Monday, June 13

The Tale of the Magic Crossbow pt4: Prisoners of the Underkingdom

Dawn came washed out and smoky. The boat's slowed, and in the haze, I can just make out the towers of Carabos downriver, their tops lost in the, I don't know what. Smoke? Fog? I don't know if this is just morning in the city, or a pall that remains from last night.
I'm not ready to write about what happened last night. Everything's still sort of jumbled. Everything I wrote about yesterday feels so unimportant now. So much has happened. The boat is a fire-smelling wreck, but we're still floating, somehow.
How could this have happened? We were in the city's shadow for gods' sakes. How could HE have let this happen? Grandfather never sat and sulked when someone was in danger. He never slacked off when something needed to be done. Not even when he had every right to. He was a man of action, a hero. Was he the last one? I'm going to write the next part of his story, now.
Joachim awoke in a dark cell. His armor and equipment were gone. He was alone, and couldn't even see the moon. Somewhere nearby, he heard deep breathing. Guards, he guessed. He had been tied to some earthen wall. He grinned, darkly. They were, he thought, making it almost too easy to be fun. His hands were bound, but he managed to get two fingers into his mouth and whistle. Ahead in the darkness, the guards jumped to their feet. One of them threated him in Undercommon, but since he didn't know the language, Joachim ignored him. He just counted down silently, straining to hear the sound of his enchanted spear, spinning through the air, guided to his location by the ancient and unfathomable powers of the Elder Dragons. It was a high whistle, as though returning his call with one of its own. It was an unstoppable force. The Dragon Spear, Incisor.
Incisor is a short spear of untold power. When he wielded it, the weapon seemed almost alive, filled with emotion, rage and energy. Even Joachim didn't know everything about it, having received it as recognition for defending Dragonkind. What he did know was that unlike most weapons of it's kind, it was without loyalties or bias. Some swords are made to battle evil, and some axes thirst for innocent blood. Incisor was a spear made by dragons to slay dragons. Beyond that, it let it's bearer guide it without malice or interference. Some sages say that the spear is chaotic, others lawful, but it does not side with either the children of Bahamut, the Platinum, or Tiamat the five-headed. There is a story, too long to recount here, that implied that the spear was a sort of on-going bet between two Ancient wyrms, a red, and a gold. In any event, the spear had a tendency to travel from one horde to another, passing through the claws of this dragon or that, to be presented to a mortal champion, that he may slay the opposite number of the patron. Thus, the gold dragon who presented it to Joachim placed it in her horde by taking it off the corpse of an evil warrior, who had himself received it from the collected spoils of a great blue dragon, who had slain the mighty, but not quite mighty enough paladin who had wielded it before him, in a cycle on down through the centuries. Maybe my grandfather should have left it to someone when he retired, but he said he never found a worthy heir for the wyrms' weapon. So it's our "ancestral weapon" now. If I ever become an adventurer, maybe I'll get to use it. Of course, I don't think that was my family's idea when they sent me down south. I think I'll probably just get my status as wizard and run the family business, or establish a side business in the trade. It'd be fun to run a magic shop. It would certainly be safer.
From where the Drow had secured it, Incisor heard and responded to Joachim's call. It returned to his hand, splintering first the crate it had been left in, and then the bars that held Joachim. The guards had the foresight to duck. With a practiced hand, Joachim caught his spear. The gate was now open, and he felt confident. So did the guards.
They rushed him as soon as he stepped out of the cell. The first one ran right Incisor's tooth, and his life was eaten. Joachim strained with all of his mighty strength and hurled the corpse at his enemy, knocking him prone. Greedily, the spear pulled itself forward, and ate a second life. Joachim moved out into the darkness. They were holding Glory somewhere else, and he needed to find her before the Drow finished whatever it was they were planning for her.
It was impossible to say in the magical darkness wether it was day or night, but the settlement was quiet, so Joachim assumed that the rest of the camp was sleeping. He couldn't remember the way he had brought. He had been turned around every which way after he had been captured. Now, he was lost.
He heard a voice calling out to him in the dark. A woman was calling his name in a sharp whisper. Joachim turned and followed it, hoping it was Glory. He was disappointed to find it belonged to Rose. She was confined in a shaped cell much like his own, but unguarded. He felt his way along the bars, and when he came face to face with her, he scowled. She had been beaten very badly, but he couldn't find it in himself to pity her.
"Hello, Rose." He said with contempt.
"Joachim. You've escaped! There is still hope." Rose whispered.
"Not for you. I'm afraid the contract's been voided. I'm collecting my magic user, and we're getting out of here."
"You have to help us. They'll kill us all!" She reached out through the bars with her slender wrist. Joachim stared at it for a minute, easily stepping outside of her grasp.
"Well, that was my concern before you led us straight into a trap. Now, I'm not so worried."
"I, I'm sorry. But there is still time. Please, let me explain."
"I'm listening, but this qualifies as hazard pay now."
"Nearly everything I've said to you was true. The Drow tunneled to the surface and surprised us. The Ranger Corps was taken by surprise. They had found some way to bring the darkness with them, a way which our magicians could not dispel. The camps were very quickly overrun."
"And you turned traitor to save your skin, is that it?"
"No, you do not understand. Even though our main force was anialated, we quickly formed a resistance. The forest is our home, and Elvish warfare relies heavily on hit-and-run tactics. But things were moving too slowly. We couldn't keep them at bay. They have a magical device, a relic of some kind. They call it 'Moresar,' the night stone. Ever since they arrived, it's been active, and the dome of night is growing in its wake. The forest is dying because of it."
"Ain't that a shame. Don't see what it has to do with me, though."
"I let myself get captured by the Drow. I was acting as a spy for the remaining Wood Elves. I found out how they were powering the night stone. They sacrifice wizards to it. Their arcane essences are bound to it, and your friend is next."
"Then I'd better hurry." He turned to go.
"Wait! The Drow are running out of wizards to sacrifice, and they can't face the natural light without the stone. I let them send me, to bring you here, but I was going to meet up with the resistance when we returned. I should have told you, but the pair following me... Complicated matters."
"Do tell."
"When we returned to the forrest, I found that the resistance had fallen, and Lady Ungwe ruled the forest unopposed."
"That would be the Drow Commander," he said. It wasn't a question.
"Indeed. She is a fearsome warrior, and her subjects follow her unquestioningly. They would gladly die for her. Many already have."
"Do you have any idea of how many are left?"
"More of them arrive from the Underdark every day. They work to establish a fortress here. I would say three hundred, at least."
"Too many even for Incisor to fill up on, then. But can I trust you?"
"I swear to the Earth Mother, on the grave of every elf who has died by their hand, I will serve you honestly and faithfully, until the forest is ours once again. May my soul never find rest in the glades of Alfheim should I fail you." She intoned solemnly.
"Good enough for me." Joachim reached out and sliced through the lock with Incisor. The Ironwood snapped easily.
"Such a weapon..." She said, admiringly as he swung the gate open. She was wearing the green dress and cleric's robes that she was wearing when he had met her, but the fabric had been rent and torn. They holy symbols had been removed, exposing pale flesh beneath. She noticed him staring, and covered herself as best she could with her hands. "Sir Joachim, please." She said primly. He finally looked away, and led them forward, away from the cell.
"Right, right. The first order of business is getting ourselves prepared. Do you know where they would have taken our supplies? I called my spear, but I'll need my armor."
"I believe I can guide us there, although I am unsure as to whether my magic will be effective against the Drow. Come close to me, and I will give us a chance." She pulled him close and touched him on the forehead, as though anointing him. She prayed over him quietly, and whispered the final word of her spell. "Invisibility!" Joachim vanished. "Goddess be praised, she is still with us. However, I cannot cast the spell again."
"Then what should we do?"
"If you remain quiet, I can do something else. Change Self!" Rose's features changed and hardened, and after a moment, Joachim was looking not at her, but at Lady Ungwe. He readied Incisor.
"No, Joachim, it's still me." She said in Rose's voice. "I've taken the Drow Woman's form. Now, stay quiet and follow me." She led him through the forest, and though there was little light, he could see signs of how badly the Drow had destroyed this place. The few of them they passed were leading slaves, the Wood Elves, in seemingly random and humiliating tasks. One group was building rambling, pointless walls, and another was tearing them down, stone by stone. Joachim watched the hatred flash on Rose's face, but the guards, who snapped to close, silent attention when she passed, must have only interpreted this as hate for the slaves, rather than the slave drivers. The pair of them reached the storage center unmolested. The site itself was swarming with Dark Elves. The building was low, and formed of squat mud bricks. A few of them collapsed where Incisor had passed through the wall. One brick had been cleft neatly in twain by the spear's head. There were five Drow milling around and looking at the evidence. Two with scimitars were standing guard at the door, and there were the voices of others coming from inside, but Joachim couldn't see them in the dark. When they saw Rose, they all snapped to attention, but had curious, confused expressions on their faces.
"Forgive me, my lady," one of the guards said at last. "But did you not just enter the warehouse?" It was at this moment that the real Ungwe, with her retainer of two additional Drow woman warriors, stepped out into the eternal night.

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