"My child, you need to wake up. Come on, open your eyes -- it's alright."
Aurei found herself trying to pull herself out of the warm safe place, "Uhh…ummm… mother?" She murmured sleepily, wondering why Mother Bugley's voice sounded so different.
"You're safe, child; safe and well. At least for the time being. Can you wake up?"
"Uhh… I don't know." She longed to sink back into the warm place.
"You can do it, please try. Can you tell me your name?"
"Uh huh." Aurei felt herself slipping back to sleep until the woman spoke again.
"And what would your name be, child?"
"Bugley… my name is Aurei Bugley. You're not Mother Bugley, are you?"
The cloudiness in her mind began to clear then and it all came rushing back to her consciousness, the Death Knight, the explosion, falling. Aurei opened her eyes and sat up in bed. A foot away from her face, seated on the edge of her bed was the beautiful smiling face of a Drow woman. Aurei stared at her for a long, long moment, trying to make sense of it all and failing.
"Who are you?"
The beautiful lady - who didn't seem much older than Aurei- grinned, her red eyes glowing in the dim light of the room. She took her hand and squeezed it, "I am Zeatt; do not be frightened, Aurei. I am the Matriarch of the Drow faithful of Yesh in Aeropolis."
"Where am I? Is this Westmark?" She looked around, but sensed that she was not in a building exactly, but more like some sort of vessel.
"I'll explain that later, just trust me that you are in no danger."
"Is Brother Darv here?" She struggled to clear away the lingering cobwebs in her brain.
"Brother Darv… he…no, wait… he… Oh, God, he died!" Aurei burst into tears and the beautiful Drow woman immediately reached out and hugged her, rocking back and forth with her and speaking with soothing words until she calmed down.
"Sir Alvis", Aurei said after a moment, "they took him away."
"Who did, my dear?"
"The servants of the Death Knight on the airship."
Zeatt pulled her back to look at her in the face, "Death Knight?! Did you hear him speak his name?"
"He introduced himself to me… Abbadox, I think."
"Yesh preserve us! What happened to him?"
"He died, I guess, when I shattered the Light of Yesh against the deck."
"WHAT?! Light of Yesh?! Do you mean a piece of blue quartz about the size of a palm?!"
"Yes, it was Brother Darv's but when he fell to the Wyverns I snatched it up before one stung me and then carried me off."
"Child, can you tell me how all of this came about? I know you are full of many questions, but I think I can fill them in if you can recount what you have gone through."
"Okay" Aurei took a deep breath and began telling the Drow lady all about her experiences of the last half year. Zeatt sat very quiet, listening with extreme interest and asking a lot of questions to insure she understood.
Aurei was amazed at how oddly comfortable she felt talking to the radiant Drow lady. Except for Eleazar, she had never even seen a Drow other then her reflection in a mirror, and even Eleazar was only half-Drow. Yet she easily opened up to the lovely lady, who sat next to her holding her hand as she told the long tale.
"-- and when I thought it all seemed hopeless, I just flung the quartz down at the foot of the stairs and prepared to die. There was a brilliant flash of light and I felt myself being thrown through the air and the next thing I remember was a couple of men talking about what I was and how injured I was."
Zeatt nodded, "You were indeed extremely injured, Aurei -- very near death from burns and your eyes were nearly destroyed."
"How did I survive?" She asked, and Zeatt smiled.
"A lot of hours casting healing spells upon you. Some did not work, for somehow you have acquired the resistance to magic that is common to our race in the Underdark, but not here on the surface. Even those born down there lose their resistance when they have been on the surface a while. Mine faded a long, long time ago. But you apparently have yours, and that is most unusual."
"So you healed me? Can you tell me now where we are? I can hear a roaring sound and it sounds very much like the Fire Elemental that powered the Guild craft."
"Very good! You are right, we are on another Airship, but this one is not one of the Necromancer Guild's but the luxury ship of Emperor Fendoris Maximus."
"I'm on the Emperor's Airship?" she asked, wide-eyed.
"I'm afraid so, this rather quaint and comfortable room is the brig of the vessel, you see, I'm a prisoner of his Excellency."
"Prisoner? But why?"
"It is a precautionary measure, I assure you." From behind them came a bold male voice from the doorway and both Drow ladies turned to see the ruggedly handsome form of the 10th Emperor of the Southern Empire standing in the doorway flanked on either side by a pair of guards, one who held the key to the room.
"Aurei Bugley, I present to you his Excellency, Emperor Fendoris Maximus. Your Excellency, this is Aurei Bugley, Duchess of Westmark and a member of the nobility of the Kingdom of Northmarch."
The Emperor smiled, "Ah yes, the Drow barmaid Duchess that inspired the writing of so many lurid tavern songs. My goodness, but she is indeed extremely beautiful, much like you my dear Reverend Matriarch. There is an uncanny resemblance to you. Any relationship?"
"She's my niece." Zeatt replied and Aurei's mouth dropped open for an instant before Zeatt's squeeze of her hand told her to suppress her surprise for now.
"My, my, what a lovely family." The Emperor crooned, but then his steel blue eyes locked onto Aurei's, "So tell me Duchess Bugley, why were you found hanging from the mooring chain of a Death Knight's Airship?"
"I had been taken prisoner by the Wyverns of Abbadox, along with Brother Darv and Sir Alvis."
"Alvis? The lieutenant to St. Kinnis? Really? Do you know Sir Alvis then?"
Zeatt squeezed her hand tightly in warning, but Aurei had no idea why, so she proceeded with the truth, "His order opened a branch in Westmark after we were harassed by Undead."
"And you joined that order?" The Emperor's eyes glared at her, demanding a correct response.
"Not officially, but I was trained by his knights and I am a Paladin."
Fendoris' eyes flashed with fury, but he maintained his dignity, "Well then, Duchess Bugley, it seems as you are counted as one of my enemies, then."
Aurei looked stunned and glanced back and forth between Zeatt and the Emperor.
"Your Excellency, I don't understand why you say that - I am certainly no enemy of you or your empire."
"So you say, Duchess, but we shall find out very soon. I have already cast detection spells upon your aunt and she too maintains her innocence, but the fact remains that a week ago, a coup upon my reign was attempted, led by armored knights wearing the blood cross of Yesh and causing me to flee as an exile from the seat of my empire. A wise man keeps his most dangerous enemies near him, which is why I have imprisoned Matron Zeatt and forced her into exile with me. St. Kinnis evaded my soldiers' attempt to capture him, as did all of the other Archbishops of Yesh. Only your lovely Aunt here calmly stood her ground and passively allowed herself to be arrested and brought to my ship."
"In spite of the magic that says that neither she nor her followers had any involvement in this coup, I still have my suspicions. As I do of you, Duchess Bugley, but we shall soon learn the truth, for as we have spoken, I have had several mages cast detection spells upon you to determine if you speak the truth." He turned to briefly speak to someone outside of the doorway and then looked back in, seeming frustrated with a hint of relief evident in his eyes at the same time.
"Well, you too have passed the test, but I am a cautious man, Duchess Bugley, and I don't trust magic that can be thwarted by other magic. You shall remain here, as a comfortable prisoner, to visit with your aunt, until I have satisfied myself that neither one of you has played any part of this rebellion against me. If you are innocent, your god will certainly be with you. But if you are not innocent, or if the rebellion was, as it appears, at the instigation of the clergy of Yesh, then I will put both of you to death. Until it is decided one way or another, enjoy your quarters."
He spun on his heels and quickly stepped out of the doorway, which was slammed shut with a metal clank, followed by the click of a lock, then the brief chant of an arcane locking spell.