In the cool morning the party were eating a breakfast consisting of some roasted groundbirds Zelda had shot, along with some (safe) mushrooms and wild onions. Chauntea gobbled scraps tossed to her, and Elum foraged for sweet grasses and seeds that grew around the bases of the huge trees. Marie was reading her spellbook, while Minimus was complaining about the water situation. With no river or well nearby they had to conserve their water, which meant not using water to wash their cooking gear. They had to scrub the worst of the cooking fat out with leaves and just leave the rest. Cundall was meditating in prayer to his goddess Chauntea and Zelda was packing away her mess kit. The air was still, as usual in the spaces between the trunks of these huge trees, and very little light made it through the canopy of leaves and branches, although everyone’s eyes was used to the dim light now.
This is how they saw the glow early. A nimbus of light appeared around Zelda, encompassing her. Marie felt the tingle of magic in the air and realised something or someone was targetting Zelda. The wizard realised, without knowing how, that it was important they all were physically touching Zelda before the spell completed.
“Grab your pack, then grab Zelda,” she yelled, stuffing her spellbook into her pack and racing over to the surprised elf who was moving to get her own backpack and hoping she could move out of the magic light. This didn’t work as the glow, now brighter, followed her. When Marie touched Zelda, the glow grew to encompass her as well. Seconds later Minimus and Cundall with backpacks in hand also touched Zelda, who had begun to fade from their sight. Then they too were enclosed in the light. Elum looked up from his foraging to see no one at all in the now silent camp.
The heroes felt a moment of vertigo and darkness before a sense of gravity was restored. It took a second to recover but when they did they noted they were in a cave with one tunnel leading out, and several creatures looking at them with surprised horror. There were four small grey skinned humanoids, one of them obviously of a different race to the other three, and a fish like humanoid creature. This last creature dropped a scroll it had been carrying.
“You idiot,” exclaimed the largest of the grey skinned humanoids, a svirfneblin – also called deep gnome – Marie realised. They lived in the Underdark. Is this where they were? The deep gnome was speaking in the language of Undercommon to the fish like humanoid. “That is not Xelda! I told you that you were mispronouncing her name!”
“I said it right,” the fish humanoid defended itself – Marie realised its race was kuo-toa, an Underdark dwelling aquatic race. “There was an inflection over the first letter!”
“That was a bit of dirt!” shouted the first deep gnome in a manner that told Marie this point had been argued over before. “Now you’ve summoned surfacers who are probably going to kill us.”
“I told you the scroll was too high a level for me to cast,” wailed the kuo-toa. “We are perhaps being lucky it did not just explode in our faces!”
“If I can interrupt,” began Marie, speaking in Undercommon. “We aren’t necessarily going to kill you, but we might if you don’t tell us what is going on and why are we here.”
The creatures introduced themselves and told their story. The largest of the deep gnomes was Jimjar, the two other deep gnomes who happened to be twins were Topsy and Turvy, the kuo-toa was Shushaar the Awakened (“he’s a pacifist,” whispered Jimjar to the party, “don’t expect much help from him”), and the other grey skinned creature was a derro named Buppido. Derro were mad as a feature of their race, but Buppido turned out to be affected by the demonic madness. He was convinced he was the avatar of the Derro god of murder.
“So why are we here?” asked Cundall. Marie translated the question to Jimjar, who explained the situation they found themselves in, and which now, through a gate scroll, the party were also now in.
“We had been captured by drow,” Jimjar began. “There were a few of us, even a drow who had been accused of murder, a quaggoth, an orc, a dwarf, even a small myconid. Drow do that kind of thing – enslave anyone or kill anyone they can’t enslave. We probably were going to be on-sold for any number of tasks, maybe even for sacrifice. Naturally we were always on the lookout for a way to escape. When the drow suddenly started going mad and fighting each other, we were able to get the key from the body of a drow guard who died conveniently near our cage. We grabbed what we could and escaped – afterwards the others went their separate ways, while all of us here were heading towards Blingdenstone – a deep gnome town and where we deep gnomes are from. Buppido’s and Shushaar’s homes are not too far from Blingdenstone so it made sense to travel together. “ Jimjar paused while Maire translated this for the rest of the party.
“Then we saw troglodytes in the caves ahead of us. We detoured into other caves, looking for a way around them. We found a big cave and passed through it into this cave we’re in now. It turned out to be a dead end. When we backtracked we found our way had been blocked off by troglodytes and their master.”
“Troglodytes don’t sound too bad,” said Minimus after Marie had translated. “Smelly cave dwelling lizard folk, aren’t they?”
“Their boss is the problem,” admitted Jimjar. “It’s a beholder.”
There was a stunned silence after Marie translated that bombshell. Beholders were one of the creatures of legend. If by legend you mean nightmares.
“So we were desperate," continued Jimjar. "The beholder has been in a fight, you can see some of its eyestalks are missing and it has some scarring from claws on it’s body, but it’s still a beholder. One of the things we had swiped from the drow was a scroll with a gate spell. Shushaar is an acolyte, he knows of the spell, although he said it was too powerful for him to cast, but as I said, we were desperate. We wanted to summon Xelda, a deep gnome hero of legend said to reside in the Seven Heavens, but we ended up with you lot instead somehow. Something went wrong with the spell, either the pronunciation or the magic was too powerful for Shushaar to control.”
“A beholder,” breathed Cundall. “If we slay this thing we’ll be heroes.”
“If we don’t die in the process of becoming heroes,” said Zelda.
“I’m up for it,” said Minimus.
“Ask Jarjar here what reward are they offering us for saving their arses,” said Cundall. “And are they going to help us fight?”
“It’s Jimjar,” corrected Marie, aware that Cundall was deliberately mispronouncing his name. It was a Cundall thing to do.
It turned out all except Shushaar were willing to fight. Jimjar with some reluctance, but the deep gnome twins seemed keen enough – there was something a little feral about them Cundall thought. He wondered if they were criminals in their town. Buppido was convinced he could not die as a god’s avatar and so he was very willing to charge straight in and unleash “wrath” upon the beholdier and it’s minions. Marie had a bad feeling about them being involved in the fight and said so. Cundall had long learned to trust Marie’s “bad feelings” and decided that these escaped slaves should stay back and just let the party fight. In any case it was likely he and the others would be hindered by those who didn’t know what was expected of them or what to do in given situations. The majority of their battles had been won with teamwork. Then again, Cundall thought, maybe these ex-slaves could charge the beholder while the party escaped. It was their fault after all they were here. Then he dismissed that idea, they wouldn’t last any time against the beholder, and then the party would be stuck in the open. The best plan was a quick direct assault on the beholder the druid decided. He spoke to the other party members and they all agreed.
Meanwhile the deep gnomes, derro and kuo-toa had been conferring and agreed to give the party a magic ring they had found in the drow loot. Jimjar said knew what it was, which surprised Marie, because he did not look as though he was a magic practitioner. Then when he told her what the ring was she nearly laughed. Surely not. It would be.. ridiculous. She examined the gold band with a star ruby with growing excitement, and studied the runes engraved on both the inside and outside the band.
“I think…” she said with a quaver in her voice, “that this is a ring that will lead us to Gravenhollow.”
“Great,” said Minimus. “Does that make it more valuable?”
“Does it do anything else?” asked Cundall. “Anything useful?”
Marie sputtered indignation. “Gravenhollow is one of the most amazing places ever created. It’s… legendary. It’s spoken about at the Mages’ Guild in Hillsfar as some place that none of us would ever see. It has a sentience and won’t allow those who shouldn’t be there to even find it!”
“What’s its criteria for allowing visitors?” asked Cundall.
“I… I don’t know. Whatever it thinks might be a threat maybe.. I never thought I would ever get the chance to visit the place so I didn’t remember a lot of what I heard about it.” Marie sighed. Then she tried another tack.
“Maybe we can find lots of information about our problem, how to defeat Graz’zt, where we can find a cure for the demonic madness!”
“How to get home,” added Minimus. He didn’t read books at the best of times, going to a library didn’t sound like much fun.
“Wait, we can avoid fighting the beholder – we can use the ring to teleport us close to the library!” exclaimed Marie.
Minimus sighed. He thought he’d rather fight the beholder.
“This is a great evil that needs to be destroyed,” said Cundall. “Killing it will save countless lives in the future.”
“I know what you’re doing,” retorted Marie. “Appealing to my kind nature! Well… it might work.. But you just want to be a hero.”
“I want lots of things, as long as they are in balance,” said Cundall, smiling. “We get the glory, sure. But we rid the Underdark of a menace. That’s what I call balance.”
“Let’s vote,” suggested Zelda. “Thumbs up, we fight the beholder, then go to the library. Thumbs down we just go to the library.”
Minimus stifled a suggestion about not going to the library at all, but then thought maybe the information about the library might be useful or valuable to some people – surely the story of Gravenhollow would get him some free drinks from folk at the Tree Spirits tavern – and maybe they could find out how to defeat Graz’zt, and get everything back to normal. He longed to return to his smuggling business with Red Plumes you could count on to beat you if they caught you, not these crazy arsed Red Plumes half of whom were raving mad and destroying the farms of the non-humans.
They all agreed and when it came to it they all had their thumbs up.
“Let’s do it,” Cundall smiled. “Chauntea, we’re going to war!” The pig oinked.