Authors: Forgotten Realms
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R . A . SALVATORE'S
War of the Spider Queen Book II: Insurrection
©2002 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America.
Any reproduction or unauthorized use of the material or artwork contained herein is prohibited without the express written permission of Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
Distributed in the United States by Holtzbrinck Publishing. Distributed in Canada by Fenn Ltd.
Distributed to the hobby, toy, and comic trade in the United States and Canada by regional distributors.
Distributed worldwide by Wizards of the Coast, Inc. and regional distributors.
FORGOTTEN REALMS and the Wizards of the Coast logo are registered trademarks of Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc.
All Wizards of the Coast characters, character names, and the distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks owned by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
Made in the U.S.A.
Cover art by Brom
First Printing: December 2002
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2001097183
US ISBN: 0-7869-2786-0
UK ISBN: 0-7869-2787-9
ASIA, PACIFIC, & LATIN AMERICA
Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
P.O. Box 707
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WAR OF THE SPIDER QUEEN
RICHARD LEE BYERS
THOMAS M. REID
Also by THOMAS M. REID
FORGOTTEN REALMS® The Scions of Arrabar Trilogy
The Sapphire Crescent
The Ruby Guardian
The Emerald Scepter
The Temple of Elemental Evil
To Quinton Riley
You, like a good book,
are a wondrous treasure
in a small package.
A very special thanks to my editors, Philip Athans and R. A. Salvatore; this book is so much better for your tireless efforts. Also, thanks to Richard Lee Byers and Richard Baker; one's a new friendship and one's an old one, but both of you were there "guarding my flanks."
She felt as if a bit of herself was sliding from her womb, and for a moment she felt diminished, as if she were giving too much away.
The regret was fleeting.
For in chaos, the one would become many, and the many would travel along diverse roads and to goals that seemed equally diverse but were, in effect, one and the same. In the end there would be one again, and it would be as it had been. This was rebirth more than birth; this was growth more than diminishment or separation.
This was as it had been through the millennia and how it must be for her to persevere through the ages to come.
She was vulnerable now—she knew that—and so many enemies would strike at her, given the chance. So many of her own minions would deign to replace her, given the chance.
But they, all of them, held their weapons in defense, she knew, or in aspirations of conquests that seemed grand but were, in the vast scale of time and space, tiny and inconsequential.
More than anything else, it was the understanding and appreciation of time and space, the foresight to view events as they might be seen a hundred years hence, a thousand years hence, that truly separated the deities from the mortals, the gods from the chattel. A moment of weakness in exchange for a millennium of surging power. . . .
So, in spite of her vulnerability, in spite of her weakness (which she hated above all else), she was filled with joy as another egg slid from her arachnid torso.
For the growing essence in the egg was her.
"And why should my aunt trust anyone who sends a male to do her work for her?" Eliss'pra said, staring disdainfully down her nose at Zammzt.
The drow priestess reclined imperiously upon an overstuffed couch that had been further padded with an assortment of plush fabrics, as much for decoration as comfort. Quorlana thought the slender dark elf should have looked oddly out of place in the richly appointed private lounge, dressed as she was in her finely crafted chain shirt and with her mace close at hand. Yet Eliss'pra somehow managed to appear as though she was counted among House Unnamed's most exclusive clientele. Quorlana wrinkled her nose in distaste; she knew well which House Eliss'pra represented, and she found that the haughty drow reclining opposite her exhibited a little bit too much of her aunt's superior affectations.
Zammzt inclined his head slightly, acknowledging the other dark elf's concern.
"My mistress has given me certain . . . gifts that she hopes express her complete and enthusiastic sincerity in this matter," he said. "She also wishes me to inform you that there will be many more of them once the agreement is sealed. Perhaps that will assuage your own fears, as well," he added with what he must have intended as a deferential smile, though Quorlana found it to be more feral than anything. Zammzt was not a handsome male at all.
"Your 'mistress,' " Eliss'pra replied, avoiding both appellations and names, as the five of them gathered there had agreed at the outset, "is asking for a great deal from my aunt, indeed from each of the Houses represented here. Gifts are not nearly a generous enough token of trust. You must do better than that."
"Yes," Nadal chimed in, sitting just to Quorlana's right. "My grandmother will not even consider this alliance without some serious proof that House—" The drow male, dressed in a rather plain piwafwi, snapped his mouth shut in mid-word. His insignia proclaimed him as wizard member of the Disciples of Phelthong. He caught his breath and continued, "I mean your mistress—that your mistress is actually committing these funds you speak of."
He seemed chagrinned that he had nearly divulged a name, but the male maintained his firm expression.
"He's right," Dylsinae added from Quorlana's other side, her smooth, beautiful skin nearly glowing from the scented oils that she habitually slathered on herself. Her gauzy, hugging dress contrasted sharply with Eliss'pra's armor, reflecting her propensity for partaking in hedonistic pleasures. Her sister, the matron mother, was perhaps even more decadent. "None of those whom we represent will lift a finger until you give us some evidence that we aren't all putting our own heads on pikes. There are far more . . . interesting . . . pastimes to indulge in than rebellion," Dylsinae finished, stretching languidly.
Quorlana wished she were not sitting quite so close to the harlot. The perfume of her oils was sickly sweet.
Despite her general distaste for the other four drow, Quorlana agreed with them on this matter, and she admitted as much to the group.
"If my mother were to ally our own House with you other four lesser Houses against our common enemies, she would need certain assurances that we would not be left by the rest of you to dangle as scapegoats the moment events turned difficult. I'm not at all certain such a thing exists."
"Believe me," Zammzt responded, circling to make eye contact with each of them in turn, "I understand your concerns and your reluctance. As I said, these gifts I have been ordered to bestow upon your Houses are but a small token of my mistress's commitment to this alliance."
He reached inside his piwafwi and produced a scroll tube, and a rather ornate one, at that. After slipping a fat roll of parchment from the tube, he unfurled the scroll. Quorlana sat forward in her own chair, suddenly curious as to what the dark elf male might have.
Scanning the contents of his stack of curled parchment, Zammzt sorted them and began to circle the gathering, removing a set of pages and handing them to each co-conspirator in turn. When he handed Quorlana her sheaf, she took it from him gingerly, uncertain what kind of magical trap might be inlaid in the pages. She eyed them carefully, but her suspicions were dispelled; they were spells, not curses. He was offering them scrolls as gifts!
Quorlana felt elation rise up into her. Such a treasure was priceless in days of such uncertainty and unease. The Dark Mother's absence had put a strain on every priestess who worshiped her. Quorlana herself had not been able to weave her own divine magic in four ten-days, and she broke out into a sweat every time she thought on it. But with scrolls, the fear, the anxiety, the sense of hopelessness might be staved off, at least for a time.
It was only with the utmost effort that the drow priestess resisted the urge to read through the scrolls there and then. Forcing herself to remember whom she served, at least for the moment, she instead pocketed the parchment sheets inside her piwafwi and turned her attention back to the clandestine gathering in front of her.
"The only other proof strong enough to convince you of our sincerity would be moving forward with hiring the mercenaries," Zammzt said, though none of the other dark elves seemed to be paying the least bit of attention to him.
Eliss'pra and Dylsinae were both wide-eyed with the same excitement Quorlana felt. Nadal, though not as personally thrilled—the spells were worthless to him as a wizard—could still recognize the value of the gifts.
"It should be obvious to each of you," Zammzt continued, "that once our House approaches outsiders, there is no turning back. We would be completely committed, with or without your pledge of alliance. That, my charming companions, is putting the cart before the lizard."
"Nonetheless," Eliss'pra answered, still smiling as she gazed on the scrolls in her hands, "that is precisely what you must do If you wish to count my aunt among your allies."
"Yes," Dylsinae agreed.
Nadal nodded his concurrence.
"I think my mother would be willing to accept those terms. Especially after she sees these," Quorlana voiced her assent, then gestured at the scrolls tucked away in her piwafwi. "Most definitely if there are more where these came from."
How in the Underdark do they have precious scrolls to spare? she wondered.
Zammzt frowned and said, "I am not promising anything. I very much doubt that I can convince her to agree to this, but if she is willing, I will procure the services of the mercenaries and bring you the proof."
No one spoke. They were all one step away from the point of no return, and despite the fact that none of them were actually in a position to make the decision, they felt the weight of that decision just as heavily.
"Then we will meet again after you have hired the army," Eliss'pra said, rising from her couch. "Until then, I don't wish to see any of you near me, not even on the same web street."
Gripping her mace tightly, the drow priestess stalked out of the private lounge.
One by one, the others also departed, even Zammzt, until Quorlana was alone in the room.
Our time has come, the drow insisted silently. Lolth has issued a challenge. The great Houses of Ched Nasad will fall, and ours will rise up to take their place. Our time has come at last.
* * *
Aliisza was so used to the tanarukks' constant grunting, snarling, and slavering that she rarely heard it anymore, so the quiet that surrounded her as she strode alone along the dwarven thoroughfare was noticeable. Being out and about in ancient Ammarindar without an escort of the half-fiend, half-orc hordes was a refreshing change. Kaanyr rarely asked her to—she refused to say "let"—do anything without an armed escort anymore, so she had almost forgotten how pleasant solitude really was. Still, as much as she was enjoying her privacy, however brief it might be, she had a purpose, and it quickened her steps.
She moved to the end of a long and broad boulevard, which had been hewn by long-dead dwarves from the unmarred bedrock of the Underdark itself eons ago. Though she barely noticed it, the craftsmanship of the wide passageway was exquisite. Every angle was perfect, every column and cornice was thick and finely decorated with runes and stylized images of the stout folk. At the terminus of the boulevard, Aliisza entered a large chamber, which itself was large enough to have engulfed a small surface town. She turned into a side tunnel that would allow her to cut across several main passages and reach the avenue that would take her directly to Kaanyr's palace, deep in the center of the old city. It still surprised her how empty the city could be, even with all of the Sceptered One's Scourged Legions roaming around. She crossed the avenues and found the path she wanted, then hurried toward the palace.
A pair of tanarukk guards flanked the doorway into the throne room. The stocky, gray-green humanoids were hunched over as usual, their prominent tusks jutting forward defiantly from overly large lower jaws as they peered at her with their squinty red eyes. To Aliisza, it almost appeared that the two beasts were preparing to charge forward and ram her with their low, sloping foreheads. Aliisza knew that with her magic the scalelike ridges protruding from atop those foreheads were no threat to her, but still the creatures seemed uncertain of who she was, for they kept their battle-axes crossed before the opening as she approached. Finally, just before it seemed that she was actually going to have to slow her pace and say something—which would have made her very cross—the two coarse-haired, nearly naked beasts stepped aside and allowed her to enter without breaking her stride. She smiled to herself, wondering how much fun it would have been to flay them alive.
Passing through several outer chambers, Aliisza crossed the threshold into the throne room itself and spied the marquis cambion lounging on his throne, a great, hideous chair constructed of the bones of his enemies. Every time she saw the thing, she was reminded of how crass it was. She knew too many fiends who considered sitting atop a pile of bones to be some sort of symbol of power and glory, but in her opinion, it exhibited no class, no subtlety. It was Kaanyr Vhok's single biggest lack of vision.
Kaanyr had thrown one leg over the armrest of the throne and sat with his chin resting in his cupped hand, elbow against his knee. He was staring off into the upper reaches of the chamber, obviously thinking and oblivious to her.
Aliisza almost unconsciously began to saunter provocatively as she closed the distance between them, and yet she found that she was admiring his form as much as she hoped he was appreciating hers. His graying hair was roguishly disheveled and, combined with his swept-back ears, gave him the appearance of a maturing, if somewhat devil-may-care, half-elf. Aliisza crooked her mouth in a sly smile, thinking of him engaging in the many subterfuges he was so fond of, passing himself off on the surface world as a member of that fair race.
Kaanyr finally heard his consort's footsteps and looked up at her, his features brightening, though whether it was simply for the sight of her or the news she bore, she was not sure. She reached the first steps of the dais and climbed to where he sat, allowing just a hint of a pout to creep into her visage.
"Ah, my delectable one, you've come, and with news, I hope?" Kaanyr asked, straightening himself and patting his thigh.
Aliisza stuck out her tongue at him and sashayed the remaining distance to plop herself down atop his lap.
"You never just ravish me anymore, Kaanyr," she pretended to complain, wriggling her backside as she settled. "You only love me for the work I do for you."
"Oh, that's not fair, little one," Vhok replied, running his hand lovingly down one of her black, shiny leather wings. "Nor is it particularly true."
With that, he reached up with his other hand, and placing it behind her lustrous black curls, crushed her to him, engaging her mouth with his own in a deep, spine-tingling kiss. For the briefest of moments she considered resisting him, playing one of the infinite variations of the games the two of them seemed to love so much, but the thought was short-lived. His hand strayed down her throat to the hollow of her neck, and it continued lower still. She practically buzzed at his touch, and she knew that with the news she brought him, such flirtations would only break the spell.
As it was, Kaanyr still pulled away after a moment's heated embrace and said, "Enough. Tell me what you found out."
This time, Aliisza really did pout. His caresses on her wings and elsewhere left her panting slightly, and important news or not, she was not ready to be cast aside so quickly. She considered withholding the information for a time, sending a subtle message that she was not to be trifled with. He might rule this place, but she was not his servant. She was consort, she was advisor, and she was free to find another lover, should he cease to satisfy her. Satisfying an alu—the daughter of a succubus and a human mate—was a challenge few were up to. Kaanyr was one of those few. She decided to tell him her news.
"They haven't veered from their course, though it's apparent they know we're closing in. Their scouts have spotted our skirmishers and have continued to avoid contact. We will have them pinned against the Araumycos, soon."
"You're certain they're not here to spy or to wage war? No quick strikes before vanishing into the wilds?"
Kaanyr was absently stroking one of her wings as he asked this, and the alu-fiend shivered in delight. He seemed not to notice her reaction.
"Fairly certain. They are apparently headed southeast, toward Ched Nasad. Each time we cut off their route, they seek out another. They seem intent on keeping to that path."
"Yet, they are not a caravan," he said. "They don't have goods or pack animals. In fact, they travel unreasonably lightly armed for drow. They are definitely up to something. The question is, what?"
Aliisza shivered again, though this time it was as much from the anticipation of the next bit of news as from Kaanyr's absentminded petting.
"Oh, definitely not a caravan," she told him. "It's the strangest drow entourage I think I've seen wandering around the wilds. They have a draegloth with them."
Kaanyr straightened, staring straight into Aliisza's eyes, and asked, "A draegloth? Are you sure?"
When the alu nodded, he pursed his lips.
"Interesting. This just gets more and more intriguing. First, we haven't seen a drow caravan of any sort in the last few tendays. Finally, when a party of drow do venture out, they come straight through here, something they would normally avoid like the stink on a dretch, and lastly, they have a draegloth accompanying them, which means drow noble Houses are somehow personally involved. What in the Nine Hells are they up to?"