30th day of Alturiak. Late Afternoon. Svirfneblin City.
"Thank you Lady for aiding our injured friend," Beleg says when Carmeneren speaks of Ras. "As to the Trolls, they have been destroyed completely." The large Paladin speaks this last phrase very matter-of-factly without a hint of emotion, as if he were speaking to his liege-lord about the troop training for the day or the household provisions for the winter. Feeling the need to elaborate to Carmeneren, Beleg continues, going into further detail of the Company's actions since their last meeting with the Gnome priestess. Starting his tail of conquest, the Companions can quickly and easily see how Beleg slips into the role of storyteller and entertainer.
Watching and listening to the large warrior relate the adventure, Talimar remarks how much better the tale would be had the Paladin the room to freely move about the chamber. As it is, the account is still rather engaging. Furthering the events of the past week, Beleg manages to eloquently retell the engagement without embelleshing in the slightest. With another hundred years or so of practice, his skills could possibly come to match those of the Bards of Cormanthor, thinks Talimar as he continues to watch. Still rather good for a human.
Upon hearing of the death of Greezelet, Carmeneren interrupts the tale of Beleg, "We thank you for that. This Greezelet was an evil priestess of Vaprak who has carried out numerous vile acts upon my people. Her death will bring much...happiness to our community."
Beleg bows his head ever so slightly in acknowledgement of the words of thanks from Carmeneren, "Sending that beast back to the plains of Hell in which it was spawned was a pleasure that I will enjoy for quite some time."
Taking up the tale where he left off, Beleg continues through the destruction of the Topknot Troll clan and the partie's retreat to rest. Taking up the story with the encounter of the Slaverer guards and their desire to parlay, he continues through the pitiful attempts at negotiating by the Trolls and their eventual attack upon the party. The terrible battle that resulted is told in glorifying detail by Beleg as he tells of the attempted retreat by the party and the need to form up with the chamber wall at their back and how this cut Kre off from them.
Throughout the entire recounting of the clash with the Trolls, Beleg's voice never displays a hint of emotion until reaching the moment of describing the death of Kre. Verbalizing the events surrounding the death of Kre brings about a tidal wave of emotion that washes over the great Paladin. Fighting back the tears that struggle to break free, he recounts the events that lead up to the rogue being seperated from the others and his valiant attempt to escape the clutches of the three Trolls that eventually destroyed him.
Hearing the events surrounding the death of the young rogue, Carmeneren and the other gnomes in the chamber hang their heads in quiet contemplation. A moment of silence passes before Carmeneren speaks a soft prayer in her native tongue. Following the quiet benediction of Carmeneren, Beleg once again bows his head in thanks and appreciation to the gnome priestess.
Beleg finally picks up the tale once again and tells how the Companions fought through and routed the Trolls, coming after them and destroying the last of them viciously inside their own tunnels. The search of the chamber is included as well as Ras' experience in the pond of the Troll cave. Upon hearing this, Carmeneren nods her head ever so slightly, finally receiving confirmation of her own thoughts on the young halfling's condition and how he became afflicted.
"Some of the ponds and lakes that you will find in the Underdark are perfectly safe to drink and quite tasteful. Others...are not as safe. Perhaps this one was not but that is not what has gripped your friend. He simply has a...a...Oh I do not know the word in your tongue. A sickness of the lung though. He will be better now with rest and our care," offers Carmeneren again.
With his tale complete, Beleg sits back on his haunches and takes an offered waterskin from a nearby gnome as he tries to douse his dry throat. Carmeneren rises from her seat at the end of the hall and speaks a few words to a nearby gnome who nods and then exits the chamber. Turning to the Companions, she speaks once again.
"As the time has grown late, we have another meal prepared for you. We will leave this place and meet up again in another part of the city. One where you will be more comfortable," she says with a slight smile to Beleg. "Your animals have been taken care of the best that we can. We are not very familiar with their care however, I hope that you will excuse us that. If you are ready, we can leave."
Seeing as the hour has indeed gotten on, the telling of Beleg's tale having taken quite some time, the Companions are all happy to leave the chamber and walk into the center of the city. Beleg, Dain, Kersath and Talimar all more happy than the others to be free of the confining space of the Svirfneblin abode.
As the Companions and Carmeneren and her entourage make their way through the winding street of the city, Garth moves forward to speak with Carmeneren. "I am sure I speak for the others when I offer my thanks and the thanks of our party for saving our comrade, Ras', life. Please be not overly harsh with your scout. His decision as much as any has helped to save our friend's life. For the future, perhaps we can set up a safe spot away from your city where we can contact your people swiftly. We have no wish to endanger your city."
Carmeneren nods her head at the words of thanks from Garth and makes a small gesture as if to say that no other course of action would have been possible. "Your friend was easily taken cared of. We would not have let him die in this place were it in our power to help him." Looking deep into the soft eyes of Garth, Carmeneren speaks once again, "I truly believe that you wish my people no harm, only good things. Perhaps a better way of us communicating can be found so that my people will not be endangered. I will think on it..."
Garth smiles as he continues to walk with the priestess. Frowning ever so slightly, he readies his courage to ask another question, "I must confess to a curiousity. My own faith was too weak to help my friend Ras. What was he suffering from and how did you cure him?"
Carmeneren looks at Garth hard for a moment, a deep furrowing of her forehead bringing her eyelids close together. The priestess appears confused as to Garth's question or how his faith could have been too weak. "I know not of your faith or what type of divine intervention you requested but it was not necessary with your friend. Perhaps because his ailment was so simple it was beyond divine measures. All he requires is rest, a warm bed and warm food when he is ready. That is all that we will provide for him, nothing else was done by me."
"Harumph!" answer Garth simply to the response of Carmeneren. Making a point to bring the matter up with Dain or Ortho at a later date, he slows down a bit to allow Carmeneren to continue forward.
The strange and small houses of the Svirfneblin coming to a halt around them, the Companions step forward into a large, open area that serves as a large meeting place for the Svirfneblin community. Most of the citizens are once again come out to take a look at the odd strangers to their city; a few hide and look around house corners or large stalagmites in the area, they all appear eager to get a glimpse of the strangers but yet a bit shy about it as well.
Several of the small children run from the protective clutches of their parents to take a closer look at the large form of Beleg as he towers four times or more their height. As the children become more accustomed to the large warrior and their parents more at ease, Beleg smiles as he bends to pick up several of them and toss them effectionately in the air. Squeels from the children rise just as shouts from the parents echo forth as well. Seeing the warrior quickly catch the children before tossing them once again into the air as well as the large smiles on the faces of their loved ones, the parents quickly smile themselves and relax. Beleg smiles heartily as he plays with the small children, a line quickly forming as they all wait to be tossed high into the air by the mighty human.
Talimar smiles as he watches the Paladin play with the small Svirfneblin children, happy to finally see that which could soften the hard back of the stout warrior. The dwarves simply shake their heads as they frown upon the frivolous actions of the human.
Kersath, Dain and the others take a seat at a large table in the center of the area that the Svirfneblin have worked to provide food for. Several other gnomes that appear to be advisors to the community join the Companions and Carmeneren at the table as well.
Following the meal, Beleg takes time out from playing with the children to entertain eveyone with his musical ministrations. Retrieving his recorder from it's secure place in his pack, he quickly starts into a rousing tune that causes the gnomes to clap and dance about the enclosure. Though the tune he plays is about a handsome rogue of the Northern lands that works to steal a kiss from a princess, Beleg is amazed to find that the gnomes quickly begin to sing to the music. Although he has no idea what the words are that they sing, they sing nonetheless. Perhaps the tune is far older and from a different origin than he thought?
Taking a moment from the merriment going on around him, Gnore silently walks forward to stand before Carmeneren, facing her. Looking into her eyes, only a moments pause passes as Gnore forms his words in his mind before giving them sound.
"You were right. I did need to be tested," Gnore simply states with a respectful nod and walks back to where he stood moments before, a mug of ale in his hand now.
Carmeneren simply smiles and nods at the back of the retreating warrior as she turns to watch the dancing children of her community once again.
The remainder of the evening passes this way as the Companions enjoy the celebration with the people of the Svirfneblin community. Although by no means free of the danger of the Underdark totally, the Companions are just happy to have a moments respite from the constant peril around them. The gnomes are ever thankful of the Company destroying the Troll menace that was so close to their home and a constant threat to their survival.
Early the next morning as the Companions come together in the meeting area of the gnome community, Talimar opens the discussions of the company. "With all the gold we recovered from the Trolls I have no doubt that some of it was taken from these good people. Would you object if we gave a portion to the Svirfneblin?" This last he asks with a careful eye toward the dwarves of the Company.
Gnore grins as he swells to his full height, "Beyond popular belief, I do not hold the same opinion of gold that other dwarves have. I do not mind if the smurfs get as much as you will give."
Druckner smiles sweetly at Talimar and Gnore, "Tall ya wot, great leader. Wha don't we split up ta treasure amongst ourselves and then you ga ahead and feel free ta give yar shares to the gnomes. Ya won't have any arguments from me."
Gnore nods once, "Done. The Smurf can have my share."
Snagger thinks on the proposal for a moment, "Ah spose not. Der's only so much ye can carry an if all else fails ye just ave ta dig a bit more!"
Garth adds what wisdom he may, "Does Kre have any family that might need looking after? A share should certainly go to them. Not to be greedy, but why don't we first set aside what we will need to re-equip ourselves with after our expedition. Better armor and spell components might serve the needs of our new friends better than gold. Than, with what is left, we can share with our newfound comrades."
"Now thar's a bit o' sense," begins Ortho. "Sure, we can help the Smurfs if they need it. But we also have to repair or replace armor and weapons and such. Let's not forget that. In fact, after Ras gets better Ah believe we should go topside and do just that. But we should graciously reward our hosts for their hospitality and the assistance to Ras. As to Kre, he had no family except a father he had pledged to find. At least as far as Ah know. Kre did have that girl back in town Ah saw him with. Can anyone shed some light on her?"
The others nod their heads as they try and remember the name of the girl that Kre had taken up with. "Can't remember her name," begins Dain, "but perhaps Ras can. Kre did spend most of his time with her while we were in town, she might be interested that he won't be coming back..." A puff of smoke rising in the air follows his last statement.
As the others talk of the division of loot and Kre, Kersath remains silent, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the Svirfneblin city which so remind him of his adopted home somewhere deep in the Underdark. As the conversation winds down, he returns to the voices before him and he speaks up. "Although appreciated, the gold would be practically useless to the gnomes of this community. They keep very little themselves and have almost no need for it. What would be more beneficial to them would be new tools with which to work, pots and pans to cook with, things of this nature. They do not have the time to make these things themselves and seldom meet anyone willing to sell it to them."
The dwarves look quite shocked at the lack of need or desire for gold hinted at by Kersath by the Svirfneblin; a concept that is totally foreign and against every teaching of their race.
"Well that sounds like a cheaper solution anyway," responds Talimar to the words of Kersath. "If everyone is agreed then that is what we will do. We will purchase supplies for them when we return to the surface."
With that matter settled Garth takes the opportunity to ask his own question, "At one point while we were fighting the Trolls, there were several explosive flasks that were used to great effect. I am unfamiliar with these. How can we make more of them? I think we should all have a few for the future."
"Nay laddie," says Ortho before the others can respond. "Moraddin's Gift will never be in plentiful supply, I'm afraid. Else the Bearded One may have to answer to his fellows. Ah'll do what Ah can, but don't expect more 'an one or two of them beauties to be about at any one time. Actually they're sort or tricky anyway."
Shrugging his shoulders, Garth takes the words of Ortho to heart and forgets about the question, "Just thought it'd be nice," he mutters softly.
"Garth, ye an' Beleg did a fine job looking' after Ras. Could 'ave done no better meself," praises Ortho. It is obvious to all that the dwarf was sorely concerned for the rambunctious halfling.
Beleg nods his head slowly and smiles as Garth does the same.
Seeing the business of the Company about to come to a close, Druckner flags a nearby gnome that he recognized from the night before as one who spoke Common to come over to him. "Seein' as we're now in yar fine hidden city, maybe thar wouldn't be no harm in givin' us a tour. Ah'm mighty interested in these buildings. Ah ain't never seen a deep gnome city afore. Of course, Ah donna want ta see the top secret areas!"
The gnome smiles as he works through what it is the dwarf is asking him before nodding his head vigorously. "Yes, yes. I show you around," he answers enthusiastically.
"Oh, an' Ah'd be much obliged is ya'd lend me ta use of a forge an' some good tools. Some ahf our weapons an' armor has bin damaged when we slaughtered them greenies."
Ortho's mood brightens at the words of his kin, "Do ye think ye can, Druck? Sure would be a weight off me mind if ye could."
Beleg too is pleased by Druckner's offer. "I would be very grateful for any repairs you could make to my armor," he says to his fiery dwarven companion. "I have been somewhat troubled about how to fix the damage done by the Trolls."
"An' mine too," pipes in Snagger. "Boy, ye should'n 'ave offer'd, ye ain't gonna get no rest!"
Druckner scratches his head while looking at his friend's sad looking weapons and mail. "Ah sure hope the gnomes can lend me a forge. Now, bear in min' Ah'm just' a blacksmith, not a master armourer, ahr nathing lak that, Ah'll do ta best Ah can." Although Druckner makes a show of being swamped by too much work, all can tell he is secretly pleased by the prospect of working the forge.
With the business of the day decided, the Companions go about their seperate ways as they try and enjoy the time of rest as they wait for Ras to heal himself. Druckner quite contentedly spends his time in a small, rarely used forge of the deep gnomes. Working with the minimal required heat and barely adequate tools, he nonetheless is quite happy to once again be back in the forge. His talents allow him to fix the fit and look of most of the armor and weapons but his skills don't allow him to adequately fix the total damage done to them. Afraid that he heat is to the wrong temperate or cool it too fast, he stays away from full-scale repair work. As the tasks are completed however, the Companions in turn become quite thankful for the minor work done by the dwarf craftsman.
Dain spends every moment of his time in the house of one of the gnome citizens working on identifying the items acquired by the Companions from the Trolls. After working alone for the first day, the gnome, Durwo, came to Dain and asked if he could assist the mage. Quickly seeing that the wizened gnome knew of what he spoke, Dain was quite eager to have the little one's help. Between the two of them, they spent the remaining time identifying the items and deep in discussion of several arcane topics. Throughout this Dain began to acquire a passing knowledge of the Svirfneblin tongue, especially dealing with the identification of several material components and any matters arcane. For his efforts, Durwo began to acquire a taste for the smoking of a pipe.
Happy at once again being among the gentle race that had adopted him and raised him, Kersath spends his time helping out with the gnomes wherever possible. Whether constructing new houses for the little ones or working in the fungi fields, the dark elf smiles warmly as he chats in their own tongue with the deep gnomes. Stopping only to translate for his friends from time to time whenever needed, the elf has a feeling of contentedness wash over him that he hasn't felt for quite some time.
The efforts of the elf are assisted by the great strength of Beleg. The large Paladin being able to easily due the work of several gnomes required in the raising of homes and such. His work of course happening when he isn't playing with the children of the community. Having taken an instant liking to the great warrior and he a fondness for them, the children and the Paladin try to wrestle and play at any and every opportunity. The evenings are spent with Beleg and a group of Svirfneblin performers eagerly entertaining one and all in the open area of the city.
For Gnore and Snagger, the time in the city is put to much more useful endeavors. Useful in their eyes at least. Going forth each morning, the two dwarves head out with the Svirfneblin patrols as they make their ways through the tunnels in the immediate area of the gnome city. Although never moving too far into the Underdark or away from the city, the dwarves do however gain a fair knowledge of the cavern complex surrounding the city. Returning about mid-afternoon each day, the two then spend the remainder of their time gambling and dicing with the gnomes of their patrol. It's is pointless to say that a fair amount of ale and spirits are consumed in each of these sessions.
His first day of rest, Ortho spends fasting and in prayer to Moraddin. With the lack of time for proper devotion deep in the Underdark, the dwarf decided to spend the day in prayer and proper supplication to his god. After having done this and properly rejuvenated from the experience, he spends his time with Garth and Carmeneren, discussing the various religious teachings of their deities as well as the plight of the Svirfneblin and anything that they can learn of the Underdark. Unfortunately for the two dwarves, Carmeneren appears relunctant to add any additional information on the dangers ahead of the Companions, simply responding, "All will become known soon..."
For his part, Talimar spends his days taking part in various functions. Helping out with Kersath and Beleg one day, the next he spends in patrol with Snagger, Gnore and the gnomes. Another day yet, he simply strolls around the city itself and marvels at the wonder of the community deep in the heart and danger of the Underdark. Never spending much time on one activity, the elf moves about in an effort to learn as much about the small community of gnomes as he possibly can.
The morning of his third day of rest and care from the gnomes, Ras' fever finally breaks for good. Later that day the halfling ambles out of the shelter of the Svirfneblin home to the cries of joy from his friends as he gets his first look at the gnome city. Although having the strength for only a short walk about the city, Ras and his companions are quite pleased with his return to health. Another two days of rest are required however before Ras is finally fully able to leave the city.
6th day of Ches. Morning. Svirfneblin city.
The morning of the sixth day of the Red Feather Company's time in the Svirfneblin city, as the Companions make their preparations to leave, Carmeneren comes to speak with them once again.
"Although your presence here was initially shunned and I was fearful for my people, you have acted with the utmost honor and helped us greatly in the time you have been here; not to mention the act of destroying the Troll's for us. For upholding your end of our bargain, I will provide you with what information I can. When you are ready, we will embark once again into the Underdark and I will show you much more."
Without another word, Carmeneren turns and walks back into her hut to allow the company to finish their readying. When all is complete, Carmeneren emerges once again with a small contingent of gnome warriors. The small party, along with the members of the Red Feather Company say goodbye to the gnomes who stay behind. With mules in tow and the Gnome guards to lead their way, the company once again sets out into the Underdark.
A further three full days of traveling through the twisting tunnels of the Underdark are required before the small group reaches the destination of Carmeneren. Early the morning of the fourth day, the group is brought to a halt in the middle of the main passage through the tunnels. This tunnel is familiar to the dwarves and even certain other members of the group as they recognize is from having passed through it on their way below. Although there is nothing unique about the tunnel, it's heighth and width much like that of the previous tunnels, no markings or other distinctions visible about it, Carmeneren still claims that they have reached the point that they sought. Turning to address the Companions, she speaks for the first time about what she has to tell them.
"Turn now, face this wall and tell me what you see," speaks Carmeneren as she turns and points to the southern wall of the tunnel.
Each of Companions turn in time and gaze upon the darkened wall. Even at close inspection, the wall appears the same as all those around it. No difference in color, texture or appearance at all. The wall even has small holes through which several of the small albino worms of the passageways crawl. Beleg, Kersath, Talimar and Snagger each swear that there is nothing out of the ordinary about the section of wall, nothing that would lead them to believe there was anything special about it; even though each of the companions have a strong feeling of repulsion coming from beyond the wall. For the others, even though they clearly see the wall before them, touching it they feel that they are no longer touching the cavern wall but some type of thick, gelatinous substance that 'gives' slightly. But even though they know the wall is illusory, they cannot force themselves to move through it.
Beleg, Kersath, Talimar and Snagger each swear that the others are deceived as the wall is no different to them at all. Only after Carmeneren speaks that it is this illusory wall that she brought them to see do they come to believe it. Even knowing it to be an illusion, it does not disappear and none of the companions can bring themselves to move through it. Dain suppresses a chill as this realization washes over him, this very strong and disturbingly strange magic being very unsettling for him. Talimar also expresses his distaste for the enchantment placed before him.
"This is the way to the illithids that you seek," begins Carmeneren rather calmly. Pulling forth a rolled sheet of parchment, she hands it to Talimar who then unfurls it and holds it up for all the Companions to gather round and see.
"This long passage is the way to the illithids. An earlier party of warriors took this route and perished. We have no idea how far they got, we did not deal directly with them," continues Carmeneren as she points to specific points of the map.
"Wat is this spot marked 'Great Lizards'?" asks Snagger of Carmeneren as he points to the map.
"Some type of evil dragon or dragon-like creatures lair there. We do not know what kind, we steer clear of them. That passage could lead to the illithids if you pass the dragons!"
Pointing to the central tunnel leading to the City of the Glass Pool (the name of a kuo-toan city given by the Svirfneblin that leads to the illithids), Carmeneren continues, "I would suggest that you explore this central path right up to the City and gain all the strength that you can. You might even consider returning at that time to deal with the dragons. But I am not sure that I would advise that, though I sense they both have powerful magic, and they certainly possess great treasures," she says thoughtfully.
Before Carmeneren can continue, Omwojak, the gnome that met Ortho and Ras in the tunnels over a week ago, pipes in, "But it is what is beyond them that might be really worthwhile." Carmeneren silences him with a look like thunder.
"Wal let the lad speak," offers Ortho as he becomes interested in the words of the gnome.
"We do not know what lies beyond the lizards," offers Carmeneren, "only that we have sensed very strong magic and secure barriers against our own attempts to explore and detect the area."
As Ortho continues to question the priestess about the area beyond the dragons, Carmeneren gets a pained expression on her face, a look as if she wished she could offer more information but is simply unable to. "There is something, something powerfully magical and seemingly not evil, but we cannot learn what it is." It is quite obvious to all members of the Company who are watching the priestess that she is quite troubled by what this might be.
With no further information to give about the southern passage or the area beyond the lizards, Carmeneren continues to discuss the central path, "Then, when you come at last to the kuo-toan city, you will first meet the Diregund," she hisses. All the gnomes in the group suddenly look hostile, aggressive, and vengeful. Weapons rattling and shaking on shields, the gnomes start some gutteral chant to the rhythm of their weapon rattling.
Kersath turns to the other members of the party, "Diregund is the Svirfneblin term for Derro."
The dwarves of the party take on a sour look at the mention of their hated racial enemy as well.
"Slothfull, willow-waisted, tunnel-worms!" grumbles Gnore as he spits to the ground in disgust.
"Destroy them all, and then come back to me, and I will tell you more," replies Carmeneren after the gnomes around her calm down somewhat. She looks as if she really means it. This old, helpful, kindly gnome has real hate in her eyes when she speaks of the Derro.
"I know that you wish to return to the surface and repair yourselves and re-equip as well. That would be good. When you finish, return here and start your journey. Destroy the Derro and return to us."