Disclaimer: The recognizable elements in this fan fiction belong to the legal entity Wizards of the Coast, who own relevant copyrights to Forgotten Realms material referred to herein. These elements are used without permission but no material profit of any kind is being made from the following work. WotC reserve rights to Forgotten Realms material, but all of the settings, character, and situations unique to this work of fan fiction are property of the writer.
A/N: I posted this over a year ago and then brought it down because I knew I wouldn't finish it (and won't) and because the original character was perfectly suited for devil takes hindmost. I didn't expect people to like him in that fic, but due to the pleasant surprise, I'm reposting this fic.
Please remember this is unfinished and will continue to be unfinished. The first chapter is newly edited previous material (except the opening paragraph) and the second chapter is made up of scenes of varying length. Please enjoy.
The knife was shaking almost uncontrollably in his hand and she was raving and snarling at him. He was weak, he knew, terribly weak and miserable. And he couldn't take it. Couldn't take the screaming. Her screaming. All at once, his knives ceased but his mind, built up on anguish and horror, barreled through her defenses. She offered very little resistance in her weakened state. Her body bucked with the assault as he bludgeoned her mind. His frantic blasts dispersed her synapses, fried her brain's impulses, writhed along the dendrites. Again, again, again, until all that was left of her howling curses was a low gurgle of senseless gibberish.
Riding lizards had never been Jakadirek Mi'iduor's specialty. He was more inclined to remove a beast's skin than mold his body to their spines. All the same, he was doing an excellent job of staying with the lizard as it ran a spiraling course down the black well, far faster than it should have been able to. It almost seemed the lizard was doing little more than controlling their fall.
Not trusting the lizard's wild flight, Jak kept his head above its shoulder just enough to see if an abrupt stop was in their immediate future. He had no illusions about the state of the lizard's forward momentum; he only looked for the inevitable collision in order to release himself from the saddle at the right moment. He planned to use his innate power of levitation to extricate himself from a deadly fall when the need arose.
If the lizard's rapid spiral had been less tight, he could have gauged how much narrower the well was becoming by the screams and loud cracks of splintering bone and rock reverberating from every corner of the cavern. Unfortunately, he was well past his normally high tolerance for disorientation and entering the realm of nausea. He gave his condition little heed, focusing instead on his poor infravision and the fading heat traces of a broken drow body that had passed him seconds earlier. The heat traces were growing closer, the spiral tighter. Either there was a barrier ahead or the hole became too narrow to navigate.
Knowing his panicked lizard would not respond to the normally subtle manipulations the dark elves used to steer them, Jak opted to pull back on the reins with ferocity reminiscent of his late mother's wicked snake whip. To the lizard's credit, rather than Jak's riding skill, it began to try to arrest its forward momentum. The attempt revealed Jak's earlier observation to be true; the lizard really had been doing little more than controlling the fall.
Jak felt the animal's back begin to arch beneath him as it tried to slow; telling him control was no longer an option. The lizard's hind legs had lost grip on the wall, though they still pumped away with useless abandon. Jak found himself disturbed by the sound of its tail immediately scraping the opposite wall; in his disorientation, he had not registered just how narrow the well had become.
Nimble fingers darted to his harness, freeing himself of the riding saddle in a split second. Even as he slipped the woven straps away he felt the lizard's nose dive down, attempting to right itself when the front end could no longer outrun the back end. Jak kicked free of the harness and braved dodging the falling lizard's bulk rather than risk getting scraped from its back onto the wall.
Levitation wasn't a problem; quick wits prompted him to use his hands and feet to run in place up and around the lithe reptilian body as it fell past him. Still disoriented, a misstep on the beast's snout spun the hapless drow end over end in the air. An ever-wry part of his mind noted that it would be prudent to hold off on vomiting until he knew which way was down. If the rest of his party were as dead as he assumed, nobody would be around to report his weakness to his malicious aunt, the new matron of house Mi'iduor.
With little time to work with, Jak dropped his levitation just enough to show him which way was down and to arrest his sickening spin. No sooner had he begun to head downward by his own control than he heard the scraping and thrashing of his lizard hitting an impasse. Looking down, he saw the vertical tunnel had rapidly grown too narrow for the hapless creature. He was concerned there would be no way to make it past the weakly thrashing animal in order to follow the tunnel to what he hoped would be an eventual exit. Going back up to the monster above, whether he could levitate all the way or not, was not an option.
The patrol wasn't supposed to have gone so horrifically wrong. Several of the young lizard-riding patrol members were fresh from training with their lizards at their respective houses; for many of them it was their first foray outside their house compounds. The route was close to the city, an inner circuit preceded by ten outer routes. For the monstrosity above to get past the previous patrols, it had to be the result of a summoning or rift. Unless it had wiped all the other patrols out, but even then the relatively inexperienced group would have had some word.
Perhaps the patrol was meant to go horrifically wrong.
Jak lowered himself to the lizard's head, which was listing weakly against the side of the wall. It was in the beast's nature to bite whether traumatized or not; Jak decided to minimize chances. Never exceedingly emotional, the young drow quickly focused his thoughts and sent a sudden, scrambling blast into the lizard's mind. The effect was instant. Below his spiked boot heels, the lizard ceased all movement.
Simultaneously, a keening screech erupted far above at such high pitch Jak wrapped his arms around his head. If he hadn't guessed the problem before, he was beginning to feel more of the pieces fall into place. He wondered if he might have been either amused or frustrated with the attention, had he been any other dark elf male.
As he slipped past the momentarily still lizard's head, he reined in his impulse to glance up to see if he was going to be followed. Since the attack had begun with a blast of blinding light, it was best to simply expect the worst. It wasn't easy, but he wormed his way under the reptile's muscular haunches.
The tunnel was so narrow past the lizard's tail that Jak quickly came across the body he'd seen from above. The heat was relatively strong within the warrior, but at close quarters, he could see that his heart was no longer pumping and most of his limbs were twisted at odd angles, or bent in places they shouldn't be. Cooling streams of blood flowed from where bones erupted from smooth skin. If it weren't for the male's distinctive armor, Jak would have never known who he was.
Neither familiarity nor sentiment gave Jak pause; he braced his feet on the narrow tunnel's walls and heaved his sire up. It was too convenient an opportunity, he thought to himself. Still, feeling the silken skin of one muscled forearm, he couldn't help but remember his mother. Her skin was far warmer, far sleeker, over more pleasing contours: until… until…
The young drow tried to put the thought out of his mind, but it made his fingers tingle all the same as the surface of his skin became numb. If the drow of the volcanic depths had sight like their brethren, Jak might have imagined all heat leaving his skin. As it was, it looked the same as stone thanks to the prolonged exposure to their thermal habitat.
When the mouth of the tunnel, so very far away, began to light up, Jak hoped the monster would be too large to come down sufficiently far to exterminate him. If size wasn't a barrier to the creature, he hoped the lizard and corpse might block the inevitable attack. Like any drow, though, he would never rely on something as useless as hope.
Jak was trained to throw his armor and weapons on nearly instantaneously, but he'd never done the opposite, especially not while supporting the dead weight of another soldier above him. Moving with an economy of swift actions, Jak tore off his weapons belt, piwafwi, delicate-looking chain, and undershirt and threw them down the impossibly narrow tunnel. Between wishing strongly that he knew how to open a portal and gauging how close the light was coming, Jak listened closely for the sound of his items coming to a stop.
He was anything but disappointed. He heard the weapons belt hit first, and not with a scrape, but a rebounding clatter. Losing no time, he slid down the tunnel, which was helpfully slick with his sire's blood.
In only a moment, the other drow, larger than Jak in most every way, was stuck above him. In the next moment Jak found blood wasn't going to help him get much farther. Beyond his feet, he saw empty blackness, which he took for the cavern he'd suspected below, but the mouth of the hole was not so wide as his slender drow shoulders. He knew he could dislocate his shoulders, but even that wouldn't do him enough good. Frustration burned within his stomach.
Casting about for options, Jak tilted his face up despite trepidation. The light was increasing in brightness, causing his eyes to shift into the light-sensing spectrum. In fact, it seemed, too, that the tunnel's air was getting a bit harder to breathe; warm even. His pale yellow eyes snapped wide in delayed recognition. He was hardly one for terror, as inured to fear as he was, but he was also not so blasé to take a fireball in stride.
Reacting on instinct and the fine edge of fear, Jak's left and right fists rose high above his head and slammed down with all the force adrenaline and elastic young muscles could inspire. Twin cracks of delicate bone sounded, followed by twin pops of cartilage. The young drow snapped his feet together and let himself fall. Either breaking his clavicles and dislocating his shoulders was enough, or he was about to be melted into a pathetic formation with rock, lizard, and his fellow drow.
"You wish the tenth ring hadn't found you, don't you?" The rough voice was communicated more through raw nerve-endings than anything else. It was not a voice he needed to answer, especially since it was unerringly accurate. "You wish you hadn't been so resourceful."
Skin was peeling off his flesh in ragged layers, sawed delicately by his own tools, leaving him stuck between mind numbing pain and stark fascination. This is what it felt like to be skinned alive? He had never favored working with live animals and he knew he never would. This was an experience he didn't want to repeat, whether his stock were alive or not.
It took time, but when the sweat pouring off his skin finally worked its way into the exposed nerves, Jakadirek finally broke down. A loud gasp, as ragged as his flayed skin, ripped from his throat, only to be met by his relations' hoots of appreciation.
Not for the first time, he wished fervently for the sharp crack of his mother's voice; ever was she one to show him a condescending sort of mercy. Despite his best intentions, his torn lips shaped the syllables of her name, even as incomprehensible sounds flew from his mouth. It had been going on for so long, between the scraping knives and the fortifying potions, that he was drunk on pain.
"Jaka," a sibilant hiss stirred the fine hair plastered next to his ear, "you want it to end, don't you?"
Nonsense dribbled from his lips. His brow knit in unfocused consternation and before his aunt could rake her nails down his flayed back, he tried again to speak. "Yesss…" he whispered, the word barely recognizable to his tortured senses.
Cool fingertips connected beads of sweat across his brow, encouraged them to fall stinging into his pale yellow eyes. The pain was nothing compared to the massive swath of wounding peeled up from his ribs. "Whose fault is this, little one?"
He winced at the relatively small pain that came from pressing his lips together to form his answer, "Mine…"
The unrestrained backhand took him hard across the face, flinging blood, sweat, and saliva in a colorful arc through the air. Jak's head hardly moved, held in place by the house's weapon master, but his mind spun.
"Fool," his aunt laughed. "You think a little male could be the undoing of a priestess?"
Blood and saliva poured past his lips, coating his words in a deceptive sheen of stupidity. "I was… just a symptom..." It was hard to think and speak at the same time. "I made things worse."
The sharp point of an index finger insinuated itself into the soft skin under his chin. "Little boy, if one must have a weakness, it should be one easily defended. I fail to see how a pet like you could satisfy that most basic requirement."
Her mocking tone was as damaging as her fingernail, driving into his spirit as surely as the digit digging into his flesh. "She thought to hone that pathetic talent, gotten off dead Tyshakir. A little line of baby psionicists under her command? She was out of line, making dangerous deals with faraway cities! It wasn't Lolth's will!"
Despite the suffering she was causing him, Jak mocked his aunt internally; his mother had been in the Spider Queen's favor. Outwardly, he obeyed the strict survival instincts all drow were groomed for. "I'll do as you wish," he slurred, "I can repair… the damage."
Again his aunt laughed in his face, removing her hand from his chin only long enough to grab the top of his hair and shake his head violently within the secondboy's hands. "Filthy child! You should have died with your sire! You are nothing, you can do nothing, you can help nothing! If Lolth had seen any worth in you at all, you wouldn't have been born with that useless lump of flesh between your thighs."
Jakadirek had no response to her tirade; her logic was impeccable by most drow standards. Only his mother had suggested otherwise and it seemed the flaw in her reasoning helped lead to her downfall. Conceding to the wisdom of submission, he simply slumped deeper in his brother's grip. He was tired in every sense and the potions keeping him alive were weakening.
"That tongue of yours," his middle brother commented laughingly, "is your worst problem, isn't it?"
Matron Kirsul Mi'iduor nodded sagely. "Quite true. Perhaps if it was cut out he might become more useful. Of course, a tongue has other valuable uses Jaka might excel at." She tapped her whip against her thigh thoughtfully, letting the agitated snakes glare wickedly at her youngest nephew. As the new Matron found inspiration, they reared up impressively and rubbed her leg in smug satisfaction.
"Ah, Jaka, little Jaka," she murmured breathily, hooking a cruel finger into his bloody mouth, "I know what to do with you."
Muffled sounds of amusement escaped the small group of drow as they gathered together outside the pens wherein waited their riding lizards. It was often a habit of the third ring patrol to congregate early, when their strict schedules so allowed. None of them were especially trusting of any other in the group, but there was enjoyment in the rare ease in which they worked together.
They were neither the best nor worst patrol in Ilchathm's mounted guard, but even with relatively little experience as compared to the fourth ring patrol, the third ring was exceptional. Their leading priestess loathed all of them with unmitigated enthusiasm, yet she had benefited from their rapport most. It was for that reason she protected them from being split up, had even elevated them to their current position as an entire group. For their part, the patrol's males kept their cocky repartee as far out of her sight and hearing as possible.
The group whispered among themselves, some standing at attention their banter gave lie to. A few crouched low around a long-haired soldier who was amusing himself and others by massaging their battle hardened hands.
"Alanam seems annoyed by the name of the new recruit." One of the riders was commenting, obviously in the hope of triggering more information.
"She'd be annoyed by any male, let alone one replacing Usefein. Mi'iduor's runt, isn't it?" The soldier massaging hands asked, though he already knew the answer. It was always in his favor to sound as uninformed as possible to his fellows, even though they knew better.
"A Mi'iduor. The irony is inescapable," came the snorted reply.
"Hells, Arsa," the rider across from the masseuse hissed through gritted teeth, nearly oblivious to the conversation, "does your Matron keep you around for your hands?"
Arsa'olakai smirked at his victim's appreciation, opting to take no offense at the shortening of his name. "Only until she gets our house wizard to replicate them."
It was the group's habit to ignore Arsa's propensity for wit out of simple spite. All the same, a few lips quirked at the comment before the subject returned to their new recruit. "Isn't he the only one who survived the first ring massacre last year?"
A small silence ensued while the riders cast their minds back to the relatively recent event. Though it was never spoken of in the open, Ilchathm's residents knew the incident's motivations had roots in the ambitions of the newest Matron of Mi'iduor. Not long before the most inexperienced ring was wiped out, led at the time by Tyshakir of the eleventh ring, an abrupt change of power had occurred in the city's seventh house.
Another male nodded slowly, "What a mess that was. Remember the back-biting in the tenth circle for Tyshakir's position?"
Many of them rolled their eyes. "Ended up having to replace five people instead of just one."
"How could this so-called runt survive something a veteran couldn't? Why would he get bumped up to third circle, if he only barely survived an initial mission with the first?" The soldier's tone was neutral, unhurried, as he rolled a thin gold bangle in his bare hands. It made complicated rounds along his long fingers, before spinning rapidly around one finger before Arsa's dark red eyes.
The talented masseuse's hands left their ministrations, to slip one through the moving target offered him. In the same motion, he took the soldier's hand into his own, leaving the other dark elf snarling. "Rosali, have any of us mentioned lately that we resent the ease in which you dip your hands into your house's spoils?"
Rosali shrugged nonchalantly as the other dark elf slipped his mail-backed gloves back on. "I don't see a problem; you've benefited from Darshenon coffers in the past."
Ignoring the customary bickering, Arsa shrugged, beginning to dig his fingers into the drow's right palm. "I think he fit through a hole nobody else could."
"Are they so tall in Mi'iduor," one of the standing drow commented, so quietly that the other riders took the hint and quickly straightened respectfully while pulling on their gloves, "that their runts are our size?"
It took them all a mere moment to comport themselves as Alanam Seiylsos approached. They cast their gazes down in institutionalized respect, though their minds' eyes recalled the beauty the city knew her for. She was an incredible specimen of the female gender; curves mated effortlessly with fluid muscles. Alanam stood a head taller than almost all the patrol, the one exception being Rosali, who had to stoop in her presence to keep his brow below her chin or risk the sentient whip that thirsted for their flesh.
She did not stop, nor pause, when she reached the silent group. Instead, she roamed slowly through them, her free hand skimming exposed skin while her snakes hissed and snapped. One rider's face, another's bicep, the fingers piercing through fingerless gloves, tapping the top of Rosali's head in unnecessary warning.
"Well, boys," she purred throatily, "though Usefein was, like you, little better than a troop of kobolds and almost as sharp as a wet bag of dead mice, I do miss him. He knew how to appease me in ways no combination of you pathetic creatures could touch. Excepting, possibly," she looked over her shoulder, "if I had two of Arsa."
As she passed, many took the opportunity to get a good look at the new male. He was fine looking as noble males went, but he was unusual in the yellow of his eyes; a trait that often denoted illness. His gear was a cut above everyone but Alanam and Rosali's, while his clothes were unremarkable for a house that prided itself on the production and tailoring of fine textiles and finer leathers. Rather than a helm, he wore the fitted double-spiked plate House Mi'iduor was known to favor and on which house nobles stamped the house symbol. The plate was molded to his aristocratic forehead, kept in place by one of the house's mysterious textiles, both keeping his straight hair from his face and providing him useful, yet lightweight protection.
She turned back to their new recruit, allowing any of the riders who so desired a moment to stare malevolently at him. Jak was neither impressed nor particularly unimpressed by the malicious red gazes nor the threats of subtle finger movements. As had been his way over the years, he simply found a comfortable sense of being an astute observer of his situation, rather than that of the principle actor.
"Mi'iduor's youngest was given to replace Usefein," she continued acidly, " but I feel cheated. He's not the physical specimen I wanted, nor does he appear to be as well behaved. If he steps out of line, I suspect he will become lost and die in the tunnels. Perhaps he'll forget his anti-toxin, fall into a lava flow, or find a hole he can't fit through. A dark elf's life is fraught with peril, is it not?"
Knowing the question was rhetorical, the soldiers remained quiet, only nodding their expected agreement. It was anyone's guess if the spiteful female was seriously suggesting they kill the scion of Mi'iduor or not. As the lowest ranking noble of the small city's seventh house, his position was only slightly less precarious than theirs. The only thing saving him from a lesser rank was his aunt's failure to produce offspring. A failure she hoped to rectify with her second patron; the group's former member, Usefein.
The irony was not lost on anyone, nor was Alanam's indignation, despite the outward appearance of a fair trade. It wouldn't take long in the volcanic city's relatively small confines for word to circulate and the humiliation to be thrown in her face. The troop of lizard riders found their newest member's position unenviable.
For his part, Jakadirek was relieved to be out of his house after a year of demeaning labor to the Mi'iduor household. He didn't mind being put to work in the house's leather and textile operations, but he'd had enough of kobold herding from his time in a more metropolitan drow city's 'care'.
"Mi'iduor," the sly female sighed, "you'll take the rear. Take care not to fall behind and keep an eye on your back." With a flick of her whip, Alanam directed the patrol to proceed to their lizards.
As Jak passed among the third circle to his designated lizard, he allowed his eyes to find as many faces as possible to issue the silent challenge expected from a low-ranking son of a noble house. It was assumed he would have much to prove and Jak would hardly dissuade them of their cliché notions; he'd learned to cultivate assumptions in one of the largest and most mysterious cities under Toril's surface. It was a pity his mother's ambitious plans with the Oblodrans would sour with his blunt aunt in power; it seemed his best path was one that would take him out of the less subtle city of his birth.