Lael allowed Loic to leave with no further input. His parting words amused her, perhaps if Loic knew the serene, impractical creature Lael was supposed to adhere to, he would realise what a misguided mess she truly was.
Lael sat on the bed for a moment and let the weariness wash over her. The Paladin’s aches were beginning to surface. She still had to go find Valdasar and endure his bleating. Lael was almost certain he would want to chastise her, preach and sermonise on the finer qualities she lacked. “Well, better get it over and done with.” The words were tiredly spoken as she rose stiffly to her feet. Before she left, she heard a guttural roar and it gave her pause. It was done.
She moved quickly, down one level back to where their fight took place. Lael could see the bodies had already been moved and stripped, although Drow blood still stained the floor. It was then she spotted the old lizard preparing only what Lael could presume was tea and made her presence known.
“I am here now, Valdasar.”
Valdasar glanced back at the drow for a brief moment before returning his attention to the tea. “Would you like a cup? It is very fine indeed, though one can expect no less from a man of Vizeran’s standing.”
Lael shook her head. “No, I usually prefer my drinks stronger.” Perching herself on the edge of the table she watched him in silence before growing impatient. “Is there something you wanted in particular?” she said trying her best to hide said irritation. “I need to tend Angaste and ready my belongings.”
He looked at her in surprise. “So we have our next destination in mind already?”
A confused look crossed over her features for a moment. “To Araumycos of course, to answer the call of Basidia.”
Valdasar brought up his cup and sipped from it delicately. “Interesting. I do not recall this being mentioned before. Do enlighten me, Lady, who – or what – is Basidia?”
Snowy white eyebrows knitted together. “Basidia, the myconid from the dream we had from when we stayed in the library?”
The old dragonborn matched her perplexed look with one of his own. “I had no such dream. Who else do you know of has shared this vision?”
Well that explained the group’s lack of action on the matter, but why had the myconid Basidiachosen to call to her only? “I assumed we had all had it, as that is what happened the last time.”
“Last time? So this is not the first time you have been visited by these…dreams? Premonitions?”
“Ah-” Lael began, “that is a very long story.” She leant back on the table, deciding not to perch on it any further but instead sat, crossing her legs as she did so.
“Back at the very start, we found ourselves at the city of Gracklstugh, shortly after seeing Demogorgon rise from the dark lake at Sloobludop. As we rested in the inn that night, we were all drawn into a dream-like state. It was strange, we were not there but we were?”
Lael paused and ran her hand over her disheveled hair, as she struggled to explain the strange situation. “In this dream we were invited to the wedding of the demon prince Zuggtmoy to Araumycos, it took a sinister turn and we found ourselves breaking free.”
Lael decided it was better she omitted the part where her and Loic had shared that night together. She had lingered too long and struggled to wake herself from the twisting nightmare. It had been the Wizard who had woken her and saved her that night. The old cleric already assumed much about their relationship and Lael did not want to venture into the uncomfortable topic again.
“We came together to discuss it and decided that our best interest was to gather all the information we could and return to the surface as Zuggtmoy’s wedding procession would take her months to reach her destination. I guess we all thought that this would be over by now. We were wrong, the time is drawing near; she is almost there and the myconids are calling for us…”
“Interesting,” Valdasar mused, “though it appears you are the only one of us all to have been singled out by the myconids on this occasion. Have you spoken of the dream to anyone else?”
Lael shook her head. “I have been distracted by other things.”
“So I imagine. Still, I believe it is worth mentioning, for your own safety as much as anything else. Do you have any clue as to why this might be? Any idea at all?”
“You presume, that I have been singled out.” Lael quickly interrupted. “You are the first I have told, who is to say any of the others have not also been approached? You, Eran, Ilia and Raddan have never encountered this dream-like state and therefore could just pass it as a stress of the Underdark,” she shrugged, “and could simply dismiss it. Loic had the dream before but he also has other things on his mind. Who is to say?"
“Be that as it may, surely you agree there is no harm in bringing it to the attention of the others. Perhaps you are correct and they have simply not mentioned it, but if this phenomenon is particular to only yourself, or one or two others then there may be something more sinister underlying these dreams. Considering the nature of our foe, it is only prudent to be thorough.” He drained his cup and nodded appreciatively. “You are sure you will not try some?” he asked, tilting it in Lael’s direction. “A good cup of tea will do wonders for the body and the mind, even in times of… stress of the Underdark.”
“While that is true, I am Oathbound to heed the call.” She hopped off the table and smoothed over the girdle of her armour. Once again she declined the tea, slightly humoured. “I much rather a hot bath to deal with those complications.”
With a chuckle, Valdasar set the cup back in its rightful place. “Why not both? One can never soothe away the rigours of battle too much. In my experience, moments of peace must be seized upon as if it were one’s last, for we can never know if it will be so.” He looked back to Lael with genuine interest. “You speak of an oath. Would it be appropriate of me to ask of it?”
“It is a bold question but I will permit it, this once.” Lael replied eagerly. “I swore I would do my part in sending the demons back to the pit. To bring to justice to those who released them and all their conspirators.”
She looked slightly amused for a moment, the woman who had taken that oath had not realised how far that would stretch, eventually she would need to take her justice to Lolth herself. “The tenets are quite simple,” she continued. “If the choice comes between fighting my sworn foes or combating a lesser evil, then I must choose the greater evil. There can be no mercy for my sworn foes and I must do this by any means necessary.”
Valdasar contemplated her words for a short time before finally nodding. “It is easy to swear an oath, but difficult to keep it. It is a noble undertaking, even if the aim is not entirely altruistic, for it does not allow one to act with free abandon. It asks us to retrain ourselves, to stand where we would usually run, to walk the long, hard path and ignore the shortcuts presented to us.” He gazed at her curiously. “Do you feel you have the strength to see this through?”
Lael let out a bemused snort. “I am a selfish creature, impulsive and impassioned. I was compelled to make my words, when something precious was taken from me.” Her mind crossed carefully over those awful few days and how much she had lost and stood to lose further. “Altruism is a trait for those that follow. I do not follow, I serve.” She gestured dismissively as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other.
“Yet, despite all my obvious flaws, I stand, I fight, I endure and I will till my last breath. Do not insult me with the abstraction of strength. I have shed more blood and endured more pain than most; even those who are most dear to me I have laid down and risked, to see this to the end.”
Valdasar listened to her carefully before giving a single nod of satisfaction. “That I do not doubt. I can only imagine what would force you to take such an oath. Still, whether to serve or to follow, it requires a kind of discipline that few are capable of. It is…an admirable thing.” He squinted as if examining her, his tone growing inquisitive again. “You are different from the others of your kind; a statement of the obvious, perhaps, but how have you come to oppose Lolth where so many drow have given themselves to her webs of deceit?”
Lael looked surprised for a moment. she had never really thought about the first who turned away. “I was born to it, we have always been said apostates. As was my mother before me and hers and every mother as far as it is remembered.”
“I cannot imagine it made for an easy childhood. It does not take a sage to observe the ruthless ferocity with which Lolth’s followers pursue their enemies.”
“Drow do not have childhoods.” Lael stated, a curl spreading at the side of her mouth. “We teach our young that our society is harsh as soon as they are able. For survival, most do not, but then again, that’s why I have seven sisters.” The smile faded as quickly as it had come. “Had seven sisters…”
The revelation brought a softness to Valdasar’s voice. He dipped his head. “I see. I am sorry.”
The Paladin shook her head dismissively. “Such is the nature of these things, if there is not anything else, I should go prepare my things.”
“Yes,” he replied with a sigh, “I have kept you long enough. But before you go…”
Valdasar reached into his pack and brought out one of his packs of medicines and supplies. With quick, deft movements he parcelled out a small portion of pungent, yet pleasant-smelling herbs, wrapped them in a square of paper and offered it to Lael. “The next time you bathe, sprinkle a pinch into the water. These herbs are used to calm aching muscles and clear the humours.” He gave her a small grin. “A concoction I learned from the human merchant cities. It is quite effective.”
His gift was a surprise to Lael. She certainly did not feel she deserved such a gesture. Reaching out for the parcel she took it and gave it a cautious sniff.
“Well, it does not smell unpleasant,” Lael conceived. “This is most generous.” With a respectful nod of her head, Lael pocketed the square before disappearing back upstairs.