For Half THe Price
Disclaimer 1: This is fanfic. That means I do not own any of it. I just borrow it to play with for a little while and let people see the pathetic
results if they really want to.
Disclaimer 2: I'm not making any money from it. It's just for fun.
Disclaimer 3: What isn't borrowed is all made up. None of this is real or most likely at all realistic. Please don't trust any of the information in here.
Most likely you know more about whatever I'm writing about than I do.
Disclaimer 4: Attitudes, views and opinions expressed by the characters or in the story are not necessarily those of the author. Even when writing Science
Fiction or Fantasy I do not tend to attempt to create perfect/better worlds in which everybody gets a happy end ... or whatever is best for them. Please
accept that some characters will have a bad ending or be unhappy.
Disclaimer 5: I intend no insult to anyone. If I offend anyone I'm very sorry. Please understand that it was an accident as I tend to be very clumsy in these
Disclaimer 6: If my characters' conversations seem odd or they appear to be talking past each other the latter might occasionally be intentional, but most
likely it is an accident and I'm not aware that they are. It's just my bad communication skills.
This is the first fanfic I ever wrote in English and I've never posted it before.
For Half the Price
Matron Triel Baenre peered through the small hidden window in the wall of her throne hall at the army gathered in front of her house. The first house had been under siege for almost a ten-day and the members of the family had almost become used to the noise of thousands of drow soldiers continuously trying to break down the large fence that had once protected them with it's powerful magic. But since the renegade drow Drizzt Do'Urden had escaped the well guarded fortress and ruined an important ceremony for the dark goddess Lloth, the Spider Queen had withdrawn her favor and her magic from the Baenre family thereby allowing the joined forces of several of the other powerful houses of Menzoberranzan to actually threaten the rule of Baenre for the first time in the many thousands of years of the city's existence.
But about two hours ago the sounds from outside suddenly had died away almost completely. A little later the guards that had been posted to watch the attacker's progresses - or lack thereof - had reported that a large part of the enemies army had been withdrawn from the fence and gathered in a wide street nearby. Startled Triel herself had watched as the larger part of the attackers had marched away headed for one of the city's well guarded doors and the mace of tunnels that was the wilderness of the Underdark. Since that time the rest of the enemy's troops had been alarmingly inactive, obviously waiting for something, that couldn't possibly be good for the desperate matron.
Nervously Triel turned away from her watching post and stepped over to the scrying pool, where one of her most experienced clerics was attempting to force a connection with the world outside the house despite the diminished power that Lloth's withdrawal had left them.
"Haven't you reached him jet?" she screamed at the frightened woman.
The drow shrank back from the pool but held the matron's gaze with admirable steadiness. "I am sure that I got through at least once, matron Triel, but he refuses to answer my call," she replied. "Maybe if you tried to reach him yourself he ..."
"Oh shut up, you fool," Triel broke off her suggestion. "It's no use. Obviously Gromph has betrayed us! No, we need another solution." She thought for a moment. Than her face lightened as a new idea came to her.
"Try again," she ordered the startled cleric. "But this time try to find Jarlaxle!"
"Jarlaxle!" the old drow replied. "But there's no way of telling where he may be found or what his loyalties may be. In fact if even Gromph has deserted us, Jarlaxle certainly has as well!"
"Since he has never even pretended to be on our side that is very likely," Triel smiled. "but unlike Gromph, who is obviously after the power he may gain from his alliance with our opponents, Jarlaxle can always be bought. The trick is just to find something he wants badly enough."
"This is going to be expensive," the cleric murmured to herself as she turned back to the scrying pool to do as she had been told.
Jarlaxle smiled as the image of the most powerful drow in all of Menzoberranzan - or was she? - appeared before him. He leaned back in his chair, feet crossed on the table before him. "Why my dear Triel, how wonderful to see you."
The image clenched it's fists as Triel was obviously fighting an impulse to throttle him through her scrying pool. She had to be under real pressure not to at least scream at him.
"I have an offer for you, old friend," the image declared sweetly.
Jarlaxle raised an eyebrow: Triel had to be absolutely desperate to address him like that! "My dear," he answered playing with his eye-patch, though he was quite certain that she did not have the power left to read his mind through the scrying pool. "it seems to me that you are hardly in a situation to offer any bargain. After all your house is as good as dead, and any alliance with you right now would cost me dearly as soon as you are dead. And come to think of that you might not even live long enough to pay me."
Triel swallowed hard. She realized that she could not pretend to any position of power. She had to convince Jarlaxle now or he would just break off the contact. If that happened she was not sure whether she would be able to forge it anew. It was weak enough already and might break off by itself at any moment.
"Listen," she shouted abandoning her pride. "If you can prevent the fall of my house you can choose from my treasures whatever item you like!"
Inwardly Jarlaxle triumphed but to Triel he said "Really my dear, you don't own anything that could be worth taking that kind of risk. After all I would have to move against virtually the entire city." He moved his hand towards the pool that held Triel's image as if to break the connection, then froze in mid-movement as if an idea had suddenly struck him. "That is maybe ... ah ... No!" he decided and once again moved for the pool.
"Wait!" Triel shrieked in utter terror. "Whatever it is that you have just thought of, name it and it is yours!"
Jarlaxle leaned back again and a sigh of relieve came through the pool. "What I was thinking of were in fact those two beautiful stones set in your throne. You know without doubt that I have been very fond of them for many decades, but I am not at all sure that even they are worth the risk you want me to take."
Triel shuddered "The stones! I can't possibly..... Oh well, all right you can have the stones, but they are really worth much more than you think."
Jarlaxle tilted his head as if thinking, then slowly shook it. "No my dear! I just remembered, you see, I don't have any prove you intend to keep that promise as soon as I have fulfilled my part of our bargain." Once again he moved for his scrying pool.
Once again Triel screamed, "Wait! You want prove? All right, I'll give you prove. I will send one of the stones through the scrying pool right now, and give you the other as soon as my house is save! Do we have a deal?"
Once again Jarlaxle stopped in mid-movement as if thinking. "Hm ... I think we do. As soon as I receive the stone I shall move to free you."
Five minutes later a large black stone appeared in the pool. At the same instant the connection finally broke down. Jarlaxle carefully picked up the stone and inspected it closely. It was as he learned the left stone, but his hands and heat vision would reveal no more.
As Jarlaxle picked up a candle that had been standing on his table just out of sight from the scrying pool, an old drow that had been watching the conversation from the corner behind the pool, came to his side. The man had been with Jarlaxle for so long that none of the other soldiers could remember where he had once come from or what his real name was. All they knew was that Jarlaxle usually called him Axa but nobody except maybe Axa himself knew why or what that word meant. Axa usually remained in the background. He rarely joined in a fight even though he was certainly a skilled fighter. None of the soldiers challenged him though, for he was also the troop's healer and nobody could be sure that he would never get hurt and require Axa's services. He was also most certainly the one who knew Jarlaxle himself best. Some even believed that Axa might be able to answer their biggest question if he wanted to: Where had Jarlaxle himself come from? But if Axa truly knew he never said.
"These stones are said to hold the souls of all who ever were turned into driders I hear," he said evenly.
"Indeed they are, and I can feel it's powerful magic every time I touch it. But I don't know how it works jet," Jarlaxle answered in the same manner.
"They are people like yourself that wouldn't adapt to female dominance. Do you really intend to use them as slaves? This isn't like you."
"Indeed do you know me so well? If so, you will most likely be able to tell me what I do intend to do? No? Well, than you will just have to wait and see. Now do me a favor and light this candle that we can take a closer look at our newest trophy, will you."
With a sigh Axa obliged. He knew his leader well enough to understand that he would not get any more information out of him at this point. He would just have to wait and see what would happen. Still he could not help but wonder why Jarlaxle, who had invested so much time and energy to forge an alliance against the house of Baenre to further his power in Menzoberranzan, would so easily turn against that very group just for two valuable magical stones. They were a nice trophy indeed, but the fall of house Baenre would have been much more valuable.
As they held the stone in front of the light they could see something swirling underneath it's surface, but there was no telling what it might be.
With a sigh Jarlaxle produced his magical flute and attempted to analyze the stone's magic with it's help. But it was no use. The flute revealed nothing.
"Well," Jarlaxle decided "we'll just have to let Rai'gy see what he can find out about this. And maybe I can learn something more from another source."
He took the stone carefully hid it in a secret pocket of his jacket and slipped through the magical door of his room. With another sigh Axa followed him in the hope of learning at least a little bit of his leader's plans.
Gromph was leaving the base of Narbondel after casting the spell to light the city's magic timekeeper. Since his family's home was under siege he had taken extra precautions not to be seen anywhere in the city. But there was no way to avoid his duty at Narbondel. Therefore he had placed complicated spells to protect him from sight at this place. With those in place he felt perfectly save. After all who could harm him if nobody could see him!
"Why hello Gromph! Where have you been all these days? I was actually beginning to worry about you."
Gromph shot round and stared at Jarlaxle, who was leaning comfortably against a small stalagmite. "What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be beleaguering my family's house?"
"Me? I have always been a loyal friend of Baenre, as you should well know! I would never risk to move against the throne!" Jarlaxle answered, the very image of outrage. "And quite a beautiful throne it is indeed. Though with a little more colorful stones perhaps, it might look even better, don't you think? I really ought to suggest some changes to your sister! She could make so much more of her throne!"
Enraged Gromph snapped, "You'd better be careful where you poke your nose into, fool, or you might end up a permanent feature of that very throne!"
"Oh? Is that so? You wouldn't be referring to that old fairy-tale about the souls of all driders being imprisoned in those two small stones? Now, really my dear Gromph, you ought to realize that I am a bit to old to be scared by such nonsense!" Jarlaxle returned undaunted.
For a moment Gromph just stared at the mercenary, than declared, "The stories are quite true, I assure you! And why shouldn't they be after all?"
"Why really Gromph, do you have even the slightest idea how many drow have been turned into driders through the centuries? There would have to be several hundreds of souls stored away in each of the stones if your story were true. Don't you realize how big these stones would have to be in order to hold them all?" Jarlaxle explained. "This proves clearly that the entire story is just a ploy to scare away would-be thieves."
At this Gromph laughed right out, "With your experience in things magical I would not have considered it possible you would make such an assumption. Don't you realize the stone is of course a doorway into another dimension! It could easily house a thousand times the number it does now."
Jarlaxle raised an eyebrow, "The stone as in only one? I always thought there were two of them."
"Indeed only the left stone truly holds the souls of the driders, while the right is needed to control their bodies," Gromph explained warming to the subject. Magic was his biggest interest after all and he always enjoyed to show off his knowledge. The fact that he could so easily prove wrong Jarlaxle, who was considered by many to be an expert in magic himself, made this conversation even more appealing.
Realizing that Gromph had fallen into his trap Jarlaxle allowed himself a faint smile. "But isn't it a bit risky to separate the power over the driders? Imagine what might happen if the two stones were ever separated! Not that there is any danger of that ever happening of course."
"Oh but the power isn't really separated, you see," Gromph explained happily. "As I said the power to control the driders lies exclusively within the right stone. The left contains their souls, but it cannot be used to influence them in any way. Even if it were lost altogether the power of the right stone would remain intact."
Jarlaxle pushed himself off the stalagmite and walked over to stand at Gromph's side. "But then why is there a second stone after all? It seems unnecessary."
"Ah but that is the problem, you know! If the souls were free they would turn back into their drow bodies and the driders would be lost. Without them the right stone would be entirely useless. But there is no danger of that ever happening. The only way the souls could escape is if the left stone were to be destroyed and it is virtually indestructible, of course."
"Virtually?" Jarlaxle asked, seeming more interested in the light beginning to climb the pillar behind them then in the information the arcmage was providing so freely.
"Well there is one way to destroy it, but I can't imagine how that could ever happen. It's very complicated, you know."
"There is only one way," Jarlaxle repeated as if deep in his own thoughts.
"So why do you bother me anyhow?" Gromph suddenly remembered his anger at having been caught despite his elaborate protective spells.
"Ah yes, I believe I have found a way to get that bothersome army away from your family-home. But in order to execute that plan I need a map of the secret passageways within the house. Do you think you could provide that?" Jarlaxle asked.
Gromph grinned evilly. "I most certainly could, but I assure you that there is no way to use those to get past the rebels' army."
"That might not be necessary if all goes as I have planed it," Jarlaxle responded equally grinning.
Jarlaxle slipped back into the hidden tunnels of the clawrift that his band was using as their favorite hideout just before the daily hustle and bustle started in the city above. He immediately went to search for Kimmuriel Oblodra whom he found easily in his quarters.
Kimmuriel had just crawled out of bed and was proceeding to get dressed when Jarlaxle came in.
"Just what do you think you are doing home at this time? Weren't you supposed to be in the Underdark looking for a certain group of drow?" Jarlaxle scolded.
"The certain group of drow you speak of was exactly where you said they would be, doing exactly what you said they would be," Kimmuriel answered with a sigh. "I left two of my men to watch them and report if anything unexpected happened, which I believe to be highly unlikely anyhow. Then I came back to report. You weren't home. I went to sleep. Since you have kept me awake almost constantly for the last two cycles I believed that to be a really good idea!"
Jarlaxle sighed at that, but Kimmuriel knew him well enough by now to know that he wasn't really angry with him and therefore returned to the business of getting dressed.
Jarlaxle came up to stand beside him. "As soon as you are done here assemble a group of ten men and take them to Rai'gy for teleportation. The mage will tell you where to go and what to do."
Quickly Jarlaxle snatched Kimmuriel's favorite piwafwi and dashed out of the room to find and instruct the mage.
Axa caught up with his leader as Jarlaxle was returning from Rai'gy's room. "Kimmuriel is assembling a party for an excursion in a terrible hurry," He reported.
"Yes, I told him to," Jarlaxle said as he turned right into the tunnel that led towards the open Underdark.
"May I ask what they are supposed to do?" Axa tried again.
"You may." Jarlaxle allowed generously.
"Well?" Axa asked.
"Well what?" Jarlaxle echoed.
"Well what are they supposed to do?" Axa repeated.
"What are who supposed to do? You have to be more precise! I don't understand what you mean!" Jarlaxle giggled.
"Oh come on! You understood me perfectly well: What are Kimmuriel and the soldiers he is assembling supposed to do?" Axa was beginning to loose his patience. He didn't understand why Jarlaxle was in such a good mood. But maybe the answer to his question was going to yield some kind of explanation.
"Oh they! They are supposed to steal the scepter of Lloth from the first house of Ched Nasad," Jarlaxle explained and tossed Kimmuriel's piwafwi into Axa's arms. "Here hold this and assemble twenty of our best fighters. I'll be right back." With these words he dashed off into the Underdark.
The young swirfneblin was very nervous. He had never actually met a drow before and the only reason that he had been sent to meet Jarlaxle was that none of the members of the council had been available at the moment. Blingdenstone was in big trouble since the miners had been very unsuccessful off late. Their mining sites were all running dry and so far no promising new sites had been found.
The deep-gnome was pacing the small cave beginning to wonder whether the drow informer was even going to show up at all.
Suddenly he heard the loud clanking of boots behind him. He shot round to find himself face to face with Jarlaxle.
"Huh? - What? - How..." The young swirfneblin broke off just in time. 'How did you get behind me?' was what he had been about to say. Jarlaxle most likely would have told him and let him pay for the answer.
Remembering the warnings his elders had given him he decided to choose his words more carefully. "How stands the revolution in Menzoberranzan?" he asked instead.
Jarlaxle held out his hand to the youngster and upon receiving a beautiful gem answered: "So far neither side has been able to gain an advantage over the other. It seems to be a draw."
"So what will happen if neither side wins?" demanded the deep gnome and held out another gem to the darkelf.
Jarlaxle smiled. This inexperienced kid was making it all to easy for him. None of the older swirfnebli would have offered payment for such an obvious answer. Most couldn't even be tricked into asking such a question.
He took the gem. "The revolution will have to withdraw it's forces sooner or later and therefore Baenre will win in the end."
The swirfneblin thought about that for a moment, but he couldn't see any reason why his people needed to know about this. So he decided to ask. "What is it to us whether they fight among themselves or not?"
Another gem changed owners.
"The battle draws their attention away from the tunnels. Indeed I found them completely unguarded by my people on my way here. For the rest of stones in that purse of yours I might tell you how you might use this to your advantage."
Immediately the kid surrendered the purse. Jarlaxle almost regretted that he normally had to deal with the wearier older swirfnebli. On the other hand it was a lot more fun to actually earn his reward by tricking and outsmarting a clever opponent.
"Since there are no guards at the moment you might mine in the rich tunnels south of Menzoberranzan. There is after all very little risk of being attacked by monsters there."
The swirfneblin's eyes lighted at that thought. This would solve his people's problems at least until the drow had resolved their differences. With any luck they would continue to fight until the deep gnomes had found other promising sites to mine.
Seeing that his words had fallen on fertile ground Jarlaxle tucked away the swirfneblin's purse and turned to leave.
"Hey wait!" the young deep gnome shouted "Where are you going?"
"You have no more jewels to pay for my services," Jarlaxle pointed out to the startled youngster, "and I have urgent business elsewhere." Without a sound he disappeared into the same tunnel from which he had come.
For a moment the swirfneblin stood in the middle of the cave dumbfounded. Then he remembered the wonderful solution Jarlaxle had given him for his city's problems and he hurried away to report the happy news to his king.
When Jarlaxle returned he found the twenty fighters he had wanted ready to go and Axa still holding Kimmuriel's piwafwi as ordered. Jarlaxle laughed at that sight and started off toward Rai'gy's quarters.
Frustrated Axa grabbed his shoulder as he passed him. "Wait a minute! We have been waiting for two hours! You told me you'd be right back!"
"Well I am back am I not?" Jarlaxle returned. "As for waiting: Continue to do it a little longer. We aren't all that much in a hurry after all. Our little friends don't have their own army ready jet."
With a deep sigh Axa let go of Jarlaxle and watched him disappear through the entrance to Rai'gy's cave.
The mage was slightly surprised to see his leader since he knew that Jarlaxle had ordered to keep a troop ready to leave immediately upon his return, but he had gotten used to the mercenary's unexpected appearances.
"Have you got the scepter jet?" Jarlaxle asked immediately.
"Our agents are in place within the first house of Ched Nasad, but they will not be able to strike until most of the family has gone to sleep and it will take a considerable amount of time to smuggle all of them back out of the house and return through the dimensional door," he explained patiently.
Jarlaxle had known all of this of course as Rai'gy knew very well. With this visit the mercenary had only intended to remind Rai'gy of the importance of this mission.
"Just what do you need the scepter for so badly?" the mage asked just before Jarlaxle could walk out on him again.
"That is none of your business!" Jarlaxle snapped. "Your job is to get it for me. It's my job to know what to do with it when I get it."
After his visit with the mage Jarlaxle once again disappeared for a considerable amount of time.
Axa finally permitted his group of fighters to settle down in one of the side caves and have dinner.
Several of the soldiers had already fallen asleep by the time a goblin slave reported to the healer that Jarlaxle had returned and could be found in his room.
Piwafwi still in hand Axa went to see his leader and found him busily studying some sort of map he had laid out on his table.
When he saw the old drow enter Jarlaxle took off his colorful cape and carefully tucked it into a pocket, that should have been much to small to hold it.
As Axa stared in wonder, Jarlaxle folded the map on his table and slipped it into the very same pocket. Than he turned to the healer, took the piwafwi from his hands and quickly put it on.
"Okay lets go," Jarlaxle said. "Where are your men? I don't have time to look for them!"
As fast as he could Axa woke the soldiers and assembled them in the center cave once more.
Soon Jarlaxle led his small army out into the tunnels of the Underdark. After several hours of walking through the gigantic mace of wide caves and small tunnels they reached a large platform overhanging one of the larger caves. There they found the two guards Kimmuriel had posted the day before.
Beneath them in the cave was a large army of drow complete with several hundred orks and goblins for battle-fodder. Most of the orks were busy digging a hole into the hard stone wall of the tunnel. Their work was progressing slowly but steadily. If they continued digging at their current pace Jarlaxle estimated that it would take them about two more days to dig right into the house of Baenre from the backside.
In the elaborate sign language of his people he instructed his men to set up camp at the mouth of the tunnel from which they had come and wait in silence.
Axa almost groaned at the prospect of waiting once again, but he remembered just in time that he had to remain quiet. Therefore he just shot Jarlaxle a very angry look, which the mercenary answered with a pleasant smile.
Jarlaxle himself crept up to the very edge of the platform to peer down at the events in the cave below.
Due to the fact that their journey would lead them dangerously close to the city of the dark elves the swirfnebli mining expedition into the tunnels south of Menzoberranzan was accompanied by thrice as many guards as was normal.
But as they walked carefully through the dark tunnels they found them exactly as empty as Jarlaxle had promised.
After several miles of eventless traveling the deep gnomes slowly began to relax and feel save. They stepped out more freely singing a happy marching song as they went.
But as they turned another sudden bend and entered a large cave they ran head on into a big dark elven war camp.
For one moment drow and swirfnebli stared at each other dumbfounded. Then the drow's leader called his troops into battle.
Large numbers of orks and goblins were sent to spearhead the drow's attack while the deadly elves assembled their battle-lines behind them.
The swirfnebli immediately sent forth their warriors to fend of the fodder while their magicians began to send fireballs and flying rocks at the assembling drow.
The drow mages immediately answered in kind and the cave soon turned into a chaotic slaughterhouse.
As soon as Jarlaxle saw the swirfnebli emerge from the side tunnel he ordered his men to creep to the edge and ready their crossbows. Still using sign language he instructed them to shoot only drow and leave the deep gnomes and battle fodder unharmed.
"But don't be seen!" he gestured slowly, so they would certainly understand this most vital order. "We want this to look entirely like the work of the swirfnebli! Understand?"
Only after each member of the group had nodded in affirmation of the order did Jarlaxle turn back toward the battle and aim his own weapon.
Soon drow after drow was falling from the well aimed bolts fired by the hidden mercenaries.
At the other side of the cave where the swirfnebli were fighting hand to hand against the drow's battle fodder terrified orks and goblins suddenly realized that their masters had let down their guard over them while fighting for their own lives and that they were no longer inside the city with it's well guarded doors but in the unguarded tunnels of the Underdark where they might have an actual chance to escape. First one by one, but soon in small groups and finally in one large horde orks and goblins turned away from the battle and fled into the open tunnels.
When the battle fodder turned to flee the deep gnomes seized their chance and did the same. Within minutes the surviving drow soldiers found themselves alone on the battle-field.
Jarlaxle immediately ordered his men to seize fire and retreat into the tunnel that had led them onto the platform. Only he and Axa remained to watch the small group of survivors, most of them wounded, pick up whatever objects still seemed useful and walk off in the direction of the next door to Menzoberranzan.
"Well, what do you know, they all ran away!" Jarlaxle told the confused healer. "Now since there remains nothing to watch here, let's go home. I have a reward to claim!"
When Jarlaxle and his troop returned to the city the army that had beleaguered house Baenre was already in full retreat. Each of the rebel houses had suffered so many losses in the battle in the Underdark that they could no longer hope to take the first house.
Soon those houses that had been less affected by the battle's outcome would fall upon their more unfortunate comrades and all would have ample use for Jarlaxle and his well trained fighters.
The future looked promising indeed for Bregan D'aerthe.
Jarlaxle spent another night studying the map he had gotten from Gromph.
When he came out into the city early the next morning he was happy to see that the entire army had already left and he was free to go about his business in the streets they had once occupied undisturbed.
As he walked up toward the throne of house Baenre Jarlaxle saw the large hole where the left magic stone once had been, but he also noticed that the much more powerful right stone was still safely in place. This confirmed his suspicions. Indeed he had been expecting as much.
Nevertheless he advanced undaunted.
Oh - if Triel only knew what he was really after! He had to suppress a giggle at that thought. Who knew? She might even have surrendered the right stone and kept the left for herself, if she had known.
As things stood now all he had to do was to survive this next round and he would have won his biggest scheme jet.
"As you can see, matron Triel, I have done as you asked of me," he stated bowing deeply. "Your home is free and none of the other families are currently strong enough to challenge your power."
Triel blinked and then stared at him in surprise. Never before had she seen the mercenary without his multicolored cape or his huge plumed hat. But here he stood actually wearing the traditional black piwafwi as would any other drow.
Since the matron did not reply Jarlaxle continued, "I have therefore come to claim my agreed fee: the second stone in your throne!"
Triel realized that the mercenary only intended to confuse her, and had done a pretty good job at that so far. Angrily she jumped up from her throne.
She hated to be seen sitting on the throne since her feet didn't touch the ground. This little indignity always served to stir her considerable temper.
"I have changed my mind!" she declared haughtily. "You did your job well, I agree, but I believe that you are sufficiently rewarded with the one stone you already have. I shall not give you anything more!"
Jarlaxle knew that he would do best to walk away now and let the woman believe that she had won. She would find out soon enough that she had not! But his pride wouldn't let him do that and Triel certainly wasn't expecting him to give in so easily.
"That is not what you promised me!" he protested. "I cannot accept this!"
Without another word Triel grabbed her whip and struck out lightning fast.
Jarlaxle was prepared for her attack. He threw himself into a role to the left intending to land crouched on his feet beside one of the strong pillars that held the highly domed roof of the large hall, but his reaction wasn't fast enough.
Five of the vicious snake heads sank their dreadful fangs into his right leg in mid-jump.
As Jarlaxle landed beside the pillar the injured leg no longer obeyed his commands. It buckled away under him and he fell flat to the floor.
Triel laughed triumphantly and raised her hand to strike again.
Jarlaxle rolled up as if involuntarily grabbing his injured leg and pulled a small object from his boot. Before he could throw the enspelled capsule, the whip's seven snake heads bit deep into his back and side.
The mercenary screamed and writhed in pain concentrating only on not loosing the capsule which was his only hope of survival.
He managed to hold on to the small object but would never have had the time to throw it before the deadly whip hit a third time if his pain - induced movements hadn't accidentally taken him behind the pillar.
In the few heartbeats it took Triel to step around the pillar Jarlaxle seized his chance and threw as hard as he still could.
The capsule landed on the floor only about two paces away from the startled matron and immediately began turning in wild circles across the floor emitting a terrible screeching sound that drowned out every other sound in the room.
As Triel and every other woman in the hall stared at the little grenade in wonder it turned into a blinding light that was extremely painful to the heat-seeing eyes of creatures adapted to the almost complete darkness of the Underdark.
Additionally the capsule emitted several wisps of thick smoke, just in case some hidden creature from the world above might overcome the blinding effect of the light too soon.
Triel stumbled back towards her throne expecting Jarlaxle to move either to kill her or to grab the precious stone, but she was unable to detect any movement through the noise and light.
Even though he had been careful to look away from the capsule after it hit, Jarlaxle was affected just as badly by the stinging light as was the matron, but he didn't need to see. He knew exactly where he lay.
Despite the agonizing pain he rolled onto his back and set the foot of his unhurt left leg against the pillar's side.
After taking another deep breath he kicked out hard catapulting himself toward the wall of the room.
He hit hard with a loud bang and a scream of pain, but through the noise of his still shrieking capsule nothing could be heard only three paces away, where he supposed that Triel still stood.
When he tried to turn over to crawl alongside the wall he noticed that his shoulder had connected with some sharp object protruding from the wall that had dug deep through his skin and into his body and was now holding him fixed in place.
With a fast thrust he managed to tear loose but cut his shoulder even worse in the process.
Able to use only one arm and leg Jarlaxle dragged himself along the wall until he finally felt the rim of the next wooden panel under his fingers.
Slowly he pulled himself up onto his knees and groped about for the small opening at the panel's side.
There it was! He jerked the secret door open and with his last bit of strength and will power managed to drag, push and wriggle his battered body through the entrance and pull the panel back into place behind him.
The floor of the tunnel beneath him felt cool and comforting. For a long time Jarlaxle lay there pressing his left hand against his right shoulder in an attempt to stop the bloodflow while he was waiting to regain a measure of control over his right leg.
There alone in the darkness he muttered a soft-spoken thank-you to both Gromph and Rai'gy. (To which of course he would never admit in the presence of either of the two.) To the first for giving him the map that had led him to the secret door, to the other for providing the enspelled capsule that had bought him the chance to reach it.
Thanks to this ingenious little device he didn't even have to worry about the heat and blood traces he had left behind, for it would end it's job by exploding in a fireball hot enough to blacken the walls and floor and probably even the ceiling but not hot enough to burn away the wooden panel behind which he lay.
The light of Narbondel had almost completely died away when Jarlaxle limped back into the clawrift.
Axa who had been angrily pacing up and down between the two fighters standing guard at the entrance to the band's hideout for several hours ran out into the rift to greet him with a well prepared tirade about having been kept waiting uninformed once again but was effectively silenced when Jarlaxle collapsed into his arms.
With the help of one of the guards Axa carried his injured leader into the cave and proceeded to inspect his wounds.
When the healer saw the deep cut in Jarlaxle's shoulder he dispatched the guard, who had helped him, to immediately rouse Rai'gy.
In the meantime he gently cleaned the wounds and began to treat them with healing herbs and potions.
To his surprise he found that Kimmuriel's piwafwi had suffered no more than a few bloodstains and was otherwise unharmed.
After a while he began wondering what was keeping the mage.
Careful not to disturb the bandages he had just applied he put a blanket over the still unconscious Jarlaxle and rose to search for Rai'gy himself.
At that very moment the guard returned with the report that the mage was nowhere to be found nor did anyone know where he might have gone.
Slowly Axa sat back down. Without taking his eyes off his patient he ordered the fighter, "Return to the entrance and wait for Rai'gy. Tell him to report to me immediately upon his return."
"This wound is too deep!" he added in a much softer tone. "I don't think it will heal without magical help, at least not with all those other wounds weakening him additionally."
With a loud bang Rai'gy, Kimmuriel and the rest of the Ched Nasad-expedition were thrown out of the dimensional door just before it collapsed into nonexistence. They landed in a heap on the floor.
Carefully Kimmuriel pulled himself free from the tangled mass and then frowned down upon Rai'gy who was still struggling to push free from under one of the dazed fighters. "I thought you said you could get this damned portal working again!" he complained to the mage.
"I said I thought that maybe I could get it working again!" Rai'gy specified. "It was a very difficult spell indeed and we did even land in the right room! I think I did rather well. Now help me up, will you!"
Kimmuriel considered the situation for a moment, then grabbed his friend by both arms and pulled him out with one quick jerk.
After the mage had gotten up and straightened out his robes he took a quick glance around the room and found it filled to capacity with curious drow who had been alerted to their return by the noise.
Axa quickly pushed through the mass of bystanders and grabbed Rai'gy by the arm of his robe.
"Wherever have you been all this time?" he thundered at the surprised mage.
Rai'gy and Kimmuriel exchanged a quick incredulous look. It wasn't at all like the usually patient and soft-spoken healer to shout at anybody like that much less at the former arcmage of Ched Nasad whom he respected very much.
"There was a problem with my dimensional door. I had to teleport to Ch..." Rai'gy started but Axa brushed away his explanations with one quick gesture.
"Never mind! Come on!" he snapped and started to drag the mage toward the door.
Their way however was blocked by the many curious fighters still pushing into the room.
"Get lost, you idiots!" Axa grumbled in a threatening low tone.
This wouldn't have bothered the experienced soldiers if it had come from anybody else, but from the gentle healer it had a most surprising effect.
The first lines of drow warriors shrank back and tried to get back out of the room while those still outside hadn't heard Axa's command and were still pushing in. The two groups collided in the door and several unlucky soldiers were pushed over and stepped on by those behind them.
For a moment all movement stopped then the larger group from the inside won. The incoming drow were pushed out and the door was finally free for passage.
Stepping over the bodies of those that had been trampled Axa, Rai'gy and Kimmuriel who insisted not to be left behind stepped out into the tunnel.
Axa winced at the thought of having to treat all the casualties.
"We'd better hope Jarlaxle doesn't find out about this." Kimmuriel commented noticing his reaction.
"He definitely won't be pleased" Rai'gy agreed. "but I don't see how we could possibly prevent him from noticing the damage."
"Well in that case you'd better see to his wounds quickly."
Jarlaxle is hurt?" Rai'gy asked alarmed.
"Yes and badly! That's why I need you," Axa explained pushing the mage into Jarlaxle's room.
Immediately Rai'gy and Kimmuriel hurried over to the bed to inspect the wounds.
When they began to slowly remove his bandages Jarlaxle stirred.
"Dinin?" he whispered faintly.
The two friends exchanged puzzled glances. Neither had ever heard that name before.
"Dinin?" Jarlaxle repeated a little louder.
This time Axa heard him too. He stepped closer wondering what had made Jarlaxle think of that particular dead soldier and gently shook Jarlaxle's healthy shoulder.
"Hey!" he jelled. "Wake up! Dinin died years ago!"
Jarlaxle's eyes fluttered open.
"Sit up!" Axa urged him. "We need to have a look at that shoulder wound."
With a little help from Kimmuriel and Axa Jarlaxle managed to obey that order making it a lot easier for Rai'gy to remove the bandages.
One powerful healing spell from the mage sufficed to close the deep cut that had worried Axa so much but where the smaller wounds from Triel's magic whip were concerned the mage proved much less successful. After the fifth ineffective spell Rai'gy had to admit defeat.
"There are several more spells that I could try with a little time for preparation," he explained. "but I fear that they will likely prove as useless as did the others. I suppose it would take a priestess of Lloth to speed the healing of those wounds."
"Just where did you get them, anyhow?" Axa asked seriously. "They look pretty bad."
"That, old friend, is none of your business." Jarlaxle responded pushing him away then he turned to the mage. "Forget those little wounds! They will heal by themselves. What about the magic stone you were to examine? Did you have any luck?"
Rai'gy shook his head sadly. "As you instructed I tried to cut it up after my initial unsuccessful examination of it's magical aura," he reported. "but neither magic nor the strongest blades could even dent it. This stone is simply indestructible."
"It is not." Jarlaxle declared with a satisfied smile. "I will show you how to destroy it."
Despite Axa's protests he got up and once again put on Kimmuriel's piwafwi.
Seeing this Kimmuriel realized that he could write off his favorite cloak: Jarlaxle would definitely not return it.
"What of the scepter of Lloth?" Jarlaxle asked as they walked back toward Rai'gy's room. "I trust you were able to get it?"
"Yes, I have it right here," Kimmuriel nodded and handed over the richly decorated scepter.
"It has a most remarkable magic aura," stated Rai'gy. "It's power is so strong that it disturbs that of all other magic objects it comes into contact with."
"Especially dimensional doors of teleportation tend to malfunction or disappear completely when exposed to it," added Kimmuriel. "The results are catastrophic."
"That doesn't matter," Jarlaxle said evenly. "It won't be here for much longer."
The trampled drow were no longer in evidence, but Rai'gy's room was still a mess.
Jarlaxle stopped at the door to take in the sight of shattered furniture and debris.
"I told you the results were catastrophic!" Kimmuriel explained.
"And I told you it doesn't matter," Jarlaxle returned. "Where is the stone?"
After a quick search they found it under what remained of the stone table. Just like Rai'gy had promised it hadn't suffered a scratch.
Jarlaxle picked it up without a word and walked away into the big center cave the stone in one hand, the scepter of Lloth in the other.
"Didn't you say you were going to show me how to destroy it?" Rai'gy shouted as he raced up behind him.
Jarlaxle turned toward him with a bland smile and in an exaggerated slow gesture brought his hands together.
The moment that stone and scepter touched a clasp of thunder sounded and the scepter disappeared in a flash of lightning. Slowly the black stone began to dissolve into gray mist that circled around the two drow and soon filled the entire cave.
Shapes began to form from the mist as all the men that had once been turned into driders returned to the world of the living.
In the scorched throne hall of the house Baenre Triel had just entered through a side door leading onto a balcony.
Suddenly she heard a loud rumbling sound from her throne and a second later the magic stone through which generations of her ancestors had controlled the horrible driders exploded with a blast so strong that it threw her back through the door and over the balcony into the empty air.
She managed to call forth her powers of levitation just in time and glided safely down toward the floor of the cave.
Immediately she turned around intending to return to her throne hall to survey the damage.
She was just in time to see the entire stalagmite collapse burying all that had been inside under tons of rock.
All color drained from Triel's face as she stared at the scene of utter destruction before her.
"Jarlaxle!" she whispered tonelessly.
Over two hours after he had arrived naked and confused in the center cave of Jarlaxle's hideout Dinin still didn't really understand what had happened.
Axa had provided him with some old clothes that didn't fit and an odd story about swirfnebli and magic stones that he didn't quite understand. That didn't satisfy his curiosity.
He had considered asking either Kimmuriel or Rai'gy for their version of the story but had decided against it since he knew neither and wasn't sure whether he should trust them at all.
When he inquired about Jarlaxle he was told that the mercenary had disappeared a few minutes ago and that they had been looking for him ever since.
When Axa mentioned his intention to take another look at Jarlaxle's injured leg and back as soon as he found him, a satisfied smile appeared on Dinin's face. Unless Jarlaxle had entirely changed his habits during the years that he had been imprisoned inside the magic stone Dinin knew where to find the mercenary.
Unnoticed in the confusion caused by the appearance of so many drow many of whom hailed from times long past and were not at all familiar with the political situation of the city or their new surroundings Dinin slipped away into the quiet tunnels of the Underdark.
Happy to be back on the familiar path he had known so long ago Dinin broke into a run and soon overtook Jarlaxle who was still limping badly and therefore moving not nearly as fast.
The mercenary looked at him for a moment then continued down the path as if nothing had happened.
Dinin fell into pace beside him.
For several minutes they walked in silence before Dinin asked "What happened to your leg?"
"Snakebite," Jarlaxle grinned.
"Baenre?" Dinin guessed.
"Yes. - Triel Baenre that is. Matron Triel Baenre!"
"Triel?" Dinin repeated. "Sounds like we'll soon have a new first house."
"Could be," Jarlaxle conceded happily.
"And what happened to your favorite cape?" Dinin continued.
"Oh that! It's right here." Jarlaxle pulled it from his hidden pocket and showed it to Dinin. "See? I just needed a little traditional camouflage in my latest adventure."
He stopped for a moment to exchange the piwafwi for the cape once more. Jarlaxle looked at the black cloak in his hand then held the garment out to Dinin. "Take this Kahl'abbil. You look like you could use it."
As Dinin took the piwafwi from Jarlaxle's hand their eyes met.
"Could you tell me just what really happened to me?" Dinin asked bluntly.
"Sure!" Jarlaxle smiled. "But it's going to be one very long story. ..."