Saturday, June 16, 2012

There's a bit of a delay while the group gets their equipment together. Tannr turns to Keon at the last minute. "Be sure you reset the Gate after we go through. If the Drow find out we came this way, they just might decide to use the same Gate to come back here. I don't want them getting anywhere near Tori."

Keon nods. "Not to worry, laddie, I'll do my part. Now you get going and put the fear of Herne into those Drow bastards."

"Don't you mean Thor?" And with a grin and a wink, Tannr leaves to join the group.

Star's Archers scout ahead and Marc takes point behind them. The big man moves with the silence of his namesake, never putting a foot wrong. It takes about forty-five minutes to penetrate into Underdark; the change is immediately perceptible. The place is wreathed in a dank, low-lying mist; the vegetation is flabby, almost fungoid; insects are everywhere, crawling and slithering on the ground and hovering in the fetid air. The Archers provided the group with an ointment that they said would keep the worst of them at bay, for like most things in this world, the insects are all poisonous to one degree or another.

Once they're well into the noisome region, the Archers drop back to give last-minute directions to Marc and Tannr; then they vanish into the noxious mist.

The rest of the group presses forward cautiously, alert for anything. Tannr is aware that each member of the group has his own reasons to hate the Drow; he's seldom been part of a group so united in its purpose.

It seems like they've been walking for hours; the constant stench oppresses their nostrils, the omnipresent fog makes progress slow, sometimes thickening so that visibility is limited to no more than six inches in front of their noses; and there's a wearying wave of the hands to keep the bugs off. They have to shuffle along for the same reason, to sweep the loathsome creatures from their path. Let the ointment prove to be ineffective on just one creature within this place and -

Marc shakes his head. Best not to think of that.

The temple suddenly looms up at them out of the fog. Marc gives the signal to stop, then makes a cautious circuit of the place. He returns perhaps twenty minutes later.

His voice is a keen cutting whisper. "There are two guards, one on either side of the door, positioned maybe two feet from the entrance. They have spears and swords and probably knives. There are another half-dozen positioned around the temple at irregular intervals, making good use of natural cover. I think we should take the outermost guards first and work our way inward. By the time we get inside the temple, they'll have no help to call for."

Tannr nods. "Do what you have to do. Keep it quiet."

 Marc nods and motions to Andy and Addley. Addley looks dejected; he can't use his beloved knives on this mission - too great a chance that someone might cry out. Andy shows nothing at all except that same empty smile that's fooled so many. After some whispered instructions, they set out together.

Andy is the first to find a guard. He wonders bemusedly how the man would react if he stepped out and spoke to him. The temptation is great, but he squelches it; he knows too well what Marc would do to him if he fucked up this mission. He withdraws his blowpipe with agonizing slowness, inserts a dart, levels it, and -

The sound is quieter than a cough. The guard crumples without a sound, his hand going to his throat in a futile final gesture. Andy waits till all movement has ceased, then steps forward and drags the body into a swampy patch he'd noticed earlier. It sinks without a ripple upon the tarry-black surface. Andy grins and continues the hunt.

Elsewhere, Addley moves silently through the darkness, a darkness equalled only by that within his own reptilian brain. It's as though he's attuned to this darksome land, for his steps lead him unerringly to those beings that have been designated as "prey" tonight. The cool mist caresses him, the soft sucking mud is no impediment to his progress. There, to the left! His heart leaps within him, a savage grin stretching his lips as he reaches for the unaccustomed weapon. He holds it up, examining it closely. How can something this inoccuous be as lethal as they claim? He's tempted to throw it away and use one of his knives, those friends who never fail him; but in the end, his curiousity gets the better of him. The blowpipe coughs, the guard collapses. It's strangely unsatisfactory; where is the blood, the thrashing, the awareness in the eyes as the victim realizes he's dead? Where is the fading of the light that makes this whole experience so delicious? Addley is puzzled and frustrated. Death should not be this clean, this quiet....

By this time Andy has dispatched another guard, noting with grim satisfaction that the bodies do indeed shrivel up like flies sucked dry by a spider. The cadaver weighs almost nothing as he drags it to the sucking bog.

While all this is going on, Marc has taken out two guards with speed and efficiency. Andy, he muses, is an emotional black hole; he has no emotions, feels nothing whatsoever; but like any good predator, he can simulate his prey very well. Addley is a pure sociopath who is kept under control only by the fact that he gets to kill more working with the Ravens than he would if he pursued his amusements elsewhere; and he realizes that getting paid to kill adds an extra jolt of excitement to the game.

Marc is like neither of them. For him, killing is simply a matter of "the greatest good of the greatest number". He's never learned to enjoy it, but it doesn't keep him awake at nights either.

There is a strangled shriek as Addley finds his second victim. He snaps his head back and his blade bites deep, cutting back to the spinal cord, hot blood jetting over his fingers, spraying into his face. He inhales it like ambrosia, his body quivering with the ecstasy he only finds at such times. He lets the bdy slip to the ground, his body thrumming like a high-tension line, his eyes rolled up into his head.

The thrill of the kill wears off - too quickly, as always - and Addley disposes of the body in a natural sump. Between the water and the things that live here, there won't be much left come morning... or whatever passes for morning in Underdark.

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