"Oh, Matron Mother, ilharess, elg'caress--" Viconia cried out. It was a dark corner of Ust Natha, but not so dark that no eyes could follow. One was so rarely alone. Viconia cared not and roughly twisted the white hank of hair of her lover.
"Vith'ir," sounded back the words of her tongue, fluent, rough. She joyed in it. Teeth against her chin, strong hands gripping the backs of her thighs, fingering, plundering. Viconia pressed her body against her partner, driving her back into the harsh stone. She would bear the bruises when they were done. "Do'phuul nin aluin vithus--" The harsh words layered onto each other, the Common turned by dragon's magic to the Underdark's tongue.
"On your knees begging," Viconia answered her, "oh, so-called Matron, you bitch..." Shar-Teel's mouth was on her cheek, all teeth and warm saliva. Her flesh was hot as a furnace even now in a drow's cool body. Viconia pulled roughly on the knot of white hair wrapped around her hand, her arms wet with sweat. "Don't think you won't get fucked--"
Shar-Teel only grunted in reply. Her body jolted against the stones, three, four times. Viconia's other hand unfastened straps and strings, tearing by haste and need--
As fiery as a soulless Spawn!
"Yes," Viconia gasped out, "took your time--mrimmnd'sargtlsinss--" She took what she wanted, black flesh instead of light brown on her tongue. Shar-Teel swore in drow.
Phaere Despana tapped the hilt of her whip not twenty paces from them.
Never any time, may Ust Natha rot in the depths of the Abyss!
They had let their guard down enough. Close enough for an assassin's crossbow or even a dagger. Fucking was no shame among the drow but Viconia withdrew and waited for orders.
Those tarts of the tavern won't have her.
"What is it now?" Shar-Teel snapped, commanding as a born drow. Exactly as she ought to be. Viconia stood at her side.
"So you amuse yourself with your priestess. From her cries you may have the skill you boast," Phaere snapped. "But the daughter of the Matron Mother does not visit in order to watch the cavorting of mercenaries. Your foolish wizardess--"
Oh, that whining fool. How I would love to drive my mace into his nose and crush the bones that vibrate with his voice. Or 'her' voice, rather.
"Has grievously upset...diplomatic relations. Between my House and House Adsareth. Find your companions in that foul dark hole that calls itself a tavern; or I will offer all of your heads to them as restitution. Be thankful that I have a use or two remaining for you."
Viconia thought that Phaere cursed coldly under her breath as she turned away. A stalactite of frozen ice shoved in every orifice on her body, never unfreezing.
Who was fool enough to allow Edwina to handle any kind of diplomacies?
They saw the plumes of black smoke rising from the remains of the Ust Natha tavern long before they saw what was left of the building itself. Shar-Teel drew her sword, eyes gleaming in anticipation of bloodshed, as if she had already forgotten their time. Viconia folded her arms and glared at the fools rushing around like headless cattle.
Mage-duelling with members of Adsareth and certain remarks made to them afterward. Inappropriate remarks, specifically: unflattering comments comparing the space inside their skulls to the products of a surface monkey's nether end, denunciations of incompetence even to consuming said products of a surface monkey's nether end, and a final threat that the subproducts of a disintegration spell upon their entire group would be of more value than their inept spellcasting.
Edwina--Edszreetha, here--was barricaded behind an arrangement of thick tables and the remains of one wall. Spells occasionally flared and yells burst out from it. Members of House Adsareth surrounded it, not far from the sunken arena that had once been clearly below the tavern's roof. Viconia heard the shouts and nagging cries of their disguised companions. A spellshield burst into view as a drow brought a spear against it.
"Your female slew my second daughter and two of my wizard slaves in the arena," Adsareth's matron accused, her armour resplendent and her holy symbol of Lloth alight with dark fire. "House Despana has all but acted in war against us!"
Shar-Teel spat at her feet. "Culled your worthless weaklings. If Edszreetha beat 'em, they were useless."
"(Wench. Always underestimating my talents!)" came a softer voice from within the barricade.
"Remember how we got into this mess, chump? Shut up or my axe does the talking," joined a second.
"Aye, my red-chest--red-breasted robin and brindled small hound! 'Gainst this clash and clang of mighty hordes arrayed--"
"Take their heads!" the matron cried, and her followers raised their weapons. They had Shar-Teel surrounded. She bared her teeth.
"Like to hide behind more dead slaves? Or finish it my way like a woman?" Shar-Teel jerked a thumb to the remains of the arena. "Most matron-mothers in this weak city couldn't use their casting to fasten their own boots!"
Skulking in a convenient corner, four young drow females pointed and twittered like a flock of birds.
Or like a flock of Skies, Viconia thought; that pestilential young girl from Baldur's Gate. Oh, Shar-Teel, I feel so much safer with you in the party! Oh, Shar-Teel, can't you teach me another sword move? Oh, Shar-Teel, you feel like disembowelling me and stringing my intestines for the nearest tree? I wish I knew how to threaten people like you!
"It's Veldrin again!"
"She's so strong!"
"Look at that heavy sword!"
"Such gorgeous rippling muscles!"
"Do you think she can see us?"
"Oh, Rithae, I'll just die if she looks at us!"
The four girls all but clung to each other, all wearing light adamantine armour and carrying swords, their white hair tied with leather cord in red, orange, yellow, and acid green respectively.
"House Despana insults us? We return enmity for enmity," the Matron said.
"I insult you, weakling."
And who let Shar-Teel try diplomacy either, for that matter? Viconia thought with a sigh.
"So truly--drow!" the four young women chattered.
"What we drow ought to be!"
"--Care so much for the cowards already dead, spineless weakling? Face me yourself--if you've the guts." Shar-Teel dared the matron.
And who...indeed...let Shar-Teel try diplomacy, Viconia noted.
"Then I shall show you the power of a high priestess, houseless one. Faliress, bring me my flail! We must set forfeits for the winner," the Matron said, staring venom down at Shar-Teel. "I will take your head, those of your companions, and a forfeit of forty diamonds from House Despana for the lives of my servants and for your insolence."
"We will take what is given to us after our victory," Viconia said quickly. She placed her hands on Shar-Teel's broad back. "Let our champion be blessed in the name of the true Goddess!"
"As the Spider Queen gives me power beyond your imagination."
Matron Tlonlile of Adsareth. She was middle-yeared for a drow, Viconia judged, sixth or seventh century; a powerful priestess by all means, well in the favour of the Spider Queen; her armour strong and her flail and shield both glittering with potent enchantment; but yet it would be the force of her prayers that would prove the most dangerous. The pair of them stepped into the ring ready.
Shar-Teel swung her sword, two-handed for a human, in just one hand, drawing an intricate pattern that lingered glowing in the air by its dweomer. She was smaller as a drow, and had to wear the scabbard strapped to her back for its length; her muscles were more compact; but none of her extraordinary strength was gone in the illusion. Viconia smiled to see her lover in action.
"Look, Oran--Veldrin draws her surfacer sword!" the drow girls twittered.
"Most drow could not wield it with both hands!"
"But Veldrin does in one--and she needs no enhancements! 'Tis only the priestess who wears the giant's belt--"
"Oh, so dashing!"
Viconia indeed stood with the belt that gave her strength enough to knock those tarts into the next millennium if they tried to win her lover; and watched the hostile faces of Adsareth for treachery.
The bolt of flame strike came down from Lloth's power. Shar-Teel's dragonscale armour siphoned it easily. The priestess pulled a wand from a secret pocket, and summoned a herd of three trolls in an instant's space of time. The creatures were even bigger than Shar-Teel and hung over her. Shar-Teel leaped up--she was still more agile in the lighter armour of a drow, her strength forced through the air like a striking flyer--and beheaded the first troll in a single stroke with her flame-licking blade. It rolled to the ground in a flood of gore. She pressed her sword deep into the chest of the second and punched the third in the face to keep it down.
"If it bleeds--" she called, running for the matron. "I know I can kill it--"
The priestess disappeared through a shadow door. And in her place came an undead thing, dripping what was not blood and rising as a shapeless, vast mass of pale flesh.
"Those terms are accepted, fool," Tlonlile's voice said, invisibly; and Shar-Teel's sword cut at a thing that could not bleed. The blade did nothing to the undead creature. A thrown dagger--that Viconia knew would drip with poison--hit Shar-Teel in the back and pierced below her left pauldron.
Shar-Teel grunted in pain, and sheathed her sword. Then she wrapped both arms about the shapeless mass; centred herself on the earth; heaved; and threw it down. It dropped where the dagger had come from. There was a scream. The priestess stood from where her ghoul had fallen on her. She raised her hands and chanted a single word, as if she had prepared the spell long before.
Implosion. The earth would open; molten lava would leap from the crack; the unfortunate slave would be devoured--Viconia had cast it herself when she had been high in Lloth's favour. Shar-Teel saw it. One crack, and the fumes licked at Shar-Teel's ankles as she jumped up from it; a second and third, for the powerful spell pursued her; and then Viconia's lover was free and over solid ground. Viconia calculated how long she had left, before the poison bit too far into her veins, before Shar-Teel would finally do the sensible thing and open her antidote.
"The spell misses!" one of the four female drow said, and dared to cheer aloud.
"Veldrin--Veldrin the true drow--"
"Remember in the tavern how she slew the mighty beholder?" the third strumpet said.
"This fight is still better, Yraegal!" the fourth squealed. "Veldrin, the strongest drow!" House Adsareth eyed them ominously.
One more trick up her sleeve, I see. Viconia watched the Matron's hand gestures and knew she called quickly for the powers of a juggernaut, this time: for divine power to make her an unstoppable warrior with biting snake-flail in one hand and firm mace in the other. Shar-Teel had started to slow--imperceptibly for anyone but Viconia herself, still--but she reached Tlonlile and brought down her sword with both hands on the Matron Mother's right wrist.
Tlonlile's hand fell to the ground still clutching the flail. She rammed the shield toward Shar-Teel, but Shar-Teel grabbed it from her: and finished her with a sleeve-drawn dagger to the neck.
At least my warrior is clever enough for that! Viconia thought, proud. And the next moment the remainder of House Adsareth peppered her with crossbow bolts--
Or would have done a considerably more efficient job of peppering Shar-Teel with crossbow bolts: if Viconia had not cast a spell of protection from missiles instead of a blessing, and if Viconia had not been crafty enough to cast a prayer of decaying on their adamantine materials during their distraction, and if Tlonlile's shield had not been quite so well-crafted. Viconia cast her spell to protect herself and ran to her lover's side with a healing prayer ready. But they were nowhere near done. All as one swords of Adsareth were drawn in place of bows and the House rushed forward to slay them.
Shar-Teel laughed, cutting through drow male and female alike. She snarled, her mouth a vicious slash of a blood-soaked grin. "Gives me--practice--"
Viconia guarded her lover's flank with her flail and mace wielded in combination, snapping the flail's chains neatly about the neck of a male and placing a delicate foot out to trip a female who dared try a backstab. Shar-Teel smashed her way through the crowd, and got to the rough sanctuary of the rest of their group: she heaved, and Edwina, Haer'Dalis, and Kagain stood revealed.
"Such chaos, my deadly velociraptor," the bard said, easily drawing his swords. Kagain scowled as he went into the fray with axe and shield, even his drow's form short and thick-built. Edwina placed a hand posed on her waistline. "(About time.)"
Viconia was blocked on both sides by Adsareth warriors; she could extract herself in a minute or two, but in the melee the sight of Shar-Teel was lost to her. Then she saw her warrior picking up one of the barrels of morimatra wine stocked by the tavern, as if she would show her contempt by drinking in the midst of the battle--and breaking it, spilling the liquid far and wide. Viconia saw what was about to happen and drew back.
The strong wine lit alight in burning flames, and over them the infernal Red Wizardess flung fireballs. All was confusion and screaming, punctuated by the squeals of the spectators. Viconia reached out in the smoke for her own effort of diplomacy.
Rasein Adsareth had been the second daughter of the Matron; now she was the first female. Viconia laid out her case.
"You seem a...strong Matron, my dear lady. You will seem stronger still to befriend House Despana. You will also seem stronger with more living slaves. I take it you liked your mother no more than we."
Diplomacy...indeed, Viconia congratulated herself.
Adsareth was dead, and the image of the new Matron Adsareth danced in the flames of the fire. Shar-Teel walked out of the slaughter, smoke-blackened and savage.
"The raging inferno dances of its own will. To end in ice or fire, I should choose the purifying life that leaves but ashes behind..." babbled the entertainer. Viconia glared at the three troublemakers.
"We had been drinking quietly," Edwina excused herself, "when a certain drow dared to challenge me to a mage's duel. I simply told him one or two home truths. And then came the next challenger, and the next; a wizard of my unparalleled ability would have been wasted, utterly wasted--"
"My axe can make ye shorter just as well in this shape," Kagain said. "Cease the blathering! Twixt ye and the fool bard I'd rather a squidmouth licking up my brain than the endless chitchat!"
"Three of you," Viconia said, honey-sweet, Shar-Teel glaring down at them likewise. "Where is... Do not tell me we have lost the soulless Spawn in this city entirely? What kind of trouble--"
"Hey, Veldy! And Veldrin," said the Bhaalspawn, giving a cheery wave and hastening down to the blackened ruins of the tavern. Sivos held, Viconia could not help noticing, a set of four leads in his right hand, carried very carefully. "How've you been? I've had a marvellous time at the Underdark markets! See, I bought these four lovely pets!" An umber hulk, a troll, a gnoll, and a kobold. Below the enthralment of the collars they followed him along. Sivos stroked the troll's chest, a disturbed look in his soulless eyes. "How deep do you think their hearts are? How long do you think they would bleed for?
"Say, Edszreetha, you've been busy, haven't you?" Sivos continued, standing over the wizardess in drow's form. "Nobody tells you or Veldrin you can't make a mess when you feel like it! Nice job." The lanky male leaned over Edwina's low-cut mage robes. "Wow," he said, eyes nowhere near her face, "even as a drow you've got an enormous rack. I can't get over that gorgeous cleavage." Edwina preened. "Seriously, they're huge. Like they were fake for being too big to belong on your body, but instead those breasts are one hundred percent gloriously real. For magic created by a botched Nether Scroll and a drow shapeshift, that is. You could lose your head in them if you went exploring. Not that I'm going to do that right now." Edwina glared. "And so round and perfectly shaped, like fire-giant pears, the really big kind. And bouncy. And the mage robe shows them off.
"I mean, Branwen had a good set on her chest too, but it wasn't like you could see them when she wore that thick chainmail. And Skie and Nalia were tiny anyway, so it didn't matter what they wore. Why don't more adventurers wear the sort of chainmail that shows them off, like the underthings that elf at the tavern bought you?" Sivos said. "Shar-Teel covers it all up, and even Viconia doesn't show it off when she's wearing mail, and the drow wizards wear tighter stuff with more slits than most of the drow wizardesses--but you, you've got a truly spectacular rack in that low tight red thing with slits in all the right places. Can't get enough of it. If anyone asks what Edwina did with her life that was so extraordinary, just tell 'em to look at her magnificent knockers. Or ask me to look." Edwina reached up to his face with a burning hands spell prepared.
Viconia looked at the four pets in the leashes, and cold ice swept her chest. "Ssivss!" she snapped to the Bhaalchild's drow name. Prophecy, in her tongue; for that was his sole use. "How much did these cost? What have you done with our gold?"
"Oh, they're good pets," the Bhaalspawn said easily, turning to her with pale vacant eyes. "They cost a lot of coin, so they must be good pets. Here, have all the gold that is left." He magnificently shook out the entire contents of the purse onto the ground...and a single silver coin fell.
As if the--as if the lying cheating slaveborn son of a male slug had a sense of humour to steal--thieve from us--kill him slowly, kill many slowly-- Viconia screamed inside. I'll kill the merchant who cheated him, I'll take the Bhaalspawn's sinews and use them for lute wire, I'll stew the pickpocket thief in his own juices alive as he quivers and pleads--
But that would serve no purpose. Shar-Teel was somehow at her side, looking down at her. Viconia said a mantra to her goddess inside her head.
"You spent all we had," she said slowly. "You spent all we had, from the tavern winnings and from Phaere's payments and from blackmailing Solaufein and our scrapings from the wreckage of the asylum. All the coin we have. And we cannot get more from here--" Viconia waved a weak hand at the wreckage--"and we cannot get more from Phaere; and we could get more from other gladiatorial combat in taverns but not enough, not nearly enough; and we could not extort from Adsareth without Despana censuring us; and we cannot--and we cannot--" She raked the ends of her flail across his face. "Slave! Male! Shitheap! Fool! You've lost us everything!"
"It's only money, Veldriss," Sivos said. "We can make more." He stroked the kobold's head slowly and longingly.
"Aye, my raven; my quick fingers make aplenty to pay for wine in our first steps through a tavern--and for now what do we need more than that? Our material needs; a song or two; the favour of the highest House; credit is an actor's favoured method of payment." Haer'Dalis laughed. "Why, we have been far poorer, my blackbird, and shall be far richer once more! Yellow metal is but dust and ashes within enough time; songs last longer but all joins it in the planes."
"You male fools are responsible for a lot," Shar-Teel said, scowling; Edwina was still a man in her view. "Take separate rooms at the Elf Queen's Head. Viconia and I'll give the drow dog her bad news. No talking, no fighting--unless it's you, Kagain, for you're level-headed for a male. Give them their marching orders."
"Ha! As leader, the gold's not leaking away with me." Kagain shot Sivos a glare almost--though not quite--as cruel as Viconia's. "Line up, men! Ten-shun! Chests out--not ye, Edwina! Fall into formation and move!"
"What about my pets, Kadakan?" Sivos protested faintly. "Can I have a special room for my pets? Or is there going to be a garden I can leave my pets in for the night? Look, poor Umby the Umber Hulk's got a stone stuck in one of his carapaces..."
Viconia walked by Shar-Teel's side on their way out of where the tavern had been, and forgot to glare and place a possessive hand on Shar-Teel's thigh to scare off the four drow tarts sighing as she went past and offering up wine and healing potions in tribute.
We have nothing close to it!
In a few minutes Viconia noticed that Shar-Teel led her not to House Despana's citadel but past the entrance of the Ust Natha markets; a roundabout route, at best.
"Is your sense of direction poor as a blind otyugh?" she snapped. "Phaere will have our heads for daring to keep her waiting! She is a slattern and a daughter of an unmothered sire, but we still cannot risk. Lead on a leisurely detour as if we were in open rebellion against the Despana First Daughter--"
"You wanted coin badly," Shar-Teel said. "Must've been for something from here, for you're not from the city and we've seen little beyond Despana. If we wander around here long enough I might figure it; or you could tell me now what's eating you."
Viconia folded her arms and looked away. "You should threaten to strangle me, my human pet. Or throw a punch. Closer to the drow way to force a confession of vulnerability."
Mushrooms from the deep caves piled on their stalls. Cases of wine, cheap and otherwise. Roasted rothe-meat sold on spits to passing slaves and peasants. The stench of beast spoor where that foul betraying beast-trader must have cheated Sivos. The cages at further distance.
"I should not be transparent to you," Viconia continued. "Drow are subtle; drow are clever. Do the wise thing and come with me to Phaere's."
"Didn't take this drow for a coward, either--though there are plenty enough of those of your kin who are." Shar-Teel spat in the streets. "Matrons making others get their hands dirty for them. Nothing in that."
"There were those with far more courage than my mother or sisters, indeed--" Viconia said, and stopped herself.
It has been over long enough that it lives not nearly so much in my memory as more recent events. The weak are taken and devoured; the strong and strategic live...
"C'mon," Shar-Teel said. "You lost your family back in the Underdark, your mother and your sisters were killed--those you didn't kill yourself beforehand, like you like saying--and what was left?"
They crossed the marketplace. They would near the place Viconia wanted to avoid, sooner or later.
"Very well, you foul obstreperous bitch," Viconia snapped. She pointed to the distant cage of drow slaves. "Some of my nephews are among them. The old slaves of my House. A child of my brother Valas. I would be their Matron, were DeVir still a house... And now despise me for weakness. I must buy them."
She broke off. A duergar slave had interrupted them by wandering in their direction, and she aimed a kick at him for failing to do so earlier.
"And our male fool slowed your plans," Shar-Teel said, which could be overheard without undue damage to them. The slave paused as if he wanted to talk to them.
"Please, mistresses! My master wishes to speak with you!"
"Audiences cost," Shar-Teel said. "What's he want?"
The duergar shook his head, frightened-looking. He seemed more thoroughly broken than most of his kind, Viconia thought. Something about the eyes. He wasn't quite like the duergar slaves she'd had and seen. "I cannot tell," he said. "My master will tell. Allow me to bring you to him. Or the consequences will be worse."
Shar-Teel suddenly reached out an arm, grabbed the duergar by a leg, and swung him in the air until three coins flew out of his trousers.
"Scurry along and tell your master Veldrin'll be there," she said, and gave him a clip across the ear for good measure. "We'll take this as the down payment. Nobody chats to us for free."
"I will show you my master."
The duergar scuttled off; Viconia was left to pick up the coins, since Shar-Teel was to be the leader of their group. Three pathetic gold pieces.
Viconia's head went blank and she felt sudden terror. Then it passed; there was a vast tank filled with dark seaweed and black water on a dais that she would swear had been an empty corner of the marketplace the last time her eyes had run over it.
Something was in her head, and she couldn't step away from it. Shar-Teel's hands were tense around the hilt of her sword, but she had paused only a small way through drawing it. Beads of sweat stood out on her forehead while she tried to break the compulsion upon them. Viconia swore inside her head.
Iblith, iblith, iblith--what is wanted? What has been done--what thing--
Something white was in the tank. Something big and white, a flash for a moment of a googly pale eye below the choking seaweed and moss and smaller fish.
A monster--hungry--vast mind--
Viconia would have screamed out of shock. They were exposed in the centre of the marketplace: they were good as dead. But all went about business as normal, and she realised that the voice was only in their heads. It echoed like a thousand bells the morning after indulging in surfacer drinks.
"One surfacer, that is to say. One true drow, not of a true House." It rifled through her mind. It plucked one memory after the other as if it read from a sheaf of cards, Viconia imagined it. As if her life was open for it to read as easily as opening a book. How she loathed it.
I want to kill...my goddess, let me kill... She lowered her hands and found that at least she could speak.
"Cattle! Foul surfacer cattle!" she burst out, falling back on the usual insults. "Speak before I slay you! Duergar slave, what have you done to us?" That male was incompetent; and he was only watching now. He was not the mind blocking hers and feeding her static.
"I am aboleth. On business of my own to this fair city."
The creature must have rifled through Shar-Teel's head for that--found from her the surfacer tongue's pun.
"Oh, sure. You're chatty calamari. What do you want?" Shar-Teel said, unmoving. Viconia tried to clench and unclench her palms at the least.
"I want you to find a drow female who has offended me. Bring me her brain. Do this within half a day."
"What about payment, you overgrown starfish?" Shar-Teel called. "Like we work for nothing, sea scum--"
"You'll work or I will expose you to the city! That is all. Aboleth give nothing to lower beings."
The tone of the mind voice was unmistakably...smug. Viconia screamed inside and swore to herself. Disgusting creature, crawling up inside her like scum on the surface, hurting her and stopping her--
"No, you'll have a listen to what we want, and you'll pay attention, fish food."
Then Shar-Teel moved a single step forward.
"No male tells me what to do. Even if it's a male who belongs in a goldfish tank."
Her face was slow to move and change, set in a horrible scowl as she tried to force herself out, but she took another step forward.
"You'll sit up and do water tricks and roll belly-up for us if we want it, tadpole."
Then Shar-Teel's sword came out, though she didn't hold it as if she was about to kill the aboleth.
"Because we'll be telling Ust Natha every word about you, fool," Shar-Teel said. "If you dare, we dare. And I bet I'm better at smashing glass than you are at flopping around in the fresh air. What do you have, fins or tentacles or nothing at all like a giant sea slug that'll get you nowhere with air all around you? One great big wink of a googly eye and you think that's telling us what to do. Ha! Sit and beg and make that duergar slave empty out your pockets for starters. We're making this a robbery, first up. So swim and start crawling over to our boots, aboleth scum."
She wasn't anything near subtle. About as subtle as a volcano, overground or underground: Shar-Teel blazed.
And Viconia shielded herself with a prayer to her goddess while the aboleth's attention was ensnared; and made herself completely free.
She placed a hand to the glass tank with a casting for shattering prepared.
Odd, fishy laughter echoed in her ears.
"Subtlety besides the bluster. I see, surfacers."
"No, you don't." Shar-Teel pawed through diamonds and platinum coin. "Not enough, squid. You holding out on us?"
"Greedy little fingers; I know what you want." The aboleth now sounded petulant, despite itself.
But they will never sell drow slaves to anyone not in the favour of a House--so we are free to-- Viconia laughed inside her head, knowing that the creature could no longer hear her.
"Come," she said, slipping a hand around Shar-Teel's waist, "we are late."
Shar-Teel shrugged. "Veldriss says to be merciful to you, I'll be merciful." She aimed a kick at the glass tank. "Better be careful about showing your shape, squid garbage."
"You too," the aboleth grumbled, settling down inside its canister of slime amidst a cloud of dark green mud.
"Financial crap taken care of," Shar-Teel said, flinging the bag into Viconia's hands. "Beating coin out of some pathetic male reminds me of old times."
Viconia snickered. "You mean when you taught the Spawn a well-earned lesson and the priestess of Tempus...convinced...you to join."
She was not jealous of Branwen; the human priestess had stayed behind in Baldur's Gate to create a shrine to her surface god.
"It's a start," Viconia said. She'd not let these out of her sight; make a down payment, reserve the remainder of the DeVir slaves--reserve a wide range of slaves so as to disguise the real intent. It was the drow way. "Now, do not be a fool to commit suicide through allowing the Despana daughter to wait."
"How dare you delay to see me. I had written out six orders for all of your executions."
"What do you want?" Shar-Teel said, too-obviously smothering a deliberate yawn. Viconia stiffened by her side.
"You have dealt Adsareth an obvious blow. My mother regrets the loss of valuable priestesses for the war efforts. Nonetheless the previous matron and her spawn were thorns in my side." Phaere Despana smiled humourlessly. "Your services are brutal, crude, and fast, Veldrin. I've no doubt they are so in all ways."
You would be surprised, Phaere Despana--and it could not be less of your business, Viconia thought. Shar-Teel was all strength and power; tall and big and not a single ounce of her flesh wasted on anything but muscle. She was ferocious as a rushing whirlwind, more passionate than any of Viconia's lovers in the Underdark even when threatened with execution for failing to please her. Viconia liked those warm corded muscles stretching her open. Then she'd cling on to Shar-Teel and give her their full weight to take, tormenting her by the throes of passion just to see if she could slip. Their lovemaking was no brief thing.
That was not what the carnal acts were called in the Underdark.
"And so I order you to leave immediately," Phaere finished, trying to strike a reaction. Shar-Teel folded her arms.
"Can't," she said. "Not possible. So I suggest you reward us for what we've done for you by giving us six hours and half pay in advance, Despana--" and calling Phaere by surname only was as good as a compliment to a drow-- "or else resign yourself to not finding anyone else strong or willing enough to do this shitwork."
Definitely not a compliment to a drow. Phaere considered Shar-Teel's face and her will, testing her own against it--and she was no fool for a drow, Viconia thought, no fool indeed. But Phaere conceded with a twist of her mossbud lips.
"It is necessary in short order but I suppose your group may require some lazy resting before undertaking it," she said. "I will pay you a third in advance, and send a servant to retrieve your arms to repay me if you fail and die. This is what you must do for my mother's latest excessive demand..."
Stepping out of a First Daughter's sanctum was stepping out of deadly peril, and Viconia felt the threat of it finally lift--though not vanish--only when they were half a mile away and well into other territories.
"She gave in to us! But does she feel slighted and irredeemably shamed? Will she have her revenge before we ours?" Viconia calculated. Shar-Teel threw her the comfortably full purse. Automatically she counted the gold.
"There is enough for near half the market," Viconia said. "I will give orders to feed them up because slaves in poor condition are useless, and also they truly are less interesting to break than strong healthy slaves."
Oh, she had, in the past, Viconia remembered well enough. Muscles like Shar-Teel's would have intrigued her even then and she would have enjoyed breaking in a new slave as a toy. Now she found herself acknowledging Shar-Teel as leader of the group, for she was stronger, for she won more fights. For a drow submission would be demanded of a partner in return...but on the surface world they were companions.
Viconia DeVir ran her right hand along the gleaming surface of Shar-Teel's rerebrace on her upper arm. They would shortly face another fight and in the name of her goddess a battle chant rose in her heart. She laughed.
"You favour me well, Veldrin. With your robbery and extortion this will suffice. I knew there was a reason I seduced you."
She crushed Shar-Teel's mouth with her own for the sake of one brief moment of resumption. The Underdark around them brought her ever closer to its knives.