The next day, we gathered around a table in the main area of our quarters. “Well, we have several things to do, including acquire the Leperous Hippogryph for Herental the Lion. I don’t want him to think we have forgotten,” I said. The others nodded.
“Well, we are going to be out and about to begin with,” Darvin said. “We should go to the tavern first, perhaps.”
We headed off through the rain to find the tavern, though Darvin led us astray through the muddy and cramped streets. Thunder rolled over our heads now and then, and the boats at dock strained against their moorings.
“I could have sworn it was around this corner,” Darvin said, looking back and forth around the crossroads we stood at.
I sighed and shook my head, exchanging a brief look with Asakku.
Nearby, we found an orphan curled up in a crate. I offered him my tabard. He snatched it, staring at me warily. I sighed and shook my head. Gunnar offered the child a gold piece, and he grabbed it with a huge smile.A second later, the boy crumpled back, coughing and gripping his belly. “I… I don’t feel good.” I pulled off my gauntlets and checked him over.
“The boy is… something happened when you touched him, Gunnar,” I said. Something bad.
“Asakku, can you—”
“No. Who knows what the boy is carrying for diseases or what happened…”
I just… stared for a second before stripping off my armor, wrapping the boy in the tabard I’d given him, and hefting him into my arms and carrying him to the temple my order had set up nearby. I approached one of the clerics, asking them for help.
“Someone poisoned the boy,” the cleric said with a worried frown before he healed the child.
As the cleric worked, the child spoke of what we’d said and one of the Acolytes asked us what we wanted at the Leperous Hippogryph. I told him we were looking for it, and he gave us directions.
Darvin approached the cleric, “Before we leave, is there any way to cure this?” He displayed his arm to the cleric.
With a smile, the cleric nodded and worked to cure the disease. Though a few moments later, he scowled and shook his head. “It… seems you need something more than I can provide, friend.”
“I suspected as much,” Darvin said with a deep sigh. “Thank you.”
“Perhaps there is something you might find to help you, but I cannot.”
The conversation triggered something in my mind, and I rubbed my jaw. “I remember a story I heard as a child about something called ‘ambrosia.’ The gods have access to it, but… Well, we surely do not. I wonder if there is a way we might acquire some.”
The cleric tilted his head. “Well… the Great Library might have it.” He went on to describe a massive, elven library lost to time beneath Southport during the Elven Wars. If the information were to be found, it would be there. The gods were rumored to have touched the earth there.
Our group thanked the cleric and made our way to the tavern. Rain poured in through holes in the roof, and a man lay in the mud in front of the tavern. I rolled him onto his back with my boot so he didn’t drown in the mud.
Inside, a hulking half-orc gave us an unimpressed look. “You aren’t from around here.”
Darvin shook his head. “No. To the point, we’re interested in buying.”
“Good. It’s for sale.”
After a brief negotiation, we purchased the tavern for seven hundred gold. Darvin, Gunnar, and Asakku went to the arena to bring him the deed while Elif and I waited. I leaned against the bar, looking around and making sure no one was causing trouble.
A short while later, they returned. Gunnar had a pair of brown leather gloves covering his hands. Hopefully that would protect others from the effects of whatever that oil now covered him.
Following that, we returned to the temple after a discussion about how to handle the orphan problem. Instead of relying on the Earl’s dubious intentions, we decided to fund my order’s temple in the area to better provide for the orphans. Though the amount needed staggered Darvin a little. He seemed… unhappy when I reminded him the earl had given us the money with this intent.
I told the cleric what we were charged with, and he recommended building a large orphanage to house the children in. The sum came to half the amount the earl had given us, though I did not complain. Darvin, after looking at the hungry faces, sighed and nodded. The cleric wept with joy and immediately set to preparing for the process of building.
We stood under an overhang, discussing our next move. We returned to our quarters, talking to one of the administrators about organizing the census. As well as who might have sent us after a necromancer. Interestingly, the administrator also had no windows in his chamber and worked by candlelight. Like Earl Dregard, he looked pale and rather… I don’t know. All of us found him disquieting, much as we had Earl Dregard.
Darvin murmured something, flicking his fingers at the administrator, who gave him a rather perplexed look. I went to seek out evil in the location, and the administrator gave me a sour look and banished me to the hallway. Outside, I felt a distinct evil presence behind me in the man’s office. It didn’t strike me like Ahlset did, but… I sighed. Why must I consistently keep company with such people?
Darvin came into the hallway. “He gave us directions to the library in the castle, so… we can perhaps continue our search there.”
We made our way into the library and began our search. I learned, the reason most of the gods left was because the material plane is the only place they were mortal. The elven wars were the last time gods and demigods walked the earth. I also learned the reason the elf cities sunk was because the elves of this region were cursed—they sacrificed their souls to create a new god in an attempt to thwart humankind. This backfired upon them.
Asakku learned the castle was built before the fall of the city and, as a result, was not dragged into the earth when the rest of the kingdom fell. The nobles’ district fell, though it was up on a large hill, so when it sunk, it did not sink as far into the earth as the rest of the city, so that might prove a place to begin.
Gunnar learned that the sewer systems dumped out into a sinkhole where the cities fell. I recognized it like the city beneath the capital city. The elves who dwelt in the cities then didn’t die and became what are now known as drow. I shuddered, remembering the city entrance in the sewers and the girls being kidnapped and taken there.
The elf cities, much like the dwarves, had interconnecting highways—which also sunk beneath the earth at least in this area. The city below would be parts of the Underdark, a place none of us were thrilled at the notion of exploring. The drow were campfire tales, slavers, who viewed outsiders as nothing more than potential slaves to their queen. The dwarves were known to hate the drow’s interference with the dwarven highways and their communities beneath the soil. Though the drow were known to trade and work with others… if it profited them.
After rooting around in dusty archive, I uncovered maps of the ancient city. The central part of the city lived on a hill. It struck me like a city-state rather than part of a large community. The city fell in concentric rings with the nobility in the center and the markets and farming outward, though knowing what we know, there were no real serfs in elven culture, so those were operated by rather well-to-do.
Out of curiosity and suspicion, we took a glance through the library to see if we could look up information on vampires, though… nothing came of it. Every book that would mention vampires had been removed from the library.
We spent day preparing to head into the Underdark. The next morning we entered the sewers beneath the noble district, following the flow of sewage to a large, swirling whirlpool of… well… effluence. I glanced at Elif. “What about breaking into the wall and curling around, digging down?”
She grinned and handed me a shovel, and we spent the rest of the day digging downward through the soil. After… I couldn’t tell how long it had been, but I was exhausted. We slept where we were that night. In the morning, we dug into the cavern, finding a cavern on the otherside with a terrible, awful waterfall falling away into the dark beneath us.
Gunnar cast a light spell onto a rock and threw it, revealing a two-hundred foot drop into the horrid pool below. He cast another spell onto a coin and then shifted into a raven, clutching the coin in his beak before flying into the darkness, checking out the area below.
Looking at the length of time and the distance, we hired a group of laborers to finish the dig for us. I spent the time in the library, researching ambrosia and legends surrounding it. Elif purchased an ever-burning torch for the journey into the dark, also.
I learned it could heal wounds and diseases, though legends differed on what it tasted like. It also said it could potentially bring the dead to life… It seemed to be a panacea. It could do whatever was needed at the time by the society writing about it. I also checked in on the progress my order had made on the orphan situation, keeping an eye on it.
It took to the end of the week for the tunnel to be completed, and we sent the workers away when we entered the underdark, following the foul stream. I kept track of where we were using the mapmaker’s kit I had purchased above. Asakku noted that we were above the right area, though finding our way through the cave systems to reach the Underdark proper, which began at least a mile below the surface.
With Asakku in the lead, we plunged into the shadows. We made it a few hundred feet into the shadows and entered a large cavern before we encountered some kind of huge, horrid monstrosity with three arms wielding two massive clubs. A large patch of glowing fungi illuminated the room as it chased a rat around, trying to stomp on it.
Darvin let out a muffled curse and cast a spell to protect himself against the beast’s likely ungentle attentions. He then called out over my shoulder, “You got a rat problem there, buddy?”
The monster looked up at us. “Yeah. I do. Turns out.”
“Do you have an issue if we just kind of sneak on by?”
“No… big problems. But you are here. And you are small like rats. Perhaps you can give me a good reason not to crush you.”
I stepped forward. “I imagine you don’t have many visitors. Perhaps we talk with you for awhile.”
“…Very well. But you stay all day. We talk. And you give me something. You can leave in the morning.”
I glanced to the others, who nodded. “All right,” I said with a smile.
He lit a fire, and Gunnar offered him a sword we’d found elsewhere. He accepted it, and we joined him, regaling Gerbable with stories of our adventures. We learned from him that the drow city is far deeper than where we were, and the fastest way there was to follow the stream to a large lake. A boat would be fastest, but where we would find one of those was anyone’s guess.
Despite the creature’s horrifying visage and demeanor, he turned out to be a rather pleasant host, though in the morning he was nowhere to be found. He did, however, build a fire and provide us breakfast. Knowing we would need our rations, we ate the strange food and took the mushrooms he had turned into beds and pushed them into the river, lashing them together to make rafts. We plucked some of the glowing fungi and created glowing pockets in the mushrooms.
After a rather dull hour or so, the rafts entered a cave which pitched sharply downward, shooting us a long distance into the earth until we hit a lake, bouncing across it like skipped stones until we hit the shore.
Around the edges of the grew a vast, fungal forest beyond. Asakku stared around us, pointing some of the mushrooms out as edible. Others that grew shin height let off a bright, blue-green glow and could be used as torches. Gathering the edible ones, we plunged into the mushroom forest. As we wandered, Asakku found mushrooms that would heal, some that would shrink or enlarge the person eating them, and others he couldn’t identify.
Strange creatures skittered about the mushroom forest looking like squirrels covered in moss with extra eyes. Asakku took a moment to get his bearings and led us down a large, rocky hill outside the edge of the forest where it dropped into an area that looked like a vast moor covered in moss that was quite pleasant underfoot.
A short ways in, we encountered a place that looked like sunlight pouring in and hitting the wall. Asakku poked his head around the corner and spotted a beautiful lawn washed in what looked like daylight. Beyond the lawn sat a door carved into the wall.
Darvin peered at the area and shook his head. “It’s not magic.”
“…Whoever has a lawn down here may well be… eccentric. To say the least. We should proceed with caution, friends. Let’s try not to damage their work.” I stepped carefully onto the lawn before proceeding down the winding path. About halfway down, we saw a large tower with broad, stained-glass windows at the top of which sat a glowing orb, releasing sunlight.
I approached carefully, opening my senses to feel for evil in the vicinity. I felt none, and we approached the tower and knocked on the locked door.
A brass port on the door slid open. “Who is it?”
“Adventurers!” Gunnar exclaimed with a massive grin on his bearded face.
“Ambrosia,” Darvin said in response.
“Ambrosia?!” the man cried, opening the door. “Do you have any?”
“No, I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head.
“Darn. I could really use it in my spellcasting.” He waved his hands, and magic danced around his fingertips. A small rod flew to him, and he presented it. “Everyone put your hand on the rod.”
We looked at each other and then touched it. A moment later, our fingertips tingled, and he squinted at us. “You seem all right. I’m planning on fending off demons. The master of our order died some time ago, so… This seems like a good place to lie low. It was quite gloomy, though, so we decided to spruce it up a bit.”
We introduced ourselves, and he announced himself Falldal the wizard from the Order of the Blue Robes—we’d never heard of it. “It’s nice to meet you. It seems like you’re on a good quest. We have a teleportation ring I might be able to use to get you down further, though it’s dangerous down there. And it might misfire.”
“So… we could end up in a wall or some such.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, grinning brightly and rubbing his hands together. “But what’s life without a little adventure?”
Darvin nodded, and I just stared at him. “What happened the last time you tried a little adventure, Darvin. What happened?”
He wilted a little. “Well… it would take about twelve days otherwise.”
I glared at him. “We could end up half in a wall. Half.”
Darvin convinced me after about an hour of discussion, though he allayed my fears completely.
“Step out onto this brass ring and… here we go.”
We entered the ring, and the wizard pulled a large lever on the wall. A poof of white smoke appeared around us, and when it cleared, we stood before a massive, black stone city wall. Large fields full of workers stretched out around the city.
After perceiving our location, we hugged the shadows of the wall. “If this is the city, the library is in the nobles district near the high temple,” I said quietly. “We’ll have to travel through the agricultural fields, through the markets, past the inner fortifications, and then into the noble district.”
“If this is the city, and the drow are slavers, and we look more like slaves… how are we going to accomplish this?” Darvin asked.
“Darvin, I have seen you convince people of stranger things than us being slaves.” I shook my head. “When in doubt, look like you belong. Tell them we are on an errand for our masters. It isn’t particularly complex.”
Gunnar tilted his head. “You know, I can turn into a spider. Those are a holy animal to the drow.”
Heads nodded around the circle. “I’ll scout ahead and see if I can find a safe route, and the rest of you.”
“Oh!” Gunnar held up a massive hand. “I could wrap you in web and carry you.”
I shuddered. “Can we consider an alternate possibility?”
Elif considered. “If we put a cloak on me and have me ride Gunnar, I could pretend to be a drider?” she said.
“I like this plan,” Darvin said with a grin.
This was a bad idea. A very bad idea.
The bad idea worked. I sat astride Gunnar in his spider form, and we shrouded my legs in my winter cloak. The drow at the gates stiffened as we passed, averting their gazes. The trend continued through the mercantile district and into the noble district. None of them were foolish enough to speak to us, and we encountered no issues on our way through.
The library opened before us, a beautiful building filled with tomes of knowledge. We took a moment to appreciate the sight before approaching a librarian. I gave Asakku a dismissive gesture, knowing he spoke Elvish—a language most of them understood. He cleared his throat and ducked his head, asking the librarian for assistance.
They exchanged words, her face growing more and more sour as the conversation continued, though he led us off into the stacks. A moment later we heard scuttling feet, and around the edge of one of the stacks peered a tall woman on a spider’s body. An actual drider. My heart nearly pounded out of my chest as it babbled. Darvin raised a hand to cast a spell, and the drider turned its attention away from me and lashed out at Darvin.
His eyes went wide, and he ducked, dropping to his knees. The drider then reached for my cloak. About that moment, Asakku came around and elbowed me. “She knows.”
“I take it you speak Common then?” the drider asked, glowering at me.
“So what are you doing here?”
“Seeking knowledge. As I said.”
She gave us a rather skeptical expression and shook her head. “I see. One of your slaves should be an equal change for such a thing.”
I shook my head. “I’m rather attached to them,” I said, glancing at the others. “They all serve their purposes.”
“Well… what would you have in exchange?”
Darvin frowned and pulled the deck of cards. “What about these?”
Hunger sparked in the drider’s eyes. “What is it you might want in exchange for those?”
“Time with the book,” Darvin said, glancing at the rest of us for confirmation. I nodded.
The drider tilted her head a little. “How long?”
“Three days?” Asakku suggested, and Darvin nodded.
“Three days. I will provide you three days with the book, a place to sleep, food, and an escort to near the surface.”
“That sounds fair,” Darvin said. “To demonstrate its power…”
Elif pulled a card from the deck, depicting a beautiful woman with long, golden hair lying draped across a chaise lounge. Nothing seemed to happen, and we all sort of stared at each other for a moment.
As if today couldn’t get any stranger.