Imloth honestly couldn't help himself. He tried, oh, he tried, to control his reaction to Valen's expression as he recounted his latest encounter with Elowayen, but he just couldn't help himself.
He burst into laughter, the noise deafeningly loud in the temple's empty practice yard.
They had been engaged in a bout of had started out as friendly sparring, a routine occurrence that began as acknowledgment of each other's skills but eventually morphed into a twisted form of mutual respect. This time was more than just sparring, however; Imloth focused on merely surviving his compatriot's attacks while Valen was almost mindless in his fury, desperation in every move. It wasn't until the tiefling broke his staff and tried to impale Imloth on the shattered ends that the drow called a halt to the match, and demanded to know just what was causing his friend so much trouble.
"Are you finished ridiculing me yet?" Valen growled in annoyance at the commander, his tail lashing back and forth. "I, for one, am quite done with your mockery."
Imloth wiped tears from his eyes, still laughing, as Valen glowered on the steps next to him. "She's got you, boy." the drow chuckled as he gasped for breath. "Dead and center, she's pinned you where she wants you."
"That does not help me, Imloth." Valen sulked. He hunched over his knees, face twisted into a thunderous scowl. "The only true interaction I have with elves of any kind are limited to surfacers who wished to kill me, or drow matrons who-" the tiefling stopped and shuddered. "Never mind."
"So you are not sure if her intentions are merely for pleasure or not." Imloth surmised.
The tiefling gave a sharp nod as he looked out over the practice field, his brow creased in thought
"She asks of my past, yet does not judge me for my actions." Valen's voice was low and rough, his gaze focused on some distant point in the courtyard. "She does not damn me for my blood alone; instead she teases me, she invites me... and I am not so certain that I would regret accepting."
"So why don't you?" Imloth shrugged and flicked a speck of dirt off his training leathers. "It would probably do you both good to relieve a bit of the tension."
"I cannot be... casual about women, Imloth." Valen dropped his gaze to stare at his booted feet. "I tried once, and I fell in love with a slave. I loved her, but I could not save her, and I just barely remember her name."
"You are worried."
"Wouldn't you be?" Valen's smile was hollow and bitter. "She is so fragile, Imloth. She spoke once of a broken heart, of a man who sought to force her hand; yet she still cares for him, I have seen it in her eyes. She wept for him, Imloth. How can I compete with a man who scarred her for all others?"
Imloth gave the warrior an appraising look. "I think that, perhaps," he began, "a better question would be how can she compete with your idea of her perfect love."
"What do you mean by that?" Valen whirled to face the commander, his teeth bared in a snarl.
Imloth raised his hands in a placating manner, all the while grateful he had no children of his own to raise; dealing with Valen was work enough. "I meant no disrespect, only that perhaps it is your ideas that are the cause of your troubles, not hers."
"And how, exactly, did you come to that conclusion?" Valen asked angrily.
"Eilistraee, give me strength," Imloth muttered. "Valen, you forget that I know you. It is not a stretch to imagine that you think you do not deserve her, for all your sins. That she deserves something else, something that you think she needs that you cannot provide her- safety, wealth, a home-"
"Enough!" Valen leaped to his feet, a scowl on his face once more. "My hands are drenched with the blood of thousands; my past is nothing but death! How can I offer her anything when all that I touch is tainted? How can I give her what she so plainly deserves?"
"And she is different how?" Imloth raised a silvery brow at the tiefling's vehemence. "She, the destroyer of Undretide, the Seer's savior of the Underdark? She, the wild druid who lives on the surface, who fights and hunts just to survive? Her hands are just as bloody, her conscience just as heavy, yet she does not think herself too low, too ruined for you. Do not deny what both of you so obviously want, Valen."
Valen turned and stalked away, his body rigid and tense. Imloth was not deterred by the show of dramatics; he merely raised his voice to call after the tiefling, "Perhaps it is not her idea of a perfect love that you need to break, but your own!"
The commander whirled around to face a rather bemused Seer and her escort, all gathered behind him in a loose circle.
"Mother Seer!" Imloth bowed quickly. "I did not hear you arrive-"
"You were not meant to, Imloth." She said quietly, lavender eyes searching his face. "Come, walk with me. I have questions, and something tells me that you have answers."
"Questions, Mother Seer?" Imloth desperately wracked his brain for matters that would concern her- and could only think of one. Blanching, he faced the Seer and nearly panicked at the look on her face. "About what?"
"Why, Valen and Elowayen, of course."
"This soap of yours is so strange, Elowayen." Nathyrra sniffed the glass bottle in her hand, scrunching her nose up at the unfamiliar scents. "What did you call this again?"
"I didn't call it anything," Elowayen defended as she swam from one side of the bathing pool to the other. "My friend Ayalya gave it to me before I left Hilltop. She uses it herself when traveling, to avoid smelling like flowers or perfumed oils when in the middle of nowhere. Something about trolls like to eat sweet things."
"It's so... so light," Nathyrra sniffed again, "and smells like herbs."
"Probably because it's made from herbs." Elowayen rolled her eyes before she ducked beneath the surface to wash the grit from her hair. She surfaced with a splash, her hair in wet clumps around her face as she stretched out her hand. "My soap, please."
Nathyrra obligingly handed her the bottle and watched as the druid shook out a small amount of soap flakes into her hands. She lightly rubbed it into her hair before she poured more into her palms and vigorously scrubbed at her skin.
"You will smell so out of place in the caverns. The creatures will come flocking to you." the assassin remarked as she reached for her own vial of soap.
"I don't care." the druid shot the bottle in Nathyrra's hand a dirty look. "Your drow soaps are so heavy. I don't see how you can use them without getting ill."
Nathyrra shrugged as Elowayen dove under the water's surface to rinse herself clean. "Perhaps I am merely used to them." she suggested when the pale elf had once again risen.
"Perhaps." Elowayen climbed out of the pool, dripping water on the marble floor as she searched for a towel. "Perhaps my darthiir nose is merely more sensitive than yours, drow."
"Perhaps your reflexes are dulled by your reliance on light as well." Nathyrra sneered, pouring out a generous helping of soap. A rich, musky scent filled the room, reminiscent of the perfumes sold in the Bedine markets of the Anauroch. It overpowered the light scent of herbs and caused the druid's eyes to water from the potency; Nathyrra, on the other hand, sank into the water with a blissful sigh.
Elowayen coughed lightly as she wrapped herself in a robe. "If you plan on suffocating yourself, do so when I'm gone."
"Already running from my company?" Nathyrra smirked, teeth bared in a wicked grin.
Elowayen didn't answer, instead waving a silent goodbye to Nathyrra as she left the bathing chamber with towel and soap bottle in hand. Quietly, she padded her way through the halls, her bare feet barely making any noise on the cold marble. Fortunately, she didn't run into any drow on her way to her room, a circumstance that had her grateful and guilty all at once.
Nathyrra was a good, if troubled, soul, and while the Seer was a bit... effusive in her praise of Eilistraee, she was also kind and welcoming- almost to a fault. Imloth, though a bit standoffish the few times she had spoken to him, lacked the natural inborn arrogance of his kind, and Elowayen thought that he would make a decent drinking partner... if she was the kind to spend her evenings in a tavern.
A slight scuffing noise made her pause in her musings. Elowayen immediately slipped to the side of the hall, her lips and fingers falling into a pattern natural to her ways. With a rush of energy and whisper of power, she felt her skin take the mottled shades of marble around her. A quick twist of her fingers and the robe fluttered to the ground, a splash of violet silk against the black stone. She glided silently through the corridor, the fingers of one hand flat along the wall as she moved. While convenient in certain circumstances, her camouflage spell would not last forever, nor was it strong enough to completely hide her from view. It merely created an illusion to help confuse her enemies as she hunted; while such a thing was easy in the forest, it was somewhat difficult to manage in a drow temple.
Ahead, a torch flickered in its bracket and set the shadows in the hall to dancing. She remembered Tomi and his Shadowdancing, how he could flicker in and out of the darkness-
Another scuff had her pressed tightly against the wall, alert and on edge as she watched for a sign of the cause of the noise. Once again, memories resurfaced- this time, memories of the Red Sister who appeared in her room at the Yawning Portal. A silent shadow who died only because of the Seer's gift, Elowayen was well aware of her vulnerability. She was without a weapon or armor, lax in her guard because the temple was supposed to be safe from the Valsharess and her followers.
The door to her chamber opened slightly, and a gaunt male slipped out. He wore the lurid uniform colors of House Maeviir; Elowayen felt her heart sink as she watched him vanish down the hall, away from her and any chance to demand answers.
Even here, I am not safe.
The realization pained her more than she wanted to admit. She slowly reached towards the open door, a spell already forming in her hands-
A large hand came out of nowhere to grip her wrist and break her concentration. Elowayen gasped, the spell sputtering out as Valen flung her against the wall. "Valen-"
"Elowayen?" He halted in place, his voice incredulous. "What are you doing-"
"I-" she stopped as she felt the tell-tale tingles of a fading spell. "Give me a minute." she muttered, darting past him to her fallen robe. She quickly donned and belted the silk before she turned around to face him. Her spell faded at the same time, leaving her visible to the naked eye once more. "Sorry; I was paranoid and I heard a noise-"
"I saw your door open and I-" he began at the same time, halting when she tried to speak. "My apologies, my lady, I-"
"Oh, come off it." Elowayen shook her head. "I need you to go into my room."
He made a choked noise deep in his throat. "What?"
"I saw a drow come out of my room in the colors of House Maeviir. I'm currently lacking weapons or armor, and you are not," she indicated his training leathers with a hand, "And I would prefer to not die a horribly ungracious death after that wonderful bath I just had."
"So I am to be your shield?" he raised a brow at the elf, somewhat maliciously enjoying the sight of her flushing red.
"Well, yes, to be blunt," she admitted. She rubbed her neck self-consciously, obviously uncomfortable with her lack of protection. "And my sword as well."
He laughed, the sound startlingly gentle, and swept into a slight bow before he straightened upright once more. "Your wish is my command."
He moved in front of her then, slowly inching towards the door with the deliberate steps of a predator. Elowayen followed close behind, hands nervously clutching at the lapels of her robe. She gasped as he suddenly dashed into the room, the only sign of his passage a rush of air and the creak of his armor. She darted after him, her hands already priming a healing spell- only to find him standing in the middle of her chamber, staring at an unmarked envelope sitting against her pillow.
"Valen?" she murmured, the spell fizzling out as she stepped close behind him. "What is it?"
"The answer to many, many questions, Elowayen." he replied softly, his eyes hard as he glared at the envelope. "I do not wish to pry, but as this was left to you, may I stay while you read it?"
"Oh... certainly, Valen." she exhaled as she moved around him to lightly poke at the envelope with one finger. "Is it-"
"It is safe." he nodded. "I sense no magic on it."
"You sense magic?" Elowayen turned to face him, curiosity written on her face. "The energies, or just certain spells? Can you sense anything else or are you limited to just-"
"The magical energies. All planars are sensitive to such things. It was... how I could find you, in the hallway when you were disguised." He looked vaguely uncomfortable at the line of questioning and nodded back towards the envelope. "My lady, the letter?"
"Oh! Sorry." she leaned over and picked up the object of his ire. Richly textured and a deep crimson, the paper screamed of wealth and nobility- and she could not think of any in Lith My'athar who would have access to such excess. She opened it, breaking the unmarked wax seal, to find another piece of heavy red paper folded inside. Elowayen heard Valen approach to stand behind her as she unfolded the letter, revealing a spidery script in black ink.
"I can't read this, can you?" she passed him the paper over her shoulder; his fingers brushed hers as he took the letter and she shivered. It struck her how intimate things appeared between them right then, and that Valen might take it a bit... contrived after their last encounter. Not wishing to offend him, she moved towards the bed with quiet deliberation and seated herself, watching his lips move as he read the unknown words. Suddenly his face darkened and he crushed the paper in his hand, cursing something or someone in drow. "Valen?"
"I am sorry, my lady, but you must dress. We must see the Seer immediately. I will wait for you outside."
He turned and left the room quickly without another word. Unsettled, Elowayen moved towards the armoire provided with the room, praying that new armor waited inside. To her chagrin, there were only a tunic and loose pants, both dyed the violet-black color of a deep bruise. She held the tunic up to the torchlight; a man's tunic, far too long and loose for her to wear comfortably. With a sigh, she knew the pants would be an ill-fit as well, and that to even attempt to wear them would be foolish.
"There's no hope for it, then." She groaned as she turned back to the robe. "Here's hoping they don't think I'm propositioning anyone."
Valen fumed in the hallway, the damning letter from Zesyyr Maeviir still crumpled in his fist. How dare that insolent whelp try to involve Elowayen in her petty political squabbles. How dare she try to arrange the Seer's savior to-
He snapped out of his thoughts at the sound of the door opening. He turned, ready to explain his actions when he actually took stock of what Elowayen was wearing- or rather, what she wasn't.
A dark silk tunic hung from her frame, almost sliding off her shoulders with ease. She had wrapped the belt from the robe around her neck and under her bust in an attempt to keep the garment on, an action that only accentuated certain areas that Valen desperately wished were once again hidden beneath layers of leather armor. The tunic barely reached her knees, falling in soft folds that rippled as she walked. Her hair was loose and curled, strands damply clinging to her throat as she turned her head to regard him with curious eyes.
He took a deep breath, trying so hard to maintain control, only to catch the forest scent that surrounded her like an aura. Without realizing it, he had taken three steps forward and pressed her against the door frame to her chambers, bending down until he could inhale that scent with every breath.
"You smell- where I came to the surface- a forest." he choked out, fighting the urge to nuzzle her throat and hair until that same scent was pressed into his skin, until it soaked into his being. "I haven't- it's been so long-"
Slowly, he cupped her face in his hand, his palm rough and calloused against her bath-softened skin. He leaned closer, still breathing in the scent of forests and magic that emanated off of her, as his hand slid from her cheek to rest lightly on her throat. With a slight purr, Elowayen tilted her head back, her eyes lidded and heavy. "Valen-"
He kissed her.
Hungrily, forcefully, he kissed her. He teased with nips to her lips and jaw. He growled when she didn't open her mouth fast enough; he rumbled in pleasure when she did. His tongue slipped in, testing, tasting, taking. His hand held her in place while his arm snaked around her waist to pull her tight against him. She mewled in pleasure and tangled her hands in his hair in response.
With a groan, he effortlessly lifted her off her feet to pin her against the wall, desperate and wild to feel her. He bit at the corner of her mouth and she arched against him with a moan, her legs wrapping around his waist. Panting, Valen pulled far enough away to see her expression; hazy green eyes stared back at him over lips swollen from his kisses. Elowayen groaned again, and tugged on his hair until he brought his lips back to hers. Greedily, he swallowed her cries and lost himself in the feel and taste of her. With a nudge to her chin, Elowayen tilted her head back and revealed the column of her throat. He bent down and lightly bit the soft skin at the junction of her neck and shoulder, delighted by the throaty moan that escaped her-
The feminine clearing of a throat brought both of them back to the present with a crash. Valen broke away from her neck with a start as Elowayen buried her face in his chest, the tips of her ears flushed red. Carefully, they disentangled; Elowayen unwound her legs from his waist while Valen gently lowered her back to the ground. She refused to look up as she regained her balance, her blush now reaching from her ears all the way past the neckline of the tunic. He, on the other hand, straightened up and met the Seer's gaze head on, refusing to give in to his embarrassment.
"Well, this certainly was... unexpected." The Seer's lightly amused tone had both of them blushing like naughty schoolchildren, each refusing to look at the other. "Unexpected, but still delightful."
"Seer-" Valen began, only to have her silently raise her hand.
"I had a vision. Tell me, Valen, what has occurred that you would fear for our safety so greatly?"
"So Matron Myrune will betray us then." The Seer sat back in her seat, her expression thoughtful. "I see. She seeks Elowayen's aid to further demonstrate her... dedication to our cause."
"Or to have Elowayen killed in her stead." Valen scowled as his tail snapped from side-to-side, a habit he only displayed when extremely angry. "I do not think-"
"I'll do it."
His head whipped to the side, staring at the slightly rumpled but surprisingly serene elf. She calmly sat on a small settee in the Seer's private quarters, a cup of herbal tea in hand. She met his fiery gaze with a tranquil look of her own. She gently set the cup on a low table before speaking, her gaze distant and unfocused.
"I'll do it. Not because I particularly agree with Zesyyr's methods, but because I do believe that her mother would betray us if she had the chance to. And Zesyyr, though young, is desperate to survive." Elowayen shook her head as she mulled over her words. "I know I am a relative newcomer to drow politics, but if her mother surrenders to the Valsharess, it's logical to assume that Zesyyr will die, correct? The Valsharess will destroy House Maeviir completely to absorb its power into her ranks, and Zesyyr wants to survive. She wants glory and power, not shame and defeat." She looked up at Valen as she finished her thought, her expression rueful. "I admit, a quick assassination would be much easier, but I would not ask that of anyone here. I will not command someone to do something I would not. It makes me no better than Zesyyr, or Myrune, for that matter."
"Elowayen's thoughts do have merit." The Seer stated slowly. "And Zesyyr is willing enough to risk a servant stealing into Elowayen's quarters... she is desperate to find allies."
"Which reminds me, could you have someone go over the room? I don't necessarily trust House Maeviir, nor do I trust things not to have gone missing." Elowayen gave the Seer a apologetic smile. "I don't mean to sound rude, but-"
"It was distressing to have such a violation, especially here." The Seer nodded her agreement. "I will go myself, Elowayen. In the meantime, I want you to go to Rizolvir. He has armor waiting for you there."
"Thank you, Seer." Elowayen bowed her head as she stood, understanding the silent dismissal. "Um... perhaps you could send Nathyrra instead? I seem to be missing appropriate clothing, since most of my belongings were stolen by the Red Sisters." she blushed slightly, motioning to her lack of trousers.
"I will send her instead." The Seer gave the druid a half-smile. "I will have Valen escort you to her room; you will stay there until your chamber is cleared."
Elowayen gave a slight nod, her face softening as she gazed at Valen.
His anger at her decision, however, did not allow his face to soften back.
"He is a rothe's ass, Elowayen." Nathyrra spat angrily. The assassin sat on her bed and watched the druid strap on her new leathers. "A large, pimpled, stinking hairy rothe's ass with a-a- a duergar's brain!"
Elowayen laughed, an unusually sad sound. "Perhaps. I think he is merely worried, and very poor at expressing that."
"We have a word for that." Nathyrra jumped to her feet and began to pace back and forth across the floor. Elowayen paid her no mind and instead adjusted the fit of her chest piece. "It's a bit sibilant for a surfacer like yourself, but perhaps with time you-"
"Nathyrra." Elowayen cut into the drow's rant. "I appreciate your concern and anger, but I also understand his view. I will not cheapen that by insulting him until he actually does something worthy of being insulted. Then you may teach me the filthiest drow curses you know." she added with a wickedly sharp grin.
"Did the Seer say how long it would take before your belongings were considered clear? I would like to get on with this... problem as soon as possible."
"You and me both, my friend." Elowayen sighed. Finally satisfied with the fit of her new armor, she closed her eyes to block out the image of Valen's gaze, usually so warm and gentle towards her, turn cold and frigid when he looked at her.
"You're a rothe's ass, my friend."
"Thank you, Imloth. Your insight is welcome." Valen grumbled.
"If you keep seeking my advice handling your druid, I'll start to think it actually is." the drow chortled into his tankard. "You're still an ass."
"Thank you, Imloth." Valen gritted his teeth in annoyance. Why he felt the need to come to the tavern was still beyond him; yet here he was, sitting at a table with Imloth for company again. He sighed and rubbed his face; if he wasn't careful, this could become a habit.
"Apologize to her." Imloth's suggestion cut through his muddled thoughts. "It's a start to getting back on her good side."
"I didn't do anything wrong!" Valen snarled angrily at the drow. His hand clenched around his own tankard, his grip fierce enough to leave finger-grooves in the metal. "She's the one acting like-"
"Like the prophetical savior of the rebel army?" Imloth raised a brow. "You're right, a completely foolish idea we must immediately rid her of to prevent her from doing something dangerous."
"You are not helping." Valen snapped. "At all."
"You are not willing to accept help, so perhaps sarcasm will sink into that demon-thick skull of yours, instead." The drow shrugged as he drank deeply from his ale. Setting the tankard down with a clunk, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth before continuing. "She's displaying all the signs of a female willing to mate you, Valen. She did not protest your manhandling earlier either, and if there were a time to protest anything-"
"Where did you hear about that?" Valen hissed and surged to his feet, looming over the commander with a scowl.
"While you do present an imposing image right now, tiefling, you do not scare me." Imloth smirked and motioned for Valen to be seated once more. "As for how I heard it... we are in Lith My'athar. To think that word of such things would not get around, no matter how few saw it, is just plain foolish."
Valen flushed deep at Imloth's words, shame overcoming his rage. He had tainted Elowayen's reputation in the rebel camp; he made her seem cheap and tawdry, easy prey to any dominating male that decided to bed the "wild surface druid".
While he may not have spent much time with the troops since Elowayen's arrival, he still paid attention to the barracks gossip. The drow males had long speculated what a surfacer would be like in bed, even before her arrival, and now such stories would only increase the dangers to her person- all because he could not control his urges. Now she faced even more difficulties in Lith My'athar, not just from the drow's natural hatred of outsiders, but now from their desire to conquer and defile.
He growled at the thought of another touching her, kissing her, making her moan as he did-
He spun on his heels, marching away from a startled Imloth as he went to seek out his wayward druid. She would not be allowed to let any other male touch her, to be near her, to aid her in her quest. He would tear them apart if they tried.
"That was one of the most unpleasant things I have ever done."
Elowayen sat on the low roof of the cleric's quarters with Nathyrra and a bottle of drow wine. They reclined against the wall of a tower in an effort to relax after their battle in House Maeviir. Unable to find Valen in time, Elowayen had elected to go with only Nathyrra and Deekin instead. The bard's magic proved invaluable, casting spell after spell to cover her; meanwhile, Nathyrra's skills shone as she danced through the blades, laughing with a sick glee when she impaled guard after guard on the tips of her rapiers.
"It is but one of many such things for me." Nathyrra took a pull from the bottle, offering it back to Elowayen. "I killed many in the service of the Red Sisters, and more in the service of the Seer."
The pale elf accepted the bottle with a nod of thanks, taking a light swig before resting her head against the brick of the tower behind her. "I regret the loss of life, no matter what the person may have done with theirs."
"You are a druid, Elowayen. I am an assassin." Nathyrra reasoned gently. She raised her head to look up at the darkness above. "I live in a society where shadows reign and the lives and actions of others are merely a tool, the weapons for the Matrons, the strongest of our lines. You come from a place where mercy and compassion are lessons taught at a loving mother's knee; here our mothers teach no such thing. Any softness, like that which you display... such things are frowned upon here in the Underdark."
"And that breaks my heart." Elowayen quietly replied, closing her eyes as she took another drink. "Even my own family... they were misguided, but they did love me, in a way. Even after... it was hard, but they did love me."
"It is... a foreign concept to me, love." Nathyrra admitted as she plucked the wine from Elowayen's grasp. "I do not know a mother's love, only her pride... and her disappointment." The drow shook her head. "Even when we take lovers, there is no love, only lust and desire. Occasionally it is to beget a child, but even then it is not out of love, merely survival."
"What of Eilistraee?" Elowayen asked. "Does she not teach of love and forgiveness? To find the light in the darkness?"
Nathyrra frowned, taking a drink of wine before passing the bottle back to Elowayen. "Well, yes, but... it is difficult here, for one such as I to find love. You must understand, Elowayen- I told you my past. You know of my history with the Red Sisters, and how I am treated within Lith My'athar. There is no love for me here."
"Perhaps not yet," Elowayen argued as she accepted the bottle back. "But perhaps there is someone out there for you, one who does not care of your past. I gave up hope after Aarin, but-"
Elowayen stopped, hands trembling as she took a deep pull from the bottle. "Just... do not give up, Nathyrra. Please."
They sat in companionable silence for a while, content to listen to the noises of the temple below. Nathyrra chanced a look at Elowayen, startled to see vacant eyes and hunched shoulders.
"You so rarely speak of this Aarin, but when you do, your voice is thick with tears." Nathyrra began, watching for the druid's reaction. "What did he truly do to earn him such regard and you such sorrow?"
"You have never loved, Nathyrra," Elowayen leaned forward, her arms wrapped around her knees. "To truly love... it is a willingness to completely give up your heart, your soul... everything that you are to another, to do anything to please them and secure their happiness before your own."
"Sounds very similar to drow society," Nathyrra remarked. "Minus the calculating and the killing, of course."
"It is a glorious thing, to truly love." Elowayen sighed. "You do those things not out of a sense of filial duty, but out of the desire to see your lover happy, content- to see them smile and laugh, to feel their happiness radiate from them-"
"Minus the calculating and the killing, but with the addition of sentimental poetry." Nathyrra nodded, a grin on her face. "Got it."
"Not quite." Elowayen sighed again, her fingers absently playing with the laces on her boots. "Have you ever felt something, anything, where you would lay down your life to see someone smile? Not because of a reward, or lack of punishment, but out of a genuine desire to see them happy? That is love, Nathyrra."
"You realize you're asking me if I've ever loved, correct?" Nathyrra laughed and shook her head at Elowayen. "We just killed a Matron Mother, and here you are, waning maudlin after a few sips of drow wine and asking if I've ever loved. Elowayen, I'm stunned."
"I'm serious, Nathyrra." Elowayen gave her a quelling look. "Just because you're drow doesn't mean you cannot love- just look at the Seer. Everything she does is out of love, whether her goddess compels her or not. The fact that she forgives so easily, that she protects those who are lost... all she does is out of love. Maybe not romantic love, but love nonetheless."
Nathyrra fell silent at the druid's words. More time passed, each woman lost in her own thoughts before Nathyrra spoke again. "You're right about the Seer, Elowayen. However, as for me... no, I haven't ever experienced anything like that before."
Elowayen sighed, resting her cheek on her bent knees as she stared off into the distance. "I have. That is why I would have done anything for Aarin; I would have stayed with him forever, if he had only asked me. Instead, he went to Lord Nasher and told him that we should wed. A marriage between the Hero of Neverwinter and the Spymaster would lift the spirits of the people, it would give them something to hope for in the wake of the Wailing Death and the War of the Old Ones." Elowayen smiled bitterly, lifting her head to gaze at Nathyrra. "He did not ask me, merely 'suggested' this to Nasher. Nasher, who told me that I would marry Aarin without a thought to my own desires. He told me that I would become an emissary for the city, and work to better the relations with their neighbors and allies. I would be stripped of my ability to run through the wilds, forced to wear gowns and jewels and sit in windowless rooms all day, talking and arguing and dealing with those whose actions would sicken even the drow."
"You are not for politics or noblity," Nathyrra laid a comforting hand on the druid's shoulder, eyes gentle and understanding. "Neither of them truly understood your nature, and from your descriptions of this Aarin's actions... he never loved you. He would have never done such a thing to you if he had truly loved you."
"I think he did love me," Elowayen sighed. She regarded the drow with melancholy eyes and tremulous smile. "I think he was so worried that I would leave, so terrified that something would come between us... the execution of Aribeth was a blow that I could not recover from so easily. She had been a friend, a mentor, an example of good and right. She was willing to listen, to wait, to reserve judgment until after a person's actions had occurred. She only damned the city in revenge when it betrayed her first, and her reward was death. She was hung and burned like a common criminal, and it rankled. Aarin could see my anger and my spite, and he feared a repeat of Aribeth... and Calliara, I think."
"Calliara?" Nathyrra leaned forward, eyes bright with interest. "Who is this Calliara?"
"His first love, a rogue who controlled a guild of thieves. He killed her in battle, refusing to betray the city for her. I think he feared I would betray it as well, and feared what Nasher would do if I did. He moved to act, to tell him first before speaking with me, and I confronted Nasher before Aarin could ask me." Elowayen shook her head again, turning away from Nathyrra. "It was a tangled web, one I tore in my haste to escape what I saw as nothing more than glorified slavery. Do you know what the worst part about it was, though?" she angrily asked the drow.
Nathyrra shook her head, confused by the sudden turn of emotions. "No, I do not."
"The worst part of it all was that I would have stayed, if he had but asked me first! I would have married him, dedicated my life to a castle of stone, to children and politics and him. Instead he sought a way to protect me from myself, and lost me in his frantic haste."
"I am glad you did not stay in Neverwinter, Elowayen." This time it was Nathyrra's gaze that was unfocused, lost in the gloom of Lith My'athar even as the druid turned to face her. "You... are one of the few who have accepted who I am, what I have done, and I do not know if another would have been as... accepting as you."
"We all have sorrows and regrets in our past, Nathyrra." Elowayen's voice was soft as she gazed down into the courtyard. "Our salvation comes in not letting them rule our present as they did our past."
"Do you regret leaving him?" Nathyrra asked suddenly, her eyes slightly narrowed as she regarded the pale elf. "Do you regret coming here?"
"Honestly?" Elowayen took a deep breath, exhaling before she turned to face the drow. "No, I do not. I loved Aarin, and something tells me I always will, but... the life that awaited me in Neverwinter was one that I would have come to regret, to loathe. Even if I married Aarin, even if I had children by him... I think I would eventually abandon it, everything I had, to return to the wilds. To return to all of this, and all that it entails, and I am... glad, for lack of a better term, to be here, right now." She shot the assassin a saucy smile then, her eyes twinkling. "I wouldn't have met Master Drogan if I had stayed, and found the true father of my soul. I wouldn't have Deekin to write books about my adventures, even if they are exaggerated and a bit florid at times. I wouldn't have made my way here, to the Underdark, and met you or the Seer or-"
"Valen?" Nathyrra queried, her raising her eyebrows as Elowayen blushed. "You are truly a strange one, Elowayen, but I am grateful for your honesty. I am glad you are here as well. Now pass the wine, and tell me more about that kiss earlier today."
Elowayen groaned as she handed the bottle back to Nathyrra, her face a bright pink. "How in all the hells did you find out about that?"
"We're drow, Elowayen." Nathyrra grinned wickedly. "Your kobold has written a song about us since your arrival- I believe he used the phrase 'black death and bloody sex' to describe us."
"I'm going to kill him." Elowayen vowed, growling as Nathyrra laughed.
"Don't be cross with him, Elowayen- if anything, the jaluken at the tavern ate it up. I've not seen such a clamor before- apparently he has a touch with the particularly bawdy-"
"Oh, that's it! One kobold kabob, coming up!"
In retrospect, she was grateful that she had taken Deekin and Nathyrra with her to Maeviir; they now worked so well together, it was almost eerie. The kobold protected the assassin as she worked her spells, his bardic energies complimenting Nathyrra's arcane magics while his crossbow kept the more voracious creatures at bay. Their prowess left her free to chase after a bloodthirsty tiefling who had, once again, forgotten that not everyone was as able to smash through a group of enemies like a whirlwind and take only minor wounds.
She cried out as a beholder caught her in the arm with an energy ray, cold shocking her senses. A stinging numbness began to creep through her limbs; she bore the answering rush of Wild magic with gritted teeth as it blocked whatever affliction the monster tried to use against her.
"Valen!" she shouted again and tumbled to the side, dodging another beam attack. Elowayen drove her sword into the beholder's face with a snarl, magical fire springing from the enchanted blade. "Valen, fall back!"
The tiefling ignored her. His flail sang through the air as he tore through beholder after beholder, maniacal laughter filling the air as he spun to avoid attacks from teeth and magic alike. Elowayen winced as he caught one beholder in the main eye; the flail punched through the back of the creature's body with a squelch. Valen spun, and Devil's Bane ripped free of the corpse with a noise that nearly had Elowayen retching. Lost in battle-fever, his weapon found its next target- and smashed directly into the open mouth of the Hive Mother.
"Valen!" she screamed as he was flung away from the Eye Tyrant to crash into one of the stalagmites rising from the cavern floor. The Tyrant turned to face Elowayen with a roar, ignoring the tiefling staggering back to his feet. She threw herself to the side again, taking shelter behind another rock as Valen charged back into the fray with a cry of his own.
Gods save us. We can't die here in these caves. Not like this, she thought in desperation. Plans flashed through her mind and she discarded every one of them as quickly as they came. It wasn't until Valen howled in pain that she left the relative safety of her shelter, unhooking her shortbow as she ran. May the gods see it fit to guide my hand, she prayed.
Elowayen splashed through puddles of blood and gore, dodging a fire spell a beholder mages unleashed in her direction. "Deekin, Nathyrra, cover me, now!" she shouted. With one last look at the bleeding tiefling below her, she bounded up a boulder and drew back the string of her bow. A arrow magically appeared between her fingers, thrumming with energy. "Valen, get down!"
By some grace of the gods, he heard her and dodged to the side, Devil's Bane meeting one of the remaining beholders as she loosened her hold on the string. Assanti's magic crackled to life, the arrow flying across the cavern to impale the Hive Mother straight in the main eye. With a horrible screech, the Hive Mother reared in pain, revealing the roof of a bloodstained mouth; a target Elowayen could not refuse. She drew back the string again and again, Assanti's magic humming between her fingers until her whole body was vibrating from the force of the Hive Mother's cries-
-and the answering shrieks from the tunnels behind them.
"Nathyrra, Deekin, get in here!" Elowayen screamed. She spun round and dropped to one knee, sight lined to face the open doorway. Behind her the Tyrant wailed once more, the shriek abruptly cut off with the familiar sound of Devil's Bane as it tore through flesh and bone. She did not take her eyes from the entrance, merely waited until her erstwhile companions rushed through the opening, the aura from their spells illuminating the tunnel behind them.
Without turning her head, she barked out commands, desperate to keep her companions safe. "Nathyrra, get under cover and keep casting! Deekin, heal Valen now."
She drew back the string once more, breath held as she waited for her chance. Time seemed to slow and stand still, and she still waited for the perfect opportunity. Seconds later, she saw her chance and released her arrow. It flew straight into the open mouth of another beholder, just as it floated into the entrance. The creature screeched in pain and flailed against the rock walls of the tunnel, the sound searing against her hearing- and yet she drew again, again, again, releasing Assanti's magic as if it was no more difficult than breathing.
The corpses began to pile up and block the entrance, yet judging by the sounds from the adjoining chamber, there were still more coming.
Elowayen began to panic. With a curse, she dropped her bow and raised her hands, the divine words slipping from her lips without a thought. Behind her, she could hear the chime of a major healing spell as Deekin yelped at Valen to stay still, Goat-Man, while to her right, magic spheres burst from Nathyrra's hands. The missiles shot over the bodies to slam into the lead monster, a blind mage with bits of rotting flesh caught in its jagged teeth-
Earthmother, Treefather, save us, she prayed as she raised her hands above her head. Save them.
"Elowayen, look out!"
Elowayen watched, detached, as time once again slowed to a crawl. Even as her spell released and divine magic crashed from the heavens, a beholder shot forward with impossible speed. A beam burst from its main eye stalk even as it died in the holy flames.
She felt the ray hit her directly in the chest; felt the force knock her off her feet and towards the rocky ground below. She felt the icy cold spread through her body once more, felt her scream catch in her throat as her lungs struggled to breathe.
She saw a final flash of red and green before black spread across her vision. The familiar touch of Death's hand welcomed her home once more.
Valen knelt in the gore of battle, Elowayen's lifeless body clutched to his chest. He felt slow, fogged, as if he were moving through quicksand. I failed her. I lost myself in battle once more, and she paid the price.
The bard had just healed him when he heard the shrieks of his companions over the roar of wild magic. He turned in time to see the beholder's ray strike her, to watch her stiffen and hear her scream abruptly die as she fell- a sound that wrenched his heart even as he raced to her fallen form. She was cold when he reached her, cold and pale and unmoving.
He heard the scrabbling of claws as the kobold drew near, felt Nathyrra's hand on his shoulder and heard her murmurs in his ear as he dropped to the ground, stunned. He stared at the grimace on Elowayen's face, her eyes wide in fear and her mouth twisted in pain. So different from before, from when her eyes were clouded with desire, her mouth swollen from his attentions as she panted-
Heedless of the blood soaking his armor, he buried his face in the tangled mess of her hair, desperate to catch even a hint of her forest scent. Instead he was greeted with the tang of sweat and blood, bitter and fetid against her skin.
He had gathered her against him then, her head tipping back over his arm to reveal a bloodless throat. A splatter of beholder blood stained the delicate skin; he wiped it away, gently, softly, with a scrap of cloth the kobold pressed into his hand. "Elowayen, wake up." he ordered, her face cradled against his palm. "Hells take it, elf, wake up."
"Valen, we have to leave." Nathyrra tried to shake him, tried to make him see reason even as she blinked back tears. "We have to get her to the Seer-"
"No." he growled. He bent his head and nuzzled at Elowayen's cheek, his breath warming her skin. "She's not dead, Nathyrra. I can still feel her."
"Goat-Man's right!" Deekin crawled to sit next to the tiefling. "Boss will come back, just wait and see!"
"She's dead, you idiots." Nathyrra hissed in disbelief. That they could be so willful to not see that she's passed away... "We'll all be dead soon if we don't leave!"
"We are not leaving her, Nathyrra." Valen snarled. He cradled Elowayen against him, his arm wrapped around her shoulders to support her head. "She will come back."
"She had best do it soon, then." Nathyrra snapped, peering over the boulder at the smoking remains of the beholders. She had not know that Elowayen could summon such powerful magic to her control. She had feared for her life when the meteors appeared out of nowhere and crashed into the beholders. The entire cave system was jarred from the force of their impacts; she feared that Elowayen's spell had backfired and would cause the walls to cave in around them. Instead, the abominations had died, and had taken Elowayen with them.
I hope they are right, my friend. Nathyrra turned her gaze to where her companions huddled around the druid's body. For your sake, as well as theirs.
Her entire body hurt. She had died before, so the sensation of death was nothing new, or even uncomfortable to her, but this was, and she disliked it. Intensely.
Elowayen opened her eyes with a groan to see the familiar shadowed ceiling of the Reaper's Sanctuary. Head swimming, she rolled over to her side and took deep breaths- a tactic to avoid emptying the contents her stomach on the floor. Eventually she was able to control her reaction and forced herself to her feet. She staggered a bit as she struggled to find her balance, but was eventually able to stand upright and look around for her silent audience.
"Sojourner." the voice rolled out of the shadows. Heavily cowled, the Reaper stepped out of the darkness between two columns, the glow of its eyes focused on her form.
"Reaper." Elowayen smiled at the cloaked figure. "I would say it's good to see you again, but you know how I am about dying."
"It is not my fault that you continue to defy the natural order, Sojourner," The Reaper's voice held a hint of amusement as she wobbled on her feet. "It is through a fault of your own that you are here."
"I know, I know," Elowayen lightly touched the leather pouch that held the Relic . "Me and my damnable curiosity. If I had realized I wouldn't get rid of the damn thing once I touched it-"
"You would have still touched it, Sojourner." The Reaper's voice lost all tone of amusement as it faced her, its leathery wings spread wide. "You were meant to have it in your possession, and were meant to use its powers."
Elowayen held up her hand to stave off the Reaper's usual tirade of fate and death, speaking quickly before it could recover. "That being said, since I'm once again back here, what would you like from Toril this time?"
"I... enjoyed the book you left last time, Sojourner." The Reaper slightly bowed its head in her direction. "Perhaps another book of poetry, or perhaps a tale from your world's legends."
"I think I have just the one in mind." Elowayen grinned, grateful her diversion worked. "I'll bring it the next time I 'port through. I'll need to get back to Toril to do that, though."
"Behold, Sojourner, a gate awaits you." The Reaper bowed low. It stepped aside to reveal a faintly glowing planar door. "Go with grace, and live once more."
"Thanks, Reaper." Elowayen dipped into a quick curtsey before she squared her shoulders. "Gods, I hate this part." she muttered as she walked through the door.
With a shuddering gasp, Elowayen arched as she was slammed back into her body once more. Her muscled screamed in pain as she gasped for breath, her breathing restricted by something pressing firmly against her chest. She started to struggle, to try and release herself from whatever was holding her so tight- only to lose all progress when something slammed into her side and tipped her and her attacker over into the squelching, sucking mud beneath.
"Deeks?" Elowayen shook her head, blinking as her vision was fully restored. "Oh gods above, I hate this."
"Elowayen?" a voice breathed in her ear. She raised her head as best she could and caught only a glimpse of piercing blue. Then someone was embracing her tightly, words murmured in a voice so low even her Elvish hearing could barely catch the words. "Gods, you're alive."
"Valen?" Her voice was muffled against his neck. "What in hells happened?"
He released her quickly, embarrassed. Elowayen continued to stare at him in confusion until he cupped her face in his hand. "You... you died."
"Oh." The druid blinked as she remembered the beholder's ray, and then the cold and the dizziness and the Reaper-
"It is good to see that their faith in you was well-founded, my friend." Nathyrra's voice rang out from atop a boulder, where the assassin perched with Assanti clasped lightly over her knees. "I admit, I was skeptical at first, but now I see that the bard and Valen were right in their faith."
"Where are we?" Elowayen tried to stand, only to wobble slightly and almost fall over into the mud again. Valen was immediately there to steady her, a firm hand on her elbow and a concerned look in his eyes. "Oh. Valen, you're covered in goo!"
The tiefling blinked, completely bewildered by her statement as Nathyrra and Deekin burst into snickers. "What?"
"You're covered in goo. Beholder goo." Elowayen wiped futilely at a smear on his face, so focused on her task that she completely missed his blush. She steadied herself with a hand on his shoulder, careful to avoid the spikes in his armor. "Are you injured? We'll need to clean your wounds before we do any healing-"
"My lady, I am fine." Valen captured her hand in his, a soft smile on his lips. "However, if we are to find that stone slab the kobold slave mentioned, we will need to do so now. I imagine it would have been more use against the beholders than it will be against the Valsharess, but any aid at all would not be remiss."
"Valen is right, Elowayen." Nathyrra offered Assanti with a grin. "You'll need all your weapons if we are to do this."
Elowayen took her bow with a nod of thanks, a smile on her face. She wrinkled her nose in disgust when she turned to face the pile of beholder corpses blocking the exit. "Oh, lovely." she complained, frowning. "Deekin, could you-"
"Deekin gots this, Boss." the kobold moved to the front of the group. "No worries, exit be ready soon enough!"
"I hate this part." Elowayen muttered petulantly.
"Boss hates a lot of things." Deekin snickered over his shoulder as he drew himself up. A small gout of flame escaped from his snout and the kobold looked back over his shoulder. "Yous best be moving aways now, Deekin thinks."
Elowayen yelped and moved away from the kobold as quickly as she could. Bemused, Nathyrra and Valen followed her behind a boulder near one of the air vents. Elowayen reached into her pack and removed scraps of cloth, similar to what Valen used to clean the blood from her throat earlier.
"You might want to cover your noses," Elowayen warned as she offered the scraps. "Things are about to get even worse."
"You just died, Elowayen. How could this get any worse?"
"Ever smell burning beholder flesh, Nathyrra?"