[a/n] This is a piece written as a commission for my writing shop on gaiaonline. It is a one-shot for moonlightwolf111. The narrator, Dorian, belongs to her. The content and all other characters presented in the story are of my own invention.
This story includes elements from the RPG Dungeons and Dragons.
ConCrit is much appreciated!
Enjoy the story!
It all feels like a terrible nightmare when I look back on my life in the Underdark, now. The feelings of terror, of helplessness that used to plague me daily are still as fresh and vivid as when I lived them. It's the images that are grainy; I don't remember each instant as clearly and often times I'm forced to fill in the blanks.
I was born to enslaved parents. My father was a hard labor slave, while my mother did domestic work around the household. As a child, I was relatively left alone, but I remember feeling afraid of the drows in the household. It was more than their height, and it was more than their violet-hued skins, that intimidated me: it was their eyes, and the coldness and hatred that shone in the warm-colored globes.
War was their culture. From a young age, Drows were taught manipulation, hatred and supremacy over the other races of the Underdark. In all of my years living under their service, I never once saw an adult smile. Even the children were severely punished when caught laughing or smiling.
I'd always been a small child, with a small chest and frail arms, always unsteady on my hind legs. So, when I turned eight years old, I was taken from my mother and sold to the clerics to work in the temples, doing menial tasks. The temples were the place of worship of the drows, where they worshiped primarily the Dark Seldarine: a pantheon of evil gods. It was a dark, malevolent place and I felt no more at ease there than at my mother's master's household.
Like my mom and dad, I was a shapeshifter; a Fennec fox. I'd learn to shift at a young age, tutored by my mother, so I was kept under strict surveillance. Once I entered the clerics's order, I was clearly told what would happen to me if I should shift without permission, and try to escape. The clerics' favorite pets were enormous, venomous spiders that guarded all entrances, discouraging any plans of escape.
Unfortunately, I had another magic I couldn't quite control. 'Wild magic,' I called it, for lack of a better word: it was unpredictable and often vicious. It struck out at the most inconvenient of times, often as an invisible force, pushing status of Lolth (one of the Dark Seldarine worshiped by the drows, the deity of chaos, darkness and evil, also known as the Queen of Spiders) off their stands. Although I couldn't control the magic, I was always punished severely for the outburst with snake-headed whips I quickly came to dread upon my arrival at the temple. The snakes' fangs would scrape against my back at every lash and their venom would enter my blood stream. I was left paralyzed for hours before the clerics felt I had learned my lesson and I was given the antidote.
I was fifteen years old when I escaped. I was cleaning one of the smaller temples at the time, when I felt an attack from my 'wild magic' coming on. There was no use trying to prevent it, as fighting the magic only made the outbursts stronger. Something was different though – I could feel it by the build up, that this wouldn't be the same as before. My feet were tingling, my vision swam and my knees, shaking, gave out from under me. When the magic lashed out, it was far from invisible. Long arms of what looked like red electricity shot out every which way, destroying everything it touched. The rock statue shattered at the impact and the curtains and carpet caught on fire.
I was transfixed by the wreckage. The vision of the burning temple paralyzed me like the damned venom of the snakes.
The fire ate up all the fabric in the room and I could feel the rock foundation heating up beneath me. I should have been running, soon the rock would be too hot to touch, but I couldn't move. I could only stare wide-eyed at the destruction I had caused.
Loud voices in the background told me the fire had been spotted, but I was only faintly aware of it. Maybe, being taken by the fire would be a faster, more merciful, punishment than the ones the clerics were sure to assign later.
Then, rough hands gripped me under the arms and I was hauled away. It was one of the other slaves, Volos, a strong ox shape-shifter the clerics kept around for the more difficult garden work, or the heavy ignoble tasks, like when a statue needed moving.
Volos dropped me unceremoniously on the ground and it struck me then, as I hacked up all the smoke, struggling for a good gulp of air, how much trouble I'd been in.
"You've sure done it now, cub," Volos turned toward the temple, hoofed hands on his large hips.
I wondered how he could look so directly at the bright light. I was forced to turn my gaze away, but even then, my eyes burned at the unusual luminosity.
More slaves gathered around us as the clerics – those who could still see, anyway – ran around frantically, ordering for water to be found, even though there had been an ongoing shortage for months, ever since the crack, which had provided our water supply from a river on the surface, had closed off after a particularly harsh earthquake.
"T-the spiders! L-look," one of the slaved, dubbed "Stuttering Fool" by the clerics, pointed a shaking finger at the myrlochars guarding the outskirts of the temple walls. Some were shrieking, bringing up large, hairy arms to protect their beady eyes, while others simply ran off entirely.
"The clerics are going blind too, the light is more than their darkvision can handle."
Like most of the other slaves, I had lightvision; my eyes were next to useless in the blackness of the Underdark and I relied primarily on my hyper-developed hearing to get around.
"Now would be the prefect time to escape!"
The thought hung in the air around the group for a few moments as the possibility sunk in. And then, all the slaves bolted separate ways. I sat there, still disoriented from my close escapade, completely disoriented.
"Run, Fool!" Volos pulled me to my feet, giving my back a hard shove.
I stumbled over my feet, but managed to regain my balance and let my feet carry me blindly after the other slaves. I was only vaguely aware of Volos struggling to keep up beside me.
The moment we passed the walls of the clerics's temples, we all scattered our separate ways. Once the clerics learned of our escape, they would be sending retrievers after us. Staying grouped was dangerous, as we had more of a chance surviving alone. I had grown up with the other slaves. We had shared punishments and a mutual hatred of the drows, but there was no time, not even a split second for goodbyes. At this distance, I couldn't even make out the eyes of my friends to share at least one parting nod. When I rounded the corner, I left them all behind.
I ran until my legs gave out beneath me and my entire torso ached with cramps. Then, I shifted into my animal form. Although my sandy-fur contrasted with the darkness, an easy target for any drow, I was small, no larger than forty centimeters, and that was my largest advantage. I walked on until I found the smallest crack in the rock I could fit in and I fell asleep.
I awoke to complete silence. The temples were located on the outskirt of the city and I must have ran the other way, for I didn't even hear the echoes of footsteps or chariots. I had to make up my find on what to do, and fast. Having gone from my mother's household to the temples, I knew nothing of life outside of the city. I knew, vaguely from what I'd heard whispered between servants, of the three levels of the Underdarks. I had never paid much attention to that – as far as I was concerned, if it was below the surface, it was all Underdark. Still, it was hard to turn off hypersensitive hearing, and I had come to know over the years that we lived in Middledark, at least five miles below the surface. Lowerdark was the level closest to the surface. The surface, which most called Abeir-Toril, or just plain Toril, was above that. If I could reach the surface, I would be free.
The trip to the Lowerlevel took many months. Newcomers in the Underdark were often unable to keep track of time, it was always dark and silent and unless one lived in the in a pack or a city, most ended up going mad. Having been born in the damned place, I had developed a sort of biological clock from an early age. I could keep track of time based on my body's demands and of days based on my sleeping pattern.
Unaccustomed to the weaving tunnels of the world, I often got lost and had to turn around when I reached dead ends. Because of underground volcanic activity, poisonous gases were often trapped in fissures in rocks, or loitered in portions of tunnels and caves. Due to this, I always chose to travel in the bigger tunnels, although it was riskier, for it meant a larger chance of running into other creatures. Most of which were nearly certain to capture me as a slave if we were to cross paths: this far away from the temples, the retrievers were the last of my worries.
I walked and slept mostly as a fox. I covered more grounds without tiring easily and I was more inconspicuous – those without darkvision could easily mistake me for fluorescent fungi if I curled up in a ball. I only shapeshifted back to human form when there were boulders to climb up or small cliffs to descend.
When I reached the Lowerlevel, my progress stalled. Sunlight poured through bigger cracks in the rocks and burned my eyes. I'd heard stories of escaped slaves who hadn't stopped on their way to the surface and the sunlight, after so many years of complete darkness, had permanently blinded them. Rumor had it that one had to wait until their eyes stopped burning before moving up, little by little, until finally reaching the surface.
The Lowerlevel bustled with life. With only three meters between there and the surface, there were a lot of surface dwellers that passed through. I tried to keep out of the way of shady creatures, and creatures I knew my reputation to be unscrupulous. Every time I saw a drow, I hid in the nearest hole I could find until they had passed from view.
I talked to no one – distrustful even of surface dwellers, they were the worst, the most dangerous, since I knew next to nothing about them – but I always kept my ears open, catching snippets of stories about the surface here and there. Apparently, we were directly under a desert, but some claimed they knew where to find water, not too far – in exchange for the right price, of course. No one noticed me, a small, insignificant fox, curled up in a tight ball, or invisible in a larger fissure in the rocks, listening in on the conversations.
I was anxious to break the surface, but I forced myself to be patient. Despite my super hearing, I would need my eyes on the surface, especially at first. It took me over six months to climb the three meters of the Lowerlevel, but one day, I took that path that lead upwards and I left the Underdark behind.
When I stepped onto the sandy ground of the surface, I was disoriented by the massive emptiness around me. A large, continuous horizon greeted me and never ending blue space stared down at me, smiling. I took a few steps, stumbled and fell to my knees. Tears prickled my eyes and I let them fall freely. A weight, heavy as a thousand boulders, melted away, leaving me so light I thought the gentle breeze would whisk me away.
I was finally free.