Darkness Revealed - Part 1

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Darkness Revealed - Part 1

Post by Dungeon Master on Sat Sep 09, 2017 2:22 pm

Darkness Revealed
Part 1 - A small light burns the brightest

“Drow ? I don’t really fancy that. On any prime.” Calmert sat his heavy goblet down on Darion’s darkwood desk. His face was a mask of disgust, such as the Lord of Canton had never seen on his friend before. “I don’t know how much knowledge you have of the dark elves Darion, but I’ve run into the children of the spider queen more than once. And once was more than enough.” Although the exchange was calm and matter-of-factly, the deep scowl did not leave the operative’s face. Darion was puzzled.
“I mean, devils and demons have some sort of code you can crack. A way to act, if you will. With a demon, you know that they will do their worst and that’s it. For a drow…” Calmert took another sip of the warm Cathayan wine and looked to the eight-foot high windows overlooking Canton.
“For a drow, the worst is not enough. You can only hope that they kill you outright. Which they don’t. A drow has at his disposal an insane array of poisons; sleep inducing darts, paralyzing blade poisons, fatigue inducing powders, disabling liquids and what not. Killing is what they do best, and they can be quick, and deadly silent about it. It’s just… they don’t do that. Eventually, they capture you, and yes, I say eventually, because unless you kill them all, one of them will blindside you in the end. Their single-minded determination to avenge anything they perceive as a slight, is beyond comprehension from a sane person. And to a drow, everyone, including their own, has wronged them at some point or another.” Darion was surprised by this uncharacteristic rant from the operative. Calmert emptied his cup, and looked at it disapprovingly as if it had run out on purpose. Setting down his goblet again, he stared intently at Darion, the hardness of his stare giving his red eyes a glasslike appearance.
“If they capture you, hope for a chance to kill yourself.” Staring out the window again, with a grim expression on his face, the fiery light from outside painted his face in dark red colors. Darion did not for a moment doubt that his planewalker friend meant what he said.
“A normal drow can torture you for tendays and keep you alive to feel every bit of that pain. A master torturer or a matron mother will keep you alive and in torment, body and spirit, for years. Decades maybe. Centuries, even.” The operative trailed off. "And then there is the constant games.”
“Games ?” Darion interjected, breaking Calmert’s tirade. The tiefling blinked, as if trying to whisk away a bad dream.
“Never mind Darion. Suffice to say, I don’t like dealing with the drow. On any prime.” He repeated. Leaving his seat a little too hastily, the tiefling grabbed his goblet to go hunt for some more wine in Darion’s spacious office.
“I can maybe let Cheriel handle things here for a few days and go with you if that will help, Calmert ?” The lord of Canton shuffled through a stack of papers on his desk, easily identifying the most important items on his itinerary.
“With all respect, Darion, no. Me, I can pass for a cambion if needs be. The drow see demons and half-demons as tools rather than people, so they might underestimate me. Even with all your magical defenses, you would be taken. I couldn’t let that happen to a friend. Not to anyone.” Calmert was concentrating intently on pouring the wine into his cup, as if he would somehow be able to pour more into it than it could hold. Realizing it was a lost cause; he gulped down the full glass, and poured himself a new one.
“Ok…” Darion hesitated. “What about Galean ? I could ask him to come with you as a favor to me ?” The tiefling seemed to consider it. Something clearly lifted his spirits when the Lord of Canton talked of the gnome Ethluwar.
“I’d really like having the dragon with me, Darion. His very presence keeps the darkness away. But no, it would not be a good idea.” Calmert grimaced as if the wine had suddenly turned sour. “It would be good to have him by my side, but someone would tick him off. At some point or another, he’d just want to kill them all. You know him.” Calmert gave the bookkeeper a grin, spreading his arms wide making claw like motions with his hands. Mimicking one of the gnome’s battle cries, he yelled “Treasure!” They both had a laugh. Darion wiped a tear of mirth from one eye.
“I miss the trickster. The citadel is too empty without him.”
“Yeah, me too.” Calmert had again turned his attention to his empty cup. It definitely needed another fill. He sighed. “No. There is nothing for it Darion. I will have to go find your elusive dark elf on my own.” He sat down his now filled goblet. Suddenly the urge to drink was no longer as strong.
Darion made a placating gesture, and freed his flowing robes from the heavy polished darkwood chair. Calmert also stood up, understanding the topic had been debated to the end. Realizing that the Lord of Canton was making for the door, he grabbed his bow and quiver from the ornate candelabra where he had hung it. He raised an eyebrow.
“You’re coming with me after what I just said, Darion ?” the assassin inquired with a pause. The old bard shot him a wide grin.
“No, master Calmert. You and I are going to get some food, and meet someone that can lift our spirits. All this doom and gloom has given me quite the appetite.”
“The Scorched Tailfeather, then ?” Calmert chuckled.
“Indeed.”

Although the pair were both hungry, they did not hurry. Darion took his time casting a number of intricate cloaking spells on the both of them, and ended by activating a blue agate ring. Its illusionary effect gave him the appearance of an elderly courtier. Calmert grinned, and ate a pickled Thayan olive from the buffet in the anteroom. He ran a hand through his dark greased hair, and proceeded to shake his head until it looked exactly like before. He checked his teeth in the full-size silver mirror and exclaimed with smug satisfaction:
“There. Completely unrecognizable!”
Darion looked puzzled at Calmert for a second. Then he smiled.
“Ah yes. Because every other tiefling in Canton looks exactly like you.” Calmert grinned back at the bard.
“There should be some advantages to being the breeding stock for a nation of mercenaries, no ?”
“Indeed.” Darion rolled his eyes, and activated the latch for one of the secret doors in the anteroom.
“Let’s get going, shall we ?” He indicated the secret corridor to Calmert who hastily strode by. He was really looking forward to some relaxing company again. It would be nice to laugh a bit. Gods know it might be a long time before there would be anything to laugh about again.

Leaving the citadel, the two walked in silence through upper streets of Canton. Both in somber moods, their thoughts circling on the things to come. It was not an uncomfortable silence. It was a silence shared between friends who knew each other well. Although the pair were preoccupied, their navigation through the balcony level of the high-rising city came natural. It was not a displeasing view of the City of Song, and as they walked it leisurely, they had time to take in the ambience of the place. The light from the oozing goblets of fire floating towards the sky lit the spires and staircases of Canton in a reddish cloying darkness, which deepened all crevices and niches. Beautiful in an elven sort of way, the architecture and the white stones stood in contrast to the jagged coal-like mountains surrounding the city. Dodging under narrow archways, and following deserted alleys between shops and living spaces, the pair made their way down the echelons of Canton. The closer they got to ground level, the darker the city became around them. It was not that it was dirty, for the unseen magical servants cleaned every street daily, but the humidity of the plains around the city almost solidified the stale air of the undercity. Where the upper balconies were usually empty, the true life of Canton showed its face in its underbelly. Although the hour was late, a serious bustle was about at the great bazaar. Trade had stopped for the day, and merchants were leaving their stalls, finding their way to inns and bars to relax and enjoy the evening. The bazaar was probably the only open stretch of land at ground level with no buildings or walkways crisscrossing over it. Although the red dust from the plains hung in everything, the openness gave the area a certain freshness. Only a few merchants were still closing down their stalls, as most had already left for the evening. The merchants trading in Canton, knew that they could safely leave their wares at the bazaar, while under the protection of not only the city watch, known as the Dawnsingers, but also patrolled by the mercenaries of the Silken Hand. Crossing the bazaar, Darion noticed dwarf peddler still securing his wagon. The fellow seemed on guard, talking to one of the city guides who waited nearby. The two shared a brief moment of eye contact, but the Lord of Canton did not give it much more thought.
Leaving from the other end of the bazaar it was only a short walk to one of the most famous mercenary hangouts in Canton: The inn known as the Scorched Tailfeather was a four-story building built like a fort draped in the flowing red banners. Over the open central doors hung a huge sign, charred by flames to almost all charcoal. It depicted a huge feather, which might have been white or red at some point. More than one guest had in passing referred to the building as looking like a half-orc wearing a dress. On the inside, the bar had very much the same demeanor: rowdy and all dressed up for a party. Two off-duty patrols of Silken Hand mercenaries were standing outside, sharing a 12-pound Thayan iron goblet of Dustwine. To get in, the two friends had to duck and weave between the black clad tieflings, earning more than a few rough comments. Well inside, the dry hotness of the evening air was replaced by a much cooler and crisper atmosphere. It was part of the charm of the inn, that it had been magically tempered to follow the seasons of Waterdeep. This made the long stone entryway cold to the touch, almost chilling, before opening up into the huge common room with an open roaring fire pit in the center. The smell of roasted boar and stale ale filled the room, like so many of the local inns in the North of Faerun. At this hour, the bar was full to the brim, and the two latecomers had to snake their way through the throng of heathy mercenaries and other local patrons. It was so loud in the common room that orders at the bar were done mainly with hand gestures, and if there had been any entertainment, no one would have been able to hear it. Through this pandemonium, Darion and Calmert made their way to one of the alcoves in the back.
It was not easy to get through the crowd, and it took a long time to find the booth in which the gnome was sitting. Fortunately, the small adventurer had not drawn the red drapes, so the round table was easy to sport once they got into the right hallway. The gnome trickster sat cross-legged in the center of the oak table, a feast of good solid Northern food arrayed around him. He looked like a starved hound shackled before a banquet. When Galean spotted the two other Planewalkers, he lit up in a smile, doing his best to conceal his jagged teeth in the process. Although most of the patrons of the Scorched Tailfeather would have come across the gnome Ethluwar at one point or another, he did not want to attract more attention than he had to.
“Friends!” the gnome exclaimed with warmth. “Come! Eat, and drink on this all too hot night in Canton.”
The two smiled back warmly and clasped forearms with the small creature as they took up places on either side of the round table. The three adventurers quickly dug into the assembled food and drink. The gnome easily consuming three times as much as the two others combined. It felt like good old times. Darion started filling in the two others on the results of his research.

”Tenebrous, who ?” the gnome half-dragon spat at two other Planewalkers between mouthfuls. He was furiously skipping between the thick broth, the elven bread and the honey ham. “I’ve never heard of a god by that name. What is he god of ? Troglodytes and monkeys ?” He looked sideways at the Calmert, and gave the assassin a wide grin.
“No master Galean.” The Lord of Canton replied. He did not mind the mirth of his oldest friend, but he did really miss the listening skills of the archmage. “The main troglodyte deity is called Lagozed and he also lords it over caves and dark places.” Darion thought to himself that this would have gone faster if the gold elf had been at the citadel. Of the Planewalker Five he was the most elusive these days. Well, not counting the proxy. After the assault on Tcian Sumere, Rahnefereth had quickly excused himself, and left. No doubt to return to Sigil and to his all-important experiments. A child’s laughter brought the bookkeeper back to the present.
“…or the bottom of a shitter.” Darion composed himself at the base comment from the gnome.
“Ahem. Yes. Most likely, master Galean. Nevertheless, friends, I really must ask you to recount for me again, what happened in that cell. My research on this adversary has been quite frustrating. Especially since the fall of their god, the Illithids can no longer be trusted to deliver reliable information through the turnpike in Sigil.” He sighed. “So, master gnome, once again if you please ?”
The little creature smiled a disarming smile at the bard, showing a little too many jagged teeth.
“Of course, Darion. However, there is not much to tell. I think I was on kill 97, and Calmert on 92 when we found the dungeons, Rah had told us about.” The operative demonstratively stabbed the last piece of ham that the gnome was about to pick from his plate, not giving the impression that he was going to lift his knife anytime soon. The trickster shot him a long stare, and corrected himself: “All right, Calmert was maybe on 102. Ok ? You happy now ? Can I get my food ?” Retracting his knife with the deftness of a skilled knife fighter, Calmert smiled at his friend. “Of course. When you stop lying.”
“I never lie!”
“Now, that’s a lie.”
“Hah, on yer eight mothers, yer the same!”
“I never claimed otherwise.” The assassin ended the argument with a wink, as he ate the slice of honeyed ham, which he had expertly snatched during the exchange.
“Hey! I was going to eat that!” The gnome exclaimed. The operative simply shrugged, leaned back and enjoyed the smoked taste of the northern food.
“Please, master Harper, I will get you more to eat.” Darion tried his best to diffuse the situation as he turned about, scouting for a servant outside the booth. A completely impossible assignment on the best of days, as the hallways were bustling with guests.
“Nah, don’t waste yer time. We’re just messing. I was done anyways. Now what was I talking about ?”
“The dungeon that Rah had directed you to. Where you found the drow prisoner.”
“Yes.” Now serious, the gnome sat down his fork and cleared his throat, as he lounged into the lavish tale. Calmert seemed still in thought, and only rarely did he correct the Ethluwar unless a detail was out of place, or when embellishment would take away from Darion’s understanding of what had actually happened.
---

“Left, right, left, right. Make up yer bleedin mind ye daft elf.” Calmert smiled to himself at the gnomes constant muttering while they sprinted through the dark corridors. Both knew that the archmage could not hear the gnome’s comments, as the sendings were one way only. Still, Calmert could not help but think it was a bit uncanny that the gold elf knew exactly where they were in the labyrinthine fortress.
“Uh, ok.” The gnome stopped abruptly.
“What ?” The assassin inquired.
“He said to go through the door and expect a fight.”
“I’ll start looking for secret doors, Galean. If Rah says there is one here, he is bound to be right.”
“Yeah, that’s not what worries me, Calmert.”
The assassin had already started his search pattern of the walls, looking for both mundane and magically concealed entrances, and were only halfway paying attention to the gnome trickster.
“He never warns me of a fight.” The gnome said wondering, more to himself than anyone else.
“Found it.” Calmert’s exclamation was followed by a huge rush of air, sucking the air out of the corridor as a vortex gateway opened in the wall. With extraordinary speed, and inhuman strength, the gnome dug a clawed hand into the black stones, making a handhold where there was none. With the other hand he hastily hooked his warhammer into Calmert’s quiver, preventing the two adventurers from being sucked into another dimension. Calmert cursed.
“Hold on a little while longer.” He said, knowing well the gnome could not hear him over the rushing gale. Trusting completely in the strength of his diminutive friend, the operative did not even reach out to help hold himself out of the already collapsing vortex. Instead, his half-elven hands moved with a blur of speed as he plunged items from his many pouches into the vortex in calculated succession. His black hair streamed into his eyes as he worked completely from memory, trying to close the portal.
With unnatural lack of sound, the vortex closed in an instant, and the gale stopped as abruptly as it had begun. The two adventurers landed on the floor, tired but unharmed. The gnome disgruntledly picked stones shards out from under his metallic claws.
“Yer getting slow, laddy.” Galean said as looked inquisitively at the jagged hole he had dug the width of a hand into the wall.
Calmert gave the gnome a mock apologetic gesture, as he tried to tie his wily black hair back into a knot. The gnome started tapping the wall where the vortex had appeared with his hooked hammer. It did not take long before he found the secret door. With a grunt, he tricked the magical lock to open, and the wall disappeared into nothingness, revealing a tube-like corridor snaking into the blankness of the ethereal plane. Without waiting for the assassin, the gnome hefted his hammer and started down the magical walkway. Calmert smiled, and nocked a particularly nasty looking arrow, following the half-dragon into the swirling darkness.
The magical corridor dropped the two Planewalkers into an open prison cell. Like in the rest of the fortress, the dark stones were dripping with moisture, and the air was stale and suffocating. The iron bars were solid, but it was clear that the cell had been vacant for a long time. Gone was the mirth and the quick banter, as the two trained rogues instantly went into the shadows. Most people would have been hard pressed to hear or see either of the two as they nimbly snuck out of through the open door. A master thief or a guardian with magically amplified hearing might have been able to discern that the gnome half-dragon was a hair more noisy than the tiefling, but not many others would be able to. The two went from cell to cell, covering as many angles as they could in the darkness with only their supernatural eyesight to guide them. All the cells were empty. The two rogues looked puzzlingly at each other. What were they looking for ? Why had the archmage sent them here ?
Calmert grinned. Getting the gnome’s attention, he signaled in thieves cant. The gnome grinned too, and took position along the wall, as the operative knelt in the center of the oval anteroom. With the deftness of a practiced burglar, he unlocked the four concealed padlocks in the floor, throwing the concealed grate wide open.
“Not like we were going to keep silent for long anyways.” The gnome shrugged and grinned at the tiefling as he barreled through the opening in the floor. Having already established that the drop to the stone floor below would be safe enough, the tiefling followed silently into the gloom. Landing like a cat, bow strung, the assassins made almost no sound. In the lackluster hues of his darkvision, Calmert quickly assessed the layout of the room. It was a large holding cell, easily twice as big as the anteroom above. At the far end of the wall, a prisoner was held in the iron grips of four black stone statues. Each statue holding him by an arm or a leg with, locking him against the wall. Calmert cursed to himself.
“Crud. Spiderstone golems.” He quickly chanted to the gnome. He was not a fan of the drow made constructs. And definitely not the versions dedicated to their death god.
Every so often the prisoner, a regal looking dark elf, shuddered, as his life energy was violently sucked into one of the four golems in a shimmer of red light. In those brief moments, his skin would flake off his naked body in patches of ash, and his face scorch to the point where white bone would show. The prisoner did not scream. Maybe he had been screaming at a point, but now all that was left was a sort of insane defiance, as he stared angrily at his captors as they kept admonishing the excruciating torment. Neither the prisoner nor the golems made any notice of the interlopers as the two slowly moved over the damp prison floor. Spreading out, the gnome had put his hooked hammer in the relaxed Vuge-grip, from which Calmert knew he could launch over a dozen different strikes. He also saw the smoldering embers at the side of Galean’s mouth, and knew that his friend also understood the power of these guardians. This was not going to be an easy fight.
“Let’s do this then.” He whispered to himself, as he gave the nod to the gnome and loosed his first arrow. Even before it hit, the Ethluwar was tumbling across the room. With his dragon strength, he had set of from the ground and whirled through the air with the grace of a trained acrobat. Midway, his somersault brought him into perfect position to maximize the damage he could unleash with his dragon’s breath. At just that precise moment, the assassin’s arrow hit the wrist of one of the constructs. Calmert knew that the arrow would not break the skin of the onyx creature; it simply splintered into a green mist of darkwood and chemicals. He had switched arrows to one of the few alchemical arrows he only carried when fighting alongside the half-dragon. The shaft contained an enchanted glass vial, and upon shattering, it spread a highly incendiary compound into the air. The green mist quickly spread around the golem. Calmert was already moving in the opposite direction, rightly respecting the pure power that was about to be unleashed. The half-dragon exhaled. An intense jet of crackling dragonsfire spread from the gnome’s mouth in a straight line. The flame bleed incendiary sparks of its own, and melted everything it touched. Had Calmert not been running, he would have seen the gnome’s mouth go black as lava, the coppery scales of his face lighting up with whiteness as the intense flame was produced deep within his chest. The roar of the flame filled the room, and only amplified when the incandescent stream of fire ignited the green chemicals. The explosion threw one of the guardians across the room, both its hands sheared off below the elbows, the stone stumps bleeding molten onyx. Such was the precision of gnome’s aim that a full three of the golems had huge rents where the dragonsfire had melted through their enchanted stone skin. Yet, no direct fire had hit the prisoner. The chemicals did not make the same distinction between friend or foe, and the blast had scorched the prisoner from top to toe in acidic droplets of fire. Calmert had trained with the master archers of the Outlands, and had angled the shot so to spare the prisoner from the worst of the damage, but when there was fire involved, there would always be unexpected damage. As the gnome landed in a perfect Nid-Hugg stance, grinning and licking his pointy teeth, Calmert was already sprinting towards the prisoner again, a potion of healing salve in his hand. The prisoner seemed stunned, but strangely unfazed. The slender drow elf looked with marvel at his freed left hand, as if it was not really his own. The tiny flames from the chemical compound burned in pinpoints all over his body, burrowing through his dark skin, yet he did not scream or seem discomforted. He simply kept marveling at the hand he held up before his face. He smiled a cold vicious smile and slowly turned his head to look at the two adventurers.
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