Author's Note: Oh my goodness, I did not realize that it has been almost a year since I last updated this story! I'm so sorry, school kept me busy and then I jumped into writing Catharsis. Anyway, I hope this is worth the wait, and thank you to those of you who are still following this story after so long! I do intend to finish it, I promise. I'm already working on the next chapter.
Also, since I started writing this I played a bit of the game Baldur's Gate in which you actually visit Menzoberranzan/Bregan D'aerthe's keep, so if the description of the keep has changed from my original, it's because of that.
EDIT: I made an update to this chapter. Normally I hate to do this, but I felt that it was incomplete and I didn't like the end anyway, and after trying to begin the next chapter and some reviews I realized what was wrong it it. So I added an important paragraph to the end of the market scene and changed the ending. I hope everyone agrees it is more suitable this way, and I hope those of you who have already read it don't miss the changes.
Disclaimer: I only claim Nadina Nemiah as my own character. Note: the spelling of her last name might vary slightly over the chapters, for which I apologize. I have tried to correct all of them but I fear I missed some. As it is spelled here in this disclaimer is the proper spelling.
The City of Spiders
Nadina had expected a trek to the city, but instead Kimmuriel only walked to the front door of the mercenary's keep. He led her down a flight of wide stairs which ended in what appeared a perfectly normal entrance hall in a perfectly normal manor, save for the pair of drow guards against the walls and the dark colors of the decor. The two drow each gave the lieutenant a curt nod of acknowledgement as Kimmuriel entered the room, which he, of course, ignored. Or maybe he was simply so accustomed to the gesture of respect that he didn't even notice his fellow drow. The fact that other drow found the man beside her worthy of their respect made her regard him warily out of the corner of her eye, but she saw the same man she had this morning when she woke.
It dawned on her then that she had never seen Kimmuriel relaxed. Of course, she doubted drow were ever tranquil, but she would have expected to find that his shoulders were tenser, his bearing straighter, here than in the privacy of his quarters. Instead, he acted exactly the same. Was this him being relaxed, then? So at ease with his status and place in his world that nothing unsettled him? Or, the more likely, was he as tense in his quarters as he was when working because he wasn't alone in quarters—because she was there, and he could not relax around her? That thought disappointed her more than she had expected. The woman had thought she was beginning to understand Kimmuriel, but abruptly it occurred to her that he was fathoms far and beyond her ability to comprehend.
During her musings, she had followed him to the center of the foyer and stopped beside him, her eyes never leaving him. The drow turned his head suddenly and looked at her. His face was void of expression, but she blushed and looked away nonetheless, embarrassed that he might have heard her internal dialogue again. She kicked herself mentally, resolving to remember to watch her thoughts around him—though how she was going to stop herself from thinking something was still a mystery to her. Kimmuriel said nothing, simply donning his cloak and satchel. She hurried to follow his lead, trying to act normal and unruffled, lifting the long strap over her head so it rested on one shoulder and the strap crossed in front of her, the pack resting comfortably on her opposing hip, and then draped the cloak over herself. Kimmuriel waited until she was ready then turned to the space before them, and performed an arcane gesture with one hand.
What she could only describe as a doorway opened abruptly in front of them, causing her to jump back.
It wavered for a moment then solidified, the outline glowing blue-white, a doorway floating a few inches in the air, large enough for a tall man to walk through. She glanced at Kimmuriel, mouth slightly agape. The drow was watching the doorway in front of his hand intently, his face full of concentration. But it wasn't the furrowed brow expression that often belied intense concentration; in fact, the drow made the casting of the dimensional door seem easy, and she was impressed.
In fact, she was awestruck by the entire experience. The last time he had used his powers in her presence, she'd been too busy attacking him to notice much. But she had to admit, he made a very imposing, eye catching figure standing undaunted in the foyer, in control of such potent ability. She had never seen anyone with such skills before and briefly wondered what else drow could do, and if he would even bother showing her if she dared to ask.
My abilities are different from those of most drow, the psion's voice spoke in her mind, causing her to jump in surprise for the second time in much too short an amount of time. He relaxed his posture and dropped his hand, looking at her again.
"A little warning would be nice," Nadina snapped, lifting one hand to rub her temple, unsettled by him, self-conscious that her thoughts had gotten away from her, again, and becoming defensive, but inevitably her curiosity overcame it. "And what do you mean?"
My talents come from within myself, the training and use of my mind and concentration directly, while those such as Jarlaxle use items imbued with magic to obtain the effect they desire. Psionics is a rather rare gift among drow, but it appeared often in my family. He lifted his hands and raised the hood of his cloak to cover his head, though not far enough forward to completely hide his face.
Once again, even in his mind voice, which she was surprised to realize held as much inflection as his real voice, she thought she detected a hint of pride when he spoke of his family.
This voice is as much my "real voice" as the one that comes from my lips, if not more so. He broke into her thoughts with a touch of amusement, and she turned to glare at him.
He silenced her with a sudden hand movement. In Menzoberranzan, we will be watched. Perhaps not directly by spies, but any suspicious behavior will be observed, and we want to preserve Bregan D'aerthe's reputation. As drow, particularly female, it would seem odd to be asking questions. Therefore, we should communicate non-verbally. Voice your questions in your mind.
Her former angry retort died as she realized he wasn't going to stop, and she simply nodded, resigned. He returned her nod and gestured to the dark portal in front of them, offering her his hand. She paused for a moment, realizing that she had only his word to trust that he wasn't taking her to her death, but then again, he was going through with her, so it couldn't be that bad. She caught hold of his hand as she stepped next to him, unconsciously bracing herself.
Kimmuriel was not prepared for the shiver that passed through him when their skin met, and he instinctively closed his hand on hers, gripping firmly. Her skin was warm against his, and smooth except for a few calluses. Refusing to dwell on it at the moment while there was work to be done, he stepped forward and pulled her through the portal with him.
Nadina had no idea how the dimensional gate worked, but without any sensation at all they were very suddenly in a different place, flooded with violet light that did not adequately illuminate their surroundings. They stood on what appeared to be a walkway between two great, soaring houses full of sharp spires and harsh angles, with deep, dark shadows in every crevice that made them much more menacing than any building should ever appear. There was a brief noise behind them, and she looked over her shoulder in time to see the edges of the doorway come together in a line of light and then vanish. Kimmuriel didn't even spare a thought for the portal and started along the wide pathway, dragging her along in his wake as he still held her hand.
She had no time to think about that. As they followed the pathway along in a curve around the building, the city abruptly opened up before her, and her thoughts were very quickly distracted. Bregan D'aerthe's headquarters resided inside Menzoberran's boundaries, but on a separate, pocket plane. They appeared from Kimmuriels' portal in what inhabitants of the city knew as Duthcloim, home to the commoners: those drow not privileged enough to be born to one of the noble houses. The houses here were moderately sized and comfortable to live in.
Nadina had lived in Armadan which, being the capital city of her small country, was rather large. Or at least, she had thought so, but the drow city stretched out before her made that seem like a village in comparison, and the drow's architecture towered far higher into the air than any surface city she had seen, and seemed to be constructed entirely of towering spires and sharp points. It was full of both gracefully arching lines and cruel points, awe-inspiring and intimidating, all at once, ethereal and strangely organic. Perhaps if she had visited more of the cities on the surface she wouldn't have been so surprised. Kimmuriel read her thoughts while watching her face and was amused by her naivety, but he let her take her time. He could not have her gawking so openly while there were people around, so he had brought them here first, despite the longer walk. Best let her take in the sights and then focus on their mission. He stroked his thumb absently over the white lines around her finger of the hand he held while he waited for her to regain her composure. She was only human, after all, and he couldn't expect too much from her.
The first thing that shocked Nadina was the size of the city. The cavern before them was so large she could almost forget they were even underground, the ceiling disappearing into oblivion. And the city filled the cavern from wall to wall, although in some places the buildings were crowded together and in others they were lone monoliths. There was a sort of beauty to the towering spires and reaching arches, but they were also fearsome, not at all welcoming or relaxing like surface homes. Some appeared like giant, toothy creatures ready to pounce on and eat anyone unsuspecting. The drow city had overwhelming grandeur, but she decided then and there that she hated it, despite the intriguing design. But what surprised her more was the amount of light in the cavern. Everywhere she looked, the cavern was lit, but it was an ambient light, and she saw no source, adding to the mystery and eeriness. The buildings themselves were permeated with light. In the center of it all was a roughly carved column of rock: Narbondel, she guessed, since it dominated the scene, and everything seemed to revolve around it.
Finally absorbing the sights, she abruptly realized Kimmuriel still held her hand, and felt butterflies start suddenly in her stomach as the pad of his thumb stroked idly across her skin, making her hand tingle. Nadina swallowed hard, trying to ignore the heat spreading through her limbs and hiding her thoughts. She pulled her hand away from him, covering the movement by adjusting the strap of the satchel on her shoulder, ducking her head, skin still burning from the contact. She had no idea if someone could even notice her blushing with her new, darker skin tone, but old habits died hard.
Kimmuriel, observing her thoughts, was amused that she could get flustered over so little a gesture, and thrilled that he could have such an effect on her. Quite satisfied, he started briskly down the slight incline into the city, leaving her to hurry along in his wake.
He felt himself relaxing as the sounds and smells of the city of his youth washed over him. The majority of his years had been spent here, and being a creature of habit, he had never quite adjusted to the quieter, secluded keep, though he would never admit it to anyone else. He was perfectly comfortable in Bregan D'aerthe's keep, but it did not have the familiar press of myriad drow minds on his from his childhood. Despite how quickly the scenery of the ever bustling city changed, he still knew it's pathways like the back of his hand, and he led Nadina unerringly in the direction of his task.
He glanced back to find that Nadina had mostly caught up and was a pace or two behind him—and conceded that there was one ibilith mind he did not mind touching. As a female, you should walk in front of me, or at least beside, he snapped hurriedly, partly irritated with himself for being unable to concentrate on their goal.
Then don't walk so fast! Nadina retorted, and was surprised when he checked his brisk stride and allowed her to set their pace, walking beside her, as he realized her request had merit. She was grateful for his nearness; being of a noble family she had never been around commoners or to the slum of the city before, and the malicious atmosphere, along with the faces of many races she had never seen before, set her on edge. At a mental comment from Kimmuriel she straightened her back and lifted her chin slightly, watching the few other nearby drow females out of the corner of her eye and attempting to mimic their confident, long strides. As a human she did not stand a chance but for her long legs. She noted a few passersby glancing at Kimmuriel with recognition, and she was once more awed by her companion, that he could command the respect of other drow. But there was a cold, cruel air about the city that made all the hair on her neck stand on end, and that distracted her for some time.
Eventually, however, her natural curiosity resurfaced. What is this part of the city? she asked, having no idea if he would answer her, and still not entirely sure if she was directing her thoughts at him properly, but burning to know more.
He directed her down another street before he answered her. The Duthcloim, Kimmuriel said, almost absentmindedly. Home to commoners, I believe you would call them. We call them the Manyfolk. She had expected only the great towering houses of the wealthy, but in a few places there were low, crowded houses, and whenever there was a break in the buildings she could see other areas of Menzoberranzan that looked very rundown, almost like slums. It had not occurred to her that drow separated themselves from other drow, having always thought of them as one impenetrable group, but she supposed it made sense, if they were dark and cruel, to want to subjugate even others of their own kind.
She was beginning to become comfortable walking through the city, she admitted, except that nearly everyone they passed was a drow and it was hard not to stare. Nadina had never considered just how many dark elves there were; in fact she was beginning to notice differences in facial features much like she would among humans. She found that despite the dark elves having a slender figure that would cause them to look rather feminine beside a human man, it was easy to tell the man from the women: the latter wore the most indecent attire, and they were all attended by men and given a large berth in the crowd. It was quite easy to distinguish young and old and rich and poor as well, and she realized suddenly that Kimmuriel was rather attractive among his kind. She had only ever looked at him as simply a drow, and to be feared and hated just because of that. She had seen him as a member of a race whom, to her, were all the same, a cold faceless enemy. Now she realized he was, in fact, just a man, one among many, but farther, she liked the planes of his elegant face better than some of the other she saw now.
Nadina glanced back at him, realizing that by being of House Oblodra, formerly Fourth House, he had belonged to a group well above those they had been walking between on the streets, and that if he had been born human his station would have been well above what she once possessed. They did not have much further to go to their destination, and after a moment Nadina found herself stepping into an area she clearly recognized and felt comfortable in.
A bazaar! she said, quite pleased and fighting to keep a smile off her face.
The Bazaar, Kimmuriel answered, stressing 'the'. This is our destination.
There must have been some sort of magical barrier around the gathering of structures, because as they stepped inside the circle they were suddenly buffeted with noise, which only made Nadina even more aware of how eerily quiet the rest of the city was. It was unnatural, for an entire population of people to be so silent.
But she had often wandered among the bazaar in her home city, and found that this one was no different. Everywhere she looked there were temporary merchant tents of all different colors and designs from several different races and cultures. And it was busy. Merchants predominantly displayed their wares on racks or shouted the contents, trying to attract attention. Some people wandered, simply browsing, while others marched through purposefully, clearly having an agenda. Here there were nearly as many other species as drow, creating a very mixed crowd.
Which stalls are you looking for? she asked, curious as to what sort of wares he needed. For the first time, his voice had an annoyed tone—not directed at her, however.
I will know it when I see it, but by decree of the Council, the merchants must shift locations every 66 days. To a creature of habit such as himself, this was a grievous crime.
Fortunately, the Bazaar was only so big, and he found the first of what he was looking for quickly. Nadina had little to do while he bargained and discussed wares with the various merchants they visited, crossing her arms and turning to watch the others passing by. She noted with a bit of glee that the male drow and the dwarves and others subtly gave her a large berth as they passed by, and she supposed her disguise was working.
In all honestly, she had never realized that the Underdark held other creatures just as twisted by the lack of sun as the drow; the drow were everyone's greatest fears, the smartest and most wide spread, and therefore the most talked about. But among the drow there were derro, duergar, orcs, and goblins, creatures whose brutish features surprised her—and made her realize just how human the drow looked. Some of them had awfully frightful figures that made Kimmuriel seem inviting.
And many of the drow were accompanied by slaves—who were not well treated. It seemed that the drow delighted in causing pain to their slaves, regardless if they did as ordered or not. Her eyes caught on a sight that nearly made her heart stop: there were other human women in the crowd, some near her own age. The sight of another woman, as normal and pale-skinned as her former self, captivated her, and she couldn't look away. Yet that was where their similarities ended. The other woman was with a drow who appeared to be a slaver, one of those merchants Kimmuriel had mentioned. And while she saw no abuse, the way the woman moved, cowering and wary, and the marks on her thin body revealed a history of chains around her wrists and whippings on her back.
But Kimmuriel had never done that to her, she realized, and as the woman was led out of sight, she finally turned back to her own captor, watching as he talked. Kimmuriel could have done a dozen things to her, and she had no idea why he hadn't. He could easily have held her down and had his way with her the first time he laid eyes on her, he could have beat her into submission when she rebelled against him or yelled at him to get out of her head. But he had never done any of those things to her, except when she started it. In fact, he had cared for her, made sure she remained healthy, taken care of her wounds. At times he had even been tender. She swallowed, studying the lines of his back, glad to see a familiar, and human, face amid all of this morbidity. But the question remained: why hadn't he?
Unfortunately, she suspected she knew the answer: because she was human, ibilith, in the tongue of his people, a pet to be cared for, a tool to be used, not even appealing enough for rape. Why was that so disappointing to her?
Catching her odd thoughts, the drow turned and looked at her—and for the first time, Nadina did not feel a need to duck her head or look away. Instead she met his gaze, and suddenly understood why she had been unable to do so before: she had always been attracted to him, and terrified of that, wondering what evil depths lay in her soul that she could find beauty in something evil as a drow. Now she accepted her attraction, accepted that he wasn't human but he wasn't all that different either, and she knew that despite his people's reputation, he was not the worst among them. Just as there were bad men among humans, perhaps there were men who were not so bad among drow—and she trusted him. As normal, his face was unreadable, but he watched her for a long moment before turning back to the vendor he was bargaining with.
Aware that her thoughts were beginning to upset her and would undoubtedly soon show on her face, Nadina forced them out of her mind for contemplation at a later time. She turned away from watching Kimmuriel as he did from her, distracting herself by observing another vendor and customer.
A few minutes later they were walking away, Kimmuriel handing her a wrapped parcel to store in her satchel. They continued around the Bazaar. Sometimes a merchant who recognized Kimmuriel stopped to try to get him to buy something, sometimes someone slipped a note into his hand, but mostly they wandered, the psion letting no one deflect him from their course. Nadina's feet were beginning to ache by the time Kimmuriel told her they were now heading back to the keep. Telepathy apparently did not make haggling go faster.
As they walked, she looked around in an attempt to distract herself from her sore feet. Her eyes were drawn to the towering palaces of the nobles in the distance, each different from the last but all undoubtedly spectacular. Was one of them the remains of Oblodra, she mused, wondering if the shape of the house would somehow give her insight into Kimmuriel.
Where is House Oblodra? she asked quickly, before she lost her nerve.
Kimmuriel didn't even break his stride; perhaps he had been following her thoughts and expected the question. Nevertheless, there was a hard edge to his tone that told her he did care. A Handmaiden of Lolth threw the remains into the Clawrift, was his dry, bitter answer, and he sent her an image of the deep chasm before she could ask about that. Sympathy for him washed over her then as she considered how she would feel, in his position. The other drow didn't just consider his family dead, in their eyes House Oblodra had never existed, and there wasn't even a shell of a structure left as a monument to document the passing. There was simply nothing. She wondered how her own friends, back in Armadan, though of her now. Or were they likewise avoiding any mention of her, to evade the wrath of any drow?
Not a moment later, the tall drow turned them aside, down a narrow alley, and opened a dimensional doorway with a jerky wave of his hand, and they returned to the foyer of Bregan D'aerthe's keep. Nadina had never been glad to return to Kimmuriel's quarters, but after the sights and revolting actions and faces she had seen, she was quite relieved to see the familiar, non-threatening walls. She shivered as she remembered the faces of some of the orcs and goblins.
Nadina distracted herself by handing Kimmuriel the satchel she had carried. He reached for it with his left hand, and she was reminded of the way he had stroked her hand that morning when she saw the white lines around his finger. Well, she supposed it was called morning. She still was having trouble with the fact that morning and evening were just as dark as noon and midnight. Still staring at his fingers, she felt his hand close around the satchel, felt the pull as he tried to take it, and right then and there she made her decision.
She was tired of playing this exhausting game of cat and mouse with him, of him always having the upper hand, of being lonely. She needed to be close to someone, needed to burn off tension and stress and forget about the day, and ultimately, she realized she had nothing left to lose. It was incredibly freeing, to realize that her actions didn't affect anything anymore, when her whole life she had been trained to put the life of the woman she guarded ahead of her.
At her hesitation, Kimmuriel finally looked up and saw what was in her thoughts, but Nadina was already moving, closing the gap between them in two easy strides. The drow stared down at her as the satchel pressed between their bodies, her own eyes turning up to his familiar face, ghosting over the exotic planes, waiting for him to brush her away as she closed the distance between them and pressed her mouth to his in a kiss. Her eyes closed as their lips met, her hands dropping the satchel to the floor with a muted thump to come up to his shoulders. Her mouth moved against his, head tipping to the side, but he remained frozen, like a statue. After a moment, Nadina pulled away, dropping her gaze to the right, away from the condemnation she didn't want to see on his face. She went to move away from him when she heard something else fall to the ground behind her, and suddenly his arms closed around her, pulling her back against his hard body and this time his mouth descended on hers in a desperate rush. Heat coursed through her veins and she immediately reacted in kind, arms snaking around his neck to tangle in his long hair as her knees suddenly went weak.
In the following moments there was a frenzy to remove their clothing as fast as possible and yet stay pressed against each other, and then Kimmuriel bore her down to the bed and they became impossibly tangled. Lips and fingers traced over the lines of bone beneath skin, leaving lines of fire driving them ever into a greater fervor. He entered her swiftly, and they both broke their kiss to gasp in unison. In minutes it was over and they both collapsed into the bed. Nadina would have been pleased that the drow seemed to be shaking, except that her own thoughts were a whirlwind and she could barely think straight. Kimmuriel rolled off of her a moment later, and she turned with him, searching for words to say, already feeling his absence, but a slight snore told her that the drow had already lapsed into sleep. For the first time since her arrival in the Underdark, it was Nadina who laid awake, staring at the dark ceiling, while her dark elf captor slept deeply.