[Note: Ardarvia and her mythos are the product of collective /tg/ creation.

She is a homebrew deity designed to be accommodated into various settings. Summary: Ardarvia, the Iron Maiden, is a Lawful Good goddess. Her domains: Bondage, Glory, Good, Law, Nobility. Her portfolio: Bondage, discipline, love, and punishment. Favoured Weapon: Whip(and variants). Holy Symbol: Stylized iron maiden coffin. More information can be found here: http://1d4chan.org/wiki/Ardarvia. These are simply Ardarvia-based stories written by one person out of the many who have contributed to her lore.]

Ardarvian Tangent Trilogy
By ‘Farseer Miriel’

A Goddess Rejected She came among them like a goddess, eyes alight with passionate zeal. She spoke, and spoke, while they gazed upon her in the garb of her new faith. There were five of them left. Only five, where there had once been twenty. It had taken so long... so much fear, so much careful conversation to find others like them. There is no room for error among the drow. They'd had to be so careful. But in the end, they'd managed to leave together, making their way through winding cavernous tunnels. Out of the Underdark. Into freedom. Never again, they'd sworn, would they suffer like that. Never again would they endure misery at the hands of someone sublimely convinced of her divine right to punish them. And then... and then there was her. She'd come among them like a goddess... but it was a goddess they already knew far too well. She carried a whip. Each and every one of the five remembered torments beneath the whips of priestesses. And now this woman, this stranger, this drow priestess with the effrontery to claim she was different... she was telling them that suffering was right, and good, and that they should submit. At last, one of them dared to speak. "The joys of submission? We have tasted such 'joys' before. Without soldiers to hold and bind us, you will not repeat those upon us." Another drew himself up, a scornful light in his crimson eyes. "You offer us the chance to be punished. If I wanted that, I'd go home. And 'redemption'? By what authority can you possibly offer us that?" "The love of Ardarvia -" Her entreaties were cut off by bitter, derisive laughter. "We will not be your toys, priestess," one of them growled. "We will never again belong to another." She heard their whispers, and felt the first thread of alarm creep along her spine.

"- what if there are others? If she calls her allies down on us -" "- you know we can't let her bear witness. It would doom us all." With that, one of the drow warriors drew his sword. She held her place, but some strange panic rushed through her learned serenity. How would she lead them to Ardarvia if they killed her? How could she show them any better way, if even her death did not sate their anger? And then he was there, striking viciously with the flat of his sword, again and again across her body, and little gasps escaped her as she fell to the ground. He stood over her, contempt etched into his features. "If you try to follow us, I'll make you wish I'd killed you now. Get out of here!" He kicked her, and she rose stiffly, staggering from their camp. "...Why didn't you kill her?" "We said we wanted to be different. We said there had to be a better way." He sighed wearily, running one hand through his hair. "We'd best keep moving. There might be more of them." If there was a better way, it was not going to be easy to find. The five began to gather their belongings. Time to go. Time to move on. Maybe there would be something better soon. There had to be. That hope was all that kept them going. The renegade drow warriors set off into the night, and a priestess of Ardarvia wept silently for what she had failed to give them. *** The Thief and the Temple Only a fool steals from a temple, for it is unwise to anger the gods. This widely-known saying, alas, had been utterly disregarded by Brinna, until now. The tiefling had always thought none could catch her at her thefts; it was a point of pride, the only such point she had left. And so, it had come as a complete surprise to be suddenly immobilised while in the process of pilfering tokens from the temple of Ardarvia. She struggled, but there was no way out; she was utterly helpless. Not even her tail could move in this strange and terrifyingly complete captivity. If she could have, she would have whimpered aloud in terror. Would they torture her, she wondered, or simply kill her and toss her body out on the street?

Some sound must have escaped, for she felt the binding substance being cut away, freeing much of her face. She could hear more clearly, now, and her mouth was exposed, but she still couldn't see. "There, now," a remarkably warm voice told her. "Be at ease, young one. Just tell me why you came here." Brinna squirmed. She musn't tell, she musn't - and then she could see again, could see the concerned and friendly face in front of her own. "I... I didn't want to," she managed, shakily. "He made me!" The faintest hint of anger touched the serene face before her for a moment. "Who has forced you to do this?" "Rames de Golblum," Brinna whispered, shivering at the thought of what would happen if the cold-eyed lordling ever discovered she'd said his name. "He made me sign something, a few years back, in exchange for paying for a healer for my mother. I don't know what was on it - I couldn't even read then. But... now if he says something, I have to do it. Or it hurts. Bad." The bindings holding her dissolved. Brinna staggered a little, trying to keep her balance. The priestess steadied her with gentle hands. "We will investigate this, young one. But I must ask you not to leave this room. Food will be brought for you, but you are not to try to leave." Brinna nodded slowly. "I understand." With that, she was left alone. The tiefling poked idly at the door, looking shocked when it opened. They hadn't locked her in. She'd tried to steal from them, but they hadn't locked her in. She peeked out gingerly, and realised that a single swift run might take her out of here easily enough. She could escape. What could possibly keep her here? It wasn't even as though she'd made any promises. All she'd said was that she understood what was being said to her. She could leave, right now. Brinna reached out slowly, fingers brushing the door. There was nothing to keep her here. ...But they'd not harmed her, and the priestess had implied some kind of freedom for her. If they weren't holding her against her will, all that kept her here... was her own choice. Heart pounding madly, scarcely able to believe she was ignoring this chance to get loose, she closed the door, and sat down on a bench in the corner of the room. When was the last time she'd gone or stayed somewhere simply because she chose to? Brinna could barely remember.

She must have slept at some point, for she woke on the floor, being gently shaken by the same gentle-faced priestess as before. "I have good news," the priestess told her, smiling. "We found your contract, and persuaded Golblum to void it. You are your own person again." Brinna's head spun with shock. "...Persuaded? How?" "We have our ways." Another smile accompanied this. She had no idea just how they'd managed to arrange these things so quickly, but wasn't about to question a miracle. "Thank you!" "There is still one matter. You came here for theft. There must be consequences." "I..." Brinna looked up at her, remembering the rumours she'd heard about followers of Ardarvia. "Am I going to have to serve people here or something?" "Perhaps. First, you will tell me about your time serving Golblum." And so she did. At first, it was easy to maintain her usual bravado, but soon, it fell apart, and she found tears running down her face as she recalled the constant powerlessness, the helplessness without hope of change. The priestess held her close, embracing her as her own mother would have, murmuring comforting words. When her tale was ended, she felt drained, but strangely lighter, as though she had discarded some great burden. Of all the things Brinna might have imagined for her punishment, this was not one of them. An earnest young man with blue eyes stood beside the priestess. "This is Gellen. He is a novice amongst us." "And... he's going to be in charge of me?" The priestess smiled. "No, dear. You are going to be in charge of him." "What?" Brinna stared disbelievingly. "You will go out into the town and do as you will, but Gellen will accompany you and follow your commands." Brinna shook her head a little. This was... insane. "For how long?" "One week." With that, the priestess ushered them out.

"C- come on, then," Brinna said hesitantly, and felt some strange sensation in her stomach as Gellen nodded and complied immediately, following her away from the temple. She looked sidelong at him. "So you have to do anything I say? Even if I ordered you to, say... take apples from that vendor's cart?" "Yes, lady." "But you could get caught and get into trouble." She stared at him, seeing only sincerity in those wide blue eyes. "I would be fulfilling your wish, lady." "...Just come on." She marched off back to the meagre room she'd rented on the few coins Golblum had ever permitted her, Gellen trailing behind her like a puppy. She spent the first night ordering Gellen into inane actions, like hopping around on one leg, or trying to walk on his hands. It rapidly lost its allure, however, when she saw that no matter how absurd the order, he would obey it without a single word of complaint or reproach. That contented look on his face never wavered. He helped her serenely for all of the next day, doing menial tasks to earn even a little money. By nightfall, his tranquility was beginning to irritate her. "Do you even have feelings?" "Yes, lady," he said calmly. "You... you're tricking me, or something. No one could seriously want to do this all the time. Stop tricking me!" Her surge of anger was a surprise even to her, and as she lashed out at him, she had the savage pleasure of seeing his eyes widen in shock for just a moment. And then her flailing blows missed, one striking the floor, the pain shocking her back to her senses. "Are you... are you all right?" "Yes, lady." Gellen gave her another of his calm smiles. At last, some strange pained humour crept into his voice. "You never learned how to punch well. I'm fine." There was a moment of silence, before she was laughing and crying at the same time, and hearing Gellen laugh with her. "I'm sorry," she said at last. "I shouldn't have done that." "You were given the right, lady." "Brinna. Please." She looked at him. "Not 'lady.' Use my name? Please?" "All right... Brinna."

It was somewhat of a relief to her, to hear him using her name throughout the next day. He seemed to relax, revealing a little more of himself, beyond pure Ardarvian calm. He told jokes, and listened when she confided in him, and through it all, never stopped helping her, never ceased to do as she said. That night, she found herself feeling hesitant. Tail curling in embarrassment, she asked, "Gellen? Do you think you could... sleep beside me? Just for tonight?" "Gladly." Her face flushed a little and she stared at the floor, though a smile forced its way onto her lips. "All right." At first, it was awkward. And then his arms settled around her a little more securely, and she found herself relaxing, feeling warm and cared for in a way usually far beyond her imagination. She slept well, that night, and no nightmares troubled her. The next night was not nearly so platonic. Nor were those that followed, though Brinna found herself with a strange dilemma. She did enjoy regaining some kind of control after having lost it for so long, but she was also inexplicably relieved that Gellen would be gone at the end of the week. Maintaining a life like this, she was realising, would bother her too much. When the last day came, she returned to the temple. "I think I'll miss you," she told Gellen, almost shyly, and was surprised by an entirely uncommanded hug. As the priestess arrived, Gellen returned to his usual serene expression. "Welcome back." The priestess smiled at them both. "Has your week been a good one?" "Yes." Brinna fidgeted. "What happens now?" "Now you choose your own way, dear," the priestess told her, eyes crinkling a little at the corners with her smile. "Everything that follows is your own choice." Brinna nodded slowly. "I... don't think the way you live would be right for me. I think I should go, and see what is right for me." There was a nod. "I wish you well in your exploration, dear. Ardarvia's blessings upon you." Brinna found herself being hugged again, enveloped in warmth and affection. And then she was released, and turned to walk away, smiling a little. Maybe it wasn't for her, but it had helped her see things in a new way. And that, the happy tiefling decided, was a good step toward choosing whatever life she wanted.

*** Old Faces, New Lives There were some forms of suffering a servant of Ardarvia embraced willingly. Being cold, wet, and hungry wasn't one of them. Lady Melisse soothed her horse, sighing. The rain had got inside her armour. It now chilled her most unpleasantly. Worse, her horse needed attention, soon. She could endure her own troubles, but her horse was a responsibility upon her, and needed to be treated well. She was alone, now; her companions were shepherding a cluster of freed slaves back to their home, after dealing with the man responsible. Melisse, however, needed to continue, to deliver what had been entrusted to her. She smiled fondly at the thought of her usual companions. They were like her, it seemed; easily distracted by the need to ease suffering. As far as reasons for delay went, it was a good one. She stretched a little, and smiled as she glimpsed light through the trees. There was something ahead. Hopefully it was a place where she could get her horse seen to, and get some rest herself. The building, she noted as she rode slowly down the hill, looked like it had once been a farmhouse, and indeed there were still fields close at hand, but the entire area seemed to have been fortified; the walls were taller and stronger than those usually used just to keep wild beasts from the crops, and the farmhouse appeared to have been expanded by someone disdainful of its original boundaries. The new form of the building seemed as though it could house at least twenty people in the altered section alone, and perhaps ten in the rest. Lady Melisse frowned thoughtfully. An inn, perhaps? Or... a barracks? Sharolvir looked up, staring out the narrow window. The lean drow warrior frowned. Someone was coming. A rider on a white horse. From what he could see with the cloak pulled around them so close, they wore full armour beneath. Something of the old wariness crept back into his eyes. Rhyldiirn had to be told. Setting down his whetstone and the knife he'd been sharpening, he hurried away from the window. Lady Melisse dismounted as she drew closer, leading her horse to the gate. Before she could even call out, the door opened. She blinked, dark eyes widening in surprise. The apparent greeter was a male drow in very plain clothing... but she could see chainmail beneath, and the outlines of barely-hidden knives. She inclined her head. "My apologies if my arrival has disturbed you. The night is an unpleasant one, and I had wondered if I might find shelter here." There was a pause. "I can pay, at need."

The drow gave her a thin smile. "Welcome, then, Lady...?" "Melisse." She did not add further titles. She disliked even the slightest feeling of deception, but it was not deception to remain silent on matters not asked of her. One look at her weary horse convinced her she was doing the right thing. "I shall have someone look after your horse." The drow whistled sharply, and a thin human boy with a mop of tangled brown curls hurried from the house. "See to the horse, Andin." "Right away." Melisse watched as the boy nodded sharply and hurried over, taking charge of the horse with gentle hands and low reassurances. "He stands on feet if he's not watched closely," she advised. The drow beckoned her into the house as the boy led the horse off to one side, into what from this angle Melisse could recognise as a rudimentary stable. "Who is the boy?" Melisse asked curiously. She gave a slight, rueful smile. "Of a certainty he cannot be your son..." The drow chuckled quietly. "No, indeed. His parents work the fields here." Melisse looked sidelong at him. If this drow was forcing humans to work for him... She shook the speculation away rapidly. It was unworthy of her to think such things with no proof. She was to be accepting and willing to extend faith to others; she felt a little ashamed that the thought had crossed her mind. There were two other male drow sitting around the table in the first room. They appeared to be playing some sort of board game, laughing quietly as they moved their pieces in response to opposing moves. "I am Rhyldiirn," the first drow said. "These two sava-playing idlers are Tebantar and Tathal." He motioned to each as he gave their names. "Is this, then, an inn?" Melisse asked. "Not as such. We take in travellers every so often, but it's hardly the focus of our lives." Rhyldiirn's voice, still softly accented with the hint of his Underdark origins, was smooth, sounding educated and just a little knowing as he explained. "You are fortunate that we do have room and food to spare just now." "I am grateful," she agreed, nodding. "I do not think I could have travelled much further tonight." "Then you'll sleep soundly, and be on your way in the morning." He actually grinned, teeth very white against his skin. "With a fuller stomach... and a lighter purse."

The other two drow laughed at this, turning a little to watch Melisse - though one of them snuck one of his sava pieces into a more advantageous position while the other was diverted. "This way, please." Rhyldiirn gestured for Melisse to follow him. Behind them, an argument was breaking out. Tebantar's memory regarding the positions of the pieces, it seemed, was more acute than Tathal had thought. Melisse glanced back before leaving the room, but continued once she felt reassured that neither seemed about to draw a weapon over the matter. "I hope you are a sound sleeper," Rhyldiirn noted. "I should not like for you to be disturbed." "Are there many disturbances here?" Melisse enquired. "Far too many." Rhyldiirn gave an odd, amused little grimace. "If you hear anything in the night, I must ask you to stay in your room. Rushing forth would not be helpful for anyone." Rather than agree, and be held to her word without sufficient knowledge, Melisse asked, "Are there many of you here?" Rhyldiirn looked over at her. "That would depend what you class as 'many.' Do you mean to ask how many drow there are here, or just how many people live here altogether?" "...The latter, I think." Melisse had concluded that the former might be a pricklier subject. "Enough to defend ourselves, enough for company, yet few enough to have space to ourselves." The dark-haired woman stifled a sigh. How could she have forgotten how evasive drow tended to be? "Here." The room was small, and quite plain, but it was very clean, and the bed looked very welcoming for anyone as tired as Melisse. "I can have water heated, if you wish to wash yourself before you sleep..." "That would be perfect. Thank you." Melisse felt a sudden surge of happiness at the thought of a chance to wash in actual warm water again. Rhyldiirn nodded to her with an enigmatic smile, and left her to her room. The water, when it came, was brought by a tiefling woman with red-tinged skin. She poured it into a small, round tub, steam rising around her as the water filled the tub. "They said your name was Melisse," the tiefling said over her shoulder. "I'm Brinna. Do you need any help getting that armour off?" "Yes, thank you." Melisse smiled a little as the tiefling's deft fingers unfastened her armour, setting it aside carefully. Soon, she was naked save for her holy symbol. Brinna reached out, taking it in her hand. "You're Ardarvian," she observed.

"I am, yes." Brinna gave her a quick smile. "A priestess of Ardarvia helped me out a great deal, once. I wouldn't be who I am today without her. But... you should probably not talk about it around the others. They don't so much like talk of Ardarvia much, here. They try to discourage anyone preaching within our walls, no matter their faith." "I'll keep that in mind," Melisse promised. She stepped into the tub and knelt, the water rising up to ripple around her thighs. "Here." Brinna picked up a washcloth and came over. "I can help," she offered again, dipping the cloth in the water. As Melisse nodded, she set aside her own clothing, not wanting it to get wet, and began to wash the back of this guest. The tiefling looked with a hint of admiring envy at the tightly-muscled human woman. She'd never been able to reach that sort of fitness level. The cloth slid over soft, bronze-tinted skin, washing away the dirt and muck of the road. Melisse sighed in quiet relaxation as Brinna continued to wash her thoroughly, warm hands guiding the washcloth over her. And then, for the most part, she was clean, and the tiefling was combing the knots from her dark hair, before pouring the remaining water left in the bucket carefully over her head, rinsing the dust from her hair even as the sodden locks clung to her back. As Melisse stepped out and was dried, she gave a smile of dreamy contentment. "Thank you." "I owe a lot to those who follow Ardarvia," Brinna said simply. "This is just my way of showing it." They dressed without haste, before Brinna turned and headed for the door. "I'll bring you something to eat before you sleep," she promised. Melisse was just settling down on her bed when Brinna returned, carrying a tray of bread, cheese and fruit. "Thank you, that should help," she said warmly. Brinna smiled a little, giving Melisse the tray. Her smile dropped a little as she heard a thin little voice in the corridor. The figure that toddled in was tiny, rubbing her eyes sleepily. A hole had been cut in her trousers for her tail, and a pair of horns gleamed amid her hair... but the hair in question was short, fine, and silvery-white, her ears were pointed, and her skin was very dark. The toddler looked up at them with a woebegone expression. "Mama?" Brinna sighed, but had to smile as she picked up her daughter. "You shouldn't be out of bed, Baena." "Want a story," the little half-drow informed her with a pout. Melisse couldn't restrain her smile. "And who is this little charmer?"

"My daughter, Baena. Her father is Rhyldiirn." "Well, Baena, perhaps I could tell you a story, so that your mother can finish the things she is no doubt busy with." "Yes!" Baena beamed at her, smile wide and radiant. "Come here, then." As Brinna set the child down, Baena hurried over to Melisse. "Yes, up here. Sit beside me, and I'll give you a story while I eat." Brinna gave her a grateful smile and slipped from the room. Melisse sorted through her list of potential stories, mentally editing them. It would do no good if this little girl repeated stories of Ardarvia to her father, revealing someone had indeed been preaching here. At last, Melisse found what she wanted. "Once, Baena, there was an old man with a young daughter." "Was she pretty?" "Yes, she was very pretty. And she had white hair just like yours." Melisse watched the little girl beam at this. "But they were poor, and this made them sad. But one day, the man's daughter -" "What was her name?" "Her name was... Milla." This apparently satisfied the grave-faced audience of one. "One day, Milla heard that there was a vampire up in a castle not too far away, and that he was stealing girls away. She decided to see what she could do to stop this." Melisse paused to eat a little more, then continued. "She found out when he would next send for some girls, and crept into the cart as it went around. Along with three other girls, she was taken up to the castle, and locked in a cage." "Was it a big cage?" "Yes, very big. Now, Milla waited for the vampire to come down and look at them, and while the other girls hid in a corner, she asked him why he was doing this. He said it was to have company, so she asked why he wouldn't just invite people there, instead of stealing people who didn't want to come to him. He laughed at her then, and asked who would want to stay with him. 'I would,' she said. 'Let the others go and I'll stay with you.' He thought about this for a while, and even left them in the cage for another day, but when she still said, the next night, that she'd stay..." "He let them go!"

"Yes, he did." Melisse smiled. "He sent all those girls safely back to their families, and Milla stayed with him and kept him company, and from then on, the only ones who came to that castle were people who wanted to." "I like her," Baena said decidedly. "She'd be glad to hear that." Melisse looked up as Brinna returned. "I think it's time for you to go back to bed, little one." Baena looked a little sulky, but returned to her mother, waving goodbye over her shoulder as she was carried away to sleep. Melisse smiled and finished her meal. She remembered being told a version of that story herself, when she was young, and it had immediately made her want to be a hero of that kind. Service to Ardarvia had been just what she'd dreamed of. Setting the tray aside, she lay down, drifting off to sleep. Lady Melisse rose in the morning, her night having been mercifully free from disturbances. When she went downstairs, there was breakfast waiting for her. Rhyldiirn was sitting at the table, already eating. "Did you sleep well, Ardarvian?" he asked pleasantly. "I... Yes. Thank you." Hesitantly, she sat down and sampled the food. "You needn't look so worried. We here have learned since our unfortunate introduction to it that Ardarvia isn't about to snare us all into slavery." He gave a mirthless little smile. "I don't let anyone preach here. It saves disagreements from breaking out. But that doesn't stop me from wishing you well on your journey." "Thank you." Really, she wished she was better able to control her face and hide the surprise she felt. "Your horse will be ready for you when you want to set out." The drow stretched a little. "We've a good life here," he mused. "We look after our own, and that's enough for us." "I wish you and your home good fortune, then." She was able to be completely sincere in saying it. They were happy and harming none; it was as good a life as any. When she rode off, later that morning, she looked back only once, to wave back to two figures at an upstairs window - Brinna and her child. The sun was shining. The rest of the journey would be a good one.