The Savage Frontier

Southkrypt

Escape from the Underdark

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The Story of the Duergar

A day’s march to the south of Neverlight Grove and the group felt safe. Rihuud sat in a cavern with his eyes closed and his hands laid flat upon the stone wall before him. He meditated on the words of the stone, on the feelings and emanations of the rock.

A realization came to him. The stone was confused, and had been lying to both he and his mentor, Hgraam.

He grimaced at the thought. These demonic disturbances in the Underdark were getting more worrisome.

Rihuud called to the party and gathered them around. He told them of the duergar, and how their ancient clan had become to be one of the most powerful civilizations within the Underdark.

The duergar were miners once upon a time, and traveled from the land of dreams and into the depths of the world, into a world of darkness where Skoraeus Stonebones made them whole. These dwarves created a great mine so deep that it penetrated the heart of the Underdark. But their ambition to connect the dream world with the center of the world was too ambitious, and they fell victim to the illithid.

Over the centuries that followed the dwarves changed into duergar, absorbing the magic within the faerzress, and forever changing due to the cruel experiments of the illithid. Their brethren never came for them. Nobody ever searched for them to free them from their bondage or save them from the horror. Thus their intense hatred for their brothers of dream was kindled.

This bridge between the dream world and the Underdark was known to the rock. Rihuud promised to guide the party there, and together they would ascend into the land of dream, or as these heroes called it, the surface.

The Final Chase

The edifice of Southkrypt stood before them. Past a broken bridge over a wide chasm, a many tiered wall stood, carved into the side of the cavern. Upon this wall were countless portholes and doors, with ladders and stairs climbing over the surface. This ancient wall was meant to confuse those who would invade the mines, and eventually the city, of Southkrypt.

Nashua looked up into the dark ceiling of the cavern. His eyes, though accustomed to the darkness, could not see far enough.

“Somewhere above us is the forest of Kryptgarden,” he told them. He shuddered to think of it. A mentor of his had once talked of Southkrypt, and the gibbering creatures that infested its halls. Those that entered its mines seldom returned. But who was to say what lived as far beneath the surface as they were?

He peered across the bridge, but a shine down the canyon wall caught his eye. He might have been mistaken, but through a patch of faezress he saw shadows of drow creeping up the trail behind them. If he were a normal man he would have dismissed the possibility, as they hadn’t seen the drow for weeks. But then again, he had dreamt of the fate awaiting them in Southkrypt. He regretted not having the stomach to tell Rihuud.

“Drow,” he whispered to the others, pointing down the trail. Derendil’s furry ears perked up, and he sniffed the air.

Wolfe whispered to Derendil, “What do you smell?”

A gutteral tone escaped the mad prince’s throat, “Drow.

Prince Derendil snarled, “Charge! We will kill them all! Follow me into battle!” and took off running to intercept their foes, but not before Kaz touched him, rendering him invisible.

The others pittied the quaggoth, but none wanted to make a final, suicidal stand against Ilvara and her goons. At least in this manner they wouldn’t have to deal with him when they reached the surface. The quaggoth could die a hero.

“I can jump across the gap with one of you,” spoke Rihuud solemnly.

“No,” said Nashua between incantations. He was suddenly hovering above the ground, locking grasp with Wolfe. “You can do more than you think you can. You can carry all of them. I foresaw this!”

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Rihuud gathered up the others, letting them hang off of him like dolls. Amber had her arms around his neck. Kaz held onto the stone giant’s belt, as did Siva who held tight onto Moira. Quillathe was in Rihuud’s arms. Neither the giant nor the group questioned Nashua. The diviner’s predictions always rang true.

With a great bellow, Rihuud was in the air and across the bridge, falling onto one knee. He aided them in ascending the wall, as everyone followed the flying wizard to the door he knew was real. Behind them, and far below, the drow scrambled up the ladders and stairs trying to keep up with their quarry, all of whom had managed to evade capture for the last two months.

Prince Derendil lay dead a few hundred feet behind them, nearly decapitated by Shoor, Ilvara’s lieutenant.

“Go, go, go!” shouted Wolfe, ushering everyone into the door as drow crossbow fire rained down on them. In the doorway, Siva took a poisoned bolt for Moira. The girl screamed out as she was thrown through the door.

Wolfe grabbed Siva by the arm and pulled her through. The door had been busted down. There was no way to close it behind them, and people getting themselves wounded was only going to slow them down.

Ilvara was behind Jorlan and Shoor as they took the lead. From atop the stairs they fired on the fugitives, who was now fleeing across a bridge connecting the wall to the lower mines. Many of the crossbow bolts missed, sizzling as they dissolved in the magma far below.

One bolt zipped past Rihuud’s ear, purposely taking up the rear, and struck Amber as she struggled to catch up. Her short dwarven legs couldn’t carry her as fast as the others. Kaz, limping from a sprained foot, pulled her to her feet. The girl was unconscious.

“Run!” shouted Rihuud to Kaz, as the stone giant scooped up their unconscious comrade.

Kaz darted down to the end of the long bridge, and waited for the stone giant to charge ahead. He had learned an old spell in Oghma’s House of Knowledge, and uttered the incantation when the drow were halfway down the long stretch, quickly bearing down on them. A wall of daggers appeared and fluttered around as a deadly razor blade barrier.

Nashua was suddenly beside him, and unleashed several bolts of magical energy at their foes. One struck Ilvara in the face, knocking the priestess down. Others killed the drow warriors taking the lead. He smiled, wishing he could hear the priestess curse his name.

As the two fled, a disoriented drow warrior ran into the flying daggers, and screamed as he was sliced to ribbons.

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A thin trail led up another cavern wall. There were several more tunnels, like those made by ants, that they ran past. Many of these were collapsed or collapsing and they dared not enter them. A few thousand feet up the trail Nashua found one that smelled of faerzress, a magical tunnel with a deeper secret.

“Here! Everyone come here!”

The drow were far below, and not giving up. They had a league on them, but their lead wouldn’t last forever. A hundred feet into the tunnel, a tunnel low enough that Rihuud had to stoop over, they found several shafts leading thousands of feet into the air. Elevators had been here once, but their shattered remains crumbled into dust with the lightest touch.

Nashua signaled the others. The far shaft was magical, and he could work with it. A teleportation circle existed that they could use to escape Ilvara, Shoor, and Jorlan, plus their minions.

“Defend this room, Wolfe,” he said to his comrade. “I need a few minutes to get this figured out.”

The magic was ancient and nearly beyond him. The runes were archaic at best, as he didn’t understand dwarvish… especially dwarvish that was millennia old. As he played with the magic of the circle it lit.

Confident, he said, “We’ll be out of here in no time!”

“Do you really know what you’re doing?” asked Siva. The others looked to him.

“Yes I know what I’m—,” he said, then the magic in the circle faded. “Uh, I’ll have this figured out.”

Wolfe shouted from the entrance of the room, “Hurry up, wizard!” The drow were getting close.

The magic of the circle lit again, and faded. Nashua was losing face, cursing like his father did when their nobility was revoked in Waterdeep. He hated his father. He never wanted to become his father.

Kaz slapped Nashua in the shoulder before Siva could interfere, “Is something distracting you?”

“No it’s not. I’ve got this!”

Rihuud looked down on the bickering small folk with pity. They had saved him back in Gracklstugh when the derro had cursed him. If not for them he would be dead, or he would be living an unlivable existence as a horror and a pariah among his clan. He walked to the entrance to the tunnel, and placed a large gray hand upon Wolfe.

“I will buy us time. It has been an honor knowing you.”

Hunched over, taking up most of the tunnel, Rihuud moved forward to block the drow whose shadows could now been seen and footsteps be heard down the tunnel. The screams and shouts of battle were heard. The scorching sound of magic, and the demonic shouts and incantations from Lolth’s priestesses deafened their ears.

“Wizard!” Wolfe shouted.

The circle lit. Blue and green fire danced within the stonework, illuminating the room in magical hues. Quillathe was the first one through, followed by Amber and Moira. Siva leapt in last.

Sheepishly, Nashua gulped, “I think I should go to. Maybe it’s dangerous on the other side and you’ll need me to check it out, and save everyone, you know?”

Both Kaz and Wolfe shook their heads as the wizard retreated into the teleportation circle.

“Go. You play better music than you can fight.”

Kaz snorted at Wolfe, “Yea right. We need to save our friend.”

The stone giant let out of thunderous scream that shook the very room. Particulates and dust rained down on their heads as Rihuud backed away from the drow to the much more accommodating chamber with his friends. The stone giant was gripping an empty stump where his hammer wielding hand once was.

Shoor was first through the door, brandishing his weapon.

“I will keep it as a trophy, monster!”

There was a loud insectile buzzing. Wolfe filled with dread as he remembered this foul magic. He remembered the biting and snapping of the swarm’s pincers as the bugs covered him, and his screams that followed. It would not happen to him again, as it had happened in Velkynvelve. Not here. Not ever again.

Wolfe grabbed the iron flask Hgraam had given him. This flask held a new ally, as they stood outnumbered.

POP! POP POP POP!

Down the tunnel screams echoed out. Weapons shattered and crumbled to pieces. Ilvara faltered as her few remaining warriors fell to their knees, atop her sister’s wet remains. Rihuud had smashed her sister into the wall, and that was when Shoor had removed his hand. The insects fell to the ground, dead from the concussive blast let loose by Kaz.

A bright light shot forth out of the flask. Shal stood there, enthralled by her captor, and awaited Wolfe’s command. He himself faltered for a moment. He form had changed from the duergar she posed as to an attractive, yet deadly and fiendish, woman.

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“Take care of them. Permanently,” he ordered her.

The succubus’s hatred ran deep, but this human fed her bloodlust. She clawed the throat out of Shoor, his trachea dripping in her claws. The fiend then pointed at Ilvara, now bleeding out of her ears, and the once powerful priestess obsessed with the group’s capture now stood motionless, under the demon’s control.

Smiling, Shal walked toward Lolth’s servant to kiss her. Wolfe advanced as well, ordering her not to steal the kill when suddenly a gleaming blade emerged out of her chest. Jorlan, her jilted lover and former lieutenant, slew the woman who spurned him.

Jorlan let her writhing body slide off of his black blade. He derived a modicum of pleasure from watched her twitch and choke on the blood bubbling up into her throat. A drow blade was a cruel blade.

Wolfe threw himself at Jorlan. His teeth shown brightly in the green light of his flaming mace. An inch from the drow warrior’s skull he pulled back.

“This… is… over,” with Wolfe’s words came a promise of death, a far from pleasant death.

But with them also came mercy.

Jorlan had nothing left to live for. Months ago he had lost his handsome looks, a few fingers, and was burnt head to toe by the black pudding that nearly devoured him. Ilvara discarded him from her bed, and she demoted him, replacing him with Shoor. He was a laughing stock among his people.

“Mercy is weakness,” he reminded himself.

He would leave here alive, but not stupid. Jorlan nodded and backed away from Wolfe, never losing eye contact with the human until finally Jorlan was down the tunnel and out of sight.

Wolfe, Kaz, and Rihuud entered the wizard’s circle. There was a rush of air and a cold wind. With the others they stood atop a mountain peak with the sun rising in the east.

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It was still winter on the Sword Coast. The cold would have been unbearable if not for the welcome of it.

Towns and cities were visible now. The Long Road connecting them like a long ribbon. Within a day they could find shelter, a shelter where no man nor beast was trying to kill them.

Home at last.

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