LATER THAT SAME DAY:
Gul stared into the dying embers of the camp fire. His companions seemed to be enjoying their rest but he was wakeful. Sleep eluded him no matter how hard he tried to relax. The fight with the green dragon, the lung full of poison gas he had breathed in and the exhilaration and relief of finding the lost crown had left his brain racing. The plans he and his crew had been patiently laying could now be set in motion. The path to the final goal was before them. He could see the hated matriarchy crumbling before them. All that, however, lay in the future. More pressing matters had to be addressed. They must get back to the ship and then they could exact their revenge on Zeph the accursed drider.
"I must get some rest” he thought to himself.
His mind would not stop. Frustrated, he rose, angry at himself for getting so excited. Maybe a walk in the dark would settle him. He took up his sword and strolled down a tunnel, enjoying the solitude and the comforting darkness. "Just like the caves beneath Shanizar” he mused wistfully. He had been walking for about ten minutes when something caught his eye. Was that scuffs and scratches on the tunnel floor? A hidden door perhaps? He knelt to investigate further. Sure enough there were scrape marks on the ground. He inspected the rock wall, pushing and prodding. He was about to give up and accept that the marks were merely the results of small animals foraging or the like when the stone wall moved slightly. He pressed harder and, slowly at first, the wall began to move. Gul’s excitement grew as the gap widened and he slipped through. As he emerged from the door way he carefully looked up and down the hidden passage, trying to keep in the shadows. All seemed clear and he proceeded cautiously down the slightly sloping corridor. He rounded a bend and stopped short as he spotted a large troll gnawing on something unpleasant. He crept closer, trying to catch the beast unawares, but he missed his footing and stumbled, sending a small cascade of stones scuttling across the hard floor. The troll immediately looked in the direction of the noise and, dropping its meal, began to approach Gul.
The Drow noble spoke an incantation and an electric spark leapt from his fingertips The troll screamed in pain as a lightning bolt seared its flesh. Enraged, the troll attacked but Gul was able to strike it with his sword before it could do any damage. The beast fell to the ground and Gul was about to put an end to it when its companion appeared from further down the passage way. Gul immediately fell upon it, but was unable to avoid the claws and teeth of this new adversary and suffered horrendous wounds. Then he caught sight of the other troll recovering; its wounds healing and lost limbs rejoining its body. Gul now faced two beasts and resigned himself to a hard struggle. Gradually he got the better of the two trolls, managing to bring both near to death but he too was nearly finished. He had two choices, to stay and fight, risking certain death, or to run and recover. He gritted his teeth and decided to stay. Better to die fighting; besides, he rather enjoyed a good scrap. He made one final effort and managed to kill both trolls. Quickly, he made a fire and burned their remains lest they regenerated to fight on.
By the light of the burning trolls Gul rested and, by using his magic, gradually recovered from his wounds. He took a refreshing swallow from his water skin and set off down the passageway warily. Without further trouble he strode on until he thought he felt a slight breeze on his skin. Or was it his imagination? He continued on his way. As Gul rounded a bend in the tunnel he saw the unmistakable reflection of moonlight off water casting shifting blue-green patterns on the rocky walls. Soon he was outside and exploring the night time jungle.
He stopped occasionally and listened to the noises of the swamp. The splash of something diving into the water – better watch out for crocodiles. A sudden movement as a flying creature sped past his ear. The incessant chirruping of insects. A rustle in the undergrowth, the sign that a predator was on the look out for a meal. Gul drank in the atmosphere and restored his spirits. He began to relax for the first time in hours. Lying back against a stump he welcomed sleep. He awoke with a start. What was that sound drifting through the jungle? He listened, unbelieving. It couldn’t be, could it? But, yes, he realised that he was listening to the most beautiful and intriguing music he had ever heard. Drow music that he had been brought up on in Shanizar but played as he had never heard it played before. He was immediately on his guard. A jungle nymph who would trap him in a tree for seven years or more? Sirens that would lure him to his doom? His mind raced with the myriad dangers this beauty could hide. Despite his misgivings he was drawn to the source of the music. He made his way carefully through the undergrowth and eventually emerged into a glade. What he saw filled him with fear and awe. There, in the middle of the glade, danced a naked, Drow female. No ordinary female, but a giant, surrounded by an aura of such power that she could only be a goddess. His first instinct was to flee, but he could not move. She fixed Gul with a frightening stare.
"Welcome Gul Kobra. I am Eilistraee, Goddess of the Dance.”
"You know my name,” he said stupidly.
"Of course I know your name. We gods know everything. For instance, I know you follow the path of my brother, Vhaeraun. I call on you now to renounce his wickedness and follow me along the lawful path. Repent and turn your comrades from wickedness also.”
Gul thought on this and almost gave his word. Then he remembered his vow to his god and knew that He would wreak a terrible revenge should Gul falter. He would have to convince the others, too, and that would probably end in someone’s death, most likely his own. Besides, the path of chaos suited him and it would lead him to great things.
"I’m sorry my lady, but my life belongs to the Masked Lord and I must, with regret, decline your offer.”
"What if I promised to make you the strongest Drow in the world? Would you reconsider my proposal then?”
Again, Gul was tempted, but he remained loyal to The Masked Lord and, once again, turned Eilistraee down.
"I admire your loyalty, misplaced though it is.” Gul bowed in gratitude. "I ask only this of you, Gul Kobra; in your war against Lolth and the Matriarchs, do not persecute my followers.”
"I will not, my lady, you have my word. I shall seek them as allies against our mutual enemy.”
Gradually the figure of The Goddess began to fade.
"I leave you with a word of warning, Drow prince. Beware the humans of the Empire. They seek to drive magic from the world, including from The Valley of the Great Sword. Beware.”
Gul watched as Eilistraee disappeared and the magical music became fainter. At last he was alone in the glade and contemplated what he had seen. He said a small prayer to Vhaeraun and made his way back to his companions. They were still asleep when he returned and he settled down for what remained of the night. As he slept he dreamed, but that is another story.