Druckner looks at the map from Carmeneren carefully and says, "If Ah understan' ya ker-rectly, we need ta get ta them spongie fellahs fer us ta complete ahr quest. An' ta get ta the spongies, we got two choices. We can go straight down here, through either them Grells - an' wot, by Moraddin's hairy armpits, is a Grell? - or through them dangerous passages wit' all these worm-holes and razor-rock and wot-not, an' then, we'll be lucky ta get ta this Juidblex fellah's temple with a bunch o' slime hangin' about. An' then, we get ta meet wit' some Derro." Druckner grins and caresses his axe's edge, "Ah like THAT part. Now, after we don' all that we can get back ta ya so ya tell us more an' then we go back an' chop up 'em spongies. Or, we can bash these other dragon fellahs over here - no doubt that's a walk in the park - an' go on right through ta the spongies!"
Druckner claps his hands and says, "Right! Wahl, let's be off ta town then, 'cause I need a drink!"
"Ah-men, Brudder!" chips in Ortho.
Gnore throws his head back and roars with laughter. Although most of his recent life was spent on the road among humans and what not, he still remembers the bitter feelings aroused by the mention of the Derros. Even though his life was almost extinguished by the Troll mere days pat, he can still feel the nervous anticipation building within him.
"Aye, the quicker we reach the surface, the sooner we get to rip apart them vile-dung digger Derro! What say you Garth? Are you unanimous with yer kin?"
A silent nod of acquiescence is the only response from the stoic dwarven priest.
Beleg remains silent, surprised by the vehemence of Carmeneren, but not entirely displeased by her hate of the evil Derro. He silently contemplates returning to these tunnels and rooting out the evil ones, his mind envisioning great battles and the ultimate victory of the powers of good.
"Wahl," says Snagger, "Ah'm ready ta go back up too da surface an' see the sun fer a little bit. But first, Ah wanna know about how large a force dem Derro are? If'n there's anything ah don' like it's Derro!"
Carmeneren shrugs her shoulders at the question from Snagger. "I'm afraid I cannot accurately answer that question. Because of the ward that is placed on the tunnel entrance before us, we cannot even move into the tunnel. It is a large force I can assure you or they would not be able to survive so deep into the Underdark caverns. You will be ready for them though, I'm sure of that."
Beleg's revery is broken by Snagger's comment and Carmeneren's response. He laughs and turns around at the sound of his friends comments and enthusiasm, hitting his head on the low ceiling of the tunnel. "Oh!" he says, laughing at himself and Druckner's desire for ale. "I'd like to know a bit more about the size of the tunnels," he says, rubbing his head.
Carmeneren smiles as several of the gnomes with her laugh with glee and point at the large Paladin. "I am afraid that there will be no relief from the size of the tunnels as you delve deeper, my friend. Perhaps a mended helm would help you greatly?"
Beleg nods his head at the words of Carmeneren, a thought that he had had several times in the days since his was damaged.
Kersath sighs happily at the prospect of returning to the surface. Turning to his companions, he says, "Indeed, it has been a while since I've seen the night skies...But i think we must make this one a hasty trip, for we do not know whether the orcs or the bandits will return before we do. We cannot take the chance." Looking over the map the high priestess gave them he nods his head, "Indeed, we have our work cut out for us. We will have to face many perils in our way. We'd better equip ourselves well, for the Underdark is not a forgiving place."
Even though he was born and raised in the Underdark, Kersath's face brightens at the thought of visiting the surface again, his adopted home for many years. "And I agree with you Druck. I think we all need some fresh ale!"
Looking around the company, Talimar comments, "It looks like we are agreed then. We shall return to the surface to rest and resupply, then come back to continue our work." Raising his gaze to the tunnel roof, a look of longing for the surface world crosses the elf's face.
"Eh?", Garth comments at Talimar's longing gaze. In a rare fit of humor he adds, "If ah didn't know better, I'd guess ye were a follower of Selune, mooning the way ye are!"
The others laugh at the jest from the dwarf as Talimar smiles. "The moon Goddess has always been a favorite of my race. And a little 'moonin' never hurt anyone!"
Obviously glad to be up and around again, Ras turns to Talimar to speak his peace, "I think a trip back to town would be great but maybe we should see if we can figure out what those items we found are. They might be useful if we run into anything."
Dain steps forward then to address the halfling, "Sorry friend Ras, guess we forgot to tell you. With a little help, I was able to identify the items. I'll fill you in for your records as we travel out of here."
"Sounds good," smiles Ras.
12th day of Chess. Early Morning. Orc Caverns
A full two days of travel through the Underdark after leaving the deep gnomes and the Companions reach the entrance to the orc caverns. Quietly entering the system of tunnels that were so recently inhabited by the Bloodskull tribe, everyone makes their way through the tunnels and back to the mines. As the weeks have passed without any activity in the tunnels, they appear to be losing any semblance of their use or inhabitants. The rags and other filthy possessions of the orcs have been carried away by rats for their nest or other creatures of the caverns and the carrion creatures of the dark have seen to the remaining bodies of the orcs killed there.
Moving through the chamber where Randor was slain, the companions once again take a moment to pay their respects to their fallen friend. In silence they continue on to the chamber with the sinkhole and the pulley to hoist the mules out of the lower cavern.
With the hour becoming late after getting the mules to the tunnels of the mines, Talimar orders a halt for the evening. Once again camp is set and the group settles down to what they hope will be their last night to camp underground for some time.
Early morning the next day the Companions walk through the dusty and debris-strewn entrance to the abandoned Garlstone mines. For several minutes, hands are held protectively over eyes as everyone struggles for their eyes to adjust to the blinding brilliance of the sunlight. With a yell of glee, Ras runs forward from the tunnel and plunges into the soft grass around the entrance. His backpack falling off and pouches spilling contents around him, the halfling pays no heed.
"Warmth!! Yes! I never thought I would be so warm again!" he yells as he rolls around in the grass.
The others laugh at the joy of their companion as they themselves enjoy the warmth and welcome of the morning sun.
"Wahl wot now?" asks Druckner of Talimar as he remembers that their animals are back in town waiting on them.
"I suppose we walk back to town," offers Talimar as he grabs his pack and slings it over his shoulder once again.
"Closer to the ground," offer Gnore as he moves forward to join Talimar and head toward Milbourne.
Druckner shrugs his shoulder and readies himself as he sees the others fall in line. In no real hurry to get back to town, everyone appears eager to walk back and enjoy the countryside.
Walking back to town and taking their time about it, the joining into Milbourne takes another two and half days. Nothing happens to the troupe as they head south toward town, evenings are spent with a bit of revelry as Beleg plays his lute or recorder and everyone enjoys a few rowdy ballads from time to time. Out of the confining darkness and terror of the Underdark, the Companions begin to take on an air of invincibility. After all, how could anything out here harm them? They've braved the depths of the Underdark and made it out, what could the countryside of Haranshire possibly have over that?
Luckily for the Companions, nothing comes forth to challenge that invincibility. In the late afternoon of the 15th day of Chess, farmers and other residents of Haranshire making their way to Milbourne come upon and notice the traveling Company of the Red Feather. For the most part happy to see their adopted saviours returning, the people walk with them and talk about their adventures. Quite happy to share the exploits of the group with the townspeople, Druckner, Snagger, Ras and Dain readily talk with the followers. Several of the kids rush ahead and make their way toward the town. It is to a small celebration that the companions walk into the town of Milbourne that evening.
One of the first noteworthy inhabitants to greet the RFC is of course Andrenn. The look of hope is quickly washed away from the eyes of the young lad as he sees that his love Jelenneth is not walking among them. With heavy heart he turns away from the celebration and heads back to the Baron of Mutton.
Moving through the throng of people around the adventurers, Garyld walks forward to greet each of the Companions as well.
"Hallo! No news of the Lady Jelenneth, I take it?"
Shaking his head, Talimar falls in beside the hobbled ranger and begins to tell him of their most recent encounters.
Halfway down the street, the proceeding is halted as a beautiful lady dressed in a black cloak over a fine white silk blouse. Dark breeches under black riding boots fit snugly to her long legs. With hair black as midnight, the lady's dark eyes scan the Companions before her. Ras instantly recognizes the lady as Laera, Kre's love. Moving forward, Ras places his small hand into the right hand of Laera as she looks for Kre. She doesn't notice the action of the halfling as a slow, painful realization begins to creep over her.
"M'Lady, ye should come wit me," begins Garth as he moves forward to take her other hand.
"I'll do no such thing. Where is he?"
"I'm sorry, m'Lady. He's no longer with us."
"What!?! No! How could that be?! What happened?"
The questions from Laera fly forth with no answer as he tries to comprehend her loss. Although having only met and known the young thief for a short while, she had still developed a deep love for him. And now he was gone from her.
Accusing eyes turn toward the faces of the Companions, anger rising in the voice of Laera, "How could you let this happen? You were supposed to protect him!"
As this last is spoken, the shock has become too much for her and her knees buckle beneath her. Garth catches her under her arms to protect her from hitting the ground as Beleg instantly moves forward. Easily taking the lady into his arms, he lifts her and makes toward the Baron of Mutton.
Although happy for the return of the company and generally eager to celebrate at any moment, the people of Milbourne slowly begin to disperse as Beleg and the other companions make their way toward the inn. With the loss of their companion once again brought painfully before them, the mood of the group becomes quite somber. The townsfolk sense this and move on.
As they reach the Baron of Mutton, each of the companions can quickly see that it has gone through some drastic changes in the recent weeks. New additions to the inn have been made as it appears that more rooms and a bigger meeting hall have been added. Looking about them as they walk through the doors of the inn, they quickly see that it is fully inhabited with more than just the townspeople. Seated among the tables and chairs of the bar are a number of men and women who appear to be prospective adventurers, possible brigands and others who wish to make their fame and fortune from the events happening in Haranshire. Beleg simply shakes his head as he makes his way toward the stairs and takes Laera to the room that she and Kre had shared. Garth and Ras silently follow after the Paladin.
As Beleg and the others see to the comfort of the lady, the rest of the RFC take a seat at a table offered to them by two average looking men who then move to the bar. Looking about the room, Druckner starts and almost jumps out of his skin. Pointing above the hearth of the fireplace, he says, "Wahl I'll be! Look'it that!"
The other companions turn and look on in amazement as they look into the hollow eyes of Garundzer, the mighty orog that killed Brother Randor. The mighty head of the creature has been wonderfully preserved and now hangs on display at the Baron of Mutton. Several red feathers have been pushed through the tight skin of the beast's face to hang there. Dain rises from his chair and moves over to read the inscription below the head.
"Here lies the head of Garundzer, slayer of Brother Randor Skycastle, hero and friend of Milbourne, member of Red Feather Company. Destroyed by Ortho Pestkiller and other members of the Company of the Red Feather.
Nafton, Stableman and part-time Taxidermist"
"So, what do ye think of it?" asks the afore-mentioned Nafton as he sees Dain looking at his work.