Legends of Belariath

Mozenwrathe

Cold Comfort: Bad Boy For Life - Part 1

There is absolutely nothing like this on or off Faerun. Some miracles of this realm are absolutely mystifying, such as how the dragons came to be, or the song of three wild birds after they have drank from a certain stream. Even the way the average owlbear will become completely docile when in the presence of a necromancer wielding a magical staff - if the necromancer is facing it, that is - can be thought to be a mystery. (I would call it self-preservation via racial memory, myself. I digress, however.) The greatest mystery to be solved, however, is how the elves of the Underdark have not wiped themselves out with their wars against each other.

Think about it for a moment. For a culture whom has made enemies or slaves out of three-quarters of the sentient life above AND below the earth, they are surprisingly divisive. Elves do not reproduce as humans do, at least not at such a rapid rate. If the dark elf managed to populace under the earth as the humans and orcs did, then Faerun would be swiftly overrun by the uncrowned and unpredictable "rulers of the Underdark." (I would dare say out of hearing range the illithid are far more dangerous, but less numerous... and far more single-minded in their goals.) Of course, the problem for the dark elf would remain if they ended up killing each other off more than their topside adversaries. Given their propensity for inter-House violence and intrigue, I would reckon the surface would be as safe from the predations of the dark elf as they are now. There simply would be more cities and towns under the earth to be wary of.

As an outsider, and a human, one would think my first visit to one of the great Underdark cities of the dark elf would have been my last. It was not, as I had to visit at the very least four of the vast cities under the earth in the service of my Liege Employer. Being that He and Kirva do not exactly get along (she's a demon-goddess, he's... something else), I would have thought I would have been slain, enslaved, or sacrificed the moment I stepped below. Once more, did my Liege Employer outsmart the Spider Queen and impress his loyal servant - that being me. He has converted more than a small number of dark elf to his service, many of them males. This is not to say the dark elf women cannot be counter-corrupted into the service of my Liege Employer - He has more than his share of them under his thumb as well. It comes with the promise of greater powers and the chance to survive and improve if you fail. He does not condone failure - He merely accepts the fact his servants are not perfect and works to correct that oversight. Not to mention He does not require the sacrifice of a third son to him in order to appease His more peculiar appetites. (As far as I have seen, my Liege Employer prefers freshly roasted bullete steaks and kraken fried with the fat of wild boars over souls. He likes them still in the bodies of those He wishes to control.)

Kirva must hate His guts - if He has any in that ribcage of His.

***

My first visit to a city of the Underdark was to Menzoberranzan. I was in a party of mainly dark elf and chaos warriors. This was a mission of reconnaisance and observation, so I had disgused myself as a follower of Myrkul for the duration of this adventure. And an adventure it was. I had to hide my disgust at the willful slaughter of two of their own at the beginning, merely because they showed weakness in a fight. They as a host turned on the pair of them, mutilating the bodies after their deaths were self-evident, even going to far as to befoul them. Listing my most studious and organized way of dealings as an excuse, I was able to decline partaking in their "festivities."

Until that day, I did not understand exactly what my previous "training" had made me immune to witnessing. After that, there is not much I would put past my lips to consume while watching a pair of trolls being slowly melted in a pool of acid by moon elven assassins, simply because I know I will not send it back the way it came. I might not -taste- anything, but I know it will stay down. Besides, it is not as if I was one being burned by acid to begin with...

The dark elf and the warriors took a swift route down through the caverns to rach the large underground city. Swift meant taking four days instead of seven. Thrice were we accosted by the duergar, an underground and quite evil and warped race of dwarves. Them I did not mind killing. Mountain dwarves and hill dwarves do well to remember these variants on their theme as a reminder to what depravity may lead to. The dark elves I was with used them as sport mostly, hunting them through narrow passages with no more than a pair of hunting knives. The duegar, although well armed, were no match for the nimble and treacherously talented dark elf, who slowly carved them up like a side of oven-baked swine, complete with sliding a poisoned apple into their mouths at the end to make them drown on their own bile. (Since then, I learned that not all dark elf native to Menzoberranzan are that sadistic. That is good, because trying to kill them all would be impossible.)

The fact I had packed my own food was a blessing, as the champions of chaos warriors and their three mage-clerics roasted the duergar on a spit and had them as food... and as bait for other creatures we encountered. The few duergar that survived were used as target practice for the dark elven crossbows... or rape material. Sometimes they were used for both, the chaos warriors shoving more than their manhood into the orfices of the unfortunate duergar - whom were also male. (I noticed I never did see any female duergar. And as all of these ones bore a brand on them, I suspect they were outcasts from their respective tribes. One has to wonder what a duergar has to be to be ostracized and banished.) Eventually, they were decapitated and their heads used for dexterity training - as kickballs.

At that point and time, I was seriously doubting they were remotely human any more. Humanity - as a mentality - had long since fled their frames, being consumed by the service to the demons they worshipped. Only their bodies were human, and even then were they tattooed with strange sigils and warped symbols for war and death. Even the laboured breathing sounded more animalistic than truly sentient. Their speech was a mishmash of four or five languages, all ending in either dark elf or something reminiscent of the diabolic tongue. All I could think of was how long was this mission going to take. The whole point of me going along with this troop was to find three crystals and leave as soon as possible. They were guaranteed to be in one of the backpacks, but I was not risking my life and worse to get to them before an opporune period of time.

As we approached the city, the dark elf ran into a scouting party from another House. The two Houses were not at war, so there was no major scuffle between them, but there was a battle raging between two smaller Houses and a much larger House off to the west of the city. Being guided there by our new dark elf guides, we witnessed one of the largest scale magical battles I have ever seen in such a small space. The reek of blood magic was everywhere, and the scene on the ground was nothing short of spectular. The sorcery being wielded in midair was just shy of miraculous.

Apparentlyy, the dark elf guides and the dark elf whom I had been travelling with apparently knew the smaller Houses fighting, and were in some ways aligned with them. (As I look back upon the moment now, I think they were splinter families or affiliates to the main Houses setting fire to stone and skin alike.) Within moments, they had rushed off to join the fray, the human allies of the dark elves I had been traveling with thundering behind them. Screams of rage and anguish rent the air like hawks falling from a fatal arrow through the breast, and somewhere I could hear the sound of someTHING laughing.

On the ground, there was more duelling and fighting going on, and not all of the combatants were dark elf OR human. The slaves of the two Houses had also been armed or magically enhanced, and were being sent into the fray like so much cattle to the slaughter. One of the smaller Houses had four umber hulks, under sorcerous control and shielded, being used like siege engines over the smaller squadron of duegar gladiator slaves. I could spy at least three giant gila monsters in the back rows, ridden by their lizard men controllers - obviously mercenaries as they had each four other well armed lizard men in tow. The sheer scale of it all completely awed me, and reminded me as to why the dark elf are on of the most feared races within Faerun. I only wished my close ally was here to see this truly majestic horror story play itself out - if only to be able to say "I am nothing like that."

I was left behind in all the excitement. This was a good thing, for in the midst of this minor war did a third AND a fourth party show their heads. A small cadre of magic-wielding dragons (one juvenile red dragon, one black adult, one rare yellow dragon from off-world whom was clearly the leader, and one deep dragon just shy of adulthood) broke through a cliff wall more than 40 meters above me, bursting into the melee with a scream of chaotic vengeance. Spells started going astray as the dragons began to tear into the standing and fallen factions of dark elf and their slaves and allies. The rending of flesh could be heard over top the crashes of fireballs into bedrock. Yells of purest terror echoed through the caverns as many of the dark elf and the other things down in the battlefield were consumed by the dragons, a powerful alteration magic on them that allowed them to not only eat the fallen, but then inherit their powers and skills for a short while.

Finally, from the farthest reaches of the cavern the infernal battle was taking place, a TRUE infernalist made itself present. A pit-fiend, summoned by an errant incantation fueled with the blood of the fallen, came into sight, holding what LOOKED like a staff made purely of souls and ichor. As it began to descend onto the servants of chaos and madness, I thought it best to leave. It was not even worth it for all the magical weaponry and gold that would have been left behind.

Avarice can only fuel a man so far. And as I was not even that close to greedy, I discovered the true sensation of relief when one decides "discretion is the better part of valour." It took me eight days to find my own way back to the surface, mainly hiding with the many packs left behind by the dark elf in their mad rush to join the fighting. It was worth it, however, as a considerable about of spellbooks were in those packs - after I sifted through them.

I never did see those dark elf again, nor the chaos warriors. I only hope the pit-fiend was the winner of that battle, if there was any. Actually, I would prefer it if they all perished. That would be far better for the world at large. There are always more devils where that one came from. Besides, what is one less army of darkness to me? Another good night's sleep, if they are not bound to the service of my Liege Employer, that is.

***

Upon approaching the city ruins under the legendary port of Calimport (40 leagues to the east of it, actually) that none ever speak of, my dark elf guide imformed me from that point on, I would be on my own in terms of defending myself. The rest of the group I was with were made of other dark elf that had defected to the binding and dedicated service of my Liege Employer, and other races that also live under the earth - minotaurs and mountain dwarves. In the party of nine, I was the only human. That suited me just fine, as I do not bear much love for my own species as well. (Yes, I do seem to bear a lot of hatred for those whom have struck against me. It happens.)

The city, more of a myth than a fact, loomed before us, many fathoms under the earth. Our packs were laden with the tools of our trade, along with food, water, and other neccesities. This mission was one of reconnaissence, not actual battle. That is why we were not numerous. And this was good, for as we saw the "ruined city," we found out it was not so ruined after all. In fact, it was thriving, but the inhabitants were an ecletic legion one would find more at home in Sigil, not on Faerun, and definitely not under Calimport. (I had some wonders if Entrari knew about this before he encountered Do'Urden for the first time. I wasn't about to tell him either, as I never did like the man. There is something to be said about having a life outside of your work, and he exeplified it.)

There were many dark elf working on the reconstruction of the city. MANY dark elf. We figured that as a party we could slide into their camps and ingratiate ourselves with the populace the old-fashioned way (read: kill a few of the right people) and discover what was going on. Then we saw the problem with our plan: illithids. They were working freely alongside the dark elves, guiding and assisting where their many psionic talents would provide the greatest benefit. At this point, we were somewhat unnerved, for there had been no mention of the "squidheads" forming an alliance of any kind with the dark elf. In fact, they tend to kill each other when they come into close contact, much like the dark elf and... well, any other race.

Traversing some rather interesting underground landscape, I took some time to admire the natural architecture of the realm. Many stalagtites and stalagmites had been formed over the turning of many centuries; lifetimes of dragons had come and gone in the creation of this below surface masterpiece. Mining tunnels of the duergar long since flooded created waterfalls and spectral mists, letting the torches shimmer in their spray. Bats, carion crawlers, and many other creatures slithered out of the way of the torch's glare as we strode past. (One of the minotaurs said it was my glare that drove off the prey. The party laughed quietly over that one for over a quarter-mile. I did not.) Slippery walkways covered in moulds and lichen glowed ominously in the humming gleam of the city's illumination. Scraping some up and collecting it, I had a feeling it would be useful later.

The dark elf guides called us to halt for a moment, pointing out something else. For a race known for cruelty and sadism, the four with us were unique in their dispassionate way of carrying out their duties. Using spyglass crafted for us by drawven hands and dark elf measurements, we saw more of the revised city than we could have ever dreamed. Not only were the dark elves and the illithids creating a city from the ashes of the damned, they were expanding it into a minor Underdark fiefdom. To the surprise and shock of all of us, we saw the unthinkable: three legions of Kirva-sworn humans, at the very least two full phalanxes of corrupted elves of all different kinds, and more than a fair share of duergar and evil dwarves were undergoing ritual tattooing, practicing combat, and working on battlements for the new realm. This meant that despite all the teachings Kirva usually gave her "children," she meant to step up her game plan. The presence of the driders patrolling the city in proper livery stated one thing to me and one thing alone: she meant to recreate the Underdark as one nation under her mighty will. And if this was merely a test, then there would be more like this city. The markings of Bane, Bhaal, Myrkul, and Cyric were cleansed from the flesh and fabric of the newly sworn slaves of chaos and blood, to be replaced with the spider tattoo of Kirva's favour.

Off to the far west of our position, one huge temple had been erected, with the ancient library still being rebuilt. This was something that had taken decades, maybe a century or two to start work on. At least, that is what we thought until we saw THEM: lesser demons, all different kinds, milling around a portal to the regions of wickedness and woe that spawned them. Occasionally a few would go in, only to be replaced by more demons. The dark elves kept the portal open using diabolical magics, and the occasional blood sacrifice, as evidenced by the altars stained with ochre and tinged with still-fresh gore - most likely a subordinate who mouthed off once too many times. From that moment, we knew this was a concerted effort by Kirva to not only increase her influence, but also to push her status in the ranks of the gods up over the memories of those evil gods whom had fallen in the Godwar.

This was not good. This was really not good at all.

The nine of us sent a magical series of reports to our Liege Employer and continued on. That is when we were ambushed by a small patrol of roving cave fishers and their drider handlers. Inside of a long passageway, there were many cracks in which we could still observe the city from behind the safety of solid rock. We just never thought others would be watching us in return. Sloppiness that has killed many an adventruere had caught up to us.

All in all, there were over twenty of them to the nine of us. Outnumbered, off-guard, and in no position to properly defend ourselves, the driders laughed coldly at us, sensing an easy victory and perhaps some captives to sacrifice to their Queen-Goddess. The cave fishers were more interested in our flesh, particularly my own. Being the human of the party did have many flaws - and this was one of them. As they advanced, we opted for the one idea we could still use other than flee or beg for mercy: the entire group shielded their eyes as I used one of the few spells I had prepared for such an occasion: a few terse words and a clap of flint and steel together set off a bright flash inside the tunnel itself, blinding all but the last drider in the passageway. It's sight unaffected, it was able to get a lightning bolt off at me within a breath of my finishing the light spell. The bolts raised me off the ground and sent me crashing in a slide against the smooth walls of the tunnel, sending me out of range of the battle itself.

It did not save it.

Tunnel-fighting comes naturally to dwarves, and their axes were crafed by the most talented bladesmiths, enchanted with runes. They went to work as a pair against any cave fishers who dared come within reach of their fearsome swings. The minotaurs, more suited to wider spaces, bore their own well, one with a terrifying maul, the other with his bladed armour. The four dark elves hunted down the drider with ruthless efficiency, gutting and splitting the flesh of them with archaic glee and relish, spouting gore and blood all over the already slick and foul walls. The drider were not prepared for such a hypnotic series of parries and thrusts, each of them trying to gain vantage by walking on polished walls or stalagtite ceiling in order to strike the dark elves and the other tunnel-fighters from obscene angles.

They, of course, had not counted on me surviving the lightning blasts. They truly did not anticipate my revised ice storm incantation, sending numerous spears of wrist-thick icicles into their spines and armor-shielded necks, one of them being shorn off completely. Four of the remaining cave fishers, feeling the breeze of death rush over them, turned to face me in order to tear me asunder. They, too, learned the joys of winter on the Spine of the World - the quick and dirty version. Thrice did my expressive winter of doom coat the frames of those assailing us. And as for the final drider, a well-thrown dagger pierced its eyeball handily, slaying it with one hammering home of the minotaur's maul.

The dark elf guides, now bloody, wounded, and excited, told us about the secret way back to the surface. We took it, and swiftly. We were no match for the entire city by ourselves, not like we were now. We needed better equipment, more spells, and a few more loyal to my Liege Emperor. And the surface was the best way to gain access to all of them.

We all knew one thing: that city had to be destroyed, even if it meant calling in every last favour and trick we had. And this was a job for more than just the dark elven, although it would be a dark elf that would strike the telling blow. It was nothing more than appropriate.

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