Legends of Belariath


Cold Comfort: Bad Boy For Life - Part 3

Some days, one knows things have gone horribly wrong in their world instinctively without even knowing it. Other days, it takes a word, or a gesture, or even the first breath of air you gasp to inform you. Times like that are special, in the meaning of how fate lets you know beforehand how sorry it is for what shall transpire, as it is giving you warning before you discover for yourself how tremendous your heart will ache for times to come.

The day after I came back from my scouting trip to the UnderDark was not one of those days.

When I arose, my back hurt, my feet were aching, and all I knew was that there was a tub of warm water calling my name. Going to the bathing rooms, I found myself a rather large tub to simply sit in and soak. Water always has this effect of reminding me of the many reasons why I need to get a certain wizard's mark removed. The only person I figure powerful enough to erase it is my Liege Employer, but then I would feel I was nagging. Sure, it could cause problems for me if anyone picks up on what it means, but my Liege Employer is a very busy devil, indeed. You know, running an organization that certain tyrants I've assassinated would be envious of takes hard work and plenty of time to properly maintain. Granted, he may be immortal, but it does not mean he has all the time in the world.

The water was soothing, however, and it did provide me with an opportunity to finally relax and get my mind in order. Very valuable this, for I knew today was when my cohorts and I would be going to the "Store" and "Library." Now, the "Store" was known amongst all the people whom served my Liege Employer as "WeaponWorld," while the "Library" had been dubbed "Oghma's Basement" from the day it was fully constructed. In fact, the majority of the major structures in my Liege Employer's complex had some official title, such as "The Staging Room," "Halls of Ambrosia," or "Incantation Training Section." He had a few mage towers as well, one for each of the Four Winds (his majordomos).

Personally, I have no clue how my Liege Employer set up this creation of his with all the defensive incantations around it, for while we were literally situated at the far edge of the fifth level of Hell, no other demons or devils managed to come in without his knowledge and usually his express permission. Some days, creatures from the more powerful planes would be able to breach his defenses. Those days a burst of energy would coast through the sky above us, and a few crystal balls would hum and shift in colour, letting the guardian spirits and border mages know where the infiltration was. Some how, the mages and their legion-mates were prepared for just about everything. (Having a few high level priestesses around for emergency resurrections was always very useful.)

I guess after over five hundred years of working to create such a masterpiece, you learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately, the most I have to live involving a natural lifespan would be seventy-five years, so I have no aspirations to match the sheer massiveness of my Liege Employer's accomplishments. Of course, I have never wanted to be a leader of men, so I believe such a lack of ambition is a good thing. My career has already been laid out quite clearly for me, and I ought be happy with that. Still, there is always a part of me wondering what I would do if I could live beyond one hundred years.

The soak was over, and it was time to get up. The baths were kept heated magically, not from heating, but literally removing the cold from them to a certain degree. My Liege Employer had some interesting incantations to his credit, especially that one. Somehow, that spell was like a gift that kept on giving - all the cold flowed into his magical powers, increasing his sorcerous might or strengthening his mystical defenses. One has to appreciate the genius of that. Not like he really needed more; wait a moment, of course he did. Hell is not exactly an uncontested realm. Being that some days I had needed to go "outside the walls" in order to find a few spell components, I knew first hand exactly how dangerous it could be - and that was while under cover of so many protection spells, it literally made me nauseous.

Getting a few towels, I wrapped my coffee-coloured frame and went back to the domicile, where I had guests waiting for me. Well, you could call them guests, as they were fellow servants of my Liege Employer, and they were not trying to kill me. The four women were lounging on my bed and couches, examining some of my books... including my book of writing. Snatching it out of the young half devil's hands, I put it and a few other books they had been rifling through back in their respective positions. If there is anything I despise, it is people who come in and make themselves at home with my books. I feel it is a violation of my privacy, and I tend to be a very private person when it comes to my writing. It is the only thing I do not directly related to my chosen profession. To be honest, I did not choose to be an assassin. My profession chose me. You could say I was born and bred for the part. Of course, if you said that I might have to kill you if you said it wrong or in high elven. Just the way I am. Hostility and lethal talent all compacted into one long and menacing body for the express purpose of bringing extinction early to unfortunate souls (and the occasional surface elf).

Now, I had four women in my room, and here I was with one towel on my head, another around my waist, and a third over my broad shoulders. The magescript glared with the brass glint in the light of day. (On an aside, I think the only reason we have "night" and "day" in my Liege Employer's controlled realm is to relax his servants with a semblance of normality.) My hair was hidden in my top towel, but I could feel it dripping from when I dunked myself a few times in the warm bath. Down my scalp, descending past my throat with a trickle, seeping and gathering speed down my back or my front, being caught in the second towel. And I had the disturbing feeling the solitary "dark elf" from Krynn inside my room was following every bead with her eyes. Where she is from, they would call Kagonesti. I would normally call her "dagger-bait," but she works for my Liege Employer so that is out of the question. Most of the races here would dub her a wild elf, but usually we call her Evish-cshu`la. The young (in terms of elves, in any case) elf's admirers and suitors have dubbed her Evishka the Graceful. Her friends call her Evie. There is one thing I ought to be perfectly clear on, however, before I continue: I Am Not Her Friend.

"So, Story? Have you heard the good news?" opened Evishka before I could tell them all to get out of my room. The moment I heard that, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I was not going to like what she would tell me next. In order to stall the enividable phrases of damnation, I quietly raised my eyebrow and made a sweeping motion - not so subltely telling them to exit my room while I wanted to change. As expected, they did not move a muscle. Growling once, I leaned up against my bookcase, foling my arms across my chest, glaring at them all. It was then a few more undesireable guests decided to walk through my still open threshhold: five more feminine forms sauntered into the room, chatting gaily and massaging aching muscles from an early morning sparring session.

Nine women, one mage who temperment was souring more wtih every second they took up my space, and here I was without a teleportation spell. All I could think of to myself was *This had better be very blasted important.* My eyes narrowed in on Evishka; to be honest, they narrowed in on her throat, as I envisioned multiple ways of severing her head from her body using the books in my room.

"We are going with you! Is that not wonderful?" I could have sworn she was part catgirl, the way Evishka purred that out, rubbing herself against my towering frame of ebony hatred. "The instructions for the next scouting mission came down from the majordomo of the West Wind herself. Apparently, our employer wants to be sure imformation comes back no matter what. Your team was the only one to come back with conclusion facts as well as a plan. So, in order to ensure the success of this second expedition, the West Wind selected nine people to go along for the ride. Women all, as you can see, so she knew the information would be accurate. You ought to be thrilled she deems you worthy of protection from the best."

No, protection from the best would be my Liege Employer coming down himself and doing the footwork. (And before you scoff, I have done two personal errands with him by my side.) This was not only an insult, but an official declaration of mistrust from the West Wind. Apparently, she did not like the chances of my team getting in and out again, so she decided to overload us with people. Not to mention all women - she believed men were only good for two things if they were not food stock, and what they were did not exactly make me feel better in her "esteemeed" presence. The only reason I could see the women coming to my room first and telling me first was...

Oh no. I was not going to take the sparks and spit for this one. And Evishka with all her charisma and charm wsa not fooling me for a moment. She must have known she wouldn't, therefore there was something else under her skirts, as she was never fond of sleeves. Hid too much of the body she said, and her doting suitors (male and female) agreed.

"You tell the rest of them yourselves. I have no part in the decision, I have no part in the declaration. It is up to you to tell the rest of the people from my cadre, and I sincerely doubt you need to have `all the troops' present in order to inform them. Now, if you do not mind, I have clothes to put on, and properties to acquire. For unlike yourselves, I do not believe my physique dazzling enough to stop a kuo-toa blade plunging into my flesh. Then again, I doubt any of you have faced a kuo-toa, so you may want to ask around while you go throught the spell lists at Oghma's Basement. They may not be terribly strong, but if you encounter one, you encounter ten. So, as you can see, I have a lot to finish, and not a huge amount of time to do it in. Time for humans such as I runs at the same speed as it does for githyanki, so I have to get to work. OUT."

They did not argue with me a lot about the hurry in which they were ushed out of my room, seeing how I was not known for tolerance with being interfered with. Some of them giggled and grinded against my hands and hips as I moved them along, whispering naughty wishes into my ear. A few even got brave and massaged my thighs with their hands, only to find not a single facial reaction from the dark-souled mage. Scooting them out of the room, I closed the door. Sighing against it, I heard them talking outside my door is softer tones, figuring out whom to approach next, and how many of them should be present each time. Rolling my eyes at the inanity, I turned around. What lay before my eyes on my bed almost made me want to scream. On my bed, reclining and partially covered in my covers, was Uuamytvosa. She was a biracial being like many of those whom served my Liege Emperor. However, one would never have expected a satyr and a wild elf to get together. Well, in her case they did - I have met her siblings AND her parents. For a member of any race was she gorgeous, her legs more like her father's, her torso like her mother's... and her passions were like a succubus. (And to give you an idea, she managed to outlast an incubus during an all night session when both were fully rested originally. Most everyone was impressed, but I tend to be rather blas? about such things when demons are involved. Her parents were most notably NOT impressed, and sentenced her to solitary study for a month.)

"Okay, the other eight have left, little lady. What makes you different? If you believe you are going to get a free show from me, the answer is no. If you think I am going to dally with you, the answer is once again no. I have far too much to accomplish this day to put up with your foolishness. So, what do you need which is so important you could not have confronted me about it later on? I have an appointment with WeaponWorld I have no intention of missing, for I've no need to become drider-bait."

"You do not like it, do you?"

I stopped cold. Never before had Uuamytvosa been so direct about something serious with me before. Sure, I had fought by her side once or twice. And yes, she had tried to seduce me on a dare once back when she feared me. I thought it was humorous, but we never discuss it. It would not be right to tease her; she kicks harder than I do. And occasionally she will use a lustful or husky tone on my person, but that's only as a joke, for she knows my want for physical intimacy is almost non-existent. This time she was openly being honest about something, in a way that alerted me to the subtle nuances in her tone.

She was scared.

"Do not like what? The West Wind's dismissal of my cadre's competancy? Yes, in fact I despise it. It is like she believes we were fortunate instead of talented, graced by Amaunator's will rather than graced with prowess and discipline. In one fell swoop, she may have ruined the mindset we needed in order to be successful a second time with minimal confrontation. Now the rest of the composite team may feel some diabolical urge to prove themselves in combat, and such may alert our opponents, whom DO have a city to back them up whereas we have naught but surprise and tactics."

I realized half way through I was growling, but at that moment I did not care. Here it was, we had less than three days to prepare ourselves to go into a hostile realm, and then second-in-command tells us in no uncertain terms we are not good enough. What will that do to their confidence? And then having women specifically sent along with us, claiming men (in a roundabout way) are not fit for the job. It was a disaster waiting to happen unless they kept their heads on straight and focused on the task at hand. Of course, why would they not? They were all part of my Liege Employer's organization, correct? They would be as comptenant as I, if not more so. I had nothing to worry about...

"I mean, Tophet, you do not like the idea a woman is in charge of your mission. Wlizsan-Jeree? The half devil? She is going to be in the hot seat for the duration of your time - our time Below."

Okay. Now that threw everything completely off kilter. Wliszan-Jeree was the arrogant tiff who was fingering my prized volume of teachings from Amaunator, all of them carefull enscribed by my own hands during my three months of captivity in a high elven prison. (Well, they could not figure out where my ability to write so fast came from. You have to love outside help.) She was known for having a temper akin to both her parents - low level devil on her mother's side, and minotaur on her father's. And she was going to lead us into the UnderDark. You have GOT to be kidding me.

"You are not serious, are you? Like, this is one of those infernal jests you and the kitsune insist on playing on we `hapless men' to enlighten our souls or some stupid reason like that. If you are not trying to be funny, however, I do hope you have a good chat with your favoured deities before we leave, because we are not coming back."

"That is not even close to fair, Tophet, and you know it. She is a perfectly capable leader of beings - men and women not withstanding. I have crossed firewalls for her, and she is more than willing to do the same for me. She -"

"Yes, milady, but that is for YOU. Have you ever heard her say anything good about the male of the species except for they are fun for sexual entertainment on the off occasion? She does not like men, at all. I would not put it past her to sacrifce one or all of us for the mission, yet still call it a success because all the womenfolk made it back without mussing a hair. I like her not, I believe her Not, I Trust Her Not. That is the end all and be all of this arguement. Have no faith in her skills which are not combat related, and to think she is going to be ordering us around?"

"It is because she's a woman, isn't it? Your male pride -"

"Look, Uuamytvosa, if it was because of that, I would not be able to serve my Liege Employer to the fullest of my ability. No, this has to do with her being HER. Nothing else. I would rather follow Evishka's lead than hers, to be perfectly honest. Heck, I would prefer -yours- to either of them. Down Below, we had no official leader, as one was not needed. We operated as a unified body, not a segmented regiment. And that made us successful - best idea was agreed upon and acted out. We are not going down there to fight a city, we are supposed to be there to spy upon it."

"You sure about that, Tophet? For someone that reputedly has never had sex, you seem to have a lot of issies whenever women are involved. And do not you dare snarl at me like some crazed lycanthrope, because you have heard this all before. I know you though, Tophet. I know you well enough to feel the vibrations of apprehension eminating from your soot-coloured flesh. You really did not know she was going to be leading this second sojourn down into the UnderDark did you? Well, you have little to worry about then, because Wliszan-Jeree actually will not be the one calling the shots underneath the neverlight sky." She paused then, dramatically.

"I am."

Getting up from my bed, she kissed me on the lips swiftly, tapping my still toweled behind with her hand on the way out. My mind whirled a little from the kiss, mainly because she had slipped in some tongue as she did it, while the tap I realized after was a squeeze that was more subtle than she had originally wanted to. The door shut tightly behind her as I sat down on my bed, holding my head in my hands.

*There is a sucker born every minute, Tophet,* my mind railed at me, *and you just let yourself be the next one. Did you not SMELL that coming? She reeled you in like a siren does sailors. The only good thing you got out of it was to find out Wliszan-Jeree is NOT leading the second descent.* Parts of my body were telling treacherous lies about something else good about that conversation, but I had no need to acknowledge their claims.

Finally dressing for the day, I put on my wrist and leg bracers. One never knew what you could use Below, and I wanted to make sure I found everything on my personal lists. My garb was all of dark elven design, for I liked the way the fabric felt against the magescript. The clothes also had plenty of volume to hide various items and weapons - always useful for my task. After all, a mage without a spell is defenseless right? I had no desire to prove that to anyone, making sure I always had a trick up my sleeve... and a blade in the other sleeve. Sure, it might not be the most honourable thing to do, but honour does you no good when you are dead unless it is a bard singing about a dead knight or cleric. My boots were of dwarven make - the best kind as far as I have tried. Perfect fit, with side braces for daggers. Those dwarves, they think of everything. And the fact they used a dark elven design for them made them even better.

Stretching a little, I got myself loose and limber for the day's activities by practicing a few martial patterns I had seen some of the dark elves do in Menzoberanzan. Granted, I was nothing close to as dexterous as they were, but the motions were simple enough. One after the other, the movements came to me. It was as if my body was waking up after a long sleep, and was struggling to get back to original form. Each turn, each spin, each rotation of the arm - all of it centered my mind and allowed my pounding heart ot go in rhythm to my breathing. Darker and darker my skin grew, as the sorcery inherent in my blood cast its aura about my frame. Now, now was I ready for the day.. right after I ate something.

Going down to one of the kitchens, I waved hello the various chefs. It is good to have minotaurs and halflings working together, for then you can have things stacked really high, and you know someone will be able to reach them. One of the thri-keens was also hard at work, making pastries for some event being held on Oerth. Why make them here? Well, apparently Knzai-Sorbeth could not find "just the right spices and flours" for it where he was operating out of. Nobody argues with Knzai, as (he? she? it?) is liable to rip your arms off if you ask too many questions. Summoning one of the chefs, a pleasant dwarfmaid named Shasrina, I got myself a platter of meats and pastries, breads and vegetables. I think I may have scared her with the amount I asked for, it taking two hands to cart to a table. Served with fresh juices from fruits from Maztica, I went to work on my mountain of food, hearing various bets take place over how much I would be able to finish before my body gave out and could not hold any more. Smart money said half the platter, slim money said two thirds. One of the cooks said about a third then I donated the rest to others. The thri-keen put down one hundred gold coins and vouched for me to finish it and the flagon.

Knzai was the most hated sentient being inside that kitchen for the rest of the day.

Heading off to the cleaning rooms, I washed out my mouth with salts and scoured them clean with a rough towel. I always felt it important to keep my mouth as clean as possible, for scents foul and malevolent eminating from my mouth were never a good way to negotiate. Chewing on some mint leaves, I began the long walk to WeaponWorld. It was situated close to the center of the compound, a good hour-halved walk from where I was. Along the way I ran into the dark elves I was working with on the reconnaisance to the fallen city. They had just been visited by the women whom had slid into our positions, and they were nothing short of incensed. Every seventh phrase out of their mouths was some suggestion of what Kirva herself ought to do the ladies, and they talk fast in dark elven-speak. This did not bode well for the trip.

An hour-quartered of raving. An hour-quartered of ranting. "Stupid bitches" this, "foolish whores" that, "ungrateful little braggarts" the other thing. Never have I been forced to listen to such puerile drivel in dark elven since minding over Mistress Malchlavia Cropsghoxina of Tier'Narreth's three daughters two cycles of the moon previous. If my eyes were not open, I could swear I was back in training camp, watching high elven noblemen whelps learning to use a broadsword for the first time, bellyaching about having to use weighted semi-staves instead of real weapons. My patience for such adolescent prattle was wasted quickly, and one could hear the acid spit from my tongue like halfling children with slingstones.

"Okay. Okay. OKAY. You were robbed, you were spiked, you were dragontail-whipped. The entire universe has set itself against your reaching your highest potential by reversing your positive chi and inverting it by drowning it with vampiric ichor. Once you are done bemoaning your lot, feel free to catch up with me over by WeaponWorld. I will be the human going through my previous weapons to find out which ones to give in for enchanting or smeltering. Unlike the pair of you, I had to deal with all nine of them invading my room like locusts after my morning bath. So do not mope and whine to me, for I am distinctly lacking in sympathy this morning."

I stormed past them, my pleasant mood completely shot full of crossbow bolts now. All I could see now was a war breaking out before we even got back to Faerun. The more I thought about it, the more my head hurt. At that moment, my skull began to throb as if some random hill giant has just thrown my like a catapult stone into a fortress wall, and having that fortress collapse on me. Holding my head with my left hand, I gestured unconsciously and grumbled in ancient elven. Then I found myself in front the doors to WeaponWorld... with four half-orcs of varying parentage holding mystically modified guisarme-voulges right in my face.

*Well,* I thought to myself, *that is a new way to discover a variant of site-to-site teleportaion. Remind me to never learn a spell like this again, for reading them seems to do me just fine.*

The guards for WeaponWorld were putting up their blades just as the rest of the original group of marvelous miscreants arrived at the door. Seeing me just "appear" before them knocked their composure for a loop, even causing minotaurs to step back and go into defensive positions. Good insticts, just bad timing. Turning to them all, I shrugged casually, pointing behind them as my dark elven comrades ran up, not quite out breath but in no shape to duel the guards. As one, they swiveled back to watch the dark elf roll up, then back to me as I shrugged again helplessly. After all, what else could I say?

"New spell hit me. Had to try it out."

Receiving not the most friendly of growls from the WeaponWorld protectorate, they warned against any such shenanigans within the sacred halls of my Liege Employer's personally desgined armory. The way the guards when about it, you could swear they prayed to the maker of the first burnished blade. I commented not on this, instead letting them sermonize for another hour-quartered. Some days, I have learned it is best for all involved to let those larger than you speak their peace. Especially if they are trained in the unadultered art and science of cracking a keg of whooped ass over your back and drowning you in it.

Some people have no sense of humour. I am one of them, so I cannot compain overmuch. Walking into WeaponWorld, I had that sensation of getting in over my head with something. Now, every time I enter WeaponWorld, I have that same feeling. As far as I know, it is called -awe-. When you enter a building the size of a two barns side by side, with four levels full of different weapons and armors, people working on new enchantments, and others busy forging the tools of our trades, one feels a little small. I was not the only one feeling that way, for all the members of my group were looking around like it was their first time. Each of us could only view the mutitude of armaments and defensive clothing with mystified expressions of joy. Of course, we snapped out of it within moments, as a sour reminder of cruel reality slapped us in the face like a fresh sturgeon from the lake would...

"Well, what are you boys waiting for? We do not have all day! We have a presentation to attend, the Oddly Endings to get to, Oghma's Basement to drop by, and we had better be at the briefing the majordomo of the West Wind is holding, or we can kiss all of our respective behinds goodbye. Come ON, you remorrhaz droppings, we have to get a-moving!"

Just when we thought we could have a quiet moment to ourselves. Sure it may sound like a romantic interlude, but we were going to be spending at the very least a day with these people whom none of us truly had any favour towards. I say a day, for I was unsure of our ability to succeed, what with so many divergent mindsets at that moment. Still, we were going back down there in less than two turns of the bright day star on Oerth, and somehow within those two days less what time we had previously wasted we needed to be on the same parchment before we touched down. Personally, I thought our chances were fairly slim the way things were to accomplish that... and for once I was being optimistic.

This was not good. This was really not good at all...