What Lies Beneath (Book Excerpt)

Darmynes, the sun elf who owned the Gilded Leaf tavern, strategically located in an ash tree on the edge of Bral’s landmark Elven Forest, would have been appalled to learn that his back room, kept for “exclusive” clientele such as Admirals and distinguished Captains in the IEN, concealed an opening to Bral’s labyrinthine Underdark caverns, but he was far too thoroughly charmed to notice.  To be fair, he would not have tried very hard to pursue the accusation with or without the magic that afflicted him, because those distinguished clients were very good to him.  Take Captain Lotharvalis, for instance.  Hard luck, those burns, but he didn’t seem bitter and he always tipped well, and he never seemed to lack for female company either.  Darmynes approved of how he never seemed to let his unfortunate injury deter him.

“How are things today, Captain?” the bartender greeted him warmly.  “Your usual for you?”

“Thank you,” Lotharvalis smiled back as his lovely green-eyed companion gave him a wink and a lascivious smile.  “And we don’t want to be disturbed after that until we come out,” she added.

“Of course, Ary’Ruan,” said Darmynes in the automatic monotone suited to his programming, and as they settled into the private booth he brought them each a tall glass of Alasian nectar, acquired at no small expense, and left them to nurse it as he closed the doors.  The Captain locked them.

He spoke the command word, “Obsul!” and purple mist formed pooled in the wall and expanded into a doorway which led into darkness.  A faint murmur of voices could be heard through the gate.  The two companions stepped into the dark and allowed the wall to close behind them.

Lotharvalis gave his eyes a moment to shift into the infrared and ultraviolet spectrums as he had become accustomed to doing, and observed the scene around him.  The drow guards posted at the cavern exit nodded to him with the ease of familiarity.  Neither one of them spoke.  The last time they had questioned his right to be here, he’d cut out one’s tongue.  Now one of them had no choice but to keep silent, and the other knew better than to speak until spoken to.  In the distance, metallic screams, sobbing protests, and the crack of a whip or two rang off the walls of the labyrinthine caverns until they were indistinguishable from one another.

“Where’s Vorn?” he demanded of the guard who was still capable of conversation.

“He’s in the Temple, my lord,” he responded immediately and with all due reverence.

Lotharvalis strode from the room as the guards scrambled to get their crossed halberds out of his path.  The green-eyed maiden followed him.

“This scenery more to your liking, Fern?” the Captain teased his cohort affectionately.

“Yes,” she agreed happily.  “Underground beneath the woods!  All it needs is a bit more water and I’ll be perfectly content.”

Lotharvalis chuckled as he made his way through the narrowly carved hallway.  He passed by a dark elf dragging a half-starved human woman by a chain on a metal collar.  She stumbled along listlessly until she saw him.  “An Elven Navy captain!” she exclaimed.  “Please, sir, get me out of here!”

Lotharvalis glanced at the drow.  “Bound for the meat market?”

“She is,” the drow agreed mildly.

“Carry on then,” he urged, and the drow dragged her away to the portal room as she screamed, “Sir!  Captain!  You can’t!  Pleeeeaaassse .  .  .  ,” while yanking at her chain and scrabbling at the floor with her bare feet.  Fern’s face remained carefully neutral, but Lotharvalis could see her back teeth working and the tension in her jaw.  This amused him.

He made his way to the black marble steps and pushed gently past the thick black velvet and silk curtains that shielded the sanctum from the outside world.  Within there was a stark and beautiful darkness.  Two assistants in black masks that were revealed only by their outlines against the pitch of their ebon skin stood as solemn as a cenotaph beneath a nebulous cloud of nothingness.  At a nod from the Captain, the dark nebula dissipated to reveal a lithe and handsome drow levitating upside down and naked with a blindfold covering his eyes.  The sanctum also contained a deep pool of warm, inky water, a suspension device that resembled a cocoon, a cross streaked with blood, and a black marble altar carved with rivulets and pools.

“Is it important?” sighed the suspended drow.  “I do so hate being disturbed at meditation.”

“Of course it is, Ascended Darkness,” Lotharvalis said respectfully to the priest.  “You know I would not bother you otherwise.”

– from Sable’s Privateers (Toy Soldier Saga book 3).

Diane MorrisonDiane Morrison (Sable Aradia) is a non-fiction and speculative fiction author.  Her first National Novel Writing Month project was the Spelljammer novel A Few Good Elves (self-published to e-book format 2012).  Her related short story, “Survivor,” was published in the August 2013 issue of Separate Worlds magazine, and her first non-fiction book, The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power was published by Red Wheel / Weiser on Sept. 1.  Catch up on her ongoing Spelljammer novel series, the Toy Soldier Saga, at her website.


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