Copyright © 2003 by Jason Bolton
The planet Vanoria had the same qualities as most planets in the Bensaydia Star District of the Realm province of Trahmylare, but because it had twelve moons, it spent over seventy percent of its day in the shadow of three of at least three of them.
This gave the planet's night dwellers, such as the Dark Elves, a superiority over the creatures that were active during the daylight hours they didn't have on other planets. Even with the lack of sunlight, Vanoria remained temperate thanks to its close proximity to its sun. Unfortunately, due to the high levels of ultra-violet radiation, the planet's inhabitants were forced to wear thick garments to protect themselves against it.
The cloaked figure of a native citizen moved through the busy walkways of Drolia, the planet's capital city, past the shops of the market district towards the mountainous monasteries of the religious district.
With her black cloak whipping in the midday breeze, Toryna Kolgyn, a dryad of Dyvogna the devil princess, passed through the postern in the wall that sprawled through the city like the strings of a web. She silently berated herself for being gone from the cloister for so long. She should never have left it at all especially on the eve of Araneae Mactans.
However, Ergyryad owned her heart. How could she refuse his summons? If she had refused to go to him, he would have understood, would he not? He knew the importance of today to her and the other dryads, but still he summoned her and she went to him. May Dyvogna forgive her impetuousness.
It had been this way since the first day she met him three seasons ago. He came to the cloister to make a very special offering to Dyvogna. Ergyryad had been one of twenty quest warriors selected to take up a quest in the name of Dyvogna. The objects of the quest were two magical items said to have been made by undead servants of the devil princess thousands of seasons ago. The items, a pair of slippers and a cloak, all endowed the wearer with the special abilities of spiders.
Ergyryad was the last survivor of the original twenty quest warriors when he returned with both slippers and cloak. They had been found on three planets that were in three different parts of the Realms.
Toryna had been present when he gave the items to the cloister's matriarch and afterward, he told her the story of his quest as she recorded it onto parchment. It had taken five and a half cycles, without sleep, to complete. During which time, she had found Ergyryad to be unlike anyone she had ever met.
Not that she met very many male warriors for everyone at the cloister were dryads like her. Being a dryad of cleric's rank, she spent most of her time at the cloister keeping it running smoothly for the matriarch who she would someday replace.
So as she listened to Ergyryad tell of his quest, she found herself captivated by the storyteller more than she was the story. His appearance, as well as his expressions, were majestic, making her think quite a few times that she was falling under some kind of spell.
When they completed their work and he had left for the three-cycle celebration that the baronet was throwing in Ergyryad's honor, she had felt a burning pain in her chest that she had never experienced before. She was soon swept over with waves of melancholy that would almost bring tears to her eyes. She began losing sleep, though she knew not why. The other dryads were as concerned as she was by what she was going through. After a week, the matriarch suggested that she do more of the chores that needed to be done outside the cloister.
Therefore, the next day, just after morning feast, she strolled to the market district to purchase the few things that the cloister didn't produce itself. Not using the teleporters, the Realms' mass transportation system, it had taken her well over an hour to reach her first stop.
She had been there several times before when she was just a curate but she was still surprised by the crowd. Her turquoise cloak with red hourglass on its back told everyone what she was which made things easier. People stepped out of her way and the merchants were generous with their prices, hoping to win favors from Dyvogna. She had been discussing the strength of certain metals with a smith when Ergyryad entered the shop.
When she saw him, her heart pounded and she was suddenly very hot. She had to fight the almost overwhelming urge to flee as he came towards her. His piercing green eyes made her feel exposed as if she had nothing on, which to her surprise, did not bother her as much as she knew it should.
His lips formed a crooked grin that seemed to take control of her face as it lit up into an uncontrollable smile in response. It became difficult to breathe when he stopped next to her at the shop's counter and gave her a welcoming bow.
After a short conversation, he offered to buy her mid-feast and she accepted, not wanting to leave him so soon.
Over a meal of stirge soup, they chatted and laughed, rarely taking their eyes off each other. He had shown her a completely different side of himself then that she had seen when they met at the cloister.
Before, he had been an elfin hero. Now, he was simply a lord no different than any other, which only made him more attractive to her. His simple gestures and facial expressions said more about him to Toryna than his words. Even though he had been to places in the Realms she had only dreamt about and had experienced more than most Dark Elves twice his age, he was modest and a little shy.
She had a hard time associating this caring and warm person to the hero who fought and killed more people than were in the tavern around her. She also saw pain deep in his eyes and she shuddered at the thought of the scars he must bear inside as well as outside.
That was the excuse, she told herself, when they began meeting each other regularly. After all, was it not her duty as a dryad of Dyvogna to give aid to her subjects especially one that had spent many seasons of their searching for something they meant to give Dyvogna as a gift?
This was what she thinking about when she turned down an alley and rushed into a deep shadow, quickly disappearing through one of the cloister's secret entrances. Once inside, she crept down the passageway hoping to reach her cell without being noticed.
Only a few more turns and she'd be there safe.
Just as she reached her cell door and thought herself successful, someone stepped out of a nearby corridor causing her to spin around in surprise. As the person came closer into the torchlight, Toryna saw the face and sighed with relief. It was only Gedera, one of the cloister's new acolytes.
"I am sorry if I startled you, maitresse," the young elfin maiden said sheepishly. "But Her Matriarchess asked me to fetch you."
Fear sprang up in her chest, but she forced her face to remain serene. "I hope I have not kept you waiting long.
"No, maitresse, she only just sent me."
Toryna sighed a second time and turned away from her cell door. "We should not keep Her Matriarchess waiting." It must have something to do with the Araneae Mactans, she decided.
Twenty-seven warriors were to be tested, including her Ergyryad, to see which of them would serve as personal minions to Dyvogna. That was a great honor to Dark Elves. Those that failed would be changed into Driders, their legs and lower abdomen changed into the body of a spider. They would then be the mindless guardians of her kingdom in the Demaenian Empire for eternity.
Toryna knew that Ergyryad would be one of the ones who would pass the test and once he had, he would ask Dyvogna to release Toryna from her dryad vows so they could be betrothed. She could hardly wait.
When the two dryads arrived outside the door of The Matriarch's chambers, Gedera pounded on it with the bottom of her clenched fist. The door creaked open and a raspy voice told Toryna to enter alone. When Toryna took her third step past the threshold, the door swung closed with an ominous boom.
She felt a chill go through her and she pulled her cloak closed trying to shake it off. It was the first time in numerous times she had been in The Matriarch's chambers that she did not feel warm and it only added to her apprehension.
The antechamber was illuminated by an opaline rock cauldron in its center that billowed, from its luminous green depths, a steady cloud that clung to its surface. There was a small-mantled fireplace in one wall while the other walls were veiled with tapestries and paintings that depicted heroic scenes in the Dark Elves' history.
This made Toryna wonder if Ergyryad would ever have a place of his own amongst these works of art. The chamber was used by The Matriarchess cast spells and commune with Dyvogna. It was littered with scrolls containing clerical spells and jars of various sizes with assorted contents.
Slouched over the cauldron, dressed in her black and red vestments, was the cloister's matriarch who did not react to Toryna's entrance.
Toryna stopped a few paces from the cauldron and waited for The Matriarch to acknowledge her. She watched the matted, bone white-haired woman move her slender fingers through the cauldron's mist, cutting paths in it which revealed a bubbling emerald liquid below.
Her pale face showed subtle signs of diminishing beauty that was fighting valiantly to hold off the effects of aging but was slowly being overcome. The Matriarch's crimson eyes were only the only part of her that betrayed a little over four thousand seasons of age.
Toryna hoped she looked half as good when she was that old but doubted she could do it without magical help. She suspected that that was Her Matriarch's beauty secret but she would just as soon call her by her birth name, which only Toryna and Dyvogna knew, then she would speak of her suspicion. Toryna, as well as the other dryads, had always looked on her as a siress figure and would never intentionally do anything to hurt her.
As if reading her thoughts, The Matriarch's head came up and she gazed at Toryna emotionlessly which made her humbly bow her head.
"Yes, you had better bow your head, Toryna," The Matriarch spat.
Shocked by her tone, Toryna clasped her hands together under her cloak as she tried to fight off her rising anger. With her concentration on that, she did not hear or see The Matriarch come towards her and didn't know she had even moved until she was struck across the face.
Toryna crumbled to her knees and let out a yelp in both surprise and pain. The Matriarch towered over her and pointed a bony finger accusingly.
"I know you have been keeping company with that bastard Ergyryad and neglecting your duties to Dyvogna!"
The words stung Toryna worse than the slap. "Ergyryad is a hero and nothing you can say about him will change that," she retorted, jumping to her feet. "As far as my duties to Dyvogna, that is between The Princess and myself."
"You are a dryad! Have you forgotten what that means?" The Matriarch demanded.
"I think of my vow every time I wake up, don my vestments, take a meal, walk these halls, read a scroll and lay on my mat. No one takes the vow of dryad more seriously than I!"
"Yet you choose to sneak away from the cloister and violate your vow," the old woman accused.
"I have never violated my vow and as long as I am a member of this cloister, I will live by the vows of the dryad."
"Then you must choose between your hero and serving The Princess."
Toryna's mouth would not work because her mind could not decide who she loved more -- Dyvogna or Ergyryad. Then, she realized that as soon as she'd hesitated to answer, the decision was made and it was too late to stop it.
"In Dyvogna's name, I banish you from the cloister for the rest of the season's of your life."
Toryna barely heard The Matriarch's words as the shock of the moment seemed to slow time and her life to date began to fly before her eyes.
"However. I will not release you from your vow as dryad. Only Dyvogna can do that. So go, leave the cloister and never return. You stain its honor."
With that said, Toryna turned and fled in tears. She went straight for the secret entrance she had used only a short while before. Once through it, she ran towards the inner wall leaving behind the only life she had ever known.
She ran aimlessly down the busy cobblestone streets of the market district until she could not run anymore. Nausea overwhelmed her and she just made it into a deserted alley when she began to vomit up what little there was in her stomach.
What could she do now, she wondered as she wiped her mouth with the corner of her cloak. How would she survive when being a dryad was all she knew?
These thoughts caused her to gag further even after her stomach was empty. When she regained control of herself, her head throbbed and she was hit with a wave of loss and fear. She stepped back until she felt the cool stone wall behind her then she slid down to sit. Pulling her knees to her chest, she was wracked with sobs.
Toryna couldn't believe she had been so foolish. She had thrown away everything she had worked for and held dear. Worst of all, she had failed Dyvogna.
It was incomprehensible and she couldn't even tell where exactly she had gone wrong. Her maidenhood was still intact so she was technically still a dryad but that was not the betrayal.
Her failure was that she was supposed to love Dyvogna above everything else but now Ergyryad had a place in her heart. At one time, there was only The Devil Princess, who was well known for her jealousy.
As her thoughts raced, so did time. When she finally stepped out of the alley, it was well after evening feast. Hungry, cold as well as emotionally and physically drained, she pulled her cloak tight around her and headed east.
She would go to Ergyryad. What she would tell him she did not know but she had to be with him. He would comfort her now in her time of need. He loved her, after all. She knew he did.
But what would he say when she told him she was banished from the cloister? With the Araneae Mactans on the morrow, would he send her away, not wanting to anger Dyvogna?
No, he was honorable and would never do such a thing. He would figure something out. She trusted him.
When she entered the tavern of the Wingless Gryffon, the Inn where Ergyryad stayed, she told herself she would not cry as she fought back tears.
The dining chamber was crowded, loud and blanketed in an ethereal haze that seemed to float between the patrons. Cooked meat and bitter ale permeated the air bringing audible sounds from her grumbling stomach. Taking notice of her clerical cloak, a few patrons watched her curiously as she made her way through the maze of tables.
When she neared the hearth, she found Ergyryad sitting at his regular table next to it and someone else was sitting at the table with him.
It was a maiden.
They seemed to be immersed in conversation and Toryna noticed that the maiden was looking at him as if he was the most amazing thing she had ever seen. He sat with the same relaxed posture as he did when she herself was with him.
They didn't see her approach and she was soon able to hear what he was saying which stopped her cold. He was recounting one of his tales of heroism while the maiden hung on every word.
Toryna suddenly saw herself sitting across from him with the same expression on her face and the same attentiveness as he spoke so as not to miss a single word. While she was standing there silently taking in the scene before her, Ergyryad turned in her direction. His mouth stopped moving when he realized it was her and he jumped to his feet.
"Toryna," he said in surprise. "What brings you away from the cloister this late after evening feast?"
"I must speak to you, milord, on a very pressing matter," she returned, turning to look at his guest, who was now glaring at her.
It was then that Toryna really took notice of her. She was dressed in lavender skirts and a low-cut azure blouse, too low for Toryna's liking. Her hair was a beautiful mass of amber curls while her eyes were sparkling jewels of sapphire. Her face, to Toryna's amusement, was covered in makeup of various sorts and colors, which made her look to the dryad like one of the celebration jesters.
"Of course," he answered quickly. "Lady Saboreae was just leaving."
"What? But I..."
He cut off her protest by taking her by the back of the arm, bringing her to her feet. "You heard Maitresse Toryna," he said, handing her her cloak. "She has pressing matters to discuss with me. She is a dryad of Dyvogna, after all."
Toryna saw Lady Saboreae's face relax at the last part and gave him a small smile of relief. For some reason that she could not explain, this bothered Toryna immensely.
"Now, Toryna. You sit down and I will return shortly after walking Lady Saboreae out." Before she could say anything, he was headed towards the door.
With a sigh, she took off her cloak and draped it over the back of the chair before sitting down. On the table was an open skin of wine and two crystal wine goblets, each half full of the crimson stuff. The goblet before her had a coral half moon smudge on its lip and she could tell by the dark color of its contents that it had not been watered down the way reputable ladies were supposed to drink it.
She wondered now if the Ladies' red cheeks were from applying a little too much rouge or just from the wine. Probably a little of both, she decided.
When Ergyryad returned, he took his seat and waved for the barmaid. "What is it, my beloved Toryna?" he asked, concern in his voice. "Has something happened?"
Before she could answer, the barmaid arrived at the table. He had her take away Lady Saboreae's goblet and told her to bring a fresh one for Toryna. Then, he looked at her silently with worried eyes while she tried to think of the words to use to describe what happened.
Her mind, however, had gone blank, so she grabbed a roll from the bowl at the side of the table and she began nibbling at it hoping that if her stomach soothed, her brain would start to work as well. However, all the roll did was make her thirsty.
As if on cue, the barmaid returned with a clean goblet and set it before Toryna. Ergyryad lifted the wineskin and filled her goblet just short of the rim. She took the goblet in both hands and gulped the wine down as if she had not had anything to drink in cycles. This only increased his concern for her and decided this was not the best place for her to be in this condition, whatever it may have been.
"Come Toryna," he said standing. "Let us go to my rooms where we can talk in private."
She merely nodded and stood grateful for his good thinking. Ergyryad handed her her cloak, grabbed their goblets, the skin of wine and the bowl of bread rolls then led her up the wooden stairs. When they reached the landing to the second floor, they walked down the hall past several doors that barely muffled the moaning and laughter coming from behind them. Toryna ignored this as she silently followed Ergyryad to the last door, which he opened with a key, and he let her enter.
As soon as Ergyryad closed the door and set the things he had carried down on a table next to the door, Toryna threw herself into his arms and wept. Between sobs, she told him what had happened at the cloister and what The Matriarch had said.
When her crying turned to mere sniffles, Ergyryad gave her a handkerchief, led her to the bed and had her lay down. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose as he filled her goblet with wine that she accepted thankfully. When it was empty, he refilled it and set the skin on the end table.
"I am truly sorry Toryna," he sighed as he brushed her black hair from her face. Then he used his thumbs to wipe away her tears that hadn't stopped completely.
"Why are you sorry?" She asked between sips of wine. "The fault is not yours. I am to blame alone."
"Love takes two, Toryna. I should have seen this coming and put a stop to it before it started. That was my responsibility because you were never taught such things per your dryad training."
"I was not blind as to what was happening between us," she remarked calmly. "I chose to ignore the signs of love until it was too late to escape."
Ergyryad took the goblet from her hand and set it on the end table next to the almost empty skin. When his gaze fell on hers, her sorrow was washed away by the love she saw in his eyes.
When he took her face in his pale hands and touched his lips to hers, she did not resist him as she had done before. His tongue entered her mouth and she surrendered to the heat growing inside her. The heat turned to a fire as his hands began to explore her body and all of her misgivings of what was about to happen went up in smoke.
Moments later, they ceased to be two people concerned about what their future held and were one united so that they shared their bodies, minds and spirits with each other.
Toryna awoke and found herself laying next to the naked sleeping form of Ergyryad, whose breathing came in soft whispers. She crawled out from beneath the soft furs and pulled on her chemise before going into the pot chamber.
Once inside with the door closed, she lit the torch on the wall and looked at herself in the mirror. For someone who had just lost her maidenhood she did not look any different to herself. However, she felt different. She felt like a lady now. Not officially, of course, but physically the title of maitresse would never mean the same to her again. It was as if her spirit had shed its identity as Maitresse Toryna and had become Lady Kolgyn. Pride unexpectedly welled up inside her and she knew for the first time everything would be all right.
In her excitement, she had not noticed that her body was glistening with sweat even though there was a cool breeze coming in through the open window of the pot chamber. She was about to blow out the torch and return to bed when she was struck with terrible cramps in her stomach.
Doubling over in sudden pain, she collapsed to her knees gasping for breath. Drops of sweat fell from her face onto the floor and her chemise was quickly soaked. Feeling as though she was in a scorching oven, she tore off the flimsy undergarment and revealed thick black hairs growing before her eyes from all parts of her body.
Her hands went stiff as her fingers began to mold together into strange black appendages. In pain and horror, she tried to scream, but a pair of large mandibles began to sprout from the sides of her jaw.
Something moved at her sides. When she turned her throbbing head to see what it was, she found two hairy leg like limbs protruding from each side. They matched what her arms and legs were becoming. A spidery shadow formed beneath her on the floor and then everything went black.
The shadow drifted along the floor towards the bed, just ahead of two black bristly legs, steadily and silently. Following the bed's edge until it was right next to the oblivious form of the Ergyryad, it stopped and rubbed its knife-like mandibles as it watched him sleep.
After a few moments of hesitation, it climbed up onto the bed until it was standing over Ergyryad, who began to stir from the bed's movements. His arm rubbed up against one of its legs and his eyes shot open while at the same time reaching for the dagger that rested on the end table.
Before he could get his hand on the handle, the spider eased down and sank its mandibles into the base of his neck injecting its stunning poison. Forgetting the dagger, Ergyryad pushed on the spider in a vain attempt to get it off him but it held fast and his strength began to wane.
When his resistance ceased, it withdrew itself and using its hind legs, began to spin a web around Ergyryad's stiff body. Once he was fully encased, it plunged its mandibles between the weak strands into his chest and began feeding on the warm blood within.
Toryna jerked awake with a start panting and her heart thumping wildly in her chest.
It was only a dream, she told herself with a sigh of relief. She could barely believe how real it had been even as its memory faded from her mind. But it was over now and she was lying next to Ergyryad, safe. All of her worries would be over once he won the Araneae Mactans and they were betrothed.
She would be the happiest lady in the Realms, if she weren’t already. They would leave Vanoria for Trahmylare Prime where they would live in a small cottage and she would bare him strong sons and beautiful daughters. They would have the life that most Elves only dreamed about.
With her thoughts on their future, Toryna rolled over to put her arms around Ergyryad and immediately knew something was amiss.
Her head snapped up and she whipped the furs off the still form that was lying next to her. Where her beloved was supposed to be was a long cocoon.
That was the only way she could mentally label what she saw. It was shaped almost humanoid, like a mummy who'd been wrapped in thick thread.
Cautiously, Toryna touched the fragile looking covering and found it strangely sticky. She moved her face closer and she could almost see what lay beneath. She looked over to where the head should be and began to make out features in the face. The mouth was open as if in mid-scream, and the eyes were wide open with a look of horror about them.
The realization of what she was looking at made her feel as if she was in a rapidly descending elevator.
It was Ergyryad.
It was not a dream, her mind cried. I turned into a monster and killed my beloved.
From the depths of her soul erupted a wail of sorrow that burst from her mouth as a deafening scream. Before she could suck in a breath for a second scream, the world around her faded to black as she fainted.
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