The comfort of the palaquin was akin to a cage as Katira and her companions left the outskirts of the Drow city and entered the open realms of the Underdark.
Old memories flooded Katira’s mind as the Svrifneblin slaves carried her along rocky slopes at a slow and even pace.
As a child she roamed the twisting caves and tunnels of the Underdark with her mother. Running in fear of the Great House’s that had destroyed her family and eradicated their history from the hearts and minds of Drow. Faint almost feeble memories of battles, fire, carnage the night her mother grabbed her up from her bed and drug her into the darkness at a full run. Guarded closely by a dozen male swordsmen they ran. Each male sacrificing their life to assure their escape, until only Katira and her Mother roamed the Underdark.
Over the next 30 years Katira learned to love the Underdark. It was the struggle in life that gave it flavor. Even flight from ones enemies could be redeeming for one soon learns Life burns brightest as it about to be extinguished.
The confines of the palaquin began to enclose her more tightly.
“Halt!” cried Katira to the lead slave, “Halt at once!”
Before the palaquin could come to a halt, the Duergar mercenary threw back the white silk curtains and nearly jumped into the palaquin, “Mistress we are not out of danger yet. You must obey my commands!”, bawled the frustrated Duergar.
“Gatedenar my protector, I have lived long as child in this realm. I cannot protect myself in this plush confine.”, replied Katira.
“My Lady, the Troll scouts ahead setting sign for all the creatures of the Underdark to see. Do not waste his efforts, do not try his patience. In 4 days we shall be in nearing the outskirts of mighty Gloomhaven, then you can walk in the open. Drow nobles are greatly respected in my lands.” “You must arrive in the condition of nobility for us to get safe passage out of the Underdark however.”
“ Be seated Katira!”
The ugly and mishapen Duergars familiarity took Katira off guard. No male had ever used her first name and survived in House Baenre. She quelled the thought of calling upon the spirit of Lloth to chastise the dark dwarf with a holy word – a fit punishment for the crime. However, one needed confident servants to complete the task of traveling to Dobluth Kyor.
“I will be seated Mercenary.” scowled Katira, as she pulled the curtains closed abruptly.
Leaning back into the pile of ornate pillows Katira began to plan the end of the mercenary captain Gatedenar.
Gatedenar stayed close to the palaquin at all times. To lose the priestess before her delivery to the surface city would bring down all the hell and damnation of House Baenre. No hole or hiding place would save him in that event.
He jogged at a slow pace looking for signs of Kragt’s passage. The troll was unequaled in ability to travel quickly for long distances. Its simple need to kill, coupled with its ferocity and sadistic behavior made it the most feared creature in this part of the Underdark.
A hour passed before a dead Pech appeared along the cracked stone walkway carved out of a jagged cliff wall. The open cavern ahead was well known to harbor the cast off’s of many deadly enclaves – Gloomhaven and Menzo. It was populated with trappers, otyughs and many deadly creatures. The Pechs were a tiny race of Underdark humanoids. They lived their lives in fear and squalor. They did however raise families and had populations large enough to keep the deadly denizens of the open caverns at bay.
At bay until Kragt left his open calling card.
Gatedenar’s dirty face broke into a broken smile at the simplicity of the Trolls message.
There lying in open view was the body of a Elder Pech. Split from chin to crotch it was gutted and emptied. Stuffed to the point of exploding, its chest cavity was filled with the congealed bloody heads of at least a dozen Pech children. Grisly blank stares, sticky matted hair and rictous grins from broken toothed smiles peered out the Elder Pech’s abdomen.
No Pech would bother the group as they hurried towards Gloomhaven, “ Efficient!” exclaimed Gatedenar as the corpse disappeared from view.
For the better part of three weeks Katira had traveled in the stifling confines of the palaquin only to test her legs during infrequent rest periods. Not a creature had tested the defenses of Gatedenar. Although it was quite obvious to one atuned to the Underdark that a creature of great power and limitless rage cleared the path for the tiny group.
Kragt’s “calling cards” were becoming more hideous each passing week. They had become almost frantic, as if the troll could not feed some hunger to its satisfaction. The Svirfneblin that were the palaquin bearers moaned and groveled in fear when the troll came into view in the distance. Kragt had not yet entered the groups camp since leaving the Drow city. Yet even the stupid almost idiotic Svirfneblin could read the Trolls intentions through its ghastly markings.
Katira guessed the group was nearing Gloomhaven. Frequently Duergar work crews were being spotted, and avoided. Not that the crews were too eager to approach the group. Several Duergar had been quartered and rearranged in twisted approximations of the carved stone markers the Duergar used as distance markers.
At the next rest period, Katira called to the mercenary, “Gatedenar, we have traveled safe and quickly – it is time I resume my meditations and prayers. Prayers that no male shall see or particpate.” “Tonight I shall take a slave as a bearer and return as quickly as possible.”
Before Gatedenar could respond, Katira gave staccato commands to three of the haggard and exhausted slaves to gather Gatedenar’s belongings and make a comfortable resting place for the mercenary for hire. Holding a hand palm out in the Duergar’s directions she hissed, “This MUST be done. Relax and let the slaves ease your travel pains, and rest.”
Turning quickly she grabbed up a small velvet bag and walked three paces away – a single Svirfneblin trailing behind.
Once out of earshot, Katira gave the little creature a set of orders, pointing back to the other slaves just on the edge of sight. With a frustrated snort she slapped the slave and pushed it back towards the group’s small camp.
Drenched in her own sweat Katira completed her meditations. The white silk cloth she kneeled on held the moist impression of her knees, hands and face as she sat back on her heals and smiled as the little Snirfneblin slave approached from behind the shadows of the jagged rocks that separated the camp and the cleric.
Hunched over, protecting a rolled up rug the slave shuffled up to Katira and dropped the rug exhausted.
The dirty purple Duergar rug fell open spilling its contents of crusty armor buckles, a bone comb with only a few teeth remaining, a tattered undershirt the size of dwarf – and a belt, well oiled and cared for, from which hung a empty leather purse with the mark of Gatendar.
“All these items came from the Mercenaries packs?”
“Yesh!” replied the foul smelling slave.
“Very well, your reward is earned. I free you from your bondage!” “I call upon the holy powers of Lloth to reward you!” cackled Katira as she called upon her deity to harm the defenseless slave – pain rippling through its body, shattering bone and tearing sinew.
The nameless slave fell to the shattered ebon rocks covering the ground with a surprised look frozen on its now dead face.
Quickly holding a scented kerchief to her face, Katira laid out the purple rug and drug the slaves stinking carcass over to rest upon it. Carefully she emptied the small purse she carried to prayers into the mouth of the Svifrneblin – filling it with bright silver coins. The last few coins she put in the purse attached to the Duergar mercenaries belt. Lastly Katira arranged the stolen items around the dead body attempting to make it resemble the mercenary Captain, but only after taking a silver hilted knife from her belt and slitting the corpses throat.
Taking a few steps back Katira looked carefully at her handiwork, then turned and left at a quick walk back to the camp.
Gatedenar was thankful that the party was just two rest periods away from Might Gloomhaven. The youthful priestess was driving the Duergar insane trying to order the expierence mercenary Captain around. If it were not for his discretion and travel knowledge the bratty priestess would have perished weeks ago.
The Bitch Princess seemed to calm a bit after he informed her ladyship that they were just two rest periods from the gates of the Duergar fortress.
Of course it was just the bitches worry about the loss of her bearers over the last few days that had her feeling edgy.
The stinking Pech were disappearing at each rest period now. The two that were left could no longer carry the palaquin so it was discarded along a deep ravine. The demon of a Troll, Kragt did not give any information about the slaves where abouts when asked. The tension Gatedenar felt between himself and the troll had reached a high point. Controlling the troll was now almost impossible. Only two rests left and the troll would be moot. A few coins to the gate guards of Gloomhaven as they passed and the troll would be forgotten.
The Bitch Princess would be returning from her secret prayers soon.
Gatedenar began to check his armor over carefully. Something did not feel right.
Eight were too many to kill alone. Nine would be impossible.
Kragt stood in a copse of towering mushrooms, blending in carefully with the shadows cast by the luminescent lichens that filled the gigantic otherworldly cavern. The cavern that gates of Gloomhaven opened into. There stood eight stocky little kill things dressed in shiny armor and colorful cloth. The master dwarf looked much more fearful.
Or at least he did.
Now he looked like a insignificant Pech to Kragt. His dreams were filled with the pictures the dead Gatedenar. The signs had been pointing to many wonderous things regarding the Master dwarf. Its belly was full of coins which it coughed up on death. It was rich in property to fill the hovel of Kragts many wives in the swamp lands of Ghore. The thought of breaking the little Duergars bones and arranging his body in the ways of the dreaming were very appealing, very satisfying thoughts. The frantic feeling was quenched for a moment as he day dreamed.
Turning slowly and measuredly Kragt retraced his steps towards the party lagging behind.
The last dream marker would be found soon. For the fourth time, it would be behind the party as they started to move towards the gates of Gloomhaven. The fourth marker would left behind like a forgotten shadow. A marker of death for Kragt to read. A portent of the future.
Katira could smell the forge fires of the Duergar settlement ahead. The burning coal overpowered the fresh smell of bread and spices that were wafting so faintly on the currents of air that flowed through the series of gigantic caverns that made up the lands of the Duergar.
Gatedenar had informed her that the last of the Svirfneblin slaves had disappeared not long ago and had whipped the troll Kragt into tracking the creature before it could warn the denizens of Gloomhaven that the Trio were approaching. The snarling troll had left as told, but not without a fight.
Gatedenar’s plan was solid. Do not even trust those of his homeland with the secret of Katira’s passing. Gloomhaven was only a single stop along the path to Dobluth Kyor. No person or place had higher priority than Dobluth Kyor the bolt hole in which the Assassin Nilan hid – the Chosen of Vhaerun.
Once through the gates, the party would make fast for the barge on the far side of Gloomhaven. Unlike the Drow City, Gloomhaven could be traveled across in a short time. One had to take the barge to its farthest point and follow the signs to the city of Dobluth Kyor.
Katira shivered at the thought of warm daylight upon her ebon skin.
How could the heretic Nilan stand living in the filth and dirt walls of a cancerous city of a half god – how could he turn his back on home and heritage.
“Its time to lighten our packs and travel faster!” smiled Katira to the breeze.
Gatedenar’s heart lightened as the sounds of the Duergar settlement filled his heart. For a moment he nearly missed the whistling slice of a ebony sword blade coming towards his head.
Two hundred years of dodging death had given him a sixth sense that allowed him to fall the the ground mere seconds before the magically embued blade relieved him of his head.
“Bloody KRAGT!” screamed Gatedenar as he rolled to his feet – pulling his blackened and bloody warhammer from the leather thongs that held it to the Captain’s broad back. Gatedenar mounted his best defense against the lanky troll, yet the blazing hatred in the trolls eyes un-nerved Gatedenar. This fight was deadly serious and not just a gamble for leadership.
Kragt leaped forward in a flurry of strong overhead sword strokes, unafraid of Gatedenar.. pure power and grace without defense or fear.
Sweat broke out on Gatedenar’s brow and stroke after stroke beat down his trusty old hammer. Its wooden grip and handle stood strong against the windmill blows of Kragt’s seething poison blade. Gatedenar knew better than anyone that the troll carried powerful magic at its side in the form of its ebony longsword. Its spirit and magic matched Kragts. It had the the power to blind and poison its target. Powers that ended a fight quickly.
“Katira RUN!” yelled Gatedenar to the air, “Run to the gates and give the password DOOMSHACKLE as you pass the guards! RUN!!”
Gatedenar whirled on thick strong legs and put his back behind a blacksmith’s blow to the tall troll’s chest that went unchecked – straight to the heart of his foe.
Rewarded with the sickening thud of hammer meeting flesh, of cracking bone and torn sinew – Gatedenar thought for the first time he now had the upper hand.
Kragt stumbled backwards, for a moment his forward momentum was slowed as the little Duergar’s massive hammer slammed into his chest. His chest felt like it would explode inwards and the hammer was pulled back for a second strike.
With animal grace Kragt leaped over the head of the solid dwarf and landed behind him, sword arm clutching his throbbing chest – Kragt hesitated for a moment. Then ran into the copse of towering mushrooms he had scouted out earlier in the day.
Gatedenar’s dander was up now! The damn Troll had been a pain in his side for weeks now. Kragt was wounded and fleeing. Gatedenar knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that now was the time to chase the traitorous troll and end its life.
Whirling on a armored heel, Gatedenar watched the Drow Priestess enter the gates of Gloomhaven with her hood pulled high, disguised the best she could muster. She was safe.
“Kragt! I come for you!” echoed Gatedenar’s scream along the walls of the cavern.
Hunching forward he ran hard on the heals of the wounded troll.
Already Kragt’s chest felt better. His consitution was high even among the warriors of Ghore. The broken bones of this chest were already mending as the bothersome Duergar issued its challenge to the air. Fresh air rushed into his lungs as his long legs took him further into the mushroom forest. No Duergar could match the travel pace of the Troll.
Kragt passed other creatures along the way, when enough had passed his vision and he was far enough into the shadows of the forest – he turned and began to backtrack towards the enraged dwarf.
Gatedenar was traveling fast on the heels of the Troll, who had run at a loping pace towards the deepening shadows that the tall mushrooms cast along the ground. He had lost sight of the swamp monster, but knew he was just a few steps ahead.
Time began to slow for Gatedenar.
Gatedenar lashed out with his hammer at a lanky shadow that glided between tall mushrooms. The blackened warhammer vibrated in his hands as it emitted wave after wave of energy draining magic as it struck the skinny foe. “DIE Kragt!” bellowed the Duergar as his hammer sunk deep into the flesh of his enemy.
Quelling a feeling of panic the Captain of Mercenaries soon understood his mistake. As he tried to pull his trusted hammer free. It was caught deep in the flesh of something that was not a troll. Quickly scanning the area as he attempted to pull the weapon free he saw the ghostly shadowy shapes of several tall creatures that looked somewhat like the troll. Pulling his hammer free, Gatendar found himself showered with the acrid smell of the spores of a giant Myconid that fell forward out of the shadows at Gatedenar’s feet.
Gatedenar was immediately met by waves of pain as the accursed Troll leapt from atop a towering mushroom and pierced Gatedenar’s armor with its hateful ebony sword – pinning the Duergar to the ground.
The ebony longsword was filling his body with poison as Gatedenar screamed in rage and pain, unable to throw the heavy troll off his chest.
“Kragt I will double your coins, TRIPLE your cut!”
Gatedenar’s vision was beginning to fade, snuffed out by the magic of the sword as he screamed, “ I will fill your bags with silver!”
Kragt took a calloused and scarred green foot and pushed hard on the hated Duergar’s head. Turning it to the shadows. Where a small Svirfneblin slave stood.
A mushroom yoke stretched around its head and along its shoulders, holding two heavy bags spilling over with silver, and Gatedenar’s lost goods.
“Splitting you in two, I will beEEeeEEeEee”, crooned Kragt. “Stuffing you like a farmers chicken I will beEeEEEEeeEEeEee.” With a jagged toothy smile the twisted Troll cackled, “Cant buy me anymore hateful Gatedenar!”
It his last moment of clairity, Gatedenar came to the sudden discovery that the slave carried more silver than Gatedenar had used or lost on the trip. That the lost slaves had not fled, but were offerings – bribes.
“GUARDS!” screamed Gatedenar.
“iEeeeeeEEyYYyaaaHhHH!” answered Kragt as he fell forward, sinking teeth deep into the neck of Gatedenar, drawing mouthfuls of copper tasting blood into his mouth – drinking the soul and life out of his foe.
Katira passed quite easily into the gates of Gloomhaven. The clan name of Doomshackle, the slaver clan held great weight in the city and Katira has listened carefully each time the self centered and pompous Duergar mercenary had spoken in his native tongue.
Timing was everything, and Katira had timed her plans to cumulate near the very gates of Gloomhaven. Her graceful Drow stature and height were not as captivating as the sound of battle outside the gates. The Gloomhaven gate guards hardly noticed her passing.
She smiled inwardly at the way she had lightened her load and sped her ability to travel.
Her height was a obvious problem as she traveled through the city as quickly as possible. Her only stop was to purchase a map of the city at Morko’s stall. Withing minutes Katira had gathered the next docking time of the River barge, and began to search out a place to rest and prepare before its docking.
In no way did Katira want to be handed to the Leacherous King of Gloomhaven for questioning.
The Prize was Nilan the Assassin – and the fall of Vhaerun!
Katira clung to the shadows near the lower levels of Gloomhaven, not far from the wonderous forges that warmed the whole level.
Katira was out of reach of Triel, Guenthal and all the madness in Menzobarranzan.
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