35. Lashed to an Iron Wheel

Weeks pass. By day, Inglorion attends briefings and cabinet meetings, and tries to make sense of the political situation. Each night, he tries to tempt the Duchess to eat, and puts her to bed tenderly. Each night, he returns to his quarters, where Alecto injects him and he’s plunged into visions. He has no privacy, and little time for food or trance. He’s lashed to an iron wheel, and cannot stop himself or events around him.

Events occur which make no sense, and which neither he nor Jason can control. Tunnels collapse, apparently the work of gray elvish engineers. The first to go is a mine outside of Physryk containing six dwarfish slaves and their Drow owners. The slaves were skilled, and were working side-by-side with their masters to extract and characterize a pocket of potentially valuable metals. All eight are trapped for several days, and their condition is truly pitiable. The Drow drown in an underground river as they’re searching for a way out; three of the dwarves die from cold and exposure. The Theates cabinet reacts with indignant rage — entirely unfeigned, as far as Inglorion can tell.

Increasingly, cabinet meetings seem dreamlike and distorted, and the time he spends with Philomela feels real and true. It comforts him to be able to hold his mother and speak with her. Each night he brings food and drink, ostensibly for himself: Drow rations, but also little black market delicacies like a package of biscuits, a handful of dried fruit. Slowly, she begins to eat and drink again on her own. He doesn’t urge any particular course of action, or question her about her interactions with the other cabinet members or the Xyrec delegation. Of course, his scruples are absurd. Someday — perhaps soon — he will have to act affirmatively, whether to force a decision or prevent her from harming herself.

Wood elves capture a Xyrec patrol. It’s not clear if they’d ventured aboveground, or if the wood elves were particularly bold, and pursued them underground. In any case, the Drow suffered multiple arrow injuries, and were roughed up during an interrogation that probably amounted to torture. The aboveground soldiers were young, really almost the equivalent of gang members patrolling a street corner. The Drow were all female, and though they’re tight-lipped about what occurred, they were certainly groped, and  probably raped.

Inglorion trains for hours at a time. He’s fascinated with the problem of fighting blind, mostly because the training is risky enough to command his full attention. In the training room and out of it, he forces himself to rely less on sight, and more on echolocation and kinesthetic sense. He fences with targets that have little or no IR signature, and shoots blind with a short bow. At first he’s spectacularly unsuccessful, but gradually he becomes highly accurate in confined spaces. He knows now that the Drow hate the open sky because it swallows up sound and renders them partly blind.

Further tunnels and egress points are mined, gradually closing down sources of fresh air and trade goods. The Xyrec report that gray elvish troops are assembling, threatening the main egress point for all of Physryk. They halt aboveground patrols, deeming them too risky. With this, all intelligence goes dark.

The loss of egress points represents an existential threat. The Drow can’t win, but even Jason and Inglorion agree that they have to show up and fight. They withdraw as soon as they decently can, and the costs are still unacceptable: Hundreds of soldiers injured or killed, including almost 100 Cyrx archers and support troops encircled and put to death. Like all Drow, they’d been trained not to surrender, and didn’t know there was an alternative to a futile last stand.

When the gray elves decline to pursue the Drow underground, there’s less a sense of triumph than a cold lassitude. Repairs progress slowly; the tribes bicker over who’s to blame, and who should clean up the mess.

Philomela’s health improves, and she regains some of her faculties, probably partly due to the stimulus of battle. Months later, when Charon — now Valentine Shelawn — appears, Inglorion is able to offer his cousin a choice between death and spying for the Theates. Of course Valentine picks the latter. If he were entirely loyal to Liamelia, he wouldn’t have sought out Inglorion in the Underdark.

Inglorion resumes his intelligence work aboveground, meeting with Valentine in and around Liamelia. He learns that he’s made a bold new set of enemies when five hired killers try to corner and murder him in a hookah lounge. Inglorion can’t trace the event to a particular faction; routine intelligence reports continue to arrive on schedule as if nothing has happened.

Soon afterwards, Inglorion moves into Valentine’s townhouse, and lives there openly, as if he were a distant connection visiting from the countryside rather than Drow nobility hiding out from assassins.

Perhaps it’s true, and nothing has really changed.

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