Chapter 1: Meetings and Acquaintances----Page 4
Tower of Masked Mage (The Bargain)

Deep within the recesses of the Malagrym's memories, something is beginning to stir from the past. The shrouds of millennia part to offer confusion.

A swirling of images and details bombarded Szordrin's mind; some are vague while others are clear, but none offer comfort. Some part of him registers that this memory is of a time before the ancient kingdom of fallen Netheril. He surrenders and lets the past claim him.

Muted voices began to accompany the distorted images in the form of a hushed debate. The words became clearer before two humanoid silhouettes sharpened in detail; both were of a deep masculine nature, though one was far more melodic than the other. The rougher of the two came forth from the remembrance first.

"...Were to meet your 'other', the consequences will be personally more dire than these which are about to occur for the Realms as a whole. Mayhap for both of us! So dunnae preach to me about minding my own damned business! Gods, but ye live up to your vaunted insanity at times!"

"And you, dearest 'brother', portray more of it than you would like to live up to in my opinion. Fret not I shall take my leave soon enough, as even I dare not be here if possible consequences arise when the fall happens. It is sad to think that all of this will be but rubble in a short time," the melodic one said and finished with a regretful sigh.

"Aye, like yer 'utopian' kingdom will become within the next generation...I've met the bitch daughter of yours who will cause the downfall. Though quite the piece of ass like her mother, the rest of her takes all too much after her fath...."

There comes an abrupt silence just as the haze clears away completely, revealing twin pools of oak-brown hue peering intently at Szordrin. The thin-lipped mouth sits upon an ageless, olive skinned countenance. The man's expression was slightly agape, perhaps surprised. This revealed that Cogliostro knew or knows him now. As far as the Malaugrym could remember however, they had never met and yet the bald human didn't seem to be a natural part of the memory.

A wave of silvery locks blocks Cogliostro as a new figure spins about; he is just as tall as the bald wizard, though not as brawny of build and not as well dressed. Before the latter countenance can be viewed, however, the haze smothers the scene once again and lays the memory to rest.

Then, suddenly, another veil is lifted and another memory surfaces. This one set some centuries later. Unlike the last memory the parting is subconsciously fought against, as if Szordrin does not wish to recall this particular scene. Only a few times in existence is he caught off guard, if not completely stunned, and this is one such instance. The battle is soon quenched and the haze lifts, followed by the flashing of arcane energies erupting within the line of his vision.

The dark figures become obscured abruptly. Their shouts of alarm turn to screams and flailing arms can be seen in the background. Remembered pain overtakes the the Malaugrym's form then, nearly rousing him from his reverie; pain both physical, and a bit emotional as well.

Even whilst it occurred, the entire scene in front of Szordrin is still a confusing and obscure one. The trap for him had been laid all too well, by one far beyond the capabilities of his servants and apprentices. During the brief battle to escape, many of the shouting and chanting voices are familiar, but only one particular face is plainly in sight, that of the olive skinned, brown eyed human, Cogliostro. Head clean shaven and tattooed just as it had been in the time of Netheril's might. The human does not take any part of the actual battle; he simply stands by idly and watches. Though that felt wrong in the memory.

An interruption from the here and now yanked him from the remembrances of the human. Cogliostro's face still stared at him. The illusion had been presented by those gathered in the Malaugrym's current environs as a means of identifying the accomplished wizard. It was the image that sparked the memory, but why?

The voice came again to his ears, it carried a most regal tone. The figure matching the voice was the finely dressed, head priest of the drow temple, Shadow Sorcerer Pharaun Lhalabar.

A slight look of concern crossed Pharaun's face, mostly put on for the sake of show was given to the Malaugrym and it suddenly dawned on Szordrin that he must have been standing idle in reverie for some time. The meeting room and its few occupants, had been largely forgotten.

"Master Xarann, is something amiss?" asked the high priest again, in earnest.

Needless to say, the Malaugrym was able to bounce back from the effects and remember the form he was in and the name used with it. He sat down. The memories indeed came to haunt him seemingly without warning, of a time he couldn't forget, yet didn't wish to remember. He had tried to cast such things aside; oh, but the thought of what he did to most he had found so far, that alone brought a thin-lipped smile to his dark tiers.

Deep crimson orbs from the current Drow form he was in, shifted to Pharaun. "It is nothing to worry yourself about, I simply found myself in remembrance." His lean shoulders rose then fell seconds later, as if dismissing it all together. Fine hands lowered to the table, while the lengthy digits entwined with each other, Szordrin leaned forward ever so slightly, and spoke. "Now, where were we?"

Pharaun offered a simple nod in recognition of Szordrin's answer and took it as indication that they were ready to continue. The high priest then proffered a slender obsidian hand in the direction of the companion seated at his right. Bragh T'orgh, Master Emeritus of the Tower's arcanists, thought Szordrin; not that he cared if memory served him correctly.

Bragh had nothing that harbored any of the typical drow beauty. He had a rather small and scrawny looking frame. His dark skin looked too oily and his face was pinched with a crooked nose with red eyes sunk deep into their sockets giving him a bird-like stare. The ill kept drow even had lips that were dry and scarred from constant cracking and the lines around his mouth grooved too easily into a sneer. Shoulder length hair discolored from the soft bright white, was naturally thin and stringy; Bragh was ugly. He offered a small nod to Szordrin which caused his greasy, straw-like white hair to fall out of place from behind his long tapered ears and hang listlessly over his beady eyes.

The messy drow pffted and shifted his slight weight from one slippered foot to the other. The motion caused grime to smudge the lavender trim of his light gray robe while his hands stayed busy slicking back his dirty mane. Even his ensemble was hideous. Szordrin suppressed a revolted shudder.

Frowning, Pharaun nodded as the small problem was corrected as his twin pools of brightest crimson settled upon Szordrin again. The mannerism of speech and posture became businesslike as he presented his case. "As I had been stating before, we have the general layout of the portal already worked out. The location finally has been pinpointed and agreed upon. It will of course take us some weeks, maybe months to complete. As per our bargain, we are hastening the process along as much as we possibly can."

Szordrin weighed the priest's words, making his brow furrow for a moment. He waited some more, feeling the tension grow in the room and as he parted his dark lips to speak, it suspended there in a peak of turmoil. A second more and the malaugrym was satisfied. So pleased was Szordrin as he reveled in the nervousness in the room that he almost did not hear Pharaun speak.

"I would not fret over the fact that you...your people, I correct...are unable to undertake such endeavors themselves. I, and my colleagues, like some handful of scholars before us, have surmised that there is perhaps a Geas laid upon the lot of your kin, preventing the formulation of portals which could carry the lot of you into this Plane of existence. The Whore, as I have come to know her as, has been known to do such things to those she does not favor."

Szordrin closed his mouth slowly, his eyes gleamed like dagger points aimed at Pharaun. He spoke of Shar so boldly even though she and Vhaeraun were allies?

Pharaun, a man of power himself, wanted to buckle under such a gaze but did not give into the intimidation. He kept command of his dignity and position as head of this conversation. "Now, that aside, I would now state that I am open to further questioning on the matter of the portal, if you would have any such musings to impart."

The Malaugrym known in drow form as Szordrin Xarann, sat there, incredibly silent and unmoving. It was a stillness that only a predator could master.

Then he spoke crisply, "Yes, well, if this all does go well, then we won't have to worry about such a thing any longer," there was a slight pause, a moment's thought, before lips began to converse once again, "payment as you stated, were to be my services, do you perhaps know what I'll be needed for... perhaps a task that I'll need to perform?"

Szordrin looked quizzical as a stark white brow shot up in question, the details on his role were fuzzy. The portal alone was the greater importance for his race, and those who were even above him, but now it was time to delve a little deeper for his own sake. He had quite simply thrown himself to whatever task they deemed him worthy of. The deal was made without even seeing the full picture.

The men in the room knew what he really was. Szordrin was usually much more careful and collective and oh so wary about showing his true abilities. His recklessness was what caused his capture centuries ago and truthfully he was unsure if they knew what to expect from him, but all in all, it didn't worry him much.

"Ah, yes, well, we wish not to ask overly much of you, as our Lord has bidden us to form and nurture this union between us..." Once again, it was Pharaun, the self styled enigmatic leader, who spoke.

It seemed to Szordrin, that despite Pharaun's stature and vaunted personal power, the high priest feared raising his ire. And rightfully so, as most would agree, thought Szordrin as he massaged his slender hands and again settled them gently in front of his dark red robes in order to show some semblance of relaxation and calmness, he continued to listen to Pharaun without interruption.

"...However, we would ask that you...being more masterly in the shadow weave subject than our own people…that you bless our Temple by teaching what you will of it; when, and if such time permits, of course. And...." Pharaun's crimson eyes now settled upon the illusion which hovered some inches above the stone tabletop, that of the human whom they had begun to discuss a short while ago. "...the human...By decree of our esteemed Lord, has entered into a partnership with us, some short time before you had blessed us with your presence. Part of the 'deal' we have going with the human is largely like your own...he wishes to study the drow, and our ways, particularly those of us who do not follow the Spider Bitch. Now..."

His nervousness was beginning to unravel his composure. Pharaun feared he was babbling now. "...What we propose is that upon your agreement, both you and the human will be given the same subject to 'study'. This will benefit us immensely in that you are one most capable of offsetting the human's arcane might. For yes, though I wish not to admit it, Cogliostro's skill in such things far outweighs that of any arcanists in this temple with the exception of a few private mages who wish to be kept away from such ties. Of particulars in the matter, there are none really, though we would only ask that you 'keep tabs' on him to what degree you will. And, that, if ever such an occurrence should arise that we have need to be rid of the human, well, it is our hope that you would eradicate him."

The Malaugrym sat there for several minutes after the man finished with his speech. There was a faint expression of idle thought across his devilishly angled drow features as he watched the subtle sign of Pharaun's cracking composure.

Pharaun was sweating now and silently cursing himself for sounding like a repetitive blathering idiot. He stood still and kept a calm gaze on the malaugrym across the table from him. Szordrin's silence was breaking him down.

Szordrin was tempted to see how long the drow priest could maintain his courage, but there was no time for games, business was more important. "You mentioned a certain individual who I am to study? Tell me more." He shifted in his seat somewhat, the deep red robes whispered with the slight movement and folded, making an impression of a leg and lap. The gnarled wooden staff he brought in with him was casually called to him and grasped with free hand, his lanky digits curling along the width, while his index began a light tap upon its enchanted surface. "As for the human, I shall... keep tabs if you wish, though if I do not approve of him, do not be surprised of his sudden disappearance." Confidence was one thing that Szordrin had, even when he knew nothing about this Cogliostro.

His arrogance brought a hint of nervousness to Pharaun's visage. Szordrin smiled, showing too much teeth. He was known for his stone cold outlook on life. Emotion was a rare sight. Occasional smirks were nothing more then sarcastic statements of expression.

Much had changed since his imprisonment, Szordrin realized. A tyrant gone diplomat. His planar fortress had been rebuilt and followers would come in due time. There was more he wanted, that hunger for power, for revenge to all those that tried to put an end to him. He knew there were some left, and he knew it'd only be a matter of time before he found them.

Pharaun clung to his training and calmly explained, "I have taken it upon myself to arrange it so that you may partake of such studies of our people. You seemed interested about us when we first spoke. There is a most interesting...female amongst our clergy, Xull'rae Zauviir, by name, Masked Traitor by title."

There was a slight pause before he continued, "Her kind play a most dangerous, albeit invigorating gambit. To all outward appearances, the Masked Traitors worship another of the drow deities, most times the Spider Queen, Lolth..." he trailed off with apparent disgust upon his sharp features, but when Szordrin's gaze bore him down he proceeded in a rush, "though other deities are targeted as well. While outwardly worshiping the other deity, their true theory, at to our revered Lord. Masked Traitors are spies of the highest degree. As such, this venture will perhaps offer one of your station and stature some semblance of interest...perhaps even amusement, at times. At the very least, this is our hope while you wait for the portal's completion." Pharaun's mouth was parched, but allowed no swallow to moisten his throat.

Szordrin's eyes took on an infernal ruby glow but the pits of his pupils were yellow not black. He motioned for the priest to finish what he was going to say.

Pharaun bobbed his head in a bare nod and said, "If you wish to partake of these studies, we can arrange for you to meet the female at your earliest whim."

Szordrin chuckled darkly and the pleased smile on his lips distorted his drow features; it truly had such cruel malice to it that the beauty was warped into a frightening display of the horrors yet to come coupled with the red of his robes and the hood framing his head, he looked more demon than drow. The disguised malaugrym nodded and the agreement became sealed.

An envoy was immediately dispatched to send word to the unsuspecting Xull'rae.

Interrupt the Bard -or- let her continue