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Nala considers Tralkor's suggestion. "Having someone on the watch outside would be a huge benefit. And you are probably the only one who can get away with it." The idea of splitting everyone in so many directions is a bit disconcerting to her, but not as much as it might have been under different circumstances.
"If we've got the plan all set, I recommend that we get a full night's sleep."
Very awesome avatar by Derjuin.
You have a busy time ahead, so indeed a good night's rest is a good idea. However, Cor first invites you to dinner downstairs. He has not been able to do much to thank you and he feels the least he can do for now is offer you a nice meal and a drink or two. Even adventurers need to eat and the meal goes down well. The innkeeper is not only friendly, but also a decent cook. The next morning Cor performs his little ritual with you again and then prays for his spells, while Vrishchika prepares her arsenal for the day.
I will carry on IC in 24 hours (unless something comes up, of course). Anything you want to do before Vrish leaves to the wizards I'd like to hear before then, if possible.
After breakfast, Vrishchika leaves to visit the wizards.
Vrishchika (I am spoilering this for those that prefer not to know, nothing secretive going on here):
I am assuming you might want to change your spells studied and perhaps the spirit you have bound to you. That's ok, let me know in your next post.
As you arrive in the same building where you left yesterday, the old man is already waiting for you. "Good morning. Let's go, they are already expecting you." He takes you past the room you were interviewed yesterday through a hallway that ends in a stairway that heads down. Every few meters down you see a corridor connecting to the stairs, but you continue on untill you are four floors below ground level. In here the darkness is also broken by small magical lights. Most of them are yellow or white-ish, so you can see well and discern colors, but some are red, purple or green. Basic, but well-executed stonework decorations depicting mostly spider related motifs give this underground building a very distinctive atmosphere. As you walk, the old man gives you some advice: "So...try to be respectful and understanding. Only speak when spoken to and asked to. And do yourself a favour...don't lie. They see right through it." He then shrugs and winks at you: "Don't worry, you'll be fine. The ladies are stern and demanding, but also honest and trustworthy."
As you exit the spiraling staircase you start to smell the faint odour of incense. The old man takes you to the end of the 30 ft long corridor and puts his hand on the handle of the door you find there. "In you go. I am not allowed in there. Females only..." He seems to find that a very normal thing. "I'll be right here when you are done, to escort you to our library, where you can scribe your spells. Bye!" He knocks on the door and opens it in such a manner that the door conceals him from the people inside.
Inside you see a 20 ft by 30 ft room with just one large table in the middle and a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Two drow ladies clad in ceremonial spider-themed dresses sit at the table and one stands right next to the door. They look friendly enough, and it seems they are smiling. Well, as far as people that think they are very important smile. The lady at the door gestures, indicating you should come in. When you do so, she casts a spell, which you identify as Tongues and softly touches your shoulder. "Enter, Vrishchika. In this room we only speak in our sacred tongue, so we kindly ask you to do so as well." She turns and heads to the table. You see there is one seat free for you. "Do come in and have a seat. Are you feeling well?"
Nala is up early in the morning, sitting quietly in the room, performing routine maintenance on her weapons and other supplies. When Vrish goes to leave she wishes her luck and adds a well-meant warning to "Be careful what you say and do. We don't know the customs of this place."
To Tralkor she says, "I'll come with you outside to learn where you're making camp, in case one of us has to find you later on."
Very awesome avatar by Derjuin.
Vris bows her head to the smiling ladies, and tries her hand at their language. "Thank you; I am well today." Heeding the older drow's advice, she decides not to engage them in conversation right away. Instead, she sits where instructed and folds her hands over her lap.
The lady smirks. "Oh, lighten up, young lady. There are no men around, it's just us. I guess the old fool scared you. They don't know any better." She smiles and slides a small cup with a warm beverage in it towards you. Smells like tea, sort of. "We prefer to keep this meeting light-hearted and informal."
One of the other ladies joins her in her smirks and smiles, while the third seems more weary and focused. The latter now takes over the conversation: "All fine and well, but we do have a purpose here." She flips over a sheet of parchment and glances at it while she continues. "We will not beat around the bush and we would appreciate if you would not either." She offers you a short but intense stare before she carries on. "Your arcane writings are peculiar. It differs from most of the...let's say dialects we have in our library. We have done some research this night and have a rough idea where it might come from, and we would like to verify our findings."
There is a short pause as she is perhaps pondering on how to formulate the next bit. As soon as it appears she has decided, she speaks again: "By who, and more importantly, where were you taught in the arcane ways?" When the stern lady finishes her question, you glance over at the other two ladies who had just been smiling, but now they are staring at you intently. Perhaps they are currently under the influence of divination magic, there is this off-the-worldly gaze in their eyes.
"My home is far away," she begins, reaching for the tea. Instead of drinking it, she simply holds it. "Somewhere to the East, I think. I've had a rough time keeping track...anyway, I learned my magic in a very small village. The curriculum was pretty standard, near as I could tell. In a way, my great grandmother helped me learn more exotic magic than what was taught. She and I share something of a special bond...our blood isn't the same as the rest of our family's." She contemplates how best to word the next part of her explanation, glancing into the eyes of the two ladies that are probably concentrating on a spell. "She - after her death, through passed-down information - taught me how to communicate with pretty peculiar beings." She holds the tea up, closer to her face, and looks over the rim to the lady who appears to be in charge.
"Dead gods," she finishes, taking a small sip and gauging the ladies' reaction to her revelation.
The lady raises and eyebrow at your last comment and glances at the others. They shrug a little and you can notice a faint hint of confusion on their faces. She coughs and regains her focus: "Right, well, uhm...Let us not go into that. With us being loyal servants and priestesses of the Godess, this is an avenue best left unexplored for now." She smiles a little bit trying to comfort you. "I guess you could not have known that. Perhaps we have not been entirely open with you in sharing what we know. Maybe, if I told you a bit more, you would better understand why we are sitting here and perhaps be better able to answer us."
The lady straightens the fabric of her dress on her lap as a distraction before she continues. "We have compared your scripts with ancient scripts in our library. Your 'dialect' resembles most that of a group of creatures that left these shores long ago. Now, we have been thinking and came to a few possible theories. Let me share the most exotic and exciting one with you, and see what you think." She takes a small pause, perhaps to allow for the others to intervene should they want to. "You, remember this is a hypothesis, are a human, living overseas with dwarves and the other elves since you settled a fued with the orcs." She takes a moment to gauge the reaction in your eyes. "Now, if that is true, you must know that we do not care for the matters of surface dwellers. We de not favour orcs over humans or dwarves. Also, if that is true, we would like to hear what brings you here and we would like to learn a bit about your lands. Just out of curiosity. If it is not true, we would like to get in touch with whoever taught you your arcane dialect. He or she might be able to help us translate and interpret some scripts."
She tilts her head a bit, like a curious child: "Now, what do you make of this little web we spun?"
As Vrishchika is convening with the ladies and the rest of the team is in the inn, about to head off and install Tralkor somehwere outside you are all surprised by a rumble. Glasses topple and tea cups tingle as you feel the earth shake under your feet for a short moment. Something that appears to be an earthquake rocks the underworld. It lasts only for two or three seconds and the dark elves react with sighs and a few curses as little bits of debris rain down in the cave that is their home, but they carry on with their business...apparently they are used to this.
Nala leaps to her feet, puts her back to the wall and stares upward. Until this very moment, the cave had not felt claustrophobic at all, but now she’s suddenly aware of the tons of rocks suspended above their heads. But the elves don’t seem to react much, so she allows herself to relax. Once the rumbling stops, she steps away from the wall and asks the innkeeper, "What was that?" Must be a common occurrence, for them not to react that much.
Very awesome avatar by Derjuin.
Routinely putting some of the toppled glases and beakers back, the innkeeper replies dryly: "The kobolds. Their mining. Better get used to this if you intend to stay for a while." Cor nods in agreement. "No worries, though. While seriously annoying, nothing has ever really gone wrong as far as I can say."
Right. For as far as Tralkor needed a reason to head outside, a clear one just came rumbling by. He really wasn't comfortable staying in a secluded cavern while humanoid hands were screwing up the delicate balance of nature right above (or below???) him...
Stuff like this was simply asking for trouble to happen. He knew that already when he saw them kobolds when they arrived here. The Elves could remain calm all they wanted, but the hairs in his neck were standing up for a reason.
"Right. Nothing to worry. Good. Good. Sowww... Let's head out, hmmkay? Get some fresh air, look at the sky, you know... Things like that."
"My apologies," she says, crossing her legs. "You are partially correct, though I dislike associating with most humans." Remembering how Nala and some others didn't actually want to kill her on sight or use her as a scapegoat during their voyage, she manages a smile despite difficult memories. "At one point, I probably could have been considered a human, but now there are too many differences. I am atal hakar, blood descendant of a half-fiend." She switches from the Drow language to Infernal when pronouncing the name her ancestor had written in her book.
"I came here primarily to escape persecution because of my ancestry and my ...studies." Unsure if she wants to bring up the subject again, she tries to allude to it without mentioning dead gods directly. "I can only let you know so much about my homeland - I was rather cloistered in my time there, so my viewpoint might be skewed a bit."
The ladies listen to your story and manage to keep a level expression. "Hmm, interesting. So, uhm, your companions..." she motions to one of the other ladies with her hand and the lady produces a piece of paper and slides it over. "Let's see....Nala, and uhm..." she looks up and eyes you somewhat apologetically "this is not what it looks like. This is a small world and we tend to have a very effective administration. You might get the impression that we have been spying on you since you entered, but I can assure you this is not the case." Her behaviour and facial expression do not indicate she is lying.
"Anyway, you were travelling with a group when you entered our city. Are your fellow travellers from the human continent as well?" She slides the piece of paper aside. "And also, I am really wondering how you ended up here, in our hidden city. What business brings you here....we might be able to be of assistance?"
"One of them is also from there. I don't think they can help you with translating anymore than I can, though..." Leaning forward a bit, she kicks her legs before deciding whether or not to reveal their real reasons. "We're actually looking for something. A gemstone. A pretty particular gemstone - well, for all I know, it might not be an actual gem. We were tasked with finding it, and heard from some orcs that it is probably here."
She folds her arms on the table, resting her chin and looking up to the ladies around. "Our...friends, the kobolds, helped us find this place after a little bit of convincing."
The lady listens to your words, raises an eyebrow when you mention one other 'human' and shakes her head when you mention the kobolds. "Friends? Kobolds have only two friends: shiny things and even shinier things." She grins and you hear a small giggle from the other ladies as well. "I am afraid you may have been fooled by either the orcs or the kobolds. If it is gems and stones you seek, it's the kobolds that dig them up."
"Well, we have gems of course, just like anyone else does. What makes you so sure it is in our city?"
Nala, Tralkor and Cor head for the exit tunnel to get some fresh air (in some cases) and escape dungeon-phobia (in others). As you walk the streets you notice some vendors routinely restacking their wares after the shaking of the earth. Otherwise everything seems in order untill you get to the point where you entered the city and wrote your name down. From roughly eighty feet distance you see the guard jumping up and making a gesture and as you approach the dark elf adresses you. "A good day to you." The elf looks a bit nervous and behind him you notice two other guards blocking the way, hands at their swords. "I am sorry to inform you that I can not allow you to leave." Sweat starts to form on his forehead as he ogles Nala's fitness and posture and Tralkor's general hugeness. "Errr...orders from higher up. It seems you drew some attention and, ehhh, well, somone wants to speak with you." He makes an attempt at an apologetic gesture. "If you would be so kind to wait here for an escort to the royal quarters?"
Many, but not all, people would describe this situation as alarming. Given the nervosity of the guard, and it appears that the fingers of the two behind him are somewhat trembling, you might very well be able to force your way outside if you want to. Getting back in might become in issue then, of course. Complying leaves the option to help out the Fey open, but might as well end badly...
Don't accept this as a railroad to go back in. Do whatever you want. Kick some ass and embark upon a new adventure or go back and see what happens. All totally fine with me.
Royal quarters? Alarm bells ring in Nala's head, so long and loud that it takes her a second to sort out what they all mean. Somehow they drew someone's attention, which can't possibly be good in their position, but on the other hand the man is trying to take them to the very place they think they want to go.
Given the nervous shaking of the guards, Nala has little doubt that they could force their way through. But I made a promise that I’d get that gem before the other party. And besides.... No coherent thought follows this, just a strong wave of curiosity. And maybe a little bit of greed, which she quickly suppresses.
Even with her mind already mostly made up, she isn't going to let this guard off so easily. "Drew attention?" she says in a flat, almost nasty tone. "I don't recall breaking any of your laws or causing any kind of disturbance. What kind of attention would merit this interference?"
Very awesome avatar by Derjuin.
The elf is still nervous, now even more so now he knows that you won't give in just like that. "Buhhhh, I, uhhhhh, that is..." He recovers. "I don't know. I am just a guard." He smiles and blushes a bit. "It does not have to be something bad....did you join in some lottery perhaps?"
Grasping at straws, Nala thinks. She barely stifles a snort. "As if I'd waste my money." - And the words 'drew some attention' never have good behind them. - Discomfort and unease building up, she decides to prompt the guard before she loses her nerve. "Enough speculating. I want to see what this is all about. Lead the way."
Very awesome avatar by Derjuin.
While Nala has her conversation with the guards, Tralkor carefully reaches for his club. so near the outside.... it would be nice to breathe fresh air again and see the open sky, and.... wait what did Nala just say?!? ....
With a confused look on his face he slowly lowers his hands again, away from the club. He still trusts Nala's judgement, but sure has some serious doubts about going back into the underground city...
With a deep sigh he takes one last look at the beckoning exit, then turns around, ready to follow Nala and the Elves.
The elf stands erect and salutes. "I am sorry, but it is not my task to guide you." He nudges to some spot behind you. "There they are..." Behind you, you see a formation of four elves cross the bridge. They are well armed and armored, appear quite muscelled and far more trained. One of them seems to be their leader. He acknowledges the elf that stopped you and then adresses you: "Lady Nala, we are here to collect you. As well as an ogre, and a fugutive." He eyes Tralkor and Cor and they seem fairly desperate, both for their own reasons.
"I will offer you one opportunity to follow us. Will you comply? The elf seems relaxed, but his three helpers have their weapons almost drawn. It is close to impossible to read their faces, it it is obvious to you that this is your last choice: Fight now and be free, or go with their flow, whatever that may bring.
Tralkor hestitates. His mind is torn at the moment. His instincts are practically screaming to get his sorry ass to safety, outside this damned cavern, away from the damned Elves... Whenever he taps into reasonable thought though, he knows that this might be the only chance of them getting anywhere near this gem they possibly need to save the Fey back home.
He eyes their new friend; the Elf that was held captive by these other Elves. What would happen to him? He was an escapee, and judging from what they've seen so far, he'd hate to be in his shoes when these rigid dark Elves came up with a fitting punishment for such a crime. How was he holding up?
Finally he looks at Nala, trying to figure out her intentions, she appeared to be descisive in going along with these Elves just a minute ago. Was she that brave, or just naive? He was almost sure of the first one, but was one confident person enough reason to risk his life?
He knew he wasn't going to figure this out in the little amount of time that was granted to them. His hands slowly reach for his weapon and he looks Nala in the eye while raising his shoulders.... "What now?"
As Tralkor slowly brings his hand to his weapon, the guards immediately react. You hear the high-pitched *zing* of blades being unsheathed. The captain raises his hand swiftly, but determined. The guards react by not finishing their move. The tension is so big you could cut it with a knife and eat it with a fork. Cor's shoulders are sagged and he sports a definite defeated look on his face.
"Lady Nala. I repeat. Will. You. Comply?" The captain stares at Nala intently. Something tells you he would much prefer to solve this without a fight for one reason or another.
Seven to three...Tralkor's ready but Cor won't be able to pull his head out of his ribcage in time. We could have run through the first, but now we're stuck between them and four well-armed professionals. The exit's behind us – we turn around and that's it. We're done. We've missed our chance. She hadn't expected the path she had picked to complicate so fast, but it had. All these thoughts take no more than the moment in which Tralkor and the guards have their stand-off.
We can't die here. Just give me a chance to fix this, she begs the others in her mind, knowing even as she did that she will never let those thoughts come to light.
She steps forward. "Lead on, Captain." She tries and fails to keep her voice flat; it comes out tight with suppressed frustration.
Very awesome avatar by Derjuin.
Prepare a level 7 sheet, please. The next time you roll an attack roll, you might need it.
The captain nods and weapons are being sheathed. "Thank you. As a fellow officer I would like to offer you an escort, as opposed to a captive transport. I trust you will keep your men in check." Apparently he regards Nala the captain of this crew. "Please follow me." He leads the way and you are being followed by the guards. You trail back through the city, past the inn you were staying and past some squares until you hit the royal quarters. The guard at the entrance of the royal quarters salutes and lets you pass without further inquiry.
The streets are small here, as well as the buildings, but in the distance you see a grand square and something that might very well be a palace. Sadly, though, the captain leads you into one of the houses almost immediately on your left. Before you enter, the captain advices you: "Please, speak when spoken to. And be polite. It helps." Inside you find one big room with a table with some chairs and then some chairs distributed along the walls. It looks a bit like a waiting room or reception room, and a fairly fancy one at that. It sports nice paintings and there's a cannister with cups made of silver. At the far end is a door. At the table sits a drow lady. She wears an expensive robe and quite some jewelry. She looks a bit bored, or annoyed and lets out a sigh when you enter. The captain bows deeply "Milady," makes a gesture indicating you can proceed and then retreats and closes the door behind him.
The lady rises and greets you: "Welcome, have a seat." She proceeds by pouring each of you a cup of water. "I hope our guards did not unsettle you." She looks at Nala: "Men can be so blunt..." As she starts pouring Tralkor a cup of water she looks at him and shrugs. "Oh, well." She takes the fairly small cup and places the whole water container in front of him. When everybody has a drink, she seats herself and says: "Let's get to business."
"You are here to find a gemstone. The gemstone is indeed in our possession. It is owned by our princess. Therefore, by definition, you can not have it." She looks resolute, but also sports a small smile. "However, you seek it not for yourself. You seek it for the Feykind." How she knows this is beyond you. Perhaps magic. Or maybe Vrish....would she have? Also, she speaks with solid authority and makes statements. Never you get the feeling she is asking asking for your opinion, or confirmation from your side. "It happens to be so that we, elves," she eyes Cor, "share an ancient bond with the Feykind. While we differ in many ways, we are not insensitive to their plea."
Undisturbed, she continues. "Since the gemstone has little value to us, we are willing to part with it. We steal these things to punish the kobolds, whose relentless mining is proving a hazard for our city." You recall the earthquake you experienced. "However, we require you to do something for us. We believe that is entirely reasonable. We will ask you to venture on a small quest, for the duration of which we will safeguard the gemstone." She retrieves a small black stone from a pouch and puts it on the table. "We will give you this as a token that upon successful return you will be given the gemstone." She makes a gesture as if dismissing something. "So that we can tell these orcs that are trailing you that we gave the gem to someone else without lying. A technicality." The level of detail to which she is informed is scary.
"Anyway, we need you to retrieve an item that was stolen from us. It has taken quite some divining, but we managed to find out a few weeks ago that indeed it was stolen 320 years ago by a human inhabitant of the city of Pandan, named Seroxx." She ignores your faces as you might be amazed by the prospect of solving an ancient crime. "We can not go to the city of Pandan because a magic curse prevents us from venturing further into the Underdark than this city. We need that item, a crown, to lift that curse. The curse was a good idea back in the days, but it was always intended to be temporary." She eyes you sternly: "How and what is really none of your business, but I will have you know that we were at odds with the other drow hives back then. Long story, but the short of it is we seek to make amends."
She claps in her hands and your hear some noise coming from a door behind her. "Now, this is a dangerous mission, but I believe you are qualified to perform it. Of course, we will offer you some protection for your trip." The door opens and a male drow clad in a loincloth drags in a big box, bows, opens it and leaves. "Here are some items we provide for you to help you on this trip. Should you return successfully, you may keep these items in addition to the gemstone." She stands up and walks to the chest and produces three rings and a set of large boots. She displays the items on the table, not handing them over yet. "For each of you I have a ring. It provides nourishment and removes part of your need to sleep. Getting proper food down there is not easy for earthdwellers and you cannot afford to lower your guard for very long. For the big fellow I have a set of boots. I could hear you and your cooking pot approaching from miles away. It can be very silent down there. You don't want to attract attention." Then she produces two sets of goggles from the box. "For you, lady Nala and Cor, I have these goggles. They allow you to see in the dark. Use light only sparingly and douse it as soon as you might encounter someone. Or thing." She bends down again to get something from the box. A small pearl rests in her hand. "I believe our giant here is a nature priest. This little stone will allow you to cast a spell you have just cast again later on the day. Lovely little thing. And for the lady captain, I have this beauty." She produces a formidably crafted spear. It is made from dark, almost black, wood and has a particularly shiny and sharp tip. "This spear is made from wood of a special tree some elves and fey plant to mark their home. The tip is made from adamantine, which makes it particularly effective against some creatures." She puts the spear on the ground, with the tip pointing upwards. "It has one extra amazing feature. Hold it like this and clearly speak the word 'Home', in any language," when she says the word 'Home' the tip briefly glows in a faint red hue, "and you have marked your home. From that moment on, the spear helps the person wielding it track their steps back to where their home is set." She puts the spear on the table. "Finally, to you, Cor, we'd grant your freedom."
"This is our offer. Do you accept?" You guess you can speak now. Before you sits an important drow lady, dangling a dangerous mission in front of you which allows you to complete your quest for the fey and add items worth thousands of gold pieces to your equipment.
-+1 'homing' (don't bother looking for it, I made it up) adamantine spear. This weapon is a bit too good, but it is to compensate you for having walked about with a crappy weapon all the time
-Goggles of Darkvision 30ft (note: NOT 60ft)
-Ring of sustenance
-Boots of the elvenkind
-Pearl of power 1
-Ring of sustenance
Nala listens quietly, trying to keep her mind from breaking under the strain of all of her preconceptions turning upside-down. They say we can't have the gem on principle – and then offer to give it to us. They lay all our secret bare – all except mine. She feels relief at that. That would have been one step too far for her comfort. Their offer is beyond generous, and all for one quest. Too generous, perhaps. The quest seems simple enough, which is cause enough for alarm. A mysterious curse, a stolen crown, and unknown perpetrators. The lady dark elf may say that the how and why isn't their business, but not knowing can be worse.
"That is a very generous offer, and I thank you for making it," she says slowly, once she is sure they can speak. "We need a minute to think on it." To sort out our thoughts at least.
Turning them down isn't really an option – not once they're in the heart of the city. And Nala doesn't really want to, risks aside. She wouldn't have come to this land at all if the prospect of unknown dangers would make her freeze up. And the offer of equipment and weapons the likes of which she has never seen are only an added bonus to fulfilling the mission that she wasn't going to turn away from.
Convincing Cor wouldn't be tough, she thinks, not with the offer of freedom. Although the crime in question isn't justified from her perspective, it would be impossible to argue that against their royals and army.
But Tralkor...Nala turns to the ogre and asks quietly – the elves can probably hear no matter the tone she uses – "Do you think you can tolerate being underground a little while longer?"
Very awesome avatar by Derjuin.
Tralkor never really reacted to anything that was being said. He simply sat in his chair, which was actually somewhat too small for him to comfortably sit in, while sipping from the pitcher in front of him.
These Elves were even stranger then the image he formed of them so far... How the heck could they know all this, and why this sudden change of events? He was confused...
Luckily the voice of Nala kinda wakes him from his pondering. Go further into the cave... Do some sort of quest for these Elves... Retrieve the gem and their freedom... Almost sounds too good to be true... That last part at least... The caves didn't really sound too appealing to him... But... With a little luck, things wouldn't be so unstable further in. That would make it all alot more bearable.
He takes a look at the items in front of them. Gheh. Free goodies. Nice.
He then turns his head to Nala: "Ah yeh... Sure. I'll be fine, as long as those damn kobolds don't cause any collapses while we're in there. Besides... I have a feeling this is an offer we can't refuse..."