((side note: just gotten back to trying to write. some of the problems have eased, but school is starting back. May go back and re-edit it. Thought to at least try and post a bit, maybe motivate myself some. thanks to anyone who has read the story.))


Matron Mae'Vir sat across the black marble table in her usual seat, decked out in her usual finery- ceremonial orange robes containing hundreds of protective spells as well as every type of jewelry, also containing powerful magics. She appeared to glow to most with how much magic was on and around her person. On either side of the matron was Jhaeldril the first daughter, and Nyssa her second. Matron Ischarri in her best also, stood opposite of Mae'Vir, hundreds of parchments between the two. Around the table was Vhaeliira the szarki, the commander of the Mae'Vir house soldier, Matron Ischarri's eldest daughter, and quietly near the door was Ril'auven of VIVD.

"your main group," Mae'Vir waving her hands across the table with a three dimensional model of the city in the center of the table, "will hold back Vharzyym from aiding Kilanatlar," directed to Matron Ischarri, "I have a battalion that will sit on Tirin also. But I wouldn't expect them to be of help unless they learn of this sooner. Ril'auven," a hand waved his direction, "with Nyssa will..."

Mumbling under her breath, "so you get the glory," Matron Ischarri nodded a reluctant agreement. What else could she do? The fact that House Ischarri was being involved in this was a surprise. Her next comment however was not so quiet, a not so subtle jab at the first matron. "So how much of this is just personal vendetta for your son being outwitted by Shyntyl?"

Matron Mae'Vir ignored the comments, letting Jhaeldril continued instead, "with all of VIVD, the upper classmen of the Academy and half of my soldiers will sweep through every street, every business and every stall. We will wipe this 'pestilence' from Lith My'athar for good. This is Lloth's decree!"

Every hertic business and house in the model were lit up in bright colors, red for confirmed and yellow for suspected. Green was lit on allies and those participating in the slaughtering army.

Vhaeliira, considered an adopted daughter of Mae'Vir, spoke next, "to wipe the heretic scum from this city..." a question and much as a statement.

This was the first she has heard of these plans. Mentally she was thinking how to keep up her façade and relay this vital information back to treea dal Har'oloth and those concerned. All their years of hard worked plans were crumbling before her. All the advancment and gains, would be gone in one great battle the city had not seen in a thousand years. She would be need to warn all her allies. Had she not been so favored with Matron Mae'Vir, the szarki knew that nearly all the Masked Lord's rebels would be exterminated. They would have to start all over again. A cautious look around, played off easy, she kept her ace stoic and was thankful for the protection Vhaeraun had provided her that moment.

"When is this 'great cleansing' to begin?" the szarki asked.

"Great Cleansing? I like that title. And so fitting," Matron Mae'Vir replied, then laid a thick tome before them. Its cover was darker than shadow, and a likewise dark aura surrounded it.

XXOXX

Training the twins one-on-one was needed less and less so Rhylaun was not required to be around as often; Nilrae, when not learning from Izzmurss, was away from the Kilanatlar compound and working on the house's ship Streea Velve. Any time with the weapon master was in introductory material they would be learning in the Academy. Both of the twins spent most of the last of their drowling year in preparations to head to the academy.

Or Zarae was suppose to.

With plans intended for her to attend the Priestess Academy soon, the girl was beginning to realize how much trouble she was soon to be in. She knew the material academically, but she had not become the priestess she was suppose to be. So far either her mother had not found out or Zarae had been granted some protection. But like all drow, she knew how fickle Lloth was. And such favor or protection would not last forever. Each day closer meant more cause to worry.

"Gear up your lizards and meet me at the compound gate at the second hour," the weapon master called entering the dining hall with the twins eating breakfast.

"What are we up to?" Zarae asked, mouth full. She looked to Nilrae who shook his head unknowingly.

"How about you do as your told?" Rhylaun responded walking back out the door and heading to the war council room.

"This might not be good," the girl commented with concern.

"If it was Neeryrd I would be more concerned, especially you."

Last bite shoveled into her mouth, "You think he will come after one of us? It would be stupid."

Nilrae shrugged as they headed to their rooms.

Lizards saddled and both drowlings strapped in, they moved their mounts to the gate where the weapon master was waiting for them.

"You may not spend your entire miserable life within the compound. Chances are you will be in the tunnels, whether for a patrol or a hunt. As lower ranking children, you will be out of leading the house troupes and less prestigious positions. The environment of the wilds differ from the luxury of the house gym. We will begin this week cycle on such basic survival strategies and cavern operations and tactics."

"This similar to geography and maps from last month?" Nilrae asked. He's already looked over his course load that he would be taking; a lot of this last year had been introductory material of the classes in the Academy.

"This will be applying that in practical situation," he replied pulling the reigns and kicking his lizard into motion.

The gate opened to let the three pass. Over the bridge and into the market district they rode. This early and the shops just beginning to open, it was mostly empty. They stopped for small patrol to pass by. Zarae was mesmerized by the lights, or it seamed. Her mind was distracted by thoughts of entering the tunnels and another shot at getting her cave back. Nilrae was more astute to watching, not taking the passing Acadamy students for granted. It was either luck or divine intervention, but he nearly missed it. Among the soldiers was a cloaked figure. They walked close to Rhylaun, passing an object off before disappearing again. When the patrol was gone the three were moving again back twords the city bridge and to the rothe fields were they had practiced riding on the ceiling of the cavern. Two rolled up maps were pulled from the saddle bag, one handed to each drowling.

"Reach the marked location within 4 hours," the weapon master began, pulling the reigns right to turn his mount around.

Zarae looked to the map then to the male, "wait…what?"

"Do as your told. And I suggest you hurry," stopping any further questioning and scurrying off back across the bridge.

Rhylaun gone, the twins unfurled their maps and compared them with each. They had different marked routes and ending points. The path would take them thru the miles of maze of tunnels. It looked like a test; both knowing, as did nearly everyone, that any maps of the tunnels were somewhat inaccurate. Either in which were dead ends or safe paths. This kept most traffic and foreigners coming into the city entering through the tightly controlled river.

Zarae rolled her map, "switch? Yours goes over by a lake." Nilrae thought it over, then shrugged as he rolled it up and switched.

"Got your insignia?"

If one got lost, then they could be found with magical detection as each was specially attuned to only one person. Plus, it would allow them unquestioned access into the wilds and back into the city.

"I am more worried about the inhabitants than getting lost," Nilrae replied nudging his lizard into moving to the gate at the cavern tunnel entrance.

A guard stepped in front to stop them, notebook in hand. As taught, the twins each showed their insignia; the guard recording the information before stepping aside.

"Right door, lizard wide," the guard called to another in a carved room within the cavern wall. The scrying stone glowed for 2 seconds before the gate parted for each to enter.

Nilrae waved the guard over to ask, "Why is the security tighter than usual?"

"Same troubles. You know the drill."

XXOXX

Rhylaun turned the lizard into an alley, pacing it to double check it was empty of small token tumbling between dexterous fingers as he waited. His lizard sensed his agitation, himself restless as he waited. Five minutes later, the mount's tail began twitching. But neither saw anything, heard nothing but the city's usual busyness.

Click

Rhylaun turned in saddle that split second to catch a quarrel aimed for his neck. He held it there a couple seconds as the cloaked figure from earlier stepped from a globe of darkness. The lizard turned to face the rogue, nudged by his master. The weapon master tossed the quarrel back at the would be shooter's feet. A few words of a spell, a secondary protection was set, a bubble of silence so any conversations would not be overheard.

"Reflexes still as quick as always," a feminine voice came, scooping up the bolt, "It wasn't poisonous," she laughed, "You always catch it anyway, Rhylaun of extinct House Quel."

"Speak," his frustration growing with the female, always trouble she was.

"Now now. Is that how you are suppose to speak to your jabbress, your superior?" she laughed seductively sauntering twords Rhylaun.

The male was not amused, one arm over the other, leaned forward and waited for the drowess to explain why she summoned him. He knew it was important; such a meeting with the whispers and rumors occurring made this as very dangerous.

Hands went to her hips, an exaggerated pose and pout, "You are no fun. What happened to the warrior I remember?" she smirked, tho her face was still hidden under the hood. She sighed when Rhylaun remained as he was. "The whispers are true. But no where near to the degree you think," she began, tone suddenly uncharacteristically serious, "it is much worse."

"How long?"

"All out plans will be to no good in less than a year."

That got the weapon master's attention. He sat up in the saddle, a glance around as he took it in. "How much is known?" he asked after swallowing.

"Almost everything. All our shops but two are marked. Treea dal Har'oloth is marked. But I think it is because VIVM wants their removal more than actual discovery..." a pause then looking up hard into the male's face, "And Kilanatlar is marked."

Rhylaun did react to that one, and his face went pale. However the male recovered quickly. He sat quietly as if trying to think out a course of action.

"What is the plan?" holding in a slight breath. The Masked Traitor had the upper hand, by a mile. But she had shared this with him.

"We are moving out our people bit by bit. Closing up any loose ends. Making sure we have some contingencies still in place."

"And the Dancing fools?"

"Same danger. Tho they seamed to have less infiltration than we have, go figure."

"What are the instructions for me?"

"You will get word when to get out. You and the boy," the familiar smirk returning to her still hidden face, "Of course we know. You think it is a secret as you thought? The boy has not been so cautious. He does have a weakness. And she is not as guarded as you would want. But that is only part of why yall have been marked."

"Your ilharess discovered the truth of our wizard's work?"

"Did you think old fool Mae'Vir would not?" the drowess chuckled, "I do have to give your elder boy credit for audacity. Or rather ilharess."

Rhaylaun shrugged, reaching to pull out a pouch of coins. A white skinned hand reached up to stop him, instead grabbing him by the collar and pulling his lips to her. When finished with using him, she pushed the male away and turned to walk away.

"You know my payment. And I will call on it soon," turning to him with a suggestive smile before vanishing from sight.

XXOXX

Zarae and Nilrae watched as the stone gate closed behind them, the scrying crystal in the adamantine column flaring for a few seconds before returning to its original color. Both headed off in the opposite direction, the paths the maps dictated. Nilrae sat leaning forward in his saddle, his lizard moving more cautiously. His katana was in hand, a wrist crossbow armed and ready. Turning and twisting, crossing others, rising and falling in elevation, changing in sizes the tunnels went. Not every one he entered was right; several were dead ends, either of wall or abyssmal drops. One tunnel came too close to a toxic room, and he was able to figure it out before he walked in. The path dipped twords an small chamber, a partial opening leading to a 2 feet drop that became a side room. Nilrae paused to peek; a number of piles of bones covered the floor in a fossil chamber. The drowling moved on, little concern for anyone dwelling within that could be a threat. The tunnel spilt, then split again into three, the map indicating to go right. Nilrae found that to be not correct, having to retrace his steps before finding the correct way, discretely marked on his map. He came to another fork, neither with any indication of which way and this one not on his map at all. Eyes closed he listened trying to get a sense from the air and sounds, to discerned the pattern of the echo of the cave he was looking for.

Nilrae entered the cavern with an hour to spare. It was a small outpost, re-enforced outer walls and containing only a building of 2 rooms with a pen of cave hogs in the back. Two soliders waved the drowling to come close. One grabbed for the reigns, her dress indicating and hair style indicating she was a commoner, as the second, same rank but differing hair style, waited for the boy to show his insignia. The female warrior wore a goldish piwafwi, her connections to House Vharzyym and the other a gray, connections to House Qos'Yutsu.

The male in the grey piwafwi whistled to someone inside the walls, before turning to Nilrae, "Rhylaun said to expect you. Come," waving the boy to follow him.

"How? We switched maps?"

"Guess he knew," the male not really caring, just here to do his job.

Nilrae dismounted his lizard letting the female soldier take it. They followed entering the compound. Another soldier stepped out, his station higher than either of the other two, shown by his admantine/mithril chain shirt and jeweled sword. His piwafwi was indigo, he too from Qos'Yutsu.

"I am Sszuque Yoegh'ilrymmin. I will be teaching you."

Nilrae was lead thru, past the cave hogs, into a small branching tunnel. There was only about 5 inches above each head, and the width was only about 4 feet. There was little room to move, and one could barely even draw a sword, much less be able to fight. Something Sszuque demonstrated with a nearly harmless attack; the boy ducked and rolled under as he'd learned, but found that did not work either. Sszuque gained a clear advantage, as Nilrae was not able to get out of range, the wall blocking. The warrior spun right and his sword moved to anticipate a change in action. Under the boys neck as he was on his back, Nilrae half expected to die. The sword was held a few moments longer before he stepped back.

"Back on you feet," he commanded, "watch your surroundings, think about where you are."

On his feet, Nilrae did a quick glance around then sheathed his katana. Instead he drew a sai, smaller weapon and better suited for close quarter combat.

"Again," Sszuque not pausing and moving to strike again.

The two practiced for a good four hours, the warrior showing Nilrae many small tricks and how to advance, mostly to use the walls of such a small space to the best advantage. Though Nilrae never won an encounter, his ability grew as he came a bit closer each round to beating the seasoned fighter. Thoroughly worn, the two returned to the outpost, met by Rhylaun.

XXOXX

Zarae was not favoring much better, having to turn around more times than she found the right path. One path nearly took her into a cavern of poisonous gas. The girl having picked up on the signs in time before entering, had to be thankful for the lessons on air quality. The tunnel entered into a small 10 by 6 foot cavern room. Water ran in rivulets down the walls, trickling sounds echoed as it gathered into a tiny pool. Bioluminescent fungi grew near the pool reflecting the glowing light, but the room appeared otherwise empty. Adjacent to the pool was a mound of bluecaps- known as the grain of the Underdark; its spores can be ground to make a nutritious and bland flour often used for sporebread. Around the ceiling was a vein of faerzress. Experience had also told her to never expect such desirable caverns to be empty. The drowling pulled the reigns and stopped her lizard. Her sword slid from the sheath and she waited, keen drow eyes scanning everywhere. Then the telltale glow of a life source flitted down a side passage in the periphery of her vision. Zarae pulled her piwafwi tighter, hiding her heatshadow from whatever might be in here. Her lizard was still very visible, thus she knew not to linger much longer. She started to turn to follow the marked passage from the map, but her curiosity was just too much and rather be wise about it, turned to follow whatever creature had been in this room.