By Ken Schrupp
The Journal of Thoronmir Alwyn is the property of the author, Ken Schrupp and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email the author with any comments and feedback on this story.
In a flash of light, the mage had vanished, his sibilant incantation still echoing in the vast underground chamber. The energy from Brother Deaths spell left Riva prostrate on the stone floor. Seeing Bella move to aid Riva and knowing that some of our assailants had fled down the narrow tunnel I now guarded, I wasted no time. I hurried in pursuit, still clad in the form of a massive brown bearmy gift from the tattoo I received only a few weeks earlier. Had it only been a few weeksit seemed like a few years. At times, I struggle to recall a time when my arm did not bear the arcane etchings that mark me today; to recall a time when I felt the embrace of Selûnes sweet light; to recall a time when the world was not so oppressively dark as these accursed caves.
Seeing that Hammerand and our wizard had joined in my chase, I trusted the rest of our group to search for clues among the defeated. Relying upon my feral senses to track the escaped marauders from the Ripped Hearts, I followed the tunnel towards the soundsand smellsof water. At an intersection, I spied an odd sight. Someone had rapidly carved a crude version of a Zhent trail sign leading towards the water. It should shock no one to learn that the vile assassins who ambushed us might include agents of the Black Network.
As we drew closer to sounds of water, we recognized that we were nearing the vast subterranean river that flows through Undermountain. Rough voices were barely discernible above the lapping sounds of the river against its banks. The Paladin, the Mage, and I crept ever closer. As we neared an intersection in the passage, I called upon the power of the tattoo to transform back into my naturaltwo-leggedform. Expecting speed to be the determining factor in our chase of the remaining Ripped Hearts, I cast a quick enchantment that would allow me to move at an accelerated pace for a short period of time. Then, concerned that we may stumble into Brother Death or some equally troublesome spellcaster, I readied a Silent Arrow to fire at any suitable targetsafter giving Hammerand and the mage fair warning. We moved closer to the intersection, where we could see a long corridor to our left sloping down towards the rivers edge. To our right, a narrow passage led back deeper into Undermountain. The voices we heard had come from the left.
As I guarded the passage behind us, Hammerand and the mage investigated the intersection. Within the effective area of my Silent Arrow, I could not hear their conversations, but I quickly realized why they had stopped when the mage fired a crossbow bolt down the ramp towards the water. Seconds after the mage fired, the entire corridor from the ramp to the intersection where we stood was engulfed in ceiling-high flames. Someone had trapped the corridor with oil and set it ablaze in an effort to forestall our pursuit.
After seeing that the Paladin and the Wizard had moved to safety down the right passage, I grabbed my waterskin and quickly doused myself. Knowing that our quarry was most likely near the water beyond the inferno, I trusted my enchanted speed to hurry me through the blaze to safety. Plunging into the long, fiery passage, I emerged on the other side of the tunnel of flame, just a few feet from the rivers edge. I seemed to be alone, our prey having escaped down the river.
* * * * *
I quickly surveyed the river and found a dinghy moored to bank. I could barely discern another boat far down the river, beyond my immediate ability to pursue. I was soon joined by the mage, who had also braved the flames. The sole means of travel from this point was the boat, but someone had cast its oars into the river and they were moving swiftly away with the current. Seeing that the oars were too far downriver to reach with my rope and hook, I dove into the current and swam towards the oars. The mage followed right behind, although he seemed unable to keep pace with me. I was able to reach both oars before they had floated too far down the river.
When I had reached the furthest oar, I saw that I was almost to the rivers mouth, where it opened into a massive chambera bay of sorts. Lining the bay was a haphazard cluster of buildings, slave pens, and marketsSkullport. I could spy the other boat rowing towards a small inlet near what appeared to be some manner of fortress. As I tread against the current, I saw a sizable caravel tack towards that same inlet. Off to the right of the fortified position was what appeared to be the main section of Skullport. It looked like most other portages I have seen in my travelsthough I had not previously dropped anchor at any shore where people seem to nonchalantly fend off Skrag. Having seen all that I dare, I swam back to the mooring with the oars and climbed into the boat.
When I returned to the mooring, I saw that the Paladin had also endured the blaze to join us at the rivers edge. There, Hammerand, the Mage, and I waited for the rest of our group to catch up, which they did after several minutes. They arrived with two surviving Ripped Hearts in towmanacled and subdued and seemingly cowed by Mara Jade. After we had discussed our optionsand I had alerted my comrades to the presence of Skrag in the waterwe set out for Skullport.
We arrived without incident and tied off near a fishmongers stall at the waters edge. Our main concern was finding the quickest passage out of Skullport to the surface. We decided to pursue two optionsbooking passage upon a boat or finding a map of the tunnels and seeking out the Yawning Portal. Our first step was to find safe lodgings. Mara Jade took the lead in our dealings in Skullport since she had the most experience in the dark city. We soon found a relatively safe haven in which to rest, eat, and consider our next course of action.
We had traveled this far with Rivas body. Bella said that she had tried healing him to no avail. After examining Riva, the Mage explained that Rivas soul had been stripped from his bodymost likely transferred into a gem in Brother Deaths possession. The transference may have been triggered by the bracer Riva wore or may have been activated by some item. Regardless of the method, the diagnosis was clearthe only way to restore Rivas soul to his body was to find the gem that held his essence.
Leaving the Paladin and the Mage to guard Riva, our prisoners, and Mara Jades bounty, Bella, Mara Jade, and I set out to find a way out of Skullport. It was decided that we three would be least likely to stand out in our new surroundings, and the last thing any of us wanted to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves. We had also decided that the time had come to rid ourselves of Tamaras bracer so that the Ripped Hearts could no longer us it to trace our movements. I removed the bracer from Rivas arm, placed in a sack with a few rocks, and we dropped into the waterhoping never to see it again.
Following Maras lead, we walked the streets of Skullport in search of a means of escape. I must admit my surprise at how easy I found it to interact with Skullports residents. As I have stated, it was much like every other port city I have ever enjoyed. I quickly felt at ease bantering with peopleand thingswe encountered. I was genuinely amused at having to rebuff the unsolicited advances of a Hag who promised to sell me zombie slaves for a good price. It instantly conjured memories of the Scarlet Ward of Suzail, except that the women plying their wares in Suzail were a far sight more comely than the Hag of Skullport.
After a few stops, we found what might prove to be our salvation. Upon the good advice of an animal trader, we visited a mapmaker who was represented as honest andmore to the pointaccurate in his craft. The cartographer presented us with what appeared to be a detailed map of the path leading to the Yawning Portal. After plumbing the depth of his talent, I determined that he was skilled and that his map was most likely reliable. With Maras permission, I haggled some with the fellow artisanthe must enjoyable part of any business enterpriseand we reached acceptable terms. I even convinced him to include a good map of the Northlands as part of the deal. Since I have never visited the Spine of the World, it seemed prudent to obtain a map that might lead us to Ten Towns. So, maps in hand, we set out towards the Inn where the rest of our party awaited our return.
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