Disclaimer: I do not own Fearun or anything in it, only my own characters; and, unfortunately, I am not doing this for money, only my own twisted satisfaction and, I hope, for your entertainment.
Shadows of the Underdark
Naddia Aletlar crouched on the ledge, her eyes glowing icy blue as she trailed her quarry, her finger caressing the trigger of her handheld crossbow, an ingenious invention of the drow race. Faera De'Ghym, firstborn daughter of House De'Ghym, was either stupid, desperate, arrogant, or possibly all three; she traversed the tunnels surrounding the great drow city Ched Nasad alone and, though armed, she remained an easy target for anyone interested in picking her off. But, though it soon would be, that was not the job quite yet. Naddia tucked away the crossbow and nimbly leapt a gap in the ledge.
Faera continued on for some time, her pace steady but unhurried, the casual observer might have thought she was even relaxed, but Naddia could tell she grew more wary and uncertain with every step she took. Eventually she came to a crevice in the wall and, taking one last look around, slipped inside. Evidently she had reached the location of her treacherous tryst. Naddia paused a moment to let her get a ways inside before stepping off the ledge and levitating to the ground, then she slunk across the passageway and slipped in after her.
Naddia was a private investigator/assassin, a rouge drow whose house had fallen many years ago. She had been contacted by the Matron of House De'Ghym to ascertain whether her firstborn daughter was becoming a little overeager to assume her birthright; to find out how and when, and effectively neutralize the situation (bring the Matron her daughter's head on a platter). She heard voices ahead and, pressing her back against the wall, crept to the threshold of a small cave. Inside she saw Faera in negotiation with the last person she wanted to see mixed up in this affair, Vale Ken'Rahel, the second in command of the most dangerous mercenary band in the Underdark, Bregan D'arthe. Cursing, she retreated to the ledge outside the entrance and settled down to await her prey.
Faera was not long in coming; she exited the crevice with an elated spring in her step, forsaking all caution in her greedy euphoria. Naddia shook her head as she shot a poisoned dart squarely between her shoulder blades, what a race are we, she mused, who would betray any bond for the sake of personal advancement. Still, it was hard to knock the main basis of her livelihood; tragic though it might be, it was mighty lucrative. Naddia stashed the inert body of the errant firstborn up on the ledge and returned to the ground to confront the interloper, lounging against the wall with her arms crossed in a gesture of diplomacy.
Vale was evidently taking his sweet time and Naddia began to wonder if she waited in vain, but eventually he made his appearance. He exited the cave more furtively then Faera had, though ironically he had less to fear. He wore sleeveless dark red wizards robes and a plain black piwafwi much like hers. His snow-white hair was long and fitted with warrior's braids while the rest spilled over his broad shoulders. He stopped short when he saw her and offered his trademark smile and a low bow with a flourish that made his robes billow.
"Its about time," Naddia said coolly "I was beginning to wonder if you hadn't fallen down a hole or something."
"Zatana Rilyn'Nadar, my dear, what a delightful surprise it is to see you again; I quite thought you were dead." returned Vale with another flourishing bow, "How long has it been?"
"Don't ever call me that," she snapped, "it's Naddia now, Naddia Aletlar and it's been seventy-three years."
"Ahh… that would explain your apparently falling off the edge of Faerun."
"I needed to disappear, but how sweet that you looked for me. Tell me, what brings you to the City of Shining Webs?"
"A business venture of sorts."
"My dearest of Menzoberrenyr friends" she purred, "you are playing in my sandbox and I don't like it."
He grinned and tipped his head, "I believe I am your only Menzoberrenyr friend."
"And thus you are my dearest." She replied, "Come Vale, what does the second most powerful drow in the Underdark want with the piddling machinations of a restless first daughter of the twenty-seventh house of Ched Nasad?"
"I told you, it's a business venture."
She scowled, "Well it will have to wait, you are trampling all over two fortnights hard work."
"Its taken you two fortnights to find out that brat was trying a coup? My dear you are slipping. Besides, I haven't even been here that long."
"That's because it hasn't taken me that long to find out it's happening, it's taken me that long to make it happen, you're merely an unfortunate complication."
Vale chuckled, "I should have known. But why?"
"Matron Imarra De'Ghym has something I want, and she's going to give it to me as payment for fixing a problem she didn't have before I created it."
"That's my girl, what's she giving you?"
"What's it to you?"
He considered, "The brat's dead?"
"For all practical purposes, her head on a platter gets me the prize. What do you need her for?"
"House De'Ghym controls the production of spell scroll papyrus in the Underdark, it's a lucrative business and I want a cut."
"But the Matron won't deal so you want to replace her with someone who will."
"Well, Faera's not the only brat she's got, I'm quite sure her little sister would be just as glad to sit on that throne."
"Please Alaoyn, papyrus production in the twenty-seventh house? I thought you knew me better."
"Just making sure. You could come back you know, there's always a place for a skilled blade and a cunning heart by my side."
"And a willing body in your bed? I'm sure there is my dear but I work alone now and that's how I like it."
"Really? Well I might stick around, I wouldn't mind seeing that."
"Insolent male, you know what I meant."
"Sure I do… What's it she's got that you want so bad anyway?"
"A valuable book?"
"No Vale," she replied sarcastically, "I just spent two fortnights obtaining a useless, valueless book because I was really bored and had nothing better to do."
He flashed a row of perfect white teeth at her, "Fine, what is it then, rare spell book?"
"In a manner of speaking but not what you have in mind."
"Well, what is it then?"
She shrugged, "A song book"
"A song b-" he stopped short, his eyes falling to the silver hand harp that hung from her belt, "Ahh…Bae'queshel."
"Right, one I've been seeking for a long time, and I have no intention of giving it up."
He stared thoughtfully into space for a while, then he snapped his fingers, evidently having come up with what he thought was a brilliant solution. Then he slipped an arm around her shoulders, ignoring the death glare she directed at him.
"I'll tell you what," he said, "This is what we'll do…"
After Vale went on his way, Naddia returned to the inert body she had left on the ledge. Conscious now, but still paralyzed, Faera looked up at her with fear and disbelief. Naddia propped her against the wall so she could address her properly and pulled a small knife from her belt, fingering the blade as she began to speak.
"You foolish drowling," she hissed, backhanding her across the face. "You could have ruined everything! Sneaking off behind my back like that, who said you could bring in a third party, huh?" Unable to answer, Faera only looked at her, her eyes going wide with panic and pain as Naddia made her first cut, skillfully slicing along her collarbone. "Of course, you were dead anyway, but it could have been swift and painless; now it will be as slow and agonizing as I have time for."
Some time later Naddia realized she had things to do before the day was out and finally made an end of Faera De'Ghym, cleanly separating her head from her shoulders and slipping it into a tiny magical pouch. As she replaced the pouch at her belt, she noticed that her hands and armor were covered in blood and she was standing in an ever-widening pool of it that still seeped from the numerous cuts riddling the body that had once belonged to Faera De'Ghym. She sighed as she slipped the harp from her belt. A few plucks and uttered notes and the body, the blood, all evidence that Faera De'Ghym had ever visited this tunnel, vanished from existence.
As she made her way back to the city, she considered her interaction with Vale; despite his claim that he had thought her dead, she wondered if he had truly been surprised at her reappearance. She also mistrusted his reason for being here, papyrus production…really? That type of business was not his forte. Vale played with lives and destinies, not ledgers and production reports; he played in the lethal political games of the Matrons, not the petty pursuits of upstart drowlings. Naddia had not been merely stroking his ego when she called him the second most powerful Drow in the Underdark. No house rose or fell unless Bregan D'arthe had a hand in it.
Perhaps it had been a mistake to confront Vale; he was the only person to find out whom she was that she was reluctant just kill off, and the one person in a position to do her harm with that knowledge. Was he simply playing her like he did everyone else he had ever entered into a business deal with? Was it just a business deal or did he have ulterior motives? She shook her head uneasily as she reentered the city, flipping up the hood of her unmarked piwafwi; of course he had ulterior motives, he was Vale, but she would play his game, and damned if she wouldn't beat him at it. As she walked, her mind returned to their earlier conversation.
"So where are you shacked up now?" he asked.
"That is not your affair," She returned, "This is purely a short-term business association."
"Wasn't it always, lover?" He said, stepping toward her, Naddia refused to back down and he continued until his body was flush against hers. Though she couldn't deny the familiar flash of heat she felt as he pressed against her, she pushed him away.
"Of course, but now more then ever, I'm in this for a book, not a tumble in the furs."
"And I for a profit, but may we not have both?"
He sighed, "That's a shame, we've had some fun together."
"That was a long time ago."
"Join me for a drink," He offered, "there's a lot to catch up on."
She shook her head, "I have things to do; we'll meet at the Crystal Tankard this time tomorrow to finalize the plans."
He smiled nostalgically, "We were good together Zatana." He said.
She returned his smile, resting her small hand on his bare bicep, "Yes we were Alaoyn, yes we were."
Naddia snapped out of her reverie and stared dumbly at the sight in front of her. Engrossed in her thoughts, her feet had taken her unbidden to the last place she wanted to go. Home, Castle 'Ndar. Before her, a pair of twisted adamantine gates hung half off their hinges, once strong and majestic, they had been reduced to scrap metal by magical blasts and clawing creatures of nightmares. Inside, dark towers and broken parapets rose ominously beyond a desolate courtyard filled with debris, crumbling masonry and the bones of those who had perished there.
The glory of House Rilyn'Ndar, once the proud second house of Ched Nasad, reduced to rubble by the onslaught of House Tor'ath. Tor'ath had been the ninth house, and Matron Minaere had ruthlessly slaughtered the Rilyn'Ndar down to the last infant drowling to gain a seat on the high council. Such was the way of their people. She had been out, and managed to kill the assassins Minaere sent for her. She had returned much later to the house, only to find it in ruins. She had not ventured inside for she knew she would find no one alive in there, instead she disappeared into the dark, dirty underbelly of the city.
Zatana Rilyn'Ndar died that day, but from the ashes had risen Naddia Aletlar. Driven by desperation and filled with unspeakable rage, she had roused herself from the depths of despair to exact her revenge, not for her house or her family, but for her own life and that of her little sister, for her stolen future and the trials she would now face as a houseless rouge. Seventy years she had waited, and finally she was so close she felt she could reach out and grasp it. All that now stood in her way was the sudden involvement of Vale, but she would be damned to the ninth circle of hell if she would let that keep her from satisfaction.
Her throat tightened and her eyes burned as she picked her way through the courtyard to stand under the balcony that lad to the temple and the royal family's chambers. She shivered as she stood looking up at it, she had not returned to this place once in the seventy years since it fell. Her room, her sister's rooms, the chapel, where her twin's remains would still sit on the altar, waiting for a funeral that would never happen; the throne room, where she knew she would find her eldest sister Angbryn's bones sitting in the throne and her mother's, sprawled on the floor with Angbryn's dagger still buried in her spine. And somewhere, most likely before the chapel door, laid the bones of her little sister Ereldra, surrounded by those of her fallen enemies.
Her fingers rested briefly on the pendent that hung around her throat, but she did not rise to the balcony. Instead she turned around and began to make her way towards the gate, as she walked, the ghosts of the fallen rose around her to continue their eternal war. The sounds of battle surrounded her; the clang of metal on metal, the roaring of creatures, and the screams of the dying assailed her from all sides as she approached the gates.
Just as she reached them, a scream sliced through her head, so full of unspeakable agony and rage that it sent her to her knees. While most of the commotion seemed to come from all directions at once, this one came distinctly from the family chapel. This was no random lost soul, she had heard this scream before and it would remain engraved in her mind for all eternity. It could only be one person, and with this realization came the memories she had tried so hard to forget. The argument, her twin's voice strained almost unrecognizably, the accusations, the threats; Inue attacking her, blood coating their hands as she sunk to floor, the unconceivable picture of her own dagger buried in her twin's heart, the last look in her eyes before their light faded forever. The scream intensified and she collapsed, clutching her head; she saw the blurry transparent image of her twin sister standing above her as darkness closed in and she knew no more.
She awoke in her old bed in her room at Castle 'Ndar, rested and refreshed as she had not been in many years. It had all been an awful dream, she thought with relief. She was strangely excited and she remembered why; today was the day she and her twin sister Inue were finally to be sent away to Everhiryn, the cavern that contained all the schools. No one really knew its location, it could only be reached by a series of portals, all guarded and operated by mages. They would spend two years at Rilyn-Atelyl, the school of weaponry where her brother was an instructor; then they would go to the magic school, Teken'neld, for a year and finally to Kenate-Lochar, where they would study the ways of Lloth the Spider Queen. They would stay there for twelve years learning to be high priestesses and then return home to serve their house.
They had been packed the night before and their caravan was already waiting outside. They were to meet in the chapel to pay their morning respects to Lloth and ask her to bless their journey that might one day serve her better. The young Zatana dressed quickly, grabbed her weapons and piwafwi, and made her way down to the chapel. As she walked, though, the corridor seemed to stretch and flex before her and raised voices echoed down the hall. She ran to the door of the chapel and pulled up short at the scene before her. She stood at the door and watched in horror as she saw herself bury a dagger in an older Inue's heart. "NOOOOO" She screamed, rushing to the body and drawing it into her arms. Only it wasn't the older version anymore, but the young one and she herself had become Naddia. The young Inue gazed at her through fading blue eyes and lifted a hand to her cheek.
"It's alright Zee, it wasn't your fault," she said softly. "But you can't hide forever. Sooner or later the circle will close, go back to where it began before it's too late. I'm not gone, not dead unless you let me be. I'll always be at your side and when you get here I'll be waiting." As she spoke, her lips cracked and her eyes sunk into their sockets, her body was decaying into nothingness! Naddia cried out and clutched the body tighter even as it became bones and then dust that fell through her fingers.
"INUE!!" she screamed.
Naddia's head pounded as she came to suddenly and jolted up from the bed. She groaned and quickly laid back down as the room began to spin, trying to figure out why she was lying in a soft bed instead of the hard courtyard. Strong hands supported her head; she felt a small vial being held to her lips and heard a voice telling her to drink. She hesitated, not knowing whether to trust them, but ultimately decided that if whoever it was wanted her dead, they had had ample chance to kill her. She tipped her head back and drank, warmth rushing through her as the healing potion began its work.
"That's my girl." She relaxed, relieved, it was Vale.
She moaned and sat up. "What happened?"
"I'm not sure, I was near the ruins of Castle 'Ndar and all of a sudden I heard this awful scream. I thou-"
"You heard it too?" she interrupted.
"What? No, I only heard you screaming," said Vale, puzzled. "I went to investigate and found you curled up in a ball holding your head and whimpering. You've had quite a temperature."
Naddia exhaled loudly, falling back on the furs. "Thank you," she said softly. "Wait, you were just randomly walking around near my old house?"
"Yes," he said firmly. "Just taking in the sights." She wanted to press him further but knew she would get nowhere.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"My room at the Seven Brews. I couldn't take you home because you wouldn't tell me where it was."
"Oh get over it," she said, then she regarded him suspiciously. " You didn't -?"
"Well I had to make sure you weren't injured of course-," he began, but stopped seeing her look of death. "Relax, your virtue, such as it is, is still intact. Besides, it's not like I'd see anything I haven't seen before."
She shook her head at him and sat up on the bed, putting her feet on the floor. She wore only a thin shift; her weapons, armor, and the rest of her clothes were neatly folded on a chair in the opposite corner the room. She raised a brow at Vale and eyed her clothes but, though he clearly understood her subtle message, he made no attempt to leave the room; rather he slouched in his chair with crossed arms and lazy eyes. She rolled her eyes at him, sauntered across the room and began to dress, feeling his eyes on her the whole time. Once dressed, she turned to regard him.
"Well, since we are both here, I suppose we should just talk now." she said.
more to come...tell me what you think