After an uneventful series of watches, the heroes all arise and eat breakfast.
"I'm getting a little tired of just traveling down an underground tunnel," comments Brianna. "I want to see this drow city, even if it is in ruins. How long until we get there? It feels like we've been traveling a month!"
"We have been traveling for a month," replies Tebryn. "Assuming that area with the stream and ponds was Lich's Mire, we should be getting close; that was the last milestone marked on Dorina's map."
"Let's just carry on," says Veracity. "I'll veil us as before, so we can try to get into the city without a fight." She conjures and, as before, Tebryn appears to be a fire giant, Igor a vrock, and the other five look like ogres. As before, Yol appears to be a very beat-up ogre, with dripping blood and a scarred face.
Brianna conjures two phantom steeds, for Hazen and Kress, the slowest marchers, and the group sets off.
Finally, at long last, after ten more miles of trudging, the passage turns a bend and opens up, revealing two massive iron gates twisted off their hinges lying crumpled on the ground. Four hulking figures block the path, their features lost in the shadows cast by burning fires behind them.
As we approach, one of the fire giants spots us and calls out, "Hail!"
"At last!" whispers Veracity, gleefully. Turning to Tebryn, she whispers, "Since they'll assume you are our leader, you do the talking. Diplomacy, right?"
"I'm on it," agrees Tebryn.
Veracity turns to the others. "Let's not make trouble. We went to a lot of trouble to disguise ourselves and get the password. Let my brother talk us though." When the vrock starts to fidget, she looks at him and adds, "... if he can. All right, honey?" Igor calms down.
Tebryn, disguised as the fire giant, pushes his way to the front and approaches the guards, who stand up and look at the party, warily.
"Who goes there?" asks one of the giants.
"It is I, Frontron, returning with my band," responds Tebryn.
"What's the password?"
"Amaze!" responds Tebryn.
The giant nods and eyes the veiled adventurers, his eyes lingering on the "wounded" Yol and on Kress's shining glowstone.
"Ah, yes. Kurgoth has been asking about you. You are to report to him immediately upon your return. He's at headquarters. Hmm. If you don't mind my asking, what happened to your munchkins? And what's with that white light?"
"Oh, yes," says Tebryn. "We ran into a band of fleeing drow. They fought us. We beat them, of course, but our goblins were all killed. We got the light from the dead drow."
"Very well. Carry on," says the giant. All four giants step aside and the veiled party marches on past them into a huge cavern, with Igor grunting like an ogre the whole time. Since he is disguised as a vrock, the giants look at him quizzically, but, after all, since nobody can understand the chaotic behavior of a demon, they just shrug.
Dust and smoke hang heavily in the air. For brief moments, the clouds part, permitting the group to see what lies within the cavern. The cavern is enormous, and is alight with fire. Immediately in front lies an extensive field of fungus and a paved road leading into the wreckage of Maerimydra.
Campfires are scattered here and there through the whole cavern. Many of them seem concentrated around a large oval structure, about half a mile away.
To the left, many larger fires are clustered around a towering fortress of dark elegance. The castle arises from a steep plateau in swooping ramps and great landings. Bridges connect the main tower to other structures built into the massive stalactites that hang down from the ceiling. The whole structure dances with faerie fire in hues of green, blue, and violet.
Opposite the castle, to the right, stands a squat building that resembles a gigantic spider. It is lit by softly glowing globes of magical light, and appears to be heavily damaged.
Near the road, in front of the gate, figures move around a camp, or bivouac, with a large smoky fire.
Far above, the ceiling is shrouded in smoke. It seems that fires burn within the clouds, as they are occasionally lit from within by flashes of lurid red light. After such flashes, thick clouds of black smoke descend to blot out the city.
As the whole party stands, just inside the gate, staring at the spectacle before them, Tebryn rouses himself. "Come along, band," he says. "Kurgoth expects us." He marches down the road towards the city, followed by the rest of his companions.
The bivouac near the road has eleven ordinary goblins, six ordinary ogres, two ogre magi, and an ogre champion. They pay little heed to the disguised party passing them on the road.
Tebryn leads the group into the ruined city and veers off towards the left. The streets are about fifty feet wide and are mostly clear. The blocks of buildings are a mix of standing, but damaged, structures, and mere shells and collapsed ruins. The unburied bodies of drow and goblins lie everywhere, and the stench of death is heavy. Yol breathes it in with delight. Personal belongings lie scattered, broken and ruined.
Finally, up ahead and to the left, the party spies what appears to have been a large inn. The upper floors have been destroyed by fire, but the first floor seems intact. The door is closed.
Tebryn stops. "Wait," he says. "We are looking for a place to camp, and for allies, but that building might be too obvious. And if there are people inside, crashing in as ogres will not give a good first impression! We'll check it out tomorrow. Let's find another hidey-hole, camp, and make plans."
Tebryn looks around, and leads the party into the center of an adjacent block of buildings. Without difficulty, the adventurers find a basement to hide in, and soon, all are safely concealed.
When all are settled, Tebryn looks at his companions. "Pretty grim out there. What do you think?"
"It's as we expected - a war zone," says Brianna. She ponders for a while. "I believe we are beneath the land known as 'Shadowdale', to the surface folk. 'The region under shadow' it was called, during the two centuries when drow from Maerimydra ruled the surface lands, and hence its current name. Five hundred years ago, the humans regained control, and the drow of this city have been unknown - although other drow have been moving into Cormanthyr." She sighs. "But, that's ancient history, now - and the fortunes of the drow of Maerimydra have clearly changed for the worse!"
"Five hundred years is but a blink of the eye in the history of the drow race," says Yol. "But in the end, all will fall into death and destruction, as we see here." She inhales deeply and lets her breath out slowly. "The scent of death is ... relaxing."
Igor rolls his eyes. "Trust you to look at things from the dark side, Yol. Let's think about the current situation, rather than brooding on the past - or an inevitable future of ruin. What are we going to do, now that we're here?"
"The streets were wide," says Veracity. "I think if we want to sneak around within this city, we'd be easy to spot, on the streets. But, all these blocks of ruins...shouldn't be hard to find cover and hide!"
"We didn't have much trouble wandering around as ogres and fire giants," says Igor. "And, all the fires make it seem about as bright as moonlight out there. I don't think we even need our glow gems. Why not just wander around veiled as we are? Or, for that matter, why not just fly around?"
"Not all of us fly," says Brianna. "Besides, with all those clouds of smoke up there, wouldn't it be hard to see? Anyway, it depends what we're trying to do here, and how we're going to do it. I'd like to find some allies. At least, some non-hostile sources of information. That's my forté: making friends!" She grins.
"I agree," says Veracity. "If we march around as giants and ogres, Irae's forces will attack us, no remaining drow in the city will willingly talk to us, and we're not even safe from Kurgoth's forces. Surely he'll hear that we've returned and wonder why we didn't check in with him? I think we should veil ourselves as refugee drow, so as not to immediately spook any surviving drow. We'll just have to avoid - or fight - Irae's or Kurgoth's soldiers, if they confront us."
"I also agree," says Tebryn. "Information is good, and we should try to find out the general situation with both armies, if possible, before masquerading as members of either group. As a start, let's check out that inn we spotted, over in the next block. It looked fairly intact, and just might contain potential allies."
"Fine," agrees Igor. "We veil as drow tomorrow and check out the inn first thing in the morning. For tonight, keep our usual watches?"
All agree, and the party passes the night unmolested.
|Copyright © 2004 by Brianna Sollandry <brianna at hambo dot com>
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu
R'lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn.