Chapter 2: The Web Begins To Weave ---- Page 4

Xull'rae watched Szordrin go and disappear in the shadows. Still silent and lingering.

Cogliostro too lazily allowed his gaze to follow the "archmage". It was his hope they had all figured it out, not that some could protect themselves with that knowledge. Setting the bottle down, he then deigned to stretch in a rather ungentlemanly manner, exhaling a deep sigh. He cared not if the drowess saw, he was too weary at the moment to keep up all facades.

Xull’rae didn't care. Drow were a more aware race than most when it came to physical attributes and sinful natures except maybe humans themselves. "I gather you are somewhat disturbed by tonight," she spoke surface common tongue out of reflex, perhaps courtesy too.

Propping his elbows unceremoniously upon the table, he regarded her silently for a moment, wondering if she had an angle. Then he released such thoughts, for it mattered little if she did, "yes, in all honesty, though you may not understand." He was not being mocking while saying it, as he genuinely did not know the depth of her depravity. "...I do not wish to sign the death wishes of others over such matters most times. If I am to kill, or to have someone killed, I always have good reason." He takes a short pause, "tonight, however, some may die for no good reason, other than to sate the twisted mind and need for vengeance of that damnable malaugrym."

Xull'rae snorted and responded, "you don't sign. Death wishes come to those who seek them."

Cogliostro nodded and sighed wearily. "Perhaps that is true enough, as they did ask to know that which I had to tell. That is a small comfort, however."

Xull'rae was incredulous as she said, "who cares if they die for no reason! You shouldn't! There is never a ‘good’ reason to kill anyone anyway. You just do it or you don’t."

Cogliostro offered a mirthless smile. "No, perhaps I shouldn't at that. But it would mean I would have to take time and effort to craft new tools. Not that these current ones are unflawed," he sat back now, getting more comfortable, taking his new bottle to hand, uncorking it slowly. This time amusement touched his face.

Xull'rae caught something the human said earlier and surprise was replaced with curiosity "...and for clarification…the a…malaugrym?" Musing, she added, "I was never told that."

Cogliostro paused just as the cork was about to pop, raising a brow of his own in slight surprise. "They had not told you? Hm, well then, now you know. Who better to learn the Shadow Arts from? The malaugrym were the first mortals to wield the Shadow Weave, and have been some of its most staunch proponents ever since." He paused slightly to take a quick draught from the bottle, popping the cork quickly. "Not that it did much good for them, twisted bastards." There was disgust and contempt in his tone that he could not hide.

"It doesn't matter I suppose, I don't really care what he is." Xull'rae shrugged, her disinterest returning. "I care lil for magic either and yes, it is odd but I don't. I'm indifferent to it I suppose, I can live with it and without it. Cogliostro took on an interested look while hers was bored and her tone was lacking.

. "Perhaps a good policy, though I enjoy magic as an art form and yes, admittedly, as a powerful tool. I have always been taught that those with the most arcane might are the ones who should use it the least," said Cogliostro.

The drowess nodded, agreeing, but changed the subject to something that did interest her. "I must ask. What is your specific deal with the tower, or is it with the church as a whole?" Her tone didn't change surprisingly, but from her actions tonight he should know the question was important to her.

At that change and question he had to raise a brow again, and after a moment's thought, he actually allowed something of a genuine grin settle upon his visage. "Again, they leave you in the dark. No worries, I find you more tolerable than the remainder of your clergy, so I will offer up the information willingly." One more pause to take another long draught from the bottle.

She shrugged in acceptance. "They don't like me or trust me and I honestly cannot blame them. I know the power of my position so I know the resentment they must feel. I am a woman."

The bald mage added his own view to what she said, "a woman, and a fanatic without peer. They fear you as much as they resent you, in all honesty."

Xull'rae shrugged again and continued as if she needed to add more, "besides I am very young too. Another thing I cannot help."

Cogliostro nodded with a sympathetic smile, not that this woman needed it, but still he knew what it felt like to be different and outcasted. "True, as for your query, I am to perform a number of tasks for your church. Well, the tasks are specifically for the local chapter, so to speak, but what I do is to benefit the Faith as a whole in some small way. As she fell silent and he felt she was fully listening, he pressed on. "The first such task was to create the portal which links the Darkwoods with the Braeryn in Menzo, which you were made the test subject of, as I'm sure you recall." She nodded, listening with no reaction, which he expected so continued on unhurried. "In return, I have requested a subject to study, for lack of a better way to put it, which turns out to be you." When she nodded once more without comment, he almost breathed a sigh of relief as he truly had no wish to deal with her quick flash temper. "I desire knowledge of all sorts. For the time being, I specifically wish to study some of the more 'behind-the-scenes' aspects of your society. There have been countless scholars who've compiled information upon the Lolth dominated societies. I wish to learn more about the other aspects.
"Vhaeraun in particular has piqued my interest. An almost hidden God, obscure to the point many do not know he really even exists. I mean many on the surface world, at least. Though he is gaining a not insignificant number of followers in the surface world, the people of Light cannot tell the difference between a drow who follows Lolth from one who follows Vhaeraun or Ghaunadaur."

Xull'rae spat in disgust, snorting in a rude manner, "like they know anything! Stupid wanna be know it all humans! I've read some of those books and half of them are lies which drow are good at telling." She had disdain in her tone now.

Cogliostro nodded, affirming Xull’rae’s words, "exactly my thoughts, most are bullshit conjectures. There are some small treatises that have some of the information right. But not a single one that gets it all correct. I have tested all the theories and hypothesis personally. Still am actually, so I am gleaning the truths from the lies bit by bit. I'm sure even I will never know the entire truth, and even if I were to learn such, I am not foolish enough to think that the drow race would actually allow any such books containing that knowledge to be published on a large scale. Most of what I learn will go to the grave with me, whenever such a time will come."

Xull'rae chuckled wryly, though there was still heat in her voice. "No, drow are absurdly complex even drow don't know everything about drow. I think we are the only race that has managed to tangle a web so thick that no one knows where it started and no one can end it."

Once more Cogliostro allows something resembling a short chuckle to escape his lips. "Your words become more and more evidently true the longer I stay down here."

Xull'rae's head tilts as if she were considering something, and when she spoke her tone was light and the anger erased. "if you are to learn…well I suppose I will teach you, no strings attached," again she shrugs, "if you ever help on the larger scale you will have me as a true ally that I promise. But anything I teach I doubt you'll like."

Cogliostro managed to hide his shock by taking a drink, when he swallowed, he spoke smoothly, "I thank you for that, honestly. As I will indeed hold true to my word, and help your cause prosper. Perhaps you and I will lead some semblance of a gainful mutual beneficence in times to come." He took another short pause once more, taking a quick draught, "and it’s not about whether I like that which I learn or not, only that I learn."

Xull'rae offered a nod her tone was amused now, "then you're already an aspiring student."

As they shared a moment of silence, Cogliostro broke it by asking, ", well, now, any more enlightenment I can offer you this night?" Just as Xull'rae asked at the same time, "what are you curious about so that I may try to explain how it works down here?"

They both gave small chuckles but it was the mage who answered first. "You have been doing a fine job of teaching me as we go along. I feel that type of situational teaching works better than question and answer sessions, for myself at the very least. I never was an aspiring student while in a classroom." He offered a thin, closed-lipped smile, though it is still genuine.

Xull'rae nods, arranging her skirts so the inner folds avoided getting wrinkles as she sits down finally. A gutsy and perhaps reckless move, considering her vibrant coppery hair that now flowed down her back and beyond. The white steak stood out moreso in contrast to her dark skin which made her identifiable to any who might be watching. She lingered after everyone had left. It was curious why a drow would linger in the company of a human and be casual, not superior. "True enough that's how all drow learn actually," she admitted with a rueful smile after a small pause.

"Mm, so I had gathered." Cogliostro allowed the facsimile of a smile to twist into a grin as he takes in the luster and color of her hair. His gaze is appreciative as a man looking upon a beautiful woman with no shame, but an interest. "You really should wear things without a hood often. Why hide such a gift of natural beauty?"

Xull'rae looked distant, her amber eyes shining in remembrance if nothing else as she pondered his question, "I remember my own accession to adulthood, still pretty recent. Probably twenty years or so," she trails off and answers the mage in an automatic matter of fact tone, her eyes focusing on him sharply now. "Because I'm ugly and the fact I need to hide sometimes to keep my double life what it is. Double. I’m dressed this way right now because my matron left me instructions to ‘spy’ on you. You are new to Sshamath so she wants to learn about why you are here as an innkeeper. She knew I stayed here before, so I’m the best candidate but truthfully it’s because Laele knows her other daughters would moan and gripe too much and be too judgmental in their reports."The deck was eavesdrop proof so she saw the opportunity to tell him what was transpiring at the Lolth temple and why she changed approaches from being cloaked to going full view. She didn’t need to but it wasn’t something important. He probably already knew.

Cogliostro nodded but not in agreement to all of it. "Mm, a pity, that double life at times, anyway, for you are anything but ugly, in all honesty. Just my humble opinion, but it holds weight in many lands." He was being honest and found her all the more beautiful for being modest, though he thought her over critical of herself. It was refreshing to notice such beauty and not to see the arrogance that so graced her kind in that area. When she came out with her assignment for the Web, he smiled but said nothing. Xull’rae confirmed what he had thoughts on; it was expected but not so soon. It was minor though so he didn’t worry about it, besides it gave the drowess here leverage to be here often and deal with him without anyone becoming suspicious.

Xull’rae studied him more intently and had to remember that most Drow did look exotic to other races, so she allowed a small smile to rest itself on her lips, replying reluctantly watching a smile appear on his visage, "I believe you…and I…thank you...but you're not drow, to other drow I'll never get laid unless I force a male to, with the exclusion of Vesz'aun." She grimaced at that truth, having no intention of telling him her pain so openly.

"I tend to digress." Cogliostro said gently, "many years have I spent among your surface cousins and many months have I spent here among your dark-skinned kin, long enough to be well acquainted with those who are considered more beautiful than the human norm. And long enough to know you are not by any means an ugly specimen among such peoples."

Xull'rae suddenly felt pride but did not allow it to show because she was also embarrassed, though she was more confused on why she felt that way so she said, "oh, well there is always the ones that will bed me to get a high position as a consort…I almost forgot those, but I doubt drow males will want me just for pure lust."

Cogliostro chuckled and kept his tone light but serious as he responded "you will have many suitors in your least many who secretly covet you. As suitors are things almost unknown in these dank realms. I find that odd, from a human aspect, that you would wish one to want you for reasons of lust. We get cluttered with that emotion your people strip from you as children, which is love. Well, most of us anyway. There are humans who are more depraved than the average specimen of your kind."

Xull'rae covered her shock and actually giggled and that is something she rarely did. "Love? That is a dangerous thing to feel in this underworld. Love is outlawed here punishable by death. I don't know what it is or what it feels like, so how will I know what it is?" It really wasn't a question, but more of an offhand reference to something unknown and lacking the interest to find out..

To Cogliostro, it was indeed something different to see her actually giggle, and he could not help but allow a small smile to settle on his visage. "Not truly outlawed in the sense you speak of, but I get your point," he said and hearing her speak further, the smile fades to one more sad of tone, though he does not allow it to convey pity, as that would only anger her, more than likely. He then felt the need to point out something, "there was at least one moment in time when you felt the emotion...every single one of your people, matter of fact, though most of you would not have been old enough to remember it at the time. All babes are born innocent, and that is stripped away by your society in due time, but for a short while. When they cannot realize what actually goes on around them, they mistranslate any sort of communication and treatment as love."

Xull'rae nodded growing more uncomfortable, but strange that her anger was not seeping to the surface, that surprised her more than anything. While she kept her tone smooth, it was still cautious, "well I do want to be desired after, but I do not think that is love."

If Cogliostro knew how she really felt, he gave no sign. He was enjoying having to talk to her in this manner with no anger or rudeness, so he offered a reply, "no, the two are not entirely one and the same. Sometimes they manage to mesh into one seamless whole, and that is a gift greater than any other that I can think of. But it is also very rare, especially so in Lands of Darkness such as these."

Xull'rae tilted her head as she did before, her expression melting into thoughtfulness, making her prettier than before, "Yes I remember faintly, a green ball. I didn't want to be parted with it. Even took it everywhere, but it's silly now that I think of it." She shook her head with an amused smile. "I think the only person I came close to feeling what I felt for the ball was the enigmatic Jarlaxle, but it could have been lust too I'm not sure." Her smooth face furrows slightly in curious thought.

Cogliostro showed surprise and asked, "ah, so wooed by his charms, were you?" He allowed traces of a smile to come forth as he continued to comment, "many are among that number. Perhaps you did feel more, if there was a considerable amount of time spent between you two. Oddball that he is, Jarlaxle can be quite the charmer." He took note of the green ball implication, placing it within the recesses of his memory for future use. Such small things could make such big differences if applied correctly.

Xull'rae's amber eyes looked inward and distant, as if recalling memories that were bubbling to the surface, "thirty years or so off and on. He was the one that brought me out of Menzoberranzan to here and got me into the Zauviir compound." She shrugged, looking like it was the most normal thing in the world.

Cogliostro nodded, a revelation being revealed. This made him wonder why she was being so informative. Then realizing he was trying to find out what lay between the lines instead of just being a lending ear, he stopped and basked in the fact that this young Drow had a keen mind and softness beneath that hard exterior. There was hope for her. Would she take it? He nodded in understanding, "ahh, well then, your savior of sorts," he responded easily despite his thoughts.

Xull'rae shrugged again, this time her gaze focused on him and a rueful smile touched her budding mouth. "I suppose, but Jarlaxle never does things without a reason or a benefit for himself." This time she smiled beautifully totally amused with that truth, not even mad.

"Heh perhaps that is true, but I've seen some acts of his that make me question the validity of your statement," He couldn't help but look at her then and watch the transformation of merely pretty to beautiful in seconds. She needed to smile like that more. It was comfortable and pleasing.

Xull'rae didn't notice his observations and continued as if contemplating what he just said. "I still can't fathom why. He detested the Oblodra females; I know very well he spared Kimmuriel though. For all I know he saved me because I looked unusual. He likes the rare and unusual." She shakes her head shrugging still smiling.

"Mm, aye, indeed he did save Kimmuriel, Cogliostro replied. "And aye," his own smile blossomed yet again, "perhaps he did save you for the simple fact of your exotic rare beauty. Even young as you were, I'm sure you were already blossoming into quite the little cutie." He knew she may take offense, but then again, mayhaps she would not. His curiosity was piqued. She was definitely worth the bargain to study.

Xull'rae snickered, her expression turned disagreeing though in an amused way as she corrected him, "no I didn't even have much breast then and I was shorter than him."

He could not help but chuckle at that. "Well then, mayhaps he pictured you then as you have become today. Some have foresight like that." He winked at her, taking a drink from his flask.

She shook her red head and said, "hard to picture beauty when you have none. I had a bad habit of not washing my hair back then."

"Perhaps it added a certain gleam." He said politely but sounded as he didn't mean it.

Xull'rae still had amusement in her tone as she replied, "I actually turned my hair a gangly grayish red mix because I didn't wash it for two months. I never brushed it either," her smile faded as she shrugged offhandedly. "My sisters, well, shaved my head but left tufts here and there so I looked even worse. Even my nanny didn't want to care for me because of fear of harm from my sisters."

Cogliostro noticed the change, and while there was no hurt evident, or anger. He knew the drow were forced to grow up early usually by brute force, but he still didn't like hearing about it. He suspected she suffered more than ridicule and shaving. He would not ask and he certainly would not press. Instead, he tried to change the subject and make it light. He never could take violence against women very well, even if it were other women committing the act, especially on children. "Mm, perhaps that endeared you to him. He is quite bald, which I'm sure you've noticed. And I do not believe it’s natural. I think its one of his ways to shunt off society yet again, as the typical male holds his hair in high regard. But that is mere speculation; nature could have something to do with it. I am sorry to hear they treated you as such, for what its worth." He was sincere, even compassionate. He could not help it.

She arched a brow at him. Humans were so sentimental and soft over the littlest things, yet she went on as if he had not spoken. "I went through hmmm way over 200 nannies before the compound was destroyed. The Ilharess didn't want me in the total care of my sisters."

Cogliostro noted that Xull'rae called her mother by her title. There was more to drow he had to get used to, he supposed. "More than you know," he said cryptically.

Xull'rae looked at him questioningly, her expression confused yet curious. "Hmmm....?"

Having allowed that to slip, he takes another long draught considering something. Then he spoke, "were you aware that they know? Your church elders, that is. They know you are an Oblodra. I only ask since they keep you in the dark on so many other things."

She sighed but nodded with a tiny lopsided smile. "Yes, I know they know. I glean info without their knowledge at times, as I'm more subtle when reading minds than most. If they irritate me enough I glean what I know by use of it, but it's not often. I find it well umm…lazy and lacking challenge."

He offers a nod of understanding, then continues, "do you also know they plan to make use of that for their own ends? To further the greater cause of the Faith, of course, at least in theory."

She nodded again and replied, "of course. My mother wanted to use me too. Kept saying I had more than all of them. That I would be a weapon when she came to see me every five or ten years or so she was insane so gods only know. She said I had the mark like her." She fingered the wisps of white hair that made a single line through her mass of red.

"Mm, indeed you do. In time, you will also carry the curse like her, and all the other females in your line," Cogliostro said more grimly then he intended to. In truth he was worried about that, maybe more than she herself was.

"Gee thanks..." She remarked in mock glumness, a queer twist of a smile marked her mouth.

"Simple fact, I do not mean to have it come out callously. It can be prevented. In theory at least, but he did not mention that. He had to sound sure and confident.

"My other sisters had white hair no coloration difference and not Kimmuriel either," Xull’rae mused more to herself than to him but he broke in and finished her line of thought. "And hence you are the one who will carry on more of your mother's power and with it, more of her curse. Your church, however, will not implement you in the same way your mother had planned."

Xull'rae muttered to herself as he was speaking, looking at her hair in distaste, picking out the white among the red. "and I get ugly red with a teasing snowy streak," she gave a frown that was verging on pouty.

Cogliostro blinked and masked the slight irritation that arose within. Women could be so obsessive over trivial things, "bah, enough of the ugliness. Snowy white is rather bland."

Xull'rae sighed letting go of her hair and looked at him with longing eyes, not desiring him but rather wanting something she could not have. "No it isn't. But anyway I'm supposing they are going to use me to force people to convert by use of suggestion and memory tapping?"

Cogliostro shook his head, more so at Xull'rae's ability to change angle and subjects so quickly. She really was quick and focused. Something he wanted and would need later. "No, no, nothing like that, though I wouldn't doubt it once your powers blossom further." He stood now, slowly, stretching a bit more. Taking a few strides to work the kinks out, coming to rest in a leaning position against one of the deck's rails, and facing her while saying, "maybe I should say it more as, they plan to use what you represent which is your House. Vhaeraun has long tried to gain a foothold in Menzoberranzan. And your House was once one of great power."

Xull'rae's eyes lit up immediately with a fiery ambition, that was more fanaticism then greedy personal aims. Nodding firmly, her lips curved slightly in an approving smirk. "Good plan I was thinking of that myself actually.

The bald mage watched her carefully. Those eyes burned with a raging fire, no spark but a sweeping blaze. She was indeed a fanatic and would become more dangerous as things progressed and as she grew older. As he replied, he was careful to be vague but remain truthful. "Good, then you will not object when they get around to telling you about it. One of my tasks in future will be to aid them in restoring House Oblodra, both physically and politically. You, of course, being the supposed last Oblodra female, will be placed at the head of said Household, as Matron proper. Your 'family' will of course be comprised of various Vhaeraunian followers."

Her eyes focused and the flame in her gaze flickered and began to disperse. "But," She frowns, letting his words sink in. "That means I must be Matron…and take patrons…and ewwww...." She trails off and shivers in unpleasant thought.

Cogliostro almost smiled at the thought. "Indeed, that will all be part of it."

Xull'rae laughed suddenly but it didn't hold as much mirth as it did certainty. "By the gods...Vesz'aun as patron..." Her laughter trailed off in bitter chuckling and ended in near whimpering sounds.

That did cause Cogliostro to bring a humored smile to fruition, but also a sympathizing smile for her future troubles, "indeed, quite a disturbing thought."

She sighed in irritation at his confirmation. Shaking her head ruefully she said her thoughts aloud. "He'd die the first day. The other females will grapple for him and kill him in the process."

Cogliostro shrugged and said, "mm, aye, more than likely. But give him some credit. He is quite the crafty one…when not in your presence. It seems you are a curse of his at times."

Xull'rae's expression turned almost thoughtful, it certainly was amused and lustful at the same time as she said, "he is quite, the mmm, looker though." She licked her lips and giggled low as if she were seeing something he wasn't.

He was still studying her and being experienced more in the attraction of the sexes could not blame her for becoming moonstruck but knew better then to point that out or tease her about it. Instead he tried to subtly bring her out of her trance by reminding her of the Bladesinger's faults, to see if she was still quick to focus like before, "aye, I've gathered he is one of the more comely males of your species, also one of the most idiotic at times."

"Which is what is so odd," Xull’rae admitted, her face having transformed to the expression he desired as she continued speaking, "I should be happy he has an interest in me…but I dunno, there is something lacking? The others in the temple in Menzoberranzan think I put a charm spell on him." She smiled more to herself as if she too would believe it if she saw it from another's eyes.

"No, your reluctance in this is not ungrounded. Those others do not see the simpleton male that has come to plague you. Looks are not everything, and I for one cannot blame you for finding his idiocy unattractive." Cogliostro smiled, listening to her remarks.

Xull'rae mimicked the priestesses, her voice full of scorn, "ugly Xull'rae has one of the best looking male hanging on her every word…it does look suspicious."

Cogliostro's smile turned into a grin then and he nodded. "Aye, I'm sure it does look quite suspicious. But that should not matter. Not that I'm agreeing with that ugly statement, mind you. I mean it by the standpoint of you having a male hanging on every word as badly as he does."

The Drowess shrugged, her expression becoming perplexed. "I don't even know how his attraction to me came about he won't ever discuss it."

Cogliostro chuckled as he responded, "how it came about is not a mystery, I have told you repeatedly that you hold great beauty." He didn't have to spend effort trying to sound sincere for he truly was sincere and became bold enough to look over her in an appraising manner. Not caring if she found him lewd or if she tried to stab him. It wouldn't be the first or last time a woman would try and hurt him for being too upfront.

Xull'rae noticed and gave a knowing smirk for his boldness. However she was not swayed by his comments, he was human, and would sleep with dirty diseased whores no doubt. "Oh it's all right if you call me ugly, because what is that saying... 'beauty is only skin deep' I'm uglier underneath."

He sighed and shook his bald head, but he wouldn't continue with it. Despite her stubbornness he believed she was all the more beautiful for being humble and not flaunting it at every opportunity like most Drow females he came across. So she was envious about looks he could live with that. In fact it gave him a way to keep her attached, greed went alongside envy and both could be exploited if necessary. Realizing he was delaying in response and hoped she passed it off as a distraction, for he was still studying her intently. "Mm, again, I disagree, but we will not debate that point now."

The smirk slid off Xull'rae's face and was replaced with dark frown as she realized he approved of her view of her own looks. "Gods don't you dare tell me I'm good person. I'll have to do something terrible to prove you wrong!" At the sound of her tone, she was utterly offended.

He had to chuckle at that. She was Drow all right and they had expectations of their young that could and would kill them if they failed. He tried assuring her, "by no means would I dare such a thing. That was not my implication. Ugly does not equate to evil, and beauty does not equate to goodness. Not in all cases."

She gave him a reproachful and withering look. "Well…alright," though she did not sound convinced.

Shaking his head, still amused, he continues with the previous subject. "The bladesinger's initial attraction is easy to fathom. It is his continued, downward spiraling obsession that is harder to explain." He shrugged, being cautious as he chooses his wording. "Then again, it’s not difficult at all to comprehend, simply difficult to accept."

Xull'rae didn't know what he was hinting at, so confusion flickered across her face as she asked, "because he thinks I'm pretty?"

"That's part of it, yes. But it’s not my point," Cogliostro replied.

She looked skeptical. "What is?"

Cogliostro answered her gently, "unlike most of your kind, some piece of what comprises him still remembers love. He knows it for what it is. He knows that it has blossomed where you are concerned, but he also knows it is unacceptable in this society, and that you would most likely scoff at him should such a thing ever be brought out in the open. He even fears you would kill him for such a sacrilegious thought.
The inner turmoil has taken that concept of love within him, and twisted it into something darker, and more malevolent, obsession. That is more a pity than you may ever comprehend."

Her lips curl in distaste and her face indeed turns scornful and darker with each sentence he spoke, "damn right! Why would he 'love' me anyway I'm probably not worth that emotion." Hearing herself say that, struck something inside but she shoved it aside savagely and stuffed it snugly in the dark corner of her mind. She knew about his obsession, even played upon it, but she never thought that love was the cause and that made her feel sick inside. She suppresses the toiling emotions and confirms a few things, trying truth and humor to deflect what she really felt, "yeah…obsession. He hates my brother Les, she chuckles dryly. "I remember he snuck in the compound and tried to assassinate him. Vesz'aun failed of course. Since it was an attempt on a male and not a female, the punishment was that he became a sex toy for all my sisters, including the matron. Excluding me, as mother knows his desire for me and figured bedding me was not punishment."

Cogliostro nodded in sad agreement, he could pity the bladesinger but he was wise enough to keep his pity of her concealed. "Mm, true, that incident did not help his twisted mindset at all, to be sure. But why could he not come to find something in you to love? You must admit, that you treat males much better during unguarded moments than most drow females would do.
"Even now, you speak with me on amiable terms. That is something almost no Drowess in existence would do. It is unfathomable, and yet, here we are. You and he too have shared some such moments. That alone would be enough among your people. With their limited concept of the emotion, I should say."

Another nerve was struck, but this one she could not shove back. She did however vow to work on being harder before she became too soft. She could not afford a weak trait to be exploited, and if the human saw it so plainly, those of her race surely could. Harder, she had to become harder. When she spoke, her voice was poisoned steel and cold as winter snow. "Don't slap a bad trait in my face human. It's enough to make me stop talking..."

Cogliostro immediately grew more cautious and apologized, though his face had nothing of apology in it as he said, "mm, yes, I'll try not to slap such 'bad' things upon you again."

Instead of getting upset at his false apology. Xull'rae reflected on what he said earlier about sharing moments with a certain male but didn't name him. Instead she named another, "you mean Lesaonar?"

Cogliostro looked at her in confusion, "Hm?" He shook his head as he realized she switched subjects again. "No, I had meant Vesz'aun. But yes, I suppose you and Lesaonar have shared your moments as well."

She frowned upon hearing Vesz'aun's name but pressed forward about Lesaonar. He was much more pleasant to think about at the moment. "Well he's so lacking ambition in the fact that he aspires to be nothing more than what he is that, I can actually trust him to a degree and relax around him.

Cogliostro nodded in agreement but also added, "mm, yes, his ambitions were quelled long ago, though it is little wonder given the lifestyle. He still dreams of higher aspirations, but his waking mind will not dally on such things."

Her frown deepened, giving Xull'rae an ominous air about her. Her voice was cold yet somber. "No doubt a spider bitch priestess quelled them."

Instead of answering her, the bald human attempted to throw her off guard by changing the subject himself and say something he normally would not. The truth. Not to mention something that could and should get her upset. "And yes, I make it a habit to strip what I can from unsuspecting peoples on a daily basis. I'm nosey, and it’s a far easier method than questioning people outright. Just in case you were wondering, and I also would not deign to violate you in such a way. In fact, I suspect due to the blessing of your bloodline, I could not do so if I wished to."

She wasn't surprised in the least, though she had suspected he used scrying to gather his knowledge, not psionics. She wasn't worried that he could use them against her, for he didn't have the guts to try and that showed her his skills were minimal. He was older than her, of that she was sure and that meant he had years of training on her, so if he didn't try it meant he was doubtful he could match her. She kept her face the same, though her frown was replaced with a quirked smile. She turned the tables on him again and kept with the previous subject, as if what he said did not matter. In truth, however she tucked that information away for later use. She spoke lightly as if just realizing something. "You know he and Vesz are so similar perhaps that's why they can't stand one another."

Cogliostro didn't, couldn't, allow himself to blink, he couldn't help but feel impressed. Again she proved to be keen and sharp for one so young. She is an interesting and dangerous study indeed. Too bad she couldn't be a friend, he thought. Maybe she could, but he would have to be subtle and it was a virtue he was poor at. He kept face and smiled, keeping up with the conversation as well, "mm, heh, good observation. It is so true in a lot of ways. Both are self-stylized knights in a world of craven curs."

Xull’rae nodded in agreement, her smile in full bloom now. So he could hide surprise or act like something did not happen sometimes could he? Best not to underestimate him then. She thought, Even now I have to keep up my guard and not allow myself to fully enjoy an interesting conversation. Can't relax, that leads to sloth. I will not be weak. I MUST be strong. Hard. She gave a tone to match the smile, approval and amusement. They fight similar too, honorably, which is strange."

He couldn't tell if she was genuine or wearing a mask. He wasn't going to frustrate himself over it, she was a woman, young, but one nonetheless. That alone was enough to frustrate him. He now knew she was a good Masked Traitor and he would have to constantly remind himself of that in times to come. He nodded and replied, "aye, strange to these lands, at the very least. Though don't let the bladesinger fool you. For you, he puts on pretenses whilst fighting. Sometimes, he lives up to his own twisted sense of honor even when you are not present. But, when push comes to shove, he will not hesitate to employ more underhanded methods."

Xull'rae chuckled and nodded once more. "Though both fight dirty on occasion to survive which is fine and very acceptable." She looks at Cogliostro askance and snorts, "oh I've seen him. The twit thinks I never care enough to watch him from afar, but occasionally I do."

He showed mild surprise, if he were Xull'rae he wouldn't care a whit about the bladesinger. But he was not, so he said, "ah, well then. I too have that habit. Not that I care, but it’s entertaining to scry in on him every so often."

So she was right about the scrying. But she didn't think on it long, else she would get paranoid that he was scrying her. Besides what kind of mage would he be if he didn't? Right? She had to let her mind stop wondering and focus on the conversation. More information could be gleaned. Of that she was certain. She went on by saying, "and Les, well he's well a typical male subservient. I wonder if I should convert him." She meant it as a statement but frowned as it sounded like a question to her own ears. She didn't want to ask for advice especially not from a nosy human.

Cogliostro gave an answer but gave a fact instead of offering the advice, seeing the frown. He thought that was the wiser course of action. "Though you two are close, I daresay it would be a great risk to expose what you are and what you do outside the walls of that compound to him."

Xull'rae nodded, agreeing with him. However, she couldn't help but point out facts of her own and offer a debate. "He'd do the cause good and I never order him in private so he listens to me well enough." She smiled, perplexed and then rueful. "Perhaps it is too dangerous to risk. Trust is as fragile as a baby. It's broken and ruined so easily. Ah well. She shrugs, letting go of the argument before it could begin.

The bald human wasn't ready to let go of the subject though and smiled knowingly as he offered his thoughts, "true, but then again, if you were not aware, he vehemently opposed your other brother when said magus attempted to 'convert' himself." This time, he gazed at her with studiously narrowed eyes, wondering if she knew of what he spoke of.

She dismissed what he said with a shake of red head and grinned her own knowing way. "That's cause they can't stand one another."

He gave her that point and said as much, "True enough and that may be all the deeper it went."

Again she let go of the argument, doubting now and gave her opinion, "if I told him that it'd be better to convert he'd probably listen."

Cogliostro smiled and decided to let the debate drop as well. Xull'rae knew how to take risks and when to stay the course. Another reason she was a good study and one to be admired. "Perhaps, you do have quite a lot of influence over him."

Instead of changing the subject, she turned it down another path along the same road. "Which," She laughs lightly, "probably what Valas had me do. They had an argument, and Valas blackmailed me and told me to tell Les that his way was better. When I asked what it was he said just tell him...he'd listen. She shrugs, her face was amused though.

Cogliostro's face showed surprise and amusement upon hearing what Xull'rae just said. "Heh, the archmage actually had the gumption to try and blackmail you, yes, I remember that. Foolish, as you are the favored child. It’s not as if your Matron would take his word over yours in much of anything."

He remembered 'that' did he? That meant he did scry on her. Anger welled up, instead of suppressing it, she hid it with smiles and an offhand manner, "by the way I almost got incinerated by him." She chuckled easily, though she didn't feel like laughing, "quite funny really."

Cogliostro too allows a chuckle to escape. Unaware of how she really felt, he just thought her humor was strange. He knew he wouldn't like being turned to ash. "Yes, poor couch...."

She nods with a perplexed expression again. "He sure doesn't like females getting close to him, even ugly ones."

Cogliostro snorted and snickered. "Yes, some of your sisters aren't the most comely of beings." He knew she spoke of herself, but again he would deny her in that.

She snickered too. "I think he would have erected and shot within five seconds if I did succeed in touching any part of him. Unless…of course, he know. Queer."

This time he outright laughs, a joyous, deep rumbling. "Please, no more, I'll burst a gut." As he wipes his eyes, he continues, "and such thoughts tend to bring forth a certain queasiness within my bowels. I assure you he hates men as much as he does women."

Xull'rae suddenly sighs and becomes almost sullen. "I don't blame him for being so touchy..."

He turns more somber at that, something akin to pity within his voice. "I for one do not, for I've visited that part of his intellect which holds the key to his fathomless spite."

Xull'rae looked at him questioningly, but did not press. Instead she continued to express her thoughts. "He's quite attractive… on his one side of course. More so than me and he agreed. So at least I made him feel better." She shrugged as if it had nothing to do with making him feel better. She then sucks in a breath sharply. She could not believe she said that aloud and was sincere. Knowing it sounded sincere betrayed the falseness of her body language. Her face looked sour immediately.

"He held that more to heart, so to speak, than you may realize, of course, not in a sexual manner, either." He tried putting the Drowess at ease, first confused with her sudden moodiness, but then caught on by reviewing what she had said. Again his tone was neutral, only stating a perception of a fact. "There is nothing wrong with what you did, Xull'rae. Compassion is not a weakness in all situations."

Her face turns uncaring, while her tone carries bitterness. "He's arrogant, so of course he thinks he's better looking." She utterly ignored his compassion comment, pretending to not even hear it. Portraying to be wrapped up in her own thoughts.

Before the situation got out of hand and she could explode, Cogliostro decided to give insight on Valas's "faults" to help easing exposing hers. "Mm, aye, he's arrogant, to be sure. Moreso because he feels it necessary to prove himself more than most, due to the state his, hm, accident left him in. Cover one weakness with another of a more zealous sort."

The bait was taken immediately, unknowingly. She was intrigued, anger and embarrassment forgotten. "Was it his fault he's like that or another of Lolth's whims?"

He Shakes his bald head and spreads his arms wide shrugging as if to say he didn't know. "That is largely based on one's opinion of the situation, depending on your outlook; it could be one or the other, or both. I will explain if you wish, though it may disturb you. Then again, not much disturbs people in these parts."

She nodded, studying him, after a few seconds she became impatient, "well what happened? Nobody talks about it and mother said not to bother with it since he deserved it. But I know Loltherian rule, the male is always at fault even if he isn't."

Cogliostro nodded gravely and seeing her impatience pressed on without delay, "true enough, on males always being at fault around here. However, formulate your own opinion once I am done recounting the small tale."

Xull'rae nods, cupping her face in her hand, looking quite youthful and pretty to the point that she looks soft and innocent. She awaited him to begin with an eagerness in her amber eyes.

The look of her does not go over his head. Inwardly it makes him smile, though outwardly he cannot show it, such is the emotion stirred by recounting Valas' memories of the incident. "Your brother was always arrogant to a degree, but back in his younger years it was born of his desire to buck the system, so to speak. He was always rashly decrying the system whenever the fates allowed him the chance. Why he survived that long unfettered is beyond me. Maybe someone foretold the matron of his future usefulness. Whatever the case, he always managed to get away with things that other males could not."

Xull'rae pipes up with a snort, "that much still holds a degree."

Cogliostro nodded and continued on with the story, "but even his leeway had its limits. So, when he was about your age, hormones ablaze and making him more intolerable than ever, he dared to actually strike one of your sisters. She is no longer among the family, but that is another story.
"The matron was actually nearby at the time, and she caught full sight of the transgression. To say the least, it sparked a fit of rage which she has not shown often since that day...and it was a fit of malicious cruelty."
He pauses for a moment, leaning forward to grab up his bottle from the table, taking a long draught. His visage creased with what seemed like stress, as if he were reliving bad memories of his own. "So as not to dally, let me say that she chose a disturbing path to teach him the power of women over men. Disturbing to my kind, at least.
"The matter was taken immediately to hand, the entire incident occurring right in the middle of the compound, with more than a few startled onlookers being witness."
Another short pause was taken, he was watching her for expression but she showed none but he was sure she was still listening. "To shorten this up, she strode up to him, beat him nearly senseless, had his clothes stripped from him, then she repeatedly raped him, over and over, using magics to prompt his 'manhood' to life when need be.
"During it all, she taunted him, telling him that he should enjoy it, for it would be the first and only such union with a woman he would ever have. To assure that, she enacted a spell that caused acid to exude from the pores of her hands. One was thrust upon his face, leaving an imprint which remains to this day, hence the mask. The other hand reached for a place I'd rather not mention. It left him quite, hm, unable to function, if you get my drift. As it was the will of the matron, and perhaps the will of Lolth, the wounds have never been healed, as any such attempts are doomed to failure. At least by any in the church of Lolth.
It was one of the reasons he tried to "convert" in the past. His hope is that the powers of another God can restore him, should he get in the graces of such a being."

Xull'rae showed nothing other than the wildfire fanaticism when he was finished. There was a wicked gleam in her eye that made Cogliostro feel the rise of discomfort in his stomach as she asked her next words oh so calmly, "Hmmmmm... a frightening grin formed on her lips. One that made her look even more mysteriously alluring. Women would be the death of him yet. "Think if I did that to Vesz'aun he'd go away?"

Shaking the effects of remembrance off, he then blinked once in her direction, recovering quickly enough when he saw it did not bother her. Promptly smothering the tiny attraction he felt for her as she smiled. "Mm, no, I don't believe it would be that easy for you. Somehow the Bladesinger would continue."

Xull'rae muttered. The only comprehensible word was an obscenity. "Fuck...." She sighed and seemed to shrug something off, getting back to the subject on hand, "As for Valas, did he rape the sister or just hit her?" She blinked as if she were thinking of something and murmured to herself more than him, "perhaps Vhaeraun would be more sympathetic to his disfigurements…I'm not too sure though."

Cogliostro shrugged, not sure either as he replied to her, "mm, perhaps. But in any case, he did nothing more than strike her with the back of his hand. Hence, the extreme of the punishment he received baffles me to a degree. Perhaps it was the product of decades of frustration with him that caused the Matron to be so harsh. But in a round-a-bout way, the incident was not without cost to the Matron."

Again she turned somber and nodded. "Yes and I'm not condoning what she did but it could be that she didn't get bedded for a while too. Trust me my real mother was beyond scary in that respect." She shivered remembering her vague impression of Kyorii Oblodra. To this day she kept her eyes downcast as if the thought of her biological mother was more than a memory and truly standing before her, above her. So confident, so dominant.

Seeing Xull'rae shiver made him recall his own impression of the Oblodra Matron and the rumors that shrouded her name. He could not blame the young woman and simply agreed with her, "mm, aye, no need to dally on that."

After a short silence, she recalled the human said that Laele paid a price for her punishment on Valas. It was a good place to pick back up, "interesting. What was the backlash?"

He smiled seeing her recover quickly. "Your brother is crafty, however. He's enacted some forms of vengeance without flaw. The sister he struck back then was...rather is still suffering the most for it, even to this day. Though none other than he, I, and now you, know she is alive.
"He crafted his revenge over the course of a decade, doing it in such a way that it could not be traced back to him. However, he does gloat over the fact once in a while, but nothing can be proved, so of course, by drow standard, it didn't happen.
If you are curious, she has been given the fate of many outcast female nobles...she is in a city I will not name, daily suffering what depredations the male commoners and slave races are wont to commit on her, should they have the coin."

Confusion washed over Xull'rae's fair face, not quite grasping what he was trying to say. "Then where is she and why isn't she part of the house? Did he make seem like she died?" She immediately felt silly having spoken so soon that she realized that he already answered her question already.

He shook his head and waved his hand, repeating himself anyway, "no, he did not go down the death route, as he would need a body, and a body could have been restored to life. So, he simply machined it as the whims of an Outsider that she be carried off, in payment for some service rendered, part of a poorly worded contract, one which the matron herself had made with said fiend. So, to all intents and purposes, it was the Matron's own fault. Which is even more punishment he inflicted, as the Matron held high regard for that daughter."

Xull'rae blinked as realization sunk in. "So she's a whore?" She actually giggled, "I'd be that if given half the chance, just so I could have some comfort once in a while."

The bald mage looks at her absolutely stunned and it twisted into disgust a moment later upon hearing her reason. He was not sure if she were serious or not. "Bah, by the gods...." He cleared his throat as she looked at him with smokey eyes and a slow sultry smile. He quickly continued. "At any rate, yes, she is a whore, in the loosest sense of the word, though she gains nothing from it. That is the purview of the male who now owns her."

Xull'rae shook her head in wonderment, seductiveness gone. "So no wonder he hates me…I replaced the lost sister and her favoritism. It's like she never left… though I didn't know he needed a reason."

He shrugged but nodded. "He probably wouldn't need one anyway, but yes, that is why. His final act of vengeance is not really apparent as such. By inflicting a fate worse than death upon him, she weakened her power over him. Hence, he no longer fears what she would do, for he would actually embrace death would it come for him. So, he gets away with more now than he ever did, which is only partially due to his being too useful."

Her expression became thoughtful once she heard he no longer feared the Matron. "Though I think I frustrate him because no matter what he does to me I don't care and I think that bothers him so it's the exact opposite of what he's used to."

Cogliostro blinked and thought about that, then nodded in agreement. "Yes, I believe you are correct. He'd rather you hate and despise him, than to feel nothing. Emptiness is what he tries to avoid, filling that gap with rage and other not so nice feelings. He expects the same from others, to help fuel his own. He also tries to avoid that emptiness in others, since he fears it so much."

Xull'rae's shrugs in an offhand manner and replies, "well I do feel something…I think he's funny."

Cogliostro chuckles, "hm, aye, his actions do inspire some amount of humor I must admit. But, being male, I sympathize with him more than anything."

She presses on. "He tries so hard to be cruel that it comes out ridiculous and funny." Though Xull'rae was no fool. She knew Valas was dangerous even before this story was told. He still is dangerous She reminded herself.

"So true, Cogliostro agreed.

Xull'rae looks at her hair with disgust once more, "and the fact he calls me ugly and I agree...stumps him every time." She snickered at the last bit.

"Heh, aye, I suppose so at that." Cogliostro replied.

Xull'rae continued. "I don't fear him either and that really bothers him…but all in all he likes me a tiny specs worth I know because he's never pulled a nasty stunt on me yet to try to get me killed." She looked disturbed yet amused at the thought.

"Yet," Cogliostro agreed, "but true, like most, he finds something about you redeemable, for lack of a better word."

Xull'rae grinned widely, disbelieving the human's statement to a degree. "If a drow doesn't try to kill you it's one of two things. One they don't know how. Two, they like you cause you are useful." Suddenly Xull'rae looked uncomfortable, "a thought occurred to me," she looked at him and when Cogliostro nodded for her to continue, she did so reluctantly. "Ummm if Valas's dick was damaged how does he piss? I'm curious."

Cogliostro chuckled because it was humorous without being so and he replied lightly, "hm, well, he's not lacking in ways to kill someone. So it must be option two. And more damage was done to his, hm, balls, than to the actual penis, though certain nerves and blood vessels were damaged, leaving him impotent as well as unable to produce children otherwise. But, even though he can't get it up, per se, he can still use it to piss with. Painful, each and every time, but he can do it."

Xull'rae winced and grunted, her expression pained as she said, "well I can't say it's justified you humans are just as terrible to your women as we are of our men. I’ve heard some cultures cut inside a woman to make it so it causes extreme pain to have sex. In any case it’s no wonder Les fears mother. I'm surprised she took to me…Jarlaxle made me bathe and care for my hair so I'd look presentable back then my hair was bobbed. He told me to keep it long, so I did."

Cogliostro was surprised to learn that Xull'rae listened and studied some of human culture, even if it was by word of mouth. Then again he had to remind himself she was under Vhaeraun, not Lolth. He replied to her thought, "yes, my people are not without their discrepancies. And indeed it is little wonder Lesaonar fears her, as she is more powerful now than she ever was. And as for her taking you in, that much I do not have knowledge on, though I'm sure Jarlaxle's charm had something to do with it. He is quite persuasive, that one."

Xull'rae giggled in a very girlish way. Cogliostro noticed she always did that whenever Jarlaxle was mentioned. "Perhaps…I wouldn't doubt it," was all she said.
As an afterthought Cogliostro added, "the Matron is one person I cannot pry into the mind least not without being detected."

Xull'rae did not seem to hear him, but she did. Her eyes went distant, remembering things, speaking aloud. "I remember my new sisters stayed away from the scrub as they called me…Valas was not allowed near me…and Les well he didn't care then."

Cogliostro nodded, but more in part to the mention of Lesaonar. "Mm, aye, for more reasons than you think. But we can get into that at a later time. For now, I have other matters to attend." He regarded her a moment longer, traces of a smile at the edges of his lips whilst he took another long draught which drained the bottle. He allowed the smile to fade as he stood properly, preparing to go. There was no wish on his part to end this particular conversation, for he was sure that such things would be a rarity. Society would not permit the two of them many moments of quiet like this. A pity, as apparently they would otherwise become staunch allies, maybe even something akin to friends as he knows it. For now, that sort of daydream was pushed aside, reality stepping forward.

"More reasons?" Xull'rae frowned at him as it appeared he would not answer her, she arose a pouty frown on her face as she walked over to the stairwell, her ruddy cape making a trail of fabric behind her once more. "I guess I should report to the tower and check on the hopeless squad."

Cogliostro heaved a sigh and nodded, his brown eyes lingering on her again as he responded, "mm, heh, aye, that you should. And if you so wish, I will tell you those reasons in future. For now, I leave you with a parting tidbit of information." He offered her a sincere and respectful half-bow before turning to stride towards his office, looking back over his shoulder as he passed the table, taking another bottle deftly to hand, "there is another unspoken thing at your Household. The youngest Zauviir daughter...she is Valas'. Just thought you may make some use of it in future. Fair day to ye."

Xull'rae left quickly to cover her shock. Contemplating their entire discussion.

Interrupt the Bard -or- let her continue