Xull'rae was in reverie at her compound, yet the city remained awake with bustling activity. Even at dawn, Sshamath's visitors were still pouring in or going out. As with most people new to the city, or at least infrequent visitors like the two drow companions waiting in line, all had been ushered through the single "gate" which led to the spiraled stairway around a large central column known by many as the Z'orr'bauth.
The large stairway was crowded as usual with traffic flowing both to and from the city. As time marched on and the further the two descended, the brighter their environs had become and the more they squinted. Unlike most drow cities, and many locales in the Underdark, Sshamath was illuminated quite brilliantly with multiple hues of color forming into something akin to a magnificent sunset. Though the city had a beautiful landscape of carved towers and buildings of all shapes and sizes, it was largely clouded from view by the plethora of catwalks which criss-crossed this way and that from floor to ceiling of the vast cavern which largely comprised the city for short cuts off the column.
Once at the bottom of the grand staircase, the two had no time to dally and look around as the throngs pushed ever forward, ready to get about their business. Horock had been instructed on the general location of Vhaeraun's local chapter, though from the look of the chaotic landscape he would need to hire out a guide to lead them as far as possible. As it stood, most respectable guides would not know the exact location of the temple, nor would they wish to brave the Darkwoods district which surrounded it. The Darkwoods was home to the city's cast-offs and ruffians. Any reputable thief however would know it well served as the city's premiere Thief Guild as much as a place of worship.
Creatures from every race and credo milled about the streets, most headed toward what appeared to be a large market of some sort to the east of their current position. Others moved off into the cacophony of catwalks which lay in every direction.
Horock walked toward the nearest city wall and leaned up against it, looking all around with his intelligent blue eyes to see if he could spot any devotees to Vhaeraun.
His companion, a strange and very tall drow followed him without a word. Horock barely heeded the bigger drow, he was worried about worse things; his family for one, and a second fear that made him fret far worse but he kept his fears to himself. There was no need to stress out his fleeing friend more than he already was.
©2009 Fiona "Little" Yin
Horock briefly glanced over at Drazoul, a Yaun-ti halfblood in drow disguise and approved but said nothing of it, instead he asked, "Do you know of anyother thieves guilds in this city?" From appearances, there were no openly garbed worshippers of Vhaeraun nearby.
Drazoul heard a voice he knew very well and turned to his true drow friend, Horock. "Yes some old friends of mine have taken up residence in this place and they are shady dealers. But I'm afraid I know not the city well, so they are of no use to us unless they decide to show themselves," he replied in the drow tongue.
"Hmm, well then, maybe we should start heading to the shadier parts of town. That is where I was told the church would be," Horock said as he began to walk away, looking around in immediate suspicion.
Drazoul pulled out a smooth onyx figurine in the shape of a dog and spoke an arcane phrase; the dog heeded the command and came to his side, waiting for orders. Without any direct command, the dog followed his master when Drazoul moved to follow Horock.
"Horock do you remember this dog?" Drazoul asked, pointing to the dog next to him. "He followed us on many adventures when we were children. I alone can no longer detect all... The dog will be useful in providing some protection as well as sniffing things out."
Horock looked down at the ball of black fluff sitting at his feet and exclaimed in fondness, "Hey, how ya doin' bud?" He bent down to pet the animal. The dog jumped up in down in recognition of the drow; happy to receive attention.
Horock nodded to Drazoul, smiling in recollection of the past adventures with the dog, when he abruptly bumped into a rather large cloaked figure. A slightly offending smell, like a wet dog, came from the stranger. The looming creature emitted a grunt as it took a moment to gaze at Horock and his two companions. Nothing was said as the the figure pushed by and continued on its way. The summoned dog however softly growled at the encounter.
Drazoul reacted immediately to the dog's growl. With a fluid flick of his wrists, two daggers were in his hands in case the hooded thing tried to hurt Horock. He then whispered a command to the dog and it promptly ran off, ready to attack from the shadows. Drazoul knew he could not control Horock's temper and that he might have to save his life again. This caused the yuan-ti to smile fondly in remembrance.
The hooded brute continued on, heedless of the machinations until such time as he was directly confronted.
Horock, curious, began to walk after the figure. He was irritated that it bumped into him and wanted to know what the clumsy brute was, and why the dog growled at him. He followed as silently and as carefully as he could in the crowded Bazaar. He knew that pursuing the stranger was asking for trouble, but could not resist trying to find out what it was and why it didn't pay attention to where it was going. As he continued to follow, Horock was increasingly careful in his movement. He could tell that the area was very dangerous, if not fatally so; too many bodies packed together, each could be holding various weapons.
Rather than try to stop his friend, Drazoul kept following Horock while the dog was still in pursuit of the hooded figure. It was careful not to attack the humanoid or make itself visible until the cue was given from its master.
Careful following had caused some bit of distance to come between Horock, his companions, and the hooded figure as the minutes crept by. People hurriedly pushed past in all directions, intent to carry their business out. No one cared a whit for what others might be doing. The pushing made it even more difficult, and still, the brute did not seem to pay them any heed. They were so intent on the cloaked figure that Horock and Drazoul took no notice of a single dark garbed figure who was tailing them at a respectful distance.
Horock saw his target gaining distance. He realized that not knowing the territory gave him a severe disadvantage; he had no hope to catch up to the brute even with his tracking abilities. The figure knew where it was going, and what it was doing. Horock knew neither of these things in this city, he was more familiar of the surface wilderness. He went back the way he came and met Drazoul halfway.
"I am not going to follow him anymore. I am still curious, but I know we cannot catch him. It is far too risky with how dangerous this terrain is," Horock said as he looked over his shoulder. Behind him he noticed a shadow moving along a wall, further back. He dismissed it as paranoia, but remembered it just in case. He had lived this long by being careful.
Drazoul grinned and called his dog back to him. "Are you sure you don't want me to put a dagger in that brutes back just for the fun of it?" His people were not drow but they could be as cruel as one. Besides he was an assassin and killing was what he did best.
With the pursuit abandoned, the cloaked figure turned and disappeared quickly into the crowded market. Now the three found themselves milling about on yet another unfamiliar street. The Bazaar was behind them now, as well as the central column which led upward and out of the city.
"Perhaps we should ask for some help or find some sort of guide?" Drazoul suggested to no one in particular.
Horock looked around and said, "I agree. Tell you what, you go ahead and ask around. I will follow you and kind of help you out if need be. Let's try to be a little cautious here, huh?"
Drazoul turned to Horock and grinned, discreetly showing him a dagger. "This is all the caution I need!" He then walked to the nearest person and asked in undercommon, "Where is the place of worship of the Masked One?"
A foppish looking drow turned around with an irritated look on his face. "Why would one such as I care a whit about the lowly one?! Be gone, lest I have my servants gut and flay you where you stand!" The drow noble spit at Drazoul's feet and stalked away in a flare of purple robes.
As if on cue a sizable entourage of armored drow, some dozen in number came to stand in their way. Their hands were upon their varied weapons, though none were drawn yet.
Horock looked to his friend and smiled. "Hmmm. That sure went well," he snickered, pulling his black cloak closed to hide his deep green tunic.
Drazoul grunted and cursed, then walked away hastily. "Went fine, it's your stupid race I can never deal with," he snapped.
Smiling sadistically over his shoulder, his whims satisfied, the grandiose drow lord turned form the scene dismissively. His retinue kept watch on Drazoul for some long moments however.
Horock smiled again, wider this time as he walked next to his friend. "I think that I may have seen someone following us earlier. Do you think that maybe you could attempt to help me trap and question this interloper? You know how people following me make me feel. Plus, I am a bit curious..."
"No need to make such an attempt. You would fail anyway," a soft, masculine voice said from behind them. As Horock and Drazoul exchanged startled glances, the dark shrouded figure from before now stood but a few feet away. The drow was cloaked head to toe in a deeper shade of darkness than its ebony skin. His hair was hidden in the hood, but they could see white eyebrows as his cloak hid a lot of him. A short sword was strapped to his hip. Studs gleamed softly off his black leather armor as light was reflected.
The stranger's demeanor was a calm, mannerly one and not in the least threatening. "I will take you to your destination, if you would but follow."
Suspiciously, Horock looked at the drow; he looked like a vhaeraunite. "Why would you help us?" he asked. "Nothing is for free here. You know that and I know that," he commented. He was still trying to recover from being surprised, he hated it when people were able to do that to him.
Horock still felt uneasy as he waited for the man to reply. The stranger's deep red eyes seemed to glow and his intense gaze made it hard to keep eye contact.
Drazoul nodded his head, impressed by the dark clothed drow. He agreed to follow, only if Horock did. He whispered to Horock, "I don't think I can take him if I can't bite him."
"Come with me, or don't. It is of little importance to me. The price for my services has already been paid." The drow glanced around momentarily, then headed off towards the southern end of the vast cavern. His pace brisk but not overly fast.
Horock looked at Drazoul shrugged, and then followed the mysterious drow. Figuring it too dangerous to talk, Drazoul again showed Horock a dagger before following them.
The walk continued for some thirty minutes, winding through various streets and alleys. The journey allowed them to catch brief glimpses of the city's grand architecture as they strode by. However, all that disappeared when they neared the southern wall of the city and veered sharply eastward. Now, before them stood the single most concentrated area of gloom in the otherwise brightly lit city, the Darkwoods.
Despite the rumored dangers of the Darkwoods district, their guide seemed more at ease here then he did in the city as he stepped through the gloom which marked the borders.
Horock surveyed his surroundings while he could when he saw his guide walk into the Darkwoods. He paused. He knew from what had been told, that he must venture through the place. He gestured at Drazoul to follow him, and alert as a drow can be, Horock followed after his guide and into the darkness with a tiny bit of fear.
Drazoul walked into the pitch black; his mentor taught him in the dark similar to this, so he felt at home here. He knew Horock did not feel the same so he put a hand on his friend's shoulder to offer reassurance.
Though many figures could be seen with darkvision, flitting and skulking in the deepest of shadowed nooks, none barred their way nor harassed them. Thus the trip went smoothly and brought them to stand beneath an even deeper pool of coalescing darkness suspended far above them amongst the catwalks. Their guide proceeded to ascend the catwalks, leaping deftly from one to the next, leading them ever closer to their destination. Of guards, there appeared to be none as the two followed him more slowly.
Finally they stood directly outside the ever-shifting pool of shadow when a single word was hissed; the word was unfamiliar to either of the companions. But the inky darkness parted like liquid and flowed open to reveal a solitary doorway carved into one of the many columns of stone which comprised the stalactites of the wood.
Without a single word spoken, their mysterious guide bade them forward and promptly jumped from his roost and disappeared into the shadowy landscape below.
Drazoul looked around irritably and asked, "What now?"
Horock knew that he must follow or be lost. He gestured to Drazoul. "Well, this is strange and I don't trust that guy, but we have no other choice. Let's go, but keep up your guard."
"Let the dog lead, he has the keenest of sense. I will take the rear." Drazoul offered.
Horock gestured again for Drazoul to follow him as he bravely entered the doorway. The yuan-ti and his dog took their positions as planned.
Though no sound came to their ears whilst they remained outside, once inside was different. There came a small cacophony of voices, and once their eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, they could tell there were some dozen people or so going about their business. They appeared to be in nothing more than a large entrance foyer; with about half a dozen doors forming side passages into and out of the central chamber. Most of the people looked drow. Some were garbed in the traditional priestly garb of Vhaeraun, others were attired in somber colored robes more fitting the wizardry sort.
Horock looked around and sighed some in relief. "Well, it appears that we have gotten to where I was commanded to go. I hope they knew I was coming." He looked around again, double checking to see if he could spot any of the head priests, as he forgot the details of who he was supposed to report to.
After a moment, Horock realized one priest could not be determined from another. That soon changed however, as from the passage directly to their left came a louder collection of voices, arguing. The first voice was too deep and rumbling for a drow. "I have kept up my end of the bargain thus far, oh grand revered Shadow Sorcerer. I suggest you start doing the same and follow the spirit of the compact as well as the letter. I have stated my piece, this conversation is over."
The voice had been gaining upon their position to the point where a tall, brawny human abruptly walked from the passageway and nearly bowled them both over. His head was clean shaven and covered with arcane tattoos. The broad figure was shrouded in robes of tan and black and had no weapons apparent. There, behind the human emerged a rather regal looking black robed drow. His pace was slower and an amused smile was on his lips. Eyes of crimson settled tauntingly upon the human as the drow responded. "I have done nothing to violate our agreement human. No guilt will fall upon my soul this morning."
Horock looked at the bald man in disgust, not caring for the man's attitude toward a fellow drow. "Why don't you watch where you are going?" he asked in a slightly angry voice. "Doesn't anyone pay attention to anything around here?"
The assassin Drazoul grinned terribly, showing his fangs. Close inspection or good eyesight could see little drops trickle down from them. The whole situation was too much to bear as he started to crack up, hollering in laughter at the sight of his friend and the human.
The human spun upon Horock. He could see the man was irritated by the tiny arcs of lightning sparking off his body. Oak-brown eyes were set in a intimidating glare as the big man stepped forward to tower over Horock's short form. "Listen, whelp.... if ye wish tae live a moment longer, I suggest you hold your tongue in check...and that of your mirth filled companion."
Before the human could continue, the regal looking drow had stepped forward too. His amusement was still visible, as if he were trying not to laugh. "Ah, this is grand indeed Master Cogliostro. I would like you to meet our newest member of the fold, if my presumption is correct. Horock De'ath, I do believe is his name. You will get to know him well as he is to be placed under Xull'rae's tutelage."
There came a great moment of silence from Cogliostro. The anger on his face and the struggle to keep it in check, was frightening.
Horock looked suspiciously back and forth between the two: One a human, whom he already did not like. The other was the high priest, whom he now remembered was the one he was to report to. "Your honor, if you are expecting me to work with this...I'm not sure whether or not to take that as an insult." He stared at Cogliostro with anger smoldering in his blue eyes. He didn't know what the man was up to, but he knew it had to be no good. He had keep an eye on this man. After all, if he wasn't cautious, he wouldn't be alive today.
Drazoul was crying now from all the roaring and laughter. He could feel another wave coming on. He started to clap as one would to street performers. He knew he should shut up before someone blasted him, but he just couldn't help himself. Someone however, reached over and smacked him on the side of the head. "Hey, stop that. We are around a high priest. You are not that eager to die are you?" Horock demanded of him. Drazoul knew he had a problem with laughing, he just hoped he got it under control soon before he was hurt for it.
Cogliostro paused a moment longer during the laughter to collect himself. A polite, business-like smile appeared on his ageless visage, though it looked forced. He peered at each of them. His gaze came to rest upon Horock as he spoke. "Correction...you will not be working with me, but rather for me....and yes, please do keep your imbecile in check," he glared icily for a moment at Drazoul. He continued, "...I already have one of my own to deal with."
The yuan-ti halfblood who was disguised as a drow wiped away the moisture forming in his gold eyes and stopped laughing. He was about to grumble about the blow that was delivered, but realized that Horock was doing what was in his best interest. Drazoul appreciated it, though he would never admit it.
Largely ignoring the two companions for the moment, Cogliostro turned to address the smiling Shadow Sorcerer while Horock glared at him.
Horock didn't know what to think. Everyone could see he was angry and trying to hide it. Finally, after Drazoul put a hand on his friend's shoulder to calm him down, did the bald man do likewise. But Horock ignored him, and cut off any chance for him to speak. Rage sparked again as Cogliostro watched the blue eyed drow turn to the Shadow Sorcerer with awe in his voice. "I am going to be put under the tutelage of The Masked Traitor here your honor?" He smirked over at the human, knowing he interrupted his speech to the Shadow Sorcerer. Regardless, he couldn't contain the excitement is his eyes, as he had heard rumors about a woman here on his journey. Masked traitors were rare and he was going to train under one.
Sighing in resignation, Cogliostro ignored the smirk; they were only baiting him anyway. Gathering his rattled nerves, he breathed in softly and slowly, finally settling into calm. He shook his clean shaven head and spun toward the doorway and clasped his hands casually behind his back as he does. He took the opportunity to cut off the Shadow Sorcerer's reply to Horock. "You have won the day, Saer Lhalabar, rejoice in it, for you should know full well that I will not tolerate these games...nor the imbeciles you toss my way...for overly long."
Pharaun playfully bowed to the human's disappearing form. He even chuckled mockingly to get under Cogliostro's skin. When the human was gone Pharaun promptly turned and addressed the two companions, his mirth largely faded as he sized up the two before him. A slight look of disgust was turned toward Drazoul before his crimson gaze returned to Horock. "Yes, you will be working under THE Masked Traitor, as you call her. Now, if you are to have any hopes of harboring in this temple for any length of time, you will keep your companion in check." Drazoul embarrassed, nodded in apology and stayed silent. "We have much to discuss, you and I. But for now, I have more important matters to attend. Wait here and I will have someone give you the grand tour," then, the Shadow Sorcerer turned swiftly in a most dismissive manner and strode briskly back from whence he came.
Horock looked around and glanced at Drazoul. "Well, again, all I have to say is that went well."
"Well like always, one of us gets into trouble and the other has to get him out of it!" Drazoul said with a chuckle as they both walked along to get better acquainted with their surroundings yet stayed nearby for another guide to come for them.