“Right, just what I wanted to hear,” said Cundall. “I couldn’t take the chance that Elisande was setting us up. Let’s go.”
The party went to Elanil as she was leaving the stage to applause. Zelda and Minimus put a restraining hand on the annoyed duergar to stop her climbing the stage. After a few short words, Elanil accepted that the party believed something was wrong.
“Brilmara,” she said to the duergar. “Please come with me.”
Brilmara, the duergar, sudden tried to rush for the stage, wailing “I must play, I must play!” although only Marie could understand her. Zelda and Minimus held her until Elanil’s guards arrived, and the duergar was whisked away inside the Hall of the Unicorn. Elanil and the party followed, with the Herald waving for the next act to go on. Cundall looked over to where Elisande and the goat had been watching – they were gone.
The interior of the Hall of the Unicorn was serene, a striking contrast to the celebrations occurring just outside its door. Passing through the doorway, the first thing one could see was an immense statue of a unicorn, captured in flawless detail. A gnome in simple green robes was dusting the statue, her short arms clutching a long broom in an attempt to get at the higher, less accessible bits.
“Seranolla,” Elanil gave the gnome a start as she, the heroes and the guard burst in, “put the kettle on and get our guests some of the half-cakes that Falwan sent this morning. It’s going to be a long night, methinks.”
The duergar was dumped on a bench along the temple’s wall. She appeared to be quite delirious; when either a Marie or Elanil approached her, she was utterly unresponsive. Elanil tried a dispel magic to no avail, and then Cundall cast restoration on Brilmara. This seemed to break the duergar from her delirium enough for her to mutter the words “She returns” and “Stop the flayers” in Undercommon. Marie translated. Zelda noted the duergar accent with interest – the elf was studying to learn Undercommon from Marie.
“Look at this,” Cundall moved Brilmara’s hair away from the back of her neck, revealing a tattoo of a stylized squid split by a sword.
“What does it mean?” asked Minimus. “Gang tattoo?”
“Duergar often have clan tattoos that honor the achievements of their ancestors,” said Elanil. “I would expect their entire clan to have this tattoo.”
“I don’t think we will get much more out of her,” said Seranolla, serving up tea and half-cakes. “What can the instrument tell us?”
Elanil examined the fiddle, and the more she looked at it, the more furrowed became her brow.
“I need The Sentinel here,” she said, referring to the unnamed and reclusive wizard who was the caretaker for the temple to Mystra, goddess of magic, in Elventree. Seranolla sent off one of her people to fetch The Sentinel. He returned quickly, cowled and masked as usual. The Sentinel was man perhaps in his 30’s, of average height. It was known that his mask was for tradition rather than disguise, and in private The Sentinel was happy to dispense with it. On Elanil’s request he examined the fiddle.
“I need to take this back to my laboratory,” he said. “I’ll have an answer for you in the morning.”
“There’s not much else we can do,” said Elanil. “Go enjoy the rest of the party, if you can. Come back here in the morning.”
The Heroes of Hillsfar returned to the party, but their heart wasn’t in it. Only they knew that a disaster had been averted, although what type of disaster was yet to be found out. They all retired early for the night – much to Shaniqua’s disappointment.
However, Cundall stopped the others before they left for the night.
“I’m going to draw a card, from The Deck,” he said. “You can be present if you want.”
“Oh I do,” said Zelda. “I’m going to laugh long and hard if you get whisked away into some extra-planar dungeon or something. I can’t believe you got rid of the dagger of Lolth! I found it after all.”
“All right, don’t start that again,” said Cundall. “What’s done is done.” He turned to go into his room and the others followed. He took out the deck from his bag of holding.
“I am drawing ONE CARD!” he announced, theatrically. “You have to say how many cards you are drawing,” he explained to the others in a quieter voice.
“Is there any danger to us?” asked Marie.
“No,” said Cundall. “At least I don’t think so.” And before anyone could say anything else, he whipped out a card. Everyone could feel the thrum of powerful magic being activated, and the entire deck glowed, with Cundall and the card he was holding glowing brightest of all. The druid’s eyes were rolled back in his head as his entire body tensed up. Minimus was considering slapping the card out of Cundall’s hand, when suddenly everything stopped glowing and Cundall slumped, his eyes fluttering open.
“Wow,” he said. He showed the card to the others – it was The Star. Then it crumbled away in his hand, as if it’s magic was spent and that was the only thing holding its atoms together.
“I feel…” said Cundall.
“Yes?” said Zelda.
“Not much different.”
“The Star grants an increase in either your faculties or body,” said Marie.
“Well, obviously I took faculties,” said Cundall. “And now I find myself sleepy, so if you lot will excuse me, I’m off to bed.”
The following morning they assembled at the Hall of the Unicorn, picking their way through those who had been hired to clean up after the night’s festivities. Inside the Hall was Elanil and Seranolla. The Sentinel had arrived and reported and had left, avoiding attention.
“I was able to prepare more spells,” whispered Cundall to the others. “My brain is bigger.”
Minimus looked for evidence of this, but gave up when he couldn’t see it bulging out of his ears. He decided maybe it wasn’t that big to start with. Meanwhile Elanil was talking.
“Brilmara arrived in town four days ago,” said the Herald. “Since then, she has been playing her flute around town and started working at Tree Spirits; earning a few silver pieces in the process. We kept an eye on her for the first couple of days, but relaxed after she seemed to be a genuine refugee. She did not produce the fiddle until last night.”
“The Sentinel confirmed that the fiddle itself is of rather unique construction. It is constructed of what appears to be alchemically-treated hallucinogenic mushrooms. The strings are made of the hair of derro; an insane race of dwarf-like creatures from the Underdark. The fiddle registers as magical, but a more of a residue of demonic magic, as if a powerful demon had possessed it, or owned it for a while. So it is not only associated with a being of madness, it is constructed of specific materials associated with madness. The Sentinel believes it is likely the instrument would inspire madness in its listeners.”
“So it was to be a deliberate attack?” asked Cundall.
“It seems so. Brilmara is better today. But it means she is acting more like I expect duergar to act – resentful and resistant. We’re not going to get much out of her I suspect.”
Elanil feared that this duergar was not in Elventree by mistake and that if her presumptions were true, the fiddle was a way of making madness become contagious away from faerzress and someone intended to use it like a weapon. She wanted the heroes to find out where the duergar and her fiddle came from and, if possible, put an end to any more of these musical instruments or any other madness inducing items.
“Brilmara’s tattoo likely indicates that the her clan must have encountered mind flayers in the past, and likely still resides near them. After consulting a map, I suggest the duergar settlement of Zortagra as the most likely candidate due to its proximity to the mind flayer enclave of Ryxyg. Zortagra was a small svirfneblin outpost that fell to duergar not long ago.”
They discussed the mission. It was decided the best way to get to Zortaga was to enter the Underdark via the ruined city of Yulash, and follow the river for a short way until the tunnell for Zortaga was found. Olon’s book of the Underdark, still held by Marie, would guide them.
And so it was the brave adventurers left their loved ones behind (Shaniqua, Jerrard, Elum and Ziggy) and set about a cold five day trek to Yulash, past Hillsfar and The Stop. It was a mostly uneventful trip, one of those times that dragged on but they always leave out of heroic stories. As this is a heroic story, we will leave it out also.
To be continued..