Time flowed ever forward bringing the fruitions of each individual to bear. By the coming of dawn Drazoul had grown bored with lingering about the Tower and had made his way off into other parts of the city in order to strengthen some old bonds amongst the people.
His companion, Horock, had done quite the opposite and spent the largest part of the passing hours simply strolling about the temple's many corridors. He took careful note of each nook and cranny, knowing that it may be useful in future ventures.
The Malaugrym, disguised in obsidian flesh known as Szordrin Xarann was walking about the metropolis of Sshamath and finding a few small things of interest; quite a feat, considering all he had viewed and partaken of over the millennia. He too was shrewd enough to realize it was best to be familiar with one's surroundings.
Xull'rae had returned from Menzoberranzan after giving Vesz'aun the slip. She had helped him get out of Chessintra's, gotten him drunk with easy sweet talk, and then dropped him off at a brothel. The money she had given the madam was enough to keep him there for at least a week. When Vesz'aun awoke, he was outraged, but the ladies quickly soothed him. He had warm, scented sheets and beautiful women to attend his every need. They were not his fire-blossom, but they had warm bodies and soft ample breasts to nestle into whenever he wanted. Xull'rae sure knew how to take care of him. He was content for now.
Xull'rae did not immediately answer the summons from the Tower; instead she enjoyed a relaxing bath with Dilyl and slept in her comfortable bed at the Lolth temple. It was Vhaeraun who visited her in her dreams that inspired her to obey the order.
The morning passed quickly, and three out of the five people now found themselves converging by happenstance within the confines of the Tower of Masked Mage's main entry hall. Or, perhaps... the meeting was not an entirely coincidental event.
Currently, Xull'rae was dressed all in black, right down to her boots as she stepped out of her personal room. Her mask was around her neck, exposing her face and its exotic features. She was pretty to most, if they could look past eyes that were amber colored instead of crimson and ignored coppery hair that was not the usual white. The hair itself was pulled up into a neat bun. Bits of white added a contrast to the red, giving her hairstyle a swirled pattern. The drowess was busy lacing up her shirt with skilled hands as she moved forward toward the entrance.
Horock walked into the main entryway of the tower. There, he saw one female drow with her mask off who seemed to be dressing, but without distraction as she walked with purpose. She was the most beautiful drow woman he had ever seen. Her hair gave her presence and her body looked sleek and graceful, but it was her face that captivated him. The skin was a dark gray color, tight, and smooth with purple undertones that complimented her delicate arched eyebrows and hair. Her face curved into a subtle heart shape. Those gentle contours made her look youthful, but sharp prominent cheekbones and a high, thin, but small nose gave her a distinctively older look.
He liked her dark mouth; it was small like her nose but fuller. It curved. The upper lip was thicker than the bottom one, Horock noticed. He thought to himself, why does it look so strange though? Looking at her more carefully, he became drawn to her eyes. They were the typical almond shape. Horock did not know how he had overlooked eyes like hers. They shown like
gems of chipped amber surrounded by thick, dark eyelashes. Any hint of her being a child drowned within those orbs. That gaze held wisdom and a coldness that froze him. It all connected then; the lips, the eyes, she was frowning at him and headed his way.
Instantly, Horock was afraid. He did not know what to do. It could be part of the death mark on him and perhaps not, but a small part of him couldn't help being curious as to why a female drow would be here in the tower of Vhaeraun. Maybe she was a Masked Traitor. He did not know, but the possibility that she might be his teacher thrilled him. His fear forgotten, he met her halfway and introduced himself, "Good afternoon milady, my name is Horock. What may I ask is yours?" he hoped she wouldn't take offense, as he could tell she was powerful.
The cloaked figure of the Malaugrym was nearby. He turned down one of the many corners to find himself in the main hallway. As usual his cowl was tugged low over his face which hid the majority of his features save the chiseled lower half. While in darkness those deep crimson orbs of his burrowed through, burning like coal as he caught a glimpse of the meeting a short distance away and decided to stand his ground. A hint of a smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. He moved close enough to hear without intruding on them.
Xull'rae stopped as the blue eyed drow in front of her spoke. This was the one that had stared at her just seconds ago. She raised a copper colored brow at his politeness or stupidity, she didn't know which. Xull'rae then circled him, slowly; her eyes evaluated every little detail. Her gaze bore into him with scrutinizing intensity.
Horock nervously licked his lips. Xull'rae softened in a blink, those hard eyes turned mirthful and then she spoke. "Relax," her voice was soft and her tone was casual, "New to the Tower?"
There wasn't much else for Szordrin to do, aside from standing off in the distance and casually glancing around, as he too, was new to the temple. To cover up the truth that he was really there to pick up on their conversation, he took a step out into the open. He was nosy in some aspects, but also knew that the more information one had, the better off they'd be in the future. It was a lesson well learned in his past.
Deep in thought, Horock stood there for a moment wondering why she had not answered his question. However, he knew it would be better to just answer and replied, "Yes, I am new to the Tower, though not to Vhaeraun's faith. I am in hiding from some people that want to kill me for, shall we say, doing some adverse things to their people. I don't think they should be, but what I am to say about a death mark? So, being a priest, I was brought in here for protection." He tried to look as meek as possible while he waited for a response.
Having a temper was a terrible flaw for one so small and beautiful as she, but Xull'rae reigned it in and sighed in exasperation. She sensed they were being overheard and thought it best to correct the greenhorn since he was of the faith and it was her duty to protect her own.
"Name is Xull'rae," she began, "and first off don't refer to our God as Vhaeraun in such an informal manner unless it's an outsider. Here at the temple he's usually known as The Masked Lord or The Shadow, to list a few names. Second, do not ever blurt everything about yourself unless you trust me and everyone that overhears us right now. Remember this is a 'thieves den' and as followers of the Masked One, backstabbing is a virtue here. Third...if you are a priest like you say you are, you don't have to be meek because I'm a woman; I use that tactic myself so it's moot to use it around me. And lastly, don't ever use that polite goody goody addressing shit anymore, it reeks of something non drow. If you do it again, I'll kill you thinking you a paladin in disguise got it...?"
Horock became upset. He was simply trying to get off to a good start with what looked like a pretty woman. "Fine," he said in his most sarcastic voice, "I can be an ass too. I was just trying to fit into my new
Szordrin's chain of thought broke after a few lingering seconds. He really wasn't hiding his eavesdropping intentions any longer, but he still did not stand out and introduce himself either. He was just going to continue to hold his ground until one of the two said something, or moved on.
"Aww you're so cute when angry..." Xull'rae said as she smiled charmingly. It only enhanced her beauty as her mood flickered so suddenly that it disarmed Horock. "Just keep that 'respect' you mentioned and we'll be fine," she winked to the flustered male and then called out to the unknown eavesdropper, "as for the one listening in on us, you can come introduce yourself now since it's in the air to do so...besides legs have a tendency to go numb if you stand in one spot for long..."
Chuckling to himself so that no one else could tell how embarrassed he was, Horock realized that he would like this woman. Her temper was as powerful as her beauty. He knew he would be serving under her, so now was the time to keep her in high respect. Calmly he waited for whomever it was to introduce themselves.
Szordrin had to stifle a small chuckle before he stepped forward with a stark white brow arched. He glanced at the woman, then the man, finally returning to the figure of Xull'rae. His pearly white teeth became visible within the half-smile he gave. "Yes, well, I thought I'd let you finish lecturing the boy before I made myself known." Not that he was a rogue, as his skills at hiding weren't really up to par. The most he did was carry himself with silent steps. "My name is Szordrin Xarann."
"And what a name that is," Xull'rae commented. Her expression and tone did not change from its charm.
Szordrin could not discern whether or not she was demeaning him. He would have given her strange behavior more thought, but she kept talking. "From the look of you Szordrin you must be a mage. Here on business I presume...or are you actually joining the Tower?"
Horock did not really know what to make of all of this. All he knew was what the Shadow Sorcerer had told him yesterday, that he was to be Xull'rae's apprentice and that he was picked for something, he wasn't even sure what yet. So he kept quiet, waiting for the drow's reply.
The malaugrym would've commented on the keen eye of the drowess, but he was carrying a gnarled wooden staff, and was clothed in robes with arcane writing in the form of runes on the sleeves and hem. She was being cryptic, as if she knew what he was here for, but he explained anyway. "Business, as I'm sure you'll find out in due time. I was sent by the Shadow Sorcerer, Pharaun Lhalabar, to accompany you these next few days in whatever tasks you see fit for me." This certainly did seem to be more then a random meeting, but Szordrin paid it no mind, since it was helping his own goals in the long run.
Watching, both men saw Xull'rae rapidly change from easy going to anger. The friendly smile twisted into a contemptuous sneer while her eyes narrowed into slits. "I don't need a lap dog or the Shadow Sorcerer's spy on my ass okay? Because that is what you are, sad to say..." She furrowed her brows and pursed her lips as she sighed and regained control of herself.
She continued, calm now, before he could speak again. "Anyway...I know you'll follow despite whatever I say so I might as well use you while you're available." Xull'rae snickered as if she found something funny in what she had said.
"Mm, lap dog, what an interesting choice of words...and an even more interesting gathering, I must say," a familiar deep bass voice interrupted. The words were spoken carefully, bordering on blatantly sarcastic, though not quite crossing the threshold.
Cogliostro stepped forth casually from one of the many side passages. His brawny, hulking form, hulking, at least to any drow, was adorned in robes of tan and black. Soft torch light glinted off the angles of his cleanly shaven head, making his salt and pepper goatee seem all the more black. Twin pools of oak-brown hue regarded each of those gathered in turn, no hint of emotion, aside from a mildly humored interest was held within those dark eyes.
A polite, fake smile played upon the olive ageless visage while his towering form came to rest in such a manner that all could be viewed at once. His calloused hands clasped ever so casually behind his broad back as he made a mental note of exactly whom and what now lingered in the room, but he let no sign of wariness or the like show.
"Yes, well... If putting up with you is all I must do for the time being, I'm more then making out in this deal," Szordrin replied to Xull'rae in that matter of fact tone of his. He could've been put on a much more dangerous assignment.
Szordrin's ancient patience might be brought to its limits with the spitfire of a drowess, but it was nothing he couldn't handle. More importantly was the form that came lumbering into the room. Those crimson orbs shifted to that face and lingered there. There was something oddly familiar about that one. Eerie in a sense, like this wasn't the first time he partook in seeing that face. Granted his memory was fuzzy on the past, but Szordrin never forgot a face. This little mystery alone was enough to push his curiosity, though he remained silent.
"You'd probably find your own dick interesting. The gods know why, but it's how demented you are. If I could feel pity, I'd shed a tear for you Rivven." It was Xull'rae who broke the small silence, looking at the human with acute distaste that she dismissed Szordrin's statement of "putting up with her." This was getting weird. No one was around, but they were out in the open. She let go of her paranoia, figuring this was one of Cogliostro's little schemes.
"Hmmm, I remember you," Horock said with disdain as he looked over the bald human. "You said I would be working for you, but I have not seen you at all since yesterday. I wonder, where have you been and why have you not come back to once again torment me with your arrogant sayings and sarcastic little comments? You know, I think I have met more intelligent rocks then you..."
Horock knew he was skating on thin ice, but he also knew that if this man really needed him, he would not harm him. Even though he resented being thought of as a servant to this human, he knew it would inevitably come out that way.
Cogliostro first concentrated his gaze fully upon the drowess Xull'rae, while keeping his mind's eye upon the well disguised malaugrym too. His thin, forced smile broadened somewhat as he agreed with her statements. "Mm, aye, myself and many a woman throughout the ages," he continued on, replying to the irritating drow male, "and as for you, Saer, hm, Horock, was it?" Cogliostro deliberately feigned he had stumbled upon the name, so as to portray that Horock held no importance to him. "I too have met rocks of higher intelligence, and so...."
Xull'rae was affronted and hid it flawlessly with some effort. She cut the human off, forestalling Horock's retort in the process with a verbal barb, that was anything but pedigree upbringing. "Sluts...yes I know what they are...females who think they are women that throw themselves at anything male. I guess you were better than nothing to them...poor things, gotta' get sex somewhere I suppose. Me? I'm just an ugly bitch and not as needy as that..."
Cogliostro chuckled, truly amused as he looked upon the drow woman with a gleam in his eye. He did love her wit. "Hm, well, I'm glad ye stated it, so that I would not have to. I do so detest stating the obvious."
Xull'rae was livid now; she had not expected him to like it and tried with serious effort now to conceal that he had gotten the better of her. The smothered rage merely looked like slight annoyance, though her tone was dripping with sarcasm, "Oh yes...the 'thing' that tries to be gentlemen. Go play with your dick if you can find it," she waved him away as if to dismiss him.
"Mm, I was rather hoping you would help in my searches, drowess." Cogliostro looked more suggestive than before and his tone was mockingly hopeful.
Horock looked over at the man; his blue eyes narrowed at the obvious insult to himself but remained silent as the two quipped back and forth. After a few moments he did not know what to think, but he knew he had to say something, lest he be totally shamed. "I don't know where you learned how to be an ass, but you must have had some kind of schooling to be as much of a jerk as you are." If only I had a little more room, I could... he thought, but then he began to realize how futile it would be and that he should probably just shut up and let his teacher take care of the matter.
Cogliostro frowned mildly for but a moment. He shook his head softly to no one in particular, though an amused smile came to his thin lips a heartbeat later as he listened to the young drow male illuminate him with more conversation. "Ye could help me find my, hm, 'dick', perhaps?" he offered with a chortle.
Xull'rae threw her hands in the air to vent as well as cover up that she found what Cogliostro said to be funny, "He doesn't listen. I said I was an ugly bitch not a slut...poor dumb fuck, his hair probably was his brain...and now it's gone..."
Laughing to himself, Horock realized that his earlier judgment was sound; staying silent was best. He did not want to anger both Cogliostro and Xull'rae at the same time.
Cogliostro simply turned that sarcastic sweet smile in Xull'rae's direction for a moment, then spun around to regard the Malaugrym. A single, salt-and-pepper brow arched in surprise as he took note of the disguised creatures calm stillness. "Something amiss, Saer...?" In reality, he was quite curious as to whether the Malaugrym would remember his visage.
"Nothing that should concern you, human," Szordrin replied loftily, but there was some venom in his tone that he could not completely bury. His memories were a puzzle that he was still putting together, slowly, but surely. The Malaugrym didn't know why as of yet, but he felt his blood boiling at the sight of the human's face.
He abruptly pulled away from the trio; he wanted to return to his own little plane to contemplate things further. In a calmer voice he stated, "Hmm...I shall return at a later date, I have some business to attend to," he then left quietly, melding with the shadows quickly and disappeared without a trace.
For Cogliostro, it had been but hours since he had intruded upon the Malaugrym's past, but for the creature of shadow, eons had passed. "Hm, well then, gods speed on yaer endeavors, Saer Xarann." A polite enough nod, if not overly respectful, was offered to the disguised creature's retreating form.
"Well damn..." Xull'rae said, looking baffled if not humored. "Your ugliness had to offend the mage, baldy. Glad to see it's not just me." She took note of the slip Szordrin made, and the tension Cogliostro had and tucked it away in the back of her mind. She would use it later.
As Horock watched the exchange the drow realized that Cogliostro had no respect for him what so ever. He decided that he would stay as far away from the man as possible. He was too easily angered by him.
But after hearing Xull'rae speak her piece, he jumped at the chance to retaliate. "I agree with her. I originally thought it was me you irritated, but it appears that you irritate everyone that you meet. I know you took classes to be an ass, but did you also take classes to be the most irritating person in the world?" Horock again spoke with scorn, realizing that in no way are any of his insults going to effect the man now or possibly ever.
"Hmph, I daresay, were ye not the uglier of us two, I would take offense." Cogliostro remarked as spun to face Xull'rae now.
He offered a similar nod to her before turning a final time to gaze upon the older drow male. He strode forward casually when a tiny but feral grin spread across his face as he passed Horock by. "Surely, you honor me much. I had not thought myself upon such a lofty pedestal." Facing fully forward now, he continued toward the double doors that led into the Darkwoods beyond.
Xull'rae gazed at Horock in slight approval when they stood alone. "See you can irritate him back...so it's a trade off. You see, we drow were born assholes so we are better at it then him since he had to enroll in classes," Xull'rae gave a light hearted grin, hoping the silliness of the statement would ease Horock's anger. She realized he wasn't good at hiding it.
"Mm, can't say that I disagree, drowess," said Cogliostro, though he was no where to be seen, the tone of his voice was a most humored one.
Xull'rae ignored the human and continued. "Next time Horock, just tell him to kiss your black ass. Who knows he might do it...I hear he's into that kinda' thing..." She shrugged offhandedly.
Horock raised an eyebrow at Xull'rae, looking incredulous. "So, you think he actually would kiss my ass if I asked him to? What kind of an idiot is he? You seem to know more about him then me."
After this exchange, Horock realized that he has been out in the open for far too long and into the shadows he went, stepping away from the conversation to give his mentor a little more room to negotiate and make the man feel like an idiot.
"Hmm yeah he would...just make sure he doesn't hump ya," her sharp amber colored eyes turn to look upon the new recruit with a sultry smile, hiding the fact that she disapproved if a so called priest could be so gullible. "Enough of the Rivven though...go to the alter chambers and get yourself acquainted with the other Darkmasks...I have errands to run."
She looked around once to see of she could spot the human but could not and decided to leave without a retort. She watched Horock leave, then left herself to go inspect the portal to Menzoberranzan.
Cogliostro's thoughts, however, were not as dismissive in nature as Xull'rae's had been. They had gotten the last word. This was just the beginning. Horock and Drazoul were just extra pawns, easily moved and guided. It was Xull'rae that would bite at the hand, but he was up for the challenge. Though he couldn't help but be wary of her. She wasn't in his range of power, but she had proved that she could catch him off guard and that put her in the dangerous category.
Curiosity and foreboding lingered as to what the future had in store for those under his wing. He would soon refer them to as his flock.
The curiosity was brought about mostly by the genuine drow among them, Xull'rae. The wariness belonged in largest part at the moment to the Ancient One known as the Malaugrym.....