The morning air was sordid. Darkness covered the land in a thick fog. The message had arrived almost as fast as the night had ended. King Joseph’s decision not to return to Jubilee struck many hearts who sat pink faced in the council chambers—amongst them was the Queen herself. Erik had sent a raven as ordered and Lady Ellen crumbled the parchment in her hand. She tossed it over an open flame, letting it burn while she looked over the city thinking at least someone slept peacefully.
James the Duke was the only one who showed some kind of hope, with his daring humor. “So many salty faces this morning.” The King’s younger brother said through the silence. “If you all got out more than maybe you’d quite possibly understand Joseph’s love for his people.”
“Love?” Ellen spat the words.
The elders were afraid to look at her. Not that she was a tyrant, but they feared a woman scorned. James on the other hand feared no one. He was the only highborn with credence in this room. “Commander Delilah is out there with a quarter of our army. I respect that our King is going to see that she and our people get home.” He said. “Jospeh is doing the right thing.”
“The right thing? He is aiding a foreign queen. An elf savage who has given us nothing in return but a sweet face for him to gaze upon. I gave him children and he has left me to raise them alone. Now he has run off to war. You are wrong James. We need our King in Jubilee.” She retorted.
“And if Elvira is defeated...who’s to say that Jovina won’t invite her ogres to horde our country next?”
“Trust me, if Elvira is defeated which I’m sure could never happen, I will gladly open up my legs to whatever Orc beast seeks to penetrate. It will be much more comforting than my isolated bed rest.”
“You...are nasty your grace.” He laughed. “I am not sure I have a response for that. Luckily your husband cares for you enough to prevent that tragedy.” James finished.
“Are we done here? I understand that we are now officially at war, James. Tell General Baraktus to secure the perimeters. With our King out chasing Elvira’s sweet tail, we will need extra patrols around the region. Also, I want oil barrels and scattershot catapults set up for defenses. I won’t open my legs kindly, that’s for sure.” She winked at James.
The Degenerate smirked and did as he was told. He would be on the front line if necessary and unlike the rest of the council he was truly qualified and well trained to use a sword.
Meanwhile, right on the edge of Jubilee country, the King and his Knights were already armed and ready to mount up. They rested at a temporary camp, where they stationed the night, after dealing with a clan of Saxons, who threatened the boarders. Joseph nibbled on a warm crunchy bread roll, one that Gloria had prepared for them; while he and his Hand observed the map of the Ivory Forest; with Lars who would be doing the usual scouting.
“We have to pick our poisons, literally. On the north end of the forest is a harsher track with wild ivy, deadly swamps and Cecropian tribes. Thus on the south there are bugbears and other things lurking in our way. To our advantage the lizard folk in the north are peaceful.” Lars advised
Joseph took it all in and would hear his Hands opinion before deciding a route.
Brushing the crumbs off her fingers on the side of her leather clad thigh, the King's Hand reaches out and smooths the map out a bit before she offers Joseph her thoughts on the matter. Unlike her wife Delilah and Craftsman Kinley, Gloria has never had would could be considered a tactical mindset. She's clever and intelligent certainly, but her strengths have always lain in adaptation and improvisation. Plotting and planning beyond one or two steps into any given situation simply seems like a waste to her when every great general will tell you that even the most meticulous and well thought out of tactics never survives contact with the enemy. Still, without her wife around Joseph is relying on her so his bodyguard does her best to frown and look thoughtful as she listens to Lars' assessment of their options.
"If the choice is between a harsh terrain or murderous locals, I would personally vote for the murderous locals," Gloria finally speaks up, having swallowed her bite of bread and cheese. With one sword calloused finger she outlines the swamps to the North. "I have no doubts Lars, Erik and Sarah would find it easy enough to slip through that area at speed, but if you intend to see us all make it through to find our Sunshine and the elf queen without falling ill or getting stuck, we'd be better off fighting our way through the goblinoids."
The small woman offers both men before her one of her patented smirks before continuing. "I'm afraid I have more faith in the strength of our arms than I do in Donovan's ability to walk softly over a sucking and poisonous marsh."
Outside the King's tent, the rest of The Sixteen have already struck the remainder of the camp, leaving only Joseph's to pack up before they are ready to begin their journey to the far side of the Ivory. Joseph's knights stand or sit idly around, awaiting the king's orders with varying levels of patience and decorum.
"The bloody feckin' hell is taking them so long? It ain't like we got a ton of options here," Bruce Legends grumbles to whoever is listening as he stalks around what had been their camp fire but is now only cinders and ash.
"She's doing the best she can in her wife's place," Lady Anne informed her ill bred and ill mannered companion from her perch atop her favored steed, Primrose. "We must allow her a little leeway."
"The both of them are going to leeway us into next week if they don't hurry up already." Brendan mutters, though just loudly enough so that only Nicolas standing beside him with arms crossed and brows furrowed can make out the words. The swordmaster's brows unknit themselves so that the dark arches can rise with mild contempt at his former pupil. He says nothing though. The older man is wise enough to know that complaining about the situation will not hasten their departure.
“Easy there, Ginger.” He blew his onion breath on Legends’ visage. “You and Brendan have been spending way too much time together. Perhaps you should find a better tent mate.”
“What are you implying, Stephan?” Legends grunted with his brute voice; which was very awkward for a man of such short stature.
“That you two are starting to sound like an old married couple...no that would be far too malleable for Bruce Legends renowned repertoire.” The Rogue chuckled.
Chuckling was heard amongst the circle.
“What does that even mean?” Bruce said. “Forget it and keep your fancy words. I just want to get out there already.” He inhaled the forestry.
“Shut your bloody trap, Rogue. Hiding in the shadows like a rat, while real men do the dirty work for you. Typical Nightblade...always the critic but never the risk taker.” Brendan said.
“That is exactly why you aren’t the one in charge. If we followed you two we’d end up in quicksand somewhere.” Stephan jested.
“Enough. Must we bicker like impatient children?” Joseph said, coming out of his tent with Gloria and Lars beside him. “How we speak to each other, determines everything...it reflects our trust for each other and our character...we can’t fall apart, now.” He explained. “Our Queen does not support us. The council is trying to use our laws and customs to banish us and see us in chains. Meanwhile our country is in true danger. We are at war. And if we fall apart there will be no one left to defend it. All we have is us.” He said.
“All we have is us!” The Knights echoed their King in unison.
“So let’s start acting like the situation is serious. Lars, go ahead and explain the gritty details.” Joseph finished.
The group quieted and listened intently, feeling a sense of pride and unity after Joseph’s words. Apologies were said between Bruce and Stephan. Albeit, Brendan even though touched, spat at the thought of needing any of them—in his mind he felt more powerful without them; as if he was being held back because of them. But he loved Joseph like an older brother in spite of his own arrogance. In his conceited heart, he wanted to prove to him that he deserved Delilah’s spot as acting Commander; even though he hoped Delilah was doing well out there.
“We’ve decided to take the southern edge instead of trekking through the northern marshes of the Ivory.” Lars began. “Erik and Naled have already left and returned to make the report for me. Balthazar the panther has scouted a half a day ahead of us. We are going to take our chances with goblinoids.”
“Finally we get to serve justice. Those damn creatures all need to be put down!” Bruce Legends stood to gather his knives.
“We aren’t going to put them down like dogs. If we can avoid conflict we should save our strength.” Finley said.
“Of course the old man would need to conserve his strength. You just hang back and enjoy your milk while we lads cleanse out these savages.” Brendan said.
“Finley is correct,” Joseph silenced them, “Those hobgoblins outnumber us. So if we have a chance for peace or diplomatic solutions, will try first. If all else fails we will cleanse them from the realm as Brendan suggests. All we have is us.”
The Knights echoed him again, with rally and excitement.
Gloria doesn't particularly like the sound of those words or what they imply. When the others repeat them back at Joseph his Hand does as well, though perhaps not with quite as much volume or energy. She wants to shake the strong, kind, handsome idiot and remind him that he is King, for Ecru's sake! She wants to reiterate that if he didn't leave the running of the country to that harpy of a wife he took perhaps he and his knights might not need to feel as if all they have is each other. They might not need to feel isolated and alone, fighting for a country that would ostracize them for being human and fallible. The Sixteen are a formidable force. There can be no mistake about it. They simply cannot take on all of Jubilee's enemies alone, no matter what their King may think, or perhaps wish.
She doesn't say anything now, however. The others have whole heartedly accepted their roll as their lord's entourage and companions and will follow him without question. Gloria alone (and to a much lesser extent Kinley) is willing to find fault in his choices, but she doesn't want to fight about this particular fault today. Not again. Not for what seems like the thousandth time. There are some things even she cannot convince her King of, as open as he usually is to criticism and advice. There is simply no way to ever convince Joseph Henry III to go home.
When he repeats the phrase a second time, Gloria does not join the others in echoing him. Instead she throws him a slightly dirty look before moving to help Boris and Donovan strike the last tent so that they can finally be on their way. Once that is done and her hated armor has been donned with the aid of Anjaliku, her adopted daughter of sorts, their party is ready to move. Fifteen horses snort and paw the ground, as impatient as their riders to be off. Even Gloria is impatient now. Whatever the reason for it, at the end of this journey her own home awaits. Her wife, Delilah.
Once Joseph gives the signal they will be off, Lars and Erik in the lead with Balthazar keeping pace for it is they who have seen the paths and terrain laid out before them. It is they who know the fastest and safest routes. Their companion's lives are in their hands. For whether Gloria likes it or not, all we have is us.
Joseph stepped on his white rouncey, a beautiful all-purpose horse that was fast and strong. Many breeders disapproved of the King for not taking a destrier like the Knights of old—just another way to criticize his liberalism. But Bella was smarter than any warhorse he’d ever seen or rode in those awful jousting tournaments. He and Bella had a good relationship. He fed her all the dried fruits that Gloria had tossed in their travels. How could she not like fruit, it was mother’s milk, he grinned in his thoughts.
“Ready, lady.” He let the beast eat from his calloused fingers. The rouncey cackled and stood upright for him to get on properly. Joseph took the reins and rode forward.
Boris and Donovan made sure to unpitch the last tent, rolling it up and making sure all of the makeshift fires were extinguished. “Gloria, I hope the extra layer of linen garb helps. Let me know how the aloe vera leaf oil holds up.” Donovan said making sure to tie everyone’s tents on his brown packhorse; the only breed big enough to hold the man and all of the Knights equipment.
Once everyone was mounted, Joseph gave his orders. “Go at a steady pace, all. Lars and Erik will take point, do not cross them! I don’t care how tired or bored you get, if you see or hear anything, blow your whistle. If you need to stop blow your whistle but do not take this journey lightly.” Each Knight was supplied with a wooden bird whistle that had become very effective in previous battles.
Anjaliku helped her mother on her horse and took Gloria’s hand to bald it in her own and bring Gloria’s ivory knuckles to her chocolate colored lips. She was only nineteen now, a young Afgarian girl who had watched her birth parents multilated in the Aceba desert at the age of fourteen—it took a year after that for her to talk again. “Ride true, mother. I see how our Lord looks at you. He truly loves you more than himself. You are a lucky woman to have the great Delilah and the stubborn Titan in your whim.” She whispered with laughter; only for Gloria to hear. “And he is right...no matter how hard we want Jubilee to love us, all we have is us. Until the hearts in our country change, they will never accept us.” Anjaliku had a desert zebra that she raised from Aceba. The female warrior mounted the saddle of her exotic mount easily, to ride in behind her King—her sharpened spear tightly gripped in hand.
Joseph signaled his order; Lars and Erik took off into the forest. The King looked back to see the others ready and smacked the reins to ride off after his scouts.
They would ride steady for at least an hour—now deep within the southern edge of the Ivory Forest. There was a elf made trail that they followed for the long of the ride; thus all respectfully halted when they seen Balthazar the panther siting erect near the trails end—licking his sharp paws calmly.
Lucky she may seem in the eyes of some to be so admired and adored, but if what the Afgarian girl said were true (and of course it is true) it could be nothing but a constant source of pain and struggle for the King's Hand. Subsequently, she remains resolutely shielded within her self imposed cocoon of delusion and denial.
Gloria's own mount, Honor, is a rambunctious stallion, nearly as strong willed as his mistress. Only Erik has ever been able to soothe and corral the beast with any sort of ease. Though he may not always listen to his mistress, he is still always looking out for her. Where the King's body guard would charge forward into insurmountable odds to protect that which she values, Honor shies away seeking a less suicidal approach, determined to keep her out of harms way for that very same reason. Their relationship is nearly as contentious as that of herself and her King, but perhaps that is why she enjoys it so much.
For the first hour of their ride, however, there is nothing for any of them to be contentious about. Well, perhaps Brandon might be able to find something, as he is nearly as good at that as he is with his magic or his sword. For all of the others, however, it is an uneventful excursion. As the minutes roll by Lady Anne's voice, a gentle, near tremulous soprano, raises in a soft, lilting song to pass the time. It is one of many she learned in her youth while she was still being trained and molded to be the Grand Duchess of Jubilee. As she sings she is joined by Nicolas's untrained yet sturdy baritone and Gloria's warmer alto.
The sound of their voices raised together in praise of Jubilee helps ease the worry and uncertainty in the heart and soul of the King's hand more than anything else. She even feels comfortable enough to begin needling Stephan to join in despite the fact that it is well known among them all how grating his singing voice is upon the ear. The man truly is completely tone deaf. He can only be prevailed up to sing when he's too deep in his cups to care.
Spirits are high among the Sixteen as they travel quickly through the edge of the Ivory. Action and direction are always preferable to warriors of their ilk. Even Sarah seems more at ease than not as the low hanging branches brush across her hair and cloak, though she is silent and stoic as ever. So it is among them all until they come upon Balthazar sitting placidly in the middle of their path. Gloria frowns and pulls Honor up beside Joseph's Bella. The two horses touch noses briefly in greeting.
"What news? Trouble up ahead?"
Thus when Gloria tried to bait him to sing he coughed and made excuses about him being slightly sick. Besides she knew he was no good vocally until he got a pint of winter ale in him. As cold as the weather was out here, he needed some soon.
That was when Balthazar was spotted, sitting at the edge of a cliff was it...
All had halted. Gloria rode front not far behind Joseph, to halt beside him and speak with him. He answered her.
“I reckon much. Never seen the panther spooked before.” He pulled his map out to reflect on this unfamiliar glade region.
Lars and Erik rode back with their eyes as wide as pitted olives. “You might want to take a look at this.” Erik said, riding to the cliff and showing them all what he had discovered.
The King stepped down from Bella’s saddle to observe. It was a canyon that cut off the main road; a five mile radius hole that had a trail going into the depths of the underdark. To go around would mean hit the marshes or end up in the Black Sea and they could not afford that time. The nearest elven city was Welden'eve, which was two days east of this canyon. To get to the Haramon Capital would take ten days on horseback and they did not have that kind of time. Delilah was reported to be defending the southern edge so Welden'eve made sense.
“I don’t remember that hole before. We had no problems last time.” Joseph thought out loud.
“Because we had elves with us. They always know the secret routes we humans seem to forget.” Kinley reminded him.
“Let’s just get on with it. I don’t know what’s worst, hearing Nicolas sing or riding behind Lars’ fat mule.” Brendan said. “I’ll take point if you need me to.”
“Very well. Lars and Erik got us this far. Let the Battlemage carry us on. Will go on foot from here. The trail is too steep to ride. Just keep your mounts calm and your wits sharp. We don’t want to risk waking anyone down there.” Joseph said.
“Speak for yourself, your grace. My blades are hungry.” Bruce said. “I’ll go with Brenden.”
“Whatever is down there, they won’t miss your loud hair, that’s for sure. You might want to put a helmet on.” Stephan said.
Chuckling was heard amongst the Knights.
“Shut it, Rogue. Not now.” Bruce grunted.
“We have our point team, then. I recommend Erik going in with you guys. The Nightblade and The Beastmaster work well together. Brendan, just be a good lad and watch their backs. Bruce you do the same. The rest of you with me.”
Nothing else was said. Stephan placed his hood on his head and dissapeared. Balthazar went after the Nightblades scent and the others began to move out after that.
"I don't like this," she muses softly, though not so soft as to be meant for the King's ears alone. There's simply no reason to draw any attention from unwanted sources by announcing her fears loudly and clearly. "Elves or not...a hole like this should be on our maps. Such a large canyon would have taken hundreds of years to carve itself out naturally. There is something rotten in Elvira's realm."
"The forest screams in agony."
Gloria nearly jumps out of her armor at the sound of Sarah's soft, scratchy voice coming from just over her shoulder, practically hissing in her ear. The King's bodyguard is shocked at the words for several reasons, not the least of which is how rare it is to hear The Witch's voice at all. It doesn't help that the woman is capable of stepping even more lightly than Stephan when they are in the wilds. Gloria growls softly, but attempts to keep her annoyance with the other woman in check. Joseph hadn't been wrong when he said that bickering amongst themselves would only hinder their cause.
"Yes. There. That. Thank you for that...enigmatic observation, Sarah." The King's Hand lets out a soft breath and turns her eyes upon Joseph's handsome visage so as to better judge his reaction to their words.
Joseph laughed at this. "Look at ol' Boris. A man after my own heart." He said to Gloria and those close enough to listen.
"And you keep encouraging him." Lady Anne smirked, who was near them. She disliked Sarah even more than Gloria did; just so odd the woman was. The Bowmaster had often protested why they even needed her. They needed more men, she thought. "Will no man help me with my horse?" She asked loudly for them all to hear.
"What men?" Naled chimed in for amusement.
"My point exactly." Lady Anne grinned.
"Oh please. Now you want to be a lady, all of a sudden, when your skin starts to sweat. But you had a man and a title back home." Brendan said. "Tither your own horse."
"I'll take your horse, Lady." Nikolas said to step up.
Brendan frowned on this, but out of all the knights, Nikolas was one he never disrespected. He was his teacher, The Swordmaster and probably one of the better men in their circle. Lady Anne smiled and thanked him kindly.
Time had passed and the trail was never ending, it seemed. Joseph looked up in the sky and could no longer see it. They were truly in the Underdark. Sarah had mentioned a scream in the forest, but what they heard now was a real scream. They had finally breached a flat surface to call ground. It was an underground forest, with trees that glowed bright and river pools that were enchanted and colorful to the eyes; a lake was in view that turned from pink to light green. The arcane life here was mystical and powerful. Even with these bright colors it was hard to see anything around them.
"Hold. do not come closer, or..." A Drow guard had said but was cut off with a slice to his throat; followed by hideous laughter.
Everyone unsheathed their blades in the Sixteen after hearing that. The knights were on guard now.
"Stephan?" Joseph said.
"No, I did not do that. Something else is here." The Rouge said.
More giggling was heard. Four large yellow eyes were seen in the darkness. Brendan lit a torch for them and Donovan pulled torches for everyone in his horses wooden crate; while Brendan lit each and passed them around.
Two Bugbears were seen... Beagly and Smedly.
They circulated their blades, standing over two dead Drow guards; that bled out. Smedly had a sword and shield and Beagly wielded two long swords. Bruce Legends pulled his silvery daggers and moved in for the kill beside Brendan who wielded fire from his finger tips.
"Away from here, you evil creatures." Bruce warned them.
The Bugbears continued to laugh, pointing at the little Legends in hilarity. Bruce fumed at them, awaiting his King's orders.
"You insult my companion. It wont end well for you, I can promise that. Unless you tell me why you slaughtered those elf guards?" Joseph said.
"Those elves weak. Mistress Jenessta sent us to expose all weak things. Human not seem weak. Human holds interest to us. Perhaps human and Smedly can make deal?"
Without missing a beat, the pale haired woman tilts her head so that she can look over at the mage where he is currently leading their party. "Don't let it go to your head," she warns him before lowering her voice once more. "As if that was even possible," the warrior added, though this was solely for the benefit of those in her immediate vicinity, namely Joseph, Nicolas and Anne.
Sir Nicolas frowns at Gloria, not particularly pleased by her interference in his gallant offer nor mollified by her rather curt apology. It doesn't help that he shares many of those ideas that Gloria seems to think are so archaic. "There is no honor in bucking tradition for the sole purpose of bucking tradition," he reminds her in his most sober tone of voice. Nicolas is a good man in every way, but there are a few things that he actually agrees with the Queen on, not that he would voice such thoughts before his king. He has too much respect for Joseph, and also too much affection for Gloria and Delilah, when they aren't flaunting their near revolutionary relationship in everyone's faces.
All of the bickering and teasing, good natured and otherwise, ends as their group finally reaches the bottom of the chasm. The strange world of both impenetrable darkness and brilliant colors simply shocks most of them into silence. It is unlike anything Gloria has seen before that is for sure. Pale lips part in awe at the sight. She can't even come up with any witty remarks for the occasion. After all, it is much easier to mock that which you understand. This is beyond anything she has ever experienced.
As soon as a voice calls out for their halt, Gloria releases Honor and Primrose, dropping their reins so that she can unsheath her sword and swing her shield from her back. Even in these dark surroundings First Light shimmered and gleamed, a beacon of hope. Drow. Well, depending on how blood thirsty these bastards are feeling today perhaps The Sixteen will receive some answers before they even reach the southern edge of the forest. Or not. The next moment the two guards lay bleeding and gurgling upon the floor. The King's bodyguard steps forward, her sword arm held aloft before Joseph in an obviously protective gesture. The man may be the Titan for good reason, but here in the dark and unknown recesses of the elven lands no precaution is too much. Gloria would rather perish than see her Lord struck down from the shadows.
"Perhaps," Gloria responded to the bugbear's strange offer. "Though only a fool agrees to something without knowing what it is first. Too bad for you we aren't feeling particularly foolish today."
“Not everyone can be as brave as you, Gloria. Remember, I was there at your wedding, so do not think I am that old fashion. But thank you for aiding this lady.” She offered a slight curtsy.
When Gloria had mentioned that she agreed with Brendan, the Battlemage had a stoic look on his face as if it did not fully register. His arrogance probably already convinced him that he was right in his conceited heart. So when Gloria said don’t let it go to his head, he looked at her absently.
“Think I care what you degenerates speak about? Trust me your compliments mean nothing.” He said to the acting General.
Then the Drow screaming was heard. Even with the brief tension, they all quickly got protective of each other when the threat was recognized. Like a family of brothers and sisters, they never fought publicly. What they discussed in private stayed there—every Knight was trusted. In times like these when the fray was near they all got along well.
The Bugbears were identified upon further observation, with the natural graces of torch light and their broken common. Stephan still invisible, had his blades ready and could cut them both down in four moves; leaving the execution for Legends and Brendan. But they were all just waiting on their King’s word. Gloria spoke out to the one who called himself Smedly.
“Foo? What does it mean, broda?” Beagly scratched his head.
“Fool means stupid, stupid Beagly. Idiot Bugbear.” Smedly chuckled. “No more talk. Else Jennessta send Beagly to big monster in dungeon.”
“Ha, me like big monster. Me eat him and spit guts of monster.” Beagly said. “Tell Jenessta to send.”
“Enough small talk. She is right...tell us about the deal and we decide if we want to let you live or not.” Joseph said. “And who is Jenessta?”
“Jenessta, Mistress, High Priestess of Eilistraee. Weak Drow at feet serve Matron Chalice of Lolth. Two territories. This Lolth side. We come infiltrate.” Smedly explained.
“Interesting. We are trying to get to the eastern tunnel. To get back on the surface. Is that on Jenessta’s side?” Joseph asked.
“Surface. Ah, yes. East tunnel in our side. But hard to get to with Chalice’s minions. You help Smedly take down Chalice. We get humans to surface.”
Kinley took Joseph and Gloria aside to speak with them. “We don’t know Drow politics. Whose to say Elvira might be in alliance with Chalice? We can not risk cutting down Elf blood. Whether it be dark or surfaced.”
“Maybe we can negotiate.” Joseph swallowed.
“Negotiate with a Priestess of Lolth. We are better off killing her and hoping that Jenessta is on the right side.” Kinley said.
“Naled if you speak Drowish, find out which side is allied with the wood elves.” Joseph turned to the Translator.
To the surprise of absolutely no one that has known her for longer than a fortnight, Naled gives her King an obedient nod at his request. She does indeed speak the tongue twisting language of the Drow. She doesn't say how or why for two very obvious reasons. Firstly because this is neither the time nor the place for such personal revelations and secondly because it is rare for the woman to speak of her life before being found by Erik and pledging her allegiance to Jubilee. While all of her companions are aware on at least a surface level of the hell she somehow found the strength to escape from, it is generally frowned upon, specifically by Erik, to speak of such things unless the Northerner brings them up herself. Naled never brings them up.
Turning dark eyes upon the boorish monsters currently standing in their path, the pale woman finally steps forward. "Usstan telanth whol lil' valuk de' nesstren vel'uss zhah abbilen xuil lil' valsharess d'lil darthiir. Udos orn naut malar nind vel'uss phlyle folggash xuil Valsharess Elvira. Udtila Jabbress Jenessta lac ulu morfeth thalack xor gre'as'anto xuil nindyn phor?"
The language sounds strange to the human's ears, hissing and stunted but the pauses are as much a part of the language as the words. The timing and duration of the speaker's pauses imparts nearly as much information to the listener as the tone of voice and actual syllables themselves. The way Naled chooses to utilize her pauses implies strength held in reserve, little to no respect for the listener but appropriate respect for the subjects of her sentences (namely Elvira and Jenessta) and an underlying current of impatience. She isn't called The Translator for nothing after all.
"And I have no regrets, cleansing the realm from those savages." Bruce smiled, with his prying ears.
"Blah, you two sound of one mind as always," Kinley said of Joseph and Gloria. "Even if you do agree with me, Gloria, you still choose to negotiate. I am just going to stay silent for now, until we find a way out of this mess."
"Good, you are less grumpy that way." Joseph chuckled.
When Naled decided to step forth and do her thing, the energy just did not feet right. The Bugbears did not respond. In fact, they seemed to vanish, no where to be found as if they had sensed the same. Joseph looked around and felt a knot in his stomach. He looked at Gloria and warned her with his eyes. Stephen grimaced. His cloak was seized by an electric cord, that exposed him and nearly knocked him unconscious. Blades were unsheathed again and the knights moved in to protect their fallen brother.
"Valuk de' nesstren, vel'uss zhah abbilen xuil darthiir. Dos kuuv telanth de' nindel c'nros jenessta ghil? folt zhah og'elendar lueth khurzon de' elghinn. Kev dosst saroless xor udos orn xuz dosst poorly stealthed companion!" The Drow Commander said.
Joseph looked around and seen at least fifty or more Drow, all standing guard, with bows, one had a staff and the rest were an army of swordsmen and swordswomen, prepared for the fray. They were outnumbered and Stephan was hurt. "What did he say?" Joseph said.
"He said to drop our weapons or they will kill Stephan." Naled translated.
The cords got tighter as Stephan struggled. Joseph noticed this and did not want to risk losing him. He did what any brother would do and laid his claymore on the ground. He nodded for everyone else to do the same, with a wink to Legends. He did not want to take a risk with their magic, but he'd be damn if he led them all to death. Bruce Legends got mad and tossed his knife into the throat of the Drow that threatened them. Scarlet squirted from his vessel. Bruce rushed the dying elf and removed his knife, cutting down a few more in his path.
"Donovan, now!" He roared. Joseph picked up his claymore and it blazed with fire, severing one Drow in half and taking out two more in a single thrust. Joseph in rage stepped back beside Gloria to watch her do her work.
The Drow had been watching the humans for some time; having prepared for an ambush. But they did not expect resistance. Donovan moved at his King's command, slamming his shield into the ground, near Stephan, that created a protective barrier around him and the Nightblade, blinding the eyes of the Drow enforcers. When many tried to rush in, their bodies deteriorated from the barrier. This gave Donovan time to cut the cord from Stephan's dangling body. "Be still, brother, your body has gone into shock," He explained, cutting the cloak and removing it from his body, without contacting the cord; he tossed it on the body of a drow with his tweezers and the Drow fell to the ground shaking, the cord seizing his neck.
Angrily, the horde of Drow began to move in, seeing their commander had fallen so easily. Bowmen launched arrows (Arrows 12) and a Drow mage would cast a deadly spell on Brendan who was lighting up Drow with his own hands (lightning spell 10).
rolled 1d20 and got 15
(Arrows 12 or higher for success on random Knights 20 critical)
rolled 1d20 and got 11
(Lightning spell on Brendan 10 or higgher for success 20 critical)
Gloria's grip tightens upon her weapons as she springs back up from the ground. In the next moment she and Joseph are back to back, fighting to protect one another. While it is her job to see the King safe, she's been doing it so long it is practically second nature by now. Fighting with him like this is even easier than breathing in some ways, so well do they know each other.
"You know, generally we let Naled handle the negotiations," she calls over her shoulder towards her king. "As she is actually capable of exercising diplomacy. Interesting tactic letting Bruce handle it instead. Being forced into direct conflict with dark elves that outnumber us even more than the Northmen did yesterday isn't the outcome I was hoping for, but it's certainly a new approach. You always did like to innovate."
Each emphasized word is caused by a swing of her sword into the resistance of a drow body. 'Forced' and 'yesterday' see the end of an attacker each, one of which was about to bring his swords down upon Joseph's outstretched arm. All around them arrows fall, but Gloria manages to deflect the few that might have hit true by holding First Light high over their heads. Near the front Bruce isn't quite so lucky. Having charged first and being the closest target, two bright red fletchings bloom from his left arm. With a growl of ever growing, never ending anger the short man rips the arrows, barbed tips and all, from his skin, staining the ground with his blood. Had Donovan been near he would no doubt have berated the man for such a reckless act, but the healer is still occupied with easing and protecting Stephan's shaking and insensate form.
On the other side of the battlefield that has suddenly sprung up, Brendan is battling the dark elf's mage. His opponent's lightning has singed his fine cloak and taken his eyebrows, but the man is nearly as stubborn as Legends when it comes to battlefield injuries. In a brutal show of retaliation Brendan's hands whip through the air, shooting jagged shards of ice in a wide cone directly towards his personal opponent as well as the general direction of the hand full of archers standing behind her. (Ice spell 5)
Oddly, while all around her a battle rages, the only one currently unengaged in it is Sarah. The rest of the Sixteen have hurried forth to defend Stephan, Donovan and Bruce, even Naled who, despite her place among warriors prefers not to fight when at all possible. The Witch of Jubilee alone stands still and unmolested save for a few arrows that have buried their heads in the earth about her feet. Dark, thoughtful eyes regard not the players on the field but instead the field itself. She takes in the strangely glowing flora all around them for several long seconds before closing her eyes and drowning out the cacophonous sounds of the battle going on all around her. Her arms rise slowly, as if she is being kept from pulling them up from her sides by a terrible weight. As soon as her hands are above her head, her fingers clench themselves into fists and suddenly the earth begins to tremble. Bizarrely glowing vines and tendrils erupt from the ground beneath the combatants feet, grasping at limbs and weapons, friend and foe alike. (Entangling spell 5)
There is an old saying. Kill them all; let the gods sort them out. It would seem that Sarah proscribes to this theory of battle as well, though the vines are not so much deadly as they are restrictive. Once as many people have been caught as possible, she will begin going around and freeing her own party caught within the exotic plant's strangling embrace with a gentle caress of the vines and a barely audible word of power.
rolled 1d20 and got 10
Ice spell, above 5 to succeed, 20 crit
rolled 1d20 and got 6
Entangling spell, above 5 to succeed, 20 crit
“I figured I’d improvise, for once.” He said to Gloria, taking the neck of a Drow that danced on his weak side. His fiery bastard sword met another Swordsman who wielded and circulated his duel scimitars with poise. Joseph and the Drow fenced until he grew tired of his brilliant defense and kicked the Drow into Anjaliku who caught him and sent her spear through his throat. “I mean, there’s only so much talking Naled could do. Sometimes I worry that she might despise her role.” He grinned.
Sarah began to induce her spell and the vines had managed to pull everyone from the ground—screaming was heard from the Drow who were lifted against their will. Lady Anne took advantage of the elevation. The Bowmaster pulled four grease laced arrows from her quiver and aimed at the archers who were giving everyone problems from above, calling out to Brendan as she knew he’d know what she meant. “Oils!”
Brendan’s eyes widened at her words. He was pleased with himself after he’d taken out the dark elf mage—her body smashed into a large pillar from his ice shard and she bled out. To hear his name made his chest harden. “Yeah, yeah.” He smirked at Anne. Anne let her soaked arrows fly and Brendan drenched them with flames. The arrows took down four Drow bowmen. The aggressive fire caught their garbs and burned their entire archery line. Deadly flames blinded them and prevented them from further advancing.
The Drow were angry having lost so many of their number. Hundreds more moved in. “You will die today humans! Lady Chalice is coming. May Lolth enjoy your blood. She has already tasted its sweeteness in her soil.” A Drow warrior said. Bruce Legends heard him and roared, rushing him with his deadly knives. The warrior tried to parry, but was brutally taken down—Bruce sifted his corpse on the ground, repeatedly. “She will enjoy yours first then.” He wiped the Drows blood on his face.
The Bugbears seeing this, no longer remained spectators. The two brothers, Beagly and Smedly reappeared from their stealth position and began to cut down Drow by the dozen. They made a road of dark elf corpses, cutting into where the Knights were surrounded. “Humans no die today. Mistress Jenessta agrees to help humans. Come this way.” Smedly said.
“Now you show up. Sneaky bastards.” Joseph said, cutting vines down and untangling Gloria and Anjaliku. “Everyone, to me! Donavon?!”
The Templar lifted Stephan and retreated from the barrier. “I will carry him.”
“Will have to abandon the horses.” Joseph cried. His heart was in dismay seeing his Bella severed in two by sword and arrows. “We have to go on foot from this point.”
“Come, King of men. Must hurry. Drow too much.” Smedly warned. He touched a cave wall and a secret door opened. Joseph would wait with Gloria by the entrance; the two had to make sure their Knights got in safely.
Beagly was an animal, cutting all down who dare cross his path toward the Knights. He made quick work out of many with his twin long swords that were the size of Donovan.
rolled 4d20 and got 43
Lady Anne’s Fiery Arrows 5 or higher for success, 20 critical
Thankfully Joseph's flaming sword burns away his own vines before they have a chance to find purchase leaving him free to aid his closest companions. "I wish she'd warn us before she does something like that..." Gloria growls softly as her lord cuts herself and her Anjaliku down. Before she is even entirely certain what is happening the bugbears have appeared once again and they are all running after the two brothers who in turn are disappearing into what at first appears to be a solid rock wall. Without having to be told or even signaled, the King's Hand takes up position on the right side of the door, pushing back at any drow foolish enough to get close.
Donovan, with Stephan in his arms, is through first with Lars close on the giant's heels. Erik let out a high pitched whistle causing the few horses still alive to turn and flee. It's the best he can do for them before he and Naled make their escape between Gloria and Joseph as well. Gloria watches Primrose's backside vanish into the darkness even as Honor is cut down, the stupid, stubborn stallion refusing to leave without his mistress. Now is not the time for tears, however. Instead she packs that grief away to deal with later. The only evidence is the unintentionally rough push she gives to Anne's back in an attempt to help keep her moving. The noble woman stumbles slightly, glancing back in surprise at her friend, before obediently hurrying onward.
First Light blocks a thrown dagger from lodging between Brendan's shoulder blades. She knows she'll never get a thank you for it but that's not why she does it anyways. Boris came next pulling Sarah along by the hand as the two quietest knights disappeared into the dark unknown on the other side of the door. A bright red streak blooms on Gloria's neck as a drow's scimitar nearly slices right through it. Her head had turned to glance towards Boris whom she saw as a brother even more than a friend As such she hadn't noticed the assailant leaping at her from the side. The only reason he didn't succeed was Nicolas's blade, a longsword like her own this time, deflected the blow at the last second. The shorter woman nods at the Swordmaster before he too passes through the portal and out of sight.
Only a few left but the drow are pushing forward, filled with rage and pain and blood for the King of Men and his companions. Gloria has to yell to be heard, urging, no demanding that Anjaliku go next. The youngest knight argues fiercely for a moment, but only for a moment. Only until she sees the look of worry in her adoptive mother's eyes. She skewers one last drow for good measure, then vanishes without another word. Unfortunately Bruce isn't listening any longer. His rage is pounding in his ears and flooding his vision with red that is blood and death and loss and pain and vengeance. No doubt he would hold his ground until completely overrun if Kinley and Joseph didn't pull him away from his latest victim and physically drag him off the battlefield.
Finally Gloria is the last left, First light reflecting back at the dark elves even the small florescent light of the underdark. There must be close to thirty closing in on her and close to a hundred beyond, weapons of various shapes and sizes flashing through the dark, eager to taste the white haired woman's blood. She gives the lot of them a grim smile. Midnight twists in her hand for a moment and anyone who didn't know her might think she was about to suddenly take Bruce's place, charging headlong and alone into a completely unwinnable battle. Instead though she takes a step back...and the secret door slams back into place in front of her effectively blocking out the howls of anger and frustration as their adversaries realize their prey is lost. At least for now.
The enchanted door was shut and the Bugbear was lost forever.
"No!!!" Smedly felt his brothers demise. "Stupid Bugbear did not listen to Smedly." Tears came from his eyes. "Come now. No time for tears. Humans must follow."
Torches were lit as they followed the great creature through the Corridors of Madness. Echoes were heard like moaning from afar, but as they proceeded nothing was seen. It appeared to be a tunnel that led into the depths of darkness. The tunnel would go on for hours. Indeed, time was momentarily forgotten. Joseph was well disciplined, but even he was thirsty and hungry. They had not rested all day, at least when they had last seen daylight. After that great battle, fatigue was setting in. Being underground they did not know if it was day or night. Breakfast was burned from their stomachs and salt saturated their lips. All faces would be covered in sweat from the hike and humidity.
"Is this the end for us?" Stephan's eyes opened.
Everyone would find hope again hearing Stephan's voice. Even Donovan found a renewed energy as he had carried the man for miles on far. And he would do it again ten times over for any of them; that was just the man that Donovan was.
"I will not lie, I almost...for a minute missed you." Brendan said.
"Really?" Stephan said.
"No." Brendan chuckled.
"Is that a blush I see?" The Rogue teased.
"What? I can't see myself. You are still delusion it seems." Brenden frowned.
"We need to stop." Joseph interrupted. "Donovan needs to rest. We all need to rest. We've been going for miles."
"Just a while further, King of Men. Smedly almost has us there. Humans must find strength to push." The Bugbear encouraged.
Jospeh nodded and took the Bugbear's challenge. When they exited the tight corridors of dirt, all would see the Underground city that lit up as bright as Jubilee. A swarm of fairies floated around creating exotic lights while they sung sweet songs to their visitors; a few fey sucked the sweet faces of Gloria and Joseph who stood at front. Waterfalls flowed from above the cave mountains, nourishing the land beneath it. A lake was near, but it was guarded by terrible Aboleth; eel-like aberrations with potent psionic abilities that tortured the minds of anyone who came near. Joseph and his Knights were in awe.
"Never go in lake. Death is certain." Smedly warned them.
The moaning they once heard, found all ears again. This time more aggressively. Darkness came upon the little glowing beauties, swallowing each up; with long tongues. The ones who teased the King and his Hand were even swallowed up cruelly. Crunching of sweet tender fairies was heard through sharp teeth. Cloakers came out of stealth; over a dozen. They were intelligent creatures that dwelt underground and resembled large flying manta rays when active. At rest, they looked like a black cloak, thus when exposed they showed a silvery hue, with yellow eyes and thousands of sharp teeth. They had built the city seen before everyone, using Kuo-toans and Fomorians as slaves, through mind control.
"Dos inbal sila've udossa lil' valuk de' nesstren. Doer udossta jabbress Jenessta il'tess." The Chief of Cloakers said in Drowish.
"Siyo, chief de' cloakers. Smedly uriu muth lil' valuk de' nesstren. Ori'gato udossa k'lararl wund lil' kemmu che'el" Smedly said.
"K'lararl dos zhal ," The Chief finished.
After his words, his Cloakers all moved aside and went back into the darkness, waiting for more prey to come upon their land.
"Welcome to Kemmu City." The Chief said in common, so the humans can hear.
Nevertheless, as she rejoins Smedly and Joseph at the front of their little caravan, Gloria can't shake the feeling that she should say something to the bugbear. It is nearly ten minutes before she finds the words and the courage to speak them though. "I am sorry about the other," she says, putting as much conviction in her voice as she can. "Another minute and we would have been overrun. It was a good death though. He fought well and will be remembered."
It felt extremely strange to say and perhaps her sympathy would be unwanted. Gloria, unlike Naled, rarely dealt with other cultures. She is certainly no diplomat. Whatever the bugbear thought or said in return, it was enough for her and her conscience that she had spoken.
When Stephan's voice rings out through their narrow corridor, Gloria's pale face alights. Their long and trudging walk had been made all the more gloomy without the rogue's good natured banter to keep their spirits up. Hearing him not only awake but already arguing with Brendan fills her heart with relief. A great weight of stress and tightness in her neck and shoulders that she had not even realized she was carrying eased significantly as she listened to the sound. Indeed, so grateful is she to have him back among the land of the living, if this hell hole could be called that, that she even steps back so that she can press a soft kiss to the incorrigible man's cheek. "Don't scare us like that. We were sure you were a goner. Lars was all ready to bury you in one of these corridors and be done with it."
"I was nothing of the sort!" Joseph's appointed scout calls out from the darkness nearby, sounded extremely annoyed by the accusation. He can't really be seen standing as he is on the other side of Boris and Sarah, but he can hear her words quite well and instantly takes offence as had been her intention.
Gloria sticks her tongue out and wrinkles her nose for Stephan's benefit and flashes Donovan a blinding smile before striding back towards the front to walk beside Joseph once more. Finally they emerge into a massive cavern structure with the great and remarkable Underground city spread out before them. The pale haired woman bats at the fairies that fly up into her face and attempt to taste her skin with her right hand, stained with her own blood though it is. "Little rodents," she mutters, annoyed with their presence despite their pretty appearance. Despite that annoyance she winces slightly to hear their bones crunch within the mouths of the Cloakers.
This place does not bode well. The drow with their spider goddess are undoubtedly no better, but these monsters... This is not a city through which the humans should walk lightly. Despite their apparent welcome, Gloria's hand unconsciously tightens on the hilt of her sword. "Well...lead the way, Sir Bugbear. We'd best not keep your 'Mistress Jenessta' waiting." Perhaps she might even know why the Norse woman spoke of a drow in the south.
Stephan on the other hand, weakly held her arm, hindering Gloria from easily running back to Joseph. "You can't just kiss and run, love. Come here so I can show you how a real man kisses. You only know the tongue of women." He jested.
Joseph chuckled along with the others. "Glad you're feeling better." The King stepped beside Gloria now to see of his fallen brother.
"You can let me down now, Donovan. Unless you enjoy holding me. I won't lie, your big muscles are quite comforting and warm."
Donovan laughed a bit, but kept himself serious. He gently sat the Rogue down and offered his waterskin. "Your water was lost in the fray, Stephan. Drink mines, you'll need it. Can you walk?" He checked him.
Stephan struggled a bit, like a fawn in its first year. He eventually got himself together and took the water offered, to drink it true. "Thank you, brother. I am good now." Stephan said.
This all happened before they seen the exotic Kemmu City upon them. Beeko remained on Gloria's shoulders, comforting her with a familiar place that would remind her of home. Often in Jubilee, monkey's would run wildly stray unlike cats and dogs, who were the lesser species because of their inability to survive. Many dogs and cats were taken as meat from the Heket tribes who Joseph and his Knights often destroyed. This made monkey's the smarter pets. They could do things like steal and leap into the shadows, they could send messages even find things and communicate intelligently. Erik's monkey loved Gloria and was often used for many of these sophisticated purposes. They were very close friends. When the Cloakers began snatching up the fairies like snacks, Beeko did the same. "Nooo pweease!" One of the fairies cried, only to be snatched up and swallowed by the curious monkey.
Joseph sensed Gloria's tension in the place and the terrible creatures before them. But he remained steadfast, giving everyone in his company a look to do the same. Smedly led them down a dim lit path, with lights that resembled towering bugs. Everything moved in this realm, even the unseen things that watched them from the darkness. Kinley moved to the forefronts along side his King and Gloria, his loyal Hand. He studied the craft of the redbrick structure, mudlike thus it was polished well almost into a crimson hue that resembled red ore; very beautiful Citadel. "I will have to take notes on the next keep I build for you, Joseph. These monsters have a keen mind, yet." The Elder said.
Two Derro guarded the entry of the Citadel as Legendary Gatemasters. They were a degenerate subspecies of dwarves, whose ancestors remained here in the Underdark after being captured in the First War. For centuries their bloodline chose the side of Eilistraee; forever enemies of Lolth. Both Derro had white hair, clearly very old if not ancient. They wore leather and fur robes, each with cloaks that flapped in the cool underground breeze. On their breastplates hung every gem known to man: garnet, amethyst, aquamarine, diamond, emerald, pink amethyst, pearl, ruby, peridot, sapphire, pink opal rose, topaz, light sapphire, turquoise and blue zircon. Both Dark Wizards had a staff that glowed the color of each gem, depending on which power they would choose to use.
"Mistress Jenessta awaits you, Smedly. Go inside and represent these humans. Condolences to Beagly. He was a good lad." One of the Gatemasters said.
"Keen their minds may be, Craftsman, but I'm not sure that I care for the bug motif they seem to prefer. I have this rather silly notion I'd actually like to sleep at night without succumbing to horrific nightmares. But that's just me." The Glory of Jubilee's wit is as dry and unflappable as ever despite the precarious nature of their surroundings. She refuses to let a little thing like the threat of imminent demise stop her from being amused at the absurdities of their world.
As they finally begin to approach the great Citadel at the heart of the city, Gloria continues to keep her face unreadable. She's succeeding rather admirably she thinks, all things considered, until the Dark Wizards, Gatekeepers to the Citadel, actually offer their condolences to Smedley as well. The edge of her lips twitch almost imperceptivly and her still bloody hand reaches up to scratch at the monkey on her shoulder once more. Beeko nips at the tips of her fingers affectionately, but she has no fruits for him now, only a need for reassurance.
Gloria says nothing to the guards nor anyone else as Smedly leads them through the gates and towards the looming doors of the great Citadel. The King's bodyguard is no diplomat after all. Let the King and his Translator deal with this situation (not that Joseph is much better than herself at navigating social niceties in some ways). Her hand is on her hilt should it be needed. All she can do now is wait for that time to come, whether it is here or further along in their travels.
Just as Gloria knows her place and when to keep her mouth shut, Naled knows her place and when to speak up. She nods at the derro, murmuring a soft greeting to the two ancient creatures in common as they pass. As of right now Smedly is the only one that knows she speaks the drowish language. That could prove valuable in the immediate future. However, now that she has had a chance to see the city and the people living within it, something in her memory is beginning to jostle itself towards the front of her mind. Something she once over heard during the time that she was learned the dark elf language.
"Herre?" A title in her native language. It's an old habit born of many years of suffering and Joseph has asked her time and again not to call him that. Sadly, no trauma vanishes simply because you ask it politely to leave. "I believe I have heard of this 'Eilistraee' the bugbear spoke of. The more I see the more I remember. If I recall correctly she is a goddess of dance, beauty and redemption. A...good drow goddess if you will. The way it was spoken of then I thought it perhaps a joke, but we have been greeted by creatures who should devour us on sight. Perhaps there is some truth to it?" The woman's voice is wary yet there is a slight uptick of hope at the end of her sentence. Naled understands the need for hope perhaps more than any of them.
"Well, unfortunately for us, our King only believes in one of those three concepts, so whether she is good or not may do us no good in the end." Gloria's tone is droll though her face continues to show no hint of her emotions, not even her amusement at Joseph's expense.