It has been some time since I made my little bargain with my patron. Service for power, a little of my life for a little of his. My flesh partly replaced by shadow – I claim to be part drow, it fools most.
The key is time. A human does not live long, not compared to most races. Oh, there are libraries of tomes, there are years of fusty research on the surface, growing old and feeble, finally attaining wisdom and then death shortly after at fourscore and ten.
And then again, there are the secrets of the darkness below.
To be young and vital, not for a few decades, but for centuries. To have the leisure to pursue knowledge and power. To know a single tree from seed to its eventual fall. To simply live as long as an average elf or dwarf – it is not wrong to desire this. I do not seek immortality, only to live a few years longer than my allotted span.
So. To explore the underdark, to wrest from it its secrets, is more easily said than done. In practical terms, the only way is to join the underguard. A strange rag-tag bundle of misfits, a dumping ground for the unsociable and the criminal. Patrolling a few holes in the ground – it’s possible they have not even reached the real underdark at all. Its possible they merely patrol a few simple caves.
Be that as it may. Being part of a military party is the only practical way into the deeps. Having command of a military party is even better, and I have begun taking my first steps in that direction today.
Our first mission – to clear a field of kobolds. We numbered myself, a pair of fighters, a god-botherer of some kind, another who had made some kind of … pact (it takes one to know one), and a gnome tinkerer. The sergeant had spoken to me – he wanted a report on the other recruits. Excellent! I resolved to make this my top priority, observing and keeping notes. The main thing being to identify someone to blame for any problems. This went swimmingly well, as the gnome tinkerer threw bombs of some sort that se the tall grass afire. We got the fires out (while fighting kobolds, I might add), but the point is – I had my patsy.
The kobolds gave us little trouble. They were kobolds. But as we looked for the little nuisances and fought them, we discovered a few very large reptilian or possibly avian footprints, and a cage that had been left open. Some of us had a sensation that we were being watched. Stalked.
After a time our superiors came in, declared that we had performed sufficiently well, and dispatched the remaining kobolds with startling efficiency. Most of them departed, leaving one behind to speak to us.
It was then that the demon attacked. It tore the corporal in two, and we fought it. I did little but watch and take notes.
When we were done, I investigated the cage. Inside was scored with clawmarks, and I found a fragment of talon. I tested it, it chimed with power. In the privacy of the cage, screened by the grasses all around us, I plunged the talon into the muscle of my chest, towards the pit of my left arm.
I regained conciousness with the rest of the group around me, tending to the various wounded. Of the talon, and the wound in my chest, there was no sign.
We returned to base.
I reported to the sergeant. I gave, I think, a fair accounting of the performance f the other recruits. Our fighters fought well (if with foolish impetuousness), our god-botherer healed, even the other warlock showed competence. And I openly expressed my bad opinion of the gnome – I judged that this sergeant would have no time for subtle insinuations. A display of plain forthrightness was what is called for in dealing with such men.
But the gnome is a civilian volunteer to the underguard. Such are unusual, and they can’t simply be ejected from the corps. The sergeant told me that he wanted me to keep an eye on the gnome, and I leapt at my chance. Leapt at it. Feigning no more than concern, I said “Well, sarge, I don’t know what I can do. I’m just a private like everyone else.”
And so now I am a corporal. On the one hand, a nuisance – I will be held to account for our group, and I can’t blame the gnome for everything. But on the other, I now have six troops.
The underdark will not give up its secrets to me willingly. But I am now on the right path. I can feel it.