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

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Chapter 8

The High Forest

(17th of Eleint, 1376 Dalereckoning)


Alirana Srune'Lett stood at the mouth of the cave that she and the other Darksong Knights had consecrated in Eilistraee's name. Within, her sisters had already prepared bedrolls and a fire. The corpses of the Gnolls that had been its previous occupants were buried outside in a shallow ravine. It was more than the beasts deserved, but Green Dragons still roamed the impenetrable pine and redwood forests, and the smell of rotting meat attracting one was a risk none of them had been willing to take.

The mood was festive. News had arrived from the Dark Promenade; Vhaeraun, one of Eilistraee's rival deities, was dead, his hegemony and the majority of his male followers absorbed by the Goddess, who now endeavored to defeat the Spider Queen once and for all.

While the Protectors of the Song and the senior Darksong Knights remained behind to fortify the Promenade and welcome its unlikely new recruits, Alirana and several of her peers led secondary detachments, mostly consisting of initiates and prospective novices, into the surrounding wilds to create secondary consecrated sights and practice their fighting skills by hunting beasts, in preparation for the inevitable hunting of Demons, as was a Darksong Knight's divine-given purpose. That included forming defensive perimeters around each new site in order to protect new sisters while they communed with the Dark Maiden and forgot their allegiances to Lloth and the Underdark.

It was in such a way that Alirana herself had found atonement for her past, and the peace that it offered, by reneging her oaths to Lloth and striving to end the goddess' oppressive reign over her people forever.

Hence, their current position; they were roughly two leagues south and east of their main outpost; a small Human village that had been raided by some manner of creatures and subsequently abandoned. It had only taken two weeks to renovate the ramshackle buildings into functionality, thanks to the assistance of over two dozen ley-worshipers; lesse...other races, mostly Humans and surface Dwarves that had been freed from servitude and offered a place in Eilistraee's following.

Vala stood beside her impassively, though she knew the half-blood did not appreciate her presence.

Then again, Alirana was not even sure Vala was wholly aware she was standing there.

Unlike most initiates of the Dark Maiden, who favored thin, supple mail, the Half-Drow wore a layered robe of black and violet silks, confiscated from a priestess of Lloth who had chosen death before conversion. After obliterating any spider iconography on the garment, she had outfitted its heavy sleeves, hem, and collar with a silvery threading, her tribute of Eilistraee, and cut away much of its thick skirt to allow better freedom of movement. Under the robe, she wore a simple threadbare tunic, woolen leggings reinforced with padded leather greaves, and slim, calf high boots.

Unlike wizards, she needed no material components, manifesting her powers through her mind. And more skilled with magic than steel, she carried few weapons; a pair of throwing daggers in each sleeve, and a thin shortsword at her belt. Thus, her load was light, enabling her to move as silently as her full-blooded sisters, who were often weighted down with equipment.

Outside, Selûne shone brightly, though her trail of tears was hidden behind the clouds that would soon obscure her as well. Rain pelted the forest in a steady drizzle. The peal of thunder and the wild gusts of wind shook the trees. The use of infravision in such winds was impossible; the constant motion blurred even the brightest heat signatures into muted darker shades, forcing the both of them to shift back into the spectrum of visible light.

Vala watched the display in rapt awe, her luminous blue eyes wide.

No doubt, she was still uncomfortable with the turbulent weather on the surface. She had only been away from the Promenade for a few months, assisting Alirana's detachment with her psionic abilities. Their pairing, no doubt, was not unintentional, if Qilué intended for the girl to become a fellow Darksong Knight.

"You should rest." Alirana advised, following her gaze, "This storm will not last to the morning. And we will be gone long before the sun crests the horizon."

Vala shrugged, "I will meditate for a time, but not yet. I want to watch."

A bolt of lightning struck a tree two bowshots from the cave. A fire spread from its surface as it wavered, and fell, creating a second, violent retort as it struck earth.

"The land feels as the Underdark does not." Vala said idly, frowning as the rain extinguished the blaze before it could ignite the grass, "Its rage shakes the ground on which I stand."

"It's invigorating, isn't it?" Alirana asked, trying to gauge the mood of her at times unpredictable initiate. The Half-Drow shrugged, "I fear its anger. And it always rains as it storms, betraying its sadness."

Her frown deepened, "I detest the rain; this land is too beautiful to weep."

Nonplussed, Alirana studied her more closely.

Vala had grown nearly as quickly as the Humans her band sometimes fought beside; now well within her puberty at fifteen years of age, the Half-Drow had grown to just under five feet tall. Her infantile softness had given way to a lithe body of wiry muscle, the thin contours of her waist, arms, and neck the epitome of Elven gracefulness, though the more bestial aspects of her Orcish nature contrasted them starkly. A small red dot marked the space on her forehead between her eyes and above her brow, which she said represented her mother's blood and the subsequent "opening of her eyes". That might have meant the development of her grim philosophy, or her psionic ability, or both.

She had not expressly defined her explanation.

Her dark hair was cropped short, barely below her pointed ears. Her tusks had grown to nearly finger-length, forcing her to shave them down into nubs, lest they create blind spots. Thus, they sometimes scraped her upper lip when she was deep in thought and ground her teeth, a nervous habit. Her fingernails she had filed into sharp points, allowing her to fight with her hands if she wished to. Alirana had seen the deep gouges she made into the training dummies while she practiced her martial training. Her technique, while unfocused, was certainly...enthusiastic.

Likewise, her personality was unusual for a Dark Elf; her temper had not improved much since the first days after they had brought her into the promenade. She was at times reckless, impatient, and rude, but otherwise she was as quiet and passive as a lowly male.

She was very powerful for her age, developing new abilities at an alarming speed, and this power made her a potentially great asset in their fight to migrate the Drow race back to the surface; Psions were extremely rare, especially those of such caliber. Most on the surface did not bother with protections needed against the unique nature of a Psion's powers, though the Drow of the Underdark had always prepared for attacks from the Illithid, a communal race of Psions, and were thus better protected.

For roughly a quarter hour they watched the skies, before Vala turned towards the camp, never once making eye contact, "I will restore my powers in solitude. Rouse me when you are ready to move on."

Nodding, for the toneless acceptance of her presence was still an improvement, Alirana watched as the girl slipped into the darkness, and considered the next steps to developing the perimeter around their central outpost in this section of the High Forest.


Vala chose a spot near the back of the cavern, in a thin crevice of shale just larger than the dimensions of her old room in the Duskryn Manor; seven paces by four paces, with a relatively low overhanging roof. The confinement calmed her, if the darkness did not. It reminded her too vividly her time in the Wild Underdark.

Focusing her natural energies into her Ajna Chakra, a faint hum filled the chamber, and then a gentle chiming as a thumb-sized orb materialized from the astral plane. Composed of ectoplasm, Vala molded the properties of the temporary construct to emit a light phosphorescence, barely visible to a Human but comfortably bright to her Underdark-attuned vision, before sitting with a contended sigh.

Setting aside her boots and robe; Vala crossed her legs and leaned slightly forward, relieving the pressure from the base of her spine. She pulled the woven thread about her neck free, so she could see the two items than hung from it; her mother's chipped tusk, and the tiny sword pendant that Iljrene had given her years before, the symbol of Eilistraee's worship. Bone and silver. One represented her past, the other, her future, though each held equal meaning.

Thus focused, she retreated into her mind, becoming less aware of the sensations of her body; the hard surface of the stone floor, the echoes of the storm outside, and the light perspiration across her skin in spite of the cold.

In place of the waking world, thoughts became to her as visible, malleable objects, just as in the real world she manifested her psionic potential as physical manifestations. A great surface spread out beneath her "feet"; a shifting realm of color, light, and possibility.

This world was her Mindscape; the visual representation of the self, both known and unknown.

As one's interpretation differed from that of a fellow Psion, Vala envisioned her mind as the night sky. Consisting this verse was the swirling, chaotic play of lights known as an aurora borealis, which represented her passions and fears, which gamboled beside a constellation of stars and celestial bodies, which represented memory and thought. Thus was sentiment and logic, ever in an uneasy balance.

Unlike a cleric, which might draw from their goddess, or a wizard, who might draw from their spell book, Vala practiced the exercises that Kimmuriel had taught her, and visualized a series of movements, gestures, and sensations, that focused her mind and allowed her to reflect upon and study her memories, experiences, and subconscious urgings.

Though her body did not move, Vala's dream-self mimicked these motions in a manner akin to a dance, and her mindscape altered rapidly as she conceived these patterns. Her daily experiences she wove into this grand pattern, creating new stars which formed new constellations.

To most, the key to understanding resided in others, be it people or deities, or in the world around oneself. To a Psion, the self was the key; understanding one's nature was the means from which to divine all natures. If she lacked absolute power, it was because there were hidden aspects of her being that she was either unaware of, or unable or unwilling to make peace with.

These aspects manifested as well, as dark, looming clouds hovering at the edges of her Mindscape. Though the bulk of this darkness was apart from her, small patches marred the aurora borealis, and hid what she knew to be many more stars from sight.

She was the source of her own power, and likewise, her only barrier to greater powers still.

Distressed but not deterred, for steep was the path to self-realization, Vala studied these shadowed areas, attempting to penetrate their obscuring gloom and realizing what lay beneath.

Thus, she conceived the notion that her continued hostility towards Alirana was in error. In truth, she knew this well enough already.

Alirana was a Darksong Knight. A redeemed warrior of Eilistraee. Qilué and the goddess herself had vouched for her authenticity towards their shared cause.

But years had not softened her hatred of her mother's murder. Qilué's teachings had not. Kimmuriel's imparted discipline had not.

Dark, violent urges swelled within a portion of her mindscape, pitch black thunderheads that dwarfed those she had studied earlier.

Within one, which was tinted a dark, dark red, a woman's laughter was audible above the rumbling din.

Within another, backlit with moonbeams, Vala heard a woman singing, though it felt strained with its proximity to its opposing twin.

This was Vala's dilemma...

She felt Eilistraee when she communed with the goddess beside her Drow sisters, in dance and in the hunt, knew her as intimately as she had come to know much of herself. She sensed the goddess' regard, her compassion, the tenuous beginnings of the connection between them both, the link between mortal and divine. She knew, knew, in her heart, that she would be welcomed as a cleric of Eilistraee, as a Darksong Maiden in full, with open arms.

How she longed to feel that connection, to receive that closeness and familiarity and give in full in return.

But a part of her resisted.

A part of her held to her old teachings; that of power, of dominance, of subterfuge, and of revenge.

A part of her held to Lloth.

That darkness clung to the edges of her spirit like a choking miasma. It demanded she make Alirana pay; pay for murdering her mother, for convincing Matron Duskryn into selling her like a loaf of bread, and for betraying Lloth's priesthood through cowardice. It whispered foul temptations into her mind; promises of power. The power to crush her foes, and save whomever she wished to. The power to never be harmed again.

Vala knew these promises to be hollow; unlike Eilistraee, Lloth desired only personal gain, and cared nothing for those who served her. The constant strife and betrayal in Menzoberranzan, the callous disregard for her people and all peoples, was proof of this. Vala knew this, and yet she was nonetheless tempted.

This part of her did not agree with Eilistraee's mercy. This part of her wished to see evil exterminated, not redeemed. This part of her felt that there was no turning from certain paths; that some decisions irreparably stained one's soul. That such darkness could, should, be destroyed wherever it was found.

Troubled, Vala looked away from the clouds, and returned to what was already known, already understood.

She was afraid of what she saw there, for there Nobody also hid, an aspect of her own mind and soul. A piece of her that she had created to survive in the Wild Underdark, and existed purposeless now, yearning.

Envying.

Alirana's proximity only made these desires worse, only drew Nobody further out of the darkness. Qilué had placed them together as a test; a rite of passage, to fully connect her to Eilistraee through forgiveness.

Vala was uncertain if she could pass this test.

She opened her eyes, aware of the passage of hours. Though she had not slept in two days, or four cycles, as had been her method of telling time for most of her life, she felt renewed by her meditation, if deeply disturbed. Something would have to be done about that one...

She stood up, donned her clothes, and went to her allies, more or less ready for the new day.


Something was wrong.

Alirana ordered them to halt before the entrance to their forward outpost, the first stirrings of dawn's light turning the sky to a lighter shade of blue. The village was protected by a balustrade constructed of thick wooden logs reinforced with packed dirt and gravel. The only means of ingress was a reinforced gate...a gate which was open with no patrol in sight.

Vala crouched behind a thick bush, irritated by the unspoken tension and the moisture in the grass beneath her feet.

"Scout the village in astral form." Alirana commanded in handcant; the silent language of the Drow, "Return to me with your report. Remain undetected. Be careful."

Nodding, Vala called upon her psionic abilities, and shifted her body fully into the astral plane, in a small pocket dimension therein of her own creation. The space in Toril that her body had occupied was instantly replaced with a duplicate, formed of ectoplasm, which was intangible and could not be molested by steel or by spell.

Willing her ectoplasm-body down, Vala slid into the ground beneath her feet, and counted the seconds as she slowly floated forward, under the village.

When a two-hundred count had passed, she extended her perceptions upward, just for a moment, and ascertained that she would be inside one of the buildings if she ascended. She could not see anyone, or anything, inside.

Drifting up in a manner akin to levitation, Vala solidified in a crouch, trading places with her ectoplasm duplicate instantly, manifesting her psicrystal whipblade, Toshisha, which coiled to strike even while hidden in the heavy folds of her sleeve.

She grimaced at the sight of blood. It stained the walls in minute droplets, and sheets of it coagulated across the floor.

There were no bodies to accompany.

The building in which she stood was a small tavern, near the center of the village. Its main area was roughly twenty paces by thirty; a lounging area sporting four tables arrange in a square formation, before a roaring fireplace, which was still lit. To her right, away from the door, there was a bar, with two long racks holding both surface-dweller wine, whisky, and more potent Drow spirits. A dagger was embedded into the table before it, and several were embedded into a target on the far wall.

It could have been mistaken for a surface dwelling, were it not for its windows, which had been permanently shuttered closed. There were no torches. The only light in the room was the fire.

The door, open on its hinges, was to the left, and beside it, obscured by an inner wall, was the stairwell that led to the second floor.

Her footsteps utterly silent, Vala dared a glance upstairs, seeing obvious signs of battle. As its inhabitants were Drow, there was nothing so obvious as gouges in the walls, nor even the small crossbow quarrels. But there was a telltale feeling of expended magic in the air; a tingling with the smell of ozone. A few thin streaks of blood, and something else she could not identify.

Instinctively, she knew there would be no bodies, though her sisters had obviously attempted a hastily constructed defense on the second floor.

Troubled, Vala once again became intangible, her real body in the astral plane, slipping partially through the far wall to peer outside, revealing as little of her body as possible.

What she saw was scant comfort.

She swiftly drew herself downward, back into the ground, and returned in the direction of her allies, taking that same mental count in reverse, down to zero.

When she surfaced, it was four paces to the left from her starting position.

Cursing silently, for she had not intended to do that, Vala dismissed her astral form and returned in her original body.

Alirana was waiting for her report.

"The bodies are piled in the central clearing." Vala signed grimly, "They were burned. There is powerful magic at work, but I cannot be sure what. No enemies, but I would not assume for long."

"Because?" Alirana returned, though she no doubt knew the answer. Even now, she was testing Vala's tactical perception.

"Because anyone that could stage such a successful attack would correctly guess that more sisters were on patrol in the outlying region." Vala replied in handcant, "And though I shielded myself from such, there are likely magical alarms that would trigger if anyone approached the village."

"Indeed." Alirana returned, scratching her chin, "The wise decision would be to return to the Promenade and inform Qilué of our findings..."

Vala shifted to infravision, partially so she could re-adjust her eyes to the gloom, but also the better to see the plume of angry heat that rose from the Drow's body, "But at this moment I am not obliged to the wise decision."

She signaled two sisters to return to the Promenade, and ordered the rest into scouting formation, "We will learn who has done this, and slaughter them for their transgression against our sisters and against Eilistraee. This attack was carried with the benefit of surprise. We know that we tread into the dragon's maw, and gain the advantage."

They immediately advanced into the village, a sister taking the wall on either side and drawing a longbow, their silver arrows enchanted to pierce plate armor and ravage Demons and other creatures of evil.

Their main force passed the gate; fourteen armed with lances and longswords, save Vala, who needed no weapon save Toshisha and her psionics, and Alirana, who carried a Singing Sword, the weapon of a Darksong Knight in full.

It had been a show of considerable favor when Qilué had allowed the woman to take the sacred blade from its place in the Promenade.

Three in front, the point guard, fanned out to survey the few alleys as they passed further into the village, towards the bodies. True to the omnipresent (and quite correct, in her opinion) Drow paranoia, their village had few alleyways; most buildings in the four-column-three-street design were constructed or reconstructed in such a way that each building shared walls with those beside it, save a few major channels that allowed one to pass into successive streets or quickly attend one of the walls.

Nothing for it, they reached the center, right outside the tavern that Vala had scouted.

Whoever had invaded the village had gathered its occupants, living or dead, and arranged a carrion pile. Drow, Human, and others, male and female, accounted for that pile, many sporting burns and deep, jagged lacerations across their bodies. It looked like several also had...pieces missing. Tooth marks were present. Something had tried to eat them. But a mere beast would not have gathered the bodies in this way. It made little sense...

Now that she was so close, Vala detected a scent she had missed while incorporeal; brimstone.

"Demons." she signaled to Alirana, drawing from her education, "Most Tanar'ri can teleport, and use that ability to ambush their prey. It would explain the lack of organized response. At least two dozen."

Nodding, for she likely had made the same observations, Alirana's scowl deepened when her eyes fell upon a young boy, less than eight years of age, that had been gutted and thrown onto the pile, his bloodshot eyes blank and unseeing. The scratches on the nearby bodies indicated that he had still been alive when he had been so placed.

"An adopted ley-worshiper..." she explained, her expression hardening, her scar starkly pronounced, a fresh angry flush of heat spreading through her body, "I read to him just a tenday ago."

"Heretic..."

The word echoed disjointedly through her mind, and Vala intuited many voices within the word.

"Heretic..."

Alirana and the others tensed.

"You, who spurn Lloth..."

"Vala." Alirana ordered aloud, "Link us telepathically."

Nodding, she sought out the presences of each of her allies, and created a link between each of them, visualized as a tether of thick rope. Weaving her net, Vala linked each mind to each other, as they were to hers. Non-audible and instantaneous communication was now possible.

"Must Die!" screamed the disembodied voice, and from the shadows emerged dozens of leering, horned, red-skinned fiends, with draping lengths of barbed tentacles from their long, snouted faces.

They looked to her like misshapen mountain goats, though their claws and teeth were reminiscent of more predatory animals. Most carried a wicked, barbed lance, though some favored clubs hewn from some manner of bone.

"Barbazu." Alirana projected telepathically to each of them at once, "Lesser Devils. They expel a burning acid from their beards. Mind their natural weapons as much as their steel. Like all Tanar'ri, they can teleport short distances."

"Not on my watch..." Vala replied, emitting a cloud of mist that blanketed the earth beneath their feet, expanding to about a stone throw around their group.

Teleportation would be all but impossible while she maintained the ward.

"Well done."

Vala nodded, coiling Toshisha to strike.

As one, the Devils, robbed of their best surprise attack, hurled themselves into the mist, shrieking.

Vala speared one with her blade, even as the arrows of her fellow warriors downed three, ere they met the rest of the Darksong Maidens.

Vala wove a coil of psicrystal about her body, using Toshisha as both weapon and shield, for its length expanded, forming a lashing tail which swiped or thrust at the surrounding Devils.

Alirana chanted, her sword singing as it cleaved flesh from bone, splitting the feeble club a Barbazu had held, along with its hand, all in a single cut. It hissed, thrust its head forward to bite, only to be propelled down as the Drow completed her incantation, a prayer, and a moonbeam fired down from the sky with the force of a thunderbolt.

Its body began to dissipate in a cloud of shadow.

Vala, for her part, grimaced, as a telepathic presence began to attack her.

Calling up her Tower of Iron Will, she protected herself and her allies, but was otherwise rooted to the ground; manifesting so many powers at once required all of her concentration. She wound Toshisha's coil all the tighter about her body.

"Alirana..." Vala whispered telepathically, "Something else is here. A Psion."

"Hold fast." the Drow replied, channeling more and more of Eilistraee's light, "The Devils weaken. Soon, we will route and slaughter them. We only need a little more time."

Despite her assurances, Vala groaned, clutching her temples. From her flesh, small buds of psicrystal collected. The animal in her was beginning to assert control with the occupation of her focus on the unseen assailant.

From the shadows between the houses emerged new horrors.

Great muscular bodies riddled with jagged spines, their four arms like mature oak trunks, a pair of Glabrezu, greater Demons, lumbered into view, their growls like rumbling boulders.

They charged into the fray, and a Darksong Maiden screamed as she was gored on their bladed arms.

"Moonmaiden...strengthen our blows." Alirana prayed, "Light our way through the darkness."

As one, the silvery blades of the warriors of Eilistraee began to glow, the radiance causing the lesser Barbazu to cower.

But Vala saw the true attacker, now that the Devils had thinned enough to risk lessening her cloud of hindering mist.

Cloaked by invisibility that her psionics had just penetrated, this Demon was no mere foot soldier. A sickening, amorphous body hunched in a space just beyond the combat, its wild, hateful eyes boring into her. Tentacles poured at random from its flesh, which resembled melting candle wax.

"Yochlol." Vala gasped, reducing the mist even further, and thrusting her consciousness forward in a concentrated spike of telepathic energy.

The Yochlol did not so much as flinch, indeed, only increased the pressure it exerted on her mind.

"Profligate of the Spider Queen..." It projected as it hissed, and it occurred to Vala that this was the creature from her dream, "Heretic, who spurned Lloth's gift. We meet again."

"You have defied Lloth's gift." it continued, radiating spite, "You will find her forgiveness only in death. My bloodline ends with you, cretin."

It had been a priestess. And a Psion.

An Oblodra.

Vala held her head even harder, whimpering, as the Demon began to breech her defenses. The first Glabrezu, each of its four arms hewn away, thrashed on the ground, spraying blood, weakening, dying.
The second retreated, sprouting dozens of arrows from its leathery hide, snarling.

The Yochlol drew nearer.

Vala screamed, blood dripping from her eyes, "Do something, Alirana! I cannot protect us much longer!"

This foe was beyond her. Beyond Kimmuriel. Beyond Hu'um.

Her clairsentience offered small glimpses of its prowess.

She was outmatched.

Her scream became an animal wail; only instinct alone kept her defenses up. She no longer attacked. She no longer had the strength. She suffered and held her defenses, though they were swiftly crumbling. The iron she visualized was rusting, corroding under the Yochlol's onslaught.

"Be gone, foul creature!" Alirana hissed, following her gaze and outlining the Yochlol, or more accurately, the space around it, in Faerie Fire, fully dispelling its invisibility.

A half dozen moonbeams struck the remaining Glabrezu, burning its flesh. It faltered, only for a moment, nonetheless allowing a trio of Darksong Maidens to thrust blades into its throat.

It collapsed, writhing, bleeding and choking to death.

But Vala knew she would not last. The Yochlol would win out.

She did the only thing she knew that would increase her powers; she allowed another to take her place.


Nezierre, Darksong Maiden of Eilistraee, called upon the Dark Maiden as she defeated the parry of a Barbazu, and thrust her blade through its chest, between the ribs to pierce a lung.

The devil, gurgling, slumped over the sword, and she pushed it free, regaining a defensive posture for the next attack.

It was not forthcoming.

The Barbazu, cowardly things, likely mercenaries from one of the lesser hells, turned and fled, yipping like hounds as arrows peppered them from behind.

Turning to the Yochlol, she joined Alirana and two others as they charged forward.

The Yochlol noticed their advance, its tentacles writhing in precise, angled paths.

They shared no words as they dashed forward, though Alirana hummed a melody, and as her blade took up the song, the Yochlol quivered, as if struck. Its spell died stillborn.

It shrieked, began to cast anew, just as Vala, their wayward sister, collapsed to fours, screaming, her flesh bursting with Psicrystal.

"Die, Heretics!" the Yochlol snarled, but as it lumbered forward, a cloud of mist covered it, before hardening into crystal, pinning it in place.

"What is this?" it gasped, its tentacles desperately trying to parry darksong blades, "I have broken your defenses. You have no powers left..."

Alirana thrust into its heart, just as Nezierre crosscut what she felt was the Demon's throat. Black blood stained their swords. Alirana's Singing Sword emitted a pained keen.

"You have no powers left!" it wailed, as they attacked it without retaliation. With its tentacles pinned, it could not attack of cast, and still somehow shielded by Vala's telepathy, it could not manifest its psionic powers against them.

The rest of their force surrounded the beast, striking again and again. Its bulk gave them the ability to surround it without threatening each other.

Its body began to crumble apart, melting into putrid sludge. The copse smelled like a carrion pile, and not because of their proximity to their murdered kin.

The Yochlol impacted, and dispersed, returned to its infernal realm.

Nezierre heard the screams of the damned, carried on the wind, saw a fleeting glimpse of a dark, windswept land under blood red skies, then stood beside her sisters in an empty field.

The fiends were gone. Four sisters had perished, most against the Glabrezu. Two more were wounded. But they had succeeded. They had ousted the Spider Queen's presence from their forest.

She felt the telepathic link between them, Vala's creation, cease to be.

Her protections over them as well, ceased to be.

Grinning, despite her grief, Nezierre turned to their odd, half-blood sister, to thank her for her aid, but grimaced, seeing her expression.

Vala advanced, blood dripping from her eyes, her nose, her mouth. Her body was a host to an armor of crystal. She drooled, her expression distant. A low growl bubbled up from her lips.

"Vala..." Alirana gasped, "Sheathe your swords. Quickly!"

Nodding, for everyone knew of her peculiarity, Nezierre complied.

"You did well, sister..." Nezierre said, "It is over."

Vala snarled, her eyes burning with azure light. She advanced a step. Another.

"Set down a wall of Faerie Fire." Alirana ordered, "She does not recognize it for what it was in this state."

Obliging, Nezierre set a patch of grass ablaze between them with green Faerzress.

The girl stopped, puzzled.

But then she shrieked, thrust forward her hand. Spears of crystal burst from it, Alirana sidestepped the attack, for it was directed at her alone, arrows flew into the girl's body, and passed through harmlessly.

"Do not!" Alirana snapped, her hands waving in intricate passes, pleading to the Moonmaiden for aid.

She completed her prayer, and a light burst from her hand, and wrapped Vala, just as the half-blood passed through their line of defense, and impaled her through the gut.

Both collapsed into each other, Vala's animal shrieks far louder that Alirana's pained moan.


Swirling light.

Hands, reaching, grasping.

She screamed, felt something split away from her.

Then darkness.

"Wake."

She stirred, warm where before there had only been cold.

"Wake, traitor."

The venom in that voice brought her back to herself.

Vala opened her eyes, found herself in a cave, beside the others.

They surrounded her, blades drawn.

"What happened?" she asked, confused, "Where is the Yochlol."

"We banished it, with your aid." Nezierre, one of the other recruits, one born on the surface rather than converted from Lloth's faithful, said.

It was her voice, from before.

She looked around, "Where is Alirana?"

"Bedridden." Nezierre replied, "By the gut wound you gave her."

Oh no.

She had let Nobody...

Now she understood what she saw in the others' expressions.

"I...I did not mean to..." Vala moaned, holding her head in her hands.

Her temples were ready to burst. It felt like her head was padded on the inside with wet cotton.

The Drow did not so much as flinch, "But you wanted to. A part of you wants her dead."

"I cannot forgive her..."

"No, you choose not to. Forgiveness is an instinctive thing." Nezierre replied coldly, "We, as sentient beings, are gifted with the natural instinct to forgive and coexist with each other. Lloth, and other external factors, corrupt that instinct, to lead us down paths of self-destruction."

"And so you choose to live this way." she continued, "Alone, among us. Alone, among any. You do not belong here. You never did."

She pointed her sword away, turning her head, "Be gone. Qilué would order your death, and I feel it to be one justly deserved by attacking a Darksong Knight, but I will not allow you to be remembered piteously. Be gone, traitor. Take your grievances, your vendetta, and be gone."

"I..."

"Be gone."

Her eyes darting to each of the others, who looked to her with blank expressions, Vala nodded, gathered her things, few as there were, and walked to the edge of the cave.

Her robes were tattered. She left them behind. The amulet about her neck, the silver sword, was cloven. She left it behind, keeping only the tooth.

"Tell Iljrene..." she said quietly, not looking back to them, her voice breaking, her spirit broken, "Tell Iljrene...that I am sorry."

And then she ran into the night.


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