By Xullrae Zauvir
Chapter 2 - The Web Begins to Weave (part 3)
(twenty years in the past)
A soft wind rustles through the foliage which encompasses the outskirts of the small grove, though it offers only a minimal comfort from the nearly unbearable heat which permeates the jungle's interior. The small cave which is serving as their temporary abode during the long weeks of training sat to their east, nothing but trees and thick underbrush in any other direction as far as the eye could see.
From within that stone settlement's confines emerged a silhouette which had come to be quite familiar to Drazoul, that of his aged mentor, whom he refers to only as "Teacher". Twin pinpoints of crimson sway within the darkness, intent upon Drazoul's form, approaching ever closer, only to disappear a heartbeat later, the humanoid silhouette melding completely with the darkness now as well. This would be yet another test of the young apprentice's skill at fighting in complete darkness, like so many before and like many times before, the area was blanketed in darkness of the deepest sort, the cavern and trees disappearing from view now as well. The Yuan-ti could expect the blunt end of his teachers staff to crack him in the skull at any moment, should he fail to concentrate enough and pinpoint the attacker. What he could not expect was the presence of another form that lurked in the shadows beyond the grotto's periphery.
Everything was silent and peaceful in the darkness. Drazoul himself was loose and relaxed as he had been instructed on, intent on keeping the peace that was his weapon against what he could not see. He waited for the strike even as quick as he was his teacher would be faster. All Drazoul could do was lessen the strike in an attempt to hamper the pain a bit. After waiting a long while he decided to cautiously move forward.
The Malaugrym had chosen one of his more common forms for this little reunion, one the teacher would know well. It was that of a Drow male, he was quite partial to their dexterous shape, and stern features. Darkness didn't impair his vision, not at the least, dull crimson orbs sliding over the scene in quiet watch, he didn't seem to be trying to slink throughout the shadows, for he wanted his presence to be known to his old friend, once a valuable employee. That was of course after the little accident that put him in a sort of stasis for quite the time, leaving his mind open to that around him, but body trapped.
Drazoul waited for a blow that did not come, rather, he heard the soft hiss of metal, a sound he knew well, that of his Teacher's quarterstaff being pulled in two, the katana-like blade of one half making a soft hiss of its own within the darkness as the "sheath" half was pressed to Drazoul's chest in a manner that bid him not to move. The veil of unnatural darkness slowly dissipated, allowing Drazoul to catch a glimpse of his teacher stepping forward, blade held at the defensive, spinning slowly about, seeming to search for a foe that he hadn't caught wind of yet or perhaps the old man had simply gone senile at last. Knowing the teacher as he did, the yuan-ti could guess it was the first option.
Drazoul was not yet ready for blade training but his teacher did allow him to carry a small specially crafted blade by his own teacher since there were many dangerous creatures in the region. He pulled it out in a quick motion not worrying that his teacher might think treachery he looked for the foe his master seemed to have sensed.
Szordrin stepped forward into plain view, his own stance was rather casual with gnarled staff in hand, nimble, ebony digits having a light grasp upon the rugged wood. His blackened hood was pulled low to cover facial features, yet there was a hint of crimson coming from the darkness within, staring at the one he knew as Mor'kaala. He remained silent, and didn't move an inch afterwards, allowing the old Halfblood to perceive what he wanted too about his forthcoming.
The elder Halfblood stepped into a small patch of moonlight, his scaled, almost withered looking hide coming into plain view. Despite his aged appearance, his body was still well sculpted and formed, his mane of white hair, which was pulled back into a high pony tail still appearing full as well. That human-like countenance turned in Drazoul's direction for but a moment, the glance of his narrowed, crimson orbs portraying a message that danger was afoot, and perhaps something else, a sadness of sorts, as if he knew his time on the world was about to end.
Facing the hooded figure, it was evident that he knew who it was despite the hood being in place. His weapon had been lowered, but his guard had not. Much time had passed since he'd last encountered the hooded figure, enough that his life span should have passed many times over, but he had found means of extending that life span, and there was a small hope that the other benefits imparted by those same means would give him a chance to survive against his own master of old. He would not tell his student to leave, as the young Halfblood would be killed anyway if the shrouded figure so wished it.
Inclining his head respectfully for a moment, he now addressed the drowic form. "Greetings, Shadowed One."
Drazoul stared hard at the figure before him he knew it was a drow. He had seen a few even on an occasion, traded practice sword play with a few of them. The human's described drow as demon devils but Drazoul found they were neither. It was true they had much skill and were quick, but the Yuan-ti had never been impressed by their arrogance which would ultimately lead them to their doom in battle. Drazoul nodded and saw his masters reactions and quickly sheathed his blade and waited until further instructions were given to him.
"Its been quite awhile since we last spoke Mor'kaala," Szordrin responded. His tone was cold and stoic, his frame unmoving, frozen in place. Unnervingly calm was he as he continued, "though I do remember, yes.. All of it.. YOU were there, my friend" That last word, dripping with venom.
"Perhaps you could tell me your outlook on things, hm? Or maybe even confess, yes. How does that sound?" His crimson orbs mere slits now, staring at his old comrade, it took him awhile to track this one down, though after finding out about a certain yuan-ti, who still lived, he didn't let up in his search, just like with the others. There was something different about the Malaugrym, a bit of sanity had slipped, though he kept all his wits about him, and all the more powerful then before.
In all the time Drazoul had known his instructor, he'd never once viewed the elder yuan-ti showing any signs of fear whatsoever, but there always came a first time for everything. It was a small sign, only a twitch, but Drazoul saw it all the same. The sound of the disguised Malaugrym's voice had brought back too many old fears, and harbored some new ones as well. For a long moment, the teacher said nothing, seemingly not even so much as drawing a soft breath. A slight tremble then worked its way through the old man's body as he tried to formulate an answer. The first word nothing more than a hoarse gasp. Clearing his throat then, he remembered that his charge was here, and that much had changed over the past couple of centuries. The tremor stopped, faith put back into his abilities once more, helping him to face against the "master". As he answered, the tip of his prehensile tail fell to the ground, and began to slowly and methodically etch something into the hard-packed soil. It was the old male's hopes that Drazoul would notice, and that the Malaugrym would not. "Yes...I was there. Though I have no real confessions to make. It was not my doing."
The young yuan-ti was confused and a bit afraid but he watched his teachers every movement to see if any sign orders would be given but he did notice the small inscription being implanted into the ground.
That minor detail slipped the Malaugrym, he was much more intent on what the elder yuan-ti had to say, needless to say, that rather un-detailed answer didn't suffice. Digits curled tighter over his staff, which was lifted from the ground and pointed forward, his teeth gritting together, crimson orbs flaring momentarily. His voice barely restraining the rage within, "two-hundred years. Two hundred years of nothingness and silence. My own thoughts were all that my wretched imprisonment granted me, and even they were misleading!"
The very soil trembled with his anger. In the past the Malaugrym was calm and collective, he was rarely seen upset to the point of showing it in such a way, this little fact alone may cause one who has known him to worry. "You better come up with a better answer that that." His eyes went from a crimson red to a sickly yellow color.
the inscription became more like a carving upon the ground, one which Drazoul recognized. Despite the fact that another twitch born of fear had caused the elder yuan-ti to nearly eradicate the entire etching. The symbol was one which his student had viewed a time or two amongst the masters meager supply of personal items. It was in the form of a mere medallion, but Drazoul had always gotten the impression that it held some great magic's. At any rate, the master did nothing more than paint the picture. Any assumptions would have to be his own, as the master's thoughts were fully upon the hooded figure now. The elder's normally calm and complacent mask actually broke for a moment, as the Malaugrym's near palpable rage showered upon his form. The fact he had to put on a show for Drazoul was largely forgotten now.
However, he kept enough composure that he did not flee, then again, he knew that too would be a fruitless endeavor. His hopes laying in the fact that Drazoul would get the gist of his message and that he could bargain for his "life". Quickly he knelt, bowing his head to the shrouded figure in a sign of submission, laying the twin halves of his weapon upon the ground beside him, attempting to portray that he would finally cooperate. Though some small part of it was a ruse, it was in large part done out of actual fear. "I beseech your forgiveness, Shadowed One, I will tell you that which I know, at least that which I remember. It has been a long time."
Drazoul had gotten the message loud and clear and knew what he had to do. He faked sheer fear which would cause him to stutter. "M-m-master? S-should I go and g-get you and t-t-t-this person a drink?" The young yuan-ti did not even wait for a response he left with room with haste and went straight for his teachers personal belongings in a hope to find the medallion.
Szordrin smiled in triumph, reveling in the groveling "Yes.. Your cooperation is refreshing," he began a slow walk toward the knelt figure, though by all means he didn't get overly close for his own reasons. The tip of his staff idly digging into the ground below, assessing the situation for a moment. Watching the whelp run off, he didn't trust the situation, but trust alone was a hard fought ally after his last predicament. "You may even be rewarded if this is made worth my time."
The elder stood now, though he kept his gaze inclined to the ground, the reptilian humanoid pointedly left his divided weapon upon the ground. "Your generosity knows no bounds. I will give an honest accounting, as far as I am able. Though I feel a reward would be a quick death, in your terms. was what he left unsaid. He trusted not the Malaugrym, probably with good reason. But then again, he would not be entirely honest, until certain unchangeable arrangements were made.
Drazoul reached his destination hastily and looked around for a few long moments before he found what his teacher bid him to find. He also found two cups and filled both with a wine his master kept near his other belongings then returned with not moment to lose.
Inwardly relieved that his student had been allowed to live for the time being, and had gone to retrieve the item, the reptilian assassin continued, "there was a stranger, a drow. None of us knew his name, though he seemed to know quite a lot about you. He was very charismatic, very convincing in his offer of helping us rid ourselves of you. I, of course, did not wish to go along with the plan, as I was, happy with my status and, working conditions while in your...employ. I believe he used compulsion magic's to win us over in the end, mayhaps he used them the whole time. Whatever the case, he presented us with the methods, and laid the plans out before us." He pauses, his scaled face holding a quizzical look for a moment, perhaps trying hard to remember something, "he was there while we lay the trap and another stranger, a..human, I think, yes, I did see a human there too. At any rate, we, the collective of your highest servants, carried out every bit of the fieldwork. Our benefactor never said a word after it was done, merely nodded in approval, and left after making sure you were truly immobilized. To this day, none of us know who that benefactor was." He dared a glance now, though brief, towards the cavern where his student had gone, pausing in his musings.
As Drazoul arrived he saw his teacher kneeling and the strange drow was talking to him. He wasted no time and quickly brought the drink to his master then discreetly gave him the item he requested. He then moved a few steps towards the drow but kept a distance and placed the other cup on the ground then backing away cautiously as to not offend the mage.
The disguised Malaugrym took in a nice deep breath, listening and crunching every last detail the serpent spoke, however.. his crimson orbs did shift to the younger assassin that appeared, for what was several seconds, unblinking yellow eyes stared eerily at the youth before turning into mere slits, his words to the older of the two. "So, my capture was due to weak-minded generals." He was speaking calmly unlike before, this was much more like the Malaugrym of the past, not that it meant anything good, knowing to kill even his most talented warriors without a hint of emotion or hesitation, this was what made him dangerous, he didn't show anger any longer, his eyes turning crimson once more. He was far less predictable now. "You've lived quite a long time, I didn't expect you to still be among to living," He paused, "what else do you know?" Wanting all the information he could get before making any decisions.
The Teacher took the glass from his student, nodding appreciatively, allowing his senses to flow outward, to determine if Drazoul had indeed found the object. Satisfied within moment that he had done so, his gaze turned back to the drowic figure, this time said gaze was not deferred, though it was by no means defiant or haughty. "I must admit that I am not exactly to be counted amongst the living any longer. I felt the need to extend my life span through unnatural means or the want to, at the very least. However, back to the subject at hand," A long draught of the liquid in his hands was taken, he knowing deep down inside that it would perhaps be his last, despite the fact he now held some measure of power against the Malaugrym nearby. "It has been a long time, but there exists a set of, hm, seals, if you would, intended for use in such case that you may escape in the future. Which, has become a reality in the present." He stopped now, his crimson gaze scrutinizing the Malaugrym for a moment. "For me to say more, I'm afraid I would need positive assurances that you will leave me, and my student, in peace."
Szordrin's facial expression remained calm as his former comrade spoke more treachery. "I am not totally cold blooded, if your information is genuine and true, I will not lay a hand on you, or your apprentice." It was not true of course, he even allowed a little chuckle to escape, for his own reasons. "I didn't come here for petty revenge, I wished knowledge, and as long as you continue to give me what I need, I don't see why your life here will have to be forfeit."
Despite himself, he could almost believe it...almost. At this time he allowed his tail to slowly meander its way to his student, poking Drazoul for the briefest moment, trying to convey that he would need to be at the ready. "Very well. There are seven such seals, distributed to seven of your, hm, most esteemed followers." Drazoul felt the prodding of his teacher and was somewhat confused as to what he meant but after looking around the vicinity he figured his teacher might need him so he had his hand on the hilt of his dagger. Sensing that his student may not have fully got his meaning, he emphasized a certain word in his next phrasing, to give further clue. "These SEALS each have someone who can unlock their power, though these 'keyholders' are not one and the same with those who carry them. A precaution of sorts, also a hindrance, in my opinion, but it was not my place to comment at the time. I am knowledgeable of those who carry the seals but not the keyholders. They were all newborn babes at the time, and I am rather certain most have been lost during the passing couple of centuries. Though, if you were to gain all the seals, it would stand to reason that the keyholders would no longer matter."
He thought he finally understood what his teacher meant. He realized the item was a seal but was his master indicating he had the power to unlock them if so he would perhaps his master wanted him to release the power. Drazoul could not be sure so he decided to wait one more moment perhaps one more indication or clue as to what he had to do would come if not he would try to unlock the power.
The Elder continued without interruption, "the children had the methods of unlocking the seals powers stored within their subconscious, and I doubt any ever came to knew they held the power."
The Malaugrym's crimson eyes once again shifted to the youth, somewhat putting two and two together, certain seals, whom needed a newborn, who would technically be a youth or old by now if not for magic. A hint of smile touching the corner of ebony lips. "I see, very interesting indeed." True, he didn't see the seal, but he was open to paranoid assumptions. "Then you are willing to hand over yours, am I correct in believing this?" An expecting smile transformed Szordrin's mouth.
His masters last indication was he needed to hear though Drazoul was shocked by what his mentor told him he went to grab the cup from his mentor but instead grabbed the glass item and hoped he could somehow unleash the power.
Catching that small shift, which had flickered in his student's direction, he felt a need to emphasize a point before answering. "These babes were born on the day you were trapped. It has been nearly three centuries, so one of my race could not possibly hold such information within, as our life spans are not so great as your own." He then took note of the students actions, though he knew it would do no good as of the moment. "In return for our lives, or continued existence's, rather, yes, I would turn one such seal over to you, and give you the names of the other seal holders."
Concentrate as he might, the yuan-ti could get the metallic amulet to do nothing whatsoever of an arcane nature. Drazoul just stared in surprised the item had no effect but perhaps his mentor would explain later.
"You have yourself a deal then," clearing his throat, his free hand outstretched, nimble digits splaying open, "the seal, then?" This new information brought up a new quest, the past generals he had killed probably all had such similar objects, backtracking would be a pain, but this was a necessity, the Malaugrym was known for covering his tracks, not leaving a weakness open.
Offering almost what could be called the traces of a warm smile to his student, the teacher motioned for the lad to pass the seal along to himself. While in transition, with both of them making contact with it for a moment, there erupted from it a brief flash of arcane energy, easily detectable by all, and a message was passed from student to teacher, silently, in thought only, which passed as soon as the teacher held the amulet fully.
Feeling a need to explain, and quickly, the old reptilian assassin did so as he slowly held out the seal, in the Malaugrym's direction. "The seals offer some small bit of powers directly to their holders, so it reacted to my touch, as it has been quite some time since I've had reason to lay my scaled hands upon it. I do not believe it will cause you any harm, in and of itself, milord. We were told the entire set was needed in order to reactivate the trap. But caution may be in order."
Szordrin visibly flinched and almost let loose a spell in the aftermath. Casting a murderous glance to his former servant before speaking coldly, "yes, I'd assume as much." The Malaugrym didn't move forward, he simply used his sheer will to mentally pull the stone from the grasp of the scaled assassin, a newfound power he deceivingly kept hidden until now. "Is there anything else I should know?" There was only mild caution when the stone came close enough to grab, he didn't expect such an object to hold enough power to smite him.
The amulet itself would offer up no harm whatsoever to the Malaugrym upon grasping it. A certain calmness overcame the teacher at that point, one associated with certain death and one associated with the knowledge that his student would now be safe, at least for a while, and definitely for today. "Just the names, Shadowed One," he proceeded to list each of the seven former generals. Curious, but not worried, about what form his impending death would take.
Drazoul stared at his mentor in paralyzed shock so much had been revealed but the one that stung him the most profoundly now was the thought his master may fall today.
"You knew this time would come Mor'kaala, one last question before we part ways," his words were cryptic, and having double meaning. The Malaugrym had no intention on letting his former comrade live to see tomorrow, yet he already seemed to know that. "What kept you alive all these years? The fear of death?" A strange question to ask, especially since it was totally off the subject at hand, he didn't mean the magical nature itself, but the reason, a striving goal. Anything.
The question caught the teacher a bit off guard, and combined with his calm acceptance of the fate about to be bestowed, he allowed the smallest of chuckles to escape, though it did not hold overly much mirth. "One could say that, yes. However, I had to seek out a means to cheat death, which was not overly hard. Bargaining the life of several students, I managed to cut a deal with a vampire some years back."
Drazoul stood there, helpless and confused, knew he could not let his master fall to the cowardly drow. So he gathered his courage, and shoved all of the emotions into the pit of his stomach like he had been taught, leaving his mind clear with a single thought. In a quick motion he grabbed his masters sword stick and in a fluid motion drew the blade and plunged it into his masters chest all the while keeping eye contact with his master until the last flicker in his eyes dies out. He then pulled out the blade from his masters chest.
At first, sheer shock and surprise sprang to life within the masters eyes as they were locked with Drazoul's, then came understanding, and even appreciation, as the spark of life slowly faded away to nothingness. The deal he had made with the aforementioned vampire was not for true vampirism to be bestowed, but rather that a monthly tithing of blood was to be given to the yuan-ti, that he may prolong his life without crossing the threshold to undeath.
As such, the powerful, mystical blade which plunged through his chest was sufficient to end his existence, much as Drazoul had wanted. The light completely faded now, the teacher went to his grave with the knowledge that the remaining seal guardians would meet the same fate due to his betraying them, a cold comfort of sorts.
Drazoul's eyes were very misty and his hands were shaking though he did not allow himself to weep. Not with this foul figure before him. He was filled with dread, a feeling of satisfaction came a moment later, as he knew his master could rest in peace and not have to avenge his death from the land beyond.
He then turned an icy stare towards the drow, "you have what you want. Leave as my master agreed."
Another little chuckle came rolling from in-between slightly parted ebony tiers, the brash movement didn't throw him off, in fact he was counting on it. "That was very .. honorable of you, killing off your poor old Master like that." He began to step forward, closer onto the scene, not that he had worried about doing so beforehand, but now only the whelp remained. "However, this is far from over," after all, this had gone much too easy, his crimson orbs were assessing the youth now, if only for a moment. "How does it feel, to take your own mentors life? To be a cold blooded killer?" Lean shoulders rose, then fall in a slight shrug, not caring for a response, "or do you feel you did the right thing?" He was approaching the body now, testing the young one and what his reaction would be.
Drazoul glared at the drow and considered hurling a small dagger at his throat. But it would do nothing the drow most likely had defenses. "Honor?" He spat, "what would one such as you know about honor?" Though Drazoul was an assassin, even they had some code of honor as warped and distorted as it was. He started to laugh at the drow's next question. "cold blooded killer? Look at me Drow I'm a snake. I was born a cold blooded killer. My skills were merely honed by my master." he makes a gesture towards the dead form of his teacher. He kept a cold tone and spoke again, "how did it feel? like any other kill. Eventually I would have taken his life anyway. It just happened to come sooner than expected." His words were lies, but he did not want the drow to have his moment nor did he want to show any signs of weakness mentally.
"Your skills? I haven't seen anything impressive as of yet. Not that your Master was worth much more, I could've killed him, as easily as I'm going to kill you," he spoke calmly, it was hard to tell whether he bluffed, or spoke the truth. "I do believe its about that time." His hand started to raise, two fingers pointing toward the youth, who was now not to far off from his position. Unfortunately, something didn't feel right, an unknown force had kept him at bay, this only causing brows to furrow, he may have appeared to be frozen for several seconds, as if trying to remember an incantation. His next expression was that of frustration, though he kept it to a minimum. Not wanting to play it off like he couldn't muster, he dropped his arm slowly, muttering something under his breath, rather perturbed as to exactly why he couldn't seem to bring harm to this one.
Drazoul shuddered at the drows threats he was no fool and knew what he should do, but then the drow stopped he was rather bewildered why the mage decided to stop his attack. He found the courage to ask something, "tell me one thing. Who was my master before I knew him?"
A sly smile appeared on Szordrin's visage, he figured he might as well add salt to an open injury. "For one, I was HIS Master, he was nothing more then a lackey out of many, weak-minded, but I can't say to much of his intelligence, he was smart enough to kneel before me, even to this day. You should've seen him, groveling like a child when you ran off to grab his little trinket. He hasn't changed one bit. Pathetic, even his death was laughable, his student taking his life, he has only spoiled with age, becoming nothing more then a weak, sorry excuse." He could've said much more, but stopped himself, this didn't turn out so bad after all, not to mention he was partially irritated at his inability to harm the youth.
The Yuan-ti let out a hiss at the proclamation, his anger rising, perhaps getting the better of him. "Tell me drow are you powerful enough to sight as to how you will meet your death?"
The Malaugrym scoffed at the notion, finding it absolutely absurd. "You need not worry about my power, whelp. I have limitless potential, while the rest of your.. lessor races are capped, I find it amusing to this day." His eyes drop for a moment, to the corpse by his feet. He had gotten what he came for, and wasn't going to dwell on the youth, though he doubted this would be the last time he saw this one. On that note he turned, and began to walk off in the opposite direction. "I will return for you, sometime in the future and finish what I started, that.. I promise."
Drazoul let out a laugh that was a cross between a hiss and chuckle. "Seems the all mighty drow has no answer to the question well perhaps one of the lesser race can answer your question. You will die by your own arrogance and if you do come I also promise that from whichever hell or place you send me to I will come back no matter how many times you defeat me." It wasn't much of a threat he knew but he had to say something.
Szordrin cast one last glance over his shoulder at the youth, then once more at the corpse. "There are fates far worse then death, I'll assure you of that, and promise to choose one suitable for yourself." Now he couldn't leave with the corpse simply laying there. He wanted to make sure there was nothing left of it, an incantation was muttered, and a gesture made. It didn't take long for the body to rumble a bit, then implode on itself, leaving nothing behind. Such were the wonders of planar travel. "I'm sure the creatures will enjoy picking at the carcass of your Master, maybe, at the very least he can make a decent meal." He smiled coldly.
The yuan-ti stared intently at the leaving figure though he slightly flinched as his masters remains imploded. After the Drow left. He drenched the place in oil and lit it. He gathered all the possessions he would need and set out for the journey to the assassins guild.
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