Added December 21, 1999
Category: Fantasy/Dark Elf
Author: Lledrith RavenWolf

Child of Faerun

Prologue
Chapter 1: First Disciple
Chapter 2: Second Follower
Chapter 3: Going up
Chapter 4: Undercellar Disciple
Chapter 5: Addiction

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This is a new series which involves Zak as a secondary character from when he's inside the acid lake of the Underdark during that dramatic battle of Drizzt's. There will be a few tedius explanations about exactly how Cadderly(sounds like Caddis larvae) managed to manipulate him into that maudlin, un-Zak like speech which he gave Drizzt the benefit of listening to... (yes, I'm being sardonic today). A few liberties will be taken as is usual for any of my fics ;p The prologue is rather short, but what the hell.

Prologue

The grief of Faerun, Mother Earth, had once coalesced into the Younger Gods, and she thought it good. The spirit of Faerun had thought the evil on the world resolved or in the way of becoming resolved.

It was not so. Inexorably, many of her children, notably the dark elves, were corrupted, slowly turned evil, driven underground to the caverns of her hollow body, to perpetuate the evils that they themselves had begun.

On the surface, man and other humanoids also turned to evil, and began to despoil the earth – metal axes felled her trees, arrows felled her children the deer and the birds of the air for food.

The magic of the mages and that of the clerics forced her into contortions that were made all the more painful when they were for evil purpose.

Some of the Younger Gods turned to corruption. The power of their love turned to a love for power.

Cities grew scabrous and ugly on her plentiful bosom. Her children the monsters turned aggressive, sometimes eating those who tilled and respected her surface and which she blessed with good crops.

Druids cared for her and erected stone structures for her, and in return Faerun’s spirit gave them dominion over her animal children. Yet the druids, her blessed ones, schismed into evil factions like the Shadow Druids, furthering her grief.

Immorality in the lands and immorality in the seas where the pirates pillaged and plundered and killed. Immorality underground in the Underdark where the drow sacrificed and lived their foul cycles of life.

Some of the Planes turned to deep and abiding evils. The Plane of Shadows and the Abyss, two daggers in Faerun’s spirit.

The winds cry a lament that is not answered; her tears fall as rain without sympathy. Her bursts of volcanic eruptions, her fiery anger, feared and not understood, her bountiful forgiveness, unnoticed. Faerun begot the name of the land instead of the name of the Earth’s spirit.

Unnoticed, unknown except for the few druids that cared truly for her instead for furthering their own ends. Her hopes dashed away one by one like the trees cleared for the forests, the thick smoke and fog from cities choking her, the rubbish dumped into seas despoiling her.

Faerun would try one last time. Her anguish and pain would change once again, into a single being. A young girl-child would be brought into existence - inside the Underdark, inside her being. Through this girl-child she would place her hopes of being healed and understood.

***

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Chapter 1: First Disciple

Many see the tunnels of the Underdark as a frightening maze of death and black oblivion. Those with infravision see it as a mass of heated signals of which a false misinterpretation may lead to disastrous consequences. Those who understand and speak with the stone see it as a brother.

Hardly any see it for the beauty and wonder of it, that these hollow, lightless caverns can support life itself. That inside its hard surface may be a seam of beautiful minerals or a fossil of some unknown creature. That is thinking only of the benefits one could reap of the caverns, and not of the Underdark itself.

The girl-child who seemed to be walking alone and with purpose in the tunnels seemed to understand this. She was probably around the age of four, and had no weapons, wearing only a simple unadorned dress and a few flat, thin bangles around her tiny wrists. The bangles seemed to be badly scratched.

Her eyes were beautifully large, but the pupils were a startling shade of a tiger’s orange eyes. Her long hair that fell to her waist was extraordinary, lustrous, in some parts a deep chocolate brown that shaded to a pale oak at the tips, at some parts silvery white, some with a tint of deep wood green, a trace of burnished copper red, even a hint of sea blue. This may sound rather messy when written down, but in actual fact it was enchanting, and seemed to weld together into a harmony of color.

Behind one ear was a simple wildflower, seven petals around a small yellow-gold circle. It was fresh but also incongruous, for no such flowers lived in the Underdark.

She had a light brown skin that looked tanned if not for the fact that there was no sun where she was walking. She was of no discernable race, though humanoid, with a touch of elf around her slightly pointed ears and a full face of a human, though seemed naturally small unlike of the larger half-elf.

Her eyes gave no indication that she had infrared sight, but she continued on confidently as if the entire passage was wreathed in the giving sunlight.

Once she ran into a small herd of wild rothe, who instead of bolting or charging simply raised their heads and watched – she walked through them, occasionally patting a few with the affection of an old friend. None made any indication of being enraged or frightened.

Her name is Kiel’aeya, Child of Faerun.

***

His entire being burned with the same steady intensity he seemed to have known forever. Still tied to his body through the rites of Lloth, his spirit also felt the constant seeping bite of the acid.

Acid created by magical means, biting into his soul, eating into his self. The pain has become an old enemy that is constantly at his side – his body now already long gone, dissolved away in the acid, but his spirit still tied to the place of death, still to suffer torment that seemed reminiscent of hell itself.

Sometimes he wonders if this is punishment for what he has done, but then cannot remember what he did. Sometimes he remembers and wonders what he had been trying to relate to.

The pain shears away all thought to a single soundless scream that he cannot articulate as he has no throat and no mouth.

Sometimes he sinks to the bottom. Sometimes he can move a little but that does not assuage the pain that bites fresh into him and which he would never become accustomed to.

Sometimes bubbles rise from the pockets of air, which the acid has penetrated to, and float upwards, carrying him up a little way then dumping him like so much rubbish back down.

He can see the spirits of those who had died here before. The dire corbies, most of which were killed by himself when he was in the thrall of the terrible spell wrought on his body. They too, float and screech in soundless pain for the acid seems to have a retaining property which he has tried and failed to break.

Helplessness is a deep psychological pain by itself, but he has experienced it before, though not in such circumstances. It is not new to him, and he has learned to ignore it.

In the unusual slots of time in which he can think, he thinks about calm. No longer does he think of anything else other than forcing himself not to think about the pain and the helplessness and his fear than he would be here forever. No longer does he think of escape.

He had learnt to face his fear. He no longer sinks himself in pity that he should be back in the Plane of Souls where he had led a happy existence away from death. He no longer allows fear to grip him in its cold embrace.

Sometimes he regrets having jumped in. Perhaps if he had succumbed and killed his son he would have returned to the Plane of Souls, his son beside him, and they could talk under the open blue sky with the turf under their feet about everything in particular. His son would not have blamed him if he had done so.

Yet he knows he could not, would not have done so.

The acid burns and harms but also heals. Inside the lake with only his will to continue he has found peace. Meditation blocks out the pain, and in the coolness of his mind he tries to think before the next stab of stinging acid burns chases away his thoughts.

But he is getting better at it. When he meditates he knows he cannot think of those provocative lines of thought like worrying about his son. He thinks of his swords and the dance he where he has attained excellence and thinks about perfecting it – in his mind he enacts fights against himself and in the dance of swords and metal he gains inner peace.

Once, only once, was this cruel existence interrupted. A cleric summoned him forth for what purpose he did not know or could not remember, sloughed away by the acid. What many do not exactly know is that when a cleric summons he also shapes the shape of the spirit, especially if he has a strong will and mind, he also gives vague directions to the spirit.

He did his best to comply. He remembers speaking words of faith to someone lying down. He remembers the smile on the person’s face but does not remember his face. He did this for the sole reason of hoping that the cleric would set him free.

The cleric did not understand from where he had pulled him. The human cleric discerned he came from the Plane of Souls or originated from there. The cleric forgot to check.

And so he lies still in the burning acid of pain, this disappointing episode looked at and nodded at and then forgotten or stored away.

Sometimes he cannot remember who he is or does not care.

Sometimes he does not remember what he is.

The acid burns away.

***

Kiel’aeya walked out into a vast cavern with a single bridge broken in a section. Below, acid burns and eats away at the stone, tunneling downwards such that from the bridge to the acid is a fairly long way to fall.

She can feel the pain that is synonymous with the acid. The pain of the creatures that had fallen and perished as the acid slowly ate away at their still struggling bodies.

Kiel’aeya has no full realization of her powers as she is just newly birthed by Faerun. But she knows that when she wills something to happen, it usually does.

One by one, methodically, she sets the spirits free. She can see them, the blue-edged souls of the corbies who slowly fade to a tremulous outline then completely away to the place of death, which she does not know and will never know.

There is one more soul, which she has walked all this way for. She calls that one to her.

***

He feels another summons though this one is much closer. It commands him to come out of the lake but does not seem to give him any other help.

He floats to the nearest wall, reaching out a ghostly hand to grasp hold of it, expecting the pain but surprised when he finds that there is none.

With a new hope he starts to climb slowly up, through sheer grim will finding suitable handholds.

When he surfaces out of the lake the acid sucks at him in desperation but then drips away. He does not know what he looks like but knows at least that he has hands and feet that scrabble for purchase on the acid-eaten stone.

A new agony stabs at him but seems to come from within – nearly causing him to fall back down into the lake. He notices that bone seems to be sprouting from somewhere with a macabre accuracy, and watches with fascination as the bones of his arm grow slowly like a shoot and at his palm develops into his fingers.

The summons comes again and he continues to climb, racked with this new pain. He notices that red muscles have encased the bluish glow of his soul.

He concentrates on the wall above him and continues to climb, stopping only when the pain is too much for him, then grimly continuing.

Ten meters below his destination and his skin begins to grow back. He notes that it is a deep black, and he remembers what he is.

Five meters below and a tendril of bone-white hair falls over his eyes.

Two meters below and a new weight is on his shoulders, fabric and the chain mail that has been a fact of his mortal life for as long as he can remember. He feels the weight of two swords belted on and remembers who he was.

He pulls himself with the lithe ease and grace of old onto the bridge and notes that his fingers that should have broken their nails and should have been hurt when he forced them into cracks to pull himself up are unhurt.

He sees the being in front of him and he knows what he had been dimly waiting for in his life that he had never seen, what he had been looking for all his life but had never found. Something that he had been made to follow, and his destiny metaphorically started to tick.

Zaknafein Do’Urden lowers himself onto one knee in respect to the being which he knows would follow for the rest of his days. His earlier void and rejection of his kin’s evil goddess, in fact of any god or deity, he now recognizes as an act of frustration. He believes.

He is a deeply passionate being whose feelings had been constrained by the evil of the drow in his life. He now believes with all the fire of his being.

Kiel’aeya, mute, deprived of speech through an act of Faerun as a warning and a reminder of what she is, claps her hands in a childish delight and steps quickly forward. Solemnly, she gently but firmly pulls down his head, and plants a kiss on his forehead.

Zaknafein Do’Urden understands that he is the first disciple.

***

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Chapter 2: Second Follower

The eye sees a deep and wide pit, from which one sheer face that merges into the uneven ceiling protrudes a high ledge that leads to a tunnel carved in the shape of a graceful arch. On the other side is a much larger tunnel, which leads to the Underdark, and is much lower down, for those few monsters stupid enough to try and investigate the pit.

For the pit is a drider pit.

The children whom Lloth has forsaken and has punished inhabit it. Condemned to life imprisonment both inside the pit and in the hideous form of a half spider, top half only vaguely like their normal selves but also horribly, torturously bloated.

It is the extreme punishment of Lloth’s evil clerics. First through an extremely painful and psychologically horrifying transformation by a summoned yochlol, where the condemned can feel every part of his terrifying shape change with exquisite detail.

The harsh chittering of the half spiders echoes around the high ceiling. The driders loathe what they have become, and the feeling of crushed helplessness that they cannot change back snaps most of their minds, changing them fully into the monsters that they already resemble.

The armed guardians of the pit keep a watchful eye on both tunnels for their prey. They do not need to hunt, for this city in sport feeds slaves to them regularly, taking pleasure in their agonized cries.

For the most part, the driders avoid each other. Looking upon a fellow drider only serves to remind them of what they had lost. They take out their pain on those fed to them.

Their sharp hearing picks up sounds from the tunnel to the drow city whose name they have already forgotten, and their hairy legs skitter eagerly on the stone of their pit.

***

"Is it my imagination, or are we going faster than we should be?" Zaknafein asked of Kiel’aeya, who was quietly and happily curled up in his arms.

She opened an eye and winked at him, then put a finger to her cupid lips with an impish grin.

"It would be better if we had transport," Zaknafein said, but she snorted. He was walking with a warrior’s measured pace down an Underdark tunnel at her directions, usually pointed out with a lazy flick of a finger just when they passed an intersection.

Patiently he continued, though occasionally he would point out tactfully that they were passing the trails of Underdark monsters he recognized from his days of patrolling Menzoberranzan. They had already ventured into a section of the Underdark he did not recognize.

Kiel’aeya usually listened with utmost attention to his protests as if they were the wisest words she had ever known, then with a cheerful indulgence ignored them. When he commented about this she smiled her devastating smile and he gave up. You can’t argue with a goddess, even a young one.

Zaknafein knew she was just that – a goddess, or at least a deity. They had successfully managed to evade or avoid any monsters in the Underdark even though they had not been skulking in the darkness.

His piwafwi had been replaced with a comfortable lightweight cloak of some material he had never felt before, which was incredibly soft and pliable. It was a strange color of white-blue, ends fastened rather jauntily with a clasp, a sapphire edged and couched in onyx.

He still had his chain mail, though he now discerned that it seemed to be too light to be actually true, though it still looked like adamantite. It was as if it had been constructed mentally by someone who knew vaguely what chain mail was for but also knew it should be light. Zak doubted that anything could penetrate this coat of chain mail.

The surcoat was in the same strange soft material, though it was in a few shades of brown from a dark mahogany to a light oak at the edges. It was plain, but felt as though a symbol should adorn the center but the maker was not sure what should represent it yet.

The swords were reassuring in their weight, but also slightly unreal in which the blades were a little too thin and faintly glowed the same white-blue color as his cloak. They were impossibly sharp and sat in the sheaths with impossible ease. His boots fitted perfectly, his feet feeling like princes in the soft interior. Apparently Kiel’aeya hadn’t exactly understood boots either, for he made no sound when he trod in them.

Kiel’aeya herself was impossibly light, like holding a feather. Though his arms felt slightly cramped from holding her he was able to find opportunities to stretch them a little.

Again that faint blur around them, and Zaknafein wondered how much land they had ‘skipped’ in that flash which Kiel’aeya wasn’t giving much effort to concealing.

She looked up at him as she usually did when he thought about her, and stuck out her tongue.

"It’s true," he said defensively. He was slightly shocked at the fact that his goddess could not speak except in the silence of his mind, but she did not seem to want to do that for some odd reason.

Kiel’aeya rolled her eyes and Zak had the indication that she did that just like what he had said – for her own reasons.

He wished she wouldn’t keep on inserting information in his mind.

***

"Couldn’t we speak about this?"

The person who had voiced this opinion went unanswered. He was a human dressed in a rather soiled, plain robe. His hat had fallen off somewhere, forgotten, revealing a head of deep black hair.

His eyes were slightly tilted up at the ends and were almond shaped, giving him a rather exotic look, accentuated by his sharp face and his black eyes. His skin was naturally bronzed though with the pallor of someone who had not seen the sun for a long time.

The person was tall in a gaunt sort of way, a bit sticklike, but some drow soldiers were currently dragging him with a lot of force in one direction – towards an opening in the tunnel they were in.

He knew what was outside the tunnel, and his efforts at struggling were ignored. Helplessly he was dragged on, his spells deserting him, even if he could muster enough discipline to recite one, two drow wizards walked on either side of him with watchful expressions.

He was thankful for the plain silver circlet around his forehead. Seeing that they could not remove it, and the wizards thinking it was just an ornament, they had left it on.

Actually, the magic it used was minimal and specialized for its wearer to see in the dark. It allowed infrared vision to a certain range of about fifty feet.

He wished he had purchased the hundred feet one.

"I say," he tried again, but the drow ignored him and dragged him on. He regretted trying to cheat the drow wizards – now his goods were confiscated and it looked like his life would be, too. Drow did not like those who cheated them, and their punishments for those they did not like were extreme to say the least.

***

Zaknafein stiffened noticeably when he heard the high pitched chittering sound. "Are you sure of this?" he asked.

Kiel’aeya opened her eyes and yawned.

"Can I take that as a no?" Zak asked hopefully.

Kiel’aeya grinned and shook her head firmly, then pointed just as firmly to the tunnel ahead.

"Demanding," Zak sighed, "Do you know what that tunnel may lead to? I know that sound because I have heard it before. It is a drider."

Kiel’aeya looked at him with the same intensity as if she were giving him her full attention. Zak sighed inwardly as he knew that he was losing the battle.

"A drider is a half drow, half spider and the worst of each," he continued, "It’s very dangerous."

The look hadn’t wavered, and Zak plunged on.

"I do not think this is wise," he said. Absently, he was considering finding the cleric which had once pulled him out of his acid lake on a false shred of hope and giving him a piece of his mind. Maybe leave him in several pieces.

Kiel’aeya shot him a look of amusement, and Zak’s voice trailed off.

"Just thought you’d like to know," he muttered.

Kiel’aeya patted his arm, then pointed towards the tunnel.

"I know, I know," Zak sighed, and walked onwards. The chittering grew louder in his ears.

***

The drow soldiers stopped a few feet or so from the tunnel entrance, raising the portcullis, then shoving him through. As he fell, he heard the sound of the gate closing.

Scrabbling fingers found a handhold, and through sheer frightened will found a foothold as well.

He moved to get higher, and an arrow snapped into the wall inches from him. In frightened alarm he lost his grip and fell to land on something soft and squishy. Rolling off quickly, he found it was a drider, but there was no time to mourn the loss of a perfectly good robe – the rest were closing in.

He grabbed the dead drider’s adamantite spear. Something he had always been good at was a staff, and he whirled it in a blurring circle before smashing it down into a drider’s head, then smashing the other end into another’s stomach.

The archer had thankfully stopped, and he began to note dimly that he was surrounded. Still, he whirled the staff away in an arc, which shattered the heads of several driders, and noted that metal’s a fine thing to make a staff out of.

There was a commotion at the back.

***

They emerged out to peer down over a large pit, and Kiel’aeya blanched.

"See what I meant?" Zak murmured triumphantly, "Looks like they have a victim."

Kiel’aeya pointed firmly at the ‘victim’.

"Well, what do you want to do? He’s human," Zak said in slight distaste. Weak, short-lived creatures that were incredibly accident-prone.

Kiel’aeya gave him a look which made Zak slightly ashamed of his words. She pointed at the ‘victim’ again, more firmly this time.

"You can’t be serious," Zak said incredulously.

Kiel’aeya smiled as if to say, ah, but I am.

"And where would you be?" Zak inquired.

Kiel’aeya struggled until he put her down, then sat cross-legged. None of the driders seemed to have noticed them. She looked up and smiled sweetly at him.

"I get it, I get it," Zak sighed, and drew his swords. Then he levitated down to the back of the driders clustering around the human.

"Anyone for a quick stab in the back?" he murmured, as his sharp sword snapped a drider’s spine, then another punctured the bulbous abdomen.

The human was fighting relatively well, though he resembled a rather bespattered and inferior type of mage.

Up on the edge of the tunnel, Kiel’aeya smiled benignly as the strings on the bow and crossbows snapped one by one. Her large eyes were, however, filled with an inexplicable sadness as she put her palms together and lowered her head in a silent, final blessing for the tortured souls of the driders.

The human managed to back away and shout out a desperate phrase. Cards that he seemed to be pulling out from his pocket turned into fiery weapons, and he shot these like flat darts into the driders. His mouth dropped open when they sliced through as if the cards were metal.

"You don’t know your own strength?" Zaknafein suggested, when the human ran out of cards and drider targets, in what little grasp he had on the Common tongue, a language he considered ugly and compressed.

The human looked at Zaknafein, made a sound like "Eep!" and tried to run, to realize with horror that a drider had sneaked up and was about to divide his hair with an axe. But Zak had darted forward, distracting the drider enough to deflect the stroke neatly, then as the drider clumsily tried to retaliate, smoothly, with minimal fuss and a neat twist of his wrist, send his weapon deep into the drider.

"What do you want?" the human asked shakily, holding up his pole in what he believed as a defensive posture.

Zak pushed down a laugh. "You’d have to ask Kiel’aeya," he said, not unkindly, "Let’s get out of here before any of my kind come and see whether you’re dead."

He grabbed hold of the unresisting human’s collar and levitated upwards.

Kiel’aeya grinned at the human. "What’s a child doing here?" the man asked.

Zaknafein smiled. "On a quest to heal the world."

"Her?" the man said incredulously, then started when Kiel’aeya stood up and touched his knee. His wounds healed carefully and slowly, then his robe changed to a blue-gray shade, complete with a pointy hat with powerful and complex runes. The robe lengthened to brush at the floor, and his tattered inner clothing changed into more comfortable ones.

The staff he held on to defensively lengthened over his head, the knob a metal spherical structure the size of a clenched fist, with strange lines intersecting it and outlining it like the skeleton of a ball.

The man whom Zak suddenly knew was Janus kneeled down, and Kiel’aeya walked forward to pull his head down and plant a kiss on his forehead. Second disciple.

***

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Chapter 3: Going up

"What were you doing in the drider pit?" Zak inquired.

Janus shifted the position of his arms a little and Kiel’aeya mumbled and turned over. "Well, I was having a bit of fun, you know, talking to them until I commented on their being too hairy..."

"Really," Zak said, raising an eyebrow.

"Do you practise that in front of a mirror?" Janus’ mind abruptly changed tack.

"No," Zak said, "You’re stalling."

"Oh, all right," Janus said, "I used to sell magical items. I realized one day when I was trading with that unreasonable drow city that they had shortchanged me several hundred gold coins, and was continuously doing so. So I cheated them back, and they didn’t take it as well as I did."

"I can imagine," said Zak, dryly. "Are you a good mage?"

"The best," Janus said.

Zak raised his eyebrow again.

"Oh, all right," Janus admitted. "I’m not a very good one. Usually my spells don’t work or work in a wrong way, until I came across this little goddess here."

Kiel’aeya opened an eye and grinned at him.

"I wonder how powerful you are," Janus grinned back. "Can you ‘port us to the surface?"

Kiel’aeya pretended to be very interested in the ceiling.

"I don’t think she can," Zak said dryly, "But she can ‘skip’ us forward a bit."

Kiel’aeya stuck out her tongue at him.

"That’s a very rude thing to do," Janus admonished. "Why can’t you ‘port us?"

"Because she still isn’t powerful enough," Zak said. "That’s what I think."

Kiel’aeya glared at him.

"Yes?" Zak asked innocently.

His goddess chose to ignore him and pretend to fall asleep.

"Very much like a child," Janus remarked.

"Not yet mature," Zak said calmly, "Which is why she needs people to ‘protect’ her, I’d believe. Are you serious about going to the surface?"

"I think I know this route we’re on," Janus said, "Believe me, it leads to the surface."

Zak did not answer, his troubled mind reeling slightly at the thought. The surface – the unknown, a monstrous world with a ball of flame in the sky that blinded and burned!

"You have trouble with that?" Janus asked, "You people are too hyped about this surface thing. It’s not that bad, actually – the gods know you can find better food that’s not fungus or that stringy rothe. And better drink."

"I don’t drink," Zak said absently.

"Why not?" Janus asked.

"Because it clouds the mind," Zak replied.

"Lots of things do," Janus said with a grin, "Like thoughts, for instance. You ever worship anything before?"

"Supposedly," Zak said, "Once I believed in Lloth, when I was very young." His tone made it very firm that he didn’t want to talk about it.

"Don’t all drow do?" Janus said carelessly.

Zak shot him a dark glare. "I do not. I know she exists but I do not believe in her. If you have seen the atrocities she drives her ‘children’ to do..."

"I’ve seen them," Janus said hastily, "Honestly, you don’t need to get worked up about it..."

"There is no point now, yes," Zak said, apparently calming down somewhat, "But Lloth is possessive of her drow ‘children’. I hope she does not make trouble for Kiel’aeya."

"You’re supposed to be dead," Janus pointed out a trifle callously, "I don’t think she’d bother. Right, Kiel?"

"Kiel?" Zak said, amused.

Kiel’aeya raised her wide eyes and glanced at the both of them, then shrugged.

"Kiel’aeya’s a mouthful. So, most holy one..." Janus began. Kiel made a rude noise.

"Kiel’aeya!" Zak scolded.

She gave him an unblinking, sweet grin.

"How exactly are we going to do this ‘heal the world’ thing?" Janus asked, "Start a medical school? You must admit our black and white friend here isn’t cut out for bandages but for...ah, cutting people."

"Thank you, Janus," Zak said drily, "I’d try to hold that last bit in mind when I next speak with you privately."

"You’re welcome," Janus said, "Which means I’d do better going around with Kiel. Right, Kiel?"

Kiel’aeya nodded seriously, then smiled. They both had the idea that they had to wait and see.

"I wish you wouldn’t do that," Janus said, with a pained expression.

"Precisely since we don’t like it is why she does it," Zak said. "The goddess loves irritating people, doesn’t she?"

They had the impression that they shouldn’t speak of her as if she wasn’t there.

"Then you’d stop doing that to us?" Janus suggested.

They had the notion that Janus should shut up.

"Shutting up now," Janus said obligingly, with a wink at Zak, who laughed.

***

"That’s odd," Janus said suddenly.

"What is?" Zak was not feeling very comfortable. The tunnels around him were distinctly unfamiliar and strange creatures often darted in front of them.

"I don’t remember bats in the Underdark," Janus said, puzzled, "Most of the insects you get here are boring crickets or gigantic caterpillars."

"Caterpillars aren’t insects," Zak said. "What are bats?"

"My point exactly," Janus said, stabbing forward with a finger at the ceiling of the immense cavern they were passing through.

Zak looked up to see a huddled brown mass on the ceiling that occasionally chattered angrily. "Spiders?"

"No." Janus grinned, "Definitely not." He pointed his staff at the mass and fired a point of light.

The cavern immediately erupted in the rasp of hundreds of hundreds of wings and angry chitters as the bats took flight in a whirl around them. Zak saw they were rat-like creatures, whose forelimbs had extended into long, spindly arms, on which hung leathery wings.

"Flying rats," he said.

"Something like it," Janus said. Kiel’aeya woke up to look at the bats, then grinned shyly.

"What have you done now?" Zak sighed.

Kiel looked at him with the same innocent grin. The bats flew one last circle and settled back in their undulating brown-black mass.

"I think this is her private tunnel." Janus said dryly. "Which explains that streak of silvery material that I’ve been scuffing up under my boots. How theatrical."

"Private tunnel?" Zak said, startled.

"We took what I thought a wrong turning earlier," Janus said, "This one tunnel is unfamiliar, it has silver underfoot which hasn’t been discovered by duergar or svirfneblin, there are odd creatures inside it... hence."

"You can do that?" Zak asked Kiel. She looked at him with an uncomprehending expression.

"Maybe she’s not aware she is," Janus said quietly, "I think that when she has a certain idea of something going to happen, it just does."

Zak whistled. "Now that is... something. Can you stop doing that?" he asked Kiel.

They had the idea she’d only do it for the tunnel. For now. "Good," Zak murmured. "Now, about transport."

Lizards? Hralwayin? Seahorses?

"I don’t even know what the last two are," Zak said.

"I think we’d better not," Janus said, "How can you fit on a seahorse?"

Big seahorse.

"We’d better not," Zak agreed hastily.

I thought you wanted transport.

"Can’t we change our minds?" Janus asked.

No. This is taking forever, anyway.

"Kiel," Zak said in a warning voice.

Oh, all right. Serve you right if you grow old and white. And don’t complain anymore.

"He is already old and white," Janus grinned at Zak. "Aren’t you?"

"Four hundred years, yes," Zak said, "Didn’t enjoy most of it."

"I should think so," Janus said. "Your lot doesn’t seem a paradise. Me, I was born to a poor farmer. Didn’t like my life, but when I came down here to trade I realized up there’s much better than down here."

Which is why we’re going up.

"Up?" Janus said, startled, "Where?"

Gate-city sewers to pick up someone.

"Gate-city?" Zak asked, puzzled.

"Baldur’s Gate." Janus sighed, "Honestly, Kiel, I am very sure that drow aren’t welcome there."

"That’s a surface city?" Zak asked.

"Obviously," Janus said. "One of the larger ones, and my personal favorite except for the Flaming fists. My consortium is there."

Consortium?

"Manycorns Merchant league. Yes, I know all the jokes about it." Janus said.

I don’t know any corn jokes.

"What is corn?" Zak asked.

"I see there’s going to be a lot of explaining to do soon," Janus said, passing his hand theatrically over his brow, "Oh, woe is me."

It’s not. You are Janus and Woe is woe, a state of mind.

"Woe is you when others are around you," Zak said sourly. "Janus, that is."

"How comforting," Janus said sourly.

***

They stepped through an opening and were immediately attacked by the foul reek of the sewers. Tepid greenish water lay in pools randomly formed on the slippery sidewalk. Murky water flowed sluggishly along in the channels, and rats pattered away from them.

"I hate this place," Janus sniffed, "It’s ruining my robes. Or it should be, if Kiel wasn’t here."

Thank you.

Janus’ robe did brush many of the slime and puddles, but did not get wet at all.

What light could filter down formed leprous, angular patterns, and some parts where the water could actually move faster than a snail, it was reflected onto the ceiling in undulating patterns.

Zak shaded his eyes from the light. "Too bright," he muttered.

"It is?" Janus asked, "Too dark, you mean. Oh."

Do you need a hood?

"Can you make it such that I can see in the light?" Zak asked.

I cannot. However I can do this...

A hood appeared on Zak’s soft cloak, and he pulled it on. "Still too bright," he said.

"It’s morning light," Janus said, "Very glaring."

Let’s move on, shall we? If we turn in there it’d be darker.

"No thanks," Janus grinned, "I like it bright."

"Who exactly are we picking up?" Zak inquired.

You’d see.

"I was meaning to ask," Zak said suddenly, "There was some priest that pulled me out of that lake before. Do you know who he is?"

Yes.

"Well?" Zak asked.

"Lake?" Janus asked. "And don’t put the information in my mind... damn."

Don’t use those words. I’m just a little girl, you know.

"Only too well," Zak said dryly. "Well?"

His name is Cadderly. His god is Deneir... I think. Boring god, squeaky good, but really boring.

Janus guffawed. "In what way is he boring?"

He doesn’t want to play at all.

"I shouldn’t think so," Janus grinned, then burst out laughing.

"So, where is this Cadderly?" Zak inquired.

Why do you ask?

"I’m very sure you know," Zak said dryly.

Oh, very well. He’s at a place called Spirit Soaring, though I don’t see any spirits soaring over there since it’s too boring and there’s not enough spiritual air currents to get across the parapet...

"Why do you want to find him?" Janus asked, "Wait... Kiel!"

Kiel’aeya looked up and smiled smugly.

"Now you know," Zak grinned.

"He didn’t know you were in the lake," Janus said.

"He could have checked," Zak said, "I don’t like being a puppet."

If you kill him Deneir and company aren’t going to be very happy with me.

"Puppet?" Janus said, "Cool. Can I do that too?"

"Not unless you want your rod stuffed up your..."

Zaknafein Do’Urden!

"Sorry." Zak grinned wolfishly. "Well, Janus?"

"Ok, I don’t want to do that too," Janus said. "So you’re going to find this Cadderly and stuff his rod, if he has one, up his..."

Janus!

"It’s a good idea," Zak said, "It’s not really killing him, so Deneir won’t have anything to complain about, right?"

"It won’t kill him?" Janus asked, mystified.

"Depends on how long his staff is," Zak conceded.

You’re not serious.

"Oh, but I am," Zak grinned. "Unless any better ideas are suggested."

Kiel’aeya glared at Zak. I’m not talking to you.

"You can’t talk to me whatever I do any way, Kiel" Zak said mildly.

***

[top]

Chapter 4: Undercellar Disciple

"I really don’t think we should go in there," Janus said.

They were looking at yet another tunnel, but this one was dry and relatively cleaner.

"Why not?" Zak asked. "Ah yes. I am speaking in drow, and you’re speaking in..."

"Human," Janus said. "Cool."

Thank you. If everyone could understand each other it’d be more peaceful. Actually, it’d be less confusing but everyone would be able to insult each other intelligibly so it’s less peaceful...

"Very funny," Zak said dryly. "Translation is an interesting spell, because I don’t have a very good grasp of any human tongue. I can say ‘Greetings’ and..."

"’I’m going to stick these swords through you, pray to your god’?" Janus asked.

"Have you been telling him anything?" Zak asked Kiel suspiciously.

No.

"Lucky guess, then," Zak shrugged.

"It’s so like you, it was a deduction," Janus grinned.

"Like me?" Zak asked, feigning indignation.

"Cynical, killing, sardonic, sarcastic drow. Need I go on? I can if you’d like, Kiel..." Janus grinned.

"Does it enter your mind about hurting feelings?" Zak asked, raising an eyebrow.

"You have to teach me how to do that," Janus grinned, "I can’t raise my eyebrows. Anyway, I don’t think you have any feelings to hurt."

That’s not true, Janus.

"I’d like to say I’m sorry but actually I’m not," Janus said.

"Somehow, I expected that," Zak said dryly, "And Kiel’s not even involved. How surprising."

Really?

"Yes," Janus said. "I think we’ve lost track of my original statement."

"Hopefully we’d lose track of you," Zak said. "But please do not go on."

"Oh, but I think I shall," Janus said, unconcerned. "Right. In the seemingly innocent tunnel you see in front of you..."

"Lurks nothing whatsoever. Sorry. Do go on." Zak grinned.

Janus glared at Zak. "Really, I don’t understand why Kiel chose you as first disciple."

I like him.

"Thank you very much, Kiel," Zak smiled.

You’re welcome.

"Right, while I vomit in the pool over here, you two can continue. Do you want to listen or not?" Janus asked acidly.

Sorry.

"In the tunnel," Janus said sharply, "Is the entrance to the Undercellar."

"Like the Underdark?" Zak suggested, "Except it contains bottles... wait, I get it, under a city? But aren’t all cellars under the surface? So is this thing under a cellar?"

"Shut up, first disciple," Janus said.

"I don’t think second disciples can say that," Zak pointed out mildly.

"Shut up," Janus said, "Right. The Undercellar is just a name for the largest whorehouse in Baldur’s Gate..."

"Janus!" Zak said, glancing at Kiel.

I know what it means.

"I thought you would," Zak sighed, "This person is inside? How interesting."

Yes.

"You’ve been to one before?" Janus asked.

"The one in Menzoberranzan was very near to the habitation of my family," Zak said the last word in distaste, "I wasn’t born a noble. No, I didn’t go inside, but the half-drow ‘sisters’ were kinder than most to my siblings and I."

"I see," Janus said. "So. I don’t know if they allow children in..."

They won’t notice us. Unless, of course, you want to pay the fee and then explain why we have a dark elf with us.

"Drow does sound demeaning, doesn’t it?" Zak said, "A little bit of fear, a little bit of contempt and horror and suchlike."

I can change your color. Would you like to be a moon elf?

"Whitewashed excuses," Zak sniffed, "Look like they had an accident with a ton of bleach."

Gold elf, then?

"Same accident, except with gold paint?" Janus grinned, "You look like a black and white painting, yourself."

"Frankly," Zak said seriously, "I like this coloring more than the other elves. Especially moon elves."

"You look like an accident, like the Creator did dark elves last and ran out of cosmic paint," Janus said critically.

"Ah," Zak said serenely, "But I see he was a bit short on the cosmic dough when he made you, so he stretched the dough to make you just about the right height, then overdid it."

"White flag, white flag," Janus grinned.

What if I give you... purple hair, and a bright pink skin with orange polka dots?

Janus burst out laughing.

"You’d better not," Zak said darkly.

***

The guards at the entrance to the Undercellar ignored them, but when Janus walked into the way of a guard walking into the Undercellar, the man walked around him.

"Good spell, goddess," Janus said.

Not exactly a spell. I just didn’t want them to see us.

"Until we come up with a better term, spell would do," Zak said drily, "I see the place isn’t exactly popular."

"Opens around five," Janus said, "Then the crowds come in."

The Undercellar was a dimly lit place, and the ‘ladies’ that were awake in the morning all wore more practical, modest dresses, and were engaged in lively gossip with each other while helping to clean the place up.

In there.

"Isn’t it your turn?" Janus asked, shifting her weight.

"My turn to what?" Zak asked, looking down into the small amphitheater in front of them. "I wonder what that’s for."

"The bottom is filled with steaming water at night," Janus said shortly, "Bath. It’s your turn to carry."

You don’t like to carry me?

"You’re a delight to carry," Janus said ingenuously, "But even the lightest weight gets a bit tiring."

Zak carefully took Kiel from Janus, then on sudden impulse of sorts lifted her to his shoulders, where she sat in a ‘piggy back’ fashion, combing out his long white hair.

"I don’t think she’d fall off," Janus said, "So I wouldn’t bother to warn her."

"Leaves both hands free," Zak grinned.

Turn in that room.

Zak bent down slightly over the low doorway to allow for Kiel’s head, then looked around.

The stone room had only a few items of furniture – a lamp, a table and chair, and the prominent bed. Reading a book of the more popular songs on Faerun at the moment was a girl.

She couldn’t be considered beautiful, but could be considered attractive. Her chin was too strong, but her gray-green eyes were large and expressive, as was her face. She seemed rather short for a human. Her straight hair, which fell to her waist, was a deep golden blond. Like the other ‘ladies’ she wore a simple dress, unadorned. Only the remnants of lipstick and rouge reminded them of her profession. She seemed to be in her late twenties.

"Well?" Janus asked.

I think we can appear now.

"Wait a minute..." Zak began.

The girl looked up in surprise and astonishment. "What in the Nine hells?"

"Not exactly hell," Janus said amiably. "Good morning. This little girl here is a recalcitrant goddess."

Recalcitrant?

"Hush," Zak murmured distractedly.

"And this fellow here is her first disciple, as you can see, a dark elf." Janus continued in the same maniacal voice, "My name is Janus, second disciple. Looks like you’d be third. What an honor. Flowers, songs, flowers, wreaths, flowers..."

"It seems that my colleague has somehow managed to drug himself," Zak said mildly, "But strangely, what he says is mostly true." He picks Kiel’aeya of his back, and places her carefully on the ground.

"Strangely?" Janus made a creditable attempt to raise his eyebrow, and failed.

The girl who he knows as Kara gets off the bed with a bemused expression. "I didn’t know I was overdoing it," she began, "How long have you been a hallucination?"

"Overdoing?" Zak asked.

"Drugs," Janus said, pointing to the table. On it were a few vials of amber-like fluid. "The opium derivative – cocaine, I believe. Modified for drinking."

"It gives me nice dreams..." Kara said in a detached, happy voice, "Very nice dreams..."

"Are you sure of this?" Zak asked Kiel’aeya.

She nods, and glances at Kara, who stiffens, and then looks at them with a sharper, more ‘sober’ eye. "What... what happened? Get out of my room!"

She is ‘protected’ by the drug. But nonetheless...

Kara’s dress changes to a green hue, which looked like silk. Aside from a pattern of runes or such around the hem and the collar, it was plain, but attractive. A sling bag appeared to hang around her shoulder, made of soft leather.

Kara blinks in confusion, her head clearing fully of the drug, then she kneels down before Kiel’aeya. The goddess smiles, and pulls down Kara’s head to plant a kiss on her forehead. She is the third.

***

[top]

Chapter 5: Addiction

Zak pulled down the hood further over his eyes as they emerged into the light, but noted that the hood seemed to cast a shadow that was a bit too dark to be natural on his face. Useful as he was certainly not used to the bright sun, but...

Aren't you going to thank me?

"Thank you, Kiel," Zak grinned. Kiel'aeya smiled where Kara was holding her.

You're welcome.

"Does she usually speak like this?" Kara asked, still with a bemused expression on her face. Kara had asked for some time to pack, and they had given her a bit of privacy. Now they strolled towards the Black Dragon gate.

"You'd get used to it," Janus said with an encouraging grin. "Do you know how to use a dagger?"

Kara inclined her head. "Sometimes the customers get a bit rowdy."

"How can you?" Janus blurted out.

"Can I what?" Kara inquired, "Live like that?" Janus nodded dumbly. "I was sold to the Undercellar when very young," she said, "My parents were too poor to support six children. I can't even remember them now."

You want to find them?

"No, goddess," Kara sighed, "No doubt my profession, though fairly respected in this city, will not be respected by them. It was their fault, perhaps, but I don't blame them. Not anymore."

"Do they pay you?" Zak asked.

"The keeper's a fair man," Kara said, "I do get paid – more so than most of the women who work as nannies or governesses. The work is sometimes unpleasant, but it's only in the night, and in the morning and afternoon we do get time off."

Zak nodded. "That is the case here, then. The half drow ones in Menzoberranzan were treated less than slaves."

"Drow," Kara rolled the word in her mouth like a sip of bitter wine, "Strange. You are not like any drow I've envisioned."

Zak shrugged noncommittally.

"A disappointment, eh?" Janus grinned, "I'd agree."

Shut up, Janus.

"Fine, fine," Janus held up his free hand.

"How many more are we going to look for?" Zak asked.

Two more... you can say they are the 'odd' ones.

"Odder than the drow?" Janus asked, with a wink at Zak.

Odder than you, which is infinitely surprising.

Zak smirked at Janus, who looked rather deflated. Kara smiled, and they noted that she had smiled easily and often.

"Can we get some transport here? The old guild would be happy to oblige," Janus said, changing the subject smoothly.

No.

"Why not?" Kara asked, "I'm not exactly used to walking."

No.

"She's stubborn on this subject," Zak said, "But don't press her, or she'd start thinking of seahorses."

Kara stared at him.

"Private joke," Janus murmured. Kiel'aeya grinned impishly.

Why is there a wall dividing the city?

"Lower and Upper Baldur's Gate," Janus said, "Lower for the poor'uns and Upper for the stuck up ones."

"It makes a kind of sense," Zak said.

"Except that us ladies of the night are below the Upper bit?" Kara suggested.

"What irony," Janus said dryly.

"I do not see why," Zak said mildly, "The rich ones are those who can afford it, are they not?"

"We usually get the nobles, yes," Kara admitted callously.

"Have you two no poetry in your souls? Assuming Zak has one, that is." Janus said.

"Of course I have a soul," Zak said. "The question is whether you have one...or how much is left of yours."

"Are they usually like this?" Kara asked Kiel.

Kiel opened an eye and glanced at the two bickering disciples, then nodded vigorously.

"How odd," Kara grinned.

***

They walked out of the city past the two Flaming fist guards, and wandered northwards. Kara kept glancing nervously around, her agitation seeming to grow greater by the moment.

Finally she handed Kiel'aeya to Zak and excused herself to a thick copse on the excuse of a call of nature.

There were several long moments in which they did not hear anything. Finally, Janus whispered, "What the hell is she doing?"

She is drinking from some bottles she took from the Undercellar – measuring them. Is this what you do when you have a call of nature?

"Damn," Janus said, "She's an addict."

To the liquid? Why?

"The dreams," Zak said, "There are several equivalents to this 'cocaine' in the Underdark. I have been tempted to try them once."

"Good that you didn't," Janus said, "It's easy to be addicted, and very difficult to throw it off – and if you ever want to see those who die of it, just pass through the nearest asylum. The drug's taken hold of the Realms, or the surface, at least, even though all the cities including Calimport have banned it."

Zak glanced at the copse. "So what do we do?"

I am not familiar with this 'addiction'.

"Of course you are not," Zak said. "By the way, Janus, why are you so familiar with this drug?"

Janus looked slightly guilty. "I forgot to mention that the lords of Waterdeep are actually a rather unscrupulous lot. They paid several merchants to go and hawk the drug in the Underdark, including Skullport."

"One of the things you were selling to my 'people', then?" Zak said, with an amused smile.

"Well, yes. How did you know?" Janus asked.

"Elementary, Janus," Zak said dryly, "We are not that short of magic goods that only you can procure. We do have our own mages. And it cannot be any surface foods or such because we believe everything is cursed here. If you were selling slaves, I don't think Kiel would have bothered with you. And we do not exactly throw merchants to driders even when they cheat us – merchants are supposed to cheat. The most we would do is to torture you to death."

It's a horrible thing to do – selling people's lives.

"See?" Zak smirked again.

"You look terrible when you do that," Janus muttered, "Oh, all right. Several of the Matrons realized their followers were going around with dreamy expressions when my group arrived for a month or so. Case closed."

"How many?" Zak asked.

"More'n a hundred, the last I counted, or such," Janus said.

"So you have left more than a hundred drow in the screaming, torturous grip of a drug that is denied to them," Zak said slowly. Then he suddenly smiled. "I like that."

What a horrible thing to say!

"I try," Zak said.

"You're the first person I know who has gone to war with his own race," Janus said with a grin, "Oh. Here's Kara."

Kara walked out of the bushes with a dreamy smile on her face, and woodenly took Kiel from Zak. Kiel frowned, and then the drug lost its hold on her mind and her eyes cleared. She focused on Kiel.

"What did you do that for?" Kara demanded.

Your own good. Shake off this 'addiction'.

Kara looked like she would explode in rage, then she deflated visibly. "I can't," she said, "I've been taking it more and more often for years. I can't stop."

You can.

"Can you help?" Kara asked, with a rising hope.

I cannot make it lose its hold. I cannot stop you from taking it.

"Then there's no hope," Kara said hollowly, and they felt a surge of pity and a bit of disgust at her pathetic voice. The drug had already taken hold of her, and broken her.

"There's nothing we can do if you don't help yourself," Zak said sternly, "You are taking the drug yourself."

"I told you I can't stop," Kara said, "Or I get these blinding headaches, and the horrible hallucinations, the sick feeling... the vomiting...You think I haven't tried? The gods know I have – again and again – but I've lost all the time. I'd lost. Don't you understand? If I've used all my will on this and failed, how can you help?"

Zak and Janus glanced at each other, then Zak shrugged imperceptibly. If that was what she wanted, that was what she would bring on herself, was his opinion.

Janus stared at him, then at Kara. "You're wrong, Kara," he said, "The drug can be beaten."

"How?" she asked, "How can you know?"

"My brother did it," Janus said, "It was painful but he did it. If our delightful goddess has a hypnosis spell – that would allay the pull the drug has for a while, then we can slowly take it off you."

I have such a spell, if you like.

"Have you kicked it off her system?" Janus asked. "This time's dose, I mean."

I have.

"Right," Janus said. Kara's eyes suddenly assumed a blank expression, but the corners of her mouth turned up in a faint smile.

"Now," Janus said, carefully picking Kiel up and depositing her softly on the ground, then took off Kara's sling bag.

There's a bottle in her front.

"Front?" Janus said, blankly, as he and Zak rummaged through her bag.

Yes.

"Any volunteers?" Zak asked with a grin.

Zaknafein!

"I didn't say I was going to do anything," Zak said indignantly, "Honestly..."

Sorry. I'd take it out...

Janus turned around abruptly, but Kiel'aeya was clutching a clear glass bottle in her hand and looking carefully at it, while she sat next to him.

This is the drug?

"Yes," Janus said, finding a violin case. "I didn't know she played the string instrument."

"She doesn't," Zak said, opening the case. Inside, neatly wrapped in the velvet cloth, were several more bottles.

I do not remember the bag being so small, or having such a hard bottom.

"False bottom," Zak murmured, beginning to haul out everything. Janus helped, then the pulled out the hard leather which had been cunningly fixed on the bottom of the bag, to reveal more bottles, heavy cloth holding them together such that they would make no sound.

It's sad, really...

"Of course it is," Janus said, "Here you see the..."

"Spare us, Janus," Zak said, "Goddess, can you make a small hole in the ground?"

Why?

"To bury the bottles, obviously," Janus said.

No. To do so would hurt Mother.

"Well then, we'd do a bit of littering, then you can 'skip' us forward," Zak said, unscrewing one bottle then pouring the contents on the grass.

Very well.

[next page]

Lledrith RavenWolf

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