The wizard, Mantyle, had spent the better part of a century working on his legacy. He had devoted countless hours to research and countless more to finding a way to breed the two incompatible species. He had orchestrated hundreds of failures; most often in the form of stillborns or severe disfigurement. Other times his creation survived only to be destroyed on the plane that Mantyle sent it to live on.

But not this one. Mantyle had finally created the perfect mount. Oh how the surface elves would scream when they witnessed hundreds of these fiery denizens descending from the very heavens they revered! How the blood would flow then!

Mantyle's black-skinned face cracked into a grin and he once again let his eyes travel the graceful form of his creation. He called it Tiuin Ramoth XIII, and it was, indeed, a flying nightmare. The fiery mane and tail and the smoking nostrils spoke highly of the terrifying creature that had been its sire, and the wings - long and black with the flight feathers completely submerged in flames - were a clue to its pegasus mother. It bowed its head and snorted, fire rimming the smoke that shot from its nostrils.

Very rarely had it viewed its master up close, but Mantyle wasn't worried. It wasn't very big yet; its withers only reached Mantyle's shoulder. But what it lacked in size would come with time. Then it would be indestructible.

The nightmare-pegasus watched the movements of the drow with glittering red eyes that could see better than any heat-sensing eyes, for these were the eyes of a separate plane of existence. It studied the strange devices in the drow's hands, a bridle and a whip.

"Come to me, Tiuin Ramoth," Mantyle said softly, eagerly.

The beast shifted nervously, ears flat back as it struggled against the will imposed upon it. It resisted for a long, painstaking moment before its master's will overcame it and it obeyed its master's commands; the fiery hooves clicking softly and sending up sparks on the rock floor.

"Good, good," Mantyle whispered and he tucked the whip under his arm so that he could use both hands to attach the bridle to the small head.

He lifted the bridle to the beast's head and pressed the enchanted bit against the sharp teeth, aware that patience was required if he was to control the fiery abomination.

Tiuin Ramoth XIII lowered its head as its master bade, but its teeth were clamped firmly shut and it stamped nervously as Mantyle's small red eyes narrowed in irritation.

The drow wizard and the nightmare-pegasus stood as they were for many moments, neither willing to give up their stand.

Growing frustrated, Mantyle whispered softly into the creature's delicate ear, "open your mouth, Tiuin Ramoth or I will rip your jaw off!"

Mantyle had no way of knowing that the beast understood every word. He could not know then that the blood of the free-spirited pegasus mingling with the blood of the often-volatile nightmare had created an imbalance that could never be completely tamed by force of will.

Thus when the beast suddenly tore free of Mantyle's hold on him, the drow wizard was not prepared to defend himself.

Tiuin Ramoth XIII flung itself back against the wall, fiery wings flapping frantically as it screamed and gathered itself. Then it lunged at the drow.

Mantyle was quick to shield his face with his arm, reaching for the whip tucked under his arm in the same moment.

Except the beast was far quicker than the drow and before Mantyle had so much as touched the whip the sharp teeth of Tiuin Ramoth XIII had sunk into his arm and tore free a sizable chunk of flesh.

Mantyle screamed in pain and rage as blood spewed from his arm. Any rational person would have backed off at that moment, to attend his wounds at the least; but, Mantyle was not rational. He set upon his creation with the whip, an enchanted gift of Lady Lolth.

The whip slashed into the side of the young beast, who screamed with the paralysing pain. The whip bit deep with each strike, flaying skin and flesh from the bones of the creature until the nightmare-cross was lying on the ground, sides heaving with the effort to breathe.

Only then did Mantyle leave the beast in its misery to attend his own wounds, still unaware that while he may have defeated the young beast he had created an enemy that would never forget the brutal treatment it had received.

**Several Years Later**

Jarlaxle prepared himself for the mental onslaught as he stepped into the throne room of House Baenre. He was careful to keep his mind blank as he sensed the intrusion into his thoughts, searching and prying into every corner of his awareness. No stranger to the mental intrusions of Matron Baenre's illithid advisor, Jarlaxle kept his thoughts neutral in all matters regarding the standings of House Baenre and the other noble houses of Menzoberranzan and made certain that his thoughts never even touched on the reason he was late for this all important meeting.

"Skin-stealing or drider food? Which would you prefer?" Matron Baenre's chill voice filled the room and Jarlaxle could not help but feel slightly uncomfortable.

"It is good to see you, too," Jarlaxle said with a deep bow that hid his unease. His great hat swept the floor and he drew himself back up to stand straight before the matron.

"You're late," Baenre said in that chill voice that promised death.

"Alas, you are correct, and I sincerely hope you will accept my utmost apologies," Jarlaxle said, realizing that he'd been apologizing for a lot lately. Too much, perhaps.

The matron mother drummed her fingers on the arm of her studded chair, her look one of absolute irritation. And it was never good to irritate a matron mother. "I could have you flogged," Baenre said and her threat was not idle, for her daughter, Vendes, stood off to the side and stroked the head of her snake-headed whip, eyeing the mercenary with pure, unbridled hate.

Jarlaxle painted an expression of fear on his face and nodded slightly. "I see I am at your mercy."

Baenre did not think Jarlaxle so cowardly as this, and could easily enough guess the mercenary was faking his look, but that was not the reason for her requiring his presence. "You are to watch the fourth house," Baenre said, getting to the point without further delay, although she had hardly forgotten her irritation and at the first sign of disobedience from Jarlaxle she would carry through on her threat.

Sensing the dangerous mood of the matron mother, Jarlaxle stayed wisely silent and nodded agreeably.

"House Oblodra has been quiet for too long and I wish to know what they are up to," Baenre continued, watching Jarlaxle closely for anything she might be able to punish him for. He was increasingly getting on her nerves, and she had been waiting for an opportunity to retaliate.

"I shall send spies immediately," Jarlaxle said promptly and dipped into another bow.

Baenre scowled and her daughters - Triel was there as well - mirrored the scowl perfectly. "I expect you to keep a close eye on them," Baenre said menacingly.

"As you wish," Jarlaxle said, and it was only because it was so out of character for the mercenary to behave so cooperatively that Baenre leaned forward in her chair and locked stares with the mercenary, aware that the mercenary was hiding something.

But Baenre's illithid detected nothing and after a moment she leaned back, appearing relaxed. And after a moment longer she began speaking with the mercenary of the other various missions she had given him over the years.

Jarlaxle's mind immediately went back to the task at hand when he returned to the stalagmite that housed himself and his over-adventurous daughter. Except that she was missing. He had searched for several hours prior to his engagement with Matron Baenre, and would have searched straight through the appointed meeting except that he didn't want Baenre having any more reason to pry into his business.

He looked about the large room, noticing once more that Stalizza's gear was gone. She must be about, he reasoned but he didn't even have the slightest clue where to begin to look for the too-curious drow. Once, when she had gone adventuring, she had wandered all the way to Blingdenstone on a whim, causing Jarlaxle a tenday of worrying and frantic searching.

He supposed he should find a way to reign the child in, but as he thought of the enjoyment she experienced when running through the wilds of the Underdark, he could hardly gather the words that he would need to tell her to stay home.

With an irritated sigh, Jarlaxle briefly searched the rest of the large home for clues of Stalizza's destination, then he left. Bregan D'earthe was calling for his attention and while he would have liked to have used his considerably resources to find the girl, he didn't think it wise to focus that much attention on her. She would return soon enough.

At least that's what he hoped.