Nadir slammed her hand into the desk. No way was she going to accept that. She'd worked too hard, sacrificed too much, to get to this position. There had to be something, anything!
"So this is the source of the foul magic I sensed," said a male voice, interrupting her thoughts and drawing her gaze towards the door that should have been locked. Instead it was wide open, with a man in exotic clothing leaning against the frame. He had long, black hair and eyes that glowed red. His face was very handsome and on his hip, held in place by a sash, were two swords the likes of which she'd never seen before. That wasn't her main concern, however.
"How did you manage to get in here?" she demanded angrily, her hand hovering above one of the wands on her belt. Her eyes were fixed on this stranger. "The guards and wards, they-"
"There were guards?" His expression was that of perpetual boredom, and he crossed his arms and yawned. "Oh, right, the zombies. They were so ridiculously easy to cut down I mistook them for servants. It seems you weren't as much of a threat as I originally thought." An angry scowl came to her face. "Now, now, no need to get so angry, sir. It's not like there's a shortage of dead bodies in the nearby graveyards. I'm sure you'll have your numbers replenished in no time, and maybe even a lady friend once you've fixed up that face of yours-"
"I'm female!" Nadir snapped. He blinked, the surprise written all over his face. She was practically fuming at this point. Not only had he insulted her power as a necromancer, but he'd also pointed out her biggest sore spot her appearance. Nadir knew she looked and sounded like a man even her name was masculine but it still hurt to hear it repeated to her. It reminded her of all the times she'd been bullied for it as a child, especially by her fellow students and even the teachers. Now that the stranger had been corrected, however, things should be all right. She took deep breaths to steady herself.
"With a chest like that?" came the merciless response, making her breath catch in her throat. "Unlikely." Her jaw dropped and she stared at the man in a mix of pure rage and disbelief. She had corrected him, why wouldn't he just accept it? There were fools in this world, to be sure, but there should be a limit to even their stupidity, no? She gritted her teeth.
"Who are you and how did you bypass my wards?" Her dark eyes were narrowed into a glare. She wasn't going to bother arguing her gender with him, but she would know that much at least. The only living creatures that could bypass them were other Red Wizards.
"That's obvious, isn't it?" he shot right back, still with the same bored face. When she didn't reply, he sighed dramatically. "I'm not one of the living! Really, must you be fed information with a spoon? No wonder your zombies are weak."
That was the final straw. She lashed out with her wand in hand, summoning a lightning bolt that struck the wall where the stranger was supposed to be. When had he moved? She couldn't spot him anywhere. Just what kind of an undead was he? Something bumping into the back of her head informed her of where he was, and while she was protected by a stoneskin spell, she pretended to fall over all the same. Like any other Red Wizard, she knew how to bluff that much. While she wanted to punish him for his insults, the speed with which he moved and his ability to defeat her guards impressed her enough to try a different approach. As he leaned down, she subtly fished out another wand from her robe. She struck out as he was close enough, successfully paralysing one of her own zombies.
Nadir shot up, surprise written all over her face. He was so full of himself he didn't even check to see if his opponent was dead? Her entire body trembled in poorly concealed rage. He would regret making light of her, regret it dearly. Getting back up on her feet, she cast a dweomer on herself that would help her locate him. This guy was most likely a vampire, judging from his speed and the fact that he had sentience. The question was, who controlled him? No vampire would leave the body of a living being alone unless commanded to. A most vicious idea struck her. She would figure out the secret to controlling him and then make him serve her. A vampire was bound to be more powerful than any of her zombies and skeletons put together. If she could show him off to Szass Tam she was bound to get promoted.
It didn't take long to find him, leisurely pacing towards the exit. Two of her skeleton guards came in to intercept him, and had her divination spells not been in place, she would have completely missed seeing him draw his swords. He was so fast it was unreal, one second in front of the skeletons and the next behind them, his swords sheathed once more as the creatures collapsed. She stared in wide-eyed disbelief, wanting to bind him to her service now more than ever.
While she couldn't hope to use her wand, she did have wards in place that not even he could escape. She willed them to activate just as he stepped into the right area. A sphere of energy surrounded him, encasing him and preventing him from moving. Nadir then mentally commanded it to float into another room, using a wand to open the door as she went. The vampire floated into the middle of the room where the sphere was undone only for runes carved into the stone to light up and trap him instead. He lunged at her, fangs visible and his hands on his swords, only to strike against a transparent wall. A moment's confusion flashed across his face, and then he struck against it again.
"It doesn't matter how many times you hit it," she informed him smugly, smirking as she was glad to finally feel on top of things. Incredible though his fighting skills were, he was still an undead and that made him weak against certain types of necromantic arts. She might not be the greatest of necromancers, but it was still foolish to underestimate her. "The result will still be the same. You're trapped here, but I'm willing to let you go in exchange for your servitude." There was a moment's silence from the stranger. A blood oath of servitude made by a vampire wasn't something that was taken lightly, but the prospect of not getting anything to drink overruled that.
"I already serve someone," he shot back, predictably enough, "besides, I don't like working for men." Her inner balance was rocked once more and she openly glared at him. He replied with a bored look. Even trapped as he was, by a powerful necromancer to boot, he didn't even bat an eyelash. Was it impossible to throw him off guard, even for a second? How many times had she ended up having to calm down because of this guy?
"Of course you do," she shot back calmly, "in fact, that was very much a part of my calculations. Naturally, you will refuse to tell me who your master is, but-"
"Not really," he cut her short, "and it's Bereniisu." She blinked.
"Of course it is," she countered, "and you must think I'm royally stupid to go by something like that."
"No, really," he insisted, "the one I serve is Bereniisu. You should stop basing reality off of poorly written storybooks. Take this creepy, dark and dirty castle as an example. Are you under some delusion that it's culturally mandatory for necromancers everywhere to live in drafty places that will most likely give them arthritis before the age of thirty?"
"Shut up," she snapped, her hands clenched tightly and her face as red as her robes. "A blood oath you took, so your blood should be enough." Yet another ward was activated and left his form completely paralysed. Seeing as no undead could approach him due to the wards, she'd have to do the honours herself. Grabbing a dagger, she stepped up to him and pulled back one of his sleeves. Big sleeves, too, not to mention all that hair. It kept getting in her way, annoyingly enough, so she grabbed a good amount of it and cut it off. Then she sliced open his skin and collected his blood in a tiny vial. When she looked up, it was to a face of pure rage. She was taken aback, at first, but quickly recovered when she realised she'd actually managed to make him angry. "Losing a bit of blood makes you angry? Not much of a warrior, let alone a vampire if-"
"You'll pay," he said through gritted teeth, his entire form trembling. Nadir felt her inner bully bloom with sheer delight. "No man touches my hair and lives, you bastard!" Her face fell and she was too shocked by this admission to even think of correcting him on her gender. His murderous aura didn't exactly help matters, and despite him being completely paralysed, she backed off until she stood safely behind a table. She held up a trembling hand, not realising she still held the dagger, and pointed it at him.
"You g-get all w-worked up over y-your h-hair?" She did her best to sound tough and failed badly, especially with how both her legs and voice were trembling. "You're n-nothing but a l-laugh."
"That's not someone trembling from behind a table despite the fact that the one he's insulting is paralysed is in a position to say," he shot back without the slightest trace of hesitation. While the worst of his rage had died down from his face, it was still very visible in his eyes, and that made her tremble even more. "It doesn't matter what you do from now on you will die at my hands." The threat sent a shiver down her spine and made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. How could he remain so eloquent and confident in his current condition? Just how powerful was his master? The dagger fell out of her hand and accidentally stabbed her in the toe. A scream tore from her throat and she jumped around on her good leg with her bleeding foot in her hands, desperately trying to nurse it as she did what looked like a silly dance at the same time. "What are you doing?"
Nadir merely glared at the vampire before hopping out of the room. She chanted the words of a simple teleportation spell that brought her back to her bedroom and her first-aid kit. After much difficult manoeuvring and getting her bedsheets bloodied, she managed to patch her foot up and limp over to her crystal ball. The vampire's threats were empty and soon enough she would know the identity of his master. She sat down, the vial of blood in hand, and began the scrying session.
There were many things in life that Cal'lantar Q'Xorlarrin preferred to avoid. Insect bites, family reunions, dead magic zones... but most of all, Bérénice doing the cooking. Thus he made a point out of getting up before the others so he could prepare all the meals. The samurai wasn't around when he awoke, but that was unsurprising since he usually hunted at night. Besides, vampires were on a strict blood-only diet, so the drow didn't think that his lacking presence was unusual in any sort of way.
He got the bread out and managed to fry some eggs and bacon when he felt something tug at his chest. His breathing hitched and the very reality around him got distorted and blurry. For a moment he couldn't feel the ground beneath him. It passed as quickly as it came, but he was too experienced in the ways of the arcane to not know teleportation when he felt it. In place of the camp where the werecat and half-angel were snoring was a cold, dark room. The darkness he didn't mind as a dark elf his eyes immediately adjusted to heat-sensing infravision but the low temperature coupled with the draft made the room highly inhospitable. His eyes took in the form of a slim male human, dressed in wizard robes and bald. Considering they were so near the borders of Northern Rashemen, it didn't take a genius to understand it was a Red Wizard. So they'd been unable to avoid their notice after all. Bérénice wouldn't be happy about having yet another cabal of evil wizards know about her, which meant more trouble for the rest of them.
"I take it I don't need to explain why you're here," the human male reasoned. Cal'lantar's eyes darted left and right to spot two very large and imposing golems flanking his host. So he'd come prepared. It really was a shame the golem-destroying wand still rested with the werecat. "I would recommend you not try anything funny." Something stirred in the darkness, followed by low mumbling. "My zombies get very excited at the smell of blood."
"So I'm not here for a social call," he said flippantly, earning an open glare from the wizard. It was a shame the drow's only audience were mindless undead, a humourless wizard and two golems. Hence there was a long, heavy silence with the human's face possessing more heat than the rest of the body. "All right, no need to take offence, my lord." Years of living in Waterdeep had taught him the proper terms of address among humans. "I take it you want information, from one wizard to another? If so, the price is-"
"I'm female," the human snapped, cutting the drow short and making him stare in utter silence for a whole five seconds.
"With a face like that?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in clear scepticism. "Unlikely." The human was visibly trembling now, the heat gathering in his head at a rapid speed. Cal'lantar found it most peculiar. Why would a man feel insulted about being called out on his masculinity? Unless he was one of those "woman trapped in a man's body" people?
"You're lucky I want you alive, drow," the man sneered before uttering the incantation of a spell. Cal'lantar recognised it easily enough, but he knew better than to spring into action with two golems looming over him. This human would regret spell-snatching, threatening and attacking him later. They all did.
Water rose from a pool behind him and encased him. A bubble of air covered his head and allowed him to breathe, although he knew it would be for only a limited time. The water took the shape of a ball and floated over to a circle of runes surrounded by four runestones. He noticed the samurai was trapped within a similar structure, and as soon as he was settled in his cage, the water dissipated and he was left to study the inscriptions. Weak though the wizard's undead servants were, he was far from sloppy with the sigils. Not that Cal'lantar would give him the pleasure of letting him know that, of course.
"Now, then, drow," he said while panting, a self-satisfied smirk that disappeared the second the vampire growled at him. Cal'lantar was even less impressed than before, even as the human regained his composure and approached him. "You will stay here until you reveal every little secret to controlling the vampire next to you. Agree to do this, and you shall be free to go once this is all over. Refuse, and you will be left here to starve." He smirked. Cal'lantar was surprised, to say the least, but he masked it behind a fake look of realisation. The human thought the samurai was under his control, not Bérénice's. Clearly he didn't understand the nature of the people he dealt with.
"You will regret this, human," he said with an angry sneer, playing and frightening the human, but also making him believe he had him cornered. No doubt he foolishly believed Bérénice to be some sort of servant. Thayan males had a rather chauvinistic view on women in general, according to the rumours.
"Threaten me all you want," he said to the drow as his knees shook, making his attempt at a tough exterior fail, "but I've got you both captured, and unless you want to stay here as my captives, I suggest you tell me what I want to know." Through some miraculous effort, he managed to straighten and turn around, only to have his momentum ruined when he stumbled in a wire on the floor and limped out of the room on one foot.
Cal'lantar just stared blankly after the man. It would be at least four more hours until Bérénice was awake, and an additional hour or two for the dense woman to even think of looking for him. That meant he had to play along with this idiot of a Red Wizard and the uncooperative vampire that he was trapped with. He sat down and hugged his knees. If he played his cards right, the wizard would hear exactly what he wanted to hear and it would backfire on him badly. It was only a shame he hadn't eaten anything yet. A hungry growl escaped his stomach.
"Not to worry, master," said the samurai across from him, "we will find our way out of here somehow." Cal'lantar's eyes went to the vampire, eyes narrowing. Just barely visible between the strands of hair was a cruel smirk. Apparently he had a very similar plan in mind. Then again, knowing the vampire, it was more likely a plan to land himself freedom and leave the drow behind. He bit back a sigh. It was going to be a long night.