Bad Blood Runs Black - chapter 48 part 1 of 3 by John "Basileus Ioannis"
Pana opened her eyes. She was lying on a stone floor, but not the same fitted stonework that she had been standing on. This floor appeared to be hewn out of solid rock. Where, am I? she wondered, as she realized she had blacked out when Viturhimin suddenly flashed with a bright light. And where is everybody else? She slowly lifted her head to look around. The Serrasqer, or the avatar as he called himself, was gone. The room was even darker than the hallway on the Quzayshehir. She swung her vision to her right. Chawinda lay there, face down, her arms outstretched as if she was about to shoot her bracer daggers. With some effort, the high priestess reached out with her armored hand, and shook her lover. “Hey, hey hun.”
The Drow’s head popped up, her garnet eyes wide. All of her muscles tensed up as she raised her arms to firing position. Seeing that her target was gone, she turned to face Pana. “Missy, what happened?”
“Looks like we might have teleported. I’m not sure if we’re on Quzayshehir anymore.”
Chawinda relaxed somewhat as she sat up. “Where’d he go? And anyone else make it?”
Pana pushed herself up to a seated position and replied, “I don’t know where Viturhimin went, and I don’t see anyone else.” She looked around, and noticed that where the wall met the floor, it was seamlessly curved. Likewise, the smooth wall met the slightly rough ceiling without a corner. The wall was about ten feet to her right. The rest of the room was shrouded in darkness. Judging by the way their voices echoed somewhat, the room must have been fairly large, but bereft of carpeting or furniture.
“Well, I suppose if he wanted to, he coulda killed us while we were out. What did he say just before that flash of light? Something about Lolth and the High Elf gods are one in the same?” Noticing where the high priestess was staring, the sneak also scanned the stonework, and she mumbled, “I’ve seen this architecture before. A long time ago.”
Chawinda sighed. “It’s Drow work.” She stood up, leaning against the wall with one hand. “If my senses haven’t failed me, I think we’re quite a distance underground. Mmm, I can feel the presence of Adamantine, there’s a smell to it, a taste. Might be a vein, might be something made with it.”
“Well let’s find out how to get back to the Skibbyen. Neither of us would be particularly welcome in a Drow holding, right?”
“Yeah. You, they might just enslave. They find out what clan I used to belong to, and, yeah.”
“What? They’d kill you? You’ve never told me much about your clan.”
“Not much more to tell. Civil wars were all too common, the empress thought our clan and our allies were becoming a threat, so we were made an example of. If it wasn’t for Sialkot...”
Pana remembered her tale. “You told me, how she disguised you as a commoner so you two could slip away from the Drow authorities. That must have been awful, losing your entire family, being exiled from the world you knew into a hostile surface world. So what was your clan called?”
Chawinda got a distant expression on her face, as she almost whispered, “House Pahnjahb.”
“Pahnjahb. But it’s been what, a hundred years or so since then? Surely things would have changed?”
“Oh, no way, missy. The Drow and the High Elves have been fighting off and on for more than eight thousand years, memory goes back a long way with us. So as far as we’re concerned, I’m just a trader from an Isht’vahlee subhouse, okay? They’re so prolific, and go all over the place, I don’t think even another Isht’vahlee would be able to know everyone in their clan.”
“Ishtavolley, gotcha. And me? I can pass as your slave?”
A deep voice echoed, startling both Pana and Chawinda. “Not without a slave collar, you will not.” They both whirled about, and finding the source of the voice, the Drow raised her bracers to attack. “You will not need weapons with me, young Drowling, I will not harm you.” Standing several feet away from the pair was Viturhimin, only his face and hands visible. He held up an open white palm, his eyes glowing like embers on his pallid features, but he did not come any closer.
“Serrasqer Viturhimin Bashal,” said the high priestess, her brows lowered in mistrust. “Why did you bring us here?”
“Admittedly, I did not design for you two to have been caught up in my departure. Now that you are here, perhaps it was for the better. Will you hear me out?”
The Drow did not lower her arms. “I’m all ears,” she said without a smile.
“Sir Viturhimin,” Pana said, looking sternly at the man. “Setting aside for the moment what you did to Vatishehir off the coast of Albi Aula, which could have doomed all aboard including yours truly, were it not for the quick thinking and foreseight of Sir Mundhelm and his crew...”
The pale elf interrupted, “I foresaw that Mundhelm would be able to forestall a total catastrophe. It was necessary for him to be delayed, unable to pursue us. But yes, let us discuss that later, in his presence.”
“You said some alarming things back on the Quzayshehir that run counter to common knowledge, that the Drow and High Elves were once one beings split by fell magic, and their gods are one in the same.”
“Yes. Regarding the Dokkalfar and the Lyosalfar, the Dark Elves and Light Elves, and their deities, I spoke truly. Their enmity was of Elf design, the pantheon a misconception of the truth.”
“You’ll forgive us if we don’t take the words of a mass murderer at face value,” growled Chawinda.
“Murderer?” said Viturhimin, raising an eyebrow as his eyes turned to the Drow. “In actions of war, we do not murder, we kill. You know that better than most, I presume. Are the Dokkalfar murderers for fighting back against the Lyosalfar who drove them underground?”
“Prevaricator,” hissed Chawinda, looking down her bracers with her narrowed eyes, baring her white teeth. “Quit using our races as an excuse for the crap you pulled.”
“Alright, you two. Let’s keep calm, our bickering isn’t going to solve anything.” Pana cast a ray of wisdom that a little over a month ago she might have had difficulty conjuring, while facing the escapees led by Rilthien and Sialkot. “I want to know the truth, Sir Viturhimin, to be able to make the right decisions.”
“And I wish to convince you of my veracity. Princess Pana, you should ask your deity for guidance.”
“Yes, just bring forth your holy symbol, and commune with her. I shall wait.”
The high priestess stared at him, unable to read any emotion or ill will on his face, although she found his unnaturally incandescent eyes disturbing. She turned to Chawinda, who glanced back at her. “Alright,” the cleric finally said, drawing out her holy symbol by its thong.
“If he tries anything, I’m putting daggers in his glowing peepers,” said the Drow in reply, nodding.
As Viturhimin stood still expectantly, Pana got on her knees and went into her prayer trance. Her mind’s eye reached out, and she could see her hands, palms upraised in supplication. A scroll materialized, floating in her mind, as the familiar feminine holy voice said, “Believe.”
Pana opened her eyes. The spell was not in her memory as usual, but was cast upon her through her prayer. “Well, that’s new,” she mumbled, as she stood up and looked at the avatar. “I have been granted the power to Discern Lies. I am ready.”
Unphased, Viturhimin held out upturned palms, closed his eyes, and sighed. “Place your hands upon mine, and I will impart knowledge unto you. You will know whether it be truth or fabrication.”
Chawinda twitched. “Hey, easy there, ‘avatar’.” But the man remained standing as still as a statue, waiting for the young lady to make the next move.
She hesitated, then said to her bodyguard, “It’s okay, hun, my deity told me to ‘believe’. I’ll be alright, I still have some of my buffs up from before.” The cleric slowly stepped forwards and placed her hands on top of his. But nothing untoward happened.
The Drow stepped aside a pace, maintaining her aim on the pale man’s face. I don’t trust him, but I trust you, missy. Be careful, she thought.
Pana also shut her eyes, and in her mind, a picture began to form like in her dream-like state she would enter during her prayer trances. Interesting. I can understand, that it’s a story about the formation of the humanoid races of the world. And somehow I know that it’s all true. Kinda reminds me of the shows on the crystal set in the stateroom on Vatishehir.
Near the outskirts of the destroyed city of Gyneyshehir, Band of the Pine fighter-mages were hiding amongst the trees and bushes, quietly observing. Even without vision aids, they could see the long columns of prisoners and wagons streaming out of the city gates. The lines coalesced to the north of the city, heading up the highway towards the capital. A couple miles up the road, the Drow had the slave columns turn off the path and head due west into a hilly plain. Nearby was what appeared to be a huge nostril, a cave entrance to the Drow realms.
The High Elf commandos used a portable crystal set to call in their observations, and waited. Within minutes, the cave entrance and nearly a half mile radius around it erupted in flames as strings of barrel-shaped fire bombs rained down from the night sky. High above, dozens of Rocs circled, ensuring the destruction of their target. The huge bonfire lit up the night sky, the clouds of smoke reflecting the orange firelight on the terrain around it. None could survive such a conflagration.
Yet, the long line of prisoners continued to head towards the flames unabated. The High Elf leader frowned. “They’re not even slowing down, something is not right.” She pulled out a spyglass to examine the row of oblivious captives. A closer look revealed that despite the sky being lit up by the flames, none of the slaves or their burdens cast a shadow on the ground. She muttered a curse, then said, “It’s a ruse, those are illusions.”
The soldiers hastened back southwards to the other side of the ruined city, but too late. All they found were many, many footprints and wheel ruts in the dirt around the southern city gates that had been cleverly obscured using spell power. The Drow Fifth Army had broken camp and was gone. The commandos summoned the giant owls that loitered overhead. But even the birds’ keen eyes could not see any trace of the invaders or their captives. They had vanished right out from under their noses.
In Alfler’vashqenti, Grand Vizier Slesk was furious. “How? How could the best of the best allow an entire city’s worth of people and a Drow army to escape? And to be fooled by simple illusions?”
“They were crafty, Saadrezam Bashal,” said the image of the Band of the Pine commander in Slesk’s crystal set. “Their illusory columns stretched for at least ten kilometers, drawing us northwestwards, away from their true positions which were cloaked, both visually and audibly. This is no ordinary Dark Elf incursion, there is an intelligence at work beyond...”
“Enough,” bellowed the court official. “Find them. Fan out. I want those Nightskins and their captives found.” He waved his hand dismissively over the sphere, not waiting for a reply.
“Gave you the slip, did they?” said a calm deep voice.
The grand vizier spun around to face the source of the words. “Veliaat Bashal. Yes, a minor setback, I assure you. They will not get away.”
Rohrgrim smiled pleasantly, eyelids closed. “It would appear that they already have. The Band of the Pine are magnificent soldiers, able to defeat nearly any opponent on the field of battle. But they lack the millenia of experience in dealing with the Nightskins that the Constabulary have. Even before there was a High Porte army, the Constabulary’s predecessors maintained the peace.”
Slesk’s eyes narrowed to slits in consternation. “You hold the, militia, in too high a regard, Veliaat Bashal. The times have changed, it is open warfare with the Nightskins. This was no simple raid, they have sacked Gyneyshehir. This is an army matter now.”
“On the contrary, I have received permission from the Ciulthann Ephendil to mobilize Constabulary Command, they are en route now. The Band of the Pine are to hand off the Gyneyshehir operation to them upon arrival.”
“Indeed? I work under the Ciulthann Ephendil, I have not been notified.”
Rohrgrim waved an open hand towards the crystal set. “You are welcome to confirm with Eiliftgraen. I can only tell you, he was not pleased with your lack of success.” The royal heir nonchalantly dropped his arm and turned to leave.
The perceived insult was too much for Slesk to bear. Eyes ablaze with fury, his balled fists glowed with magic power as he spat out, “Rohrgrim.”
The Veliaat stopped in his tracks. “Do not let emotion write promissory notes that your level of skill with the Art cannot honor.” As the grand vizier raised his arms to strike, the royal heir spun around, raising an opened hand. The glowing magic left Slesk’s hands and were sucked into Rohrgrim’s palm.
As if saved by the bell, a chime rang out from the crystal set. At first, neither elf moved, staring each other down. The tone came again, and the grand vizier whirled, swiping a hand over the sphere. “Yes?” he blurted, still upset.
A booming baritone voice nearly shook the walls and floor. “Slesk, I am departing for Doushehir. Rohrgrim and his Constabulary are to take over the Gyneyshehir situation. Recall the Band of the Pine, and defend the capital. That is all.” With that, the crystal set fell silent again.
The royal heir leaned in to the grand vizier’s face. “We have our orders. Listen, Slesk, I will overlook your indiscretion. With both the Ciulthann Ephendil and myself absent, Alfler’vashqenti will be vulnerable should the Nightskins have designs on the capital. Focus your energy on protecting the city. We are both counting on you. Do not let us down.” With that, Rohrgrim spun on his heels and left the room.
Slesk stood alone, breathing heavily, awash in mixed feelings. He knew that the Veliaat was right. But he could not reconcile the resentment he felt towards the royal heir, nor shake the suspicion that he went around his back to the Ciulthann. He sighed, letting the anger bleed away. “Alas, were I the heir.” He turned to his crystal ball to contact the commando leader with amended orders.