Author's Note: I've threatened to write this story for, gosh, a year now. NaNoWriMo was the impetus I needed. I plopped down my 50,000 words a day early and the first draft is done. It's going to take a good long while to get the (massive! number of) edits done but to celebrate, I thought I'd throw out a tidbit.
I should mention, perhaps, that my Solaufein bears little relationship to the Solaufein of Weimer's BG2 mod. (If you haven't played it, why not? It's fun.) Ask my jaded warrior for poetry or philosophy and (after an incredulous stare from those shocking red eyes) he might point you to a bard of his acquaintance…
He lay wrapped in his blankets and he slept while the full moon silvered the trees that surrounded his tiny hut on the edge of the Forest of Tethir. The darthiir, the wild elves of Suldanesselar, despised his human-like need for sleep. That an elf, even a dark elf, would choose this death-like sleep was a strangeness they could not comprehend. To be unwilling, or worse, unable to seek reverie was an aberration in their eyes. Sometimes he despised sleep too.
Solaufein slept. Light chased shadow across the clearing before his hut. Solaufein dreamt.
He opened his eyes to darkness. This was not the pattern of shadow on shadow that passed for darkness on the surface world. This was true darkness. This was the rich, secretive darkness of home.
He was not alone. A woman approached with the deliberate footsteps of one who acknowledges no need for stealth. She had a strong voice, a confident voice. An angry voice. She spoke but not to him. Darkness hid him. To evade that voice, he would have drawn up the darkness like a cloak.
"You tell me this—this mere jaluk can stop me? Your jest fails to amuse."
Solaufein's heart stuttered in shock then raced. Phaere? She lives? Solaufein twitched in his sleep. One hand closed as if it sought a weapon. They swore to me she was dead.
"He is a threat to your ambitions." Solaufein recoiled from the deep unnatural voice that echoed as if the very air shrank from his resonant tones.
"I will not be stopped. Not by this male and not by your games. If this jaluk is a threat, bring him to me."
"I cannot, Matron Mother."
Phaere has taken control of her House? House Despana survived what we did to it? They lied about that too?
"You will treat me with the respect I am due, fiend!"
"Of course, great Valsharess." His voice lingered over the title, drawing it out.
Valsharess? What madness is this? There is only one empress of the Underdark and that is Lolth. Who would dare make so bold a claim? Who would dare risk Lolth's wrath?
"I command you to bring him now."
"He lies beyond my power, Valsharess."
"As mighty as you are, such a simple task is beyond your power? I would like to know how that is so." No answer. "If you cannot fetch him, show him to me. Do not dare tell me you cannot."
Flames roared before him in a blinding curtain of light and heat. Solaufein flinched but the flames died down to form a ring on the floor around him, trapping but not burning. The floor was tiled. Light reflected off the cut stone of the walls. The room was strange to him yet he could almost feel the comforting weight of the rock above him. A woman pivoted on one foot to face him. Eyes burned from her dark face. She stared right at him.
Not Phaere. I was wrong. A drow but not Phaere. They didn't lie.
If he had ever seen this woman before, he knew he would remember. Her eyes flicked past his shoulder. Fear—or the spell that held him—did not let him turn to see who stood at his back.
"What is his name?" the woman asked.
"He is called Solaufein," said the other.
The Valsharess stepped closer. Click. Click. Click. Her heels stabbed the floor. "Solaufein," she breathed. "And his House?"
"He has no House, Valsharess."
"An outcast." She met his eyes. The impulse to lower his gaze was ingrained but his paralysis prevented him from any show of submission. "I do not know how one such as you can threaten my great rise but I will give you this one warning. Do not stand in my way. Oppose me and I promise I shall see you dead. The Underdark will be mine. Nothing and no one will stop me."
Solaufein woke to a pounding heart and moonlight bright on his face.
Great Valsharess, whoever you are, you have nothing to fear from me. There is nothing that will drag me back to the Underdark. Nothing.
If that had been his only dream, perhaps he could have kept that promise.
Samuel filled a tray with dirty mugs as the temple bells finished ringing the hour. The crowd in the tavern had thinned down to the serious drinkers, the ones who would linger until dawn if allowed, and then stagger out to retch in the alley. The halfling frowned as the front door opened. His innkeeper hackles rose at the sight of the lone stranger. What's amiss here, Sammy me boy? The stranger wore a moss-colored cloak with the hood pulled down to hide his face in shadow. A summer night in Athkatla was warm for such a heavy cloak and far too warm for the gloves that covered his hands. As for his feet—
Samuel's nose gave a worried twitch. This one bore watching.
The stranger stepped out of the doorway and scanned the room. He—or possibly she, since the stranger appeared slight for one of the tallfolk—stood in indecision before moving to a small table in the room's darkest corner. When the bar maid approached, he ordered wine but made no attempt to chat her up, Samuel noticed. He did not remove his gloves, even when the bar boy brought him his drink, not even when he took a coin from his pouch to pay. Jemmy took the coin with a smile, then recoiled, all trace of sleepiness abruptly wiped from his face. After a moment calculated just long enough to look unrelated, Samuel beckoned for the boy to come to the bar.
"Is something wrong?"
Jemmy swallowed. "Nope." Samuel suppressed a sigh. Jemmy wasn't the brightest of boys when he was fresh and being asleep on his feet didn't sharpen his wits.
"Did that fellow say something to you?"
"Nope." Samuel gave him a look. "He asked how much for the drink and when I told him, he gave me a silver and asked if it was enough. He didn't ask for no change. So I didn't give him none."
"And that was all?" Jemmy shifted from side to side. "Well, was it?"
"Spit it out, boy."
"He looked up and his eyes—must have been the light."
"What did you see?" From experience, Samuel knew there was no point in giving the boy the clout he deserved.
"His eyes looked all red and scary. Like one of those vampires I heard tell about. But they're all dead now, right? So I was wrong about the eyes. Because if he was a vampire, he'd drink blood, right? Not wine."
The nest of vampires that preyed on the town had been wiped out four years ago but that didn't mean there weren't more, Samuel thought. There could always be more.
"Take this tray to the kitchen. Then go upstairs and fetch the big 'un," he told Jemmy. "Tell him to bring his friends."
"His friends? The bard's alone in his room. Didn't see him bring no lady friends home tonight."
"Go on now. He'll know what I mean."
And he did, for when the bard came down the stairs, Samuel saw he wore his sword belt with a sword at each hip. The bard cocked an eyebrow and joined him behind the bar.
"Mayhap," Samuel said. "Fellow just came in. Over there in the corner, the one with the hood."
The bard followed the innkeeper's gaze. "A traveler, judging by his pack."
"An honest man needn't hide his face like that."
"Some men hide their scars." The bard touched his own face lightly. Samuel had always thought the facial marks looked like decorations rather than battle scars but had never asked their origin.
"And some men hide their faces for other reasons. I don't like the look of him. I don't like his boots." When the bard snorted, the innkeeper scowled. "I'm serious, big 'un. Those are boots for dark nights and darker deeds."
"Such weighty expectations for a worn pair of boots, my dear Thunderburp."
"I'm never wrong about shoes. Look at your own feet. Are those a poet's shoes? Nay, big 'un, you're shod like a swordsman."
"Perhaps I am at that. Very well, my perspicacious sparrow, what would you have me do? Shall I accost this mysterious stranger of yours? Enquire about his cobbler?"
"I don't claim him," Samuel said. "He looks like your kind of trouble to me."
"You flatter me." He grinned and sauntered across the room. Samuel couldn't hear the bard's greeting but he didn't miss the stranger's reaction. He reached for the cudgel he kept behind the counter when the stranger came to his feet in one swift, sinuous motion.
"Solaufein!" the bard cried.
"Haer'Dalis." The stranger held out his hand but the bard laughed and lunged forward. He swept the smaller man into an exuberant embrace. The stranger stiffened and was quick to grab his hood when it fell back. But he was not quick enough to prevent Samuel's glimpse of snowy hair, ebon skin, and the devilish red eyes that had startled the bar boy.
"My raven, this is an utterly unexpected pleasure."
Samuel put back the cudgel. A drow elf, here in Athkatla, he thought. I knew he was your kind of trouble, big 'un. And I daresay I'm right about the boots as well.
Drow words used: