Part 12 : Nexus
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Posted 27 October 2002 - 06:14 PM
Twilight 12 : Nexus
"MOM?!" Vierna exclaimed as her mother stepped out of the magic portal. Her mother wore a magical chainmail, was wielding her Flail of Ages and generally looked ready for combat.
"Hello, ssinjin eoul, I," Viconia smiled, but then her eyes narrowed. "How long have you had that nose-ring?"
Vierna instinctively covered her nose. "Errr, some time now..." she replied.
"You didn't have it the last time you stayed at the Keep," Viconia replied in an icy tone.
"I, errrr, I got it recently," Vierna sighed.
"Why do you mar your own beauty?" Viconia asked. "Did Shivon put you up to it?" she snarled.
In the background Shivon shook his head 'no' in a very vigorous fashion.
"Look, momma," Vierna spoke up. "This is... embarrassing enough as it is, but do you really have to berate me in front of my friends?"
"Yes," was Viconia's simple reply. "It's a mother's prerogative."
"Aren't going to ask what she's doing here?" Gerty chuckled as she nudged Vierna. "Besides checkin' in on ya, of course..."
"I got her last letter," Viconia replied. "Yesterday..."
"Ah, the... one in which I said I was... going to a Drow city..." Vierna sighed, thinking back to the letter. "But... but I only sent it to you..."
"Three weeks ago," Viconia smiled.
"WHAT?!" Gerty replied. "You mean I've been trudging around in this hellhole for THREE WEEKS?! Man, I could have been eating turnips all that time."
"Really?" Vierna asked. "Three weeks? Hmmm, I guess dungeons-romping makes you lose track of time..."
"Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!" sounded from the portal as a second figure stepped trough. Glancing over to the portal, Vierna could clearly see the somewhat distorted vision of the De'Arnise Keep Spelltower. Sighing, she realized that she wanted nothing more to jump through the portal, lock herself in her old room and gaze out of the windows from her old writing-desk.
"Imoen, I told you to remain at the Keep," Viconia told the middle-aged, yet spunky arch-mage as she ran up to the battle-ready Drow.
"Hey, there's no way in the Abyss I'm gonna leave you here!" Imoen said. "Karis is gonna have a heart-attack if he notices you gone, especially in your condition!"
"Condition?" Vierna asked. "Momma, is something wro..." she started to ask, but then her eyes grew wide as she realized just what her mother's condition was. "Momma," she whispered, then rushed to her mother to embrace her.
"I'm only in my forth month," Viconia said, returning the embrace. "So it will take a little less than a year before I start to feel the weight," she shot at Imoen.
"Boy or Girl? Have you decided on a name yet? How did Rauva and Valas react? Do they know? Will the baby get my old room?" Vierna babbled, while Viconia weathered both her daughter and the well-wishes of her daughter's party.
"This baby will be a girl," Viconia said. "After having three children I can sense it. As for the name, I am considering calling her Bladen'Kerst..."
"Why must she have a Drow name?" Imoen retorted. "What's wrong with human names? Why can't she be called something like 'Molly'?!"
"No child of mine shall bear the name 'Molly'!" Viconia spat. "Who's ever heard of a Drow named 'Molly'? Honestly..."
"Momma, I think you should go back to the Keep," Vierna replied. "Daddy, Rauva and Valas will be worried sick!"
"Look, Vic," Imoen broke in. "Whatever you decide to do, I'll stick by your side to keep you out of trouble. Yes, sir, nothing will keep ole Imoen from watching you like a hawk!"
"Oh, look!" Viconia suddenly gasped as she glanced past Imoen. "Behind you! A three-headed Kobold!"
"What? WHERE?!" Imoen squealed as she spun around... and found herself being gently, yet firmly pushed through the magical portal. Then, Viconia muttered a few words and a ball of light shot towards the magic gate. Before Imoen could figure out what had happened, the magic portal destabilized due to Viconia's spell and collapsed, stranding the hapless arch-mage back in Keep De'Arnise.
"Momma!" Vierna reply. "Why did you do that? Now you can't go back to the Keep!"
"Looks like mommy is here to stay, V," Gerty chuckled.
"Do you want my party too?" Vierna chuckled uneasily.
"Don't be daft," Viconia chuckled in return. "It took her a full day to open the first portal, and where we are going, she won't be able to gate in. The reason I came is the Drow city you mentioned : Thalranink'lar."
"Vierna," Glyill suggested. "We could certainly use someone knowledgeable about Drow culture. You must admit that you are lacking in that department..."
"Vierna," Shivon sighed, "you know I'd follow you everywhere, but going to a Drow city seems like suicide to me..."
"Not really," Viconia replied. "Thalranink'lar is different than any Drow city in the Underdark."
"How so?" Vierna asked, her curiosity piqued.
"It is a trade-city, and completely geared towards this trade and little else," Viconia said. "Thalranink'lar is the economical heart of the Drow race, so much that it is considered neutral territory."
"Neutral territory?" Lenny asked. "What exactly do you mean by that?"
"Well, there are no houses in Thalranink'lar. Only independent traders, mostly Drow, but other races are allowed to set up shop as well. All races are welcome to trade in the city and even elves are greeted warmly as long as they have money to spend..." Viconia said.
"Wow," Gerty replied. "Must be an important city. Do they sell turnips?"
"Of course they do!" Viconia snorted. "It's a luxury item meant for Drow nobles only. The point is, Thalranink'lar imports goods from the surface which are exported to all the other Drow cities throughout Toril. In turn, tradegoods from those Drow cities are brought to Thalranink'lar to be exported to the surface. This city is so important, that if the economy in Thalranink'lar experiences even a brief dip, several Drow cities might go under. Therefore, a special police-force has been brought into life to keep trade healthy and competition honest. No one group is allowed to have control over trade, and you'll be hard pressed to even find a small temple dedicated to Lolth. The Drow living in Thalranink'lar as very open-minded, but make no mistake... they are still Drow, and are very aggressive traders..."
"Are you sure Shivon is safe in Thalranink'lar?" Vierna asked with a touch of concern.
"Positive," Viconia replied. "You all are..."
"But then why did you come to us?" Glyill asked.
"Because I have been to that city countless of times!" Viconia chuckled. "House DeVir had the monopoly on trade in Menzoberranzan, thus I led at least one trade-mission to Thalranink'lar every year! You might not be in direct danger," Viconia said, "but I understand you are seeking for some very rare magical items... and I know where to look for those. Besides," Viconia added. "I wouldn't be much of a mother if I let my children tromp about Drow cities without supervision."
"She does have a point, Vierna," Lenny said.
"She does," Vierna said, "and I'd love to have you travel with me, but..."
"Don't worry," Viconia chuckled. "I can take care of myself, and you'll be in charge of the party. Consider me an... observer... Now, tell me about this quest while we walk to one of the entrances of the city... It's not far from here. Just follow me..."
"...so after we brought Raymur to the edge of Sharran territory, you dropped in on us," Vierna chuckled as she finished the tale she was telling her mother.
"A fascinating tale," Viconia said. "And it seems we have arrived." After travelling for several hours through Sharran-controlled territory of the Muzad, they arrived at a separate series of caves protected by a Sharran temple. One of the caves contained a booth near a small guardhouse containing a garrison of a score of male and female Drow soldiers clad in copper-colored mithril uniforms. Inside the booth stood a spindly looking Drow male in stuffy clothes, irradiating the very air around him with bureaucracy. Several Sword Spiders patrolled the region, especially near a tall metal arch just behind the tollbooth.
"Small city," Gerty chuckled. "Really, a two-turnip town..."
"First we must register," Viconia said. "As party-leader," she told Vierna," you must address the guardian."
"Okay," Vierna said and approached the booth. "Hi! How are you doi..."
"Name..." the guardian spoke in a disinterested tone, without looking up from his forms.
"Errm, Vierna DeVir," she replied.
"Place of origin..."
"The land of naked, frolicking, promiscuous nymphs!!" Gerty broke in.
"Oh," the Drow bureaucrat replied and started to leaf through a stack of papers. "Err, no, no," the Drow replied. "I don't see it on the list here. Could you be more specific about its location?"
"Somebody get this guy a sense of humor!" Gerty chuckled. "AND a life!"
"Amn," answered Vierna, while silencing Gerty with a brief stare.
"Ah," the bureaucrat said while looking up from his work for the first time. "A surface-Drow! How rare! Tell me, is it true the sun burns the very meat from your bones if you stay into the sun too long?"
"Nope," Vierna and Viconia chuckled simultaneously.
"So mother was lying to me all along," the bureaucrat replied. "Figures... Anyway, please pay a five-hundred gold entrance-fee per head and you may enter the city. That will be three thousand gold, please..."
"A bit steep," Lenny said.
"Steep?!" Gerty exclaimed. "It's effing vertical!"
"It costs a pretty penny to keep the nexus up an running," the Drow bureaucrat replied while he munched on his quill. "Hiring mages, replacing fieldcoils and all..."
"Nexus?" Glyill asked. "Pray tell, what do you mean?"
"You'll see," Viconia grinned.
"But what about Brimstone?" Vierna asked. "We need seven visas!"
"No pets," the bureaucrat replied in his standard monotonous 'I'm-a-heartless-jerk'-voice.
"He's not my PET!" Vierna snarled. "He's my loyal animal companion!"
"No pets," the bureaucrats replied.
"WOOF!" was Brimstone's indignant reply, which in turn attracted unwanted attention from several Drow soldiers at the guardhouse.
"NO PE... Oh, my! What a pretty diamond!" the bureaucrat exclaimed as Viconia took out a gem and held it in front of the booth. "Ah, yes," the Drow said as he took and pocketed the diamond. "I shall give your hound a were-wolf visa, and we'll talk no more about it."
"Wuf?" Brimstone stared quizically, then turned to look at Vierna, who shook her head in a similar fashion.
"Please step onto the platform," the bureaucrat sighed.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Lenny said as he and his friends stood on a metal platform in front of the same dull metal arch they had seen only in the distance. There seemed to be nothing beyond the strange metal contraption but solid rock.
"Wait for it," Viconia chuckled.
"Momma?" Vierna asked with due distress. "What's going to happen?"
"We all get a life-time supply of turnips and are given a beach-house on the Moonshaes?" Gerty asked. "That's the thing I'm hoping for right now..."
"You'll see," Viconia chuckled. "The Nexus is the finest invention ever made by Drowish craftsman and was made during the elfwar itself!"
Immediately, the arch crackled with energy as a blue light descended upon the party. Vierna felt her body tingle from the mounting static charges all around her. Suddenly, a huge blue beam exploded from the arch and engulfed the party. After a few moments, the beam whipped forward through the arch... and took the party with it.
Vierna was about to scream as the magic flung her toward the cavern wall behind the arch with dazzling speed, but strangely, she and her friends passed right through it. Faster and faster the blue beam carried her. The tingling on her skin, combined with the vague notion of extreme speed made it one of the most wonderful experiences Vierna had ever had. And as soon as had begun, it was over.
Vierna found herself standing on an elevated platform, as she and her friends were expunged from a second arch, which powered down as the beam receded. The platform was large, large enough to support the eleven more arches placed in a semi-circle.
"This..." Viconia said, "is the Nexus. The gateways into Thalranink'lar. This city cannot be reached by any other way. The city is magically protected from teleportation and gate spells, and its true location is unknown..."
To the other side of the platform was the city of Thalranink'lar. The cavern it was located in was huge, unbelievably high and lighted by the large amounts of glowing lichen on the ceiling of the cave. Below, the wide streets and boulevards of Thalranink'lar stretched onward. In size, the city was hardly larger that Baldur's Gate, but it consisted mostly of shops and warehouses. Many colored lights illuminated the even more shops it possessed, giving the city an inviting setting. Thalranink'lar also had a semi-large undersea and harbor, where many, many trade ships lay docked. After briefly wondering where the ships had came from, Vierna noticed two very much larger metal arches in the water at both ends of the underground lake. But the most awe-inspiring sight was a large spire towering over the city : A docking-port for Spelljammer-crafts.
"Welcome to the city of Thalranink'lar," Viconia grinned. "If they don't have what you're looking for, it doesn't exist... Or so the slogan goes..."
"Wow," Vierna sighed.
"Hey," Gerty asked, and pointed to an elevated platform in the back of the cavern. The platform contained many buildings, ranging from shacks to elegant villa's. "What's that over there?"
"Oh, that's the city's residential quarters," Viconia replied. "Visitors are mostly unwelcome there."
"I don't like the look of that ominous building," Lenny said as he pointed to a high, round structure near the Spelljammer-spire.
"That's the colosseum," Viconia said. "Last time I was here, it was used for Rothe-races..."
But the second thing everybody noticed was the bustle. Although the people in the streets were mostly Drow, members of the other races were also walking the streets of Thalranink'lar, ranging from common to exotic creatures. Besides the humans, elves, dwarven and kobolds, there were plenty of Beholders, mindflayers and even the occasional dragon. The Nexus hummed with energy as new visitors to the city were constantly coming and going.
"Look over there," Viconia laughed as she pointed to a new arrival while several guardswomen in copper-colored mithril uniforms examined their visas, "a newbie!"
The person Viconia had pointed out was a young and pouty matron mother, currently sitting on a floating disk flanked by her servants. Obviously, she was also quite used to getting her way and being the center of attention, as she was quite vocal about not being allowed to pass. Also, she appeared to have decided she wanted more attention, so she shouted and threatened everyone that came near to her.
But, when she realized that no one was really paying attention to her in the first place, she sheepishly bowed her head in silence while the guardswomen checked her visa.
"Well," Viconia asked, "shall we start the search immediately?"
"Actually, uh," Vierna replied, "we had been trekking through the Muzad a lot before you met up with us, momma. I think we can all use a rest... And there are also some... things I like to talk to you about..."
"As you wish," Viconia smiled and ran her hand over Vierna's cheek, gaining a smile for her child in return.
"So, this city?" Shivon asked. "Is it safe?"
In the background, Gerty started making chicken-noises.
"Spare us your poultry mating-calls, gnome," Glyill sighed. "And, to answer your question, no. There are... too many people in one place here..."
"Here it is," Viconia said as she had led the party to the waterfront. "Ah, 'The Drunken Spider'. My delegation always stayed here during the trademissions."
Vierna gave the Drunken Spider a look over, and was very impressed. It was a large, round, three-story inn made out of obsidian volcano-rock, offering a lovely view of the underground lake. Glancing around, she noticed there were quite an amount of shops on this street too. She spotted a branch of the 'International House of Mojo', 'Spiffy's Armory', 'Kobolds R'Us', 'Meathook's House of Wax', 'Exotic Stringbeans' and... "NO!" Vierna giggled. "I don't believe it!"
A large building to the left of the 'Drunken Spider' was decorated with many colored flags, and a multi-colored banner revealed the name 'HONEST STAN'S USED TORTURE EQUIPMENT'.
Currently, Stan, with the usual flailing arms, checkered suit and pirate-hat, was hawking his wares to a leather-clad Drow matron, while a whimpering male hung from the 'test-straps' mounted from the ceiling.
"As you can see," Stan said. "This cat o'ninetails performs excellently under all possible circumstances. And mind the velvet-coat hilt! You can whack your victims at your leisure without those annoying wrist-pains you get after whipping for longer than an hour. And, if you buy one now, you will receive an iron maiden TOTALLY FREE OF CHARGE!!"
"I'll TAKE IT!" the female said eagerly, while the male hanging from the ceiling whimpered even more. "SILENCE MALE WORM!" the female shouted at the whimpering maile and whacked him again as he dared to gaze upon her.
"Ah," Stan said and put his arm around the female's shoulders. "I feel you are a woman of class and style."
"Yeah, well... Yes," the leather-clad female's face flushed at the compliment.
"Now, I don't usually show this to everybody," Stan said, while he took an eight-headed whip of fangs from a display-case.
"Whoa!" the leather-clad Drow matron gasped. "Eight heads!"
"Now, this little number was owned by a little old Matron from Menzoberranzan, who used it only once every Lolth-day to beat her slaves to death, and that matron, my young friend, was none other than First Matron Yvonel Baenre!"
"Nooooooooo," the leather-clad matron gasped.
"Yes, here it is," Stan said. "Take a look at the house-symbol right here!"
"Sweet Lolth! What a collector's item! My slaves will be honored to be killed by this weapon!" the matron gasped.
"And just for you," Stan said, "I am willing to let it go for HALF PRICE! Yeah, I know I'm losing on it, but when I see you happy, it makes ME happy too!"
Immediately, a huge pouch of coins were thrust into Stan's hands as the matron's servants loaded her purchases on a floating disk. As the matron took off, Stan smiled and opened a drawer. From the distance, Vierna could easily see it contained at least forty eight-headed snakewhips. From another drawer, Stan grabbed a strange piece of paper. After squinting, Vierna could see they were stickers of a Drow house-symbol. After Stan had put a sticker over the blank hilt of the faux-whip of fangs, he placed the 'unique artifact' back in the display-case.
"Stan, Stan, Stan, Stan," Vierna sighed. "Will you ever learn?"
"Yo, sleepy-head" Gerty smiled as she stepped out of the inn. "Coming?"
The bar-section of the inn was large, quiet and very beautifully adorned with typical Drowish cast-iron webbing. Lenny sat in front of the large darkstone bar, enjoying a grapejuice. Behind him several Drow and other traders were quietly chatting, while the Drow bartender, an aging, tough-as-nails female called Xare, was busy cleaning cups.
As Lenny took another sip, he reflected how many exotic places he had been to while travelling with Vierna. He was glad to have met her, and his other friends, and considered himself a lucky man to part of this wonderful group. Right now, he was also alone. Shivon was in his room, scribing spells. Gerty was out shopping, while Vierna was chatting with her mother. Glyill, well, she didn't like crowds much, so she'd probably stay in her room too...
"Oy, you!" Xare yelled to somewhere in the crowd of patrons as she glanced out the window. "I told you, you shouldn't have double-parked that ship of yours! The harbor-patrol is towing it away!"
Immediately, a huge demon pirate with a flaming beard rose from his table and ran out the door, shouting curses all the way down to the docks.
Then, something huge sat down in the stool next to him. Glancing to one side, he noticed a four-armed, gray-skinned, dogfaced Glabrezu. For a moment, he cursed himself for leaving his spear in his room, but so far the Glabrezu hadn't made a single move. Oddly enough, the dog-faced creature seemed to be rather... depressed.
"Ah, life sucks..." he finally growled in a deep voice.
"Errr, how so?" Lenny asked carefully.
"Well," the Glabrezu spoke up. "About a century ago, I was Xerxes the Great, leader of a vast Armada of Tanar'ri battleships sailing all over the rivers of Lava in the Abyss, leading grand battles in the name of the Blood War! I crushed the Armada of Graazt's first admirals! I commanded the fleet that destroyed the only Baator foothold on the third level of Hades! But one day, a medallion was brought to my chambers, and cocky as I was, I put it around my neck... It turned out to be the Cursed Medallion of Extreme Misfortune, which my jealous second in command had put there for me to find. I never did like that Marilith..."
"I take it," Lenny said, "that thing didn't do your standing any good."
"The next day we encountered a fleet of unknown vessels, so I ordered all ships to fire with everything they had!!"
"Errr, naturally," Lenny gulped.
"And it turned out those ships were our own supply-freighters," Xerxes sniffed. "Only an hour later, the lack of supplies allowed the Baatezu to overrun the entire level... I was stripped of command and banished from the Abyss in disgrace. But it didn't stop there! At the first step onto the Prime, I twisted my ankle! A few moments later, I was attacked by a swarm of bees! The next day, some kid broke my foot when he jumped on it with a pogo-stick, and for some reason, otyughs keep falling in love with me!"
"That's tough, mate," Lenny said. "Can I buy you a drink?"
"No thank you," the Glabrezu said. "With my luck, there's probably a sharp rock in it, which will rip up my guts... Just like LAST time... Hey, you know, the only way to break my curse, is when someone voluntarily takes the medallion from me AFTER I have told him or her of the curse. Say, would you consider..."
"Errr, no, sorry," Lenny said.
"Yeah, I didn't think so," Xerxes sighed. "Well, thanks for listening to my story... Gods, I'm DEPRESSED!"
"HEY! XERXES!" Xare shouted from the bar. "I'm not paying to sit around! Get your demonic ass back to work!"
"Back to the rat-races," Xerxes sighed and rose from the stool. For the first time, Lenny noticed he was wearing an apron. Xerxes stepped over one of the tables, uttering the phrase 'May I take your order?'
'Yep,' Lenny said to himself, 'some pretty weird stuff...'
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