Still…things seemed less dire than they were even just a day ago.
Morpheus reflected on that as he looked over his equipment yet again. The ghostwalker rarely needed much, but he hated being unprepared and there were so many unknowns looming before him: The Underdark and what awaited them; the capabilities of his new companions; and, as always, the shade, Legion.
By now, Morpheus was disciplined enough to only allow his hate for the shade to consume him for a few moments before he could concentrate on other things. He turned his thoughts to the men he would be traveling with; they seemed good and noble, qualities Morpheus didn’t exactly possess himself. He grinned ruefully when he compared them to his previous adventuring company: the priest and the bard shared more than a few features and he saw other similarities between the dwarf and the swordmage besides their names. More importantly, both groups had accepted him without question.
Could I do the same? he wondered. Another rueful grin as he realized what the answer to that question was.
Another dizzy spell had him reach out to the chair to balance himself. He wondered not for the first time what Legion had done to him to get them to this world… and what would happen if one of these moments of weakness should assail him during combat. He would hate to have others (besides Legion) fall because of his own weakness; he knew the path of wisdom would indicate not going, getting some rest…
But then he thought of Shareen and knew there was really no option at all.
Perhaps it was the magical lethargy that had been placed upon him or perhaps it was the fact that he was lost in thought contemplating his sister, or (likely) both, but Morpheus only knew he wasn’t alone in his room when another voice called to him from behind. “Getting ready to take off, I see.”
Morpheus spun around, inwardly cursing himself for a fool for having let his guard down again. This time, however, it was not the shining beauty of the deva Eranah who faced him, but the smirking face of the dark elf female he had seen in the council room.
She was not brandishing any weapons, so Morpheus relaxed out of fighting position and took a moment to assess the person in front of him. Barely five feet in height, with snow-white hair pulled up into a high ponytail and eyes red as the Hells, she was dressed in tight drowmesh leather, maximizing protection and maneuverability. Two daggers were in sheaths at her hips for easy access but she made no move towards them. She had the fine delicate features of her race, with the telltale jet-black skin… she might have been beautiful, but…
Too angry. Too hurt, thought Morpheus. It’s plain as day on her face and every move she makes. I wonder if it’s as obvious on me…
As though reading his mind, she smiled and looked him up and down with an appraising look, nodding. “Nice reactions, Shadar-kai. Quick. Not quick enough though… I could have killed you before you knew it.”
Morpheus gave her a steely gaze. “You would have struck first, I admit,” he whispered. “But victory goes to the one who scores the final blow, and that is by no means guaranteed to be you.”
“Perhaps not,” smiled Bhintel. “But it’s hard to gain the lead in a fight when you start out so far behind,” she purred.
Morpheus considered the invaders Bhintel had supposedly slain all on her own, and nodded slightly. “It would be difficult, yes… but not impossible. And we shadar-kai love a challenge.”
“So I’ve heard,” replied Bhintel softly, moving towards the monk. “Is that why you’re headed down to Phaervorul? The challenge?”
Morpheus looked away, hoping the drow hadn’t seen the flash of pain in his eyes. “No. There’s something down there… something I need.”
“Is this that business with your sister you mentioned in the council room?” she asked, coming up close behind him.
“…yes. The key to her salvation is down there, somewhere.”
“How do you know?” the dark elf asked softly, sliding her hands slowly up his chest. For someone who regularly dealt death with them, the shadar-kai found them surprisingly delicate.
“The shade,” he whispered. “His magic brought us here, and he’s had a vision…”
“And you trust this vision…?” she purred into his ear.
He took her hands from his chest, gently but firmly and faced her, his face grim. “I have to.”
She stared at him.
He could not keep her gaze, so looked away while asking, more harshly than he intended. “Why are you here? What do you want from me?”
Bhintel smirked. “Nothing, really… I guess. It’s just that, you’re headed to the Underdark, to a drow settlement, and…”
“And what?” he challenged.
She paused, staring at him hard again. “I wanted to speak to you before you go. You… you seem like me.”
Morpheus’ eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
She walked closer to him again. “We, you and I, aren’t living as we should. We are both people who had to abandon the life originally set out for us…”
“And why did ‘we’ do that?”
She leaned closer. “Pain… the pain of loss.” When she saw Morpheus nod his head slightly at her words, she took his face in her hands. “Tell me about her… tell me about your loss.”
Morpheus could not look away from the lithe drow’s eyes now… they seemed to burn red when she spoke with passion and he felt locked in by them. “I… she is all I have left of my family… all the rest are dead because of the shade.”
Bhintel was tracing out one of Morpheus’ intricate face tattoos with a delicate finger. “Why is he alive then? Why haven’t you avenged them?” she whispered.
Morpheus barely held back tears of rage; how had the first two women he encountered in this world managed to unnerve him emotionally so?! In totally different ways, no less… what had happened to him?
“He is my only hope to track down the shattered relic that was holding her soul,” he said through gritted teeth. “If I do not find it, she will never know release into the realm of the Raven Queen. It is an unthinkable fate.”
“You love her so much, it sounds like.”
“…yes, but sometimes…”
She leaned in to bring her lips an inch away from his many-pierced ear and whispered “But sometimes it just feels like desperation. Sometimes that’s all you feel… and you pursue your quest with the desperation of a madwoman, throwing all common sense, and anything else of value to the wind… ceaselessly chasing something because, in your darkest moments you have realized… that’s all you know how to do now.”
Morpheus took her shoulders in his hands and pushed her slightly away so that her face was now near his. “Yes. Yes, that’s it, exactly.”
She looked sad. “So you see? We are the same.”
Morpheus brushed a rogue strand of cloud-white hair away from her high cheekbones. “Yes…” he whispered.
“And now you’re headed down into the Underdark, to go venture amongst ‘my’ people,” she said placing her hands on his chest again, looking down. “You have no idea how dangerous it is…”
Keeping his hands on her shoulders, Morpheus leaned down, bringing his cheek near hers. “It does not matter… I am going to be accompanied by brave men. Powerful companions. There is nothing there we cannot handle.”
She guided his hands slowly from her shoulders to her waist; Morpheus reflexively pulled her closer. She undid the opening of his robe, exposing his pierced and tattooed chest. She began tracing the tattoos with her fingers again, while leaning her head against him. Morpheus had not experienced anything like this before…
“How can you be sure? You’ve never been…” She laid a soft kiss near his pierced nipple while she continued to caress his tattoed skin. Her hair felt like silk and smelled of lavender and earth.
“I have been through so much in my life… seen much… fought much…” His hands had brought her firmly against him, and now probed her hips.
“But never drow?” she said, barely audible, as she kissed his chest again.
Suddenly, Morpheus was on his back, his head having slammed into the hard floor. Bhintel loomed above him, her face a mask of anger and danger, red eyes flashing. Her blade was at Morpheus’ throat, had already started cutting him. “Then you know nothing! You know nothing, and you will die for your ignorance! Your sister, she will rot in whatever prison she’s in because of your arrogance!” Morpheus stayed on his back, shocked at what had just happened.
Bhintel calmed down, and removed her dagger from his neck, but the anger never really left her face. Soon though, it was joined by condescension. “This is why I worry for your expedition, Morpheus… your expedition of men.” When she saw he was still confused, she rolled her eyes, and, still straddling him, leaned close. “You think it’s our hidden daggers and our poisons that make us dangerous? Or the magics we wield? The demons we summon?” She paused. “The Spider bitch we serve?” she spat.
Morpheus said nothing.
Bhintel leaned in again, her face soft, her look seductive once more. She kissed him full on the lips and guided his hands over her body. When the kiss broke, she pulled away, her face devoid of emotion. “It’s this, don’t you see? It is the females of our kind who rule in our society, who wield all the power, and every female, arcanist or not, has every tool needed to ensorcel any male we encounter.” The condescension returned. “And so I fear for the success of your party of men, who are oh-so confident in their abilities and who won’t even know they’ve already been defeated…” she brushed her cheek past his. “… until it’s too late,” she finished with a whisper.
Morpheus felt ashamed, and felt for sure it was showing on his face. Bhintel, though, reacted like she had seen it all before and gave him a reassuring pat on the cheek before she got off him. She offered him her hand to help him up.
Morpheus stared at it for a long moment, fully intending to get up on his own… until he looked in her eyes. There was an invitation there, not like before, not the seduction from earlier but a yearning…to be accepted, perhaps? She was about to withdraw the offer, but then extended her hand again, more forcefully this time, as though to say ‘Please let me help! Take my hand because I don’t have the words!’ He realized she needed this. He took her hand.
Once they were both standing, he looked at her with a smirk. “I suppose I should thank you for the warning.”
Bhintel shrugged. “It may save your life.”
Morpheus gave her an unbelieving look. “My life, the life of a stranger, means so much to you?”
Bhintel looked down, clearly uncomfortable. “… like I said: we’re a lot alike. I’d hate to lose the only person who’s remotely like me around here, she mumbled.
Morpheus readjusted his robes. “You have not told me how I am like you. What is your story?”
“None of your business!” responded Bhintel with too much anger and too little hesitation.
It was Morpheus’ turn to roll his eyes as he turned away from her and began packing his things. Bhintel bit her lip, frustrated that he had turned away from her and, as always, frustrated that her anger had interfered with her attempts at making a connection with another living being. She breathed out a huge sigh then said “At least, for now? Maybe… maybe when you come back… I might be able to share… then?”
Morpheus turned to her. He was silent for a few moments… she really was like him in more than a few ways. “All right, then,” he answered. “When I get back.”
“Well, if you get back… it really is very dangerous where you’re going, you know. I don’t see why you… we… can’t just let the undead and drow slaughter each other. To get in the middle of that…”
“When I return,” he interrupted. “Now that I’ve gotten such good tutelage as regards all things drow, after all.”
Bhintel narrowed her eyes. “Are… are you making fun of me?”
Morpheus turned away, glad his now raised hood was hiding his smirk. “Of course not.”
Bhintel pursed her lips and was about to retort but instead took on a rueful grin of her own. “Riiiiiight. Just be careful, Shadar-kai, and remember my blade at your throat and how it got there.” She spun on her heel and walked out the door where, as she was walking, whispered, “and good luck.”
She couldn’t know that, now that Morpheus was fully alert, he could hear her. “Thank you,” he whispered to the now long-gone drow.