Disclaimer: Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark and all of the characters and settings associated with it are owned by Bioware Corp. and Atari. I am not writing this for profit; this is purely for fun.
Emily Emeraude had a headache.
This headache was probably caused by the dagger underneath her pillow, courtesy of the Yawning Portal Inn. It may not have been the finest lodging establishment in Waterdeep (and Emily certainly had the gold to afford better), but it was here that she intended to begin her next great adventure, in spite of her family's objections. And what a lot of objections there were when she announced she was leaving the small village of Conyberry yet again.
Emily rolled over in her bed and sighed. Only her oldest sister, Roxanne, had understood why she left, but then, Roxanne was the only one who had ever truly understood. The rest had merely tolerated her heroic ambitions, secretly hoping in time she would come to her senses and return home to marry and settle down to the life of a farmer's wife. That was what Roxanne had done, after all.
Emily sat up and shook her head. "No use dredging those thoughts up now", she thought. She had made her decision to come to Waterdeep and help save the city from the invasion of creatures from the Underdark, and save them she would. With a confident nod to herself, she slammed her body back down on the bed—right onto the hilt of that blasted dagger. "Oww…" she moaned. "What an auspicious beginning." She offered up a silent prayer to Lathander, her chosen deity, asking for some peaceful sleep. As is often the case with divine intervention, only half of her prayer was answered. Sleep, she received. Peace was another story.
A dark, cavernous room, the architecture of which is unlike any found above ground. A figure stands silent: female, elven, skin black as night, with a shock of white hair. In her hand, a whip, glowing with a dull red light. She surveys the chamber, clearly in control. Her eyes shine with confidence, but there is no warmth to be found in her gaze. Another dark elf, a male wizard, bows before her.
"I trust your preparations are complete," the woman states. Her tone demands an affirmative response.
"V-very nearly, dread mistress," stammers the man. "It should only be a matter of—"
"Do not test my patience, iblith," interrupts the woman. "Would you have me wait? I, the terror of all the Underdark? The Dark Queen of Shadow?"
"Of… of course not, my mistress," breathes the wizard, terrified.
"Then proceed. I wish to see this being who my agents say can stop my great rise."
"I do not believe anyone could stop you now, great Valsharess."
The Valsharess acknowledges his attempt at flattery with a smirk. "So I thought. But my agents have resources beyond the means of mortals. This one will be my undoing, so they say… if I do not act in time. So proceed, wizard," she orders. "I will wait no further."
The wizard and his cohorts begin at once. A flurry of spells is cast, and the room hums with color and energy. The outline of a spider is etched in red on the floor of the great chamber. In the spider's belly, a flash of light, and the image of a woman appears. She is human, pale skinned, average height, thin but not frail. Dark red curls fall past her shoulders, and her deep brown eyes dance in the many-colored lights. She wears a suit of plate, a mace in one hand, a tower shield in the other. A small smile crosses her freckled face.
The Valsharess stares at the image in shock. "What is this?" she screams. "A surfacer female?" She quickly turns on her companion. "Have your spells become faulty, fool?"
"N-no, mistress," the wizard rushes to say. "This is indeed the image of the one who shall defeat you."
"I will not be defeated," she states with certainty. A crack of her whip and the wizard falls to the ground, silent and still. No one else in the room reacts; they know better. She turns back to the figure of the human woman. "This image shows but a threat," she states for the benefit of all. "It shall be dealt with like the others." She extends a summoning hand to one of her followers. "You. Male. Remove this dead fool and summon my Red Sisters. Now."
"Yes, dread mistress." The dark elf casts a spell on the body, and the now levitating corpse follows him out of the chamber.
The Valsharess turns once more to the image and slowly approaches it. "And you, surfacer," she murmurs, "whoever you are and whatever threat you pose—you will not be able to hide." She is close enough to touch the woman, and her smile is as cold as ice. "The drow shall strike swiftly… and without mercy."
Emily found herself suddenly awake, sitting up in an unfamiliar bed, clutching a dagger she did not own. She was shivering in the chill night air, and sweat coursed down her body. She brushed a damp curl off of her face as she tried to focus on her surroundings, but the memory of her strange dream still rang clearly in her head. Images flashed past her eyes: a frightened wizard, a red spider, a deadly whip, a smile as cold as ice, a drow elf dressed in red. "Wait!" cried an inner alarm. "That one's real!"
Emily shook her head and looked again. Yes, there was actually a drow elf in her room, a woman dressed in red. She was crouching over the chest in which Emily kept her personal belongings. As if through a fog, Emily watched as the drow cast a spell, and instantly the chest vanished.
"Hey, stop!" she cried, or thought she cried; in her half-awake state she couldn't be sure if she was actually speaking. Regardless, the drow turned to her, dagger at the ready.
"And now," said the drow, "now you die!"
Perhaps it was the sight of the dagger in the drow's hand, or perhaps it was the sound of the word "die!", but instantly Emily's mind cleared. She jumped onto the bed and threw the dagger at the drow. It hit the drow's arm, barely scratching it. "Well, it's not like Drogan ever taught us the fine art of dagger throwing at Hilltop Academy," Emily told herself. She was pleased in spite of the lack of damage, however, because she had hit the drow's right arm, causing the assassin to drop her own dagger. While the drow bent to pick up her weapon, Emily hurriedly cast a Flame Strike spell. The roaring blaze of divine fire lasted only a moment, but after it disappeared all that was left was the remains of an armoire and a charred drow corpse.
The threat to her life gone, the mental fog—and her previous headache—returned. Emily blearily murmured a prayer of thanks to Lathander as she stumbled off of the bed, barely stopping her fall in time to prevent her head from hitting the wall. She walked past the body and knelt to pick up her dagger. As she gazed in sleepy fascination at the intricate patterns woven onto the drow's red armor, the door to her room opened. Emily felt her hand close tightly around the dagger's hilt.
A pretty young woman rushed in, a mixture of fear and concern on her face. Emily vaguely remembered her as the daughter of the innkeeper. Now, what was her name? Her weary brain searched for the memory in vain. I think it started with a T…
"Excuse me," stammered the girl, "is… is everything—oh my word!" She finally spotted the corpse of the drow thief and covered her mouth in horror.
Emily knew she should say something to comfort her, but the words wouldn't come. There were so many questions racing through her sleep-deprived mind that she found it hard to focus on one thought. "Is the inn under attack?" she managed to get out.
"No, I… I don't think so, my Lady. I only entered your room because—"
"Tamsil!" Emily blurted out. The young woman started in shock. Oh, dear, now I've frightened her further, Emily thought. How is it I can kill a trained assassin in my almost-sleep but polite conversation and social protocol continue to elude me?
"Your name is Tamsil, right?" she said aloud. The girl nodded, and Emily attempted a smile, hoping it didn't make things worse. "Just checking!" she said with as much cheer as she could muster and attempted a laugh, which came out as a hacking cough. It took all of her willpower not to roll her eyes at her own ineptitude. "You were saying…?" she prompted.
"Yes, my Lady," Tamsil mumbled, her eyes fixed on a spot on the ground near the drow corpse. "I only entered your room because I heard the commotion from the hall. The drow woman… is she…?"
Emily turned and pointed, unnecessarily, at the body. "Dead? Yes, I killed the thief."
Tamsil shuddered, and her fearful eyes met Emily's own. "I don't think she was just a thief, my Lady. She probably took your equipment so you would be defenseless when the drow assassin showed up. That's been the pattern for the other attacks."
Vague reports of prominent citizens of Waterdeep being killed in their beds flickered at the edges of Emily's memory, but all she could think about was the strange circumstance that prevented her from sharing their fate. "I… think I was warned, actually," she said slowly, more to herself than to Tamsil. "Something woke me up."
Tamsil's eyes widened even farther. "Then you are a lucky woman, my Lady," she said. "Many important people have been attacked in their homes here in Waterdeep. But unlike you, they haven't survived." Her forehead crinkled in confusion. "But… how could this thief even have known that you were here? You only just arrived in the city." She waited for a response from Emily, but none was forthcoming; the cleric's thoughts were elsewhere. "I'll have to tell Father about this," she continued after a moment. "We take pride in the safety of our guests."
For some reason, this statement of pride in the face of near disaster pieced through Emily's mental fog, and she looked at the girl clearly for the first time. She stood and smiled bemusedly. "I'm sure you do, Tamsil. I'm sure you do."
Encouraged by the change in Emily's demeanor, Tamsil continued. "The thief must have used magic… that's the only way she could have gotten in here undetected. She must have used that same magic to send your equipment back to wherever she came from."
Emily looked wistfully at the place where her supply chest used to be. Some of her equipment was very rare, a few items even taken from the ancient Netherse city of Undrentide. She turned back to Tamsil, lest she get lost in her memories again.
"I think you're correct, Tamsil," she said. The girl beamed, pleased with having impressed the famous Hero of Undrentide. "Any idea where I could get some replacement gear?" Emily asked.
Tamsil frowned. "Father's gathered weapons, armor, and other equipment here at the inn to help in the defense of Waterdeep," she said after a moment. "Anyone working to save the city is welcome to any of it. Everything is stored in the armory just across the hall. Just take whatever you need."
"Thank you," Emily said. "I'll go there right away." Her eyes drifted back to the empty space on the floor.
Tamsil shyly stepped forward. "I know the equipment in the armory isn't suitable for a hero like you, Emily Emeraude, but it's the best we've got," she said quietly. The cleric gave an almost imperceptible nod of acknowledgement without lifting her eyes from the floor. "Now, please excuse me," Tamsil said, louder. "I have to go speak with my father. I'll tell him what happened here, but it would be best if you didn't mention it to the other guests. We don't want to start a panic in the inn. Father will take steps to see this doesn't happen again."
"Of course," Emily said absently. "I barely understand what happened here myself…"
Tamsil saw she had lost the cleric's attention again, so she quickly curtsied. "Goodbye, my Lady."
Emily gave her a cursory nod as Tamsil shut the door. She was fully awake now, but her situation remained as murky as ever. She wondered, like Tamsil, how the drow had known she was here, but more concerning to her was her dream. She had no doubt that the dream had been meant as a warning, but who was this warning from? She thought for a moment that it had been a blessing from Lathander, but she knew in her heart that this wasn't true. There was a slightly sinister element to the message, which would not have been present if the dream was sent from her god. Then who would have the means and desire to warn her that she was being hunted by a vicious drow queen?
Emily sat on the edge of the bed, twirling the dagger in her fingers, staring into the dead eyes of the assassin on the floor. She briefly thought of resurrecting the drow to question her, but she figured she would simply be forced to kill the thief again without getting any useful information. She sighed. There was nothing for it but to focus on the task at hand and push all thoughts of prophetic dreams of warning from her mind. Emily knew, however, that the accompanying feeling of unease would be much harder to ignore.