I have crossed the horizon to find you.
ou loto mamaina toa
I know your name.
They have stolen the heart from inside you,
but this does not define you.
This is not who you are.
You know who you are.
He was a subtle glow in a place that was dark as pitch, and had been since rage had first carved the bowed tunnel. It was not like the elegant things he had passed through, their streets swimming and crystals cracked, they veneer of cruel civilization covering the desperate and trembling scrapings of exiles. This passage had been left deliberately bare. Holy. He desecrated it with is presence, for he was iblith
, and no sacrifice, and he came alone. Any Priestess, any procession, that had tried to stop him was the gore on his arms, his chest, his throat. It dripped from him in thick ropes, fell from his jaws and his teeth. It spattered like freckles on parchment-pale skin that flickered with his pulse, scattered around mismatched eyes that glazed.
He did not know how much was from his slaughter, or how much of it was his own.
Perhaps he was dying.
Every step was a fresh agony. A fresh re-opening of wounds. A new spatter of blood - a sacrifice - hot and steaming upon the cold and thirsting ground. Sometimes he needed to press his hand against the wall, and when he pressed forward, it left a streaked print against the thousand year-old scrape of nails. Gifts, gifts. Another gift was increasingly a burden, one that was strapped to his back, and it wrenched horribly. Still, he was glad to feel it. He had been afraid that he would lose it, and he wanted Her to meet it.
Almost there. Perhaps it was his swimming senses becoming muddled, but he didn't think so. It was darker, if such a thing were even possible. Darker, mustier, colder. Very cold. He put his hand out, and there was no wall. He swung his arm back to find it, and his wet, groping fingers found thickness, stickiness.
They had done nothing to make Her comfortable. Perhaps they preferred to chuck their sacrifices to Her, as if she were a beast to be appeased, the Webs to be read like augury. Boons were things to be coaxed, bribed, threatened. She was something to be prayed to from afar with scented oils and perfumes, blood to be gathered on obsidian altars and the bodies burned on sweet-smelling faggots -
"Gods can be inconvenient in the flesh," he whispers. "I understand."
He hears the slither, the thump of a great and swollen body, as he begins the laborious process of untying his burden from his body. His fingers are slippery, and the ropes and straps are soaked through. He does not look up. He cannot see in this great and terrible space, even with the pulsing glow, and he knows She will not come close enough.
"What is this?" The room echoes with the hiss. A voice, female, high and deep, modulated into many tones. It had likely cowed the first exiles who had followed this passage down; cows whatever poor creature is thrown to Her at the drow's whim, so that She can feel that She still has a semblance of control. He hears her as she moves around him, as she stalks him - as the sibilant words in mock sympathy first start in front him, to his left, his right, above
him, behind him. Seeking to frighten him, drive him. "What is this? You smell like blood. Where are my Priestesses? Oh, you are dying, little thing. Poor little thing."
He does not move. He only undoes his ropes, his straps. He listens to Her as She hisses, as she mutters. He smells, suddenly, the hot fetidness of Her, musty and full of old flesh. Her breath is so hot that it scalds his skin, drying the blood to flaking. Her words are uncertain.
"You - smell familiar. No. It's the drowling blood, yes, and then the rivvil
, and it is repulsive. You are mortal," She says, hisses, and he feels Her draw back, adjust, dragging her grotesque body about on the ceiling. He is glad he cannot see it. The sound, the images it conjures, is terrible enough, and he shuts his eyes a moment to stop the way lights pinpoint against the terrible, swimming dark. "You hang by just a little thread, thing, yet -" And here, Her mockery turns perplexed. "... that thread does not break."
"I don't know if it can." He speaks. He hears Her draw back, a cracks of chitinous legs. But Her curiosity is piqued. He hears her sniff, over and over, great and heavy droughts of the stale air drawn into her nostrils. He knows She must be hungry. They must keep Her hungry to keep her pliable, to keep her Boons coming. I've never felt hungry. But neither is She. She only thinks She is -
"I brought you someone." This is what he says instead, turning to where he knows She is, lifting a gore-stained hand towards his burden, his Pride. The mannequin was worse for wear; he'd had to carefully pull out drow-arrows, and artfully cover some gashes, but the headless mannequin stood in its glory, the wolf skull lashed atop where the wooden head would sit. The empty sockets stared, and the teeth gleamed in his light. "This... was my mother. I wanted to show her to you."
She was very still. So was he. His hand hung in the air, his chest struggling with each breath, and each breath hanging silver on the air like a ghost. Moments, minutes, passed.
"I don't know -" His breath caught on something fresh; he spasmed, and coughed, and a fresh gout of blood spewed from him like a stream. Fresh. There were flowers at his trembling feet. The thread does not break.
"... I don't know what, who, you wanted to take me, when you sent me out. I didn't know, either. It was a doe, actually. I think I - remembered. But before I could settle, there were these new creatures."
He heard her. She landed on the floor with a heavy, unpleasant noise. Her belly dragged against the stone like corpses. Her legs struck the ground with high-pitched scrapes. He leaned against, then gripped, the mannequin for support. he felt the flowers against his legs.
"Not elves. Humans. They hunted her. They thanked her for her sacrifice. They ate her. And I went into them. I went into her
. Her name was Isnah." Reverent, giddy, he touches the fangs on the wolf's skull.
The breath blew back his hair. He shut his eyes against it.
"I know you." The cruelty warred with something else. There was a crack in Her voice, a confusion, a underlay to all of Her pain and her rage. "I know this. I know this green
, this smell
. I know -"
Catch opens his eyes. His light reflects off a face that had once been beautiful, elven, and was even now so, save for the cracked black skin, the too-large fangs that continuously cut at her lips, the gore of past prey rotting between them, the madness in her red eyes. He reaches out to that face, and She flinches as he tenderly takes it between his hands, but does not pull away.
"Mother," he whispers.
As if this is a spell, Her spider's legs tremble and give way. Her grotesque, bulbous body collapses into what is a field of flowers and green, her thin arms and delicate hands seeking his own where they rest on Her cheeks.
"No. No, I am not," She denies, cries, the Rage struggling, flaring, the legs curling and struggling to thrust her aloft once more. "Wolves, wolves
and Wind you are! They are! Fitting! Gnawing at the Roots, as you should be! Why aren't you, eh? Why are you even -" She does not finish, but only begins to weep. Catch holds her, and she holds them, and they support one another as they must, with only the sightless eyes of the grinning skull to look on.
She is weeping.
"I won't do what you want me to do, Mother," he says. Softly. With finality. "Ever. Because I want you to Live
He kisses her. Her teeth cut him cruelly, but he feels the Rage in Her hesitate. Cool. In their chaste kiss he slips past it, riding the paths the flowers-scents take. He feels how beautiful she was, is
. Carefully he touches the sleeping spider. It wakes, slowly. He watches her stretch, watches as she spins her silver, dew-freckled webs and sings to the moon, careless. The world is new. Their hearts beat as one.
She does not fight him as his jaw shifts. Her head tilts itself back as a horrible equine muzzle, filled with wolf-teeth, latches onto her neck to drink whatever blackened ichor emerges from the shredded artery.
When he finally leaves, he does not take either Mother with him out of the Underdark. But he does take a small, spun sack of silk, tucked carefully behind his ear.