Raddan followed the drow’s direction, running his eyes over the plethora of volumes that dominated the shelves. It was the work of moments to decipher the old man’s apparent system of organization and as he ran his eyes over the spines of the books, the sorcerer stepped forward and plucked an armful from their nests. He’d heard the drow mention his residential rooms to Loic and now suitably armed for his little quest, Raddan headed for the door. He paused in the archway, casting a glance back at those who remained. “I’ll be in one of the rooms downstairs.” he stated simply and without waiting for a response, departed.
Descending the tower didn’t take long and he soon found the rooms discussed previously. Most of the doors lay ajar, bar one. He assumed that was where Loic, and likely Lael, were to be found. He moved past their room soundlessly, listening without really trying to decipher anything. Let the icy drow and her lovelorn wizard do as they pleased. The stress relief would do them both good, if their little relationship stretched that far. Finding a free room further down the hall, Raddan stepped inside, closing the door behind him. An armchair caught his attention immediately and laying the books on the stony floor, he took hold of the arms and spun it to face the door. He sat, momentarily tempted to remove his mask and free his tail from its confines, as he often did when alone. Here in the tower of the drow magus however, he doubted he was truly as alone as the mage claimed.
Reaching instead for the first volume, Raddan hoisted the book into his lap, the spine cracking sharply as he laid it flat. His hands reached into his pockets and withdrew his smoking pipe even as his eyes scanned the table of contents. By the time he’d gone through the automatic motions of lighting his pipe, he’d found what little the book had to offer. Settling back into plush cushions of the armchair, Raddan stretched out his legs and propped his feet up on the remaining three volumes he’d placed on the floor.
Being written by mages, wizards and all manner of magic theorists meant the treatises were dense, nigh-impenetrable things that wandered across all manner of subjects and touched on everything from the essence of magic to the notion of gods themselves being personifications of certain magical schools. Raddan was able to cut the literary wheat from the chaff easily enough, though a few of the more outlandish ideas brought a low chuckle from his lips. As the hours passed and the pages flew by, he slowly began to absorb what knowledge lay within. By the end of his endeavours, the sorcerer had been given much to consider. He laid the fourth and final volume down and took a moment to relight his pipe. With his gaze on the room’s only entrance Raddan slipped into a contemplative state, the fingers of his free hand drumming a steady rhythm on the arm of the chair.
As Raddan left, Eran nodded acknowledgement and continued to memorized the map of the underdark Vizeran had given them. As he studied it he tried to reference the locations to surface world, and his mind began to wander about seeing the sky again, feeling and fresh breeze or the coolness of the rain. He missed the rustle of trees and chirps of birds nesting. Images of Ozerin moving through wild grasses filled his mind, he let them flurish, allowed himself this moment in relative safety to lose himself in memories of her.
But as quickly as the memories came, Eran withdrew from them. Day dreaming would not get him back to her, it would not save Duon either. He decided he had studied the map for long enough. He looked over the volumes of books on the shelves until he found what he needed. As much as he’d asked for information on Beholders he doubted the wizards library could bestow any more knowledge then Gravenhollow had already provided. So instead he concentrated on information on the purple worms.
In the previous 6 months while training with Georrah, the hunter had insisted Eran study common monstrosities in order to perform better, to attune in natural senses to their presence. 6 months had not been enough time to focus on every detail however, Eran had remembered looking over details on these creatures but the specifics had been jumbled. Thankfully he found a volume about creatures in the underdark, with a chapter dedicated about the worms. He worked his way through it as the hours grew late and everyone had seemed to find their own tasks. On occasion he looked up, swearing he caught sight of Taman in peripheral vision, appearing in the chair opposite. Only to find the empty chair in the dimly lit chamber.
He continued his study, trying to formulate a plan.
When the deed was done, and Loic was left alone in the small, dark room, he spent some time simply sitting and staring at the vial of Drow blood he’d been given. There had been a high cost associated with this tiny measure of liquid, and so he was pondering how much more he’d have to pay for the rest. Of course, this was all part of Ghaunadaur’s plan, forcing him to alienate himself in order to even be worthy of dealing with the greatest overlord of outcasts. It had him written all over it. Still, he kept coming to the same conclusion, which went something along the lines of the greatest gifts come with the greatest of sacrifices. Indeed, he believed with every fiber of his being that That Which Lurks did intend to help him, so long as he provided proof that he was worthy of the attention. For that, he would have to repeatedly come under the scrutiny and distrust of his peirs. Was that how Ghaunadaur felt, he wondered? Was this some kind of deep bonding they were doing?
His contemplation on the will of gods was violently interrupted as his left arm shot into a fit of spasms. Fortunately, he had been holding the blood in his right hand, but the sudden intensity of the convulsion none-the-less had him putting the vial down to grab and hold the offending appendage. Through gritted teeth, he rode the wave of pain and kept himself from crying out, all the while rocking back and forth with his eyes closed tightly.
Something was definitely not right.
Eventually, the sensation subsided. His breath began to even back out, and he opened his eyes to look down at his left hand. In half a second, his glove was off and the fabric of his undershirt was bunched up to his elbow, revealing a physical anomaly that further reinforced the fact that everything was not okay. All of his veins along that limb were becoming visible, many having become so thick and gnarled that they were rising up out of his skin to give it a distinguishing texture.
Loic cringed and shuddered at the sight. He needed to find Valdasar quickly and ask him for a diagnosis. It could be some kind of exposure to weird Underdark flora. He hadn’t read about anything yet that could do this, but hopefully the cleric knew more. So, he rolled his sleeve back down and slid his glove back on, although it felt significantly tighter and smaller than it had five minutes ago. He then stuffed his vial of blood into his satchel and hurried out of the room, and back up to the upper sections of the tower to find help.
It needs to stay in, he thought, needs to be hard to remove, a barb perhaps? He took out his Kukri from its sheath and layed it on the table. Then began sketching some modification to it, it certainly could be done he thought, and it wouldn’t take him much time to fashion it. The makeshift furness he and Loic had made for the ring would be enough for this.
He looked at the Kukri again, Duon had made that for him in his first year under his tutelage. He had later taught him how to make his own, many of his skills he owed to Duon. Now he would use them all to save him. He consider himself a tool fashioned by Duon just for this purpose. His skills had now likely surpassed the old Elf he judged, his tutelage had been taken up by another.
Georrah the Eldritch Knight and his sponser into the Emerald Enclave had taken upon himself to train Eran in the last 6 months. He had enhanced his magical abilities but at a cost to his physical combat style. Eran had prefered the use of a weapon in each hand but Georrah had guided him away from that, allowing a hand free to caste spells. Georrah’s ultimate goal was to have Eran weld a greatsword like himself, but the transition had not been easy for him. He had mastered the techniques with the longsword but he found the balance in most Greatswords to be too weighted in the blade for his liking. He had intended to practice more, to strengthen his wrist and forarms, yet he had not, he decide that he should make a point to do so in the future.
He was getting too fond of the simple finesse of the Solarblade, such an elegant weapon. It was was proving its worth in the dark deeps of the underdark. Such a wonderous find he had thought, in the pit of Yuan-Ti where he discovered it. Only to discover that his new Drow companion had also obtained such an item. He had meant to ask her about it, but he had found her demeanor to be cold and abrassive. At first he had thought it was directed at him, having brought the news of her sisters death, but he had observed this to be a general condition towards her other party members; save Loic and Taman of course. He looked at the empty chair again.
He damned his ignorance, he knew little of Drow society, only that it was matriarchal. Lael likely viewed them all as below her in station, how he hated such pompous thoughts. Nobility, station, class, they had not place in the wild, if you were strong, proved yourself a leader then others would follow. The self belief that you were born to that right, that it need not be earned, just lead to arroganant selfish people. People Eran was all to familiar with and would rather avoid.
Menzoberranzan would also need infiltrating at somepoint he concluded. He decided now would be a good time to abolish his ignorance. Returning the volume on purple worms, he looked over the shelves for reference on the Drow or their city. He found one small volume that would seemed to have some information about the Drow history. He supposed a Drow mage would have little use with such information being a living embodiment of it.
He sat back down and began to read. After a short while he heard movement in the staircase and his hand instinctually grasped the handle of the Kukri.
His feet moved briskly in the stairwell. Loic’s darkly-shrouded figure eventually swept into the study, the last place he’d seen the cleric. However, time had passed, and whether folks had left to rest or read or bathe, only the hunter occupied the room now.
The wizard gave a short sigh and slowed his pace as he approached. “I don’t mean to interrupt you, but have you seen where Valdasar has gone?”
It was after he spoke that he noticed the title of the book Eran was holding, and he nodded approvingly at it as an afterthought. “Good idea. Maybe during our travels, you’d be willing to share the abridged version with me.”
Realising it was the wizard, Eran released his grip on the Kukri and continued reading. He didn’t lift his eyes from the book as he asked his first question. " I’ve been a bit involved in my studies, I did not see him leave." he responded, his tone sounded occupied.
As the Wizard continued, Eran raised his eyes to give him more attention. He thought request odd. " I would have thought you fully informed given your first hand experience with your preffered company?" Eran said mockingly, he still didn’t know for sure the details of Loic’s and Lael’s relationship but he had a general sense that others suspected the same as him.
His shoulders slumped when he was told Valdasar’s where-abouts were unknown. He tried to retain his casual demeanor despite his disappointment, unwilling to let on to anyone other than the cleric that he was in need of medical assistance. The less of a problem they perceived him to be right now, the easier the near future would become.
First hand? he echoed dumbly. “You mean Lady Lael’essthrae?” His incredulity alone said plenty, but he continued with a light chuckle. “Yes, I suppose you’d have to know her a little better to know that she might not be the ultimate authority on the majority of her own people. Without divulging more than she’d be comfortable with, I’ll tell you that her entire family breaks the mold, and she has had little reason to stay in Menzoberanzan for extended periods of time. I think it would be safe to say that you can throw most typical Drow ideals out the window when it comes to her. That book likely knows more specifics and cultural details.”
Eran wasn’t sure if shock in his tone was genuine or not, he decided he didn’t care. It was their business regardless of his thoughts. He did notice the wizard use her full title tho, does everyone bow so quickly to “Lady Lael” he thought. As he studied Loic he realised he looked uncomfortable, maybe the Drow had been too rough with him and he needed Valdasar for some remedy?he chuckled to himself at the thought, for sure she would be the dominate one in that pairing.
He listened to Loic’s defence of the Drow, but what he was telling him did not line up to what Eran had observed thus far. " You say these things, yet apart for her hatred of Lolth, she seems to despise the rest of us every bit as much as her kin" Eran said earnestly and with a touch of regret.
Loic’s face scrunched up in an expression of puzzlement, and he shook his head. “You should talk to her. I can’t speak for her, but I’m certain that’s not true. I’ll agree that she’s got thorns, but she’s feeling the burden of immeasurable forces just like the rest of us right now, and I think her way of adapting to it is just …to be guarded. When we were in Silverymoon, aware that we were in the calm before the storm, there was a different side of her – one that smiled fairly often and openly shook hands with surface elves under the sun. She’s worth the effort of trying to understand. Ah, well, these are my thoughts at least.”
The wizard leaned on the edge of Vizeran’s desk and idly glanced down at the books and papers covering it. “I did tell her about the Sending Stone, fully. It could have gone better, but we’ll recover.”
Eran listened on in disbelief, she smiles? Eran pondered. In 3 weeks he hadn’t seen anything short of a frown from her. “Thorns? she’s been damn bramble bush” he pointed out. Perhaps he wasn’t being too harsh but somehow this venting was easing his frustrations. Perhaps he should not of told her about Yylaria’s demise.
He calmed as Loic admitted his confession. “It is good that you told her, but if your bonds have been damaged then I suggest you tend to them” He said curtly. " Being as ‘guarded’ as she is, she only relies on you and Taman" He looked back at the chair. " I have sat here expecting his return, yet the longer he fails to appear the more I despair that he is lost to us" He said it as if he was admitting it to himself more than to Loic. " Which means the only council she will heed is from you." He said bluntly.
He let the silence trail on for a moment. “I need her, I need all of you if we’re to defeat Karaziker” He sighed with the confession. The burden on his heart was weighing heavily.
He laughed outright at the hunter’s likening of Lael to a bramble bush. Perhaps the wizard did receive the paladin’s demeanor with a little more grace and sensitivity, having come from a place filled with people who loved to look down their noses at one-another. He was just glad, at this moment, that Eran wasn’t putting him in the same category.
I appreciate you trying to look into that, he said finally, referring to Taman’s mysterious vanishing act. “I won’t give up on him until I’ve had my attempt at figuring it all out, so I am not disheartened. It might take a little more time than I’d initially imagined, but I’ll find him. If magic continues to touch him, I will find him.” There was specific determination in the last part of his words. “Until then, though, I would not expect me to be her keeper. She isn’t mine, either, while we’re on the subject. We only knew each other for about a month until you came along, and it’s been about the same amount of time that you’ve been around. I believe your opinion must matter to her at this point, at least a little, whether or not that is an obvious thing.”
You should talk to her, he reiterated in conclusion. “I think you’d be pleased with the outcome if you took her a bottle of wine and just asked her how she’s holding up. I imagine she could use that right now as much as you need her to listen to you. What’s a Karaziker, anyway?”
He ignored the suggestion, he was in no mood to coddle Lael, with wine or not. He needed warriors not a good conversation. It was clear bringing up Karaziker had brought his blood to boil once again. “A Beholder, our prey, one I’ve had personal experience with.” he said with considerable malice. " Graven Hollow showed me something… " he paused to consider his next words. " … He has something dear to me… " It hurt to say it allowed, made it more real. “But I’ve seen his lair, I know his defences, I know his kind… We have a great advantage in this hunt.” He said with confident defiance to the creatures power. Even though he knew this hunt could come with great personal cost, even used against him, he should not consider it.
Valdasar had retired to his own quarters for the night, though by most peoples’ standards they were barely worthy of the name, being more fitting for a servant than a guest of a drow noble. A bed stood in the corner, with a simple wooden table and wash basin the only other accoutrements to the room’s threadbare furnishings. The old dragonborn had pulled down his hood and merely sat in a silent, meditative trance, his eyes closed and features impassive.
The wizard grinned subtly, amused by Eran’s sudden turn into seething hatred. Not because he enjoyed watching the man suffer, but because the hunter’s feelings towards the matter were honest and passionate. Loic had an appreciation for seeing living things at their most lively, whether it be for good or ill.
Let me guess: You want to work the destruction of this Beholder into the mission for the list of ingredients? How far away is he? And what exactly does he have? Is it a person or an item?
Eran seethed silently, was no one paying attention to Vizeran and the mission. He considered the wizards focus was likely more on Taman at the time. “We need an eye of a beholder! Karaziker is the very one Vizeran has suggested. Fate, it seems, is aligning in my… our favour.” Eran corrected himself at the end, he was already making this too personal. “It’s in the Wormwrithings, a day, two at most from here.” He mulled over the last question. He was still processing the information himself, dare he share it? Too do so may invoke criticism in the group, that he had too much at stake or biased in their priorities. However not sharing this would never allow his party members to know how critical this was to him. " He has my father…" He had never called him that. “… Or as close as I could have to one.” He had raised him from the age of 10. Taught him to fight, to hunt, to forge steel, how to live as a man. " I thought him dead until Gravenhollow" The guilt washed over him.
There was a time in which he would have defended himself against the minor burst of condescending outrage. Of course, he’d paid attention to the list of ingredients, but the word karaziker had been unfamiliar to him, and so amidst all the weighty things that he’d been focused on simultaneously, that had not been one of them. But these days, he was growing tired of explaining himself. He found more and more often that others were unwilling to empathize. Everyone was only waiting for their chance to speak. Throwing out explanations wouldn’t make an inch of a difference to anyone. On the outside, he retained his subtle grin and showed no reaction. That is, until the hunter said the prize was the life of his surrogate father. To this, Loic’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second. He had one of those too, and he would do nearly anything for Arumn.
Even if this is personal business in the middle of saving the world, I can’t think of a reason why we shouldn’t do it for the sake of both objectives, especially since it’s nearby, the wizard agreed. “You have my support. Let’s go get him soon, before the influence of the demons can reach him.”
Loic presented Eran with an encouraging upward-raising thumb-gesture, but promptly lowered that appendage when it threatened to convulse again if strained. The wizard couldn’t help but wince this time. “I should find Valdasar. You’re welcome to walk and talk with me, if you like.”
Eran was elated in Loic’s response. Fears of being accused of some personal quest abated. Hope filled him as the wizard showed his support. He locked eyes with his fellow half-elf. " Thank you." It was heart felt and all he could say for that brief moment.
Loic raised his arm with a thumbs up and as he did he saw the flinch of pain across his face. As he mentioned Valdasar once again Eran’s concern heightened. " You are injured?" Pointing to the arm. He got out of his seat. He wasn’t aware how tired he was until the wave of alertness washed over him. “Yes, come let’s find Valdasar.” He escorted the wizard, now seeing the pretence of calm he was conveying.
There were more reasons to go after Karaziker than the obvious ones. Besides it being fairly convenient, how could the hunter be expected to work at his best, to stay focused, with something as dire as his father’s life looming in the back of his mind? Loic hadn’t decided yet whether or not it was all personal, and he wouldn’t, because it didn’t matter. They needed an eye stalk, and they needed Eran to do a consistently good job. Removing his father from the scenario was a way to better ensure those things.
Aw, no sweat, he said coyly in response to the hunter’s profound appreciation. Somebody hadn’t looked at him like that in a long time, and it felt nice. On some level though, he knew he was underserving. He was just following the logic, as usual.
When asked if he was injured, he sort of shrugged and muttered, “…or something.” He couldn’t exactly say it was an injury, officially. The wizard smiled brightly at the new enthusiasm Eran showed over his well-being. That, too, had been a pretty rare sentiment. Was this what it was like to have a buddy?
Which other languages do you speak? Dwarven doesn’t happen to be one, does it? he asked as both figures turned and started down the stairs, their voices fading from the study.
Loic’s sudden and unexpected change of subjects was becoming a common character trait of the wizard. The hunter wondered how many multiple thoughts, ideas and problems the wizard was actually processing at any given time? He knew the fellow half-elf to be knowledgable but could his mind be working that much?
It was unfortunate he would have to disappoint the wizard this time. “Dwarven? No unfortunately I haven’t come across dwarves in their own environments to be exposed enough to pick it up.” Which was true enough, he knew plenty of Dwarves, but most spoke common in the larger cities. Gauntlgrm had been the first true Dwaven city Eran had visited. He had enjoyed his short stay there, he’d of liked to have spent more time in the forges working with some of the master craftsmen.
Trying to be helpful and to continue the conversation Eran went on. “Common and Elven obviously… Goblin.” He expected a strange look at this revelation. He was quick to explain. " We… Me and Duon, when we were on the hunt would ‘deal’ with Goblins for information." When he said deal he actually meant interrogate, he wasn’t sure the Wizards sensibilities would be keen on that however. “Duon also taught me Abysal, ‘better to understand your enemies’ he’d say.” Thinking back to winters in the cabin, the training and teaching. The wood elf was strict but fair tutor, it was the summers on the hunt where they were both most alive. Alive… Eran thought, how alive does he feel right now? Is he even the same after 7 years of bondage. He shook the thoughts and focused back to the conversation. “I recently became adept in Infernal through some study. Mainly for the same reasoning.” Hopefully they would serve some purpose down here he thought.
Loic threw up a hand and patted at the air as if to imply that his companion need not explain himself when it comes to knowing the languages of one’s enemies. That’s exactly the same reason he learned Undercommon before diving into the Underdark. It was the smart thing to do, and it was regretful that the hunter seemed so ready to be judged negatively for it. It was to be assumed that he was used to such treatment, or perhaps, on a better note, he was simply being cautious in relatively new company.
Those will be handy, I’m sure. I doubt anyone else in the party knows either Abyssal or Infernal, or Goblin for that matter. All three kinds of cultures, two of them in particular, will probably be relevant sooner than later. Between the two of us, however, he changed languages fluidly into their shared elven tongue, “Elven will have to do.”
He’d asked about Dwarven first, because he could make an educated guess their masked companion didn’t know it, having needed to translate one of the engravings over a section of Gravenhollow. He specifically didn’t want that guy listening. But he didn’t want to let Eran into his mind either to communicate, because he wanted to very carefully filter what information he gave out.
Would you be willing to give me a few drops of your blood for a spell I’m working on? He continued in the other language. “It’s a spell of non-detection, but it’s built to specifically work on Lolth. It wouldn’t just be your blood. Lady Lael’essthrae has already given me some of her own. I would use mine, but I believe the spell uses my parts like a controlled base, so it wouldn’t work.”
Eran was slightly bemused at first, why the wizard had decided to change tongue? He considered the location, Vizeran could have ears here he surmised, tho most Drow spoke under common they likely understood Elvish too? As the wizard continued and explained it was to do with Lolth it only made sense he was being guarded against the Drow. Vizeren had not stated openly he didn’t serve the spider queen. For sure, having read what he just had, the Drow had a bloody history of killing each other for position, vengeance or just to gain favour with Lolth. To be exiled, to want vengeance was not a denouncement of ones faith. Still his vengeance would also screw with Lolths plans as well, no favours gained there he thought.
Eran didn’t think to hard on Loic’s request. Complex spells were beyond his level of understanding, and Loic had just full heartedly supported him when he needed it. It would be shameful of Eran to deny such a small request. Especially when it could benefit the party. Unsheathing his Kukri once again he drew the edge of the blade over the palm of his left hand. He felt the pain but showed no sign of it. He formed a fist to control the flow of blood. “Do you have vial he asked?”
Oh, wow, uh, yes. The expediency of the hunter’s compliance left him somewhat speechless. He fumbled around quickly for the same small vial already partially reddened on the inside. When he found it, he popped the top and held it beneath Eran’s hand to collect the freely-dripping fluid. “…Although it’s your prerogative where it comes from, will this hinder your ability to use a sword?”
There was more than enough now. In fact, the concoction would likely be three parts Eran to one part Lael, and one part someone else. Loic put the cork back on and put it away. This was the power of kindness, he thought, and he suddenly missed Taman very badly.