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The Longest Wait - Drowtales

By Patricia Murray,2014-11-18 13:54
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The Longest Wait - Drowtales

    The Longest Wait

    The city was out of control.

    Diva’ratrika stood at the window and looked out upon the magnificent vista of Chel’el’sussoloth. From the vantage point of the tallest tower of the Vel’sharen Fortress, she could see almost to the edge of the vast city. And feel the weight of helplessness crushing her heart.

    Madness had afflicted the psyche of some among the drow race. Chel’el’sussoloth,

    the crowing jewel of their civilization, was bleeding from the wounds inflicted by her own children. That madness would one day blight their entire species. But not if she could help it.

    From this far above the ground level, the Vel’sharen Il’haress could easily make out the fires that were blazing within the city. Fortunately, they were sporadic and isolated; and there were more people out there fighting to put them out than those who were starting them. And yet, for every fire that was being brought under control, another one seemed to spring up elsewhere. Diva’ratrika prayed fervently to the Goddess that these fires would not become a conflagration that would raze the city.

    What her eyes could not see from this height were the bodies. But that did not prevent her from knowing that the bodies were there. The streets of Chel’el’sussoloth were littered with corpses most of them commoners, but not all. Soldiers had died out there, as had mages and priestesses. But in the end, it did not matter whether the blood that flowed belonged to the nobles or the citizens. It was the blood of the drow, and every drop spilled out there was a testament to her own failure to act in time.

    Diva’ratrika itched to be out there on the streets, though logic and prudence dictated that she remain where she was. Alight with flames, the dark alleys of the city were a battleground between her people and the Nidraa’chal Clan. She had

    commanded her entire army to mobilize, leaving behind only a skeletal force to guard the citadel. At her behest, two of her five eldest daughters the two who were

    willing - had gone out to assist the soldiers as well, along with a substantial number of other priestesses and mages from the vast Vel’sharen family. They were certainly doing all they could to control the chaos, battling against the pillaging murderers of the enemy, but it was so excruciatingly slow.

    The Il’haress wondered if any of the other clans had dispatched soldiers to assist her men in this war. The Val’sarghress Clan might have, and the Kyorl’solenurn. Could there be those that were actually siding with the enemy? That was a chilling thought and she banished it quickly from her mind.

    Looking out upon the ravaged city below her, Diva’ratrika cursed herself yet **again for not acting earlier. Ever since the Gathering at the School, the Vel’sharen

    had been prepared to battle the Nidraa’chal. Under any other circumstance, she

    would have preempted an attack by being the first to strike. Two things had held her back. The first was a desire to build a consensus among the various clans and create an alliance to battle the evil that they faced. The second was the protestations of her daughters.

     ** The Gathering at the School is one of the pivotal events that led to the current state of affairs in the drow society. The full story of the events that preceded it, as well what happened at the Gathering itself, will be given in another tale.

    The Gathering had clearly shown her that although there were a few factions that supported her own ideas the most notable being the Val’sarghress and

    Kyorl’solenurn - too many of the Clans still failed to understand the gravity of the danger that threatened the drow race. And of course, there were some who had already gone over to the other side - those who had already been tainted.

    Tainted. An involuntary shudder passed through her as the word echoed in her mind. Such a small word to describe the greatest danger the drow had ever faced since coming to the Underground.

    Looking back, the Vel’sharen Il’haress was forced to admit that she could not blame the other matriarchs for underestimating this threat. After all, if a priestess should summon a demon and then fail to control it thus becoming subjugated by it

     it was her own fault. If anything, a demon-possessed priestess was a weakling, someone who did not have the strength to defeat the creature she herself had called forth. She was a mere shell, a host for the evil that controlled her. Ironically, while such a union allowed the demon to roam free among the world of mortals, it also severely curtailed its’ own powers. In any case, such a one was not a threat to

    anyone. That was what everyone thought. That was what everyone believed.

    For a very long time - too long - Diva’ratrika had also believed similarly,

    dismissing and ignoring the occasional reports that concerned demon summoning attempts gone wrong. But a single event had changed her perception of the matter. She had come to realize slowly, and with growing horror the true extent of the

    threat posed by those who were possessed by demons the ones who were tainted. **By the time she had called the Gathering, following the tumultuous eventsat the

    School of Priestesses, her viewpoint had altered radically from the casual apathy that she had once shared with all the other matriarchs. The actions of the Nidraa’chal Clan on this night had proven her worst fears to be true. They were an extreme manifestation of the threat - tainted to the last man, woman and child. The question was, would their behavior tonight be enough to shake the other clans out of their self-indulgent ignorance?

    The fateful event that had changed her views of the tainted was an encounter with her eldest daughter. Two years ago, Snadhya’rune had walked into her mothers’

    chamber unannounced. The Il’haress had looked up and received a jolt. Her daughter had crimson eyes, the eyes of one who had summoned a demon and failed to send it back.

    - “Il’haress”, she said without preamble, “I need access to stronger spells.”

    Anger replaced the initial shock. Snadhya’rune was the heir apparent, next in line

    to become the leader of the Vel’sharen Clan. Or rather, up unto this moment, she

    had been the heir apparent. Her failure at the demon summoning was a glaring indication of her weakness. Such a person had no right to aspire to lead the most powerful family in the drow world. The Il’haress felt extremely disappointed and

    responded coldly.

    - “If you need help to rid yourself of the creature that has infected you, I will assist you. But you certainly seem somewhat less than capable of handling what powers you already have. Giving you any more is out of the question.”

    Her daughter looked back, her red eyes narrowing, before breaking into a smile.

    - “No, Il’haress! You are mistaken. I have not been infected. I have been enhanced. My strength now is greater than it ever was before.”

    - “Greater than ever before?” Diva’ratrika sneered, barely able to restrain her anger. “Is that what they always say, when a ceremony goes awry and the summoner is beaten down by the summoned? How long did you manage to struggle before the demon defeated you?”

     ** See footnote on previous page

    Snadhya’runes’ next words were forever burnt into her consciousness.

    - “You misunderstand… Mother! I was not defeated by the demon. I chose of my own free will to let it merge with me.”

    She had departed immediately afterwards. But the Vel’sharen Il’haress had been left behind to struggle with her own thoughts. **Within a year, Sarv’swati and Zala’ess, her second and fifth eldest daughter,

    had chosen to follow their sisters’ path, becoming one of the tainted of their own volition. Diva’ratrika had been furious. To be defeated by a demon was bad enough,

    but to merge with one freely was an unspeakable act. Time and again, she had considered disowning all three of them, or perhaps imprisoning them. But in the end, the matriarch had done nothing. Disowning such powerful priestesses would significantly impact the strength of the clan. That was the reason she gave to herself. The true reason, the one that Diva’ratrika refused to admit except in her most private thoughts, was more scandalous - she cared too much about her daughters to send any of them away. She had allowed herself to succumb to a weakness that she would have considered unforgivable in any other Il’haress; and it both angered and embarrassed her.

     All demon-summoning experiments within the clan had been summarily banned. But as time went by, she realized that the tainted ones were gaining a foothold in just about every clan in the city. Like an insidious disease, the demons were burrowing their way steadily yet stealthily into the very essence of the drow race. The Vel’sharen spies begun to bring in more and more reports of the burgeoning numbers, and growing power, of the crimson eyed priestesses among the nobility. With each new report, Diva’ratrikas’ determination to do something to counter this growing threat strengthened. When the turmoil at the School of Priestesses aroused the concern of every clan in the city, she saw a golden opportunity to communicate her thoughts to the others, and took the unprecedented step of summoning a Gathering.

    Of course, she had never imagined that events would transpire the way they did. Following the Gathering, she had mobilized the entire strength of the Vel’sharen, determined to take down the Nidraa’chal Clan without delay. At the same time, she had sent out missives to her counterparts in the other clans. It was clear that at least some of them had realized the danger posed by the ones who had merged with the demons. Gaining their alliance was important, for she simply could not eradicate this threat to their society all by herself. But the responses from the various matriarchs had been both unexpected and enraging. Even Quain’tana of the Val’sarghress Clan, one of the more vociferous speakers at the Gathering, had balked at the thought of an alliance with the Vel’sharen. Many had subtly hinted that

    they did not wish to interfere in a struggle between two clans. No one had accepted her offer.

    A struggle between two clans! How could they say that after all that had already happened? But there was no helping it. Perhaps the tainted ones had already subverted some of them, just like the Nidraa’chal Clan had been. Or they simply refused to see what was in front of their face because it was too hard to accept. Either way, Diva’ratrika was determined not to sit by idly any more. She had been on

    the verge of launching an assault against the enemy when her daughters intervened.

    They had come in together, all three with their disgusting crimson eyes, looking uncomfortable and hesitant. The Il’haress had struggled with her hidden emotions. Her dear daughters were now part of the tainted ones whom she despised so much. She had also marveled at their expressions of discomfort. It had been a long time since she had seen them behave this way.

     ** Crysthels’ mother

    - “Il’haress…” Snadhya’rune begun. Then halted and started again. “Mother!

    Please don’t proceed with this war against the Nidraa’chal Clan. It is… uncalled for.”

    She had lowered her head, as if ashamed of her own words. This had startled Diva’ratrika even further.

    - “Uncalled for? You were not present at the Gathering. But you are fully aware of

    what happened there. You still say this battle is uncalled for?”

    - “Mother! Please try to understand. Why do you bear such hatred for those who have merged with the demons? They… we… do not mean you harm.”

    - “Hatred?” the Il’haress replied with iron in her voice. “I do not hate your kind, child. I loathe you. You have given up your identity, what you were, to become something else. A lowly, despicable creature controlled by a demon. You are not a drow anymore. You are the tainted, about as worthy of trust and respect as a white elf. Perhaps less. You are blind to what you have become, but I most certainly am not.”

    Snadhya’rune looked up at her mother.

    - “Then why do you not kill us first, Il’haress? We are tainted, and you hate us.”

    The matriarch had been stunned into silence. For the first time in several hundred years, she had been forced to turn her own gaze away.

    Her daughter smiled wanly. “Mother, I know you love us. And we too love you. So please, listen to us. We, the tainted as you call us, are not enemies of the…untainted. We may have red eyes, but we are still drows. We are not trying to take over or harm or kill anyone. Some of us were conquered by demons against our will; but the rest, like me, like my sisters, chose to join with them. To improve ourselves. To become stronger. Is that not the aim of every drow who lives? Please do not shun us just because we chose to follow a different path from you.”

    It was an impassioned plea, and Diva’ratrika found it hard to ignore the strength

    of feeling in those words. Despite herself, she was affected.

    - Snadhya, the Nidraa’chal Clan has declared war upon us. Do you want me to sit back and do nothing?”

    -“They declared war, yes, but it was only in response to… what you said at the

    Gathering. It is not a challenge from one clan to another. It is an attempt to protect their existence the existence of the… tainted – from assault by those… who hate

    them. Let me talk to them. I… I am sure I can convince them… to see reason… if you give me a few days.”

    Diva’ratrika had leaned forward on her chair, eyes narrowed as she looked at each of her three daughters in turn.

    - “Are you telling me that your loyalties to the tainted ones are greater than your loyalties to your clan?”

    Snadhya’runes’ response had been instantaneous.

    - “Never! We are the Vel’sharen above all else. And we will always remain so.”

    Her words had carried absolute conviction, and the Il’haress had relented.

    She wished now, dearly, that she had not listened to them. But who would have expected that even a clan as thoroughly tainted, as the Nidraa’chal would act this way?

    Clan wars were an institution of the civilization the drow race had created in the Underground. Hundreds of such battles had taken place over a millennium of their history. Families fought, pitting their warriors, mages and priestesses against each other, until one side prevailed and the other was subjugated or vanquished. People died, but only those who were involved in the war. Rarely, if ever, did a neutral bystander become one of the casualties. Even the slaves of the losing side generally remained unharmed; at least, they were never killed intentionally. And till date, no such battle had ever extended to involve the common citizens of Chel’el’sussoloth.

    Such were the unwritten rules of clan combats. They were born, not out of any considerations for the lives of the innocent, but by virtue of practical reasoning. Slaves were a common resource who lacked loyalty to any specific clan and simply labored for their current owner. Why kill the slaves of your enemy when you could make them your own? Every clan in the city relied on the ordinary citizens for their provisions and supplies. Why kill commoners when it would end up disrupting your own activities, and create potential enmity with other clans who would get affected? Thus, clan wars had evolved over the years to become highly focused and extremely intense, deadly for the combatants, but no more than spectator entertainment for the uninvolved. Of course, since the outcome of these clashes often led to a shift in the balance of power within the noble class, no clan could truly remain uninvolved for long, and the end of one battle frequently sowed the seeds for another.

    Thus, what the Nidraa’chal had done today had broken all the rules. They had

    gone berserk, attacking the city, starting fires, killing people who had nothing to do with the Vel’sharen. No warring clan had ever acted this way in living memory. Then again, why was she so surprised? Her enemies were no longer drow. No, they were the tainted, playthings of the demons. And they had chosen, deliberately, to become what they were. They no longer respected, perhaps no longer understood, the laws that governed the drow society.

    But if the behavior of the Nidraa’chal Clan demonstrated the true nature of the

    tainted, then why were her daughters behaving in a completely opposite manner? Snadhya’rune had always been a mirror image of her mother, not only in looks, but also in her burning desire to control the entire drow race and mold it to her vision. But where her mother tended towards circumspection in her dealings, she was possessed of an extremely aggressive and confrontational nature. However, her… affliction had somehow mitigated rather than strengthened her belligerent tendencies. She seemed softer, more restrained, less reactive. Sarv’swati had inherited her mothers’ deliberate taciturn nature, so it was hard to tell in her case, but Zala’ess,

    who had always been heavily influenced by her eldest sister, had also shown similar signs of moderation.

    This change had been disturbingly evident earlier today, when the first reports of the enemy rampage through the city had come in. Diva’ratrika had instantly ordered every available warrior, mage and priestess to head into the city and destroy the marauders. Then she had stormed into the room of her eldest daughter. Snadhya’rune had apparently been meditating. She had barely had the time to look up before the Il’haress struck her so hard that her head slammed against the corner

    of the bed as she fell to the floor. **- “Arkanth! Gambhik! Lothranvith! You betrayed me! Held me back with your

    words, and now your tainted… friends… are attacking the city. I will not forgive any of you!!”

     ** Curse words

    1. Arkanth = Ar + kanth. “Ar” is short for “ar’shola” that mean spider. “Kanth” means insects.

    Hence Arkanth roughly translates to vermin. A strange curse word, given the respect the

    drow accord to the spider in general.

    2. Gambhik = Gam + bhik. “Gam” means dirty and “bhik” is beggar. Dirty beggar. Can also be

    translated as wretch.

    3. Lothranvith = Loth + ran + vith. “Loth” means city (as in Chel’el’susso”loth”). “Ran” means

    to sell. “Vith” is an archaic word for woman.

    “Ranvith” by itself is a curse, referring to a woman who sells her loyalty to the enemy

    (cheaply). Adding Loth to the beginning implies the “ranvith” in question is a commoner (not

    of noble blood)

    Snadhya’rune raised herself to her knees. She had cut both her forehead and lips, but all she did was clasp her hands before her. When she looked up, her crimson eyes had tears.

    - “Forgive me, Il’haress! I failed you. But I tried to reconcile with them… I did.”

    She lowered her head.

    The matriarch looked at her daughter, anger replaced by confusion. Everything she had learned about the tainted ones told her that those who merged with demons became more aggressive and violent. But her daughter had become a living contradiction. She had left the room, her thoughts still in a quandary, and stormed to her own room.

    A fresh conflagration flared up in the eastern section of the city. Diva’ratrika gritted her teeth as she watched. Intolerable! They knew that they stood no chance against the overwhelming might of the Vel’sharen Clan, so why did they indulge in this depravity? Had the demons devoured even the last shred of sanity from their minds?

    Images came to her suddenly. Images from a long, long time ago. Another place, another time. A world where the sun shone brightly in the blue sky during the day, and light from the moon relieved the inky darkness of the night. In that world, she had witnessed that same madness that she witnessed now, the same atrocities being committed - by other people against her own, and by her own people against others. It had ended in flames and ashes. That beautiful world had burnt in an inferno, consumed by an irresistible evil, and her entire race had fled before its scourging menace. $$The War of the Moons. Diva’ratrika shuddered involuntarily as old memories,

    hidden for so long in the deepest recesses of her mind, started to resurface. To escape the insanity that had taken over the surface lands, the dark elves had chosen to make their new home in the eternal gloom of the Underground. They abandoned the light to become the drow; they survived and prospered while the world above them was torn apart.

    A millennium was a short time for a race to recreate an entire civilization. It was a short time for collective memory of the people to forget what had happened before. But, the drow had seemingly succeeded in doing both the things. The shadow of insanity had fallen upon them again. What would they do this time?

    The Vel’sharen Il’haress turned away, dogged by the thoughts of her failure to

    act in time. The view from the window only served to reinforce her helplessness, and it was a bitter pill to swallow. Though it was the dead of night, sleep or rest was the furthest thing from her mind, so she chose instead to pace the silent corridors of her abode, passing from one empty passageway to the next like a shadow while she brooded.

    The colossal citadel of the first clan of the drow civilization housed nearly ten thousand souls. Almost every members of her massive clan her children,

    grandchildren, cousins, nephews and nieces as well the soldiers, slaves and

    artisans, occupied the first twenty levels of the stronghold. But Diva’ratrikas’ unquenchable thirst for control was only matched by her equally intense desire for solitude; a desire that made her shun all company, even that of her beloved daughters. That is why she had carefully segregated the top two tiers of the fortress from the rest. The penultimate level of the citadel housed a select group of warriors

    An English equivalent to lothranvith could be “street whore”. However, since the concept of

    prostitution does not exist in the drow society, it is only a rough equivalent. $$ An ancient war that forced the drows to flee to the Underground. There will be many stories about that in the future.

    and handpicked slaves who were dedicated exclusively to protecting and maintaining their own floor and the one above it. This level also housed the Vel’sharen throne room, where the matriarch would meet visitors on the extremely rare occasions that she granted an audience to anyone. The Il’haress herself, and her five eldest daughters, resided on the highest tier of the fortress, and in more than three hundred years, except the slaves who were dedicated to its care, no outsider had walked upon it.

    Despite her hermit-like existence, Diva’ratrika ruled her massive clan with an iron fist. Early on during her reign, her mother, the first leader of the clan, had carefully designed and imposed a harsh hierarchical structure upon the entire clan. While highly restrictive, it also ensured that the Vel’sharen had almost never suffered from the revolts and fractious infighting that plagued every other major clan in the city. Diva’ratrika had continued to enforce this hierarchical system, being quick to punish all transgressions. Thanks to an extensive network of spies, among other things, she knew at all times exactly what was afoot in her domain. Although she herself never appeared in public, letting Snadhya’rune and her other daughters do her bidding and implement her will instead, the Il’haress still retained absolute control of her clan.

    There were daughters she hadn’t met in years and grandchildren whom she had never seen. Many among the clan had lived and died without ever setting their eyes upon their matriarch. But no one doubted who held the reins of power. For six hundred years, her rule had remained unchallenged.

    But today, after a very long time, the reclusive matriarch felt vulnerable and alone. Her responsibilities weighed upon her mind. The last time such feelings had come upon her was the day her mother had died, and the mantle of leadership had fallen upon her shoulders, so many years ago.

    Unexpectedly burdened by solitude, Diva’ratrika tried to solicit the company of her daughters. But she failed to locate any of them. Two of the five the two who

    were still untainted had of course rushed to the city at her behest. But

    Snadhya’rune, Sarv’swati and Zala’ess were nowhere to be found either. Feeling

    unreasonably miffed, the drow woman wandered around for a while trying to find her daughters. Finally, she headed for the lower level.

    As she descended the stairs, the question posed by her eldest daughter had came back to her mind. Her daughters were tainted. How should she deal with them?

    The matriarch shook her head slowly as she reached the floor where the slaves and guards resided. She could not murder any of her children, even if they were corrupted. Besides, taking any decisions until the reason for Snadhya’runes’ softened

    attitude became clear would be premature on her part.

    Diva’ratrika turned the corner to look upon a nightmare.

    The bodies were stretched out along the floor as though the killers had deliberately arranged them. Purple blood had soaked into the carpet, discoloring it with multiple dark stains. Every one of the soldiers had died the same way, their heads blown apart. Arms and legs had been torn off, scattered around the room. It had been a savage battle, and entirely one sided. The assailants had unleashed magic; none of the warriors had stood a chance.

    The Il’haress breathed in sharply as she stared at the headless corpses piled upon the floor. Carnage was not new to her; she had seen many in her life, and on a few occasions had perpetrated them. But how could such a thing happen here inside the fortress without her becoming aware of it? The entire bastion of the Vel’sharen Clan had been carefully covered with an intricately woven web of magic, making it a nearly impregnable stronghold. Not only did the spells activate a series of deadly traps upon an invading force, it also allowed Diva’ratrika to instantly become aware any hostile entities within the citadel, and track their movements. But she had sensed nothing, absolutely nothing at all.

    Overcoming her momentary paralysis, she hurried past the bodies. Perhaps someone of the Nidraa’chal Clan had managed to enter the fortress. For that matter, it might be some other enemy, trying to take advantage of the confusion. As first clan of the city, the Vel’sharen had to contend with the antagonism of all other clans

    that aspired to replace them. Their animosity was generally well concealed, but it would hardly be surprising if one of their more daring enemies chose to assault the fortress while it’s strength was so severely depleted. But how could an attacker have possibly penetrated through the magical shield, all the way to the upper levels of the fortress, without being detected?

    Over the next ten minutes, as the Il’haress combed through the rooms and passages of that level, she found many more corpses. By her own command, no mage, priestess or wielder of magic was permitted to live on this tier. Thus, the soldiers here were handpicked for their strength and loyalty, but had absolutely no defense against sorceries. Each one had been struck down where he or she stood, blown apart by spells that their armor could not stop and their weapons not deflect. But the attackers themselves still eluded her, just as they had somehow eluded the magical shields that had been protecting the fortress for hundreds of years.

    Clenching her jaw, Diva’ratrika continued her hunt. Her rage was dangerously close to getting out of control. She did not know why the detection spells were failing to pinpoint the intruders, but the reason for that failure was the least of her concerns. She wanted to find the intruders, and find them she would.

    Passing into the next corridor, she saw the slaves.

    There had been perhaps fifty of them. They had been lined up against the wall, and then cut in half. Each body lay on the floor in precisely two pieces. The blood had pooled along the entire length of the corridors’ floor, covering it end to end. The massacre had been quick, merciless and completely unnecessary.

    The Il’haress took in the scene quickly, her eyes flat. There was no doubt now as to who the enemy was - the tainted clan of Nidraa’chal. It made perfect sense now, and Diva’ratrika cursed herself for being fooled so easily. They had dispatched a part of their troops into the city to create mayhem, and when she had reacted, predictably, by sending out the entire Vel’sharen army after them, the tainted **washoors had invaded the Vel’sharen Fortress. It was an obvious ploy, except that the magical barriers that protected this citadel should have defeated their intent. Somehow, they had found a way to overcome the magic. The power of the demons that possessed them could very well have given them this ability.

    For the first time, the Il’haress felt concern for the safety of her daughters. She knew all of them were more than capable of handling themselves and taking care of any enemy, but they also harbored a weakness for others of their kind others of

    the tainted. Would they be able to fight back if the Nidraa’chal Clan ambushed them?

    Her heart chilled at those thoughts, but despite the urgency in her feelings, she forced herself to slow down and move more cautiously. It would not do to blunder into an ambush herself. The idea of heading to the lower levels to fetch help never entered her head. She levitated across the corridor, then primed up a mana-fire spell before landing and advancing further.

    A sound at last! A scream floated to her ears from the room up ahead. That was where the last of the guards were had been - posted. At the same instant, she

    detected the use of magic. A vicious grin curled her lips. She had found the washoors now, and they would pay the price for daring to challenge the Vel’sharen Clan.

    Since she had made no attempt to shield her own magic at any time, it was very likely that the killers ahead had already sensed her approach. Which meant that the room ahead, in all probability, was a trap. It was too bad that her enemies did not

     ** Maggots

    know what they were dealing with. With a few short words, Diva’ratrika cast a reflection barrier around her. This barrier did not simply stop an attack; it reflected the spell back to the attacker. If the Nidraa’chan invaders surrounded her and launched an attack, which is what they were most likely to do, they would bring down doom upon themselves with their own hands.

    Protected by the barrier, and armed with a mana-fire at her fingertips, the enraged Il’haress bounded across the remaining distance and hurtled into the room through the door, prepared to unleash her power…

    …and stumbled to a halt. Snadhya’rune, Sarv’swati and Zala’ess were in the room,

    apparently surprised to see their mother. The latter hurriedly looked around the room. A soldier lay dead on the floor, the large dining table in the center had been smashed in half and the chandelier above hung at a crooked angle. There was no one else in the chamber.

    Puzzled, she turned to look back at her daughters.

    At their crimson eyes.

    And realized the truth.

    - “Hello Mother!” Snadhya’rune purred as she raised her hand. Incarnadine

    energy as red as her eyes burst from her fingers and hurtled towards Diva’ratrika.

    Instinctively, she dropped to the ground, letting the lethal force pass harmlessly over her rather than relying upon the reflection barrier for protection. The scarlet beam crashed into the wall, exploding with concussive force and showering her with broken glass.

    Snadhya’rune and her sisters were momentarily out of her view, hidden by the expanse of the table. But her daughters voice could be heard all too clearly.

    - “Sorry, Mother! You know we love you very much. But we – the tainted are

    the future of the drow race. For the sake of the future, you must die.”

    With those words, something died within the Il’haress.

    It had all been an act. The softening of their hearts had been a charade. The oath of everlasting loyalty to the Vel’sharen had been a lie. Her beloved children were

    tainted to the core, and they had fooled her all too well.

    An absolute, primordial rage took control of her mind and body, washing away all other emotions, and she struck back.

    Snadhya’rune walked a step ahead of her sisters. She did not even bother to look

    at the trail of blood their mother had left behind. She could detect their victims’ life force quite easily with her enhanced senses. Another incidental benefit of the “taint”. Her face broke out in a thoughtful smile. The word “tainted” had a delicious,

    depraved beauty to it. The secret name that they had chosen for themselves was the “evolved”. But from this day forth, she would call herself, and the others, by the name that the Il’haress had so kindly bestowed upon them. Tainted.

    Sarv’swati murmured in a voice laced with amusement. “She went into the throne room. I think Mother means to die while seated on the throne.”

    Zala’ess’ laughter was mirthless and unrestrained. “An Il’haress to the end. She has some delusion that her death will be something grand. Too bad we aren’t about to let that happen.”

    - “What do you propose?”

    - “How about we drag her from her precious throne all the way to the lower level of the citadel? We’ll strip her and hang her upside down from the main gate and

    leave her there. Let even the commoners see how the once great Vel’sharen ruler died in shame and ignominy.”

    - “Hush!” their elder sister raised a hand. “I wish we could do that, but just about everyone in the fortress will see us if we attempt something like that.”

    - “Everyone is out in the city fighting. Only the slaves remain.” Sarv’swati pointed out.

    - “We cannot kill every witness. Let’s just stick to the plan.”

    Without turning her head, Snadhya’rune could see her sister shrug.

    Moments later, they were standing in front of the throne room. It had a massive entrance, built to impress the visitor. A double door forged from adamantium, polished to gleam like silver and studded with precious stones, greeted all who came here. Engraved in its’ exact center was the nine-moon herald of the Vel’sharen Clan.

    Each moon was colored differently, but that color changed dramatically if one viewed it from even a slightly different angle. A simple spell of illusion, but extremely impressive in the results it produced.

    The doors were closed, but they could all sense their prey inside.

    Zala’ess pushed to the front impatiently. “What are we waiting for? Let’s gut the **harvith and be done with it.”

    “Relax, will you?” Sarv’swati spoke softly but firmly. Although she was only a

    couple of inches taller than her sisters, she always gave the appearance of being taller. Sarv’swati, as befitted the second daughter of the Vel’sharen, was a powerful sorceress, but at the same time, she also possessed the physique of a warrior, and her skill with the battle axe were legendary. She had never had the need to speak loudly to get other people’s attention. Zala’ess stopped, a bit startled, and looked back.

    “If Diva’ratrika has any ability left to think straight,” Sarv’swati said, flicking

    away a stray lock of hair from her forehead, “she would have placed a trap just

    inside the doorway. It would be extremely stupid for any of us to barge in and get killed at this point of time, when our purpose had been nearly fulfilled.

     Snadhya’rune nodded assent. Another idea had been running through her mind

    for quite some time now. It was time to reveal it.

    - “Listen! I think we need to change our plans a little.”

    Both her sisters looked at her, Sarv’swati looked mildly curious, Zala’ess

    suspicious.

    - “Instead of blaming the Nidraa’chal Clan for attacking us and killing the Il’haress, we will tell the others a slightly different story. We will say that the Nidraa’chal Clan had assaulted us, but fortunately the Il’haress survived the attack.”

    - “WHAT?!?” Zala’ess exclaimed, startled. Sarv’swati arched an eyebrow

    quizzically.

    - “If we tell everyone that the Il’haress survived, then things can go exactly as they did before. Of course, because of this “failed” attempt to kill her, she will become even more remote and secretive, and give up any and all interactions with the outside world. We will be the only ones who will remain in contact with her, and will continue to communicate her commands to the rest of the clan, as we have been doing all along. No one will ever learn the truth.”

    - “Wait a minute!” Zala’ess intervened. “That will never work. The slaves and the guards on this level are all dead now, but they will be replaced. They have always had access to the Il’haress; at the very least the slaves responsible for cleaning her

    chambers see her all the time. They will soon wonder where their mistress vanished. Once word gets out, someone will be suspicious, and then we will be in trouble. It’s much easier to tell people the Nidraa’chal Clan killed her.”

    Snadhya was already shaking her head.

    - “Neither the slaves nor the guards will be replaced. Remember, the enemy somehow found a way to penetrate our defenses and enter this level. The only explanation for that is that someone among the warriors or slaves betrayed us.

     ** Harvith = har + vith. Barren woman i.e. a woman who cannot bear a child

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