By Bryant Alexander
Sing a Song of Flying Trolls
Having taken out the guards, we advanced into the barracks and found ourselves facing a pair of drow, a pair of skinless, and another pair of drow. They were nicely lined up. We weren’t. With a troll in our ranks, we were a bit squished. Aeryn and Neville were at the front of the party, of course. They charged, with Aeryn firing off magic missiles at one of the skinless.
I squeezed around the troll so I get a better look at the enemy. It would be a lot easier to try Turning the skinless if I had a clear view. Unfortunately, my Goddess wasn’t responding, even when I was pointing my holy symbol right at the drow. And everyone else was trying to get around, too.
An arrow and some small bolts bounced off of Armand. He did seem to be the obvious target, since he was head and shoulders above everyone but the troll. The skinless charged at Aeryn and Neville. They’d be even sloppier kissers than Aeryn’s fiancé… and that took some doing.
Grundle finally lumbered forward, while Neville danced backwards. Hand to hand might be a bad idea when faced with someone with an acid touch. Aeryn retreated to the ceiling. I tried Turning the skinless again. This obviously wasn’t going to work. A drow started chasing Neville, while a skinless vomited at Armand. That was a stupid move on the drow’s part. Neville had no problem using a drow as a punching bag. Grundle plowed into one of skinless. I wasn’t sure how well trolls mixed with acid, but better him than me. Aeryn did some fancy flying so she could stab a drow. I concentrated on not getting stepped on in the crowd. This room wasn’t made to hold this kind of melee.
I got a good line of sight and shot a skinless with Searing Light. Armand hit the same one with his sword and she popped like a rancid boil. I was glad I wasn’t any closer to her. Coraym got a good blow in on the other skinless, and Grundle popped her like a pimple. The drow were dropping one by one.
Then a troll-sized spider crawled out of the hallway at the far end of the room. As Aeryn knocked out a drow, the spider crawled up the wall to take a swipe at her. I fired off a blast of Searing Light at it. The drow ducked around the corner.
“Help me!” Aeryn cried.
We knew that was coming, sooner or later. Grundle stomped on a fallen drow’s head as he charged the spider. There was one drow that no one would be retrieving the ears from… The spider vanished in a puff of smoke.
Strangely beautiful music drifted into the room. Grundle turned around, a glassy look in his eyes.
“Three drow!” Neville’s voice called from down the hall.
Aeryn headed after Neville, while hugging the ceiling. Me and Coraym headed back the way we’d come. I wanted to see what was making that music. Grundle seemed entranced by it. Lightning crackled from the rear hallway, followed by an Aeryn-squeak. She had Neville with her. She’d be okay.
I found a really ugly bird woman fluttering about across the chasm from the barracks entrance. The song didn’t seem half as beautiful when it was coming out of such an ugly mouth. The bow she was carrying was the kind used for twanging arrows at people, not the kind for making music.
I heard a splash behind me as Grundle charged through an acid puddle. I wasn’t done turning around when he slammed into me and Coraym, lifting us off our feet and carrying us forward towards the chasm. The chasm didn’t worry me. I could always fly... unless Grundle plunged into the chasm on top of me. But if I took out the harpy, he’d probably stop charging. Probably. I fired off a blast of Searing Light that went nowhere near her. Targeting might be difficult while being shoved like this…
Coraym rolled to the side in an attempt to not get driven into the chasm. Somehow, little old me managed to hold back Grundle’s charge. Then the harpy twanged her bow and shot me. The arrow didn’t just hurt, it felt frozen. I wouldn’t be able to keep Grundle from continuing his charge for very long, either. If I kept my heels dug into the ground, he’d snap my feet off at the ankles.
I switched to bat-form. The harpy could twang away now without bothering me. Maybe flapping in Grundle’s face would distract him from her chirping. Coraym grabbed Grundle by the arm. Maybe he planned to shout in the troll’s ear.
Some helpful person must have cast Fly on Grundle. He took off, flying out over the chasm. Coraym slipped off his arm and caught the edge of the chasm. The harpy flew off. It didn’t look like she’d expected this. I considered giving chase, but she was flying awfully fast. I’d probably fly that fast, too, if a love-sick troll was swimming through the air at me.
I swooped down, caught Coraym by his belt, and gave him enough lift that he could crawl out of the chasm.
From above I heard, “Huh? Whoa. Whee! Tweet.”
Grundle appeared to have discovered the joys of flight. I left him out there making bird noises. Even if the Fly wore off and he fell, it wouldn’t do him much harm. Fishing him out of the river might be a bit of a project, but it would be doable.
I found the rest of the party sorting through the spoils: four bucklers, five cloaks of resistance, five rapiers, more drow poison, a breast plate, a different buckler, a Wand of Fireballs, a pouch of diamond dust, a broach, four Cure Light potions, some assorted coinage, and a bloodstone.
Aeryn was just waiting for a chance to use her new Gloves of the Rogue. She pulled them on now and searched the barracks. There were several rooms along the hallway, and a staircase leading down. One door actually gave off a small burst of flame when she opened it. Inside the room she found an unlocked chest with assorted odds and end, some empty scroll cases, and a couple spell books. The glyphs on the books might be a problem. Since Mireille was the only one of us who had a use for the books, the glyphs were her problem. She managed to dispel one of the glyphs, at least. She could take her time with the other, and hopefully she wouldn’t blow it up like the Von Denn book that Aeryn exploded. Interestingly enough, Aeryn also found an unlabelled key.
The duty rosters made for amusing reading, if only because there were notes in the margin regarding which guards couldn’t be trusted to stand watch together. The heavy brocade curtain we found made us think of Muffle. The puppy had to be around here somewhere… but we weren’t going to go out of our way to find out where he’d wandered off to.
During the course of the search, I tapped Aeryn with my staff. I tapped Neville twice. He’d taken a lot of damage during that fight. I had to use three spells healing up poor Coraym. But since it didn’t look like we’d be doing any more fighting today, it didn’t matter.
Naturally, Armand searched the beds.
“They’re short,” Aeryn pointed out. “You’re not going to fit on them. Or in them.”
Armand discovered a pouch full of platinum pieces hidden under a mattress.
“Nice going, Armand!” Aeryn whistled appreciatively. “I’m very impressed. You actually found something.”
It wasn’t really surprising to find that most of the rooms were bedrooms, with nothing more exciting than clothing in them. This was a barracks, after all.
“For shorter members of the party,” Aeryn remarked, “take the uniforms. At least partly disguise the party.”
It was an idea worth considering. The idea of wearing something that a drow had worn kinda made my skin itch, though.
Our search also turned up a very interesting letter. It was written in the drow dialect, of course, but Aeryn understood drow fluently, and it was almost comprehensible to those of us who knew proper elven.
Indrizil: Word has probably reached you about the fall of Maerimydra, and perhaps you have wondered about my safety. Obviously, I survived the sack of the city, although it was a close call indeed. The city fell at the hands of mere chattel-the priestesses of the Spider Queen had kept the city so cowed that, with their power gone, its defenders could not resist even a force of goblins, ogres, and giants. We held our strong places for a time without the clerics, but then House Chûmavh was overthrown from within, and so we were undone.
I write to you now from Szith Morcane, the old outpost north and west of the city. Perhaps you will come visit me-though I must say that if you still profess faith in Lolth you will not be welcomed by those who rule here now. The Spider Queen’s priestesses have found a new role here, which I think you would not enjoy very much.
I do not know if you still cling to the hope that the Spider Queen will restore you-will restore all of us-to her favor, but if you do, I urge you to reconsider. It is not too late for you or for our bond of blood. The Lady of the Dead will accept you still, just as she has taken me into her care. All Maerimydra is her temple now, and her emissaries rule here too. Abandon your empty allegiance to a silent goddess and come to Szith Morcane, but do not wear the emblem of the spider. I have need of allies of my own blood, and if Lolth still ignores your pleas, I suspect you do as well.
“Apparently,” Armand remarked, “a larger city south of here is under the rule of the clerics of Kiaransalee.”
“Goblins, ogres and giants,” Aeryn muttered. “How come all we run into is drow?”
Not all of the rooms were bedrooms. We also found the mess hall. The foodstuffs stored there were uninspiring, to say the least.
“I suggest we skip the cheese,” Aeryn said.
The cheese was starting to breed its own ecology.
“Or we’ll be doing like Nanoc,” Armand predicted. “And I’m in plate armor.”
The crackers were dry and stale. The wine looked watered. The water, at least, seemed to be all right.
Aeryn made another amusing discovery in the captain’s quarters.
“He’s a cross dresser!” she suddenly exclaimed.
“What makes you think that?” Armand asked.
Aeryn held up a pair of purple satin panties. At least they were more tasteful than a certain piece of tasseled leather I’d seen recently.
“Maybe he has a girlfriend,” Armand suggested. “Those wouldn’t fit him.”
“No, but these would!” Aeryn said, cheerfully looting through the dead drow’s underwear. “I told you they’re degenerate!”
Armand probably wanted to debate the point, but wisely chose not to waste his breath defending the drow. We finished checking over the main floor. The stairs led down to another hallway, one lined with six heavy iron cell doors, each with a little shuttered window set in it. Aeryn tried the key, but it didn’t open anything down here.
“Maybe it’s for his girlfriend’s chastity belt?” I suggested.
“The men wear them here,” Aeryn reminded me.
I’d almost forgotten that part of drow culture. I had nothing against a female run regime, but the drow took it to extremes.
Even without a proper key, Aeryn easily opened the first cell. It squeaked horrifically until she got some oil onto the hinges. Inside, we found rotting hay mixed with ancient trash.
“I’m gonna flog whoever let them get this way,” Aeryn muttered.
A thorough search of the cells would mean rifling through the trash. Aeryn was nothing if not thorough. I suddenly remembered something I wanted to do back upstairs with the rest of the party. I wasn’t sure what it was that I wanted to do yet, but if anyone asked, I’d think of something.
The familiar battle cry of the elven princess echoed up the stairs. I hurried back down again. Armand and Aeryn were backing towards the stairs. That wasn’t a good sign. Facing them was a half humanoid, half snake creature with flaming spines along its back and a flaming spear poking in their direction. Somehow, I had a feeling that Searing Light wouldn’t work. I shot an arrow at it. I even hit it. The arrow crisped into ash and disappeared.
A flaming ball went dancing through the air after Aeryn. Aeryn darted past me up the stairs. The ball swerved to fly at Armand while the salamander poked at him with the spear. I retreated after Aeryn. I didn’t have anything in my bag of tricks for taking on a salamander. Throwing holy water at it would just get me some holy steam. I could, however, heal Aeryn. She was a bit toasty.
“You can come down now!” Armand called up the stairs.
“Thank you!” me and Aeryn yelled back to him.
We managed to get eight hours rest without further incident. If we were going to continue taking a top-down approach to cleaning out Szith Morcane, our next stop was the Bazaar. We might actually be able to deal with certain elements there without fighting.
“I’d be willing to talk to the Archmage, man to man,” Armand said.
“You’d have better luck than me or her,” Aeryn said.
Indeed. Besides the physical problems me or Aeryn would encounter in trying to talk man to man with anyone, the mages were drow, and we were proper elves.
“I don’t know if they’re unhappy or not about the situation,” Armand said.
It was hard to say. The only males with real power in drow society were the mages, and they were sort of off to the side, rather than part of the mainstream power structure. They might not care which cult ruled.
“I don’t know what to say to them,” Armand concluded.
“How about we just spend the day in the Bazaar, just listening?” Aeryn suggested. “Let me borrow your hat.”
“We blend,” Armand said. “We’ve got two elves, a holy paladin, a troll, an orc, and only one hat… We don’t blend.”
“We could use the disguise kit,” Aeryn said. “I could hide in the Bazaar and just listen without joining the conversation. If I plop a white wig on you, you’ll pass as a halfie. I could go as a drow. Do you want me to apologize in advance? It would explain why you don’t speak.”
“You’ll auction me off!” Armand accused her.
She wouldn’t do that. Not unless someone made her a really good offer.
“Can any of you get Tongues?” Aeryn asked.
“I can speak with plants,” Grolsch said. “I can speak with rocks.”
“Are you serious?” Aeryn asked. “What can a rock tell you?”
“I don’t know,” Grolsch shrugged. “That’s why I never cast it.”
So at least Aeryn and Armand could blend in the Bazaar. I was shorter than Aeryn, but my holy aura might give me away and I didn’t speak the dialect. Aeryn wanted to borrow Mireille’s pseudo-dragon. The dragon’s telepathic abilities would keep the lines of communication open while we were separated. Aeryn apologized in advance for the indignity. Armand was particularly empathetic with Mireille, since he was going to have to leave Cinnabar with us.
“Should we bring the troll?” Armand asked.
“Yes,” Aeryn said.
“Grundle wanna fly,” Grundle said. “I can fly over town and pick up pie.”
What a horrifying image… Trolls just weren’t meant to fly. Now that we’d introduced Grundle to the joys of flight, though… We may have created a monster.
“This has all the hallmarks of another disaster,” Aeryn said. “At least we can buy better food.”
“I’m pretty sure they don’t have blueberries,” Grolsch said.
“Shh!” Aeryn hissed.
Grolsch would know better than the rest of us what fruits and veggies were in season.
“We might want to bring the rest of the crowd to the next level,” Armand said. “We might not want to be out of shouting distance. I can’t see going to the mage tower without better objectives… I could teach them about men’s lib…”
Me and Aeryn rolled our eyes.
We made plans for getting down. The troll was an excellent climber. As badly as he wanted to fly again, he could use the web. He could even carry Coraym. Mireille cast Fly on Armand, and he got to carry her.
“That’s what, the fourth woman you’re carrying?” I asked.
“That’s why I don’t like taking prisoners,” Armand said. “I always end up carrying them.”
“You love it,” Aeryn said.
“It’s okay for a few minutes,” Armand said. “After a few hours…”
“It only took a few minutes?” Aeryn interrupted. “It seemed like longer. It took a few minutes for the townsfolk to set up the ladder.”
“They only set up a ladder because they saw a big black bat flying outside the window!” Armand said. “I’m sure you were out there, too.”
I couldn’t deny that I’d flown up to the window to see what Aeryn had found so interesting, but I hadn’t done it in bat form. I tried to stay in elf form in towns, and besides, it was in an alleyway.
“I don’t see why you have such a fascination with my sex life,” Armand said. “Get your own!”
Like this was the place for us to do it. We somehow managed to steer the conversation back to more important topics, like dark vision. Not everyone in the party could see well in the dark and we didn’t know how well the Bazaar entrance was lit. My squeaking did have one advantage over dark vision. Dark vision detected heat and vampires didn’t radiate heat.
Somehow, we managed to get everyone either onto the web or into the air and heading down. Grundle was humming cheerfully. Stealth didn’t mean much to a troll.
“Hey, guys!” Grundle bellowed. “Look over there!”
Stealth didn’t mean anything to a troll. But we did look over there. Over there was a harpy crouched in an opening in the wall. It looked like she might be talking to someone.
“Hold up a sec,” Aeryn said.
She’d prepared for this eventuality and started casting Fly on those who were otherwise confined to the web. I got to tow Grolsch. As long as he didn’t turn into an unexpected bear, that was okay. The harpy, naturally, ducked into the cavern. Grundle was thrilled to be flying again. He started doing the backstroke in the air. Coraym wasn’t so thrilled. He was spiraling.
“Don’t go in!” Mireille called out. “I can toss in a Cloud Kill and see what comes out.”
That sounded like a good idea. We positioned ourselves as best we could around the five foot opening and Mireille cast her spell. Much to our surprise, a drow female popped out of the hole. Aeryn and Armand whacked her before we spotted the tabard of Lolth she was wearing.
Then the harpy flew out. Neville swooped over to tickle her. The harpy tried shoving Mireille into the monk, but Neville was doing a good job punching her. I flew in and took a bite out of the harpy, while Grolsch held onto my ankle.
“If you are loyal to the Spider Queen,” Armand shouted, “and oppose Kiaransalee, surrender! We wanna talk to you!”
“We do?” Aeryn muttered.
The harpy dove. Again, she was too fast for us to chase. Maybe we’d be lucky and she’d clear out of Szith Morcane entirely rather than risk running into us again. The drow surrendered, but took the time to spit in Aeryn’s face first. Aeryn slammed her in the chasm wall and then manacled her.
We headed back to the barracks to have a chat with our new prisoner. It looked like she might be a half-drow, judging by her features. She probably thought Armand was her own kind. Not that that sort of thing seemed to matter to the drow-sluts.
“We know something of the power shift in Clan Morcane,” Armand told her. “We don’t think it’s a good shift. What say you?”
She muttered some drow curse at Aeryn.
“Or we could all have a piece of you!” Aeryn said.
“Save me a slice,” I said.
Armand, the spoilsport, got between them before Aeryn could introduce the drow to another wall. He did let Aeryn try prying off the drow’s spider broach. Aeryn didn’t succeed, though. The broach seemed to be fused to her throat.
“Enough,” Armand said. “Calm down.”
We were calm. We just insisted on removing the drow’s weapons.
“Don’t touch her,” Armand said. “Leave her be. My friends and I would like to see the Lady of the Dead punished. Maybe you can help us.”
Maybe she could, and maybe she couldn’t. She didn’t seem so sure. Armand quickly scooped her up in his arms.
“I’m taking her away from the bloodthirsty ones!” he announced.
He stomped off with her into the captain’s chambers.
“Listen for the sound of bedsprings, kids,” Aeryn said. “She probably has herpes.”
“No,” I said. “She really has…”
“Fairy clap!” we said in unison.
Aeryn made some kissing noises outside the door. From within, we heard not just bedsprings squeaking, but over the moaning came the sound of a bed splintering. Didn’t Armand know he was supposed to notch the bedpost, not destroy it?
“Not again!” Armand shouted.
This couldn’t have been any funnier if Armand staged it for us. At least, me and Aeryn found it amusing. Poor Coraym was turning various shades of red. Paladins were way too chaste.
“I’m tempted to flash Coraym and watch him faint,” I whispered to Aeryn.
“Not now,” she said. “Not here.”
“Where’s that lingerie you found?” I wondered.
“In there,” Aeryn said. “Wanna take bets on who’s gonna be wearing the purple panties?”
I didn’t take the bet. I didn’t want to know.
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