Upon their return to the Enclave, the females meet with the Great Mother and High Priestess. They reveal that they have been successful in their quest and recovered the cure. The Madaruans are elated and naturally curious about the quest, but they respect the party’s spiritual journey and do not press them for details. They thank the party sincerely for tending to the maiden who was wounded during the ambush.
Ember does reveal that the cure is in the form of a small, white flower, and that she was told that when placed in water, it will make the water capable of curing any addiction, without reducing the potency of the flower. She recalls that there is an underground lake that is the water supply of the city, and asks whether she should put the flower in the lake and and thereby cure everyone.
The Madaruans respectfully ask her not to do that. The party has assuredly braved many perils to recover the flower – they deserve the honor and recognition of bringing the cure – the cityfolk should know who they have to thank. In terms of strategy against the Zargonites, it will be valuable for people to come to the Maidens looking for the cure, rather than simply finding themselves cured without cause. Furthermore, they might be cured without even knowing it, and then fall prey again to the vision-mushroom addiction the next time they visit the Zargonite drug dens. The Madaruans believe that they should start by curing only those who wish to be cured, only those who are actively opposed to the Zargonites – this will enhance the status of the Maidens, and the acceptance of the party among the cityfolk.
Ember recognizes the wisdom in their words and agrees – she says that she will turn over the flower to them, to administer the cure as they see fit. The High Priestess takes a bronze chalice, filled with holy water, from the altar, and offers it to Ember, who places the flower within it. The Priestess than says that they party should have the honor of the first use. Each of the women drinks in turn from the chalice – Ember, Morgan, Iris, Wolfbane, FluffyKitten. The Great Mother says that word will be spread by their sympathizers in the city that the cure is available to any who would visit the Maidens.
Ember says that one of the men in their party went missing, in the tunnels beneath the towers, and asks whether they know anything about them. The Great Mother responds that no Maidens have entered those tunnels within her lifetime – the Mausoleum that guards the catacombs is a sacred place for the Maidens, and while they patrol the outside, they seldom venture inside the building and never in the towers.
Ember says that now that the cure and the maidens are safely back in the Enclave, they must search for their missing companion. Morgan has been wounded, and Ember asks whether the Maidens can heal her before they set out. The High Priestess says that they could heal her – but would prefer to wait. Given the number of Zargonites involved in the ambush, and its failure, it is possible that there may be a reprisal – the Zargonites could attack the city, or even the Enclave. The Maidens wish to reserve their healing in case it is needed for those situations. If Morgan will be going out on another mission, putting herself into obvious danger, they will provide healing, but would prefer to wait and see what develops.
Ember and Morgan say that they understand – Ember agrees to provide what healing she has to Morgan, and then stay and rest in the Enclave while Morgan leads the search for Hazrad. FluffyKitten says (in strangely perfect language while under the influence of the Maiden’s communication spell) that she will not be going on the search expedition and she would be perfectly happy if Hazrad was never found, and that it serves him right.
Ember and Morgan quickly return the conversation to strategy against the Zargonites. They remind the Maidens that their long-term goal is to unite the factions, and ask about which faction they should approach next – The Gormites or the Usamigari, and how they should negotiate.
Although the Great Mother has said “Zargonite” and “Zargon” repeatedly in the past, she pointedly refrains from using the names of the other two True Gods. Rather, she says that the Magi will be far easier to approach than the Brotherhood, emphasizing the groups’ secular names. The Brotherhood respect only strength, and that while recovering the cure is of huge religious significance, to them it will rank as less important than beating Zargonites in an open combat. She discourages the party from approaching the Brotherhood until they have the Magi in a firm alliance, as the Brotherhood will be much more likely to respond once the party is negotiating from a position of strength.
Furthermore, continues the High Priestess, the Brotherhood operates under a strict hierarchy. None of them will be permitted to speak with the party until their highest leader approves of it, regardless of the feelings of anyone else. Whereas among the Magi, if there are some who oppose negotiation with the party and some who are in favor, those in favor will be able to do so, regardless of their rank.
“Very well then, obviously we start with the Magi,” says Morgan. “What is our strategy? What do they value?”
“Before the fall of the City Above”, says the High Priestess, “the Child God was not only the patron of magic-users, but also of merchants, thieves, messengers, travelers. He represented anyone who made their living through social interaction. Whereas the Storm Father represented interactions within closed authoritarian institutions like the military or the government, and Our Mother oversaw the organic interactions of people within their families. Because the Magi honor free social interaction above all else, they are traders and negotiators. Approach them asking for something of value – and offer something of value in trade. They honor such free dealings and exchanges above all else.”
Simultaneously, Wolfbane and Iris jump in. “Spells! We need spells and they have them!”
Morgan nods in agreement. “And in exchange, what do we have that they would want?”
“Well,” says Ember smiling, “we have the cure…”
- * * * *
In the compound, Ember provides Morgan with four heartmendings, and then retires to her tent to rest. FluffyKitten “stands guard” to keep her from being disturbed, but it is not even a full 20 minutes before she is drawn into the games of the children. Leaving her chainmail behind, she is soon completely absorbed in “Blind Maiden’s Bluff” and “Mother May I”.
Morgan organizes the six others and requests the gate be raised enough for them to leave, with Bhelgarn providing a halting translation. There are more Maidens on the wall then before, and the atmosphere is tense. It seems not only the Great Mother is expecting a reprisal from the Zargonites.
Returning to the Mausoleum, the away team finds a group of maidens busy dealing with bodies left over from the ambush. The hobgoblins are left in place – their bodies will feed the cave centipedes and feral pigs and their gear is worthless. The humans, however, could be recovered and re-animated by the Zargonites, so their bodies must be removed. Their bronze armor, swords, and daggers will make valuable additions to the Maidens’ armory, as they have no forge or smiths of their own. As to what the maidens actually do with the bodies, here Bhelgarn’s translation fails.
Morgan takes them into the first tower, the one the spellcaster used in the ambush. With the bronze door closed behind them, Bhelgarn lights a torch. “Odleif first,” says Morgan. “What do the tracks tell us?”
The woodsman studies the impressions in the thick dust. “Two sets onna stairs up – comin’ an’ goin…too many ter count onna stairs goin’ down.”
“Two sets on the stairs up? Is one of them Hazrad’s?”
“Not tha’ I kin reckon – Hazzerd’s got sandals – both these fellers ‘re wearin’ boots.”
Morgan indicates that they will ascend, Odleif in the lead. Up they go in a stone spiral staircase, eventually coming to a landing and then a short iron ladder to a trapdoor. Odleif points at the floor of the landing. “One a’ ter fellas stays here, waitin’ – only t’other one goes up ter ladder.”
Just Morgan and Odleif ascend. The trapdoor leads to a battlement above, with a great view of the city – at least for Morgan. Odleif sees only darkness and occasional points of wan light. The Zargonite fortress is ablaze – lights going in many of the windows, and shadows passing in front of them incessantly. “I guess we stirred something up there,” she mumbles with satisfaction.
Collecting the party, they descend to “ground” level, and then lower, beneath the “floor” of the cavern, into a tunnel system. Over a length of the narrow tunnel, Odleif is eventually able to pick out five sets of tracks – Bhelgarn, Thrud, and Hazrad, plus the two sets from the tower stairs. He notes that while the first three are placed slowly and carefully, the second set are far apart and on their toes, indicating that they were running.
The party passes down the tunnel, Odleif in the lead. He stops, motioning them to keep back, lowers his face to the floor, scratches his head, pulls at his beard. Finally he tells Morgan that here is where Hazrad…disappeared. The two men from the tower ran on ahead. The three men from there party walked to here – but only Bhelgarn and Thrud returned. Hazrad didn’t go on, and he didn’t come back – he just vanished. Thrud looks about fearfully, half expecting a spirit-Hazrad to be there yet.
They continue on, finding no branches, a single exit to a stone staircase up at the end. The same two tracks of the men, running up and out, the bronze door open. Carefully checking the area outside the tower – just a slung stone’s distance from the Zargonite fortress – the same two tracks, headed for the fortress. A torn bit of fabric on the ground, Odleif’s arrow (shot by Morgan). The tower stairs up – no tracks at all, a thick carpet of dust. The same battlemented top, a closer view of the activity at the fortress, though all internal – no forms moving about outside.
Aboveground, behind the Mausoleum to the next tower – the same doors, stairs, tunnels, battlements. No tracks, no signs of Hazrad. The final tower, closest to the Zargonites – still no sign. Morgan leads the party back to the Enclave.
Back at the Enclave, Ember uses another seven heartmendings to bring Morgan to full. Then everyone retires to tents to rest – everyone but FluffyKitten, who after playtime took a nap before the main party returned. She is sought out by one of the maidens, who saw her playing and now wishes to include her in the weapons training given to the older maiden girls.
First they practice drills; cutting, slashing, and stabbing with dull stone knives. Then one pair at a time is given blunted bronze daggers for dueling. When FluffyKitten is called for her duel, she easy outmatches one girl, then another. The maiden presiding halts the duels and calls another maiden over, this one in full armor.
She escorts Fluffy to where the adult maidens are having their own weapons practice, with bronze short and longswords. Fluffy indicates by gestures that she wishes to use a dagger. The instructor pairs her with some of the less experienced maidens. She appears intrigued – FluffyKitten has obvious skill, and easily outmatches the incautious maidens who charge at her. With rolls and dodges, she lets them stumble past her and then runs her dagger across their grieved legs from behind.
The instructor then pairs FluffyKitten with more seasoned opponents. Rather than rush in, they take their time, circling and using the longer reach of their weapons to hold Fluffy at bay until an opening arrises. Now it is FluffyKitten who fares poorly, taking many more hits than she delivers. The instructor calls a halt to the duels, sets the women to drills, and brings FluffyKitten to her. She gives her a second dulled bronze dagger, shows her how to stand when holding one in each hand. Using another maiden to attack, she shows Fluffy how to block and parry with the first blade and strike with the second, how to switch roles between them, how to control the rhythm and tempo of the fight. After some demonstration, she sets FluffyKitten to work practicing the steps, and trades maidens out as partners. At the end of the session, Fluffy is exhausted but smiling. The maiden instructor presents her with a real dagger – belt, scabbard and all. Fluffy draws it half out of the scabbard- it is iron! One of a few iron weapons she has seen among the maidens. The instructor points to her head and says one of the few words in Cyndician that Fluffy knows; “Zargonite.” Fluffy curtsies politely, and awkwardly buckles on the belt – that will have to be adjusted, as it is lacking holes for the size of Fluffy’s hips. FluffyKitten draws the blade, waves it in the air. “Stabby-stab Zargonite!” she says happily, and the maiden smiles broadly.
While FluffyKitten is training, and the rest of the party is resting, Morgan wakes from her sleep. She does sleep, yet another thing that separated her from her mother, from the elves of her village. She seldom dreams, but when she does it is more like the lucid trancing reverie of the elves than the dreams of men. Just now she woke from trance, and remembers her trance – the words of a spell danced on a page, moved and arranged themselves in front of her eyes – until they made sense! Symbols she understood separately now revealed their interdependance, their conjoined meaning – she understands! Morgan lights a candle, grabs her spellbook, opens it to the page where, in her own handwritting and Ember’s ink, she copied Iris’ magic missile spell. She traces the lines slowly, then with gathering speed – yes, yes, and here, yes! By the end, she is convinced that she has learned the spell that had eluded her before.
- * * * *
The party gears up and prepares for their initial expedition to the Magi. When Bhelgarn asks where the entrance is to their building, the maidens shrug. “No entrance, just walls.” Thrud is positioned at the maiden’s gate, ready to cover a hasty retreat. Morgan ascends the wall, watching the party with her infravsion and covering them with Odleif’s bow. Certainly from this side, there are no openings visible, doors, gates, or windows, in the wall that surrounds the Magi’s complex.
The other seven members slip under the half-raised gate and make their way to the cavern wall, and along it to just behind the Magi. Once in position, Remmy moves ahead to the wall. He can’t see his hand in front of his face, but he can see the looming wall against the backdrop of lights from the Zargonite temple. Doing his best to move silently and remain hidden, he slips along the wall, running his hands up and down the smooth stone, searching for any entrance. When Iris and Bhelgarn see that he is halfway along the wall, they move the party to the corner behind him and follow at a distance.
Done with the “rear” wall, Remmy turns the corner and starts along the wall facing the Gormites. When he reaches the end of that, he waits for the party to catch up. They hold a hushed conversation. None of them wish to try the wall in full view of the Zargonite fortress, but are at a loss for what else to do.
“Maybe we should just knock,” Remmy says flippantly, and taps twice on the stone wall. Twenty feet back from the corner, a pale yellow glowing circle appears at chest height along the wall. Astounded, the party hustles over to it, and Remmy touches it. Instantly a woman appears before them, translucent and “standing” a few inches above the stone floor. Within the yellow circle, a palm-sized silver disk appears, then falls to the ground. Bhelgarn picks it up cautiously, looking at the many carven runes on its surface.
“Greetings,” says the woman, in perfectly accented Dwarven. “My name is Alyria, and I am the Gatekeeper for the Magi. What you hold we call a communications disk – it will allow you to understand me, and me to understand you. Please make sure that only the person addressing me is holding it, so that I may understand what you are saying.”
The party pass the disk around, introducing themselves one by one. They explain that they are travelers from the light-void, recently come to the city, and that they are interested in acquiring scrolls. At this Alyria hesitates, but it turns out she does not understand the word “scrolls” – when it is explained that the party is desirous of learning new spells, she bids them continue.
When they finish, she replies that while she is not authorized to grant the party spells herself, she will certainly relay the message inside. She tells them that the Magi value silver for ceremonial reasons – it is important in their faith. They know that there are many treasures of silver, and caches of silver coins in the upper pyramid, and doubtless many more that they do not know of. While she cannot agree to any specific spell, she suggests to the party that they might consider a trade of 2500 coins of silver for a first level spell, or 5000 coins for a spell of second level. After some further polite conversation, she thanks them and asks for the communication disk back. When Ember hands it to her, it slips through her incorporal hand and falls to the ground. She says something in Cyndician, then, after Embre retrieves the disk, apologizes. “I’m sorry – I quite forgot you were dealing my my projection, not myself. You may leave the disk near the wall, under the illuminated circle. I hope to see you again. Follow your path.”
The party returns to the Enclave and explain to Morgan and Thrud what transpired. Morgan thinks for a few minutes, and then addresses them. “Who among us has not been saved by Wolfbane’s sleep spell? Who among us will not benefit from her having more potent spells at her disposal?” When no one answers, she continues. “Okay, silvers out then – go through your bags and pockets and see what we have. We are not keeping track of who puts in what, this is a community expense for a community good.” Then, eyeing Bhelgarn and Remmy, she says more firmly, “And we all know we are not walking out of here with silver. There is more valuable stuff to take with us in a hike across the desert than silver coins, they won’t be worth their weight.”
In the end, Morgan puts in 577 silver pieces; Iris adds 60; Ember and Wolfbane put in ten each. Everyone else claims to have either switched out their silver for gold in the tapestry room or to have left their coins in the former Gormite base. Morgan frowns.
“Well, I was afraid of that. My sack included, we aren’t even a third of a way to a first level spell. Of course, we will negotiate – their price is ridiculous, but even so, we need more.”
She lets the others think of the obvious answer before she states it.
“So it looks like I’m going back to the tapestry room. There was easily thousands of silver pieces there, even before the rest of you dumped yours.” She sighs. “Just to that room, and no higher in the pyramid – I don’t want to waste more time or risk more encounters than we have to. Who’s coming?”
Remmy, Ember, Iris, Odlief, Thrud, and Wolfbane volunteer. Bhelgarn and FluffyKitten say that they will stay, and Iris says her animals will stay behind as well. “Just as well,” says Morgan. “We want to travel as light as possible, so we can divide up all those coins between us. I’m not running past those statues carrying a chest. Leave anything not immediately useful behind, and give Bhelgarn an accounting of it. He will be in charge of guarding our stuff. And apparently Fluffy is in charge of playing hopscotch.”
FluffyKitten puts her hands on her hips indignantly. “No! No hoppyscratch! No can see stone, silly-billy! FluffyKitty play Bluffyblind! And Stabby-stab! Now TWO stabby-stab! Ooooh!” she says, drawing and waving both daggers in the air.
Morgan turns away from the halfling. “Bhelgarn, by my count we have enough torches to get us to the tapestry room and back – but then we won’t have enough to ever leave this place again. I’m sure we’d all appreciate it if you lent us your sword – once we are out of the city I don’t think it will be a problem to use.”
The dwarf eyes Morgan carefully. “Lent in exchange for yours.”
As a final preparation, Morgan asks for two maidens to guide and accompany them. Once volunteers are found, they leave the way they arrive, around the far side of the Enclave walls and then the outside wall of the cavern, all the way to the entrance.
They are not far when Morgan spots several human-sized forms ahead; standing about as if guarding the entrance to cavern. She asks the maiden next to her about it with gestures, but the woman acts as if she doesn’t see anything. They continue to creep ahead, the whole group trying to be silent. When they have closed half the distance the maiden stops as if in sudden recognition of the forms ahead. She calls the other maiden over and, crouching, they watch for a while. Finally Morgan whispers to them, “Zargonite?” but the maidens shake their heads. One of them points upward.
“Up?” whispers Morgan. Without Hazrad or Bhelgarn, they are not getting anything besides gestures from the women. “Surface dweller like us?”
“No,” says Ember softly. “The Sky Father. Gorm.”
The women nod, and say what sounds like “Ohunwe,” which might be the Cyndician word for Brotherhood. Apparently neither one of them will use the words “Gorm” or “Gormite” either.
Morgan points to her sword. “Fight?” she asks the maidens, and again they shake their heads. “Then what are we waiting for?” She calls to the party to stand up, then leads them striding boldly and directly toward the cavern entrance. The Gormite men draw weapons…and then put them away as the group approaches. And then, as Morgan keeps going, they give way and move aside. It is hard to judge facial expression with just infravision, but Morgan would not be surprised if what she was seeing was surprise and respect. She also notes, for future use, that her infravision, and that of Iris and Bhelgarn, is clearly superior to that of the Cyndicians. That could be of great tactical significance in any encounter with Zargonites.
The journey up through the tunnels is long, difficult, and tedious. On the way down they were kept going by the excitement and suspense of seeing the Undercity. Now it is simply work traversing stone tunnels, chasms, and shafts. Morgan continually reminds herself to pay attention when her thoughts stray. It is boring, but being surprised in an encounter would still potentially be deadly.
Hours later they finally arrive at the landing just beneath the floor of the pyramid. The maidens call for a rest, not the first on their journey. To the party’s surprise, there is no cold feeling. Later they continue through the room with the talking walls and the great temple, pausing only to fill their waterskins. They pause again outside the room with the stone statues. As they run through, Wolfbane trips, and Iris helps her to her feet before the statues can bear down on them. This time, they make it through the room with the iron statues without anyone even being hit.
In the room that had the priest’s robe, the party leads the maidens to the secret door in the wall, and opens it. The maidens are amazed. “Thousands of years, and they didn’t know this was here?” Remmy asks incredulously. He strides over to the chest, opens it. “See this?” he says as he holds up a handful of coins to the maidens. “This is our stuff! Ours, get it? Not yours!” His gestures, jerking his thumb and finger at himself and the maidens, are rapidly understood.
With several of the party acting together, they manage to tip the chest and spill out all the coins onto the floor. By the light of the sword, they spend all the next rest period sorting them by metal, putting everything but the silver back, dividing the coins among them, filling bags, sacks, backpacks, pouches, and purses. Remmy tells them that they are between them carrying over six thousand silver coins.
After a bit more rest they again venture forth. Traveling this direction the iron statues are not the problem, it is the stone ones. It is a narrow escape, but a clean one. Wolfbane makes it across the room on her own. Filling skins in the fountain, down the tunnels (not cold!), and when they finally smell the rich loaminess of the city ahead Morgan figures they have been gone half a day.
Back at the enclave, they combine the retrieved silver with the small cache of mostly Morgan’s, dumping the masses into two thick blankets. Not the best way to carry it, but it is just the next building over and the blankets will make the coins easier to display. Again Thrud and Morgan stay back, but this time the party proceeds directly to where they found the yellow circle before. Although it is not there now, they knock confidently and in a trice it, and Alyria, appear. They open the blankets and spread the coins out to be “seen.”
Alyria considers. “For all that, we would be willing to trade you one second level spell, or two first levels.”
Ember gently shakes her head and smiles. “Two first level, AND two second level.”
Alyria shrugs and shakes her head. Bhelgarn pulls forth a silver necklace, and lays it on the pile. “Two first level, and two second level.”
Alyria bends forward. “You see, it is not the value we are after. It is the silver itself – we will melt it down, use it for daggers and tablets and other religious purposes. The necklace, though beautiful and of fine workmanship, does not represent more than a few coins worth of silver. Still, it is pretty.” She feels her neck softly, probably not even noticing the gesture, though the party are keenly aware. “Two first level and one second.”
Ember lays two waterskins down onto the blankets. “The silver, and the cure for the mushroom addiction.”
Alyria’s eyes widen. “The cure! We had heard that in the city…so it is true then?”
“All the silver, including the necklace, and the cure for two second level spells and one first, " Alyria proposes.
Ember smiles. “Agreed.”
Alyria touches her palm to her forehead, then holds her hand forth. A pentacle is drawn? tattooed? on the palm. “Agreed.” she says. “Do you know which spells you desire?” Now it is Ember’s turn to widen her eyes, as that had not been considered. “Then return when you know their identities.”
The party bundles up their treasure and return to the Enclave to discuss. First, between Wolfbane and Iris, they manage to come up with what they think is a comprehensive list of first and second level spells. Morgan is familiar with some of them, others not. Each of them decides on one spell. Morgan, Web(2nd). Iris, Phantasmal Force(2nd). Wolfbane, Shield (1st).
With that done, they hustle back to the Magi. Alyria confirms that they can in fact provide those spells, and tells them that they will need time to create the tablets. She bids them leave the treasure outside the walls, but they balk. “Trade is built on trust,” she says to encourage them.
“Trade is built on trust,” agrees Ember. “We will leave half of the coins and the cure here. You will receive the other half of the coins and the necklace when we receive the spells.”
“Agreed – please return after a long sleep. Send only two people, at least one of them a magus.”
The party returns to the Enclave, less one blanket of coins. They are ready for a “long sleep” indeed!