It was already late, the remaining embers of the oft-trampled fire were fading, and the Minotaur magus had a sizable lead, but he was also their only connection to the rest of this mystery. Montiago and Birdiago took the fore, following the path the Minotaur had ineptly tried to hide. It lead north, then along a ridge and into the next valley, where it took a sharp turn downhill to a natural cave.
“A good spot for an ambush, if he knows that we’re following.” Kynun’s thoughts echoed in his allies minds.
D’cafnaet’d nodded, then motioned for the others to stay as he went forward. He approached the opening cautiously from above, determined the appropriate entrance point, leapt down to it, and then gestured that the others could join. When they got there they found D’cafnaet’d already ahead, listening to the voices that were echoing from further in the cave.
“Fool,” the brusque voice said in Elvish. “You have been outmatched and outwitted. They’ll track you back to this place and attack.” D’cafnaet’d stole a glance around a corner, and saw a well-armed drow angrily gesticulating to the unseen Minotaur.
The Minotaur’s voice wavered as he tried to spin his failures, “I covered my tracks. We will not see them again!”
“Nearly right.” the other voice said, “You won’t see them again.” Then a short grunt and the magus’ body fell at the drow’s feet.
“They are the next connection, and they will seek reinforcements.” Kynun projected, drawing his sword. D’cafnaet’d was already running forward, his shuriken finding the flesh of the warrior who had spoken. Above the minotaur’s body stood another drow in similar armament, but the real defense was a golem who bade the rocks of the cave to trap all those who came near. Montiago spent the battle trading arcane energies with a drow spellslinger who tried to remain in the back, while Lady Ronstein attempted to keep the golem off guard and vulnerable to her allies’ blows. D’cafnaet’d managed to take advantage of the distraction with a flurry of slashes from his blade: a high hit to the golem’s head, another to his arm, and a twist drew a final line across the stone stomach of the thing, which opened and deposited rubble all over the floor as the golem fell.
Kynun stood above the last drow warrior at the end, and Montiago dusted himself off as he began the interrogations. “Why are you with these minotaurs?”
The drow looked confused at the question, which was precisely why Montiago had begun with it. “They’re… slaves. They do as we bid them.”
“What is your name?” Lady Ronstein asked.
“Sunkïst,” the drow said. He knew the good constable/bad constable trick.
Lady Ronstein knew it well. But she had little interest in being the good one, and knew Montiago had even less. “We all know how this ends, Sunkïst. Do you want a quick warrior’s death or a slow and insufferable one?”
.s looked about at the others, but found no solace in the eyes of D’cafnaet’d or Kynun, and couldn’t see any compassion for anyone in Montiago’s. “I serve at the pleasure of the General of the Army of the Houses, Pepsï.”
D’cafnaet’d arched a brow, “Army of the Houses, now? What Houses?”
Sunkïst smiled, unable to contain his pride, “All of them.”
Montiago coughed to steal the focus, “Which cities do these Houses come from?”
Sunkïst’s smile widened, “All of them.”
Sunkïst’s curses quieted as they delved deeper into the cave, the echoed obscenities fading with the ambient light. Lady Ronstein had known when she asked for the location of the army that they needed the information, and had known further that Kynun would not let her lie to the helpless drow, so when she promised that the information could be traded for survival she had a plan in mind. The trade accepted, the drow had been quite upset when she laid out the candles, read from her holy books, and made the incantation to inescapably bind him to a promise to never again venture beneath the surface world. But he would grow to deal with it.
Montiago had used the time to send off a warning to Brindol that they were the focus of the attack. The small hamlet had little chance of fending off an assault from the entirety of drow culture, but with enough time to rally Overlook and Astrazalian they just might hold them off for a while. The assault was an army of the drows’ slaves, which might be a sign that this was still an experimental alliance. Perhaps Brindol could buy enough time for this small party to break the assault’s political support. But to do that they would have to go to where such politics were made, and so they were descending into the darkness.
It was perhaps two hours before they saw the torchlight before them. They doused their light and crept forward until they saw the bearer of the torch– a tall, unarmed brunette– and a large reptilian creature that walked with her. She was meandering between columns of rock overgrown with purple mushrooms that glowed faintly in the dark. The cavern narrowed such that her position was the only way forward, so she appeared to be a guard, but she didn’t seem a very formidable one. Nevertheless it was better to avoid entanglements when possible, so they attempted to pass on the far side of the opening. But as soon as they stepped close to the mushrooms’ glow, the little fungi rippled and a shriek went out of them. The woman spun around, her guardian did the same, and then, out of nowhere, a long tendril snaked out through the darkness and grabbed Kynun’s ankle and pulled him in.
D’cafnaet’d rushed forward and sliced the tendril, which curled back toward the guards. “It’s a Roper!” he said, twirling behind a column for protection.
Lady Ronstein planted her feet and gestured at the shape that might be the beast. Light shone out, a burst traveling up her legs and out her fingertips, converging on the column of rock that was no rock at all, and then it disappeared, banished to Gods-know-where. Everyone scrambled forward, taking the opportunity to fill the space and hit those who were hoping to hide behind the thing.
The woman tumbled back, then sidled over to Kynun, whispering something to him. The genasi smiled, and a moment later when Montiago sent a ball of darkness at the woman Kynun stepped forward to take the hit for her. Lady Ronstein shook her head, “Men.” Her complains we’re drowned out by a blast from behind. A ink-black cephalopod fluttered down out of the darkness, sound and fury riding on its tentacles.
Kynun was busy avoiding the succubus; he spun round and let his sword slice through the reptile and the Roper, which reappeared just in time to be bit by the arc. Lady Ronstein managed to distance herself from the Dark Mantle and push light and force at the other woman, who retreated from the field, then sprouted batlike wings and flew up into the blackness D’cafnaet’d leapt aside the reptile– a basilisk, Montiago figured– and sliced open it’s side. The basilisk fell. Kynun’s blade hit the roper again, and the tendrils fell limp. The dark mantle saw the tide turn and took the opportunity to float away. The mushrooms’s sirens quieted. The party stood in the near-darkness. The succubus would warn others of their coming. Everything had just become harder.