Chapter Ten

Part II

"No . . ." Ascord admitted.

That was all it took.

Qillathe was right: they were committed. For better or worse, Takira had chosen her side.

The serpent heads must have sensed the danger because they became aggressive again, but it was too late. Takira rose to her feet and shouted at the top of her lungs.

The vocalization itself did nothing, but the strenuous act that had forced it from her lips sent a High Priestess of Lolth flying across the chapel.

Everyone stared in confusion and perhaps even terror as Tak'Hera G'kar took Matron Talia's whip in her hands and, struggling to confuse and subdue the minds of the viper heads wielded it as if she were herself a High Priestess.

"Praise Lolth." She sneered, wielding the whip as she advanced on Talia.

"Kill her!" Talia ordered, "Kill them both!"

But Ascord had already moved at Takira's beckon and had killed one of the two female guards holding Qillathe. The beleaguered High Priestess had taken the other herself; once she had had a free hand her own serpent headed whip had wrapped itself around the neck and chest of the second guard and sank five sets of deadly teeth into the female's flesh.

The rebellion was on again in earnest, at least inside the chapel. Sivar threw herself at Takira and the younger female was knocked off her feet, but she could do nothing against the crazed Sivar's attack, too much of her focus was on Matron Talia who fought against her with more force than she could safely contain.

The Matron fought against her hold and Takira could feel the bristle of power that must be Lolth defending this favored daughter.

The feeling only made Takira fight harder; ignoring the blows Sivar dealt her.

The serpent headed whip had been dropped when Sivar jumped her, and now Takira felt the Lolth-blessed weapon sink its fangs into her hand, and she heard Sivar scream as well.

Without Lolth's favor, the lower priestess was as much an enemy to the rogue whip as the heretic.

But the pain of the bite caused Takira to waver and she turned her gaze to Sivar in time to see serpent fangs sink into the side of her face and yank her backwards.

Not from Matron Talia's whip, but from Qillathe's.

Qillathe yanked her younger sister from Takira and shoved her backwards onto Ascord's sword.

A sword Takira now recognized, and she made a mental note to have a little talk with Ascord if and when they survived this.

But for now, she rolled to her feet as Qillathe scooped up the rogue whip and with a whip in each hand advanced on her mother.

Matron Talia was not defeated, she stretched for her right hand and bolts of black energy shot from her to Qillathe, but the younger Priestess nimbly dodged out of the way and struck out with Talia's own whip.

The Matron mother dodged out of the way of the swipe only to stumble over her own throne.

Qillathe did not hesitate; she did not let her mother rise to her feet.

Takira found herself turning away from the sight as Qillathe, laughing like a lunatic, beat her mother to death with her own whip.

There was quiet in the room, the last survivors of the chapel's blood bath looked upon their new Matron in awed silence.

Qillathe turned to face them all and threw her mother's whip aside.

She fell into the stone throne of the G'kar household, her mother's battered body at her feet.

Qillathe looked down on them all, the new Matron of House G'kar.

Takira looked at the still and brutalized form of Matron Talia and found that she felt just the slightest tremor of remorse.

Because in that moment that she had locked eyes with the Matron the second time she had seen . . . that Talia truly did want survival and success for her children.

Why order Qillathe sacrificed? Takira could only guess; perhaps as a warning to Sivar, or perhaps to force Qillathe to play whatever cards she might have hidden up her sleeves.

Whatever the case it was over now.

"All hail Matron Mother Qillathe!" Weapons Master K'ral said, no doubt hoping no one would remember which side of the conflict he had been on.

Almost as one the survivors shouted, "Hail Qillathe, praise Lolth!"

Even Takira did not dare test her luck against the Spider Queen any further that day.

Qillathe was quiet for a long time, before finally saying, "K'ral, set my soldiers to work securing this compound and order the slaves to clean up this mess. Enialis, find me that blasted mercenary Gauban. I want to know what happened on the surface that left both my siblings alive . . . you, who are you?" Qillathe demanded of the intimidating female warrior that had followed Ascord into the chapel.

"I am Phelos." She answered, sounding untroubled by the sudden regime change she had just witnessed.

Or by the fact that she was indeed a witness . . .

But Qillathe smiled favorably at her and said, "You supported me unbidden. I will not forget that. Assist K'ral and watch him for signs of betrayal."

The Matron Mother's eyes met with Takira's and Takira felt nothing. Her power was exhausted, and Qillathe enjoyed Lolth's full favor. Every barrier that could stand between her mind and Takira's was there.

Would she order her killed now? Would she keep her word?

"Are you still alive, Nagru? Very well then, if you wish to remain so you will bring my daughter some clean robes. Hers seem to have been torn. Ascord, you are her guardian and champion. Do not thank me. You failed in the task I set to you after all, but it seems that was for the best. Now I believe she has some questions for you. Answer her honestly, or find yourself nearly female."

Takira managed a smile, but felt more drained than she had ever felt before.

But she could not show weakness now. Somehow, she knew she needed to seem strong now or Qillathe would kill her.

She was so weary.

But she needed to seem as if she had barely broken a sweat in this fight. "Bring him to my chambers . . ." She told Enialis, and then she bowed slightly to Matron Qillathe.

She needed to remain in the Matron's presence until she was dismissed, but just keeping her eyes open was torture. Standing as if unperturbed by the fighting was pure hell.

Luckily, Qillathe nodded to her and said, "Interrogate him now. I have no further use for you here, and I am certainly as interested as you are in knowing why the fighter returned without completing his mission."

Takira bowed again and retreated quickly from the Matron's presence. Ascord followed her closely, though she was no longer using her abilities to force him to do so.

As the chapel doors shut behind her Takira wavered in her step and Ascord rushed over and held her up.

She did not shove him away, she would rather be held than fall over, but she did turn to him and say, "Do not think me a friend, Ascord. You will tell me what transpired on the surface."

"I did only what I was ordered to do." Ascord told her. He then hastily added, "And not even that, I left him alive. I could not bring myself to deliver the blow."

Takira could not tell for certain whether Ascord was telling the truth or not, but she strongly doubted it.

He was telling her what he thought she wanted to hear; telling her what he thought would keep himself alive longer.

So she told him, "As long as you obey me you will be kept alive. The first task I am setting to you is to tell me the entire truth about Rilian."

"Should the first task not be to get you to your chambers safely?" Ascord asked.

Now Takira did shove him away. She said, "I possess legs of my own. Walk and talk, I do not care if anyone overhears us. Tell me what happened, and where it happened."

Qillathe could feel the power of authority running through her entire frame.

She could barely move from the throne of G'kar . . . her house now.

But as her minions scurried to carry out her orders, Borrakul did lean close.

"It is most fortuitous that Rilian is still alive."

"Is he?" Qillathe cocked her head to the side quizzically, "I was not aware."

Borrakul looked surprised, "But then why did you-"

"I was desperate. The girl is a weapon, she needed wielding, directing. Ascord was wielding my brother's blade. I assumed he won it in the usual way. But I also assumed he would tell Tak'Hera what needed to be said. He had thrown in with me after all and if I died, he would have too. Sending him with Tak'Hera is a calculated risk to buy me more time to consider what to do about her. If I am not mistaken the girl could barely stand, much less interrogate anyone and I've sent Enialis away so that she is absolutely alone."

"But she believed him." Borrakul said.

"Ascord? She was desperate for hope." Qillathe shrugged.

"But she believed him." Her brother repeated. "Matron, if she believed him . . . it means he told the truth. He did not kill our brother, as you ordered him to."

Qillathe considered that. "Perhaps. And if that is the case then there might yet be a chance to control the girl."

"How so?" Borrakul asked.

Qillathe smiled, "We mount a rescue operation. Even if Rilian was spared Ascord's blade there is no way he survived the surface world this long. He was an under-performer to begin with, but alone in the fiery lands of the surface? He would be dead."

"Then why the rescue operation?" Borrakul asked.

"Because I will seem to Tak'Hera to be a concerned and valuable ally willing to expend any resource to see her content. I will earn her loyalty by letting her venture to the surface and see the body herself. Then I will win still more by handing her the sacrificial dagger to end Ascord's life in payment for his taking of Rilian's. Moreover while she is gone I will have ample time to sort things out and put my House in order so that when my weapon returns she will be ready to see us rise in rank right away."

"Right away?" Borrakul asked.

"Of course. Mother said I was too cautious, delayed too much . . . well if that is my chief weakness Lolth will be pleased to see it done away with. Set your people to task, brother, and find me a target our reformed House G'kar can conquer with our weapon's help."

Borrakul nodded and turned to leave, but Qillathe called after him.

"But first . . ." She called, seeing that the two of them were alone in the chapel.

There were no prying ears now . . . and she had to know.

"Was the girl right? Did she speak truly?" Qillathe asked.

"In regards to what?" Borrakul asked.

"Did our mother assign you to help push me towards insurrection? Did she really want all of this?"

Borrakul gave her a calculating look and she sensed a lie incoming.

But she could feel the truth like a splash of cold water when he said, "How better to be sure of the survival of all of her progeny? Send the youngsters away, and make your most hated sibling a valued confidant and adviser. Did you not plan to murder me the moment you became Matron, Qillathe?"

Qillathe smiled, "And now the thought is so far removed that I recall it only because you have mentioned it. Still . . ." Qillathe shook her head slowly and looked at the place where Sivar had fallen, though her body had already been dragged away by attendants.

"The old crone did not have it all her own way." Qillathe said fondly. "She may have intentionally left the opening . . . but I proved even more than she expected." She smiled sinisterly at Borrakul and said, "As for you, brother . . . I suggest you continue to act as a loyal and valued adviser. Because the moment you displease me . . ."

Borrakul bowed to her and said, "Trust me, Matron. I have no wish to join our mother and sister. Or our dear baby brother."

Qillathe nodded and relaxed in her stone chair.

But Borrakul did ask one thing before leaving.

"What will you do if Rilian is alive?"

Qillathe laughed softly and said, "Make him the blasted Weapons Master. If he has survived the surface long enough to be rescued he must have more skill than K'ral, Ascord and Enialis all combined. Besides, as long as he has his life I have leverage with the girl. She made her decision to fight for me when I gave her Rilian, and if he is alive she will continue to fight for me or I will simply rescind my gift."

Borrakul left her and Qillathe sat alone in the G'kar chapel.

It was empty. Empty of slaves, empty of subjects, empty of corpses.

And it was hers.

It and the compound, the grounds, all of House G'kar.

It was all hers now.