Disclaimer: I do not own any familiar characters/settings/plot featured in this story. They all belong to Bioware and Atari. All mods mentioned belong to their respected owners.
Chapter 08: Bread Crumbs
"You know how to get back to the city from here?"
Deekin's shriek sounded like music to Alasse's ears. She smiled widely, uncaring that Viconia now looked like she had just walked into a room full of surface elves, and hurried to meet the kobold scrambling over to her.
"Deekin!" she greeted, dropping to her knees and letting him tackle her in a hug. It was uncomfortable because of their armor and Deekin wasn't exactly soft and cuddly, but Alasse still did her best to squeeze the life out of him. At the moment, he could have been a decaying fucking zombie for all she cared for and she still would have hugged him.
"Abbil (comrade), stop it. You're giving me a toothache," Viconia said, opening her big mouth and ruining the moment.
Alasse flashed a rude hand gesture in her general direction.
Nathyrra and Valen soon joined them, both wearing a mask of relief at seeing them again.
"It's good to see you made it out alive," Valen said, crossing his arms over his chest and staring steadily off to the side like the moody actor he aspired to be.
Nathyrra wasn't as awkward about expressing her feelings. She smiled widely, her violet eyes shining bright out of the dark planes of her face.
"Alasse, it is good to see you safe and well," she greeted, twisting her hands like she didn't know what to do with them. If she was a different woman, Alasse was sure she would have joined Deekin in tackling her.
Thankfully though Nathyrra was a drow and therefore stayed where she was.
"I told you three I would make it back," she reminded them, grinning. "And look, I even found Viconia."
"Yes, it's good to see you as well." Nathyrra nodded to her fellow drow, her face closing up a bit. Valen didn't even bother to look at her.
Viconia simply arched a slender brow in answer, her expression saying that she found this whole situation beneath her.
"Right. Well, now that our touching reunion is over, can we break out some water? I'm dying of thirst here," Alasse said, releasing Deekin and moving into the cave.
The next few hours were spent recuperating and explaining. Alasse told of what happened after they split up with Viconia adding in her own bits and pieces now and then. Deekin wrote it all down dutifully while Nathyrra and Valen simply listened patiently.
"So Jarlaxle is fighting against the Valsharess," Nathyrra said thoughtfully at the end.
"But for what reason? I heard he had left the Underdark behind for the surface. Why would he come back just to engage in a war with the Valsharess?" Valen wondered, leaning back against the rocky wall of the cave.
Alasse shrugged as she finished off a slice of drow bread that tasted suspiciously of mushroom. "Don't know. He was pretty tight lipped about why he is fighting and just kept emphasizing that he is against her. From the state of Zorvak'mur, I'm inclined to believe that he's telling the truth."
"Maybe it has something to do with the Bregan D'aerthe?" Nathyrra suggested, rubbing her chin.
"Do you think the Valsharess has done something to the group?" Valen added.
"Possibly. She may have forced them to join her or had them slaughtered," she answered thoughtfully. "I haven't heard any word about them in so long that I had forgotten about them."
"Is this all you three do when together? Prattle and fret over pointless details?" Viconia asked, returning from her bath in the waterfall. Her pale hair was now clean and hung down her back in a wavy, wet mess. She was donned in Alasse's spare leather pants and blue tunic and black boots that all clung to her damp form enticingly. She looked clean and refreshed and even more sensual than before.
"Tart," Alasse remarked, beginning to devour another piece of the bizarre, fungus-tasting bread.
"Jealous hag," Viconia retorted calmly, taking a seat next to the elf and then hijacking her bags of holding.
"Hey, those are mine," Alasse whined but she didn't move to reclaim the packs.
Viconia ignored her and began to dig through one of the bags. "I assume you still horde everything you find. Do you still have the aslyferund elven chain?"
"Nah, Imoen took it with her ages ago. I do still have the white dragon scale set though."
"Too heavy. I need something lighter." Viconia paused in her task and pulled out a silver chain mail. "Is this mithril? Where did you get this?"
"Won it off a djinn in a dice game," Alasse answered, wrinkling her nose at the memory. "Wasn't worth it. Bastard floated away with three of my good spears and a troll bow."
"Poor dear to lose four weapons she probably never even used in battle," Viconia deadpanned, placing the mithril set next to her and then turning to investigate another pack. "You're not still hauling around body parts are you?"
"Not recently." Alasse narrowed her eyes, straining to remember. "Yeah, there shouldn't be any in there."
"Why would you be carrying around body parts?" Nathyrra asked, looking like she was reevaluating her opinion of the elf.
Alasse shrugged and took another bite of her bread. "Well, you never know when you'll need the preserved hand of an ancient lich to open a locked door."
Nathyrra and Valen stared at her with a look that reinvented disbelief.
Deekin didn't even blink, obviously too used to her bizarre habits by now.
"I'm taking this amulet, this girdle, these braces, and these three rings," Viconia declared, slipping on her new possessions without any hesitation. "And I'm taking the Storm Star and Shield of Harmony, which I know you still have."
"Aerie took the shield when she left but the Storm Star should still be there. Unless I got conned and lost it. Again."
"Aerie? Wasn't that the priestess we saw in Shaori's Fall?" Valen questioned, furrowing his brow. "The one who poisoned you?"
Alasse nodded. "Yeah, one in the same."
"Why did you allow that brainless bird to run off with such a weapon? And what does the tiefling mean by 'poison'?" Viconia demanded, actually pausing in her task to look at Alasse intently.
"She was the only one who used it so I let her keep it," Alasse explained. "And the poison thing wasn't really her fault. She was being influenced by powerful magic. We freed her and sent her back to the surface."
Viconia stared at her for another few seconds; her face expressionless before she snorted and returned to robbing the elf.
"Why Boss's friend have no wings? Do some winged elves not have wings?" Deekin asked, actually pausing in his writing to join in the conversation.
Alasse shook her head. "No, she simply lost them. Aerie was a slave in a circus that treated her like an animal. Eventually her wings became diseased from the treatment and her captors sawed them off."
Nathyrra scowled and Valen's face grew dark at her explanation. Deekin only looked thoughtful as he tapped his quill against his book before writing something down on a fresh piece of paper.
Viconia snorted again as she set aside a bag of holding and picked up another. "And she never did let us forget it did she? Whiny, pathetic little pidgin. Small wonder Quayle pawned her off on us."
"Aerie was whiny and self-centered but she had a good heart. Once she grew up a bit she wasn't so annoying," Alasse defended, noting the disgusted looks her other two companions were now wearing at hearing Viconia's remark.
"Your opinion is useless. You married a drunk who once ordered you to be hung for a false crime," Viconia scoffed.
Alasse paused in her meal and narrowed her green eyes. "Thin ice, Viconia. Very thin."
Viconia sneered in return but dropped the subject of her dead husband. "I think I have everything I need. I will restock whenever we get where we are going and then I will be on my way."
"What is this 'we' that you speak of? I don't recall inviting you along," Alasse commented, finishing off her bread.
"After all you did to save me, you will now throw me out into the Underdark alone?" Viconia asked, widening her dark eyes in mock innocence.
Alasse just rolled her own eyes. "Yeah, you see that? That is why people keep trying to kill you."
"Are you two always like this?" Nathyrra asked.
"No, sometimes we fight," Viconia deadpanned.
Nathyrra just looked at them like they were both mad.
"When are we leaving?" Valen asked, folding his arms over his chest.
Alasse shrugged. "Maybe in an hour. I just need to rest for a bit before we head off again."
Valen looked her over before looking to Nathyrra, who nodded to the unspoken question.
"We can wait two hours before leaving. Get as much rest as you can," Nathyrra advised, getting to her feet with her usual fluid grace. "I'll stand guard for now."
Alasse blinked a few times, taken back by the unexpected gesture. She had assumed that the two—being borderline fanatically protective—would want to leave as soon as possible in order to get back to the Seer's side.
"Um, okay, thanks," she said, glancing at Deekin and then Viconia.
Deekin didn't look up from his writing but Viconia was staring at her in what on a normal person would be fond exasperation. On Viconia it was irrational irritation.
"What?" she said, offended by the look.
"You—" Viconia cut herself off, shook her head, and turned back to her task.
Alasse was still confused but she had a feeling that wouldn't be changing anytime soon.
They left the cave after two hours in high spirits. Everyone—even Viconia though Alasse knew she would bite her tongue off before she ever admited it—were pleased and proud that they had survived Zorvak'mur without any causalities. Even better was the knowledge that the Valsharess was to be denied her illithid allies in the coming battle.
Their good cheer lasted only two days.
Nathyrra noticed it first, naturally. When she slipped out of the shadows at Valen's side, her face was pinched in a scowl that spoke of nothing good.
"We've got company up ahead," she whispered to them, nodding in the direction that she had just arrived from. "Looks like a scouting party of four drow. They belong to the Valsharess."
"Weapons?" Valen immediately questioned.
"All carrying rapiers and crossbows and one looked like a mage. I didn't recognize any of them so I don't think they're a hunting party," the assassin answered, her glowing eyes narrowing. "But I could be wrong."
Valen scowled. "Are they on the move?"
"No, looks like they stopped for now. Possibly waiting for another member to return." Nathyrra's eyes flickered to Alasse and Viconia and Deekin before returning to Valen's tall form. "Do you wish to meet them in battle or find a way around them?"
Valen turned to Alasse and Deekin. "How well can you two fight in the dark?"
"Well enough. I would fight better with light but I can manage in the dark," Alasse answered.
"Deekin can see if Deekin cast spell," the kobold assured.
Valen nodded. "Then we stand and fight."
Nathyrra looked to Viconia. "Will you help us in this battle?"
Viconia gave a hungry smile that would not look out of place on a reaver. "A chance to spill the blood of my weaker brethren? How could I ever refuse?"
"Stop creeping her out," Alasse ordered, her attention only partially on the drow as she readied her gear.
Viconia didn't stop smiling but she at least didn't say anything else.
"What's the plan?" Valen asked Nathyrra.
"Ambush them. I'll head in first and the rest of you follow," she advised. "Keep to the left side of the camp. The right is full of geysers and unsteady land."
The group agreed and soon enough were making their way to the camp of enemy drow. It wasn't long before Alasse saw the dim lightening of a spell and heard the soft muttering of drow. Straining her eyes, she could soon make out the shape of the four foreign drow.
Three of them were clearly warriors and stood armed and ready for any battle. They stood guard over the fourth member who held a clear orb that he was speaking into. From his attire and position it was clear he was a mage and the leader of the group.
Alasse could not make out the face in the orb but she could hear the seductive sound of a woman's voice answering the male mage before her. For a moment she toyed with the idea of it being the Valsharess before dismissing the thought.
The high and mighty never spoke to their minions in person.
Alasse waited with the others for Nathyrra to give the signal to attack. It wasn't until the mage was finished speaking to his female counterpart and putting his orb away did they receive it.
The orb burst in the mage's hand; the shards exploding with a sharp sound and hitting the unprepared holder in the face. He yelled and tried to shield himself but was too late to avoid most of the impact.
As the mage groaned and fell to his knees in pain, Nathyrra appeared behind one of the other drow and met his rapier with her own.
Alasse took that as the signal and joined the fray.
She went for the mage first; ducking a sizzling bolt and spinning to avoid a thrust to her gut. When she got to the distracted mage, she quickly yanked his head up by his hair and slit his throat. He went down without a fight.
She dropped him and twisted away from the sword that nearly gutted her. When she turned to her attacker she found him already falling to his knees with his skull bashed in, courtesy of Viconia.
The other two drow were already engaged in combat with Valen and Nathyrra and Deekin. Alasse estimated it would take them only another few minutes before they were dead.
A simple enough battle. Things seem to be going well for once.
Her only warning that things were about to turn foul was when the ground began to rumble and shake beneath her feet before the whole thing collapsed.
Spoke too soon, was her last thought before she fell down into a chasm of darkness.
When she woke up, her arm was throbbing and Valen was staring down at her.
"You're awake," he stated, leaning back slightly to give her some space.
"Unfortunately," she returned, sitting up and cradling her injured arm close to her. "What happened?"
"The geysers we were standing upon opened up and sucked us down. We are now in the labyrinth beneath it," he explained. "How is your arm?"
"Sore but getting better. My amulet will heal it," Alasse said dismissively, looking around and straining her eyes trying to see her new surroundings. It was dark and damp and the only source of light came from the Faerzress fungi surrounding them.
"Where are the others?" she asked, realizing that it was only the two of them.
"I assume they are still on the surface and heading back to Lith My'athar," Valen answered, sounding oddly calm about the matter.
"How can you be so sure? Wouldn't they look for us first?"
"No, the mission must come first. Nathyrra knows this and will continue to the city. Hopefully, your friends will follow her and will be at the city when we arrive."
Alasse raised her eyebrows in surprise. "You know how to get back to the city from here?"
"Yes. This labyrinth connects to the secret tunnels of Lith My'athar. Once we find the main path I will be able to lead us back to the city," the tiefling explained.
Alasse thought about the plan before shrugging. "Sounds like a better plan than what I have. Help me up and we'll get going."
Alasse was rather positive that the journey with Valen would be a silent, broody affair. After all, the guy had been delayed even longer from returning to his beloved Seer. It was only logical that he would spend that time brooding and mourning over his tragic luck.
She was very wrong.
"Do you hate it here?" he asked after a few hours of silent trudging.
Alasse glanced at him at the corner of her eye. "Sometimes. The Underdark isn't really my first choice for a vacation."
"Nor mine," he agreed, his eyes lightening in what she could almost call humor. "However, it is better than my last location."
Alasse raised an eyebrow. "Let me guess, Sigil?"
"Sigil," he agreed, his lips thinning into a straight line. "Where do you hail from, my lady? An elven city I presume?"
"Try a monastery in the Sword Coast. I was raised there by my human foster father, a mage named Gorion."
"You were raised by humans? That explains why you behave like one. What happened to your blood parents?"
Alasse shrugged indifferently. "Gone. Now what's with all the questions?"
"Honestly? I'm trying to understand you. You are a very odd woman, my lady. I don't think I've met anyone quite like you."
"Well, considering that you've been hanging around drow for about ten years…"
"The drow were as difficult for me to understand as you are," Valen admitted. "The Seer and her followers are not like their brethren, which was all I was familiar with. The ideals that they introduced me to—mercy, forgiveness, compassion, honor—were so very strange and new to me. Even now I still struggle to understand some of their ideas."
Alasse stared at the tiefling, honestly shocked by what she was hearing. "Wait, you didn't know about honor and shit? What the hell did they teach you Sigil?"
Valen's jaw clenched and his eyes took on a glazed look. "In my former life, I was a slave to my blood. All I did was follow my basic instincts. When I lusted for blood, I fought. When I tired, I slept and when I hungered, I ate. All I had to do was listen to my orders. In the Blood Wars, that is all one needs to do."
Alasse took a moment to imagine what that must've been like. Fighting from dawn to dusk for no reason other than because your instinct told you to. No thought or purpose or hope for a different life because you didn't know it could be any different.
It sounded like… such a waste of a life.
She knew what it was like to be a slave to blood and violence. To succumb to an instinct written into your very core so that you had no chance of ever escaping. But she also knew what it was like to love and laugh and live believing that the word was as truly as beautiful and good as you were told.
To live so long without ever knowing that… it seemed very sad even to her.
"So that's all you did all your life? Fight in the Blood Wars?" she prodded deeper.
"No. In the beginning I had my mother." His face visibly softened and his eyes lightened into a sky blue. "I remember that she had long red hair that fell to her knees. Every night before bed I would watch her brush it out and braid it. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world when she did that."
"What happened to her?"
Valen's serene face crumbled into one of despair. "She was killed by her Mistress in front of my eyes when I was a child."
"Oh. My mother died trying to sacrifice me to revive my father from the dead," she said, and then immediately wondered why the hell she thought that would make him feel any better.
Valen looked surprised and then sympathetic. "Oh. That... must have been terrible?"
She shook her head. "No, not really. My foster father saved me before she could succeed and then killed her. Then he raised me up as if I were his own daughter, and in the end, he even died to protect me from my brother. You can't get a better parent than that."
Now Valen was looking at her like she was insane. "You sound very… pleased with that."
"Yes, why wouldn't I be? Sure, my mother was a selfish and insane bitch and my father wasn't any better, but who cares? Gorion saved me and loved me and that more than makes up for my shitty beginnings."
"I didn't take you for an optimist, my lady," Valen commented, his lips twitching slightly.
"I'm not. I'm realistic. Look, I could cry and despair over all the shit I've had to go through in my life, but what would be the point? It's not like that's gonna change any of it. Besides, for all the bad moments in my life, I have also had a lot of good times. I think those good times more than make up for all the bad ones."
At the end of her explanation, Valen was staring at her with a wondering look, like she had just told him she cared for plague victims in her free time. Alasse was quite familiar with that look. She had been getting it every time she said something with a lick of sense to people who were severely lacking it.
The crackle of shifting stones ended their discussion and drew both their attention and weapons. Alasse locked her frame and strained her senses out for any sign of life around them.
"Someone is here," Valen growled to her as another crackle of noise echoed around them.
Alasse rolled her eyes. No shit someone else is here.
"General?" a melodic voice asked from the shadows.
Valen blinked a few times and then immediately dropped his guard. "Nedylene? Is that you? What are you doing here?" (1)
The drow who stepped out from the darkness was tall and beautiful in the classic drow sense with her obsidian skin and pale blond hair. But the most startling and unusual thing about her were her eyes—a pale, diamond blue that blazed out from the darkness like a shooting star. She wore a longsword and shortsword that flickered with a slumbering white fire.
"General, I thought it was you. No one has a hair color quite as bright as you," the drow—Nedylene—commented, walking closer to the pair. Her diamond eyes flickered over Alasse in obvious curiosity.
"Greetings. I am Nedylene Rahn. Would I be correct in assuming you are the savior our Seer has foretold?" Nedylene asked calmly.
Alasse snorted. "I wouldn't call myself anyone's 'savior' but yeah, I'm the one your Seer has been preaching about. And you are?"
"She is Nedylene Rahn, follower of Eilistraee and one of the Seer's agents," Valen answered, stepping forward to address the new drow.
"Nedylene, what are you doing out here alone? Should you not be at the Seer's side?" Valen's tone was firm and borderline scolding. Alasse was surprised and a bit impressed to see that the female didn't even bat an eyelash at the words. Clearly, she was well versed in Valen's overprotective ways.
"Our Mother Seer has sent me on a mission of great importance. I was on my way to completing it when I stumbled upon you two. I admit that it surprised me to find you two here. Were you not traveling with more companions onto Zorvak'mur?" Nedylene asked, her brow wrinkling slightly in puzzlement.
"We got separated from the others as we were making our way back," Valen filled in. "We are trying to find our way back to the city now. Where are you heading out all alone?"
"Dead Dragon Gorge. The scouting party that was sent to investigate it has not made contact in three days," the elegant drow explained. "I am going to investigate what has happened to them."
"Alone?" Alasse asked, surprised.
Nedylene shook her head. "No, I have a party waiting for me at a checkpoint. I sent them ahead to scout while I finished up some business in the city. They will have to wait a bit longer as I must first lead you two back to the city."
"Hey, no need to stop on our account. I'm sure we'll get to the city," Alasse assured, glancing at Valen. "Eventually."
Nedylene smiled, her eyes sparking with humor. "I have no doubt that you two would find your way to Lith My'athar, but for the sake of my own conscious, allow me to accompany you there. It will ease my mind greatly to leave for my mission knowing you are both safe within the city once again."
Alasse glanced at Valen and saw that he wasn't buying her answer anymore then she was, but was willing to overlook it for the sake of getting back to the Seer's side quicker. It was kind of sad how transparent he was over these matters.
She looked back to Nedylene, who also seemed to easily read the tiefling's true feelings. "Okay then. Take us back to the city."
1) This character is not mine but belongs to Nedylene Rahn. She graciously allowed me to borrow her since HotU greatly lacks female drow characters with names, and I think I did enough by adding Alasse into the game.