"I should have seen something like this happening!" Trey said, punching the wall with his fist. Solesril stood near him, quiet and reflective.
"There is no way you could have known-" he began, but Trey cut him off.
"I shouldn't have let her out of my sight! I can't believe she left with them! Why didn't you tell me there were drow here, now?"
"Because I simply did not know. And she may not have gone with them willingly. Though I doubt they would have actually kidnapped her, there was probably no way for her to shake them off once they found a female drow who had the land's most famous drow hunter on her trail. As noble as it may seem for fiends without a sense of honor, in their eyes they were protecting a possible priestess or daughter… male drow would not risk killing her or letting her be killed if this were the case."
"You don't understand, she's been wanting to find them so she could infiltrate them."
"Not even Nuitae'neth would be stupid enough to go blindly into their midst without speaking to you first. I don't think you realize how much you mean to her," Solesril knew he was taking a bold step here.
Trey laughed. "I'm nothing more than a teacher to her, someone to teach her how to kill these monsters for her own gain. She is independent; she's made it clear that the only bonds that are important to her are the kind that can further her own needs and ambitions."
"You have seen her at her most vulnerable. And," Solesril paused, "not only do you share a common hatred, and for similar reasons, but…" again he paused, trying to search for the right words "You are the first and only person to accept her for what she is. You rescued her more than once, and I doubt had anyone else tried to stop her from attacking me, she would have ignored them. She may have seen you as nothing more than someone who could help her achieve her goals once, but not any longer."
Solesril was not necessarily hinting that these feelings were romantic. There could exist between two people a close bond that was not romantic, but it was not for him to decide. Time would play things out.
Trey was quiet for a long time after this. "She'll be killed," he said quietly.
"She will. If she's discovered."
"And how long do you think that will take?" Trey asked angrily. "I'm not there to help her! I was too lenient in teaching her! If she dies, it will be because of me!"
"As long as she doesn't make a stupid mistake, like lapsing into Elvish, it may be longer than you think. Trust her, Treian. You may be surprised."
Clenching his teeth, Trey left the fey shop, wondering what to do. Solesril, on the other hand, when to the back where his living quarters were, and began to write.
"Where are you taking me?" Nuitae demanded.
"To Matron Vyrashzna Tiris'ath," Tornil replied. The six drow aside from Tornil and Zalnashir surrounded Nuitae, like a dread guard, and it was all she could do to keep her voice and hands from shaking. But it was this very fear that kept her calm and collected. She used it to feed her strength. "You are from far away, an assassin or so you say. The matron mother will know what will be done with you."
"How dare you keep me prisoner!"
Several of the drow shifted uneasily, including Zalnashir, but Tornil was not only Patrol Leader, he was next in line to be Weapons Master. None would disobey him.
"My sincerest regrets, but we cannot simply let you leave. The House Na'Akneth is very far, a couple weeks' journey even with the swiftest messenger, in a completely separate city. You see how we cannot simply let you go." Nuitae had given them the name that Solesril had told her- Brias Na'Akneth. She hoped it would fare well; at least the weapons belonged to that drow, and from what she heard she was about the same size. Unless she ran into a member of that House, her story would hopefully serve her well.
"Then take me before your matron, and be quick about it! I have been on the accursed surface for far too long, I long for my caverns and caves."
"As you wish," Tornil said, bowing slightly, almost mockingly, causing Nuitae's anger to rise and fester even more.
"When you are presented to the Matron Mother," Zalnashir said in her ear, "show her respect. She is the matron of the First House of Undraeth. As a daughter of a Fourth House, I should not have to tell you what Matron Vyrashzna can be like."
"Then hold your tongue, Secondboy," Nuitae snapped.
Zalnashir did as he was told, and the party entered the city. Nuitae tried not to give away her awe as the dark, deadly beauty of the drow city rose up before her. For a fleeting moment, she felt as if this was where she was meant to be. Away from the all-too-bright sunlight that she had grown accustomed to from being raised forty or so years on the surface. Here, she could see without straining. It was a beautiful place. One aspect, however, she could have done without- the air was much more stifling, more poisonous, than the fresh, open air of the surface. Despite feeling oddly at home, she missed the sky and the trees. Only now did she get a glimpse of the true differences between the dark elves and their surface-dwelling cousins, and she began to wonder if she really could survive.
But if Nuitae thought that the city itself was a wondrous, intimidating thing, she was in for a surprise when she met Matron Vyrashzna. The regal matron mother sat in a high-backed throne, her gown putting Nuitae's own to shame. Nuitae had thought her gown beautiful beyond compare, but it was a simple thing as compared to Vyrashzna's, or the ones worn by her six daughters who surrounded her. In addition to their robes, the four who stood closest to the matron wore strange snake-headed whips coiled at their waists. Nuitae knew now why the male drow spoke reverently when they spoke of her. She knew that drow were a matriarchal society; she knew well enough how she should act around male drow, but she was only just now grasping the power held by the matron mother. The matron regarded her coolly, and with a harsh word, dismissed all the drow except Tornil and Zalnashir, who lowered themselves to one knee. Nuitae felt compelled to do the same, but she knew it would only be seen as a sign of weakness, rather than reverence. Instead, she put a hand over her chest and bowed, though she never broke the matron's strong gaze. Vyrashzna was very, very tall, or so she seemed. She did not appear old, even for an elf she looked incredibly young, but her youngest daughter was probably not much younger than Nuitae.
"Who are you?" One of Vyrashzna's daughters finally asked of Nuitae. Her voice was clear and strong, but Nuitae was surprised that Vyrashzna did not address her directly. The matron still had not moved a muscle.
Nuitae straightened, trying to find her voice. "I am Brias Na'Akneth, fourth daughter of the Fourth House of Eryndlyn."
Vyrashzna's eyes narrowed. Another of her daughters spoke, "And why have you come here? You are very far from home, Daughter of the Fourth House."
"I was exiled," Nuitae responded, "considered weak by my sisters. My only skill was with the crossbow, Lolth had no wish for me to become a priestess." There was an uneasy shifting from the youngest two daughters. "But," Nuitae continued, "I have persevered and proven my strength! Lolth has put in front of me a new path. It was during this that one of your patrols found me, and aided me. I regret to say that I made an unfortunate, though slight, miscalculation." Nuitae was glad Solesril told her of his mother- without Brias' story, Nuitae would probably not have made it past Tornil.
Vyrashzna smirked slightly, and her eldest daughter spoke, "So you admit, perhaps, that you are in our debt concerning this matter? Perhaps that is why you have come?"
Nuitae's anger was rising, but she did well to keep it in check. "I have come seeking answers for myself, the questions for which are my own. I will not allow a debt to go unpaid, however."
"And just what, may I ask, are your services? Surely we have many here that could take care of whatever we need?" This time, it was Vyrashzna herself that spoke. The matron's voice was musical, more similar to the surface elves' than perhaps she knew, not that Nuitae would be fool enough to say so aloud.
"Lolth has seen fit to make me a cavestalker. While my knowledge of the magic she bestows upon her Priestesses is limited, if not nonexistent, my skills with the weapons are much more potent."
"I would like to see these skills of which you boast," Vyrashzna said, and sat up in her chair, the first movement Nuitae had seen her make during the entire audience. The matron mother clapped her hands once. "Zalnashir! You will fight her."
The look of shock on Zalnashir's face was apparent, though Nuitae managed to hide hers. Of all the drow she had met, she seemed to feel that Zalnashir was the best choice. The others were cruel and cold, even towards her, but Zalnashir had at least warned her about meeting Matron Vyrashzna, and she was glad he did. She even felt a pang of guilt when she had snapped at him.
However, not wishing for the punishment for keeping the matron mother waiting, Zalnashir nodded and drew his weapon. He used only a curved longsword, closely resembling a halberd. Bile rose up to Nuitae's throat, but she choked it down as she drew the two swords given to her by Solesril. She had not even had the chance to fight with them yet, and there was no wrapping around the blades like there had been during her first few lessons with Trey. At a signal from Vyrashzna's daughter, Zalnashir crouched into a fighting stance, and the deadly dance begun. Zalnashir was fast, but Nuitae was, surprisingly, faster. The male fighter lunged and sliced, and each time Nuitae dodged or blocked his blow. His physical strength was much greater than hers, however, and in no time, her arms were heavy, as if coated with lead.
Though he had yet to land a blow, Zalnashir was pushing her back, all the while each drow was assessing the other. Finally, Nuitae clenched her teeth and planted her feet; he would not push her back another inch. However, if her sudden change startled him, the warrior did not let it show. He changed his fighting style to match. Again he struck, again she swept his blade aside. Using one blade to keep his occupied, Nuitae took advantage of the slight opening to stab at Zalnashir. His eyes were wide as the blade came straight at his throat, but he could not get his blade up in time. At the last minute, Nuitae shifted her edge, as she did Zalnashir's eyes narrowed, and he brought up an arm in defense. Better to sacrifice a limb than lose his life. Nuitae's eyes were wide as he did this, but could not stop her blow. She felt his flesh give way as her blade sliced through it with ease. Zalnashir staggered back.
What was he doing! He ended up worse off than if he had not have blocked!
"First blood!" one of Vyrashzna's daughters cried.
Nuitae tightened her grip on her blades, and rather than waiting for Zalnashir to attack, she rushed towards him. Zalnashir pulled up his blade in time to meet both of hers; twisted it to separate the two and stab at her side, but Nuitae dropped into a roll that brought her even closer, kicking Zalnashir's feet out from under him. Blood was still streaming down his arm as he fell to the stone floor, knocking the breath from him. When he opened his eyes and reached for his sword, he found Nuitae's boot on his wrist, and one of her swords at his throat.
"Victory," she said in a low voice.
Zalnashir looked over at Tornil, who stood apart, arms crossed. His eyes met his brothers and he nodded once. Nuitae stepped away, sheathing her blades. Zalnashir stood up, ignoring his wound, as he retrieved his own weapon.
"You have much promise, Brias Na'Akneth of Eryndlyn," Matron Vyrashzna said with a smirk.
"Your words…" Nuitae paused. Normally, at such a praise she, or many elves, would respond with 'your words honor me,' but she doubted the drow would say such a thing. Before her pause was apparent, she said, "Your words are appreciated. But a lowly fighter such as myself would never have the power of your daughters, Priestesses of Lolth."
"This much is true. But you did manage to defeat the top apprentice to the House Weapons Master. This surprised me, seeing as how you seemed to utilize the bautha z'hin using twin blades. I am curious."
Nuitae could tell from the words the style meant 'dodge and walk,' so she felt confident in her interpretation. "I have other weapons that are more suited. I won these swords, and I use them in combat." That was all the explanation she gave, and it seemed to be all the explanation Vyrashzna needed.
"Well then, since you have defeated Zalnashir, as victor by our House rules, his life is forfeit to you."
Nuitae's eyes widened, there was no use in hiding the shock on her face. Vyrashzna and her daughters looked expectantly at Nuitae; they were testing her. But what was it they expected? Nuitae stood there, staring, completely dumbstruck by new turn of events.