Abyss The Demonweb Pits, Flamerule of 1371
It was a place of swirling toxic mists and silken webs; a pool of black ichor occupied the center of a huge cavern, its surface gleaming faintly in the pale light radiating from the walls. These same walls were covered in many layers of gauze tapestries, both beautiful and deadly. Their twisted, venomous folds enveloped and preserved what remained of the drow goddess’ many powerful enemies. Each tapestry was an amazing piece of art, depicting the scene of the particular foe’s defeat, with their shrunken carcasses woven in as centerpieces.
The Spider Queen took pride in her art. Nothing brought her more joy than adding a new trophy to her collection, though naturally, Lloth was very selective about her specimens. Not every tanar’ri or even a lesser god could earn herself a place on Lloth’s walls. Having just completed yet another piece, adorned with a huge armored carcass of an Ultroloth, she rested, dallying on a mushroom throne, tucked in the darkest corner of her chambers. Lloth was pleased with herself. Her plan of attack on the isle of Evermeet, the Elven stronghold located in one of the most lively and prosperous Elf-inhabited worlds of the Prime, was developing exceedingly well.
Malar, the Beastlord, was eating out of her hand, eager to do her bidding. Lloth chuckled cruelly, thinking of the time when the ugly, fanged skull of the brutish lower god could be added to her collection. One more scheme, perhaps even two, after that the Wild Hunter would become too emboldened and she would have to do something about it.
Her tapestries contained the remnants of as many former allies as enemies and rivals. Alas, one ultimate piece, for which Lloth would have paid almost any price , was missing. Abruptly, the ebony-skinned beauty stirred. Her crimson eyes flashed in the comfortable darkness of her lair. With loathing, she remembered the Archenemy - her hated former lord and husband. He, who once possessed her body and had sired two god-children upon her.
Lloth could never forgive Corellon Larethian his triumph. Through all the centuries that had passed since her betrayal and banishment to the Abyss, she nurtured the grudge. The deadliest of her intrigues - the seduction of the handsome Elf-lord, and centuries of pretense at being his loving consort, had ended in disaster. When she had been ready to make her final move and seize the power from his cooling hands, her luck had turned. Arachne-Lloth’s trickery had been discovered and Corellon had survived her plot, while she had been stripped of her Elven form and thrown from Arvandor into the darkest pits of the Abyss, taking the new identity of a demon and a new name to go with it.
Lloth uttered a terrible curse, squirming in her soft, squishy seat. Both of her children remained minor deities, while she had been reduced to the status of a lowly tanar’ri. She had won her place as a goddess back, eventually, but it had cost her thousands of years and countless bouts of deadliest intrigues.
At present, the drow goddess was as far from her primal goal of defeating the Celestial Coronal, and conquering the Plane of Arvandor as she had ever been. The invasion of Evermeet was only one of her many plans aimed at hurting Corellon through weakening of his followers. A deity would always remain only as strong as her worshipers’ beliefs. That was a truth that the Spider Queen had learned the hard way.
Stirred by her hatred, Lloth wiggled out of her mushroom throne, stomping her sandaled feet on the cavern floor. It was covered with a carpet of soft, silvery webs, upon which her sharp heels left glistening marks. Other than her spider-silk footwear, and a skimpy string-skirt, woven of the same material, and bespangled with multitude of tiny rubies, the drow goddess wore almost nothing. Her small, supple form moved across the floor with the quickness and grace of her name-sake, gliding down a silken thread. It two strides the Spider Queen reached her ichor divination pool.
Evermeet was nearly in her grasp, but that scheme required a lot of personal attention, and above all, patience. Today, Lloth was not in a mood to wait for her plans to ripen. She yearned to find a way to hurt Corellon Larethian then and there. It was such an all-consuming need that she moaned, wishing that another foe was nearby to take the edge off her frustration.
“It does not have to be anything grand, any minor offence will do,” the drow goddess decided finally. Powered by her hatred, the divination spell rippled across the surface of the ichor.
What Lloth perceived in the scrying pool excited her greatly. She expected nothing but a silver glow of a magic shield. Arvandor was well protected against her divinations, thus she was never able to detect Corellon’s whereabouts when he was dwelling there. But today her former lord and husband was traveling outside his realm. The Elf-lord wore a hooded grey cloak covering his face. The garment draped his tall frame down to his boots. Still, Lloth could recognize the shape of his slim, fit body under any number of layers.
She spat out one of the ugliest of curses, picked from the tanar’ri of the Demonweb Pits. Thinking of Corellon and the rest of the Seldarine always made her furious.
“Curse him! Curse them all to the lowest layers of the Abyss and below!”
Since the Abyss had no lowest layer, her curse was redundant, but the goddess was in no disposition to be logical. Shaking with rage, she bent over her scrying pool, ineffectively trying to follow the motions of Corellon’s lips. Eventually she realized that the vision was not his true avatar, but only his projected image. Even so, it took a lot of Corellon’s divine power to maintain that illusion.
The place he was standing at looked anything but pleasant. It was a small Demi-Plane, without clearly defined borders. Bottomless and sky-less, it was shaped like a solid disc, transfixed by a bright, emerald pillar, thrust through its center. Focusing on the disc’s surface, Lloth could discern a number of shallow pools, full of green ooze, bubbling and sputtering like bizarre geysers. The same green, luminescent matter filled the central pillar, which expanded upwards and downwards without an end in sight.
The sides of the disc sprouted multiple, insect-like mandibles and sharp chitinous spikes. If anything, the Plane looked like part of the Abyss, rather than a playground for the highest-ranking deity of the Elven Pantheon. Confused by the image, the Spider Queen whispered another incantation and her vision focused on the figure of her foe, at the same time making Corellon’s voice faintly audible.
“It is also our wish that he should atone for his crimes,” the Elf-lord was saying. “There is no point in senseless, empty punishment. Therefore, he should not be returned to the Abyss.”
That was enough to draw the Lloth’ attention. The Abyss was her domain, and what could possibly happen here that required Corellon’s personal intervention? The Spider Queen was beyond herself with curiosity.
“Since in order to comprehend the pain, one needs to be able to experience emotion, it is our will that he should get the means. As his soul was lost after being severed from the Spirit of Arvandor, he could feel no grief, and no remorse. Such punishment could not have brought about redemption or forgiveness, but only led to eternal damnation.”
Lloth scowled, showing her sharp teeth. Once upon a time Corellon had cut off four of the eight legs of her Spider avatar, severing her from the Elven Spirit, and casting her into the Abyss, crippled and bleeding from her wounds. And now he pretended to be ‘lenient’ towards one of his Children.
Naturally, she ‘forgot’ that Corellon had attacked and maimed her after she had lured him into a trap, then sprang upon him with four swords in each of her spider-hands.
“We can offer him instead a mortal soul that the Crying God will grant him on our request.”
A darthiir-elf with a human soul? The drow goddess spat in disgust. Far removed as Lloth was from the Elven culture, her racial sensitivities were offended by the idea. What would her ‘dear husband’ think of next? Pouting, she turned her attention to other characters present at the scene.
A shimmering figure with a pair of wings was likely a celestial of some kind; Lloth was no good in telling the species apart. Archons, Devas, even Solars were all the same to her: arrogant, stiff-necked prudes, obsessed with ‘goodness’ and the like virtues. The one standing next to Corellon was a female, and the Spider Queen briefly looked her over, deciding that the angel was no match for her own dark, sensual beauty. The creature was too stern, too muscular, and on top of it, dressed in a shirt of scales fit for a ragtag adventurer. There was, in fact, the whole group of that type present at the scene, all of them gaping at the celestial, as if they never saw one.
“Furthermore, if in the future, you accept responsibility for your sins and redeem yourself in our eyes, we shall restore your connection to the Spirit and you will become one of our Children once again. Will you consent?”
Finally, she figured that Corellon was talking to a tall, powerfully built man, standing right in front of him. The petitioner looked troubled by the Elven Lord’s offer of pardon, glaring back at Corellon through the eyeholes of his leather mask. The man’s eyes, blue and fierce as two lanterns, glowed too brightly on the face of an old scarecrow.
“Who is this ... creature?” The Spider Queen asked herself, somewhat mystified. “He does not look like one of the ‘People’, yet there is something familiar about him. Why would Corellon offer him pardon?”
What proceeded next, answered most of her questions, while keeping her on her toes with excitement. As the scene in the scrying pool unfolded, Lloth’s scarlet eyes narrowed, full of glee. Here was a perfect opportunity to spoil another one of Corellon’s plans, bringing ruin and misery where clemency was intended.
By the time Lloth finished watching Corellon’s judgment, she was purring like a domestic cat after a dish of cream. Her quick, twisted mind was going through a list of lures she could offer to the Fallen One, once he recovered his wits. Power? Lust? Wealth beyond mortal imagination? Anything at all to make him fall under her influence? After giving it a thought, Lloth dismissed most of these temptations as either too costly, or inadequate. Offering real power to a darthiir was not in her nature, and trying to trick this one with empty promises looked like a long shot.
Something bothered her about this ‘Exile’. His final punishment, applied after he agreed to take a mortal soul, was exceedingly harsh, yet he accepted it.
Lloth herself would never have thought of something like Corellon’s final verdict. Making a torturer share in his victims’ torments was a delicious trick, worth being remembered and stored for future use. The Seldarine were inventive when it suited their needs. She considered the Exile’s agreement with the Elf-lord a poor one. He had survived his punishment only to be sent back to the Prime in a diminished and crippled state. The petitioner’s agonizing screams still echoed in her ears, making her shiver with delight, yet the drow goddess wondered if the one who had lived through that kind of punishment could be tempted by any minor enticement, not backed up by serious reasoning.
Lloth felt frustrated - she was not a particularly bright one. Usually, her schemes were basic and unoriginal, as she relied on the natural weaknesses of mortal and immortal minds. Yet occasionally, she could come up with an interesting twist.
What she needed was more information about the case, the goddess decided impulsively. The picture was incomplete. There was something or someone she could use to get an insight into the case.
The whole story with the Spawns of Bhaal deserved her closer attention, the Spider Queen admitted to herself. When the Bhaalspawn war had raged through the Prime, Lloth had been too busy to get involved, and soon it had become too late. She despised the ease with which the divinity had fallen into the lap of one of the Spawns. Her own path to power was a long and torturous one, naturally she could not but loathe and envy the divine upstart.
Her own Children had been involved, and unfortunately - on the losing side. The fall of the minor branch of House Despana troubled her not at all, but the foiling of Ardulace’s plan of surface invasion was not a small offence, since it weakened her own power on the Prime. Still, there was something critical, some minor piece of the puzzle that she was missing. Suddenly a bright, yet malicious smile twisted her delicate lips.
“How could I forget such an important witness!” she cried out in delight.
Pleased with herself, the goddess turned on her heel, and almost danced back to her throne. After spreading comfortably on the soft folds of her mushroom seat, Lloth clapped her hands. A giant black spider slid from the ceiling of the cave on a gleaming thread. Upon reaching the floor, the yochlol plopped from her line and shifted into a hideous, stinking pile of ooze, crowned with eight wriggling tentacles. Its single red eye blinked in awe at her waiting mistress, as it crawled closer to her feet.
“Go fetch Kiaransalee,” Lloth ordered the simpering demon. “The Revenancer has grown bold after she won over her own layer of the Abyss. It will irk her to be summoned like a simple handmaiden, but if she wants my protection, she had better come at once.”
The demon-thing shifted one more time, assuming the shape of a voluptuous drow female, then run out of doors with all the speed it could master.
By what means the yochlol had achieved the desired results would remain a mystery, but in less than half an hour the air in Lloth’s cavern became exceedingly chill. The ichor froze in the Spider Queen’s divination pool, her lovely mists turned into sparkling clouds of frost, her mushrooms withered and shrank under the sudden assault of ferocious cold. Lloth scowled, and flicked a long dark finger - instantly the cold alleviated itself to a pleasant neutral warmth.
As if in response to that, the air in front of the Spider Queen’s throne shimmered, forming a dark portal, and the cavern began to glow with deep purple light.
A tall, lean drow female stepped through dimension door, followed by a score of moaning, wailing undead creatures in different stages of decay. The newcomer was draped in a few wisps of black silk, while her long neck and claw-like fingers displayed a wealth of silver jewelry. Her entourage stumbled along: ghouls screeched and snapped at each other, zombies wailed. Two or three of the dark-red quth-maren shuffled forward, oozing caustic blood from their festering flesh. Minor drow nobles from destroyed houses, they were turned undead by a hideous ritual being skinned alive.
The Spider Queen wrinkled her nose at the grisly display. She did not mind the undead, but Kiaransalee had been stealing her dark elves to swell the number of her personal guard. This could not be tolerated, Lloth decided at once. The Banshee should be taught her proper place. Set on her display of power, Lloth did not bother to greet her visitor but looked sternly at the lesser deity, clearly showing her displeasure at the Kiaransalee’s showy entrance.
“You forget yourself, Lotha Dalninil,” Lloth’s red lips twisted in a mocking smile.
The Vengeful Banshee cringed, as if stung by a poisoned dart. Being called ‘little sister’, after being summoned to the Spider Queen’s private chambers in such a hurry, was a serious insult. An angry wail rose from Kiaransalee’s throat, and stopped abruptly, turning into a long, choking spasm. Another cry broke through, ending in a series of shorter, more desperate moans. The goddess of vengeance and Undeath was only half-sane, and could not control her own voice. Lloth had known that weakness and deliberately provoked this outburst.
“What do you want of me, Valsharess?” Kiaransalee finally hissed, grinding her teeth.
Her position was too weak to allow for an open rebellion. Kiaransalee had gambled and lost. Her place in the frozen Hell of Thanatos was now occupied by her foe. The Demon Prince Orcus, whom she had once slain with her own hand, had managed to return from the dead, winning his power seat back, and turning her victory to ashes.
“You shall call me the ‘Quar-Valsharess’, Banshee, same as my other servants,” Lloth laughed in Kiaransalee’s face. “Else I’ll send you back to Thanatos, as a gift to a new ally. Orcus’s missive was convincing, if a bit dull. You are lucky that, unlike you, I find the undead most boring company. Otherwise I might have entertained his offer.”
The lesser goddess lowered her head. Her long white hair hid the expression on her face. But as the Banshee bent her neck, pledging her vassalage, another mad shriek escaped her lips, causing her excess silver jewelry to shake and jingle like bells of a jester.
“I am quite satisfied with your performance, Lotha Dalninil,” the Spider Queen chuckled when the last howl had died on Kiaransalee’s lips. “Now I need your services. No, don’t reply yet, I have no wish to listen to your wails until the Abyss freezes over. Not so long ago, you lost one of your minions on the Prime. She was an unusual one among your wailing bunch, so I remembered her. Born a darthiir, but seduced by Undeath. By herself, she is of little interest, yet I need the information she might have. I believe it is within your powers to summon her back from the Abyss.”
“Are you speaking of the Elven vampire, slain by the Bhaalspawn, Quar-Valsharess?” the Banshee screeched through tightly clenched teeth. Once again her ailment seized her, and for a while she trashed and shrieked under the Spider Queen’s mocking stare. When the seizure ended, Kiaransalee continued in a rasping whisper. “Why would you be interested in that pathetic weakling?”
“I have my reasons,” Lloth replied sharply. “Summon her, and you might learn more. But perhaps the loss of Thanatos had weakened you too much, and you don’t have the power?”
Instead of answering, the Revenancer stretched her skinny hands, making a gesture to her rotting retinue to get out of her way. The ghouls and the Quth-maren scurried to oblige. Hastily, Kiaransalee pulled a slim dagger from her belt and drew a full circle, scratching weird runes on the floor of the Spider Queen’s cavern.
Never mind the madness, Lloth decided contentedly. Every one of her servants had their quirks, and at least the Banshee excelled in her necromantic arts. Done with the runes, Kiaransalee chanted her summoning, and her strange symbols began to glow red. On the Banshee’s third wail, the dark shape coalesced inside the circle, forming into a shapely, naked female.
There was little doubt about the Huntress’ blood from the first look at her. High cheekbones, finely chiseled nose and long pointy ears betrayed her Elven ancestry. Very pale skin, coupled with a mass of raven-black hair, highlighted with blue, indicated the hated Moon sub-race, the favorite pets of Corellon Larethian. The creature’s eyes were also blue, and bright as sapphires, yet tainted with fine flecks of red.
Once complete, the darthiir woman snarled, dropping to all fours, and bared her pointed teeth at the closest of quth-maren. The undead whined, backing away from her. Two ghouls advanced forward
sniffing at the air. Instantly, a dozen of yochlols dropped from the cavern’s ceiling, flanking the Spider Queen’s throne.
“Calm down your pack of misfits, Banshee,” Lloth ordered the lesser goddess. “Why is the creature so agitated? I need to interrogate her.”
“She is hungry, Quar-Valsharess,” the Banshee offered in a hoarse whisper, “they always are, after being called back from the Abyss. She can smell the blood on the quth-maren too, but it will do her no good, for it will be a tainted feast.”
Laughter quivered on Kiaransalee’s lips, threatening to turn her most recent attempt at intelligent conversation into a mad wailing fit. Yet this time, the Banshee controlled herself, and continued in a more confident tone.
“The vampire is feeling disoriented and weakened by her summoning; a mouthful of fresh blood will cure this.”
“You can feed the elg’caress or send her back to the Abyss, but only after I am done with her!” Lloth snapped angrily. “Cursed darthiir blood is weak, but even one such as her should control her urges in my presence.”
“I am Bodhi,” the Elven vampire declared suddenly, in a deep, pleasant voice. She seemed to realize she was in the presence of two Great Powers, and decided it was in her best interests to behave. “How can I serve you, Great Mistress?”
Lloth looked at the undead darthiir with distaste. Unlike most of Kiaransalee’s pets, Bodhi was tall, gorgeously built, and beautiful. Having stifled her bout of bad temper, the vampire emanated an aura of servitude, which was often the trait of more intelligent undead in the presence of their masters. Yet her cloying good looks told the tale of many failed grand ambitions, and her sly stares betrayed habitual shiftiness of her loyalties.
Kiaransalee despised the living, and, unlike Lloth, was wary of demonic servitors. The undead were her only company for eons. Lloth found this fixation amusing but also a sign of weakness, as she herself was not afraid to slap the demons back into obedience every time they tried to rebel against her stern rule. This Bodhi was yet another example of Revenancer’s failing power.
“For now, you can serve me by telling the story of your conversion to Kiaransaleen faith,” Lloth commanded finally.
Bodhi threw a quick glance at the Revenancer. Kiaransalee stood in the shade of Lloth’s throne, both of her silver-encrusted hands crossed upon her skinny breast. Noticing the vampire’s troubled stare, the Lady of the Dead nodded her encouragement.
“Where shall I begin, oh Great Mistress?” Bodhi asked slyly. She was smart enough to realize that Lloth was the one in charge here, yet offending Kiaransalee was not in her interests. Trying to keep the balance, the vampire shifted her eyes from one goddess to another. “There are many twists to the story. I am not sure which part of it you want to hear first.”
“You can start from the very beginning, elg’caress,” The Spider Queen answered coldly, stretching on her soft mushroom seat, and taking a more comfortable position. “If I grew bored of your tale I shall banish you back whence you came from.”
* * * * *
1201, The Year of Embers
It was a hot month of Eleint, but here in the deep crevice, hidden in the heart of the Starspire Mountains, the air stayed pleasantly cool through the whole summer. A party of Elven rangers had found their way into the hidden valley while pursuing the fleeing troop of hobgoblins. The fiends had come from the mountains to ransack Elven settlements at the edge of the Great Forest of Tethyr, but had been driven out in a swift rebuff.
After defeating the remnants of the enemy’s host, the elves had made their camp on the bank of the swift cold stream, running from the slopes of a nameless mountain. The heap of goblinoid corpses was piled at a distance. The company felt like celebrating - this was one of their first serious expeditions as a new regiment, and none of their number was killed or seriously wounded.
An Elven woman stretched lazily, dropping the bow and quiver on her sister’s lap, before stripping off her leather tunic and breeches, and wading knee deep into the cold stream. Smiling lazily at her sister’s teasing remarks, the elf washed herself clean of the dark goblin blood, and the streaks of green and brown paint that she had applied on her skin this morning. Her appearance was striking enough already, but since most of her companions in this expedition were wood elves, she had tried her best to fit with the tradition, and indulged in a little excess.
The woman was tall for an elf, but well proportioned, with exquisitely pale, almost translucent skin, and a raven-black mane of hair, tinged with streaks of blue. These features, so very different from that of the majority of the group, made mostly of copper-skinned, brown-eyed Sy’Tel’Quess, betrayed her as a pure-blood Teu’Tel’Quess, or a moon elf. Seemingly unperturbed by the chill of the mountain water, the dark-haired elf took her sweet time bathing. After a while, her younger sister, who was waiting patiently all that time on the stone beach, cried out, overcoming the noise of the running river.
“Bodhi, if you tarry any longer the entire company of Green Spears will come over to check if we are being ravished by goblins! You have got most of it off already. Get out of the water before the river spirits become jealous of your beauty.”
The older female chortled, and splashed the younger one with water.
“There is no need to be so tense, Yave. It was a good hunt. I will bet you my best blade against that lovely onyx necklace, that there is not a single goblin left in these mountains, that is not running away as fast as they can. Why don’t you take off your silly clothes and join me in the water?”
When compared to Bodhi’s vibrant beauty, Yave looked like a pale aquarelle next to an oil painting. Her hair was of that soft, silver-white shade one could sometimes see in the faintest of feather clouds; her eyes, lacking the elder sister’s deep blue fire, trailed on the pale side of lapis lazuli.
In reply to her sister’s jokes, the younger one only smiled, and shook her head in refusal, brushing off the few water droplets that landed on her soft tunic.
“It is too cold for me, and I washed my hands and face already. Besides,
Keth’roen would not like it if he sees me bathing in the nude. These bushes are not nearly as thick as they look.”
“Really?” The one called Bodhi raised an eyebrow, enjoying caress of sunrays on her naked body. Water droplets sparkled on her milky skin like diamonds. “Silly me. And I thought they would be solid enough. Now, tell me, sister, do you have an eye for that new ranger... what was his name - Ryndeth Oakenbow? Yes, I think that was how he introduced himself.”
Yave blushed like a wild rose. “I... I am not interested in him. He is not really that attractive, and he has already made a nuisance of himself. You know that I am serious about Keth’roen. He is sweet, and funny, and ... I hope Mother will reconsider.”
“You are too young to think about any serious attachment,” the older elf frowned, “merely a hundred and twenty. If Keth’roen is pushing you into moving in with his clan again...”
“No he is not!” Yave flushed deeper red. “I was merely saying that I am not looking for another suitor at the moment.”
The younger girl was clad in the same pliant brown leathers that her elder sibling abandoned so casually on the green grass at Yave’s feet. Her delicate frame looked too frail for the ranger’s outfit, whereas Bodhi’s lavish curves could not be concealed even by a loose robe of an acolyte, when, on a whim, the Huntress fancied wearing one. One of Bodhi’s many failed undertakings, had been her initiation into the service of Hanali Celanil. Alas, her devotion to the goddess of love and beauty had been exercised mostly through her numerous love affairs, and, after a few short attempts at applying herself to the study of divine rituals, she had been dismissed by the priestesses. Bodhi’s true passion was the Hunt, be it chasing a flock of deer through the boughs and ridges of Wealdath, or the thrill of a small guerilla expedition.
Unlike Bodhi, Yave had only joined the company of Green Spears because both her sister and her beloved were in the group already, and she did not want to be considered a weakling by staying out. She was very agile, and good with her bow, but unlike her elder sibling had no passion for the hunt.
Finally satisfied with her cleanliness, Bodhi stalked out of the river, picked up her clothes, and slowly pulled them on, lingering over every hook and string, and parrying Yave’s snide remarks. A sly knowing smile played on her lips, as she turned away from the bushes that were supposedly hiding them from the rest of the hunting party.
Their companions were not that far off. Even above the noise of the river, Bodhi could hear the sounds of chatter in fluid Elven speech, a sudden broken roulade of a victory song, followed by a burst of laughter, and an excited recital of today’s battle, interrupted by many jokes. With her excellent ears of a natural-born Huntress, Bodhi could also heed the telling rustle in the bushes. She hoped that it was her sister’s impatient paramour, and smiled at the idea of the young male getting an eyeful of her. Once, she had fancied Keth’roen for herself, but at the time sisterly affection had overcome the minute attraction.
Laughing quietly at her secret knowledge, the Huntress lent over a round boulder and pulled on her soft, deerskin boots. All through that task, she continued to scan the other bank of the river for animal tracks, more because of a deeply entrenched habit, than because she was really interested. Suddenly a frown crossed her pretty, pale face.
Right in front of her, the river made a sharp turn and ran over a shallow that could be easily forded by jumping from stone to stone. At the shallow’s end on the other side of the stream, she could clearly see a crevice in the rocky mountainside, that she could swear had not been there a minute ago.
At first, Bodhi decided that it was just a play of shadows on the rough stone surface. The sun was on the receding part of its arch, and a cloud had run over its face, making the elf shiver from the sudden chill. Then she felt as if something called her, tugging at her awareness almost palpably, teasing her elevated senses.
“Where are you going?” Yave called belatedly at her back.
But her sister was already on the other side of the river, looking closely at the yawning gap in the face of the stone cliff. The fissure was too narrow for her shoulders, but she decided she could slip in if she turned sideways. As she moved forward, Bodhi saw a glow of pale light, emanating from the far end of a narrow tunnel before her.
She could hear Yave calling her name, but paid no heed to her sister’s warnings. The sudden urge to reach the source of light was too strong to consider the dangers of entering the cavern alone.
The tunnel was gradually sloping downwards, leading her forward, twisting under the solid mass of rock. Very soon, Bodhi found herself well below ground level, in a small oval chamber. The cave, obviously dug into the stone by artificial means, was empty of anything but a single sarcophagus of dark, rough stone. The coffin’s lid was moved slightly askew, as if whatever was laid inside tried to break out. But after giving it a thought, Bodhi decided on a more mundane explanation of an interrupted grave robbery.
Morbidly curious, the Huntress edged closer to the sarcophagus. Mostly, it was carved with grinning skulls and interlacing bones. Yet some panels were more elaborate, and depicted a horde of skeletons rising from their graves. The round walls, the ceiling, and even the floor of the chamber were lumpy with parts of old bones sticking out as if partially absorbed by the mountain, and embedded into the stone. Those remains were the source of pale radiance that lured her into this bizarre tomb. A shiver ran down her spine. What was she doing here all alone? What possessed her to enter this sinister place?
Still, the Huntress could see no danger to herself, and her curiosity was not yet satisfied. Bodhi had always been fascinated with things magical and powerful. She possessed no innate magical talent, and considered it a serious deficiency, as she was a scion of an old and noble family, renowned for its masters of the Arcane. Regrettably, she was also too lazy to seriously apply herself to the study of either arcane or divine magic, and was always on a look for magical items. She craved artifacts of power, enchanted trinkets, and scrolls that could grant her a small edge over her rivals, and thus compensate for the deficiency that she considered a monstrous injustice.
Driven by curiosity, the Huntress bent over the sarcophagus and finally noticed a black-skinned, withered hand, protruding from the opening between the coffin and its heavy stone cover.
The Tel’Quessir considered death a transient state - a gate to Arvanaith, encased inside the blessed plane of Arvandor. Bodhi was not afraid of it. But as all the People, she was appalled by the Undeath - the unnatural, Spiritless state that could be forced upon an intelligent creature, too weak to resist the necromancer’s call. Yet, the Huntress was never too intense in that aversion, in the same way that she could never feel attachment strong enough to overcome her selfishness. Her feelings ran shallow and weak, as she sought to extract profit from any connection she was forging with another being, be it lover, friend or relative. Her loyalty to the Seldarine and the Elven tradition was equally dismal, fed more by habit than by devotion.
Since the creature inside the coffin did not stir at her approach, Bodhi leaned closer, looking at the shriveled appendage. It was rigid and motionless, resembling a gnarled tree branch. On the middle finger of the disgusting hand sat a bright silver band, bedecked with tiny red stones. Judging by the look and feel of the ring, it was very possible that it possessed some magic qualities. Bodhi shivered in excitement, as a strong desire for the shiny bauble took root in her soul.
Truly, something so beautiful did not belong on the mummified hand. The Huntress could not be certain of the deceased creature’s race, but the bone structure and the shape of the hand were that of an Elven female. The skin was the color of dark ebony, and once polished, immaculate nails had been torn and broken.
Spurred by her lust for magic, Bodhi took a deep breath and touched the dead wrist with the very tips of her fingers. Nothing happened. The dark one had been dead for a very long time. The hand was not cold or slimy - just dry and hard as a piece of charred wood. Now utterly convinced that it was harmless, the elf boldly took the hand and tried to pull the ring off the stiff finger.
“Aiya! What are you doing?!”
Without a second thought, the Huntress twisted around, pulling out her knife, and dropped into defensive stance. As always, her reaction was amazingly fast.
Yave blinked at her from the darkness. In her hands, the pale maiden clutched her short bow with an arrow notched and ready to fly.
“It is only me, Amadaseler’Amin,” Yave lowered her bow, trembling like a leaf.
“Why did you follow me here?” Bodhi’s voice suddenly sounded harsh.
“I was afraid for you. This place looks dangerous, and you went down here all alone.”
“No need to worry, Seler’Amin. There is nobody here but you and me.”
Bodhi patted the younger girl on the cheek. Inwardly, she was cursing herself for indecision. Now she would have to rely on Yave’s loyalty.
“Let us get out of here quickly, before something jumps on us from the dark!” Yave pleaded, grabbing her sister by the hand.
“We shall go in a moment, but first I need to finish something.”
In one step, Bodhi was back at the sarcophagus, her hunting knife still clutched in her hand. Stifling her fears, she grabbed the dead hand tightly, and pulled at the finger with the ring, separating it from the rest. With one swift stroke, she hacked the finger off, and dropped it in her belt pouch. Yave only gasped in surprise at her audacity.
“There is nothing to be afraid of,” Bodhi said calmly.
Indeed, the cadaver did not stir, even after the desecration.
Still, Bodhi could swear that something was watching her from the darkness, and that it was immensely pleased with her ghastly act, dictated by basic greed.
As the two sisters sped towards the exit, ready to leave the crypt, something stirred at the mouth of the tunnel, exiting the cave ahead of them. Yet when they emerged on the surface, blinking at the bright glow of the afternoon sun, the riverbank was empty. The only sound that greeted their ears, was the sweet and clear music of the river, running on its endless journey towards the Trackless Sea.
Lloth - As Araushnee, Lolth was once a lesser power of the Seldarine and the consort of Corellon Larethian. She was the patron of artisans, the goddess of elven destiny, and-later, by Corellon’s decree-the keeper of those elves who shared her darkly beautiful features. The Weaver of Destiny bore Corellon twin godlings-Vhaeraun and Eilistraee-before she turned against her lover and betrayed him. First she aided Gruumsh One-Eye, chiefamong the orcish gods, in one of his perennial battles with the Creator of the Elves, and then she set Malar on the trail of the weakened Corellon after observing the Beastlord defeat Herne on Faerun. When these plots failed as a result of Corellon’s skill at arms and Sehanine’s interference, Araushnee raised a host of hostile powers-the anti-Seldarine-to assault Arvandor. Despite the treachery of Araushnee, the assault failed and the perfidy of Corellon’s consort was revealed. By order of the Council of the Seldarine, Araushnee was transformed into a spider-shaped tanar’ri and banished to the Abyss.
Ultroloth - Native to the “Blood Rift” plane, Yugoloths are neutral evil powers. There are several dozen sub-types of yugoloths of varying degrees of power. Ultroloths are magically enhanced officers of the Yugoloth armies.
Thanatos - one of the layers of the Abyss
Orcus - the Demon Price of the Undead
Yochlol - a servile demon of Lloth , Handmaiden of Lloth
Quth-maren - a breed of undead created by skinning them alive
Valsharess - the Queen (drow)
Quar-Valsharess - the greatest Queen (drow)
lotha dalninil - little sister (drow)
darthiir elg’caress - Elven bitch (drow)
Sy’Tel’Quess - green or copper elves
Teu’Tel’Quess - silver (moon) elves
Amadaseler’Amin - my foolish sister (elv.)
Seler’Amin - my sister (elv.)
Last modified on May 2, 2008
Copyright © 2002 by Janetta Bogatchenko. All rights reserved.