I do admit, I had a moment of doubt once the spiders began binding me in their webs. However, though I could sense Charles’ uncertainty, I knew that with the help of the acquaintances we’ve made, he would make it out of this mine and back to Neverwinter with his limbs intact. This was not an assurance I could have given had I remained with him instead. He’s always fared better on the surface, anyway, whereas I have always prefered the dark depths of the earth. Ergo, the decision to stay with this Drozz fellow was of little consequence to me. I had, of course, already entered into an unbreakable pact with a power greater than myself, so I felt no fear at offering up my services to a strange Drow. Given his proficiency at summoning up darkness, I could infer that he was indeed more experienced than I, though perhaps not by much.
Still, he clearly is not experienced with warlocks, as the web bindings were entirely unnecessary. I do not invoke the name of my patron lightly, and furthermore, he ought to have realized the significance of a deal made with a creature bound to the fay. I couldn’t break my word and live easily.
“Niamhierachtanach,” I muttered under my breath in Sylvan. I was fully trapped now in the webs, and couldn’t move.
Drozz, or whatever his real name was, clicked his fingers and the remaining spider began to exit the temple room. I couldn’t see through the magical darkness as it left, and was surprised when I was hauled off my feet and across the shoulder of the remaining bugbear. Terribly uncomfortable.
The bugbear carried me through the cloud of darkness and out of the temple. The corridor was similar, with some clear Dwarven excavation. I found it difficult to keep track of where exactly we were going, as the bugbear’s gait was jostling, and my view in front was blocked by spiders.
After a few turns, I was dumped unceremoniously onto the stone floor. It wasn’t painful, though there was the sound of ice cracking. My armor spell was still intact. I struggled against the spider webs for a moment, but they were too strong for me to break easily. I had to give up, and glanced around the new room as I caught my breath and fought to sit upright.
A table was scattered with papers, and I saw a few bottles of potions and poisons glinting among the stacks. A typical bedroll had been set out, and the room had a general lived-in quality about it. This was clearly where Drozz had decided to reside during his operation. More interesting to me, of course, was the unconscious dwarf lying tied in the same manner as I, though his face was bruised and bloodied. My heart hammered when I realized that he looked exactly the same as the dwarf that had brushed past Charlatan and I. What had I missed.
I couldn’t spare a thought for the conundrum at the moment however, as the drow himself was standing in a corner, leaning against the wall and twirling his staff around. I could see a glint in his eyes as he watched me, and I narrowed my eyes at him.
“These webs are absurd,” I told him in Elvish. “I’ve already sworn an oath, and you clearly know full well the magnitude of it’s gravity, or you wouldn’t have made me swear as such. Honestly. Amrahsach drahwenn.” Sylvan slipped into my speech again, as it often did when I was aggravated.
Drozz smiled at me, though the expression didn’t match his eyes. They were still fixed on me, deep purple and calculating and cold and discomfiting.
“My dear,” he said speaking Elvish back to me, “Miz’ry, was it?”
“Misery Jones, actually,” I replied, emphasizing the human accent that I’d fought against for years. I wanted to remind this wizard that I was, in fact, not a full drow, and therefore not as useful to him as I otherwise would have been.
Of course, if I was a full drow, there’s no way I would be subjected to this nonsense. Indeed, Drozz would likely be the one groveling. I rolled my eyes.
“Though I suppose Miz’ry is too formal for the likes of you. Just call me Dreya.” I thought his chosen alias was ridiculous, and gave him the Elvish slang word for lady in turn. Honestly, what sort of wannabe dungeon delver nicknames himself ‘dude’? What an utter lack of whimsicality.
Drozz narrowed his eyes at me, and was across the room and standing in front of me in a flash. “Don’t test me, girl,” he hissed, and bent down to grab my jaw. He forced my head up to look at him, and I glared. His grip tightened, became painful, but as soon as I made a sound of discomfort, he let go with a howl, his hand covered in ice.
He hopped around in an undignified manner for a moment, flailing his hand and trying to warm it, and I sent a brief thought of thanks to my patron for the boon of my wintry armor.
“Gremmel,” Drozz snarled, whirling towards the bugbear at the door. He growled some sort of command at him in Goblin, then stalked out of the chamber, slamming the wooden door behind him. A few small spiders fell from the ceiling.
The bugbear eyed me, and I felt a sudden swoop of fear. I was entirely helpless against it, though if it tried to do me too much harm, at least my armor would hurt it back. He didn’t seem interested in harming me, though, as he just stood and watched me.
“Gremmel, that’s your name, right?” I asked the thing in Common.
It grunted a reply that I took as an affirmation.
“Well, what did Drozz, the Black Spider, I mean, say to you?” I asked it.
It stared moronically at at me for a moment. “He say stand here. Watch pet until no more ice. Then he come back.”
I rolled my eyes again. Pet. Honestly. Still, I’d been called far worse things in my time, and a ridiculous title from a drow carried not a bit of the weight as the title of Vassal did from the Queen of Air and Darkness.
As minutes ticked by, I started to grow quite uncomfortable, as the webbing prevented me from sitting in a comfortable position. My mind started to whirl, catastrophizing, as I went over again and again what I had told Drozz. While I had offered assistance in terms of research, and within that parameter had implied that I would acquire knowledge, I realized as I pondered that I should have been much more specific. Drozz could set me in the middle of a warding or cut me open on a necromancer’s slab in the name of research, and per our agreement, I would have no recourse against him. Then there was the whole ‘serving’ issue, and I didn’t bother going over the details of what exactly that could mean. Disgusting. It had been an unwise thing to agree to, but of course when I had blurted it out, I hadn’t had time to think of a better exchange. Knowledge for servitude. That seemed to be the general theme of my life. I clung to the idea of expanding my spell tome, of finding the spell forge, of finally having the capability to cast a True Polymorph spell upon myself, and once I was a full drow, I would see this idiot put back in his place. A short time of servitude was nothing, in comparison.
My eyes flicked back to the dwarf, still unconscious, though in the silence I could hear his belabored breathing. If this was, in fact, the dwarf we’d been after, then that meant I’d wasted at least a part of my freedom on some calaoise beatanen. How could I have been so stupid? More importantly, what had it been? I racked my brain for information on shapechanging creatures, and I remembered. A doppleganger, perhaps? My heart started to race as I thought of Charlatan stuck with a creature like that. He was always too free with his words and thoughts. And he was far, far too trusting. I struggled violently against the webs, but they were just as immovable as ever. And at any rate, what could I do? I was bound by my oath. “Caoimeád sábháiltte eir,” I whispered into the dark room, hoping that the Queen of Air and Darkness would take time to hear.
I sat and plotted and schemed and worried, my back tensing and my legs cramping more as the minutes ticked by. I was bored, and found myself wishing the dwarf would wake up, if only so I could have someone to talk to. He remained stubbornly unconscious. After a time, I felt the cold cling of my armor vanish, and I looked up sharply at the bugbear. “Okay, it’s gone,” I said, speaking slowly and loudly. “Can you let me out of this spiderweb nonsense now?”
The bugbear grunted, as eloquent as ever, and prodded me in the side, hard.
“Ow!” I yelped, twisting away from the impact. The thing just laughed, a nasty, gruff sound, and did it again. And again. And I was off, shouting insults at it in Sylvan, which of course don’t sound insulting at all to someone who doesn’t speak the language. That’s why I love them.
By the time Drozz came back in the room, I was curled in a ball, my side a throbbing bruise.
He said something to the bugbear, and amused smile playing on his mouth, and the cursed creature finally stopped prodding me. I let out a sigh, but didn’t feel much like moving given the state of my side.
“With all that shrieking, you’ll call the undead down on us,” Drozz chided. He reached out and placed his palm on top of my hair as he spoke. “Quiet, child. You should have told me what your armor did, and we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
I swore at him in Sylvan too, though the effect wasn’t at all cutting as my voice was laced with pain. I was having trouble breathing.
“Now, I’m going to release you, but of course your hands are going to remain bound. I can’t have you casting that armor on yourself again and again.” He laughed lightly, a creepy sound. A quick slice of his dagger- jeweled and inscribed, I noted, becoming distracted by it for a moment- and I was freed, though my hands were immediately wrenched in front of me and lashed together with a length of rope. I rolled my eyes again.
“I’ve said already, this is entirely unnecessary,” I told him through clenched teeth. He tied off the last knot and hauled me to my feet. My legs were horribly sore at first, but I shook off the sensation and straightened up to my full height.
I noted with no small amount of glee that standing, I was able to stare Drozz right in the eyes, as I was of a height with him. My human blood at least served to give me more height that is typical of the Drow and I was suddenly grateful for the time I’d spend tromping around the country with Charles, because I was rather athletic compared to many of the casters I’d encountered.
Still, I wasn’t about to fight him. I’d lose horribly, for one thing, and more importantly, I would not go back on an oath made on my patron’s name.
“I will decide what’s necessary and what is not necessary, girl,” Drozz said. “For the time being, you will tell me what the purposes of that… traveling menagerie was. I’ve never seen a group so full of fools and cowards.”
I shrugged and leaned back against the wall, lounging in a picture of ease. “They told you already. The dwarf.” My eyes slid to the unconscious figure on the floor.
“Ah. Yes.” Drozz’s eyes glittered again, and he smirked. “A pity, you making this arrangement for, essentially, nothing.” He stepped forward, closer than was comfortable, but I didn’t move from my casual position. Let him think he had no effect on me.
I stared back at him, my face expressionless. “For knowledge, in fact. I want to know about the Forge.”
“You’re not in any position to be making demands,” he said, taking another step forward and grabbing my jaw again. I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. Typical.
“Knowledge is part of this… bargain. I’m more than happy to help you find it, or get to it, or research it, or anything along that vein that you require.” I didn’t move, nor did I show any kind of discomfort at being manhandled. He expected resistance on my part, I was sure, and I strove to surprise him with my reactions.
Sure enough, when I didn’t react, he released me and took a step back, his face hardening. “That’s useless to me. Your paladin friend, now, she would have proved an excellent meat-shield. Or even that dwarf, the one with the misshapen head. They clearly would have no reservations about charging into a cavern undead.”
“Well, it’s a pity you sent a craicsinn doppleganger with them, or I could have probably persuaded them to help you,” I said through clenched teeth.
He apparently didn’t like my attitude, because his fist lashed out and he struck me across the face. My head snapped back, but the blow was laughably weak. I laughed in his face, ignoring the mild twinge of my cheekbone.
“You figured that out, did you?” he said, his voice still calm. It was unnerving. “Well, perhaps you are rather more clever than I expected. Still. I will not tolerate any condescension from the likes of you.” He tapped my face, right next to my eyes, and I knew what he meant. I hadn’t inherited the typical slanted elven eyes of the Drow, and my eyes were instead a garishly round human shape.
“Caertryonn,” I replied, sneering. Weakling, in Sylvan.
He raised his hand as if to strike me again, but when he moved it, I could tell he was beginning to cast a spell. I couldn’t help flinching. He smiled at me again, and lowered his hand. “And you will refrain from speaking that wretched language. The Fey are nothing but an annoyance. If you must insult me, do so in Elvish, or at the very least in Common, so we can all understand.”
“I made no agreements about which languages I would and would not speak, therefore I am well within my rights to deny your request.” I lifted my chin in defiance.
His calm demeanor seemed to slip a bit in face of my blatant disobedience. I hadn’t promised to agree to everything he said, only to serve him. It was still a foolishly open-ended promise, but if he wanted that much control over me, he’d have to resort to charms or beguiling enchantments.
“You will, and you will refer to me as heruamin only, and you will show some respect.” His voice sounded more spidery, the consonants clicking together as he spoke. I could tell he was angry, but I was absolutely not going to refer to him as “my lord,” no matter the language. My Lady would take issue with my loyalty being so divided.
“I won’t,” I said, switching to common and once again emphasizing the accent of my father’s region.
“Gremmel, tear off one of her fingers,” Drozz said, casually motioning the bugbear over.
“Wait wait wait!” I said, backing away as the bugbear approached, my heart hammering. It would take hours to relearn the motions of my casting without all my fingers. “Fine! Fine, yes, I get it, heruamin.” I spat that last part out with a vengeance, deliberately mangling the delicate elven pronunciation.
Drozz held up his hand, and the bugbear stopped where it was, a few feet from me. “Say it properly, girl. I know you speak Elvish, so stop pretending otherwise.”
“If my lady kills you over this lack of respect to her, I am absolved of all responsibility.” I glanced at the bugbear. “Heruamin.” I quickly added, without the garish accent that time, glaring at him. ‘My lord’ was proving once again to be hopelessly uncreative with his titles.
He was unfazed by my glare, and smiled in satisfaction. “Good. Good. Now, what are we going to do when your little band of nitwits comes to rescue you? I don’t need them to agree to help me, I just need them to clear this cursed mine of as many undead as possible. Tell me, what do you suppose the chances are of them going a different direction on their way back in?”
“I doubt they’ll even bother coming after me,” I said. My decision should not have surprised Charles at all, and he’d be furious with me, but given all I had lauded the Drow in the past, I doubted he’d think I needed rescuing. “And at any rate, they’re likely all dead from that doppleganger. Well done, you.” I rolled my eyes, and tried to ignore the odd emotion that was making my stomach churn.
All I had told Charlatan was true, was it not? I DID want to join with the Drow, after all. It was my life’s dream, wasn’t it? All I’d imagined about their underground cities, glowing with the beautiful green and blue and purple of faerie fire and their women encouraged to study or to become warriors… It seemed wonderful to me. Of course, I knew their reputation for evil and trickery and manipulation, but when I had read such accountings, they had always seemed to be the biased reports of the surface dwellers. Those whose vision depended on the light to see surely would never understand a culture that thrived in darkness, right? I told myself that my emotional discomfort was simply due to the possibility that Charlatan hadn’t escaped, but part of my mind was starting to panic. I’d entered this bargain, never really thinking I wouldn’t be able to get out of it one way or another. My plan was still, of course, to find the spell forge, use its power to polymorph myself into a full Drow, and then bring this foolish wizard to heel, as would then be my right. The more I thought about it, though, the more I became unsure if I’d be able to accomplish it, at least not without a horrendous amount of personal discomfort. Drozz was leering at me now, and I realized that perhaps some of the accountings, at least, hadn’t been exaggerated. He wasn’t a very pleasant or charming individual.
“I doubt they’re all dead,” Drozz was saying, “if they were wise and took the time to rest. I’m certain the large orc survived, at least. Probably not your brother, though. He looked rather weak. What a tragedy.” He pouted in mock sympathy. “It may have been helpful to have more assistance, but I am sure I will eventually manage to break through this blockade of undead with or without your friends. Or you, for that matter.”
I tried to ignore his implications about Charlatan’s death. He’d certainly escape, if nothing else. He was far cleverer than anyone gave him credit for, and even more than he gave himself credit for. I wasn’t in a position to be catastrophizing in my thoughts, so I mentally pushed aside the worry I was starting to feel, and instead resumed glowering at Drozz.
“Well, then you’re the fool for agreeing to my offer in the first place,” I retorted.
He raised an eyebrow up at the bugbear.
“Heruamin,” I hastily added.
“That’s better,” he said, and I could tell that he was starting to relax. He folded his arms and took another step away from me, eyes scanning me up and down. “You’re no use to me as a researcher, or whatever girlish notion it was that you had. I know plenty about the magic contained in this mine, and I certainly don’t need your help discerning exactly what is going on here.”
I wanted to cross my arms as well, and my wrists started to chafe as I twisted them in the rope binding them. His words made me feel like I was a half inch away from plummeting off the edge of a cliff to my destruction. “Well, I’ll be no benefit to you in any other manner, either. I’m only half-Drow, remember? Good luck trying to use me as leverage with your friends in the Underdark. I’m sure they’ll take you exceptionally seriously.” I resorted to sarcasm to hide my unease.
I could tell my discomfiture pleased him when he started to rub his hands together gleefully. “You speak as though you’re anxious to be sacrificed to Our Goddess,” he said, coming close to me again. “I have not forgotten that possibility. You must have had a surface-dwelling parent, yes? The spawn of such a traitor would bring me great renown, were you to be sacrificed on a high holy day.”
I honestly had not considered this option. I knew Lolth required living sacrifices, and often those found captive among the Drow would end their short and miserable captivity lying on her altars. Perhaps it was foolish of me to not see that this could also be my fate. I couldn’t stop the shiver of fear that crept up my spine. I didn’t let that fear cloud my intellect however, and I paused to think on the possibility.
“That would do nothing but earn you the wrath of your Goddess,” I said sharply. “How would she like being offered a soulless corpse, when she would have to go fight my Lady for claim over me? The Queen of Air and Darkness has dealt with the likes of your spider queen before, and I doubt either of them would be happy with you for forcing them into such a conflict over a worthless halfbreed. It would only serve to make you look weak, not that that’s hard for you, I’m sure.” I laughed at him to show my utter contempt for this plan of his.
Drozz’s face grew furious, but he quickly masked his anger and gave me a look of disdain. “Do not overvalue your importance, girl. I admit, you’re a curiosity to me, but I will not hesitate to kill you the moment I grow tired of your chirping. If you truly were a Drow, you would have a better sense of your place.”
He smiled again, that same cold smile that didn’t reach his eyes. It was far more terrifying than his anger. I wanted to take a step away from him, but the wall behind me prevented me from moving. Instead, I straightened to my full height and met his gaze calmly, hoping my face remained stoic.
“What is it that you truly want, my little trinket?” He was still moving closer to me, and when he next spoke I could feel his breath on my face. My stomach flipped with nervousness again, but I still tried to remain calm. “If you truly were after information, and the vast wealth of knowledge to which I have access, you would cease with these silly insults. I’m far more likely to give you what you seek if I am… pleased with you,” he continued, clearly enjoying my relative helplessness. He reached out and stroked my cheek, deceptively gentle, and it was all I could do not to roll my eyes again.
“Fine. Stop calling me ‘child’ and ‘girl’ and ‘trinket’- ugh-, and I’ll stop insulting you. I want knowledge, and power, and I want the Forge of Spells, just like you. I know more about magic than you think. And I can read every language. And, I have no talents outside the scholarly realm. So if you can’t sacrifice me, and you won’t let me help you, then this is completely pointless.” I sounded petulant, I think, but I increased the intensity of my glare.
Drozz just laughed again, which was really no more than I’d expected. He still was standing too close to be comfortable, and I shifted to try and get away from him. “Believe me, I have more than enough knowledge in arcane matters. Your input is little more than worthless. And when I do find the Forge, I have no intention of sharing its power with you.”
“So once again, we are stuck in a pointless situation. Why not cut me free and just send me up against the undead then? I could take out one or two for you, at least, though I doubt that’ll do much good in face of the sort of numbers you’ve implied.” I held up my bound wrists between us. My hands were numb by now, and I could barely twitch my fingers.
“Do you not understand the boon you have given me, by pledging yourself like this?” he asked, his voice silky. He ignored my bound hands and leaned towards me, flattening his hands against the wall on either side of my head. It was a typical posture adopted by individuals feeling powerful, and I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of reacting. I merely continued glaring at him.
“My mistress will be well pleased to see that I am capable of bringing a female like you to heel, even if your worth is only half as much as a full Drow. I can make sure you learn what you seek, and are taken care of, and aren’t harmed. Much. You just have to do exactly what I tell you. And show. Me. Respect.” That last bit was punctuated by him tapping me on the nose. It was degrading, but I still refused to flinch.
I did raise my eyebrows, though. His words made me think. If he was successful in taking me to the Underdark, it was definitely true that I had little recourse for escape. And technically, given my oath, I oughtn’t even contemplate escape. If Charlatan was smart enough to not come after me, then being whisked out of Drozz’s hands and back into the company of my injudicious traveling companions was unlikely as well. My eyes slid over to the dwarf, though, and I realized that given the stubbornness of my companions, they would try and rescue him still. If they had escaped from the doppleganger alive, of course. I didn’t have much hope of that. And furthermore, without myself or, possibly, Charlatan helping them, I couldn’t see them overcoming Drozz’s forces anyway. They’d likely die facing him again, as they would have had I not intervened on their behalf. Fools. They didn’t know when to accept a gift and walk away. This is why I couldn’t stand nobility and honor. They made fools out of the brave.
Given that rescue was improbable and likely impossible, Drozz was certainly correct. If he favored me, I would find myself in a powerful position once the mine had been excavated. If I helped him assure his rise in power as a wizard, I could surely pick up the information I needed as I assisted him. And given the way he was leering at me, it woudn’t be hard to win his favor. It would simply require a bit of groveling, probably, and an acknowledgement of his superiority at the moment. Not that I couldn’t keep his mind locked up in an illusion as soon as my hands were unbound. Ugh. But that was fine. He WAS more powerful than I, so it’s not as though I’d have to pretend, much. And at any rate, if I truly wanted to be a member of Drow culture, I’d have to learn humility or I’d be executed at the first sign of offense, if Drozz’s quick temper was any indication. At any rate, my attitude certainly hadn’t gotten me closer to getting my hands untied. I could bide my time, and surely think of some wonderfully complex plot against him, one that wouldn’t be a direct violation of my sworn oath. I sighed and carefully manipulated my expressions: petulant for a moment, then defeated acceptance.
“You’re right, of course,” I told him, letting exhaustion and resignation color the tone of my voice. “That was the agreement, after all. I’ll do whatever you say.” I wouldn’t do anything he said, of course, as I did have some standards, but he didn’t need to know that. My acquiescence surprised him, and he got an annoying smug look on his face. I intentionally forgot to address him by the title he wished, however.
He seemed surprised by my sudden shift and narrowed his eyes at me, studying my face for any deception. I maintained the innocent expression that made my lies all but undetectable. Then, abruptly, he seemed to take me at my word and stepped away, beginning to pace the length of the room. “Tell me, girl, what spells do you know?”
I blinked at him, surprised by this line of questioning. “Um, illusions, mainly. And I have a charm spell that’s proven particularly powerful against humans of the male persuasion.” I smirked, then continued my accounting. “My armor, of course, you saw that. Faerie fire too, and invisibility. I can craft some fairly strong illusions. I know a few rituals too, just basic ones. Message, dancing lights, and the like. Eldritch blast. But I can only cast-” I paused and took stock of my magic reserves “-probably one more powerful spell before I’ll need to rest for a short time.”
He snorted in disdain. “You’re barely any use to me, then. You haven’t even a useful attack, have you. A pity. I thought one of you had cast a fireball spell. That would have proven useful.”
“I’m aware,” I said, rolling my eyes. “My brother decided to waste it on your bugbear friends, instead of on the undead like we’d planned.”
“And he’s the one with the lightning spell too. Utterly useless.” Drozz sounded disappointed.
I narrowed my eyes, not liking his tone. “My brother lacks subtlety,” I snapped, twisting my wrists in their bindings again. I wanted to show this uppity- I stopped myself before my thoughts got the better of me again. I took a breath and calmed myself. “Illusion takes the most study, but it can be utilized to great effect by the cleverest minds.”
He turned and studied me again, frowning. “I could cede the point, I suppose. I saw no such example of your illusory powers when you were fighting, though.” He waved his hands in a mockery of basic illusion casting.
“I don’t like fighting Drow, and I’m not sure how effective illusion is against spiders,” I told him, lifting up my chin in defiance. “If you want an example, I can use it on your bugbear friend there.”
The creature in question didn’t react, of course, as we were speaking Elvish, and I doubted it had any more capacity for language in its thick skull.
“Hmm,” Drozz said, looking between me and the bugbear. “It would indeed be useful for me to see the extent of your powers.” He picked his staff up off the wall where it had been resting, then reached for me and threw me into the middle of the room. I stumbled, but caught myself before I fell. He really was almost laughably weak. No wonder he studied magic.
He held his staff against the small of my back. “I want to see your best illusion. If you turn against me, or show any sign of treachery, I will poison you and leave you in here to rot.” He kept the pressure on my back, but used his other hand to reach around and cut the ropes binding my wrists with a dagger.
I nearly cried out as feeling started to return to my dumb, sensationless fingers. They tingled like they were on fire, and I shook them to try and reawaken my nerves as soon as I could. While I was flailing about like an idiot, Drozz barked something in Goblin to the bugbear, who suddenly let out a disconcerting laugh and started towards me, popping its knuckles.
I gasped in surprise, as I hadn’t been at all prepared for sudden release and subsequent arcane test, but I quickly snached a piece of fleece out of the component pouch at my belt, and let my fingers twist and flow around each other. The movements of illusory casting were always my favorite, as I knew it would appear to an untrained observer as though my fingers were passing through each other. I murmured the words in Sylvan, picturing a sudden chasm filled with lava opening right in front of the bugbear’s feet. I made sure to visualize the heat that would suddenly fill the room, and the abyssal light that would emanate from the crack in the earth.
Sure enough, the bugbear suddenly stopped stock-still, arms flailing as though he were teetering on the edge of the cliff, and he let out a howl of fear. He stumbled backwards, falling onto his backside. He looked across the room at me, visible sweat starting to bead on his face. He glanced down at the floor, looking terrified, though there was nothing there.
Drozz cackled. “All right then. Well done, well done. End it now.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding, and let my concentration wander away from the spell.
The bugbear glanced at the floor again, clearly confused, then let out a roar of rage and started towards me. I reflexively began to cast Eldritch Blast to protect myself, but Drozz shouted a sharp command at it in Goblin, and it stopped, though it glared daggers at me.
I stiffened when I felt Drozz’s hand around my throat, pulling me back against him. “Well then, Oalwena,” he murmured in my ear, “I suppose you may prove useful after all.” He patted my cheek, then walked away to go speak to the bugbear.
I cocked an eyebrow at him as he went. What a ridiculous nickname. ‘The thing that idles the hands.’ I would assume, until proven otherwise, that it referred to my ability to stop enemies where they stood. It was an unimportant matter, however, especially now that I could feel my magic reserves reduced to only dregs. My hands still tingled, too, and I kept clenching them and unclenching them reflexively.
Drozz spoke to the bugbear for a time, then walked back over to me as I was pulling my hair out of my face. “Tell me, Oalwena, what do you know about fighting fla-”
Before he could get the sentence out, a sudden crash outside the room interrupted. There were some creepy creaking sounds, and the sound of metal scraping on stone, and Drozz stood abruptly.
“Stay here,” he said, grabbing his staff, and walked out of the room. He barked an order to the bugbear before he left, and then another command in Undercommon. I heard the chittering of spiders before the door banged closed, leaving me alone with the bugbear and the unconscious dwarf.
I looked at the door in momentary confusion, then realized that the undead must have encroached on the temple of Dumathoin. I would be useless in a fight now, without any of my weapons, and without the ability to recast my armor.
I looked at the bugbear, who was still glaring at me with hatred, but it showed no sign of attacking.
“He say sit. Rest, and don’t touch things,” it grunted, sounding bitter. “He go get spiders fight and leave Gremmel here to watch pathetic dwarf and -” It called me something in Goblin that I couldn’t understand. “Gremmel stand and make sure no trouble or tricks or reading of papers.” I just nodded at it, and went over to the unconscious dwarf.
I didn’t know much about healing, but I could tell that the dwarf was stable for the time being. I shook his shoulder gently, and he woke with a start, then groaned in pain.
I let him collect his wits, then helped him sit up. When he caught sight of my features, he let out a weak cry of fear and tried to back away.
“Relax,” I told him, keeping my voice quiet and calm. “I’m not going to hurt you.” I think it was the distinctly non-elven accent I had when speaking common that helped calm him, because he took a moment to register my abnormally light skin and the human shape of my face, then looked confused.
“Who are you?” he asked, his throat sounding dry. I took out some of my water and offered it to him. He drank gratefully.
“I’m Miz’ry,” I told him. “My, uh, companions, and I were sent here by your brother Gundren. We rescued him from some goblins.”
“Gundren?” the dwarf asked. “He’s alive?”
I nodded in affirmation.
“Well, that’s something,” the dwarf muttered. “So, where’s the rescue attempt, then? Why are you here all by yourself. There’s no way you snuck in here past that bugbear fellow.”
I stared at him for a moment, then flushed a deeper purple color. “I, um. Well, I may have made an agreement with this Drow to assist him in finding the treasures of this mine. I only did it to protect my brother, though, I’m sure you understand.” It was only a partial deception, at any rate.
“Aye,” said the dwarf, nodding sadly. “I’m Nundro, by the way.”
“Well, it’s an honor,” I replied, giving him my most winning smile. “We’ve been chasing after you for quite a time. I’m relieved to know that you are alive still. I had feared the worst.”
“Yes, well. I’ve certainly been better,” the dwarf grunted. “Say, I don’t suppose you could untie me? Then maybe we could make a run for it. Those are some mighty fine boots you’re wearing, and I’m sure they could help your escape.” His eyes glinted knowingly, and I felt a small tremor of guilt.
I glanced over at Gremmel, who was staring avidly at us. “I… don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said quietly. “I can’t- I’m in no position to help you.”
The dwarf looked at the bugbear too, then nodded. “I’ve agreed to foolish things in my time too, I suppose,” he said, and closed his eyes.
“Hey, wait!” I said, shaking him again. “What do you know about this place? Is the Forge of Spells real? The Drow won’t tell me a thing, but I know there’s got to be some reason he’s so hellbent on staying and fighting all these undead.”
“Oh aye, it’s real,” Nundro said, cracking an eye open to stare at me again. “And surrounded by undead, so it’s essentially useless unless you know how to kill a hoard of moaning, lurching cretins without getting your face eaten off.”
“But still,” I said, “it’s real.” A thrill of excitement shot through me. “Listen, Nundro, do you know how many more bugbears this Drow has lying around, do you?”
“I don’t know. He had six at one point, or maybe seven. Or ten. I really have no idea. I’ve been lucky he’s given me enough water to keep me alive. I haven’t had time to count bugbears, lass.”
“Niam cachu,” I swore. Typical dwarf. Grumpy and reticent. How obnoxious. Still, I did feel a bit sorry for the bony bruised lump that was his body, so I pulled some rations out of my pouch, enough to share. He tore into the dried meat and hard cheese and stale bread with relish, and I could tell he hadn’t been eaten properly in quite some time.
Without anything better to do, I joined him in eating, though my stomach was still churning slightly from the horrendous emotional upset I’d been going through. I forced down some sustenance anyway, because I knew I’d need to keep up my strenght.
Before I’d finished more than half of my meal, the bugbear strode over and snatched the little bag out of my hands.
“What this?” it grunted, sticking his nose in the pack and inhaling. “He say no move. He say you stay put. He no say food.” With that, the bugbear upended the remains into its own mouth, chewing messily. My eyes narrowed. No one stole from me.
“You’ll regret that,” I said, my voice calm and quiet. I had no powerful spells left, but I had enough magic in my reserves to gather energy and start summoning my eldritch ice blast. Before I was finished casting, though (my focus was too scattered to concentrate properly, I guess) the bugbear had me by the throat and pushed me back until I hit the wall.
I may have been a little stronger than Drozz, but I was absolutely no match for the bugbear as it began to squeeze my neck and cut off my air. “No magic,” it said, its putrid breath washing over my face. I wanted to gag, but I didn’t have enough breath to waste. I started to choke, and I beat my fist ineffectively against its forearms. In retaliation, it punched me in the stomach, and I would have doubled over were it not holding my throat too. I started to see black creep around the edge of my field of vision, and I had to use my concentration to fight off unconsciousness. I wished I had my armor.
I could hear the dwarf shouting something, but I couldn’t make it out over the thundering of my heartbeat in my ears. It was getting faster, and I felt the strength starting to leave my limbs. I was going limp when the bugbear released me. I couldn’t support my own weight, and crumpled to the ground in a heap, gasping.
“Out of control,” the dwarf was saying to the bugbear, which was stalking towards him, fists raised.
“Wait-” I tried to call, but my voice came out a harsh rasp. I reached out, trying to stop the bugbear, but I slumped to the ground again, unable to lift up my arm. I heard a nasty thump, and then the dwarf went silent.
The bugbear made a satisfied grunting sound, then went back to his position by the door. My head was still spinning, but I mustered up my strength and crawled over to the dwarf. He hadn’t been hit hard, apparently, and was still breathing. There wasn’t anything else I could do for him, so I sat back and glared at the bugbear, scrawling runes in the dusty floor. I wasn’t writing anything meaningful, as I didn’t know any rituals that would reduce the bugbear to a charred roast. I thought about trying to send a message to Charles, but with my magic expended as it was, I doubted it’d get past the door of the room. And I didn’t even know if he was alive.
I’m not sure how long I sat glowering at my runes, but it was long enough that I was startled when Drozz came back into the room, slamming the door behind him. He looked quite worse for wear, with a large gash open on his forehead and blood streaming over his face. His eyes blazed in fury as he approached me, and I felt a sudden flare of fear before my defiant side flared. I bared my teeth at him, ignoring the pain of my bruised abdomen, and got to my feet.
He didn’t stop until he was half an inch from my face, and I didn’t back down. His eyes glinted dangerously. “You had better pray to your patron that you are useful against these undead, girl,” he whispered. “If you kill enough of them, maybe I’ll reverse this.”
I wasn’t sure what he was talking about until he pulled a vial out of one of his pouches. I stared at it for a moment, but then realized exactly what it was when I saw the shine of its clear contents shifting from a light green to blue to brown and back again, looking oddly viscous as it sloshed. “No, wait- you don’t need that!” I said, stumbling back from him and raising my hands in defense. “It’s completely pointless, I already said I’d do what you want!”
“I know you did, Oalwena,” he said, his voice turning silky. I guess he liked the sight of me cowering. “I just need a little… insurance.”
“Fuck!” I swore, scared enough to use a human curse. “Look, Drozz, um, heruamin, I mean, or master even, if that’s what you want, look. I swear you don’t need it. I’ll fight as many undead as I can!” I barely saw him twitch his free hand, but the bugbear was across the room in a moment and I didn’t have time to think before I was reacting, ducking under its grasp and twirling away into a crouch. I stared wildly between Drozz and the bugbear, all too aware that I had nowhere to go with the wall behind my back. Drozz sighed.
“Hold still, or I’ll poison you with spider venom too,” he said, twirling his staff. “Gremmel, hold her.”
I shook my head, but the bugbear backed me against the wall again and I tried to duck, but it caught me and spun me around so I was facing Drozz and it was holding me from behind. It wrapped a hairy arm around my chest, pinning both my arms to my sides. It grabbed a fistful of my hair with its other hand, forcing my head still.
“I don’t know why you’re so opposed, my dear,” Drozz said, making the endearment sound disturbing. “If you have no intention of betraying me, or double crossing me, or disobeying me, as you have already promised, then you have nothing to fear. I have the antidote. And you have thirty days to prove yourself.”
Thirty days wasn’t long when half my mind would be distracted over the fear of going suddenly blind at the whim of a sadistic Drow.
“However, if you are considering going back on your sworn word,” Drozz was stepping close to me again, as close as he was before, except this time I had no way to get away from him. I struggled against the bugbear, trying to break its grip, but it twisted my hair ferociously and I felt several strands pull loose. Drozz merely waited until I subsided, out of breath. “If this is what you are considering, then I hope that that active imagination of yours takes time to consider exactly how pleasant it will be for you, wandering blinded around Menzoberranzan with no one to help you, and with no knowledge of where to direct your spells. All you have to do is what I tell you, and I will be more than happy to administer the antidote.”
As he reached for me, I lashed out as much as I could and caught a chunk of his palm between my teeth. He nearly dropped the bottle with the poison, but he wrenched his hand free and backhanded me across my undamaged cheek. I felt a few more hairs part with my scalp from the force. It was a harder hit than his first attempt had been, and I let out a pained grunt.
“Behave,” he said, his tone silky again, “and this won’t have to be painful for you, silly girl.” He rested a palm over the growing bruise on my cheek, stroking his thumb over the bone lightly. Gentleness was far more disconcerting than violence, and I shivered, glaring at him.
“Don’t touch me,” I said, my voice sounding tight and pained to my own ears.
Drozz just laughed and didn’t move. “If you had just held still, I wouldn’t have to,” he reasoned, and opened the potion bottle. His hand on my cheek migrated to my jaw, and he gripped it tightly. Between his grip and the bugbear’s fist in my hair, I couldn’t move my head of my own volition. The bugbear pulled, hard, and my head went back with his grip. I could only watch as Drozz held the poison over my eyes and let the contents fall. I tried to shake my head, tried to wrench out of the bugbears grasp, tried to stomp on his feet, but he was too strong and his armor too thick to care about my efforts. I felt a few drops of poison hit each of my eyes, and was immediately assaulted by a burning sensation that made me cry out at its initial intensity. The burn quickly faded though, and soon I was left with only an itching behind my eyes.
Slow Darkness venom was familiar to me, but not so much that I was confident about my ability to whip up an antidote. The ingredients were quite exotic outside of the Underdark, which made it especially useful for Drow who wanted leverage over surface dwellers. I’d have a month, approximately, before my eyes dissolved and I was left blind. A restoration charm would potentially restore them, but there was no guarantee, and my vision would likely never be as sharp as it currently was.
I slumped, my eyes growing damp to fight the itching, and I fought to not let tears fall.
“That was far harder than it had to be,” Drozz chided, cupping my face gently again and nudging my chin up to look at him. My vision fuzzed for a moment, but I managed to muster up another glare.
“It didn’t have to be at all,” I spat.
“Well, my pet, I don’t trust you, so this is a mild insurance. It won’t harm you yet, so I don’t know why you’re fighting it.” His tone was so reasonable and it infuriated me. Still, I got control of my temper and refused to say anything in response.
The bugbear let me go, and Drozz patted me on the cheek, then left to go sit at the table that looked like it was serving as his workspace. I watched him for a few minutes as he started scribbling something, apparently done paying attention to me.
I got bored quickly, and cleared my throat. “So, what now, then?”
“Hm?” he asked, sounding surprised. He glanced up at me, then returned to his papers, not looking at me as he spoke. “Research, of course. All accounts say that Tjailanon had entered this place, and I must retrace his footsteps. His knowledge of evocation was extensive.”
I blinked at the name, surprised. Tjailanon the Bold, a councellor to the Efreeti King of the City of Brass, had been a wizard of no small skill. I wasn’t sure what he had to do with the Drow’s search, unless-
“Wait, you think Tjailanon was involved with the magic here?” I asked, suddenly intrigued. I moved towards Drozz and tried to read over his shoulder, but he blocked my view.
“I think a great many things, child, but I have not negated that possibility, yes,” he muttered, flipping through a few pages. “There are a few hints, here and there.” He glanced up at me then, eyes narrowed. “What do you know of him?”
“Ocrian period wizard, human. Councillor to-” I paused, trying to remember. Efreetian names were lengthy and obnoxious to memorize. “-Um, some Efreeti king. I can’t remember his name offhand.” I felt the familiar twinge of failure that I always felt when I didn’t have a complete answer. “Regardless,” I continued, trying to cover my horrible omission, “he was of almost legendary skill, and studied both the theories on the channeling of raw energy into the spells we know now, and the binding of enchantment into mundane objects. He was quite revolutionary. His cause and date of death are unknown, though he was said to be active in this area, and some of his books have been found and documented by the scholars in Tyr Nag.”
“Mm. Yes,” said Drozz, and went back to his reading. I watched him again, my foot starting to tap, and had to interrupt again.
“Well?” I asked him.
“Well what? Your knowledge is adequate but not exemplary.”
I glared again. “So? Do you think he was involved with the Forge of Spells?” My heart started to beat faster at the idea, and I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. I rubbed my hands together. “If he was, then it must be found. It’s unacceptable to have the place overridden by undead, who can’t even appreciate its wonder.”
“Mm. Yes,” Drozz said again, still too occupied with his papers to look at me and have a proper conversation. “This is something we agree on. Now, do go rest and leave me be. If we are to have any chance against them, I must recuperate.”
I was angry at the dismissal. Hadn’t I proved my desire for knowledge was genuine? I couldn’t stop thinking about what I could do if I gained access to the knowledge that Tjailanon’s writings and artefacts would bring. They had the potential to alter our current perception of how the powers of arcana operated for mortal spellcasters. I thought of all the evidence they could provide for my various wild theories. I needed something to research, at least. “Can’t you let me read your notes or something?” I asked. “My knowledge of history may not be precise, but it is broad and I am excellent at discerning patterns and forming theories. I could help you.”
“Perhaps later, if you’re good,” Drozz said, scrawling a note. “For now, sit and stay quiet. Don’t bother me. Gremmel, watch her while I rest to make sure she doesn’t try anything. And remember, girl, I am the only being with an antidote to that poison for miles. Do not try me.”
I snarled in frustration, denied the opportunity to read, and paced the length of the room before I settled against a wall near the dwarf. I glared at Drozz for a few minutes, hoping the intensity of my glare would persuade him to change his mind. When it didn’t, I sighed and pulled out this spell tome to document my experience thus far.
The Drow is still reading as I write this last sentence, so I may finish here and organize my component pouch. This is not exactly the position I had imagined myself in when the trek into this mine began, but this captivity is not the worst kind imaginable, though I would prefer to have free reign of the information concealed in this mine without reliance on this Drow. I hope he has the antidote to the Slow Darkness. And I hope Charlatan has not been beaten into a pulp by that doppleganger. If he has, though, I am currently in no position to help, and ought instead to focus my attention on gathering as much knowledge as I can from Drozz while he seems amenable.