D&D 5E: The Road Not Taken

Valrak'shi Journal Entry 1

Waking after a restful night, Valrak’shi takes note of his surroundings. Situated on a rock shelf off of the cavern floor, away from the slippery clay surroundings, he feels this position as secure as any they’ll find in the Underdark.

Looking around he notices his companions, varied as they are. He wonders how the surface dwellers will fare as they delve into the deeper dark. He and his kind are conditioned to the constant feeling of weight above their head, but most surface dwellers eventually start to feel the weight of the rock above them…instead of feeling the comfort of the protective rocks, it feels a hindrance. It’s no difference than most of his kin that feel exposed in the (seemingly) never-ending expanse of night above, once the caverns are left behind. Valrak’shi ponders the drive within oneself, how different beings seem to be driven by different forces. Is it predetermined? Is there a bit of leeway, or do we have total control? When asked by Grandmaster Glorfinn which path he would take, Valrak’shi knew at once it was to the world above. Not to be rid of the depths of which he was accustomed, because it will always feel like home, but because it wasn’t home. The path of the Monk was not something he chose, it was chosen for him at birth, but it is one from which he has enjoyed and excelled. There are many unknowns in the Underdark, many things that he and his brothers have yet experienced, but the surface world seemed the most alien and because of it, the most interesting. Many roads are open before each one of us; we must follow what is true to ourselves.

Stretching out on the floor to wake his muscles up, he rolls into a plank position and works through a series of quiet and quick routines before sitting back into a meditative pose. Focusing his breathing he digs into his inner Ki and prepares for the trials of the day. He quickly recounts the path that brought them here; the descent from the tunnel above, the webbing they barely escaped from, the capture by the Drow party…oh how he remembers that vividly. He still has a burn mark on his chest from that lightning bolt that laid him low. He doesn’t admonish himself though, he knows from the teachings of Glorfinn that with enough practice he can attain a sense of awareness that will in the future allow him to evade such attacks, and he looks to such a day to surprise his enemies. He recounts briefly their quick but effective fight breaking free of their Drow captors in Velkynvelve, how he loved the look on the cruel priestess’ face when she realized most of her spells would not work in such a close quarters. He thinks on their hasty retreat into the Underdark and of their current companions. He is curious to see how this plays out…to see if any have ulterior motives. Being taught the ways of his race, he can’t help but distrust most and always expect someone to make a play that benefits them most in one way or another.

After a short time, Valrak’shi stands and makes his way silently around the camp. He thinks of his new boots and a rare smile touches his lips. His brothers would love to see these boots for sure. Not all battles are meant to be fought in the light of day, or face to face, sometimes one must use every advantage they can.

Approaching Shuushar Valrak’shi nods his greeting as he sits next to the Kuo-toa.

“Shuushar, it is known that there are those among your people that are quite skilled using their body as a weapon. I doubt our current pace would allow for a foray into that world, but once we are near, if you have access to any books on their methods and techniques, I would be grateful a chance to look on them, or borrow them with a promise to return them in the future. If not, I will strive to return one day to learn what I can of your teachings as well as those of your martial brothers.”

After a few moments of discussion with the Kuo-toa, Valrak’shi excuses himself and walks to the edge of the encampment, to look down upon the floor. The smell of clay is strong in the nose, mixed with a sulfuric scent, undoubtedly from the thermal activity far beneath them. This would explain the Fire Lichen seen growing near where they are camped. The sunken structures are interesting, Valrak’shi would love to know what caused such a disaster, and when for that matter. Easily keeping track in his mind the distance they’ve traveled, and knowing the general direction they’re headed, he knows they have many days of travel ahead of them. He rummages through his bag taking count of the various mushrooms and rations he has, knowing that to be ill prepared in the Underdark is to invite certain doom. He and Lutien step lightly off of their perch, making their way around the cavern hunting for edible mushrooms and what they hope to be potable water, knowing their current waterskins won’t last forever. They are fortunate to find nearly 30 lbs of mushrooms that will help keep the party alive for a couple of days should the food run scarce.

They make their way back up to the ledge where he can see his companions. Looking around, he notices Ian in conversation with Eldeth but can’t quite make out what they’re saying. That one he feels may be quite handy in the battles to come. Bringing the light of day to the Underdark, wielding divine energy like he does, could help sway the tide of battle. Not to mention his God-blessed sword…helpful indeed. He quickly looks over to where Galathalas is standing, off to the side by himself. Looking closer he sees Stool perched upon his shoulders, but the conversation Galathalas is having seems not to be directed at the Myconid, but to himself. He seems to be arguing about something but lovingly caressing the newfound wands, getting the feel for them, learning them perhaps. Valrak’shi isn’t sure what to make of him…he seems like a good person, not a cruel person, but he seems almost not in control of himself. He hopes that as he gains wisdom, along with it comes clarity of mind and a focused will to put those substantial powers to good use, without hurting himself or those around him. Just in case, Valrak’shi will stay light on his feet… Lastly his eyes follow Lutien as he makes his way back to his bedrole, he seems to be busily gathering up pieces of what appear to be deconstructed hand crossbow bolts and a portion of the structure around him, preparing to use the pieces to create his own special kind of arrow the Drow assumes. The best archer Valrak’shi has ever witnessed, he seems to be putting on a strong front, but the Drow can tell he is feeling the weight of the region more so than the others. He does well to hide it though; obviously aware of his surroundings he appears to be working hard to overcome those fears while focusing on his work and the task at hand. Valrak’shi nods, understanding. It is the way of things. One must always work from the inside out to progress along the path. Now, as to their progression…

Suddenly he notices the absence of two of their group. Topsy and Turvy aren’t within eyesight…Valrak’shi quickly asks around as to their whereabouts. Jimjar casually mentions he saw them heading out in the middle of the night, he assumed for mushroom hunting but didn’t inquire.

To his companions Valrak’shi gently speaks; “I know not the reason for Topsy and Turvy’s secretive departure, but our path seems to take us the same direction. When one and all are ready, let us be on from this place…we have a long and dark road ahead of us.”

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Into the Abyss
It's Dark, Real Dark
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The Adventure Begins
Making Friends

The party of novices set out towards the Ardeep Forest with Geth in tow. Their travel presents a startling herd of deer, a wild boar attack and a formidable ogre.

The party finds a letter, very similar to their own invitations, inside the ogre’s lair. It reads as follows.

Li’ous of Triboar,
On behalf of the House, you have been invited to audience one week hence forth.
Your unique musical talents have been deemed worthy of offer. Acceptance will guarantee reward of both opportunity and coin. The utmost discretion is required. The payment of 50 house gold coins will be paid in full upon your arrival.
May Gond bless the hand that plays for the chosen.
Signed,
Hemil Greggur
Observer of the Watchful Order

Along the way the party encounters a traveling merchant and artisan named Thoven, a rather unassuming gnome who has been recently robbed while in route to Waterdeep. The party decides to assist the gnome by tracking the culprits to a nearby bandit camp. They find the missing items and unexpectedly befriend a goblin named Gerky. The party spends the night in the camp and upon leaving the next morning are ambushed by more bandits but a band of goblin’s ‘led’ by Gerky assist the party.

The letter, combined with Geth’s own firsthand account of Hemil’s dealings lead the party to believe that things are not as they seem. The party begins to suspect that Hemil’s interest is not in line with his employers best interests. The party determines to return to Waterdeep with this information and speak with Jhoadil directly.

The party reconnects with Geth and Thoven’s hidden campsite.

The party arrives under the cover of night and had the presence of mind to enter from the south gate.

The party investigates The North Inn where they speak with Bodun, Laura and Pizia about a musician that came through town the night of the robbery. They have a close call with city guards but escape.

They gain audience with Jhoadil without Hemil’s knowledge. Jhoadil is overjoyed to see Thoven’s piece of art demonstrated and pays the gnome in full. Thoven happily pays the party their 10% for having saved him and his life’s work form utter ruin. After the transaction is completed the party is able to speak with Jhoadil alone and explain their findings and suspicions.

Jhoadil begins,

I wasn’t always so fortunate as I appear to you now. I was born in a small farming village just east of Murann (Sailors’ City) to the south along the Sword Coast. My father and brothers worked the fields and we made a humble living. I wasn’t encouraged to dream to high as gaining wealth, station or status for people like us was so very rare. I spent a time working with my family but something in me wanted more. I spent years waiting for an opportunity and it came on morning in the way of a spice trader. I won’t waste your time on details but the spice trade proved profitable for me. I moved up the coast, making contacts with Elturgard, Candlekeep, spent a time in Baldr’s Gate and found Daggerford and the Crown of the North to be in great need of my talents and services. I took risks, I made connections and I sacrificed. When you want to become successful or powerful, or both, you must often keep company with a great many people, some of whom you may question but it’s a means to an end. I have a great deal of influence here in Waterdeep, a great deal of influence far beyond these gates in fact. I’m one of only a few that can make that claim without a family name, title or heroic deeds to support it. I take a great deal of pride in that. A great deal. In fact I’ve made recent relationships with business opportunities as far as Ascore along The Frozen Sea.

Hemil. <pause> Hemil has been with my company since well before Daggerford and Waterdeep. He has been key to my success without question. I suspect we both saw the same thing in each other, opportunities. Perhaps he sees more opportunities without me now. It’s not outside the realm of possibilities. He has his own influence here, outside of our shared control. Perhaps I have left that unchecked and that is my misstep.

My wedding is days away. It has kept my attention and focus tied up over the past several months. Perhaps it is time to change my focus again. If only for a brief time.

I’m sure Lord Elkheart would love to see me fumble being my only real competition in Waterdeep. If what you say is true then I have been played for a fool.

So what do we do now? What are your plans? I can offer little protection if Hemil has truly planned to betray me. There would be no way for me to know in any certainty who is truly my ally. Not within these walls anyway. Hemil has been concerned with other matters for the past several days but if he has eyes and ears about it won’t be long before he hears about our meeting today.

I can’t reach out to the Guard and the Watch with something of this nature and The Lords of Waterdeep could prove to be a tactical error in the end. The Black Robes cannot be trusted. My influence with them is often through Hemil which is now in question. Bringing frivolous or unproven claims to the Lord’s Court could mean stiffer ruling for the complainant.

Perhaps the best route for you would be to leave Waterdeep. Leave Hemil to me, it will take careful movements to put him into check. He is no commoner and should not be underestimated. I could supply you with gear and supplies and help you find a safe route out of the city, perhaps well below any preying eyes. We would have to act quickly however.

Jhoadil take the party to a lower dungeon and opens a large stone door with some keys and command word (Alothar). He instuckts the party to follow the tunnel for two hours and come out under a ruined farmstead home, make their way towards Ampail and find Lothamen, a blacksmith that will give them shelter if the party mentions his name. He will pull a large rope that disappears into the wall, stating that this will release a trap so the party isn’t caught in it. He will inform the party not to return through this tunnel as the traps would most likely be deadly. He, in fact, sent a signal to the Drow that more slaves are on their way.

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The Offer
New in Town

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The date is 1485 DR, the year of the Iron Dwarf’s Vengeance, inside the walls of Waterdeep, the City of Splendor. A young boy dressed in ceremonial robes holding rolled parchments. He scurries through the city, delivering messages to four unsuspecting and unacquainted individuals. The invitations invite each of our, would be adventures, to meet with Jhoadil Zulthind of the House of Inspired Hands. The letters are signed by Hemil Greggur, Observer of the Watchful Order.

Our party meets for the first time at the Holy Reverence Central Court Service Tower in the Castle Ward of Waterdeep.

You stand in front of the tower, the streets are not as busy as other parts of the city, but people pass from time to time. After what seems to be a lengthy wait, you hear iron latches move from behind a set of heavy oak doors. The doors open and two young boys in muted ceremonial robes emerge. They approach the party and offer their hands and lead each of you into the entrance chamber.

As you enter the meeting hall, you are immediately overcome by the smell of a variety of spices, fragrances and freshly cooked meats. A large ashen table sits in the center of the room. A selection of meats, cheese and wine sit atop the table surrounded by plush chairs. The young boy motions for you to sit and eat.

After a few moments several men enter the room. A thin and pale servant steps aside and announces their entrance. “The High Seeker Jhoadil Zulthind“. Through the doors your eyes are met by a slim black and gray bearded man. He is dressed in luxurious but tasteful lavender robes adorn with silver accents and jewelry. Behind him is a heavier well-dressed man of obvious station holding several books and papers who is humming a familiar local traveling tune to himself. Servants position themselves by the walls behind the two men.

“Please be seated, my apologies for the formalities and odd location but I assure you it is not without purpose. I am Jhoadil Zulthind, High Seeker of the House of Inspired Hands. I represent a large majority of the merchant’s guild in Waterdeep and have called upon you today to ask for your help.”

“I have been assured by my closest and most trusted council, Hemil Greggur, that you all hold the appropriate skills and reputation to suit our needs. Before I explain I must be sure that you understand that this is of a sensitive nature and discretion will be critical to the success of this venture. I hope I can I trust that you will hold these conversations among yourselves?”

“Good, very good. Well then, I will leave you in the trusted hands of Hemil to explain further. Please enjoy your food and may that gods look upon you in favor.”
Jhoadil rises, smiles, bows and walks out with two of the servants following. Hemil excuses the other servants and he remains.

“Some nights ago, someone was seen entering Waterdeep from the northern gates. He was seen making his way to the High Seeker’s primary place of business. He was then seen leaving the same area several hours later that evening and made his way out the same northern gates. The next morning two of our servants found windows broken and rooms overturned. After we took inventory of the damage we found some very important ledgers and journals missing. We also found some items that must have been left by the would-be thief.

The ledgers and journals hold a wealth of information critical to the trade district of Waterdeep. Contact information, supply routes, calendars and other details are all housed within the pages. In the wrong hands, this information could be leveraged to work against our best interests. It could also mean placing innocents in danger. An unscrupulous person could use the information to setup lucrative ambushes and robberies, targeting the most valuable supply routes at their most vulnerable locations. Such activity could undermine our reputation and all of Waterdeep would suffer from such undoing.”

“What we need is for someone to locate the thief, return the ledgers and find out who is behind this. You must understand how far reaching the effects of this could be. If certain parties would become aware, it could cause huge disruptions in our ability to provide for the city. We would be greatly indebted to you if this could be set right quickly and quietly. “

Hemil provides information of rumors and sightings, answers questions then directs the party toward the Ardeep Forest region. He alludes to a valley that would be easy for a thief or raider to hold up in. He sends Geth, an assistant, with the party as a guide.

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