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Letter #8: Return to the Surface

Updated: May 22, 2021

Dear Maria,

For the past three or so letters, you have read of nothing but our exploits in these Ostorian ruins hidden within – what I believe are – the surface layers of the Underdark. Giant spiders, ogres, caches of long forgotten gold, strange magics beyond comprehension; I’m sure that you – just like we did – long for some normality, or some pause or break to our delving in so dark and damp a place. I might allow you some ‘dramatic irony’ – as they call it – in allowing you to know that all members end this day cuddled beneath the warmth of sturdy and welcoming blankets.

My last entry had concluded with the drow elves Mindrahl and Kaeleah being released from their cage but not from their imprisonment, as Leith, Adrik, and Brixton had bound the terrified and submissive drows’ hands together. Whilst I did what I could to gather components for my familiar’s summoning spell, Gudael searched the bodies of the fallen drow we had just recently slain.

Upon their person was more gold, the same as of those we had found in the warded chest; not only this, but Gudael also discovered small vials of brackish liquid. All but a few of us tried to discern what this was, using what limited tools and knowledge we had on hand – short of drinking it ourselves; which the drow suggested, thus we shrugged the idea from our minds. All that we gathered was that it was foul smelling, but likely harmful as our captives had recommended we consume it.

I asked Gudael if she knew the young lad who had been caged with her. Alas, he had been out since her capture and therefore had no time or way to converse or interact with the youth. He was at least fifteen, no older nor younger looking than Edgar’s Philip. Not wanting to leave the boy down there unceremoniously unburied – which we had little time or safety in which to entertain such a ceremony – it was decided that we could at least carry him out.

Hamir prodded the boy with the butt of his quarterstaff, making some comment on dead weight or the such. Already at my wit’s end with the mage, I grabbed his staff and warned him to pay more respect to the dead. I think he could tell that even my patience with him had been drained dry and did little more to aggravate the situation.

Brixton, knowing well the lost and forgotten urchins of the city through his unscrupulous connections, gazed more extensively upon the cold and silent boy, only to recognise him as one Ben Silden. It must have pained Brixton to see a child he knew, even very remotely, dead before him – for I saw a solemn look glaze over his otherwise bright and heroic countenance.

Death is tragic for those who have lived a good life. More so for those who did not. Yet, even more heart-breaking, is the passing of those who never truly got to a chance to live at all.

Despite our own looks at the evidently deceased boy before us, Gudael – whose expert medicine skills could not confirm nor deny his expiration – touched young Ben and spoke a healing word into his flesh.

A coughing, raspy gasp of life shook his body; rattling his still lungs once more with the intoxicating allure of air. This boy, Ben, had not been dead at all, simply catatonic, his body evidently working so hard to keep his internals barely moving, that no external evidence of his essence could be seen.

It was then that heavy footfalls, like those belonging to the felled ogres around us, could be heard further down in the abyssal bowels of these neglected ruins; and guttural, brutish grunts that set our hearts to beating like a war-drum within our ears. Fearing another savage battle that we may not walk away from, we fled up the inclining stairs, back to whence we came from. Behind us, in the diminishing glow of mine and Hamir’s lights, did we see the large silhouettes emerge from the shadowy gloom.

We made little time in staying at the skeletal ship, for despite wishing to recover more of these treasures and riches for the Envoy, we put our own well-being first. Gudael seemed struck by the sheer amount of wealth, but more so the historical find she had just been lead to, yet there was little time for her to relish this sentiment as, once we heard the rumbling growls from behind us, we began our expeditious retreated from the ship back to the archway where we first encountered that vanishing spider – what was merely an omen of the horrors yet to come.

We reached again that terrifyingly fathomless pit which we all needed to leap across. Brixton, with his deftly nimble skills, made easy work of the gap, as did Leith. Sending forth from his position, Adrik tied rope around the drow. He offered to either throw them, or untie their bonds in able to put their fate within their own hands.

The first drow, Kaeleah, made it across reasonably well; however, Mindrahl required some assistance, getting stuck half way across the rope line we all used for support. With the aid of Adrik, he safely got across. It seemed it was not the chasm, though, that Mindrahl needed to fear; for, once whispering a small few words into Adrik’s ear once they had both gotten across. Then, the dwarf grew to an ogre’s size and, with his large, firm hands, dangled the dark-elf over the lip of the drop.

Naturally, all of us made quite some fuss about not-harming the captive; Adrik assured us that nothing untoward would come to the drow – implying that something may indeed happen to him were he not co-operative with his following line of questioning.

After a short exchange that no-one present could understand, Adrik returned our drow prisoner to the safety of stable rock before shrinking back to his typical size.

Gudael followed this altercation with a leap, and I – ever the gentleman – allowed Hamir to go first. He did struggle in his traverse-ment, but was eventually aided across. I myself, when my turn came, too had difficulty making the gap, but as I froze in place – attempting to keep my balance – I once more, with the aid of my magic – stepped to the firm ground beyond and we continued our ascent. Ben Silden, fear not, made it across atop Adrik’s shoulder.

Once we reached the surface, atop a tent, sat three-ravens; each one eying us with their blackened, voidful glares. Under the cover of the tarpaulin-canvas, hiding from the rain as it poured and pattered against the slick muck beneath our feet; were three wizards – evidently the masters of these avian familiars.

We greeted our unwarm welcomers, whom we told about the drow and spiders – relying unto us that such information would be best taken to Zandor Rem immediately. The mages were particularly interested in the drow that we held captured with us – whom they undoubtedly were going to want to interrogate.

Hamir exposed to these mages that we had with us some items of value we discovered in the ruins. Leith, the pure hearted soul that he is, took offense to this divulgence – especially as it had been more of a rattish move to wound our reputation or remove from our person items that could potentially aid in our recovery of the items these mages seemed to have already claimed for themselves, whilst doing very little of the actual work.

I would weep at every sight of abuse or injustice against the less fortunate and down trodden had I not seen it everyday of my life in the streets below my windows. I have witnessed the exploitation of the underprivileged from afar and still have within my conscience a twang of pain at such a sight and an urging need for correction. Yet these wizards enable such exploitation and drive it first hand, yet seem unphased by it all. Perhaps I am of better moral stock or of weaker ambitious constitution; but the whole of history has been written on the backs of the forgotten and the oppressed.

I remembered that he had been quite adamant about the clairvoyant potion Leith had indicated as being an item of interest for him. I once again brought it back up, and handed over a vial. Of course, I had not the potion of clairvoyance but one of healing – for we may purchase or retrieve one of these at another time – and with that, allowed ourselves to pass unharassed and within our possession a divination-schooled potion.

Gudael started to be afflicted by another one of her fits, and thus we cleared the area of people and objects in order to allow her space.

Adrik – whilst we loaded onto the cart the gold coins he had stashed into his pack, and Gudael once she had calmed from her seizures and had confirmed to us with a nod that she was safe to be moved – asked that Leith and I help him at some point in retrieving the drow that he had most recently threatened – the one he had dangled from the ledge – from the mages once they were done extracting their information from him. It seemed that Adrik, despite having a conflict with this drow earlier, thought that he was trustworthy, or at least, the most useful of the two in order to aid us.

It must have been related to their previous quarrel as the dwarf was rather set off earlier, like some rage had broken within him. Not the rage of battle or of bloodthirst, but that of patience and conscience. We agreed, and I immediately went about asking the wizards if we may have this Mindrahl back once they were finished with him. Adrik and I told some cock-and-bull story of how he was very repentant and helpful to us, yet the wizards seemed unmoved by our sympathetic plight for the drow or remained blinded to his usefulness to our endeavour below the surface.

After this, we began to make our way under the Palatial District and into the tunnels. Here, whilst making notes, I asked Leith a pertinent question – pertinent at least to me. For, I saw something within that young elf’s eyes, when he threatened those drow, that worried me.

It was that same look I had seen twinkling in my father’s eyes. That glint that accompanied my brother’s smile. That spark of something emerging from the depths of the id and manifesting into reality that so oft occurred within our boy.

I asked him if he had truly meant to harm those drow or whether it was all some intimidating flim-flam. He assured me it was the latter. This put my worries to rest, for Leith can be somewhat naïve – as we left, he got into some schoolyard argument with Hamir about our latest battle that did little to resolve any conflict present – yet he is, as I have previously said, of good heart and soul, of the most upstanding morality and conscience, and I think I would weep at the sight of him losing such divinity – if that ever came into being.

Laughing and chattering could be heard ahead, and in the dim glow of my lantern, above the rim of my downturned spectacles, I saw before us, a group of elven children playing in this make-shift, underground street. Perhaps it is my consistent pessimism, the paranoia of life-threatening obstacles, the link betwixt children and Brixton’s reprobate connections, or the twisted souls of Pyotr or Philip.

Screaming from the oxen echoed down the tunnel, the cracking of wood splintered the air, and I felt my centre of gravity shift as the ground flipped to be on my side and pushed itself into a forced, unwelcome embrace.

The cart had somehow capsized, spilling the contents, and oxen – the only innocent reason for such an accident – were in much distress; they had not done so out of malice or rebellion, but some strange providence must have overcome them – especially so close to our hidden door.

In a rush, Adrik broke for his beasties, allowing the rest of us to either aid in that regard or recover the spilled contents that now laid in the slick dirt. It took some good time to correct the cart, re-embark the items into the back, and calm the oxen enough in order for them to continued; all this before Hamir eventually noticed that Brixton and the drow – Mindrahl – were missing.

We allayed the snarky caster’s fears of betrayal or deceit by saying that Brixton had most likely gone ahead, not only to ensure the area was cleared, but also to deliver the drow with him in case the occurring accident had been some part in a Leppers of Nort ambush – as I am not sure if Leith was the only one to know of my gaseous distraction the day before.

Returning to the barracks, Zandor Rem was already outside, supervising the offloading and organisation of the incoming goods, before he recognised that we – the party he had sent to investigate the mysterious and potentially fatal dig-site – had indeed come back; missing Brixton, accompanied by an elven cleric, and with a bound drow in tow. I am unsure what happened to Ben Silden at this point, he must have been taken to the infirmary by some worker who assisted his dismounting of the wagon as we ascended the building to his office to talk in more detail of what we had seen. Kaeleah was taken from our protection and marched off to the uncertain unknown.

We – being Adrik, Leith, Gudael, and myself – explained to Mister Rem what we came across: the spider attack on Hamir, the chasm, the ogres, the skeletal-serpent, the funeral ship, the spider riders and the riders’ spiders, finding Gudael, the drow attack, and that damnable, cursed book.

Gudael, with her ever-blessed soul, seemed to feel somewhat indebted to us for having freed her. I know, as you are fully aware, what it is like to be in debt. I truly hope she does not feel this way, for I would never wish that sentiment upon someone as noble and true as she. However, regardless, her resolve was to stay with us in journeying further into the ruins; believing that her deity had sent her down there for a reason – and whether that was to have found us or not, I do not know – but she is of sound mind and good judgement, thus, I am sure there is method to her joining our madness. We disappointed Rem in that we were unable to find the aforementioned missing parties.

Leith asked if we could replace Hamir – as he does seem to exacerbate conflict and tension within the group. Rem said he would do what he could, but – and I voiced these concers later – that if anyone would be onto us, it would be Hamir. Keeping him close would mean that he could not work against us behind our backs, unchecked, upon the surface; but also, that we might keep our eye on him, give him little reason to distrust us and thus woo over our most ardent critic.

In our quarters, we waited for Brixton to return. When he did, he was escorted by Rem and held his own hand to his head, blood welling from a shallow wound beneath his palm. Once Rem had retreated from view, Brixton confessed to us that it was all part of his ruse as he had, through the hidden door, helped the drow escape to the Daughters of Twilight, where he gave Mindrahl over into the care of Milmore Glass. The story he told Rem was that Mindrahl tried to escape and thusly the head injuring, his disappearance, and the lack of a drow.

I am sceptical of the efficiency of this lie as he said he had issues with the guards at the gates of the domain – meaning that now witnesses have seen him with Mindrahl, saying he worked for Glass – and we are meant to be keeping this excavation a secret, and with a “supposed” drow running around town, that doesn’t scream secretive or covert to me; meaning, our tracks have not been well covered, yet I have faith. Milford Brixton has not gotten this far in his life, getting to be such a skilled rogue or a well-known institution of a figure without his luck and craftsmanship of ploys. Everything works out well for Brixton – the rest of us, I am not so sure, and only pray we may be as expertly crafty as he. I only realised these worries now, writing, and after our discussion. While I am not anxious, I am certainly aware that now events are in motion that may steadily work against us.

During our planning, Gudael, Adrik, and I converged on a single small statuette, once again found hiding in a small cranny behind some cobwebbed books – much like that one I found in Adrik’s room that was of the scrying type. And once again, I tossed it from our window with a nonchalant yawn.

To turn long to short, our plan is to ingratiate ourselves with the Envoy enough to be hired to protect a boatful of outbound relics and sundry. If we can pry from the ruins any other items with us,it would a bonus, but the sailing vessels seem our most reliable escape. Gudael, naturally, had reservations about our untrustworthiness and we excused ourselves by contextually putting the Barachial Envoy in their proper, dimmed lighting – yet I do acknowledge that it does not pardon us from our illegal and conspiratorial actions. We had to disclose to Gudael our intent, for she had been so open with us.

You see, she revealed to us that her fits were a result of visions and discussions with her patron, Sehanine Moonbow, the Goddess of the Moon – whom you know was banished when the Pa-Kad meteor tore through the moon and created that great rift that has scarred the face of Sidarhael for centuries. To be receiving visions from not only such a divine being, but also one who has been missing from the Seldarine pantheon for some ages past, is spectacular! Gudael is truly a blessed soul.

Leith himself also divulged the origins of his powers: a celestial black unicorn he met while traveling imbued young Leith with powers. And, through small migraines, seems to visit him from time to time. The being’s name is Tozan, and the owl that often accompanies him outside is a gift and guide from the ebony unicorn.

Brixton made note of what little time we had left – roughly three days by our estimates – and that it may be rushed along soon, as the Muldraean royal house is starting to catch on to these extra-legal and, possibly even treasonous, excavations. But we set down our plan and resolutions, so I made a move.

Grabbing a fine bottle of brandy, I poured a drink out for every one present – as is customary Vanderhold tradition – and made my toast to ‘Happiness, Freedom, and Life – may we suffer as many sorrows as drops of brandy that remain in our glass’ (as you are well aware, a common drinking toast in Vanderhold, but I’m sure something of a new concept to my fellow compatriots). I knocked the drink back, down my broad gullet, and the others followed – with Leith just taking a sip, unaccustomed to such a sweet and powerful brew no doubt.

A retainer came by to drop off some material components that I had inquired after in order to resummon Tupp – that, and some cheese and honey in order to entice him once more into following me. Then, we rested. In the morning I shall return Tupp to the material, mortal world and we shall once more delve deeper into the pits of the Underdark.

Dearest Maria, I am becoming anxious. I fear that with such security and desire to remain secretive, that the Envoy may catch onto our plans or that, if they are late in realising our intents, then at the very least, make leaving or continuing in the city extremely difficult.

What more can I say after all that has happened? I would inquire into your day or moods or fancies but I have already done so and have not yet received a reply to those ones due to my inaction and inability to send these at the current time. I truly feel as though now I am writing to myself. I miss your sage advice. I miss the warmth of our fire, and the cushions of my plush armchair.

Oh, to be back in Vanderhold. Yet, to be back would be to die indebted, destitute, and forgotten. Fear not, for I have not, nor ever shall, forget you or my duty I owe to you as a husband and a friend.

All my thoughts and best wishes, Maria,

Baron Edryn Styewell Krillinovich Montkoff

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