Chapter 1: Meetings and Acquaintances------Page 6
Runaround (Sshamath Streets)

Several hours later Xull'rae's errands were still not done. Upon her return from her previous ones, she was given the task of showing Horock around the city without a chance for a bath or rest. It was a good thing she had eaten beforehand. Xull'rae hated playing tour guide to the newly recruited male, but duties were duties.

Failing to disguise her annoyance, she dressed herself well for the venture into the city. Armored underneath swathes of the infamous drow piwafwi, which was nothing more than a black cloak, Xull'rae entered the traffic of the streets and blended right in. Her rich copper hair hidden by her deep hood.

Their destination, the Bazaar; a place to hide and pick pocket. The masked traitor kept conversation small while they viewed the many stalls the market had to offer.

A new person such as Horock could get lost in the Bazaar easily, as it was Sshamath's main attraction and mode of business. It was confusing and alive with activity and noise, so he made sure to stay close to Xull'rae even though she made him take the front.

The blue-eyed drow monitored his teacher's behavior and immediately sensed that Xull'rae resented the duty assigned to her. No matter. She was helping him find his friend Drazoul. If and when he also found out why an adventuring band was put together under that pompous ass Cogliostro would be an added bonus in this maze of lights and movement.

"As I said, just hurry and get the things you need from the vendor over there," a raspy masculine voice instructed.

It took a moment for Horock to realize it was Xull'rae who had spoken. He did as bidden and began to approach the vendor that she had identified.

Timid steps were taken to quell the trembling in his legs as he beckoned her to follow him. When she did not move, Horock froze. Her failure to follow made him think fast. Xull'rae had skillfully altered her voice, and her posture stooped slightly, giving the appearance of someone old or humpbacked. It was smart. No one would question why she was slow or even cloaked.

Horock realized that his fear was ill placed; he knew that he should better control his acting so that no one would be able to tell that she was a woman. If she left him while he was at the vendor he would be hopelessly lost in this city of misery, where no one was ever found again. "Okay, I will go purchase the rest of the required equipment," he replied. He took her arm gently and shuffled with her through the crowd.

Xull'rae followed in a quick but hobbled step, muttering and mumbling the entire way as she quickly signaled in drow sign that his friend was last seen near that vendor. The priests had given her a brief description of what Drazoul was wearing.

Drazoul in his disguised form stood six feet tall and had shoulders that were broader than two normal drow bodyguards. Every inch of him was laced in muscle but he looked drow. He also wore very fine noble clothes, but received odd looks.

The yuan-ti halfblood noticed Horock at once, but his friend seemed somewhat lost. He walked toward Horock, taking out the onyx dog and summon his pet as a subtle reminder of his disguise.

Horock looked around after making a purchase and after a few minutes noticed the dog and Drazoul walking toward him in his drow disguise. He couldn't help but smile in private amusement; for all Drazoul's remarks that he hated drow, he sure used the disguise in order to stay hidden in several areas.

As he approached, Horock raised his hand slowly in greeting and said, "Hey Drazoul, I trust your trip was successful?" Horock did not introduce Xull'rae, as he knew she would handle it herself when she thought it was the right moment.

Drazoul looked at Horock and merely grunted in reply.

Xull'rae said nothing, but her gaze was intense behind her hood as she surveyed this tall creature that appeared to be drow. She appraised his fine clothing and mannerism; they did not exactly match her kin's behavior, so something was amiss. But this was the description she was given from Sabrar, but he mentioned nothing about the height or the possibility of a disguise. Xull'rae couldn't place what it was yet. Maybe it was the height, it was rare and considered unnatural, but she kept to herself and let them reacquaint without interrupting.

As she didn't say anything, it confirmed to Horock that he was right about Xull'rae, and so, continued with the conversation. "Draz, what are you doing out here? I mean, couldn't you have done that in your, you know, the way you usually are?"

As soon as Horock asked that, he put his hand over his mouth. He realized that it was a huge mistake to mention that Drazoul was not "normal," even though no one probably heard it. Horock tried to recover by snickering and asked in a flippant tone, "Anyone make fun of your size today?"

Drazoul felt something odd, like eyes were watching him, his friend was not alone. He had not noticed the still and silent cloaked figure stooping nearby, and the feeling of being stalked that came from it.

The yuan-ti halfblood finally scanned the crowed and saw the cloaked person near Horock. He stared back at the hidden figure and thought to himself, How could Horock know his way around unless he has someone to guide him? Drazoul then spoke his thought aloud in a deep voice and flicked his wrist. Instantly, one of his custom made daggers came to his hand discreetly. He was ready for anything, even treachery, from the one person he considered a friend.

Xull'rae listened, analyzed every line, and watched every expression. They were trying too hard to cover up something. When Horock slipped and tried to recover his verbal mistake, she realized there was no hope for the man. The church had given her a test and a task she could not finish.

Her instinct now was to kill them. Looking around, Xull'rae knew she would have to be quick by slashing their throats and running. The mutt Drazoul had, proved a threat, but she was confident she could handle it as she laid a hidden hand on her dagger hilt. The chance was ruined, however, with an interruption.

"How did you survive this long by yourself is the real question. It had always been my assumption that a disguise is used as a means to draw attention away from oneself, not add to it," the voice was one they all had become acquainted with. The deep, penetrating rumblings belonged to none other than the bald human Cogliostro.

Xull'rae became like the shadows immediately, ducking away from Cogliostro's unwanted intrusion. Silent and quick, she melted in so well with the crowd. She stayed in a stooped position, limping a few steps and then went still; hunched so low to the ground as she was, she looked like a bundle of discarded rags.

The tall human turned around from a nearby stall and then waked to stand next to the disguised Drazoul, a definite frown upon his ageless visage as throngs passed them by. Even tall and broad as the Halfblood appeared to be, Cogliostro dwarfed him in both respects. After a moment, his irritated glare turned upon Drazoul's companions. He shook his tattooed head in disappointment.

Horock growled in irritation as the man stepped forward. "What do you want? Did you come to kiss my ass like I suggested earlier? You must really be a weird guy!" He did not want Cogliostro here; he did not like the man, and took great pains to stay away from him.

Drazoul turned and sneered at the human and replied in drow sign. I survived so long by putting daggers into the backs of people that ask stupid questions, and another thing, I do not question your motives so do not question mine!

Cogliostro offered an amused smirk in response to Drazoul. He then turned his attention upon Horock "I take it no one made our arrangement blatantly clear to your companion?"

Horock gave a tart reply. "No, I did not explain it to him as I have not seen him, and it has not been explained to me, either!"

Xull'rae continued to watch the situation unfold with distaste. She started calculating in her mind how she could kill them all, but now was not the time. Still the urge pulled at her. This whole thing was bothersome. Xull'rae wanted nothing more than to leave and be done with these idiots. She could lie to the Tower, but the living could discredit her. Cogliostro was too strong anyway so she forced the dangerous thoughts out of her mind and refocused on the talking.

Not daunted in the least, that thin, humored smile remained upon Cogliostro's lips. "Mm, opinions vary, to be honest...and I dare say, Drowess, you," Cogliostro trailed off and spun to gaze upon Xull'rae's cloaked form, picking it out rather easily from the crowd with brown eyes and eerie glowing blue pupils, "you definitely have your work cut out for you with this crew."

Not wishing to draw too much attention to the drowess' position, Cogliostro then turned about once more, this time turning fully away from them all with his hands clasped idly behind his back as usual. To all appearances, he was merely browsing the nearest stall's wares for the moment. But this was a small test to see how far the companions would push, just to see what they would do with an opening.

Xull'rae too, was prepared by the statements made in her regard and calmly helped Cogliostro cover up his mistake of exposing her disguise and revealing that there was a drow female around when none were immediately nearby. She leaned into the nearest person, whispering, "What drowess? I don't see a woman . . .he's weird." Those statements quickly spread and the crowed shied and fanned away from the human as no one liked crazies in the city.

Xull'rae stood fluidly then; it looked eerie to watch the cloak flow and unfold to provide a humanoid shape. She looked like deaths cowl as she only nodded once to no one in particular, but it seemed a reply to Cogliostro.

Just as the crowds dispersed, the crimson orbs of the disguised malaugrym known as the drow, Szordrin Xarann, became eerily visible in one of the many shadowy recesses. In a matter of seconds his shrouded frame stepped forth with his gnarled staff in hand, the butt adding a light click with every stride taken. His attention shifted to several, only to land upon the towering human, whom stood with his back facing him.

A mild sneer formed across Szordrin's dark tiers, if only for a moment. Oh yes, he had time to think since their last encounter, though there were still pieces missing to the overall puzzle. As usual, the malaugrym kept silent amongst the group in which he would be spending most of his time with.

As Szordrin approached, Horock looked at the back of the man called Cogliostro and decided to leave him be. Even though he did not like this man, he had not given the blue eyed drow any reason to kill him, not yet.

Drazoul on the other hand was troubled. What bothered him was what the human had said about a female. If Cogliostro knew he was in a disguise then perhaps the human's words held truth about that pile of rags. And soon enough, the rags took humanistic shape. It seemed to the yuan-ti that no one and nothing could be trusted, though a part of him wanted to try.

He looked at the small cloaked figure. Perhaps it was wounded, so Drazoul offered to assist it, as it seemed to be a part of the group. He didn’t even see Szordrin.

Xull'rae watched Drazoul approach and even though he could not see her face, her words said enough. "You can get away from me before I give you a new face..." she hissed.

Unphased the disguised yuan-ti half-blood grinned and then nodded apologetically to the small hidden figure and walked over to Horock hopefully out of the woman's reach. All the while, he thought to himself, drowess for sure, no other creature I can think of can give me that kind of impression short of a demon.

Mm, it would only be an improvement...." Cogliostro mused softly to himself. He had overheard Xull'rae, but just shook his head, confounded at the half-blood's demeanor and thought.

While seemingly browsing, Cogliostro caught sight of Szordrin. He even offered that same, smug smirk to the disguised malaugrym, but commented on Drazoul's thoughts instead, "So, a short demon ye are from this point forward Xull'rae," Cogliostro watched the drowess after speaking. Drazoul momentarily forgotten, Xull'rae offered nothing that he could see with the distance between them.

Xull'rae had also read Drazoul's mind without meaning too. She didn't have the discipline yet to keep it under control. Xull'rae didn't react; she was more focused on Szordrin than Drazoul or Cogliostro. Szordrin bothered her, but the way he had looked at Cogliostro sent a thrill through her. Finally a leverage, but how would she use the drow mage? She would have to think on it later, for Szordrin disappeared quickly in the Bazaar without a word.

With the test over, Cogliostro turned around to face them all again and instantly noticed that Szordrin had left. The crowds offered no sign of him. Confused, the wizard frowned. He should have paid attention to the threat instead of chiding these three. Reflecting on his own lapse, Cogliostro fell silent for the moment.

Drazoul stared at Horock for a moment then shook his head in annoyance. Despite the noise of the streets the silence of the standing group made him uneasy. "This is a huge crock of shit you got us into Horock, but alas it wouldn't be the first time!"

As they were all together, Horock spoke the question that he had to ask, barely able to keep the irritation from his voice. "What do you want this time Cogliostro? I want to find out why I have been brought here!"

"Mm, think of it as having plenty of fertilizer from which your life may take sustenance," Cogliostro said to Horock and Drazoul in response to the yuan-ti halfblood's statement and the drow's question.

Xull'rae looked over Cogliostro, her cold amber colored gaze, which only he could see, offered a challenge. She had been very quiet through this whole thing; a rare thing for her, but was proof enough that she could control herself, be a professional, and excellent at her line of work.

To Xull'rae Cogliostro offered a nod of gratitude. She had impressed him today. Her eyes spoke volumes so he decided to leave her out of the ridicule. He had made the mistake today, not her. It would be unfair to her when she covered for him.

He wasn't done with tormenting Horock however, quirking a single peppered brow in the man's direction. "And why would you ask that question of me? I did not bring you, nor summon you, to this place. I was simply, hm..... passing by. As for what I want, well, we shall get to that in due time."

Horock gave the man an angry glare, "You know what I mean. Perhaps we should go somewhere where we can actually talk. I do not like being lead around by the nose." Paranoid now, Horock took a very careful look around at his surroundings and made sure that no one was eavesdropping on their conversation. He did not like it when people looked in areas that they had no reason snooping in.

"Then take your issue of "nose-dragging" up with the one who did so to you, not I," Cogliostro said to Horock and offered him a patronizing shrug.

Drazoul was tired of all these drow games. He thought to himself for a moment, funny how the human is more of a snake then I am . . . Drazoul grinned at the irony, then addressed the human in drow sign. As Horock has mentioned we have much to talk about, so please don't keep me in the dark if you don't mind . . .

Cogliostro twisted around somewhat to offer an impolite smirk to Drazoul. The human was quite adept at drow sign language though he chose not to use it, not caring one whit who overheard conversation. "I'm also more of a man than you shall ever be, so it evens out I should say," he shrugged again.

As Cogliostro began to move along, Xull'rae muttered her own snide response to Drazoul, though her tone was calm if flat, "Then go to the surface if you don't like the dark."

"Mm, yes, indeed, take heed of the Drowess, there is certain wisdom within her musings," Cogliostro suggested.

Drazoul turned to Xull'rae and regarded her for a moment and pondered what she said with a calculating expression. Shifting back to Cogliostro Drazoul sneered, "But of course you're more of a man than I am, it is nothing to be proud of since I am drow," he declared in drow high tongue, loud enough so people close by could hear him, not realizing that most already saw through his ruse.

This time, a broad, very amused smile erupted upon the human's ageless, olive skinned visage. "Hm, best not to say that aloud, lest these true drow here take offense and slay you on the spot. They don't take kindly to those lesser races such as you saying such things."

"Wow," Horock cut in, "you really are the biggest prick of a human that I have ever met. Would you please just do what you came to do and tell us, and then be on your way and stop insulting the honor of our race? I do not take kindly to people making fun of my race or my friends as they are." The last sentence was spoken in a low growl, barely able to be heard by the people around him, although Horock made sure that all three present could hear him.

"You have honored? Hm, mayhap you are not a true drow either then," smiling to himself, Cogliostro once again turned slowly, and walked back from where he came from.

Xull'rae intervened before things got worse. She let Drazoul and Horock slide with their comments this time, though the more they talked the more she wanted to kill them. "So bystander who happens to be 'passing by', instead of arguing with them, shall we go get a drink and rest ourselves . . . somewhere?"

Finally, thought Horock. He is going to tell us what is going on. He beckoned Drazoul to follow, and hoped that Xull'rae would also, even though he had no control over her what so ever, and he knew it.

But Cogliostro continued as if he had not heard the red headed drowess, "Friendship is not a thing known amongst drow either, so maybe I should recruit a differing set of minions . . . but . . .aye, if ye wish to speak, follow me."

Drazoul grudgingly took Cogliostro's advice and stopped talking and gave up on the argument, but does end the conversation in a thought while he followed Horock. Whether the human would read his mind or not, he didn't care. And those who cannot see their own feet, cannot see the dagger approaching their back. But I do give you credit human, you have out matched me in words and I have no will to see what you can do with blades or magic.

Still walking, his pace even and smooth, Cogliostro indeed "heard" the Half-blood's grumbling, and answered aloud yet again, "At least you have some measure of intelligence, half-blood . . ."

Xull'rae sighed, bringing up the rear. She used the crowd as the way to get to her destination. She knew several different ways to get to the human's Inn, even though she never had been inside it. Choosing this route let her split off from the tiny group. She didn't want to be seen, even cloaked, with the ridiculous trio.

Interrupt the Bard -or- let her continue