Baenre felt strong again. Lloth was back, and Lloth was with her, and K'yorl Odran, that wretched K'yorl, had badly erred. Always before, the Spider Queen had kept House Oblodra in her favor, even though the so-called "priestesses" of the house were not pious and sometimes openly expressed their disdain for Lloth. These strange powers of the Oblodrans, this psionic strength, had intrigued Lloth as much as it had frightened the other houses in Menzoberranzan. None of those houses wanted a war against K'yorl and her clan, and Lloth hadn't demanded one. If Menzoberranzan was ever attacked from the outside, particularly from the illithids, whose cavern lair was not so far away, K'yorl and the Oblodrans would be of great help.
But no more. K'yorl had crossed over a very dangerous line. She had murdered a matron mother, and, while that in itself was not uncommon, she had intended to usurp power from Lloth's priestesses, and not in the name of the Spider Queen.
Matron Baenre knew all of this, felt the will and strength of Lloth within her. "The Time of Troubles has passed," she announced to her family, to everyone gathered in her house, in the nearly repaired chapel.
Mez'Barris Armgo was there as well, in a seat of honor on the central dais, at Matron Baenre's personal invitation.
Matron Baenre took the seat next to the matron mother of the second house as the gathered crowd exploded in cheers, and then, led by Triel, in song to the Spider Queen.
Ended? Mez'Barris asked of Baenre, using the silent hand code, for they could not have been heard above the roar of two thousand Baenre soldiers.
The Time of Troubles has ended, Baenre's delicate fingers responded.
Except for House Oblodra, Mez'Barris reasoned, to which Baenre only chuckled wickedly. It was no secret in Menzoberranzan that House Oblodra was in serious trouble. No secret indeed, for the tanar'ri and other fiends continued to circle the Oblodran compound, plucking kobolds from the ledges along the Clawrift, even attacking with abandon any Oblodran who showed herself.
K'yorl will be forgiven? Mez'Barris asked, popping up her left thumb at the end of the code to indicate a question.
Matron Baenre shook her head once briskly, then pointedly looked away, to Triel, who was leading the gathering in rousing prayers to the Spider Queen.
Mez'Barris tapped a long, curving fingernail against her teeth nervously, wondering how Baenre could be so secure in this decision. Did Baenre plan to go after House Oblodra alone, or did she mean to call Barrison del'Armgo into yet another alliance? Mez'Barris did not doubt that her house and House Baenre could crush House Oblodra, but she wasn't thrilled at the prospect of tangling with K'yorl and those unexplored powers.
Methil, invisible and standing off to the side of the dais, read the visiting matron mother's thoughts easily, and then, in turn, imparted them to Matron Baenre.
"It is the will of Lloth," Matron Baenre said sharply, turning back to regard Mez'Barris. "K'yorl has denounced the Spider Queen, and, thus, she will be punished."
"By the Academy, as is the custom?" Mez'Barris asked, and hoped.
A fiery sparkle erupted behind Matron Baenre's red-glowing eyes. "By me," she answered bluntly, and turned away again, indicating that Mez'Barris would garner no further information.
Mez'Barris was wise enough not to press the point. She slumped back in her chair, trying to sort out this surprising, disturbing information. Matron Baenre had not declared that an alliance of houses would attack Oblodra; she had declared a personal war. Did she truly believe she could defeat K'yorl? Or were those fiends, even the great tanar'ri, more fully under her control than Mez'Barris had been led to believe? That notion scared the matron mother of Barrison del'Armgo more than a little, for, if it were true, what other "punishments" might the angry and ambitious Matron Baenre hand out?
Mez'Barris sighed deeply and let the thoughts pass. There was little she could do now, sitting in the chapel of House Baenre, surrounded by two thousand Baenre soldiers. She had to trust in Baenre, she knew.
No, she silently corrected herself, not trust, never that. Mez'Barris had to hope Matron Baenre would think she was more valuable to the cause-whatever it might now be-alive than dead.
Seated atop a blue-glowing driftdisk, Matron Baenre herself led the procession from House Baenre, down from the Qu'ellarz'orl and across the city, her army singing Lloth's praises every step. The Baenre lizard riders, Berg'inyon in command, flanked the main body, sweeping in and around the other house compounds to ensure that no surprises would block the trail.
It was a necessary precaution whenever the first matron mother went out, but Matron Baenre did not fear any ambush, not now. With the exception of Mez'Barris Armgo, no others had been told of the Baenre march, and certainly the lesser houses, either alone or in unison, would not dare to strike at the first house unless the attack had been perfectly coordinated.
From the opposite end of the great cavern came another procession, also led by a Baenre. Triel, Gromph, and the other mistresses and masters of the drow Academy came from their structures, leading their students, every one. Normally it was this very force, the powerful Academy, that exacted punishment on an individual house for crimes against Menzoberranzan, but this time Triel had informed her charges that they would come only to watch, to see the glory of Lloth revealed.
By the time the two groups joined the gathering already in place at the Clawrift, their numbers had swelled five times over. Nobles and soldiers from every house in the city turned out to watch the spectacle as soon as they came to understand that House Baenre and House Oblodra would finish this struggle once and for all.
When they arrived before the front gates of House Oblodra, the Baenre soldiers formed a defensive semicircle behind Matron Baenre, shielding her, not from K'yorl and the Odran family, but from the rest of the gathering. There was much whispering, drow hands flashed frantically in heated conversations, and the fiends, understanding that some calamity was about to come, whipped into a frenzy, swooping across the Oblodran compound, even exercising their returned magic with an occasional bolt of blue-white lightning or a fireball.
Matron Baenre let the display continue for several minutes, realizing the terror it caused within the doomed compound. She wanted to savor this moment above all others, wanted to bask in the smell of terror emanating from the compound of that most hated family.
Then it was time to begin-or to finish, actually. Baenre knew what she must do. She had seen it in a vision during the ceremony preceding the war, and despite the doubts of Mez'Barris when she had shared it with her, Baenre held faith in the Spider Queen, held faith that it was Lloth's will that House Oblodra be devoured.
She reached under her robes and produced a piece of sulphur, the same yellow lump the avatar had given her to allow the priestesses to open the gate to the Abyss in the small room at the back of the Qu'ellarz'orl. Baenre thrust her hand skyward, and up into the air she floated. There came a great crackling explosion, a rumble of thunder.
All was suddenly silent, all eyes turned to the specter of Matron Baenre, hovering twenty feet off the cavern floor.
Berg'inyon, responsible for his mother's security, looked to Sos'Umptu, his expression sour. He thought his mother was terribly vulnerable up there.
Sos'Umptu laughed at him. He was not a priestess; he could not understand that Matron Baenre was more protected at that moment than at any other time in her long life.
"K'yorl Odran!" Baenre called, and her voice seemed magnified, like the voice of a giant.
Locked in a room in the highest level of the tallest stalagmite mound within the Oblodran compound, K'yorl Odran heard Baenre's call, heard it clearly. Her hands gripped tight on her throne's carved marble arms. She squeezed her eyes shut, as she ordered herself to concentrate.
Now, above any other time, K'yorl needed her powers, and now, for the first time, she could not access them! Something was terribly wrong, she knew, and though she believed that Lloth must somehow be behind this, she sensed, as many of the Spider Queen's priestesses had sensed when the Time of Troubles had begun, that this trouble was beyond even Lloth.
The problems had begun soon after K'yorl had been chased back to her house by the loosed tanar'ri. She and her daughters had gathered to formulate an attack plan to drive off the fiends. As always with the efficient Oblodran meetings, the group shared its thoughts telepathically, the equivalent of holding several understandable conversations at once.
The defense plan was coming together well-K'yorl grew confident that the tanar'ri would be sent back to their own plane of existence, and when that was accomplished, she and her family could go and properly punish Matron Baenre and the others. Then something terrible had happened. One of the tanar'ri had thrown forth a blast of lightning, a searing, blinding bolt that sent a crack running along the outer wall of the Oblodran compound. That in itself was not so bad; the compound, like all the houses of Menzoberranzan, could take a tremendous amount of punishment, but what the blast, what the return of magical powers, signified, was disastrous to the Oblodrans.
At that same moment, the telepathic conversation had abruptly ended, and try as they may, the nobles of the doomed house could not begin it anew.
K'yorl was as intelligent as any drow in Menzoberranzan. Her powers of concentration were unparalleled. She felt the psionic strength within her mind, the powers that allowed her to walk through walls or yank the beating heart from an enemy's chest. They were there, deep in her mind, but she could not bring them forth. She continued to blame herself, her lack of concentration in the face of disaster. She even punched herself on the side of the head, as if that physical jarring would knock out some magical manifestation.
Her efforts were futile. As the Time of Troubles had come to its end, as the tapestry of magic in the Realms had rewoven, many rippling side-effects had occurred. Throughout the Realms, dead magic zones had appeared, areas where no spells would function, or, even worse, where no spells would function as intended. Another of those side-effects involved psionic powers, the magiclike powers of the mind. The strength was still there, as K'yorl sensed, but bringing forth that strength required a different mental route than before.
The illithids, as Methil had informed Matron Baenre, had already discerned that route, and their powers were functioning nearly as completely as before. But they were an entire race of psionicists, and a race possessed of communal intelligence. The illithids had already made the necessary adjustments to accessing their psionic powers, but K'yorl Odran and her once powerful family had not.
So the matron of the third house sat in the darkness, eyes squeezed tightly shut, concentrating. She heard Baenre's call, knew that if she did not go to Baenre, Baenre would soon come to her.Given time, K'yorl would have sorted through the mental puzzle. Given a month, perhaps, she would have begun to bring forth her powers once more.K'yorl didn't have a month; K'yorl didn't have an hour.Matron Baenre felt the pulsing magic within the lump of sulphur, an inner heat, fast-building in intensity. She was amazed as her hand shifted, as the sulphur implored her to change the angle.Baenre nodded. She understood then that some force from beyond the Material Plane, some creature of the Abyss, and perhaps even Lloth herself, was guiding the movement. Up went her hand, putting the pulsing lump in line with the top level of the highest tower in the Oblodran compound."Who are you?" she asked.I am Errtu, came a reply in her mind. Baenre knew the name, knew the creature was a balor, the most terrible and powerful of all tanar'ri. Lloth had armed her well!She felt the pure malice of the connected creature building within the sulphur, felt the energy growing to where she thought the lump would explode, probably bringing Errtu to her side.That could not happen, of course, though she did not know it.It was the power of the artifact itself she felt, that seemingly innocuous piece of sulphur, imbued with the magic of Lloth, wielded by the highest priestess of the Spider Queen in all of Menzoberranzan.Purely on instinct, Baenre flattened her hand, and the sulphur sent forth a line of glowing, crackling yellow light. It struck the wall high on the Oblodran tower, the very wall between K'yorl and Baenre. Lines of light and energy encircled the stalagmite mound, crackling, biting into the stone, stealing the integrity of the place.The sulphur went quiet again, its bolt of seemingly live energy freed, but Baenre did not lower her hand and did not take her awestruck stare from the tower wall.Neither did the ten thousand dark elves that stood behind her. Neither did K'yorl Odran, who could suddenly see the yellow lines of destruction as they ate their way through the stone.All in the city gasped as one as the tower's top exploded into dust and was blown away.There sat K'yorl, still atop her black marble throne, suddenly in the open, staring down at the tremendous gathering.Many winged tanar'ri swooped about the vulnerable matron mother, but they did not approach too closely, wisely fearing the wrath of Errtu should they steal even a moment of his fun.K'yorl, always proud and strong, rose from her throne and walked to the edge of the tower. She surveyed the gathering, and so respectful were many drow, even matron mothers, of her strange powers, that they turned away when they felt her scrutinizing gaze on them, as though she, from on high, was deciding who she would punish for this attack.Finally K'yorl's gaze settled on Matron Baenre, who did not flinch and did not turn away."You dare!" K'yorl roared down, but her voice seemed small."You dare!" Matron Baenre yelled back, the power of her voice echoing off the walls of the cavern. "You have forsaken the Spider Queen.""To the Abyss with Lloth, where she rightly belongs!" stubborn K'yorl replied, the last words she ever spoke.Baenre thrust her hand higher and felt the next manifestation of power, the opening of an interplanar gate. No yellow light came forth, no visible force at all, but K'yorl felt it keenly.She tried to call out in protest, but could say nothing beyond a whimper and a gurgle as her features suddenly twisted, elongated. She tried to resist, dug her heels in, and concentrated once more on bringing forth her powers.K'yorl felt her skin being pulled free of her bones, felt her entire form being stretched out of shape, elongated, as the sulphur pulled at her with undeniable strength. Stubbornly she held on through the incredible agony, through the horrible realization of her doom. She opened her mouth, wanting to utter one more damning curse, but all that came out was her tongue, pulled to its length and beyond.K'yorl felt her entire body stretching down from the tower, reaching for the sulphur and the gate. She should have been already dead; she knew she should have already died under the tremendous pressure.Matron Baenre held her hand steady, but could not help closing her eyes, as K'yorl's weirdly elongated form suddenly flew from the top of the broken tower, soaring straight for her.Several drow, Berg'inyon included, screamed, others gasped again, and still others called to the glory of Lloth, as K'yorl, stretched and narrowed so that she resembled a living spear, entered the sulphur, the gate that would take her to the Abyss, to Errtu, Lloth's appointed agent of torture.Behind K'yorl came the fiends, with a tremendous fanfare, roaring and loosing bolts of lightning against the Oblodran compound, igniting balls of exploding fire and other blinding displays of their power. Compelled by Errtu, they stretched and thinned and flew into the sulphur, and Matron Baenre held on against her terror, transforming it into a sensation of sheer power.In a few moments, all the fiends, even the greatest tanar'ri, were gone. Matron Baenre felt their presence still, transformed somehow within the sulphur.Suddenly, it was quiet once more. Many dark elves looked to each other, wondering if the punishment was complete, wondering if House Oblodra would be allowed to survive under a new leader. Nobles from several different houses flashed signals to each other expressing their concern that Baenre would now put one of her own daughters in command of the third house, further sealing her ultimate position within the city.But Baenre had no such thoughts. This was a punishment demanded by Lloth, a complete punishment, as terrible as anything that had ever been exacted on a house in Menzoberranzan. Again heeding the telepathic instructions of Errtu, Matron Baenre hurled the throbbing piece of sulphur into the Clawrift, and when cheers went up about her, the dark elves thinking the ceremony complete, she raised her arms out wide and commanded them all to witness the wrath of Lloth.They felt the first rumblings within the Clawrift beneath their feet. A few anxious moments passed, too quiet, too hushed.One of K'yorl's daughters appeared on the open platform atop the broken tower. She ran to the edge, calling, pleading, to Matron Baenre. A moment later, when Baenre gave no response, she happened to glance to the side, to one of the fingerlike chasms of the great Clawrift.Wide went her eyes, and her scream was as terrified as any drow had ever heard. From the higher vantage point offered by her levitation spell, Matron Baenre followed the gaze and was next to react, throwing her arms high and wide and crying out to her goddess in ecstacy. A moment later, the gathering understood.A huge black tentacle snaked over the rim of the Clawrift, wriggling its way behind the Oblodran compound. Like a wave, dark elves fell back, stumbling all over each other, as the twenty-foot-thick monstrosity came around the back, along the side, and then along the front wall, back toward the chasm."Baenre!" pleaded the desperate, doomed Oblodran."You have denied Lloth," the first matron mother replied calmly. "Feel her wrath!"The ground beneath the cavern trembled slightly as the tentacle, the angry hand of Lloth, tightened its grasp on the Oblodran compound. The wall buckled and collapsed as the thing began its steady sweep.K'yorl's daughter leaped from the tower as it, too, began to crumble. She cleared the tentacle, and was still alive, though broken, on the ground when a group of dark elves got to her. Uthegental Armgo was among that group, and the mighty weapon master pushed aside the others, preventing them from finishing the pitiful creature off. He hoisted the Odran in his powerful arms, and, through bleary eyes, the battered female regarded him, even managed a faint smile, as though she expected he had come out to save her.Uthegental laughed at her, lifted her above his head and ran forward, heaving her over the side of the tentacle, back into the rolling rubble that had been her house.The cheers, the screams, were deafening, and so was the rumble as the tentacle swept all that had been House Oblodra, all the structures and all the drow, into the chasm.