"So, if we are to go after Kurgoth first, what can you tell us about him?" asks Tebryn.
"Not much, really," says Hamadh. "Now that Maerimydra has been crushed, he spends all his time in the coliseum. His army is camped all over the city, and he sends out patrols to check out trouble, but we haven't actually seen him for many days."
"Then, we should wait until tomorrow, when I can veil us to look like members of his army," says Veracity.
"Perhaps," says Tebryn. "Are you interested in joining us on the attack?" he asks Hamadh. The elderly drow shakes his head.
Kress mumbles some words which an unrefined ear might mistake for Drow. Hamadh raises his eyebrows and stares at him. Veracity wheels around and glares at the human.
Turning back to Hamadh, she speaks. "In that case, we'll make our own plans. We'll keep you informed, and you let us know if you learn anything useful." Hamadh nods. "Back to our headquarters, then," says Veracity to her party, and they all rise and follow her back to their own basement.
As soon as they arrive, Veracity stands and faces the group. "Listen to me, honeys" she says, pacing. "Yol, Tebryn, and I are drow. Igor, Hazen, Kress, and Brianna are not. We are in Drowland! My Goddess has sent me here on a mission that is very, very important to me, and I can't afford screw-ups!
"So, I have some ground rules:
"Up until now Tebryn was leading our battle strategy. Now, I want to lead that strategy -- with input from all of you, naturally, Honeys. But, if I say we do reconnaissance rather than attack - then we do reconnaissance. Get it, Honeys? I'm taking the lead here in Drowland. I'm not taking the lead overall, everywhere. But here, in this city, I am queen - in a sense.
"Yol and Tebryn will be considered my equals by Drow native to this city, but non-Drow will not. Non-Drow will be considered 'inferiors,' 'pets,' 'slaves,' 'munchkins,' 'minions,' etc. But - we gotta maintain a certain 'decorum' here. We gotta put on an act. We gotta go along with the native culture and work it to our advantage!
"Brianna, Igor, Kress, and Hazen - let others underestimate you - play dumb-ish and obedient and subservient. It will give us an advantage later on.
"Now, just now, someone was trying to interrupt me and speak Drow. That's not acceptable! When I'm negotiating with the native drow I am not to be interrupted - especially by the non-drow among us. Also, for a non-drow to speak Drow to these people insults them. You just don't understand the nuances of drow culture like we born-drow do! And you are being tactless!
"Yes, even Tebryn is at a bit of a disadvantage compared to Yol and me! Though, since he has spent many years learning our culture, he is much less likely than the rest of you to make mistakes But there are some nuances that might trip even him up.
"So give me input, but don't interrupt me again or otherwise interfere in my talks with the natives. Let me lead in Drowland - Honeys. Or, go your separate way!"
Brianna smiles warmly at her friend. "Darling, I'm with you on this. Notice how I 'broke the ice' with the Maerimydrans when I was veiled, but, as soon as you removed the spell, I went mum and let you take over? You did great!"
Hazen shrugs. "Hey, I'm not easy to underestimate, but I'll try, honey, to look dumb. Strange customs these drow have, as honeybees are sun vermin. And speaking of queen bees, you drow do seem to be led by the ladies, so what you say makes some sense, but only when we're being watched, or think we might be watched. Otherwise Tebryn is the best, after me of course, in the tactics thing. So let's otherwise stick - like honey - to the plan." He looks down and shakes his head, and mutters to himself. "Sticky regurgitated flower dust, indeed..."
Kress sits sullenly, but gives Veracity a grudging nod.
Igor gives Veracity a scowl worthy of Yol. "I will play the role, for now, so the "screw-ups" will not be mine. But you might as well leave the "Honeys" out, if you're going to 'go on a power trip'. They are not sufficient." He turns away in a huff.
"Aww, you're so cute when you're grumpy, Snoockums," taunts Veracity. "Brianna, don't you think Munchypoo is cute when he pouts? Not cute enough perhaps. But it's a good start, Sugarwart!"
Brianna conceals a smile and looks away, shaking her head.
As Igor and Kress talk discontentedly to each other, Tebryn gestures to Hazen, who wanders over to him, and Veracity pulls Yol aside. "Psst, Yol, dear..."
Yol scowls. "It is not necessary to use endearments. Just 'Yol' will do."
"Fine," says Veracity. "Yo! Yol! Could we have a private, little talk, over here in this corner?"
Yol stares at her. "Well... sure, if that's what you want."
"Since we've been here, I can't help but notice the twinkle in your eye," says Veracity
"Well, this is a very wholesome environment," responds Yol.
"This might make a nice summer home for you and winter home for me. After the adventure, we could stay on here a while and help these people reorganize their society - around us!" suggests Veracity.
Yol snorts. "I kinda like it just the way it is. A whole city in ruins, rotting corpses everywhere, the sweet smell of death lingers on everything..." Yol closes her eyes and inhales deeply.
"You could be the Priestess of Death," points out Veracity.
"They already have one of those," says Yol.
Veracity nods."Yeah, but we are getting rid of her! So there will be an opening. I could be Queen and you could be Priestess!"
Yol raises her eyebrows."Hmnnnn?"
"We could each have a nice villa up there on that plateau," continues Veracity. "'Course I couldn't live here all year. I think that would depress Brianna. But it might be nice to live here part of the year. Think about it, Yol!"
Yol nods slowly, "I will. I will think on that."
"Cause we women are on top here!" says Veracity
Yol smiles thinly. "Yes! As it should be!"
Meanwhile, Tebryn had been talking with Hazen. Standing, he calls out. "Everybody. Listen to me. You wanted 'input', sister?"
"All right," continues Tebryn. "We have some ideas."
Veracity stares at Hazen and then looks back at Tebryn. "'We' have ideas, eh, brother?"
"Hey, I'm full of it!" says Hazen, beaming. "Full of ideas, that is. You can count on me: Hazen, the idea man. Er, dwarf. Duergar."
Tebryn conceals a smile. "Right. In any case, we've been thinking. It's time to do a little scouting, I think. Hazen and Igor can both fly and go invisible, using 'natural' abilities or magic items. I think they should fly on over to the coliseum and see what they can find out, before we go over as a group tomorrow."
Igor looks up and smiles. "That sounds like fun!"
Veracity frowns. "Scouting is good, Tebryn, but surely we should send a drow with them. You know. Just in case. Back up, and all that. And besides, in a drow city, they'll need a native guide."
"Oh come on," scoffs Tebryn. "I have faith in the abilities of our rogues..." He stops, as Veracity glares at him. "On the other hand, I, too, have many of those same skills, although I'd need to use my spells to either fly or become invisible. Very well. I will go with them."
Veracity smiles. "Right. Good luck."
Tebryn nods, and he and the other two rogues all become invisible and fly off towards the coliseum.
Brianna comes over and joins Veracity. "What do you say we fix up our room a bit, now that we have some time to relax? It's been about four weeks since we had an actual room to ourselves. Not since we stayed at the Inverted Tower, back in Szith Morcane!"
Veracity smiles at her companion. "You seem happier. Were you getting tired of traveling through the Underdark?"
Brianna grins at her. "Just being with you is good enough for me. But, there was very little change of scenery, down here, and it was getting tedious. Perhaps I'm just too used to the surface. But, isn't it exciting to finally arrive at our destination? I want to see how your quest plays out!"
"So far, so good," says Veracity. "We already have some allies. We'll just have to wait and see if they end up being useful. But, yes... now seems a perfect opportunity for us to fix up our room." She takes Brianna's hand, and the two head off through a door to the other end of the basement. For the next ten or fifteen minutes, the sounds of moving furniture and quiet conversation can be heard. Then, giggles, the sounds of scuffling, and finally, silence. Mostly.
Yol scowls and buries herself in a toxicology book. Kress rolls his eyes, and, shaking his head, attends to sharpening his axes.
Meanwhile, the three rogues fly invisibly towards the coliseum.
"Who's going to see us?" comments Tebryn. "Let's just take the roads. But stay well down! Don't go up towards the cloud of smoke!" And, easily enough, the scouts reach the coliseum without incident, passing several bivouacs of ogres, goblins, and fire giants, completely unobserved.
The coliseum is a large oval building. The stone walls are sixty feet tall and are dotted with windows. As the invisible party flies up to one of the long walls of the oval, they can hear sounds of battle emerging from the interior: the clangs of metal, the roars of angry warriors, the cheering of harsh voices, and a disturbing sound like a blast blown on a gigantic trumpet. Six large double doors are open along this side of the building.
"Stop," says Tebryn and the party hovers, about sixty feet from the outer wall. "Let's fly up and peer in through the windows, first, rather than just going into the doors."
The party flies up to the large window over the doors and floats outside it. Peering in, they see a large public gallery, almost two hundred feet long and forty feet wide, beneath the stands. Flickering continual flame torches illuminate the chamber. Small doors at either end lead to other areas of the lower level of the coliseum and three magnificent stairways lead up to the seating areas above. Several thoroughly drunk goblins lie against the back wall.
"Let's look in all the windows, before we go in," suggests Tebryn. "Let's go left, first."
The rogues fly to the left. At the narrow end of the building, a very large double door is shut, but no windows can be seen. Not until the far side of the building does the party find another window: just one, above two sets of double doors, similar to those on the other side. Through the window, the rogues see another gallery, similar in layout to that on the opposite side, but smaller, containing only a single staircase ascending to the stands. Here, too, the exterior doors are flung wide.
"On to the next window," says Tebryn.
This narrow end of the building is similar in all respects to that on the opposite side. It contains a massive set of double doors, closed, and no windows. But, just round the curve, a set of three windows looks into a nondescript corridor, with a single door visible in the opposite wall.
"OK. Back to where we arrived and up to the top of the wall. Let's see who's inside the arena!" says Tebryn.
On the floor of the arena, the rogues can see the source of the strange trumpeting: a huge war elephant, with chainmail barding covering its scaly hide and fierce metal blades adorning its fearsome tusks. An uncanny intelligence burns in its red eyes. Three frightened-looking ogres circle it cautiously, carrying greatclubs.
In the stands above the arena floor, a knot of figures is clustered. A number of ogres and giants watch the battle below, cheering loudly and gesticulating wildly. In the center of the front row, an oversized fire giant cheers loudest of all. While all the fire giants have fiery red or orange hair, this giant's hair and beard seem quite literally to be made of fire. He wears black full plate armor and large batlike wings stretch behind him, twitching as he cheers. He seems to be rooting for the elephant.
"Kurgoth!" hisses Tebryn. "Down!" The heroes descend to the level of the windows. "Let's go check out that corridor, through the window at the end of the building," suggests the drow. "If we're going to come back tomorrow, we should know the layout of the interior, so we don't get surprised if we have to search there for Kurgoth!"
The invisible rogues fly to the corner of the arena and enter the second window into the corridor. The corridor curves slightly to their right, ending in a closed portcullis. To the left, the corridor curves slightly until it ends in a door. Straight ahead, another door is invitingly closed.
"Let's check this out!" says Hazen. He advances and searches it. "Doesn't seem to be trapped!"
Igor advances and tries to open the door. "Locked," he comments, pulling out his thieves' tools. He manipulates them for a few seconds and an audible "click" comes from the mechanism. "Not any more," says the rogue, smiling. He steps away from the door.
Tebryn sighs in frustration. "What is with you guys? One searches, another unlocks, and somebody else enters? Surely any of us could do all three of those tasks!" He steps up to the door, opens it, and steps through into the trapezoidal chamber beyond, closely followed by Hazen and Igor. Tebryn pulls the door shut behind the group.
This room was obviously the apartment of an important drow. It is lavishly decorated with murals depicting cruel arena scenes. Old weapons are artfully arranged along the walls. A narrow window slit looks inward towards the arena floor. A closed door in the left wall apparently leads to another room in the suite.
"Nice art," comments Hazen.
"Since it's not movable, perhaps you'd like to sketch it, Hazen?" suggests Tebryn, smirking. "Never mind. Let's explore while we have the chance." He steps to the other door and pulls it open.
On the floor of the next room is a giant-sized bedroll. Three large wooden chests and an iron chest are arrayed against one wall.
"Oh! treasure!" says Hazen, as he approaches the iron chest and starts searching it carefully for traps.
"There might be clues in these," comments Igor, winking at Hazen. Igor approaches one of the wooden chests and starts to do the same.
Tebryn invisibly rolls his eyes and shrugs. "Why not?" he comments, as he spreads out his portable hole on the floor.
In short order, all of the chests are open. The wooden chests are all filled with coinage, in platinum, gold, and silver, while the iron chest has a collection of interesting items: a dark mithral breastplate, a fine short sword, a ring, a pair of bracers, and a carpet. Additionally, the chests contain a collection of fine chalices, platters, cases, and statuettes, all made of various precious metals as well as a large crystal skull of exquisite workmanship.
The rogues load everything of value into the portable hole and proceed to re-lock the various chests.
"Let's skedaddle," says Tebryn. The scouts exit into the hallway, locking the door as they leave, and fly out the window. The trip back to the basement headquarters is uneventful.
"We're back," calls Hazen as he enters the damaged building in which his companions were camped. He dismisses his invisibility and descends the stairs to the cellar, followed by Igor and Tebryn, who likewise become visible.
Yol looks up as they enter, and Kress stands. "How did it go?" he asks.
"Very well indeed," says Tebryn. He looks around. "Where's my sister?"
Kress snorts. "Taking a nap, or something," he says, gesturing towards the next room.
Tebryn clears his throat. "Ahem!"
Several minutes later, the two ladies emerge. Brianna is flushed, and has a silly grin on her face. She seats herself, and leans languidly against the wall, while Veracity steps up to the returning scouts. "What'd you find?" she asks.
"We found Kurgoth," says Tebryn. "He's big and scary. And he's got an elephant as a pet, or a familiar, or something. He was cheering for it, as it was fighting ogres in the arena. I'd sure hate to be a 'problem' in his army. I suspect the discipline would be fatal!"
"But guess what!" says Hazen. "We found his private quarters - and it had four treasure chests in it!"
Veracity raises her eyebrows. "Really? And did you bring them back?"
"Oh, no," says Hazen, scuffing his foot and looking at her from the corner of his eye. "We certainly wouldn't steal from Kurgoth's private stash, would we?"
"Yeah, right," says Igor, frowning.
Veracity peers at Hazen suspiciously. "Yeah, right. You have anything to say, honey?" she says to Igor.
Igor sighs. "We did take it all. Lots of coins and a collection of magic."
Yol perks up immediately. "Really? Lay it out and let me detect magic on it."
Tebryn unrolls his portable hole and extracts the various items. He hands the crystal skull to Yol, who fondles it, her eyes gleaming, before waving her hand and incanting. She stares at the loot. "Typical magical short sword, dark armor with illusion on it - like those other 'shadow' armors we found, carpet with transmutation, defensive bracers, and...strange. the ring is not keyed to a particular school."
Tebryn nods. "Transmutation on a carpet almost certainly means flying. I'll analyze dweomer on everything tomorrow, and we'll see exactly what we got."
Veracity smiles. "In any case, very clever of you to loot first, attack the defender later. We'll have to try that out in the future!" She laughs. "Anyway, what else did you see?"
"Kurgoth was surrounded by ogres and fire giants," says Tebryn. "What do you think: if you cast a mass suggestion on them, perhaps they would fight amongst themselves so that we could work on taking down Kurgoth without interference?"
"Perhaps I should veil us as fire giants, then," says Veracity. "Kurgoth might even call upon us to help defend him against the ogres - and we can attack him instead! But if you are worried about the ogres, why don't we just poison their food?"
Tebryn shrugs. "Ogres are wimps. It seems like too much trouble and is too uncertain: they may not all eat at the same time, and if one is poisoned, the rest will not eat the tainted food. No, I think just taking them all out of the battle with the mass suggestion seems more useful."
"Well, perhaps I could cast some spells amongst the ogres to aggravate them, first," suggests Veracity.
"I think you are underestimating the power of you enchantments, sister," says Tebryn. "Ogres are notoriously weak of will. I really don't think you need to 'aggravate' them first to make them succumb to your spells."
"Why not just fireball them all?" asks Igor. "Why fiddle around with making them fight each other when you can just blast them?"
Veracity stamps her foot in annoyance. "Why do I even bother doing my fancy enchantments? It seems that the only way to get any respect is to do the big bang blow 'em up evocations!" She sulks.
"It's not just ogres, Igor," says Tebryn. "Remember? There were fire giants there, too. No fireballs for them! And, don't forget that they can throw rocks at us. Nasty." He broods. "We'll need to distract the fire giants. I suppose Veracity could suggest that the fire giants fight each other, while I blast the ogres."
Veracity looks up. "Or I could suggest that the ogres fight the fire giants, thus distracting everybody."
"Yes!" says Tebryn, eyes gleaming. "Excellent plan!"
"Well, why attack him when he's surrounded by guards," says Igor. "Why not just attack him at night in his own quarters?"
"Not a bad thought," says Veracity. "But how will we know when he's sleeping? It's not like there's day or night down here."
"I don't think we can arrange to find him sleeping, Igor," says Tebryn. "But if we can find him in his quarters, that certainly would make our lives easier. We'll just make sure we'll have options that will work whether we find him in the arena or in his quarters."
Yol clears her throat. "One other thing: you say that Kurgoth is a fiend. If so, he may have some sort of fear aura. I can do a heroes feast to fortify ourselves against that effect."
"Excellent!" says Tebryn. "And I'll haste us all, to make the battle go that much quicker."
"And not only that," says Yol, "since you already got Kurgoth's loot, we don't even need to stick around after we slay him. Move in, take him down, and dimension door out of there. Even I could bring two companions back with me with that spell. Veracity and you could carry even more."
"Very well. Let's rest for the night and learn new spells tomorrow," says Tebryn. "We'll need more invisibility and fly spells, I think, for maximum maneuverability. We'll come in over the top or through the windows, for maximum surprise. If he's in the arena, we'll approach veiled as fire giants, Veracity suggests that the guards fight amongst themselves, and we swarm and flank and take down Kurgoth. I can ad lib fireballs as needed. If he's in his room, we'll do any or all of those as appropriate. Plan?"
"Yes!" agrees Veracity. All the others nod their agreement as well.
Tebryn stands. "All right. I'll go tell Hamadh and his companions that we're going after Kurgoth in the morning." He stands and goes up the stairs.
Brianna looks up. "Are we done planning tonight?" She stands, goes to Veracity, and takes her hand. "Darling, let's go to bed!"
Veracity smiles at her friend. "You bet, honey!" She walks up to Igor, her companion trailing her, and stretches up to give him a little peck on the cheek. "Brilliant thought of yours, to attack Kurgoth in his room, Sugarwart!" She laughs and heads towards her room. Brianna smirks, gives Igor a similar peck on his other cheek, and scurries after Veracity. The ladies shut the door behind them.
"Perhaps you should go after them, 'honeykins'," taunts Hazen. "I think she just needs a 'real man'. Go tame her!"
Igor shakes his head ruefully. "Even a 'Sugarwart' is still a 'wart'. I don't think I'm going to get lucky!"
Several minutes later, Tebryn returns, and everybody turns in.
|Copyright © 2004 by Brianna Sollandry <brianna at hambo dot com>||
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu
R'lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn.