After re-reading this story a hundred times, I realized that the writing style of the very first chapters differs way too much from that of the more recent chapters (due to the fact that there's a multi-year gap between the first half of the story and the second). In light of that realization, I've decided to revise/rewrite a few of the earlier chapters in order to satisfy myself and to remedy a particular situation that's been plaguing a few readers.
Seems people have difficulty understanding (until the later chapters) that this story is supposed to be a huge satire that makes light of the Drow people; I think I understand why folks didn't catch on right off the bat (and it's entirely my fault, as back then I wasn't sure what I wanted to make the story into), and so I'm re-working a couple of the first chapters to better reflect the chosen comedy theme.
This time of year sucked. It always did.
It sucked because it was the only time of the year when everyone in the family got to find out exactly how low they sat in the matron's Family Chart of Loathing. As a general rule, or so her children were bitterly convinced, matron Irrialishae hated everyone in her family equally; no one could ever do anything right, the House wasn't advancing as fast as it could (which was not at all), no replacement had yet been found for the Weapons Master lost decades ago, the view from the study balcony was dull, and there was never any candy in the house when she wanted some.
But besides that, one could say things were alright.
Except at this time of year.
Today was the Day of Duty, an ego-killing ceremony of sorts invented by Irrialishae during which she would assign to each of her offspring a demeaning chore or foolhardy quest, the shamefulness or irrelevancy of it directly proportional to how much she hated him or her at the time. Despite the acute domestic cruelty and utter uselessness of the ceremony, none of Irrialishae's children dared to speak against it.
Frankly, as long as no one else in Menzoberranzan knew about it, it didn't really matter.
Least of all to Ka.
The youngest sibling of Venorik'Z'ress, a diminutive psionicist with no sense of propriety, stood outside the antechamber door. Her hands and ear pressed to the door, Ka strained to overhear the conversation going on inside between her mother and brother.
"What?!" Zojikoe fumed, his voice muffled. "You've got to be kidding me!" Irrialishae's voice sounded then; it was flat and unimpressed, as always.
"Too damn bad, Zoe." She replied. "Someone's got to do it." There was heavy sigh here, which was distinctly Zojikoe's.
"I've got studies, matron!" He countered, slightly whiny. "I don't have time for this. It could take days!" Irrialishae snorted.
"This is my care face, Zoe." There was a pause. At the door, Ka chuckled; she could almost feel her brother's frustration.
It was funny.
"Matron…inventory? But I'm not even allowed to touch anything in the chapel!" Zojikoe pleaded. There came the sound of fabric rustling and Irrialishae's voice drew nearer to the door.
"Well then, you'd best get started quick!" She urged almost pleasantly, running her son over. There was more rustling from inside, faster now. Zoe was mumbling.
Startled, Ka hurried away from the door and plopped down on one of the small chairs lining the wall to her left. She slouched down in her seat and put on a dazed expression so as to look as though she'd been zoned out through the meeting and not actually eavesdropping.
Not that it mattered. Everybody in the House listened in on everyone else's conversations anyway.
The antechamber door slammed open and Zojikoe came tearing out looking like murder. A steady stream of recognizable swear words flowed from the young mage's lips as he strode into the hallway, robes and hair billowing out behind him as he went. Ka made no effort to hide her grin when he looked over at her.
He knew she'd been listening.
"Don't worry, Zoe." She mocked. "Candle counting is fun!" Zojikoe narrowed his eyes and quickened his pace, disappearing down the hall. Ka looked after him and raised her voice. "You'll have hours and hours of intense pleasure!" She called to his rapidly retreating back. Once he turned the corner, she cackled smugly and sat back in her chair.
She'd been the candle-counter the year before, and the year before that, and it felt good to see her brother assigned to what she had begun to believe was the worst thing their mother could ask of them.
"You think you're funny?" Matron Irrialishae's voice snapped from the antechamber door. With a yelp, Ka sat bolt upright and turned abruptly to face her mother; the chair under her tipped with the sudden motion and threatened to teeter over, then settled itself back on the floor with an echoing thud. Ka offered her mother a sedate smile.
"Yes." She answered. Irrialishae looked displeased.
"You know, sometimes, I dream of killing you all in your sleep." She said with an idle blink. Though the matron was looking at her, Ka was pretty sure she was actually seeing something – or someone else.
"Is this about me not being a priestess again?" Ka asked dully. Irrialishae continued to stare blankly at her.
"But then I think that maybe, just maybe, it'd be more exciting if I take you all to the surface and wait for the sun to carbonize your miserable asses all at once." She went on. Ka raised an eyebrow and shifted in her chair.
"Listen, I'm beginning to think it was a bad idea to trade my place in line with Zoe…" She pondered aloud, eyeing the other drowess. Irrialishae sighed discontentedly and shook her head.
"I wish Zojikoe would have been a female." She mused. "Then I would have had four daughters." Ka furrowed her brow.
"You have three." She interjected. "You don't need four. Why would you want four?" A sick little smile lit up the matron's face then, and Ka felt the incoming momentum of an offensive comment.
As expected, it came.
"To make up for the one I screwed up." Irrialishae replied scathingly and smiled a poisonous smile down at her daughter. Ka's expression didn't change; she shrugged a shoulder.
"Hey, thanks." She droned. "That really makes me want to keep breathing." Irrialishae winked, but there was no camaraderie in the gesture.
"No problem." She replied. "Just lowering your self esteem." She motioned to the door behind her. "Shall we?" She asked. Ka got up and brushed herself off, then followed the matron into the antechamber beyond.
The antechamber was not all that impressive, but it was still there that the ever-envious matron of Venorik'Z'ress invested all of her time pretending to be a Baenre. At the very end of the room, on a raised dais, sat Irrialishae's ebon-stone throne, jeweled and draped with rich fabrics; a plush red carpet lead up to the dais, covering the polished and reflective surface of the stone floor beneath; tapestries depicting the House emblem and some religious markings lined the walls on either side.
Ka stopped just inside the door and watched her matron make her way down the carpet and climb up into the throne. Someday, she mused quietly, someday it'll be me climbing up onto that throne and telling my kids that I want to take them to the surface to burn them. She thought about that for a moment, then nodded to herself and smiled. Sweet…
"I've got something challenging planned for you this year." Irrialishae started, ignoring the wistful look on her daughter's face. She always assumed that Ka wasn't listening; she didn't understand psionics or Ka or a psionic Ka, but she was pretty sure she didn't like the idea. She'd decided long ago, in order to save herself from avid paranoia, that Ka was neither clever nor gifted, but rather brain-dead and harmless.
It was easier that way.
And she had devised a similar logic for Zojikoe.
Ka blinked. "Like what?" She asked. "Is it monsters?" Irrialishae shook her head.
"No. It's not monsters." She replied. Ka narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
"Is it monsters?" She repeated. Irrialishae frowned.
"No!" She cried. "I told you that already." Ka's eyes were slits now.
"It's monsters isn't it?" She went on. "Listen, I can't–" She meant to continue but her matron cut her off.
"For the love of Lloth, Ka, I said it it's not monsters!" She roared, smashing her fist down on the armrest of her throne. Ka drew back at the outburst, then composed herself and inclined her head pleasantly.
"Good." She piped cheerily, smiling now. Up ahead, Irrialishae sighed and rolled her eyes.
"I want you to find me the Kyrashar Rose." She said at last. She wasn't sure why it was that she expected Ka to already know what the Rose was, but she immediately regretted not explaining it right away when Ka nodded and dropped her gaze to the side in thought. It was painfully clear to her what Ka was thinking: as soon as their meeting was over, she was positive that Ka would disappear into the streets in search of flower gardens to pilfer. "It's a rose made of crystal that was created by Lloth and some other lesser deity. It's not a plant." She explained quickly and Ka looked back up at her. "It's a proven weapon against the faeries and I want it."
"Did you make that up?" Ka asked, shifting her weight to one foot and burying her hands in the pockets of her overcoat. Irrialishae's eyes flashed.
"You wanna lose some teeth, Ka?" She shot back viciously and, across the room, her daughter avoided her gaze. "I didn't make it up, you maggot. It exists. It's supposedly up north in the Ice Caves, which is where you'll be going tomorrow morning." Ka frowned.
"What?" She snapped. "Just like that?" She looked around idly, appealing to the inanimate carvings and colorful banners around the room. "How many guys can I bring?" Irrialishae examined her fingernails.
"None." Came the pert reply. "I don't have people to spare, you know. What if we get attacked while you're away?" She raised an eyebrow at Ka. Ka's expression was one of deep resentment.
"Oh poo." She drawled. "Then I guess you'll have to rely on my superstar sisters to save your ass, now won't you?" Silence fell between the two females as Irrialishae considered killing Ka in her sleep and Ka considered stealing flowers from neighboring Houses as a career. Finally, Irrialishae cleared her throat.
"No guys. You can grab some potions and food and weapons–" She started, waving her hand dismissively in the general direction of the storerooms, but Ka cut her off.
"Weapons? Matron!" She cried, horrified. "I can't even spear the meat in my plate! You've got to allow me one solider." She held up a finger. "Just one. Come on…" Irrialishae smirked.
"Mmmm…no." She teased, leaning back comfortably in her jeweled throne. Ka whimpered.
"But there'll be monsters!" She pleaded. Still, however, the matron would not be swayed.
"No." She repeated. Ka heaved a sigh and took a moment to resign herself to death. She'd venture out past patrol group range come the next morning, and then she'd find a patch of surly myconids that're just waiting for a lone drow to wander into their midst, and then she'd be killed.
By mushrooms, no less. Right outside the city limits, too.
"Well," Ka mumbled under her breath, "it could be worse. I could be counting candles." She nodded at the logic and returned her attention to her mother. "Do you have a map?" She asked. Irrialishae waved her hand again.
"I can dig one up for you, I'm sure." She replied casually, staring off into space. Ka mimicked the hand gesture.
"So…do you want me to come back at all, or…?" She asked, though it wasn't really a question. Irrialishae jerked out of her daze.
"Mm? Oh." She shrugged. "No, no. Just leave tomorrow morning." Ka blinked.
"That's not what I meant." She grumbled, then rolled her eyes and whirled around to face the door. "Never mind..." She pushed with her shoulder and slipped outside into the hall.
"Well at least you get to go somewhere." Zojikoe opted, taking a large, wet ladle from Ka's hand and drying it roughly with the dish towel. Dinner that night had turned into a disaster shortly after Zoe and Ka's elder sisters had made it known that their assigned tasks that year were to spy on the neighbors and to shoplift some new slaves. Offended that their tasks were not as inane or debasing as his own, Zojikoe had taken something of a fit at the table and, as a result, Irrialishae had told him to let the cook off early and do the dishes in his stead. Ka wasn't sure why she was also 'volun-told' to do the dishes, but she figured it was because she was sitting beside Zoe at the time of his outburst, and as such was likely held accountable for it in one way or another in Irrialishae's head.
"Zoe," Ka replied, plunging her hand into the steaming water basin, her fingers searching around the bottom for stray utensils, "it's not what you think. I'm going after something that probably doesn't even exist. I'm ready to bet any money that Irrialishae just wants me dead." Zojikoe was not convinced.
"It's an adventure!" He cried. "What if it's not bullshit and you actually find this thing?" He grinned. "We could be rich!" At this Ka laughed and dropped a handful of soaked forks into her brother's hands.
"I could be rich, you mean." She corrected. "Assuming I don't die ten feet from the city gates and the Rose actually exists – and I tell you what, Zoe, that's some pretty big assuming – then like hell I'm gonna give it merrily over to the matron." She flashed her brother a smile and Zoe gave her a dull look.
"Yeah, right." He snorted. "And where are you gonna go after you sell it? Living it up in the slums? Bregan D'aerthe?" He paused, then with added sarcasm, added "Oh wait! I know! The surface!" Ka's smile dropped and she went back to rummaging around in the water.
"You're a champion, Zoe." She grumbled bitterly. "A goddess-damned champ." She fished out a plate and handed it off to her brother without looking. "On the upside, it's nice to know that Irrialishae hates you the most this year. I was beginning to think I'd be doing chapel inventory for the rest of my life!" She gave a short, dry laugh. "Hey!" She drew back with a splash as Zojikoe's towel whipped by her face, nearly connecting with her cheek.
"I'm not laughing, Ka!" He snapped moodily and glared at his sister. "I always thought the matron rather liked me…but I guess I was wrong." Ka coughed.
"You usually are." She added snidely. Zoe narrowed his eyes and raised his towel menacingly.
"Shut up." He hissed and Ka shrank back, pointing .
"Hey! Female! Female! I'll tell!" She tried, then, realizing that no one would care, she went back to the water basin. Zojikoe looked pleased. They remained silent for a short while as they worked, until finally Zojikoe spoke up. His eyes followed the small ruby pendant dangling idly from Ka's throat as she bent over the basin, scrubbing at an old pot.
"It probably pisses Irrialishae off to see that." He said. Ka, inherently aware of what he was talking about, shrugged.
"Don't care." She quipped. "She can be pissed off at it all she likes, but I'm still not taking it off." She resisted the sudden urge to clamp her hand over the small jewel. It had been a gift from her father, who'd died in a street scuffle back when she and Zojikoe were both small children. The male had betrayed the House shortly before his death, but prior to that he'd informed Zoe and Ka of his intentions and had made many promises that Ka still clung to. Seeing the pendant probably did drive the matron mad, what with it being a reminder of her family's ill loyalty.
"And then you wonder why she sends you off to get killed…" Zojikoe mused cynically, shaking his head. Ka's eyebrows arched.
"Oh, I never wondered. I'm just kinda shocked is all." Her tone was of the utmost calm. She paused. "So, I hear that kid from House Freth got better marks than you in divination." She grinned and Zojikoe swore.
"I don't wanna talk about it." Came the mage's indignant reply.
The next morning came too fast. Ka woke up with the intention of packing a backpack for her 'adventure' north, but she found one already done up and ready unceremoniously dropped by her bedroom door. There was a small note tacked to the front of it.
"What the hell…?" Ka mumbled and rolled out of bed, her feet landing on the cold stone floor. She trudged over to the door, crouched down beside the overstuffed bag and gingerly pulled the note free. The writing on the small paper carried the distinct flare of Zojikoe's hand.
"'Too bad your ass got sacked.'" She read. For a moment, she just stared at the note, then, she raised her gaze and stared blankly at the door. Narrowing her eyes, she crumpled the note in her fist.
"Bastard." She spat and threw the note over her shoulder. If her brother wanted to be a jerk, then he could – it wasn't as though she'd be there much longer anyway. That decided, she got up and padded back to get dressed.
When she finally stepped out into the hallway, the backpack slung over her shoulder causing her to tip slightly to one side, she found it strangely deserted. Normally, in the morning, people would be buzzing about for one reason or another, but today there was not a single soul aside from her for as far as she could see.
She wondered briefly if perhaps the matron had ordered everyone to leave the house and make a break for the bazaar, just to give that wonderful 'we love you' feel to her going away hour, but then her hopes were dashed.
A cry sounded from one level below, and that cry was instantly followed by a cacophony of other voices. Mainly female.
Ka made her way downstairs to the common room and found just about every family member and slave in the house gathered around a large statue of what appeared to be a dwarven miner. At the group's forefront stood Irrialishae, her hands on her hips and a look of exquisite disgust painted on her face.
"It looks like ass." She spat, motioning to the statue and turning her head to look at someone that Ka couldn't quite see from her current position. That same someone, whose beaded hair was the only thing Ka could make out, spoke up.
"You said dwarf!" He defended himself, his voice was high and irritating. Ka sighed.
"I said drow!" Irrialishae roared. "Drow, you invalid!" Ka shook her head and quietly snuck around the large mob, making her way to the front door. Perhaps she could make it outside without having to speak to anyone at all…
Or perhaps not.
As she neared the exit, her eyes fell upon Zojikoe, who was leaning placidly against the door, watching her. She strode up to him and halted, giving him a most unimpressed look.
"Move." She ordered. He didn't.
"Aren't you gonna thank me for the bag?" He asked innocently. Ka smiled briefly then drove her knuckles into his shoulder.
"Thanks." She growled. Zoe clutched his bruised shoulder and inched out of the way, allowing Ka access to the door. The drowess pulled the elegant handle and peered outside, then turned to look at her brother quizzically. "Well?" She asked. "Aren't you gonna say good luck or something? I could die out there, you know." Zojikoe put on the dullest look he could muster.
"This is my care face." He drawled, much like his mother had done the day before. Ka narrowed her eyes at him and stalked out, slamming the door behind her.