You have entered Erelhei-Cinlu, the dreaded city of the drow. It rests in a vast underground dome called the vault of the drow and it is a wretched hive of danger and evil.
The streets are narrow and packed with all kinds of terrible villains: drow, bugbears, dastardly trolls, kuo-toa, even the occasional mind-flayer. You glimpse sights undreamed of — murder in the streets, monstrous homunculi, and spider webs flung down to pluck up an unsuspecting humanoid for a quick snack. Occasionally the crowd parts and a drow gallops through on a nightmare — an ebon-black horse with flames for eyes.
Packs of younger drow — young rakes lingering on street corners — seem to follow your every move, but otherwise no one takes any heed of you.
You are staying in private rooms at the Inn of the Spider’s Nest. Your pack lizard and several of your druid companions — including Maeve — are staying in the stables out back.
Though not a large city, it is cosmopolitan as far as underdark dwellings go. You can find most anything you imagine here … for the right price.
Still seething from the night before, Bertram wakes Carol. “Get up. I need your help. I was robbed last night. Deep-gnomes. I’m going to return the favor.” Bertram is rummaging through the group’s war chest for copper pieces. He spreads them out over the floor and waves his hand over the coins while murmuring a soft incantation. Suddenly, the copper hue flickers golden yellow. “You’ll be the bait. Here, take this, show it prominently. We’ll have some spilling out. There.” (Fool’s Gold wild magic roll: 12= +1 to level. Effective casting level 8= Save vs. spell to notice at -8 + -2 illusion= -10 to save)
Bertram leads Carol down to the bar. Using Carol to translate, he presses the barkeep for information on the deep gnomes that robbed him the night before. Known hangouts, aliases, etc. He slides one hundred gold in a small pouch across the bar as he leans over his wine. (Information Gathering roll: 11. Success!)
Bertram instructs Carol to wait there, and “look drunk”. He ruffles up her hair and clothing a bit, and sets her up in a booth. He orders a number of ales, empties them partially, and positions them around Carol. Bertram hurries upstairs and makes a quick ‘Deep Gnome’ costume. (Disguise roll: 8. Check Mod
1= 9. Success!)-hiding his face. He keeps Carol in his periphery, and waits for the deep gnomes to return.
He re-emerges in the common room, and sets up in a dimly lit corner booth
The bugbear bartender of the Spider’s Nest thinks Bertram’s questions are hilarious — where do the deep gnomes hang out? Haw!
“The Gnomeland, o’ course,” he spits. “Good luck, Pinky!”
Gnomeland is exactly what it sounds like: a deep gnome bar. Lit by purple lichen and glowing, pale-blue orbs, it is chock full of svirfneblin, the small, gray-skinned and wiry cousins of Bertram’s folk. The ones who crash landed deep under the urth generations ago, and who never crawled back to the surface.
They seem to be a fun-loving, if rowdy lot — quite good-natured, and a welcome respite from the creepy, crawly, dreadful scenes outside of Gnomeland.
Carol/Ann is mostly left alone — her table is actually the only one that isn’t knocked into, approached, or danced upon. She’s visibly uncomfortable being Bertram’s bait — she tried to get out of it, but the rest of the party were busy or distracted when Bertram hatched his plan to her — and she drinks nervously. She inadvertently gets quite drunk as she waits, sipping much too quickly on an empty stomach.
The deep gnomes of Gnomeland greet Bertram, in his disguise, friendily if cautiously. Who is this guy? they seem to wonder. Seems kinda uptight.
Carol/Ann is largely ignored by the gnomes, until a brief hush falls over Gnomeland and a young, grey-skinned gnomish lass enters — dressed as a scullery maid, serving drinks, but walking proudly.
No one addresses her by name, but who she is is quite clear: Queen Haverdash XVIII, ruler-in-exile of the svirfneblin.
Queen Haverdash glares at Carol/Ann in the corner, but she heads straight to the disguised Bertram.
“Who’re you?” she says. “New guy. Got a name? Here for a new one? You know how this works: make a pledge, get a name, start yer new life. Oh, and what’ll you have to drink?”
Etiquette roll: 8. Success! Bertram addresses her appropriately as a Queen-in-Waiting, just as he would Facistasia Wonderfrock. It is a formal but cordial conjugation, and belies her status as a monarch with a semi-permanent seat of power, in this case, the bar at the Gnomeland. “Tempting, although I have enough problems in my current one. No, I’m afraid our business would be better suited for a more private setting, my Queen.”
He takes her arm, and leads her with him into the kitchen. “You know, in a past life, I was a chef! May I ask her Majesty when was the last time she had a true zgirgal ez eggtyppip, cooked in the old ways? Let’s see what I can muster up…”
Bertram walks into the kitchen with the Queen, and approaches one of the line cooks and explains the situation to him. “I’m going to cook for the Queen. I need a Gnomish oven, one of your porters for an hour, and a station to work at. I’ll be out of your hair, and if the Queen likes it, I’ll share the recipe with you. Here’s twenty gold in it for you now, and twenty when we’re finished. I’ll take a bottle of wine as well, good wine, if you’ve got it.”
While Bertram waits for his reply he peers through the window on the kitchen door to check up on Carol-Anne.
“Eat? I may be Queen, but I’m still onna clock!” says Queen Haverdash. “Ehhh, but dang — been awhile since I had eggtyppip. Been longer since somebody showed up wanting to give something to me. So sure, why not.”
The cook shrugs and takes Bertram’s coins. He offers up a bottle of fine mushroom wine and makes himself scarce.
As the pans are heating, Bertram peeks out into the common room. Finally, it appears someone may be taking his bait. A deep gnome has approached Carol/Ann’s table, one foot up on a tiny stool, glaring at her from beneath bushy brows.
“You a good drow, or a bad drow?” asks the gnome.
“hic,” hiccups Carol/Ann. “Errr — g-good?” she says.
“s’a trick question, innit,” says the deep gnome. “No such thing as a good drow.”
The deep gnome’s hand is on his dagger hilt.
“One moment, Your Majesty, I’ll be but a moment. Hopefully that porter is back with my truffles.” Bertram throws on an apron and grabs a glass of wine. He rushes out to the table. “Baroness, your wine, sorry for the delay. Your meal is coming shortly. Anything for the gentleman? Of course. Right away.” Bertram backs away from the table, waits for the deep gnome to turn his attention back to Carol, then uses his boots of springing to jump behind the deep gnome, dagger pressed into his back. (Move silently roll: 08. Success!)
“Now listen here bucko, and listen good. My partner has a wand pointed right at your giblets below the table, and feel that? That’s my blade in your kidney. You make one peep and we’ll gut you from both ends. Have a seat.” Bertram gestures for Carol to scoot in the booth. He sits down next to the gnome. “Some of your buddies made quite a score at the Spider’s Nest last night. I aim to get it back. Here’s what I’ll do,” Bertram produces one hundred gold from his purse, and gives it to the gnome. “Count it out if you want. I’m a fair man.” Bertram waits. “Give me a name, a place.” Information Gathering roll: 06.
The deep gnome’s eyes go wide with panic. He barely looks at the coins, even as he scoops them into his stubby hands.
“Baroness — Baroness Eilservs? Here?”
He looks like he’s about to call for help, then glances at Carol/Ann and thinks better of it.
“Look, I dinna who robbed ya last night — no cutpurses ‘ang out in the taverns. Too risky. Gorb’n his gang prowl the alleys like ever’ other cutpurse. Oh! But there’s Klakko — he likes to drink at the Nest. Could be he just figger’d ya a mark. Not that I would, o’ course.”
He leans in closer to Bertram and whispers. “How’d one a’ our kind hook up wit House Eilservs? I heard they’ve stopped worshippin’ that ‘orrible spider-queen and moved onta somethin’ … else. Hook a cousin up, huh? I’ll keep yer secret. Don’t worry. Even butt-shake onnit.”
He licks his middle finger and extends a hand — cautiously — toward Bertram’s waistline.
Bertram bites his lip as he watches the hand getting closer. “Maybe later. Listen, escort the Baronness back to the Spider’s Nest and I’ll put in a good word for you.”He remembers the sous vide and races back to the kitchen. “Oh bother! No truffles today, it’s ok. I know a substitute.” Bertram races to deglaze the pan. (Cooking roll: 11. Success!) Bertram plates the coneys and lays the garnish. “There we are.” He places the plate in front of the Queen. “Pardon my reach.” He sits across from her at an impromptu table he’s laid out for them to talk in private. Once she’s had a chance to have a few bites, he starts with his story. “My Queen, my name is Bertram Figg. I was once a diplomat working in the interests of Facistasia Wonderfrock IX, are you familiar with her? She is the Queen-in-Waiting of the topworld. I would not be surprised if you hadn’t heard of her, because I was only recently made privy to your kingdom. You see, the gnomes above are not so different from yourselves. We share a language, a common ancestry. We too are searching for a Gnomeland. Perhaps there is a way I could arrange to open a channel between the two of you— start a dialogue. The problem is, myself and my travelling companions need to secure safe passage to the surface world, and that has proved somewhat of a challenge.”
“Undercover like,” says the deep gnome. “Roger that. That’s a svirf term that means, You betcha.”
Carol/Ann calls after Bertram as he’s about to leave. “Bertram, I don’t need — oh.” He was gone. “What’s your name,” she asks the deep gnome.
“Funnily enough,” he says, “it’s Roger!”
In the kitchen, at their impromptu table, Queen Havendash XVIII arches an eyebrow at Bertam’s proposition of diplomacy.
“Well then you realize that we are a people without a kingdom,” she says. “I mean, I gotta hold down two jobs — paying ones! — on top of this royal gig just to make ends meet. A topworld Queen-in-Waiting … Mookie back there would kill ya just for bringin up such a thing.”
Mookie, the line cook, does not take notice of his Queen’s statement.
“But diplomatic relations,” she continues, “that’s something. An exchange of ideas, maybe even ambassadors at some later date. I’m intrigued, Figg. And I’m impressed at your disguise, though now that I’m looking, I can tell you have the flabby chins of a topworlder. I’ll consider this request carefully, as well as how you might get back up top. Whether I send a letter to your queen or not, you’re still a gnome — and a gnome in need can always come to Queen Haverdash for assistance. Come see me in a few days. Right now I gotta get back ta work.”
She stands up, belches in admiration of the meal, and looks back over her shoulder before heading back out to the tavern floor.
“Good work, Figg,” she says.
Bertram nods graciously and rises to meet her at her chair and walk her to the door. After he packs up the leftovers, he cleans up his station, pays the remaining twenty gold to Mookie, and leaves out of the back entrance. The smell of spent oil and the sound of skittering rats brings back some old memories. Bertram realises he’s still wearing his apron. He stops and bends down to wrap the leftovers in the apron and make it easier to carry. He notices a passing rat stop, stand on its hind legs, and smell the air. “You there, you hungry?”
The rat looks at Bertram, it seems to take the full measure of him. It twitters — to itself, obviously not expecting Bertram to understand — “Outsider. Top-top. Worth a nubbin!” And it turns and skitters to the mouth of the alley.
A robed figure stops at the alley mouth. The rat disappears in the folds of the figure’s robe. Bertram briefly catches a glimpse of a tentacle emerging from the robed figure’s hood.
The robed figure moves on.