1. The Magnificent Five

Volume Two Theme Song: Adam and the Ants, Don’t Be Square (Be There) … for good, clean fun (whatever that means)

Our hero, Inglorion Atropos Androktasiai, Marquis Theates, stands in an underground corridor, gazing apprehensively at a beam of sunlight shining through the cave entrance from above.

He’s lived underground for decades now, part of a tribe of bloodthirsty dark elves called the Theates. He doesn’t feel the usual desire for light and warmth. Inglorion’s mother is Drow, and his senses are adapted to life underground. Sunlight scorches him, and overwhelms not just his vision, which is adapted to the infrared spectrum, but all the other subtle senses specific to underground creatures. His hearing is keen, and he’s learned to use it for echolocation; his kinesthetic sense allows him to navigate familiar spaces without light or sound. Aboveground, noise overwhelms signal. He’s plagued with migraines, and feels persistently sick, disoriented and distracted.

He looks up at the single shaft of sunlight, and feels longing, excitement and dread.

If only it weren’t noon, he thinks. In the Underdark no one bothers to track the seasons and time of day aboveground. Almanacs and calendars are difficult to come by, used only by traders and raiding parties. His watch is precise, finely crafted, and calibrated to the Drow 25-hour day. He’ll have to reset it each morning.

He sighs, checks his weapons and gear one last time, and slips through the egress point, a narrow crack between two massive limestone slabs. He emerges into a nondescript, rocky foothill terrain of low scrub. It’s hot, and there’s no meaningful shade nearby. It’s a hour’s rough scramble down to the river valley below, which is lavishly wooded and populated by wood elves, who drive away anyone who attempts to settle, and monitor travelers closely. They’ll start tracking him sometime today, and will follow his progress until he’s well down the post road to Liamelia. They’re unlikely to confront him — a single traveler, on foot, light-skinned and dressed in gray elvish clothing. 

What would an observer see, watching Inglorion descend to the valley and travel to the sea?

He’s in his early 100s, the upper boundary of young manhood for elves. He’s slender, strong, and below average height — perhaps 5’4”, if measured by a sympathetic judge. The Drow way of life is communal, Spartan and warlike, and he’s commanded troops for decades, so his manner is quiet and assured. His hair is snow-white and he wears it long. Gray elvish fashion has started to drift towards short, practical haircuts for men, but Inglorion doesn’t hold with that shit. In the Underdark he wears his hair down like a Spartan; aboveground, he braids it and ties it back in a queue like a proper fucking gray elf. 

These facts help observers to classify him from a distance: He’s a young elvish fighter, old-fashioned or perhaps from a rural area, unremarkable. If our imaginary observer were to approach him — walk beside him, strike up a conversation — they would surely find him riveting and memorable.

First, Inglorion is shockingly handsome: High cheekbones, strong chin and jaw, lush lips with a perfect Cupid’s bow, a finely cut, aquiline nose, and wide, deep-set eyes. He’s gorgeous from every angle, day or night, no matter what his mood or condition, without effort or calculation. Women are struck by this, but he’s so relentlessly lovely that men notice it, too. It’s the most obvious thing about Inglorion — the way you’d describe him to a stranger — and impossible to forget, even after long acquaintance. Inglorion’s beauty gives him a larger-than-life quality, and it’s a constant distraction, not least to Inglorion, who experiences it as something external to himself, variously a gift, tool or curse.

And it’s not just his beauty. As soon as they meet his gaze, other elves know that Inglorion is half-Drow: His eyes are brilliant, clear and colorless, with the sheen of mercury. This creates a logical problem. Wood and gray elves consider the Drow to be a wicked, cursed race. There’s no innocent way for gray and Drow elves to mate. When elves see Inglorion’s features, they can’t rest until they know how he came to be, and where his loyalties lie. 

Inglorion’s features reflect a recent chapter in a long, bloody history. The last period of active hostility locally began decades before Inglorion’s birth, when Liamelia founded a string of settlements in the foothills and along the post road to Amakir, extending well beyond the city walls. The Drow raided these settlements for fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, and regularly kidnapped and enslaved children. Inglorion’s father, a General and Field Marshal in the gray elvish army, forced the Drow into a series of costly battles, and eventually captured Philomela Procne Arachne, Marquise Theates, in battle. In the course of interrogating her, Tereus raped her repeatedly and brutally, earning himself a court-martial and dishonorable discharge, and begetting Inglorion. Philomela escaped to the Underdark, leaving Inglorion to be raised in an orphanage, and later as a servant on Tereus’s estate.

In the years that followed, Tereus’s lot was unfortunate, and almost entirely self-inflicted. Mingled shame, frustration and boredom drove him to drink, and he became brutal towards his wife and servants. Decades later, long after Inglorion and his half-sister ran away from home, Tereus founded the last settlement outside Liamelia, a tiny town called Xialo. Drow raiders slaughtered the inhabitants, torturing Tereus and much of his immediate family to death. The only survivor, a three-year-old nephew of Tereus’s, was kidnapped and raised a slave in the Underdark. The long war ended soon afterwards, largely because Liamelia discouraged settlement outside the city walls, ceding a long stretch of territory to vicious, nomadic wood elves.

That’s how Inglorion came to be. Even he would be hard-pressed to say where his loyalties lie. 

Inglorion loves and dreads the world aboveground: Its rich and variegated landscapes of forests, mountains and rivers, the wealthy city-states filled with grand public buildings constructed from the region’s black-veined white marble. His religion, values and education are those of gray elvish gentry. He reads and writes Greek and Latin, and has steeped himself in classical myth and history. His hometown, Liamelia, looks out over Homer’s wine-dark sea. Liamelia boasts archives, libraries, museums, and tremendous private wealth based on agriculture, mining and trade. The Theates tribe is poor and backwards by comparison, and as a Marquis, Inglorion has power and responsibility, but no personal possessions beyond his armor and weapons, and a few pieces of jewelry.

Inglorion left Liamelia reluctantly, because he’s a bastard, half-Drow and a non-citizen. His half-brother, Marcus Shelawn, inherited the largest private fortune in the city; his half-sister, Sieia Ceralac, is a fashionable political hostess, married to the Mayor. Because of his birth, Inglorion can’t own property, marry or attend the university, and most respectable professions are closed to him. He loves Liamelia, but it firmly spurns his affection.

Inglorion joined his mother’s tribe out of desperation, and stayed to serve his ambition. Philomela selected him for her heir several years ago. He’s spent the intervening years working within the Theates intelligence service, recruiting and running spies, and writing intelligence assessments. He’s physically adapted to life underground, but has never felt comfortable among the Drow. Their values are alien, their manners peculiar, their brutality off-putting.

Inglorion did not choose to come aboveground; he’s been posted there to serve the Theates clan. His portfolio is broad, since few Drow venture out of the Underdark. He’s supposed to establish an intelligence network, and start producing reports on the political, economic and military trends in the area: Liamelia, the stretch of territory claimed by the wood elves, and a nearby city, Amakir. 

It will be impossible for Inglorion to establish cover and work in Liamelia. Elvish lifespans and memories are long, and he’s a silver-eyed, white-haired, small-scale version of his father. If anyone were inclined to forget the connection, it’s plain to see in a life-sized, priceless portrait of Tereus Shelawn that hangs in the Shelawn townhouse. It depicts Inglorion’s father towering over an idealized battlefield, favoring the viewer with the Shelawn Look: An insouciant half-smile and flirtatious, heavy-lidded gaze. Inglorion left town as a very young man, but not before using the same glance to seduce battalions of parlor maids, laundresses and shop girls. Liamelia is too hot to hold Inglorion; he’ll be setting up shop in Amakir. He had his share of youthful misadventures there, but it’s a larger, more cosmopolitan city, and his family’s notoriety is attenuated by distance.

As you read this, you may think, What an unpleasant fellow this Inglorion is. He’s devoted his entire life to warfare, espionage and seduction when he could have been feeding orphans in Africa, or at least preaching the truths revealed by his god, the Bringer of Light. The author agrees, and Inglorion himself would nod along sorrowfully. Like most of us, he’s had to take his people and culture as he finds them. He’s failed to open the hearts of gray elves — they’ve been too busy deploring his bastardy and Drow features, and excluding him from citizenship and civil rights. The Drow accept him as one of their own, but his gray elvish ways have been noticed, particularly his reluctance to torture captives and flog slaves. He can produce plausible excuses when asked to murder his family and connections aboveground, but many consider his loyalty suspect at best.

Inglorion might as well be a frontline manager in corporate America who secretly rejects the values of his organization, and hopes to change it from within. No one has offered him a Marquisate based on his musical ability, good looks or sack artistry, so he’s been forced to fall back on more brutal, lucrative professions: Mercenary fighter, army officer, intelligence analyst, spymaster. Though he’s a peer in the Theates tribe, he’s a double-agent in an important sense: He has no desire to conquer or harm the aboveground races, and he sincerely wishes to end slavery and torture in the Underdark.

This, then, is our hero: Clever, charming, devout, conflicted. Handy with longswords and a bullwhip, a devil with the ladies, idealistic, unwise, and easily bored. In his father’s time, it was said that for a Shelawn, men will lay down their lives and women will pull up their skirts. Inglorion strides down the post road to Liamelia, earnestly hoping to use these gifts to bring about peace in his time.

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