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Fiction Date 2014-12-01
Last Updated 2018-06-07 08:11:12 - Update

Episode #114: What Lies Beneath...

The Winter Guard Campaign


NPCs mentioned in this Episode:


Gendar

Orcus

Tharizdun

Bhintel crept along the dark passage, crossbow drawn, her senses alert for her prey. The dark elf was alone, as she often was, in the natural and manufactured tunnels beneath Gardmore Abbey. Since the tunnels at some point led to the Underdark, it was necessary for someone to be in charge of security here, and the rogue had been eager to volunteer.

Bhintel was best suited for this task because of her race, skill, and if she were being honest, her disposition. Her kinsman, Gendar, had encountered the adventurers who would become the Winterguard and eventually the Heroes of Gardmore when they had journeyed to the Seven-Pillared Hall beneath when investigating Thunderspire Labyrinth. He had taken a liking to them, especially the warrior Isak, and had proved helpful to them. When he saw Bhintel needed a place to go to, he suggested the Abbey. Under the Winterguard, it had become a sort of hub for displaced peoples in northern Nyrond, a part of the country largely forgotten by the crown, except for taxes. Moreover, isolated heroes now found there was a place they could meet with like-minded individuals, share resources, and adventure together.

She had met the shadar-kai monk, Morpheus after joining the Abbey. He had journeyed with several other heroes (and one decidedly non-hero she thought, though she didn't actually think of herself as a hero, either) to the drow outpost of Phaervorul. He and the shade necromancer, Legion, had disappeared while looking for the shards that contained his sister's soul. Though they eventually cleansed the drow outpost of the corruption of Orcus, she had searched all over for him and found nothing.

It's not that she didn't like the other heroes of Gardmore, per se: the paladin Eranah was inspiring to her (though she'd rather die than admit it); Mordekai was non-stop entertainment the way he struggled with himself here; Isak, Garrick and Odus were all men she trusted her life with; and the avenger Izera was a hoot, with her unique combination of wisdom and total lack of social skills...

...but Morpheus was so much like her. Loss defined them, shaped who they were, planted the darkness within...he was someone she knew actually understood what her suffering was like. He had lived through something very similar. Something terrible.

And now he was gone. She was sure he was dead. And his absence just made her interactions with the others, no matter how well meaning (Eranah! Ugh!), incredibly difficult. So, other than the odd meeting called here or there (by Eranah; Garrick, Isak, Michael, Norraddin and Mordekai had been gone for a long time...too long?), she enjoyed her solitude in the tunnels. Ever since the attack on Phaervorul, there had been a regular occurrence of refugees and raiders, and Bhintel was in charge of dealing with them.

Sometimes, she dealt with them using the skills she had developed on the run from Erelhei-Cinlu: the targets died without ever knowing she was there. Other times, she had to remember the mission statement of the Abbey, and would bring them to the entrance near the Vaults, where they would be interrogated, usually by Eranah (no one could lie to the Deva) or, more comedically, by Izera. Bhintel allowed herself a smile as she remembered how the githzerai would ask the most important questions in the most maladroit manner possible; the best was when she point-blank asked the two svirfneblin refugees how they worshipped Orcus. The faces the deep gnomes had made was worth the price of admission, as it were.

In the present moment, something had caught her eye on one of her patrols. It looked to be slithering about; after hearing about the yuan-ti cult that had laired beneath Gardmore Abbey, Bhintel was especially careful for anything that might have to do with the serpent-men fanatics of Zehir. Right now, she thought she had caught one.

Instead of killing it on the spot, Bhintel thought it might be more prudent to follow it to whatever others of its kind might be lurking about. She was supremely confident her quarry was unaware of her; on the surface, the rogue regularly surprised people she wasn't even intending to surprise. Whatever this thing was, it seemed far too intent on its destination to know it was being expertly followed. The drow was confident, but not cocky though; she made sure she kept an appropriate distance away to ensure she wasn't discovered, no matter how unlikely the idea.

She rounded the corner and pulled up short; her quarry had disappeared! Her eyes narrowed as she suspected an ambush, but none was forthcoming. That leaves either magic or secret passage...and since that faerie warlock isn't here...Bhintel began searching the walls for levers, keyholes, anything that was out of place. It wasn't her forte; she was more vigilante than trapsmith, but with enough persistence, she found the latch, twisted it, and she found herself staring at a very ancient set of stone doors.

Those stupid knights, she thought as she scanned them for any religious markings of Zehir. What in the Abyss did they build their precious Abbey over? Did they even bother to find out? Talk about asking for trouble... Her scan revealed nothing more about the identity of the doors' maker, nor its construction. Her jaw set, she placed her pointed ear to the door, trying to ascertain any movements or sounds from the other side. After staying like that, completely still for several minutes (no one could say she wasn't professional), she took out her lockpick set, ready to overcome the door and investigate what lay beyond.

Suddenly, she wondered why she was doing this. After all, it was her neck on the line, with no one else to back her up. Would they, if they were here, even? Actually risk their lives for hers? Like a deva would sacrifice for a drow! It was laughable! Why did she ever think she could belong with these stuck-up surface dwellers, with their sideways glances at her, their back-talking and lack of trust! She had half a mind to get up, leave this stupid door and whatever was behind it, walk right back into the Underdark and never come back, to the Hells with them! At that point, in a self-righteous huff, she packed her tools, and strode away from the door, her anger boiling over, fueling her steps...

...wait, what? What am I doing? She stopped all of a sudden. A cold sweat had broken over her, and she reclaimed control over herself, her anger subsiding. Where did that come from? she wondered. She didn't know what to think; in her darkest moments, she may have had a stray thought that somewhat resembled the litany of anger she just went through, but it wasn't what she actually believed...was it?

Shaking her head angrily, Bhintel dismissed the introspective thoughts and returned to the door, looking it over. Setting her mouth in a firm line, she knelt down to work on the lock with her tools once more.

Why? So I can die in the name of ‘good?' When has being good ever gotten anyone anything?! Why aren't I just looking out for myself? It served me well enough all those years! There's no family here! They banished me to the tunnels, can't bear the sight of me! It'd serve them right for me to walk out of here...who's to tell me otherwise? That deva bitc...

Suddenly, she drew herself away from the door with a gasp. She stared at it for several long moments, eyes wide in shock, and mouth agape. When she had calmed down, she frowned and considered the door from a safe distance.

It's the door, she realized. Whenever I get close and think about opening it, I start experiencing these feelings to discourage me from doing so. She smiled. Pretty ingenious, actually. Well. Let's see how strong you are when I know what's coming...

She knelt down to the lock for a third time. Almost immediately, she found her anger at her friends rising, the feelings of being used, of being ostracized. This time however, she was ready.

First, the exploratory pick, to find out where the tumblers are...

Do you think for a second they care about you at all?

Now, count the tumblers and memorize their positions...

All the deva does is remind you of how worthless you are!

Balance the first tumbler with pick one, insert pick two...

Accursed githzerai never knows when to shut up!

Flick the first inner lever...

Pretty boy bard does nothing to ease her time with them...thinks he's too good to help me!

Her mouth tightened. Keep the second pick in, use the third to jiggle the second lever...

Forest man cares for his animals way more than he ever did my friendship! I'm not even an animal to them!

Her eyes started to tear up...activate the second lever, move the first pick to the fourth position...

And that gods-cursed monk!! I HOPE YOU DIE LIKE YOUR SISTER!

CLICK!

She had beaten the lock, and more importantly, she hadn't let the door beat her. She crawled away on hands and knees, tears silently streaming down her ebony face. All her fears of loneliness, of not being accepted, of not being a person of worth...the magic of the door had used them all to assault her, reduce her, demean her...

Her mouth tightened, as did her grip on her crossbow. Oh, but someone's going to die!

She went back to the door and pushed it open before the magic could take hold. The room she entered was large and empty, save for what looked like a well. After taking several moments to ascertain her surroundings, she took a few stealthy steps forward.

It was faint at first. The room seemed to be growing, expanding...or was she shrinking? Things got darker, even to her enhanced darkvision. She suddenly felt alone...very alone, like a child abandoned to the caverns after a rival House has slaughtered her family. The feeling grew. She was alone in the drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu, wandering the streets, looking for anyone familiar, friend or foe. Then, she was alone in the whole of the Underdark, with nothing in the endless passages but her own thoughts, which were growing darker and darker...

...and somehow, more knowledgeable. It was as though her being alone had allowed her mind to go to secret places, dark places that knew terrible secrets of the universe. A voice was whispering in her head, unintelligible phrases that she knew she could make sense of if she tried...but if she did, she would learn something so horrible, so unearthly that she instinctively knew her mind would shatter.

She felt small, so very small. Small and cold, an insignificant life form adrift on an endless dark sea...waiting to piece together what the maddening whispers were telling her.

That's when she recognized the voice.

IT WAS HER OWN.

She ran out the door, and through the tunnels, blindly, hoping her instincts would take her back to safety. For over an hour she ran, trying to outrun her own mind. She collapsed upon the rock, her body covered in a cold sweat, her breathing shallow and rushed. She fell into darkness...

About two hours later, Bhintel was walking up to the doors leading to the Vaults. She knew what she had to do. She would tell the cleric, Fynn, about what had happened, and he would organize a party to go investigate. He would ask her to join; she'd refuse. She never planned on going there again.

She'd tell him what she realized.

She'd tell him to bring along help, but try to convince him not to bring people she knew. They had new arrivals: a half-orc who defected from the tribe the Winterguard had routed from when they took back Gardmore and another member from the order that Izera (and Eranah, in another life) belonged to. They'd do fine. Maybe some eladrin. No one she cared about too deeply. No one she'd hate herself for leading to that place.

She'd tell him what she realized.

That the last time she ever felt anything even remotely like this was when she had visited the catacombs beneath Dragon's Roost, the highest point in Gardmore Abbey.

Where the Winterguard had defeated the dark priest of Tharizdun.

And where lay the Voidharrow...


<-- Previous Episode in the Campaign
Snakes... Why did it have to be snakes?


Next Episode in the Campaign -->
Stone & Slime