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

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Chapter 6

Skullport, Undermountain

(1st of Eleint, 1373 Dalereckoning)


"The air smells different here..." Vala noted quietly, as she was led off a small ship and into a great cavern. Lichen and mold clung to every surface, the darkness only partially dispelled by a multitude of Glowballs. She saw sodden, haphazard architecture; basic shacks stacked upon one another like building blocks. The buildings gradually sloped down, forming a rudimentary L-shaped pattern.

Iljrene led her out of the docks and onto a rope bridge, connected to several adjacent buildings and tangled with netting. It reminded her of nothing less than a massive, city-sized spider web. Down the rope web they descended, into streets of packed dirt, stone, and waste. Everything stank of dried blood, moisture, sweat, and despair.

They jostled with scores of tightly packed Humans, Dreugar, and Half-Drow, though she caught fleeting glimpses of creatures far stranger, only some of which she could identify. There were Illithid, octopus-headed denizens of the darkest, foulest reaches of the Underdark, their face tentacles twitching, betraying their thoughts as their milky white, expressionless eyes did not. There were scaled Humanoids with serpent tails and flickering, forked tongues, Yuan-ti perhaps, the amphibious Kuo-toa, and one or two Beholder Demons; floating masses of flesh with wide, fanged mouths and dozens of eye stalks.

But worst of wall were the animated skulls that hovered high in the air, which gave the city its name, awash in bright orange light akin to heatless flame. They eyes burned into her, though there were no eyes to speak of.

"This is Skullport." the priestess reminded her aloud, for wrapped in their heavy cloaks, neither likely wanted to free their hands for signing. Vala, for her part, kept her hand close to the hilt of a dagger at her belt, nervously glancing at the Promenade's many enemies, who seemed to take little notice of them, "The closest one can venture to the abyss while she still draws breath. Stay close to me, and do not stare."

Nodding, Vala pressed her way through the throng, averting her eyes as shackled Humans, Half-Elves, Orcs, and Goblins were led by cursing, laughing Dreugar, who cracked their cruel whips at their living cargo. Every time those cursed things struck, she winced, remembering the sting from her early days in House Duskryn.

Eyeing the backs of the cruel taskmasters, she was sorely tempted to draw her weapon.

"We cannot save everyone." Iljrene said even more quietly, and Vala nearly missed it in with the din of hushed conversation, "But we do what we can. We raid the ships traveling to and fro regularly. It is how we recruit."

Nodding sadly, Vala looked away from the depravity, and did her best to ignore the cries of pain and whimpers of fear.

"Why are we here?" she asked, "There is something this male can teach me that you cannot?"

Iljrene nodded, though through her cloak the gesture was nearly indeterminate, "We are warriors, wizards, and priests. You are a fine fighter, Vala, and I expect that you will finally join with the goddess in your own time...but you have even greater potential, which can be revealed here and now."

"..."

"Fear not, child. You are safe, for I am with you. Eilistraee is with you."

Vala nodded, though seeing Skullport for herself, merely a pale shadow of the horror that was Menzoberranzan and the Wild Underdark, she felt that Eilistraee was somewhere very, very far away at the moment.


Kimmuriel Oblodra sat cross-legged in a hideout owned by Bregan D'aerthe; a small bunkhouse in the lower tier, near the docks and just within eyeshot of Skull Island, the base of operations for Skullport's slave traders. On the outside, it looked like any of the poorly constructed residences; a miserly affair of dilapidated sodden wood and netting. On the inside, however, the two story hideout was reinforced with quarried stone that resisted magical transport, in or out, and dampened latent magic.

Save that of the mind, of course.

It was here where he occasionally brokered deals with the Illithid, offering goods and slaves in exchange for hidden secrets of their mutual art.

Basic necessities were present; chairs, tables, and benches, all made from a mushroom fiber of a consistency very similar to wood. Cloth drapery and curtains covered the barren walls, and a small parlor stocked with wine and spirits made up much of the far wall. There were bedrolls for his fellow Bregan D'aerthe, where they could lounge and relax between missions in the city proper or in the underlying tunnels, wherein they often raided and stole from the Iron Ring's buyers, if not the organization itself.

There was no guarantee of successful delivery in the Underdark, after all. And slaves needed not be sold only once in the markets of Skullport.

A pattern of successive knocks on the door, a code pre-arranged between him and the Priestess of Eilistraee, informed him of his guests' arrival, and he opened the outer door with a small burst of telekinesis.

There was nothing wrong with a little theatrics.

The female he had spoken to before crossed through, bundled tightly, followed by the girl, whose bright blue eyes darted as she considered the room. Though her hood was drawn, he noticed a peculiar marking on her forehead; an Ajna Chakra, colored red.

Curious.

"Remain outside, please." Kimmuriel told the priestess, "In the antechamber, or in the basement. I would prefer to do this alone."

"Very well." Iljrene replied, turning to her charge, "Remember what I said, Vala. All of it."

The older female departed, and the younger stood just inside of the main area. She looked ill at ease.

That was good; Kimmuriel had no time for a fool. And only a fool would feel at ease around him.

"Remove your cloak." he added for her benefit, "And come closer. I wish to see the result of the loose spraying of a distant relative's seed."

He hid his smile when he saw the flush of heat color her face, in both infravision and the visible spectrum of light.

Tense as a bowstring, the girl complied, setting the garment aside and crossing her arms, poignantly not looking in his direction.

Thirteen years had marked her well; too thin to be an Orc, she was nonetheless possessed of a remnant of her infantile softness, neither child nor adult, an ill-defined changeling as much as an ill-defined half-breed.

"Sit." he commanded, "As I do. Within five paces. Now."

Vala scowled, but did as he demanded, taking a cross-legged position approximately five paces from him; the absolute threshold of his spoken tolerance.

"Though you are most assuredly not, iblith, your heretic sisters have likely groomed you in the manner of a female Drow..." he said calmly, considering her threadbare tunic, the padded leather vest over it, her woolen leggings, and calf-high boots, contrasted them against his own slim, form-fitting robes, which protected like armor and restricted his movements not in the slightest, "Likely, even with only half our blood, you will think yourself superior to me, for I am but a lowly male. Likewise, you would think yourself superior to me because you serve Eilistraee, and I serve only myself. This conclusion, I assure you, is highly erroneous."

"..."

"I will mentor you in the invisible art." he added, "But only if offered the proper deference, and the proper respect. You are but a student, an apprentice. When in my presence and even when not, you will refer to me as Master. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Yes..."

Vala's expression strained, only for a moment, before she yielded, "Yes, Master."

"Good. You will not question me here, at any time, even if I mock your goddess or question your beliefs. You are iblith, offal, and it is in my graciousness that I recognize your talent, whatever it may be, at all. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Master."

"Good." he replied, low and dangerous, "But I can see you require a demonstration. I will, in turn, offer you a wager. If you can strike me and draw blood, I will recant to you, here, now, and declare you Master. I will forsake my evil ways and become a ley-worshiper of Eilistraee, where I will grovel at the feet of your Priestesses and their traitor goddess for the rest of my days. Does the thought please you?"

"Yes, Master."

"Then strike."


Vala tensed, expecting immediate backlash. But the male Iljrene had named Kimmuriel sat impassively, appearing for all the world bored.

She concentrated, drawing her focus into herself, and feeling the connection with her psionic power, conjured a cloud of ectoplasm, before compressing the substance into denser psicrystal and honing it into Toshisha, her whipblade. A length of partially intangible ectoplasm remained, though it was now clear in color, serving as the length of the whip, with segments of psicrystal forming its bladed protrusions which appeared akin to the disks of a spinal column. A double-edged, dagger-length blade of razor sharp psicrystal provided its thrusting tip.

The process took roughly two minutes, with Kimmuriel watching her all the while.

"A Psychic Warrior." he said idly, "Interesting."

Empowered by his surprise, and hoping it concealed discomfiture, Vala contracted the blade into a coil, before lunging forward.

...And watching in disbelief as her blade passed through Kimmuriel's right eye with no visible effect, before pulling free from a depth too shallow to penetrate to the brain. She hadn't intended to kill him, after all.

Prepared for such trickery, and needing no footwork to follow up with a second swing, Vala mentally commanded her whipblade to loop near the hilt, snapping back into the Drow's midsection even while its dagger tip embedded into the far wall, the length connecting the two points dragging across his cheek.

Again, this second attack did not wound him. Didn't even touch him.

Backpedaling, Toshisha retracting into a simulacrum of a mundane sword, Vala altered her tactics, summoning a pair of psicrystal shards and hurling them at blinding speed. They detonated on impact with the floor before Kimmuriel, obscuring the Drow in a blinding mist of light.

Back to the wall, Vala called upon the strongest of her latent powers, and attuned herself to the presence of psionics in the room.

Immediately discovering part of the nature of Kimmuriel's defenses, she knew that she could defeat him by causing enough potential damage. His barrier absorbed kinetic energy, but could overwhelm his concentration if bombarded sufficiently.

She charged forward, though her footsteps were nearly silent, thrusting Toshisha into the cloud. If it hit anything but empty air, she could not say.

Something touched her foot, and Vala glanced down in horror at Kimmuriel rising through the floor, his hand about her ankle, before her world exploded in pain.

Her eyeball burst, wetly dripping down her cheek, and she doubled over as a deep gouge opened below her breasts, rending her armor and loosing a string of flesh and bowel. She heard a grinding sound as deep lacerations across her cheek scraped her teeth.

Moments passed without her knowing, and suddenly she was staring up at Kimmuriel, not down, and he, in turn, knelt over her, forcing a liquid down her mouth.

Gagging, Vala tried to twist away, before screaming as she felt her flesh ignite in searing heat.

She writhed in exquisite agony, the room spinning, for what felt like an eternity. Nobody rose up from the depths in which she buried it, but even it could not assert control through the pain.

Then she felt the gash close, as if pulled together by an invisible hand, and her vision fully restored itself. She tasted blood, but could no longer reach through her cheek with her tongue. Vala rose to a knee, patted her chest, feeling the smooth skin there, before waving a hand before her right eye, while closing her left. Her teeth too, on closer inspection, were again flawless.

"Healing potion?" she asked, though it was hardly a question, and found that Kimmuriel had taken his previous sitting position, eyeing her with visible satisfaction, perhaps the first gesture of emotion she had seen him offer.

"We've reached an agreement, Iljrene and I." the Drow replied callously, "I am to train you, and make you an asset of the Dark Promenade. And so I shall endeavor to keep you alive and whole, unless you displease me too greatly. Get up."

That tone, so reminiscent of the cruel barking of Duskryn males, jolted her to her feet before she realized what she had done.

He grinned at her discomfiture, "Sit. Again. We can discuss the subtleties of the technique I just used at a later time. First, I must instruct you in the most basic terms of our art ere you could understand such a complex manifestation."

"Yes, Master." she replied, though with more enthusiasm than before.

"Now then..." he continued, watching her take her seat, again at the maximum of five paces in distance, "We have concluded that unfortunate business...unfortunate in the sense that I had to waste a valuable healing potion on an iblith because she failed to recognize the gulf in our respective levels of skill, we can begin your education in earnest."

"What is a Psion?" he asked, as if it were a simple matter.

It was.

"A mind-mage."

"That is what those who lack the gift of the invisible art call us." Kimmuriel said dismissively, "What is a Psion?"

Flummoxed, Vala considered the question on a deep, philosophical level, and found herself empty-handed.

"I do not know."

"Obviously." the Drow chided, "A Psion is a person gifted with unique connections to the Astral Plane and to the hidden recesses of the mind. However, it is the latter that is the more vital for a Psion. We can understand ourselves, and our surroundings, with far greater clarity than lesser mortals. We need no prayers, we need study no spell books for our power, for we are the source. The astral plane is but a conduit that can amplify our personal power...but to grow in power is not something that can be attained through studying the weave, or being devout to a god. Our key is in understanding, in knowing."


"So know what you are; there are six schools governing the powers that we can manifest, six types of Psions. Most never branch into more than one discipline, though you, a mere child, have already accessed two."

"..."

"There is the Egoist, who can modify organic life to suit their purposes, be it their own bodies or the bodies of others, the Kineticist, who can use the unseen forces about him to alter and damage matter, the Nomad, who is privy to the hidden roads that crisscross Faerun to which distance is irrelevant, the Seer, who is privy to the past and the future, or all possible futures, depending on individual philosophy, the Shaper, who makes their thoughts reality for a time or for an eternity, and the Telepath, who can twist and distort perceptions of reality to better suit them, in themselves and in those around them."

"Which Psion are you, I wonder? Can you tell me?" he asked.

She considered it only for a brief moment, "I can make things that do not rightly exist in this world, be it my blade or the shards of psicrystal. I am a Shaper. And you are a Kineticist."

"Good." he replied honestly, "You understand theory well enough, at least. But you are also a Seer, because you partially determined the nature of my Kinetic Barrier through psionics. Like I said, manifesting powers from two schools is exceedingly rare among our type. It is perhaps the only thing that interests me in you."

Pleased by the bemused scowl marring the girl's normally impassive features, Kimmuriel nodded, "Now we will meditate. As you can manifest your powers continuously, you have already learned how to do this, I assume. Empty your mind. Learn what you can from your experiences. Know."

Maintaining the appearance of indifference, Kimmuriel waited several minutes before manifesting his powers and peering into his new apprentice's thoughts, for he was also a skilled Telepath.

Due to her inexperience, he easily detected her consciousness and attuned himself to it, lest she detect his presence, penetrating to her surface thoughts.

He found her thoughts pertaining to a sermon, likely undertaken in the Dark Promenade. There were sprinklings of Humans, Faerie, Halflings, and other surface and Underdark races mixed in with male and female Drow, the latter singing lightly before a moonbeam which encompassed the platform in the center of the room, ringed with silver. Around the moonbeam, a tall female with silvery hair circled in a rhythmic, acrobatic dance beside three others. All bore silvery blades which hummed when in motion. The patterns in which they twirled, swung, and retracted those swords produced music which perfectly accompanied the voices of their sisters.

There were no recognizable words spoken, but Kimmuriel knew this to be a sermon. Even as a vicarious memory it evoked images onto him, impressions of a greater scope than he could comprehend; dark glades under starry skies, fountains of clear water and clouds of concealing mist. He felt cold wind against his face, knew the freedom of running nude across the surface of Faerun, nothing weighting him down but a sword in his hand and a hunting horn about his neck. The thrill of the hunt, and the smell of blood, the surge of triumph as his blade sank into the flesh of monsters.

He saw a female akin to the silver-haired giant, whose sheer presence left him gritting his teeth in consternation, and he heard her soft, gentle cooing.

Eilistraee. It could be no other.

Instinctively, he receded from that contact, for even indirect contact with the divine could drive a mortal mad.

Slowly, the sensations passed from him, as the focus of Vala's attention diverted.

He felt his physical body sweating, trembling, both at the exhilaration he had felt and the relief with its passing.

He returned to studying her, now seeing a sermon of a very different sort.

He saw through her eyes; observing a great chamber, also in the Underdark, but tinted with Faerie Fire and glowing mushrooms instead of moonlight.

By the angles of the room and the way the other worshipers, mostly female Drow but also including a few males in the outer edges of her vision, towered over her, Kimmuriel assumed this was a much earlier memory.

This sermon bore no music, no dance. A female with bright eyes and a cruel smile stood over an altar draped with red cloth, and spoke of the tribulations of the Spider Queen, of the wickedness of the Faerie Elves and the heretics of other faiths. She spoke of Vhaeraun, Lloth's traitor son, who rebelled against her and Selvetarm, her six-armed champion, to defect to The Night Above.

She spoke of Ghaunadaur, and his worthless, degenerate followers who worshiped the primordial oozes and slimes that they ritualistically fed themselves to in the deepest, darkest reaches of the Underdark, living in a state akin to the iblith that served them.

And she spoke of Eilistraee, the foulest of all, who led unwary Drow into the light of the surface to grovel at the feet of their enemies, condemned to dance impotently in the blistering light of the sun for the rest of their days. She spoke of the service it was to return them to the faith of Mother Lloth before removing their hearts, in tribute of the Spider Queen's infinite forgiveness.

In the midst of her wild, frothing rants, this female, likely the Matron Mother of whatever house Vala had been property of, gave wild proclamations of Lloth's eventual return to the surface, in which her chosen people would eradicate the hated Faerie Elves with all of the other inferior races, before tearing Corellon Larethian down from his celestial perch as god of the Elven races and burning the Seldarine paradise of Arvandor into ash and ruin.

In a detached, cynical way, Kimmuriel was reminded of a time when he had heard similar words from the lips of K'yorl Odran, the heartless Matron Mother of House Oblodra, before the Baenre sank it into a crushing oblivion.

As ludicrous as it was, the girl's memory elicited something other than instinctive dread in her.

It was not the words that resonated with Vala. It was the power that was displayed. Lloth was a cruel mistress, but she offered the right followers incredible power.

It would seem that the girl sought such power.

He saw an old Orc, her face leathery and her eyelids dark from many sleepless nights, hunched over him as they lay in a bed of straw. He saw in this Orc many places, in many conditions; Vala's turbulent course of thoughts processing several memories of the creature at once. He saw at last an uninterrupted image; that of her leaping into the grip of a towering creature, demonic by the looks of it. He saw her go limp in its hands, saw her blood shower down into dark waters.

The vision became cloudy, not by her lack of concentration, but because of the tears Vala had shed in those moments.

The symbolism for that ridiculous marking on her forehead suddenly became clearer.

He felt keenly her intense distress at this image, which burned into her consciousness more fully than any other memory of the subject in question.

Her mother.

As a Dark Elf, he could hardly empathize with a feeling of loss over the death of a mother. Such things were the realms of the lesser races.

Still, this anger intrigued him; it gave him something he could offer the girl at a later date. It showed him the uneasiness of her allegiance to Eilistraee's coven. He knew that he could bribe her with the death of Alirana Srune'Lett in return for any information he desired on Eilistraee's faithful or their sanctuary.

He compiled that information and saved it for another day.

Seeing also that single, terrible moment before she lost all memory after the confrontation with the woman, feeling the awakening of her psionic powers, Kimmuriel reconsidered the potential value that this Half-breed Psion could offer, and contemplating perhaps adding a rare female to Bregan D'aerthe...


Iljrene ate with Vala while Kimmuriel attended his duties as the de-facto leader of Bregan D'aerthe. Though the male's healing potion had left no scars, she inferred he had badly wounded Vala through her demeanor.

She averted her eyes, and spoke little. She was more skittish than usual. She spoke in short, precise sentences. Her hands shook. Over the last few minutes, she had reached up towards her eye at least twice.

"We can leave this place, if you want..." she said reassuringly, unwilling to subject her to such treatment, even to aid the Promenade.

Vala returned her gaze, troubled, but shook her head, "No. I need to get stronger. He can show me how."

Her hands shook, just a little. A Human would not have noticed, so subtle was the gesture. A Dark Elf noticed everything.

"I need to get stronger, so I can protect the promenade." Vala continued, gaining in confidence in her words, "You said I was getting better in martial training, but I can barely swing a proper blade without lopping off my foot. Without my powers and Toshisha, I am helpless. I need this. Let us remain here."

Nodding uneasily, Iljrene hoped that she hadn't pushed the girl too hard by bringing her here. She knew too little of the nature of Psionics to be able to save her from it.


Over the next weeks, Kimmuriel meditated and trained with his student in that small house, minding the occasional small group of Bregan D'aerthe mercenaries that passed through. The priestess always fled with the girl during these events, and demanded to know well in advance of their arrival to do so.

Kimmuriel suffered the woman with effort, because Vala had proven such a capable apprentice. He discussed with her, in private, the Kinetic Barrier, his prized attack, which absorbed all incoming kinetic energy and stored it for a later time. Its beauty was its flexibility; he could bequeath the injuries inflicted upon him onto his attacker, as he had demonstrated, or he could bestow the barrier onto another, allowing them to thus escape harm. Or...he could give it to an unwilling subject, and watch with delight as the subsequent injuries multiplied and caused grievous harm all in an instant.

Sadly, her skill, while considerable for one so young, was not up to the task of duplicating his signature attack. Kimmuriel didn't find himself displeased.

They also discussed far simpler techniques; how to invade the mind of an unwilling opponent and how to protect oneself from the same. He offered her the Empty Mind, which allowed hostile psionic emanations to pass right through the defending Psion, akin to sidestepping a swinging blade. Though she could commune with the Astral Plane with absolute focus, it took her over a week to comprehend the feeling of thoughtlessness necessary to produce the Empty Mind effect. He also offered the Tower of the Iron Will, which was more akin to a parry, and allowed the Psion to in turn protect others in close proximity from telepathic attacks.

In this technique she excelled; it took only two days for her to passably deflect his mental intrusions, though he could still with little difficulty invade the minds of the Kobold slaves that he tasked her to protect. He scattered their feeble brains across the chamber for the failure, knowing that, as a former slave, the gesture would vex her.

Her efforts improved considerably after the experience, but this only distressed him.

These powers were of the Telepath School. That made three disciplines that she could manifest, an equal to him in potential if not in practice, for he was also a practiced Egoist, able to heal himself and transform his body into shadow or ectoplasm.

She didn't seem to take notice of just how powerful she was. It was the only reason he had not recanted the deal and braved Eilistraee's retribution by killing her.


Now that she could protect the minds of the Kobolds that Kimmuriel carted in by the scores, Vala allowed herself to comfortably meditate while her mentor prepared her next lesson.

The poor creatures were no longer led in...that meant he had something else in mind.

She found that she had no need to memorize what she learned; the powers that her mentor taught her seemed to burn themselves into her mind.

No... It felt like they had already been there...and she had only cleared the fog of confusion that hid them from her. It felt like her mind was a vast, uncharted expanse; an incomplete map, and with his help she was filling in its blank edges.

"Today I will not be instructing you..." Kimmuriel finally said after some time had passed, possibly an hour.

Vala startled, confused.

"Instead, one of my associates will be taking my place." the Dark Elf continued, "He has contacted me with news of his arrival. You will offer him the courtesy you show me. Do you understand."

"Yes, Master."

"Good." Kimmuriel replied, taking a seat much further away.

Something rose from the floor.

Vala jolted to her feet, Toshisha in hand, as a hideous, dark clad, purple-skinned, octopus-faced monstrosity slithered up through the solid floor to appraise her with blank, soulless, milky white eyes.

An Illithid.

"Dismiss your weapon." Kimmuriel snapped, "Now."

Toshisha dissipated in a cloud of mist. The problem was that she had not done it.

"Greetings, strange one..." a voice that was not a voice echoed in her mind, while the Illithid spoke aloud in a gurgling, bubbly speech she could not understand, "We are Hu'um, and Kimmuriel has told us that you show potential in the invisible art. Seeing your sword of Psicrystal, we agree."

"I am sorry." Vala replied telepathically, eyes downcast, "I was not expecting one of your kind. I should have guessed that my master would have sought you out. Your people's skill in psionics is known all across the Underdark."

"Indeed." Hu'um projected, "You are a Shaper, and a Seer, and a Telepath, so Kimmuriel tells me. It is rare for a Psion to manifest such a wide variety of powers, especially untrained, especially for one so young. I am here to expand upon your education, in exchange for a gold and a sample of your blood and brain tissue."

"Umm..." Vala stammered, considering the door to the basement, where Iljrene would be, but Kimmuriel offered a rare grin, "Fear not, girl. I took the necessary samples after you blew open your eye. A subtle telekinetic tug pulled free some matter behind your optic nerve, which I split in two and preserved with the assistance of one of my wizardly allies. My potion no doubt regenerated the lost material."

"...Thank you, I guess." she replied, disturbed beyond measure at the thought of what they might want with that, "How will we begin?"

Immediately, her body tensed as she felt a weak but persistent psionic attack; Hu'um attempting to penetrate her conscious will. She immediately emptied her mind, save for the sequence of perceived sensations that Kimmuriel had taught her. She wiped her hand in front of her face, as she completed the pass, Vala obliterated her identity; her appearance, memories, and thoughts ceased to be. She was, and nothing else.

She saw about her a still pond, floating in an infinite space of clear white light.

"Looking" down into the pond, Vala saw no reflection, imagined herself to be nothing but a cloud of air, from which no tangible object could manipulate. Just at that moment, the attack immediately increased in intensity. She felt a foreign, malevolent force all about her; a darkness that polluted that still pond, causing it to thicken and bubble like boiling sludge.

The sludge then hardened, solidifying into a mirror of obsidian. In it, she could see herself once again. She was Vala Oblodra, daughter of-

No. No! She was a cloud of air. She was nothing.

Her reflection flickered in and out. Hu'um began to press its attack; she caught a glimpse of her wide, terrified blue eyes before her reflection was that of the hideous, tentacle-faced Illithid. She, for a moment, became Hu'um, and it, fused to her, began to break down the connections she had to her body, and forced from her control. Her body began to move without her volition; her hand reached down to the dagger tucked into the folds of her other sleeve. She drew the weapon, and started to lift it.

Towards her eye.

In a panic, Vala changed tactics; Hu'um was too persistent to be repelled by such a simple technique; she envisioned a pillar of iron that closed about her body, expelling the probing tendrils of the Illithid's psyche. She strengthened the pillar with her own willpower, using her desperation as a focus from which to purify herself of lingering doubt and uncertainly.

Her knowledge of her body, and the room that it inhabited, faded away. All she saw was iron. She was the tower.

Immediately, the malevolence receded.

How much time passed since she activated the Tower of the Iron Will technique, Vala could not say.

"Well Done." Kimmuriel's voice echoed about her, "You repelled Hu'um's intrusion. Unfortunately...you failed to protect your body from physical attack."

The iron crumbled.

Vala was flesh once more, wavering on her feet. Her dagger struck the floor and embedded point-deep will a dull thud.

Hu'um flicked its face tentacles with an audible thump, likely the second time it had done so, and suddenly she was on the floor, her ears ringing and a painful numbness in her temples.

Kimmuriel stood over her, arms crossed, "Your Empty Mind and Iron Will will protect you from all but the most powerful Psionics if maintained so effectively. Your mental strength is not an issue. All you need is to learn to multitask so you can attack while defending, which requires practice, and to leave a stronger tether to your body, the better for you to sense injuries. When you wake up, Hu'um will teach you a new technique, and you can chew on that for a time. Until then, pleasant dreams..."

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