Bad Blood Runs Black - chapter 48 part 2 of 3 by John "Basileus Ioannis"
“Confound it,” Mundhelm railed over the din of the Vindbruger plant, pounding a fist against the corridor wall. “Not only is he alive, he has now kidnapped two of our number. We will get them back. But we do not have the time now to even locate them, for every second we tarry, disaster looms ever closer.”
Haergrim gritted his teeth, his hands splayed on the ground where Pana and Chawinda had stood. He knew that the Serrasqer was right, that time was running out. The ranger got up off the floor and turned to the young warpriest standing beside him. He said in her ear, “Do you have Dispel Magic memorized?”
Gemma’s brows were knitted, but she too realized that many lives were on the line. She nodded once in the affirmative, raising the holy symbol in her left hand. She turned to face the consul and the mage standing by the doorway. “I am ready,” she said, sniffling her nose as she stepped towards them.
The ranger stepped to the door and gripped its handle. Turning to the rest of the party, he shouted, “I will pull the door open. Spellcasters, stand by, and remember your sequence. Ready?”
Mundhelm, Blaesende, Slikkepind, Fyrretrae the Band of the Pine mage, and Gemma all nodded, hands raised in front of them. Haergrim returned the nod in acknowledgement, then yanked on the handle. A rainbow of lights filled the corridor as spells were cast in rapid succession. As soon as the warpriest cast her spell, the glow faded, leaving only the dim purple lighting within the Vindbruger plant. The party readied their weapons and entered the deafening chamber.
A translucent elfin figure stood by the central column, studying a crystal set display. He looked up and appeared alarmed to see the party, unable to hear the spells going off due to the screaming wind. The noise was exacerbated by the fact that they were resisting the Vatishehir’s Vindbrugers, trying to keep the Quzayshehir centered over their target, the city below.
Since talking was out of the question, Mundhelm used hand gestures indicating to the Vindbruger to get down on the floor and surrender. Haergrim and Blaesende had their nocked arrows pointed at him, while Slikkepind and Gemma menaced him with their weapons. Fyrretrae stood behind Gemma, ready to cast a spell. The jig was up.
The chief engineer raised his open palms, yet not in surrender. A tremendous gust of wind blew the intruders against a bulkhead. Two arrows curved away in a crazy arc, striking the far corner of the room. The warpriest was knocked back into the mage, sending both sprawling against the wall. Only Slikkepind and Blaesende appeared unaffected by the sudden gale, as they both charged the ghostly elf. The Ghaele’s massive greatsword glowed as it ran the Vindbruger through, and the Bralani followed with his magic scimitar, decapitating him. As the enemy’s body fell, the Gust of Wind spell died with him.
Released from the torrent of air, Mundhelm ran up to the control column. He located several glowing buttons on a console, and mashed all of them with the heels of his closed hands. The pitch and volume of the screaming wind sound dropped, until the room fell into a welcome silence.
Haergrim was the first to speak. “The Vindbrugere?” he asked.
The consul said, “I shut down the portal to the Elemental Plane of Air. Since they have not come out of the column, they must have been drawn into the other plane. It could not be helped. Now, hurry, we must all get clear of the Skibbyen before it crashes into the sea.” As if to intensify the sense of urgency, Quzayshehir began to groan and shudder, listing gradually as its lift mechanism was disabled.
The party ran back out into the corridor and raced up the staircase two steps at a time. They prised open the secret door to the sewers, splashing into the shallow canal of foul-smelling water. They ran through the muck, reaching Haergrim’s glowing light sphere still under the Elfhole shaft which they had used to descend into the aqueduct. The ranger retrieved and cleaned off his Continual Light ball, then locking his fingers together, he formed a step to boost each party member up to reach the rungs overhead. Wiping his filth-covered hands on his buckskins, the ranger leapt up and scrambled up the rungs.
As Haergrim cleared the Elfhole, Mundhelm was concentrating on a Message spell to Fugle’rede. “Skibsfoorer, recall our forces. Enemy Vindbrugere are down. Are we going to clear Doushehir?”
The captain’s reply came through. “Yes, Serrasqer Bashal, but just barely. The sink rate has increased now to two hundred and fifty meters per minute. Impact now in, six minutes.”
“That is not enough time. Tell ground commanders to teleport as many as they can back to the Vatishehir, or use Feather Fall if necessary. Contact Doushehir, see if they can help. Mundhelm out.” The consul turned to the party with knitted brows. “Six minutes to impact. We need more time, our troops will need to disengage.”
“I am ready to teleport us on your command, Serrasqer Bashal,” said Fyrretrae.
“Get the rest of us out of here, I will remain with the ground troops,” replied Mundhelm.
“Mundy, we can fly,” said Slikkepind, “we’re staying with you, we’ll get you out.”
“I have another task for you two. There will not be enough spellcasters with teleport capability for all the ground troops. I need you two to ferry as many as you can before impact. I intend for my boots to be the last aboard this Skibbyen. Now go.”
“Bro, come on. The hero sacrificing himself only works in movies,” said Blaesende.
Mundhelm got an exasperated expression on his face. “I am not sacrificing myself. Now how do you say it, ’Time is a-wasting’?” He made a shooing motion with his hands.
“Okay, Mundy, we’ll be back for you,” said the Ghaele as she transformed into a floating sphere of pink light. The Bralani turned into a whirlwind, and the two Eladrin flew off towards the front lines.
“Fyrretrae, see if you can locate some wounded, take them with you when you teleport Sheh’xahte’ Haergrim Ephendil and Princess Gemma to safety. May the gods be with you all.”
The ranger gave a firm Elfin handshake to the consul. “Be well, Serrasqer Bashal.”
Mundhelm gave a genuine smile. “Thank you, Sheh’xahte’ Ephendil, to you and your charge as well.” With that, the consul ran off towards his troops, still fighting Viturhimin’s minions nearby.
It didn’t take long for the remaining trio to find five wounded High Porte soldiers awaiting evacuation. In a flash, the party teleported away from the doomed Skibbyen.
Pana watched as the dream-like sequence played out in her mind. A shadowy figure, whom she understood to be a deity, had created three tribes of beings as it populated the new world. At first, they were all the same height, and relatively tall. But eventually one of the tribes became restless, for they wanted to live in the mountains, the hills, and the plains at the same time. They pleaded with the deity to allow them to live in all three places at once. Since it was physically impossible for any one being to do all three simultaneously, the deity came up with a solution. Each of the members of this tribe were split into three beings so that they could. But there was a side effect to what was otherwise a logical solution. Each of the three were now much shorter than they were as one (writer’s note: this might be where the modern concept of “conservation of mass” comes from). Thus evolved the major demihuman races, the proto-Dwarves in the mountains, the proto-Gnomes in the hills, and proto-Halflings in the grassy plains.
Chalking this up to experience, the deity refrained from splitting the other two tribes. One wanted to live wherever it went, to travel widely and see as much as they could. This somewhat scatter-brained tribe became the proto-Humans, free-ranging and living off the land, a jack of all trades but master of none. Wherever they traveled, they had to learn how to live from the others. This resulted in slower development of this tribe’s civilization compared to the more focused tribes, but they became prodigious learners with a worldly outlook, and would eventually catch up to the other tribes.
The remaining tribe wished to live in the vast forests. They discovered magic early on, using it to shape nature to their will without hurting it, making their homes out of large, still-living trees. This tribe became the proto-Elves, and they were so successful that they had time to develop the arts for their enjoyment and culture. Other tribes had to be happy with their environments, the proto-Elves made themselves happy by changing the environment to suit them.
But their contentment was not to remain, for the proto-Elves eventually began arguing amongst themselves. One faction, led by a wise priestess named Lolth, was gaining in popularity. Those opposed to Lolth’s teachings sought to stop her and the spread of her beliefs. As Lolth’s followers approached half the proto-Elven population in numbers, things were rapidly coming to a head.
A powerful wizard had uncovered the secret of how the deity split the beings. Misunderstanding the nature of this powerful magic, the mage sought to use it to segregate the Lolth followers from the rest of the proto-Elven population. This mortal playing god drew the attention of the deity, who cursed the procedure. Instead of only forcing the Lolth followers to be separated from the non-believers, it caused every elf to be split into two beings, one faithful to the priestess, one opposed. The resulting halves were now shorter than they used to be, and to make the point that they were like night and day, the Lolth followers’ skin turned midnight blue-black, their hair like the pale moonlight, while the non-believers’ skin became as light as day with contrasting hair.
If the deity intended this to remind each other that they are inseparable as day and night, the lesson was not learned, as an internecine conflict began almost immediately. The proto-Elves were now split into two hostile camps. The Lyosalfar, the Light Elves, hated their dusky mirror images more than ever, considered them an abomination, a corruption of Elfdom, and called them Nightskins. The Dokkalfar, the Dark Elves, became radicalized by the hostility the Light Elves held for them. They warred constantly, until fortunes turned against the Dark Elves when Lolth was slain, and they faced utter defeat.
This greatly distressed the deity, who loved all the tribes equally. Knowing that simply reverting the elves into one body would cause an identity crisis that would destroy the elves, the deity decided to take an unprecedented action, and inhabited the body of Lolth, turning her from a Dark Elf into a god. As an incarnation of the god, Lolth instructed the surviving Dark Elves to seek shelter underground to escape the Light Elves. But subterranean life proved very difficult, as there were hostile denizens living below. To make matters worse, finding areas with breathable air, potable water, and edible food was a constant challenge. Also, the presence of Adamantine, a slightly radioactive heavy metal, caused many to fall ill and die, or mutate over time.
Lolth tried her best to change the Dark Elves to adapt, eventually making them not only immune to the radiation, but thrive on it, giving them increased magical powers. Another mutation allowed them to see much farther in total darkness than the Light Elves, but this caused both the irises and the whites of their eyes to turn blood red, an insignificant cosmetic change. These transformations made them superior to their Dark Elf ancestors, and although many still called them as such, these enhanced followers of Lolth took up a new name from their dialect of Elvish, Drow.
The goddess knew that giant spiders, while a constant threat to the Dark Elves, would make excellent mounts, so made them her own to prevent them from preying upon her Drow. However, the narrow confines of the tunnels often made riding them impractical, thus she used her powers to fuse some of the best wounded warriors with the largest spiders, creating the Drow-spider hybrid, or Drider. Again, what should have been a practical solution ended up a failure, as the Drow never were as comfortable with spiders as she was. When the Driders had a penchant to go insane, they were shunned from Drow society and joined the manifold malevolent monsters found underground.
On the surface, the Light Elves swore to seal the Dark Elves in their tombs, and wherever the Drow showed themselves above ground, they hunted them down mercilessly. And yet, the underlying unrest that had spawned the Dark Elves remained, as the Light Elves worshipped a pantheon of gods. Slowly, those who wished to return to their proto-Elf ways and live deep within the forests split off, calling themselves Sylvan Elves, while the rest of the Light Elves dismissed them as Wood Elves. Another faction, followers of the god of water, had adapted themselves to live in the sea and became Aquatic Elves. Yet others preferred remote highlands to dwell, and as their skin and hair became pale, the Grey Elves were born. Another faction, who worshipped their ‘god of the sun’ and disliked the orthodoxy, decided to dwell south of the Barrier Wall in the wastelands beyond, where their complexions became bronzed, their hair taking on coppery hues, and they became Sun Elves. The remaining Light Elves became ethnocentric, considering themselves the maintainers of the race, and began calling themselves High Elves.
Pana opened her eyes. I understand now. One deity had created all the races, had created the world itself. The Elven gods, the Blackstonian gods, Gertze and Pfard and the Pentarchy, they were all one. Chawinda, Haergrim, Mundhelm, the Drow and the High Elves were indeed one, split by selfishness and a curse. She looked down at her hands as she picked them up from Viturhimin’s, and they were shaking. She slowly turned to her lover, who continued to aim her bracers at the avatar.
The bodyguard flicked her red eyes towards the cleric. “You alright, missy?”
“Yeah, hun, I’m fine.” Pana slowly walked towards Chawinda, and put her hands on her sable face. “You can put your arms down, he was telling the truth. I love you.”
“Da hells?” said the Drow incredulously, cocking one white eyebrow up. “I love you too, but are you sure you’re alright?”
“Never better,” said Pana, smiling. A tear ran down from one eye, left her chin and landed on her chest plate. “We have to stop this war between the races.”
“Sure, that sounds like a good idea,” said the sneak with a wry grin. “Did our ‘avatar’ give you delusions of grandeur or something? Shouldn’t we start small, like maybe getting da hells out of here first?”
“I have done no such thing, Drowling,” said Viturhimin. “It is a typical emotional reaction to having a great amount of truths revealed to them, truths that cannot be revealed by any but those who had been there.”
“Had been there?” said Pana, turning back to the avatar. “How old are you, Sir Viturhimin?”
“This body is no older than Mundhelm’s. But as you may have surmised, I was there. It is interesting that your first reaction after seeing the truth is to end this perennial war between the Dokkalfar and the Lyosalfar. We are of one heart in that matter.”
“I don’t think so, Sir Viturhimin. If so, then why did you kill so many people with your Skibbyen? Why are you helping the Drow defeat the High Elves?”
“I suspect you know why. Despite their prodigious reproduction, the Drow do not have the strength to match the surface dwellers. Without parity, the High Elves have nothing to gain from ending their hostilities with the Dark Elves. To effect a change in the status quo, the High Elves must be in a similar position the Drow are in, that is, facing extinction.”
“Extinction?” exclaimed both Pana and Chawinda. The bodyguard stammered, “What are you talking about? The Drow Empire is huge, with many clans of thousands.”
“After the Dark Elves adapted to their new environment and became Drow, the population eventually stabilized. But over half of those who had gone underground had perished. Once the underground cities were built, and food sources acquired, the population could grow again. Lolth encouraged this, and for that the surface dwellers mocked the Drow as immoral, and Lolth as a demon, encouraging evil behavior. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It took eight millenia, but the Drow had rebuilt their numbers to pre-exodus levels.
“That was until two events took place that changed their fortunes for the worse. The first occurred two centuries ago, when a famine wiped out much of subterranean food production, forcing the Drow to forage above ground, harried by the High Elves. This is when the despicable act of consuming the bodies of intelligent beings began. Crippled slaves were butchered, then even healthy ones. More slaves had to be acquired to replace those who were consumed. This proved barely sufficient to maintain the current population, growth was now out of the question. The Drow would not be able to match the High Elves in numbers, not without a renewed food supply.
“The second was less obvious at first. The empress, Mah’rany Dishani’matrika, was going insane. After seven hundred years of her iron-handed rule, where the population had reached its zenith, the food crisis took its toll on her. All the priestesses had prayed for food, but the underground supply never fully recovered from the famine. They found themselves using their spell power more and more just to create food to forestall the starvation that would come regardless. The male mages grew restless, blaming her lack of leadership to do the impossible. They colluded with several Houses to attempt to topple her. Several assassination attempts were only successful in making her more and more paranoid, and a century ago, she decided to make an example of one of the restive clans.”
“The Pahnjahb,” muttered Chawinda, looking distressed.
“Yes. Not only was the entire clan of four thousand souls put to the blade, they were consumed.”
“No. NO. The bitch, she had my clan EATEN?” The bodyguard shivered, her mouth hanging open. “I, I can’t believe that. That’s too terrible, even for Drow. Dammit, no.”
“Now you know the truth, Chawinda Pahnjahb. Even with such an act, it was but a momentary panacea, it could not forestall what was to come. Other races began to feel the impact of the empire’s predations, such as the Duergar and Svirfneblin. Open warfare broke out between the subterranean races in the wake of your departure from the Underworld. Things had to change, and soon, lest the race succumb to either war losses or starvation. I had to act quickly, if reconciliation was to be effected.”
Having recovered from the shock of the horrors that had been unfolded, Pana asked, “Sir Viturhimin, or should I address you as Avatar? The one god took your body over, like Lolth?”
“Not so. Lolth was elevated to godhead, becoming one with the deity. She is no longer a mortal. I am merely a vessel to interact with mortal beings. My powers as Avatar are not unlimited, or I would have resolved the situation already.”
“Oh indeed?” said a voice that was husky yet feminine, with the distinctly scratchy sound of a Drow. She spoke with a powerful tone of one accustomed to command.