Adventure Date: May 26, 2007
Last Updated: January 10, 2009
Day 185 - Midday
The heroes were preparing for their incursion into the underdark. After a near fatal encounter with the frost giants, resulting in HHH having to be raised, the party planned their next steps.
"So those pretty little rings that Nuria made for us are going to transfer any damage I soak up and send it your way?" HHH queried. "Not all of it," Agrona clarified, "but enough so that you can ‘soak up’ even more damage and still stay amongst the living and breathing."
HHH flared. "Hey, no wise cracks about dying! Don’t make me take Miranda and smack myself in the foot! You won’t like it!"
Meanwhile, Ebreck and PW were investigating the throne for any other surprises. Having pried off the jewels and pocketing the best ones for ‘safe keeping’, PW was tapping along its base to see if there were any other hidden recesses filled with more jewels, while Ebreck marveled at the intricacy of the secret door hidden beneath the throne itself.
"Help me move this thing over a bit," PW chirped. "I think I found another hidey-hole in this thing."
Ebreck was examining the passage beneath the throne. A little nervous at the prospect of climbing down any distance (remembering the infamous "dwarf roasting" incident - and it didn’t involve anyone sitting at a long table making funny speeches or recalling amusing anecdotes), he turned to PW and replied, "Try not to set off any traps while you’re looking around." Ebreck continued his examination of the passage. "It looks like the passage is very steep and I can’t see the bottom from here. It starts out being about 20’ in diameter, but it seems to balloon out to 40’ in diameter after just a couple of yards. We’ll definitely need to climb down this tunnel. Ah nuts."
"Let’s spend the night here. It’ll give us all a chance to heal a little, and we can also recover our spells," said Nuria. "I’ll take first watch."
"’Spend the night’? How can you tell the difference when we’re underground?" Agrona asked.
"Simple," replied Xana. "I can sense the position of the sun, the moon and the stars, even when we’re underground. Right now it’s about midday."
"She’s right," said Ebreck. "My stomach is growling so much, I can barely here myself think! It’s time I got away from this passage to the underdark and started making lunch."
The adventurers set up camp in the throne room and set up a defensive perimeter. To ensure they didn’t get snuck up on again, Ebreck cast an Alarm spell on the entrance to the secret passage as the rest of the party set a watch on the main entry.
"Wake me in 2 hours," Nuria stated. "I’ll continue the watch from there."
"I’ll take first watch," PW volunteered. "While we’re resting, we should try to restock ourselves by redistributing our supplies. Let the wheeling and dealing begin!"
HHH started. "I noticed that you’re almost out of ammunition, PW. I’ll give you 5 regular, silver, and cold iron bolts, if you promise to stop trying to ‘inspect’ my money pouch."
"Deal!" HHH passed the bolts to PW. "Plus, you’ve got very little of interest in there anyway."
"I’m having a tough time finding supplies to fletch my own arrows. I’ve managed to get some bird feathers, but I can’t seem to find the rest of the supplies needed to make my own arrows. Xana, could you pass me some of your arrows?" Ebreck asked.
"I’m feeling unusually generous today. You can have 10 of my arrows ... No, that’s not generous enough! You can have 15 of my cold iron arrows and 15 of my silver arrows. Is there anything else you need?" Xana said with a beatific smile.
Shocked by her sudden generous nature, Ebreck was struck dumb.
The rest of the evening passed uneventfully.
As the party broke their fast, Nuria began meditating and chanting tunelessly in an unknown language. Light flared around her as a field of energy, resembling a suit of armor, formed around her. "This Mage Armor should keep me a bit safer" she thought to herself. "Now to deal with all the loot we’re carrying." She started her chanting again, and another field of energy, this time a large floating disc, appeared beside her.
"This should make our lives easier. Give me a hand loading up the treasure onto this disc." The rest of the party looked a little confused by her request. Nuria started explaining. "Now we can free ourselves up of any excess weight. This disc can move with us fairly well. It’s only limitation is that it can’t move vertically."
As Nuria was giving her explanation, Xana knelt down and started to Commune with Nature to scout ahead for any surprises. "Oh spirits of the earth, the elementals, and the burrowing creatures, come to my aid. I seek knowledge in my quest to prevent disaster for us all. Please give me sight beyond sight. Show me where the people are, the terrain we must navigate, and any unnatural creatures we may encounter."
An image of the earth beneath her feet flashed in Xana’s mind. Layer upon layer of earth unfolded itself in her mind’s eye. She could see everything within a thousand feet around her! Or almost everything. Where the earth had been scarred by the hands of mortals, with their digging and scrabbling through the earth for petty treasure, a blank emptiness appeared in her mind. It served her purpose by outlining where tunnels were created, but it made her cry knowing that the earth bled for the sake of satisfying trivial, materialistic needs. What disturbed her further was the fact that the tunnel continued beyond the range of her far-flung senses.
Xana finished her exploration of the underdark as Nuria finished her explanation. "... limitation is that it can’t move vertically."
"I got some bad news for you, Nuria," said Xana as she brushed off her knees. "The passage we need to follow, though it is devoid of humanoid and unnatural life, slants down at almost near vertical. Your mystical, floating disc won’t be of much use for us during the first leg of our journey. It is about 40’ across the entire way down, and it even continues beyond 1100’. I don’t know what we may encounter beyond that point."
"Ah nuts," Nuria moaned.
The party unloaded the disc and lashed the treasure onto Henrietta’s back. Xana slipped her Ring on Invisibility onto her finger and disappeared from sight. Nuria, having received the Hat of Disguise from PW, placed it on herself and assumed the form of a female drow. The party initiated Plan A: PW would use the Rope of Climbing to scale down the tunnel, accompanied by HHH, who would trail behind by 25’ on Henrietta. Fortunately, Henrietta’s claws were large enough that she was able to cling easily to the walls of the passage. The rest of the party would stay back, and prepare to assist if the need arose. Nuria readied herself to cast Feather Fall on the group if they had any mishaps.
"I’ll come along as well," Xana’s voice sounded out from nothingness. "I’ll change myself into a bat and monitor our position as we progress. Since I’ll be flying, one of you can have my Ring of Feather Falling."
"Henrietta won’t fall, and I’m such an accomplished rider that I won’t fall off. I can even wear a blindfold if you don’t believe me!" joked HHH. PW, with the philosophy of ‘Be prepared for anything’, gladly accepted the ring from Xana.
The group began their trek down. HHH opened his locket to light the way for himself, Henrietta, and Xana, as PW took the point. Using his darkvision, he peered down the passageway for any traps or other entryways. It was fairly easy going, with no surprises. The tunnel was uniform the entire way down, with nothing of interest to note.
Suddenly, after traveling around 400’, Henrietta’s claws slipped, but she managed to catch herself before falling to far. Unfortunately, the act of catching herself caused a massive jerk which dislodged HHH from her back. "Ah nuts!" echoed up the tunnel.
PW, hearing HHH’s cry, looked up to see a flailing gnome barreling down towards him! "Time for Plan B! I’ve got one chance," PW thought to himself. "I’ve got to make this count!"
As HHH passed by PW, PW heroically dove out to grab him in mid-air. He released the Rope of Climbing, hoping that the Ring of Feather Falling would cushion both of them. Both falling, PW strained towards HHH. Just as he was in reach, the ring, meant to cushion them both, activated and slowed PW’s fall. "Ah nuts."
A flash of feathers sped past PW. Xana, having changed herself into a giant eagle, dove after HHH. Gaining more and more speed, Xana managed to catch up to HHH before he fell too far and grabbed him by his ankle. Pumping her wings, Xana started to bring HHH back up to Henrietta.
As HHH and Xana passed PW, he quipped, "I see you’ve caught another ride. Make sure you don’t tell Henrietta! She might get jealous and I’d hate to clean off gnome bits from my clothes." With a wink and a smile, PW continued his slow downward descent.
"Well, this’ll be boring for the next little bit. I hope something exciting happens soon," PW thought. "Hey, where’s that carrion smell coming from?"
At 800’ down the tunnel, PW became lodged in sticky strands unexpectedly. "I should watch what I wish for! A little help down hear!!!" he hollered up. Looking around, he could see 2 large, hairy, 8-legged freaks stalking towards him. They had both been hiding in smaller side tunnels that were hidden by cleverly disguised trapdoors. Each was about 40’ in size! "I thought Xana said there were no unnatural creatures within 1000’!!! And how the #*!! do these things fit in the tunnel together?!?!? The tunnel is only 40’ across!!!!"
Hearing the panic in his voice, Xana thought to herself, "Ah nuts." She started a dive again, with HHH in tow. "What has that fool halfling got himself caught up into this time?" HHH bawled. Meanwhile, hearing the commotion even at the mouth of the passageway, Nuria makes a hasty decision. "It looks like they may need some help. I’m going to Fly down and see what I can do." With that, Nuria launched herself out into nothing, crying out words that sounded almost like the cry of a bird of prey. Stabilizing herself in mid-air, she shot down the passage after the others. As she flew down the passageway, Nuria cast Shield on herself.
PW struggled to free himself from the web by brute strength, but was getting nowhere. Seeing that their prey was helpless, the spiders casually moved forward and they both bit him, hurting him severely. Squirming in pain, PW felt their venom slip into his veins, and a lethargic feeling came over him. Weakened, PW struggled on.
Xana and HHH, seeing PW’s predicament, sprang into action. "I need to get to PW quickly! He looks bad! Drop me after I drop this little surprise." With that, HHH threw a bottle of alchemy fire straight at the first spider. As the flask approached, the spider, preternaturally shifted its legs slightly and the flask fell harmlessly past and through the webbing without hitting anything.
Heartened by the sight of his companions, and knowing he had little chance of breaking free of the webbing, PW drew his rapier and slashed at one of the spiders. The poison flowing through his veins weakened PW; though his aim was true, he failed to harm the monstrosity. The spider, not appreciating a meal that fights back, leaned forward and took another chomp out of PW. Too much for his system, PW slipped into unconsciousness and started to bleed out.
"Crap. DROP ME!" Xana, not liking this option, but seeing no other choice, let go of HHH and started a summoning. Suddenly, a large fire elemental appeared beside the spiders. Burning through the webbing, PW’s body broke free and started to fall, but not before he was badly burned in the process. Fortunately, the spiders were burned as well. They began to fall, but they both caught the passageway walls. One spider, having had enough of this abuse, fled down a small side tunnel. The other spider, still ravenous, hid behind its trapdoor again, waiting for more prey.
HHH fell towards PW and grabbed onto him. "Here’s where I return the favor." With that, HHH called upon his deity’s holy power to heal PW’s horrible wounds. PW regained consciousness with a start, and looked around in a panic. "What happened to the spiders? Why are we falling? And why do I smell singed halfling meat?"
"I would worry about that later," HHH responded. "Right now I’m more concerned about the ground that is rushing up to meet us! I thought the ring would support us both, but it’s not doing such a hot job!" Suddenly, Xana was there again. Grabbing onto HHH, she held him aloft as PW continued his fall, albeit more slowly. Two thousand feet down from where they started, PW arrived at the bottom of the passageway. Rolling with his fall, he managed to arrive unscathed. Shortly, Xana, HHH, and Nuria joined PW.
As the others arrived, PW turned to HHH and said, with a grin, "Never again will I try to save you by trying to catch you!" HHH grinned and replied, "I’m pretty sure I feel the same way."
"Okay, time for Plan C," said Nuria. "Here’s what I’m thinking: Xana takes the Ring of Feather Fall up to the two left at the top, along with the locket with the Continual Flame spell on it, and they just jump off and hope for the best. At least 4 of us have made it down hear unscathed, relatively speaking."
"You mean 5 of us," HHH said as Henrietta arrived. As she was explaining her plan, Xana turned to face PW and HHH and subtly moved her wing in a circular motion by the side of her head while cawing 'coo-coo'. "What’s her wisdom again?" she thought to herself.
"Well, it’s simple and it can’t really screw up," PW said. "Let’s do it." Writing a note with instructions and tying it to Xana’s leg, they prepared to implement this new strategy.
Before leaving, Xana made herself invisible again to avoid being spotted by anything else. She then flew up the tunnel carrying the ring and locket in one claw, pausing only to retrieve the Rope of Climbing along the way. She scanned the passageway for any other surprises, but didn’t notice anything. Reaching the top, she passed the note to Agrona and Ebreck and let them read the plan. Once they were done reading, she handed the ring and locket to Agrona. "What’s Nuria’s wisdom again?" Agrona asked. Ebreck just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Stop being a baby and jump."
"You’re just saying that because you aren’t the first to try this ‘brilliant’ plan," Agrona griped. "Less chit chat," Ebreck growled, and he pushed Agrona into the passage.
"I’m not curing you ever again!" Agrona yelled. With a shrug of her shoulders, Xana followed him down.
Grumbling the entire way down, Agrona perused the environment with his darkvision. Passing by the giant webbing, he noted that he didn’t see any sign of vermin around. "They must have run off", he thought to himself. Eventually, Agrona alit safely at the bottom. When he arrived, the rest of the group was cautiously examining the path ahead. The passageway itself curved after 2000’ from the vertical to the horizontal and continued on, maintaining about the same dimensions of 40’ wide and 40’ high.
"Well, I got down here safely, so I guess I should stop complaining," Agrona thought. "But I’m still going to give that dwarf gout when he gets down here!"
Xana, retrieving the ring and locket from Agrona, flew back up to give the equipment to Ebreck. "I didn’t here any splats and there isn’t any fresh blood on this stuff, so I’m assuming that the plan worked," Ebreck said, almost to himself. "Well, here goes. Just remember to catch me if something goes wrong." With that, Ebreck jumped out into the passageway and started his slow descent.
As he was descending, Ebreck scanned the darkness with his darkvision, trying to get a feel for the area. Suddenly, as he passed around the halfway down the passageway, a huge form jumped out from a cleverly made trapdoor and landed on his back! "Why didn’t anyone warn me about this? It’s hard to miss a 40’ spider!" As he was yelling this, the spider grappled with him to hold him fast and get an easy bite in.
Kicking to free himself from the spider’s grip, Ebreck struggled to break its grip on him. Unfortunately, the spider’s hold was tight and Ebreck couldn’t break free. The spider, to subdue its prey, bit Ebreck. Hurt, but not badly, Ebreck felt the poison wash over him and his strength leave him. Realizing that he couldn’t free himself before becoming immobilized, Ebreck removed the Ring of Feather Falling to get to his allies more quickly. "INCOMING!!! And trouble’s coming too!" Xana, who had been following, suddenly couldn’t keep up with Ebreck as he started to free fall. Diving to catch up, she hoped she could catch him before he hit bottom.
The spider and Ebreck began to fall very quickly. Oblivious to this, the spider bit Ebreck again and again, while he tried to break its grip. With a final bite, the spider managed to simultaneously knock Ebreck unconscious and immobilize him with its poison.
Warned by his yell, Ebreck’s companions prepared for the worst. Nuria first cast a Shield Spell on herself. Then, seeing Ebreck and an enormous spider falling towards them, cast Feather Fall to slow their fall. As they began to gently float down, Nuria then blasted the spider with 5 Magic Missiles.
"Since we can’t see Xana, I’m assuming she’s still invisible and waiting to help," HHH shouted. "We need to draw the spider away from Ebreck so she can help him and then we can all take out this thing!" With that, after a brief supplication to his deity, HHH surrounded himself and Henrietta with a protective field against evil. PW, to maximize his damage potential, hid in shadows and moved up to engage the spider.
Ebreck and the spider landed gently. Responding to the pain it received, the spider moved forward to engage Agrona, HHH, and Nuria in melee, leaving Ebreck behind. Xana swooped down to Ebreck’s side to heal him, and noticed that his wounds had stopped bleeding on their own! Amazed at the dwarf’s resilience, Xana cured Ebreck. Meanwhile, the spider lunged at Agrona and bit him deeply. Agrona became the third victim of the spider’s poison, but strove to fight on. Stepping out of reach of the spider, Agrona cast Shield Other to bolster the vitality of HHH. Nuria cast 2 Scorching Rays at the spider, but displaying its amazing agility again, it managed to dodge one of them. HHH and Henrietta charged the spider, allowing HHH to spear it with a lance and Henrietta to claw it. Hoping to add fire damage to his attack, PW activated a Quickflame capsule on his bolt, but in his haste, failed to hit it with the shot.
Turning towards the new threat of HHH and Henrietta, the spider ripped into HHH. Agrona, feeling the agony HHH was in, cried out as he absorbed half the damage HHH received. Weakened by the poison, HHH continued his assault on the spider. Xana, ensuring that Ebreck was no longer in danger of dying, engulfed the spider in a column of holy fire. Following her example, Agrona smote the spider with his own blast of holy fire. Overwhelmed by the flames, the spider curled up into a ball in an attempt to protect itself and burned to death.
The heroes turned to Ebreck to examine his wounds. "I hate vertical shafts," he groaned. "First it was the traps, and now giant spiders!" Agrona and Xana cast spells to cure everyone’s injuries, and to restore strength to those who suffered the spiders’ bites, while Nuria used the Rod to cure wounds as well. HHH cut the spider open to see if it had swallowed any treasure recently. Alas, after covering himself in spider guts, all he found were some old, partially dissolved boots that wouldn’t fit anyone.
Ebreck, back to his old self, started tracking down the tunnel. He noted that the tunnel was not well traveled and had not seen traffic in a long time. The party started out in search of the next piece of the Rod.
PW took the point, hiding in the total darkness ahead of the rest of the part, with Smokey perched on his shoulder. He searched for traps and other dangers that might befall him and the others. Ebreck trailed 30’ behind him, looking for any signs of other creatures. Another 30’ behind Ebreck, the rest of the party maintained the rearguard. The group continued like this for a kilometer, when they reached a fork in the passage. Two side passages, 30’ wide each, branched off the main passageway
Ebreck examined the side passages and noted that they had not been used for a very long time. When HHH used his supernatural senses to detect for any evil, he found no source of evil anywhere. "Where are the denizens of this land?" Ebreck asked. "I’m almost hoping to meet someone or something. Otherwise, I feel like we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop."
"Let’s explore the other passages and see what we turn up," PW piped. "At least it will break the monotony."
The party started down the left passage, checking for traps, tracks, and secret doors, but finding nothing. After 2000’, Ebreck noticed the first signs of life. "Hey, look over here! There are humanoid tracks here ... They’re webbed ... They’re from an aquatic humanoid, but I don’t recognize which species ... About a month old ... They seem to be going back and forth ... Doesn’t make much sense...I can’t get anything conclusive from these tracks, but at least we know that someone was here not more than a month ago."
"Can you get any other information from them?" Nuria asked. "No, well I’m going to check for the proximity of the other piece of the Rod. It might give us some insight as to which direction we should head in." Holding aloft the other piece, Nuria cleared her mind and focused on the image of the next piece of the Rod. No insight or instinct came forth, and she gave up on the exercise after a few minutes. "Nothing. Let’s head back and explore the other passageway." With that, the party went back to the fork in the passage and took the right passage. After another 2000’, they ran into another set of tracks.
"More tracks ... Humanoid ... They’re webbed, so an aquatic creature, but different from the first ... Again, a month old ... Inconclusive again ... What is going on around here?" Ebreck muttered to himself. Checking with the Rod again, the party came up with no answers.
Deciding to go deeper into the underdark, the heroes continued down the main passageway. As they continued their trek, they encountered a total of 5 side passages after a span of 2 km, all similar to the previous ones. After exploring each of these side passages for 2000’, they discovered that they all had month-old tracks in them, none of them had traps, and that the Rod couldn’t detect any signs of the other piece. The only recognizable tracks were those of the svirfneblin, the deep gnomes, found in the first of 5 side passages. The others were all unrecognizable. "We’re getting nowhere," HHH stated. "If this continues, we could be at this for the rest of our lives. We need some information. Not only on the drow, but on the entire domain we’re entering and the politics, too. This entire place seems deserted. There could have been war or disease or who knows what. I propose we follow the deep gnome tracks. I will hopefully be able to have a rapport with them, and get some badly needed information from them."
"I don’t think there is much choice," Xana sighed. "Let’s go meet the deep gnomes."
The party returned to the side passage with the deep gnome tracks and continued to follow them. It had only been 4 hours since they started their journey, but it already felt like days. After 3000’, the tunnel opened up into a vast, lightly forested area.
"Are those stars?" Agrona asked.
"They are stars," Xana replied. The land was bathed in twilight. "And a crescent moon, but not any stars or moon that I recognize. All the constellations are different and the sky itself seems ... unique. Do you notice how it almost glows?"
"Have we traveled to a new plane?" Nuria mused. She quickly scanned for magic, but could detect none, not even the sign of a threshold to indicate the location of a gate or portal to a new realm of existence. "Could this all be an elaborate illusion?"
"Let me check," HHH said. Closing his eyes and picturing the dark underground superimposed over the scene before him, HHH sought to dispel the illusion through sheer force of will. As he opened his eyes, nothing changed. "It seems real enough. Ebreck, are we still underground?"
"We’ve been traveling deeper and deeper underground the further we moved. As near as I can tell, we are deep underground," Ebreck avowed. "Doesn’t seem logical to me, but that’s what my senses are telling me."
"Let’s explore further," Agrona said. "No matter where we are, we need to get some more information. Do the gnome tracks continue through here, Ebreck?"
"They pass right through the area. I was almost expecting them to suddenly disappear once we entered this area."
The group continued on and soon stepped into a large garden area. Bordered by bushes, the garden had all types of flowers, trees, and budding bushes, but the most prominent flora was rose bushes. Each rose bush was covered with delicate red blossoms, covered with drops of dew. Following the trail of gnome tracks through the garden, the heroes reached the center of the garden. Illustrious marble stairs led to a statue of a naked human female, hand held out as if to pluck roses from the nearby bushes. The gnome tracks passed right by the foot of the statue. HHH thought he recognized her as the woman from the auction, but the features, though similar in their haunting beauty, were different. On a whim, HHH decided to address the statue in gnomish.
A low voice murmured in Ebreck’s ear. Help me... Ebreck scanned around looking for a source for the voice. Help me... As his eyes passed over the statue, he had an overwhelming feeling that the voice was coming from it. Help me... My name is Saluna... I was trapped as a statue... The only way I can be freed is if I am kissed by a male... Please, help me...
Feeling compelled to share this information, Ebreck approached Agrona, Nuria, and HHH, the only visible members of his party. In case this was a trap, he wanted them to have an ace up their sleeve. Speaking loudly, he relayed what Saluna had relayed to him.
"What should we do?" HHH asked. "I’d hate to leave a damsel in distress, but this situation is a little too clichéd to be true."
"Agreed," Ebreck said. "Let’s examine the situation a little more closely." Hoping Xana was close enough to hear them, he then whispered his next words. "Ask the plants around to see if this story is on the up-and-up." As he whispered the words, he and Nuria approached the statue to gather more information. Ebreck checked around the statue for tracks while Nuria searched the area for additional clues.
Meanwhile, Xana twirled the ivy bracelet on her wrist. "Time to see if this bracelet really works," she thought. Closing her eyes, she slipped into a light trance to talk to the roses in the garden. Though she was close to nature, being in direct contact with plants’ minds showed how truly alien their thought patterns were.
Focusing on the coherent voice, Xana asked her questions.
"When did the gnomes pass through?"
"Why was the woman changed into a statue?"
"Who changed her into a statue?"
"How long have you been here?"
"How long has the garden been here?"
"Do the deep gnomes worship here?"
"Is there natural sunshine here?"
Xana broke contact with the roses. She felt herself slipping further and further towards them as it became easier and easier to understand them. Shaken, but needing to pass on the information she gained, she whispered what she learned into Ebreck’s ear. For his part, Ebreck relayed the information to the rest of the group.
For her part, Nuria could gather no other information. Agrona and HHH discussed Saluna and whether there were any references to her in any of their religious texts or their planar research. The discussion proved circular and inconclusive. Deciding to see what lay beyond the statue, the adventurers explored past the garden’s boundaries. They observed a large area covered in brush and small trees, and they could hear little animals running around in the background.
Gathering back at the statue, the heroes discussed their next course of action.
HHH started the discourse, "So it comes down to this: Kiss the statue or not. We really don’t have enough information to decide, but if the gnomes are the ones who changed her into a statue, I don’t think we should free her."
"I think we should get one of you boys to give her a kiss," Nuria countered. "What’s the worse thing that could happen?" At this point, the rest of the party rolled their eyes. "What’s her wisdom again?" HHH asked aloud.
Agrona suddenly volunteered. "I’ll probably regret this, but I’ll kiss the statue."
Preparing for the worst, Ebreck, Nuria, and HHH assumed flanking positions around the statue and prepared to attack if the need arose. Stepping up to the statue, Agrona placed his lips onto the cold marble ones of the statue. Quickly, the feeling of the stone started to change, becoming softer and more full bodied. A pair of shapely, beautiful arms reached around Agrona and pulled him in tighter to the statue. Agrona started feeling something else, and it was more disturbing. His strength felt drained and he felt like he was losing a part of himself. "Something’s not right here!" With that, Agrona pushed away from Saluna, though it was a pitiable action. "Ah nuts."
A rich and full bodied laugh, laced with cruelty, escaped Saluna’s lips. "Thank you, Agrona. That was quite the sweet kiss." Saluna appeared as an incredibly beautiful young woman, full of vibrant life. Then her appearance began to change. Large bat wings unfolded from her back and her eyes flared with otherworldly light.
Recognition dawned in Agrona’s eyes. "Succubus!"
HHH and Henrietta charged and struck Saluna with his lance. Ebreck released 3 cold iron arrows into her side which all struck with a satisfying trio of thunks. Saluna’s arms waved briefly and she cried a single word, and initially, it appeared that nothing happened. Suddenly, Saluna just disappeared. Delaying his attack, PW waited to see if she would reappear, but it became evident that she was gone.
"She’s fled this plane of existence," Agrona stated with conviction. He knew; the voice in his head, with its mocking laughter, told him so.
"How do you know?" HHH asked.
"I just do!" Agrona spat back. "I’m sorry. I feel the fool, that’s all. I shouldn’t take it out on you. Plus, I have some insight into this, but don’t ask me how." With that, he turned away from the group. HHH stared at his back and wondered what was happening to his friend.
Ebreck scanned the area while retrieving his spent arrows. Though Saluna had disappeared, she left behind the arrows, though they were broken. "At least I can use the feathers to make myself some new ones," he thought to himself. Nuria walked around the former statue’s base, scanning for traces of magic, but found nothing.
"There’s nothing to be done here," she stated. "We can’t track her, and even if we could, it takes away from our true quest to find the other piece of the Rod. Let us continue following the gnomes’ tracks. We can pass on what happened here and they may be able to do something about it."
"We may have a problem," Ebreck said wearily. "While we were positioning ourselves around the statue, we obliterated the gnome tracks. They were faint and sparse to begin with, but now they are gone. I’ll have to explore further to find them again, if I can."
"Henrietta might be able to find them by scent," HHH said. "Come on girl, find the other gnomes." Henrietta started sniffing the area, trying to separate all the distinct odors, but the gnome scents were too old; she couldn’t find them at all. Not wishing to disappoint, still there was nothing she could do. "Nothing, eh? Ah well. You tried girl, and that’s all we could ask of you. I guess it is up to you, Ebreck."
"I need to rest," Agrona sighed. "That demoness drained me of my vitality and I am greatly weakened. It’s about lunch time anyway. A meal will do me some good." The heroes set a watch and ate a midday meal. Wolfing down his food, Ebreck set about exploring the area again to find the gnome tracks again. After two hours, Ebreck found the gnome tracks several hundred paces from the statue. "Here they are! We can get going again!" Ebreck cried in joy. With that, the party set off in search of the the gnomes. The day, as the group measured time in this land of twilight, passed quickly as they traveled through the forest. After several hours on their journey, PW sighted a village on the horizon.
"How do you want to approach this?" Nuria asked.
"I’ll approach the village alone with Henrietta," HHH replied. "It will have less chance of spooking the locals if a lone gnome appears. I will hopefully be able to get a feel for them and adjust accordingly. The rest of you stay hidden for now. If you see me rushing back, then you know there’ll be trouble hot on my heels." Briefly saying his goodbyes, he set off riding Henrietta.
A short distance from the village, a patrol of 7 gnomes appeared from behind a copse of trees. "Hail the warders," HHH greeted the gnomes in gnomish. "My friends and I are explorers in this land, and are seeking information." The gnomes seemed indifferent to his appearance.
"Friends?" the lead gnome asked. "How many are there and where are they?" Though he could understand the words, HHH had a bit of trouble with the strong accent the lead gnome had. It was an old dialect of the gnomish language.
"We are a group of 6 traveling the underdark," HHH replied. "What village is this?"
Ignoring HHH’s question, the lead gnome pressed for more answers. "What is your purpose here?"
Sensing something amiss, HHH scanned the gnomes subtly to check for evil. To his shock, they all radiated strong evil. Looking past them at the village, he felt an even stronger sense of evil. "Uh oh," he muttered to himself. More loudly, he addressed the other gnomes. "My deity ordained me to be disguised as a paladin, but we’re looking for a missing piece of a Rod. My friends and I are going to meet the drow, who we believe have it."
At the mention of drow, the gnomes perked up. "You seek the drow? Four of our party will escort you to the drow’s domain."
Trying to fit into character, HHH asked laconically, "How much will it cost for this generous service?"
Quick to respond, the lead gnome replied, "One hundred platinum pieces. Fifty paid up front, and fifty upon completion of the task. Now I realize that you probably don’t have the money here, but I’m sure your companions can help. Five of us will accompany you to your friends. Pay the 50 platinum pieces to my second-in-command, and the other 4 will escort you."
Seeing no way out of this situation, HHH decided to do what the gnomes asked. Sensing her master’s stress but unable to act, Henrietta growled the whole trip back to let her displeasure be known. Returning to where he left his friends, HHH led the gnomes to their location. The group had been exploring the area. Xana scouted invisibly and PW was hidden in shadows to prevent being spotted. As it was, Xana spotted HHH and his entourage and rushed to let the rest of the party know.
HHH approaches Nuria, Agrona and Ebreck, and addresses them. "Who are your allies, HHH?" Nuria queried.
HHH describes his encounter with the gnome scouting party and the deal he had made with them. "He’s acting a little bizarre," Ebreck thought to himself. "I wonder if he’s developed a nervous tick or something. He won’t stop winking and nudging. Is he coming on to those other gnomes? Nah, that’s too bizarre. I wonder if he’s okay. Could be a cultural thing, but it is really weird behavior. Well, we’ll figure that out after we talk with these gnomes."
"... so to solidify our deal with these brave gnomes, I agreed to pay them 50 platinum pieces right away and 50 upon the completion of our quest." HHH concluded in a subdued manner. With that, the second-in-command approached and asked for the money. Hoping to stall, HHH asked, in gnomish, about the nature of the journey they were about to undertake and how the gnomes came upon the knowledge they have about the drow.
"Well, the gnomes and drow have been trading for centuries," one gnome began. "Though the scheming drow always try to steal from us every chance they get. It is a long journey to their domain. It will take from 2 to 3 weeks to reach them. We will encounter many different people, as well as many dangers, so it is good that we will be accompanying you to help you navigate these difficulties." Translating, HHH relayed the information.
"We could use your help," Nuria mused. "Here’s your money." Nuria passed 50 platinum pieces to the second-in-command, who promptly left to return to his village. "Complete your assignment," was all he said to the other gnomes. As for the other 4 gnomes, they prepared for the journey, checking their supplies, and tightening their packs on their backs.
Nuria, whispering quietly in common, addressed the air in hopes that Xana was close enough to hear. "Can you use your Shape Stone spell to create a replica of the statue of Saluna?" As Xana was about to answer, one of the gnomes approached and began talking to Nuria in common.
"Who are you talking to and what was that about a statue?" he asked.
"Well," Nuria began, "uh, what did you say your name was?"
"Piff," he replied brusquely. "Continue." The other gnomes moved closer to hear.
"Well, Piff, we accidentally freed Saluna. We engaged her in combat when we saw our error, but she escaped before we could stop her."
His face without expression, Piff responded, "I must report this to my village. Start the trek without me. I will return within 4 or 5 days." With that, he turned and jogged back towards his village. The other gnomes had expressionless masks on as well.
"So, uh, what are your names?" PW’s cheerfulness seemed strained.
The gnome’s voice sounded morose. "I am Snap. He is Crackle. He is Pop. Let us go now."
The gnomes led the heroes back to the main passage. Turning to follow it, they walked silently; their footsteps seemed to vanish into the darkness. PW hid himself in the prevailing darkness, and took the point. The rest followed.
Their journey during the day was uneventful. After many miles of travel, the gnomes called a halt to their march. Setting up camp, the gnomes proved helpful and thoughtful. Noticing that the overlanders were eating dried rations, the Crackle collected mushrooms and caught 6-legged vermin to feed the group. Though initially dubious of the quality of the food, the heroes’ doubts soon vanished as the meal turned out to be filling and tasty. Ebreck volunteered to take the first watch, and just as quickly, Snap volunteered to keep watch with him. Nuria took advantage to get some rest and memorize her spells. After meditating for 2 hours, she put down her spellbook and turned to Pop. "What can you tell us of the drow?"
"The drow are a greedy, grasping people. They are degenerate; they live to satisfy their desires without thought to other people. They are dependent on their Spider Goddess and constantly vie for her attention. The 8 houses that make up the city we are guiding you to have around 25 to 100 members per house. Altogether, there are around 1000 drow in their city. They are in a constant state of conflict - alliances are made and broken, and no one can be trusted. Sometimes, a single house will rise to supremacy, but it is usually short-lived. Though they are slaves to their desires, they are strong in their magic and their military might is powerful. We skirmish with them from time to time; though we always come out on top, it is never an easy victory. For the most part, we trade with the drow. There is no single house we trade with in particular. Merchants from both sides meet halfway and set up a temporary market. There are other factions that meet at these temporary markets: the kuo-toas, the duergars, and the troglodytes all come to trade."
"In your travels and encounters with the drow, have you ever met drow named Morlock?" Ebreck asked. "This drow has been to the surface and has been working for a human sorceress."
"I’ve never heard the name before, nor met anyone who matches his description," Pop replied.
Chanting softly to himself, Agrona beseeched his deity to restore his lost power. Heironeous responded by removing the negative energy infusing Agrona’s body from the succubus’ touch and returning it to normal. Giving thanks, Agrona was humbled by the generosity and power of his deity.
The party traveled for a week with their gnome guides. Following the main passage, the party passed many side passages and never once deviated from their path. Halfway through the week, Piff, the fourth gnome, caught up to the group. Pulling aside the other gnomes for a moment and briefly speaking with them, they all continued with the journey. Though it seemed constructed for use by the different races of the underdark, the party encountered several monsters, but easily overcame them. From these creatures, the party collected
The group’s travels for the day were uneventful. Searching for a good place to set up camp, the group spotted a party of 6 drow around 300’ away. The drow scouting party was comprised of 4 males dressed in light armor, a larger, shirtless, male, and a female drow in armor was in the lead. Turning to the gnomes, Agrona asked what the proper protocols are for greeting and addressing the drow. The gnomes replied that the drow would most likely just question the group. Shouting out a greeting, HHH and Snap approached the drow to parley. Speaking in undercommon, the drow addressed HHH and Snap.
"Who goes there?" the female drow’s voice rang out. Turning to HHH, Snap translated.
HHH, with Snap translating, replied, "We are travelers seeking to trade with your people. We carry a dragon hide and polar bear skins." Thinking for a moment, the lead drow demands to see the party’s wares. After a quick scan of the hides, the party was told to move along. Before departing, HHH asked the drow if there was a password of sign of good faith that the group would have to provide to gain access to the drow city. The large drow, his voice tolling, replied that Tradesmaster Fred would be the person they should see at the gate.
The group completed the second, uneventful week of traveling to the drow realm.
The third week of travel started without incident.
As the heroes approached closer and closer to the drow city, they spotted a lone, dark figure ahead moving towards them. As they got within 200’, they recognized Gregory, PW’s trainer/mentor. Sliding closer to Gregory while invisible, PW greeted him. "Gregory! What are you doing down here?"
"I’ve been enjoying the drow’s hospitality for quite some time. The meals have been sumptuous and the company very ... engaging," he said with a crooked smile. "What are you doing here?"
Before PW could answer, Nuria joined them and engaged Gregory. "So, what business have you had with the drow?"
"Don’t worry," Gregory’s grin broadened. "I’m not after the 4th piece of the rod, but the different houses are." The rest of the group joined in the conversation while the gnomes hung back. "I can tell you that there has been a lot of turmoil amongst the houses. They seem to be turning on each other quite viciously. Before, they followed specific rules of engagement. Now it seems like a free-for-all. I don’t even think that the priestesses of Lolth can curb their ... enthusiasm."
"If we could find out which house has possession of the rod and its location, we could use that information to garner favor with the other houses," HHH mused. "Are there any individuals could help?"
"Sorry, there are no good contacts in the city," Gregory replied. "Either the contacts are embroiled with one side or another, they are so paranoid that they don’t trust anyone who is not drow, or they’re dead. And just so you know, you can’t use any of my contacts, not that you would recognize them." Gregory turned to Agrona and lowered his voice, "Saluna sends her greetings." Addressing the group again, he continued, "To get into the drow city, you’ll need to provide compensation to the right people."
"How much will this ‘compensation’ cost us?" PW asked. With a quick glance at HHH, Gregory responded, "Quite a bit." Picking dust off his sleeve, Gregory concluded, "Good journey to you all. I have places to go and I’m on a tight timetable."
"You have three weeks of travel before you reach the surface," Ebreck stated. "Why not join us and help us enter the drow’s city? Then we can travel back together and make the trip safer and more pleasant."
Grinning, Gregory replied, "I have a faster means of traveling in and out of the underdark. Fear not for me." Thanking him for his help, Gregory strolled away and soon disappeared from sight. Turning to continue their journey, the heroes noticed that the gnomes had approached quietly and had overheard the end of the discussion with Gregory. Nothing was said, and the group continued its journey.
At midday, the group of travelers encountered another drow patrol comprised of 8 members. Again using the premise of being traders, the drow let the group by without question.
The days progressed without incident.
An hour after beginning the day’s journey, the lead gnome spotted a hulking humanoid far down the tunnel. Agitated, he hurried back to talk to the other gnomes. The gnomes all became nervous and frantic. "What’s wrong?" Agrona asked.
"There is a rumor of a nycadaemon, an indestructible killing machine, which wanders the passages and attacks all living things. It calls no one master; many have tried to bend it to their will or destroy it, no one has ever succeeded. That creature approaching us could be an ogre, or it could be the nycadaemon." Glancing and seeing it was now 200’ away, the gnome finished quickly, "I do not care to find out which it is. Stay if you wish, but we are going to avoid this being." With that, the gnomes rushed into a side passage. Following their example, the heroes followed the gnomes. The group traveled for 600’ down the side passage, and waited for the creature to pass. After a reasonable amount of time passed, the group returned to the main passageway to continue their journey.
Several hours later, while discussing the religious beliefs of the svirfneblin, Agrona happened to glance back the way they had traveled and saw several figures coming up behind them. There were several humans riding centipede-type creatures; some of the steeds were hitched to covered wagons, while the free-riders kept to the edge of the group as guards, and they were all catching up to the heroes very quickly. They seemed to be a caravan. Informing the others of the approaching humans, Agrona turned to the gnome he was speaking to and asked, "Do you recognize this group of humans?" The gnome just shrugged in a non-committed manner. Deciding to risk an encounter, Nuria flagged down the caravan.
The caravan was made up of 4 or 5 guards and had 2 wagons. The human leading the first wagon was dressed in gaudy clothes with jewelry, obviously fake, hanging from his arms and ears. He looked Nuria up and down. "Hello there sexy thing."
Responding coyly, Nuria said, "Have you got something to trade?"
"For you, anything. Why don’t you climb in the back of the wagon and we can negotiate an equitable deal?" Drool glistened down his chin.
"I’m more for open negotiations," Nuria replied, suppressing a shudder. "Do you have any pearls?"
Pulling out a jewelry box from beneath his seat, the head caravaner opened it up to show a large selection of pearls. "I’ll trade you 2 amber gems for those 2 pristine pearls." Disappointed that he wouldn’t be getting any personal pleasuring, his demeanor became more serious. "Let me see the quality of those gems." A jeweler’s loop appeared in his hand as he examined the gems. "Deal."
Meanwhile, Ebreck and PW approached the other wagon. "Time to restock!" Ebreck said joyfully. After haggling to a reasonable price, they each received 40 cold iron arrows for 6 gp each. HHH, tired of eating mushrooms cooked with questionable meat, purchased 25 trail rations for 25 gp (FROM THE GROUP PURSE).
Sidling up to the head caravaner, Nuria swayed her hips and pursed her lips. "What house are you trading with? We’re new to the area and wish to open up possible trade routes."
His eyes getting wider and wider, he replied in a distracted manner, "There’s a market area in the inner city. You just need to get a booth."
Pouting a little, Nuria continued, "How do we get in?"
Shaking his head a little as if to clear it, the caravaner replied, "Bribery, deception, or sneaking in are your only options. If you try sneaking in, try not to bump into the others who have tried, or what’s left of them. Their heads adorn spikes all along the outer wall, and there are a lot of heads." Looking at the other members of his caravan and seeing them loafing around, he called for the caravan to continue its trek. "Maybe we’ll meet again inside the city," he smiled hopefully.
"Anything is possible." Nuria blew a kiss at him and slapped her pert buttocks
The caravan left quickly, and the group resumed their journey. As they got closer and closer to the drow’s city, demons and undead of all types were seen in the main passageway, as well as others. Though no one seemed surprised by the appearance of these fierce beings, they gave them a wide berth.
A mile from the citadel, the passageway stretched into a large open area. Again, stars and other heavenly bodies could be seen above, but these ones had a more violet tinge. Large, 40’ tall towers made of black stone cut across the landscape, creating a narrow bottleneck. The towers themselves were rounded and melded into the sides of the caverns as if they had grown from them. Glowing lichens and other plant life dotted the landscape. Taking this chance to rest, the group set up camp. As the evening progressed, Nuria used the newly-purchased pearls to identify the 2 magic items.
The group woke up at 6 AM and approached the main gate to the drow’s citadel.
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