When the party reached consciousness, they realized that they were once again embodied—Vorkhesis had been true to his word, and they inhabited drow bodies. As for where they were, that was less certain. Looking around, Krav asked,
“Rabadash?” One of the drow nodded—male form, white hair with a pinkish hue. “Where are we, exactly?”
Rabadash took a deep breath and focused. “It’s unclear,” he hesitated. “I think we’re on the border of two realms…if I had to guess, I think it would be the Shadowfell and the Shadowdark.”
The group seemed to collectively fight back a case of the collywobbles. The Shadowfell was bad enough…but where it bled into the Underdark was just not a place they wanted to be—but was precisely where they needed to be. It was then that the smell hit them—the stench of molten copper, decay, and rage.
“Hey, Krav?” asked Rabadash.
“Are we…on the Highway?”
The drow wearing shoulder length braids swallowed hard.
“Ok. So, which way do we go?”
“I…I don’t know.”
The lone female Drow sighed laboriously, slumping over the handle of her great maul.
“Just pick a direction!” snapped a third male. Rychard.
“Fine! That way!”
“Boys, arguing isn’t going to get us anywhere. Let’s just go. Knowing our luck, we’ll wind up exactly where we least want to be, and know that’s where we need to be.”
Rabadash in front for his stealth and perception, Krav followed, Rychard in the middle, and Kuorlai on rear guard duty. They wandered along for what seemed like hours until they heard voices coming up the tunnel they were moving through.
“Shit!” hissed Rabadash. “Back up, quick!”
Kuorlai turned and lead the group back to a little alcove she had noticed a few minutes earlier. As they crouched inside, the warlord was nonplussed. “Did your courage desert you?”
“Krav, have you ever heard the expression that discretion is the better part of valor?”
“No! What on earth does that mean?” It’s hard to say which was more caustic: Krav’s sarcasm or Rabadash’s withering glare.
The warlock continued, “There’s a Lich coming this way, and she has an awful lot of minions…and somehow I don’t think she’s going to lead us any closer to where we need to be. If you really want to, we can waste these bodies and our resources challenging her, or we can j—”
Rabadash cut off abruptly as the Lich seemed to notice them, and advanced with her servitors. As she strode up to them, Krav apparently had one of those moments where you just say ‘screw it’ and try the most outrageous thing you can think of. ’It’s worked before,’ he thought to himself, remembering some rather obscene gestures he’d made at one of the white dragons whose remains now hung in his tavern back in Lespathia. Affecting an air of non-chalance, the warlord leaned against the cavern wall ever so slightly. “So,” he hailed the Lich once she’d moved within about a lunge distance of him, “what’s a pretty young lady like you doing wandering around a place like this?” Kuorlai eyed Rabadash, who goggled at the warlord’s audacity. Richard simply rolled his eyes and prepared a fireball. The Lich simply stared at the warlord, and a smile slowly spread across her (probably not all that young, nor all that pretty) face, much like oil over water.
“Looking for someone,” came the haughty reply. Her voice practically dripped command, and disdain. Rychard was busy taking mental notes.
“I see,” said Krav, feigning interest and sizing up her and her army out of the corner of his eye. “Well, we might be able to help, you know…maybe a favor for a favor?”
“I doubt it.” She flatly cut him off. “You’re not even sure where you are.”
Krav suppressed a gasp, and let out a chuckle to cover it. “Well, I guess you caught me. Still, a favor for a favor, two groups of travelers on the Highway, right?”
Amazingly enough, the Lich was amused by this, rather than offended or combative, but anyone who looked closely might have noticed that she was keenly interested in the proposition of having them owe her a favor…and she could always kill them if she needed to—just to make sure they carried out their end of the favor, of course.
“I suppose I could, just for this once, do a good deed, assuming such a thing is even possible down here…” Her voice trailed off.
“Well, now, let’s not get too ambitious.” Krav bantered, hoping to buy some time and read her a little better. “Perhaps folk like us are better off just letting each other pass by. But,” he continued, “I don’t suppose you could tell us where it is you’re coming from?”
Hook, line, and sinker, she thought to herself. “Oh, that way? Just a bridge to the underworld. I’m afraid there’s not much to see there, or do—seeing as I just came that way.”
“Perfect!” Krav thundered, probably stretching his acting a little too far. “Well, just call on us for that favor, ok? Assuming you don’t need anything now, of course?”
“Not at all.” She looked like the (undead) cat that had just eaten the canary. With a word that none of the party understood, she set off, her legion trailing her like a train of bone and steel.
“Well, it looks like we’re going this way.” Krav pointed, and started to move. Rychard interjected, “You do realize what you just did, of course?” “Sure,” Krav nodded. “I offered her the service of bodies that, with any luck, we won’t even be inhabiting by tomorrow. She can have it once I’m done with it.” Rychard stopped. ‘Every now and again,’ he thought to himself, ‘I wonder whether he’s brilliant, insane, or both. Probably just insane.’ Regardless, it was done, and there was little point in wondering about it.
After a short travel, they came to a small crossing that looked just a little too quiet and canny to be trusted—even if the Lich had just come this way, there were no bodies, and no evidence of battle. As the group moved closer, Rabadash suddenly called out for everyone to hold their position. He moved closer to investigate. “It’s a rift in space,” he announced. I think I can do something about it. Hold on." Closing his eyes, he focused his arcane energies on the shimmering tear in reality, and it faded from view. “There!” he announced with triumph. “Let’s go.”
No sooner did he say that than the tear exploded outward, destroying the bridge below it and sending everyone sliding down, down, down a steep, bloody pathway to Hell alone knew where. Landing less-than-gracefully, the party took a minute to collect themselves, and assessed each other for injuries.
“Where are we?” asked Kuorlai.
“Can we get back out?” asked Rychard. A steep, blood-slick slope answered his question in the negative.
“Great. Well, whatever, let’s move.” Krav shrugged. This adventure had taken a few too many twists so far anyway.
As they wandered ‘forward’, everything went from darker and colder to nauseatingly lit and clammy, and all the hair on their bodies stood on end. While discomfiting enough to Rychard, for the other three, who didn’t typically keep body hair except on their heads (and Krav didn’t even have it there), it was downright unnerving. The wildly-hewn tunnels they had been in gave way to a wider plain, filled with mounds that occasionally seemed to…quiver? Couldn’t be.
Rabadash inhaled sharply, and Kuorlai simply stopped and stared. “So many…” she said, trailing off.
“So what’s a few anthills?” snapped Rychard.
“No, not the hills. Them.” She gestured with her hammer. Taking another look, the wizard and the warlord were suddenly aware of the crowds topping most of the hills, as well as a light that seemed to move from hilltop to hilltop. As their senses became adjusted, they became aware of another feature of this landscape: the rending screams that a body only produces under the cruelest of torture.
“Kuorlai?” began Krav. The warden turned to face him. “Damn your prescience,” he said simply. He then set off, not knowing whether to pray that Loriana was or was not here.