Raddan hovered at the rear of the battered group of survivors as they filtered into the newly constructed stronghold, watching the clearly weakened slaves to make sure they all made it safely within the walls. He nodded a greeting to those they’d left behind on watch, though the expression upon the mask remained grim. As if to answer their unspoken question, the sorcerer simply said, “It’s over, we got him. He bled us well though… and we lost Valdasar.” It was the first time he’d spoken the dragonborn’s name. Whatever the responses from the three, his mind remained elsewhere. Raddan looked over their new burden, crammed into the tight space in such a manner that they appeared in danger of bursting down the walls. This is in severe danger of being a logistical nightmare.
Amidst the crowds, he caught sight of Eran laying their fallen cleric to rest as best he could. It didn’t take an archmage to see the lad would be suffering from this loss, moreso than the rest of them. With an uncharacteristic sigh, the masked man turned back to Alvin and his comrades. “I’ll take the first watch,” he said, “do what you can to see that the refugees are fed and watered.” Raddan then stepped away, moving up the makeshift staircase and into the solitary watch tower, overlooking the battleground of the troglodyte warbands. He settled into a restful position, hands going through the automatic motion of lighting his pipe. Between the thin tendrils of smoke, he caught glimpses of Eran moving below, assisting the survivors of the beholder’s lair. It was good that the man was working but Raddan knew from experience that the peace wouldn’t last. He turned his gaze back out into the grim darkness of the cavern. The hunter would have to combat his demons alone, Raddan had his own spectres to deal with.
Reaching into a deep pocket within his robes, the sorcerer withdrew a single, odd coin. He didn’t look at it, he knew the feel by heart, even through the thin fabric of the gloves he always wore. Slowly, he began to walk the coin between his fingers, the motion a silent accompaniment to whatever thoughts lay behind that metal face.
Loic had yet to react to the death of their comrade observably. After the battle, he’d gone straight to business, tending to the treasure and the hundred-something people they’d returned freedom to. When he considered it, he couldn’t tell whether he was in shock and refused to accept it, or if having died, himself, had given him this calm regarding others going through the same transition. Death was not the end, after all, and he was allowed to know this first-hand. When he thought of the old man finally meeting face-to-face with his great dragon god for the first time, it gave him a warm sensation of profound satisfaction. It felt like that was where Valdasar belonged now, watching over them from that place far, far away.
There also existed the elation of discovering the amazing items in Karaziker’s hidden stash. The mechanical man was absolutely, mind-bogglingly fascinating. Its parts were so complex, he could not fathom what manner of intelligence could have conceived such a contraption. Its shell was blocky and a little crude, but the spaces where he could see between the plates, all the tiny spinning gears and levers? He could confidently say it was a divinely elegant design. Thankfully, the shield guardian wasn’t the jealous type.
Before he could examine all these items in peace however, he wanted to speak to the mass of former slaves. As he roamed, he could tell that many of them already had places they intended to get back to. He didn’t know how long they’d all been down here, but he wasn’t about to let them walk into a demon-filled Underdark without making them aware first. If he did it well enough, perhaps they would gain new companions, or at least a good word or two down the line if they were to ever land in an inhospitable place. He’d seen drow within the throng. No doubt their branded foreheads would keep them from rejoining their dark kin in station completely, but maybe it would be worth it to stop by and ensure they knew the identities of their rescuers first. Perhaps these rogues could be of use to Vizeran, and the beginning of what Loic had been secretly calling The Underdark Renaissance.
The wizard floated up above the crowd by twenty feet and spread his arms out to indicate he required attention. He seemed completely unconcerned about displaying his unnatural left limb. Then, he cleared his throat and began in a confidant, projected voice.
“I realize some of you have been down here longer than others.” He paused, letting his eyes make contact with a few scattered individuals in the crowd. “I also realize some of you may have been here for so long that you have forgotten the dangers of the Underdark wilds. I must inform you that you now have additional threats to contend with, but they can be avoided with awareness and the right information.”
Another pause suggested the following sentences would be the most imperative. “The material plane has been fractured in places, periodically opening dimensional rifts to the Abyssal Plane. There aren’t many, but those rifts that have appeared have unleashed enough powerful demons to pose a threat to us all: dwarves, drow, elves, humans, all denizens of this world alike. Seek some place that you think could withstand the passing of one of these beasts. There will be strength in numbers. On your travels, if you come across a purple-colored mist, find another route. That is an indicator that you are either very close to one of the worst of them, or that you are near a rift. These demons are abominations created by evil and entropy. I do not advise attempting to reason with them, if you somehow survive getting close enough to even speak to one. My companions and I are on our way to stop the madness and return stability to our planar boundaries. You are welcomed to aid us in our mission, but you will not be forced. If you are interested in helping, please approach me after this so that we can discuss details, as well as just how you might be best suited to lend a hand. My name is Loic. And, if you simply wish to return to your homes, please do still rest yourselves and have some water from the stream first. Take a little time to gather your wits before heading out.”
With a satisfactory nod, the wizard descended back down to the ground and made his way back over to his golem, who was protectively holding the Robe of Eyes, and his new mechanical friend. “Now let’s take a proper look at you,” the wizard muttered as he approached the Duo-drone. Without regard for its personal space, and the sliver of sentience he’d so far seen, his long tentacle coiled around the mechanical creature and drew it forward beneath his analytical eye.
Whatever its face was made out of, it was capable of showing expression. Notably, its mouth was badly damaged. It caused Loic to believe that if that piece were repaired, this guy could be capable of conversation. Then, he’d simply be able to ask what it was and how it functioned, to see if it could be of any additional use to the mission. Not to mention, he was just very curious. One would imagine the idea of a non-organic sentience to elude modern science for another several hundred years.
“Raddan may be able to fix you sooner than later,” Loic said hopefully to the Duo-drone. “If he cannot, then I will be able after we rest a while longer. I can do this for now, though.” He snapped his fingers and cleaned the automaton of any dust, dirt, or light rust that had been building up on its surface. Quickly, he turned a little and did the same thing to the Robe of Eyes, preferably dispelling it of any demons of the odorous variety. Then, he took it from his guardian and slipped it on over his head as he concluded. “Come, let’s find him. …Maybe find Shedrak too before anybody else does.”
Loic, his two metal companions, and Peet the Basilisk, began the search for the shrouded figure with the mask. When he didn’t seem to be anywhere obvious, they were able to track down one of the Zhentarim men, who indicated that he could be found in the watchtower. The half-elf went up alone, as he was uncertain if the steps would support all four of his mini-party, and poked his head around the corner.
“Hi. Do you have a moment?”
The figure standing watch did not turn to face Loic and a thin cloud of odorous tobacco rising up from the opposite side of the hood was the only immediate response. In his free hand, a coin walked from index finger, across the others and back again once more before Raddan made it vanish into an obscure pocket. He spoke quietly into the darkness. “I stand watch.” It was a clear statement, let the half-elf infer from it what he would.
“What does that mean?” the wizard asked. It was his natural way to assume as little as possible. Misinformation was a curse, and he did his best to keep it at a minimum.
The coin being fiddled with didn’t go unheeded. One thing at a time, the wizard reminded himself.
“If it makes a difference to you, you don’t have to go anywhere. Just wanted to see if you’d be willing to help fix this automaton we found enough to give it its voice back. Would you, please? A mending spell ought to be enough.”
The man sighed irritably. “Do none of you people realise it’s a bad idea to distract a sentry?” This was twice now, he did not care for it happening again. “Spells are as much your area of expertise as mine, moreso I’d wager. If you’re so desperate, I’ve little doubt you could attempt the repairs yourself. Otherwise, it’ll keep until I’ve been relieved.”
Loic’s eyes widened in a moment of surprise and anger at being insulted and so quickly dismissed. He had to remind himself quickly that Raddan could’ve been up here, brooding alone, for a while before now. His mood could be residual from whatever he’d been dwelling on. Likely Valdasar, if the sorcerer was even capable of having that kind of empathy towards another. So far, he did not openly exhibit any ability to connect with people.
“Keep your sass pointed elsewhere,” replied the half-elf calmly. “I’m not the enemy. To answer the question of why I don’t do it myself, I only have one spell that could manage this, and I would require all of my energy. After keeping Eran and Ilia in the air, I need some time. And then, I imagine to use my strongest magic of the day for something less important than defeating an enemy would be wasteful. I know mending isn’t the strongest one in your own arsenal. There is logic behind it, please believe. If you are concerned about someone keeping watch, then I will summon Yvve to relieve you for the half second it will take you to cast and return to your post.”
Instead of walking away in disgust, which is what he very much felt like doing, he stepped onto the platform and casually approached the man’s back, trying to hold himself as submissively and unthreatening as possible, shoulders down and feet shuffling slowly.
“I sense you are throwing up more obstacles than there need to be with this. You don’t have to do that. And if you come across a problem or a limitation you wish lifted, I would be delighted to find a way to cut through it with you.”
“Sass?” the sorcerer echoed. “You’d do well to stop envisioning barbs everywhere. This is about discipline, nothing more. A sentry should be left to do his job, lest those relying on him be caught unaware. You’re interfering with that.” If the wizard couldn’t grasp even that simple concept, Raddan would waste no further effort on it. The offer of the draconic familiar standing guard brought another cloud of smoke to the fore and when he felt Loic begin to move closer, the shrouded figure stood a little more upright, light fingers working to extinguish and dismantle the pipe. “I don’t trust your little friend’s eyes as well as I do my own. I have volunteered the watch and I will stand it, my assistance can be sought later.” With the pipe tucked away, a black gloved hand wrapped around the haft of the spear, a visual message to accompany his words. “Problems are a thing we’ve all had enough of for one day but if you want to solve an immediate one, I’d head back down those stairs and start distributing what little food we can spare between the survivors.”
“Raddan. You are not a sentry. You are a sorcerer, and one of the handful of people who will save the world.” He made a point to maintain eye contact, unwavering even as the masked man went for his weapon. “We have three fine men able to do this lesser task, and a couple of beasts. Your particular specialties are very much welcomed elsewhere. That’s all.”
Loic lifted an eyebrow at him, then casually turned and left without instigating anything further. On his way back down, he spoke to the Duo-drone, but it was possible the sorcerer could still very faintly hear the wizard say, “I guess we’ll have to wait. Raddan’s not done being an unscientific sourpuss.”
Off to find Shedrak. He wasn’t very difficult to spot. Loic glided through the crowd and gently took the fellow by the sleeve, drawing him out to the short tunnel, carved by the river, that separated them from the larger caverns. With the five of them standing around together, the weird collection of organic and metal entities resembled a proper posse. For a second, Loic strongly considered taking them and running, swapping these guys in exchange for the elf, the other half-elf, and especially the tiefling-cambion-whatever. Lael could come.
Alas, as much and as often as the others disappointed him, he understood the value of other free-willed minds giving input on plans. He was just humble enough to know exactly what the best things were about working in a group.
“So! What are your plans from here, Shedrak? You’re a decent spell-chucker. I would ask that you join us on our mission, but I sincerely cannot guarantee your safety. There is a very high death risk, honestly. If not for the demons, there are drow chasing us with the intent to kill, and the others will probably never like you because you had a hand in killing Valdasar. That said, I completely understand if you don’t want to go.”
Shedrak looked shocked and surprised when Loic approached him. He immediately bowed and lowered his head, allowing Loic a clearer view of the tattoos of eyes that ran from just above his eyes to the very crown of his head. There were four sets of eyes in total and the last set looked directly at Loic as he spoke.
“Oh great and powerful Loic, how may Shedrak be of service to you and your friends? Shedrak sees many things and Shedrak will happily see things for you.” To illustrate the point, he tapped the tattoos on his head. “A blessing from the great Karazikar, Shedrak can see all around him. Is there is any service Shedrak can lend to you and your incredible companions?”
“Well, I don’t know.” Loic tilted his head curiously. “How far can you see? Can you see through things? Is it divination magic?”
“Shedrak can see all around him, Shedrak can see things which are invisible, Shedrak helped the great Karazikar by seeing those who approached The Maw.”
“Can you see into the Wormwrithings? Can you locate exactly where we could find a live purple worm egg, right this second?”
He began to look a little scared as he answered. “Shedrak cannot see that far, Shedrak could see from the centre of the Maw to the outer ring, please forgive Shedrak for not being able to do what is asked.” He raised his staff above his head. “Shedrak will now punish himself for not satisfying your demands, Shedrak promises this will not happen again.”
“Woaaaahh, woah there!” Without thinking, Loic lashed out with his tentacle and wound its tips around the aloft staff, attempting to ensure the man did not descend upon himself. “That’s not my thing! You’d piss me off worse if you hurt yourself on purpose. I want you to be in good health, Shedrak. If you hurt yourself, it’ll be more difficult for you to perform further services. Let’s not, hmm?” The half-elf finished in a gentle tone, giving the staff a small tug down in an attempt to guide the man.
“It’s perfectly alright if you can’t see that far. To have extraordinary sight at all is, by definition, extraordinary. I’m just testing your limits, so that I can better understand what sort of tasks can be given to you, you know? And for future reference, honest mistakes can be forgiven, within certain circumstances. If one were to follow your logic, then you’d be dead right now because, again, you helped kill Valdasar, whether you did it directly or not. If the darkness on the blade had not been dispelled, he would still be here. We all liked that guy, and it is not beyond some of us to seek revenge.”
“But that’s not going to happen.” His tentacle began to release the staff. “Do you now understand your new situation, and specifically what you are expected not to do?”
Shedrak lowered the staff to his side once again and then stood up straight, no longer bowing. He refrained from looking look Loic in the eyes however, still appearing quite afraid.
“Shedrak… understands… Shedrak should not punish himself, you should punish Shedrak when Shedrak deserves it.”
“Right,” Loic nodded, but his skeptical expression lingered. It would take a lot more than that to undo whatever horrific process turned this man into this… pathetic subterranean subspecies, but it was a start in a good direction. Perhaps some psionic therapy sessions would be in order at some point.
“Let’s try something else. What can you tell me about the drow that had been enslaved? Do you happen to know their names, and where they come from?”
“Only Shedrak was blessed with a name by the great Karazikar, no one else has a name. Shedrak found some of them a month ago while they were travelling through, but Shedrak found one of them yesterday, hunting for a purple worm nest.”
The wizard’s eyes widened with recognition. If a drow was searching for the worm nest, there was a high likelihood that it had to do with the same reasons he and his companions were here now. They needed to talk to these dark elves sooner than later. He didn’t want to do it alone, though. If they were recently captured, then they were probably unbroken and still very willful. No telling what tricks they still possessed, even without their possessions. One of them was probably the owner of the sword they had found two days ago, in this complex.
“Thank you, Shedrak. That was valuable information. I would like you to point the one out to me that came along yesterday. Then, I have one thing left to ask you for now: do you use a spellbook, or are you a natural sorcerer?”
Shedrak began walking away as soon as Loic suggested pointing out someone specific. “Come, Shedrak show you.” He walked a little ways through the crowd of slaves and pointed to the drow, specifically to one whose clothes look different from the rest. Upon close inspection, the clothes this particular drow was wearing was a type of armor which has been destroyed by magical attacks and acids. “This is the one you seek, oh great and wise Loic. Shedrak has always cast spells. Shedrak hasn’t read books, the great Karazikar did not bless Shedrak with books.”
“Fair enough.” The wizard stood should-to-shoulder with the sorcerer, still staring at the one in the heavily damaged armor. “A little later, I will learn which spells you know, and we will talk more. Please stay with me for the sake of the information you have. We go to find Lael, and then we’ll see what we can see about these drow, if they are friend or foe.”
With a dramatic cloak-swishing, he turned and began his hunt for the grey woman all in white, stained with red.