Light flickered over Elif’s weapon, and it sharpened, changed color, and just… became new. Though she didn’t appear to notice. I glanced at it and then at her and then at it and then at her. Right. Asakku and Darvin stayed behind to study the book while the rest of us decided to see where we were staying. A drow man led Elif, Gunnar, and I to our accommodations: a pillow-strewn room with low-hanging curtains.
I looked around, feeling distinctly out of place and not particularly comfortable. It felt too much like some of the places I had seen in the City of 1000 Nights. I stretched a little and sat down on a pillow, praying to Bahamut for guidance, protection, and defense while in this place.
Off to the side, Elif spoke up. “So… I’m going to be talking to something in my head. Just ignore me. I’m not going crazy.”
“Are you okay?” Gunnar asked, raising a brow.
The drider just sort of stared at Elif and squinted before leaving. I tilted my head so far my neck popped. “So, is this going to be a regular thing to you?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Well… just be careful, Elif. Remember, the thing I summoned was anything but benevolent.”
“Well… you could see that.”
“Right, I’m just advising caution, Elif. We don’t know what it is.” I held up a hand. I removed my armor and sat against the wall closing my eyes and sinking into meditation and prayer.
“Are you still there?” Elif asked. I opened one eye. “I’m Elif. Who is this?” A pause. “All right, Saga, who are you?”
I sat forward and leaned my elbows on my knees and watched Elif, foregoing my meditations for now.
“This is sounding crazy. Ah… Okay… I’m just… not sure what to do with this…”
“So, did it ask for anything?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s saying it’s my guide and asking me what I seek.”
“You could ask it about the ambrosia, I suppose. Couldn’t hurt anything,” I suggested.
“Well… I’m looking for… ambrosia right now. Perhaps you could… maybe tell me?” Elif asked, looking at her halberd where it leaned against the wall.
She said nothing else, and I began cleaning my armor, my mind working too much to focus on prayer at the moment. The deals we’d made with rather… questionable creatures weighed on me. I knew I shouldn’t be dealing with such creatures, but necessity and survival dictated it. Of course, if I were dead, I could not continue doing good.
After a rather long time, Asakku joined us. “So,” he said with a sigh, shaking his head. “To obtain ambrosia, we must summon a demigod. At the very least. To do so, we must obtain the hair of a unicorn, a dragon’s scale, a werewolf tooth, vampire blood, and it must be drunk from an oni horn after they are mixed together.”
“Oh, is that all?” I said, rubbing a hand over my face. “Why must we summon a demigod”
“They are occasionally provided such things by powerful gods as a gift. There’s a possibility that we could obtain such a thing were we to come up with something valuable in trade.”
After about a day of rather uneventful afternoons, Darvin and Asakku met with us. “Unless we know a demigod,” Darvin said with a scoff, “We are most likely to find success with hunting down a ring of Wish.”
“Why would prayer not work?” I asked, tilting my head.
He rolled his eyes. “You can pray if you like.”
“I have never stopped,” I said, shaking my head.
“And I appreciate that,” Darvin said.
He looked me in the eye. “In all sincerity, yes.”
“To be honest, I believe we might find more luck summoning the demigod. I know where to find vampire blood, a were’s fang, and unicorn hair. An oni… Asakku, it may be time to put that demon of yours to rest.”
Asakku grunted and looked at the ground. “I wouldn’t know where to find him.” He then wrapped himself in his cloak and lay down, falling silent.
The next morning, Elif departed to go explore the markets, and I stayed behind in prayer. While Bahamut himself had never deigned to answer me, directly, it hurt nothing to ask his favor and his blessing.
Asakku and Darvin departed for the library, and Gunnar settled in the corner, fiddling with… something in his pack. I didn’t see fit to ask.
My meditations that day focused on answering the question of whether or not I was doing the right thing. Staying in that place made my skin crawl. Much like the City of 1,000 Nights, this city crawled with slavers and evil, foul beings and people I couldn’t smite. Were it within my power, I would clear the city of slaves and innocents and drop the ceiling of this cavern onto the city and bury it, never to be seen again.
Darvin’s disbelief remained a thorn in my side. While I understood skepticism toward faith in something larger than himself, he was seeking out a demigod. How could he not believe? I rose and paced, the thick carpeting muting the sound of my footsteps.
Elif returned a short time later with a surprisingly handsome halfling wearing sackcloth. He carried with him a small bag with a set of nice clothing though the way he held himself identified him as a slave to me. I raised a brow at her, trying to quell the immediate anger that rose in me like acid in my throat. “It’s not what you think,” she said. “I purchased him to free him. No one should have to live down here forever.”
“What’s your name?” Gunnar asked.
“I suppose that’s up to you. I’m not the one buying slaves.”
I frowned, as did Elif. “I bought you to free you.”
“So I can go?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at us.
“If that’s what you want,” I said. “Though I recommend staying with us. We are leaving tomorrow and have secured an escort to the surface. So… it’s up to you.”
“So… what is your name?” Gunnar asked.
The Halfling bowed. “I am Lionel Goldfoot.”
We all identified ourselves, and talked a short time about nothing of consequence, though when returned to tending my armor, he joined me and was rather… handsy. I handed him my breastplate and he began polishing it, staring at me in a manner that left me feeling rather uncomfortable.
Asakku and Darvin returned, commenting that he discovered that the Elves hadn’t started the great Elven War. Other races and cities declared war on them separately, but eventually they banded together and overwhelmed the elves collectively. Darvin discovered his lineage led to royalty of Gray Reach, something he was very pleased with.
In addition to that, Asakku brought with him a Ring of Sustenance for each of us, collecting the cost thereof from each. We all gladly compensated him.
Lionel sidled over to Darvin when he and Asakku returned, and began flirting with him rather intensively. Darvin seemed rather oblivious, for which I was grateful. Though through the conversation, he revealed himself to be a halfling prince. Or perhaps he was just trying to impress Darvin. I couldn’t tell.
I left, seeing if there were anyone who could assist me in recoloring my armor so it looked less… horrid, but the only man I found was a rather remarkable drow artisan with a terrible lisp, strange mannerisms, and who quoted me half a week. I expected as much and retreated, returning to our quarters.
The following day, Asakku and Darvin returned to the library, and the rest of us relaxed, packing and preparing to go shortly.
Darvin spent the day learning about Hurgrekki raiders, whose blood he shared, who spoke the language Eldur Hjartans. They were a collection of tribes, led by an ice queen. Their realm lay to the north of Grey Reach, and they dressed mostly in black leathers and fur, and they wore black face paint beneath their eyes. In the book was a map of their realm. Darvin’s ancestor came south and took Grey Reach by force, conquering it.
Asakku learned that Oni rarely travelled outside Kesari, the lands they live in. There are specific orders of samurai who hunted and tracked the beasts. While outsiders were never allowed further inland on the island, there was one city they could visit safely, though no record existed of anyone being permitted further.
When they finished their research, they joined us, and we made ready to leave. We met the two drow guard tasked with taking us to the surface. Neither looked pleased, but they didn’t need to be. A deal was made.
Not long after we began, we entered a large chasm filled with stalactites and stalagmites dripping down from the ceiling. I had taken point to protect the group, and we heard two loud, distinctive thuds. In the darkness ahead of us, I saw a tall humanoid with a scarf wrapped around his face and covered in rags, nearly to the point of resembling a corpse. In his hands, he two short swords.
Darvin went rushing past me, lifting his torch high above his head as he tried to see what was going on.
“What are you doing!” I hissed between my teeth.
“Seeing what’s ahead,” he called back.
“You are going to get yourself killed!”
He laughed. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”
My fists clenched. “That’s how you ended up with leprosy!”
I heard a noise from behind as someone or something attacked Gunnar. The druid let out a yelp of surprised pain. “There are more behind us!” Asakku yelled.
“Dammit!” I growled, leaving him to defend himself while I went after Darvin. One of the rag-wearing men faded out of the darkness, launching himself at Darvin with black energy dripping off his fingers. I reached Darvin’s side and swung my falchion at the rag-wearing man before us. He slid to the side, dodging the blow.
More men came flooding out of the darkness, surrounding us. Darvin retreated behind me, facing the rest of the party. He bellowed out something arcane, and fire erupted from Darvin’s hands, catching one of the men aflame.
Darkness swallowed our enemies, and the combat behind me fiercened, though I had three men to deal with on my own, so my focus remained on them.
We tore apart their number, though one of the men near me snarled something, and pain wracked me, staggering me for a moment, though I recovered enough to attack him in return. Darvin shot fire at the man, who stumbled, smoking. Gunnar spat acid, and the man crumpled. Though the man at my side exploded into inky darkness, leaving me standing in pitch darkness. I could hear the people around me, but I saw nothing.
Somewhere nearby we heard a shuddering, hollow howl vaguely canine in origin. I called on my god, some of the pain lessening as I pulled his strength into myself.
A flicker of red erupted in front of me, then I felt heat and pressure around my greaves, as though the jaws of a great beast closed on them, and then it was gone. I shuddered and made a noise.
“You all right, Cass?” Darvin yelled from behind me and off to my left.
“Yep. We’re not alone.”
“Where? To your left? To your right? In front of you?”
I sighed silently. “I don’t know, Darvin. It’s a little dark here. Off to my left, maybe? I can’t really tell.”
I backed away, toward the pale, weak light behind me. Something closed around my legs as I moved away from the darkness. When I could see again, I nearly cried in relief. I dislike the darkness intensely.
To my left, Asakku stumbled a little. “Something touched me—something with red eyes. Though I can’t see anything.”
He attacked the space behind him, and encountered resistance. Gunnar circled around the creature and attacked, eliciting a low growl. I stepped around Asakku and called on Bahamut and let out a yell, slamming my falchion into the space where the beast had been. There was another echoing, quiet howl, leaving us alone in the cavern.
“Check on the guards,” I said.
“No need,” Elif said, pointing back toward the corpses illuminated by a wall of light behind us. I had no idea where that came from.
While the others scavenged the corpses, I looked for Lionel, finding him recovering from the attack. He looked groggy, but I pulled him to his feet.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said, looking around. Everyone nodded, and we took deep breaths, trekking onward. “Well, one thing… We were supposed to give the drow this deck. That is no longer an option.”