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As the caravan approached the monastery, a large, four legged creature, jumped up and knocked Will to the ground.
"Ahhh, stoppit Khor!" Will exclaimed giggling. "Taranee, help!"
Taranee grinned at Will. "Not a chance. It's your fault for going into a fight without him."
"Such a common mutt." A girl sneered from behind her. Taranee and Will turned and glared at the owner of the voice, a tall wood elf girl with long blond hair and piercing blue eyes.
"Cornelia, don't be so nasty." Elyon chided her gently. "They did save our caravan from the bandits."
"Well as long as that mutt stays away from me, I'll be happy." Cornelia said and walked off.
Phobos, on the other hand, was gazing up at the monastery with interest. As the clerics and monks approached, he tapped the shoulder of a passing monk.
"Is this the Order of Pelor's Staff?" He asked and the monk nodded. "And the current home of the legendary cleric, Susan Vandom?"
"I'm afraid that I do not know." The monk replied. "You'll have to take it up with the head of our order, Mistress Luba."
"Very well then, I will." Phobos sneered angrily. But he felt a shimmering of hope. He was pretty sure that this was the place and Cleric Vandom was a legend in her own right. Her help would be most welcome and if she wasn't persuaded by his reasons, then he always had another card up his sleeve.
Il-Haress Theresa Cook growled as she skimmed over the intelligence reports coming from her eastern borders.
"What's up love?" Lionel asked as he came up behind her. Theresa kept her frown.
"The Formorians are building up troops on our eastern borders. They claim that they're conducting military exercises, but I don't like it."
"You don't trust them." Lionel stated baldly as he started massaging her back. "It's been four centuries since we last fought them and you're thinking that they'll try again."
"Yup. Four centuries ago, when I was just an eager young Matriarch, determined to lead my troops into glorious battle against our former oppressors." Theresa's face darkened. "I was a fool back then. War isn't glorious or pretty, but when the alternative is to return to being a conquered people, we don't have a choice."
Lionel gave a shiver. Although the Formorian Empire had fallen over ten centuries ago, tales of their cruelty and malice still echoed down the centuries. Every once in a while, they convinced themselves to try again. And every time they failed.
"Agreed." Lionel said finally.
"Good evening Mrs Vandom." Phobos said as he sat down beside her. "May I talk to you about a matter of some importance?"
Susan raised an eyebrow. "A matter of some importance?" she asked.
"Yes." Phobos replied and he paused for a moment. "If I recall correctly, you were a part of the daring expedition to seize the Drow capital of Maerimydra, an act of supreme courage and da-"
"Cut to the point, your majesty!" Susan snapped at Phobos.
"I was curious as to why you failed." He said firmly. "Your group left with two-hundred of our Imperial Archers and some thirty adventurers of various types. I would have thought that you would have been able to flatten the drow in one swift stroke."
Susan gave a bitter laugh, while Taranee pricked her ears. Taranee was curious to learn about her biological people. Will on the other hand was busy talking to Elyon, who she seemed to have clicked with. On the other side of Elyon, Cornelia was talking to Elyon as well and Taranee had privately admired the way that the elf princess was able to maintain two conversations at the same time. However, the subject Phobos had just brought up caught her attention.
"Oh yes, we thought that a relatively small group like ours could punch a hole through to the Drow capital and hold it. Who could stand against us, with our superior archers and artillery and ADVENTURERS?" Susan asked in a sarcastic voice. "We were foolish. The Drow knew we were coming and they watched and waited. After the first three days marching without so much as a scratch, we began to think that we hadn't been detected." Susan paused and shook her head. "How wrong we were."
"But surely, with elf archers, they couldn't get close enough to be a threat?" Phobos asked. Susan gave another bitter laugh.
"Archers are only good if they can see their targets. The Underdark is dark and vision is limited to around two hundred yards. Because the Drow have a type of heat vision, they could see us long before we could see them. They hit us for the first time that night, a small group of fast moving soldiers swept through our camp and killed almost twenty-five soldiers for no casualties."
"Impossible!" Phobos exclaimed.
"We never even saw them coming. They had been watching us for days and they knew precisely when and where to hit us. And from that point on, it got worse."
"Worse?" Phobos asked. Cornelia meanwhile, excused herself from the dinning table.
"Much worse." Susan said. "The second night, we camped in a stalagmite field and we were much more alert for drow attackers. But those stalagmites weren't stalagmites. They were drow-trained ropers. In the middle of the night, the ropers attacked. And while that was happening, the drow hit us from the outside." Susan's face took on a haunted look. "We did fight back a lot better this time and they didn't get away scot free."
"Was that all? Surely-"
"No, we were still able to continue. But as we got closer, the number of attacks increased, we ran into booby traps of spider silk. Ropers ambushed us at random points and with their silken pipes, we found sleep difficult to get at all." Susan paused and looked Phobos in the eye. "By the time we reached Maerimydra, we only numbered a mere one hundred fighters, ragged and demoralised by the constant wearing us down. We didn't stand a chance against the cities defences."
"And they just let you retreat when you were beaten?" Phobos asked incredulously.
"No, they chased us as hard as they possibly could. We had attempted to invade their homes, their families. They were determined to wipe us out and the only reason we survived was because we crossed kuo-toa territory."
"The kuo-toa were happy to let you across their borders?"
Susan gave another bitter laugh and shook her head.
High above the dining room, Cornelia drew back her bow with an arrow nocked. She was determined not to miss her target.
"The kuo-toa were in the middle of a bloody civil war. They simply didn't have the forces spare to stop us." Susan explained. "It didn't stop them from inflicting casualties on us, but it saved us from the drow."
A sudden movement caught Taranee's eye and with extraordinary speed, she leapt forward and knocked Princess Elyon aside as an arrow flew out of the higher reaches of the hall. The arrow thudded into the wood exactly where Elyon's head had been only seconds previously. As the elf guards charged towards the site where the arrow had come from, Elyon turned and faced Taranee.
"Thank you." She said calmly. "You just saved my life."
Taranee smiled. "That's ok. Just doing what anyone else here would've done."
High above, Cornelia let out a curse under her breath. She'd missed her target and now she had to leave before she was caught. Tossing aside her bow, she slipped away.
Phobos frowned as he looked at his sister. His assassin had failed and now his sister was on alert. She had better not fail him again.