Chapter 2: Alliances
Silence in the never ending cavern was shattered by the sound of grinding stone – the first cracks into a foundation elegantly and arrogantly carved from stalagmites, rounded into a massive compound that sprawled upwards. It had stood defiant at the edge of a massive chasm for so long with the proper care in the hands of slaves and their forced knowledge on all things of architecture and engineering. The eyes of the thousands of creatures that had never seen much light outside the Claw Rift – as the chasm was called – stared up. Red eyes, green eyes, brown, yellow, gray… They looked up and one by one, orc, half-drow, drow, human, elf, goblin, ogre, giant, kobold… One by one they all disappeared, all except a grayish child whose hands gripped unto the harsh walls of the chasm in stubborn determination.
His lungs betrayed him, as the boy climbed upwards. Breathing seemed a futile thing, but desperation drove him forward. Or was it desperation? Perhaps it was a pair of yellow eyes and the small purplish hand that touched his when hope was passed from his hand into hers in the form of a bag of food, a blanket for the cold…
…a little green ball.
Small hands climbed faster and faster, finding the nook and crevices. Before even making sure that the handholds were enough, the grayish boy moved up and up, not stopping to verify newly regained positions, as stones fell under his feet. He simply groaned with what little air was still in his exhausted lungs. Dust fell on his already scarred face. A few pebbles hit his forehead and threatened to cover the green orbs for eyes that seemed to glow like light in the never ending darkness of the chasm. He could fall. The height would do more than kill him, but his mind didn’t possess the needed thought process to indicate that to the rest of his small body. Predatory creatures made their approach, but the boy only screamed in denial with an intensity that could be compared to a dragon’s roar.
His hand nearly lost its hold when a large piece of concrete threatened to deter him, and he hugged the wall in front of him, feeling the unwanted breeze of a passing solid threat that continued to fall. He screamed again, his heart pumping blood faster through complaining limbs. The boy didn’t watch the piece of concrete fall. He could not focus on that. He was so close. He could see the towers of the compound stretching on top of him like claws attempting to reach the impossibly wide ceiling of the cavern; he could nearly feel the edges of the cliff, the end to this madness. He could see those golden eyes in that tower in the back of his mind and let out an animalistic growl as his right hand broke through stone damaging fingers in the process; his feet kicking into the wall to make space between the crevices, finding holds, jumping up, stretching as far as he possibly could.
A communal scream muffled the horrible sounds that the compound gave in as it admitted defeat. Larger were the pieces that fell towards him, one rock hitting him on the shoulder pulling from scarred lips, a scream of pain that was silenced by the roaring complaint of House Oblodra – the powerful and cruel drow house of psions in the city of Menzoberranzan. They had betrayed Lolth and her chosen ones. They were paying the hefty price of oblivion.
The amber eyes disappeared from his mind, blurred momentarily by fear, and the gray child winced as he kept on climbing. A horrible sight came up next, and his heart lurched as his hope very nearly died. Fantastic robes of sparkling colors that he had barely seen before flew wildly, wrapping around the bodies of handsome dark elves that fell down the rift. The ones who were alive screamed in terror. Some tried to use their power of levitation to no avail. Many tried holding to the walls or plummeted down the Claw Rift to never be heard from again. Others even tried holding onto the boy, and some managed to do so, making him lose his grip more than once as he quickly and stubbornly found it at the cost of letting the would be survivors fall to their deaths. Horror made him look down at the sight as pieces of concrete and stone crashed against the bodies of the screaming dark elves. Some disappeared from his heat vision entirely – such was the great expanse of the abyss.
Tears welled up in his eyes and he silently begged any god to aid his cause as his feet worked on evading the falling bodies and broken concrete, like a jumping spider. His eyes were set upwards, watching in horror as the tower of his little princess crumbled.
“No”, he muttered to himself, a whisper in the dark that was easily overcome by the deafening sounds of a loud death.
Then he saw her… Her small body tumbled outside a large crack. Blame overtook him, for he should have fixed the tower better. It should have been able to withstand the most powerful attack. He had promised her it would. He should’ve built a secret window. He should have taken her with him…
His breathing stopped as the long and wild reddish hair of the tiny girl covered her, as if it could protect her from her the wounds. Her eyes were locked with his. She was terrified, and it was his fault entirely. He stretched his hand towards her as she passed him by. He could reach for her. He knew he could, but the Claw Rift widened its maw, and she was then lost to him; a few inches had turned into miles. He let go of the wall, knowing very well that they could both die if the cosmos did not provide them with a miracle. Yet she always seemed to fall faster than him. He could not reach for her. He simply could not…
Tears left his eyes in anguish as with his extended arms he kept on trying. His hands changed, grew bigger. More scars dotted his body. His scream changed, as age took up the flow through his limbs. Yet the tiny drowess remained the same. He didn’t seem as confused about what was happening, but he knew in his heart that he would never see her again. Something hit the back of his neck and a sharp pain was felt through his body. Darkness closed around him, and then, he knew no more...
“Wakes up”, the goblinoid call seemed so distant. “Wakes up, Filnar!” It said again, voice not the usual raspy one of a gobbling, but a deeper and stronger one, if somewhat young still.
Green eyes opened up all the sudden and the grayish chest underneath the rags took in some air in desperation. It was difficult, though, and the sole effort made him shiver. His blurry vision slowly cleared, as the iris of those eerie green eyes focused, his orbs taking on a more common glow to them. The floor was reflected back in them, but it wasn’t exactly the ground what he was looking at. Wooden planks held his weight over thousands of feet above ground, while some ropes kept his body from toppling over and consequently falling to either a certain death, or wounds that would leave him without the capability to survive – which was a certain death as well.
A temporary moment of shock came to him, but his mind was still far too dazed for his body to oblige to instinct. His eyes adjusted once more to take in the look below him with clarity. The flat heads of goblins, the white hairs with their strange mixture of other colored strands of hair of the half-drow and a plethora of species could be seen, in the myriad of wooden levels below that circled a great stone tower deliciously carved into a stalagmite. Some held onto ropes for dear life while the thumping sounds of hammers and picks on stone resounded loudly on the pointed ears of the grayish half-breed. Others had no ropes to hold onto while the chuckles mocked the tortured soul who bled from fingers that were purchasing impossible holds. His eyes roamed over the scenery, finding the sources of the chuckles. Snowy white manes, delicate and well taken care of came back as confirmation, and the cracking of a whip resounded somewhere close by while his mind slowly came back to the present.
Looking forward stretched a wide land that darkness always threatened to overcome, for it was deep in the heart of the world, in the primordial Underdark – a name that the place lived to its full reputation. The city was Menzoberranzan: The City of Spiders and many of their foundations wore the title into them with what the half-breed had carved for most of his life: spiders. Stalactites and stalagmites grew only to be shaped on a whim with the arrogance of the drow. Dwarves made cities to last. There was practicality in their constructions and little to no aid of magic. The dark elves of Menzoberranzan put their faith on magic more often than they did in practicality, making projects of beauty that depended on well-placed spells. Entire cities had crumbled to such arrogance like the city of Ched Nassad that had been composed of web-like design over a massive chasm, as if defying or teasing the Underdark to swallow them all, and it did.
Nevertheless, upon looking at the City of Spiders, a visitor would stand in awe. Amazing, though, that it was the lowly uneducated species of half-drow, goblins, kobolds and others, who created the perfectly crafted designs that required a massive amount of dexterity. Goblins were nasty creatures at best, though some of them were capable of beauty, and upon looking at the city of Menzoberranzan as a whole, one would believe that; if, of course, the person in question would believe that most of the decoration was made by goblins.
Menzoberranzan fought against the utter darkness of the Underdark with spells of soothing and dim magical light, faerie fire, of various colors placed in certain places. Specs of brighter light were seen from here to there produced by the needed candle to read an incantation, perform rituals, or simply to provide warmth for those lower races that needed a better light source if not aided by spells or manipulations of the sight. The streets were full once again. Drow and other travelers and merchants visited the markets around the whispering Bazaar as lesser creatures walked out of their way and paid their respects. The half-drow could see small tumults where probably one of those lesser creatures had paid the price for not offering their respects to the masters of the city. The Braeryn was in chaos, as usual, for the slaves' struggle for survival always became harder with each day. Dark elves hated the nasty place, yet rumor said that they had yet to destroy it because their own goddess, Lolth, enjoyed it.
The half-breed’s green glowing eyes narrowed, shunning the light of Narbondel, as the enormous center pillar decreed a new day. The city’s Archwizard was probably there, then, taking the honors of a task that kept the creatures of Menzoberranzan aware of time. To a surface dweller, the light of Narbondel would look like small campfire, but to the drow – and the creatures accustomed to darkness – the light of Narbondel was their sun. Such awareness to day and night indicated something that the slaves already knew. The drow were not native creatures of the Underdark, while many of the slaves were.
A warm liquid crossed his field of vision as his eyes took on the usual heat patterns. He didn’t pay much attention to it, until similar drops followed the first one. His hands were numb, but his back and neck felt the slight tickling sensation under the rags that covered his body. As a boy who had been trained in spotting details in the stone and bring the best out of it, he quickly shifted his eyes to the normal spectrum of light, and the drop took on the color of red. He put one and two together. He was bleeding.
Pain followed suit as if the visual reminder wasn’t enough, and the half-breed groaned and squirmed. He took a steady breath and tried to move, finding himself struggling with his weight, as his naked feet left lazy trails on the dust gathered by the wooden planks that creaked in complaint as he moved. He tried pulling his hands towards him, but found them to be bound. Craning his neck to his right – that brought a nauseating feeling to him – he followed his arms to where his hands had been bound, the rope going up another stretch of horizontal rope that danced around the precarious stalactites of the cavern’s endless ceiling. His hands were bound together tightly, as he simply hanged there to dear life by the same rope that kept him from being free.
He closed his eyes again and cursed under his breath. Dizziness attempted to overwhelm him when he heard a small croaking sound. His mind betrayed him at identifying the goblinoid language, pain taking precedence as it ran from his back to the rest of his body, making his knees slightly buckle as he gritted his teeth and closed his fists in defiance.
"He is deads... No more moves”, he heard, right before some cold liquid bathed his apparently naked back, which arched in response. He let out an angry curse and tried searching for the goblins, but moving his neck around proved to be a hard task on itself, while his legs would not obey any of his commands. Another voice came through, but not knowing what it was being said, the gray half-breed could not tell if it was another threat. Not at the moment.
"The half-drow moves. His mouth made a noise... He breathes", it said, but that same goblin complained again, making a strange sound to scare them away. "He's not foods! Go get your own foods!"
The goblinoid word for food was commonly used among the ranks of slaves, and the half-breed’s dazed mind identified it quickly. His eyes widened at the thought of being eaten alive.
“…oh he-ells… nnno…”, his words were mumbled, his voice hoarse. His throat felt so dry and his lips had probably cracked some. He tried pushing up, moving to set himself free. He looked up. Freeing himself from the rope would finish his life. He’d topple over for certain. The full sentences of the goblin had not registered, and the fear of being eaten alive provoked his broken body to move. He had to move.
"Toh, chib roo..." It took some time for the half-drow to realize that he understood the language as he tried fighting through the nauseating pain that his back was gladly providing him with. The first word was a sign of a warning, the next ones were a bit confusing, as goblins used little words. Chib stood for "boss" while roo stood for friend, or ally. He guessed that he was the "boss" simply for being bigger, since chib was also used in such occasions, as for friend... It was not unknown of half-drow forging alliances with goblin slaves for the sake of survival. He narrowed his eyes, and tried shifting his weight once more, before he felt a heavy hand on his head pushing him to stay still and stealing a hiss of complain from his mouth. This one was too strong to be a mere goblin.
"Toh... Stay still!" His jumbled mind recognized the whole of the word and the meaning behind the tonality of the language. There was urgency there. The goblin was afraid, but he had not left. Not a goblin. A hobgoblin? He tried turning his head to see, but again the hobgoblin didn't let him move.
“Calms it down, Filnar”, that voice whispered. “They’re still here.”
Filnar… Yes, that was his given name! The day when he had turned ten came to mind. During the celebration, he had been given his name, had joined in the rituals of poison-drinking that the adults played to become stronger, and had been gifted with the best soup he’d ever tasted, a copper coin and a little green ball from his mother.
A little green ball…
Filnar’s body seemed to go limp for a heartbeat, as he closed his eyes and tried reaching for the nightmare once more, if only not to forget those amber eyes. He then opened his eyes, and tried turning around.
“Just stay still”, he heard the creature again. Language and face came to mind. Yes, a hobgoblin. One he trusted…
Filnar stopped struggling at that and decided to remain still, eyes slightly ajar as he carefully craned his neck to the side. His ears caught onto distant arguing. Two drow – one skinny with little grace in him and a horrible whip on his waist, and another one, larger with a robe that hid much of his dark features – argued over something in quick drow that Filnar could not make out. The larger form was having a hard time at keeping his head – and most of his back low. Filnar recognized him under the facade, though. The First Boy of House Freth – the merchant house he belonged to as a slave – wasn’t someone hard to spot.
“Did you get it?” He kept the focus of mind to ask for the whole point of his undeserving flogging.
“Yes”, he heard Torr say. “Though I’m not sure which one’s which. You’ve been out for a day-”
“Unimportant. If you grabbed the vials that is all the matters.” Filnar paused, running his tongue over dried lips. “We’ll have to try them all, then. Do they know you have them?”
“I don’t think so. As far as they know, they placed me here to guard your body.”
Filnar let out a weak chuckle. “Perfect.”
There was a pause, before the hobgoblin spoke again. “Can you make out what in the Nine Hells are they talking about?”
“No. It’s too fast.”
“Well the Freth boy didn’t seem as mad at you for stealing his vials as much as he seemed to be when he heard that “Stick” there gave you the flogging.”
Filnar’s eyes focused on the First Boy of House Freth, ignoring the confused skinny drow that they had nicknamed “Stick”. A dangerous curiosity took place then.
“They’ve been caring more than often”, he said in goblinoid to his friend, as he stayed as still as he could.
“That they have. Maybe because there’s not many of us. With Lolth’s Silence and the whole things with the gods going silent, they’ve been more careful to keep good care of what they have. Trade’s been difficult, or so they say. Drow cities trust less in each other. ‘Parently, Oblodra wasn’t the only House that went power-hungry.”
Indeed, Lolth – and apparently many other gods – had been silent for a while. The prayers had returned – as they had witnessed by the destruction of House Oblodra. Unlike in his dream, Filnar hadn’t been in the Claw Rift when it had happened, though it was known that many slaves of House Freth that were kept in the chasm perished when the compound was very literally thrown at them. House Baenre – the First House and the executioner of Lolth’s judgment over House Oblodra – had promised House Freth to repay them. The payment had been rather slow, and the lines of slaves within House Freth were thinning.
Filnar smirked. “They need us, far more than we need them.”
Torr chuckled lowly. “That doesn’t mean you get to run around searching for a flogging. That doesn’t mean they won’t kill you.” Filnar saw the hobgoblin pointing at nearby half-breeds and others that hanged as Filnar did. Some of them showed no signs of breathing.
The half-nodded in understanding, but not quite dissuaded from his goal.
“Untie me”, he said.
“If they see me untying you, they’ll have both our heads.”
“Then take the vials to the elder of my people. He will know what to do. Are the others still ready?”
Torr took a moment, before he replied. “Yes. They’re waiting on us.”
“Then we have to move before they discover our plans.”
Torr gave a nod of his green and strong features – though he was still as young as Filnar – and crouched. He looked up at the half-drow, who was blinking the blood away from his face. His lower canines showed above his upper lip, but even that fearsome look couldn’t take away the worry from his face.
“You are insane”, he told Filnar, who weakly smirked. “You were born with the wrong skin and wrong canines, my friend.”
That made Filnar chuckle silently. “Thank the gods for that”, a pun for a pun.
Torr grinned, nodded once more and sure enough that the drow weren’t looking his way, darted away from his hanging friend. Filnar saw as he took a climb down the wooden levels, accustomed as he to let himself fall or grab onto ropes only when needed. The drow – if they noticed – didn’t pay attention. He dared look towards where the First Boy of House Freth was still standing and could swear that the massive drow smiled knowingly at him.
Filnar looked down at Torr as he hid himself between the crowd of workers. Soon enough he lost him from his sight, but he wasn’t certain if the drow would.
“Gray Wolf of the Silver Dragon…” a legend and a god amongst his people. “Guide him…”