All in the Mind 1

Scourge of vipers writhing in her hand, soft, thin gown whispering, Kiira Reshan, Priestess of Lolth, prowled through the tunnels, annoyed to be here in the first place. Patrolling the tunnels… this was a duty for lesser priestesses. She was a high priestess, favored of Lolth, born of the high house Reshan, and she deserved better than to oversee a motley group of mostly males walking through the tunnels around the city, looking for intruders and slaying predatory animals as they passed through. It was beneath her… so Kiira was in an indescribably foul mood, trying to avoid the others for the most part, glaring at anyone who crossed her path. For the most part, the others… the lessers… stayed well clear of her. She always had a knack for striking fear into the hearts of those who displeased her, and these fools were no exception. Some trembled or appeared to be biting back tears, and even the sullen, fractious ones refused to look her in the eye. Enjoying their apprehension, Kiira at least had a cause to smile as she was stuck out of here.

She stroked at her whip idly. The five long sable and scarlet vipers that made up the flashes of her Scourge twisted around her, flowing from the black handle in her hands. “Fools,” she hissed. Hissing softly, the five vipers echoed the cry. “Fools!” “Fools!” “Fools!” “Fools!” “Fools!” Hearing their voices made her smile… she was proud of her creation. Most priestess of Lolth in any kind of favor were blessed with a scourge… but hers was special. Most of them weren’t venomous. Most had a pair of snakes, or at most three. And none that she had ever seen possessed the kind of intelligence that hers did, and the power of speech to boot. She had crafted it herself, years in prayer and devotion to the Spider Queen, and her scourge was the sign of her dark goddesses favor.

“Too quiet,” one of them hissed softly.

Kiira stood still, peering around. It was quiet… even of the silence of the underdark. No rasp of clothing, no sounds of armor. She hadn’t seen one of the foolish males in long minutes, had she? Had they moved on in a way she didn’t expect? That would be annoying… and lead to a whipping for making her look foolish. Kiira stood in the darkness, the willowy female dressed in a gown of spider silk as she strained her ears.

The attack came without warning. Not physical. That would have been something she could have fought against. No, instead the attack was a blast of energy directed right at her mind, a stunning blast of mental energy that made her reel. For most… perhaps for the rest of her party… that would have been that. But Kiira hadn’t won the blessing of the Spider Queen for nothing. She was a priestess of the highest order, and her will was iron. The blast of stunning thought staggered her, but she didn’t fall. Instead, she shook her head, shaking herself, free, and looking around for the threat.

For a drow, the first thought was always another drow. By far the most dangerous foe any of them were likely to face was one of another, and Kiira had certainly made her share of enemies that would like to kill her, lesser priestesses that would cut her throat for a sliver of her glory. A second blast washed over her, but this time she was ready, drawing her will over her mind like an iron shield against a sword, and held against the onslaught. And in holding, she caught a mental glimpse of her attacking… a mass of tentacles flowing over a long, mishapen face.

Kiira gasped. A mind flayer, an Illithid… this close to the city? What was it here for? For an instant, Kiira faltered, not frightened but disoriented. She had been taught of them, trained to face one, but had expected never to actually encounter one. They lived in the deep, miles further down that her city. Her city enjoyed a complex relationship with the mental monstrosities, one that mostly amounted to mutual blindness as they ignored one another. What was it doing here?

Kiira started to run. Not to flee. To make herself a moving target. “Do you know where it is?” she panted.

“No,” hissed Quas, perhaps the wisest of the whip vipers. “The monster has shielded itself from our sight.”

“Wonderful,” the priestess hissed. The battery of mental images attacked her one after another… illusions beginning to slip through the cracks in her defenses. Cavern walls disappeared and appeared anew, the ground changed shape… and eventually when one particularly strong blast took her, enough energy slipped around her shields that she began to hallucinate.

The monster conjured by her imagination was huge. A demon form looked something like a huge insect, easily twice her size or more, covered in gleaming black chitin. Kiira scowled at the monster. It might not be real… but it was in her head. It could really kill her. It stared at her through a huge mass of eyes, eyes exceptional beyond the point of deformity. The head behind the jagged mandibles was virtually nothing but a mass of bulging eyes, and a scatter of others opened here and there about the creatures shiny black bulb of a body. Its peculiarities notwithstanding, the monster turned right on her, charging at her on six skittering legs.

She would kill the freakish thing. Then she would find the mind flayer who had created it in her head and burn it alive. As she backed away from the charging monster, her slim, gleaming obsidian hands wove arcane symbols, holy to her dark god… channeling power granted to her. Dark, heatless flame leaped up from the ground and shot across the tunnel stone faster than a wildfire, blazing a path that led from herself directly to the monster. The black conflagration washed over the insect’s bladed feet. It should also have driven the many-eyed creature helplessly backward… but it didn’t. The arachnid kept coming nimbly as before, which was to say, considerably faster than the best effort of a drow priestess.

“The beast is shielded against your magic!” cried Rel, easily the least intelligent of her vipers and certainly the one most inclined to belabor the obvious. Kiira wouldn’t have time to attempt another spell before the spider reached her, nor could she outrun it. Instead, she found a gap in the stone of the tunnel and dove for it, scrambling through the stone. It was horribly undignified, and she would have had to kill anyone who saw her shaking her ass in the air as she crawled away, but it bought her space. The creature was only real in her mind, but that meant it needed to obey the limitations of her mind as well… it couldn’t just phase through solid stone. It wouldn’t be able to fit into this small of a space. However, it wouldn’t buy her much time, either. It would dig her out, or crawl over the top of the pillar of stone and get her on the other side.

Up close, it had a foul, carrion smell. Kiira knew that if she permitted the bug to pounce down on her, the monster would hold her down and snip her apart with its mandibles… tearing her mind asunder into screaming insanity. She sprang to her feet on the other side, catching the spider as it descended down at her, and swung her whip. The vipers twisted in flight to bring their fangs to bear. Those poisonous spikes plunged deep and ripped downward, tearing gashes in some of the demon’s bulging, clustered eyes before yanking free. The organs gushed fluid and collapsed, and the serpents thrashed in joy. Kiira could feel their exultation through the mental link they shared with her… but it wasn’t much of a victory. The thing had plenty of other eyes, and the stroke had only balked it for an instant. It was still going to pounce.

Thinking fast, Kiira cast another spell… this time directing it not as the insect but in the space between them. Shimming while light filled the space, and as it sprang at her, it slammed directly into the blazing wall. Praise be to Lolth, this magic was sufficient to have an effect. Blazing wounds opened on its body where the light cut it like a knife, and while it didn’t seem to feel any pain, it nevertheless thrashed, trying to find a way to get at the drow priestess through the barrier.

“You could run now, Mistress,” said Sivik, the first of the vipers she had conjured for her whip. “It probably couldn’t get free in time to chase you…”

Kiira snarled in anger. “Nonsense. It, and its master, will pay for intruding here. Does it now know who I am! He has attacked my patrol, threatened my person, and made me look foolish. I will have my retribution!” Infected with her anger, all 5 snakes hissed furiously.

Her eyes weren’t made to handle the sudden light in the dark tunnels, any more than the insect’s were. She had lost sight of it. Curse it, the monster had to be somewhere. She scanned the tunnels, keeping her whip at the ready. Yes, it had to be somewhere… but it didn’t have to be on the floor still. Not when if it could skitter up tunnel walls like its smaller kindred. Assuming the demon was clinging to the upper walls or ceiling it might have taken it a moment to shake off the shock of the flare and its ugly wounds, but surely it was creeping into the best position from which to leap down on its adversary. Kiira peered upward. The cavern here was fairly big, the darkness above deep… splendid disguises for the creature. If it was crouching on the ceiling, she couldn’t see it…

She was taken completely off guard by another blast of paralyzing mental force. Damn it! In her focus, she had forgotten the greater danger. The insect was only an illusion… dangerous, but just the puppet of the real danger. The psionic blast of the squid-headed abomination sank deep into her mind, scrambling her thoughts, even as she saw the beast prepare to pounce on her from the ceiling. Another blast, and another, squirming through her psyche, dazing her, making her world go white…

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