(image by Wayne England, from Drow of the Underdark)
Thea stared at their startled expressions. “What’s wrong? Was he a friend of yours?”
“Potential friend, maybe,” Haden said. “In any case, we need to find him.”
“Well, I saw him for the first time a few weeks ago. He was broke and I wasn’t making a case of it, but I could tell it was bothering him. Then he shows up again a couple nights ago, pockets brimming with jink.”
“Well, it’s not difficult for an enterprising sort to find work in Sigil,” Haden offered, “but somehow I’m thinking that’s not what happened.”
“Any time there’s too much money . . .” Talan said, letting his sentence trail off ominously.
“We had a good time!” Thea insisted defensively. “Then he was gone. Like, in the middle of the night and without his clothes gone. And he left all his money, too!”
“Did he leave anything else behind?” Talan asked. Thea shrugged.
“Do you still have his stuff?” Haden asked.
“Sure, it’s in my room still. Come on.” Thea led the way up the stairs, unlocking her door. She gestured to a small pile of clothing and other personal effects heaped on the trunk at the foot of the bed. Sheen picked up the pile and began a forensic-style investigation. A sword and crossbow both looked new, along with a roll of small, complex tools. She opened a small sack filled with coins and spilled them onto the bed.
“None of this looks really noteworthy to my eyes. Do you more visionary folks want to have a crack at it?”
Haden picked up one of the coins and held it to the light: it had an unearthly sheen to it, a faint iridescence. He held it in his gloved palm and began concentrating. Talan and Mal examined the coins as well. One side bore a haughty-looking face with an unmistakable elven cast. On the reverse, there was a stylized spider and the words ERELHEI CINLU.
“Vault of the Drow,” Mal said absently.
“Drow?” Joris asked.
“I haven’t seen any drow since we came to Sigil,” Sheen said. “Although the dwarves back home were more or less permanently at war with them. Their caverns are supposed to be infused with radiation that affects the metals there.”
“I’m not surprised,” Talan grumbled. “Drow society isn’t really known for its friendliness. Since most drow are religious fanatics of one sort or another.”
“They’re also known as assassins, which might explain how Tulio vanished so suddenly,” Sheen added grimly.
Thea squeaked as though the gravity of the situation had only just dawned on her. “Do you think he’s all right?”
“He’s most likely dead if drow are involved,” Mal said helpfully. “They tend not to leave loose ends.”
“Don’t worry, Thea,” Sheen said quickly in a conciliatory tone. She shot a black look in Mal’s direction, which he either didn’t notice or simply ignored. “We’ll find out what happened to him.”
“Absolutely,” Talan said staunchly. “I know how it feels to worry. Is there anything else you can tell us, even if you think it won’t be helpful?” he asked after a moment.
“It looks like Tulio got the gold from a scarred dark elf in the Hooded Lantern,” Haden said, interrupting.
“That hornets’ nest?” Thea squeaked.
“What would you expect?” Haden asked. “He’s a thief by trade.”
“We didn’t know Tulio very well,” Talan added miserably.
“Well, neither did I,” Thea said, “but he seemed really sweet.”
“Sometimes people don’t live up to their potential,” Talan said. “Maybe he just needs a hand to lead him in the right direction.”
“More likely he needs a few good solid thwacks from a nice length of hickory,” Haden retorted.
“Where is this ‘Hooded Lantern’?” Mal demanded.
“It’s in the Lower Ward,” Haden said. “Across the street from the Foundry.”
“It’s a lead,” Sheen said. “Let’s go check it out.”
Outdoors peak was approaching, but the vague light did little to ward off the chill. Sheen blew vapor out of her nostrils and glanced up at the sky as they set off yet again. “How cold is it likely to get, here?” She asked.
“Cold enough to snow, but rarely truly frigid,” Hexla remarked. “It’s philosophical winter comin’ on.”
“Philosophical winter?” Sheen asked.
“Yep, Sigil’s calendar has thirteen months an’ each one belongs to one of the ‘real’ factions. Mortis, Decadre, and Capricious are for the Dusties, Sinkers and Xaositects. Philosophical winter.”
“I may never get used to this place,” Joris grumbled.
“Maybe you should just get a coat,” Sheen told him. When they passed the Circle, Joris ducked inside and returned with Kalisa, who trailed along with them until they reached the house. Joris let Kalisa in and they rounded the corner of the Great Foundry to regard a small building that looked in danger of sinking beneath the street.
“Seedy, isn’t it?” Haden said. “Of course, everything in this part of town looks seedy.”
“Even Jazra avoids this place,” Hexla said.
Mal pulled his hood back, revealing a smooth dark-skinned face and whitened hair. “Like calls to like, I believe you said. Shall we?”
“We’ll see if Mal can manage to pull off that disguise,” Haden said.
“I’m going to stay outside,” Sheen replied. “A lot of people in this ward know me on sight. I’d ruin anything you tried to do.” She glanced at Joris. “You may want to stay put, too. The whole Mystra thing is pretty obvious.”
“Maybe you should stay with Sheen and Joris,” Talan said to Hexla. She nodded. Haden, Talan, and Mal stepped into the bar, easily the darkest place of business they’d ever entered. There were perhaps twenty people inside, everyone trying to keep his or her back against the wall. Hooded cloaks or large, concealing hats were much in evidence. A flinty old cutter stood at the bar, directing a hard-bitten dwarven barmaid.
The three men sat at a table, scanning the crowd. The barmaid appeared at Mal’s elbow. “What can I getcha?” she demanded harshly.
“Your absence will be fine,” Mal said, sliding a few gold onto the table. The dwarf glared.
“This ain’t a libarry, berk. You wanna drink or walk?”
“Ale,” Mal responded coldly.
“Wine for me,” Haden added. After the dwarf left, he nodded toward one of the shadowy figures in the corner. “That’s our guy. Any plans for how to approach him?”
“We could buy him a drink,” Talan said.
“No, it is not wine that will quench his thirst,” Mal intoned.
“It’s probably best if we try to get him out of this room,” Haden murmured. “If negotiations go south in here, it’ll be a bloodbath. These people are jumpier than a horde of abyssal hornets.”
“I could try to lure him outside,” Mal intoned.
“If you want to try, be my guest,” Haden said. Mal stood and strode toward the man. Haden leaned back in his chair and glanced at Talan. “So, how are things going with you and Hexla?”
“Oh, pretty good,” Talan said, grinning. “How, um, how are things with you and Sheen?”
“Well . . .” Haden said.
“You know how Sheen is, it’s always . . . complicated. But things seem to be going fairly well for now.”
Mal leaned down to speak into the scarred drow’s ear. “We should speak, but not here.”
“What could you say to interest me?” The drow replied, his lips barely moving. When Mal remained silent, he turned slightly. “Did she send you for me?”
“Well, Tormtor . . . oh, nevermind, you wouldn’t be interested.” Mal stood and began to walk toward the door.
“Wait!” The drow hissed. Mal paused but did not turn. “What about the usurpers?” the drow asked in elven.
“Not here,” Mal said. “There are too many ears about.” He continued toward the door. Haden concentrated, feeling for Sheen’s mind in the street outside.
“Haden says things are moving, be ready,” Sheen said to Hexla and Joris outside. To her relief, they quickly broke off their discussion of the arcane and eased toward inconspicuous positions. Mal, followed by the drow, emerged from the door seconds later and passed them. Sheen watched them vanish into an alley. “Stay here,” she instructed Joris and Hexla. “I’m going to follow them.” She climbed up the wall above them and vanished over the side of the building.
A minute or so later, Haden and Talan emerged from the Hooded Lantern. “Where’s Sheen?” Talan asked.
“She followed them, climbing the wall,” Hexla explained. Talan immediately looked worried.
“They’ll be fine,” Haden said. “It’s only one guy.”
“He’s a drow,” Talan said.
“This is Sheen we’re talking about, here. And Mal is no slouch, either.”
Sheen clung upside-down to the wall of the alley and watched the conversation below.
“Does Alantavra know I’m here?” the drow asked.
“Yes!” Mal replied. The drow cursed angrily. “You have your down payment,” Mal said. “I will need to know your other two queries in order to retrieve the answers.”
“You’ve told me all I need to know, stranger,” the drow said. “Ask me what you will before I leave this Cage. The Eye of Lolth will find me soon otherwise.”
“Where is Tulio?” Mal asked.
“Who?” the drow demanded.
“Bah,” Mal said, and conjured an illusion. “Him.”
The drow laughed. “Oh, that one. Probably at the bottom of a bottle somewhere.”
“Could you be a bit more precise?” Mal asked.
“I hired him to steal Alantavra’s diadem for me, and he did. I don’t know what became of him after that. It was more gold than he’s probably seen in his life. I wish I could see the look on the Matron’s face when Alantavra arrives to perform a sacrifice without the diadem.”
“What are your plans for the diadem? Or was the point simply to remove it from Alantavra’s possession?”
“What’s it to you? Just whose house are you with, exactly?”
“It was only a curiosity,” Mal replied. “Humor me.”
“The diadem is unimportant now. She doesn’t have it, that’s the important part.”
“I must locate Tulio, the little wretch had information I need. He’s gone missing and it would not be a stretch to assume Alantavra’s behind it.”
“Indeed. She won’t get the diadem back, I’ll see to that.”
“If you can assist me, it will only serve to hinder the pursuit.”
The drow shrugged. “If you’re looking for him, and she’s got him, then really you’re looking for her. She’s keeping kip at the Temple of the Abyss, her and her accursed gang of Lolth-worshipers. If only things had gone better, if we hadn’t hitched our plans to those giants, maybe things would be different for Eliservs . . .” he shook his scarred head. “That’s all I have for you. I’m not going there, I don’t want the Eye of Lolth to find me.”
“Perhaps I can draw the gaze of the Eye from you.”
“Perhaps,” the drow said, and walked away. Sheen climbed down toward the street and jumped to the ground. The others crowded into the alley.
“So does anyone know where the Temple of the Abyss is?” Sheen asked.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Joris replied.
“It’s a massive temple in the Lady’s Ward, with shrines to every Abyssal Lord you can think of.”
“We can always trade what we know of Jhaelefein to Alantavra for Tulio’s return.”
“If he’s still alive,” Talan said.
“He has to be!” Mal said, panic creeping into his voice. “You can bring him back, right Joris?”
“That depends on how much they leave behind when they’re done with him,” Joris said quietly.
“We’re not doing any good standing here in the street chattering,” Sheen said. “Let’s go.” They began walking yet again.
“Nothing like getting kidnapped by drow to scare the stupid out of someone,” Haden commented.
“They may not even have drow where he comes from, poor sod.” Hexla said.
“Well, he won’t forget them now,” Talan replied.