Happy New Year, dear readers! First chapter of 2019 for you. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it. Reviews/comments would be welcome.
Author note: I deliberately changed the specifics of Necaradan’s crossbow, making it enchanted to charge the bolts with electricity.
Warning: a bit of graphic violence. And if you like Elhan, this chapter will probably not be to your likings.
…And it's not my fault
'Cause you both deserve
What is coming now
So don't say a word…(Maroon 5, “Wake up call”)
When Meg and Phaere arrived at the Temple, they found out there were only four guards inside, instead of the usual dozen and Matron Mother Ardulace stood at the end of the walkway with an eager, predatory smile on her lips. "Good, you’ve arrived. Everything is ready for the Ritual. Follow me", she said, leading the younger women into a side room and locking the door behind them, "This way, nobody will interrupt us. Now be silent: it begins".
As the Ilmatari watched with a mixture of curiosity and disgust, the Matron Mother poured the blood of the Elder Brain into a silver goblet and added some sulphur, some bits of what looked like rotten flesh and a couple of Giant Spider fangs, then she inscribed some runes on the floor with a piece of chalk and muttered an incantation in a low voice, pouring the content of the goblet on the runes.
Suddenly, the ground started to shake violently under their feet and a long crack opened into it, a wall of flames pouring out of the chasm and forming a portal, through which an enormous form came forward: it was a four-metres-tall Glabrezu, bulky muscles rippled under its leathery skin, which was of a dark russet colour, its violet eyes shone in its dog-like head and its two pairs of arms rested against its sides, the lower pair being humanoid, the other reminding of a monstrously large crab’s pincers.
"I am here", it said in a booming voice, looking at Ardulace with what seemed to be mild annoyance, "You took me away from my plane, darkling...You’d better have a good reason for bothering me". The Matron Mother remained impassive as she took her set of eggs and extended it towards the Demon Lord, "I have called you here to propose a deal, Lord of the Infernal Pits!", she replied in a steady voice, "I ask for your help in the war against our hated Surface cousins!
Lend your strength to us in destroying their race and I will give you these Silver Dragon eggs in exchange for your assistance!". The Glabrezu took a couple of steps forward and bent on the imitations, sniffing them thoroughly, then its head snapped up, eyes burning with rage, "You dare try to cheat me? These eggs are fake!
You will pay dearly for your insolence!", it roared, enraged. Ardulace paled with shock, "What? No, I...I...", she stammered, then her gaze met her daughter’s and she understood, "You! I will have your head for this!". Phaere smiled cruelly, "I don’t think so, Mother", she shot back.
Her smile widened as the Demon Lord took the struggling Matron Mother up by the throat with a hand and literally crushed her head in one of its pincers, sending bits of blood and brain tissue everywhere around them, including Meg’s face and hair. Serves you right, uppity bitch!, the Ilmatari thought, a dark glee filling her at the gruesome sight.
Phaere was beaming as she took her own set of eggs from her black Bag of Holding, "My Lord, quell your rage, I beg you. I am the daughter of the woman who summoned you and I offer you the real eggs as a sacrifice!". The Abyssal once again sniffed the offer, frowned and looked at the Drow woman, then at the Painbearer standing at her side and finally it threw its head back and laughed heartily, "You have been tricked, darkling-daughter: the eggs you have are fake as well!".
Phaere’s eyes widened, "Fake? But...How...". "The Bhaalchild has doomed you, darkling-daughter", the Glabrezy said, satisfaction clear in its eyes as it pointed a hand towards Margaret Dawn, "A Spawn of Murder has sent you to your death. Now come and die!".
The Drow woman dropped the useless imitations and took a step back, horrified, "No! NO! Lolth, save your faithf...", her voice turned into a gurgling sound as the Demon Lord cleaved her in two at the waist with a quick snap of a pincer, the still-twitching upper part landed not far from the Ilmatari and Phaere’s glassy gaze seemed to be directed towards her face, an unspoken accusation in it.
The Glabrezu let out a low chuckle, then turned and addressed the last woman standing, "So, Bhaalchild, what do you want to do now? Do you have a proposal for me as well?", it asked eagerly. Meg shook her head, a chilling smile curving her lips, "Sorry to disappoint you, but no, thanks. You can go back to your home, I have no need of your services".
"Uh? No Dragon eggs today, I take it?", the Demon Lord seemed to pout, then shrugged, "Oh, well, I had some fun anyway. Farewell, Spawn of Murder. You Sire would be proud of you", it said, waving a pincer in a “goodbye” gesture before entering the portal. The ground shook one more time and the chasm in the floor simply disappeared as if it had never been there to begin with.
The Painbearer sighed in relief and rummaged through Ardulace’s bloody remains to get the key to the door of the ritual room, then she gulped down an Invisibility potion, slipped her Boots of Speed on and got out of the Temple as fast as she could, grateful for the streets being nearly empty at that late hour. She reached the city gates, passing unnoticed under the guard’s nose and she stopped running only when she reached Adalon’s cave.
Ilmater be praised, I made it!, she thought with a mixture of surprise and relief and after passing through the barrier, she sat down on the first step of the stairs and slipped off the enchanted boots, trying to catch her breath. A slow smile spread on her face as she stood to descend the staircase: it was finally time to leave the Underdark for good.
Adalon kept her promise to the party: first of all, she dissolved the illusion, returning the adventurers to their original looks, then she gifted them with a powerfully enchanted crossbow which glowed with a soft blue light. "This will prove useful against your enemies: its enchantment automatically charges its bolts with lightning", she explained, handing it to Minsc.
The big Rashemi admired the weapon with a mixture of fascination and happiness, "Thank you, kind lady Dragon! We promise that we will make good use of it, right, Boo?", he said and the hamster squeaked his agreement. The Silver One chuckled quietly, "I have no doubt about it, Human. Now, I will lead you to the passage to the Surface, the one which will bring you the closest to your enemies’ final destination", she said and then, to everyone’s surprise, she polimorphed herself into a Human woman, with long silver hair and round black eyes, wearing a brown cotton dress.
Meg cleared her throat, "My lady Adalon, is it safe to leave your children unguarded? I know the Drow can’t pass the barrier, but...". Adalon shook her head, "Who said I would leave them here?", she replied, taking a brown Bag of Holding from a pocket and placing the eggs in it, "This place is no longer my home. My children and I will find a new one, well away from here. Now follow me".
They walked for nearly three hours, until they finally saw the sunlight pouring from the outside into the tunnel. "Here is where we part: I hope you will survive the fight with this Irenicus. Goodbye, Surfacers", the Dragoness snapped her fingers and in a flash of white light, she vanished, leaving them alone.
Imoen smiled widely, "Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go!", she exclaimed, making to run ahead, but the Ilmatari grabbed her arm before she could even take a step, terrified. "NO!". The pink-hired thief blinked, noticing the tremor in the other woman’s voice, "Heya, what’s wrong, sis?", she asked, suddenly worried.
"Don’t you ever rush ahead like that again! Last time you did, you...They...", the Painbearer stammered, looking around wildly, eyes wide with fear as if expecting the Cowlies to appear and kidnap her beloved little sister again. Imoen’s gaze softened as she understood, "I’m sorry, sis", she murmured, hugging the priestess, "Come on, don’t be upset, I’m okay now. I’m here, safe and sound...Well, mostly, anyway".
Margaret Dawn shook her head with decision, "No, Immy, I am sorry: I should have protected you from them, but...I wasn’t strong enough, fast enough, I just...". A hard cuff on the head cut her off, "Stop this nonsense, child", Jaheira snapped, "There was nothing more you could have done, so shut up and start walking! I have had enough of this dark place for a lifetime!".
Meg couldn’t help smiling and she playfully saluted the druidess, "Madam, yes, madam!", she said, straightening her back and marching forward like a soldier, Imoen immediately following suit with a giggle. Soon enough, all of them were laughing and marching towards the exit, towards the light and the fresh air and the scent of flowers.
They had barely taken a dozen steps outside the tunnel, when they found themselves surrounded by ten Sun Elves wielding shields and spears, one of whom walked forward to meet them. "You! Say who you are and why you are here!", he addressed them in Common, pointing his weapon at Meg’s throat.
She arched an eyebrow, "You know, that’s not exactly the best way to make new friends. Anyway, my name is Meg and my friends and I have just escaped from the Underdark. We’re not looking for trouble". He looked at her for a long moment, his eyes fixing first on the Holy Symbol of Ilmater hanging from her necklace, then on Solaufein standing two steps behind her, "You carry the symbol of a good Human deity.
But I see that you travel with a...A Drow", his lips twisted with disgust and hatred as he pronounced the word, "I am unsure...", he frowned, thinking of his next move, then took a step back, "I will bring you to meet Elhan. He will know what to do with you". Edwin snorted, "Bah! We have no time to waste, you insignificant pointy-eared simian! (Blasted Elves!)".
The Elf frowned and his soldiers readied their weapons, not understanding the wizard’s words but guessing his animosity from his harsh tone. "You have no choice, Human. Either come with us, or die". Meg huffed and rolled her eyes at that, "You wouldn’t last five seconds against us, fool. But so be it, we’ll follow you...For now. Lead the way".
The party was led to a big tent, in front of which were gathered two warriors and two robes figures and the Elf soldier spoke in hushed tones to one of the warriors, who nodded and turned to the adventurers. Elhan, the Elven commander, was short for an Elf, his slender frame was encased in a gleaming suit of enchanted green chainmail, his clear jade-green eyes were narrowed with suspicion and his blond hair flowed freely around his shoulders, "Welcome, surfacers. I am Elhan".
Margaret Dawn made a dismissing gesture, "Yes, yes, charmed, let’s make it short, okay? We are not here to cause trouble and we have a lot to do, so we wish you all the best, farewell", she said, turning to leave, but a soldier blocked her path, "Oh, please. Move aside, boy, I’m not in the mood for this nonsense".
Elhan’s tone became hard and angry, "You would do well to change your behaviour, Human! First you bring a Drow among us and...". "Hey, now, it was that soldier of yours who brought us here, not me", she retorted, pointing a finger to the Elf in question. "Silence! I will not tolerate your insolence any longer, Human!", the commander shouted, then forcibly checked himself, "Now I will ask you some questions and you will answer.
Don’t even think of hiding the truth from me, because my war sages", he indicated the two robed Elves flanking him, "Will know if you’re lying". She shrugged, "Ask away, then". "Are you in league with the Drow?". "Nope, I’m friends with Solaufein and with another who lives far from here, but that’s all". The sage on the right nodded, "Truth", he stated. Elhan frowned, "So you are...Friends...With them. I see.
Do you know Irenicus?". "Yes, I do", she answered simply. "Truth", the sage on the left said. "And now you even admit knowing a criminal", Elhan hissed, "This is not going well for you, Human. Next question: are you in league with him?". "Well, he ripped my soul from my body and used it to restore himself. What do you think?". "True", the sage on the left confirmed again.
The commander blinked, "So you are a victim of that monster. I guess you are not that great a threat to us, then. Maybe you can even be of help", he said, "We have a problem and...". Meg cut him off, "And you want us to do the dirty work for you, right? Well, forget it: my sister here needs to have her soul back as soon as possible and Bodhi is surely gathering her minions as we speak, so I’m afraid you’ll have to do it yourselves".
He started as he heard the name, "Bodhi! You know her?". Imoen intervened, her usually cheerful face twisted with rage, "Oh, we know her all right: that bloodsucking bitch has my soul! And I want it back!", she snarled. "Well, your hate clearly indicates that you’re not in league either with her or with the Exile", Elhan turned to the Painbearer, "If he has your soul, then you have no choice but to help us, Human: Irenicus is currently in the city of Suldanesselar and the only way to get into the city is to get the Rynn Lanthorn back".
"Ah, yes, the sacred relic blessed by Rillifane. Let me guess: he has stolen it and now you are locked outside, right?", she said with a small smirk. He pressed his lips in a thin line, but nodded, "You are correct". "Well, if he was the one to steal it, then he has surely given it to Bodhi", she mused, "I guess we can retrieve it after killing her for good".
He relaxed, "Good. Now only one point needs to be addressed", his eyes fixed on Solaufein, "The Drow". The Human priestess frowned, "The Drow has a name and that’s Solaufein", she snapped, "What about him?". "I can’t allow him to travel with you". "Excuse me?". "I won’t let him come near the Rynn Lanthorn. He is too dangerous. He must stay here until you are back".
She reduced her eyes to slits, "Now listen, Elf: we will help you, but we will do it my way. He can come along if he wants to and that’s all". Solaufein spoke up, his voice was gentle, "Meg, I don’t want to be a burden. If he wants me to stay...". She shook her head, smiling warmly at him, "You are not a burden, you are my friend and I won’t leave you here for these Elves", she spat the word, "To hurt you at their heart’s content". He smiled back at her, relieved, "Thank you, abbil".
Elhan snorted, "Very well, then, the Drow can come with you, but on one condition: he must submit to a “Geas” to ensu...", his words became a chocked sound as Meg’s left hand whipped forward to grab his throat in a vice-like grip. Her eyes burned with Bhaal’s golden light and her voice was a feral growl, "Don’t you dare use that spell on any of my friends!".
All of the Elven soldiers pointed their weapons at the party members as their commander struggled in a futile attempt to free himself from the Painbearer’s grasp. "If...If you kill me, none of you will come out of here alive, Human", he coughed, but she just gave him a cold smile. "If you don’t tell your minions to put their weapons down right now, I will let the Slayer come out and play with all of you", she promised, giving his throat a light squeeze, "It will be a carnage and none of you will survive to tell the tale.
Is this what you want, Elf?". He tried to shake his head, "N...No. Put your weapons down!", he ordered in Elvish and his soldiers complied reluctantly. "There’s a good puppy", the Ilmatari released him with a satisfied smirk, patting him on the head, "And keep in mind that, just because you are Ellesime’s current toyboy, it doesn’t mean you have any right to order us around".
Elhan’s face flushed with anger and embarassment at her words, "How dare you...". She narrowed her eyes slightly, "Careful there, puppy: you don’t want me to get angry and finish what I’ve started, do you? No? Thought so", she nodded, "Now, unless you have something useful to add about this Lanthorn and how to get it back, we’ll get going. Is that okay with you?".
He clenched his fists so tightly that his knuckles paled, but forced himself to keep his composure, "It is. You can go, but I warn you, Human: if that Dro...If that Solaufein of yours causes any problem with the mission, we will know it and we will hunt down not just him, but all of you until our last breath", he threatened. She let out a cruel laugh at that, throwing her head back, "You are a deluded fool, Elhan of Suldanesselar".
For a fleeting moment, he thought he could see a shadow looming behind her, like an enormous grinning skull floating in the air, circled by tear-shaped drops and his blood ran cold as he recognized that symbol, "You...You are a Spawn of Murder", he whispered, unconsciously taking a step back. "Oh, yes, I am. Scared, Elhan?".
He squared his shoulders and raised his chin with pride, "Not at all! I don’t fear you, abomination". Minsc walked forward, his normally kind face clouded with anger, "The last person who called little Meg that bad word felt the Punch of Righteousness on his face!", he stated, raising a big fist, but the Painbearer put a hand on his arm, smiling affectionately up at him. "Thank you, Minsc, but it’s not necessary. I can take care of this rude Elf myself".
The Rashemi hesitated, "Are you sure, little Meg?". "I am, my friend". "All right", he smiled too and stepped back. The Elven commander made as if to speak, but before he could even utter a word, the Ilmatari’s fist connected solidly with his nose, smashing it and sending him sprawled on the ground a good five feet from where he had been standing.
She massaged her bloodied knuckles with a satisfied sigh, her fingernails were slightly longer and thicker than normal and her eyes were glowing golden, "That will teach you how to talk to your betters, Elf. And now that we have cleared the air, we’ll take our leave. Let’s go guys", she told her companions, then she turned on her heels and took the path to Athkatla, her friends in tow.
Abbil = friend (Drow)