Chapter 5 - Parte 3 - Marina, Aquamarina
The cage containing the slaves (party plus others) and their guards descends into the watery depths of the Nyr Dyr lake. Numerous people attempt to hold their breath for as long as their lungs and mental faculties will allow. Eventually one by one they succumb to the urge to exhale (in a cataclysmic eruption of air bubbles) and then inhale (a seemingly never ending lungful of cold, dirty lake water).
The Four Terrors of a watery death, namely Convulsion, Dis-orientation, Evacuation and Mindless Panic pay their righteous dues to all of the party members and to various degrees. A period of time passes, a few seconds for the bored looking Orc guards, several lifetimes for the many of the other cage occupants, before all and sundry discover that they really are breathing water and that their bodies are also stubbornly refusing to die.
The Four Terrors of a watery death depart leaving the relieved yet grateful party members to find other ways to occupy their time during the aquatic transit other than drowning. A bikini top becomes unfastened under mysterious circumstances followed by much hilarity between the Eladrin Mage and the Comely but Stern Human Female onto the precise reasons why.
The Orc guards wile away their time between looking bored or gazing at the party and it's antics with undisguised contempt.
The cage descends parallel to a vast fabric and metal funnel structure that has been a constant fixture since this Journey into the Deep began. It is a bulbous affair and it's fibrous surface fluctuates from time to time. Young Korbin deliberates on the purpose of the mechanism and how it seemingly disregards the laws of physics.
He ventures his concerns to the knowledgeable Keemor, a man known for his learning and rapier-like intellect. The aloof Eladrin peers down at the little halfling cherub at his feet with disdain before postulating that there may be many reasons why the structure remains standing despite the halfling's irrefutable logic.
The main reasons are :-
1) Korbin is only a *mere* halfling and as such has no business in trying to understand the laws of the physical world. After all how can your race, namely halflings, exist in the natural world at all? When you consider that they consume three times their body weight in food every day and yet do not explode, how is this remotely possible? But more importantly than that, dear youngling ...
2) it's magic :-)
Korbin's youthful face can't quite disguise the hurt generated by the Mage's masterful answer. The wee halfling continues his vigil staring at the funnel mechanism during the cage's Descent into the Depths, thou he does appear somewhat subdued.
Eventually the cage occupants can't help but notice a glow emanating from the waters beneath their feet. Light from below and in time, from many many structures affixed upon the lake bed. Vast wooden/metal domes strewn across a wide, cleared area. Each dome has one of the fibrous funnel mechanisms attached to the roof of it. The cage clangs down upon the lake bed, a short distance from one of the dome structures. The impact sends a small shudder through the bodies of all the cage occupants.
The slaves are bundled out of the cage and formed up into a long, straggly line. They are then marched into a trench that appears to run beneath the dome structure. Once past the dome wall the floor of the trench tapers sharply upwards and the party soon find themselves standing and blinking inside a bright and airy dome interior.
A general hubbub of noise greets the party's ears as the domed structure is filled with a multitude of strange apparatus worked upon by a horde of Derro Dwarves and slaves (dwarfs mostly). A low background hum is attributed to the funnel mechanism that seems to blow and suck great volumes of air into and out of the Dome and back to the surface. Additional slaves amble about the place and they easily number in the hundreds. It is a great hive of activity and the party take some time to absorb all that now surround them.
A clanging of shields draws the party's attention to a group of Orcs recently arrived, standing before yet another Priest of Iuz. He directs four nearby slaves to rise to their feet and they then hold forth oiled leather skins bearing illustrations of a Ring, a Sceptre, a Sword and a Chalice.
The Priest of Iuz begins to speak in clear, clipped tones.
'Welcome to Gulag 13. My Lord Iuz wishes these items. These items are to be found on this lake bed. You shall remain here until they are found or you are dead. Any slave finding any of these items will be granted immediate release from servitude..on this you have My Lord Iuz's word.
You have been temporarily granted the ability to breathe the lake waters, this Ritual must be renewed each morning. If you find you are short of breath before this allotted time then return to me immediately or you will die.
*thin weasely smile*
If you decide on escape then the gift of the Ritual will be denied you and you will die. As an example to others who harbor such treason you indeed must die! My Lord Iuz does not accept excuses. Accustom yourselves quickly to these new rules and surroundings and you may yet live. Rest now as your work begins on the morrow.'
The next few days are spent doing exactly that, working on the seabed in assigned areas (for Team Woad) or crawling around in a twisting, turning claustrophobic maze-like structure that all the halflings are assigned to work in (Team Blood). It resembles a fossilised remains of some gigantic pre-historic sponge and only halflings or dwarfs are small enough to work in the cramped environment. This is where the majority of the kidnapped halflings from Elmshire reside.
Avenues for escape appear pretty narrow so for the time being the party knuckle down to serious investigative work. Making acquaintances and hearing what there is to be heard. In this inoffensive way the group discover a number of interesting things.
There are about 4 thousands slaves all told toiling underwater to find the 4 items wanted by Iuz and they encompass all the races of Oerth (good, bad and all shades inbetween). They reside in about dozen Domes and their numbers are added too and dwindle daily.
Only Halflings and Dwarfs have the mental toughness to work in the strange and spooky sponge area. It's spooky because some mentally tough Halflings and Dwarfs have gone missing in the twisting maze and have never been seen again™.
The 4 items coveted by Iuz are discerned to be artifacts previously utilised by the now destroyed human enclave known as the Shield Lands. The story goes that the last Acolyte of Heimdall on the night that the capital, Admundfort finally fell to the Grand Armies of Iuz, escaped on a small boat and sailed it out onto the lake. He then cast himself into the deep waters of the Nyr Dyr bearing the items with him. His sacrifice meant that the artifacts remained out of the hands of the Great Enemy where they could have been subverted to do evil.
The items are determined to be
- the Admundfort Ring of Leadership (It's effect is to double the numbers of followers and to increase their loyalty. The more powerful the wearer, the more powerful the effect)
- The Chalice of the Shield Lands (Converts normal fighters into Paladins)
- The Warblade of the Shield Lands (Increases Leadership, Morale and Command Radius)
- The Scepter of the Sorcerer Kings (Reflects magic and psionics)
Korbin asks why Iuz simply doesn't use powerful Arcane Magics to pinpoint these items? The Eladrin Mage again rises to take on the mantle of Halfling Nemesis as he regales the information he has ascertained to the wee fellow. The entire lake bed around this area is awash with some strange magic and it makes all scrying and location spells go awry. Here the caster will only give a general idea of an item and not a precise GPS location.
Korbin absorbs this latest affront stoically before asking what a 'GPS' is? Keemor the Mage looks down at the small halfling with an expression of contempt mingled with deep pity (albeit a very, very small amount of deep pity, it is Keemor after all :))
'Backward Youngling, hear ye nothing that I say? the answer is obvious to anyone with but half a brain, it's magic!' :)
Something inside young Korbin Shortshanks moves from the 'amber' state into the 'red' state.
In addition to the other dangers posed by being a slave forced to work in the dark depths, i.e running out of the Air Breathing Ritual at an inconvenient time, being beaten to death by the sadist Orc Guards on a daily basis, simply go missing inside the spooky giant sponge fossil, or perhaps getting your throat slit by an irate halfling in your sleep, etc etc One final danger awaits the poor souls struggling to survive in the deeps, there are also rumors of 'Sea Devils' roaming the evacuation areas, killing and kidnapping slaves and guards alike.
Korbin: Sea Devils?
Keemor the Mage turns to face the inquisitive halfling once more and manages to contort half a sneer onto his mouth before he feels something like a sharpened fish head Shiv (cunningly fashioned by halfling ingenuity from an actual fish head) press against the skin under this throat.
Korbin: Say it's Magic one more god damned time ya smug mofo! I dare ya, I double dare ya!!!!
The Eladrin Mage remains motionless and silent, a great torrent of drool escapes from one corner of Keemor's half sneering mouth. Sir Quentin intervenes in an attempt to defuse the situation, 'The Sea Devils Master Korbin! Also known as the *Sahuagin* Surely you've heard of them before?'
Sir Quentin snorts mightily. 'No you ignorant young pup! Sa-hua-in...back of the throat 'in' ya dig?
And a vicious Paladin beating ensues. 8-)
Anyway to cut a long story short, there appear to be rovering groups of aquatic humanoids called 'Sea Devils' or 'Sahuagin' that behold the area containing the evacuation site as their personal hunting ground and they take no sides nor take any prisoners but prefer to kill or capture anything that dares to cross their path.