae studied her slave as she moved to the other foot.

Vala was something of an anomaly; breeding Orc and Drow rarely produced so fine a specimen. Her features, predominantly Elven, featured a few distinctly un-Drowlike traits; her large, icy blue, slightly diagonally slanted eyes, her button nose, her round, innocent face, which always seemed to frown, and the small tusks that poked from her lips, little more than extended lower canines.

Iblith, to be sure...but the sort of Iblith that could prove useful or intriguing enough to rise ever so slightly from the other rabble. With Irae's generous assistance, it could be more than slightly.

Finished, Vala set aside the jug, washed her hands. The lotion on Irae's feet was left as it was; it would dry and produce a slight aromatic effect.

"Good. You please me. Ring the bell and tell the servants to bring in my evening repast, as well as yours. You will eat with me."

She complied, and as the meal was delivered within a hundred count, Irae sat cross legged on the bed, while Vala knelt on the floor, having washed her hands, picking at a shallow bowl filled with cubes of Rothé cheese and sliced mushrooms.

Irae's meal was far more intricate; a platter of blackened fish with grilled tubers and a light sauce made with a variety of seasonings. Beside the platter was a torte, and slicing it open with a slender fork, she grinned, seeing heavy custard, harvested from eggs and milk that had been imported from the surface. Taking an experimental bite, she savored the rare (and expensive) treat, before clearing her palate with a light Drow-made wine named qilovestualt.

"You are quieter than usual." she commented, watching Vala unceremoniously scarf down her meal. Her servant took no time to eat; half the bowl was gone in the time Irae had taken a single bite.

Vala nodded, facing Irae, her eyes downcast; a subtle manner of deference, "I had a strange dream today."

"Oh?" Irae asked, her throat parched from conferring with her matron mother and sisters but aching for stimulating conversation regardless.

Vala shrugged, "I saw a woman. She was Drow, but not Drow".

Now that was stimulating conversation.

"What else did you see?"

"An iron spider, and a desert." Vala continued, considering a malformed curd of cheese, "Blood. The abyss. I guess the pamphlets they hand out sometimes are getting to me a little."

"Perhaps..." Irae said, all of her attention now on the girl, "But perhaps not."

"What do you mean?"

"Mother Lloth often appears to potential ley-worshipers in their dreams. It is her way to present her offer." Irae replied, gauging her reaction, "Did you accept what she asked for?"

Vala paused, now looking to her directly, a dangerous breech of manners. Irae ignored it.

"I woke up. I think I was about to."

Nodding, Irae returned to her meal, "You will have another chance, I think. If Lady Lloth has interest in you, she will likely press her suit. Be sure to accept whatever she asks of you, if you value your life."

Vala stared at her, her lips pursed, "What does she offer me, mistress?"

"For you specifically? I know not. Her will is her own. But there is always great gain to be had. Perhaps she even would wish for you to be a priestess. Were that to happen, you would become a free hireling."

"And all the more useful to me in the end..." Irae thought to herself.

Vala digested that for a time, then, "I heard my mother screaming."


"In my dream." she persisted, "Would she be in the Demonweb Pits?"

Irae shrugged, "Unlikely. Some of the lesser races can enter Lloth's realm, but they must worship her. To my knowledge, Gruumsh One-Eye is still the patron deity to most of the-" she nearly said slaves, "...workers. Why do you ask?"

"I don't think she wanted me to..."

She didn't finish the statement. She didn't need to.

"This is irrelevant." Irae snapped, irritated, "You will know soon enough if it was a dream or not, and if it was indeed a portent of the goddess' interest, you know what you must do. You are of our blood, child, if only half. You, like all Drow, will come to worship Lloth."

She considered that, and added in a tone that was gentle but firm, "Tomorrow I will take you to the Duskryn chapel, as I should have the moment I brought you under this roof. You will learn more of the ways of Lloth. I will tutor you as I would a pureblood initiate."

"Yes, Mistress."

After being dismissed, Vala set her bowl and the mistress' platter outside the door, and returned to her room after bowing a final time. She considered the bed, then fell in. It was nearly the same dimensions as the room, meeting a wall on either side. The ceiling, low, seemed to box her in. Likely, if she grew much more, her head would be level with it.

In truth, she found the enclosed space more comforting than confining. It helped her forget how alone she felt.

She fell asleep, hoping she would not dream. Most Drow never dreamed...maybe that was because they had taken Lloth's hand.

Her night was a restless one indeed as she waited for Lloth to visit her again...

Upon ensuring the identities of each of the guards and passengers, Netal ordered the gates opened for the Srune'Lett delegation, having received word well in advance of their impending arrival. Alirana Srune'Lett followed him to the manse while her brother Dargathan, an up-and-coming Weaponmaster of their house, was left to stable the pack lizards with the other males. The indignity was not lost to the Oblodra Psion, who had suffered similarly in both this house and his own.

"The place has not changed much since I last arrived." the female noted idly, "Did my little sport properly remind the iblith of their place?"

"Thoroughly." Netal replied, hiding his irritation, "It took over a week to process all the bodies. Having their own ground into fertilizer had served to pacify the slaves for many months. Not to mention the finer bits making the stew they so love."

It was hardly a secret; Goblinkin often engaged in cannibalism. Even outside of desperation.

"Indeed." Alirana replied, seemingly pleased by that remark, "I will help myself into the Manor proper. My room will be where it was last time?"

"Of course, milady."

"Again..." Irae snapped, her feet impatiently tapping on the tiled floor. Vala tensed, expecting a lash, but found none forthcoming. Sighing with relief, she drew the rune again while she knelt before candlelight, making sure each layer of intersecting strokes was perfectly aligned.

While she now spoke both fluent Elvish and Undercommon, thanks to regular sessions of vocabulary, Vala had never been formally taught to read and write, and her mistress' lectures had proven equal parts intensive and misleading. And while she had learned to suffer the minimal light in the manor, mostly from wax candles, her eyes still ached, and had difficulty focusing on the complex symbols that the mistress showed her.

They had spent most of the morning introducing the basic twenty-six letter alphabet, with varying suffixes on each vowel. Actually, figuring out which ones were vowels and which were consonants had taken almost an hour to comprehend. Every passing moment since had served to erode Irae's notwithstanding patience.

Then, they had gone over basic terms, Vala balancing the tenses of each letter to determine which made up a specific word. That had been much easier; blending speech and writing allowed her to draw upon pre-existing experience.

Now that her mistress was satisfied that she could passably write clipped sentences, she studied basic symbols; the current one being a house defense glyph, which, when imbued with magic, would summon a cloud of noxious poison if activated. It looked, at first glance, not unlike a series of scythes, the tool that...that she had seen used to harvest mushrooms. It had a two-pronged end facing diagonally, with several secondary lines forming a pinwheel pattern with needle-thin ends. To her, each segment of the wheel looked like nothing else but thin spider legs.

This proved to be far more pleasant than her expectancy of a lesson relating to Lloth, as Irae had implied would be today's subject. Vala had not dreamed of her again, but the more she contemplated her original dream, the more disturbed she became.

She finished the rune, studied it intensely, recalling the example she had been shown at the beginning of the lecture. It looked right...but it was hard to be sure. So much time spent focusing her eyes had left her vision blurry, forcing her to squint.

Nothing for it, Vala presented the sheet to her mistress, who in turn studied her work. Waving her hand in a mystic pass, Irae crumpled a small pouch at her belt, and luminous green light emerged from the paper.

The Drow smiled, "Good. It is imperfect, but passable. It would function normally when activated, though the poison would be slightly weaker than normal. You justified the expenditure of that specially treated chalk."

Nodding, and appearing grateful, for she knew the consequence of neglecting to do so, Vala listened intently as several additional runes were described, and tried to ignore the feeling that she was drowning in a sea of her own incompetence.

Alirana watched intently through her enchanted divining mirror as Irae disciplined her iblith student over failing to create a more complex rune for the third time.

Smiling, the Drow enjoyed the iblith's expression of pain as Irae's whip cracked, though her device could not record sound, then found herself disappointed as the iblith child was dismissed, the mirror's focal point remaining affixed to the spot on which they had stood.

She knew it would be housed in a small chamber inside of Irae's room. A re-purposed broom closet, more specifically.

Redirecting the focal point of the divining mirror, Alirana grinned as she saw the lashed iblith collapse into bed, drained and short of breath.

The iblith girl spoke to herself in hushed whispers. Her device, unable to perceive sounds, nonetheless allowed Alirana to read its lips, as it drew something from under its gown.

"The more I learn of this place..." the girl whispered to herself, "The more I wish the world really had just been this house and the mushroom groves. How did you stand it, Mother? How did you survive in this land?"

Alirana noticed that she held something in her hands...some manner of token.

She considered, her fat little lips pursed, before opening her hands about the item, revealing it to be a weathered, chipped tooth, "How did you find the strength to give your life for me? Here, in this land where the only meaning is found within the self? In this land of heartlessness?"

The girl's face pinched. Moisture formed in the corners of her eyes, "I wish I had your strength, Mother. I fear that Lloth will approach me again. I do not know if I want what she offers...but I know I lack the strength to refuse even if I wanted to. I wonder how that will change me...will it make me forget you?"

Apparently finding no answers, the girl sighed, slipped the tooth, which was tied into a leather thong, back about her neck, tucking it down under her gown. She fell asleep mere moments afterward.

Offering Alirana a chance to torment her further...

Weakness was not something that would ever be permitted among the faithful. Alirana had been content to pettily tease her, as she had planned, mocking her over her mother's death.

But the potential of the iblith becoming an Underpriestess in full had changed things. She was a faithful servant of Lloth, and would not allow the little wretch to shame their goddess.

She would remove the source of the weakness, and purge the child of its softness by hurling the tooth into the Clawrift. Perhaps it would become Drow enough afterward to love it...stranger things had happened.

Vala did not dream of Lloth.

She dreamed of another, one in service to the goddess.

Like a great lump of melting candle wax, it lacked definition and structure. She knew that it must not have a conventional skeleton, or perhaps any to speak of at all.

Roping, slimy tentacles emerged from its quivering, amorphous body.

Though its face lacked defining features, Vala knew the creature to be female.

Ancient tales told of Drow Priestess who died in the very highest favor of the Spider Queen, and were chosen for a special honor.

They were consumed by Lloth, their very souls extinguished, and transformed into Yochlol, her blessed demonic handmaidens, who were tasked to guard her realm in the 66th layer of the abyss, as well as seek out new followers and punish disloyal ones.

And so did a Yochlol stand before her, on a great, empty surface, a windswept desert of lifeless grey sand, above them a vast emptiness, a darkness so impenetrable that measuring distance and depth was impossible.

Her hands grasped at the sands. Her balance lost, she felt as if she would fall into that void if she let go.

"Greetings, profligate..." it said in a wet, bubbly voice, froth rimming its pulsating lips, inside of which were rows upon rows of jagged teeth, "The lady of chaos has spoken to you, and you have not answered."


"But we know your heart." it added, "Your weakness. Your yearning. We would offer you a means to satisfy one, and quench the other."

"I..." Vala stammered, trying to absorb her surroundings and the complexity of this dream, "I do not understand."

No. Not a dream. A vision.

It laughed; a horrible, croaking sound, "You wish for vengeance. This is a blessed act in the eyes of the Spider Queen...and the perfect test for your mettle. Harden your heart, and kill Alirana Srune'Lett with cold wrath and silent anonymity. Make her death a service to Lloth, and hasten her voyage to the Demonweb Pits for her reward in afterlife, as well as your own. Your killing will be hidden from the divining reach of the Matron Mothers, and it will be a secret known only to we three."

"Do you not wish to make her suffer?" it asked, all innocence, and Vala remembered starkly the sight of her mother hurling herself into the Goristro.

The Goristro. The lesser Demons. The hunt. All of it had been Alirana's doing.

Vala remembered the wretch's voice...though she had not known their language at the time, the words had burned themselves into her mind.

"And so the entertainment begins!" Alirana Srune'Lett had said, "Like many, I especially enjoy sava, and so the game shall represent the game to which I so adore."

Alirana had created the circumstances that had killed her mother, and had gloated. Had laughed, at Vala's plight.

Grief buried itself beneath the weight of a new feeling.

Vala clenched her fists, scowled at the blessed servant of Lloth, though her wrath was directed elsewhere.

"I do." she replied honestly, "And if Lloth offers me the power to make her pay, I will take it."

"She offers far more than that, child..." the Yochlol grinned, "The strength to crush or corrupt your enemies. The will to fortify yourself from fate's cruelty. The cunning to cling to life's chaos and emerge victorious from the very edges of disaster. Become a priestess of Lloth, girl. Become a full-blooded Drow in spirit, if not in body. When you die in the Spider Queen's favor, as I have little doubt, you will join us in the Demonweb Pits as a sister in full. Your Orcish blood will be burned away. Where nature failed, faith will succeed in purifying you of that foul, lesser heritage."

Her blood ran cold. She again imagined her mother, recoiling in horror.

But she was beyond this.

She yearned for justice, or vengeance, and no longer cared which it actually was. For two years she had prized her mother's tooth, carried this weight in her heart, not knowing what she could do to let go.

This would be her means of a final farewell. Her means of repaying Gul'tah for everything.

If this was to be her destiny, then so be it.

"Accept this gift." The Yochlol said elatedly as it beamed with approval, one of its tentacles curling languidly and brushing against her hand, "A weapon of the faithful."

Vala opened her hand, palm up, to find a small, black spider, a red hourglass on its bulbous thorax. It arched its legs up and down, its mandibles clicking hungrily.

No creature of nature, its eyes burned with demonic rage and glee. She knew instinctively that its poison could kill in a heartbeat, protections or no.

"I will use this weapon." Vala replied calmly, steeling herself for what she would do, "Alirana Srune'Lett will die by the weapon of her...our, goddess."

Vala woke, startled. She looked down to her hand, and the spider perched upon it wiggled its thorax, a simple acknowledgement of her scrutiny.

"Rest easy, Mother." Vala said, smiling, "Soon, she will be dead."

Her smile, and her plans to seek out the woman, died stillborn, when she reached into her gown and found...nothing.

Mother's tusk!

Panic set in; the spider darted off of her hand as she rolled over, desperately hurling the blankets off of the bed.


It was nowhere to be found.


Lloth would not have given her this chance if the woman was not currently in House Duskryn.

She had taken it!

The only remembrance of her mother, the only thing that had given her comfort in this short, miserable existence!

She snarled, swatting at the spider as it tried to set itself onto her skin.

It felt like her skin was crawling. She saw little specks of blue light, like glowflys, tried to swipe them away.

Her world became a rush of deafening noise, piercing light.

She screamed, but she did not recognize her voice. It sounded like the old Orcs that went mad under the whip and attacked their Drow keepers, giggling madly as dark metal pierced their hearts.

Alirana walked from the girl's room to her own, and found Irae standing by her doorway, beside her personal house guards.

The female's expression soured.

"You took something that belongs to a member of this house." she said dryly.

Alirana chuckled, "Slaves need no possessions, Irae. Especially none based upon...sentimentality. You should have stripped the girl of this ages ago."

She brandished the tooth like a trophy, grinning.

"Give it to me now." Irae said with authority, "As my slave's possession, it is also mine. I do not approve of this disrespect towards my property, and my property's property."

Shrugging, she considered just surrendering the item, but Irae blanched, walking past her.

"Vala? What are you doing out of your room?"

Alirana turned to find the girl standing in the hallway, her eyes riveted to the tooth in her hand.

The girl said nothing, a dazed expression on her face.

"Answer me, girl. What are you doing?"

Her eyes were empty, and she started forward, unmindful.

"Have you something to say to me, iblith?" Alirana laughed, "Let us hear it. I am all ears."

Unlike the Srune'Lett female, Irae's eyes were still attuned to the infrared spectrum. She could see then, that despite Vala's impassive, even submissive expression, her body emanated waves of body heat that painted her skin like molten steel.

Anger alone could not explain such a plume of heat...she only saw such coloration on an Orc entering a murderous berserker rage.

Before she could call upon the Spider Queen to hold the girl in place with invisible webbing, Vala lunged forward, her roar deeper than her voice should have allowed. Alirana's two guards scowled, and strode in to intercept. Their dark blades crossed between their bodies in such a way as to impale the girl as she approached, without her being able to see the danger until it was too late. Irae's eyes readjusted to light just late enough to note that Vala had somehow masked her heat signature.

But as Vala crossed between the armed males, her body rippled, a faint chime audible in the air, and her body passed through the blades without resistance, as if she were no more than a phantasm. Her screams muted, as did her footsteps.

"Ghostform...?" Irae thought silently, "Impossible. There was no wizardly spell at play..."

Alirana seemed equally disquieted, but readied her snake whip, speaking a prayer to the Spider Queen to enhance her battle potential. Enchanted, and imbued with the power of Lloth, her three-headed snake whip surged with dark, crackling unholy power, their scales turned from slime green to obsidian, save a pale splotch atop their foreheads in the shape of a skull. They snapped forward, their fangs opened wide.

Vala outstretched her hand, towards the serpents. A vibration shook the ground, and Irae nearly toppled over as she dashed forward to stop the foolish child. Alirana's head was slightly cocked to the side, and her stance was slightly hunched.

That alone saved her.

Pale crystal poured from Vala's fingertips; four thick plunging spears that impaled the lengths of the snake whip, pressed them against their wielder without fully penetrating, and gored Alirana across her mouth; under her chin, through her tongue, and out her cheek, all the while shearing off a strip of her eyelid. The final spear tangled in her hair.

Irae reached the pair just as Vala over-extended, breaking the crystals' connections to her fingers.

In an instant, they dissipated into streamers of mist, just as both the girl and the Srune'Lett diplomat crumbled to the ground, the latter gushing blood.

She reached them before the soldiers, and before one of them could kill the child, Irae snapped at them, "Your mistress needs healing. Bring her to the Duskryn Chapel at once!"

Being mere males, they instinctively rushed to obey the command of a Priestess of Lloth.

Leaving her to stare blankly at the Half-Drow child, who twitched on the floor, her eyes blank and unseeing, foam pouring from her lips, her body emitting more of that peculiar mist which formed a cloud about her that masked her heat signature.

"You fool...what have you done?!"

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