Sporedome had changed since the party were last there. There were more drow there now – these were all freedom fighters and freed slaves – they had cleared an area of Sporedome for themselves near a network of caverns which they lived in. There were also some humans, elves and dwarves, with an odd smattering of other races. These were adventuring parties and groups and organisations who had committed forces to harassing the fire giants and demons of Szith Morcane and Maerimydra, such as the Knights of Myth Drannor. There were no duergar, derro, quoggoths or deep gnomes present however.
“Escaped slaves of other races usually depart into the Underdark to find their own kind,” said Huum, pouring some kind of sweet tea – no doubt made from some fungus, Cundall thought. The party were sitting with the illithid emissary in his own cave lair, as they had done before. Huum wasn’t actually speaking, of course, his mind was projected into those of the party.
“The Elder Brain of Ryxyg is being swayed to ally with the surfacers and Underdark races seeking to liberate Szith Morcane and removing the threat of Graz’zt from our area of the Underdark,” the illithid continued. You already know of one of our Pool who has accepted gifts from Graz’zt in exchange for knowledge of us. This means Graz’zt now knows where we are and what our capabilities and defences are. The time for fence sitting – as some of the humans say – is over. We need some assistance before we fully commit – we would like Rogue Thought – the name we now call the illithid who defected to Graz’zt, removed."
“And a entire community of mind flayers cannot do it?” asked Cundall.
“We could, but with difficulty. Rogue thought has been cunning. Galuum, the illithid you met ( Malady in Elventree – Part 5) finally tracked him down. Rogue Thought has laired in a particularly dense area of faerzress which causes our psionic ability to falter or even fail entirely. Therefore we need more brute force than we possess."
“What about your slaves?” asked Minimus.
“Our Elder Brain, and therefore we illithids of Ryxyg are not interested in the slaving habits of most others of our kind. We will happily enslave any humanoids foolish enough to attack us – it is rare but it happens. However we do not have many, and those we do have are subject to madness. Taking your lead, we have been harvesting the braincap fungi, but it is still a daily battle. As you know the fungi has its limitations.”
“Or these drow or surfacers here?” asked Marie.
“They are stretched thin. We did ask, but they do not see it as a significant gain for the war effort and refused.”
“So in return for us taking out Rogue Thought you will assist the effort against the fire giants and Graz’zt?” asked Zelda. She sipped her tea. It was a little odd, but she thought she could get to like it.
“Yes,” replied Huum. “The demon-tainted giants of Maerimydra have been uncharacteristically productive,
and we have been studying them for some time. During our investigations we discovered a few things: first, that the giants have created a number of significantly devastating arcane siege engines and plan to use them against thesurface world, starting with Elventree and Hillsfar; and second, we know how to disable those war
engines from a distance, using clandestine methods that would leave the perpetrator hidden in secret.”
“Well, that sounds useful,” said Maire. “Do you want Rogue Thought captured or killed?”
“We require Rogue Thought to be eliminated, all his possessions, holdings and physical remains should be thoroughly destroyed,” answered Huum.
“Do you require proof?” asked Cundall.
“I do not, but others of my collective are not so trusting as they do not know you,” said Huum, with an apologetic gesture. “If you would return his cilia to me, that will suffice. Rogue Thought has grown particularly long, and unique cilia.”
“Cilia are the facial tentacles,” explained Marie, seeing Minimus’ questioning expression.
The plans of the journey to Rogue Thought’s lair was made. It was going to be a 10 day journey through the Underdark, and Huum provided a map. Marie copied the map into Olon’s journal of the Underdark and left room to make copious notes.
They had some time to prepare and rest before setting out.
“Did you really have to bring your tree?” asked Marie, gazing at Thistlelock who had settled down and seemed to be enjoying what passed as soil in Sporedome.
“He might be useful,” said Cundall. “He’s growing mentally, and I figured the best way to help is to give him new experiences. Anyway you brought your lizard familiar.”
“My pseudo dragon will not hold us back or slow us down,” said Marie.
“Neither will Thistlelock,” said Cundall, hoping that wasn’t going to be the case.
Zelda found that David Williams was in Sporedome with his fellow Knights of Myth Drannor, and they spent a couple of hours together walking and talking.
“It’s been hard,” said David. “We usually patrol and kill all demons or fire giants and their allies that we meet. Occasionally we’ll do a raid on Szith Morcane with the drow, but they are hard to work with, and – if truth be told – they are unreliable, given to rages, disobeying orders that could endanger the mission, and generally have a dislike of those other races who are trying to help them. Very occasionally we’ll do a raid on the siege engines they are building in Maerimydra, but each time gets harder, and we take more losses there than anywhere.”
“The illithids say they can help there,” said Zelda. “If we complete their mission.”
“If you can, and the illithids come through with their promise, it will save many lives.”
After their rest and preparation period the Heroes of Hillsfar set out for their trek to Rogue Thought’s lair. The first “day” – as much as they could judge a day in the perpetual gloom of the Underdark – was uneventful, as was the second. There were narrow places where they had to wait for Thistlelock to navigate his way through, which slowed them down a little. Cundall ordered Thistlelock to walk behind the party some distance, as the awakened tree was noisy when moving. On the third day the party encountered demons, but Cundall insisted on hiding and letting them past.
“We have a mission,” he said. “We don’t need to be weakened by fights we don’t need to get into.”
On the fourth day Zelda returned from scouting ahead to tell them a young red dragon was on the hunt up ahead. Cundall wanted to track the dragon back to its lair.
“Think of the treasure!” he said. “All dragons have loads of treasure!”
“You’re a nature boy,” said Maire. “Why do you care about treasure?”
“And what about ‘we don’t need to be weakened by fights we don’t need to get into?” asked Zelda.
“I’m a nature boy with a keep to run, do you realise how expensive it is to run a keep? Me either, but I bet it’s a lot. I need treasure.”
It was difficult tracking the dragon’s passage back to its lair, but Zelda was up to the task. Eventually after a few hours they came to an area that was hotter, and smelled of rotten eggs.
“Sulphur,” said Marie. “Indicates volcanic activity, perfect for a red dragon.”
Cundall ordered Thistlelock to stay near the tunnel into the lair, knowing that the awakened tree was vulnerable to fire.
“And if the dragon comes back that way?” asked Zelda.
“Just have to risk it,” replied Cundall.
The red dragon had bugbear slaves, who resented the intrusion of the party. They had been toiling with metal work, using the heat from the magma vents to heat up the metal. The lair had several exits, and partway through the battle the red dragon returned home – by another tunnel, luckily for Thistlelock. The red dragon was not massive, but it still could breath a decent amount of fire, and wasn’t above catching its own minions up in the blast as long as it mostly got the party. In addition it had ettin minions who also appeared having heard the commotion, and so the battle ended up being bigger than expected.
Marie decided that some more brute force was in order, and polymorphed Minimus into a Tyrannosaurus rex which then did battle with the dragon who was smaller. Had they a bard she would have made a glorious song or poem about the fight, and in the end it was Minimus rex who was victorious, assisted by Zelda’s arrows from hiding. The party healed their wounds and Cundall looked at dismay at the paltry (compared to his expectations) amount of treasure.
“Well, it was a young dragon,” said Marie.
They did find some magical studded leather armour, which Cundall put on. They consulted the map and continued on their way.
To be continued…