The title for this series (suggested by Jak Locke as I am terrible at titles) is a good one because while with last week's entry it can be said in disgust, it can also be said in pleasant surprise. This week's pick is the latter.
In high school, I was exposed to the fantasy genre in depth for the first time. While I had seen The Last Unicorn and loved it as a child, I didn't see any of the girth of 80's fantasy films until the 90's. I also started reading R.A. Salvatore's Drizzt Do'Urden novels and particularly loved The Dark Elf Trilogy, with its in depth exploration of drow culture. An evil society full of creatures who cared more about ambition than anything else, ruled by women no less, absolutely fascinated me. While I loved the character of Drizzt, I was actually more fascinated by his father Zaknafein, who also didn't agree with drow ways but chose to live within the society and prosper as best he could. I eventually decided to try my hand at writing my own story set in the Underdark. I think I was either 16 or 17 when I wrote this, though I'm not 100% certain. With less to nitpick, I've just included my thoughts about this one at the end.
The girl walked down the crowded streets. Today was the dawn of her twentieth year. This held no importance to anyone except herself and her mother, because after all she was nothing more than a drow commoner. She wore a hooded cloak, which covered her completely, and those who past her saw only her red glowing eyes. She was on her way to the house she served as a soldier. It was only the twentieth house, not very formidable, but the matron mother was known to be gaining the favor of Lloth, the drow goddess. The girl cared little of this, as this was the third house she had ever served, and no doubt would not be the last.
She had left the house because the weapon master had sent her out to run an errand, as he often did because it was quite obvious she was one of many of the common soldiers he took a liking to. She didn’t care too much for him, but she was willing to do just about anything she could to raise up in the ranks, to perhaps be a guard eventually. He had sent her to pick up a small package, which was surprisingly heavy.
Upon reaching the gates, she muttered the password. “Bla’leth” she said, the first word of the house’s ancient name, Bla’leth Tsh’lan. It was more commonly known as House Blaelin, and the name was being whispered more and more by higher and lower houses alike.
The guards opened up the gates for her and she stepped through, avoiding the stares. She rarely talked to anyone and as she was a fairly skilled soldier most others did not care for her. She ignored them and stepped up to the house. There was a large staircase leading up the stalagmite mound, and instead of climbing it she simply called upon her levitation powers. She reached the top, made the hand signal for the same password to the guards and made her way up to the weapon master’s room. She knocked three times, and waited.
Almost immediately he answered the door. He was obviously in the process of training the youngest noble of the house, a female almost ready to be sent to the academy to learn to be a high priestess, and she was just learning the basics now. She must have been learning well, for she had the weapon master out of breath. He gave the girl a wicked grin when he realized it was her.
“Come in, Meena!” he said, opening the door wide to let her through. The young noble’s face scrunched up, and turned away. She was not fond of any commoners, especially the ones the weapon master favored. Meena assumed it was jealousy, though she couldn’t imagine why. The weapon master, whose name was Krinafae, or just plain Krin, motioned for her to step into his private office and living quarters.
It was hot in the room so she waved away her cloak, though she left her hood covering her head as she always did. She put the package on his desk, which he was now sitting on, and looked him in the eyes.
“As you wished, sir.” she said, bowing. “Well done,” he said picking it up “I suppose you have a right to see it.” He unwrapped the package and opened up the box inside. Lying carefully among the cloth inside was a pendant that had a strange green glow to it. They both shrank away from it at first, adjusting their eyes to the painful light which was so strong to their heat seeing eyes. Slowly things became clearer, and Meena began to gaze upon the object, entranced.
“Beautiful, is it not?” Krin said, pulling it out and placing it around his neck. “And not only so, but powerful as well! It’s magically enchanted. The purpose, you ask? (Though Meena wasn’t truly interested) Matron Zinfel.” Meena looked at him strangely, wondering what the pendant had to do with the matron mother of the house.
“Matron Zinfel is a name that is becoming more and more known here in the city of Cerableren. I have heard the whispers as have many but her own greedy self. Her foolish sacrifices and deeds have temporarily pleased Lloth, but the other houses are annoyed by her antics and most likely an attack will occur soon. You, Meena have nothing to fear, for any common soldier can surrender and join the new house, but I, as the weapon master, have a better chance of being killed than captured. And I am certainly not worthy of dying for someone as foolish as Matron Zinfel. This pendant will change my appearance with a thought, disguising me as a common soldier, letting me live so that perhaps one day I may be the weapon master of a higher house!”
Meena closed her eyes and rolled them, disgusted by Krin’s thirst for power. It was something which she saw often with all other drow, but something she never really adjusted to.
“Smart thinking,” she told him, just to let him gloat a little more. He smiled the wicked grin that most people knew him for, and gently reached a hand up to Meena’s cheek. As always she shrunk back a bit, but he made no moves to remove her hood.
“Do not worry,” he said, “I find it more appealing to keep it a secret.” He then closed his eyes and moved closer to her. She accepted his embrace and kiss, knowing that resisting would put him in a rage, enough to possibly even kill her. She knew what would come next as well, and once again she would offer no resistance, for he found her secret so “appealing” he let her keep the cloak on. He lifted her, making movements toward the bed. It was then that a knock came at the door. They both sighed (though his of disappointment and hers of relief) and Krin went to answer the door, slipping the pendant underneath his shirt.
The young noble Virka stood there, looking slightly annoyed. “While you have wasted your time on such filth, Matron Zinfel has called us.”
“I shall be there shortly, he said, and turned away from Virka, facing Meena. “Tell no one of what we discussed.” he said in the hand code, and Meena nodded her agreement. Krin took up his swords and headed toward the temple while Meena left to go to her quarters.
Despite Krin’s selfishness and lust for power, he was right. It would not be too much longer before Matron Zinfel would err, and then falling out of Lloth’s favor, an attack would soon follow. Matron Zinfel hated males, and she had pledged to Lloth to eradicate every one who held no use. She had made sacrifices of quite a few soldiers who held no great fighting ability or attractiveness. Lloth was now pleased, but the rumors in the house said that Matron Zinfel had her eye on a noble boy of a higher house that was held even higher in Lloth’s favor. If it was true, then the house would fall upon hard times indeed. Meena didn’t truly care, her only gratitude she held towards Zinfel was her raising her to higher ranks as a soldier, for no more was she among the first strike force which was often nothing more than fodder, but the third, which spread throughout the enemy house killing important drow. Or, the more likely one now, she was part of 50 soldiers who would guard the main entrance when an attack occurred. Perhaps with Krin’s words she might even get to join the fourth, which was merely cleanup for the attacks, and were often sent to guard nobles like Virka, who she would gladly let die, herself surrendering immediately. Meena went to sleep with a grin on her face, thinking of Virka’s throat being cut out so she may never call her “filth” again.
Many months passed, and many “favors” were done for Krin that Meena now held the rank she had wished for. During the day she guarded Virka and her older sister Driza, both of them still in the process of learning to be high priestesses, so she and another female stood guard at their doors during the day, and two more guards during the night. This switched from week to week, as sometimes Meena would be forced to watch at nighttime, which was never very pleasant for often the sisters took visitors in at late hours.
It was currently her week to watch during the day, and as her shift ended she went to Krinafae’s quarters, as he had requested to see her. He waved her in, and spoke to her in hand signals.
“I go tonight on orders of Matron Zinfel to kidnap the page prince of house Trifelin, the twelfth house. Tonight the sacrifice is made; tonight Zinfel falls out of Lloth’s favor. Tomorrow, no doubt, the attack will come from House Trifelin. Be prepared.” She nodded and he hurried on his way out.
She stepped into the corridor from the room, headed towards her quarters, which were cozier than her old quarters because it only held four soldiers instead of twenty. She was stopped by a hand on her shoulder. She turned, saw Matron Zinfel, and bowed accordingly. The matron mother then walked past, with her two daughters flanking her. Meena then realized she had been walking ahead of them, something which she was not worthy to do. “Well, according to them anyway” she thought, and continued her walk, the high priestesses now far ahead of her.
The next day, while at her post, Krinafae walked up to her, putting his back to the other guard. He explained to her the happenings of the night before. He had killed the weapon master in order to take the page prince without any witnesses. He then had taken on the appearance of him, and led the boy out of the house. Farther down he had rendered the boy unconscious and carried him the rest of the way. The sacrifice was then held upon his arrival. He had left the body of the weapon master behind however; to let the house know there was foul play involved. No doubt after finding the body and being unable to find the boy, a few prayers to Lloth would have the house upon them tonight. He suggested to her to not put up a fight at all, and surrender immediately, joining the other house in their attack, as he would do the same posed as a high-ranking soldier. She agreed and he told her he would see her in her quarters tonight, as she would recognize him by his glowing chain.
It had become apparent to Matron Zinfel and her daughters that they were out of Lloth’s favor, because the last sacrifice had not ended with the usual signs from their goddess. They had then flown into a flurry of prayers of forgiveness, but they realized it might be too late. Matron Zinfel had overestimated Lloth’s feelings for her, and underestimated her feelings for House Trifelin. That night the attack did not come. But the next it did, and it came with a passion. The house was soon covered in globes of darkness and the soldiers and mages of the twelfth moved in, killing slaves and soldiers alike. The high priestesses of the twelfth house put a mental assault on them that rendered three of their priestesses unconscious. The fall of house Blaelin was quite evident. Meena and Krin sat in the room hearing commotion outside. Soon the door was broken in, and they both put up their hand signal for surrender. The soldiers nodded, and led them to make more kills.
Krin, though appearing as a common soldier, made no effort to hide his skills and killed many soldiers quickly. Meena didn’t have too much trouble keeping up with him, killing many of the guards and receiving many curses from those who recognized her.
When the job was done, Krin, Meena, and many other soldiers who had surrendered were gathered up. They were questioned thoroughly. Krin returned to his original form, and the matron mother was so pleased by his treachery that, since there was no current weapon master, she assigned him immediately. He then requested to have Meena as his apprentice, which after viewing Meena’s fighting ability the matron mother readily agreed. Matron Leenae was a powerful matron mother and also a very wise and cautious one as well. She wanted power as much as any other drow, but she only went for such things when she knew she would succeed. It was because of this that Lloth held her in high regard, and why rarely was anything done to House Trifelin.
Matron Leenae was also a very fruitful drow. She had five daughters, one living son, one recently dead, one sacrificed, and another child on the way. She was near the end of her pregnancy and spent most of her days lying about sluggishly, eating as much as possible to ensure the health of the child, for after the winning that night, she had received a vision in which she had six daughters. While her second eldest girl kept close watch over her, and all the others held over various duties about the house, the oldest of them all stalked the hallways constantly, keeping an eye on everyone, especially the new soldiers and weapon master who had just entered their home. She disapproved of her mother’s attraction to Krin, and to her acceptation of him as a whole. It seemed apparent to her that one who would betray so easily would do so again.
For this reason she would linger a little longer about the weapon master’s quarters, watching him teach her brother some of his talents which the boy did not know. Her brother was a master fighter, and yet Krin was running him in circles. This was only yet another reason for her to hate him. “One would think you have a fondness for me, my beautiful Traleth.” Krin said to her, grinning his slyest. “Then one would be truly dreaming, fool.” Traleth folded her powerful arms about her firm chest and pouted her thin lips. She was the perfect mix of strength and beauty, and many commented on how she near resembled Lloth. Her temper, unfortunately, was not much better.
Her brother, Jansten, chuckled under his breath. She shot him a glare, and his eyes bowed to the floor, silenced. Jansten occasionally had the habit of putting his foot in his mouth, but he knew better than to anger his sister. Meena sat in the corner, gently polishing a short sword. Her eyes searched the three around her, trying to discern what would happen next, and what might be the best place to seek shelter if Traleth decided to unleash her anger in some painful magical burst. Though the conflict had little to do with him, she found she could not keep her eyes away from Jansten. Despite his turning away from his sister, she had come to notice he had more courage than most males. He seemed more intelligent too, and even more competent than any drow she had ever seen. She had seen him spit upon the ground when one of his sisters had praised Lloth for their victory, and had even grinned when a child had managed to escape the soldier’s hunt. He had urged them not to go on, sure the child would be lost in the land outside of the city, and of no threat. He was not the only drow she had ever seen who disapproved of Lloth and most of his culture, but he was one of the few who managed to pull it off with little reprimanding from those around him.
“Why does your apprentice wear a hood?” He asked Krin, breaking the silence and removing Meena from her reverie. His sister had simply huffed out, no longer amused with them. “Try asking her. She has never told me.” “How curious,” he said, peeking in closer to her. She backed away, letting the hood cover more of her face. “Well, your face is pretty, so you cannot be hiding your ugliness. Unless there is a scar I cannot see. Tell me, why?” “Because I must, that is all,” she said, feeling a bit insulted at his comment. “I see. Fine, I suppose I can play your game. No sense getting all defensive, I have just been ruled by curiosity since I knew how to speak. You can imagine how many lashings I received.”
I had originally thought to snark on this writing like I did my X-men fanfiction, but while reading it I quickly discovered I couldn't. There's still flaws here to be sure. It starts rather plainly for one thing, and while I think I handled the exposition here a lot better than in the other story, there's still an awful lot there for only three pages worth of writing. It reads a little more like a high level summary of events than a proper story. While I made Meena a soldier rather than a ranking member of the house, things still greatly resemble events told in Homeland, the first novel in The Dark Elf trilogy. That in and of itself isn't a bad thing, it at least works well for a first draft anyway. There's the start of an obvious romance angle here, and the mystery of what Meena's hiding isn't perfect but doesn't seem so obvious. I think it was going to be that her hair was not white; she was definitely of mixed race, but it's also been so long that I don't entirely remember.
And that's just it really. I took the time to set up some characters and a setting, and then I just had nowhere to go with it. I did this a lot in my early writing years, as I imagine a lot of other writers do. You get an idea in your head, an image perhaps, and you want to do something with it, but you don't take the time to plan or outline anything out in advance until you eventually just hit a wall and it fizzles out. I think in this case I had read the Drizzt stories, really desperately wanted to read more set in the Underdark, and finding nothing else at the time, decided to try to write some myself. If I did it now, I think I'd try to stick more to the commoner drow elf theme, rather than having Meena just hang out the nobles. What is life like in a city where power is everything and you have so little? I'd also probably drop the romance, as I feel like it doesn't necessarily belong in a story like this.
It's entirely possible that this is why the story fizzled - I added in a male character who was so like the male lead in another story I'd written that this was about to become that story set in the Underdark. That story will probably become another part of this series in the future, so I don't want to say too much more. But that is one I actually finished and a fairly long one at that, so I have to do some figuring out on how to present it properly.
As before, thoughts on what does and doesn't work here are welcome, but please be respectful or your comment will be deleted.