Rush Of Blood To The Head, part 5.20.
Before heading off to the Kua-Toan caves, we stop at the inn to gather our equipment and provisions – Viconia warns that our quest may even last for multiple days, thus we need to be duly prepared. Viconia explains that the entrance to the caves is located somewhere nearby the swirfneblin village, judging by Ardulace’s description – but it still might take some time to find it. Since the Matron Mother suggested that we better hurry up with this task, we do exactly that and leave Ust Natha at midday.
It is a couple hours walk till the swirfneblin village, but of course we choose not to enter the settlement itself. Instead, we find a secluded place amongst the huge boulders and rocks for a little respite. Meanwhile, Viconia is using the map that she has obtained from some peddler in the Drow city to try and locate the exact entrance to the caves. Imoen is leaning over her shoulder and trying to be helpful, but seems to be only distracting Viconia and I am slightly surprised that she actually tolerates such disturbances.
“Theodur?” Viconia speaks suddenly, her eyes still fixing the map.
“What… is it?” I reply with my mouth still stuffed with the dried meat I’ve been chewing.
“Irenicus is no longer in Ust Natha, I am certain of it,” she says.
“He has left back to the surface,” Jaheira adds, “I suspected as much.”
“Yes, I picked odd pieces of conversation during my stay in the… pleasure chambers,” Viconia chuckles, “those Drow become quite talkative in certain… conditions. Still, many had seen the arrival of Irenicus and Bodhi, yet nobody has seen them for almost a tenday – draw your own conclusions.”
“This Suldanessellar… he must have gone there, but what are his reasons?” I muse, “a secluded, mysterious elven city in the forests of Tethyr – what could interest him there?”
“Well, we could spend a lot of time on guessing, but that will not get us closer to him. However, obtaining the blood of this mad prince will do just that,” Jaheira speaks dismissively, “any luck with the map, Viconia?”
“Stop being so pushy,” Viconia snorts, “it is not easy to read it in this twilight… according to the map the entrance should be right…”
“Behind your back,” Edwin proudly finishes and we turn around to see a small, dark opening in the cliff, “as I have said before, any map is unnecessary when you have someone with such incredible powers of observation as I. Indeed, my natural talent in orientation surpasses any scrying spells of the most skilled Diviner.”
“Heh, so you say, but I remember you once got lost in a dark privy,” Imoen adds and I cannot but detect Viconia’s influence in this jab.
“Will you cease this bickering?” Jaheira speaks impatiently and everyone is sane enough not to argue back, “Now we have found the entrance, there is no need to sit around idly. Let us go.”
The entrance to the cavern system is a barely noticeable hole, but it is just wide enough for us to squeeze through the opening. The corridors inside become somewhat wider as we move on, but never wider than the spread of my arms. Despite my fears that the darkness inside would disable our mages, I observe that it is actually brighter inside the cavern than it was outside – the rocks are emanating a strange glow, so bright that I could read in this light without straining my eyes.
We come to the first split of the corridor; it separates into three others with one leading to the right and the two others to the left. I decide to take the path to the right, mainly because the two others look dangerously narrow and difficult to navigate through – a perfect spot for an ambush. We continue on, but still we don’t come across any fishmen and having passed another couple of crossroads, I am starting to fear that this labyrinth will eventually lead us nowhere – after all, it is quite possible that we have entered the wrong complex.
“Wait!” Viconia hisses as we enter yet another split of the corridors, the one we went through recently has lead us into a large circular room, “look at this… a pool – they use such for breeding of their offspring. We are on the right track, I am…”
Loud and frantic gurgling interrupts our conversation, the strange noises are coming from one of the corridors – it seems like a battle cry of the Kua-Toan’s. I realize that we should try to block the entrance to this room, thus maintaining a tactical advantage, but due to the echoes I am not sure from which of the four corridors the attack is coming and we can’t block all of them.
Just as Edwin has finished his summoning spell and a horde of orogs appear for him to command, the first Kua-Toan jumps in our view. Much to our unpleasant surprise, they arrive from both right and left, forcing us to split in two smaller groups to protect us from being overwhelmed – the large, pale-blue skinned creatures are quick to pounce upon us, rapidly thrusting their short spears in our direction. The appearance of the ranged support is very annoying as the few crossbow bolts that start to fly in our direction makes it all quite risky indeed.
Viconia is holding up well against two of the Kua-Toa warriors, preventing the other four that have bunched behind them to enter the room – still, she is also being beset by the bolts and thus both Edwin and Imoen combine for a well coordinated magical attack, Imoen weakening the fishmen’s resistance to magical spells and Edwin casting a mind affecting spell that sends the creatures wander around in confusion. Soon the confused warriors that have been struggling to get to Vic, turn around and attack their own crossbowmen - they are unpleasantly surprised about this turn of the events.
Meanwhile, Jaheira and I block the other entrance, dodging the spears of our attackers and skillfully retaliating, three dead fishmen already down on the floor, but plenty of them yet pushing forward. The bolts that fly in our direction are worrying me, one deflects of the visor of Jaheira’s helm and another one scratches my arm, not seriously enough to hamper my fighting abilities.
“Can you hold them for a little while on your own?” Jaheira yells, blocking yet another thrust of the spear.
I simply nod with the head, too busy to reply – lucky enough Edwin notices that our frontlines have been weakened and he commands a couple or orogs to help me out. Meanwhile, Jaheira is starting to chant aloud and I don’t recognize the syllables of this seemingly very complicated spell, which takes a long while to complete. The orogs are not a very good replacement for Jaheira in bolstering the frontlines, thus I am heavily pressed to maintain my position.
Suddenly, just as Jaheira has finished the chanting, I see that the whole room is sparkling and shimmering in every color of the rainbow… I don’t have time to look at what exactly is happening behind me, but my fishy opponents seem to be greatly distracted by what they see – one of them simply stiffens and falls on the floor dead, while the other drops his spear and tries to cover his eyes that are seemingly trying to pop out of their sockets. Those fishfaces that arrive for support, also drop dead immediately or start to act rather awkwardly – wandering around the cavern, knocking into the walls and tripping over their feet as if they were blind…
Intrigued, I turn around to look at whatever is having such devastating effect on them… and I am left speechless… The whole cavern is lit up in myriad of dazzling, blinding colors, illuminating the beauteous creature that stands in the middle of the room… I am not sure who she is, looks like a nymph, but her face is very reminiscent of Jaheira’s – the tender expression on her face radiating a concentrated essence of beauty itself, making me unable to take my eyes from her… well, only to gaze upon her nude body, her skin – tanned and glowing, breasts so full and supple, her form so slim and compact… and when she parts her sweetly curved lips, the sweet melody that escapes them is so alluring…
She looks almost as good as Jaheira… I admit reluctantly, forcing myself to close my eyes. When I open them again, the mysterious creature is gone, together with the light show and the wonderful melody. Where she stood, now stands Jaheira in her Drow form, fully armed, with tense expression on her face. She opens her mouth to speak, but even though I instinctually expect to hear the wonderful melody again, instead she simply yells at me, “Finish them off, while they are blinded!” Quickly I snap out of it and we chase the disabled fishheads through the corridors and slaughter them without mercy, while they can’t defend themselves.
“Err… what was that I saw, dearest…” I question her afterwards, still amazed by the sight.
“Ah, that was a very complicated spell indeed and bless the Oakfather for granting it to me,” Jaheira speaks, proudly, “it is called Nature’s Beauty… everyone in the vicinity, sees a perfection of whatever he or she considers the ideal of beauty.”
“Oh… I had no idea that you had such powerful spells,” I am overtaken by awe, “and you know what… you don’t have to cast that spell, you are the Nature’s Beauty… and the illusion I saw, had your face…”
“Really?” she asks pleasantly amused, but quickly reasserts herself, “I mean… ah, let’s just move forward, shall we?” the smile on her face speaks volumes however.
“What is wrong with him?” she turns around and regards Edwin, who is still standing still and looking at Jaheira oddly. Jaheira steps closer to him, but in this moment, much to my amazement our suicidal Red Wizard surprises everyone by suddenly fiercely embracing Jaheira and holding her tightly… she is too shocked to react in any other way than just standing there, frozen. Meanwhile, I hear the word that escapes Edwin’s lips… Noralee…
Imoen and Viconia return from their fish hunt through the other tunnel and are quite amazed at the sight, just as the rest of us…
“Umm… bro, what are Jaheira and Edwin doing?” Imoen asks, confused.
“Beats me,” I reply, “but I better stop this, before Jaheira recovers from the shock…” with this I step over and slowly pull Edwin away from her, a couple of light backhand slaps, bring Edwin back into reality…
“What… what happened?” Edwin looks at our perplexed faces, “I… I saw her, and…”
“Uh… I… I think it would be better for me not to cast this spell anytime soon,” Jaheira remarks, shifting uncomfortably, “some of us are getting severely distracted by… whatever illusions they see…”
“I’ll explain to you later,” I whisper into her ear. I think it would be better to quickly dismiss her of the idea that Eddie has fallen for her…
“So, I would imagine you saw some blond prince in a shining plate mail from one of your sappy romance novels, am I correct?” Viconia asks Imoen as we continue on our way.
“Um… no…” the young mage replies clumsily.
“So, what did you see, Imoen? Won’t you share it with me? I could help you with advice on how to best seduce a knight in a shining armor…” Viconia laughs heartily.
“I… I will tell you, but… later, okay?” Imoen replies and then quietly adds for no one to hear, “much… much later…”
Rush Of Blood To The Head, part 5.20.
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