Her form stole away into the night, past the park, through the market place, into the lands owned by the lower houses. And it was there that she found Simic. His eyes fell upon hers, then looked away, casting his attention toward the ground. Something was wrong. And she sensed it in the way his demeanor lost strength.

"Phyxdriira. This is our last meeting."

"What? Why?"

"Raevid forbids me to see you any longer. He has no need for you." Phyx was speechless. What? She couldn't even fathom… she felt such pain in her chest, these words coming from her lover. He approached, though, never looking into her eyes, his fingers curling passionately around her arms, sliding up to her shoulders. "But we have tonight. Allow me to please you tonight. After all, I owe you so much. You are a clever and glorious drowess. I love that you passed off the blood on the dagger as my own."

Phyx was silent for a moment. Something was wrong. Really- really wrong. The way he held himself, the way he approached, the way his fingers seemed to feel at her jaw line as if looking for something to push upon and hurt. His cold words, degrading both of them in one blow, the way he still seemed to talk over her even if he wouldn't look at her. This was not the same man who, 10 hours ago, whisked away her tears and held her in that park.

"GARGRYGAN!" Her voice was harsh, shocked. And the man who looked but did not act like Simic gripped her head just below her ears. His features warped, leaving Phyxdriira to stare up into the tentacle face. His eyes glowed with anger. He was livid; she could feel it. Phyx brought her fingers to his hands, meaning to yank him away. But it was too late.

~Why couldn't you just do as you're told! You ruined EVERYTHING! Everything! Over a male!~ His voice was screamed in her head. Phyx's eyes fell open wide, her body pitching with pain. Her brain throbbed. His voice, clear of the gurgling that happened when he tried to vocalize it outside of his head, echoed terribly off the walls of her skull. Her mouth opened, trying to scream. So terrible, so painful. Surely her screams would alert someone. Someone would see an ithild attacking a drowess. Her screams. She heard them so clearly in her head. Someone would come.

~Was one rape, one near death experience, not enough? Must you trade out a future I have carved from generations in your family, waiting just for you, for the pleasures of the flesh? Whore! Filthy, spread bitch! I have put decades into you, yet you refuse me and accept HIM!~

Phyx grunted, kicking, trying to throw him off of her. There was no noise! No noise outside of her own head! She was screaming. She thought she was screaming. But all she heard was her own heavy, fearful breathing, the occasional gasp, too silent to draw attention in the middle of a sleep cycle. Yet her head was splitting with the screaming he did. She wished it would burst. She'd never experienced such pain! If her head just cracked, perhaps some of the aching would escape. Please, please let it end.

~You insufferable ant! There was never anything special about you. Nothing but your gullibility. You're a marionette. Nothing better. And now you're a marionette with broken strings. Useless. A simple mind in a whore body. Good for only one thing.~

Her kicking availed her not. He didn't give an inch in his grip. And his continued screaming brought her to her knees in front of him. She just wanted the pain to end. End. Her heart beating hard enough to kill her. Why would it not just end? Gargrygan released her face and Phyxdriira tried to hide her head, pressing her forehead against the cavern floor, wrapping her arms up around the back of her skull. Too much. It was too much pain!

She gasped as her head was pulled back by a hand locked in her hair. Her body stiffened as a new pain began, starting at the back of her jaw. Something pierced her flesh, burrowed under her skin. What lacked in friction was gained in the terrible stinging pain of the slime as it smeared under her skin, over her muscles. Two tentacles on either side of her face, along her jaw line and above her cheek. Lloth help her! He was going to eat her! Gargrygan, vizier to House Despviir, was about to eat the brain of its fourth daughter.

Scream! Goddess knows she tried to scream for help! Scream in pain. ANYTHING! But those tentacles were far stronger than even her jaw, locking it closed. All she could manage was a few pained grunts. Calmly, as if he cleaned a meal, he spread her hair, bearing more of the back of her head to him, pulling hair out of his tentacles. She felt the sharp beak scratch at the back of her neck, where her skull began.

Tears streamed down her face as she struggled. But even as she managed to move her limbs, he held her down. And she couldn't so much as turn her head. Then came the pain, the gush of hot blood as he broke her skin, followed by a terrible cracking sound as her skull gave way under his strong, sharp beak of a mouth.

Suddenly, she was jerked back. Dear goddess! Did he mean to bang her around as he ate into the back of her head? Phyx was thrown to the floor. Gargrygan pressed the weight of his body against her too much for a moment, then released. At least, his body was gone. And her back felt as if it were burning. The ground was hot. He wasn't done with her yet, though. No longer did she feel his beak breaking into her skull. But she did feel his tentacles, those under her skin, stress. Pulling. Something. Phyx wanted to scream in pain again. How much more torture could he put her through! Just eat her brains and get it over and done with!

Then- release. Suddenly her jaw was free! Phyx tried to call out now. This was her chance, perhaps the only one she got. She needed help. But her body was stunned, so fatigued. Crying, all she could do was fall forward and onto a warm arm. She was pulled from the ground, up and away from what she realized was a bloody puddle. Her eyes searched for someone, but she hardly recognized the face of her hero. The pain. Her head was so muddled.

He carried her to behind a nearby house, laying her over a stone bench. The cold felt so good. It almost shocked her out of her pain. Almost, but that the pain hadn't gone away yet. She rest on her chest as his hands parted her bloody hair. He didn't so much as flinch as he poured some cool liquid over her head. The pain began to subside, even as he continued touching it. He gave the same potion treatment to the holes at the back of her face. They numbed, allowing him to work over her form. All she felt was the slight pressure at the back of her skull telling her that he worked there. Pulling out shattered bone. Pulling out shattered bone!

Phyx wasn't sure how long she was out. Not long enough. Her head was spinning and there was a bitter taste in her mouth. Elixir. Yes, that's what it was. A healing elixir. Something that mended flesh and stopped bleeding, but not much more powerful than that. She rest so gently in someone's arms, cradled softly. The lights of the room were dimmed, easier on her head than what she expected. Phyx struggled to open her wine colored eyes, finding a gentle, familiar face looking down upon her.

"Simic?" Her fingers spread as she reached for his face. She missed, her nails raking his cheek. But he only brought his hand behind her own, helping her cup his face beyond the slightly bleeding welts she mistakenly left behind.

"Don't let her move." That voice, too, was familiar. She shifted, but felt a hand on her chest, holding her in place. "I had to patch the back of your head with a piece of shaved mushroom wood. It's soft enough to move, porous enough to let trick the body into letting it stay and strong enough that it'll take a hard hit for it to break. However, it's not bone. And it's not going to heal right. The bones of the back of your skull were chewed into little bits."

"T'risstyrrs? I… why did you bother to do anything for me. This is the second time-"

"I'm not picky about practicing what I'm trained to do. I'm not a priestess. I have to do something to earn my worth." Phyxdriira stared at T'riss for a long while, stunned at what she just said. "Now, about those holes in the back of your face. You might feel a bit of muscle control loss. Simic yanked the tentacles out of your face, so-"

"Yanked?" She looked up at Simic a second time. "How could you just yank the tentacles free? It takes a feat of strength to do something so brutal."

"I suffered from a feat of strength, then." Simic was so calm about something that Phyx had believed to only be a myth…

T'riss sighed, annoyed. "The holes and muscle will heal naturally over time. Give it that time to heal. Until then, you might find it hard to control some of your facial muscles. Just be aware that work I did on your skull is not a permanent fix. You need to see a blessed healer and I'll have to remove the patch in about three weeks."

"Three weeks? But you won't be here in three weeks."

"Neither will you, one way or another." That sounded like a threat and Phyx's mouth dropped open to snap at the drowess before another voice stole away her attention.

"She's awake." A strangely tall drow approached Simic where he held Phyx in his lap, falling to one knee but not diverting his eyes, as one would expect. Instead, his fingers flit over her face, forcing her eyes wide open, studying her color and feeling for heat in her forehead. "Excellent job, as always, T'risstyrrs."

"Thank you, Master Raevid." Phyx was again struck speechless. She hadn't seen this man since he and his elite entered Kilt'tar. And here he was, knelt before her, checking her health, with the only drowess in his group backing away in a light bow. As if he, a male, was important.

"I understand you had a round-about with an ithilid. But you're healing remarkably well. I've already had a space prepared for you and-"

"A space? Why? What?" Phyx shifted, trying to sit up. Pain wracked her skull and T'riss snarled from somewhere behind her male master.

"In hopes- that we would have a blessed drowess join our rank," Raevid answered. "Simic seems to think you will make an excellent addition to the elite. And I trust his judgment. Are you so eager to get back to a house that hasn't yet noticed your absence?"

"It's only been overnight…"

"Two days ago, Priestess."

"I've been gone for two days," she hissed, holding her head.

"Indeed. And there has been no alert put out for you."

"Of course not! We can't let other houses know that the 12th house has lost a daughter! I need to get back. I can't stay here. Lloth will strike me dead." She struggled to her feet, with Simic not so much as hesitating to help her stand while Master Raevid sat on the bed in the room, his posture so relaxed in her presence that it was a sin.

"If that were true, you'd already be dead. Lloth doesn't waste her time when it comes to punishments. Our goddess is thorough. And she'd rather take her time getting to rewards."

"Blasphemy. I…" Her head rang at her own voice and she turned, naturally curling into Simic's scent and heat. She cradled her head for a long while before being able to pull herself back together. "I have to return." Only now did she push away from Simic, stumbling toward the door. She was familiar enough with this place. She knew her way out. But was stopped as Master Raevid handed a package, rolled in her bloody peasant's cloak.

"At least take this with you. It might explain better what happened." She peered into the wrapping just enough to see Gargrygan's dead eyes staring back at her. The smell of his rot was almost overpowering if not for the herbs that had been sprinkled over the head.

Phyx balled the head back up and started up the stairs. Every step was agony. But every step also became easier as she worked her unused muscles and let her eyes adjust to the light glowing of mosses here. She slipped from the house of the rogue drow and into the city.

The basement living quarters was silent for a long while as she left. No one said a word. Then Simic's muscles jumped, protesting the silence, the stillness in the room. He stood, making a gentle gesture toward the stairway, but said nothing yet, suddenly looking to T'risstyrrs. Raevid looked her way as well.

"Yes. Go gather our new sister."

No sooner said than demanded, the elite looked to Raevid once more, already picking up or adjusting weapons. "Simic, watch after her. The elite and I will gather reinforcements." Simic was running up the stairs in the next second.

"Phyxdriira!" That scream seemed to rock Phyx's brain as much as those that came from Gargrygan only days ago. "Where have you been! You have a lot to account for! How DARE you disappear!"

Phyx's wine colored eyes were nearly bloody right now, even through the whites. She turned them on her sister, the second eldest, the same one she carved open earlier in the week. Saburra was trying to reestablish dominance. And Phyx didn't care for it, ignoring the startle on her sister's face as she marched into the matron's throne room.

Matron Mother Diretdiira looked up from the floor, a habit she had, glaring at the stone at her feet, when she was annoyed and had no outlet. Her eyes shot up as Phyx entered, her mouth set in a sneer, creating a very ugly mask across her face. She jumped to her feet, pointing gnarly fingers at Phyxdriira, her long, white hair falling in a perfect mess down her back.

"Traitor! Traitor! You worthless bitch! Where have you been for the last two days? Where have you been?"

"What's wrong, Mother. Security of the house a little too lacking right now. I'll tell you where I've been. Surviving another attack. This time from him." She threw the head to the floor, letting the blood soaked cloak roll open to reveal limp tentacles and cloudy, dead eyes. "Your precious vizier lured me out of the house and tried to eat my brain. By Lloth's grace, I survived and was healed." By Lloth's blessing, someone cared, the most unexpected group of someones.

Phyx expected her mother to be relieved that she lived. She expected Matron Mother Diretdiira to stare at the head in shock and then realize just how much she nearly lost. Her heirloom ithilid had tried to kill and eat her fourth daughter, favored by Lloth. Surely, such an action, her destruction, would have spelled the end of House Despviir. She wasn't startled by the sneer on her mother's mouth as she looked back up at Phyx. But she was startled, off guard completely, by the words.

"You killed him! You killed Gargrygan!" Phyx was silent for a moment, her eyes confused.

"Of course I did. He was trying to eat my brain! Of course I killed him."

"How dare you kill my Ithilid! His life was worth a thousand of yours. I'd have sacrificed you and every daughter I had after you for his aid."

"What?" Phyx's eyes fell open, her body and mind registering shock for the second time in probably three days. "Mother, what? Augh!" Strong hands suddenly had Phyx by her arms, twisting them behind her back, marching her forward. Phyx glanced over her shoulder, finding her eldest sister wrenching her forward, slamming her to her knees at Matron Mother's feet, where Gargrygan's rotting head rolled and almost smirked knowingly. As if, even in death, he was going to get the upper hand.

"Sacrifice, Mother? Perhaps Lloth will smile upon us with her death."

"No. She's too stupid, too useless. She's not important enough to make a decent sacrifice. Lloth would not forgive us for giving her something so lowly. Just slice her throat and-"

"YEEEEAAAAAAHHHHH!" That shriek rattled the room. Phyx's stomach bottomed out and her eyes found her mother's face. For the life of her, she'd never find out how skin so dark could fall so white. Saburra threw the throne room door open, stumbling inside and slamming it behind her. "MOTHER! The thirteenth house! It's attacking!"

"What? How? Lloth does not favor them! Not more than she favors us!"

"Open the door! Open the-" The voice of the third daughter was cut short, the slamming of her strong body against the door falling silent before blood began seeping under the bottom and into the room. If she cared to be, Phyx realized she just became third daughter.

Her remaining family scrambled, the drowesses heading toward the back of the room as her two brothers, who were never anything more than annoying spots on her mother's otherwise clean slate of female children, stepped forward. Her mage brother began casting, the warrior bringing out his long sword. Both cast Phyx a look, blaming her. After all, if Gargrygan was alive…

Something clicked behind the door, drawing her brothers closer, the clicking coming in at a regular rhythm. Phyx was suddenly pulled to her feet by an armored guard, pulled away and right behind the throne. He pushed her to sit on the floor and wrapped his body around her and Phyx caught the sight of a pink loincloth in the dark. Then warm hands wrapped gently around her ears.

So she didn't hear the explosion that killed her brothers quite as loudly as she otherwise would have. The flesh of Simic's hands protected her still sensitive brain from such a blow. And, despite the carnage, the threat upon her life, the screams of her mother as she continually ordered the drow guard up and to his death to spare them a few seconds longer, this was suddenly the most touching, precious moment Phyxdriira had ever known.

He had her by her waist in the next second, pulling her to the side of the blasted throne. Phyx looked up to see the sons of the thirteenth house, both warriors, enter the throne room. A squeal escaped her lips, though she noticed that Simic's hands moved, saying something she was not capable of discerning through her half panicked state. The brothers split up, stepping over the well done remains of her own brothers, and ran around the sides of the room. Phyx curled into Simic, her only protection right now, as one of the drow brothers ran up and across the wall, flipping from there to land on Saburra. She screamed and brought out her snake head whip. But the snakes refused to move, to strike. Even a male, they refused. Lloth did not care for Saburra today, so it seems. And she paid for that as her head rolled away from her body, landing in a scrying pool built into the floor at the back of the room.

Simic turned with Phyx, letting her see the way her eldest sister grabbed their matron, throwing her toward the approaching brothers. "This is all YOUR fault! Your fault for trying to sacrifice the only one of us who had Lloth's favor!" The first daughter hit a spot in the wall, opening a secret passage, hoping to slip away as the brothers descended upon her mother's old form. But her body stiffened as a row of crossbow bolts highlighted her spine. She spit blood and fell forward, all of this witnessed by Phyx's wine eyes.

Matron Diretdiira offered prayer after prayer, asking for every strength, every bonus, every trick Lloth might give her. Any power, any strength. But none was given. Neither, however, did the brothers approach, holding their weapons defensively and watching her every move.

"Kill her! Kill her! She is the fourth daughter, the last remaining daughter," Matron Diretdiira offered, trying to buy herself just one last chance to escape.

"No she's not. She's a rogue drowess. A priestess amongst MY elite." That voice was vaguely familiar. Phyx turned her head, rubbing her forehead against Simic's chest, to see Raevid enter the blasted throne room doors. There wasn't much left of her mother's throne. But he made the best of it, the leader of the rogue house standing on the seat before placing one foot up on the broken backrest and leaning so that he rest an elbow on his thigh. "No. You're the only loose end. And I'm afraid we're going to have to offer that honor to our priestess."

Raevid looked down, nodding at Phyx, before Simic pulled out a large dagger, heavy and sharp. He placed the handle in her grip and his hand smoothed her back before he stepped away. Phyx studied the dagger and took one step forward, her eyes bouncing between the blade and the floor.

"She can't kill me. She can't kill anything. She's weak. How she has Lloth's favor is beyond me." Matron Direttdiira was screaming her hatred, letting it drip from her lips like venom. "I'm ashamed that I birthed you!"

Phyx brought her eyes up. But, for once, she didn't feel the pain and shame that came with that venom. She blinked her wine colored eyes, fondled the dagger blade carefully in her well-trained fingers, and shook her head in a slow, methodical way.

"You're right. I don't have it in me. It isn't in me to outright kill. I've never been the cold, soulless void you and my sisters have been. No matter how much you wanted me to be, how many times you've forced my hand- I'm not that person. I'm not a vengeful, shallow, insignificant creature such as yourself. And- now- I don't have to hide it anymore. I can just… be." Phyx turned on her heels, a slow turn that left her mother gasping.

"Don't you leave me! Don't you dare walk away! You owe me an honorable death!"

"I don't owe you anything." Simic curled an arm around Phyx's shoulders as he escorted her from the room, with Raevid pulling out a set of wicked looking daggers and stepping past the throne, heading for the last remaining royal family member of House Despviir.

Phyx's eyes adjusted to the lower lights of the house, the basement rooms. Simic walked her down the short hall, stopping as T'risstyrrs came to the doorway of her own, her silk gown flitting about her legs while she leaned on the doorframe. "Welcome, my new sister. I've a gift for you, so that you can truly appreciate your new life." She held out a hand, placing a vial of white, sticky liquid in Phyx's palm. Enhancer. The very thing that Simic needed to perform. Phyxdriira's eyes jolted up to see Simic smiling. She didn't think he'd be happy to see something that destroyed his natural abilities in the bedroom. Yet- he was smiling! "Enjoy your first night. No one will bother you when you begin singing."

Phyx grinned, watching T'riss disappear back into her room, catching a glimpse of three nude drow men, toweling off from the sweat and blood of the battle. They welcomed her amongst their fit bodies. And that was about the time Simic opened a door, letting her into his own private room and the pleasures that await within.