Disclaimer: I don't own this, all hail Salvatore.

Valdrin stood on the second floor balcony of House Orlyndar, too distracted by his thoughts to notice the beauty of the purple and blue flames that lined the buildings and pillars of the lightless city below him. Menzoberranzan was, if nothing else, a beautiful sight. The normally warm air felt cool and made his skin tingle where streaks of sweat ran down his face. A light breeze reminded him of the sweat soaked tunic he wore, and his need for a bath. The muscles in his leg throbbed from the pain of a fresh bruise and brought him out of his thoughts just in time to hear the faint sound of footsteps behind him.

"The parry is wrong, it doesn't feel complete." Valdrin said quietly. Zaknafein let out a sigh as he leaned against the railing and wiped the sweat from his face.

"You say it is wrong, yet you learned the counter no more than a week ago. You have barely put it into practice. What makes you so sure that it is incomplete?" It was all Zak could do to hide the sense of pride welling up within him.

"It just doesn't feel right, you preach about every counter giving or taking away an advantage but this one does neither. What is the use, if all it does is give me even footing?" Valdrin asked.

"The counter defeats the attack. That is its purpose. What more could you accomplish from it? Even footing is an advantage if your opponent still stands." Zaknafein laughed under his breath at his own words, but decided to let it go for today. It was enough that Valdrin recognized the folly of the counter, a feat he had only seen from one other. He turned away from Valdrin and without another word, he walked down the corridor and through the large ornate door leading to the main hall of the house leaving Valdrin to his thoughts.

Valdrin entered his chambers. They were small, sparsely furnished. The light scent of old sweaty clothes hung in the air. He threw his dirty clothes aside and admired the bruises and scrapes that glowed brightly to his heat sensitive eyes, and seemed to accent his small, muscular form. He walked into the bathing room where a tub of steaming water was waiting for him. He eased into the tub and laid his head back closing his eyes and letting the heat from the water soak into his aching muscles. He pulled the band that held his long white hair up and let it fall around him. Today had been a rough session, he thought to himself. He started to drift off as he relaxed, replaying the events of his session with Zaknafein in his head as he did almost every night.

The sound of his door crashing open brought him back to consciousness and before he could get out of the tub and cover himself his older sister Mizz'ree, responsible for most of his upbringing, stormed into his room."Get out of that tub and get dressed, our mother has requested your presence." She spared Valdrin no chance to move before her eyes steeled with anger. "Do you have a shred of decency in you boy?" She yelled as she reached for the whip that was hung on the belt fastened loosely around her waist, holding the scant robes she wore open at the neck, her breasts strained against them. Leaving very little to the imagination. "Either cover yourself now, or I will make you regret it." She scolded as she grasped the handle of her whip, the three heads coiling around her arms excitedly. Valdrin quickly climbed out of the tub and wrapped himself with a towel, but not before the fangs of the whip bit into his arm. He bent to one knee as the numbness in his arm spread and stared at the floor as he apologized and waited for her to leave before looking up again. Once he heard his door close he quickly dried himself off, and got dressed. His chain shirt was tight around his left side, which was still swollen from a nasty kick he had received from Zaknafein days ago. He fastened his piwafwi around his neck and headed out of his room to see what his mother wanted.

He entered the main hall through a giant set of ornately carved wooden doors that held their house sigil, a spider with wings like a demon carved in black stone and enchanted with the same blue and purple faerie fire as the exterior of the house. In the main hall of the house Mizz'ree sat next to their mother. Her tall figure made her almost as tall as her mother was while standing. Her hair fell around her neck and landed on the soft curves of her chest. She sat with one leg over the other, enjoying the attention of the male's in the room. Valdrin couldn't decide which she enjoyed more, courting them or torturing them. Probably both he decided quietly as he kneeled in front of his mother, Matron Dristana Orlyndar.

"You may stand, my son." Dristana said in a calm voice. Valdrin visibly relaxed at this. "Zaknafein tells me that your training is going well, and you are a very promising pupil." She eyed Valdrin carefully looking for any sign of reaction. "Your sister, on the other hand, tells me you have been becoming more disobedient in the last few weeks. Would you care to explain, or should I just have you beaten." Suddenly raising her voice, Valdrin was caught off guard. He knew this was a lie, but he could say nothing in return without ensuring the beating. On the other hand not answering would only gain him a more serious punishment from his mother.

"I have tried my best to do as she asks of me." He said, his narrowed eyes meeting her gaze as he answered.

"How dare you!" His sister yelled suddenly. Faster than he could register, she was above him and he felt the painful bite of her whip again and again causing him to fall to his knees as if bowing. "You will learn your place in this house. You are a male, and will not lay your eyes upon any female in such a manner." Miz'ree yelled at him before returning to her seat.

"You will not bring this house any favor if you act so disobediently." His mother said, he could hear the praise in her voice for his sisters actions.

Valdrin kept his gaze on the floor as she searched his face for any sign of defiance. When he offered her nothing in return she laughed. "You must be losing your edge Mizz'ree, he concedes to me perfectly fine." Her mother said, smiling perversely. "Perhaps it is you who should be taught a lesson. You are past your thirtieth year. He is but nineteen. How do you expect to become a priestess if you cannot handle a child?" Valdrin could feel the hate as Mizz'ree bore into him with her gaze, even though he wasn't looking at her. This would come back on him later.

"Soon it will be time for you to enter Melee Magthere, Valdrin. Do you think you will be prepared for that? To earn favor in the eyes of our goddess?" This time she expected an answer.

"I believe I will be ready soon Matron Dristana." He replied, keeping his gaze on the floor, he really didn't want to go. From a young age he didn't like what was expected of him, or anyone of his race for that matter, but he really didn't see a choice.

"Very good." His mother replied. "You will begin on your twentieth birthday. After that you will no longer see Zaknafein. You will have to rely on what you have already learned to make it through the academy. You do understand what will become of you should you fail?"

"I understand, Matron." He said. How could I forget? He thought to himself. He waited until his mother excused him and then hurried back to his chambers where he would sleep for the night in preparation for his next session with Zaknafein in the morning.

That night Valdrin found it difficult to sleep. His conversation with his mother was a good reminder of why he wanted out of the city. His thoughts took him back to a younger age when he thought he would have a little brother to train with, but he found out quickly that wasn't the case at all. He blamed himself for his infant brother's death, had he not been born second his brother would still be alive. It made him angry just thinking about it. He couldn't help but think of all the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his own family. His mother, his oldest sister Je'zarra, and Miz'ree. He wiped a tear from his cheek and tried to sleep. Promising himself that as soon as he found a way he would leave the city.

Several weeks later he awoke to a hard kick to his ribs. Kilani, his father, dragged him out of his bed onto the cold stone floor. Kilani was bigger than most drow males. He had a wide frame and large, sculpted muscles that rippled with every movement. One of the few drow who chose to fight with a two handed weapon, instead of a weapon in each hand. His giant bastard sword hung at his waist, his clothes and short frizzled hair were stained with blood this morning. He had been out of the city.

"Get up, now." He yelled at Valdrin. I am to escort you to your training today and observe you. "Your mother feels Zaknafein is being too soft on you, but then what could you expect from a worn out, good for nothing fighter anyway." He smiled as he watched Valdrin's expression become one of anger. Valdrin knew Kilani hated Zaknafein and loved to throw it in his face every chance he could. He always assumed it was out of jealousy. Zaknafein was popular among the houses, as a trainer, and with many matrons. He didn't know why his mother kept Kilani around as Patron. All he did was ensure that the house slaves were never worked past their prime when he wasn't on patrol outside the city.

Valdrin got up and washed his face before donning his clothes. He grabbed his two short swords and he strapped the sheaths to his back, one over each shoulder. With a quick twirl of his wrists, faster than Kilani could follow, he put his swords away and walked past him out of his room and down the hallway. Kilani squared his shoulders and stomped out of the room after him.

They entered the training room and Zaknafein was already going through his warm up routine. Valdrin joined him doing various stretches and loosening the muscles in his arms with his swords. Kilani stood against the wall, hardly paying any attention to them.

"Shall we begin then?" Zaknafein said as he stepped in with a half hearted thrust that Valdrin slapped away easy enough.

Valdrin shifted into a defensive position and waited for him to make the first real move. Zak exploded into movement toward him thrusting hard at his belly while stepping to his side to bring his other sword in low. Valdrin countered the first sword, dove forward between the two blades and rolled to his feet. A quick spin on his heel brought both swords in one after the other towards Zak's neck, changing the direction of the second blade at the last moment dipping it down towards Zak's waist. Zak caught the feint and threw one sword out, catching both of Valdrin's with the same blade. Zak sent a thrust in again with his other arm, and Valdrin quickly dropped one blade to slap it away . He stepped inside Zak's other arm punching out with his other hand and connected with Zak's jaw. Zak stepped back, licked the blood from his lip, and waited for Valdrin to press the assault.

Valdrin came in with a double thrust at Zak's chest, but his blades were met with a sweeping counter from Zak who used the leverage of his counter to spin around and kick Valdrin hard in the back sending him into a forward roll. Without missing a step he sprinted at Valdrin meeting him just as he spun to counter the slash Zak threw to his left side and slapped away Zak's other sword which he slashed across at Valdrin's legs. Zak started pressing the attack now, his movements becoming more furious. Valdrin was keeping pace, defending himself quite well but not pressing the offensive. He had to press Zak back on his heels to gain the advantage. As Zak brought his blades over and over, he forced Valdrin's blades to parry lower and lower, recognizing the move Valdrin was more than prepared for the double thrust low and executed the cross-down parry perfectly, twisting his blades and thrusting them towards the ground to block Zak's attack. This time was different though as Zak didn't back off immediately, he pressed against Valdrin's blades and while they were locked against each other it finally occurred to Valdrin how to gain the advantage. With amazing agility he kicked his right foot up hard between his blades connecting with Zak's jaw a second time. Zak felt several teeth crunch as his jaw slammed shut and he fell backwards to the floor.

Kilani stood there, his jaw dropped and his eyes wide and unblinking. Staring in awe of what he had just seen. He couldn't believe how fast and accurate these two fighter's were. Even among other warriors they stood out. He was even more amazed that Valdrin had just knocked Zaknafein down. He quickly composed himself before anyone noticed and he smiled waiting to see Zaknafein's wrath unleashed upon his son. He would soon be disappointed.

Zaknafein sat on the ground, the taste of his own blood in his mouth, and shook his head in disbelief. It felt like déjà vu. He finally stood and walked over to Valdrin and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Now the parry is complete. I have nothing more I can teach you. It is time for you to test your abilities against other fighters." Zak put his swords away and gave Valdrin a pat on the shoulder as he walked past him and out of the room. Valdrin couldn't help but notice the smile on Zak's face as he left. He was saddened knowing that he would not be training with Zak anymore but for the first time in his young life he felt like he was something special. The moment was short lived as Kilani angrily stormed out of the room after Zaknafein without a single word.