Fable - Ask Those Who Dwell In the Dark

Dahldaera

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"Do you recognize this place...?"

"The Ruins of Shel'geth. I have only heard of it in stories told by my mentors."

"Do you know what it is called by the el'eth dul?"

"No."

"The City of Souls."

Dahldaera stood for several moments atop a mount of rubble, icy blue eyes casting a baleful glow in the dark reaches of the fathomless abyss before her. There should have been an expression of wonder on her face, awe perhaps, but she could only manage to look upon it in disgust at this revelation.

"This is the City of Souls?" a place where exiles, dishonoreds, and lesser creatures wilted. Festering like an infected wound. Daera scowled, nose wrinkled as she shot a look of offense at her guide, "We are meeting them here?"

"Yes, it is all arranged." Eight beady, red eyes blinked back at her from the shadows of a rocky outcropping where the ghostly image of a massive dryder's form could just be made out. Long, delicate, spindle-white legs curved back at the sound of footsteps, "merely a stepping stone on our journey. We will not linger here long. My messengers assured me both contacts were on their way."

"Good." The sooner they arrived, the sooner she could leave this wretched place.
 
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Kalavan

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An esteemed smith such as yourself should have no problem following the map.

A guide would have been preferred. Kalavan trudged along the broken cobble path, down derelict stairs, and over a half-collapsed building while squinting at the torn and wrinkled parchment in his grasp. The scribbled handwriting remained blurry, no matter how hard he stared or how close he held the map to his face.

In truth, he hadn't a clue where he was going.

As he summited the heap of rubble and began to make his way down the other side, Kalavan misjudged his ability to put one foot in front of the other and slipped on a loose stone, unceremoniously tumbling down the rubble. The fall didn't damage anything, save his self-confidence. And the map, which was now a torn, crumpled mess.

Kalavan crushed it completely between both of his hands and tossed it away in a childlike rage before stomping away in no particular direction, the belt of smithing tools dangling from his pack loudly jingling with every step.

By the time he'd arrive at the arranged spot, his temper would have simmered to only slight annoyance.

And when he saw the white-haired, blue-eyed woman standing atop a mountain of rubble, he wore a stoic, almost stern expression.

He hated meeting strangers.
 
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Nasir

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Nasir stepped from the shadows, his body peeling from an unseen black abyss within the walls of the fallen city. His fingers curled slightly into a fist, bright blue eyes flickering over the ground and then his flesh with a scowl. An odd spark ran up his forearm, his hand opening as it rushed into his flesh and the muscle there tightened for just a moment.

Slowly his head shook, and then his gaze swept upwards.

He remembered this place. Remembered walking through it's reaches just after his exile. It had been no different then, no better. A remnant of something that had once been. Blue eyes lingered on the ruins, and then they found the woman who stood atop them.

For a brief moment he watched her, then spotted the slight shift of movement behind her.

Eyes narrowed, and he spotted the unmistakable gait of a spindly leg.

"A gaze to match your own. A forge reignited. A path that will see gods burn."

Malgadrin's words rang within his skull, the reason that he had come here after being so close his return. The Dryder Queen had been clear in her message, the flickering images that she had shown him in his dreams. The future was not often clear, but if he could not trust her, then he could not trust anyone.

Nasir gazed up at the ruble, watching as eight beady red eyes turned towards him, peering at him from within the shadows. The Dark Elf lingered for a moment more, and then slowly began to climb up towards Dahldaera.

Kalavan
 

Dahldaera

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"Mark your abhorrence of exiles, Silver One," her guide cooed from her shadowed perch, "for they will be the source of your salvation."

Old habits and culture died a long, hard death. Dahldaera simmered under the tune of the arachnid's sultry voice, leveling the sensation of crawling across her skin with a steeled sense of rage. There came a clattering to her right, a drip of gold in the darkness. Daera's eyes flashed electric as she shifted where she stood, setting her gaze upon an El'eth of curious appearance.

"The Smith arrives," the dryder announced gently.

Smith. Noted across the inner circles for his talent with the forge and hammer.

"I do not seek salvation," Daera replied quietly as her senses picked up the furling of dark magics at her back, "I seek a reckoning."

"The Exile arrives, Silver One."

"Is it enough," Daera sobered as her mind recounted the timeline of events that had brought her here. The weight of it all was sudden. Enough to push her past the notion of working closely with a disgraced exile and a common smith. Perhaps it made sense that the toppling of the Priesthood and the affirmation of her rule begin at the foundations.

"It is a start," the dryder replied, descending from her perch on a drop-line, bone-hued skin emitting a dull glow in the gloom of the cavern, "that much is known. We have a great distance to travel," her massive form descended between the three where they gathered, alighting with great delicacy upon the slope of the rubble, "I am Eske, your Guide, perhaps further introductions can be done along the way."

With unnerving silence, the she-beast traipsed off toward a footpath that lead through the ruins.

Daera watched her go pausing to look over Nasir and Kalavan as they approached, "I am Dahldaera, Crowne Sovereign of the El'eth Surrah and the Endless City of the Underdark. What names may I call you by?"
 
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Kalavan

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Gods, another?

Pale lips thinned into a tight line as another made himself known. Kalavan came to a halt at the mound of rubble, watching as the other made his way up.

No. Not again.

The El'eth adjusted the leather strap over his shoulder with a tight grip and uneasily shifted where he stood, his tools lightly jingling, keeping an unnecessarily wary eye on the dark one. A slight jolt of his shoulders as the creature descended. He bit the inside of his pressed lips as it spoke and only relaxed as it faded from sight.

"Kalavan," he kept his gaze trained on the path as if cautiously expecting the dryder to come back.
 
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Nasir

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He watched the Dryder blue eyes focusing on her until Dahl spoke her name. Almost as soon as she said her title Nasir's head suddenly jerked towards her. Lips thinned, and memories of a meeting just a few months passed snapped to the front of his mind.

The Exile remembered what that position meant, more importantly, what it should have been.

A small smile played across his lips for just a brief second, amusement rolling through him as he wondered what she knew. A few more seconds passed as the Forgemaster introduced himself. It was a name that Nasir did not know, but that was hardly surprising.

"Nasir will do." It was not his name, at least it had not been before his exile.

He wondered if she would know the truth of it, though he doubted it. Her sister had been too young to remember and he assumed it would be the same for her.
 

Dahldaera

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Kalavan. Nasir.

Names she did not know. Knowledge of those beyond the Royal Court or Council wasn't expected. It took a very special or curious case indeed to garner the attention of the royals. Daera's expression flattened - still, they were both her people, and a far greater source of company than the Dryder. She didn't swallow her pride, but she kept it well tethered behind a strong jaw.

"We travel to the ruins of Malus Duun where I intend to establish a new seat of power beyond the reach of the Priesthood. The Forges of Malus Duun will need a caretaker and I will need a Forgemaster," her gaze settled on Kalavan, keenly noting his tools, "that is why you have been brought here. And you," she looked to Nasir next, "Eske tells me the Dryder Queen speaks highly of you and that our goals align."

"Silver One," Eske called from a level up, "the way is open. We must go now."

Peering at their guide for a short moment, Daera turned and carefully made her way down the rubble and back to what appeared to be a footpath through the detritus of the ruins. She paused for the other two to catch up, peering at Nasir for a moment longer, "You seem familiar. Are you not the same Captain who was imprisoned for sedition near the end of Sarathun's Age?"
 
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Kalavan

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Kalavan curtly nodded and fell in behind Dahldaera and Nasir at a comfortable distance. Intentions. Missions. The smith cared not for either, only the Forges of Malus Duun. The mere prospect of access to the knowledge the ruins held was enough to pry Kalavan from his smithy.

And the possibility of reigniting the forge? How could he pass up the opportunity? To be entitled Forgemaster, despite his humble birth- it was a dream. A dream of dreams.

His gaze switched between the two in front of him as they spoke.
 
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Nasir

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"Not imprisoned." At least not for more than a day.

The priests had taken him, those who had followed his path. Every one of them had been executed to the last, their throats cut and their souls sacrificed in the name of gods that they had defied. Nasir had been made to watch.

Every throat cut, every heart ripped from the chest. Each and every man or woman that had followed him, all of them had been put to death in front of his eyes. That had been the length of his imprisonment. When the last had faced execution Nasir had been granted his new named and exiled.

By all rights he should not have been able to return to the Underdark, but through Myrra he had been able to break the curse that they'd put upon him.

Fate, Malgadrin had told him, though the irony of such a thing had brought only a bitter laugh from his lips. "But yes, that was me."

The irony of that of course being, that had he succeeded, Dahldaera likely would now be dead. Had his plan not been discovered, the royal family along with the priesthood would have been eradicated in the same slaughter that had been enacted upon his followers.
 

Dahldaera

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The Smith was a quiet sort... good.

"Hm," the flicker of a cynical smile. Daera had half a century on her sister, she had been old enough to understand the severity of Nasir's offence from her youth. Sitting in at the Queen's side, listening in on the Council meetings, attending all manner of Court. Watching. Learning. Fiera had been but a babe, and a forsaken one at that - relegated to the care of Matrons beyond the sight of the public. Sickly, they said of her, too ill to attend Court.

The irony of his crime was not lost on her.

"Isn't Fate a fickle thing..."

She stopped at a gaping hole in the ground surrounded by the trappings of what appeared to be the frame structure of a lift gate. Crossing her arms, she peered down into the endless bleak below, "This is our way?"

"The lift has long since crumbled," Eske's voice echoed up gently, "I will carry you down in my web. You need only take a leap of faith."

Dae scowled at the prospect of faith, "Blind faith is what got us here."

"Perhaps," replied Eske, her voice followed by a sudden rushing woooooooooo-aaaaaahhh sound of book lungs taking a momentary breath, "but I am no Priest."

"Kalavan," Daera spoke up, "after you."
 
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Kalavan

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Kalavan came up beside Dahldaera (still at a comfortable distance) as Eske spoke up from the darkness, leaning over the pit. Long fall. Quick death.

The smith's shoulders jolted as she volunteered him to take the plunge- an invitation he was not keen to accept.

"May I refuse?" He looked at the cross-armed, scowling woman with raised brows, then turned his attention back to the pit, grimacing. "Thought not."

Malus Duun. Malus Duun.


Kalavan held his pack close to his chest and took a deep breath before pushing off the edge and disappearing into the darkness below.
 
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Nasir

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Nasir glanced towards the Dryder briefly, then over the edge of the cliff.

He watched as the forgemaster took his plunge, lips thinning for a brief moment until he too took a step towards the edge of the cliff. For a moment he lingered there, glancing back towards the Dryder for a brief moment and then simply taking a breath.

Unlike Kalavan Nasir did not simply step off the edge. Though he had no doubt that one of Malgadrin's children would not let them die, the Dark Elf did not like to leave such things up to chance.

His entire body snapped, becoming an odd shadow that lingered for a brief second before it suddenly rushed forward over the side of the cliff and traveled like a serpent beneath the spires of rock.
 

Dahldaera

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A narrowed gaze of bright blue watched the Fallen Captain disappear into the shadows in a way that only the Dark Mages had ever presented. A moment later and the Crowne Sovereign took the single step forward to drop into the darkness.

She landed with a swaying bob within the dryder's web not more than a dozen feet down and rolled with a grunt right onto the Smith whose weight had already sunk into the middle.

"Eske," she hissed, "this is not dignified."

"Apologies, Silver One. It is not my intent to mar your dignity," the web that held them shivered as the spider-woman plucked the holding lines from the stone walls surrounding them, "only to provide you with the safest alternative to a long drop and a quick stop."

Bundling the web together as a net, eight legs splayed across the narrow channel of the lift opening, Eske began the trek down, down, down into the deep.

Daera shifted, or tried to as well as she could, to prise herself off the Smith with an audible sigh. She sat back, eyeing the man briefly with a fading disdain and a growing curiosity, "Your hair. That is not a very common color. You must be a descendant of Liriolenn."
 
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Kalavan

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Kalavan found a few fleeting moments of comfort at the web's center, laying on his back and looking up to the shaft's opening with hands folded over his chest. A part of the Smith expected a longer fall, but that didn't disappoint him a bit. It had been the most daring, exciting thing he'd done in centuries of life. He hated it.

Then he saw somebody leap after him, their blurry silhouette growing larger and larger until they bounced off the webbing and unfortunately landed atop the Smith. He was not pleased about it, but at least happy that it hadn't been the dark one.

Kalavan stared past the Crowne Sovereign, keeping his gaze focused on the light above as a shaky exhalation escaped his pursed lips.

Undignified? I'll say.

It was far from the first time that another remarked on the color of his hair, and it would not be the last. Kalavan composed himself and propped himself up on an elbow. Eyes of hot steel met those of electric blue.

"I do not use a bow as she did," his father had thrust a bow in his hands as a child, and his father had been incredibly disappointed in turn. "Poor eyesight."
 
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Nasir

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Nasir bled from the shadows at the base of the cliff, sapphire eyes peering through the abyss.

What he found was...unsurprisingly more nothing. Most of the underdark consisted of tunnels that went on for miles upon miles. It was rare to find anything at all that could be worthy of note. Far more likely one would spend years wandering until they starved.

A breath filled him for a few seconds, his gaze flickering up above from where he heard voices echoing quietly.

Nasir was not all together confident about this journey. He did not know either of his companions, and a part of him could not help but think they would end up like all the others he'd had in his life. Fingers flickered at his side for a moment, a small wisp of purple traveling over their tips before he stepped forward and away from where Eske would land.

He cast a glance behind himself, then continued to wait.
 

Dahldaera

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"You - poor eyesight?" Daera let out a hollow chirp of laughter, mirth filling her own expression. An elf with poor eyesight? How novel, how droll. He must be joking. Had to be joking.

She looked at him again, finding his own face to be rather stoic and serious, and let her laughter die down into a dwindling chuckle. Instead an sharp smile curled her lips in the same instant her fingers curled around his chin. Static charge met unyielding metal and surged an intense stare right through him, "Well that is unfortunate," Daera remarked, hovering mere inches before his face, "but I understand it does not impede your work in the Forge. How did you come by such skills?"
 
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Kalavan

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Kalavan's pale lips pulled down in a frown at Dahldaera's laughter, and even more so as lithe fingers coiled around his chin. He swallowed back a lump.

"It does not impede my work, you are correct. I have shaped and honed metal for hundreds of years. Even if I were blind, I could make a masterpiece." There was no bravado in the smith's tone, only the confidence that could be gained solely through, quite literally, countless hours spent in the smithy. Kalavan did not avert his gaze, but golden lashes fluttered as he quickly blinked. He cleared his throat. "I- you... um, are very close."

As if sensing his unease, Eske's spindly limbs set down at the shaft's base and set the pair down, opening the web.
 
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Dahldaera

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"Good, I expect you to make many masterpieces."

She released his chin, smiling to herself at the thought of all the possibilities here.

"Yes, I suspect you and I will be working quite closely together." Then, rather suddenly, they were on level ground once more. Dark lips pulled into a sharp smile, Daera stood and disentangled herself from the web, moving to stand clear as the massive spider plucked the remaining webbing away.

"Not far now," Eske gestured down the narrow corridor through the stone.

"What do you mean," Daera eyed her, stepping first along the hall, "the ruins of Malus Duun are leagues away to the south."

"So they are," the dryder gracefully followed above them along one of the walls, "and yet in the time before time, Enchanters found a way to travel great distances."

The narrow aisle of stone opened into a pitch black chasm with a single, narrow stone bridge that lead to a spire at the center. There, in the heart of the spire sat a portal stone. "As above, so below," Eske smiled, the expression pressing up into all eight of her glowing eyes.
 
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Nasir

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No surprised colored Nasir's face when he saw the portal stone. It was Malgadrin who had first shown him that particular magic, and so it made sense that they would find it here now. Briefly he glanced over towards Eske, lips thinning.

During his time on the surface world Nasir had learned far more about how the stones actually worked.

He knew that some of them could go to dozens upon dozens of others, and that some were directly linked to only a single stone. He could not tell which sort this one was from so far, but he made a guess that it would only take them one place.

"So the path continues." Nasir mused, more to himself than to his companions.

Once more he would lay his hands upon a Portal Stone, and once more the course of their people would be changed.

How odd, that history repeated itself so quickly.
 

Kalavan

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Kalavan's cheeks took the tone of rose petals.

He did not like her tone. He did not like the way she smiled at him. He most definitely did not like the notion of working quite closely together. Kalavan clumsily stumbled out from the webbing and, in a fluster, flattened his shirt and slung his pack over his shoulder. He looked at the dark one.

Would he be working closely with him as well?

Gaze swept to Eske.

Or that?

He didn't have the gall to ask it to stop making that expression. Instead, Kalavan followed the Crowne Sovereign into the chamber, looking over the portal stone with mild fascination.

"How do we use it?"
 
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Dahldaera

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"One must possess a Portal Stone Key," Eske replied gently to Kalavan, a single delicate spider limb gesturing to Dahldaera.

Daera looked to the stone then lifted a hand to reach beneath the neckline of her robes, producing a chain upon which a collection of circular amulets hung, like coins strung on a line. Presumably, all of them were Portal Keys. A wry smile took her features, "The Priesthood will have a difficult time making chase without these." Deft fingers moved to unclip the chain and pulled a single amulet from its length.

Replacing the necklace and tucking it back beneath her robes, she approached the stone and smoothed her empty hand over its surface, brushing away a thick layer of moss. Beneath it a myriad of symbols etched into the face of the stone. Scrutinizing them for several long moments, Daera then turned a narrowed gaze upwards to Eske, "There is no sigil for Malus Duun."

"Yes," said the Dryder, "that stone is inactive while the forge lays cold. We will go here," she reached to tap a spindle-leg at the last sigil, "and take the Rift to the keep."

"The Rift?"

"An underground river that flows south for many leagues, all the way to the Spear of the Sea."

"I see," Daera glanced to her two elf companions, "very well. Everyone inside the circle." She paused to wait, then pressed the amulet against the center of the stone's face with one hand and touched the final sigil with the other.

The world around them blinked out of existence.

~~~

"This is a Holy Site of the Gaou," Eske's voice echoed through darkness at the arrival stone.

"The Gaou?" Daera wheezed from the ground where she currently labored to keep her previous meal in her stomach. Travel by Portal Stone was never a pleasant ride for the inexperienced. She could not even remember her first Portal Stone journey due to having blacked out. Hopefully Kalavan and Nasir managed themselves. "I thought the Gaou had vanished."

"Yes, that is what the annuls of El'eth Surrah history tell you. But the Gaou live on. You might say ... they are sleeping."

"Sleeping?"

"Or perhaps waiting," Eske's red eyes narrowed in the darkness in an expression Daera was beginning to recognize as a saccharine smile. It made her stomach crawl ... though that might be the teleportation.

"Come, Silver One. We should not linger here long or we risk upsetting the Watcher."

 
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Nasir

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Nasir did not seem at all phased by the use of the Portal Stone, stepping up along just behind Eske. "There are many things we thought lost."

The older Elf commented dryly.

"It is part of what they do." He glanced over towards Dahl briefly, bright sapphire eyes meeting their twins. His gaze lingered for a moment, then peeled away to watch the path ahead as he continued to speak. "They lie, conceal, hide what knowledge they can."

The Priests were of course whom he meant. The realization was one which had sparked his little rebellion. Small bits of knowledge once hidden to him had come to light, and through it Nasir had begun to question more and more. Eventually his discoveries had lead him to Malgadrin, and she was the one who had truly opened his eyes.

It was a matter of truth that knowledge equalled power, and that power was kept near wholly by the priests.

That was why Nasir had done what he'd done before initiating his coup. Why he had seized a portion of that knowledge for himself. "One wonders what else still lurks within the dark."

A dark that their people had once conquered, but now shied away from.
 

Kalavan

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Kalavan supported himself on the portal stone following the flashing change of scenery. He was hunched over, knees buckling, head spinning. As he thought he'd regained his sense of balance, he found himself to be terribly mistaken as he pushed off from the portal stone and collapsed onto his hands and knees. Thankfully, at least, he did not vomit on himself.

He rejoined the others, squeezing his temples.

"If you are so curious, why not venture into the dark and learn of what lurks within?" He quietly hissed. "I, however, will not be joining you."

Kalavan would have liked to sit before his knees did give out. The nauseating swirling in his skull would not seem to fade. The El'eth mumbled profanities under his breath and something along the lines of questioning whether Malus Duun was worth all of this trouble.
 
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Dahldaera

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Dahl's gaze did not avert from that of the exiled Captain, but stared intently back. The man was older and seemed a vassal of knowledge. Where he had gone in his exile was a curiosity she meant to pursue later on, present company and setting dictated a keen awareness of oneself. She pushed herself to her feet, straightened her robes, and readjusted the knee-length coil of her white hair to her front again.

"One wonders what else still lurks within the dark."

"If you are so curious, why not venture into the dark and learn of what lurks within?" Kalavan quietly hissed. "I, however, will not be joining you."

"Let's...not get hasty," Daera intoned, eyes narrowing as she caught the mumbled words of the Smith, "if I can leave the comforts and luxuries of my palace to make right what has gone so horribly wrong with our society, I think we can all manage a traipse into the unknown. The benefits and rewards need not be questioned."

"Wise words," Eske replied, leading off from the Portal Chamber and down a narrow, low passage that forced the dryder to walk tight-legged, thorax low to the ground, "the means to your end goals will be found in the darkness. Tools and weapons your people have long since forgotten ... or forgone."

"You know much of these things, Eske," Daera moved to walk beside Nasir, following the arachnid, "how far have you journeyed in the Underdark?"

"Farther than others, not as far as some," she replied quietly, bowing her head through the arched opening that lead them to a bridge suspended high over what seemed an endless chasm into the abyss. It span farther than the eye could see to either side, "my knowledge is yours to use as you see fit, Silver One."

"And you," Dahl looked to Nasir, "you have been to the Overbright?"
 
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Nasir

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For the first time since their meeting a different expression played over Nasir's face as the smith spoke. Something very similar to amusement flickered over his face, eyes glancing briefly towards Kalavan as a smile touched his lips. He appeared as though he were about to say something, though as Eske and Dahl spoke up the fallen Captain simply held his expression for a brief second before letting it drop away.

He remembered the first time he had left their great city and ventured into the true depths of the dark. It had been when he'd just joined the Cal'Then, Rangers as they would have been called in the guttural tones of the common tongue. They had been dispatched to seek out rumors of an aboleth.

As it turned out, the rumors had been true.

The creatures were abhorrent amalgamations of the worst parts of the underdark. Massive, uncontrollable, and a seeker of only death and violence. Nasir could remember it's screaming maw better than most things, could even remembered as it whispered in his mind and taunted him.

He frowned briefly at the memory, his lips thinning for a moment until Dahl asked her question. Briefly he remained silent, considering the bridge that laid out ahead of him before he answered.

"Yes." An experience he still detested. "For the last two centuries."