October 5, 5086, Gabil Dûm
At breakfast today I learned that the red monsters which resembled giant insects are called "xill". I now sit in a market square, writing and watching the natives watching me.
Our immediate priority, upon reaching Gabil Dûm, was to seek healing for the surviving dwarves, who harbored parasitic xill eggs. The dwarves directed us to a minor temple of Zadrinia, but only one of the priestesses was capable of magically removing the parasites. Despite the witnesses, she refused to believe that kobolds were involved in the captures of these dwarves. Still, she healed seven of them before her daily allotment of divine favor ran dry. She advised us to bring the rest to the Grand Cathedral, where they would be cured and our misconceptions about the kobolds could be put to rest.
In retrospect, her stubborn clinging to that ridiculous propaganda should not have been surprising. Zealotry can make the pronouncements of a theocratic church more overwhelming than any evidence of the senses.
As we approached the Grand Cathedral of Zadrinia, burdened by the pace of more than forty ill dwarves, word of the rescue spread faster than we could move. We gathered an entourage of "supporters". Perhaps "militant revolutionaries" is a superior term. Their shouts for justice echoed in the cavernous tunnels, nearly deafening us.
We emerged into a vast subterranean courtyard, opposite the wide steps leading to the open colonnade of the Grand Cathedral. Many more dissenters awaited us there. Ours was not the only throng of agitated supporters, however. We faced several scores of loyalist civilians, who formed a defensive half-circle around the cathedral's entrance. The two groups were busy bellowing slogans at each other. Beyond all of them, six stern-looking guards in magnificent green armor stood side-by-side at the entrance, rigid but clearly ready to draw weapons at a moment's notice. These were certainly members of the Emerald Guard, of which we had heard.
The shouting intensified upon our arrival. Perhaps in response to the increased noise level, a lopsided party emerged from within the cathedral. Flanked by two more soldiers were a huge dwarven woman and a scrawny kobold. The dwarf was easily as wide as she was tall, and waddled on short legs, each one thicker than I am. She was dressed in silk, jewels, and ceremonial splendor. The kobold's raiment was dyed similarly to the dwarven fabrics we had seen; it must have been tailored here for him. Above the shirt lay a bone medallion.
The huge dwarf could only have been their matriarch, the High Priestess Monaque. She silenced the crowd. Her words, in the dwarven tongue, translated roughly as, "Be calm, my children! We are all in this underground together. There is no need to fight."
Tam shouted back, "These people are sick! They need healing!"
Monaque paused for a moment, then called back, "This looks more like a band of insurgents than a group of supplicants!"
A dwarf from our group shouted words to the effect of, "We were prisoners of the kobolds and a race of monsters! Their young are eating us from the inside out!"
High Priestess Monaque looked offended. "I will hear no such lies against the kobolds, our misunderstood brethren!"
Much loud grumbling commenced from our half of the courtyard. Tam called out, "We have fifty witnesses! What makes you think they are lying?"
Monaque looked triumphant. "The messenger of the Goddess has told me so directly!"
All of the dwarves we had rescued, and our new supporters, started bellowing enraged responses. The mob defending the cathedral resumed shouting back at us. There was no possibility of rational discourse at this point. Each group raised their voices, trying to drown out the other. They also menacingly approached each other. Just as the dwarves on the front lines came to blows, Delyra flew down from her vantage point near the ceiling, to inform us that there were two invisible imps with the High Priestess and the kobold, and that several more of the monsters which we had fought before accompanied them and the Emerald Guard, in an ethereal form.
The brawl in the center of the courtyard intensified into a riot, and many of our small party tried to work their way around its edges. A sudden, piercing shriek carried over the noise. Everybody stopped fighting and turned to watch as a haggard-looking dwarf arched backward in agony and fell to the floor, writhing, twitching and screaming. His final scream accompanied the sudden appearance of an oozing, red hole in his chest. A small, chitinous head emerged, quickly followed by a thorax and four arms. The whole creature was covered in gore, but otherwise resembled the monstrous arthropods which had given us such a difficult battle earlier that day.
The mobs on both sides panicked and scattered, hollering in fright and revulsion. A few lost their lunches. Within half a minute, the courtyard contained only our party, the rescued captives, and a handful of steadfast allies. The newborn xill was already dead from Delyra's magic missile.
The remaining infected dwarves advanced, clamoring for healing. Monaque stammered a mostly incoherent refusal. An orange flash illuminated the steps, drawing our eyes to a line of flames that raced from Delyra's hand to a point one foot to the right of Monaque's head. The charred body of an imp materialized there and fell to the ground.
Monaque screamed, "No! The messenger!"
Tam shouted back, "That's not a messenger! It's an imp!" He followed with a pejorative estimation of her intelligence under his breath.
Monaque raised her head toward us, giving Tam's statement no acknowledgment. "You will pay!" she threatened.
She quickly began an incantation. I had been prepared for this. Just as she started to direct the magical forces which she had summoned, the bolt from my crossbow struck her in the shoulder. The magic dissipated. I had been correct in estimating that her life of leisure had given her little incentive to study the art of concentration.
The kobold sent a fireball spell to detonate in the midst of my party members who were approaching along the left wall. They ducked and covered, but still received vicious burns.
There followed a massive melee involving Dunbarton, N-Guuk, Pheldran, the Emerald Guard, the xill, the infected dwarves, and their supporters. Jasper had climbed up the wall, and then crawled along the ceiling to a point toward the back of the fight. I believe his magical slippers aided him. He took several moments using Gelfor to carve chunks of rock from the ceiling and drop them on the guards. The guards, in turn, hurled throwing axes up at him. Neither met with much success, but he did keep them busy. Delyra and I exchanged fire with the enemy spell casters. I kept my crossbow trained on Monaque, knowing that she would likely be the most dangerous adversary if given a chance to complete spells.
Dunbarton broke through the ranks of the Emerald Guard, but before he could reach the spell casters, he was ambushed by several xill that materialized around him. Delyra and the kobold sorcerer wasted magic missiles against each other's shield spells. N- Guuk took down another Emerald Guardsman, then moved toward the xill. Pheldran took advantage of the opening to circle the xill and close with the kobold sorcerer. Tam then did something that I had not known he could do: He flew up above the battle, dove toward Dunbarton (who looked nearly dead), and knocked him clear of the melee.
Pheldran crippled the kobold sorcerer with a touch of idiocy spell, and Jasper (back on the ground) finished him off. Dunbarton rejoined the battle with the xill before Tam could even heal him, but this time he and N-Guuk pressed their positional advantage. Delyra's scorching ray spells brought down the second imp, and eventually Monaque, when the latter tried to run from the encroaching melee. The body rolled over completely before coming to rest.
The remaining xill turned ethereal at once. After they vanished, according to Delyra, they glided downward, lost to her sight beneath the stone floor. The Emerald Guard broke off the fight to attend to Monaque, and did not resume upon the discovery that she was dead.
Other clergy cautiously arrived from within the temple, and grieved over the death of their High Priestess. Tam convinced them of the veracity of the witnesses' accounts, aided by the evidence of the dead imps and xill, including the newly hatched one. We procured healing for the rest of the infected dwarves. Tam and Belser together explained the full story, from Belser's search for help to Kawg's agreement, our discovery of the prisoners, and the two battles.
Some of my comrades were quick to try to loot the bodies, but the kobold sorcerer was the only one which they could search without provoking another battle. We took his bracers, his rings, and the amulet. (Identification that night showed the bracers and one of the rings to have minor protective powers. As I am unarmored, I took the bracers. Delyra took the amulet, a charm which boosts the power of one's personality. This is of especial value to sorcerers.)
Knowing that many accounts of this battle were already being spread, mostly by people who had fled at the very start, Belser obtained a waiver, signed by the prioress, that cleared him of accountability for our deeds. He found rooms for us at an inn a half-hour's walk away, since his own dwelling is not large enough to accommodate us.
This morning, at breakfast, Kawg met us. We did not even ask how he had gained entrance to Gabil Dûm. We told him the story of our exploits of the day before. He identified the monsters as xill, creatures from the ether who can walk to and from the material plane at will. What they were doing in league with a dwarf priestess and a kobold sorcerer he did not know. Despite their appearance, their anatomy is more reptilian than insectoid, he said. We gave him directions to Belser's home, to the Grand Cathedral, and to the kobolds' cave. He asked us to stay in the dwarven empire for another few days while he conducted several meetings.
We pondered the meaning of the imps' presence. Had they organized this strife? They are cunning, manipulative pranksters, but they generally do not operate on any scale approaching that of civil war. The same incongruity could be observed regarding the first imp that we met. It had led the goblins into an unintentional war that had destroyed them. If these conflicts had been deliberately planned, it had been done by something greater and more malevolent than imps. The xill might be responsible, but they rarely take interest in the wars of this plane. They are also unlikely to choose to act as guards for weaker races, according to Kawg. Either there is a devious and powerful link between these oddities, or there is no link at all.
October 8, 5086, Gabil Dûm
The survivors of our rescue operation have spread something close to the true story. Dwarves recognize us everywhere now, and whenever we eat, somebody else pays for our meal. Kawg met us again this evening to tell us that he had arranged deals with the local theocracy and with the governor and farmers of Dinas Felin. Many humans, who had lost their livelihoods in the forest blaze, will work for Kawg by transporting barley to the dwarves. The dwarves will pay Kawg for this at what they consider a very low price in gold (gold being nearly worthless to them). Kawg will then pay the human farmers and teamsters generous salaries, which make hardly a dent in the gold that he receives. Everybody comes out of this thinking that they have the most lucrative deal possible.
We will be informed of our reward shortly.
October 9, 5086, north of Corstref
We are returning to Corstref. Many dwarves wished us well on our way out of Gabil Dûm. Kawg has not yet completed his transactions, but he has offered us a share of the expected profits, in the form of magic. He explained that he is one of many connoisseurs and collectors of magical items, who have some awareness of each others' possessions, and who occasionally trade as needed. He has offered each of us a collection of magical items of our choice, whose total value (for each person) is not to exceed thirty thousand pieces of gold.
We have time to think about this, and so I shall. We are to meet with Kawg in Corstref, there to submit our requests.
Delyra has expressed a strong dissatisfaction with Kawg's apparently reckless use of us, as some of us have been nearly killed in his service. The promise of this reward has not mollified her.