By Bryant Alexander
The Prodigal Daughter Returns
Our next mission was to go shopping. The markets here weren’t quite as well stocked as Waterdeep’s, but there were plenty of useful items we could purchase to make our quest go a bit more smoothly. We also had a few not so useful items we could sell off, if our newly donated wealth wasn’t enough.
Grolsch had a few interesting items he’d picked up from the fiendish hill giant he’d defeated so heroically. The toy boat was a bit surprising. It didn’t look like what I imagined a hill giant bath toy might look like. Of course, I’d never tried to imagine a hill giant bath toy… On the other hand, the magic words inscribed on it might change that impression.
We went down to the bay before trying to invoke the words. It would’ve been bad if we’d tried floating it in the inn’s bath and had it turn into a coracle. It was big enough for about four people. The next word changed it into a small ship, twenty four feet long, eight feet wide, and six feet deep, with five sets of oars, a square sail, and space for fifteen. Of course, Armand and Grundle would have to stand on opposite sides of the ship if we wanted to actually sail somewhere.
“The troll can get out and push,” Aeryn said.
“Armand can point backwards and fire the Ring of the Ram,” I said.
“You can be the figurehead,” Aeryn said.
“Thanks,” I said.
Grolsch also had a big axe with a spiked handle, and a large stone knife.
“Give it to the troll,” Aeryn recommended.
“He’ll use it to cut pie,” I said.
We could probably sell the knife and the axe.
“The boat could be useful,” I said.
“In case we find an underground sea that takes three days to cross,” Aeryn said.
“My wings wouldn’t take three days,” I said.
“The drow didn’t say anything about huge bodies of water,” Armand said.
“Let’s not assume she told you everything,” I suggested.
“Let’s not rely on her truthfulness,” Aeryn added.
“I know there were gaps,” Armand admitted. “I might not have asked the right questions.”
We decided to hang onto the boat. We probably wouldn’t need it for this mission, but if we had to sail somewhere someday, it might come in very handy. Besides, even if we never used it at full size again, Grolsch might want it for a bath toy. He certainly earned it.
And we still had to visit Aeryn’s family.
“Let’s arrive bright and early,” Aeryn suggested. “While they’re still hung-over.”
“Are you sure you want to visit your family first?” Armand asked.
“Are you sure you want to visit them when they’re hung-over?” I asked.
“They’re largely useless, except for my brother,” Aeryn said.
It might be nice to see them at their best, but if Aeryn was right and they didn’t have a best, it wouldn’t make much of a difference. It was going to be scandalous enough when they connected Armand with Aeryn’s fabled companion.
“Maybe if your fiancé thinks you’ve got fairy clap, he’ll leave you alone,” I suggested.
“Could be worth it…,” Aeryn mused. “…never getting laid again…”
Armand gave Mireille the shopping list we’d hammered out. The rest of us prepared to visit House Eiluned.
“It’s like we’re dressed to visit royalty,” I remarked.
“You are visiting royalty,” Aeryn said.
“Well, that would explain it, then,” I said.
Of course, dressing for royalty wasn’t so difficult for me. Clerical robes went well in practically any setting, including in polite company. Especially since Grolsch was still wearing some of that hill giant’s blood.
“Where’s the serving maid?” Aeryn gagged. “We can’t let you in smelling like that!”
“I smell earthy,” Grolsch said.
“We may need the boat,” I muttered.
“I’ll eat the soap,” Grolsch threatened.
“I’m not giving you any more soap,” Aeryn said. “You can use floor soap and a floor brush!”
“It’s a new year,” I pointed out.
“First bath of the year!” Aeryn said.
“But I don’t normally bath until summer,” Grolsch protested. “You PEFs are weird…”
Maybe we were, but we PEFs were also not taking no for an answer. Grolsch was scrubbed down again. We weren’t going to let him put his grubby old clothes back on, either.
“It’s white robes or pink ribbons,” Aeryn said.
“I think I’ll go play out in the street,” Grolsch said.
“Do we all have to go?” Armand asked.
“If she has to go be miserable, we all have to,” I explained.
“Yes,” Aeryn said. “Why should I be the only one?”
“And she means robes that are currently white,” I added to Grolsch. “Not ones that used to be to be white.”
“What about a pleasant green?” Grolsch asked.
“Green is acceptable,” Aeryn said.
“Green fabric,” I specified. “Not green stains.”
To our everlasting horror, Grolsch stepped out of the bathroom to present a green robe for us to inspect.
“Wear it!” Aeryn shrieked. “I’m blind!”
I was sorely tempted to take the scrub brush from him and use it on my eyeballs. On the other hand, after seeing that, even if Aeryn’s fiancé caught us at her family’s residence, he couldn’t be too terrible. At least the green robes fit nicely, once Grolsch actually put them on.
Muffle was waiting for us to leave. And here we’d been hoping that we’d lost him.
“You absolutely positively cannot take anything out of the house,” Aeryn warned him.
“Give him to your family as a present,” I suggested.
“This has potential…,” Aeryn said.
An ancient housekeeper answered the door when Aeryn knocked.
“Oh, Lady Aeryn!” the housekeeper exclaimed.
“Merry solstice,” Aeryn said.
“Hairy something?” the housekeeper asked. “Come on in. Everyone’s moaning in the living room.”
Aeryn took a moment, probably to gather her courage, before entering the living room. A pair of vacuous looking elf maidens who had to her sisters came out before we could go in.
“You’re back,” a sister said.
“Temporarily,” Aeryn said.
“Ew,” a sister said. “An orc.”
“Half orc,” Aeryn corrected her.
“Who’s that?” the other sister asked.
They’d found Armand. It didn’t take a lot of brains to find him, especially when he wasn’t hiding, but these two appeared to be somewhat challenged. But now that he’d been spotted, the rest of us might as well have been invisible.
“Is this the one?” a sister asked.
“Yes,” Grolsch said.
The sisters scampered off, giggling madly.
“Do you see why I ran away?” Aeryn asked.
“You didn’t run far enough,” I muttered.
“And now I’m back,” Aeryn said.
The servants came out with a tray of hor d’oeuvres. Tempting as it must have been to remain in the foyer while we ate, Aeryn finally stepped into the living room.
“Hi, Daddy,” she said.
I could guess which one was her daddy, and which one was her brother. It was the other man in the room, the only one who didn’t have pointed ears, that jumped up at Aeryn’s arrival, though.
“Oh, Lady Aeryn!” he exclaimed. “Give us <schnorrk, ptui!> a kiss!”
This had to be the infamous fiancé. We hadn’t been expecting him here. As the heir to House Von Denn, we expected him to be occupied with the burnt mansion he’d just inherited from the late Baron. Now I that I could see the man for myself, I knew why Armand called him Prince Picks-His-Nose. I wished he’d picked a different nose. This nose… Well, I suppose I could say that it had character. More character, in fact, than the rest of him. I was going to have to watch where I stepped…
Aeryn deftly sidestepped the incoming kiss and poked him with her rapier. But she did it more diplomatically than the poke she’d given the late Baron.
“Is this polite conversation?” Grolsch asked.
“That would be better <honnnk> with a whip,” Mr. Fiancé said.
Oh, good Goddess… He thought she was just being coy! Even worse, he thought he was being witty.
“I have a <ptoo!> present for you to wear,” he said happily.
He presented Aeryn with a skimpy thing composed of tasseled leather. I just hoped it was supposed to be a belt and not an entire outfit.
“Now we have to make wedding plans,” he said.
At least he didn’t seem to expect her to model the thing here and now. Maybe he had at least that much of a clue.
“Oh, but elven betrothals are supposed to take decades,” Aeryn said innocently.
Take enough decades and Aeryn’s problem would be solved, although I’d really hate to see this man in his dotage. I didn’t want to imagine it. Maybe it was a good thing that he disrupted my train of thought with a nostril-clearing blast. Aeryn stepped closer to Armand. A lot closer to Armand.
“So the stories are true,” her fiancé pouted.
“I have this healing staff…,” I interrupted.
“I have allergies,” he said.
“And this should help cure them!” I said brightly. “I’m just going to tap you with my staff. It’ll do wonders for you.”
Aeryn cast Truestrike on me as I clonked him over the head. I clonked him well. He fell down. He would get up again, just not anytime soon. Any time before I left would be too soon, actually.
“Praise be the Goddess!” Aeryn cried out piously.
Now that the preliminaries were over, Aeryn introduced us to her family. She inflated our titles a bit, although I don’t suppose we had any reason to object. She even managed not giggle when she called me the Wielder of Moonshaft’s Daughter. Maybe I’d even taught her to appreciate my sacred staff.
Her sisters were ignoring us. They’d found the cute puppy.
“What a cute puppy!” one said.
“Give back the silver spoon,” the other one said.
The cute puppy wasn’t about to give back the silver spoon. The cute puppy had a hoard to build.
“I only wanted to be an only child,” Aeryn murmured.
The sisters pulled out a box of ribbons. One way or another, Muffle was going to pay for that spoon. Aeryn’s brother was looking me over. I had a feeling he was thinking of my temple’s monetary reports and calculating how expensive my staff was. Still, I give him a little wink. Aeryn did say he wasn’t entirely useless.
Armand approached him.
“I hear you’re something of a military leader,” Armand said. “There’s a situation brewing in the Dalelands where a leader might be able to win some glory.”
The brother preened.
“Daddy,” Aeryn said. “The drow are coming back out.”
That finally roused him. The elder elf launched into a long winded reminiscence regarding the good old days.
“It would seem some retribution is in order,” Aeryn said. “We can’t have them coming out whenever they want to.”
At least her father seemed to be considering it. Her mother appeared to be simply ornamental, although she was beautiful enough that I don’t suppose she needed to be anything else. Her sisters had thoroughly beribboned the puppy. The puppy was eying the rug intently. We knew that he was calculating its current market value, but…
“Does the puppy need to go out?” Aeryn’s father asked.
I tossed the puppy a copper. He spat it back at my head. I would’ve tossed a silver if I carried silver. I wasn’t going to waste a gold piece on distracting him.
Aeryn had a better idea. She put a cordial down on the floor. Muffle eagerly lapped up the alcohol. Aeryn made a trail of glasses leading to the front door. Muffle was smart enough to know she was tricking him, but he was also alcoholic enough not to care.
The family cat poked its head in. I could see that cat getting into a fight with our plastered puppy… Cinnabar hissed. The cat retreated.
Aeryn’s brother stepped over her fiancé.
“Someone wanna move that?” he suggested.
What her fiancé was doing to the carpet was probably worse than what they’d thought Muffle was going to do.
“I’m not touching that with anything less than a ten foot pole,” I said.
I looked at the staff in my hands.
“Oh, right,” I said.
I kind of pushed him along the floor and out the front door. The fresh air might do him good. Maybe a lonely garden slug would fall in love with his nose. Maybe not. It was winter after all, and even garden slugs can only take so much sliminess. If I’d been more willing to touch him, I would’ve stripped him down and put his present for Aeryn on him. But actually touching him was out of the question.
When I returned, Aeryn’s father was trying to cozy up to Armand.
“The answer is no,” Armand said. “Aeryn and I haven’t shared a bed as of yet.”
I didn’t want to touch that any more than I wanted to touch her fiancé.
“What kind of fey are you descended from?” her father asked.
“I came here through a gate,” Armand said. “I’m not from this world.”
“Are you from a noble family?” her father asked.
“Yes,” Armand said.
“A wealthy family?” her father hinted.
“My people didn’t have much use for material wealth,” Armand said. “They have a military culture and we kept what we could carry on our backs. The rest we left.”
Daddy’s eyes were definitely lighting up. He had to be imagining how much loot Armand’s people left lying around where anyone might be able to pick it up. Aeryn’s sisters took up positions on either side of Armand. Her brother seemed to be giving Armand the look, too. It figured. I gave up trying to look flirtatious. I’d need a new set of robes with only half the material if I was going to compete with Armand.
Aeryn tried steering the conversation back to more important things.
“The coffee supply could be disrupted,” she warned.
Her father certainly looked like he needed his coffee, although that might be because he’d overindulged during last night’s celebrations. Aeryn’s mother had slipped away somewhere… The distinctive sound of squeaking bedsprings echoed from upstairs. Maybe Aeryn wasn’t sleeping with everything from here to Silverymoon, but her mother might be trying to do it without leaving home. Maybe, if this was typical behavior for her, Aeryn might’ve escaped the inbred vacuousness of her sisters due to some judicious (or injudicious) outbreeding on her mother’s part. I wasn’t going to ask, but I couldn’t help wondering.
We were invited to stay over for dinner. We might have considered it if Aeryn’s woozy fiancé hadn’t stumbled back in. The very thought of sharing a table with that man and his nose turned my stomach. Maybe the healing powers of my staff had done something for him. Maybe not. I was good, but I wasn’t a miracle worker yet. I obviously wasn’t the only one feeling ill. We hastened to point out the urgency of our mission. We had to get back to Dagger Falls as soon as possible.
“We’re going by way of the Dragon Coast,” Aeryn added.
“We’d really love to see you up there, fighting the drow,” I remarked to Aeryn’s brother. “We’d really love to see you.”
Who was I kidding? He only had eyes for Armand.
The family didn’t have any troops to send with us, but Daddy dear did offer Aeryn a hundred and twenty gold pieces.
“Stunning,” Aeryn said, quite accurately. “You embarrass me.”
“We would have sold your clothes…,” her brother smirked.
Aeryn’s family wasn’t going to help us. And while we’d effectively made her fiancé the new Baron Von Denn, I couldn’t blame Aeryn for not doing what it would take to get his house’s support.
“The next heir might be less repugnant,” Armand whispered.
“Any chance you could hit him again?” Aeryn whispered to me.
I couldn’t believe I’d gotten away with it once! We headed back to the inn. Armand carried Muffle. At least the puppy wasn’t the kind of drunk who tried to sing.
“Told ya,” Aeryn said.
“That was useless,” Armand said. “We wasted an entire day on them!”
“I thought we could pry something out of them,” Aeryn said.
“You managed one good thing,” Armand said. “You made me appreciate my family.”
Armand wanted to sit down with our new party members and talk tactics. It would help if we got to know one another before we jumped into the Underdark together. We wanted to avoid fiascoes like the way Grolsch took me by surprise the first time I saw him bear out.
Aeryn wanted to go back to the castle, instead. She was hoping to convince Princess Alusair to store her clothes for her, just in case her brother wasn’t bluffing about selling off her wardrobe. We got her to at least stick around for introductions, if only because Grundle filled up the doorway.
Grundle arrived at the inn carrying half a dozen pies and a sack of meat that was dripping slightly. Aeryn helpfully recommended he purchase a Handy Haversack like the rest of us carried. The pies would stay fresh that way. The term ‘purchase’ was new to Grundle. People had this odd habit of just giving him things.
“We could point him at the drow,” I murmured, “and tell him they don’t like pie.”
“If it’s up to the drow,” Aeryn said, “no more pie. Ever.”
That was certainly a convincing argument to Grundle, but we did have some worries about getting him through tight spaces.
“Can we put him in the sack?” Aeryn wondered.
I pictured a troll with a sack over his head.
“Throw a pie in the sack,” I said. “The troll might dive in after it. Of course, watching a troll dive might be scary…”
And we had to discuss other things we might want to buy.
“I’m getting a hat of disguise,” Armand decided.
“We can make you look like a drow,” Aeryn said.
“A half-drow, maybe,” I said.
His skin was close enough, if no one noticed the little sparklies, but he was way too tall for a drow.
“How about earrings of disguise?” Aeryn suggested.
Armand recommended we get some scrolls of Dispel Magic, and maybe some of Wall of Stone for the inevitable retreats. Getting myself a Ring of Protection might not be a bad idea, either. Armand also had his eye on some enchanted arrows.
“If it works,” Armand said, “it will destroy a vampire outright.”
Of course, the arrows were ridiculously expensive. I wasn’t nearly good enough at archery to risk wasting them.
“I’m immune to disease,” Aeryn said. “A Periapt of Health might be a good idea.”
It seemed like a good idea, until we inquired about the price.
“Better to get potions of Remove Disease,” Armand said.
Aeryn wanted some gloves, too.
“If I had your fiancé,” I said, “I’d wear gloves, too.”
Actually, I did always carry gloves with me, in case I had to touch silver. Aeryn also recommended a pebble of Dark Vision for those whose eyesight wasn’t as good as what some of us had. I got a phylactery of Undead Turning, to back up my Goddess granted skills. So far, I hadn’t run out of Turnings in any given day, but I didn’t have Dreya to back me up anymore, either.
Vorpal blades would’ve been nice, if we’d had more money.
“We could sell your clothes,” I remarked to Aeryn.
“You expect me to go naked?” she asked.
“Not the clothes you’re wearing!” I said. “The stuff you wanted to store here. You haven’t been wearing any of it, have you?”
“No,” she admitted.
“Right,” I sighed. “They’ll revoke your princess license if you don’t have a wardrobe.”
“Now you get it,” Aeryn said.
She was even interested in buying a cauldron. Transporting a cauldron might not be so easy.
“Maybe the troll could wear it as a helmet,” I said.
“Too small,” Aeryn said.
“Maybe the orc can wear it as a helmet,” I said.
“I don’t wear metal armor,” Grolsch said. “Nyeah.”
Besides, when would we have the opportunity to brew potions? While we were sitting on watch in the middle of the night? Aeryn opted for a couple of those arrows instead, and some flasks of acid. She’s also spotted some neat toys called krael stones for me to invest in. By attaching one to my holy symbol, I’d improve my Turning ability. I picked up a dozen. I wasn’t used to spending three hundred gold on single use items, but it was a worthy investment in this enterprise, assuming they worked as advertised.
Aeryn did eventually visit the palace, but at least she had more reason to go than just to make arrangements for her wardrobe. I’d almost forgotten about the chest we retrieved from the Baron. Caladnei claimed the money to compensate for the damage to her room, and she kept the spell books (the ones that hadn’t exploded), but we got the tanglefoot bags and the potions.
“If we really want troops,” I remarked, “I could try flying in her brother’s bedroom window tonight.”
I could try, but I had a feeling Armand would have more success trying that than I would. At least, he’d be successful until the sisters found out he was there and piled on him. Or worse, until Aeryn’s mother found him. We’d probably all be better off just keeping our distance from them.
The next day, we set out on the road to Dagger Falls. Much to our amazement, the trip back went smoothly. Apparently even giant centipedes considered our party too much of a mouthful.
We arrived back at Dagger Falls on the tenth of Hammer. The guards didn’t look happy to see us. We were expecting them to be surprised to see us again, but they looked… scared? Oh. Grundle was bringing up the rear and to the guards, it might’ve looked like he was chasing us.
“He needs a blueberry pie,” Aeryn informed the guards. “Right away.”
The guards got Grundle a pie. They got it to him right away. Grundle thanked them and ate the pie. He looked happy. The guards looked happy. Grundle grabbed a passing rat and bit it in half for a chaser. The guards looked green.
We didn’t bother reporting to Randal Morn. We weren’t working for him anymore. We did check in with Tunfer the Stout, though. If nothing else, Coraym was glad to have the chance to chat with another member of his order. If Tunfer mentioned our return to Lord Morn, that was fine, too. We’d worry about Lord Morn after we dealt with the more pressing problem of the drow.
We found ourselves a new inn. Aeryn, in a fit of subtlety, asked Mireille if she wanted to bunk with us girls or if she preferred to bunk with Armand. Granted, Mireille did seem to have attached herself to Armand…
It was snowing the next day. I didn’t mind snow anywhere near as much as I minded more Zhents. There were at least a hundred of them in and about the town now. There weren’t as many raids since we left, but trading Zhents for drow wasn’t much of a bargain.
We stabled our horses. This time, we put Armand’s horse in a more open stall, so it wouldn’t have to open things up on its own. Then we headed back to the crypts.
“Do you expect the same door to be open?” Grundle asked.
We did, if only because we didn’t know of any other way for the drow to get out. Aeryn and Neville scouted on ahead.
“Scouting,” Grundle said. “I’ve heard of that.”
The yellow mold had spread in our absence. Someone had spread the spores around and provided them with fresh (or not so fresh) fertilizer. If we ever ran into him again, we’d have to thank him. No one seemed to have moved in behind the illusionary walls. But the scouts had found a new sentry.
“How far away?” Armand asked.
“Where we found the sentry the last time,” Aeryn said. “Do you want to sneak past the sentry and deal with whatever’s past them?”
Last time, we’d taken out the sentries, but one of them had shouted the alarm and warned the next group. So this time, Aeryn wanted to take out the second group first, leaving the first group with no one to warn. It was an interesting idea, but not so easy to pull off.
“Get in the backpack,” Aeryn told Grolsch.
“Excuse me?” Grolsch said.
“He might not fit,” Armand said.
“I didn’t say in bear form,” Aeryn said. “He can change after I let him out. I should be able to get him there before he runs out of air.”
For some strange reason, Grolsch didn’t seem overly enthusiastic.
“Just get behind them,” Armand said. “If you can stop them from running, fine, but if not, not.”
Aeryn and Neville snuck up on the two sentries. Grundle charged them. Grolsch charged along behind him, in bear form. The rest of us watched the sentries focusing on the literally looming danger. They were taken completely by surprise when Neville started smacking one of them around. Aeryn caught the second one with her dagger. The first one dropped his crossbow so he could use his rapier on Neville. Neville was all over him, though. I couldn’t even follow the series of blows he landed on the sentry. Grundle chopped Aeryn’s opponent in half with his axe. Neville’s opponent dropped dead.
“Hey!” Grundle exclaimed.
He’d apparently wanted to cut that one in half, too. He settled for ripping off a hunk of drow to munch on.
“Stay here while we go on ahead,” Aeryn said.
Aeryn and Neville snuck down the hole. We searched the dead bodies for loot. We collected some gold and silver, and even a few platinum pieces. Their equipment was just the usual drow standard.
Mireille murmured something to Armand.
“There’s some kind of magic here,” Armand said. “It enhances necromancy, strengthens undead and inhibits healing.”
“That’s an Unhallowing,” I said.
Except, of course, that I should’ve felt an Unhallowing.
“Not exactly,” Mireille said. “It’s more like some disruption of the weave.”
Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
Aeryn and Neville crept back up again.
“This is Moonshine’s domain,” Aeryn said. “Skeletons.”
That did sound like a job for me. I climbed down the rope as quietly as I could. I found two dozen skeletons looking at me. As quietly as I could obviously wasn’t quietly enough. Aeryn might have mentioned that it wasn’t just skeletons, it was lots of skeletons.
I slapped a krael stone onto my holy symbol and Turned twenty one skeletons into dust. I was suddenly feeling a lot better about this situation. The rest of the party came down after me. We dispatched the remaining three skeletons with ease. Maybe I should’ve saved the stones for the vampires, but at least now I knew that the krael stones worked. I’d have to buy more of them.
Now that we could see the chasm, Armand’s maps would come in handy. According to what he’d learned, the first level was the barracks, the second level was the market, the third level was commoners, and the fourth level was the nobles.
“So we’re just planning on cleaning it out?” Grundle asked.
“We can probably clean out everything but the market level,” Armand said. “That’s also where the mages live. We may be able to avoid or negotiate with the mages.”
We decided to start at the top and clean up the barracks. And in this barrack, we would try not bringing the roof down on our heads.
“There’s two sentries at the door,” Aeryn reported. “We can’t sneak past them. We’re gonna backstab them from behind.”
“But don’t you have to sneak past them to backstab them?” Grundle asked.
“She means the entire party can’t sneak past,” I explained.
“If you get behind them, I can charge,” Grundle offered.
“I’ll shoot arrows and cast Truestrike,” Armand said.We weren’t really in a position where Grundle could charge, but that was okay. We easily overwhelmed the sentries. So far, so good. If I was one of the new party members, I’d probably be wondering what all the fuss was about. Since I had been here before, I was wondering how long we could keep this up before we stepped in something.
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