Chapter 1: Meetings and Acquaintances - Page 1
Narbondel's Shadow (First Impressions)

A steady murmur enveloped the modest environs of Narbondel's Shadow. The gathered folk were not of great status or means, nor were they the dregs which lay but a street beyond either. It had a variety of races and cultures ranging from human to bugbear, though of drow there were very few. It was strange for a tavern in the Underdark, especially one in Menzoberranzan. Most of the patrons wore simple or poor clothing, but some were cloaked with hoods down. None were numbered amongst the city's nobility except one and she was dressed as seedy as the rest to blend in.

This place had a reputation of being a relatively safe haven for those not of drow blood and had been the agreed upon meeting spot wherein the flame-haired drowess Xull'rae now waited, hooded and cloaked, for the human whom she'd been instructed to "work" with. There were a handful of surface dwellers milling about the place at the moment but none fit the description she had been given.

A few moments went by when Xull'rae's vision of the doorway became blocked by a tawdry looking waitress, apparently human as well, who inquired as to whether more food or drinks were needed.

Xull'rae waved a small and finely shaped hand in dismissal, keeping her amber colored eyes from meeting the woman's face. She wanted to keep her focus on the door but it was also a needful thing for her to hide her more prominent features from the general public. The ample bosomed waitress gave a silent nod and turned to take her leave and the doorway to the establishment came into full view once again.
©2003 John Terrell Fell III

Three figures entered just then. The first was a small, gruff looking duergar, whose plump gray tummy stuck part way out through the simple, faded black leather vest he wore. He was strange because he had hair on his head as white as his beard. Most duergar were bald. The second figure was attired much the same as the first. He was a tall, brawny human, with skin of olive hue and broad shoulders; his crown was clean shaven and tattooed with runic patterns. He largely fit the description Xull'rae was given, though she was informed she would be searching for a much more dignified fellow. Taking up the rear of the small group was a third figure in browns and tans who was twice as brawny, if a head shorter than the human who was with him. His skin held a deep bronze tone and his hair was the color of sun drenched wheat, but his features were sharp and exotic, not elven, but not human either. Maybe he is fae touched, Xull'rae wondered. She noticed they bore weapons openly, appearing to be a band of rogues typical to this part of the city.

The tallest of them spoke a few brief, quiet words to his companions while he gazed around the common room. Torch light glinted off his clean shaven head causing the runes to gleam eerily when the figure's oak-brown eyes locked upon Xull'rae's shrouded form.

John Terrell Fell III ©2003
Xull'rae bit back an irritated sigh and watched the three move about. She recognized the bald man right away from the height and description given. The others were far less important; likely they were bodyguards and nothing more. She locked on the man's mouth as it moved and attempted to pick up what was being said but even with her keen hearing she could not due to the buzz of talking in the room.

A nod was given to his fellow travelers and they dispersed elsewhere into the crowd. The bald man glanced about a final time, then swaggered his way towards the cloaked female's table and stared down any who chose to peer in on his business.

Xull'rae waited in silence as the bald one approached and kept her mind clear.

Approach he did, but stop he did not, at least not more than momentarily; just long enough to flick a gold coin onto the table's rough wooden surface and a heartbeat later signaled in the drow sign language a few words that bid her meet him in the back. His other hand offered a friendly, if not out-of-place clap upon Xull'rae's cloaked shoulder as she stood.

"Have one on me, stranger," he announced. A handful more coin was tossed to many patrons, successfully covering his tracks. Furthermore he tossed a small pouch to the tender, ensuring his silence as the bald man bellowed out that the next round was on him. The bartender muttered a thanks in irritated disbelief during the minor uproar offered by the crowd. The leather clad human disappeared unnoticed in the chaos through the bead-curtained doorway of one of the establishment's more private rooms.

Xull'rae followed closely on his heels. No reaction was given for the touch upon her shoulder. She showed discipline by not attacking him outright for the "offense." The crowd ignored her as she made her way to the back room.

Though neither of the human's two companions joined them in the private chamber, Xull'rae had the distinct feeling that they were keeping watch. Inside, the human was fiddling with the bindings of one of his stout leather bracers. He was seated at the single, rounded booth, which already had a bottle of dark-hued liquor and two tall glasses sitting upon its polished surface. A cursory glance was given to her shrouded figure and a small wave towards the opposite end of the table.

Xull'rae stopped once she was within the room, taking note of her new surroundings. Her stance said she preferred to stand and with a shake of her hood she declined the drink. The voice that came from within the confines of the piwafwi was hard toned, but soft and dusky in melody with a richness that belied the drowic accent as she spoke in the undercommon language. "Just state your business. I have no want to be idle with senseless talk. I have better things to do, rivvil."

©2003 John Terrell Fell III
Casually taking the bottle to hand, the human proceeded to empty a small amount of its contents into one of the glasses. He quirked a single, salt-and-pepper brow in her direction as he listened while his free hand scratched idly at the neat trimming of hair upon his chin.

A nod was offered to her as the bottle was set down. "I was told you would be spirited, though I had not expected quite so much bluntness. Very well, then," he said. He gave a slight pause as he quaffed down the contents of his glass before continuing. "Name's Cogliostro by the way. I take it that your superiors had not offered you much information about our...arrangement."

"They never do...that's what being a superior is about I'm guessing," Xull'rae responded, her tone changed to irritation though not entirely directed at him.

"I also take it said superiors may not like you very well. Ah, this will be quite the frustrating endeavor for us both, I fear." Finishing the contents of his glass, Cogliostro proceeded to refill it. "Oh well, there will be plenty of time to rectify our situation, and perhaps learn to tolerate one another."

"Pharaun likes no one that he feels threatened by," she replied.

"Hm, I had gotten the impression that he liked no one at all. At any rate, I will fill you in on specifics if I must," Cogliostro offered.

Xull'rae cut him off before he could say more. "As for tolerance I have little, but what I have will be given if it means I and my deity's church is the one to benefit from the arrangement."

"Mm, no worries there," replied Cogliostro. "Your church benefits well from this pact. If you are wise enough, you will benefit personally as well, as time goes on."

The shrouded woman gave a shrug as if it mattered not if he explained, knowing full well she was stuck with him and this deal.

"Now, you are to serve me and my endeavors to the full extent of your abilities, as time allows," Cogliostro began, "it goes without saying that any tasks that your church would ask of you come first. And what business you must needs take care of in order to keep your ruse going at your other temple. Other than that, you are at my disposal. Your personal matters come dead last. Serve me well and ably, and perhaps I will allow for more leeway."

Within the hood, anger flashed across Xull'rae's dark face, but she knew he could not see it and with some effort made her voice conversational. "So sit on my ass, making things completely difficult for you, to where you pull out your remaining hairs, that's my job. Gotcha, I will do to them to the full extent of my abilities as requested." All civility and noble bearing left her with that response, showing Cogliostro the first sign of her versatility.

A sour frown was offered to the drowess and she smiled in victory at being able to return the barb before he refills and summarily empties his glass once more in a quick manner. When finished, Cogliostro's large frame rose from the table which towered over her diminutive form. "Yes, this will indeed be a most interesting 'partnership'..... You have one month's time, as reckoned on the surface, until you are to report for duty. Unless you have some means of instant transport, I would not tarry long in this city 'ere departing for Sshamath," his tone was serious and matter of fact.

The small woman craned her neck to look at him. Xull'rae stood not even to his chest as her exotic amber eyes gazed at him with malicious intent.

Her face became more exposed now with the upward tilt of her head. Undoubted drow hatred was mixed in with dark beauty that created a tapestry of sharp angles and planes in her features. She was a young woman full of spirit. Her pert mouth frowned and could easily be mistaken as a pout by the way her lips were delicately shaped. "I'd watch how you word things...things like 'serve' and 'partnership', they are terrible words that could be misunderstood."

Undaunted, Cogliostro's own oak-brown gaze locked with hers for a moment, then a forcibly polite, thin-lipped, humorous smile crept upon his ageless visage. "Ah yes, the perfect picture of drow beauty and arrogance you are. Dark tidings to you, drowess," with that said, he turned away dismissing her, fully aware he was exposing himself to her possible depredations. He parted the beaded doorway, intent on leaving.

Xull'rae debated on trying attacking him now, for she was a rash one when her temper flared, but she did not elevate to priesthood so young by being stupid. She would know her enemy before she struck. Both of them would live this night. As the human left, he could still feel the hatred of her eyes upon him.

John Terrell Fell III ©2003

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