Author's Note: Happy belated Valentine's Day, my lovely readers! Have a brand new chapter, hot off the presses! Unedited, so there might be mistakes. :)
The stairs led down into the sewers. The sewers.
Making a horrified expression, Bryran shot a look at Kellindil for laughing at his look of sheer disgust.
Unfortunately, that just made the elf laugh even harder. How the archer wasn't affected by the nauseating fumes floating around the place, he had no idea.
Rolling his eyes, the warrior attempted to ignore the disconcerting sound of laughter bouncing off the walls of the tunnel and echoing back at them. It wasn't easy, but he managed to tune out the chortling elf after giving him a distinctly unimpressed look in favor of looking around the corridor. Behind them loomed the crumbling stairs, almost completely hidden in the gloom of the tunnel. Made of dark gray stone, the sewer showed surprisingly little signs of crumbling, though equally few of having been cleaned. The murky water looked more like a massive coalition of slimes than any liquid and likely had even worse things floating in it, the smell an almost visible fog over the stone path running left and right that they were standing on.
It was, in a word, filthy. And the stench was awful.
His nose wrinkled and he grimaced at the smells wafting through the air around them, but managed to keep his last meal from making a surprise appearance as he followed his companion when the blond started walking. The platforms and walls on either side of the river of sludge were dry, so keeping their footing was no obstacle. However, the edges of the walkway showed signs of mold and possibly some kind of lichen, neither of which looked exactly harmless. The pair wisely stayed away from that side of the walkway.
Along with the ghastly odors, the sound of their footsteps multiplying as the noise traveled through the sewage tunnels had both veteran adventurers on edge. They could both say, with absolute certainty backed by multiple experiences, that the sound of someone walking behind you with no visible source was very rarely a good thing. "This brings back some very unpleasant memories of the Tomb of the Betrayers in Neverwinter..." Bryran grumbled, eyes darting around warily.
Kellindil's lips twitched as he responded, "Ah, it brings to mind recollections of Masulk's Tomb for me."
"Huh, really?" Bryran asked curiously, looking around thoughtfully, "It might be too wet for either of those, though. Perhaps more like catacombs, sans the bats and maniacal cackling of liches and/or necromancers?" He joked. He neglected to mention anything about rats, since he could see things scurrying in the shadows and didn't want to tempt fate. If he didn't acknowledge them, hopefully the whatever-they-were would continue ignoring the human and elf.
"Exactly," Kellindil quietly laughed, instinctively keeping his voice low even as the tense line of his shoulders relaxed slightly. The archer by no means let his guard down, but the sudden amusement broke through his anxiety enough that he no longer felt like he was walking on a tightrope of broken glass. Sending a grateful look back towards Bryran, the human seemed to sense his appreciation even if he couldn't see it through the darkness. Being an elf, Kellindil had the advantage of natural darkvision and thus was able to see where he was going in the almost pitch-black sewer, the warrior following barely a foot behind him.
Both welcomed the bit of distraction that talking about the strangest places they had ever gone on quests provided, keeping their voices low as they walked. Descriptions of dark, vile places, dens of villainy and lairs of evil flew back and forth between them, an unofficial competition starting as each tried to outdo the other, Kellindil in the lead for the moment with his tale of slogging through the Evermoors and fighting off trolls, bog blokes, and mosquitoes the size of kittens while escorting a caravan. The swamp mud had been impossible to get out of his clothing, he claimed, and the stench had lingered for over a week despite practically drowning himself in perfumes and scent-removers. However, Bryran soon topped that with the story of how he and a rogue had once been forced to dig through the refuse chambers of a goblin city to retrieve a magic staff that the hobgoblin leader had stolen from the messenger delivering it to a wizard and then discarded. If you wanted to talk about dealing with horrific odors, nothing could top that, Bryran insisted.
The elf conceded the point, chuckled as he admitted, "Yes, that does sound unpleasant...did you ever recover the staff?"
"Of course! That was actually the easy part, it was when we went to return the thing that things went south," the warrior groused, and Kellindil could almost sense his friend scowling, "The stupid wizard refused to take the staff back because it reeked so badly, and if he didn't take it then neither of us would get paid, so we had spend two days cleaning the filthy piece of wood before he would accept it and admit we'd finished the job. He even tried to give us the original amount agreed upon, after all that trouble he gave us! Believe me, you have never seen such a deadly look on a rogue's face as the expression on my partner at the time as they squeezed every single bit of gold that wizard owed us for retrieving his magic stick out of him, along with interest for the time we spent cleaning it."
"Yes, that does sound unpleasant," the elf snorted in laughter, "You win this round," he admitted as he reached back to guide the human around a turn.
"Better believe I do." Bryran nodded proudly, even though his story really wasn't anything to brag about, save for use as a trump card to win a 'worst quest' competition. "The sad thing is, we spent most of the money on hot baths and new equipment because the stink had soaked in so much that we had replace pretty much everything. You can bet we never worked for that wizard again."
Shaking his head in sympathy, Kellindil led the way through a series of twists and down several sets of stairs.
From there the conversation segued from the worst places they'd been to the strangest quests they had ever received, a topic for which both had plenty of stories to share. They ranged from hilarious to out-and-out bizarre, but each tale had their lips twitching and one hand over their mouths to muffle snorts of laughter. It made keeping quiet a difficult task, but it also served to keep their minds on something besides the complicated task ahead of them, made even more tricky by the fact that they were being forced to sneak around. Keeping the mood light was its own reward in this case, they both unknowingly mused.
"What is Helm Dwarf-friend like?" Bryran suddenly asked, interrupting Kellindil's recitation of his gnome friend Freth's reaction to being set upon by a mud golem. As Freth the gnomish cleric had a thing about cleanliness, his reaction had been both explosive and hilarious.
A bit thrown, it took the elf a moment to gather his thoughts enough to answer, "Well, I've never truly interacted with him alone," he admitted, "but from what I've seen when in the company of Ranger Falconhand, he is a wise and just ruler. He won't discard our information out of hand, at the least he will order an investigation to see if there is any truth to our story. With the movement of the orcs scarcely a few days behind us, it won't take long to prove what we say is true." He smiled confidently, unseen by the human behind him.
Bryran frowned thoughtfully, musing aloud as he tried to work through the problem, "I'm not so sure...those plans you found could mean that the orcs have a spy in the city; didn't you say that there was information in them that even you didn't know? What if they try to keep Sundabar from responding in time?"
"Hm, yes, but then again, I don't exactly spend a lot of time here, so that's not so unusual," Kellindil admitted. "The only reason I know about this route is because a meeting ran long one day and I was taken by the urge to explore. A spy might cause some problems if we were going through normal channels, but if we take what we know directly to Helm, it won't impede things overmuch, and if whoever they are tries to intercede, then they will be exposed that much faster."
Humming thoughtfully, Bryran had to admit that that made a great deal of sense, put that way. "Still, did we have to go through the sewers? It will take magic to get the stench out of my clothes after this is over," and he didn't relish talking to the lord of the city while smelling like a cesspit, he sighed.
Kellindil chuckled at the unspoken words he heard from his friend, then paused as one of the human's words reminded him of something, causing the warrior to almost smash his nose into the elf's back. Bryran nearly slipped as he wind-milled his arms to maintain his balance after his sudden stop, grumbling in annoyance, "What was that for?" He complained, scowling as he squinted at the slightly lighter shape in front of him to try and see what was going on.
Searching through his pockets, it didn't take long for Kellindil to find what he was looking for, and with a soft jingling sound pulled out one of the thin gold chains he had untangled from the knot of jewelry stolen from the orc camp. He turned and pressed the necklace into one of Bryran's hands, explaining, "I can feel a faint trace of magic on this; I know not what it does, but it could come in handy later."
"...You're sure it's not cursed?"
"While I might not be one of my more darkly aligned cousins, I like to think that I can tell the difference between a curse and an enchantment," His lips twitching in amusement, he let the pause linger before he gave in to the warrior's skeptical look and assured him, "I'm positive. It's not cursed." Sending one last suspicious look at the lighter blob of darkness in front of him, Bryran gave in and managed to fasten the necklace about his throat, fumbling a bit as he hid the gold between his armor and undershirt.
Flicking a look towards Kellindil's dark form that plainly asked 'are you happy now?', he was answered by a soft breath of laughter before the elf turned and continued walking. Bryran was left with no choice but to follow, which he did was low, heartfelt groan to let his friend know exactly what he thought of his mysterious act. He could have sworn he heard the male snicker, but when he narrowed his eyes towards the archer's back, no other sounds aside from their muffled footsteps were forthcoming.
Huffing, Bryran followed Kellindil through three more turns and four sets of six steps leading downwards, neither speaking, before he could no longer bear the quiet. Too much silence played tricks on the mind, something every adventurer learned early on.
"We're not going to wind up under the moat, are we? I don't want to be dinner for the eels." Bryran asked an undetermined number of minutes later, both to break the silence and bring up a completely valid concern. He had heard rumors about the eels in the water around Sundabar; if even half of them were true, he would just as soon avoid them entirely if possible. A shiver trailing icy fingers down his spine as he thought of some of the more hair-raising tales, he glanced uneasily at the dark water of the sewer as though a man-eating eel was hiding beneath the surface and waiting for the opportunity to lunge. It would hardly be the strangest thing he'd seen happen, he thought sourly, taking a small step away from the edge.
A sudden huff of laughter from the elf pulled him from his uncertain thoughts, and he huffed right back he said defensively, "Shut up. It'd hardly be the weirdest thing that ever happened."
Which, Kellindil conceded, was a very valid point.
"This section of sewer doesn't lead anywhere near the moat, nor is it connected to any tunnels that do, so winding up under it would be rather impossible," he replied, and at the skeptical silence behind him drolly added, "If we do somehow wind up fighting off man-eating eels against all odds, nature and reason, you have my full approval to say 'I told you so',"
"I would say it even without your permission," Bryran sniffed, only to immediately regret it as the sewer-stench once more made itself known. How he'd managed to forget about it for even a moment, he hadn't the faintest idea, but he was really like to do it again. Preferably now, as he breathed shallowly through his mouth and tried to once again put the smell out of his mind, his nose burning at the unpleasant odor. Again, the elf he was following laughed at him, and he grumbled under his breath that it wasn't funny, and just you wait, it'd happen to him and then who'd be laughing.
Kellindil had to cover his mouth with a hand to keep from laughing even harder. Once he calmed down, he lowered it to reveal a happy grin, letting out a few more quiet chuckles before he explained, "Actually, the route we're taking leads to the Undercity, and from there is a passage we can take straight into the Citadel." He snorted, commenting optimistically, "We might not even need to go all the way, since Helm frequently visits the dwarves in the Undercity and we might be able to find him there, avoiding those pesky guardsmen."
Bryran was coming to realize that it was quite possible the elf was holding a grudge . It was just a possibility though. He had to wonder over Kellindil's grudge-holding ability, but something in his companion's voice gave him pause. It was...annoyance? No, something else, irritation perhaps? Some combination of the two? He had a nagging thought he understood the reason for the strange tone, so he stated flatly, just to see if he was right, "You're thinking that we should have skipped the legal route entirely and used this method instead, aren't you."
The was silent for several more stretches of tunnel. Well, that answered that.
A few minutes of silence and a short staircase later, the warrior couldn't resist commenting, "You can be surprisingly petty sometimes, can't you?"
"I am not petty, I am merely at the end of my patience for delays." He retorted haughtily.
"Petty~!" Bryran practically sang, grinning practically ear to ear as he took to teasing his friend like a fish to water. Ah, just the distraction he needed!
Later, if they were to be honest about the remaining trek through the sewer tunnels, both would admit that they lost track of time as Bryran gently teased and Kellindil mockingly responded. Before either of knew it, they were turning a corner and their eyes were suddenly assaulted by the bright light coming from the exit in front of them. It was a small opening barely large enough for one man to walk through, but to eyes that had grown used to the darkness, it was like shoving a sun-stone directly into their eyeballs. Painful. Bright and painful.
His eyes watering, Bryran squeezed them shut and took deep breaths, waiting until the spots faded from the backs of his eyelids before he cautiously cracked one open. Kellindil had it easier, and placed a guiding hand on Bryran's shoulder as he steered the man through the exit, following barely a step after him. Though he wasn't blinded, the elf still kept his eyes almost completely closed while he waited for the glare to dim to a manageable level. He was doing better than Bryran, whose vision was almost completely white as he slowly opened one eye, then the other, blinking rapidly to try and hasten their adjustment to the changed level of illumination.
They'd emerged into Sundabar's Undercity from a small drainage tunnel in a desolate corner of the cavern, but the pair's first look around still made it obvious that dwarves definitely lived there. The sound of hammers striking metal, raucous shouts, tankards crashing against tankards, and thunderous bellows filled the air in a cacophony of sound. There was the musky scent of sweat in the air, accompanied by the tang of metal and fire, a thick combination that overpowered the stench of refuse and sewage water lingering around them, much to their relief.
The Undercity of Sundabar was built in tiers around the volcanic rift known as the Everfire, the entire cavern stained with red by the fiery glow coming from the rift. Shadows flickered and danced across the rocks, alternately large and small, kept tamed by the shine of the lamps lining the roads carved into the cliffs and walls. Foundries and workshops lined the edges of the chasm, thick and sturdy stone bridges connecting the two sides on several levels, stairs and ramps carved out of the rock enabling easy travel between the tiers. The scope of the underground city was truly amazing to behold, leaving an observer feeling like an ant looking at a dragon.
They were standing on one of the higher levels, the deserted corner dominated by rubble that neatly concealed the sewer entrance from passing eyes. Kellindil was in his element as he guided Bryran around the debris to firmer ground, neatly stepping around suspicious puddles and unstable stones, surefooted and swift as a deer.
Looking around at the surrounding area, Bryran turned his head this way and that in interest. "Wow..." He breathed out, the sound tinged with admiration as he laid eyes on the actual Undercity for the first time. Truly, the ability of dwarves to build was something to be in awe of. Despite the heat that had sweat staining his hairline and making his clothes uncomfortably damp, he stared at the Undercity's fierce beauty with rapt attention. He didn't want to miss a thing, and Kellindil seemed like he had no problem letting him take a moment to look his fill.
It was hardly the first time someone was awestruck upon seeing the subterranean city, even repeat visitors.
Kellindil let his friend take his time, hardly about to complain about a short rest considering his ankle was beginning to hurt again. He found a convenient rock to sit down on, stretching his legs out with a soft sigh as his feet made their irritation at the long walk known. Yes, a small stop certainly wouldn't hurt, he decided. He needed to remember where Helm was likely to be anyway. He wasn't the one who usually visited the Undercity, so his knowledge of where things were was fairly lacking.
Author's Note: Well, so much for getting this done by Christmas. -.-; It just figures as soon as I mention that, I get sick. Sick. Right before Christmas. #?*!. So, I decided to make this a Valentines' present instead. Then I got hit by allergies. I still did my best, but apologies for any errors, I was dealing with some serious bubblehead while finishing this. :P If you happen to see any typos, repetition, or glaring errors, please let me know!