May the gods have mercy on my soul. I do not know how to describe the events of the last few hours. I had been bound in the clutches of my own sin and shame, but somehow I now walk free.
It began in the morning. I did not know it was morning at the time. I had lost all sense of day and night after being bound for so many days. I awoke abruptly. A ferocious roar, just inches from my face. I didn’t want to open up my eyes and see what that creature had waiting for me this time, but I had no choice.
It was a lion. Yes, a lion. A large male, with two strangers standing behind him . . . a human and a half-elf. Before my eyes the lion transformed into a hulking warforged. Not one of mine. It was old, worn, battered . . . but very much alive. The trio did not look happy to see me—particularly the half-elf, who I later gathered had just tried to run me through with his sword.
They asked many questions. Who I was, what had happened to the guard on the wall, how I was bound . . . I could see that they were nearly as confused as I was. I told them my tale—How I had met the stranger from the east and how he had been so interested in my creations. I told them how he changed before my very eyes into a horrible fiend and locked me in these bonds, keeping me alive for God knows what . . .
They, too, were very interested in my creations, though I do not know why. My first assumptions were that the warforged, whom they called “Oakson,” was interested in his fellow constructs, but they seemed far more interested in the fiend who had bound me. I sensed from them that great danger is afoot, though they did not speak of it to me.
I thought they were going to kill me. One of them, the human, wanted to . . . but his companions stayed his sword. They fought for some time about what to do with me. I knew one thing: I had seen the Abyss in the eyes of that fiend. The fires of that hell are far worse than the bonds the bound me in my chamber. I did not ask the Gods for mercy, for I did not believe mercy could be given to me.
Then by the gods, the Half-Elf Maelokh, sat down before me. He rested his hands on my hand, and began whispering. It sounded like the tongues of angels. He was willing to offer me mercy. Despite all I had confessed, despite full knowledge that my past deeds were motivated by greed and lust for power, he offered me mercy . . .
And then I passed out.
I awoke to the warforged laying his hands on my arms and legs and curing my wounds. By the gods, a shapeshifting, magic-using warforged! But I would not let my curiosity get the better of me. There had been some sort of great earthquake, and my bonds had been broken. For the first time in weeks, I felt hope. Not just hope for my freedom, but for forgiveness and a new life. But how could I correct my misdeeds?
We were trapped in the study, and I was frustratingly able to offer no help. Thankfully, Absolom (the human) keenly noticed a secret passage exiting the chamber. This passage was a dead-end, but it dropped into a maze of underground tunnels and caverns beneath the Keep. I never knew such tunnels existed.
It was still clear to me that Absolom was not happy about bringing me along. He bound my hands and my feet and took me with them. They were searching for Darian. At a few points I heard mention of the Paladins sending them on this quest. I asked what they were going to do with Darian when they found him, and they said he would be brought to justice.
I know what that means.
But why him? Why him and not me? I was not able to ponder these questions further, because immediately upon entering the tunnels our group was attacked by a trio of enormous spiders. It was soon clear that these men were capable fighters, but they were tired and weary. We needed to rest.
After a few hours I began to wonder if we would ever find out way out of this wretched maze. We continued through the caverns and eventually made out way through a shallow stream running through the caves. There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel! But my companions chose to continue exploring the caverns. They had just lifted themselves out of the stream and began to dry off. I was right behind them when I heard an exclamation from Maelokh and a quick burst of commotion. I peaked over the rocks and saw them fighting two enormous Phase Spiders . . . monstrosities I had encountered in my studies. White as death with sapphire blue legs, these creatures are able to blink in between the material plane and the ethereal. I was surprised by my companions, though Maelokh fell to their poison and Absolom was close behind them, but the spiders were still defeated. How I wish I could have joined them in their fight! But even if I had not been bound and cuffed, I am too weak to exert myself.
We continued upward into the mountain. I do not know how long we climbed. We encountered more webbing and several small chambers and tiny tunnels too small to climb through. But still we climbed. Some time later our path opened into another large chamber—an enormous pit, filled with swarms of spiders. They appeared to be asleep. A man-made staircase was built into the stone walls, and at the top of the stairs, a door. They were the first man-made objects we had seen since leaving my study. Oakson, taking the form of a spider, silently crawled across the chasm and investigated the door. Appearing safe, he beckoned us to follow. Thank the gods for my time in the militia, I did not hinder their stealth as we walked along the edge of the cavernous pit.
We opened the door into a vast cavern, more than a hundred yards across. It took some time for my eyes to adjust . . . but it appeared that we were in a small city built underground. Huge pillars extended form the ground to the ceiling of the cavern, and at the top were small stone pods—houses of sorts. We were in a similar pod at the end of the chamber. Beneath us was some sort of altar or shrine. Behind the altar was a statue of an enormous spider with a female’s torso rising from the abdomen. Lolth! We were in a drow encampment! Filthy, treacherous creatures. To think I had been living right above their home for so long! I am surprised the stench didn’t reach me, even through the earth and stone.
It appeared as if they were resting for night (though it was probably eight o’clock in the morning). It seemed that, if we were quick, we would be able to similarly rest and escape before the town woke up. We did just that, and took some time to recover. My companions bandaged their wounds and I laid down to rest. By the gods, I needed it. For the first time in weeks, I slept soundly, and no nightmares terrorized me in my sleep.
I awoke refreshed and rested. My companions were already awake. Maelokh was talking quiety with the others. It would see that a large spiral staircase ascends all the way to the top of the cavern and through the ceiling. Maelokh had seen a silver and blue-robed figure walking up through the staircase before we took our rest. Could it be Darian himself?
We were nearly prepared to leave, when we heard the sound of footsteps approach our chamber. We hid behind the door, and my companions quickly subdued the short, slender drow who walked through it. He was a teenager carrying feed, presumably for the spiders in the next chamber. Absolom intimidated the boy and revealed that Darian—our king—was sheltering these vile creatures and he himself had Drow blood flowing through his veins! To think that all this time the Graybacks had convinced the world they were blessed and “touched by the stars” and given the right to rule from the gods themselves.
To my surprise, the men didn’t kill the boy outright. Instead, they bound him and kid him in our chamber. Something intrigued me about these men. They were trained by the sword, but did not live by it. In fact, a few moments later we were sneaking through the Drow village and almost caught by a restless acolyte praying to the demon queen. Anyone else would have sunk their knife in his gut, but Absolom simply incapacitated the man and returned him to his seat. It nearly ruined us, too, when the guards discovered the unconscious body. Thankfully, with a well-placed spell from the ranger we were able to disappear out of sight and make our way up the staircase to Darian’s chamber. I do not think the creatures will follow us beyond their walls.
Sure enough, the staircase led directly to Darian’s room. Beautiful, ornate, filled with jewelry . . . everything you would expect. If my companions were reserved about killing, they certainly had no trouble stealing Darian’s treasury. To be fair, it probably would not have been used for good purposes.
We waited for Darian to return. Outside the room was a common lounge, and we heard his children and wife playing throughout the afternoon. After some time, another woman joined them. A maid! My companions had to act frantically, hiding and praying that they would not be found out. The woman entered the room carrying an armful of bedsheets, and Absolom quickly knocked her out. They returned the jewelry to its proper location as best they could (I knew that would come back to bite them in the end . . .) and staged an accident. If we were lucky, the family would come in and think the maid had slipped and fell while moving the wardrobe.
The construct turned into a Spider and hit out on the balcony overlooking the lake. The rest of us hid in the passage we came through. And waited. I took out my journal, which I grabbed from the study before leaving, and began writing out these events before I forgot the details.
An hour passed, maybe more. There was suddenly sound coming from the room. The bedroom doors had been opened and I heard the voices of Darian and his wife walk into the room. It was followed by a thunderous crash! Oakson the Warforged leapt onto the balcony and created a mass of entangling roots to block the door. The Graybacks were trapped! Absolom opened the door . . . and you will not believe what happened next . . .