Fight, Swear, Loathe; Chapter 24

After a few hours of socializing, von Slothjem managed to produce a multiple-page document that outlined in very general terms the trade agreement that LeCreana Deathtree was proposing on behalf of the House of Vaanmer Kaht. After making some superficial inquiries of Hilde, the swamp orc was able to specify that this was an agreement with Baron Hossler, in care of his mother, who is serving as regent to the young lord. Hilde surprised herself with how much information she had tucked away. The gathered party decided to enjoy a solid sleep before heading back towards the surface, retracing the route that Hilde and Belynda had taken to reach these depths of the Underdark. Polk had to run a few errands before they left on the return journey, but the work that von Slothjem had to do was now accomplished. The follow-up negotiations would all be done on the surface, at a pace that accommodated both parties.

Dellila retired to her room, and Hilde and Belynda did likewise to theirs. Hilde crawled into bed, and slipped into a restful slumber on the wings of fine brandy. Belynda had at one point asked what kind of brandy it was, and Polk had told her that it was imported from above ground. Wherever it had originated, it was soothing, and before she knew it, Hilde was softly snoring.

Belynda set to work readying her mistress’ weapons and armor for when she awoke. Dellila had made the robe a gift to Hilde, so Belynda carefully folded it up and tucked it away in Hilde’s backpack. Cinder curled up on the bed and continued snoozing while the xvart took care of her duties as a squire. Once Belynda had completed her tasks, she climbed into the bed, too, and fell blissfully asleep.

Time means virtually nothing in the lives of the dark elves, seeing as they live for centuries and have no sunlight or even lunar cycles to guide their life cycles. They simply sleep when they are tired, and pay no heed to days or hours as would those in human societies. Elaborate time-keeping methods are employed by the priestesses that hold sacred the tenets of their festering, vile religious beliefs, in order to mark their unholy celebrations, but for the most part the average drow couldn’t care less what time it was, nor which day. For aliens living among the drow elves, this means adapting to a chaotic way of life. One does not fully appreciate how much a day and night cycle means to the body as when it is removed entirely. When Hilde woke up, she did so wondering how it is that dark elves are able to accomplish anything of note under these conditions. People sleeping at odd intervals, nobody knowing when a business will be open, impossible scheduling to start or complete a project. Hilde found it to be the height of insanity.

Hilde began to get dressed, and Belynda awoke, as well. She helped her mistress finalize their packing, and then they went into the main sitting room of the apartment, following the smell of food cooking. Dellila and Polk were both laying out food on the table in the center of the room. Rackerby was sitting on the couch, already eating what looked like some sort of egg dish. There had to have been mushrooms in it, because the smell of cooked fungi wafted throughout the suite. Upon seeing his guests enter the room, von Slothjem stood, and smiled at them.

“Good morning, ladies! I trust you rested well. As you can tell, breakfast is ready.” The swamp orc was dressed in a dark purple dressing robe, embossed with tiny golden spider designs all over it. He motioned for Hilde and Belynda to help themselves to the food.

Dellila squatted down, and smiled at Cinder, who was following along at Belynda’s feet. The dark elf had a goodly sized bit of cheese in her hand, and held it out for the rat to sniff. Cinder made an excited little squeaky sound, and grasped the cheese in her little rodent hands. Dellila laughed, and patted the rat on the top of her head.

Polk set down the large pan filled with the egg and mushroom concoction, and grinned to the freshly awakened women. “I am ready to travel whenever you wish.” He said, and he did look to be prepared for the day. He was wearing a dark grey tunic, padded to go underneath armor. His trousers were black, and he had on pair of charcoal colored boots with laces on them for climbing rocks. “All I have to do is put on my armor, grab my weapons, and my satchel. Just say the word.”

Hilde picked up a plate, and began to scoop up food. She was hungrier than she thought she was, and the food smelled fantastic. Her hair was, of course, a mess. Belynda had not had a chance to brush it at all before they left the bedroom, and it was going in every direction at once. Hilde yawned, and replied, “After we eat and get everything squared away here with our esteemed lawyer, we can head out. I am looking forward to being under the stars again.”

Rackerby laughed, his soft, polite laugh, and said, “I understand that completely. I will be returning to the surface soon, myself. It is disconcerting to dwell in the deep when one is accustomed to living on a schedule.” He sat back down on the couch, and returned to eating his food.

After the meal, Rackerby gave Hilde some papers to sign. One copy for him to give to LeCreana, and one to take with her to the surface, to be signed by the representative for Baron Hossler. Once Rackerby was back at his Jaggerholmschloss office, he would begin more in-depth negotiations with the Hossler family. Hilde tucked her copy away in a leather pouch, which she then slid inside her shirt. Once she was armored up, it would be as safe as it could be. Hilde turned to Polk, and with a smile said, “We might as well get this show on the road. Takes a while to get fully armed, so don’t get in a rush.”

Polk smiled slyly. “A wise man never rushes a woman.” And with a snicker, he went to his own room to get himself ready for the trip.

As it turned out, nobody ended up having to wait. Polk stepped out of his room, ready to begin the journey, at almost the exact moment that Hilde and Belynda left their room. Belynda had gotten pretty fast at helping her mistress suit up, and although Hilde looked like a terror in her plate armor with her helm fastened over her now tamed hair, that Belynda had made into double braids, she moved pretty easily. Hilde was used to this amount of bulky encumbrance, and even with her sword and pack in place on her back, she held herself gracefully. Belynda had insisted on her mistress wearing a loose-fitting skirt over her plate armor leggings, at least until they left the city, because it made Hilde look more feminine. Hilde had laughed at her, pointing to her bountifully packed breastplate, and said “Pretty sure these indicate I am a woman in here, but fine, I’ll wear the skirt.” Belynda also packed several wax-sealed pottery vessels filled with pickled mushrooms, a tasty souvenir of their time in the underdark.

For his part, Polk was wearing a glossy black chainmail suit, complete with hood. It had plate pieces that covered his elbows, knees, calves, shoulders, and hands. He put on a small sort of half helm, more of a cap with a spike on the top, allowing him to see and hear clearly. The juxtaposition of the two warriors in their attire was somewhat humorous, because the assumption would be that a huge orog would be the more heavily attired of the duo. Belynda thought that Polk looked dashing as all get out, and went right ahead and said as much. The orog snickered, and seemed to be embarrassed. He had his backpack on as well, along with a dark grey cape. He carried a large shield that looked to be forged from a black metal, and on the face of it was a raised midnight skull emblem that was pure white, and took up a large portion of the shield. His weapon was a mace, suitable for somebody as large as he was. It hung on a hook off of his belt, and seemed to be of exceptional quality.

Hilde smirked, but it couldn’t be seen behind the shielding metal of her helm. “Love your hat.” She said. “So fetchingly pointy.”

Polk could feel himself getting flushed, but did his best to smile. “It is very important to be able to see and hear what is going on in the underdark.” He said, his voice betraying ever so slightly his mild frustration. “If we encounter any trouble, we will need all of our senses to detect it before it hits us.”

Hilde said, “And what are you detecting right now?”

Polk frowned, and said “Ice cold sarcasm.”

Hilde replied perkily, “Oh good. The hat works. I feel safer now.”

Belynda, Dellila, and Rackerby all laughed heartily, and although nobody could tell, Hilde was enjoying the orog’s discomfort more than she should have. “Come on, you brute.” She said to Polk. “Let’s get going. I’m sure you’ll prove your worth twenty times between here and the surface, but until then, you can handle some mockery of your adorable hat.”

Hilde headed for the door, and Dellila opened it for her and the others to exit. They bid their host farewell, and began the climb downstairs. Hilde was used to the racket her own armor made, but when she paused her movements, she realized that Polk wasn’t making any sound at all. She sighed, and had to admit that Polk was probably much better prepared for this than she was. Hilde just wanted to be back on the top of the world instead of burrowed under it.

Polk’s knowledge of the drow city placed him in the front of the party as they left the towering, dark elven building. He guided them effortlessly through the curving, muddled dark elven streets, devoid of obvious planning or method in their layout. The elves that they encountered gave them a wide berth, and the trio of adventurers elicited more than a few chuckles from the bemused bystanders. Outside of Rackerby’s cottage, Polk did not look quite as comical to Hilde. He carried himself as an accomplished warrior, perhaps even a little cocky. His cape billowed in a very pleasing manner, making him seem as if he was even bigger than he was. It might not be ideal rock-climbing gear, but then, neither was plate armor.

There were several more guards stationed at the “backdoor” to this suburb of Kaht-Medinhk than there were when Hilde and Belynda arrived. Polk strode right up to them, though, and announced something in the drow language. Belynda stood next to Hilde, ready to interject if needed, but the woman in charge of the guard here chatted only briefly with Polk, before motioning for her squad to open the gates. The dozen or so elves on duty here raced to comply, and soon the adventurers found themselves out of the city, on the rocks and gravel of the upper beach surrounding the great underground lake.

They didn’t pause, though, and commenced their trek towards the direction of the hut containing the mummified remains of the drider. Polk continued to lead the way, and Belynda followed as she unwrapped the scarf from the top of her staff, with Cinder sitting atop her backpack. Hilde brought up the rear, and now that they were away from the dark elf city, she drew her bastard sword and alternated which hand she carried it in as she walked. It felt good to have it out and ready, and there was plenty of room here in which to fight if she needed to. Up ahead, she could see that Polk had unhooked his mace, and was carrying it in his right hand. His shield was in his left hand for now, but he would have to throw it across his back once the climbing began.

The trio reached the hut with the dead drider inside, and Polk shuddered involuntarily as he peered in. The dead monster looked almost lifelike, except that its skin had drawn tightly across its bones. The lower portion of the abomination, the enormous spider part, looked entirely unchanged. The rear legs had drawn up underneath the corpse, but the two forward-most legs still protruded straight out through the open door.

Polk whispered to the ladies, “I don’t mind the fine food of the drow, but their peculiar love for spiders, and cruelty towards one another, I can do without.”

Hilde nodded her head in agreement, and Belynda just held her little staff tighter, the reassuring glow from the top of it keeping them from becoming too skittish. The group headed up the rocky beach as it curved towards where the rocky ascension awaited them.

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