Chapter 8 - Behind the Masks

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Chapter 8 chronicles Ariel's preparations for her journey to find Faen on the surface, as she unexpectedly confronts the sisters she'd grown to fear in her childhood. Meanwhile, Quain'tana and Zala'ess meet to discuss Chrys'tel's fate, and the young Chirinide grapples with inner strife over her holy purpose.


Summary

Mel'arnach is restrained from attacking Quain'tana by Lulianne and her fellow guard.[1]

Mel'arnach's Plea

Two days after Ariel's capture of Chrys'tel, Mel'arnach requests an audience with Quain'tana herself. Already at the end of her patience with her eldest daughter, Quain'tana demands she make her case quickly, as a Sharen delegation would soon arrive. Swallowing her pride and refusing to respond to Quain'tana's provocation, Mel'arnach kneels to the ground and respectfully requests that she be granted the privilege of raising Ariel in the wake of Kel'noz's apparent failure. Not trusting her daughter's meek affectation, Quain'tana bluntly denies the request, scoffing at Mel'arnach's suggestion that they follow tradition in providing familial tutoring. After being informed of the Sharen's arrival, Quain'tana bluntly dismisses Mel'anarch. Frustrated and enraged, Mel'arnach attempts to attack Quain'tana, but is restrained by her guards. Mel'arnach then spits upon her mother in a crude gesture of defiance, inciting the unforgiving Ill'haress to deliver a brutal punch to her face. Ordering her daughter returned to her cell, Quain'tana calmly ignores Mel'arnach's impotent death threats as the latter swore to herself that her chains would soon hold her no longer.

Meeting with Zala'ess

An enraged Quain'tana forcefully rebukes Syphile for her weakness.[2]

Shortly thereafter, Zala'ess is granted her audience, accompanied by her mate, son, and daughter. To their mild disgust, Quain'tana had prepared for their arrival with the presentation of a tortured and mutilated commoner that had been caught spying on behalf of the Vel'Sharen clan. As Quain'tana finally executes the man to silence his agonized moaning, she sarcastically comments on the disappearance of one of Zala'ess' daughters. Momentarily angered, Zala'ess discards any attempts at wordplay and coldly demands Chrys'tel's immediate release. Quain'tana rebuffs her request, noting that Chrys'tel had sworn loyalty to the Sarghress in exchange for her life.

In response to this insult, Zala'ess adopts a different approach to their meeting, mocking Quain'tana for her barren status and condescending to her greatly with the aid of her son. The tactic succeeds in agitating Quain'tana, who challenges them to test their mettle against her in single combat. While Sabrror places a hand to his blade, anticipating a fight, Zala'ess does not take the bait, continuing to mock Quain'tana without openly challenging her. Increasingly frustrated, Quain'tana scorns Zala'ess for her cowardice and reliance on words alone, demanding she beg for the return of her child. Seeing little point in continuing the meeting, Zala'ess turns to leave.

In their path is Syphile, who by chance stood near the door. With Zala'ess ordering her to open the door, Syphile quietly complies with little thought. Zala'ess took the opportunity presented to deliver a final barb, commenting that Quain'tana's "fake daughter" knew who truly commanded in Chel. As the Sharen depart, Syphile is quickly reprimanded by a nearby Dragonslayer for her thoughtlessness in allowing the Sharen to leave without the approval of Quain'tana. Syphile has only a moment to reflect on her careless lapse of judgement before being lifted bodily from the ground by an enraged Quain'tana, who notes that by unquestioningly following orders from the Sharen delegation, Syphile had both failed and shamed her. Bitterly denouncing Syphile's adoption as a mistake, and openly insulting Syphile for her cowardice and lack of strength, Quain'tana demands she leave her sight and reflect on where her loyalties lay.

Syphile suffers an emotional breakdown and prepares to openly murder Ariel.[3]

Confrontation with Syphile

Meanwhile, Ariel continues to struggle with nightmares. Her dreams focus on rejection from Quain'tana, as well as the guilt she had begun to feel over her execution of Mir'kiin and murder of Maya. In her current dream, twisted versions of her fellow students and her sister drag her into a deep pool of blood. Finally awakening, Ariel resigns herself to an inability to sleep, despite the fatigue she feels. Though frustrated she had been kept waiting most of the day in case she had been needed, Ariel remains grateful that she had not been summoned to attend the meeting, aware of the high tensions between the two clans. After receiving confirmation from Jiv'kyn that she had no current orders, Ariel departs her quarters to get something to eat from the fortress' kitchens.

Along the way, she encounters Syphile, who is sobbing in anguish over her recent string of failures and losses. As Ariel looks on with an expression of scorn, Syphile angrily demands she laugh at her if she feels so inclined, insisting there is nothing more Ariel could take from her. To Syphile's anger, Ariel coldly accused her of feigning her grief. Further twisting the knife, Ariel then repeats the words of Chirinide, accusing her of being taken by a demon; now a creature incapable of feeling and deserving only a merciful death. As Syphile decries her suffering at the hands of Quain'tana, warning Ariel that she would be treated in the same manner, Ariel's hatred finally boils over.

Slowly approaching, Ariel scolds Syphile for her failings, for her weakness, and for status as one of the tainted. Increasingly irate, Syphile attempts to continue her warnings and accusations against Quain'tana, only for Ariel to press harder as she see Syphile's composure faltering. A look of hateful satisfaction appearing on her face, Ariel compares Syphile to Jer'kol, accusing her of spouting lies and wanting to kill her. As Ariel insists that not only would Syphile now attempt to kill her, but that she would kill her first, Syphile realizes with horror that Ariel is gazing upon her with the same cold and unforgiving expression that Quain'tana herself did.

Horrified and pushed to her breaking point, Syphile snaps and moves to murder Ariel, intent on confessing to the deed afterward despite the obvious consequences. Extending her arm, she releases a bio-golem weapon gifted to her by a Val'Jaal'darya many years prior, impaling Ariel and explaining its deadly ability to siphon blood from its victim. Unable to dislodge the weapon, Ariel desperately utilizes her shapeshifting, not only halting the attack but beginning to absorb the weapon into herself. In a panic, Syphile unclasps the weapon from her shoulder as she feels Ariel's power begin to take her own arm as well. Horrified, Syphile can do little as a newly transformed Ariel smiles in anticipation and leeps to attack, unleashing many years of pent-up resentment and rage for her treatment, maiming Syphile in mere handful of blows before being thrown off by a desperate blast of mana.

Terrified, wounded, and enraged, Syphile begins began summoning nether in an spiteful attempt to forcibly taint Ariel and subject her to the same rejection from Quain'tana that she herself had felt. However, before she can complete the attempt, Mel'arnach escapes her nearly cell and subdues Syphile while Ariel looked on in awe and uncertainty.

Suu'be reacts with thinly veiled resentment as Koil'dorath is displaced as Quain'tana's heir.[4]


Preparing for Retaliation

Meanwhile, in the chambers below, Quain'tana meets with several key members of the Sarghress leadership, instructing them to prepare for retaliatory action by Zala'ess and to summon the all the houses to the Sarghress Fortress. Though Sang notes the members of House Yuhin'hiir were still days away at best, Quain'tana assures her that signal had been sent and Quill'yate would ride ahead of her forces to arrive by the next day.[5]

Interrupting suddenly, Itan'sha brings forth the recent rumors regarding Quain'tana's hidden daughter. While Sang reacts to the news with joy and Rosof attempts to have the matter aside, Suu'be seethes with resentment and Itan'sha herself expresses disgust at what she presumes to be the work of Jaal'darya science. While Quain'tana is quick to dismiss the involvement of the Jaal'darya, she confirms that she does indeed have a new heir. Agitated, Suu'be remarks on the issue of her daughter's prior status as heir. In response, Quain'tana seeks the opinion of Koil'dorath herself, who insists she does not care about the matter in the slightest, seeking only to serve on the field of battle regardless of who leads the clan. Though Suu'be intends to press the matter further, the meeting is interrupted by arrival of Syphile as she is thrown down the stairs by Ariel.

Seeing her adoptive daughter broken so easily by Ariel and no longer willing to tolerate her failures or weakness, Quain'tana harshly declares her to have outlived her patience and exhausted any purpose she might have once had, ordering her to begone and not even bothering to formally disown her.[6] Relived that she would never again have to deal with Syphile, Ariel thanks her savior for her assistance. However, Mel'arnach had further purpose in mind and sedates Ariel before the young drow can flee.

Mel'arnach gifts Ariel with a biogolem, succeeding in fostering a small bond.[7]

Mel'arnach

Later, Ariel awakens to find herself in the spider-infested chambers of Mel'arnarch. Though Ariel is fearful and mistrustful, Mel'arnach attempts to soothe her by assuring the young girl that she would never harm her. As Mel'arnach informs Ariel of her desires to raise and mentor her, Ariel responds with hard-learned skepticism, comparing her efforts to that of Jer'kol. As Mel'arnach cringes at the accusation, a large spider moves to approach. Addressing him as Zhor, Mel'arnach bids him to give the young girl more time. Though Mel'arnach attempts to assure Ariel that she tells the truth in accusing Quain'tana of keeping the two separate, Ariel angrily scolds the older woman for insulting her "mother".

Sensing Ariel's unwillingness to listen to the truth of her heritage, as well as the danger the knowledge might pose to her daughter, Mel'arnach settles for a less assertive approach, inviting Ariel to share the tales of her hardships. Though initially hesitant, Ariel gradually opens up and recalls the many traumas and challenges she had overcome to become Quain'tana's heir. Saddened, yet glad of the small bond they had developed, Mel'arnach asks if she shared the power of transformation that she herself had. As Ariel displays her abilities by altering the colour of her hair, Mel'arnach kisses the young girl on the head. This greatly confuses Ariel, who is unsure what to make of her childhood boogeyman showing such gentle affection.

Standing, Mel'arnach asks Ariel to wait while she retrieves a gift for the young girl. Begrudgingly, Ariel waits as Mel'arnach finally returns with a small draconic biogolem. As Ariel reacts with joy towards the creature, Mel'arnach lectures her on its nature, informing Ariel that not only of the creatures ability come to life only for those that shared their bloodline, but also of its potential use as a weapon if Ariel transformed with the creature close by; much in the same manner that Ariel had earlier absorbed the weapon of Syphile.

Having grown to trust Mel'arnach at last, Ariel states her disbelief that Mel'arnach was a monster, noting that she herself had been called a monster as well. Though Mel'arnach is quick to dismiss that notion, she senses something troubles her young daughter. As Ariel speaks of her looming meeting with Quain'tana, where should would have to convince the hardened woman to allow an excursion to the surface, Mel'arnach offers to share a story with Ariel that would help convince her.

Shimi'lande tasks Chirinide with undertaking a pilgrimage to the surface.[8]

Return of Quill'yate

The next day, Quill'yate finally arrives in the company of a small escort of Highland Raiders led by Kira'liss. As she would soon be required to meet with the rest of the Sarghress leadership, she grants the soldiers the freedom to relax until such time as they were given new orders. As Quill'yate enters the fortress, Ariel gleefully runs to her honourary aunt,[9] proudly recounting her success in achieving recognition as Quain'tana's heir. After Quill'yate congratulates and greets the young girl, Ariel tells her of Quain'tana's decision to allow Ariel to accompany Quill'yate during her next surface patrol, where she might then search for Faen. As Quill'yate gently nudges her for the complete truth, she admits Quain'tana also desires her to complete the Sarghress tradition of the blood rite. Now due for her meeting with Quain'tana, Quill'yate bid Ariel farewell, inwardly considering the dangerous nature of Ariel's quest. Proudly, she notes that it had been she and her Highland Raiders who had been entrusted with the young girl's escort. Meanwhile, Ariel prepares for the expedition to the surface, gathering the allies she had acquired in her recent adventures.[10]

Chirinde's Holy Mission

Within the Kyorl'solenurn Fortress, Chirinide had returned from her prior patrol to limited success. The Templar Kahru reports that, though they had successfully captured the Illhar'dro girl, the others had eluded their search. Chirinide insists that Kahru and his peer had served well, and the fault was her own lack of experience. Accepting this, Kahru compliments Chirinide for her sense of duty, and the pair respectfully part ways. With that matter addressed, Chirnide enters the chambers of the Holy Mother, Shimi'lande. Though grateful for the audience, Chirinide reports with shame that while her vision had proven accurate, it had been incomplete and her intervention to protect the Daughter of the Holy Eye may have been unnecessary.

Untroubled, Shimi'lande gently lectures Chirinide on the imperfection and inexact nature of prescience for even one as gifted as herself, noting that she had forseen nothing of the arrival of Chirinide to the Kyorl'solenurn clan. Recalling the dire condition in which she had arrived, Shimi'lande praises Chirinide for her strength, beauty, and purity. Dismayed, Chirinide denies being worthy of such praise, citing her own impure blood as a cause for shame perhaps worthy of taking her own life. While Shimi'lande is quick to rebuke such thoughts, Chirnide expresses her belief that her light elven father is a source of corruption not dissimilar to that of the Val'Jaal'daryan abominations or even the tainted.

Unwilling to allow Chirinide to continue fostering such dark thoughts and doubts, Shimi'lande tasks her with selecting a trusted companion to accompany her when she joins Ariel on the latter's journey to the surface. There, she would look upon the full moon and receive a vision from the goddess, gaining insight and wisdom that would assuage her doubts.

Discordia Reborn

Elsewhere, in a Sarghress-held district, the Vel'akar Discordia had been brought forth again in new host body. Unaware of the fate of his mate, a commoner approaches Discordia, who roughly seizes him and quickly determines he is not her "prey". With only a cursory demand to know where the one who had killed her is, Discordia butchers the unfortunate man. His dying screams reach the steets below, alerting a templar patrolling below of the imminent disaster.[11]

Characters

Main Characters

Portrait Ariel Val'Sarghress arc1.png
The young heir of the Sarghress clan, Ariel confronts the two terrifying women she had been raised to view as her sisters.
Portrait Chirinide Val'Kyorl'solenurn Arc I.png
Chirinide is a conflicted young warden assigned a holy mission to protect the "Daughter of the Holy Eye".
Portrait Mel'arnach Val'Sarghress.png
An imprisoned elder daughter of Quain'tana, Mel'arnach desperately seeks the right to raise her own daughter.
Portrait Quain'tana Val'Sarghress.png
The hard and unforgiving Ill'haress of the Sarghress clan, Quain'tana brusquely handles multiple threats to her rule and clan.
Portrait Syphile Val'Sarghress.png
The abused and abusive adopted daughter of Quain'tana, Syphile suffers a mental breakdown and attempts to murder Ariel.



Sharen Delegation

Portrait Phani'lath Vel'Sharen.png
One of Zala'ess' elder sons, Phani'lath accompanies her during her meeting with Quain'tana.
Portrait Sabrror Vel'Sharen.png
Zala'ess' favoured mate, Sabrror escorts his beloved during her meeting with Quain'tana.
Portrait Yami'ni Vel'Sharen.png
One of Zala'ess' elder daughters, Yami'ni accompanies her during her meeting with Quain'tana.
Portrait Zala'ess Vel'Sharen.png
Zala'ess meets with Quain'tana in an attempt to secure her daughter's release.



Sarghress Forces

Leadership

Portrait Itan'sha Mae'yukir Sarghress.png
Itan'sha is the Dev'ess of House Mae'yukir, comprising many of the clan's drowussu and mixblood.
Portrait Koil'dorath Nori'fu Val'Sarghress.png
Koil'dorath is one of the two commanders of the Assault Legion and Quain'tana's former designated heir.
Portrait Quill'yate Yurun'hiir Sarghress.png
Quill'yate is the commander of the Highland Raiders and Dev'ess of House Yurun'hiir.
Portrait Rosof Tions Sarghress.png
Rosof is one of Quain'tana's closest advisors and the male Dev'ess of House Tions.
Portrait Sang Niz'zre Sarghress.png
Sang is one of the two commanders of the Assault Legion and Dev'ess of House Niz'zre.
Portrait Suu'be Nori'fu Sarghress.png
Suu'be is the commander of the Home Guard and Dev'ess of House Nori'fu.


Soldiers & Servants

Portrait Ant'alya Sarghress.png
Ant'alya is a Fallen Legionnaire assigned to guard and train Ariel.
Portrait Jiv'kyn Sarghress.png
Jiv'kyn is a Fallen Legionnaire assigned to guard and train Ariel.
Portrait Kira'liss Sarghress.png
Kira'liss is a veteran Highland Raider and commands the escort of Quill'yate.
Portrait Kor'maril Niz'zre Sarghress.png
Kor'maril is a senior Sarghress officer and an elder son of Sang.
Portrait Liriel.png
Liriel is an oft-drunken slave that serves Ariel with questionable effort.
Portrait Lulianne Mae'yukir Sarghress.png
Lulianne serves as one of Mel'arnach's jailors, restraining her when she attempts to attack Quain'tana.
Portrait Myo'na Sarghress.png
Myo'na is a Fallen Legionnaire assigned to guard and train Ariel.
Portrait Rikshakar.png
Rikshakar is a former gladiator and mercenary that has promised to aid Ariel in her surface expedition.
Portrait Tebryn Teuzt'sor Sarghress.png
Tebryn is a veteran Highland Raider and serves as part of Quill'yate's escort.
Portrait Vaelia Arc I.png
Vaelia is a freed Emberi slave that serves as Ariel's loyal bodyguard.
Portrait Valo Varren Yurun'hiir Sarghress.png
Valo is a veteran Highland raider and is a member of his grandmother's escort.



Kyorl'solenurn Clan

Portrait Kahru Kyorl'solenurn.png
Kahru is an experienced Templar that aided Chirinide in her capture of a "corrupted" Illhard'dro girl.
Portrait Shimi'lande Val'Kyorl'solenurn.png
Shimi'lande is the kindly Holy Mother and Ill'haress of the Kyorl'solenurn clan, reassuring Chirinide and sending her on a holy mission to the surface.
Portrait Tir'ade Kyorl'solenurn.png
Tir'ade is a young Templar that happens to be patrolling within a Sarghress-held district as an outbreak of demonic activity begins.
Portrait Shan'naal Kyorl'solenurn Arc I.png
Shan'naal is a young Templar that briefly appears in a description of the many individuals impacting events in the world.



Ariel's Nightmares

Portrait Kiel'ndia Vel'Vloz'ress arc1.png
A twisted vision of Kiel'ndia appears to Ariel during one of her many nightmares.
Portrait Maya.png
A twisted vision of Maya appears to Ariel during one of her many nightmares, haunting her with guilt over her death.
Portrait Mir'kiin Vel'Vloz'ress.png
A vision of Mir'kiin appears to Ariel during one of her many nightmares, haunting her with guilt over his death.
Portrait Naal'suul Val'Beldrobbaen Arc I.png
A twisted vision of Kiel'ndia appears to Ariel during one of her many nightmares.
Portrait Yafein Val'Sullisin'rune arc1.png
A twisted vision of Yafein appears to Ariel during one of her many nightmares, accusing her of killing Maya.



Other Characters

Portrait Discordia.png
Discordia is a powerful Vel'akar unleashed upon a Sarghress-held district.
Portrait Kel'noz Val'Sarghress.png
Kel'noz briefly appears in a description of the many individuals impacting events in the world.
Portrait Kyo'nne Val'Illhar'dro arc1.png
Kyo'nne briefly appears in a description of the many individuals impacting events in the world.
Portrait Zhor Arc I.png
Zhor is a monstrous spider that resides with Mel'arnach in her prison, to whom she shows great affection.





This article reflects events up to chapter 8.

Sources:

  1. chapter 8 page 4
  2. chapter 8 page 11
  3. chapter 8 page 23
  4. chapter 8 page 32
  5. chapter 8 page 31
  6. chapter 8 page 34
  7. chapter 8 page 41
  8. chapter 8 page 52
  9. chapter 8 page 44
  10. chapter 8 page 47
  11. chapter 8 page 54