Lael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
As everyone started to break away to their individual research groups Lael turned her attention to the last of the DeVir’s. She had heard the glee in his voice when the destruction of Menzoberranzan was mentioned. Then there was his ‘special room’, she didn’t need to think twice on what it contained. This here was a true born Drow Male and therefore a dangerous one.
Lael wanted his secrets and that would take a little more subtlety and tact, she needed time to think on it. Meanwhile in the back of her mind Loic’s nudge still ebbed in the back of her mind. It seemed urgent, perhaps she would indulge him and seek his council on the matter.
With a shallow curtsy she excused herself out to find the Guest room Loic inhabited.
This was a fairly large tower on the inside, he thought as he walked, what with there being limited space in the cavern outside. He liked this Drow’s style, and he entertained the idea of erecting something similar for himself some day soon down here. He could carve a teleportation circle into it and have quick access, potentially, to the moving library that was Gravenhollow.
Loic turned into a cozy room on the lower level. It could be a servant’s quarters, or perhaps it was intended to be an additional storage area. There were a few scattered crates, but otherwise very little within. The half-elf took a seat upon one of the boxes, leaning forward tiredly to rest his elbows on his knees. Slowly, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to commence processing the events of the last several minutes. There was quite a bit to analyze.
By the time Lael’s curvy figure stepped into the threshold, he had a pitiful look on his face. Knowing he had no reason to hide his feelings, but still unable to look directly at her, he merely motioned her towards him in the attempt to bid her closer.
Lael I… Things have been moving so fast. I need to tell you so much. There have been times when I have been so close to doing just that, but I kept putting it all off, afraid you would try to stop me, because I just couldn’t let that happen.
The wizard shook his head, then finally lifted his dark eyes to regard her. To the woman, he would appear very similar right now to a guilty dog awaiting punishment. “I have been up to …things.”
Lael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
When she finally found him and entered the room her mouth opened to enquire of his mood. But she saw the look and how his gaze would not match hers and her parted mouth closed.
He beckoned her closed and she took a few steps closer, closing the door behind her as she did so. Lael’s head was tilted as she pondered what could make him look so grim.
The Loic spoke and Lael looked smug. “Yes, doing things and telling others who have not given you their complete and utter trust.” She paused and rested her hand on her hip, he must have noticed her face when Loic hinted at his and Eran’s secrets in the library. At least he was trying to make amends.
“What have I ever done that made you think you could not trust me, or that I would stop you?”
You? Ultimately nothing. It’s the circumstances surrounding you. But that’s over, he said with conviction as he got back onto his feet before her. “And the only reason that Eran knows anything is because he caught me red-handed. I had to convince him to keep my secret. Why do I even have secrets? Because it looks bad, just like everything I’ve done for us up to this point. If I don’t explain it right, I don’t know how that would go. I imagine some people would want to knock me unconscious and leave me behind…”
He was intentionally maintaining eye-contact by now, and speaking in a soft, hushed tone. “I have been hoping to share a moment alone with you for over three days. It hasn’t been easy on the road to do that, surrounded by those we don’t know well enough yet. …The Sending Stone. It’s only able to relay a single message each day. For the first month after I discovered what it was, I only had enough time to learn some of the Psionics that I’ve been using. I didn’t question the source of the information until after Gauntlgrym, where I learned that my new master is likely a genuine ally, not an enemy. This is about when Eran discovered me sending my message that particular day. His initial reaction was extremely suspicious – he thought taking information from an unknown entity was an incredibly risky gamble, and I agree, but it’s yielding results. If an enemy simply gives me their secrets, that is still of enormous use to me. In the end, Eran saw that too, and he swore not to say a word until I had a chance to tell you and Taman what I have been doing. If I recall correctly, some of us saw my master in Gravenhollow, with my duplicated ring, as an echo. Turns out he is Githyanki. Facts continue to reveal him to be on our side of all this, and I continue to speak to him daily to pursue the art of this rare mental magic.”
Loic paused to gauge her reaction so far and answer any immediate questions.
Lael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
The circumstances surrounding her, what did that even mean? If she had done nothing then why the insult? As Loic continued talking and Lael’s frown increased.
She had checked the stone and felt no threat, she knew of the secret master, Loic was telling her nothing new and it was starting to irritate her. Why didn’t he just spit out what he wanted to say..
Yet, the words ‘everything else he had done, for us. Resonated strongly, she was not aware he had such duty. She had assume that it was only her who had sworn that she would see this done No matter the cost. Loic would not know that, no one did, of her private oath, the reason why she struggled privately, all she could possibly put at risk.
Lael imagined they would stop her when the time came…. She realised then, why he kept the secret and she softened, just a little.
“You’ve misjudge me Loic…” But she shook her head dismissing the thought. “I know the about the stone, the secret master, yes it was a risk, one you should have warned us of, if only Taman and I, We could have protected you if it had gone sour.”
Yes, that is slowly sinking in, he nodded down at her. “I have had some time to analyze my reaction – even I wasn’t initially sure why I thought it was such a good idea to keep it hidden. It was more of an instinct. It’s possible that because this mission is the first time I’ve been working without authoritative supervision, maybe I… Maybe there was a sense in me that I was doing the wrong thing, and that I’d be punished for it, that it’d be stolen from me. Up until I met you, that is how my life has gone. I have placed faith and trust in who I was told to place it with. This… This is all up to me, and us, no training swords or headless arrows, and the feeling is both terrifying and exhilarating. And then again, it’s not just us we’re deciding things for. It’s been a lot of pressure, and I’m certain you feel the same weight.”
But before you can possibly begin to forgive me, he started reluctantly, moving away from Lael. He was sure she would want some space after this next bombshell dropped. “There is more. And this is a secret that no one knows yet. It regards what I was up to yesterday, in the library.”
Loic stood with his back to her now, but stared over his shoulder at her as he cryptically asked, “…You are familiar with the phrase the enemy of my enemy is my friend ?”
Lael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
Lael had tried to draw common ground between them. She had been doing this the entire journey with all of them. Measure their commonalities instead of their differences, it had made the entire ordeal bearable. As Loic talked it became apparent to her that perhaps these similarities had be fabrications of her mind.
He spoke of training with wooden swords and head;ess arrows, this was not her life, she needed to hold the real thing, to learn it;s weight as soon as it was possible or be slaughtered. There was no period of innocence in her youth, all the ugliness of the world was laid out in front of her and she was swiftly taught how not to meet it.
The thought of ‘Sheltered mages in their gilded cages’ came to mind. Suddenly the barbarism of the Sorcere felt like a logical necessity. The evidence of those unbridled and wild with magic and the effect it could have on the world. Gromph has proved this, if Vizeran had his way, he too and now Loic.
Loic spoke of pressure, but was it really now he had realised the weight that had been put upon their shoulders? For Lael she had realised it when they had fled Sloobludop, and left those poor people at the mercy of that monster, they had been making decisions since then at every city they entered and left.
But at least it was just these two things, both seemingly having paid off, despite the risk.
Nevertheless Loic continued with ominous words ’There is more’ Her heart sank, she wasn’t going to like this, not one bit. He mentioned his disappearance at the liberty and she closed her eyes, pained. When everyone else suspected him, she stood there and defended his actions, no doubt that his departure was just. Lael felt foolish.
“What did you do?” There was no hiding the seething venom in her voice as she lock her gaze upon him. All trust is foolish there was a reason her people kept it as proverb.
The wizard wouldn’t consider himself damned just yet, even after her tone had changed. He held out hope that she would understand what he was trying to do, and that it would work if she simply didn’t stop him.
Loic took a breath and turned his head away to stare at the wall.
I have been asking myself, what proof do we have that we aren’t instruments of Lolth? She is the Spider Queen. She can study her prey and predict it, using a pool of godly power. If we are ourselves, we’ll never be able to outplay her. If she is watching us as closely as I believe she is, then it’s a matter of seconds after we step outside that she discovers what we intend to do, and launches a counter. We can’t… combat the strategies of gods. It isn’t possible, or even realistic. Not without equivalent resources. …So, I contacted another god. The one I thought capable of hating Lolth more than anyone else in all the planes, besides Eilistraee.
He would not be saying any of this if they weren’t inside of Vizeran’s tower. The Drow spoke like he had warded it from anything he could think of, which likely included Lolth.
When he started to fold his arms behind his back, a sudden shooting pain in the left appendage stopped him quickly. Lael may have been able to see him flinch in the darkness, but he otherwise didn’t hint at the weird, sudden discomfort. He had to ignore it for now, but the sensation was becoming increasingly more concerning.
Ghaunadaur is willing to provide protection, for us to be able to do what we need to do to save the world. He will hide us from her eyes, and will remain an available resource for me to summon and seek counsel with. He seems to enjoy the idea of anything causing the bitch of all bitches agony, so we would like to send the demons back into the Abyss knowing exactly who to blame for everything. Then, when every present enemy Lolth has is tearing her doors down and ripping her children apart in fury from being played, That Which Lurks will find a way to acquire his revenge. We’re going to try to kill her. And if we cannot, we will at least break all of her legs.
We don’t have to do much, he added quickly, knowing well that Lael may already know of the deity’s thirst for sacrificial ritual. “We give him information and we go about our business, setting the chain of events in motion. His incentive is based on Lolth’s pain, not our own. When this is over, he’ll leave us alone, as he will likely be too busy redecorating the Demonweb Pits.”
Lael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
Loic continued talking, bombarding her with information and Lael found herself sinking down on her own box by the door. Her fingers were pressed to her chest as it was revealed to her what Loic had done.
She remained like this for a while why he continued, reassuring her they would not have to do much for Ghuanador’s ‘great gifts’ and she snorted a pitiful cry of disbelief. "Mal’ai” ((Idiot)) Lael muttered bitterly as she completely turned away from him.
She let the silence fall between them and rested her elbows upon her knees, finger tips touching and her twinned index fingers against her lips in contemplation.
There were so many gaps in her education. Lael thought of her family, what would they do when presented with this challenge? Her mother and sister’s, that was simple, Loic represented a future threat and should be put to the sword immediately. But they were so pious, they would not bring any drow to the sword without trying to convert them first a flaw in Lael’s eyes. Quevar, too, although he was more forgiving to the mistakes of the young and Loic was just that, very young, Quevar would try to set him upon the path of redemption.
Her finger slid higher along the bridge of her nose till there rested in the curve that met her brow. And then, Spiranor, her Sire popped into her mind. Her gentle father, with his kindly words and deep depths of wisdom.The babbling brook compared to her mother’s roaring river. Lael found herself suddenly very calm.
“Sit.” She gestured open palmed before letting her hands fall neatly in her lap.
“Loic…” Lael began, wondering where to begin, she let out a sigh through her nose.
“So, You wish to restore the balance of the world, that one God has created with her manipulations and pawns, by giving dominion to another?” Her hand shot up from her resting position, to halt his speak, she didn’t need the answer and she would not be derailed.
“Perhaps, if our course was unsure, if we didn’t know how to stop this, if we truly found ourselves on the brink of annihilation and nowhere else to turn, an act with this level of desperation I could understand. I would encourage, perhaps even be there with you at the pit ready to cast myself in…” Lael took another sign and sadly shook her head.
“For all one knows, this is my fault. So consumed was I, of the difficult choices I would have to make, preparing mentally to make the sacrifice needed to ensure our victory. That I did not see you, also struggle and make the same choice, yet in your impulse make that decision you have not only put us on a back foot, but could also affect the world again, in the future.”
Lael started playing with her signet ring and for a moment looked like her mind was very far away. “I am three and a half centuries old, I may not be able to tell you much about magic or locate anything on the surface or even find a needle in a sewing box. However, there is one thing I know and I know very well. That is my people, our culture and our gods. You may think me biased because of my upbringing but I have walked the path of grey between the light and darkness, the same as my ancestors and all the daughters that bore me.” Lael sood up now, her back towards him. Her mouth feeling dry, she thought she had never expressed so many words in her life, but all of this needed to be said.
“If you truly needed proof we were not the pawns of Lolth you need not have looked far, because it stood right next to you. I am the generational proof that the Tyrant poisoner is not all knowing, my family have lived and acted in the jewel of her most prized cities for generations, existing right under her nose and we still thrive. Therefore, I doubt this is your core motivation, it may have been the spark, but not the core. Lolth is infallible , her pride and arrogance makes her so.”
She turned to face the half-elf and frowned. “Had you had faith in this dysfunctional, group, yourself and even me you would have seen that and known that we would have seen it through and got the task done.”
She shook her head and raised her arm dismissively. “But I guess all what should have been does not matter now, the deal has been brokered and sealed, I imagine? Then I give you this. Ghaunadaur, like any god is insatiable for their own gains. Even Eilistraee is a tasking mistress. They crave, our adoration, our piety and our mere thoughts of them. It is this, what gives them power. I sincerely doubt that all he has ask of you is simple request for information, so, what is the full deal?”
The silence was deafening. He remained with his back toward her for a while before his need to know her reaction won. When he did turn back around, he did so with great reluctance. Lael was cradling her nose between her fingers, seemingly digesting it all and struggling to maintain her calm. Then, she told him to come sit. He did, and he tilted his head curiously at her when he arrived at her side again. But even though he had obeyed, most of his figure was subtly leaning away from her. The wizard subconsciously half-anticipated a violent impulse from her at some point during this conversation, for no other reason than it was what he was used to from other people when he went off the radar with his ideas and experiments.
The paladin’s hands went to her lap, instead of into a fist and then his face. Then, she began to speak. Naturally, he had a rebuttal to the very first thing she said, but the woman raised her hand and gracefully stopped him.
As Lael began to entertain the possibility that she was at fault for abandoning him is the chaos of the past weeks, Loic’s eyes softened. He began to watch her with less remorse and more wonderment as it began to dawn on him that this beautiful warrior elf might have additional feelings for him that went beyond the line of comrades in arms, or even that playful few seconds of flirting in his room, back in Silverymoon. Why else would she be in grief for his own failure to trust her with his secrets? He did not imagine the others also placing blame on themselves for his mistakes, as it should not be their duty to watch him as if he were a small child. No, her words implied that he could have been seeking a deeper sort of counsel with her this whole time. Mal’ai, indeed.
But then the softness in his eyes turned sour when she claimed that his actions put them on the back foot. She had it all wrong. He wanted to affect the world again in the future. He would tell her so.
His friend went on, stood up, and moved away, drifting off into a poetic little ramble about her connection to the Drow pantheon. She could not see his wry smile from her position, but it was mostly there because she was calling Ghaunadaur, well, a Drow god, which simply wasn’t true. Perhaps she did know that aspect of him, but he had many aspects, and they were being presented with an entirely new one now. He would tell her so.
And again, claiming not to be a pawn, and that she and her family were proof… Oh, Lael. She was pretty, and she could take a beating to rival a golem, but compared the the likes of Loic, her fact-checking could use improvement. If only she’d had a place like the Vault of the Sages when she was growing up. He understood that faith was important to her, though. It replaced where facts would usually go for the woman, and it was charming to an extent, but right now it was a nuisance. He had evidence that contested her faith, and he would have to tell her so.
Finally, it was his turn. Loic stood up again and moved over to join her. He managed to find a place in front of her once more, and he had begun to raise his hands to rest them both on her shoulders, but he remembered himself at the last minute and lowered them.
“That is the full deal,” he said insistently. “I must collect a few simple ingredients to enact a spell, then he does his part. Like I said, he’s in it to see Lolth squirm. That, in and of itself, was enough to make him curious. Then, as you said, adoration and piety give them power. He will have constant residual gains because our story of what we have done here will be written in books and told in song. Well, if we succeed anyhow. People will start hearing his name again. He’ll get the strength he’s after naturally. It’s a win-win.”
“Lael, look,” he said, and he began fishing through his satchel. He withdrew an item and held it out for her to take. If she did, it would reveal itself to be the game piece, crafted in his own image, that Lolth, herself, likely crafted with her potent magic. “It’s not about my faith in the mortal capabilities of my companions, and it’s not an act of desperation. Let’s agree that Lolth is really really good about reading people. Let’s say her divination magic is powerful enough to see the possibilities of the future. We know that she’s a fan of chaos. What makes you think for one second that she hasn’t set all of this up? And when I say all, I mean your family. Your birth. Your journey to this very spot in this very room, even. You cannot know. You cannot presume to know what Lolth can and can’t do. All we have to go on then are the things we see for ourselves. I saw Lolth, and she said to me that she knows us, and that she has counted on us to be exactly who we are. This game piece is actual proof. We can hold it, see it, touch it. We are in her web already, and especially if the spell works, it will provide further proof that the universe acknowledges us as her unwilling slaves.”
His voice had been gaining in excitement, but now it mellowed back out. “I want to change the world, Lael. This isn’t a worse evil we are dealing with, it’s a more manageable one. Ghaunadaur has been around since the dawn of everything, before the Spider Queen even, and he hasn’t consumed the world yet. On the contrary, he is far less interested in us that she is. And just imagine what your people could do without Lolth’s damnation looming over their every action? It could be eons before anyone sees her again, if ever. It could be the beginning of an Underdark renaissance. It could be beautiful.”
“…I wish you could see the things I can see. The potential, I mean… I understand your reluctance because of the source, but as we keep finding allies down here, we keep discovering that people like Vizeran and Chipgrin, or Ghartokker and Themburchaud, even Fraz’Urb-luu, are always more complicated than they first appear. In a good way. Ghaunadaur was a primordial before he was a lesser Drow deity, and now he’s on the same level as our greatest enemy. He wants to help us, really.”
The young half-elf moved an inch closer. “If things start turning sideways, you’ll still be there to protect me. Right now, this is a fantastic opportunity for everyone, me and you and Drow and the Underdark alike. Let’s see where this goes.”
Lael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
Lael physically recoiled as he inched closer. “It is a bit late for protection, Loic, as i’ve said you have put us on the back foot.”
She could not fault his reasoning, it seemed sound enough. Yet where he saw proof of lolth’s power Lael only saw proof of her lies and she did not care to get into a theological debate over it with him.
She had always hated discussion even when she was a child and her tutors had tried to engage her in it, in the finer points of Drow politics.
“Loic, nothing appeals to me more than the death of the Tyrant poisoner and the freedom of my people, but what fate would I be consigning them too knowing all well who pulls the strings? There is one simple fact, Lolth is the enemy but so is Ghuanaduar.”
She swept back in a single step and turned to leave. “What do you want from me, my blessing? I refuse. If you choose to consign yourself to the path of Gromph and even Vizeran then so be it. It would be hypocritical of me to say I can do what it takes and not let anyone else, but this I can not be a part of.”
Has she reached for the handle of the door she paused. “If this does go sour, I will put you to the sword myself.” Lael said gently. “I mean it not as a threat, but as pledge of mercy. I will not allow him to make a puppet out of you. It would have been better if you had never had told me.”
I don’t know where you’re getting that from, he said quickly and bitterly after she recoiled from him. “Nothing has happened yet. Back foot? I found us a real solution! I’m giving us flying boots!” By then, she’d begun to drift away. He felt a knot twisting larger and larger in his stomach as it began to occur to him that he had not succeeded, despite his presentation and all of his logic.
From the doorway, she began to officially scold him. Her conclusion was that his chosen god would turn him into a puppet, and yet she still had no proof against his points. She was making this decision blindly. He was hurt, and mostly because she had been the one preaching, just a moment ago, about how he didn’t trust the capabilities of his comrades. What a hypocrite. Suddenly, she was very ugly to him.
Sure, he stated angrily from across the small, dark room. “You can try to kill me. At least the situation will be wrapped up all nice and neatly. In the meantime, simply attempting to cast the spell will tell you with certainty whether or not you serve Lolth and are too thick-headed to realize it. If you are not already her puppet, then the whole thing will fail regardless of what I do. If you are her servant, then it will work. The main ingredient is the mixed blood of the servants of Lolth, word for word. If you want to get this over with quickly, then you can give me some of yours. If the spell fails, then I will have no grounds to argue with you, because we will have proof we aren’t in the danger I thought we were.”
Lael’essthrae Xund’lara Torviir
Lael still had her hand on the handle of the door as Loic still continued to make his case. Her grip tightened as he continued to say she was a servant of Lolth, the very thought repulsed her, even an unwilling one, it was not possible. She was a Knight of Eilistraee, born and blessed to do great things in her name, how dare he test her faith in such a manner. She spun round her hand raised high, ready to smack the impertinence out of the young Half-elf.
Even now she could not fault his argument. If she did the experiment, she would prove him false her faith true and all would be right with the word. In the air her hand made a fist, it trembled, as her mind flitted back and forth between his sound argument and her quickly fading rage. The tension dropped from her shoulders and Lael rolled her eyes in resignation.
“Ula.” ((Fine)) She muttered defeated, and lowered her hand with her palm exposed. “Take what you need and let us be done with it.” At least no one could ever say she did not do ‘whatever it took’.
He was ready for it when she whirled around with her hand raised. In fact, he had assumed since the start of the conversation that this would be how it ended. So, the wizard did nothing but stare at her and brace himself. But then, her hand never flew. Instead she dropped it, and the paladin would have been able to note the noiseless exhale of breath and the manner in which his frame relaxed.
Loic pulled one of his throwing daggers from his pack, as well as a small vial that he kept inside of his poison-harvesting kit. Instead of raking the blade across the woman’s skin himself, he gave it to her, as he did not want to cause her any more pain than was absolutely necessary.
…I’m sorry, was all he could figure to say.